Category Archives: Customer Engagement

How to Win Funding for a Contact Center Improvement Project and Elevate Customer Service

Good customer service has been shown to produce quantifiable results, from increased repurchases and customer retention to increased advocacy of the brand. Customer service leaders dealing with common contact center challenges know they must invest in modernizing their technology. But securing the budget to do so is a challenge.

To win funding for a contact center improvement project and justify the cost of needed investments, the first step is to create a strong business case that will win buy-in from key stakeholders.

One thing we’ve learned in our 22 years of creating unified customer engagement centers is that the way companies approach customer service generally falls into two categories: CX Focused and Cost Focused.

For your business case to inspire the necessary action, it must also communicate the business benefits of the improvement in language that’s familiar to your organization.

How to Win Buy-in from Key Stakeholders

A 1-point improvement in CX Index scores can help a company increase revenue by $175 million annually, according to Forrester research (Win Funding for your Customer Service Project, February 2019). Organizations are increasingly aware of this and many are investing accordingly. CX-Focused customer service is beginning to take root.

Customer obsession has surpassed efficiency as the primary driver of customer service. A survey of global networks and telecommunications decision makers working in customer service departments found that more respondents rated improving customer experience a critical priority than reducing costs. 

Still, many organizations don’t have a CX strategy, and thus many teams need to work in a cost-savings centric environment. We still work with companies that see the contact center as a cost center first and foremost.

Both kinds of companies exist, and we work with both. 

Below, we’ll walk through the benefits of several different contact center projects and present them in both CX-Focused and Cost-Focused language so you can see the difference.

If Your Organization is CX-Focused

If your organization is CX-Focused, the barometer for success or failure of any contact center initiative will be communicated in CX metrics like Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI or CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Effort Score (CES). 

These “gateway” metrics are linked to corporate financial metrics, and thus a positive impact to CX metrics translates into increased revenue. Movement in CX metrics are directly tied to reciprocal moves in wallet share, repurchase rates, long-term loyalty (reduction in customer churn), etc. 

While CX-Focused organizations see the contact center as a profit center, focusing on improved CX also naturally reduces costs via efficiencies by making things simpler and easier for customers. 

So if your initiative is to introduce a solution that will allow you to add and manage multiple channels, you might frame the CX business benefit in terms of “agent enablement” rather than “agent productivity” which would tend to perk up the ears of a Cost-Focused organization more than a CX-Focused one. 

If you aim to increase visibility into your contact center operations, you might focus on the ability to identify poor customer experiences and problematic agent performances as the primary benefit of analytics rather than lower IT and support costs, even though both are true.

If Your Organization is Cost Focused

If your organization is cost focused, it’s likely trying to contain costs and resources even as customer demands grow. It may be reducing or reallocating resources. Your measurements are likely cost centric, such as self-service usage, cost per transaction, interaction, or channel, handle time, and so on. 

So if your initiative is to reduce technology silos and unify disparate platforms, you might frame the business benefit in your business case as “smoother, faster calls and improved agent efficiency” rather than improved customer experience and agent satisfaction.

If your initiative is to introduce more self-service, you would focus on the projected operational cost reduction of steering interactions toward lower-cost channels — chatbots versus voice — instead of focusing on how chatbots make things easier on customers and increase Customer Effort Scores. 

4 Steps to Calculate the ROI of Your Initiative

Regardless of which kind of organization you are, you need to calculate the ROI of your initiative to win funding. To do so, follow these four steps:

1. Determine the Benefits

For a CX-Focused organization, the key thing will be to increase customer satisfaction by reducing the customer service effort, and seeing it reflect in CX metrics. Examples include better enabling your agents with knowledge and tools, ensuring customers can reach you on the channels they prefer and making it easier for customers to self-serve by providing access to information and intelligent conversational chatbots.

For a Cost-Focused organization, focus on similar areas, but with agent productivity and reduced operational costs in mind. For example, agent productivity becomes about the tools that help reduce the time an agent needs, while bots offload a portion of interactions completely and introduce lower cost channels that customers want (e.g. chat) to enable the organization to have lower cost interactions on those channels.

2. Capture the Costs

Capture the costs in these areas:

  1. Technology and infrastructure costs of expanding an existing system or adding new systems
  2. Services and labor, whether you’re using internal resources and / or hiring an external team
  3. Training for the agents and supervisors, so they can be effective from the get-go

3. Assess Business Adaptability

Businesses now have to be agile by continuously adapting to changing customer needs. Ensure that the solution or changes take this into account. Does the adaptability increase with the solution?

4. Understand the Risks

Different types of risk must be analyzed to provide the confidence that the funding is well placed.

  1. Project or Deployment Risk: How risky is the implementation of the new or expanded technology? Quantify the risk of cost overruns or delays in achieving the business value.
  2. Success Risk: How likely is it that the success criteria, which identifies the expected benefits, is correct? This is typically shown through the depth of the research data used to determine the business value.

In Summary: A Checklist for your Business Case

While your focus would be on the 4 points above, here are a few additional points to consider when developing your business case:

  • Tailor your message to the key decision makers involved in the process
  • Look for at least a 12-month payback period
  • Base your benefits on facts, case studies or proof of value so it clear and easy to believe
  • Think like an accountant. How you are delivering value will usually be secondary to how much payback and how quickly. Make sure your numbers stack up.
  • Align yourself to an executive sponsor who can champion your initiative at a senior level when you’re not around
  • Don’t ask for too much, prove the benefits case in the most economical way and if it’s successful, returning for more funding to expand the initiative will be easier with proven benefits
  • Remember you will be competing with lots of business case proposals so try and make your proposal appeal to the strategic initiatives from senior management as they will be more likely to fund your proposal if it delivers on their priorities and goals

If at first you don’t succeed, try again! A rejection doesn’t mean you should give up. It could be the result of bad timing. Budgets may be on hold until the next financial year. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, multiple submissions will demonstrate your passion and may help you get that approval!

Nail Your Contact Center Improvement Project with Aria Solutions

Have a contact center improvement project you want to start? Contact us today for help developing a strong business case that helps you achieve your business and customer service goals.

