Spoken Communications

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

Customer retention 101: five tips for customer service

Posted by Heidi Miller on February 11, 2016 at 6:30 AM

15104200_s.jpgHow to keep your customers from running for the hills

Customer retention is a bit like the red headed stepchild in the customer service space. Everyone agrees that it's important, but pulling resources to support customer retention and loyalty programs can be a challenge. But what could be more important than making sure that your customers stay with you rather than go to one of your competitors? Sounds simple enough, after all, it’s easier to keep current customers than it is to find new ones. But customer retention can be tougher than you think. Today’s market is highly competitive and customer’s expectations are exceedingly high in every industry. Let’s face it, customers have numerous options across the board from cell-phone carriers, to retailers, to auto-body/repair shops, and a single bad experience with your customer service can send them running for the hills (and telling all their friends about it).

Tips for building customer retention

So, how does a company differentiate itself from the myriad of others that are all vying for the customer’s loyalty? Well, here at Spoken, we have found the following tips have served us well and enabled us to enjoy a high rate of customer retention.

  • Know your value While there are less expensive and more established call center cloud providers out there, no one is more experienced with the technical cloud transition process than Spoken. So we leverage the experise of our management team to act more as consultants rather than salespeople. And we get our customers on board, too--they help us share the story of how we stood by every step of the transition to the cloud. If your brand isn't the least expensive or the fastest, what special value do you provide? Why do your customers choose you over the competition? Find that value and trumpet it to the hills!
  • Provide valuable and relevant content; give first People like to do business with people they know, like and trust. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and that principle applies to business relationships as well. When we launched in 2005, our brand was unknown, and we didn't have buckets of cash to spend on marketing. So we looked at what we did have: a few customers who trusted us with their business, and a management team with a wealth of experience in the call center space. So we started an outreach program, writing weekly blog posts to share our expertise for free and providing valuable content that could make a difference in our potential clients' businesses. We focused on the customer service industry, covering topics from cloud infrastructure to employee relations to avoiding sickness in the workplace. In addition to our regular blog posts, we also send out a monthly e-mail newsletter with the latest product updates, live demos and time-saving technology to our clients. This is just one more way that we can stay connected and engaged with our clients on a regular basis and continue to build on the trust we’ve established with them.
  • Make it about them, not you Social media has taken the world by storm. There are a number of social platforms available that will allow your organization to stay engaged with your customers in a non-sales environment. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are among the top social media sites, with more being added all the time. Many brands make the mistake of treating social media as a megaphone to shout their brand messaging at others. While it is important to include your product announcements, you get the most bang for your social media buck by being social. ReTweet your client's award announcement; comment on their daughter's win at the robotics competition; tag them in a virtual reality news article you think they'll like. In short, engage on social media by making it about the customer, not about you.
  • Stay ahead of the game This relates back to the expertise mentioned above, but we have found that when we can help a client look down the road a bit and anticipate changes before they arise, we, again, make ourselves indispensable to them. Anticipating your customer’s needs is something that can be adopted and applied by all industries, not just the customer service industry. When we make ourselves indispensable to our clients, they are not likely to be tempted by our competition.
  • Provide a great product Perhaps we should have listed this one first, but when it comes to retaining customers, product quality is only a part of the picture. Still, make sure your marketing and customer loyalty efforts aren't empty hype: start with a great product, solicit customer feedback for needed improvements and tell customers when you've take their advice to make the product better.

What do you think are they keys to customer retention? What programs have you implemented that worked well?

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The fine art of under-promising and over-delivering

Posted by Heidi Miller on February 9, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Do you under-promise and over-deliver?

11387828_s.jpgIn the world of customer service, it's fair to say that the bar is set quite low. Most people just want to have their issue resolved and be on their merry way. And in the office, when it comes to product offerings and deadlines, we've been musing over whether it would be better to set a high bar and perhaps miss it by a day or two or to under-promise and deliver a pleasant surprise when the product is ready earlier than anticipated. You know, like when the hostess tells you a table will be ready in 20 minutes but then seats you in ten minutes. What's the harm?

Aim high or aim low?

On the surface, under-promising and over-delivering sounds good because customer service always seeks to exceed expectations. Falling short of expectations is a great way to lose customers and eventually work your way out of business. We all know that people will be more than happy to express their dissatisfaction when you let them down. So, falling short of expectations or “under-delivering” is certainly something to avoid.

