A Vision of Seamless, Fully-Integrated, End-to-End Customer Engagement

V-Person Live Chat

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Today is a truly momentous day, and a very proud one, for all of us at Creative Virtual. Our vision has always been to offer organisations the technology to enable seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement, and to back that technology with the experience of an expert, knowledgeable team. Once we established ourselves as independently recognised leaders in the virtual customer assistant (VCA) space, we underpinned all our channel support with our critically-acclaimed V-Portal™ (knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence) platform. Today we realised our vision with the official launch of our newest product: V-Person Live Chat™.

Defining industry best practice

V-Person Live Chat completes our customer engagement jigsaw because it successfully blends virtual and real customer support in a way that no other vendor in the marketplace can provide today. Our many years of experience with integrating our V-Person virtual agent technology with other live chat systems made us realise that there was a huge opportunity for organisations to benefit from a deeper blending of the two technologies. This inspired us to develop our own live chat product which is now defining industry best practice through the tight integration of a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents, a unique feedback loop and a customisable workflow provided by V-Portal.

At Creative Virtual we closely monitor developing trends and the evolution of engagement touchpoints in order to provide enterprises with cutting-edge Smart Help solutions. It is clear to us that the contact centre in its current form is finished. As there is a transition to more automation, combining virtual and real customer support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will be key for organisations. We’ve addressed this contact centre shift with the deep integration of virtual agents and live chat, particularly with our unique feedback loop that allows live chat agents to help keep content accurate for both virtual and real agents just by doing their normal jobs.

creative.virtual.self learning lightbulbA complete approach to learning

Our V-Person technology utilises a hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning to give organisations a predictable and reliable customer self-service option. We have developed this approach based on our extensive experience and our partnerships with some of the world’s largest organisations. We understand how enterprises want to use virtual agents and chatbots to deliver effective self-service today and how the customer support landscape is evolving for them in the future.

Human curation of content allows organisations to be absolutely sure that their VCA is responding to users in a predictable way. At any point in time, designated content editors have full access to the knowledgebase to make updates that can be deployed instantly to the virtual agent. Organisations never need to wait for the system to ‘re-learn’ the new information. This human element is combined with the virtual agent’s ability to become more intelligent and adapt through self-learning.

V-Person’s statistical algorithm processes user journeys to return a list of related questions that is a true reflection of how users asking for similar information engaged with the virtual agent. Organisations also benefit from our statistical approach to self-learning with tightly integrated business intelligence reporting. V-Portal brings together voice of the customer feedback and user surveys with conversational data in real-time, actionable analytics that are directly linked to the virtual assistant’s knowledgebase.

Now with V-Person Live Chat, we are able to complete our approach to learning with our unique feedback loops. V-Portal enables enterprises to implement feedback loops that allow live agents to provide real-time comments and suggestions on content so that they can improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal job.

This hybrid approach to learning enables V-Person implementations to adapt in a very predictable way. The combination of human and self-learning is important for continually improving the system while also enabling enterprises to maintain control over the reliability of the VCA responses.

Where we go from here

Seeing our vision of seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement come to fruition is an important milestone, but certainly not the end of the roadmap for us. We are looking forward to rolling out our new live chat product to our customer organisations and experiencing with them new levels of customer engagement success. By continuing our collaboration with them, we will look to make new updates to our workflow and do more development around the self-learning aspects of our technology. Our roadmap is all about combining best practices around knowledge curation and self-learning, and integrating V-Person with best-of-breed technologies to provide a world leading enterprise level end-to-end digital customer engagement platform.

Whether you are currently using live chat and/or a virtual agent to support customers or just starting to think about implementing these tools, the best way to see how V-Person Live Chat can benefit your organisation is by requesting a personalised demo.

You can also read more about how we are combining virtual and real support with a live chat solution that is defining industry best practice in our V-Person Live Chat Overview.

Why is First Call Resolution (FCR) Important?

If you’ve ever contacted customer service for a question about your bill, a gadget gone haywire or a missing piece to your shipment, your first thought was probably, “I need this done as quickly as possible.” Nobody wants to call back two or more times, even if it means getting more attention or in-depth service.

First contact resolution (FCR) is integral to the success of a company. It’s one of the main factors in customer loyalty, not to mention contact center efficiency. It affects profitability, too. Plus, FCR matters no matter what channel the customer is on. However the customer decides to contact a company, they expect a near-immediate response on that same channel.

