Bean There, Done That: Why Cloud is So Much More than Just a Name

by Maddy Hubbard on October 20th, 2014

Cloud Gate, Chicago, Millenial ParkThe reflective, bean-shaped sculpture that twists and reflects the city skyline back to visitors of Chicago’s Millenium Park is typically called exactly what it looks like: “the Bean.” Few visitors or locals are aware that the work’s actual name is Cloud Gate. 

By the same token, customers are not really aware that their calls are being handled via a cloud-based contact center rather than through on-site software or systems. From the customer’s perspective, it is the end experience that matters. As long as the call, email or chat inquiry is still being answered by a capable agent in a timely manner, they don’t need to know what to call any of the systems or processes underlying the resolution of their issue.

But for businesses, the cloud is not just a name. It suggests a range of benefits that are possible with cloud technology. Aberdeen’s recent research report, Optimizing the Customer Experience Through Cloud Contact Centers (Omer Minkara, July 2014), points out the top two reasons for choosing a cloud-based contact center:

1. Enhancing financial flexibility

The cloud contact center model enables businesses to avoid the initial, up-front capital expenditures of investing in an in-house system. Instead, a subscription basis carries a lower long-term commitment and the ability to scale costs according to actual utilization. Scalability and “burstability” in response to customer demand is a key benefit of the cloud, and enables businesses to quickly allocate or eliminate additional resources as needed. Rather than paying a fixed rate for services whether they are used or not, companies pay according to utilization and it is often a much more cost-effective approach. Aberdeen found a significantly greater improvement (decrease) in customer care expenses among cloud contact center users than those using in-house systems (4.8% vs. 2.1%).

2. Improving the customer experience

Aberdeen’s research reveals that businesses who have adopted cloud contact center technology outpace in-house users in key performance metrics that measure customer satisfaction, such as customer retention (64% vs. 51%) and year-over-year change in first-contact resolution rates (-0.8 vs. 5.2%). Satisfied customers remain loyal customers, which speaks to the ability of cloud contact center users to deliver an overall positive customer experience.

Given cloud users’ advances in both of these areas, these findings suggest that cloud-enabled businesses are able to take advantage of cost savings to fund and further drive initiatives designed to enhance the customer experience, which then leads to greater customer retention and loyalty. This type of initiative might involve formulating new, more efficient processes or replacing updated technology. (Not unlike “upgrading” from a point-and-click to a smart phone camera. Ahem. That’s what you call an old-school selfie, kids.)

The benefits of the cloud to your organization and your customers are the same whether or not your customers know where your platform “lives” or what to call it. The deployment method you choose doesn’t change customer expectations. But it does provide your business with more options.

Check out Aspect’s Cloud-powered contact center solution Zipwire, and Aspect Hosted.

Why “Mobile” Isn’t a Channel

by Tobias Goebel on October 13th, 2014

Tobias GoebelWhile many vendors in the customer engagements industry look at mobile as a communications channel for customers, most consumers do not. A convincing and appealing mobile customer experience must leverage all channels available on a mobile device so it is misleading to consider “mobile” a channel, or assume that smart phones will drastically simplify how to serve customers in the contact center. Smart phones are a platform supporting multiple methods of communication, and each supported channel has its own benefits and reasons to exist.

So within the mobile platform, contact centers still need to be ready to support a variety of communication channels:

