Fonolo - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
Bloggers conversing about the call center space will often write about how to make an agent’s work-life more enjoyable. They do this because call center agents get the short end of the stick when dealing with difficult individuals – we get that. But what about call center managers? We’re forgetting about the people who are managing those agents and are faced with making difficult decisions every day.
Attention: CONTACT CENTER MANAGERS – This time the article is for you and we’ve made it as enjoyable as possible. Sometimes you just need to laugh at the stresses in your job. Unexpected events occur and call center managers need to make the best out of pretty terrible situations. You’re expected to be a leader, think outside the box, problem solve in a creative manner, keep the customers happy, and save the company money while you’re at it. Good luck – my feeling is that you’ll be bookmarking this page just to get you through those days!
So, here are some humorous memes made just for you.
1. Yes, you have no other choice. The calls and inquiries are coming in regardless of who decided to be sick that day. No call-back system in place makes this situation even more dreadful for inbound calls. Just ask Mark Edelman whose entire center came down with the flu epidemic the first day they started using a call-back solution. Thank goodness something was in place for them!
2. I’m sure all managers are familiar with this complaint. Customers have no sympathy for technical issues. If you’re a telecommunications company, with a technical issue to boot, hopefully you can get some magical help from Willly Wonka, because you’re sure to hear the anger from customers calling in. A few years back, Rogers felt that pain during one of their bigger outages – check out all the people who were roaring on Twitter.
3. If you’re a contact center manager handling call escalation, I’m sure you have trouble understanding how a customer can become so irate. You just need to laugh it off! Being in customer service you have the defined skill of acting pleasant no matter what. Just remember to smile because the customer can undoubtedly hear your facial reactions.
4. King Rafiki knows what it’s all about. It’s certainly not a bad idea to find some peace and relaxation before your day starts. Whether that’s meditating, having your morning coffee, going for a walk, or watching a few minutes of the Lion King – allocating time to yourself is critical to the success of your day.
5. Call center managers are surely nodding their head to this one. Let’s put the jokes aside for a second. Hold time is actually a sensitive topic for the folks here at Fonolo. We get that waiting is inevitable, and although this meme makes a good point, we still think you should think of the alternative.
Think of the same situation in line at a bank. You’re being told that the wait time is 20 minutes, or you have the option to hold your place in line, leave the bank and have a teller come to your house when your turn arrives. Clearly, this in-person option isn’t realistic, but there is a viable option that’s similar and can be offered over the phone. It’s considered virtual queuing.
WAIT, before you say…..
Think about having an easy to add call-back solution that doesn’t interfere with your existing business process, requires less than a week to deploy, and only entails 5 minutes of training? Now I’ve gone on a marketing rant when really the solution speaks for itself – here’s more about how Fonolo works.
Publish Date: June 23, 2016 5:00 AM
Did you know that a typical business only hears from 4% of unhappy customers? That’s an incredibly low number, and might be why you’re sitting there scratching your head, wondering why you’re losing customers (or not attracting any new ones). What’s even more shocking is that of the 96% of customers who don’t report their dissatisfaction, 91% of them won’t ever return to your business. That’s a lot of customer churn, without ever knowing why. However, more and more businesses can blame customer churn on one major issue: poor customer experiences. According to a report by Walker, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator for B2B by 2020. Unfortunately, 80% of contact centers say their current customer service systems won’t meet their future needs. If you haven’t already, now is the time to build and implement a strategy that can improve the customer experience today, and be agile enough for the future.
This infographic reveals 5 exemplary customer experience tactics that can help you rebuild and sustain your business for years to come:
Publish Date: June 22, 2016 5:00 AM
Is your call center still forcing callers to wait on hold? If so, you are missing out on a great opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and reduce call center costs: Deploying a call-back solution.
The basic idea of call-backs (aka “virtual queuing”) has been part of the call center world for decades. But it’s becoming more popular because A) Consumers are less patient and more demanding (See onholdwith.com for proof); and B ) Adding call-backs no longer requires expensive, equipment-based solutions, but instead can be easily added via a cloud-based service (like Fonolo) that works on top of legacy call center platforms.
However, like any technology project, there are pitfalls to avoid. If you’re exploring the idea of adding call-backs, here are some do’s and don’ts to help you.
1) Do Offer Call-Backs at the Right Time in the Queuing Process
The call-back process begins when the caller hears an offer message, something like, “Instead of waiting on hold, you can get a call-back from the next available agent by pressing 1 now.” So when should that offer be presented? This is a key variable in every call-back deployment. It’s usually referred to as the “Time-Till-Offer” (TTO) and is defined as the amount of time a caller spends in queue before hearing a call-back offer.
Changing the TTO will impact how many callers hear the offer. For example, if the average hold time is 2 minutes, but the offer isn’t played until 3 minutes in the queue, most callers won’t hear it.
TTO also impacts the Take-Up Rate, which is the fraction of callers who opt-in after hearing the message. To understand the relationship between these two values, it helps to put yourself in the caller’s mindset: Some people will take an offer that is made immediately, while others will opt to “wait it out”. But after a few minutes on hold, callers are more likely to opt-in, so the Take-Up Rate grows. After a while, this effect flattens out. The chart below is an example of this relationship (but may differ in your situation).
For a real-world example, watch this short video of a Fonolo customer talking about adjusting the TTO in his call center:
When to Offer the Call-Back
Another way to increase Take-Up Rate is to make multiple offers. This is actually the best way to maximize the overall call-back rate. (This is definitely an ability you want in you call-back solution.)
