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‘Tis The Season To Be Mobile

The smell of peppermint is beginning to fill the air, tunes on the radio are becoming undeniably festive and intricate lighting displays adorn houses before we have even carved our Thanksgiving turkeys. All these things make it clear that the holiday shopping season is upon us. This coming “Black Friday” marks the official kick-off, after all!

In 2015, people are moving faster than ever before and mobile interaction is essential. Smartphones have dramatically transformed the way that people browse, bargain-hunt and buy products.

As consumers leave one-horse open sleighs in their dust, it’s smart for brands to embrace SMS to avoid the same fate. And even though the retail market is top-of-mind as we deck the halls, it is not the only industry that can benefit from proactive notifications and mobility solutions.

Thinking like an on-the-go audience:
When U.S. consumers reach for their mobile devices, they aren’t simply relying on a phone, but rather, technology that has become an extra appendage. According to Google, 30% of people admit that they feel “anxious” when their phones aren’t at their side. It’s estimated that we spend 177 minutes on our phones daily—checking them 150 times! Customers aren’t simply reaching for the shiniest products on the shelves and throwing them in their carts; 82% of smartphone users research in-store purchases online first.[ii] Read More >

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Embracing SMS: Luv 2 ur CX

Texting isn’t just a pick-up-game. Adopted by the majority of people in the U.S., it’s increasingly seen as a “free” mode of regular communication. As brands of every type address the loud-and-clear customer preference to communicate with their thumbs, it’s important for seasoned texters and newbies alike to heed the rules of the SMS playing field.

There’s no need to worry if you don’t know the difference between a vanity short code and a dedicated short code; that’s what communication partners are for. This quick list of SMS FAQs will make it “EZ 4 U” to appreciate the details of recent opt-in regulation updates.

On September 1, 2015, The Wireless Association (CTIA) published an updated Short Code Monitoring Handbook with one particular change that spells big news for engagement with your customers. Previously, a “double opt-in” regulation was in place, requiring customers to opt-in twice to participate in your mobile programs. The updated handbook has eliminated the need for customers to perform this second opt-in, which means that you will see a significant increase in successful SMS interactions. Three cheers for mobility!

For some consumers, responding to a text message that requested further confirmation was a waste of time, and businesses were missing out on significant customer engagement as a consequence. Now that customers only need to opt-in once, brands are better positioned to ensure frequent interaction and higher customer satisfaction. Think delivery updates, storm outage alerts and flight delays. As increased smartphone sophistication drives customer demand for more reliable communication, this is certainly a welcome change.

Whether you have been connecting with customers via text message for a long time, or you are just beginning to explore this channel, the opportunity to capitalize on SMS relationships has never been GR8R.

West Corporation

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We All Wanna Be “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.”

So customer relationships should be akin to a one-on-one courtship, but they can’t possibly be so intimate; profit margins would plummet and, inevitably, someone (or something(s)) would fall through the cracks. How do we manage? Start with balance – making the everyday experience a little less like “take a number” and more like Cheers.

The time has come for companies to face the music: No matter the industry, consumers call the shots. Bill Price, founder of Driva Solutions, teaches us about hierarchy of seven consumer needs in a “Me2B” world:

  1. Know me; remember me
  2. Give me choices
  3. Make it easy for me
  4. Value me
  5. Trust me
  6. Surprise me
  7. Help me do more, better

Those of you who joined us at West’s Connected Customer Experience Summit took a front-row seat with us for some of these take-aways and others. (Watch the video or read Price’s book.)

What does Cheers have to do with it? Contemporary technology has raised the stakes for customer expectations and people want multichannel (or, dare-we-say, the ever-daunting “omnichannel”) choice. However, it all boils back down to one thing if I’m your customer: Show me you know me.

Whether I’m calling, attempting online self-service or responding to your text message, show me you know me. No matter the entry-point or time-of-day, sing my name when I open the door and make it easy for me to cozy up to the bar. Make me your “Norm.”

Price articulated core foundations for creating successful Me2B experiences:

  • Focus on customers
  • Streamline processes
  • Integrate channels
  • Energize your workforce
  • Make Cheers the “Norm!”

Okay, so we added that last one, but we’re drinking the foundational Kool-Aid at West right along with our clients by strategically championing imperatives like these in our own business.


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Brands are from Mars, Buyers are from Venus?

