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With 2017 just around the corner what lies ahead for the contact centre? In this blog we would like to share some of our predictions for 2017.
We will see an ongoing march towards self-service – Back in 2011, analyst Gartner predicted that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human. We have no reason to disbelief this projection. It’s clearly the direction of travel. Yet, we would estimate that currently about 85% of customer interactions are still run through the contact centre or through traditional communications means. There is a profound shift in approach taking place, which we foresee gathering pace throughout 2017 and is likely to continue accelerating over the next decade or so.
Real Time Speech Analytics will come of age – Today, speech analytics is perhaps most closely associated with voice recognition and its use in verifying ID within the financial services sector. Yet, it’s worth remembering that speech recognition is an enabler for more complex speech analytics solutions across all business sector. Over the next year, we expect to see real time speech analytics, in particular, increasingly used for applications such as the self- training of agents; ensuring compliance through close monitoring of scripted calls and measuring the emotional content of calls to drive customer satisfaction.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be more important – Robotic technology is already driving many contact centre applications from auto agents to text-reading machines and that capability is increasingly freeing human agents to concentrate on complex interactions with high-value customers. AI will be playing an even more important role by the end of 2017. It’s being fuelled by twin drivers: the vast processing power most organisations have at their disposal today; and the corresponding data management and analytics capability the average consumer now has in their pocket in the shape of their smartphone and other mobile gadgets.
Social to become an ever-more powerful driver of customer engagement – With estimates indicating that more than two-thirds of internet users have active social media accounts, no customer-facing business can afford to ignore social. Traditionally businesses have focused on interaction through popular channels like Facebook and Twitter. Through 2017, however, we increasingly expect to see savvy organisations leveraging social forums and empowering customers to support and help other customers. These businesses are tapping into a huge knowledge base, effectively a free resource, capable of providing faster, more accurate support and advice to end-users than anything the business could deliver alone.
Publish Date: December 20, 2016 5:00 AM
Predicting your customers’ behaviour and and using this information to optimise the customer journey can lead to an excellent customer experience. The following article discusses some of the methods you can use to predict behaviour and how it can be utilised within the customer journey.
Make use of business analytics and business activity monitoring (BAM) and customer analytics to better understand patterns of behaviour
You need to track patterns of customers’ different behaviours through business activity monitoring and analytics – and over time build up an understanding of what makes them tick (effectively a picture of their digital DNA) that allows you to predict with a degree of probability what the next interaction is likely to be. If you are a utility provider, for example, and one of your customers has just moved house, it’s likely by looking at the patterns of behaviour of similar customers over a period of time that you will know what the next interaction will be. From phoning you to provide their latest meter reading, or alternatively complaining about the electricity supply, or that they may need to pay their bill.
The likely nature of the call will vary, of course, according to customer demographic or profile. However, monitoring customer behaviour over a prolonged period may tell you more precisely that 80% of the time customers are simply phoning to give you their latest reading.
Use your understanding of the customer to present a range of different service options
Triangulating your BAM and business analytics functions with your customer relationship management (CRM) and customer interaction management (CIM) allows you to present customers with a range of different service options, relevant to their past behaviour and preferences. Your CRM platform will be registering, tracking and logging the last interaction with the customer involved and what the outcome was, giving you a historical perspective. In the meantime, your analytics engine will tell you what certain types of customers have done in the past and then predict what they are most likely to do in the future.
When the customer contacts you therefore, you can use techniques like caller line identification (CLI) or other mechanisms to first pinpoint who they are, then pull their records in from your CRM to look at their history, and then start the process of deciding where to route them within the organisation. Multiple options can be provided to the customer, typically via interactive voice response (IVR) or mobile/visual IVR. Where the enquiry is routine, self-service options can be presented to improve the efficiency of the customer experience and reduce the service cost incurred by the business.
Leverage the latest soft evaluators to anticipate issues with compliance, streamline difficult conversations and optimise individual interactions
The ability to harness a real time speech analytics capability can be a real differentiator for customer-facing businesses, enabling them to keep abreast, in real time, of what is being said by agents in the contact centre and how it is being said. The latest available soft evaluator functionality goes beyond this, helping to encourage agent empathy and gauge the emotional state and stress levels of both customers and agents by evaluating their voices, and improving conversations in real time.
Businesses can use the capability to start to coach agents to calm down and defuse difficult conversations while information can be delivered in the background to help make decisions on the next best action for the customer – and ultimately resolve the problem there and then. In effect, it’s about predicting not only what the customer might want but also what’s going to get them what they want with the least amount of effort in the fastest possible time – and cost your business the least amount of money to provide.
Anticipate when customers are about to leave and offer promotions or discounts to keep them on side
Businesses are starting to make use of the latest predictive capability to work out when customers or prospects are about to leave their website – typically when their cursor starts to move from the middle of the screen towards the navigation bar. Systems can then be configured in such a way that a move to leave the site and start typing in a new URL in the navigation bar at the top of the page is then met with a real-time special offer, with a code to type in to qualify for a discounted voucher, for example, or some other kind of promotion or concession. In the same way soft evaluators that measure the emotional state of a customer during an interaction can be used to determine when they are becoming stressed and guide the agent down a pre-determined route to control the outcome. Ultimately then, it’s a clear demonstration of how the ability to be able to predict what the customer is thinking and what they are likely to do next can be key in controlling the final outcome to benefit both your business and your customer.
Publish Date: October 10, 2016 5:00 AM
Self-service is a key and increasingly important part of an integrated customer experience but get it wrong and you will end up with frustrated customers and a higher demand on your agents. So what should you be looking out for when going down the self-service route.
