by Maddy Hubbard on August 22nd, 2014
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.
by Eric Hagaman on August 20th, 2014
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
by Mark King, SVP Europe & Africa on August 18th, 2014
The recent news that Domino’s will be embracing a new omni-channel system brings to light an interesting discussion on how the fast food market can make the most out of an omni-channel approach.
Fast food is a huge industry and one that operates in almost every corner of the UK. According to VoucherCodes.co.uk, Britain spends a huge £29.4 billion per year on fast food, with the average Brit spending £109 per month so they can tuck in to their favourite dishes.
To maintain the industry’s success, customer satisfaction comes first and foremost. Customer satisfaction with both the product and the service is essential; but arguably it is easier to get the latter right because all customers want is the food that they ordered as quickly as possible. Deploying an omni-channel system will no doubt help to deliver this expected experience for a business like Domino’s.
Deploying an omni-channel strategy boosts customer loyalty in its ability to offer a personalised customer experience. To paraphrase the fast food giant Burger King – “have it your way.” True omni-channel in this business means being able to make an order via any channel the customer wants to use, any place; any time and seamlessly transition to another channel while maintaining the context of the conversation. Imagine if you were able to just tweet your order and then receive a text letting you know when to expect your large Mighty Meaty pizza and chicken wings.
Omni-channel is the future of customer service and speed is key in driving it to be more and more important to consumers. Fast food is supposed to be the quick solution to hunger and now that these new channels are available, customers will be expecting more from their fast food providers, and the market should fully take advantage of this.
by Alyx Kaczuwka on August 13th, 2014
If you’re considering a Cloud-based contact center solution, you probably already realize that not every Cloud was created equal. In fact, when you look past all the promises, some solutions turn out to be much more “fluff” than substance – and that’s no way to power your enterprise’s customer experience.
We’d like to invite you to consider 11 key advantages that Aspect’s Zipwire has over the competition, which includes how our history of contact center innovation has come together with fresh and innovative strategies that create a consistent customer experience on voice, mobile, web and social channels, all delivered over our patented Cloud architecture.
From ease of acquisition and deployment to the flexibility to burst and scale your contact center along with your business needs, we’ve made it easy to implement an omni-channel solution that creates cost efficiencies, reduces customer frustration, and gets you closer to the goal of first-contact resolution. The true benefit comes through easy integration of self-service channels, proactive outbound notifications, surveys, Cloud-based workforce management, advanced list management and the ability to integrate one-click contact center access into your mobile applications.
In our new white paper, Zipwire Cloud Contact Center Solution: 11 Key Advantages, learn more about our reliable, secure Cloud architecture and how each of these benefits can bring you closer to understanding the customer journey and aligning your contact center activity with customer needs.
Give it a read, and let us know what you think!
by Guy Cooper, GM Qivox on August 11th, 2014
According to a recent survey conducted by ING, the use of mobile banking has increased significantly, with an estimated 31% of the UK population now using it, while the use of cash has dropped to 46%. I suspect this trend will continue but at an even faster pace, as British customers seek out the quickest, and simplest way to do business with their banks and financial services providers.
The main thing that customers look for these days is a simple and straightforward solution to their problem, not bells and whistles, or “going above and beyond.” Your customers are busy people who don’t want to have to stop their day to talk to you in order to make transactions, which is why we’re seeing such a massive uptick in mobile banking being used to perform financial services.
It’s quick, as secure as it needs to be, and therefore it’s hassle free – and it’s available to anyone, anywhere. Banking has evolved beyond going in to your local branch and using the bank’s website, to every channel possible.
In 2014 most of us are not without our smart phone in our pocket or bag. Banks and financial services providers therefore need to be where their customers are. We’re talking true omni-channel integration of all mobile channels, with no discrepancy in service during a single interaction or across many. It is only when all channels are perceived as one by banks and financial services that customers can be confident enough to say, “Hey, doing business with you is really easy!”
