Keep The Creativity Coming!

In business, especially in the contact center space, it’s easy for teams to keep doing business as usual once they learn what works.  A good contact center knows their customers, all the ins and outs of their proprietary technology, and has developed an array of standardized strategies for handling challenges. However, when the ultimate desire is for a business to grow, the flow of creative ideas in every realm of the business must not only continue, but flourish.

At InfoCision, our team of marketers constantly tests new ideas, in a way that can be measured and replicated. This includes considering all aspects of the customer experience, examining and testing at all levels within the myriad of multi-channel solutions available: scripts, letter packages, call routing strategies, training materials, reporting techniques, hiring and retention, quality measurements, even ancillary services. Creativity involves utilizing our Business Analytics department to provide demographic and transactional data modeling or run a variety of scenarios to generate alternate probabilities and outcomes.  All our insights and findings are used to develop best practices, which are constantly examined for relevancy and adjusted with fine-tuning.

Having a culture of operational excellence, combined with the ingenuity and aptitude for continual testing across departments, enables us to provide excellent customer service and unmatched ROI.

 

 

Customer Self-Service Is Crucial for Contact Centers

Where it makes sense in your contact center, self-service can significantly improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs. As such, the self-service option is now a must for contact centers.

Consumer research shows that time-strapped customers are more likely to patronize businesses that enable them to take care of their own needs through self-service devices. The digital age has transformed the way that consumers interact with brands; now they expect to be served where and when they choose. This requires companies to deliver seamless service through the integration of the Internet, mobile devices and multipurpose kiosks. Keep in mind, however, that consumers still prefer person-to-person contact for complex transactions.

Speed is at the heart of self-service demand. It’s also empowering, giving customers ultimate control over an experience. For businesses, self-service means saving money. Consumer Reports found that a typical customer service transaction handled by a live customer care Communicator usually costs between $2 and $10, compared with just pennies for, say, placing an order online.

Modern technology gets the credit for this effective savings in time and costs. But companies shouldn’t get carried away replacing human contact with machinery. Self-service shouldn’t mean no service. When a transaction goes sour, your personal touch may be the only salve for customer frustration.

Plus, self-service isn’t a great option throughout consumer markets. Every organization needs to assess the demographics of their own customers and how they interact with the business, and then tailor self-service options to their wants and needs.

In general, today’s self-service offerings have benefitted from growing pains resolved over the past couple of decades. This means that even older generations are fairly comfortable and accepting of properly scripted and easy-to-navigate interactive voice response (IVR) systems, for example. Furthermore, with the growth of mobile technology, self-service applications have become a way of life.

A downside of self-service to consider before diving in head first, however, is lost opportunities to engage customers and enhance their relationships with your brand. For some companies, a large percentage of client business comes from contact center phone traffic. Think about organizations that need to educate customers on products, for instance. A commitment to self-service may result in customers making the wrong decisions for themselves.

The challenge for each company is to use its own data to determine which live interactions are valued by the customer and which can be handled through self-service offerings.

Trust Your Frontline Staff to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service

Do you want to boost morale, productivity and engagement in your contact center? Then start trusting your frontline staff to do their jobs and deliver stellar customer service. Let go of the command and control approach so often applied in contact centers for one that truly focuses on customer service and trusts staff to deliver it.

While processes are purposeful and necessary, they’ll never make up for poorly motivated staff. In addition to setting overall direction, contact center managers should introduce practices that give customer care Communicators a sense of control over their work—and even add some fun to the mix. Some items to consider include gamification, real-time communication and Communicator empowerment. These elements can help to build trust and engagement.

To unleash the potential within your contact center for better business outcomes, consider the following recommendations:

Initiate Communicator focus groups: Who knows your customers better than your frontline staff? So, give them the opportunity to share feedback with you on a regular basis. Ask Communicators for their input on customer pain points and frustrations, ways to improve the service experience and even how to enhance your offerings. To ensure this practice remains fruitful, put a process in place that provides follow-up to staff on issues raised and recommendations made.

