Fonolo - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog Page 8
Operating a successful contact center is rarely a simple undertaking. As many contact center professionals know, there are a number of crucial factors that come into play. At Fonolo, we often hear from call center managers who are proactively trying to improve their metrics with our solutions. This year we even started awarding managers for their contribution to enhancing the customer experience. But, we wanted to go one step further and pick the brains of forward thinking leaders. We asked them, “How do you meet (or exceed) the KPI’s set for your contact center?” And you know what? Many were eager to share their words of advice. Below you’ll hear from extraordinary contact center thought leaders including Fonolo customers: Home Advisor, Cloud9 Realtime, and Edge Imaging.
So, without further ado, here are 7 amazing tips from experienced industry professionals about how they achieve success in the contact center.
Warning: These tips are extremely thorough, insightful, and useful to any call center professional striving towards improvement. We highly recommend reading each tip to completion since this helpful information has a tendency of being overlooked.
“Unlike other professions, most people don’t plan to spend their career as agents. It’s not glamourous and often a transitional career. As such, it can be hard to foster engagement, retention and productivity. Rather than fear these challenges, I embraced them. During my time as a contact center leader, I invested in helping my agents discover how their current job would benefit them in their next professional role, no matter what they aspired to do. When they realized that it benefited their future goals, they were more engaged in their work, harnessed their passions, and excelled in their delivery of service.”
– Justin Robbins, Contact Center Thought Leader, UBM Americas
“Meeting performance level expectations is dependent on several factors (technology, reporting, luck) but ultimately it comes down to people. Not only do you have to have the right people talking to your customers, but you have to have the right managers in place motivating and coaching the agents. If you can find agents who truly enjoy helping others, who take ownership of every call and who have a positive attitude about life, you will be on your way to excellence. Since those characteristics don’t always come naturally, you need a management team in place to help make it happen. Front line managers are the most critical part of the Customer Service team. They drive morale, they make agents better by coaching and as we all know, they are the most important factor in whether an agent stays or leaves. So while people will talk a lot about technology in a call center, when it comes right down to it, nothing is more important to be successful than the people.”
– Matt Zurcher, Customer Care SVP, Home Advisor
“Creating a pipeline for future trainers was one of my biggest successes as a Training Manager. I identified Senior Agents, post-training Coaches and Team Leaders who were interested in training. With their Manager’s help, we mapped out a plan for them to transition onto my Training Team. I also had them fill in occasionally as guest assistant trainers, so they gained classroom experience. As a result of this career pathing, whenever we expanded our training team, there were several great candidates already groomed to step into those roles.”
– Mike Aoki, President, Reflective Keynotes Inc.
“Cloudnine Realtime is all about empowering customers to take control of their growth through the power of possibility. We do this by providing our customers with choices as to how they’d like to receive support. When a customer calls in for support, they can choose a preference as to how they’d like to proceed. They can simply wait on the line for the next available technician, or they can opt to receive an automatic call back. This means that our customers can get on with their day while knowing that their issue will be addressed in a way that saves them time and hassle.”
– Robert Chandler, CEO, Cloudnine Realtime
“Employees communicating with customers are the human conduit that extends from your organization to the customer, regardless of medium. Whether they are a customer service representative on a voice call, email or chat, or an employee updating your website, they are bringing information to your customer and building value.
Near real-time information is critical to providing the highest value possible. The best people, processes and technology are all for naught unless you keep your employees up to date with the latest information. Focus on providing your employees with the correct information ASAP, otherwise you risk all of your efforts to provide value to your customers that they will appreciate and reciprocate with return business.”
– Kevin C. Brown, Managing Director, VoxPeritus
Edge Imaging went directly to the heart of their contact center for advice about operating successfully. As many of the leaders here have mentioned, agents truly play a fundamental part in the success of any call center.
“We practice active listening; acknowledge the customer has been heard and ask questions to help solve the issue quickly.”
– Natalie Garcia, Customer Care Representative, Edge Imaging
Neal Topf from Callzilla took a slightly different approach — a simple yet thorough mathematical equation, that can lead to contact center success,
“[Proper Employee Selection + (Training + On-boarding) + (QA + Coaching + Supervision + Career Path) = Employee Engagement] + Processes + Reporting + Clearly defined objectives (CSat + FCR + Effort) + Omni-channel Technology + Front-line Empowerment + Senior Management buy-in = Contact Center Success.”
– Neal Topf, President, Callzilla
Do you have a tip to share? We’d love to hear it – Please feel free to include your own advice below for building a successful contact center!
Publish Date: September 27, 2016 5:00 AM
We all know how demanding today’s consumers are. Nowhere is their patience shorter than when dealing with your call center. If you’re leaving callers on hold for more than a few minutes, you’re asking for trouble. 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 unpleasantly surprised.)
Not many problems in the call center have an easy fix. Luckily, this one does: Replace hold time with a call-back. Even better news: It’s easier than ever to add this capability to your call center with cloud-based offerings like Fonolo.
Whichever approach you take to adding call-backs, you can greatly increase your odds of success by learning the 3 secrets in today’s post.
1) Timing is Everything
The first step in getting a caller to opt for a call-back 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.”
One of the critical variables in a call-back deployment is when to play that message to the caller. The “Time-Till-Offer” or “TTO” is the amount of time a caller spends in queue before hearing a call-back offer.
Changing the TTO will impact how many callers hear the offer. For example, if the average hold time is 2 minutes, but the offer isn’t played until 3 minutes in the queue, most callers won’t hear it.
TTO also impacts the Take-Up Rate, which is the fraction of callers who opt-in after hearing the message. There’s interesting psychology at play here: Some callers will take an offer that is made immediately, while others will opt to “wait it out”. But after a few minutes on hold, callers are more likely to opt-in, so the Take-Up Rate grows. After a while, this effect flattens out. The chart below is an example of this relationship (but may differ in your environment).
Take-Up also increases by making multiple offers for the call-back. In fact, this is the best way to maximize the overall call-back rate. (If you’re assessing vendors for a call-back solution, make sure the ability to make multiple offers once a caller is in queue is on the feature list.)
