Astounding. 43 Businesses on the 2010 Fortune 100 List Have Turned to Inova Solutions for Real-time Visual Reporting

That number always astounds me. All together, the top five ranking businesses in the commercial banking industry and the top five ranking telecommunications businesses employ tens of thousands of contact center personnel, from front-line CSRs up to the C-suite. All ten of these organizations’ real-time visual reporting needs are powered by Inova LightLink. All of them!

In fact, almost every one of these ten powerhouse organizations utilizes more than one Inova Solutions product for messaging and real-time metric delivery. For example, one of the largest commercial banking organizations in the U.S. relies on Inova LightLink, Inova OnTrack LED displays, and Inova Broadcaster for messaging and real-time KPIs in their contact center.

Inova also has a strong showing in the insurance, health care, and computer industries on this year’s Fortune 100 list. That’s quite an affirmation for this 26-year-old organization founded in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia.

And, it’s not just contact center metrics that are driving success at industry-leading organizations, either. More than 5,000 of Inova’s OnTime Ethernet clocks are keeping synchronized time at businesses, campuses, and medical centers large and small around the world. School clocks and hospital clocks were just the beginning of this innovative product line five years ago. Lately, it’s been commercial clocks that have driven the success of Inova OnTime. Warehouses, medical centers, and yes – even contact centers, with top rankings on the Fortune 100 list – are proud owners of OnTime clocks.

Just this morning, the following review landed in my email inbox, from a telecom giant contact center with both Inova electronic wallboards and Ethernet clocks:

“The clocks are up and running, very easy to configure and my agents LOVE them. It’s nice having our computers, phones, and (now) clocks synchronized to the same time source. Since we use our phones for timekeeping, it keeps everyone on track and on time.”

These are no small numbers or inconsequential testimonials. One word describes the mindset of so many new Inova Solutions customers, partners, and distributors: astounding.

Why So Serious All the Time?

As kids, we’re taught to let loose and have fun. As adults, we’re taught that serious businesspeople do nothing but work, and any break in the day is viewed as slacking off. However, the human attention span can only last two hours, at most, before tiring out. Sure, you can keep working after that, but it won’t be at your peak. This is where a few quick breaks filled with mindless humor or distraction can recharge you and actually make you more productive. Plus, the stress-relief benefits of a good hearty laugh are extraordinary.

Of course we all know about YouTube and social networking sites, but many employers choose to block employee access to this content. So I thought I’d share a few other ideas for call center professionals to enjoy 3-minute breaks here and there:

  • I appreciate good satire. Especially when the author pokes fun of something you may have just experienced on the job. Greg Levin with ICMI penned a column of call center satire articles a few years back that I get a real kick out of.
  • A picture says a thousand words, and witty comics provide the comic relief I’m looking for sometimes. Plus there’s the added benefit of printing off one or two really funny ones and hanging in your cube to laugh at again and again.
  • Sign up for a joke of the day email subscription. Just go to Google and type in “joke of the day.” You’ll be sure to find something that suits your particular brand of humor.
  • Encourage your company to offer fun activities for employees, like movies and popcorn during lunch or hula hoop contests on Fridays. Many HR departments would be amenable to low-cost suggestions that make their employees happier (without interfering with work, of course).

Does anyone else know of other good ways to sneak a few laughs into an otherwise stressful work day?

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Tips for a Smooth LightLink Installation

As technical project managers (TPMs) in Inova’s Client Services department, we are charged with the task of making every effort to transition the pre-installed client into our family of LightLink users as smooth as possible. Working closely with the account manager and our sales engineering department, the ultimate goal for the TPM team is to gather as much information as required before the actual installation process begins. That information will keep the project moving along making all involved happy campers.

Information gathering and preparation are so important that they belong at the top of the list. The technical process begins during the pre-sales conference call held with the sales engineering team. This is the point where everyone with knowledge of the client’s expectations should be involved. What data is the client looking to display? What will the system be used for? What data sources will be used? Are all basic questions which should be addressed at this time. What about network restrictions and multicast issues? Will the LightLink system be installed at different physical locations, and if so are there firewalls or router restrictions in place?

The client’s network people are also vital in securing a solid install process. If an Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) is being used, a person with knowledge of that system should be on that call also. Again the goal of this initial call is to gather as much pre-installation information as possible. Once that info is collected by the sales engineer, it is placed in a Statement of Work (SOW) and assigned to a TPM who will actually handle the installation.

