Fonolo - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog Page 4
The impact of AI on the call center is a red hot topic these days. Unfortunately, a TON of the writing out there is not helpful and sometimes even misleading. I’m not just talking about sloppy blogs, either. Some of the worst offenders are top publications. (I’m going to take the high road and not link to any of them here.)
A big part of the problem is the confusing interplay between the “AI”, “chat”, and “bot” topics. All three rose to prominence – each for separate, valid reasons – contemporaneously. Vendors are certainly not helping with vague marketing and product announcements that are sometimes a tossed salad of buzz words.
All this gets thrown into the cognitive meat grinder and what comes out is: “Soon Call Centers Won’t Need Agents!” Clearly there’s a lot of messy thinking, but it can be hard to figure out where the break-down is happening. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to share with you two guiding principles that help me cut through the noise. Hopefully you find them helpful too.
Containment vs. Coverage
Starting from first principles: Every company has a set of customer-facing transactions, a fraction of them are “self-servable” and the rest require a human. That fraction is growing, but there are constraints that keep it from 100%. (See Will We Always Need Call Centers?) We can call this the self-service “coverage”.
The “self-servable” transactions can be made available via one or more self-serve channels: Web form, IVR, email, chat, etc. Each transaction has a “success rate”, aka “containment rate”, that is some number less than 100%. The non-contained transactions also need a human.
So putting it together, the transactions where humans are needed result from two situations:
- The transaction is not possible via self-service
- The self-serve process failed
In other words, if you want to reduce the number of human interactions, you have to increase coverage (i.e. take humans out of processes that previously needed them), OR increase containment (i.e. make self-serve processes more likely to succeed).
GUIDING PRINCIPLE #1: If someone says AI will replace customer service agents you must ask: Is that due to an increase in self-serve coverage or containment? THOSE ARE THE ONLY TWO MECHANISMS. If you can’t answer that question, stop right there.
Generally, increasing coverage is the harder problem. You have to ask yourself, Why is this transaction not currently a candidate for self-serve? Given the huge cost savings of self-serve, most of the “low hanging fruit” has already been converted. The transactions that are left may be too complicated, too nuanced, or too sensitive to be good candidates for self-serve. AI isn’t likely to help here.
Another situation is there may be a “long-tail” of transactions where each is too rare to merit the effort to make it self-servable. AI isn’t likely to help here either.
On the other hand, increasing the containment rate of existing self-serve transactions is a place where AI is more likely to win. It can do this by funnelling loosely-phrased questions into established procedures, or by predictively filling in information, or by skipping unnecessary steps in a transaction.
However, true success stories are rare so far. Today what companies and vendors report, if they report anything quantitative AT ALL, is how many conversations or interactions their AI system is processing. What I’m looking for is a company to say, “AI increased the containment rate of our flight-booking process by 10%”. Until we see data like that, it’s still the pre-game show. (See Bots Haven’t Truly Arrived Until We See Containment Stats.)
AI-Improvements are Venue Agnostic
Whatever improvement AI brings, it can generally be applied to any self-serve venue. If you’ve developed a way to interpret, say, plain English requests for an airline ticket into actionable purchase (a very hard problem, by the way), there’s no reason you would apply this in your chat system and not make it available via your voice-interface too.
GUIDING PRINCIPLE #2: Don’t confuse discussions about AI with discussions about self-service channels. Both are interesting but ORTHOGONAL to each other.
That is, the decision of which self-serve channels are popular is unrelated to what’s going on with AI. That doesn’t mean that self-service channels aren’t fascinating. Quite the contrary! There are technology angles, e.g. vastly improved voice recognition. There are sociological angles, e.g. millions of people welcoming an always-listening device like Echo into their homes. There’s the clash-of-the-titans angle, e.g. Siri vs. Alexa vs. Cortana. There’s the generational angle: young’uns prefer text-based chat to phone calls. And more… all fascinating stuff!
But, again, the venue on which the self-serve happens is separate from whether, and how-much, AI can make that self-serve better. When you’re reading an article ask yourself, Is this really about AI or the venue?
