Three Ways to Step Up Proactive Engagement With Your Customers

by Tobias Goebel on September 17th, 2014

Tobias GoebelA recent study conducted by International Data Corporation found that 25 percent of smartphone users couldn’t recall a time when their phone wasn’t in the same room with them. 79 percent of users confessed to having their phones with them for all but two hours of their working day. The connected dependence of consumers and their always-on, always connected mentality has dramatically altered what Forrester Research refers to as the “always-addressable customer.”

So with the growth of this “always-on” attitude, it’s critical for companies to also be on 24/7 in order to anticipate and meet the needs of their hyper-connected customers. Outbound proactive and omni-channel communications can allow companies to do just that. When brands make the effort to proactively reach out, consumers feel as if their needs are being tended to before they’re even aware there’s an issue.

Here are three concrete ways to get ahead of the curve and explore outbound and omni-channel engagement strategies that can help companies provide better and more consistent service to their customers.

Customer surveys

Customers who feel that they’re being heard by brands are more likely to remain loyal. Surveys are a great way to engage with customers, through the channel of their choice, on their own time, to discern sentiment, identify promoters and detractors, and influence future interactions with customers. A robust survey application should include personalized content, adapting to each customer’s individual needs and concerns; support open-ended feedback capture through audio recordings; offer customers the option of speaking to customer support in real-time and allow opt-outs to ensure compliance.

Collections

Another way to step up proactive engagement with customers is through outbound messages regarding upcoming payments and past due accounts. Through an automated bi-directional communication channel, customers can submit payments immediately anytime, from anywhere, which increases collection rates and improves business efficiency. Collection tools should: use a local telephone number to encourage connection; support compliant and secure collection of payment details over the phone; facilitate the use of best practices in collections for all types of financial products and industries, and provide a consistent message across all channels.

Reminders and Notifications

Finally, companies can create their own custom proactive engagement applications that allow you to contact customers with outbound communications specifically tailored to your businesses needs. If you know something that the customer should know as well, notify them. If you know something that the customer already knows but might have forgotten, remind them. For example, outbound notifications on email, SMS, or the voice channel can be used for order status messages, appointment and prescription reminders as well as service outage notifications, depending on business needs. Ideally, proactive engagement solutions should: speak on the channel of the customer’s choice, allow you to be up and running in hours instead of weeks; operate safely and securely through Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) deployment in the cloud, provide easy-to-use reporting on results and KPIs and include a campaign manager and scheduler to drive outbound campaigns.

When designed properly, outbound communications provide customers with the information they need, when they need it and even before they need it. This means not only remaining flexible enough to go beyond voice and allowing customers to respond in the channel of their choice, but also giving them power to decide when they want to communicate with you as part of one seamless conversation. It also sends a message to your customers that just like them, you’re always on and plugged into their needs.

3 Things Your Agents Could Be Doing with Their Idle Time

by Christine OBrien on September 15th, 2014

Chris O'Brien, Marketing Communications Writer, AspectObviously, when we talk about efficiency in the workforce, we’re not striving for the kind of over-scheduling that will leave even the best and brightest agents burned out. We all need a little breathing room in our day. But excessive agent idle time should be an indication to take a closer look at scheduling and utilization rates. It also raises the question of how that time could be spent in a more productive manner – not that the occasional break isn’t conducive to morale.

Research from Aberdeen shows that in contact centers headquartered mainly in North America and Europe, agents spent approximately 25% of their salaried/paid-time idle, that is, time not engaging customers or receiving training or coaching. (Source: Automated Intraday Contact Center Workforce Management: Bridging the Disconnect Between Downtime and Effective Time, July 2012.) Our own research conducted shows similar findings – that the average agent spends about 11% – or 53 minutes – idle each day. That’s nearly five hours lost per agent each week, and over 229 hours every year.

For a 100-seat contact center paying an average agent salary of $17/hr, that’s a potential loss of over $389,000 annually.

agent idle time

Even with the high level of accuracy that most sophisticated workforce management systems have at predicting staffing needs, there are still normal fluctuations in call volume that can result in agent idle time. We touched on this subject a few months ago on the blog as well, Managing Your Workforce in Real Time. Real-time intraday management software has been able to find an average of four extra hours of agent time per month by consolidating idle time without affecting service levels, whether this time is accessible in increments of several minutes or blocks of several hours.

