Empowering Change: What You Can Learn from Your Most Frustrated Employees

by Kathy Villasenor on April 24th, 2014

Kathy Villasenor

Recently, I was watching as one of the largest airlines in the world unloaded carry-on luggage from a regional jet. Overhead space was limited, so carry-on items needed to be checked and returned once the plane landed. As we exited, all the passengers lined up on both sides of the jet bridge waiting for our luggage. Eventually, one airline employee arrived up front and started haphazardly unloading and piling bags into a small area. Those of us waiting were all jockeying for a position to grab our own bag, located somewhere in this pile which was now about six feet deep.

Why didn’t the luggage handler start lining the bags up on the opposite side of the jet bridge along the wall in single file order?  Why were people stepping on top of each other to get their bags?  Have you ever been in the position of knowing there is a better process or procedure that could be implemented?

It’s so frustrating to be a part of something you want to change when you’re not in a position of influence. However, I am betting that this is not the case when it comes to your contact center. There has to be at least one thing that you have input on in terms of streamlining a process or procedure, right? In my situation, I was probably not as powerless as I felt. I could have asked the baggage attendant to request that the travelers stand to one side and wait in line until they saw their bags.

I also have a suspicion that if someone had asked this airline employee about her biggest frustrations, they might have started with:

  • I wish there was a way we could…
  • Why can’t we ever…
  • I don’t understand why…
  • It doesn’t make sense that…

If you are hearing any of these phrases from your employees, stop and listen. What follows is usually a valuable clue to a process that at best could be streamlined or improved – and at worst might be negatively impacting your business’ operations, customer experience and profitability.

Empowering an employee to make one small change in the contact center could have a significant impact on their productivity and outlook, while at the same time improving your customers’ experience.

Better yet, why not ask the people who are actually doing the job what they need in order to be more successful? I am sure the airline employee that I encountered would have an idea or two to share. So will your contact center agents.

The Way to A Customer’s Heart is Through Obsession [CASE STUDY]

by Chris Koziol, President & GM, Interaction Management on April 22nd, 2014

Chris KoziolOriginally published April 17, 2014 on Business2Community by Chris Koziol

App-crazy consumers are very adept at managing several communication modes at one time. Whether it’s on the web or on the phone, texting or talking, people today are immersed in data and have grown to expect immediate, always-on access to these channels for gathering, sharing, and verifying information. For brands, this means that interaction consistency and agent skill alignment in all operations is vital to building and sustaining exceptional customer experiences and long-term customer relationships.

Consumers expect their questions and concerns to be addressed in the same speed they themselves consume information: through seamless and contiguous interaction on multiple channels and platforms. They want an omni-channel service experience where they are able to move from chat to phone without the hassle of repeating their personal details and experiences, or getting different answers from different people.

trupanionOne of the industry leaders in omni-channel customer service today is Trupanion, a leading provider of medical insurance for pets. Trupanion recognized that having omni-channel customer service capabilities would give them a competitive edge. They had several disparate systems in place: email, chat, and phone, with a lack of support and significant switching costs. They recognized customers’ frustrations and the impact it had on the company’s bottom line.

As a result, Aspect worked with Trupanion to overhaul their entire customer contact and workforce optimization infrastructure. The overhaul has allowed Trupanion customers to manage the interactions they have with the company’s agents on their terms. By putting customers in control of how they want to engage with the company, Trupanion is living up to its motto, “customer preferences first.” Regardless of whether their customers use chat or phone to initiate contact, they can move seamlessly from channel to channel and connect to the same agent. Not only has this resulted in increased efficiency in resolving issues, but more importantly Trupanion customers can now get questions answered and issues resolved on their terms while developing deeper relationships with the agents they interact with.

The success of Trupanion’s omni-channel capabilities is a clear sign of where the contact center industry is headed. Companies creating customer obsession cultures and placing the consumers’ experience above everything else will give them a competitive advantage. Delivering truly remarkable experiences will keep their customers loyal and win the hearts and the wallets of today’s consumer.

