by Jeannie Jackson on December 17th, 2013
The holidays are upon us. It’s time to plan for the festivities, so my best friend and I have been talking about where to shop and what to buy. When we’re in strategic shopping mode, we have two restaurants that serve as our headquarters when laying out our shopping plans, and this year we decided we wanted to add our two favorite wait-staff team members at those restaurants to our gift lists.
We started strategizing on what to buy them, and it got me thinking: Why would I want to buy gifts for two people whose only connection to me is seeing me sit in their section once a week to eat a meal?
The answer: They’ve given me an entire year of exceptional service.
These aren’t contact center agents, but I’m loyal to them in the same way you’d like your customers to be loyal to you. I’m so loyal that I always ask to sit in their section, and I suspect if they changed jobs, I’d go to wherever they started working next. I’ve developed a loyal customer attachment to them. Now that’s something every contact center would love to hear from their customers.
So what do they do that you can do? I think it comes down to four simple things:
1. They listen to what I want, and they respond to it.
How well do you know your customer base? How much do you know about communication trends and preferred channels of contact, and how evolved and ready are you for the next generation of omni-channel consumers so that you can listen to what they want, in the way they want, and respond to it?
2. They are not afraid to give every interaction a personal touch.
I don’t know these two servers in their personal lives. I really hardly know anything about them other than where they work, so how did they manage to deliver that personal touch without being “too personal?” They deliver warm, friendly service always, consistently, with every interaction. I know all of us in the contact center world want to say the same thing about our agents. How do you measure, evaluate, and score that within your agents, but more importantly how do you develop it? How do you encourage that personal touch through your omni-channel communications, including voice, chat, email and SMS?
3. They have a natural talent for what they do.
Many contact centers approach recruitment of new agents in line with the thinking that a contact center agent is a less-skilled member of the overall corporate workforce. Certainly not in all of them – there are plenty of contact centers that require their agents to have formal education and certificates, such as in the health care industry. But just because they have a certificate, does that make them naturally good contact center agents? Still in other industries, professional credentials are not required so we tend to hire our agents based on other criteria. How do you seek out, recruit, and retain superior customer-interaction advocates, and do you even know what the qualities of the “perfect” agent are so that you can spot that natural talent in your hiring process?
4. They stand behind the company’s product, and they go above and beyond to ensure that I’m happy with it.
If the food at the restaurants weren’t good, I wouldn’t go back and each server knows that. They want me to enjoy my experience, and they want me to come back – and let’s face it, I’m happy so I’m a good tipper! How many of your agents are putting in their time, plugging away at customer transactions with the goal of getting it done, versus having the goal of really ensuring a remarkable experience? Do your agent incentives inspire your agents to provide good service?
Two nights ago, I was again in one of my favorite restaurants. I watched as the table full of customers beside me thanked my favorite waiter and asked how they could be sure to sit in his section on their next visit. These four basic tenants of his service delivery inspired yet another loyal group of customers.
So what’s on the menu in your contact center, and do your customer interactions inspire loyalty?
by Christine OBrien on October 30th, 2013
Is there anything better than giving yourself a good scare on Halloween? I know we’re a day early, but go ahead and rip open that bag of fun-size bars you bought for the neighborhood kids and grab an extra flashlight in case the lights go out. Things are about to get real.
Have you ever considered what would happen if nice folks like you suddenly shut off their porch lights and started withholding all the Halloween handouts? In a couple of hours, groups of costume-clad kids ringing doorbell after doorbell in earnest without the expected results would quickly devolve from sweet, smiling mild-mannered little beggars into angry hordes ready to hurl raw eggs and toilet paper at anything that fails to deliver.
What does any of this have to do with the contact center? It could be the potential for ending up with egg on your face.
As much as customers will advocate for brands they love, they also won’t hesitate to badmouth a business that falls short on meeting their expectations – and these are the “horror” stories that thrive on social media. They die slowly, are difficult to combat, and spread like wildfire. It’s far easier to prevent a bad customer experience than to try and tackle the aftermath.
Consider these classics, and what might have stopped the madness:
“I was on hold for two hours! It was impossible to talk to a live human.”
