Contact Center Callback Services Are Improving Customer Service

We’ve all been there:  you carve out a few minutes of your day to take care of phone calls and find yourself impatiently drumming your fingers on your desk, waiting for the hold music to stop and a real person to pick up.  Craig Borowski of Software Advice recently published “You Need to Offer Callback – Here are 3 Ways to Get It;” the articles outlines the reasons that companies should consider this technology and some of the best ways it can be integrated.

Borowski first outlines the survey data that indicates why contact centers should consider callback technology:

  • 63% of respondents prefer a callback option instead of waiting on hold. 
  • 52% of respondents would wait five minutes before choosing a callback option, but nearly 30% of respondents they would prefer a callback over spending any amount of time on hold.
  • 43% of respondents expect a callback from the company within 30 minutes, and over 25% said that it didn’t matter when the call was returned. 

With respondents indicating interest in receiving callbacks, this technology seems to be a viable option for improving customer satisfaction as well as improving standard contact center metrics such as average hold time and longest call waiting. Borowski outlines three potential ways to integrate the technology:

1. As an integratable platform – An example of this integration is an intelligent callback system such as Virtual Hold Technology (VHT). 

VHT’s callback system offers callers two options. They can enter a virtual queue and receive their callback as soon as they reach the front: VHT calls this its “ASAP” option. Alternatively, callers can choose to schedule a callback at a time they specify, ensuring it will fit into their schedule. This is called the “scheduled” option.

2. As a web or mobile app – The example cited in the article is through FastCustomer.

“FastCustomer’s callback is unique in that it requires a customer to know about the service before they make the call. The process begins when a customer searches for the name of a company on the FastCustomer website or from their Android or iPhone app.”  The customer can view the estimated wait time, click a button to choose a call back, and then allow the app to navigate the IVR.  Once an agent picks up, FastCustomer calls the customer and bridges the two calls.

3. With a new phone service – If an integratable platform or web/mobile app aren’t suitable options, then a company can start with a new phone system altogether.  With multiple VoIP solutions that offer callback technology, this could potentially be the best solution.

With callback emerging as a growing technology to help eliminate the frustration of long hold times, callback technology offers an alternate solution for companies looking to increase customer satisfaction and call center productivity. Of course, Inova can help you easily monitor callback queue on your digital wallboards or dashboards.

Surviving Call Center Peaks and Valleys, Part 2: Managing Call Volume Peaks

I previously discussed an article by Pete McGarahan,  “How to Survive Call Volume Spikes:  A Practical Guide to Successfully Handling Call Volume Peaks and Valleys.”  In my last post, I covered McGarahan’s recommendations for mapping both planned and unplanned peaks in call volumes at your contact center.  Identifying patterns is really only the first step; you also need to take steps to efficiently manage the peaks and valleys. McGarahan also offers several tips for managing service demands.

The help desk manager should … reward them for uncovering information regarding unplanned events. If all support members can maintain regular contact with the decision-makers affecting call volume, you’ll be surprised how easily unplanned events will turn into planned events and how quickly this will affect call volume and customer satisfaction.

Standardize.  “The fewer variances you have in desktops, operating systems, office suites, e-mail and printers, the better.”  Work with the various departments in your organization to do what you can to reduce variances that may cause problems with updates or releases, which could ultimately lead to call spikes.

Know Your Own Environment. Real-time performance management and keeping your agents informed to better self-manage themselves will free managers and supervisors to coach specific agents on specific skills. 

Call-to-Action Plan. “ An action plan for your emergency team includes training and preparing the support crew for any number of possible emergencies-invaluable in handling call volume spikes that are due to unplanned events.”  A key element of your action plan should be a trigger point that indicates when the plan should go into effect; for example,  digital displays from Inova Solutions offer advanced threshold alerts to let you know when you may be headed toward a critical call volume peak.

Awareness and preparation for the unplanned are key elements for successfully  managing the peaks and valleys in contact center call volume.  “Don’t let call volume manage your support organization! Get out in front of it, understand it, measure it, analyze it and pull together an action plan that puts you back in control.”

Surviving Call Center Peaks and Valleys, Part 1: Mapping your way toward a solution

I recently read an article by Pete McGarahan, “How to Survive Call Volume Spikes:  A Practical Guide to Successfully Handling Call Volume Peaks and Valleys.”  The article grabbed my attention with its pseudo-superhero introduction, but I was quickly engrossed by the real-world challenges addressed in the rest of the text.

Anyone who works in a call center knows about the peaks and valleys in call volume, “no matter how many Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) you have available, it’s impossible to meet the current demand for your services.”  McGarahan makes the logical case that call volume spikes can be either planned or unplanned.  Planned causes include those that you are aware of and can plan for:  typical days, times of days, or planned events that can lead to spikes.  Unplanned events are completely beyond your control:  inclement weather, system outages or failures.  It’s not enough to just know that you have planned and unplanned spikes, though; you need to map those surges and slow periods to see if you can determine patterns.