This was just a quick taste of the thinking that goes into the offer message. If you want to go deeper into this topic, a great resource is our eBook, “The ROI of Call-Backs for Your Call Center”. For now, just remember: Changing TTO is an easy “lever” to adjust and has a big impact on the performance of your call-back deployment.
2) Don’t Make Customers Wait a Second Time
When the caller’s turn has arrived at the front of the queue, it’s time for the call-back system to connect the agent and caller. There are two ways to handle this: “agent-wait” or “customer-wait”.
In the agent-wait scenario, the agent is already on the line when the customer answers the call. This is a better experience for the customer, but the agent has to wait while the customers phone rings. Luckily, the idle time is typically 10 seconds or less.
In the customer-wait scenario, the call-back system tries to estimate when the next agent is going to be ready, and calls the customer a few minutes ahead of that time. This maximizes agent efficiency, but it results in a negative experience for the customer. From their perspective, they requested a call-back only to be placed on hold again. If the system incorrectly determines agent availability, then hold time can be long, resulting in a frustrated customer and negating the advantage of having call-backs in the first place!
3) Do Make Call-Backs Available from All Channels
Customer service has completely changed by the addition of new communication channels like email, social media and chat. For a quantitative view on this trend, a great source is Dimension Data’s Global Contact Centre Benchmark. Dimension Data has been asking the same questions, with the same methodology, since 1997 yielding a unique view into the evolution of customer service. Their most recent report shows that 35% of all interactions are now on “digital” (i.e. non-voice) channels. They further predict “digital interactions will overtake voice by the end of 2016”. See the chart below.
Each channel has its strengths, but the voice channel has a place of distinction. We know, at an instinctive level, why a live agent conversation stands apart: When you have a tough issue to discuss, when there is an urgent matter, when the other options have left you frustrated, we want to talk to another human to cut through it all. It’s the final escalation.
Many companies invest heavily in their self-service channels, but then give little thought to what happens when customers reach a dead-end and need to talk to an agent. This is one of the many reasons why call-backs are such an important tool: they allow your callers to escalate smoothly to a voice conversation from any other channel.
To make the most of this ability, your call-back solution needs to have strong multi-channel capabilities, like pre-built components that can be quickly added to your web page or mobile app. Read more here.
4) Don’t Make Callers Repeat Information to Agents
Customers really dislike repeating information they’ve already provided. Even without call-backs, this is sadly still a common occurrence in contact centers. It’s sometimes due to a lack of interoperability between proprietary call center infrastructure, and sometimes the result of outsourcing calls to a third-party call center.
Any context that was established with the caller prior to requesting a call-back should be preserved while the caller is in the virtual queue, and then brought back when the call-back occurs. In other words, your call-back solution should maintain call-attached data.
5) Do Explore Your Options
There are, clearly, many aspects to consider when selecting a call-back system. It’s important to have a vendor you can trust to make sure all the angles are covered.
A logical starting place is whether your existing call center platform has a native call-back option. Many platforms, both on-premise and cloud-based, have at least some form of call-back functionality. Although it’s convenient to have a built-in call-back feature, there are several potential downsides to consider:
- If you change platforms in the future, you will have to start over. (As a bonus: having call-backs in place from a 3rd party during a platform transition is great way to mitigate any hiccups that might occur.)
- If you have a multi-site or multi-platform scenario, you will need to configure each call-back solution separately.
- If you send some of your calls to a BPO/outsourced call center, the call-back strategy won’t extend to those calls.
Call-backs are one of the few call center technologies that are truly win-win: Callers have a more pleasant experience and the call center gets a more efficient operation. If you’re exploring this option today, we are happy to help any time. Sign up for a live demonstration to learn more about how call-backs work.
Publish Date: June 21, 2016 5:00 AM
OCR is defined as the percentage of customers who successfully resolve an inquiry or problem during their first contact using only one channel. A simple way to think about this is ‘one contact – one channel’.
Although FCR and OCR are highly correlated, many call centers who track FCR fail to consider OCR since it factors in whether the customer used another channel to resolve the same inquiry – making it a more difficult metric to measure.
Interestingly, 77% of customers who use two or more contact channels to resolve the same inquiry or problem do so because of a service failure in the first contact channel. For the average call center, an alarming 42% of customers are not able to resolve their inquiry or problem on the initial attempt.
More and more, contact centers are realizing the importance of OCR, but can’t seem to find ways to master this critical metric. Fortunately, we can assist. In this one-hour webinar you’ll learn how to properly deliver, measure, and improve OCR.
Here’s a video snippet from our featured speakers!
Publish Date: June 16, 2016 5:00 AM
If you work in a call center, you know what a challenging environment it really is. Managers are constantly being asked to do “more with less”, while facing increasing call volumes. Meanwhile, there’s tremendous pressure on agents to meet and exceed target metrics – in an extremely high-stress environment. These factors often contribute to an understaffed and overworked call center, which results in long hold times, high call abandonment rates, and a poor customer experience.
In an environment like this, it’s hard to make the case to spend additional dollars to improve efficiency or, for that matter, morale. But as a call center employee, you can make a very powerful case to your boss that offering a call-back option (and thus eliminating hold time) can do just that. So here’s how to convince your boss that your call center needs call-backs.
1. Tell them that call-backs reduce abandon rates.
Call-backs allow people to keep their place in line, without having to be on the phone. That means they’re much less likely to abandon the call. (Not only does this help the call center improve its target metrics, it also improves the experience you offer callers.)
A study from ContactBabel found that 32% of contact centers saw a reduction in abandon rates after introducing call-backs. At Fonolo, we’ve seen it multiple times, including with Technology Credit Union – who experienced a 37% decrease in abandoned calls, and also with Bright Horizons – who saw a 33% reduction.
