Work at Home – Flexibility in the Contact Center Space

Providing flexibility for a workforce is paramount to the long-term satisfaction of many employees in today’s job market. At InfoCision, we have an entire program that offers our contact center staff the option to work from the convenience of their home in a virtual call center environment.

Our staff involved in this unique program receive their initial training in a web-based environment and learn to make the same calls as our traditional agents, just from the comfort of their own homes. This provides an opportunity for people who may not be able to work outside the home otherwise. It also delivers other benefits, like not wasting time commuting back and forth to work, not having a dress code to follow, and saving money on gas and vehicle maintenance. 

Having a work at home program not only encourages employee satisfaction, but also ensures that we have the flexibility and capacity to meet staffing requirements, enabling us to provide excellent customer service and unparalleled ROI. 

 

Keep The Creativity Coming!

In business, especially in the contact center space, it’s easy for teams to keep doing business as usual once they learn what works.  A good contact center knows their customers, all the ins and outs of their proprietary technology, and has developed an array of standardized strategies for handling challenges. However, when the ultimate desire is for a business to grow, the flow of creative ideas in every realm of the business must not only continue, but flourish.

At InfoCision, our team of marketers constantly tests new ideas, in a way that can be measured and replicated. This includes considering all aspects of the customer experience, examining and testing at all levels within the myriad of multi-channel solutions available: scripts, letter packages, call routing strategies, training materials, reporting techniques, hiring and retention, quality measurements, even ancillary services. Creativity involves utilizing our Business Analytics department to provide demographic and transactional data modeling or run a variety of scenarios to generate alternate probabilities and outcomes.  All our insights and findings are used to develop best practices, which are constantly examined for relevancy and adjusted with fine-tuning.

Having a culture of operational excellence, combined with the ingenuity and aptitude for continual testing across departments, enables us to provide excellent customer service and unmatched ROI.

 

 

How to Optimize Your Multichannel Contact Center

In response to customer demand, you’ve built multichannel support into your contact center. While the technology available today likely got you there easily enough, best practices for optimizing your multichannel service strategy have probably not been as easy to pin down.

Perhaps you’ve experienced trouble trying to link channels for reporting purposes, or train customer care Communicators on different channels, or maintain consistent answers across channels. Yet, now that multichannel contact centers have become the norm, best practices for tackling such concerns are emerging—such as unifying disparate applications.

Each new channel, like social media or SMS messaging, adds complexity to the contact center. When the various applications operate in siloes, support suffers. To improve the customer experience with your business, the applications must be integrated to ease communication. This allows you to tap into all the relevant data pertaining to an interaction and deliver it to the Communicator in advance, enabling him or her to more efficiently and effectively address the customer’s needs.

When customer information—from purchase history to social media activity to demographics—is made available at the Communicator’s desktop, you will begin to see an improved customer experience in your contact center. Customers aren’t repeating themselves, for one thing, leading to not only decreased frustration, but decreased average handling time (AHT) and increased first contact resolution (FCR).

What’s more, Communicators with a central user interface for accessing applications don’t need to dig for information while customers wait, which makes them more productive than their counterparts without central systems. This will also decrease AHT and boost customer satisfaction. Furthermore, providing your Communicators with a range of channels and content types will help keep them engaged. Plus, multiskilled Communicators provide you with resource flexibility at peak times.

Another challenge of managing multiple channels of communication is achieving a single view of the customer, so that contact can be tracked across channels. With a connected cloud service and CRM integrations, customers can call, then live chat, then email … without re-explaining their issues.

Although contact center leaders should ensure consistency in service across channels, and have an overall—not channel-by-channel—vision for the contact center, opportunities for improving the customer experience also exist within individual channels. We provide a few tips for maximizing the potential of various channels below:

Chat: Protect quality and attention to detail by handling no more than three or four Web chats at a time. Encourage rapport by integrating identifiers into the chat so the Communicator knows who the customer is from the get-go. Also, post hyperlinks into Web chat to route customers to rich media or a self-help page, which will enable self-service and decrease AHT. Develop policies for closing chats when it seems a client is no longer responding.

