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Strategic Contact - Blog

Page: 1 | 2

Surveys Highlight CC Opportunities

We have the privilege of working with contact centers of many sizes, across a wide range of industries. They all have a few things in common: they want to deliver a great customer experience, meet their target metrics, operate efficiently and effectively, and use technology to their advantage.

Credit unions are a bit unique in that they are more willing than most to share information about how they are doing and what they plan to do next. We recently dove deep into their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and conducted a comprehensive contact center survey covering strategy, operations, metrics, and technology.

In analyzing the survey results and formulating recommendations, we identified clear opportunities that apply to all contact centers. They merit serious consideration, especially given all the disruptions that 2020 has brought and the great possibilities going forward.

Implement Process Optimization and Knowledge Management

Because process-intensive labor constitutes the vast majority of contact center costs, we can all agree that process optimization is a good thing. With the global pandemic, we now realize that process optimization also helps organizations become more resilient when confronted with unforeseen “shocks” to their markets and business models.

With management paying closer attention to their organization’s capacity to sustain operations and meet service levels under duress, it’s time to seize the moment and get the resources to tackle this issue.

Be sure to assess the wide range of contacts that the center handles and the interdepartmental “ecosystem” within which it works. If you’re excited about “bots” and artificial intelligence (and who isn’t?!), look at how these technologies can help customers self-serve and how they can help agents comply with processes, gather appropriate information, guide the customer to the appropriate “next best action,” and bring interactions to closure.

A searchable, dynamic knowledge management platform with the support resources to maintain it serves as another key strategy for improving organizational resiliency. It can enable staff (even those who aren’t normally in the contact center but are “pitching in” during the workload crunch) to become proficient faster across diverse, complex contact types and reduce their reliance on other people. A “single source of truth” promotes consistency and compliance. It also provides an effective means to disseminate updates rapidly.

Pursue Technology Improvements

Global pandemic or not, customers continue to raise the bar on expectations when they interact with your contact center. They want more self-service across a variety of channels – web, mobile, IVR – and want that self-service to be more user-friendly, with easier authentication and a more personalized experience. They want to seamlessly move to assisted service via live calls, chats, texts, and email. All of these capabilities benefit from omnichannel routing that is integrated with the desktop tools to ensure that customers reach appropriately skilled resources and are accorded quick response times with low level of effort for all involved.

Cloud technology continues to gain traction throughout the industry. Concerns regarding security, control and costs are waning. Buyers have been won over by the value of agility (e.g., to support home agents), continuous innovation, ease of integration, and technology support.

Improving the agent desktop still sits atop many contact center “wish lists.” Too often, the agent is the point of integration amidst several isolated applications and user interfaces. Fixing the desktop can have a huge impact on handle times, customer experience, and employee engagement.

Contact centers need to strengthen their authentication and fraud protection protocols while striking the delicate balance between ease of access for legitimate business transactions and providing appropriate levels of protection for customers and the company.

Optimize Support Resources and Free Up Supervisors

Technology doesn’t deliver the desired effects if support resources aren’t in place to use it well. The center needs skilled IT, HR, training, and business analyst personnel with sufficient bandwidth to address the assigned workload and tasks. These support resources need to handle the day-to-day demands as well as one-off projects to support process changes, interdepartmental coordination, and technology implementation. Moreover, centers also need to offload support tasks from Supervisors so they can refocus on training, coaching, and transactional support.

Develop a Plan

While it’s uncertain how the coronavirus will affect the future of the contact center, the disruption in operations provides an impetus for change. Take advantage of the spotlight to initiate improvements that will benefit the center, as well as customers and employees, and make your center more agile going forward.


Publish Date: November 12, 2020 5:00 AM

Is Your Contact Center Ready for Novel Coronavirus-like Scenarios?

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) – a.k.a., contingency planning, business continuity management, and business recovery planning – can weigh on CC leaders’ minds. All too often, developing plans and putting resources in place doesn’t make it to the top of the “to do” list or score a “win” in the battle of the budget. It’s like an insurance policy people don’t get around to buying and then really wish they had when a big bad event occurs.

I’ve been waving the warning flags on this issue for years. With today’s headlines regarding the novel coronavirus, I can’t help but wave my arms all the more furiously. Global pandemics do not simply affect people and disrupt commerce “over there.” The ripple effect shows up on our doorsteps, and we need to be ready for them.

The goals of any BC/DR plan should include:

  • Minimizing the chance of disruption caused by unexpected events
  • Continuing operations when such events occur
  • Recovering operations after catastrophic events

The plan must take into account people, technology, facilities, and processes. Most IT Departments have already put themselves through the paces of considering the “what if” scenarios that address network outages, system failures, power outages, etc. (although it wouldn’t hurt to have a chat with them to make sure you’re covered!) If you’ve been migrating to cloud solutions, you may have some “built-in” resiliency and location agility, courtesy of your vendor. But the contact center needs to have its own plans to address other circumstances – e.g., problems with the building, natural disasters or storms, security-related lockdowns, or, heaven forbid, a significant percentage of staff infected with a highly contagious disease or afraid to come to work for fear of exposure.

A good BC/DR plan has these characteristics:

  • Fully describes the goals, team, roles, and processes for various scenarios
  • Includes details such as contact information, checklists, communications plans
  • Covers not just what to do when events occur, but what to do to move back to normal operations
  • Includes processes for testing and updating/maintaining the plan

There has never been a better time to develop (or update) plans, or get senior management’s support for doing so. Let’s put some urgency behind this task!