2. Show them how call-backs improve call center efficiency.
By improving the calling experience – that is, by freeing customers from the pain of hold time – several things happen. Firstly, call-backs improve First Call Resolution (FCR) rates, leading to a more efficient use of agent time and improved caller satisfaction (meaning fewer repeat calls from the same customers).
Secondly, call-backs lower average handle times (AHT). Quite simply, calls are shorter when customers are less annoyed, resulting in greater agent efficiency for the call center.
Finally, call-backs allow companies to smooth call volumes at peak times by deferring calls until volumes are more manageable (i.e. when the call center has extra agent capacity). Rather than hiring additional agents for peak periods (at considerable cost), this allows companies to make greater use of existing resources. (Tell your boss that this is exactly how you do “more with less”.)
3. Teach them that call-backs improve agent morale.
Call-backs not only improve the customer experience, they also improve the agent experience, something every call center (and their HR department) should be concerned about.
At Fonolo, we’ve found that agents love the call-back option. It means that calls are shorter and more pleasant when every conversation can start on a positive note – in this case, the customer receiving a call with an agent already on the line, ready to help them – rather than having to field complaints about long hold times. Put more succinctly, happier callers = happier agents.
When employees are engaged, they’re both more productive and less likely to leave, resulting in increased efficiencies for employers.
Publish Date: June 14, 2016 5:00 AM
Today, the customer experience is arguably the number one determinant of an organization’s success. Aberdeen reports that companies with strong omni-channel strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, as compared to 33% for companies with weak omni-channel strategies. And according to Deloitte, 62% of companies view customer experience delivered by the contact center as a competitive differentiator. There are plenty of numbers we can throw around about the customer experience, but not everyone understands what great customer experiences include, or perhaps, what they don’t include?
Let’s discuss some of the worst advice we’ve been given – or heard others been given – when it comes to the customer experience, and how the numbers prove them wrong.
BAD ADVICE #1
“Improving the customer experience won’t affect your organization’s overall revenue.”
Interesting perspective – but not true in the least. This opinion is probably why only 35% of companies with the least positive CX impact claim to see a link between customer experience and business results, while 73% of companies with the most positive CX impact admit there is a correlation between the two. Basically, companies who understand that the customer experience actually drives results are more likely to see results. Remember: It’s never too late. The first step is admitting there’s a problem, and taking the right steps towards change.
Here are the top reasons why businesses choose to improve the customer experience:
BAD ADVICE #2
“You don’t need around-the-clock customer service to provide a great experience.”
For some small businesses that may be true, but if you are a large company – like an airline or a hotel – your customers will look for you at all hours of the day. In a recent episode of “Hotel Impossible” the front desk at a busy Hawaiian resort was only open from 9 AM to 7 PM, which meant all checks-ins after that time were given written directions to “find” their room key. This is completely unacceptable. People save up their whole lives to travel to exclusive destinations like Hawaii. To travel that far and have to hunt down your own room key sets a terrible first impression, a negative customer experience, and is a poor start to any hospitality driven business.
But 24 hour customer service is not restricted to the hospitality industry. eConsultancy discovered 83% of online shoppers need support to complete a purchase. Can you imagine how many abandoned online shopping carts exist without after-hour support? When we think about it this way it’s easy to see that the cost of implementing around-the-clock customer service is made up by the amount of sales you’ll make in return!
BAD ADVICE #3
“Social media doesn’t help to improve the customer experience.”
That’s really interesting (said in the voice of Regina George)…since 67% of companies believe that social customer service is the most pressing short-term priority for the contact center. It’s important not to get caught being among the other 33% of companies that don’t value social support. And if you can’t take it from us, at least take it from Jeff Bezos, who makes an eye-opening point about how important online customer satisfaction really is;
“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”
Since 46% of millennials “count on social media” when buying online, it’s about time we stop fighting the war against social support and admit that the customer experience can only get better when its utilized – #truestory.
BAD ADVICE #4
“Customers prefer to have someone else do all the work for them.”
Of course restaurant patrons don’t want to prepare their own food (most of the time), but depending on how efficient the customer journey is, consumers really don’t mind starting and finishing a transaction all by themselves. Today, customers actually prefer self-service options over asking for support help. The 2015 Aspect Consumer Experience Survey found that, “73% of consumers want the ability to solve product / service issues on their own; one-third say they’d ‘rather clean a toilet’ than speak with customer service.” And the demand is only growing; 90% of consumers now expect a brand or organization to offer a self-service customer support portal.
But keep in mind that giving customers the option to quickly find live agent assistance when needed, makes the self-service experience even better (check out this website solution for escalating online customers to a phone call).
BAD ADVICE #5
“Call-backs are not a necessity for helping to improve the customer experience.”
Where do people get this stuff?
Customers don’t just want call-backs; they need them to ultimately feel satisfied with their experience. Accenture’s “Global Customer Pulse Research Study” cited that 69% of respondents were “extremely frustrated” when placed on hold for a long time. Moreover, 77% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service. Time is money, and if a company is willing to take both away from a customer, it’s easy to neglect a purchase.
Check out Fonolo’s recent success stories for more examples on how call-backs improve the experience, while lowering costs.
Publish Date: June 8, 2016 5:00 AM
Here’s a simple question: Are contact centers handling more or fewer calls compared to one year ago? How about five years ago?
It seems reasonable to expect that the rise of non-voice channels (self-service, email, chat, social media, etc.) would lead to a decrease in plain old phone calls. Thus the prevailing philosophy is that companies should focus more effort on the new channels, and less on voice. Respected industry analysis firm Dimension Data went so far as to declare a “growing irrelevance of the telephony-centric model” in its latest report.
But the data is actually not conclusive. How can we reconcile that with the philosophy above?