Make training a higher priority: You’ve hired the best people, so now inspire them to do their best for you through a comprehensive onboarding program. A variety of avenues exists for offering this to staff in ways that support their learning styles. Consider a mix of traditional in-classroom training and online interactive e-learning and e-coaching. Your efforts to enrich their knowledge and skills will let them know you value their contributions.

Establish and measure goals: Everyone on staff should have a clear understanding of business targets. Make sure KPIs and SLAs transparently and fairly reflect performance—and never single individuals out as poor examples. Instead, look for trends and group problems to address in a diplomatic and constructive way.

Schedule to reduce stress: Put the latest forecasting technology to work to right-size your contact center. Consider seasonal fluctuations in business, holidays and new marketing campaigns when predicting staffing needs. This will go a long way to reduce stress from overworking. Another important tool for work-life balance is flexible hours and working from home/remotely. Both are tools that exhibit trust in your workers. Recent innovations in self-service functions allow agents to trade shifts, request time off and voice other preferences—all of which can be automatically approved instead of waiting for a manager to respond.

Boost contact center status: A contact center staffed with well-trained, motivated and trusted individuals is a boon for business. Giving frontline staff a way to work with other departments to learn tips and tricks for delighting customers is another way to engage them more thoroughly in the business and develop trust. Managers should make it a point to promote the successes of their team to senior executives to continue the evolution of trust and respect for Communicators.

These strategies for the contact center, when deployed properly and consistently, will grow trust, improve productivity and increase customer satisfaction. It’s a win-win-win!

Is Your Callback Strategy Effective?

A comprehensive callback strategy allows you to maximize the effectiveness of your live contact center Communicators. At the same time, it will reap you rewards in customer satisfaction.

There are a number of indicators that your callback strategy is working well: Your caller abandonment numbers have decreased, your cost per call has been reduced, and your Communicators’ morale is on the upswing.

If you’re not experiencing these improvements, check to see whether the following three callback tactics are destroying the effectiveness of your callback strategy:

Putting customers on hold again after the callback: Your customers are likely experiencing this “double hold” scenario if your callback system employs an algorithm to determine agent availability. More sophisticated solutions don’t disservice customers by calling them back before a Communicator is on the line. This method not only jeopardizes the customer relationship, it’s more costly per call.

Making the callback offer only once: If you only give customers one callback offer at the start of the interactive voice response (IVR) experience, they might miss it. Even if they opted to forgo the option, their situation could change at any moment, forcing them to abandon the call. Instead, be sure to offer the callback multiple times.

Not offering callbacks on multiple channels: Customers want to interact with you using their preferred channels. Your website and mobile app are likely starting points where you should also offer the callback option. For instance, allow customers to schedule callbacks from your site, so they can continue to peruse your pages while they wait.

If your callback strategy comprises any of these three trouble spots, give it a once over as soon as possible. Your customers will appreciate it.

Contact Center Strategies, Part 3: Quality and Performance Management

Most consumers intuitively recognize the value in a great customer experience. They want to interact with brands that deliver it, and they recommend those brands to their friends and family.

ContactBabel’s new study, “The US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide 2016,” addresses how customer satisfaction has evolved in recent years to become the No. 1 indicator of success for contact centers. As such, improving this metric should be a part of your contact center strategy for 2017, along with other items, some of which I’ve already covered in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

The study states that customer satisfaction consistently ranks even more important than increasing revenues or decreasing costs. Historically, though, contact center success was measured more in terms of efficiency, e.g., call throughput, average handle time, calls per hour and the like. Part of a stellar customer experience still hinges on that metric, especially as it applies to the amount of time customers spend in the queue, and whether inquiries are addressed by Communicators quickly and decisively.

Nowadays, this applies equally to any telephony or Web-based self-service, or other pre-call activity such as customer authentication.

Forty-two percent of ContactBabel survey respondents gave customer satisfaction top billing when asked which areas of their contact center they consider most in need of improvement. Yet, 30 percent selected productivity and efficiency as a priority. Unfortunately, this indicates that the years and dollars that the contact center industry has invested in cutting unnecessary costs and time to serve customers has not paid off substantially.

