Offshore Contact Centers—Is Your Message Getting Lost at Sea?

As part of a cost-initiative movement during the mid-1990s, contact center companies took a leap across the pond and began transferring their centers offshore. In doing so, these businesses were able to keep their wallets a little bit fuller, but not without lowering their customer satisfaction scores. This unintended outcome eventually hastened a return to U.S. soil for a good number of these offshore adventurers.

Communications between Americans and representatives at offshore contact centers often suffer from language barriers such as accents and pronunciation, creating customer dissatisfaction. Besides actual anomalies in voice interactions, cultural differences can cause communication issues too—usually from problems in message transmission. Values, beliefs and expectations for behavior accompany all human interactions, and often these are significantly different between countries, leading to missed cues and even insults.

Any of these communication gaffs can cause callers to feel undervalued because they add time to inquiry resolution.

After all, one key to making customers feel appreciated is to respect their time. Think about restaurants that give their customers a small remote control so that they can easily notify the valet service to bring the car around so that it’s waiting when they exit. Or, consider a contact center’s time-saving option that provides a callback service to customers waiting in its IVR queue.

Conversely, when customers and Communicators must continually repeat themselves to be understood, quick questions can turn into aggravating time drains. Even the technology that supports contact center functions can inadvertently add to the call’s duration; bad phone service or a poor Internet connection can ruin a conversation before it gets off the ground.

Quality communications, or the lack thereof, go beyond just accents and cultural differences, of course. When you offshore customer service, you increase the likelihood that call scripts will be followed too closely—in order to avoid introducing vocabulary and cultural hiccups—making customers feel like they’re talking to robots and/or being given irrelevant information. Plus, canned responses slow down the whole customer service process.

Remember that customer service has become one of the most important aspects of a company’s business. In fact, research shows that 66 percent of consumers who switched brands did so because of poor service. More often than not, cutting costs means cutting corners—a decision that may be compromising to your brand.

 

Tactics for Hiring the Right Communicators for Your Contact Center

Only people uniquely qualified to fit an ideal contact center Communicator profile are going to stick around long enough to justify the investment made to hire and train them. After all, the turnover rate in the contact center industry is between 30 and 45 percent, compared to 15 percent overall for other U.S. industries. So, finding candidates with traits that match up with the job requirements should be a priority for contact centers that strive to provide stellar customer service.

After all, a contact center is only as good as its Communicators. So, how can you avoid wasting time, energy and money on Communicators who are ill-suited to the position?

First, realize the challenges you’re up against. The United States is host to approximately 5 million contact center jobs (with about 12 percent of those outsourced overseas). That makes the job of contact center Communicator one of the most common in the world, meaning that many businesses are competing for the same pool of workers.

The point is that contact center supervisors need to have high expectations when hiring Communicators despite these hurdles; elsewise, customer service and business as a whole will suffer. For instance, seek candidates with top-notch communication skills, speed and a willingness to go the extra mile for customers.

Beyond that, define your own ideal applicant. You can easily do this by assessing the qualifications possessed by your existing top Communicators and extrapolating those into your profile. Look for things like a capability for fast and efficient resolution of issues. According to the Avaya Preference Report, 41 percent of contact center users rate this skill as the most important factor influencing their perception of the interaction.

When interviewing candidates, how can you determine whether they possess these traits or any others you desire?

Asking the right questions will take you far. When assessing critical thinking, for instance, you might ask a candidate to describe his or her biggest challenge when interacting with customers, and how he or she resolves it when it comes up. This will give you insight into what a potential Communicator considers a challenge and how he or she works through a problem.

Here are some questions that’ll help you find the right hires for your contact center:

  1. What motivates you in the workplace? If they talk about wanting to help others overcome problems, you could have a good fit.
  2. How do you learn? It would be good to know that the candidate has an ability or technique for quickly absorbing new information. Customers have more confidence in Communicators who can answer their questions without pause (ostensibly, to look up information or ask a colleague).
  3. What does being a team player mean to you? Assertive and sociable Communicators can boost overall contact center performance and morale.

