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The contact center is becoming quite the paradox. It must be open-ended but also secure, both customer-centric and employee-centric, legacy-based yet modernized, and the list goes on. The reasons why are fairly simple: Consumer demands are continually evolving and so are the channels used to communicate those needs. The problem is that technology advances at a much faster pace than the contact center is able to adapt to, at least, for now.
The contact center industry is currently in a transition phase, where legacy systems will be refashioned by modern ones, and the once ‘low-level’ agent positions will be replaced by robust technology. It’s essential that your contact center is built for the future. And while the thought may seem daunting, there are a number of new ways to resolve the problems that will erode the success of call center operations around the world.
Here are the 10 biggest trends that can help call center professionals stay ahead of the curve.
1. Omni-Channel Communications (in a Multi-Channel World)
As call centers expand their multi-channel offerings, making cross-channel experiences seamless will be more important. The ability to escalate from channel-to-channel was once a luxury, however today’s customers demand nothing less. Surprisingly, though, only 36% of contact centers can track a customer journey that spans multiple channels, and only 17% can locate problem hotspots that impact the customer experience. This is a major concern for most contact centers, as customer expectations are only going to increase. By 2020, the demand for omni-channel support will be amplified by the need for a nearly perfect execution.
The image below, from the ‘Inner Circle Guide to Omni-Channel Customer Contact’ by ContactBabel, reveals the current state of multi-channel, multi-modal, and omni-channel offerings by contact centers.
It’s clear that most contact centers have adopted multi-channel, however only an average of 12% describe themselves as omni-channel.
For a contact center to be truly omni-channel enabled, all applications must be able to seamlessly identify, route, and switch interactions between agents and channels, while keeping all relevant data intact. Given this massive undertaking, it’s quite likely that many organizations are currently in the process of doing just this, and are simply not accounted for in the most recent surveys.
One thing is for certain: The leap towards omni-channel will be a big one, and it should happen in the very near future.
2. Go Digital or Go Home
There is no doubt that digital channels are on the rise, and have been since the mobile boom. Greater access to information and the convenience of doing business on the go means that call centers must configure their applications to be agile and responsive. In fact, people under 55 years of age now rate mobile applications as a top choice for customer service channels.
As contact center leaders begin to catch on to the importance of user-friendly online customer experiences, digital channel planning is set to increase by the following percent over the next 12 months:
- Web chat: 44.3% to 81.1%
- Mobile apps: 41.6% to 75.45%
- Social media: 51.4% to 76.1%
A digital transformation strategy is going to be key as the cost of mobile bandwidth goes down, and omni-channel / machine-to-machine communications advance. In the example below, 1st United Services Credit Union unified their multi-channel communications strategy by deploying Fonolo on their mobile app and on the “contact us” page of their website. This allowed customers to request a call-back from an agent, no matter what channel they were browsing from.
3. ‘Hello?’ Is it the Voice Channel You’re Looking for?
For many years, telecom marketers have predicted that the voice channel would eventually fall by the wayside of its digital predecessors. Today, we are beginning to see that. Although customers are using more channels besides voice, many of those interactions often still end up on the voice channel. The truth is that although channel diversity is needed for speedy communications, the telephone still remains an important avenue for solving complex issues.
ContactBabel surveyed 221 contact center managers and found that, 63% of the time, they believe the telephone is still the best method of communication for complaints. Although digital channels are growing in popularity, the phone still handles 57.7% of interactions.
So, how can contact centers provide the
highest degree of care on the voice channel?
Two key elements are needed:
1. Training: Proper, consistent, and ongoing training will help to ensure that voice interactions are met with quality and precision.
2. Technology: Hold times have always created a concern for customers using the voice channel and must be eliminated at all costs. Cloud call-back solutions like Fonolo have been around for a number of years, but many call centers are still unsure if it’s the right fit for their business.
Tip: If your contact center cares about the customer experience, wants to reduce abandon rates, and decrease telco costs, then a cloud call-back option is a must-have solution for 2017.
4. Measure Your Performance and You’ll Go Far
This year, contact centers will see an increase in the number of implementations for performance management solutions. This is needed for both in-house and remote agents, as the option to work from home is now a reality for many growing call centers. However, this can create some concern for operations managers who must regularly evaluate their workforce both near and far. While 89% measure the quality of voice, only 50% measure performance on digital channels, down from 61% last year.
Analytics, once beneficial for gaining insight into customers, is now equally useful for understanding agent performance, with 7 out of 10 managers agreeing that it has increased productivity and the customer experience. In 2017, more contact centers will recognize the impact of tracking analytics and be able to use those benchmarks for future growth.
5. Social Media − a Not-So-Secret Weapon
Hootsuite released a report this year which found that there are over 2.7 billion active social media users, for a global penetration of 37% and an annual growth rate of 21%. Social media as a support channel remains the first choice for customers under 25, but has yet to gain the same trust and acceptance by other age groups. Though the majority of businesses have observed the need for social support, 29.3% of them are still not utilizing it; instead they’re redirecting customers to another channel. This is a temporary fix for a market base that is only growing by the day, and will play a very important role in the future of customer support.
It is absolutely necessary to have an effective social media presence, otherwise a brand might look like it’s intentionally disconnecting from its customers.
Consumers want a place they can go to give quick feedback, vent, and interact with their favorite brands. Responsive social support teams see this trend as an opportunity to create a unified customer experience.
On the flip side, any negative comments can be detrimental, and if they go unanswered it can make potential customers suspicious. The video below is a special report by ABC7 on Your Side news, highlighting the growing need for online customer support, as the voice channel suffers from long hold times. Make social media a goal in your contact center this year. Whether it’s developing a team, improving training methods, or deploying a social media management solution, this trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon
Don’t miss the last 5 trends! Download the full report below.
