The Connection - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
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Many companies find that outsourcing their inbound call center operations offers more benefits than handling the work in-house. When researching where to outsource, there are basically three options to consider: offshore, nearshore, or domestic. So, which type is best for your business?
What to Consider When Choosing a Call Center
What is “best” for your organization will depend on your company’s unique set of needs and goals. You may want to consider:
- Labor costs
- Quality of labor
- Time and Travel expense / Budgetary and time constraints to visit as frequently as you would like
- Data security (ability to protect both company and customer information)
- Training that ensures adequate knowledge of company products and policies
- Monitoring and other necessary steps to ensure appropriate quality control as well as regulatory compliance
- Language barriers, accents
- Need for bilingual or multiple languages
A nearshore call center is located outside the United States, but typically is in our hemisphere. Regions such as Mexico, Central America, nearby islands, and even South America are often considered nearshore.
Advantages of nearshore:
- Definitely closer and less complicated travel than offshore
- Less expensive labor than domestic
- Often agents are bilingual and help with the demand for Spanish speaking personnel
- Some nearshore countries have a large number of expatriates from the U.S. so their English skills are near or at 100%
- Residents of these countries often have lived in or visited the U.S. so our culture is well-understood and easier for these agents to replicate
An offshore call center is one that is located in a more distant region of the world. India, Philippines, Asian countries, and Eastern Europe are all examples of offshore areas that have call centers. The biggest draw of offshore call centers is their ability to hire agents at a far lower cost. Other offshore advantages include:
- Often located in large cities with plentiful labor supply
- The government entities are motivated to bring these jobs to their country
- The culture is designed to make people successful, e.g. people working overnight shifts to match U.S. hours
- Some offshore locations have populations that can support multiple languages
Offshore call centers are geared to large operations. Sometimes a single high rise in the Philippines can have three different call center companies on different floors.
An onshore, or domestic, call center is located in the United States. Advantages include:
- No concerns about language or cultural barriers
- Agents and customers can relate to one another, setting the stage for positive, brand-building experiences
- Easier travel to conduct training, focus groups, etc.
- Potentially can speed ramp-up time, simplify changes, and assure security and compliance standards are met
So, Which is Best For You?
The size of your required call center can often be a major factor. If you have a smaller operations, (less than 100 seats) typically offshore is not for you. It is too far away, there are too many risks, and offshore operations are, generally speaking, built for large, multi-hundreds or multi-thousands of seats.
Nearshore facilities will often gear themselves to smaller operations, maybe as small as even 10 seats. However, the fewer the seats, the smaller the savings, and it may not add up to enough savings to offset the potential lack of control you may have in a nearshore facility.
For many companies, customer experience is the overriding factor. Your call center can directly affect your brand and your customer loyalty. So the farther away you go, the more certain you need to be that the partner you select is going to produce a quality team of personnel that are invested in your success.
No one ever leaves the U.S. for a nearshore or offshore partner because they want better customer service. Cost savings is the driving factor, and from there, you simply need to investigate thoroughly that the rest of their solution will meet your standards, or that the sacrifice you might make in certain other factors is acceptable.
Publish Date: June 21, 2018 5:00 AM
According to the U.S. Contact Centre Decision Makers Guide, call centers saw an average of 60% agent turnover rate by mid-2017. Unfortunately, this rate (or much higher) is common in the industry, and continues to be among the top issues faced by call center managers. However, there are steps you can take to retain hard-working, loyal employees.
Here are three tips to help minimize turnover in your call center.
Careful Hiring Practices
Most turnover occurs within the first 30 to 90 days of employment. So, the more thorough your hiring process, the more likely you are to reduce turnover. Remember, not everyone is cut out to be a successful customer service rep. The work can be stressful, especially on days when agents have to deal with multiple demanding, unhappy customers.
You want people who are consistently upbeat and empathetic. Create a profile of your ideal agent — their skills and personality traits. Then, search for candidates who match that profile. Testing and pre-employment assessment tools can help. For example, behavioral testing will help you (and the candidate) learn if they have the right temperament to be a CSR. Skills testing confirms they can type at required speed and handle other tasks.
In the interview, ask questions. Discuss the product or service they will be representing. Some people will come right out and tell you that they wouldn’t feel sorry for someone having an issue with that product. Now that’s a red flag!
Conduct background checks, too. This verifies the candidate’s personal information, and it helps ensure workplace safety.
A second interview helps, and in general, give yourself enough time to be thorough. If you are hiring in a hurry, people may leave in a hurry!
Once you have selected the best candidates, training is critical. New hires often quit because of inadequate training. They get nervous, flustered, and frustrated. So, tempting as it is to get agents online and “earning their keep” as quickly as possible, remember that turnover is very expensive. Cutting that corner is a sure ticket to spending the time, money, and resources to recruit a replacement.
As part of training, include tests and exams. Find out where the teams’ weak points are. Retrain right away before they hit the floor, feel inadequate, and quit. Investing more in up-front and ongoing training almost always provides a greater long-term return.
Once the classroom training is complete, leave time for nesting on the floor. Easing new agents into their job by using experienced reps and/or supervisors as mentors is a great way to make those first calls less stressful. It also shows care and builds trust between the new agents and the management and supervisory teams. This goes a long way toward agents giving you the benefit of the doubt when there is an issue instead of simply walking off the job.
Remember, the number one reason employees leave is because of their supervisor. Take the opportunity during training and nesting to build bonds and trust that will make a difference, and ensure that your supervisory team is up to the job.
Retention is no accident. With today’s extremely low national unemployment rate (3.8%), good candidates are at a premium. Your agents could go looking for — or be lured away to — greener pastures. However, they are much less likely to leave if they feel happy and appreciated in their position with your call center. So, how do you incentivize your agents?