Aria Solutions has empowered 550,000 agents and completed over 1,200 successful projects.

Our customers don’t just see us as contact center experts or vendors. They see us as a part of their internal team responsible for building strategies and direction, recommending technology and providing direction on how the solution should be implemented.

Thanks for reading!

Aria’s Evolved Branding Reflects a Renewed Commitment to YOU

Aria Solutions is thrilled to announce that we’ve refreshed our branding!

This change is more than just a new logo and colors; it’s a reflection of how you see us – who we are today, what we value and how we’ve grownBefore I tell you more about our new look, let’s first take a few steps back to reflect on how and why it happened.

branding-past-present

Watch Rob and I discuss what has occurred since we founded the company in 1997, and how this influenced the Aria brand evolution:

Our journey since 1997

As part of the technology industry, we’ve witnessed the monumental changes that have characterized it over the last 20 years. In looking for ways to take advantage of these changes, businesses have sought better ways to win, serve, and retain their customers. To help our customers achieve these goals, we’ve changed how we work with them, introduced services, built applications, partnered with industry leaders in the customer engagement space, and expanded into new markets and geographies.  

In other words, Aria has always adapted, and today we’re way more than the “technical call center implementer”. Now we collaborate with our customers to help them achieve their business goals and work together to find ways to better serve their customers. We’ve helped hundreds of companies evolve, and we’ve evolved with them in the process.  

All this transformation brought us to a point at which the Aria brand and how we communicate it to the world needed to be more current and needed to align with our organizational culture.  

We’ve always known that we had exceptional expertise in contact centers and the interconnections that make them work; and we commit 100% to supporting our customers. But what else makes us different from other service providers? What is our core identity? What have we evolved into, and what do we aspire to be?  

Discovering our core  

So, we set about the task of understanding what makes us unique. Through this process, we realized that our previous visual identity no longer reflected who we’ve become. We needed to take a moment to rediscover Aria’s true essence and reflect that in a new look and feel. So, we got some outside help to do confidential research, interviewing customers, employees, and executives.  

So, what did we find out?  

Our customers don‘t just see us as experts, but see us as confident, reliable, fun, compassionate and real human beings. We are not just a vendor to them but a part of their internal team. 

branding-people

The experience we have gained in the past 20 years helped our team evolve into customer experience consultants – who guide our customers through the development of business strategies and solutions that might not look like what customers originally had in mind. Our project outcomes tell us how important this role is – with comments like, “I wish I had listened to Aria from the beginning,” and “Since getting Aria on board, I can sleep better at night”.  

So how do we give our customers, prospects, and the rest of the public an understanding of all of that? With a new logo that brings all our research and introspection into a visual presence. Our new vibrant logo represents the fun, energetic, and diverse personalities in our company. It captures our commitment to sensibly doing the right thing, while at the same time encouraging excitement and innovation.  

Aria Solutions logo 2018

While we love the clean and fresh look of the logo, the bright colors, and the fun typeface, we especially love the “Aria speech bubble” in place of the dot over the “i.”

It tells the world the most important things about what we do and why we do this:  

  • We empower businesses to excel in customer and employee engagements 
  • We value conversations, collaboration, and real interactions with our customers

“We value real relationships, which is not possible without meaningful conversations,” says Rob Church, CEO/President at Aria Solutions.

Robert Church CEO/President Aria Solutions

 

The next chapter in the Aria story 

What does our new branding effort mean for our future?  

It means we’ll grow faster and better, so we can continue our mission of helping you improve, stand out, and transform. It means we’ll strive to become an even better version of ourselves, remaining committed to our customers, employees, and partners. We will be doing what’s right regardless, collaborating, and helping each other evolve and achieve even more.  

I know I speak for everyone at Aria when I say we’re excited to start this new chapter of growth, innovation, and inspiration.  

branding-aria-solutions-team
Johannes, Nadine, and Thomas drawing the new Aria logo

 

Aria team - new branding
The Aria team in Ontario, Canada, with some new branded swag

Results are in! Emotion is key to achieving customer loyalty.

Forrester conducted a survey of over 110,000 US adult consumers in 2018, to help measure how well a brand’s customer experience strengthens the loyalty of its customers. In this report, the US Customer Experience Index, 2018, they reveal which brands rank the highest when it comes to CX quality.

They found that emotion plays a bigger impact on brand loyalty than effectiveness or ease! This suggests that for companies that want to break away from the pack and deliver differentiated CX, focusing on emotion is a critical place to start.  

emotion key to customer loyalty
Figure 1: Forrester’s CX Index from report, “The US Customer Experience Index 2018”

Positive emotions drive long-term loyalty 

It’s no surprise that when customers feel good about your brand, they stay with you longer, but happiness is not the only emotion that matters. There are 6 feelings that customers say can help boost their loyalty:  

  • Appreciated  
  • Confident  
  • Grateful  
  • Happy  
  • Respected  
  • Valued  

Companies that can continually deliver experiences that make customers feel this way, also have more to gain than simply satisfaction. When customers associate positive emotions with a brand they are more likely to forgive an experience hiccup, refer the brand to others, and in some cases even pay a price premium for better service (How Firms Help Employees Evoke Emotions That deepen Customer Loyalty, Forrester Research, January 2018). This is truly enduring customer loyalty.  

emotion key to customer loyalty
Figure 26: Forrester’s CX Index from report, “The US Customer Experience Index 2018”

Although other aspects of the brand can influence positive customer experiences, customer service employees have the greatest impact in making customers feel the 6 emotions listed above. How the employee feels will result in how the customer feels, hence when employees are unhappy, the customer likely will be unhappy too. That’s why it’s essential to enable employees to deliver positive experiences through the following: 

  • Empowerment: Provide the necessary tools and data to make it easy for employees to create positive emotions. Consider programs or processes to offer critical feedback that focuses on how to improve the customer experience.
  • Training: Help them see opportunities to create positive experiences and ways they can improve how they handle customer inquiries. A consistent and regular training program keeps employees fresh, engaged and current. 