When the TPM is handed a new project and after reviewing the SOW, they will arrange a conference call with the client project manager to cover any missing details and to be introduced to the actual people they will be working with. Also during this call, the TPM will review the SOW with the client and answer any outstanding questions. Once all the hardware is in place and the installation has begun, it is important to have someone available on the client side that can get issues resolved as quickly as possible. Of course, there may be unforeseen problems that pop up, but the focus should always remain on dealing with and resolving those problems as quickly as possible.

Once the installation process has ended or is nearing completion, training should be discussed. Is it on-site or remote training? Who will be involved and what is their availability?  Messaging also needs to be touched on. Will they create their own messages (or views) after training or are they expecting the TPM to complete that task? Expectations are so important since no one wants to be trained on a component of the system that isn’t applicable to their needs. At the same time, realistic goals need to be set within the time frame allowed.

If you are in the market for a LightLink product, whether it be a new installation or an upgrade, following these tips will place you in position for a smooth LightLink installation.

Posted in Installation. 1 Comment »

Avoiding 10 Common Writing Mistakes

Remember high school English and your teacher’s dreaded red ink?  Several years ago, I was one of those English teachers.  Given the amount of written communication in today’s workplace, the basic writing principles that I taught as a high school English teacher are still critical skills for adults.  In my classroom, we would start the week with a worksheet of “Comon Writting Misteaks;” consider this list your flashback to sentence correction in high school!

  1. The first time you use an acronym, write the whole phrase and put the acronym in parentheses.  After that, you can just use the acronym.
  2. Write the words for numbers ten and under.  Use numerals for 11 and higher.
  3. Write in paragraphs that have a main idea and supporting sentences.
  4. Use proper spelling of words, not colloquial language.  One I see all the time in emails is could of or would of.  It’s what it sounds like when you speak it but it MUST be written as could have or would have.
  5. Don’t leave a preposition at the end of a sentence.  It sounds a little awkward to say with which or for whom but those lost prepositions at the end of a sentence are like fingernails on a chalkboard for many readers!
  6. Use a semi-colon to separate two complete sentences; use a comma to separate items in a list or series of items.
  7. Be concise.  This covers a wide variety of common writing errors!  Longer sentences and paragraphs are not better; it is usually easier for a reader to mentally process shorter pieces of information.  Avoid run-on sentences and full-page paragraphs.
  8. Be consistent in your use of italics, underlining, and bold text.  At the same time, don’t over-format your text.  It is very distracting to a reader to try to comprehend a sentence that contains different fonts or styles.
  9. Ensure you have parallel structure in bulleted lists or ideas in a series.  For example, every item in a bulleted list might be capitalized and start with a present-tense verb.
  10. ProofreadProofread. Proofread!  As a professional writer, there is nothing more embarrassing than when someone points out a grammatical or spelling error in any of my writing, even if it’s a casual email to a friend.  However, any writing done for business purposes must be proofread!  It is hard to take seriously any business writing that contains blaring errors of spelling or grammar.

While this is only a very short list of best practices for writing, consider how you can use these guidelines whenever you are writing, whether it is for wallboard messages, corporate emails, communications with colleagues, or business bulletins.

Inova LightLink Ad Hoc Messaging with XML

On the Inova Engineering team, we test LightLink all the time as we add new features, update existing functionality, and fix bugs found in the field. This testing is usually focused and task-specific. New features usually address specific functionality that needs to be implemented in a simple and intuitive way. Often I realize that, with a little extra work and some ingenuity, LightLink *could* already do what is desired, just not exactly in a completely simple ‘turn-key’ way. But there is so much functionality packed in to LightLink that it really can do almost anything anyone can think of.

Take Ad Hoc messaging to LED wallboard displays and Marquee and Tasklink desktop clients in a call center. Right now these messages can be easily created and sent using LightLink’s Message Editor; although you would have to think about when to schedule their end time, or perhaps remember to delete them later using System Manager. But with a little pre-positioning of one or a few specially created messages I realized that a savvy user could implement a cool ad-hoc message ‘feature’ that would make it simple to ‘insert’ ad-hoc messages when you wanted, and ‘delete’ them later, all just by entering the message text into a text file and then deleting the text when you were through with the message.

Read on for detailed instructions on implementing this solution.