  • SMS is the channel that allows the most concise, to-the-point communication. It can handle simple questions and short interactions best. It also gets the most immediate attention when sent outbound: 90% of all SMS is read by the intended recipient within 3 minutes, and 99% of all SMS are opened (but be careful not to overuse SMS for marketing purposes – we don’t want this precious channel to “wear off”). By nature, SMS tends to be a real-time communication channel.
  • Chat (web chat, IM) is similar in nature to SMS in that it is a channel typically for pure textual communication, but it doesn’t have the length restrictions of SMS and therefore works best for longer dialogs required for slightly more complex issues. Chat is a pure real-time communication channel.
  • Social networks, specifically Twitter, are again textual and therefore similar to SMS and chat, but add a social component to the mix – messages exchanged here are visible by the public, until they are carried to Twitter’s private DM (direct message) channel. Social networks are therefore good for peer service (asking friends or other customers for help), as well as for the dreaded public complaint. Social networks as a communication channel are typically asynchronous in nature.
  • Mobile native or web apps (this includes websites meant for the “big screen”), a pure self-service channel. All of the other channels mentioned here can originate from apps.
  • Email is still a great medium for sending “letters of complaint” in which you want to elaborate on an issue, or when you need to attach images or files with your inquiry. Email is an asynchronous communication channel.
  • Calls (including video calls) are increasingly becoming a customer’s “last resort” when needing help. When all other channels fail to resolve an issue, customers switch to using the good old “phone” channel to discuss matters “in person,” with the agent, who is now considered an expert – as most issues can nowadays be resolved through self-service. I put “phone” in quotation marks, as voice/video calls can also originate from other sources, e.g. a web browser on a laptop, or a mobile app on a tablet.

I believe none of these channels will truly “go away” despite the proliferation of smart phones, as there are reasons to exist for all of them. If anything, the messaging channels of SMS (as well as USSD or joyn/RCS) and chat could collapse into one in the long run. Trends such as Over-The-Top (OTT) messaging services slowly replacing the carriers’ SMS point in that direction.

The problem you therefore need to solve in your contact center is how to offer and manage conversations on multiple channels, while preserving context and transaction history among them, and also when switching from self-service to live service. This is the omni-channel challenge. 

Is It Time for the Traditional RFP to RIP?

by John Amein, VP Product Management on October 8th, 2014

John Amein, VP Product ManagementOver many years of my career, I’ve seen a lot of RFPs, mostly on the sell side but also on the buy side. One of the memorable RFP moments for me came from the late 90’s when we hired a new product manager. He came from a large company, the kind that had more than 100,000 employees. We were in the midst of responding to an RFP, and he was talking about his experience on the buy side with one of the vendors’ responses that impressed him. “… and their response was awesome. It was this thick,” he said while holding his fingers three inches apart.

Really? That’s how you measured your vendors?  Did anyone actually read the response?

But that’s the way it was done. Companies regularly made, and still make, huge software decisions based on RFP responses, presentations, and site visits. Why? Because enterprise software has always been so complex and unwieldy to implement that as a buyer, you could never actually use the real thing.  

That’s what I see changing. The expectation for software for the enterprise is that it must be easier to use. We are pushing the envelope on this concept by offering an instant, free 30-day trial for Zipwire, our new cloud contact center. This no-contract, no-strings-attached trial is a rarity in the industry, in comparison to others which require talking to a rep and having an environment set up for you – or worse, claiming to offer a certain period “free” only by rolling the cost into future billing cycles. I’m seeing companies to whom we sell conducting intensive, real-world trials to compare different solutions. And if the software is not reasonably easy to use, that weakness comes through right away, generally leading to the right conclusion that the software probably is not that well engineered.

Will the RFP disappear? No, but I do hope that we will see it become less important as a document to understand the software capability as companies get smarter about insisting their software providers make it easy to try the real thing.

Is Your Social Customer Care Strategy on Track? Advice from Aberdeen

by Rebecca Anderson on October 6th, 2014

Rebecca AndersonEquipping your agents with the right social media management software has meant great things for customer contact and the customer experience overall. As customer behavior has shifted to reflect a growing interest in social engagement, it makes sense for businesses to incorporate social CRM tools into their overall customer care approach. Many business leaders ranked customer engagement at the top of their priorities for 2014. So if social engagement has been part of your plan, now is a good time to evaluate performance against existing benchmarks and make any necessary course corrections to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Keep social customer service on track with the steps to success outlined by Aberdeen.

Of course, simply implementing social customer service software doesn’t mean that you’ll experience maximum benefits. Results are strongly correlated with the ability to use the software effectively. Once you’ve established a strategy and outlined the plan for managing your social media software, the next step is to use the right ingredients to manage customer data from the system and to empower your agents to give exceptional service.

