• ICMI Top 50 Contact Center Thought Leaders

    Honored to be included on ICMI's list!

  • 2014 MindTouch Customer Experience Influencer

    2014 MindTouch Customer Experience Influencer

  • Top 100 Most Social Customer Service Pros

    Top 100 Most Social Customer Service Pros

The Multi-channel Agent: Are Your Canned Emails and Chats Past the Fresh Date?

spoiledmilkLet me begin by saying that it makes perfect sense to have a knowledge base for multi-channel agents, with some specific standard information to copy and paste during written customer interactions. Some agents are using this effectively and others, not so much. A few even end up creating really bad “moments of truth” for their customers.

This written exchange in a chat works nicely:

Customer: “How do I reset my password?”

Agent (pulling info, copying and pasting or having auto-response technology): “I’ll be glad to help you (pasted info here) In order to reset your password, please….”

That makes perfect sense. A clear-cut response to the simple question asked.

Where we get in trouble with our agents using canned messages and responses is when the customer asks something more detailed. The agent may not read these involved messages completely or make assumptions that make their response inappropriate and frustrating for the customers.

For instance this email or chat example:

Customer: I received a notice that my account has been billed a $___ fee for late payment. I sent in my payment on July 1st and I have a copy of my cleared check. I’m not sure why I’m being billed and I’m not happy to have this charge when I paid on time.

Agent (pulling info, copying and pasting or having auto-response technology): For this type of account, if your amount due isn’t paid by the 15th of each month, you will be billed a late fee of $_____.

Customer: WHAT ???? I just told you I paid it. I didn’t ask what my late fee was.

Far-fetched? Unfortunately not, as I’ve seen these type of transcripts and have been a victim of the “bad copy and paste” syndrome myself.

Agent training and coaching is critical of course but we may also encouraging these errors ourselves when we tell our teams to “hurry up” and get to the next call, email, chat interaction, etc. Multi-channel agents often tell me they feel pressured to get to the next customer so they look for ways to cut corners.

Are we creating copy and paste solutions that are vague or even inaccurate without constant review and updating? These will become quick-fix bandages for the rushed agent balancing 5 to 6 chat interactions and not sure where they left off when they return to chat number one.

Our need for speed to meet business revenue goals may be causing more complaints and actually lengthier interactions while the agent frantically tries to fix the errors that came from not listening completely or reading carefully what the customer is asking about.

So what makes our emails, chats and written interaction with customers more engaging and positive?

+ Make sure your emails and chats have the right tone: Your written correspondence has a tone, too. Friendly but not too personal should be the goal. Personalize with customer name. Courtesy words as simple as please and thank you are needed.

+ Multi-chat overload may cause multi-stress: Studies have shown that not everyone can multi-task successfully. An agent who does well with a single email at a time or one call focus may not have the ability to juggles several chats at the same time. Watch for multi-tasking stress signs including chats that are focused on speed and not the best experience for the customer

+ Respond with empathy: I emailed a question to a company regarding their travel webcams and asked why a certain landmark wasn’t viewable. Their response was a curt: “We don’t man this 24 hours a day.” Did it answer my question? Sure. Was it pleasant and empathetic sounding? No.

Knowledge bases with copy and paste or other auto response methods are fabulous tools for our busy chat and email agents, but only when used with common sense.

Multi-channel agents must have a clear understanding of what the customer needs and respond accordingly and positively.

As managers, we must provide them the time necessary to personalize, engage and create a positive impression in their written customer interactions as well as their verbal ones.


Is Agent Training On-Board Your Customer Experience Train?

Whether you call it employee development or skills enhancement, it’s all about training our agents and leaders to be successful with our customers and improve the bottom line. Not enough training and our employees may fail to provide the customer experience needed.

Some centers do not have the luxury of having a full time center trainer or team of trainers and may rely on corporate trainers to support them with some or all of the classroom-type training done with both new and seasoned agents.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that corporate development people rarely have any contact center experience. Some have never worked in any customer service or sales role. Many tell me it’s been years since they spent any time talking to customers and have never observed agents and center leaders on the job to learn what type of skills are key for success.

It’s not only the corporate trainers who are disconnected. Some executives have the same problem.

I recently heard about an operations executive in charge of starting up his company’s new contact center. He had no center experience but he was confident that he knew how one should be set up since he knew how the branch offices were run.