Of course, one idiosyncrasy of the industry is the constant battle to prevent fraud. With mobile, criminals have another medium to potentially exploit. Matching up ease of doing business with the absolute need to authenticate a user is no mean feat, but self-service is helping to strike that balance.
A typical customer conversation that starts on social media, requesting an account change, then moves to email for identity verification, which then may slip into mobile web to request a call back from a live agent to solve more complex queries, is what truly forward thinking financial services firms should be aiming for. The customer has extended very little effort at all, and they skip the contact center queue. In many instances they may not even need to be contacted by a live person, and the business has resolved the query quickly and satisfactorily, with little resource. We then have a happy customer.
The mobile banking revolution is here, and it will continue to change and grow as the technology develops. It is not a time for fear, change is inevitable and those who embrace it will truly reap the rewards.
by Kathleen Schroeder on August 7th, 2014
While many healthcare organizations continue to focus on what happens when patients are physically in the hospital or at the doctor’s office, successful healthcare systems are taking steps to maximize patient engagement and retention before, during and after patient visits.
Let’s take a real-life example to make our point. Meet Karen. She is a typical healthcare consumer. She works hard at her job, and when she’s not, she’s keeping up with her family on her smart phone. At night, she helps her children do their homework and when they’re done, she gets some time to watch TV and browse the internet on her tablet.
Later the next day, Karen is sitting at her doctor’s office, rapidly strumming her fingers on the arm rest of her waiting room chair. Her doctor is uncharacteristically late and she’s getting annoyed. She has access to her tablet but not her corporate email account and is imagining how many emails are piling up. “Why is this taking so long?” she thinks to herself. Then the receptionist calls her over with a forced smile on her face. “I’m sorry, but your doctor has had an emergency come up and will need to reschedule your appointment.” Karen is upset about the amount of time she wasted and leaves without rescheduling.
This wouldn’t have happened if Karen had been proactively notified that her doctor was unavailable and was able to easily reschedule her appointment – in one convenient exchange.
Actively Engage Your Patients
According to HealthSparq, provider-specific studies from Johns Hopkins and the University of Rochester show proactive patient engagement lead to a 30% decrease in patient no-shows. And this isn’t the only benefit to your patients and healthcare system.
Benefits of proactive communication for patients:
- Increase patient engagement by sending educational information based on appointment type
- Remind lab patients of test requirements so their tests remain on schedule
- Provide a secure link that allows patients to reschedule their appointment if necessary
- Allow patients to pre-register for appointments to save time the day of their appointment
- Increase insurance compliance by providing links for patients to update/add insurance information to their profile prior to their appointment
- Provide patient focused information about hours of operation, directions, parking information, upcoming events, new physician announcements
Benefits of proactive communication for providers:
- Reduce ‘no show’ rates by allowing patients to reschedule before hand
- Improve patient arrival times, keeping you on schedule
- Increase number of patients seen and ultimately your revenue stream
- Capture lost staff and physician time by automating patient communications
- Reduce front office workload, while simultaneously increasing the frequency and quality of patient communication.
- Ease patient access to commonly requested information such as hours of operation and improve call routing when human assistance is required
Long-term benefits for both patients and providers:
- Get patients into the system quickly and efficiently
- Create long-term loyalty between patients and providers
- Provide more accurate schedules for providers
- Deliver value-based care focused on preserving wellness and preventing readmissions
- Improve patient adherence to their care plan
- Increase awareness of and participation in wellness programs that will improve overall population health
- Follow-up with patients about their clinical well-being after an emergency department visit, a hospital admission, or even a routine visit for a chronic condition.
- Increase access by freeing up appointment time for new patients
- Reduce billing inquiries and insurance payment delays
- Improve profitability and ROI
Keeping patients like Karen engaged and loyal to your healthcare system is vitally important to your long-term financial viability. The significance of patient communication in reaching this goal cannot be overstated. It costs 90%less to get current patients to return for future care than it does to attract new ones. The real value of a solid proactive outreach effort comes from the ability to deliver a quality patient experience that alleviates lost revenue because of factors such as low HCAHPS scores or attrition.
