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Amy Bennet Roach - Blog

Evolving Customer Service to the Next Level in 2017

The evolution of the self-serve customer service solution isn’t exactly headline news as we enter this new year. We all know that many, if not most, consumers today prefer to avoid interacting with a live customer service representative if a self-serve option is available. But when a complex situation pushes a consumer to their wit’s end and forces them to contact the call center, the agent they need may not be the agent most brands provide. Industry expert Matt Dixon believes it’s time to break the customer service hiring model. And that is headline news.

In 2017, we believe that the next big leap forward in customer service is not going to come from “how” we handle customer service – it will come from redefining “who” handles customer service. Matthew Dixon, author of Kick Ass Customer Service in the Harvard Business Review, led a global, cross-industry study that found the type of agent service managers hire most often is not the type of agent most likely to make interactions both efficient and painless (We’re especially delighted that Dixon’s new HBR article holds up Blue Ocean as an example of an outsourcer whose profiling and hiring practices are already successfully geared toward the effortless experience). Dixon presents the concept of the Controller agent in his compelling article – a concept that we believe will change how both in-house and outsourced call centers will approach their hiring in 2017 and beyond.

As you’ll see in Dixon’s article, we’ve successfully built a differentiated profiling and hiring process founded on “starting with who, then what.” Our strategy is designed to attract agents who can take charge and pursue the right solution with every resource at their disposal. The story of our agent Anthony Conrod delivering custom server parts overnight to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for a time-sensitive procedure is only one of countless instances where the ability of our agents to use their knowledge and act with confident urgency changed lives for the better. As 2017 begins, we anticipate that more brands will see the value of hiring Controllers, as Matt Dixon calls them, into their customer service team.

If you’re ready to evolve your customer service solution in 2017, let’s talk. We’re leading the pack in hiring for the effortless customer service experience and can put that expertise to work for your brand. Click here to connect with our director of sales.

Publish Date: January 5, 2017 4:18 PM


When to Pilot Your Outsourced Customer Support Program

The North American economy is hot right now. With Canada, the United States, and Mexico expected to grow by 2.5%, 3.4%, and 3.9% respectively, if you’re one of the many companies that are riding this economic growth wave, you will most certainly have more customers to support this year. As any company grows and scales to meet the needs of customers, decisions must be made – especially when it comes to your customer support operation.

Executing on in-house efforts for customer service can be difficult; it takes the right background and continual hiring and training, not to mention complex IT systems to support and workforce management issues. You may also be outsourcing some portion of your customer support today, but you need more help, or you need a niche partner to support a new product or initiative. When the “customer support formula” to scale doesn’t feel right anymore, it may be time to make a change.

And change is difficult. Passing the baton of your customer service strategy to an outsourced partner comes with its share of worries. Concerns about transfer of knowledge, culture, and maintaining the intangibles are enough to keep many executives awake at night (will my customers be okay in the hands of a new partner?). Nailing down the business case and the ins and outs of exactly what you need can be a difficult task as well. That’s when piloting an outsourced customer support program may be just what you need.
While a pilot program is not for every company out there, we’ve found it can be a viable option for companies with certain requirements who need to alleviate valid concerns when selecting a partner.

Economic Concerns

The Concern: When exploring the options for outsourced customer service solutions, the question of expense is often the first concern. Building a business case from an economical standpoint can be a challenge: What metrics should you consider in calculating the true cost of outsourcing? And how does that cost compare to the expense of your in-house customer service? If your growing company has no current strategy for customer support, is this big step worth the cost? If you’re looking to switch outsourcers, how do prices compare? How will you allocate this expense within your budget? Does it even make any business sense to make this investment?

Benefit of a Pilot: When you’re concerned about justifying the expense, a pilot can help you assess if this investment is truly worth the cost. The best customer service providers will deliver a hoard of hard data to allow you to calculate an accurate ROI. A trial period will give you the opportunity to fully comprehend how cost is calculated, from productive agent time to quality assurance to infrastructure. Armed with data that clearly shows the benefits of outsourcing your customer service, the more confident you can be in constructing an airtight business case.

Cultural Alignment Concerns

The Concern: We know your company has worked diligently to establish a strong and distinctive brand. When you outsource your customer service, you’re essentially outsourcing your brand’s spokespeople. Obviously this raises legitimate concern: Will an outsourced customer service partner embrace your company’s core values when connecting with your clients and customers? How can you know if your brand’s voice will be carried across all mediums of customer support?