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Guide Your Center to Remote Agent Success

New White Paper from Inova SolutionsAs you might have heard, Inova Solutions released a new (free, no registration required!) white paper a couple weeks ago that discusses key challenges contact centers face in managing remote agents.  This is one of the hottest topics in the industry right now and Overcoming the Challenges of Contact Center “Home-Sourcing” is a great resource for anyone who works in the call center industry. 

One of the primary issues the white paper addresses is communicating real-time metrics to remote agents.  With wallboards being one of the most popular communication tools in the contact center, remote agents can end up being left in the dark when it comes to performance metrics.  That, or someone has to monitor metrics for remote agents and send manual alerts and updates every time something changes.  This manual process can be costly and time consuming.

Overcoming the Challenges of Contact Center “Home-Sourcing” also addresses other important issues contact centers with at-home agents are facing including proving ROI and achieving results.  The paper then goes on to discuss tools and solutions proven to overcome challenges and foster a productive working environment.  We lay out the pros and cons of many tools contact centers are currently using and show how top tools not only make the flow of information easier, but unify the at-home and in-office working experiences.

Research and industry experts have found that desktop messaging and metrics are the keys to productive and engaged work-at-home agents and this paper explores how and why those conclusions were reached.

Does your contact center use at-home agents or are you starting to explore a work-at-home platform?  What tools are you considering, or already using, to make home agents a success?  Did you find the white paper helpful in exploring tools and communication methods for at-home agents?

The Multimedia Contact Center

As an Inova Account Executive, I talk to a wide variety of prospective clients about the need to display real-time metrics in the call center.

In many cases the client has a preconceived idea of what the display should be. “We would like to show information on plasma screens” or simply “We need wallboards”. Often we receive emails stating “Please send me a quote for readerboards for our call center.” It sounds easy enough but it’s just not that simple. If I provide a quote without fully understanding the client’s requirements, I am doing a disservice.

My job is to ensure that our clients fully understand the multitude of options for alerting agents, supervisors, managers and even executives to the changing conditions in the call center. While “readerboards”, either LCD or LED, are the most recognizable devices, there other means of notification.

Quite often a variety of output devices are necessary to meet the need. Over the past few years we have seen a trend to the “pod” seating arrangement. Because agents are facing different directions, it could become prohibitively expensive to install enough wallboards to give everyone a view. So the answer may be to provide a “virtual wallboard” on each agent’s desktop, and to install only one or two wallboards for the floor supervisors to see. These desktop displays are also great for the managers who need to stay informed of changing conditions.

If the call center is running smoothly, there is usually no need to keep executives informed of the minute to minute details. But when things get crazy, you can be sure that executives want to be kept in the loop. Take for example the recent volcano in Iceland. Just imagine travel agency and airline call centers. Email alerting is the perfect complement to the wallboards and desktops, since executives are notified on their Blackberries or smart phones when their attention is needed.

How about the analysts? Why not send the metrics to a database for further study?

Why not provide a web based dashboard with drill-down capability for the workforce management teams of multi-site call centers?

So don’t just think about wallboards. Think about the possibilities to add value and efficiency to your team with real-time metrics and alerting.

Which Call Center Are You? A Customer’s Perspective

With interest rates significantly reduced, my husband and I contacted two lenders about refinancing our mortgage.  What amazed me through this process was the vast difference in customer service and basic product knowledge between two well-known, national banking institutions.

Company A – When I called Company A, the agent recorded our financial information.  He was knowledgeable about interest rates and loans.  For every subsequent phone call, all details were saved in our file and available to the next agent.  When we decided to begin the refinance with Company A, I was assigned a case manager who, after our first conversation, promptly sent me an email summary of our loan details as well as his direct phone line.  Whenever I had questions, I could leave a phone message, send an email, or both.  Every communication was acknowledged the same day and acted on by the next business day.  If my case manager was unavailable or did not have an answer, I was redirected to another agent or supervisor who could immediately access my file.

Company B – I called Company B to see if their rates might be competitive.  In less than 24 hours, I spoke with six representatives and received six answers regarding our eligibility and interest rate.  Each time I called, I spent 30-45 minutes providing the same financial details to each new agent.  Frustrated, I sent a detailed letter to a supervisor.  The company offered to reduce the interest rate to entice us to refinance with them.  We were assigned a case manager and soon after received an introductory email.  Subsequently, I tried to call and email him over the span of several days.  The communications were not acknowledged, nor were the questions answered.  I figured out how to outsmart the phone system and get a live agent.  These agents were rarely able to access my file or answer questions; I was usually just transferred back into the voicemail abyss.  The only reliable way to get a return call would be if I found a particularly helpful agent who would hand deliver my message.  When I resorted to leaving messages for a supervisor, I didn’t receive return calls and was told that she works off-site and is difficult to contact.