Effective call routing can help deliver a call to the first available resource and eliminate unnecessary hold times. A sophisticated automatic call distribution (ACD) system can even segment callers, prioritize service, and deploy agents from diverse locations to address variations in call volume and keep costs low.
“I kept getting transferred to different reps, and had to repeat my issue over and over.”
Seamless engagement across channels, including from self-service to assisted service, is considered the way forward for delivering a consistent customer experience that will set your business apart. Once a customer has provided his or her information, this information should be visible to any agent handling the call.
“Just when I thought I was getting somewhere, my call was dropped. I had to call back and start over.”
High availability system performance is considered a best practice among next-generation contact centers. Systems that operate according to “five nines” or 99.999% uptime can help ensure that no active conversations between agents and customers are dropped, no customers on hold in queue are lost, and statistics are retained for reporting.
“Nobody at the company actually knew how to help me. They just read from a script.”
Knowledgeable agents and subject matter experts are becoming a critical asset to the modern call center. Agents can leverage unified communications Ask-an-Expert features to search for experts with specific knowledge or skills while engaged with a customer.
If you’ve ever donned a mask and rang a doorbell hoping for chocolate only to be handed a box of raisins, you know how quickly expectations can turn to bitter disappointment. On the other hand, remember those houses that gave out the full-size candy bars?
Be that company.
by Paul Stockford, Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research on October 23rd, 2013
It’s tough being the little guy. They often get overlooked and don’t get the recognition they deserve. This is true in the contact center world as well. There is no doubt that the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) contact center is largely underserved by the vendor community. It’s an understandable reality. The larger contact centers offer the low-hanging fruit in terms of volume sales potential and fatter profit margins. While vendors focus their solutions on the large contact centers, SME contact centers are often left with the hand-me-down and afterthought products.
There are a lot of misconceptions in the market regarding the small contact center. I thought it might be useful to discuss some of these misconceptions, thus my top five list of commonly held small contact center misconceptions.
1. A small contact center is a big contact center, only smaller.
Wrong. Small contact centers have their own unique business challenges and rewards. They have to be managed much differently than their larger siblings, typically with far fewer resources.
2. Having fewer agents to manage translates to having more time for training.
Solutions for large contact centers often require extensive training and a dedicated individual to optimize the resource. In the smaller contact center, most people wear numerous hats and simply don’t have the time to spend in extensive training programs. SME contact center solutions have to be intuitive, quick to implement, and easy to administer. While large contact centers have specialists, smaller contact centers have generalists.
3. Problems and challenges in the SME contact center are easier to control and manage.
There is no direct correlation between fewer agent seats and fewer problems. Customer service is the same no matter the size of the operation.
4. If you strip out features from a large technology solution you can sell it as a SME contact center solution.
While this is a fairly common tact in the vendor community, the end result hasn’t really resonated with those in the SME contact center community. It is usually viewed as a token effort rather than as a product designed specifically for the SME customer service operation.
5. Size matters. The small contact center doesn’t have the same impact on customer service as the large contact center.
The size of the enterprise is irrelevant. The smallest of contact center organizations can have the largest of impacts on any sized business. Regardless of size, the contact center is a critically important in maintaining customer goodwill.
Kim Hileman manages a small contact center for a relatively large company, Advanstar, and, as a member of the National Association of Call Centers (NACC), is someone I speak to on a fairly regular basis. Kim told me that the biggest issue she faces in running a small contact center revolves around technology solutions. According to Kim, “Most technology solutions out there today are too big, too cumbersome, too high-priced and not scalable so our options are really limited. We need the same resources, albeit smaller. I also run into challenges with training for new products and technology. I can’t afford to take a single person off the phone, let along everyone, in order to go through training. On the positive side it does make us think a little more creatively, which is not necessarily a bad thing!”
Small contact centers don’t want stripped down versions of larger solutions. As Kim said, they need the same resources. A market for solutions specifically designed for the small contact center exists. It’s time for the market to step up and meet that need.
by Michael Ely, VP Technology R&D on October 22nd, 2013
Imagine you’re a restaurant manager scouring the web, desperate to find a new coffee supplier before your breakfast business “grinds” to a halt. As you read over a potential supplier’s page, you tap a Skype button that connects you to a customer service representative through a call. The agent answers all of your questions right then and there. You begin looking forward to having the aroma of the supplier’s coffee wafting through your café.
