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Tag Archives: Contact Center Pipeline

Understanding Your Customers: Nothing Beats Time in the Contact Center


The following is a guest post from Susan Hash, editor of Contact Center Pipeline.

How much time has your executive team spent on the contact center floor? Not simply a quick walk-through, but actually taking the time to plug in with an agent to listen to customer calls? If execs really want to know what a quality customer experience sounds and feels like, spending time in the contact center will allow them to experience what your customers are feeling and thinking about your organization, as well as what frontline customer service staff go through on a daily basis.

In addition to senior executives, encouraging department leaders across the organization to spend time in the center is a great way to provide them with first-hand knowledge of what goes on within this critical touchpoint on the customer journey—and often the only interface a customer will have with an organization.

Some customer-centric organizations make it an essential activity for new leaders. At ING Direct, department leaders spend a month in the contact center jacking in with agents and listening to calls—and even handling customer complaints. They not only develop a better understanding of the frontline agent’s job, they realize how their own processes impact the contact center, and ultimately, the customer experience.

It doesn’t need to be a month-long commitment to have an effect. The contact center leadership team at Unilever found that a well-planned open house could make a significant impact. Various brand teams were invited into the center for an afternoon. The teams were given an overview of the types of information the center collected and how the frontline agents interacted with callers. Each brand team was asked to discuss the new products being released with the frontline agents so that they could offer their suggestions and ideas (an incredibly valuable resource!).

After the open house, contact center leadership followed up with the various departments to reinforce the idea that the center was willing and able to do more to support each area in improving their performance through customized reports and customer data.

Encourage the Entire Organization to Walk in the Customer’s Shoes

At BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the Customer Experience team created a very unique activity designed to help non-customer-facing functions develop a better understanding of the customer service advocate’s role, and to understand how what they do impacts what happens in the contact center. They set up a call-listening room next to the employee cafeteria. Continue reading

Customer Communities: A Starring Role in the Customer Journey


The following is a guest post from Susan Hash, Editor of Contact Center Pipeline.

Digital marketing experts say that it’s important to be in all the places where your customers are searching for information about your products and services. However, if your goal is to drive engagement and retention, cultivating your own branded community can offer more value for both customers and the business.

Online communities have been in use by the high-tech industry for decades—going as far back as 1980 with CompuServe’s CB Simulator online chat service. While, in the past, the primary goals for launching customer communities focused on marketing or reducing costs, today’s communities are closely linked to an organization’s business drivers. Vanessa DiMauro sees them becoming an essential function for businesses in the next few years.

“Up to 60% of inquiries and business decisions are made without first contacting the organization,” she says. “Customers use search, they Google, they talk to peers, they visit websites. Communities have an opportunity to play a starring role in the beginning of the customer journey. What is better from a prospective customer’s viewpoint than seeing how an organization interacts with its customers?” DiMauro is the CEO of Leader Networks (www.leadernetworks.com), a research and strategy consulting company that helps organizations succeed in social business and online community building.

Getting Started: Build on a Solid Foundation

As with any customer-centric initiative, launching an online community requires vision, planning, goals, resources and strategy. The following are a few key elements to create a strong foundation for long-term success.

Executive buy-in. Make sure that you have the support of the right internal stakeholders, says DiMauro. “A community is not an island. It not only touches customer support, marketing and product innovation, it reaches across all lines of the business,” she says. “You need crossfunctional buy-in—everyone has to have a little stake in the game.”

Clear success metrics that are aligned with business objectives. “Communities need to either accelerate a business process or make something possible that wasn’t easily possible in the past,” DiMauro explains. “When launching a community, you can ensure a positive outcome by aligning it around one or two meaningful business needs with very clear measures and metrics for success.” Once you’ve hit those objectives and developed best practices around those requirements, you can then scale to address other business needs, she adds.

A platform that integrates with other channel management tools. If customer service is one of your objectives, focus on delivering a seamless cross-channel experience, advises Joe Cothrel, chief community officer at Lithium Technologies (www.lithium.com). “You need a platform that can support your customers and that plays in a friendly way with other enterprise infrastructures,” he says.

A crossfunctional team. The size and makeup of your team will depend on how much you want to do in your community. Most community teams start with a relatively small team, Cothrel says, and then the team will scale as the community expands its functionality. For example, team expertise may include customer support, product managers, R&D, a content manager, analysts, etc.

