Strategy Tips

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How to improve the strategy in your call centre

Better performance through improved anticipation

Anticipation means being able to see far enough ahead to avoid taking action if needed. Management information needs to be better at modelling future service delivery under alternative scenarios.Too often, marketing exists in a parallel universe, and yet their actions can have a material impact on call handling, customer satisfaction and agent morale.

Make sure that the contact centre management information system can provide real-time marketing campaign results direct to workforce management. This will enable better resource plan modification in the light of actual calls received, and may help avert potential disaster when call volumes simply swamp the contact centre.

Link call types to agent skill profiles as a means of anticipating any changes in the skill mix required on any given day.

Management information should enable executive management to anticipate which levers they need to pull in order to raise the bar of overall capability.Most management information arrives too late to be of real use.

If you are trapped in a cycle of solving yesterday’s problems tomorrow, it’s time to take a fresh look at the information you need to be on the front foot every day.

Contributed by Tim Burfoot, Managing Director at Teasel Performance Management

Map out a customer’s journey throughout the sales cycle with your company. This includes observing what happens when things go wrong, whether because of poor service quality or a problem with a purchase or delivery. This is also how you win new customers in the first place and what brings them to you. Develop a full view of the customer life cycle. At which points do new customers come in, and at what points do current customers spin out? This will give you a good starting point for understanding your points of service.

Once you know your points of service you can then find the areas of pain: the bottlenecks, delays, and areas of poor service that aggravate customers. This will help you to understand what your solution needs to do.

“It only takes one critical failure point to start bleeding customers. Find and cure areas of pain first and then move on to other areas behind these that may in the longer term attribute to these”.

Contributed by Paul Younger, CRM Technical Specialist for BT Business

Ensure you listen to 50 calls a month – and get each team leader to listen to at least 50 calls a year in the contact centre.

Contributed by Simon Pell, Chairman, Pell & Bales

Managing mixed infrastructures as single operations

Map the end-to-end customer experience, regardless of the exact mix of in-house, outsourced and offshore facilities.

Think about what information you need to enable you to understand how the infrastructure is delivering against customer expectations.

Work with your outsourced providers and/or offshore centres to develop a management information framework in which the boundaries between different parts of the infrastructure are transparent.

Service level agreements (SLAs) are too blunt and the information too infrequent to enable real-time performance management. Outsourcers need to work within a much tighter performance management framework and provide performance information in real time.

Contributed by Tim Burfoot, Managing Director at Teasel Performance Management

Look into customer segmentation and satisfaction strategies to match the right customer to the right agent. This will not only increase customer retention, but also the job satisfaction and productivity of your agents.

Contributed by Shirley Hemstock, Head of Business Consulting at Avaya

Enable your contact centre processes around your customer expectations. As consumers we all expect easy and quick access to organisations. We want services to be efficient and consistent across the different channels. Make a ‘comfortable’ interaction – so that your customers do not have to think too hard when they’re dealing with a contact centre!
If customers are to be left feeling in control of their interactions, it’s important that the contact centre technology and processes are aligned behind these goals.

Contributed by Adam Faulkner, Founding Director, Sabio

By removing the barriers between ‘siloed’ customer service functions, organisations will be able to capture, analyze and act on cross-functional information concerning workforce performance, customer interactions and customer service processes. “We believe this kind of valuable customer insight will help organisations to establish more intimate relationships with their customers.”

Contributed by Steve Allen, Senior Vice President, Witness Systems

The Xbox generation look to the internet first, then chat and the telephone last. You should own the website – not Marketing or the web developers. It’s not Marketing that has to answer the phone number.

Contirbuted by Oscar Alban, Witness Systems

How to create a good self-service system

Take time to identify the types of service where self-service automation will deliver real benefits to the business and to users. Use a specialist company to ‘discover’ candidate applications. Involve users and, importantly, agents in this process. Agents in particular will have excellent insights in to common issues, questions or problem areas. Often simple self-service applications deliver the best user satisfaction and return.

Design the interactive voice response (IVR) dialogues from the point of view of the user and not for the convenience of internal systems or processes.

Using a speech-driven system for the first time can be very daunting for new users. Try adding a ‘try before you use’ option for new users so that they can use the system at no ‘risk’ before using it for real enquiries or transactions.

