Category: Interactive Services

Category: Interactive Services
West Corporation

Posted on April 22, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Brave New World of Customer Care

Traditionally, the mobile channel has been the domain of marketing departments that leverage the channel to promote brand, sell and add e-commerce opportunities. Or technical departments looking to mobilize existing websites or internal work processes. Until recently, the idea of leveraging mobile for something as mundane as customer care was not even in the realm of thinking. Mobile is sexy and flashy. Why spend the time to mobilize customer care? There are four main reasons we are seeing with our clients today:

Consumer-Driven Care
Consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to communicating with our clients. More and more, they choose how to communicate and what device they want to use. Mobile is a channel that consumers want to use, and they are using it in their daily lives. Clients that we support know they must play in mobile to ensure that they are relevant to the consumers of their products and services.

Avoiding the Application Wasteland
Take a look at your mobile device. How many apps have you downloaded and how many do you really use? If you are like most of us, there are a handful of apps that you use other than games and sports apps. We use applications that bring value to our daily lives. Increasingly, we are seeing that customer care in the mobile channel is something that consumers will actually use. Customer care functions add value as stand-alone applications or tied to other existing applications, thus creating an enriched application that will actually be used. Mobile customer care also has a tangible return on investment that can be measured against other customer care strategies. This helps companies make the investment in their mobile care channel.

Customer Experience is King
Our clients are breaking down the silos that have traditionally divided internal teams who support their customers and are looking at the experience holistically. Organizations understand that they work hard to attain their customers and that one poor customer experience can ruin the relationship.

Mobile is helping bring companies together because it transcends these silos and offers a channel where consumers have the option to talk to an agent, call an IVR, search a website, launch an application and comment on all of the experiences in social media. Companies are investing in new “C” level positions (e.g., chief customer experience officer) and changing their philosophies around the barriers between internal groups. This has allowed departments like customer care, marketing and technology to come together and start to leverage the mobile communication channel to its full potential.

Connecting Channels to Improve the Customer Experience Is Key
With strategies and organizational structures that align with consumer-driven care, we are helping our clients connect channels to create personalized and intelligent care experiences. We can have the mobile channel aware of what is going on with other channels and adjust accordingly to ensure that the customer experience is effective and valuable. Each customer care touch point is so valuable in today’s tough economy and competitive environment.

We are all moving into the brave new world of mobile. Customer care is no different, despite its reputation for being back-office and behind the times. In the mobile channel, we have another opportunity to automate and perform customer care that will enhance the overall customer experience. It is all about choices for our customers and how they want to communicate with us. We are slowly adapting to customers who want to click their app rather than dial the toll-free number. The companies that embrace this have the best chance to service and grow their customer bases.

West Corporation

Posted on April 18, 2013 by West Corporation 

Sometimes Humans Are Still Better Than Technology

Do you know what this popular game is and when it was invented?

The Speak & Spell was first introduced in 1978 at the summer Consumer Electronics Show. This early speech technology was only the tip of the iceberg to where we are now with advanced speech and voice recognition.

Fast-forward 35 years: Apple launched a new iPhone with Siri speech-recognition software making the decades-old technology good enough for the average consumer. Rather than recognizing a simple word, Siri can interpret a stream of words and provide intelligent feedback.

Even with all of the speech and voice recognition software in place today, can we really afford to do away with the traditional transcription services? Sure, recognition software costs less than transcription; however, what is truly the “cost” to consumers?

Technology is important, but not more important than the quality that affects organizations and their consumers. Transcribers can intuitively correct simple errors of confusion, whereas the most advanced speech technology cannot. Speaking clearly and distinctly is essential for voice recognition software to work effectively. If a caller is in a noisy place or has an accent, then it may throw off the accuracy of the software. Conference settings and free-form feedback are other sources of inaccurate recording for the software. Transcription agents can filter out extraneous speech like, “umm” and “aah.”

