Team Empowerment in the Contact Center

Everyone can agree that it’s important to empower your workforce but developing best practices to boost retention and morale in the contact center space is critical. At InfoCision, we have decades of experience, which equates to a plethora of time-tested, valuable ideas.

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s a time like no other to evaluate how your management team offers appreciation and encouragement to everyone on your workforce, especially including your team on the phone. From gamification and e-cards built-in our screens each day, to holiday-themed grand prize giveaways, we motivate our agents to provide excellent customer service in every call. However, empowerment is more than just the stuff money can buy. It’s:

    • Building an environment where people genuinely want to come to work – a place that fosters self-esteem, builds confidence, and feels like family
    • Believing in the values of the organizations and brands we’re asking others to support
    • Having supervisors and managers who practice empathy and active-listening, remembering birthdays and asking about sick grandkids
    • Visiting the call center floor regularly with senior management who are invested in acquiring feedback from agents, in person, themselves
    • Focusing on finding solutions within an atmosphere of remarkable teamwork, not just debriefings venting about common challenges
    • Ensuring your team has the tools they need to offer an unmatched customer experience

     

  • Genuine job satisfaction comes from more than appreciative Christmas cards, offering team lunches, and coordinating cheesy holiday festivities. True empowerment is generated through a culture of operational excellence, in a commitment to the continual and sincere encouragement and inspiration of your workforce – not just during the holidays, but throughout the entire year.

Benefits of Building a Contact Center in the Cloud

As a small- to medium-sized business (SMB), do you have the resources in-house to support today’s customer service demands? For instance, are you prepared to deliver consistent, seamless customer experiences across multiple channels? The evolved customer of the Digital Age expects to connect with companies by the digital channels they already use in their daily lives.

This can be a daunting goal for many SMBs—both operationally and financially. Upgrading your contact center facilities and technology to accommodate new channels and services can be an enemy to profits.  In response to commercial pressures and technological opportunities, a new contact center model has emerged: the virtual contact center. For SMBs and larger enterprises, this model may defray costs and increase customer satisfaction.

In the model, Customer Care Communicators work remotely using a VoIP communication system and cloud-based services. A virtual contact center can consist of many operations, including home and satellite offices, which are linked together and managed as a single site. This allows for greater efficiencies, significant economies of scale and the opportunity for performance improvements.

The model has both risks and benefits, which must be assessed independently by each business considering the option.

Your case for transitioning to a virtual contact center must take into account the following three fundamental factors: customer satisfaction, reliability and security, and platform openness and flexibility. Do your due diligence as follows:

  • Assess challenges and goals: Build a case by examining your current capabilities, plans for growth and customer satisfaction. Look at barriers to achieving your KPIs and delivering great service. Evaluate your existing platform and assess what’s missing and what upgrades should be a priority.
  • Determine costs: What are budget requirements over time? You can subtract hardware costs and add savings from scaling up and down flexibly. You’ll have costs for agents, supported channels and analytic functions.
  • Define metrics: Assess current analytics and KPIs to determine which can apply to a contact center in the cloud. How will you measure customer experience and operational efficiency?

As you assess whether the transition to a virtual contact center is right for your business, consider the additional benefits you may gain:

  • Larger pool of skills
  • Balanced work across locations
  • Widely deployed and managed skills
  • One-time easy and flexible forecasting and scheduling
  • Increased global coverage
  • Standardized application deployment
  • 24/7 agent availability
  • Dynamic choice of outsourcers

While cost savings are the primary driver for many transitions to the cloud, keep these other benefits in mind as well—especially as you look at risks, which can be significant. For example, you may experience increased staff turnover if home workers are not self-starters. In addition, the transfer of knowledge and training can be challenging in a virtual environment. Remote workers will also require more attention from supervisors to ensure they don’t feel isolated from the business—and from corporate values and standards.

If the pros outweigh the risks for your organization, you’re on your way to building your contact center in the cloud.  

Transforming a Contact Center into an Insights Center

Customers expect the brands they favor to know who they are. They also expect them to be able to call upon past information to quickly resolve their issues. Yet, if companies don’t have strong analytic capabilities, they will have a hard time coming up with the insights they need to meet or exceed these expectations.

To stand out as a brand that offers excellent customer experience—resulting in heightened customer satisfaction, acquisition and retention—requires advanced contact center analytics capabilities, enhanced application functionality, and an omnichannel communications system that includes social and mobile.