Common Causes of Poor FCR Rates

There are numerous causes of low FCR rates, including:

  • Agent Turnover: If your contact center has a high rate of turnover, you may have a lot of inexperienced reps on at one time. Agents without expertise have a harder time solving customer problems.
  • Confusing Menus: Long and complex IVR menus can confuse customers. Some will give up while others will press any button just to get a live person on the phone. If they’re directed to the wrong department, it’s unlikely that the call will be resolved quickly.
  • Long Hold Time: Whether you play music or let the customer sit in silence, most people have a limit for how long they’ll wait for a customer service rep. Many customers will end up hanging up and calling back at a later date or find a different way to get in touch with customer service.
  • Poor Voice Recognition: While IVR speech recognition can be a great self-service tool, a poorly functioning system may not understand what the caller is saying. Just like with a confusing menu, the customer may simply say “agent” over and over until someone answers the call.

The True Cost of a Low FCR Rate

According to Nuance, every time a contact center has to take a customer call, it can cost an average of $5. Every time somebody can’t solve their problem through self-service or need to call back a second, third or fourth time to get a solution, this costs the contact center. According to Customer Relationship Metrics, this can cost customer service companies millions of dollars per year.

Keeping Up with the Demand for FCR

In order to monitor and improve FCR, contact centers need to have the right system in place to track core metrics. Customer data should be collected from all channels, including call feedback, surveys and social media. Social media is especially important when collecting customer data and rating sentiment because people tend to be their harshest on social media.

How to Measure the Costs of Attrition -Part III

Ron Davis

Founder, CEO: Tenacity

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To continue with our previous blog on the cost of attrition, there are two more major sources of cost from agent attrition, and they are two of the most undercounted line items.

First is the productivity ramp. Most call center managers know how long this is. During the first few months on the floor, agents aren’t on average very productive, but they improve pretty significantly. At some point (often about six months), this levels off. At that leveling off period, we call them “fully baked.”

The time between the end of the halfway house and being fully baked is the productivity ramp. Recall that our friend George quit his job after a rough day in the life in his call center. John, Paul and Ringo got hired as replacements, and Paul quit during training and then Ringo quit during the halfway house. Now John is sitting in Ringo’s chair, answering calls on his own.

The productivity ramp can be quite expensive. To keep the math simple, let’s assume that the first month an agent is 40% productive, the second month he is 50% productive, and so until after the end of the sixth month, he is 100% productive.  That means that in the first month, 60% of his salary, overhead and marginal technology costs (i.e., for programs that charge on a per seat basis) are wasted. If he costs $15 per hour that means $9 per hour is wasted the first month ($1440), $7.50 per hour the second month, $6 per hour the third, and so on. The total waste for John is $5040 over 24 weeks. While this ramp is steeper than most actual ramps, this is usually a very large line item, adding about 35-45% to all the previous costs of agent attrition we have discussed. (When agents quit during the productivity ramp, replacement costs only include the waste up until the same point at which the quitting agent left. So if an agent leaves at month four in the ramp, only count the waste up until month 4.)

And, much like poor Sisyphus, condemned for eternity by the gods to roll a rock uphill, only to have it roll back down and force him to start over, agents climb the ramp, waste tons of the employers money, only to leave shortly thereafter.

Bulking Up Your Workforce

How to Bulk Up – Have Higher Agent Attrition

I call the last major item “bulking up.” More attrition means a less tenured workforce. Because a workforce is, during its productivity ramp, less productive, that means it can’t answer as many calls. So not only is part of the salary of the new agents wasted during the ramp, but you also have to hire more agents just to produce the same output.

Doing the math on this one is more difficult, and you will likely need a little help from your friends in the finance department. First, you will need to make sure you have a good grip on your productivity ramp. What is the average percentage of productivity for each of the months during the productivity ramp? And then see how many agents are in each of the first six months of production.

To keep our example relatively simple, let’s figure your average agent after the ramp is taking 100 calls a day and that you have 5% monthly attrition and that everyone makes it through the ramp. If 5% are in month one and answering 40 calls a day, 5% are in month two and answering 50 calls a day, 5% are in three answering 60 calls a day, and so on, you end up with 30% of your agents answering an average of 65 calls a day, and 70% of your agents answering 100 calls a day. This means your average agent is answering 89.5 calls.

