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Plum Voice - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog Page 5
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
Oh wait, that’s not the case at all. It was Alexander Graham Bell, in the U.S., with a patent. While that may read more like winning recipe to the game Clue, it’s actually what happened in 1876 with Bell’s invention of the telephone. If you’ve ever wondered what the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is and how it works, then you’ve found the post you’re looking for.
Over the better part of the ensuing century following Bell’s patent the PSTN network evolved into a communications behemoth, where by the 1970s AT&T owned and operated virtually the entire Bell system spanning the U.S. and Canada. What follows details primarily the United States PSTN, however, the pieces and functions of the components are largely the same in other countries, although the actual configurations may vary.
Good ole Ma Bell’s monopoly on the PSTN in North America eventually led to a lawsuit from the U.S. government. This resulted in the breakup of the Bell network in 1984 into regional corporations in an effort to increase competition for long distance service.
As carriers entered the picture, they each carved out pieces of the PSTN pie for themselves. When thinking about how telephone technology works today it’s important to remember that significant variances exist between the capabilities and infrastructure of different carriers.
So what exactly is the PSTN?
Originally the PSTN was “designed to support only continuous, real-time voice communications.” The system didn’t set out to provide the backbone for our modern communications infrastructure. In fact, it was designed for an average call duration of three minutes or less, relying on limited bandwidth–a mere 64 Kbps over a twister-copper-pair wire. This analog system is commonly referred to as Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS).
Although there have been a lot of upgrades to bring the components of the PSTN into the digital realm, the most common access method for landline telephones remains this analog, copper wire connection. The cost for telco operators of replacing “the last mile” of copper wire with fiber optic cable or other higher bandwidth media is prohibitive, especially with the progress that has been made in wireless technology in recent years.
The decline of the landline has made headlines in recent years as people forego their home phones for mobile smartphones. In 2008, the number of homes without a landline stood at around 25% in the United States, but that number increased to 40% by 2014. That percentage is even higher among those living in urban areas or in their late 20s.
Voice communications continue to rely heavily on the PSTN.
On the surface, the drop in landlines may suggest a corresponding decline in the relevance of the PSTN. Actually, the opposite it true. Sure, the analog “last mile” component isn’t an issue with mobile phones, but aside from the method used to connect to PSTN exchanges, everything else about how calls are processed and routed remain the same. Mobile phones can’t function without the PSTN.
The modern PSTN still has plenty of copper wire in it, but it also includes fiber optic cables, cellular networks, communication satellites, and undersea cables. These transmission media have much more bandwidth available and can accommodate much more than just voice communications. Video, for example, is one type of media that requires much more bandwidth than the 64Kbps that twisted-pair connections provide. Unless, of course, you’re a big fan of waiting for Netflix to buffer.
So how does the PSTN work? Someone picks up the phone, dials, and…
The circuit-switched PSTN opens up a continuous connection between two phones, that begins with a dial tone and ends when the phone is hung up.
To start you can have an individual subscriber, or a group of subscribers, like a business that requires multiple access lines. Individual subscribers connect directly to the local exchange, while businesses often use a private branch exchange (PBX) to manager all their connections. So the call starts with the actual phone and either connects directly to the Local Exchange or to the PBX and then to the Local Exchange, if the call comes from a business with multiple lines.
From the local exchange network, depending on where the call is going, it is pushed to international carriers, interexchange carriers, cellular providers, or internet service providers.
The number of layers of technology a call passes through varies depending on where the call is destined. This is one of the reasons that telephony can be so confusing, the sheer number of variables involved in making a “simple” phone call.
Taking a step back and really looking at the pieces that comprise the PSTN puzzle makes it abundantly clear just how far from “simple” telephony is.
The PSTN is comprised of a complex web of interconnection nodes and transmissions links. Different infrastructures exist at the local, regional, and national levels, but regardless of how each section is configured the pieces function in the same way. There are four different types of nodes: customer premises equipment (CPE), transmission, service, and switching. Transmission links constitute the physical wires or fiber, as may be the case nowadays, that interconnect the various nodes.
The CPE node is the equipment on site where the call originates. That could be an individual subscriber line or a PBX.
The transmission node consists of the equipment and media that carry information between nodes of a network. This can include things like amplifiers, repeaters, multiplexers, digital cross-connect systems, and digital loop carriers.
The service node is responsible for signaling. This means determining when to setup, hold, charge, and release connections, and getting that information to the correct outlets that maintain and bill for each section of the network.
The real meat of the PSTN are the components of the switching node. In a PSTN setup there are four different types of switches.
- The Local Exchange has already been alluded to, and is the component of the network that physically connects subscribers (the CPE node) to the rest of the PSTN. This is where carriers terminate customer lines and keep the equipment that interconnects those lines. A single exchange traditionally had the capacity for 10,000 lines (0000 to 9999) and a local exchange consists of one or more of these exchanges.Imagine you’re heading out on a road trip but you don’t have a map handy. Now think of a phone call as the route to your destination, and the different components of the system as gas stations where you can stop and ask for directions.If you’re calling a neighbor across the street the call likely doesn’t need to leave the local exchange.Everyone in the U.S. should be familiar with seven digital phone numbers. The first three digits designate the local exchange and local switch where each number resides. So in the movies when someone starts a number with 555, that’s the local exchange designation. The last four digits identify the individual subscriber line within that exchange.Nowadays, with so many phone lines in operation, ten digit dialing, which includes the local area code, is oftentimes required as well. Prior to the introduction of all-number calling (ANC), which started to roll out in 1958 but wasn’t completed for several decades, phone numbers consisted of a combination of letters and numbers. The letters were derived from local exchange names. If you’ve ever wondered what The Marvelettes’ classic Motown song Beechwood 4-5789 refers to, there’s your answer.