With these technologies, contact centers will become insight centers that create new experiences that foster deeper customer relationships and improve customer loyalty. These are the rewards of strong analytics capabilities. In fact, Forrester research indicates that the companies that are able to harness customers’ digital data will increase their revenue from $333 billion in 2015 to $1.2 trillion by 2020.

Closing the gaps

Seventy-four percent of firms say they want to be data-driven, but only 29 percent say they are good at connecting analytics to action, according to Forrester research. The challenges range from funding to talent to access to feedback to fragmentation.

Investments in contact center technology tend to lag since these centers are often perceived as cost centers, not profit centers. In addition, many businesses don’t have the resources to create their own data teams. Another hurdle is limited access by customer care associates to all the channels customers use, limiting full understanding of customer interactions. Lastly, contact center staff aren’t typically privy to customer experience survey results or analyses beyond those directly impacting the contact center, which, again, limits visibility into customer needs. Last but not least, contact center tools are not integrated with other enterprise tools, leading to siloed data and misaligned business processes.

A transformative strategy should include implementing analytics tools, e.g., speech and text, journey and/or real-time process automation, to meet enterprise objectives, such as improving the customer experience to drive revenue growth.

According to a TeleTech report, businesses need to take several critical steps to enable their ability to continuously collect data across channels, as well as test and analyze it to find actionable insights:

  • Map existing contact center data flows: Based on preferred, pre-defined customer experience journeys, identify gaps in customer knowledge that could be filled by integrating data from other internal and external sources.
  • Store data in a centralized customer data repository: Ensure processes are in place so that everything that is known about customers—from attributes to attitudes to behaviors to values—can be leveraged from one location. A robust CRM tool, for example, might suffice.
  • Analyze and model the consolidated data: Orchestrate specialized actions to maximize opportunities, such as improvements to customer satisfaction while also achieving service-level agreement designations. Include testing to support continuous improvements.
  • Develop automated reports and dashboards: Display key metrics pertaining to the various interactions customers have with the brand, as well as the downstream behaviors, e.g., product purchase rates and customer churn, that will impact the business.

As you upgrade your contact center, keep in mind that analytical tools can’t work in a vacuum; rather, they reflect the quality of the data that is applied. They also require human understanding to garner more instinctual insights than the data can convey.

Evolution of the Customer Experience and Impact on Businesses

The customer experience has grown into an all-encompassing vision for businesses. Where once it was the responsibility of a single department, it now comprises all functions and levels within an organization—from marketing to IT to operations to sales.

Before the Digital Age, customers interacted with companies at their brick-and-mortar stores, by (snail) mail and through their call centers. This often meant that customer service took a backseat to growing profits. But this worked out OK for businesses because the customer was fairly removed from product design, had few alternatives, and had a limited ability to spread any negative feedback.

Now that society is more connected, and the flow of information has intensified, companies have been compelled to rethink their customer service strategies. As far back as 2013, CMO reported that 76 percent of retail customer touches take place through websites, followed by 73 percent through email messages, 50 percent with in-person store visits and 43 percent through mobile. Now, growing profits means providing an experience that meets or exceeds customer expectations. Otherwise, you may be called out on social media platforms or be replaced by a competitor.

Opportunities in a connected world

The digital expansion of customer touch points adds complexity to the customer experience, but it also offers a variety of channels for reaching your key targets. Through social media, your website blog, forums, YouTube and many other channels, you can engage with customers and immerse them in your brand. With interesting, relevant and informative content, you develop trust and then loyalty.

What’s important is that you don’t let content about your brand move beyond your control. Consumers are constantly exposed to information that may make them reassess their choices—don’t let your brand take the fall. We are in an era of non-stop evaluation. Companies must use advanced analytical capabilities to follow and guide customers through the journey.

Accenture research shows that two factors are key to the customer experience: 1) trustability, and 2) continuous, complete and fast service. The consulting firm also found that a good experience with one company drives customer expectations for all other companies. This means that businesses should take note of best practices and deploy them in their operations.

Overall, a customer-centric organization will adopt customer experience management as a formal business process that is focused on developing deep, broad, long-term customer relationships.

Impact of improved customer experience

After implementing a differentiated customer experience strategy, you can expect significant positive results, per Accenture, such as:

  • New customer acquisition: Better customer management can lead to a 10 to 12 percent improvement in customer acquisition.
  • Customer retention: Higher customer satisfaction results in a 10 to 15 percent increase in retention.
  • More purchases: Nine out of 10 customers experiencing increased satisfaction would buy 8 to 10 percent more products from a company.
  • Lower costs: Organizations that manage the customer experience well can expect the costs of acquisitions and service to decline by 5 to 8 percent.

