Planning for the Future in Your Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

As a customer service administrator, you need to think about the short term and the long term success of your department. This requires looking past the daily issues facing your team, and engaging in some future planning.

Ask yourself the following question: Where exactly do you want your contact center to be in a year? It may be time to make some critical changes to your strategy.

As you already know, change does not typically come quickly in a traditional contact center setting. It can be hard enough even getting budgetary approval for things like new equipment, more agents or better CRM software when you manage your own facility. After all, an in-house contact center must compete with other departments in the enterprise for financing.

The best way to fast-track change in your contact center is to outsource operations to a third party solutions provider. In doing so, you won’t have to wait a year for change. You will experience a turnaround in performance almost instantaneously.

Here are some of the benefits you can expect to see by outsourcing your contact center:

Stronger agents: You will no longer have to worry about hiring, training and managing customer service agents. By outsourcing to a third party contact center solutions provider, you will receive access to premium agents who are already highly-trained and experienced in dealing with a variety of issues. This will eliminate a great deal of time and hassle, while also mitigating risk and improving results.

Less turnover: Another major upside to outsourcing your customer service operations is that you won’t have to worry about contact center attrition. This is typically very high in contact centers, and it’s both expensive and inconvenient. It’s also bad for morale.

Reduced overhead: Right now you are paying for everything from office chairs to lights to headsets. Overhead is extremely expensive, and oftentimes customer service departments lack the necessary funding to keep them running at a high level. Outsourcing, however, will ensure that the people communicating with your customers are always using the latest and most effective equipment on the market. And you won’t have to pay extra for any of it.

Improved donor relations: Donor ecosystems need to be carefully maintained day in and day out. Oftentimes, in-house customer service departments struggle to provide the extra attention that is needed keep donors happy and contributing to campaigns. Outsourcing providers, though, specialize in executing high quality, data-driven donor outreach initiatives.

More sales: Ultimately, contact centers — like all departments — are judged on a cost vs. profit basis. And many departments are spending a lot more than they are bringing in. By outsourcing, you will boost sales and you will only have to pay a small monthly price.

 

How to Win Back Customers

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

We often speak about the “customer journey” or the overall experience that a customer has with an organization. The customer journey starts when a customer first interacts with a brand, and continues each subsequent time.

Here’s the thing about the customer journey, though: As much as we want it to be a predictable process, the customer journey is anything but that. Customers, in other words — even loyal ones making repeat purchases — may stray to competitors and explore other brands from time to time. And there is no guarantee that they will come back.

For marketers and sales representatives it can be challenging trying to understand why customers leave — when one minute a customer seems happy, and the next they are simply gone. A customer may decide to delete his or her account, cancel a subscription or stop contributing to a fundraising campaign with little to no warning.

When this happens to one customer, it may not be that noticeable. But when it starts happening in large numbers, it can be very troubling. Understand, though, that it’s possible to win back unhappy customers and make them fall in love with your brand again.

Here are some things you can try:

Stop the bleeding: I encourage you to take a holistic approach to customer care. When problems arise, and customers are unhappy, you need to get to the root cause and fix it. Perhaps your prices are too high, or you made a recent change in a product. Or, maybe your customer service department is in need of a new retention strategy. So when a customer cancels a subscription, deletes an account or stops making repeat purchases, don’t be afraid to ask why they are unhappy with your company and what you could do to serve them more effectively. The best way to do this is through email, or even snail mail. Just make sure to always thank customers for their time and feedback.

Ask customers to come back: A few weeks or months after you send out the above-mentioned survey, don’t be afraid to send a thank you note back to the customer, letting him or her know that you have taken his or her feedback into consideration and would love to have them back. You can use this opportunity to offer incentives, too. If you don’t ask customers to come back, they may not think to do so on their own.

Don’t make the same mistakes twice: Use the information gleaned from customer surveys and online reviews to make your company better. The last thing you want to do is win a customer back, only to have him or her leave for the same reason! For instance, if a customer unsubscribes from a service because they are receiving too many emails, don’t start spamming them again. Use insight to make your brand more in tune with customers’ needs.

Why You Should Be Selective About the Agents You Are Hiring

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Art critic John Ruskin once stated that “quality is never an accident, it is always the result of an intelligent effort.”

The same thing can be said about contact centers. High quality customer service is never an accident, either. It takes a great deal of research, planning, communication and hard work to achieve success.

