Blue Ocean Contact Centers - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
A low unemployment rate is cause for celebration. It means people are working, paying taxes, and bringing home the bacon. That’s why most people see the current 3.6% US unemployment rate as fantastic news – it’s an astronomical improvement over the 10% unemployment rate after the 2008-09 Great Recession.
But there’s a hitch for folks who are tasked with hiring, especially those hiring for contact center teams: when more people are working, there are fewer active job seekers. It’s of little surprise, then, that 45% of US employers report difficulty in filling jobs. For larger companies, that rate is 67%. In particular, customer service agents are among the most in-demand roles in the US, making them extremely difficult to fill. As a result, finding available, high-quality talent to fill jobs for US-based contact center operators – whether staffing inhouse centers or outsourced - is increasingly challenging.
But there is good news. While the US unemployment rate is, as we’ll discuss in more detail below, concerningly low, it’s relationship with the Canadian unemployment rate is consistent – that is, for over two decades, the Canadian rate has sat a little higher, currently at 5.8%. This seemingly small but significant difference positions Canada as the perfect place for outsourcing – especially for companies who are looking for onshore solutions.
What Full Employment Means for Contact Centers
Most economists consider an unemployment rate below 5% as “full employment.” In other words, almost everyone who is willing and able to work is employed. It’s a term that often goes hand-in-hand with the label “zero unemployment.”
Essentially, with the US rate at a near-50 year low of 3.6%, this means that the vast majority of people who make up the unemployment rate are unemployed because they are unable or unwilling to work. So, US employers are faced not only with a smaller available labor pool, that pool tends to be made up of people who are also less qualified than the available labor pool of ten years ago. Add the fact that there are more US job openings than unemployed Americans, and the dilemma is clear.
In spite of some of those persistent negative stereotypes about the contact center industry, delivering an optimal customer experience does require business acumen, technical/digital skill, and emotional intelligence – and that’s just for starters (more info on the ideal agent profile here). The best agents are educated, have great communication skills, want to do meaningful work for great brands, and are pumped up about the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. For talent acquisition teams, the challenge now is to woo people who are already employed into ditching their jobs and coming to work for you. If you’ve been in the trenches of hiring for US call centers, it’s hard not to toss a cynical “good luck with that” remark out there.
But in Canada, with an unemployment rate above the “full employment” line, at 5.8%, there are still able-and-willing-and-qualified candidates available for work. If you look to metropolitan areas in Canada, the rate is even more attractive – 6.6% in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for example. And this workforce is also well-educated – over 70% of adults in Halifax have post-secondary education. This creates a rich talent pool of people who fit the ideal profile of a contact center agent.
The Dilemma of Rising Wages in the US
Economists tell us that when wage inflation occurs at a faster rate than the pace of price inflation (as is the case in the US), a company’s margins decrease, making it harder to keep up with rising wages. That spurs employers to dip into that less talented labor pool, and that, in turn, inevitably impacts productivity and quality of products and services. In the contact center, the customer experience often suffers as a result, which directly reflects on the integrity of the brand and reduces customer loyalty (for more insight about the true cost of losing a customer, click here).
Again, in Canada, this is less of an issue. With greater access to available talent, the competition isn’t quite so cut-throat, and wage growth subsequently occurs at a more balanced pace, on par with cost inflation. As such, there’s no need to turn to less-qualified talent or consider exponential increases in compensation. The extra bonus to outsourcing to Canada is that the US-Canadian exchange rate is highly attractive to American companies, at 1 US Dollar to 1.33 Canadian Dollars. That means your money goes further, freeing you entirely from the challenge of rising US wages.
The Wait to Find Good Candidates
Even if US employers do decide to increase wages to attract more contact center talent, those candidates aren’t going to show up overnight. Unfortunately, time to hire is on the rise – a current average of 42 days, leaving many positions open for longer than ever before.
This is partly due to the lack of talent, but also a result of how candidates are responding to the competitive US job market. More companies are experiencing “ghosting,” where candidates simply disappear in the recruitment process, chasing after new opportunities without following up on others. When this happens further into the process, after scheduling an interview or even making an offer, employers end up back at square one, lengthening the process even more.
The amount of time spent in the recruitment process directly impacts a contact center’s KPIs. For example, if the team of frontline agents is short-staffed, that’s likely going to result in longer ASA, especially during peak volume hours, days, or seasons. Agents under pressure may struggle to achieve first-call resolution or succeed in creating a positive customer experience.
There’s also the immeasurable impact – the stress that an under-staffed team experiences is detrimental to employee morale and engagement. And while happy employees make for happy customers, the opposite is also true. Ultimately, your customer experience could be at risk.
At Blue Ocean, we might be a little biased – Halifax, Nova Scotia, is home to our headquarters and we are Canadians at heart. But the truth is, our contact center just might be the solution if you’re faced with the challenges of the US unemployment rate and its impact on your workforce. Just ask any of our US-based clients about the value we bring to their businesses. Say the word and we’ll send you our client roster or hook you up with a client reference.
Looking for hard numbers? Let’s chat! Request pricing here or drop us a line to find out more.
Publish Date: July 3, 2019 5:00 AM
A quick trip down memory lane reminds us that the 1990s saw a massive rise in the practice of offshoring call centers. With the convergence of economic factors and technological advancement, it was seen as the cheap alternative for companies who required basic customer support solutions.
But times change – and so do customers. Today’s consumers expect personalized experiences – especially in complex care scenarios that transcend basic, transactional interactions. And that can only really happen with close cultural alignment as well as an environment that empowers agents to make better decisions.
Simply put, offshore doesn’t cut it. You know it – and your customers know it too.
More and more companies are choosing contact center locations closer to home with rich talent pools where agents are not only fluent in their customers’ language but can also pick up on cultural nuances that are difficult to teach non-native speakers. Business leaders are realizing that linguistic and cultural barriers are detrimental to complex support scenarios.
That said, keeping your contact center onshore is, well, costly – mostly thanks to stronger economies and higher costs of living. Of course, if a differentiated customer experience and brand is important, it’s worth it.
Still, North American contact centers vary wildly in their costs and in their quality – how do you find what works best for you?
TL;DR – A differentiated customer experience is critical, but keeping it onshore can be expensive. Outsourcing your contact center to Canada can help you stretch your dollar while still gaining access to highly-educated, culturally-aligned talent.
Look North of the Border
We believe we have the answer to keeping your contact center in North America without breaking the bank – and without sacrificing quality: Look North of the border.
Most people think onshore means their search for an outsourcer is confined to the 50 US states (or even just 48 continental states). But despite being separated by politics, economies, and lines on a map, Canada – particularly metropolitan Canada – is an excellent alternative.
We explore a number of reasons for this below, but the short version is that Canada offers competitive cost factors, close cultural alignment, readily-available top talent, and attractive proximity. Read on!
Stretching Your Dollar in Canada
The US Dollar is strong right now, giving American businesses a lot of buying power outside their borders (one US Dollar currently equates to 1.33 Canadian Dollars). That’s not to mention the fact that the US and Canadian economies are closely linked, and the exchange rate hasn’t varied much for most of the last couple of decades. Economic outlooks project that this will be sustained for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, you’re getting more bang for your buck by outsourcing to a Canadian contact center partner. Although your decision is more complex than price alone, there’s no denying that it is an important component. When all other factors are comparable, the projected ROI is what may ultimately lead you to choose one outsourcer over another. In Canada, that ROI may look significantly more attractive.
(Curious what pricing we can offer you? Just fill out our pricing request form here.)
Of course, we know you’re not just looking for a “cheaper” way to outsource your contact center. You want a more affordable option that doesn’t come at the sacrifice of amazing quality. Let’s explore some other ways Canada may be the answer for you.
Tapping into a Deeper Talent Pool
The US unemployment rate is at a record low, generally touted as a good thing. That said, it does make hiring significantly more difficult. With fewer people actively looking for jobs, companies are forced to get more creative in their recruitment strategies, poaching talent from competitors and overhauling their benefits programs to attract more people.
