The Unexpected Value of Sharing Knowledge

We hear a lot these days about customer service that goes “above and beyond,” but what does that really mean? Customers themselves may not even know, but they know it when they see it. One way your Communicators can provide this level of service is to answer questions that customers didn’t even know they had when they called.

Think about the last time someone gave you an unexpected “tip.” Maybe it was at the paint store, where the clerk steered you—without your having to ask—to a ½-inch-nap lambswool roller, and let you in on the secret that it’s considered the perfect roller by pro painters (it holds plenty of paint without adding too much texture). Or maybe you were wandering around the plant nursery and a worker suggested a trick for opening closed flower buds quickly (put them in warm water first, then cold water). She had no idea you were buying them for company that very night.

If you think people are delighted when they get tips and tricks like these about a purchase, you’re right. Why? Everyone feels good when someone else takes time out of their day, even if it’s just a moment, to help them. Second, we appreciate the “inside” information that we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else simply because we didn’t know enough to ask in the first place.

Here’s where your Communicators can elevate the customer experience. As brand ambassadors, they are considered experts about a product or service. They’ve answered thousands of questions about it, had the same number of conversations about it, and are privy to a great deal of information that customers will likely never know. Taking a bit of extra time on the phone or typing one extra text message with a golden nugget of useful information could be just what the situation needs to turn an ordinary service interaction into an extraordinary one.

Is Social Customer Care As Successful As We Think?

Every business puts “customer care” at the top of its priority list, particularly in today’s highly competitive environment where consumers have so many choices and loyalty is at a premium. Social media service has been touted as the next big thing, and headlines heralded that it would soon make the old fashioned call center a thing of the past. However, a recent news article revealed the fact that social customer care may already be falling behind, even though it seems to be just hitting its stride.

Customer care delivered via social media may not be as effective as once hoped for several reasons. For one, there aren’t enough well-trained customer care professionals handling social media inquiries. While phone-based customer service is often delivered with a personal touch and a professional attitude, people may lack understanding of how social media works. It is also difficult to finesse a complicated service conversation or complaint over social media without special training and know-how.

For social customer care to be successful, customer care specialists must handle social media interactions must with the same poise, compassion, and professionalism that they bring to telephone or in-person interactions. Social media service shouldn’t be looked at simply as an “add on” or “extra.” Instead, service professionals should strive to fully develop it as a service channel. There are fine points to communicating via social media, and the rules for high-quality telephone interactions should also apply here—such as resolving problems quickly, reducing the need to repeat information, and providing courteous service.

With the right education and understanding in place, social media can become a fully fledged and effective customer service channel, but right now the risk is that it will fall behind and out of customer preference.

Critical Conversations in the Contact Center

Your brand voice, as well as the customer experience you deliver, can be either buoyed or destroyed for a customer by one poor interaction with a customer care Communicator. It all comes down to that single individual and how effectively he or she resolves the customer’s issue.

That’s a lot of pressure on Communicators—and their managers, who must ensure their front-line staff are prepared to deliver the best possible customer service. Toward this end, it’s critical that Communicators are equipped with the training and tools they need to meet customer expectations.

Those components determine the quality of the conversations between callers and Communicators. Training and tools need to be dispensed in line with contact center priorities and trends. For example, top customer service trends during the past year included omnichannel, mobile, self-help, social media and customer experience.

Start improving conversations by collecting and analyzing your contact center data. With the right tools, you’ll discover the journey your customers take before they call your facility. This will help you determine the level of service they’ll expect upon their arrival.

Contact center technology solutions also give managers the ability to understand how Communicator training/coaching and tool usage are impacting customer service—and, ultimately, the bottom line. While statistics, such as average handle time, tell part of the story, decision makers more and more are looking at metrics that indicate how the customer is being affected, such as level of satisfaction.

By truly understanding customer expectations and how best to meet those demands, as well as empowering Communicators with the appropriate tools and knowledge, contact centers will be primed to foster stellar conversations between employees and customers.

Show Customers You Care

Customers connecting with your contact center are looking for empathy as well as the resolution of their issues. When interacting with your Communicators, they want understanding, not pity.

A recent Aspect Software study shows that customers who reported an exceptional contact center experience also rated Communicator empathy very high, at 88 percent. This strongly suggests that strong empathy skills, in addition to providing customers with the service they require, are key to ensuring customer satisfaction.