An undisputed advantage of voice recognition is its speed. However, transcription can also be done in real time and doesn’t need to sit on backup tapes or servers overnight causing the common delays.

Transcription has been seen by some as a “routine” task. With so many technological advances of voice automation, it was thought that transcription would become obsolete. However, there are many aspects of transcription jobs that are not always routine. These instances require human judgment, error correction, formatting and clarification of the unclear. The judgment, experience and plain common sense can be an invaluable and priceless contribution.

Just because a computer can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it should.

West Corporation

Posted on April 16, 2013 by West Corporation 

Generation Thumb, Part 2

A previous post  by a past colleague pointed out the significance of mobile to baby boomers. The ability to work, check email, tweet, check finances, etc., via a mobile device is becoming the standard for most and stresses the importance of mobility. However, as younger generations like millennials come into the picture, it is important to realize the importance of enhancing different channels beyond mobile to address the needs of these savvier tech gurus.

Mobile may be transforming into the new standard of communication, but we are seeing new technologies and strategies emerge that are both separate and entwined with mobile capabilities. For instance, having a social media strategy is starting to become the norm within marketing departments. Leaders are more concerned about brand protection, but they are kept awake at night because social media is becoming more than a marketing vehicle. Blogs, forums, Facebook and Twitter are avenues that also need to be connected into the care organization. Customers are using these avenues to discuss, complain and seek resolution to problems.

The obvious solution to some may be to make a public post apologizing for the problem and offer some kind of compensation for the loss. But, by taking a step back for a moment, customer care organizations are starting to recognize the importance of having both their mobile and social strategies tied together. A public statement may satisfy the masses, but companies can also use one-way and two-way communications through text or SMS to send a more personal message. Not only does this give the “warm fuzzy” that the customer is seeking, but it also shows the importance of how having a unified multichannel customer relationship strategy is the future.

Finally, as companies continue to address  needs around mobile and social, it is important to note that there is a third and equally vital part of this strategy involving the Web. Having some sort of Web presence is the norm for any company. Customers expect to be able to go to a Web address and get a preview of products, self-serve, shop and so on. However, the Web is turning into a greater part of an overall digital strategy that can be designed to engage customers and provide more value to them. Making the environment more virtual and engaging with multimedia, content, forums, chat, etc., not only enhances the experience, but also gives an organization the opportunity to capture vital information needed to be proactive with customers. Knowing who your customers are and some information about them will improve their experience increase your revenue. And both are vital to the success of your business.

The next generation of consumers is putting more emphasis on new technologies, forcing companies to be nimble and preemptive with their communication strategies. The ability to allow your customers to connect with you how and when they want is paramount to any successful strategy. The younger generations are our fastest growing customer base, stressing the importance of having a unified multichannel customer contact strategy. After all, keeping your consumers happy and addressing their needs is a lot cheaper than acquiring new customers.

West Corporation

Posted on April 12, 2013 by West Corporation 

But You Called Me: How Companies and Customers Can Win in the Customer Service Game

Have you ever received a voice message from a company you do business with requesting you call them in regard to your account or a purchase? This type of message likely piques your curiosity and ultimately entices you to give them a call.

Now, how many times have you called back and were barraged with a choice of options on the automated system? Even if you are the savviest of users of automated systems — who understands that if you take the time to choose the right option, then your call is delivered to a customer service representative who can actually help you — you would not be sure where to start.

After bouncing from representative to representative to finally reach one who can help you, you are asked for the third time, “How can I help you?”

You respond with, “Ugh! You guys called me!”

By keeping track and leveraging context of customer interactions through various engagement channels, companies can personalize these interactions and increase customer intimacy.

For the above scenario, the automated system could have acknowledged me upfront and intelligently sent me to a representative who could have greeted me with, “Thank you for calling us back, Mr. Robeson. We have a question for you about a recent purchase.” It would have been a much better experience.

Organizations can save themselves time and cost, as well as increase customer satisfaction, by making sure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. It is a win-win situation.