Social media: Leverage the skills of Communicators who already use social media extensively in their personal lives. Tailor responses to the individual but also keep a lid on drawn-out conversations; Communicators should focus on delivering service and, then, exit the social platform. Your integrated communication system should include the automatic forwarding of tweets and other social media messages to email to ensure they are not missed.  This is especially important if they contain negative material that must be addressed quickly to avoid damaging your brand’s reputation.

Text: Develop guidelines for “text speak”; the casual lingo used by customers isn’t appropriate for most businesses.

Read This Before Launching a New Channel!

Consumers are reaching out to contact centers today not just by phone, but using email, chat and social—to name a few avenues. How can your business derive revenue from tapping into these communications channels? That’s the question each organization’s decision makers must ponder before modernizing.

Start where you are. Are you a phone-only call center? If so, you’re practically a dinosaur. Providing customer support over multiple communications channels is standard operating procedure these days. A 2015 study by ICMI and LiveOps shows that 92 percent of contact centers support email, 59 percent chat, 49 percent Web, 46 percent self-service, 45 percent mobile and 42 percent social media.

If you are a phone-only call center, the best channel to add first is almost certainly chat. Chat is the clear winner over email and social when it comes to consumer preference. In fact, chat has become the leading contact source within the online environment, with 42 percent of customers using chat vs. email (23 percent) or another social media form (16 percent), according to J.D. Power.

The reason being that phone and chat have a common denominator: the ability to have a conversation in real time. This helps customers—hungry for instant gratification—resolve their issues efficiently.

If you’re gung-ho to update your contact center in one fluid motion, look for a solution that includes voice, chat, email and social by one provider. Employee training will be more succinct and usage consistent across the board.

If cost restricts such an option, large CRM and contact center vendors offer modular application suites or platforms that allow you to add new services as needed.

It’s easy enough to stay competitive and meet customer expectations by following this simple list of do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  • Keep up with the channels your customers are using;
  • Add chat if you can only add one channel;
  • Look for a solution with one application for all channels;
  • Pick a good routing and reporting platform to manage interactions from the same interface;
  • Consider more self-service if you have high volume and low sales per customer;
  • Invest more in high-touch services if you have high-end products or service; and
  • Automate a callback option for your IVR.

Don’t:

  • Keep waiting for the next big thing;
  • Prioritize email over chat;
  • Choose a separate solution for each channel;
  • Add a channel that costs more than it benefits the organization in customer satisfaction or up-sales;
  • Do what everyone else is doing (not all companies need the same features); and
  • Try brand-new unproven technology if you are a high-touch company with long-term customer relationships.

Once you’ve added a new channel, be sure to connect the dots between channels for the customer. Remember, too, that each channel requires different Communicator skill sets, and be prepared to provide training as each new channel is added.

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.

Skyrocketing Mobile Usage: Impact on the Contact Center

Is your contact center ready for the ongoing mobile onslaught predicted for 2017? E-commerce will never be the same as consumers continue to make more and more purchases from their mobile devices. What’s the impact on the contact center? It will be an extension of the impact being felt by retailers, which includes challenges in mobile payments and checkout systems that may turn off customers completely—or have them reaching out to contact centers for help.

Smartphones edged out computers, 45.1 percent to 45 percent, as the most popular way to shop online during the first quarter of 2016, according to a study by Demandware. By the end of next year, Demandware forecasts that the percentage of mobile e-commerce visits will rise to 60 percent.

With this wealth of mobile traffic, retailers have gained an incredible opportunity: to reach customers any time and any place. Yet, unless they have optimized their mobile site or applications, they risk antagonizing consumers—some of whom may have been loyal patrons through other venues, like stores and computer websites. In fact, Demandware found that mobile checkout completion is 11 percent lower than the rate from all other devices combined.