Say your call volume runs 100,000 calls per day. If you had zero attrition, you would need 1000 agents. But because you have 5% attrition, you need 1117 agents.

Obviously you cannot and do not want to have zero attrition. But run the same scenario with attrition one point lower. Then you have an average of 91.6 calls per agent, or 91,600 calls per day. In this scenario, you need 1092 agents.

‘Roid Rage

To then calculate this last line item in the costs of attrition, look at the difference between the 4% and 5% monthly rates. One percentage point of difference per month means you have to have 25 more agents on staff per year. If each agent, on average, costs $30,000 per year in marginal costs, that means 1 point of monthly attrition costs an additional $750,000. Since a 1% attrition rate per month in a center with roughly 1100 agents equals 132 agents per year that means that “bulking” adds $5600 per agent that quits.

Now these numbers were simplified and it inflates the total. Your agents are probably better than 40% productive in their first month and their ramp is faster at first. A more typical, actual tally in a four-week training scenario, with a week or two of halfway house time, and a six-month ramp, is a bulking cost of about $2600. In any case, this is a huge line item that people tend to ignore. Even though it takes more work to measure it, it is a real hard cost. Not some airy fairy soft cost.

That’s the primary list. There are others that are worth considering in certain circumstances, although they are harder to measure. These include BPOs aiming for rewards or avoiding penalties from clients or trying to win clients. All benefit from lower attrition. But these risk based calculations are more complex and contract dependent. Captured centers that want to avoid outsourcing face similar risks, but these are harder to quantify, unless there are known internal triggers for outsourcing. And CSAT and NPS are significantly affected by attrition, but it is very difficult to put an exact dollar value on these, which is what this long, long, long series is about.

I hope this journey has been educational. Hopefully this will sober up the drunk darts approach. If your centers have a three or four-week training process, you pay people ten bucks an hour, and you have even normal leakage in the training and halfway house and a six-month productivity ramp, you now know that your “it costs $5000” number is just a pants-on-fire statement (it’s roughly $10,000). And if this series didn’t change your mind, I promise that nothing’s gonna change your world when it comes to attrition. The only executives I meet that have really genuinely been able to tackle it are the ones that know how to measure it properly.

But hopefully it did change your mind, and now you know how expensive it is.

So now, go fix it.

 

 

How to Measure the Costs of Agent Attrition

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Ron Davis

Founder, CEO: Tenacity

Defining and Segmenting

I’m going to lay out the items that should be in any model that estimates your call center turnover costs. Building from this, executives should be able to figure out how much agent retention is really worth. That way, when they make cost-benefit analyses about employee retention efforts, they aren’t playing make believe.

Defining agent attrition

The first task is defining agent attrition. What qualifies as an “attrit”? Some companies do a good job of measuring voluntary (agent quits) versus involuntary (you fired them) agent attrition. But there are often misclassifications. For example, at one leading BPO, when an employee just stops showing up to work, he gets classified as an involuntary attrit, because he technically got fired for not coming in. But clearly he quit; the decision was his. Figure out the primary reason they leave: you want them to go, or they want them to go.

This matters a great deal. Perhaps you lose 12% of agents in the first month after they are released into the wild out of training. If only 2% are voluntary, and 10% involuntary, your diagnosis and treatment will be very different than if these numbers were reversed.

Segmentation

Tenacity recommends bucketing agent attrition into at least two groups. First, track turnover for agents once they start making unsupervised calls. And then lump everyone who hasn’t yet reached that level of responsibility (trainees) into a separate group. The cost of attrition is much different for the two groups, and sometimes the solutions to the problem are very different too.

You can also get more granular. Track for each stage: the hiring stage, the training stage, the supervised calls stage, the first week, month and quarter of making calls, as well as the time when agents reach the top of the productivity ramp and become “fully baked.” If you don’t know this already, you will soon see that the longer an agent stays, the more likely she is to continue to stick around.

Rate Calculation

This is the easy part. For any of the buckets, take the number of agents who quit and divide it by the total number of agents in the bucket. If three out of twenty trainees quit, that’s a 15% rate. And divide into voluntary and involuntary whenever you are able. Even a drunk dart thrower can do that.

How to Measure the Costs of Agent Attrition: Hiring Costs

Often when I speak to call center executives, hiring (and training) costs are the only items they include in their tally of the costs of employee turnover. This is a mistake. Still, it’s worth recounting all the pieces that should be included.

