Category: Professional Services

Category: Professional Services
West Corporation

Posted on December 18, 2013 by West Corporation 

No. 1 Rule of Life: Double-Check Your Work

Picture yourself driving down the interstate. You’ve just stopped for fuel and refreshments and you’re back on the road to get through your last two-hour leg before reaching your destination. You’ve just hit the speed limit and turned on cruise control. You go to take a drink from your fountain soda that you just purchased and a problem arises: the soda tastes awful.

We have all been there. The carbonation is off and you are left with your taste buds sounding alarms. Now it comes down to a few questions you have to ask yourself:

  • How parched am I?
  • Can I make it two hours without another drink?
  • Or, worst case scenario, do I grin and bear it while taking that next drink?

This soda face didn’t have to occur too many times for me to create my No. 1 rule of life. Always taste-test the fountain soda before you take off. This rule applies inside at the gas station or sitting in line at a drive-through.

The idea this rule represents can be applied to more things than just fountain sodas. I use the rule for business purposes in sending reports and emails. The rule applied generally is: double-check your work.

In a previous blog, I wrote about presentation being the key to all reporting. You must understand and consider what your audience wants and needs from your reports and emails. It is your responsibility to exceed their expectations and make your communications more efficient.

Here are a few areas to consider for improving your business efficiency and applying my No. 1 rule.

Print Settings
Use the print preview option. This makes the reporting and printing options easy for the end-user. It is a pet peeve of mine when I go to print the report I received and it needlessly runs to two pages. I am left flipping the page over, having to juggle between two sheets of paper or going back to adjust the settings myself and wasting more paper in order to print it again.

Number Formatting
Make sure your column widths support the length of your numbers. Looking at financial reports expecting to see amounts makes the report rather useless when you are left looking at #####.

Emails with Attachments
There are many times when we include attachments to our emails. However, using the “Snipping Tool” (Windows: Start – All Programs –Accessories – Snipping Tool; Mac: Command – Shift – 4) allows you to snip and provide a preview of data that your email recipient truly needs without requiring them to open the attachment. They can then decide whether they need to review the attachment.

Reporting Display
Is the most important data you want to display easy to see and find? If not, then find the best location that draws the recipient’s eye.

These are just a few areas where you can improve efficiencies, not only for yourself but also for others. And, if you remember my No. 1 rule of life on your next road trip, report or email, you won’t be left with a sour face.

West Corporation

Posted on December 2, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Secret to Being More Effective: Pareto’s 80/20 Rule

The true secret of Pareto’s 80/20 rule is not in the understanding of the rule itself, but in remembering to consistently apply it to everything you do.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who in 1906 made a scientific observation that evolved into the Pareto Rule, or 80/20 Rule. This rule states that 20 percent of a process’ inputs drive 80 percent of the outputs.

Some common illustrations of the rule are the following:

  • Twenty percent of your clients are most likely driving 80 percent of your profitability.
  • Twenty percent of your employees are most likely driving 80 percent of your productivity.
  • Twenty percent of you expense drivers are causing 80 percent of your costs.

This rule is useful and can be powerful, but it is an easy rule to overlook and forget. In today’s fast-paced environment of information overload and constant multitasking, sometimes we forget to stop and take a moment to focus on what really matters.

Every project or initiative should start with the identification of the vital few. What are the most important priorities that will make the biggest impact? Can you identify the 20 percent of inputs that are driving 80 percent of you client dissatisfaction? Can you identify the 20 percent of actions that will drive 80 percent of your revenue growth? Three simple steps can assist you in using this rule:

  1. Stop. Take time to stop and think about what you are doing before you jump into a work effort or project.
  2. Analyze. Identify what data is available. Can you identify the top drivers of the process? If data is unavailable can you do a quick survey or poll? Can you gather a small team to make a collective guestimate?
  3. Prioritize. Select the project that will make the biggest impact and focus your effort there. Focused energy on one driver will have a greater effect than small amounts of energy spread across numerous items.

To leverage Pareto’s rule for the greatest potential, you must actively analyze where you invest your time, energy and resources, and you must continuously prioritize your efforts so you impact the vital few. Knowing the Pareto rule is not the secret to being more effective. The secret is in continuously using the rule, so that you are always impacting the 20 percent that will provide you with the greatest results.

And remember, stop, analyze and prioritize.

West Corporation

Posted on November 18, 2013 by West Corporation 

One Size Does Not Fit All, Especially When It Comes to Customer Care

If you’ve ever wedged yourself into a seat on a tiny regional plane you know that one size does not fit all. We know this. But when you call into an IVR you get one treatment — regardless of what you’re calling about or who you are.