Be aware, negative emotions drive customers away 

It’s no surprise that the more bad experiences a customer has, the less loyal they are to your brand. Somewhat surprisingly though, anger isn’t the only impact on loyalty. Making customers feel annoyed, disappointed or frustrated is equally related to a customer’s negative emotion towards your brand.

Bad customer experiences also hurt revenue and as an example, [easy-tweet tweet=”a multichannel bank leaves $124 million on the table for every 1-point decline in its CX Index score” template=”light”]

Having the right technologies deployed properly, such as these, can reduce customer frustration: 

Tech upgrades to turn negative into positive 

Modernize IVR: 

The good news is negative experiences are avoidable. 

If you haven’t looked at or updated your IVR in a while, this is often a good place to start. Since the IVR is the first brand touchpoint for your customers when they decide to call your company, the experience they have here will dictate how they feel throughout the journey. Some benefits to a modern IVR: 

  • Natural Language: Speech recognition and text to speech realism has vastly improved in recent years.  Customers can experience a completely new paradigm in interactive technology that is more fluid, genuine and comfortable. 
  • Personalization: Reflecting customers specific situation or recent activity such as booking a flight or tracking a package means the customer’s request can be serviced quickly and seamlessly.  
  • Integrated self-service: IVR integrated with CRM can greet a caller by name or send them directly to a dedicated agent if they are a premium customer. This not only reduces negative emotions but also helps to create positive ones by making them feel valued and happy with the experience. 

Omnichannel Desktop: 

Customers want to be able to contact your company using the channel of their choice and they expect a seamless experience from channel to channel. For example, if they start a booking online they want to be able to call in and have the agent see all the activity they did online. This is possible with an omnichannel desktop along with these other benefits: 

  • Efficient resolution: Customers get annoyed when they have to be put on hold or wait too long while an agent searches for information on multiple systems. One agent desktop/screen will help agents see all the information about the customer/order and help them more efficiently.
  • Customer focus: Systems working together properly mean the agent can focus their energy on the customer, not how to get to the right screen.  Active listening and empathy are more prevalent from a relaxed and organized agent.
  • Happier employees = happier customers:  When agents have the right tools to do their job they get frustrated less and enjoy their job more. Happy employees are more likely to provide happy experiences and care more about the customer.  

Don’t stop there 

Understanding the correlation between customer loyalty and positive emotion is good but how can you put the practices in place to make it a reality? Here are 3 steps to get you started:  

  1. Understand the role positive and negative emotions play in CX If you read this blog you’re your halfway there but you can also read this complimentary Forrester report  “The US Customer Experience Index, 2018” to learn even more about the role emotion plays in CX and other 2018 findings. 
  2. Strive for more positive experiences, less negative ones:  Understanding what needs to be done is always easier than implementing it but a good place to start would be to try and ensure you are delivering more positive customer experiences than negative ones. Companies that ranked high on Forrester’s CX Index, on average, are delivering 22 positive experiences to every negative experience (The US Customer Experience Index, 2018, Forrester Research, 2018). Your ratio might not be as good as this yet but the more you improve it, the closer you will be to increasing customer loyalty.
  3.  Learn how your CX quality stacks up to your competitors:  Do you know the CX leaders in your industry and where you rank? Download the US Customer Experience Index 2018 report to see which companies where high and low on the CX index and use the findings from this report to inform your ongoing CX improvement efforts. 

Achieving differentiated CX takes work but there are big gains for companies that make the effort. Just remember how important emotion is and that customers care about how their experience with your company makes them feel.  

 

10 Ways to Fix Your Agent Turnover Rate

Unless you have an awesome employee experience program in place, your contact center probably experiences high agent turnover – a real issue affecting most contact centers.  

[easy-tweet tweet=”In fact, increases in agent turnover have been shown to reduce workforce productivity by 40% and your organization’s financial performance by 26%” usehashtags=”no” template=”light”]

Not only are your productivity levels and financials being damaged, but your recruiting and training costs will only continue to rise.  

Why is agent turnover often high?

There are many reasons why agent turnover is probably higher than you like. Believe it or not, most of these reasons are in the control of customer service and operations management. 

From talking to some of our customers and learning about various contact center environments, we see these as top reasons why so many customer service reps don’t want to stick around and quit: 

  • Monotonous, repetitive tasks  
  • Frustrations with the agent technology and tools
  • Stress dealing with customers
  • Mismatch of tasks and skills
  • Lack of career advancement and training
  • Strict work environment 

That’s not the whole picture, but enough for employees to be less engaged, enthusiastic, and committed to their job.  

Interestingly, I came across a report called “The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis” which states that employee engagement levels in the US haven’t improved in the past 17 years. And in fact, only 32% of employees are engaged in their job.  

This is about employee engagement across all types of jobs. But it gets so much worse when we discuss the engagement levels of contact center employees. 

If your business objectives are to improve customer experiences through better customer engagements and to reduce operation costs, directors and managers of customer service and contact center operations should invest in ways to improve employee experiences: 

1. Set job expectations & motivate your agents right from the get-go

During the hiring process, make sure that the job descriptions are comprehensive enough that there are no surprises when your agents arrive for their first day of work.  

A day-in-the-life outline of everything that may happen is a helpful way to show agents that their job is so much more than simply responding to customers via phone, email, chat, etc. Now, this might sound fluffy, but explaining to new agents the importance of their job is crucial.

Your agents not only represent your brand, but they are hubs of valuable information about customers that can benefit many business areas, including marketing, customer insights, and sales. The more your employees feel that they can help a customer and the business overall, the more important they will feel within their roles. 

Takeaways:

  • Comprehensive job descriptions
  • Day-in-the-life outline
  • Customer service employee roles are beneficial to many business units

2. Match the right customer to the right agent

When agents feel like they can be valuable to customers and can handle customer calls, their satisfaction skyrockets.  

If your agents are being connected to customers who have questions or issues out of their realm, they can feel stressed and helpless.  

Don’t forget that as you update your routing, whether you focus on efficiency or improving customer experiences, you will improve the agent’s experience too.  

