Opportunities Abound for Customer Service in the Airline Industry

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Recently I have been shaking my head in disbelief at some of the shocking customer service headlines that have been coming emerging from the airline industry.

From the incident where a customer was dragged out of an airplane to the brawl that happened at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, each story has been equally painful and saddening to see. These are the types of incidents that keep customer service executives awake at night.

What’s especially tough to process, though, is the fact that things had been going very well for the airline industry before the recent slew of incidents. In fact, according to a new J.D. Power survey, which was conducted before the above-mentioned incidents, airline approval ratings had actually been increasing year over year.

“Overall satisfaction with the airline industry in 2017 increases by a significant 30 points to 756 (on a 1,000-point scale), continuing a trend of steady performance increases that began in 2013,” the report reads. “Both traditional and low-cost carriers have shown improvement, with the traditional carriers continuing to close the satisfaction gap with low-cost carriers (740 vs. 784, respectively).”

It’s safe to assume that the next report will not be so positive.

It’s important, though, to focus on the present state of affairs. Right now, the airline industry is in a fragile state heading into the busy summer travel months when airports will be crowded with vacationers and tensions will be running high. All eyes will be on airline providers over the next several months to see how they handle customer issues.

While there is a tremendous amount of work to be done here in restoring consumer trust, it’s important to realize that this is also an amazing opportunity for companies in this space. Airlines that strive to be accommodating, patient and friendly with customers will have an easy time differentiating their brands and generating positive reviews. And this, of course, will lead to stronger profits.

One way that airlines can streamline customer service is to work with a small, dedicated contact center solutions provider like InfoCision.

Why work with InfoCision instead of a large contact center provider? It’s the difference between investing in large, assembly-line style customer support and one that takes a highly-focused, custom approach. InfoCision’s team of strategists and Communicators put a great deal of thought and care into the customer journey — and during this time of heightened consumer sensitivity, this cannot be underestimated.

What’s more, working with a small provider like InfoCision can greatly help when unplanned PR disasters arise. It’s much easier to contain messaging and incident response when working with a small group than it is with a large customer service team.

To learn more about InfoCision, click here.

How Do Customers Prefer to Communicate?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Do you sometimes long for the days when we had fewer technologies for engaging with customers? Well, those days are long gone.

Today, customer service is more complex than ever before. The customer experience is spread across a highly-fragmented ecosystem that includes technologies like voice, mobile messaging and the Internet. And new communications applications are constantly being created, which makes things even more confusing.

According to a 2017 report, companies are now communicating with customers across an average of nine different channels. This figure could increase to 11 by 2018, and we can speculate that this figure will keep growing beyond this point — especially as the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand, and new connected solutions make their way into homes and businesses.

But which of these channels do customers actually want to use? And do businesses really need to offer so many?

As the above-mentioned report indicates, communications channels are far from equal in the eyes of consumers.

For instance, 59 percent of customers claimed that they are satisfied with their overall experiences using online chat and video. Forty-three percent of customers are satisfied with their experiences over email. And 42 percent of customers are satisfied with their experiences over text and social media.

Additional satisfaction ratings include: Websites (49 percent), mobile apps/ virtual bots (38 percent) and interactive voice response systems (29 percent).

Of course, your customers may have entirely different preferences depending on their unique demographics. Millennials, for instance, will naturally gravitate towards digital channels like online chat, video and text before they opt for traditional channels like IVR or voice. Baby Boomers, however, are probably going to want to use the technologies that they have been using for many years like the telephone and email.

The challenge, though, is that you can’t easily predict how your customers will want to communicate, and so it’s important to offer a wide variety of options.

Here at InfoCision, we empower consumers by giving them a choice about how to communicate with the contact center. Our agents are specially trained across multiple channels, in order to provide high quality service at every touchpoint.

Embracing multichannel service is a great way to show customers that your business is up to date with the latest communications technologies, and that it’s committed to communicating with customers on their own terms.