When you’re looking to make your next great hire, be sure to attract the right people, interview them thoroughly, and evaluate their skills accordingly—doing so may require more attention up front, but will undoubtedly save you time and money in the long run.

Four Tips for Successful Callbacks

Don’t you love to get a callback option instead of waiting on hold when you reach out to a company? I do. I’m one of those customers who immediately latches on to the callback offer when it’s made. Today’s customers have no patience for idling on hold. For proof, check your social media accounts! This is where angry complaints will be logged—as well as in your Communicators’ ears.

Adding the callback feature to your contact center capabilities is easy with today’s cloud-based offerings. However you introduce the function, though, be sure to heed the following four tips to ensure your callbacks are successful:

  1. Time your callback message to coincide with your average hold time: The message, something like, “If you’d prefer that the next available agent return your call, press 1 now,” must, obviously, be played before your typical caller would hang up. This is your “time to offer,” or TTO, and it depends on your call center’s unique data and analysis. Your TTO will affect your take-up rate, which is the fraction of callers who opt-in after hearing the message.
  1. Repeat the callback offer: As time passes for callers in your IVR system, more and more of them will opt-in. Make sure the callback offer is repeated several times to give hesitant callers a chance to take advantage of the benefit. Don’t leave them wondering, and wishing they’d responded to the offer more quickly. Instead, simply extend the courtesy periodically.
  1. Correctly determine agent availability: Don’t overestimate when the next agent will be available and initiate the callback too early. You may end up placing your customers on hold a second time. Avoid letting your eagerness to maximize agent efficiency result in a negative experience for the customer! This would wipe out the advantage of providing callbacks altogether. A better idea is to already have the agent on the line when the customer picks up the return call. Typically, the downtime for the agent is less than 10 seconds.
  1. Enable other channels with the callback option: A majority of contact centers use multiple channels to interact with their customers: phone, Web, chat, email and text. Yet, if a customer issue is urgent or difficult to resolve, a phone conversation is still the preferred channel. In fact, 77 percent of people polled, according to a Northridge Group survey, reach for the phone in these circumstances. Quality contact center service, therefore, requires smooth transitions between channels in a multichannel environment. When your customer on a chat, for example, decides that he or she wants to talk to a live Communicator immediately, the transfer should be quick and seamless. For a consistent user experience, if your phone channel includes a callback option, so should your other channels.

Your callback solution should, therefore, have strong multichannel functionality, like pre-built components that can be easily integrated into your webpage or mobile app.

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.

 

Employer Benefits From the Ultimate Job Perk: Working at Home

Employees who yearn for job flexibility see working at home as the ultimate prize—and have been increasingly pushing their companies to provide the perk. Over the past decade, employers have actively started to respond. The share of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19 percent in 2003 to 24 percent in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2015 numbers are greater still for management and professional positions, 38 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

The ability to work from anywhere has evolved along with technological advances—so much so that 68 percent of recent college graduates say that, among company policies, the ability to work remotely has “the most positive impact” on their interest in an employer, according to a FlexJobs survey.

The trend encompasses a wide swath of industries, from healthcare to technology. Here at InfoCision, we have seen firsthand the benefits of offering employees the Work-at-Home option. Thanks to cloud computing and widely available Internet broadband access, Communicators can now provide home-based services that are indistinguishable from services that originate in the contact center. Such findings have revolutionized the work place and are greatly improving work-life balance among millions of workers (3.2 million in 2014, according to The New York Times).

Reasons to consider adding Work-at-Home to your call center’s career options:

Dollars: By leveraging the Internet, businesses can reduce the costs of office space and multiple overhead charges. Employees who participate in Work-at-Home programs typically love it, which builds their company loyalty, thus lowering your attrition rates and costs.