Figure: Aberdeen research shows impact of social media management tools

Knowledge is power. Know how best-in-class companies are managing social customer data.

Managing customer data effectively is a key component of omni-channel customer service. It is easier said than done, however. Aberdeen found that best-in-class companies relied on three key capabilities to manage customer data flows across company systems:

  • 83% Centralized knowledgebase of product/service information
  • 83% Data from social customer care interactions shared with non-contact center staff
  • 56% Access to all customer information on a single screen/desktop

Even the best system for managing customer data will be of little use if the agent does not have easy access to the information. If a customer has to wait for the agent to log into and out of systems, it increases the handle time and likely increases customer frustration as well. Top performing companies enable their agents to deliver timely, consistent, and personalized service through social media management tools, such as:

  • 82% Agents are provided with a detailed view of customer transactional data via the agent desktop
  • 71% Updates made on agent desktop as part of social customer care activities roll back into other enterprise systems
  • 58% Agents are immediately alerted to re-engage a customer sharing negative comments via social media

For more details on how you can maximize the benefits of your social media management tools, read the full report from Aberdeen, Social Customer Care: Steps to Success in 2014, compliments of Aspect.

Build, Develop and Achieve with Healthcare Boot Camps

by Kathleen Schroeder on October 2nd, 2014

Kathleen SchroederCo-authored by Aspect and Healthcare Intelligence

Managing a staff and their performance is tough. Managing the same staff in a healthcare contact center is tough and complex. Your healthcare system’s contact center staff is often your patient’s’ primary touch point. Yet somewhere along the line, they became guardians of handle times and hold times, rather than of the relationship between patients and providers. To have a successful staff that fosters the patient-provider relationship, your managers need the right training – better known as the Healthcare Call Center Management Boot Camp.

This Boot Camp explores the intricate world of care coordination, triple aim compliance, and call center service levels and personnel engagement. Enable your managers to harness the synergy that arises from linking soft skills, technical skills, and a deep commitment to key performance indicators.

This Boot Camp has 7 components that are key determinants in successfully managing a healthcare contact center:

1. Contact Center Operations

The contact center world is very different from clinical operations.  Your staff is expected to perform at a high level of quality while maintaining a low abandonment rate.  The contact center will flourish because you have the capability to standardize workflows and cross train your workforce. As a healthcare contact center manager, you must simultaneously appreciate clinical operations and have the creativity to meet the needs of varying disease lines without creating multiple workflows that prohibit cross training.

2. Workforce and Absence Management

Staffing and trending is a pivotal part of contact center management. Understanding the ebbs and flows of call volumes, seasonal trends along with behavior patterns of specific patient demographics allow your managers to construct accurate staffing plans. Accuracy in forecasting and shrinkage management goes a long way to ensure that your staff has work-life balance.  When your staff has a level, consistent workload and the ability to take time off, they are less likely to burnout and leave their position. When attrition does occur, recruitment of appropriate candidates is critical to ensure that 90% of your positions are filled at all times. Strong relationships with recruiters will make this process easier to manage.

3. Interval and Intraday Reporting

Contact center staffing is very dynamic and varies greatly from one 15 minute interval to the next.  You must be adept at using trends to forecast staffing needs by 15 minute intervals to give your managers the opportunity to shift staff to cross-cover during peaks on a specific service, utilize an overflow service to take additional calls, employ members of an internal float pool, or, activate a queue optimizer to level call volumes.  These strategies ensure that no patient is left hanging on the line during a time that may be critical to their personal well-being.

4. Quality Assurance and Quality Management

Soft skills are just as important as technical accuracy in a healthcare organization.  Your training program ensures that your management staff has the skill set to determine key communication points during the call to capture insurance information, patient demographics and potentially complaints while maintaining a professional and empathetic tone.  Creating a quality assurance program allows your managers to educate their staff on proper techniques for extracting valuable pieces of information while assuring patients or the referring providers.  This process ensures that the agents project the image and vision of the healthcare organization through the telephone.  Quality Management takes quality assurance to the next level of performance.  It establishes targets and expectations that increase incrementally as the staff becomes more comfortable with quality assurance touch points. Your managers will need to simultaneously be teachers, coaches and motivators to drive their staff to the next level of performance.  Management through consistency, honestly and understanding will be critical to the ongoing success of the quality management portion of the Boot Camp.