Benefit of a Pilot: A great customer service provider should be just as concerned with this as you are; they should be obsessed with their recruitment strategy for hiring agents who can adopt a client’s brand as their own. You’ll want to invest in taking a tour of the contact center – you can do a culture “check” get to know how your teams will align. Find a contact center outsourcer who is willing to train their staff, get them up to speed on your services and products, and inspire passion for your company and its customers. A customer service pilot is often the best way to ensure against conflicting cultures or inconsistencies in the projection of your brand.

Concerns about Scaling Growth

The Concern: If your company is in rapid growth mode, you may be worried about any outsourced customer support team being able to scale their efforts alongside you. The last thing you want to do is sign on with a new provider only to discover several months later that they no longer have the necessary manpower to keep up with the influx of your customers. In growth mode, you need to focus on your core competencies rather than scrambling to make sure your clients are being heard and supported.

Benefit of a Pilot: In this scenario, a pilot should provide sufficient time to assess how the outsourced team adjusts to the increasing pace of customer support. This is particularly true if your service or product is ever affected by seasons, holidays, natural disasters, or other events; seeing how the team scales their efforts to successfully handle increased call volume will give you a good idea – as well as the hard data – to predict how they will handle your future growth.

Concerns about Existing In-House Team

The Concern: When you already have in-house agents handling your current customer support, the decision to outsource becomes significantly more complex. The implications of this decision – shutting down the operation and potentially terminating those employees – create higher risk and raise significant concerns. Make the wrong decision, and you’ll be worse off than you were before.

Benefit of a Pilot: A trial run with an outsourced customer service provider will give you the analytics you need to make a true comparison between your in-house team and the outsourced team. You’ll gain a better understanding of how to integrate the efforts of these teams, and you’ll reduce the risk of disgruntled employees.

So Is It Time to Look at a Pilot?

No customer service provider wants to force you into a long-term partnership when there are concerns on either side. We want to avoid conflicting cultures and values as much as you do.

We want to make sure our agents are a good fit for your company and its brand. Therefore, if you have any of the above concerns, the time to look at a pilot might be right now. It’ll provide you with highly valuable data to make a true comparison and make a justifiable business case.

Publish Date: March 4, 2015 10:29 PM

Recruiting For Your Contact Center: Why Gamers Make Great Agents

n mapping the customer journey, the contact center is unquestionably a critical customer touch point, essential to carrying the brand promise and delivering a positive customer experience, placing an emphasis on effective recruiting for your contact center.

The challenge, of course, is in determining which characteristics best enable an agent to make that real human connection. In our outsourced contact center environment, we recruit agents who can accurately embody the brand of our clients, who are best able to give a great customer experience, and who have the best abilities and aptitudes to use the systems and tools of our trade. This means we precisely define agent profiles for each project, and then recruit and train every agent accordingly. There are obvious qualities, like good communication skills, but a truly effective agent is more complex than that.After all, the contact center is where the customer can almost always “talk to a real person.” Being able to make a real human connection with your customer through the phone, chat tool, social media, or email is no easy task.

Interestingly – but maybe not surprisingly – there is often a direct correlation between highly successful agents for certain contact center solutions like tech support and a passion for gaming. Upon digging some more, we came across some studies finding that many gamers share identical qualities to those of high performing agents.

Characteristics of Great Agents

ContactBabel, a contact center analysis company, publishes an annual US Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide. Their 2014 study reports on interviews from 204 contact center managers and directors across the industry about the top characteristics of contact center agents.

Understandably, “empathy” topped the list. However, the following were also important:

• Ability to multitask
• Complex technical or product knowledge
• Team player
• Ability to work under stress
• Strong verbal communication skills
• Ability to deal with repetitive tasks

Game on

While that list was compiled after observing effective contact center agents, it could just as easily be a list of what it takes to be a successful online or computer gamer. Although no two gamers are exactly alike – just as a tech support contact center differs from an online retail or roadside assistance contact center – most gamers share some common characteristics.