If you’re not sure how to get started or don’t have enough resources, we can help! Start by downloading our BC/DR planning document and gathering your management team to review it. This planning guide covers:

  • Principles and Best Practices
  • Options to Enhance Continuity and Recovery
  • Objectives of a BC/DR plan
  • Keys to Success
  • Sample BC/DR Plan Table of Contents

Then get to work on your BC/DR vision and securing the executive sponsorship to help you bring it to fruition. You’ll also want to identify the core team – within the CC, the company, and vendors – that will do the legwork for the plan, make the key decisions, and proceed with implementation. Perhaps most importantly, commit to getting it done despite the myriad of other priorities that scream for your attention. A solid plan will help you avoid a truly catastrophic result when what used to seem unimaginable occurs.


Publish Date: February 26, 2020 5:00 AM

Does Your Technology Help (or Hinder) Agent Engagement?

I’ve challenged contact centers to make 2020 the Year of the Agent. I’ve built my case around the argument that if you want to deliver a great customer experience, you first have to make sure you’re delivering a great agent experience.

In the spirit of action, I’ve outlined two different assignments for you to assess your technology and how it helps – or hinders – agent engagement. The first helps you assess and plan by considering how technology impacts various elements of engagement reflected in an employee survey. If you prefer to just assess your technology directly, use the second assignment.

Assignment 1: Tie Employee Engagement Metrics to Technology Issues and Opportunities

If you have an employee engagement survey, review each item on the survey and assess and plan.

  1. Assess: Does our current technology impact this aspect of engagement, and if so, positively or negatively?
  2. Plan: Are there ways we can use technology to improve this aspect of engagement? Through changes to current use of technology? Through new technology?

Some questions from your survey may not apply, but others may be a direct fit for what your center is doing (or not doing) with technology. We populated a few examples from common Employee Engagement Survey questions to get your juices flowing on this exercise.

Employee Engagement Survey Question (rating 1-5) Assess: Does our current technology impact this facet of engagement, positively or negatively? Plan: Identify ways to use technology to improve employees’ engagement – through changes to current use or plans for the future
I know what is expected of me Example of Positive impact: We provide scorecards and dashboards with strong visuals so an agent always knows how they are doing.

Example of Negative impact: Agents do not have any visibility to performance, or get reports for which they have no context

Example: Pursue workforce optimization tools: provide visibility to performance, show trends and comparisons to targets. Include coaching tools to make sure we follow through on feedback and support development.
I have the tools and training to succeed at my job Example of Positive impact: We have technology such as an excellent, dynamic knowledge base, workflow tools, and CRM.

Example of Negative impact: Our desktop is messy with more than 15 applications that agents have to navigate with little automation and integration; they are often overwhelmed and frustrated.

Our team works together to achieve goals Example of Positive impact: Agents have collaboration tools like instant messaging and persistent workspaces so they can contact each other and the support/leadership. They rate and contribute to knowledge base updates. We see group performance and celebrate!

Example of Negative impact: Calls get routed to the wrong place and people have to transfer them. Agents must leave their desk or turn to a neighbor for help. The SharePoint site is out of date and difficult to find what they need.

I would recommend this organization as a place to work Example of Positive impact: We plan for, hire, and train people so we have enough staff to do the work. Staff have the tools they need to meet their performance goals and succeed in helping customers.

Example of Negative impact: The staffing levels are inadequate and based only on budgeted headcount (no planning based on workload). The work is overwhelming because we have so many systems and processes to learn and none of it is integrated or automated.


Assignment 2: “Sniff Test” for Technology Enabling Employee Engagement

Use the table below to assess your technology and whether it contributes to or discourages employee engagement. For each category of technology, give it a rating (“Contributes” or “Discourages” – or more simply, thumbs up or down). Then note what the problems are and what you can do about them.

Technology Category Contributes to or Discourages Agent Engagement What are the Problems? What can we DO?
Omnichannel Routing and Reporting      
Self-service (IVR, web, mobile)      
Workforce Optimization Tools      
Desktop Tools      


Publish Date: February 5, 2020 5:00 AM

Make 2020 the Year of the Agent

For the past several years, everyone has been focusing on the customer experience. Delivering a good – if not great – customer journey is crucial for building or retaining market share. Customers expect to be treated well at every point of contact. So, it’s no surprise that the customer experience has emerged as a key component of contact center strategy. And yet, too often, centers continue to fall short on delivery. The time has come for a new perspective.

If you want to improve the customer experience, focus first on the agent experience. Let’s face it, good agents are hard to find, much less retain. And it’s likely those you have are overburdened. Their jobs have gotten more complex while their desktops are getting messier with limited (or no) good resources to answer their questions. This unfortunate reality impacts performance on many fronts – training time, time to proficiency, handle time, error rates, and yes, even attrition.

We cannot make great strides in the customer experience unless we put the time, effort, and dollars into improving the agent experience. Most centers tackle “employee engagement” by focusing on factors like culture, leadership, pay structures, career paths, and communication. Those are all important considerations. And yet bottom line: You can’t engage and empower employees until you unburden them.

Technology can provide relief from the challenges they face while simultaneously helping them:

  • Feel like a part of a team with a good purpose
  • Tie their work to organizational goals
  • See measures of their success
  • Have the right information and tools at their disposal to succeed at the assigned tasks
  • Know where and how to get the help they need
  • Have the opportunity to grow and develop to contribute more

Technology plays an important role in starting agents on the path to success. (Click on image to enlarge.)

