Strategic Contact - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
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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
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
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
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:
Customer Survey Best Practices:
Publish Date: May 2, 2016 5:00 AM
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
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
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 (email@example.com). I’d love to share some stories.
Publish Date: March 24, 2016 5:00 AM
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
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:
- Enterprise communication (dark blue)
- Collaboration (light green)
- 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:
|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
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
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:
|Contact center technology||Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Mitel|| Tend to be more about maintenance enhancements
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|| 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.
AT&T, Verizon, Windstream
| Broader offerings for core IT technology and services (not specific to CC) but can include CC
Buyers often cede specific solution decisions to vendor in goal of getting a more comprehensive managed service
Can include outsourcing of IT (where a “rebadge” scenario has value in retaining some knowledge of the current environment)
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
In late 2015, we conducted a simple survey that received input from 277 respondents on two fronts: the biggest challenges today and top priorities for 2016. Participants could identify three of each, with no ranking.
Top 4 Contact Center Challenges:
- High attrition
- Lack of/poor cross-departmental collaboration
- Insufficient self-service (IVR, web, mobile, etc.)
- Inability to achieve service level or ASA
Attrition is an age-old problem in contact centers and may be getting worse as the economy improves and the unemployment rate goes down. Organizational siloes are also an age-old problem, leading to departmental collaboration issues and difficulty advancing self-service initiatives. Regretably, the contact center often has the data to guide sales and customer service improvements but lacks the means to ensure that information gets to and engages critical departments. Moreover, there is often no mechanism to get interdepartmental projects defined and submitted for prioritization, approval, and funding. SL and ASA depends on many factors across people, process, and technology, not to mention adequate budgets.
Top 4 Contact Center Priorities:
- Improve performance management, coaching
- Improve training (amount, content, and/or quality)
- Improve reporting and analytics
- Redesign/improve/automate processes
These priorities align with gaps we see with our clients. The focus on front-line staff probably isn’t about quality and customer satisfaction; it’s about how centers address the top challenge: ATTRITION. High attrition puts pressure on centers to get training right and back it up with consistent and effective coaching. Process improvement and automation makes it easier to train agents and utilize their time wisely.
Differences by Industry
We looked at the top challenges and priorities by industry. The following table provides a brief highlight of these findings. [Note: Ties resulted in more than one listing for top challenge or top priority.]
|Industry||Top Challenge(s)||Top Priority(ies)|
|Financial Services||Attrition||Improve Training|
|Healthcare||Cross-departmental Collaboration||Realign Processes|
|Consumer Products||Self-service||Improve KM|
|Government||Absence rate Performance Tools||Improve Training|
|Professional Services||Service Level Training Support Resources||Cross-departmental Collaboration Realign Skills|
|Telecommunications||Adding New Channels||Improve Training|
|Education/Non-profit||Service Level Performance Tools Desktop Tools Cross-departmental Collaboration||Improve Training|
|Utilities||Attrition||Improve Reporting & Analytics|
|Manufacturing||Tech Budget Support Resources||Improve Training|
We also found differences by size of center, as seen in the following table.
While the challenges and priorities related to frontline staff line up, the other major “pain points” don’t land among the top priorities. Perhaps they are too difficult to attain and/or suggest a lack of cooperation by other key players. So centers focus on what they can control and accomplish within their walls, using their own resources.
Interested in reading more details from the survey? Download your copy now!
Publish Date: January 11, 2016 5:00 AM
As companies make decisions about sourcing for new contact center technology, a crucial question to answer is whether to pursue “best-of-breed” (BoB) solutions or solutions that are part of a “suite.”
The BoB strategy was common when vendors had a more narrow focus. For example, there were “CTI vendors” or “IVR vendors” and “WFM vendors” or “QM vendors.” BoB worked well for larger companies with sufficient IT resources to manage integration and support.
Suite solutions appealed to small and medium companies wanting to go farther, faster, and to those without the internal resources to implement and maintain the complex BoB environment. Suite solutions became more affordable and provided capabilities previously unavailable to small and medium companies. Conceptually, the tradeoff was considered to be a complex BoB environment with advanced features or a more easily supported environment that might be missing some of the bells and whistles.
As companies of all sizes are driven by a desire to go far and fast with strained IT resources, suites have taken over the market on many levels. Yet even the definition of a suite has split into two categories: built as one and integrated into one.
