Motivating Call Center Agents with Social Media

Social Media ChecklistI’ve been doing a fair amount of research lately on the various ways social media is used in the call center— common strategies and objectives, metrics, visibility, the whole nine yards.  I find it interesting that several years ago a select few companies dove right into using social media in the call center, in a no holds barred approach, while some are still sitting back and observing in terror (and of course all the stages in between). 

My research has shown me that one of the biggest fears call center managers, supervisors and executives seem to have is agents getting carried away with social media tasks and either not focusing on their customer service jobs (and instead checking in with their friends and tweeting nasty messages about supervisors) or putting out incorrect information that harms the brand.

While it’s true that not every Joe Schmo should be trusted to respond publicly on the internet to your customers, using social media as a motivational tool for agents that have consistently provided outstanding service should alleviate these fears.  Just like you wouldn’t hand the keys to your new Jaguar over to your 15 year old neighbor, you shouldn’t hand the “keyboard reins” over to every agent in your call center.

Focusing on agents who have proven they provide outstanding customer service, via phone or chat, will help you select the right people to be social media ambassadors in your center.  “Promoting” these customer service representatives to be your online brand ambassadors will motivate all your agents to provide outstanding customer service. 

Your new online brand ambassadors (fancy new job title optional) have already shown they know how to handle customers in a positive manner, now you just need to train them to translate those skills to the wide world of social media.  Be sure to work with your HR, marketing and public relations departments ahead of time to have rules and guidelines in place to cover everything from appropriately responding to negative feedback (especially being cautious of the tone your response projects) to whether agents can take time to use social media for personal use at work.  Make these guidelines (and the consequences if they’re broken) very clear to everyone that will be providing service and support through social media.

Just remember— it takes time to perfect new processes, but don’t let this deter you from diving in and experimenting until you get it right.  Who knows, you may end up setting the standards for your industry and having a blog post written about you on one day!

How has your call center approached social media?  What rules and regulations have you put in place for agents that use social media for service and support?

Posted in Social media. No Comments »

Real-life applications for Inova’s products, part 1

At Inova Solutions, we hear stories every day about how customers are successfully utilizing our real-time reporting solutions to solve their operational problems. Thought we’d share a few with you. (I’ve omitted the companies’ names for privacy purposes.)

1. One of our customers is a major player in the financial services industry and a longtime Inova customer. They utilize our agent desktop application in one of their business units.  They had previously been using Lotus Notes for sending messages to the agents, which they replaced with Inova Marquee. They did a test to compare the effectiveness of each messaging system, and the group using Inova Marquee for messaging achieved 75% compliance in four minutes, while the Lotus Notes group took 18 minutes to achieve the same compliance level.

This company sees such value in our system that they plan to add another 2500 desktop applications this year.

2. Another one of our customers is in the healthcare industry, and sought out Inova Solutions to capture and consolidate real-time information from their ACD and help desk systems. They utilize four output formats:

  • Multi-media output to four large screen monitors via Inova Broadcaster.
  • An XML file to allow statistics or text to be posted on their company intranet.
  • Inova Marquee for statistics to be displayed on desktops.
  • Email output channel for special alerts.

This is designed to relieve the Help Desk of repetitive calls by posting system outage info to the company’s intranet. This improved Help Desk Service Level for mission-critical applications. It also provided consolidated information from multiple systems to aid in management decisions.

3. A company that specializes in business outsourcing came to us because they were growing and adding more agents and clients. The ability to manage agent adherence in real time was critical to moving forward with productive growth.

We recommended our Broadcaster and Performance Tracker applications, which pull call statistics from multiple Avaya switches as well as Oracle Call Center Anywhere and their internal database. Inova then displays this data on flexible dashboards and large screen displays in their command center.

The Broadcaster screens alert workforce managers to problem areas and the Performance Tracker dashboard allows them to drill down to view more detail and isolate the issue. This allows workforce managers to address adherence and service level issues proactively and improve their own productivity by managing by exception.

4. Another prominent Inova customer is an innovator in outsourced contact management solutions. The goals of their call center automation project were to dramatically reduce costs by eliminating a costly manual alert process between HQ, WFM, and call centers, and to enable cost reduction via offshore monitoring and communication tools.

This customer chose to deploy the Inova LightLink real-time reporting system in upward of six call centers. LightLink captures real-time telephony and CRM information from their Avaya, CRM, and Data Warehouse systems. An automated email system sends targeted alert and status messages based on the compiled data to workforce managers. The captured information is also monitored and displayed on large screen LCD monitors in the Command Center and on LCDs and LED displays in the call centers.