Publish Date: June 20, 2017 5:00 AM
You’re fighting a pounding headache, your long commute to work is completely mind numbing, and your hot coffee just took a spill all over your new white outfit – let’s face it, you’re having a bad day. Sometimes the best thing to do on these terribly consuming days is to simply laugh it off. I know it can be tough to plaster a smile across your face when you’re feeling less than chipper, but we all know that smiling feels really good! Endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face, which makes your body relax, and can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. So let’s take the time to smile, especially today, as we observe National Smile Power Day 🙂
Nobody knows who came up with the idea of dedicating a whole 24 hours to this day, but one thing is certain: you can always find a good reason to smile. Smile Power Day is the perfect excuse to shine your pearly whites and show off those dimples.
How Smiling Can Improve the Customer Experience
As a call center professional, you know how powerful smiling is. Whether you’re a manager or an agent, you should go into every interaction with a smile and an optimistic attitude.
Sometimes agents really need to focus on having a positive outlook, especially on days when they’re dealing with irate callers. Smiling structurally changes the way the noises come from your mouth, making them sound slightly cheerier. This is why a smiling call center agent can positively shape the customer experience. If the caller senses that you have a positive outlook on the situation, they will likely feel less stressed and are more likely to respond in a similar fashion. Smiles can have a contagious two-way effect - it’s not Smile Power Day unless you can put a smile on someone else’s face too.
There are also ways for managers to help agents stay more positive. Rather than telling them to smile, why not implement a way to encourage the smile. You can print out oversized pictures with funny animals and have agents place them at their desks. They can pick a picture that resonates with them, and at times when they need a little friendly encouragement, they’ll have a silly animal to turn to; this is sure to keep them grinning from ear to ear.
How to Observe National Smile Power Day
Every time you smile you throw a little party in your brain, so challenge yourself to smile more often today. You can smile to disarm a tense situation, or simply smile during your daily routine.
Use #SmilePowerDay on social media to capture your feel-good day, and even share a smiley-selfie.
Publish Date: June 15, 2017 5:00 AM
If you’ve chosen a career as a contact center manager, it won’t take long to realize how demanding the job is. It takes someone with many special qualities to succeed in this line of work. We’ve spoken to our fair share of call center managers, and we’ve noticed that many of the shining stars share a variety of common attributes. That’s why we’ve developed this handy dandy anatomy chart to highlight the characteristics needed to successfully handle this role.
Like the saying goes, “Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” In the case of a great call center manager, many of them fall somewhere in the middle, and have honed their skills overtime. So, don’t feel disheartened if you’re lacking a particular quality; with experience and gained wisdom, you can reach your full managerial potential.
Here’s a look at the anatomy of a successful contact center manager:
Publish Date: June 14, 2017 5:00 AM
Were you glued to last week’s Comey testimony like I was? The Fired FBI Director had some great phrases that are already appearing on t-shirts. My favorite was the use of “fuzz” to describe uncertainty. I said to myself, “Lordy, I gotta work that into my next blog post.” Luckily, my weekend reading pointed naturally to an appropriate topic.
The evolution of contact centers from premise-based to the cloud has been covered many times here. I’ve often described it as an “inevitable migration”. Turns out there are dissenting views on the inevitability part. Furthermore, vendors are finding ways to blend the best of both worlds. There is, indeed, some “fuzz” around what is and isn’t cloud.
It’s been about a year since our last Call Center Cloudification Update. The trends and driving forces listed there are still in play. For some recent numbers, see Aberdeen’s State of the Cloud Call Center 2017. (They have a great statistic in there that on-premises contact centers are 31% more likely than cloud contact centers to experience data security issues. That’s a good one to pull out next time someone argues against cloud based on security!)
Many other stats point to continued migration of call centers from premise to cloud. But analyst Blair Pleasant wrote a dissenting opinion regarding cloud call centers:
“…even as the cloud communications market continues its strong growth, and cloud deployments soon overtake premises-based solutions, I believe vendors will still need to provide premises-based options for customers.” (Emphasis mine.)
Pleasant continues: “The more businesses I speak with, the more I’m convinced that while the cloud will be the sole answer for many, many organizations, others will take a middle ground.” Hmm… what is this “middle ground”? Sounds “fuzzy”, doesn’t it?