Poorly-designed IVR solutions – Poor design is one of the key reasons customers get frustrated with interactive voice response (IVR) solutions. Many businesses make the mistake of providing too many menus and options, possibly in a misguided effort to keep customers away from calling agents directly. Often, the tactic backfires as complex IVRs inevitably end up confusing customers – and there are occasions when they will need to call in to resolve their issue or concern. Badly-designed IVRs, therefore, often lead to customers opting out of self-service altogether and consequently reduce the return on the self-service investment. So the lesson is: keep the menus and options as simple as possible but still make it easy for the customer to talk to you as and when required.
Deploying technology and the failing to update it – Many businesses simply implement and deploy their self-service systems, breathe a sigh of relief and then forget all about them. It’s a big mistake, as customer behaviour changes all the time and businesses evolve continuously. You need to track and monitor your self-service platforms and not only look at where in the process people are using them intensively and generating positive results but also those points where people are getting frustrated and abandoning the self-service process altogether. Your self-service approach needs to be capable of running reports and generating data that allows you to review your systems and pinpoint at what point in the process most customers are leaving you. It’s those points of frustration that you should look out for most because those are the areas of your self-service application that you will need to address and revise.
Failure to include clear instructions and a mechanism to reply with outbound texts – When it comes to sending outbound text messages, one of the biggest mistakes businesses make is to neglect the customer journey and fail to make the messages they send actionable. It’s very important that if the message contains an instruction to do something, it needs to be easy for the customer to follow through with that action. An alert sent to a customer advising them to top up their electricity payment, for example, should include details of the telephone number they will need to dial and even a link to a web app that will allow them to instantly log in and make a payment. This way, you allow the customer to decide which channel they want to use to interact with your business.
Asking customers the same question twice when switching them out of self-service mode If you gather information on a customer through a self-service channel and then have to escalate them to an agent, you need to ensure that agent is made fully aware of who that customer is and what they are trying to do. From the customer’s perspective, there is nothing more frustrating than being asked to answer the same question twice, or provide the same details repeatedly.
What that effectively means is you can’t afford to run your self-service channels as independent silos. You need to coordinate them and bring them altogether seamlessly so that information gathered in one channel is automatically made available in another.
Penalising customers for going down the self-service route – Take the scenario where a customer tries to self-serve for a period of time and then has to talk to an agent. Don’t penalise them and put them to back of the queue just because they have tried to self-serve. Instead, take account of when their interaction first started and how long they have been waiting and use that to bias their call waiting time.
Publish Date: August 22, 2016 5:00 AM
This post originally appeared at Healthcare Facilities Today
As technology advances, contact centers need to keep evolving, especially in terms of being more customer-centric. In every sector, customers seek a more personalized experience, and most contact centers struggle to keep up with rising expectations for service. This is perhaps most evident in the healthcare sector, where the stakes are higher on both sides of the coin than with everyday consumer products.
In this market, the “customer” is usually a patient – or a caregiver or family member – dealing with a health issue, so agents cannot afford to be misinformed. On the provider side, healthcare facilities are highly complex and costly to run, and contact centers have an increasingly important role to play in improving operations by virtue of providing not only great but proactive service.
There are many ways to do that, with the most common being inbound communications where agents respond to inquiries as they come into the contact center. While this is where most resources are focused, there is another mode of engagement that healthcare providers are seeing as having increasing value. Inbound inquiries remain the norm, but are reactive, relying on the patient to initiate the communication. This only addresses one segment of the broader cycle of patient care.
For a variety of reasons, the healthcare sector is moving to a more holistic, patient-centric model where prevention and active management are just as important as providing treatment. One way to support this model is the use of proactive outbound notifications. Rather than respond to any manner of inquiries ranging from urgent to mundane, these notifications are purposeful, with specific outcomes in mind.
Being notifications, they provide a different form of service; rather than solving problems in a reactive manner, they communicate information that’s both timely and relevant to the recipient. Since they are provided on an opt-in basis, the notifications are expected, and when acted upon, will help prevent problems or make the patient’s situation more manageable. This is what makes these notifications a proactive form of customer service. Based on the healthcare provider’s existing knowledge of a patient’s condition, outbound notifications can be a very effective form of service, and ultimately patient care.
This approach to customer service is well aligned with today’s healthcare realities, as it helps patients self-manage their health, along with streamlining the process of providing care. In this regard, both sides of the healthcare equation benefit. Patients and caregivers are kept on schedule for appointments, taking medication, alerted to the need to refill a prescription or come in for follow up tests or consultations, as well as being updated on other important information or events. While this is just one slice of the customer service pie, every notification has a specific purpose, and they all help improve patient care, which should in time translate into higher levels of patient (customer) satisfaction.
For healthcare providers, there are two types of benefits. First is the use of proactive engagement to help patients get the best outcomes possible. Aside from keeping patients healthier, this helps optimize the use of resources that support the healthcare system. When patients adhere to their proscribed care regime, less time is wasted with missed appointments, fewer consultations are needed, and there is less need for patients to visit hospitals.
The second form of benefit comes from making the contact center more strategic. These notifications are largely automated, so they don’t add to the workload of your agents or require adding more agents. Outbound notifications can also be used to connect the patient to preventative care nurses. With “right party connect” campaigns an outbound notification call creates an automated dialog with the contact, verifies that the “right party”, the patient has been reached and then connects them to staff in the contact center who can speak with them about their care. In this case the nurse as an inbound contact center agent need only handle the call when the right party has been reached. When these notifications lead to better patient outcomes, the cost of providing care falls, and a case can be made that this type of customer service improves the overall ROI for the contact center.
