The Connection - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
No call center wants to run a-fowl of their customers this hectic holiday season. Whether customers are in a jolly mood or in full stress mode, we want to give them a friendly, helpful experience. But as every call center agent knows, that is not always easy. Fortunately, we can learn from experts — and who better than the seasoned pros on the annual Butterball Turkey Talk-Line?
This famous call center reappears every year in early October, agents poised to assist would-be turkey chefs with every little detail and smooth their ruffled feathers when necessary. Get ready to feast on these valuable lessons.
1. Omni-Channel is Key
Back in 1981, a half-dozen or so ladies “manned” the phones of Butterball's Turkey Talk-Line. But savvy call center managers knew that the secret ingredient for Turkey Talk-Line success was technology. So, when frazzled cooks clamored for more options, they added email, web-based chat, texting, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. No old fogies at the Turkey Talk-Line.
Yet, the vast majority of their customer contacts each season continue to be via phone. Why?
2. The Power of Personal Connection
Anyone can research information online, but they cannot ask questions or get personalized advice. Besides, it is a time of year when folks are thinking about family and friends, so making a human connection to talk turkey (and maybe share a short anecdote or two) just feels right.
Being nice gives customers a nicer experience, in the spirit of the holidays. What a wonderful thing to keep in mind as we all don our headsets and pull our keyboards close for another mad dash to year’s end.
3. Hire the Right People
We all know that not everyone is cut out for call center work, especially when the holidays roll around. While most agents do not have to literally save someone’s family dinner, we often do have to save their day. It takes people who love to talk to others, who can empathize with customers, who are patient and reassuring, who can and will treat everyone with kindness.
New Turkey Talk-Line agents are recruited via referrals and word-of-mouth — not unlike many new recruits at any call center. Treat people right, and give them the tools they need to help customers effectively, and they will be happy to spread the word about their great workplace.
4. Continuously Train Your Reps
When someone calls the Turkey Talk-Line, they expect agents to know their stuff (or should we say stuffing!). So, Butterball University convenes in October, as the Turkey Talk-Line is about to get underway. Agents prepare turkey dinners using multiple techniques, refreshing their extensive personal knowledge and learning the latest trends and fads.
Armed with phones, laptops, and headsets, they also have a full menu of other resources right at their fingertips. They can send video tutorials or recipe links to callers, or view customer photos to provide more specific advice.
Continuous training is crucial for year-round call centers, but ramped-up, holiday-specific training can boost confidence for agents and results for customers. How can agents work even more efficiently? Butterball hangs a big chart that serves as an at-a-glance cheat sheet for thawing/cooking times. Low tech, super-helpful.
5. Carve Out Time for Fun
Working the Turkey Talk-Line may seem amusing, but any agent knows how hard it is to stay upbeat when the lines are humming and callers can be downright cranky. Butterball keeps their call center on brand and cheerful with a big inflatable turkey and blue and yellow candies that give agents an energy boost whenever needed.
We can follow their example with seasonal decorations, snacks, and beverages that keep agents in the mood and fueled up. Or, random small prizes to thank agents for their great work. Make a list of the silliest or most heart-warming questions such as the guy who asked if it was OK to bake glitter onto his turkey, or U.S. immigrants wanting to start their own American Thanksgiving tradition. Good humor is infectious, elevating everyone’s experience.
So, what have we learned?
The Turkey Talk-Line is not really doing anything new, they are just doing everything right. With the right people, the right training, the right attitude, and omni-channel technology, every call center can serve up delicious customer experiences this holiday season.
Publish Date: November 8, 2018 5:00 AM
There are a lot of factors that contribute to a call center representative’s success — company knowledge, experience on the phone, and the list goes on.
In a recent interview with our VP of Human Resources, Cyndi McDurmott, we learned that the key to CSR success comes down to one factor, support. As Cyndi says, “Take the most talented, experienced agent and they will fail if they don't have the support.”
Here’s her interview:
CSRs Need a Network of Support
Managing calls for a client is a team effort. CSRs need access to supervisors, call center managers, and even the client because when they have a question, they need a network of support to pull from.
It is crucial that our call center agents have all the resources at their fingertips so no question goes unanswered. The more knowledgeable a call center agent is, the better equipped they are to field customer questions and provide a better solution.
Managers Need to Know CSRs’ Strengths (And Weaknesses)
Just because a call center agent did not have the best experience with a particular client does not mean they are not a successful agent.
By internally transferring agents to a different client based on their skillset, Cyndi found that agents experienced surprising growth and improvement at their career.
More than internal transfers, it is also important to individually work with any agents that need help whether they are having a hard time with a particular part of their job or just need an answer to a question.
