The Future of Measuring Contact Center Performance

Contact center performance ratings are currently based on scorecards that attempt to balance the reporting of key metrics across the spectrum of efficiency, effectiveness and customer experience. The customer experience portion—the most critical reflection of contact center performance—is typically gathered by surveying customers post-contact.

New ideas about measuring contact center performance are focused on tracking actual customer behavior—not what customers say they’re going to do, but what they really do—post-contact. The ability of a contact center to implement this tracking and use it to optimize performance will depend upon how well contact center leaders respond to the following evolving contact center trends:

Technology: Thanks to gigantic technological gains since call centers were born 40 years ago, integrated contact center software, especially in the cloud environment, can generate a holistic view of the customer journey. Insights gained are allowing contact center managers to personalize communications for a better customer experience. It won’t be long before a single set of unified software technologies emerge that will further coalesce and analyze data, improve operational efficiencies and heighten customer satisfaction.

Communication channels: Today’s communication channels—including voice, chat, email and social media—will continue to expand, challenging contact centers to keep up with user demand. Video chat, anyone? SMS, or texting, has vast potential, as a communication tool, as evidenced by millennial usage of the technology. In fact, a Gallup poll found that text messaging is the dominant form of communication for Americans under the age of 50. Fully 68 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they texted “a lot” on the day prior to being interviewed.

Self-service: To optimize contact center performance, decision makers will also need to expand self-service options across channels. Yet in tracking the customer journey in the days ahead, companies may find that customers are reaching out to each other in collaborative forums instead of engaging with their contact centers. If this is not an ideal scenario for your organization, you may want to put processes in place to enable your facility to deliver value and information not attainable elsewhere.

The ongoing digital transformation will enable contact center managers to learn how customer interactions impact future customer behavior, including repeat purchasing and retention. This information will enable forward-thinking leaders to adjust processes to enhance the customer experience.

The Ongoing Value of Live Customer Care

Do you need a contact center any more to provide stellar customer service? Or is the trend toward automated service inevitable? After all, automation is significantly less costly and more efficient than providing live assistance, and self-service is actually preferred by 91 percent of customers when it is seamless and effective.

Yet, customer care provided by live individuals may have no substitute when it comes to maximizing the customer experience with a brand. Consider, for instance, the downside of do-it-yourself service: Some customers—those who are either unwilling or unable to adapt—will get left behind. Others will be frustrated or angry, as multiple studies indicate that a significant percentage of customers prefer to resolve complex issues with a live individual.

This is why most of today’s organizations determined to enhance the customer experience with their brands are operating on the principal that giving customers a full swath of choices, e.g., email, live chat, text, social media and mobile apps or websites, is the best practice.

Unfortunately, a new survey conducted by Ovum shows that a gap exists between customer expectations and what businesses are currently able to deliver. It blamed this discrepancy on a lack of “any real understanding” among contact center managers regarding the extent to which customers interact via other channels before calling their facilities.

Most contact center managers would likely agree that understanding the lengths to which customers might go to avoid resolving issues with live Communicators is an important factor when planning future contact center operations. Tracking customer interactions across various channels is just as important, in other words, as determining customer channel preferences in the first place.

Cross-channel interaction analytics can provide decision makers with invaluable insights, such as the one Ovum discovered through surveying customers: Customers are increasingly informing themselves and, where possible, resolving their own issues.

With a greater understanding of customer preferences and behaviors, contact center managers can confidently take action to deal with the consequences. In this case, they can put processes in place to help Communicators deliver value and information not attainable elsewhere.

 

Critical Conversations in the Contact Center

Your brand voice, as well as the customer experience you deliver, can be either buoyed or destroyed for a customer by one poor interaction with a customer care Communicator. It all comes down to that single individual and how effectively he or she resolves the customer’s issue.

That’s a lot of pressure on Communicators—and their managers, who must ensure their front-line staff are prepared to deliver the best possible customer service. Toward this end, it’s critical that Communicators are equipped with the training and tools they need to meet customer expectations.

Those components determine the quality of the conversations between callers and Communicators. Training and tools need to be dispensed in line with contact center priorities and trends. For example, top customer service trends during the past year included omnichannel, mobile, self-help, social media and customer experience.

Start improving conversations by collecting and analyzing your contact center data. With the right tools, you’ll discover the journey your customers take before they call your facility. This will help you determine the level of service they’ll expect upon their arrival.

Contact center technology solutions also give managers the ability to understand how Communicator training/coaching and tool usage are impacting customer service—and, ultimately, the bottom line. While statistics, such as average handle time, tell part of the story, decision makers more and more are looking at metrics that indicate how the customer is being affected, such as level of satisfaction.