As a result, it only makes sense to put as much of this time as possible to optimal use. If agents spend time idle and unmotivated, it’s far more likely that they’ll see down time as an opportunity to:

  • Browse the Internet
  • Spend time on social media sites
  • Chat with friends or coworkers
  • Look for other employment opportunities

Intraday management technology can help you keep agents focused on meaningful tasks even when there are fluctuations in call volume, which not only elevates productivity but it provides a more satisfying work environment. Here are a few ways can help you make this happen:

  1. Deliver targeted training – Dynamically monitor agents’ call volume to deliver training by dynamically removing agents from the queue for training tasks if call volumes fall below a pre-defined level
  2. Maximize cross-channel customer experience – Transition staff from voice to other customer channels such as chat, e-mail, or social response based on real-time demand in each channel call/interaction volume
  3. Distribute back office work – Prompt the right agents to begin assigned back office tasks when call volumes decline to a pre-determined level

Opportunities for engagement don’t stop when the customer interaction ends. Aberdeen found that Best-in-Class businesses who optimize a larger percentage of agent idle time saw a corresponding improvements in customer satisfaction, number of SLAs met, and the amount of time required by supervisors to assist contact center agents. Read the full details of this report by registering and downloading the report, Automated Intraday Contact Center Workforce Management: Bridging the Disconnect Between Downtime and Effective Time” (2012).

You can also find out more on Aspect’s SaaS-based Active Assignment solution to learn more ways your workforce could benefit from this powerful intraday management software.

3 Ways Your Data is Driving Brand Loyalty

by Rebecca Anderson on September 11th, 2014

Rebecca AndersonCustomer service is under a microscope. From horror stories to acts of kindness to humorous interactions, extreme examples of customer service circulate the web. A new one seems to pop up every week. Even the media has found these stories worthy of coverage. If we take a step back though and look outside of these exceptional experiences at typical day-day interactions a consumer has with a brand, what are the obstacles standing in the way of providing best-in-class service? The simplest answer: lack of data.

It’s astounding that in today’s world of data overload, contact centers could be struggling with data but as Aberdeen’s report Customer Engagement Analytics: How to Use Data to Create (and Keep) Happy Customers” (May 2014)  indicates, it’s not a lack of data but a lack of integration between systems that is the major pain point in the contact center. Overcoming that challenge, ‘Best-in-Class Contact Centers’ had three characteristics in common that help provide agents with the appropriate data to serve customers.

1. Provide agents with recent and historical customer data at the beginning of each interaction

In Best-in-class contact centers, customer data moves with the customer even if they switch channels or get transferred. This is especially important as research has shown that typical interactions involve at least one transfer. Companies that provide recent and historical data enjoyed a 3.5% reduction in average handle time compared to .7% reduction of those without the process.

2. Use customer contact data to support dynamic customer traffic queues

Dynamic queue management captures customer data from the ACD and appropriately routes customers to the best-suited agent. Interesting, but not surprising, is that having a dynamic traffic queue is highly correlated with the ability to integrate technology systems to gain an overall view of the customer interaction.

3.       Regularly monitor customer conversations regarding company brand across social media

Best-in-Class contact centers overcome the data challenge on social media by integrating the channel into their business. Companies are tracking customer sentiment across multiple channels to monitor and manage brand loyalty.

The chart below shows a more details look at the building blocks leaders use for superior performance.

aberdeenchart

Looking for ways we can help you break down the data silos in your contact center and earn your customers’ loyalty through more positive, seamless experiences? Learn more about Aspect’s contact center solutions. 

Workforce Optimization Tools for Great Customer Experiences

by Robert Moore on September 8th, 2014

The role of the contact center is changing as consumer preferences evolve at an accelerating pace.  A recent blog by Spence Mallder, GM Workforce Optimization and CTO points out that recently, customer experience has overtaken productivity as the top priority for contact center workforce optimization (WFO) programs.  It’s an example, albeit an important one, of how the world of the workforce optimization leader is changing as the dynamics of the contact center continue to change.

The infographic below takes us on a quick tour of new challenges and priorities for contact center workforce optimization leaders, some of the key WFO tools and technologies they are using, and the beneficial results that they are seeing from best-practice use of their WFO tools.

If you want to know more, download the full report from Aberdeen compliments of Aspect, or visit aspect.com to find out about the capabilities of Aspect’s Workforce Management solutions

WFO infographic

LEAN – Your Prescription for Successful Patient Encounters

by Kathleen Schroeder on September 4th, 2014

Kathleen SchroederBy Kathleen Schroeder and Healthcare Intelligence

Because of escalating healthcare costs and the need to decrease medical errors while improving quality, many providers are looking for ways to make the delivery of healthcare services more efficient. One strategy might be found in an unlikely source of inspiration – the same assembly line approach that also originally inspired Henry Ford’s automotive manufacturing.