5. Disease Management Discussions

Agents and managers must have empathy for the struggles that patients go through to combat their illness. Discussions with caregivers can open the agent and the management’s eyes to crucial details surrounding the patients’ mood, questions and needs.  These meetings allow members of the clinical team and staff to connect and form a bond. Healthy dialogue creates mutual understanding of the clinic’s model of operation along with the contact center’s tools and patient support techniques.

6. Agent Performance Dashboard

Your managers must ensure that your staff understands that their individual performance has a tremendous impact the healthcare contact center’s performance. Weekly meetings are critical to discuss performance within service levels, accuracy within tasks, soft skills and quality assurance.  Managing an employee’s expectations and linking their performance and behavior to the vision of the organization promotes buy in, decreases role ambiguity, and promotes consistency and trust.  Communication about difficult topics becomes routine and ensures that fairness and equality are prevalent.

7. Employee Engagement and Activities

Taking call after call can be monotonous. To relieve some of the tedium and stress, you need to remember to have some fun during the work day!  Empower your staff to plan small diversions on a weekly basis. Your managers should promote humor, education, communication and team building.  These are basic needs that transform your contact center from a tiring workplace to a nurturing environment.  Assisting critical and terminal patients can take a toll on morale; your staff must receive positive reinforcement, rewards and recognition for their acts of valor, kindness, compassion and advocacy.  Promoting engagement allows your managers to encourage their staff to have a passion and love for their jobs and the patients they serve.

Now that you have had a glimpse of our Boot Camp, are you ready to get started? Find out how Aspect can help! The right training for your managers will ensure that your patients, caregivers and employees are pleased with their outcomes.

Frost & Sullivan Interview: Trends in IVR Technology for Automated Customer Care

by Tobias Goebel on September 30th, 2014

Tobias GoebelKeeping pace with trends in customer experience is no easy task. Customers want automation and self-service that makes their lives easier, but they also want a personalized experience. These demands aren’t as contradictory as they might seem.

I recently talked in-depth in an interview with Frost & Sullivan about trends in automated customer care, including many of the ways IVR technology is allowing us to deliver the kind of automated customer care that also delivers personalized service valued by today’s consumers.

Below are a few of the trends spotlighted from the interview, exploring what’s possible with IVR solutions.

Trend #1: Customers are seeking their own answers to their questions first

Chances are, by the time a customer calls your company to ask a question, they have already exhausted all of the avenues of information readily available to them. They are using search engines like Google, posting their questions on support forums and asking their peers on social networks. In this sense, the agent at the contact center has been elevated in the customer’s mind to the “authority” on the subject. This is the person to call when all else fails or when they’ve received conflicting information and need clarification. So if you know that customers are frequently calling in with a similar question that can be answered through an IVR or by directing your customer to an agent who is an expert on that subject, you can elevate customer satisfaction by being proactive.

Trend #2: Companies that don’t offer self-service channels may be driving business to competitors

Because so many more customers prefer to engage on their own terms and find answers via the method they choose rather than be forced to call customer service, failing to offer self-service options can easily result in frustrated customers who would rather contact a competitor via web chat or Twitter than call your 800 number. By the same token, if and when customers do pick up the phone, the ideal interactive voice response system should be one that guides them to a resolution as quickly and smoothly as possible rather than presenting additional obstacles or challenges.

Trend #3: Omni-channel customer care can help preserve the context of IVR interactions

Nothing seems to frustrate a customer more than having to repeat information. Today’s customers fully expect businesses to have their data available and on file, ready to assist with problems that arise. They become frustrated with having to repeat account numbers or other identifying information to IVR systems and then to live agents when they expect this data to carry over from one point in the conversation to the next. This is where SMS and mobile applications have the potential to even more seamlessly connect interactions, beginning with proactive outreach and engaging the consumer, requesting information about the issue which would then connect the customer to an IVR and route him or her to the appropriate agent if necessary, never losing any of the information provided by the consumer.