By truly understanding customer expectations and how best to meet those demands, as well as empowering Communicators with the appropriate tools and knowledge, contact centers will be primed to foster stellar conversations between employees and customers.

Contact Centers Are Moving to Omnichannel

Your contact center probably already offers customers multiple channels for communication. Congratulations! This means that you’ve responded to consumer demand to connect with your brand through the channels they prefer.

Now that 68 percent of U.S. adults use smartphones and interact across multiple platforms and modes of communication, contact centers are answering the groundswell. They are meeting customer expectations to connect with their favorite companies through any mode of communication they prefer—from email to chat to mobile apps and websites.

Mobile—which itself comprises multiple channel platforms, like text, email and voice—has emerged as the primary vehicle for communicating with a brand and its contact center. Thanks to this all-in-one digital channel, customers have come to view engagement as a single continuous conversation, or “omnichannel.”

Social media has also contributed to customer expectations for contact center service. Today, a large percentage of our population has been raised on digital and is habituated to sharing and receiving information in near real time. In this fast-paced mobile world, customers expect quick resolution of their issues. In fact, 71 percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important aspect of customer service.

As customers started lodging company complaints on social platforms, businesses learned to respond quickly—or suffer the repercussions of bad publicity. Both consumers and brands—brands that respond quickly on social platforms—have benefitted from leveraging the channel. Consumers receive a timely response and brands gain visibility. Companies that display good will on social platforms also grow brand interest, engagement and loyalty.

To drive rich omnichannel customer experiences in your contact center, consider the following tips:

Do digital better: Refine your brand’s digital presence by testing your conversion path and optimizing landing pages on your website—both online and on mobile. Make sure you’ve established a social presence and are engaging audiences across all major platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.

Optimize search: Implement a marketing search strategy that encourages more consumers to enter your brand’s name into search engines, like Google, and to visit your website and/or store.

Improve site retargeting: Use website visits and your CRM database to improve site retargeting, or re-engaging, of customers. Analyze data to gain insights about how to best personalize customer experiences with your brand.

Optimize mobile: Use mobile to strengthen your ability to connect with customers anywhere and at any time.

The time is now for all communication channels to be part of a holistic contact center customer experience.

Gain Contact Center Efficiency With Desktop Automation and Analytics

Your Communicators all possess different skill levels. So, how can you best identify who can do what, as well as where training is indicated, to improve the quality of customer care and maximize profitability? As you embrace omnichannel and seek to improve the customer experience, how can you ensure that frontline staff become more productive problem solvers and relationship builders, rather than process navigators and tool users?

To address these concerns, contact center leaders are adopting next-generation unified desktop technology. The solution includes not only dynamic scripting to help Communicators articulate a cohesive brand message but also call recording and analytical features that generate performance metrics for supervisors. The technology also works to eliminate time-draining manual tasks for employees.

A recent ContactBabel study, “The US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide 2016,” as a matter of fact, finds that 10 percent of the 221 contact center managers and leaders surveyed rank back-office automation as the most important technology, from a list of 25, over the next two years—second only to omnichannel.

Unfortunately, most of today’s contact center processes and systems are only loosely integrated, leading to flawed views of performance and issues. For example, ContactBabel reports that voice of the customer projects often run into difficulty when attempting to track the customer journey across departments, processes and channels.

This situation has been exacerbated by the high level of resource required to ensure that disparate solutions can leverage data into a cohesive whole. The addition of new communication channels (e.g., live chat, email and text) only makes integration more urgent.

Unification of various workforce optimization tools gives businesses the chance to break down information silos that are preventing the optimization of the customer experience, as well as reduce user complexity. Today, for example, even after successful call completion, systems—from customer accounts to warehouse stock systems to CRM to credit/debit card applications—may require input from Communicators to initiate necessary back-office processes. Often times, such complications put accuracy and maximization of revenues at risk.

A simple change of address, for example, in a non-unified environment can be a time drain, requiring alterations to several databases. ContactBabel reports that Communicators spend an average of 10 percent of their time each hour in after-call work, which costs the industry $20 billion each year.

A unified desktop automation and analytics solution addresses this challenge by allowing faster processing of calls, as well as reducing training times and improving customer satisfaction. Communicators work with a single desktop application tailored to their specific needs, which pulls in only the right data and applications from disparate systems and presents them on a single screen. In the background, business rules and workflow make sure that the right back-office processes happen without agent intervention.