Though Canada’s unemployment rate is at near-historic lows also, it’s about two percent higher than the US – a difference that’s just significant enough to create a deeper talent pool. And those people are well-educated – more than 70% of adults in Halifax have completed a post-secondary program. That means we have extensive access to people who have the skills and competence to handle complex service scenarios in support of our clients and their customers.
Cultural Alignment Between the US and Canada
Canadians can chit-chat about the latest Superbowl/World Series/Stanley Cup playoffs just as easily as Americans – and you may be surprised by how often that conversation comes up on a customer call. Your friendly neighbors to the North are also equally adept at interpreting passing comments, slang, or tone of voice that indicate a customer’s attitude – information that can help these agents deliver a better customer experience.
Ensuring cultural alignment in your contact center program is likely why you’re choosing to onshore in the first place. These types of interactions are hard to measure and may seem inconsequential, but they are at the heart of next-level customer service. Being able to pick up on tiny details or chat about everyday topics are what makes a customer feel heard and valued. Those are the customers who stay loyal to your brand and often end up evangelizing their family, friends, and networks.
Canada: Closer to Home Than You Think
Before you worry that the money you save in heading North will be eaten up by hours spent flying and driving to some remote Canadian town, bear in mind that provinces like Nova Scotia – home to our very own Blue Ocean offices – are a stone’s throw from New York. Not so remote after all.
Proximity matters because we do recommend that you get face-to-face with your outsourced contact center on a regular basis – and even before you make a decision to partner up (read why here). Most metropolitan Canadian cities, including our very own Halifax, offer nonstop flights to most major US cities. That’s a big deal.
Keeping Your Contact Center in North America Without Breaking the Bank
Choosing to keep your contact center onshore doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be paying through the nose. If you want a more affordable option while maintaining high quality “wow” customer experiences, consider looking North of the border to Canada (we love it here!).
Publish Date: June 24, 2019 5:00 AM
We talk a lot in this blog forum about partnership and who you should choose as an outsourcer contact center partner, but where you choose to outsource to is almost as important an element in the procurement process. Consider this post your GPS guiding you to the best location for an outsourced center using four points of directional reference: cultural alignment, labor force, business climate, and accessibility.
TL;DR – When it comes to contact center location, make sure you’re aware of the cultural alignment, labor force, business climate, and accessibility before partnering with an outsourcer.
Agents must be able to speak the same language as your customers – and not only in a literal sense. Fluency and inflection are essential, but so is a native understanding of casual phrases and idioms that fit naturally into a conversation. Can your chat agents LOL along with a customer? Can your voice agents share TGIF sentiments with a caller? Equally important is a grasp of common pop culture references, favorite sports teams, or the latest blockbuster hits – it’s these small details that turn everyday interactions into exceptional customer experiences.
And it goes further than just being able to talk about these things in casual conversation – active listening provides a powerful opportunity to connect with a customer on a deeper level. Catching passing comments or picking up on tone of voice is key to personalizing the experience – and it’s often only possible when there is a strong cultural alignment between the agent and the customer.
The local labor force for any contact center partner you’re considering is a key element because it determines the quality of the agents who’ll be representing your brand and the size of the available labor pool. Elements of the labor force to explore are the local unemployment rate, average education levels, and overall demographics.
Unemployment rates give you an idea of how difficult it will be for your outsourcer to fill open positions. A high rate is indicative of a struggling economy, while a so-called “zero” unemployment rate means those open roles may sit unfilled for too long. Many regions in the US are currently experiencing this zero-unemployment landscape. This makes many Canadian urban centers attractive - with rates that are neither too high nor too low.
Education is indicative of the skill level of the local talent pool. Halifax, for example – home to our Blue Ocean offices – has one of the highest post-secondary attainment rates in North America. That means with our combined unemployment rate around 5% and our education rate (more 70% of adults in Halifax have completed a post-secondary program), we can access agents who are the right fit to support clients with complex service scenarios.
Local economics are often a direct reflection of the health of local businesses. Make sure you check out the general trajectory of the regional business landscape in any area you’re considering for your outsourced center. That includes a look at the political climate, tax rates, and overall community infrastructure. These elements will have a long-term impact on the quality of agents your partner can hire, the price you pay for your outsourcing, and the business decisions your partner makes over the years that will directly affect your project.
Another key consideration is how far your dollar will go. Though the quality of the customer experience trumps most arguments about price, ROI is still important to your business. That’s why it’s important to understand how the inherent differences between city- and rural-based contact centers will impact your bottom line – thriving metropolitan areas can come with a higher price tag, but what are the turn-over implications and costs in a rural location? Does a rural-based center have the talent pool to scale and sustain their workforce alongside your growth? Can they easily replace quality talent lost through attrition?
Also, consider factors like minimum wage and currency conversion. You can access an onshore program at a discounted rate if you are a US-based company just by looking north of the border where the American dollar is equivalent to 1.33 Canadian Dollars. That difference creates an exponential uptick in your ROI without any sacrifice to quality or cultural alignment.
Ease of Accessibility
We’re huge proponents of getting on-site at your outsourcer’s offices both before you make the final decision (we even recommend a visit before you even go to RFP) and also throughout the ongoing lifetime of the partnership. In-person visits help establish a stronger relationship and give you a window into exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. But if it takes a full day of travel plus 2 connecting flights and a 3-hour drive from the airport just to get there, is it really worth it? Just a few visits may be a lot of wasted days spent on travel. Plus, in the rare occasion of an emergency where you need to get on-site fast, extensive travel is going to perpetuate the problem.
Ease of accessibility is essential. Rural contact centers may seem like a great choice, but being hard to get to is what makes them rural. That’s why somewhere like Halifax, Nova Scotia, is actually ideal, with daily direct flights to most major US cities. With at least four flights a day to and from Newark in two hours, it’s as easy to access as any major US city on the eastern seaboard.
Choosing the Best Location for Your Contact Center
It’s not uncommon for location to be one of the last considerations in your process of determining a contact center partner. Most likely you’re more concerned with a partner’s range and quality of services, their industry experience, training programs, and performance rates. But even when it’s a last thought, the location of your outsourcer plays a massive role in your partnership. That’s why we advise that you keep these four points of consideration in mind.
Publish Date: June 13, 2019 5:00 AM
Picture this: You’re in the RFP process for a new contact center partner. You have a short list of participants. You give them a couple of weeks to return their answers, and then you spend a few more weeks poring through those answers with your team to eliminate the deal-breakers and discern the winner. Finally, you’re down to two choices – both options have versatile capabilities and impressive metrics. You make plans to visit their offices for the first time. But when you walk in the door of the first, your heart sinks. This simply isn’t somewhere you could see yourself – or your agents – working. Maybe it’s the lack of windows and the glaring fluorescent lights. Maybe the leisure spaces are uninspired and uninspiring. Maybe it’s something you can’t quite put your finger on. Can your brand really shine in this kind of environment? You walk away from that option and visit your second finalist with your fingers and toes crossed. Miraculously, it’s the perfect fit. You only wish you could have saved the precious time and effort spent in the RFP process by having this insight beforehand.
This isn’t just an imaginative exercise – it’s a situation we’ve witnessed in real life, with one of our own valued clients. And it’s why – for the same reason you wouldn’t throw down thousands of dollars on a house you haven’t walked through – we recommend always conducting site visits before diving into the time-consuming RFP process.
Process vs Strategy
The procurement process can be a thing of beauty. It exists to achieve consistency, efficiency, and objectivity. You know exactly what you need in regards to channel support, reporting metrics, technical capabilities, agent training, and more, and the contact center RFP makes sure you’re checking all the boxes. The goal of this process is an apples-to-apples comparison of capabilities, performance rates, and price points.
It’s a worthy goal, but procurement can’t happen in a vacuum. Putting your brand in the hands of an outsourcer requires a strategic partnership, not just a vendor who checks all the boxes. And establishing that partnership isn’t as simple as following a checklist. It means physically shaking hands with leaders and agents, walking through office spaces, and getting to know the people you’ll be working with. It means asking the question, “can we see ourselves working here?”.
Getting on-site with each potential outsourcer will enable you to narrow down the options. Then you can deliver a tightly curated list to procurement to let them do what they do best.