To further illustrate, here are some common examples of how healthcare providers can use proactive outbound notifications:
• Sending appointment reminders so patients don’t forget and the provider doesn’t have lost bookings that others in need could be using
• Reminders for patients to take medications so they can stay healthy or get better, which helps reduce the need for going to a healthcare facility later on
• Notices for prescription refills or pickups to keep patients on program and streamline pharmacy operations
• Updates on insurance claims so patients are kept current on their status, and by extension to help maintain continuity in treatment – otherwise, if lapses occur due to financial constraints, their health may deteriorate, triggering more critical and costly forms of care
• Announcements for events or activities that promote overall health, such as seasonal flu shots, blood donor clinics, programs for nutrition, exercise, wellness, etc.
• Reaching out to the patient and connecting them to a nurse or other health care specialist when the notification system verifies the right party, the patient, is available to speak with the nurse.
While the benefits of proactive outbound notifications are clear, most healthcare contact centers lack the capabilities to deliver them effectively. Legacy-based systems have limited integration with patient databases to access the right data in a timely manner, and IT often lacks the expertise and/or resources to manage this. Furthermore, legacy systems can support multichannel communication to some degree, but not enough to meet the preferences of today’s consumer.
Omnichannel represents the next generation of contact center solutions, and proactive outbound notifications serve as just one example where this path brings new capabilities along with business value. The sheer volume of patients and associated notifications that could improve healthcare as well as keep agents in the contact center the most productive is best managed from the cloud, as it provides the scalability, flexibility needed often in the most cost effective way .
The flexibility of the cloud lets the healthcare contact center support all the modes used by patients to communicate, namely email, text/messaging and voice (including automated notifications). For many consumers, being able to use their preferred mode is central to the customer service experience, and their decision to opt-in for these notifications will largely be based on this capability.
Read more about Proactive Outbound Communications in our datasheet.
Publish Date: August 8, 2016 5:00 AM
Enterprises tend to take a silo-based approach to operations, and technology vendors aren’t much different when it comes to their offerings. Unified Communications (UC) evolved out of the PBX market, so not surprisingly, these solutions were telephony-centric. Things have certainly progressed, but today’s UC is still built around the needs of employees as end users of communications applications. Similarly, contact center platforms serve a well-defined set of end users, namely agents and supervisors. These parallel worlds have co-existed nicely for a long time, but as businesses strive to become more customer-centric, there’s good reason to think differently now.
Technology remains a core driver for being competitive, but even more important is the overall vision of the business. Despite all the investments made in the contact center, customer satisfaction levels continue trending downward, and there are two factors to consider here. First, is the fact that most contact centers have legacy-based solutions, and simply cannot keep pace with today’s customer expectations, especially in terms of supporting their communications preferences and resolving issues promptly. Secondly, the business models driving the contact center are built more around operational performance rather than the impact on customer satisfaction and retention. In our global economy, customers have a lot of choice, and there’s little margin for error with your agents.
However, some enterprises are coming around and recognizing they’ll be more successful with a customer-centric vision rather than one only built around cost reduction or operational effectiveness. Internal performance metrics are still important, but what’s really driving business strategy is the enterprise’s ability to understand and meet customer needs. A great validation of this comes from the 2016 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report, produced by Dimension Data. Among the many timely findings, their study shows that 82.5% of companies see the “customer experience” (CX) as a competitive differentiator, and 77.5% see it as their most important strategic performance measure. In terms of outcomes, 77.0% can cite hard cost savings as a result of improved CX.
When businesses think along these lines, building a customer-centric culture is not just about the contact center; it extends to everyone in the organization. Agents may represent the front door of CX for contact center engagement, but increasingly they must rely on data or internal experts from other parts of the organization. This may be at odds with a contact center built on legacy technology and legacy thinking, but the model today is built around the customer journey. Legacy environments simply cannot provide enough support for agents to effectively understand each customer’s journey, and a key reason lies in the silo-based approach cited earlier.
When contact centers look to make upgrades, the legacy approach is to invest in purpose-built, best-of-breed solutions. They want the right technology to streamline their operations and to better measure agent performance. Likewise, when IT decision-makers invest in UC, their focus will be on employee productivity, and not necessarily how that can support the contact center and ultimately improve customer satisfaction. In cases where the legacy mindset is still strong, it’s very possible that decisions for these two types of investments will be made independently, even if occurring at the same time.
Conversely, for enterprises that reflect the Dimension Data findings, the thought process is different. They will recognize distinct needs for each, but to fulfill the vision for being customer-centric, there will also be a strong rationale to extend UC capabilities into the contact center. This is the first step along the path to omnichannel, where there is a tight integration between these two worlds, all in the name of understanding the customer journey. While the realities of deploying omnichannel are complex, enterprises see the ultimate value, which was also reflected in the Dimension Data report. Currently, only 22.4% have omnichannel capability, but in just two short years, that level is expected to rise to 74.6%.
Extending UC into the contact center does present some integration challenges, but there’s clearly a need for enterprises with customer-centric vision, and an opportunity for the vendors. On the UC side, Microsoft’s Skype for Business (SfB) has emerged as a strong leader. Despite being ubiquitous on the desktop, their UC platform – Skype for Business – does not have a native contact center component. While SfB has certified contact center partners, most deployments are UC-only. There’s a significant opportunity here for enterprises that want to remain Microsoft-based to enhance their benefit by including the contact center as part of their UC strategy, and by extension, support the vision of being more customer-centric.