Organizational Wins

  • Consistent brand experience across all customer engagement channels, including Web, mobile, automated system and representative
    • Because customer satisfaction equals customer loyalty
  • Reduce transaction times and cost by streamlining the automated system transaction and sending the customer to the correct representative the first time

Customer Wins

  • Reduce customer effort by tracking experiences and context of interactions or the idea that, “It is easy to do business with Company Y”
  • Increase the level of predictability or the idea that, “I don’t mind contacting Company Y because it is likely they already know what has happened and it won’t take long to get an answer”

Remember that the company called you first, so to acknowledge the fact they called you is the least they can do when you call them back.

West Corporation

Posted on April 11, 2013 by West Corporation 

Better Than Coffee: A Top 10 List of Automated Application Best Practices

I am not aware of any formal scientific evidence of this, but I believe most people have a morning routine they follow after getting out of bed in the morning. A routine allows us to get from one point to another point with ease (in this case, from bed to work). Some folks may have one routine for workdays and a different routine for non-work days.  My routine, regardless of the day of the week, is coffee first — and lots of it. Coffee is what kick-starts my brain and body. Until I’ve had that first cup, nothing interesting happens or gets accomplished in my world. I look forward to mornings because that is the only time of the day I allow myself the luxury of coffee.  I love my morning routine.

So, this leads to the question, what does having a morning routine have in common with an automated customer service application? The answer is that your automated application should have a routine your customers can count on to follow and accomplish a task or multiple tasks with ease. Or, said another way, use industry best practices to ensure ease of use for customers.

Here is a top 10 list of routines (or best practices) that automated customer service applications should follow:

  • Begin the call with a welcome message and a brief description of what to expect.
  • Offer a maximum of five options at each prompt — If more than five options are available, then offer additional options under a “more options” selection.
  • Offer the most popular menu selection first, the second most popular second, and so on.
  • Offer a “repeat menu” option at each module.
  • Do not confirm unnecessarily. Frequent confirmation makes the call inefficient and aggravates the caller.
  • Re-prompt when a customer does not make a selection or makes an invalid selection.
  • Allow an agent transfer option after two errors (caller makes invalid or no selection) to minimize caller frustration.
  • In scenarios of specialized agent line groups, use the practice of the determining what the customer needs prior to transferring to an agent, “To make sure I route your call to the agent best suited to handle your call, please tell me what topic your call is related to.” This will prevent double transfers.
  • Use a silent agent option as deemed appropriate throughout the application.
  • Less is more — use the minimum number of words in the prompts.

And, finally, consider a “coffee” element in your automated application — something that keeps the customer alert, awake and paying attention. This can be as simple as using good voice talent that uses voice inflections to keep the caller engaged.

West Corporation

Posted on April 10, 2013 by West Corporation 

What’s Too High? A Six Sigma Approach to Caller Behavior Analysis

Is 95 percent transfer rate too high? Is 10 minutes in IVR to authenticate too long? Anyone in the IVR business would respond with a resounding, “Yes!” But what about a 60 percent transfer rate? Or 20 seconds to authenticate? The idea is that it’s easy to use business experience to judge the obvious extremes. It is not so easy when the numbers are in the gray area. The outliers can hide just close enough to “normal” to go undetected by the human eye, yet they can be far enough away to cause a financial impact.

Luckily there is a solution: Six Sigma. This well-known technique statistically defines exactly what is normal and to identifies outliers falling outside of the normal range.

The idea behind Six Sigma is to track a particular metric (e.g., number of calls made by a customer) over time to generate a distribution or histogram of its acceptable values (those that are close to the average) and unacceptable values. (those beyond a certain distance from the average). Sigma, or σ, is a symbol used by statisticians to denote this distance and is also known as standard deviation. Six Sigma says that more than two-thirds of the values of a particular metric would fall within one standard deviation from the average, while nearly all values would fall within three standard deviations (a total of six) of the average. Anything outside of that is a serious outlier.