There are a few ways a company could take such an approach. For example, the CIC product from Interactive Intelligence uses on-premise hardware for routing voice, but the rest of the platform is remote, in the InIn data center. This was a model that yielded amazing results for the company over the last 5 years. (And led to their lucrative acquisition by Genesys.) It’s now being sunset in favor of their new platform “PureVoice”, which is a 100% cloud product.
Another example of middle ground is something we do at Fonolo with our call-back solution. It’s called our “hybrid” deployment option. Normally, Fonolo integrates with the call center by routing calls to our cloud for further handling. This means voice data must traverse the internet. For some companies this is a “deal killer”… too much regulatory or compliance risk.
Instead, companies can put a Fonolo appliance next to their call center. The appliance will route voice calls, so no audio will have to flow back to Fonolo. Logic and control is still coming from our central servers, so Fonolo still behaves like a cloud service. It’s still priced like a cloud service too, which for many people is the primary appeal.
Not Cloud, But Priced Like it
Whether you call it cloud-style pricing or SaaS pricing or OpEx pricing (accountant jargon for “operating expense”), companies are in love with the idea of replacing upfront costs with ongoing usage billing. That desire is so powerful, in fact, that vendors are now offering this in completely non-cloud contexts.
Analyst Sandra Gustavsen shared some great examples of this phenomenon in Simplifying the On-Prem Payment Model.
…traditional telephony equipment vendors are looking at ways to simplify the buying process … for an on-site installation. They recognize the appeal of subscription-based pricing and are introducing new payment models that apply to both cloud and premises deployments… [they] are already offering subscription-based pricing for their premises-based telephony systems similar to the recurring, OPEX payment models of their cloud-based UC alternatives. We can expect to see more of this as 2017 unfolds.
Room for Both
For many years, call center lagged behind other parts of enterprise IT in embracing the cloud. But now it’s making up for lost time! It’s a safe bet that cloud deployments will continue to grow in number and size throughout the industry.
I used to think that, eventually, the on-premise call center was going to go the way of the dinosaurs. But I see now a future for them, in certain niches, and retrofitted with cloud-style features, and pricing. If they listen to the market, vendors may still have years of lucrative sales for their on-premise products.
Publish Date: June 13, 2017 5:00 AM
The objective for this year’s CCW Conference & Expo is to strengthen the contact center’s foundation for future transformation. As innovation in the call center space grows and customer expectations increase, this is a mission Fonolo can get behind. That’s why we’re excited to be exhibiting once again at the 18th Annual Call Center Week Conference & Expo, June 26 – June 30, 2017, at The Mirage in Las Vegas.
The CCW Conference and Expo will empower leaders to test, learn and try the next big thing in customer experience optimization. Here’s your chance to see how Fonolo can help you smooth out spikes in call volume, eliminate hold-time, and reduce abandon rates!
This year’s theme is very important to us, and we look forward to helping professionals understand how our cloud-based call-back technology fits into the contact center’s framework by improving the customer experience and lowering costs.
— Shai Berger, CEO, Fonolo
CCW is known as the #1 event for the customer service industry, with over 2000 attendees and 150 expert speakers. The event will feature inspirational stories and action strategies for creating a winning culture, developing a customer-centric company, and modernizing agent training. Attendees will discover the latest and greatest in contact center innovations, from over 200 sponsors and exhibitors, in order to set themselves up for success.
Catch up with Fonolo!
Conference attendees can learn more about Fonolo’s cloud-based call-back solutions (while having a lot of fun!) by visiting Booth #706. 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: June 7, 2017 5:00 AM
Last week, Fonolo hosted a very insightful and engaging Google Hangout discussing the secrets behind a successful customer service culture. This fabulous panel of experts discussed how call centers can create a culture of collaboration. 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: Nancy Porte from Verint, Adam Toporek from CTS Service Solutions, Jeff Doran from CCEOC Inc., Shai Berger from Fonolo, and Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™.
What are Tips and Strategies to Execute a Strong Culture?
A Gallup report shows that 63% of employees are not engaged, and 87% lack motivation and are unhappy. Having a strong cultural narrative impacts agent engagement.
Listen to the panel as they discuss the tips and strategies that can help managers execute a strong company culture.
How to Hire and Train Agents to be Customer-Centric?