In 2017, eliminate manual, error-prone tasks required of Communicators by deploying next-generation workforce optimization solutions that automate their duties. This will help you gain contact center efficiency and free up staff to focus on the customer.

You Don’t Need to Add Communicators to Improve Contact Center Service

Do your Communicators have the best tools and techniques to do their jobs well? If so, you’ve likely learned that less is more. Fewer Communicators with heightened skills are a greater contact center asset than more Communicators with fewer skills. That means it makes sense to develop a customer service approach that optimizes the customer experience as well as your business’s cost structure.

To reduce the need for more Communicators requires taking action on three fronts: Communicator utilization, productivity and call center volume.

Optimizing Communicator usage: Contact center managers can boost staff utilization by employing technology tools that ensure Communicators are scheduled effectively. Today’s workforce management software, which can capture all types of work, including interactions via phone, email and other communication channels, provides an alternative to inefficient paper- based staff planning. Communicators can be scheduled based on their skills—from fluency in two languages to training and experience with various technologies.

Increasing Communicator productivity: Instead of measuring productivity with the old standard average handle time (ADT) metric, contact center managers should track customer satisfaction across Communicator conversations. ADT can actually pressure Communicators to rush customers off a call instead of fully ensuring their satisfaction. Consequently, managers should not only guarantee that Communicators are following policy and procedure but make sure to monitor calls and coach staff on how well they controlled interactions and stayed on point.

Contact center managers should also track how often customers are placed on hold while Communicators look up information. This is usually an indication of training gaps or difficult searches on poorly designed information systems. To improve the customer experience, contact center decision makers must acknowledge and address Communicator challenges to quickly and effectively resolving customer issues.

Reducing call center volume: First-contact resolution (FCR) is the key metric to look at when trying to decrease the number of incoming call center inquiries. Your goal here is to ensure that more customer interactions are based on requests for more products or services—and not to resolve problems with existing ones.

To improve FCR success, proactively identify the root causes of customer problems and determine to prevent them. Do your due diligence to learn from customers whether your products are easy to use. Next, look into whether your processes and practices prevent Communicators from addressing problems on first contact. Check into whether it makes sense to give your Communicators more power to make decisions on customers’ behalves. Ensure they are properly trained for this sort of responsibility before moving ahead.

Keep in mind that less can be more when it comes to both the number of Communicators in your contact center and your success at providing optimal customer service.

Contact Center Strategies, Part 3: Quality and Performance Management

Most consumers intuitively recognize the value in a great customer experience. They want to interact with brands that deliver it, and they recommend those brands to their friends and family.

ContactBabel’s new study, “The US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide 2016,” addresses how customer satisfaction has evolved in recent years to become the No. 1 indicator of success for contact centers. As such, improving this metric should be a part of your contact center strategy for 2017, along with other items, some of which I’ve already covered in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

The study states that customer satisfaction consistently ranks even more important than increasing revenues or decreasing costs. Historically, though, contact center success was measured more in terms of efficiency, e.g., call throughput, average handle time, calls per hour and the like. Part of a stellar customer experience still hinges on that metric, especially as it applies to the amount of time customers spend in the queue, and whether inquiries are addressed by Communicators quickly and decisively.

Nowadays, this applies equally to any telephony or Web-based self-service, or other pre-call activity such as customer authentication.

Forty-two percent of ContactBabel survey respondents gave customer satisfaction top billing when asked which areas of their contact center they consider most in need of improvement. Yet, 30 percent selected productivity and efficiency as a priority. Unfortunately, this indicates that the years and dollars that the contact center industry has invested in cutting unnecessary costs and time to serve customers has not paid off substantially.

So, what are the next steps contact center decision makers can take to work out quality and performance issues that still exist?

First of all, know that the study reveals that most respondents feel that their contact center quality assurance (QA) is very effective in terms of Communicator performance, with only 10 percent saying it is ineffective. Yet, across the nine QA areas, including providing customer insight for other areas within the organization and driving customer experience improvements, results were lukewarm. As such, ContactBabel concludes that QA is currently used far more effectively as a tool for Communicator productivity and skill than as a driver for strategic business improvements. In other words, there is a major disconnect between correlating QA with customer feedback.

The greatest challenge to managing performance and quality is reported to be caused by insufficient time to analyze and use data, with 83 percent of respondents calling it a problem in some form and 37 percent labeling it a major problem. This was particularly relevant for medium to large operations. The second-greatest challenge was identified as a lack of skilled personnel to both coach/train and to get the most out of the QA solution.