Are New Channels Crowding Out Voice?
Dimension Data’s highly regarded Global Contact Centre Benchmark report is unique because they’ve asked the same questions, with the same methodology, since 1997 yielding a unique view into the evolution of customer service. Their most recent report shows 35% of all interactions are now on “digital” (i.e. non-voice) channels. They further predict “digital interactions will overtake voice by the end of 2016”. See the nested pie chart below.
It was this report that prompted some to start talking about “Voice Shrinkage”, as in this conversation with analyst Sheila McGee-Smith and industry executive Joe Manuele.
However, we should be careful interpreting the data. First, if you’re counting “interactions”, how does one define an interaction? Does each email count as one? Each phone call? In a single phone call, you might be able to resolve multiple issues, whereas several emails may be required to solve a single issue.
Second, a proportional pie chart can be misleading. Let’s say a company started responding to tweets this year and they count 500 interactions. The pie chart will show relative “shrinkage” of voice but, those new tweets may not have displaced a single phone call.
Looking Closer at Call Volume
OK, so let’s ask a plainer question: Are call centers handling more or less voice traffic?
Unfortunately, we don’t have direct data on how many calls are received by call centers. Each company knows how many calls it handled itself, but no one is sharing this information in a central place. (If I’m wrong and anyone has this kind of data, please let me know in the comments!)
In its 2015 report, ContactBabel surveyed 212 call centers and asked, “How do you think inbound channels will change in your contact center in the next 12 months?” When it came to live agent telephone service, 40% said “no major change”, 19% said “somewhat increase” and 29% said “somewhat decrease”. (See image below.) Looking at it another way, about 90% of respondents picked the “none” or “somewhat” options. I wouldn’t place any bets based on such ambivalent results.
Dimension Data’s survey asked more call centers (901) and asked about a 2 year timeline rather than one. Their results were more pro-shrinkage: 42% of call centers expect a decrease in 2 years. However, they don’t say by how much, and they don’t report what the other 58% said. (That info is probably in the main report, but I only had access to the summary. Hey DiData folks – if you want to send me a copy I’d be very appreciative.)
Fewer Calls, But More Important Ones
Both of the surveys omit something very important: call duration. That’s crucial because looking at duration is how we can see what’s really happening with the voice channel.
As self-serve options got more effective (and more popular), easy interactions like confirming a reservation or tracking a package got stripped away from the call center. The interactions that remained were the tougher ones. As analyst Matt Dyer wrote, in response to the thread above:
@McGeeSmith @jmanuele @DiDataCX the voice volumes are shrinking but the voice conversations are becoming more challenging
— Matt Dyer (@MattDDyer) March 15, 2016
As other channels peel away the easier interactions, the calls that do end up in the call center are more complex and contentious. Naturally, this leads to a longer average call duration.
What Exactly Do We Mean by Shrinkage?
It may be true that quantity of phone calls is decreasing. But, if call duration is increasing (driven by higher complexity), then the point may be moot. Well, it’s moot in the only two ways that are meaningful:
1. Cost: The biggest cost for call centers is staff. Fewer but longer calls may mean the same, or even a higher number of agents are needed. It’s the total amount of call handle time that matters. What about telecom costs? Here too, duration matters as much as quantity, since many services are billed on a per-minute basis.
2. Customer Satisfaction: All numbers aside, the voice channel holds a special place as the “ultimate escalation”. It’s the channel that takes all interactions that can’t be handled otherwise. It’s these challenging interactions that become make-or-break moments for a company’s brand.
The Number of People Working as Agents is Increasing
So where does that leave us? If we really want to assess what’s happening with the voice channel, we need both total calls and duration, yet we can’t get real global data on either. There’s another way: If call volumes were decreasing, we’d expect there to be fewer agents employed, right?
Fortunately, this is a number we CAN get, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Looking at the numbers for the occupation “Customer Service Representatives” over the last 5 years shows a steady increase. The number of people holding that title is up 17% over the past 5 years and 27% over the last 15.
Please see some caveats on this below.*
As an aside, we see a similar trend in the UK.
So How Do We Square the Circle?
How do we reconcile the increase in agent employment with the (supposed) decrease in call volume? One answer is the call duration issue, as I discussed above. Another answer: Maybe there are just more interactions overall. The Dimension Data survey says that 74% of call centers expect overall interactions to increase over two years. This makes sense if you consider that more and more commerce is shifting online and away from physical stores.
Maybe what’s happening is that self-serve tools are making consumers more efficient (i.e. fewer interactions needed per person), BUT the migration away from physical stores / bank branches / government offices balances this out, so that the total need for agents is still growing.
One thing is undeniable: there has been a massive shift in how businesses communicate with consumers. That shift is still continuing today, creating an enormous challenge for companies that want to meet the tough and fluid expectations of their customers.
* Caveats on the BLS Numbers
This is admittedly a quick-and-dirty analysis. If someone has better numbers or has done a more thorough job, please let me know and I’ll amend the post. Some obvious caveats:
1) I looked at only one job occupation: “Customer Service Representative” (occupation code 43-4051). This description may include people that are not technically at a call center. There may be other occupations (possibly many?) that also include call center agents. In other words, I don’t know how the BLS occupation codes map onto the traditional definition of a call center agent.
2) This data only covers US employment and so excludes the important interaction with offshore call centers. I’ve read that many positions have been “repatriated” in recent years. If that’s the case, then maybe that accounts for the increase in US positions and TOTAL call center agents have actually gone down.
3) I’m not sure how the BLS handles part-time or contract workers, and many call center jobs fall under those categories.