The concept is LEAN, or Lean Production, a Japanese approach employed by Toyota Production System and that can also be used to help health systems eliminate waste from their current workflows.

There are actually several potential areas of inefficiency where LEAN can be applied to a healthcare contact center:

  • Transport: Transportation takes time. A traffic jam or inclement weather can keep your staff away from their scheduled shift.  Work at home for some agents can help eliminate time spent on the road and increase time available for patient calls.  Work-at-home environments allow agents to log-in immediately and avoid increased abandonment rates. Decreasing the amount of time an agent has to travel leads to optimal staffing – work-at-home agents are more willing to pick up split shifts and cover shifts during another agent’s absence.
  • Inventory: An excess of resources impacts the bottom line, while too few resources impact production! In a healthcare contact center, inventory is a great parallel to staffing and forecasting. Overstaffing and understaffing are very real problems within contact centers unless health systems have a viable work force management system.
  • Motion: Unnecessary movement to accomplish a task is wasteful. When your staff has questions or concerns and can’t effortlessly reach out to other co-workers, subject matter experts or knowledge bases for help, average handle time dramatically increases. Your staff would benefit from having the capability to instant message team leaders and clinical personnel or, in a few simple key strokes, access the information they need to respond to the patent’s request.
  • Waiting: Any time spent waiting for a service is perceived as an inconvenience by a customer. Patients are no different; in fact, the severity of their condition may significantly decrease their willingness to wait. Having the ability to measure the speed of answer and the abandonment rate allows leaders within the contact center to adjust the staffing or key performance indicators.
  • Overproduction: This kind of waste is defined as the creation of excess product. In a healthcare contact center setting, overproduction often occurs when patients are asked unnecessary or repetitive questions. Agents exert additional effort to capture information that is not clinically or financially relevant. Standardized work flows go a long way to streamline patient encounters and decrease overproduction.
  • Over-processing: Over-processing often occurs when unnecessary steps are added to patient facing processes that do not add value. When applied to a healthcare contact center setting, multiple patient transfers can be dubbed as over-processing. With an ACD, proper skill based routing cannot occur successfully. Patients are asked non value-added questions prior to their transfer to another staff member or clinician. An automated phone tree can also decrease over-processing by decreasing average handle time and allowing for workgroups with specialized skill sets, to focus on the value-added service they can provide their patients.
  • Defects: This word needs no definition and has added gravity in the healthcare industry.  Miss-scheduled appointments, bad triage encounters or, an erroneous bill can all have a terrible impact on a patient and their overall experience.  Creating a knowledge base along with quality assurance and quality management can eradicate these errors. A good call recording and analytics program can aid in the development and automation of the quality assurance initiative.

A contact center in the healthcare industry has many parallels with LEAN ideology.  Linking the technology and the processes to this ideology will create a culture that focuses on high performance and efficiency and ultimately superior patient experiences. Let Aspect Healthcare and Healthcare Intelligence show you how to make LEAN a reality for your health system.

Aren’t your patients worth it?

Ways to Boost Contact Center and Back Office Performance

by Rebecca Anderson on September 2nd, 2014

Rebecca AndersonDownload the white paperContact centers have been using workforce optimization (WFO) technology for as long as disco, Microsoft, and SNL have been around to make sure that the right agents are in the right places at the right time. While WFO technology has become more sophisticated and accurate, contact centers have been slow to reap the benefits of it.

In conjunction with ICMI, Aspect surveyed 417 contact center leaders in 2014 on their thoughts and experiences with workforce optimization technology and it’s clear there is room for improvement. The most alarming findings were:

  • Only 12% said that their workforce management software was accurate in predicting staffing levels
  • 44% do not have back office staff managed with WFO tools that are as effective as the contact center tools
  • 50% don’t use speech or text analytics

So how do you know whether a more advanced workforce optimization system can help your contact center run more efficiently, achieve higher customer satisfaction, increase agent engagement, and create an overall better experience?

Take a look at the report from ICMI and Aspect to find out how you can enhance your WFO system to ensure the best customer experience, a high productivity workforce and better agent morale!

Aspect Unified IP 7.3: A Contact Center Even Your CFO Will Love

by Michael Kropidlowski on August 28th, 2014

Michael Kropidlowski, Senior Manager, Product Marketing, AspectIn an era where consumers look at many products and services without distinction, high-touch customer service is being viewed by many companies as a way to differentiate themselves from their competition. But providing a consistent omni-channel customer experience, where consumers can start a conversation on one channel and continue it on another right where they left off doesn’t have to be complicated.

