Contact Center Makes ‘Healthy’ Choice

February 02, 2016

Now that the deadline has passed for this year’s enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “Obamacare,” healthcare companies nationwide can expect a rash of calls from new members wanting to know exactly what they’re covered for. To that end, one company has decided to take its efforts to the cloud, so that it can be ready to expand as expected.

That’s why inContact, a leading provider of cloud contact center software and contact center agent optimization tools, has announced that a major digital health company has adopted the inContact solution. The new customer – which, according to inContact company protocols, declined to be named — will utilize inContact’s cloud-based contact center platform to provide easy service to consumers through a mixed network of both contact center and at-home agents.

“InContact offers powerful resources to our customers so they can better understand and improve their customer experience,” noted Paul Jarman, CEO at inContact, in commenting on the new client. “Our cloud solutions enable companies to easily scale up services to accommodate rapid growth and provide the insight they need to manage their expanding workforce.”

Given the explosive growth of healthcare in this country, the move makes sense. Facing an immediate need to support up to 700 agents, the growing care-management company is expected to implement and leverage inContact’s flexible Cloud Contact Center Platform to achieve its customer service goals. Further, by operating from a cloud platform the new customer will be able to scale its services rapidly to meet its expected growth to some 5,000 agents within the next 18 months.

In keeping with rapid changes in the contact center industry, the firm will also implement the key building blocks of inContact’s inbound solutions, the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, to support its omni-channel customer service center including email, chat, SMS messaging, and social media, in addition to traditional voice channels. InContact’s Workforce Management (WFM) and Quality Management (QM) offerings will also be utilized.

Healthcare Contact Centers Need a Checkup

January 29, 2016

Call centers always seem to get a bad rap, and maybe there’s a reason for that. Think about it: No one calls up when they’re happy. There’s usually a problem involved, and an unhappy caller on the other end. But that should just serve to give staffers a reason to be empathetic and help the caller out.

Now, for one segment of the market, there’s a new financial incentive as well.

In a recent piece on MediaPost.com, writer Daniella Koren took a look at call centers in the healthcare industry, and spelled out why they must pay particular attention to ensuring customers have a positive experience when they call in.

Koren notes that “The Affordable Care Act outlines that CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services) hold back one percent of reimbursements to hospitals in the U.S. each year. This one percent is redistributed as a reward to top-performing hospitals and taken away from poor performers. Thirty percent of what makes a hospital a top or poor performer is made up of that hospital’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) score.”

The HCAHPS is measured directly from what patients say; they fill out the survey. And if they had a bad experience on the phone, you can bet they’ll say so.

Keeping that in mind, Koren listed five suggestions to make the call center more effective, to help yield a better score:

Listen: “Call staff should listen closely to patients,” Koren says, “ask additional questions if necessary, and offer help based on what the patient has said.”

Reference Previous Calls: “When speaking to patients who call frequently, call center staff should be able to quickly reference past calls to better determine the patient’s needs,” she advises.

Always Follow Up: Once a call is over, the conversation should continue. “Before ending the call,” Koren suggests, “schedule a time to call the patient for a follow-up of that day’s call, or a reminder call if they are due for an office visit or a prescription renewal.”

Make the Most of Patient Outreach: Communication is an integral part of the patient care continuum, and patients should be alerted about seasonal immunizations, health events in their community, and screening tests they should have.

Don’t Underestimate Post-Discharge Calls: “Post-discharge calls encourage patients to become involved in their own care and can help start relationships with new patients who have received care and been discharged,” Koren says. “These follow-up calls also confirm that medication instructions are understood and are being followed.”

Customer care doesn’t end when the phone call does. In fact, the call can be the beginning of a new chapter. Make sure it counts.

Finding: Contact Center Needs to Keep Lines Open

Finding: Contact Center Needs to Keep Lines Open

January 26, 2016

We’ve all seen the reports and heard the word: ‘Omnichannel’ is the new way to go in the call center. Yet there seems to be one important point that everyone, in their rush to embrace the latest and greatest, is missing: Customers LIKE using the phone.

That’s the position of Joshua Feast, CEO and co-founder of Cogito Corp., manufacturers of software that empowers phone professionals to deliver a more engaging and caring customer experience. In a recent piece posted on CustomerThink.com, Feast spelled out his case as to why the telephone should still hold a prominent place in a company’s efforts to make the customer experience the best it can be.

“Companies are looking to text, Web self-service, instant messaging and just about any other method they can find to deliver a better customer experience,” Feast noted. “But while all of those channels can be useful in retaining customers and building loyalty, too many brands are not paying enough attention to the most important customer channel they have: the telephone.”

