Call Centers Striving for Higher Quality

December 29, 2015

One of the biggest buzz-phrases set to take the call center industry by storm in the New Year is ‘Quality Management.’ While many within the industry already consider themselves adept at making sure quality remains high, there are further steps everyone can take to make sure that’s the case across the board. One of those steps is effective calibration.

In a recent blog post Gerald Sinclair — WFO Practice Manager at Uptivity, an inContact company – looked at the value of calibration and the impact it can have on a “quality” effort.

“Calibrations ensure fairness for your internal staff, from a strategy perspective, and help deliver a consistent customer experience,” Sinclair wrote. “The goal of calibrations is to ensure that everyone who is responsible for call scoring is doing it consistently and fairly.”

His suggestions and ideas on the issue are worth a second look:

Choose Your Calibration Type: Sinclair notes that both “traditional” and “Digital / Hybrid” calibration choices are available. It’s incumbent upon the leader to choose the best for their respective company.

Include Your Management: “Management is driven by KPIs and financials, so it is important that other stakeholders understand their perspective and how call handling affects the bottom line,” he notes.

Include Your Agents: “Agent inclusion is a vital strategy for establishing agent buy-in and promoting self-improvement,” Sinclair says. “Encourage your agents to voice their feedback, concerns, opinions, and front-line insights.”

Leverage your Quality Standards Definitions Document: “This document outlines, defines and provides examples for the questions on your evaluation form,” Sinclair says. As such, it’s important to know what it is, how it works and how to best utilize it.

Be Consistent With Your Calibration Frequency: “For maximum effectiveness, calibrations should be held consistently with an established frequency,” Sinclair suggests. “More frequent calibrations are needed if there are changes to the program, new staff, or deviation percentages.”

Sinclair has other timely suggestions, available HERE on his blog post. But his bottom line is, getting everyone on the same page when it comes to careful calibrations can only work to the benefit the whole company.

Empirix, inContact Join for ‘Better Sound’

December 22, 2015

It doesn’t matter how quickly an operator picks up a customer call in a contact center. If the voice quality if less than stellar, an agitated customer will fast become a disgruntled one.

That might be one reason why cloud contact center leader inContact has joined forces with Empirix (NewsAlert) to deploy the latter’s IntelliSight solution. Empirix’ solution underpins the ability to validate performance of its new Voice as a Service (VaaS) offering and provide greater levels of transparency to customers.

The plan is for Empirix to monitor the voice connection quality of inContact’s Voice as a Service (VaaS) offering. This comprehensive monitoring will include detailed reporting of the mean opinion score (MOS) to inContact and its customers. The VaaS announcement was part of inContact’s recent release of its cloud contact center platform at the annual inContact User Conference (ICUC). VaaS represents a significant opportunity for inContact to leverage both its carrier-grade infrastructure and cloud contact center platform to provide a comprehensive solution for customers.

“Our new Voice as a Service offering builds on inContact’s unique strength as the only contact center provider with a global, carrier-grade network,” said Paul Jarman, CEO of inContact. “Voice is a critical channel for customer satisfaction and quality interactions. We turned to Empirix to provide standard industry benchmarks, expanded monitoring tools and a best-in-class voice quality offering for contact centers.”

According to both companies, to help provide visibility across the network and ensure the best possible quality for voice calls, inContact turned to Empirix for its expertise in network performance monitoring and reporting. The solution integrated within the inContact platform is comprised of E-XMS and IntelliSight. E-XMS is a probe-based monitoring system deployed at key points in the network to follow communication events from start to finish, regardless of network technology or service delivery method. As a result, E-XMS delivers clarity around the complex factors affecting customer experience and overall network performance.

“Empirix solutions play a critical role in enabling inContact to monitor and manage the VaaS environment to ensure the best possible customer experience,” said Kambiz Vahdani, Empirix’ VP of Sales for the Americas. “By leveraging IntelliSight, inContact will be to provide its contact center customers with unparalleled visibility and performance.” 

