5 Easy Ways to Reduce Customer Service Costs

Bog contributed by Bright Pattern

How can customer service leaders meet increasing expectations for delivering great customer experiences while keeping operational costs in check? Hiring more agents is only part of the equation. The other part is to use advanced digital technologies to modernize contact center operations, reduce costs, and boost customer engagement.

Here are some suggestions compiled by Forrester Research on how to remake the contact center into a customer engagement center:

    1. Make self-service more interactive with chatbots. Adding an option for live conversation can help customers that might be getting “stuck” in self-service.
    2. Examine the customer’s digital journey. Use analytics and other methods to track customer behavior on websites and mobile apps. Finding pain points that may be driving higher call volumes, and explore ways to make the customer journey better.
    3. Add robotic process automation (RPA). These bots can simplify and streamline routine processes like customer onboarding, which reduces the cost per customer and leaves agents free to handle exceptions or complex inquiries.
    4. Give your agents virtual assistants. Agent-facing bots can help agents perform better by shadowing conversations and proactively suggesting next steps to resolve calls quickly and successfully.
    5. Use AI to optimize resources. Essential behind-the-scenes operations like call routing and field service scheduling can be offloaded to AI-based processes that speed up performance while also analyzing trends to develop further service improvements.

Using one or more of these digital transformation strategies can help contact centers maximize their

How AI Serves the Customer Journey

By Nick Deininger

Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming a ubiquitous technology in consumer devices and services. What does it mean for the future of the contact center and how organizations serve customers?

AI-enabled bots and intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) are already transforming post-sales service by enabling better self-service and allowing more forms of customer engagement. But the role of AI is not limited to post-sales interactions. For contact centers, intelligent assistants can significantly improve the customer experience by gathering data, predicting the customer’s needs, and learning about the customer’s behavior.

As Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research principal analyst, recently pointed out, contact centers can use AI to fuel all phases of the customer journey.

Presales:  Showcase more options and overcome hesitations. Predictive analytics and machine learning can help target product recommendations, offer cross-sell or upsell opportunities, and present a coupon or other incentive at just the right moment to take the potential customer from shopper to buyer.

Onboarding: Get customers started quickly. Once the journey begins, intelligent assistants can answer questions before customers even need to ask. AI can drive basic onboarding, such as account activation, to even more complex tasks such as tracking the user’s progress, offering tips for new features, and keeping tabs on customer satisfaction. AI can also capture a potential trouble ticket and route it to a human agent for immediate attention, even before the user asks for help.

Post-sales: Make it easier for customers to serve themselves. Efficient, easy-to-use self-service is clearly becoming the preferred method of customer interaction, and factors heavily into customer satisfaction ratings.  AI capabilities such as cognitive analysis and natural language understanding enable bots to respond intelligently to customer chats and lead natural-sounding conversations.

Anytime: Know when to connect a customer to a live agent.  Done correctly, AI bots seamlessly connect with human agents at any time, for uninterrupted conversations with the customer.

In a world where bots and machine learning are commonplace in all sorts of apps and devices, using AI to boost customer experience is more than smart. It’s becoming essential for every contact center.

5 Contact Center Trends to Watch

Contact centers have a lot of contradictory goals to juggle: focusing on both employee and customer happiness; modernizing while still utilizing helpful legacy systems; and upholding security while being open-minded enough to evolve. Contact centers are almost always in some sort of transitional phrase, with late-2017 being no different. Here are five trends you should either be familiar with or keep an eye on moving forward.

1. Omni-channel, not multi-channel, service.

Some contact centers mistakenly think that offering multi-channel service means they’re immediately able to deliver omni-channel support, but the two are quite different. Omni-channel services takes those multiple channels and seamlessly integrates them. Agent-customer interactions can be switched to a different channel mid-communication without losing any relevant data.

2. New digital channels.

Customers want convenience, which means being able to interact with customer support when they’re on-the-go. Emerging digital channels have to be adopted by contact centers, including mobile apps and web chat. These channels must be adaptable and easy to use, too, and they have to make it simple for customers to troubleshoot on their own and, when needed, get in touch with a live support agent.

3. Additional performance metrics.

Most contact centers have strategies in place to measure voice and call quality, but since digital channels are still relatively new, measuring them isn’t as commonplace. Understanding how agents perform on digital channels, including mobile, live chat and social media, can help to increase agent productivity and improve the customer experience.

