Is It Time for the Traditional RFP to RIP?

by John Amein, VP Product Management on October 8th, 2014

John Amein, VP Product ManagementOver many years of my career, I’ve seen a lot of RFPs, mostly on the sell side but also on the buy side. One of the memorable RFP moments for me came from the late 90’s when we hired a new product manager. He came from a large company, the kind that had more than 100,000 employees. We were in the midst of responding to an RFP, and he was talking about his experience on the buy side with one of the vendors’ responses that impressed him. “… and their response was awesome. It was this thick,” he said while holding his fingers three inches apart.

Really? That’s how you measured your vendors?  Did anyone actually read the response?

But that’s the way it was done. Companies regularly made, and still make, huge software decisions based on RFP responses, presentations, and site visits. Why? Because enterprise software has always been so complex and unwieldy to implement that as a buyer, you could never actually use the real thing.  

That’s what I see changing. The expectation for software for the enterprise is that it must be easier to use. We are pushing the envelope on this concept by offering an instant, free 30-day trial for Zipwire, our new cloud contact center. This no-contract, no-strings-attached trial is a rarity in the industry, in comparison to others which require talking to a rep and having an environment set up for you – or worse, claiming to offer a certain period “free” only by rolling the cost into future billing cycles. I’m seeing companies to whom we sell conducting intensive, real-world trials to compare different solutions. And if the software is not reasonably easy to use, that weakness comes through right away, generally leading to the right conclusion that the software probably is not that well engineered.

Will the RFP disappear? No, but I do hope that we will see it become less important as a document to understand the software capability as companies get smarter about insisting their software providers make it easy to try the real thing.

Is Your Social Customer Care Strategy on Track? Advice from Aberdeen

by Rebecca Anderson on October 6th, 2014

Rebecca AndersonEquipping your agents with the right social media management software has meant great things for customer contact and the customer experience overall. As customer behavior has shifted to reflect a growing interest in social engagement, it makes sense for businesses to incorporate social CRM tools into their overall customer care approach. Many business leaders ranked customer engagement at the top of their priorities for 2014. So if social engagement has been part of your plan, now is a good time to evaluate performance against existing benchmarks and make any necessary course corrections to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Keep social customer service on track with the steps to success outlined by Aberdeen.

Of course, simply implementing social customer service software doesn’t mean that you’ll experience maximum benefits. Results are strongly correlated with the ability to use the software effectively. Once you’ve established a strategy and outlined the plan for managing your social media software, the next step is to use the right ingredients to manage customer data from the system and to empower your agents to give exceptional service.

Figure: Aberdeen research shows impact of social media management tools

Knowledge is power. Know how best-in-class companies are managing social customer data.

Managing customer data effectively is a key component of omni-channel customer service. It is easier said than done, however. Aberdeen found that best-in-class companies relied on three key capabilities to manage customer data flows across company systems:

  • 83% Centralized knowledgebase of product/service information
  • 83% Data from social customer care interactions shared with non-contact center staff
  • 56% Access to all customer information on a single screen/desktop

Even the best system for managing customer data will be of little use if the agent does not have easy access to the information. If a customer has to wait for the agent to log into and out of systems, it increases the handle time and likely increases customer frustration as well. Top performing companies enable their agents to deliver timely, consistent, and personalized service through social media management tools, such as:

  • 82% Agents are provided with a detailed view of customer transactional data via the agent desktop
  • 71% Updates made on agent desktop as part of social customer care activities roll back into other enterprise systems
  • 58% Agents are immediately alerted to re-engage a customer sharing negative comments via social media

For more details on how you can maximize the benefits of your social media management tools, read the full report from Aberdeen, Social Customer Care: Steps to Success in 2014, compliments of Aspect.

Web Chat FAQ: Average Costs vs. Handle Time and Efficiency

by Kelly Burke on September 26th, 2014

Kelly Burke, Senior Product Manager, AspectDownload your free web chat eBookWeb chat is a hot topic in the contact center space right now, with more consumers clicking that “chat now” button rather than picking up a phone and dialing an 800 number.  But rolling out a strategic web chat initiative is not as simple as funneling chat sessions into your existing agent queue.

Knowing what to expect in terms of costs and implementation can go a long way to ensuring the success of your web chat program.

Q: What are the costs involved?

