Category Archives: Customer Engagement

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.

Defining ARIA: What does Opera have to do with Contact Centers?

On a company conference this year, a group of us was sitting at a table and chatting about the history of our company. We all became curious about the origin of the company name “Aria”, but none of us could answer the question – “Why was it named this way”?

First, we decided to look up the definition of “Aria” online. Wikipedia defined it as:

“a self-contained piece for one voice, with […] orchestral accompanied, normally part of a larger work.”

That was confusing. What does opera have to do with contact centers?

A few people joked that the name was chosen based on a ‘phonebook rule’ to have Aria Solutions listed on the top of the list. Surprisingly, we know of at least one client that started looking for a partner from the top of the alphabet. We were the first to respond, and we got the deal.

Obviously, this was not the real reason and we felt that the meaning was much deeper. So, we kept digging into it.

We decided to ask the Aria Solutions’ founders (Rob Church and Noel Roberts) why they chose this name 19 years ago. Noel answered:

“My wife suggested it, because contact center projects can involve lots of ‘players’ working in harmony together, performing a beautiful Aria.”

Finally, this was making sense to us! In business, we usually think of effective business as a coordination of individual efforts within a team, much like a symphony of voices and talent.

An Aria is a voice, or a single interaction, such as an agent in a voice call with a customer. What is not always visible is the supporting technology “orchestra”. Just as the lead in the Aria would falter without the orchestra, so would the agent without the supporting technology.

Aria values the small, incremental improvements that result from empowering individual voices. When we looked around at our colleagues, we began to hear the melody in our hearts. From our sales, technical teams, IT to Support – each person brings dedication, resourcefulness and expertise that combine to make our corporate team. We are very proud of our team!

We believe that ARIA comprises these key values: Adaptability, Reliability, Innovation and Accomplishment.

Shakespeare once wrote that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Perhaps. We think the name of our organization only strengthens our values!

4 Easy Steps to More Productive Meetings

Meetings can dominate our workdays. Yet, all too often we come out of them thinking “that was a waste of time”. To add to the frustration, meeting invites rarely have agendas or clearly identify what the goals of the meeting are. Even with these glaring challenges we can all take these basic steps to improve our meetings:

1.Invite the right people to your meeting

When setting up a meeting, some people are tempted to include everyone who has ever had anything to do with the project. The problem is – the more people involved, the harder it is to make a decision. With smaller groups there is more flexibility when scheduling a meeting. If it is not absolutely necessary to have some people on the meeting, don’t invite them and instead, let them do something more productive.

2.Take time to introduce the topic

Don’t assume that the audience knows everyone or why they are on the call. We all need a sense of direction, so before you start, give people a heads up of what is going to be covered. Make sure you answer these questions: “What is the topic that needs to be discussed?”, and “What do we want to accomplish on this meeting?”

3.Listen with intent and speak clearly

Sometimes, it can be difficult not to interrupt, especially when on conference calls. But it becomes much easier if you listen with the intent to understand what the speaker is saying. The meeting just might be less of a waste of time than you originally thought.

When you speak, take time and pause to emphasize a point. Stick to 1 or 2 points. Even repeat the points. You are more likely to be successful with your message if you strive to have people focus on 1 or 2 key points only. Let’s face it, they are probably heading off to another meeting after this one, which will undoubtedly require them to focus on more things.

4.Summarize next steps at the end of the meeting

Even if it is not your meeting, don’t be afraid to state your understanding of the decision made and next steps, such as immediate actions and people responsible for their execution.

If your meeting is 60 minutes long, it doesn’t mean that the entire hour needs to be filled. Focus on a key item that needs to be accomplished and don’t be hung up on other things. If it’s accomplished, end the meeting.

While these recommendations may not make all meetings go more smoothly, these steps can help eliminate the common frustration of ineffective meetings. When you approach meetings more strategically, you are more likely to save time, solve problems, improve communication, and reduce costs.

Ways to Better Engage Customers Through Agent Blending of Social and Digital Channels

As summer approaches, the idea of a smooth, blended margarita on a patio becomes more of a reality. Ah…the warm sun and a blended drink – very refreshing. Can blending be this satisfying for a contact center? Absolutely.

Blending has been around since the 90’s, so why bringing this up? With more pressure to engage customers combined with the social media revolution, contact centers have an increasing number of channels to support.

Remember, it used to be just a ‘call center’. Now it’s chat, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, forums… the list goes on.

You are probably familiar with the concept, but before we dive into the details – let’s level set on what we mean by ‘blending’. Blending is when a contact center agent handles different types of work in a given shift. Agent blending can take three forms:

  • An agent handles one type of work (chat, SMS, twitter, etc.) for a period of time then switches to the other type of work.
  • An agent handles one type of work at a time but alternates between each type of work – based on what is delivered to them (chat, then twitter, chat).
  • An agent handles multiple types of work at the same time (a chat interrupts work on twitter response).

Why Blend?

It’s been well documented that blending is more efficient if deployed in a strategic way. The more staff that can do various types of work improves the utilization of agents. However, don’t assume that all agents have equal proficiency in verbal and written communication or are great at task switching. Take advantage of those agents that are capable to drive greater efficiencies

What Type of Blending Should You Deploy?

