Spoken Communications

News, opinions and information on the state of call centers, cloud contact centers and IVRs worldwide

Is an Avaya hybrid cloud right for your call center?

Posted by Heidi Miller on May 4, 2016 at 10:51 AM

Avaya_Logo-_300dpi.jpgChoosing the right Avaya cloud for your organization

If you’ve been keeping up with technology trends, you are well acquainted with the cloud and the advantages that it can offer for your contact center, including business agility, scalability and cost savings. However, one of the challenges we run across is that very few contact centers are green field implementations: almost every contact center already has some type of existing legacy infrastructure, very often an Avaya system. And with that comes the question: how can I transition to the cloud without losing the benefits of the sunk costs in my legacy infrastructure?
As part of our series of cloud trends unfolding in 2016, it's time to finally address the concept of a hybrid cloud for Avaya users and why, when and where a hybrid cloud strategy is best applied.

The promise of the hybrid cloud

"Hybrid" is used to refer to a cloud solution that is something other than 100% public, multitenant cloud. As we know, a cloud solution is one that is hosted on remote servers. Hybrid refers to a cloud environment that uses some type of mix of premise-based infrastructure, private cloud or third-party, public cloud services with some type of connection among the platforms. Organizations opt to implement hybrid clouds for a number of reasons, including data security and optimization of legacy infrastructure. 

Premise-based infrastructure is purchased outright by the organization and housed on the organization's preferred colocation. Many of Spoken's customers, for example, have existing Avaya on-premise equipment and are interested in transitioning it to the Spoken Avaya cloud platform. Premise-based infrastructure has the advantage of being private; however, it is costly to purchase, expensive to maintain over time and difficult to scale when more volume is needed.
Public cloud refers to cloud services that house multiple tenants, referred to as "multi-tenant." Gmail, DropBox and Amazon Web Services are examples of public clouds. They generally offer high levels of security, scalability and cost-efficiency, since the vendor develops a large host of servers and provides cloud services to a variety of tenants on them. It's simple to scale up or down if your call volume increases or decreases, and there is no large capital outlay to a cloud contract, since you're paying for services only.
Private cloud refers to a single-tenant cloud platform that is implemented for a single organization. A private cloud offers the key benefits of cloud with the added benefit (and drawbacks) of outright ownership. However, it also offers the key disadvantages of premise-based infrastructure, since it must be built and customized for a single company. This model is sometimes called "managed services," since the company purchases the infrastructure for its private site, while the cloud vendor maintains the equipment providing the service.

Step 1: Take inventory

The first step in determining which type of platform will work best for your situation is to take inventory of your current infrastructure. The contact center is a complex web of integrated systems: the ACD, CRM, call recording, IVR and reporting structures must be kept up and running through any transition process.

For example, if you have existing Avaya licenses and infrastructure, you probably want to retain that legacy system and select a vendor that can do a cloud or hybrid cloud implementation as a wrapper over your existing system.

  • Which critical systems must be retained? Why?
  • Which systems have contracts expiring soon?
  • Which systems would most benefit from a cloud transition?
  • Which systems would cause the least disruption with a cloud transition?
  • What will your business look like in three months, six months, a year? Do you need room to grow?

Step 2: Define your goals

If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. What are the primary goals of your cloud transition? If your goal is cost savings and ease of transition, an Avaya public cloud is probably the best option for you. If you want access to innovations such as live call observation from anywhere or 100% call recording, either pure cloud or a hybrid cloud might fit the bill. If, on the other hand, data ownership and security are more important than cost savings or ease of use, a hybrid solution might be the best option.

Step 3: Choose your Avaya cloud

While a multi-tenant or public Avaya cloud works well for most organizations, your goals or inventory may reveal the need for a hybrid cloud solution, with one foot still firmly planted on premise. For example:

  • Data privacy if your client data must stay on site, you might consider an Avaya public cloud ACD that will integrate with your CRM database, which could remain on your private colocation.
  • Business disruption If a key goal is lack of business disruption, you might consider a hybrid model wherein your existing Avaya infrastructure remains in place, and a cloud "wrapper" is implemented on top of it. Access to 100% end-to-end cloud recording would decrease liability, and you would still be able to keep your existing Avaya ACD. Once the current ACD ages out, a transition to an Avaya public cloud ACD could be implemented.

For example, major outsourcer Arise Virtual Solutions had a customer requirement for Avaya but the need to be able to scale for thousands of new agents in a matter of weeks. Since the Spoken Avaya Contact Center as a Service public cloud offered more security than the premise-based solution, Arise opted to leverage the cost-efficient Spoken Avaya public cloud rather than a hybrid model. However, to prevent business disruption, a gradual transition plan was developed. Eighteen months later, 24 customers had been transitioned to the secure public cloud with no rollbacks.

Read the case study: Arise Virtual Solutions transitions to the Spoken Avaya Cloud

Ultimately, the cloud decision for Avaya users is up to you: public, private or hybrid, the key is to meet your business goals with minimal disruption.