4) Some of the people in this category might actually be chat agents, rather than phone agents. So perhaps there has been a decrease in agents working purely on the phone, but it’s obscured by agents hired to work the new channels.
5) One should look at these numbers in the context of the overall economy. Unemployment declined steadily over the 5 years shown in the graph, so maybe that accounts for all the growth in agents. But this is way deeper than I want to get … I do have a day job, you know.
Publish Date: June 7, 2016 5:00 AM
Is the call center destined to be just a CRM feature? Or is it the other way around? Which is the cart and which is the horse?
There has always been overlap between CRM and call center systems. For customer service to function correctly both sides need to work closely together. But over the last decade, the line between the two has been increasingly blurred. It now seems safe to say that the CRM vendors will reap the benefit of this blurriness. Let’s see why this is the case and what it means for the big players in our industry.
How Did We Get Here?
A decade ago, the technology for telephony and voice was complicated and obtuse. Building and maintaining call center software was a domain restricted to those with a specialized skillset. Call center folks didn’t need to defend their turf because they had significant technical barriers to rely on, supplemented by the fact that call center platforms were closed, proprietary systems.
Steadily, those barriers have dropped. First, voice switched from analog to digital and then to VoIP which meant that much of the arcane telephony equipment was replaced with standard IP networking gear. Then PCs became powerful enough to do media processing and routing so, again, specialized hardware was taken out of the picture. Next, regulatory changes created a market of telecom resellers that allowed anyone to buy a phone number and – more importantly – use that number for inbound and outbound calling with cheap per-minute rates. Finally, a new breed of companies emerged– now called “CPaaS” for “Communication Platform as a Service” — that made all the basic telephony functions available via web-style APIs.
The CPaaS crowd includes Twilio (now heading for an IPO), Nexmo (recently acquired by Shoretel), Plivo, Plumvoice, Tropo (acquired by Cisco) and Zang (part of Avaya).
The emergence of CPaaS meant that any web developer had the skills to be a telephony developer. In other words, telephony became accessible to a much larger group of people… probably a hundred-fold increase. This, predictably, unleashed a torrent of creative voice-based (and, later, SMS-based) innovation. It was only a matter of time before the barriers surrounding the most complicated voice application (call center) crumbled.
You can list the specific functions that “belong” to a CRM system next to those that “belong” to a call center, and get general agreement throughout the industry. You can see an example in the image below which is adapted from a presentation by Five9.
But today, you’ll find that many CRM systems can do the functions from the call center column and vice versa.
A great example of how these two columns are getting cross pollinated is an offering from Zendesk (a cloud CRM company) called Advanced Voice (built using CPaaS Twilio). More here.
Voice is Now One of Many Channels
The lowering of the tech barrier is only half the story. The other half is that voice has changed from being the only “non-local” channel for customer service, to being just one of a growing constellation of channels: web, social media, email, chat, etc.
As the importance of these non-voice channels grew, there was an open debate. Should a company handle them by extending the call center or by extending the CRM system? The fact that CRM systems like Salesforce were quicker to switch to a cloud approach with open APIs, compared to the slow-moving call centers, meant that CRM won this toss-up. Thus the take-over began.
Who Will be the Leader?
If the center of gravity for customer service technology shifts from call center vendors to CRM vendors, it’s logical to conclude that the latter will win at the expense of the former. And indeed this is being seen in the market today.
Analyst Sheila McGee-Smith wrote in 2014 that “Salesforce and Oracle may eventually be the leaders in the customer experience space — not in the three-to-five year timeframe, but perhaps within ten years.” That prediction appears to be spot-on.
Earlier this year, Salesforce announced “Lightning Voice” which “will empower reps to connect with prospects faster with click-to-call, auto-logging of calls, and call forwarding to take calls from anywhere.” Right now Lightning Voice is limited to outbound, but if it expands to inbound, every call center vendor is under major threat: Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Aspect, Five9, InContact, Interactive Intelligence. (Their combined call center revenue adds up to around $4B annually.) For more on this, see my earlier post, “Salesforce has many fingers in the Call Center Pie”.
We learned this week that the Avaya’s private equity owners, frustrated with falling revenues, are now reported to be looking to sell the company. And Oracle has been rumored, more than once, to be a likely buyer. The subservience of call center to CRM will be a continuing trend for some time.
Publish Date: June 2, 2016 5:00 AM
Last week, Fonolo hosted yet another insightful Google Hangout discussing the hottest topic in the customer service space – chatbots. The glaring question was, is chatbots the new reality or just hype? This fabulous panel of chat experts was on a mission to separate fact from #botmainia fiction. To save you some time, we’ve extracted video snippets showcasing highlights from the discussion.
First, let’s take a quick look at the panel of speakers: Dan Miller, Lead Analyst and Founder at Opus Research, Chris Vieville, Director of Sales and Marketing at SnapEngage, Karl Pawlewicz, Voice of Olark at Olark, Reagan Miller, Vice President Chat Agent Services at 7, and Shai Berger, CEO and Co-Founder at Fonolo.
1. How Should Companies Justify the Cost of Yet Another Customer Service Channel?
Let’s talk about chatbots as a standalone channel for customer service. Consumers voted loudly that “messaging” is their preference for P2P communications, so it’s only logical that B2C will follow in its footsteps. But, we need to remember that there is a cost for companies to add chat capabilities.
Traditionally chat has been sold as a cost-efficiency measure, when compared to phone support, but is that still a valid view in the age of messaging?
Reagan from 24 starts off this topic and discuses if companies should view chat as a cost reducer.
2. What Makes a Messaging Platform Suitable for Customer Service?
The battle between messaging platforms has become a new industry obsession. Like the battle between web browsers a decade ago. How do we judge this fight?