This goes back to management 101. If you cannot measure it, you can’t manage it. And if you cannot manage it then the original benefit of becoming more efficient is lost. Be careful with option three. Often, the constant interruption and complexities of implementation outweigh the benefits.

So, How Do You Obtain the Desired Results From Blending?

Most implementations focus only on the blended routing aspect of the solution. In other words, the technology can route all interaction types to an agent. But the real management and efficiency derived from a blended solution comes from reporting. And this is where the focus should be.

There are three critical needs to focus on in relation to a blended solution and reporting:

  • First by default, the reporting solution may inaccurately report agent performance when an agent is logged in and available to handle more than one type of work within the same day. We have seen deployments where the blended agents are reported as working more than 25 hours per day due to double counting. I wish I had an extra hour each day.
  • Second, changes to the agent desktop may be required to accurately report the agent’s blended work activity. These agent desktop customizations can be costly and complex.
  • Finally, focus on reporting and the needs of the workforce management system (WFM). It’s the WFM system that helps determine the schedules of the agents to be available at the right place and the right time. So, focus on reporting needs effectively manage and obtain the efficiency from your blended contact center solution.

10 Steps to More Effective Business Partnerships

First of all, I want to define “partner” as a significant supplier of ancillary goods or services, who is neither the primary vendor nor the purchaser. Partners include: contractors, consultants, service providers, outsourcers, etc.

You trust them with your business results, customers, and reputation. The wrong business partnerships can result in increased costs, poor results, and significant frustration.

Often, too little effort or too much process and paperwork leads to the wrong partner choice.

Partnerships are relationships! With this in mind, let’s look at 10 simple ways to improve business results, by improving relationships with your business partners:

  1. Select partners carefully. Don’t start with the A’s in the phone book. Make sure you know the important things to be done and find the right partner that can do them.
  1. Don’t ask for the world at a bargain price. You’re not shopping at Walmart. Good results require good people/products/services, so you have to pay a fair price.
  1. Sign a good contract that protects both parties and is negotiated fairly. Deal with business constraints upfront. Last-minute price bashing or bait and switch tactics are bad ways to start this relationship.
  1. Consider long-term consequences of the relationship. Cultural fit is important, as are considerations on price increases over time, obligations, key resources/services, change requests, termination conditions, etc.
  1. Make it personal. Identify people responsible for success and get to know them. Communicate often and openly to address issues and opportunities quickly.
  1. Have mutual respect for each other. Don’t be quick to dismiss others’ concerns and remember to listen, understand, and stay focused on the business results. Defensive and negative behavior is a no win game.
  1. Be loyal. Loyalty is important in any relationship and the grass is not always greener. This does not mean settling. Instead, always aim to improve things, and don’t break something that is working well.
  1. Be a reference for good work. This usually leads to more good work.
  1. Don’t nickel and dime. Flexibility is key. Stay focused on the key items.
  1. End the relationship quickly if it’s not working. Business is hard, don’t waste time when it is not happening.

I am sure you get the picture. And no, I’m not a marriage counselor. This is about what is best for your business and reducing frustration when dealing with key business partners.

The Secret to Happiness when Hiring External Consultants

Those who know me – know that I often say “the secret to happiness is low expectations.” While there is an element of truth to this, and it is usually good for a laugh, the real secret to happiness in business is CLEAR expectations.

Without clarity, clients don’t know what to expect from vendors and external consultants, and can be unhappy. Project scope can become contentious and schedules are at risk, because there are different ideas about what was included and planned and what was not.

When a company hires outside expertise, they have certain goals and expectations as to what will be accomplished or which problems will be solved. Because they are typically hiring specific expertise, it is not reasonable to assume they will automatically have the same background and expectations as those they hire. This means there is an additional obligation to ensure any scope of work is clear and understood by all parties involved.

Additionally, this communication and clarity need to be shared by all relevant levels within each organization. A little more diligence in this area returns huge benefits in terms of better deals and more successful projects and engagements.

Clear expectations can impact a company internally as well. Employee morale is reduced when people don’t know what is expected. Everyone wants to feel like they are doing a good job, and that ability hinges on having clear direction and expectation of performance. This allows people to evaluate themselves in advance and know how they are doing.

It should be noted that clarity of expectations is much easier said than accomplished. We unintentionally make assumptions about what others know and expect, because we are all unique and bring different knowledge and experience to every situation.

This explains a lot of the differing perceptions around Millennials and their ambition and performance in the workplace. Unwritten rules and expectations often come into play, and employees may not realize they are not meeting expectations.

The best way to address lack of clarity is twofold:

  1. Try to state the important expectations you have – the things that make or break customer projects or employee performance. Documenting these is best – but at a minimum, a detailed conversation is required.
  2. Ask questions to ensure there is understanding and allow time for adequate discussion.

There may not always be complete agreement – but at least there is a better chance potential conflict items are brought up, discussed and hopefully resolved earlier in process – which saves time and money and ultimately, makes everybody happier.