West uses this approach to establish normal boundaries for repeat calls made by a single customer in a particular month. This study was important because our clients’ customers make upward of 600,000 calls per day, and understanding repeat callers is the key to decreasing such calls. The resulting distribution was not exactly text-book “bell curve” due to the nature of data; however, it did turn out that roughly 10 percent of callers were outside of normal.

Zeroing in on particular extreme behaviors, certain questionable customer practices were identified. For example, one customer who made 200 calls per month (with an average customer making three calls during the same time frame), turned out to be a small-business owner who used his familiarity with IVR and agent negotiation to get his clients (other customers) discounts for a cool $30 per service, i.e., per call.

West Corporation

Posted on March 27, 2013 by West Corporation 

Does the Left Hand (of Your Customer Service Operation) Know What the Right Hand Is Doing?

Technology is changing at lightning speed these days — particularly technologies related to customer relationship management. This is exciting and brings with it new challenges and opportunities.

The opportunities are boundless: like integrating mobile and social solutions to help customers get service anytime/anywhere, or integrating comprehensive analytics to ensure that when customers call your support number, you know who they are and what they’re most likely to be calling about.

Of course, with opportunities also come challenges. One of the key challenges companies face today is how to seamlessly integrate their technology and human-based customer service elements to provide for a streamlined, efficient customer experience. For example, many companies have yet to address the age-old problem where their contact center agents have to ask customers the same questions as the IVR did, because they lack adequate systems integration.

In addition to situations like this, many companies face the added challenge of how to integrate outsourced customer support vendors and processes with their own, to provide for a seamless customer experience “from A to Z.” Leveraging third-party outsourcing partners is a good idea, but not if the partner’s systems and resources aren’t integrated effectively with the rest of the company’s on-premise infrastructure, agents and operations.

I recently had some first-hand experience with companies that have utterly failed in their customer service mission, mainly because they haven’t effectively integrated their outsourced service provider into their business and customer service operations.

My wife and I subscribe to a travel magazine that we both enjoy reading and look forward to, month after month. Although we use the magazine’s website a lot, we always await with anticipation the printed copy edition of the magazine. Recently, two of the print editions of the magazine went missing in the mail, so when we noticed that the magazine has a digital edition, we decided to stop receiving the print edition in favor of the iPad version.

Little did we know what a customer service mess we were stepping into. When I called the magazine company to tell them we’d like to start receiving the digital edition, the contact center agent said, “That’s fantastic, I’ll give you the phone number to call so you can start receiving the iPad edition.” I was a bit baffled with this and said, “Isn’t there any way you can sign me up to the iPad edition, given that you already have our account information?” The agent said, “Nope, we don’t actually support the digital edition. We rely on another company to do that. I can send them your information via email, but it’s not likely you’ll hear from them soon, because they are so busy with requests. Here’s the company’s name and telephone number for you to call so you can receive digital edition.”

I thought the whole conversation was bit odd, and by this time my wife was starting to get frustrated. On more than one occasion she suggested we just cancel the subscription because the company not only seemed to struggle in getting us the mailed version of the magazine but also seemed to have some kind of odd relationship with a rather invisible digital publisher that wasn’t really connected to the main publisher.

I decided to contact the company supporting the magazine’s digital version. When I reached a customer service representative, the agent said, “We don’t seem to show a customer record for you, so if you have a few minutes, I need to create one here for you so that you can receive the digital version of the magazine.”

“Uh, pardon?” I said. “You don’t have any record of us as a magazine subscriber?” The agent said, “Well, the publisher who sends you the paper-based version of the magazine has these details, but we’re the digital version and we don’t have them.” I ended up giving the agent all of the information she needed so that we could finally receive the digital version. The agent said that within 24 hours, we’d receive an email link outlining what to do to get the digital version. Almost a week had gone by and we still hadn’t received the email link that the agent promised to send.

