LiveOps Blog

Manage Those Spikes for Maximum Customer Satisfaction

LiveOps Agent Services

How can you keep customers happy? It’s a difficult enough question to answer during periods of “normal” activity—and even more challenging during busy times, when activity spikes. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to accurately predict and staff to meet the exact needs of your brand at any given time? It’s pretty tough to do. No matter the industry, no matter the location, no matter the value proposition—all brands experience spikes in activity. It’s especially difficult for brands that have seasonal peaks, like floral delivery around Valentine’s Day, and those with expected busy times that still are difficult to forecast for, such as pizza delivery around the Super Bowl. The trick is how to adequately staff so that customers have a good experience while the brand maintains a high level of profitability.

There are a number of strategies brands can implement to manage staffing to handle customer interactions during peak times. The top five are:

Know your “spikes” (as best you can) during peak seasons.

Leverage history. If it’s happened before, it will likely happen again. Research your historical trends including contact volume, transaction volume and performance KPIs and use these as the basis to forecast expected contact volume, staffing requirements or even additional IT capacity required to support future busy spikes.

Identify ways to handle the spikes.

Spikes are inevitable so plan as much as possible. After you’ve determined what’s needed during known busy periods, take stock. Look at any and all ways your brand can manage an increase in activity while maintaining service quality and customer satisfaction.

Integrate technology wherever possible to increase capacity.

Is your brand taking full advantage of the technologies and tools available to manage inbound inquiries—not just during spikes, but all the time? Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), is a fantastic tool. It allows for customers to communicate with contact center agents via audio, video or text using just a web browser. With no hardware requirements or software to download, users can get started immediately—and brands can reap the benefits.

Integrating social media channels is another way to manage spikes. Answering one question via Facebook or Twitter may head-off hundreds or thousands of subsequent inquiries. There are countless other technologies and tools out there too…see what works best for your brand.

Evaluate BPO outsourcing partners to handle spikes beyond your internal capacity.

Despite the best efforts to plan ahead, sometimes demand will outstrip capacity. And that’s not a bad thing, necessarily—hey, it means your brand is in demand! Make sure it stays in demand by meeting customer needs for timely service and support. One way to manage unforeseen spikes in activity is by partnering with a BPO provider.

ProFlowers, for example, is a leading online flower delivery service serving more than seven million customers. It is the very definition of a “spiky” business, with holidays and special events bringing increased demand on top of the standard activity. ProFlowers determined its best course of action was to incorporate a cloud-based contact center platform with a team of on-demand independent agents—both from LiveOps. The agents can be quickly scaled up or down, depending on order volume. That means ProFlowers can deliver not only beautiful flowers, but consistent and responsive customer service as well.

Introduce gamification to promote healthy competition and fun during known “spiky” times, such as holidays.

Everyone enjoys a challenge—and if it’s a challenge that keeps people engaged and motivated at work, all the better. Gamification, with achievements leading to rankings on leaderboards with the accompanying bragging rights (and possibly tangible prizes), is a remarkably effective motivation tool.

More details on all of these tips are included in my recent article for ICMI. Plan ahead for those “spiky” times as best you can—and remember those spikes mean customers want what your brand is providing. That means even spiky days are good days.

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Does Your Corporate Culture Match Your Contact Center Culture?

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Corporate culture is frequently mentioned, usually in generality, by the leaders of organizations. “We believe in…we support…we work toward…we are….” Corporate culture is commonly tied to mission and vision statements that define the way a brand thinks, behaves and works (really, the people behind the brand). Target calls customers “guests” to make them feel more welcome. Nike encourages people to “Just Do It” and gives them the athletic tools to do so.

Does your organization have a defined corporate culture, and does it extend to and encompass the contact center? If you’re not sure, think about a few questions. Is the focus on the bottom line or on ensuring customer satisfaction? Are your customer care agents empowered to do what’s necessary to keep customers happy and returning? What are the core corporate values, and how are they translated into customer service?

The contact center can be the first, and sometimes only, interaction customers have with a real, live person “behind” the brand. The contact center is also usually the most customer-focused area of an organization, because it is constantly and consistently interacting with customers—but it may focus on different things than the overall corporate culture. It’s important to make sure your contact center is strategically aligned with the brand’s goals, messages and activities…and maybe even derive some of those goals, messages and activities from the customer focus of the contact center.

Here are nine tips to incorporate the customer-focused contact center culture to the rest of your organization:

1. Position the contact center at the core of customer experience management.

It’s where the customer journey starts and ends, so the contact center is supremely important. Make sure the messages shared by contact center agents are consistent with brand messages.

2. Align the contact center with the overall brand’s strategy and priorities for the customer experience.

This is a no-brainer. Make sure the contact center is working toward the same strategy and priorities to ensure outstanding customer experiences as the brand.

3. Identify and share key performance indicators (KPIs) across the organization, including Sales, Marketing, Services, IT, Operations and Finance.

The only way different departments will understand each other is to communicate, even if they are not on the same page. Encourage sharing, feedback and interaction. Ideally, KPIs for each department will work in concert toward the overall corporate vision and culture.

4. Create a “Customer Experience Vision” and showcase it in a simple, intuitive fashion, demonstrating the contact center’s role in making the vision a reality.

A brand’s vision of the customer experience helps ensure consistent behavior and actions. Gather input from each department or functional area and use it to create a vision statement and actions resulting from that vision.

5. Create shared dashboards that are visible, simple and fun.

Create friendly competition and encourage interaction. Help individuals and departments share and celebrate successes. This all works toward reinforcing corporate culture and a focus on customer service.

6. Identify “small win” opportunities and work on the low-hanging fruit first. Celebrate early successes.

Create momentum by getting a few quick successes under the collective belt. This demonstrates the brand supports all efforts toward the customer focus and culture and increases the drive to achieve more.

7. Communicate progress often.

Keep teams up to date on their progress and that of the brand overall. Dashboards are great for this, along with regular updates.

8. Reward the entire team for achieving milestones and KPIs.

This can be as simple or as elaborate as desired. It’s all about encouraging good work and striving for progress toward the overall goals.

9. Benchmark progress against the rest of the industry and adopt best practices to continuously improve.

Look at leaders in your industry, as well as top worldwide brands. Any brand known for its customer focus (think Apple, Amazon and others) is a good check point.

More details on all of these tips are included in my recent article for ICMI. I know determining and following corporate culture can seem overwhelming, but when you think about the benefits of a culture that encompasses the contact center and focuses on the customer, you’ll find big positives. Give it a try and see!

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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General Specialists or Special Generalists?

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We each have special skills. Perhaps you are the reigning Scrabble champion in your family. Maybe you can reassemble any electrical device you’re given. Perhaps you are the “Office Genius” when it comes to historical project knowledge. Or maybe you can recite from memory the name of every man who signed the Declaration of Independence.

On top of those special skills, you likely have general skills. You know how to drive. You know how to operate a smartphone, laptop, tablet—any number of personal technology devices. You can cook at least one dish. And you can read and write.

Most brands hiring for their customer contact center want a combination of specialized and general skills. They want customer service specialists. And sales specialists. And “people” people. And people who are detail-oriented. That’s a lot of specialties to require…and some may call those people generalists, rather than specialists. Fortunately, many of those specialized skills are complementary.

Like people who specialize in both sales and service. The skill sets are different in some ways, but very similar in other ways. Agents with sales and service skills are knowledgeable about your product or service; they are good at reading people to determine the most effective sales pitch; they empathize with customers so they can tailor their approach to each customer’s needs; and they can tell when it’s appropriate to make the upsell pitch or just resolve the issue at hand. Those complementary skills probably mean they are more flexible in the type of customer interactions they can handle. And those sales-and-service generalists are specialists at monetizing customer interactions.

So how do you get these expert generalists on board? Your brand will likely need to revamp the hiring process. Think about the skills that are listed as “essential” and “preferred.” Think about the recruiting language that is used and whether it skews toward sales or toward service. You need to build a new agent profile, one that captures elements of sales and service, so that you can find those generalists best suited to be your brand ambassadors.

Once you’ve got the profile figured out and the generalists hired…what about training?

Training can be daunting no matter the job description and role. It may be a bit more challenging to design and deliver effective training after changing your agent profile—but it can be done. In addition to the product or service training to familiarize the agent with your offerings, you’ll want to include technology and process training to ensure smooth interaction with your systems and customers. Don’t forget to offer a refresher course on sales and customer service best practices so to immerse the new hires in your brand’s culture.

And how do you make that training interesting and keep those generalists engaged? Try games. Gamification of training is hot now, and there are so many ways to inject that level of fun into your training. Set up head-to-head competitions where agents role-play a call and whoever resolves it (fastest, most completely, most creatively) wins points. Tally those points to create a leaderboard, to keep people earning points and battling for agent supremacy.

It can also be helpful to establish an agent communication hub, whether it’s a dedicated website, chat application or discussion forum. Make it simple and fun for people to interact to share what works and support each other. It balances out some of the competitive aspects of the gamified training and goes a long way to maintaining a team feeling—especially if your agents are geographically dispersed.

