Looking Toward the Horizon: The Future of Cloud Services in the Contact Center

by Alyx Kaczuwka on May 5th, 2014

Alyx KaczuwkaWhen you think about the future of your contact center, what changes do you predict? Will there be more communication channels, better-trained agents, or increased first call resolution? For an increasing number of contact centers, their executives are picturing cloud technology as part of a plan for improving operations and the customer experience. While cloud-based contact centers are still new for many industries, more and more companies are beginning to deploy them. According to a report written by Ovum, one out of three RFPs for new customers now contains some kind of cloud offerings.

With this trend in contact center technology, how will supervisors and executives react to cloud-based solutions in 2014? Here are some of our observations:

  • Security and trust will need to be proven by vendors – Because the cloud is a still a new technology, it’s natural that many customers will be hesitant about using a solution that can be accessed remotely. In order for vendors to win sales for their cloud-based technology, they must prove that their systems can provide a secure and reliable service with limited risk of data breaches or exposures. They also want to see procedures in place to handle any emergency situations that may arise.
  • Omnichannel will become a bigger priority – With the expanded capacity that the cloud offers, companies will be able to add new channels to their service offerings. This will appeal to customers who are looking for new ways to contact customer service, such as via mobile and social channels.
  • Cost reduction isn’t the only lure for potential customers – While saving money still ranks as the number one driver for investing in cloud services, other factors have also become important to customers. These include improving business processes, increasing IT responsiveness, and supporting new business initiatives such as channel expansion. Customers also like to see that a cloud solution has the ability to transform their contact centers, especially when it comes to long-term growth and expansion. While short-term cost savings are important, they will be of less value if the cloud investment doesn’t improve workforce operations or the customer experience in the long run.
  • Companies need cloud strategies in order to succeed – According to the Ovum report, “almost 50% of respondents said they had an overall cloud strategy in place.” However, less than one-third of respondents reported having a governance, integration, or compliance strategy. This could lead to issues later on if the company faces unauthorized data access, privacy breaches, or legal repercussions. In addition, creating a cloud strategy keeps IT employees and executives on the same page when it comes to how the company uses the cloud technology.
  • Hybrid cloud models are on the rise – While private and virtual private cloud deployments models remain the most popular options for customers, the use of the public cloud is growing. In their report, Ovum predicts that more businesses will be turning to hybrid cloud solutions which combine private and public cloud offerings. Vendors will have to adjust their solutions’ capabilities to allow for hybrid management in order to remain competitive in the market.

What observations have you made about the growth of cloud-based services, and how do you predict that the industry will change in 2014? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Healthcare Analytics – Creating a Positive Prognosis

by Kathleen Schroeder on May 1st, 2014

Co-authored by Aspect and Healthcare Intelligence

Kathleen Schroeder

Analytics and benchmarking are the foundations of a well-run contact center.  Non-healthcare industries have known this for years.  Healthcare contact centers are now embracing these goals, realizing the measurements are pertinent to their industry.  In addition to the basic contact center metrics, patient-centric metrics must be infused into the daily operations as well.

The basic measurements of a well-run healthcare contact center are focused on time to answer, abandonment rate, average handle time, idle time, talk time, agent occupancy and non-productive time. Focusing on the abandon rate may eliminate the need to monitor time to answer. Patient tolerance levels vary by service line. Since there is a direct correlation between the speed of answer and the abandon rate, patient tolerance will let you know when the hold time is too long with higher abandon rates. First time call resolution in a healthcare contact center also ranks high when analyzing metrics. Meeting the patient’s needs during the first call will improve patient satisfaction and employee productivity. First time call resolution can also create efficiencies by decreasing unnecessary call volumes and alleviating pressure on the workforce during peak call periods.

Quality assurance is one of the most important things to measure, but seems to be the one metric that is not measured consistently. Other expectations of the healthcare contact center manager at times supersede this goal. Knowledge of whether employees are asking the correct questions for demographic, registration and appointment processes will ensure patients are scheduled correctly, billing information is available for reimbursement of services, and patients are being communicated with in an empathetic manner.

Healthcare analytics is not merely about collecting data; it’s about analyzing the data and creating actionable improvement processes. Patient expectations will dictate what you measure and analyze.

As the healthcare industry and the contact center industry begin to fuse, it is essential to establish patient-centric key measures of success.  Aspect Healthcare and Healthcare Intelligence can help you take your first steps to creating better patient access and experiences through proven analytical processes.