The goal is to provide businesses with a fully integrated, omni-channel solution that seamlessly connects agents with internal employees from across the organization to address customer interactions as efficiently as possible. This capability is simply not possible with legacy models, and true to the omni-channel vision, when you can cross silos to access people and data to keep the customer journey moving along your path, everyone is better off. Agents will have more powerful forms of customer engagement, employees will feel more connected to customers, the organization will become more agile, and management will be closer to realizing their vision for becoming customer-centric.
While businesses can continue to deploy UC and contact center along separate paths, given how the market is evolving, I think the case for “better together” speaks for itself.
As Principal of J Arnold & Associates, Jon is an independent research analyst providing thought leadership and go-to-market counsel with a focus on the business-level impact of disruptive communications technologies. Core areas of expertise include unified communications, cloud services, collaboration, Internet of Things, future of work, contact centers, customer experience, video, VoIP, and social media.
Publish Date: August 2, 2016 5:00 AM
As companies’ omni-channel customer experience demands increase, savvy BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) providers are turning to the cloud to provide flexible and scalable contact center offerings. Aberdeen research found that customers having a wealth of information on competitors and expecting a consistent experience across all channels were the two main concerns keeping Customer Experience Management executives up at night.
These concerns weigh heavily on organizations, especially when it comes to making decisions about their contact centers. Legacy contact centers have fallen out of favor with CEM managers as they recognize that today’s consumers regularly communicate on multiple channels, from different devices and expect flexibility as well as a personalization of their interactions from the businesses they purchase products and services from. This sentiment is becoming especially evident in the contact center outsourcing industry, which has long been known for experiencing greater provider churn than other outsourced business processes. According to research from outsourcing consultancy Everest Group, the churn rate for contact center outsourcers increased from 33% three years ago to 50% in more recent years.
One way BPO providers are addressing the growing dissatisfaction with outsourced contact centers is by turning to the cloud. While there are myriad reasons for a BPO to consider creating cloud-based solutions over traditional, premise solutions, two major reasons are flexibility and scalability. In a CCaaS environment, a BPO can easily remove or add agents and add new features and functions, effectively flexing to meet the changing needs of clients, without consuming IT resources on lengthy projects.
What Aberdeen found in common among businesses that were able to overcome the challenges impacting customer experience programs was their ability to leverage customer data to create a unified view of the customer. This is the first step in creating an omni-channel customer experience, which is defined as enabling the end customer to have a seamless sales or service experience with an agent via call, chat, or email from any device. BPO companies that get omni-channel right are more likely to achieve the ultimate balance of improving the customer experience; increasing revenue, customer retention, and operational excellence; and reducing costs.
Many BPOs find themselves in the predicament of having aging on-premise contact center infrastructure and high client turnover. They need to make much-needed technology refreshes, but multiple, lengthy and expensive upgrades to legacy contact center applications are not viable and short returns on investment are a must. A cloud-based CCaaS application platform is a smart choice that meets these needs with a lower IT resource investment and better long-term TCO. To learn more reasons why CCaaS is smart for BPO’s, read our Whitepaper here.
Publish Date: August 2, 2016 5:00 AM
As we enter the last week of the EU referendum campaign, the overall decision remains on a knife edge – and it’s clear that across the contact centre industry, the choice of whether to stay or leave remains the focus for passionate and heated debate. A snapshot poll of a small sample of senior decision-makers within the UK contact centre industry, which we recently conducted, found a small majority believing a vote to leave the European Union would be positive for the future of the UK contact centre industry.
Key arguments in favour of leaving related to the increased opportunity to reduce the weight of legislation and red tape for businesses, while wresting back autonomy and sovereignty from Brussels. Some of the poll respondents with pro-EU opinions, expressed the view that a Brexit would weaken the UK’s position across the world and that the country would be at the mercy of the will of other EU countries in terms of finalising trade deals.
While our state-of-the-market poll showed a majority of respondents favouring leave, it’s clear that the contact centre industry is as split on this as the country as a whole – and this divergence of opinion is not all that surprising. When you look at Europe it’s a patchwork quilt of many different countries, languages, cultures and ways of dealing with customers. Different-sized companies working in different sectors approach customer experience in different ways. For example, many large mobile phone operators have in country call centres handling interactions in local language with native agents. But then they have extremely large customer bases.
But what about the smaller to mid-size business that’s actively selling in Europe but doesn’t have enough customers and critical mass to warrant an in country contact centre? Step forward the multi-language contact centre of which the UK currently has many.
Closing down the Gateway?
The majority of respondents to the poll also believed that ‘the UK’s position as a one-stop-shop gateway for North American businesses looking to build a strong footprint in Europe’ would not be adversely affected by a leave vote. It’s clear though that despite the scepticism highlighted in our survey about the impact of leaving, the UK’s position at EU’s top table has allowed it to provide a one-stop-shop for many businesses based around the world, particularly in North America, who are looking for a gateway into Europe.
The above argument provides yet further evidence that almost any topic related to the EU remains a bone of contention for the contact centre industry.
Take the issue of regulation, for example. Small businesses often claim to be drowning in a sea of red tape and regulation, which together act as a cost and a drag on doing business. Exiting the EU seems the obvious cure, liberating customer-facing firms from all that red tape. But then the counter-argument is: do they really want to be liberated from it, as a lot of those regulations are around key issues of data security and data privacy and may be crucial to the integrity of business in the contact centre? Added to that, even if the UK came out of European Union, if you were working for a business based in the EU or dealing with a customer based there, you would have to deal with those regulations anyway.