Personalization is not just about knowing someone’s name or language preference. It’s about catering to their lifestyle, product skills and overall ability to identify and agree to a resolution. IVRs have come a long way with their ability to personalize the customer experience.

We are broadcasting our personal preferences, likes and dislikes to the world with Facebook, Instagrams, tweets and genius lists. For each of us, it’s not about just knowing who we are; it’s about knowing what make each of us unique.

West conducts consumer research to identify these personality traits and how they pertain to customer service when we are looking at IVR experiences. To a medical team, a patient with high blood pressure possesses some risk. If that patient also has diabetes, they are at a higher risk they are considered co-morbid, or have multiple diseases. If they have cardio vascular disease they’re at an even higher risk. This risk or stratification determines their treatment and how often they must see the physician.

Just like a patients, callers can be given stratification. For instance, callers who have high technical skill and product knowledge can easily self-serve with minimal direction. Callers with reduced skills and product knowledge will need a more empathetic and simplified experience. Those with the least amount of skills need a human. This has evolved from a single customer experience to segmented customer experiences.

Many companies use some form of segmentation to determine the value of their customers and priority routing protocols. Using caller skill stratification lets you offer specific treatments to increase IVR containment within the caller’s terms, or skills. So when an 86-year-old who thinks a flip phone is challenging calls for technical assistance, should she get the same treatment as the hipster on an iPhone 5s who can’t remember a world without a cellphone in his pocket? Or how about the guy who learned how to use his smartphone by reading a yellow For Dummies book? Triage your customers according to their risk and skills. Make them feel valuable, and, above all, leave them with a clean bill of health.

Oh, and someone please tell the airlines we all need better seats.

West Corporation

Posted on November 12, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Overlooked Costs of Insufficient Software Design and Testing

Everywhere one goes in the computer world, there are hallway conversations about how testing software is a necessary evil. And still others think that software can be made perfect through careful design and careful coding, thus eliminating all but a customer’s acceptance testing or the readiness of a production system.

Despite that, many articles are routinely published about how testing software to find and fix problems in the lab is cheaper than fixing a problem after the software has released. For example, IBM quoted research by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) showing that, based on the time and money involved for a person to work on the issue, the cost of fixing a problem grows as the software moves forward in the lifecycle:

Some articles go so far as to mention the harm that problems cause reputations and business relationships.

However, rarely do these articles and the numbers quoted in them show the danger posed by improper or insufficient test design or lack of testing. Here are some real-world examples to keep in mind when designing, coding and testing software, or when having someone do that work for you.

The $44,500 Parking Ticket
Here is a humorous example: A driver in Italy received a parking fine for US$44,500 due to late fees and interests for his parking infraction from the year 208 C.E. When this was challenged, the city corrected the mistake and reentered the ticket into the computer for the actual year of 2008. Seriously? No one from design through coding and testing of the software thought that the software needed a check to verify that the parking ticket was written after the invention of the automobile, or at least as far back as 1900?

Hacking by DTMF
By now, almost everyone has heard stories of websites having their security broken and customer or patient data being stolen with tricks like cross-site scripting and SQL injection. Other types of attacks mentioned in the press are designed to block access to websites so no one else can access them, such as Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.

Few people realize that the same thing can happen with phone systems, regardless of whether they are DTMF- or speech-driven.

At one of the many now-common security conferences held around the world, a security researcher demonstrated that a certain bank’s automated phone system could be hacked with just a touch-tone phone. Once broken, the phone system provided account information for the bank’s other customers. In this demonstration, the bank’s system did not have enough safeguards in place to deal with error conditions, so instead of responding with, “That is an invalid entry,” or, “The system has encountered an exception,” the IVR used text-to-speech to recite the entire error message returned from the back-end system, which contained the information for some other client.

What surprised the audience at the conference is that the researcher’s “attacks” were effectively the phone versions of the same attacks used to break websites or to break operating systems and install malware or turn personal computers into zombies to do the bidding of some unseen puppet master. In the simplest case, all he did was enter more digits than required when prompted for an account number.

In other cases, the researcher created the equivalent of a DoS attack on the IVR system, locking out everyone from their accounts without needing hundreds of phones making simultaneous calls into the IVR.

$440 Million Lost in 45 Minutes
Not every fault with software is due to a bug in the code. In August 2012, a Wall Street trading firm lost approximately $440 million in roughly 45 minutes through a misstep when releasing its computer-based trading software.

