4 Contact Center Tips for Forecasting and Analyzing Data

Picture this: there’s a sudden spike in call volume, but you don’t have enough agents to handle it. Wait times increase and customers become dissatisfied. You get on top of the problem as quickly as possible and scale your workforce up to handle the demand. Soon, call volume evens out again, and now you’re over-staffed and draining your budget.

Improving forecast accuracy can limit these scenarios. Data, history and experience, combined with your own judgement and common sense, make forecasting much more accurate and predictable. A quality system will combine historic data with real-time data for accurate forecasting.

Here’s how to improve your forecasting:

  1. Choose quality forecasting software.

Your forecasting software should gather historical data from the past two years to show you daily, monthly and seasonal patterns and trends. It should then monitor performance, document results, and continue to measure and evaluate data on a recurring schedule. Most importantly, your software should repeat this process ­– the repetition is what makes the forecasting so accurate and dependable.

  1. Look at both data overviews and specific segments.

Look at historical data, which will give you an overview of NCO and handle time. Also view data in hour, day and month formats. Continue to break data down to view it differently – turn monthly forecasts into daily forecasts, daily into hourly, and hourly into half hour views.

  1. Compare one month to the same month last year.

Point estimates are too simplistic an approach when it comes to contact center forecasting. A point in the future won’t necessarily match the same point in the past, even if it’s the same hour, day and month of the year. You have to look closely to determine if any data is out of the ordinary, and a good start is to compare this year’s month to last year’s month (i.e. January 2018 to January 2017).

  1. Don’t ignore aberrations.

Investigate data that’s exceptionally high or low to figure out if it was caused by a one-off event or if you should be prepared for a regular occurrence. Situations that affect call volume include:

  • Billing cycles
  • Business mergers
  • Change in hours of operation
  • Competitor activity
  • Holidays
  • Marketing campaigns
  • New technology implementation
  • Planned maintenance sessions
  • Weather and natural disasters

Balance customer demand with staffing numbers to keep costs low while managing wait times and ensuring customers satisfaction.

 

The Modern IV: Why Contact Centers are Going Visual

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems make a lot of promises. They strive to give customers easily accessible, efficient ways to communicate. This is supposed to limit the stress placed on the contact center while also lowering costs.

Traditional voice IVR systems aren’t pulling their weight, though.

There’s a lot of call abandonment. Customer satisfaction scores are low. Lengthy call trees with a multitude of options lead to dead ends. Even the voice quality is poor.

When a customer wants to speak with a live rep, they press “0” to be transferred to one, and even then the experience is lacking. They have to speak with an operator first, explain their issue, wait while they’re routed to the correct department, explain everything again…

Cost benefits of IVR only exist if customers actually like it. If it’s not increasing customer satisfaction (or, even worse, decreasing it), you won’t see a return on investment, and the expense becomes not worth it.

The solution is this: visual IVR, something that modern contact centers are utilizing more and more.

Customers have sophisticated devices (even the iPhone is essentially a mini computer that people carry around in their pocket), and contact center IVR should be just as sophisticated, too. With so many screen-enabled gadgets out there, visual IVR is quickly replacing voice IVR.

Visual IVR menus can be attractive, intuitive and a cinch to use. People can read the menu and touch the buttons or links they need, or they can request a call back or see how long the hold time would be to chat with an agent. Even if a customer wants to speak with an agent, there’s virtually no hold time, routing is much more reliable and the experience is better overall.

Visual IVR is helpful for agents, too.

If a customer decides to speak with a live agent, they can start the process through the visual IVR menu. By the time they reach an agent, the agent can see the breadcrumb trail of everything the customer did. This will help them pick up the query where the customer left off instead of asking them to start explaining their issue from the beginning.

Whichever type of support they choose ­– self-service, live or a combination of both – modern IVR solutions allow customers to get quick, accurate support without putting unnecessary strain on contact center agents.

 

 

Unbeatable Omnichannel Technology Helps BPOs Get an Edge on the Competition and Retain Clients Longer

From Guest Blogger Bright Pattern

As more consumers use digital channels to talk to friends and family, the more they expect to find top brands on all their favorite digital channels, such as chat, forums, and social messengers. Companies need to respond by meeting their customers on these channels, or else risk losing them to the competition.

