Give Your Customers Their Independence and Earn Their Loyalty in Return

by Kim Martin on July 1st, 2015

Kim Martin, Director, North America & Corporate MarketingsparklerWe live in an always-on, hyper-connected world where consumers want it all. They want you to cater to their preferences, expect personalized service and believe you should make doing business with your company absolutely effortless. Customers have become incredibly demanding, right? Yes… and no.

While consumers today have high expectations for service, they also increasingly prefer to find answers, make a purchase or complete a transaction on their own – without you. They want their independence.

Aspect conducted research with The Center for Generational Kinetics and found that nearly 3 out of 4 people prefer to solve their customer service issues on their own. (TWEET THIS) If you find this hard to believe, think about it for a minute. Armed with smartphones, we have nearly instant access to FAQs, product reviews and peer communities. We no longer have to listen to hold music, wait until the hours of 8am to 5pm for help, or talk to someone who doesn’t have the information or tools they need to efficiently solve our issues. We can do it ourselves. We can be independent. But only if you let us.

The truth is that a growing portion of the population may not be dependent on you, but they are dependent on technology. In a Pew Research Center survey, nearly half of smartphone owners described their mobile devices as something “they couldn’t live without.” In a recent blog post, Evan Dobkin talks about these tech dependent consumers, especially Millennials who have grown up with wifi, mobile phones and Google Search. This dependence on technology, the speed at which we are growing accustomed to receiving information and our interactions with smart machines is shaping (and for some of us changing) our expectations for service. (TWEET THIS)

As business leaders, we have an enormous opportunity to evolve our thinking and put more control in the hands of our customers. We have the ability and the technology to design smart, personalized self-service experiences that fit into the their lives. Why wouldn’t we want to do that? Here are three reasons why you should:

  • Be where your customers are. It’s not just the Millennials who are connecting on social media, downloading apps or texting. While Millennials are leading the demand for these channels, consumers of other generations are quick to catch on and demand them as well. If your company isn’t ready to meet this demand, you risk losing business to a company that is.
  • Improve service while lowering costs. A well-architected self-service solution is fast, friendly and accurate. It’s no longer characterized by rigid menus (think “Press 1 for sales”), but rather conversational and personalized interactions (“What would you like to do today?”). It’s also not limited to voice. In fact, powered by natural language understanding, text is an ideal channel for self-service. The technology enables rich experiences that reduce customer effort and improve the experience while lowering costs. And according to the Aspect study, the vast majority (70 percent) of consumers would rather text than talk.
  • Enable experience continuity and maximize the value of your agents. Good self-service frees agents to focus their time on the more complex customer issues. When customers can’t solve a problem on their own, it’s critical to hand them over to an agent who has the context and the tools needed to help – without asking them to repeat information they may have just entered in an IVR, a mobile app or a text interaction. The result is more efficient use of expensive agent resource, higher job satisfaction through the elimination of repetitive tasks and improved customer experiences.

There was a time when self-service was regarded as the “back up” when nobody was available to help us. The service option when a company knew their customers couldn’t or wouldn’t leave them. Today, power has shifted – from companies holding all the information to self-reliant, connected and independent-minded consumers. Is self-service a strategic initiative in your company? If not, what opportunities are you missing? Learn more about what’s possible today.

When *DONOTREPLY* really means *WEDONOTACTUALLYCARE*

by Tobias Goebel on June 29th, 2015

Tobias GoebelAt age 21, SMS text messaging is finally growing up. Time for big business. Time for business2consumer communication. Finally! But let’s have a closer look at how SMS is predominantly used today.

Do you get prescription reminders from your pharmacy, or appointment reminders from your clinic? I do. They’re great, right? A short buzz on your phone (or wrist), a quick glance, and the likelihood of you missing that doctor’s appointment is reduced. And it helps the doctor or clinic reduce the no-show rates, too. But here’s how the reminders I get look like:

donotreply-1

See where the problem is? *DONOTREPLY*, or rather:

“Yeah, so, we’re using this cool new method of reminding you, but don’t you dare respond to us on the channel we know you love so much! Oh and if you try – we’ll outright ignore you. Need to reschedule? Well, call us, duh!