- The Tandem Office (or junction network) primarily serves a metropolitan area with many local exchanges and handles the switching between them. A city like New York has multiple local exchanges. So if you live in Queens and want to call someone in Brooklyn your call will most likely be switched through a junction network.
- The Toll Office is the switch where national long-distance connections are made. For example, a call placed in Florida intended for a Washington number passes through the Toll Office switch.
- Finally, the International Gateway (or centre de transit [CT]) is what connects calls that originate domestically to international telephone systems. The International Telecommunications Union coordinates global communications standards that ensure compatibility between systems.
This is the structure of the PSTN, broadly speaking, in the United States. As mentioned above, other countries may configure their systems differently (like those using eight-digit phone numbers).
The ownership relationship between all of these nodes and transmission lines can be equally confusing. Different companies own different exchanges, and they may or may not also own the physical lines that link these pieces together.
Someone in New York trying to call San Francisco would go from their CPE, to the local exchange in New York on a trunk line, to the toll office on yet another trunk line, then back to a local exchange in San Francisco on a different trunk line, and finally to the CPE of their California contact along one more trunk line. In this situation, it’s possible for every trunk line and node to be owned by a different company.
Similarly, a call destined for an international number would again originate at the caller’s CPE, travel along a trunk line to their Local Exchange, and then be passed to the international gateway along another trunk line. Once the call is passed to the correct country’s PSTN, it then travels along a similar path in that country to reach the called party.
Therefore, if you have an automated voice solution and only callers from a specific area are unable to connect to your system, there’s a good chance that your technology is working just fine, but that there is an issue at the carrier level in that area.
The PSTN remains a critical and integral piece in the modern global communications network. As the system continues to see technological innovation and bandwidth increases its centrality to modern communications will only increase.
Publish Date: September 9, 2015 5:00 AM
In an era of digital communication and vast social media influence, it has become incredibly easy for consumers to voice their opinions about the companies they frequent, support, or vilify. One disgruntled customer can rally thousands in a matter of hours with nothing more than a 140-character blurb gone viral. Every individual has potential access to the digital megaphone of social media and thus, companies must put forth the utmost effort to maintain a high level of service and satisfaction for their customers.
Yet, this begs the question, how does a business go about ensuring its representatives meet corporate standards while fostering a positive experience for its client base? By going straight to the source – the customers. That’s where Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys become a major asset. Survey platforms such as Plum Insight afford enterprises a great deal of flexibility in collecting client feedback and ultimately, improving company performance through data-driven, customer-oriented decision making. With thorough planning and adherence to some basic tips, you’ll be on the right track to getting the most out of your IVR survey.
Conception and Preparation are Key
1. Know your objectives forwards and backwards
Formulating a concise set of objectives may sound like a simple task, but don’t underestimate its importance within the early stages of survey planning. Just as a house is only as sound as its foundation, a successful IVR survey depends on adherence to clear, well-defined objectives. Who will your survey target? What insight do you hope to discover with your questionnaire? These are the most basic examples of questions you should answer prior to the IVR polling stage. Be as specific as possible to gather targeted information from your customer base.
2. Start your analysis early
Now that you know what you want to ask, it’s time to think about what analysis is necessary and how you will use the information gleaned from the survey. The actual crunching of data doesn’t occur until after you’ve launched your survey, but outlining how the data will be used during the planning stage will save you plenty of headaches later. This is also the time to determine how to handle incomplete surveys, figuring out whether to weight specific questions, or any other tweaks that may affect your final results. Develop a system of analysis procedures early so that you can spend more time drawing conclusions from the data, not sifting through it.
3. Take a test drive
To borrow a phrase from those Head & Shoulders shampoo ads in the 1990s, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This philosophy extends far beyond managing dandruff and is especially applicable to surveys. Before starting a survey campaign, test the waters with a pilot group that is reflective of your target demographic. A small focus group is the perfect medium to judge the effectiveness of your survey questions and remedy any problems before sending out the poll in mass.
4. Soft-launch to a sample group
As a general rule of thumb, when it comes to sample size, the more the merrier. In order to gather usable data that is representative of a larger target population, it is essential to have enough respondents. (That haunting echo you hear is probably the voice of your statistics professor of yore.) Luckily, there are a variety of resources available to help survey creators determine the optimal sample size for their particular needs.
5. Motivate survey takers with a personal touch
Users are more likely to provide feedback if your survey stands out from the crowd. Don’t beg for participation. Instead, tell your customers why you’re requesting their individual feedback. Mention a specific experience based on a recent interaction that each customer had with your company or brand. A bit of personalization within the invitation to the survey is invaluable as a mechanism to appeal to potential respondents.