When customers feel they’ve been sent to the right agent the first time, through intelligent routing, and that person can help them without being handed off to someone else, they will have a more positive experience and are more likely to be pleasant for the agent to deal with. 

Generally, customers are willing to wait a little longer to reach the right person, but only a little. Today the expectation is that the person I reach should be able to handle my request. Transferring customer calls can be seen as a strike against a company, although it still happens often. 

The general challenge with routing is collecting enough information about the customer and any context/personalization. For example, the customer may have indicated in an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or online chat that they want to talk about their bill. That’s a broad category, which could include resending a bill, questions about an item on their bill, paying their bill, negotiating a payment plan for their bill, or more. The agent needs to be skilled in all those actions to be successful.  

So, the key point is not about the routing rules themselves, but to have broad categories that match a list of actions that agents are trained for. If there are gaps (e.g. agent can’t setup a payment plan), then reaching the “right agent” starts to break down. 

Takeaways:

  • Make sure your customer is routed to an agent who has the right data to solve the problem
  • Create broad categories and train the agent to solve all queries in that category 

3. Centralize data & reduce the overwhelming number of screens  

Having agents waste time searching for customer information over a variety of systems and screens is extremely unproductive.  

A maze of legacy systems makes the process of handling customer requests quite painful. To respond to customer inquiries the average agent spends 15% of their time searching for the information across these disparate systems 

  • CRM systems
  • Billing systems
  • Payment systems
  • Fulfillment systems
  • Knowledge-Base
  • Dispatch systems

All the frustration from trying to navigate all these systems efficiently leads to agent turnover. This converts to dozens if not hundreds of clicks to handle one customer interaction (Focus On Employees’ Daily Journeys To Improve Employee Experience, Forrester Research, Inc., April 20, 2018).

[easy-tweet tweet=”The Australian Post’s CX team observed employees change a customer’s address and only then discovered that the process took a shocking 160 clicks to complete.” usehashtags=”no” template=”light”]

This is obviously inefficient. Optimizing and fully integrating agent desktop and softphone technology in your contact center is critical.  

Giving agents easy-to-use, unified technology helps them be more effective and efficient, which then improves their morale and employee experience. Implementing a unified agent desktop solution brings together all your information and data from every-day multiple systems into one view or screen. This can give agents a complete picture of the customer and makes navigation between different applications unnecessary. 

Takeaways:

  • Consolidate systems to make it easier for agents to find data
  • Invest in easy-to-use agent technology

4. Automate mundane, repeatable tasks

High levels of monotony lead to high levels of attrition. It’s as simple as that. That’s why the most powerful driver of loyalty to the organization is empowerment. Therefore, it makes sense that some companies are starting to use automation to free workers to take on more fulfilling work.  

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machines can handle more and more of the routine business processes, increasing efficiency and speeding up resolution times.  

By reducing routine calls, data entry, report preparation, transaction details, system navigation, logs, and documentation, agents can focus on tasks that deliver personalized experiences for customers (AI is Ready for Employees, Not Just Customers, Forrester Research Inc., March 27, 2018). 

How many of you say a top priority in your contact center is to digitalize it? Well, the same report states that 55% of technology decision-makers are in the same boat as you. But there seems to be a gap in who wants this change and how many are doing it. The truth is only 32% are doing something about it. 

Personally, I’d make this a top priority if you want to free up your agents’ time and make customer experiences better.  

Takeaways: 

  • AI can do repetitive tasks faster and with more accuracy than agents
  • Automate tasks and processes to give agents the freedom to work on meaningful issues

5. Empower agents to collaborate to get the job done

I think it’s impossible to expect each individual agent to have all the answers to resolve customer issues.  

There’s nothing wrong with your agents collaborating with one another to provide the most helpful information to your customer. This can be enabled with technologies such as Skype for Business, Slack, Hipchat from Atlassian, or any number of communication tools. 

Invest in platforms that focus on simplifying and integrating the work environment, by bringing together processes, tasks, work management, and social collaboration seamlessly. 

Takeaways: 

  • Empower agents with collaboration tools to solve problems
  • Help create a sense of camaraderie and fulfillment

6. Provide more work-life balance and flexibility

Let’s be honest here – how many of you give your employees the flexibility to plan and create their own shifts for a better work-life balance?  

Just like you, your agents have families, obligations, and lives outside of their headset.  

Giving them the freedom to pick and choose their schedules, having small breaks throughout the day, or the ability to work from home will be a game-changer for their productivity and their stress levels. Sometimes, we can forget how stressful this job can be while we’re sitting in the back office.  

By giving this freedom to employees, you’re showing that you trust them, which helps drive long-term agent productivity and job satisfaction, both of which reduce agent turnover.

Dealing with agent turnover in the contact center

Takeaways: 

  • Trust begets trust; give agents flexibility to live their life 

7. Mentor your agents and provide opportunities for growth

If you saw no long-term vision for yourself at a company, would you leave? Of course, you would. The same goes for your customer service agents.

Helping them on the road to a strong career path will increase their job handling abilities, knowledge and overall satisfaction with their job. This, of course, does not come without any effort on your end. Create all-inclusive training guides or programs and spend time with your agents to understand what their goals, motivations, dreams, and ambitions are within their role.

It goes without saying: agents who feel valued and cared for by their employer are less likely to leave than those who feel like they are invisible.

Don’t just give your agents the tools to do their current job; have open conversations with them about where they see themselves going within the company, offer advice on what it takes to move up, and provide opportunities to advance within their role in the contact center.

Takeaways:

  • Create career pathways so your agents see this as their career, not just a job
  • Buddy new agents with successful agents who can act as mentors

8. Value your employees instead of cracking the whip

Worse is when contact center managers are not only lacking in mentorship and helping agents be successful, but also creating a workplace culture of fear. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen and experienced, it’s not uncommon.

If you really want your team to perform effectively, it’s true that it starts from the top. It’s up to management to establish a safe environment with open communication where employees feel valued.

Employees who feel they are valued will, in turn, make decisions that positively impact the company and the customers. If you are attempting to motivate your agents with discipline, it likely has opposite the intended effect, and agents will withdraw from their role.