4. Dependence on the cloud.

Though many contact centers have switched over to the cloud, others are still relying on their antiquated legacy systems. According to Customer Think, reliance on the cloud is about to increase dramatically, particularly over the next four years. More contact centers will move to the cloud, allowing them to scale globally, improve their data security and increase their efficiency.

5. Two-way conversations on social media.

The ways customers want to connect with brands on social media has changed – they now want to engage in a back-and-forth conversation with support instead of just observing the content a brand posts. Contact centers will need to train agents in how to chat with customers on social media platforms, both publicly (like on a Twitter thread) and privately (like on Facebook Messenger).

 

5 Tips for Root Cause Analysis in the Contact Center

The best way to solve a problem is to dig deep and find out where it started in the first place. Often, what you see of a problem is a symptom, not the cause. Here are five steps you can take to improve your contact center’s root cause analysis.

  1. Consider acoustic issues.

Root-cause analysis should take acoustic factors into account. For example, if the call has long periods of silence, this could point to a problem with the system. If the contact center agent can’t access data quickly enough or if there are problems with IVR, a slow system may be the problem.

  1. Flag conversations that are abnormally long.

Speech analytics will let you sort through calls based on parameters like duration and repeated calls. You can also find calls where specific keywords are mentioned, like those that are normally associated with a complaint. This will let you know which calls need the most attention.

  1. Monitor data in real time.

Accessing real time data can help you spot and stop issues early. If a new sales or marketing strategy launches and then phone calls start coming in within an hour or two, you’ll know that there’s a problem with the launch that must be fixed. Real time data lets you identify trends as they emerge, giving you the opportunity to stop a problem in its tracks.

  1. Sort problems into categories.

As you start to uncover the main problems customers are having, you can segment them into categories, such as product defects, customer education and marketing communication. Then, you can meet with specific teams to come up with targeted strategies to solve the problems.

  1. Understand the context of the situation.

Relying on word count frequency isn’t enough – the terms and phrases that are being used have to be understood contextually, too. Knowing the context of a problem instead of just the hard data will allow you to pinpoint the situation that caused or contributed to it.

Knowing the average number of complaints your contact center receives on a weekly basis is just a start. You have to figure out the root cause of the complaints in order to effectively tackle them and prevent them in the future. Root cause analysis is a way to solve prominent issues instead of merely putting a Band Aid on them.

Is the Contact Centre Part of Your Digital Transformation Programme?

creative virtualContact Centre blog (002)

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I say this every year, but the Technology Innovation Showcase webinar Creative Virtual does with CRMXchange is one of my favourite webinars to present. This was the fifth year running that we’ve participated in the webcast series, and it was our most popular one yet with a record-breaking number of registrations. I love this webinar because it gives me a chance to share more live demonstrations than slides, and I know the best way to understand how our technology works and what it can do for customers and organisations is to see it in action.

For this year’s Showcase, I focused on the theme of ‘Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre’. There’s so much buzz and hype, as well as unrealistic expectations and disappointments, around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots that it can be difficult to know how best to deliver, implement and support these types of solutions. My goal during the webinar was to showcase best practices in deploying chatbots in conjunction with human assistance for customer support and sales. I selected my demonstrations specifically to show how the virtual and real can work in perfect harmony to meet business objectives.

A few key takeaways from my presentation:

  • Artificial intelligence on its own is not the answer for customer support. Companies like Microsoft and IBM have been responsible for setting false expectations in regards to how AI can be deployed for customer service. Chatbots and virtual agents should blend human curation of content with machine learning. This hybrid approach enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of responses.
  • Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation programmes and the contact centre needs to be a key part of that, although that’s not always the case today. In the future, the contact centre will be the centre of excellence for the knowledge used across customer support channels and organisations need to put the necessary tools in place to facilitate that change. By including the contact centre as part of this transformation instead of allowing it to become a siloed and outdated entity, it benefits from lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.
  • Customers are starting to specifically demand chatbots for digital self-service, with research showing that many would choose to interact with a chatbot before a human to get instant answers. To meet the demands of customers, organisations need more than just chatbots and virtual agents that are available 24/7 though. Over the past several years providing an effortless way to interact with your company has become more and more important. Instead of offering a wide range of support options for customers to choose from, you need to offer one place for customers to ask a question and for that system to be the intent matcher. Then, once you understand the intent, immediately provide the most appropriate method for assistance. You also need to provide a seamless experience that’s available on any device, can easily switch between languages and provides personalised responses.

I invite you to watch the recording of the webinar on-demand to understand more about these three points and to see the live demonstrations of chatbots, virtual agents and live chat solutions that are currently being used by some of our customers around the world.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for organising and hosting another successful Technology Innovation Showcase for us. I’m already looking forward to presenting again next year.

