Category: Professional Services

Category: Professional Services
West Corporation

Posted on August 19, 2013 by West Corporation 

Exercise Communication Strategies When Bad Things Happen

Recently while returning from vacation, I spent way too much time waiting in a long line filled with grumbling airline customers — myself included. As my wait grew past 90 minutes, I distracted myself by playing the mental game of how the airline could improve the situation. Since this was a delay caused by weather, it really wasn’t the fault of the airline. However, in my opinion, they could have scored points with dissatisfied and angry customers with better communication. Communication is often the most important factor when bad things happen to relatively good companies. When communication is handled well, it can be the differentiator in how a customer remembers the event.

In my opinion, a well-executed incident communication plan has five fundamental elements:

1.       Acknowledge and reassure.
Don’t shy away from communication because you don’t have all the details at first.  Let the customer know as quickly as possible what you do know and what you are doing about it. Reassure them that the right people are engaged and resolution is their top priority

2.       Establish expectations.
Some customers only want updates when a situation is resolved; others prefer updates at a stated frequency. Find out which approach works best for your customers, as that helps them feel in control. Don’t forget to set expectations for your internal groups working toward resolution of the issue. They need to know what update frequency they need to deliver to you.

3.       Keep your word.
Whether you have something new to report or not, meet your commitment to deliver updates. Nothing can turn a situation from bad to worse faster than avoiding conversation simply because you have nothing new to report.

4.       Deliver updates that are simple, easy to understand and honest.
Don’t sugarcoat the situation or bury a customer in lengthy, overly complicated details. If you are still diagnosing the problem, don’t fake it. If you are contemplating various alternatives, share enough of the details if possible so the customer knows that multiple options are being explored to resolve the issue.

5.       Make it right when it’s over.
That may be as simple as an apology and a statement regarding what you are putting in place to avoid the situation in the future. Closing the loop on the situation gives you one last opportunity to differentiate yourself during a challenge.

A customer once said to me in a difficult situation, “I’m not a mushroom. I don’t like being kept in the dark.” That quote has always stuck with me and validates the value of the five-step approach.

So, how did the airline delay turn out? I missed my connecting leg and was offered a flight two days later. So, I took the situation into my own hands and rented a car then drove 10 hours to my final destination. It was not a good travel experience but it was a good reminder to me as a service provider.

West Corporation

Posted on August 14, 2013 by West Corporation 

Leveraging Big Data for West Interactive Clients

Over the past year, West Interactive has been making strategic investments in technologies specifically focused on state-of-the-art business intelligence platforms that will help us to further analyze and use increasingly complex data in support of our clients.

As we grow with our clients and support them on their customer contact transformation journey, the level of sophistication and need for data analytics has increased dramatically. The data necessary to drive customer interaction improvements and create new solutions has driven new requirements across all channels. We are proud to say that our investments will be leveraged to support the level of storage needed, the structure of the data, and our ability to assess and analyze big data in real time.

Our investment in a business intelligence and reporting platform that specializes in enterprise deployments with complex data requirements and a powerful, dynamic business intelligence engine will allow us to further leverage our behavioral, transaction and billing data to increase the value of our solutions to our clients. Our new portal will also extend capabilities to our clients to facilitate management of day-to-day and strategic objectives.

We are excited to roll out this functionality to clients throughout the rest of 2013 and into 2014 in a phased approach that includes customer training and documented resource materials. We believe that this process will yield exciting new ideas and solutions to improve customer satisfaction, help drive new opportunities for revenue and efficiently manage customer interaction costs.

West Corporation

Posted on August 13, 2013 by West Corporation 

Create Efficiently Repeatable Reporting or Redo, Recreate and Redesign?

When working with my financial analysis team, I only have two requirements for new reports: They must be efficient to generate and they must be repeatable. So, I termed this new approach ERRor — efficiently repeatable reporting. The alternative is to continually redo, recreate and redesign.

But before you can create your ERRor, you must understand the roadmap to your final reporting destination. The ability to influence reporting results boils down to presentation and promptness.