Plus, our team is on the front lines of technology. Our customers can rest assured knowing that if there is a new communications channel that customers are using, we will know about it. And if it’s worth implementing into the contact center, we will be sure to follow through with it.

To learn more about InfoCision, click here.

Why You Should Avoid Large Contact Centers

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Once again, it’s National Small Business Week here in the U.S. It’s the perfect time for business leaders to reflect on all the progress that has been made over the last year, and to identify new ways of spurring business growth.

As you sit down to reflect on your business’s progress, take a moment to think about how you can generate more output from your contact center, and from your customer service strategy as a whole. It’s important to recognize both as critical elements that will help your business grow beyond the SMB level, into a large enterprise.

To streamline these processes, many businesses are now partnering with contact center solutions providers. The truth, though, is that not all providers offer the same level of high quality care. Large contact centers, for instance — even with powerful customer relationship management (CRM) tools — struggle to deliver comprehensive customer support. What they offer is more like assembly line-style customer support because they are built for two things: speed and volume.

Conversely, smaller contact centers like the kind you will find at InfoCision have the ability to take a much more granular approach to customer care. By strategically reducing the size of the contact center, we are able to provide white glove service for all of our customers. Service is delivered through premium Contact Center Communicators, who work closely with team members and our customers on a daily basis.

This strategy allows us to provide the following benefits for our customers:

Consistency: One of the hardest parts about managing a team of agents in a large contact center is ensuring that they operate as one cohesive unit that is completely aligned with the messaging of the brands they are representing. After all, when an agent interacts with a customer, he or she becomes a direct extension of the brand. So there needs to be consistency.

In large contact centers, managers can only perform occasional spot checks and reviews with their agents. At InfoCision, though, management works closely with our Communicators to ensure that consistency is always upheld during customer interactions. This is much easier to do with a smaller team than it is with hundreds or thousands of employees.

Teamwork: When partnering with a small team like InfoCision, you gain access to more than just contact center agents. InfoCision will work with your company to help form a custom, market-driven strategy that is tailor-made for your brand. And they will regularly collaborate and communicate with one another to uphold the strategy — and to make important changes when they are needed.

Higher quality interactions: We understand that every conversation counts in customer service. We teach agents to choose their words carefully, and we empower them to make decisions to cut through red tape and solve problems faster.

Take a closer look at InfoCision, and you will see this is just one example of how we go above and beyond for our customers. To learn more about our approach to customer care, click here.

Three Technologies to Enhance Your Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

We have reached a point in business where there is no longer a major divide between technology and non-technology providers. Many experts, in other words, now argue that every company is a technology company regardless of what industry they are in. This is because companies are commonly using virtual, cloud-based solutions that run over the Internet.

In light of this, it’s time to start thinking of your contact center as a technology-driven department that uses cutting-edge software and big data to maximize efficiencies and boost sales. There are certain components that are absolutely necessary if you want to remain competitive.

Here are three technologies that you could feasibly work into your contact center:

Embedded real-time communication (RTC): Chances are likely that your business is already using live chat boxes to communicate with customers online. Now, you can take this to the next level using a technology called embedded RTC which is an open source standard that enables live video and audio chats to take place over a website or application. Embedded RTC uses a peer-to-peer architecture and runs entirely over an Internet browser — enabling ultra-fast, and secure, multimedia exchanges between customers and live agents. Many businesses are also using embedded RTC solutions in conjunction with big data to better understand customer preferences. This is called contextual communication.

Sales automation software: Most sales departments today are about 10 years behind marketing in terms of the technologies that they are using on a daily basis. A large percentage, in other words, are still using disparate tools like spreadsheets and manual dialers. These disparate technologies eat up valuable hours over the course of a week. Contact centers suffering from such inefficiencies should consider using sales automation software to automate things like performance tracking and response management. Automation platforms can consolidate disparate sales tools and make them easily accessible from a centralized location. These platforms also make it easy to export data with other departments like marketing or the C-suite.