Want to find out what it's really like to transition your on-premise contact center to the Spoken Avaya Cloud? Grab a seat at our webinar on Wednesday, June 15, 2016:

Save my seat

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Do’s and Don’ts of CRM

Posted by Heidi Miller on April 28, 2016 at 6:30 AM

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that the customer service industry is truly the king of the 3-letter acronyms. Today’s acronym is "CRM," or customer relationship management.

What is CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and covers all aspects of the customer journey, from the first clickthrough to customer satisfaction surveys to the customer loss analysis. A more complete definition of CRM:

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a term that refers to practices, strategies and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle, with the goal of improving business relationships with customers, assisting in customer retention and driving sales growth. CRM systems are designed to compile information on customers across different channels -- or points of contact between the customer and the company -- which could include the company's website, telephone, live chat, direct mail, marketing materials and social media. CRM systems can also give customer-facing staff detailed information on customers' personal information, purchase history, buying preferences and concerns.

In the call center context, CRM usually refers to software involving the prospect and customer database, including interaction and loyalty data. Popular CRM brands include Salesforce, Zoho, SAP and Insightly. CRM software consolidates all the customer information into a single database so that businesses can easily access, manage and analyze it. Common features of CRM software include: marketing automation, sales enablement automation, contact center automation and location-based services.

Making the most of your CRM

dos_and_donts_of_CRM.jpgWhen selecting a CRM system to implement, as with any enterprise software decision, many organizations fall victim to common pitfalls. Below is an infographic detailing some do’s and don’ts when it comes to making the most of your CRM system. We would add the following do's for your consideration:

  • Do engage the end users in the decision-making process. Having excitement and buy-in from the end users will make training and transition a breeze.
  • Do engage both technical and operations users in the requirements-building process. IT will have technical requirements, and Operations will be able to lay out the types of reporting required to improve business processes. You might also involve the Sales and Marketing departments as well.
  • Do consider types of access. Will the users only access from desktops? Or will they be using mobile devices? If so, which devices and how often? If mobile access is key, make sure that your CRM candidates meet your end user needs.
  • Do make a choice based on functionality rather than price. The cheapest solution isn't always the best for your organization; neither is the most expensive. Make the decision based on realistic requirements and growth possibilities rather than exclusively on price.


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How to build your corporate culture

Posted by Heidi Miller on April 26, 2016 at 8:27 AM

How do you define company culture?

"Company culture": we hear this term so often, but what exactly IS company culture? My good friend and specialist in internal communications Shel Holtz has the best definition of company culture I've heard to date: "the way we do things around here." Easy to understand and undeniably true.

Some might say that company culture is a company’s personality. Is it relaxed, buttoned up or work-hard-play-hard? Others would say company culture is how people inside the organization get things done, while still others would consider it to be how the employees and management interact with those outside of the organization. If you go with "the way we do things around here," one could argue that all of those elements contribute to the company's culture. 

Who owns the creation of culture?

Ah, therein lies the rub. In a recent study cited by the aforementioned Shel Holtz, HR professionals, business managers and front line employees each believed that they were the primary source of the company's culture:


As Holtz goes on to remark:

The consequences of this disconnect are potentially massive. For example, acting on the belief that employees value the company’s focus on customers leaves front-line staff wondering why so little attention is paid to work-life balance. HR thinks they’re doing a great job with superior employee benefits and can’t figure out why engagement surveys scores are so low, while employees roll their eyes at pay disparities. We have long known that employee commitment begins with the belief that they’re being treated fairly—in compensation and opportunities to advance, for example. It’s nearly impossible to build a culture when employees believe they’re not being treated fairly.

At the root of culture is the health of internal communications. Are managers willing to give feedback to both the C-suite and to their direct reports? Is the CEO willing to show vulnerability? Are front-line employees rewarded for direct and honest communications with both managers and with the C-suite? Communications must flow freely, including top-down, bottom-up and peer-to-peer. And we must understand that everyone in the company defines the culture.

How to develop your corporate culture

John Tabis recently wrote in Fast Company about his three basic steps for developing an authentic company culture:

  1. Make it personal Too often a brand voice is flat or developed by management and doesn't reflect the voice of the people who work for the company, day in and day out. What is your vision for changing the world? At Spoken, we recently engaged in a similar activity in our all-company meeting, where everyone from the receptionist to the CEO wrote down their grand vision for Spoken in a dream world. Everyone was engaged and everyone was excited about what Spoken's great vision could be!
  2. Communicate that vision Now comes the hard part--how is that vision communicated? If you have a visionary like Steve Jobs at the helm, it's easy. But what if your organization takes a more collaborative approach, like Zappos? Zappos has ten core values that its entire team is encouraged to live and breathe every day, and it hosts a "powered by service" library that every employee reads. Maybe you meet monthly or yearly to collaborate and engage everyone to brainstorm in how better to live your corporate vision.
  3. Put people first The best organization do this: they value their people over their vision. They believe that the vision won't happen without their people, so their people come first. "We need to start treating people like human beings, not like cogs in a productivity machine, writes Tabis. "Look at the individual first and their role second and relate to employees on a more human level. When employees feel cared about as people, I’ve found they do their best work."
If you don't take the time to develop your culture and vision, it will happen on its own. And that culture might end up being "this company uses people and throws them away" or "this company values competition over quality." Your culture is being developed as we speak: what do your employees have a voice in the creation of your culture? Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Five reasons not to put off your customer satisfaction surveys

Posted by Heidi Miller on April 15, 2016 at 9:02 AM

clipboard_evaluate.jpgHow do you measure customer satisfaction?