Here is a short video of a Fonolo customer talking about his experience in adjusting the TTO:
When to Offer the Call-Back
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.
If you want to go deeper into this exercise, download our eBook, “The ROI of Call-Backs for Your Call Center”.
2) Never Make a Caller Wait Twice
There are two flavors of call-backs: “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 tweet below captures the customer reaction to this perfectly.
Interacting with DISHTV. +1 for using virtual hold. As promised they called back in 11 minutes. -1 for then putting me on hold for 9 minutes
— Dave Michels (@DaveMichels) August 20, 2016
(DishTV, if you’re listening, hit me on email.)
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 “customer-first” and “agent-first”, respectively. To avoid confusion just ask your call-back vendor to walk you through the timeline, so you know what you’re getting.
3) Give Customers a Smooth Escalation to Voice
Voice, email, Twitter, Facebook, web chat… at this point, a vast majority of contact centers (88% according to one study) are using multiple channels to interact with their customers. Each channel has its strengths, but the voice channel really stands apart.
When a customer has a tough issue to discuss, when the matter is urgent, or when the other options have left them frustrated, there’s an instinctive desire for them to have a phone conversation with another human.
Of course your contact center should invest in self-service channels: they are the cost effective way to help your customer, and most customers prefer them now anyway. But, remember that even the best self-service systems have a dead-end moment, where the customer needs to talk to an agent. This is one reason call-backs are such an important tool to add to your toolbox: they allow your callers to escalate smoothly to a voice conversation from any other channel.
To make the most of this ability, your call-back solution needs to have strong multi-channel capabilities, like pre-built components that can be added quickly to your web page or mobile app.
Publish Date: September 20, 2016 5:00 AM
Hiring the right customer service agent is incredibly important to the success of your contact center. You’ve probably seen how less-than-stellar support interactions can go completely viral in a matter of hours. It just goes to show that a contact center is only as good as its agents! After all, onboarding committed, motivated, and qualified agents helps your call center achieve its purpose.
The foundation of any successful support team is built from a carefully crafted hiring process, where you have a clear vision on the type of person you want to hire. Check out these 4 tips to help you prepare for employing the right customer service agent.
1. Hire People that Fit Your Ideal Contact Center Agent Profile
The first tip in creating the ideal hiring process is developing an agent profile. Simply assess the qualities that your top agents possess and then develop a profile that encompasses those skills, attributes and behaviors. Provide your HR Manager with the candidate profile and ensure that each applicant fits within those guidelines.
2. Prepare a Solid List of Questions that You Will Ask Each Candidate
The second tip encourages you to understand your goals for the interview. It’s important to ask the right questions, ones that will help you determine whether a candidate possess certain competencies. To help ensure that your frontline folks are top-notch, here are a few questions that you should ask.
3. Score Candidates Based on Their Answers
This third tip is intended to help you understand how you would rate each response. Basically, what sort of answers are you looking for? Once you’ve determined that, you can then complete the agent profile sheet. Have a section in the profile where you can categorize the applicant’s answers with a score. Each score can have a weight and the total points can reflect if they’re a good fit. Here’s an example of a scorecard.
4. Ask for References
The fourth and final tip can be a bit trickier, since some company’s would rather not share their experiences with previous employees. If a company is being particularly tight-lipped about a former staff member, try asking if the person is eligible for rehire. A simple yes or no can give you good information. It can also be useful to have a section on the job application where the candidate gives you permission to check references. Former managers may also be more likely to speak up if you assure them that their reference will be kept confidential.
After you’ve hired the most eligible applicants from the pool, there are signs that you can watch out for to ensure you’ve made the right decision. This article discusses four distinct signs that reflect if you’ve hired the right agent for the job.
Good luck in your hiring process!
Publish Date: September 15, 2016 5:00 AM
The IVR (Interactive Voice Response) has been the bane of many customers’ existence since its inception. Unfortunately, this seemingly helpful tool has become somewhat of a nuisance for callers. From convoluted dialing options to poor speech recognition, it’s no wonder that customers are skipping this friendly voice over and trying to reach a live agent. According to JD Power & Associates, the IVR accounts for an astounding 27% of the total call experience. However, only 7% of organizations currently offer an IVR solution that delivers a better experience (CSAT) than their live agent experience.
So, where is your IVR failing customers? We explore four popular pain points that many IVR systems need to improve upon:
Confusing or Incomplete Options
At this point you’ve listened to the IVR options 3 times over and none of them seem to line up to your concerns. There’s really no other option, but to skip the IVR and hope an agent can help you with your problem. Many times it’s not because the option isn’t there, but because the description is not very clear. “Press 3 for questions about compliance with OHIP.” What does that mean? Not much to me. Your customers aren’t thick, they just need a little bit more reassurance that the rabbit hole they’re about to go down will lead to somewhere. Update those IVR options people!
Poor Speech Recognition
“English or French?” “English” “Parlez-vous français?” “I said English!” It’s happened to us all at least one time or another. You say one thing to the IVR and it hears another. Or worse, it keeps asking you to repeat what you said (I’m looking at you Siri). There’s nothing worse than trying to get through to a human and being blockaded by this annoying IVR glitch. If you provide speech recognition in the IVR make sure it’s flawless, otherwise, keep it simple and let your customers use the dial pad.
Asking for Too Much Information
If you’re asking customers for their social security number, email address, account number and phone number using the IVR, you’re going to get a few frustrated people. That kind of information should be reserved for a live agent conversation. Finding assistance should only be a maximum of one or two options away. Plus, there’s nothing more stressful than trying to enter numbers into a dial pad without making a mistake. If you require that much information right off the bat then connect your customers to a live agent first, or be more realistic about what verifications you need.
Locking Customers Into the IVR
Your customers don’t have all day to figure out the IVR – never leave them without an escape plan. The option to speak to an agent or receive a call-back from an agent should always be front and center. A lot of times your customers have no idea who they need to speak to; so listing off a bunch of options is just taking up precious resolution time. The bottom-line: Locking your customers into the IVR will likely result in an abandoned call rather than a customer taking the time to figure out which option is best.