Takeaways:

  • Your staff are adults; respect and treat them as such
  • Your job is to provide support, not discipline

9. Recognize and reward your high-performing agents

It seems intuitive that your agents would want to be recognized, but it is far less common in contact centers than you would think.

The Cicero Group recently asked people all over the world about how their current employer could help them improve their performance. The common thread across their answers was clear: “recognize me!” (The Employee Experience Imperative, Forrester Research, Inc., December, 15 2017).

There is nothing new here. As part of any employee experience, recognition is a requirement.

The ways that you recognize your agents do not have to be extravagant. For example, “Hey David! Great job last month. Your new Ferrari is waiting out front!”.  That would be great, but you can recognize your contact center agents in a much more simplistic (and more affordable) way through:

  • Top achiever awards
  • Experiences, like tickets to a sporting event or concert
  • Lunches outside the office with top-performing individuals or teams
  • Simple conversations with employees to say thank you

In general, stay away from numbers-based awards. This sounds strange, but they tend to impact the quality of call resolution because agents rush through calls to hit targets and not effectively resolve inquiries.

Seek feedback from your employees as well about how they would like to be recognized.

Again, listening to your agents is a sure-fire way to increase engagement and job satisfaction, both help reduce agent turnover.

Takeaways:

  • Recognize good work and reward staff accordingly
  • Making agents feel appreciated makes them more likely to stay

10. Ask your agents directly about their work experiences

It’s impossible to guess what agents are struggling with unless you are on the floor with them. Sometimes, the best way to understand how to improve employee experience and help them succeed is simply ask them directly or through an anonymous survey. Your agents are more likely to be honest about their experiences when it is not face-to-face.

Let’s look at this scenario: One of your agents is having a tough time resolving customer calls because their computer equipment is out-of-date, and their software is running slowly and inefficiently. The survey would identify this, and your team can look into systems that are more modern.

Improving the work environment and engaging your workforce is a continuous process, not just a one-time thing. And doing this will increase overall employee satisfaction.

Another example is finding out that sitting for long hours is hard, or the headset the agent is using is not comfortable enough. You can easily fix this by untethering agents from their desks with wireless headsets that are more comfortable. Headsets generally support productivity, so you should always consider comfort when investing in new audio devices, specifically investing in a headset that has been designed for all-day use. For an idea, here is one of the top-scoring headsets for agents.

Takeaways:

  • Talk to your staff, get feedback, and implement the changes you can to improve their work environment and job experiences

To summarize, here are 10 ways to fix your contact center agent turnover rate and improve their work experience:

  1.  Set job expectations & motivate your agents right from the get-go
  2. Match the right customer to the right agent
  3. Centralize data & reduce the overwhelming number of screens
  4. Automate mundane, repeatable tasks
  5. Empower agents to collaborate to get the job done
  6. Provide more work-life balance and flexibility
  7. Mentor your agents and provide opportunities for growth
  8. Value your employees instead of cracking the whip
  9. Recognize and reward your high-performing agents
  10. Ask your agents directly about their work experiences

I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the practices that you can begin to implement in your own contact centers to reduce agent turnover. I know these may seem like a lot to take in all at once, but start small and work your way up. Your agents (and your customers!) will thank you for it.

 

6 CX Competencies to Driving Better Customer Engagements

Overwhelming evidence confirms that improving CX does drive business results and that prioritizing customer experience is the proven path to success. However, many customers feel that only a few companies engage with them well, and even with those companies there is room for improvement.

So why are companies still struggling to deliver great customer engagements? For many organizations, this requires a customer engagement transformation. And how to go about this is often unclear.

Before moving forward with any CX strategy it’s important for your company to understand why it’s important to improve CX and what this will mean for the organization, including what CX competencies you need to establish. You need to assess where you stand on your journey to CX transformation and benchmark where you are against your competitors. This will help your company understand the level of transformation required as well as the urgency.

Once that’s done, you can plot your strategy. In the June 2017 report “Why and How to Lead A CX Transformation”, Forrester has identified 6 crucial CX competencies that companies must establish to start the transformation: research, prioritization, design, enablement, measurement, and culture.

6 CX competencies to establish and optimize

1. Researching your customer preferences

CX competencies
Figure 1: Forrester’s 6 CX competencies from the Forrester Report, “Why And How To Lead A CX Transformation”

If you are just getting started on your CX transformation, then the first thing to do is research to ensure there is a good understanding of your customers wants and needs. This should be the first competency you look at because otherwise it will be very hard to move forward with the other cx competencies necessary to develop your CX transformation strategy.

2. Prioritizing based on what matters most to both – your customers and your business

Prioritization can be done by ranking your most important customer groups, journeys, and interactions and aligning that with your business values and business success criteria, so you can then move forward with the right focus.

3. Designing customer experiences

Then, you will identify and define the experience you want customers to have based on your CX vision and customer understanding (developed in the research and prioritization cx competencies above). This requires generating ideas, prototyping, testing with customers, and repeating that process many times before deciding that a design is done.

It’s important to not define the experience based on what the business wants. Capture what your customers want, and then design the way the organization engages with customers to meet those experiences.

Remember that you want to achieve the experiences that you define, but you don’t control experiences directly. What you do control is how your organization engages with customers, which then leaves customers to perceive these interactions and this results in the experiences your customers have with your organization.

4. Enabling your employees with training, information, and tools

Once you’ve defined the customer experience you want to deliver, you must provide employees with the resources that they need to properly engage with customers, and ultimately provide this experience.

And so, for some companies this might be the hardest part of their CX transformation. If you are dealing with system and process silos or legacy technology, delivering the right CX might mean upgrading technology or fully integrating your business and contact center systems. Depending on resources, it might take longer to work through this stage. But don’t let that deter you. The alternative option of continuing to deliver low quality CX will hurt your company in the long run.

By having the right architecture in place, you can start providing your employees with training, information, and tools that support the intended experience across all touch points.

