Integrate Disparate Technologies to Smooth Contact Center Interactions

Having gained the upper hand in the marketplace, consumers are driving companies to excel at meeting their wants and needs. To gain this edge, companies are implementing technologies—from interactive voice response (IVR) to customer relationship management (CRM) tools—that give them a leg up on their competitors by enabling them to provide top-notch customer service.

Otherwise known as the consumerization of IT, the trend is responsible for bringing various solutions to a broad swath of business units within an enterprise, including the very bedrock of customer satisfaction: the contact center.

Yet, many of these solutions have been brought onboard in an ad hoc manner, one by one, often leading to misuse or disuse of the technology by employees. The trickle-down effect on customers is not always what it should be. Instead of gaining the agility to respond to consumer needs on a dime, company efforts to improve the customer experience are frequently hampered by the complications of these disparate systems.

Consider, for example, how often customers are transferred from one Communicator to the next when they call into contact centers that don’t integrate automatic call routing with their IVR software. What about being asked to repeat inquiries because the CRM solution doesn’t integrate with the contact center phone system? How many of us enjoy that process when we call a service number for assistance?

Now, leading enterprises are putting these problems to rest by tapping into cloud-based unified communications (UC) that seamlessly integrate multiple contact center touch points onto one platform. In this way, contact center Communicators, supervisors and business leaders are getting to recognize and know each customer, streamlining and personalizing their interactions for an enhanced customer experience.

How does this work? Communications once fragmented across various channels, such as text, chat and social, are synchronized. Data is shared among Communicators to enhance the customer experience—no more being put on hold while the proper Communicator is located (thanks to presence technology) or having to restart an interaction upgraded from a chat to a live call (likewise, file sharing).

Successfully integrating disparate technologies across contact center touch points will enable your organization to provide a seamless connection with valuable customers. Familiarity with each customer is achievable but requires unified communications technologies to be properly implemented with respect to the customer journey.

Expedia: A Case in Customer Crisis

Our society is not without its nastier aspects. People aren’t always nice or polite to each other. Some people have a hard time empathizing with someone else’s pain or treating them the way they’d like to be treated themselves. But when one of these individuals works in your contact center, the danger to your business could be significant.

Case in point is the news this week about Expedia.com’s employee who lashed out at a customer. The customer, Cara Viramontes, had originally contacted Expedia about unexpected charges from the travel booking site. Later, she filed a mild complaint in an online survey from Expedia about her experience.

“I said, ‘You know what, the lady wasn’t helpful,’” explained Viramontes to a CBS Los Angeles reporter.

Shortly thereafter, Viramontes received the vulgar email from Expedia that read: “F— You.”

To add injury to insult, her family’s travel plans were cancelled without her authorization. Yet, her service nightmare still had some mileage. When she called customer service to report these latest issues, Viramontes says she was accused of cancelling her own reservation.

Viramontes, the California mother of an 8-month-old, then took to social media—crowdsourcing for ideas on how to handle the situation.

Once Expedia became aware of the problem, the company offered to rebook her flight at no cost, along with a $500 voucher.

These are minor costs to Expedia as far as dollars go, but the bigger worry for the travel company and other businesses represented by front line staff is how to avoid having individuals with such poor behaviors land in positions where they can abuse customers this way. Here’s what Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted: “Sometimes when you give individuals the power to do right by customers, they do wrong. We will make it right for Cara.”

This egregious example reinforces the importance of carefully screening candidates and supporting your team with real-time coaching and training, to avoid disaster.

If an incident like this one with Expedia were ever to occur, be ready to make amends to the injured party, and to quickly respond to social media posts. Many companies track social media continuously to fend off false accusations and mitigate effects of real ones—never mind to maintain a presence for building customer engagement and loyalty. Never forget that your brand must be cherished; protect it with due diligence or suffer the consequences in damages to your business.

Expedia is sure to take a good look at its employee hiring and training practices following this event. Likely, this is a good idea for all contact center leaders to consider. Remember to keep the lines of communication open with your employees and ensure your company culture supports them in performing their jobs according to policy.

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.