On the other hand, is it a good idea to under-promise?  Hmm, now there’s some food for thought. Under-promising can be a little dangerous in that it implies that we are setting the bar extremely low. Low expectations will do us no favors in business, or in life for that matter. Constantly keeping the expectations low in order to cover yourself in the event of a mistake is simply not good business. You will never stand out from your competition by maintaining low expectations. So, how do you balance the equation of delivering the goods while setting a high standard? 

Here’s a great example in a recent article by Thomas Phelps in about careers.

“Imagine that you are a Financial Adviser, who, after conducting days, weeks or months of research, have found a stock that is primed to deliver tremendous gains. You call several of your clients whom you feel will be able to and interested in investing in this stock. While there are no guarantees in the stock market, all evidence points to nothing but growth for this company, so your optimism is high.

If you tell your clients that the stock should deliver 15 to 20 points of return over the next few months but are more comfortable in assuming a 10 to 12 point return, you have officially over-promised. You now need the stock to hit at least 15 points in order to deliver on your promise.

If, however, you suggested that the stock could produce an 8 to 10 point return, you have created a much safer assurance. Now if the stock performs at the expected 15 to 20 points of return, your under-promise will be met with elation as the stock over-delivered.”

First, notice in this example that the Financial Advisor spent much time doing his research before he made any recommendations. In a sales situation, knowing as much as possible before diving in with unfounded promises is a key way to avoid disappointing the client. At the same time, this example illustrates how the bar was not set too low, but perhaps more reasonably or conservatively, allowing the FA to under-promise on expectations and over-deliver on results.

Under-promising in project management

Here’s another example: Say you’re a project manager and you have promised the client that the project will be done by Friday. You know that you and your team are capable of getting the project completed and delivered by Wednesday, and this deadline becomes your internal goal (not expressed to the client). Provided no unforeseen issues arise, the project is completed and delivered by Wednesday; you have an extremely happy client whose expectations have been exceeded. If, however, there are issues, you’ve built yourself and your staff a buffer of two extra days to resolve those and deliver the project to the client on Friday, as promised. In this scenario, your timeline given to the client is a realistic one that sets your team up for success rather than failure. Your early delivery of Wednesday rather than Friday, exceeds your client’s expectations and makes you and your team look stellar! Either way, you have a happy client. You under-promised with a reasonable time-line and over-delivered with an early delivery.

So, do you prefer to aim high or to under-promise? What do you think? Comment and let us know your thoughts!

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The quality smackdown: live call monitoring or agent evaluations?

Posted by Heidi Miller on February 2, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Which is more valuable for call center quality: live call monitoring or agent evaluations?

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty passionate about customer service quality. In fact, I recently wrote about quality monitoring best practices for 2016. For those of us contact center geeks, we know that quality assurance is an ongoing process. And we have two basic tools in our toolbox to tackle it:

  1. Call monitoring Real-time call monitoring has the advantage of enabling the saving of troubled calls in real time, but it's unrealistic to attempt to monitor anything other than a tiny percentage of live calls.
  2. Agent evaluations Agent evaluations are the bread-and-butter of performance management and can be quite precise in helping to pinpoint agent coaching needs. However, agent evaluations are a long-term solution and can't help improve quality right this second.

While both tools point toward coaching to improve agent performance and therefor the overall customer experience, which one is best?



third-party-call-monitoring-s1.jpg

 The magic of "and": blending real-time monitoring with post-call agent evaluations

Why not both? We've found that a blended approach that incorporates both live call monitoring and agent evaluations brings the most complete view of agent performance. Our customers have seen the following improvements by utilizing both real-time and post-call quality measures:

  1. Ensure a consistent level of customer service when calls are monitored in real-time, that is, at the time they are happening, managers are alerted to any issues that may arise between the customer and the agent. This allows the manager to step in, if necessary, and bring a quick resolution to a situation that had the potential to get out of hand. If the call can be saved while in progress, the chances of maintaining that customer improve dramatically. Current statistics show that 89% of customers will leave your brand for your competitor if they experience poor customer service. Preserving your customer base is a pretty important reason to implement call monitoring.
  2. Pinpoint which agents need more training Everyone brings strengths and weaknesses to the table regardless of profession. The same holds true in the contact center. Some agents are going to do great at maintaining their composure when the call gets stressful, while others may have more difficulty doing so. Agent evaluations provide objective and consistent scoring on every contact and provides efficient feedback on each agents’ performance enabling managers to pinpoint those agents who would benefit from more one-to-one coaching.
  3. Ensure compliance Agents have critical compliance requirements they must adhere to in every interaction and with litigation on the rise due to non-compliance, both call monitoring and agent evaluations will ensure that agents are in compliance with these standards.