The sheer number of smartphones (more than the world’s population) alone means that consumers can connect with contact centers through multiple channels (e.g., online chat, social, email) at will. This has dramatically increased the volume of customer service interactions. It has also increased the expectation of immediacy in customer service.

For example, companies are already integrating their mobile apps with a customer service connection, e.g., “Just click the button to talk to a customer service representative.”

The contact center must now respond to these trends, as well as a strong preference among mobile users for self-service. This means that contact centers will be called upon to seamlessly integrate self-service and live service. The ones that do so will positively differentiate their services from those of their competitors.

Another strong brand differentiator will be the technology deployed to enable processes and infrastructure that can support omnichannel customer service. When it’s easy and enjoyable for customers to do business with your contact center, you’ll reap rewards in customer loyalty and retention.

Fortunately, mobile apps will help you improve that likelihood as they become part of the customer journey. That is, because customers have signed in through an app, contact centers can collect data on their activities and preferences, enabling these centers to be more personal and responsive. This can reduce call times and call volume, leading to greater customer satisfaction.

Look at mobile as part of the continuum of modern customer service advances that are blowing through contact centers. Keep up; keep customers happy, and keeping growing your business.

Issue Resolution: The Primary Prerequisite for Customer Satisfaction

When customers call into contact centers, they are usually experiencing one of two problems: 1) a billing issue, or 2) product or service assistance. And quick resolution is their aim. Unfortunately, this is not happening regularly. Along with this complaint, customers are growing impatient with companies’ interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Together, these issues have caused the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) to drop to 68—the lowest it’s been since 2007.

Released last month by CFI Group, the latest CCSI score, based on a 0- to 100-point scale, slid four points this year. CFI reports that just 52 percent of issues are resolved on first contact (down 6 percent from 2015) and one-third of consumers fail to resolve their issues through self-service options. Especially frustrated by these hurdles are today’s young adults—those individuals born between 1980 and 2000 known as millennials.

Raised in an on-demand digital world, millennials—the nation’s largest demographic—expect readily available information they can easily tap into themselves.

To meet the demands of this generation, and consumers in general, contact centers must better align their processes to exceed customer expectations. Here are some key points to guide these improvements:

Get on board the omnichannel train: Consumers want to interact with brands using their preferred channels. The top five of which are telephone, email, live chat, online portal/FAQ and search engine, according to a 2015 report from Microsoft. Despite telephone’s popularity, Microsoft found that 57 percent of people in the U.S. typically begin brand interactions online; 35 percent begin with the telephone.

First call resolution: Customer satisfaction with contact centers goes hand in hand with the first call resolution (FCR) metric. In addition, even when FCR is achieved, satisfaction is decreased if the caller has to speak with more than one Communicator. On the flip side, the length of time it takes to achieve FCR is not a factor unless the call lasts more than 30 minutes.

Yet, most U.S. customers won’t wait on hold for service no matter how quickly their issues can be resolved. Only 43 percent of Microsoft’s respondents reported a tolerance for even a one- to five-minute wait.

Personal customer care: Even the best technology, wonderful as it is at helping contact center leaders to forecast call volume and deploy skills-based routing, cannot replace the human touch. When customers are frustrated or angry, no IVR or self-help portal is going to be able to de-escalate emotions the way a responsive, empathetic Communicator can.

Whereas a 2012 Amdocs survey found that 75 percent of consumers would prefer to use online support if it were available, a new Verint study shows that human involvement is a critical component in solving queries, especially when complex or sensitive. In fact, four out of five of the 24,000 respondents to Verint’s interview prefer that customer service continue to include human interactions.

Your contact center is critical to creating a customer experience that can differentiate your company in the marketplace. Deploy technologies and strategies now that will show your customers how much you value their business.