Publish Date: March 29, 2017 5:00 AM
Every year Fonolo recognizes contact centers who are dedicated to reducing hold time, thereby delivering a superior customer experience. This year is no different! We are excited to acknowledge three amazing organizations for their outstanding achievements. The following companies have worked diligently to improve agent engagement, while also enhancing the customer experience, and we are honored to be part of their ongoing transformation.
So, without further ado, here are the 2017 Customer Experience Excellence Award Winners (#CXAwards):
- HKT Teleservices, a subsidiary of HKT, Hong Kong’s premier telecommunications service provider, offers clients world-class global contact center and BPO services in all facets of voice and non-voice customer services, technical support, sales, retention, and other business processes.
- HomeAdvisor, is a leading nationwide digital home services marketplace providing homeowners the tools and resources for home repair, maintenance, and improvement projects.
- Nutrisystem, Inc., is a leader in the weight loss industry, having helped millions of people lose weight over the course of 45 years.
A Word About this Year’s Winners:
“We are thrilled to acknowledge these recipients for their commitment to outstanding customer service,” said Shai Berger, CEO, Fonolo. “With Fonolo’s innovative cloud-based technology, it’s easy for contact centers to add call-backs and improve the customer experience. This year’s winners have eliminated an unprecedented amount of hold time, thereby exceeding consumer expectations. They deserve to be recognized for this exceptional achievement.”
Remarks from the Recipients:
We are delighted that our continued focus on delivering excellent customer service has been recognized. The Fonolo solution was very easy to implement and the team has been great to work with since transitioning to production. Their service has substantially improved our abandon rate at a time when call volume increased substantially.
– Gene Oliver, Vice President of Information Technology & CIO, HKT Teleservices (US)
We launched Fonolo a little over a year ago and we didn’t see the dramatic, immediate results we anticipated. However, once we utilized Fonolo’s expert staff to help us analyze call data, we recognized that Fonolo was having a valuable impact. Fonolo helped us determine what the proper settings should be, and at that point we saw a noticeable abandon rate improvement.
– Matt Zurcher, Senior Vice President of Customer Care, HomeAdvisor
We are always evaluating our customer relationships and customer experience with our brand. One of those primary touch points is our contact center. We like to provide a positive and convenient experience, and that’s where the Fonolo solution set has been able to assist us. Fonolo’s In-Call Rescue call-back option allows our customers to hold their place in queue without having to stay on the phone line. This added convenience has been well received by our customers and our team.
– Bill MacBride, Senior Vice President of Customer Care, Nutrisystem Inc.
To read the full announcement visit fonolo.com/news.
Publish Date: March 28, 2017 5:00 AM
Every time a customer comes in contact with your brand, whether it’s in-store or online, each interaction is a touch point that contributes to the customer experience. Consumers are demanding more, and their choices are ever expanding, which means that better service will lead to greater customer loyalty.
Here are 5 customer service mistakes that are negatively effecting your support operations.
1. Ignoring Customers on Social Media
As a consumer, if I’m tweet venting, I’m pretty upset. Not only do I want the brand to know about my complaints, but my ultimate goal is to have the issue go viral so that appropriate action is taken to rectify the situation. There is nothing worse than simply being ignored on social media. At the very least, acknowledge the complaint and make some sort of effort to correct it.
2. Trying to Hide Your Customer Support Number
WHY!?!? This is absolutely maddening. If a customer wants to call you, make it easy for them to locate your number. You will only upset them more, increasing their anger and frustration right before they make the call. Your customer service agents don’t deserve to get the brunt of these complaints.
3. Taking a Long Time to Answer Chat
If your chat window is open, but all agents are fully utilized, why would you show that chat help is available? It could take several minutes just to send a greeting message. That’s a long time for a customer who’s waiting to address a simple inquiry. Their attention span online is quite short and you don’t want them closing the window and having to start over again. Rather than making this mistake, find a way to disable the availability of the chat feature when agents are fully utilized and are unable to address customers in a timely manner. ‘
4. Hiring the Wrong Contact Center Agent
The continuous challenge of agent churn has nothing to do with your ongoing operations, and everything to do with your hiring process. Hiring the right customer service agent is incredibly important to the success of your contact center. After all, onboarding committed, motivated, and qualified agents helps your call center achieve its purpose. Make sure you prepare a solid list if questions for each candidate, score them based on their answers and be sure to ask for references. This is a great way to ensure that you’ve hired people that fit your ideal agent profile.
5. Putting Customers on Hold
You CANNOT provide an exceptional experience if you leave customers waiting. When your phone service is not up to par, consumer frustration grows. Their rage doesn’t just end on the phone; customers will candidly share this information with the rest of the world using numerous social media channels.
We, the folks at Fonolo, created a way for consumers to productively use their ‘on hold with’ time and let companies know how they feel. We feel that greater awareness of the problem will increase the likelihood of change in the call center world. The moral of the story is you do not want to be listed on this site.
Publish Date: March 23, 2017 5:00 AM
The call center industry is a large and evolving space. With so many moving parts and new trends to understand, contact center professionals are always looking for leadership and guidance. Who are the people they can turn to and trust? Whose opinions and predictions are most valued in this industry? Fortunately we have the answer for you. Our yearly roundup of the top analysts in the industry keeps call center professionals like you informed on the best influencers to follow. These thought leaders are always quick to provide updates and analysis on the latest news and innovations in the contact center space.
Congratulations to the 16 who were selected!
Publish Date: March 16, 2017 5:00 AM
St. Patrick’s Day is a great excuse to drink green beer, dress up like a leprechaun, and embark on shenanigans with those close to you. Unfortunately, for most contact center agents, St. Patrick’s Day is just another day at the office * cue the violin *.
Why not take this opportunity to engage your agents by putting together some fun St. Paddy’s inspired games? They’ll soon forget about missing out on those packed pubs and impending hangovers with some friendly competition between co-workers. Plus, you get to enjoy a boost in agent morale and excess energy from all that chocolate and bonding!