The Spoken Observer real-time call monitoring tools allows supervisors to listen in on the live call and whisper to the agent or "barge in" when needed. And HyperQuality's ClearMetrix reporting software allows managers to review recorded calls and provide immediate and actionable feedback to their call center agents. We even offer call recording for a full-service solution in the cloud.

What is your quality mix?

Quality is something that the best organizations live and breathe every day rather than a one-time project. And because most supervisors spend a huge amount of time and energy coaching their agents, it makes sense to implement the right mix of quality tools to help to pinpoint the areas in which the worst (or best!) -performing agents need coaching. Think of call monitoring and agent evaluations as a self-driving car: you tell them where you want to go, and they'll help get you there.

Want to find out more about HyperQuality's ClearMetrix online quality tool? Check out our three-minute demo video by clicking below:

View ClearMetrix Demo Video

 

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Yes, the cloud can reduce your carbon footprint

Posted by Heidi Miller on January 28, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Carbon_Footprint.jpgSince we're based in Seattle, one of America's most eco-friendly cities, we talk quite frequently in the Spoken offices about going green.

And going green isn’t just about what you do as an individual, like recycling plastic bottles and cardboard boxes and turning off the heat when you’re not at home. There are larger, even more impactful ways that you, and your entire organization can contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable earth. In fact, there is a movement towards greening up the contact center!

The call center's carbon footprint challenge

Contact centers face the same carbon footprint challenge as any other on-site enterprise: electricity consumption, waste and carbon emissions from hundreds of staff driving to the office. To combat that waste, an obvious solution is to implement a remote agent workforce using cloud-based infrastructure. In this 2010 article, Greg Levin quotes Michael DeSalles, strategic analyst for Frost & Sullivan’s Information & Communication Technologies division: “…IT departments world-wide are embracing hosted, thin-client contact center technology to leverage the distributed “anytime, anywhere” agent model and reap the environmental benefits.”

Greening the contact center: enable remote agents

Cloud-based contact center technology can reduce your company’s electricity costs, your staff's oil and gas consumption and your bottom line, all while taking advantage of a remote workforce for recruiting.

  • home_agent.jpgPuts an end to long commutes Many of your employees are stuck in traffic five days a week driving to and from your office location, contributing to air pollution and wasting valuable logged-in time. By enabling remote agents to work from home, you can not only cut out thousands of miles of commuting; you can also benefit directly with the ability to hire and retain the best agents, even as they move to new locations. Enabling your employees to work from home using virtual desktops and soft phones is not only greener; it can give you the edge you need to recruit the most qualified work force from any geographic location--and keep them, even if they move their family to a new location!
  • Reduces paper waste Instead of printing out paper manuals and forcing everyone to commute to a common location for training, embracing e-learning will keep your enterprise lean and green. Use online learning tools to train staff; online observation tools such as Spoken Observer to monitor new agents; and online chat to keep everyone motivated and dispensing down-to-the-minute peer-to-peer advice. Instead of flying supervisors around for training, use online reporting and performance management tools in combination with text and video chat to keep the lines of communication open. Plus, no security lines at the airport!
  • Turn it off when you're not using it Most cloud-based contact centers not only enable remote agents but also offer utility-based pricing: you pay only for what you use, rather than paying for a peak energy usage. Think about it: why should you pay for all the energy and connectivity required for 1,000 agents at 2:00 AM on a Tuesday, when only 10 agents are logged on? Use only what you need, and pay only for what you use. Think of it as turning out the lights to save energy when you go home for the night.

So, if you’ve been hesitant about the cost of transitioning your contact center to the cloud, then maybe you’ve been looking at it from the wrong perspective. Not only is the cloud more eco-friendly, but it can also help increase your overall cost efficiency.

To find out more about the benefits of enabling remote agents, download our free white paper, Contact Center Without Walls: Harnessing the Power of Remote Agents by clicking below:

Download Now

 

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Call center tech glossary: what is an ACD?

Posted by Heidi Miller on January 26, 2016 at 8:39 AM

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

If you're new to the call center space, you're probably overwhelmed with the plethora of acronyms floating about: ACD, IVR, CRM, AHT, VoIP, SIP and more. So we'd like to welcome you to the debut post of our call center technology glossary series, where we define and demystify those three-letter bugaboos.

What is an ACD?

What exactly IS an ACD? The acronym stands for Automatic Call Distributor. The ACD is the hardware or software that routes an incoming call to the correct queue. The primary job of the ACD is call routing, which can be determined by a number of factors, including the dialed number, the number the caller dialed from (ANI) and the reason for call collected by the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system.