Design Your IVR Survey Like a Pro
6. Get to the point
Surveys should be succinct, easy to understand, and most importantly very quick to complete. Don’t plan to take more than a minute or two of your customer’s time. A post call survey may sound exciting to you, but not all of your customers will be as enthusiastic. The more questions you include in your survey, the more skewed responses tend to get. Longer-than-expected surveys are not only frustrating for customers, but they almost entice users to quit the survey before finishing. Respect your customers’ time, tell them up front how long it will take and how many questions they will be asked to make the survey process as painless as possible.
7. The KISS Principle – Keep it simple, stupid
No, this has nothing to do with Gene Simmons or face paint. It’s tempting to jam pack a questionnaire with as many inquiries as possible. While you have their attention, you might as well try to gather insight about multiple areas of your business right? Wrong. Shorter, more frequent surveys provide much more accurate picture of customer satisfaction.
8. It’s all about timing
As any comedian can attest, timing is everything – the difference between a successful punchline and a room full of crickets. This is especially true when conducting a survey. When asking for feedback, it is crucial to do so within a reasonable amount of time – typically as soon as possible but no more than 24 hours after an encounter. Memory is a tricky thing. The longer you wait, the less likely your customer is to remember the specific interaction in question. And you don’t want that inaccurate data clogging up your analysis.
9. Ask, listen, then act – User feedback counts
It’s vital to let users know that their input is being heard. Make it clear to survey takers that their responses haven’t disappeared into the ethereal mist; that their opinions aren’t just sitting in a data bank somewhere. Use customer feedback to make positive changes within your organization and then flaunt it! A customer who sees improvements based upon their feedback will not only be more willing to complete questionnaires in the future, they’ll thank you for taking the time to listen. Win, win.
Make the Most of Your Data
10. The more you gather, the more you can measure
While the main goal of your business’s survey could be to analyze company performance or see which department protocol needs improvement, don’t forget about all of the other data that you’ve collected beyond the arena of public opinion. Cross-analyze customer feedback with internal metrics such as queue-time, agent-id, etc. You might be surprised at the additional trends you identify with seemingly disparate information.
11. Patience is a virtue
You’ve done your research, created, tested, and formalized your survey questionnaire, and now the data is rolling in. It’s exciting, but don’t get ahead of yourself. Wait until enough responses are accumulated before attempting to draw statistically significant conclusions. A provisional data analysis has its uses, potentially as a vehicle to generate a sense of customer opinion, but key business decisions should never be solely based on early figures.
12. Prepare for extremes
When beginning to delve into your survey data, it’s important to understand that the most vocal participants tend to be those who have had a very positive or very negative experience. This is called self-selection bias. In terms of representing a target population, these responses are typically outliers – extremes that cannot be correlated with the entire group because of their small proportion. Yet due to the severity, these polarized attitudes often draw more attention than the sentiments of your normal customer. Don’t let those who shout the loudest drown out the majority of your clientele!
13. Pictures are worth a thousand words
Data can be opaque and difficult to decipher. Yet, it’s through the analysis process that spreadsheets and mountains of numbers gain meaning. Use visual tools to bring clarity to that data. Charts, graphs, and other visual displays showcase your findings in easy, understandable ways. Plus, charts are a fantastic medium for quickly drawing comparisons with past and concurrent campaigns.
14. Share your results to inspire action
So you’ve determined your customers’ likes and dislikes and where your company excels and struggles. Now it’s on to the meeting room to disclose the results to the board of directors. But don’t stop there. Customers rarely, if ever, deal directly with your C-Level executives. Share the results with your entire company, all the way from the bottom to the top. Performance improvement starts with the actions of individual employees and large-scale policy changes can cement improvements in powerful, data-driven ways. Make company-wide changes to complement the findings of your survey and use subsequent polling to gauge satisfaction with the new practices and protocols.
Publish Date: September 1, 2015 5:00 AM
A recent New York Times article addressing the working culture at Amazon raised a lot of eyebrows around the country. The general view of major tech companies is one that includes free lunches, on-site gyms, and generous leave policies, like those at Google, Facebook, and Netflix. Perhaps this is why the negative picture painted by the New York Times, which claimed to peer behind the veil at Amazon’s culture, made so many waves.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who rarely engages criticism of his company, quickly came to Amazon’s defense in a memo to his employees, stating, “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.” Bezos added, “I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.”
Stepping back from the particulars here, one of the key takeaways from this exchange is that company culture and employee happiness are extremely important. A Forbes review of Dr. Noelle Nelson’s 2012 book, Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy, cites a Jackson Organization study, referenced in that text, stating that “companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity & assets more than triple that experienced by firms that don’t. When looking at Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ stock prices rose an average of 14% per year from 1998-2005, compared to 6% for the overall market.”
There are plenty of studies, like Nelson’s, that discuss the importance of cultivating employee satisfaction. The thinking here is that happy employees produce happy customers.
Yet, the irony is that in recent years while many companies have ramped up their customer experience programs, they aren’t paying as much attention to employee experience. If the latter influences the former, shouldn’t it get some love too?
Fortunately, for companies that want to understand, measure, and analyze the relationship they have with their employees, technology solutions exist to make this process consistent and reliable. Conducting custom employee surveys is one option for this kind of data-gathering.
When building a program to discern the “voice of the employee” use the following series of questions to create a roadmap for determining just how happy your employees are.
- What goes into employee satisfaction?
- What about employee engagement?
- How can companies get a handle on these metrics, and what tools exist to measure and evaluate them?
You don’t want to go addressing concerns willy-nilly so having a system in place provides the best route for consistent, actionable results.
