Supplementing Customer Self Service

There is no denying the fact that customers today want access to solutions that enable them to solve problems on their own without the help of a live agent.

This trend, commonly referred to as self service, has taken off in recent years and is now a customer service staple for most companies. Self service is commonly seen in places like:

  • Live chat boxes on website and social channels;
  • Interactive voice response (IVR) during telephone calls; and
  • Online knowledge databases.

The numbers don’t lie, either: Self-service is now in high demand. 50 percent of customers think it’s important to solve service or product issues themselves while 70 percent believe a company’s website should have a self service application. And 83 percent of customers will go to a company’s website for information.

There’s just one critical thing to keep in mind when implementing self-service solutions into your digital channels: They are not the end-all-be-all of customer service. You can’t replace live agents with fully digital solutions and expect to have positive results.

That’s because there are many issues that customers prefer to solve using live agents. Sometimes, a customer will want an opinion about what action should be taken. Or, a customer will require advanced help that that cannot be solved using artificial intelligence.

Here are some things you should consider to supplement your customer self service:

Provide a short path to an agent: To a customer, there is nothing more frustrating than wanting to speak to agent and being denied the opportunity. When a customer repeatedly mashes the “0” button but gets no response, they usually just hang up—and this doesn’t help anyone. So if you want to encourage customers to use self service first, that’s fine. But don’t make them struggle to connect with an operator, or you are only going to aggravate them.

Use data to streamline service: Once a customer does connect with an agent, the interaction needs to be handled efficiently. And to do this, agents require data—and a complete overview of the customer journey. Make sure you integrate your phone system with your customer relationship management (CRM) system to ensure that agents can easily access customer data during every customer interaction.

Have live agents on standby: Many companies today are using a combination of automated chatbots and live agents for their customer support. In this type of setup, a customer will start by chatting with an automated assistant, but an agent will be monitoring the interaction. In fact, an agent can monitor several conversations at once for maximum productivity. This way, an agent can jump in and provide seamless support when it’s needed. This protects the company when a customer asks a question that is too advanced for an automated attendant.


Is Your Contact Center In line With Your Brand?

Imagine you open a can of your favorite soda, and experience a totally different taste from what you expect. You would be confused, and may even contact the company for an explanation — or ask for your money back.

Consistency, in other words, is a top need for brands and something that cannot be ignored. It’s through consistency that companies can create lasting impressions and keep getting customers to come back for more. In marketing, consistency and trust go hand in hand. Take away consistency, and your brand crumbles.

This also applies to the customer experience that consumers go through when dialing into the contact center. Contact centers, after all, have hundreds or even thousands of agents all working to help customers on a daily basis — each with their own personality. If care is not taken to ensure brand consistency, callers could experience drastically different interactions during each engagement.

Consistency, in a contact center setting, is all about organizing agents so that they harmonize and reflect common points to customers. You don’t have to suppress personality, you just have to make sure that everyone is on the same page about the brand “image.”

Has your brand been hurting from a lack of consistency? Here are some things you can do to improve it:

Use scripting: Call scripts don’t have to be followed 100 percent of the time, as part of fielding a call requires using critical thinking and making snap judgments when customers ask difficult questions. Still, it’s vital that agents have scripts and notes to work off of outlining important notes about the brand. A big reason why consistency is important is that it prevents agents from giving incorrect information to callers about products, promotions and services.

Spot check agents: Just about every contact center today records customer conversations for quality purposes. But rarely do these conversations see the light of day. Most of the time, they get funneled into backend databases and left there. Customer service managers should build a few hours into their week to spot check customer phone, SMS and live chat interactions to see how agents are engaging with customers. Look for trends, and then use what you discover to work with agents and make them more effective.

Make training an ongoing process: For the average contact center, agent training stops after a certain period of time passes. It may be a week, or a month. What often happens is that agents stop trying to learn and improve at their jobs. They fall into patterns, and result to using their own language and styles during customer interactions. By making training an ongoing responsibility, through online learning portals or team building exercises, contact centers can drastically improve brand consistency.