Gaming has come a long way since the days of “Pong,” in which players essentially move a “paddle” up and down one side of the screen in order to play a digital version of table tennis. The most popular games today – games such as “League of Legends,” “World of Warcraft,” “Minecraft,” “Call of Duty,” etc. – are multi-player, interactive and plot-driven adventures with increasing levels of complexity as the game progresses. Players monitor many systems at once, pursuing both long-term and short-term objectives.

So gamers become master multitaskers. They often play in teams and maintain continual communication, requiring gamers to be both team players and great communicators. And, if you’ve ever played or even watched people play through the windows of a GameStop or Best Buy, you know that games today are fast-paced and high-stress, alternating ever-changing challenges with a host of requisite, repetitive tasks.

Furthermore, many qualities of gamers uncannily resemble those of professional athletes. BBC Radio 4 produced a special called “The eSportsmen” in which they examined these similar qualities, which, except for physical fitness, included the following:

• Extreme competitiveness
• Highly skilled
• Able to work with strict rules
• Able to regulate anxiety
• Very, very fast reaction time

Sounds a lot like successful characteristics of contact center agents, doesn’t it?

Gamer Agents in Practice

Every time a customer interacts with the contact center, the “real person” they connect with becomes the voice of your brand. The quality of this experience has an unparalleled influence on the customers’ perception of your company, product or service. That is why hiring contact center agents with the right qualities is absolutely essential.

At Blue Ocean, our first priority is finding smart, capable people who will deliver extraordinary service experiences. We have been continually refining our recruitment process and quality assurance programs for nearly 20 years, and now they are among the most rigorous in the business. Not surprisingly, many of the individuals who have made it through the process and gone on to become the some of the most reliable and competent contact center agents are also enthusiastic gamers.


Publish Date: January 14, 2015 6:15 PM


Deck the Halls: Two Key Tactics to Preparing Your Contact Center for the Holiday Spikes

The National Retail Foundation is forecasting that Americans will spend $600 billion this holiday season. This annual mad rush to prepare the contact center for the holiday season inevitably presents a challenge for contact centers nationwide. Massive spikes in demand mean massive potential for interruption to customer service operations. Unquestionably, holiday madness can also impact team morale, agent stress, and absenteeism.

So how can contact centers overcome these challenges this holiday season?

1. Excellent Communication

Constant and effective communication is essential to sustaining quality customer experience in the face of increased call volume. Here’s our holiday primer for communicating with your contact center team.

*Communicate early and often. If your business has unique product offerings for the holidays, ensuring that your marketing, sales, and distribution teams are connected at the hip to the call center is good for everyone. Remove barriers to real-time communication between your teams so you can adjust on the fly – whether that means adding muscle to the front lines to respond to problems originating in the warehouse or whether it means doing spot training to help agents respond to “holiday specific” issues.

*Implement process changes effectively. Whether you’re switching up priorities to adjust for demand or simply changing regular hours of operation to meet increased volume, be clear about these process changes so that no one gets lost in the transition.

*Be open and honest about expectations. It’s no secret that this time of year can be stressful, especially when reality doesn’t match up to expectations. Be frank and honest with agents about how hard your seasonal spike will be and then inspire and incent them to tough it out. We learned this one the hard way. Downplaying a forecasted spike for a large client, we assured concerned agents that it wouldn’t be that bad and not to worry. They were subsequently unprepared for how tough it really was and absenteeism went up. The following year as peak season approached, we were totally frank with the team. We said, yes, it is going to be hard. We are tough enough to handle it. If we all pull together, we can get through it. Lo and behold, absenteeism went down (even lower than non-peak rates) and we nailed the grade of service during the toughest six weeks of the year.

*Anticipate how the holidays will impact your SLA and KPIs. Adjust metrics as necessary, with the perspective that a reduced incident rate may become more important than reduced average length of phone call.
Conduct anticipatory outbound calls as necessary. Depending on your product offering, regular customers may need reminders or preparation regarding standing orders, delivery timing, and more.

2. Solid Team Work

In setting realistic expectations for your agents, you want to be careful you don’t end up scaring them about what’s to come. Decreased morale and increased absenteeism are surefire ways to negatively impact customer experience. Here are a handful of ways to engage your contact center team to boost morale.

*Get creative in your main message for getting through the season. Whether it’s “Operation Save Thanksgiving” or “Holiday Hell 2014,” branding your painful peak with something creative and funny can rally the troops and give your agents a mission to embrace. Create a culture of resilience, and pep the team up to be proud of this shared responsibility.