I offer these suggestions because LiveOps has implemented most of them within our community of 20,000 independent work-at-home agents and found them successful. Finding and keeping solid contributors to your bottom line is difficult, no doubt. Do whatever you can to find those right people, train them quickly and effectively and get them interacting with customers. Having those generalists who are experts in monetizing customer interactions whenever possible will keep that bottom line healthy and prepare you and your team for growth and expansion. Read more in my recent article for ICMI.

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Seven Tips for Outstanding Social Customer Experiences

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Contact center agents have a tough job. It takes a lot of patience and “EQ,” emotional intelligence, for agents to flex their style and approach based on the specific customer and interaction. And the world of customer interaction is changing, as customers are increasingly using social media over traditional phone and email communication. Are your agents ready?

Agents may not be as familiar or comfortable with customer engagement in public forums. It’s no secret that the challenge and level of complexity in providing customer service grows as more channels are included in the mix (Facebook, Twitter, live chat and SMS with more added all the time). There are some standards in customer service, but some things are different depending on the channel. For example, it’s easier to misconstrue tone in writing than it is when speaking to someone. And some messages purposefully need to be brief.

So how do brands train agents to provide the same outstanding customer service via all channels, from phone to email to social media? Read on for seven quick tips to help agents at all levels, those with years of experience and those just starting, be successful when providing social customer service.

  1. Familiarize agents with different social channels and how to provide customer service via those channels. Provide a basic introduction, help agents establish accounts if they don’t have them, and guide the first few interactions.
  2. Offer multiple training sessions.Whether it is a series of trainings or single sessions designed for the beginner, the intermediate, or the advanced user – repetition is important. Consider offering different types of training, too, including online training, meetings and…
  3. Offer simulations for practice. Simulations or role-playing exercises are helpful for everyone: trainees can experience an actual interaction on a particular channel, so they can learn the steps, the information they will need and where to find that information. It’s ideal to provide real-time feedback when training with simulations or role-playing. If real-time feedback isn’t possible, consider an evaluation or wrap up report at the end of training.
  4. Establish best practices for each channel and for all channels. Best practices are important in all interactions, but the stakes are higher when an interaction is public. Remind agents to be aware of the public nature of social media interactions. Establish a “best practices” resource with reference information agents can access quickly. Ask your expert social media agents for tips and tricks. List basic phrases or responses that can be copied and pasted (and customized).
  5. Establish a brand “voice” for social media interactions. It’s also important to establish a brand “voice” all agents should follow. Whether it is “all business” or casual and friendly, set the standard for agents.
  6. Focus on quality control. Quality and consistency are especially important with public interactions, since written words and videos can have a long life in the virtual world. It’s easier than ever for people to share their interactions and they can quickly go viral. Remember the Twitter interaction between Patrick Stewart and a cable company about his 36-hour wait for installation? It happened in 2012 but is just a keyword search away.
  7. Remind agents to start and complete an interaction on the same channel. Even if the interaction is taken “offline” due to sensitive personal information, it’s important to wrap it up on the same channel where it started. By closing the loop, anyone who was following the interaction will be able to see it was resolved, thereby heading off potential issues.

Social customer service is ever-more important, and it’s essential to train agents to handle social interactions. Those agents who deliver social customer service with compassion and good humor will reflect well on their brand and ultimately exceed customer expectations. Read more in my ICMI article from earlier this year. This is in no way an exhaustive list, so feel free to chime in with other ideas.

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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ERA D2C Wrap-Up Part 1: Keep Your Eyes on the Road and Your Contact Center “Trendy”

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“Stop looking in your rearview mirror to see how things have been done in the past…Look through your windshield to see what is coming down the road ahead.” This statement made by Jeff Tobe, certified speaker and “The Guru of Creativity,” really stuck with me following his keynote at last month’s ERA D2C event. He challenged the audience to step outside of their comfort zone and position themselves more creatively than ever before in order to create a “competitive edge” in the direct response industry.

His message rings true when it comes to social media’s role in retail and direct response. While voice and chat channels are still the most widely used in the retail contact center, brands need to turn their focus to the opportunities that lie farther down the road. Social media customer service may be top of mind for retailers these days, but it is evident that many brands are still struggling with how to utilize these channels and enable their talent to provide best-in-class customer service in public forums. They are also struggling with creating their own army of Super Agents, a new breed of agents that are well-versed in delivering exceptional customer service through every communication channel.

Mingling on the show floor and attending conference sessions confirmed that attendees – not just exhibitors – were definitely in tune with the ever-increasing need to embrace the social trend. During the Masters Series Session “D2C Social Media Marketing: The New Frontier” with Michele Tivey of SMT Media, it was established that 70 percent of attendees were promoting their brand and products on social networks, but a whopping 90 percent conceded that they needed to do a better job of utilizing these channels for customer service. Participants agreed that communicating with customers through their preferred channel, whether it be voice, email, chat or social, is critical to improving satisfaction and ensuring customer retention. This feedback echoes the findings from LiveOps’ research conducted earlier this year, which found that 89 percent of consumers believe it is important to be able to communicate with brands on any channel and receive consistent quality and efficiency of response. So what’s holding brands back?

This need to elevate customer service into a competitive differentiator creates a unique opportunity for all retail and DR brands. They simply need to quit looking to the past and, instead, focus on adapting to the trends of the future, which are shaping customer service as we know it.

Stay tuned! There’s more to come on our own CEO’s presentation in Part Two of my ERA D2C blog series.

–          Ann Ruckstuhl, SVP and CMO, LiveOps

 Photo copyright of ERA.

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Looking Ahead to the New LiveOps Cloud Platform

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Change is in the air. This week, LiveOps Cloud Platform was acquired by Marlin Equity Partners and we couldn’t be more excited about what this means for you, our customers. This acquisition is the result of several months of work as we searched for the right partner that would help us improve our ability to serve you and ultimately, help you serve your own customers.

We understand the value that you place on customer service. We place the same value on our relationships with you. Our acquisition by Marlin will allow us to provide you with even more solutions to meet your evolving customer service needs. And we know it’s an evolution. In our always-on world, customer needs and expectations change daily. We have seen our customers embrace these changes and rise to the occasion by pushing us to provide the most cutting edge technology.

What won’t change? Our ongoing commitment to you and the quality of the new solutions that we’ll bring you in the first part of 2016.

This week has been exciting, but we’re most excited about what’s to come. Here’s to the New Year and the new LiveOps Cloud Platform.

 

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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The 21st Century Economy has Forever Changed Work—and Customer Service

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Connectivity. Flexibility. “Services” jobs over “goods producing” jobs. Supplemental work on your schedule. These are just some of the changes that have come to the working world. We are well into the 21st century economy and it is worlds away from the way work was done even one generation ago.

Working remotely is normal, even expected. So is being connected 24/7 and working a flex job on the side. So much is constantly changing that keeping up is a challenge. And that’s one of the reasons that Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report is so valuable. If you aren’t familiar with it, I encourage you to check it out. It is chock full of trend and forward-looking information on technology, work, connectivity, the Internet, emerging markets, worldwide demographics and statistics and much more. There are quite a few trends included in the 2015 report that apply to customer service.

Millennials in the Lead

One of the trends discussed is that millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. Millennials are already “driving” the new workplace and they are a major contributing factor to the differences we are seeing today and will continue to see in the future. They are tech-savvy and expect flexibility in nearly everything, especially work. Millennials are used to working remotely and during non-standard business hours. And they are helping shift our economy. For example, “services” jobs now make up 86 percent of all work, while “goods producing” jobs are at 14 percent. That’s a huge change from the peak of 44 percent “goods producing” jobs in 1943.

Flexible Work

The types of work being done are different too. There are more freelancers, independent contractors, diversified workers and moonlighters in addition to “regular” workers. People can work on demand, when and where they desire, with things like ride-sharing, reselling, creating custom-made items, knowledge work and more. The Internet has opened so many possibilities for people to make and sell things (eBay, etsy); make connections (ride-sharing); work from home for companies that are headquartered in a distant location; and market their knowledge and soft skills. The sky is the limit.

Connectivity

That’s almost all you need to say and people get it. Smartphones have forever changed life as we know it. With more apps, communication tools, games and productivity tools being introduced daily, people are connected 24/7. Shopping, commenting, chatting, playing, trialing, reserving, watching, listening…the opportunities for what we can do on and with mobile devices are nearly endless. Tying trends together, millennials are now creating the bulk of the tools and the content as well as providing the customer support.

How Can We Help You?

So what does all of this mean for brands and customer support? It’s a lot to digest. The most important things are that brands must keep up with the trends, to stay relevant, and engage with their customers, to keep them happy and learn what they want/need next. Because millennials are both producers and consumers (of content, services, etc.), they are a great resource for how to engage effectively with their peers. Listen and implement.

It’s clear that online customer service is a must-have—through live chat, texting, email, social media and whatever is developed next. Phone is still important but multichannel contact centers, especially those based in the cloud, will be the best way to engage with customers. Flexible, on-demand availability of service and support, on whatever channel the customer prefers, will be expected even more in the coming months and years. Brands must be willing to add communication channels and adapt.

It’s clear from this trends report that our economy is forever changed and that people and brands must change as well—or risk being left behind. Outstanding customer support will still be expected, no matter the channel. Benefits abound in this 21st century economy…be ready to embrace the changes!

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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How Can You Tell if Your Customer Service Agent is Working from Home?