In recent weeks, it has become clear that the referendum debate is raising more questions than answers and that’s increasingly the case as we approach the date of the vote. No matter what the topic of discussion, there are no easy solutions, and while many in the industry will no doubt be celebrating on June 24th, there are likely to also be a significant number drowning their sorrows as the week draws to an end.
Publish Date: June 20, 2016 5:00 AM
Unified communications (UC) solutions are found in nearly every enterprise, and the benefits they provide, including enhanced communication (even at a distance) and improved collaboration within teams and between business units, enable cost savings by reducing travel, and much more. But, one, sometimes overlooked, business case for UC is improving customer engagement.
Nemertes has repeatedly found that integrating unified communications and contact center technology correlates with higher contact center technology success, better operational success, and greater customer satisfaction. Agents are happy to be able to do things like use instant messaging to communicate with peers, supervisors, and other business units to ask questions on the fly without having to place customers on hold or transfer them. Customers receive more personalized, effective, and efficient service; they avoid sitting on hold while agents either scramble to find the right person with the information they need or transfer them around hoping that they eventually find the “right agent.” An effectively integrated UC/contact center strategy ensures that every agent can be that right one for any particular inquiry.
Some organizations even queue UC interactions and use them to expand their multichannel capabilities. For instance, internal helpdesks may allow customers to use instant messaging to submit a support ticket. Others extend screen-sharing or remote control capabilities to guide customers step-by-step through complex scenarios rather than having to talk them through the process.
Despite the potential benefits of integrating UC and contact center, in our 2016 Contact Center Benchmark, Nemertes found only 16% of companies integrating these technologies today. Another 24% are evaluating how to do so in future. If integrating UC and contact center is so beneficial, why are more IT leaders not doing so today? The short answer is often that they didn’t think to do so or didn’t realize it was an option. This is especially true for the 75% of organizations that use different vendors for contact center routing and UC. But, even in this scenario, integration is often still an option, and the benefits to integrating are worth the effort.
For example, Nemertes finds that most companies (63%) use Microsoft Skype for Business (formerly Lync) somewhere in the organization for instant messaging, voice/video chat, and web conferencing. Unlike other large UC vendors (e.g., Avaya, Cisco, etc.), Microsoft does not offer its own contact center solution. So, it’s not entirely surprising that IT leaders don’t immediately think to integrate Skype for Business with contact center; in fact, only 5% have done so. Yet, likely due to the same benefits described above that are not limited to any particular vendor, integrating Skype for Business and contact center correlates to higher contact center operational success and greater customer satisfaction.
Regardless of whether using the same vendor for UC and contact center or different vendors, IT leaders should evaluate the best way to integrate these solutions. Why miss out on the obvious and proven benefits?
Publish Date: June 14, 2016 5:00 AM
Empowered with more choices for energy consumption, consumers are no longer tied to a single regional provider. Recent trend analysis conducted across numerous Aberdeen Group studies shows that the percentage of energy and utility companies citing the need to improve customer satisfaction as a key objective has almost doubled between 2012 and 2015. To prevent an exodus among subscribers, savvy utilities have made customer experience management (CEM) a priority, realizing they need to increase customer loyalty through initiatives aimed at improving customer interactions and expectations.
Most contact centers remain telephony-centric and focused on responding to inbound inquiries. As technology advances and customer expectations heighten, a predominantly inbound engagement model only addresses part of what drives satisfaction, and contact centers need a broader vision to deliver a more complete set of capabilities. This is particularly true for gas and electricity suppliers, as well as other utilities where smart grid and smart home initiatives are enabling two-way communication between energy providers and consumers. Today’s energy consumer is no longer a passive subscriber, and is instead keenly interested in managing their power usage and having more choice in how they interact with their utility.
The path forward for contact centers – utilities and elsewhere – is omni-channel. These capabilities go well beyond the conventional telephony-centric customer service model, and cloud-based omni-channel provides unprecedented flexibility for how utilities engage with customers.
For inbound inquiries, agents can interact via whatever mode the customer prefers – telephone, web chats, messaging, video, etc. A more holistic view of how omni-channel adds value lies in enabling live agents to respond to incoming inquiries along with initiating automated outbound notifications to customers. The latter is a form of proactive customer service, and while many contact centers see the value of doing this, their premise-based systems lack the capability. This is another example of why the cloud-based CCaaS model, Contact Center-as-a-Service, is gaining adoption now.
Delivered from the cloud, today’s outbound communications software applications address this need. Some examples include Service Outages, Maintenance Notifications, and Servicing Reminders.
When executed properly, customers will feel good about actively managing and being informed about their energy usage, household expenses and helping keep the planet green. Aside from this translating into higher levels of customer satisfaction, utilities will find new efficiencies by automating outbound notifications in ways not previously possible and provide better, proactive communications and not just for helping subscribers pay their bills on time.
To learn more about ways to utilize outbound communications in the utility sector and additional advantages to CCaaS, read our article on Energy Central.
Publish Date: May 10, 2016 5:00 AM
Last month I penned a blog on the latest Enghouse ‘Interact’ road show, which rolled across ANZ at the beginning of March. As always, we had some great insights from the customers that joined us on the speaking panel in each city, which included Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington.
This year Enghouse Interactive’s CTO, Alex Black, also joined us during our panel discussions. Alex provided some very interesting perspectives on current contact centre trends and topics, and as is Alex’s way, they tended to be alternative views to the norm.
One of the main topics and phrases in conversations around the contact centres is Omni-Channel, and the growing importance it will play in the future of contact centre communications. Customers are using more channels than ever before, and they expect the businesses they deal with to be ready to engage them in whichever channel or channels they choose.