He goes on to cite research from Forrester (NewsAlert) that said the phone is still the most widely used customer contact tool. Among the Forrester findings was the revelation that customers want companies to value their time, with some 71 percent of consumers saying that doing so “is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.”

Companies that fail in this area do so at their peril. Feast points to an Arizona State University study that said “Despite the rise of the Internet, people are still 11 times more likely to complain via phone than Web.” And if they’re going to complain, wouldn’t you like the chance to respond directly and immediately?

“Omni-channel strategies can produce results to a point, but there is still no replacement for a call center that provides superior customer service,” Feast adds. “Agents with excellent communications skills, who can build genuine connections with customers, are more valuable than ever in what Accenture (News Alert) calls the ‘switching economy’.”

So what’s holding them back?

“Call-center agents become disengaged over time and often feel powerless to help customers,” Feast says. “They fail to build the kind of strong rapport with customers that will ultimately provide a more rewarding experience for the customer and the agent alike.” Further, “Supervisors and call center executives face significant measurement challenges. They currently lack an objective, automated and comprehensive means by which to measure and teach the communication skills that are at the heart of a phone call,” he believes.

Still, all is not lost. The biggest takeaway from Feast’s observation is that the problem is solvable; it just takes savvy management to recognize the issue and do something about it.

In the Call Center, Training Matters

January 21, 2016

WFO, or workforce optimization, is an idea that’s been around for a while, but has only recently begun to gain more traction in the call center field. The idea behind it is, if you can optimize what your workers do and how they do it, your bottom line will see the difference. Yet what many fail to see is that the staff you hire can have a bigger influence than the people you already have in place.

That’s the position of Jennifer Waite, Product Marketing Manager at cloud call center leader inContact. In a recent blog post, Waite took a deeper dive into WFO, and came up with some insights worth sharing.

“The hiring process is often overlooked as a key step in implementing an effective WFO strategy,” she maintains. “An agent’s relationship often begins many weeks prior to handling the first customer interaction and academic research has found that the candidate’s perception of the hiring process has a direct impact on his or her overall satisfaction with the company and his or her performance potential.”

As such, Waite concludes that the hiring process — and the new hire’s perception of it — is just as important to a successful WFO strategy as the selection of the right technology. She looks at three distinct parts of the process and why they’re important:

Attraction: “A company’s website careers page will capture active job seekers – those who know what they are looking for and where to look – as will the leading career sites such as Monster, CareerBuilder, Yahoo Jobs, and the like,” Waite says. But passive job seekers need to be attracted as well. Social media can play a big role in helping draw them, she adds. 

Selection: A critical part of the selection process is to screen candidates for their ability to handle the rigors of contact center work. “This is normally done through a recruiter-led telephone screen in which a recruiter asks the agent candidate a series of questions that are designed not only to validate the candidate’s skills, but also to gain some perspective on his or her communication style, energy and personality which are critical success factors in customer-contact positions,” Waite says. Basically, it’s designed to assure that the candidate will fit in with the team already in place.

Retention: “This is where the worlds of recruiting and WFO effectively come together,” Waite believes. New agents need to go through a comprehensive training program to prepare them for the rigors of contact center work. But if done properly, new employees will soon become veterans, and their example will be something the next generation coming up behind them will want to emulate.

Surprise: Callers Would Rather Solve Their Own Problems

Surprise: Callers Would Rather Solve Their Own Problems

January 19, 2016

With every New Year comes not only a resetting of the calendar, but a resetting of company priorities as well. Many in the enterprise use the New Year as a time to take stock of where they are and where they’re going. Contact centers are no exception.

In a recent piece posted on CustomerThink — a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises – writer Jeff Toister examined call centers based on a recent study from consulting firm Strategic Contact.

Toister looked at the survey results and noted that all the challenges found by those working in contact centers were inter-related. The challenges, broken down by percentages of respondents were:

  • A high attrition rate (24.19 percent):
  • Lack of cross-departmental collaboration (19.13 percent);
  • Self-service issues (18.41 percent); and
  • Level of service (18.41 percent).

“Look closely and you’ll see all of these issues are interconnected,” Toister noted. “Addressing them requires a holistic approach.”

He then breaks down the issues one at a time, and offers some insights for fixing them.

Attrition: “Many contact centers make the mistake of trying to fix attrition by focusing on motivation,” he notes. “[But] smart contact centers address the root cause. What contact center agents really want is to find meaning in their work. They want to solve problems and help customers.”

Collaboration: “Many of the issues that contact center agents are asked to resolve are out of their control,” Toister says. “They must rely on other departments to help make things right.” Once you get people collaborating, problem-solving becomes a joint effort.

Insufficient Self-Service: It’s understood that customers would rather solve their own problems, but not every center is set up to help them do so. “Unfortunately, contact centers usually need to rely on other departments to help them beef up their self-service offers,” he writes. That’s where problems begin.