Everyone reports MAUs (monthly active users), but is that the metric that matters for customer service? Or for bot adoption? If not, what metrics are important?
Let’s hear from Karl at Olark as he discusses platform suitability for customer service.
3. Should Companies Worry About Being Dependent on 3rd Party Platforms?
Companies have always had ownership and control over their customer service channels. Whether it was a physical store, a phone system, email, or even web-based live chat – in each case there was some kind of cost paid by the company to set up and use the channel.
This new era is very different. Facebook and the other messaging platforms are offering a channel to customers for free and the trade-off is that you’re sharing the medium with other companies. The problem is that the messaging platform may have an agenda that doesn’t line up with yours.
Let’s hear from Chris at SnapEngage as he dismantles whether companies should caution becoming dependent on 3rd party channels.
4. As Bot Intelligence Evolves, Where Will They Live Within the Ecosystem?
If AI is going to be a part of our chatbot future, where should the intelligence “live”? Should it be part of the messaging platform (i.e. owned by Facebook or WeChat), or should it be owned by the messaging vendor (for example 24-7)?
Dan from Opus Research has a great view of the players in this space. Let’s hear what he has to say about where the AI piece will fit in.
Publish Date: May 31, 2016 5:00 AM
Picture this: Rows upon rows of cubicles, bright fluorescent lights flickering on the ceilings, a host of customer service agents answering calls robotically from frustrated customers. That’s what we normally envision when we think of the contact center. We see it as a cost center rather than a service center.
Now, let’s paint a different picture; one where the call center is used to harness the customer experience and build lasting relationships. Seem impossible? It’s not! Using these seven tips, we can creatively transform your customer service vision and turn your contact center into a haven for great customer experiences.
Tip #1: Identify Pain Points Across the Customer Journey
McKinsey reports that maximizing satisfaction with customer journeys has the potential to not only increase customer satisfaction by 20%, but also to lift revenue by up to 15%, while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20%.
To be successful, look for common issues and trends in customer feedback data. Also, ask customers open-ended questions; this is a true test of what they think of you. For example: “What problems, if any, have you encountered during a recent experience with customer service?” This allows room for details, rather than a simple “yes” or “no” response.
Tip #2: Recognize and React to Patterns in Call Volume
Did you know that 85% of customer churn – due to poor service – is preventable? By forecasting trends in call volume, contact center managers can determine when they need to staff up in order to meet customer demands. However, due to agent absenteeism (which can reach up to 15% on a Monday) and unexpected spikes in volume, it’s wise to have another plan in place.
In this success story, the Credit Union of Colorado deployed call-backs to help manage spikes in call volume and the result was a 40% reduction in abandon rates, even during sudden surges in call volume.
Tip #3: Make the Experience Consistent Across Channels
eConsultancy found that consumers prefer assistance over the following channels: Phone (61%), email (60%), live chat (57%), online knowledge base (51%), “click-to-call” support automation (34%). This goes to show that although there is a preference for phone support, customers are connecting to businesses through multiple communication channels.
In fact, 57% of customers end up switching from web to phone for support, so the ability to seamlessly transition from one channel to another – without having to start over – is integral to maintaining the customer experience.
Decision-making, if you don’t purposefully guide its direction, can lead your company down a path and to a conclusion you didn’t intend.
– Tony Hsieh, Zappos, CEO
Interested in reading more? Download the full eBook below.
Publish Date: May 26, 2016 5:00 AM
Last month, Facebook made an announcement that would allow businesses to automate its customer service through Facebook Messenger. Before long, the twitterverse was abuzz about bots (cue the hashtag #botmania). And it’s no surprise that the conversation has kept its momentum, and likely will, until we see the true effects this technology has on B2C communications.
It raises a number of very important questions like: Will automated customer support eventually replace the 1-800 number? What will happen to the live agent? How will chat providers be affected? These questions had us itching for some answers, so we invited a panel of chat experts to tackle them and more in a one-hour Google Hangout.
Watch this teaser video now to find out what you can expect from this highly anticipated discussion, “Chatbots: New Reality or Just Hype?”, broadcasting live on May 26th at 2 PM ET / 11 AM PT!
Publish Date: May 19, 2016 5:00 AM
The burning questions for the customer service industry today are which channels of communication are currently most relevant, and which will be most relevant down the road. In recent months, the discussion has centered around Facebook Messenger and other messaging channels. Many people are debating whether that platform or any other (Snapchat, Kik, Line, etc) can “win” the B2C communication platform war? (See here, here or here.) The fact that WeChat has seemingly “won” China, and achieved near dominance of for online customer service, adds fuel to this fire. (My take on that: Will the WeChat Model Work in the West?)
Then Facebook opened Messenger to automation, i.e. “Chatbots”, and the fire went supernova. (The role of bots in customer service is the topic of a live online discussion we’re hosting next week with a great panel of experts. Register here to join the Google Hangout. )
Lost in all this glare has been Twitter, which continues to be a powerful – and popular – channel for customers to interact with businesses. This is somewhat puzzling because, on the surface, it’s not really well-suited for this purpose. What’s the secret to Twitters enduring popularity as a customer service channel?
Square Peg in a Round Hole
If you asked anyone in 2008 what impact the newly hatched “micro-blogging” system would have on customer service, you would probably get blank stares. Yet here we are: 43% of the Interbrand 100 companies have dedicated twitter handles for customer service (according to SimplyMeasured).
This success has happened despite many ways in which Twitter is maladapted for customer service:
1. Defaults to a Public Channel
Twitter conversations are public by default. When you want to take your conversation private, you switch to “Direct Messages” (DM’s). But the DM system was designed with person-to-person interactions in mind, so you can only exchange DMs if you’re following the other account and vice versa. This is problematic in the customer service context and leads to awkward exchanges such as this:
(That’s from this deck by Andrew Maher.)
