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Artificial Intelligence is Slowly Transforming Contact Centers
March 14, 2017
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In May 2017 at ICMI Expo Shep will share some of the 52 “Amazement Tools” featured in his book of the same name. Learn best practices, tactics, and strategies to help them deliver the most amazing customer service on the planet.

Over the years, I have watched artificial intelligence swiftly move from a thing of the future to a practical element in the improvement of contact center operations. With the contact center remaining a vital component of customer acquisition and retention, it seems obvious that continual advancements are key in boosting the success of businesses worldwide. When it comes to improving the contact center experience for improved client acquisition and retention, intelligent network interfaces are beyond compare. Understanding just how artificial intelligence beneficially alters the contact center landscape has helped me see how this feature benefits business operations.

I had the opportunity to talk to Shep Hyken, author “Amaze Every Customer Every Time” recently. Shep believes we are “going to see artificial intelligence play a big support role in the world of customer service. AI will help companies with the most menial tasks like changing address. However, when it comes to something bigger, AI (Artificial Intelligence) becomes IA (Intelligent Assistant).“

Emotional Sensitivity for Improved Quality of Service (QoS)

To best serve clients, contact center agents must accurately detect and respond to emotional changes in the caller’s voice. Improperly reading the client’s emotional status can sour the end user experience and paint the company in a bad light. Since clients share negative business experiences far more often than positive interactions, unfavorable reviews could spread like wildfire due to a single agent’s inability to pick up on these details.

An intelligent network, however, has the power to pick up on the tonal differences and speech pattern changes that indicate a heightened emotional state. The system then notifies the contact center agent about the client’s emotional status to enable a positive result to an interaction that may have otherwise taken a negative path.

The system also has the power to provide feedback about the agent’s emotional response and act as a guide for the use of a beneficial tone. Not surprisingly, contact centers with this emotional feedback system in place report a 28 percent increase in the satisfaction of their customers.

Shep, who will be a keynote speaker at the ICMI Contact Center Expo and Conference in May, envisions a scenario where “the AI is listening to the call in realtime and communicating to the call center rep what he or she needs to tell the customer. Moreover, in addition to that, especially for contact centers and support centers that might have a sales role involved, the AI will tell the rep what to sell this customer next, what they are going to need next. They are going to listen to the call and the artificial intelligence will, through word recognition, intonation, the context of the call, it will be able to do amazing things in five years.”

But he quickly corrects himself: “We are almost there now. We are like sitting on the doorstep of this.”

Word Choice Dictionaries Assist Service Architecture

Clients who dial a contact center’s number likely have a complaint or question in need of a quick resolution. When calls are improperly routed through the system, clients end up feeling frustrated well before reaching the desired department, making it difficult for contact agents to fully resolve the issue.

Thankfully, continual improvements in the word choice dictionaries used by contact center software vendors actively help to improve the client experience by routing the calls to the right department every time. An intelligent network can detect short and long tail keywords to accurately direct the client through the menu system without delay.

Like the tone of voice and speech patterns, word choice acts as a smart indicator into the state of mind of each client. If any clients utilize hostile language, speech analytic software can send the callers to specialized agents to offer an additional layer of service and support. Thus, this smart system not only improves customer relations but also offers a boost to cyber security.

Intelligent Network Learning Boosts Speech Recognition

With each day of activity, an intelligent network becomes more adept at learning about the unique needs of its associated client base. The system actively improves the quality of service by learning just how to accurately implement traffic management and speech recognition techniques for each unique business model. As client resolution times decrease in response, QoS stats increase in tandem. Since the system learns day by day, a commitment to the utilization of cloud contact center software for the long term has the potential to offer returns in the form of steadily increasing QoS improvements.

Embracing the Power of Scalable Intelligent Networks

As the interactive voice response (IVR) system learns about the company’s operations, the telecommunication infrastructure must scale in response. With IVR and intelligent networks as a long-term growth strategy, cloud-managed services are needed to facilitate the expansion of a highly scalable infrastructure. Storing software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) drivers in the cloud allows IT managed services to increase exponentially in size through the years.