Always give help regarding the expected answer to prompt such as ‘say the name of the film you want to see’. Give simple example answers and a help option where possible.

Don’t go from touch-tone or dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) immediately to full natural language speech. Your customers need to be trained and become familiar in easy logical steps.

Error recovery is key. Involve several experienced agents in the design and usability trials of the new system. They will have the experience and real-world knowledge of what really goes on and the types of questions commonly asked. After this, make sure the IVR or self-service dialogues cater for all identified eventualities and, if that fails, direct the call immediately to the next available agent. Role-play the call flow. Be a devil’s advocate, but keep within the realms of reality and stick to what users may actually say or do.

The system won’t be used if your agents know nothing about it. Make sure agents are fully trained and have used them personally. This way they will be able to help and explain its use to new users.

Make sure all voice prompts are professionally recorded and are in keeping with the company’s brand and image. These voice services are probably the most frequent way customers interact with your company. Voice prompts should use a professional voice talent and be of a consistently high quality. Nothing puts off customers/callers and creates a negative impression more than different voices and sound levels for each menu. Equally off-putting can be strong accents and background noise.

Introduce the system in a controlled way and monitor and analyse how users are reacting to it. Make sure the grammars are capturing use of abbreviations and different ways to describe the same item or place. Tune the system until the performance meets the first-time pass performance required. Once performance metrics have been achieved, gradually increase the number of calls directed to the self-service system.

Once callers are used to and competent in using the system, new applications and facilities can be introduced. The degree of natural language used can also be increased. Despite this, always remember to ensure jumps in capability are not too large so as not to scare nervous users away.

Contributed by Nick Applegarth, Senior Vice President and EMEA General Manager at Envox

Five top tips for effective call centre data security

Get the right people
No matter what size the contact centre and the volume of calls it handles, each agent deals with sensitive customer information. This means they must be thoroughly screened and trained to manage data.

Take care of your customer’s property
Identity theft is a rapidly growing problem and the best possible care should be taken when processing, storing and allowing access to information. The contact centre is responsible for ensuring data is handled in keeping with data protection laws to guard the customer’s anonymity.

Know who has access to what
Tracking the flow of information within a contact centre is possible with advanced audit trail systems. Passwords, smartcards and, increasingly, biometric technology can aid correct access rights to data. This ensures agents can only see information which is relevant to their particular job.

Defend your contact centre from external threats
Carefully managing and protecting the customer’s information within the call centre is pointless if information can be accessed from the outside. User authentication, server protection, anti-x defence software (virus, spam and phishing) and firewalls should all be among the fundamental security solution.

Know the law
The Data Protection Act is an oft-cited piece of legislation. However, blind adherence to the perceived letter of the law can be as damaging as it is helpful. Simplifying and explaining the issues within an organisation and between partners can be a great benefit internally as well as with customers. Be aware of the latest legislation and be on the right side of it.

Contributed by Suzette Bouzanne Meadows, head of contact centre solutions at Affiniti

Ten top telephony tips for more effective flexible working

Give flexible workers a single contact number
There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to contact someone when you don’t know whether they’re in the office, at home, in a meeting, or in the car. At the heart of good communications in a flexible working environment is the single number – ensuring calls always reach workers, wherever they are.

Deliver calls to landlines whenever possible
An estimated 30% of mobile calls are received by office workers as they sit at their desks. It wastes money, and call quality can be impaired in areas of poor mobile reception. If it’s possible to deliver a call to a flexible worker on a traditional landline, or across an Internet protocol (IP) connection, then that should always be the preferred option.

Pick an appropriate call tariff
Should a ‘single number’ carry an 0800 number, an 0844 number, an 0845, or a regional number (such as an 0207) tariff? The answer often depends on what role individuals perform within your organisation. Premium customer care advisors, for example, will often be given an 0800 number; while an 0844 or 0845 tariff maybe more appropriate for a sales executive that travels extensively. Your ‘single number’ doesn’t need to turn in to another business expense.

Group flexible workers into functional teams
With modern flexible working solutions, organisations can group flexible workers in to functional teams so that calls can be answered by other team members if individuals are unavailable. Virtual contact centres are a prime example. With Virtual contact centres, calls can be intelligently routed to appropriately skilled customer service advisors, wherever they are located, and receive a premier level of service.