We’ve put together 5 fun games that are easy to execute in any office and will make your agents feel lucky to have a manager like you:
What’s St. Patrick’s Day without dressing up in green? In addition to letting your staff come into work wearing their favourite green attire, grab some extra accessories to create this fun interactive relay. First, you’ll need to divide your staff into two teams; and choose two team leads or floor supervisors to play the role of leprechauns. Then give each team all of the following accessories to use in the relay:
- Leprechaun hat
- Green / orange glitter or feather boas
- Green / orange Bowties
- Striped socks
- Pots filled with gold chocolate (these will come into use later)
Ready, set, GO! Watch them use teamwork, communication, and patience – all great qualities for customer service agents – in a race to make their leaders looks like jolly leprechauns. The team that puts the costume together first, wins and gets to keep their pot of gold chocolate. The other pot will be used later on.
St. Paddy’s Trivia
Okay, so that game probably got rowdy and the office is now buzzing. Have your staff go back to their desks and enjoy their chocolates. After a few minutes, drop them with a little trivia surprise! Use the channels your call center uses to see how your staff handles timely and accurate communication.
Find a few pieces of trivia about St. Patrick’s Day. Send one question out to each department. Maybe you have different teams dedicated to different channels or maybe your staff does it all. But to make it fair, make sure they are all responding from the channel they use for work. The first agent, from each department to respond to the question, will not only get a professional pat on the back but an additional reward of your choice, a $10 e-gift card will suffice.
The Amazing ‘Treasure Hunt’
First switch teams around so that other agents can work together. Give each team the same activity to complete, for example, “Complete a St. Paddy’s puzzle” or “Color this picture of a rainbow”. Each completed task will lead to another team building activity – think ‘The Amazing Race’ but with a lot less scenery. The team who completes every activity first wins. We recommend anywhere between 4-6 activities depending on the complexity.
This game will not only bring agents closer together, it will also help them communicate more, resolve conflicts better, and ultimately develop a stronger team.
Pot o’ Gold Dump
Okay, it’s time to bring back those gold chocolate coins! Hand out one coin to each agent, and then once again divide agents into teams. Put each team into a single file line and place an empty pot about 5-10 feet away from them. Each team member will then take turns throwing a chocolate coin into the pot. The person throwing MUST get their coin into the pot before moving to the next person. The first team to successfully get every coin in the pot wins!
Rainbow Coin Toss
Last but not least we’ve got rainbow coin toss. For this one, think bocce ball or curling. You must first take a picture of a rainbow (a good idea would be to use the best colored rainbow from the scavenger hunt for this). Tape the rainbow against a wall and place one pot at the end of it. To make things fair, agents will be divided into teams and given the same amount of coins to throw, roll, or slide at the pot.
Coins will need to indicate which team they came from, so simply add the same St. Paddy’s sticker to both sides of each set of coins. For example: The Shamrock team will have shamrock stickers on both sides of their coins while the Leprechaun team will have leprechaun stickers on both sides of their coins.
It will be up to each team to decide whether they want to designate someone to throw each coin or have multiple people toss the coins. Each team will take turns throwing a single coin at the pot. They can knock each other out or knock their team’s coins closer. When all coins have been thrown, count which team has the most coins closest to the pot. Winner takes all!
Do you have some fun games to boost agent engagement? Feel free to share them with us!
Publish Date: March 15, 2017 5:00 AM
Industry watchers are carefully assessing the progress of the Avaya bankruptcy, which is now 50 days old. (Fun tip: The number of days is easy to track because the bankruptcy happened the same day at the US presidential inauguration! So when the press makes a big deal about Trump’s first 100 days, you’ll know Avaya has been in Chapter 11 for 100 days too.)
The duration is important because as the bankruptcy continues, the patience of partners, analysts and customers wears down. Each day is also another opportunity for competitors to pick away at Avaya’s customers. See, for example this “knives-out” post by InContact that tells Avaya customers to “keep moving forward, no matter how the bankruptcy is resolved.”
Here’s a quick look at some coverage of the bankruptcy so far.
How Long Will it Take?
A big question on everyone’s mind is how long will the process take. Two recent cases provide alternate extremes. Aspect’s successful bankruptcy last year is a positive comparison, one that even CEO Kevin Kennedy made in his announcement. But another comparison that folks are throwing around is Nortel’s disastrous bankruptcy from 2008 that took over 7 years to resolve. Which model will Avaya follow? We tackled this question in Will Avaya’s Chapter 11 Be Like Aspect’s or Like Nortel’s?
For a closer look at the mechanics of this process, the most detailed analysis I’ve seen is from NoJitter’s Phil Edholm: Analyzing the Avaya Path Through Bankruptcy. He outlines a scenario where the process could go the “Nortel” route and be split into pieces:
…bond creditors … may conclude that they would be better served selling the assets and breaking Avaya into pieces…. the contact center business had been valued at more than $3.7 billion in the sale discussions prior to the bankruptcy. In fact, an EBITDA analysis of the total Avaya business shows that the business assets are worth somewhere between $6 billion and $7 billion based on projected EBITDA and assumed multiples. From this total, subtract $1.5 billion for unfunded pension liabilities, and the core continuation plan would need to return between $4.5 billion and $5.5 billion of value — a combination of debt, cash, or equity — to provide bondholders a necessary level of comfort. The bondholders will contrast an offer that is a mix of cash and equity against an all-cash break-up option.
The Sale to Extreme
The first big news of the bankruptcy process hit last week when it was announced that Extreme (NASDAQ: EXTR) bought Avaya’s networking division for $100 million. Technically it’s not a purchase, but rather a bid that sets a minimum price for an upcoming auction. But expectations are that Extreme will end up being the ultimate owner.