A new version of the software, which automates some trades on the New York Stock Exchange, was close to being released. As the company’s staff bundled the software to move it from the lab to the production systems, the component that drives the automated testing of the software was accidentally included as well. When the bundle was connected to the NYSE, the testing component launched and started making trades (complete purchase and sale of the same stock) at a rate of 40 trades per second. Since the testing component wasn’t programmed to care about the purchase or sell prices, it was typically selling at a loss for each purchase. Those losses added up to around $440 million. Because the company was financially responsible, bankruptcy was certain.

There was no published follow-up to know how the test component was included in the production bundle of the software; however, general consensus is that there was no fault in any of the software but instead the problem was with the process not validating the contents of the bundled software or testing the software on the NYSE system before the start of the trading session.

Great U.S. Northeast Blackout of 2003
While this is a textbook example of the domino effect because many separate problems lead to this disaster, ultimately, a bug in the power plant’s software prevented the electric grid operators from responding in a timely manner. A more detailed look showed the bug to be what is known as a “race condition” where two or more things attempt to happen at the same time. There were so many alarms coming into the central computer from all the other problems at the same time that the software did not have a way to deal with them, thus the race condition.

To be fair, race conditions are one of the most difficult things to design, code and test against to prevent them from happening, and sudden “high-impact” conditions like those leading up to the 2003 Blackout are hard to imagine during meetings when hardware and software systems are being designed.

Where Does This Leave Us?
The reality about computer hardware and software is that there are many, many more things that can go wrong than can go right, and it is everyone’s job — from design through coding and testing — to make sure the right thing happens most often. The same is true for human processes where a typo, a forgotten step, or “the person who usually does this is on vacation” leads to mistakes. So, no matter how many times people say testing is a “necessary evil,” these and other stories clearly show that testing is necessary, and it is certainly not evil when it prevents disasters.

West Corporation

Posted on October 23, 2013 by West Corporation 

Striking Oil (or Water) With Client Referrals

The goal of any good client services organization is to have 100 percent reference-able clients. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? You offer a sound product, qualified and dedicated agents, years of industry knowledge, a quick turnaround to market, and you’re bound to get a reference, right? But should that be your only goal?

Not every client (no matter how satisfied they are) can or will give a reference. Perhaps they rely on government contracts, and policy demands them to remain neutral. Perhaps they just don’t want their name published by others. You’ve worked hard to become their partner and helped them grow their business. What’s in it for you? OK, I know they’ve signed a multiyear contract and made your president happy. But what about next year’s sales projections? How do you grow the business year over year?

A good reference can be worth its weight in oil. We like oil. We need oil. In most of the world, oil is a symbol of wealth and power. But not every oil well can be a gusher. Some never discover anything but air or water. What do you do when the black gold you’ve been searching for turns out to be plain old H2O? Maybe you’re not as bad off as you think. After all, spring or mineral water can be bottled and sold for quite a profit.

Case in point, an established client and trusted business partner (who cannot officially be named as a reference) found a way to demonstrate how their “water” was just as valuable to us as “oil.” Our organizations partnered on many levels; therefore, it was natural that the relationship grew over time. Since the beginning, we expanded from basic agent services with DTMF IVR call delivery, to a natural language solution, to Web services and more. Recent enhancements to some of our Web solutions impressed the right person at the right time, which turned into a new piece of business. The new opportunity had the potential to reach across many divisions of the company, which up to then had been out of our reach. It wasn’t technically are “referral” but it was just as important. Mmmm … that water sure is clean, cold and tasty to drink!

So, keep an open mind when it comes to referrals. Striking oil is preferred. But, if you have the right attitude, water could turn out to be just as satisfying.

West Corporation

Posted on October 9, 2013 by West Corporation 

Behind Every Good Company Are Other Good Companies

They say you can’t do it alone, and this is so true in business. Partners who share a mutual interest drive productivity, innovation and a spirit of growth. Critical to West Interactive’s success over our 20-plus years have been such partnerships. We at West Interactive are thrilled to have joined the Sonus Partner Assure Program.

Not only have we transformed our business using Sonus Network Technology, but we also have been using it to help our clients transform their businesses as well. At West Interactive, we bring a unique perspective to customers — as a user and reseller of Sonus solutions. As one of the largest Sonus enterprise session border controller (SBC) networks in North America, West Interactive has experience navigating SBC deployments and a deep understanding of the critical role SBCs serve in protecting and securing today’s networks.