5. Measuring CX metrics

To understand if your company is doing CX well, will require you to quantify the quality of experiences and link them to your organizations’ overall metrics. Ideally, you want to analyze what happens when customer interact with your brand, how they perceive these interactions, and what they do as a result.

This might require a shift in how you look at customer interactions and what metrics you report on. For further insights into how to measure CX, read the blog Looking at Contact Center Metrics In A Customer-Centric Way.

6.Establishing a customer-centric culture

To make sure that CX is a priority in your company will require a system of customer-centric values and behaviors that focus employees on better engaging with customers.

This is an especially important competency to continue your CX vision and drive business success. If you try to create this culture without looking at the other cx competencies, you are likely to be unsuccessful.

A good start is to educate employees about your customers, CX vision, and their roles in fulfilling your vision. Reinforcing customer-centric behaviors through routines, celebrations, and rewards is another good way to establishing customer obsession in your organization.

Don’t wait to start your CX Transformation

Some CX competencies you may be more mature at than others. Forrester Research suggests that companies establish the competencies they are missing, and optimize those already established. Eventually all competencies need to be optimized to be a well-managed “customer obsessed” organization, and be able to keep innovating.

Remember that with great CX being uncommon these days, acting now means you can more easily get ahead of the competition.  Putting off the number one way to differentiate your business, will make CX differentiation much harder later on.

For more guidance on a CX transformation & how to implement these 6 competencies watch the webinar “CX Transformation: Six Essential Competencies”.

Why Prioritizing CX Is Your Secret Weapon To Business Success

Customer experience is a commonly discussed topic and certainly on the minds of many organizations. As Forrester research shows – 84% of CX executives work at firms that are prioritizing CX more than they did two years ago (“Why CX? Why Now? Forrester Research, October 5, 2016).

Although there are brands that have made significant transformations to delivering high quality CX, customer surveys reveal that this is only true for 1 in 5 brands (Why CX? Why Now?, Forrester Research, October 5, 2016). For many organizations, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Customers switch brands faster than ever

In the age of the customer, competitive strategy can no longer rely on strength at manufacturing, distribution, or information. Companies that focus on improving their products and services only, without looking for new and better ways to engage and delight customers, no longer stand out among the competition.

Due to a new customer behavior phenomenon called hyperadoption, customers easily switch brands after just one bad experience. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to get every customer interaction right and focus on the new competitive differentiator – customer experience.

Forrester has found that year after year, brands with higher quality CX experience faster revenue growth than their direct competitors with lower quality CX (“Why & How To Lead a CX Transformation, Forrester Research, June 19, 2017). It’s been proven that when customers have a better experience, their intentions to stay, buy more, and recommend the brand all increase.

Adopting a customer-obsessed mindset is the only way to survive

With great CX being exceedingly rare, this creates an opportunity for companies that focus on CX to differentiate from their competition in a major way. To retain customers and attract new ones your organization must adopt a CX focused mindset.

  • The first step on the path to delivering great CX is adopting a customer-obsessed way of operating. According to Forrester Research, companies that have made significant headway on the journey to customer obsession shifted from a customer-aware to a customer-led mindset (“Why & How To Lead a CX Transformation, Forrester Research, June 19, 2017). To make this transformation, you need to shift from delivering customer experience that your brand has defined as acceptable to providing experiences the customer wants instead.[su_spacer]
  • Next, you need to master CX management to reliably deliver the right CX. For many companies, this may be the hardest step, and most likely the reason why they haven’t been successful in engaging their customers. Improving CX can seem elusive because it’s based on customer’s perceptions of their interactions with your brand, but it’s not as mysterious as you may think.[su_spacer]

Forrester has identified the CX competencies that your company must establish to deliver the right CX along with strategies that will allow your company to successfully complete your CX transformation.

Download this complimentary copy of the Forrester report “Why & How To Lead A CX Transformation” to learn about these competencies and gain deeper insight into how to implement this transformation within your organization.

Do Customer Expectations Vary By Channel? [infographic]

Much has been made of “omni-channel” focus within companies and contact centers – and rightfully so.  Customers now have more ways to communicate with businesses than ever before. They can choose to engage via voice, smartphone apps, email, chat, as well as through an ever increasing list of social media options!

According to ContactBabel’s 2014 US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide, the same percentage of customers now prefer to communicate via interactive, social and mobile channels as those who prefer traditional channels.

However, it’s too simplistic to assume that customers expect to use these channels to the exclusion of other options. Rather, I believe businesses can build more effective processes and improve customer experiences by analyzing how customer interaction choice is influenced by three main factors and shaped by customer expectations of those interactions. This allows a business to effectively segment their interactions and make them streamlined, according to how they are most likely used and meet customer expectations.

Regardless of channel chosen, customers today have the following expectations about their business interactions:

  • Accuracy and security: Interactions need to have current and accurate consumer information that is well protected.
  • Context: Companies need to know the consumer, what they want to do, and have their history and data readily available for some level of personalized response.
  • Speed: Consumers want interactions to be efficient with their time and don’t like being asked to repeat themselves or provide information already entered elsewhere.

 

Beyond the universal expectations, there are three general factors that influence a customer’s choice of interaction channel:

  • Circumstances: Often, customers decide on the contact option based on the current location, tools/applications available, and the urgency of their need. For example, if the matter is urgent – customers might attempt to contact the company via phone or web chat.
  • Nature of the task: Is it simple or complex?  Is it a one way interaction (i.e. notification) or will it need to be interactive as in problem solving? If the request is as simple as updating the home address, a customer might decide to proceed via self-service, or send an email.
  • Personal preference of technology: What is the customer most comfortable with?  Businesses can’t ignore the generational impact, here as demographics strongly influence technology choices which directly relate to the interaction choice. According to Dimension Data’s 2015 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report, social media is now the most popular contact option for Generation Y.

Preparing a channel strategy and designing interaction paths can help streamline efforts, control costs and positively impact customer service.

When evaluating their customer interaction channels and strategy, businesses should consider their customers’ circumstances, tasks as well as their preferences and demographics when designing the interaction flow to improve customer experience and meet customer expectations.