So what goes into employee satisfaction? The Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) report on the subject for 2015 listed the top five factors affecting employee satisfaction, in the following order:
- respectful treatment of all employees at all levels
- trust between employees and senior management
- overall benefits
- overall compensation/pay
- job security
Seeing benefits and compensation near the top of the list isn’t surprising. Those have been at or near the top since SHRM began conducting this survey in 2002. However, the top two factors, those representing respect and trust, were new additions for the 2015 installment and instantly shot to the top of the list.
Financial factors are much more fixed than soft factors like respect and trust. Yet, considering how important these items are to employees and the amount of control companies have over shaping them, suggests that these may be good areas for companies to begin self-reflection and assessment.
Anyone who ever saw the old G. I. Joe cartoon understands that knowing is only half the battle. If employee satisfaction is one half, then employee engagement comprises the other half.
The importance of engaged employees shouldn’t be understated. In 2013, Gallup estimated that as much as 70% of the workforce was disengaged in the United States and that this disengagement cost companies $450–$550 billion annually in lost productivity.
SHRM also measured engagement and returned these as the leading factors for 2015 (Note: there was a three-way tie in the five slot):
- relationship with co-workers
- contribution of work to the organization’s business goals
- meaningfulness of the job
- opportunities to use skills/abilities
- relationship with immediate supervisor
- the work itself
- the organization’s financial stability
Keeping employees happy and engaged means that companies can spend less money on turnover, recruiting, and training, and put more of that money into supporting their current cast of employees. While recruiting and training may be necessary for growing companies, there’s little to recommend for employee churn that effectively makes the entrance to your HR department a revolving door.
Gauge and Evaluate Employee Happiness
SHRM already laid out the most important factors for employee satisfaction and engagement from an employee point-of-view. Basically, they’re handing you the first few bricks; it’s up to you to build the rest.
Knowing what issues are relevant to the majority of workers will help you to determine what questions are most relevant to your company and employees. Whether those revolve around salary, management transparency, or how meaningful an employee’s work is, asking your employees is the only way to really find out.
Surveys are great for that. Companies that already have a Voice of the Customer program (VoC) in place can use the same framework to also collect “Voice of the Employee” feedback.
Systematically asking employees about these things will provide a much needed baseline for evaluating your employees’ well-being. A well-designed survey can provide critical insights into the areas where your company performs well and where it struggles to meet your employees’ needs. Having an omni-channel tool with robust reporting and analysis capabilities ensures that you get the most out of the data you collect.
Thinking back to the statistic above about how happy employees affect company profitability, it’s worth taking the time to evaluate your employees’ happiness on the job. With the right tools collecting and analyzing that data is easy to do.
Publish Date: August 19, 2015 5:00 AM
No matter what business you’re in, it’s important to remember that customers don’t buy from companies, they buy from people. Your customer support team acts as a critical human face for your company; they are the people that your customers buy from, the team that troubleshoots their problems, and the ones who can make or break your sales funnel or retention efforts.
Your customers are also your best source for understanding the effectiveness of your customer service efforts. And creating positive customer experiences is critical to gaining and maintaining your customer base [pdf]. How can you get their feedback and improve upon their experiences if you don’t ask?
Providing an immediate, post-interaction survey for customers to provide feedback about their experience means you will have more time to analyze and respond to the data that is useful rather than scouring the web for data that may be useful.
Enter the interactive voice response (IVR) survey. A well-designed IVR survey can produce an abundance of data in a short period of time that can be analyzed efficiently. Here are four ways in which an IVR survey aids the process of improving customer experience.
- Show Customers You Care: No matter how frequently it’s used, offering a survey demonstrates that your company values customer feedback and is willing to listen to what they have to say. IVR surveys are a great way for a company to show its customers that it takes their opinions seriously by giving them a simple means of direct communication at the moment of impact.
- Respect Customers’ Time, and Yours: A well-designed IVR survey allows a company to quickly acquire input from customers. The sooner there is data to analyze the more rapidly a company can improve their processes and customer experience. The beauty of IVR surveys is that they combine the utility of qualitative data with the efficiency of quantitative reporting.
- Measure What Matters: An IVR survey can cater to any desired goals or areas of emphasis and easily adapt to measure what matters most as programs evolve. Surveys can also be integrated with other Voice of the Customer (VoC) or CRM databases. This allows the survey to dynamically incorporate information relevant to each customer and ask questions about their specific interaction or the products and services they use. Personalizing a survey in this way increases survey completion rates, and makes the data collected more relevant and useful.
- Meet Customers on their Turf: In our hyper-connected world there are many communication channels available to customers and businesses. IVR solutions designed for voice can also be pushed to an array of other media channels (SMS, social media, web, email).
For example, with an omni-channel communication platform like Plum Insight you can present a traditional IVR survey to someone after a call center interaction, and send a web version of the same survey to an online customer following a live chat interaction.
Embracing the voice of the customer in a direct way, like through Plum Insight, provides companies with a roadmap to understand its customers. This clarity then allows companies to better serve their customers and, in turn, cultivate brand loyalty. Don’t let your customers’ voices go unheard. Contact Plum Voice to learn how Plum Insight will benefit your customers and your company.