Customer Satisfaction is commonly defined as "the extent to which a brand's goods or services meet or exceed customer expectations." The most common method of measuring customer satisfaction is the CSat survey, which usually takes the form of a series of questions about the aspects of the customer experience, including the ordering process, the demeanor of the sales or service representative, the helpfulness of follow-up communications and the customer's overall satisfaction. These questions might be delivered over the phone with a live agent, using an IVR, through email or online.

While organizations are aware of the importance of measuring customer satisfaction, it can often be a low priority because it's not perceived as delivering immediate cost value. However, I would beg to differ, since we recently did an analysis of the research comparing the cost of acquiring a new customer in comparison to the cost of retaining an existing one.

Customer retention vs customer acquisition: the real cost difference

Additionally, while we may agree on what a positive customer experience looks like, it's worth taking the time to define what comprises a bad customer experience.

Five reasons not to put off your CSat surveys

If the thought of having to spend three to 10 times more to acquire a new customer doesn't send you rushing to dust off your customer satisfaction surveys, here are a few more motivators for you:

  1. Increase customer loyalty A recent survey shows that 71% of customers who ended a business relationship did so because of a poor customer service experience. By taking the time to listen to your customers, you communicate to them that their business is important to you. Customers are likely to remain loyal when they see a business taking the time and effort to keep them happy and satisfied.
  2. Increase referrals Referral customers are the cheapest and easiest sales around. A customer who is well taken care of by a business is very likely to refer friends and family to your business or service when there is a need.
  3. Leverage your competitive advantage One of the reason Amazon became the most popular online retailer is its legendary approach to providing hassle-free, wowing customer service. With speedy response time and a liberal refund policy, Amazon has become synonymous with a smooth customer experience--and their market position reflects that.
  4. Broaden your sales reach While the saying is that an unhappy customer will tell 10 people while a happy one will only tell one, that one brand promoter can extend your sales reach into hitherto untouched markets.
  5. Continued improvement Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of conducting customer satisfaction surveys is the opportunity they provide the customer service team to make changes that will improve how they do their jobs. Knowing what you do well is great; however, gaining insight into what you can do better will only serve to solidify the above-mentioned benefits. Plus, a team focused on improvement is a highly engaged team that is less likely to turn over.

In house or outsourced?

So we're all convinced of the value of conducting CSat surveys now, yes? So the next question is: do we conduct them in house, or do we farm the work out so we can ensure the results are unbiased? Granted, I have a bit of bias, since Spoken and HyperQuality conduct CSat surveys on behalf of clients, but there is a method to my madness.

  • Objectivity A third party will take an unbiased view of your customer service needs and develop a clear, concise survey that will not only be cost-effective, but customer-effective as well.
  • Expertise By contracting out to a third party, you will benefit from their expertise. There are numerous companies that are solely focused on improving customer satisfaction and administering CSAT surveys. This expertise will likely save you time and money by following their proven processes.
  • Cost-effective A third party will know exactly how to design and streamline a survey based on your needs. You will be able to focus on just what you need and eliminate what you don’t. Not only does this save money initially, but by having a very streamlined and focus survey, you will be in a better position to implement the necessary changes to improve your customer service.

Benefits of outsourcing CSAT surveys

Still hungry for more? We've got you covered. The case study below details how emailed CSat surveys improved one brand's customer service in the following ways:

  • 19% increase in CSat scores
  • 29% increase in First Call Resolution
  • 18% increase in Total Problem Resolution
  • 52% increase in Net Promoter Score/Likely to Recommend

Email surveys improve customer service across metrics

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How to script an awesome IVR customer satisfaction survey

Posted by Heidi Miller on April 12, 2016 at 6:00 AM

One of the most useful tools we have for measuring customer satisfaction is the post-call customer satisfaction or "CSAT" survey. And with the widespread adoption of IVR technology in the 90s and early 2000's, IVR call flow design shifted away from engineers and into the hands of lay people. However, those people didn't always know exactly how to design a customer-friendly call flow.

There is a bit of an art form to creating a CSAT survey that callers will enjoy participating in. One of the cost-cutting and customer-delighting tips we discussed on last month's IVR webinar was how to design a call flow that would get the organization the results it requires while pleasing (or at least not annoying) the caller.

If you missed it, view the full webinar recording here.