Trend # 4: Personalized prompts can make the IVR experience more dynamic

The more information you have about your customer, the greater the opportunity to deliver personalization in the prompts and menu options you present when a customer calls in to the IVR. For example, if a customer previously called a bank to check his or her account balance, you might be able to offer this as a first option on the next call. It’s all about using the customer data that you have in an intelligent way that enhances and reinforces your existing relationship.

For more on these trends and additional insights into automated customer care, read the full interview by Frost & Sullivan.

Web Chat FAQ: Average Costs vs. Handle Time and Efficiency

by Kelly Burke on September 26th, 2014

Kelly Burke, Senior Product Manager, AspectDownload your free web chat eBookWeb chat is a hot topic in the contact center space right now, with more consumers clicking that “chat now” button rather than picking up a phone and dialing an 800 number.  But rolling out a strategic web chat initiative is not as simple as funneling chat sessions into your existing agent queue.

Knowing what to expect in terms of costs and implementation can go a long way to ensuring the success of your web chat program.

Q: What are the costs involved?

One of the biggest initial draws of web chat that businesses may see is its comparatively low cost per interaction. If best practices are followed, cost per web chat session will be around $8-$10 on average. Compared to the average phone call session cost of $35-$50, this sounds like an amazing bargain. But don’t forget to factor in the increased handle time associated with web chat. The speed of type can’t match the speed of conversation, and there is a natural lag time between the send-and-receive on each end for both the agent and consumer.

Q: How many chat sessions should an agent run simultaneously?

The answer to this question will depend on your industry and the complexity of the support being offered. However, on average the benchmark for simplistic chat sessions run concurrently is six, whereas the benchmark for more complex chat sessions is four. Web chat agents who have the training in effective business writing and the capacity to type at least 65 words per minute – and who are supported by an integrated knowledgebase – can effectively provide this level of support and productivity.

Q: Does this concurrency benchmark affect the customer experience?

Concurrency has zero effect on customer satisfaction. The customer who is engaged with a skilled web chat agent will not be aware of the fact that this agent is simultaneously assisting other customers. When conducting concurrent web chat sessions, businesses should examine the “time between chats” metric, which is the time a customer is required to wait before they receive a response from the agent. This metric should never drop below 35-40 seconds; when time extends beyond this measure, customer satisfaction begins to drop.

You can find the answers to more questions like these in the eBook we recently produced in collaboration with Moxie, The Do’s and Don’ts of Web Chat. Take the guesswork out of getting web chat right. Download your free copy today!

Infographic: Do’s and Don’ts of TCPA Compliance with Wireless Callers

by Christine OBrien on September 24th, 2014

Chris O'Brien, Marketing Communications Writer, AspectMore businesses than ever are concerned with current regulations that require consumers’ explicit consent prior to contacting them on a wireless or mobile device. Assuming an “existing business relationship” is not enough. Not only are mobile consumers becoming more vocal in their objections to unwelcome contact (the number of complaints filed with the CFPB has increased over 50% since 2013) businesses are being hit hard with per-incident fines of $500-$1,500 for autodialing and auto-messaging to wireless numbers – sometimes adding up to settlements as large as $500K to $32 million.

On the other extreme, tiptoeing around these regulations by overcomplying and unnecessarily manually dialing to stay on the right side of compliance can significantly impact your agents’ productivity. That doesn’t have to be the case! Check out some of the statistics in our infographic below, and then take a look at the built-in compliance features of the new Aspect Unified IP 7.3.

With the right tools in place, you can avoid the risks while still achieving optimal efficiency!

TCPA Compliance in the Contact Center

Is Technology Making it Easier for Consumers to Play Hide and Seek With Their Data?

by Tim Dreyer on September 23rd, 2014

Tim Dreyer, Director, Public Relations and Analyst Relations, AspectWe have written much about what we term the ‘relationship revolution’, that organic evolution of consumer control fueled by our hyper-connected behavior. It is a seismic shift in who has the upper hand in the customer-company relationship. But a few new trends percolating on the outskirts of the customer engagement industry could signal even greater power in the hands of consumers.