Committed personal relationships aren’t formed overnight. Customer relationship management leader JC Quintana shared his insights in October (Watch the video or check out his book.) and filled us in on three common myths among business leaders:

  1. It’s all about doing business. (Hello, silos. What’s your end-game?)
  2. Technology solves everything. (Put some thoughtful “oomph” behind that IVR!)
  3. Net Promoter Score is the be-all, end-all. (Make sure I’m yours, then we can talk about recommendations.)

Brands have to get back to the basics and start with an honest investment in building relationships. You wouldn’t propose to the apple of your eye a the first date, would you? (Certainly not with a text message!) So why do we expect it to be that easy with business consumers?

In a recent issue of Glamour (yes, we read magazines at the hair salon just like everyone else), dating columnist “Jake” wrote this:

I’ll be frank: Dating in 2015 can be a smartphone-induced nightmare, and I get as distracted as everyone else. Amid all the fretting and stressing over how long I should wait to send a text or why she liked one phone on Instagram, but not another, I’ve realized that it’s easy to lose sight of the things that make a relationship real: affection and mutual respect.

It’s like Quintana commands: A committed relationship is about a lot more than just frequent interaction and attentive customer service. Engagement, centricity, service, support, transparency… It’s the whole package, tied up with sincerity, that lays the groundwork for loyal bonds that hold up through thick and thin.

Part of companies’ imperative is to just be there for customers like one might with a spouse. You’ve probably seen Jason Headley’s video It’s Not About the Nail? We laugh because it hits close to home for many of us. “You always try to fix things when what I really need is for you to just listen.” (Of course, in the case of customers, then we’ll fix it.)

Sometimes, brands just need to make it easier for customers to vent, find more avenues for proactive support, and count on the fact that customers may return the favor and by showing some love with another purchase, a high satisfaction score, or a credible recommendation. That’s what enduring relationships are all about.

That, and “Venusians are always right.”

West Corporation

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West Acquires Magnetic North

On November 2, 2015, West Corporation announced the acquisition of Magnetic North, Ltd., a leading U.K.-based provider of proprietary hosted customer contact center and unified communications solutions to enterprises.

For nearly 30 years, we have been dedicated to delivering new solutions, new capabilities and new choices that enable brands and their customers to connect – whenever and however they choose.  Streamlining technology platforms, applications and services to achieve optimal performance is a hallmark of our business. As Magnetic North becomes part of West, we will be even better positioned to help our clients deliver exceptional customer experiences across diverse channels, devices and geographies.

Founded in 1999, Magnetic North provides complete inbound/outbound/blended, multi-channel customer engagement technology solutions with multi-media routing, advanced analytics and compliance functionality and a fully integrated, feature-rich hosted voice and UC platform to mid-market customers throughout EMEA and the Americas.

The Magnetic North headquarters in Leicester, England will remain operational and the Magnetic North leadership team will continue to lead their respective functions as they do today.

West will utilize the technology that Magnetic North has developed to provide clients with the capability to deliver seamless and contextual multi-channel consumer experiences.

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Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Busy Signals

Great Scott! Today, we occupants of the future celebrate a little-known holiday worthy of cracking open a few Pepsi Perfects: Back to the Future Day!

In the iconic 1985 film Back to the Future II, Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown travel in time to October 21, 2015 to ensure Marty’s future children avoid foreseen disaster. To commemorate Marty and Doc’s voyage through time, let’s hop on our new HoverBoard, grab a ticket to Jaws 19 and enjoy a futuristic refreshment.

Although 3D billboards aren’t yet talking to us, and we may have to wait another few years get our hands on an actual hoverboard, there is no doubt that communication has changed drastically in the last 30 years.

The beauty of innovation is anticipating customer needs. Companies are delivering extraordinary contemporary customer experiences by implementing solutions like automated 2-way SMS and natural language recognition. In only 20 years, we have watched the telephone of old morph into a pocket-computer capable of anything from alerting us when a prescription is ready for pick-up, hailing a ride home or ordering food, all without ever speaking to another human.

People expect a brand’s communication solutions to keep up with the advancements they’ve already seen in their technological devices. Multi-modal IVR combines traditional IVR services with a visual interface and is one example of how companies continue to keep up with this demand. Solutions like this allow consumers to interact across multiple channels to complete a myriad of tasks, while companies reduce operational costs. As customer needs continue to evolve over the years, so too will brands determined to stay ahead of the curve.