Tweet this: Starting reminder text msgs with DONOTREPLY = disrespecting your customers’ time & channel of choice.

There are several things wrong with messages like these:

  • They’re not saving me time
  • They’re not making it easy for me to reschedule or cancel (or even confirm!)
  • They’re forcing me to use the voice channel that we all hate more and more, as it doesn’t fit into our lives (can’t make that call right now, in a meeting), isn’t easy (IVR with poorly tuned speech recognition), takes more time than necessary, requires my full attention…
  • They’re causing unnecessary cost to take that incoming phone call

Let’s look at another example:

donotreply-2

So you’re asking me to call you, but you’re not telling me the number to call (you know who I am, so you should know which number I need to call). Furthermore, you’re telling me to lookup the number on the card that I… probably just lost! That’s actually almost funny, isn’t it. (Oh and you’re wasting 15 precious characters by spelling out your name, AmEx…)

In this case, I just wanted to tell my card issuer that this transaction is legitimate. Needless to say, they didn’t want to hear it. They haven’t responded to that text to date…

SMS is inherently a two-way communication medium. Use it like that. And it doesn’t even require expensive staff! Interactive Text Response systems, i.e. “IVR” scripts that just happen to use text messages as the medium, not audio prompts, are flexible, more tolerant to user errors, cheaper than IVR, more convenient than IVR, don’t struggle with speech recognition challenges, or any of the other symptoms of bad IVR. Systems like Aspect Customer Experience Platform (CXP) can even power IVR and ITR out of the same application, re-using backend integration you already implemented, giving you cross-channel reporting, exposing the business logic on other text-based channels such as Twitter, USSD, WeChat, Line … Add Natural Language Understanding to the mix, and you get a system that almost converses like a human, but with response times of seconds, not minutes or even hours.

It’s time to embrace texting to its fullest! What’s stopping you? *DO REPLY!*

The Aspect Week that Was – June 26, 2015

by Tim Dreyer on June 26th, 2015

Here is the video recap of the big things going on this week at Aspect

Links:

1) Global Consultant Liaison Program

2) WFO eBook

3) Mike Bourke blog post: Dissolving the Brick and Mortar of Bank Branches

4) Google Hangout with Tobias Goebel and Fonolo

5) Tweet of the Week: 1 trillion push notifications and counting: App engagement is the new customer experience

Part 1: Dissolving the Brick and Mortar of Bank Branches

by Mike Bourke, SVP & GM Workforce Optimization on June 24th, 2015

Mike Bourke, SVP & GM Workforce OptimizationDrive through any town in the US, whether large or small, and you will undoubtedly see striking edifices occupied by branches of banks. They are part of our American heritage, symbols of confidence and stability. But changes in consumer preferences, banking regulations and new technologies are slowly dissolving the brick and mortar of these venerable icons. In an increasingly virtual world, if you blink, you may be looking at the bank’s contact center. Consider how these two unlikely companions seem to be converging. Dissolving Brick and Mortar Bank Branches

There’s no ignoring the fact that we are becoming a more tech-savvy and tech-dependent society. With Millennial-age consumers who have grown up with the internet and mobile phones soon becoming the dominant buying segment of our culture, this inexorable wave of demand for technology is headed to banks and contact centers near you. With the availability of sophisticated self-service apps on mobile devices and browser-based self-service on the web, traditional customer service traffic has been diverted away from both bank branches and from bank contact centers. Novantas research indicates that on-line banking rose from 25% in 2012 to 39% in 2014 as the preferred banking method. This astronomical growth is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Restrictions on fee income, low return on lending due to low interest rates and the high cost of compliance with new bank regulations, are forcing retail banks to be more expense-conscious than ever before. This increasing austerity is showing itself in efforts to drive costs out of bank branches at a time when traffic in branches is down. Some banks are using “universal bankers”, i.e., highly trained branch staff that can perform any of the branch office tasks, virtually eliminating any division of labor, so fewer branch staff need be employed. Contact centers have been operating for decades in an environment that is highly expense-conscious, and now banks are adopting many of the same workforce optimization techniques that have been so successful in contact centers. Workforce management tools for staff scheduling, vacation planning and shift bidding are now recognized as essential to ensuring that the right number and appropriately-skilled bank employees are available at all times of the work day.