Business processing outsourcing companies (BPOs), in particular, need to respond swiftly to new client demands and offer a service that is impressive and efficient without breaking the bank.

Omnichannel Technology for BPOs

BPOs can use omnichannel contact center functionality to differentiate their offering and stand out among the competition. They can also experience cost savings when consolidating from multiple vendors to a single platform that provides all necessary channels. BPOs should select a contact center solution that includes the following features to gain and retain top brands.

  • Easily Add More Channels – As a BPO, some of your customers will need only inbound/outbound voice, but other brands will need to scale to a full omnichannel solution and add new channels as they grow. Choose a vendor that has all the channels necessary for your customers today, with continuous innovation plans for future channels.
  • Unified Agent Desktop – Many omnichannel contact centers comprise multiple technology vendors, making it difficult for agents to navigate. Select a platform that allows agents to work in a single user interface for all supported channels. Consider running specific use cases with the vendor to see how it prioritizes different channels and whether it allows agents and customers to move seamlessly from digital channels to voice.
  • Strong Integration Ecosystem – As BPOs, you may need to support multiple customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. Select a contact center provider that provides out-of-the-box CRM integrations with top providers and has a well established integration ecosystem for workforce optimization (WFO), workforce management (WFM), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), artificial intelligence (AI), and bot capabilities.
  • Flexible Reporting Options – Retain customers by providing them with quality control and oversight options, including direct client access to monitoring, call grading, ad-hoc reporting, and customer survey data.
  • Fast Client Ramp-Up – Select a vendor with a web-based Agent Desktop in Citrix that can work through firewalls, one that boasts built-in softphone and other telephony features for easy deployment.
  • Compliance – As a BPO, you work within several different industries, including contact centers with strict compliance requirements. Ensure compliance by partnering with a vendor that’s third-party certified for compliance with PCI, HIPAA, TCPA, and other top security standards.
  • High Availability – Select a vendor with a strong disaster recovery plan and near 100% uptime. Any time your provider is down, you are losing money. Inquire about uptime, active-active disaster containment, and service-level agreements (SLAs).

 

How AI Impacts the Future of Contact Center Agents

For the past few years, artificial intelligence (AI) has been a major topic in business. Right now, one of the best uses for AI algorithms is to process data and then make recommendations or predictions related to the customer. There are more advanced ways to employ AI too, though, many of which interact directly with the customer. By adding newer types of AI to the contact center, another question arises: what does this mean for live agent support?

Invisible vs. Visible AI

Much of AI runs in the background, making it invisible to customers. For example, AI can analyze history and trends to make customized recommendations. While customers may not know how, they certainly know that their experience is improving. Visible AI, on the other hand, interacts directly with the customer. An example of this is Siri for iOS, a digital assistant that you can interact with relatively naturally and without looking at your device.

The invisible types of AI have been around for a long time. They’re mature, and they effectively improve and streamline processes. Visible AI, though, isn’t nearly as mature. There’s more room for error, and since customers are dealing with it directly, problems need to be swiftly addressed by live agents.

AI Accuracy and Live Support

There’s often a question of how much AI will replace humans in the workplace. It’s unlikely that AI will ever be 100% accurate, which is why a live support team is still integral to the contact center. Any AI that’s customer-facing requires a support team behind it that can quickly jump in if a mistake is made. Live agents are the only ones able to handle tasks that require empathy, in-depth decision-making skills, and high-level understanding.

Furthermore, some experts think that it’s best to keep AI and human-ness separate. They feel that no matter how much tech advances, AI is never going to be truly human – and maybe it shouldn’t try to be.

Smarter Hiring with AI in Mind

As modern contact centers integrate AI into their routine processes, there should be more of a focus on communication, creativity and empathy skills when hiring agents. Once you know which tasks you’ll automate using AI, you can hire people who match the skills needed for the tasks you can’t or won’t automate.

How do you use artificial intelligence in your contact center?