 

Dos and Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

 

Forecasting may just be the cornerstone of contact center success. The accuracy of forecasting can affect service level, average speed of answer (ASA) time and occupancy. Though contact center forecasting varies by industry, there are some core principles that just about every organization should follow.

3 Dos of Contact Center Forecasting

Do start with a historical baseline.

Your historical data is what you’ll use to predict the future. You’ll get an idea of what your forecast is going to look like. Then, you can start adding in changes as needed, like as you track productivity changes. By starting with a solid basis, you’ll have a better view of how every change impacts the forecast.

Do use forecasting technology.

The old school way of handling contact center forecasting just won’t work anymore – spreadsheets, no matter how detailed, aren’t smart enough to record and manipulate data. The more inputs you have that affect the forecast, the more you’ll need to rely on modern, smart technology that will communicate results in a way that you can act on.

Do understand that accuracy will change with time.

The farther out you forecast, the less accurate your forecast is going to be. A forecast for the next 30 days is going to be more accurate than a forecast for the next 90 days. Accepting that this is a reality and being transparent about it when discussing forecasting with management will give you credibility.

2 Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

Don’t create a target based on a blanket statistic.

If an executive says something along the lines of, “At my last contact center, we had 95% accuracy – let’s aim for that,” it’s important to know why that won’t translate to your contact center. A sweeping statistic like that doesn’t account for details like the specific metric measured or the frequency at which it was measured.

Don’t get hung up on averages.

Averages can be misleading because they can make things seem more placid than they are. Forecasting requires information that will help management make real decisions, not information that’s been watered down so that it’s easier to understand.

Contact center forecasting combines science with creativity. Processing data is the easy part. Figuring out how to add subjective changes requires more creative thinking. Knowing what to expect and what to avoid from the get-go is the best place to start.

4 Social Media Best Practices for Omnichannel Customer Service

It wasn’t long ago that the only way to get in touch with customer service was by phone – and only phone. Today, customers can choose any – or every – mode of communication available, including phone, email, chat, text and social media. To keep up, contact centers have had to make themselves accessible across every channel. Plus, they had to figure out how to deliver consistent, dependable customer service.

Here are four social media best practices to use with an omnichannel strategy.

  1. Respond quickly on social media.

When a customer contacts you by phone or live chat, you would never think of making them wait an entire hour to reach a rep. According to Convince and Convert, 42% of customers who have a complaint and who voice that complaint on social media want to hear back within 60 minutes, but a majority of companies don’t respond within this window of time (or at all). Neglecting to give your customers a positive experience through social media can increase churn rate.

  1. Use the same tags and hashtags on all social platforms.

Offering help across a variety of channels only works if customers are willing and able to engage with you there. No matter what social media platform you’re using, the message should be consistent. Your branded tag (the @yourname) should be the same everywhere and you should utilize the same hashtags across all channels as well.

  1. Offer rich content on all channels.

Customers want to access the information they need even if they’re not on a company’s website or app. Every social media platform comes with the option for adding rich content. Some channels have more space than others (LinkedIn and Facebook have more room in their profiles than Instagram and Twitter), but each has its own way of letting you optimize both the profile and feed.

  1. Record metrics in a unified way.

The more social media platforms you use for customer support, the more metrics you’re going to need to collect. Since you need a comprehensive view of your communications and touchpoints, your contact center will need to track metrics in a way that doesn’t allow for duplicate or disconnected stats.

Omnichannel support integrates every avenue of communication in order to give the customer a unified and high-quality experience. Done correctly, omnichannel service is effective and convenient for the customer

Dos and Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

Forecasting may just be the cornerstone of contact center success. The accuracy of forecasting can affect service level, average speed of answer (ASA) time and occupancy. Though contact center forecasting varies by industry, there are some core principles that just about every organization should follow.

3 Dos of Contact Center Forecasting

Do start with a historical baseline.

Your historical data is what you’ll use to predict the future. You’ll get an idea of what your forecast is going to look like. Then, you can start adding in changes as needed, like as you track productivity changes. By starting with a solid basis, you’ll have a better view of how every change impacts the forecast.

Do use forecasting technology.

The old school way of handling contact center forecasting just won’t work anymore – spreadsheets, no matter how detailed, aren’t smart enough to record and manipulate data. The more inputs you have that affect the forecast, the more you’ll need to rely on modern, smart technology that will communicate results in a way that you can act on.

Do understand that accuracy will change with time.