Use Customer Service to Launch Your Business to Unimaginable Heights

When you first started your business, your goal was never to be a small to medium-sized organization. In fact, you don’t even want to be a large organization. You want to be a massive, highly-profitable and stable enterprise with a global footprint and an impeccable reputation.

Many startups today, we are seeing, are setting the bar too low for themselves. They start out hot, reach a plateau and stay there, comfortable with the small profits that they are generating.

Make no mistake about it: Complacency, for any business, is toxic. The moment you think your business has “made it” is the moment innovation, and profitability, ultimately ends.

If you want proof of this, look at Amazon. Even after Amazon became a worldwide name, Jeff Bezos kept pushing and exploring new areas of growth. What started as an online marketplace is now a massive global operation that offers everything from data management services via AWS to home and retail automation — to name a few.

As it turns out, your contact center can be your best tool for discovering exciting new opportunities to drive business growth. That’s because your agents are constantly chatting with customers and getting their feedback on your company’s products and offerings. By listening to customers and incorporating their feedback, you will prove that your company is in tune with their needs. Each new solution that you will offer will be like a stepping stone that leads to more and more business.

Many of the top brands — particularly in the technology space — are doing this today, and generally speaking the results are incredible. Most customers, after all, are used to receiving subpar service today. So when customers see companies that listen and take their feedback into consideration, it makes them feel great and like they are part of the team. It makes them want to continue doing business with that company.

With the right contact center solutions in place, your team can start using your most resource — your customers— into a business-boosting machine. For example, you need powerful technologies to collect process and share data. You need high quality agents who are connected to what’s happening in the industry and capable of carrying in-depth conversations with customers. And you need advanced, highly-reliable infrastructure that will remain up and running at all times.

When you put it all together, the results you generate from customer service can be staggering. Your business has the potential to become a major industry disruptor, and global giant. By listening to your customers’ needs, and incorporating their direct feedback, you will generate returns that you never thought were possible.



Topics To Explore During Your Next Customer Service Meeting

C-level executives often complain that they want to help improve customer service, but they have too many other responsibilities to worry about on a daily basis and don’t have the time to stay up to date about rapidly-changing customer preferences. This, after all, is why they hire others to manage it.

Our advice is for executives is there is a lot they can offer without having to get too far into the customer service weeds. Whether you are outsourcing operations or trusting your team members to handle it, you can still play an active role in shaping your department. You don’t have to be a customer service expert to do this.

Here are some possible topics to explore during your next meeting with your customer service team:

  1. Cybersecurity: What used to be a problem for IT managers only, cybersecurity is now an issue that all departments need to account for. So when you sit down with your customer service team, ask what measures are being taken to improve device and account security. For instance, are employees up to date with the latest cyberthreats? Is data being backed up on a regular basis? Don’t be afraid to ask hard-hitting questions about cybersecurity, so that you can have a better understanding of how safe your department is.
  2. Outreach strategy: Take a look at your recent fundraising efforts, and ask what’s being done to improve them. Remind your team that donor ecosystems are fragile, and must be properly maintained in order to keep generating year over year revenue. As you assess your marketing strategy, check and make sure that content is playing a role in helping drive sales and donor participation. The more you nurture your donors with high quality content, the more interested in your brand they will remain — and the more likely they will be to offer support when donation time rolls around.
  3. TCPA: The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a law that restricts the way that companies are allowed to communicate with customers about offers and promotions. Failure to comply with TCPA protocol — which changes periodically — could result in heavy fines and a tarnished reputation. Make sure that your team is up to date with TCPA code to avoid running into avoidable complications.
  4. IVR effectiveness: For most companies, interactive voice response (IVR) remains the most widely-used mechanism for customer self service. An IVR, however, is only as effective as the intelligence and underlying management system that is powering it. It may be time to update your IVR to incorporate the latest in artificial intelligence and data processing. This technology, after all, is responsible for greeting customers over the phone so it needs to be user-friendly, easy to update and reliable.
  5. Cost reduction: One of your primary jobs as an executive is to keep costs low. Strive to create a department that is financially lean, versus one that is continually operating in the red zone. Before your next meeting, consider asking your managers for their input on what could realistically be eliminated without negatively impacting daily operations. It may be time to consider reducing your reliance on expensive in-house technologies, or even staff members. Outsourcing is a fantastic way to slash costs in a responsible and strategic manner.