“Built as one” are solutions built from the ground up as a single, total solution with one interface into all applications. For example, Interactive Intelligence introduced a single solution in 1994 with an “all-in-one” message that delivered broad functionality on a single platform. They started with PBX, ACD, IVR, and reporting and then expanded to WFM and QM. They continue to add functionality. Genesys has similarly built out a suite with extensive functionality, but from a different angle as they started as a best-of-breed CTI vendor. Some cloud solutions such as Five 9 and inContact have built out suites but tend to build the “core” functionality (multichannel ACD, IVR, CTI) and partner or purchase for WFO.
“Integrated into one” solutions rely on vendor integration, but often have multiple interfaces for system administration. These solutions are often the result of an acquisition strategy to add functionality to offerings in pursuit of the suite, especially for WFO elements. In some cases, an interface (or wrapper) to the various systems has been consolidated into a single view. An integrated solution does not always carry full functional capability of the original components. Examples of the integrated approach include Aspect and Mitel.
The suite concept has also expanded as vendors add to their product lines. Vendors may offer a total suite that meets all contact center needs or a subset where the different “suites” have to be integrated. For example, contact center vendors have a renewed focus on enterprise communications (aka “Unified Communications” or “Business Communications”) combined with contact center. Contact center and WFO vendors are increasing partnerships and level of integration with CRM or adding CRM and/or KM functionality. CRM vendors can manage all media except for voice.
Best-of-breed has evolved, too. Traditional BoB vendors have led the market in acquisitions, product expansion, and feature/function expansion such that most market leading vendors have become suites – or vendors of a suite of BoB products. For example, Verint and NICE are best-of-breed WFO solutions that offer a suite of components for a total WFO solution. As another example, there are analytics suites that are part of larger WFO suites that include desktop, text and speech analytics along with dashboards/scorecards for display.
Acquisition, innovation, and expansion among technology vendors have made sourcing distinctions increasingly complex. Moreover, struggles between IT and business biases and constraints on IT resources have forced contact centers to take more control over their destiny.
A thoughtfully constructed technology roadmap guides technology sourcing using a consistent approach. Even when a need – or opportunity – to deviate from the roadmap arises, management should take a moment to consider options and assess the tradeoffs, risks, and impacts.
Read the full article »
Publish Date: January 1, 2016 5:00 AM
We’ve been on our soapbox for years to encourage organizations to adopt the 3 Ms of implementation – Project, Change, and Vendor Management.
- Project Management (PM) focuses on the tasks associated with an implementation – planning, executing, and completing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet business objectives.
- Change management (CM) is about helping people adopt the process and technology changes the project presents, and institute practices that will ensure those changes keep delivering business value.
- Vendor management (VM) is about ensuring the vendor and internal project teams are aligned every step of the way, and the vendor’s focus also remains on business success.
PM is a mature practice in most organizations. Yet without CM and VM, the users may not be on board and the vendor may be reassigning staff before the project wraps. Within days or weeks, the technology is underutilized (or ignored), and the knowledgeable vendor resources have moved on.
The different roles suit different personalities and strengths. The PM tends to be logical, task oriented, and can be more technology oriented. CM is a people-oriented job. VM is a combination of the two, with a different twist on the people/communication side than CM: both get people to perform but with different drivers, carrots and sticks.
A perfect world ensures cohesive management across the three disciplines. In practice, we’ve seen several different scenarios.
A PM may wear multiple hats and take responsibility for VM and CM. It is a rare individual who has the bandwidth and skill to do it all well. But when the right person is assigned, it can be great to have everything inherently managed together. Another scenario is when the PM handles VM and works closely with a CM resource. This model enables some specialization while requiring good collaboration. In a third model, the PM oversees tasks and an individual tied to the purchasing decision and/or ongoing vendor relations handles VM. If it’s a premise solution, the VM tends to be in IT. Cloud solutions increasingly place the VM in a business area such as the contact center. Again, collaboration is key.
However the roles are parsed out, a Program Management Office or other oversight group should define what constitutes quality deliverables. PM focuses on project plans, functional requirements, specifications, test plans, status reports, etc. VM includes SOW, SLAs, and vendor project plans. CM includes the plans for communications, training, sponsorship, coaching, and resistance management based on the Prosci® model for change management (see www.change-management.com).
