The Fundamental Customer Experience

Everywhere you turn lately, you hear about the “customer experience,” a term that seems like it should be spoken with resonance through a loud speaker.  Although, the term may be associated with bells and whistles, social media and apps, at its roots the customer experience is really about what the customer wants.  Brent Leary writes in the July 2013 issue of CRM Magazine that “we always seem to get into this cycle of throwing new stuff at old problems without focusing on the fundamentals.”  In his article, “Screaming for a Good Customer Experience,” he explains that a focus on the fundamentals is what is really important to customers.

“It’s not social customer service that people want.  It’s quick resolution to their issues.”

-Frank Eliason, global director of social media for Citibank

Leary cites an example of a dairy company with retail stores in the Midwest.  Executives realized that customers in these stores were sometimes waiting in very long lines, and that wait times were exacerbated by an inefficient menu board layout.  After studying layout options with a goal to reduce wait times, the company rolled out new menu boards.  Because of the vetting procedure that was part of the study, the new boards not only reduced wait times, but also increased revenues. 

Take a step back and look at your contact center.  Is your company heavily focused on the “shiny objects,” but perhaps without measurable improvements?  Since the queues in your center are essentially the same as a wait line in a retail store, shouldn’t reducing that wait time be a primary focus?  Managing those queues efficiently is at the core of customer service and, ultimately, at the core of what we do.  As Leary says, “this isn’t the stuff that gets headlines, but it definitely gets (and keeps) the customer.”

Thinking Outside the [Standard Metrics] Box

The June 2013 issue of Contact Center Pipeline included “Underutilized Metrics,” an article written by Jay Minnucci.  Minnucci highlights three metrics that could be used with more frequency and effectiveness to provide a more comprehensive understanding of contact center performance:

  • Contacts per customer – While the expectations for this metric will vary across industry, understanding the contacts per customer within your center and industry can help you answer questions about your customer base.  Do you have customers who contact you multiple times per year?  Minnucci gives the magic number of four contacts; these are the dedicated customers whose familiarity indicates that they may be devoted to your brand.  This metric can also help you pinpoint areas to target for improvement, as in the example the author sites: if a significant majority of your customers only contact you once a year, they will not be willing to invest their time in learning an IVR system.
  • Cost per second of AHT – This is my favorite underutilized metric that Minnucci covers, since it provides you with a concrete number to consider when considering the expectations placed on agents.  Minnucci cites the 5-20 seconds spent recording a customer’s email address, but also consider the time (and cost) devoted to multiple verification layers and other elements that add precious seconds to calls.
  • Percentage of calls held – Taking a closer look at the percentage of your calls that are put on hold can provide you with insight about the information that your agents have at their fingertips or stored in memory.  A high percentage of calls on hold could indicate a need to investigate training or job aids to determine if those solutions could help agents avoid hold time.  At an agent level, this percentage could highlight your high performers, allowing you to identify best practices and areas for potential improvement across the center.

As Jay points out, the best KPIs are those that are actionable, and many of these are not the most obvious or easiest to obtain.  Inova Solutions can work with you determine the best metrics for your environment and calculate them accordingly. Certainly these three metrics are a great start at obtaining useful and actionable insight about your contact center.  

Accessing your KPIs – anytime, anywhere

Certainly, nearly everyone around us is becoming more attached to the ever-present access to data and information through our smart devices.  Contact managers are no different, and your contact center performance metrics can be accessible anytime and anywhere through mobile dashboards presented on the devices that you carry with you!  Your day-to-day business as a contact center manager often likely takes you away from your desk, or even away from the office building or out of town.  Consider some of the ways that a mobile dashboard can really serve you as a contact center manager:

  • Remote Performance Management – If you are out of the office, you can still keep tabs on your contact center’s full performance metrics.  With this functionality, you can identify potential problems and to react appropriately when necessary.
  • Continuous access – With a mobile dashboard you don’t have to leave your metrics behind when you’re on the floor coaching agents.
  • Customization options – Your mobile dashboard can be customized to meet your exact needs and highlight the metrics most important to you.  Perhaps most helpful is the ability to set thresholds and receive alerts of situations that require immediate attention.

The odds are that you already carry a tablet or smartphone with you at nearly all times.  Having access to portable and remote dashboards via a tablet or smartphone helps you stay on top of critical issues at the call center at all times.

Real Time Performance Management: Coming of Age in 2013

Real-time analytics has been a keyword in the contact center for some time now, but Paul Stockford argues in a January 2013 Contact Center Pipeline article that everything we thought we knew about “real-time anything as it applies to the contact center is wrong.”  In “Real-Time is the Real Deal,” Stockford writes that real-time no longer means soon after, and that the definition can now fully align with the term; real-time analytics will now mean information measured the exact second that it occurs. 