Separation, Hiring, Sourcing

Say, after a hard day’s night shift, George quits after one year with the company. There are certain predictable rhythms that follow: HR has to process him, revoke his access to the building, close out payroll, etc. Since HR does this so frequently in contact centers, they are pretty efficient at it. Still, you should count the time and paperwork costs. These are your separation costs for losing George.

Next up is sourcing his replacement(s). Perhaps you use a recruiter who charges a fixed fee. Or perhaps your recruiter charges a percentage of salary for the first six months. Or perhaps you source internally, through advertising, combing through applications, interviewing, background checks and the like. Whatever the costs, figure out how many people you hire and divide by the total costs to find the average.

To keep the math easy, let’s say you hire a freakishly small class of three people and you typically only have one in three people make it through the full training cycle. John, Paul and Ringo come together to replace George and they cost $500, $1000 and $1500 because they come from different sources.  Divide by three and voila! Your average cost sourcing a new call center agent is $1000.

Here is where HR processing returns. John, Paul and Ringo need to be processed: put in your system, put on payroll, given a corporate ID and given security access. This includes any reporting to the state or employment bureaus and anything else that needs to be done to get this person into his first day of training. As with separation, figure out the total cost and divide by the number of hires. This is your cost per hire.

Training and Leakage

Training Costs – Providing the Training

The cost to train new agents is a major source of legitimate variance in the cost of employee turnover. Some centers require only a few days of training. Some require twelve weeks. We find the average to be around three or four weeks of classroom training.

Here you want to measure the marginal costs, which are the additional costs each time you train someone new. Since you are always going to have some employee turnover, you don’t necessarily need to amortize the fixed costs from your basic training infrastructure.

These include the cost of holding a training class. First, figure in the total bill to pay the instructors. This includes salaried and hourly employees who are taken away from other productive work. Next is the price of software and materials. If any of your training materials or technology is charged on a per user or per class basis, you should add that to the total tally as well.

The math on this one is pretty easy. You add the above to get the total cost per class and you divide by the number of successful graduates. This way, if Paul decides to run for his life and drops out, you have baked in the costs associated with his training into your final product (John and Ringo). After all, training Paul is part of the cost of replacing George. If the cost for the class, including Paul’s costs, was $3000, then the cost per successful trainee is thus $1500.

Training Costs – Salary During Training

This is a big line item. Here you have to include other salary related costs such as benefits and taxes. If John, Paul and Ringo makes $10 per hour, their true salary cost will be more like $12 per hour. Multiply this by the number of hours it takes to finish the training. This is the salary cost for your successful graduates. For each graduate in a 4-week class, this is 160 (hours) x $12 (wages/overhead) = $1920

Leakage – Nothing To See Here.

Here executives often make a huge mistake. They only count the cost to get an agent through training. They tend to think like this: George quit? Now we have an empty seat. John takes his place. The cost to get John there was X. Done! It’s a rosy, beer goggles sort of perspective.

But they forget that it takes more than one trainee to fill that seat (can’t forget Paul and Ringo!). A lot of agents quit during the hiring and training process, and this is expensive. It has to be figured in too. If you lose 25% of trainees during training (leaving you with 75% of the original hires), that means you have to hire 1.33 trainees to fill George’s empty seat, and you can’t ignore the costs of that other one-third of a person.

We already baked this into the fixed cost tally above. On salary, there are two ways to do it:

  1. Take the TOTAL salary and overhead costs for the entire class, including everyone that walks out the door, rather than the individual costs, and then divide by the number of SUCCESSFUL graduates. Or,
  2. Figure out the salary and overhead during training costs per successful graduate (say, $12 x 160 hours for a four-week class = $1920). Figure out the average rate at which people quit training (say, 30%) and average percentage of the training they finish (say 50%). Multiply $1920 x .3 and .5. This adds $345.60 to the cost per successful graduate.

If you are still unsure, think of it this way. Remember that George quit at the beginning of our story, and we are filling in his spot. We are measuring the cost of George’s attrition. Paul quits during training. John and Ringo haven’t yet (we will soon see that John is the one that makes it all the way through to the floor). The cost of replacing George (in this case) includes John, Paul and Ringo’s time in class.

The lesson here: to calculate the cost of agent attrition, you don’t calculate the cost of the replacement agent, because that leaves out all the ones that don’t make it to the floor. You calculate the cost to fill the seat, which includes the Pauls and Ringos of the world.

