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Monday, 19 August 2013 10:56

Voice: it’s starting to look different

Voice: it’s starting to look different

Voice calls will remain a critical part of contact centre interactions for years to come, but the nature and handling of these calls is changing, says Karl Reed, Chief Marketing & Solutions Officer at Elingo.


While voice calls were the foundation of the contact centre industry, the percentage of actual voice traffic in contact centres is dropping as new interaction channels come into play. Now, it is estimated that 60 – 70% of interactions in the contact centre are voice calls, with the rest of the interactions involving email, SMS, fax, social media and instant messaging. However, voice calls will never disappear completely in the foreseeable future.


What is changing is the nature of voice calls to contact centres, and the way they are handled. Voice is set to become the channel for complex queries, managed by highly skilled agents. These queries are the ones most likely to generate revenue and improve customer loyalty, so companies need to manage them well.


A change in customer demands

The simple queries will become the domain of automated responses, through a variety of other channels. This is because of changing consumer demands and the variety of new communication channels available to them. A customer seeking basic information on an account balance, for example, simply wants that information returned to him via the channel he has chosen to interact on. So a basic SMS or email query should receive an automated response via the channel of choice, supplying the required information. However, it is important to note that a blanket approach to automation is not the solution. The automation system needs to be intelligent and respond in a personalised way, delivering all the required information.


Tens of thousands of these basic queries come into contact centres every day. By attaching intelligent process management to these queries, the contact centre is able to quickly respond to the customer, making better use of resources, and spare agents the tedium of answering the same question over and over.  Companies are now starting to see the importance of funnelling their communications through an automated system and sending them to the right agents or processes to handle them.


The role of the agent

The agents become available to handle the more complex queries via voice. A complex query might cover multiple areas, and may take a lengthy conversation to resolve. In order to do so effectively, contact centres need to ensure that the agents handling the calls are highly skilled, their training is up to date, and they have at their fingertips all the information needed to answer the queries satisfactorily. If an agent is incorrectly trained, or has the wrong information, they could destroy your business. On the other hand, an agent able to give intelligent insights and advice, taking into account all the customer’s information, can deliver a significantly improved customer experience and turn the customer into a loyal brand ambassador.


We are starting to see a situation where contact centre agents need to become skilled consultants capable of delivering high level advice and information – both internally and to customers. As the front line of the business, they could now make or break the business. Fortunately, companies are starting to see the importance of the contact centre, and management is starting to play a greater role in contact centre strategy, while HR is becoming increasingly involved in contact centre training initiatives. This is good news, because in our experience, training is key to delivering this high level of service and the ability to answer very complex queries.  Agents need to undergo ongoing training that not only allows them to experience the contact centre as the customer does, but that also gives them in-depth insights into the company’s products and solutions, and refreshes their ability to deliver information in the correct way.


As the contact centre evolves from call centre to contact centre and multi-channel support desks, the tools to support this evolution are becoming increasingly advanced too.  Now, intelligent interaction automation and information systems are available to enhance the voice component of contact centre work, allowing for more streamlined operations that deliver a superior customer experience. Contact centres are becoming the core of everything businesses do; and as such, they need to evolve to deliver new levels of service across multiple new channels, as well as upscaling the level of voice interactions they deliver

Published in PR & Communications
Monday, 11 February 2013 15:56

Building Long-Term Cloud Cover

Building Long-Term Cloud Cover

Why moving your contact centre operation into the cloud isn’t a decision to be undertaken in a hurry


For a number of years now, the cloud has been the buzzword in the contact centre industry. Research suggests that a large number of local companies are starting to shift their operations into this virtual environment, citing cost saving and increased operational efficiency as primary drivers.


With legacy systems beginning to age, and companies being faced with complex and costly upgrade scenarios, the cloud represents a logical choice for those looking to stay relevant in a swiftly evolving technological landscape.


Yet with this rapid uptake of new technology, many companies have made the mistake of embarking on cloud-based upgrades without any sort of long-term vision, electing instead to embrace the latest trends without casting an eye to sustainability.


The problems companies experience when upgrading their contact centre technologies usually stem from poor on-going support and management, rather than issues arising during the initial installation process. While transferring from one system to another generally brings about a number of minor speed bumps, these are insignificant when compared to the problems that can arise when entering into an agreement with a cloud vendor unable to meet a contact centre’s specific long-term requirements.


As such, companies considering potential cloud suppliers would be well advised to take into account a number of elements that might seem insignificant at the start, but could end up causing severe headaches further down the road.



With customer expectations escalating rapidly, contact centres can no longer afford to experience any significant downtime.  Maintaining system functionality irrespective of mitigating external factors is increasingly critical to a contact centre’s success. As a result, it’s important to partner with a supplier that offers built-in disaster recovery support, with multiple data centres ensuring fail-over capacity in the event of adverse weather or power outages.