Time: Commuting is draining on the spirit, the wallet and the clock. The average commuter spends nearly an hour a day just getting to and from the office—time that could be better used to close a deal or finish writing a story, among a multitude of other tasks. Time=money.

Morale: Job satisfaction increases with telecommuting. It should almost go without saying that having the flexibility to work from home (or anywhere)—in case you’re under the weather, a child is sick, the car’s in the shop, etc.—would improve employee morale; nevertheless, new research from the University of Minnesota and the MIT Sloan School of Management has made it official. In a randomized controlled trial, the researchers learned that workers who were given an increased sense of control over their work lives reported higher levels of job satisfaction and reduced levels of burnout and psychological stress.

Productivity: Only 7 percent of respondents to a FlexJob survey say the office is their location of choice if they need to be most productive at work tasks. The rest prefer to work remotely; their top reasons for this choice include fewer interruptions from co-workers and other distractions, like meetings and office politics. What’s more, research shows that at-home workers typically put in longer hours than their colleagues at the office.

Beware some telecommuting challenges

At-home workers have reported a sense of isolation, and they find communicating with colleagues more challenging—at least initially. Virtual connection technologies like Skype and Google Hangout help bridge the communication gap but, for others, nothing replaces chatting around the water cooler.

Keeping tabs on what co-workers are doing is also tricky, as is staying motivated to report on their own activities toward goals. This leads to another issue coming to the forefront: Telecommuters are being promoted at half the rate of their in-office colleagues, according to The New York Times article referenced above. This can be attributed to a lack of live interaction—a case of out of sight, out of mind—wherein managing employees and collaborating with the boss are inherently more difficult.

For some telecommuters, limited home resources are also a problem. After all, not every home setup includes a printer and fax machine, for example. Some people also simply work better in a structured environment; home can offer too many temptations to put work on pause.

Sometimes, the best telecommuting practice may simply be to offer employees options—a couple of days at home per week or month—when a deep focus on a work project is needed, a sore throat wants tending or the weather outside is frightful.

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.

Change Your Contact Center for the Better As the Season Changes

Change is all around us. The leaves are falling. The air is getting crisp. As we turn the corner into fall, feed off of the seasonal energy and update your contact center strategy.

Here are some practical steps you can take to inspire your team and boost attitude—and performance—in your contact center:

Update your call scripts: Customers pick up on the smallest details when speaking with your Communicators. So it’s vital to ensure your Communicators are inspired and excited during phone interactions. To boost enthusiasm, try updating your call scripts. You can even hold a meeting, and ask for direct feedback from your Communicators about specific areas they think should change. Get a sense of which lines are working, and which can be improved. Doing so will make your Communicators feel like they are part of the team. What’s more, it will make them think actively about the language they use when speaking with customers.

Bring in some fresh faces: The busy holiday rush will be here before you know it. And when this happens, your department may need to scale to handle larger call volumes. This year, be proactive and hire early. This will give you plenty of time to onboard and train your new hires, and to make sure they are well- prepared for the busy season. Plus, your new Communicators will bring a wave of energy and enthusiasm into your department.

Improve your KPIs: Take a hard look at your contact center metrics. Are there any trends that need to disappear along with the summer heat? Take active measures to reduce your abandon rates by tweaking your interactive voice response system or implementing a callback feature. You could also work with your Communicators to look for ways of improving first call resolution rates. KPIs may seem intimidating, but by making them a priority you could significantly boost your customer service ratings.

Innovate: When is the last time you integrated a new technology into your contact center? There are many new customer relationship management (CRM) solutions that you can use to streamline customer support, like issue tracking systems (which can capture and follow customer challenges), multichannel solutions (for communicating with customers over multiple platforms), and knowledge bases (which help Communicators share information among themselves). If your CRM solutions are up to date, it’s worth considering other small investments to make your Communicators happier and more productive. For example, you could consider implementing new headsets, phones or even chairs. It’s amazing how performance can improve when workers are comfortable at their seats.

