The Changing Nature of Phone Calls in the Contact Center

By now we’re all used to the idea that digital technology is transforming our contact centers. A new report by Dimension Data says that most data centers will soon be equipped to handle nine different channel options, and that the number of digital transactions is poised to overtake phone transactions by the end of 2016. Even more striking: 42 percent of call centers expect a decrease in live agent telephone service within two years.

Despite this expected drop in phone calls, live agents aren’t going away. In fact, employment of customer care representatives is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024—faster than the average of most other occupations. How can we account for the seeming contradiction?

Many of the other channels cropping up today are having an unintended effect, which is to drive customers with more complex issues to the phones. From the customer’s perspective, text, email, Web chat, and other outlets are viewed almost as self-service lines, where they can find answers to basic questions or solve simple problems.

When the problem can’t be solved any other way, customers take to the phones.

There’s no definitive reason why the statistics are at odds, but it’s logical to believe that customer interaction times are increasing thanks to the complexity of calls, which could be a contributing factor. In fact, many customers may already be frustrated by the time they place a call, having tried and failed to resolve a problem through one or more other channels. In a sense, it’s a channel of last resort.

As a result, it’s more important than ever for Communicators to realize that many customer calls may very well be a pivotal moment in the brand-customer relationship. With the proper training and support, they’ll be ready and able to handle these challenges as they come.

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.

Do Your Agents Speak Your Brand Language?

A brand is a complex thing—a blend of consumer expectations, relationships and product or service quality that forms a fundamental building block for your business. Despite the fact that it’s an intangible asset, however, brands aren’t completely nebulous; those perceived as a success are worth millions—even billions—of dollars on a company’s financial statement.

Most businesses that outsource areas of their operations are more mindful about delivering on brand promises when it comes to in-house processes. Other businesses are hesitant to outsource at all because it could mean losing control of their brand.

But it is possible for a third-party contact center to deliver the same trusted brand experience that your in-house team can. Here are some tips for making sure that every customer interaction that happens outside your walls measures up to your brand promises:

  • Look for a contact center with values similar to your own. If your company emphasizes social responsibility, look for a contact center that does the same; if your focus is reliability, make sure your vendor stresses that as well. The closer your entities are in mindset, the easier it will be for outside staff to understand your point of view.
  • Provide company-specific agent training. Develop in-depth training sessions for external vendors that convey your organization’s specific corporate values and service requirements, or have them participate in your existing new employee training program. Customer service providers need to know your company’s mission, values, customer and culture if you hope to see them succeed as your brand ambassador.
  • Make an emotional connection. Once you’ve chosen a vendor, visit the facility in person to help make agents feel like they work for you personally. Also, strive to generate an emotional connection between agents and your brand. They’ll be inspired to advocate for a brand they believe in, turning what could be just a job into a mission.

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.

Bad customer experiences are a brand killer, says study

It’s not just customers who personally have a bad experience you have to worry about. Those people are also 95 percent likely to share bad experiences with others, and more than half of those surveyed said they would share bad experiences with five or more other people. With social media and online product reviews at their fingertips, customers can share their good or bad experience with more than just family, friends and acquaintances – they can share it with the world!

We all know that providing a great customer experience is important, but sometimes it’s hard to quantify just how important.  That’s why I was intrigued earlier this week when I came across the results of a study by Zendesk looking to discover the long-term impact of good customer service.

Stats on good/bad customer experiences

The overwhelming takeaway from the study results is not that you can’t survive without providing an outstanding customer experience – rather, it is that you will never survive if you provide a bad customer experience.  Check out the stats: 24 percent of people continue to seek out the same vendor for two years after good experiences – and that’s important.  But 39 percent of people will avoid a vendor for at least two years that provides a bad experience.  And that number jumps to nearly 80 percent for high-income households – likely to be a target of any product or service that does more than satisfy basic human needs.

But it’s not just the customers who personally have the bad experiences you have to worry about.  Those people are also 95 percent likely to share bad experiences with others, and more than half of those surveyed said they would share bad experiences with five or more other people.  With social media and online product reviews at their fingertips, customers can share their good or bad experience with more than just family, friends and acquaintances – they can share it with the world!  And they are sharing in increasing numbers, as 58 percent of respondents to the survey said they are more likely to share their customer experiences with others than they were just five years ago.