- Offer competitive pay and benefits Be as flexible as possible in scheduling
- Give agents the authority to get creative, if necessary, to make callers happy
- Find ways to add fun to break times, or provide free snacks to keep everyone well-fueled
- Thank them for a job well done
By hiring the right people, training them thoroughly, and creating an environment that makes them feel valued, you will have a happier, more productive workforce that will greatly reduce agent turnover and greatly increase customer satisfaction with your call center.
Publish Date: June 19, 2018 5:00 AM
Providing top-quality customer service requires the successful management of many moving and interconnected parts, not the least of which are all the personnel that you have answering the phones.
There are many ways to improve your customer service offering including fine tuning processes related to recruiting, to interviewing, to hiring, training, management, etc. However, let’s focus on Quality Assurance programs and how QA programs can help make a positive and real difference.
With that in mind, here are three ways to leverage Quality Assurance in your customer service call center.
Most companies have phone systems that allow for the monitoring of live calls or recorded calls. Monitoring calls is a hands-on way of seeing exactly how your customer service agents are treating your customers. Are your agents following procedures, are they reading any required disclaimers or policy information, are they showing appropriate empathy, are they working hard to resolve customer concerns? These, among others, are the types of performance metrics that you can track by monitoring calls.
A couple of notes about monitoring:
- Create a scorecard. If you are going to monitor calls, create a scoring system and a scorecard. This ensures that your monitors and supervisors will have a process that gives them the ability to judge fairly when they compare and comment.
- Work next to your agents. Quite often, companies have a “back room” culture for monitoring: A place where monitors sit and listen to calls and the agent is unaware you are listening. Try monitoring right next to the agent, in a process called “side jacking.” This allows for immediate feedback to an agent right after a call is completed. The agent remembers the call, it is easy to explain the high points and opportunities for adjustment, and then you are right there to listen to a few more calls to ensure the agent understood and modified their process appropriately.
Manual Monitoring Has Its Limits
Monitoring is a slow and cumbersome process. The longer your average handle time, the longer it takes to monitor each call. Therefore, you can only monitor so many calls per day. If your supervisor is tracking calls for 10 agents, it takes a lot of time to monitor enough calls to get an accurate picture of how the team is performing.
There are not enough hours in the day to accomplish this effectively. Remember, a supervisor still needs time to supervise. If you are trying to move a team forward with their service skills, how long will it take to determine how a team is responding and improving on a daily basis? It might take a week or more to listen to enough calls to really know if adjustments are being made from a single day’s mentoring and coaching.
Quality Assurance Team
Creating a Quality Assurance team that’s sole responsibility is to monitor calls can free up your supervisors’ time. Supervisors can then just pull QA results and coach the team accordingly. However, while you may monitor significantly more calls with a dedicated QA team, that comes with a steep price tag to support the QA personnel.
You will also need to decide who delivers the results to the agents. A meeting between the QA team and agents reduces the amount of time the QA team can be monitoring calls. But, if supervisors meet with agents to deliver coaching, (the more typical scenario) then they are delivering feedback and suggestions based on input that is not their own. Also, the time frame between listening to calls and providing feedback may be too long for the agent to properly remember the call and apply feedback.
Voice Analytics - Putting Technology to Work
Enter Voice Analytics. Voice Analytics is simply the process of taking all your recorded calls and running them through an automated platform that a) creates a complete transcript of each call, and b) automatically grades the call on any number of predetermined factors as set up by your team.
Voice Analytics can give you the ability to check the quality on thousands of calls and perhaps up to 100% of your calls each day (vs. 1%-3% that is typically monitored by a dedicated QA Team). And voice analytics systems provide a dashboard of results for the following morning. Now you can coach an entire team one day, and the following morning you can see the results of your coaching efforts. And, watch your team compete with each other to see who can improve the most and who has the highest rank on various metrics.
Comprehensive tracking and speech analytics allow you to monitor all of your key performance metrics. Not only can you be confident you are complying with legal requirements, but you get better data to pinpoint needed training or operations improvements.
The Importance of Quality Assurance Measures
In some ways, the Quality Assurance function is the lynchpin of your contact center operations. Based on a solid and well run QA program, results can drive training curriculum modifications, personnel decisions, and much more. If you are interested, but you aren’t sure about first steps, feel free to reach out to our team.
Publish Date: June 14, 2018 5:00 AM
The main focus of a call center is to create a positive customer experience, but too often, customers find themselves lost in one of any number of service pitfalls. Some examples of these service pitfalls are:
- A convoluted selection of options in the interactive voice response (IVR)
- On hold for far too many minutes
- In an endless cycle of being transferred
- Talking with an obviously unhappy, unmotivated, or otherwise unhelpful customer service representative
What should be a quick and helpful call can quickly turn south and morph into more headaches for your customer, which could impact their loyalty to your brand as well as affect the reputation of your brand and your businesses.
To create a positive experience for your customers each and every time they call, here are some common call center complaints to avoid.
Difficulty Reaching a Human
If your IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is too complicated, and it takes several special commands to reach a live person, simplify it. Self-help options can be useful, but make it easy for callers to opt out to a live agent quickly.
Poky Answer Speed
“Hold” is the ultimate four-letter word when it comes to customer complaints. ASA, (Average Speed of Answer) is a key performance metric in professional call centers, as is its corollary, Abandoned Call Rate. Customers will only wait so long for a live agent, and then they will hang up. When that happens, you risk losing a potential sale and your brand takes a hit. If you can’t afford to staff with appropriate personnel, look for ways to create self help options online, add utilize web chat (which is more cost effective).
Repeatedly Repeating Information Repeatedly
Asking callers for the same personal information at every step is more than annoying. It bolsters their suspicion that your company is inefficient or behind the times when it comes to technology. That annoyance may cause customers to question why they do business with you. There are lots of options to incorporate process automation software into your workflow so that information that needs to be utilized in more than one place can be retrieved without asking your customer to repeat it, again.