Both the branch and the contact center are under increasing pressure to deliver the best possible customer experience. The advent of social media has created the constant threat of a bad customer experience going viral, and the barriers to switching to a competing institution are lower than ever, so the customer’s perception of good service is vital to a bank’s survival. There are a number of workforce optimization tools already used to ensure quality customer engagement in the contact center that can be applied equally well in the branch.

  • Quality management tools used in conjunction with a well-considered quality management process can increase Net Promoter Score significantly.
  • Performance management, another important contact center WFO tool that will bring immediate gains in the branch. How can you take effective action if you don’t have an authoritative source of information about your branch’s operation? Performance management provides a “single source of truth” by collecting data from multiple bank systems, synthesizing and analyzing that data, and presenting it in an aggregated form that gives you rich and actionable insights.

These WFO technologies have been used successfully in contact centers for quite some time. In part two, I’ll look at how banks can use contact center best practices to increase sales.

Delayed Arrival for Customer Service in the Travel and Hospitality Industry

by Tim Dreyer on June 22nd, 2015

Tim Dreyer, Director, Public Relations and Analyst Relations, AspectTravel and hospitality companies pride themselves on exceptional customer service but are they really putting their money where their mouths are? In a 2014 survey of customer service executives, 94 percent of them agree that customer service is a priority. Yet the travel industry was the least likely of any industry vertical to invest in technology to meet customer needs. For example, 50 percent of travel organizations say that they have yet to achieve their own innovation goals. This is concerning since 64% of consumers say that customer service should be innovative like omni-channel experiences where they are able to seamlessly move me from one communication option (like text/SMS) to another (like online chat or live phone assistance).

Travel Omnichannel

Consumers are calling for better, more compelling self-service options for customer service but is the travel Industry putting their calls on hold?  Nearly 3 out of 4 consumers want the ability to solve their customer service issues on their own and 65 percent feel really good about both the company and themselves when they are able to do so.

Consumer engagement is quickly becoming a far more influential factor in building positive brand perception. Therefore It’s imperative that travel and hospitality companies adapt and deliver interaction strategies that address these new consumer demands of self-service and omni-channel engagement.

New Customer Satisfaction High for Luxury Hotel

by Mark King, SVP Europe & Africa on June 18th, 2015

Mark King, SVP Europe and AfricaCustomer service in the hospitality industry is no simple task for any company but luxury brands have to reach the highest of bars and sometimes even go to extreme measures to satisfy guests. The Edwardian Group, a collection of luxury hotels, seeks to be memory-makers for their guests. The company recognized that the customer experience does not start at check-in but rather when the customer first contacts the company, whether that is to make a reservation or inquire about the hotel. With this in mind, the Edwardian Group knew they needed new customer service technology and selected Aspect Software to help redevelop their customer contact infrastructure. The company selected Aspect because Aspect’s attitude of “yes, I can!” matches the Edwardian Group’s own approach to their customers. Watch this short clip to see how the Edwardian Group reached a new customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction highs by partnering with Aspect to deliver cutting-edge omni-channel technology including:

  • 30% improvement in guests’ satisfaction levels with service levels obtained from guest surveys now rated at 87.5%
  • 45% increase in interactions per week after introducing omni-channel
  • 18% increase in inbound call conversion, which now stands at 39.8%
  • 40% decrease in employee turnover since implementing Aspect’s technology due to higher employee engagement
  • Employee satisfaction ratings – garnered from regular surveys – have improved from 3.5 out of 5, to 4.09

Healing Healthcare Inefficiencies

by Kathleen Schroeder on June 17th, 2015

Kathleen SchroederBy Aspect and Healthcare Intelligence

Patient-centered care is taking hold in this country as health systems switch from volume-based to value-based, patient-centered models. This model can only work when everyone comes together to create greater efficiencies through economies of scale.

