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.

 

Tips for Designing a Profitable Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Let’s assume that right now, your business does not have a dedicated contact center. Right now you have a blank slate to start with, and money to spend. And you are wondering about whether it’s a good idea to move forward with a contact center for your business. Is it really something that your organization can afford?

First and foremost, you absolutely need a contact center. The decisions that you make while acquiring one, though, will either come back to haunt you later or generate strong returns for years to come.

A contact center, in other words, can be notoriously expensive after factoring in things like staff and labor, technology, overhead, maintenance, and telecommunications costs. Many contact centers — specifically large, in-house operations — tend to burn through much more revenue than they bring in.  Owning a contact center can quickly turn into a major money pit for an organization.

Understand, though, that it’s possible to design a modern, effective, high quality contact center at a price that aligns with your business’s budget.

Here are some things that you can do to operate a profitable contact center:

Minimize overhead: It’s not the look or feel of your building or office that will determine whether your contact center is profitable in the long run. So it’s okay to be cheap and even thrifty with your setup. Your facility, in other words, does not have to resemble a Silicon Valley startup office. Spend money on the bare essentials, and look for ways to trim down waste. This is also true from a technology startup. Only purchase technologies that can significantly help your agents, and pass on some of the flashy, expensive cutting-edge solutions that you see.

 Be smart about what you buy: This is not to say you should be cheap about the communications equipment that you use. By all means, give your agents high quality equipment that will be bug-free and they will feel comfortable using. But be wary of vendors offering fancy new contact center technologies. At the end of the day, your don’t need much more than the basics to do a great job — such as a reliable phone system, a customer service/ customer relationship management platform, a high quality headset and of course analytics.

Outsource operations: Keep in mind that it’s one thing to come up with a budget and plan to control costs in your contact center. But it’s quite another thing to achieve real cost savings while operating your own facility. There will always be unexpected expenses to face like high employee turnover, equipment upgrades, utilities and more. By outsourcing your contact center operations, though, you will avoid many of these costs while also receiving guaranteed results.

Technology and Customer Service: They Go Hand In Hand

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

 Now that the Major League Baseball season is over, pay attention to what happens over the next several weeks. Teams are now assessing their rosters and trying to figure out what they need to do to get better before next year. Some teams, for instance, will be in the market for pitching. Others will want to improve their defense, or power.

 The point, in other words, is that success — in baseball, and in business — does not happen automatically. You need to make some impactful decisions if you want to bring about real changes in your organization next year.

As such, customer service administrators need to perform this same gut check from time to time. It’s important to take a hard look at your department, understand the resources you have and then determine what you need to get better.

To help get you started, here are some of the top technologies that you should be utilizing in your contact center heading into 2018:

 CRM integration: Chances are likely that your business is already collecting a significant amount of data during customer service interactions. But are you actually leveraging this data, or is the vast majority of it lying dormant inside of your customer relationship management (CRM) system? Look for a way to integrate this data across the enterprise. For instance, you can buy a business phone system that correlates with your CRM database.

Apps: Despite the overwhelming demand for business apps, many organizations are still not offering them to customers. Apps are an excellent way to provide self service for customers, as they make it easy to perform a variety of tasks. By offering apps, you can significantly reduce your incoming call volumes.

 Omnichannel service: In the past, businesses could get away with offering customer service over one or two channels. But now, it’s important to provide customer service over all channels. This is called omnichannel service. Now, it’s possible to invest in a platform that allows agents to “follow” customers as they move from the phone to a website live chat box to social media or email. Omnichannel service involves providing seamless service wherever the customer decides to go.

 Chatbots: Every contact center should be using chatbots in some form or another. Chatbots, or automated agents, are a great and cost-effective way to provide around-the-clock customer service. You can either build your own custom chatbots, or buy them pre-made. Just remember: Bots can be very helpful for customers, but they can never replace the power of a live agent. There needs to be a balance. In an ideal chatbot setup, an agent will preside over several different automated bots and manually intervene whenever it is necessary. A single agent, in other words, can manage five or more bots at a single time.