Customers expect call center personnel to answer questions, assist with ordering, or resolve problems. Allowing new agents to go live without adequate training makes it impossible for them to do their job confidently and effectively. Instead, ensure that your call center team receives quality training on industry best practices as well as company products and policies. And give them the authority to make decisions that will help customers right now.
Overly informal or inappropriate language or a crude or bored tone of voice are disrespectful. And lack of empathy virtually shouts, “Who cares?” On the other hand, a professional and sincerely empathetic agent can transform even the angriest caller into a satisfied customer.
Customers who ask to speak to a supervisor should be connected to one. Telling a customer that no one is available or utilizing other excuses only escalates the customer and can make it nearly impossible to rectify the situation.
You Can Fix These Problems
The right agents, with the right training, in an environment where the contact center is properly staffed for the call volume, can send your CSAT and other customer rating scores sky-high. A little investment goes a long way to enhancing the customer experience, generating incremental revenue, and making your contact center a winning proposition.
Having the right amount of staff on your call center team can alleviate some of the pain of poor customer communication. Use our Workforce Calculator to get an understanding of just how many people you need involved in your call center. Also, feel free to contact our corporate office if you have questions or need assistance.
Publish Date: June 12, 2018 5:00 AM
Words have great power. “No” and other negatives are psychologically and physically stressful. Conversely, “I understand,” “I can,” and “I will” instantly reflect empathy and dedication.
When working with customers, you always want to create a positive experience. That means with everything you say you strive to be optimistic and helpful. While you want interactions to feel naturally conversational, there are certain things you should try to always avoid when on a call. There are also words and phrases that can overtly improve customer experience. That is why call center scripts should always accentuate the positive.
To provide your customer service representatives with an effective script, here are some pointers.
Common Scenarios for Call Center Scripts
It is easy to inadvertently use negative words, even when trying to convey a positive. Call center scripts reduce this risk by giving customer service reps the right words. Your caller may simply have a question, so do not assume the worst.
Instead of: "What is the problem?"
Ask: "How may I help you?"
There are a few phrases that are guaranteed to make your caller unhappy. “Calm down” is one of them. If a customer is angry, that is only a symptom, not the reason for their call. Calmly explain you are there to help them find a solution. Then, repeat their complaint or comment, to show that you heard them and that you heard correctly.
Instead of: "Wow! That should not have happened."
Say: "I certainly understand how that can be frustrating. Let’s see how we can fix that."
If you cannot provide the fix they want, tell them what you can do.
Instead of: “That is against company policy.” (another negative phrase that angers customers)
Say: “I can offer you X or Y.”
If alternatives are available, ask which they would prefer. That lets the customer feel they are in control of their solution.
Instead of: “I don’t know,” or “That is not my department.”
Say: “Let me find out for you,” or “Let me connect you with a specialist on that.”
Adverbs that Reinforce Positives
Positive phrases are inherently encouraging. Including adverbs highlights those positives, for example:
Certain words energize the conversation, further engaging customers and reinforcing their expectation of a positive outcome:
Remember to Smile
Believe it or not, facial expressions affect your tone of voice. So, pretend customers can see you. You will sound as sincere as your words whether you are greeting them, thanking them, or apologizing for their distress.
“Thank You,” Says it All
Every customer who calls is making an overt effort to engage, for a reason. Positive call center scripts help customer service reps immediately establish rapport with customers — letting them know that they and their issue are both important and that your goal is to help them find the best possible solution.
When you do, that excellent experience can turn even the most frustrated customers into loyalists. You not only listened, you acted on what you heard. Thanking callers for their comment, or for allowing you to help them, caps off their experience on the highest note.
If your scripts already include positive and empathetic language, great! If you are noticing you are not getting the results you would like, try updating your script using some of the tips above. It should make a great impact on your customers’ overall experience.
Publish Date: June 7, 2018 5:00 AM
For many companies that operate their customer service call center internally, staffing is an ongoing concern. This is currently an even larger concern in an environment where the national unemployment rate is only 3.8%. This can be both daunting and frustrating. With that in mind, here are a few tips on overcoming hiring issues:
How can you overcome your hiring issues?
- Hire a recruiting firm that specializes in call center staffing. Recruiters may know the marketplace better. They can provide input on where to look for and uncover and secure top talent for their clients. They can provide advice on the current wages necessary to drive applicants to your organization.
- Make the most of social media. Post alerts about new openings and encourage social followers to share. More importantly, post about your company and your culture. It is a very competitive marketplace, so why should someone choose to work for you over another call center?
- Enlist your current employees. Referrals are a key source of new recruits. Current employees can speak first-hand about what their job entails and the working environment. Motivate and reward your employees with incentives if they make referrals.
- Renew your focus on retention. Retaining a current, qualified employee is far less costly than recruiting a new one, and employees who love their job are most likely to promote your call center in a positive light to prospects.
- Increase wages. Make sure you are offering a competitive wage, or it make not happen.
- Broaden your benefits package with non-traditional offerings your employees are asking for.
- Never stop building relationships with candidates because fluctuating needs are a hallmark of most call centers. You will always need a backup list of qualified people to call.
- Give yourself more time. It is unlikely that you will find people who are unemployed and qualified to do the quality work that is important to you. It takes time to compete and attract new recruits, it takes time to interview and select, and it takes time for qualified applicants to give proper notice to their future ex-employer. The whole process is going to take longer, and recognizing that up front and allotting for that extra time could make all the difference.
Outsourcing May Be the Answer
We mentioned earlier the possibility of hiring a recruiter. Outsourcing the recruiting function may help, however you may also want to consider if this the time to work with an customer service outsourcing company, or at least a good time to discuss your situation with an outsourcer. They may have the type of people you are looking for because recruiting, training, and managing qualified talent is what they do for a living.