The hardest question for many contact centers to answer is what return are they getting for their investment? Taking into consideration such things as capital costs, implementation and operational costs in addition to the day-to-day costs of staff management, solution maintenance and agent training, it can be hard to answer the CFO when he or she asks you if the money was well spent.

The newly announced Aspect Unified IP 7.3 release brings a host of money saving features that can make that conversation go a little easier. For starters, UIP 7.3 brings additional user flexibility and efficiencies to inbound contact handling which minimizes customer time and effort and makes it easier for agents to engage them. And since this makes each engagement faster and more efficient, agents can take more calls in less time. Other cost of ownership highlights include:

  • Deployment flexibility that includes on-premises with Managed Services, hosted, or hybrid in Aspect managed data centers to reduce cost and complexity
  • A Unified Media Server helps deliver superior scale, flexibility and manageability with 2X increased agent and channel density
  • Expanded VM/database consolidation, VDI support which reduces TCO with up to 40% server reduction over previous releases
  • Simplified deployment profiles to streamline implementation

Want to see more information on Aspect flagship contact center solution? Check out our resource page.

TCPA Compliant Without Reducing Profitability

by Michael Kropidlowski on August 26th, 2014

TCPA Compliant Outbound MobileMichael Kropidlowski, Senior Manager, Product Marketing, AspectNearly everyone today thinks about the explosion and proliferation of mobile device use and how it has brought with it greater consumer convenience, entertainment or safety as a good thing. Everyone but contact centers. Today 55% of households can only be contacted via a wireless device which makes life difficult and complicated for contact centers trying to connect with their customers. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) has strict regulations about contacting consumers’ mobile devices so sending a reminder, delivering an important notification or collecting a debt without explicit consent for mobile phone communication could result in big fines. TCPA violations cost businesses hundreds of thousands – even millions of dollars a year. And these fines are becoming more frequent, the beginning of 2014 alone saw a 30 percent increase in TCPA filings.

To avoid this, some companies have reverted to having agents make manual calls. Aside from the fact that this approach takes an organization backward from a technology standpoint, it’s inefficient and opens to the door for other compliance violations such as those enforced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). In light of all this, contact centers executing any outbound processes have to have a strategy and solution to manage wireless contacts that both keep them in compliance AND maximizes, not minimizes agent productivity. To achieve this, it’s critical that outbound operations:

  • Understand the best way to contact customers on their wireless devices
  • Know that it’s not just a telemarketer issue
  • Learn how to engage customers in an efficient, profitable and compliant way

There are better options than simply throwing up your hands, turning back the clock and returning to the days of manual dialing. A few key components of a TCPA compliant solution include:

  • Licensed option for no auto dialing and no auto message for contacting wireless phones
  • Track and Control number type (e.g. wireless) and consent on a per customer record /phone position basis
  • Track and Control attempts across multiple accounts

A good outbound call strategy can eliminate the need to choose between over complying with reduced profitability or under complying while risking significant legal and financial exposure. Aspect works with hundreds of companies to help them understand TCPA, the implications on their business and how they can be more effective with their outbound calling strategies while staying in compliance.

Learn more about keeping your contact center profitable and compliant with the new Aspect Unified IP 7.3.

Burstability: The Next Big Play for Your Contact Center This Season

by Maddy Hubbard on August 22nd, 2014

maddyhubbardThey say it’s never too early to start thinking about “the season.”

One would naturally assume the holiday season, but not in this case.  We’re talking football season, and more specifically, college football, which is rapidly approaching. On August 30th, the first Saturday of the college football season, there are 60 games scheduled to be played, 50 of which will be televised (where is “The Ocho” when you need it to broadcast the other 10 games?) You may be asking what college football has to do with a cloud contact center. Let’s take a look at a few possible demand-driven scenarios that may occur on this day:

1. According to pizza.com, Saturday is already the most popular day to order pizza.  One can only imagine that demand increases when there are so many football games to watch. Pizza delivery restaurants will be busy with orders, not only by the traditional method of voice, but also via web and mobile applications. After all, it’s sometimes difficult to make a voice call from a house full of screaming fans!

2. The Ohio State University is playing Navy at noon eastern on a network generally available in the premium sports channel package.  Once Buckeye fans discover they may not be able to see the game, they’ll call their cable or satellite provider inquiring about adding the channel or college game packages so they don’t miss a second of the action. It’s dizzying, I know, but such packages exist!

3. The just-released AP Top 25 Poll ranks Florida State #1 and includes a record-tying 8 Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams.  Ticket offices for Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium and Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium will likely be very busy on days leading up to home games with inquiries for available tickets.