Expect these sorts of successes if your company has evolved to the point where all stakeholders across the organization are aligned to deliver a stellar customer experience.

Your Contact Center Has a Bright Future

Trends in the contact center space include customer demand for self-service: what many customers today consider the quickest and easiest way to resolve issues. When customers do personally reach out to companies, they are often rankled by the service they receive. In fact, the majority are dissatisfied. Does this mean your contact center’s days are numbered? On the contrary!  There’s good reason for optimism.

First of all, today’s contact centers are focused on providing a valuable customer experience. Quality is paramount. This is why many companies that shipped their customer service organizations overseas have pulled them back to shore. Customers just weren’t happy with language barriers and cultural differences that often came to light.

Improvements in meeting customer expectations are reflected in the multiple communication channels many contact center facilities now provide to “be where their customers are.” Customer preferences are considered a top priority. This means that interactive voice response (IVR) systems are now easier to navigate, and customers receive callbacks rather than waiting on hold for a customer care Communicator.

And while contact centers are responding to consumer demand for self-service options, the top-notch ones continue to provide live Communicators for more complex issue resolution. While research shows that customers prefer to resolve their own problems when possible, a personal touch is desired when things get complicated. This approach means that today’s Communicators develop expertise regarding their company’s products and services.

Today’s leading contact centers also ensure that Communicators can leverage intelligence across the organization—from data collected in corporate networks to staff in other departments. This requires integration of internal systems and intelligent routing capabilities, which—if not already in place—are on the docket for contact centers eager to respond at the highest level to customer needs.

A 2017 report by JLL Research on U.S. contact centers states that the contact center industry showed steady growth across global markets in 2016, outpacing economic growth. The U.S. contact center industry maintained the largest share of the global market, with 1.5 percent annual growth in contact center spending. In 2015, the U.S. market supported 2.6 million contact center employees—a gain of 34.5 percent over the past five years.

The report also revealed that third-party providers, which represent 25 percent of the contact center industry, are expected to increase revenues as corporations turn to outsourcing basic business and analytics functions. North American contact center outsourcing providers had 2015 revenues of $9.4 billion—up 22.3 percent from 2013.

Even online businesses that have moved away from contact centers in favor of social media and virtual help centers are coming back. In fact, an Econsultancy article reveals that 76 percent of companies learn about website problems as a result of calls to their contact centers. In addition, many Web transactions are still completed with the help of a customer care agent, and many customers will go elsewhere if the interaction is not smooth.

The contact center is actually more of a central hub than ever because customers expect to be able to jump to a live Communicator from any channel. The contact center is also the place where businesses are bridging gaps between online and offline channels, giving companies the complete context of their customers’ interactions. With these insights, the contact center is shaping the customer experience with extraordinary service that should bring customers back again and again.

Small Gestures to Make Customers Feel Valued

We live in a data-driven and digital-first world, making it easy for companies to overlook the value of genuinely connecting with customers.

Even as consumers yearn for self-service options to speed up transactions with brands, and even as they opt to research products and services long before contacting a vendor about a purchase, they still welcome small gestures of appreciation from the businesses they patronize. What’s more, they develop loyalty to the brands that show them respect by going the extra mile to meet their needs.

Consider how top customer service companies like Amazon, Nordstrom and Hyatt Hotels work harder, smarter and more effectively to satisfy their customers, making them feel valued and prone to repeat business. For example, on top of offering incredibly fast response times and seamless returns, Amazon empowers employees to sacrifice an immediate sale or their time for the sake of resolving a customer’s issues. When customer satisfaction is a company’s primary focus, customer retention is often a given.

Businesses without the processes or machinery to compete with multibillion dollar companies like Amazon are not, however, without resources that can impact customer relationships just as notably and favorably. Sometimes a personal touch—from a friendly smile to remembering a customer’s name to a waived fee—goes a long way toward building a lasting relationship.

For example, some insurance companies give their associates the option of sending customers celebratory or sympathy cards, or the authority to send a hand-written message.

Developing the necessary customer-centricity that encourages customer devotion to a brand must start at the top of the company hierarchy. This is where strategies for understanding and meeting customer need must start and then flow to employees, aligning them with the vision. This may mean loosening the reins of scripted interactions, which also means boosting hiring practices to ensure that the right people are in place—with the right emotional predilections—to address customer concerns with aplomb.

Companies that limit customer service due to time or budget constraints are missing the opportunity to grow their business. Remember when Starbuck Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz closed all Starbucks locations for three hours during normal business hours to give employees a refresher course on the art of making expresso? He also discussed the importance of getting to know customers and greeting them by name.