I suppose that seems like a small difference, but it can have a major impact on how data is used in your contact center.  If you are constantly tracking data that has already happened, you are constantly reacting to situations that have already occurred.  Access to truly real-time data can allow both contact center managers and agents to be more proactive and to adapt to the situation currently at hand. 

In his research, Stockford found that 51% of respondents were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the time it was taking to share performance metrics with managers.

He also discovered that 90% of customer service executives found value in sharing real-time metrics with agents.  Using real-time performance reporting solutions, such as those built on LightLink, gives you the capability to capture performance information as it happens, allowing you to make adjustments to queues and schedules on the fly.  You can create custom queries to display the metrics that are critical for success in your contact center, and send the data instantly to a variety of display options.  A well-implemented real-time performance management system will allow you to effectively utilize real-time analytics, even as the term comes to achieve its true “right-now” meaning!

A Key Lesson in Social Business

The November issue of Information Week included “7 Lessons in Social Business,” by Debra Donston-Miller and David F. Carr.  The article focused on maximizing the “use of social media and social software with employees, customers, and partners;” there was a specific focus on seven companies that are leading the way as social businesses.  While each of their seven lessons can be applied in some way to the contact center, it was lesson number two that jumped out at me as particularly relevant to the partnership between contact centers and Inova Solutions:

“Use metrics to measure progress.”

In the example provided as part of this lesson, management at McKesson, a pharmaceutical distributor and healthcare information technology company chosen as a social business leader, identified “specific gains as a result of making purposeful use of social networking technologies and measuring the impact.”  McKesson has used social business to help unify its support as it has acquired new products over the years.  Since implementing social business technologies, mangers at McKesson have tracked specific metrics, such as average speed of answer and same-day resolution, and witnessed drastic improvements. 

Contacts and communications through social media outlets can (and should) be tracked and measured.  When integrated into the contact center, communications such as tweets and Facebook posts can be routed to agents, who can then monitor and respond as necessary; social media communications can be integrated and responded to just like calls, emails, and chat sessions.  

Clearly social media is here to stay; a critical lesson for creating a successful ‘social business’ is effectively using metrics to measure progress in your contact center.  Using LightLink, you can extract and monitor standard metrics across multiple systems and locations, create custom KPIs mapped directly to your organizational goals, and track data to gauge impact on the overall organization.  Even better, you can do all this in real-time and deliver it to multiple digital display options and customized dashboards!  The key is understanding what metrics and KPIs are available, determining who should see them, and identifying the best method to deliver the data. 

Managing performance data in multi-channel contact centers

It used to be that if a customer wanted to get in touch with a company, their only option was to pick up the phone. It was a simpler time, because customer service departments only needed to be prepared for one type of interaction. They only needed to monitor one set of performance metrics.

Now, contact centers have responded to the communication technology preferred by customers. The old staple – the phone call – is still there, but agents must also respond to customer inquiries via email, live chat, and social media. A truly multichannel contact center needs a real-time contact center performance management system to keep track of all the different interaction types, and figure out a way to optimize them.

Since many of these communications channels are new to the customer service world, we don’t have years of historical reports to evaluate trends and determine best practices. We also need to monitor these interactions as they happen to ensure peak levels of customer service.  To do this, a real-time contact center reporting solution is necessary to keep up with inquiries in a multi-channel contact center.

There are several good options for viewing and tracking performance metrics from various channels, depending on your center’s set up and needs. If your customer service agents are located in-house and cost-efficiency is a priority, then contact center LED wallboards are an ideal way to make real-time metrics visible to your team.  If you’d like more variability in your ability to display more data and other media, then call center digital displays are a better bet. If you want the ability to send statistics and messages directly to an agent’s screen, in the center or at home, multiple desktop reporting views are available.   For managers and supervisors, web-based, contact center dashboards are a great way to keep on top of your performance metrics when you’re moving throughout your center coaching your agents or away from the office.

The key is being able to see and manage all of your multichannel performance metrics in real-time. That way, you can ensure that the right agents are attending to the right channel at the right time – whether that’s call, chat or email request. This allows for the most efficient use of resources and enables you to affect your level of service when it matters most – at the exact moment when your customer is engaged.

Using Multiple Data Sources to Tailor the Customer Experience

Last week I received a surprising call from a catalog and online retailer where I have shopped before. The agent said that she noticed that I made a large purchase of supplies last December. She also noted that I had started to place items in my online cart this year, but had not completed the order. The agent asked if I needed any help completing the order, or if I had any questions about the products. Before closing, she also offered me an additional percentage discount on my next purchase to thank me for my loyalty.