We often write or suggest improvements to call flow scripts. Take, for example, this perfectly simple call flow script for an information-gathering customer service survey:

Please let us know why you canceled your service. Press 1 if you canceled because the service was too expensive. Press 2 if you canceled because you never used the service. Press 3 if you canceled because you do need the service, but it didn't have the features you wanted. Press 4 if you canceled because you had a bad customer service experience. Press 5 if you canceled because you switched to a competing service.

Tip #1: Brief the caller on the menu length

If you must give a long menu of choices, begin by telling the caller how many options they will be choosing from. For example, with the above script, you would begin with Please select your reason for canceling from the following five options.

Confusing IVR menus can frustrate callers, so setting expectations for menu length is the first step in creating a positive customer experience.

Tip #2: Reason --> action

Listing the action before the reason is a classic IVR misstep that can be costly and drive both opt-outs and negative customer experiences. Especially when it's necessary to enumerate a long list of items ("long" meaning more than four), it's easier for callers to listen first for the reason and then for the action they must take.


The reasoning behind this is simple: callers will pay closest attention when they hear their trigger. In this case, "too expensive." They will then be primed to hear "press 1" correctly. When "press 1" is listed first, their minds may wander by the time they hear "too expensive," and they'll either give up and opt out or be forced to listen to the enire list again.

Tip #3: Avoid repetition

You probably noticed another annoyance in the original call flow: the phrase "if you canceled" was repeated for each option, which would undoubtedly wear on the caller's patience. Keep options as clear and concise as possible, and vet each one carefully for possible misunderstandings.

Check out how the Spoken IVR helped the Neat Company quickly and accurately vet their callers and route them to the right queue the first time.

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Customer churn: the causes and the remedy

Posted by Heidi Miller on April 6, 2016 at 6:00 AM

 What causes customer churn, and how do you avoid it?

fish_jumping_out_of_bowl-other1-1024x597.pngCustomer churn refers to your customer base decreasing due to attrition; it is the opposite of acquisition and retention. For healthy growth, existing customers stay with the company, and new customers are acquired. In other words, growth good; churn bad.

If your company is experiencing churn, the first question to ask is "why?" And if the attrition rate is increasing, are there any trends driving the loss of existing customers? We've written about the cost of acquiring a new customer being far more expensive than the cost of retaining an existing customer. While statistics on the relative costs vary from three times to thirty times the cost, everyone agrees that retaining a customer costs less than acquiring a new one.  

Customer retention vs customer acquisition: the real cost difference

According to an article by Lincoln Murphy, there are two basic reasons that a customer will leave your organization. One is unavoidable, while the other is not.

Causes of customer churn

  1. Something happened to/with the customer. This is the unavoidable reason for churn one because it's something your organization has no control over. This could come in the form of the company going out of business or the company getting acquired by someone else. If the company goes out of business, your job is to provide the support that he or she needs while this process goes forward. If you’ve served this client well over the years, it is likely they will lean on you to help in the transitions of selling off the business and it puts you at the top of the priority list when it comes to collecting money owed. If, however, the client is being acquired by a larger company, this can be an opportunity for you to get your foot in the door and support an even bigger client. Again, if you’ve done your job well; this can be a time of great reward.
  2. The customer did not achieve their desired outcome. As you can probably imagine, this is a completely avoidable reason for customer churn. If a customer is unhappy, that means your organization dropped the ball. If customers achieve the desire business results, they have no reason to leave.

If you have an unhappy customer leaving your organization, it's your job to dig down and figure out why.

Reasons for customer attrittion

  • Lack of critical functions Your product is missing critical functionality required to do the thing they need to do
  • Bad onboarding You have a poor (from absent to overwhelming) onboarding experience
  • Bad experience The customer had a bad implementation, configuration or setup
  • Lack of use The customer hasn’t adopted your product and isn’t using it (for whatever reason)
  • Bugs There are bugs and other stability/usability/access issues keeping the customer from doing what they need to do.

If you are discovering that your organization is losing customers because they are unhappy with their outcomes, I'd suggest taking the above bulleted list and transforming it into a checklist for your development, marketing, implementation and client services teams. For example:

  • Marketing Is what the product or services provides a demand of the market?
  • Development Are the critical functions that will provide the promised service/product working flawlessly?
  • Implementation Does the implementation plan deliver on the sales and marketing promise?
  • Client services After the sale, is the customer trained to use the product or service properly, and does everyone have an easy way to get support, report bugs and request features?

I worked for a startup many years ago that would take any contract just to have referenceable customers. While that was a great policy for growth, some customers ended up unhappy because the experience didn't match the promise. Eventually, that startup changed its policy to vet new sales opportunities more carefully and to pass on ones that had a possibility of attrition, even if it meant the growth numbers wouldn't be as impressive.

Knowing when to pass on a customer shows that you’re acting in their best interest instead of your own. This goes a long way in protecting your reputation in the industry. Besides, it’s always easier to protect a reputation then it is to rebuild one.