Publish Date: August 11, 2015 5:00 AM
We are excited to introduce Plum Insight, a contact center VoC platform designed to improve the customer experience in the contact center, making it easy to set up omni-channel voice of the customer mobile, web and IVR surveys for a complete view of the customer’s journey.
We have been working diligently; taking comments and feedback from our survey customers to better addresses the challenges of extending customer experience management programs into the contact center, linking customer feedback to specific agent interactions for targeted, actionable reporting.
Deploying VoC programs in a contact center environment is often challenging due to of the complexity of telephony systems compounded by enterprises that often depend on multiple contact centers using dissimilar technology. Plum Insight simplifies the set up of a VoC program that can be deployed across the entirety of a company’s customer service operations.
Plum Insight features include:
- Role-based management
- Granular sharing controls
- Omni-channel surveys
- Database integration
- Multilingual options
- And more
Contact us today for more information. Or start a free trial and see for yourself how Plum Insight can deliver an unprecedented view of your organization’s customer service and VoC programs.
Publish Date: July 28, 2015 5:00 AM
To truly become customer-centric, and service-oriented, takes more than just talk. This should come as no surprise. There is no shortage of good advice available about what to map, measure, consider and do to create better customer experiences. But how can you change company culture to be more customer-centric in a way that’s more meaningful than just talk? And how can you drive the desired results not only from internal teams, but from outsourced teams as well?
Say. Do. Reward.
These three little words might not be ground breaking, they are remarkably similar to the more common saying of “actions speak louder than words” but this concept resonated with me after reading an article on Fast Company about what makes people to trust you. Perhaps this idea spoke to me because adding in “reward” helps you take that extra step from thinking just about your individual actions to a broader view of a group or organization.
This article also underscores the importance of aligning rewards and incentives to the principals companies express about customer service. Are you rewarding representatives for speed instead of customer satisfaction or accuracy? Are you reinforcing the behaviors you want not only by what you say, but also in what you do and in what you reward?
Rewarding BPOs In A Multi-Sourcing Strategy
The concept of aligning rewards with positive customer experience should go beyond employees and internal teams to apply to any business that interacts with customers on your behalf. This is one of the driving forces behind our endorsement of a multi-sourced call center strategy. By taking control of intelligent call routing decisions, companies can use KPIs and real-time performance data from various providers to reward the call center that is doing the best job with a larger proportion of your total call volume.
Here again is the challenge of making sure that you select the right mix of metrics to make sure that you are rewarding what mostly closely matches your vision of a positive customer experience. But, if you have two call centers fielding customer care calls, and one is consistently delivering better customer satisfaction ratings which is what you care about as an organization, then it makes sense to send more customers to that call center. Thus rewarding the vendor for their superior service.
So, by investing in the programing and logic to intelligently route calls across a selection of providers, businesses have the opportunity to leverage real-time data and better drive the results that matter most.
Publish Date: March 30, 2015 5:00 AM
Whither the Cure-All
Nowadays there is a trend towards the consolidation of products and services. In more and more places you see examples of offerings that are trying to do everything.
Sometimes consolidating a range of features into a single bundled package makes things better, but that’s only true if you’re going to use all of those features. I believe that doing more and having more features isn’t always best.
For example, I am an avid reader and I love my e-reader, but I don’t personally see the appeal of using a tablet in lieu of a dedicated e-reader. Sure, tablets have a lot more features and can be extremely useful, but the backlit screen just isn’t as good for reading books, which is precisely what I want an e-reader for.
Can you still read books on a tablet? Yes, of course you can. But a more cut-and-dry e-ink display elicits far less eye fatigue and performs better in a wide range of lighting situations. Tablets, on the other hand, shift the focus away from reading and more towards providing dynamic features and content.
Something similar to the tablet phenomenon happens in many call centers. There are a lot of companies that offer IVR services in addition to live-agent services. But their core competency almost always lies with the agent services.
Does that mean that they cannot provide you with an IVR system? No, clearly they can, but if their focus is directed towards the agent service, one has to question whether that IVR system will be as well managed and optimized as it could be? In other words, focusing on one aspect of customer service could throw other aspects out of balance.
A Tool for Every Task
There are times consolidation can be beneficial, don’t get me wrong. For example, it is really nice to be able to use your phone to take photos and listen to music without having to carry around three separate devices. After all, the majority of the pictures you take you probably don’t need the added controls an SLR camera would provide.
Then there are times when the extra expertise and attention that specialization provides is necessary and makes a difference. The majority of people aren’t going to rely on camera phones to photograph their wedding, they hire a wedding photographer instead. Your wedding is a time when specialization matters. You aren’t going to ask the DJ or the caterer to take pictures too, because although they are physically capable of doing so, they lack the skills, equipment, and expertise of a professional photographer.
Choose Tools that Benefit Your Customers
Your call center is one of the areas where you should strive to provide great customer service and a great customer experience. These concepts are closely related and there are available options that help to maximize both.
Customer experience is more than just a buzzword. To provide exceptional customer experience companies need to acknowledge that every touch point and interaction with a customer matters and is a piece of a larger puzzle. So no matter the nature of an interaction you want all of them to be contribute to a consistent and positive experience.
The ubiquity of the telephone makes an IVR the first point of contact for a huge number of customer interactions. Therefore, the more efficient you can make the IVR, whether it’s designed to answer a customer’s query or transfer them on to a live agent, the better the experience is for each caller.