With the emergence of Multi-Channel, contact centres needed to adapt to accept the new ways customers were choosing to engage them. While it brought challenges, solutions were adapted and staff trained and put into channel-specific teams.
But the way customers are engaging the contact centre is changing again, with them using several channels and swapping between them in the same conversation. Now we are seeing people raising issues on social media, before firing off an email, demanding somebody call them by phone. We are already starting to see Skype video calls being added to the equation too.
Omni-Channel allows the contact centre to ‘join-the-dots’, so the contact centre staff can more easily switch between the channels to match the customer’s needs. However, there is still a situation where we have trained our support staff to be specialists in one (or two) specific channels, but now expect them to be capable of switching between any and all channels when engaging our customers.
However, Alex flags a single incontrovertible problem that we have to understand. The simple fact is that only about 15% of staff have the skills to work across all the channels in an Omni-Channel environment.
Alex was quick to add that this is no slight on contact centre staff. He points out that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and highlighted his own as an example.
Previously in Alex’s career he worked for British Aerospace, where his impressive ability with mathematics was invaluable. He was, quite literally, a rocket scientist. However, Alex highlighted that he is awful with the written word. So bad in fact that he has actually been declared semi-literate. So in a contact centre environment, Alex is not the man for emails comms…
And this is the situation all contact centre managers will face with their staff and the Omni-Channel. Most will be great at one channel, but probably not another. One may be great speaker and excellent at verbal comms, but not the greatest writer, and so a no-go for email.
Equally when looking at written communication, tonally email and social media are very different beasts. So again, a staff member might be suitable for one, but not the other.
As Alex mentioned, on average, 15% of contact centre staff have the capability to work on all channels. Contact centre managers need to identify who these people are. They can make up the core of the Omni-Channel team, who are then supported by channel specialist teams, which you will already have in place.
Of course this all leads back to good reporting and knowledge management. You need to have them in place, so your managers will be able to sift through the data and identify who the ‘15 percenters’ are in your business.
You can then make sure you are making the best use of their unique Omni-Channel strengths, which will ensure the best engagement with your customers, no matter the channel they are using.
As well as the ‘15 percenters’ topic, Alex also gave his thoughts on artificial intelligence and how it will affect business as it becomes more and more prevalent within solutions, both in the contact centre and elsewhere.
Publish Date: April 26, 2016 5:00 AM
Like many other sectors, the contact centre market has been hugely changed by the emergence of cloud. In the last few years, this has become a central part of how many companies conduct their operations, and it’s a trend that’s only set to continue in the coming years.
So what’s next for Cloud Contact Centres? Andy Clune, Vice President for Cloud Solutions, EMEA takes us through some of the things to look our for in the next 5 years.
Easy-to-use Tools to Facilitate Self Administration for Contact Centre Administrators
We increasingly expect to see cloud contact centre platform vendors and the service providers they are working with looking to develop easy-to-use, wizard-driven, tools that can also be delivered via ‘web stores’ to help customers perform standard administrative tasks in the contact centre more quickly and efficiently.
Traditionally, end-user customers have had to rely a little too heavily on their providers to get even the most basic changes made to an IVR menu or simple queue parameter. These new tools will make them more independent and add significant self-administration capabilities. We also expect to see Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) associated with those provisioning components so that service providers can deliver consistently via their own ‘web store’.
We expect to see service providers move towards tools which simplify integration into their tenants’ third party applications over time.
Contact Centres Will Increasingly Demand SIP as Standard
The advantages of SIP are compelling in terms of cost, flexibility and resilience. Businesses that are consolidating their contact centres into the cloud to achieve efficient operations are increasingly going to demand it. And if it’s not available across the locations they operate from, they’ll be tempted to swap providers altogether.
Publishing and Propagation of Knowledge Will Become more Visual
Traditionally, customers have referred to website FAQs or tapped into the knowledge of contact centre agents when they have been looking to source information from businesses. Today, with mobile devices more ubiquitous and contact centre technology more advanced we will see a more visual approach to knowledge propagation.
The growing popularity of smart devices with larger, higher definition displays means we’ll see more and deeper information sourced from back end knowledge systems. Moreover, the use of visual IVR can enable targeted marketing whilst making the provision of business intelligence a more interactive and enjoyable experience for customers.
Publish Date: April 25, 2016 5:00 AM
Customers hate waiting on hold and if the clock ticks away for too long they will quite often abandon the call before they have reached the front of the queue. For a business, long wait and hold times for their customer also means lost sales, bigger service issues and customers who are ready to jump to another provider at a moment’s notice. Here are four tips that will help you reduce call queuing time:
Publish Date: April 8, 2016 5:00 AM
In Britain, we spend an unhealthy amount of time discussing the weather, but the horrendous storms of the past few months have wreaked havoc across the UK and the disastrous consequences are rightly dominating the headlines.
The storms forced many people to abandon their homes and latest estimates suggest that it will be the wettest winter on record. More than 16,000 homes and businesses have been flooded since December and storms continue to rage across Britain.
All this disruption and devastation inevitably impacts on the availability and productivity of contact centre staff, while at the same time driving up inbound call volumes. But fortunately help is at hand in tackling these challenges by utilising cloud-based contact centres to ensure complete continuity for businesses, in three main ways.
First, good cloud solutions deliver a high level of disaster recovery integrally, meaning that clients should not require significant additional cover. For clients with existing onsite customer premises equipment, cloud solutions can also provide reserve back-up disaster recovery protection.