Image courtesy of Brian Holm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’re having an issue with a pair of shoes you bought, and the store will no longer take them back—it’s after the return window. You spent a lot of money on them and they’ve been squeaky since you bought them, but you thought it would work itself out once you got them worn in. It didn’t. So now you’re on the phone with the brand, trying to get a replacement pair. You’re talking to a very helpful and attentive service agent and you’re impressed with both the person and the service. You end the call satisfied with the result and go about your day.

It was like many other customer service calls you’ve experienced over the years. It seemed a little quieter in the background than usual, but you didn’t think much of it. Did it occur to you to wonder where the person was located—in a contact center or working from home? Probably not. Think about it: how would you know if a customer service agent you are speaking, live chatting or emailing with was in an office or at home? The short answer is—you probably can’t tell! And that’s kind of amazing, when you think about it.

Technology has made so many formerly impossible things possible. I’m not talking big things like traveling to the moon—I’m referring to things like being able to video chat from your phone, and work from any location at any time with access to the information and everything you need to be successful and productive. Remote work has revolutionized the work place and greatly improved work-life balance for millions of workers.

The rise of cloud computing, widely-available broadband Internet access and ever-less expensive technology means it’s possible to fulfill more job roles remotely. Organizations of all sizes, in all industries, in all states, have introduced work from home jobs as an option for employees. And employees are taking advantage of that option in droves. Forrester Research estimates that 63 million Americans will work from home in 2016—that’s next year!

Research has shown that home-based workers are more productive, more satisfied with their job and less stressed than office-based workers. There are benefits for both the worker and the employer, including lower costs (no commute, less office space needed); increased flexibility; and improved work-life balance.  Home-based workers are managing their time, their work and their lives to maximize each area, which makes them happier.  More satisfied worker=better service=satisfied customers=happy employer/brand.

And to the earlier point that you can’t really tell if a customer service representative is working from home—does it really matter, either? Brands using cloud computing platforms have multiple layers of security built in and representatives who handle sensitive information usually undergo background checks…so does it matter if they are at home or in a contact center? Most people would say no. In fact, those satisfied customers would probably say that interacting with a work-at-home agent was a smooth process, since there was no background noise, the agent was well-trained and they couldn’t even tell the agent was working from home.

More brands are utilizing remote contact center workers via specialized contact center outsourcing companies like LiveOps Agent Services, or by internally hiring, training and employing at-home workers. If you have a computer, phone and broadband you can answer customer service calls from home. And with WebRTC connectivity, agents can now take calls directly through their browser – no telephony hardware needed!

It all comes down to creating a customer experience that will encourage the customer to do business with a brand again. There are multiple routes on that journey. Expect to interact with more work-from-home customer service representatives in the future—and expect the experience to be better since the at home worker is happier and more satisfied!

 (Image courtesy of Brian Holm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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Is Crowdsourcing the Future of Customer Service?

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Crowdsourcing isn’t new. The overuse of the term itself is a recent development, but in truth, consumers have been sharing their opinions in public forums for years. Through social media pages, discussion boards, and third-party review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, people have formed communities of advice and support long before anyone knew there was a “crowd,” and that things could be “sourced” to it.

But as the voice of the customer grows louder, a question lingers. And it has business impact: will customers become so intelligent, so savvy, and so vociferous that they take over traditional customer service?

What We Know

The Internet has proven to be the perfect incubator of opinion. Consumers share good, bad, and ugly insight without the restraints of face-to-face communication. Worldwide, Internet users generate 500 million tweets per day. Facebook “likes” far exceed that.

Over time, these candid tidbits have become a legitimate source of guidance for many. According to YouGov, a UK market research firm, 78 percent of consumers read customer reviews before making a purchase (44 percent submit their own reviews). That’s not a bad thing.  Other studies have suggested that crowd intelligence can be “smarter” than up to 99 percent of individual intelligence.

But there’s also growing concern that this crowd intelligence could rise up, grow legs, and begin to think and act for itself, to the extent that we would barely need customer service departments anymore.  A well-known Gartner analyst, for example, predicted that application service providers will replace 20 percent of their staff with crowdsourcing by 2016.

As with most projections, this remains to be seen, but there are already tremors of change in the industry. Similar to the early 2000s emergence of cloud computing, a few companies are spearheading innovation in crowdsourcing. For example, San Francisco-based startup Get Satisfaction offers a platform that incorporates forums, FAQ, and social networking to help companies make use of customer intelligence. Or there’s LiveOps, a virtual contact center system that enables brands to deliver great customer service on-demand through its network of 20,000 home-based independent contractor agents. All LiveOps agents are recruited, educated and accredited through its crowdsourcing and LiveOps University e-learning platform, which helps ensure that they’re experienced.

New products like these are built to accommodate the growing influence of the crowd. In that sense, they fit nicely into Paul Greenberg’s much quoted axiom: “. . . the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

What to Make of it All

While the full-scale substitution of crowdsourcing for traditional customer service is unlikely, that doesn’t negate its value for driving solutions and innovation. The nature of customer service is changing, and it may be time for businesses to consider a new model—one that works across multiple channels and leverages customer influence for good.

If you’re curious about crowdsourcing, take a look at your existing online community and consider the following:

–  Do you have any data management tools, such as social customer relationship management, that can help you analyze and moderate the way your customers are helping each other?

–  Do you have a strong enough following (in quantity and quality) to support a community forum?

–  How will you moderate what’s being posted?

–  How will you measure ROI?

With some forward planning, the right management system, and a willingness to think outside the box, the voice of the community can be your next catalyst for growth.

Author Bio

Aleksandr Peterson is a research writer at TechnologyAdvice. He covers CRMs, gamification, project management, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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It’s Customer Appreciation Week!

While this week may not be nationally recognized as Customer Appreciation Week, we’re celebrating over at LiveOps. In fact, every week is Customer Appreciation Week for us. Why? If you haven’t caught on by now, we are in the customer experience business. Yes, we are a contact center solutions provider, but for us, it is far more than that. We are passionate about serving our customers, as well as our customer’s customers. Our customers are our partners and their success is our success. We don’t just deploy our software and call it a day. Nope. In fact, before the software is even deployed we work with our partners to build a customized solution for their unique needs. Our Professional Services team continues to stay close at hand throughout deployment and training to ensure the best possible experience on every end, as well as after the solution is up and running so that we can continue to optimize the experience. We want our partners to feel empowered by our tools, and understand how to maximize the features and benefits available.

We recently sat down with three of our customers to discuss their experience with LiveOps. These three companies could not be more different, yet they all saw the value in entering into a partnership with LiveOps. Each utilizes different LiveOps offerings, but all agree that LiveOps has helped their brand grow and become what it is today – something they could not imagine without the help of LiveOps. We wanted to take a moment to acknowledge these valuable customers and celebrate their success today and their continued success in the years to come. Maybe some of their up-front challenges will ring a bell to you because you’re experiencing something very similar at your company right now. Take a read and a watch!

Murad, a skincare product maker, takes advantage of LiveOps Agent Services. When Murad and LiveOps first became partners, Murad relied upon LiveOps’ in-depth knowledge and years of experience to help develop their direct marketing and telemarketing campaigns, from script writing to script testing to reporting. Marina Randolph, executive vice president at Murad, shares what working with LiveOps has meant to her and her company, When she thinks of LiveOps, she thinks of quality agents that not only understand the Murad product line but are passionate about it.

LesConcierges, a global, high-end concierge service, was growing at such a rate that the company quickly realized they were going to need to revamp their entire technology platform from telephony infrastructure to hardware to software. This would be a serious undertaking, but in order to fulfill their potential, it was a necessary one. Matt Clemenson, chief technology officer at LesConcierges, turned to LiveOps to help with this transformation and to ensure their growth would not be stunted by antiquated infrastructure in the future. Deploying LiveOps’ scalable, cost-effective, cloud solution, however, was just the beginning of the partnership. LiveOps’ Professional Services continued to work closely with Clemenson and LesConcierges’ in-house team of agents to ensure a complete understanding of telephony and the complexity of call flow, and ultimately identified opportunities to reduce costs. This video takes you through LesConcierges’ deployment and Clemenson describes how LiveOps is enabling his company to double in size within a year.

Axcient, a recovery-as-a-service provider, turned to LiveOps to help form real relationships with their customers. Pam Lyra, vice president, Customer Satisfaction, was thrilled that LiveOps was able to have them up and running by their tight year-end deadline, but it was the integration with Salesforce that truly took the LiveOps solution to the next level, making internal operations from sales to service a cohesive, one-stop shop for Axcient. The 360-degree view of the customer enables Axcient to help customers quickly and, more importantly, deliver that personal touch that is so important to the company’s mission to go beyond just customer support. In this video, Lyra describes her experience working with LiveOps, and how LiveOps’ stability and service has enabled her company to provide the same to their customers.

These are just a few of LiveOps’ invaluable customers, but there are more worth celebrating, and we will continue to share their stories. We look forward to continuing to work with our customers in our joint mission to provide unsurpassed customer service.

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Back to the Basics: Customer Service 101

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The job description for a contact center agent has certainly evolved over the last few years. Today’s agents are now wearing several hats –support, retention, lead generation and even brand ambassador. The question is whether juggling these roles has caused some agents to lose sight of what should be their number one goal – providing the best possible customer service interaction every time.