Be proactive, your patients will thank you for it.
by Maddy Hubbard on August 6th, 2014
Last year, over 30% of businesses had already implemented Cloud-based contact center solutions, and another 30% now have current budgets in place to begin taking advantage of the many benefits offered by Cloud technology.
Research conducted by International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) highlights both the challenges contact centers face and the specific benefits that can be achieved by moving key functions to the Cloud. Greater simplicity, integration, agility, insight and security are all possible with a lightweight, scalable Cloud solution like Aspect’s Zipwire – one that’s designed to meet the unique challenges facing today’s contact centers and agents.
Check out the infographic below, and discover the many ways your contact center could benefit from a simple, Cloud-based offering like Aspect’s Zipwire solution.
by John Amein, VP Product Management on August 5th, 2014
Recently, Speech Technology Magazine awarded Aspect a Star Performer Award for advances in multi-channel and speech analytics. In light of this honor, it seems appropriate to reflect on the state of the industry and where it’s heading, particularly the use of speech recognition for self-service.
Speech recognition, understanding what someone is saying using computers or Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), is computationally intensive and must rely on highly imperfect input. Imagine how hard typing out a document would be if your keyboard was susceptible to background noise and a loud thump in the background caused your ‘p’ to turn into a ‘c’. This is further compounded for a contact center that connects people to agents over a telephone because the telephone network limits the bandwidth of a call to only 4 kHz. As a result, ASR has never truly delivered on its promise of the late 90’s to enable even more natural language self-service.
The constraints of limited bandwidth over the telephone network will continue to limit the accuracy and efficacy of ASR as we know it in the contact center. In contrast, speech input directly to an iPhone or a computer with a reasonably good microphone that has a bandwidth four times that of the phone network means the speech recognition technology has a great deal more information available to make decisions. Having so much more information for processing is one of the main reasons that Apple’s Siri and now Google’s “Ok Google” are so much more accurate than telephone-based ASR.
However, the future of telephony means that ASR may yet become far more useful and prevalent than it is today. People are now comfortable using Skype and Lync and other VoIP services over the computer to talk to one another. WebRTC, a new standard for letting a web browser use the audio and video capabilities of a computer, takes this a step further. Without any downloads, a WebRTC-enabled browser like Chrome and Firefox enable a user to connect to another WebRTC device with high quality audio and video. As WebRTC and other high bandwidth Voice over IP communication channels become the norm over the next five years, a “phone call” will be a WebRTC call with higher bandwidth and thus more information for the ASR engine to process, giving the ASR engine a much greater probability of recognizing speech accurately.
Therefore, after years of mixed results, I predict that over the next several years, as we begin talking to one another over higher fidelity connections, whether computer browser or mobile device, we will see a re-birth, a true renaissance, in ASR in the contact center. It will become a must-have for every company. What is going to be even more fun, however, is that not only will we see a renaissance for ASR, we will see an explosion in the value of voice biometrics and speech analytics, both of which also will benefit strongly from higher fidelity audio compared to the telephone call of today. These also will become essential for every business.
So stay close to Aspect, and true to our mission of making it easy for you to engage with your customers, we’ll keep you informed about ongoing developments in speech as well as help you deploy speech technology in ways that will help you in your business.
by Tobias Goebel on August 1st, 2014
For the longest time, we have looked at how to complement human labor in the contact center with computer programs – to reduce costs, provide 24×7 service, and offer quicker access to basic information. IVR systems are the prime example of technology that complements human service by pre-qualifying a caller through some simple questions and routing them to the right agent. What we have been finding until recently is that customers usually preferred the “human touch” over automation. The terms “automation,” “bots,” or ”IVR” tend to come with heavily negative connotations. TV ads have been mocking bad IVR systems and showing off with short wait times to get to live operators. Websites such as gethuman.com have been launched to show consumers how to quickest get to an operator.