Since the new center team would need training, he decided it was time for the entire company to also have training so he enlisted the Human Resources manager to work with him to create classes for everyone: retail, administrative and even the newly hired contact center team would attend in mixed groups.

Unfortunately, everything on the agent training agenda they designed revolved around operational processes: data collection, product info and terminology refreshers, and how to use the systems to document information. Nothing was designed from the customer experience perspective or for the agents who would be dealing with them on the phone.

In place of soft skills training, the center team was instead issued management designed canned scripts for their incoming calls. The scripts were based on what they thought would be best for a quickly-get-off-the-call approach rather than customer engagement. Once the agents realized that the scripts didn’t work for most customer interactions encountered, the scripts were tossed.

On the job skills development for agents was a major issue since monitoring and call recording was not available. The company had purchased a phone system a year earlier that had not been considered for contact center use, so adding any quality coaching tools now would entail a large expense to replace phones and system. Management was unwilling to spend the money and the only coaching done was “feedback” when another department or customer complained about an agent.

Agent training done just to say “we’re training” is clearly not enough and yet it continues for some businesses.

Without clear customer experience and agent success goals, without being customized for the appropriate skills for the work being done, generic training is wasted time and effort for all involved.

Poorly designed training lacking focus on customer success and agent engagement will quickly drive your business “off the rails.”


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


Are You Engaging New Agents or Training For Your Competition?

ThumbsuptrainingclassOur contact centers today have a wide range of new hire training agendas depending on the complexity of the products and services, skills trained and even the size of the centers. There’s classroom time, self-directed learning, tests, games and activities, guest speakers, call examples to listen to, side-by-side observations and even mentors.

Many managers are very focused on coaching experienced agents to insure continuously improved skills and growth for them within the center. Some of these same managers, however, are missing the opportunity to provide newly hired agents the same benefits of coaching received during the crucial first days of training.

Regardless of the size of the center and complexity of training, I find that there is a lot of training process happening and not a lot of agent engagement.

Trainers on a fast-paced schedule get caught up with the need to stuff those eager new agent heads with tons of detailed information. Some have told me that they are following a checklist and their goal is to check off the skills taught as their measure of success. Others feel they are successful if the new hires test well in the classroom.

In the midst of all this organization and process, new agents may be lost.

New agents may lose the great enthusiasm they displayed in their interview and during the “honeymoon” period of the first two weeks in training. The excitement withers and even may die, ending in turnover if they aren’t feeling engaged and motivated.

Managers have complained to me about agents who looked so promising at the beginning of training and then ended up being average or worse in terms of skills and attitude.

The question to be answered is whether they hired the wrong person or was the reason more about lack of engagement, personal interaction, and motivation during training and even after.

Some agents have told me that they were initially excited to be a part of the team but soon found that the excitement wasn’t supported or encouraged by the trainers, supervisors and managers. Others say that they are being lectured to and never asked for their input during their training as new agents. A few complain that they never had a one to one sit down with their new supervisor during the first month to share experiences and get to know them.

New hires must have personalized one to one time, not only with their trainers but also with their supervisors. Despite all these processes in place to document progress and skills, the personal connection with leadership certainly appears to be lost for many. The supervisor never really bonds with the new agent until later, if at all.

Coaching with seasoned agents is tough enough for us to do well consistently given all the center challenges we face as leaders. Coaching with new hires can be even more challenging. They enter eager, positive and open to learning. They need validation from day one.

Our new agents need personal feedback daily, especially during the first few weeks of training, and then weekly as they progress through your on-boarding agenda to becoming a fully engaged member of your team.

Make sure your trainers and front line leaders are making agent engagement a priority so new hires feel welcome and involved right from the start. If not, your call center competitors in town will be thanking you for sending new agents their way!

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

Contact Center Data: It’s Here, It’s There, It’s Everywhere!

DataoverloadThere are many articles, webinars and conferences with an emphasis on big data and contact centers. Naturally with that being such a hot topic, many in the C-suite and savvy managers are looking at ways they can utilize the best practices.

If you are getting on board the big data train, make sure you consider the following:

1. What are you going to do with all the data?

Much like the confusion over which center metrics are key, having lots of numbers and trend details sitting uselessly in a report won’t improve customer experience or your bottom line. Contact center data is just data, unless we combine with great business practices to implement where and when it makes sense to take action.


