by Kim Martin on October 29th, 2014
As the traditional and at one time strong competitive advantages of companies become commoditized, the customer experience is emerging as the new battleground for winning business and maintaining consumer loyalty. Functionality isn’t enough. Having the lowest pricing isn’t enough and neither are cosmetic improvements to service. Today’s digital savvy consumer wants service through their channel of choice, they want personalized interactions that demonstrate a company they do business with knows who they are and how they’ve interacted with them in the past, and they want the experience to be familial; effortless; exceptional.
But ask any contact center leader and they’ll tell you: providing effortless service across an increasing number of touch points isn’t always easy. It requires modern systems that are tightly integrated with each other and your data. It can also require big investments at a time when companies are tightly managing budgets and resources.
How can the cloud help balance the need to deliver great service with costs?
The opportunity to shift from a CAPEX model to an OPEX model is just one of the reasons why companies are migrating their contact centers to the cloud. An OPEX model eliminates large, upfront investments in hardware and underlying infrastructure, and frees cash for other projects. It also eliminates ongoing datacenter, software, hardware and related maintenance costs. And that is just the start. Here are some other ways that a cloud contact center can help you deliver better service at a lower cost.
1. Keep up with consumer expectations. Consumers today are talking, texting, tweeting, chatting and more. Are you ready to take engage them? Are your competitors a step ahead? A cloud solution makes it easier and faster to adopt and integrate new self-service and agent interaction channels – ensuring consumers can contact you however they choose and that they receive a seamless, “omni-channel” experience as they move from channel to channel.
2. Drive value through agility. How quickly can you adapt to changes in your business environment? A cloud solution enables quick, cost-efficient responses to change, is able to scale quickly to support the creation of time-sensitive marketing promotions, and supports large-scale proactive notifications that reduce inbound inquiries and customer frustration. Plus, the cloud removes complexity, making it easier for companies to develop, test and deploy new, innovative service-focused applications.
3. Pay only for the capacity you need. A SaaS cloud solution enables businesses to pay for the capacity needed today and easily scale as requirements change. In a premises solution, companies must accurately predict for future needs – often resulting in overprovisioning or worse, ending up with too little capacity, missed business opportunities and frustrated customers.
4. Improve availability with built-in disaster recovery. A cloud solution enables comprehensive disaster recovery without the cost of deploying and maintaining redundant IT infrastructure. Look for a solution with a 100% uptime service level agreement. A cloud contact center also supports web-based agent, supervisor and administrative capabilities so that your operations can continue seamlessly from anywhere in the event your primary contact center site is inaccessible.
5. Eliminate upgrades and obsolescence cycles. A cloud contact center eliminates downtime and IT cost associated with upgrades and compatibility. In the cloud, new features and fixes are immediately available. A cloud solution also future proofs the contact center investment – keeping companies from becoming “stuck” with aging technology that doesn’t meet the needs of the business or its consumers.
6. Lower telco costs. Some cloud providers can pass along telco savings gained from running very high traffic volume for many companies. For example, Aspect runs billions of minutes annually and our cloud customers have seen savings of 38%-50% over their current telecom expenditures.
Today’s consumers move at an alarming speed and they expect the companies they patronize to keep pace. Cloud migration gives enterprises the speed and nimbleness to meet their rising demands.
You can learn more about how cloud and hosted contact center deployment options can help you improve the customer experience while streamlining agent costs on Aspect’s upcoming webinar, CFO Perspective: Contact Center Economics and the Cloud.
by Christine OBrien on October 29th, 2014
Halloween is the perfect time to talk about “horror stories” in customer service. We’ve all had the occasional run-in with a particularly unhelpful agent, or found ourselves trapped in the dreaded infinite IVR loop. We can laugh about it, but today’s customers are actually far less forgiving of these experiences than buyers of the past, and they’re more likely to take to social media networks and start naming names. On average, each unhappy customer tells about 15 people about the experience – compared with telling 9 others about a great one.
