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.

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.

 

 

Creating Customer Lifetime Value

Customer lifetime value (CLV) is the dollar amount that represents a customer’s worth to your business from first transaction to last.

CLV calculation=revenue x gross margin x average number of repeat purchases.

The CLV is a powerful metric because even small increases in CLV can lead to huge gains in overall revenue. For example, get 1,000 of your customers, who pay you $50 per month, to stay with you for a year instead of 10 months, and your annual revenue grows from $500,000 to $600,000.

But the benefit is not only incremental. First of all, customer profitability tends to increase over the life of a retained customer. Second, on average, it costs up to seven times less to sell to customers with whom you already have a relationship. After all, you’ve already attracted and educated them.

While customer acquisition will always be a driver for businesses, research has shown that customer retention is a faster route to revenue growth than customer acquisition.

An infographic from Invesp Consulting shows that increasing customer retention by 5 percent can lead to an increase in profits of 25 percent to 95 percent. The infographic also illustrates that the likelihood of converting an existing customer into a repeat customer is 60 to 70 percent, while the probability of converting a new lead is 5 to 20 percent.

Brands have learned that three key factors contribute to customer retention. They are: Keep the customer happy, reduce customer effort and deliver excellent customer service.

To improve CLV, companies should offer a mix of the following customer retention strategies:

  • Keep the customer happy
    1. Build relationships with customers through shared values that foster loyalty. Use social media sites to connect, like Facebook and Twitter.
    2. Through expertise and education, become the customers’ trusted advisor.
    3. Track customer satisfaction. Consider using a Net Promoter Score survey that primarily asks your customers whether they would recommend you to someone else.
    4. Make great customer service the norm. To go above and beyond, surprise your customers with small customer appreciation gifts, handwritten notes or even a personal email to say thanks.
    5. Re-emphasize your value: It’s reinforcing to know you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
  • Reduce customer effort
    1. Connect with customers on the channels they prefer.
    2. Optimize your onboarding. Give customers simple and clear instructions for product usage.
    3. Make it easy to reach you—a button on every Web page, for example.
  • Deliver excellent service
    1. Take a proactive approach to customer service to eliminate problems before they occur.
    2. Set customer expectations early and a little lower than you can provide to eliminate uncertainty about the level of your service and to ensure you always deliver on your promises.
    3. Go the extra mile.
    4. Personalize communications to strengthen the bond with your brand.
    5. Empathize with your customers/understand their pain points. They’ll appreciate and remember the respect you’ve given them.
    6. Ensure that customer care staff are empowered to resolve issues quickly.
    7. Be authentic and sincere when addressing customer concerns.

Remember: If you can keep your customers happy, you’ll keep your customers.

Customer Service: Stand Out or Become Irrelevant

What does it mean to stand out in the customer service space? According to ContactBabel’s “The US Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide 2016,” it requires four principal assets: omnichannel support, quality management, real-time speech analytics, and other technologies that improve the customer journey.

If your contact center is missing any of these four components, it may one day become irrelevant to consumers. This could spell the demise of your brand, as the customer experience is primed to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020, according to a Walker report.

In fact, McKinsey tells us that maximizing satisfaction with customer journeys has the potential to improve customer satisfaction by 20 percent, and increase revenue by up to 15 percent while lowering the cost of customer service by as much as 20 percent.

Here’s how these four principal assets make customer care highly satisfactory at every touchpoint on the customer journey:

Omnichannel: Integrated next-generation solutions (think unified communications—UC) in the contact center expedite resolution time by enabling an entire organization to work on a single communications platform using multiple communication channels. You’ll eliminate customer frustration with being put on hold or being transferred from agent to agent, especially when the interaction’s context is not transferred. In a UC-enabled environment, agents can see the presence/availability of their associates, and send instant messages or text messages as needed to speed resolution. Live screen sharing or instant messages enable collaboration with knowledge workers who can address customer questions.

Quality management: Quality management of customer service begins and ends with visibility into all the channels and interactions involved in customer care. To provide an excellent customer experience, businesses must be able to keep track of each contact across the customer life cycle from a single location. This means that agents need to be supplied with tools that allow them to quickly get up to speed on a customer’s history.

Real-time speech analytics: This technology, known as RTSA for short, analyzes voice data on the fly and can make corrective suggestions not only after a call but during it as well. Agents get screen pop-ups, for example, if they make a mistake informing a customer about a discount amount or promotion. The technology can also identify potential concerns, like stress indicators, such as a raised voice, cross-talking, speaking rate and call quality. Agents and their managers are proactively alerted to issues before they escalate and risk customer satisfaction.