So, what are the next steps contact center decision makers can take to work out quality and performance issues that still exist?

First of all, know that the study reveals that most respondents feel that their contact center quality assurance (QA) is very effective in terms of Communicator performance, with only 10 percent saying it is ineffective. Yet, across the nine QA areas, including providing customer insight for other areas within the organization and driving customer experience improvements, results were lukewarm. As such, ContactBabel concludes that QA is currently used far more effectively as a tool for Communicator productivity and skill than as a driver for strategic business improvements. In other words, there is a major disconnect between correlating QA with customer feedback.

The greatest challenge to managing performance and quality is reported to be caused by insufficient time to analyze and use data, with 83 percent of respondents calling it a problem in some form and 37 percent labeling it a major problem. This was particularly relevant for medium to large operations. The second-greatest challenge was identified as a lack of skilled personnel to both coach/train and to get the most out of the QA solution.

This suggests that a greater level of automated analysis and insight is required from quality and performance solutions. E-learning could also help relieve the strain on resources produced by traditional forms of one-to-one and/or mass coaching.

Here are some additional steps, as I promised above, to help your contact center thrive in the age of the customer:

Implement multidisciplinary customer experience strategies: Transform operations to deliver high-value, personalized experiences. Customers will reward companies that anticipate their individual needs and turn away from those that require them to repeat basic information at every touchpoint.

Operate at the speed of disruptors: Accept that disruption is now normal and will accelerate going forward. Invest in a culture that will fuel a more agile market response. Leadership structures may need to change to win in a customer-led, digital space.

Become technology-savvy: Organizations that develop digital expertise—not just a digital façade—will differentiate themselves from less-savvy rivals. Plus, focus on big data and analytics as a competitive asset to help you deliver personalized services across all digital channels.

The more you obsess about quality and performance improvements that lead to greater customer satisfaction, and the faster you respond to market disruptions, the better off you’ll be in 2017 and beyond.

Change Your Employee Performance Metrics to Better Reflect Customer Engagement

Are you aware that customer engagement and customer satisfaction are two distinctly different metrics? A recent Gallup poll sheds light on the differences and how each can be measured most effectively.

Gallup confirms that engagement is a much higher bar to reach than satisfaction. One doesn’t necessarily follow from the other, and both are strategic choices for companies looking to grow business revenues.

Half of all customers in Gallup’s customer database say they are satisfied with a given brand, but only 38 percent say they are engaged with it. Gallup gives examples for each metric. For instance, a retail business may earn customer satisfaction by offering great sales, discounts and deals. But it will engage customers if its salespeople go out of their way to be helpful.

Four possible combinations of the two metrics were identified by Gallup: 1) low satisfaction/low engagement; 2) high satisfaction/low engagement; 3) low satisfaction/high engagement; and 4) high satisfaction/high engagement. No. 4 is obviously the ideal situation, and No. 1 is a sure miss.

Ranking in No. 2 or No. 3 can be valuable—but only if following from a company’s leadership and strategic aim to be there.

Gallup defines No. 2 customer relationships as ones of “convenience,” meaning that either price or product features are appealing but customers have no strong emotional connection with the brand. Here, customers want what the company offers—not the company itself. This is a perilous position for brands because customers will simply leave if another brand offers more bang for the buck.

Companies that rank in the No. 3 category are known for their emotional connections to customers but hardly rational aspects of their products or services. Think highly successful, upscale hotel chains and theme parks.

How can companies drive employees to performances that help them reach the ideal No. 4 category of both high satisfaction and high engagement? Start by measuring the right metrics; identify the specific actions that keep customers coming back and purchasing more. Spreading a positive message should be the primary focus of training and management efforts.

Senior leaders are the only ones in a position to instill organizational norms that engender greater customer satisfaction and engagement.

Here’re Gallup’s four key strategies for advancing within each category:

  1. Clarify the purpose and mission: Only a well-defined mission can drive purpose effectively.
  2. Reverse-engineer the culture: Organizational norms must serve the mission.
  3. Invest in what matters: Highly successful organizations invest time, energy and money into advancing their missions.
  4. Measure the right things: If you want engagement, measure customer “moments” as locally as possible.