In order to accurately assess a potential vendor’s ability to support business continuity, it’s vital that you establish a thorough understanding of their system’s architecture. Interrogate switchover times, gauge their proposed handling of planned outages for upgrades, and ascertain their ability to deal with emergency downtime. By ensuring that your vendor has the necessary resources to keep your system online and stable, you’ll be afforded increased peace of mind, and be better able to allocate resources to the day-to-day running of your contact centre.  


System Ownership

A cloud-based system’s resiliency is also dependent on its capacity to be kept up to date with the latest versions and releases of software. Solutions developed and managed by vendors are likely to offer you a more seamless experience, given the fact that these suppliers have all their resources housed within a single company structure.


Whilst vendors offering third party products are certainly able to deliver high levels of service, their inability to access the teams responsible for a solution’s evolving development certainly impacts their capacity to offer the required levels of support.


Companies proffering their own bespoke solutions are likely to boast a more inherent understanding of your chosen system, enabling them to easily ensure that your software remains current, and to provide comprehensive trouble-shooting support.


On-going Support

While a vendor’s expert knowledge of your product is undeniably important, it is of very little consequence should you be unable to access appropriate and efficient support channels.


Before entering into a service agreement with a vendor, it’s important to make sure from the outset that proper systems and processes are implemented with respect to reporting and resolution, with sufficient resources dedicated to, and accountable for, results.


Rapid patching and issue resolution represent two of the most significant benefits of the cloud as opposed to premises-based solutions, so it’s important that you identify a supplier that is able to meet expectations in this regard.


Building a Stable Home in the Cloud

Moving your contact centre operation to the virtual environment certainly has the potential to boost overall efficiency, as well as your bottom line, but it is a journey that needs to be undertaken with a partner you can trust, and whose vision is appropriately aligned with your own.


Achieving success in the cloud is not simply about doing something fast, but about implementing solutions that are practical, reliable, stable, resilient and safe. By working with a trusted and reputable vendor, your odds of success are high, so make sure to perform due diligence before signing on the dotted line.

Published in Technology
Monday, 07 January 2013 12:44

Top six priorities for contact centres in 2013

Top six priorities for contact centres in 2013

If contact centres aren't preparing to embrace these six key trends, they have already fallen behind.


Too many contact centres have relied on tried-and-trusted technologies for too long. But emerging trends and technologies that have been on the cards for a while are becoming forces contact centres can't afford to ignore any longer.

Published in PR & Communications
Keeping up with the customers – the importance of multi-channel in the contact centre

With the prevalence of the Internet, the availability of always-on connectivity and the evolution of smart phones and tablets, customer communication preferences have changed dramatically over the last decade. These social phenomena mean that people now communicate more often and in more ways than ever before, and this trend is no longer limited to only younger generations. In fact, according to a study conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2010 a total of 79% of adults have an online presence, and a substantial amount of time is spent across generations on social media interaction and using tools such as instant messaging. The message is clear – your customers are online and using multiple channels to communicate. If your contact centre cannot do the same, your business is bound to suffer.

The Internet has empowered customers to easily and instantly analyse, compare, search and research products, prices and brands before making a purchasing decision. This has significantly changed the customer-company relationship. Customers now demand instant attention, and if they are not satisfied, obtain good service or the product quality is poor, this knowledge will immediately be shared with their peers via a variety of media channels. This change in customer behaviour implies that the age of the basic call centre is long gone. Customers now have so much more choice in the way they communicate with their peers that they expect the same options when communicating with a business. Business need to be aware of what is communicated about the business that is in the public domain, and must have the ability to communicate with their customer base in a similar fashion. At the very least, contact centres need to incorporate an email channel as a starting point and should have the ability to monitor the most important social media channels. Customers can ‘make or break’ a company or brand image using social media.

Aside from the need to know what customers are saying on various social media channels, organisations also need to be agile in the way they respond to their customers. The fast pace of life today means that customers want answers immediately, using the communication channel of their choice, and if one business cannot provide this, there is every possibility that they may take their custom elsewhere. Chat, or instant messaging, is fast becoming an important method of communication for customers who want information quickly without having to go through traditional voice channels; however, customers may wish to use a combination of voice, email, chat, even social media to communicate with a company, and they expect the same seamless experience they get when using multiple communication channels among their peers.

Customers use multiple channels to communicate, so the importance of a multi-channel contact centre is clear. However incorporating traditional and new media channels can prove to be something of a challenge, given that each medium has its own characteristics. While fax is sometimes necessary, email can usually do the same job except when policies require that faxes be used. Email and fax messages both have an accepted response time of a few hours, and are cheaper to service than voice. However voice is still a necessary component of any contact centre. Inbound calls have service levels measured in seconds and are good for negotiation and personal communication.