What Should You Be Looking For?
Don’t go in blind. Know what you should be looking for on your contact center site visit before you get there. Here are a few considerations:
Culture fit. A shared culture is key – that’s probably one of the biggest reasons you’re choosing not to offshore your project. Your outsourced agents must be able to empathize and engage with your customers – and that goes deeper than simply speaking the same language. An organization that is culturally aligned with your own is one that shares similar values, commitment to their employees, and vision for the future.
Capabilities in action. Your RFP process will naturally require vendors to list and describe their capabilities, but getting on-site may reveal innovations, complexities, or nuances about technologies, workforce management or processes that you simply didn’t know to ask.
Physical work environment. The people representing your brand will be entrenched in the workspaces you observe, all day every day. Is there a friendly atmosphere? Is it an engaging space designed to nurture employees? Or does it feel oppressive and tense? Are employment standards similar to your own? Remember that the happiness of your agents directly impacts the happiness of your customers.
Brand representation. Without a site visit, it’s difficult to get a sense of how agents identify with the brands they’re representing. In person, however, you can see firsthand how well the client brand resonates in the subculture of the contact center. If the entire center feels homogeneous and mundane, your unique brand is unlikely to reflect in the customer experience. In our experience, agents who are truly aligned with a brand see themselves as employees of the client first, and of our contact center second.
Safety and security. Your RFP will likely have an entire section dedicated to safety and security, but a site visit enables you to see how security measures are actually fulfilled in real life. How is data kept secure? Are sensitive projects kept separate from others? What does a safe space mean to your potential outsourcer – and does it match your own definition of safety and security? Observe how careful your hosts are with you on site. Chances are, other visitors (your competitors perhaps?) are likely to be held to the same security standards, or lack thereof, that you are. For example, if during a tour, you’re “treated” to a sneak peek into a highly secure area, beware.
Ease of travel. Regular site visits – annually or even quarterly – are important for a highly strategic partnership. It’s likely another reason you’re choosing onshore or nearshore outsourcers. You want to minimize time spent in transit. However, be careful who you rule out in light of this consideration. Nova Scotia in Atlantic Canada, for example, may sound distant if you’re unfamiliar with the region. But it’s a stone’s throw from New York, with direct flights to major US cities including Newark, Chicago, Boston (and the added bonus/ease of US Customs pre-clearance at Halifax International Airport!).
Obstacles to the On-Site Contact Center Visit
We get it – touring multiple contact centers can be cost- or time-prohibitive on the front end. If you’re struggling to get buy-in on the time and expense, we recommend that you invite potential partners to visit your offices instead.
Meeting them in person and giving them a behind-the-scenes look at your brand and operations will still go far in being able to narrow down your list of vendors. You’ll get a better sense for who they are, how engaged they are with your own people, and how committed they are in accommodating your needs.
Improve Your RFP Process by Getting On-Site First
Meeting your potential contact center partners before you send them the RFP empowers you to build a better list from which to choose. Figuring out the subjective, intangible elements of the decision process up front allows you to focus simply on the skills, competencies, and cultural make up of those partners you already feel you can work with. In this situation, your customer service leaders and procurement department can work closely to tailor that RFP based on your visits. For example, if something struck you as innovative or essential at one center, but you didn’t observe the same factor at another, be sure to ask about it in the RFP.
Publish Date: May 29, 2019 5:00 AM
Admit it, you love it when you’re handed that Starbucks beverage with your name spelled neatly and correctly on the side. Maybe that’s where it all started: that innocent coffee cup with the green mermaid staring back at you. The trend of personalized customer experience has since transformed almost every industry as we know it. From the retail experience to social media connections to issue resolution via the contact center, customers want their individual needs known and reflected in the interactions, services, and products they pay for.
The upside to this personalized, high-touch service is the humanness of it all. When we stop seeing fellow human beings as mere transactions, surely that’s a good thing. The dark side is that for many customers, the expectation of personalization can be a direct path to a sense of entitlement. And a customer who feels they are owed the right to “special treatment” can quickly become an unhappy customer. Cue the angry phone calls and spiteful social posts.
It’s your contact center agents who are left to make things right and, hopefully, earn the customer’s continued loyalty – and they have to be well supported to do it effectively. So, what is the best way to support customers with extremely high service expectations? How do we deliver amazing customer experiences despite increasingly challenging stressors?
The Tools to Tackle Customer Entitlement
First and foremost, there needs to be a very tight relationship between the contact center team and the company leadership team. Everyone, from top to bottom, needs to have an equal commitment to providing an optimal customer experience, and there must be regular communication to determine what that looks like.
In our world, this takes the shape of a unified and documented blueprint of the customer journey, as well as the appropriate tools and systems to support that journey and equip agents to deliver the optimal experience. Omnichannel support, where all contact channels seamlessly integrate in real-time and the customer can transition without having to repeat themselves, is the best foundation to engage customers for the entire lifecycle. But we want to call out the impact of social media in the hands of customers whose expectations haven’t been met. We’ve all seen Twitter explosions over poor customer service (sorry, Comcast). So, for brands that seem to attract more than their fair share of snarky customers, proactive social media support teams are essential, as is a seamless transition from social media to other channels. Again, a smooth digital transition from social to an empowered agent is key.
A strategic Tier 2 support team may also be necessary. Often, with intensely disgruntled customers who feel they deserved better service, the situation often stands the best chance of recovery when your Tier 1 agent escalates the call to someone who is perceived as having greater authority. An efficient escalation process and a well-trained Tier 2 team who are expert communicators can make the difference between a lost customer and a loyal customer.
In some cases, the regular array of tools and resources aren’t enough, and more strategic solutions are required to satisfy frustrated customers. For example, a client of ours in the grocery sector recognized that simply providing a credit for missing or damaged items wasn’t enough for agents to be able to deliver an excellent experience. The stakes were too high for this standard solution to be completely effective. As it turns out, when it comes to food, people often react viscerally to a service mishap or product disappointment, and straightforward make-goods or discounts often don’t cut it. Our client realized they needed to achieve the near-impossible and provide ways for agents to truly win over customers who expected nothing less than perfect service. Part of their solution was a business partnership that allowed agents to facilitate the replacement and delivery of any missed or damaged items within mere hours.
Finally, in the rare case that we interact with a customer whose expectations go beyond the realm of possibility, we flag the contact for review with our client. This is where close collaboration is essential. We want our client engaged in deciding how to manage the customer relationship – we want to understand their decision-making process and use that intel when similar complex interactions arise in the future. It is the closed loop concept – feed the decisions back downstream to recruiting and training teams as well as agents and coach teams to get in front of the problem next time.
The Training to Prepare for Entitled Customers
What is the right hiring profile for a brand whose customers have sky high service expectations? The best agents in these scenarios are people who are highly self-aware and who do not feed off of negative energy – that’s a shortcut to losing customers left and right. We actively recruit for people who self-identify as able to create positive energy in others. We want solution-focused people who can empathize with every customer and can shake off the negativity that comes with handling a barrage of complaints. Even if it’s the fifteenth identical call of the day, a customer needs to believe their situation is unique, and that takes an agent with high emotional intelligence.
But being able to deliver amazing service to even the most entitled customer requires more than the right hiring profile. The training process has to start with imparting a comprehensive understanding of the brand an agent is serving. They need to understand the impact of the service or product they support on that customer’s life, time, family, or career. This foundational knowledge enables genuine interactions, in which angry customers come away with the belief that the agent understands their struggle and is as invested in figuring out a solution as the customer. Beyond comprehending the why and the how, your agents need to care. To paraphrase The Heath Brothers in their book, The Power of Moments, you don’t just need your agents to understand something, you need them to feel something. How outsourcers build that connection between agent/customer/client brand is the secret sauce – and if you are going to RFP for a new customer care provider, that’s where you should be probing for specific examples and process details.
The training doesn’t end in their first few days or weeks. A robust, ongoing coaching program is a necessity. You can’t expect someone to have the skills to handle challenging customers if they don’t know how well they’re doing or where they need improvement on regular interactions. Side-by-side coaching, opportunities for self-evaluation, and regular scorecards are all ways to help agents prepare for difficult interactions with entitled customers.