How to improve service and avoid churn

Six_Sigma_customer_service_improvement_case_study_thumbnail.jpgHowever, some organization have an issue: we can't always see what's causing customer churn. Sometimes, it takes an outside eye to pull in the data and move beyond the guesswork into the actionable causes. In particular, the Six Sigma process can be incredibly helpful, especially in the hands of a third-party vendor.

For example, HyperQuality's Business Insights team worked with a direct-to-consumer retailer who was not only having difficulty tracking resolution rates but was also facing dissatisfaction rates as high as 11%. They sought to identify specific, actionable improvement opportunities.

In just six weeks, the Business Insights team had discovered the causes of the dissatisfaction rates and made specific recommendations to address them. The results?

  • Potential revenue gain of over $2 million
  • Improvement of 4% in overall contact resolution
  • 3.4% improvement in customer experience

Want more detail? The full case study is below.

The HyperQuality Six Sigma Case Study offers a great process on how to improve customer service and avoid churn.

What do you think? Are there more than two reasons for customer churn? Share them with us!

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Two call center cloud benefits (that aren't "cost efficiency")

Posted by Heidi Miller on March 31, 2016 at 11:01 AM

Are you only considering cost efficiency for your cloud transition?

cloud-thinking.jpgAs time progresses, the demand for cloud-based call center applications and services has risen significantly. And why not? After all, cloud-based technologies are much easier to manage than on-premise ones, as they don’t require equipment space or maintenance; this reduces costs as well. Other significant motives for the shift exist, but these are the primary reasons why business adoption of cloud-based technologies is skyrocketing.

And we do mean “skyrocketing”—it’s not an exaggeration. As a matter of fact, a recent report from Research and Markets revealed that the cloud contact center market will grow from $4.68 billion in 2015 to $14.71 billion by 2020, at a CAGR of 25.7 percent.

The report verifies that a dominant factor impacting this growth is cost, or “the financial benefit of moving expenses from capital expenditure to operating expenditure, avoiding costly infrastructure.” Indeed, more contact center decision makers are scouting out technology vendors that can help them reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

Why total cost of ownership shouldn't drive your cloud decision

However, cost efficiency isn't the only reason organizations move toward a more cloud-based contact center environment. If you are one of those business leaders that is adamant about relying on the total cost of ownership (TCO) of new software before investing in cloud for your contact center, you are shortchanging your organization. In fact, you are missing an opportunity to make an optimal purchase decision.

When you attempt to calculate TCO for cloud, even with a pre-built calculator such as the kinds commonly available online, you can’t allocate for revenue losses from such factors as a rigid on-premise system that can’t scale, a long-term contract or a lack of agility to move with the market--all of which are distinct business advantages offered by a cloud model. TCO doesn't account for any of those benefits.

 Why Call Center TCO Doesn't Matter

Two non-TCO factors to consider

Let's consider some factors outside of TCO.

What assurances do we have against business disruption?

signal_strength_-_Version_2.jpgWhen speaking with customers and potential customers, the number one concern is ease of transition. Features and benefits of a call center cloud platform are nice, but IT and administrators' primary concern regards the vendor's plans to avoid disruption during the transition: how can the vendor ensure that the transition goes smoothly? What is the vendor's record on rollbacks? At Spoken, we take a novel approach: we provide a cloud wrapper over existing infrastructure and work with the client to develop a plan for gradual transition. We call this "a place to start" into the cloud, with the idea being that the cloud transition can take up to 18 months, if that is what the client requires.

Several clients have chosen their "place to start" with the Spoken Smart IVR, a single application on the Spoken Call Center as a Cloud (CCaaS) platform. They begin with a single, low-volume telephone number, and they gradually import additional telephone numbers onto the Spoken Smart IVR over a period of months.

Guthy|Renker case study: a gradual cloud transition with Spoken Smart IVR

Still another client, a major outsourcer, began not with a single application but with a single client with a low call volume. Over 18 months, 24 clients and thousands of work-from-home agents were transitioned seamlessly to the Spoken Avaya CCaaS, with zero rollbacks.

Arise case study: Avaya CCaaS cloud transition

Is this solution scalable?

CEOmeeting.jpgChoosing a vendor that can balance rapid ups and downs in call volume as well as enable your expansion to new locations all over the world is essential. If your goal is to grow, then you need to make sure that you invest in a solution that is flexible enough to grow with you. And it's worth considering the reverse possibility: what if your call volume shrinks? An on-premise system has fixed costs, but a cloud solution should be able to scale up and down with your business volume. Take the time to ask your cloud vendor how the pricing model works: do you pay only for actual usage minutes, or is the model based on named agents?

And then, of course, there is the issue of the actual integration. If the vendor offers a wrapper over an existing Avaya system, like Spoken does, how complex will the integration process be?

Give me the details: I want a one-on-one Avaya integration consultation

We know that the contact center won't stop being seen as a cost center any time soon, so it's understandable that cost efficiency is a key driver of cloud transitions for call center organizations. However, it's worth taking the time to weigh additional benefits of a cloud solution in general and of specific features and benefits provided by cloud vendors as well.