Providing the best possible customer service should always be a brand’s first objective. Everything else is secondary. However, recent news has shown that this concept was recently lost on one agent in particular and a brand was embarrassed by the agent’s behavior.

In case you’ve missed the headlines, a former-Comcast customer went public with an audio recording of his conversation with a Comcast agent. This customer, Ryan Block, simply wanted to cancel his cable service. Instead Block was hassled by the agent for more than 18 minutes before finally ending the call without a clear resolution to the issue. Tom Karinshak, senior vice president, Customer Experience, Comcast Cable, quickly issued a statement apologizing for the agent’s treatment of Block.

The question is whether this apology is enough.

What brands must realize is that there has been a power shift. The Internet has given customers an influential megaphone. All it takes is a tweet, a comment on Facebook, or a tech-savvy customer posting his experience online to draw the attention of thousands, perhaps millions. We live in a world where word-of-mouth trumps all. Today’s consumer is more likely to look at peer reviews and social media for information when making a purchasing decision than any other source. It is imperative that brands manage their image on all fronts.

Comcast has gotten negative publicity in the past on their approach to customer service, but this story doesn’t have to have the same old ending. This is in an opportunity for all brands to reevaluate how agents are trained. Customer retention is important, but you catch more flies with honey. As the significance of customer experience continues to rise, all employees that communicate directly with customers at any touch point must ensure that the entire customer journey is a positive one. Ultimately, the way to customer retention is through customer satisfaction. This means satisfaction with the product or service, and satisfaction with brand interactions.

Here at LiveOps we know customer service. For more than ten years we’ve been developing and nurturing a community of 20,000 home-based, independent contractor agents. Sustaining a successful, home-based community of this magnitude is only possible with a lot of two-way communication and continuous training. We encourage companies to maintain constant insight into their contact centers by taking advantage of management tools to quickly identify teachable moments. Voice and screen recording enable companies to quickly check their agents’ performance and the quality of service customers are receiving, while post-call surveys allow customers to give immediate feedback on their experience. Companies can also benefit from real-time listening allowing managers to catch an issue before it arises. Finally, deploying a social listening tool is now an integral part of the contact center so that agents can engage directly with a dissatisfied customer before social snowball effect has the opportunity to occur.

It is time we got back to the basics. Forget about upselling, dollar signs and quotas for just a moment. Let’s treat our customers, our fellow human beings, with respect. This is customer service after all.

Image courtesy of  jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Upsell Series: 3 Tips for Inbound Call Center Upsell Results

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LiveOps’ customers often ask me: how can I increase revenue from my inbound call centers? Or, more specifically, from my inbound phone campaigns? What they’re really asking is: Now that I’ve successfully marketed my primary product, generated good consumer response and am closing sales – what else can I do to increase my total revenue? The answer: upsells.

It goes without saying that an inbound call center program with upsells will likely do better than one without. In fact, more than 20 percent of direct response customers generated more revenue from upsells than from the core product sale. In this blog series, I’ll provide visibility into what success looks like and how to get there. The key is knowing what to look for and what to do with it once you have found it.

Analyzing data from hundreds of successful marketing campaigns reveals that phone upsells typically increase revenue per order by 48 percent, compared to other methods, such as a live chat customer service:

 

Typical Base Product Revenue: $68

Typical Upsell Revenue:             $33

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Average Order Value:                 $101 (a 48 percent increase over the base product revenue)

 

Moreover, since upsells usually have higher profit margins, the effect on the profit and loss is even more significant.

Upsells in certain product categories often deliver more revenue than others:

Graph 1-Alan

LiveOps 2013

Digging into specific categories, we find upsell revenue varies significantly as some marketers have uncovered how to find relevant, high-value upsells that consumers love.

Graph 2-Alan

LiveOps 2013

 In the household product category, several customers’ upsell revenue boosts the average order value by well over $100.

Graph 3-Alan

LiveOps 2013

 For those in marketing, this is fascinating information. But how do you, as a marketer, increase your own inbound call center’s revenue through upsells? Follow these three tips to maximize upsell performance:

1)      Ask Questions First: If you are not upselling (or have low upsell performance), time to focus on improving results. Start asking questions. Do you allow your call center outsourcing service to upsell? How many upsells (and downsells) do you have? Why? What are your conversion rates? Do your initial upsells impact the performance of other subsequent upsells? What upsells are your competitors offering? Do your upsell products fit with your brand? Why are consumers declining your upsells?

2)      Source High Margin Upsell Products: We frequently help customers source high margin, high quality, and high performing upsells. Higher margin upsells often include expedited shipping and processing, deluxe upgrades, warranty, newsletters, subscription products and many others. Look into upsells with your call center outsourcing partner that have low or no COGS and high profitability.

3)      Test, Test, Test: How many tests do you run each month to increase your upsell performance? Have you tested your upsell price sensitivity, rebuttal verbiage, the order of upsells? One customer found that moving a $20 cookbook offer from the fourth upsell position to the first doubled their conversion rates. How frequently do you test new upsell products? In the last three years we have tripled our customers’ upsell performance as a result of testing and encourage you to do so, as well.

What advice do you have for improving upsell results? Want to see more data and analysis? Connect with me, and let’s continue the discussion. If you’re attending the 2013 ERA D2C convention in Las Vegas next week, make sure to stop by Chambertin1. I’ll be there with the LiveOps team, ready to answer any upsell questions you might have!

–          Alan Roth, Senior Director of Marketing, LiveOps

 Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Turning Contact Center Agents Into Lead Generators

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Can you list the responsibilities of a contact center agent? Go ahead! Our comments section is begging for your input.

If you said “handle account inquiries, customer complaints or support issues,” you wouldn’t be wrong. You also wouldn’t be entirely accurate, either. Contact center agents are also sales lead-generating machines!

With the introduction of tools and technologies that enable brands to take an omnichannel approach to customer service, the definition of the contact center agent has changed. Brands can equip agents with a multichannel platform to satisfy the roles of both customer service representatives and sales associates; however, brands are still siloing departments. Are they missing out on precious revenue by doing this? Our community of 20,000 independent contractor agents says yes.

When brands utilize live agents smartly, on average they earn up to 33 percent more revenue per campaign and answer more than 98.5 percent of leads. It’s simply a matter of connecting live agents with customers.

When 90 percent of consumers already value the ability to communicate with a live person, why not connect them with a live person? A customer is more inclined to accept an add-on or upgrade from an agent that has spent the last 15 minutes getting to know them rather than an up-sell pop-up box with no personality behind it. It is far too easy for customers to decline pop-ups on a website and much harder to say “no” to customer service representatives John or Jane.

Contact center agents interact with customers more so than any other brand representative and, therefore, have a better understanding of a customer’s needs and preferences. This allows for the utmost customization of each individual interaction. By engaging with customers on their preferred channels, having purchase history front and center, and knowing how and when to up-sell or cross-sell, customer service agents become a brand’s strongest sales representative. Putting the agent in a hybrid position of sales and customer service makes for a valuable mechanism to better monetize customer experiences across the board.

–          Sanjay Popli, SVP of Agent Services

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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LiveOps Announces 5,000 New Work-From-Home Opportunities!

LiveOps Agent 9.23.15

The LiveOps Agent Services business is experiencing tremendous growth, with existing customers increasing their use of LiveOps agents and 10 new major brands signing contracts for LiveOps Agent Services in the past few months. To support this new business we are kicking off our biggest drive ever to source 5,000 new independent, work-from-home agents this fall. You read that right—5,000 new agents!

We are actively sourcing thousands of individuals who want to work from home and have the skills and experience to succeed in sales, roadside assistance, insurance claims, life insurance sales, and healthcare services. This is a huge opportunity for current agents to grow their business and for talented individuals to join our work-from-home community and build a business where they can excel by providing world-class call center services to our clients.

We offer the best work-at-home independent contractor model! LiveOps’ agents are their own boss and set their own schedule, which means they can fit work around life instead of the other way around. They work from the comfort of their home office and let our convenient online certification, supportive community, and call center technology make building a business a reality.

LiveOps offer free online certification through our award-winning LiveOps University with social learning tools. Online courses prepare agents to use the LiveOps Call Center platform and begin taking calls. Every LiveOps agent works from home, but they are not alone.  Support is just a few clicks away and fellow agents are ready to answer questions, cheer others on, and share in their success story!

Check the LiveOps Agent website, www.join.liveops.com, for new independent contractor opportunities posted throughout the fall or join our Talent Community to get new opportunities delivered right to your in box!

This is going to be an exciting fall here at LiveOps. Apply today or share this with a friend and kick-off your work-from-home dream together. There has truly never been a better time to get started. This is your invitation to become a part of our community – LiveOps Nation.

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Those First 90 Days

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The first 90 days of any relationship are a test. A new job, a new baby, a new friendship, even a new business relationship. Whether it’s a new hire, a partnership or a new vendor, the first 90 days are very important, as they set the parameters and the tone for the relationship.

Say you’re a growing company. You’re quickly outgrowing in-house customer service operations and looking at business process outsourcing (BPO) with a contact center. You’re protective of your brand and want to use U.S.-based agents. Where to start?

