by Amy Wagner on March 30th, 2012
A very wise person I know recently said, “The healthcare system in the US is designed to fix problems after they occur. With few exceptions, patients are accustomed to waiting until something is really painful, bloody, or non-functioning before they seek medical attention.”
Speaking of which… I went rollerblading over the weekend (I know) and not even my pride came back unscathed. I limped home with friction burns and bruises where I didn’t even know it was possible to contact the pavement. This was days ago, but you wouldn’t believe how much it still hurts! And I have a slowly healing wound on my knee that I’m using to scare the neighborhood children. So am I going to see a doctor? Ha. Of course not.
In the wings now is a Supreme Court decision weighing in on several provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), most notably its mandatory individual insurance coverage mandate and Medicaid expansion at the state level. Challenges raised this past week by Florida and 25 other states and business groups have brought into question the constitutionality of these provisions, which, if ruled out of the law, would then require justices to determine how much of the Act could be salvaged without the inclusion of those provisions.
The intent of the PPACA is to protect all Americans as patients. This means providing sustainable access to affordable health coverage, guaranteeing gapless care for the most vulnerable patients and providing new ways to bring costs down while improving the quality of care. To counteract the optimism, there are also plenty of dismal predictions about how PPACA will overwhelm existing programs and coerce individuals into purchasing plans they can’t afford.
If the legislation does go into effect as planned, I’m sure we can all anticipate some bumps along the way. (After all, being Americans, we did wait until the system was really painful, bloody, and non-functioning before attempting to fix it.) But healthcare is a business, plain and simple. Health plans should start looking for ways now to safeguard business operations against upcoming proposed changes so they don’t find themselves at odds with the interests of the patients they serve.
What impact can plans expect?
Currently, there are four widely diverse classifications for health plan members covered by insurance companies and providers:
- Members covered under a current employer plan
- Members covered under a current retiree plan
- Members who were covered under an employer plan and lost their job and need to self-insure
- Members who are currently self-insured and are looking for a better deal
In its current incarnation, PPACA will go into effect in 2014 bringing a fifth classification of “member” into existence:
5. Potential members who were previously ineligible for traditional coverage due to financial ineligibility or pre-existing conditions
With the right planning, advance action and creativity, states should be able to stay ahead of, anticipate and divert much of their increased member service workload.
As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the ways to achieve this will be through cost-effective and operationally efficient member self-service channels. Solutions such as those offered by Aspect provide the ability for individuals to seamlessly transition from online self-service to agent support, without losing track of the interaction.
In addition, some states such as Florida are planning to launch a state health insurance exchange, and others are participating in Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs,) care management systems comprised of networks of local healthcare providers.
Of course I’m not going to see a doctor about my knee. I’m being dramatic; it’s actually healing up fine. I don’t need a doctor to tell me that, but I know there are some people with insurance who probably do. That’s the balance in the system right now. If my knee was turning ugly and I didn’t have insurance, then would I see a doctor? I’m not sure. I have a feeling I would wait it out a lot longer if I knew there was no insurance card in my wallet.
We’ll be talking much more in-depth on this topic at the upcoming panel discussion, Tackling the Business Impact of Healthcare Reform at 2 pm CDT on April 12. Be sure to register, if you haven’t already.
by Tim Dreyer on March 29th, 2012
“Everybody wants in ta da act.”
This was the famous go-to line of vaudevillian and golden-age-of-cinema actor Jimmy Durante when some star-struck member of the audience wanted to crowd the stage with him. It seemed metaphorical for this year’s Enterprise Connect event.
Case in point, on day two, rather than a VP of Vendor, Inc. or a high-priced motivational speaker, Tuesday’s program began with an end-user panel of decision-makers who voiced concerns, talked about their organizational challenges and willingly shared their insight on the most pressing issues in the industry: Cloud, BYOD, and interoperability. Among them were:
- Alan Levine, CIO at The Kennedy Center
- Barry Libenson, Sr. VP and CIO at Land O’Lakes
- James Druzbik, VP of Information Systems at Group 1 Automotive
- Stuart Shirai, Manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Hawai‘i
- Donna Zett, CIO at AOT Bedding
They took that stage normally occupied by vendors and gave a rousing performance. End-users want in to the act because when they are, they are heard; they want contact and unified solutions that are designed with their needs in mind. They wanted in to the act. And we welcome them.