During this process, I was able to identify some of the qualities that I valued as a customer:

  • Accessibility of files to approved agents
  • Varied methods of communication
  • Acknowledgment of and prompt response to incoming communication
  • Knowledgeable agents who are well-trained in services and products
  • Competitively priced products or services

If you work in a call center, you may not have much control over the pricing of your products or services, but consider how you could function more like Company A:

  • What products or software would allow customer files to be more widely accessible to approved agents?
  • How could you better facilitate communication with customers?
  • How can you ensure that agents are sufficiently trained in your products and services?  What products or software could you use as job aids to support the training?

For the Good of the Group

When asked to write a blog post I was at a loss for relevant ideas. What could I share, as a generalist HR professional, with an employee in a call center? As I talked this over with some colleagues over lunch, it became clear that some of our customers are using our products in an HR capacity. As they told me of this application, I knew it would be a great topic to discuss.  Here goes…

The Human Resources Director at one of our customer sites was in a quandary. What to do about the large portion of employees working in production and dispatch capacities with no access to email or the intranet? Since all corporate communication went out through these outlets, she had been forced to rely on supervisors to relay important information in staff meetings.  While this had worked historically, there were lots of changes happening and frequent updates were necessary to keep the workforce updated and on schedule.

The unexpected answer came in the form of Broadcaster. A colleague told the HR Director about several Broadcaster templates that would accommodate the information she had to share. As she looked into it, she realized this was an opportunity to expand the use of an existing technology with minimal investment. She found existing templates that helped to organize and display current announcements and important dates. LCD screens were placed in high-traffic areas and provided an engaging and attention grabbing vehicle for corporate communications. To address the access issues, laptop stations were installed next to the LCD displays.  Now, if an employee wants to learn more about a posting and/or contact HR, the laptop is close at hand with intranet and email access.  This has greatly improved the flow of communication in both directions.

My take away from both writing this blog and the example described is the importance of communication within an organization – especially the informal conversations and sharing of ideas that can happen while eating lunch!

Posted in Human resources. 1 Comment »

Workplace Jargon 101

If your workplace is anything like Inova’s headquarters in Virginia, it’s rife with industry jargon, TLAs (three letter abbreviations), and lingo. To the uninitiated, it’s daunting to step into such a befuddling environment. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Bandwidth (n) | time and/or ability. e.g. “I don’t have the bandwidth to complete this project.” See Cycles.
  • Boilerplate (n) | language in a contract or document which is used over and over again.
  • Cycles (n) | time and/or ability. See Bandwidth.
  • Deck (n) | a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Deep dive (n) | thorough review.
  • Deliverables (n) | things you are supposed to do and, presumably, deliver to someone. Not to be confused with Lunchables, the compact lunch packages.
  • Drill down (v) | to review thoroughly.
  • Flip (v) | to forward an email. e.g. “I’ll flip you the report from R&D.”
  • Incentivize (v) | to give someone an incentive; to encourage.
  • Juggle (v) | to multitask.
  • Level set (v) | to come to an agreement about the status of things and what is expected of each person. e.g. “I think we need to level set with all parties before we go any further with the project plan.”
  • Nastygram (n) | a harshly-worded email.
  • Ping (v) | to send an instant message or email.
  • Pushback (n) | resistance. e.g. “I’ve been getting a lot of pushback from staff about this accounting deep dive.”
  • Scope creep (n) | as the project progresses, new requirements are often added. This tendency is called scope creep.
  • Silo (v) | to get caught up too much in one’s own area of expertise while ignoring other areas of the business that might be relevant.
  • Snake (v) | to run your idea or presentation by everyone who will be in a meeting before the meeting starts to prevent surprises.
  • Swag (n) | a guess at the right answer.
  • Take away (n) | thing you are supposed to remember after a meeting.
  • Take offline (v) | to discuss later. e.g. “Let’s take that topic offline, so we don’t disrupt the meeting.”
  • Touch base (v) | to talk. e.g. “I need to touch base with her on that deck.”
  • Weeds (n) | details. e.g. “Don’t take the discussion into the weeds.”

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