Presentation is the key to all reporting. You must understand the end-user’s expectation and application for the report. You must challenge yourself to understand how much information and data to provide to each recipient. Higher management demands more summary reports that provide the high-level impacts. Middle and lower management will need to know the finer details that are driving these high-level impacts so they can know what adjustments to complete if needed.

Promptness in recreating your reports now becomes the focal point. The best report presentation is useless if you cannot recreate it in an efficient time frame. Today’s world moves so fast that yesterday’s report can become trash with one client’s change in data elements. Now is when your report development time will pay dividends as you can recreate with a few minor changes.

Now that you know your requirements for presenting the information, how do you craft the perfect report?  The following are the three main areas to build into your reporting structure:

  1. Data input — Where outside reports can be dropped in to begin the calculations
  2. Calculation area — Where all of the real magic happens to consolidate the inputs
  3. Presentation area — The summary reports you drive for your end-users from your calculations

Don’t wait until the report format is perfect to start presenting. The data that you think is most important may not be, but it is better to keep the process moving forward than to get stalled. Edits are a key component in supplying the best reporting for your end-user. These edits may be to reposition the data in the presentation mode, add new filter and search features, or perform some additional calculations.

Break the silos within your business structure. Many companies have separate business units that focus on product- or service-specific offerings. It is your job to work with your peers to find the best presentation methods. Many of these reports are climbing the ladder to higher management that must now orientate to each business. Your work to create synergies within the business units will save management the time of knowing each report has a specific function and analysis.

In the end, craft the report for less but more impactful information. You can always go back to the more detailed data when questions arise.  And remember, it is best to create an ERRor process.

West Corporation

Posted on August 7, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Speech Bandits: Who Is to Blame When an IVR System Can’t Help Your Customers?

There are three diabolical criminals on the loose, and they’re coming to steal your company’s money. But make no mistake, this is no smash and grab — they are thieves in the night, prowling cats for the chance foul up the IVR caller experience and send the call to a costly call center agent. They’re so conniving that they even have a scapegoat: speech recognition.

It happens when a speech-enabled IVR shows a rise in callers failing at prompts, resulting in transfers to an agent. “Speech is broken!” they’ll yell. The speech bandits slink off into the shadows while speech recognition gets framed.

So who are these masterminds? Just like with any great twist, they’ve been under your nose the whole time. The three usual suspects that can mask IVR trouble as a speech problem are the following:

1.       Middleware
There are uncountable parts to the deployment of an IVR: data tables, API queries and hits, client-side systems, Web services, data centers — all important to the operation of the application. And as with any system, more complexities mean more possibilities for something to go wrong.


2.       Internal Marketing Miscommunication
In response to a recent promotion, callers might be saying, “Survey coupon,” but was that added to the list of possible utterances recognized? If not, then it counts as an error. Two or three of those, and just like that, they’re off to an agent.

3.       User Interface Design
Is there a business rule getting in the way of a streamlined, confusion-free experience? Maybe the questions are asked in a confusing order. Do the response prompts fail to constrain possible caller responses by not giving clear instructions (e.g., please say yes or no)? Is cognitive overload being caused by too many options in one menu? All of these can cause problems with the turn-taking nature of the speech user experience, and it’ll be in the user interface design where they’ll be fixed.

So, When Is Speech to Blame?                                                                                            
Yes, you can blame speech recognition, but only when specific exceptions occur. These include:

  • Synonyms for accepted responses are missing. For example, “billing” is an accepted response but “pay my bill” is not.
  • The standard by which the speech recognizer judges utterances to be understood well enough (the “confidence threshold”) is set too high. That means the IVR is ruling out otherwise acceptable utterances.
  • One of the expected responses has a weighting that is set too high. So, when the IVR compares your utterance to the list of accepted options, one of them is weighted to be chosen more frequently than the others, which can invoke an entirely different option than what the caller requested and send the caller down the wrong path.

In the world of maintaining speech applications, these are quick fixes that are usually a mere oversight.