Hire Great Agents. The Rest Will Fall Into Place

Let’s face it: Managing a contact center can seem like an impossible task. There are countless things to consider, from the type of customer relationship management software you should be using to the number of agents you should have answering phones.

Contact centers, in other words, are incredibly complex and unfortunately they don’t come with instruction manuals. For a manager, achieving optimal contact center efficiency and output can seem like a constant game of guess and check.

At the end of the day, though, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that customer service is all about having great interactions with people. Technology and data are important, but only as mechanisms that help agents have better conversations over the phone, email, text or live chat. No technology alone will guarantee great service, and for this reason you need to be using high quality agents who are capable of processing information and maximizing its usage. If you hire great customer service agents, the rest of the customer service puzzle tends to fall into place.

Here are some characteristics that separate great customer service agents from mediocre ones:

Empathy: In this age of self-service, when customers ask to speak with live agents it typically means they have something on their mind — be it a question, concern or suggestion about how to improve the brand. And for this reason, active listening — and an empathetic attitude — is one of the best skills an agent can have.

Integrity: With cybersecurity concerns at an all-time high, integrity is another critical characteristic you should look for in your agents. Hire people who you will trust will do the right thing when handling sensitive information. Remember that most data breaches happen internally, from insider threats who have access to too much data.

Friendliness:  If you want to win at customer service, hire people who love to talk, and can easily interact with just about anyone they converse with. This is something you can pick up on easily during the initial agent interview. If an agent is shy, awkward and unable to relax and have an conversation, it could be a sign that they will struggle to warm up to customers over the phone and could require lengthy training.

Industry knowledge: Put a premium on subject matter experts. The more knowledge that an agent has about your industry, the easier it will be for them to engage with customers and walk them through problems. You can teach people to talk about your brand, but it’s much harder when they don’t know your industry’s terminology.

If you are struggling to find great customer service agents, remember you can always outsource support to a third party contact center solutions provider — saving you time and money, and guaranteeing you get the high quality results you are looking for.


Business Continuity: A Year-Round Responsibility for Contact Centers

Spring is right around the corner, which means businesses in many areas of the country have a new threat to worry about: Unpredictable late winter storms.

A recent Farmer’s Almanac predicted this will be a long winter, with several storms arising late in the season. Late winter storms and blizzards can bring ice, snow and howling winds — and bring unprepared businesses to a communications standstill.

It’s important to remember that business continuity is a year-round responsibility that no organization can ignore. This is especially true in our current ultra-connected business landscape, where just a few minutes of network downtime can have a devastating impact on a company’s bottom line. Businesses must take advanced measures to ensure that they have the infrastructure and support in place to maintain operations throughout a variety of scenarios.

Contact centers are no different. In fact, contact centers are one of the most vulnerable areas for downtime as they are responsible for supporting a range of critical customer-facing functions. When a contact center goes down, a business can lose its phone support as well as email, customer data and more. This can lead to heavy revenue loss, and it can also anger customers and cause them to seek out competitors.

For this reason, it’s critical for contact centers to distribute their contact center infrastructure in order to mitigate downtime. Picture a business in Chicago. If a major storm rolls into the area, impacting snow, that business could lose connectivity for an extended period of time. But if the organization is using a contact center in another part of the country, communications would remain unaffected.

When you think of outsourcing, don’t just think of saving money and increasing efficiency. You are also improving your company’s security in the process. Outsourcing your contact center to a third party solutions provider will enable you to transfer all critical processes offsite.

This will also help your IT team, which is most likely working overtime to ensure the operational stability of several departments at once. By outsourcing one department, you will give them more time to devote to higher-level tasks like digital transformation.

Just remember when outsourcing to assess your vendor’s disaster preparedness. You don’t want to rely on an organization that cannot ensure its own business continuity. If possible, arrange an onsite visit and ask to see their facility. Ask questions about things like failover, flood and fire protection for data center infrastructure and of course cybersecurity. Don’t leave anything to chance during this process. Before you sign anything, scour your service level agreement and look at the fine print — and don’t agree unless you are completely comfortable. After all, you will be trusting the vendor to manage a major part of your business.