A variety of tools help agents succeed and engage. (Click on image to enlarge.)

A brainstorming session with my team identified some great ways technology gets used to enhance employee engagement:

  • Use advanced visualization tools that provide colorful, easy to understand feedback on how we’re doing, and how I’m doing
  • Let agents self-evaluate calls (using call recording and QM)
  • Automate QA scoring with speech analytics (making it more fair and balanced)
  • Give agents direct access to a portal where they can see their schedules and request schedule changes
  • Use a Unified Agent Desktop to provide a “cockpit” that matches their tasks and workflow
  • Leverage Robotic Process Automation to provide agent assistance on routine tasks, guide them through complex tasks, and trigger follow up tasks
  • Speaking of bots… invest in chatbots or voice bots to help customers self-serve
  • Distribute scorecards appropriate to every level, including Execs outside the center, that show how the center is doing and how it is contributing to the business goals
  • Use Instant Messaging and Collaboration tools for communication (not just email)
  • Offer ongoing training modules, tied to development goals, delivered to the desktop at a scheduled time
  • Invest as much time and energy in Voice of the Employee surveys as the company does in Voice of the Customer surveys!

Want more ideas? Spend a few hours walking in your agents’ shoes to see what life is really like for them. Or, convene some focus groups to get their feedback on how they’d spend the company’s money to improve their on-the-job experience and performance. I like to offer up a hypothetical budget of $1 million to get their juices flowing! Ask them what they’d do to make agents happier and, in the process, improve the customer experience.

For more information, download our latest article from Contact Center Pipeline entitled Want to Improve Employee Engagement? Technology Can Help! »


Publish Date: December 3, 2019 5:00 AM

Get Excited About Self-Service

If you’ve been in this industry for any length of time, you may waffle between excitement and cynicism over self-service (SS). There has been so much promise and hype tempered by an equal measure of disappointment. To tip the scales in favor of excitement, here’s my list of game-changers that can transform a lackluster SS experience into a stellar one.

Natural language: Natural language improves the user interface, whether text-based or speech-based interactions. As this technology improves, it makes SS apps smarter about what is being said. In some cases, it even considers the emotions or mood of the speaker or writer. All that makes for a better overall “conversation.”

Tools for building and optimizing interactions: Whether a developer is diving in using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and Software Development Kits (SDKs), or a contact center user is configuring a workflow with a simple graphical user interface, things happen faster and easier than ever before. Buyers can tap a broad community of partners, developers, and users for any given tool. They can build business rules and decision points, capture and use data on outcomes to optimize, and then adjust the flow and interactions. Everyone likes fast and easy!

Bots: No SS discussion these days is complete without talking about bots. Our “Future of the Contact Center” survey results in July 2019 showed great hope is being placed here. Bots could transform a variety of channels with well-built interfaces. Add in machine learning and it really gets exciting! Knowledge Management: KM is changing with improvements that could enable better SS. Centers are no longer just talking about SharePoint and a bunch of documents and folders. KM structures information into bite-size pieces that can be accessed via a variety of channels – including SS. AI can play a role here, optimizing information and finding it quickly. The power of good KM combined with better user interfaces makes me optimistic that self-service success rates may go up!

Everyday tools: The ongoing evolution of tools your customers use every day bodes well for SS success. Google (or other search engines) are often where customers start looking for answers; Google is incorporating more AI and “bot-izing” to help users find answers faster. So, you need to imagine your customer starting there and think about how their journey evolves through that interface. Similarly, the increasing use of Siri and home devices like Alexa and Google Home present an interface that is all about convenience for the user. These tools leverage many of the things listed above, like better natural language, AI, and access to KM.

Biometrics: Improvements in authentication make it easier to get into SS, whether through your fingerprint or visual ID on your mobile device, or your captured or “registered” voiceprint. The more customers grow accustomed to these technologies, the more they will expect them as they embark on a self-service journey. Companies that leverage them will win in the self-service game.

Artificial Intelligence: You may have noticed that AI is a recurring theme. As I’ve pointed out in other articles, AI is not a standalone “project.” It is something that can be done as part of many other things, perhaps the ultimate “enabling technology.” All the things that can be done in SS via business rules can be better with AI.

Read the full article »


Publish Date: August 14, 2019 5:00 AM

Affordable Technology Comes to the Rescue for Small Contact Centers

Every small center aspires to deliver good (or great!) service to customers and offer a good (or great!) place for employees to work. The realities of small centers and big technology can make these rather simple goals feel rather daunting.

Although sophisticated contact center technology has been available a long time, robust solutions at an affordable price has not been the norm. Small centers often use limited functionality from the enterprise “phone system” or a very basic solution to meet specific needs. When it comes to managing multimedia communications, we often see a cloud-based chat tool and Outlook for email, presenting challenges to manage performance and use resources across media effectively.

Manual interaction handling processes cover for little automation or workflow and a lack of tools like Knowledge Management. But these manual processes contribute to long training and handle times, and potentially low First Contact Resolution (FCR). A cluster of desktop systems cobbled together have a similar effect.

As for contact center support, Excel spreadsheets are the default tools for workforce planning. Basic call recording suffices for quality monitoring with no functionality for quality scoring and calibration. These technology deficits compromise how well, and how often, important support tasks are performed.