And look at everybody wanting in to the Cloud. As Sheila McGee-Smith noted on her NoJitter.com post, a good number of vendors introduced Cloud offerings at Enterprise Connect. More end-users express interest in cloud-based UC offerings in the past year, so vendors have heard the call, unveiling a variety of cloud services at the show. But too many choices make decision making difficult: Public or private? Hosted or Hybrid? And while the Cloud stage seems crowded now, audience members know the talented performers are always asked back for a curtain call.
Vendors want in to the cloud act and the industry seems to be welcoming them with rounds of applause.
And finally, look at Lync. One of the hottest performances at the show was the number of vendors making announcements for Lync-based solutions. It seems the Lync-based UC performance — once just a solo act starring Aspect — is now not only the hottest ticket in town, it’s also featuring an ensemble cast. And the stage is surely set to grow larger as the year goes by, making it big enough for multiple players. But even though everyone wants in to the Lync act, seasoned audience members know… there can only be one lead.
by Tim Dreyer on March 26th, 2012
Mark Fidelman posted a smart piece last week on the importance of sound social business strategies. His piece focuses on moving from social media tactics to evolving a social media strategy that is broader than just establishing a social media policy and having a corporate Facebook page. He sees the need for a social business strategy that lays a roadmap to fully leveraging the knowledge of employees, customers and partners. Like Mike Sheridan’s his recent blog All Business is Social but How Social is Your Business? the idea of the social business moving beyond a business with a social media strategy to one that makes social practices part of their operating DNA is rapidly gaining momentum.
While Fidelman is talking to the enterprise as a whole, these concepts and principles are even more relevant for the customer contact center, the epicenter of customer engagement. In fact, with the increasing consumer use of Facebook and Twitter and multiplying customer service mediums, you can argue that the contact center needs to be the epicenter of a social business. Consider the following parallels:
1. Make subject matter experts “heroes.” Making expertise available and visible to those on the front line of the connected consumer – in real time – allows the contact center to respond rapidly and potentially resolve increasingly complex customer issues within a single interaction.
2. Build a community. Customer engagement is all about building a community internally – and extending it beyond the walls of the enterprise to customers. Harmonized multi-channel engagement backed by a collaborative organization is the new key to contact center success. Breaking down channel silos opens up the ability for that anytime, anywhere customer engagement. Breaking down departmental walls allows agents to connect with each other as well as with marketing, finance, fulfillment, legal or even suppliers if they need to – without abandoning the customer. By doing both, organizations create deeper, more productive customer engagements.
3. Leverage collective intelligence. This is also cited as a way to create an atmosphere where individual learning can be shared to create a more organic knowledge center. By enabling agents to gain, share and house knowledge, they not only the right information at the right time – and have built-in reinforcement – but this kind of environment reduces onboarding and re-education efforts considerably.
Social business is quickly becoming business as usual. Are you ready?
by Amy Wagner on March 23rd, 2012
When grocery chains began rolling out self-service checkout stations across the nation in the early 2000’s, consumer reaction was somewhat mixed. Some hailed the technology as an easier, speedier way for busy shoppers to pick up a few items on the way home after work, while others groused that this was clearly a big-business profit grab at the expense of much-needed human interaction and neighborhood jobs.
By the end of 2008, there were reportedly 92,600 self-checkout units worldwide, and at least a portion of shoppers appeared to be holding on to their angst. An excellent point by one blogger: “What’s the point of all of this technology if it only aggravates your customers and makes them unhappy?”
As technology improves, the percentage of those annoyed by self-service technology seems to be shrinking at a steady pace – and in fact, today’s customers actually prefer to help themselves by as much as 85%.
Whether in the checkout lane, at the ATM, at a gas station, or on a company’s website, it would appear that offering self-service through multiple channels even has the potential to increase customer loyalty.
