What Happens After You Outsource Content?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Outsourcing a major part of your business like your contact center is a big undertaking. You will experience a big shift in the way your company operates, and possibly in your day to day schedule. So it’s important to have a roadmap planned to guide you through the process and make sure everything goes according to plan. Outsourcing projects, after all, can pick up steam very quickly.

At this point, let’s assume that your contact center outsourcing project is well underway. Your customer service team has long been notified about the change and re-allocated, and operations have been handed over to your new contact center solutions provider.

Here’s what you should do next:

Re-assess your service level agreement (SLA): If there is one thing we can’t stress enough, it’s making sure that your team has a solid understanding of the services it will receive from the contact center provider. As such, it’s important to take another look at your agreement even after it is finalized. You may notice some small mistakes in the contract that slipped through during negotiations, or important details regarding uptime and maintenance. Now is the time for team members to submit questions and resolve issues before the project continues. Some contracts, it should be noted, come with a temporary exit window.

Wipe your infrastructure: Your former contact center may have a lot of hardware sitting around, and some of it may contain sensitive customer data. Before you reassign or sell these machines to a third party reseller, make sure your IT department wipes all of the data from them. Otherwise, customer data could fall into the wrong hands — and you may not know it. Oftentimes, companies who rush to throw out their hardware suffer from data breaches months or years after getting rid of their equipment. Taking this simple step could save a great deal of trouble down the road.

Set up a meeting to discuss strategy: Contact your new customer service team, and introduce yourself. During this meeting, you’ll want to focus on forming a long-term donor outreach plan, customer service goals and basic program expectations. Let the team know that you want to be kept in the loop with reports and possibly even regular calls. Communication is one of the most important parts of outsourcing, and a strong contact center solutions provider will make it easy to keep you updated and informed.

Begin your new journey: Now it’s time to think about yourself for a moment. By outsourcing content, you will clear more room in your schedule to devote to higher-level customer related tasks. Are there any new projects that you have been looking to take on?

Do you have any questions about outsourcing? Click here.

Contact Centers Must Go Digital or Lose Customers

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Your customers are engaging with you through a variety of channels. In 2015, for the first time, Web self-service replaced the phone as the top channel used by customers, according to a Forrester Research report. Electronic live-assist channels are also rapidly gaining in popularity. Today’s consumers typically use self-service as a first point of contact and escalate more-complex questions to live agents.

This intensifies the importance of live agent interactions in building customer relationships. Yet, contact centers are not investing in digital technologies—omnichannel solutions, unified queuing, routing and reporting and process guidance—to keep up with customer demand. But they should be, as well as developing a Communicator pool skilled in multiple channels, or they will suffer the consequences that result from customer dissatisfaction.

The digital imperative is in response to increasing customer impatience with poor service. As consumers living in the age of technology confront increasing complexity in their daily lives, they want product and service issues resolved quickly when reaching out to businesses. Case in point, the Forrester report shows that 55 percent of U.S. online adults are likely to abandon their online purchase if they cannot quickly find an answer to a question. This goes hand in hand with the Forrester statistic that 77 percent of respondents say valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service.

Companies and customers gain when contact centers deliver pain-free service using streamlined processes. Customers are satisfied and companies contain costs by minimizing handle time. This is the main reason, in fact, that customers seek self-service and digital communication channels: minimal interaction involvement and irritation.

Deploying digital technologies in response to consumer demand takes on even greater urgency as customers continue to contact businesses at an increasing rate in comparison to historical contact volumes, per Forrester. Unfortunately, even those contact centers that are deploying digital technology in keeping with customer demand are not necessarily adopting best practices for the delivery of service over those channels.

In fact, Forrester reports that 10 percent of chat users and 25 percent of Twitter users are dissatisfied with customer service over these channels. What’s more, only 36 percent of contact center decision makers report that their organizations have implemented multichannel integration to provide consistent experiences.

To better align contact center technology and operations to customer service, consider the following strategies suggested by Forrester:

  • Leverage data: Monitor customer searches and inquiries to ensure that Web and mobile self-service content is in line with customer expectations.
  • Monitor and share customer information: Employ proactive digital engagement technologies to track customer journeys across your website, IVR and mobile app, and then pass the gleaned information off to Communicators so their service aligns with customer research.
  • Personalize interactions: Use computer telephony integrated with back-end systems to send Communicators customer histories that allow them to personalize interactions. Process guidance technologies allow you to push that right data to Communicators at the appropriate point during the interaction.
  • Invest in a universal desktop: Standardize Communicator experiences across channels to increase productivity by deploying a universal desktop that integrates channels at the user interface layer.