A serious situation can occur when technology approaches End-of-Life, risking instability before the company gets around to replacing it. Limited IT (and/or vendor) support is often a contributor to this situation, with no expertise, interest, or time to focus on contact center technology. A shortage of support resources leaves managers and supervisors wearing many hats and, almost inevitably, neglecting some important tasks. They can’t do it all!

But things are looking up!

Vendors now offer much greater capabilities to small centers in both breadth and depth. The enterprise market has matured, and technology innovations, such as software-only solutions running on virtual machines, have reduced costs. Major vendors know the small center market is BIG. Cloud vendors make it “easy and quick” with little reliance on IT.

Most vendors targeting small centers start with a suite of core technology such as ACD (routing and reporting), IVR, CTI, and call recording. Most of these will offer a wide range of channels. Some suites offer performance tools like WFM, QM, VoC, analytics, scorecards, etc., many of which weren’t typically the realm of small center solutions or came from third parties. The suite offering doesn’t mean you have to turn it all on at once. So for example, a small center may start with the QM functionality to go with the recording capability, then add more functionality later. You may even find desktop elements such as CRM and KM as options from a VAR.

As you explore the contact center technology opportunities, consider both the vendor products and their partner offerings. You might find combinations of products, add-on applications, and professional services that help you achieve your goals. Value Added Resellers (VARs) can play important roles for small centers.

If you can’t get IT help or hire support staff in your center, you can buy additional expertise and support to go with your technology. With Managed Services, the vendor takes on more of the traditional IT role, with a spectrum of possibilities for implementation and ongoing management, and proactive and reactive tasks. It’s not a low cost solution, but it’s a good option when you need an extra measure of support.

Are you interested in exploring these possibilities? Contact us or download a copy of How to Get a Lot (of Technology) for a Little (Center).


Publish Date: June 14, 2016 5:00 AM

Take a Fresh Look at ID&V

The entry point to the contact center – identification and verification (aka authentication), along with routing – is a make or break moment for the customer experience. All too often it is unpleasant at best, and downright irritating at worst.

Prompts are arguably the most hated and frustrating part of any contact, with routing to a person who can’t help not far behind. And let’s not forget the initial steps of call handling. In spite of CTI being a 20+ year old concept, many centers still don’t “pop” available information and train agents to use it. Combine these issues with a transfer to yet another uninformed agent who starts over and you’ve rung the death knell of any potential for a “good” customer experience.

These stage-setting steps get harder given the prevalence of fraudsters and hackers. Organizations are rightfully concerned about the financial impact of a breach as well as the potential for severe reputation impact. Contact center authentication is also driven by compliance and audit requirements. While various departments have a say in how the center conducts authentication and verification, they don’t always understand the customer experience implications.

Customers understand why centers need to verify their identities. Nobody wants their identity stolen or account hacked. Still, they find it all terribly burdensome. As shown below, passwords don’t really work. And don’t get me started on remembering my “favorites” and my first pet’s name. (Did I use my goldfish or my dog?)

So how do you make everyone happy with this cumbersome yet important process? Don’t apply one size fits all. Tie security to call purpose and what you know about the customer or potential customer. Require more detailed authentication only if the nature of the transaction and intelligence on the caller demands it.

For example, with one of my banks, with no login or password, I can slide up the home page of my mobile app and see balances for accounts I have designated. There is no risk of any transaction occurring, and I have configured my own view with an acceptance of the risk of someone else seeing these account balances. I view that risk as non-existent, both because I have security on my mobile phone in general, and because they can’t do anything with balance info – except be impressed or appalled!

It’s time to think creatively rather than letting broad brush security policies and generalized ID&V processes tarnish customer interactions. In this month’s Contact Center Pipeline, I provide guidance on how to use technology to mitigate risk while delivering an exceptional customer experience. Download the full article now »


Publish Date: May 6, 2016 5:00 AM

One Number, NOT One Question

I wrote a blog on Net Promoter Score (NPS) last year and continue to get into discussions about it with clients and colleagues. Martha Brooke of Interaction Metrics is a great dialog partner as she’s an expert on customer surveys and actionable customer feedback. She also shares my passion for this topic. So we put our heads together to provide guidance on how to get to one number that reflects the entire customer experience.

Many contact centers are in the situation of having to use an NPS or NPS-like score — and we certainly see them including the NPS question in their post-call surveys. It reflects the quest to get the most information from the customer with the least amount of their time — and to get the most insight with the least amount of survey design and analysis. All laudable goals.

Variations are emerging as people continue the search for the “silver bullet” question. For example, Delta is now following Zappos with the “Would you hire this person?” question. It is bold to assume that callers have any insights on how to hire people who will be good at customer care. Even if they had such insights, it’s questionable they could judge based on a single 3-minute phone call. As you can see, we are not fans.

Here is the newest variation…“If you called back, would you want to talk with this person again?” This question might make sense if companies used the data for intelligent routing on subsequent calls. But it will backfire if the customer says no and then gets routed to the same person in the future. Again, not a metric we would suggest contact centers use.

But here is the biggest flaw of any of these “one question” approaches: none provide valuable, actionable insights, which should be the reason for gathering customer feedback in the first place. We think the issue needs to be reframed – How do we measure customer experience with one number? It’s time to recognize that interactions and customer experiences, with all their nuances, emotions, and varying situations are more complex than one question can answer. If you fail to account for this complexity, you fail to have accurate data and actionable outcomes showing how and where to improve.