The Halfway House and Leakage

Let’s look at what I like to call “the Halfway House”: its costs, and the problem of leakage at this stage.

This halfway house stage immediately follows training. It’s when agents start answering calls, albeit at a grossly diminished rate and with a lot of supervision and feedback. This usually lasts for a week or two.

John and Ringo may have been stars in your class, but this is where they are really put to the test: talking to customers. In the halfway house, there are three major sources that contribute to the cost of agent attrition: support, wasted salary and software, and, like training, leakage.

Support is the cocoon that you wrap around your budding agents. Usually this comes from training personnel. Imagine that John and Ringo have a little help from their coach, Janice. If Janice coaches just these two for the week, but Ringo quits early, all of Janice’s salary ultimately went toward only John graduating. Any teaching or support associated with the halfway house should be included here. It should all be added up and divided across the universe of everyone that graduates. In our example, the only one that makes it through this (tiny!) class is John.

Next is wasted salary. In the halfway house, agents receive wages but are extremely unproductive, answering very few calls. Using your workforce optimization software, you should be able to determine how they compare, on average, to a fully baked agent that has finished the productivity learning curve (usually about six months after training).

Let’s assume here that halfway house agents are completing 1/3rd as many calls. That means 2/3rds of John and Ringo’s salary and technology costs and overhead is wasted. Let’s say the software licenses cost $3 an hour, bringing their total per hour cost to $15. So for John, at $10 per hour in waste, that’s $800.

But then there’s that sneaky leakage problem again. Ringo quits after a week, so he wastes $400 in wages. Since they are the whole class, you add these together ($1200) and divide across whoever made it out—in this case, just one person, John. Now we have filled George’s seat with John, and the cost of the halfway house salary waste, including leakage, was $1200.

The next blogs in our series will detail the productivity ramp and the most commonly missed and hard to calculate cost – bulking up.

 

 

 

 

How to Measure the Costs of Agent Attrition: Inebriated Executives

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Ron Davis, Founder, CEO: Tenacity

Call Center Managers Rarely Know the Actual Cost of Employee Attrition

As the CEO of a company that helps contact centers reduce employee turnover, I have a lot of conversations with executives about the cost of attrition. Their estimates are as random and dangerous as a game of drunk darts.

A Data Driven Industry?

I find this especially amazing, because year after year these leaders fill out surveys saying that agent turnover is their #1 problem. But after decades of hand wringing, they have no idea what it costs them. For an industry dedicated to painstaking measurement of employee performance, this is surprising. And for an industry suffering with razor thin margins whose biggest preventable costs come from agent turnover, it’s inexcusable.

It’s true that many of these senior managers think they know what it costs when employees leave. Perhaps they read an interesting article about agent retention online, or a consultant gave them a rule of thumb. Maybe they were a bit more ambitious and got someone from the finance team to try and model the cost of agent attrition in a particular call center four or five years ago. Or the executive herself sat down and did some back of the envelope calculations to figure out the hiring and training costs, and figured she had a pretty good grip on the total price of agent turnover. If only they knew.

In most cases, when I dig a little deeper, I learn that these call center bosses have very little idea of the actual, hard, measurable, bottom line costs of losing their employees. And unfortunately, just like in real drunk darts, ignoring your biggest money sink is a hazardous way to spend your time.

Off by 400%

As an example, we recently spoke with a very senior executive about employee retention at his North American contact centers. His thousands of agents go through six weeks of training and two weeks of heavily supervised calls afterward, and then have a nearly eight-month learning curve before becoming fully productive. He said the average cost per attrit is around $3,000. After asking a few more questions, it became obvious that the real, hard, measurable, tangible cost to his bottom line was a bit more than four times as much.

Why is Measurement So Poor?

The reason for this variance is twofold. The first is that the industry has no widely held best practices for measuring the cost of employee turnover, and none of the thought leaders seem to have dedicated enough mindshare to change the way the industry thinks. And fixing this requires more than careful intellectual work – it requires leadership. Unless someone drives the industry forward to embrace standard forms of measurement, the drunk dart “measurements” will continue.

The other reason is incentives. If 5% of your employees quit each month, and there is no standardized definition of the cost of attrition, would you rather report to your boss that this costs $3,000 per person, or $12,000? Mark Twain said there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Clearly, he had never seen a financial model designed by the person whose performance would be judged by its outputs.