And if the tight labor market is going to be around for a while, outsourcing your customer service function may be a longer term solution.
Publish Date: June 6, 2018 5:00 AM
There may be advantages to maintaining an in-house call center, at least for some companies. However, if your business is growing, there may come a time when you have to question whether it is better to upgrade your technology and infrastructure or outsource your call center.
This can be a daunting decision because your call center directly affects:
- Sales and revenue
- Personnel deployment
- Brand reputation
- Customer loyalty (which circles back to sales and revenue)
There are a lot of factors to consider, and how the pros and cons stack up will depend on your specific needs and goals.
An in-house call center gives you complete control, physically and functionally. You choose the people, the place, and the technology. However, you also need to manage all of that. Overhead expenses can skyrocket when your call center needs expanding, and you will have to set aside valuable capital resources to pay for expansion, upgrades, and so on. Technology is evolving rapidly, and the efficiency and effectiveness of your contact center may depend on deploying some new bells and whistles.
So, what do you need to successfully upgrade your call center?
One of the biggest frustrations of in-house call centers is the cost of lost sales and reputation when volume spikes and agents fall behind. A professional call center company can take these fluctuations in stride, easily ramping up or scaling back as needed.
Many call center companies have multiple locations, so they can draw upon any one of those locations when they need to scale. But what about your call center? You probably do not want to open another location, and looking for new labor is time-consuming and expensive, especially with high turnover rates in the call center industry.
If you are trying to scale in a tight labor market, can you successfully scale and maintain quality? If agent skills suffer, your clients and customers will suffer. So, if you are going to scale internally, make sure you do not sacrifice quality for quantity!
As omni-channel communication with your customers becomes ever more omni-present, it is crucial not to fall behind. Email communication, webchat, chatbots, and more all present opportunities, but they come at a high price. And then what if you do install new technologies? Do you have the people internal to your organization to run, maintain, and manage? Make sure you know all the costs of acquiring, installing, and maintaining new technology.
Also, new technologies can help drive down call volume, or make handing the volume more cost effective, but you may need to look outside of your organization for the expertise to make that happen.
There is a financial cost to scale your call center. Recruiting, increasing infrastructure, and adding technology all come with a price tag. And there is an opportunity cost as well. If key personnel are investing time on adding some staff to the call center, what is that costing you in time and energy away from other mission-critical endeavors such as research, product development, market expansion, or marketing?
Not all call centers are the same. They vary significantly in range of services, quality, staffing, value-added services, and relationship-building ability. Your priorities should drive your decision to upgrade or outsource, and if you choose outsourcing, who you choose as your partner.
It All Comes Down to Trust
Outsourcing will be a smart move only if your new call center partner can sustain (or exceed) the experience your customers receive now. Customer loyalty is priceless, so make sure that is maximized as you make decisions on how best to grow your call center.
Finally, before you make a decision, visit prospective call center partners. Tour their facility. Talk to their people. See for yourself if their agents have the interpersonal skills over the phone to represent your company to customers.
Publish Date: May 31, 2018 5:00 AM
As your company grows, so will your call center. But when you’re looking to hire a new call center agent, you do not want to hire just anyone. After all, agents are often a customer’s first impression of your brand, and sometimes their only personal connection with your company. So you want to hire friendly, helpful, dedicated individuals who are ready to learn and advocate for your company.
To help narrow the candidate pool, here are five characteristics to look for when hiring a customer service representative.
First and foremost, customer service representatives must be good listeners in order to fully understand each customer’s need. Then, they must be able to clearly communicate their response, whether that is resolving a problem or making purchase recommendations. Listening — empathetic listening — not only speeds customer service, it can diffuse a negative situation, transforming an irate customer into a brand advocate.
Customers often have questions about specific products or services. Your CSRs need to be knowledgeable about your company, it’s offerings, and policies. That requires excellent recall as well as the ability to double-check details on the fly, without making customers wait.
Beyond the ability to quickly and accurately answer questions, call center agents should have the knowledge, leeway, and authority to creatively resolve issues. Putting people on hold to get help from a supervisor, or passing them along to another agent, irritates customers. If fixing the problem does require intervention, agents must explain why. That way, customers will see it as a service, not a hand-off.
Ability to Work Quickly Under Pressure
Being a customer service representative is a tough job, one that requires a high level of emotional maturity. Every contact is different, and customers can range from cheerful to irate. It is critical that CSRs have the ability to project a calm and can-do attitude no matter what.
The faster and more effectively your representatives can serve each customer, the more positive that customer’s experience will be. Efficiency also enables your call center to serve more customers per day, which benefits your bottom line.
Agents may be speaking with one person at a time, but they are multi-tasking behind the scenes — capturing information, taking notes, looking up details. Yet it all has to appear simple and seamless to customers.
Look or listen for someone’s personality in their cover letter/emails or phone interview. Do their emails sound professional yet friendly? What about on the phone? Do they try to fill every silence over the phone with information whether it is useful or not? Do they allow you to finish your thoughts? Are they socially awkward or socially adept? You want your CSRs to be pleasant to talk to. So, if your phone interview is not pleasant, they may not be the right fit.
Remember, enthusiasm goes a long way when it comes to customer service. If they mention specific things they like about your company, it is a great sign they will be exceptional advocates of your business.
No matter what, don’t rush your decision. It’s better to take the time to find the right person than to quickly fill the position with the wrong one. Once you’ve found someone with the skills, dedication, and willingness to learn, you can rest assured your customers are in good hands and your business can continue to grow. And that peace of mind is priceless.
Publish Date: May 25, 2018 5:00 AM
Omni-channel solutions represent multiple ways for your customer to reach you (e.g. voice, email, chat, SMS, etc.), as opposed to the typical single access channel: the telephone. It is critically important to take advantage of all the potential channels you may have to reach your customer in order to strengthen your brand image as a company that truly cares about their customers.