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Cisco CUIC for Actionable Insights Into Contact Center Operations
January 16, 2017
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Your contact center is a lifeline to your customers.  And the contact center reports you receive are the quickest, most efficient way of measuring success.

Contact Center Reporting dashboardThe day-to-day management of a contact center is about refining business processes in real-time and responding to unplanned changes quickly and efficiently.  Here is some key of the reasons why reporting is so critical for contact center stakeholders:

Through continuous analysis of contact center applications, reportings tools can help drive more customer transactions to completion – and faster – thus achieving the customer’s goal resulting in higher customer satisfaction.

  • To determine where callers are dropping off in an IVR system and quickly make positive changes to the call flow.
  • To identify what customers are commonly calling about and address those issues up front through automation, effectively reducing the load on live agents while also increasing customer satisfaction by addressing caller needs quickly.
  • To gain insight into contact handle times of abandoned and missed calls. Detect inefficiencies in agent performance that may need additional training. And to view a business dashboard of all core metrics, including queue and agent activity, statistics such as total calls by time of day and average call duration, allowing you to schedule agents accordingly.

Cisco Unified Intelligence Center provides a relational view of contact center objects (queues, agent teams/groups, agents, skill groups, etc.), enabling managers to navigate through their business processes with ease.  This tool provides the ability to apply appropriate action accordingly to ensure the highest level of service for your firm and your customers.

Cisco’s Unified Intelligence  Center (CUIC) reporting application provides rich and timely data to respond/report on situations within the contact center.  CUIC provides the ability to monitor, via real time or historical, all activity and interactions from a single touch point. Statistics can be viewed by media type (calls, emails,  chats, etc.), agent team(s), by an individual agent(s,), skill groups, etc.

•    An  Enterprise-wide  view  of  operations  from  almost  any  device  that  supports a web connection
•    Multiple combinations of real time user0defined displays of agents, teams, queues, skill  groups and applications
•    The ability to mix real-time and historical reporting via one window (Dashboard)
•    On-demand contact center data that can be exportable to standard desktop requests for ease in analyzing
•    Alerts that are flexibly defined with different color-coded threshold indicators that alert  users when defined limits have been reached
•    Scheduling capabilities that allow for reports to be delivered via email in formats such as MS Excel and pdf.  Data can also be provided to other systems via CSV formats via a file share methodology.

Based on the premise that no two contact centers are alike, CUIC allows managers to define the operational metrics (e.g. service level definitions) to best manage the unique goals of your business.

Feedback and analysis complete the contact flow. Each step of the contact flow through your business provides an opportunity for measurement – not just of operational information, but business information, as well. Cisco Unified Intelligence Center uses well0documented data warehousing techniques to provide a complete, understandable view of customer contact and related business information.

You can access reports whenever they are needed. Reports can be requested upon demand or scheduled based on your unique business needs. Template sharing and distribution is made available via email and web access (on0net or off0net). Informative graphs and drill down links to supporting information are available via menu choices or hyperlinks.

CUIC comes with templates that are already designed to get a contact center up and running quickly. Interval reporting is supported via 15 or 30 minutes, with daily, weekly, and monthly templates ready from the start. Real Time information is always available.

Key acronyms to remember:

  • TR – Transitional Reports, useful for adapting from other ACDs to UCCE PQ – Precision Queue, a more advanced method of matching callers to agents
  • SG – Skill Group, agents who are members, have been assigned that skill
  • CT – Call Type, method of categorizing calls

CUIC Dashboards

CUIC dashboard 2Reporting templates are stored in folders, accessible to users via the CUIC Reports page. Multiple subfolders can exist, and user access is managed via security settings. Both real-time and historical information is accessed via the same interface. Users with appropriate rights can build/manage their folders and grant access to other users if needed.   Dashboards, a compilation of various reports and other items, can be created and published for users that do not require access to the CUIC main window. Combining data (call type, skill group, agent teams) can assist the end0user with what is happening in the contact center.