This is all very good news for businesses, particularly in the health plan industry.
Plans are facing a countdown to 2014, at which time the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will go into effect. This new legislation extends eligibility for healthcare insurance coverage to an estimated 45 million currently uninsured individuals, necessitating that these individuals will be seeking out information on plans and providers. Lots of information. And as newcomers to the insurance arena, you can bet they’ll have questions.
Think about that for a second. That’s a potential influx of 45 million new individuals reaching out for assistance and information from a group of agents already dedicated to full-time member service and fulfillment.
The only realistic response is to anticipate this workflow by implementing self-service channels. Fortunately, this the response most customers want.
And here’s more good news for business: Not only do customers prefer self-service, these channels are also vastly more cost-effective than contact center resolution. Self-service costs on average about ten cents per interaction, as opposed to $7 USD per call.
So in order to optimize your customer experience and efficiency, my recommendation would be to provide both intelligent, self-service options as well as the ability to engage with the right resource to improve first contact resolution and satisfaction. Offer individuals the ability to seamlessly transition from self-service to agent support without losing track of the interaction.
Aspect can help you develop this type of seamless interaction now, before PPACA goes into effect. The closer we get to 2014, the greater the risk of your agents’ workload slipping from “manageable” to “sort-of manageable” to “self-service as self-defense.” Just please… don’t wait until you’ve reached “zombie apocalypse” workload!
I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion on this topic at 2 p.m. EST on April 12, 2012, Tackling the Business Impact of Healthcare Reform, together with fellow RN Sally Bleeks, recently retired from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Please join us!
by Kelly Burke on March 22nd, 2012
Just came back from the Gartner Customer 360 Summit and there are definitely a lot of great things happening within our industry that are going to help us deliver exceptional customer experiences! There were several key trends discussed that will shape business decisions and investments in the coming year. Self-Service and Customer Experience were cited as two of the top baseline trends. The customer is truly poised to have it their way… Self-service via mobile devices and the web that can easily transition to seamless live agent assisted experiences incorporating a wide range of interaction channels (voice, web, chat, video) are hot trends where the contact center is positioned to become even more pivotal. The contact center is becoming the customer engagement hub.
You’re probably wondering why we still need contact centers if consumers are demanding more self-service options. Even while many interactions can be predictably automated or guided, there are just as many that are complicated and will have variable solutions depending on a customer’s specific situation. These are the interactions that will continue to be driven to the contact center. But the game has definitely changed. The same craving for social interaction that is driving the surge in social communities is shaping expectations for the next generation of consumers. Speaking of games… these consumers love games (if you have kids you know all about this), they love problem solving, and this is one of the sources of the energy and sense of ownership that will be instrumental in transforming the customer service experience.
We need to take a holistic view of every touch point where the customer engages our business and determine their intent for that interaction. We need to anticipate that customers will engage us at different points in our process and with different channels within the organization and be aware of that unique context to present intuitive processes (both self-service and agent assisted) to help them reach their destination. Using analytics to understand what’s really going on with the customer experience today is critical, but companies will also need to start using new forms of customer context information such as location, presence, intent, and social network relevance to determine customer value. Companies will be expected to be transparent in showing consumers how these evaluations affect the service they receive as well.
All of the speakers and participants at the conference acknowledged that these trends are simultaneously exciting and challenging and the next question, of course, is how will we get there? One of the first steps companies can take is to start adopting a customer-oriented culture by building a team focused on understanding and improving the customer experience. This team will need to undertake an honest analysis of customer interaction processes across all parts of the enterprise and start to build a new model for engaging the customer on their terms. It’s just as critical to think about the metrics you will use to measure success. Traditional measures such as contact volumes or cost per contact are relatively easy to measure but often don’t expose successes or issues until well after the events are past. To get in front of your processes and be more responsive you will need to measure new types of metrics such as net promoter scores, lifetime value, and customer sentiment. Traditional KPIs such as agent churn, escalations, and self-service success rates will provide important and measurable trends, as well. Investing in a unified communications solution that allows you to strengthen customer-company interactions while increasing customer satisfaction, improving contact center performance and reducing costs will be the springboard for gaining deeper customer insight and engagement.