Publish Date: September 14, 2016 5:00 AM
Like the seasons following each other, the hype cycle is part of the natural order in technology land. When #BotMania went thermonuclear in May, it was only a matter of time before the disillusionment set in. Then comes a wave of blog posts, like this one, explaining why.
A backlash is often caused by out-sized expectations (Remember “Segway will be bigger than the internet”?). That’s certainly part of this story. But there’s an equally important factor this time: poorly defined vocabulary. We shouldn’t feel too bad, though. The customer service industry is changing rapidly causing new words to enter the conversation, and existing words to morph in meaning. (That’s why we’re putting out the New Customer Service Lexicon. See Part 1 and Part 2.)
It’s time for a bot reality check.
What is a Bot?
The term “bot” is extremely broad; it can refer to any system that offers a dialog-like automated interaction. The IVRs that form the gateway to most call centers (“Press 1 for sales…”) could be called voice-based bots. Siri is a bot. Texting a donation to the Red Cross is a bot. You get the picture.
Strangely, the term “bot” or “Chatbot” had not been popular in recent years. The resurgence came in April, when Facebook announced that it was opening the Messenger platform to bots, VentureBeat declared “The Chatbot Gold Rush is Here” and TechCrunch called it the most important launch since the App Store. But this week, the head of Facebook Messenger platform, David Marcus, admitted that bots are overhyped and underpowered.
Let’s go through some of the extreme expectations placed on the shoulders of the newly-born bot species:
Expectation 1: Talk to Computers in Regular English!
Because examples of bot interactions focused on how people could type requests in plain language, the discussion got mashed up with the topic of AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP). Take this quote from Recode: “the technology that powers bots, artificial intelligence software, is improving dramatically…[can] process language… and actually converse with humans.” No! A bot is just a style of interface. It could be powered by cutting edge Deep Learning AI algorithms or it could just be a set of If-Then statements. These are unrelated paths of technology. (And, incidentally, the simple minded bot might actually be the more useful one.)
In terms of understanding plain English, there continues to be slow and steady progress with the technology of Natural Language Processing (NLP) but no sudden improvement has happened in the past year.
Expectation 2: An End to App Fatigue!
There are only so many apps people will install and use on their smartphone. If you have only occasional correspondence with, say, your airline, does it make sense to keep their app on your phone all the time?
The hope is bots will solve this problem by being available, on demand, via messaging apps that are already broadly installed: Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, Skype, Kik, etc. This is actually a reasonable expectation, but we still have the problem of discovery to sort out. What will be the equivalent of the app store for bots? Will there be a separate one for each messaging platform?
Expectation 3: Wechat-ism!
China-based WeChat has been the center of attention both for rapid growth and for pushing the “messaging-as-interface” model further than anyone else. For WeChat’s 600 million users, it is not just a way to chat with friends, it’s also their primary gateway for interacting with, and buying from, companies. WeChat has leveraged popularity in person-to-person (P2P) interactions for expansion into business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions. So much so, that it’s more important for a new company in China to have a WeChat account than a stand-alone website.
It’s natural to imagine a similar trend happening here. Could this be the way Google’s SEO hegemony is finally toppled? Is this the start of a new era for the internet? (See Re/Code, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, GigaOm all speculating about this.) The embrace of bots by messaging platforms seemed like the opening move in this direction, but there’s no revolution afoot yet. Maybe that’s because WeChat’s success was driven by a set circumstances very unique to China.
Expectation 4: No More Human Agents!
This is the dumbest interpretation of the bot phenomenon, promoted by some truly lazy journalists. I’m not even going to drop any links here, to avoid embarrassment. The idea goes like this: “Imagine not calling your airline to change a flight, just talk to the bot! We won’t need call center agents anymore! The era of waiting on hold is over! ”
No, no, no.
Look: Bots are a form of self-service, just like web forms and IVR. At best, everything you could do through previous forms of self-service will be available by bot.
PERHAPS bot-powered self-service will be better by cutting down some steps (But maybe not.) PERHAPS bot-powered self-service will be more “discoverable” (as per item 2 above). But, given a particular business process (e.g. changing a flight), if it requires a human today, it will still require a human after adding bots. If a company puts in the effort to make a business process “self-serviceable” then it should be available via bot, but also via other channels, like a web form.
And if you want to eliminate waiting on hold, there are already ways to do that.
Backlash Sample Platter
Initial enterprise wave of Facebook bots fails to impress
The conversations still leave something to be desired… bots use simple decision-tree mechanisms, and can’t easily understand context or intent… essentially messenger versions of the interactive voice response systems that we’ve all come to hate.
What The Guardian has learned from Chatbot
A lot of users responded as they would to a human, and when they got non-human responses, they’d stop using it…
Are chatbots helpful? An eCommerce quest to buy pants
The AI used its nimble wit to avoid my questions. Did it think I was not worthy of H&M? Or was it loathe to admit that it, too, did not know where the H&M bot had gone?
Chatbots versus humans: Who builds customer rapport better?
…a minefield of mismatched expectations
The current backlash is a natural response to the initial hype. Despite that, bots are destined to play a big part of the customer service landscape. Note that startups in this space have raised over $170m in 8 months. Just remember: Bots are a new delivery channel for automated self-service. They join a long menu of current channel choices that are jockeying for budget and attention: web, mobile app, social media and phone. They will bring their own pros and cons to the party. Now that we’re past the hype cycle, it’s time for companies to roll up their sleeves, build useful bots, and see if customers prefer them.
Publish Date: September 13, 2016 5:00 AM
We’re excited to share with you our most recent success story featuring Ascend Federal Credit Union. With $1.845 billion in assets, Ascend Federal Credit Union (FCU) is the largest credit union in Middle Tennessee, and one of the largest federally chartered credit unions in the United States.
With a proud focus on their member experience, Ascend kept a keen eye on the contact center. Realizing that the experience starts the moment a member phones in, Ascend FCU watched queue times and listened closely to member feedback. The results revealed that members were dissatisfied with long queue time. Ascend quickly sought a way to reduce hold time and improve the member experience on the voice channel.