Remember that you don’t need to have a massive departmentwide overhaul to enact meaningful change. Simply coming to work with a positive, can-do attitude will inspire others to feel the same. Let the winds of change blow through your contact center and drive improvements this season!

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.

It Takes a Strong IT Team to Run a Call Center

Think about all of the different components that must fall into place for a high-quality phone interaction between a Communicator and a customer.

First, the incoming call must be received by the business network. Then, data must travel through the network over a system of cables, routers and switches to reach the call center. What’s more, interactive voice response systems and call queues need to be operational and bug-free to assist the caller. And once the caller is connected with a Communicator, the Communicator needs to be able to pull data in real time from a server.

As this process exemplifies, technology these days goes far beyond merely using a cordless phone for your customer interactions. Technology is complex, and it becomes increasingly complex with every new channel.

When problems do arise on the network, they can impact the customer experience, thus reflecting negatively on your brand.

For this reason, an around-the-clock call center staffed with a dedicated information technology (IT) support team is essential for meeting key business goals. Don’t settle for programs that offer “high quality” communications or “guaranteed” uptime. Dig deeper, and make sure that the company you select has a robust support service in place. This should be a deal-breaker.

What will a contact center IT support team offer your organization? Perhaps the most important thing will be rapid-response network troubleshooting. Your dedicated IT team will address trouble tickets in real time, quickly solving small problems, like helping Communicators connect to the Internet. The team will also solve much larger issues in the network, like discovering the root cause of low-quality voice calls.

Here at InfoCision, we take a holistic approach toward network troubleshooting. In fact, we have an entire building dedicated to our innovative IT support team. And we supply our IT workers with all of the resources and cutting-edge technologies they need to keep our customers’ call center systems running properly.

We also know that each of our customers has different program needs. A “one size fits all” contact center is not in our repertoire, and shouldn’t be in yours, either! For this reason, technology implementations are program-specific, providing the highest level of proficiency for each client’s calls.

A designated IT support team will also be able to strategically plan for network maintenance, ensuring that it takes place during hours that align with your contact center’s needs. A proactive approach to network maintenance will prevent expensive and time-consuming issues from occurring.

Ultimately, an IT support team will work to discover network and call quality issues before customers discover them. This is what good customer service is all about. Let the addition of dedicated IT support in your contact center help you bring your customer experience up a level and distinguish you from your competitors.

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.

Getting Contact Center Data Into the Right Hands to Improve Processes

Your contact center leaders have collected enough data on your customers to ensure that the contact center can meet their needs and remain a vital force in achieving company goals. But these leaders can’t make the necessary changes on their own; your contact center does not function well as an island. Successful operation requires collaboration with other business units, like sales, marketing and IT. So, how do you get critical data insights from the contact center into the right hands across the organization to drive process improvements?

Well, there’s a process for driving process improvements, and it goes like this:

Rid your business of organizational silos: You can’t do this across the board, of course, as some silos provide necessary structure to your organization; instead, aim to destroy the problems caused by silos.  That is, keep the structure that advances accountability and responsibility, but lose the tunnel vision that inhibits communication and cooperation. Look for areas where decreasing autonomy and increasing collaboration would be beneficial to the business. Put measures in place that prevent decisions from being made in isolation going forward.

Develop a mechanism to define initiatives and submit them for prioritization, approval and funding: Given today’s level of customer expectations and business competition, project choices are critical to the very survival of organizations that must make the best use of limited resources. To eliminate bias and errors, decision makers should use a formal approach—whether quantitative or qualitative—when prioritizing projects. Next, the value of the project vs. its cost must be established; this ratio provides a basis of understanding across the organization about what is important. Make sure that systems are in place so that the value is consistent with the organization’s fundamental objectives and strategy.