So a better approach is to consider and weight the various elements that impact the customer experience. Further, you need to make sure you derive a score and define actions across all customer interaction channels – voice, email, chat, text/SMS – while recognizing the questions can change across each touchpoint.

Interaction Metrics are experts in such things, including research and analysis that drives actionable insights. They have crafted a way to capture meaningful customer feedback and can get you to ONE NUMBER, called a Quality of Customer Interaction™ Score. It shows how the customer experience rates, based on multiple inputs, weighted by what’s most important to each customer. The QCI™ Score is unique in that it’s simple and yet takes into account multiple inputs.

So challenge yourself to think one number—NOT one question. After all, what you want is actionable insight.

Interaction Metrics offers a free trial that could be your first step in optimizing your customer survey and truly capturing the voice of the customer.

Survey Tips, Tricks, and Best Practices

Tips and Tricks for Great Customer Survey Design:

  • Ask customers to rank order the areas of your company that are most important to them
  • Use branching logic so you only ask customers about things they have actually experienced
  • Use a multiplier in your analysis to reflect what’s most important for each customer

Customer Survey Best Practices:

  • Avoid response bias, gaming, data distortion, and other errors in your participant sample
  • Make sure your sample is large enough to be statistically relevant
  • Eliminate leading, double-barreled, or assumptive questions
  • Include open-ended questions for customers to provide feedback in their own words—and then use a scientific coding technique to uncover key themes and meaning
  • Use a scale that is neutral and appropriate for the questions



Publish Date: May 2, 2016 5:00 AM

Some Nice Niche Technologies

Mainstream technologies get a lot of press. As the backbone of contact center operations, they’re on everyone’s radar and they need to function at peak efficiency. But I’d like to put a spotlight on a few niche technologies and tell you why I find them intriguing

Desktop and process analytics (DPA) captures and analyzes all activity on agent desktops. It’s an invaluable tool for ongoing performance optimization as well as targeted improvement efforts. For example, DPA supports root cause analysis to identify the most common challenges in finding and using information. Armed with this insight, the center prioritizes what to fix – the desktop interface, the search engine, end user training, etc. Analysts in the center work with IT and the training department to tackle the problems. With a good baseline before changes are made, the tool can then help verify whether or not the fixes worked. The potential results? Handle time goes down, first contact resolution goes up, answers are correct and consistent, and customer experiences improve.

Speech analytics can take a center’s quality monitoring program to a whole new level. For example, CallMiner can automate scoring of every contact and provide feedback in graphical performance dashboards. Utopy (now owned by Genesys), Verint, and others automate call selection for QM based on keywords or phrases. Some vendors can also use real-time capabilities to notify supervisors of a quality issue as it’s occurring. Coaching can happen in real-time or as a follow up to opportunities the SA/QM tool reveals. SA can also help an analyst look at trends and overall scores to determine if new training and/or processes (or things like cross-selling new product offerings) are taking hold.

Context-aware applications use information (who, what, where, when, how) to create “seamless and integrated” customer interaction journeys across a wide variety of media. Hooks into traditional CRM applications may provide additional data (or context). Applications use this information in targeted routing as well as screen pop of customer information and their interactions. So what makes this one exciting if it’s just glorified CTI? Many centers don’t have CRM, or if they do, it may not provide all the tracking needed for contact routing and handling. Moreover, they are not using data effectively through integration and business rules that leverage the right data to benefit customer interactions, not to mention the visibility into outcomes through reporting and analytics that follows. Using context effectively can lead to increased agent productivity, customer satisfaction, and upsell/cross-sell opportunities.

Gamification formalizes incentives and performance management through gaming tools, creating both competition and collaboration. It can create a new focus on and visibility to performance targets. For example, gamification can apply to compliance, adherence, and offers, but can also include things like knowledge contribution, assisting peers, and suggesting continuous improvement opportunities. It can be utilized in the short term for targeted initiatives, or in the long term to ensure performance measurements don’t become tiresome or ignored. The direct tangible paybacks are in agent retention and performance, which can also lead to customer retention. The value increases with the right targets and incentives, e.g., by rewarding high customer satisfaction or effective upsell.

It’s easy to get excited about the next great thing. And while I don’t want to temper enthusiasm, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer my list of things you should do before you become enamored with the latest, greatest technology:

  • Institute accurate screen pop on arrival and on transfer based on ANI or caller entered identification
  • Design and implement a good main menu – short, to the point, low level of effort (and no irritation factor!)
  • Provide representatives with as much information as the customer can see online – or better yet, more
  • Give representatives easy access to the right knowledge at the right time, making sure it’s up to date and consistent across channels
  • Follow through on problem solving by taking action on commitments made to the customer
  • Follow up on bad survey feedback by having  business rules trigger action on low scores – e.g., root cause analysis and a call from a leader

Read the full article for some cautionary advice as well as a list of other interesting niche technologies.


Publish Date: April 12, 2016 5:00 AM

Healthcare Turns to Contact Center Consultants to Improve Patient Access

When President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) into law, the healthcare industry was given the mandate to expand public and private insurance coverage while reducing costs and improving outcomes. As the legislation took effect, insurance companies and healthcare providers needed to support a more diverse patient population. Given the complexity of healthcare navigation, customer service has become critically important… and quite challenging to address.