Since this supplier uses Skype Connect with the Aspect Unified IP contact center, the cost of this session is the same as calling any other Skype user – free! And you didn’t have to take the time to find your phone, type in the number correctly, and burn up valuable minutes. In fact, using Skype Mobile applications, you can get the same customer service using Skype on your smart phone! Contacting customer service has never been so easy or convenient.
Aspect Unified IP has been qualified by TekVizion to use Skype Connect, allowing consumers to reach into the contact center by calling through a Skype button. This feature is easy to install and use with your Aspect Unified IP contact center solution. Unlike calling other PSTN numbers, this solution operates via a Skype SIP trunk, meaning there is no charge or special sign-up for the caller. Businesses get a choice of competitive pricing plans for Skype Connect, and they can use these SIP trunks for all callers, not just Skype users. Better yet, with Unified IP’s flexible dialing patterns, you can determine when to call using Skype Connect or traditional PSTN trunks for maximum control.
Businesses can also use Skype for consumers to connect with them through their Facebook page. Imagine the possibilities to revolutionize your customer relationships! Wouldn’t it be nice for your customers to receive a reply before they finished their first cup of coffee?
What do you think about using Skype technology in the contact center? Let us know your thoughts on the future of Skype Connect in the comments below.
by Spence Mallder, SVP, GM Workforce Optimization, CTO on October 9th, 2013
In the past few years, there has been significant discussion about gamification as a potential tool for enhancing workforce productivity. Most people have an initially positive visceral reaction to the idea, because we have all experienced the thrill of winning at a challenging game and know how motivating it can be. Using gamification in the contact center environment seems especially appealing because it has many of the elements that could make “gamifying” the workplace a real success: repetitive tasks that can disengage employees, numerous workers that make possible the creation of competitive teams, the opportunity for individual achievement, and potential personal recognition among peers and superiors, to name a few. Although we may want to embrace gamification as a panacea for the contact center, the technology is in its infancy, and there are a host of unknowns along the way.
A recent Gartner Hype Cycle places gamification at the Peak of Inflated Expectations with the likelihood that it will enter the Trough of Disillusionment within the next two years.
The novelty of gamification brings with it the risks of any new and untested technology. Gartner estimates that by 2014, 80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design. For example, an agent could become fixated on winning at the game while he or she fails to meet essential KPIs like average handle time. In addition, it is likely that the novelty of the game will wear off, and rewards could become unsustainable. Agents may lose interest if increasing rewards are not incorporated into the game, and this might be costly if awards are economic or tangible.
Gamification certainly has the potential to yield improvements in levels of agent engagement and associated customer experience scores, but recent use of the term “gamification” has been all about automated but experimental ways of doing what good managers have done for years: align employee goals with enterprise goals. The challenge that good managers have had historically with goal alignment in the contact center has been the lack of detailed information about agent performance at an individual and team level. The difficulty has not been the creation of a virtual contest or simulated reality in which agents can play. A good leader can easily create an environment of competition and excitement, if real-time performance vs. goal metrics are fed back to agents. What is sorely needed in most contact centers is flexible access to performance data summarized in manageable and actionable form, and this requires a robust performance management tool sourcing data from workforce management, ACD, speech/text analytics, CRM and other systems.
Aspect has seen numerous examples of improved customer experience, lower AHT, higher sales conversions and better employee engagement by implementing performance management KPI dashboards. One recent implementation of Aspect Performance Management Software allowed Hayneedle, a leading online retailer, to successfully “gamify” their contact centers by using hourly updates on sales performance to stimulate competition among agents. No separate gamification system was required. Their success was rooted in good management and good data.
It will be interesting to see who the winners and losers are as some contact centers rush to implement nascent gamification technology.
by Alton Harewood on September 11th, 2013
Let’s face it, getting budget to accomplish anything these days is an uphill battle! You need a strong business case, good executive support for your ideas and a momentum that is often hard to get started.
This is one of the biggest problems facing large organizations today and the reason so many have retrofitted their customer experience to the existing contact center technology, or, in some cases, undertaken such large projects based on a vision from several years ago that the very technology delivered into the center now seems dated.
