How Customer Preferences Are Changing

Over the last several years the main message in the customer service space has been that consumer preferences are changing, and businesses have no choice but to respond. But what exactly does this mean?

The digital revolution has completely changed the customer journey. Now, customers expect a shopping experience that is completely seamless and efficient across all levels. Customers today are used to high-speed digital interactions and they want to receive the same treatment in the contact center when attempting to resolve issues.

Perhaps the most notable change that we are observing among consumers is the reduced usage of traditional communications channels when attempting to resolve issues. According to a recent study, customer interactions with legacy channels like the phone and email have declined by as much as 7 percent over the last two years. Now, customers are seeking channels that are more automated. In 2015, voice was used in 51 percent of customer service interactions; in 2016, it fell to 45 percent; and last year, it dipped to just 41 percent.

It should be noted that as legacy voice and email systems continue to decline in popularity, consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable relying on service via automated channels. At least 49 percent of consumers now contact customer service using automated channels and 59 percent of consumers would rather go through additional channels than use their voice to communicate.

This is happening because companies aren’t offering optimized voice and email channels. A lack of effectiveness is the main source of consumer frustration with traditional customer service.

That is not to say you should abandon your legacy communications systems. It’s hard to imagine that we will reach a point where consumers completely abandon either voice or email in favor of self-service portals and IVR systems. After all, there will always be problems that are better solved over a two-way chat or email correspondence than through a self-service portal. And many customers prefer to speak with a live representative when solving routine tasks like suspending account access or reversing a charge.

Companies are strongly encouraged to strike a balance by offering a mix of reliable and high quality communications solutions. Customers should have the option to pick up the phone and call, or send an email to solve a problem. At the same time, they should be able to go online or into an app to solve a routine problem. Give customers a wide range of options, and let them select the channels that work best for them.

Just remember: Customer preferences are changing. And if you ignore them, your business could get left behind.

Five Things to Watch Out For When Outsourcing Your Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

At this point, you and your team members have made the decision to outsource your contact center to a third party solutions provider. Everyone agrees that this is the best path moving forward to save money, improve efficiencies and streamline customer services.

Keep in mind, though, that not all contact center solutions providers will offer the same level of quality and dedication. In fact, some solutions provider can do more harm than good. As such, it’s important to thoroughly vet each provider when outsourcing so that you can rest assured that you are partnering with an organization that has your best interests in mind.

Remember: outsourcing is no small task. You are trusting a private organization to manage a huge part of your business. Plus, they will have access to a massive amount of customer data.

Here are five things to watch out for when outsourcing your contact center:

  1. Data security: When assessing a contact center solutions provider, you’ll want to do more than just look at their information technology setup. Take a hard look at the agents that will be interacting with customers on a daily basis. Look for things like integrity, and knowledge about cybersecurity. Make sure that the team of agents you will be hire are educated about cybercrime and up to date with the latest findings from across the threat landscape.
  2. Unexpected fees: Be wary of contact center providers offering low monthly fees that seem too good to be true. Take a hard look at the fine print in your service level agreement before signing it, and make sure you have a firm understanding of how your company will be charged for services. Otherwise, you could wind up paying far more than you anticipated down the road.
  3. Maintenance schedules: Another thing that you will want to look into is system maintenance. At certain intervals, your contact center may need to perform server maintenance which may impact system availability and uptime. Find out how much downtime you can expect each month, when it will be performed and how much it will cost. This is not something you want to discover after you sign up for a contact center provider’s services.
  4. Agent quality: You should also be aware that not all third party solutions providers will offer outstanding customer service agents. Look for agents who are experienced, friendly and professional. Don’t skimp out in this category to save money.
  5. Flexibility: Customer service demands are constantly changing, and so above all else it’s important to find a provider that is flexible and capable of meeting the advanced needs of your organization. Look for providers who can move at your pace.