The issue finally got resolved after several weeks and many phone calls. Rather ironically, any day now, we expect to start receiving the standard litany of renewal notices in the mail, threatening that if we don’t renew now, the prices will be going up and we’ll have to pay more to renew later and horrendous, frightening thunder and lightning storms will hit, as well.

Will we renew our subscription? I doubt it. We’ve lost confidence in the magazine publisher’s ability to manage customer files and customer service. If they can’t manage and integrate basic customer information, then what does that say about their ability handle credit card information, for example?

I’m a strong advocate of the notion of outsourcing to partners, particularly when it comes to fast-changing technologies like digital publishing and many others. Having said that, the key mistake (among a number of them) that this magazine publisher made was to not integrate its outsourcing partner effectively into the company’s technology, business and customer support operations — the result being poorly executed customer service.

The bottom line message is that outsourcing business activities and processes, including customer service, oftencan make sense in today’s fast-changing technology-centric environment. When done right, it can help companies save money, stay current with new technologies and improve customer service.

But when executed in a disjointed, haphazard manner like the magazine publisher did in this example, it can result in poor customer service, increased customer churn and eventually, erosion of revenue and profit streams. Case in point: As mentioned earlier, I seriously doubt we will renew our subscription to this particular magazine.

So, if you’re going to partner with a third-party provider for customer service and other types of transactions, be sure to take an integrated view from the outset of technology, operations and people integration, and contact center agent training. The only thing worse than the fact that the company’s technology systems weren’t integrated was that the agents from both companies seemed rather oblivious and/or indifferent to, the fact that they were actually supposed to be working together to support print and digital customers in an integrated manner. (I would tend to blame the agents’ managers, not the agents themselves.)

It seems obvious but is well worth repeating that from the customer’s perspective, the customer experience needs to be seamless and effortless, regardless of whether interaction is with one of your own customer service agents or an agent from your outsourcing partner. When you get a minute, try calling your own company’s customer service line(s), to get a feel for the experience that your customers go through every day. It’s well worth the time, and you might learn a few new things along the way that can help you to improve in the future.

West Corporation

Posted on March 21, 2013 by West Corporation 

Sound Off: Opinions Are Important in Customer Care

Everyone wants to be heard. What’s more, it’s only natural that we possess the desire to share our opinions and experiences with others around us.

So, given that, would you believe it if I told you that the companies you do business with not only want, but actually depend on your opinion (good or bad) in order to survive and grow?

Before the Internet and modern contact center environments were in place, the barometers for a product’s success were in large part, limited to published product reviews (newspaper, industry rag), word of mouth (literally), and, of course, bottom-line sales.

Today, consumers have a smorgasbord of tools to review and rate products and service, and as a direct result, they can influence future functionality and features for pretty much everything.

Likes on Facebook, social media posts, surveys, reviews on, etc., are at our fingertips as consumers. All of which literally cost us nothing more than our time and basic Internet connectivity. Couple all of this with our desire to be heard, and it’s a slam-dunk.

As a consumer, there isn’t much that I don’t want to sound off about. Before making any purchase, I typically find myself reading reviews products well ahead of making any purchase. In my case, I tend to skip to the summary section where reviews are grouped into their respective graphical ratings, e.g., 1 star, 2 stars, etc. I also tend to throw out the very high, and the very low, and look to see where the majority landed in their opinions. Preferably, of course in the four-star range.

Assuming I’ve actually made a purchase, I typically join the rank and file of the reviewers, and add my honest assessment of the product, whether good or bad.

As I mentioned, not only do these tools spell good news for customers, but the feedback itself is invaluable to companies providing such products and services. Constructive (key word) feedback, either critical or praise-based in nature, allows a company to grow its product or portfolio into a feature-rich solution based upon direct user feedback.

Modern contact centers, too, can be equipped not only with tools to capture your electronic sentiment via social media and surveys, but also quality management tools to govern and improve your overall experience when communicating directly with a customer service agent via voice or e-services.