The networking division was the easiest to break out from the rest of the company. Analysts I’ve spoken to have long thought of that division as a distraction for Avaya, and preferred to see full energy expended on the call center and enterprise communications products.
Zeus Kerravala writes:
Customers should take comfort in the fact that Extreme is an enterprise pure play with a vision that’s similar to Avaya Networking’s — networks are too complicated and too manually intensive to meet the needs of a digital organization. Avaya has built its Fabric Connect technology on the concept of a transparent core in which a network administrator can make changes at the edge of a network for proliferation throughout the network rather than on a box-by-box basis… Both have a next-generation data center solution on the roadmap and without getting into details, I believe the market can support both based on vertical deployment and use case.
How Will the Product Line-Up Change?
Avaya has been criticized in the past for having a complicated product portfolio with a naming system that was difficult to understand. This reorganization may be a chance to streamline. Part of the refresh is a focus on APIs via the new “Breeze” platform. We covered that here: Avaya’s Big Bet on Breeze.
Phil Edholm did a great analysis on this front: Avaya Positioning Its Portfolio for the Future.
While mining the installed base is the core of the current revenue stream, for every Avaya customer that replaces its system with Cisco or decides to deploy Skype for Business, Avaya needs to acquire a similar customer from another vendor. This is going to be a challenge. Over the last 10 years, the combined Avaya/Nortel installed base in North America has shrunk by 25% to 35%. Cisco leverages its strong position in networking to help drive VOIP, and Microsoft uses its desktop productivity dominance to promote Skype for Business adoption. Avaya does not have a similar adjacency to leverage. It has strong contact center share, but the ability to translate contact center position to winning in the UC space is not proven.
The Engage Conference Was Closely Watched
Avaya’s annual customer conference (“Avaya Engage”) happened last month and they were under a lot of scrutiny to deliver an upbeat vision for their future.
We covered the event here Avaya Did Good with their Spotlight Moment This Week:
Those bearish on Avaya usually point to the declining revenues as the most damning evidence. Kennedy briefly acknowledged this, saying “the revenue is what it is” then quickly pivoted to talk about more flattering metrics. (e.g. “Revenue per employee” which has been increasingly steadily, because they’ve shrunk their workforce dramatically.)… So, how can you be bullish in the face of declining revenue? Because the whole pie is shrinking.
Analyst Dave Michels covered it as well with his usual flair:
It was a good event – unique in many ways. A confident, yet humble Avaya was on display. But, there was a cloud over Vegas and not the type that Avaya needs. Actually, it wasn’t clouds overhead but vultures… [Avaya] is in the second stage of grief regarding their financial predicament – denial.
Publish Date: March 14, 2017 5:00 AM
The recent renaissance in self-service has been driven by several factors. First, the past 20 years of online commerce have allowed us to hone the technology and techniques for making good self-service interfaces – first on the web, and then on mobile devices. The art and science of building good user experiences (UX) has become a mature profession. Second, the smartphone revolution brought that UX to everyone’s pockets. Third, the majority of today’s consumers are very comfortable with these tools and actually prefer them to human interaction. (The younger they are, the more strongly they prefer self-service, so this bodes well for the future.)
The growing popularity and effectiveness of self-service implies that its counterpart, human-assisted service, i.e. the purpose of call centers, is on the decline. Sure, there are some transactions that still require an agent, but if one extrapolates from current trends, isn’t it reasonable to assume that eventually all interactions will be self-serve? Does that mean centers are headed for obsolescence, like floppy disks and 8-track tapes? Not so fast.
Why Does Anyone Still Call a Contact Center Agent?
Every self-service implementation has its limits: there are edge cases that require speaking to an agent. When users hit these “dead ends” it’s important to manage the hand-off as smoothly as possible, maintaining as much of the context as possible. (Call-backs are great way to do this.) The worst thing to do is make the user start over.
But why have dead-ends at all?
Sometimes it can be baffling why a certain interaction didn’t “make the cut” for self-service. I fly Air Canada frequently so I’m very familiar with their customer service quirks. For example, you can’t book online if you’re flying with a child under 2. Why? I called and the process was totally normal and the agent couldn’t tell me why human assistance was required. That doesn’t seem like such a rare situation. (For more such examples see No, I Don’t Want to Call You by Dave Michels, which partially inspired this post.)
Perhaps you’ve run across such strange dead-ends in your own interactions? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
What do these gaps tell us? Since agent-assistance is so much more expensive than self-service, shouldn’t they all be eliminated? Are they last hold-outs on the path to “self-service nirvana”? I think the answer is no.
Why We’ll Never See Perfect Self-Serve Coverage
Here are a few theories on why we won’t see “perfect coverage” with self-service:
1) Diminishing Returns
There is some cost to adding and maintaining each option, and when you get to the edge cases, the associated savings via reduced call volume isn’t worth it.
2) Moving Target
Products, services & policies are always in flux, so you end up asymptotically approaching perfect “self-service nirvana”.
3) Preserving Simplicity of the UX
This is one I can respect. Adding every option to the interface is going to hurt usability at some point. It’s better to do a good job for the 99% of cases. Good product managers always talk about how important it is to say “no” to new features. So the mix of self-serve / agent-assisted is a balance of those two forces.
4) Large Org Weirdness
Large organizations just have a way of getting trapped doing things in sub-optimal ways. Maybe they contracted out a certain type of support call to a BPO and it’s a 3 year deal they can’t get out of. Maybe the call center manager doesn’t want a category of calls to be offloaded because then their staff (and budget) will be reduced. This boils down to someone at the top like a Bezos or Hsieh being relentless about customer service.
Voice Calls Aren’t Decreasing After All
To add further perspective to this issue, let’s talk about the amount of phone calls made by consumers seeking customer support. Given the growth of self-service, you would think that number would be shrinking, right?
While we can’t say anything conclusively, we actually have evidence that points in the other direction. See Nobody Knows if Voice is Growing or Shrinking and Is There Voice Shrinkage in the Call Center?