Better yet, Forrester recommends retiring siloed technologies and replacing them with next-generation omnichannel solutions that provide consistent business processes, user experiences and reports. Successful companies will deploy cross-organizational teams that represent all customer touchpoints, helping their contact centers “go digital.”

Keep Pace With E-Commerce Trends in the New Year

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Your online business must be responsive—not only to visitors but to trends which, if ignored, may trip you up eventually. With the quick pace of modern societal and technological advances, organizations need to keep a finger on the pulse of their industries and develop the agility to react to pressures at the drop of a dime.

The outlook for 2017 includes several e-commerce trends that are primed to turn into major industry drivers. Find them listed here, along with steps you can take to stay ahead of the curve:

Dynamic real-time shopping: The online shopping experience is becoming personalized to each customer. Improvements in collecting, organizing and analyzing data mean that customers will no longer be asked to respond to product recommendations that seem to come out of left field. Instead, recommendations will be based on their unique preferences, geographic location, demographic group, past purchases, market trends and brand interactions—automatically. E-commerce businesses should tap into the technology of leading e-commerce platforms to enable this capability.

Cyber November: Online retailers have started to offer customers discounts in advance of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday rushes—to offset unruly crowds in stores and to get a jump on holiday spending. In 2015, major retailers Target and Walmart announced in-store deals leading up to Black Friday, and mega online retailer Amazon took the cue, offering deals throughout the month of November. To gain a piece of the pie, focus on mobile spending, which is slated to account for 60 percent of online sales by year-end; offer stellar shopping experiences on smartphones and tablets.

Chatbots: These are fully automated “chat” agents that can act as a first point of contact for brands. Chatbots increase the number of platforms on which brands can offer transactions through guided, interactive browsing. In 2015, tech giants released the enabling application programming interfaces (APIs) that made it cost-effective for bot developers to create their own, using their own servers. Experts predict that the artificial intelligence that fuels chatbots will improve with time, making conversations more natural, with better response rates. Explore this technology now to reduce customer effort and lower support costs.

Checkout: Expect traditional wallets to be replaced by “mobile” payments, and set your site up to accept these new payment methods. Same-day delivery is also becoming a competitive differentiator, as is operating in smaller spaces that can serve as showrooms, fitting rooms, and pick-up/drop-off points.

In this era where power has shifted away from companies and toward digitally connected, technology-empowered customers, retailers need to fully embrace digital commerce to thrive. With a few clicks of a mouse, customers can easily switch companies to find a better online experience. In this environment, being customer-obsessed must be your competitive strategy.

How to leverage your Big Data to generate Big Results

How do you leverage Big Data?

That’s really the question, isn’t it?  The #BigData buzz word is floating around on Linked In, Twitter and in articles that marketing professionals see every day.  And with good reason.  Having a wealth of data allows us to personalize our marketing offers, creating a more effective pitch while also providing the customer with a better and more engaging experience.

That sounds great in theory… but how do you really do that?

It starts with business intelligence

But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Big data is a wonderful means to an end, but before we can begin to map out a strategy, we need to first determine a calling campaign’s key performance indicators (KPI’s). Your client will have a set of KPI’s they want you to meet like service levels, call volume, conversion rates, etc.  As their call center partner, you’ll have additional KPIs to consider.  Once the goal metrics are identified, the next step is finding out where the data resides that will help you manage the objectives.  Then you can integrate that information into your strategy.

Highly skilled IT professionals and analytical marketers working together as a business intelligence team can utilize all available data to build statistical models that show behavior and patterns, and determine which factors drive a particular type of customer. They can set up algorithms to compute this information, which is used to tailor information in call center scripts, emails, targeted web ads and direct mail pieces. All helping to increase productivity, customer satisfaction, conversions and ultimately ROI.

And it’s more than just messaging. In the call center we can use previous call history to determine the best time to contact customers, increasing our connect rates.  We can determine the channel(s) of communication individual consumers are most likely to respond to favorably.  We can evaluate buying and purchasing patterns that give us insight into what offers consumers may be more interested in so we can personalize their offer – even upselling and cross-selling further enhancing conversion rates.  We can also identify and remove customers with the highest propensity to churn,  further minimizing marketing costs. For example, on one customer retention campaign, we utilized much of what I just outlined above. Using multiple strategies we were able to drive down the client’s cost per customer saved from $127 to a minimal $14.65, while at the same time retaining an additional 138,400 customers.