Want to fix attrition? Start by getting honest with yourself about its costs.

5 Benefits of Visual IVR

Today’s customers want to get in touch with companies at all hours of the day and night to do things like check their account status or pay their bill. Mobile devices, which provide a 24-hour connection to the rest of the world, have heavily influenced customer expectations. Information is constantly at their fingertips and there are few things that can’t be accessed in the moment. When it comes to CRM, many customers would love to forgo traditional IVR and instead communicate with brands in the  ways they’re used to. Visual IVR aims to use more of a smartphone’s functionality, not just the ability to place a phone call.

Traditional IVR can be tricky to navigate. Customers have to wait through all of the options to make sure they choose the right one. Voice recognition doesn’t always register what the customer is saying. Visual IVR is similar to traditional IVR but is accessible via a screen rather than a verbal menu during a phone call. Instead of listening to lists of options, customers can scan a screen, decide which option is best and choose that one. Menus can also be visually enhanced to guide the customer through the options.

  1. Visual IVR can integrate with your current IVR system. Your scripts are used to create the visual menus. Customers can choose which IVR method they want to use.
  2. Visual IVR improves the routing experience, resulting in fewer zero-outs, which is when a customer continues to push “0” in order to speak with any representative. Easy Visual IVR navigation means customers will choose the right options the first time. When it’s time to route the customer to a live agent, the correct department will answer the call.
  3. Visual IVR results in fewer calls to live agents. Since self-service is made easier thanks to Visual IVR, many issues can be solved through the session without ever requiring a representative. This reduces the number of incoming calls agents have to field.
  4. The Visual IVR menu collects more customer information than traditional IVR systems can. By the time the customer is connected to an agent, the agent has a lot of information to work with and can pick up right where the customer left off.
  5. Customers don’t have to install a special app in order to use Visual IVR. They can access menus right from your website whether they’re on a computer or a mobile device.

6 IVR Tips to Improve the Customer Experience

visual ivrThough IVR systems are packed with benefits for customers (faster service, 24-7 availability, easy functioning for routine tasks), many continue to prefer a live agent. Why are so many customers bypassing self-service and opting to wait on hold for a representative? There are a few reasons:

• The IVR system makes it difficult for the customer to find the correct option.

• A long list of menu options make the customer feel that it would be quicker to speak with a live agent

• Poor voice quality makes it hard to understand the options.

In order to combat these issues, the contact center’s IVR system should cater to each customer’s needs. When your self-service system has high quality functioning and is both user-friendly and intuitive, customers will have a more enjoyable and successful experience. Here are six ways to improve your IVR system:

1. Limit menu items.

Customers can’t see the choices; they have to remember them. If they miss a choice and listen to the next few, they may forget which number they should have pressed. Simplify the process by offering a max of five options.

2. Mention popular choices first.

Frequently used menu choices should be at the front of the list. Callers shouldn’t have to listen to the entire menu if they’re calling for the most popular reason.

3. Add pauses between options.

There should be a pause between each menu option. The caller should have the opportunity to think about the option for a moment and then press the associated number. If you immediately move on to the next option, the customer may lose their train of thought, requiring them to repeat the process.

4. Setup visual IVR.

Visual IVR shows customers your self-service map when they’re on your website or mobile app. They can go through the different menus and solutions, see how long the wait time is for a live agent and request a call back if they want to speak with a representative. Customers don’t have to call in or listen to a list of menu options, but they can still access all of your useful self-service options.

5. Use layman’s terms.

Menu options should be as simple and obvious as possible. Don’t use technical or unfamiliar terms that will be difficult for people outside your industry to understand. Additionally, keep phrases short and concise.

6. Give loyal customers VIP treatment.

Your best customers who frequently use your self-service system should be treated like VIPs. If they regularly call with the same query, like paying their bill, the IVR system should greet them with a customized message. For example, it can say, “Hello Mr. Jones, would you like to pay your bill?”

While automation can be valuable for both the customer and the contact center, trying to automate every single task is a mistake. Automating everything can lead to lengthy menus and confusing choices. Determine the reasons why most customers are getting in touch, then decide which of these tasks can be easily handled through self-service.

 

The Contact Centre in its Current Form is Finished

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By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I presented Creative Virtual’s fourth annual Technology Innovation Showcase with CRMXchange. As I mention every year, this is one of my favourite webinars to do because it’s mostly live demonstrations with very few slides. Seeing the technology in action is the best way to understand how your organisation can implement these solutions to improve your customer experience.