Optimize Your Online Channels
Say you have a customer navigating your business website. What if the customer has a question? No doubt your phone number is on your website and they can simply dial the number and talk to your customer support team. But, is there a better way?
We are all striving to make it easy and straightforward for our customers to find what they need and to generate a sale. So if the customer is already on your website, why make them take the additional step of making a phone call? You already have them right where you want them!
If you have web-chat enabled on your website, there are all sorts of ways that you can use it to better enable your customer to find what they need and to fill out a lead form, make a purchase, contact your team, etc. Here is how it works:
Based on certain metrics, like how long someone is on your site and which pages they are on, and you can trigger an offer to chat with your online prospect. Your online prospect can simply hit the “click to chat” button and you are now talking with a prospect.
Webchat can be very interactive, can provide you the opportunity to take a prospect much deeper into your site and into certain subjects that prospects are much more relaxed about discussing via chat than they may be via a phone call.
Utilize SMS to Stay in Touch
Another omni-channel solution is SMS (Short Message Service, or better known as a “text”). SMS is a quick and easy way to keep your clients in-the-know about your company. You can set up a mailing list, much like an email campaign, and send texts to all clients who have opted-in to receive text messages. These types of messages work well for coupons, upcoming events, updates on order statuses, or for quick questions. Text has become the norm for so many customers, that using it as a contact point only makes sense. And some facts from CustomerThink.com can bolster that argument:
- 90% of business leads would rather receive a text message than a phone call
- 98% of adults aged 18 to 29 in the US own a device capable of receiving a text message
- The average response time for a text message is just 90 seconds.
Integrate Information to Enhance Customer Experience
Omni-channel analytics improve the customer experience by providing valuable insight into each customer's journey, identifying why the customer reached out, which channel they chose to reach out on, and which channel the issue was ultimately resolved on.
Add CRM data to the equation, and agents also have insights about which products a customer currently has, the stage of the lifecycle, value of the customer, etc. This data allows agents to deliver intelligent support that anticipates and addresses the customer's needs. This level of advanced knowledge and relevant support can strengthen both trust and loyalty between your brand and your customers.
Do You Really Need Omni-channel?
It is so important to communicate with your customer or prospect in the fashion that best facilitates what their particular need is at that particular time. Real-time interactions keep customers engaged, and opportunities for open-line communication can boost your brand image.
Omni-channel access can provide comprehensive integration that assures your customer a consistent, seamless experience no matter how, when, or where contacts occur. Without taking this next step, you can easily miss out on potential sales and risk disappointing customers with poor or poorly personalized service.
Publish Date: May 17, 2018 5:00 AM
Go Beyond Outsourcing: Leverage Strategic Partnerships For Growth
Even if you run your own factory, manage your own warehouse and clean your own break room, chances are you’re still outsourcing something.
Think about it, you don’t operate your own internet service. You likely pay for online storage and backup. You probably use a third-party database. You’re already using someone else’s stuff for so many other things and whether you realize it or not, you're outsourcing just the same as you would for inbound or outbound support teams. So why is outsourcing personnel so different from outsourcing other key business functions? "It's because the knowledge gap and value is realized immediately," says Fred Weiner, CEO and founder of The Connection®, "they recognize someone else can provide the service more affordably, efficiently, and keep up to date with the latest technologies so they don't have to. Personnel outsourcing is a lot like this, but most people don't view it the same way."
Outsourcing has become a best practice in many industries. While there aren’t a lot of hard numbers to show how prevalent such partnerships are in the channel, the Direct Selling Association (DSA) 2016 Growth & Outlook Report said that nearly 70 percent of direct selling companies in the United States outsource manufacturing, assembly and generation of products and services to domestic vendors. And according to a DSA spokesman, “this undercounts the full amount of outsourcing, as it doesn’t capture outsourcing of things like payroll, legal work and logistics.”
Organizations who talked to us about their outsourcing experiences say that partnering with experts in everything from manufacturing to marketing has been critical to their success. Strategic relationships with product and service providers free companies to focus on their core competencies without the investment in and daily responsibility for such things as factories and fulfillment centers. Many companies rely on outsource partners to stay on top of regulatory requirements and changes, monitor consumer trends and navigate shipping and customs standards, among other market forces. This allows them to grow more quickly and cost effectively than they would if they had to spend the capital and time to develop and manage these pieces of their business.
Let Someone Else Build It
As research shows, few companies want the expense of their own manufacturing plants, warehouses or fulfillment centers. Operating such massive, complex facilities diverts cash—and attention—from targeted business development efforts.
When it comes to warehousing, in particular, many organizations can’t be competitive with only one facility. Shipping from multiple, strategically located fulfillment centers has become the way to meet consumer expectation. So unless you are prepared to invest in and skilled enough to manage multiple warehouses that can drop product at doorsteps within two days of an order, for little or no delivery cost to the customer, it makes sense to outsource to a shipping expert. Outsourcing warehousing and shipping not only decreases your overhead, allowing you to pass along savings to customers, it can streamline your processes by shortening time from production to delivery.
Speed and efficiency are the major reasons North Carolina-based Touchstone Essentials outsources fulfillment of its organic supplements, says Chief Operating Officer David Isserman. Leveraging the locations and expertise of its warehousing vendors was a strategic way for Touchstone to fill an operational gap. “That’s the key component to outsourcing,” Isserman says. “To find out where vendors have that competitive advantage and that core competency that you, as a multilevel marketer, just don’t have the ability to capture.”
Roger Morgan, CEO of Texas-based pet food startup pawTree, says outsourcing production is the only way his company has been able to double sales every year since it was launched in 2014. It would have taken an enormous amount of capital to build and operate a food manufacturing plant—something that didn’t make sense for his startup, which has aggressive growth plans. “I can’t think of any other way to do it,” Morgan says. “There’s not a chance I would take that on.”