The process for entering into a BPO arrangement can vary, of course, depending on a brand’s specific requirements, requests and situation. There are some similarities, though, and being familiar with the broad strokes can be useful. The first thing to be aware of: the first 90 days are about working out the details and establishing the positive working relationship that will result in a successful on-going relationship.

Using a contact center example, here’s a rough outline of ten things you can expect in the first 90 days of a BPO agreement—with some tips to help you make it a success.

  1. A cross-functional team is assembled to support the launch implementation. This is the team that will set the plan, check in on the plan and ensure the plan is successful in the short- and long-term.
  2. The launch team works with you (the client) to gather all requirements and create a custom project plan. This is the nitty-gritty numbers-sharing stage, where you need to lay out all your cards. The contractor is responsible for gathering the information, confirming understanding and synthesizing a plan to make your expectations a reality (and setting expectations if they are not reality).
  3. An assigned Launch Manager is your main point of contact during the launch process and will communicate dependencies, timelines, risks and overall project status. This is your person, your guide, your advisor through the process. Ask questions and be sure you understand and are satisfied with progress.
  4. The Agent Acquisition team will find the right agents for your program either within its existing independent agent community or using its sourcing website. These agents will be the face of your brand and potentially the only person a customer interacts with…so set your standards high.
  5. Using your historical and projected call volume statistics, the Workforce Management team will analyze the data and determine the number of agents needed to ensure service levels are met and that there is a ramp plan in place to help you scale your business. One of the biggest benefits of working with a contractor is the ability to quickly and easily adjust your staffing when there is a surge in business or (fingers crossed this doesn’t happen) a dip.
  6. The Certification team will work closely with your Training resource or Subject Matter Expert, review your current training materials and recommend an approach that engages agents, particularly home-based independent agents, through Virtual Classroom Sessions and interactive eLearning courses that include assessments and knowledge checks. Virtual learning is an effective training tool and makes for streamlined assessment—leading to faster recognition and implementation of additional training requirements.
  7. The Professional Services and Account Management groups will partner with you to define technical requirements for your program and will work with the Telephony, Engineering and other technical teams to implement the call routing strategy, IVR, scripting, system integration/web services and reporting set up. Listen, ask questions, provide input and feedback and help shape your successful program.
  8. The Program Management and Onboarding teams will shepherd agents through the training process and assist with agent readiness for live calls. Another big benefit contractors offer is role-playing with live feedback, giving agents “real-world” experience with the types of calls and information they will handle.
  9. Starting on day 1 of live calls, your contractor team will begin gathering agent data that is the foundation for performance based routing, and immediately begin work on agent and program optimization. At the end of the first 90 days, the program is only just beginning! Your involvement will lessen but still be important as refinements are made to ensure SLAs and KPIs are met, and ultimately, that customers are satisfied with the service they are receiving.
  10. Your contact center is up and running. Congratulations! A smooth and successful contact center set-up is no small feat. Now that it is established, expect regular check-ins and updates.

Visit my article for ICMI for some additional details and information on BPO contracts. And good luck starting yours!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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The 21st Century Economy has Forever Changed Work—and Customer Service

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Connectivity. Flexibility. “Services” jobs over “goods producing” jobs. Supplemental work on your schedule. These are just some of the changes that have come to the working world. We are well into the 21st century economy and it is worlds away from the way work was done even one generation ago.

Working remotely is normal, even expected. So is being connected 24/7 and working a flex job on the side. So much is constantly changing that keeping up is a challenge. And that’s one of the reasons that Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report is so valuable. If you aren’t familiar with it, I encourage you to check it out. It is chock full of trend and forward-looking information on technology, work, connectivity, the Internet, emerging markets, worldwide demographics and statistics and much more. There are quite a few trends included in the 2015 report that apply to customer service.

Millennials in the Lead

One of the trends discussed is that millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. Millennials are already “driving” the new workplace and they are a major contributing factor to the differences we are seeing today and will continue to see in the future. They are tech-savvy and expect flexibility in nearly everything, especially work. Millennials are used to working remotely and during non-standard business hours. And they are helping shift our economy. For example, “services” jobs now make up 86 percent of all work, while “goods producing” jobs are at 14 percent. That’s a huge change from the peak of 44 percent “goods producing” jobs in 1943.

Flexible Work

The types of work being done are different too. There are more freelancers, independent contractors, diversified workers and moonlighters in addition to “regular” workers. People can work on demand, when and where they desire, with things like ride-sharing, reselling, creating custom-made items, knowledge work and more. The Internet has opened so many possibilities for people to make and sell things (eBay, etsy); make connections (ride-sharing); work from home for companies that are headquartered in a distant location; and market their knowledge and soft skills. The sky is the limit.

Connectivity

That’s almost all you need to say and people get it. Smartphones have forever changed life as we know it. With more apps, communication tools, games and productivity tools being introduced daily, people are connected 24/7. Shopping, commenting, chatting, playing, trialing, reserving, watching, listening…the opportunities for what we can do on and with mobile devices are nearly endless. Tying trends together, millennials are now creating the bulk of the tools and the content as well as providing the customer support.

How Can We Help You?

So what does all of this mean for brands and customer support? It’s a lot to digest. The most important things are that brands must keep up with the trends, to stay relevant, and engage with their customers, to keep them happy and learn what they want/need next. Because millennials are both producers and consumers (of content, services, etc.), they are a great resource for how to engage effectively with their peers. Listen and implement.

It’s clear that online customer service is a must-have—through live chat, texting, email, social media and whatever is developed next. Phone is still important but multichannel contact centers, especially those based in the cloud, will be the best way to engage with customers. Flexible, on-demand availability of service and support, on whatever channel the customer prefers, will be expected even more in the coming months and years. Brands must be willing to add communication channels and adapt.

It’s clear from this trends report that our economy is forever changed and that people and brands must change as well—or risk being left behind. Outstanding customer support will still be expected, no matter the channel. Benefits abound in this 21st century economy…be ready to embrace the changes!

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Service Should be the Differentiator—Not the Mascot

Image courtesy of Image courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

When you think of insurance, what do you think of? A gecko? A cheery lady with a bouffant? A sonorous voice coming from an unlikely person when talking about his or her coverage? Most insurance companies do a good job getting their names out there and differentiating themselves with memorable mascots, slogans and representatives. A more important consideration when thinking about insurance is: how’s the customer service?

Customer service can, and should, be a major differentiator for insurance companies and independent agents. Ideally, it is a differentiator because all companies and agents are doing it well, just in different ways…not because some are falling short.

And yet—there is no shortage of stories about different experiences people have had with their insurance company. From the bad to the good and everywhere in between, the experience can be as individual as the person. And the interpretation of the experience is certainly dependent on the person.

Differentiation matters. Outstanding customer service matters. Customer perception matters. Not every agent or company will do things the same way—nor should they—but there are a few things to consider to offer differentiated customer service.

  1. Offer your customers options. Options in how to contact you, options in how to file a claim, options in nearly everything. Face-to-face, phone and email contact are a good place to start. You should also consider text messages, social media platforms and events. As millennials are becoming the primary insurance customers, they bring new demands and you must keep up to keep their business.
  2. Get involved—and engage with customers—via social media. It’s one of the contact options you should be offering (or you may lose customers). It can take quite a bit of time to monitor and engage on social media, but the payoffs are huge. Satisfied customers, sharing positive experiences, on widely read/visited platforms will bring more business than multiple marketing campaigns…and for lower cost.
  3. Offer self-service. Admittedly this won’t work for everything, but if a customer can log on to your website in the middle of the night, when they can’t sleep because they are worried about their claim, and see an update to their account…that’s golden. The customer is happy progress is being made, it saves both of you time and that’s the definition of a win-win.
  4. Respect their time and respect their emotions. This seems like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Stay calm and stay helpful. You, as an agent, have dealt with similar situations any number of times and know how it works—your customers hasn’t and doesn’t. You may be interacting with them when emotions are running high and they are not on their “best behavior” but that doesn’t matter. You are there to help them, respect them and get their issue resolved.
  5. Always offer insight into the next step(s). Whether that is you following up in a few days with an update or requesting they provide more information, let them know what comes next. You will be able to set expectations and the customer will feel more secure knowing the process.
  6. Listen. Enough said.

In our nearly 15 years of providing customer service we have learned that service with a smile can be challenging, but it is still just the baseline expectation. If you can give customers outstanding service in every interaction, you’ve likely secured a life-long customer.

At LiveOps, we recognize that each call type, whether that be insurance sales, customer service or claims work, requires an agent with a unique skill set that is able to help solve a customer’s specific issue. LiveOps Agent Services boasts a community of 1500 specialized agents experienced in both financial services and insurance verticals, ensuring that our agents can give your customer even just a little more than they expect. When you exceed customer expectations you can expect to benefit as well.

Image courtesy of Image courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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How Can You Tell if Your Customer Service Agent is Working from Home?

Image courtesy of Brian Holm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’re having an issue with a pair of shoes you bought, and the store will no longer take them back—it’s after the return window. You spent a lot of money on them and they’ve been squeaky since you bought them, but you thought it would work itself out once you got them worn in. It didn’t. So now you’re on the phone with the brand, trying to get a replacement pair. You’re talking to a very helpful and attentive service agent and you’re impressed with both the person and the service. You end the call satisfied with the result and go about your day.