Many ACDs support skills-based routing, which routes the call to the most qualified agent rather than the next available agent. For example, if a caller selects Sales from the IVR menu and is calling from a number that is not in the database (most likely a new customer), a skills-based-routing-enabled ACD might route the call to the sales queue rather than the first available agent in the general queue.

An ACD illustration

ACDs often work hand-in-hand with Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, which you probably recognize as the automated voice systems that often first pick up a customer call and ask a series of questions to guide the call's routing.

The infographic below is a simple illustration of how this software works. You, the customer, make a call to a particular business but instead of your call being answered by a live person immediately, you are asked to choose what your call is about and then you are routed to an agent in the right queue to get your question answered quickly.

how_acd_works_infographic.png

On premise or cloud ACD

Traditionally, ACDs were purchased as hardware systems that were installed on the organization's physical location, a model known as "on premise," "premises-based" or sometimes "CPE." However, this on-premise model has some drawbacks:

  • It requires a huge capital expenditure.
  • It requires a professional services contract to maintain the physical hardware.
  • It's difficult and costly to switch to a newer, better ACD.
  • Most on-premise solutions are proprietary and can't easily be customized to fit the organization's changing needs.

In short, once an organization purchases and installs an on-premise ACD, they are stuck with it for a very long time. In contrast, many vendors are now offering cloud-based ACDs, which have the following advantages:

  • No capital expenditure; organizations subscribe to the service and pay only for actual usage.
  • Maintenance is typically included in the subscription contract.
  • It's relatively easy to change from one cloud vendor to another.
  • Some cloud ACD vendors take an open-source approach and let organizations write their own applications.
Spoken offers both an Avaya-based cloud ACD and the Spoken Cloud ACD. Click to find out more. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

5 tips for avoiding the office flu this winter

Posted by Spoken Communications on January 21, 2016 at 6:00 AM

16498962_s.jpgHow to keep your call center humming (instead of coughing)


The winter months can often seem really long. If you're based in the Pacific Northwest, like me, the short, gloomy days take a real toll on your mood and on your health. And if you make it through the holidays without getting sick, the January blues will keep you from your overconfidence!

Once we get past the fall and early winter, it can seem like all we have to look forward to is a long, cold winter highlighted by peak flu season. But there are a lot of little things you can do do avoid getting sick this winter.

Top five tips for keeping ahead of the flu

  1. Get a flu shot If you didn’t get a flu shot during the fall, it’s not too late! A flu shot is the number one thing you can do to protect yourself from getting the flu. Additionally, this year’s shot seems to be effectively protecting against the correct strain. So if you had any doubts, banish them and get your shot!
  2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Avoid alcohol, which slows your metabolism and serves only to dehydrate your system. Pilots often point out that the biggest factor in travel-related illnesses is the extremely dry air on airplanes, which serves to dehydrate mucous membranes and reduce their effectiveness at warding off disease. The same can be true in the office. At the office, keep a 16- or 32-ounce bottle of water handy at all times, and be sure to drink the recommended 6-8 glasses of water a day.lotion.jpg
  3. Wash your hands Wash your hands multiple times per day to keep germs at bay. It's a simple task that goes a long way to protect you from cold and flu germs. If you don’t have access to soap and water all the time, then use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you hate the dryness of frequent washing, keep a bottle of your favorite lotion on your desk, like I do. In fact, my office mates often pop by in the winter for a dose of moisturizer and a quick chat!
  4. Avoid sick people This may be hard in the workplace when you’re forced to be around people who are coughing and hacking, but do your best to keep your distance and try not to shake hands. Mythbusters did a wonderful episode on how to avoid sharing one's cold/flu germs by touching elbows rather than shaking hands and coughing into your elbow rather than your hand or a tissue.
  5. Keep your surroundings clean Doorknobs, phone receivers and other common objects are top transmitters for cold and flu germs. Keep those things clean by wiping them down frequently with a clean, sanitizing cloth. This is particularly important for those of us who are in the customer service industry where headsets are used on a daily basis. Typically, all agents have their own head-sets in order to minimize the spreading of germs, however, by not cleaning your own equipment daily, you continue to expose yourself to the germs on your head-set. Daily cleaning is essential, and cleaning several times a day can be helpful if you’ve got a cold.

Although these steps are helpful, sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can still get sick, so what’s the best course of action when you feel symptoms coming on? Talk to your doctor about the many anti-viral medicines and supplements that can help shorten a flu or cold and alleviate your symptoms.