West Interactive specializes in providing industry-leading multichannel customer contact solutions that are uniquely applied to each industry, each market and each customer. With increased adoption of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking and unified communications (UC), West Interactive can now provide its customers with a highly scalable and reliable SBC from Sonus to ensure network security and resiliency. Sonus SBCs are purpose-built for the demands of SIP-based communications and feature-rich applications like UC and video across enterprise networks.

Sonus Partner Assure provides enterprise communications resellers, distributors and solution providers with a comprehensive, turnkey program to enable SIP transformations for enterprise customers. Enterprises working with a certified Sonus Select Partner can be confident that their needs will be addressed in a capable, professional manner to help enterprises achieve business and communications objectives.

The past year has been quite a success for the West Interactive and Sonus partnership, with significant Sonus projects helping six of our newest customers. Not to mention the continued investment that West Interactive makes in our own Sonus environment. We value this great partnership and look forward to continued success as part of the Sonus Partner Assure Program.

West Corporation

Posted on October 7, 2013 by West Corporation 

Got APIs?

An application programming interface (API) can be defined as a set of protocols, routines, and tools for building software applications. An API enforces structure on both sides of a request, and a good API makes it easier for developers to build apps. Over the past few years, there has been a sharp increase in the use of Web-accessible APIs. Twitter, Google and Facebook handle billions of API requests every day. Others are steadily joining the API movement: provides a directory listing nearly 10,000 different APIs, and even provides an “API for APIs.”

Why the astounding growth? Mobile applications are driving much of the increase, but the bottom line is that APIs are unleashing an incredible amount of creativity by enabling software developers to build amazingly powerful applications — while letting others manage the underlying IT infrastructure. Additionally, the developer is shielded from the complexities of the service implemented behind the APIs, while a pay-as-you-go pricing model further reduces barriers to entry.

Enterprises are moving toward Web-accessible APIs, albeit at a slower pace. Data security is a key concern, as is the risk of adding external dependencies. As a result, there are many companies offering API management services now. These services are offered in on-premise, cloud and hybrid flavors — and are helping to speed the adoption rate of APIs by enterprises. Common features include access portals, development tools, security, analytics and more. Additionally, there are several open-source solutions available. Ultimately, enterprises will embrace APIs from proven, trusted, providers of enterprise-grade solutions and services.

Is your enterprise leveraging the power of Web-accessible APIs yet? If not, it’s time to start thinking about it. Do your business partners offer secure, reliable, managed APIs? If not, make sure it’s on their roadmap. By all accounts, the Age of the API is upon us.

West Corporation

Posted on October 2, 2013 by West Corporation 

Open-Source: A Matter of Price or Innovation?

Free beer anyone?

You may be familiar with the term “open-source software.” Typically, first thing that comes to mind when we hear open-source is “free.” The philosophy that defines the open-source software community broke off from the free software community in the late ’90s. The differences are small, and nearly all free software is open source, and nearly all open-source software is free.

According to the free software community, when software is referred to as “free,” it means the users’ have the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.” The open-source software community on the other hand emphasizes more on the development methodology.

But is open-source software just about price? I certainly don’t believe so. It is about innovation — innovation that is powered by vast community rather than a single company. It is the type of innovation that makes it feasible to reach and impact people across the whole world. We all have the power to contribute. It is indeed by the people, for the people. Open-source is disruptive innovation. Open-source developers did not create iPhone, but they certainly are the ones that put iPhone-like capabilities in the hands of billions of people through Android.

In his opening speech at Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) in April in San Francisco, which I had the opportunity to attend, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst laid out compelling arguments that enterprises today don’t models. He argued that commoditization of technology changes the way innovation occurs, moving from vendor-led to user-led.

Every technology company and technology buyer should be thinking where they should be using open-source. Following are some benefits of using open source:

  • Great Value — Provides enterprises cost savings and desired ROI with low cost of entry, especially for pilot projects and initial rollouts.
  • Quality — Open-source software is adopted because it is reliable, resilient and adaptable. Its performance exceeds most of the commercial software.
  • Secured — The open-source community can fix security vulnerabilities much more quickly than commercial software vendors can.
  • Collective Intelligence — Open-source community resources are available to answer questions, explore ideas and resolve issues.
  • Source code — Complete access to source code is made available, allowing you to be in control of your destiny. Enhance it, contribute to it.

Be innovative. Be open. Using open-source technology one can build something that is not available anywhere else, and then a price tag can be put on it.