In an effort to solve the problem, Ascend implemented Fonolo’s In-Call Rescue call-back solution. Read how this solution led to improved member satisfaction with a 50% reduction in abandon rate! Click here for the full success story.
Interested in hearing this story live? Well, you’re in luck! Jamie Jenkins, VP of Information Technology from Ascend Federal Credit Union, will be our guest speaker on today’s webinar!
Publish Date: September 8, 2016 5:00 AM
It’s a six-letter word that most doctors tell their patients to beware of, or they could face serious health conditions down the road. It’s something we all struggle to cope with everyday but it’s ranked significantly higher for contact center agents. Have any guesses? Yes, it’s called s-t-r-e-s-s or better known as “agent burnout” in contact center terms. Of course stress or burnout can be found in any job but according to U.S. News Careers, customer service representatives suffer from above average stress levels and below average job flexibility, which is cause for concern. Healthy workers are better workers, so it’s important to do whatever you can to help curb stress levels and boost agent morale in your contact center.
We explore a few ways to make your contact center a less harmful working environment for all:
Encourage Agents to Take ‘Real’ Breaks
These days it seems like taking a vacation is a bit of a faux pas but in the end, taking time off can actually be more beneficial than detrimental to a person’s work.
If agents are not taking adequate time off to reflect and relax then sooner or later they will begin to tire, and eventually burnout completely. This is what creates high turnover in the workplace and having to constantly rehire staff takes time and money. Encourage your staff to take the breaks they deserve. They’ll come back with a new perspective, more energy, and the drive to accomplish more. I mean anyone who has to talk to people day in and day out deserves a little peace and quiet here and there.
Equip Agents with Proper Tools
Lack of proper software, hardware, office supplies, and even office furniture can all lead to unnecessary stress in the workplace. Let’s say your agent is struggling from back pain from sitting at an uncomfortable chair all day. This issue could be avoided by sending in a request to corporate for better office chairs. Or perhaps your call center is suddenly inundated with angry callers because of a sudden recall (For example: Samsung Note). By having a call-back option installed on your phone system you have significantly reduced the burden of stress put on your agents. This option reassures customers that they will be called back, thus reducing repeat callers tying up the phone lines and angry customers on the other end fed up with waiting on hold.
By giving your agents the right resources for the job, they can focus better on what’s in front of them, which is helping your customers, rather than what’s going wrong on their end of the line.
Give Agents a Reason to Come to Work
At first, agents will seem eager to begin their new career as a CSR but after that honeymoon phase wears off, call center life can begin to feel mundane. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical safety when it comes to workplace performance. That’s why it’s so important to consistently reignite your agents’ passion for work.
Showing agents that their work is valuable is more than just cutting a cheque for a few hundred dollars, it’s the difference between a happy agent and a stressed out or depressed agent. But let’s face it; if an agent can’t afford to pay rent after working 40 hours a week, it’s unlikely that they’ll feel their job is worth the effort. But don’t stop there, an agent’s reason for happiness can range anywhere from job appreciation, to fair compensation, to job security and more. Just as agents ask customers how they would rate their satisfaction levels, ask agents to do the same of their workplace. Perspective is everything and if an agent has a negative one, they will not only harm their own position but can create a toxic environment across the entire workforce.
Publish Date: September 7, 2016 5:00 AM
This blog series explores terminology related to customer service that is either new, evolving or uncertain. In Part 1 we looked at “Canonical”, “Chat vs. Messaging”, “Bots vs. AI” and the troublesome word “digital”. This week, we have 3 new entries below.
It’s amazing how quickly this space is moving: new channels (e.g. chat & bots), changing consumer behavior (e.g. a preference for text, venting on Twitter) and new players (e.g. Facebook and Salesforce).
To navigate all these changes, the right language with crisp definitions can help. Sloppy language with squishy meaning (intentional or not) can hurt. Hopefully this series helps to steer you towards the former!
Virtual Queuing vs. Virtual Hold vs. Call-Backs
When it comes to reducing hold-time in the call-center, there are a number of terms that overlap each other, which can be confusing.
Virtual queuing is basically the “take-a-number” approach. In the real world that means you can go sit down, relax and wait for your turn to be announced over a loudspeaker. In the phone world, it means you can hang up, go about your day, and wait for the call-back.
Virtual queuing describes any system where you can keep your place in line without having to stay on the phone.
People sometimes use the term “Virtual Hold” when talking about virtual queuing. But Virtual Hold is the specific product of a company called “Virtual Hold Technology”. (This is kind of like the relationship between “kleenex” and “tissue”.)
The related term “call-back” (sometimes written as “callback”) is easy to understand because it’s part of our vocabulary for plain old person-to-person calls: “Hi. Can’t talk right now. Call you back in 5?”
When used for a “person-to-company” call, call-backs can take several forms, but what’s common is that the direction of the call gets reversed. That is, you want to talk to Acme, but the call comes from Acme to your phone.
Here’s an important point: virtual queuing always requires a call-back, but the reverse is not true. That is, companies might offer call-backs, but you would still end-up waiting on hold after you answered the call.
The image below shows how virtual queuing and call-backs work together in a call timeline.
Click-to-Call, Virtual Queuing, Virtual Hold, Call-Backs – What it All Means
What’s Your Approach to Your Queuing Experience? By Adrian Swinscoe
Virtual Agent vs. Intelligent Assistant
A “virtual agent” and an “intelligent assistant” are both forms of self-service where the consumer interacts with an automated system that attempts to simulate a human interaction. There’s a lot of overlap with those two terms and with “bots”, which we tackled in Part 1 last week.
Sometimes the agent or assistant is anthropomorphized by having a name or even a carton image, like “Chloe” below, but this is not a requirement. A blank search field asking “how can I help you?” can also be the gateway to a virtual agent.
The term “Intelligent Assistant” is associated closely with the on-device mobile experiences from Apple (“Siri”), Amazon (“Alexa”) and Microsoft (“Cortana”). But, more generally, it seems this term implies that the “agent” persists across multiple interactions. In other words, agent “Chloe” above probably won’t remember you the next time you have a shipping question, but Siri, of course, will. That makes the latter “intelligent” because it (she?) should, in theory, be getting better and more personalized over time.