Expect Unhappy Customers To Take Action Against Your Company

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

 Every company dreams of having “brand influencers,” or super-customers who continuously rave about their favorite products and services to followers over social media. But this does not always happen. On the other end of the spectrum are “brand detractors” or customers that will actively speak out when they are unhappy with a company.

How your team manages these “brand detractors” will go a long way in determining its public perception. Dealing with a single unhappy customer, in other words, is a bit like managing a small fire. If left unchecked, or mishandled, a customer’s anger could quickly spread to others and cause a considerable amount of damage to the brand’s online reputation.

 This is especially problematic in the financial services industry, where more than 1 in 5 Americans claim they will leave their bank if they are unhappy with the customer service they receive. And 78 percent will take a form of action by switching banks, filing a complaint or sharing their bad experiences with their contacts or audiences.

Of course, not all problems can be easily silenced. But most problems can be eased or solved by getting on the phone and having a conversation with an agent. The contact center can be like a buffer that can be used to communicate with customers before they reach for social media.

A well-managed contact center can prevent customer complaints from spreading by:

 Serving as an outlet to vent: What do you do when you get really mad or frustrated about something? Chances are likely you will find someone — anyone — and tell them about your issue. Talking through a situation can help you think through the issue and get another opinion.

Oftentimes, you can come to a conclusion that you had not previously thought of. The trick is to offer customers many different communications channels like a telephone line, email, live chat and social support. The more options you give them, and the easier you make it to communicate, the more likely customers will be to reach out and attempt to solve their issues in the contact center as opposed to their social followers.

Providing an opportunity for retention: When customers get very angry, they often attempt to cancel their services. This is where it pays to have a dedicated contact center. A customer service agent could attempt to keep a customer by offering incentives or rewards. It’s sometimes possible to prevent customers from leaving if you make them feel special and appreciated.

 Showing what consumers want: A contact center can be an amazing resource for learning about consumer behavior. After all, if one customer is experiencing an issue chances are that it’s impacting many others, too. In a well-managed contact center, all complaints are processed, reviewed and addressed so that the company can continuously improve.

 

Beware the Hidden Expenses of Offshore Outsourcing

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Once you make the decision to outsource your customer service department, you will then have to decide whether to keep operations on U.S. soil or explore the international market.

There are countless reasons to go the domestic route, and in this article I will focus on one in particular: You will save a great deal of money. The fact is that it’s much more affordable to keep your customer service department here in the U.S. than it is to outsource to an international provider in a place like India or the Philippines.

Businesses often outsource to international providers thinking they will save money, but fail to consider some of the many hidden costs that can arise during the process.

Some of these hidden expenses can include:

Selecting a vendor: Selecting a contact center solutions provider is a big decision, especially if when searching for long-term contract. You will be outsourcing a major part of your business, which requires placing a tremendous amount of trust in another company. It’s therefore very important to meet with your new team before you sign any agreements, possibly even several times. Hidden costs can therefore arise during the vendor selection process, especially if you are travelling back and forth and spending a great deal of time performing research and negotiating contracts.

Transition costs: Outsourcing your contact center to an international provider will not be an overnight process. Your department will have to transition over to its new facility, a process that can take several months or even years. And during this time period, significant costs can accrue. Your team, for instance, may have to spend a fair amount of time communicating and working with the new overseas service team to eliminate cultural differences and educate them about your brand. You could also face higher telecommunications costs, and information technology-related expenses. For instance, certain countries now have strict data privacy laws that may require you to purchase new security technologies or update existing systems.

Lower-quality interactions: Even the best overseas agents will have a much harder time connecting with local customers. There is a cultural disconnection that your customers will immediately pick up on, and some customers may even view your brand negatively if they see you are supporting foreign workers instead of American workers.

Legal complications: Foreign contact centers tend to be much more aggressive in reaching their key performance indicators (KPIs), so they can look good and keep generating repeat sales. In doing so, many organizations are likely to bypass Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) protocols, which limit how businesses can communicate with consumers. This can lead to expensive and damaging class action lawsuits. The safer alternative is to work with a domestic provider offering rapid response legal advice.