In each of these scenarios there will be sudden bursts of activity, lasting through the College Football Championship Game on January 12, 2015.  Then, pizza delivery restaurants will return to a less hectic Saturday delivery schedule, cable and satellite providers may have fewer customers in search of special channels and packages and the phone lines at football ticket offices will be less active.

Sudden changes in call center activity shouldn’t mean sudden stress. When you need burstability, the ability to scale quickly – up or down, the Aspect Cloud automatically makes capacity available to you when you experience a ramp-up, meaning no need to wait for resources to be deployed.  This minimizes periods of agent wait time and minimizes abandonment rates.

Our Cloud also allows you to leverage state-of-the art technologies without major investments in hardware and infrastructure.  You can be up and running in days — before the first kickoff.  Not weeks or months, after the urgent need has passed you by.

The Omni-Channel Workforce and the Brave New World of Customer Interaction

by Eric Hagaman on August 20th, 2014

keyboardEric Hagaman, Product Manager, Aspect

In an increasingly omni-channel world, where customers want to be able to engage companies whenever and wherever they please, a more intelligent approach is needed to manage the skilled labor necessary to address this rising consumer demand. And not only in the voice channel, but in all of the communication channels as well. The contact center industry has spent decades refining the intricacies of forecasting, scheduling and intra-day tracking of adherence for inbound and outbound voice calls. The next frontier is wrestling with the management of the workforce across all of these channels. Unfortunately, these other channels don’t have the same dynamics as the voice channel, and you can’t use the same planning and forecasting techniques to manage the workforce efficiently in these non-voice channels.

Chat is a perfect example. Forrester notes that chat is the third most heavily used form of interactive customer communication after voice and email, but it is by far the fastest growing at about 8% per year. Aspect’s own research shows chat is actually even ahead of email. Unique to customer contact via the chat channel is the practice of assigning multiple, simultaneous chats to one agent. Assigning one chat contact to an agent is generally considered underutilization of resources due to gaps in time spent waiting for customer message composition after the agent composed and sent his or her reply. Without any other guidance, most workforce optimization managers would use some simple rules of thumb to estimate staffing levels required to meet service level targets. Their estimates are likely rooted in their experience with voice, but chat is a completely different world with different rules of conversational engagement, different timing, and different physical processes involved in working with multiple customers simultaneously.

Here’s an example to think about.

A team of chat agents has been assigned to provide customer service, with a maximum of three concurrent chats per agent. Using the pattern of historical chat volume, the Workforce Management (WFM) manager observes the average handle time of an employee handling one chat at a time and divides that by 3 (since each agent is handling up to a max of 3 sessions) then uses standard single skill voice channel erlang-based methods to arrive at a required number of agents for each time period to meet a 70% in 30 seconds Service Level Goal. Using this method, the staffing looks like the Current Industry Practice line below.

However, when an agent’s workload goes from one chat session to two and then to three, new dynamics come into play. Here are some of the more obvious ones:

  • The agent is getting routed more chats from the queue
  • From the perspective of a customer, that agent is now responding more slowly because they are working on replies to multiple other customers interleaved with their responses to a single customer.
  • The agent is now switching mental and business contexts as their attention moves from one customer to another and some time is spent getting back up to speed on the contents of that conversation before composing a reply.
  • Unproductive time can impact multiple customer chats.

The actual number of chat staff required to meet required service levels computed taking all of the dynamics of chat is shown in the Actual Staff Required line.

chatagentsscheduled

You can see that it’s much higher than what would be estimated using current industry practice.

Another way to look at this is from the perspective of service levels. In the chart below, the Current Industry Practice line shows that the contact center would be well short of their required service level if they were to schedule based on required staff computed by estimating handle time and using voice channel methods. Using the Aspect Multi-Chat Calculator, taking all of the particular dynamics of chat, multiple simultaneous chats, and multiskill staff into account, the actual service level would be very close to being met throughout the day if we staffed using the Aspect Model.

chatexpectedservicelevel

As we noted above, the industry has had years to think about how to forecast, schedule and track the voice workforce. Not so for other customer communication channels. When you start to peel back the onion, you will find a whole new set of metrics that we need to incorporate in our forecasting models such as: chat concurrency (how many simultaneous chats is the agent handling), agent composition time, customer composition time, agent wait time, customer wait time and number of messages exchanged in a session. For WFO professionals, it’s a radically different way of having to think about customer engagement.

Fortunately, Aspect is leading the charge in this brave new world of omni-channel customer interaction. For more information about the Multi-Chat Calculator and other features of Aspect’s Workforce Management solution, visit our web page or feel free to contact me directly at eric.hagaman@aspect.com