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Multi-Skills in the Multi-Channel Era

goingcrazyWith the continued growth of multichannel service options for our customers, our agents face many challenges that weren’t planned for when they were initially hired for their service roles. Recent studies show that our millennial employees are able to juggle tasks and skills more easily than our older employees and Gen Y are more likely to become bored with repetitive work and tasks so they enjoy the work variety.

We can certainly recruit for new agents with multiple channel skills going forward, but how will our established, longtime center agents handle these new skill demands? Many may be able to transition to the new skills needed.

Unfortunately, some of your agents, regardless of their age or center experience, may not be completely successful in meeting the challenges of today’s constantly changing communications environment.

I’ve seen some excellent phone agents of all ages who also have very poor writing skills. There are other agents who are very proficient at written communications but are clearly uncomfortable during calls and struggle with verbalizing empathy phrases.  Still others may love fast-paced social media interactions, but cringe at the thought of solving a problem face to face with a customer in a retail service location that their company may rotate agents through.

Given the range of skills and abilities in your center now, you will need to decide how multi-channels will be staffed to be most effective for your customer needs, your business goals, and to help your best agents continue to be successful and feel engaged.

These questions are a good place to start:

  • Does every agent need to be proficient on all customer channels or just focused on the one they are most successful doing?
  • Would a core group of successful “multi-taskers,” combined with a few agent channel specialists who handle only one channel, make sense for my center?
  • What is the best way to train and support my longtime agents in the multichannel settings?
  • How can I involve my agents in transitioning our center to improved multi-channel experiences for customers?
  • How are workforce management and intraday management tools able to make sure my staffing, agent skills and customer experience needs are best met?

Multi-channel, multi-skills and multi-tasking will continue to drive our customer communications. Make these work for you by assessing your own center needs, the skills of your people, and designing the strategy for successfully implementing and growing these opportunities for great customer experiences.

What brings success for other centers may not necessarily be the right approach for your business.


This article first appeared on Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

Guest Post: Is Outsourcing The Best Choice For Me?

lightbulbAhhh!  My first contact center job…I remember it well.  I hint at it here in some of my blog posts but haven’t mentioned the name of the business that took a chance by hiring a young, call center inexperienced but eager girl and gave her a great start in the industry.  The company was DialAmerica,  one of the nation’s largest privately owned dedicated domestic call center services companies.

Today’s Guest Post is by John Redinger, SVP of Sales & Marketing with DialAmerica.  I’ve asked John to share some of his insights on outsourcing including reminders and tips on what to consider when looking at outsourcing to support your company.


The American economy is, decidedly, an outsourced economy. Large, successful businesses often do not have the resources to efficiently handle all functions fully in-house. This system drives innovation, competition and creativity in myriad industries and professions country and worldwide.

The next time you enjoy a terrific Super Bowl ad, or encounter stellar IT, web development or e-commerce – remember, those functions were likely the product of outsourcing.

Outsourcing is a healthy business practice that carries real economic benefits with it. At the same time, I also recognize that it is not the best choice for every business and situation.

So, how (and why) should companies make the decision to outsource a function? Here are a few key concepts to consider:

The nature of your business – and what brings it to a crashing halt

One of the most overlooked factors to consider when exploring outsourcing is where the weak spots are. I have had conversations in recent years with businesses that have experienced a temporary inability to operate due to extreme weather and natural disasters. In the case of call center solutions, having multiple, dispersed contact centers can allow a company to continue functioning even if an unforeseen event affects headquarters. This is particularly important to firms involved in healthcare delivery or transportation. The same principle can apply to other vendor and industry types.

Technology and infrastructure demands

If the U.S. highway system is any indication, maintaining complex infrastructure that delivers functionality throughout is an enormous challenge. Frequently, government entities will outsource some of these functions to specialized contractors to make sure the job is done on-time and on-budget.

Technology and infrastructure in business are no different. There are times when it simply makes more sense to outsource a function that is IT / infrastructure heavy. Contact centers are an example of this, but there are many others – such as workstation support and certain supply chain elements.

Cost

Companies exploring outsourcing should always consider the cost – and especially maintenance cost – of an in-house solution versus an outsourced one. No firm should make the decision to outsource for short-term gains on the balance sheet. They must answer the question: In the long-term, will an outsourced solution be more efficient and cost effective?

Do your due diligence internally and have a potential outsourced partner make its case in this area.

Brand is everything

This sounds cliché, but it really is true. If outsourcing is completely antithetical to your brand, it doesn’t work out well for anyone involved, including the outsourced partner.

However, businesses can be too cautious and hang on to brand and industry stereotypes rather than facts and performance-based evidence.