*Reward team achievement. Providing extra perks and little bonuses at this time of year does wonders for boosting enthusiasm. We live by the motto: “When something seriously sucks, put a t-shirt on it.” For example, our emergency roadside assistance team proudly wore their “Winter Suffer Fest 2014. Bring it.” T-shirts during last winter’s relentless Polar Vortex. They saw themselves as tough and capable and almost welcomed the Code Red days when volume exceeded 300% of forecast! And, of course, in the contact center world, keeping the troops well fed goes a long, long way. Bring on treats and holiday themed meals to keep morale high.

*Hire and train effectively for this peak season. Reverse engineer your ramp up carefully. Your operations team and your workforce team need to be in sync to make sure the right “reads” are in the forecast and your recruiting and training teams have the time they need. Don’t risk throwing new hires in at the deep end just as the holiday demand hits. Investing in at least a few days in an ICU environment on the floor might turn out to be the best training money you ever spend.

*Turn to gamification and creative incentive programs to motivate your team when holiday demand reaches its peak. When your contact center agents have a reason to be excited about the work they’re doing, their positive attitude will reflect directly on customer experience.

Ultimately, preparing your contact center for the holiday season is about anticipating needs, setting realistic expectations, and making sure everyone is on the same page. It’s easy to fall prey to the stress of the season, but with careful planning, it’s possible to keep the holiday spirit high so that both your agents and your customers can have a great experience

Publish Date: December 18, 2014 4:32 PM


The Contact Center of the Future Promises Freedom From "Hold"

It is an exciting time in the customer contact industry. When you think about where contact center technology started, it can be traced back to the invention of the telephone. For decades, the voice channel was the only channel available for customers to receive speedy resolutions and attention to their needs. Boy, has that changed. These days, the rate of technological change seems to be gathering speed by the week.

We are at the cusp of being able to engage people whenever and however they want to be engaged (social media, SMS text, self-serve apps, chat, Skype.) Thanks to these emerging channels and evolving technology, we have more and more options for reducing wait time, a critical measure of customer satisfaction and contact center performance. Is it reasonable to predict that the contact center of the future will have zero hold and rapid response not long wait times will be the norm? We think it is. Here’s why:


Technology That Embraces Emerging Channels Will Reduce Wait Time

While the voice channel will always have a place in the world of customer service and support – especially when the customer has a unique or complex need – we should embrace the fact that more people are initiating contact via web self-service, social media, text, and chat. Each of these alternatives has its own advantages (and challenges), but to leverage them, it is essential to stay in front of the technology. Contact centers not only need to integrate these new channels into their existing technology mix, but they also need to be able to track, measure and record the various interactions – in a way that is seamlessly compatible with their other systems.

Let’s take a look at how new channels are being integreated into existing technology. Virtually every contact center has an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) for managing, routing, tracking and measuring interactions. ACDs can have all sorts of additional functionality, such as skill-based routing which routes calls to the appropriate agents based on individual skill sets. Emerging channels need to be integrated with this technology.

To manage customer contacts through social media, like Twitter for instance, you need a technology solution for monitoring and engagement. Tools like Radian6 will capture tweets and convert them to a format that can be incorporated into your existing operations and technology infrastructure. In this case, tweets are converted into email notifications, which can then be received, routed, replied to and resolved.  Integrating SMS involves the same paradigm – “emerging” grafted onto “existing” – but in the case of SMS, the existing channel it is most like is web chat. (I realize that for many contact centers, web chat is still considered emerging rather than existing.)

As with existing channels, emerging channels need to be seamlessly tied into your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Knowledge Management (KM) applications. Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) pulls the relevant customer details up, without the agent having to waste time looking up and accessing this information, and can give the agent a 360-degree view of every interaction that customer has had with your brand, regardless of the channel. In the future, more seamless integrations and standards will help the contact center (and their outsourced call center partners) better harness the delivery of relevant, actionable data and information in real-time


Better Supplemental Voice Technologies Means Reduced Wait Times

As we mentioned above, for complicated or unique needs, the voice channel still provides the best opportunity to explain the situation in detail. But even with this old stand-by, technology is chipping away at Abandon Rates by reducing wait time.