The infographic below highlights a couple of important statistics like these to “beware” of as we head into the all-important holiday selling season this year. We’re serious about giving you the tools you need to protect your brand and deliver the kind of experiences that are a delight (not fright!) to your customers. Learn more about how Aspect can help.
by Rebecca Anderson on October 27th, 2014
Creating an omni-channel customer experience that actually meets your customers’ desires is more involved than haphazardly adding new communication channels to your contact center as soon as they pop up. We’ve long discussed the consumer demand for an omni-channel customer experience, being able to contact customer service on one channel and seamlessly switch to another, yet there are components that are still left in silos (see ‘Why Mobile Isn’t a Channel’ post), concerns over the cost, or simply forgetting self-service altogether. Take a look at our recent omni-channel blogs to see the latest best practices in the contact center, there’s even an example of a company who nailed omni-channel customer service.
While many vendors in the customer engagements industry look at mobile as a communications channel for customers, most consumers do not. A convincing and appealing mobile customer experience must leverage all channels available on a mobile device so it is misleading to consider “mobile” a channel… [READ MORE]
Keeping pace with trends in customer experience is no easy task. Customers want automation and self-service that makes their lives easier, but they also want a personalized experience. These demands aren’t as contradictory as they might seem. I recently talked in-depth in an interview with Frost & Sullivan about trends in automated customer care, including many of the ways IVR technology is allowing us to deliver the kind of automated customer care… [READ MORE]
In 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… [READ MORE]
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… [READ MORE]
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… [READ MORE]
Have more questions about omni-channel contact management and how to deliver a consistently excellent experience across every point of interaction with your customers? Find out how Aspect can help!
by Tim Dreyer on October 22nd, 2014
Some deals, contact center promotions included, are just too good to be true. And cloud contact center promotions are certainly no exception. This is probably why organizations who manage customer facing operations and are looking to upgrade their contact center platform struggle with figuring out the real costs behind confusing cloud promos, long-term contracts, add-on capabilities and trying to figure out why set-up fees are so high. How can they safely figure out whether a cloud or hosted solution is right for their business? Or do should they stay on premises?
This is why Aspect created the Ask a CFO program to help companies navigate through the nonsense. Ask a CFO program is a CFO resource and promotion built by a CFO for CFOs; built in fact by Aspect’s own CFO Bob Krakauer. It was designed to help companies understand the economic value of upgrading technology, sift through the important business and financial considerations, and assist them in comparing the total cost of ownership of on-premises versus cloud or hosted solution.
An ever-increasing number of communication options and rapidly evolving technologies only complicate this decision. So what does a person need to know? Where do they start?
A good place to begin is to dive into Bob’s answers to Common Cloud Questions. Here you’ll find insight into such nagging mysteries such as:
- How might your costs may differ in years one, two, three and beyond – especially if you are taking advantage of promotional pricing?
- How can I avoid contracts that require all implementation and support services fees to be paid up front? Don’t get burned and left without leverage when a provider doesn’t meet its promises.
- How do I avoid add-on costs?
Next, immerse yourself into the Cloud Checklist for Success. Here you’ll find out:
- How the move from a CAPEX model to an OPEX model impacts financial planning
- What factors should go into a contact center TCO analysis
- How can a cloud solution increase your time to value
Ask a CFO offers compelling incentives on Aspect’s Cloud and hosted solutions. You can read Bob’s answers to Common Cloud Questions, check out his Cloud Checklist for Success or attend Bob’s webinar: CFO Perspective: Contact Center Economics and the Cloud on December 2nd, 2:00 PM ET.
by Maddy Hubbard on October 20th, 2014
The reflective, bean-shaped sculpture that twists and reflects the city skyline back to visitors of Chicago’s Millenium Park is typically called exactly what it looks like: “the Bean.” Few visitors or locals are aware that the work’s actual name is Cloud Gate.