 

Three Ways to Cultivate Multitalented Agents

Multiple channels are now commonplace in contact centers, changing the way we do business. The goal of a call center is no longer to handle one transaction on one channel, it’s to make sure that customers have a positive experience on every channel, even if that means transitioning from one mode of communication to another midstream.

This new reality is making the job of a Communicator more complex than ever before. As contact center leaders, it’s our job to support them, giving them every tool they need to make their jobs easier. The ability to juggle multiple channels won’t come naturally to everyone. However, putting more time and resources into agent preparedness will pay off in spades in the long run.

Three things you can focus on to help your Communicators become more “universal” agents—ones who handle multiple channels successfully—are training, technology and product knowledge.

Training: You know your Communicators best. Some are naturally suited to phone work, others are strong writers. Don’t take this as a sign that agents should do different things; separating agents by channel will only serve to splinter your customer service efforts even more. Instead, step up your training efforts to bring everyone up to a more equal ability level. If need be, consider routing calls to specific agents depending on their strengths. Training programs may need to be revamped to address the additional channels in use, and feedback on performance levels should be provided on a timely and frequent basis.

When it comes to hiring new Communicators, create an updated job description that reflects the reality of the position. Look for experience indicators that are relevant to the workplace. For example, Communicators who use social media in their personal lives are more likely to feel comfortable using it on the job. Also, the ability to multitask becomes even more important in a multichannel environment. Switching from one channel to another—even if it’s only two—requires quick thinking and a bit of juggling.

Technology: Much of the technology you probably have in-house already can be used to support the multichannel environment. An IVR system can route specific calls to certain Communicators, depending on their skill levels, as well as minimize the occurrence of low-priority calls with the callback feature. Be sure that plenty of self-service options are available on the website, and incorporate hyperlinks to self-help pages in social media and Web chat services.

Minimize the amount of time your Communicators spend logging into and out of different platforms by providing them with technology tools that make transitions between channels easy. Technology is also available that can provide Communicators with recommendations as to next steps when working with a customer. These recommendations can be revised regularly depending on your analysis of the types of inquiries being fielded and resolutions that worked—no matter the channel.

Knowledge of the product: In-depth knowledge of the brands and products represented will go far in giving Communicators the information they need to handle inquiries more quickly. It will also make it easier for them to navigate between channels during a customer interaction. One way to increase product knowledge is to set up a knowledge-base, a central place where agents can share information about the company and the product, including commonly asked questions and previous issue resolution steps. Rapid access to knowledge will make the channel-switching process more comfortable, and more fruitful.

Creating more universal agents may seem like a daunting prospect, but keep in mind that Communicators who work with multiple channels regularly are more likely to be engaged in their jobs, as opposed to those who don’t. I think you’ll find that a long-term multichannel strategy as it applies to your staff will not only be good for business, but good for your Communicators as well.

Millennials and WebRTC in the Contact Center

Contact centers are making significant investments in human capital and real-time communications technology to interact with millennials and other customers more effectively via virtual queues, SMS and video. In fact, WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications) is an open source project supported by Google that is furthering the use of unified communications (UC) in businesses.

With WebRTC, video, voice and chat can occur in real time using browser-to-browser applications. For instance, users can initiate a chat interaction and then connect instantly—at no charge—to a live Communicator just by clicking a link (without any software or plug-in). Benefits include constant voice and data encryption that ensures secure communications, excellent voice and video quality based on codec technology, device independence and reliability.

Organizations have been taking advantage of the open source community to develop and/or deploy integrated technology solutions that help employees to collaborate and communicate more effectively—often using cloud-based services. They are gaining functionality through small teams of developers at lower cost and time expenditures than they could have during the days of projects led by outsourcers and systems integrators.

What companies are learning, after years of investing in technology, is that the strategy only results in small advances in overall customer service unless the investments are combined with human capital investments (think treating Communicators and employees as key team members).

To meet the needs of the large millennial population in the United States, companies are finding that leveraging real-time communications is improving interactions. Millennials—raised on digital technologies and quick and easy communications with family and friends—expect companies to provide similarly seamless experiences. They don’t want to be hung up in IVR queues or connected to a Communicator who can’t address their issues on first contact.