See the infographic to better understand customer preferences, expectations and business guidance by interaction channel:

customer-expectation-interaction-channel-infographic-01-01

 

5 Keys to Effective Customer Journey Maps

As companies compete for market leadership position, it is quite easy for them to focus internally – either on processes to improve efficiency in delivery of their product, or on research and development to remain competitive. This can distract from understanding the market for which they are competing. Understanding how the market views, interacts and deals with their company is equally important.

Customer Journey Maps are an effective tool for companies to document customer perspective and identify key interaction points to monitor measure and improve upon the entire customer journey. This practice results in enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction. The more touch points you have, the more complicated it becomes.

Creating Customer Journey Maps can be arduous, but the end result, if done correctly, can help all facets of the company understand how customers interact with, and perceive the company in the market. Consider these points when creating Customer Journey Maps:

1. Don’t rely on generic client demographic data, instead determine the segmentation of your customer base

Find an appropriate balance between high level demographic based research and result data from an existing customer base.  For example, the general expectation is that older customers are less likely to use alternative communication channels, such as chat, social media or SMS.

However, in the print media industry, a segment of their interactions come from a more senior population who own multiple properties and migrate between them throughout the year. These senior clients are largely migratory and do not own a land line. Instead, they perform their interactions from a mobile device and are proficient in the use of alternative media channels.

Often, decisions are made on general assumptions about customer behavioral traits that aren’t always true. Most companies don’t regularly gather customer perspectives or share the insights when they do. But without an outside view on what is important, and what does or doesn’t work, your journey map will lack an accurate view of the customer, leading to decisions based on incomplete or flawed information.

2. Avoid analysis paralysis

Given the breadth of data available, it’s easy to include lots of it. This can result in dizzying complexity.

Remember, you are creating a tool to help you easily understand the customer and identify what is most important to them.

Create customer journeys that represent the largest customer interaction segments to achieve consensus to move forward with design, measurement and optimization. As with any collaborative process, define a decision structure with the right levels of empowerment. The goal is not to make everyone happy, instead, find the most efficient solutions to satisfy the customer experience.

Keep your strategic goals in the forefront to guide you in your employment of journey maps.

3. View as a living iterative process

What may be true today may not be true tomorrow. Invest in efforts to maintain a customer journey map that evolves according to the changing needs of the customer. Customer habits can change quickly in the new social world and must be reviewed regularly to address new habits.

4. Establish key interaction points

Identify points of bottleneck, inefficiency, and positive service levels. Journey events of significant impact have a greater bearing on the customer’s perspective of the company. Great journey maps separate critical moments from the rest.

A customer journey map helps to identify gaps, and disjointed or painful customer experiences, such as:

  • Gaps between information channels when users receive mixed messaging across various channels
  • Gaps between departments where users get frustrated with internal communication issues

5. Measure value at key interaction points

Contact Centers are a collection of complex software processes that generate a tremendous amount of interaction data. Most contact centers rely on traditional analysis, such as manual data gathering, text editors and generic log analysis tools in an attempt to understand the data and the customer experience.

Identifying those key customer touch points is not enough. You must set up your environment to correctly measure and track outcomes around key interactions.

A centralized system that breaks down the silos of measurement, minimizes the need for multiple tools, establishes a common set of measurements, and offers a holistic view of all interactions is a key consideration. The solution must have the ability to:

  • Capture all events around all customer interactions and easily enable analysis of that data
  • Provide a near real-time visibility to trends and issues
  • Provide the ability to anticipate trouble in key interaction areas
  • Allow quick drill down and provide cradle to grave visibility of the entire interaction experience

Investigating a customer experience from cradle to grave with traditional tools requires intensive manual efforts and consolidation of data form various systems. Streamlining tools, such as CIMplicity Visualizer, captures as much of the experience as possible, by reducing analysis and maintenance overhead.

4 Key Takeaways from G-Force 2015

G-Force 2015 was held at the beautiful Fontainebleau Hotel located on the white sandy beaches of South Miami. For many, that may be the most memorable part of the conference this year. This could hold especially true for those who danced Tuesday night away at the party presented by Empirix. For others, the shear whirlwind of activity can be overwhelming.

For either group, the following list might help to refocus on (what many will agree are) the main take away points from this year’s conference:

1.  Omni-channel

For several years, the focus for Genesys has been multi-channel. Multi-channel is about providing customers with different ways to engage with a company, such as SMS, email or chat. Omni-channel is about the use of multiple channels over multiple interactions within the context of a single request or transaction.

For example, a customer may initiate a transaction on the web, start a chat while there, or share a browser session with an agent to submit a form. Then, the customer will anticipate a call back to complete the process. In some instances, the customer may call the company to follow-up on the request. All these separate interactions share a single context, which is to fulfill the customer request or transaction. This omni-channel experience is also referred to as the “customer journey”.

2. Customer Experience (CX) Will be the Differentiator

For years, companies were able to eke out an advantage if they had the technology or applications in place to provide a service. The look or feel of technology didn’t matter, as long as it served a useful function. The ATM comes to mind. Most recently the design and interface of applications took a front seat and customers started to expect a better user experience to go along with the expected functionality.

Think about the mobile banking apps that allow cheques to be deposited by simply taking a picture! Now, especially with millennials taking over, it is expected that all applications will be highly functional and have a rich user experience. So, that leaves companies with finding ways to differentiate themselves; many are anticipating that the CX will be the way.

This could be achieved by enabling a customer to use the mobile app to request a callback or place an inbound call where the context of their experience and login is passed along first to the routing platform and then to the agent.

3. The Internet of Things

IoT is going to play a significant role in customer experience. Customers are going to be able to engage through devices that go far beyond mobile phones. Likewise, customers are going to expect companies to proactively contact them and provide an active not a passive service.

An example that comes to mind is the water filter in my fridge. It would be great if instead of just notifying me that the filter needs to be changed, it offers to have the company contact me to place an order for the correct filter for my fridge. I get a call and provide my credit card number and in a few days the filter shows up. In this engagement, they may even get me on a subscription for auto-renewal instead of having to call me.