Admittedly, West’s own website became a time machine over the years. As is often the case, we’ve been so focused on clients’ objectives that our own online presence has taken awhile to rev back up to 88 MPH. With that said, we are proud to unveil our new website. Please visit us at

Now that our website is back from the past, we can continue making sure our clients are prepared for the future of customer interaction. #ExperienceConnected


West Corporation

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Don’t Ignore Any Outage

Feeling ignored by friends can be irritating. Feeling ignored by co-workers can cause miscommunication.

Feeling completely unsure of where your voice has landed when you are in an emergency situation is downright terrifying.

Imagine: A storm has blackened the sky. The first bolt of lightning cracks its whip. Lights out. Your frantic fingers dial the local utility company and you are taunted by a cold busy signal.

Utility customers not only crave solutions for more reliable communication, but desperately need them. As human beings, we deserve the peace-of-mind that we are being kept safe. Utility companies are in a unique positon to provide life’s necessities and keep consumers in-the-know.

TFCC/West’s high volume call answering (HVCA) system has transformed the way utility companies do business in storm-related, extended-outage situations. Now, companies are using their HVCA systems for all outage reporting, even on blue-sky days. By creating a consistent customer experience, these utilities are increasing customer satisfaction and decreasing operational costs.

When the power goes out, customers can call and trust that their concerns were addressed promptly. They were given the opportunity to provide essential pieces of information via interactive voice response (IVR); and they were instantly reassured because the utility’s phone number and prompts are familiar, for every outage.

Tampa Electric Company (TECO) is one company that decided to route all outage calls to their HVCA system. (In fact, TECO didn’t even build an outage program into its existing IVR applications – instead choosing to rely on HVCA.) Since implementation, TECO’s average call-length has decreased by 38 seconds and containment has increased by 19 percent. This has led to $.12 in savings on every automated call. Additionally, live agents are handling 3 percent fewer outage calls, freeing resources to address extreme emergencies and revenue-generating calls. ROI continues to rise.

No customer has ever complained about having questions answered too quickly. No business complains about saving too much money. In a world where we have come to expect the utmost reliability from communication technology, it is time for utility companies to explore the benefits of consolidating IVR systems and integrating HVCA for all outage reporting.

Whether you’re already partnering with TFCC/West or just beginning to explore new IVR technologies, let’s connect to talk more about it.

Join us at EMACS Customer Experience Conference in San Diego to brainstorm more about forward-thinking strategies to improve the customer experience.

West Corporation

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One-on-One Text Conversations Make Customer Care Easier

Picture this: You’re a frequent flyer, going from city to city every week, and spending hours in airports. You have your routine down to the letter and any substantial hitch has a domino effect on your schedule – not to mention work/life balance.

You roll with inevitable delays and gate changes better than most, but you have to be in-the-know. You don’t demand flawlessness, but you do expect communication at a rate that keeps up with the countless voice messages from your colleagues, emails from your boss, texts from your spouse, in-app bill-pay alerts, etc., that are hopefully punctuated by a few moments to catch your breath.

So, you opt-in to SMS/text alerts from your airline. When you land, your phone dings with a notification that your connecting flight is delayed due to plane maintenance. “Ok. Is there a gate change?” you naturally reply, knowing that it takes 20 minutes to trek from point A to point B.

The response: Radio silence or, perhaps worse, a plain old “Thank you for flying with us.” (Why? Because that alert was sent by a machine and there’s nobody manning it on the other end.)

There’s an estimated 30-minute hold-time when you click-to-call, so you ask a rep at a nearby kiosk who, unfortunately, hasn’t yet gotten the memo that there’s a delay in the first place, much less its implications. Meanwhile, dozens of other confused passengers are duplicating efforts – spending far more of the airline’s time and money – when a simple “There is no gate change at this time,” SMS response could have taken care of it.

Pew Research tells us that 9 in 10 Americans own a mobile device and roughly 65% of them own a smartphone, proving that this scenario is a very real one – and this customer service challenge, a pleasantly solvable one.

One-to-one agent-based support is expensive, which explains why many organizations adopt proactive communication strategies to preempt some of customers’ inbound service needs. SMS/text messaging engages customers on devices they’re already using and just so happens to provide more bang-for-your-buck than other channels.