However, this is not a bright line; Vendors of virtual agents certainly don’t see their products as second class citizens to the Siri clique. Their ambitions are for the company-specific agents to get just as smart and intelligent as the mobile-based agents.
The terminology in this space has actually become more muddled in the past year. That’s because “bot”, which had been somewhat deprecated by vendors, came roaring back in vogue. Hence why a lot of “virtual agent” start-ups have become “chat bot” startups. So, here are some guidelines to deciphering it all:
- “bot”, “assistant” and “agent” have the same, very broad, meaning: an automated interaction.
- “virtual” also means the interaction is automated.
- “intelligent” really doesn’t mean anything. A chat bot could be powered by cutting edge Deep Learning AI algorithms and still be useless. Or it could just be a set of If-then statements, and be great.
You can mix-and-match those terms freely without changing the meaning much.
The business category of “Intelligent Assistance” has ballooned to include dozens of companies. Here is a map of the space prepared by Dan Miller, Derek Top & Nicolas De Kouchkovsky.
Compare and Contrast: ChatBots and Intelligent Assistants (LinkedIn Discussion)
Intelligent Assistant Landscape Shows Slow Growth But Huge Potential via VentureBeat
“Voice Shrinkage” is a half-in-jest term referring to the declining role of voice in the customer service channel mix. The argument that voice is shrinking is straightforward: interactions that would have been phone calls are being replaced by alternate channels. Instead of picking up the phone, we tweet, email or chat. So if one imagines a “fixed pie” of all customer service interactions, then the slice of that pie occupied by voice is getting smaller.
This is obviously important to understand because the “multi-channel” puzzle is the THE defining challenge of customer service right now. That is: Which channels of company-to-consumer communication are important and where should companies invest their time and energy?
Part of the reason we can’t get a straight answer is that to talk quantitatively about whether more or fewer interactions are over a certain channel, you have to define “interactions”. Does each email count as one? Each phone call? In a single phone call, you might be able to resolve multiple issues, whereas several emails may be required to solve a single issue.
Be wary of analysts (or vendors) making bold claims in the area. The data is far from conclusive.
Is there #VoiceShrinkage in the Contact Center?
Nobody Knows if Voice is Growing or Shrinking
We’re Not Done!
Good news! We’ve had great feedback on this series so we’re going to turn it into a free eBook. On September 22, we’ll post a link to download that document which will include the definitions from Part 1, Part 2 plus the following:
- Multichannel / Omnichannel / Optichannel
- Conversational Commerce
- OTT Voice
See you then!
Publish Date: September 6, 2016 5:00 AM
This isn’t my normal posting time-slot, but I just had to put down a few thoughts on yesterday’s news. In what is probably the largest merger in our industry’s history, Genesys is buying Interactive Intelligence for 1.4 billion dollars.
What’s the thinking behind this deal? Who are the winners and losers?
Some quick thoughts below.
The last deal to alter the landscape this much was Avaya’s purchase of Nortel’s enterprise business in 2009. Ironically, Avaya itself was rumored to be the target, rather than InIn, just 3 weeks ago. In fact, we assembled the opinions of several industry analysts on this possibility and posted it last Tuesday.
Among the analysts, only Paul Stockford said that InIn would be a better choice. For that, he wins a free lifetime subscription to the blog plus a Fonolo t-shirt. (Paul, send us your size.)
Guts and Cloud Pay Off
It’s pretty clear that InIn’s new cloud platform “PureCloud” was the driving force behind this deal. Both Genesys and InIn have been offering hybrid cloud-“ish” solutions, where the software is hosted by the vendor yet isn’t truly multi-tenant. Avaya and Cisco are somewhat in the same boat. Of this group, only InIn had the conviction to build a new cloud platform from the ground up. It was a gutsy move because it brought a lot of pain to their existing on-premise business (which pays all the bills). There was undoubtedly a lot more pain in store for their sales team before they would have reached the tipping point. It was a savvy long-term bet that you rarely see in large public companies. (Credit the fact that the company is still run by its founder.)
That bet sure paid off! Genesys needed a way to fully embrace cloud and PureCloud will deliver it.
Try, Try Again
Some commenters where bearish on this merger citing the difficulties that followed the Avaya-Nortel merger. It’s true that most mergers fail, but not all do! And if you don’t think you can beat the average, you shouldn’t be running a company. Clearly Genesys CEO Paul Segre thinks he can.
Other curmudgeons pointed to the fact that previous cloud-focused acquisitions EchoPass and Angel have not gotten Genesys to the promised land. First, neither of those had the size and completeness of InIn. Second, I see this simply as a sign that Genesys saw the importance of the goal.
No call center company will survive long term without a robust first-class cloud offering.
Genesys is proving that it is willing to try until it gets it right.
What About the Overlap?
Between the two of them Genesys and Inin have between 4 and 6 call center platforms, so obviously some overlap needs to be trimmed. My guess is that InIn’s CIC and CaaS products will be sunsetted. That was the plan anyway, because PureCloud was the long term play, but certainly the timeline will be shorter now.
In an interview with analyst Sheila McGee-Smith the Genesys CEO said
My belief is that in the Genesys segment, the high-end enterprise market, there will be premises solutions for a long, long time — for at least a decade. Cloud adoption continues to increase, from small to large and from the periphery in.
Paraphrasing the rest of his answer, Sheila wrote:
As the size of the contact center increases, the probability of choosing cloud today decreases, he added. The smaller the contact center, the more likely it is to be looking at a cloud solution. But even the biggest banks, for example, are using cloud for peripheral applications like collections while keeping the ‘core’ contact center on premises or in a single-tenant hosted environment.
I can vouch for that personally, as Fonolo is providing the “peripheral” service of call-backs and virtual queuing to a number of financial firms who are keeping their core contact center on-prem.
By the way, I think this mix-and-match approach will be the bridge to an all-cloud future that is 10 or 20 years down the line. And that’s one of the reasons that CPaaS offerings like Twilio (one of the hottest tech IPOs of the year) have so much growth ahead. It’s also the reason that I’m bullish on cloud-delivered supplementary products like ours.