Share Vision and Track Results
Trusting a third party with a critical operational component of your business is a big deal. Companies and outsource providers agree that such trust comes from ongoing, clear communication and explicit accountability standards. You need to help your provider understand your vision and values. Make sure your provider speaks your language so that it becomes a seamless extension of your company. “Our vendors are really representing us by the way that they handle the service they’re providing us,” Isserman says.
Fred Weiner, CEO of The Connection—a Minnesota-based provider of customer contact services—says “it’s all about the brand” when his company partners with a client. “Everybody from myself to the Client Service Managers will live and breathe the brand and will wind up being experts in the client’s culture,” Weiner says.
It’s not enough to talk the talk, though. Vendors must provide a consistent, measurable level of service. Sometimes the outsource provider will write service guarantees into its contract. Other times, the org will dictate the terms of acceptable performance. Either way, a successful outsource partnership will evaluate its success based, in large part, on quantifiable outcomes.
Access to data is critical in an outsourcing relationship, Weiner adds. The Connection’s clients can see real-time reports on the company’s service levels 24 hours a day, seven days a week via an online dashboard. Reporting everything from the average call time to the number of abandoned phone calls, the dashboard provides a clear picture of how The Connection is performing for its partners, he says.
In general, the most successful outsource providers understand their clients from the inside out. They are focused on so much more than competitive pricing. They know that their clients’ wins are their wins and that their clients’ challenges are their opportunities.
Loss of control. It’s a common fear among organizations when they think about outsourcing. But successful outsourcing partnerships are a calculated blend of holding on and letting go, with the Client deciding when it will be in the driver’s seat and when it will hand over the wheel.
For example, when it comes to manufacturing, many companies work closely with their factory to determine—or to take ownership of—where ingredients or materials come from down to what type of packaging material is allowed and what isn't.
The bottom line is, you are in charge of what you let another company do for you—which is, itself, a form of control. You decide what your knowledge is and what your competencies are and where there are holes. “If you recognize that there are some gaps in your team’s expertise and experience that can be fulfilled by a third-party provider, then it’s worth researching an outsource option.
Let Experts Be the Experts
While you’re overseeing processes, don’t forget that one of the reasons you chose outsourcing to begin with was to clear your plate. If you partner with outsourcers who understand and treat your business like it’s their own, you can confidently step back from certain areas.
Experienced third-party outsourcers stay up-to-date on the latest regulations, rules, technologies and trends so you don't have to. They make sure you're informed of the relevant items that could impact your business and ensure your program comply at every step. They are always looking at compliance, service, and quality as well as maintaining the integrity of your program. A strategic outsource partner also should have enough experience in your corner of the market that it can leverage lessons learned from serving customers with similar goals and challenges. They can make you aware of trends to embrace and fads to avoid.
See Through Their Eyes
From data collection and analysis to process improvement strategies, outsource partners have a collection of tools that can help refine an organization’s focus and fuel its growth. Your partners are behind the scenes making sure you have the support you need to grow your business.
When an outsource vendor also provides valuable consulting, it can help you make smart investments as you grow, says The Connection’s Weiner, who helps his clients minimize the number of contact center staff they need as they grow, which controls their overhead costs. “If you double in revenue, you’re not going to have to double the size of your contact center,” he says, because a company can address many customer issues through web chat, social media and other digital tools. “When they’re taking off,” he says, “they’re chasing all sorts of infrastructure issues, and the last thing they want to be chasing is a contact center process to scale from five people to 150 people.” In a strategic outsource partnership, a vendor can help a company avoid unnecessary expenses, which frees capital and cash for growth initiatives.
Bringing in the Best
Outsourcing is a massive global business. According to smartceo.com, the outsource market reached as much as $136 billion in 2014, funding more than 900,000 jobs at 162,000 companies. It has become sophisticated, strategic and standard.
Because you have a million moving parts to manage every day, maybe just the thought of adding one more cog to your wheelhouse feels overwhelming. The decision to outsource is not an easy one—nor should you take it lightly. Your business is your baby, and it makes sense to be deliberate about allowing someone else to help you care for it.
Make a pros and cons list. Ask yourself, and potential outsourcers, hard questions. Choose a vendor you can trust with the kind of information and responsibilities that successful strategic partners need to contribute to your success. Team National’s Chrysler advises you to get recommendations. Ask your peers, “Who are you using? How are they helping you?”
Look at Apple as an example of a company for which outsourcing is a major factor in the company’s ability to remain innovative. “Does it become the best glass company?” he asks. “The best chip manufacturer? The best fulfillment facility? Or does it pick and choose what it can do and pick the best outsource partners to become
Think of outsourcing as a way to expand your vision and your team, to leverage external talent and experience to help you achieve your goals. But think of it also as a way to set the bar higher, to be a leader in your field. There are valuable sources out there. Bring them in.
Questions About Whether Outsourcing is Right for You?
If you have questions about whether call center outsourcing is right for you, contact our team of Consultants at The Connection® at (800) 883-5777 or connect with us online.
Originally published in Direct Selling News Magazine by Heather Martin
Publish Date: November 27, 2017 5:00 AM
How AI & Chatbots Are Transforming Customer Experience in the Call Center
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is dramatically changing business, and chatbots, fueled by AI, are becoming a viable customer service channel. The best ones deliver a customer experience (CX) in which customers cannot tell if they are communicating with a human or a computer. AI has come a long way in recognizing the content – and context – of customers’ requests and questions.
Typically, customer service chatbots answer questions based on key words. The most basic systems are actually document retrieval systems. Sometimes this is frustrating. Think of the times you may have asked Siri or Alexa a question and received the wrong answer. The computer recognizes key words but may not recognize the context in which they are being used. In other words, the computer doesn’t recognize the way people naturally speak. This can cause the customer great frustration. However, these AI systems have come a long way and continue to improve.