To really see your patterns, look at a graphical representation of the data from your ACD.  Through your historical data, you can try to identify any patterns of planned and unplanned peaks.  He offers a six-step process for mapping your call center:

  1. Use historical data to graph incoming calls
  2. Graph for a few months to allow you to find patterns and peaks
  3. Identify your peaks and valleys
  4. Filter planned and unplanned call spikes
  5. Analyze your unplanned peaks; identify the root causes

This analysis is just one part of your map.  You also need to determine a route toward efficient management of the peaks and valleys. McGarahan offers some key points in identifying a management, which I’ll discuss in a future post. 

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Customer Satisfaction Drops – Where Does that Leave Your Call Center?

An article in the April 2014 issue of CRM Magazine headlines “Contact Center Satisfaction Dropped 10 Percent in 2013.”  There are several possibilities for why this might be the case:  general customer fatigue and frustration with the slow economic recovery, delays in new technology deployment by companies, and higher expectations by customers.  There is no need to throw your hands up in despair over the decrease in this metric.  Later in the same issue is an article outlining “The 4 Pillars of Responsible Customer Engagement.”  While not an exhaustive review of the content, these key elements from each article can highlight some of the ways your contact center can avoid a 2014 drop in customer satisfaction:

  • The same research that identified the drop in contact center customer satisfaction also found an opportunity for achieving increased satisfaction levels in the future:  multichannel customer service.  Are there ways you can improve the multichannel options you have available to customers?
  • The first pillar of customer engagement is relevance, which is “understanding the customer, and using information about that customer appropriately.”  Today, this means mapping the entire customer experience throughout your business including retail stores, web site, social media, and contact centers.  Reviewing the entire customer experience, and the data associated with each step, can help you identify broken or inefficient links in the process.
  • Respect is the second pillar of customer engagement.  While respect may sound simple, it’s often more complicated than it first seems.  This concept starts with employees who are treated with respect and given the freedom to work “off script” with customers.  Another element of respect may be looking deeper into your basic performance metrics, such as customer satisfaction, to understand the “insights that might be hiding behind those numbers.”
  • The third pillar is credibility, which is following through on your company’s brand promises.  It’s easy to lose sight of your brand in the midst of company growth or other focus areas, but credibility is critical and “can’t just be in the call center;” it has to be across the board.
  • The final pillar of customer engagement is value.  Value is not discounts, but rather about “developing long-term loyal relationships with customers by giving them good value.”  Especially in your contact center, where agents have a direct connection to customers, finding ways to offer value is critical.  Further, think about how you use your data about customers; “the data a company has about a customer should only be used to provide the customer with more value, not less.”

If you find yourself in a position where you want to improve contact center customer satisfaction, these tenets can be a great place to start.  You can leverage existing performance metrics and other resources to assess your multichannel options, map a customer’s experience, determine deeper insights in your data, understand the correlation between call center service and your company’s brand, and identify successful or new ways to deliver value.

Inova has helped many contact centers turn their real-time data into focused, actionable information that improves customer service and over-all performance.  Schedule your FREE Real-Time Performance Analysis today to see how real-time data can positively impact your key management challenges.  LEARN MORE

The March from Contact Center Data to Customer Service Knowledge

There is a lot of talk about big data and metrics in all industries today, and the contact center world is no exception.  An article in the April 2014 CRM Magazine highlighted one of the weaknesses of this new push for more data:  “our view of data often doesn’t extend further than numbers.”  In the article, “Data Versus Knowledge,” Denis Pombriant writes that the numbers we often think of as data are quantitative, which is only one type of data.  He cites a wide variety of other examples of data such as shoe size, time of day, delivery date, and a course letter grade; these data types are less conducive to typical analysis.

Pombriant writes of a hierarchy:  data > information > knowledge.  “We don’t act on data, we act on information, and we only act on information when it creates knowledge in our minds that enables us to make informed decisions.”  With all of the discussion about big data, we can forget that the data is not the ultimate goal.  The data is just a means to the end, which is to combine and manipulate that data into new information which will then lead to useful knowledge.  Combining call center data in new ways, and combining it with existing knowledge, can lead to new perspective and useful insight.

As an example, think of the multiple data points of a customer who called a particular number.  You have the number called, call duration, and other basic metrics.  You can combine those with data about how many other times that customer has called and the metrics associated with those calls; from here you can start to gather information about particular customer experiences.  Now, if you have a customer profile it might also include the customer’s job title, geographic location, and more.  If you combine all of your data, you’ll have more information about the customer, which can lead to knowledge about the customer’s expected buying patterns, potential professional objectives, and more.