The dashboards access real-time and historical information without having to access CUIC itself. This is accomplished via the use of permalinks, a standard feature of CUIC.   Permalinks can be stored as bookmarks on any compatible browser (IE, FF, etc).

More about CUIC dashboard can be found in the  Cisco Unified Intelligence Center User Guide, Release 11.5(1) 

Dashboard pic above courtesy: http://comstice.com/wallboard/wallboard.html

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Build or Buy Contact Center Analytics?
January 2, 2017
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Contact Center AnalyticsAs software capabilities evolve from data collection through data analysis to the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), it’s generating exciting possibilities for the Contact Center reporting tools as well.

Not only for processing, interpreting and extrapolating the rich seams of customer data generated on contacts (calls, chats, email) but also as an effective means of optimizing agent performance, training, and recruitment.

But before acquiring the latest technological solutions as they emerge, the contact center leader must first derive and implement a clear strategy, which begins by identifying and prioritizing the specific problems to be solved on the company’s customer service performance goals, and how the new methods will complement existing resources.

Inherent to the strategy must be the ability to measure its effectiveness.

If the company still measures the success of its call center in terms of time and cost, it will require substantial change. Change will mean evolving from good old efficiency outcomes like Average Speed to Answer ASA, Average Hold Time AHT, the number of abandoned calls, and Service Level to customer perception, attitude, and behavior.

Big Data – and what to do with it

Each call handled by the contact center contributes to the valuable feedback that allows a company to gauge customer response, identify areas which must be improved, and adjust accordingly.

Advanced contact center reporting tools (often referred to as Analytics) are descriptive in nature and provide companies with the ability to collect and categorize these calls and retrieve customer data and history as and when required.

An individual call may not reveal much in isolation, but harvesting the collective power of these massive data sets identifies patterns and trends that can be translated into actionable information, and can quickly flag problem areas as they occur.

contact center analytics Predictive Analytics

Advances in computer science, such as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, go further than just identifying trends and employ algorithms and complex models to assemble computer-generated predictions based on the historical lessons learned from the information collected.

Collectively known as Predictive Analytics, they can be used to interpret and extrapolate data to identify weaknesses and anticipate trends and problems.

The conclusions can be further refined through simulation or optimization to give deeper insights than traditional reporting or to improve specific decisions.

Prescriptive Analytics

By using a model to predict the outcome of a decision and compare its anticipated outcome against those of the alternatives, prescriptive analytics can go further by recommending a course of action.
Ability to accurately recommend “next best action” to the contact center agents is the holy grail of contact center efficiency.

The importance of having a strategy

Contact Center stakeholders face the challenge of selecting a software with the best return on in investment. But many are not sure how to get started with contact center analytics and feel they must make a significant investment in new tools and skills.

The desirable outcome will determine the mechanism for a proof of concept but addressing a business problem that can provide quick and quantifiable win is highly recommended.

Analytics should be driven by the business problem you want to solve

Whether it is improving customer experience, increasing operational efficiency, managing risk, and compliance, or finding new business opportunities, it is important to identify and prioritize the problems and areas of improvement you wish to address before deciding upon a clear course of action.

The strategy must also take into consideration the resources already available and how they can best be leveraged and optimized by the addition of advanced software capabilities.

analytics-3Measuring and Improving Performance  

To be able to ascertain whether the strategy is successful, objectives such as ‘improved Customer Satisfaction’ will have to be clearly defined and measured.

Customer service is the responsibility of an entire organization, and it’s important to get all the stakeholders on board by convincing them of the need for and the benefits of changing course.

It will be an iterative process of trial, measurement, adjustment, then a trial, analysis, adjustment again, ad infinitum.

Build or Buy?

After you’ve solved a high-impact business challenge and gained buy-in from decision makers you will need to determine if you should purchase or develop a solution. Many of the large enterprises with experienced Data Scientists tend to develop their package. These firms primarily take on this complex task because analytics is a critical differentiator for them.