Insurance companies and healthcare providers need effective strategies for wide-ranging patient communication (e.g., appointment scheduling, coverage questions, payments, appointment reminders, test results). For technology-savvy patients, self-service apps (IVR, web, mobile) and proactive outbound notification can provide secure, time-sensitive, cost-effective communication. Since those channels may not be available or preferred by many patients, companies need to provide trained staff to handle contacts (phone, email, chat, etc.) and, in some environments, walk in traffic. Furthermore, information must be consistent across channels. A contact center may be a better mechanism to achieve those goals than the traditionally distributed model found in many healthcare environments.

Diversity in the healthcare system extends beyond the patient population. Internal stakeholders can include administrators, physicians, clinicians, front office staff, back office staff, housekeeping, and meal service, to name a few. In today’s world, effective collaboration is crucial for realizing operational efficiencies while delivering a satisfying and consistent patient experience.

Strategic Contact has the ability to bring all the stakeholders together and listen attentively to all of their needs and concerns. We weigh the merits of centralized versus decentralized operations, and determine where and how it makes sense for the healthcare delivery system. We define the people, process, and technology changes to support the optimal structure and patient experience, and build the roadmap to reach the end state vision. And we devise a change management strategy to ensure that the people at all levels and all departments have the motivation, ability, training, and reinforcement to implement the plan.

As healthcare changes continue, the challenges of ongoing growth and increasing patient demands seem to be a clarion call for a fresh look at patient communication. Now is the time to assess how today’s contact center technology and operations can bring new capabilities and outcomes for staff and patients alike.


Publish Date: April 5, 2016 5:00 AM

No “Secret Sauce” to Sales Success

If you’re launching a new sales contact center or looking to bolster lead conversions in an existing center, it’s well worth the effort to institute contact center “best practices” to get the most out of your investment. Your staff’s core knowledge of your products and services is an excellent base upon which to build a strategy. While I can’t promise a “quick fix” to resolve issues overnight, I can provide some input that will help you move forward with a carefully constructed, efficient plan.

There are many ingredients to successful lead generation, service call upsell or cross-sell, and sales conversion. The contact center must have a clearly articulated strategy that considers the life cycle for each customer segment and the value proposition that motivates the customer to action. This strategy must also contemplate the means through which customers engage the contact center (and/or the center engages them), and the appropriate triggers for a “sales” conversation. With clarity around those core issues, a number of factors influence an agent’s success:

  • A well-articulated job description that narrates responsibilities and performance expectations accurately and specifies the required skills, experience, and characteristics for success
  • An effective hiring process that sources qualified candidates and screens for the best match
  • An onboarding process that introduces new hires to the company and their roles within it
  • Superior new hire and reinforcement training (including soft skill and feature to benefit conversion) to prepare new hires for success
  • Scripting or call handling guidelines, and knowledge aides to enable agents to process calls effectively
  • Quality management processes that include a focus on opportunity identification and overcoming objections, enabling recognition for skills done well and redirection when needed, and provides best practice examples to use in training
  • Appropriate metrics to enable agents to gauge their performance, pursue incentives and rewards, and receive coaching as needed
  • An equitable compensation and incentive plan that motivates the right behaviors and encourages employees to stay on the job (especially the top performers!)
  • Routine, balanced coaching that helps agents hone their skills while exploring career development over time
  • The right technology to help agents do their job efficiently and effectively

While the list may seem daunting, an assessment can determine which areas can provide the greatest benefit with the least effort and/or cost. Just as Rome was not built in a day, it can take sustained effort over time to work through the contact center’s “ecosystem” and achieve the right balance. The key element is having an overall blueprint that guides the individual projects and ensures that they fit together seamlessly.

One of my proudest moments as a contact center professional was when I helped a team shift from a cost center to a profit center and achieve their sales goals. Their success was built on a foundational plan that gave them the tools and training they needed, and ongoing motivation and teamwork. We celebrated together but were also eager for our next challenge. If you want to see your center reach new levels of sales success, contact me ( I’d love to share some stories.


Publish Date: March 24, 2016 5:00 AM

Making the Case for Using a Contact Center Consultant

We are frequently approached by contact center or IT leaders who want outside help with a project but first need to convince the “powers that be” to consider using a consultant. Some of the reasons they seek us out:

  • Lack in-house expertise for the task at hand, often seeking some “best practices” insights or help addressing questions such as, “How do we compare?” or “What are others doing?”
  • Want an outside, independent view, with no biases
  • Need proven project processes and experienced resources for facilitation, analysis, and actionable deliverables, along with the tools to put it all together
  • Want to augment the in-house team, often while needing to move fast and manage risks

If you find yourself in that position, how do you make the case?

Start by showing the risks of not using a consultant. While you may not want to downplay your team’s abilities, it’s important to realistically assess if you have the time, experience, expertise, and know-how to tackle the project. Deficits in any area can lead to things going badly in a number of ways. Projects don’t get done, or they take a LONG time, exceed budget, and worst of all, get done but the result is not pretty (e.g., pay too much or have lots of surprises down the road) and/or functional (e.g., missed key requirements, didn’t consider how things fit together).

Show the value consultants can bring in addressing the pain points you know you have. Think about the drivers you are trying to address, such as improve service, cut or manage costs, drive more revenue, and effectively support growth. Look at how a proper plan of action and decision process can help you address those things and drive savings and/or revenue (and ask the consultant to help if needed).