How to Support Your Toughest Customers
Maybe it’s generational or cultural – or simply a result of personable coffee mermaids; either way, today’s consumers believe they are entitled to and deserve “special” treatment. There is a whole host of studies and surveys out there trying to explain the topic of entitlement. Challenging customers are always going to show up, and your brand’s reputation depends upon how well you are able to serve them.
Publish Date: April 15, 2019 5:00 AM
Quick, is Gen Z old enough to work yet? No checking Wikipedia…
Answer: Yes. While there is a bit of a gray area between where exactly Millennials stop and Gen Z starts, demographers pretty much agree that the starting birth years for Gen Z are in the late 90s. So, with the oldest of the crew in their early 20s, those 90s babies are already hitting the workforce. For those of us in the contact center industry, we welcome this new cohort into our multi-generational workforce. It’s an employment landscape where the oldest of the Baby Boomers are still holding ground and the Millennials are into their mid-career years, no longer the wild bunch of upstarts we couldn’t stop talking about five years ago.
So, what does Gen Z bring to the table and what do we need to do to set this new generation up for success? Coming of age in the years of economic recession, these new kids in town have had technology in their pocket almost from the moment they could walk. They live their lives online, curating their personal brands for the world to see and acclimating to platform changes (what Snapchat iteration are we on now?) without blinking an eye. As a result, managing and engaging them in the workplace looks vastly different than that of Baby Boomers, Gen X, or even Millennials.
Get on Their [Digital] Level
To say Gen Z is tech savvy does not begin to cover how fluent these workers are in front of a screen. “Digital Native” is more accurate. Their digitally-driven lives make Gen Z agents drastically different to train and manage. Face-to-face communication isn’t necessarily valued by these employees. That’s where highly interactive virtual classrooms and online learning programs, both of which can be customized to individual learning styles, can be valuable.
The prevalence of sleek video conference tools and collaborative work platforms (from simple instant messaging apps to more multifaceted programs like Slack) make it easy not just to work efficiently, but to engage Gen Z on their terms. In the contact center world, there is a lot of work that is tailormade to leverage Gen Z’s greatest strengths. Chat and in-app support channels are basically “home” for employees that are so used to screen-based communication.
Finally, the fact that these individuals are connected to the world from the moment they wake gives rise to some important considerations. In particular, constant checking in with friends and family has made them enormously sensitive to the level of recognition and feedback they receive. This generation expects emojis, confetti bursts, likes, hearts, and thumbs up to validate their efforts. Nothing happens in their lives without external validation of some kind. Short, frequent bursts of communication are key to engagement. Ensure those Boomers, Gen X or Millennial managers working with Gen Z agents understand the power of the star button in Slack or the upvote on the company intranet. More than any other, this generation is motivated by instant gratification even in its smallest, simplest form. Their lives have been influenced from toddlerhood by dopamine loops. On top of that, according to Upfront Analytics, the average attention span of Gen Z is eight seconds and 11% have ADHD. So, pro tip for managers: get to the point, quickly.
Get Their Buy-In
In the contact center world, where advancements in technologies like AI and machine learning are transforming the customer experience, Gen Z’s digital know-how is extremely valuable.
Not only are they easy to train from a tech perspective, they are also quick to catch on when changes are rolled out to platforms and processes. Gen Z agents naturally understand how software or platform updates make their jobs more efficient. This hasn’t always been the case – previous generations can become creatures of habit. Changes have historically been disruptive, making it harder to get agent buy-in and support. Gen Z is changing this reality – and is often downright excited about change.
It’s refreshing to collaborate with a group of people who are not only welcoming of change, but also eager to help determine what those changes look like. For most contact center program managers, introducing tools like a new ERP or CRM can present a significant challenge. Gen Z might just be your best ally in this kind of daunting change management scenario. If you’re launching a process change or introducing new tools, sit down with Gen Z agents to say, this is what we want to do – what do you think? Ask them what’s been working well, what’s been challenging, and how they think improvements can be made. Engaging them with this avenue for feedback empowers these agents while providing the opportunity to truly innovate. When changes are ultimately implemented, take a hands-off approach with Gen Z agents, letting them explore and figure it out for themselves – and advocate on your behalf as the early adopters.
Get Them Future-Focused
Gen Z contact center agents represent huge potential for the future of the contact center – but only if we engage their unique skill sets and perspectives today.
It’s starts with making sure they’re the right fit for the contact center culture to start with. Not every member of Gen Z is going to make the perfect agent just because they live on their smartphones. As this generation takes over their rightful share of the labor market, it is on us to learn more about their needs, wants, and interests so we can build an employment offering that improves retention with this unique group.
The customer care industry can provide surprising career path opportunities. There are numerous directions an agent’s career could take them in, and it all depends upon their motivation to expand and leverage their skillsets and knowledge. Fortunately, surveys from Northeastern University reveal that this generation is highly self-directed; they are “determined to take charge of their own futures,” says Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun. He goes on to comment, “Those of us in higher education must listen to this next generation and enable them to chart their own paths, gain valuable experience, and become the leaders of tomorrow.” We would argue that contact centers must do the same, listening to and acting upon the desires and values of these individuals.
Engaging Gen Z in the Contact Center
For this newest generation of workers, engaging them naturally looks different but you can’t expect the adjustment to happen organically – you have to be proactive. Understanding how best to train them, communicate with them, effectively empower them, and prepare them for the future is critical to your – and their – success in the contact center.
We’d love to learn more about your contact center needs. Shoot us a message, give us a call, or get friendly with the Blue Ocean chatbot right there in the corner!
Publish Date: March 26, 2019 5:00 AM
Blue Ocean, a world-leader in customer care solutions, was awarded a Silver Stevie Award® in the “Customer Service Team of the Year – Recovery Situation” category in the 13th annual Stevie Awards for Customer Service.
This is Blue Ocean’s second Stevie Award. The company won a Bronze Stevie in the same category in 2017.
The Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service are the world’s top honors for customer service, contact center, business development, and sales professionals. The Stevie Awards organization stages seven of the world’s leading business awards programs, including the prestigious American Business Awards® and International Business Awards®.
The awards were presented to honorees during a gala banquet on Friday, February 22 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV. More than 700 executives from the U.S.A. and several other nations attended.
More than 2,700 nominations from organizations across 45 nations and in virtually every industry were evaluated in this year’s competition. Winners were determined by the average scores of more than 150 professionals worldwide in seven specialized judging committees.
Blue Ocean’s winning entry recounted the success of a highly specialized team within the company. When the Proactive Operations team (Pro Ops) was launched, Blue Ocean’s client, a world-leader in networking technology, was in danger of losing their largest enterprise-level customer, one of the world’s largest banks. Since the launch of the Pro Ops team, on-time delivery rates for this critical customer soared from a monthly average of 71% to today’s 96% rate. One Stevie judge commented “Efforts taken by the team to regain client confidence and achieve better results are inspiring… A good example of overcoming obstacle[s] and achieving positive results.”
The award-winning story of the specialty team and how their exceptional performance saved a critical relationship with their client’s customer is compelling, with solid data to back it up. The Proactive Operations concept centers around “quarterbacks” who coordinate and facilitate on-time delivery efforts between multiple partners no matter what obstacles confront them. Another Stevie judge remarked “Alignment around quarterbacks simplified and funneled resources. Nice recovery of trust, which is hard to do. Congratulations on great work and team effort!”
“Our Pro Ops team members are true all-stars to Blue Ocean, to our client, and to our client’s customer. We are thrilled to have such a respected award in recognition of the work they do every day,” says Andrew O’Brien, Blue Ocean’s President and Chief Operating Officer.
Blue Ocean thanks the Stevie organization for this honor and for recognizing the mission-critical work of the Proactive Operations team.
“All of the Stevie Award winners should be very proud of their achievements. Independent professionals around the world have agreed that their accomplishments are worthy of public recognition,” said Stevie Awards President and founder, Michael Gallagher.
Details about the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service and the list of Stevie winners in all categories are available at www.StevieAwards.com/sales.