Yet, simpler measures—like bringing hotel guests extra towels, or presenting restaurant patrons with a free drink on their birthdays—can be just as effective.

Don’t neglect to leverage your company’s data to deliver personalized services. For example, your customer relationship management (CRM) solution makes it easy to map a customer’s phone number or email address with a customer record. Airlines do this all the time to automatically alert passengers of a flight delay or cancellation. When a passenger calls in, an automated system recognizes them and can quickly offer assistance.

If you notice a gap between customer expectations and the customer service you provide, make it a priority to get a leg up on your competitors by showering your customers with tokens of appreciation for the value they provide to your business. Small gestures will go a long way toward enhancing the customer experience and reducing customer churn.

How to Optimize Your Multichannel Contact Center

In response to customer demand, you’ve built multichannel support into your contact center. While the technology available today likely got you there easily enough, best practices for optimizing your multichannel service strategy have probably not been as easy to pin down.

Perhaps you’ve experienced trouble trying to link channels for reporting purposes, or train customer care Communicators on different channels, or maintain consistent answers across channels. Yet, now that multichannel contact centers have become the norm, best practices for tackling such concerns are emerging—such as unifying disparate applications.

Each new channel, like social media or SMS messaging, adds complexity to the contact center. When the various applications operate in siloes, support suffers. To improve the customer experience with your business, the applications must be integrated to ease communication. This allows you to tap into all the relevant data pertaining to an interaction and deliver it to the Communicator in advance, enabling him or her to more efficiently and effectively address the customer’s needs.

When customer information—from purchase history to social media activity to demographics—is made available at the Communicator’s desktop, you will begin to see an improved customer experience in your contact center. Customers aren’t repeating themselves, for one thing, leading to not only decreased frustration, but decreased average handling time (AHT) and increased first contact resolution (FCR).

What’s more, Communicators with a central user interface for accessing applications don’t need to dig for information while customers wait, which makes them more productive than their counterparts without central systems. This will also decrease AHT and boost customer satisfaction. Furthermore, providing your Communicators with a range of channels and content types will help keep them engaged. Plus, multiskilled Communicators provide you with resource flexibility at peak times.

Another challenge of managing multiple channels of communication is achieving a single view of the customer, so that contact can be tracked across channels. With a connected cloud service and CRM integrations, customers can call, then live chat, then email … without re-explaining their issues.

Although contact center leaders should ensure consistency in service across channels, and have an overall—not channel-by-channel—vision for the contact center, opportunities for improving the customer experience also exist within individual channels. We provide a few tips for maximizing the potential of various channels below:

Chat: Protect quality and attention to detail by handling no more than three or four Web chats at a time. Encourage rapport by integrating identifiers into the chat so the Communicator knows who the customer is from the get-go. Also, post hyperlinks into Web chat to route customers to rich media or a self-help page, which will enable self-service and decrease AHT. Develop policies for closing chats when it seems a client is no longer responding.

Social media: Leverage the skills of Communicators who already use social media extensively in their personal lives. Tailor responses to the individual but also keep a lid on drawn-out conversations; Communicators should focus on delivering service and, then, exit the social platform. Your integrated communication system should include the automatic forwarding of tweets and other social media messages to email to ensure they are not missed.  This is especially important if they contain negative material that must be addressed quickly to avoid damaging your brand’s reputation.

Text: Develop guidelines for “text speak”; the casual lingo used by customers isn’t appropriate for most businesses.

It’s Not About You: Keep Your Employees Focused on the Customer

When customers call into your contact center, they are looking to have their issues resolved as quickly and effectively as possible. A recitation of your customer service processes and policies does not necessarily serve their interests. An ideal customer care experience will instead focus on the individual, not your business’s imperatives—except for the one that says “put the customer first.”

A customer care Communicator who responds to an inquiry with a statement of policy is anathema to the reason for customer service, as it puts up a wall between Communicator and customer. It shows disrespect for the customer as an individual. Instead, Communicators who feel they can’t positively resolve a customer’s issues should find someone within the organization who can.

Indeed, the experience you create for your customers will directly impact your business’s bottom line, oftentimes significantly, according to a 2017 Forrester report. While Forrester acknowledges the challenge of connecting customer experience (CX) quality with revenue growth, the research company demonstrated—using its own CX Index data—how CX improvements, for the most part, drive customer loyalty and, subsequently, greater profitability.

More important than being right is being considerate and helpful. Customers rate companies more on how they handle issues than whether their products or services have minor issues.