Consistency and persistence across these four areas determine a company’s value proposition to the marketplace, says Gallup.  Senior leaders must be intentional in connecting mission—whether customer satisfaction, engagement or both—and strategy to turn organizational norms into strengths.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

The Time is Now For Predictive Analytics

There’s no denying the fact that technology has transformed the contact center, allowing businesses to better care for customers, improve business processes and boost revenue. One such technology that’s affecting positive change within many organizations is predictive analytics.

In fact, the  analytics market is booming. Valued at roughly $694.6 million in 2013, the predictive analytics market is expected to triple by 2019, reaching more than $2.3 billion, according to market research firm Micromarket Monitor.

Predictive analytics is the process of extracting information from existing data sets to determine common patterns and predict future outcomes and trends. For contact centers analytics can help greatly improve customer satisfaction, reduce employee churn, and much more.

For example, by using this technology businesses can identify the behaviors consistent with customers who have stopped doing business with the company to understand whether those behaviors represent a potential risk of churn from current customers. This process can also be applied to reduce employee churn.

Besides improving customer and employee churn, analytics can help businesses make better, more informed business decisions. The New York Times, for example, used analytics to see the processes in which people become subscribers and used that data to influence more people to subscribe.

What’s more, the newspaper used the technology to determine what content topics generate the most engagement, and then shared that data with the marketing team so that they could create and promote content that would resonate best with customers.

As you can see, analytics has many uses within organizations from sales to customer service to marketing. If you want to keep agents informed, gain a more well-rounded view of consumers, and gain valuable insight to reap better contact center services ROI, then consider choosing a partner that has invested in business analytics technology.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

How to Make a Positive Comeback in the Customer Care Space

At the end of the day, we must realize that no company is perfect, not even our own. Whether our technology proves disadvantageous or our employees make mistakes, it’s important to remain humble and learn how to triumph in times of adversity. No matter what obstacles you’re facing you should always strive to provide the best possible customer experience for each and every customer. After all, your customers are the lifeblood of your business—without them you wouldn’t have a company to run.

If your company is being inundated with customer complaints and your customer care score is at an all-time low, chances are you’re feeling extremely discouraged. You might even think that there’s no possible way you can recover. Don’t give up, however, as there’s a way you can persevere.

Just take Sprint as an example. With a customer satisfaction rating of 61, Sprint was the lowest performing company within its respective industry. Indeed, the company was the weakest link in the customer care industry. So in order to boost its customer care rating, the company’s board appointed Dan Hesse as the new CEO.

During this tenure as CEO, Hesse was able to turnaround the entire company, boosting its customer care score a whopping 10 points—the biggest improvement made by any company within the industry. What’s more, Hesse’s determination helped Sprint rank number one in contact center satisfaction.

How exactly did Hesse turn a suffering company into a flourishing enterprise? Rather than continue to slash costs and hope for the best, Hesse honed in on the customer. Not only did he make an effort to listen and understand customers, but he also acted on their feedback.

Through data analytics and social media listening, Sprint was able to identify 35-40 problems that were causing customer dissatisfaction. Instead of resting on this information, they made immediate changes and improved its service to ensure that customers were satisfied once again.

That’s not all Hesse did. In addition, he made sure to empower employees by giving them the necessary resources and authority to serve customers. After some digging, Hesse discovered that customers were frustrated with Sprint employees who couldn’t rectify their problems. What’s more, customers were tired of being transferred from agent to agent without finding a suitable resolution.

As a result, the company launched an initiative dubbed “Social Media Ninjas,” in which employees served as ambassadors for the company, addressing customers’ concerns on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Not only did this help significantly boost employee morale, but it also helped improve the company’s online reputation.

So what exactly can contact center leaders learn from Sprint’s comeback? Well, it’s simple. Just because you have a poor customer care score, doesn’t mean all hope is lost and that you should give up on turning things around. Sprint didn’t give up and look where the company is today.