Predictive dialers: In the past, a contact center sales representative would have to procure a telephone number, dial it and then wait for a customer to (hopefully) pick up the phone. As such, a typical phone call could take 30 seconds or longer — without any guarantee that a person would pick up or even be interested in making a purchase. Predictive dialers automate the dialing process by silently dialing in the background and putting an agent on the phone only when there is a live — and interested — customer waiting on the other end.

These technologies can be easily, and cost-effectively, embedded into your contact center to drive better results. However, it’s important to have a strong filter set up when exploring new contact center technologies. Make sure to thoroughly vet each new technology that you bring into your contact center, to ensure it adds value.

Is There Room for Autonomy in the Contact Center?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Contact centers have traditionally operated with a top-down business strategy, where managers hand down orders to agents and then check in to keep progress moving forward.

In recent years, though, we have seen many contact centers embracing autonomy in their departments, where agents essentially manage themselves. This is becoming increasingly common in the technology industry, and it’s spreading over into other fields as well.

The idea of workplace autonomy is relatively new, and studies show that it can be very beneficial to an organization when it’s implemented properly. In fact, many workers today value autonomy in the workplace as much as they do a competitive salary. Autonomous work environments have been proven to make workers happier and healthier, and they can also reduce employee turnover in the long run.

So, is this a strategy that you should implement in your contact center? Before you take action and tear down your wall of middle management, there are several points you will want to consider.

First and foremost, spend some time analyzing your current environment and speaking with agents and managers. Some of your managers may not like the idea of working on a level playing field with agents that they have been working with, and may require special considerations like promotions or raises. Embracing autonomy could upset certain power dynamics that are at play in your department.

You will also need a plan in place to keep workers from going rogue or under-performing. Agents should be reminded that with autonomy, and less middle management, comes the expectation that all workers will meet their expected goals while also continuing to adhere to company policies.

Suffice to say, it’s a lot easier to move forward with autonomy when using cloud-based reporting tools.  Many cloud contact center providers today offer tools that will allow supervisors to periodically check in on agents and make sure everything is running according to expected standards. Using these tools, contact center administrators can embrace autonomy without having to worry about losing control over their department. For example, supervisors can silently sit in on calls from time to time, check reports and take action when it is needed to correct bad behavior.

One of the best ways to embrace autonomy in your contact center is to do it slowly. Try giving your agents greater leeway at first, and see how they react. You will know almost immediately whether your team is capable of handling the change. And in time, you could create a happier, healthier work environment where agents feel empowered about their jobs. Plus, you will bolster your contact center’s reputation as a top place to work. This will help you attract stronger job applicants.

24/7 Customer Care: A Growing Trend for Contact Centers

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes for a moment. Imagine you spend all day rushing around at work. Then, you have to rush home, make dinner, drop off your kids at practice and pick them up. By the time you sit down to tackle the nagging customer service issue that’s been hanging over your head, it’s at least 9 p.m. and the contact center is closed.

Twenty years ago, most business leaders would have scoffed at the idea of keeping their contact centers open after hours. Customers had standard business hours to resolve conflicts, and it was their responsibility to find the time.

Now, things are entirely different.

The power has shifted to the consumer, and businesses are being forced to respond. We’re living in an ultra-connected era, where customers expect immediate access to support services. Customers don’t want to be told to wait until the following business day to resolve their issues.

In response, many contact centers are experimenting with rolling support services that extend well beyond the end of the normal business day. For example, social housing provider River Clyde Homes recently announced that its customer support center will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Moving forward, customers will be able to receive live human assistance regardless of what time it is.

Some larger companies are getting on board with this idea, too. Hulu, for instance, recently announced that it will open a 24/7 customer service center for subscribers before it launches its upcoming live TV service later this year. By the end of next year, Hulu hopes to staff 500 customer service agents.

As this trend continues to accelerate over the next few years, it’s going to make things difficult for businesses that lack the resources to power around-the-clock contact centers. After all, running a 24-hour contact center is very expensive, especially for an on-site company.