Adding natural language processes and machine learning changes everything, giving virtual customer assistants (VCAs) the ability to determine not just what rules-based action to take based on a word, but to understand the meaning of words in different combinations, ask questions to create context and intent, and actually do something for the customer.
- The chatbot never sleeps: Customer service is all about convenience, which includes 24/7 customer support. A cost-efficient, yet powerful way to provide basic support is through the never-sleeping chatbot. In the banking industry, for example, chatbots are trained by using historical conversations and can perform some of the same tasks as a live support center rep such as correcting an invoice, answering basic questions about account balances and more. Customers receive the same level of service they would get from the support rep. The chatbot can recognize human emotions such as anger, confusion, fear and joy. And, as mentioned above, if the chatbot detects that the customer is angry, upset or frustrated, it will seamlessly transfer the interaction to a human to take over and finish assisting the customer.
- The chatbot won’t make you wait: The concept of on-hold music is a friction point in customer service. With chatbots, you no longer have to wait for the next agent.
- Personalizing the customer experience: Chatbots excel at collecting customer data from support interactions. After all, it’s the computer that’s doing the work. The advantage is that live support agents can use this information to personalize their interactions with customers. Chatbots serve as virtual assistants that can feed customer data to the agent in real time, so the agent can give the customer good information and solutions based on current needs as well as past interactions with the company.
- Chatbots make friends and build relationships: Most companies wish their agents had more time to make outbound, proactive contact with their customers. Chatbots are there to help, and in some ways, they are revolutionizing the way brands stay in touch with their customers. Whether it’s a simple email or text on a customer’s birthday, or a quick check-in to ask if they are enjoying the brand’s product or service, chatbots are helping to foster brand loyalty. This may sound counterintuitive, but the most sophisticated chatbots can provide a more human experience than an actual human. They don’t have bad days and they don’t get frustrated by customers.
Studies and reports show that customers want quick, frictionless solutions to their problems and answers to their questions. No doubt there are acceptance issues for AI and chatbots. Some customers have always used traditional phone support and have a hard time accepting anything else. But, there is a growing contingent of customers who are increasingly open to new technology, especially if it can enhance their CX. As the technology improves and acceptance grows, chatbots, powered by AI, will have a strong role in customer service and support.
To discuss chat and chatbot solutions for your organization, as well as using AI in the contact center, contact us to speka with one of our Business Development Representatives.
As published on Forbes.com by author Shep Hyken.
Publish Date: July 18, 2017 5:00 AM
5 Ways Call Center Outsourcing Can Help Increase Profitability
For many companies, staffing and managing an internal call center can be a challenging and costly part of their direct-to-customer businesses - representing as much as 3% or more of net sales. An alternative is outsourcing call center services in part or in full to a qualified partner to help support your growing business.
While most businesses now use internal call centers, there are cost-effective and customer centric ways to use outsourcing. It's important to perform the right level of due diligence to determine if outsourcing is right for your business.
To help in your decision making process, here are 5 ways outsourcing call center services can help organizations like yours.
Lower Cost per Call and Order
For many small to midsize companies, call center outsourcing can provide a lower cost per fall and per order than in internally managed operation. This is especially true of companies without a highly technical product that requires in-depth knowledge. Outsourcing eliminates the costs of recruiting, training and retaining qualified call center representatives.
Do you know what your costs are and how to compare them to outsourced call centers? So often we only think about the hourly labor rate, but a fair comparison requires determining total costs per transaction. These costs include payroll and benefit costs for management, supervisors and Agents, space and utility costs, telecom, IT systems and software, HR, recruiting, and training (including season ramp-up and employee turnover). Do the analysis and understand your costs per transaction, order and call.
When you do a comparison analysis of outsource vs. insourced, be sure all costs are included in the estimate. This should include project time and product training costs several times per year in order to get an apples-to-apples comparison.
The Connection offers U.S. outsourced contact center services for call centers looking for assistance with customer service and technical support solutions. Contact us for a free quote today.
Focus on Core Competencies
Outsourcing your call center functions to a qualified call center company gives management more time to focus on developing products, customer acquisition, marketing campaigns and other growth initiatives. A qualified call center company will handle all of the program and operational details of your program keeping you as hands on or hands off as you desire. This will give you the time to execute plans and focus on your brand.
Support for After Hours & Overflow
Much like seasonal support, call center companies can help you service customers in ways that you're not able to do with flexibility and acceptable costs. If you have higher than planned call volumes, customer will not wait. They abandon calls and shopping carts if they can't get immediate assistance. Outsource companies can help provide this immediate staffing need with high quality and tenured personnel, making sure you stay connected with your customers and sales opportunities.
Avoid Capital Investment
To be efficient and competitive, companies need to invest in technology and systems that help you stay connected to customers. These can include chat, VoIP, support for online shoppers on websites, scheduling software, quality call monitoring systems, speech analytics and modern interactive training systems. These systems are expensive to maintain and constantly changing. The latest and greatest in these technologies helps provide a seamless customer experience, higher service levels and lower costs, but can also be costly for many organizations to maintain. Most outsource call center companies invest in these technologies on a regular basis and have the staff necessary to complete regular maintenance and keep them running. These technologies and support services should all be built into the costs associated with operation of your program. While all of these don't apply to every company, the right partner will allow you to reserve capital for other growth focused initiatives.
Reduce the Stress, Time, Cost of Hiring and Training
Recruiting becomes a time-consuming and costly endeavor for many companies, especially those looking to fill ramp periods and seasonal spikes. In some markets you may not be able to find qualified call center associates at your budgeted wage. And there is always some percentage of temporary associates that just don't make the grade or decide this isn't what they're looking for.