However, SMS isn’t so simple that you’re off the hook for two-way support; just as they would when having a text conversation with a friend, customers expect to be able to respond to SMS notifications and assume your brand will heed their replies. (It’s completely rational.) The big hitch is that not every reply is predictable and not every interaction can be automated. (They’re only human.)

Fortunately, solutions are out there. Agent-assisted SMS can do much of the heavy lifting for you – managing conversations, automating texts when possible, routing queries appropriately, and enabling agents to multi-task. Customers fully benefit from the convenience of your SMS support offer, your contact center agents more confidently manage customer service, and costs stay impeccably low. That’s textbook “win, win, win.”

Advanced SMS solutions can interpret free-form, natural language texts and automate replies; others can route requests to an agent and provide as much freedom or selection of “canned” responses as is appropriate. Any agent on the receiving end of an escalated customer message can see the entire conversation (including an initial alert that may have prompted it) and duly engage with countless users at one time.

Unlike phone conversations, which demand undivided attention and plea for in-call resolution, SMS dialogues could take place over two minutes, 12 hours or even days, depending on the nature and urgency of the matter. Nonetheless, every interaction is recorded, every conversation is regulation-compliant, any transferred agent maintains visibility, no conversation requires exclusivity, and every customer feels nurtured.

Think back to that your same travel experience above. An offer to request SMS “HELP” with the initial notification of a flight delay could have saved multiple customer service representatives’ valuable time – not to mention your frustration. Multiply that times the hundred-some fellow passengers on your flight, times however many flights a day, in however many airports around the world, and you’re talking serious savings and skyrocketing customer satisfaction rates.

Now imagine the implications in your industry, on your contact center: Banking, insurance, utility, healthcare, pharmacy, telecom, retail, home services… You name it.

If that’s not a reason to feel great about hopping on a plane to Seattle, to join Execs In The Know at Customer Response Summit, I don’t know what is.

We’ll share more about how this concept works at the Idea Lab during Customer Response Summit Seattle, September 28-30, 2015. See you there!

This is a guest blog written by Dan Gordon, SVP Strategy & Development, for Execs in the Know

West Corporation

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How to Prep for Each Decade of Tech

Think back to 2005. If you were up with the tech-times, you may have had one of the very first camera phones in the U.S. and a 4th or 5th generation iPod. It’s possible that you were among the early undergrad Facebook adopters – or, then again, maybe MySpace was more your speed. Meanwhile, YouTube was born.

Any one of us knows first-hand that technology changes fast and we no sooner forget how much our user-expectations have risen.

Fast-forward 10 years: Facebook, now a publicly traded company, has 1.44 billion users (now ages 13+) and over 10,000 employees worldwide. Ninety percent of Americans own a mobile phone, 64 percent of which are smartphones. American Idol, one of the most successful TV shows in history, is gearing up for its farewell season, having captured more than 6 billion viewer votes cast by phone, via SMS/text or online since its debut. And likely many of those same viewers have watched Psy’s “Gangnam Style” on YouTube 2.4 billion times and counting.

Bruce Pollock, vice president of strategic growth and planning at West, and his fellow panelists touched on some of these eye-openers during “A Decade at SpeechTEK” session at SpeechTEK 2015: The Smart Customer Interactions Event.

Earlier this week, the 20th annual SpeechTEK conference drew speech scientists, information technologists, customer experience designers, contact center professionals and C-level executives to the Marriott Marquis in NYC, for three days of all things speech. Keynote presentations, panel discussions and workshops yielded insights into the latest (and forthcoming) ways speech can solve business challenges, improve self-service and elevate the customer experience.

West was among the first to introduce IVR and ASR to companies and their customers. Twenty years later, consumers can speak to phones, watches, computers, cars, TVs and more, and we were fortunate to listen in and contribute to a number of conversations about the future of speech technology. Some of the conference sessions included “Virtual Agents for All?” moderated by Pollock; “The How and Why of Speech Application Tuning” and “Secure Audio Data Analytics,” both moderated by Amy Goodwin, senior speech technologist; and “Conversing with the Internet of Things,” moderated by Jim Milroy, human factors solutions consultant.