For example, if you’re pursuing technology, imagine the value of an experienced resource on your team, guiding the process. They’ll help you define thorough requirements and ask targeted questions, bring the appropriate vendors/VARs into play, focus on the true differences, and evaluate and negotiate fair prices and proper service commitments. That support can go a long way toward finding the right solution and managing risk.

Part of selling this idea may be addressing how a consultant beats alternatives. Some may argue, “We can do it ourselves.” Unfortunately, just like in home improvement, “DIY” works fine for familiar, common tasks that you have the experience, resources, and tools to do – all things you are unlikely to have if you don’t do it all the time. Consultants not only have the project experience and expertise, they come with the tools, including structured processes and good “starter” documents (e.g., metrics best practices, organizational roles and job descriptions, comprehensive RFP outline, evaluation criteria, functionality lists).

Outside of the DIY option, some look to their vendors (or their partners) to provide the consultative role. While many have professional services teams, they are product-focused with heightened emphasis on implementation, not optimization. Moreover, they have an inherent bias toward the products and services they sell, and may even have a bogie to help sell more. That won’t always lead to an outcome that is in your company’s best interest.

So as you plan to tackle your next project, think about how a consultant can help you get to an end result that is the most cost effective, beneficial, and targeted to your needs. With the right partner, you’ll also learn a ton along the way and gain a lasting relationship with a trusted advisor.


Publish Date: March 21, 2016 5:00 AM

Should the Contact Center Align Technology Purchases with the Enterprise?

Over the years, we’ve watched key players in contact center technology evolve their solution positioning from enterprise communication with contact center (CC) applications, to unified communications (UC), to converging CC and UC. They want the market to take notice as their core technology advances, their product portfolios offer more complete and innovative solutions, and/or they’ve found a new way to fulfill the next big customer need. So where does the contact center fit as the products, labels, and marketing messages change?

Even with varying vendor labels, today’s solutions continue to include three primary components that have been around for years:

  1. Enterprise communication (dark blue)
  2. Collaboration (light green)
  3. Contact center (gold, gray and tan)

In addition, vendors consistently emphasize three elements of their solution portfolios – Cloud, Mobility, and Industry Verticals. Cloud-based solutions offer a host of customer benefits that we’ve captured in previous articles. “Mobile” within an enterprise context responds to the “bring your own device” trend as well offering a consolidated interface on any device – mobile or fixed, PC, tablet or “phone.” Mobile within the contact center context places emphasis on customer media choice based on use of a mobile phone or tablet. Vertical solutions tailor a vendor’s offerings to specific industry requirements and add a communications “story” or use cases with business value to embellish the list of tools.

Every corporation varies in its overall communications plan that has been defined (typically by IT). So every contact center has to figure out where their technology requirements “fit” with IT’s current environment and plans for the enterprise, and where and how it needs to diverge based on its distinct needs.

The contact center can usually treat the enterprise voice path as a commodity provided that it is stable and reliable. Most centers address the limited collaboration tools they need easily and concern themselves with the contact center components they require – whether premise or cloud. As the following table shows, they have a variety of options:

Categories Description Example Vendors
CC only Typically cloud solutions with contact center functionality only Prefer buyers provide the PBX/voice path but require little – e.g., DID lines, internet connectivity ConnectFirst, Five9, inContact, NewVoiceMedia
CC with options for PBX CC Application focus but can bring partner to the table to provide PBX if buyer requires Increasingly partner with Microsoft (Skype for Business) May partner with or integrate with major PBX players (e.g., Avaya, Cisco, Unify) Genesys, Aspect
CC and PBX Include PBX and CC as part of their standard offerings Avaya, Cisco, Interactive Intelligence, Mitel, ShoreTel, 8×8

As you think about where your center fits in the overall ecosystem, consider the need for consistency from a technology perspective and, perhaps more importantly, from a process perspective.

  • Do you need more from your “PBX” than an available and stable voice path? For example, will you transfer calls throughout the enterprise?
  • Are your collaboration requirements more than just an IM/presence tool for the center because you need access to subject matter experts throughout the organization? If so, you’ll need to see if they are available through presence or workstate information.
  • If you need tools for customer collaboration (e.g., web co-browsing, video), do your requirements have implications for the overall enterprise solution?

The answers to questions like these will refine how your contact center technology fits with the overall enterprise communications system.

In a perfect world, the contact center’s technology procurement is part of an overarching IT strategy, and any purchase makes progress along a defined roadmap. Short of a full roadmap, purchases should not be viewed in isolation. Think of how your current purchase fits with where you are and where you will be going (to the degree it’s defined). IT may not always focus on the contact center when making their plans or you may be “doing your own thing,” but some level of integration will probably be required.

Understanding your requirements and how they fit in the overall communications ecosystem ensures you retain control of your purchase and that current vendor labels and positioning won’t cause you to go astray.

Read the full article »


Publish Date: March 15, 2016 5:00 AM

Contact Center Consultants Bolster Credit Union Member Experience

Credit unions today face growing competition and heightened member expectations for an exceptional interaction experience. As a result, their contact centers have to find ways to raise their standards of service, and many engage contact center consultants for expertise and best practices insights.