If there was ever an argument to leverage next-generation customer contact approaches, this is its foundation. While the cloud continues its march, there is still much value to be had in examining the overall strategy in place and determining the drop-off points. What do I mean? Well, the drop-off points are the places where you are challenged to deliver a 21st century customer experience but your retrofitted technologies require you to deliver a mediocre, 20th century-based experience.
Consider social media. Many contact center solutions were designed at the end of the 1990s never anticipating that the dot.com bubble would burst; they covered voice, email and basic chat but largely before it became mainstream. They then stayed pretty close to their original design and with the growth of social media had to retrofit to manage it, perhaps pulling in collected tweets or facebook postings to an email for agent distribution and describing it as “multi-channel.” This is far from the desired experience that you want to deliver, the immediacy of response and the sheer breadth of meta-data available from a social media interaction cannot be wasted by slowing the process with antiquated distribution methods. “That’s our strategy and we have a huge investment in it!” I hear the cries. My answer is, “then sit and watch your competitors pass you by.” It’s as simple as that. If your customer experience is predicated on old technology, it will not keep up with your customer demands. Even if it’s retrofitted by adding little pieces here and there, it will fail over time and your customer experience will fail with it.
If you are continuing to apply old and outdated methodologies to your contact center requirements, even though they seemed like a good idea and cost millions just a few years ago, you are missing a simple truth in technology today. That is, what seemed best may have been overtaken by richer capable technology! Why do you think Apple and Samsung are releasing so many smartphones?
I read an article a few months back, “When should you get out of a bad investment?” The answer was, as painful as it is, as soon as possible. As I mentioned at the start, budget is hard to come by. If you’ve made what you know to be a costly, difficult purchasing decision, consider how to stop the rot.
If you are finding that the sheet customization, implementation costs and dated technology you committed to are not helping you deliver the customer experience your business needs without huge additional investment, here are some suggestions:
- Examine how you can stay current with contact center requirements through technology
- Look to new, 21st century solutions
- Sample the cloud offerings and consider true next generation customer contact approaches
- Or, get left behind!
by Stewart Bloom, CEO on July 26th, 2013
Only three plus calendar quarters ago we set out on a mission to be the best provider of omni-channel customer interaction solutions in the world. Taking inventory of our strongest assets – both in the Unified IP outbound and ACD categories, as well as our Workforce Optimization suite – we recognized that the world was changing before our eyes. Consumers were in control of service provider relationships more than ever before, and our enterprise clients are at great risk of brand and value-erosion if they cannot adapt to changing consumer demands. Across multiple industries, the imperatives for building the most efficient methods of customer acquisition, and maximizing the lifetime value of a customer relationship have become the high bar for our enterprise customers.
We set the bar high for ourselves as well. This involved rethinking what it meant to be a true partner to enterprise clients. We asked questions of every customer, business partner, industry analyst, and employee we could speak with. We added several highly effective leaders to the team. We laid out a strategy for world-class product development initiatives and invested in increased engineering resources. We were frank with ourselves about where we need to improve across the entire life cycle of customer experience, from sales to implementation to support.
While we realize that some of the positive change we are committed to has shorter term results, other initiatives will take longer. They’ll be comprised of hard work, and require us to re-engage with customers and partners and in some cases employees, to review our plan in detail and stick with us for the long term, just as they have for so many years so far.
So in three plus calendar quarters we’ve built quite a scorecard already: We’ve released 10 products. We held three major Aspect Customer Experience (ACE) events in the US, Philippines, and China. We re-committed to Aspect On-Demand, now exceeding 60-hosted implementations of our contact center solution world wide. We entered into our first significant Managed Services program for a global client. And several world class enterprises have signed on with Team Aspect for solutions and implementations we frankly could not have sold or delivered 11 months ago. As a result of all the efforts, commitments of employees and customers alike, Q2 of 2013 was one of our strongest sales periods in the recent years for the company.
We still have so much more to do to reach our goals. But in this short, elapsed timeline we managed to do all of the above, plus engage in two new technology relationships giving us Aspect Social (the first fully integrated cloud-based Social Media business application for the agent desktop) and Aspect Back Office Optimizer, and today we add a significant combination with a more flexible, versatile solution platform that offers cloud, premise and hybrid delivery options.