It was like many other customer service calls you’ve experienced over the years. It seemed a little quieter in the background than usual, but you didn’t think much of it. Did it occur to you to wonder where the person was located—in a contact center or working from home? Probably not. Think about it: how would you know if a customer service agent you are speaking, live chatting or emailing with was in an office or at home? The short answer is—you probably can’t tell! And that’s kind of amazing, when you think about it.

Technology has made so many formerly impossible things possible. I’m not talking big things like traveling to the moon—I’m referring to things like being able to video chat from your phone, and work from any location at any time with access to the information and everything you need to be successful and productive. Remote work has revolutionized the work place and greatly improved work-life balance for millions of workers.

The rise of cloud computing, widely-available broadband Internet access and ever-less expensive technology means it’s possible to fulfill more job roles remotely. Organizations of all sizes, in all industries, in all states, have introduced work from home jobs as an option for employees. And employees are taking advantage of that option in droves. Forrester Research estimates that 63 million Americans will work from home in 2016—that’s next year!

Research has shown that home-based workers are more productive, more satisfied with their job and less stressed than office-based workers. There are benefits for both the worker and the employer, including lower costs (no commute, less office space needed); increased flexibility; and improved work-life balance.  Home-based workers are managing their time, their work and their lives to maximize each area, which makes them happier.  More satisfied worker=better service=satisfied customers=happy employer/brand.

And to the earlier point that you can’t really tell if a customer service representative is working from home—does it really matter, either? Brands using cloud computing platforms have multiple layers of security built in and representatives who handle sensitive information usually undergo background checks…so does it matter if they are at home or in a contact center? Most people would say no. In fact, those satisfied customers would probably say that interacting with a work-at-home agent was a smooth process, since there was no background noise, the agent was well-trained and they couldn’t even tell the agent was working from home.

More brands are utilizing remote contact center workers via specialized contact center outsourcing companies like LiveOps Agent Services, or by internally hiring, training and employing at-home workers. If you have a computer, phone and broadband you can answer customer service calls from home. And with WebRTC connectivity, agents can now take calls directly through their browser – no telephony hardware needed!

It all comes down to creating a customer experience that will encourage the customer to do business with a brand again. There are multiple routes on that journey. Expect to interact with more work-from-home customer service representatives in the future—and expect the experience to be better since the at home worker is happier and more satisfied!

 (Image courtesy of Brian Holm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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Your Kids Are Out of School For Summer. Now What?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ah, summertime. It’s filled with happy memories of care free days, swimming, eating popsicles and having fun. Those are childhood memories, of course. When you’re an adult, your summers don’t always follow that pattern. If you have children, your summers more likely involve making sure the kids have enough activities to keep them from being bored, trying to fit in work around their schedules, and occasionally enjoying a well-deserved break.

So how do you do it? How do you make work, well, work when the kids are out of school? When you work from home and have flexibility in your schedule, you may have the benefit of being able to take your kids to activities, camps and outings when you need to…but if they aren’t out of the house, they may be interrupting you or otherwise interfering with you getting work done.

LiveOps recently hosted a Tweet chat with LiveOps agents and work-from-home pros to discuss how work-at-home parents balance taking care of kids and working from home over summer and school breaks. I wanted to offer a short recap for those who missed it.

The top tip we gleaned from the tweet chat was to plan ahead, as much as you possibly can. Whether that means arranging childcare (and a backup), sending kids to day camps or overnight camp or making sure you have a variety of activities on hand at home to keep them occupied—planning will reduce your stress.

One tweet chat participant suggested setting up a babysitting co-op with other work-from-home parents, which is a great idea to keep your kids busy and having fun while not impacting your work schedule or family budget.

Another suggestion was to plan your work schedule around your kids’ schedule, as best you can. If they are sleeping in and there is no “morning rush” to get out the door, perhaps you can try to get in a few hours of work before they are up and moving. If they are out of the house, get as much done as you can then. And, even though it might be tough, try to get in a few hours of work in the evening or after bedtime. If you can flex your schedule to allow for time with your kids during the day and fit your work in around it—that’s a successful day!

And there was a good reminder that for work-from-home success, you must set boundaries between work and home. If you are intentional with your time (as we all try to be!) and are organized with schedules and help, it’s much easier to focus on work when you are working and shift gears to focus on family when it’s “home time.” You will be more relaxed and productive if you can focus on your immediate task until it’s complete.

From my own experience, I’ve found that planning ahead for summer camps and activities is a huge stress relief. Knowing my kids will be learning, having fun and be out of the house for a period of time every day makes it much easier to balance work with them being home more. I love spending time with my kids and I’m so happy to have a flexible work schedule that allows me to be successful in both my job and my family life.

You can also check out our Facebook page and many resources online for other tips, solutions, ideas and plans. Check work-from-home blogs, Pinterest, ask friends and co-workers…hopefully you’ll be able to find just the right mix to help you successfully work from home while your kids are out of school this summer. And if you think of or find an amazing tip, please share!

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

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Red Nose Day a Rollicking Success

Tempe Office RedNose

The night of May 21 was filled with humor, awareness-raising, celebrities and, most of all, red noses! The inaugural Red Nose Day telethon in the U.S. raised more than $21 million to support children and young people living in poverty. It was an outstanding event with great results.

LiveOps was proud to be a part of this telethon and entertainment event. More than 2,000 of our home-based, independent agents volunteered to participate, taking calls and processing donations. LiveOps agents handled more than 38,000 calls and processed nearly $1.7 million during the three-hour telethon. That’s pretty amazing!

Our agents are a fantastic group of people who support multiple fundraising events every year. LiveOps agents have taken calls during the MDA Telethon for the past three years, as well as Stand Up to Cancer and the Concert for Hurricane Sandy Relief. They truly enjoy helping people and I think our agent Rebecca summed up Red Nose Day best: “Great charity. I enjoyed taking a part in this one. No child should be going hungry ever!!! The response was terrific.”

The Red Nose Day telethon was a three-hour special, hosted by Seth Meyers, David Duchovny and Jane Krakowski, that included live musical performances, comedy sketches and pre-taped videos. Celebrities including Julia Roberts, Justin Timberlake, One Direction, Chris Martin, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Jack Black, Bill Gates and Kermit the Frog appeared. Some performed, some spoofed and some took us to places to show what children living in poverty experience. It was truly an awareness-raising, star-studded evening and Americans rallied to support this worthy cause.

A big thank you to all of the LiveOps agents who supported Red Nose Day—you guys are fantastic and we are happy to work with you!

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Guide Your Agents to the Finish Line—and Beyond

Some people say that customers are the most important people to a brand. In many ways, I agree—but I think it can be said that agents are in the running as “most important people” to an organization. Agents are really the face of a brand. Whether in an in-person interaction, on the phone or online, the face they present colors the impression customers have of the brand. Ideally, every interaction is positive and leaves the customer happy. Realistically, that isn’t the case every time. But brands can take steps and implement technologies and processes to make it more likely every interaction is positive.

In fact, there are many things brands can do to improve both the agent and customer experiences. Omer Minkara, a research director at Aberdeen Group, outlined quite a few of those things in his report about the omni-channel customer experience late last year. He noted that most organizations are now focusing on improving the customer experience, and that lack of effective technology tools is a challenge impacting both the agent and customer experiences. Technology was highlighted as the main driver of a positive customer experience and it was grouped into three areas: providing a higher level of visibility into customer information; empowering agents; and guidance in issue resolution.

There are few things more frustrating for a customer than having to repeat their information for multiple people—especially if it happens during the same interaction! It’s one thing to verify details they have entered into the IVR to access their account…it’s another to tell the same story and answer the same questions for different people trying to resolve one issue. Visibility into customer history and information is crucial for a smooth, less-frustrating interaction. Organizations must make it simpler and faster for agents to access customer information. It would be even better if that information was available on one screen, without the need to toggle between programs, minimizing and maximizing screens and frustrating customers with delays.

Another important thing brands can do is empower their agents. Empower them with information! Agents should have a clear path to resolution, a formula for success, if you will. Successful brands provide the information agents need, when they need it, in a quickly accessible and easily understandable format. Whether it’s customer information, product ordering or escalation steps, smart brands do what they can to help their agents and not hinder them. The smoother and easier the agent experience, the better and more satisfying the customer experience. Think about it—would you prefer to sit on the phone waiting while an agent accesses your customer history…or would you prefer the agent has your background readily available to speed the interaction? Seems like a no-brainer.

Training is another important element of improving the experience for both agents and customers. Agents, by nature, want to help people. It’s nearly as frustrating for an agent when they aren’t able to help a customer as it is for the customer. And that frustration colors other interactions as well, causing a ripple effect through the agent’s day and multiple customers’ days. Simply offering training on products offered, technologies used and general customer service practices can be effective. And, again, it’s even better when the training is specific to common customer issues or challenges so agents have a ready reference guide and can keep things moving along…while resolving issues the first time.

Brands may have the technologies they need to improve the customer experience, or they may need a partner. Whether contact center duties are handled in-house or by a vendor, the Aberdeen report offers some solid insight and recommendations on technologies and practices necessary for improved experiences. Integrated agent desktops, real-time and predictive monitoring of customer actions and sentiment for real-time engagement, WebRTC, engagement on multiple communication channels…the list goes on.