Enable flexible workers to change settings on-the-fly
Enable flexible workers to make changes to their call and presence settings instantly, wherever they are, and using whatever device they have to hand. The flexible worker shouldn’t have to switch on a computer, or load a complicated software program to change settings. Changing settings should be as easy as using an interactive voice response (IVR) interface or using a device that supports a web interface. At the same time, it shouldn’t disrupt other daily business processes.

Consider your business continuity options
If your technology resources are tied in to a single location, then if that location fails – for example, in the event of a terrorist act or a power failure – then your technology services will fail too. By using ‘hosted’ technology services, this problem can be overcome. Hosted telephony and flexible working services are delivered using technology resources embedded in the public network – not within a customer’s own premises. Such fully redundant services present customers with the reassurance that services are available 24/7, even in the event of a location failing.

Centralise presence and directory entries
There’s nothing more frustrating than having to switch between databases and directories in order to identify the right contact person and their contact details. Modern flexible working solutions support centralised directories for publishing presence information, contact details and so on, ensuring that individuals can be contacted wherever they are. And if they’re unavailable, that colleagues’ details are provided as a back-up.

A single set of business rules across your entire organisation
Just because your workforce is geographically dispersed and not in one central location doesn’t mean that the way you do business should change. Flexible working telephony solutions should support a single set of business rules across your entire organisation, ensuring that customers phoning for customer service or specialist services receive a consistent experience.

Build business agility in to your business processes
Business agility is all about finding better ways to connect people, processes, applications and information within your organisation. Giving employees the ability to access all their phone and e-mail messages from a single in-box (unified messaging) is a good example. Using technology more intelligently is absolutely key to creating a modern, agile business – and telephony is still the most important business communications tool of all. It is therefore the key to business agility.

Aim to deliver consistent service, however callers connect
Callers shouldn’t have to put up with inconsistent telephony quality dependent on how they connect. Look for solutions that are system agnostic and network agnostic, and can therefore deliver the same high level of functionality regardless of what type of phone your employees use.

Contributed by James Gardiner, director of marketing communications at Teamphone

Tips for introducing voice over IP (VoIP) in to your business

Understand your business needs
Beyond needing a new telephony or contact centre solution, are there any business issues or problems that need resolving? Mention them to prospective suppliers. They may have ideas on how to resolve them.
Recognise your telephony requirements
Understand how many phone extensions or agent positions you need telephony for, the likely number of simultaneous calls and so on, just as you would when purchasing a standard phone system. Also look at specific site requirements, for instance, how many extensions per site are required, what services are being operated from what sites and so on.
Test the VoIP readiness of your networks
Examine how ready your computer networks are for carrying VoIP traffic by looking at the type and speed of IP networks used, contention ratios, and whether routers are capable of implementing a quality of service (QoS) policy that can prioritise voice.
Pick a trusted supplier
Select solution vendors and VoIP service providers that can meet your current and likely future needs. If your organisation is operating a mixed environment of IP and traditional telephony, then ensure vendors can support both seamlessly. For contact centres, ensure that suppliers can provide a ‘complete’ solution – from the ability to answer, prioritise, route and report on incoming customer contacts, to outbound capabilities, workforce optimisation, interactive voice response (IVR), performance optimisation and support for multiple customer contact channels (e-mail, SMS and so on) in an integrated manner. Also ensure that suppliers can support key industry standards such as H.323, VoiceXML and SIP, and use familiar architectures such as MS Windows or Linux. Open standards provide investment protection.
Conduct a VoIP audit
Test local/wide area network (LAN/WAN) backbone performance under full call load and in continuous live operation. This will provide a guide as to likely network traffic at different times of the day, and days of the week, indicating what QoS issues may arise. Where practical, employ solutions that provide immediate and automatic notification of network problems such as congestion, latency and so on. In the event of failure or substandard voice quality, test each network component (routers, switches, terminals and so on) separately wherever possible.
Maximise network performance for voice traffic
Implement a QoS plan that gives voice priority over other non time-critical network traffic. Where practical, use virtual LAN (VLAN) techniques to physically separate voice traffic, or even entirely separate broadband connections for voice and other network traffic. This will make QoS and security much easier to implement and manage and make VoIP problems much easier to identify, isolate and resolve. Ensure QoS plans are compatible with underlying networks and devices. Use appropriate powering, provide for system redundancy and choose the right network compression codecs (g711u, g729a) relative to bandwidth. Voice quality can also be enhanced by using redundant and load-balanced IP routes, and by distributing voice connections across multiple locations.
Consider security
Understand the security approach of your VoIP vendor. Appoint security specialists where appropriate, and develop clear rules and procedures on how networks are used and secured. Look from an architectural perspective at components and so on, and ask ‘how susceptible are they to attack?’. Even if a VoIP solution provides ‘built in security’, always follow configuration best practices.
Ask what networks VoIP service providers use
When calls leave your building, VoIP service providers can lose control over call quality if, for example, lots of people are online at the same time or VoIP calls go through congested servers. As a result, voice packets can get held up or lost, resulting in delays or bits of words missing from conversations. Look for VoIP service providers that use either their own private networks or the traditional phone network to carry calls.
Educate users
Ensure you receive adequate vendor training on how solutions work, for example, how to diagnose equipment problems, how to diagnose network problems, and how to translate commonly reported symptoms in to probable causes and remedies. Educating users also ensures that they are fully aware of potential security dangers. Users must know what they can and cannot do safely. Similarly, they must be aware that ‘free’ downloaded software sometimes comes at a price.