The whole point here is that analogous to the presidential election, your vote really does count. Chances are high that both your written and verbal comments are indeed being reviewed and taken seriously, and companies are hungry to take direct action based on constructive feedback.

It’s a safe assumption that someone is listening, so, by all means, constructively sound off and share your opinions because they really do matter.

West Corporation

Posted on March 19, 2013 by West Corporation 

Data Analysis: The Needle Has a Thread

In our world of big business intelligence, where the size and complexity of our data keeps multiplying before our eyes, it can become an overwhelming task to find the answers we’re looking for. But do we even know what questions to ask or what problems we are trying to solve?

As an example, I received a request for my analytics group a few weeks ago. The requester was in a panic. He asked for a full performance analysis of his IVR application, top to bottom, and needed it in a week. He was in a panic because his client was complaining that “something was wrong” and too many calls were getting transferred to the call center. A full behavioral analysis of the entire application with thousands of data points and millions of monthly calls, if done thoroughly could take several weeks. I grabbed him for a chat, had him take a deep breath and asked him the proverbial question, “What is your true objective, or what problem are you trying to solve?” He had to pause and think about that for a moment.

“Well,” he said, “I want the client to be pleased with our performance. If we are letting too many calls through to the contact center, then we need to fix that.” That’s a pretty broad objective, so I broke it down for him.

Question: Has anything changed recently that would cause more transfers?
Answer: No, there haven’t been any changes in the past quarter.

Question: Through your reports, have you seen or observed increased transfers?
Answer: Yes. Transfers have increased in the past week but for no apparent reason.

Question: So, if nothing has changed in the program, but something has changed in the transfers, did the client change something?

The account manager immediately went back to his desk and called his client and asked the ultimate question. Within an hour he called back with the answer. Unbeknownst to us, a new caller type had been added to the client-side database which feeds in real time to our application. Because our application was not programmed to recognize it, callers of this type were transferred to the contact center by default.

So, the moral of the story is that sometimes we feel as if we need to find the needle in the haystack by sifting through every straw when the solution to the problem may be as simple as tracking the thread back to the first stitch.

West Corporation

Posted on March 18, 2013 by West Corporation 

Supporting IT Infrastructure Can Be Like Painting the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed objects in the world. Built over 75 years ago for a mere $35 million, this majestic suspension bridge required the tallest towers, the longest, thickest cables and the largest underwater foundation piers ever built. The view from Golden Gate National Recreation Area on a clear day — overlooking the Bridge and San Francisco Bay from the north side — is breathtaking. Its trademark color is a brilliant vermillion (“international orange”) that resists rust and suits the natural beauty of the area.

On my first visit to the area in the 70s during a family vacation, an interesting fact stuck in my mind. The bridge is constantly being repainted — a maintenance initiative that is never finished. It turns out that exposure to salt-laden fog wreaks havoc on the paint job and also limits the hours when painting can be done.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and one of my responsibilities was maintaining a very large IVR platform. The Golden Gate Bridge came to mind as I worked to justify the constant need to refresh system hardware. Keeping the platform up to date was a big job, requiring lots of planning, coordinating, purchasing, configuring, staging and installing — followed by more configuring, testing, and occasionally troubleshooting, fixing and retesting. Sometimes, we refreshed because of age; other times, we were upgrading because of tremendous growth. Still other times, we replaced systems because new software versions required more power, more disk, and/or more storage. Over time, we developed a great deal of expertise in this maintenance activity — just as the Golden Gate painters no doubt did.

Avoiding the burden of installing, managing and refreshing IT infrastructure is one of the significant advantages of using a hosted service provider. Other advantages include avoiding the effort associated with software upgrades, bug fixes, and security scans and audits. And, of course, there is application design, development, integration, testing, and support — all of which require a considerable amount of skill and experience.

A cloud solution negates the need to hire, train, manage retain and/or replace the subject matter experts who make it all happen. You get to focus on your core business, and we get to focus on ours. Let us do the painting — you get to use the bridge and enjoy the view.