Economies of scale are the cost advantages that a health system achieves by expanding their scale of operations. The effect reduces the average cost of production while increasing outputs (Investopedia, 2015). On a broad scale – assume you work in a small clinic and are considering printing a marketing brochure promoting your new staff. The printer quotes a price of $1000 for 100 brochures, and $1,500 for 200 copies. While 100 brochures will cost you $10 per brochure, 200 will only cost you $7.50. In this case, the printer is passing on part of the cost advantage of printing a larger number of brochures to you. This cost advantage arises because the printer has the same initial set-up cost regardless of whether the number of brochures printed is 100 or 200. Once these costs are covered, there is only a marginal extra cost for printing each additional brochure” (Investopedia, 2015).

How do economies of scale apply to a healthcare contact center? Just like any other organization, health systems aim to reduce waste and costs (unused or under-utilized appointments), improve encounters (patient satisfaction), and access to appointments (resource availability). Establishing economies of scale means understanding your clinician’s competencies and ability to cover multiple disciplines. The results of this research can be transferred to Aspect’s Unified IP skill-based routing module. Through skills-based routing, patients are empowered to reach the right office and department at first point of contact.  Skills-based routing creates subject matter experts who maintain service levels and reduce patient abandon rates.

Skills-based routing is only part of the solution. According to PwC, ‘the workforce is too often a second thought for healthcare executives who are distracted by numerous payment and regulatory issues’. Society expects more and more of physicians and practices, particularly in primary care. Patients want their health to be better, to be seen in a timely fashion with empathy, and to enjoy a continuous relationship with a high-quality clinician whom they choose. A patient-centered practice has been described as, “They give me exactly the help I need and want, exactly when I need and want it.” (Annals of Family Medicine) Yet for primary care, health systems have not provided the resources to meet these explicit needs.

The answer is simple – add workforce management to skills-based routing. Aspect Healthcare – Workforce Management helps health systems forecast staffing requirements, ensuring the right staff is at the right place at the right time to deliver greater patient satisfaction. Health systems can ensure that there is an optimal staffing mixture of experts and generalists while skills-based routing uses established search criteria to find an available agent who can perform the service that the patient needs.  Greater efficiencies are gained from increased first-time call resolution and more importantly, patient satisfaction.

Aspect’s healthcare solutions help health systems create greater economies of scale. Skill-based routing ensures each patient is connected to the appropriate hospital staff while Aspect Healthcare – Workforce Management ensures that the right balance of clinicians and staff are ready to efficiently meet the needs of each and every patient.

Better care for individuals and better population health, all at a lower cost. Creating economies of scale for your health system is easier with Aspect. Learn more!

Are Millennials Tech Savvy or Tech Dependent?

by Evan Dobkin on June 15th, 2015

Evan DobkinKids today…are they really tech savvy? They’re always on their phones, using cool apps, making videos and coming up with things like Uber to make life easier.

As a function of their near-constant use of new technology (especially smart phones and tablets) it’s easy to think of those habits as being the result of tech-savviness, but that isn’t exactly the case. The youngest consumers, often referred to as Millennials (born 1977-1995 and separated further into other cohorts) have for their entire lives had access to technology we think of as new and remarkable. To them, it’s ubiquitous and common to talk to their friends over SMS, via social networks and not really have to think about going to a physical store to make purchases.IMG_4752

But that technology has come with a mandate that it just works the first time and in a way that the user experiences a much smaller learning curve. I’m not specifically talking about desktop applications like Photoshop or even Microsoft Word, but mobile apps that need to work right away because users are very quick to drop them and look for another option (which there usually is). Additionally, the app should be intuitive and integrating with its platform seamlessly, making use of the full set of functions that a smart phone or notebook deploys.