Hiring, for instance, is one task where it pays to take your time and be selective about your decisions. Customer service agents, after all, have a great responsibility to keep customers satisfied and making repeat purchases or donations. Also, agents are often the first touchpoint for customers when interacting with a company. First impressions are important, and can go a long way in determining how a customer feels about a company. The agents you hire will literally be the voice of your brand.

Here are some things to consider when hiring agents:

Attitude is important: You want to fill your contact center with agents who are positive, friendly and enthusiastic. Look for agents that you think will be able to show up every day genuinely happy to help customers. As you interview a candidate, pay attention to how they are able to carry on in conversation. Ask yourself if the person you are talking to is someone you would want to be interacting with your customers.

Are they hungry? For outbound communications, it’s essential to fill your contact center with team members who are hungry to drive sales and keep donors happy. Such roles should be filled with agents that have consistent track records of proven success, and a can-do attitude to grow the business and achieve amazing results. What’s more, hard-working and highly-driven individuals are great for team morale. They make others work harder, and inspire them to be better.

Teamwork is important: Many questions will arise over the course of a business day that go beyond the scope of the customer service agents and need to be escalated. It’s therefore critical to staff your contact center with people who aren’t afraid to ask questions and rely on their team members. Agents tend to run into problems when they attempt to solve complicated problems on their own, and wind up making promises they cannot deliver.

Contact center hiring can be a time-consuming process. It’s something that you and your managers simply may not have the time for. It’s for this reason why so many businesses today are outsourcing their contact center operations to third party contact center solutions providers. Outsourcing your contact center is a great way to get the high quality service that you want, at an affordable price.

 

Key Findings from the 2017 Contact Center Trends and Market Landscape Survey

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

A new report has been released that contains a trove of important data about the current state of the contact center market.

As explained in the report, the traditional improvement goals around most contact centers today haven’t changed much over the last few decades. Most businesses are looking to reduce costs, improve the customer experience and increase flexibility and stability.

What is rapidly changing, though, are demographics, customer demands and contact center technologies. These changes are proving to be difficult to keep up with, and so many businesses today are looking for assistance from third party contact center solutions providers.

Here is a closer look at some of the key findings from this interesting report:

Downtime is still an issue: Unfortunately, many contact centers today continue to struggle with unplanned network downtime. According to the report, 67.5 percent of contact centers reported downtime of their telephones or contact center technology within the last 12 months.

What’s more, 7.5 percent of contact centers experienced downtime that lasted for 31 hours or more. And almost 1 in 4 have had downtime that lasted between 6 and 30 hours.

This is somewhat of a surprise, when considering that many organizations invest in dedicated contact centers to improve their chances of reducing downtime. So when searching for a provider, make sure that network efficiency, redundancy and disaster recovery are all offered.

 “Gadgets” are out: Fancy gadgets — like handsets with widgets, or Google Glass — are no longer in high demand. Now, demand has shifted to services and integration.

The report, for instance, shows that the top three investment priorities for 2017 include multichannel, chat, email and social media (32.5 percent); metrics, business intelligence and reporting (32.5 percent); and workforce management (28 percent).

The report also sheds light on what business leaders see as the capabilities offering the most value:

  • Workforce management (62 percent)
  • Quality management and agent scorecards (57 percent)
  • Phone system/ business application integration (54 percent)
  • Using metrics to create business intelligence (51 percent)
  • Social media as a customer interaction solution (42 percent)

Quality agents are in demand: Many respondents indicated that they are using multichannel solutions that combine email, chat, social media and SMS. And to take advantage of these solutions, organizations are now leveraging “double agents” that are capable of handling voice and non-voice channels. In fact, 52.5 percent of survey respondents are using double agents. However just 23 percent of respondents have enabled 100 percent of their staff to handle both voice and non-voice channels.

What’s troubling is that for 47 percent of respondents, an inability to monitor agent activity was a main concern. This problem can be addressed by using smaller teams of agents, which are typically more coachable and easier to train.

 

 

 

The Contact Center: A Critical Piece of the Customer Experience

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

In recent years, there has been a widespread awakening in the business world about the importance of the overall “customer experience.”

A problem, however, has been steadily growing.

While many companies have been working hard to improve service for their customers, a large number have fallen behind in their efforts. As a result, a customer experience performance gap has been created where some companies are offering great service, and others are not.

For consumers, this is resulting in fragmented experiences across different organizations. Now, when customers pick up their phones and try to reach support, they have no idea whether they will receive great or abysmal treatment from service representatives. As such, many people still dial customer service looking for a fight.

The good news is that it’s possible to close this performance gap. More business leaders simply need to recognize that the customer experience really matters, and that offering great experiences can pay dividends over time.