Publish Date: September 1, 2016 5:00 AM
So, you’re working on auto-pilot eh? (Yes, I’m Canadian.) I get it; we all tend to get comfortable with the rhythm of our day-to-day tasks and fail to watch areas that may require change. Unfortunately, your repetitive actions will produce the same results. If you keep practicing the same strategies without considering change it will only end in the demise of your center.
The best way of deciding how to improve contact center performance is to step back and look at it from a 360-degree view. After all, innovations and consumer behaviors evolve in scope and sophistication, so it’s worth reconsidering your tactics to potentially take your service to the next level.
1. Measuring Average Handle Time (AHT)
Many call centers push agents to handle client queries within an allotted timeframe. What they fail to realize is that agent behavior is impacted dramatically by these metrics. If agents are being graded on AHT, they’re at risk of rushing through calls and not solving problems effectively. While efficiency is certainly an important factor for a successful call center, you also want to foster an environment where your agents feel comfortable listening to customers, and even initiating important conversations.
Many companies have actually found that de-emphasizing AHT leads to increased customer satisfaction and First Call Resolution (FCR). The decision not to watch handle time, sends a strong signal to the agents about how they should approach calls and the kind of style they should use.
2. Leaving Customers on Hold
NewVoice found that 25% of customers switch companies because they are tired of being on hold, while 76% of adults said that just one unpleasant experience was likely to make them take their business elsewhere. That’s a lot of pressure on contact centers to deliver superior service.
Luckily, a solution to the problem is here. In a recent report by ContactBabel – of 212 contact center managers surveyed – 22% worked for an organization that offered a call-back option. If you’re interested in learning more about this technology, you can find out how call-backs work and see if it’s the right tool for you.
3. Overlooking Agent Engagement
Often, management is more concerned with the number of inquiries handled than the well-being of staff, creating few incentives for agents to focus on the customer experience. However, employees who are truly engaged are your top performers.
Empower your reps to make out-of-the-box decisions and keep them informed using the right technology. Consider tracking employee satisfaction at every level (especially managers, who can make or break the engagement of their staff) using the same methods you would for customers.
4. Avoiding Cloud-Based Technology
18% of call centers moved to a cloud-based solution by the end of 2015, and according to Gartner, more than half of the Global 1000 companies will store sensitive customer information in the cloud by the end of 2016. Organizations will continue to adopt virtual call centers due to improved security and efficiency.
While cost reduction is typically the main factor, it’s no longer the sole motivator for moving to Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS). Other noteworthy reasons are speed of deployment, flexibility, and scalability.
5. Forgetting the Importance of VoC Programs
VoC research is designed to support customer driven change, and in an era where change is ongoing, this strategy is vital. It’s essential that you capture consumer expectations and preferences in order to accurately meet their needs.
The key to creating an effective VoC program is to gather and use information in a timely way that helps you to improve. According to Forrester, successful VoC programs should support a cycle of four activities: listen to customer feedback, interpret the resulting data, react to improve the experience, and monitor results.
6. Disregarding SMS in the Call Center
Traditionally, businesses use text messages to send a widespread marketing pitch or alert/reminder. However, customers want more than that. According to a finding from OneReach, consumers want the ability to start a conversation via SMS for answers commonly found on self-service channels.
64% of people would prefer to use text messages over voice as a support channel. So, if customers expect texting to be a part of the conversational dialogue, it needs to be an application you consider to stay ahead of the competition.
Publish Date: September 1, 2016 5:00 AM
We live in the age of the customer and increasing expectations are making it harder than ever for contact centers to feel good about their operations. In fact, only 1% of customers feel that their expectations of good customer service are always met. *Ouch* It’s like what they say, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Today, contact centers and agents have to strive for excellence at every single touch point of a customer interaction to convince customers that they’re doing everything in their power to meet their needs. And as you can imagine, this task is much easier said than done.
Effective contact center communications involve a number of factors, and sometimes, even when everything appears to be in place, business needs can change. In order for managers to successfully optimize agent performance, it’s important that they keep their eyes peeled for these 5 big mistakes that happen every single day in the contact center:
1. Putting Customers on Hold
- 25% switch because they are tired of being kept on hold. (NewVoice)
- 62% have to repeatedly contact a company to resolve an issue. (Harvard Business Review)
- 53% are irritated if they don’t speak to a real person right away. (NewVoice)
2. Inconsistent Communications
- 82% view accuracy and quality of information as the most important attribute of customer experience. (Deloitte)
- 29% switch because they are annoyed by a lack of staff knowledge. (NewVoice)
3. Shuffling Customers Around
- 72% blame their bad customer service experience on having to explain their problem to multiple people. (Zendesk)
- 56% have to re-explain an issue when speaking to customer service. (Harvard Business Review)
4. Not Paying Attention to Metrics
- 80% of customer service organizations use customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores as their primary metric for gauging customer experience. (Harvard Business Review)
- Training reps to respond to customers who have given low marks on surveys can increase resolution rate by 31%. (Harvard Business Review)
5. Insufficient CRM Software
- Innoppl Technologies showed that 65% of sales reps who have adopted mobile CRM have achieved their sales quotas. While only 22% of reps using non-mobile CRM have reached the same targets.
- 91% of companies with more than 11 employees now use CRM software.
- 39% see an opportunity to improve revenue by leveraging reporting and analytics. (Deloitte)
Publish Date: August 31, 2016 5:00 AM
The world of customer service is ever expanding, making it a complicated and dynamic space to navigate. With new communication channels appearing and evolving every year, it’s a challenge to understand how they relate to each other, and how they should work together. Professionals working in this field recognize that new channels are accompanied by new terminology, and it’s essential that the terms are understood. The right language can help our thought process. Conversely, ambiguity about words like “digital” or “chat” or “call” makes the navigation harder.
In this series, we will discuss terms that are either new to the customer service space or have a recently changed meaning. We’re not going to do a simple dictionary-style listing of common terms (you can find that in many other places). We’re just tackling the stuff that is still hot out of the oven!