Call Center Leaders Primed to Move

December 17, 2015

A recent report from research giant Frost and Sullivan (F&S) has shown that total revenues from hosted/cloud contact center solutions in North America have already surpassed on-premises product revenue in terms of annual spend for this year. That’s good news for those in the cloud contact center space, but there is still work to be done.

“In terms of installed base penetration, on-premises contact center systems still have an edge over hosted solutions, which translates to a huge opportunity for the latter’s market growth,” F&S noted in a statement.

The demand for best-of-breed cloud applications will be particularly strong in the mid- to large-sized enterprise market where companies will look to source new and add-on capabilities as cloud services, while retaining some of their core systems on-premises, F&S said.

According to researchers, the North America Hosted/Cloud Contact Center Report finds that the market earned revenues of $2.17 billion in 2014 and expects it to reach $3.66 billion by 2019. The hosted/cloud model, comprising best-of-breed and full-suite interactive voice response (IVR), automatic call distributor (ACD), chat, outbound, and agent performance optimization (APO) applications, has emerged as the preferred deployment model for contact center applications. While hosted IVR will continue to have the largest revenue share in this market through the forecast period, hosted ACD, hosted chat and hosted APO will have much higher growth rates.

“Small- and mid-sized contact center organizations are showing a marked preference for full-suite cloud contact center solutions to reduce costs and integration complexity as they move more applications to the cloud,” observed Frost & Sullivan (NewsAlert) Contact Centers Principal Analyst Nancy Jamison. “However, with more than 60 providers offering a range of best-of-breed, suite and point solutions, customers often feel overwhelmed by the profusion of choices.”

The report concluded that owing to the intensifying competition among pure-play cloud providers for mindshare and the challenge mounted by premises vendors, telcos and outsourcers have step up their marketing and sales efforts to remain competitive in this market.

Cloud Contact Center to the Rescue

December 15, 2015

In the world of “materials handling”, time really is money. If you can’t get the requested products to an anxious customer in a timely fashion, you’ve not only lost the sale but probably lost a customer for life, as well. That may be one reason why a major facility expert and materials handler has chosen to adopt inContact’s unified cloud platform for all its contact center needs.

The company – which, according to inContact company protocols was not publicly identified — will implement inContact’s “scalable, cloud-based contact center solution, robust reporting platform, superior quality monitoring, and multichannel offering throughout several locations across the United States,” according to a release.

The facilities expert reportedly has 300 agents in five contact centers and dozens more in remote and at-home locations, and is primed to utilize inContact’s flexible Cloud Contact Center Platform comprised of the company’s multi-channel Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) and a fully integrated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system.

“InContact gives our customers the power to achieve their customer experience goals through unifying all resources into one dynamic platform,” said inContact CEO Paul Jarman, in making the announcement. “Our suite of cloud-based products will allow this new client to increase reliability, enhance functionality and provide the best customer experience possible.”

InContact’s best-in-class ACD will allow the new customer to scale its business easily by providing skills and proficiency-based routing for both inbound and outbound interactions, with support for voice, email, text, chat and social media channels. “The IVR system provides callers with self-service options and allows customers to select a call-back when an agent becomes available rather than waiting on hold during times of high call volume,” inContact said. Additionally, inContact’s easy-to-use cloud platform includes simple modifications for adjusting to rapid and drastic changes in customer service traffic.

It’s worth noting that the company also chose to utilize inContact Quality Management, which provides customers deep insights into agent performance, helping to facilitate continuous improvement to their customer service processes. The inContact cloud-based solution also features multi-level redundancies and Disaster Recovery measures to ensure uninterrupted operations even when experiencing typical outage-causing conditions.

Sportswear Maker Now Able to Answer the Call

December 10, 2015

With the Christmas holiday shopping season in full swing, retailers are seeing a crushing load of calls to their contact centers. Those that prepared for the onslaught will see the results when the shopping eases. Those that didn’t prepare will pay the price.