Providing a Healthy Solution to Back Office Challenges

by Dawn Ely on April 28th, 2014

In the healthcare industry, the needs of the patient are always the priority. Whether it’s giving clients information about a flu shot or alerting pharmacy retailers about outages, every interaction between the healthcare provider and its patients is important to maintaining health and well-being. These interactions often take place in person at a store or clinic, but they can also occur in the contact center thanks to a patient’s ability to contact a medical adviser via social media, email, text, SMS, and phone. With the increase in people reaching out to a contact center for medical-related information, it’s now more important than ever to make sure each patient’s experience is positive and provides the information they need.


For health retailer CVS/pharmacy, having a contact center that can meet the needs of their many clients is a must. With the successful launch of their new walk-in medical center, MinuteClinic , and their expanded service offerings, the number of customers reaching out to CVS/pharmacy’s contact center was increasing by over 30% each year. While the company’s Unified IP system could handle the additional call volume, managers and supervisors were lacking the ability to evaluate agent performance due to lack of visibility and wanted to generate digital reports instead of the manual ones they were currently using. In addition, strict, ever-changing legislation for outbound communications made it increasing difficult to ensure every call was legally made.

Having worked with Aspect during the installation of their Unified IP solution, CVS/pharmacy turned to the same company to assist them with finding a workforce optimization solution that could meet their diverse contact center needs. They wanted a system that could integrate with their Unified IP platform, allow insight into team and agent performance, assist with quality monitoring, and help them comply with outgoing call regulations. Aspect’s Workforce Optimization applications offered CVS/pharmacy a compact, easy-to-use solution which included around-the-clock support services and geographically-deployed field engineers, making it the best answer for CVS/pharmacy’s issues.

Since the deployment of their Aspect workforce optimization solution, CVS/pharmacy has noticed a remarkable improvement in their contact center operations. Their average handle time, average call work, abandonment rate, and average speed of answer have all improved by over thirty percent. Glen Thies, Director, Central Pharmacy Services at CVS/pharmacy, was particularly impressed by the solution’s ability to create complex outbound campaigns while staying in compliance with governmental regulations. In addition, he notes that, “Last quarter alone, [CVS/pharmacy] did over 6 million outbound calls compared to last year, when we averaged just 1-2 million calls.” These calls included automated blaster and live calls to customers about refill reminders and to stores about drug/product recalls.

By making the back office process easier for agents and contact center supervisors, customers can receive the great health-related services they expect and rely on. Outbound calls can be made based on customer time zones, prescription and medical questions can be answered in a timely manner, and supervisors can help improve both agent performance and the customer experience. Thanks to Aspect’s Workforce Optimization package, CVS/pharmacy can focus on caring for their customers instead of worrying about developing manual reports and tracking their agents’ performance results.

Read the full case study to learn more about the results CVS/pharmacy achieved with Aspect.

How has installing a workforce optimization solution helped your organization create a better customer experience? Let us know in the comments!

Get Out of the Knee-Jerk Management Trap

by Kathy Villasenor on April 11th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet! Contact Center Technologies that Drive Success [Infographic]

by Christine OBrien on April 4th, 2014

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

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


All Contact Center Reports Were Not Created Equal

by Jeannie Jackson on March 19th, 2014

Jeannie Jacksoninformation overloadI’ve recently been dieting, and though it’s been slow, I’ve managed to trim a few pounds. How did I celebrate? By shopping of course!

With a newer, trimmer outlook on clothing, I was ready to dive in. What I learned very quickly in entering the store, unfortunately, is that the style they sold had changed dramatically. Cute skirts, silk blouses, and sparkly jewelry had somehow turned themselves in to a massive overload of fashion faux pas that definitely did not appeal to me. One mannequin alone had a solid 7 different pieces of clothing and to me it was just way too much. WAY. TOO. MUCH.

It could just be that I’m not up to date on the latest fashion trends that inspired the thigh-high boots with lace leggings and a semi-skirted corset look with lots of layers to go over it. It could also be that those excessive wardrobe choices were never meant to be part of the same ensemble. Perhaps I’ll never know.

What I do know is that this hodge-podge approach is not new to the world of Contact Center metrics. One might even say it was “in style.” For example, it’s not uncommon for me to visit a Contact Center and while discussing performance a neatly stapled packet of daily reports comes out. These packets vary in thickness, but they’re almost always topped off by some universal view that has an extensive array of every metric known to mankind jammed in small font on the top sheet, or better yet on a TV screen hovering over everyone’s heads.