About Blue Ocean
Blue Ocean is an award-winning provider of innovative customer care solutions that enhance the relationships clients have with their customers. Headquartered in Atlantic Canada, the company has been supporting brands that are leaders in their categories from education to insurance, from CPG to technology since 1994.
About the Stevie Awards
Stevie Awards are conferred in seven programs: the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards, the German Stevie Awards, The American Business Awards®, The International Business Awards®, the Stevie Awards for Great Employers, the Stevie Awards for Women in Business and the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service. Stevie Awards competitions receive more than 12,000 entries each year from organizations in more than 70 nations. Honoring organizations of all types and sizes and the people behind them, the Stevies recognize outstanding performances in the workplace worldwide. Learn more about the Stevie Awards at www.StevieAwards.com.
Sponsors of the 13th annual Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service include Sales Partnerships and ValueSelling Associates.
Publish Date: February 26, 2019 5:00 AM
Quick, how many services or memberships do you subscribe to? One? Two? Twenty? You know your wallet is stuffed with membership cards (roadside assistance, your local gym, and Costco) and your front porch welcomes monthly subscription boxes (Blue Apron, Trunk Club, and Honest Essentials), while your go-to entertainment is no longer cable TV but subscription-based media (Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.) The scene at work is the same: subscriptions abound for things like Salesforce, teleconferencing services, training programs, Harvard Business Review…
Obviously, subscriptions and memberships aren’t a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. But the subscription services market is on fire, growing by more than 100% in five years.
It’s a trend that has a significant impact on the customer care sector. There are very real service expectation differences between providing customer service to a one-off consumer versus a loyal member. In the membership scenario, solving a problem isn’t enough. Instead, creating a consistent, differentiated experience is everything. And what we’ve discovered over the years is that empowering your agents to deliver these kick-ass customer experiences is the best way to delight your members and subscribers time and time again.
So, what does it take? We checked in with Carol Sam, Project Coordinator at Blue Ocean, who excels in leading her team of agents to consistently deliver high-quality experiences to our client’s members – under the highest stress situations providing emergency roadside assistance. For Carol, empowering contact center agents depends upon three key factors: engagement, communication, and feedback.
But first -
What is a Kick-Ass Customer Experience Anyway?
A global, cross-industry study published by Matthew Dixon in the Harvard Business Review helps us answer this (we were also honored to be featured in the ensuing article, Kick-Ass Customer Service).
There’s a significant sector of today’s customers who prefer taking care of things themselves before they even think to call, email, or live chat someone to help. This is especially true for customers who have memberships or subscriptions, which naturally come with a range of self-serve resources.
So, when they do finally call, their issue is more complex – and more frustrating – than they could solve themselves. In other words, their customer experience has already been damaged before they engage with the agent. Which means you need skilled agents to meet their needs – empathy is important, but more than that, you need confident decision makers, who aren’t afraid to take control of the conversation, and are motivated to deliver the best solution fast.
Hire the right people, and you’re instantly better positioned to deliver a customer experience that is solution-focused yet highly personalized.
That said, let’s explore what it takes to truly empower these agents to deliver.
Engaging Your Frontline Agents
Carol Sam is a lifelong athlete, an MVP basketball player. It’s this experience that contributes to her success in creating a sense of team mission. “Teamwork makes the dream work,” she says – her lifelong motto. It’s not like tennis – in basketball, it’s impossible to do it all by yourself – every single position, from the point guard to the small forward, is critical. It takes more than one person to win.
Similarly, every single agent is a part of something greater. Your most productive agent can’t hit service level by themselves. Your highest QA scoring agents aren’t going to carry quality scores for the whole team. When the client contract demands consistent excellence with targets like 80% of team meeting quality goals – Carol focuses on getting the team aligned and enabling individuals to identify how critical to their performance is to overall success. Engaging agents in the big picture starts from Day One in the onboarding and training process. Our trainers spend a lot of time with new agents, helping them understand the impact of their role when interacting with members. Through the training program, we’re looking to identify and address any barriers that will hold agents back from delivering kick-ass experiences – overcoming those barriers particularly through the strategic use of role-play exercises and positive reinforcement.
When Carol first came on board as program coordinator, the quality of the member experience for this particular project wasn’t consistent. The program experiences extreme peaks and valleys in volume and quality sometimes suffered when volume was in excess of 150% of forecast. Carol implemented more role play in training and adjusted the training schedule. This proved to be a highly effective strategy, with agents who’d received the revised training curriculum outperforming existing agents right out of the gate in metrics that measured the customer experience. The changes to training made a direct impact in agent competence and agent confidence as the newbies hit the production floor.
Communicating with Your Frontline Agents
Hand-in-hand with engagement is communication.
It starts with transparency. Your agents need to know what’s going on so they feel empowered to make decisions that wow the customer. That means sharing forecasts, goals, and metrics, and ensuring they understand how their roles impact each of those things. This is especially important when volume spikes and agents are thrown into high-stakes scenarios.
Recently, Carol’s team, working with the client’s in-house team, fielded more than 20,000 emergency assistance calls in one day – more than a 100% increase from the previous single-day record of 8,000 calls the year before. In a situation where the pressure on agents is intense and unrelenting, if they can’t see that they’re making a difference with every single call, the customer experience could suffer. Carol tells her team to focus on just one call at a time and they will get through it. She sees herself as the communication facilitator making sure agents, coaches, and managers and the client are all on the same page to keep all hands-on-deck without sacrificing quality.
What’s the best way to communicate with your frontline agents?
We approach internal team communications the same way we approach customer care – use all the channels available in the way that is most appropriate to the situation and best suits the individuals involved. In-person communications include side-by-side coaching, monthly one-on-ones, as well as and small focus groups. We also use video communication (and importantly, we schedule time for individual agents to watch) group chat to share important messages and keep morale high. It’s also key to remember that communication is a two-way street – your agents need to feel heard. When, for example, your agents experience a barrier in their effort to deliver an exceptional customer experience, it’s up to you to hear them out, help them identify the challenges, and collaborate with the client to help remove that barrier.
Providing Agent Feedback
Engagement and communication, while ongoing, represent to some degree the pre-game planning and game-playing itself. Feedback is the post-game playback that is essential for future improvement.
For Carol’s team that feedback comes from reviewing quality scores and “voice of member” scores – coach and agent together, in person. Both are equally important and indicate how knowledgeable and confident an agent is on the floor. Whether an agent’s score is great or mediocre, they are going to want to know how to get their scores up, as well as getting more insight on exactly how to improve their communication with members. We also watch out for trends in an agent’s performance, adjusting their ongoing training accordingly.
On the program Carol supports, the feedback schedule is strategic. By implementing a process where agents scoring in the mid-range receive a higher frequency of coaching sessions, the team successful increased their average monthly quality scores by six percentage points consistently while increasing the percent of team meeting quality targets by more than ten points. In this cadence, agents with gaps to fill receive 12 coaching sessions a month, some in person and some through desktop coaching packages customized to the individual. Top scoring agents receive eight coaching sessions a month – that personal feedback is critical to engagement and striving, so top agents should never be overlooked.
Ultimately, our goal is to help our agents achieve their goals. When they feel empowered to deliver their best performance, our clients’ members feel confident in the service we’re providing.
Empowering Your Agents to Deliver Kick-Ass Customer Experience
Because members and subscribers are more than just one-time customers, delivering a consistent customer experience every single time they interact with the contact center is critical to their continued brand loyalty.
Consistency is only possible when your agents feel empowered, knowledgeable, and confident on every single contact. Creating that trifecta of high-performing traits in your agent workforce is achieved through end-to-end engagement, regular communication, and honest, actionable feedback.
Delivering kick-ass customer experience is our brand promise – and we can’t wait to show you. Looking to supplement or migrate your customer care program? Let’s chat today.
Publish Date: February 25, 2019 5:00 AM
It’s 2019, which means contact center metrics from 1999 are almost old enough for their first legal beer (and already knocking them back in Canada.) Those metrics were born in an era when customer service was a race, where whoever got to the finish line first (i.e. off the phone) – upsetting the least number of hurdles, extra points for a graceful gait – was the champion, the most successful, the most likely to win “customer service agent of the year.”