By the same token, customers are not really aware that their calls are being handled via a cloud-based contact center rather than through on-site software or systems. From the customer’s perspective, it is the end experience that matters. As long as the call, email or chat inquiry is still being answered by a capable agent in a timely manner, they don’t need to know what to call any of the systems or processes underlying the resolution of their issue.
1. Enhancing financial flexibility
The cloud contact center model enables businesses to avoid the initial, up-front capital expenditures of investing in an in-house system. Instead, a subscription basis carries a lower long-term commitment and the ability to scale costs according to actual utilization. Scalability and “burstability” in response to customer demand is a key benefit of the cloud, and enables businesses to quickly allocate or eliminate additional resources as needed. Rather than paying a fixed rate for services whether they are used or not, companies pay according to utilization and it is often a much more cost-effective approach. Aberdeen found a significantly greater improvement (decrease) in customer care expenses among cloud contact center users than those using in-house systems (4.8% vs. 2.1%).
2. Improving the customer experience
Aberdeen’s research reveals that businesses who have adopted cloud contact center technology outpace in-house users in key performance metrics that measure customer satisfaction, such as customer retention (64% vs. 51%) and year-over-year change in first-contact resolution rates (-0.8 vs. 5.2%). Satisfied customers remain loyal customers, which speaks to the ability of cloud contact center users to deliver an overall positive customer experience.
Given cloud users’ advances in both of these areas, these findings suggest that cloud-enabled businesses are able to take advantage of cost savings to fund and further drive initiatives designed to enhance the customer experience, which then leads to greater customer retention and loyalty. This type of initiative might involve formulating new, more efficient processes or replacing updated technology. (Not unlike “upgrading” from a point-and-click to a smart phone camera. Ahem. That’s what you call an old-school selfie, kids.)
The benefits of the cloud to your organization and your customers are the same whether or not your customers know where your platform “lives” or what to call it. The deployment method you choose doesn’t change customer expectations. But it does provide your business with more options.
by Tobias Goebel on October 13th, 2014
While many vendors in the customer engagements industry look at mobile as a communications channel for customers, most consumers do not. A convincing and appealing mobile customer experience must leverage all channels available on a mobile device so it is misleading to consider “mobile” a channel, or assume that smart phones will drastically simplify how to serve customers in the contact center. Smart phones are a platform supporting multiple methods of communication, and each supported channel has its own benefits and reasons to exist.
So within the mobile platform, contact centers still need to be ready to support a variety of communication channels:
- SMS is the channel that allows the most concise, to-the-point communication. It can handle simple questions and short interactions best. It also gets the most immediate attention when sent outbound: 90% of all SMS is read by the intended recipient within 3 minutes, and 99% of all SMS are opened (but be careful not to overuse SMS for marketing purposes – we don’t want this precious channel to “wear off”). By nature, SMS tends to be a real-time communication channel.
- Chat (web chat, IM) is similar in nature to SMS in that it is a channel typically for pure textual communication, but it doesn’t have the length restrictions of SMS and therefore works best for longer dialogs required for slightly more complex issues. Chat is a pure real-time communication channel.
- Social networks, specifically Twitter, are again textual and therefore similar to SMS and chat, but add a social component to the mix – messages exchanged here are visible by the public, until they are carried to Twitter’s private DM (direct message) channel. Social networks are therefore good for peer service (asking friends or other customers for help), as well as for the dreaded public complaint. Social networks as a communication channel are typically asynchronous in nature.
- Mobile native or web apps (this includes websites meant for the “big screen”), a pure self-service channel. All of the other channels mentioned here can originate from apps.
- Email is still a great medium for sending “letters of complaint” in which you want to elaborate on an issue, or when you need to attach images or files with your inquiry. Email is an asynchronous communication channel.