SMS Reloaded: An Old Technology, but a New Business Communication Channel

by Tobias Goebel on April 18th, 2014

Tobias GoebelIt’s hard to believe that SMS (text messaging) is actually older than today’s teenagers, having passed its 20th anniversary in December 2012. Available on smart phones and old feature phones alike, it is the most widespread communication channel aside from voice. A study by Informa, commented on by Netsize, predicts that 9.4 trillion SMS text messages will be sent in 2016, representing an increase of 19% year-on-year since 2011. According to the article, “If we zoom in on Application-to-Person and Person-to-Application SMS traffic, which according to Informa represents some 4.5 percent of the total SMS messaging volume in 2011, we see a healthy average year-on-year growth of close to 18 percent, to 6 percent of total SMS volume. This comes as no surprise. Enterprises know that the only way they can reach 100% of the population is through SMS.”

When looking at texting as a means to provide automated customer service, it has clear advantages, particularly over voice and IVR:

  • It can be asynchronous. SMS dialogs are typically conducted over a longer period of time; periods of “silence” are in the nature of SMS conversations.
  • It is more user-friendly. It lets users advance in a dialog at their own pace. Compared to voice self-service, it does not struggle with speech recognition (i.e. user input) challenges.
  • It is persistent. Dialogs are archived on a phone automatically, allowing the user to check back on things like confirmation numbers or other data otherwise hard to remember (addresses, names of medication, etc.).
  • It is more tolerant to network coverage issues than, e.g., data.
  • It is less intrusive. An SMS dialog can be conducted silently, during meetings, in the presence of others, while travelling (though not while driving), etc. It also allows for breaks and interruptions, at least of reasonable duration, before a new session would be started.
  • It is ubiquitous. It works on ANY cell-phone, and older feature phones are still predominant in some regions of the world.
  • It is personal. A mobile phone belongs to one person, it is not typically shared like a landline phone at home is in a family.
  • It is cheaper to provide than IVR technology.

As a customer service tool, automated text messages are mostly used for reminders, notifications, or confirmations today, i.e. communication is primarily one-way. The channel, however, lends itself nicely to other usages as well, including interactive dialogs, also called two-way SMS, or Interactive Text Response. As an example, consider surveys:

  • Post-call surveys to inquire about satisfaction with a customer service representative
  • Product surveys to understand preferences and usage of products
  • Hospitality surveys to get feedback on room and service quality, etc.

SMS proves an ideal medium for surveys, mainly for the reasons stated above. Research shows that participants of text-based surveys answer more honestly and accurately and find the medium less intrusive.

As surveys are something a business usually imposes on a user/customer, they better make sure they are as convenient to fill out as possible. Let’s look at an example:


At a hotel, the receptionist asks the guest at check-in whether they would be willing to receive a text message with a short survey. If they agree, an automated system schedules the first message such that the guest has had a chance to evaluate the quality of accommodation first, but not too late. The idea being that if it turns out that the guest gave one or more items bad ratings, the hotel manager or staff on duty is alerted, e.g. via another text message to their phone. That way, they can immediately respond and try to resolve the issue.

The SMS channel can also be used to provide self-service, e.g. for account management order tracking, car rental, etc.


For providers, SMS turns out to be a lot cheaper than traditional IVR solutions, as it requires far less sophisticated technology as, e.g., automatic speech recognition. However, dialog management, backend integration, and reporting usually remain a necessity. Voxeo CXP addresses all these needs and provides a consolidated application lifecycle environment for voice, SMS, mobile Web, and Twitter applications.

With Aspect’s recent announcement of its new Proactive Engagement Suite, businesses can now quickly run outbound campaigns that make best use of the SMS channel.

Time to engage!

Improved Healthcare Collaboration Tools Let Staff Focus on the Patient

by Amy Wagner on April 16th, 2014

Amy Wagner, Principal Managing Consultant, AspectCollaboration, security, data… it’s all happening now in healthcare.  Consider how the following organizations overcame challenges to meet their disparate but connected constituent needs while achieving financial goals. In each of these examples, collaboration helped members of the care continuum drive efficiencies and promote innovative approaches to connect people and ultimately provide outstanding patient care.

Array Health’s Spectrum cloud-based software took advantage of a suite of Microsoft products to give health insurers such as Highmark Health Services the security features, scalability and high level of performance they needed to run a successful private exchange. Microsoft SQL Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 in addition to .NET framework and Internet Information Services  helped meet the increased demands on performance and security in addition to providing their clients with innovative, enterprise-grade private exchange solutions.

In less than three months, the University of Colorado Health (UCHealth), one of the largest healthcare providers in Colorado, was able to fully migrate 17,000 mailboxes from three disparate healthcare organizations on multiple legacy email platforms into one single consolidated Microsoft Office 365 environment. Switching to a complete Microsoft enterprise subscription solution is expected to increase collaboration across UCHealth and save an estimated $13.9 million in overall costs throughout an 11-year period.