Ransomware: A Top Threat to Contact Centers

In today’s constantly-shifting cybersecurity landscape, it can be difficult to know what threats you need to prioritize. However, if there is one name that you absolutely need to recognize it’s ransomware — the most popular cybercrime tool of 2017 and one of the most dangerous forms of malware on the market.

Last year, ransomware detections increased by almost 90 percent compared to 2016. And there is no sign that it’s slowing down any time soon, as it’s becoming more widely available and easier for amateur hackers to obtain and wield.

But what exactly is ransomware and what can it do to your business?

Simply put, ransomware is a type of malware that allows hackers to seize computer files, lock them and hold them until a fee is paid. Ransomware can hide in many different places, like email attachments, online advertisements and inside of files. It can hide in plain sight, and has been discovered lurking on major websites that you wouldn’t typically expect.

The problem is that once a computer is infected with ransomware, the malware rapidly cascade across a network and infect multiple systems and databases. One hospital in Indiana, for instance, recently had to pay $55,000 dollars in bitcoin to unlock their sensitive patient files after ransomware wound up on its network.

The hospital’s decision to pay ransomware, it should be noted, was controversial. In most cases, businesses are advised not to pay hackers after a ransomware infection. There is no guarantee that hackers will release the file, and in many cases they will walk away with the money and delete the information in the process. However, the hospital saw making a payment as the easiest and fastest means to an end. In their case, the gamble paid off but it cost them a large sum of money.

Most small to medium-sized organizations cannot afford to pay this much money in one swoop. At the same time, it’s just as bad to lose your information forever. Understand, too, that contact centers remain one of the most heavily targeted areas for ransomware. Hackers know that if they can breach a contact center’s defenses, they could easily dive deeper into a network and access a trove of sensitive data that can be sold for top dollar on the black market.

While there is now way to completely avoid a ransomware attack, as it can happen to any organization at any time, you can greatly reduce your risk of ransomware-related complications by outsourcing your customer service to a third party contact center solutions provider.

A contact center solutions provider will be able to offer the agents and infrastructure that is necessary for combating today’s sophisticated cyberthreats.

 

 

Does Your Contact Center Have Information Management Issues?

Stop and think about all of the various problems that your contact center is going through right now like unhappy customers, long wait times and low customer retention rates.

Chances are likely you are trying to solve each problem individually, by tackling one issue at a time. As it turns out, though, there may be one underlying issue at the heart of all of your contact center problems: Poor information management.

Data, in other words, is the lifeblood of a contact center. It’s necessary for carrying out just about every task, from assessing individual customer journeys to figuring out how effective an interactive voice response system is. Each data point, in other words, is one small piece of the puzzle that is your contact center.

Here are some signs that your contact center has information management issues:

There is no central CRM: One of the most important reasons why contact centers collect data during customer interactions is so that it can be used to enhance the customer journey. Demographic data, customer feedback, contact information and agent notes all come together to provide agents with an up to date overview of each individual customer account. Unfortunately, many contact centers silo this information from other departments like sales and marketing, leading to fragmented systems. This leads to misinformation, and poor reporting.

Data is insecure: Cybersecurity and business continuity are now top requirements for contact centers. As contact centers continue to digitize at high rates, and cybersecurity threats continue to mount, security is becoming paramount to success. Again, fragmentation is a huge problem here as many companies are storing data across multiple systems and employee devices. This creates shadow IT, where IT does not know where information is being stored, and it also opens the door for a large number of cybersecurity issues.

Data is not actionable: At the end of the day, it does not matter if you are collecting data if you are not organizing it and processing it. Data needs to be thoroughly processed and strung together to identify trends and help improve business operations. It’s very common today for business owners to say that they are collecting data, but they don’t know what to do with it. Understand that if you are collecting data and not making it actionable, it’s more of a risk than it is worth.

 

What Type of Customer Service Environment Do You Have?

One of the downsides to working as a customer service executive is that it’s very easy to form a bias about your organization because you only see it from the inside. Many people put on blinders, and fail to truly understand what customers think about their contact centers.