For example, despite one of the more common complaints about outsourcing that a client had – that people do not like being exposed to different regional dialects during service interactions – that same client’s customers actually started asking for my firm’s “nice, Southern agents.”

Quality, quality, quality

Ask your prospective outsourcing partner these questions regarding service quality:

  1. Can the prospective partner effectively and proactively measure its success in the context of client business results?
  2. What are their hiring and HR practices, and how do they ensure their employees are capable across the board?
  3. How long has the partner been doing what they’re doing / what is the tenure of the managers you’re negotiating with?
  4. How up-to-date are their practices and technology, and can they keep pace in the long term?

When outsourcing, quality is everything.

If it is the right decision, make sure you are engaging a partner that can synchronize with your brand, your management philosophy, your fiscal priorities and provide consistent, quality service.


JOHN Approved_8132_ret_01John Redinger is SVP of Sales & Marketing at DialAmerica. He leads DialAmerica’s new business development team and is the creative force behind DialAmerica’s marketing campaigns.

Previously, he managed numerous DialAmerica sales offices and was responsible for developing and leading DialAmerica’s Consumer Communications Division. He is a member of the Professional Association of Customer Engagement and the Direct Marketing Association.

Founded in 1957, DialAmerica is one of the nation’s largest privately owned dedicated domestic call center services companies. More than 5000 DialAmerica employees work for a diverse portfolio of clients, making millions of calls each year on their behalf. Twitter: @DialAmerica

Stop Talking…Start Walking The Behaviors You Want From Agents

comunicationhornsSome people talk a lot. Some not so much. I’ve seen research that says the number of words spoken by a person ranges from 6,000 to 10,000 words per day.

As Contact Center leaders we are probably keeping pace with the high side of this speech range. We are communicating frequently with our agents, supervisors, support staff, co-workers, customers and the C-suite.

I love to watch how the front line leaders and managers interact and communicate with their agents and support staff. As I continue to work in the center, I occasionally observe center leaders demonstrating many of the bad habits that they tell me their agents are displaying.

 

There is a lot of, “do as I say, not as I do” happening.

As leaders we should be heavily focused on coaching and mentoring with our staff. This does not mean that coaching only happens in a closed-door session or during side-by-side training. It means that by our very behaviors and attitudes in our every day activities, we are shaping the behaviors and attitudes of our teams. They are watching and learning constantly from us and from others around them.

Here are a few of the opportunities we have to inspire our agents:

How do you enter the center? Smiling or complaining about how tired you are and how you wish you were at home.

How do you handle a difficult caller? Mocking the caller, bad mouthing the customers or demonstrating the importance of every customer, even the ones that aren’t so nice.

Do you talk about importance of wait times and just yell “call in queue” when you notice a backup? Or do you roll up your sleeves and help by answering a few of those calls and thank the agents for their hard work?

Do you talk about how important coaching is and then think of every excuse to NOT do it or set a time to coach and then cancel repeatedly on agents needing help?

Do you talk to your supervisors about how important it is to have well-trained agents and then never spend the time or money to allow it to happen?

Do you talk about the importance of team-work for customer success and then bad mouth the other teams or departments in your company in front of agents or customers?

Are you talking to your team about how focused you are on engaging employees and improving attrition and the next day remove a bonus for an agent for a minor error that was easily fixed?

Do you talk about the popcorn parties and fun things you will do to make agents happy and never ask THEM what really DOES make them happy and interested in staying on the job?

Help your team to learn the best behaviors and customer first philosophy by living and demonstrating those behaviors everyday!

 

♦ This article first appeared on Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

Guest Post: Amazing Service Begins With Engaged Leaders

bizmeetingcollage Today’s Guest Post is by Sean Hawkins, Manager of Technical Support and Support Engineering at iContact. Sean and I met through Social Media and he and his team interviewed me for their Call Center Weekly blog last year.  From our conversations, I know that Sean is passionate about leadership’s role in driving customer satisfaction and agent engagement.  I’ve asked him to share some of his tips here today.


 

Providing service to customers is not as hard as some make it seem. It does take diligence and lots of effort to do it exceptionally well. In its simplest form, it is about treating customers with courtesy and respect. Unfortunately, in the business world we often lose sight of that.

When doing business leads to unsatisfied customers, it is time to reevaluate how business is done. Companies are competing for the same customer, and if all things are equal, customer service is usually a deciding factor for the consumer.

How can you as a contact center leader help your agents to be successful in providing “amazing” service above and beyond?