Cyndi explains that managers need to be ready and able to help as much as possible: “It starts with really empowering all the managers and the team supervisors to hit the floor and work with the agents. If it's not really what your traditional job description is, let's find somebody who can get the answer for them.”
At The Connection®, we found that supporting our employees builds a group of happy, talented call center agents. If you want to learn more about our process, just visit our “About Us” page.
Publish Date: November 6, 2018 5:00 AM
Omni-channel customer service. You have probably heard about it time and time again from articles just like these. But why make the investment?
Sure, it is helpful to provide more than just telephone-answering services when working as the customer service arm of a business, but the power of omni-channel really comes down to integration and improved customer service.
We sat down with our Systems Administrator, Antony Crowder, to learn more about omni-channel technology and how it can be used:
It Comes Down to Customer Service
According to Antony, the importance of providing omni-channel customer service can be summed up in two words: customer service.
What Antony means is that customers reach out to businesses in a multitude of platforms, like:
- Social media
And as call centers, we have to handle all of those channels seamlessly.
Omni-Channel Technology Breeds Flexibility
“The ability to be flexible with communication between media is very important,” Antony says.
For example, if a customer is interacting with a business via web chat and they decide to call for help mid-conversation, the customer will likely not talk to the same person on the phone as they were chatting with online.
However, omni-channel technology allows customers’ calls to route directly to the same agent they were conversing with online. This streamlines the customer service experience because the agent is already knowledgeable about the customer’s questions or needs. How convenient!
Find Someone Who Can Provide Omni-Channel
In today’s market, providing a quality customer experience is crucial because consumers who have a negative experience are more likely to write a review. With sites like Google, Yahoo, TripAdvisor, or Better Business Bureau, there are countless locations to post that review, which is not good for business.
With that in mind, it is especially important to meet customers where they want to be met, whether that is online, over the phone, or even text. And omni-channel not only provides that, but it provides a seamless transition for the agent to handle one customer, regardless of the medium they choose.
Contact The Connection® if you would like to learn more about our omni-channel services!
Publish Date: October 25, 2018 5:00 AM
CSRs spend all day talking to customers, so wouldn't it be nice to tap into all of the insights that can be gained from those conversations? Good news! Companies can act on that information by collecting and analyzing customer feedback (Customer Listening Data) that is inherent in almost every call. In fact, proactive customer listening can help a company improve its products or services, enhance the customer service experience, and increase loyalty.
What is Customer Listening Data?
Customer listening data is the information about a business' clientele that is collected by CSRs during their conversation with a customer. This data could be anything from frustrations, goals, experience with a product or service, etc.
No company can succeed without pleasing its customers. If a new product fails to sell, that indicates the product did not please customers. But, much of what drives customers to buy, and continue to buy, is far more subtle than that. If someone makes a purchase but never buys again, what does that mean? What happened? How can the company do better in the future?
Customer listening enables businesses to turn customers into consultants, directly and indirectly.
Tips on Collecting Customer Listening Data
Customer data listening can be collected in a number of ways. Some of the data can come from active solicitation. Surveys, for example, are often offered as customers complete conversations with a CSR. People love sharing their opinion, so there is no reason to guess what customers think about products or their buying experience. However, while surveys can be an excellent source of basic information and even helpful suggestions, they do not always reveal how customers truly feel — that intangible “something” that determines their overall experience. That “something” is found by simply listening to the customer!
Call center quality assurance managers commonly listen to live calls or review recorded conversations to evaluate CSR performance. Are they using the right language and tone of voice with customers? Are they providing accurate information? But companies can learn more by listening “between the lines.”
- What questions do customers frequently ask? Repeat problems are opportunities to improve.
- What CSR comments or actions produce happy customer responses? Or unhappy responses? Customer tone of voice and word choice speaks volumes.
- Customers sometimes make specific comments or suggestions. Positive or negative, this feedback can be invaluable.
Active listening uncovers tangible and intangible data and insights that can be used in multiple ways to make business improvements.
The sheer volume of customer listening data can be overwhelming, so it helps to make a plan to zero in on the information that is most useful. What can be learned from CSR conversations that cannot be gleaned from feedback gathered elsewhere during the customer’s buying journey? This can be particularly important when it comes to directly soliciting feedback because repeatedly asking customers the same questions can irritate them.
If you have not yet invested in a voice/speech analytics package, here is another reason that helps support the investment. In addition to utilizing speech analytics to measure agent behavior and performance, you can also utilize speech analytics to discern much about your customers. Word Cloud features in speech analytics can tell you what is driving call volume, and a competent speech analytics manager can tune the system to garner all sorts of customer feedback and opinions.
Business Benefits of Customer Listening
Companies that focus on listening are able to:
- Build stronger relationships with customers. Analyzing who they are, what they buy, questions they ask, or demands they make ensures the company is always relevant. Providing a leading-edge experience tells customers the company is innovative and understands them as buyers. Analyzing changes in these details over time enables the company to remain relevant, even in a rapidly changing environment.