Ransomware Payments: Yes or No?

Consider the following nightmare scenario:

You show up to work one morning, and everyone is in a panic. Your computer system is down, as it was infected with ransomware. The ransomware has cascaded across your network, infecting all of your critical customer and employee databases in the process.

The hackers want $50,000 to remove the ransomware, or they will destroy all of your data.

Now, you have a difficult decision to make. Should you comply with the hackers and make the ransomware payment, or seek an alternative resolution?

Suffice to say, this is not an easy decision to have to make. Understand that most law enforcement officials and IT experts are advising business owners to avoid making ransomware payments. Ransomware payments, after all, are not always guaranteed to work. Oftentimes, hackers will take the money and run, deleting the data in the process. And just recently, news broke that hackers are now stealing ransomware payments from one another.

What’s more, you don’t know what type of organization you are supporting when you make a ransomware payment. Your money could easily be going to a terrorist group. Making payments also perpetuates cybercrime and encourages hackers to keep doing it. After all, ransomware is very profitable.

The easy response to this is to say that your data is safe because you have backup systems in place to protect your critical information. But many businesses are learning the hard way that data backup systems are expensive, and take a long time to implement. One hospital, for instance, recently chose to pay hackers $55,000 after it was hit with ransomware as it was cheaper and more efficient than going through the process of firing up its backup system.

The truth is that there are no easy decisions to make when it comes to dealing with ransomware. It’s going to be time-consuming. It’s going to be expensive. And it’s going to put your company’s sensitive information at risk from hackers. The worst part about it, too, is that it’s almost unavoidable. At some point, your business is probably going to get hit with ransomware.

Consider the fact that a company is hit with ransomware every 40 seconds. And 15 percent or more of businesses in the top 10 industry sectors have been attacked with ransomware.

One of the best things that you can do to protect your organization from ransomware is to focus on employee education and awareness. This is not, in other words, a problem for your contact center alone. It’s every employee’s responsibility to know where ransomware hides (mostly in spam emails, online advertisements and apps) and to avoid reckless behavior online.

Taking the time to educate your employees about ransomware could save you from experiencing a costly and devastating ransomware attack.

What is Blockchain Technology?

If there is one enterprise technology that just about everyone is talking about today, it’s blockchain — a solution that allows information to be publicly shared in a way that is secure and tamper-proof.

But what exactly is blockchain, and is it something that you need to be using in your contact center?

In layman’s terms, blockchain is a digital ledger that allows businesses to publicly record and share transactions made in bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency. In a blockchain network, spreadsheets are decentralized meaning they can be shared over thousands of different endpoints without having to be stored on a single one. There are no centralized documents that can be corrupted by hackers. And since all of the information is visible, there is no way for anyone to tamper with it.

Another advantage of blockchain is that since it requires data to be shared across multiple systems, there is no single point of failure. So blockchain technology is also more resilient to downtime.

In the financial services industry alone, blockchain is expected to save $15 to $20 billion annually by 2022.

“As revolutionary as it sounds, Blockchain truly is a mechanism to bring everyone to the highest degree of accountability,” author Ian Khan explains. “No more missed transactions, human or machine errors, or even an exchange that was not done with the consent of the parties involved. Above anything else, the most critical area where Blockchain helps is to guarantee the validity of a transaction by recording it not only on a main register but a connected distributed system of registers, all of which are connected through a secure validation mechanism.”

So as you can see, the value that blockchain brings to the contact center — and to the enterprise as a whole — is enhanced data security, greater accountability and more visibility. By making the decision to incorporate blockchain into the contact center, businesses can show customers that they care about protecting their information.

It’s important to note, too, that even if you aren’t using blockchain to power any of your major in-house operations, you are most likely using blockchain if you are working with a variety of third party organizations. So it’s almost certainly in your ecosystem in some way or another and it’s important to keep a pulse on how it continues to evolve. Blockchain is the future, and it’s quickly accelerating.