Review Processes
Exceptional service allows agents to offer immediate solutions without getting bogged down in processes or policy. This leads to happy, loyal customers. In turn, your contact center will see an improvement with CSAT. Removing barriers that prevent exceptional customer service will lead to a more engaged service center. I make it practice of regularly reviewing processes, policies and procedures impacting our customers and agents. As business needs change, policies should be reviewed and updated if necessary.

Agent feedback
I’ve never met an agent who enjoys denying customer requests. On the contrary, they have a desire to satisfy them. Team members have often requested that they be allowed to offer a good will credit to customers. This request was due to their willingness go beyond good service to amazing service.

They knew that random acts of kindness made customers happy.

What I learned is it empowered them and made them feel a part of the decision-making process. Upon implementation, we were able to see how this directly impacted customer and agent satisfaction.

Manager Buy-in
I’ve always treated my team as customers. In my opinion, showing them what great service looks like is more impactful than telling them. When they see it alive in you, they will emulate it amongst one another and customers. Leadership must be committed to improving and should regularly attend training, seminars and conferences.

Front line supervisors, leads and managers are a great source for ideas. Allowing them freedom to develop CX initiatives will ensure they are customer focused and invested in organizational goals. I recommend that all leadership review customer feedback and CSAT performance as a team. Some of the benefits in doing so is everyone is aware of department/team performance, problems can be identified, and new ideas can be presented to the group.

Below are 4 simple and immediate steps you as a leader can implement on your journey to customer service excellence.

  1. Empower agents- accept feedback, include in decision-making process
  2. Be transparent- honest and effective communication (internally & externally)
  3. Be accessible- provide support in multiple channels, expand support hours
  4. Be attentive- your own active listening allows agents to better assist customer and anticipate future needs

As you can see, these suggestions can be easily implemented, are quick wins, and address some core areas of customer experience. With consistency, effort, and diligence, I’m convinced these steps will set you on the right path and improve your service department.


Sean HawkinsSean Hawkins is a Contact Center manager with over 13 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He’s implemented social service, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

His contact center is a past winner of the ICMI “Global Call Center of the Year” award for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. In addition, he was named one of ICMI’s Top 50 Contact Center Thought Leaders on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanBHawkins and @CallCntrWeekly or join him on  LinkedIn

Guest Post: Two Reasons that Prevent the Perfect Customer Experience

cexoncomputerMy Guest post today is a video blog from Matt McConnell, CEO of Intradiem,  a leader in intraday management solutions for contact centers.   I enjoy working with Matt and his team and know how passionate he is about creating a great experience for both agents and customers. In this brief video, Matt shares his thoughts on what interferes with customer experience success.


 

As consumers, we take for granted that we are going to have to wait to be serviced. We’ve come to expect it as part of our daily lives – sitting on hold, enduring 4-hour service windows, having to search for a store clerk to help us, standing in long lines to pay for our purchases, and the list goes on and on. It’s downright ridiculous in this day and age – the age of the customer – that we can’t have more timely service.

 

As customers, we only want two things: speed and accuracy. A quality product or service delivered in a timely fashion that meets our needs.

 

What’s preventing companies from being able to deliver on this customer experience promise?

 

 


 

About Matt McConnell
Matt McConnell is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in its market with more than 450,000 call center agents around the world using Intradiem every day. Matt is the author of the book Customer Service at a Crossroads and holds 11 software patents.

 

Your Quality Monitoring: Engaging or Exasperating?

badcoachingOne of the worst methods of quality monitoring is the one that is based on finding everything wrong on a call or other type of customer interaction down to a seemingly molecular level.

I am definitely in favor of scored monitoring for skills but it must be balanced with common sense applied by the QA and/or coach listening and scoring those calls. Unfortunately I find that the common sense factor is not always applied.

An agent recently shared with me his experiences with a quality monitoring and coaching process that is frustrating and disengaging for him and his team members. This particular agent has been receiving kudos from customers for going above and beyond, including verbal positives to his supervisor and emailed compliments from customers. He is a seasoned agent who also is relied upon to train newer agents on his team. Despite his positive feedback and great skills, he regularly receives multiple errors from QA on calls.

Upon listening to one of these calls that was considered by QA to have errors, I heard a great example of excellent listening and other skills demonstrated by the agent. During this call, I heard the customer say, “Thanks for your help. That’s all I need today”. The agent replied with a sincere sounding thank you and ended the call positively.

QA however gave him an error because he didn’t ask, “Is there anything else?” at the end of that same call.

What would be gained by the agent asking what the customer had just answered? Nothing.