It’s easy to see why speech recognition gets framed as the culprit so often. It’s a complex human faculty that serves as the only way the caller “touches” the IVR. As such, it’s in plain sight and is an easy target to make into a patsy. So, while speech may sometimes be the issue, due diligence to fix a problem demands that we chase down every possibility, from middleware and system interactions to marketing and user interface design, before we bang the gavel and proclaim the guilty party to be speech recognition.

West Corporation

Posted on August 5, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Makings for a Successful Marriage and Business Partnership

Marriage and business partnerships are a lot alike when you think about it. What makes a successful marriage and a successful partnership have many of the same attributes:

  • Good communication — You need to be able to communicate with each other effectively and about the right things.
  • Similar goals and objectives — You should have the same goals and overall desire to achieve the same things.
  • Symbiotic — You both need to get something from the relationship. A mutual give-and-take and rewards and benefits.
  • Similar philosophies and guiding principles — You need a foundational mutual respect and fundamental agreement on how you navigate life over time and what it throws at you.

When searching for a business partner the task can be daunting. You know what you need but you will rely on lots of feedback from others and interactions to make the decision. So how do you start?

  • Begin with addressing the qualities and capabilities you will require. What are the must-haves and nice-to-haves?
  • Assess the speed with which you want to add this partner to the mix. Is the partner capable of moving at that speed?
  • Will you need to spend money to accommodate the partnership? Will there be ancillary software or other purchases that will need to be made to support the partnership?
  • Will someone in the organization be focused on maintaining and supporting the partnership? That way, both organizations have a go-to person who can lead the charge and be responsible for partnership coordination, etc.
  • The partnership needs to be mutually beneficial. Partnerships are not free. A business plan should be addressed, and a business benefit should be called out and measured.
  • Plan periodic reviews and evaluations to ensure that the partnership is working and achieving the results you both want.

All in all, if you view your business partnership as a marriage and focus on open honest communication while measuring results goals and objectives, then you will be successful.

West Corporation

Posted on July 23, 2013 by West Corporation 

Growing a New Automated Customer Care Solution Is Like Growing a Healthy Lawn

Warm weather is here to stay, and our focus is on household outdoor projects. Perhaps you are considering replacing your lawn with new sod to have the lush, green grass you have always wanted. While the long-term benefit of having the lawn everyone in your neighborhood envies is satisfying, it will take some patience in the short-term, as well as ongoing care and feeding.

This is no different than when organizations decide to implement new automated contact solutions for their customers. It takes planning to start off on the right foot, patience not to change direction too quickly and ongoing maintenance to evolve the customer experience.

Lay the Sod
Like new sod, you want to implement a new automated customer contact solution with a debris-free, level environment when laying the foundation. The last thing you need is to take short-cuts and introduce known holes and mounds to a new customer experience. To lay the foundation, you need to plan properly:


  • Identify business requirements and goals; including key performance indicator (KPI) targets
  • Design initial user interface with an experienced team who can recommend best practices


  • Conduct usability tests with existing customers and other customers within the industry

Be Patient and Let It Take Hold
Patience, patience, patience. You need to avoid cutting the new grass too quickly. New sod requires time to grow and establish strong roots, which means there will be initial periods of uneven, long grass.

While it is tempting for organizations to “cut” or “turn the dials” for their newly implemented automated customer contact solutions the moment feedback begins rolling in, it is important to remain patient. Both internal and external customers need time to adapt to new experiences implemented and allow it to soak prior to introducing additional changes.

The reality is that this is easier said than done. To allow flexibility during the “rooting” process, there is a method organizations can employ — a champion vs. challenger strategy:

  • Select a subset of customers (5 to 15 percent of customer contacts) to trial the new feature or application.
  • Roll it out for the selected segment of customers (the challenger) for 30 to 60 days while your other customers continue with the current treatment (the champion).
    • Analyze the customer experiences of champions vs. challengers, leveraging internal and external customer feedback channels and KPI results.
  • Refine and roll out to the challenger segment for 30 additional days.
  • Analyze and decide whether to roll out to entire customer base.