- Improve conversations with customers. Direct listening provides more effective training for customer service reps. Hearing how others do things well is a powerful learning tool, and insights gathered can be used to modify or improve scripts or suggested wording for CSRs. That can boost suggestive selling as well as basic service.
- Improve customer service processes to make the experience faster, more relevant, more accurate — in other words, more helpful.
- Acquire new customers. Shoppers who have a great experience spread the word via social media and in person. That attracts new buyers who want to get that same excellent experience.
Put Customer Listening Data to Use
Gathering data from CSR conversations is most valuable when that data is converted into action. Defining goals for customer listening, routinely collecting the necessary information directly and indirectly, and analyzing that data to identify “action points” can do much to leverage the relationship between companies and their customers.
Publish Date: October 23, 2018 5:00 AM
Hiring the right CSRs is one of the most important steps to building a great call center team. Remember, agents are the only people on the call center team that have direct interactions with the customer! So, while it is important to make sure our call center team is properly trained for the client, we have to start by hiring the right agents.
We sat down with our VP of Human Resources, Cyndi McDurmott, to discuss how The Connection® builds the perfect team.
Our Four-Pronged Approach
1. Online Application
At this stage, it is important to weed out applicants who are not built for the call center environment. We do so by asking specific questions that, hopefully, paint a picture of each applicant’s strengths and weaknesses.
We are looking for applicants who want to please and help people — those are the agents who will learn business-specific information and use it to provide the best customer support.
2. Skills-Based Testing
Once the applicant passes the online application, they have to take some tests to prove their ability in various skills required as a call center agent. These tests could be a navigation test, typing test, etc. The tests we give to the applicant may depend on the needs of our client.
3. Behavioral-Based Interviewing
Finally, we get to meet the candidate face to face! In this interview, we try to get a feel for how they handle conversations or react to unique situations that are likely to come up as a call center agent. Agents need to be able to think on their toes because they never know what the next customer may say!
4. To Hire or Not to Hire
Assuming a candidate passed the first three prongs of our hiring process, they should be a great fit for our clients! A successful candidate can think on their feet, be proficient in typing and researching online, be a quick study in knowing the client they’re representing, and have clear dictation and strong conversational skills.
There are many skills that can make an agent perfect for our clients and they vary on a case-by-case basis. But by having the right hiring process in place, we can ensure that only the best agents make it through to The Connection®. If you want to learn more or get some tips on hiring for yourself, contact us!
Publish Date: October 11, 2018 5:00 AM
If there is one thing Contact Center managers can always count on, it is that call volume will fluctuate. If only we could predict how much, and when! Accurate call volume forecasting is essential in order to plan ahead effectively, especially for personnel needs. We want our contact center operation to run efficiently and cost-effectively, but most of all we want to assure customer satisfaction. So we need the right number of FTE’s; not too few and not too many. Herein lies the challenge.
The Challenges of Call Volume Forecasting
Predicting the future requires a lot more than a crystal ball. Managers face an assortment of challenges, and each one represents a variable that makes forecasting more complicated. These challenges include:
- Seasonal Variations
Volume often varies with the calendar seasons. Depending on your business, Black Friday or the holiday season may be the busiest. Others have Spring and Summer ramps. And within the seasonality we also have other trends to consider, including intra-day and intra-week patterns. And even other verticals have early Fall and early first quarter ramps.
- Annual growth
Annual growth is good, but it is even better if we can predict it and be ready for it.
- Special events
How do special events (planned or unplanned) affect our ability to staff our Contact Centers properly?
- A big sale, marketing campaign, new product introduction, etc. that drives up volume tremendously
- A major event such as the Super Bowl can affect volume, up or down, depending on your line of work.
- Major weather events such as hurricanes, floods, snow or ice storms
To forecast accurately, we need to isolate these occurrences and account for them properly when utilizing historical data.
Understanding the challenges we face is the easy part. We live with those challenges every day. But each one is different, and they are intertwined. The trick to forecasting is to properly apply the accumulated data to uncover useful patterns that can be utilized to predict future staffing needs.
Advanced Techniques for Call Center Forecasting
As a call center manager, you could become a student of technical forecasting methods such as Triple Exponential Smoothing, AutoRegressive Integrated Moving Average (ARIMA), multiple temporal aggregation (MTA), or even Neural Networks. But, more realistically...
Let a Workforce Tool do the Learning for you
For most of us, simply incorporating a high-quality forecasting tool will automate that process for us, as well as do the thinking for us. A workforce modeling tool may look expensive, but you will likely save the cost of the software within the first six months by simply being far more efficient in predicting call volumes and the required FTE’s to properly support that volume. A workforce tool will consider your call arrival history, account for seasonal ramps, properly adjust for significant, one-time events, and will produce a forecast for the FTE’s you need to efficiently and effectively handle your incoming call volume.