According to Econsultancy, customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable. But as we’ve recently seen with brands like United Airlines, companies often fail to carry-out an effective customer-oriented culture, ultimately taking a negative effect on the customer experience. To lay the foundation, organizations need to focus on their front-line staff.
Listen to the panel as they discuss how contact centers can hire and train agents to be customer-centric.
How Can Technology Help to Achieve a Successful Culture?
Having the right technology is no longer just a nice-to-have, but an integral part of creating an innovative customer experience and a more effective service delivery.
So, how can technology help to achieve a successful company culture? Listen to the panel as they discuss.
Bonus Question: How Do You Maintain a Customer-Centric Culture in a Sales-Oriented Company?
One of our audience members asked a very important question. How can a manager maintain a positive culture in a revenue driven environment, where customer service agents often feel the pressure? Listen to the panel as they address this question.
Publish Date: June 6, 2017 5:00 AM
Running a call center is no easy task, they follow strict KPIs, often operate on a low budget, and are highly susceptible to public scrutiny if their services are not up to par. However, even with a recipe that’s hard for many to master, some contact centers have discovered the perfect ingredients and should be praised for their success. We often commend businesses like Zappos or Publix, who have historically outperformed their competitors when it comes to customer service. This month though, I’d like to give a mighty high five to USAA, a Texas-based financial services firm helping people and families that serve, or served, in the United States military.
The company’s innovative approach to technology, and embracing of a multi-channel environment, has helped them deliver an outstanding customer experience. Its 1.9 million members enjoy: a fully functional mobile app, an innovative fraud alert system, messaging bots powered by natural language processing and machine learning technology, the ability to track and receive updates on insurance claims, and an unprecedented contact center experience (which hopefully includes a call-back solution).
USAA’s customer experience success is certainly a reflection of the way they harnesses technology, and their good deeds have not gone unnoticed. They placed first in Temkin’s 2016 Trust Ratings and Web Experience Ratings, Forrester’s US 2016 Customer Experience Index, KPMG Nunwood’s US Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) rankings (for the second consecutive year), and they’re a top-ranked company in Net Promoter Index of Customer Loyalty, winning in each of their categories for six straight years.
Congratulations to USAA for your continued success. We only hope other contact centers follow in your footsteps!
Publish Date: June 1, 2017 5:00 AM
Monday: It’s the start of a new week and everyone is back to reality, trying to check everything off their “To-Do” lists. The problem? Mondays are notorious for high agent absenteeism. Whether it’s falling ill or just wanting to extend the weekend, being understaffed on Monday’s is commonplace in the contact center world. This, coupled with high call volume, can create a major meltdown for any call center.
However, there is a rather simple solution that can help smooth out those dreaded spikes in call volume, while making life easier for those agents who showed up to work.
You’re probably thinking, “Tell me, what is this mysterious solution you speak of?!”
Well, it’s call-backs, of course.
By adding call-backs to your contact center strategy, spikes in call volume can be a thing of the past, even on the most understaffed days.
How does it work you ask? Here’s a visual representation of how call-backs can help eliminate spikes in call volume:
When agents can’t keep up with calls, the Average Speed to Answer (ASA) grows. That drives up the abandonment rate, as callers get tired of waiting on hold. Long wait times also lead to frustrated customers who then take out their anger on agents, raising average handle time and lowering agent morale. So if you’re experiencing a spike in call volume, you can use call-backs to defer those calls to a later time when call volume is expected drop. The basic effect is “smoothing out” the call traffic.
It’s important to make the distinction between regular (or “ASAP”) call-backs and scheduled call-backs. Traditionally, with call-backs, the customer’s place in line is held and they are called when their turn arrives. Another name for this is “virtual queuing” because the caller is waiting in the queue via a virtual place holder. This approach yields the advantages of decreased abandonment, shorter handle times and lower telco costs, but it does not get us the traffic reshaping advantage we want. That’s because just replacing queue time with virtual queue time doesn’t change the burden on the call center. To do that you need scheduled call-backs, whereby customers are offered carefully selected time slots in the future for their call-back.
Take a look at the charts below. The call volume between 10:00 AM -1:00 PM is significantly higher than any other times. Therefore, the excess call volume can be spread across a time frame where there is little to no wait time, in this case it’s 2:00 PM - 4:30 PM. This helps to achieve the desired “smoothed out” call volume, and gives agents and the contact center peace of mind.