Now, it may be easier to write a check to a single company and have them handle everything, but is that going to be what is best for your customers?
Making self-service options more efficient saves your customers time, which, in turn, makes them happy. Delighting your customers with great service is worth a little extra up-front effort, even if that means opting for an unbundled solution.
Customers are the lifeblood of your organization and your call center should be all about helping them. Every part of their experience matters, which makes it critical to deliver a great experience across the board. Paying attention to every avenue of interaction and maintaining balance between efficient self-service and high-touch agent care is a roadmap to success.
Publish Date: February 18, 2015 5:00 AM
Plum Voice has been providing cloud IVR for over a decade. Over that span of time, this cloud concept—taking care of infrastructure and carriers so our customers don’t have to—has been called many different things. Regardless of whether it you call it cloud IVR, hosted IVR, or outsourced IVR, the simple reality is that somewhere, somehow, there is a real IVR that is answering your real phone calls.
Those real IVRs live in datacenters. And when you entrust your crucial IVR functions to a cloud IVR provider, you should expect them to have more than one datacenter. And, in fact, you should expect those datacenters to be separated by at least a few hundred miles for improved fault-tolerance and disaster recovery.
A couple years ago, hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast. At the time, it was uncertain where it was going to make landfall but we knew if it struck close enough to Boston so as to disrupt our infrastructure there, we could move our customers’ traffic to our other datacenters—including our site in Philadelphia. Conversely, if it struck far enough south to cause problems at our Philly datacenter, we knew our Boston datacenter would be just fine. As it turned out, it landed at nearly the midpoint between Philadelphia and Boston and both datacenters easily weathered the hurricane. Unfortunately it caused horrible damage to New York City and did, in fact, knock out many of the datacenters clustered around the New York metropolitan area.
This brings up capacity, however. We have designed our infrastructure such that no single failure will reduce our capacity to the point where our customers would experience a degradation in service—even if our customers were currently experiencing a burst in traffic. This design requirement is described as N+1 redundancy (i.e. if you have one datacenter worth of traffic, then N+1 redundancy would require that you build two datacenters). This means the true redundant capacity that you need to offer is still the amount of traffic that one datacenter can handle even though you’re paying for two. Let’s say, though, that you have three datacenters. Now you have two datacenters worth of redundant capacity and you still only need to pay for one extra. This is precisely the reason why we have three datacenters in the US: Boston, Philadelphia, and Dallas.
We’re not done yet because Plum actually has 4 datacenters. We have servers in London too. The primary purpose for this point-of-presence in England is to provide the same highest-quality TDM circuits for European customers as we do for our North American customers. There’s also an additional benefit with putting in a datacenter overseas: it’s not in the United States. Every day, we compress, encrypt, and deliver a backup of all of our databases—including our precious source code repository—to one of our servers in England. Just in case.
Here at Plum we love our weather-proof, call-spike-proof, disaster-proof cloud IVR infrastructure. It was great fun to build, exciting to grow, and a pleasure to manage. And we think that makes us the best cloud IVR provider in the business: after all, why would you entrust your communications applications to a cloud company that isn’t obsessed with infrastructure?
Publish Date: January 13, 2015 5:00 AM
In the past we’ve written about the security of different payment methods more from the perspective of a customer concerned about keeping their personal information safe. Businesses, on the other hand, need to be concerned not only with keeping their customers’ information safe, but also with preventing fraudulent transactions.
While identity theft is certainly no walk in the park, consumers are lucky that they are at least not responsible for any fraudulent charges. It’s the businesses who end up footing those bills. So identifying and preventing those bad transactions has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line.
To help businesses identify some of the problem areas and some things they can do to protect themselves, we’ve compiled the following factsheet that takes a closer look at the break down of credit card transactions and payment methods; comparing card-present and card-not-present transactions.
Publish Date: November 18, 2014 5:00 AM
Businesses that move their automated voice applications to the cloud gain a strategic advantage by allowing them to devote time and resources to improving their voice-based customer service instead of spending time and money maintaining complex legacy systems. This frees them to build better caller experiences, personalize automated applications and improve contact center ROI by increasing automation rates and reducing customer frustration.
The benefits of migrating to a cloud IVR system are appealing to any company that uses automated voice services, such as being freed from maintaining infrastructure, updates and security, while gaining access to better technology that’s always up-to-date. Still, companies considering migration often worry that their existing infrastructure and assets won’t transfer to a new system. Fortunately, today’s technology makes integration with any existing computer-telephony integration (CTI), database, or telecom system possible while maintaining data security.
Integrating with existing systems requires a detailed technical review of the systems that the IVR will connect to. This means outlining how the system stores data and establishing what security protocols the system needs for integration and transferring data. The process of integrating legacy and cloud systems takes time and careful planning. Creating a detailed migration plan that addresses all the concerns, requirements, and necessary steps ensures a smooth transition that mitigates the risks involved in the move.
Once a plan is in place for the getting the systems and infrastructure going, the remaining piece of the puzzle is the code itself, which needs to be re-written into VoiceXML. Granted, reworking the code is an investment, but it’s a worthwhile one. VoiceXML is an open-standard, which means that the new code will be portable and any investment made in re-writing it for the cloud migration will not be tied to one vendor. Because VoiceXML is similar to HTML, companies with the resources to develop dynamic web applications can easily leverage those same skills in building their IVR applications.