Service Levels: This problem feeds on itself. “High attrition leaves contact centers short-staffed, which in turn leads to longer wait times,” Toister says. “Poor cross-departmental cooperation allows chronic problems to go unsolved. This generates more contacts, especially when customers aren’t able to get self-service.” And then the problem grows.

They say that recognizing the problem is half the solution. Those in the industry may need to take a hard look at their business and see where they’re falling short. The first step toward solving a problem is admitting you have one.

Cloud Solution? Go With a Winner

January 14, 2016

They say that in business you’re only as good as your most recent success, but if cloud call center leader inContact is any indication, the company is on a good roll.

Citing the company’s “full-featured cloud solution, stellar customer support, and commitment to innovation,” inContact was recognized by Frost & Sullivan (NewsAlert) (F&S) with the 2015 North American Frost & Sullivan Award for Customer Value Leadership.

“InContact, a pioneer in the cloud contact center industry, consistently strives to go above and beyond what premise-based leaders have delivered for years,” F&S said in a statement. “The firm has one of the strongest portfolios of contact center solutions in the cloud featuring the entire range of contact center functionality.”

The recognition makes sense, as enterprises worldwide have come to appreciate the price and performance benefits of using inContact’s cloud solutions. “Customers can deploy a plethora of features and applications without having to fund on-premise installations,” inContact notes. In addition, the company’s pay-as-you-go pricing model enables businesses to fund contact center expenditures out of OpEx rather than CapEx funds.

“InContact’s strategy to focus solely on the cloud has enabled it to address many challenges within the contact center market,” said F&S Principal Analyst Nancy Jamison. “First, the all-in-one, multi-tenant approach does away with the integration hassles found in on-premise deployments; [and] second, the company has resolved cloud reliability issues head-on.”

F&S further noted that some of the unique features offered by the company have also helped, citing inContact’s ‘Personal Connection’ outbound dialing solution (which does away with the notable ‘pause’ that some dialers make), which in turn helps push connection rates up.

“The company’s commitment to superior client experience through flexible ongoing professional services, business consulting, technical support, education and training is indeed laudable,” Jamison said. “At this pace of innovation and development, inContact will continue to expand market share and net key competitive wins.”

Are Contact Centers at Risk of Obsolescence?

January 13, 2016

Imagine a world where you no longer have to call a contact center to get an issue resolved. Instead, you can activate a new app, and text your concern to the company involved to get an immediate response without having to deal with recordings, folks with language difficulties, or the lies of “Our menu has changed.”

If Richard Smullen has anything to say about it, that will be your future, and it will be here sooner than you think. Smullen is the brains behind Pypestream, a new kind of standalone messaging app that, according to a report in CNN Money, “creates a direct, secure line of communication between businesses and their customers.”

The idea is deceptively simple, Smullen notes. “Most people can’t stand robotic voices,” he told CNN. “They want to go immediately to a representative. Yet with messaging, they won’t know it’s a robot.”

Texting enables call centers to respond to many consumers at once, making them much more efficient, CNN said. As such, Pypestream will use artificial intelligence along with machine-learning, so businesses can automate more of their customer service. It would appear to be a win-win for the consumer.

“In Pypestream’s app, consumers can switch on ‘pypes’ for businesses they want to connect with,” the CNN report said. “Pypes let businesses ping customers with promotional types of messages, and consumers can respond directly. People can also send their own texts at any time, like ‘What’s on sale?’ and ‘Why did you charge me $5 extra this month?’”

The company launched last month and has already signed on more than 500 businesses. Among them are MetroPCS, Billboard Magazine, South African Airways, and energy supplier Washington Gas. Signing up is free; companies are charged based on how many users interact with them.

Smullen believes messaging will change the industry for good and asked CNN rhetorically, “Are we the guys to do it? We hope so.”

Study Advises Latin American Markets

January 07, 2016

New analysis from a leading market researcher is showing Latin America what much of the world already knows: The Omnichannel effort can pay big dividends in the contact center industry.

That’s one conclusion Frost & Sullivan (NewsAlert) (F&S) reached in its new report, “Latin American Contact Systems Market 2015.” The recently released study has a trove of solid information for decision makers, noting that “Contact center analytics, workforce management and quality monitoring applications are gradually capturing companies’ attention,” especially in Latin America.

Moving into a new direction is sure to pay big dividends.

“Companies have begun to realize the importance of speech, voice and process analytics; workforce management and quality monitoring applications,” Frost & Sullivan Digital Transformation Industry Analyst Maiara Paula Munhoz said in a statement. “The poor economic scenario in Brazil and other Latin American countries translates to higher demand for these applications among companies that wish to boost productivity and efficiency, optimize costs and retain customers.”