Not all voice technology is created equal, however. Take Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) for example. Done well, IVR can handle simple, common interactions at extremely low costs. But done poorly, IVR can really annoy people, failing to serve the customer in a way that the customer expects to be served and causing customers to abandon the mechanical, agent-less interaction.

In addition to Virtual Queuing, ACDs can offer customers the option of receiving a call-back at a predetermined time. Speech analysis can be run overnight against call recording and can be used to measure sentiment based on voice inflections and words used – data which can be used not only to better meet customer needs in general, but to add meaningful information to individual customer records in the CRM.

Emerging channels and increasingly sophisticated technology promise better customer experiences– and increased success to companies who effectively plan for and integrate the right mix of the two for their business. Whether you are looking to augment your current capabilities, to purchase a new out-of-the-box solution or to find the right outsourced partner to help you leverage the latest and greatest customer service options available, we should talk.

Publish Date: August 15, 2014 4:45 PM

Emerging Customer Service Channels and Contact Center Technology

Contact Center Technology

It’s no secret that more and more customers are choosing to bypass the telephone channel to begin a customer service interaction with a brand. It’s a fact of “customer service life” that companies can’t ignore anymore. This blog post takes a look at integrating emerging channels into your existing contact center technology mix. (Warning: We’re going to get down in the weeds here, talking about ticketing systems and ACD queue management. It’s not for everyone.)

Emerging Customer Service Channels

For simple, straightforward customer service needs, Email, Chat, SMS, and Social Media are the channels of choice for many customers. For example, rather than dial up customer service, customers of telecom companies are increasingly turning to Twitter to inquire about service interruptions for up-to-date information. For the customer and the service provider, customer service interactions on social media are much more efficient than using the voice channel (assuming the medium is effectively integrated with the technical set up of the contact center).

It’s a different story for complex, unique customer service needs. In this scenario, customers usually prefer the voice channel because it’s an easier way to explain the situation.  The “all-channel” approach is great for customers because they have more options to resolve an issue. However, in the contact center world, where everything is tracked and recorded, it’s very difficult to measure these non-traditional interactions.

For instance, on Twitter, you need some form of a social media monitoring and engagement tool (such as Radian 6) to capture tweets, and scale the agent workforce to respond to the growing volume of customers. With the tweet captured, you want to weave the interaction into your existing contact center operations and technology infrastructure.  In the contact center outsourcing world this means converting a tweet to an email notification is required for the agent to begin resolving the issue. Email is a discreet message; it gets sent, email is received, email is replied to, and the original sender determines whether the issue has been resolved. The handling of the contact event, in essence, results in the email becoming the proxy by which to interact with customers.

Maybe you’re looking into supporting customers via SMS messaging. The SMS message is just a series of phrases of text, creating “a customer service interaction.”  In our world, SMS messages are treated similar to a web chat which can also be considered a non-traditional method of communication. SMS and Email are message-based communications, whereas a phone call is connection based (think Average Handling Time). Again, the underlying theme is weaving the new media interaction into a manageable framework by which the agent (and the center) can resolve and measure the interaction.

Leveraging Existing Contact Center Technology

Nearly all contact centers have an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) that tracks and measures interactions. In the case of the tweet and other non-traditional interactions, an email goes into the ACD queue for the agent to react to. The ACD tracks the interaction as an event (i.e. email sent). The ACD is going to track the actions that happened, not the content of the interaction. The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system will provide a log of specific information about each interaction point, providing a higher resolution of what is “happening” with the customer interaction. This is of critical importance for agents to look up contact history for future customer interactions.

With non-traditional customer interactions, instead of inventing a whole new way to treat social media and new channels, the predominate method is to convert the interaction into a traditional channel, such as email or chat.

Gravitating too far from traditional contact center metrics and the contact center technology infrastructure that’s already in place can further complicate the management of the contact center.  Metrics in the CC typically measure transactional KPIs (i.e. How many English Calls did we handle today? How long was the average handle time?).

Companies are making decisions on how to make the contact center technology work with these non-traditional channels as customers are increasingly adopting them to interact with customer service teams.

Are you going to build these integrations internally? Are you going to purchase an “off-the-shelf” solution? Maybe, you’re interested in outsourcing some or all of it. In that case, we should talk!

Publish Date: August 22, 2013 5:03 PM



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