Don’t wait to build a better customer experience

Clearly this study shows that bad customer experiences can destroy your brand image for consumers. The time to create the best experience for customers is not after you’ve heard complaints or seen slipping revenues – it’s right now. But how can you do it?

Here are a few things to think about when creating your customer experience strategy from the perspective of the contact center, but I think these things hold true for retail and other customer service touchpoints:

1)      Hire the right people.  This might seem like common sense, but when call center customer service is viewed as a cost center, the quality of the representative isn’t always a priority – you get what you pay for.  Whether you do customer service in-house, work with a contact center company, or even just have a small business with a few people answering the phones and manning the desk, you have to have the right people talking to your customers.  They should be professionals who understand how to be courteous and empathize with your customers – and skilled enough to handle their issues on the first call or interaction.

2)      Train your customer service reps for success.  Even the best employees can’t succeed without the proper tools, and training is an important tool. As true brand ambassadors who know the ins and outs of your products and services so they can speak knowledgeably about them, helping to put the customer at ease while provide the information they need. Click here to read an article on how brand ambassadors boost customer service by InfoCision VP of Client Training Monica Ross.

3)      Know your customers.  Business intelligence technology allows us to track specific details about the buying history of our customers, so that we can craft messaging that makes sense for individuals rather than one mass marketing message for all.  Customers who feel like you know them are likely to feel more connected and be more loyal to your brand.  Click here to read a case study on how customizing offers can benefit your organization.

InfoCision continues to set standard for call center quality with 20th MVP Quality Award

InfoCision just received word that it has officially been awarded its 20th consecutive MVP Quality Award from CUSTOMER magazine – InfoCision is the only company to win the award in every year since it was created in 1994. Advancing technology in communications has certainly changed the industry drastically since then. But what hasn’t changed is this simple fact: If you are dedicated to quality and excellence in connecting with customers or donors, you have a very good chance of succeeding.

InfoCision just received word that it has officially been awarded its 20th consecutive MVP Quality Award from CUSTOMER magazine.  The MVP was first awarded in 1994 to recognize call center companies with the highest standards for quality, and InfoCision is the only company to win the award in every year. I couldn’t be more proud of this honor. Advancing technology in communications has certainly changed the industry drastically since 1994. But what hasn’t changed is this simple fact: If you are dedicated to quality and excellence in connecting with customers or donors, you have a very good chance of succeeding.

Broad scope of quality

We focused this year’s MVP Quality Award nomination on a recent case study that embodies the full spectrum of our commitment to quality in technology, client service and our people. A national premium television provider offers customers an easy way to transfer their service to a new residence by submitting an online form.  Before InfoCision was involved, it took an average of 48 hours to call customers back to verify.  But by implementing InfoCision’s innovative R3 technology along with our highly trained Communicators and our dedicated account staff, the average callback time was reduced to less than three minutes while customer service levels soared.  To read more about the program, please check out the full case study.

High quality people get high quality results

I’d be remiss if I did not mention that our quality starts with the Communicators on the phones.  We look for a more mature, career-minded Communicator and offer them a benefits package that works for them and their families. That’s why the average age of our Communicators is 42, and their average length of service is four years.  It’s also why we have retention rates that are much higher than most of our industry peers at 92 percent.

To read more about InfoCision’s dedication to quality, please visit http://www.infocision.com/ContactCenter/Advantages/Pages/Quality.aspx

Direct marketing compliance update: DMA in DC and cell phone consent changes

I came away from the conference encouraged that there are so many experts in our industry who understand the value of engaging with policy-makers in Washington. We must educate the policy-makers and help them understand the huge impact the DM industry has on our national economy – 9.2 million jobs and more than $2 trillion in annual sales in the US.

I was recently in Washington, DC for the DMA in DC Conference, an annual event at which data-driven marketers and fundraisers meet face-to-face with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Members of Congress to discuss issues and regulations impacting the industry — and what needs to be done to ensure responsible access to marketing data.