It’s also unintuitive for casual users and leads to situations like this one:
Yikes! I blurred out the users name to avoid embarrassment (and in case he/she didn’t actually delete their account number.)
2. Weak Threading
Twitter conversation threads are easily fractured and mixed up. Twitter tries to connect tweets into a thread based on whether you started the tweet by clicking “Reply” and by looking at who is mentioned in the thread. But their approach isn’t perfect.
One flaw is that for large companies, many agents are sharing the same Twitter handle. Common convention is to distinguish themselves by adding their initials at the end. (Like “^nt” in the tweet above.) But this signal is ignored by Twitter.
Another flaw: If you wrote, for example, “Hey @RogersHelps, my TV died while watching the @raptors game” and Rogers replied, the thread includes the Raptors and their social media team has to decide whether it’s relevant to them or not.
3. No Strong Identity
A major difference between Facebook and Twitter is that the latter goes to great lengths to associate each account with a real person. In contrast, Twitter only cares about the true identity of an account for its most famous users, typically celebrities and politicians. (These accounts get the special “verified account” badge.) The vast majority of Twitter users are unauthenticated. This poses a problem for customer service, because they can’t provide much help until they establish a user’s identity.
In a recent Harvard Business Review essay titled, “Why Facebook Messenger Is a Big Deal for Customer Service”, Joshua Gans (@joshgans) summarizes Twitter’s comparative weakness:
…in my view, Twitter is a shadow of Facebook… you have to go through a song and dance to see if the person at the other end can help. There’s always a sense that social media teams are just there to comfort us or prevent a public outburst.
Twitter’s Trump Card
How does Twitter overcome all of these weaknesses? It has one card that trumps them all: Discoverability.
Consider an average consumer we’ll call Bob. He wants to communicate with a company, but doesn’t know on what channels that company is active. Bob knows some companies respond to SMS, some on Messenger, some have chat features on their website, and some are on Twitter. But Bob has limited patience for exploring all these options. If the first few don’t work, he’ll give up and just dial the phone number.
Twitter, with its public timeline, has a unique advantage. Bob doesn’t have to send a message and then wait to see if there is a reply. On Twitter, a company’s responsiveness (or lack thereof) is readily apparent. This “de-risks” Bob’s search for the right channel. One of Twitter’s weaknesses – it’s public nature – turns out to be a key strength.
For this reason, I predict that Twitter will remain a strong player in the customer service game for years to come.
Publish Date: May 18, 2016 5:00 AM
Last year Fonolo was honored to win “Best Technology Solution Provider” at Call Center Week Excellence, an award that celebrates the most innovative contact center solutions. This year we’re excited to be exhibiting once again at the 17th Annual Call Center Week Conference & Expo, June 27 – July 1, 2016, at The Mirage in Las Vegas.
Here’s your chance to see how Fonolo can help you eliminate hold-time, level out spikes in call volume and reduce abandon rates!
We’re excited to return to CCW, having been recognized by the Call Center Week Excellence Awards as a leader in the industry. This year we look forward to networking with contact center professionals and sharing our client success stories with them. The results we’ve seen over the past year have truly been transformative. Our cloud-based call-back solutions continue to deliver on their promise of reducing abandon rates, lowering costs, and improving the customer experience.
— Shai Berger, CEO, Fonolo
CCW is known as the #1 event for the customer service industry, with over 2000 attendees. The event will feature inspirational stories and action strategies for enhancing customer and employee engagement, and for driving business results. Attendees will discover how to change process journeys, create 1-on-1 experiences, and achieve mass personalization in a digital world.
Conference attendees can learn more about Fonolo’s cloud-based call-back solutions (while having a lot of fun!) by visiting Booth #1100. More information about this event can be found at www.callcenterweek.com. For live updates and insights from the show, follow @fonolo on Twitter.
Publish Date: May 17, 2016 5:00 AM
I think it’s fair to say that the busier you are, the higher the likelihood for error. When you’re managing and juggling more things than normal, mistakes are of course inevitable. Now let’s think about the environment of a call center. You can almost sum it up in one word – volatile. Unexpected peaks in call volume, workforce personnel constantly changing, fluctuations in consumer demands, and the list goes on. The contact center space is in a constant state of change and is expected to keep up every step of the way. But, just like anything else that’s full of activity, errors are bound to occur.
Luckily, these call center mistakes are common throughout the industry. So much so, that we can address them now and try to avoid them in the future. Here are five errors your contact center is making every day.
1. Leaving Customers on Hold
Every call center strives to do the best possible job keeping customers happy. Doing this consistently, and doing it better than the competition, is no small challenge. Yet, many call centers lose customers every day through the simple act of leaving them on hold.
To prevent this from happening, contact centers should consider offering a call-back. Call-backs improve customer satisfaction and make the call center experience more enjoyable. Not only do they positively effect CSat, call-backs also provide concrete ROI for the call center. Check out this eBook for more on that subject.
2.Untimely Twitter Responses
Twitter’s contribution to the contact center plays two roles.
1) It’s a customer service channel all in itself; and
2) It’s a way to complain about the most dominant service channel, which is still the plain ‘ole phone call. (Check out onholdwith.com for Tweeters complaining about hold time.)
According to Search Engine Watch, 70% of surveyed Twitter users expect a response from brands they reach out to, and of those users, 53% want a reply in under an hour. This increases to 72% when they’re issuing a complaint.