Empathy is achieved in not only what the Communicator says but in his or her tone. Communicators exhibit empathy when they intently listen to the customer’s concerns and respond with warmth and sincerity. Oftentimes, paraphrasing the customer’s message back to him or her effectively communicates understanding without judgment. At the same time, Communicators should avoid sharing personal opinions or experiences; instead, they should maintain a professional and courteous manner.

While some aspects of empathy can be taught, contact center managers should attempt to hire Communicators who are naturally inclined to be empathetic and reassuring. When training is warranted, role playing is a good technique for managers to employ, bringing in appropriate remediation, including Communicator motivation (to build the trust that is essential to winning and retaining customers). Oftentimes, Communicator training includes learning rote phrases to use with customers; however, these often are more sympathetic than empathetic, which can sound condescending and insincere.

Instead, consider using empathy statements like those listed below, offered by Call Centre Helper, that exude the empathy that can lead to the development of customer/Communicator rapport. When communicating empathy, remember to use personal pronouns (“I” and “you”) to show personal involvement and interest:

  • I want to make sure that I truly understand what you’re telling me. I’m hearing that …
  • If I get your message wrong, please correct me before we’re done.
  • I will help you get this issue resolved.
  • Thank you for bringing this concern to our attention so that we can deal with it immediately.
  • I understand the problem and I’m taking the following steps to resolve it …
  • Your satisfaction means everything to us. Have we covered everything that you wanted to discuss today?

These are just examples, as it’s important that Communicators relate to customers naturally; otherwise, their sincerity could be called into question. Demonstrating sincerity and empathy will allow for better interaction for both parties.

When contact center leaders establish a culture based on core brand values, such as treating co-workers and customers fairly and politely, and set a good example in the workplace, then carryover from staff to customers will be easier to accomplish and reinforce.

Contact Center Strategies, Part 1: Multichannel Workforce Management

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.

Long Hold Times Spell Disaster for Contact Centers

It’s no mystery that customers would prefer immediate service to being put on hold while awaiting customer service support. But how damaging is the hold practice to your business?

Consider that 32 percent of respondents to an online Google survey said, “none,” when asked how long they’d be willing to wait on hold for customer service.

The general assumption among contact center leaders is that as long as 80 percent of calls are being answered within 20 seconds (the 80/20 service-level “gold standard”), your center is satisfying customers. So, what do you do about research that indicates that how calls are handled is more important than wait time?

It’s best that you hedge your bets. After all, according to Consumer Reports, 66 percent of callers are “highly annoyed” by long waits on hold.

Yes, a stellar customer experience is the new gold standard for contact centers, but that includes the entire customer journey, wait times included. A NewVoiceMedia infographic reveals that 44 percent of U.S. consumers take their business elsewhere as a result of inadequate service. A large majority of those individuals (89 percent) switch at least once every year, and 25 percent of those people say it’s because they were tired of being kept on hold.

How ’bout some good news? Twice as many consumers (50 percent) use a company more often after a positive customer experience, per NewVoiceMedia.

Unfortunately, however, thanks to social media, even one dissatisfied customer can affect your business. The infographic further shows that 59 percent of 25 to 34 year olds share poor customer experiences online and 63 percent of consumers read damaging reviews. That’s a lot of negative energy directed at your brand.

Don’t be terribly discouraged: Aggregated research indicates that contact center hold times of less than 20 to 30 seconds do not strongly impact the customer experience. Certain industry experts steer businesses away from meeting strict 80/20 parameters for this reason. They tend to recommend that organizations focus more on the customer’s end-to-end journey to create happier customers overall.

Maximize Use of Analytics to Optimize Customer Relationships

Analytics has taken the identification of contact center issues from gut instinct—or random sampling as managers walk the floor—to a science. It can help contact center leaders get to the root cause of problems, better enabling their resolution. In concert with the right applications, analytics can be used to ensure the optimal duration and profitability of a customer relationship.

As the application of analytics advances, it will be used to predict customer needs and behaviors to the point where contact center managers will be able to proactively deliver appropriate services—even before customers realize they need them!

Using data inputs—such as product use behavior, purchase history, Web and mobile clicks—contact center analytics will become a strategic tool for businesses. Managers will be enabled to provide white-glove service to their most valuable customers, as well as identify which customers have the potential to become majorly profitable—and serve them equally well.