The truth is that all contact centers have distinct personalities depending on how they are organized and managed. And as an executive, it’s important to understand how your customer service team is viewed.

A contact center, for instance, can be:

Friendly: In this type of environment, agents are advised to do everything in their power to keep customers feeling happy. Agents are assessed based on cheerfulness, enthusiasm and empathy. Contact centers that come across as friendly to customers stand a much better chance of generating strong customer service ratings, and positive reviews. The only downside to having a contact center that is overly-friendly is that customers will at times try to take advantage of agents. So it’s important to tell agents to be pleasant and happy, but also firm. You can be nice without being taken advantage of.

Aggressive: At the other end of the spectrum is the aggressive contact center, or one that values its bottom line over customer relations. In this type of environment, agents are instructed to be less friendly, and more aggressive in their pursuits to collect money, resolve issues quickly and process requests in a timely manner. Contact centers that come across as aggressive can also be seen as hostile. This can make customers upset, and cause them to seek out competitors. The cable and utility industries are notorious for having aggressive customer service strategies.

Creative: In this type of environment, agents are instructed to use creative thinking at strategic times to keep customers satisfied. Here is an example of how this may work: Imagine a customer stays at a hotel but cannot eat any of the snacks in the mini bar due to food allergies. After calling and complaining to the corporate customer service team, the contact center could arrange to have healthy snacks sent up to the room at no additional cost. This is the type of small, but highly-effective personal touch that goes a long way in driving customer loyalty. It’s also the type of thing that a customer may post on social media, where it could go viral.

So, what can you do to make sure your contact center is setting the right tone for your business? Round up your team and create a customer service task force. Have your team members figure out what is being said about your company online, and in the media. You may even want to have agents from this task force call in and perform anonymous spot checks. Then, come together as a team and discuss your findings.

You can also outsource your department to a third party contact center solutions provider that specializes in providing consistent, amazing customer service backed with a quality guarantee.

How Contact Centers Help Businesses Scale

For a small to medium-sized organization, the task of scaling to more than one branch location can seem like a monumental task. It’s hard enough to grow one business into a successful franchise. It’s quite another thing to duplicate your efforts entirely.

One of the biggest reasons why scaling is so hard is the fact that it’s difficult to ensure consistent branding, marketing, and customer service across multiple branches. If customers start having different experiences across multiple branch locations, it can lead to fragmented experiences and the feeling like they are doing business with different organizations. For this reason, a lack of consistency can seriously hinder an expansion project.

An efficient, hosted contact center can be one of the most effective tools that a business has when scaling. Contact centers are helpful because they:

Centralize messaging: When scaling to more than one facility, marketing and sales teams need to always remain on the same page. The last thing you want is for one location to go rogue and start forming their own marketing messages and sales collateral. This can lead to a lack of consistency, and confusion among customers. Contact centers specialize in creating, centralizing and distributing information to customers, ensuring that everyone is given the proper messaging. This is very important during times of crisis, like after a data breach or during a disaster when customers cannot afford to be given the wrong information.

Collect information: For a growing business, it’s critical to have a finger on the pulse about how customers feel about the products and services they are using. Contact centers can be instrumental in helping businesses understand their customers because they collect a great deal of information during calls. Contact centers process, store and distribute information across the enterprise which in turns creates a more customer-centric and responsive atmosphere. Customers, it should be noted, can provide a tremendous amount of information if you listen to them. And contact centers can collect critical data to help understand each customer’s individual journey.

Reduce costs: It’s unrealistic to think that each branch location can provide its own customer service. Most businesses are too busy, and lack the budgetary resources to pay for their own agents, technologies and overhead. The most cost-effective and reliable way to ensure great customer service across all branch locations is to outsource operations to a dedicated third party contact center solutions provider. A contact center solutions provider can provide consistent service for all locations.

With these points in mind, think of a contact center like a binding agent that can keep an organization together as it scales across multiple locations. Take a look at any successful large organization with multiple locations, and you are sure to find an efficient and well-run contact center.