While others purchase Contact Center analytic packages that can be relatively quickly deployed and consumed by knowledgeable users. Often these packages are offered by the same vendor that powers Contact Center’s queuing platform.

Open source tools such as the R programming language, Python, and Spark are also available. However, domain-specific languages like R, in general, do not suit Contact Center’s low-latency production environments.

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Malick’s rendition of Hallelujah
December 25, 2016
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Malick’s rendition of Hallelujah

From my family to yours: Shaheen Malick (Cello), Sonny Malick (Piano), Sachal Malick (Violin) , and Malika Malick (Violin) perform hallelujah on Christmas eve 2016.
Merry Christmas!

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Five Challenges of Contact Center Leaders
December 17, 2016
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Five challenges facing Bank's Contact Center

Five challenges of Contact Center leaders

RISK MITIGATION & COMPLIANCE

Ability to mitigate operational risk and ensure regulatory compliance. For example ability to record voice/chat/screen capture. Today’s omnichannel, anytime, anywhere, any device communication has further increased the risk.

OPTIMIZATION

Ability to optimize operations with a focus on process, technology, and workforce utilization. For example, routing contacts to an agent based on various progressive attributes so that the capabilities of each agent are accurately exposed, bringing more value to the business. Reduce agent churn and improve customer satisfaction.

MEANINGFUL ANALYTIC

Use insight from the contact center, turning customer contact into a source for large-scale business decisions. For example use contact center data to deliver actionable intelligence in time to influence operational efficiencies and improve the customer experience.

OMNI-CHANNEL  JOURNEY

Customers move easily between online, mobile, telephone and in-branch experiences. They expect personalized engagement on any channel they choose, seamlessly transitioning across channels in an instant. Succeeding requires an incredibly agile customer engagement platform with the ability to integrate disparate information, people and processes that are often separated in individual silos.

VOLUME

Ability to reduce unnecessary calls and react to spikes in demand. By providing customers the ability to complete interactions in channel of choice, Banks can improve customer service and reduce unnecessary

Articles Featured
Customer Experience: You Cannot Compete Solely on Product Quality, Price
December 9, 2016
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customer-experience-in-contacr-centerThe single biggest challenge facing companies has never been how to ATTRACT customers, but how to KEEP them. However, the speed and variety of choices now available to the consumer has compounded the challenge by orders of magnitude.

Businesses are responding to the demands of a highly-informed and discerning customer who, when faced with an overwhelming choice of similar providers, is making decisions based not only on economic value , but on the experience a company can offer.

Customer Service is now the single biggest differentiator in the market.

Customer Experience

This means that companies are not just selling a product but selling a product experience.

Companies who fail to respond to the urgent need to deliver and evaluate product experience will continue to be dictated to by changing consumer habits and expectations.

The companies who are restoring the balance of power and emerging as brand leaders are those who are proactive in implementing the organizational structures necessary to deliver and evaluate great customer service.

As Customer Service is now fundamental to all departments of an organization, the call center can no longer be seen as just a support service. It must be prepared and equipped to meet the challenge of not only responding to, but leading consumer expectation, in its vital function as Contact Center, the critical frontline of customer interaction. In line with the ever-expanding qualities and knowledge required to fulfill their duties, and the responsibility inherent in performing these on public forums, the Contact Agent must now be valued and nurtured as a career professional.

THE CHANGING MARKETPLACE

With competition increasing rapidly, and the range of tools available to the consumer to quickly evaluate and compare similar products, customer service is quickly becoming the single most important factor in separating brand leaders from the rest of the pack.

Most companies are concentrating on building brand awareness and getting their sales message across, so that the consumer is overwhelmed with marketing messages and similar options. This puts the informed buyer firmly in the driving seat, and able to make his decisions based on any perceived value a provider can add.

Companies can no longer afford to compete solely on product quality and price.

In order to regain their role as innovators and restore the balance of power in the marketplace, they must also take into consideration the power of brand loyalty and peer advocacy, and be prepared to lead their customers through an attractive and pleasurable product experience, which runs seamlessly from the buying decision through the point of sale and beyond.