2. Are your customers and employees associating “Big Data” with privacy invasion?

With the recent concerns about business loss of data and invasions of personal privacy, many customers are leery of sharing too much information with you. How much is too much for them? Look to your agents and customers across channels, who may be telling you their concerns, without you even having to ask. If you aren’t getting feedback, start asking so you can be prepared for Big Data use questions from both inside users and customers.


3. Are you making assumptions based on last year’s data?

Like most things in our businesses, timing is everything. Some execs spend way too much time discussing what should be done, and then discussing again ten more times only to find that the window of opportunity to use feedback and data collected is past its prime and things have changed in the market again or customers have moved on. Plan to take quick actions whenever possible.


4. Who controls contact center data collection, interpretation and use of information?

This is where it gets even more interesting. If there is infighting among internal parties who want to control and disseminate the information, the focus on the data opportunity is lost and it becomes more about the power play.

Personnel are also key to analysis success. Do you have the right people on board to work with big data? Are you offering them training to improve their analytical skills?


5. Big data vendor promises

Run from vendors who are promising you immediate success or total differentiation from your competitors six months from now. Big data capture and analysis means different things to different companies so make you’re your vendors understand and have experience with your size business, industry, and understand your marketplace, customers and your data goals.

Using contact center data effectively takes commitment, time, resources and the ability to move quickly with information learned. Ultimately, all of this means nothing if you don’t have the right blend of people, processes and technology properly aligned to support your efforts with customers on the front lines of your center.

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

Building Customer Loyalty and Trust Through Timely Follow-Up

TooLateMany companies spend a majority of their time and budgets on chasing business instead of taking care of the customers they already have.

Are you focused on offering the most innovative products and services to your customers? Do you have creative marketing and brand awareness activities for your business in hopes that customers will respond positively and stay?

All of your marketing and product development efforts are wasted if your customers don’t trust you to do what you say you’re going to do.

Following through with customer requests and timely follow-up are great ways to build trust and this trust is a big part of customer loyalty.

Our call center sales and service employees have the opportunity to build trust everyday. Unfortunately, some don’t understand the importance of something as simple as following up when you say you will.

Do these sound familiar?

  • A bank CSR promised a call back by 4pm and instead left for the day without calling the customer and letting him know that his major problem was still being researched. The customer found this out when he called later that day and no one else there knew what he was talking about.
  • A technology representative was asked to submit a proposal in 5 days and agreed to do so. Unfortunately the proposal wasn’t received until 7 days later with no apology or follow-up by the rep.

Our agents aren’t the only ones breaking trust through poor follow-up. The processes we have in place to communicate when customers contact us for help can be responsible for this as well.

  • A customer called a local retail store where they had purchased an expensive product that developed major problems after a few months of use. The service rep at the store was very helpful and explained how to submit the claim. A week after submitting she called to check if it was received since there was no contact from the claims center. The rep said yes but the receipt for purchase was missing. No one had told the customer to send this. No one called or emailed to request it.

If we don’t follow-up with customers when we say we will or we ignore them when we learn there is a problem, we are saying, “You are only important to us when you buy or when things are going smoothly.”

What are you doing to insure that your representatives across all channels are providing timely and professional follow-up?

What processes have you put in place that help build trust?

It all comes down to making customers feel valued AFTER the sale, not only when they are prospects.

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

Using Callback Technology To Improve Customer Experience


In a recent article, Craig Borowski, the Managing Editor and research analyst for call center software at Software Advice, examined how companies can use callback technology to reduce wait times and increase customer satisfaction. I asked Craig to share his findings here to help us be more successful using callback technology.

Software Advice recently conducted a survey related to customer wait times and customer experience. What are some of the survey findings, Craig?

Craig: It’s no secret that customers dislike waiting on hold. Hiring more agents to reduce waiting time is rarely a cost-effective solution and can cause scheduling dilemmas. Having enough agents when call volume is at its peak usually means paying for many agents to sit idle when volume is low.

Our first survey question asked respondents which they’d prefer if they called a company and all agents were busy: waiting on hold, or receiving a call back?

 The majority—63 percent—preferred callback.


What else did your survey find out about customers and wait times?