Second, cloud contact centres allow agents to be connected to the technology platform and necessary applications from anywhere that has Internet access. Companies can therefore continue to service the client base – even in a power cut – lessening the impact of what could otherwise have been a disastrous situation, resulting in dropped calls, negative customer experiences and lost revenue.
Third, cloud-based solutions are ideally-suited to supporting homeworkers, enabling organisations to benefit from a pool of agents dispersed across a geographic territory or region that can ‘ramp up’ quickly in the event of one or more facilities going down. Businesses can bring extra staff on line to service the contact centre and its customers and then ‘switch them off again’ when weather conditions improve. Travel-to-work time can be eliminated and, in an emergency, agents can be requested to log on for an hour or so by text message. Homeworking also enables organisations to offer longer opening hours, ideal during emergency situations.
Managing in a Crisis
It is not just bad weather that is driving the uptake of cloud-based contact centre solutions. Problems caused by energy price rises, power cuts, financial scares, or issues particular to a specific business like product recalls highlight the need for organisations to scale and flex (i.e. outsource easily within the cloud) to deal with spikes in calls from worried customers. If a company launching a new product or game onto the market, they will need to scale their customer service, particularly if there are issues with distribution or supply. Indeed, if there is a sudden surge in customers contacting them for whatever reason, they will need to be agile enough to deal with this quickly and efficiently.
In all the above scenarios, using a cloud-based contact centre can offer far-reaching benefits. With a cloud-based model, organisations can use their staff much more flexibly. This is critically important because, at busy times or at times of crisis, companies need to prioritise being accessible and available on request to provide advice and reassurance.
However, it is not enough in itself to simply have high numbers of remote staff available, businesses also need those employees to be knowledgeable about the problem and its resolution.
This is where the latest workforce management solutions come into the equation, helping to make certain that the correct numbers of agents, with the right skills, are available to handle the expected daily, monthly or seasonal changes, but also ensuring that they are available during the spikes in demand, typical of any crisis situation. In this context, workforce management systems can provide much-needed ‘what if’ forecasting, so schedulers can run hypothetical scenarios; work out the likely impact on the business and plan how best to manage it.
Contact Centre Extensions
Cloud-based contact centres help organisations tap into knowledge-based workers who are expert in certain subjects no matter where they are based. Indeed, this kind of cloud capability works especially well for companies that are geographically dispersed. As long as they have a thin client sitting on a cloud-based solution, businesses can ensure that anyone based anywhere in the world on almost any device can be part of the conversation and help customers get the facts and reassurance they need.
Today, most companies have straight-through processes and business systems that allow them to operate economically with an acceptable level of customer service. It is at times of stress and crisis, however, that the service is really put to the test and customer service really needs to shine.
Companies need to focus on learning the lessons and ensure they have a proactive approach in place that enables them to respond to a rapidly evolving crisis and keep customers fully informed at all times – and cloud based contact centres provide the ideal solution.
Publish Date: March 31, 2016 5:00 AM
According to a recent study by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte, about 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerisation over the following 20 years. We are already seeing growing use of robot agents and other forms of automated technology across all areas of business and commerce – and customer contact centres are among the pioneers in this area.
But don’t panic, at least not yet, robots are not good at empathy or negotiating broken processes and non-standard problems, the things that contact centres excel in and deal with every day. Here, we look at the benefits of using robots to engage with customers, while highlighting why there will always be a need for the ‘human touch’.
Ongoing Growth of Computing Power
20 years ago, IBM announced their Deep Blue computer had beaten the then world champion at chess. Fast forward two decades and UK-based company, Deep Mind has created an artificial intelligence computer which can beat the European champion at Go. When you consider that the number of possible player positions in the Chinese game is more than a googol (i.e. 10100) times larger than chess, it highlights the staggering growth of computing power.
Certainly, consumers today are carrying around a huge amount more computing power on their persons than they would have been even just a decade ago. And their spend on technology easily outstrips that of business and governmental organisations. Consumers are increasingly happy to engage over digital tools and apps to take self-service routes to get what they need and cut out complex business-led processes. That’s great news for organisations of course, because self-service represents a very cost-effective and efficient way of providing service to the customer.
Robot agents play an increasingly critical role in this new world of automated digital interaction. Businesses are using them more and more at the front end of the interaction. Unlike their human counterparts, they are consistently reliable and always available. Moreover, they excel at triaging customers; interfacing with self-service applications and intelligently searching for information to help resolve queries quickly. That does not mean, however, that we can expect to see robots taking over the contact centre any time soon.
Smart organisations are not pocketing the financial gain they achieve from robot-driven self-service. Instead, they are re-investing it in higher value customer service, where human agents are key in resolving complex queries or in delivering a more personalised empathetic approach.
Robots in their Place
Robots are empowering self-service but they also empower the human agent, freeing up their time to do the value-add non-routine tasks, dealing with exceptions and offering empathy to high-value customers at what McKinsey calls the ‘moment of truth’, where the consumer has invested emotional energy in the outcome of the problem.
According to Mark Lockyer, Business Development Director, at IP Integration “Customers really want engagement and often it’s a combination of human and robot agents working together that is best placed to provide that engagement. In industries like the travel and insurance sectors, people are looking to contact organisations for advice. They want to speak to human agents in the contact centre but the analytical robot agent can play a critical background role gathering relevant information and presenting it as a single view to the agent at the appropriate time, enabling the agent to service the client quickly and efficiently.”