One company that saw a need and tackled it head-on was Columbia Sportswear, a Portland, Oregon-based outdoor wear company. In a recent blog post, Gavin Gustafson — Communications Manager at cloud call center leader inContact – talked about how Columbia wanted to grow its own call center rapidly, but had a myriad list of needs it also wanted to be addressed.

“Offering outstanding customer support is a primary mission for outdoor apparel manufacturer Columbia Sportswear, but their PBX (NewsAlert)-based system had long been a bottleneck for their contact center and IT teams,” Gustafson wrote. “In 2010, Kristina Coker, Enterprise Mobility & Telecommunications Engineer, created a Request for Proposal (RFP) with a long wish list of ideal characteristics of a new contact center system.”

That list included:

  • Support for a wider range of communication channels
  • Scalability to satisfy seasonal call volumes
  • Flexibility to handle growth
  • Resiliency to outages
  • Quick and simple access to live call statistics
  • Easy-to-use, allowing business owners to make system changes as needed.

Columbia was about to acquire new offices, so supporting these additional locations was important. It was also noted that e-commerce was being added to their website so the company needed to support SMS, chat, email, and click-to-call functionality. “We had a lot of changes on the roadmap, and we needed a solution that was stable, flexible, and scalable for our call center,” Coker told Gustafson.

InContact was able to provide everything Columbia needed, and more.

“With inContact, Columbia can manage agents in multiple buildings, states, and even multiple countries on a single platform regardless of physical location, team size, call volume, or other normal constraints of a PBX-based solution,” Gustafson said. “Furthermore, Columbia’s contact center managers are no longer dependent on IT to make simple or complex changes.”

Now, Columbia’s managers can get detailed reports that measure agent performance and live call statistics in real time. Previously, they had to pull data from three separate systems so they often ended up with reports that painted different pictures, because the process was inconsistent.

Columbia Sportswear has seen the following results since implementing inContact cloud solutions:

  • Talk time reduced by an average of 20 seconds;
  • Sales orders increased 56 percent and revenue 59 percent;
  • Earned a customer satisfaction score of 93.6 percent while absorbing and handling a 34 percent increase in call volume;
  • 1,346 man hours saved for the year.

For more information on how Columbia Sportswear improved their customer service operations with inContact Cloud Solutions, you can download the comprehensive case study here.

When Outsourcing, Choose Your Workers Wisely

December 09, 2015

It’s a given in the industry these days that call center agents can make or break a relationship with a customer. Customers usually call when they’re unhappy about something, and their conversation with the agent can either leave them feeling like they just spoke with someone who really cared, or feeling like they’re done with that company altogether. And remember, once a customer leaves, there are only two chances they’ll return: Slim and None.

So it would seem that a prime opportunity exists for companies to take a call center and expand it into something  greater; a marketing opportunity.

That’s the opinion of Jason Wesbecher, Chief Marketing Officer for Mattersight, a company devoted to the “Chemistry of Conversation,” and all things call center related.

In a recent blog post at Business 2 Community, Wesbecher looked at the value a good call center can return.

“Historically, the call center and customer service have never fallen under the marketing umbrella, but as more and more companies realize the impact that it can have on their brand, that’s starting to change,” he noted.

To make his point, Wesbecher looked at different aspects of the call center where he believes change can be implemented for the better:

Analytics: “The field of marketing has become incredibly data driven, and it’s time for call centers and customer service to step up to the plate,” he said. “Companies need to implement technology that can transform all of that raw call data into actionable insight to help them understand and improve the effectiveness of their call centers.”

Engagement: “Engagement marketing is all about connecting with people – which is exactly what call center agents do every day,” Wesbecher noted. “Beyond traditional, transactional personalization techniques, agents should also be taught the importance of understanding and shifting communication styles to best meet the needs of the customer.”