Toward this end, organizations are developing omni-channel customer service practices so that millennials can engage with them over their preferred channels. Businesses must be careful in this regard to bring on new channels one at a time and with full understanding of the requirements of each as well as how millennials use them.

Self-service is another contact center initiative fueled by millennials and the evolution of smartphones, Internet speeds and phone applications. Self-service offerings are helping to offset customer frustration with long hold times; yet, companies must provide easy elevation of these interactions to phone call resolution in urgent situations so customers don’t become irritated.

Millennials are also driving companies to respond to social channels since this is where they are and where they have significant power to express their views and affect brand reputations. Many brands monitor social platforms so they can respond immediately to customers’ comments—both positive and negative.

In addition, companies are monitoring big data and analytics to pinpoint when and where customers are learning and buying online. Intimate knowledge of consumer behaviors is allowing these organizations to personalize messaging aimed at key targets such as millennials and other demographics.

Easy browser-to-browser interactions and flows of information are enabling companies to establish deeper relationships with customers, developing brand trust and loyalty that should well-serve both their customers and their business revenues.

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.

Picture This: Using Video in Your Contact Center

The idea of incorporating live video chat into the portfolio of customer service offerings has been knocking around the industry for a while, but it seems to have caught fire lately.

The reason for its sudden popularity may be due to several factors that have converged to create the perfect storm: 1) the unprecedented number of customers using mobile phones and tablets; 2) a current emphasis on customer service as a differentiator; and 3) an emphasis on strengthening customer relationships.

While video chat is the least supported channel in today’s contact center (just 8.3 percent of contact centers had it available as of 2015), it is poised to take off. Gartner predicts that, by 2018, more than 100 of the 500 largest global businesses will introduce video-based chat for customer-facing interactions. With the technology firmly in place and customer service expectations at an all-time high, many businesses see video as the logical next step in their quest to provide a superior experience.

What advantages does video offer? 

As we all know, the most successful Communicators strive to build rapport with customers. Video emphasizes that personal connection, enhancing the customer experience beyond what’s possible with non-visual channels. A smiling face and facial expressions generate a positive tone. Plus, the intimacy afforded by face-to-face conversations affects the way service interactions play out. Video conversations are likely to be less antagonistic and more collaborative than those that take place via phone or texts. The relationship transcends utility (“I need to get this done”), and becomes more personal (“Can you help me figure this out?”).

Customer support is also becoming increasingly collaborative. Customers who get in-store assistance may, for example, point to a part on an item that’s not working, or demonstrate their usage of the item, or describe something about the item. In this way, they’re working jointly with a customer service professional to solve a problem together. Video makes this complex collaboration possible even when the two parties are geographically separated. Everything can be shown on screen. It’s yet another way to elevate the service experience.

Finally, some information is best presented visually. Event seating charts, maps, picture directions and screenshots are just a few examples of information that’s easier to show than to describe. The use of video chat makes all of this possible.

Considerations before implementing video

There isn’t much concrete advice to go on when it comes to actually deploying video chat in contact centers, as adoption numbers are small. Clearly, however, there are challenges associated with this channel that should be considered before deployment:

  • Space considerations. Communicators using video chat must be situated in such a way that their environment is uncluttered and the background is appealing. This could mean creating dedicated workspaces for video Communicators that are located away from the rest of the group. Is your office suited to accommodate the additional needed space?
  • Staffing considerations. Do you have Communicators who are willing to work the video channel? Some may feel uncomfortable being on screen. Consider your current staffing requirements and determine what, if any, gaps you’ll need to fill.
  • Additional training. Training will be necessary for employees assigned to video chat. Communicators who are comfortable without scripts will be best suited to this channel. If they put customers on hold, what does that look like for video? What are your standards for video etiquette? Document your best practices from day one.

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.