As another example of how technology is complementing human labor, let’s look at the agent workplace itself. In the contact center, agents are equipped with Internet access, dedicated knowledge bases, document management systems, CRM systems, and more, to have the answer to the customer’s question ready as quickly as possible.
All of this, however, is slowly changing. Rather than having machines assist humans, we’re slowly entering the era of the reverse: algorithm-based customer service, assisted by humans to put the “finishing touches” on an otherwise increasingly impeccable experience. Virtual assistants on websites are recently gaining in popularity as they expose a more natural interface (conversational, “spoken language” style) to finding information vs. manual search. The younger demographic prefers texting to calling. The older ones seem to catch up and agree. We are now carefully sending a text first to check if it is OK to call. What a remarkable change in behavior and expectations!
Why is this change happening?
First and foremost: the mobility revolution. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 has truly brought the mass consumer market to realize the power of computer technology if applied to their daily lives. For the first time ever did the Internet, an invention that in its current form came into being around 1989, find its way into a pocket-sized device without compromising the user experience. More and more people realized that with a mobile device of this form factor, they had the world of information and communication literally at their fingertips. It suddenly became cool to be a nerd – a person who understands and can program computers. Consumers now seem to shout ”give me an app, I can look this up quicker than your agents!” at any company they do business with.
Other enhancements came with the iPhone and Apple’s insistence on quality user experiences. Siri, Apple’s speech assistant, is only possible as general-purpose data connectivity and required bandwidths allowed overcoming the restrictions of the PSTN (public switched telephone network) in terms of what sound frequency ranges it submits. Sounds such as “s”, “f”, or “th” differ in frequency ranges that are simply cut off in normal telephony (above 8 kHz). Siri can submit the full range of an utterance recording in high definition, which improves speech recognition accuracy. Cloud computing does its share to quickly respond with a transcription of what was said, of which Siri then applies a semantic analysis to truly “understand” the user – at least to the extent that it can perform the operation the user asked for.
Big Data and today’s capability to automatically farm large quantities of data contribute to making systems such as Siri more and more perfect. The formula is simple: the more context you have, the better you can understand someone. While this is even more true for pragmatic context (i.e. dialog history and “world” knowledge), it is even important in the phonetic domain alone. As an example: try to understand a few words of a spoken conversation by only hearing a second or so of what was said. If you don’t have any context at all, you will realize it’s not that easy to do. However, if you heard the domain and topic the conversation is about, and heard what the immediately neighboring words were, your brain uses deduction and other mental techniques in addition to the pure “hearing”, to understand an utterance.
What does all of this have to do with customer service?
Recently, companies and technologies have emerged that invert the paradigm of machines helping humans become better. There are companies out there in the field of IVR technology that are running call centers of people that do nothing but listen to what people tell IVR systems. They never talk to the callers directly, they are merely jumping in if automated speech recognition cannot tell what a caller said, or isn’t confident enough it understood the caller properly (speech recognition engines always associate a likelihood with a recognition hypothesis). When hearing an utterance, they then either quickly type in what they heard, so that the IVR system can move forward, or they click on predefined data items (the so-called “semantic interpretation” of a verbatim utterance) that are expected in the current dialog step. This is a case of “human-assisted machine service” in the field of customer service that is an amazing testament to the change that is taking place.