In case of flu, stay home

If you are sick, STAY HOME! If you have the option of working from home, that’s great; do it. If not, take a sick day (or two) and get well before coming back to work. One of the best ways to NOT spread the flu or severe cold is to stay home with your sickness and get yourself well. It’s always better to take a couple of days off to heal rather than fight through it and encourage the germs to hang on for weeks.

Here’s to a happy and healthy winter!

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Top 10 Call Center Trends to Track in 2016

Posted by Heidi Miller on January 19, 2016 at 6:00 AM

 The top 10 trends to track in your call center in 2016

It’s hard to believe that it’s already 2016. Each year seems to go by faster than the year before, doesn't it? The only thing that seems to change more rapidly than the years are the rapid changes in technology. Technological changes impact every facet of life, from how we communicate with family to how we do business.

By the end of 2015, for example, it was estimated that 42% of the world’s population owns a smartphone. That is almost half, and chances are, by the end of this year, that percentage will be significantly higher. With society becoming more mobile, businesses are forced to keep up with this trend, and adjust their focus from prioritizing sales and marketing to prioritizing customer service. Customer service has become the means by which brands can differentiate themselves, and the quality of the customer experience you offer can have a huge impact on your brand.

10 trends to track in 2016 to make your customer service shine         

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  1. Mobile Support Today’s customers use their mobile device for almost everything, so your brand should be optimized for the mobile demand. Phone, social, chat, e-mail and FAQ should be mobile-ready.
  2. Self-service Customers actually like having the option of trying to solve their issue on their own. Provide a self-service option by offering a website, app and/or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Frequently-Asked Questions service. One Spoken client added key FAQs to their IVR, resulting in 47% containment within self-service! (Download the case study!)
  3. Call back from the Queue Waiting on hold is universally despised, and it erodes the quality of the customer experience more rapidly than a rude agent. Sixty percent (60%) of customers will abandon a call after waiting on hold for too long, but 61% would use a callback feature (also called "virtual hold") if it were available. If your call center does not offer this feature, consider adding it to your priority initiatives for 2016. Virtual hold is a great way to show that you respect your customers' time and value their overall experience with your company.
  4. Personalization The majority of customers now say that personalization plays a role in their purchasing decisions--just look at all that Amazon does to anticipate customer needs. Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) is the tried-and-true method of adding personalization to your caller's experience. By connecting the information submitted in the IVR through the voice channel, dipping into your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database and popping the customer information onto the agent's screen, your agent can address the customer by name and easily understand their reason for the call. In fact, in our 2015 Call Center Report, 38% of respondents said their biggest frustration points with call center customer service was having to repeat to the agent information already given to the IVR. Additionally, implementing CTI can reduce AHT and increase customer retention, thereby saving the cost of acquiring a new customer.
  5. 24/7 Support We live in a 24/7 world now, and if you’re customer service center is not available 24/7, well... let’s just say you’ll make it easy for your customers to switch brand preferences. Not only do today's customers expect round-the-clock support, but more than half say 24/7 support can make them love a brand.
  6. Predictive Support A step beyond personalization, predictive support can automatically predict the reason for a customer's call. As an example, Spoken implemented an IVR for a customer that would automatically look up the number the caller called from, ping the database, note the last interaction, predict the reason for call and change the IVR path accordingly. Here's what it looked like: Bill calls in. The IVR captures his phone number, finds it in the database, sees that he recently ordered a prescription that was shipped yesterday, verifies the caller and then asks if Bill is calling about his recent prescription order. Bill says "yes," and the IVR asks if he wants delivery information, usage information or if he has additional questions about his order. A personalized and predictive experience!
  7. Engaging Content What kind of content do you provide via your promotional e-mails? How about your blog? Do you have great videos showing how to best use your product? Is your content engaging and relevant? Don’t wait until your customers reach out to you. Keep them engaged with valuable content such as new products and features, or the latest news and updates in your industry.
  8. Automated Support Did you know that IVR accounts for almost one-third of the entire call experience? An efficient and simple IVR system can provide a seamless customer experience by quickly and efficiently routing the customer to the correct department so that their issue can be resolved quickly and easily. And remember the #2 trend of self-service? Self-service IVRs, when properly implemented, are a thing of beauty that can drive customer love.
  9. Customer Journey Mapping Basically, journey mapping is understanding how your customer interacts with your brand over time. Knowing where the points of friction are and developing a company-wide plan that will improve your customer service overall.
  10. Omnichannel Support Omnichannel support is a growing component in today’s customer service environment. The vast majority of customers, in fact a whopping 95%, will use more than one channel to contact customer support. Phone support is still the number one means, but other channels should not be ignored. Your team should be available on any channel your customer chooses to use, whether it’s phone, live chat, e-mail or reaching out through social media and these channels should integrate seamlessly with your helpdesk and CRM.