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How the cloud really affects call center revenue

Posted by Heidi Miller on March 29, 2016 at 11:13 AM

The phenomenon known as "the cloud" has been one of the most revolutionary business advances in recent decades, especially in the call center. There is no shortage of articles and reports detailing the number of businesses that have successfully migrated their systems to the cloud, including call centers. In fact, it is expected that by the year 2020, 78% of small businesses will use the cloud. To say that the cloud has been successful as it’s entered the mainstream would be an understatement; the cloud is literally changing the way we do business.    cloud_econ-1.jpg

We have shared before about the advantages of the cloud and how it impacts revenue, but for today, we’d like to zero in on the revenue question. How exactly does transitioning infrastructure to the cloud affect the bottom line?

Moving IT infrastructure from capex to opex

In years past, organizations typically had their IT resources such as servers, networks, applications and staff, on site. This was true of call centers as well: it was de rigeur for large call centers to purchase an maintain an on-premise ACD with a life expectancy of five to 20 years. This required large outlays of capital expenditures to both purchase the systems and to maintain them over the years. A cloud model eliminates the need for these resources to be housed on site, along with the significant outlay of capital.

Named agent pricing versus concurrent agent pricing

HQAgentEvaluations.jpgWith respect to the call center cloud, there is another rather obscure pricing benefit. Many organizations are still used to the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) model for on-premise purchases, and they try to compare apples to oranges when evaluating the value of a cloud call center. One insidious calculation that is often overlooked is the "per agent" charge. Per agent can refer to several different pricing models. Most vendors charge by named agents, which refers to every single registered agent with a unique ID. Yes, every single agent that has ever been employed by the company. While a company may have thousands of named agents, it's entirely possible that only a few hundred would ever be logged in at the same time--but the cloud vendor still may be charging for every single named agent, regardless of actual concurrent usage.

Enter concurrent agents. Concurrent agents refers to the maximum number of agents that are logged on to the system at the same time during a given month. Finding a vendor that charges by maximum concurrent agency rather than by named agents can cut the cost of a cloud implementation by over 60%. Paying by maximum concurrent agency rather than by named agents typically offers cost efficiency because you are paying only for time the agents are actually consuming the service.

Consumption economics: your guide to pay-by-the-drink call center pricing

Increased business agility

One big drawback of the on-premise model is its lack of flexibility or scalability: if an enterprise invested in an ACD but then experienced a huge spike in call volume, the only solution was to purchase, install and maintain an additional on-premise ACD. And if call volume was reduced for some reason, the enterprise was stuck with an expensive, underused behemoth that required years to pay off.

A cloud model offers a much more flexible and cost effective “pay as you go” pricing model. If a call center, for example, has a temporary spike in call volume requiring additional infrastructure, a cloud call center vendor would be able to accommodate the incremental increase in call volume at a per-minute price that didn't require a purchasing and installation cycle. This flexibility has proven to be a huge cost savings for companies investing in a cloud call center model.

Transforming the call center from a cost center to a customer loyalty center

This wouldn't be an article about call centers without a hat tip to the old bugaboo: that the call center is almost always seen as a cost center--and those costs always need to be reduced. However, here's a statistic that bears repeating: 68% of consumers have reported changing brands because of ONE poor customer service experience. If the call center can be used to drive positive brand experiences, the financial benefits are enormous.

Arise_case_study_thumbnail_shadow.pngIan Kingwill wrote an excellent post on LinkedIn citing fifteen different sources claiming it costs anywhere from 3 to 30 times as much to acquire a new customer as to retain an existing one. Whichever statistics you choose to cite, almost everyone agrees that putting time and budget into customer retention saves money in the long run. And our 2015 Call Center Report indicated that empowered agents are the key drivers of positive call center experiences. Agents with access to a cloud platform that can log in from anywhere, at any time and instantly have all the resources needed to address a customer service issue at their fingertips are not only highly efficient; they are also the key drivers of customer loyalty. And a flexible cloud platform with an easy-to-use interface is a key tool to empower agents to deliver positive customer experiences.

The Spoken 2015 Call Center Report: Telephone Wins and IVR Loses

A cloud platform, especially in the call center, provides a number of financial benefits that would have any CFO smiling. Ready to dip your toe into the cloud? Check out this case study, by which an outsourcer reduced its calls to internal IT support by 99%, resulting in a cost savings of over $300,000.

Case study: Arise Virtual Solutions transitions to the Spoken Avaya Cloud

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What is an IVR?

Posted by Heidi Miller on March 23, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Part of our ongoing call center technology glossary series: what is an IVR?

Welcome to the second installment of our call center technology glossary series. In this installment, we’re going to be looking at the acronym IVR. If you’ve ever called a customer service center and been greeted by an automated recording rather than a live person, then you are familiar with an IVR system.

What is an IVR?