Contributed by Isabel Montesdeoca, senior director of marketing: Europe and Africa at Aspect Software

Eight golden rules for delivering customer service excellence in a customer contact centre

First impressions count
This means taking in to account the time to answer the call, length of automated interactive voice response (IVR), the time to agent, and the welcome ‘package’. Customers need an efficient, memorable and dynamic first impression.
Be your own customer
By this, we mean mystery shopping your own company. Did the agent run through data protection issues? Were you asked for a media source? Did the fulfilment process work? Were you offered any loyalty card benefits? You know better than anyone else what customer experience your business wants to give.
You can never make it too easy for customers to buy from you
This might be a truism, but the basics are often overlooked. Did the agent offer to follow up the call? Are customers offered priority numbers or asked if they wish to buy? It’s vital to find the barriers to a sale. Barriers might include people, processes and systems.
Get it right first time
Few things irritate people more than their name being incorrectly spelt or incorrectly typed on the quote package. And a wrong address can impact on the quotation package being delivered. Getting it right first time must be a central part of any company ethos.
Don’t make the same mistake over and over
As an example, do your contact centre agents try and overcome objections? Do they up-sell? Are they consistent in what they are saying to customers? Root out the causes of problems; don’t solve the symptoms.
Think about last impressions as well as first ones
Were your customers treated quickly and courteously? Did they end the contact with their questions answered? Did they go away feeling that their experience of your company was a good one?
Keep your promises
Ensure you answer customer queries across all channels. Maintain a customer-focused approach, not only when sending information to customers, but also in the way in which this is done. Did your quote pack price match the telephone one, for example? If not, what gaps in your system allow this to occur?
Put the customer at the heart of the organisation
There are only two types of work: 1) People who add value to customer relationships; and 2) People who support the people who add value to customer relationships

Contributed by Stephen Jacobs, general manager at directexcellence

How the right information empowers teams and individuals

Give individual supervisors, team leaders and customer service representatives the freedom to set their own targets within an overall framework, and provide them with tailored information that tells them how well they’re doing.

Real-time benchmarking that helps people see how well they are performing now against the best-ever, as well as their personal best can provide a real incentive to improve.

The more you can make management information available and relevant to an individual’s role, the better your chances of encouraging the right behaviours.

Comparable information about the performance of in-house versus outsourced or offshore facilities can give managers greater confidence in the overall quality of customer delivery.

If staff at all levels can see information that shows them how their personal performance contributes to overall effectiveness, there’s a strong chance that ownership and pride in the job will increase.

Executive managers often try to work with management information that’s at too low a level. They should be concentrating on how to change the overall configuration and capability of the customer contact operation in ways that raise the bar. Detailed call statistics don’t empower managers to meet this key challenge.

Contributed by Tim Burfoot, Managing Director at Teasel Performance Management

If you have any other ideas, why not drop us an email and we will see if we can add them in. There is a prize of a bottle of champagne for the best idea each month.

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 8th Jan 2007 - Last modified: 22nd May 2017
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