So the picture is more complicated than you might expect.
How can we make sense of an increasing amount of agent phone calls, while self-service is also increasing? One factor is that online purchasing means more interactions shift from in-store to some form of “remote” interaction: phone calls, emails, or other online channels. This counts for both the purchase itself and the subsequent returns or service.
Another factor is that new service channels make some transactions possible that didn’t exist before at all. Consider the Uber ride – the initial request via app, the potential phone call with the driver, the post-ride rating of the driver – these are all interactions that are “net new” to the universe. The transaction they replace, a traditional taxi ride, also has interactions – hailing the car, communicating your address, handing over cash – but they would be invisible to any accounting of “customer service behavior”.
Where does this leave us? Here are 3 broad conclusions that seem safe:
- The total of all remote interactions is growing, driven by ecommerce and new behaviors like the Uber example above.
- As per the 4 reasons above, self-serve will never reach “perfect” coverage.
- All call center managers agree that the complexity and duration of the phone calls they are getting is increasing. That’s because all the easy transactions are handled by self-service.
And finally it seems safe to say no, the call center is not going to fade away.
Publish Date: March 1, 2017 5:00 AM
Historically, great customer service depended on one thing: people. Call center agents acted as the main liaison for delivering a positive or negative customer experience. But in our world of multi-channel communications, the need for speed has changed the game. According to Forrester, 73% of people say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service, which is why hold times present a major challenge for the customer service industry. If your business offers support, then you know how demanding customers can be, and how important reducing wait times are to overall satisfaction levels.
To understand how companies are handling hold times, Fonolo launched the website onholdwith.com, which tracks complaints on Twitter from people waiting on hold. We found that these companies had the highest mention of hold time complaints on Twitter. Recently, Fonolo’s CEO, Shai Berger had the chance to speak with ABC News: 7on Your Side with Michael Finney to discuss how this social media uprising can lend a hand to eliminating hold time for good. See the full clip below:
These are no “alternative-facts”; the voice channel still remains a trusted channel for customer service. A recent report by Dimension Data found that, “people want to engage with service provider and communication companies in a way which is familiar to them”. As customer expectations increase, hold times have become a competitive differentiator. If businesses want to reduce customer churn, they shouldn’t be putting customers on hold, ever.
The bottom-line: Hold times are getting in the way of great customer service, yet there are simple proven solutions that can eliminate hold times for good. Fonolo’s call-back option is a good start. Want to learn more? Read these helpful documents:
- The ROI of Call-Backs for Your Call Center
- 5 Amazing Reasons to Add Virtual Queuing to Your Contact Center
- Are You Losing Customers to Hold Time?
If you’ve successfully deployed a call-back solution, and still experience low satisfaction scores, it’s worth looking at your social support channels as “35% of customers say digital technology isn’t meeting current needs”. Businesses need to learn how to better utilize social media as a support channel. Twitter found that customer service interactions have increased 250% in the last two years, and Dimension Data found that social media has become the preferred contact channel for everyone under 25 years. However, having a designated support team just isn’t enough anymore. Customers want service and they want it now; speed of resolution is the key to successfully using this channel for support. Consider looking into a social media monitoring tool like SproutSocial or chatbots for Facebook messenger. For more helpful ways to improve customer service and the experience, take a look at these trend whitepapers:
- 10 Leading Customer Experience Trends for 2017
- Top 10 Customer Service Trends for 2017
Publish Date: February 23, 2017 5:00 AM
Mark your calendars! Sourcing Decisions 2017 is taking place March 2, 2017 at St. Andrew’s Club & Conference Centre in Toronto, Canada.
This is a brand new conference specifically designed for enterprises seeking to advance their knowledge in robotics automation, artificial intelligence and newly emerging digital platforms to better engage customers. The conference will feature a series of panel discussions and presentations from some of the leading minds in enterprise ICT procurement, sourcing and vendor management.
Come see Fonolo at the event!
Fonolo is the go-to solution for contact centers looking to eliminate hold time, lower abandon rates, or gain better control of call volume spikes. Be sure to stop by our booth to learn more about call-back solutions for the contact center.
“We are really excited to host Fonolo at Sourcing Decisions 2017,” said Kirk Laughlin, content director of Sourcing Decisions and managing director of Nearshore Americas. “The conference is tackling some of the most pertinent challenges facing sourcing, procurement and supply chain professionals – and it’s clear that topics like robotics and automation, fast-rising fintechs, and advancing the modern contact center are definitely on the minds of our senior executive audience.”
To learn more about Sourcing Decisions 2017 or to register for the event, visit sourcingdecisions.com.
Publish Date: February 22, 2017 5:00 AM
Between multi-channel strategies, keeping up with consumer demand, and maintaining service levels, running a successful contact center today is no easy task. With the enormous effort involved, many call centers are turning to outsourcers for help. Although some executives are hesitant to let a function of their business go, others realize that outsourcing a specific function is the best solution. Even the largest of corporations outsource entire departments to firms that have the time and expertise, along with a level of dedication to high-quality performance.
But what kind of promises should a BPO make to their call center clients? What makes them the most ideal outsourcer to choose? Here are four simple commitments a call center BPO should make.
1. Create a Contract that Defines SLA’s
Your BPO of choice should define the specific standards and benchmarks that they will meet for you. They should have a clear understanding of your SLA’s and a strategy on how they will be met. Typically, they’ll determine the number of agents you’ll receive and the skillset required to meet and exceed SLA’s. If you’re a new call center still determining what your service level should be, consider the 80/20 rule.
2. Embrace a Corporate Culture that Mimics the Call Center
A BPO is an extension of your brand. Meaning when a customer calls your contact center and reaches the BPO, they won’t know the difference. BPOs should operate so effectively and seamlessly that every call impersonates that of an internal operation. They should embrace your company culture, mimic employee benefits, and develop a space that embodies your brand.