What does IVR stand for? Interactive Voice Response. The IVR works closely with the Automated Call Distributor, which we highlighted in a previous blog post. The IVR system is the software that allows customers to interact with the company via the voice channel. IVRs often serve three main functions:

  1. Improve the customer experience A primary function of the IVR is to route the caller to the correct queue. Billing queries go to the billing department, and sales calls go to the sales department, for example. With misrouted calls and transfers being a key indicator of customer dissatisfaction, getting to the right queue the first time is a key indicator of call quality.
  2. Service high call volume During periods of peak call volume, an IVR can be a useful tool. First, the IVR can offer self-service for some types of inquiries, reducing the agent load. Second, the IVR can give an estimated wait time to allow callers the option of a callback (virtual hold) or of IVR or web self-service. Third, the IVR can help to identify callers quickly, so that the agent already has the caller information when he does answer, thereby shortening the call length.
  3. 24/7 service While it may be cost-prohibitive for many organizations to staff phone lines outside of regular business hours, an IVR can take messages or provide automated information so that the caller might be able to self-service. For example, if a caller simply wants to know shen her package was shipped, the shipping information could easily be delivered through the IVR, even at 2:00 in the morning, and the caller would never need to speak to an agent nor call back during business hours.
  4. Reduce cost It would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that IVR minutes cost far less than agent minutes. One of Spoken's customers was able to reduce the cost per call by 15% through effective IVR automation.

Download the case study: 15% reduction in cost per call with the Spoken Smart IVR

A brief history of speech recognition

DTMFpad.jpgIn this age of Siri and Smart IVR, it's hard to remember when speech recognition systems were more rudimentary, shall we say. Prior to 1963, telephone numbers were dialed by users with a loop-disconnect (LD) signaling using rotary dials. DTMF, or dual-tone multifrequency signaling, was first developed by Bell In 1963; it used a voice frequency band to deliver information using tones.This revolution spelled the death of the dial phone and the birth of "for sales, press one." Under the trademark brand Touch Tone, land line customers could now purchase a phone with buttons that were pushed rather than dialed.

darpa-680x346.pngSpeech recognition research was going full swing in the 1960s. At that time, speech recognition followed the trigram model, by which each word required a 350 millisecond pause afterwards in order to be recognized. So speech recognition sounded something like this: "I... want... sales." Then, in 1969, John Pierce at Bell System famously defunded the speech recognition research that Bell was doing at the time. He compared speech recognition research to "turning water into gasoline, extracting gold from the sea, curing cancer or going to the moon." Happily, the research continued despite Pierce's beliefs. In fact, in 1971, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Department of Defense responsible for emerging technologies for use by the military, established the Speech Understanding Research (SUR) program. The SUR program had a goal of developing machines that would understanding continuous speech, without that 350-millisecond pause after each word.The project was somewhat successful, but it took computers 100 minutes to decode each 30 seconds of speech!

In the 1980s and 990s, huge strides in speech recognition were made. Under Fred Jelinek's lead, IBM created a voice-activated typewriter, known as Tangora, that had a 20,000 word vocabulary in 1985. In the 1990s, speech recognition vocabulary actually exceeded average human vocabulary and became speaker-independent.

In the 1990s, speech recognition technologies became commercially available, and call center technologists took notice. Companies began to invest in Computer-Telephony Integration systems, which connected the analog voice systems with the digital customer relationship management databases. This meant that call centers could use speaker-independent speech recognition instead of DTMF signaling. Now, callers could say "sales" instead of pushing one on the touch pad!

In the following years, voice and speech recogntiion technologies became less expensive and easier to deploy, thanks to ever-increasing CPU power and the introduction of the VXML standard. With those innovations, IVR became a cost-effective call center solution.

An IVR illustration

You’re likely familiar with the drill. You make a call to a particular business, you are asked to state the purpose of your call by answering a question or by pressing a certain number. Once you answer or press said number, you are routed to the correct department. The software that does this is the Interactive Voice Response. The infographic below illustrates how this works.










Spoken's approach to the IVR

All that being said, let's acknowledge that many IVRs can provide a frustrating experience, usually due to thoughtless or inexpert design. A well-designed IVR call flow is a thing of beauty: the caller always feels understood; the call is always routed to the right queue the first time, and the caller is accurately identitied within the CRM system so that the agent can have a successful interaction with the caller.

However, we all know that there are many roadblocks to that IVR utopia:

  • Unclear utterances A dog barking or a siten in the background will break most speech recognition IVRs and ask callers to repeat their answers, which send 80% of them to dialing zero immediately, thereby canceling any automation cost savings and increasing caller frustration. Also, the word "um" breaks most automated speech recognition systems.
  • Confusing menus Callers don't always pay attention to every menu choice or may not be able to figure out which choice will get them to the right queue.
  • Lack of CTI Computer-Telephony Integration allows the voice channel (IVR) to interact with digital databases, such as the CRM database and the agent screen. If a company hasn't installed CTI, the caller's utterances will be used only for IVR routing, and the caller will be forced to repeat his information to the live agent.