West Corporation

Posted on August 27, 2013 by West Corporation 

RFM: It’s Not Just for Direct Marketing Any More

One of my all-time favorite books in direct marketing was The New Direct Marketing by David Shepard and Associates (1999). It’s an oldie but a goody. This book is probably the closest thing to getting an MBA in direct marketing, and I had the pleasure of working with David on an engagement years ago.

For those not in the field, RFM is an acronym for “Recency–Frequency–Monetary Value.” Direct marketers would examine their customer base and segment them on these attributes. For instance, if you break each of these components (RFM) into five buckets (e.g., recency = 0 to 3 months, 4 to 6 months, 6 to 12 months, 12 to 18 months and 18+ months), ultimately you would have 125 different cell combinations available (5 x 5 x 5).

Next, they would arrange their accounts depending on the three scores from 1-1-1, worst, to 5-5-5, best. The 5-5-5 group had the most recent purchases, they were frequentpurchasers and they spent a lot of money in these purchases. Each group would get marketing strategies and treatments accordingly. Nine times out of 10, the best group (5-5-5) would out-distance the other groups.

This clearly isn’t rocket science, no Ph.D.s are required (although it doesn’t hurt to have one), but what you might find incredulous is how many times I’ve run into clients who have no form of account segmentation or contact strategy plans. They are more than happy to spend their resources on the best accounts as they are on their lowest performing accounts. This carpet bombing approach is not only costly and time-intensive, but it probably chafes their customer.

At West, when the Center of Analytics Excellence is engaged in any communications or sales campaigning, one of the first things we ask our clients is whether or not they had a contact strategy or a customer segmentation plan in place. Quite often, the answer is no, or it’s inconsistent. When these situations arise, we typically engage in some form of pseudo-RFM segmentation and work accounts smarter, not harder.

The methodology and application of dialing more intelligently really do speak for themselves. In a controlled pre-/post-test environment we had one client experience:

  • 20 percent reduction in the need for sales associates
  • 33 percent reduction in accounts worked, but
  • 15 percent increase in actual customer contacts
  • 83 percent increase in sales dollars

While not every client sees these dramatic results, working a differentiated inventory always is a more efficient and practical way to approach your customers.

West Corporation

Posted on August 20, 2013 by West Corporation 

Five Ways to Motivate Employees That Don’t Involve Money

The ability to motivate employees is a valuable tool in a good leader’s tool belt. Money isn’t always the key to keeping morale high in the workplace. Here are five ways to build (and retain) a passionate and hard-working team:

  1. Praise and acknowledge. Everyone wants to be appreciated and it’s one of the easiest things to give. Praise every employee who goes out of the way to make a difference. Not only will they be happy that you noticed, but they’ll also be much more likely to repeat that same behavior. Think about it: You are more motivated (and inclined) to help and serve people who routinely recognize the good, hard work you put in versus those who don’t. A little gratitude can go a long way.
  2. Make everyone a leader. Highlight your top performers’ strengths and let them know that because of their excellence, you want them to be the example for others. You’ll set the bar high and they’ll be motivated to live up to their reputation as leaders.
  3. Trust and be flexible. Tell your employees that you trust them to do their jobs and to do them well. Be flexible with their schedules. If they have a dentist appointment in the morning, let them do it without taking PTO. If they have a sick child and need to work from home for a day, allow it. As long as they’re producing high-quality workmanship and meeting deadlines, show them a bit of freedom. Chances are good you’re going to need them to be flexible with you (e.g., occasionally working off hours or weekends). If, in the end, they abuse that trust, you can always take away those privileges. Most will be motivated to maintain that freedom.
  4. Give recognition and small rewards. Give a shout out to someone in a staff meeting for what they have accomplished. Send a small certificate of appreciation to a colleague (copying their boss) for a job well done. Tangible awards that are relatively inexpensive can work, too. Try buying an employee lunch, establishing a traveling trophy within the team/organization or awarding PTO hours.
  5. Make it fun/make it family. It’s no secret that many workers spend more time with their colleagues during the week than with their families. Knowing that, you should do whatever you can to make the work environment a place where employees enjoy spending time. Schedule regular outings (e.g., once every month or two, have your team leave at 3 p.m. on a Friday to participate in a self-funded off-site activity — bowling, picnics, golf, etc.). Conduct team-building activities in the office (e.g., carve out 15 minutes at every staff meeting to do something “fun,” like asking trivia questions, doing lateral-thinking exercises, etc.). Have food days. Breed a culture in which you get to know your employees and they get to know each other so work feels like “a family” even when they are away from home.