Leveraging real-time Big Data in the call center

This is where it gets fun. Using intelligence and technology to determine service level differentiations to boost conversion rates, improve customer service, customize call center scripts and sales scripts — on the fly, will ultimately increase customer value and drive long-term growth.  Real time analytics can also be a cost saver by driving target routing strategies (matching the appropriate agent with the sales lead), intelligent queue (prioritizing higher converting leads for quicker answer times), etc.

In the call center, as information is collected during a call, the targeted, personal message that best fits the customer may need to change on the fly.  But with the right technology, the script can be adapted as the call is going on.

At InfoCision, we’ve developed a proprietary solution called Inscription that delivers a customized script seamlessly in real-time as well as comprehensive customer profiles and screen pops. This technology, which has been in use since 2004, automatically tailors the script as the call is coming in, and can allow for real-time changes based on information gathered during the call.  Inscription is constantly updated based on customer call results so it provides the most recent data possible. This allows our Communicators to focus on building relationships with customers utilizing the most effective personalized offer.  It’s all about relationship management and looking beyond single transaction customer contacts toward long term ROI realization.

For more information on inscription, check out the case study I mentioned.

If you have thoughts on this post or other ways to leverage Big Data, please comment below.

US Post Office Issues Leave Marketers Hanging in Limbo

Last week, the United States Post Office Board of Governors announced that it will cancel plans to drop Saturday delivery that were set to go into effect in August. While this is good news for direct mail marketers in the short term in that at least we can plan for delivery schedules, the larger issue remains: What is the long-term fate of the post office?

Last week, the United States Post Office Board of Governors announced that it will cancel plans to drop Saturday delivery that were set to go into effect in August. While this is good news for direct mail marketers in the short term in that at least we can plan for delivery schedules, the larger issue remains: What is the long-term fate of the post office?

It has been well documented that the post office has been hemorrhaging money, to the tune of losing $25 million per day – equating to roughly $16 billion in losses in 2012. Obviously these numbers cannot be sustained.

Stopping Saturday delivery – like it or not – would have made only a slight dent in the losses (hard to believe I’m calling $2 billion per year a slight dent). And a price increase could help, but trying to make up that much ground with price increases would be a nail in the post office’s coffin. Significant belt tightening is critical. I don’t claim to be an expert on post office policy, but there are places that Congress and the USPS Board of Governors can look to find help.

No shortage of ideas to fix the post office

It only took me a quick Google Search to find a wealth of ideas from various people and organizations, and even examples from other countries that could help the post office be more efficient.

  • Richard Geddes, PhD., associate professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell believes that privatizing the post office would be a fix, citing success stories from several other countries including the entire European Union and New Zealand. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2013/02/geddes-delivers-postal-service-fix-set-it-free
  • Four postal industry veterans, including a former deputy postmaster general, released a report in January stating that taking the post office to a public/private hybrid system could be a solution that allows the post office to remain largely public but also infuse the ingenuity of the private sector.  It’s a very interesting idea. http://www.napawash.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Hybrid-Public-Private-Postal-Service-1-2-13-3.pdf
  • Some other sources have claimed that the post office could remain fully public and make up lost money by diversifying its product and service offerings, and generating supplemental income by handling things like driver’s license renewals and title filing.

Congress needs to act NOW

The above ideas all seem to have their merits, but also come with some inherent risks.  However, none provide a greater risk than maintaining the status quo.  Far too many people depend on the United States Postal Service, including direct marketers.  Even in this digital age, direct mail is still a vitally important part of the marketing communications mix that allows us to reach people using the method they prefer – phone, email, text or, direct mail.  If the post office fails, the effects would be devastating to our industry, which produces over $2 trillion in annual sales.

In addition, we can’t simply count on private providers to pick up the slack. According to a Huffington Post article from last year, private carriers FedEx and UPS don’t have interest in delivering letters, postcards and other first class mail – and both actually contract with USPS for the delivery completion portion of certain shipments on a regular basis. In fact, according to spokeswoman Maury Donahue, FedEx “support[s] efforts to ensure that the Postal Service is able to successfully manage its business. We believe that a healthy Postal Service, the largest postal operator in the world, is important to America.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I urge Congress to enforce greater accountability of the United States Post Office. Your comments are welcomed.

Customer Retention Programs Can Save Revenue and Build Profit

Direct response marketing can be cut-throat, as many of you already know.  Each day, competitors roll out deals to try to lure your customers over to their products and services by offering free add-ons, three months free, special reduced pricing, and on and on.  Additionally, customers who pay for something every month or on a regular basis are likely to eventually have some issues with their products or services over a long enough timeframe.  So how can you keep your customers from jumping ship?