The importance of responding to a Tweeter in a timely manner is critical, especially when the tweet is negative. Here are some of the benefits:
- 47% of people recommend the brand on social media
- 43% of people encourage friends and family to buy from that brand
- 42% of people praise the company on social media
To avoid any lag in response times, create alerts for Twitter complaints so they are not missed.
3. Not Realizing Pitfalls When Calculating Metrics
Measuring and improving call center metrics can be a pain point for executives. Your call center operates in a stressful environment where good quality metrics lead to a higher standard of customer service. You may not realize it, but there are common errors when calculating these 4 popular call center metrics: Occupancy Rate, Average Handle Time, Service Levels, and Abandonment Rate.
These numbers drive your budget, the jobs of your agents and, of course, your company’s bottom line, so it’s critical to get them right. Rather than diving into everything here, read the full detailed report for a thorough understanding. You’ll also gain insight into how those pitfalls can be avoided.
4. Not Collecting Customer Feedback
The relationship you have with your customers is key to future success. Are you listening to them and effectively meeting their needs? VoC research is designed to support customer driven change, and in an era where change is ongoing, these programs are essential.
It’s vital that you capture consumer expectations and preferences in order to accurately meet their needs. If you haven’t developed a VoC program, now is the time. According to Forrester, successful VoC programs should support a cycle of four activities: Listen to customer feedback, interpret the resulting data, react to improve the experience, and monitor results. As a profound writer on customer loyalty, Kevin Stritz puts it this way,
Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet.
5. Not Rewarding Agents
There’s little doubt that recognizing a job well done is a great motivator. So do it regularly! It doesn’t need to be an annual trip to Hawaii (though feel free to sign me up for that). Rather, regular acts of public recognition can genuinely improve morale and bring out the competitive spirit in everyone. Unfortunately, many call centers fail to recognize this important topic. They are so focussed on improving metrics that they often neglect their front-line staff.
Luckily, there are many ways to incent and reward employees. Investing the time and effort to develop a strategy that fits your particular environment can pay enormous dividends.
Publish Date: May 12, 2016 5:00 AM
Each year companies lose an estimated $41 billion due to their poor customer service. On top of this, nearly 80% of contact centers say their current customer service systems won’t meet their future needs. At that rate, those estimated losses are destined to increase drastically unless customer service leaders make a change.
It’s okay, we understand, no one is perfect. But it’s time to shed some light on those common customer service shortcomings (without any judgment, of course). Today, we’re exploring five true confessions of contact center and customer service professionals in hopes of aiding them and others on their quest to improve and eliminate these pitfalls for good.
True Confession #1: “Our customers wait on hold far too long…”
75% of customers believe it takes too long to reach a live agent and 25% switch because they are tired of being kept on hold. Yet there’s a simple solution to giving customers their time back and to elevate stress on your call center agents: call-backs. Call-backs help to even out spikes in call volume, lower abandon rates, and can even lower your telco bills. Unfortunately, many contact centers fail to provide this effective solution to their customers. Why? There’s a host of logical reasons I’m sure but the customer experience has become far too valuable to avoid implementation any longer.
Surprisingly, deploying call-backs can actually be a painless experience, just ask, Mark Edelman, former VP of Digital Member Services at Stanford Credit Union. After deploying Fonolo’s In-Call Rescue solution SCU was able to decrease abandonment rates by 50% and saved $60,000 in the process.
True Confession #2: “Our customers can’t switch from live chat to voice…”
57% of customers end up having to switch from web to phone. When a conversation on chat becomes too complex, it’s important that customer service teams recognize this and are equipped to escalate to a voice conversation. However, if an agent has to tell a customer to call a generic 1-800 line to complete the interaction, we have a problem. Agents should be able to easily escalate the conversation while preserving the context (so that the customer doesn’t have to start over again).
Conveniently, Fonolo announced its “Voice-to-Chat” feature leading up to the ICMI Contact Center Expo which is happening right now!
True Confession #3: “We can’t send SMS alerts when a customer is waiting…”
I mean, technically you CAN, but you just haven’t deployed the right solution…yet. Mobile alerts have become increasingly important in a world that is nearly 2/3 mobile savvy. Today, 77% of consumers with texting capabilities aged 18-34 are likely to have a positive perception of a company that offers text capability. Contact centers using Fonolo can use “SMS Alerts” to notify customers of the progress of their call after they’ve requested a call-back.
It’s easy to lose a customer’s attention when hold times are long, but this solution can reduce the frustration by remaining transparent while keeping you and the customer connected.
True Confession #4: “We don’t offer any self-service options…”
Self-service can make your call center a smoother, better-oiled machine, and the demand for it is overwhelming. According to Zendesk, 91% of customers would take advantage of a knowledge base resource if it met their needs. Basically, your customers are telling you that they want to figure it out for themselves, so why not let them? Adding a self-service portal can also change the perception of your brand. In fact, 60% of consumers view a brand with a mobile-responsive self-service option more favorably than one that doesn’t.
By adding a self-service customer portal you not only improve the customer experience, but you help lower call volume, allowing your staff to handle customer care issues with more time and precision. It’s truly a win-win.
True Confession #5: “We don’t provide support through our mobile app…”
85% of people prefer using native mobile apps to websites, so why not provide support through your customers preferred channel? The number of inbound customer service requests via mobile app will increase by 38% in the next year. Fonolo’s “Mobile Rescue” offers companies a solution that allows mobile customers to automatically navigate the IVR, request a call-back, and get connected to live assistance. Your “Contact Us” page is now a one-tap portal to customer support.
So, maybe it’s time to stop confessing and start addressing how your contact center can benefit from cloud-based, turn-key solutions and make your customer service “future ready”.
Publish Date: May 11, 2016 5:00 AM