Don’t let Mondays stress you out, instead, let call-backs make the most out of your agents, improve ASA (Average Speed to Answer), and eliminate hold time for callers.
Publish Date: May 31, 2017 5:00 AM
Call centers are under a lot of pressure to deliver on consumer expectations while keeping costs contained. That central challenge was there even before social media, chat, and email showed up to complicate matters. Those alternate channels have taken some pressure off of voice calls, but the flip side of that is that the calls that do end up with an agent require more time and effort. As a result, many companies still have long wait times to speak to an agent. If you don’t have the budget to staff up, another option you should consider is call-backs.
Simply put, replacing hold-time with a call-back is the closest thing to a “magic bullet” that you’ll find in the call center world. Call-backs make callers happier, and agents more efficient!
Watch Out for Brand Damage!
When it comes to consumer patience, the fuse is really short these days, especially if you put someone on hold. If hold times creep over the 5 minute mark, your social media timeline will start to show angry tweets. (You might want to look up your company on OnHoldWith.com? It might be an unpleasant surprise.)
Surveys regarding customer service complaints consistently show that “waiting on hold” is at the top of the list. Obviously, eliminating something the causes dissatisfaction, will lead to increased satisfaction. However you measure client happiness – NPS, repeat visits, repeat purchases – you are certain to see an improvement when call-backs are in place.
The “Other” Reasons to Add Call-backs
For some people, the improvement in customer satisfaction is reason enough to justify adding call-backs to your contact center. If that doesn’t get you “off the fence”, here are 3 more reasons to consider:
1) Reducing Abandon Rates
As hold times get longer, a larger fraction of callers will abandon, i.e. hang-up. An abandoned call can then become a repeat call (further straining the call center system) and, of course, a dissatisfied customer.
Call-backs reduce abandonment because, even if the total wait time is the same, a customer who has opted for a call-back is very unlikely to abandon. (Our own numbers show a 98% reconnection rate.)
2) Lower Cost
Call-backs can reduce contact center costs! When a caller is waiting on hold, there is a phone line being kept open, with per-minute telco costs accumulating. If that call is turned into a call-back, the line doesn’t have to be active until the agent is available.
3) Smoothing Out Spikes
Most call centers have some type of call volume spike. Some are predictable based on time-of-day or day-of-week. Some are unpredictable because they result from an external event, e.g. the network is down, a product got recalled, or a special promotion launched.
Spikes present a real challenge: If you staff to the peak volume, you will have excess agent capacity at other times. Call-backs also help “smooth-out” spikes in call volume by deferring calls (in a customer-friendly manner) till a time when there is excess agent capacity.
For more details on these reasons see:
- 3 Secrets to Successful Call-Backs
- The Do’s and Don’ts for Implementing Call-Backs in the Contact Center
- 7 Signs Your Call Center Needs a Call-Back Solution
Fonolo’s Approach to Call-Backs
Until recently, adding call-backs to your call center required installing hardware or software offered by the vendor of the call-center system. For example, Avaya sells CallBack Assist for its platform and Cisco sells Courtesy Callback for its platform.
Fonolo’s innovation was to make it easy to add call-back functionality to any existing call center by pursuing a cloud-based platform-agnostic approach.
We make it simple to use, but a lot of work “under the hood” is required to make that possible. Some of that work is spelled out in our many patents on the topic.
For more details on picking a solution, see “Make Call-Backs a Priority”. That post includes 6 key questions that you should ask your vendor before deciding.
What if Your Platform has a Call-Back Option?
Many platforms have at least some form of call-back functionality. If your platform has this option, use it! By all means, you should experiment with call-backs, especially if there is no added cost.
But even in the case where there is a free option, the Fonolo approach has advantages. It’s tempting to just go with the built-in back feature, but 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.
- If you’re looking for a feature rich product with intelligent reporting features, turning on a module in your current platform likely won’t provide that.
By replacing hold-time with a call-back, your callers get a more pleasant experience and the call center gets a more efficient operation. It’s a rare “win-win” for your customer service operation. Sign up for a live demonstration to learn more.