Direct marketing compliance takeaways from the DMA in DC Conference

I came away from the conference encouraged that there are so many experts in our industry who understand the value of engaging with policy-makers in Washington.  We must educate the policy-makers and help them understand the huge impact the DM industry has on our national economy.  Balancing the concerns of consumers with the needs of marketers is critical.

While some lawmakers are beginning to grasp the value of our business, others are totally unaware that our industry provides 9.2 million jobs in the United States and accounts for more than $2 trillion in annual sales – and unnecessary legislation that negatively impacts the industry hurts the national economy.

Here are some issues I’ll be discussing in the coming weeks:

  • What’s going to become of the post office?
  • Proper information privacy – especially as it pertains to information from social networking sites
  • Data security and recovery systems
  • Mobile phone calling regulations.

New FCC TCPA requirement:  You must obtain prior express written consent for all autodialed telemarketing calls to cell phones

On September 17, 2012 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the FCC’s revisions to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) requiring express written consent for telephone solicitation messages (including text messages) placed using a prerecorded voice or an automatic telephone dialing system to cellular telephone numbers.  The express written consent requirement is set to go into effect on October 16, 2013.

This requirement will have an impact on any business or organization that calls cell phone numbers that have been provided to them by consumers. It is no longer acceptable to call a consumer just because they gave you their number and/or you have an existing business relationship with them.  Rather, when consumers give their phone number they must also proactively give consent, such as checking a box online signifying your organization may contact them, if it is a mobile number.

We encourage everyone to make sure their data collection forms and procedures are compliant with the new rule by working closely with your marketing partners and internal legal counsel in fully addressing how the new rule specifically affects your organization.  As always, your dedication to direct marketing compliance should never waver. For more information on InfoCision’s robust compliance systems, please follow this link. http://bit.ly/13xY1Yf

Customer Retention Programs Can Save Revenue and Build Profit

Direct response marketing can be cut-throat, as many of you already know.  Each day, competitors roll out deals to try to lure your customers over to their products and services by offering free add-ons, three months free, special reduced pricing, and on and on.  Additionally, customers who pay for something every month or on a regular basis are likely to eventually have some issues with their products or services over a long enough timeframe.  So how can you keep your customers from jumping ship?

The solution is a well-thought out customer retention program that centers on finding out what the customer’s issue is, and taking immediate steps to solve it; not only to satisfy the customer’s needs right now, but also to build the foundation of a long-term relationship with your organization.  But how can you effectively build such a program?

Customer Retention Specialists Make a Difference

InfoCision has found success for its clients by identifying Communicators with the right personality, experience and aptitude, and providing specialized training to make them Certified Retention Specialists.  On a recent program utilizing these specialists for a leading direct response company, InfoCision delivered a 40 percent save rate. When the industry average save rate is 25 percent, think of the boost in revenue by saving that many more customers – both now and in terms of future sales!

Customer retention programs are the subject of a recent article by InfoCision Vice President of Business Development Yvonne Anderson, published by Electronic Retailer for its website.  Below is an excerpt.

Solve Customers’ Problems, Retain Their Business

“It takes a special personality to work with customers who have made up their minds that they don’t want a product anymore. And that person has to take the customer from dissatisfied to satisfied in a single phone call. You need people who are more than order-takers.”

“They must be good listeners, have empathy for customers, and be able to relate to what it’s like to be in a similar situation. Because their role differs from that of regular customer service representatives, they need specialized training that gives them a deeper understanding of the product or service that the customer is calling about…  Allowing retention specialists to engage in free-flowing conversations with customers instead of working from a script is key to being able to identify the root cause of the problem. Once the problem has been identified, they also need the tools to be able to proceed as they see fit to provide the customer with a personalized experience.”

To read the entire article, please follow this link.  http://bit.ly/YbVazi.  If you have any questions or comments on the importance of retaining customers, please leave a comment below.

Sharing Tributes to InfoCision Founder Gary Taylor

Gary Taylor’s impact on the direct marketing industry and Northeast Ohio was incredible. I would like to share a few of the tributes published last week.