This is a word that I remember from decades ago in a literature class and it’s great to see it take on new life. In the customer service context, “canonical” means that an interaction is the “official” record between you and a company. I think people are also using it to imply that it is a complete record, although this is not always true.
It used to be that canonical information was kept internal to the company. Here is VC blogger Thomas Tunguz using it in that sense:
“Systems of record are the single source of truth about a particular department or company. A CRM is the canonical source of sales information; the ERP system is the canonical source of a company’s financial information.” [emphasis added]
The new trend is to share the official record with customers, thus making customer service more efficient. Here is David Marcus, head of Facebook Messenger, talking about airline KLM using Messenger:
“…flyers will be able to automatically receive their itinerary, flight updates, check-in notifications, get their boarding passes, even rebook flights when needed, and communicate with the airline all from one contextual, canonical thread.” [emphasis added]
And here he is using it to contrast with email:
“…email is completely broken. Look at the traditional e-commerce journey: you go to a website. You have to create an account – that’s one email. You add something to your shopping cart and check out – that’s another email. The package ships – that’s another email. When it arrives, that’s another. That’s four emails that are distinct threads that are not canonical.”
Bots, Messenger and the future of customer service by Michael Schneider
Facebook Messenger: inside Zuckerberg’s app for everything by Wired
Chat vs. Messaging
Although “chat” and “messaging” are interchangeable in casual usage, they are in fact, two different approaches to customer service.
A company adds “chat” to its website or mobile app by buying, from a 3rd party, a service that will live solely on that company’s site or app. Whereas, “messaging” is something that requires the company to partner with a platform that gives consumers a single interface (on the web or phone) for contacting both friends and businesses. The company does not pay for the platform and does not have control over it. (Those definitions aren’t official, but seem to be the consensus of the analysts and industry folks I spoke to.)
The chart below fleshes out the comparison.
Chat vs. Messaging Comes Down to Who Owns the Channel
The Messaging Phenomenon Has Hardly Begun
Bots vs. AI
This past April, Facebook announced that it was opening up its Messenger platform to automated interactions, or “bots”, and media hype went into overdrive. VentureBeat declared “The Chatbot Gold Rush is Here” and TechCrunch called it the most important launch since the App Store.
Unfortunately, “bot” is a very broad and vague term. Because examples of bot interactions focused on how people could type requests in plain language, the discussion got mashed up with the topic of AI. Predictably, the mainstream media started equating the arrival of chat bots with “HAL9000”. That unfortunate mishmash was further fueled by the fact that a true milestone in AI (a computer a final beating the world Go champion) had grabbed headlines just months before. Journalists thought they saw a pattern, and ran with it.
Here’s the cold-water: Bots are just a new delivery channel for automated self-service. The expansion of Messenger / WeChat / SnapChat / Kik / WhatsApp to include this channel is a logical, smart step forward. But it is completely independent of any progress being made in Natural Language Processing or Artificial Intelligence. This Gizmodo video lays things out well:
By the way, we recently had a great panel discussion on this topic featuring industry analysts and thought leaders. You can see the video highlights here.
Don’t confuse (smartly) scripted messaging with AI-powered bots by Frederick Tubiermont
The 200 billion dollar chatbot disruption by VentureBeat
This is really an “anti-entry” in the lexicon. In other words, a term we need to stop using.
A central challenge in managing customer service today is the need to decide where to put limited resources. To do that, it’s critical to know which channels are growing and which are shrinking. Industry analysts have been eager to provide information to fuel those decisions. In presenting their data, there is a natural tendency to summarize results into tidy answers.
As an example consider this chart showing the evolution of channel usage:
That chart comes from a widely cited report by Dimension Data. We’ve reference it on his blog many times, in fact. Along with that chart, the report also includes the statement that 35% of all interactions are now on “digital” channels and the bold prediction that “digital interactions will overtake voice by the end of 2016”.
But “digital” in this context is meaningless. All the channels listed – even voice – are delivered with digital technology!
How did we get into this mess? The problem has a far larger scope than just industry analysts. In common use, the word “digital” has an informal meaning of “modern” or “new” for many years. But being digital doesn’t make something new. Fax machines are digital. Heck, even Morse code is digital.
We clearly need better terminology in this area, but there are no easy answers at this point.
Publish Date: August 30, 2016 5:00 AM
On any given day you probably sit back and think about your call center metrics. You’ll mull over anything from Average Handle Time (AHT), Service Levels (SLA’s), or the number of incoming calls. More importantly, you’ll likely study the amount of callers that abandon the queue while waiting on hold. You probably even notice patterns in call abandonment and can anticipate when the rates will spike. Perhaps there’s a certain length of time that a customer will wait on hold before they decide to drop a call. Let’s face it, we’ve all been that anxious customer sitting in limbo just wondering if we should hang-up or hold-on. Eventually, patience runs thin and hanging up is the only logical decision, but the result is a frustrated and unsatisfied customer.
Reducing call center abandon rates is essential to minimizing caller frustration and maximizing customer satisfaction levels (not to mention it helps to streamline operations). If there was a simple solution that helped reduce the amount of dropped calls and deliver a better experience, would you want to know more?
Here’s Shai Berger on the topic and how you can learn more:
Publish Date: August 25, 2016 5:00 AM
It might seem like a simple job, but being successful in the customer service industry requires a sharp sense of intuition, thick skin, and patience. When new CSRs come to work, it’s tempting to just throw them into the fire and let them handle the stress through first-hand experience, but good bosses know better. They know that if they don’t mentor their staff for success, that high turnover rates and constant rehiring is bound to occur (which is counterproductive for any business). We’ve seen it over and over again, CSRs feel attacked or undervalued so they quit on the spot or never reach their full potential.
We’ve compiled 7 things any good boss would tell you if you asked them about working in customer service:
1. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Customer service representatives are hired to pay attention to detail, but sometimes there’s a line one should draw before they start to go crazy. The last thing any boss wants for their staff is to have a nervous breakdown caused by work related stress. Understand that not every interaction will be perfect, and not everything will be solved exactly the way you expect it to. Don’t let this weigh you down or demotivate you. Let your manager know if you think something on your end can be changed to deliver better customer service, otherwise, keep doing your best, it’s all that’s expected of you.