Additional benefits were:

  • They leveraged previous investments in state of the art technology in telephony, CRM, and workforce management.
  • They are able to centralize and standardize their operations.
  • They achieved visibility across programs and call centers.
  • They are now able to communicate effectively with targeted groups.
  • They had the choice of different formats (LCD screen, web, mobile device, wallboard, etc.) to meet their specific needs.

These are just a few examples of our successful customers. More to come.

For Good Measure: A Comparison of Call Center KPIs and Call Center Metrics

A 2006 research report from Inova Solutions shows that while nine out of ten call center managers find that call center KPIs better their centers’ performance, less than half of them have a keen understanding of how to choose KPIs to measure.  Is service level (ASA) king?  What about abandonment rate; isn’t that a key indicator of customer satisfaction?  Throw in oldest call waiting, average handle time, and calls waiting for good measure (no pun intended).  Before you know it, your KPIs are managing you, rather than the other way around.

What’s the disconnect?  A typical call center is awash in data.  A single automatic call distributor (ACD) is capable of generating enough raw call center data to fill a typical telephone book in a matter of months.  As more technology products and databases flood the center, more data becomes available.  Before you know it, information overload arrives.  Is the problem merely a matter of data overload?  It’s imperative for call center supervisors (and their bosses) to understand the difference between call center metrics and call center KPIs.

Metrics are broad measurements.  A metric that translates process improvement into dollar impact is the financial metric, just as a number that defines service level is an indicator of call center operational effectiveness.  Although call center metrics may in fact be of interest, they’re of less importance than call center KPIs.

A key performance indicator (KPI) is a metric that gives an indication of performance and can be used as a driver for improvement.  It’s a metric that is related to a target value.  KPIs show the ratio between actual and targeted values.  All KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs.

Defining KPIs for contact centers involves weeding through the raw data – the metrics – and identifying the actual indicators that are tied to corporate goals.  This top-down approach ensures that contact center KPIs are directly related to pre-established goals and objectives.  The next critical step is to set performance targets for each KPI.  Performance expectations should be expected to fluctuate over time; this is not a set-it-and-forget-it exercise.  Adjusting internal targets as time progresses is critical, as market, economic, and performance conditions can drastically affect call volumes, caller expectations, and customer experience.  Call center KPIs are not to be considered moving targets, but rather validated metrics that represent where focus is required on an ongoing basis.

With more than a quarter of a decade in optimization strategies for contact centers benefiting from real-time visual reporting, Inova Solutions maintains an industry-leading team of technical professionals that can help your contact center identify, define, and implement key performance indicators.  Give us a call at 866.686.8774 to learn how our professional services team can help.

Recommended reading for HR professionals

In the spring, I got sucked into a really good book that was 900 pages! Turns out this tome is part of a series comprised of eight installments – each of which is 900 pages long. By the time I got to book 4, I was ready for a break.

I had lots of work-related books and magazines stacked high on my desk so I figured it was as good a time as any to make a dent in that pile. First I skimmed all the Human Resources magazines. They are good for an interesting article here and there but nothing you can really get excited about reading. Let’s face it – summer reading material has to be more interesting than taking a nap or it will lose every time.

The next selection in the pile was a book called Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. I read a few chapters and learned a lot but it was a bit too much like a text book for my summer reading tastes.

The selection I finally decided on was Why Work Sucks and How To Fix It by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. Wow, what a page turner! Not exactly a steamy romance novel, but a quick read for sure.  In the book they focus on Results-Only Work Environments or ROWE™ and how this concept was implemented at Best Buy. To sum it up, in a ROWE, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done.  ROWE is total freedom to adjust your workday to fit your life, not the other way around.  Sounds radical but makes a lot of sense!  There are no more vacation or sick days, no more 9-5 schedules, no more sitting at your desk when you have delivered all your deliverables.  The book covers everything from why ROWE teams are good and how they change the workplace to testimonials from employees in ROWE departments.  There is even a “How ROWE Are You?” quiz in the appendix.

Our management team is reading the book and will be discussing ways to implement ROWE at Inova Solutions.  Stay tuned and I will let you know what we decide and how it goes.  In the meantime, grab a copy of this book and consider it for your company!