Today’s consumers and their shifting expectations have turned that perspective on its head. Instead, we live in a customer-centric world, where metrics like Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Average Handle Time (AHT), and First Call Resolution (FCR) are, by themselves, short-sighted and more focused on controlling costs instead of enhancing the experience. That said, the contact center accumulates millions of data points every single day. How do we use that data to improve the customer experience?
Fighting the Cost Center Mindset
We get it; earning executive buy-in on the decision to outsource your contact center usually includes a discussion about ROI. But calculating how the costs of your customer service solution make an impact on your bottom line can be complicated. For example, at first glance, an hour-long phone call with a customer that doesn’t result in first call resolution or a sale appears to be a high-cost, low-efficiency interaction.
What you may not initially see is how that hour inspires the customer’s lifetime loyalty and widespread promotion and advocacy, converting other customers on top of increasing their own spend. If that call was cut off at two or three minutes in the name of low AHT, an important opportunity to provide exceptional customer experience would have been lost.
Though hour-long calls are extraordinarily rare (though still nothing compared to the Zappos record customer-service call of 10 hours, 43 minutes!), this example holds its integrity even when scaled down to mere minutes and seconds. The point is, while data that describes an agent’s efficiency has its place (no one wants to be kept on hold unnecessarily or sit through minutes of pointless back-and-forth with a less-than-stellar agent) these metrics, taken alone, do little more than tell us to work as fast as possible to disengage from the customer.
Even if we are committed to delivering an exceptional customer experience, the fact is that many businesses turn to these metrics by default when making an outsourcing decision. Changing this approach and perspective is the first step in becoming a brand that your customers love. (For the same reason, we also believe that contact center pricing should never be your first question in the quest to outsource). But where do we start?
One Metric to Rule Them All
What one metric best reflects the state of your customer experience? Consider that today’s consumers are loyal to the brands that personalize the experience, are instantly responsive to their needs, and are authentic in the way they deliver service. The more loyal those customers are, the more they buy.
With that in mind, it’s clear that the quality of your customer experience is directly correlated with Lifetime Customer Value. (We discussed the LCV metric in more depth in our recent blog post, The True Cost of Losing a Customer.)
When you focus on improving that metric, what you’re really doing is shifting your efforts to decrease churn rate and increase retention. In our blog post about the cost of losing a customer, we referenced the example of a client who worked with us to implement a 24/7 team of Subject Matter Experts in support of a customer who had threatened to leave after a disappointing experience. The increased effort to meet expectations and provide a better experience was highly successful. Not only did the client stick around for the long run, their continued business meant a higher lifetime value.
Data is the GPS Mapping Your Customer Experience
While Lifetime Customer Value is a critical measure of your customer experience, it can’t by itself tell you what to focus on in your efforts to improve it. That’s where you have to take a holistic approach with the underlying data.
For example, we can’t forget about Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT). NPS was a metric first introduced in 2003, which feels like a lifetime ago. But instead of growing obsolete, this metric has simply entered its wiser golden years. Asking a customer to rate the probability of their promoting your brand to friends and family is a highly effective way to measure how well each interaction is being handled. We are big fans of the “Willingness to Assist” (WTA) metric which we measure through post-contact surveys. WTA is an actionable coaching point for your agents and relates directly to the customer experience. Moving the bar on Willingness to Assist is almost always correlated to an increase in CSAT and/or NPS.
That said, it’s important to remember that most customers respond to an NPS or CSAT survey with one specific interaction in mind, which doesn’t necessarily reflect their big-picture perception of your brand or their lifetime loyalty as a customer. A high NPS score after one successful interaction doesn’t guarantee a customer won’t switch brands next month. Thus, NPS, CSAT, and other scores like Customer Effort Score (CES) are still only a fraction of the big picture when it comes to improving the end-to-end customer experience.
These metrics are most valuable when you can segment and filter them by type of customer (especially by tenure and lifetime value), type of interaction (related to the channel they use or teams they interact with), and the customer’s score over time. Comparing these metrics against data about buying habits, social media interactions, eCommerce activity and more will begin to give you the bigger picture. This is also where you get to add in those more elementary contact center metrics, like Average Handle Time, Average Speed to Answer, and First Call Response rates.
The key is to map out the data in alignment with the customer journey – even in the moments when they are not interacting with you – creating a picture of exactly how well you are serving a customer throughout the lifetime of their advocacy. How that data maps out for high-value customers will likely look very different than the map for short-term, low-value customers. The differences between the two will indicate areas where you can use the data to improve the customer experience in a way that increases the average lifetime customer value.
Sound complicated? It can be, but the time and energy invested into using your customer service data will be returned ten-fold in the value of your customers.
Need a hand? We’d love to chat about building a better customer experience by using the data at your fingertips. Contact us here.
Publish Date: February 7, 2019 5:00 AM
Let’s get real: once-transformative technologies that allowed businesses to respond to consumer needs with speed and agility no longer elicit the oohs and aahs they once did. While new technology continues to emerge, the digital transformation of recent years has conditioned consumers to expect ultra-responsive, technologically-powered customer service, but they want more than that. Below, we break down the consumer trends that will reign supreme in 2019 and how businesses can rise to the challenge.
Consumers Expect Brands to Know Their Personal Preferences
Netflix knows that you love British legal dramas starring a strong female lead – and in 2019, that’s okay and not at all creepy. While consumers once looked upon eerily accurate targeted ads with suspicion, they’ve become conditioned to personalized experiences. On every website they visit and in every email they open, they’re presented with messages that seem perfectly tailored just for them. In fact, consumers have become so accustomed to businesses only shooting relevant messages their way, that 71% of them feel frustrated when their retail experience feels impersonal.
While this expectation may have been created in a retail environment, it doesn’t end there. From dining experiences to consumer service interactions, consumers crave personalization on a subconscious level. If your consumer service agents are working from a one-size-fits-all call flow, consumers will notice, and they’ll likely leave the interaction feeling frustrated. The solution is simple in theory and complex in practice: enable your frontline agents to take the wheel and deliver an authentic experience to every consumer they interact with. This may mean putting less training emphasis on following process and more training emphasis on learning to use all available resources to uncover the ideal resolution for the individual they are interacting with. It may mean recruiting for a higher degree of empathy than you would have five years ago – and/or testing specifically for active listening skills (Are you still prioritizing typing speed in your hiring tests? Hint: Every Millennial and Gen Z on earth can type faster than your average Baby Boomer.)
And then, of course, you need to empower agents to make decisions. As customer service leader Paul R. Jones told us: “It comes down to empowerment and decision-making. My agents know I expect them to make a decision. Bottom line: make a decision that you think will resolve the problem and it’s okay if it’s not the same decision I personally would make… teach them how to improve while simultaneously empowering them to make their own decisions and hold themselves accountable for a customer’s experience.” (Sidebar: Is it possible to effectively test for decision-making capability in the training classroom? That’s a hard yes. You sure can. Get in touch if you want some info on how we do this. We’re recognized as a world leader in testing for applied knowledge in the contact center environment.)
Also read this: Customer Journey Mapping in the Contact Center
or: Secrets to Incredible Customer Service with Paul R. Jones
Consumers Want Brands to Use Their Power for Good and Not Just Profit
No matter which way you cut it – 2019 will be a year of change. Everywhere, people are standing up and using their voice (and their consumer power) to drive the change they want to see. In today’s age, staying neutral on a topic can actually be one of the more polarizing decisions. Silence is deafening, and apathetic brands are sounding alarms in the minds of consumers. In fact, more and more consumers are drawn to legislative brands, or companies that are using their reach to make a difference. Consumers expect the brands they support to be more engaged – that means going beyond an annual charitable donation or community service day. Brands need to be comfortable rubbing some of their customers the wrong way, in favor of forging even stronger bonds with those who stick around. In 2018, Nike gave us all a master class in taking a stand.