The solution is a well-thought out customer retention program that centers on finding out what the customer’s issue is, and taking immediate steps to solve it; not only to satisfy the customer’s needs right now, but also to build the foundation of a long-term relationship with your organization.  But how can you effectively build such a program?

Customer Retention Specialists Make a Difference

InfoCision has found success for its clients by identifying Communicators with the right personality, experience and aptitude, and providing specialized training to make them Certified Retention Specialists.  On a recent program utilizing these specialists for a leading direct response company, InfoCision delivered a 40 percent save rate. When the industry average save rate is 25 percent, think of the boost in revenue by saving that many more customers – both now and in terms of future sales!

Customer retention programs are the subject of a recent article by InfoCision Vice President of Business Development Yvonne Anderson, published by Electronic Retailer for its website.  Below is an excerpt.

Solve Customers’ Problems, Retain Their Business

“It takes a special personality to work with customers who have made up their minds that they don’t want a product anymore. And that person has to take the customer from dissatisfied to satisfied in a single phone call. You need people who are more than order-takers.”

“They must be good listeners, have empathy for customers, and be able to relate to what it’s like to be in a similar situation. Because their role differs from that of regular customer service representatives, they need specialized training that gives them a deeper understanding of the product or service that the customer is calling about…  Allowing retention specialists to engage in free-flowing conversations with customers instead of working from a script is key to being able to identify the root cause of the problem. Once the problem has been identified, they also need the tools to be able to proceed as they see fit to provide the customer with a personalized experience.”

To read the entire article, please follow this link.  http://bit.ly/YbVazi.  If you have any questions or comments on the importance of retaining customers, please leave a comment below.

Smile Train brings smiles to children around the world: Latest InfoCision Marketing Solutions magazine

What is the value of your smile? It’s a question you’ve probably never considered, but it’s at the heart of the mission of the featured client in InfoCision’s latest Marketing Solutions magazine, Smile Train.

What is the value of your smile?  It’s a question you’ve probably never considered, but it’s at the heart of the mission of the featured client in InfoCision’s latest Marketing Solutions magazine, Smile Train.

Smile Train is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing children with cleft lip and palate the surgery they need to correct this birth defect.  The organization is a modern day success story, founded in 1999 yet already having provided more than 850,000 surgeries to children around the world who need them.  They currently average 340 surgeries per day.

Beyond the amazing good that they do for these children, Smile Train also has an interesting philosophy on how they raise funds for the surgeries they provide. The entire organization has a staff of just 62 employees, so Smile Train utilizes strategic partnerships with marketing companies like InfoCision to spread their message, attract new donors, engage with current donors and re-connect with lapsed donors. But outsourcing marketing efforts requires a leap of faith; and the organization works very closely with its marketing partners to ensure its needs and goals are being met.

Finding partners that can meet their very specific needs is key for Smile Train’s continued growth and success. And by trusting partner companies like InfoCision, that specialize in building relationships to create a lasting connection with their donors – the most important thing a charity can do to secure its future – Smile Train’s staff is able to focus on their core mission of providing cleft surgeries for children all over the world.

To read more about Smile Train’s story, please check out the latest issue of InfoCision Marketing Solutions magazine.  You’ll also find useful articles about

  • utilizing a work from home model for call center work
  • the benefits of personalizing calls with tailored up-sell and cross-sell messages
  • cloud routing’s impact on the customer experience
  • why B2B calls require a different skill set and training than B2C calls
  • the importance of scalability in a call center provider

I encourage you to check out the latest InfoCision Marketing Solutions and let me know what you think by commenting below.

Customer Experience: Contact center a vital stop in the customer journey as the voice of your brand

We’ve all had that one experience with a company that left such a bad taste in our mouth that we vow we’ll never go back; and most of the time we never do. That’s what makes creating an outstanding customer experience so vitally important for today’s marketers… But are you doing it right?

We’ve all had that one experience with a company that left such a bad taste in our mouth that we vow we’ll never go back; and most of the time we never do. That’s what makes creating an outstanding customer experience so vitally important for today’s marketers… But are you doing it right?

I recently stumbled upon an article published last month by MediaPost’s Marketing Daily in regards to a Forrester report saying that many companies don’t effectively translate their customer data into customer experience improvements. Forrester also predicts that customer journey maps will continue to be stressed and will become even more in-depth.  “In 2013, companies will need tools that connect customer journeys to the people, processes and technologies that lay beneath the surface,” according to Forrester.