By implementing a comprehensive customer care strategy—which focuses on improving the customer experience and delighting customers—you can boost the quality of customer care. What’s more, you’re also likely to see a nice spike in your revenue, as studies have shown that loyal, satisfied customers tend to spend more with a company.

Remember: You can always redeem yourself, and the key is to remain positive and persistent.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Engaging Your Customers Starts With Engaging Your Agents

One of the keys to providing quality customer care is to keep contact center agents engaged in their work. After all, agents who are dissatisfied or bored with their jobs are less likely to go the extra mile to help customers. Customers can also sense if the person helping them is disengaged or doesn’t seem to care, which can create a negative customer experience. Thus, it is extremely important to keep contact center agents happy at work.

Effective management techniques can do wonders for keeping contact center agents focused on providing high-quality customer care. Creating both individual and team-oriented goals can simultaneously foster an environment of competition and teamwork within the call center, driving more production. Completing these goals on a weekly basis can also foster an ongoing sense of accomplishment among employees, keeping them positive.

Managers can also play a huge role in improving and maintaining agents’ morale. For example, they can take advantage of company time for team-building activities that can boost mood and create a team environment within the call center. Company-hosted social events can also provide an opportunity for agents as well as other members of the company to gather, socialize and get to know each other (at InfoCision, for instance, we like to host regular summer cookouts). This strengthens interoffice relationships and foster an upbeat work environment.

Finally, managers must be attuned to the needs of their employees. Agents need to be able to easily make use of their sick and personal days, and should not feel any pressure or stigma against doing so. Employees should feel free and, in fact, be encouraged to make use of any company benefits available to them. Maintaining a workplace where agents feel their needs are being made a priority is vital to keeping them content.

These are just a few adjustments businesses can make to keep their employees happy and engaged in their jobs, which should translate into higher-quality customer care. The key to any successful call center is the satisfaction of its agents. Is this your top priority?

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry, including the ATA’s highest honor, the prestigious Fulcrum Award.

Customer satisfaction key to enhancing your brand

Chief of Staff Steve Brubaker to join customer service panel at ITEXPO

Taylor SCORE event 005Customer satisfaction is crucial to a company’s bottom line. We live in a competitive marketplace where one customer service experience can shape the perception of your brand considerably. As many companies have discovered, the contact center is an important step in the customer’s journey and our role is to ensure our client’s customers always receive excellent customer care and we take that role seriously.

Here at InfoCision we know our Communicators making and taking calls for our clients are representing their company in front of their most valuable assets— their customers. Our knowledgeable Communicators are brand ambassadors for our client companies’ products, and are focused as much on brand reinforcement as on task resolution.

Brand ambassadors deliver higher customer satisfaction and ROI for clients

While our brand ambassadors require more upfront training time, they generate results that ultimately deliver higher ROI for our clients. Their expansive knowledge enables them to upsell and cross-sell, answer questions more quickly and satisfactorily, streamline calls, and—because they make sure customers are educated about the product or service—cut down on returns and cancellations.

There are no shortcuts to delivering a good call-center experience. Customers who experience good service buy more, are more loyal, and are more likely to recommend your product to others. Competition for customers is fierce, and the strategic use of call centers can provide marketers with far-reaching benefits.

InfoCision to be featured at ITEXPO on the topic of customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is more important now than ever before which is why I am excited to announce that I will be participating in a panel discussion at ITEXPO Las Vegas with other industry experts on the topic of customer satisfaction and creating a positive customer experience. The panel discussion, titled “Solving the Customer Experience Equation,” will be on Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 10 a.m. at Mandalay Bay. We will discuss topics such as the impact offshoring has on customer care, the importance that training and role-playing has on building deep relationships with customers and how technology can bring call centers and customers closer together. ITEXPO Las Vegas is the world’s largest and best-attended communications and technology trade show.

To read more about how InfoCision enhances clients’ brands through customer satisfaction check out my article in Electronic Retailer Magazine. I am looking forward to participating in this panel to shed some light on this important topic. If you have any questions about customer satisfaction, please leave me a comment and I’d be glad to answer.