IT, order entry, customer service systems, ecommerce systems, procedures and product assortments have become so complex that it requires a week or more of training, plus some nesting time to get new associates confident and hitting the desired productivity levels. Outsourcers provide additional recruiting and staffing opportunities, utilizing multiple national locations and deep candidate hiring pools. In addition, outsource call centers are equipped with people, processes and systems to provide regular training, nesting and ongoing monitoring to make sure staff are operating at peak performance.
Ask us for a call center outsource quote today.
Publish Date: March 14, 2017 5:00 AM
The Connection® Celebrates Dual Anniversaries
The Connection® is celebrating two anniversaries this year. The contact center will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in Jamestown, NY and 35th overall as a business, founded by Fred Weiner, CEO, in August 1981. Weiner founded the Minnesota-based business that began operations as computerized classifieds. As the market has changed with the addition of new technology, The Connection® evolved into a call center that has continued to grow into a contact capable of handling all forms of customer contacts as well as its newly expanded offerings of consulting and training and development.
“In Jamestown we do the full sweep of what a contact center offers from live operators to email response to web chat to social and online monitoring. We also offer back office support options based on customer service and tech support “ Weiner said. The center operates 24/7, with more than 200 employees in Jamestown and more than 1,000 overall. Weiner said The Connection® opened in Jamestown in 2006 as a 20-seat pilot operation. He said full operations started in 2007.
“There was a marketing professional by the name of Lori Shagla who found us and reached out to us. She convinced us to look at Jamestown,” Weiner said. “We liked the community and the population. It has been a nice run now that we’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary in Jamestown.” Weiner said the Jamestown location has been a success for the business headquartered in Burnsville, Minn., with call centers also located in Rockford, IL and Olean NY. “Jamestown meets the needs for our operating matrix. It is a great community for us to hire from. We have a lot of people who have stayed and grown with the organization,” he said.
“There have been people who have been around 25-30 years. People who have grown and grown with the organization. They have become family,” Weiner said. “We’re always looking for people who want in opportunity to improve their lives. That is what the 35 years has been about – changing lives."
Weiner said anyone interested in applying for a job with The Connection® can visit the Jamestown location 111 W. Second St., or they can apply online. “We love Jamestown, we love the people and we’re always looking for more,” he said.
Orignally published by Dennis Phillips from The Post-Journal.
Publish Date: August 23, 2016 5:00 AM
The Connection® Celebrates 35 Years in Business
The Connection®, a leader in contact center outsourcing, call center consulting, and training and development services, celebrates 35 years in business.
On August 19th, The Connection® will celebrate its 35th year in business. Founded in 1981 by President and Founder Fred Weiner, The Connection® began as an electronic classifieds and soon became the source for all things Twin Cities including parade routes, movie times, car listings and dealer locator services. Throughout the years, The Connection® evolved to meet the changing business climate expanding dealer locator services nationally and soon transitioning into an event ticketing organization for the state of Hawaii.
“Our Clients began asking for assistance with customer service and technical support functions of their business,” recalls Weiner. “This need enabled The Connection® to enter the BPO space providing call center services to meet the needs of our Clients.” Today, The Connection® is a full service contact center providing inbound and outbound customer service, appointment setting, lead generation, enrollment services and customer retention to Fortune 500 companies in the Healthcare, Government, Education, Retail, and Utilities markets. The Connection® operates three call centers nationwide located in Rockford, Illinois as well as Olean and Jamestown, New York. Recently, The Connection® has also added call center consulting as well as training and development solutions which include customized eLearning and LMS solutions to its suite of services.
“One of the things The Connection® does really well is adapt,” says Weiner. “We see an increasing need for a service and look at how we can fulfill that need. However, we are more than a service company, we are also a people business. There are many people who have been with our organization for 25 to 30 years that have grown with our company and become family. That is what the last 35 years has been about – providing value – whether it is to our Clientele through enhanced service offerings or enriching the lives of those that work within our organization.”
Publish Date: August 19, 2016 5:00 AM
Client Branded Customer Service Maximizes Consumer Retention during Product Recall
A well-known retailer for consumer goods and services began receiving repeated customer complaints after launch of a new product. Upon investigation, the company discovered the recently launched product contained a manufacturer defect that would require the item be recalled. To handle the recall as expeditiously as possible for their customers, the company quickly took action—distributing a recall notification in which they offered free repair of the product. In anticipation of increased call volume, the organization sought the help of a contact center that could handle the large spike in call volume. As a trusted outsourcing partner, The Connection® was called into help.
The Connection® Solution:
- Agent and Supervisor Training. Understanding the impact these calls can have on customer retention and corporate reputation, The Connection® developed, in partnership with the Client, an intensive, brand-centric training course for customer service agents using materials and scripting provided by the client.
- Inbound Customer Service. Inbound customer service agents provided by The Connection® focused on first call resolution, delivering a customer experience unique to our retail client. Agents worked to ensure that in spite of the recall, the process of handling it would increase the likelihood of customers to use their brand again through:
- Explaining the situation to the Customer.
- Confirming whether or not the recall affected them and how.
- Scheduling a repair for Customers affected by the recall.
- Reassuring the Customer of the quality and commitment of the brand to solving their problem.
- Outbound Follow Up. The Connection® outbound agents contacted non-responsive customers to remind them to schedule their repair appointment.
- Customized Reporting. In addition to service level, KPI and daily reporting, The Connection® also provided detailed reporting for the client around a customized set of parameters. Reporting included:
- Number of repairs scheduled;
- Number of follow up calls provided;
- Call escalations requiring additional follow up from the client’s internal team.
Impressed with how their program was handled, The Connection® was asked to handle additional operational hours during the recall. In response to the high quality and level of customer service provided, the Client has continued to partner with The Connection® for overflow and event based support.
Publish Date: August 16, 2016 5:00 AM
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