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.


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.


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.