 

 

 

 

Change Management: The Most Important Step Missing from Your Service Project

In today’s world of cloud technology and apps, changing or upgrading systems has never been easier. Whether you are changing from an on-premise to a cloud solution or providing your customers with a native app for their mobile device, much of the change is as simple as pointing your data to a new endpoint. So why is it so hard sometimes for those changes to be readily adopted? Why are your customers not acting on or receiving your changes as you anticipated? Why doesn’t it just work?

Because your customers are usually human.

Change is difficult. Change has different impacts on different segments of your associates or your customers. Some adopt or acclimate right away and start realizing the benefits of your product or service. We love these customers or associates; they make things so easy. But we usually have folks who realize only some of the benefits or have a hard time with the change. They become your squeaky wheel, your biggest challenger, or worse, your apple that tries to spoil the entire bunch.

What you may be missing from your service project is change management. How do you know? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your organization’s leaders skilled in the arts and sciences of change management?
  • Do you have a change management plan or methodology?
  • Is change management part of your project plan?

In my past six years as a consultant for some of the biggest brands in financial services, tech, and retail, strong change management has been the difference between extraordinary adoption and a completed project, or even the success or failure of a project.

I support using a change management methodology called ADKAR, which stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforce.

Awareness

Most successful changes start with the impacted stakeholders being made aware of the changes.  This is just an introduction to the changes that will be coming. This information may have a positive, neutral, or negative impact on morale, job satisfaction, workload, role, and/or position within the organization. Prior to making your associates aware of the change, I recommend completing a Change Management Assessment. See the following example:

Steps to Complete a Change Management Assessment

  1. Identify changes or workstream
  2. Provide a brief description
  3. Identify a single owner
  4. Judge the impact to the stakeholders
  5. Is it a positive, negative, or neutral change?
  6. Is training required?
  7. Is a communication plan or strategy required?
  8. Are there organizational changes associated with this change?
  9. How aware is the organization that this change is coming?
  10. Identify all stakeholders associated with the change

Desire

Often the building of desire coincides with the communication associated with awareness. This is your “why.” Having a strong understanding of the possible outcomes, consequences, and ripple effects is critical to be able to build the desire for change. While creating your plan to build desire, a great idea is to bring in two to four influential associates to understand their concerns, questions, and thoughts on what the general populous reactions will be to the changes.

Knowledge

This is where your training or continuous learning plans come into play.  In general, most people recognize this phase of change management best. This is where you develop and execute training or provide the knowledge for your associates.

Ability

If knowledge is the training or learning, ability is the opportunity to put what has been made aware and trained into practice. You will also want to make sure you are quality monitoring in this phase and that you are available to provide coaching and support.

Reinforcement

Sometimes the most forgotten area of change management, reinforcement is your opportunity to implement incentives (and consequences, if necessary) to help your associates keep/adopt the change. The most important part of this phase is credibility. Are you walking your talk? Is this a fly-by-night, flavor-of-the-month initiative? Identify multiple ways that your changes can be internalized by your teams.

The more impactful the change, the greater the need for change management. If you are discussing culture or a major technical system change, there are very few other things that could create as much impact as change management. Investing early in the change timeline and a change management methodology will help ensure your ability to execute. This model can be used for external customers as well, and I suggest just trying it for your next customer impacting initiative.

Now I have some questions for you:

  • Have you used change management methodologies before? If so, how did it differ?
  • If you fear process, does this sound like too much process?
  • Are you considering a change on the magnitude of a culture shift?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

For more on the specifics on ADKAR, visit PROSCI’s Change Management Learning Center.

Using Big Data to Enhance the Customer Experience

Customers are happy to stay with brands that provide excellent service, and that includes knowing what they want and offering it to them when they want it. To the customer, this seems like uncanny intuition, but smart brands know this doesn’t have anything to do with a sixth sense. Analyzing customer data is the only “magic” needed.

Collecting and storing customer data is doing nothing for you if you’re not actually putting that data to use, though. Here’s how to make customer data work for you.

  1. Personalize the customer experience.

Today, simply having an app or website that works isn’t enough. A personalized customer experience results in better engagement, conversions and revenue. The customer should have their interests and preferences catered to when they log in. For example, customers who always pay online ­– and who don’t usually log in for other reasons ­– can be taken directly to the payment page.