Given my unique perspective as something of a contact center insider, I was fascinated by the company’s correlation of several different pieces of data to enhance my customer experience. I restrained myself from asking twenty questions of the agent who called, but I was intrigued about the exact process that was used to target my account for an outbound contact. Presumably, my large purchase from last December was flagged and matched with my current incomplete shopping transaction; then this was kicked out to an agent to make the actual contact. Perhaps there was even an additional notation that all of my purchases have been made with a discount code, and that offering a code now might lead to a completed transaction.

Experiences such as this are becoming more common for today’s consumers. The vast amount of data available to companies can be leveraged by contact center managers to better understand customers’ habits and preferences; this can then be utilized to create a customized experience that will appeal to nearly every individual. One of the key components for this to work effectively is a data management and reporting system that allows managers to efficiently and clearly understand targeted types of information. Inova Solutions’ LightLink Data Analysis can be a key component of any efforts to quantify and improve a customized experience for your audience.

Making Sense of Big Data in the Contact Center

Jay Minnucci writes in his white paper Call Center Performance Metrics:  Shaping Tomorrow’s Reporting Strategy, “the entire purpose of metrics [is] defining opportunities to make the greatest positive impact.”  In today’s contact centers, it is no small feat to identify and manage the increasing array of data available, let alone to use that data to define opportunities that will have a positive impact on the key measures of business success!  With the focus squarely on the customer experience, contact center managers are going beyond the typical statistics from ACDs   and constructing, integrating, and analyzing custom metrics specific to their environments and service level goals.  And this is just the start.  Organizations are leveraging other supporting data metrics to provide more intelligence and measurement from platforms such as callback, outbound dialing, and workforce management applications as well as cross-channel touches from chat and other social media streams.  Add other enterprise ‘mash-up’ data from various operational data sources to the mix and it can make your head spin.   One thing for sure, Big Data, with its opportunities and challenges, is happening in the contact center.

The standard contact center metrics remain the backbone for center success.  Certainly understanding the tried-and-true metrics such as calls waiting, agents available, abandoned calls, and expected wait time will always be beneficial in understanding both the real-time and historical picture of what’s happening in your center.  However, organizations are both redefining standard metrics to better match their goals and adding new enterprise data sources to bring more intelligence into the center.  To more easily think about these data sources, Inova likes to categorize them in six primary buckets:

  • Custom Metrics – This category is greatly influenced by the other data categories since areas like outbound calling and social media responses bring their own set of numbers to the equation.  But even with standard data available from ACDs you can create custom metrics using the Data Analyzer function within Inova LightLink software to better measure your specific performance and objectives.  The Data Analyzer tool can easily calculate averages, max and median times, etc., so that specific services levels and metrics can be created.  Abandoned call percentage and custom services levels across all separate and disparate platforms are examples that are possible.  Custom equations such as removing calls that are dropped within a few seconds before determining average handle time are also easy to create.  Having this ability allows managers to look at all of the types of information available and then to select the specific data views that will best support their needs as well as the needs of other line of business owners and organizations.
  • Associated contact center data sources – Many contact center managers now integrate and display real-time data that is either directly associated with their contact center (Ex: outbound calling or callback applications) or directly affected by data coming from the contact center (Ex: workforce management platforms).  Using the latter example, managers can combine schedules and skill queues for quick analysis of workforce alignment; or integrate messages to automatically announce additional shift availability when the WFM system detects a preset threshold for understaffed periods.  In blended inbound and outbound environments managers and agents can get quick status views about proactive outbound or loyalty campaigns.
  • Result-oriented data – Contact centers strive to be viewed not as cost centers, but as profit centers responding quickly and intelligently to customer needs – cross-selling and up-selling products and services, and keeping customers satisfied.  As such, managers want to understand metrics in terms of the real costs to run their centers and how performance affects overall profitability. They want to know more than just how many calls the center took and how quickly, but how this number applies to the top and bottom lines and overall customer satisfaction.  To do this, some companies are displaying real-time snapshots of sales measures vs. objectives as a way to motivate their agents, correlate their efforts to the success of the business, and identify real opportunities for improvement.  They are also measuring more customer experience related metrics such as agent generated holds, task completion rates and abandoned rates for example.
  • Behind-the-calls data – Most contact center managers would like to know what, exactly, is behind their call types and volumes; they want to be prepared for situations like sudden call spikes or an onslaught of similar topic calls.  To do this some have begun to incorporate operational data, sometimes referred to as enterprise ‘mash-up’ data, into real-time reporting views.  Incorporating this operational data on LCD screens and desktop applications provides a first-hand view, allowing managers and agents to prepare for potential changes in their environments.  The status of a current product promotion, technical issues with an online catalog, or an alert at a utilities company center to drops in power or water pressure would all be example indicators for an increase in call volumes related to specific issues, allowing for more proactive management of the center.
  • Cross-channel data – With all of the new ways that companies and customers are interacting, you likely have access to a growing number of data platforms:  emails and chats with customers as well as social networking interactions or statuses.   Harnessing this cross-channel data is critical for managing the customer experience.
  • External / Environmental data – Your Inova real-time reporting solution can integrate data from the outside world as well such as weather, traffic, and news.  For some contact centers, this information can sometimes be a lifesaver:  consider again the utilities company incorporating live severe-weather feeds to make real-time staffing decisions.