After the technology is in and working, you still need all three Ms. The PM may work on subsequent phases or new tasks related to the main project (and you will benefit immensely if it is the same PM, not a changing of the guard). You need VM to oversee performance and Service Level Agreements (SLAs), deliver new functionality, and keep everyone informed of new system capabilities or options. CM reinforces changes, makes sure customers and staff (frontline and support) are using technology effectively, and addresses adoption issues that can compromise results.
In today’s projects, everyone seems to want to move fast, but resources are limited and risks are high. With good practices around the three Ms, you can move faster and more efficiently.
Want to learn more? Download the full article »
Publish Date: December 1, 2015 5:00 AM
Contact centers always seem to be short on time and resources when it comes to their selection processes for new technology. And most are under pressure to move fast. Here are some common mistakes that don’t serve them over the long haul.
ONE: Failure to assess the upside potential of your current solution. If your technology selection process is an outgrowth of dissatisfaction with your current vendor/VAR, spend some time to determine if it is the technology or the services (or both) causing the problem. You could be blaming the technology yet haven’t stayed current on upgrades. Or a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities among your internal IT, the VAR, and the vendor could look like service issues that could be addressed with a better agreement and vendor management. While you may still move forward with a new solution, you’ll gain valuable insights to improve your selection process.
TWO: Failure to document requirements. Even if you are only talking to one vendor (which we certainly wouldn’t recommend), you need to articulate your specific needs in a 5-10 page document. Otherwise your quoted price won’t include all the components and licenses you need, and you’ll get an incomplete or generic Statement of Work (SOW).
THREE: Failure to focus on key differentiators. RFPs often include long lists of features and functions that are common to all vendors that obscure the real differences between them. Focus on critical requirements that align with your IT environment, operational plans, and support needs.
FOUR: Failure to determine the sourcing approach that fits your business requirements and IT strategy. Technology can be premised-based, cloud/hosted, or a hybrid. The sourcing decision is typically based on IT support resource availability and/or operation’s desire for deeper involvement in the solution. It may reflect a push by C-Level executives to migrate from capital expenses to operational expenses, or a desire to move contact center technology support to a third party. Unless you’re clear on your preferred sourcing model, you won’t narrow the field of vendors to consider.
FIVE: Failure to account for vendor strategy. Vendor strategy defines whether they sell direct or through VARs, which sourcing and support options they offer direct and through partners, and which markets and sizes they target. If your preferred vendors collaborate with others on solution delivery, check to see that their partners have the right characteristics (size, geography, industry, strategic focus) for your environment.
SIX: Failure to define evaluation criteria. Evaluation criteria are not the same as requirements. Requirements help the vendor understand your needs so they know what to propose; criteria differentiate and evaluate vendor responses. Define criteria as categories like Features/Functions, Technical Fit, Implementation, Support, Vendor Fit and Price. Then define each category with a few bullets. It is relatively easy to weight and score five to seven differentiating categories; rating individual requirements within each category is an exercise in futility.
SEVEN: Failure to provide a clear definition of your expectations for vendor proposals. If you want to save time and make apples-to-apples comparisons, specify how you want each proposal structured. Make it clear you don’t want long, “boilerplate” responses. Most importantly, specify how you want the pricing structured and at what granularity.
EIGHT: Failure to orchestrate vendor/VAR presentations. Stay in the driver’s seat. Don’t let the vendor take control. Provide an agenda that includes demos of key user interfaces, technical discussion to address IT needs, and a list of critical questions regarding implementation, support, SLAs, pricing, etc. Leave “optional items” until the end.
NINE: Failure to check your personal biases at the door. Put tools and processes in place to add objectivity to what is mostly a subjective process. Use criteria and scoring at a level of detail necessary for your company to be able to defend your requirements, SOW, pricing, and selection.
TEN: Failure to invest the time and energy in negotiating an appropriate vendor agreement. Work with your preferred vendor to ensure everything is included to minimize the risk of add-ons/change orders. Iterate and negotiate as needed. Use the competing bids as leverage where appropriate (e.g., “We like you best but your price is X% higher than others…”). Include a detailed SOW and document SLAs.
If you’ve ever heard the old saying – “Good, Fast, Cheap – pick two” – you know the risk of trying to select a vendor quickly. You don’t want to end up with the wrong choice, and you don’t want to pay too much.
For a more complete discussion on a thorough yet efficient technology selection process, download Technology Selection at Today’s Speed.
Publish Date: November 21, 2015 5:00 AM
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