Historically, many credit union contact centers have had a difficult time garnering management attention and organizational respect. They often lack resources to achieve appropriate levels of service while facing the additional challenge of being too small to realize economies of scale. Of course, all eyes focus on the contact center when member complaints find their way to the Board or leadership team. By then, it can be hard to mount a suitable response… especially if there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

As credit unions continue to expand their charters, the contact center will need to attain parity with the branch offices. The new breed of member likes to conduct business by phone, web, mobile app, email, text, and/or other channels and may rarely (if ever) set foot in a branch. This sea change demands stronger communication between branch operations and the contact center as well as an integrated approach to service delivery across a broad range of media. Senior management needs a clear understanding of the support systems, processes, and resources necessary to pull this off, and must be prepared to make the requisite investments.

While adjusting to this cultural shift, credit unions are also expanding through organic growth and/or mergers. The bigger the organization, the harder it is to sustain the informal communication mechanisms that historically crossed departmental bounds, filled procedural gaps, or solved member problems. Formal business processes need to specify roles, responsibilities, and hand-offs. Manual procedures need to give way to automation. And the hodge-podge of technology that often accompanies rapid growth and organizational assimilation needs to give way to standardization.

We’ve worked with numerous credit unions looking for a “fresh set of eyes” on their operations while leveraging our contact center expertise and vendor independence. They’re keenly interested in what their peers are doing and value the insights we share based on our sizable client portfolio.

Here are a few recent projects from our credit union contact center consulting practice:

  • We assessed numerous credit unions and built roadmaps to support growth and relationship building.
  • We helped senior leadership gain a better understanding of the member experience and prioritize actions that would take it to a new level.
  • We revamped the design and user interface for an interactive voice response system (IVR) to ensure callers are properly routed (thereby minimizing transfers) and increase self-service rates.
  • We helped a client leverage existing automation to transform haphazard manual processes into streamlined workflows with appropriate hand-offs between the front line contact center reps and the back office.
  • We developed metrics strategies to help contact center employees focus their attention on the right performance targets at all levels of the organization.
  • We established systems and procedures to address workforce management to improve resource forecasts and identify all sources of shrinkage.
  • We worked with a larger contact center to bolster its scalability and resiliency by adding a second site.
  • We supported a newly merged credit union by defining the people, process, and technology requirements to form its first formal contact center.
  • We helped a leading credit union define their cross-servicing initiative to grow member relationships and wallet share, including technology, processes, roles, metrics, and change management.

Contact us for more information or discuss your questions and concerns.


Publish Date: March 1, 2016 5:00 AM

Are Managed Services On Your Radar?

Managed services (MS) has garnered plenty of energy and enthusiasm in the contact center technology marketplace, both from buyers and sellers. It is perceived as solving problems companies face today, notably IT cost, responsiveness, resource bandwidth, and expertise. The contact center wants more control for strategic and day-to-day changes, and has an increasing need for agility and speed.

On the technology front, most contact centers face complex and specialized needs for their infrastructure and applications. Their requirements include security and compliance, redundancy, reliability, resiliency, business continuity, and disaster recovery – all increasingly high and steep mountains to climb. Add in the preference for operational costs and MS starts to look very attractive. [Note: Some vendors will sell service with a capital expense structure.]

There are many different types of MS providers, with a variety of segments they address:

  • Broad IT versus CC specifically
  • Applications focus (with infrastructure behind it) versus a broader offering including network, infrastructure/platforms, data centers, security and compliance
  • Frontend (planning, design, implementation) and/or backend (support, management, optimization) of technology lifecycle
  • Consultative services for in-house operations versus outsourcing/BPO
  • Maintenance enhancements (e.g., proactive updates and upgrades) versus value-added optimization on the backend of the lifecycle

Three categories of vendors can come into play when considering MS for the contact center:

Vendor Category Examples Considerations
Contact center technology Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Mitel Ÿ Tend to be more about maintenance enhancements

Ÿ Some have targeted MS offerings but many rely on partners (see next row)

Value-Added Resellers (VARs) for contact center technology Altivon, Avtex, EDCi, NACR Ÿ Many offer consultative, value-added professional services

–   On frontend of project lifecycle targeted for sales and delivery

–   On backend of project lifecycle tied to enhanced maintenance offerings; may include monitoring, application optimization, health checks, configuration support (including MACs), etc.

Large integrators/BPOs


Network Carriers

Accenture, IBM


AT&T, Verizon, Windstream

Ÿ Broader offerings for core IT technology and services (not specific to CC) but can include CC

Ÿ Buyers often cede specific solution decisions to vendor in goal of getting a more comprehensive managed service

Ÿ Can include outsourcing of IT (where a “rebadge” scenario has value in retaining some knowledge of the current environment)

Ÿ Can be driven by other opportunities (e.g., network, BPO) – but the vendors have built out services groups and partnerships to deliver MS across infrastructure and applications

MS providers may have a bevy of partners behind them that help create their comprehensive, and hopefully cohesive, offerings. The growing need for specialization and expertise to address regulation and compliance demands (PCI, HIPAA, PHI, etc.) can also play a role in their offerings. Knowing these pain points exist, providers can tout their abilities and show buyers how they relieve these burdens while delivering best-in-class expertise. Similarly, contact center technology with its unique functionality and operational needs can be viewed as a specialty that should be highly scrutinized by any MS buyer, because that is not necessarily the DNA or focus of every MS supplier.

If you are thinking about pursuing this technology sourcing option, I suggest you download the full article: Managed Services: Easy to Want, Hard to Buy. I’d also suggest review of Technology Selection at Today’s Speed.

If you need help to address your circumstances, contact us.


Publish Date: February 16, 2016 5:00 AM

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