Journey Mapping: Marketers use journey maps to understand how customers move from gaining awareness of their brand to eventually purchasing from them. Similarly, call center agents must be able to navigate the journey that their customers take from the onset of a problem or inquiry. “Knowing the steps that the customer has taken to try and resolve the problem on her own, and what information the brand has or hasn’t given her, can help the agent pinpoint where the customer is in her journey and more to resolve the issue,” Wesbecher said, “as well as make the customer feel that she is in capable hands.”

Personalization: Marketers are sending increasingly targeted and personalized messages to consumers. Call centers need to do the same, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. “Simply proactively acknowledging their past purchases can go a long way toward making customers feel valued,” he said.

In short, the answer can be found at the end of a phone line, but training your agents to do and say the right thing is the critical piece of the puzzle.

Energy, Time-Savings Big Selling Point for Move to Cloud

December 03, 2015

Energy sources outside of the old standby of fossil fuels are gaining new respect and new proponents in the world today. If we can get power from the free wind and sun all around us, why wouldn’t we?

So taking that thought to its next logical step, a major provider of alternative residential energy has announced it’s moving its contact center operations to inContact’s unified cloud platform. The cost-savings and efficiency alone justify the move, but there are other reasons as well.

“The company will implement inContact’s cloud solution to more than 200 agents in four contact centers and utilize the functional and flexible cloud-based solution to support its plans for aggressive growth,” inContact said in a statement.

The energy company – which, according to inContact company protocols was not identified – said it chose inContact cloud for its flexibility and power to drive revenue through streamlined services. It’s a move inContact has seen before.

“inContact’s seamless cloud platform is designed to simplify contact center operations so companies can focus on growing and scaling their offering,” said inContact CEO Paul Jarman, in commenting on the new client. “By delivering our solutions in the cloud, inContact ensures ease of use through comprehensive platform integration.”

According to both parties, the inContact Cloud Contact Center Platform is built on a multi-channel Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) and fully integrated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. inContact’s ACD provides a universal, multichannel queue allowing the company to support customers through voice, chat, email and social media. The integrated IVR system offers self-service and automatic call back options during unusually high call volume instances which greatly reduces contact center hold times and improves the overall customer experience.

It’s worth noting that inContact’s new customer also selected the inContact Agent for Salesforce to integrate with their existing Salesforce CRM. “Incorporating the inContact platform with the company’s CRM will increase the contact center efficiency with a single interface providing customer information screen pops, enabling agents to provide a higher level of customer service,” the energy company added.

Beware: Callers Getting Defensive About Selling Tactics

Beware: Callers Getting Defensive About Selling Tactics

December 01, 2015

This past summer, the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and cloud call center innovator inContact reached out to call center leaders, asking them the same set of questions that they had asked of consumers in an earlier study. The results were, to say the least, jarring, and now those results have been made public.

In a new report, “Smarter Service for the Connected Customer”, the findings show that what contact center leaders believe about their business, and customers’ perceptions of those same beliefs, are widely different.

For example, it appears that customers perceive call centers as more interested in selling than servicing. When both sides were asked if they believed contact centers put more effort into selling, 80 percent of the customers said “yes,” while only 12 percent of contact centers thought so.

It was also noted that poor service can have a huge financial impact on the bottom line. When managers were asked if they thought customers might leave after a bad call center experience, only 19 percent said yes. But asked the same question, a stunning 80 percent of customers said they would, in fact, take their business elsewhere. But that’s not just some random finding.

A recent infographic from the Temkin Group noted a number of key areas where a poor experience can hurt the bottom line, including the information that:

  • Customers buy more from companies with good service;
  • Customers are more forgiving when companies generally provide good service; and
  • Customers trust companies more when they provide good service.

Are we seeing a pattern here?

Finally, customers were also asked about their relationship with a company.  One survey question asked customers whether they expect to continue talking to the same agent when they switched from online chat to phone. Not surprisingly, 64 percent of customers said basically, “Of course.” Yet only 20 percent of contact centers managers felt the same way. Those same customers, at 67 percent, wanted to speak with the same rep if they had to call back, but only 24 percent of managers felt that was “doable.”