Call volume will always be a constantly changing variable. Leverage your knowledge of your business, customers, and your call arrival patterns by investing in a workforce forecasting tool. This tool can then automatically incorporate your knowledge and translate it into accurate forecasts for staffing your Contact Center. Let’s remember that there are some things that a spreadsheet simply can’t handle!
Publish Date: October 4, 2018 5:00 AM
What is the biggest hesitation for most companies when it comes to outsourcing their contact center? The fear that a call center partner might not match your branding!
It’s not easy to hand over your customer care department to another company and expect them to thoroughly understand your product or service, emanate your company’s tone, or accurately reflect your company’s values.
So, how does The Connection® manage clients’ values? Our VP of Human Resources, Cyndi McDurmott explains.
We Hand-Select Brand Ambassadors
In the onboarding process, we receive materials necessary for training our Agents, and then we match them based on their personalities.
Cyndi searches both internally and externally for the perfect Agents to serve as brand ambassadors, “As the agents are hired or chosen to work on a client, we take into account their personalities, their characteristics, and their experience to make sure they are the right brand ambassador for the client.”
Our Goal is to Craft (External) Internal Agents
During the training process, we turn to our client-branded Center of Learning portal, which is tailored specifically to match the look, feel, and tone of each individual client.
This way, the Agents can experience the same training setting that perhaps an internal call center would have. Because we believe immersing our Agents in our client’s branding is imperative for accurate representation of the client.
“The overall goal is that our Agents are as seasoned and experienced as perhaps an internal agent at the client site.”
After many hours studying our clients and teaching our Agents, the end result is that customers have no idea that they’re calling an external call center.
Check out our case studies to learn more about who we have worked with in the past, and how we have achieved their goals.
Publish Date: September 27, 2018 5:00 AM
If there is one thing we know about customers today, it is that they have high expectations. They want help (or information) fast, and they want access to be convenient. A customer relation chatbot can help deliver that. Many call centers and businesses are already finding these quasi-human resources to be surprisingly useful. And they are not going away anytime soon.
By 2020, 80% of U.S. businesses say they will be using chatbots to support internal work or enhance customer service. No wonder! A customer relation chatbot can work in tandem with your call center agents to assist online customers, but only if you do it right.
Here are some of the many benefits of chatbots and four best practices to make your digital agent the best it can be.
The Many Benefits of Chatbots
Chatbots offer a wide variety of benefits to agents, call centers, and businesses including:
- Improving customer experience by streamlining interactions
- Costing less than live chat agents (and potentially being even more effective when it comes to answering simple questions or directing customers to the information they need)
- Providing customers with links to downloads or web pages for more detailed information
- Inviting customers to take a short survey at the conclusion of the call
- Connecting a customer to a live agent right away, if that is the best response
In many ways, chatbots are replacing the convoluted IVR systems that customers aren't very fond of, giving users a more personalized experience. For call centers, this reduces dreaded (and costly) wait times and abandoned calls. Chatbots allow human CSRs to spend their time helping callers with more complex inquiries because they are relieved of repetitive questions.
Best Practices for Your Chatbot
Chatbots do have limitations, and because they can be so diverse, creating a well-received, effective chatbot requires strategic planning. The technology is still evolving, but for now, these best practices will help you develop a customer relation chatbot that customers love.
Make a good first impression
Give your chatbot a name, and have it introduce itself immediately, as a live agent would. Pose a “How can I help you?” type question to get the conversation started. That allows the bot to identify keywords and respond accordingly. (The bot will use a pre-programmed “decision tree” to properly respond.)
Use friendly, conversational language that reflects your brand, but note that customers say they value problem-solving ability over personality.
Offer multiple ways to communicate
As a virtual assistant, your bot’s job is to provide instant answers or point customers in the right direction. It must be able to pose additional questions that clarify the customer’s need or intent. Depending on your customers and the types of help they are most likely to need, consider configuring your bot to offer click-button options as well as text chat. That way, customers can skip typing.
Make sure customers always have easy-to-access options:
- Opting out of chat
- Immediate access to a live agent
Monitor and analyze chatbot activity
Just as you do with live agents, monitoring chatbot usage and specific conversations will help you continuously refine the conversational and assistive aspects of the process. Take a snapshot of how your business is performing prior to launching the chatbot, that way it is easier to see how the chatbot impacts your company. Then, once your chatbot goes live, continuously analyze its conversations with your customers. Look at customers who talk to your bot most frequently, the longest, and provide the best feedback. Set a goal to turn more customer interactions into ones like those.