One of the biggest initial draws of web chat that businesses may see is its comparatively low cost per interaction. If best practices are followed, cost per web chat session will be around $8-$10 on average. Compared to the average phone call session cost of $35-$50, this sounds like an amazing bargain. But don’t forget to factor in the increased handle time associated with web chat. The speed of type can’t match the speed of conversation, and there is a natural lag time between the send-and-receive on each end for both the agent and consumer.

Q: How many chat sessions should an agent run simultaneously?

The answer to this question will depend on your industry and the complexity of the support being offered. However, on average the benchmark for simplistic chat sessions run concurrently is six, whereas the benchmark for more complex chat sessions is four. Web chat agents who have the training in effective business writing and the capacity to type at least 65 words per minute – and who are supported by an integrated knowledgebase – can effectively provide this level of support and productivity.

Q: Does this concurrency benchmark affect the customer experience?

Concurrency has zero effect on customer satisfaction. The customer who is engaged with a skilled web chat agent will not be aware of the fact that this agent is simultaneously assisting other customers. When conducting concurrent web chat sessions, businesses should examine the “time between chats” metric, which is the time a customer is required to wait before they receive a response from the agent. This metric should never drop below 35-40 seconds; when time extends beyond this measure, customer satisfaction begins to drop.

You can find the answers to more questions like these in the eBook we recently produced in collaboration with Moxie, The Do’s and Don’ts of Web Chat. Take the guesswork out of getting web chat right. Download your free copy today!

Is Technology Making it Easier for Consumers to Play Hide and Seek With Their Data?

by Tim Dreyer on September 23rd, 2014

Tim Dreyer, Director, Public Relations and Analyst Relations, AspectWe have written much about what we term the ‘relationship revolution’, that organic evolution of consumer control fueled by our hyper-connected behavior. It is a seismic shift in who has the upper hand in the customer-company relationship. But a few new trends percolating on the outskirts of the customer engagement industry could signal even greater power in the hands of consumers.

The first is Tor, a kind of web browser aims to make your internet activity stealth; unseen and undetected. Tor does this by routing traffic through a number of other connected internet users, making it very hard for governments or private companies to track internet usage. Over a million people use Tor, which became legendary after Edward Snowden clandestinely leaked information revealing that the NSA was eavesdropping on average citizens. Before Snowden, Tor was popular with drugs and hitmen trying to keep their illicit activities hidden from the law. Already sounds scary, huh?

So why should a company be concerned about Tor? Law abiding consumers, attempting to anonymously post negative comments on Yelp, may try to avoid creating a data trail that customer service departments can tap into. Stealth internet use makes it difficult for companies to engage their customers intelligently. Most consumers would not have a real need to conduct anonymous interactions with the companies they do business with but if more companies use or misuse that data to the annoyance of their customers, more people may feel the need to avoid data sharing

The solution of course is making sure consumer data is used to the benefit of the customer. An Aspect survey earlier this year found that 47% of consumers felt like the information companies had on them rarely resolves their issue but more than half of them are willing to provide personal information if those companies deliver  targeted, relevant offers to them.

The other trend is consumer data protection in Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Customer service, relative to Machine-to-Machine communications is still in its very early infancy but as the ability for appliances and automobiles to communicate directly to manufacturers through cloud-driven service  without the need for human intervention begins to take shape, the question arises as to what data are people willing to share. Or better, what are they willing to let their machines share. In the just-published piece in CIO, author Raman Mehta asks just who will the consumer be willing to give their appliance/machine data to. How long will that information exist in a public/private cloud? And who exactly will have access to that data?

Why should a company care? Much like how consumers have become ubersensitive about handing out credit card information to even the most trusted retailers, the theory that personal machine usage history could be used against them, or at least used to annoy them is only going to inch closer to reality.

  • Will their furnaces be deluged with promotional spam emails for discount filters?
  • Will their hatchbacks accept performance-improving application downloads that perhaps they don’t really don’t want?
  • Could the warranty on that hatchback be voided if they miss an oil change?
  • Do they need to place their ovens on no-call lists?

Companies looking at IoT-driven service need to have the same data sensitivity and create the same data protection trust they have when a customer talks to an agent or provides information through a web chat. Much like the trust consumers have that the buying and search history data they share will be used to present customized, relevant offers by the companies they do business with and not be used to annoy them, so should the data they choose to share from their connected machines. I’m going out on a limb here but I don’t think thermostats will like spam any more that humans do.