Inova has helped many contact centers turn their real-time data into focused, actionable information.  Schedule your FREE Real-Time Performance Analysis today to see how real-time data can positively impact your key management challenges.  LEARN MORE

Strategies for Managing Remote Call Center Agents

Telecommuting used to be a novel concept in the workplace, with the option to work somewhere other than the office being a rare privilege.  No longer the case today, working from remote locations has become increasingly common in a variety of industries and the contact center is no exception.  In the March 2014 Contact Center Pipeline issue, Scott Murphy discussed the topic in his article, “Overcoming the Challenges of Managing an At-Home Workforce.”  He writes that ten years ago, when the trend just began to take hold, “it was common to hear…talk about how much more efficient, productive, happy, and dependable [work-at-home employees] were.”  However, now that the novelty has worn off, so have some of the performance benefits.  Murphy offers some strategies for managing the common challenges; including preparing for unknown factors and understanding that resolving technical issues may take more time.

A third common challenge that Murphy highlights is at home agents feeling a lack of connectedness to the organization.  Without the daily in-person interaction in the office, remote employees engage less often with on-site peers and supervisors.  This can lead to a variety of additional challenges including a heavy reliance on other remote workers, decision making without supervisor involvement, and reduced productivity and performance.  To re-engage these workers, Murphy suggests implementing video conferencing for weekly meetings with supervisors and team meetings or encouraging on-site workdays on a regular basis.

In addition to those suggestions, also consider how you can use the tools already available in your contact center to engage your remote workers. 

  • Chat or instant messaging – It may be natural for remote employees to band together over instant messaging, which likely provides needed support.  You can also encourage broader use of these tools among at-home and on-site agents:  consider matching an at-home agent with a new employee, starting industry-related book club discussions, or other creating networks to facilitate interaction.
  • Desktop applications – Many contact centers have wallboards that are visible for on-site employees; these are incredibly useful tools to share performance metrics; critical announcements; as well as morale-boosters like work anniversaries, birthdays, or workplace achievements.  Rather than leave remote agents out of this type of communication, find a way to deploy an application that shares the same information on the remote desktop.
  • Insight about performance – Agents who are away from the water cooler talk in the office may have a different perspective on your contact center performance metrics.  Take the opportunity to engage remote workers to hear different perspectives about the data as well as potential ways to change behaviors to improve performance.

Remote workplace situations have proven advantages and are likely going to remain a part of the modern day contact center.  As Murphy says, “paying attention to the small details will ensure that your work-at-home program will continue to thrive.”

“Analytics Everywhere” – contact center data visualization and discovery tools

“Analytics everywhere,”
a type of big data analytics solution that
makes mountains of insight
available across the entire enterprise.

That probably sounds like a dream come true to most of us!  In the March 2014 issue of CRM Magazine, Leonard Klie expands on this idea of analytics everywhere.  The article, “Big Data Prompts ‘Analytics Everywhere’ Solutions,” highlights the well-known challenge that much of the big data solutions target a small group of employees rather than the larger number of employees in business areas who can apply and use the metrics to change behavior.

Klie writes that data visualization and data discovery tools will be big drivers of analytics and that “generating business value from innovation, optimization, and insights are a function or the analytic culture within an organization.”  Rather than seeing your call center metrics as a massive pile of numbers, how can you make them more accessible to the employees who can use the data to make real changes in performance?  For example:

  • Identify the key metrics and create visually-appealing ways to display the information to a large audience.  Your digital signage and desktop applications are useful tools only inasmuch as people actually tune into the information.  Avoid text heavy displays and choose only the critical information that people need to know
  • Consider using your digital signage to display charts, grids, or other data visualizations.  Many people find graphics easier to understand, especially at a quick glance.
  • Work with your contact center leaders to find ways to create action messages based on pre-identified thresholds.  That way, no one is poring over historical data; instead, real-time information can be used to prompt immediate action by agents.

Don’t allow your big data to be locked away and accessible only to a select few.  Instead, use the hardware you have at your contact center to maximize the availability of the metrics to ultimately change behavior and improve performance!

Starting with Simplicity to Manage Contact Center Performance Data

Justin Robbins recently published an article ICMI, “Fine Tuning Your Contact Center Through the Use of Innovative Metrics.”  In the article, Robbins first sums up what many of us already know:  “metrics are everywhere,” with “more data than we know what do with and the mounting desire to throw our hands up in defeat.”  This massive amount of data accumulates and overwhelms contact managers so quickly that it can be nearly impossible to find ways to effectively analyze any of the information, let alone capitalize on any actionable items from the results.

Robbins suggests that the best way to use data to drive improvement is to take a step back and start with simplicity.  As a first cut, managers must cull the “must measures” away from the “waste and excess.”  He suggests several specific metrics as absolute essentials; identifying what metrics are critical for your specific contact center is an important first step to managing data.