Posted in Human resources. 3 Comments »

Developing User Stories, Part 2

Working with user stories in developing our products for the call center and mass notification markets has brought more focus to software development at Inova Solutions.  When a user story has been defined, estimated, and prioritized, the development team can pull the story into a development iteration and begin work on it, with the goal of completing that user story in its entirety during that one iteration.  This means each user story must be small enough to fit into one iteration’s worth of effort (usually one team of five to nine people working for one to four weeks).  How we develop a user story to get it into shape to implement in a single iteration is the topic of this and the next posting.

At Inova Solutions, our Product Owners work with departments throughout the company, survey the call center and mass notification marketplaces, and visit customer sites to come up with new product ideas and changes to our existing suite of products.  The Product Owner expresses market needs in terms of one or more user stories.  For major new features or changes there will be an epic story, encompassing the entirety of the new product or major change to an existing product.  The Product Owner then expands the epic into sets of user stories that describe the problem space that the new functionality will address.

Agile teams talk about the process for developing user stories in terms of the Card, Conversation, and Confirmation1.  Different terms are used on different teams, but these three aspects of a user story are common in the agile development community.

Card – A high-level statement of the user story, including the user by name, a statement of the problem, and why the problem needs to be solved, usually in terms of what the user will be able to accomplish.

Conversation – The Product Owner and the development team get together to discuss the meaning, intent, and acceptance criteria for the user story. The product owner will elaborate on the environment and conditions surrounding the problem and will state the intentions and objectives of the users and customers of the story.  The team will ask questions about the story and discuss approaches for possible solutions – but only in so far as to understand the user story; solutions and designs are not provided at this time.  Often the team’s questions can lead to changes in the user story.

Confirmation – The acceptance criteria specify how we’ll know that the user story has been accomplished.  When the acceptance criteria are verified as having been met, we’re confident that we’ve met the intentions and objectives of the story.

User stories are couched in everyday terms and in the business language of the user.  This encourages communication between the customer and development teams.  At Inova Solutions, our Product Owner acts as a proxy for our customers and is not a software engineer, so putting our stories into business language facilitates the conversations around user stories.  There are also software testing tools that allow for automating acceptance tests in business language so the Product Owner can participate in developing the tests (for example, FitNesse2).

If a user story statement doesn’t encompass all it needs to be useful at the high-level, that will usually come out in the conversation.  Questions will be asked that aim at putting the user story into context with the overall epic and the other user stories defined to meet the epic.  If a question or its answer reveals that the user story or the current set of user stories is incomplete in some way, the Product Owner can clarify the user story at hand and/or add new user stories to the project.  If the user story does cover the high-level need adequately but more details are needed, that, too, will come out in the conversation and more specifics can be added as acceptance criteria.

Next time, INVEST in user stories


1 Ron Jeffries, “Essential XP: Card, Conversation, and Confirmation,” XP Magazine, August 30, 2001
2 FitNesse (

More from Predictably Irrational: Social vs. Market Norms, Part 2

Previously, I discussed Dan Ariely’s research about social and market norms.  While it seems easy enough, in theory, to offer some social reward in a business environment to increase loyalty or morale, Ariely cautions about carelessly combining social and market norms.  Bringing market norms into a social situation can lead to outcomes that are uncomfortable to even think about:  he offers the example of finishing a lovely Thanksgiving meal with your extended family and then offering to pay your mother-in-law $300 for her efforts to prepare it.

However, it can be just as unfortunate to bring social norms into a market situation.  To illustrate this, Ariely asks you to consider the bank that has spent billions of dollars marketing the impression of a social relationship.  Customers join in to be part of the bank ‘family,’ but then a check bounces.  In a solely market relationship, there is a fee and the customer moves on because “business is business.”  However, in the social relationship that the bank has marketed, the fee comes instead of a “friendly call from the manager” and is “not only a relationship-killer, it’s a stab in the back.  Consumers will take personal offense.”

“In treating their employees—much as in treating their customers—companies must understand their implied long term commitment.” Not only can it be unwise to combine these two norms in a relationship between a business and a customer, but also between a business and its employees.  Think about the business that encourages high morale with an emphasis on the family atmosphere at the workplace…but then lays off employees due to budget cuts.  Once the social norms work their way deeply into the workplace, it’s no longer “just business” and a layoff becomes a very personal, and likely bitter, experience.

“When a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time.  In other words, social relationships are not easy to reestablish. Once a social norm is trumped by a market norm, it will rarely return.” Even more dangerously, once a social norm has been violated, it takes a long time to recover.   It’s harder to forgive and forget in a situation where you feel you were personally affronted.