We may also be overstating specifically how tech-savvy prior generations were by using our own anecdotal experiences instead of what was taking place on a macro level. As someone who considers himself moderately tech-savvy, my programming experience prematurely ended with LOGO, but I was competent enough to take apart a VCR and reset tape heads. Most of the time, I was using Windows or Mac operating systems, configuring as was necessary for a specific use case and built some home PCs every now and then. But this was also the age in which “[XYZ] for Dummies” books became wildly popular and the number of products offered as consumer technology was increasingly ubiquitous. I know for most of us that are tech-savvy, the other side of that equation was being the free tech support to our non-savvy families.

For businesses, it is important to recognize that the youngest consumers are more tech-dependent than tech-savvy, but it’s smarter to think about their usage of technology in terms of what means and technologies they use to communicate. As providers of customer service strategies and solutions, it’s up to us to recognize this shift as an opportunity and understand how to best connect companies and with the youngest consumers who frequently have the highest customer service expectations.

To learn more about how to communicate with and build loyalty with Millennial consumers, join Jason Dorsey, the Gen Y Guy, along with Aspect’s Joe Gagnon at 1:00 ET on June 30 as they reveal five take-action strategies to engage Millennial customers.

Thanks For Scribbling Acme Products, Your Doodle Is Very Important To Us

by Tim Dreyer on June 12th, 2015

Tim Dreyer, Director, Public Relations and Analyst Relations, AspectIs doodle the next great customer service channel? Will customer engagement vendors talk about scribble integration? If Ink Messenger takes off it could happen. Ink Messenger aims to carve out a share of the booming messaging market as an alternative to traditional SMS and text-based message apps by offering only a blank space sans keyboard for users to communicate on.

James Chen, founder of Social Ink, the startup behind Ink Messenger sees the app as an open sandbox that will allow users to share and collaborate through I Heart Aspect IIsketches, cropped and modified pics and curated stickers and have fun doing it. He’s not alone either. Apple (through Apple Watch) and Google (inside Gmail both have a scribble functions for users. Now that emojis are finding their way into customer service, are squiggly pics far behind?

But does doodling have a customer service play? In an Aspect survey in 2013 on what users do while on hold with customer service, 1 in 7 reported doodling as the activity they chose to pass the time. Theoretically you could put that doodling to good use by sending the creations along via Ink Messenger. Or customers could scribble post-call surveys by drawing a picture of how happy they are about their service. The activity would bring a little fun to the follow up by letting the consumer decide how to express their satisfaction. Or dissatisfaction as it were.

But like all new customer service channels, user acceptance drives adoption. We’ll have to wait and see if “Scribbling Your Way to Greater Customer Engagement” will be on the agenda at the next year’s Enterprise Connect.

Engaging Your Agents for a Better Customer Experience

by Mike Bourke, SVP & GM Workforce Optimization on June 10th, 2015

Mike Bourke, SVP & GM Workforce OptimizationIn Forrester’s recent report, How to Measure and Improve the Contact Center Agent Experience, Ian Jacobs explains some guiding principles that can be used to significantly improve the customer experience by improving the agent experience. This report makes a compelling case that you can definitely drive better customer experiences by improving the agent experience and that there are technologies and cultural changes that are surefire ways to improve that agent experience.

Here are five poignant quotes from the Forrester report I found particularly important:

“Contact center agents can have a huge impact on customer experience”

I like this quote because it captures the very essence of the inextricable relationship between agent and customer, and it echoes one of the concepts outlined in a blog I wrote on customer and agent engagement a few months ago. We coined the term “contact center engagement cycle” to describe the Engage your Agentssignificant, continuous and symbiotic influence that agent and customer have on each other. If the agent is really enthusiastic and positive, it will affect the customer in a positive way. If the customer is angry, it will be perceived by the agent, and sometimes the agent gets angry as well. The attitude of one party will definitely affect the other, and this dynamic can often induce antagonistic spirals if negative feelings come in or virtuous spirals if positive feelings come in. The secret for the enlightened contact center is to take steps to ensure that agents start with as much positive energy as possible to create those virtuous spirals, and to do this, agents need to feel really empowered and engaged in their jobs.  Customer and agent engagement are primary objectives of the Aspect WFO suite, that’s why we recently renamed it Aspect EQ Workforce Optimization, where “EQ” stands for Engagement Quotient. The Engagement Quotient takes into account both the level of customer engagement and of agent engagement.