To realize the full potential of contact center analytics, it must be combined with sales and marketing analytics. These business units have traditionally used analytics to better segment prospects for marketing purposes. The new opportunity is to use the data inputs from across the organization to better inform business decisions. With insights gained in this more holistic manner, contact center managers will understand how to engage and support customers throughout the relationship life cycle.

So, where do you begin the process of maximizing analytics for your contact center?

First of all, your company must be completely digitalized—to the point where nearly every customer touch point is accessible for analysis. Otherwise, missing data can skew analytics and set you up for a fall. Second, the contact center must put customer experience—not reducing handling times or reducing costs—at the center of its strategy. After all, you don’t want to let a customer slip through your fingers while you tally interaction expenses. Finally, the entire organization must be onboard with creating a culture where customer engagement is its main purpose and function. This last point is necessary to reduce organizational boundaries that might limit the sharing of meaningful data.

Once your organization is set up to optimize customer satisfaction, contact center analytics will be a far more strategic tool. You’ll gain a deep knowledge of customer drivers, and know how to best address them to strengthen relationships.

Keep Pace With E-Commerce Trends in the New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategies for Implementing Live Chat

It’s no mystery that you need live chat on your website or app to stay competitive in the e-commerce world. A chat box dropping down onto the user screen is becoming a commonplace occurrence for Internet information-seekers and shoppers, enabling them to quickly and easily connect with a Communicator in real time. Many companies have employed the technology to better serve customers and improve the experience with their brands.

The added bonus for businesses with a chat box offering is the increased ability it gives them to capture visitor information that can then be used to engage potential and existing customers. Most businesses work hard to bring visitors to their sites but, once they’ve arrived, have no means to gain knowledge about them if they don’t stay. This is often the case; in fact, on average, approximately 45 percent to 50 percent of website visitors leave before moving on to a second webpage—with the bounce rate on mobile devices even higher.

Instead, if your visitor clicks on the chat box, you have an opening to start collecting data: “Welcome to live chat. Who am I speaking with today? Can I get a callback number/email in case we get disconnected?”

Rely on your live chat to gather information organically and even filter out visitors that aren’t a match for your products or services. Plus, if you don’t already offer 24/7 service, your cloud-based live chat solution can enable a cost-effective after-hours presence for basic inquiries. Regular daytime staff can follow up on leads and complex questions.

Keep in mind a finding from Forrester Research: Forty-four percent of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person during a purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer.

Let your customers know you appreciate them by offering them real-time access to Communicators, helping them to quickly and easily resolve issues—and stay on your site through purchase.

Offshore Contact Centers—Is Your Message Getting Lost at Sea?

As part of a cost-initiative movement during the mid-1990s, contact center companies took a leap across the pond and began transferring their centers offshore. In doing so, these businesses were able to keep their wallets a little bit fuller, but not without lowering their customer satisfaction scores. This unintended outcome eventually hastened a return to U.S. soil for a good number of these offshore adventurers.

Communications between Americans and representatives at offshore contact centers often suffer from language barriers such as accents and pronunciation, creating customer dissatisfaction. Besides actual anomalies in voice interactions, cultural differences can cause communication issues too—usually from problems in message transmission. Values, beliefs and expectations for behavior accompany all human interactions, and often these are significantly different between countries, leading to missed cues and even insults.

Any of these communication gaffs can cause callers to feel undervalued because they add time to inquiry resolution.

After all, one key to making customers feel appreciated is to respect their time. Think about restaurants that give their customers a small remote control so that they can easily notify the valet service to bring the car around so that it’s waiting when they exit. Or, consider a contact center’s time-saving option that provides a callback service to customers waiting in its IVR queue.

Conversely, when customers and Communicators must continually repeat themselves to be understood, quick questions can turn into aggravating time drains. Even the technology that supports contact center functions can inadvertently add to the call’s duration; bad phone service or a poor Internet connection can ruin a conversation before it gets off the ground.

Quality communications, or the lack thereof, go beyond just accents and cultural differences, of course. When you offshore customer service, you increase the likelihood that call scripts will be followed too closely—in order to avoid introducing vocabulary and cultural hiccups—making customers feel like they’re talking to robots and/or being given irrelevant information. Plus, canned responses slow down the whole customer service process.

Remember that customer service has become one of the most important aspects of a company’s business. In fact, research shows that 66 percent of consumers who switched brands did so because of poor service. More often than not, cutting costs means cutting corners—a decision that may be compromising to your brand.