It’s like we say at LiveOps: a better agent experience equals a better customer experience which equals better customer lifetime value—or BAX=BCX=BCLTV. Take a look at your contact center and figure out what you can do to ensure you lead your productive, efficient and satisfied agents to the finish line so that you also have happy, satisfied, can’t-wait-to-return customers.

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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LOL and Support Red Nose Day

Red Nose Day

Have you smiled today? Or laughed out loud (and not just abbreviated it but actually, physically, laughed out loud)? That may depend on whether or not you’ve seen someone wearing a red nose…and in the month of May, that person was more likely to be your teacher, boss or friend and less likely to be a clown. Red noses have been all over—in commercials, TV shows and stores. And all for a good cause!

Red Nose Day is here and LiveOps is proud to support it. Red Nose Day is a campaign dedicated to helping children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun and making people laugh. Today is the first Red Nose Day in the U.S. and it will be celebrated tonight with a three-hour entertainment TV special on NBC featuring the country’s favorite comedians, musicians and Hollywood stars. Christina Aguilera, Jon Hamm, Sienna Miller and other celebrities will appear and perform on the show to help raise money for worthy organizations supporting children and youth living in poverty.

Richard Curtis, the director of popular movies like “Love, Actually” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” launched this day of fun in the U.K. 25 years ago, and it’s nearly a national holiday across the pond. Millions of dollars have been raised for children and youth living in poverty in the U.K. and around the world…and the fun is now spreading to the U.S. The inaugural U.S. telethon has dual goals of raising money and raising awareness of this issue. Funds raised here will support organizations including Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Feeding America, Oxfam America, Save the Children, United Way and others.

LiveOps is proud to participate in and support this event by helping take calls and process donations. Our community of home-based, independent agents steps up and helps with multiple different telethons every year—and I am proud to be part of this team.

Tune in to NBC tonight to watch the show and contribute to the cause. I’ll have my red nose on…will you?

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Manage Those Spikes for Maximum Customer Satisfaction

LiveOps Agent Services

How can you keep customers happy? It’s a difficult enough question to answer during periods of “normal” activity—and even more challenging during busy times, when activity spikes. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to accurately predict and staff to meet the exact needs of your brand at any given time? It’s pretty tough to do. No matter the industry, no matter the location, no matter the value proposition—all brands experience spikes in activity. It’s especially difficult for brands that have seasonal peaks, like floral delivery around Valentine’s Day, and those with expected busy times that still are difficult to forecast for, such as pizza delivery around the Super Bowl. The trick is how to adequately staff so that customers have a good experience while the brand maintains a high level of profitability.

There are a number of strategies brands can implement to manage staffing to handle customer interactions during peak times. The top five are:

Know your “spikes” (as best you can) during peak seasons.

Leverage history. If it’s happened before, it will likely happen again. Research your historical trends including contact volume, transaction volume and performance KPIs and use these as the basis to forecast expected contact volume, staffing requirements or even additional IT capacity required to support future busy spikes.

Identify ways to handle the spikes.

Spikes are inevitable so plan as much as possible. After you’ve determined what’s needed during known busy periods, take stock. Look at any and all ways your brand can manage an increase in activity while maintaining service quality and customer satisfaction.

Integrate technology wherever possible to increase capacity.

Is your brand taking full advantage of the technologies and tools available to manage inbound inquiries—not just during spikes, but all the time? Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), is a fantastic tool. It allows for customers to communicate with contact center agents via audio, video or text using just a web browser. With no hardware requirements or software to download, users can get started immediately—and brands can reap the benefits.

Integrating social media channels is another way to manage spikes. Answering one question via Facebook or Twitter may head-off hundreds or thousands of subsequent inquiries. There are countless other technologies and tools out there too…see what works best for your brand.

Evaluate BPO outsourcing partners to handle spikes beyond your internal capacity.

Despite the best efforts to plan ahead, sometimes demand will outstrip capacity. And that’s not a bad thing, necessarily—hey, it means your brand is in demand! Make sure it stays in demand by meeting customer needs for timely service and support. One way to manage unforeseen spikes in activity is by partnering with a BPO provider.

ProFlowers, for example, is a leading online flower delivery service serving more than seven million customers. It is the very definition of a “spiky” business, with holidays and special events bringing increased demand on top of the standard activity. ProFlowers determined its best course of action was to incorporate a cloud-based contact center platform with a team of on-demand independent agents—both from LiveOps. The agents can be quickly scaled up or down, depending on order volume. That means ProFlowers can deliver not only beautiful flowers, but consistent and responsive customer service as well.

Introduce gamification to promote healthy competition and fun during known “spiky” times, such as holidays.

Everyone enjoys a challenge—and if it’s a challenge that keeps people engaged and motivated at work, all the better. Gamification, with achievements leading to rankings on leaderboards with the accompanying bragging rights (and possibly tangible prizes), is a remarkably effective motivation tool.

More details on all of these tips are included in my recent article for ICMI. Plan ahead for those “spiky” times as best you can—and remember those spikes mean customers want what your brand is providing. That means even spiky days are good days.

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Six Tips to Motivate Your Agents for Maximum Customer Satisfaction

“Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.” – Vince Lombardi, five-time NFL championship-winning coach

Motivation has been a topic of discussion for centuries. Everyone from classical poets to professional athletes and coaches, have offered pithy comments and recommendations. Perhaps the reason there is so much focus on motivation is because it is so necessary for success—and because there are so many variables. Everyone needs motivation in some way, and motivation is especially important in customer-facing roles. It can be difficult to interact with people day in and day out—you never know what you’re going to face in the next interaction. Is the customer having a bad day and taking it out on you? Is the customer very nice but asking for the impossible? Contact center agents must remain motivated so they can remain positive and give the customer the best possible impression of the brand.

“While the things that motivate us differ greatly from one person to the next, the outcomes do not.” – Tom Rath, author

It’s no secret that individuals are motivated by a variety of different things. For one person, it may be recognition, while financial compensation may inspire another. Someone else could need a combination of a few motivators. It’s important for contact centers, in particular, to have a strong and comprehensive motivation program in place that speaks to these different needs. It is also critical that supervisors identify what motivates each agent and play to that individual’s interest(s).

A comprehensive motivation program consists of, at minimum, six different motivators:

  1. Supervisor guidance and support – It is essential for supervisors to be present and involved. It may not always be possible to be in the same location, but regular check-ins, conversations and online chats help build that social bond. That relationship and support go a long way to inspire an employee to work hard.
  2. Recognition – People crave acknowledgement and kudos. Simply acknowledging an individual and showing appreciation for his or her work can help inspire someone to work harder. Consider both public and private recognition—mentioning the person in a weekly meeting or email, as well as a personal “good job” communication.
  3. Rewards – It’s a safe bet that most people would be motivated by a tangible reward. Gift cards, a certificate or award, a company-sponsored trip, a dinner, cash…I don’t think anyone would turn down a prize or bonus.
  4. Learning and growth – People like to learn new things…and they frequently need to learn new things to provide the best customer experience. Establishing and sharing clear growth plans for individuals with goals and development opportunities can be helpful to encourage an individual to strive for excellence.
  5. A team – Establishing a supportive, collaborative environment makes agents feel like a part of a team working toward a common goal. Again, the team doesn’t need to be in the same physical location. Online communities, meetings or calls and opportunities to interact regularly establish that team spirit.
  6. Fun – One of the most important motivating factors! Contests, challenges, annual gatherings and encouraging interaction make work fun. Infusing friendly competition into the mix with gamification and contests during peak periods can help build the team spirit and add fun and motivation to an otherwise challenging time—when motivation is needed the most.

It’s important to note that a motivation program is necessary every day, 365 days a year, and not just during holidays, special events or peak periods. There may be additional efforts made in busy times, but there should be a regular, consistent program. This will help demonstrate that the effort put forth by the contact center management team is sincere. Contact center agents are more likely to go the extra mile for the company that places a high importance on agent satisfaction on a regular basis and not just during certain occasions.

All of these efforts to keep agents happy and motivated should be visible in customer satisfaction scores. The customer may not be aware the agent they are interacting with is being motivated by a reward, but the positivity and helpfulness the agent is demonstrating in pursuit of a motivating factor will shine through and impress the customer. And that happy customer is more likely to return. The bottom line: Motivate your agents and help ensure customer satisfaction—any company’s ultimate goal.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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We Support 1 Million for Flexibility and the Need for More Flexible Work Environments

1 Million for Work Flexibility

The 21st century economy is evolving and constantly changing. This evolution started years ago, back with personal computers, and accelerated with the rise of mobile devices and new technologies that made it easier to work outside of a traditional office. There are options for people who are looking for flexible jobs, work-from-home opportunities and ways to strike a better work-life balance.

1 Million for Work Flexibility is a national initiative creating a collective voice in support of work flexibility. Work flexibility is an over-arching term for options in the workplace that give organizations and their employees the freedom to better decide when, where and how to work. For example, flexible and alternative schedules, remote work opportunities and even freelance contracts are all examples of the types of options this movement supports. Work flexibility can be implemented in smaller ways (such as occasional telecommuting or having an alternative schedule where you come in and leave an hour earlier to avoid traffic) or in bigger ways (such as telecommuting all of the time or having a completely flexible schedule).