Advanced technologies: Several tools to improve customer satisfaction in the contact center were mentioned above. There are also several tools that you would be wise to jettison from your facility lest they stall good service. These legacy solutions include any that uphold siloed communication channels. Replace them with a CRM that is integrated with your other contact center systems. Don’t neglect to also unify siloed back-office data that can impede CRM initiatives and thwart efforts to improve customer service. In addition, consider replacing your traditional phone system, which is likely costly and inflexible, with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. VoIP provides free long-distance calls and gives staff freedom to work anywhere with a computer and an Internet connection.

The Contact Center as a Career Option

Many of today’s youths have been leveraging the services of contact centers for years. Since their mobile devices are always close at hand, any product or service issue is quickly directed to one of these centers. Quite a few of these same young people have also worked as agents—or Communicators, as we call them—in one of these customer care facilities. According to a USA Today article, an estimated 5 million Americans are employed in about 66,000 contact centers in the United States.

Contact center leadership criteria

If your goal is to become a customer service manager, you should be able to integrate and manage customers, constraints, quality and people—to achieve business goals. Being able to lead effectively also requires the ability to analyze and troubleshoot complex problems.

Job advancement will further depend on your knack for influencing, negotiating with and persuading others. Can you motivate employees to achieve business goals? That, and an ability to assess a situation, propose solutions and choose the best option, will put you in good stead as a management candidate.

Effective communication, including the ability to express thoughts clearly, as well as to listen carefully and respond appropriately, is a skill of particular value in a contact center leader. It requires accurate conveyance—using proper grammar, spelling and sentence structure—of business information through communication channels such as email, chat and instant messaging.

Another general vocational criterion for success in the contact center is, of course, a desire to provide service to customers—and contribute to the common good. Consider the focus of a contact center: Inbound centers administer product support or information inquiries from consumers. Outbound centers are operated for telemarketing, solicitation of charitable or political donations, debt collection and market research.

Developing leadership competencies

Good leadership within an organization is the foundation for strategic efforts to challenge competitors, build talent and install optimal processes. When Communicators strive for advancement, contact center leaders should be there to help them develop the skills that will be used later to build a more robust contact center.

Proper coaching and training now will allow future frontline contact center managers to handle responsibilities that encompass the fast-paced turnover of systems, processes, technology and resources.

While formal training can build the awareness and fundamentals necessary for leadership, more valuable yet may be learning by observation and imitation. Apply the following principals to your actions to guide the development of leaders within your contact center:

  • Immerse yourself in the business: Knowledge is power. Understand and be able to articulate the business strategy to better execute the cadence of the organization.
  • Coach and mentor: Promote accountability in direct reports through action and results. Teach others what you’ve learned. Help people discover and explore their strengths and improve on weaknesses.
  • Network/build meaningful relationships: Do this at all levels of the organization, especially with customers and suppliers to build influence, branding and alignment.
  • Align with critical organizational core competencies: Take identified core leadership skills and create your own unique, appealing know-how.
  • Set standards for performance: Lead by example and influence people to act the same way. This requires building credibility by being authentic and fair, and inspiring those around you to meet the standards you’ve set.

These principals cannot be executed in a vacuum. Your organization needs to be set up with systems and norms that can be enacted regularly to develop leaders from within and close any management gaps.

Alleviating Emotional Exhaustion in the Contact Center

Working at a frontline customer-facing job involves a high level of emotional exertion. Burnout, or mental exhaustion, and turnover are, therefore, statistical inevitabilities of contact centers.

Customer care Communicators are expected to display socially appropriate emotions and suppress negative ones. They are asked to create empathy, rapport and trust with customers and to appear happy and eager to serve. At the same time, they must continuously manage customer interactions and resolves issues—work which is generally acknowledged to be tedious and stressful—while being constantly monitored for adherence to procedures and schedules.

Communicators often have to deal with impatient, rude and aggressive customers on top of everything else. In fact, a Psychology Today study of call center workers in the U.S. found that some Communicators averaged up to 10 hostile encounters per day with customers.

Symptoms of burnout can manifest themselves in a demoralized and cynical staff that fails to provide meaningful interaction with customers. This will, of course, negatively impact service levels and customer satisfaction, as well as brand reputation and overall profitability.

What’s more, a University of British Columbia study on the effect of rudeness on call center employees reveals that employees respond to customer rudeness with similar discourteous behavior, creating a downward spiral in civility, substantially reducing service quality.