  1. Fix problems quickly.

Real-time analytics show what’s happening now, giving you the chance to solve problems before they become catastrophes. For example, if a customer is having a problem with the support agent, you can jump in to solve the issue before the customer gets off the phone. If you end the call on a positive note, they won’t be tempted to bash your business on social media. You can also collect data from different social media platforms to discover when customers are talking about you online, and then get in on the conversation to solve issues fast.

  1. Figure out what you’re doing wrong.

Customer data can show you where visitors are getting stuck or at what point they’re abandoning your app or website. This can help you hone in on areas that aren’t working so well, giving you the opportunity to streamline processes even more. For example, do you notice that customers who try to engage in a live chat via the app often end up calling for phone support? Maybe the chat freezes or agents are too slow to respond.

User data can be turned into reports for all sorts of information, and customers can be segmented in a variety of ways, giving contact center agents the chance to provide excellent, targeted service. The best approach is to figure out which data you need so that you spend more time using it than you do collecting it.

How to Create Customer Personas

When it comes to customer service and marketing, knowing your audience is everything. Customers aren’t a concept – they’re real people with personalities, needs and expectations, and knowing how to cater to them is integral to your success. Creating detailed personas will show you where and how to best reach your target audience, and it can also help you build an effective customer journey map.

What is a customer persona?

A customer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. Make it believable, as though you were describing a real person. Give them a background, outline their attitude, identify their motives, and figure out their negative triggers. You can even give the persona a name.

Here are a few specifics to include in your customer persona:

  • Age
  • Education
  • Goals
  • Income
  • Interests
  • Location
  • Needs
  • Size of household

Note that you’ll probably create more than one customer persona to accurately represent the different people who form your primary audience.

How do I add depth to a customer persona?

There’s almost no way to add too much detail to a customer persona. By narrowing their traits, you’ll be able to target only the customers who will have a genuine interest in your brand. Dive deeper by answering questions like these:

  • What age are they at each of the touch points of the customer journey?
  • What is their biggest struggle when it comes to reaching their goals?
  • Aside from subjects within your niche, what other interests do your customers have? Where, when and how often do they engage with their interests?
  • Which social media platforms are they using and how are they using them?

Is there any help out there for creating customer personas?

If you’re struggling with answering the basic questions, or if you have the general descriptors down but don’t know how to add depth to them, there are several ways to more accurately identify your audience.

Market segmentation will help you divide your market into smaller, more identifiable segments, which could help you create more distinct personas. You can also interview your best customers; send surveys or take polls through email or social media marketing; and look closely at your stats from your different social media platforms.

Your customers are the most important people to your business. By creating personas, you’re able to appeal to their empathy, build stronger relationships and directly appeal to their motivations. To learn more about Personas, watch a recording of the West webcast: No More Stilted Robotic Conversations: 5 Steps to Smooth Dialogue

3 Tips for Creating a Captivating Employee Culture

Employee culture has an enormous impact on the success of your company. When you’re able to create a stellar employee culture, your agents aren’t the only ones who will notice ­– your customers will love what they see, too, which will drive sales and business success.

Startups have it a bit easier because they can create their employee culture from the very beginning. If you have an established brand, it may be trickier to shake things up. It is possible, though. Here’s how:

Create a culture that reflects you.

You are your brand, and your brand is you. The elements that drove you to create your company are the same ones you should mark as most important for your company culture. Are you incredibly creative and innovative? Do you appreciate people who work hard and then play hard? Do you think that a relaxed workspace, where people are calm and centered, is the best way to accomplish tasks? Do you believe that collaboration is the best way to advance your company? Think about those questions when you’re hiring employees.

Take the lessons from the past and apply them now.

No matter where you are in your corporate journey ­– a first-time founder of a brand new startup or a seasoned entrepreneur in the middle of her tenth venture ­– you’ve learned something in the past that you can apply here. If you’ve only ever been an employee, think about what did and did not work for you at your previous jobs. If you’ve managed others in the past, think about the reactions you got when you launched new programs or instated certain rules.

Get everyone on board.