Brazil, which accounts for almost half of the total revenues in the Latin American contact center systems market, is in the midst of an economic and political crisis, F&S noted.

“With inflation in the country reaching 9.2 percent and uncertainty plaguing most markets in the region, contact center system vendors need to reinvent themselves for survival,” F&S said. “They should also offer more innovative solutions to help their customers increase productivity,” they added.

“Organizations will gravitate to hosted and cloud-based contact center systems as their total cost of ownership is lower than that of premise-based solutions,” Munhoz noted. “Secondly, the shift from a capital expenditure model to an operational expenditure model will simplify cost management for companies.”

Frost & Sullivan also said the devaluation of Latin American currencies against the U.S. dollar is dampening investments in contact center systems, as deals are struck in dollars. Colombia, Mexico and Brazil will be particularly affected as their currencies are expected to be devaluated by 24 percent, 14 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

Is Your Contact Center Falling Short?

January 05, 2016

As if high employee turnover and disgruntled customers weren’t enough, a new study finds that call centers are facing new challenges as the New Year rolls out.

That’s the word from Consero Group, an international leader in creating industry-specific events for senior-level executives. The company just published the results of its look at the call center industry, and the numbers are telling.

“Nearly one in four of those surveyed by Consero, or 24 percent, said their No. 1 goal is to improve Customer Experience,” the company said. But unfortunately just one out of three respondents believes they have the resources to do the job. That could present a problem going forward.

“The greatest impediment was technology and infrastructure,” with 48 percent saying so, Consero noted. “In fact, 78 percent of respondents declared that technology infrastructure in general fails to meet their needs. The second greatest concern is economic and getting the job done in spite of budgetary restrictions, at 22 percent, and senior management buy-in was a close third at 19 percent.”

But there are other issues as well, as call centers try to do more with less.

“About 43 percent of executive respondents answered that the number of contact centers under their operation has increased (with 45 percent staying at the same number), while only 25 percent said outsourcing is a strategic priority,” Consero reported. As such, call centers don’t seem to be getting much help, either from outside or inside their organizations.

“Only 39 percent of executives are satisfied with the training offered to their call center agents,” the survey found. “And only 35 percent rate their call center reps as engaged in the customer experience.”

And even with the advent of omnichannel communications, call centers are still falling short in delivering what customers want.

“Call center executives named phone and email as the top two ways to receive customer feedback (at 37 percent saying the former is the primary channel, and 22 percent saying the latter)” Consero said. “But the problem is that those channels are too limited for what today’s customer’s want.”

As might be expected, it all comes down to technology. “Up to 40 percent of respondents said IT doesn’t meet current needs, and 80 percent said it will not meet future needs, and 40 percent claimed not to have analytics capabilities,” Consero said.

Clearly, the challenge is here. The question is, will the funding be there to fix it?

Even Outsourced Centers Need to go ‘Omni-Channel’

December 31, 2015

As contact centers continue their reach-out to make themselves all things to all customers, one idea getting a closer look is that of becoming “omni-channel.” While many call centers like to consider themselves multi-channel – that is, offering numerous options and ways for customers to reach them – they need to consider that those same customers are miles ahead of them. Hence, they need to go “omni-channel.”

In a recent blog post, U.K. Tech Writer Clare Angood took a deep dive on the issue and came up with some good point on why the move makes sense.

“At the time the term ‘omni-channel’ entered the customer service lexicon, most industry professionals were still getting to grips with its predecessor, multi-channel,” she wrote. “It should be no surprise, then, that many continue to see it as little more than an outgrowth of that. When they think omni-channel, they think multi-channel with panache. And yet it’s so much more than that.”

Angood notes that omni-channel is a new way of building a relationship between consumer and brand, and one that’s “becoming more and more important as the digital revolution gathers pace.”

She cites a recent Xerox survey that found some 54 percent of consumers would be willing to spend more if it meant getting better customer service. So the desire is there; businesses just need to step up to meet it. So what exactly is the difference between the two?

“In the multi-channel paradigm, success meant being able to deal with one problem using your call center, another through your mobile app, another in social media and so on,” Angood says. “To make the move to omni-channel, you need to stop thinking in silos about the support pages on your website or the specific call center software you use. The customer should come first, and you should recognize them as a single person regardless of channel.”

But an omni-channel contact center also needs to be seamless.

“When the customer makes the leap from one channel to another – from a community forum to a call with an agent, for example – there should be no noticeable disconnect,” she suggests. “The agent should know exactly where they are in their journey, what their query is and why it hasn’t been solved yet.”

So the work CAN be done, but it will take a commitment on the part of the contact center. The payoff will be happier, more loyal customers.