The hope is that over the next few years, great service will cease to be seen as a competitive differentiator and will emerge as a necessity for business growth.

So, how do you ensure strong customer experiences? First, you need to create the right customer service environment. And this is where it helps to have the services of a third party contact center services provider.

Here are some ways that contact centers can help ensure positive customer experiences:

Rapid response troubleshooting: Few things anger customers these days more than having to wait to resolve issues when they arise. Speedy issue resolution is critical for keeping customers happy. Contact center providers today offer advanced technologies for receiving incoming communications, processing them in a timely manner and resolving them. Conversely, companies that opt to keep their contact centers in house are more liable to get overloaded. And this can lead to slow response times and unhappy customers.

Real-time Communication: Most of the time, customers just want to be heard. Sometimes, they want to vent. Other times, they want to share ideas about how to improve products or services. Contact centers give customers an opportunity to connect with live agents and share information. They can be used to humanize a brand.

Compromise: No company wants to lose customers, and contact centers can be one of the most effective tools for retaining them. For example, imagine a customer gets let down by not receiving a shipment on time. Contact centers can staff certain specialty agents to listen to customer complaints and work with them to find resolutions. So contact centers can provide a level of flexibility that can be instrumental in retaining customers.

 

 

 

Every Industry Needs Great Customer Service

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Every year, I eagerly anticipate the release of PJ Media and the Temkin Group’s annual report ranking customer service levels across twenty different industries. It’s certainly nice to celebrate the winners, but, as a problem solver, I’m more interested in looking at the other side of the coin to see what may be missing from their equations.

The three industries with that dubious honor this year were: TV/Internet ISPs, health plans and airlines. In each case, it helps to come back to a simple question: what do modern consumers expect when it comes to customer service? They want personalization, hasty resolution, the opportunity for a personalized experience and an opportunity to resolve their own inquiries autonomously.

TV and Internet providers have a unique opportunity to provide more seamless customer service, as viewers could potentially use their device as a touch point to get better customer support. Placing extra emphasis on this touch point can allow for a faster and more convenient experience for customers.

Take it from our nation’s leaders: figuring out healthcare is hard. So it should come as no surprise that consumers are dissatisfied with their health insurers too. Of course, it doesn’t help either that it’s usually bad news if you have to get your insurance company on the phone. To change their reputation, insurers might want to consider a more proactive, preemptive approach. Outbound messaging could help remind these individuals to take care of themselves to avoid injuries later, while telling them that they’re valued customers even when they aren’t in need of dire help.

If airlines aren’t going to add more leg room, they ought to start thinking of other ways improve their customer service levels. The key is identifying the greatest pain points for customers. The example that comes to mind is a cancelled flight that sends hundreds of individuals scrambling to speak with customer service representatives. Airlines need to have efficient contact centers in place to efficiently handle large volumes of incoming callers.

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.

Is Your Contact Center Millennial-Friendly?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

If there is one thing that just about every company is obsessing over right now, it’s trying to market to the millennial generation, or the group of consumers born between 1980 and 2004.  This is the group that will eventually replace the Baby Boomer generation in terms of spending power.

“One of the largest generations in history is about to move into its prime spending years,” explains Goldman Sachs. “Millennials are poised to reshape the economy; their unique experiences will change the ways we buy and sell, forcing companies to examine how they do business for decades to come.”

Now, there are a few things you have to understand about millennials if you want to market to them effectively. Millennials, after all, do things a bit differently.

According to Goldman Sachs, many millennials are actually shunning the idea of ownership altogether — especially when it comes to things like luxury items, cars and music. Many are open to alternative ways of consuming goods and services, without having to own them. For instance, ride sharing services are very popular among millennials right now. Why pay for a car when you can have instantaneous access to one whenever you need it? For this reason, businesses need to think creatively when marketing towards millennials. They may not be as receptive to traditional ideas as older customers.

Research also shows that millennials’ love of technology is reshaping how retail items are sold. Reviews, product information and price comparisons are now easy to access — and as Goldman Sachs explains, millennials are seeking brands that can offer the most convenience at the lowest cost. 57 percent of millennials, it should be noted, will compare prices in-store.

As such, the Goldman Sachs report explains, having a strong brand isn’t always enough to close sales with millennials. Buyers are researching “beyond the brand” in order to find products and services that closely align with their core needs and beliefs.

So, what can your contact center do to ensure strong experiences for millennial customers?