What About AI?
We hear a lot about AI these days, but most customer service chatbots do not use machine learning, yet. Advanced versions that do use AI can actually understand natural language. They learn from each interaction, steadily improving their “intuition” to provide more meaningful future responses. For now, AI-driven chatbots are much more expensive to design and implement.
As you consider creating your own chatbot or refining the one you have, it's important to make it personable, helpful, and the best it can be for your customers using the best practices we outlined above. If you succeed, you will reap the many benefits of a digital agent, and your customers will thank you.
Publish Date: September 20, 2018 5:00 AM
Managing a large group of call center agents with varying skill levels is not easy. If only all your customer service reps were really great at their job! Unfortunately, that is not generally the case. Most groups of agents could be graded on a curve, with clear highs, lows, and middle performers.
To boost overall performance, managers tend to zero in their two easiest targets — the best and least productive folks. It is easy to praise and reward your top performers because it only motivates them more. And it may seem like the lower performing agents are low hanging fruit, where any improvement from that group would move the needle.
However, let’s think for a moment about your middle-performing reps. Like the proverbial middle child, they tend to be ignored. But overlooking them may mean you are missing what might be your biggest and best opportunity to improve performance and thereby customer satisfaction. In fact, the Harvard Business Review recommends not just remembering your average performers but focusing your improvement efforts on them.
Why Focus on Your Middle-Performing CSRs?
Ignoring those in the middle allows them to remain average. That does not help customers, and it does not help your bottom line. It can even send a negative message to those agents actively trying to improve their work, suggesting that quality is not important. If average is OK, why bother to do more?
The problem with average is that it gives your customers the opportunity to find a better experience elsewhere, turning them into a lost customer (and therefore lost revenue).
Plus, consistency is critical. The goal is for every Agent is to deliver essentially the same, HIGH QUALITY experience, because a Customer who receives reliable service is a much more reliable Customer! Let’s not “wow” him/her one moment, and disappoint the next.
How Can You Lift Up Your Middle Performers?
Of course, you want to continue encouraging, training, and rewarding your top reps so they will keep up the good work. But also give your top reps an opportunity to share the wealth.
- Invite your best reps to help mentor and train their co-workers, especially newer people who don’t have the same level of company and product knowledge.
- Fostering an atmosphere of teamwork rather than only focusing on individual competition will encourage everyone to do better and reach common goals. So, encourage your Agents to share the ideas and approaches that are helping them deliver great customer service experiences.
- Coaches should feel empowered to spend more time doing side-by-sides with middle performers. This is the group that will most appreciate the attention, and will most likely respond positively. If you have automated speech analytics, you may well see improvements on a daily basis as a result of these side-by-side sessions.
Keep Helping Those Who Need it Most
Most people want to do a good job; some simply need more guidance and attention than others. By focusing on your middle performers while continuing to support and involve the best and narrowing the field of low performers, you can develop a team that delivers higher quality and more consistent customer service experiences. With the right combination of training, coaching, and positive feedback, your customers will be happy with the results.
Publish Date: September 18, 2018 5:00 AM
When you’re entering into a business relationship with another company, it can be a little scary! There is a lot of trust that goes into a partnership to believe that it will result in the desired outcome, whether that is higher revenue, more efficient operations, happier customers, or something else.
If you are already partnered with, or you are interested in partnering with a call center, you can appreciate the power that your call center holds: They represent your brand values, and therefore, represent YOU! So, our President and Founder, Fred Weiner, explains 2 ways you can tell if you are building a successful relationship with your call center partner:
Call Center Executives Should Be Extremely Involved
When should you expect to be in contact with your call center partner’s executives? From Day One! And further, they should continue to be involved in your business in every stage, from meeting with the clients and understanding what the needs are through the implementation and the launch of the program.
You should know who you can go to if you need something specific accomplished, know the roles and responsibilities of the executives in the company, and feel comfortable reaching out. Executives are there to help with strategy, to help with design and implementation, and to make sure that the contact center is moving on task. Can you say that about your call center partner?
Agents Should Be Top-Notch Quality
“At the end of the day, it’s the agents that really make the difference,” says Fred. Agents are the ones who are on the front lines, representing your company on the phones or online.
You should make sure that your call center partner has a quality pool of agents that they can pull from. Remember, agents represent your brand and finding quality CSRs is no easy task. That’s why having a partner with access to quality employees is so important.
Make a Connection With Your Partner
Here at The Connection®, we put our partners first. Not only do they get access to our top management, but they also receive our premium pool of call center representative talent! We believe that Our Team Members Are Superheroes in Plain Clothing. That goes for our employees and our partners, and we don’t take that distinction lightly.
Contact us to learn more about who we are, what differentiates us, and how we can serve you.