Transitioning from a legacy system to the cloud may also be the perfect time to review entire call flows and make improvements to the system. You can rewrite the code to take advantage of new features and improve customer experience.
Migrating to the cloud can be a daunting task, but an experienced IVR vendor like Plum Voice, which has assisted hundreds of companies through this process, can address any concerns that you have, offer ongoing support and services, and help your business maximize its ROI.
Publish Date: November 10, 2014 5:00 AM
High call volumes, call spikes, repeat calls, and the security needed to handle payment transactions over the phone all combine to make call automation particularly complex for companies in the prepaid card industry. Complex and mission-critical.
Getting automation right means putting the customer first so that prepaid companies can maintain brand loyalty by creating a high-quality customer experience.
The Voice of the Company
An IVR is often the first and only point of contact for customers in the prepaid industry. In fact, voice applications handle more customer interactions than call center reps, social media and other communication technologies combined. So making an efficient application that provides an excellent customer experience is crucial.
High Call Volume Handling
High call volumes are a fact of life for prepaid card companies and there is a direct line that runs from IVR performance, through customer satisfaction and call center costs, to a company’s bottom line.
If customers become frustrated by an automated system, they will transfer out of the application to a call center agent. Every time this happens, costs rise because live agents are far more expensive per call than IVRs.
High call volumes compound this problem. More customers calling in, means more callers get transferred to agents. Add fluctuating call volumes and call spikes to the mix and the importance of solid infrastructure to handle these issues becomes clear. The infrastructure needs to automatically scale to avoid overloading the system, dropping calls, or over-taxing agents when call volumes are high.
Call Containment Is King
Fortunately, the majority of calls coming into prepaid call centers are simple in nature. Callers typically are calling to either register their card, or check its balance. For these types of calls, customers want to get in, get out, and get on with their lives as quickly as possible. These straightforward tasks are ideal for automation, keeping the need for agents to a minimum.
However, automating calls isn’t as simple as flipping a switch, and the customer experience plays a huge role in call containment. If callers have a good experience and can easily get the information they want from within the IVR application, then why would they need to transfer out to a live agent? Providing that good caller experience requires forethought, planning, and monitoring to remove friction points and continuously improve voice applications.
Call analytics enable companies to see every menu choice callers make and where callers transfer out. Being able to see the most frequently selected options allows you to optimize your menus, shortening call times and better serving your customers. Along the same lines, if callers are frequently abandoning the IVR at the same point, you can re-evaluate that section to fix the problem callers are running into to help keep them in the application for their entire transaction.
Advanced call analytics give you insight into the customer experience providing actionable data you can use to test changes and update the call flow to improve the caller experience.
Prepaid card companies, and other financial institutions, handle sensitive financial data for their customers, and security breaches undermine customer confidence and loyalty. A vendor that provides the tools needed to handle large call volumes and manage call containment rates, needs to focus on security as well.
To ensure data that secure companies need a vendor that is PCI-compliant with redundant, geographically dispersed datacenters. You want a vendor who can not only share expertise on the design and implementation of voice applications, but on network setup, data security and disaster recovery.
Publish Date: October 13, 2014 5:00 AM
Cloud services offer infrastructure without administration, predictable costs and lower capital risk. But getting to that promised land from your island of in-sourced headaches involves overcoming three hurdles: moving live data from inside your infrastructure up into the cloud, convincing everyone with security concerns that everything’s going to be alright, and coming up with a smooth transition plan that minimizes downtime.
Your previously internal data will have to be migrated into a cloud service. The effort to do this varies depending on the service that you’re migrating. For instance, are you moving all of your sales data out of an old database? Get ready for a long ride. You’ll have to map your legacy database to the new service’s schema, you’ll have to figure out how to port the data automatically–especially if you have a lot of records, and you’ll still have to manually review the imported data after the fact. When remapping fields from an old database to a new one, you would usually try to make changes to the old database first to make it look more like the new database rather than trying migrate and remap at the same time. You may also consider allotting some extra time to do data cleanup before the migration. It’s sort of like moving to a new house–when you’re packing up the old one, you should take the time to cull out the stuff you don’t need before you seal it all in a box and ship it to your new house.
Now that you’re planning to put all of your precious business data into a basket outside your business walls, you’ll need an answer to the question: will your data in the cloud be more or less secure than it was in your infrastructure? If it’s more secure, then selling the plan to the worriers within your company will be fairly straightforward. On the other hand, sometimes (though not often) it’s less secure. Yet all is still not lost. Sometimes the benefits of cloud services are so pronounced that having a known security exposure is worth it especially if the impact of a security breach can be quantified and doesn’t result in permanently pissed off customers. Direct this pitch at your CFO — he or she can best quantify the upsides and the risks in order to make a measured judgment. Your network security team would gladly lock everyone’s laptop in a vault and have employees pass handwritten memos instead, which might be more secure, but would also have a dramatic impact on productivity.
Finally, coming up with a plan do the move. More specifically, you should come up with a worst-case scenario plan: what are you going to do if the migration doesn’t work as expected? If you and your team can answer that question, everything else will seem easy in comparison. This worst-case scenario plan should not only include standalone replacement services that you can fire up temporarily, but also a plan for the customers you will need to communicate the situation to and how you’re going to explain it to them. Obviously you will often not know exactly what might cause a migration problem, but it’s good to at least have the skeleton of an email ready to shoot out in the middle of night (because you’re definitely not doing a migration like this in the middle of the day, are you?).
