Contact center outsourcers move strongly to omnichannel—brands’ attitudes need to catch up to that change

Contact center outsourcers have gotten a bum rap. Customers frustrated with offshore accents, agents with no power to actually solve problems, and overly scripted interactions have complained, sometimes loudly, about the practice. Comedians have mocked offshore agents, often mercilessly. In particular, the shared services outsourcing model in which a single agent supports multiple brands at the same time has come in for a real savaging. Check out this Funny or Die video for just one the literally dozens of such comedic rips on outsourcers. 

In many ways, brands set themselves up for such criticisms by focusing on outsourcing simply as a way to take costs out of their businesses. That focus on efficiency left little room for the types of excellent service that built customer loyalty. Today, however companies’ motivations for outsourcing customer support are changing and options for onshore or so-called near-shore outsourcing have expanded. Contact center outsourcing actually remains quite vibrant. For example, more than two-thirds of telecommunications technology decision-makers at companies with midsize or larger contact centers report they are interested in outsourcing some or all of their contact center seats or have already outsourced them. So, it is clear that outsourcing is not going away; brands, however, are starting to look at outsourcers for new types of interactions. 

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Get your customer service ready for the digital-first generation

This is a guest post by Danielle Geoffroy, Research Associate on the AD&D team who helps with our customer service and unified communications research.

Do you hear that swooshing sound of a tweet being sent in the middle of a Google Hangout? It’s faint, but strong, and it means they’re coming.  Generation Y—a generation raised entirely in a technology-driven world.  This new breed of consumers demands more from companies and government agencies, with particularly high expectations for friction-free customer experiences. They’re prepared with knowledge of your company, and your top competitors. In fact, they often have more information about you and your products than your own employees.

This new generation should matter to you, because by 2018, the millennials will surpass the spending power of baby boomers. Remember: there is a dollar value to every positive and negative Yelp review, tweet, and Facebook status they target at you. With so much information at consumer’s fingertips, there is some give with the take. People don’t want to retain all of the information they receive on a daily basis. Striking a balance between the knowledge of your customers, and the methods deployed by your customer support agents, will lead to an enjoyable service experience, and keep you far away from the dreaded viral video of a support request gone wrong.

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Measure and improve contact center agent experience in order to improve customer experience

Contact center agents have a huge impact on customer experience. Unhappy contact center agents equal unhappy customers. It's that simple. Contact center agents who feel disengaged, unhappy with their job or their lot in life, or are simply having a bad day can make a customer's contact center experience seem like root canal surgery. Given that, measuring how happy and engaged agents are and then improving the agent experience should be a priority for any company focused on driving improved customer experiences.

We’ve written before about the new breed of contact center agents and what types of tools they need to succeed at their job. Technology, however, represents just a piece of the puzzle. Firstly, not all contact center tools drive positive agent experience. For example, tools too focused on making the agent experience efficient risk allowing agents to just breeze through tasks and disengage their mind — and their judgment — from the processes of serving customers. Secondly, while tools are important, they are not the only issues that influence the agent experience.

Of course, improvement begins with measurement and benchmarking. Our research shows that, to date:

  • Agent surveys have not provided contact center pros the insight into agent experience they need. Using HR-style surveys turns up the usual array of woes: bad bosses, bad coworkers, or bad coffee. Contact center pros cannot tackle these issues, even though they may be important to the overall work environment. On the other hand, targeting surveys to technology issues provides actionable insights on how to improve the contact center experience.
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Contact Center And Customer Service Metrics Must Support Broader Company KPIs

OK, it is certainly a cliché and clearly suffers from an incomplete view of the world, but many contact center executives would still nod their heads in agreement with the statement, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Contact centers generate a huge volume of data, and everyone from agents on the floor to CEOs in their corner offices would benefit from being presented with actionable analytics based on that data. However, turning that data consistently into actionable knowledge that is useful to improving performance remains challenging. The key questions for contact center professionals around this data are: 

  • What do you measure?
  • How do you present the data from those measurements?
  • What do you do with those measurements?
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Start Planning To Provide Social Customer Support Beyond Twitter and Facebook

Industry analysts travel—a lot. It is, therefore, no surprise that I care deeply about airlines’ frequent flyer programs and track the changes to those programs as closely as baseball obsessives track star players’ slugging percentages. When I want information on what these changes mean practically in my situation (Will the new loyalty program make it harder for a 75k+ elite member looking to book a companion ticket’s upgrade on an alliance partner airline, for example), I typically do not turn directly to the airline. Instead, I log on to Flyertalk, a forum that bills itself as “the largest expert travel community.” The forum—populated by thousands of frequent fliers far more obsessive than I will ever be—consistently houses discussions of exactly the thing I want to know.