Ongoing Maintenance
Once the sod begins to grow a strong root foundation, it is time to manicure the grass, cutting it to the desired length and fertilizing to achieve a lush green lawn. As weather changes, your lawn routine is also likely to change to handle the conditions.

In order for an organization’s business objectives and quality of customer experience to continue to evolve to meet expectations, ongoing care and feeding of their automated contact center solutions are required to ensure continuous improvements in self-care and to set strategy for high-quality, user-centered design. Six fundamental steps for continuous improvement should be considered when evaluating and evolving these solutions:

  1. Understand the current solution.
  2. Create the baseline performance metrics.
  3. Assess and establish improvement opportunities.
  4. Complete the business impact analysis.
  5. Define the opportunity roadmap.
  6. Deploy enhancements.

Laying a solid foundation, having some patience, and performing ongoing care and feeding are keys to growing a great lawn — and a great customer experience.

West Corporation

Posted on June 26, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Role of Network Services in Customer Contact Transformation

Recent conversations around the office have gotten me thinking about network services and the role they play in customer contact technologies and services. Over the past several years, there have been fundamental shifts in how the “network” has been used for services, moving from a data-only transport to a world where voice, video and sometimes data on the same network is commonplace. Portraying the complexities of today’s solutions is a daunting task in and of itself, and many companies struggle with the transformation.

A lot of our clients are moving from what I would term as a site-based contact center model or even overall communication plan involving PBXs and ACDs. This means that today they are housing a system that largely — or even exclusively — is self-contained within one site. If a call or interaction arrives at that particular site, then the ACD, IVR or other communication system at that site has to process the call.

This was OK back in the 1980s and ’90s, and maybe even into the 2000s (the years known as the “oughts” in my mind —as in, “Back in ought seven, we decided to look into VoIP”). But, in today’s world, the voice over IP (SIP mostly), video, chat, email and mobile interactions have dictated that customer interaction systems get a massive makeover. This has turned most site-based systems into distributed systems.

As we were talking in the office (don’t be jealous of our scintillating conversations), I’m not sure that all clients understand the complex interaction between a distributed system and the underlying network(s). Namely, the network has moved from being a simple transport mechanism that delivers emails internally to a critical backplane that ties together disparate servers and processes. And the real fine point to this technological revolution is that a client could purchase the pieces of a distributed system, but without a finely tuned network, the system and services it supplies is doomed to failure.

In particular, VoIP services have forced network transformation arguably more than any other service in recent memory. The idiosyncrasies around how to architect, engineer, and operate a network carrying VoIP traffic are numerous. At its core, VoIP is the definitive real-time protocol or transaction. To make a point about the differences, compare VoIP and a database transaction. Transferring and consuming information in a database is an example of a transaction that can have a bit of delay or be retransmitted if needed. In VoIP flows, this simply isn’t true: If you miss part of a person’s conversation, then it’s gone and can’t be retransmitted.

If you dig down into the hardcore technologies in which converged networks operate, you would notice that voice is treated differently than the data on the same network. If the voice or video doesn’t arrive on time and in the order expected, then the entire interaction could be rendered useless; so, network engineers put these real-time transactions within a special queue on the network. This is particularly true on the Wide Area Network (WAN) that connects sites together, and even the voice queue has special engineering constraints that must be taken into account.

There have been many instances over the past 10 years in which we have run across poorly designed or operated networks that are impacting VoIP services. This can be frustrating to our business partners and is sometimes blamed on the VoIP system itself, which is incorrect. That’s not to say that VoIP systems don’t have their own internal issues from time to time, but it’s been my experience that generally a new instantiation of a VoIP ACD or PBX will have at least two or three major network incidents that affect it.

In the end, the network plays as much of a role in the success of a new technology customer interaction system as the system itself does. In fact, I would argue that in the end, you need to view the network as part of the system itself.