Milroy also discussed how he is able to identify caller archetypes to design an efficient IVR user-interface during a panel about “Designing for Your Customers.” One size doesn’t fit all callers; some have a high technical skill-level or brand knowledge, and others need more hand-holding to self-serve. With thorough customer journey assessments on the front-end, we can design effective speech solutions and call-flows to efficiently accommodate customers’ (and contact centers’) distinct needs.

Natural language recognition is moving beyond voice into SMS/text. Speech science and automation are helping brands interact with customers more frequently, more easily and on devices already at their fingertips. From security measures to IoT, West experts continue to partner on the forefront of this movement to continually optimize the customer experience.

Imagine where user expectations might soar by 2025… Is your brand getting ready? #ExperienceConnected

West Corporation

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The Call Center is Your Front Door

Imagine for a moment that you are a patient at your own health system, and you want to schedule an appointment, ask a question about your treatment plan, or request a referral. Visit the contact page of your health system’s website. What do you see?

Some of you will find a general 800 number that either routes you to one of those byzantine automated selection menus or leads to a call service rep or central operator who doesn’t know who you are, what you need, or how to route your query. Others will be faced by a webpage filled with a dense collection of numbers for a myriad of departments, professional practices, and clinics, leaving you overwhelmed and confused about who to call for what.

Now, pick up the phone and see if you get the information you need on the first try…

The point of this thought experiment is that you as a health system have made considerable financial investments in technology and training in order to create a patient-centric healthcare experience that provides excellent healthcare services spanning the continuum of care, but thanks to call center quagmires your patients are frustrated and dissatisfied before they even walk through the door.

Patient access centers are legitimate business departments and have an important role to play in the transition to value-based, patient-centric care. They have the potential to create new streams of revenue. They can engender loyalty to your brand. Most importantly, access centers are a critical first impression that ultimately determines whether a patient chooses to purchase healthcare services from your system.

Unfortunately, for too many health systems, access centers are an afterthought — or worse, completely neglected.

Patients are Consumers

Just like you, your health system’s patients are consumers who shop at Amazon, purchase airline tickets, and stay at hotels for business and pleasure. They’ve grown accustomed to a concierge-level of customer service, and this has altered their perceptions of what a high-quality healthcare experience should look like. The retail world has decades of experience with providing this level of service, and have leveraged modern technology to make constant improvements to help differentiate their brand, as well as retain and grow their customer base. The healthcare industry is just starting to catch on—not just because it makes good business sense, but also because they are now being incented/penalized to implement value-based care throughout the patient experience.

The modern healthcare consumer has more choices than ever before, and are seeking long-term relationships with their providers. The trick for health systems is finding an efficient and cost-effective way of:

  • Properly routing inbound calls using an intelligent, data-accessible system (patient-to-provider);
  • Determining patient communication preferences for outbound contacts (provider-to-patient).

‘Predictive Intent’

Hospitals and health systems have been doing scheduling and automated appointment reminders for years. However, these transactions only account for 20 to 30 percent of inbound and outbound calls.

The model patient access center should be doing a lot more than that. Your access center should drive revenue and patient satisfaction; reduce no-shows and time spent by caregivers on reaching patients; and eliminate the need for patients to fish around for answers to their questions.
If your airline carrier knows your preferred seating arrangement and upcoming flights; if your hotel’s concierge knows your preferred floor and newspaper, then why doesn’t your health system have access to patient data as soon as they call?

After authentication of the patient’s identity, an intelligent patient access platform should have, based on the health system’s defined business rules, real-time access to:

  • Upcoming and past appointments
  • Education and patient record materials in the system’s EMR and patient portal
  • Intelligent routing to be best available advocate, scheduling agent, care coordinator or case manager, based on patient data and what is known about that patient at that point in time
  • The patients’ preferred modes of communication (landline, mobile phone, text, e-mail, etc.)

Even if you don’t leverage live call center representatives, forget about automated menu options. Intelligent access platforms can emulate a live agent for many of these basic functions, leaving live agents to handle the more complex transactions, allowing them to maximize their value to your organizations and to the patients / providers they engage each day.

The goal of contact centers should be to make the patient experience as easy as possible through both personalization and self-service—striving for that perfect balance between automation and a live, human-touch interaction.

Your health system has invested considerable time, energy and money to provide value across the continuum of care. Why squander it over a bad first impression? The nature of each patient call may vary, but everyone is essentially asking one of two questions: will patients buy healthcare from your system or will thye buy healthcare again from your health system?

Let’s Connect

West Corporation