What trends are you seeing the call center space in 2016? Which key trends are you tracking? Sound off in the comments!

 

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What is open source and why should you care?

Posted by Heidi Miller on January 14, 2016 at 9:00 AM

How does the open source software movement affect the call center?

Even if you're not a developer, you might have heard about the open source software development movement. Even as a non-technical gal, I've been fascinated by the success of the movement and its proponents. For those of you like me who aren't software developers, here's the Wikipedia definition: a broad-reaching movement of individuals who support the use of open-source licenses for some or all software. Open source software is made available for anybody to use or modify, as its source code is made available. Open source software promotes learning and understanding through the dissemination of understanding. Slide08.jpg


A good way to look at this aspect of software development is to consider two access points: the front end and the back end. The front end refers to the interface presented to the end user--what you see when you open up Microsoft Word or Mozilla Firefox. The back end refers to the data access layer used to code the software, something the end user typically never sees.

The proprietary philosophy

With traditional or "proprietary" software, only the software vendor owns the back end and has unique and legal access to it. The software is covered by copyright, and proprietary software vendors usually regard source code as a trade secret. The idea is that the vendor develops the software, controls its development and charges for its use. Microsoft Office is an excellent example: Microsoft created and owns all the back end code that makes Office work, and outside developers are generally not allowed to dig into the back end code and customize it to create additional functionality. Users have the right to access the software's functions through the front end (think creating a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet), but not to access the back end to change the software's functionality.

The benefits of the proprietary approach include tight control over look and feel; the vendors issue regular bug fixes for their paying customers; and it's often considered the industry standard. The drawbacks include lack of ability for users to fix software bugs on their own or customize it to their own needs. Additionally, most proprietary software requires a fee for use and typically limits the number of users that can access it through licensing.

The open source philosophy

On the other hand, open source software (OSS) creators provide users with access not only to the front end but to the back end as well. Generally, OSS developers provide the source code to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design. A community-based approach, open source development is generally more collaborative, where developers change, customize and improve upon the source code and share their changes within the community. For example, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Open Office all take an OSS approach to their software, opening the back end to developers to create custom scripts to be shared with the community. The benefits of this approach include constant innovation, adaptability and the collective intelligence of the broad user community rather than a small group of developers. Additionally, OSS  is usually free. The drawbacks include a lack of control over changes and an inelegance or inconsistency to the software.

This rather humble video provides a simple overview of explaining the proprietary and open source software approaches:

And this video goes into more detail on the licensing and copyright details of proprietary vs. OS software models.

Advantages and disadvantages of OSS

Advantages

  1. Free It’s generally free. Free is always good, especially when free has the potential to save businesses billions of dollars. These days, for every piece of proprietary software that is on the market, there is an OSS version.
  2. Innovation It’s continually evolving, which means it’s continually improving. Because there is a huge community devoted to improving the software, OSS often offers better quality and more security than proprietary models.
  3. Freedom As a user, choosing OSS software means you are not locked into a particular vendor’s system.
  4. Customization OSS allows you to adapt the software to your own business needs, something not available with proprietary systems.

Disadvantages

  1. Quirky Because there is no requirement to create a commercial product that satisfies the needs of all users, OSS products can tend to reflect the developers' wishes rather than those of the end user.
  2. Obtuse Due to that overcustomization, OSS can be less user-friendly than proprietary software that is user-tested before being presented to the public.
  3. Support There can be less support when things do go wrong, and this can sometimes result in extra costs in paying for external support.
  4. Vulnerability Although OSS means there are many people identifying and fixing bugs, it can still be vulnerable to malicious users.

Why you should care

More and more software vendors are seeing the value in leveraging the OSS community to improve upon their existing software products. According to Fortune, which recently reported on Facebook's backing several new open-source projects:

Facebook, like Yahoo, Google, Yelp and older-school companies like IBM, take growing pride in turning over key software code to the open source “community” of developers. Even Microsoft, long viewed as the enemy of open-source development, has focused on making its Azure cloud computing platform a hospitable place for open-source software, including different flavors of the Linux operating system.

Why would a proprietary software vendor support OSS projects? Two simple reasons:

  1. Free advertising If the OSS community develops a popular plugin or patch, the appeal and market for the vendor's software grows.
  2. Paid support Remember the #3 disadvantage above? Proprietary software vendors who build an OSS community around their software can then offer paid support that the community doesn't provide.