Publish Date: September 13, 2018 5:00 AM
Millennials may get a bad rap for their attention spans (or lack thereof), but they know their way around technology. In fact, they are changing the way we do everything, especially how we shop and communicate. And that is creating a huge impact on customer relations. So, let’s make sure your customer care center is thinking about Millennial customer service because Millennials are the next largest generation with spending power. To help, here are some tips for providing Millennial customer service.
Offer Help On Multiple Fronts (Channels)
First and foremost, Millennials are not only calling. In fact, they may never “dial” their phone to make a traditional customer service call. How many times have you heard your son or daughter say, “I was talking to…”, and you knew they never actually “talked.” It was their fingers doing the talking. Millennials prefer texting, social media and apps to do their “talking”. That means your contact center needs to offer an omni-channel presence that engages customers however they prefer — email, text messaging, social media. And, yes, even phone.
Provide Self-Help Options
Millennials do not expect an in-person conversation. They do not WANT to speak to a live person unless it is absolutely necessary. Instead, they are all about self-help. They have grown up helping themselves to information and advice through largely digital means, so that is what they expect from you. Give it to them, and you will win their hearts, not to mention their future business.
Millennials want speed and convenience. While some older folks may balk or find it weird to “speak” to an artificial intelligence, it seems perfectly normal to Millennials. Their homes are filled with smart devices of all types, each powered by an AI of some kind. So the idea that a chatbot can assist them faster, yet accurately, makes perfect sense.
Answer Simple Questions Quickly
Millennials like instant gratification and immediate answers. That's why when they Google something online, they expect a fast answer. And they expect the same from their customer service rep whether that comes from a chatbot, live chat, or self-help options. If they're going to talk to a live person, make sure your agents are knowledgeable and equipped with the proper technology to provide fast service.
Invest in Automated Call-Back
No one likes to wait, but Millennials may dislike it more than any generation before them simply because they're used to immediate responses from the internet. But if they do pick up the phone, they don't want to sit on hold for long periods of time. Instead of sticking callers on hold, invest in an automated call-back system so customers can leave their phone number, keep their spot in the queue, and receive a call back when an agent is available.
If You Think Like a Millennial, Are You Neglecting Older Customers?
Not a chance! Millennials may be the customers of the future, and they outnumber even the Baby Boomer generation. So, catering to them is a must. But, the truth is, older customers are not nearly as tech-phobic or digitally incompetent as they are portrayed! Besides, age has nothing to do with wanting a faster, more efficient customer service experience. And you still have live agents for those who prefer that channel of communication.
Strategizing to provide Millennial-friendly customer service is smart business. Companies and customer care centers that make the most of current technology and are quick to adopt or adapt innovative new options into their Customer Care offering can make a name for themselves with every contact. You are the brand that knows how to take care of people. Competitors that hesitate will be left in your dust!
Publish Date: September 11, 2018 5:00 AM
Customers are changing the way they interact with businesses. Gone are the days where someone’s first reaction is to pick up the telephone and call a prospective business. Often times, people start by doing a little research online, messaging with an online chatbot, and finally, reaching out via telephone. With all those steps, it is important that your business is on top of every user touchpoint!
Our CTO, Ken Unruh, breaks down how call centers have adapted to this changing technology:
Mobile Devices Encourage E-Chatting
From emailing to chatbots, mobile phones and websites drive the need to be present online. So, what types of technology does mobile usage encourage, and how are contact centers adjusting?
Chatbots Produce Strong Leads
Chatbots are an online messaging tool that allow your website visitors to quickly reach a representative. Have you ever been browsing a website and suddenly see a little window that pops up in the corner of the page with a “Have a question?” message (or something similar)? Those messages are usually initiated by chatbots.
Typically, chatbots collect the name, email address, and basic question from the visitor before automatically passing them on to a real person. Basically, they sort out the information and needs of the visitor and neatly package all that info for the representative who will handle the interaction from there. Sometimes, depending on the complexity of the chatbot, they can even send contacts to the appropriate representative based on the visitor’s needs. Talk about advanced!
Contact centers that keep up with technology have learned to adapt by building workflows that send website users to appropriate representatives. These centers should have teams of representatives ready to answer online questions.
Email Is Still Important
Of course, email is no new technology! But, all-encompassing contact centers should have a solid grip on email responses, as well. For instance, have you ever seen emails for businesses that look like “firstname.lastname@example.org”? These emails (and others like them) could be sent to contact center representatives, who should be eager to respond within 24 hours of receiving the message.
Text/SMS Provides New Opportunities
While relatively new to the contact center scene, SMS (Short Message Service) has become a popular way to contact businesses as well. Most cases of SMS messaging are from the business to the customer that has opted-in to receive text notifications. Think of a busy restaurant. Often, they send a text to a customer when their table is ready rather than provide them with those vibrating notification tools.