It’s important to consider what an important tool the contact center is within the customer journey, because it is the most direct, personal connection the customer has with your organization.  The people you have on the phone are much more than just order takers; those people are the voice of your brand to that customer. You can’t just have anyone handling your calls, but rather you should have highly trained brand ambassadors who can speak knowledgeably about your products and services, and your company as a whole.  These brand ambassadors should also utilize custom scripting based on the customer’s demographic info, buying history, preferences, etc. to create a message that is tailored to fit the customer’s needs.  This is where effective data analytics can make a big impact, because it allows you to put customer information in the hands of your agents right as the call comes in.  InfoCision recently released a case study on our Inscription technology and the positive result personalization has on ROI and customer experience.

To do these things you must work with a teleservices company that will be able to build a program to your specific needs and not just use a “one size fits all approach”. In this rapidly changing business environment, you can no longer afford to partner with a call center that only handles calls; you need to be looking for a strategic partner that is focused on and has the means to help you increase net profit and build lasting relationships with your customers.

The final paragraph in the article talks about the importance of employee engagement for customer experience professionals.  I couldn’t agree more.  A happier employee is going to be a better employee; because that happiness comes across over the phone in terms of creating satisfaction and excitement with regard to the brand they represent.  A more engaged employee will create more engagement with customers which will increase sales, create more up-sell and cross-sell opportunities and help to ensure they become a repeat customer.

I encourage you to read the article, and let me know if you have any thoughts of your own on the importance of creating a better customer experience.

Career Path Progression

A dead end. The one thing no one wants to run into, especially when it comes to their career. I have been extremely lucky to have been with the same company as long as I have, but I have talked to plenty of colleagues and friends who have left jobs for the simple reason that they felt “stuck”. No one wants to work at a place where they feel there is no room to grow or foster a career. The truth is, you would be hard pressed to find someone who is willing to stay at the same job with the same company for many years without any potential to advance professionally.

We celebrated our 30th anniversary as a company earlier this year, and we have always had a strong history of hiring from within to fill open positions, and we are proud of it!

I have benefited personally, along with the majority of our senior staff, by starting our careers as Communicators or as entry-level supervisor or account representatives in the company’s various call centers and divisions.  Over the years, as InfoCision has experienced success with internal hiring, we developed a program to formalize the process called the Career Path Progression Program.  As employees move up through the ranks, they bring with them a unique understanding for the specific responsibilities of the employees now in their supervision, because they held similar positions themselves.   Everywhere you look at InfoCision there are living examples of the many career opportunities offered, showing our new employees there is room to grow.  This results in happier employees who are willing to invest their careers in the company long-term, resulting in strong staff retention.

Growing with the company

We do have to admit, the opportunity for career advancement isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when a potential employee thinks of the teleservice industry, but we are breaking that perception. Our Career Path Progression Program is a huge success, and we can really see the results as we have one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry.

Clearly, employees want to work not only for a growing company, but also for a company they can grow with.  I frequently share examples of the innovative technology and proprietary solutions we offer at InfoCision.  It is truly the people who work with us though, who make all the difference.  Our clients certainly benefit from our dedicated and loyal team of experts!

Opt-out confirmation text messages deemed legal by the FCC

text messagesLast week, the FCC issued a ruling stating that it is legal to send a one-time text message to confirm that someone has opted out of receiving future text messages from a specific organization.  This had been an issue of great interest within the direct marketing industry, as mobile marketing is becoming more and more popular as a meaningful way of contacting customers.

The issue stemmed from a case last year where a consumer sued a direct marketing organization that had sent a follow-up text to confirm his opt-out, and they settled out of court rather than fighting it, setting a bad precedent for the industry.

I applaud the FCC for a very reasonable and responsible decision in allowing follow-up messages to be utilized to confirm opt-out requests for consumers.  When considering that the consumers being contacted had expressly opted in to receiving the messages at some point in the recent past, and were receiving text messages from the organization in a completely legal way, it was a bit frightening that the direct marketer could face disciplinary measures for confirming opt-outs.  Frankly, opt-out confirmation messages are a valuable service that the direct marketing organization is providing to the consumer so that they can be 100% sure that their opt-out request has been received.  To penalize a direct marketer for providing this service would – simply put – be senseless.

To read more on this, there is a good article in AdWeek.

In addition, you can get more information on the ruling by visiting the blog of Michele Shuster of MacMurray, Peterson and Shuster, industry legal experts.