3. Provide Transparency and Clear Communication
Trust and transparency are vital for meeting expectations and maintaining a healthy client-partner relationship. Your BPO should provide a clear and concise strategy, focussing on your KPIs. If your goal is to provide high-quality experiences that foster customer loyalty, your BPO should explain how they’ll achieve, measure, and manage that for you. Reporting is key, as it will be a clear reflection of success.
4. Address Automation and the Human Touch
Although BPO’s are expected to deliver technology-led innovation on an ongoing basis, automation can come at a price when not executed properly. In fact, the advancements in technology-led automated services such as AI, machine learning, and RPA (robotic process automation) could impact more than 5 million jobs in the next three years. Make sure your BPO commits to outlining their 5-10 year plan with respect to automation so you know how this will affect your ongoing relationship. To learn more, join Fonolo and BPO experts on Thursday, February 23 at 2:00 PM ET as we take a deep dive into BPO automation.
Here’s a sneak peak at the slides!
Publish Date: February 21, 2017 5:00 AM
So, your customer base is constantly growing but your call center is at max capacity. You’re now looking for an affordable solution to begin ramping up customer support. Your next logical step is to contract a third party provider, otherwise known as a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing). BPOs can provide tremendous benefits to your business, such as cost savings, and better quality and efficiency. But don’t get too ahead of yourself. Although this option could be the answer to all your problems, it could also be the biggest headache you’ve ever had, if not researched properly. It’s important to note that not every BPO is created equally, and there are certain factors to keep in mind when picking the right one for your business.
We look at 5 tips to help you through the process of choosing a BPO:
1. Quality Assurance is Fundamental
You have expectations in place for your customer service team, and you don’t want to lose them during the outsourcing process. It’s worth looking into the vendor’s track record and performance, to determine if that’s the kind of service you want for your business. The first step to qualifying your BPO is to see if its been certified with a national association. Another way is to ask for client testimonials and knowing the type of industries they service. If you’re in health and finance, you’ll have a different set of requirements compared to retail. It’s also advisable to interact with managers and other team members before signing a long-term contract. We explore this further in the next tip.
2. Manage Risk and Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Begin with a pilot project to deliver proof-of-concept first. Innovative providers will establish metrics for common processes to compare their performance against your benchmarks for those same processes. Important issues will be brought to your attention during this time such as reporting, performance, and scalability, which are all equally significant in choosing the right BPO. In order for you to measure whether or not your BPO is a cost effective investment, it’s necessary to consider all of these factors before moving forward.
3. Keep IT Capabilities Top of Mind
IDC predicted that 75% of software enterprises and independent vendors will include AI functionality in at least one application by 2018. Therefore, BPOs embracing new technologies are likely to be more future ready and have a stable outlook moving forward. With this in mind, frequent visits from a senior engineer from the off-shore vendor to the client site during the design phase can help ensure a clear project understanding. The same goes for you; visiting your outsourcing service provider can give you perspective you might miss from afar.
Finally, how can you ensure a BPO will be able to deliver on technical timelines? Have them sign a ‘Staff Augmentation‘ contract. This ensures integration is taken care of by default.
4. Visibility and Reporting is Key
Part of the integration process is to set up a clear reporting and management tool between you and your outsourced team. Even though you won’t be there physically, you still want to be calling the shots. Therefore, having easy access to frequent reports provides insight into how your BPO is performing, and allows you to set goals and metrics for your outsourced team. Recommended reports include:
- Weekly internal status report
- Monthly management report
- Customer Satisfaction Report
Furthermore, to ensure deliverables are met and maintained, the vendor should be easy to get a hold of. There should be a designated point of contact for you to reach out to at anytime during the duration of a project.
5. Ensure they are Financially Bulletproof
This is a particularly turbulent time for BPOs, politics and AI are threatening the space, which makes deciding even harder. Take time to look into the BPO’s financial health and even the economic outlook of the country its located in. If the industry is predicted to take a dive in a certain geographic location, it’s probably wise to look elsewhere. If everything looks good from an geo-industry perspective, take a look at their financial history, current holdings, and growth potential. If a BPO has previously gone bankrupt under the same management, you might want to reconsider.
Publish Date: February 15, 2017 5:00 AM
Last week Network World published an article called CRM and Contact Center are on a Collision Course. The collision thing is a good metaphor. In fact, what’s happening is a multi-vehicle collision involving CRM, Contact Center plus “Unified Communications” and “Customer Service Management”. The boundaries between all four have become quite hazy.
We also don’t have a name for the superset of it all. Which means we can’t even say “X is disrupting the Y space”, because we’re not even sure what “Y” is anymore. (And actually, it’s hard to state cleanly what the “X” is.) A massive part of the technology landscape is in a flux and we lack good terminology to even talk about it! Let’s at least try to fill in those two blanks.
What’s the Disrupting Force?
The “X” — the cause of the collision — is a drastic change in voice technology. A decade ago, delivering, storing and manipulating voice required specialized hardware and software. Engineers with the expertise to develop, install and maintain that technology were rare and, thus, costly.
The “voice-is-hard” barrier created a clean divide between the voice world and the non-voice world. A chasm separated call center from CRM or PBX from a chat server. That barrier also allowed companies on the voice side to build proprietary systems and keep prices high for both purchase and maintenance.
However, that barrier is gone now. Some people expressed that by saying, “voice became a commodity”. That captures the feel of it, but it’s not technically right. (Voice was always a commodity: purchased in bulk, mostly fungible, universally available.) Sometimes people say voice has gotten “cheap”. That’s also true, but actually confuses two trends: the technology of managing voice with the raw minutes of phone time. (It’s like confusing the cost of wheat with the cost of running a mill.) Both have dropped, but its the former that is the “X” factor here.