- Calls (including video calls) are increasingly becoming a customer’s “last resort” when needing help. When all other channels fail to resolve an issue, customers switch to using the good old “phone” channel to discuss matters “in person,” with the agent, who is now considered an expert – as most issues can nowadays be resolved through self-service. I put “phone” in quotation marks, as voice/video calls can also originate from other sources, e.g. a web browser on a laptop, or a mobile app on a tablet.
I believe none of these channels will truly “go away” despite the proliferation of smart phones, as there are reasons to exist for all of them. If anything, the messaging channels of SMS (as well as USSD or joyn/RCS) and chat could collapse into one in the long run. Trends such as Over-The-Top (OTT) messaging services slowly replacing the carriers’ SMS point in that direction.
The problem you therefore need to solve in your contact center is how to offer and manage conversations on multiple channels, while preserving context and transaction history among them, and also when switching from self-service to live service. This is the omni-channel challenge.
by John Amein, VP Product Management on October 8th, 2014
Over many years of my career, I’ve seen a lot of RFPs, mostly on the sell side but also on the buy side. One of the memorable RFP moments for me came from the late 90’s when we hired a new product manager. He came from a large company, the kind that had more than 100,000 employees. We were in the midst of responding to an RFP, and he was talking about his experience on the buy side with one of the vendors’ responses that impressed him. “… and their response was awesome. It was this thick,” he said while holding his fingers three inches apart.
Really? That’s how you measured your vendors? Did anyone actually read the response?
But that’s the way it was done. Companies regularly made, and still make, huge software decisions based on RFP responses, presentations, and site visits. Why? Because enterprise software has always been so complex and unwieldy to implement that as a buyer, you could never actually use the real thing.
That’s what I see changing. The expectation for software for the enterprise is that it must be easier to use. We are pushing the envelope on this concept by offering an instant, free 30-day trial for Zipwire, our new cloud contact center. This no-contract, no-strings-attached trial is a rarity in the industry, in comparison to others which require talking to a rep and having an environment set up for you – or worse, claiming to offer a certain period “free” only by rolling the cost into future billing cycles. I’m seeing companies to whom we sell conducting intensive, real-world trials to compare different solutions. And if the software is not reasonably easy to use, that weakness comes through right away, generally leading to the right conclusion that the software probably is not that well engineered.
Will the RFP disappear? No, but I do hope that we will see it become less important as a document to understand the software capability as companies get smarter about insisting their software providers make it easy to try the real thing.
by Rebecca Anderson on October 6th, 2014
Equipping your agents with the right social media management software has meant great things for customer contact and the customer experience overall. As customer behavior has shifted to reflect a growing interest in social engagement, it makes sense for businesses to incorporate social CRM tools into their overall customer care approach. Many business leaders ranked customer engagement at the top of their priorities for 2014. So if social engagement has been part of your plan, now is a good time to evaluate performance against existing benchmarks and make any necessary course corrections to ensure the best possible outcomes.
Keep social customer service on track with the steps to success outlined by Aberdeen.
Of course, simply implementing social customer service software doesn’t mean that you’ll experience maximum benefits. Results are strongly correlated with the ability to use the software effectively. Once you’ve established a strategy and outlined the plan for managing your social media software, the next step is to use the right ingredients to manage customer data from the system and to empower your agents to give exceptional service.
Knowledge is power. Know how best-in-class companies are managing social customer data.