To improve the customer experience in your contact center, try to abide by the following list of do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  • Acknowledge the validity of the customer’s complaint, and show empathy for his or her trouble.
  • Seek help from an expert in the organization for customer questions you can’t answer.
  • Listen! Don’t be so committed to your script that you miss connecting emotionally with your callers.
  • Consider backing up your customer service actions with a promotional gift, such as a discount on a future purchase, to inspire the customer’s loyalty and good will.
  • Be human/authentic. That is, avoid sounding robotic and/or disinterested.
  • Treat the caller as a unique individual. Don’t lump his or her complaint into a global category that makes addressing it unlikely.
  • Connect customers with someone in service who speaks their language.
  • Distinguish between personal and professional behavior. While the Communicator may not be personally responsible for a product defect, for example, he or she is professionally responsible as a representative of the company.
  • Be polite and friendly.

Don’t:

  • Use foul language. Ever.
  • Label customers or call them names, like stupid, fat, rude and obnoxious. (It’s happened.)
  • Quote policy.
  • Expect customers to know or care about your processes.
  • Pass the buck. If you can help, then do help; don’t ask an associate to do it for you.
  • Blame the customer for the product or service issue.
  • Refer the customer to another support source, such as a doctor or the Internet.
  • Say there’s nothing you can do to help.
  • Contradict the customer. If he or she says something happened, assume it did.
  • Be sarcastic; don’t act frustrated or angry. Be empathetic instead.

The Omnichannel Contact Center: Three Changes You Need to Make

If someone were to ask you if your contact center is “multichannel,” what would you say? Most of us would probably say yes, noting that our services include voice calls, email, Web chat and social.

Now, if you were asked the same about “omnichannel,” is the answer yes or no? If you hedge and say something like, “We’re working on it,” you’d be in good company. Only 10 percent of contact center leaders surveyed for the 2015 Call Center IQ Executive Report on the Omnichannel Contact Center identified their center as omnichannel currently, and 25 percent said it topped their list of priorities for 2016.

When multichannel first came onto the scene, few people intended for the multitude of new channels to operate in isolation. In fact, omnichannel—which is the seamless integration of the channels to create an optimized customer experience—was probably the real goal all along. The challenges of providing a fully realized omnichannel experience, however, are not insignificant. Business leaders who want to succeed must be willing to make some fundamental changes before omnichannel can become a reality.

The Changes

In the push toward omnichannel, failures are bound to pop up along the way. To avoid being one of the fallen, take heed of the following list of the three biggest challenges faced by organizations as they strive to offer a more seamless customer experience, plus ideas on how to address them:

  1. Integrate the right channels. Many organizations start down the omnichannel road in an effort to keep up with customer service trends, forgetting about the real reason for the change, which is to support their customers. Thus they fall into the trap of trying to support too many channels without a bigger-picture strategy.

In reality, there’s no need for every business to utilize every channel, just the ones your customers prefer. There are too many channels—and too little time—to provide excellent support on all of them, so choose your channels wisely.

To do this you need a good understanding of your customer demographics. For instance, on which social media sites are your customers most active? If your product or service is business-related and you know most of your customers are on LinkedIn, you’ll want to be sure that your customers can reach you there. If you aren’t certain where they are, simply ask. A quick survey can give you all the information you need to get started.

  1. Overcome the organizational silos. In the beginning, the tactic of adding one channel after another made it easier to integrate new channels into contact center operations. But along with each channel came specialization (Communicators specifically trained to use it), ownership (a manager dedicated to its operation and success) and service goals (metrics specific to its use). Ultimately, those well-established channel divisions make it harder for all the channels to operate harmoniously.

While it’s not likely that one person would or could manage all the channels, organizational structures may require shifting to address a new mindset—one of working together.

  1. Incorporate the necessary technology. Those separate channels also pose a challenge for Communicators trying to provide the best customer experience possible. Barriers between channels make it difficult for Communicators to access knowledge and information that originates in a channel other than the one they’re currently in. If a customer making an online purchase is unable to complete the transaction due to a website malfunction, for example, or is confused about shipping or taxes, he or she might decide to call customer service or begin an online chat session. Without a way for Communicators to “see” the activity on all available channels easily and quickly, customers have to essentially start over, repeating themselves and possibly becoming frustrated.

Today’s technology tools can solve this problem. In the example above, Communicators could easily access information related to the website and pick up the transaction where the customer left off. In this way, knowledge across the organization can be leveraged to create a better customer experience.

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.