I would like to share a few of the many tributes published last week in memory of our beloved InfoCision Founder Gary Taylor.

 

Mike Murray, President and CEO of TMA Direct remembers Gary as a friend and mentor, and reflects upon his impact on the lives of countless people.  Mike is also a board member of the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing.

http://bit.ly/W6QWcW

 

InfoCision’s hometown newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal, provides a nice account of Gary’s life focusing on his impact in the Akron region.

http://bit.ly/100VakN

 

Gary’s impact on the direct marketing industry was incredible and was recognized in many industry trade publications including The Nonprofit Times, Connections Magazine and TMCnet, to name a few. And in case you missed it, below is a link to my blog post from last week on Gary Taylor’s legacy in the direct marketing industry.

http://bit.ly/RightCall4

 

InfoCision and the Taylor family truly appreciate all of the warm wishes and support from our longtime friends and partners.  Thank you.

Feel free to also share your personal  memories of Gary’s legacy…

Gary Taylor: Remembering a Direct Marketing Pioneer

InfoCision founder Gary Taylor will be remembered as a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist; but he also played a pioneering role in building the direct marketing industry into the huge, global and enormously effective force it has become.

Last weekend, the direct marketing industry lost a great innovator and champion.  Gary Taylor, founder of InfoCision Management Corporation, passed away. Everyone at InfoCision is going to miss our beloved founder and friend, and my heart goes out to the Taylor family at this time.  Click here to read the press release.

Gary will be remembered for many things, from founding InfoCision and building it into a marketing force to his tremendous philanthropy – especially in the Akron, Ohio area. But it is really important for those of us in the direct marketing industry to recognize the pioneering role Gary played in building the direct marketing – and specifically teleservices – industry into the huge, global and enormously effective force that it has become today.

Groundbreaking Industry Innovations

Beginning his career with Rex Humbard Ministries, Gary came to understand the power of personal touch in marketing. He left Humbard’s ministry in 1982, taking on the risky endeavor of starting his own marketing consulting firm with his wife Karen out of their home; and they called it InfoCision Management Corporation.  At the beginning, it was only he and his wife, Karen.  Today, just over 30 years later, InfoCision employs more than 4,000.

In 1985, dissatisfied with the results being generated by an outside call center for one of his clients, he started InfoCision’s first call center with just four Communicators on the phones.  Gary recognized that high quality people with a particular affinity for a cause would do a better job connecting with potential donors and customers. The result was a new level of excellence in teleservices that was often emulated and that propelled InfoCision to exponential growth over the next 25+ years.

It’s about the customer

Gary Taylor understood before almost anyone else in the industry that good marketing is about more than sheer volume.  It’s about providing an exceptional customer experience.  It’s about getting to know and understand the customer so you can meet their needs while also meeting the needs of your clients. This is evident in Gary’s personal business philosophy that is still in InfoCision’s mission statement to this day: A good business deal is one that is good for everyone involved.

Today we’re seeing a lot of industry focus on providing the customer with a first class experience, but here at InfoCision, we’ve known it all along thanks to Gary’s vision and leadership; and that’s why our focus on quality has never wavered, even when so many other companies were scrambling to take call center jobs overseas to cut cost. That’s also why InfoCision is the only company to win the prestigious MVP Quality Award from CUSTOMER magazine every year since the award’s inception in 1993.

Moving forward

As we move forward, the core values upon which Gary Taylor founded InfoCision will remain at the heart of everything we do as a company.  I am proud that we have a champion for those values in Gary’s son Craig, our new CEO.  Craig has already showed that his vision, instincts and dedication to ethics and quality mirror those of his father; and I am excited to see where he will lead InfoCision into the future.

We’ve been comforted by the many memories of Gary people have been sharing. If you have a positive memory you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it.

Smile Train brings smiles to children around the world: Latest InfoCision Marketing Solutions magazine

What is the value of your smile? It’s a question you’ve probably never considered, but it’s at the heart of the mission of the featured client in InfoCision’s latest Marketing Solutions magazine, Smile Train.

What is the value of your smile?  It’s a question you’ve probably never considered, but it’s at the heart of the mission of the featured client in InfoCision’s latest Marketing Solutions magazine, Smile Train.