 

Use Live Chat to Improve Agent Productivity

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

I’m willing to bet that right now, you are simultaneously chatting with at least a few different individuals on your smartphone. Maybe you are making plans with a friend, offering personal advice to a colleague and talking about business with a client. And all the while, you are carrying on with your own tasks in between messages.

Chatting online in near real-time, in other words, allows you to be highly productive — far more productive than when using traditional communications channels. After all, you can chat with several different people simultaneously when texting; you can only talk to one person at a time over the phone. And you can only send one email at a time, too.

For this reason, countless businesses are now adding live chat boxes to their list of customer service offerings. Web-based live chat has emerged as one of the most widely-used tools for customer service in the contact center.

What’s great, too, is that there is software available that automates the live chat process. Now, agents can supervise several different chat “bots” as they carry on conversations with customers in real-time, and intervene in key situations like when customers ask difficult questions. When done correctly, customers shouldn’t even know they are communicating with bots.

Here are some of the top reasons for using live chat in the contact center:

Customers want to use it: Live chat certainly can’t replace traditional communications channels, like the phone or email. These channels always need to remain open for customers. But many customers prefer to use live chat, because it helps them resolve issues much faster. With live chat, customers never have to wait more than a few minutes to speak with a representative. So offering live chat will be a welcome addition for your customers.

Help more customers: By responding to customers faster over live chat, you will reduce the number of dropped calls throughout the day. Many customers, for instance, hang up while waiting on hold instead of waiting. This happens much less with live chat. A single agent, too, could help five or more customers at a single time. So using live chat will allow you to get much more out of your agents.

Plus, you can use chat bots to offer low-cost after-hours care. The vast majority of after-hours inquiries can be solved automatically, sparing you from having to staff large numbers of agents. Keep in mind, though, that you should always have agents on hand throughout the night or weekend.

Reduce costs: By offering customers live chat, and encouraging them to use it instead of the phone, you will reduce your monthly incoming calls. This will mean less monthly telecommunications expenses.

 

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.

The Top Financial Returns You Can Expect When Outsourcing Your Contact center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

The phrase “digital transformation” continues to be one of the hottest buzzwords in business right now, as organizations across all vertical markets are actively looking for ways to improve efficiencies, slash operating costs and drive stronger profits.

Digital transformation is a phrase that you commonly hear in the data center, but it’s now being applied to all areas of the enterprise — especially in the contact center space. Traditional contact centers using legacy infrastructure, after all, are extremely expensive to own and operate and many businesses today — particularly small to medium-sized organizations — are struggling to keep them up and running at a high level.

As such, a growing number of businesses are now outsourcing operations to third party contact center solutions providers. And they are experiencing strong financial returns in the process.

Here are some of the top financial returns that your business will experience by outsourcing the contact center:

Less overhead: Imagine not having to pay for things like rent, utilities and building maintenance in your contact center. A contact center solutions provider will eliminate overhead in your department, giving you extra capital to pump back into important things like research & development.

Zero CAPEX or OPEX: Another major benefit to outsourcing your contact center is that you will avoid having to continuously purchase and upgrade your infrastructure — like your agents’ machines, headsets and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Your contact center solutions provider will guarantee that you always have access to the latest and most powerful contact center hardware and software on the market, for a fraction of what it would cost you otherwise.

Fewer salaries: Contact center agents can cost a lot of money, especially when hiring large teams of them. Again, this can be easily outsourced — eliminating the hassle of having to hire and pay agents, while still benefitting from a full, and high quality, workforce. What’s more, contact centers tend to have higher turnover, which can be very expensive.

Legal protection: This is one of the biggest hidden ROI of outsourcing your contact center. Businesses tend to run into trouble with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) when performing their own customer outreach initiatives, as regulations are very complex. When businesses attempt to form their own customer outreach strategies, often they will make mistakes that can lead to costly class action lawsuits. Contact center solutions providers offer in-house legal teams, to offer guidance for customers and mitigate costly legal problems.

More satisfied customers: Ultimately, outsourcing your contact center will result in happier customers. Contact center solutions providers specialize in keeping customers satisfied and resolving their issues. So businesses can spend less money in the long run, while drastically improving their chances of generating positive service reviews, and fostering loyal customers.