Publish Date: May 30, 2017 5:00 AM
Ok, we get it; the job of a call center agent can be super stressful. You’re constantly dealing with customer rage, and as much as you try to fix the problem, sometimes it feels like customers are never really happy. On top of that, you’re pushing to keep up with strict KPIs (i.e. shorter handle times), and quite frankly, the stress of it all can be overwhelming.
It’s tough, we know, so today let’s add some laughter to your life. Everyone knows that laughing makes you feel good and puts you in high spirits, which is great for office morale! Plus, a good laugh can be compared to a mild workout, as it exercises the muscles, gets the blood flowing, and decreases stress hormones – stimulating more productivity throughout the work day.
So, here are 5 videos that are sure to give you a good chuckle:
Those Darn TPS Reports
If you’ve ever had more than one boss to report to, you may be able to relate to this one:
If Call Center Employees Were Honest
This video is sure to make call center agents laugh, and maybe even get a reaction from customers:
Golf, and The Workplace?
Well, sometimes you just need a break from the office…
Just for Your Wednesday
Need I say more?
Whether You’re B2B, B2C, C2C, or Even A??
Check out this viral video that puts a creative spin on all those elaborate buzz words used in business banter:
Publish Date: May 25, 2017 5:00 AM
Today is “National Scavenger Hunt Day”, a day created to enjoy the good ol’ fashioned fun of a scavenger hunt. The first documented scavenger hunt was organized by gossip columnist, songwriter, and professional hostess, Elsa Maxwell (May 24, 1883 – November, 1963), as a party game. Her birthday now marks its origin. For those who have never played before, a scavenger hunt is a game where teams hunt for a list of random items, each item may have a riddle indicating its whereabouts. The first team to successfully find each item on the list wins.
This is also a great game to use as a team building exercise in your call center. It allows agents to engage with one another and work together to successfully complete a mutual task. It’s also a great way to boost office morale.
Here’s a mock list of items that you can find around your call center to set the scavenger hunt in motion:
- Stress ball
- Coffee mug
- Post it notes
- Water bottle
- Garbage can
- Paper weight
- Paper clips
- Business cards
- Framed picture
- Lunch bag
Most of your agents will have 99% of the items already at their desks. A good way to spice things up is to hide each of the items and include riddles or clues to indicate where it can be found. For example, if you hide a headset in a bathroom stall you can include a riddle like: “It’s not where you talk, it’s where you tinkle.” The team who checks off the most items on the list, after a designated amount of time, wins.
Another way to organize a call center scavenger hunt is to have teams complete a list of tasks rather than collecting items. For example, create a list of work-related actions for call center agents to complete. This will require a little more management and preparation on your side, but it’s a great way to make training more fun.
Here’s a list of actions we’ve created:
- Respond to a customer e-mail inquiry
- Resolve a live chat inquiry
- Close a ticket through “First Call Resolution”
- Address a complaint via social media
- Report an internal problem with IT
- Fill in a new client form
- Escalate a conversation from web to phone
- Organize a messy workflow
- Transfer a call to the correct department
- Create an efficient workspace
Teams can brainstorm and collaborate about the best ways to complete each task. The winners will be evaluated on both speed and quality of the tasks completed.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Publish Date: May 24, 2017 5:00 AM
At the I/O Conference this week, Google unveiled major improvements to its Google Home voice-based assistant. This is, of course, their response to Amazon Echo, which has proven to be a mega-hit consumer device. They also recently announced the availability of the Google Assistant on iPhone, taking aim at Siri’s growing popularity. Amazon, for its part, just gave Echo a major upgrade, by adding both camera and display options. Apple is rumoured to be preparing an “at home” embodiment of Siri. So, this is shaping up to be a heated horse race.
If these “meta-assistants” continue their growth in popularity, are they going to become a dominant interface for customer service? If so, what communication channels will they displace? And how will the corporate owners of these platforms, who already wield unprecedented power, influence the way customer service is done?
The Case in Favor
Stick with me for a minute… The fastest growing channel for customer communication is chat. That statement holds true whether or not you combine “chat” with “messaging”, or even agree on a distinction between the two. See more on that debate here.
Chat is very cost effective and matches behaviour that younger consumers already favour. Chat also sets up the transition to “bots”, or any other flavour of text-based self-serve options. (Of course, self-serve has always been and will always be the lowest cost form of customer service. That’s ultimately what fuels the excitement around bots. More here.)