West Corporation

Posted on May 20, 2013 by West Corporation 

Does Knowing What You Are Called Matter?

Is it a product? Is it a technology? Is it a service?

None of the above. All of the above.

It doesn’t matter how you categorize it as long as, (pausing for emphasis) it solves problems and people are willing to pay for it.

OK, I’ll start off on the foot you didn’t expect just because I like to mix it up a little. Money. I am willing to pay for all sorts of things. Even things I don’t need. Crazy, right? I’m willing to pay for some of my problems to be solved by someone else. Other problems I’m willing to live with. Companies, made up of people all with their individual money value systems, do exactly the same thing.

So how do you hone in on the problems that someone will pay you to solve? Better yet, how do you hone in on the problems that many people will pay you to solve?

Measure the market appetite. How long has the problem existed, and is it pervasive?

It’s a process, but be quick. Needs will change. Change can be evolutionary over time or radical and revolutionary, Big Bang style. You can guarantee that change happens, so do your market analysis frequently and routinely. Why? So you can adapt and modernize your approach. Got that part? Great.

Next, how do you go about market analysis? Talk to people. Have a genuine conversation. Be curious and sincere. Ask them, “What keeps you up at night?” If you open up to them, then they open up to you. Information is not power. Solving problems with information is power.

Who do you talk to? Talk to everyone. Talk to the people who hold the purse strings. Talk to the people who make the decisions. Talk to the people who influence the people who hold the purse strings and make the decisions.

Not to point out the obvious, but do not forget talk to the people living with problems. Rarely are they the same people in an organization.

Finally, talk to your competition. Not everything must be adversarial, and sometimes understanding a market left behind by a competitor means that they were not really able to solve those problems, at the right price. So, talk to the peripheral, left behind, no-one-pays-attention-to markets.

Once you identify the root cause of the problem keeping most of the people up at night, you have yourself a winner. What’s next? You guessed it: Make a decision and act on it. Do not languish. Do not ponder. Do not second-, triple- and quadruple-guess the facts in front of you.

Oh, you are saying, I missed something? I jumped ahead to act before I knew if it was a problem that people were willing to pay for? You’re catching on, I see. In fact, I didn’t miss that step. Remember when I suggested asking about the problems that keep them up at night? Well, that is a strong qualifier. Who really can go on, night after night, with no sleep? You can avoid the little problems that people commonly live with as long as all the other things that keep them up at night are resolved.

Take 2, ACTION! Yes, action. No one really wants to take the time to get honest about the most important problems just to be ignored with a “good luck” slap on the back. Get busy and make it happen. Make good on your promises, and if you cycle through this process enough times, your promises will grow your shareholder’s wealth.

West Corporation

Posted on May 13, 2013 by West Corporation 

Knowing Sales Channel Nuances Pays Off

“Ten percent of our total sales — it’s that high?”

That was the comment bellowing from an SVP of marketing at one of the largest retail clothing store establishments in the United States.

“Ten percent. Well, that’s incredible. That number is much higher than I would have thought.”

To understand what provoked those remarks you have to go back six weeks in time. As the senior executive overseeing West’s Center of Analytical Excellence, my department, gets brought into all kinds of client meetings. We are the analytical ninjas of the West world — silent, stealthy, almostas potent as the Furious Five from Kung Fu Panda.

In this particular instance, we had a meeting with the client’s chief marketing officer to discuss the importance of understanding their customer base and their behaviors. We also promoted the idea that communication channels (IVR, phone, email, chat, etc.) are self-selected and that people tend to gravitate toward using one channel more than another. To prove our point, we offered to analyze their customer transaction history over a two-year period and once we were finished, we would meet to discuss our findings.

The analysis wasn’t arduous, sophisticated or sexy in any way. In fact, it was really just fundamental frequency reporting. What made this different is that we wanted to really examine channels used, in this case for purchases, by some demographic variables.