The brand leaders who are succeeding today -think Apple, Disney – are taking back control by offering enhanced customer experience, changing their focus from simply delivering a product to designing and delivering the entire product experience.

digital-customer-experieneOVERALL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: THE REAL MEASURE OF SUCCESS:

Research published by McKinsey & Company in the Harvard BusinessReview [1] demonstrated how the traditional approach to evaluating customer service does not adequately reflect where companies are failing to meet the needs of customer expectations.

The current practice of evaluating customer satisfaction at isolated points along the way, does not accurately represent the customer’s overall impression of the company, and may fail to pick up on customer dissatisfaction as a whole, thus distorting the true picture and masking the pressing need to overhaul the approach to measuring and optimizing customer service.

The classic example is where Sales promise delivery within a week, but the product doesn’t arrive within the agreed timeframe. The customer’s resultant calls to the Customer Service and Delivery Departments may have been handled in an exemplary manner, and, of course, the customer was probably very satisfied with the Sales promise. However, the fact remains that the promise was not delivered on time. It was everybody’s and yet nobody’s responsibility!

Accountability for that failure must lie at the door of every department involved in delivering the product experience. Thus, the key to realizing great product experience is an integrative approach to company organization, with greater interconnectedness between functions and a united approach to delivering the aims and philosophy of the brand. There must be more up, down and sideways distribution of information throughout the organization, and swift response to customer feedback.

The ability to deliver on product experience must be measurable and requires implementation at every point of contact between a business and the consumer. No department can operate in isolation without seeing the whole picture of how the company delivers great customer experience.

Sink or Swim: this re-organization is not an optional extra, but an urgent wake up call for many businesses to adapt or disappear without a trace. The survivors will be the companies who follow the example of the brand leaders and take action to implement an integrative, customer-centric approach.

Creation of a consistent and recognizable brand identity requires re-evaluation of the traditional tiered and isolated company structures – which allow departments, such as Design, Marketing, Delivery and Customer Service, to operate independently of each other- to become more integrated and flexible, with a greater need for information flow and systems which allow rapid reaction to customer feedback.

The concept of customer service must be central to the company as a whole and permeate all decision-making and optimization.

THE CHALLENGES FACING CONTACT CENTERS IN DELIVERING AND PROCESSING PRODUCT EXPERIENCE

“The consumer’s experiences with brands and categories are set to become even more intense and defining. That matters profoundly because such experiences drive two-thirds of the decisions customers make.“ McKinsey & Company. [2]

In the “The Coming Era of On-Demand Marketing” [4] the authors list the 4 key drivers of customer expectations to be:

  1. Faster response times
  2. State-of-the- art enquiries
  3. Personalization
  4. Ease of use

Each of these factors is expanding the role of the call center and elevating its importance as it strives to meet the increasing demands of customer expectation, while delivering and evaluating the product experience.

digital-transformation-in-required-for-greater-customer-experience

  1. ANYWHERE, ANYTIME –THE MOVE TOWARDS MOBILE

With the rise of mobile devices and uninterrupted 24-hour online connection, more consumers are choosing to access contact centers on the move. They expect to be able to interact, receiving prompt response and fast resolution to their enquiries from any place throughout the day or night.

  1. THE DEMAND FOR UP-TO-DATE KNOWLEDGE

Customers accustomed to the evolution of product experience and emerging software capabilities are requesting information at the cutting edge of what is possible. Answers to queries beginning with: “Can I do…?” , from customers expecting an immediate reply (rather than be re-directed to another department or website) requires contact center personnel to be both highly-trained and well-briefed on the latest company developments

  1. CUSTOMER IDENTIFICATION AND PERSONALIZATION

Calls are less private and no longer addressed anonymously or in isolation. Callers can now be identified by computer IP address or unique Facebook ID.

Consumers now expect to be identified as valued customers, and assume that the data collected concerning them will be used to offer them a tailor-made service.