In order for an employee culture to truly permeate the entire company, everyone needs to be on board. Take a tip from JetBlue for getting everyone off on the right foot. When they hire new team members, they’re invited, along with their spouses, to orientation. Yes, they watch brand videos during orientation, but they also get to fly simulators and indulge in delicious meals. JetBlue introduces everyone to a specific, brand-centric culture, which sets the tone for their entire work experience.

Employee culture is the base for how everything functions in your company, from interactions between employees to customer service. No matter how long you’ve been in business, you can create and evolve your company culture starting now.

How Inconsistent IVR Personas Damage Your Brand

Imagine coming across an Instagram post for a brand you’ve taken notice of a few times before. You love their aesthetic and they have a product you’ve always wanted to buy. You decide that it’s time to make a purchase. First, though, you have a couple of questions.

You call the company, expecting an exchange that’s reflective of the warm, kind, youthful energy they exude on Instagram. What you get, though, is a cold, to-the-point response, making you stop to wonder if you dialed the wrong number.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems may technically be robotic, but they can also be personalized to your brand. Your IVR needs to give your customers the same impression that your website, live agents and marketing campaigns do. If your IVR doesn’t sound on par with your brand, it could easily turn off customers.

Stay True to Your Brand Voice

Your brand’s voice includes specific words, overall language and the general attitude that your IVR persona should convey. You’ll want to record your IVR prompts using a brand-appropriate persona. Refer to the style guide for this – the brush-up won’t just help your IVR, but your entire team of agents, too.

Avoid Common IVR Persona Mistakes

Regardless of the brand voice, there are a few things that no customer wants to experience when they call your support line, no matter what you’re selling. Avoid IVRs that sound too mechanical. Don’t use strange or unnatural language. Limit the different voices customers hear, and use only trained voice actors for prompts. Make sure the IVR is actually helpful ­– the last thing a caller wants to do is use a different avenue of communication to get the help they need.

Instill Trust in Your Customers

Having a consistent brand voice does more than just make your company seem unified. Behaving consistently also instills trust in your customers, which can improve loyalty. Plus, your customers are more likely to recommend your brand to others, come back as repeat customers, and even stick with you should your prices increase.

One Last Thing

Want to know if your IVR persona is truly hitting the mark? Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and call the IVR yourself. Pay close attention to how it speaks to you. If you find the persona jarring, chances are your customers are going to be even more affected by it.

 

6 Contact Center Technologies to Delight the Customer

Sometimes you have to rethink how you service clients in order to continue improving the customer experience. These six contact center technologies are sure to enhance each customer’s journey, which helps retain them, improves word-of-mouth marketing and elevates your reputation.

  1. Call-Back

If a caller wants to speak with a live agent even though there’s a long wait time, let them opt to get a call back when an agent is available. Allowing the customer to continue with whatever they were doing, instead of having to hang on the phone for several minutes, will keep them happy and let both the customer and the agent deal with the issue efficiently.

  1. Contact Routing Software

Contact routing software passes customers along to the right agent quickly. This technology encompasses all communication routes, including chat, email and voice. Instead of speaking with an agent and then being put on hold to be transferred, the software gets the customer to the correct agent the first time

  1. Interactive Video

When customers call to speak with a live agent via their mobile device, interactive videos play ads, entertainment or promotions during hold time. Not only does this keep the customer’s attention, but it may answer one of their questions or tell them about a product or service they might want.

  1. Two-Way Social Media Conversations

Brands have known for a while that they need a presence on social media, but now customers want a two-way conversation. It’s no longer acceptable to give customers a place to go just so they can provide feedback or learn more about you. Your agents have to actually respond now, quickly and in a personalized way.

  1. Unified Communications

“Omnichannel” has been a buzzword for a long time, but not enough companies are truly embracing it yet. The best customer experience is when the agent can be reached on any device and access up-to-date purchase, service and communication history. Going into a conversation and already having context is imperative.

  1. Voice Response Software

The days of having to listen to lengthy menus and submenus, trying to remember the different numbers to punch in your phone, are gone. With integrated voice response software, the customer can access the right self-service selection by speaking in a natural way.

Contact centers that want to compete need to embrace digital transformation and modern technology.