What does all this have to do with intelligent assistants? Well, one of the biggest problems with chat / messaging / chatbots is discovery. That is, how does a typical consumer find out that company X offers chat and on which channel? Do I search on Facebook Messenger? Send a tweet? Send an SMS? Go to the website and look for a chat widget? Each of those is a valid option, but for a consumer with limited patience (and tech savviness) how many of those paths will they explore? For this reason, phone calls remain the default action.
A meta-bot that fulfills its promise — that is, becomes the gateway to all the services you need — solves this problem. If, say, Google Assistant achieves such dominance that one can just assume any company you want to reach is available through it, then that is the channel where chat and chatbots reach their full potential. This level of dominance is indeed possible: WeChat for commerce in China, and LinkedIn for professional networking. But once we reach that point, the question becomes, “What’s the other side of the bargain?” i.e. What will Google want in return for becoming the customer service gateway?
The Case Against
Two things are working against this future. The first is simple fragmentation. Amazon, Google and Apple all have strong offerings. Microsoft (with Cortana) and Facebook (with “M”) are hoping to catch up as well. It’s likely no one platform will get to full domination
The second is the limitation of a voice interface. (Google Now and Microsoft Cortana both have text as an alternate interaction method, but the critical ground to capture seems to be the “voice-based living room device”.)
Controlling technology via voice has a fundamental problem that analyst Benedict Evans calls the “uncanny valley”, which is the “I don’t know what I can ask it” problem.
This is a problem that won’t go away even with better speech recognition technology (which is already pretty good). The core of it is that discovering the boundaries of what a particular voice assistant can do is difficult. With a visual interface you can see the available options. With an audio interface, not only do you have to learn the skill-space of the assistant, you have to memorize it, because there are no cues to help you along. Even worse: if you use multiple assistants you have to remember that they have different skill-spaces. Even worse: those skill-spaces are getting updated all the time, so you have to keep learning.
So, if you really have a HAL9000 / Jarvis, where you can talk freely, then fine. On the other end, if your a voice interface that will only tell the weather, then that’s also fine. But in between — where the conceit is “ask me anything” but there’s actually a very limited skill-set — THAT’S the big valley. In the valley, the interface is putting a large burden on the user to continually probe and remember what you can ask and how.
So there you have a sketch of some of the opposing forces at work here. This is a fascinating space to watch, as we see a combination of incredible technology gains (in particular with speech recognition) and consumer behavior change (who would’ve guessed millions of people would be comfortable with an always-on microphone in their kitchen sending their audio to Amazon?) I’d love to hear any feedback in the comments!
Publish Date: May 23, 2017 5:00 AM
Although there’s a plethora of intelligent call center technology to take advantage of, many organizations still only have basic functionalities in place. For example, it’s rare that you’ll find a call center operation without an interactive voice response system (IVR), an automatic call distributor (ACD), computer telephony integration (CTI) or a workforce management solution (aka “the basics”). So, instead of discussing the solutions that you (should) already have in place, let’s focus on the ones that you likely haven’t implemented yet.
Here are 5 call center technologies that can greatly benefit the success of your contact center:
Gamification uses the typical elements of game playing in the contact center as a way to encourage agent engagement and improve retention. By introducing gamification, contact centers can induce healthy competition and make the workplace fun. This will inspire agents to put forth more effort and increase their efficiency at work.
2. Voice Biometrics
Voice Biometrics technology extracts personal voice patterns and verifies the speaker’s identity using just their voice. Because it’s unique to each individual, voice biometrics has become a reliable way to authenticate a person. This technology is fundamental for preventing fraud, which ultimately saves time and money for organizations.
3. CRM Software
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software provides businesses with a better way to manage their customers. With a 360° view of the customer lifecycle, agents have access to a customer’s purchase history and have the ability to document interactions for future inquires. Having a track record of the customer can help CSR’s resolve issues more efficiently, freeing up their time to service other clients.
4. Speech Analytics
Speech analytics is the process of analyzing recorded calls for the purpose of identifying customer needs. The process is primarily used to extract useful information buried in client interactions. This technology has the potential to reveal rising trends and areas of opportunity or concern. Speech analytics can also identify competitive conversations and the underlying reason for a customer to stop doing business with you.