We found the following:

  • Their products appealed to a broad array of customers both young and old.
  • Yet, they had more 75+-year-olds making purchases than 19- to 25-year-olds.
  • In fact, 29 percent of the 75+ age cohort used the phone channel for purchases — higher than any age cohort — and this group spent more on average in this channel.
  • The 19- to 25-year-olds were much more likely to purchase via retail or factory outlet.
  • Further dissection also revealed how age cohorts change in their sales channel preferences — so, to eliminate one may actually alienate a large, loyal group.

To capitalize on the findings, the company made improvements to agent staffing by adding agents specializing in the 75+ age demographic to better serve customers. The retailer was also able achieve funding to expand its data warehousing capabilities.

In the end, our data really reinforced to them that:

  1. Knowing your customers is vital to growing and sustaining your business.
  2. You must have complete understanding of all of your sales channels and how they may reinforce each other.
  3. Conventional wisdom and business-as-usual beliefs can lead you down the wrong path and overlook potential micro-opportunities within your existing customers.
West Corporation

Posted on April 30, 2013 by West Corporation 

Sustaining BPO Mojo: Challenges With Business Process Optimization in Your Care Organization

Do you have responsibility for business process optimization (BPO) in your organization? Are you partnered closely with your internal and external technology providers and focused on the same BPO objectives? Does your enterprise have BPO mojo?

Total quality management (TQM) zealots were frustrated in the mid-1990s as the new Six Sigma process rose in popularity. In some people’s opinion it wasn’t all that new, it was just different. The return on investment (ROI) shared by the manufacturing segments that incorporated Six Sigma principles into their daily practices had enterprises, in all verticals, rushing to certify their employees as Six Sigma Black Belts and challenging them to incorporate process measurement into delivery and support organizations.

Various adaptations of these early methodologies faded and morphed through the last decade into what is now broadly categorized as “enterprise process performance improvement,” the simple concept of optimizing processes to ensure value and quality delivery of services to customers. It isn’t really new; it is just different. In addition, while enterprise leaders all fundamentally believe in business process improvement, few organizations are able to sustain the resource commitment to bring enough energy and focus into the efforts to find those big pockets of cost reduction or innovation that move the needle on company profitability. So, many enterprises have lost their BPO mojo.

To be able to identify meaningful or measureable improvement, processes need to be defined, documented and have a clear start and finish. The more simple and straight-lined the process is, the better. But many processes are messy, especially in service-oriented enterprises. Some are routine, others are on-demand. Some are contained within a single business unit while others may span across multiple organizations with varying service level objectives. Core processes generally get priority, but non-core processes rarely get the attention they need. When enterprises also have objectives to be nimble and to customize services to fit the needs of their customer’s businesses, the quality manager of the care organization can go crazy trying to keep processes “within control limits.” He/she may have a hard time finding their BPO mojo, month over month.

There are plenty of service-based organizations, consultants and software development companies that will help enterprises with business process improvement. They’ll gladly interview clients to identify their most important satisfaction factors. They’ll try to draw innovative process ideas out of employees through facilitated brainstorming sessions. They’ll look internally at existing processes and try to measure the costs of the activities to help prioritize areas for automation. Identifying and executing on business process initiatives is definitely a combination of art and a science. It’s difficult to say whose approach is better, they are just different. Sometimes you need multiple perspectives and find the common theme between sources.

As a technology and service provider in the customer care space, one of the things I hear most when talking with clients about their quality and satisfaction goals is how high (or low) their confidence is that they are getting every possible bit of value out of the technology and tools they have invested in. We must constantly show proof of the ROI of our services against the client’s objective, and sometimes subjective, measures. Since BPO helps organizations gain higher customer satisfaction, product quality, delivery speed and time to market speed, we find our best success is when our programs closely align with the BPO initiatives of our customers.

The closer we are able to collaborate with the resources who are accountable for improving processes and are empowered to align all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients, the more effective our programs are. We have also found that the more an enterprise has to respond to changing consumer, competitive, market and regulatory demands, the more we can help our clients create competitive advantage. Synchronization between process and technology is where enterprises find their BPO mojo.

Does your enterprise have BPO mojo?