The relationship revolution was born out of consumer dissatisfaction.  After years of tolerating having to repeat themselves and being treated like strangers, they have taken control of the conversation, and are more vocal and less tolerant than ever before. Machine-produced data presents incredible opportunities for proactive customer service but if companies squander those opportunities, the last thing we want is for the machines to join in the revolution.

Contact Center Insights Featuring Research from Gartner

by Evan Dobkin on September 19th, 2014

Evan DobkinIVRreportEverything is Changing. Is Your Business Keeping Pace? For many companies, the contact center is at the center of the customer experience – answering questions, facilitating sales, booking appointments and enabling transactions. What happens when this epicenter of customer contact doesn’t adapt fast enough to changing consumer preferences and behaviors? Does the customer get frustrated? Tell a few hundred friends on Twitter? Or even take their business elsewhere? These are the new realities of service and support.

At the same time, traditional customer interaction channels like Interactive Voice Response, remain highly relevant. Take a look at our latest strategic insight newsletter, featuring Gartner’s 2014 MarketScope for IVR Systems and Enterprise Voice Portals and insights on serving and engaging today’s digital consumer.

Read it now! Take a look at the PDF from Gartner, Serving and Engaging the Digital Consumer – from Self-Service to Agent-Assisted.

Three Ways to Step Up Proactive Engagement With Your Customers

by Tobias Goebel on September 17th, 2014

Tobias GoebelA recent study conducted by International Data Corporation found that 25 percent of smartphone users couldn’t recall a time when their phone wasn’t in the same room with them. 79 percent of users confessed to having their phones with them for all but two hours of their working day. The connected dependence of consumers and their always-on, always connected mentality has dramatically altered what Forrester Research refers to as the “always-addressable customer.”

So with the growth of this “always-on” attitude, it’s critical for companies to also be on 24/7 in order to anticipate and meet the needs of their hyper-connected customers. Outbound proactive and omni-channel communications can allow companies to do just that. When brands make the effort to proactively reach out, consumers feel as if their needs are being tended to before they’re even aware there’s an issue.

Here are three concrete ways to get ahead of the curve and explore outbound and omni-channel engagement strategies that can help companies provide better and more consistent service to their customers.

Customer surveys

Customers who feel that they’re being heard by brands are more likely to remain loyal. Surveys are a great way to engage with customers, through the channel of their choice, on their own time, to discern sentiment, identify promoters and detractors, and influence future interactions with customers. A robust survey application should include personalized content, adapting to each customer’s individual needs and concerns; support open-ended feedback capture through audio recordings; offer customers the option of speaking to customer support in real-time and allow opt-outs to ensure compliance.


Another way to step up proactive engagement with customers is through outbound messages regarding upcoming payments and past due accounts. Through an automated bi-directional communication channel, customers can submit payments immediately anytime, from anywhere, which increases collection rates and improves business efficiency. Collection tools should: use a local telephone number to encourage connection; support compliant and secure collection of payment details over the phone; facilitate the use of best practices in collections for all types of financial products and industries, and provide a consistent message across all channels.

Reminders and Notifications

Finally, companies can create their own custom proactive engagement applications that allow you to contact customers with outbound communications specifically tailored to your businesses needs. If you know something that the customer should know as well, notify them. If you know something that the customer already knows but might have forgotten, remind them. For example, outbound notifications on email, SMS, or the voice channel can be used for order status messages, appointment and prescription reminders as well as service outage notifications, depending on business needs. Ideally, proactive engagement solutions should: speak on the channel of the customer’s choice, allow you to be up and running in hours instead of weeks; operate safely and securely through Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) deployment in the cloud, provide easy-to-use reporting on results and KPIs and include a campaign manager and scheduler to drive outbound campaigns.

When designed properly, outbound communications provide customers with the information they need, when they need it and even before they need it. This means not only remaining flexible enough to go beyond voice and allowing customers to respond in the channel of their choice, but also giving them power to decide when they want to communicate with you as part of one seamless conversation. It also sends a message to your customers that just like them, you’re always on and plugged into their needs.

3 Things Your Agents Could Be Doing with Their Idle Time

by Christine OBrien on September 15th, 2014

Chris O'Brien, Marketing Communications Writer, AspectObviously, when we talk about efficiency in the workforce, we’re not striving for the kind of over-scheduling that will leave even the best and brightest agents burned out. We all need a little breathing room in our day. But excessive agent idle time should be an indication to take a closer look at scheduling and utilization rates. It also raises the question of how that time could be spent in a more productive manner – not that the occasional break isn’t conducive to morale.