Both in interacting with customers and employees, businesses need to carefully consider the integration of social and market norms, which goes back to the idea that “if companies want to benefit from the advantages of social norms, they need to do a better job of cultivating those norms.” Think about the integration of social and market norms, both within your workplace and with customers.  Are you swimming in dangerous waters by not truly cultivating a social relationship, or are you managing an effective balance between the two norms?

Inova’s support website: A valuable tool for customers

Having worked for Inova Solutions for over 15 years,  I have been exposed to a huge array of clients  with different  LightLink installation requirements. We work hard to deliver true product information to the customer in a timely manner.  I have found that Inova’s support website (  is common ground for any Inova customer to gain access and find what they are looking for.  This site has it all!

List of what the Inova support site has to offer:

  • Software downloads
  • LightLink products and product profiles
  • Online training modules
  • General support FAQs

I always offer this site to our customers during the planning phase of a LightLink installation.  After I have spent some time explaining to a technical customer contact what Inova’s Support site contains, I feel as though this person is comfortable with knowing there is a reference point where he/she can go and read through the information at their leisure and apply what they have learned with great ease and success.  Due to the nature of the support site, it is not uncommon for a LightLink installation to suddenly take off with the customer taking the reins and moving ahead with little to no direction from any Inova personnel.  Of course, this would depend on how complex the installation is.

Being a Technical Project Manager (TPM), one of the biggest advantages I can see with the use of the support site is the ability to download the most current version of any LightLink product I’m installing and be able to use the site upload feature to store/allocate a backup copy of a fresh LightLink installation for use in the event of a disaster.  Other features commonly used by an Inova TPM are the numerous tools that can be downloaded from the Help Desk and TPM Tools home page.  If, for whatever reason, a toolkit, Microsoft installer or troubleshooting .exe file is missing or required, these types of files are typically stored here on the support site and can be easily obtained.  This makes it very convenient for both the client and Inova TPM.

Example of the tools and downloads being offered to TPMs:

  • Microsoft
  • C++ Redistributable
  • Symposium CCMS v6 RTD toolkit
  • SQL Server Studio Manager Express
  • VNC remote access – server and viewer

Immediate customer and TPM access to Inova’s support site has proven to be a huge asset for us all and the call center world is a better place for it!

A Note to CSR Bob at Apple: Thanks for Hanging in There!

Let’s talk about last weekend’s anything-but-brief, two-hour romp with the Apple helpdesk.  I just bought an iPad for my eighty-six-year-old mother, thinking she would find it easier to use than a standard computer, and also knowing that she wants to hang with the other tech-savvy, latte-sipping, New Yorker-reading, Twitter-tweeting, YouTube-uploading geezers at her retirement community. 

“Don’t want her to be left behind when her friends whip out their iPads on the golf course to check the yardage to the next fairway bunker, or when her buddies are doing their Google searches on where to get the cheapest hip replacements,” I thought.  It’s iPad time for Granny!

Of course this means that Yours Truly had to get the darn thing up and running, which you would expect to be a quick On-Off button kind of minor task… right?  Wrong.  Surely Apple makes a product that is easy to use, right out of the box.  Not for me! 

When I turned on Granny’s new iPad, I saw nothing but a picture of the business end of a USB cable with an arrow pointing to the business end of an Apple computer – namely an icon of iTunes.  From this little infographic, I inferred that I had to connect the iPad to my computer, and then download the latest version of iTunes.  After the download, I plugged the iPad into my computer.  I presumed iTunes would read all the secret data hidden on my computer, including my name, birthday, favorite color, etc. and send it to Apple’s secret data warehouse hidden deep within the bowels of Silicon Valley.  Not so much for me!  iTunes could not see my iPad.  I poked and prodded, kicked it, cursed it… nothing worked.  So admitting defeat, I picked up the phone and called the Apple helpdesk. 

Bob answered.  Nice guy.  Quiet, measured voice.  He sounded young and very self-assured, but also a little tired – probably at the end of his shift.  He walked me through the setup again – all the things I had tried several times before I called.  Then we started to get serious.  “Open up the Windows Control Panel on your computer,” he said.  “Go here; look at this; look at that.”  Nothing.  You could feel Bob’s friendliness start to fade.  He did not have the answer and he was running out of ideas. 

“Do you have another computer?” he asked.  Bob’s voice changed noticeably when I told him my wife had an Apple laptop.  Now he had a product he knew how to work with.   “We are going to get this baby fixed!”