Businesses in this situation will have to get creative. Chatbots, for instance, offer an effective and affordable after hours solution. Chatbots exploded onto the customer service scene last year, when Facebook finally allowed businesses to integrate chatbots into its Messenger service. Chatbots use artificial intelligence to have advanced conversations with customers. They can help customers solve basic problems quickly, and in near real-time, too.

By using chatbots, it’s possible to staff less agents after hours. By using an omnichannel platform, a single agent could manage 10 or more automated conversations, stepping in for manual intervention when human assistance is needed.

That being said, it’s time to start looking for ways that you can either extend your contact center into the late evening, or keep it running around-the-clock. Chances are likely that your competitors will be doing the same thing this year.

Do you have any strategies for after-hours customer care?

Four Ways to Fortify Your Virtual Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Cloud contact centers are very alluring from a cost and operational perspective. They offer easy scalability, service level agreement (SLA)-backed performance guarantees and access to cutting-edge customer service tools. For these reasons, it’s no surprise that the cloud contact center industry is expected to increase about threefold by 2021, from $5.43B to $15.67B.

Indeed, confidence in the cloud is soaring right now among contact center administrators — perhaps even too much. The general attitude seems to be that if you outsource your contact center operations to the cloud, all of the important backend pieces will fall into place. However, there are a number of dangers that you need to be aware of when migrating to the cloud, security being one of the biggest.

Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to fortify your virtual contact center:

  1. Buy a virtual private network (VPN): In a virtual contact center, you may have hundreds or even thousands of Communicators storing and transmitting personally-identifiable information and payment data on a daily basis. This information is extremely valuable, especially in the healthcare industry where private health information will fetch top dollar on the black market.

In light of this, you need to give your Communicators a secure way to transmit data online. One way to do this is to invest in a virtual private network (VPN), which is a network communications tunnel with built-in security mechanisms like encryption. You only need one VPN for your remote team.

  1. Use biometric security protocols: Accidents can happen when working remotely. For instance, a laptop containing large amounts of sensitive customer data could get stolen, which could lead to a data breach. Or, a Communicator’s private account could get hacked if he or she is using a weak password.

You can use biometric authentication to protect your virtual Communicators’ accounts. Most laptops now come with built-in cameras, microphones and touch scanners that can support facial, voice and fingerprint scanners. Biometric security safeguards can operate alongside traditional password-based authentication systems. This is called multifactor authentication, and it’s a convenient option to offer your end users. Give them a choice about which type of security safeguards they want to use.

  1. Restrict information access: Access control is another major issue you’ll need to pay attention to when migrating to a cloud contact center. Giving Communicators blanket access to customer files invites a tremendous amount of risk. Remember that insider data breaches now account for 43 percent of data breaches.

Some cloud providers will offer customer service platforms with built-in access control mechanisms. For example, some platforms will prevent users from taking screenshots or dumping files. But you’ll want to look beyond your customer service platform, too. Make sure that IT knows about any information living in shared drives, or on local machines.

  1. Invest in a cloud security access broker (CASB): It’s hard enough keeping an eye on Communicators when they are in the office. This job becomes infinitely harder, though, when they are spread out across the country or even the globe.

You can use a CASB to centralize account security. A CASB is essentially a device that sits in between your network infrastructure and your cloud provider. Its job is to provide real-time and historical visibility into user accounts. For instance, suppose someone logs into a Communicator’s account from a foreign country such as India but you do not have any offices there. The CASB will be able to detect the suspicious login, and it can even tell whether any files were dumped during the process. If needed, a CASB can temporarily shut down a user’s account until the problem can be investigated.

The cloud may be risky, but by taking these basic precautions you could greatly reduce the risk of experiencing a costly cybersecurity incident.

Hosted Contact Center Market Set to Flourish

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Contact centers, both in-house and outsourced, help enterprises in many ways—from providing a better customer experience to increasing productivity to providing the latest technologies for generating valuable business intelligence. When the contact center is hosted in the cloud, additional benefits abound, such as assured disaster recovery, ease of compliance management, and greater scalability and flexibility.