This suggests that a greater level of automated analysis and insight is required from quality and performance solutions. E-learning could also help relieve the strain on resources produced by traditional forms of one-to-one and/or mass coaching.

Here are some additional steps, as I promised above, to help your contact center thrive in the age of the customer:

Implement multidisciplinary customer experience strategies: Transform operations to deliver high-value, personalized experiences. Customers will reward companies that anticipate their individual needs and turn away from those that require them to repeat basic information at every touchpoint.

Operate at the speed of disruptors: Accept that disruption is now normal and will accelerate going forward. Invest in a culture that will fuel a more agile market response. Leadership structures may need to change to win in a customer-led, digital space.

Become technology-savvy: Organizations that develop digital expertise—not just a digital façade—will differentiate themselves from less-savvy rivals. Plus, focus on big data and analytics as a competitive asset to help you deliver personalized services across all digital channels.

The more you obsess about quality and performance improvements that lead to greater customer satisfaction, and the faster you respond to market disruptions, the better off you’ll be in 2017 and beyond.

Hosted Contact Center Market Set to Flourish

Contact centers, both in-house and outsourced, help enterprises in many ways—from providing a better customer experience to increasing productivity to providing the latest technologies for generating valuable business intelligence. When the contact center is hosted in the cloud, additional benefits abound, such as assured disaster recovery, ease of compliance management, and greater scalability and flexibility.

Company reliance on various technologies and the Internet to operate profitability is expected to intensify, with a corresponding increase in cloud-based contact center market size. According to a new report from MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to grow from $5.43 billion in 2016 to $15.67 billion by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate of 23.6 percent.

This growth is also being fueled by a high demand for outbound dialer systems and outsourced contact center services. Advances in dialer technology, especially features such as dynamic filtering—search indexes that control which leads are called—and do-not-call list management, are popular because they increase Communicator talk time, leading to greater productivity.

Outsourcing the contact center function enables companies to reduce spend on networks and IT. Cost benefits will drive companies to outsource customer services across the board—from inquiries to order processing to technical support. Plus, the increase in the number of an organization’s functional areas (e.g., sales and marketing) being served by contact centers has increased the complexity of deploying in-house contact centers.

Another key to cloud-based contact center growth is the role the contact center is playing in the e-commerce space. Innovation and the proliferation of digital technologies have changed customers’ interaction with retailers; they are now using different channels such as live chat and self-service options. The vendors in this vertical market rely on the cloud environment to attain customer loyalty all along consumer touchpoints such as retail stores, Web catalogs and the contact center.

The only growth inhibitors for the cloud-based contact center market are an ongoing fear of data risk and initial deployment costs. Enterprises are mitigating the potential data risk, however, by side stepping total cloud immersion. They are bridging the gap between low-security public cloud and high-security private cloud by creating hybrid cloud networks. This gives them the scalability and flexibility of the cloud while retaining secure computing environments on-premises.

Enterprises that make customer satisfaction and experience a priority are strategically using contact centers to maximize their success in these areas. Outsourcing contact center functions to a managed service provider can help in this regard by providing crucial elements of high-quality customer service without all the infrastructure complications of on-premises solutions. As the cloud-based contact center market grows, consider ways in which you, too, can leverage the cloud to push your business to the next level.

Contact Center Strategies, Part 1: Multichannel Workforce Management

By now you know that your contact center strategy must be focused on the methods and solutions you employ to improve the quality of the customer experience. What this means for your 2017 strategy is more of the same: more insights into each customer and Communicator so you can better meet their needs and grow your business.

Findings relayed in a new report from ContactBabel, “The US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide 2016,” will help direct your efforts to improve contact center performance in the new year. We will address some of its key points in a series of blogs. This Part 1 will address how workforce management (WFM) solutions can help supervisors and Communicators cope with the new complexities of multiple customer service channels in the contact center, specifically for traditional purposes like forecasting and reporting.

WFM solutions for the multichannel contact center

Managers must not only make sure their contact centers are staffed appropriately but must also accurately schedule staff across both multichannel (e.g., Web chats and email) and voice interactions. To satisfy customers, managers will need to develop new pools of in-depth knowledge and explicit skills among Communicators, including product-specific and technical expertise.

WFM solutions are increasingly being used in contact centers as part of overall performance optimization. While advanced WFM tools such as quality monitoring, speech analytics, HR management and training have emerged, traditional workforce features for forecasting and scheduling, as well as adherence and reporting, remain critical to contact center operations.