Differentiate Your Brand With Unbeatable Customer Experiences

How do you achieve success in a saturated market, where hundreds of other companies are offering products similar to yours? It requires finding a way to stand out from the pack to capture the attention of consumers.

One easy way your brand can do this is to create inimitable customer experiences in your call center by delivering the highest possible level of customer care across all touch points. This singular focus will help you develop an unmatched reputation for service that will differentiate your brand from the competition.

If you treat customers like personal guests, including white-glove service—going above and beyond to ensure their complete satisfaction—they will, in turn, become loyal brand enthusiasts.

Of course, your company does not have to jump through hoops to create amazing customer experiences. All you have to do is embrace values such as thoughtfulness, active listening and creativity. Then, empower your customer care Communicators to act in meaningful ways as they see fit.

The following points will aid in differentiating your brand’s customer service:

Create a customer-centric training program: Making sure your contact center’s customer service strategy is laser-focused on customer satisfaction should be a major focal point of your Communicator training program. At InfoCision, we provide an extensive training program to ensure our Communicators are fully prepared to provide exceptional customer service; in fact, some of our training programs last up to 120 days. Thorough training is a vital necessity for the success of your contact center. Trained, informed Communicators can answer the customer’s question more rapidly and more precisely—something your customers will value greatly.

Nurture relationships: Strong customer relationships are built one positive interaction at a time. Every interaction should, therefore, work to nurture customer relationships. Communicators should continuously update customer profiles with interaction details, and then use the information to make customers feel special. For example, imagine a customer tells a customer care Communicator that he or she is moving. On the next call, even a completely different Communicator should have that information at hand and, perhaps, ask how the move is going, as a courtesy. In doing so, the customer will feel appreciated.

Don’t silo data: Keep in mind that your contact center will not be the only division of the company interacting with customers. Other customer-facing departments, like sales and marketing and even technical support, should have access to customer data to help create great experiences. For example, sharing customer data with your technical support team may allow them to create a new tool that will help improve obstacles in your customer care. Collaboration among departments is a key lever for innovation, teamwork and, most importantly, customer support.

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.

Customer Care: A Magnet for Consumer Retention

We are in a new era of consumer relations: the Information Age. With technology readily available to your customers, your contact centers have to be more effective than a Google search when addressing their needs. Although this will require extra effort, you’ll notice a great increase in your brand-loyal customers.

The trick to retaining customers is to use your Customer Care to draw customers toward your brand—like a magnet! Build a strategy that focuses on engagement and relationship building to stay tightly connected to those who support your business.

Why is Customer Care so important for establishing repeat business?  If you take care of your customers, and make sure that they are totally satisfied with your company, they will be more apt to keep doing business with your organization.

According to a recent study, 89 percent of respondents claimed that good service makes them feel more positive about the brands with which they engage. Additionally, 43 percent admitted that when companies make mistakes, they are more forgiving to organizations they think understand them.

Consider the following points to magnetize customers to your brand:

Use data to your advantage: Your business gathers information about your customers during every interaction. But are you using this information to the best of your advantage? Compile the information you collect, and use it to improve customer interactions. The goal is to understand your customers’ needs more and more with each engagement. Communicators should be able to access notes from previous calls or chats so that customers do not have to repeat themselves. Customers who require foreign language assistance should be automatically routed to agents who can communicate with them. The same can be said for customers who are hard of hearing. Remembering small details will go a long way in fostering feelings of trust and loyalty from customers—especially because not every company goes to such lengths.

Be flexible when possible: Suppose a customer calls, explaining why he or she can’t make a payment on time. Listen to the customer, and offer support or advice to make the payment process easier. Remember: Communicators should not perform like robots, so encourage your team to be empathetic and understanding. These customers will, in turn, think of your brand as compassionate and friendly. As a result, they will be more apt to reward your company with repeat business and recommend your company to others.

Be accessible: Customers value effortless communication. After all, that’s our job! Offer self-help features on your website for speedy assistance. Use a call-back service, so that customers can go about their businesses without having to wait on hold. And consider providing after-hours support for customer assistance after normal working hours. Making your brand accessible will show your customers that you care about their patronage and are standing by to accommodate their needs.

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.