“Fire up that Apple.  What version of iTunes are you running?  Oh no, that’s two years out of date.”  “OK,” said Bob patiently, “let’s download the latest version.”  Hook it up to the wireless network first.  Find the security password; type it in.  The delay and tedium were starting to get to Bob.  He was no longer chipper and happy.  I think it may have been past his quitting time.  Connect to the iTunes website; poke around; find the download for the latest version.  ‘Please enter administrator password,’ the screen read.  Uh oh.  “Do you know the administrator password?”  “No, I don’t” said my wife.  But let me try this.  Nope.  Let me try that.  Nope.  Bob started getting quiet.  He wanted to go home. 

I, meanwhile, now sitting on the sidelines while Bob and my wife were bonding over administrator passwords, decided to plug in another cable between the iPad and my old IBM machine.  I had originally been using the cable that was already hooked up and being used to charge my iPhone.  Maybe the cord that actually came with the iPad would work, despite the promise from Apple that all iPod and iPhone phone charging equipment would work with my new iPad. 

Lights flashing, bells ringing, circles twirling on the screen!  It works!  It was a bad cord.  I thought that cord had been charging my iPhone reliably over the past several months.  Maybe not.  Who cares… the iPad was in business.  Gran could now search for hip replacements and Bob could go home.  Thanks for hanging in there Bob!

Increasing Revenue in an Outbound Call Center

Increase Revenue in an Outbound Call CenterWhat’s the easiest way to increase revenue in an outbound center?  Talk to your customers!

Now that Inova Solutions is interfacing with Avaya outbound dialers, I thought I would share with you one simple way to drive increased revenue in outbound contact centers — customer conversations.

It’s a foreign concept to some, but asking agents to do simple things like discuss the weather (“Have you heard about the tropical storm developing in the gulf?”), sports (“Are you looking forward to football season starting?  I sure am!”), or any other timely, well-known event like the Olympics or the World Cup is a great way to find out additional information about your customers.  Conversations like these don’t have to increase handle time either; initiating these conversations while waiting on information to process through the system or while waiting on a manager to answer a question can take away those awkward silences and turn them into meaningful, data-gathering conversations.

To take it a step further, agents should make notes in the customer’s record of anything the customer says that could help the next agent during a future call with that customer.  This could be anything, for example- “I see on your last call you told Greg you were looking forward to watching the Tampa Bay Bucs this season.  I saw them play the Eagles last weekend, what an incredible game!”  Just because of that simple tidbit of information, your agents have instantly built a memorable rapport with this customer that will probably translate to an impact on revenue whether that be today or sometime in the future.

One easy way to help agents start these conversations is with digital signage software.  Digital signage displays can show call center KPIs as well as video.  Call center video can be anything from streaming video on your network to a direct connection from a satellite or cable television feed.  This allows you to show news networks (CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc) or The Weather Channel so agents can discuss relevant topics with callers.

For more information on digital signage software, take a look at our Inova Broadcaster FAQs.

MARTA Contact Center KPIs

In early 2009, the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) Board of Directors worked with staff to comprehensively update the Authority’s overall strategic plan (vision, mission and goals).  This included the formal establishment of key performance indicators (KPIs) intended to help better assess MARTA’s operational and financial performance.  The KPI program was designed to enhance transparency, accountability and overall agency performance.

At first glance, this is a standard program for an organization of MARTA’s size, caliber, and reputation.  But here’s what makes MARTA unique: they published their successes in their contact center for the whole world to see.  Granted, MARTA is a Public-Private Partnership, and as such, some data regarding financial and operational performance must be made public.  Contact center performance, though, is typically not one of those KPIs that you see widely publicized.

As an Inova LightLink customer for call center solutions, MARTA set about to reduce call abandonment rate and reduce average call wait time year-over-year.  Customer call abandonment rate measures the percentage of customers who terminate a call while waiting for a customer service representative to answer.  Average customer call wait time measures the average time a customer must wait before speaking to a customer service representative.  Using innovative call center digital signage to measure these KPIs, MARTA far exceeded its goals – and proudly published them on their website.

Reproduced from

In May 2010, the actual customer call abandonment rate was below the fiscal year 2010 target of 11% by 5.02%.  This was a decrease of 1.42% when compared to that in May 2009 and a decrease of 1.98% when compared to that in the previous month.

In May 2010, the actual average customer call wait time was below the fiscal year 2010 target of 70 seconds by 28 seconds. This was a decrease of 14 seconds when compared to that in May 2009 and a decrease of 13 seconds when compared to that in the previous month.

Congratulations to MARTA for reducing these critical KPIs in their contact center using Inova LightLink without negatively impacting customer service.  Keep up the great work!