Some quality managers with a “follow the carved in stone checklist” approach train their QA team to be a robotic error factory. At times, I’ve even observed QA and their manager view any questions or push-back from an agent regarding quality scores as a personal affront to their ability to monitor. Email exchanges between agent and analyst may escalate until the agent gives up in defeat.

The agent in the example above told me he initially questioned the quality scoring error but after multiple emails with the Quality Analyst explaining why his question wasn’t necessary, he said that he finally gave up and accepted the error because he was “tired of fighting”. To add to his frustration, his new supervisor with no prior call center experience did little to nothing to support him with this apparently not wanting to rock the boat.

Agents who are very satisfied with their job will provide the best customer experience and remain on the job longer.

When we set up conflict between agents and quality through unrealistic processes or by creating a skill witch hunt environment, your agents will not only become dissatisfied…they will leave.


 

This article first appeared on Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

 

Guest Post: 4 Ways to Develop Positive Communication in Customer Service

 With all the buzz about GenY agents in our contact centers and retail customer service roles, I thought it was a good time to have a Guest Post from one who understands what it takes to be a great communicator in service.  I hope you enjoy Laura’s post!

Laura McConney
Laura McConney
Laura McConney is a college student, a writer for the Kova Corporation (an award winning provider of Enterprise and Security Intelligence Solution), and also an intern with The Marketing Zen Group (a full-service online marketing and digital PR firm).
Laura loves writing about the customer experience and contact centers and has worked in centers as an Advanced Computer Consultant for 3 years. She also tinkers with technology and learns all of the pop culture that she can. Connect with her on Twitter @l_mcconney .

 

Customer service is complex. In order to excel in dealing with clients, one must possess a vast number of abilities. Whether you are in sales or customer service, dealing with customers is simply part of the job, and you must express yourself in the proper manner to leave your clients satisfied. One of the most difficult skills to master, a personable voice can distinguish good customer service from great customer service. But how can one attain these skills? To start, consider these tips:

 

  1. Use positive words and phrases.

Implementing positive language can start a conversation on the right note.

Communicating what you can do rather than what you cannot instills confidence into customers.

If they know you are capable, then they will be more likely to trust you and listen to what you have to say. A positive frame of mind can help find solutions more quickly and will convey what actions you can accomplish. For example, if a product is back-ordered, tell a customer, “That product will be available next month, and I can place an order for you right now to make sure it is sent as soon as possible,” rather than saying, “I can’t get that product until next month because it is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.” This small difference will inspire faith in your clients and make your customer service second to none.

 

  1. Think about your body language.

Certain gestures can change the tone of your voice. In particular, smiling stimulates your sense of well-being, which lets customers know that you are approachable, trustworthy, and cooperative.

A smile directly influences those around you and adds warmth to your speaking voice.

Furthermore, keep your hands relaxed and your arms comfortable. If you clench your fists or slam your hands on your desk, clients will feel the tension and be less likely to appreciate your service. Think about keeping fresh flowers around because seeing them can lift your spirits and heal your mood and your voice. If the customer is speaking, look like you are listening. Focus on his or her head and torso and face him or her directly. This will communicate that you are engaged and paying attention. Nonverbal communication can directly impact your verbal tone and reception.

 

  1. Make a connection with the customer.

Learning more about a customer can generate more sales in the future. Making a personal connection with clients will engender loyalty, trust, and return service. Also, customers will appreciate your attempts to discover more about them. They will interpret your endeavors as friendly inquiries and will open themselves up to you even more.

Consider asking customers how new products or services are affecting them.

However, avoid spending too much time on this area of customer service. You also need to get to the trouble quickly. One of the keys to customer service is answering questions well. So, learn a little about your clients and then move on to what they would like to know or learn.

 

  1. Speak clearly and politely.

The proper annunciation and emphasis will create a warm tone in your voice. No customer wants to decipher mumbled words or listen to a monotone. Speak slowly and clearly while varying your pitch. Also, think about the volume of your voice. Do not speak too softly or too loudly. Doing all of this will allow your clients to easily hear what you are saying and will leave them satisfied once your conversation is over. Being understood is key to any customer service interaction. Furthermore, a slow, precise manner of speaking will provide a calming message to your clients. The appropriate inflection implies a natural discussion about your services and products.

Whenever you are speaking with a client, be polite. Please and thank you goes a long way to establish a solid base from which you can build a great customer interaction.

If you are still struggling to establish a friendly tone with customers, consider practicing in the mirror or recording yourself.

This will allow you to more readily identify your weaknesses. Once you have recognized your largest weak points, you can practice more efficiently.

 

REMEMBER that customer service communication is always different and is constantly changing. After you have mastered these general tips, be ready to think on your feet, and you will become a customer service expert.

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