Here’s how traditional WFM solutions are continuing to help contact centers respond to customer needs in a multichannel environment:

Forecasting: The WFM employs historical data to assist contact center managers with realistic scheduling, allowing them to factor in exceptions, such as holidays, training and marketing campaigns. They can even use the data to conduct “what if” scenarios to test how staffing across multiple channels will impact performance. Automated forecasting gives businesses the flexibility to alter schedules to accommodate staffing issues as they arise. For instance, staff can put in requests for certain shifts and vacation time, which empowers them and spurs morale.

Scheduling: In a multichannel environment, more than ever, managers must be able to take Communicator preferences and skill sets into account when scheduling. Otherwise, expect that Communicator and customer satisfaction levels will drop. Most companies use advanced WFM software to manage between six and nine skill sets, though some use many more.

Adherence and reporting: Comparing forecasts to actual scheduling adherence is mandatory to improve contact center performance. The adherence monitoring provided by top WFM solutions gives managers the opportunity to learn from experience. It also sends them alerts when activities deviate from what was planned, enabling them to act before problems arise.

Advances in WFM software allow managers to receive real-time reports on schedule adherence through Web browsers and mobile phones, even if Communicators are working remotely. Automated schedule changes are even beginning to relieve managers of daily personal attention to the system.

According to ContactBabel, WFM systems are common in contact centers, with a penetration rate of 48 percent industrywide. Small contact centers (10 to 50 Communicators) are much less likely (19 percent) than large ones with 200 or more Communicators (80 percent) to have implemented WFM software.

Respondents reported using their WFM solutions predominantly (95 percent) for forecasting, reporting (86 percent) and real-time adherence to scheduling (81 percent). Yet, of the 221 contact center managers and directors who participated in the survey, more than half said they also used their WFM systems for higher-level strategic initiatives like “what if” scenarios and long-term planning.

In 2017, make sure your contact center has the tools to improve the customer experience along multiple channels.

Customer Experience Predictions for 2017

Customers are leading businesses by their noses into the new year. Some companies are going kicking and screaming into 2017 while others have geared up to meet the demands of a customer-driven marketplace and are sliding more comfortably into the future.

Arm-in-arm with keeping up with customer demands, organizations primed for ongoing success have delved into everything digital. From banks to retailers to manufacturers to utilities, businesses are ramping up digital efforts to maintain or grow their customer bases.

A new Forrester report, “2017 Predictions: Dynamics That Will Shape the Future in the Age of the Customer,” expects one-third of companies in the business-to-customer space to change their business structures to enhance the customer experience. This is to counter the ease with which today’s customers switch brands when they experience a negative interaction with any one company.

The Forrester report indicates that 40 percent of customers have a high willingness and ability to shift spend, with an additional 25 percent building that mindset.

What was once considered just a millennial trait—rewarding or punishing companies based on just one experience—has become universal. Forrester says it’s now the norm for all generations of consumers. The research and advisory firm predicts that revenue risk—from customers shifting spend to a competitor, and from brands’ inability to enrich—will increase by 25 percent to 50 percent.

This outcome will drive companies to speed up their customer experience initiatives, as well as widen efforts to compete in a customer-led market, as follows:

Emotions will drive process transformations: Adequately measuring the impact of human emotions on buying decisions has been a challenge for companies, meaning their core processes and experience designs are missing key components. After all, brand loyalty and spend have long been governed by how customers feel about a brand.

Forrester anticipates that a few companies will make important inroads in 2017 into what drives consumer decisions to better guide experience design and operations. Some are currently piloting emotion-recognition techniques to measure physiological responses, as well as employing old-school ethnographic research. The latter is the systematic investigation of a culture through in-depth study of the members of the culture.

Microdesigning the customer experience: In 2017, marketers will be pushed to deliver experiences that delight customers, as well as boost revenues. Yet engaging modern day customers—who are in a constant mode of multitasking and distraction management—is a trick and a half. For years, marketers have mapped the customer journey from initial touchpoint to purchase to gain insights into customer needs. This practice has proven fruitful, but in 2017, customer experience professionals will need to develop new ways to differentiate their brands.

Forrester believes that marketers will drill deeper into the customer journey in the upcoming year to identify those micromoments where customers are paying close attention, most anxious to resolve a pain point, and clearly appreciative of the solution’s value. This sort of detailed research will require many organizations to first integrate disparate analytic tools and processes. Only then will they be able to design and deliver an optimal brand experience.

To prepare for 2017, take a good look at your organization’s processes for engaging and satisfying customers. That’s your ticket to success in the age of the customer. Identify what needs to change to ensure your profitability next year and beyond. To offset revenue risk, prepare to make those changes as soon as possible. Best wishes for a secure and plentiful future.