This year’s webinar, Combining the Virtual and the Real for Customer Engagement Success, focused mostly on bringing together virtual agents and live chat. I started my presentation with some recent statistics from Forrester showing the growing usage of virtual agents and live chat. They summed up this research by saying:

Customers increasingly leverage self-service and digital channels for customer service because these channels offer the least amount of interaction friction.

The bottom line is that your customers want effortless interactions with your company. There is a generational change taking place, with a new generation of customers who spend more time having text conversations with their friends and loved ones than they do actually talking to them. The last thing in the world they want to do is pick up the phone and speak to your company. Effortless also means brevity. They want to get the answers they need as quickly as possible, so the second to last thing they want to do is get into a lengthy email conversation with your company.

The call centre and contact centre as we know them today are finished. Seamless, personalised smart assistants will increasingly automate everything the current contact centre offers. Smart assistants will learn from how they are being used and adapt as the organisation learns. They won’t be maintained separately, but instead will have feedback loops that help them learn just by the organisation learning in a really seamless way.

We’re already seeing much change in this area but, of course, this won’t happen overnight. There will be a transition to more automation, and combining virtual and real support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will give you the best way to manage that transition. Gartner is also seeing this trend, and they predict that by 2018, 30% of interactions will be via a smart machine such as virtual agent technology.

The combination of natural language virtual agents with live chat or web chat is an ideal way to give customers the effortless interactions they want. With the right integrations in place, your company can provide a seamless and personalised experience. Using a central knowledgebase and feedback loop that are linked with workflow functionality will allow you to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels.

I invite you to watch the recording of this webinar on-demand to see my demonstrations of intelligent virtual agents, the seamless integration of virtual agents with live chat and the industry-defining feedback loop that empowers live agents to consistently improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal jobs.

If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to schedule a personalised live demo to show you how this technology can help your organisation manage the transition to more automation and provide effortless interactions.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for organising and hosting another great Technology Innovation Showcase.

5 Prerequisites for Creating a Self-Service Strategy

 

Customers look for help when they feel like they’re losing control over something – a product they purchased, an order, their bill, etc. They get in touch with customer service when they can’t solve the problem on their own. While sometimes the situation is in-depth and difficult to figure out, oftentimes it’s much more basic.

Today’s customers have grown to expect self-service. It’s available in practically every transaction we make, from our morning coffee order to banking, shopping and traveling. People are becoming more and more satisfied with making transactions on their own and without the help of a live person.

Even if your contact center offers self-service options, some customers will still seek out live help. It’s possible that these customers don’t understand the self-service options available to them. They may feel that the quickest way to solve their problem is by getting in touch with a live agent. Or, they could be worried that if they try to troubleshoot their issue on their own, it will only get worse and cause an even bigger problem.

Creating a comprehensible self-service platform for customers isn’t going to happen overnight. It can take a long time to move from primarily live customer support to self-service. Here are the prerequisites for an effective self-service system.

  1. Make IVR as easy to use as possible.

When a customer calls for support and an automatic voice response system answers, the options should be obvious and quickly accessible. In order to encourage customers to use self-service, language settings, menu options and FAQ have to be clear. When a customer knows how to quickly find an answer on their own, they’re more likely to solve their issue instead of waiting on hold for a live agent.

  1. Setup mobile web chat.

Web chat is a great tool used by many contact centers, but oftentimes web chat functions are optimized for desktop computers only. Web chat should also be available on mobile devices since they account for so much web traffic. Overall, self-service options should be available on all of the devices and platforms your customers use.

  1. Combine self-service with live service.

While many of your customers will opt for self-service, there are still a percentage who will prefer live service. Trying to create a 100% self-service strategy is going to leave some of your customers unhappy. Live service should be combined with self-service, not replaced by it. To do this, there should be limits when it comes to IVR. For example, after a customer has made several invalid attempts or the time to choose an option has timed out, the call should go directly to a live agent. When it’s obvious the caller is struggling, they should get live help as quickly as possible.

  1. Stay on top of metrics.

Every contact center relies on feedback from customers, but electronic survey data can only collect so much information. Tune in to IVR statistics to figure out where your self-service options can be improved. The percentage of invalid attempts, timeouts and live agent transfers will give you a lot of insight.