“Customer service workers that feel happy with the tools they use are more likely to be happy with their jobs”

Last year, Aspect released a radically new WFO user interface that draws from the best user experience design principles of Apple, Google and Microsoft. It was the culmination of several years of critical thinking about how employees really use their workforce optimization tools. Working closely with one of the best known user experience (UX) design firms and actual users of the software, we re-imagined the way agents and supervisors could accomplish day-to-day WFO tasks. Incorporating intuitive icons and widgets, the WFO 8 UI removes the technology barrier between users and the complexities of workforce optimization, so anyone can quickly learn the WFO system as well as use it efficiently. By the way, agents and supervisors really like it for the same reason that people like the iPhone. It’s simply fun to use, and as Forrester says, when workers are happy about their tools, they are happy with their jobs.

“Get agent input on what functions they think their tools need”

When Aspect went about the process of developing its new WFO user interface, we spent months testing and re-testing graphical screen designs with experienced WFO users from our customer base. Arm in arm with our UX design firm, we created WFO screen mock-ups using proven UI design principles and asked for a candid reaction from dozens of seasoned agents that use WFO day-to-day. After narrowing the field of possibilities with pictorial representations, we prepared computer simulations of the best alternatives so users could really experience the true look and feel of using a WFO tool with these potential UIs. That allowed us to zero in on the very best graphical user interface for each of the complex functions included in our robust WFO offering. Forrester is right on the money when they advise getting input from agents, and adoption of the new Aspect WFO UI has been high.

“Deliver a scheduling portal that allows agents to create and execute their own swaps and time-off requests”

Progressive contact centers are looking for innovative ways to empower their employees to take more control over their own schedules, while still meeting the on-going need of the enterprise to properly serve customers. Employee-driven scheduling practices supported by the right WFM technology can really improve the agent experience, since viewing and changing one’s schedule are traditionally among the most common yet frustrating tasks. From the employee’s perspective, these regularly used features can be a constant reminder either that the enterprise cares about their employees and has made it easy to self-serve or that the enterprise does not care and forces the agent body to use a clunky and awkward UI that wastes the agent’s time. Aspect invested quite a bit of thought into redesigning those features in our Aspect EQ WFM user interface. Recent versions of our WFM solution include dramatically simplified schedule trades, sequential shift bidding between two or more agents, a schedule trades bulletin board, time-off requests, vacation balance checking and more for the employee in an intuitive interface.

“All of the principles discussed above apply as much to contact center managers as they do to contact center agents”

Management sets the tone for the culture in any contact center. Just as the agent experience can dramatically affect the customer experience, so can the supervisor/manager experience affect the agent experience. After all, they work together all day long, and each supervisor or manager has a huge influence on the existence of numerous agents while they are at work. It’s as important if not more important to ensure that your supervisors are engaged in their work and made happy. That’s why Aspect has applied the same type of UI design enhancements to the supervisor/manager WFO screens that it has to the agent WFO screens. For example, the WFO graphical user interface allows supervisors to easily view schedule information for a list of employees, do batch schedule edits, preview the effect of a schedule trade on agents’ schedules and broker schedule trades. Complex supervisor tasks that are time consuming and awkward in traditional UIs are made simple with a graphical, icon and widget-based UI.

Putting It All Together

Given all of the attention to the importance of the customer experience in recent years, it’s not surprising that contact centers would be re-thinking their approach to delivering customer service. In an environment where low cost has been the primary objective for decades, the increasing importance of quality customer experiences is a significant disruption and requires a new culture, processes and technology. Forrester makes a strong argument that the agent experience is a primary contributor to the customer experience. Aspect has been an advocate of that thinking for quite some time, and it shows in the capabilities and features of our workforce optimization portfolio. If you would like a complimentary copy of the complete Forrester report, you can find it here.