Research from Aberdeen shows that in contact centers headquartered mainly in North America and Europe, agents spent approximately 25% of their salaried/paid-time idle, that is, time not engaging customers or receiving training or coaching. (Source: Automated Intraday Contact Center Workforce Management: Bridging the Disconnect Between Downtime and Effective Time, July 2012.) Our own research conducted shows similar findings – that the average agent spends about 11% – or 53 minutes – idle each day. That’s nearly five hours lost per agent each week, and over 229 hours every year.

For a 100-seat contact center paying an average agent salary of $17/hr, that’s a potential loss of over $389,000 annually.

agent idle time

Even with the high level of accuracy that most sophisticated workforce management systems have at predicting staffing needs, there are still normal fluctuations in call volume that can result in agent idle time. We touched on this subject a few months ago on the blog as well, Managing Your Workforce in Real Time. Real-time intraday management software has been able to find an average of four extra hours of agent time per month by consolidating idle time without affecting service levels, whether this time is accessible in increments of several minutes or blocks of several hours.

As a result, it only makes sense to put as much of this time as possible to optimal use. If agents spend time idle and unmotivated, it’s far more likely that they’ll see down time as an opportunity to:

  • Browse the Internet
  • Spend time on social media sites
  • Chat with friends or coworkers
  • Look for other employment opportunities

Intraday management technology can help you keep agents focused on meaningful tasks even when there are fluctuations in call volume, which not only elevates productivity but it provides a more satisfying work environment. Here are a few ways can help you make this happen:

  1. Deliver targeted training – Dynamically monitor agents’ call volume to deliver training by dynamically removing agents from the queue for training tasks if call volumes fall below a pre-defined level
  2. Maximize cross-channel customer experience – Transition staff from voice to other customer channels such as chat, e-mail, or social response based on real-time demand in each channel call/interaction volume
  3. Distribute back office work – Prompt the right agents to begin assigned back office tasks when call volumes decline to a pre-determined level

Opportunities for engagement don’t stop when the customer interaction ends. Aberdeen found that Best-in-Class businesses who optimize a larger percentage of agent idle time saw a corresponding improvements in customer satisfaction, number of SLAs met, and the amount of time required by supervisors to assist contact center agents. Read the full details of this report by registering and downloading the report, Automated Intraday Contact Center Workforce Management: Bridging the Disconnect Between Downtime and Effective Time” (2012).

You can also find out more on Aspect’s SaaS-based Active Assignment solution to learn more ways your workforce could benefit from this powerful intraday management software.

3 Ways Your Data is Driving Brand Loyalty

by Rebecca Anderson on September 11th, 2014

Rebecca AndersonCustomer service is under a microscope. From horror stories to acts of kindness to humorous interactions, extreme examples of customer service circulate the web. A new one seems to pop up every week. Even the media has found these stories worthy of coverage. If we take a step back though and look outside of these exceptional experiences at typical day-day interactions a consumer has with a brand, what are the obstacles standing in the way of providing best-in-class service? The simplest answer: lack of data.

It’s astounding that in today’s world of data overload, contact centers could be struggling with data but as Aberdeen’s report Customer Engagement Analytics: How to Use Data to Create (and Keep) Happy Customers” (May 2014)  indicates, it’s not a lack of data but a lack of integration between systems that is the major pain point in the contact center. Overcoming that challenge, ‘Best-in-Class Contact Centers’ had three characteristics in common that help provide agents with the appropriate data to serve customers.

1. Provide agents with recent and historical customer data at the beginning of each interaction

In Best-in-class contact centers, customer data moves with the customer even if they switch channels or get transferred. This is especially important as research has shown that typical interactions involve at least one transfer. Companies that provide recent and historical data enjoyed a 3.5% reduction in average handle time compared to .7% reduction of those without the process.

2. Use customer contact data to support dynamic customer traffic queues

Dynamic queue management captures customer data from the ACD and appropriately routes customers to the best-suited agent. Interesting, but not surprising, is that having a dynamic traffic queue is highly correlated with the ability to integrate technology systems to gain an overall view of the customer interaction.

3.       Regularly monitor customer conversations regarding company brand across social media

Best-in-Class contact centers overcome the data challenge on social media by integrating the channel into their business. Companies are tracking customer sentiment across multiple channels to monitor and manage brand loyalty.

The chart below shows a more details look at the building blocks leaders use for superior performance.