In the end it’s up to leaders of each organization to determine what data should be accessible and viewable in real-time.   For so many obvious reasons, real-time data is critical for understanding what is happening right now in the center; it allows leaders to make decisions that can have immediate impact toward achieving stated goals and milestones.   Integrating custom metrics and data from peripheral and core operating sources is key for producing a 360-degree view of how your contact center is delivering value to your business and, more importantly, to your customers.  As Minnucci wrote, “the contact center landscape is changing and the manner in which we keep score — our metrics — will need to change to keep pace with all this activity.”

Look for more detail in the future on the value and the ability of LightLink to present powerful business views and insights from these varied data sources.

Call Center Messaging Dos and Don’ts

A lot happens behind the scenes at contact centers to ensure an optimal customer service experience on the other end of the line. Supervisors and agents must monitor incoming calls and react quickly to the often unpredictable ebb and flow of call volume to accommodate every caller. There is a plethora of messaging technology on the market – LED wallboards, digital signage, desktop messaging software, etc – to help contact centers communicate and coordinate efficiently. However, this technology is only useful if administrators make the most of it. Here are a few tips on creating messages that get your point across.

Do:

  • Be brief. There is a reason Twitter only allows 140 characters in its posts. It is because the average attention span can’t tolerate much more, and busy agents who are multitasking on the phone are no exception.
  • Automate. If your historic call center metrics reports indicate that callers begin to abandon after a certain wait time, then set an automated alert to pop up when your wait time hits that threshold. The message should indicate the status of the queue as well as give instructions for reducing the wait time. No need to do these steps manually when technology allows you to automate it.
  • Consider readability. LCD digital signs can display colorful, media rich content, but when designing views, don’t forget the distance from which your agents will be viewing the text. For key textual notifications, be sure to enlarge the font substantially, or consider using LED wallboards, which have increased readability from greater distances. Desktop messaging software is also a good alternative when office layouts make group signage impractical.

Don’t:

  • Use the same message for everyone. If agents from one skill group are sent irrelevant messages that only apply to another group, they will learn to tune out all messages, and the important ones won’t get a second look.
  • Oversend. Along the same lines, sending messages too frequently dilutes the meaning of any one individual message. Choose carefully what is important enough to interrupt your team.

What other considerations should you take when composing and sending messages to your call center team? Share your ideas here.

Key Considerations for Developing Remote Agent Programs

At-home agent programs are still growing in popularity for domestic call centers. Not only do they reduce overhead costs of housing in-house agents, but they contribute to higher CSR job satisfaction and allow companies to hire employees with specialized skills that may not exist in their local market. There are even low-cost reporting solutions that make management of at-home agents more seamless.

However, there are certain things that a smart call center manager should keep in mind to ensure that the at-home agent program will be successful. I was recently reading Contact Center Pipeline, where industry expert Susan Hash had some great reminders of things to keep in mind for at-home agent management. She suggested creating a “virtual community,” that is, a way for your remote agents to feel connected to their coworkers, managers, and the company in general. The importance of this connection cannot be overlooked, not only for logistical reasons but also because feeling like part of a team is what makes your workforce successful.

Hash also discussed the importance of screening potential at-home workers for suitability to work in that environment. The type of employee that would be successful working at home may be different from those who succeed in an office environment. In addition, many managers aren’t experienced in supervising remote agents. Providing some targeted training sessions and equipping them with call center software tools to help them monitor remote agent activity will go a long way. Finally, Hash reminds us that remote agent employment brings with it a host of HR and legal considerations that should not be overlooked.

Many call centers are making remote agent programs a key part of their strategy in 2012. If handled correctly, it just might be the right way to cut costs and maintain productivity. What other considerations are important when developing such a program? How has it worked for your center?