Obviously, there’s a lot of gray area here, but the bottom line is this: While the demarcation between the camps is clear, the question remains: Who’s going to fix it? You can purchase the report and draw your own conclusions.

‘Stress’ Season is Here for Call Center Operators

November 25, 2015

Like winter follows fall, Cyber Monday (NewsAlert), that online shopping day right after the long Thanksgiving weekend, will soon be here. Along with it will come a flood of calls into contact centers, mostly consisting of complaints. No one calls a contact center to say what a good job everyone is doing.

It’s a given that contact center work is stressful, but there are steps that savvy managers can take to improve both working conditions and staffer happiness. Addressing that issue, technology writer Bre Smith, writing for TechCo.com, took a bird’s eye view and offered some suggestions to keep everyone on point. Her ideas are worth sharing:

Improve the Work Environment: This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s really Work 101: Happy employees are productive employees. “When your employees dread coming to work because of negativity, gossip, poor management, or even an unpleasant workspace, they aren’t going to be productive while they are there,” Smith notes. Identify problems, and fix them.

Offer Incentives: “Develop a reward and recognition program that not only encourages employees to perform at their highest levels, but also motivates them to find ways to support their own growth and development,” she suggests. “When employees are recognized for their hard work, they are more likely to be satisfied.”

Improve the Knowledge Base (NewsAlert): “Implementing a solution like knowledge base software allows employees to find all of the information they need within seconds,” Smith says. “Agents aren’t wasting time asking clarifying questions, searching through endless codes, or putting customers on hold while they search for someone who has the answer. Everything is right where they need it.”

Investigate the Sources of Calls: Identifying the biggest drivers of calls provides insight that you can use to develop other solutions for managing the majority of those calls, freeing up your agents to handle other calls, she suggests.

Improve Self-Service: Multiple studies have shown that the majority of people would rather self-service using online or automated options than call an actual person. “By improving your self-service options, meaning offering email, online chat, interactive voice response, and self-service options, you’re not only giving your customers flexibility in how they contact you, but you are improving the productivity of the agents who are taking calls, since they are dealing with fewer calls,” Smith notes.

These are by no means all the solutions you can implement, but adding some now could help save an employee’s sanity – and presence at work – later.

Five-Year Plan Looks Good for One Industry

November 24, 2015

If you’re in the contact center business, good times are coming. That’s the gist of a new report that looked at the industry for the next five years out, and projects a growth rate of nearly ten percent across the board.

“Business enterprises worldwide have become increasingly dependent on various technologies and the Internet to run their business and drive revenue growth,” says the report from R&R Market Research. “This trend is expected to intensify, which indicates that the role of IT has become vital and directly contributes to the organization’s agenda.”

According to the “Global Contact Center Market 2015-2019” report, there is expected to be significant growth in contact center outsourcing as a majority of organizations are relying on third parties that specialize in contact center services. New entrants are trying to differentiate themselves by providing new technology applications and service offerings.

Contact centers have experienced an extensive evolution overall, over the last decade. Many enterprises have a number of contact centers to manage all their customer interactions, the report noted, whether it’s an in-house team or outsourced to third-party assistance.

“[The contact center] offers different services such as support or help desk, customer service, and sales and marketing,” the report said. “They aid enterprises by providing better customer experience, productivity, valuable business intelligence to concentrate on their core competencies, reduced time-to-market, access to fresh talent and experience along with the latest technologies, and help build an organization with an economical cost structure in the long run. It is responsible for managing priorities and reporting on all the email, voice, Web chat, text and social messaging in the same way.”

The report’s analysts forecast the global contact center market to grow at a CAGR of 9.26 percent over the period 2014-2019, looking at both current usage and future growth prospects.

The report was prepared based on an in-depth market analysis with inputs from cloud contact center leader inContact and other industry experts, looking at the Americas, the Eastern and Mideast markets, and the Asia Pacific region.