Customers and leading industry analysts told us to broaden our product portfolio to create a more comprehensive solution that addresses all facets of customer interaction management. And while we are certainly not finished by any means, we took a big step towards our end-state goals today.
A couple of weeks ago we announced that Aspect entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Voxeo and full interest in its affiliate, Qivox. Today we are happy to tell you that the transaction to combine with Voxeo (and Qivox) has been completed. This move is a fantastic fit for both Aspect and Voxeo and is powerful proof that we are not just listening to our customers, partners and analysts but we are aggressively acting upon those recommendations and requests.
Voxeo’s capabilities will first, allow us to offer a fully integrated, market leading IVR technology in connection with Aspect’s interaction management platform, giving our customers a business solution that is significantly more compelling than anything else on the market today. Second, it will give our customers the deployment versatility they have been asking for by adding a global cloud infrastructure that will improve and expand our hosted and managed services capabilities. The assets inside of Voxeo (and Qivox) are game changers for Aspect, as we combine our capabilities for true Inbound/outbound omni-channel business solutions that are communication-enabled, mobile-ready and cloud delivered, by design.
The talent we are adding to our collective pool is truly also notable. We are already far along on our phase 1 integration agenda, and prepared to hit the ground running as of today, to bring our message to the streets, engage clients in their customer-interaction strategies, and deliver solutions. For the Voxeo customers, business partners, and employees (Voxeons), we are excited to have you onboard, and will work hard to extend even more value for those of you who have invested in Voxeo solutions already. Aspect intends to build on the great work done to date.
You should expect clarity of technical direction, transparency in our go-forward plans, and a continued (if not relentless commitment from the top of the company) to back up our business relationships with superior customer service and an obsession with customer experience. We will continue to work hard to earn our customers’ trust and long term business relationships.
We are in fact listening and we’re delivering. So it’s hard for me not to be excited about what the addition of Voxeo (and Qivox) brings to our collective customers and the broader market. I’d love to hear from you. Drop us a comment and let me know what you think, share any ideas you have that you’d like to see come out of this great combination.
by Mark King, SVP Europe & Africa on July 22nd, 2013
Nestled in the heart of Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire, England, lies the Football Association’s brand new centre of excellence for football (soccer, for non-Brits!), St George’s Park. A stunning facility not only designed to provide a training base for visiting European football teams, one of the key – and excuse the pun – goals of the park’s developers is to nurture and foster some of the best young football talent from across the continent.
The venue prides itself on its high levels of quality when it comes to customer service, and ensuring that guests get a luxury experience after a hard day’s training on its many pitches. And it was with this in mind that over 100 Aspect customers and partners from across the UK gathered at St George’s Park earlier this month to learn, exchange knowledge, gather best practice advice and network.
After an evening gala dinner prior to the Customer Strategy Day, where we were enthralled by an incredibly inspirational speech from renowned explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, it was down to the nitty gritty of customer engagement with several keynotes and breakout sessions on day two.
The audience of contact centre professionals heard from the cream of the crop of Aspect’s senior team, including Bryan Sheppeck, Senior VP Worldwide Sales; Spence Mallder, SVP and CTO, and Jorge Cruz, Business Innovation Manager. We were also treated to a very insightful talk about why the back office is critical to the customer journey and customer satisfaction from our new partner, Elizabeth Gooch, CEO of eg solutions.
But the buzz among attendees at the two-day event wasn’t how to integrate social media into the contact centre, nor was it ensuring up-to-date Ofcom compliance, or even reducing staff attrition. In fact, after catching up with a number of customers and partners, I discovered that there is one challenge that many contact centre managers are still battling. How do we best use our resources at the right place and at the right time in order get to our customers in the first place? Let’s face it; there is an incredible amount of strategic importance placed upon the first step in delivering an exceptional customer experience or generating loyalty. And rightly so!
Workforce optimisation of both the front and the back office is really resonating with the people in the industry I speak to. The formation of your team, how best to apply their skills, when and where they need to be to achieve the desired end result, and how to work with each other – even home workers to substitute during peak times – is as important in football as it is in the contact centre.