One of our favorite examples of texting in the business world is Domino’s Pizza. With Domino’s AnyWare program, you can text an emoji of a pizza to Domino’s, and they’ll deliver your favorite pizza in no time! But they didn’t stop there. You can now order a Domino’s pizza using Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and even Slack!
Contact centers should not only be aware of the power of text, but they should be actively involved in updating their technological capabilities to stay ahead of the competition.
Your Contact Center Should Stay Ahead
“Contact Centers need to evolve quickly in order to provide the sophisticated customer experience the customers and executives expect, and also provide all the different contact channels and flexibility,” Ken says.
Easier said than done! But, that is the job of contact centers nationwide. And with the quickly evolving technology comes the need to continually delight customers on all channels. Is your company currently using these different channels? If the answer is no, you should consider outsourcing your contact center team to someone who has the technology and resources available to grow your business.
Publish Date: August 30, 2018 5:00 AM
To ensure customer satisfaction, it is essential to have a well-functioning call center. But you work in an industry with one of the highest turnover rates in the world (60%!). So, no one could blame you for feeling stressed!
Do not fret, managing a call center efficiently is attainable, if we just treat our employees properly. With that in mind, try some of these employee-focused call center management best practices to make both your customers and employees happy.
1. Hire People With the Right Personality
Yes, it is tough out there, but we still need to find a way. Zero in on people who have the capability to handle the functional details of the job and the attitude to serve customers willingly, no matter what. Remember, you can teach skills but it is far more difficult to change someone’s personality.
Here's what to look for:
- Socially adept
- Retains knowledge
- Calm under pressure
- Effective communicator
2. Train Agents From Day One (and Never Stop)
Proper onboarding gets new hires off to the best start, so they can become the best possible employee. Properly-run call centers focus on training that begins on day one and never stops, even with veteran employees.
Teach techniques for handling difficult callers (because anybody could do the job it if was easy!). Agents who have the skills to turn irritated callers into satisfied customers are guaranteed to please everyone else.
Read our article to learn more about how to deal with difficult customers.
3. Provide Real-Time Feedback
Employees like to receive feedback so ensure that your call center utilizes performance metrics to gauge the quality and effectiveness of each person’s work. Look at metrics like first-call resolution, average handle time, and average wait time. These can serve to show the effectiveness and efficiency of how calls are processed. If you are not sure how these metrics can help, or if you are not familiar with these metrics, read our article on how to leverage quality assurance programs to improve your customer service.
Use that data — and recorded calls — to give real-time constructive feedback and personally coach each team member. Along with honing their personal skills, what tools or additional development opportunities do they need to go from good to great with their customer interactions?
4. Empower Agents to Make Decisions
Give your agents the authority to make decisions that resolve customer problems on the spot. It should come as no surprise that customers are not big fans of when you transfer them to someone else! If you provide great training, you can be confident your agents will do the right thing.
5. Listen to Your Agents' Feedback
Savvy call center managers know their agents are the ultimate source of customer insight. After all, they are on the front lines every day. Want to improve the experience your customers receive on the phone? Just ask your agents what problems or deficiencies need to be fixed. And ask how they would resolve those problems.
6. Encourage Agents to Take a Break
Is your call center busy? Great! But one of the best call center management tips we can give you is to help your agents reduce stress. Remind agents to take breaks throughout their shift. Downtime calms, refreshes, and fortifies individuals for the next round of high-test customer interactions. That is a good thing because the last thing frazzled customers want is to encounter a frazzled agent.
7. Express Gratitude to Your Employees
Working in a call center is a tough job. But it should not be a thankless one! One of the easiest ways to reduce turnover is to show employees that you appreciate them and their good work. Bring in pizza, host a happy hour (no, not when agents are still on the phone!), bring them together to brainstorm new ideas to help customers or make their jobs easier or more fun. Easiest of all — just say “thanks”!
Effective call center management requires great people who actually care about customer care. So, hire the best and never stop training, listening, or thanking your team for doing a great job. When employees are well-tooled and happy, customers will be happy with the results. Are you a superb manager, or what?
Publish Date: August 28, 2018 5:00 AM
Trusting another company to communicate with your customers is a big deal. It is one reason some companies hesitate to outsource their call center operations. But, you can do it! The key to success in finding a call center partner you can trust is all in the word “partner.” It takes a special relationship to grow sales and brand loyalty. And, frankly, not all call centers are up to it.
How can you tell a potential partner from just another vendor/supplier? Look for people you like because (hopefully) you will be working with them for a long time. And look for these five must-have traits, too.