Company reliance on various technologies and the Internet to operate profitability is expected to intensify, with a corresponding increase in cloud-based contact center market size. According to a new report from MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to grow from $5.43 billion in 2016 to $15.67 billion by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate of 23.6 percent.

This growth is also being fueled by a high demand for outbound dialer systems and outsourced contact center services. Advances in dialer technology, especially features such as dynamic filtering—search indexes that control which leads are called—and do-not-call list management, are popular because they increase Communicator talk time, leading to greater productivity.

Outsourcing the contact center function enables companies to reduce spend on networks and IT. Cost benefits will drive companies to outsource customer services across the board—from inquiries to order processing to technical support. Plus, the increase in the number of an organization’s functional areas (e.g., sales and marketing) being served by contact centers has increased the complexity of deploying in-house contact centers.

Another key to cloud-based contact center growth is the role the contact center is playing in the e-commerce space. Innovation and the proliferation of digital technologies have changed customers’ interaction with retailers; they are now using different channels such as live chat and self-service options. The vendors in this vertical market rely on the cloud environment to attain customer loyalty all along consumer touchpoints such as retail stores, Web catalogs and the contact center.

The only growth inhibitors for the cloud-based contact center market are an ongoing fear of data risk and initial deployment costs. Enterprises are mitigating the potential data risk, however, by side stepping total cloud immersion. They are bridging the gap between low-security public cloud and high-security private cloud by creating hybrid cloud networks. This gives them the scalability and flexibility of the cloud while retaining secure computing environments on-premises.

Enterprises that make customer satisfaction and experience a priority are strategically using contact centers to maximize their success in these areas. Outsourcing contact center functions to a managed service provider can help in this regard by providing crucial elements of high-quality customer service without all the infrastructure complications of on-premises solutions. As the cloud-based contact center market grows, consider ways in which you, too, can leverage the cloud to push your business to the next level.

Contact Center Strategies, Part 1: Multichannel Workforce Management

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

By now you know that your contact center strategy must be focused on the methods and solutions you employ to improve the quality of the customer experience. What this means for your 2017 strategy is more of the same: more insights into each customer and Communicator so you can better meet their needs and grow your business.

Findings relayed in a new report from ContactBabel, “The US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide 2016,” will help direct your efforts to improve contact center performance in the new year. We will address some of its key points in a series of blogs. This Part 1 will address how workforce management (WFM) solutions can help supervisors and Communicators cope with the new complexities of multiple customer service channels in the contact center, specifically for traditional purposes like forecasting and reporting.

WFM solutions for the multichannel contact center

Managers must not only make sure their contact centers are staffed appropriately but must also accurately schedule staff across both multichannel (e.g., Web chats and email) and voice interactions. To satisfy customers, managers will need to develop new pools of in-depth knowledge and explicit skills among Communicators, including product-specific and technical expertise.

WFM solutions are increasingly being used in contact centers as part of overall performance optimization. While advanced WFM tools such as quality monitoring, speech analytics, HR management and training have emerged, traditional workforce features for forecasting and scheduling, as well as adherence and reporting, remain critical to contact center operations.

Here’s how traditional WFM solutions are continuing to help contact centers respond to customer needs in a multichannel environment:

Forecasting: The WFM employs historical data to assist contact center managers with realistic scheduling, allowing them to factor in exceptions, such as holidays, training and marketing campaigns. They can even use the data to conduct “what if” scenarios to test how staffing across multiple channels will impact performance. Automated forecasting gives businesses the flexibility to alter schedules to accommodate staffing issues as they arise. For instance, staff can put in requests for certain shifts and vacation time, which empowers them and spurs morale.

Scheduling: In a multichannel environment, more than ever, managers must be able to take Communicator preferences and skill sets into account when scheduling. Otherwise, expect that Communicator and customer satisfaction levels will drop. Most companies use advanced WFM software to manage between six and nine skill sets, though some use many more.