Trying to pull meaning out of the extensive array of numbers is definitely challenging on the eyes, and trying to see the relationship between the metrics is even worse. I had a flashback to that mannequin and had to ask, “Do those even go together?”

What feeds this madness? Usually my experience is there’s a Contact Center executive with a healthy appetite for data but very little time to consider it, so this “jam it all on one view” approach evolves to try to feed both needs. Those who venture beyond the first view of the report get treated to even deeper dives in to the metrics. While I have to admit I do see real value in these reports, the percentage of people who actually LOOK further in to these metrics can be counted on one hand.

So what is a Contact Center Reporting Analyst to do? Continue to lay out a banquet of data in a single view, or trim the menu and focus on more meaningful consumption one meal at a time?

How do you handle the need to report on and display a wide variety of metrics in your contact center?

What is your approach to representing the extensive array of metrics available in Contact Centers today?

The Most Secure Way to Accept Payments Over the Phone

by Tobias Goebel on March 7th, 2014

Tobias GoebelFraud is on the rise. No other industry knows this better than the credit card industry. Payment card companies have a significant interest in protecting their customers’ data, as fraud has produced global damage of $5.55b in 2012. In the US, credit cards are a predominant means of making payments, and in the ever-growing world of online shopping, increasingly the only available method. CNP (card-not-present) payments, however, are most vulnerable to fraud.

In online transactions, it is primarily SSL encryption that secures a payment and the submission of credit card data between a client (the browser) and the payment gateway servers. The same method can be used in mobile Web apps as well as native apps. This makes for some pretty good privacy. Another dominant channel for payment transactions is the good old phone. Contact centers typically take good measures to prevent agents from taking notes while listening to credit card information. However, rising security concerns as well as tightening industry requirements require different solutions.

Enter Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Not only does it help automate tedious and simple tasks within a call center, but it also reduces costs while lowering wait times for callers. It is also a more discrete channel for information sharing. Studies have shown that people actually prefer to handle sensitive information with a machine rather than a human. IVR is the perfect technology to accommodate that preference AND offer a cheaper and more secure environment for collecting payments over the phone.

In 2004, major credit card companies formed the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council and released the first version of the PCI-DSS (PCI Data Security Standard). At version 2.0 since October 2010, any organization that processes or stores PII (Personally Identifiable Information) in the context of debit, credit, prepaid or other payment cards must comply with the PCI-DSS, either by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA), or through a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ), depending on the amount of transactions processed.

With Aspect’s acquisition of Voxeo, Aspect now runs one of the largest standards-based IVR networks in the world with a global presence through data centers and support centers in the US, EMEA, and APAC regions. It is fully certified for Level 1 PCI-DSS and powers IVR applications and voice portals for some of the world’s largest financial institutions. By relying on standards such as VoiceXML, CCXML, and SIP, and offering their solutions both in the cloud and on-premise, Aspect can offer a highly flexible payment solution portfolio encompassing the following scenarios:

1. CSR Transfer

An agent can process an order, and when it comes to collecting credit card information, can transfer the call to Aspect, allowing the Aspect IVR (Voxeo Prophecy) to securely collect the payment information, transmit that over secured lines to a payment gateway, then transfer the caller back to the agent, submitting information to the agent about success or failure of the transaction if required.

2. IVR Sub-Dialog

The same will work for an existing, non-PCI-compliant IVR system or voice portal that wishes to securely offer payment transactions. An existing IVR application can transfer the call to Aspect and back, as described above.

3. Standalone IVR

Aspect is a RESPORG and can therefore provision toll-free numbers for standalone applications that take payments. These can be extended to full-fledged self-service portals if desired.

Interested in learning more? Get in touch with us today to find out how to make use of these highly secured ways of taking payments.


Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity: When Mother Nature Turns Nasty

by Kathy Villasenor on February 21st, 2014

Kathy Villasenor“Like, for sure, it is totally cold out! What is this white stuff falling out of the sky?” I am a native California Valley girl. Yes, I was around when Moon Unit Zappa originally sang this anthem.  I am not proud to admit that I may or may not have used this language but I will admit that the 78-degree winter months in the valley are “totally cool.”

I may sound paranoid but I think that the polar vortex is following me around the country. This year my assignments have not just brought me to the cold parts of the country but they have also brought me directly into the eye of the winter storms. Snow and lots of it! In the last month I have had two customers that could not staff normally due to treacherous road conditions. They had to move to their bad weather call processing format.