Remember context is critical when you start to define your next generation customer contact experience. Mobile devices are already transforming consumer expectations for rich, yet simple user experience (use of location, social monitoring, and video are increasing). Your customer is social and that’s where we will find them in the future… in the community. Companies that harness the energy and collective expertise of social communities along with customer support are expected to reap the rewards in reduced costs and increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Stay tuned for more updates on these exciting developments and successes from within our own Aspect Community!
by Christine OBrien on March 21st, 2012
He’s sitting at home in front of his unresponsive cable TV DVR and it’s driving him crazy, because unlike usual, he can’t seem to fix it on his own. First he Googled the problem, hoping to find a quick fix. He then turned to his friends and contacts on Twitter and Facebook to see if anyone had encountered a similar problem. Then he poured over the company website, studied its FAQ page, and read through online communities for answers, but—much to his chagrin—came up empty.
Now, Tom has to meet his girlfriend at the coffee shop in 15 minutes, and he promised her he’d take care of this today. So he’s hoping to resolve the issue before he gets there. (With their favorite show Community back on the air, the DVR is crucial.) And so, having exhausted all his other options and with no time to spare, Tom turns to his last resort: he calls the contact center from his smartphone on the walk over.
Most agents are set up to respond to calls from individuals calling in from their home or office, typically sitting or standing right next to whatever was causing their problem.
But today, an agent receives a call from Tom. Tom is the mobile consumer. He is pressed for time, on the move, and has higher expectations than consumers of the past. With all of the Internet at his fingertips, he is accustomed to finding the information he needs instantaneously.
What’s more, there are more and more Toms joining the marketplace every day. More smartphones were sold last year than PCs and tablets combined, and a new study shows that the number of mobile Internet users will exceed PC-based Internet users by 2016, with more than half the global popular already owning a mobile handset. As they become the norm, these consumers need a new kind of contact center to meet their ever-rising expectations—otherwise, they will not hesitate to take to social media to broadcast their gripes.
In the world of smartphones and 4G, people like Tom are no longer willing to wait more than 10 seconds for a song to download, let alone spend 90 seconds on hold while customer service agents attempts to flag down their supervisors. They like things resolved quickly and at their convenience, and by the time they have called the contact center, chances are they’ve already exhausted all options for a DIY fix and are looking for the next level of technological expertise and product knowledge — and ultimately, a fast solution to the issue.
Unfortunately, most contact centers lack the functionality needed to meet these expectations. In today’s customer-centric business environment, where customer service and customer engagement rank as top priorities for most retailers, companies that fail to take action do so at their own peril, risking hits to both their reputation and their bottom line. And as technology continues to accelerate, companies that have already fallen behind risk being left in the dust by more nimble, responsive competitors.
Contact center solutions powered by unified communications can help your customer service agents share information faster and put customers in touch with the right people, right away—facilitating an easier, more efficient customer service experience. And, of course, a much happier Tom.
by Tim Dreyer on March 19th, 2012
Tweeting for dollars, blogging for bucks. The common misconception regarding the idea of social business is that it’s simply selling through social media. And while selling to consumers is a part of it, social business is much more than that. Social business is the idea of is taking the principles, technologies and behaviors of consumer social media and applying them to the enterprise. That is, replicating social collaboration within your enterprise community. Does that mean selling? It could, yes. Does that mean enabling Words with Friends for the shipping department? Probably not.
So what are those collaborative technologies? When the idea of Enterprise 2.0 was put forth by Andrew McAfee back in 2006, he made the realization that not only were Web 2.0 technologies like search and instant messaging in use but many of them were already in the enterprise stack enabling communication, knowledge sharing, etc. He noted that these applications, if applied internally, can knit the enterprise together and create employee collaboration that wasn’t possible before.