A few things come to mind. Flexibility and responsiveness are both critical elements for connecting with this group of consumers. Millennials, for instance, are the ones who have championed the telework revolution. They are fully-mobilized, and many work on different schedules— meaning they require service outside of the realm of the traditional contact center hours. They also love knowledge bases, FAQ sections and live chat systems.

Here is one thing to keep in mind, though: Millennials aren’t set in stone. Their attitudes and believes will change tremendously a year or two from now, and so it’s vital to remain flexible and aware of their needs. Businesses need build marketing strategies around fresh, relevant data in order to ensure that they send the right messaging to their customers and connect in meaningful ways.

Do you need some assistance connecting with your millennial customer base? To learn more about how InfoCision can help, click here.

Every Business Needs Live Customer Support

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Over the last few years, a troubling customer service trend has been spreading among businesses. Many organizations are now choosing to abandon traditional contact centers in favor of solutions like online knowledge databases, email and chat systems. The theory is that customers would rather solve their own issues, rather than take the time to call in and speak with live agents.

Now, in theory this may seem like a good idea: Avoid opening a resource-intensive contact center, while still providing a way for customers to resolve their issues in a timely manner. In reality, though, it doesn’t work. It just makes customers angry when they can’t get in touch with live agents over the phone. Phone support is a basic, integral part of the customer experience — and it’s not right to take this away from customers.

Aside from the operational complications that will arise if you eliminate your contact center, there are other pitfalls that you will need to consider as well. For instance, it’s very difficult to enable outbound communications when you don’t have a contact center. Yes, sales associates can work remotely — but they are far less effective, as it’s harder for managers to monitor and coach them. Outbound communications tend to work best when you have small teams of agents working closely together as cohesive units. After all, customer service requires teamwork. It’s not a one person job. And when you enable remote work, elements like teamwork, trust and collaboration can all get lost.

Plus, there are far fewer risks from a security and privacy perspective when managing an onsite contact center. This is particularly true for healthcare companies that must adhere to strict Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) regulations.

It’s also worth considering the value of customer engagement — and the total price that a business will pay by not having a contact center. Customer interactions, after all, can be very lucrative. This is the whole basis behind the “customer journey,” or the idea of following a customer throughout their journey with your enterprise, nurturing their interest in your brand and eventually pushing them to point where they feel comfortable making repeat purchases.

If you remove the contact center, you remove a vital piece of customer support — and you risk leaving every one of your customers’ journeys to chance.

For these reasons, it’s absolutely critical to offer customers access to a reliable and efficient contact center — a place where they can come with questions, concerns and ideas. A high quality contact center will benefit the company as much as its customers.

By partnering with a contact center solutions provider like InfoCision, you can stay under budget while still providing amazing customer service. To learn more information, click here.

Should Agents Be Allowed to Work Off-Script?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

As a customer service administrator, you have a difficult task. Your job is to make sure that all of the agents working underneath you behave in a way that is both professional, and consistent with your brand’s identity.

For years, customer service administrators have used scripts to solve this problem. With this strategy, agents are given specific lines, with pre-formulated responses. This is one way of controlling conversations in both inbound and outbound communications.

It’s a strategy that Apple took to an extreme a few years back, by releasing a secret training manual called “How to Be a Genius.” This book — which is given to customer service representatives — uses psychology to help agents interact with customers effectively and amicably. The book essentially programs agents on how to respond to any question.

Your business doesn’t have to go to this level to provide great service, but there is something to be said for using scripts in the right situations (and knowing when to avoid them).

In some situations, for instance, agent scripts are always needed. For instance, when reciting legal terms and conditions, there is absolutely no room to go off-script. Agents must say the proper line at the right time, or it could result in a serious lawsuit. Insurance companies, for instance, are bound by this rule.

In other situations, though, it could actually be detrimental to the customer journey for an agent to remain on-script. For instance, a customer may express frustration about a policy and make an off-handed remark about the company. This is a great time for an agent to stop, acknowledge the customer’s complaint and let the customer know that the team is doing everything in its power to address the situation. What the agent says or does in this situation could go a long way in furthering, or ending, the customer relationship.

In other words, it’s okay for agents to veer of the path and show their human side when it’s done appropriately, and at the right time.

That being said, it’s not something that should be encouraged often. Inexperienced agents should not attempt talking on their own, as it’s an easy way to get trapped by a customer and possibly say or do the wrong thing. There is an art to customer engagement, and it must be properly taught.

At InfoCision, our Communicators are specially trained to handle just about any situation that comes their way over the phone. InfoCision also offers custom script writing, so that you can formulate dialogue that your target audience will resonate with. These scripts can be updated as often as they are needed.

To learn more about InfoCision, click here.