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.

What Is Your Long Term Vision For Your Contact Center?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

If you are reading this article, then I’m willing to bet that you are unsatisfied with the current state of your contact center. You want change, and you want it now!

The good news is that change can happen very quickly in the contact center. You don’t have to wait months, or years, to turn your department on its head. All you have to do is outsource your department to a contact center solutions provider and immediately be spared from many of the headaches that are dragging it down.

If you do nothing, then nothing will change.

So that being said, it’s time to spend some time thinking about what you want out of your business’s contact center. By working with a third party contact center solutions provider, you will get:

More revenue:  Instead of finishing every quarter in the red zone, your contact center could actually start profiting. A contact center solutions provider can help you form a data-driven strategy, and then execute consistently to generate stronger returns from customers or donors.

A healthy donor pool: Donor pools need to be properly maintained in order to ensure that they keep producing year in and year out. This requires keeping donors informed and updated with news and information, performing periodic outreach and much more. It’s actually a very delicate process, and one that should only be done by a group of experts. The last thing you want to do is upset or frighten a pool of financial contributors!

Better reviews: By outsourcing your customer service operations, you will receive a service level agreement (SLA)-backed quality guarantee. Instead of generating complaints, you will start producing more positive customer service reviews.

A better pipeline for innovation: Right now, ideas are streaming into your contact center on a daily basis, directly from customers who are innovating with your products. Unfortunately, these ideas are hitting a brick wall due to a lack of information sharing. A contact center solutions provider will specialize in receiving, processing and distributing important insights. This will directly fuel innovation.

Lower turnover: Is your contact center a revolving door for agents? If so, then your business is losing a great deal of money annually. Contact center turnover can also spread to different parts of the enterprise, and therefore negatively impact morale. By investing in a contact center solutions provider, you will be spared from the negative impact of turnover.

By using this strategy, you could transform your contact center into one of the biggest revenue generators for your organization. It will be a place to foster customer growth, grow your business and provide around-the-clock support. It just requires taking a small leap of faith.

To learn more about how InfoCision can help your contact center, click here.

Attitude Means Everything in Customer Service

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Contact centers have changed dramatically over the last several years. Customer expectations have skyrocketed, there are countless new technologies available on the market, and data has emerged as a major driving force in customer support.

But there is one thing that has not changed, and most likely never will: That is, the need for agents to be polite and courteous to customers at all times. In fact, in today’s ultra-competitive market, where shoppers are empowered to make their own choices — and quick to report negative experiences — attitude is arguably more important than ever before.

As a new study shows, agent attitude can have a direct impact on a business’s bottom line. When agents are polite to customers, average call times can increase by as many as three minutes — which is an eternity in outbound communications. An extra few minutes can make the world of a difference in closing a sale or securing a financial contribution from a donor.

Now, this should be a no-brainer. It’s not rocket science to say that being polite will get you much further when dealing with customers. But as the same study shows, customer service agents seem to be missing the point.

While 79 percent of callers are polite to agents, only 57 percent of agents will demonstrate the same courtesy back. So there is some room for improvement here.

Of course, this may seem like a tall order. After all, you can’t hold your agents’ hands during customer service interactions. But you can take certain steps to mitigate risk and reduce the likelihood of having negative experiences.

Here are some ways this can be done:

Hire the right representatives: As much thought should be put into hiring a customer service agent as any other employee in the organization. It’s critical to hire people who demonstrate characteristics like strong emotional and intellectual intelligence, patience and empathy. These are not skills that can be easily taught.

Train agents properly: Even the best agents will need to be properly trained so that they are clear about how they should be communicating with customers. By devoting the proper resources to training, it will reduce risk down the road. Training should also be an ongoing process that gets revisited from time to time.

Monitor progress: Agents should never be left to their own accord. While it’s impossible to monitor every single interaction for quality control purposes, managers do need to keep a close watch on what is actually happening during customer interactions. Otherwise, agents could go rogue. And this could cause trouble.

Maintain a healthy culture: Agents are bound to feel happier and more courteous when they are happy about their workplace and its culture. So it’s vital to ensure that the contact center is a fun, healthy and productive environment. Reward agents that do well, and offer praise when it is due.

Here at InfoCision, our customers Communicators are second to none. We hire the absolute best in the industry, providing our customers with access to the finest professionals on the market.

To learn more, click here.