Craig: A clear majority expect their call to be returned within 30 minutes but a surprising result is that over one-quarter of respondents said it does not matter how soon their call is returned. It seems plausible that this is due to the fact that so many people now carry cell phones with them wherever they go, making the timing of the return call less important.


What’s the number one thing a business should consider when implementing callback technology?

Craig: First and foremost, a business needs to look carefully at how well it’s handling its existing call volume. If average wait times, or peak volume wait times, are exceeding four or five minutes, then a strong argument can be made in favor of implementing callback. The data supporting this is very clear as the chart below shows.

Consumers prefer the option of getting a callback versus waiting even 6 minutes on the phone and a high percentage “always prefer a callback” regardless of wait times.

                       Time Customers Will Hold Before Preferring Callback


(source: software advice survey results article)

 On the other hand, we have seen cases where businesses choose to implement callback even when their average and peak wait times are quite low. Take, for example, a business with many higher value clients. Now suppose its phone line has an average wait time of 2 minutes and a peak wait time of 5. But once every few weeks, calls stack up and wait times can exceed ten minutes. Rather than accept these longer wait times as inevitable, or try to address them with some scheduling acrobatics, the company is smart to offer callback and reduce the small but real chance of alienating one of their high-value clients.


What are some features customers want to see when using callback technology?

Craig: More than anything, customers want information. They want to know how long they’ll be waiting on hold and they want to be told this as early as possible in the call. Given this, estimated wait times should be announced as early as possible in the IVR queue.

 Customers also want to be reassured that by using callback, they won’t be losing their place in line.


Thanks for sharing your results with my readers, Craig!

…The bottom line here is that it’s clear that most customers do prefer callback. And, surprisingly, they prefer it to waiting even just a few minutes on the phone. Given the variety of ways it can be implemented into an existing phone system, or implemented with a new system, it seems a smart way for businesses to improve their telephony platform and save, time, money and their customers’ patience.


For more information on callback technology you can read the full report from Software Advice here: 3 Ways to Offer Callback

About my Guest:  CraigBorowski

Craig Borowski graduated from Colby College in 1997 with a degree in East Asian Studies. He moved to Taipei, Taiwan soon after to begin a career in journalism, publishing and translation. Craig relocated to Austin, Texas in 2008 and was director of marketing for the U.S. office of Tunze GmbH before joining Software Advice in 2013.


Using Real-Time Agent Monitoring to Motivate

congrats In the early day of call centers, the outsource company I worked for as a supervisor, and later as a manager, was paper driven. Every day we had reps calling to make sales from pieces of paper that they marked as a sale, no answer, no sale, or other codes we devised. These were collected and counted daily and filed away if callbacks were warranted.

Since we weren’t tech savvy, there weren’t any computers for reps or supervisors, and two supervisors shared one desk at the front of a classroom-style phone room. Each supervisor was responsible for driving sales and keeping the team happy. I was lucky to have a great supervisor who shared team duties with me and he also shared his leadership wisdom.

Our live agent monitoring was silent in terms of muting the call on our end but not invisible to the agents. Since our monitoring phone was on the solitary supervisor desk in the front and no cubicles were in the room, it was often the case that a supervisor would pick up the receiver (no headsets), press the monitoring button and look right at the rep being monitored.

It was a challenge making this “in your face” type of monitoring a beneficial and positive time for our reps, but we soon found that the ability to hear live calls was our chance to immediately reward the reps who showed great skills with customers and also those who were making the effort to improve.

We were able to walk over to the reps when we did hear them excel on a call and publicly thank them in front of their peers. The big smile on their face was our reward. And, when we heard someone having a bad calling day, i.e. no sales being made, we would walk over and tell them we knew how hard they were trying and we appreciated their efforts. We would sit with them and make calls as they listened, coaching in real-time instead of waiting for a formal session later.

In our busy, metrics-driven environments, we may miss the opportunity to use live monitoring to motivate and encourage.

Many front line leaders spent far too much time in their cubicles instead of walking the center and simply making the agents feel valued.

I love the agent monitoring tools we have today. The recordings are time savers and the advanced technology available to enhance quality coaching is exciting and beneficial for customer experience. There are equally advanced systems for tracking results and offering incentives to reward agent success.

But sometimes, it’s the simple things that our agents would like from us. Monitor live, walk to their desk and tell them, “I just heard your last call. Thank you for creating a great experience for that customer.”

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


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