Community Healthcare Network (CHN),  a group of nonprofit community health centers providing medical, dental and social services in neighborhoods throughout New York, ensures constant communication during extreme weather and crisis situations, such as Hurricane Sandy, to maintain email and server connectivity.  CHNs communications-in-the-cloud allows emergency operations to continue securely and efficiently, and most importantly, without interruptions so staff can stay in contact and concentrate their efforts on helping patients.

The physicians at Mihills Webb, a small provider practice in Southlake, Texas, uses Lync in Office 365 for physicians to communicate with their staff while still in the room with the patient, instead of walking through the 12,000 square foot facility to communicate with their team. Physicians remain in the exam room with patients longer, move patients in and out of the office faster and the practice has boosted staff communication, in addition to boosting morale with their cloud communication strategy. Mihills Webb also adopted the Office 365 cloud business productivity platform to comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations and to be able to sign business-associate agreements. When physicians or office staff needs records from a hospital, they simply request them through instant messaging rather than leaving the exam room.  This type of multitasking saves time and money.

Reliable patient-centered collaboration, HIPAA privacy and security compliance, better management of unified, streamlined, and standardized communications, plus productivity gains are all reasons Gwinnett Hospital System, Kindred Healthcare, and Texas Health and Human Services have moved, or are in the process of moving, to a cloud-based collaboration productivity platform – specifically Office 365 for Healthcare Organizations.

Empowering a more connected and mobile workforce—by breaking down barriers, uncovering insights, and supporting efficient, reliable processes through secure formal and informal communications is now the healthcare business challenge. Today it’s about delivering the latest capabilities in technology while keeping your tools familiar, simple and easy to use—so your employees can get up and running quickly and without interruption in patient services. It’s about delivering applications that are proactive and actually help guide people through tasks so they can achieve more with the latest devices, on any platform. It’s about technology that enables your business and your people to respond with agility and quickly adapt to changing healthcare business needs and business processes. It’s about applications that connect your employees to each other, to the extended care team, and ultimately to your patients.

How is your organization collaborating with providers, staff and patients? Is your current email environment saving you money?  Are your communication and collaboration tools quick and easy to use so that your staff can concentrate on patient care?

Please Hold for Your Worst Nightmare

by Bryan McCloud on April 14th, 2014

Bryan McCloudboogey callerEvery contact center agent has a “worst nightmare” caller. A boogey caller, if you will. While the exact description varies depending on who you ask, these are the callers who pop up out of nowhere and ruin your day without fail.

In my last blog I gave you three words to make your employees love you. This time, I’m going to give you 3 words to help vanquish any boogey caller for good: Meet its Needs.

In the simplest of breakdowns, we can think of callers as falling into three basic need groups. Almost all callers – even boogey callers – usually start out as “content” callers until a need goes unmet. You might think of this as the origin of the boogey caller:

Type of Caller Need
Content Appreciation
Irate Validation
Insistent Immediate Action

Our goal should always be to keep callers content or make them content again. Let’s look at the best ways to accomplish that.

Content Callers

This caller is the one you hope for every time the phone beeps. They are polite, patient, and simply have a question or concern they would like addressed. They seem nothing like the boogey caller we all fear, but they are in fact, one in the same. The boogey caller is nothing more than a content caller whose need to feel appreciated was not met.  Making a content caller feel appreciated is done by taking ownership, resolving their issue, and letting them know they are valued. It’s when the content callers don’t feel appreciated that they transform into our worst nightmare callers.

Irate Callers

This caller is prone to yelling, cursing, and will even make personal attacks. When working with an irate caller, you must first remember that they do not want to be like this. In most cases they are mad because they were made angry, and that is not how they want to be.

To get this caller back to a content state, you simply need to validate their anger by letting them know it is okay that they are upset. Be sure that this is done only after they have finished venting. Never cut off an irate customer as it only makes things worse. A good example of what to say to an irate caller after they vent is, “Mr. or Mrs. (Last Name), I completely understand why you are upset and to be honest, I don’t know how you are as calm as you are. If I had been through what you have, I don’t think I could handle it this well.”

If said at the proper time and with sincerity, I guarantee you they will start to calm down. Once you have them somewhat calm again, you can handle the call just as though they were a content customer by making them feel appreciated.