Tips for Convincing Your Board to Outsource its Contact Center

In most companies, you can’t simply outsource an entire department like a contact center with the wave of your hand. You’ll need to go through an approval process that starts with the C-suite and ends with the board of directors.

With this in mind, it’s important to have a plan in place to sell your outsourcing project to your company’s board of directors. After all, outsourcing is no small endeavor and the board is liable to have many questions before agreeing to proceed with negotiations.

Here are some tips to convince your board to outsource its contact center:

Focus on disaster recovery: As more and more contact centers digitize their operations, the risk of downtime is increasing significantly. Just a few minutes of unplanned network downtime can bring customer service operations to a standstill. So, when speaking to your board of directors about outsourcing, you may want to focus on the benefits of keeping contact center operations offsite in a secure, third party facility. This way, if something happens to your business or its network, customer service operations can continue functioning without a hitch. This is called business continuity, and it’s one of the biggest benefits to outsourcing your contact center.

Mention cybersecurity too: When mentioning disaster recovery, it’s a good time to mention cybersecurity. After all, the two go hand in hand; in order to establish business continuity, you need a facility that can effectively combat sophisticated new cyberthreats. Third party contact center solutions providers specialize in offering secure, hosted infrastructure. They also train customer service agents on how to deal with cyberthreats, which is very important when considering they are protecting sensitive systems and customer data. Contact center solutions providers go above and beyond to ensure their clients are safe from cyberthreats. This will also make life easier for your IT team, who won’t have to worry about keeping an in-house contact center safe.

Explain the ROI: Next, make sure you mention the financial benefits of outsourcing to a contact center. There are tremendous cost-saving benefits to outsourcing, in regard to both capital and operational expenditures. For example, you won’t have to hire, train and onboard new employees or deal with agent turnover. You’ll also save money on infrastructure, data management and contact center overhead.

Talk about the customer experience: Ultimately, the reason that your company has a contact center is to ensure that its customers re well-taken care of at all times. Contact center solutions providers specialize in offering complete, end-to-end customer care backed by data-driven strategy.

So as you can see, third party contact center providers can reduce costs, increase security and deliver high-end customer care. If you focus on these points, you could improve your chances of persuading your board of directors to outsource operations.

 

The Top ROI of Outsourcing Your Contact Center

When speaking with potential clients about outsourcing their customer service departments, the conversation inevitably boils down to finances. The goal for most customers, in other words, is to provide the best customer service at the lowest possible cost and they want to know exactly how outsourcing will save them money in the long run.

It’s during this process that customers actually take a deep dive into their contact center expenses, and are often shocked to see all the ways they are hemorrhaging money on a monthly basis. Oftentimes, they discover hidden expenses that they had not previously considered due as a result of being removed from the day to day operations of their departments.

Here are the top financial returns that you can generate by outsourcing customer service operations to a third party solutions provider:

Less staff: Hiring customer service agents can be a very resource-intensive process. It takes a great deal of time to find high quality agents — something that C-level executives aren’t always aware of. Agents are expensive, and they require a great deal of onboarding and training. What’s more, contact centers typically have high turnover rates as they are seen by employees as temporary positions. So hiring is an endless and laborious ordeal. When outsourcing, you won’t have to worry about any of this. You can rest assured knowing your contact center is fully-staffed with high quality agents at all times.

Reduced technology management: A tremendous amount of contact center overhead is typically allocated to technologies like business phone systems, customer relationship management systems, computers and data center services. These technologies require hefty capital and operational expenditures — if you choose to buy them outright. You will also have to worry about making upgrades at periodic intervals, too. What’s more, many contact centers require placing an extra tax on overworked and overburdened IT teams. By outsourcing, your agents will have all of the technologies they need to perform high quality service while sparing you from having to pay for them individually.