  1. Train your customers to use self-service.

Once you have self-service goals setup, you need to find a way to reach those targets. The more customers who know about your self-service options, the closer you’ll be to meeting your goals. In order to educate customers, offer free webinars and tutorials. Also, use social media to talk about the self-service options you offer, especially when replying to a customer who needs support.

Self-service isn’t necessarily something that comes easily or naturally to customers. However, once they do start relying on self-service, they’re likely to use it in the future instead of needing a live agent. This improves both the customer experience and customer satisfaction while putting less strain on the contact center.

Consumers “unfriend” social media for customer service, new survey finds

Consumers “unfriend” social media for customer service, new survey finds

By Micha Catran

If you’ve spent any time on social media – Twitter and Facebook especially – you’ve likely seen posts from consumers less than happy with their recent customer experience. And sometimes a social post can be the quickest way to get a response from a company.

Yet, surprisingly, social media is among the last places consumers want to go for customer service, according to a new survey commissioned by NICE and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The NICE/BCG 2016 Consumer Experience Report offers a snapshot into the attitudes and behaviors of more than 1,700 consumers between the ages of 18 and 65 across the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, France, and Australia.

And the decline of social media wasn’t the only note worth taking for brands looking to improve their customer service. Let’s look at some of the major findings and what they mean for customer service in 2016 and beyond.

Social media customer service drops off

Daily, weekly, and monthly use of social media channels doubled between 2011 and 2013, yet those same categories declined between 2013 and 2015. At the same time, the number of respondents who never use or are not offered social media customer service rose from 58 percent in 2013 to 65 percent in 2015.

Respondents who do not use social media cited a number of reasons why: It takes too long to address issues, said 33 percent. It has limited functionality, reported 32 percent. It isn’t feasible for complex tasks, according to 30 percent. Social media was the channel with the highest percentage of abandons in both 2013 and 2015, with the number rising from 32 percent to 42 percent over that period.

Americans have low customer service expectations compared to the rest of the world

The survey asked respondents to rank 25 customer service factors as essential, non-essential, or exceeds expectations. Australians and Europeans thought it essential that they be automatically routed to the correct customer service agent without being transferred multiple times, and that their service provider rep be aware of their past three to five interactions with the company to tailor service to their needs. Americans, on the other hand, said all of those actions would “exceed expectations.”

In total, Americans surveyed ranked only 15 out of 25 factors as essential, while other countries’ respondents expected anywhere from 21 to all 25 attributes.

While American respondents don’t seem to mind waiting for multiple call transfers or repeating their information, having issues resolved immediately was cited by other countries and all industries, genders, and ages as the top factor in a perfect experience, valued by 51 percent of respondents.

Other important factors include reps knowing what consumers need and providing an immediate solution, forwarding information and actions from department to department, and knowing what consumers already did through a self-service channel.

Other customer service findings of interest

Respondents expressed decreased satisfaction and success since 2013 across the board with all contact channels (except for mobile apps), particularly Interactive Voice Response (IVR) (down 20 percent) and social media (down 23 percent).

Churn rates vary amongst different age groups. While 78 percent of baby boomers will leave a provider due to a customer service issue, only 54 percent of millennials will do so.

There was a sharp increase in customer skepticism about the effects of their feedback, with only 25 percent believing that service providers took action based on their feedback, down from 40 percent in 2012.

What the results mean for brands looking to improve customer service

This year’s survey provides further proof that customer service is becoming more complex and more critical for a company’s success. When an organization can create a perfect experience, there are many dividends. As the report’s findings make clear, ample room for improvement creates many opportunities for businesses to set themselves apart.

Every day, we see companies adopting technology to better anticipate their customers’ journey. By leveraging advanced analytics to better understand customers both as individuals and as a collective, they can align their service organization with customer expectations in order to really make a difference.

Micha Catran, Global Vice President and General Manager at NICE, has expertise in portfolio management and new product development across analytics, customer experience, customer journey solutions for the telecommunications, banking, insurance, health care and hospitality markets.

Mr. Catran is responsible for growing NICE Customer Journey and Voice of the Customer market-leading position and ensuring continuous innovation and agility to meet the needs of customer experience and service firms around the world. Before joining NICE, he was a Director of Contact Centers in a leading Telco in Israel. Mr. Catran holds a L.L.B in Law and B.A. in Economics from Haifa University in Israel.