The lion’s share of people answering questions on Flyertalk and other forums like it—Cruisecritic for the cruising fans, TripAdvisor for travel and hospitality broadly, AutomotiveForums for car enthusiasts, etc.—are other consumers, albeit well-informed ones. But these non-brand controlled communities provide opportunities to brands to differentiate themselves through service.  Because affinity communities have barriers to entry, including registrations and jargon, community members are usually deeply interested in the topic at hand. In communities that regularly discuss brands, these customers are also more likely to be exactly the type of high-value customers that companies want to provide with great customer experiences. But brands need to decide when and how to engage customers in these forums they do not control.

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Understand The Promise Of Real-time Speech Analytics To Prepare To Overcome A (Large) Budget Hurdle

“With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing.”

-Catherine de Hueck Doherty

We’ve all heard the canned notifications when we call companies for customer service: “this call may be recorded for security or quality purposes.” Most customer service organizations today record their phone interactions with their customers. Often those recordings just sit untouched on the digital equivalent of a dusty shelf in a storage closet. The recordings are there to ensure regulatory compliance or, in rare cases, to be pulled off the shelf in case of a major dispute with a customer.  In essence, the part of the notification about security rings true; the quality part, not so much.

But, as part of continuous improvement programs, companies have begun to change that by actually analyzing the recordings for quality purposes. That process of quality monitoring allows firms to select recordings for review and assessment. In forward-thinking organizations, the tools enable managers to replay agent screen actions, allowing evaluations to include screen activity in addition to voice content. Managers use these reviews to pinpoint which agents perform well, which need further training, and to identify processes that need to be refined.

Companies doing this basic form of quality monitoring, however, find they cannot change the outcome of those calls — the interactions are long since over. This is where the emerging field of real-time speech analytics comes into play. Vendors of real-time speech analytics tools promise to allow companies to intervene at the moment of truth, while the customer and the contact center agent are still talking.

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Driven to distraction - a new breed of contact center agents need new tools to succeed

I first noticed the creeping changes a few years ago. In college I majored in comparative literature and averaged about five novels read per week. Even when I entered the hustle and bustle overdrive of the working world, I still rapidly pounded through stacks of books every month. Over the past few years, while I still read more than the average American, the act of actually finishing a book became something of a notable achievement. My brain was more easily distracted, my ability to focus on and engage with complex information diminished, and my capacity to multitask as required by a modern work environment was seemingly illusory.

Of course, I wasn’t alone in experiencing these changes. This distracted mental state has become a common problem among knowledge workers and heavy users of Internet and mobile technologies. Excellent books such as Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains detailed the changes we are all undergoing and described much of the neuropsychological research that seeks to explain the mental modifications that have left us in such a state. At heart, the research shows that our tools have begun to shape our brains just as much as we fashion our tools--and not always for the better.

Such mental modifications would seem to pose some significant and idiosyncratic problems for customer service organizations. Indeed, a new generation of contact center agents has begun to vex application development and delivery professionals. The new agents seem reluctant to learn detailed product and service information that previous cohorts of agents had little problem with. These new agents prefer to learn where to find such information, but have little intention of actually memorizing product support details.

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Introducing a new Senior Analyst

Hello, world. Welcome to my first blog as a new Senior Analyst serving Application Development & Delivery professionals.

I come to Forrester after working in the Solution Marketing and Corporate Marketing groups at a large customer service software provider. That role put me in touch with contact center technology buyers and the overburdened folks responsible for actually making great customer service happen every day. I saw close up the impact of the age of the customer on the thinking, processes, behavior, and technology choices of contact center professionals around the world. They are facing a world in which consumers are much less willing to settle for mediocre and impersonal experiences when dealing with customer service organizations. As consumers we all want effortless service delivered via whatever channel is most convenient at the moment, and we want companies to know just the right amount of information about us, but not too much, at the moment of the interaction.

That is a very tough nut to crack for contact center managers, supervisors, and agents. My research coverage will primarily focus on two areas that can help contact center pros begin to address these issues:

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