Improved cybersecurity: Today there is a massive effort among businesses to protect their sensitive data. This is especially important in the contact center, which can serve as a direct portal for cybercriminals to hijack sensitive consumer data. Outsourcing is a cost-effective and reliable way to ensure that your sensitive consumer data is protected with the latest cybersecurity safeguards. This is a huge return, especially when considering the skyrocketing costs of cybercrime today.

Stronger data usage: Most customer service teams today lack the resources to manage data effectively, resulting in missed opportunities. But contact center solutions providers specialize in processing, managing and distributing data. By outsourcing your customer service operations, you can obtain greater value from the information you are collecting on a daily basis.

Consider Extending Your Customer Service Hours

As you continue to look for ways to optimize your 2018 customer service strategy, you may want to take a hard look at your contact center’s hours and consider keeping your department open later into the evening.

Many customer service departments, in other words, close too early in the day forcing consumers to wait until the following business day to resolve their issues.

Simply put, this is a bad look for a business. When customers cannot speak to a service representative, or solve their issues on their own using an automated system, it leaves them in the dark. And when this happens, they may be more liable to seek out the services of competitors.

For this reason, it could be a good time to start keeping your contact center open later.  Here are some of the top benefits in doing so:

  • Improved customer loyalty: So many organizations today are failing to offer strong after hours care that consumers have come to expect poor service late at night. As such, there is an opportunity here. If you provide great after-hours service, you will improve your chances of building customer loyalty which will in turn translate into higher profits. You can “wow” your customers by providing strong and flexible after-hours care.
  • Faster resolutions: When customers can solve their problems conveniently after hours, it reduces the number of issues that agents need to deal with in the morning. Agents can get to work answering incoming calls, instead of backtracking and returning phone calls. This can lead to reduced wait times, and faster issue resolutions.
  • Lower operating costs: Encouraging customers to solve their problems late at night will lead to reduced monthly communications costs, as you will have fewer callers waiting on hold to speak with agents. Spread out your inbound communications, and watch as your monthly phone bills plummet. It can be an effective way to save money, if you go about it in the right way.

A growing number of businesses are also outsourcing their contact center services to third party solutions providers, offering fully-managed systems, experienced service professionals and data-backed strategy.

How Your Business Can Provide Better Customer Service

It’s that time of the year again when new reports start streaming in about how companies are handling their customer service. Usually, the reports are mixed.

One report, for instance, shows that energy companies have a lot of work to do in repairing consumer relations. Phone, travel and financial companies are also falling behind in their customer service efforts.

This begs the question: How can companies that are failing in customer service turn things around? It’s not always easy to know what adjustments need to be made. Oftentimes, businesses will attempt to make impactful changes but they will actually do more harm than good.

Here are some common questions, for instance, that business leaders typically struggle with when trying to overhaul their customer service strategies:

  • Do our customers want to speak with live agents?
  • Should we be more active on social media?
  • How can we improve agent friendless?
  • How can we drive more sales in our contact center?
  • What technologies should I be investing in this year?
  • Is my contact center safe from cybercrime?

As you can see, there are many different questions that can arise during this process and it can be very difficult to know which buttons to press as you revise your strategy. And different industries, it should be noted, require different types of customer service solutions. There is no one size fits all customer service strategy that you can implement.

What you can do, however, is outsource your customer service to a high quality contact center solutions provider. By doing so, you can streamline all aspects of customer service and put your operations in the hands of a dedicated team of trusted professionals who know how to communicate with customers and drive sales.

Remember: A failing grade in customer service is not the end of the world. It’s an opportunity to turn things around — especially if all of your competitors are offering poor customer service, too. If your industry is notorious for poor service, like pay TV or energy, consider rebuilding your image as a customer-friendly organization. It simply requires a shift in strategy and attitude, and a willingness to try something new.

To get the process started, consider outsourcing your customer service operations to a third party contact center solutions provider. You will get access to premium agents, high quality infrastructure and much more. It’s a simple way to transform your customer relationships.

So if your business is failing in its customer service efforts, consider making 2018 the year that you become a customer-centric organization. Then, watch the dollars pile up.