We have taken an innovative approach to IVR innovation: we combine machine automation with pinpointed human intervention where needed. The Spoken Smart IVR has a human Silent Guide that monitors up to ten simultaneous calls, just in case there is an unclear utterance. Then, instead of asking the caller to repeat a response, the system continues to the next question, while the Guide quickly makes a real-time correction to the utterance. The result? The caller never has to repeat a response and gets to the agent faster.

Don't believe it? View a demo of the Spoken Smart IVR and tell us what you think!

Speech recognition still has a ways to go before every caller is automatically understood every time. In the meantime, we believe in innovating the solutions that do exist to provide the best IVR experience possible.

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Four tips for working with Millennials

Posted by Heidi Miller on March 15, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Four tips for getting the most out of your Millennial workforce

Millennials, those people between the ages of 18 and 34 as of the year 2015, have now surpassed the number of Gen Xers as being the largest generational population in the US workforce. Based on a recent Pew Research Center report, there are about 53.5 million Millennials working in the US, with a large portion of them still in college. This generation will be leading the workforce for decades to come. So what say we get over our differences and focus on leveraging Millennials for the unique skills they offer?

Millennials.jpgDigital natives prefer digital learning

Millennials are tech-savvy and came of age in a digital world. They have probably never consulted an instruction manual nor used an analog device of any kind. They are referred to as "digital natives," which are defined as "children raised in a digital, media-saturated world [that] require a media-rich learning environment to hold their attention." It’s like they came out of the womb knowing how to navigate to EVERY setting on their iPhones in order to figure out how to solve a problem, and they will quickly become bored during an interaction that doesn't promote active engagement or leverage rich media. As Kathy Cuprino wrote in Forbes, perhaps we should stop trying to engage Millennials and simply appreciate their unique set of skills. Maybe we should stop seeing digital natives as having an obstacle to be overcome and start appreciating that they are self-starters and encourage them to do their own research and learning:

"... while Boomers and Gen Xers needed to attend live classes, visit the library for research, and read all the required materials in order to succeed, huge number of Millennials have found more efficient ways of learning. Between Wikipedia, Kahn Academy, recorded lectures, mobile study apps and Google searching through books (why read and browse for data or quotes?), Millennials have learned that they will succeed by doing things their way. Thus, they’re deeply drawn to work that promises self-direction, work-life balance, fulfillment and other benefits and perks that come across as entitled to older generations."

Get over their bad spelling

original.pngIn a recent article in The Thought Board, a corporate CEO noted that across the board, millennials tend to be weak when it comes to grammar, penmanship and even writing a business letter or proposal. Because they have been limited to communicating their ideas in 140 characters or less, there tends to be an inability to express ideas in great detail and they tend to shy away from face to face conversations that may require confrontation.

Again, why not choose to view this downside as an upside? Delivering an idea in a concise manner is a sought-after skill, so give it the right amount of value in the workplace. As for the spelling and grammar mistakes, keep in mind that a spellchecking robot can perform that task. What a robot can't do is deliver an honest analysis in a pithy manner--you need a Millennial for that!

View entitlement as initiative

Another observation about millennials is that they seem entitled. While other generations have patiently waited their turn to climb the corporate ladder, Millennials don’t seem to have that same patience and don’t feel they need to wait around at all. They are eager for responsibility, and having grown up in the world of start-ups and explosive technical know-how, they’ve seen the relative ease with which today’s entrepreneurs have had growing an idea into a multi-million-dollar business. They believe “if they can do it, so can I.” They’re not a “pay-your-dues” generation and those who manage Millennials say they’re unafraid of responsibility and when it’s entrusted to them, they take the ball and run.

Again, instead of viewing the lack of patience with advancement as an obstacle, I'd encourage you to see the shoot-for-the-stars approach as a valuable commodity. In short, you want employees that see the big picture and want to be a part of it. The U.S. Chairman of PwC, Bob Moritz, did a study on Millennials within the organization and offered advice on leveraging that desire for effecting organizational change:

"... we’ve implemented programs to engage all our people, so they know what the firm is doing and why, and so they can have a voice in where it’s going. For example, we’ve asked them for ideas on how to invest in human capital and what the firm’s next $100 million idea should be. Some of their suggestions were pretty compelling, but what was even more important to us was that 70% of the organization took part in the ideation process."

Show your true colors

Finally, while there are some in this age group who tend to be very motivated by money, others are not and find great satisfaction in finding a career that offers a greater sense of purpose. They have little patience for organizations whose values don't align with their own, and they will leave an organization if there is the perception of a disconnect between words and actions. Says Moritz:

"At PwC we see greater retention and higher performance when people are engaged in corporate responsibility programs. For example, those who participated in more than one CR activity had an average tenure of 7.4 years, while those who participated in none stayed with the organization an average of 6.3 years... Millennials are quick to react negatively to any perceived disconnect between the firm’s words and its actions. If they don’t believe us, they leave."

Make sure you live your mission statement. Ask Millennials if any of the organization's activities don't seem to align with that mission statement. Offer opportunities for participation in corporate responsibility programs--that volunteer day at Habitat for Humanity may keep that Millennial with your organization for months or years longer than anticipated!


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