The farther out you forecast, the less accurate your forecast is going to be. A forecast for the next 30 days is going to be more accurate than a forecast for the next 90 days. Accepting that this is a reality and being transparent about it when discussing forecasting with management will give you credibility.

2 Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

Don’t create a target based on a blanket statistic.

If an executive says something along the lines of, “At my last contact center, we had 95% accuracy – let’s aim for that,” it’s important to know why that won’t translate to your contact center. A sweeping statistic like that doesn’t account for details like the specific metric measured or the frequency at which it was measured.

Don’t get hung up on averages.

Averages can be misleading because they can make things seem more placid than they are. Forecasting requires information that will help management make real decisions, not information that’s been watered down so that it’s easier to understand.

Contact center forecasting combines science with creativity. Processing data is the easy part. Figuring out how to add subjective changes requires more creative thinking. Knowing what to expect and what to avoid from the get-go is the best place to start.

 

5 Tips to Improve Your Contact Center’s Chat Services

Live chat is an important, useful customer service tool. Having live chat isn’t enough, though – you have to make sure it’s working intuitively and efficiently in order to solve disputes and answer questions as quickly as possible. Here are a few ways you can improve your contact center’s live chat services.

1. Use a pre-chat survey.

A pre-chat survey gathers initial details that will make it easier to help the customer. For example, you can ask for their name, account number, preferred callback number in case you get disconnected and a quick synopsis of their question or problem. Then when a live agent is ready to take the chat, they’ll have those preliminary details at their fingertips.

2. Use a scripted greeting.

Though you want to avoid using too many canned messages, it’s a good idea to have one as your greeting. Customers like to see a chat window pop up immediately. If your agent had to write each greeting personally, there would be too much lag time between when the customer visits the site and when they’re greeted.

3. Introduce yourself by name.

Most customers are going to be savvy enough to know that they’re speaking with computerized messages in the beginning, but once a live agent is on the chat, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself by name. This helps build rapport between the support agent and the customer.

4. Always be honest with the customer.

Even if you can’t tell the customer what they want to hear, you should never lie to them or promise something you can’t deliver. If you’re unsure of an answer or if you don’t have the ability to do something like offer the customer a discount, put them on hold and speak with a supervisor.

5. Remember that the typing indicator is on.

One main reason why people use live chat is because they want swift service. Always remember that the typing indicator is on and that your customer can see when you’re responding to them. While they may not mind if you take a minute or two to type out a full response, they will start to get impatient if they don’t see any response coming through at all.

It’s a good idea to periodically check in with your live chat agents to brainstorm creative ideas that can improve agent-customer interactions.

 

 

10 Ways to Optimize Contact Center Scheduling


Contact center scheduling is one of a manager’s more difficult tasks. Forecasting and scheduling requires everything from data analysis to keeping track of employee preferences and availability. Agent turnover, new communication channels and fluctuations with call volume make the process even more complex. Here are 10 bite-sized tips for optimizing contact center scheduling.

  1. When hiring new agents, have an idea of your schedule blind spots and then only consider applicants who have matching availability.
  2. Your top agents should be available during normal working hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) in the time zone of your primary customer base.
  3. Let some of your agents choose their own schedule. For example, you can give them the option to work longer hours on fewer days or to change their start and end times based on contact center need.
  4. If you’re finding it difficult to get enough agents in the contact center during peak times, consider using incentives, like flex scheduling, a competition and reward system.
  5. On top of call metrics, you should also analyze non-call activities, including after-call work, training and coaching time, and break length, to get a well-rounded idea of forecasting and scheduling.
  6. Use your contact center software’s dashboard to monitor real-time reporting. You’ll be able to change schedules on-the-fly. For example, you can make adjustments to break times, meetings and training classes to adapt to current needs.
  7. Don’t schedule agents based on availability alone – also account for skill level, specialization and types of communication that need to be handled.
  8. Allow your agents to swap schedules, so long as the agent they’re switching shifts with has the same skill set. Giving employees schedule flexibility can improve focus and company loyalty.
  9. Keep a reserve of agents on-call so that you can have extra help at the ready in case contact volume quickly increases. Make it possible for these agents to work from home instead of requiring them to come in.
  10. The right schedule will only work well if it’s adhered to. Monitor for adherence and handle issues that you notice before revamping the schedule.

By not paying close attention to contact center scheduling or relying on outdated techniques and processes, you run the risk of negatively impacting your team while raising costs. Though a definite challenge, managers should approach forecasting and scheduling in an organized, vigilant way.