So what will the contact centre agent of the future look like? It seems likely that we are going to be in a world when we start to see the hand-off between machine and human become cleaner and smarter than before. Already today, if you are in a chat room talking to an organisation, you typically interact with a robot who will escalate your problem to a human agent if they can’t solve it for you. And bear in mind it is not one size fits all. What might work for younger more tech-savvy customers might not for older customers who are used to fixed line phone calls or face-to-face interactions.
There is a balance to be struck. Ultimately, the truth is that while the robots will not be taking over the contact centre any time soon, they are an increasingly valuable asset that contact centres can employ today to drive up the quality of their customer service.
Watch our recent webinar “The Robots are coming” to really find out if the contact centre will be taken over.
Publish Date: March 29, 2016 5:00 AM
This month saw the Enghouse ‘Interact’ road show tour ANZ. As with last year, we held events in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, and then headed across the Tasman for stops in Auckland and Wellington. Each event featured a panel discussion with Enghouse Interactive customers from those cities, as well as our very own rocket scientist, Enghouse Interactive CTO Alex Black.
Alex gave an excellent presentation around the realities of some emerging technologies in the contact centre, including Artificial Intelligence solutions and Omni-Channel. Alex provided some challenging perspectives, which I will be blogging about once the road show has drawn to a close, but today I wanted to share some of the insights given by our customers in each city.
It’s always interesting to hear customers outline their needs. They are varied, and usually more about meeting a specific business challenge than harnessing the latest technology or trend. And that was the case with two of the customers on the road show.
The first stop was in Brisbane and Andrew Williams, Team Leader of Voice Systems for Griffith University, gave us a glimpse into his world. Andrew oversees up to 120 agents across 13 university department contact centres, each with their own queue. With 40,000+ students and 5,000+ staff, the Griffith contact centre teams handle a huge number of calls and enquiries every day.
But if that isn’t enough of a challenge Griffith has a policy to conduct ‘voice only’ engagements. They have call routers in place to ensure students and staff get to the right agents as easily as possible, but once there, it’s 100% voice. No auto greeting, and no voice mail.
It’s an admirable policy, and one I’m sure we’d like to see in place at a few of the contact centres we might call, in regards to our own affairs. But Andrew flags that it is one that might need to change. Not because of cost or time efficiencies, but to meet the demands of some of their customers – the students.
Unlike the older generation, for Millennials voice engagement isn’t the be all and end all. For them, being able to email in a request, and then check for the answer in their own time later, is the preference. It’s a reminder that one size (or in this case channel) does not fit all.
Fast-forward to our guest speaker in Melbourne, Julie Young Customer Service Manager for 7-Eleven, and we have a very similar situation in regards to voice calls, again due to the needs of the customers.
For Julie’s 35-seat team, 7-Eleven’s franchisee’s are in a very unique situation. It is quite often the case for the stores to have a single-person team, who cannot be in the back-office for extended periods of time, and need to remain front-of-store.
Even dashing out to write a quick email is too long to be away from the front desk, so while it is more for necessity than policy, inbound phone calls to the 7-Eleven contact centre is the best route.
However, with the knowledge that franchisees are often one-person teams, 7-Eleven is looking at emerging technology to provide extra support, and hopefully provide solutions to problems before the franchisee even knows it exists.
The Internet of Things (IoT) can play a part here. With more and more devices being connected, 7-Eleven is looking at the ability for fuel pumps, coffee machines and other devices to automatically flag if there is a problem. This way a job can be automatically opened, technicians dispatched, and a call placed to the franchisee letting them know things are already being taken care of, before they even knew.
Across the Tasman in Auckland we were joined by Telnet CTO, Steve Hennerley. Telnet has been in business for over 20 years, and at any one time they have over 300 queues servicing their customers. They have a 200-seat contact centre in Auckland, a new 120-seat facility and 10 smaller 1-30 seat teams and 50 homeworkers to increase their capability, as well as 10 other remote connected site with between 1 and 30 users.
Steve gave a great case study example of scalability, around Telnet’s recent success with the New Zealand Census.
The Census is a massive undertaking, but even more so when you take into account how people tackle it. For a large number it is about filling out the forms the day before they are due, and submitting them at the eleventh hour.
This led to a need to manage 40,000 calls and 6,000 emails, across eight different languages, on a single day. As spikes go that takes some beating.
So what was Telnet’s solution?
They hired out the ballroom in a local hotel, and set up a bespoke 180-seat contact centre for that one day. To put that into perspective, apart from all the phones, computers, desks and agents, it also required over 10 kilometres of fibre to connect it all.
Enghouse played its part, and helped out Telnet with scaling their licences for the event, but of course the real achievement is all Telnet’s.
And lastly in Wellington our guest panellist was Corporate Connect’s General Manager, Sharon Rowell. Corporate Connect have been outsourcing contact centre services since 1998, and has 150 customer service reps to look after their 100+ customers.
Sharon expanded on comments by Alex, and agreed that one of the challenges facing the contact centre is managing multiple channels concurrently. While it is definitely a capability that will continue to increase, it is a simple case that a large percentage of staff are not suitable for all Omni-Channel mediums.
Currently about 50% of Corporate Connect staff are specialists in a single channel, with the other 50% work across several channels. This drops further to 15% in regards to staff who can traverse all channels.
This is where the power of good quality reporting really pays dividends. Corporate Connect monitors staff performance on each channel, and is then able to align the agent’s skills to the channel that is the best fit for them.
This results in the best productivity for Corporate Connect, and also the best service quality for their customers.
The Enghouse Interact road show has come to an end for this year, and undoubtedly we will be doing the rounds again in 2017. I look forward to seeing you there, and sharing more customer insights straight from the horse’s mouth.
Publish Date: March 21, 2016 5:00 AM
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