After great success on TV’s “Jeopardy,” IBM released Watson to developers to build applications that use Watson’s unique cognitive capabilities in creative new ways. A prime use case for Watson, however, is customer service. When done right, Watson can engage with customers, say through chat on a website, as if the customer was talking to a live person. Watson doesn’t merely bring up Web pages that seem to have the information you are asking for – it answers your question. Something that Google also increasingly does on their core search product (try searching for “who wrote Norwegian Wood,” and Google will answer your question – in addition to showing you relevant websites). Watson goes beyond Google, though, in that it can ask back to narrow down your question, to lead you to the right answer. It can deduce. It can learn. Like a child absorbing everything, or a very astute student. Most importantly: Watson learns from unstructured data, i.e. data expressed in human language such as English. That’s a new level of computing, beyond plain big data analysis.
With Watson, humans again take a step back from the spotlight, and operate “behind the scenes.” They need to feed Watson with information, constantly. Watson doesn’t go out by itself to learn. Watson needs to be fed product brochures, manuals, data sheets, research papers, books, etc. Anything that is relevant for the domain of knowledge Watson is operating in.
This is the emerging new role of humans in customer service: make sure that the data is accurate, but let machines do the “talking” and “serving.” Humans then also step in when that “human touch” is really needed: Not to answer the simple questions, but to mitigate in complex situations, to calm down angry customers, to provide a level of confidence and confidentiality when needed, e.g. in the domain of financial advising.
It’s going to be exciting to see what the limits are.
by Jim Freeze, SVP, CMO on July 30th, 2014
Customers are the backbone of every business, but every day we hear about people who believe they have been mistreated or pushed around by companies, sometimes even their favorite brands. On the bright side, you also hear stories about companies that have gone above and beyond to give a customer an amazing experience. I decided to take a look at two recent, notable customer service “wins and fails” to see what brands are doing right and wrong when it comes to delighting customers.
We all hate those trendy restaurants that don’t take reservations, and always seem to have hour-long waits – even on weekdays. Robb Myer, a Pittsburgh native, recently came up with the idea for a consumer-facing app called NoWait that allows diners to look up the next available open table at a restaurant and add their name to the waiting list before they physically need to be there. Restaurant giants including Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili’s and First Watch all subscribe to NoWait to make their diners’ experience more convenient and stress-free. While NoWait sounds similar to Open Table, the service is free for most restaurants and costs from $59 to $199 a month for the busiest restaurants.
What did we learn?
Smart devices have created a generation of hyper-connected, empowered consumers who are used to making their own rules and interacting with brands on their own terms. Finding a way to become the intermediary between restaurant and consumer, from a customer service perspective, this app brings both every day technology and innovation to the dining experience. For the companies who have been slow to respond to shifts in the customer-company relationship, where consumers want quick and seamless service via the devices and channels they already use, the growing trend of restaurants subscribing to NoWait is a positive sign that more food brands are realizing the importance of giving consumers back control.
Virgin Airlines has always been known as the “trendy” airline, and the brand certainly lived up to that image with this initiative. Virgin Atlantic recently announced a six-week Google Glass trial that has been immensely popular among customers. The airline uses the Google Glass technology to check in passengers, update their itineraries, supply them with weather forecasts of their destination, inform them of dietary restrictions and even help them translate phrases in different languages for international customers. Though this technology is only being used on Virgin’s first class lounge on international flights, this is still a great example of how Virgin has taken the customer experience to a whole new level by creating a truly unique, personalized and innovative experience for every passenger.
What did we learn?
Virgin took early advantage of a new, sought-after product, demonstrating the company’s ability to not only be ahead of the curve technologically, but also to be predictive and proactive in the most innovative of ways in addressing its customers flying needs. As technology and thus consumer expectations evolve, so does the customer experience and Virgin is doing just that.
To sum it up
Looking back on the customer service stories we have seen over the past month, it’s clear that technology is driving the customer service revolution. New technologies are enabling companies to make the customer experience smarter and more personalized, which customers clearly appreciate. With smarter technology, it’s that much more important to have a proactive outreach strategy. Customers continue to expect more from brands, and companies will only keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology by being one step ahead of consumer needs and concerns. Have you had an amazing customer service experience recently that was driven by smarter technology and proactive outreach?