Insistent Callers

This caller is very demanding will tell you exactly what you are doing to do for them and when you are going to do it. While the “what” varies from call to call, the “when” is always now. Insistent callers got this way due to a lack of urgency in resolving their initial concern and they feel bossing you around is their only option.

The secret to making an insistent caller content again is to take immediate action and tell them in detail exactly what you are doing, while you are doing it. What you cannot do, under any circumstance, is tell an insistent customer what you will do and expect them to trust you. Immediate action and that alone is the only thing that will work. Once they know you are doing something about their problem right now, they will start to ease up and shift back toward content. At that point you simply need to make them feel, you guessed it, appreciated!

Now when the boogey caller strikes, you’ll know what to do to keep it from being an automatic day-ruiner… or your worst nightmare!

Get Out of the Knee-Jerk Management Trap

by Kathy Villasenor on April 11th, 2014

Kathy VillasenorOne otherwise uneventful Sunday night, my elderly parents received a phone call from their home security company alerting them to the fact that a motion sensor outside their house had been set off. Immediately, my tiny, 80-year-old mother, who is awaiting two knee replacements, leaped up to go confront the potential intruder. She had to be shouted down by several much younger family members who insisted that perhaps her son-in-law, the police officer, might be a better choice to check out the situation.

My mom’s response was a knee-jerk reaction. The term knee-jerk comes from the tendency of the knee to jerk involuntarily when hit sharply. We have all experienced this type of response when we are suddenly presented with an unexpected or startling situation and jump to a conclusion immediately without taking time to reason out the best solution. My question for you is how often do you make decisions for your contact center based on a knee-jerk reaction?

In my travels I continually run into situations where agents are moved from one skill, service or agent group to another to “catch” calls that are waiting for an undesirable length of time. I have heard every imaginable reason as to why they must manage in this fashion. Some of these reasons are creative, while others are just the fact that they cannot anticipate from one day to another where their call volume will hit.

I believe that this movement of resources could be considered a knee-jerk reaction: Look, there are too many calls in queue! Move someone to answer them! Right now!

There are tools available that can automate the selection of agents that can be leveraged to help minimize this reactionary response. If there are more than X number of calls in queue or if a call has been in queue for more than X seconds the selection of agents can be broadened. There are other real time stats that can be looked at to determine if additional resources should be added to the mix.

When haphazardly moving agents’ assignments around, someone needs to track and place them back to their normal settings. I think a great starting place to reduce this movement is looking at what you can program to automatically select the appropriate resources for the call without human intervention.

It is time to stop managing with knee-jerk responses but rather automate where you can. Minimize the stress in your work life since there is plenty of that to deal with outside of the workplace.

By the way, it was a false alarm at my folks’ place. All is well!

ACE UPDATE: Must-Attend Customer Party at the Historic Fillmore

by Samantha Johansen on April 9th, 2014

Fillmore Miami

Courtesy of http://fillmoremb.com/

Sam JohansenDid you really need another reason to attend ACE on May 19-21? Aside from the relevant keynote speakers, breakout sessions, valuable peer-to-peer networking, and hands-on solution showcase demonstrations, you might want to consider all the fun you’ll miss at after-hour events like the customer celebration party at the Fillmore Miami.

Historically known as the Jackie Gleason Theater dating back to 1950, guests from around the world came to watch as Golden Era Legends took the stage. In the 1960s, the theater played venue to filming television hits such as The Dick Clark Show, The Ed Sullivan Show and the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. In 1964, Jackie Gleason took Miami Beach up on its offer to film his show at the Fillmore, declaring, “Miami Beach audiences are the greatest in the world!”

Today, the Fillmore continues to host some of the biggest names in entertainment – and in the coming weeks Aspect’s own guests will receive the VIP treatment after a full day of in-depth, informative ACE sessions with your colleagues and peers. This party will be legendary — we’re working with South Beach’s best caterer and our entertainment? You’ll just have to wait and see.

If you think you’ve seen a chart-topping customer party like this before… You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

The Fillmore event is just one more reason why this year’s ACE event is not to be missed! Need more reasons? Check out the full agenda and more online.

REGISTER NOW AND SAVE: Early bird registration has been extended through April 18!

Plus, be a part of the conversation taking place now on our ACE LinkedIn group!