2. Approach Every Situation with a Positive Outlook
It’s imperative to the customer experience to always have someone welcoming on the other end of the line. Try going into every interaction with a smile and an optimistic attitude. If a customer senses that you have a positive outlook on the situation, they will likely feel less stressed and more likely to respond in a similar fashion. Your boss knows that not all calls will go as planned, but try to shake off those negative vibes, and prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
3. Always Be the Bigger Person
Like we mentioned, not all calls will go as planned and some customers will come out of the gate swinging. It’s important not to take it personally and always have a level head about resolving complaints. Never stoop to an unruly customer level. As they say, the customer is king, and you can’t let pride or ego get in the way of resolving an issue. Feel free to let out your rage in different ways (if a stress ball isn’t enough, try working out after a shift, that will help you let out all your bottled up tension).
4. Don’t Get Derailed by Angry or Impatient Customers
There are very few people who enjoying spending their day talking to customer service, or even worse waiting for customer service to answer
(especially if your call center doesn’t have a call-back option). So it’s more likely than not, that customers will be quite agitated and in a rush to get their issue resolved as fast as possible. But not every issue can be solved in under a minute, so try your best to keep customers engaged by not only doing your job quickly but by also reassuring them that you appreciate their patience and you’re working hard to resolve the issue.
5. Remember Your Work Matters
When you feel like a dime-a-dozen, you sometimes wonder if it matters what you do on the job. Will anyone notice you slacking? Will anyone notice you doing well? Not always, but your work is being monitored and no matter if you’re doing bad work or good work the truth will be revealed during mandatory evaluations. On top of that, you should always feel valuable at your job – trust us when we say, if you weren’t needed you wouldn’t be there, so take pride in having this responsibility.
6. Own Up To and Correct Your Mistakes
Let’s face it, we all make mistakes! But there’s nothing worse for a manager than to have someone who constantly denies and avoids responsibility. It shows that they are unwilling to learn and incapable of improving (it’s also a little immature). When you know you’ve made an error, tell someone, and then go even further by asking how to do better next time. This not only helps the business, but it helps you grow on a professional level.
7. Think Beyond Your Role
It’s easy to get caught up in your own job, and not think about those around you. You might forget how hard other people are working in order to keep things running smoothly around you. Sometimes your boss is looking for a little bit of appreciation too, and for you to know that their success is dependent on your success. Ultimately, they are looking out for your best interests.
If you have one of those managers who give it their all and try to provide mentorship to staff, maybe give them a solid handshake or just a quick message saying how much you appreciate what they do. Don’t worry, it’s not brown-nosing, it’s just paying it forward.
Publish Date: August 24, 2016 5:00 AM
We’ve known for a while that Avaya needed to do some restructuring to help reduce its $6B pile of debt. There has been speculation that parts of the company may be sold off including their call center business. Last week, Reuters reported that there is indeed at least one suitor for that division and it is none other than Genesys, Avaya’s long-time competitor in the call center space. Having just raised $900M, Genesys was a logical suitor, yet the news seemed to catch most people off guard.
Avaya is an industry titan with over 300,000 customers, including 83% of the Fortune 500 companies. Such a transaction would be the most significant alteration of the call center vendor landscape in years; perhaps the largest shift since Avaya itself bought Nortel’s enterprise business in 2009. What does it mean for the industry? We asked some of the leading experts for their “hot take”.
President and Principal Analyst, McGee-Smith Analytics
[It’s] more about buying market share than it is about technology… That said, some Avaya technology assets, such as predictive dialing, could add to the overall Genesys CX platform…In terms of cloud [call center]… while Genesys is ahead, both companies have a way to go. The benefit of a combination would be that instead of two R&D teams working on two different solutions, just one team would be working on one platform. And that’s where the value of market consolidation comes in. [Excerpted from NoJitter.]
There are so many things, more logical things that Genesys can and should be doing that are better than buying Avaya’s contact center business. If Avaya were to sell off its lucrative contact center business, I would much rather see it go to a pure-cloud provider as I believe hybrid models offer a lot of benefits and a nice approach for customer expansion.
Independent Industry Analyst
The stars certainly seem to be aligning for this to finally happen. There’s a strong consolidation wave underway now, and this move would allow Genesys – and Avaya – to compete more effectively against Cisco. Avaya simply doesn’t have the financial resources to remain as an independent major in this space, and Genesys looks to be the best option for long term viability, and getting anxious Avaya customers back into buying mode.
Owner, Saddletree Research
If Genesys were to buy Avaya’s contact center business I think it would be to acquire the customer base rather than to acquire the technology. Taking on the Avaya product line would be a gargantuan task for Genesys. A more likely scenario would be Genesys acquiring a company like Interactive Intelligence if they could raise the funds. Interactive Intelligence would provide Genesys with an outstanding cloud solution in PureCloud and would also offer Genesys a fast entry into the mid-market. I don’t believe an acquisition of Avaya by Genesys is likely.
Pricipal Analyst, Commfusion
Contact center is the crown jewel of Avaya in terms of installed base and market share, so in part I can see why a company like Genesys would be interested. But other than as an installed base and market share play, I don’t necessarily see the value to Genesys. I’d be concerned about having a replay of what happened when Avaya acquired Nortel. Just because you acquire someone doesn’t mean that their existing customers will move to your solutions going forward. Avaya customers won’t necessarily move to Genesys solutions, and Genesys would be responsible for the support and maintenance of the Avaya solutions (unless Avaya spins out a service and support organization).
Managing Director, VoxPeritus
There still are many Genesys-on-top-of-Avaya deployments out there. Seems that there have been a fair amount of Avaya [customers] going to pure Genesys, Genesys-on-top-of-Cisco, or pure Cisco. This play would capture the second two migration prospects. Technical integration wouldn’t be tough, but product and organizational integration would have to be fast and brutal to prevent alienating current customers and pushing fence sitters over to Cisco.
Publish Date: August 23, 2016 5:00 AM