Smile Train is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing children with cleft lip and palate the surgery they need to correct this birth defect.  The organization is a modern day success story, founded in 1999 yet already having provided more than 850,000 surgeries to children around the world who need them.  They currently average 340 surgeries per day.

Beyond the amazing good that they do for these children, Smile Train also has an interesting philosophy on how they raise funds for the surgeries they provide. The entire organization has a staff of just 62 employees, so Smile Train utilizes strategic partnerships with marketing companies like InfoCision to spread their message, attract new donors, engage with current donors and re-connect with lapsed donors. But outsourcing marketing efforts requires a leap of faith; and the organization works very closely with its marketing partners to ensure its needs and goals are being met.

Finding partners that can meet their very specific needs is key for Smile Train’s continued growth and success. And by trusting partner companies like InfoCision, that specialize in building relationships to create a lasting connection with their donors – the most important thing a charity can do to secure its future – Smile Train’s staff is able to focus on their core mission of providing cleft surgeries for children all over the world.

To read more about Smile Train’s story, please check out the latest issue of InfoCision Marketing Solutions magazine.  You’ll also find useful articles about

  • utilizing a work from home model for call center work
  • the benefits of personalizing calls with tailored up-sell and cross-sell messages
  • cloud routing’s impact on the customer experience
  • why B2B calls require a different skill set and training than B2C calls
  • the importance of scalability in a call center provider

I encourage you to check out the latest InfoCision Marketing Solutions and let me know what you think by commenting below.

Domestic Call Centers: Consumers Prefer Calls “Made in America”

Domestic call centers can provide agents that not only speak the same language as consumers, but also understand the cultural nuances of being an American. This allows agents to better connect with the caller, have empathy for their situation, create better customer experiences, solve a problem and ultimately build stronger relationships that will last well beyond that phone call and lead to additional sales, donations, volunteerism, etc. in the future.

A colleague sent me an article this week that I just had to share.  It’s from Advertising Age, and titled “It’s Cool Again to be Made in America.” I found it very interesting to read that the cost competitiveness of places like China is quickly shrinking while American consumers are increasingly preferring to see an “American Made” sticker on the products they buy – because they know it will be higher quality. Even if the cost is slightly higher, they know “Made in America” means it will provide better satisfaction, a better return on their investment.

Domestic call center advantage

It has always been my thought that these same principles hold true in the ultra-competitive call center industry. Off-shore call centers – while costing less up-front – are simply unable to provide the same quality of service that domestic call centers provide. As the internet and automation has replaced much of the need for level I technical support such as password changes, more and more customer service calls deal with complex issues that require the representative to have a high degree of product knowledge and the ability to understand what the customer is saying.  Yes, there is a language barrier that exists with off-shore centers that many consumers find frustrating, but it goes beyond that. Domestic call centers can provide agents that not only speak the same language as consumers, but also understand the cultural nuances of being an American. This allows agents to better connect with the caller, have empathy for their situation, create better customer experiences, solve a problem and ultimately build stronger relationships that will last well beyond that phone call and lead to additional sales, donations, volunteerism, etc. in the future.

But don’t just take my word for it.  According to a 2008 study by CFI Group “when customer service representatives are perceived to speak clearly, they resolve customer issues 88 percent of the time.” When they do not speak clearly, “they resolve customer issues only 45 percent of the time.” The industry has come to realize this truth over the last few years, as reports of jobs coming back from overseas have become more and more prevalent.  We also have seen the rise of Jobs4America, an initiative of call center organizations pledging to create jobs in the U.S. in the coming years.  It would certainly be difficult for companies to make those pledges if there was a high demand for more inexpensive off-shore call center work from clients.

For tips on what to consider when selecting a call center partner, please click here.

I also think it’s important to note that there is nothing magic about domestic centers. To maximize their benefits, you always need to have outstanding people on the phones, comprehensive training and a commitment to IT and infrastructure, among other things.  However, domestic call centers that have that commitment can provide the best return on investment for your call center dollar – just like consumers who buy American goods.

What does “Made in America” mean to you?