In the Network World piece, I was quoted saying “the mystique” of voice is gone. I think that captures it well, but if you really want to boil it down, I guess there’s no better way to say it than, “voice got easy”.
Being “easy” makes voice technology kind of a “free radical” that can float around and bind to larger pieces of software wherever it fits: a billing platform, an HR application and, of course, CRM. So it no longer makes sense to divide applications along voice / non-voice lines.
Another casualty is the pricing power that voice technology companies used to enjoy. Buying a call center switched from being a hardware purchase to a software purchase and then to a cloud subscription. This has caused a massive reshaping of the call center industry, as evidence by last month’s bankruptcy filing by Avaya.
What is Getting Disrupted?
“Easy voice” is doing the disrupting, but what is it disrupting? Our old definitions of enterprise software categories are getting blended together. Some people now call the entire space “enterprise communication”. But that implies something that is internal to companies, thus excluding interactions with customers.
A further complication: Those consumer interactions now also include, for example, social media and even OTT voice via Facebook. In other words, voice and text interactions hosted by consumer internet applications are mixing with, and are on equal footing to, phone calls, emails and other channels that hosted on enterprise-owned applications. How can you find a term that is broad enough to include all this stuff?
I look at “CPaaS” as a way of absolving ourselves from the whole terminology game. “Communication Platform as a Service” companies (like Twilio, Tropo/Cisco, Plivo, Vonage/Nexmo, Avaya/Zang) offer individual functions of communications (e.g. sending a text, receiving a call, processing a DTMF tone) via an API on a simple pay-per-use basis. In effect, they’re saying: “Here are all the building blocks, assemble them however you want. We don’t care what you call it in the end.” It’s kind of a cop-out, but given our current transitional state, with little agreement on what to call things, it’s a cop-out I welcome.
Some other folks have tackled this topic:
Chris Vitek published, “How Salesforce Will Replace the ACD” 6 months ago on NoJitter. He got a bit of a shellacking for over-reaching on the title. You should definitely read the comments.
…if you thought you would always have automatic call distribution (ACD) from Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, or Unify in your contact center, then think again — and start following Salesforce, because it is going to unplug a lot of these systems. At a minimum, the availability of these solutions from Salesforce will cause traditional contact center vendors to lose market share.
Speaking of Salesforce, I’ve focused on them specifically in two blog posts:
- 4 Clips from Salesforce’s Call Center Keynote Reveal Their Strategy
- Salesforce Has Many Fingers in the Call Center Pie
In The Rebirth of Interaction Management Nicolas deKouchkovsky (former CMO of Genesys, and Fonolo advisor) says,
The Contact Center market can no longer be looked at in isolation… Contact Centers are often used with Customer Service software…. CRM vendors have been eyeing the Contact Center space… Two adjacent industries, sales communications and customer success management, have been developing rapidly… As companies embrace customer lifecycle management and account based disciplines, we should expect bridges to be built between them.
Finally, analyst Jon Arnold published “Why You Should Consider Integrating Contact Center with UC”.
So long as UC and the contact center are thought of as separate and unrelated worlds, you won’t see what’s possible when pulling them together.
By the way, Jon is on our list of Top Analysts Covering the Call Center. (2017 edition coming out soon!)
Publish Date: February 9, 2017 5:00 AM
Are you having a rocky relationship with your contact center? Maybe you’ve been a victim of long hold times, poor customer service, or having to repeat an issue over and over to different agents. At first, like many relationships, both sides are willing to work hard and even overlook some of the red flags. But over time, once loyalty has developed, its possible that things might get a little too comfortable, taking for granted how hard it was to earn your admiration in the first place. With better communications, it’s possible for your relationship to mend, but if interactions stay the same or get worse, it might be time to cut ties and find a new call center to love.
How do you know if your call center is worth loving? Here are 3 areas to consider:
Your Call Center Calls You Back
There’s nothing more annoying than someone you like not answering a text, or returning a phone call. The same goes for your call center. Whether it’s a busy time of day or you need to schedule a call for another time, it’s important for your call center to provide a call-back option. Being able to get on with your day or speak to an agent at a more convenient time, without worrying about calling back, is truly one way to any customer’s heart.
Your Call Center Provides Multiple Ways to Reach Them
You know when you can’t reach your partner by phone, but you can find them on chat, or through text? It shows how open and available they are to you. It shows they care, and not just ignoring you in a time of need. The same goes for your call center. By providing multiple channels of communication, such as: live chat, SMS, phone, social media, email and more, it tells you that they want to hear from you no matter what.
Your Call Center Asks You How You’re Feeling
“You don’t even care how I feel!” It’s a thought that crosses our minds at least one time during any serious relationship. It may not be intentional, but sometimes your partner does something that hurts you. That’s why it’s so important to simply check-in to make sure everything is okay. A call center that cares will do just that. They’ll ask for your feedback, see what changes should be made to better the experience, and take action to ensure negative experiences are never repeated. That’s a true sign that your call center wants you to love them.
How does your call center make you fall in love? What strategies have they implemented to increase your customer satisfaction levels?
Publish Date: February 8, 2017 5:00 AM
Celebrated on February 2nd, Groundhog Day is when we wait in anticipation to see the groundhog emerge from its burrow. If he sees his shadow, there’s supposed to be six more weeks of winter, and if there’s no shadow it means that spring is near. For me, it always brings back memories of the “Groundhog Day” movie, where Bill Murray wakes up every day experiencing the same series of events he did the day before.
This had me thinking about the endless loop of tasks your call center and its agents perform on a daily bases. Realizing how common Groundhog Day and your call center are, I thought it best to illustrate some tips and tricks to avoid being trapped in the duties of your workday.
It’s a great feeling when your ideas and strategies are put into place, but most call centers don’t give their agents this opportunity. If you’re one of them, you’re certainly missing out. Frontline agents truly understand your most important asset, your customers. They likely possess a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be used. By empowering them beyond support calls and allowing them to reflect on critical issues, you’re ultimately taking their job to a whole new level, while creating a strong agent culture.