Your company’s commitment to making a difference needs to be engrained in your frontline agents. From social media, online chats, emails, and phone calls – they’ll be the ones inundated with concerned and hyper-vigilant consumers holding your company accountable at every turn. How your brand responds to these concerns can be a high-stakes, make-or-break situation. Again, in our opinion, it comes down to recruiting and training. In an outsourced solution, you need to be sure your partner (or prospective partner) is truly capable of adopting your brand and brand voice. Your agents have to be living and breathing your brand values on the frontline. Get the agent profile right, and your outsourcer will be starting from a position of strength with agents who naturally align with your brand and values. Get the training right, and agents are operating from a position of strength – knowing how to put those values into action for your customer and for your brand. Check out this guide if you’re interested in the “how to.”
Instant Gratification is the New Normal
A 24-hour email service level is almost laughable to a Millennial or Gen Z consumer. They want their resolution and they want it now, by chat or social media preferably.
Continuous connectivity has accustomed all of us to expect immediate gratification – and “consumer unrest” is mounting. People are no longer satisfied operating by a business’s playbook; they want businesses to operate by theirs. Consumers facing an issue aren’t interested in waiting days (hours?) for a fix and they aren’t looking to compromise. To some extent, this mindset is a product of businesses continuously attempting to outshine their competitors by providing customers with better, faster service. Now, there’s no turning back.
If there is one group of people that bear the brunt of consumer unrest, it’s contact center agents. Although they’re not strangers to de-escalating situations and calming frustrated customers, communicating with empathy is critical in 2019. In training, agents need to understand that anger is an expected step in the customer journey, and by remaining calm, transparent, and understanding – single call resolution is possible. Again, this also requires your business to give your customer service team the power to make decisions on the fly.
Also read this: Can You Train Contact Center Agents in Empathy?
and: How Does Customer Experience Impact Angry Customers?
Consumers are Hungry for Honesty
Consumers have learned to be skeptical. We’re constantly navigating minefields of data misuse, fake reviews of products, and top-secret algorithms controlling our digital ecosystems. In a world built upon interactions where consumers are viewed as a commodity, people just want honesty. If they feel like just another cog in the wheel, they’ll leave – like 37% of people do after just one negative customer service experience.
In 2019, technology should support your team’s ability to make an impact, not attempt to do the job for them. By breaking down the smoke and mirrors and fostering real connections between your customer base and your customer service teams, your businesses’ reputation can soar. In 2019, you’ll see AI being leveraged to enhance the relationship between consumer and brand. Those seeking to leverage AI for the sole purpose of driving cost out of their business will be left in the wake of those seeking to delight consumers with elegant and easy access to support. If you’re going to RFP for an outsourced customer care solution in 2019, read this first.
At Blue Ocean, our customer experience solutions are a perfect blend of innovative technology and authentic human connections, giving your customers the level of service they crave. Let’s talk about how we can help!
Publish Date: January 22, 2019 5:00 AM
Blue Ocean, a world leader in customer care solutions, was named a finalist in the “Customer Service Team of the Year – Recovery Situation” category in the 13th Annual Stevie® Awards for Sales & Customer Service. Achieving finalist status ensures Blue Ocean will be presented with either a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Stevie when results are announced on February 22 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The awards are presented by the Stevie Awards, which organizes several of the world’s leading business awards shows including the prestigious International Business Awards® and the Stevie Awards for Great Employers.
More than 2,700 nominations from organizations of all sizes and in virtually every industry were evaluated in this year’s competition. Finalists were determined by the average scores of specialized judging committees which included more than 150 professionals worldwide.
Blue Ocean’s Stevie Award entry featured the extraordinary work of a highly specialized team that was developed for a single mission: help their client achieve on-time delivery targets for their largest enterprise-level financial industry customer. Since the launch of this remarkable team, on-time delivery rates for this critical customer soared from a monthly average of 71% to today’s 96% on-time delivery rate.
“Our Professional Operations Team has already made raving fans out of our client and their customers. We are so pleased to have the work of this particular team, and the high-stakes work they do every day, recognized on the international stage,” said Blue Ocean president, Andrew O’Brien.
This is Blue Ocean’s second time being recognized by the Stevie Awards. The company received a Bronze Stevie in the same category in 2017.
“The 2019 judges were very impressed by the caliber of this year’s nominations, which set another record for this competition. The quality of the accomplishments outlined in every Finalist nomination was remarkable,” said Michael Gallagher, president and founder of the Stevie Awards. “We look forward to announcing the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Stevie Award placements in Las Vegas next month.”
Details about the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service and the list of Finalists in all categories are available at www.StevieAwards.com/Sales.
About Blue Ocean
Blue Ocean is an award-winning provider of innovative customer care solutions. They are creators of practical solutions to real problems that enhance the relationships clients have with their customers. Headquartered in Atlantic Canada, the company has been supporting brands that are leaders in their categories from education to insurance, from CPG to technology since 1994.
Publish Date: January 21, 2019 5:00 AM
One negative customer experience may seem like a drop in the ocean of all your customer interactions, but it’s never that simple. Consider these statistics from a recent survey from NewVoiceMedia:
After experiencing poor customer service:
• 37% of customers would change their supplier
• 28% would post a negative online review
• 26% would complain via social media
• 13% would tell friends/colleagues
• 10% would inform the media
It’s worth mentioning that many customer relationships can be saved even after a bad experience with the actual product or service, particularly if they choose to contact a customer service rep. But if that interaction also results in a negative experience, the customer support experience can become the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The far-reaching impact of a damaged reputation, the lost lifetime customer spend, and the expense of winning back that customer and/or acquiring new ones add up to a significant loss – in terms of both revenue and reputation.
Calculating Lifetime Customer Value
Obviously, the cost of losing a customer isn’t as simple as the loss of one particular sale or the associated make-good. You have to assume that had that customer had a positive experience – both with your product/service and with your customer service team – they would have continued to buy from you and recommend your brand to others.
According to research, only 42% of companies are able to accurately measure lifetime customer value. This is a knowledge gap that prevents companies from comprehensively understanding the impact of a single customer on their revenue, and, in turn, how their customer experience impacts the company’s success.
If you’re ready to tackle the math, check out this post from Hubspot.
The LVT calculation can play an important role in determining the ROI of your customer care team, and specifically, the customer save team.
The Cost of Customer Retention vs Acquisition
It’s common knowledge that it can cost five times as much to acquire new customers versus retaining existing ones – and 70% of surveyed companies agree it’s cheaper to retain. Acquisition costs are seen in sales efforts, marketing, and advertising as well as customer onboarding, but it’s retention that appears to gain the most profit in return; a mere 5% increase in retention rates can garner 25-95% extra profit.
How do these statistics help us determine the cost of losing a customer? At its most basic, every lost customer creates the need to acquire a new one. And, as we can see, acquiring those “replacements” can get expensive.
A Real Life Example
A client of ours operates with entitlement contracts for their highest-value enterprise-level customers, requiring parts and labor onsite within either a two- or four-hour window (depending on contract terms) if that customer experiences an outage.
When one of our client’s customers experienced multiple cases of delays in part deliveries, the customer threatened to switch suppliers. In response, we at Blue Ocean created a 24/7 team of Subject Matter Experts dedicated to supporting this particular customer. We established separate KPIs for the team and empowered them to make decisions and take action outside of standard protocol. In addition, we collaborated closely with our client’s warehouse and logistics partners to ensure we were aligned in overcoming any obstacles that impacted on-time deliveries and feeding data upstream to prevent future delivery delays.
With this approach, results improved from an average of 71% on-time delivery to 95%+ on-time delivery rates month after month. This is an example of a company that understands how important it is to deliver outstanding service to existing customers. Their retention efforts, in this case, were complex but essential to avoid the devastating impact of losing a top tier customer with a significant LVT to the company.
Protecting Against the Cost of Losing a Customer
Losing a customer isn’t as simple as losing a single sale. The impact is far-reaching, and companies must have a thorough understanding of the extent of this cost in order to understand the true importance of excellent customer service and experience.
From a ruined reputation to a lost lifetime of sales to a never-ending cycle of replacing old customers, the cost is considerable. Are you ready to protect yourself against this expense? We’d love to chat with you about building a better customer experience.