3 Steps for Effective Social Media Crisis Management

by Tony Lama on April 7th, 2014

Tony Lama, Global EvangelistFrom recent extreme weather to major corporate recalls to natural disasters, many organizations across all industries have experienced unexpected volumes of customer service inquiries in the past few months. When facing uncertainty, consumers take to social media to voice their frustrations or search for information. Yet, according to a recent PwC Business Continuity Survey an astounding 57% of companies are still not leveraging social media as a crisis management resource.

The following three examples of companies using social media for crisis management demonstrate the importance of a social strategy and each serve as a success story for handling difficult public situations effectively in different industries.

  • Kaiser Permanente, the largest integrated health care system in the United States, led the way to delivering customer care over social media to their 8.8 million members and addressing social “flare-ups.” Like many of Aspect’s financial and healthcare customers, Kaiser is sensitive to privacy concerns. However, Kaiser recognizes those concerns and takes all conversations of a delicate matter offline.  They are engaging and proactive about their social efforts and quickly address potential crises.
  • Fontaine Santé, provider of fresh products in the in the ready-to-eat market, faced a possible crisis and consumer backlash when it determined that some of its prepackaged salads might be laced with Listeria. Unlike the healthcare industry that takes conversations office, CPGs must deal with a crisis head-on. Fontaine Santé took swift action to proactively alert the public about the possible danger of the salads via social and traditional media. As a result, no illness has been reported.
  • The Boston Police Department successfully used Twitter to communicate with the public during the Boston Marathon bombings. Government agencies must be sensitive to privacy concerns but they also need to make judgment calls about what is best for the public. In this case, the police department shared information with the public and engaged the public for their help. This helped ease nerves and reduce the spread of dangerous rumors.

The best time to construct a plan is before a crisis happens. If you are using Aspect Social to communicate with your customers, here is my simple list of three steps for effective communication that you can use every day and in a crisis situation:

  1.  Eliminate the noise and filter in Tweets and posts that are important to the business (actionable).
  2. Apply business rules to intelligently route interactions to different areas of the business.
  3. Measure your social success against your customer care KPIs to ensure a consistent level of service across all channels.

If you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Or find me on Twitter @TheTonyLama

Sweet! Contact Center Technologies that Drive Success [Infographic]

by Christine OBrien on April 4th, 2014

Next week  we’ll be attending the 10th Anniversary of Frost & Sullivan’s Customer Contact East. And not only that, Aspect is pleased to be sponsoring one of the “sweetest” spots at the event – the candy bar! We hope you’ll have a chance to stop by to satisfy a sugar craving and hear about technologies that are consistently being used by Best-in-Class businesses, according to research done by Aberdeen Group.

Find out how next-generation customer relationship management, agent desktop optimization and omni-channel customer experience management can make a difference in your contact center, and to your company’s bottom line! Take a look at the infographic below and visit aspect.com to learn more!


The Fundamentals of Proactive Customer Care

by John Amein, VP Product Management on April 3rd, 2014

John Amein, VP Product ManagementAt Enterprise Connect on March 20th, I joined a panel moderated by Sheila McGee-Smith regarding Proactive Customer Care. One of her main points about being proactive is that the thinking is shifting away from IVR automation as a way to deflect calls and reduce costs instead to proactively connecting with customers across all channels in order to provide a better experience while avoiding costs and inbound contacts in the first place. I think she’s got that right, and I left the audience with two key related ideas.

First, in order to be proactive, you have to know something the customer doesn’t know or hasn’t already told you about. That’s fundamental to being proactive! The types of things a company will know are:

  1. Something about the consumer’s situation that hasn’t been shared yet
  2. Something going on inside your company that will affect your customer

For example, you may know that a consumer has not signed up for a particular kind of insurance plan and it’s in their benefit to do so. Or you may know that a loan application is stuck inside your business process and will be delayed by another week. Small companies are on top of these kinds of situations as part of providing a higher level of customer service; it’s part of how small companies compete. So how do bigger companies become more proactive with what they know?

This leads to the second point: You need a platform that enables you to take action seamlessly across all channels. It should be part of your overall customer engagement strategy that we’ve outlined here. At Enterprise Connect we announced a North American rollout of one of our very successful European cloud products we call Aspect Proactive Engagement. North America is just the next stop. We’re spreading it around the globe over the next 12 months.

Connect with us and learn more about specific examples of how we’ve helped our customers improve loyalty, avoid costs, and achieve better outcomes through proactive engagement.