The first is Tor, a kind of web browser aims to make your internet activity stealth; unseen and undetected. Tor does this by routing traffic through a number of other connected internet users, making it very hard for governments or private companies to track internet usage. Over a million people use Tor, which became legendary after Edward Snowden clandestinely leaked information revealing that the NSA was eavesdropping on average citizens. Before Snowden, Tor was popular with drugs and hitmen trying to keep their illicit activities hidden from the law. Already sounds scary, huh?

So why should a company be concerned about Tor? Law abiding consumers, attempting to anonymously post negative comments on Yelp, may try to avoid creating a data trail that customer service departments can tap into. Stealth internet use makes it difficult for companies to engage their customers intelligently. Most consumers would not have a real need to conduct anonymous interactions with the companies they do business with but if more companies use or misuse that data to the annoyance of their customers, more people may feel the need to avoid data sharing altogether.man-hiding-inside-closet

The solution of course is making sure consumer data is used to the benefit of the customer. An Aspect survey earlier this year found that 47% of consumers felt like the information companies had on them rarely resolves their issue but more than half of them are willing to provide personal information if those companies deliver  targeted, relevant offers to them.

The other trend is consumer data protection in Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Customer service, relative to Machine-to-Machine communications is still in its very early infancy but as the ability for appliances and automobiles to communicate directly to manufacturers through cloud-driven service  without the need for human intervention begins to take shape, the question arises as to what data are people willing to share. Or better, what are they willing to let their machines share. In the just-published piece in CIO, author Raman Mehta asks just who will the consumer be willing to give their appliance/machine data to. How long will that information exist in a public/private cloud? And who exactly will have access to that data?

Why should a company care? Much like how consumers have become ubersensitive about handing out credit card information to even the most trusted retailers, the theory that personal machine usage history could be used against them, or at least used to annoy them is only going to inch closer to reality.

  • Will their furnaces be deluged with promotional spam emails for discount filters?
  • Will their hatchbacks accept performance-improving application downloads that perhaps they don’t really don’t want?
  • Could the warranty on that hatchback be voided if they miss an oil change?
  • Do they need to place their ovens on no-call lists?

Companies looking at IoT-driven service need to have the same data sensitivity and create the same data protection trust they have when a customer talks to an agent or provides information through a web chat. Much like the trust consumers have that the buying and search history data they share will be used to present customized, relevant offers by the companies they do business with and not be used to annoy them, so should the data they choose to share from their connected machines. I’m going out on a limb here but I don’t think thermostats will like spam any more that humans do.

The relationship revolution was born out of consumer dissatisfaction.  After years of tolerating having to repeat themselves and being treated like strangers, they have taken control of the conversation, and are more vocal and less tolerant than ever before. Machine-produced data presents incredible opportunities for proactive customer service but if companies squander those opportunities, the last thing we want is for the machines to join in the revolution.

Contact Center Insights Featuring Research from Gartner

by Evan Dobkin on September 19th, 2014

Evan DobkinIVRreportEverything is Changing. Is Your Business Keeping Pace? For many companies, the contact center is at the center of the customer experience – answering questions, facilitating sales, booking appointments and enabling transactions. What happens when this epicenter of customer contact doesn’t adapt fast enough to changing consumer preferences and behaviors? Does the customer get frustrated? Tell a few hundred friends on Twitter? Or even take their business elsewhere? These are the new realities of service and support.

At the same time, traditional customer interaction channels like Interactive Voice Response, remain highly relevant. Take a look at our latest strategic insight newsletter, featuring Gartner’s 2014 MarketScope for IVR Systems and Enterprise Voice Portals and insights on serving and engaging today’s digital consumer.

Read it now! Take a look at the PDF from Gartner, Serving and Engaging the Digital Consumer – from Self-Service to Agent-Assisted.