In this environment, what can contact center managers do to minimize burnout and create higher levels of employee engagement and customer care? Here are a few suggestions:

Hire stable employees: Assessing the overall mental stability of Communicator job applicants is critical for avoiding damaging interactions in the contact center. Weed out inappropriate candidates—those with predilections for anxiety, hypersensitivity, nervousness, moodiness, and low frustration or stress tolerance—using a personality assessment tool designed for your specific contact center. “Live bodies” ill-suited for the job will drag down the effectiveness of your entire operation.

Focus on quality, not costs: Emphasize customer satisfaction and first call resolution as your key performance indicators, not cost per call/interaction and average handle time. Otherwise, the work environment incorporates penalties for Communicators who do not hurry their customers off the phone to meet productivity standards. You create conflict stress for Communicators when you ask them to both act quickly and maximize customer satisfaction. Instead, empower Communicators with a mandate to do everything they can to satisfy the customer on the first call no matter how long it takes.

Lead by example: A Communicator’s tenure in your contact center is directly influenced by his or her supervisor. Supervisors who envision their role as enforcer/disciplinarian or who favor employees for reasons other than merit create apathy and frustration in their staff. On the other hand, supervisors who lead by example, coaching and providing constructive performance feedback, foster a sense of belonging among employees. Supervisors also must be given the time they need to coach, which may mean that contact center leaders need to increase the ratio of supervisors to Communicators.

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.

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!

Five Common Obstacles to Great Customer Service

Very often in life, the things we do wrong are just as important as the things we do right. If you’ve been struggling to improve your customer service and aren’t seeing the desired results, maybe it’s time to look at your customers’ overall experience—the good and the bad—and then focus on fixing what’s wrong.

Below is a list of five common service issues that your customers may be experiencing which could be working against your efforts to improve their satisfaction. Remove these barriers, and you just may find your customer service approval ratings at an all-time high.

  • Customers typically contact you two or more times to resolve an issue. If your first-contact resolution (FCR) number isn’t up to par, you’re making customers work too hard to get what they need. (You should be measuring FCR on multiple channels, if you have them.)

To remove this barrier: First, make sure your Communicators are trained and well-equipped to handle the needs of even the most complex customer queries. That includes being knowledgeable about the technology they use, the procedures for finding information, and the product itself. Make sure you have provided enough resources for them to get the job done, like a knowledge base or product information sheets. Second, review your operations processes. Intelligent call routing and IVR menu options should be delivering customers to the right person the first time around.

  • Customers can only contact you via one or two channels. It’s a challenge to provide great service on multiple channels, but limiting options for contact simply means you’re shifting the burden onto your customers.

To remove this barrier: Make people’s lives easier by giving them a number of contact channels that also naturally fit your corporate strategy. There’s no need to jump into every contact channel available. Find out where your customers are, and use that as a starting point.

  • Customers contact you directly to resolve most issues. It’s burdensome for both you and your customers if there are no obvious avenues for issue resolution other than to contact customer service. You know there are solutions available, but it seems that they don’t.

To remove this barrier: Provide ways for customers to solve their own problems, and help guide them to the right solution. If the website is the best way to update account information, let them know. If billing issues are better handled with a call, tell them that, too. Other information, like frequently asked questions, should be prominently placed on your website.

  • Numerous customers call about the same issues. If customer feedback consistently relates to similar issues, that’s a clear sign of a problem (even if it isn’t communicated as a complaint). Hopefully you’ve been tracking customer feedback; now it’s time to take action.

To remove this barrier: Act now to ensure that future customers no longer have to contend with this issue. Identify the cause of the problem and fix it. If it’s related to product design, inform your design team and work on a solution. Is it a communication issue? Discuss it with marketing and sales and craft a new message. Whatever it is, use this opportunity to turn customer feedback into actionable insights.

  • Customers have to navigate a complex Web-based “help center” or phone IVR system before they can speak with a Communicator. Much customer frustration stems from feeling “trapped” in IVR systems or having to click through too many unhelpful help options. Some customers may end up abandoning the effort altogether.

To remove this barrier: Though you might think all customers prefer to handle things themselves, many people still feel more comfortable speaking with a human (or require a person’s help to get the job done). Don’t make it difficult to reach a live Communicator. Make sure your website offers a clear contact number, and that your IVR system has an easy exit. Sometimes the sound of a live voice is all it takes for a customer to go from resentful to grateful.

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.