Managing customer data effectively is a key component of omni-channel customer service. It is easier said than done, however. Aberdeen found that best-in-class companies relied on three key capabilities to manage customer data flows across company systems:
- 83% Centralized knowledgebase of product/service information
- 83% Data from social customer care interactions shared with non-contact center staff
- 56% Access to all customer information on a single screen/desktop
Even the best system for managing customer data will be of little use if the agent does not have easy access to the information. If a customer has to wait for the agent to log into and out of systems, it increases the handle time and likely increases customer frustration as well. Top performing companies enable their agents to deliver timely, consistent, and personalized service through social media management tools, such as:
- 82% Agents are provided with a detailed view of customer transactional data via the agent desktop
- 71% Updates made on agent desktop as part of social customer care activities roll back into other enterprise systems
- 58% Agents are immediately alerted to re-engage a customer sharing negative comments via social media
For more details on how you can maximize the benefits of your social media management tools, read the full report from Aberdeen, Social Customer Care: Steps to Success in 2014, compliments of Aspect.
by Kathleen Schroeder on October 2nd, 2014
Managing a staff and their performance is tough. Managing the same staff in a healthcare contact center is tough and complex. Your healthcare system’s contact center staff is often your patient’s’ primary touch point. Yet somewhere along the line, they became guardians of handle times and hold times, rather than of the relationship between patients and providers. To have a successful staff that fosters the patient-provider relationship, your managers need the right training – better known as the Healthcare Call Center Management Boot Camp.
This Boot Camp explores the intricate world of care coordination, triple aim compliance, and call center service levels and personnel engagement. Enable your managers to harness the synergy that arises from linking soft skills, technical skills, and a deep commitment to key performance indicators.
This Boot Camp has 7 components that are key determinants in successfully managing a healthcare contact center:
1. Contact Center Operations
The contact center world is very different from clinical operations. Your staff is expected to perform at a high level of quality while maintaining a low abandonment rate. The contact center will flourish because you have the capability to standardize workflows and cross train your workforce. As a healthcare contact center manager, you must simultaneously appreciate clinical operations and have the creativity to meet the needs of varying disease lines without creating multiple workflows that prohibit cross training.
2. Workforce and Absence Management
Staffing and trending is a pivotal part of contact center management. Understanding the ebbs and flows of call volumes, seasonal trends along with behavior patterns of specific patient demographics allow your managers to construct accurate staffing plans. Accuracy in forecasting and shrinkage management goes a long way to ensure that your staff has work-life balance. When your staff has a level, consistent workload and the ability to take time off, they are less likely to burnout and leave their position. When attrition does occur, recruitment of appropriate candidates is critical to ensure that 90% of your positions are filled at all times. Strong relationships with recruiters will make this process easier to manage.
3. Interval and Intraday Reporting
Contact center staffing is very dynamic and varies greatly from one 15 minute interval to the next. You must be adept at using trends to forecast staffing needs by 15 minute intervals to give your managers the opportunity to shift staff to cross-cover during peaks on a specific service, utilize an overflow service to take additional calls, employ members of an internal float pool, or, activate a queue optimizer to level call volumes. These strategies ensure that no patient is left hanging on the line during a time that may be critical to their personal well-being.
4. Quality Assurance and Quality Management
Soft skills are just as important as technical accuracy in a healthcare organization. Your training program ensures that your management staff has the skill set to determine key communication points during the call to capture insurance information, patient demographics and potentially complaints while maintaining a professional and empathetic tone. Creating a quality assurance program allows your managers to educate their staff on proper techniques for extracting valuable pieces of information while assuring patients or the referring providers. This process ensures that the agents project the image and vision of the healthcare organization through the telephone. Quality Management takes quality assurance to the next level of performance. It establishes targets and expectations that increase incrementally as the staff becomes more comfortable with quality assurance touch points. Your managers will need to simultaneously be teachers, coaches and motivators to drive their staff to the next level of performance. Management through consistency, honestly and understanding will be critical to the ongoing success of the quality management portion of the Boot Camp.
5. Disease Management Discussions
Agents and managers must have empathy for the struggles that patients go through to combat their illness. Discussions with caregivers can open the agent and the management’s eyes to crucial details surrounding the patients’ mood, questions and needs. These meetings allow members of the clinical team and staff to connect and form a bond. Healthy dialogue creates mutual understanding of the clinic’s model of operation along with the contact center’s tools and patient support techniques.