Ensure that information management activities are effective and successful: This initiative must encompass all the systems and processes within your organization for the creation and use of corporate information. Recognize the complexities that exist and commit to managing them. There are no silver bullets, so avoid oversimplified solutions. Once the initiative is defined, focus on buy-in and active participation of staff throughout your organization; communicate extensively. Adoption will be elusive unless the project delivers tangible and visible benefits; so, make sure all your ducks are in a row as regards identifying concrete business needs and how you’ll measure the project’s impact. This is a long journey; don’t try to account for every factor during development or the project will come to a standstill. Assume that small tweaks will continue to be necessary throughout implementation.

Companies that act on contact center data and analysis to address top priorities will gain the upper hand at providing stellar customer experiences and omnichannel services—hallmarks of today’s most successful businesses.

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.

Three Ways to Celebrate Summer All Year Long In the Contact Center

Summertime brings to mind the sound of waves gently crashing on the beach, the smell of burgers on the grill and the feeling of excitement from lighting firecrackers on the Fourth of July.

You can capture such positive summer sensations in your contact center all yearlong—delighting and satisfying employees and customers—by employing a few strategic best practices, as follows:

Provide continuous professional development: What keeps employees satisfied and engaged at their jobs is the feeling of constant growth and the opportunity to learn. Providing professional development resources to employees of all levels will enable them to continuously work toward new goals, improve their skills and discover new strengths throughout the course of their careers. Not only will this make your employees happier, it will improve the quality of customer care that they deliver thereby retaining more customers.

Offer team building exercises: The best part of summertime is spending quality time with friends and family soaking up the sun. Transfer this feeling of togetherness to your contact center family by holding more team building events so that team members can strengthen their relationships. This is also a great way for upper managers to interact socially with employees with whom they may not otherwise get the chance to engage. Like professional development courses, team building exercises and events will give team members something positive to look forward to throughout the year.

Utilize intuitive technology: The only thing that could improve your Communicators’ top-notch customer care skills is intuitive technology. It’s true; you can enhance Communicator performance by integrating data analytics tools such as predictive analytics, skills-based routing and marketing segmentation to optimize their abilities. Integrating best-in-class technology into your customer care strategy is the cherry on top of your banana split.

Let your customer care shine this summer—and all year long for that matter—by employing these three effective strategies.

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.

Ways to Make Morale a Priority

It’s hard to pin down a definition of high or low morale in the workplace, but you know it when you see it. A team with high morale is confident they can do the job, disciplined about performing it, and motivated to tackle whatever comes their way. On the other hand, low morale looks just the opposite—your agents may be working, but there’s no sense of enthusiasm or positivity.

It’s no secret that morale has a major impact on the workplace, particularly in the customer care arena. In a setting with low morale, Communicators aren’t likely to go the extra mile in their service efforts or present a pleasant demeanor during customer interactions. Customers can sense when the person on the other end of the line is unhappy, a feeling that will permeate the entire exchange. So even if the idea of raising morale seems like a nebulous concept, its benefits are clearly measurable in the strength of your bottom line.

If you’re noticing an increase in turnover, frequent employee absences, or an undercurrent of conflicts or complaints, try some of these morale-boosting strategies:

  • Reconnect with your Communicators. Practice “management by walking around,” so you can connect with employees spontaneously. Unplanned conversations could yield impromptu suggestions, ideas, and the sharing of thoughts in the moment. Make sure you’re listening.
  • Say “thank you” more often. Reward Communicators frequently for a job well done, which could mean anything from saying “great job” or “thanks” to things like giving gift certificates or awarding flextime hours.
  • Make staff development a priority. Hold regular one-on-one meetings to understand individual needs and skills, and provide training and development opportunities as often as possible. Create formal ways for staff members to learn from one another.
  • Show Communicators the results of their hard work. Share positive feedback with all agents, and consider sharing any good news related to the clients you work for. After all, their success wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of your Communicators.

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.