Publish Date: January 8, 2019 5:00 AM
You’ve got your game face on. You’re prepared for the future of customer service. And you’re ready for your outsourced customer service RFP to hit the road and bring you some stellar options for a new contact center partner. But are you asking the right questions about artificial intelligence? While AI capabilities in the contact center are still evolving, AI offers powerful opportunities to drive cost out of your business and improve the customer experience (and let’s be real, a growing segment of consumers simply prefer automated or self-serve support) – so asking your potential strategic partners the right questions is critical.
We want to make it easy for you. Here’s the short list of the best questions to ask about AI in the contact center.
(Looking for more contact center RFP questions? Download our complimentary RFP template today – just click here.)
CAPABILITIES & PROCESS
Let’s start at the foundation. A potential contact center partner should be able to articulate their particular capabilities and processes in regards to AI solutions. In their answers to the following questions, they should be addressing chatbots, self-service, machine learning, big data, and more.
Additionally, test the maturity of their AI solutions - how they have evolved those solutions over time, and how they are prepared for future updates. You need a trusted partner who knows what they’re doing and aims to stay ahead of the curve.
#1 Describe your current AI capabilities and services.
#2 How long have you been delivering AI solutions as part of your contact center services?
#3 How are you prepared for the future of AI?
BALANCING MAN & MACHINE
AI can be a powerful tool, but it is just one cog in the customer care engine. AI should enhance the customer experience through seamless, elegant integration with live agent support – allowing agents to focus on higher value or higher complexity scenarios requiring human intelligence and decision-making. Chatbots and other tools can handle straightforward transactional interactions – at large volume and with an impressive capacity for personalization – but when customer support scenarios get complex or things simply go sideways, humans must be there to take care of the customer.
#4 Provide a sample playbook (or process flow) for escalating a customer service interaction from AI to live agents.
#5 What KPIs/metrics do you measure in tracking the effectiveness of your escalations from AI to live agent? (Example: time to answer, critical alert wait time, transfer request accept rate, transferred chats cancelled in queue)
INTEGRATION & MIGRATION
You might be excited by the concept of adding AI to your omnichannel offering, but many companies are equally intimidated by the thought of implementing it into their business.
Migrating and integrating AI into your existing infrastructure poses some challenges, not least of which are inefficiencies, downtime, and duplicated processes. Your contact center partner must be prepared to tackle every possible challenge and set you up for efficiency and success.
#6 What IT resources can you provide to support the migration and integration of AI into our customer service solution?
#7 Provide an example of a successful implementation of AI into an existing customer care solution. Include implementation timelines and resources required on both the client/contact center sides of the equation.
AI for the sake of AI doesn’t automatically take your business to the next level of success. You need to ensure that your customer support solution is being measured holistically, particularly when you introduce AI as part of an efficiency initiative. Metrics like AHT and FCR are basic enough; find out how your potential vendor is also measuring customer experience and satisfaction – and how that is impacted by AI.
#8 What KPIs or other metrics do you use to assess the performance of your AI tools?
#9 How do you measure the impact and effectiveness of your AI strategy?
#10 What steps do you take outcomes of your AI strategy are falling short of expectations?
Let’s face it, you may not want to be the guinea pig when it comes to AI. Get some case studies from similar projects your potential vendor has worked on. If possible, even get some references from their existing client base. Ideally, their experience with AI is in a similar industry vertical or service type to your own.
#11 What similar projects are you currently using AI technology for? Describe the project and your approach for implementing AI tools. What results have you seen?
Asking the Right Questions About AI in the Contact Center
At the end of the day, contact center AI is about enhancing the customer experience. Knowing that a potential contact center partner has AI options in their toolkit isn’t enough. Your RFP process can go deeper, asking pointed questions about their capabilities, processes, success measurements, and real-life examples.
Publish Date: December 19, 2018 5:00 AM
Four years ago, we reported that Americans would spend a forecasted $600 billion during the 2014 holiday season. In 2018, that number has skyrocketed to a massive $1.1 trillion, according to data from Deloitte, which is more than a quarter of annual retail sales.
Of course, greater retail sales inevitably lead to higher call volume in the contact center. The best outsourcing partners go to the ends of the earth to prepare for these massive peak season holiday spikes and will not only need to address a sustained customer experience but also team morale, agent stress, and absenteeism.
Here are some key tactics for coping with holiday spikes in the contact center.
Constant and Effective Communication
If you’re offering unique holiday products, services, or sales, communication is key – and it should flow through every corner of your organization. Your contact center should be collaborating closely with your marketing, sales, and distribution teams, with real-time communication so your team can adjust accordingly. That may mean adding more muscle to your frontlines as they respond to problems originating in the warehouse, or perhaps doing on-demand training to help agents cope with holiday-specific issues. Any other changes – such as adjusted priorities or extended hours of operation – should likewise be communicated early and thoroughly.
Setting Realistic Expectations
The holidays can be stressful – and not just because of the retail madness, traveling frenzy, and family feuds. Life for your frontline agents will inevitably get stressful unless you’re frank and honest with them about how hard the seasonal spike will be. At Blue Ocean, we learned this one the hard way when we downplayed a forecasted spike for a large client, assuring concerned agents that they shouldn’t worry. Subsequently, they were unprepared for how tough it would be, and absenteeism went way up. The following year, we were honest, preparing the team appropriately. We helped them pull through, so absenteeism went down and we hit our grade of service despite the hardest six weeks of the year.
Anticipate Necessary Tweaks
How will the holiday spike impact your SLA and KPIs? It may be that a reduced incident rate will be more important than a reduced average length of a phone call, so adjust your metrics as necessary. Likewise, tweaks to your outbound process might be helpful, with regular customers needing reminders or preparation regarding standing orders, delivering timing, and more.
Get Creative and Reward Team Achievements
Giving your teams a creative mission to embrace may help combat a low morale. For instance, crafting themes for your spikes like “Holiday Hell 2018” or “Operation Save Christmas” can help rally your troops and create a culture of resilience. Furthermore, extra perks and little bonuses can do wonders in boosting enthusiasm this time of year. We live by the motto, “When something seriously sucks, put a t-shirt on it.” A few years, during the relentless Polar Vortex, we made t-shirts for our team saying “Winter Suffer Fest 2014. Bring it.” It empowered agents to see themselves as tough and capable, even on Code Red days when volume spiked higher than expected. And, of course, keeping your team fed with treats, holiday-themed meals, and pizza will always help keep morale high. Finally, gamification and creative incentive programs can motivate your agents when holiday demand reaches its peak. Keep them excited about the work they’re doing, and their positive attitude will reflect directly on your customer experience.
Ready for your peak season holiday spikes? We’d love to hear from you. Send us a note or give us a call.
Publish Date: December 17, 2018 5:00 AM
Blue Ocean, an international outsourced contact center servicing North America, is excited to begin hiring for 60 new jobs in the Halifax area. These new jobs come after a long-time client, and world-leader in travel insurance, expanded their call center business with Blue Ocean.
Job seekers in the Halifax area interested in boosting their résumé with a permanent customer support or claims administration position are encouraged to apply. Hourly pay is competitive and ranges from $15 to $23 an hour, dependent on language, skills, and shift differential.
With the addition of these new positions, Blue Ocean call centers now employ more than 800 community members between their Halifax and Bathurst, NB locations.
“As a proud Canadian business, Blue Ocean is committed to creating more opportunity within our communities,” said Andrew O’Brien President and COO of Blue Ocean. “Our clients always tell us ‘the reward for good work, is more work’ and we will continue to work hard and surpass expectations so we’re able to bring more jobs to the Halifax area, and beyond.”
With the first round of new-hire training just weeks away, all 60 positions are expected to be filled by the beginning of December. Blue Ocean has a robust recruitment plan in place and will work with local Nova Scotia Community College to attract recent graduates.
Those interested in applying for one of Blue Ocean’s entry-level positions can visit here to easily submit an online application.
For more information, please contact Amy Bennet-Roach, Director of Sales and Marketing at 902.722.3312 or email@example.com.
Publish Date: October 30, 2018 5:00 AM