A detailed record of the caller’s profile and history of their previous interactions with the company is vital to providing that informed and personalized response.

With the acquisition of customer data and feedback now central to the delivery of prompt and effective product experience, it is no longer sufficient to log response times and successful resolution of complaints in isolation. It is vital to be able to process and analyze response performance, as a means to evaluating and improving upon the quality of service provided.

This requires highly-skilled and well-trained personnel, equipped with the software, operating procedures and shared information to ensure that all contact center agents have access to the tools they need to deliver a bespoke service to the customer, while consistently delivering the voice of the brand.

  1. EASY ACCESS – SOCIAL CUSTOMER SERVICE –PLAYING FOR HIGHER STAKES

As if the consumer’s expectations of faster response times, personalized service and informed response weren’t enough, his desire to have easy access to customer care on an ever-growing range of social media platforms is presenting perhaps the greatest challenge facing contact centers today.

THE IMPLICATIONS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

social-media-in-contact-center

-The Power of Social Proof

Companies have been quick to respond to the emergence of social media platforms as a means to build brand awareness, but less prepared for the need to up their game with regard to customer interaction in an age where the overall product experience is emerging as the most discernable factor in a highly-competitive market.

Overwhelmed by competing brand messaging, the consumer is losing faith in marketing hype, preferring to trust the opinions and recommendation of his peers. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter encourage him to share his opinions and justify his choice.

Social proof has become a driving factor in consumer decisions, and the role of social media in promoting or dismantling brand loyalty and brand advocacy cannot be ignored.

-Greater visibility: In the past, when customer service was delivered over the telephone or email, calls could be dealt with in relative anonymity and isolation. Each support ticket could be signed off and a line drawn underneath. Success could be measured in terms of the satisfactory completion of each interaction.

As more customers are choosing to interact with customer service through social media, the success or failure is no longer an isolated, anonymous event, but has the potential to make or break the success of a product or service.

-Higher stakes: playing out customer interactions on a public forum. On one hand, great service can be rewarded with kudos for the brand and even the potential to go viral. On the other, a less than adequate performance can be magnified in equal measure, resulting in disastrous damage to the reputation of the brand. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the customer is more likely to broadcast his disappointment at a bad experience than to record his positive experiences!

With its rapidly-expanding role at the frontline of customer-company engagement, the Call Center can no longer be regarded as simply a secondary function providing support to a business. There is an urgent need for its role to be ramped up and recognized as the Contact Center – the vital hub, central to the delivery of the brand message.

In this role, it cannot afford to operate in isolation or to implement solutions or policy on the run. Just like every other department, it must be wholly integrated into company decision making and kept up-to-date in order to make informed and accurate responses to enquiries.

It must be equipped with the systems –training, software, standardized operating procedures – necessary to anticipate, and be prepared to respond to, customer enquiries before they happen, and to proactively introduce great customer product experience.

In line with delivering product experience as a commodity, must be the ability to quickly evaluate and improve performance quality, by responding rapidly to customer feedback in one direction and developing and refining company message in the other.

The role of the contact center agent can no longer be taken for granted, and there is a pressing need for Contact Centers to retain and/or recruit the best staff.

The increased complexity of the skills sets required to respond to an ever-widening selection of media, together with enhanced exposure to public forums, mean that the contact center agent can no longer be regarded as an easily replaceable functionary, but must have greater accountability and a stake in the successful overall delivery of the product experience.

With their critical ability to enhance or damage brand reputation, the Contact Center Agent must be regarded as a highly-skilled professional, with the vital role of brand ambassador. In recognition of their vital role in the delivery of the product experience, the right incentives, remuneration and career progression opportunities must be implemented to ensure optimum performance and brand loyalty.

CONCLUSION

Customer experience will determine whether businesses thrive or simply survive in a consumer-led environment. The role of customer service in general is more vital than ever, with the urgent requirement for Contact Centers to adapt to meet the challenges of being the brand ambassador in all contacts.