5. Call-Back Solutions
75% of customers find that calling a business is still the most effective way of getting a quick response. However, when a customer is put on hold the overall customer experience is negatively impacted. Luckily, offering a call-back is a great solution to this problem. Call-back solutions will lower your abandon rates, reduce spikes in call volume, and improve the customer experience.
Publish Date: May 17, 2017 5:00 AM
With 30 years of experience, ICMI’s reputation for selecting speakers and bringing the most knowledgeable experts together is unsurpassed in the industry. This year’s show will welcome 1500 attendees, 100 speakers, 75 sessions, and 100+ of the top solution providers (that’s where we come in!) in a jam-packed expo hall. You’re sure to leave the event with a ton of important information and the ability to apply new strategies to your call center.
Fonolo will be exhibiting at the conference, May 22-25, 2017 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. This year, Fonolo has been named the official mobile app sponsor, giving attendees the chance to win exclusive prizes when they access the gift card section of the ICMI app.
We are thrilled to be exhibiting as the official mobile app sponsor for the upcoming ICMI event. Additionally, this will be the first time Fonolo introduces its upgraded customer portal, which includes greater customization for monitoring call-backs and expanded support for international customers.
- Shai Berger, CEO, Fonolo
The expo hall will welcome leading industry innovators eager to share their newest products and services. Conference attendees will have the opportunity to meet with Fonolo representatives by visiting booth #619 where they can learn more about the new customer portal and how the company’s cloud-based call-back solutions work.
Publish Date: May 9, 2017 5:00 AM
Any career that involves working with the public can be tiresome since making customers feel happy isn’t always the easiest task. You’re often relieved when they’re satisfied, while feeling helpless when they’re not. Unfortunately, 66% of customers with a problem experience rage, and agents need to know the right ways to handle these situations skillfully.
Luckily, there are some actions a CSR can take to make sure a bad conversation ends well. Here five simple steps in chronological order:
1. Don’t Take Their Anger Personally
When a customer expresses strong emotions it’s usually for a good reason, but that’s typically unrelated to the agent. Instead of getting caught up in the customer’s emotions, a rep should be listening carefully so they can identify cues that will help them fix the problem. It’s important that reps are able to distance themselves from a customer’s anger so they can listen and acknowledge the complaint.
2. Repeat the Facts and Be Empathetic
If the customer feels like a rep not only understands their problem, but can empathize with the situation as well, they’ll automatically feel less upset. A simple confirmation can sound like, “OK, so from what I understand there’s an issue with your statement?” This will calm the customer down and allow them to re-group.
3. Let the Customer Be Angry
The most effective way to start calming down an unhappy customer is to just let them vent. Reps shouldn’t judge whether or not the complaint is valid, they should simply start with the assumption that the customer’s grievance is justified. Say things like, “That must be very frustrating”, so that customers can see that the rep is not there to argue, but to help.
4. Apologize and Try to Solve the Problem
Sincerely apologize before anything else, 75% of customers want an apology, but only 28% of customers receive one. Ideally, a rep should be able to solve the customer’s problem and reassure them that it won’t happen again, but depending on the nature of the problem, that’s not always possible. This is when step four becomes handy.
5. Make the Customer Feel Like They’re Received Something
A whopping 63% of customers say they receive nothing after a problem; this simply won’t keep customers loyal. It’s important to offer something that allows the customer to get back to a happy place. Your call center should have parameters in place to allow agents to offer discounts or perks.
6. Make Sure You Always Follow-Up
One of the biggest complaints customers have about the service they receive is that it’s impersonal. What’s more, according to a recent study, 99% of companies do not follow up with customers after a service interaction to ensure customer satisfaction. Correcting a problem and then sending a follow-up is a good way of demonstrating a level of attentiveness which helps boost customer loyalty.
When customers call you they are likely already angry about something, and unfortunately your call center might be setup in such a way that adds more fuel to the fire. Case in point; refer to sections one and six below which relate to the epidemic of long hold times. Don’t keep customers waiting on hold when your call center can EASILY offer them a call-back!
Publish Date: May 4, 2017 5:00 AM