Hopefully, blockchain will play in instrumental role in helping businesses combat the ever-growing threat of cybercrime. For now, this tamper-proof mechanism is one of the best ways to prevent fraudsters and cybercriminals from stealing your information.


Your Business Probably Doesn’t Need an In-house Contact Center

Right now you are trying to take your small business and grow it into a large enterprise.  To accomplish this, it’s vital to reduce expenses wherever and whenever possible.

You don’t need, in other words, the added capital and operational expenditures that come with owning and managing an in-house contact center. In fact, avoiding this pitfall could be one of the most important things that you do for your growing business.

Contact centers, after all, come with heavy expenses including technology purchasing and management, employee hiring, overhead and data management. And these are just a few of the expenses you will encounter if you try and manage your own department. Contact centers are traditionally one of the most resource-intensive areas of the enterprise.

Oftentimes, businesses get caught in a trap where they start pumping massive amounts of resources into their contact center only to generate limited financial gains. This trap is easy to fall into, and difficult to overcome.

What’s more, you also have to worry about scalability when running a contact center which can be very expensive. And the last thing you want to do is get caught in a pinch with a lack of capacity.

The easiest and most cost-effective solution is to outsource your customer service operations to a third party solutions provider. In doing so, you will gain access to all of the fundamental necessities that you require for offering great customer service like friendly, motivated agents; data-driven strategy; premium infrastructure; and rapid scalability to handle all of your fluctuations in customer traffic. It’s a low-risk, high reward scenario.

Most customers, in fact, are so completely blown away by how easy and effective the outsourcing process is that they can’t believe that they would ever even consider keeping their customer service operations in-house after getting started. Outsourcing can save you a great deal of money, while ensuring that your company is consistent and effective in its customer service operations.

What’s more, by outsourcing you can better position your company for success with its donor outreach strategy. Third party contact center solutions providers can help form data-driven strategies to maximize returns from financial contributors. You will receive cutting-edge sales and marketing tools, advanced analytics and a team of agents who are highly-trained in managing donor relationships.

Understand also that there is no shame in outsourcing your customer service. Your customers will not know the difference, and your organization will benefit from having a more efficient and cost-effective department. Many of the largest organizations in the world now outsource their customer service, and it’s become a standard practice across just about every vertical market.

Empathy: A critical customer service component

A young writer once asked Ernest Hemingway for advice, to which he replied “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

This sentiment, though small, could be one of the most powerful lessons that you apply to your contact center. A little bit of empathy could be the missing ingredient that could launch your department to success.

This is because when customers reach out to a contact center, they want to solve an issue they are having. In most cases, they have a goal they are trying to accomplish. And this means they want something. Customers typically get worked up when they feel they are not going to get what they want.

By displaying empathy, an agent can convey that they are doing everything in their power to help the customer. And while an agent may not always be able to solve a problem, sometimes it’s more about working with the customer and going above and beyond for him or her. Customers, in turn, are more liable to respond by being nicer, friendlier and more accepting when things do not go their way.

Here are some ways that you can make your contact center more empathetic to your customers’ needs:

Reward empathy: While performing spot checks for quality control, and assessing agent performance, keep an eye out for interactions where agents do a great job of listening and talking to customers. By rewarding and incentivizing empathy, you will give agents a reason to want to be better at communicating with customers and helping them.

Host empathy training: Let’s face it: Not everyone is, by nature, empathetic. Most people are talkers, rather than listeners and will greatly benefit from active listening training. So, break your contact center agents down into small teams and offer strategies that they can use to be more empathetic during conversations. Then, encourage them to apply their knowledge when interacting with customers.

Avoid interrupting: Sometimes, customers will get upset and go on long rants. When this happens, the best thing that an agent can do is avoid interrupting. Instead, encourage agents to be silent and look for opportunities to enter into the conversation. Agents should never try and speak over a customer, for this can backfire and lead to a full-blown argument which won’t help anything.

Reiterate talking points: Encourage agents to repeat phrases or ideas when interacting with customers. This strategy is a great way to let customers know they are being heard, and that their ideas are actually being registered.

Instead of trying to change the way your agents communicate with customers, you may want to take the easier and more effective approach which is to outsource customer service operations to a third party solutions provider.