So really, when we think about Enterprise 2.0, we need to look to the new consumer or Consumer 2.0. This is the consumer who uses Facebook to connect and crowdsource decisions, uses Twitter to build circles of experts and Foursquare to update friends on location and status. He or she uses smartphone-enabled search apps and gets reviews and recommendations in real time quite often at the same time.
What is important to point out here is that the idea of social business is not just social technology in the enterprise. It is primarily social empowerment of the employee. It’s all about letting them use the tools like information acquisition in real time, crowdsourced, contextual intelligence, and knowledge sharing that they use in their personal lives, in ways that creates deeper customer engagement. And it is about tying this social enterprise to a company’s customers.
Enterprise 2.0 is about that powerful global conversation: a conversation that allows us to share information at blinding speed. The effect is that the consumers get smarter and in some respects, get smarter faster than the companies that are trying to serve them. Where Enterprise 2.0 and Consumer 2.0 meet is where the change in customer engagement happens: engage your customers not only in the mediums but also in the manners they prefer. They have a knowledge base, your agents have a knowledge base, they get real time answers, the contact center gives them real time answers.
Social business exemplifies itself most readily in the evolution of contact center to engagement center. In next week’s post, we’ll look how to apply the tools and create the applications to optimize your CRM platform and take advantage them.
by Christine OBrien on March 15th, 2012
Like a finely tuned symphony, the success of complex contact center operations depends upon the flawless performance of many moving parts – from the way calls are routed through your ACD, to the way each agent interacts with your customers. Every piece must function with precision and also adapt to changing conditions.
Regardless of how finely tuned your organization is, it only can only take one system outage or power failure to bring customer-facing operations to a halt. That’s when a next-generation, high-availability solution becomes vital.
The importance of high availability
We’ve talked in-depth before about how high availability is virtually synonymous with disaster recovery from an operational perspective, as well as a customer experience perspective. Particularly in industries such as finance, government, health care and other high-touch fields, the critical demand for continual uptime is an all-too-familiar refrain. Agents must maintain active, ongoing conversations with customers even in the event of an outage. Customers in the queue need notification of their status. And supervisors and agents need to be alerted to any changes in system functionality that could affect customer interactions.
As I said, lots of moving parts.
Unplanned network outages, power failures and unscheduled downtime all have the potential to impact your customers by limiting availability. While the terms reliability and high availability are sometimes used interchangeably, the difference between a so-called reliable system and one that meets high-availability standards is its ability to maintain operations and quickly recover normal functioning following a failure – limiting downtime to hours, or even minutes, over the course of a year.
Miercom Performance Verified
Recently, we asked Miercom to conduct a full evaluation of Aspect® Unified IP 7® to verify that it delivers the mission-critical high availability demanded for today’s customer contact environment. The critical factors for a highly available system that Miercom identified as part of its evaluation included:
- Maintaining active conversations between customers and agents
- Preserving contact statistics
- Continuing to initiate recordings
- Enabling supervisors to maintain management capabilities, such as viewing agent status and information
- Alerting supervisors and agents of any changes to the system status
In response to the battery of simulation-style tests Miercom conducted, Aspect Unified IP 7 earned Miercom Performance Verified certification. The solution proved to be resilient, providing the mission-critical high availability demanded for business telephony and customer interaction.You can view the complete summary of Miercom’s test report here.
Maintaining contact center uptime
On March 27, experts from Aspect and Miercom will be hosting an informational webinar on High Availability for the Contact Center: Ensuring Customer Service Continuity to share their insights on meeting evolving customer expectations, with advice to help you limit or eliminate the experience of downtime for customers interacting with your contact center.
by Tim Dreyer on March 9th, 2012
Social is here to stay. And now that the question of whether businesses should be using social media to engage with their customers has been answered, companies still face the vexing challenge of how to integrate social into their customer contact strategy.
A few statistics drive home the urgency of finding answers in the short term:
44 percent. That’s the percentage of global Web traffic that visits Facebook on a daily basis.
845 million. The current number of registered users on Facebook. It’s only a matter of time before it hits the one-billion mark; imagine having access to one-seventh of the world population through a single platform.