6. Agent Performance Dashboard
Your managers must ensure that your staff understands that their individual performance has a tremendous impact the healthcare contact center’s performance. Weekly meetings are critical to discuss performance within service levels, accuracy within tasks, soft skills and quality assurance. Managing an employee’s expectations and linking their performance and behavior to the vision of the organization promotes buy in, decreases role ambiguity, and promotes consistency and trust. Communication about difficult topics becomes routine and ensures that fairness and equality are prevalent.
7. Employee Engagement and Activities
Taking call after call can be monotonous. To relieve some of the tedium and stress, you need to remember to have some fun during the work day! Empower your staff to plan small diversions on a weekly basis. Your managers should promote humor, education, communication and team building. These are basic needs that transform your contact center from a tiring workplace to a nurturing environment. Assisting critical and terminal patients can take a toll on morale; your staff must receive positive reinforcement, rewards and recognition for their acts of valor, kindness, compassion and advocacy. Promoting engagement allows your managers to encourage their staff to have a passion and love for their jobs and the patients they serve.
Now that you have had a glimpse of our Boot Camp, are you ready to get started? Find out how Aspect can help! The right training for your managers will ensure that your patients, caregivers and employees are pleased with their outcomes.
by Tobias Goebel on September 30th, 2014
Keeping pace with trends in customer experience is no easy task. Customers want automation and self-service that makes their lives easier, but they also want a personalized experience. These demands aren’t as contradictory as they might seem.
I recently talked in-depth in an interview with Frost & Sullivan about trends in automated customer care, including many of the ways IVR technology is allowing us to deliver the kind of automated customer care that also delivers personalized service valued by today’s consumers.
Below are a few of the trends spotlighted from the interview, exploring what’s possible with IVR solutions.
Trend #1: Customers are seeking their own answers to their questions first
Chances are, by the time a customer calls your company to ask a question, they have already exhausted all of the avenues of information readily available to them. They are using search engines like Google, posting their questions on support forums and asking their peers on social networks. In this sense, the agent at the contact center has been elevated in the customer’s mind to the “authority” on the subject. This is the person to call when all else fails or when they’ve received conflicting information and need clarification. So if you know that customers are frequently calling in with a similar question that can be answered through an IVR or by directing your customer to an agent who is an expert on that subject, you can elevate customer satisfaction by being proactive.
Trend #2: Companies that don’t offer self-service channels may be driving business to competitors
Because so many more customers prefer to engage on their own terms and find answers via the method they choose rather than be forced to call customer service, failing to offer self-service options can easily result in frustrated customers who would rather contact a competitor via web chat or Twitter than call your 800 number. By the same token, if and when customers do pick up the phone, the ideal interactive voice response system should be one that guides them to a resolution as quickly and smoothly as possible rather than presenting additional obstacles or challenges.
Trend #3: Omni-channel customer care can help preserve the context of IVR interactions
Nothing seems to frustrate a customer more than having to repeat information. Today’s customers fully expect businesses to have their data available and on file, ready to assist with problems that arise. They become frustrated with having to repeat account numbers or other identifying information to IVR systems and then to live agents when they expect this data to carry over from one point in the conversation to the next. This is where SMS and mobile applications have the potential to even more seamlessly connect interactions, beginning with proactive outreach and engaging the consumer, requesting information about the issue which would then connect the customer to an IVR and route him or her to the appropriate agent if necessary, never losing any of the information provided by the consumer.
Trend # 4: Personalized prompts can make the IVR experience more dynamic
The more information you have about your customer, the greater the opportunity to deliver personalization in the prompts and menu options you present when a customer calls in to the IVR. For example, if a customer previously called a bank to check his or her account balance, you might be able to offer this as a first option on the next call. It’s all about using the customer data that you have in an intelligent way that enhances and reinforces your existing relationship.
For more on these trends and additional insights into automated customer care, read the full interview by Frost & Sullivan.