OS in the call center

If you're in charge of call center hardware and software, you might be wondering why this blog post even exists. It's true that OSS has been all but absent in the call center software space. While many vendors are eager to sell you their Call Center as a Service (CCaaS) cloud platforms, very few have built those platforms on anything other than a proprietary approach to software. The traditional pay-for-license model has been extremely slow to die.

However, we are seeing glimmers of openness. At Spoken, while our CCaaS platform is proprietary, we consciously made the choice to build on free or OSS systems whenever possible. And we are working on creating an Application Marketplace, where our clients can share their custom scripts with the Spoken community.

Have you applied OSS tools to your contact center? Share your experiences in the comments!

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What is Six Sigma and why you should care

Posted by Heidi Miller on January 12, 2016 at 8:00 AM

If you have anything to do with quality, you've probably heard of the term Six Sigma and are aware that it is a method for dealing with organizational problems and quality. But Six Sigma actually has a very interesting history you might not be aware of.

What is Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement. It differes from previous methods in that it is a highly disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects. It has its origins in the manufacturing process (thus the drive toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit), but is applied in practice to many different processes from products to services. The value of Six Sigma lies in the ability to define on a quantitative level how any process is performing. By defining what a defect is and offering a statistical model for the frequency of defects, any process, from manufacturing to customer service, can be evaluated and improved.

Six Sigma was first introduced in 1986 by Bill Smith, an engineer with Motorola. Jack Welch, of GE brought it more into the mainstream when he made it central to his business strategy. Now, many of today’s top companies employ Six Sigma to quantitatively measure and improve their processes.

What is the key to Six Sigma

The DMAIC process (define, measure, analyze, improve, control), an inherent part of the Six Sigma system, is applied to existing processes that might be falling below specifications and seeks to make incremental improvement.

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Define: define the problem This step is just what it says, the opportunity for management and staff to come together and discuss what isn’t working within their process or system of doing things.

Measure: map out the current process This step would likely consist of writing out step by step the current process allowing the group to see where the problem is creeping in.

Analyze: identify the cause of the problem Pretty self-explanatory, but a key step in the process. This step allows the group to pinpoint where the breakdown is occurring.

Improve: implement and verify the solution This part of the process is where the solution is determined and implemented.

Control: maintain the solution Make sure the new process is actually being implemented, pay close attention to how well it’s working and tweak the new process to make improvements along the way.

This is a very basic overview of the DMAIC model, but a great way to see how the process can work.

Why should you care: a case study

The benefit of the Six Sigma model is that it removes the element of guesswork from the quality process and replaces it with quantitative measurement. Let's take an example in the customer service space. We worked with one customer, a lifestyle and health care retailer with over three million customers.

Define

They had two challenges: resolution rate wasn't being consistently tracked, and their percentage of dissatisfied customers was as high as 11%.

Measure

And the next step is where many organizations fail: taking the time to painstakingly map out every element of the current customer journey, from first touch with the brand to the latest customer service experience. This step can involve a tremendous amount of time and resources, as the process is typically spread out over several departments. When HyperQuality performed this step, we first divided the factors into three categories: agent-related causes, process-related causes and other (caller hung up, for example).

Analyze

Next comes the analysis to discover the weak links in the process that are the best targets for improvement. In this phase, we drilled down to discover what were the drivers of resolution in terms of both agent behaviors and process-related factors, and we determined four of each. The agent behaviors drivng the issue were:

  • Lack of ownership
  • Not maintaining pace with the customer
  • Lack of confidence
  • Frequent interruption by agent while customer explained the issue

The process elements driving the issue:

  • Return: Agent would say “As the order exceeded XX days, we cannot exchange / refund the product”
  • Warehouse: Agent would say “We are sorry that we cannot modify the order as the product is already processed 
to warehouse” 

  • Third Party: Agent would say “We cannot access the account as the order is placed with OtherCompany.com” 

  • Refund: Agent would say “We cannot refund as the product is not received at company”

Improve

In light of this information, we recommended training agents to keep the customer informed on steps being taken for resolution, particularly on calls where the reason for call is either to request a refund or an order status/incomplete order. Whenever required, the supervisors should be readily accessible in order to keep the customer wait time as low as possible, thereby avoiding potential call disconnection and improving the overall customer experience. HyperQuality strongly recommended the tracking of dropped volume to study the causes (people or technology) of disconnection.