$4.27 billion. The total revenues for Facebook in 2011, of which $3.8 billion was generated from advertising. In advance of its impending IPO, Facebook is in the midst of revamping its advertising platform to give companies new ways to reach customers.
As companies spend more resources to engage with customers through Facebook, it’s fair to assume that customers will start to expect that the conversation should work both ways: that is, if companies can push products more aggressively on Facebook, then customers can use this same channel for customer service.
The main problem is that once one company figures out a way to interact effectively with customers through this channel, consumers will expect all companies to do so. It hardly seems fair, but welcome to the next-generation consumer.
As your business considers how to integrate Facebook into its customer experience strategy, you should assess your organization’s capabilities across three areas:
Current customer contact platform—If you have unified important call center functions to give agents the tools to interact with customers across a number of channels, then it’s an incremental step to add social. If not, you have to crawl before you walk, and that means enhancing your platform first.
Integration of internal functions—One of the challenges of social media is that it spans marketing, sales, communications, and the contact center. We’ve discussed the need to tear down the walls within your company to enable collaboration among these departments. If just one department takes ownership without involving the others, companies won’t capture the full value of social.
Customer experience strategy—The majority of customers will call the contact center as a last resort after exhausting other options. Facebook is set to become an even more dynamic source of company and product information as well as customer feedback. Understanding how Facebook can complement existing efforts can help companies prepare their contact center agents to deliver better service.
Since companies don’t have unlimited resources, how can they be effective across forums, self-service, FAQs, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other emerging channels? The answer can vary significantly by industry and type of company. For instance, an airline — for which customer service is an integral part of business strategy and operations — is going to take a different approach than a professional services firm or hospital would. However, as customer service becomes an even more integral part of business strategy, it’s imperative to figure out the right mix for your company.
If you hear a rumble in the distance, it’s Facebook coming down the rails and picking up speed. The good news is that your company still has a little time to prepare so you can jump on for the ride and avoid getting steamrolled.
by Jane Hendricks on March 5th, 2012
In just a few days, several Aspect colleagues and I will be heading to Nashville for the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP) Annual Conference. Excitement is in the air! In addition to the usual buzz about meeting up with workforce professional colleagues, we’ve just learned that three Aspect Customers are among the five finalists for the 2012 Workforce Management Professional of the Year award.
Finalists were selected by the SWPP Board of Advisors from nominations received on the SWPP website, submitted by call center employees and business partners over the past 12 months. The recipient of this annual award, according to SWPP, is someone who not only understands the importance of contact center staffing, but also sees that workforce management is as much an “art” as it is a “science.”
Congratulations to these three Aspect® Workforce Management® customers, who have been named finalists by the SWPP Board: Michael Ellis of Suddenlink Communications; Kristin Goldman of Ameriprise Financial; and Cynthia Stevenson of Citi.
It gives us a great deal of pride to be affiliated with these three stand-out individuals. It’s exciting to see the kind of positive impact they’ve brought to their organizations, and knowing our solutions had a role to play in their success is especially gratifying. We are thrilled to see their accomplishments recognized, particularly by such a respected institution as SWPP.
The other two finalists are: Chad Andree of CenterPoint Energy; and Robert Dobson of InterContinental Hotels Group.
Winner to be Announced at SWPP Annual Conference
As I mentioned, my bags are packed for Nashville and I’m looking forward to representing Aspect at the SWPP Conference, where we expect to hear the official announcement of the 2012 winner. My fingers are crossed for all of our nominees!
If you plan to be on site with us as well, I hope you’ll take the time to stop by the Aspect booth and attend our sessions. My colleague Eric Hagaman, Product Strategist for Workforce Management, will be offering valuable tips during the 60 Ideas in 60 Minutes. And I’ll also be presenting:
Managing Your Front and Back Office Workforce with Quality in Mind
March 7, 10:45 AM – 12:00 PM
Plus, don’t miss the session by Aspect customer Brighthouse Networks:
Getting the Most Out of Your Workforce Management Investments
March 9, 10:15 AM – 11:00 AM
We’re looking forward to seeing you!