Customer service is a funny old game. The new customer conversation – the new Nuclear Family of consumers, if you will – is more complex, more demanding than ever. Truly engaging and understanding the customer on the level required to both generate more revenue and reduce costs will always be a challenge for contact centre managers. It does require investment in time, money, resources and technology, but that is why the Aspect Customer Strategy Day was so successful this year.
Attendees were able to challenge each other, learn how best to deploy new strategies, programmes and campaigns to achieve business goals and keep the contact centre profitable.
Feedback from customers and partners that attended the event has been extremely positive, and the general feeling is that everybody learned something new that they can go away and use to benefit their respective organisations. We thank every single attendee for coming along, and look forward to next year’s event!
by Chris Koziol, President & GM, Interaction Management on July 10th, 2013
We’ve talked for some time at Aspect about transforming our relationships with our customers to that of trusted advisors; business partners with the common goal of providing exceptional experiences for end customers. If you are a current customer, I hope this has been evident in the interactions and engagements we are having with you right now.
If it is, you’ve probably noticed it in some of the exciting enhancements we’ve made this year like Aspect Social, an exciting cloud-based social customer service platform that is making social customer service a contact center reality. Or perhaps you saw the introduction of the Back Office Optimizer that helps organizations streamline work processes and transforms customer experiences. Or you may have noticed how our Innovations Group has taken unique user requests and developed some pretty cool applications that address very specific customer challenges. Minimally, I hope you saw our Unified IP Tiger Shark introduction that creates a seamless integration with our workforce optimization suite.
We’re listening. And we’re working to provide solutions that make your customer interaction management efforts run smoother, more effectively and more profitably.
However, if you hadn’t heard about these until now, I’m pretty sure you’ll take notice of our latest news: You may have seen our announcement this morning that we have entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Voxeo! This move is a fantastic fit for Aspect. Voxeo is the leading provider of cloud/hosted and on-premise IVR solutions, multi-channel self-service customer care applications, and proactive outreach, serving a wide range of enterprise customers across a variety of industries. Voxeo’s competencies give Aspect market-leading cloud offerings and IVR solutions that don’t take a back seat to anything on the market. Voxeo also adds a very talented group of people in all functions of the company who will really help us accelerate the global availability of these new cloud, mobile and self-service business applications.
This is a clear example of how we are committed to investing in products, solutions and people that create the most innovative solutions on the market. To that end, we have cross-functional teams in all disciplines working on the specifics of how we integrate Voxeo into Aspect’s go-to-market efforts and operations because we want to make this exciting addition available just as soon as we can. We anticipate announcing detailed integration plans around the time we close the acquisition of Voxeo which should be by the end of July. But, if you just can’t wait until then to see what the combination of Aspect and Voxeo can bring to your operation, by all means give us a call!
by Christine OBrien on July 8th, 2013
In the contact center, the conversations between agents and customers are at the center of the customer service experience. Just as the back office provides the assistance necessary for the overall contact center, however, so too does the contact center manager provide the support needed during those specific conversations.
Managers have a responsibility to provide the tools, training, and support that allow agents to provide great customer service.
When customer service is a priority not only for individuals agents, but throughout the contact center as a whole—with managers leading the trend—customers can expect a consistent, overall greater level of service. Great customer service, of course, leads to happy and returning customers.
As a contact center manager what can you do to ready your agents to provide amazing customer service?
10. Hire employees that prioritize customer service in their interview and demonstrate previous customer service excellence
9. Create systems that make it easy for agents to reach you when they need to escalate issues
8. Build communication channels that allow agents to contact company experts to help resolve customer questions
7. Allow contact center agents a measurable amount of autonomy in order to handle grievances and resolve concerns
6. Make work schedules that allow agents enough time to be successful and engage with customers
5. Equip agents with the right communication and technology tools for them to be effective in their work
4. Use multiple platforms to train agents on customer service techniques, issue diagnosis, and escalation and resolution procedures
3. Listen to agents and customers when they come to you with ideas on how to improve aspects of the call center or to report grievances
2. Lead by example by always providing kind, thoughtful customer service
1. Make customer service the number one priority in your workspace by emphasizing it during meetings, using it to evaluate employees, and making it a key aspect of coaching
What other important responsibilities does a contact center manager have when it comes to customer service? How can they better lead by example and make customer service a priority in their contact center? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!