Fortifying the Career Path of the Contact Center Agent

Employers are experiencing a serious talent shortage, according to a 2016-2017 report from ManpowerGroup. Part of this could be because more and more employees want to work for an employer who will help them advance their career, and they’re happy to leave an employer who prevents them from doing so.

At the same time, contact centers are harnessing the power of AI and chatbots, eliminating the need for agents to perform repetitious, monotonous tasks. As a result, the agent’s role is becoming elevated. Customers want more adept service, too – when they have a complex issue, they want customized service from a knowledgeable, human agent who can creatively problem-solve and who is empowered to make important decisions. This circles right back to benefiting the contact center, because the way to stand out from the competition is to offer top-notch customer service.

Due to the changing workforce, smart contact centers are giving agents the opportunity to advance in their role as well as their career. As management puts trust and faith in their employees, agents feel that their long-term success is important to the company, which improves their performance and loyalty. Even if customer service agents move out of their current job and into a higher position, they bring with them in-depth customer knowledge that they gleaned during their time as an agent.

Even if an agent isn’t yet ready to move up and out of their position, they can become more essential to the contact center and more helpful to the customer by become an SME, or a subject matter expert. SMEs are the go-to agents who have deep understanding of a specific process or product. The SME can help train agents in the same field, deal with escalating calls, and enrich the self-service knowledge base. They may also be asked to work closely with other departments at the contact center, like marketing or product design.

If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to elevating your workforce, start by asking agents what they’re most interested in. Let your employees shadow parts of the business that they want to know more about, then hold a meeting with the employee to learn about their experience. If your employee shows a strong interest in a different or more advanced area, speak with management to find out how to best accommodate the agent.

 

 

 

 

3 Contact Center Metrics Improved by Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics predict future events by combining various techniques that analyze historical and current patterns. Predictive voice analytics can have a major positive affect on integral contact center metrics, including customer retention, follow-up call success and quality assurance.

Customer Retention

One of the customer service industry’s main goals is customer retention, and experts believe that it costs more to acquire a brand new customer than to keep an existing customer. Predictive voice analytics, which analyze the customer’s voice during customer-agent interactions, can determine if the customer is at high risk for ending their relationship with the company altogether. It can then inform the agent that they need to put more focus on retaining the customer. On the flip side, predictive voice analytics can also tell which agents aren’t doing enough to keep the customer coming back. This is more effective than random checking for quality assurance, which can take a long time to identify poor-performing agents.

Follow-up Call Success

Often, the first contact with a customer isn’t the one that has a positive outcome (i.e. a sale); it’s the follow-up call that proves to be more advantageous. However, it’s difficult to know which customers are a priority for follow-up contact. Instead of leaving it up to your agents to determine which customers are worth a follow-up call, predictive analytics can analyze past interactions and study voice features to determine if the customer’s tone and behavior predicts a favorable outcome during the next interaction (like making a payment or finalizing a sale). Predictive analytics can create a ranked list of customers, organized by their likelihood to say “yes.”

Quality Assurance

Predictive analytics are a richer way of assessing quality assurance than traditional methods. Routine QA testing often ignores customer patterns, and it is also unable to learn in real-time. Predictive analytics, however, can analyze all types of data, both structured and unstructured, to give a well-rounded view of agent behavior and how it impacts the customer. All customer-agent communication is assessed in-the-moment, allowing the contact center to get an accurate view of agent performance immediately instead of having to wait several weeks.

Contact centers can’t just gather metrics to assess their current performance and then call it a day. They must also use what they’ve learned from the past to create goals for the future. Predictive analytics can help shape those goals realistically.

 

 

The Omni-Channel Self-Service Journey

Contact center management knows that success is based on customer satisfaction. The omni-channel contact center was designed to improve the customer experience by unifying multi-channel platforms to offer a seamless experience at any time and on any channel. As more contact centers adopt the omni-channel approach, they’re figuring out ways to make it part of customer self-service.

Omni-channel self-service means that service channels are not separated into silos; instead, they’re synced in order to support the customer’s entire journey, no matter what path they take. Here’s an example of a self-service journey a customer may take:

• You’re ready to shop for a new smartphone. On your current smartphone, you log into your cell phone provider’s app and start browsing their selection. You choose a few phones to take a closer look at.

• Later that evening, you want to continue phone shopping, but this time you login to your account on your desktop. The phones you looked at on your app show up at the top of your screen in case you want to check them out again.

• You want to learn more about one of the phones, so you click on an explainer video that guides you through the phone’s different features.

• You order the phone online, but then realize that you may have been able to save money. You submit a support ticket and ask for a live phone call back.

• The next morning, you get a call from a rep for the cell phone provider and they immediately start talking about the phone you recently purchased and your options for getting a credit on your first bill, no need to provide any extra information.

• Once the phone call has ended, you immediately receive an email with a recap of everything you discussed, the credit you can expect to see on your bill, and helpful links to learn more about your new phone.

Omni-channel service aims to meet the customer wherever and whenever they need help. The best part about having an omni-channel strategy now is that your contact center will be able to scale as new communication channels are introduced down the road. New communication platforms are quickly becoming available, like live video, wearables and virtual reality tools. With both cloud technology and an omni-channel approach, your contact center will find it easy to integrate a new channel as soon as it becomes available.

 

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