The Evolution of Language in Customer Care

Happy, confused, angry… it can be difficult to tell how a customer feels in a text. Now that so much of customer care is taking place via text messages or email, Communicators may feel they’re losing one of the most powerful tools in their toolkit—a positive, upbeat tone.  According to widely published research by psychologist Albert Mehrabian, tone and body language together may be even more important than the words that are actually said.

No matter what method of communication is being used, Communicators can still succeed in putting smiles on their customers’ faces. An increasingly acceptable service strategy is the use of the emoticon.

A recent study at Penn State University suggests that, while emoticons may seem too casual for professional communications, they actually contribute to higher customer satisfaction ratings. Communicators who used emoticons were seen as more personal and friendly, which was preferred by customers.

Emoticons are also highly visual, which gives them a natural edge over the written word.

When emoticons are used professionally, they can improve your customer support, but the question is, what does it mean to use them professionally? Here are a few tips to share with your Communicators about when and how emoticons can be helpful:

  • Use them sparingly. Unless you’re familiar with the person you’re talking with, it’s best to keep it to a minimum.
  • Use them in context. Best used at the end of a conversation, emoticons work best when used in context.
  • Use them to show you’re listening. In the midst of a long series of exchanges, a well-placed emoticon can show you’re listening and understanding, similar to a nod of the head in a face-to-face conversation.
  • Be careful of sending mixed messages. Avoid using emoticons to convey serious messages, which could be frustrating and confusing for customers. They are intended to be lighthearted and humorous, so be sure the message matches the use. 😉

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.

Focus on Customer Care to Skyrocket to Success

Good customer experiences are good for business. In the past, that meant having a smile at the ready and fielding a few phone calls, but we’ve come a long way since then. Today, the customer is in control. Companies are well aware that quality of service can significantly impact their bottom line; it also determines whether customers stay with a brand, and even advocate for it.

Yet, according to the latest 2015 Forrester Research survey, most companies are still delivering just an OK experience. In fact, several industries ranked lower in customer experience than they did just six months prior, with consumers saying that their experiences were poor or very poor.

What’s preventing businesses from delivering superior customer care experiences, particularly when we’re seeing so many companies reap the benefits of a well-oiled customer service strategy?

In some cases, it’s a lack of understanding as to what makes a good experience; in others, it’s a lack of planning and implementation. Business leaders must be not only dedicated to the cause but also determined to create a plan and see it through—no small feat in light of the technology tools and human resource training that it takes to do this successfully.

Many companies are finding that they can grow faster in this area by outsourcing. A Radiant Insights research report states that the global outsourced customer care services market is projected to reach $84.7 billion by 2020, propelled in part by an increasing need for interaction through non-voice channels.

Contact centers bring to the table a wealth of knowledge about the customer care industry, as well as a specialized expertise in the related technology tools that provide deep insights into customer attitudes and buying patterns. They also offer a sophisticated set of service options (including non-voice channels), and dedicated customer service staff. Businesses that choose to outsource benefit greatly from the assistance—and gain a partner in their quest to deliver superior service.

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.

Improve the Customer Experience Through Positive Company Culture

Do your Communicators like coming to work? If the answer is yes, then congratulations! If not, it might be time to evaluate your company culture.

As a contact center manager who is tasked with improving the customer experience, you know that positivity in the workplace spills over into customer interactions. But culture is about more than good feelings; it’s about a company’s overarching vision and values. You can tell a lot about the state of your culture by taking time to observe your employees and by assessing their attitudes and feelings about the job. If your culture isn’t readily apparent, here are some things to consider going forward:

  1. Define your culture. This might seem obvious, but unless you’ve thought it through and written it down, it probably isn’t giving you what you need. Consider what you want people to say about your company after they leave. Then, how can you create that environment? A few words should suffice.
  2. Educate your management team about your culture. Your management program shouldn’t just focus on policies and procedures; it should also talk about how to treat people, how to interact with Communicators, and what it means to be a leader. Celebrate new managers’ “graduation” from the program and give them something to remember it by.
  3. Make hiring decisions based on attitude and personality. Known for its excellent customer service, Netflix is looking for brand ambassadors, not simply experienced agents. Its leaders believe that people who are smart, friendly, enthusiastic, helpful, and reliable will excel at connecting with customers, troubleshooting, and solving problems, and will be a good match with their vision for the company.
  4. Progress your Communicators. Not everyone wants to be a manager, but most people do appreciate the chance to get ahead. In a contact center, that might mean moving to higher-paying programs or leading a small team of associates. Progression is based on goal achievement, so discuss goals your Communicators have and help set them up for success.
  5. Focus on making your workplace one of simple procedures and simple work philosophies. Simplicity helps Communicators focus on the right things, like using good judgment, focusing on the tasks at hand, and spending time with customers.