After you’ve identified your critical data, the next best step is to match each metric with the appropriate stakeholder.  “Not everything we measure matters to everyone and certain metrics matter in different ways to different individuals.”  When you communicate metrics to specific stakeholders, you will be most effective when you share why that data is important to them and how it impacts their role within your greater organization.  Robbins argues that there is really no point in sharing a metric with someone who can’t make an impact on that data point.

Robbins final step into managing data is to identify the specifics of success.  Unfortunately, this is not as simple as just identifying an acceptable percentage or quota; you must match the data with the larger organizational goal, the behaviors that help to achieve that goal, and the employee supports that encourage those behaviors. 

Ultimately, the key to successful data management is not only in identifying the appropriate metrics to measure for your contact center but also in finding actionable ways to utilize that data in support of overall organizational goals. 

Aimed at Improving the Customer Experience: Contact Center 2014 Trends

I previously posted about contract center trends that we might expect to see in 2014.  In the January 2014 issue of The Real-Time Contact Center Newsletter, Donna Fluss takes a slightly different approach to anticipated trends, stating them in terms of goals for the upcoming year.  In the article, “Enterprise Servicing Goals for 2014,” Fluss writes that “many of the goals are similar to those in prior years, however, the priorities have changed, and there are new ‘twists’ that are being enabled by a more open, creative and flexible view of the role of contact centers.”

Her eight goals provide a solid foundation for action in the contact center, both in customer-facing and internal decisions.  It is difficult to draw a solid line in the sand to differentiate between decisions that are customer-facing and those that are internal, since the two are so closely tied. 

Fluss’ Enterprise Servicing Goals

Discussion

Customer-facing goals: 

1.   Improving customer service

2.   Improving the customer journey

3.   Resolving inquiries during initial contact

4.   Retaining customers

With the evolving technologies available both to contact centers and customers, the customer experience has become even more critical.  Customers now have tools that allow them to compare service and product offerings, and social media gives them leverage to make “a small issue can go viral.”  Contact centers can now leverage “tools to measure every touch and action taken by prospects and customers.”  Executives are now starting to follow through and deliver on promises to acquire and retain customers, through a real commitment to customer service and the overall customer journey. 

Internal goals:

1.   Reducing operating costs

2.   Complying with regulatory requirements

3.   Avoiding social media firestorms

4.   Increasing sales and collections

 

“Executives want their contact centers to pick up the slack and become major players in generating revenue.”  As part of that effort, there must be a focus on efforts that “improve service while reducing operating expenses.”  With customers who have social media tools at their fingertips, it is critical for companies to find ways to maintain positive customer relationships and to manage social media outlets.  And, of course, companies must always aim to remain in compliance with government regulations!

Fluss believes that this will be a year of technology investments aimed at improving the customer experience.  For more details, hop on over to Fluss’ article online!

“Show Me The Data!” Contact Center Trends for 2014

It’s January, so it’s time to start fresh and think ahead to what the new year might bring.  What can we expect to see, hear, and learn more about in the contact center field over the next 12 months?

Multi-channel – As customers continue to become savvier with the available communication channels, contact centers will be expected to effectively and efficiently manage multiple channels of communication.  This will continue to change the landscape of the call center with the addition of even more data potential through each communication channel.

Big Data – In May 2013, Science Daily reported that 905 of the world’s data was generated in the two previous years.   As far back as 2010, The Economist wrote that “the world contains an unimaginably vast amount of digital information which is getting ever vaster ever more rapidly.”  Certainly, the tools available in call centers today allow us to collect a wide variety of data points to measure any number of outcomes in an  attempt to assess KPIs in relationship with other metrics.

Real-Time – Data has become readily available in real-time format, allowing managers to make quick decisions that can improve performance.  As we continue to look at data collection opportunities, we must also seek to find ways to streamline the process so that the critical information rises to the top and is readily available and visible.  Consider putting procedures in place to handle typical outcomes for best long term performance. 

Analytics – With the unquestionable growth of available information, conversations must lead to find ways to answer questions regarding how to best analyze the data.  Part of the discussion regarding analytics needs to include quality versus quantity; some of the harder to measure data points and information can provide critical information about the customer experience.  The talk can’t stop with just analysis, however; we must also discuss how to extract key data points that will then drive decisions to ultimately improve performance and meet goals.

The Cloud – It seems that everyone is moving into the cloud, and that includes contact centers!  Companies are housing more data in cloud repositories and using the cloud to leverage a variety of other tools and resources.  Using the cloud allows for increased security, more flexibility, better integration, and ease of innovation.

2014 is likely to bring exciting continued evolution to the way contact centers operate on a daily basis!