What is your contact center’s plan for a natural disaster (weather, flood, earthquake) or man-made disruption (fire, infrastructure failures, terrorism)? This is a real consideration no matter where in the country you live. While weather may be the most common element that your contact center deals with there are always emergency situations that you must have a contingency plan in place to handle.  The randomness of these types of events (earthquake?) sometimes gives us a false sense of security.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity is a critical part of your business. Aspect Unified IP offers solutions that allow you to handle both of these activities.  Depending on the severity of the situation it can be as easy as playing a unique piece of information to a caller (“Due to inclement weather your hold time is longer than normal. For faster service, please visit our web site.”) or as complex as having an additional Active system at the ready.

A detailed disaster recovery plan, which is practiced on a regular basis, will limit the interruption to your business when you have to deal with a real disruption. Even when the weather is “like, so grody!”

Meet Zipwire: Aspect’s Contact Center in the Cloud

by John Amein, VP Product Management on February 17th, 2014

meet zipwire


In November, we announced the development of Zipwire, our cloud-based and highly scalable contact center solution. We’re excited to announce that Zipwire is now generally available in the US, with a global rollout coming soon!

We designed Zipwire from the ground up to be different: To reduce demands on IT departments and bring ease and simplicity to contact center deployment, management and to the agent experience.

Zipwire enables companies to deliver a first-class customer experience that can cross channels like voice and chat, with lots of rich features like CRM/Salesforce integration, recording, reporting and predictive dialing, that competitors charge more for. And because it’s delivered through the Voxeo cloud infrastructure, you’re insured high availability and unlimited elasticity.

Zipwire is competitively priced, with a 30-day, try-before-you-buy option that’s especially useful for those who are brand new to contact center deployment or looking to test out cloud functionality before migrating off of a hardware solution. You can provision your trial directly from our website and be up and running in minutes – no credit card required!

To learn more, check out our new white paper Cloud and the Contact Center: Ready for Prime Time – and visit the Zipwire website: http://zipwire.aspect.com.

Managing Your Workforce in Real-Time

by Spence Mallder, SVP, GM Workforce Optimization, CTO on February 12th, 2014

Spence Mallder, SVP & GM Workforce Optimization & CTOTime ManagementBen Franklin was a wise man and counseled us with his sage words, “Do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.”  Unfortunately, contact centers and back office operations across the globe are squandering time, and quite a bit of it. It’s not being squandered in big 30-minute chunks that would have any decent supervisor up in arms. It’s being squandered in dozens of 1 and 2 minute intervals of idle time that we have become accustomed to seeing in the contact center business.

We assume this is the norm, because we don’t know any better. Industry experts estimate that every day, agents spend about 11% of their time being idle.

Worldwide, that amounts to approximately 6 million idle hours (or 685 idle years) per day. That’s huge! Imagine the improvement in customer experience, employee morale and costs savings if there were a way to harness that 11% idle time and turn it into training time, call handling time, back office processing time or vacation time for that matter.

Traditional workforce management tools do a good job of estimating the level of contact center staff required to achieve a given level of service. Aspect’s Workforce Management solution, for example, uses some very complex algorithms that weight historical call volumes with more recent volumes to create very accurate intraday staffing schedules. However, it is impossible to predict the exact ebb and flow of calls from thousands of customers.

Historically, contact centers have scheduled agents with the very best information available, and beyond that, it’s just a question of how much risk you are willing to take and what SLAs you are willing to tolerate. So what is the next phase in the evolution of workforce management systems that can smooth out these unpredictable patterns and recapture some of the 6 million hours per day that would make Ben Franklin shudder?

The magic is in real-time. Real-time workforce management is the technology that groups together some of the 1 and 2 minute idle periods mentioned above across a large number of agents to free up dedicated agents for useful periods of time (typically greater than 30 minutes). By being able to seamlessly change the type of work being performed by your employees in real-time, contact centers can effectively break down the organizational silos among labor pools, whether they are in the front office, back office, different customer communication channels, different agent skill types or different software applications. Pretty soon all these minutes will start to create some significant time blocks.

Of course, the real-time workforce management requires real-time monitoring of ACD, chat, and email volumes in concert with tracking of agent skills to ensure that only appropriately skilled agents are transferred from one work type to another. But the returns can be absolutely breathtaking. The overall annual benefit is estimated to be about $9 million for every thousand agents when you consider improved customer experience and loyalty, improved employee performance and labor savings. Expect to see real-time enablement become an essential addition to every workforce management system. For call centers, it’s like the discovery of electricity.

To see how you can find your missing minutes, click to learn more about Aspect Workforce Management.