There are many good models to follow for exceptional company cultures. Take time to think, keep it simple, and be genuine. Your Communicators will thank you for it.

 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.

Slow and Steady Wins the Customer Care Race

You’ve likely heard the Aesop tale about the tortoise and the hare. And from it, you learned the importance of pacing yourself—in any situation—because, as the hare learned when the tortoise crossed the finish line first, slow and steady wins the race.

This lesson applies to achieving success in the customer care industry as well. Many companies, however, want to quickly realize success—from onboarding hundreds of new customers, to cultivating long-lasting personalized relationships with existing patrons, to experiencing optimal ROI—without taking the time to lay out a sturdy foundation for growth.

When you try to outpace your competitors by implementing flashy marketing campaigns and spending more time trying to attract new customers than retain old ones, you end up hurting the future of your business. While it might be difficult to take a step back and look at the bigger picture when you are focused on immediate rewards, doing so will help you come out on top in the long run.

With this in mind, consider the ways in which you may be unintentionally neglecting your loyal, existing customers while investing money and marketing tactics to attract new customers. Consider that existing customers are likely to spend more money with your organizations on a recurring basis than a new customer who may make a one-time purchase.

As such, ensure that you are spending time creating a robust customer care strategy that seeks to support and inform your existing customers. For instance, ensure your staff is highly professional and trained to handle customer inquiries of all kinds. What’s more, ensure your Communicators are adept in digital correspondence, such as live Web chat and social media, so that you can facilitate more conversations with customers over more channels.

Overtime, this strategy will help you cultivate a larger following of dedicated customers that will likely share positive reviews about your brand and raise awareness via word-of-mouth advertising—bringing you new customers. You see, when you spend time working on your brand from the inside out, you can achieve the results you wanted all along.

So, before you make any rash decisions or investments, consider taking a step back and slowing down so that you can experience success for years to come, rather than for a fleeting moment in time.

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.

Five Customer Care Trends to Consider Implementing In Your Strategy

Once again, it’s time to take a look into the crystal ball. Which of the latest ideas in customer care are likely to have staying power in the months ahead? Forrester published a report predicting customer service trends in 2016; we’ll highlight five of them here.

Trend #1: Companies will make self-service easier. People want to solve simple issues quickly and easily, and even if your customer service is outstanding, the idea of speaking to an agent may be seen as hardly worth the effort. Evaluate your company’s existing level of self-service offerings. If your website isn’t easily searchable and equipped with resources to address common issues, it may be time for an overhaul.

Trend #2: Field service will empower customers to control their time. Technology can be used to forecast precisely when field staffers will show up at a customer’s home, and extra effort will be made to stay in constant contact with the customer. Field staffers will also jump on the self-service train by offering ways for customers to track the status of repairs.

Trend #3: Prescriptive advice will determine decisions and connections. The analytics so readily available today will be used to make customer care processes more efficient. For example, customers will be routed particular agents based on agent knowledge and skill sets, or, analytics can help generate prescribed steps for resolving issues.

Trend #4: Connected devices will deliver insights for preemptive service. The Internet of Things will start transforming companies from being product-based to service-based. For example, devices attached to cars will transmit information that could be valuable in understanding how and why something goes wrong, possibly even preventing it from happening in the first place.

Trend #5: The customer service technology ecosystem will consolidate. Our customer care world revolves around three areas with separate technology tools: queuing and routing, customer relationship management, and workforce optimization. Quality customer service depends on how well we’re able to integrate information from all of these tools. Forrester predicts that they’ll soon start to consolidate and become easier to use.

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.