Executive Team Engagement
Leadership sets the tone. If top execs are not actively engaged in their day-to-day business, you can bet they will not be actively engaged in your success, either. You will know you have found your true partner when, from the executive team on down, they are excited to roll up their sleeves and actively work with you to continuously improve. Why? When your business grows, so does theirs!
(P.S. They will be most effectively engaged if they understand your business and marketplace challenges. So take note of the executives who are inquisitive and interested in your business affairs.)
Culture shock does not bode well for a long-term relationship. A partner that has a similar “worldview” when it comes to things like ethics and employee relations will relate more easily to your company. After all, their people have to reflect your voice and personality to customers.
A call center that treats their people well usually has a low turnover rate. But the best way to get a sense of who they are is to visit in person and meet their people. Is this the team you want your customers to meet?
Quality Training Staff
Who is training their agents? You want a call center partner that makes training a top priority, with staff who can develop as well as deliver pertinent curriculum — successfully. Agents have to be good at the functional side of their job, but your customers expect them to know your products and policies inside and out. Do agents get ongoing training? How are they monitored for accuracy and attitude?
Insight Into Your “Agent Profile”
Not every agent is a great match for your company or your customers. You need a partner that gets that! One that employs people who have the right skills and demeanor to handle your customer care contacts. No skimping here because your company will live or die based on customer satisfaction with their call resolution and overall experience.
A call center that cannot deliver speedy, seamless service to customers across multiple contact channels is out of date — or getting there! It takes the right technology as well as the right people to impress your customers.
Does your potential partner record and live-monitor calls? Use speech analytics and virtual queuing? Chatbots or other self-service options? What KPIs and metrics do they use to measure their performance? More on point: can they still make the grade if your KPIs and metrics are different, or higher? Most important: do they have the infrastructure (and commitment) to flex and grow as your company grows and your needs change?
It Takes a Total Package
Look for a call center that is engaged from the top down, has a compatible management philosophy, emphasizes quality training, matches agents to your customers, and backs it up with technology and analytical tools that assure effectiveness. That company will be a partner, not just another supplier.
At The Connection®, we pride ourself on our ability to fit the mold of your company, while giving you access to the newest technology and our top management to ensure that you get the absolute most out of our services. Contact us for more information!
Publish Date: August 7, 2018 5:00 AM
Technology is always changing, and it’s transforming faster today than ever before! Systems we use now will likely be outdated in just a few years (but, hopefully not!). So, what does that mean for the contact center of the future? What technologies will shape the way we provide customer service?
Here are some key trends and predictions:
Social Media Becomes a Contact Channel
In the past, it was enough for companies simply to have a presence on key social sites. As long as you had a page, and you occasionally posted a cat meme or shared a customer’s comment, you were building awareness. Now, customers are using social media more broadly, and they expect to have service-related conversations online.
That means there can be no more half-hearted social media scanning as a way of managing your online presence! Instead, your team should be overtly engaged — regularly monitoring the traffic on your social channels, so you can control or correct information, respond to specific questions or issues, and participate in the conversation.
Chatbots and AI Boost Efficiency
Chatbots and more complex artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the way the contact center of the future functions. In doing so, they are improving the experience for both customers and agents.
Many call centers are already using automated chatbots to provide initial triage or to vet contacts. For instance, chatbots will collect the name and email of the customer, and then pass along that information to a live agent to handle the actual question.
In some specific cases (where answers are simple), chatbots can handle everything from the initial triage to the actual answer itself, and can help customers without there ever being an agent involved. Right now, this typically only happens when someone wants to know store hours, locations, or some other simple question. Usually, however, chatbots cannot handle the entire transaction from start to finish. This is particularly true for calls involving sales or complex support.
Combining chatbots with full-system integration gives agents the knowledge they need to further assist customers without missing a beat. Agents can be more efficient because they have instant access to the chatbot’s “conversation” with the customer and the preliminary information the chatbot gathered. That speeds call resolution and impresses customers — both of which are key goals for every call center.
Today, more and more call center technologies are becoming cloud-based. Legacy systems were expensive and slow, and it has always been difficult to integrate multiple channels in that environment. Now, cloud-based systems are designed to support multi- or omni-channel contacts within a single platform. As contact centers find themselves dealing with customers across an ever-growing number of channels, this single platform approach is crucial.
Adopting the latest technologies, like an integrated CRM, customized agent interface, and legacy technology integration software enables contact centers to provide the best possible customer service. And there is another benefit: Technology that makes the agent’s job easier and more effective just plain makes employees happier! In today’s environment, where hiring and retention are tough, taking steps to improve employee experience can be critical.
A Better Experience for Everyone
Nowadays, customers value a good experience almost as much as the product or service they're buying. From social media to chatbots and other innovative technologies, companies that hope to outshine the competition are putting the call center of the future into practice today.
Publish Date: July 31, 2018 5:00 AM