An experienced community manager. Look for someone with a strong background in community facilitation or management. Keep in mind that there is a difference between social media professionals and community professionals. “Community professionals have a set of disciplines, best practices, frameworks and know-how to scale and align their work to the organization’s needs,” DiMauro says. “Good community professionals are able to ask the types of open-ended questions that help the subject-matter experts articulate why they’re doing something—and do it in a way that helps new customers and learners. When you introduce too much expertise into a community from the company, they make assumptions and use industry lingo. It can run the risk of becoming a dialog of experts to experts without taking into account all levels of education and support.”

Community guidelines and rules of engagement. Create a set of guidelines and rules that customers must observe, such as be respectful, don’t spam, respect other people’s privacy, don’t harass, etc. Make sure that customers agree to the guidelines when they join. “You also will need processes on the back end for what to do when a customer breaks the rules,” says Cothrel. “Successful communities think through all types of scenarios before launch.”

Continue reading

The Power of Employee Advocates


The following is a guest post from Susan Hash, Editor of Contact Center Pipeline.

Social Media: Tap Into the Power of Employee Advocates

Businesses pour an incredible amount of time and budget into creating positive buzz on social media. While tweeting, liking and sharing has largely been the domain of marketing and social media teams, more companies are now encouraging their employees to become brand ambassadors using their personal social networks. It’s called employee advocacy. Although it’s not a new concept, adding a social media component has amplified the effects.

What makes the employee voice so powerful? Employees have more credibility than the CEO on social media when it comes to the company’s work environment (48% vs. 19%), business practices and crises (30% vs. 27%), according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, the global communications marketing firm’s annual trust and credibility survey. The survey respondents also stated that, on social media and content-sharing sites, they’re far more trusting of family and friends (78%) than a CEO (49%).

I recently had the opportunity to talk with employee advocacy expert Christopher Hannegan, Edelman’s executive vice president, U.S. Practice Chair, Employee Engagement. The idea behind employee advocacy, he says, is that employees are so impassioned and excited about their company’s products, culture and workplace, they will actively talk to others about it, encourage them to buy the company’s products, or apply for a job.

Naturally, employee advocacy is rooted in the culture. “You have to have an engaged workforce before you can expect employees to go outside of the company and start talking favorably about what it’s like to work there and how great the products are,” Hannegan says. “Employees need to understand and feel good about where the company is heading, their role within the company, what they can do to make a difference, and they need to have a good relationship with their manager.” Continue reading

Engage Frontline Staff in Delivering Customer-Centric Goals


The following is a guest post from Susan Hash, Editor of Contact Center Pipeline.

Every contact center leader understands the link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. In centers that pride themselves on maintaining high levels of engagement, common themes include clear, frequent communication from leaders about goals and expectations, active involvement in process changes and being empowered to do the job.

How do you cultivate a customer-centric mindset among frontline employees? The following are proven practices that have appeared in the pages of Contact Center Pipeline over the years.

Give Agents a Closer View of the Customer

Frontline contact center staff may be in contact with customers every day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they know what the customer is experiencing. Some companies help to provide agents with that perspective by allowing them to accompany sales staff on customer site visits. Agents get a chance to see what happens on the customer’s end—how customers are using the company’s products and what issues they might be experiencing—to gain a better understanding of their perspective.

This is a practice that can work for centers in a variety of sectors. As Jay Minnucci, founder of contact center consulting firm Service Agility, points out: “If you have retail stores, agents should have a chance to work in them. If you have focus groups with customers, agents should have the opportunity to be involved (even if only observing). If you have a product or service that a consumer can use, every agent should get it for free (or at least at reduced cost). For the relatively minor expense of some time off the phone, the payback is more compassion, greater understanding and a higher level of engagement.”

At Memorial Health System, employees attend empathy training that explains the different types of patients that staff will come into contact with, their specific health issues and what they may be experiencing. Managers reinforce the training by posting “empathy boards” in all of the backstage areas, like break rooms and storage areas. The empathy boards include photos of a patient type discussed in training (but not an actual patient), along with key points about their situations. It serves as an ongoing reminder of the patient’s voice.

Transparent Communication Builds Trust

Having open discussions about the organization’s goals and the ROI associated with the customer experience is an effective way to help frontline staff understand the impact their work has on the company’s success. Jon Koelling, director of customer care at Intuit, says that clear and meaningful communication is an essential activity in his center. The organization’s goals and progress toward those goals is discussed in quarterly touchpoint meetings, as well as in traditional team meetings, via email updates and during biweekly pre-shift meetings. Continue reading