Consider a Diverse Workday
Have you ever considered buddying up agents? It’s actually a simple initiative to implement and really allows agents to create diversity in their workday. Have agents listen to each other’s calls in group sessions and discuss good aspects of the call along with areas of improvement. Encourage learning and growing in a group setting so that agents can form relationships and improve their overall interactions with customers. This methodology also produces consistency, from the consumer’s perspective. A proper buddy-up system creates one voice throughout the organization, regardless of the agent.
Make the Most of Idle Time
The key is to focus on keeping agents engaged. Having them stare into thin air or play with their phone during slow periods of the day does not accomplish this. One idea is to use this time to incorporate agent training. Some types of training are web-based and can be picked up and completed in segments. Gamification is another approach for training, where you can include competitive activities and rewards for winners.
Implement a Reward System
To encourage teamwork, consider compensation based on group-wide performance. This emphasizes the importance of the team and encourages an environment of sharing and mentoring, leading to increased employee satisfaction. If agents fully embrace your customer experience mantra they should be rewarded – it’s that simple.
Invest in Technology
Finally, make sure to arm your agents with the right technology. This can be anything from the right chair to an intelligent CRM system. If you’re worried about budget, remember that some technology aids in lowering costs and can improve the experience for both customers and agents. For example, call-back technology makes life better for customers by eliminating hold-time, while simultaneously reducing abandon rates and telco costs in the contact center.
Give them a Good Laugh
If you really want to boost morale and help break up a dull day, send out a mass email with a YouTube clip like this one! Our favorite internet Groundhog is sure to brighten their spirits and get them through the rest of the day. Personally, I crack up laughing every time.
Employees who are truly engaged are ultimately your top performers. Start with hiring the right call center agent, and retain the good ones by eliminating the robotic nature of the role. Be sure to empower your reps to make out-of-the-box decisions, reward them for their good work, and keep them informed using the right technology.
Publish Date: February 2, 2017 5:00 AM
Today’s consumers are extremely demanding and nowhere is their patience shorter than when dealing with your call center. If you leave callers on hold, your agents will hear the complaints (which extends handle times) and your social media timeline will show angry tweets. (Have you looked up your company on OnHoldWith.com? You might be in for an unpleasant surprise.) So having hold times of more than a few minutes is just asking for trouble.
What can a call center manager do? Sure, more agents will reduce wait time, but agents are expensive! Luckily, in this case, there is another answer: Replace hold time with a call-back. If you’re considering a call-back solution for your call center, here are some things you should check off your list before proceeding.
Reviewing the Reasons:
First, a quick refresher on why call-backs will improve your call center:
1) Improving Customer Satisfaction
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 improvement.
2) Reducing Abandon Rates
When hold times are long, many callers will simply abandon, i.e. hang-up. Abandonment leads to higher repeat calling (which can strain the call center system) and, of course, dissatisfied customers. Offering a call-back reduces 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.)
3) Lower Cost
A less obvious advantage of call-backs is the ability to lower 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.
4) Smoothing Out Spikes
If your call center has “spikey” call volume, you’re faced with an extra 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
Things I Wish I Knew Before Adding Call-Backs
1) Spend Effort Getting the Timing Right
Part of any call-back system is playing the offer message. This is usually something like, “Instead of waiting on hold, you can get a call-back from the next available agent by pressing 1 now.” The “Time-Till-Offer” or “TTO” is the amount of time a caller spends in queue before hearing a call-back offer. Many companies don’t realize how critical the timing of this message is.
Although this sounds complicated, it’s actually good news. Changing TTO is an easy “lever” to adjust and has a big impact on the performance of your call-back deployment. I definitely advise you to put effort into getting this timing right!
For more on this topic download our eBook, “The ROI of Call-Backs for Your Call Center”.
2) Don’t Make Callers Wait Twice
After the queuing is complete, a call-back system has to somehow connect an agent with a caller. Familiarize yourself with the two main ways of doing this: “agent-wait” or “customer-wait”.
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, negating the advantage of having call-backs in the first place!
The alternative is the agent-wait scenario. Here, 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 customer’s phone rings. Luckily, the idle time is typically 10 seconds or less.
Sometimes “agent-wait” and “customer-wait” are called “agent-first” and “customer-first”. To avoid confusion just ask your call-back vendor to walk you through the timeline, so that this isn’t one of those things “you wish you knew”!
3) Provide Callers with an Escalation Path to Voice
The vast majority of contact centers are using multiple channels to interact with their customers. Each channel has its strengths, but the voice channel really stands apart. That’s because, when you have a tough issue to discuss, when there is an urgent matter, or when the other options have left you frustrated, there’s an instinctive desire to talk to another human.
This isn’t a criticism of self-service channels, since they are cost effective and most customers prefer them now anyway. But, remember that even the best self-service systems can’t cover every possible path. There will be dead-end moments, where the customer needs to talk to an agent. This is one reason call-backs are so important: they allow your callers to escalate smoothly to a voice conversation from any other channel.
So make sure your call-back solution has strong multi-channel capabilities, like pre-built components that can be added quickly to your web page or mobile app. And make sure that all the relevant teams in customer service are aware of your new call-back functionality.
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 changed all this by introducing a new way to add functionality to an existing call center: A cloud-based platform-agnostic approach that is easy to deploy on any call-center.
The secret to being platform-agnostic is that the interaction between the call-back solution and the call-center is accomplished purely with phone calls. Because all centers can accept phone calls (by definition!) this makes the Fonolo solution universally compatible. 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 Callbacks 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, both on-premise and cloud-based, have at least some form of call-back functionality. Even in these cases, 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
Call-backs are one of those rare win-win situations in the call center world: 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: January 31, 2017 5:00 AM