Adherence and reporting: Comparing forecasts to actual scheduling adherence is mandatory to improve contact center performance. The adherence monitoring provided by top WFM solutions gives managers the opportunity to learn from experience. It also sends them alerts when activities deviate from what was planned, enabling them to act before problems arise.

Advances in WFM software allow managers to receive real-time reports on schedule adherence through Web browsers and mobile phones, even if Communicators are working remotely. Automated schedule changes are even beginning to relieve managers of daily personal attention to the system.

According to ContactBabel, WFM systems are common in contact centers, with a penetration rate of 48 percent industrywide. Small contact centers (10 to 50 Communicators) are much less likely (19 percent) than large ones with 200 or more Communicators (80 percent) to have implemented WFM software.

Respondents reported using their WFM solutions predominantly (95 percent) for forecasting, reporting (86 percent) and real-time adherence to scheduling (81 percent). Yet, of the 221 contact center managers and directors who participated in the survey, more than half said they also used their WFM systems for higher-level strategic initiatives like “what if” scenarios and long-term planning.

In 2017, make sure your contact center has the tools to improve the customer experience along multiple channels.

Customer Experience Predictions for 2017

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Customers are leading businesses by their noses into the new year. Some companies are going kicking and screaming into 2017 while others have geared up to meet the demands of a customer-driven marketplace and are sliding more comfortably into the future.

Arm-in-arm with keeping up with customer demands, organizations primed for ongoing success have delved into everything digital. From banks to retailers to manufacturers to utilities, businesses are ramping up digital efforts to maintain or grow their customer bases.

A new Forrester report, “2017 Predictions: Dynamics That Will Shape the Future in the Age of the Customer,” expects one-third of companies in the business-to-customer space to change their business structures to enhance the customer experience. This is to counter the ease with which today’s customers switch brands when they experience a negative interaction with any one company.

The Forrester report indicates that 40 percent of customers have a high willingness and ability to shift spend, with an additional 25 percent building that mindset.

What was once considered just a millennial trait—rewarding or punishing companies based on just one experience—has become universal. Forrester says it’s now the norm for all generations of consumers. The research and advisory firm predicts that revenue risk—from customers shifting spend to a competitor, and from brands’ inability to enrich—will increase by 25 percent to 50 percent.

This outcome will drive companies to speed up their customer experience initiatives, as well as widen efforts to compete in a customer-led market, as follows:

Emotions will drive process transformations: Adequately measuring the impact of human emotions on buying decisions has been a challenge for companies, meaning their core processes and experience designs are missing key components. After all, brand loyalty and spend have long been governed by how customers feel about a brand.

Forrester anticipates that a few companies will make important inroads in 2017 into what drives consumer decisions to better guide experience design and operations. Some are currently piloting emotion-recognition techniques to measure physiological responses, as well as employing old-school ethnographic research. The latter is the systematic investigation of a culture through in-depth study of the members of the culture.

Microdesigning the customer experience: In 2017, marketers will be pushed to deliver experiences that delight customers, as well as boost revenues. Yet engaging modern day customers—who are in a constant mode of multitasking and distraction management—is a trick and a half. For years, marketers have mapped the customer journey from initial touchpoint to purchase to gain insights into customer needs. This practice has proven fruitful, but in 2017, customer experience professionals will need to develop new ways to differentiate their brands.

Forrester believes that marketers will drill deeper into the customer journey in the upcoming year to identify those micromoments where customers are paying close attention, most anxious to resolve a pain point, and clearly appreciative of the solution’s value. This sort of detailed research will require many organizations to first integrate disparate analytic tools and processes. Only then will they be able to design and deliver an optimal brand experience.

To prepare for 2017, take a good look at your organization’s processes for engaging and satisfying customers. That’s your ticket to success in the age of the customer. Identify what needs to change to ensure your profitability next year and beyond. To offset revenue risk, prepare to make those changes as soon as possible. Best wishes for a secure and plentiful future.