4. Artificial Intelligence is Coming (Is here!)

IBM is positioning Watson as the forerunner of the Cognitive Era. The Cognitive Era replaces the Programming Era in which rules were followed through setup and configuration with the result of the same experience being applied to many. In the Cognitive Era, systems adapt and learn to customize the experience. The big difference is that systems in the new era can detect patterns and learn and adapt, which create a unique user experience.

I won’t go in depth here but I encourage people to learn more about what Watson is. Watson represents a significant move towards artificial intelligence and auto-attendant capabilities. It doesn’t replace the agent. In fact, Watson can be used to help the agent. But the speed at which AI is improving is staggering and slightly frightening.

For most companies, there remains a gap between where they are today with their current solutions, and the key capabilities listed with these highlights from G-Force mentioned above. The companies leading the way in better engagement with their customers are able to close that gap quickly.

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Understanding Contact Center Trends Ahead of Next Year’s Budget

Lots of people, including myself, are in the throws of budget season right now. It can be a stressful time. It brings to light how the current year has unfolded, have targets for the year been met, have budgets been exceeded or not being used. And if that is the case then – will those ‘extra’ funds be allocated to other areas in the company?

On top of this stress is the likelihood that you will have to present to upper management, financial officers and executives, which can be a daunting tasks in itself.

For most people, the budget and planning season is a look at the past results within your specific business. Geoffrey Moore, in his book “Escape Velocity”, refers to this inward view as the “pull of the past”. It doesn’t include market or industry perspective, and it doesn’t include insight from outside of your department or organization. To combat this, Moore suggests that “you and your colleagues take time to develop and bring to the table an outside-in, market-centric perspective”. This is where I believe Aria can help.

Aria has developed a three step process called SmartStart that can help organizations chart a path and budget that includes “industry insight”. The three step plan is part of Aria’s initiative to help contact centres move beyond looking in the rear-view mirror when creating budgets and plans. We want to enable contact centres to become customer engagement centres.

First, Aria provides a look at the Customer Engagement industry as whole. We use our 17 years of experience, combined with analysis from research firms, to present current and future trends. We then work with you to better understand your business and help create a roadmap that includes a cost-benefit analysis of the customer engagement technologies – tailored to your business goals.

Aria doesn’t stop there. They aim to stay engaged with clients and meet with them at regular intervals to help refine and adapt the roadmap to ever-changing needs and demands.

You may feel that you are already too deep into the budget and planning season. Perhaps, you are; but the next budget and planning season, like winter, will be upon us before we realize it. By engaging Aria with SmartStart early on, you may just enter the season with a new level or readiness.

As Moore states, “The world is more powerful than you. The market is more powerful than you. Your customers are more powerful than you. And the sum of all your partners and competitors – the ecosystem – is more powerful than you…so given the enormous challenge of counterbalancing the inertial momentum of last year’s plan, what do you say we tap into some of these external sources of power to give you company a boost?”

Learn more about Aria’s free SmartStart program here.

The Symbolic SWIFT

One of the fastest and most agile birds on the planet is the swift bird. Its remarkable wing structure shows a steadily gliding bird. To prevent exhaustion, the wing converts potential energy to counteract the aerodynamic forces.

The wing features a non-powered flight, with fixed wings at a constant flight speed. In other words, the swift demonstrates nature’s ability to turn adversity into a benefit.

Last week, Aria boldly assigned the SWIFT bird as the new symbol of Aria’s solution line, which shows similarity to the swift bird wing:

Agility – The  solution contains a wide range of capabilities, and like the bird’s wing, it employs force, by leveraging Aria’s contact center expertise in collaborative requirements and solution design sessions.

Speed – Like a fast bird, the Swift solutions limits wasted time on customization, and offers a 60 day deployment option.

Control – The Swift solution is built, maintained and supported easily, through simple configurations.

Maneuverability – The software, hardware, and omni-channel features a rich and a broad suite, which adapts to any environment.

Adversity into Benefit – It’s more affordable and lower risk than traditional custom implementations, which increases SWIFT’s return on investment.

While SWIFT solutions are suitable for many contact centers right out of the box, it can be expanded to provide the capabilities of larger and more expensive solutions. The line currently includes the SWIFT Premises solution and SWIFT assets.

3 Steps to Providing More Engaged Customer Service

I am increasingly frustrated by quick thoughtless responses during transactions.

For example, when I was ordering dinner at a restaurant the other night, our server responded to my dinner choice as ‘awesome’ and ‘perfect’.

When our dinner arrived – they were neither ‘awesome’ nor ‘perfect’. My guest ordered a dinner that turned out to have no starch with it and mine arrived missing half of what I had ordered. It was obvious that the server had simply shown up and was in dress-code. This appeared to be the only pre-requisites at this restaurant.

So, what could have been an alternative to the server’s thoughtless responses? How about responses that showed that the server was engaged in what he/she was doing? When my guest ordered his dinner the server could have said, “I really enjoy that but it doesn’t come with any starch on the side, would you like to order a side of rice?”.

It doesn’t have to be complicated and can even be an opportunity to ‘upsell’ without being scripted or feeling pressured.

While I speak of an experience at a restaurant, this type of ‘zombie’ service happens far too often and across all sectors of service, including call centers. I notice it in meetings too.

So, how can your employees provide more engaged customer service in the customer transactions?

I suggest that you start with these three easy steps:

  • Make sure your staff or team are trained to discuss the various aspects of your products
    Really, it’s simple. If your team doesn’t know the products then they won’t be able to engage in a meaningful conversation about your offerings.
  • Ask questions during the transaction
    Try to use open ended type questions rather than yes/no questions. For example, ‘how does the curry cauliflower as a side sound?’ vs ‘is cauliflower as a vegetable okay?’
  • Practice customer interactions
    This comes down to training again. Playing out scenarios can be a very effective way of preparing your team for better customer engagements.

Realizing that you or someone on your team is providing ‘zombie’ service is a good start. Now, ensure that your team is more engaged when interacting with your customers. This will help you to transform your customer service center into a customer engagement center.