Control

We worked with the organization to close the identified gaps and monitored for six weeks. The consolidated list of recommendations was fed to cost benefit analysis to generate opportunities for the company that require immediate focus to improve overall resolution. These high bar opportunities cumulatively translated in to potential revenue gain of over $2 MM with improvement of 4% in overall contact resolution and 3.4% in customer experience.

What can Six Sigma do for you?

Much of what goes on in the contact center in terms of quality improvement is guesswork. We believe the Six Sigma model gives organizations the best chance of improvement and methodical, continued success. Want to see the full case study for the above client? Click below.

Get the case study

When you partner with HyperQuality, our ASQ-certified Six Sigma black belts will walk your contact center management team through each step and help you devise a plan for improvement.

Even if your call center measures every metric and does frequent reviews, it’s not uncommon for goals and strategies to get out of alignment over time. If this is the case in your contact center, call HyperQuality, and let us show you how Six Sigma can bring significant improvement to your organization.

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Quality news: what will Process Analytics bring in 2016?

Posted by Chrystal LeWark on January 7, 2016 at 7:00 AM

As we approach the end of each calendar year, predictions have a way of taking center stage for everyone. Everything becomes a prediction from which celebrities will split, to what will be the biggest box-office hits and everything in between. The corporate world is the same; in fact, it’s really essential for any corporation, large or small, to be looking ahead and anticipating what trends are likely to impact their business. predictive-analytics.jpg

The world of quality control is no different. Ours is an industry that monitors the quality of customer service interactions. One of the peculiarities of our business is the ever-changing technology that impacts almost everything we do, so for our industry, knowing what types of changes are on the horizon is essential. So, what is on the horizon for quality monitoring and more specifically, the process analytics piece of quality monitoring?

Process analytics, sometimes called "business process analytics," is the means by which call centers analyze how effective and efficient the processes of a customer service are. At HyperQuality, we supply our customers with a tailored range of scientifically validated high-performance solutions that save time and money and ultimately serve to increase efficiency.

Those goals most likely won't change. However, the latest predictions might shift the scope of how HyperQuality approaches quality process analytics.  

Two trends: real-time predictive analytics and extreme collaboration

Process analytics First, what exactly are predictive analytics? Predictive analytics is really just fancy guesswork: it tells you what might happen in the future based on existing data. Basically, this allows companies to look at existing data sets and extrapolate patterns to predict future trends.

Extreme collaboration Extreme collaboration, sometimes abbreviated XC, is basically an environment where people can come together to work on a common goal. How will these two pieces come together and affect process analytics?

According to a recent article published by Hewlett Packard, both will rely more on Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has often been portrayed (thanks to sci-fi movies) as an autonomous robot that will ultimately take over the human race. Well, ok, maybe that’s a little extreme, but there has always been a sense that the more we rely on AI, the less we will need the human factor. However, according to this report, “the ability to analyze big data can deliver distributed machine intelligence that complements human ability ultimately making both humans and machines more effective in addressing a wide range of social and business needs.” Basically, we need the human factor in order to implement the data that the AI has provided.

And in To the Best of Our Knowledge’s recent radio program Automate It, David Krakauer, Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, professor of genetics at UW-Madison and external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, assures us that, even in cases of machine learning, robots will only take over the world if we program them to do so.

What results can we expect?

colorful_selection_choice.jpgAccording to the Hewlett Packard article, there are several benefits big data analytics will deliver to businesses in 2016. The key effects for call center customer care are:

Choice in the multi-channel world: with the advent of numerous channels of communication such as mobile and social media, there is a great need in the call center, for technical support to be available to support those channels. If it is not, this impacts the customer experience in a negative way. Big data analytics can help organizations, including the call center, to become more “channel agnostic,” meaning they can analyze data quickly and accurately regardless of the channel being used, because Big Data analytics can support a frictionless cross-channel process.

Automated personalization: In 2016, we can expect to see machines do a better job of analyzing what we’ve called in the past, “squishy details” such as tone of voice, facial expressions and other forms of non-verbal behavior. Until now, those non-verbals have only been gathered by human intelligence; however, big data is now able to interpret what’s called “unstructured data.” Combine this with the vast quantities of structured data, and that provides a wealth of information the call center agent can use in serving their customers. In addition, big data analytics can also provide a smoother customer experience as it provides a history of every point of contact for the customer.

Of course, these are predictions, but if these predictions come true, we can expect many positive results in the contact center, including superior levels of customer service, revenue growth, cost reduction and risk avoidance.

Want more information on HyperQuality's predictive analytics services? Click here to contact us!

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