Eliminate These Inconsistencies in Your Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Consumer expectations have skyrocketed in recent years, and contact centers today are under an enormous amount of pressure to keep up with their demands. Today, customers expect flawless interactions at every touchpoint. And even the slightest inconsistency could be enough to negatively impact their overall experience, and cause them to seek out competitors.

For this reason, customer service administrators need to have eagle eyes for inconsistencies in the contact center that could negatively impact customer relations. Such inconsistencies need to be discovered and eradicated in a timely manner.

Here are some common inconsistencies facing contact centers today:

Poor after hours support:  In the past, contact centers could get away with asking customers to call back the following business day. But now, contact centers can never really close. Contact centers need to offer around-the-clock customer care, especially for critical processes like billing, financial support or card services. For instance, suppose a customer loses his or her payment card on a Saturday night. That customer shouldn’t have to deal with a complicated interactive voice response system, or wait forever to speak with an agent on the phone to take action. He or she should always have a direct pipeline to a live customer service representative.

A lack of omnichannel support: By now it’s no secret that businesses need to be offering customer support across a variety of different channels — like social media, the phone and email. But now, businesses need to go a step further and offer “omnichannel” support, or consistent and contextual support across all channels. A customer service department, should be able to “follow” a customer across different channels while helping them. For instance, a customer should be able to start a live chat with a customer service agent, then switch over to a phone call without breaking stride or having to repeat information. Not enough businesses are offering omnichannel support today.

“Shadow” agents: Large contact centers sometimes suffer from “shadow” agents, or representatives who operate with little managerial oversight. When this happens, agents may be less inclined to follow the rules. They may “pass” difficult customers along to other agents, or drop them altogether. Or, they may be unprofessional to customers—putting the brand’s reputation at risk. This problem can be solved by using small teams of customer service agents who are in direct communication with team managers throughout the day. “Shadow” agents need to be prevented.

Stagnant data: Contact centers today are collecting a variety of important data, but most organizations aren’t using it effectively. Data needs to not only be collected, but also processed and shared across the enterprise in a robust customer relationship management (CRM) solution. The more fluid a business’s data is, the more effective it can be.

Three Questions to Ask About Your Donor Marketing Strategy

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Many contact centers today are struggling with their fundraising efforts, despite the fact that they have long lists of potential financial donors who are more than willing to contribute to their campaigns. I have spoken with countless contact center administrators who just can’t seem to light a fire under their donor bases, no matter how hard they try.

Show me a poor donor turnout during a fundraiser, though, and the first thing I will look into is its supporting marketing strategy. Donor ecosystems need to be properly maintained and targeted at key points throughout the year in order to generate strong results. It takes a great deal of hard work, a superb eye for detail and careful planning to be successful.

Understand, too, that donors aren’t like regular consumers, especially for organizations like colleges, hospitals and medical research groups where individuals may have deep ties to the cause or vested interest in its growth. For instance, a college graduate may feel particularly strong about helping his or her former school to succeed. As such, donors need to be treated with a very high level of care.

Is your donor marketing strategy in need of an overhaul? Here are three questions you can ask about your process:

  1. Are you nurturing your donors? Even the most willing donors need to be reminded about your campaign from time to time. You can’t instruct your agents to make cold calls and expect to experience strong results. Instead, you need to get them thinking about your cause in the months and weeks leading up to your pitch. You may want to consider setting up a special part of your blog specifically for donors, in order to generate interest. Or, you could try setting up a newsletter, social account or mailing service. Just remember to always add value in the content you are sending them, and try to make them feel special about your company.
  2. Are you in tune with the needs of your donors? If you are already sending out content to your donors, and it’s not working, the next step is to ask why. It could be that you are out of touch with their needs. Take a good look at your marketing assets, and the data that you are using to create them. You may need to start over with fresh data and a strategy that is more in line with what your contributors care about.
  3. How are your agents performing? At the end of the day, you can have the most up to date marketing materials driven by the latest data — but you still need high quality agents to pick up the phone, chat with the donor, make him or her feel great and then close on a donation. So it’s worth considering whether the agents you are using are helping or hindering your cause.