Here at Plum, we ran our own email servers almost 10 years ago. The headaches started piling up: we’d run out of disk space, the email server was extremely slow for large inboxes, there was a torrent of spam that we couldn’t block fast enough. Moving all of our email accounts to a cloud provider took a month to plan and a few weeks to execute. We thankfully didn’t run into any show-stopping disasters but in hindsight, that is probably because our migration plan took three weeks to execute. We went very, very slowly, but we haven’t had to think about our email servers since. Those two months of effort has bought us years of peace.
Publish Date: September 24, 2014 5:00 AM
As we have discussed before, the vendor is just as important as the technology they’re providing. Here are some of the advantages a more experienced vendor can provide, which largely apply to technology vendor both in and outside of the contact center environment.
Publish Date: September 4, 2014 5:00 AM
When thinking about customer service, it’s important consider how the means justify the end. Sure, it’s great to wow a customer, delight them even. But if all of that glitz and glitter doesn’t help them achieve their primary goal—getting information in a timely manner—then it’s more of a hindrance than anything else. They called because they want answer, not because they love talking to customer service reps.
Get Answers Quickly and Correctly
According to a recent Harris Poll survey, 59% of customers said the most important thing to them when talking with a customer service representative is to “get answers quickly and correctly.” This response outpaced all others by a wide margin.
In the survey, conducted for analytics firm NICE, the next closest answer, chosen by 23% of respondents, was an agent who “doesn’t read from a script but has a real conversation.” For additional context, not being put on hold (6%) and not being transferred (3%), followed by a cryptic “other” at 2% rounded out the list.
An Inaccurate Answer Isn’t an Answer
Darts that miss the dartboard don’t count. The survey respondents said they wanted answers quickly and correctly. There’s an old saying in business that you can have something quick, cheap, or high quality: pick two. It’s clear that speed is of utmost important when talking to customer service, but quality is in the conversation too. After all, would anyone consider inaccurate information to be quality information?
Providing a customer with inaccurate information does nothing except postpone a resolution, and more likely frustrate the caller. Think about it. What’s their post-call thought process? They hang up the phone and return to their regularly scheduled programming. Once they realize that the information provided was not, in fact, what they needed, that person needs to call back. Chances are they won’t be happy about it either. The clock keeps ticking on an interaction until the customer gets what they need.
Customer service reps work the front lines of customer support and as a result patrons expect them to have accurate answers. Accuracy is the de facto expectation here. Based on the Harris Poll results it would seem that the other selection from the business adage triumvirate is speed.
Fortunately, with automation, companies can actually have all three – speed, quality, and cost. Utilizing Plum’s platforms for automation allows companies to integrate their voice system with CRM and other databases, thus providing fast, accurate, real-time information to callers. An automated solution is also much less expensive than relying on live agents when handling routine inquiries.
When it comes to great customer service experience, Plum helps to usher in a new paradigm where quality, speed, and cost are all possible.
Publish Date: August 28, 2014 5:00 AM
It’s about time. Customers, like everyone else, have a different notion of time than they used to. The internet and mobile devices have done that—we can access the whole world of knowledge with our fingertips, instantly.
This also applies to customer complaints. More quickly than ever, customers can lodge complaints against our companies—so fast, in fact, that they can now do it in real time. We have to respond in real time, too.
While Still on the Bus
I have a friend who just took a commercial passenger bus from Jacksonville, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia. He described the trip as “very terrible” and took to social media to complain…while he was still on the bus.
The trip started off on the wrong foot when my friend sat in the two seats right behind the bus driver. According to my friend, the driver told him passengers weren’t allowed to sit in those seats. My friend asked why. The driver told him “it’s for ‘security reasons’ and threatened to pull over and call state troopers” unless he moved.
The trip got worse when my friend, after having moved to another seat, reported to the driver that the roof was leaking water and getting his clothes and bags wet. He said the driver told him he would kick him off the bus if he complained anymore. The trip got even worse when the driving started speeding.
Rather than sit idly, my friend used his time to report to the company on how his trip was going.
First, he called the company’s customer service line and asked whether there was a rule stating passengers couldn’t sit in the seats directly behind the bus driver. According to my friend, “they said there is no such policy.” (He suspected the driver wanted the seats for his own bags.)
Next, he took a video of the leak (image above).
Next, he took screenshots of the GPS that showed the bus speeding at several points:
Finally, he posted a frame shot of the leak and the screenshots of the bus speeding onto the company’s Facebook page, along with an explanation of what was happening and how it was making him feel.
He did this in real time.
Fast, Like Our Customers
The internet, social media and mobile devices are changing customer expectations—they now expect things to happen immediately because that’s how the digital world works.
If customers can lodge complaints in real time through social media, even using video, audio and pictures to document their experiences, it means we have to respond in real time.
In the case of this bus ride, it means the company should have monitored its social media, written back to my friend while he was still on the bus and even called the driver with instructions on how to repair the situation.
If the company had done that, my friend would have put that up on Facebook too. (I guarantee it—he’s a fair guy.) And the company would have come out looking a whole lot better than it did.
The point is, customers can complain in real time—to keep up, we need to respond in real time too.
Publish Date: August 28, 2014 5:00 AM