Chat is an extension of this, also requires immediate attention, and is ideal for supporting web customers. Like voice it relies on agent availability, however one agent can often handle multiple chats at the same time. SMS is another channel, which is fast and easy to manage, but is limited to short responses and as a result there is potential for misunderstandings. Finally, there is social media, which requires a response time of a matter of minutes. Social media itself constitutes multiple channels, but the benefit of this is that one post can sometimes resolve issues for multiple customers, and it allows organisations to actively detect opportunities and issues. However multiple networks increases management complexity, and content needs to be filtered. It is also an entirely public domain so is not suitable for all subjects, and organisations have little to no control over what customers say about them on these forums.

Managing each of these channels independently is a complex, complicated process that does not deliver the seamless experience customers demand. A true multi-channel contact centre allows organisations to combine channels to leverage a host of benefits and better manage service levels. Using a blended multi-channel contact centre solution, organisations can gain an understanding of which channels are productive and which are not, and can also incorporate outbound calling and back office tasks. One solution to manage multiple channels also ensures that there is a universal queuing system and that agents can be assigned to contacts based on priority and skill. This also provides a normalised interface for agents, which requires less training to operate, and allows for standardised reporting and management across communication channels.

Customers are used to communicating with multiple channels, and in order to remain competitive, businesses need to be able to do the same. With a single contact centre solution capable of handling multiple channels, customer frustration can be lessened, wasted agent capacity can be minimised, and service levels can be accurately managed across various platforms. In today’s social world, the customer really is king, and the multi-channel contact centre is the next step in improving customer retention and delivering improved customer service levels.

Published in Customer Service
Call Centre
Technology – follow your needs, not the crowd's

There is no safety in numbers when it comes to contact centres - history shows us that the crowd can make mistakes that are as bad, or worse, than those made by individuals. The technology you choose for your contact centre is critical, and the costs of heading down the wrong road can be enormous and protracted. It's not just money wasted when you get it wrong - the planning and implementation can set your organisation back years.

The future also needs to be seriously considered when technologies are being assessed. Today you might need simple functionality, but tomorrow could require a lot more, or even less. Given the pace of change in the market it's often impossible to figure out what your future requirements might be. Structural flexibility is the watchword, if your vendor can't start over or change course in quick time, your technology could damage your brand.

Contact centres aren't just for the big guys

Cloud based services have cracked the contact centre open for smaller organisations, who in the past simply didn't have the budget to compete with larger rivals. The barrier to entry has lowered significantly, so if your instinct is that you can't go there just yet, you might be surprised at what's possible via the cloud. 

It's your best practice that matters

Benchmarking against global best practices always sounds very good, but the reality of the exercise is a little more nuanced than the catch phrase suggests. Every business views best practice through a different lens and how you define a best practice depends on your type of business. When you are working towards setting your best practice benchmark, make sure you're comparing apples with apples - it's your context that really counts.  

Outsource - ignore track record at your peril

Outsourcing all elements of a contact centre, including the crucial customer service interactions, can be a cost and resource saver. But if you make this choice, remember that the track record of your provider must be very strong. It must also be relevant to your specific industry. If you're satisfied that your provider's credentials are top notch and appropriate to your industry, the other critical factor is negotiating an air-tight service level agreement. If you choose to outsource the full contact centre there is no margin for error on service levels. 

Skill defines the quality of the blend

The division between inbound and outbound contact centres has all but disappeared. Most modern brands need to operate a blended centre, with inbound and outbound functions operating as part of a greater communications whole.

Strong management of a blended centre involves two key elements. 1) Predicting interaction volumes accurately 2) Ensuring staff are adequately trained to deliver in critical areas. Weakness in either area can see the blend between outbound and inbound hurt the business, rather than help it. Which makes a focus on skills levels across the centre vitally important. Skills development has to be viewed as part of the company culture, rather than an intervention. 

Look to the future

Powerful new tools are emerging in the contact centre space, and contact centre strategy development should take place with these in mind:

Speech analytics – Some 10, 000 voice recordings are taken per day in a contact centre, but much of the potential value in these conversations isn't realised, because the content itself is not analysed. New speech analytic systems investigate the recordings for key words, and then offer significant analysis to decision makers. Equally, some new systems are tracking tone of voice in real time and escalating calls to supervisors when there's too much heat coming down the line. Either way, speech analytics tools are quickly changing the status quo.

Mobile – With the youth and high income professionals now carrying sophisticated smartphones as a matter of course, brands are developing applications that deliver a new self service paradigm. No more mind numbing IVR menus and holding in contact centre queues. Mobile Apps mean efficient and personalised service, at the customer's convenience.

Content management – Back in the day a document was scanned and simply filed, but today's companies require seamless anytime, anywhere, anybody access to workflow details that incorporate staff, customers and suppliers. New object orientated contact solutions allow attributes to be assigned to an item that determine how it is stored, who has access to it and what future action must be taken.

Published in CRM & Direct Marketing
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