Looking for ways we can help you break down the data silos in your contact center and earn your customers’ loyalty through more positive, seamless experiences? Learn more about Aspect’s contact center solutions. 

Workforce Optimization Tools for Great Customer Experiences

by Robert Moore on September 8th, 2014

The role of the contact center is changing as consumer preferences evolve at an accelerating pace.  A recent blog by Spence Mallder, GM Workforce Optimization and CTO points out that recently, customer experience has overtaken productivity as the top priority for contact center workforce optimization (WFO) programs.  It’s an example, albeit an important one, of how the world of the workforce optimization leader is changing as the dynamics of the contact center continue to change.

The infographic below takes us on a quick tour of new challenges and priorities for contact center workforce optimization leaders, some of the key WFO tools and technologies they are using, and the beneficial results that they are seeing from best-practice use of their WFO tools.

If you want to know more, download the full report from Aberdeen compliments of Aspect, or visit to find out about the capabilities of Aspect’s Workforce Management solutions

WFO infographic

LEAN – Your Prescription for Successful Patient Encounters

by Kathleen Schroeder on September 4th, 2014

Kathleen SchroederBy Kathleen Schroeder and Healthcare Intelligence

Because of escalating healthcare costs and the need to decrease medical errors while improving quality, many providers are looking for ways to make the delivery of healthcare services more efficient. One strategy might be found in an unlikely source of inspiration – the same assembly line approach that also originally inspired Henry Ford’s automotive manufacturing.

The concept is LEAN, or Lean Production, a Japanese approach employed by Toyota Production System and that can also be used to help health systems eliminate waste from their current workflows.

There are actually several potential areas of inefficiency where LEAN can be applied to a healthcare contact center:

  • Transport: Transportation takes time. A traffic jam or inclement weather can keep your staff away from their scheduled shift.  Work at home for some agents can help eliminate time spent on the road and increase time available for patient calls.  Work-at-home environments allow agents to log-in immediately and avoid increased abandonment rates. Decreasing the amount of time an agent has to travel leads to optimal staffing – work-at-home agents are more willing to pick up split shifts and cover shifts during another agent’s absence.
  • Inventory: An excess of resources impacts the bottom line, while too few resources impact production! In a healthcare contact center, inventory is a great parallel to staffing and forecasting. Overstaffing and understaffing are very real problems within contact centers unless health systems have a viable work force management system.
  • Motion: Unnecessary movement to accomplish a task is wasteful. When your staff has questions or concerns and can’t effortlessly reach out to other co-workers, subject matter experts or knowledge bases for help, average handle time dramatically increases. Your staff would benefit from having the capability to instant message team leaders and clinical personnel or, in a few simple key strokes, access the information they need to respond to the patent’s request.
  • Waiting: Any time spent waiting for a service is perceived as an inconvenience by a customer. Patients are no different; in fact, the severity of their condition may significantly decrease their willingness to wait. Having the ability to measure the speed of answer and the abandonment rate allows leaders within the contact center to adjust the staffing or key performance indicators.
  • Overproduction: This kind of waste is defined as the creation of excess product. In a healthcare contact center setting, overproduction often occurs when patients are asked unnecessary or repetitive questions. Agents exert additional effort to capture information that is not clinically or financially relevant. Standardized work flows go a long way to streamline patient encounters and decrease overproduction.
  • Over-processing: Over-processing often occurs when unnecessary steps are added to patient facing processes that do not add value. When applied to a healthcare contact center setting, multiple patient transfers can be dubbed as over-processing. With an ACD, proper skill based routing cannot occur successfully. Patients are asked non value-added questions prior to their transfer to another staff member or clinician. An automated phone tree can also decrease over-processing by decreasing average handle time and allowing for workgroups with specialized skill sets, to focus on the value-added service they can provide their patients.
  • Defects: This word needs no definition and has added gravity in the healthcare industry.  Miss-scheduled appointments, bad triage encounters or, an erroneous bill can all have a terrible impact on a patient and their overall experience.  Creating a knowledge base along with quality assurance and quality management can eradicate these errors. A good call recording and analytics program can aid in the development and automation of the quality assurance initiative.

A contact center in the healthcare industry has many parallels with LEAN ideology.  Linking the technology and the processes to this ideology will create a culture that focuses on high performance and efficiency and ultimately superior patient experiences. Let Aspect Healthcare and Healthcare Intelligence show you how to make LEAN a reality for your health system.

Aren’t your patients worth it?