LiveOps is a big supporter of flexible work—it’s what we do! LiveOps has been bringing work home for more than 14 years through our cloud-enabled contact center platform and independent, work-from-home agent community of more than 20,000 people across the country. We believe it’s important to help people find a better balance between their work and their life, because people work better and are more productive when they are happy, relaxed and experiencing low levels of stress. That’s not to say we think all work should be easy—that, unfortunately, is not realistic—but there are simple ways to help workers be happier and more relaxed so they can be more productive. Offering flexibility and opportunities to work from home are two options that make a big difference for workers.

Our agents have said that the freedom and flexibility of being a LiveOps independent agent has improved their lives, from reducing stress to giving them more time with family. Regardless of their reason, the common sentiment among LiveOps agents is that by taking control of their work life, they have been able to live the life they want and need. And that is the ultimate goal of flexible work.

LiveOps supports choice, freedom and entrepreneurship. It is for these reasons that LiveOps supports 1 Million for Work Flexibility. We have joined the movement to help communicate the need for organizations of all types to embrace flexibility as part of their culture and create work environments that make it possible for everyone to thrive, both in their careers and their lives. As the economy and the workplace continue to evolve, flexible work will become even more important. You’ll be seeing and reading more about 1 Million for Work Flexibility as LiveOps gets more involved and progress is made toward the goal of bringing the benefits of work flexibility to more organizations and people.

To learn more about 1 Million for Work Flexibility or to sign up and get involved, please visit: http://www.workflexibility.org.

To learn more about opportunities with LiveOps, please visit: http://join.liveops.com/.

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Encourage Empathy from Your Agents and Experience Greater Loyalty from Your Customers

Focus on Customers

There’s a great Maya Angelou quote that can help explain the importance of outstanding customer service. She said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It’s a powerful statement and very true. We talk a lot about the customer experience and the customer journey and how brands can improve those for every customer, every time. When you get down to it, a customer interaction is one person interacting with another (or a few people). Like any interaction, it helps to have common ground. Whether that is shared interest in a product or industry, a similar background or simply common courtesy, that common ground goes a long way to ensure a positive interaction and experience for both parties involved.

Customer service agents may not always be able to find that shared interest or experience with a customer, simply due to the type or length of their interaction, but empathy moves them in the right direction. It can be challenging to help someone when you don’t understand what they are going through or where they are coming from. It’s possible to train agents to be more empathetic to customers. For example, role-play a few common situations agents face on a daily basis. Perhaps run the first one without direction, to see how the agent handles the situation. Then add some scripted dialogue to help the agent empathize. It could be something as simple as “I’d be upset too if that happened to me,” or “I’m sorry that happened” but it’s amazing what a simple and sincere statement can do to turn around a challenging situation.

“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common—they all wanted validation. … They want to know, do you hear me? Do you see me? Does what I say mean anything to you?” – Oprah Winfrey

Listening is an essential part of being empathetic. Agents should actively listen to customers and pay attention to the details. It may not be the product or service the customer is upset about so much as the customer has had a tough day. Being polite, repeating information to be sure it’s understood and apologizing for the situation can score big points. Demonstrating that the agent is on the customer’s side and wants to help—jackpot!

“A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.” – Chinese proverb

LiveOps research has shown that happy agents=happy customers. People can “hear” a smile through the phone. The more you smile and sound like you enjoy helping people, the more that will come through to customers. Smile and see what a difference it can make.

“Always do more than is required of you.” – George S. Patton

Keeping calm, polite and helpful is essential in challenging situations—and those are the most difficult situations for people to stay calm, polite and helpful! A customer may get upset, complain, rant and rave—but the agent must stay calm. The agent’s task is to make sure the customer feels heard, understands what is going on, what comes next, what they need to do (if anything) and what the end result will be. Guide the customer on his or her path to resolution and you will end up with a happy, empowered and loyal customer.

Going the extra mile, going above and beyond—many brands claim to do so. Really successful brands do. Think Nordstrom, Apple, Zappos and any other brand that has delivered for you, personally. Don’t you want to do the same, be held in the same regard? Then give excellent customer service to every customer, every time; maximize each customer interaction; end interactions asking if the customer is happy, and if not, ask what else you can do to make them happy; and do it all with a smile on your face. Empathize with customers and you’ll find you have customers for life.

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Does Your Corporate Culture Match Your Contact Center Culture?

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Corporate culture is frequently mentioned, usually in generality, by the leaders of organizations. “We believe in…we support…we work toward…we are….” Corporate culture is commonly tied to mission and vision statements that define the way a brand thinks, behaves and works (really, the people behind the brand). Target calls customers “guests” to make them feel more welcome. Nike encourages people to “Just Do It” and gives them the athletic tools to do so.

Does your organization have a defined corporate culture, and does it extend to and encompass the contact center? If you’re not sure, think about a few questions. Is the focus on the bottom line or on ensuring customer satisfaction? Are your customer care agents empowered to do what’s necessary to keep customers happy and returning? What are the core corporate values, and how are they translated into customer service?

The contact center can be the first, and sometimes only, interaction customers have with a real, live person “behind” the brand. The contact center is also usually the most customer-focused area of an organization, because it is constantly and consistently interacting with customers—but it may focus on different things than the overall corporate culture. It’s important to make sure your contact center is strategically aligned with the brand’s goals, messages and activities…and maybe even derive some of those goals, messages and activities from the customer focus of the contact center.

Here are nine tips to incorporate the customer-focused contact center culture to the rest of your organization:

1. Position the contact center at the core of customer experience management.

It’s where the customer journey starts and ends, so the contact center is supremely important. Make sure the messages shared by contact center agents are consistent with brand messages.

2. Align the contact center with the overall brand’s strategy and priorities for the customer experience.

This is a no-brainer. Make sure the contact center is working toward the same strategy and priorities to ensure outstanding customer experiences as the brand.

3. Identify and share key performance indicators (KPIs) across the organization, including Sales, Marketing, Services, IT, Operations and Finance.

The only way different departments will understand each other is to communicate, even if they are not on the same page. Encourage sharing, feedback and interaction. Ideally, KPIs for each department will work in concert toward the overall corporate vision and culture.

4. Create a “Customer Experience Vision” and showcase it in a simple, intuitive fashion, demonstrating the contact center’s role in making the vision a reality.

A brand’s vision of the customer experience helps ensure consistent behavior and actions. Gather input from each department or functional area and use it to create a vision statement and actions resulting from that vision.

5. Create shared dashboards that are visible, simple and fun.

Create friendly competition and encourage interaction. Help individuals and departments share and celebrate successes. This all works toward reinforcing corporate culture and a focus on customer service.

6. Identify “small win” opportunities and work on the low-hanging fruit first. Celebrate early successes.

Create momentum by getting a few quick successes under the collective belt. This demonstrates the brand supports all efforts toward the customer focus and culture and increases the drive to achieve more.

7. Communicate progress often.

Keep teams up to date on their progress and that of the brand overall. Dashboards are great for this, along with regular updates.

8. Reward the entire team for achieving milestones and KPIs.

This can be as simple or as elaborate as desired. It’s all about encouraging good work and striving for progress toward the overall goals.

9. Benchmark progress against the rest of the industry and adopt best practices to continuously improve.

Look at leaders in your industry, as well as top worldwide brands. Any brand known for its customer focus (think Apple, Amazon and others) is a good check point.

More details on all of these tips are included in my recent article for ICMI. I know determining and following corporate culture can seem overwhelming, but when you think about the benefits of a culture that encompasses the contact center and focuses on the customer, you’ll find big positives. Give it a try and see!

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Spring Means a Fresh Start at LiveOps

Spring marks the end of a cold season and the beginning of new life. At LiveOps, we see it as the perfect time to make a fresh start. With the recent announcement about upcoming call center layoffs in Augusta, Georgia, we want to extend our hand and welcome new members to the LiveOps Agent Community. LiveOps Agents Services is always expanding and offering work-at-home opportunities in areas where there may have been recent call center layoffs.

True Cloud Contact Center Platform

LiveOps has been a leader in the customer service industry for more than 10 years, and in that time, we have built the largest network of independent at-home agents in the nation. We drew on their experiences and feedback to create the LiveOps Platform, which not only enables our team of 20,000 agents to work from home, but from a powerful, agent-friendly, multichannel cloud contact center.

Flexibility to Work Where You Want, When You Want

As a LiveOps independent agent, you will also benefit from a highly rewarding opportunity – you are your own boss! This means, you have the freedom and flexibility to set your own schedule and work on your own terms. The best part, agents can work from home without the need to relocate for a new job. Independent agents have a lot of freedom to build their businesses the way they want to and each agent does things a little differently. Some agents like to take a variety of call types, while others focus on just one or two. It’s really up to you. That’s the beauty of the cloud contact center.

Opportunity to Advance Your Skills

LiveOps also has an award-winning learning team dedicated to providing free certification that supports agents in building their independent home-based business. We offer ongoing learning opportunities through LiveOps University, our online, self-paced, module based learning system where all of the certification material is held; and a 24/7 Virtual Reference Library, which provides agents with access to an online 24 hour virtual reference library, where agents can view infomercials or other media, review call guides, product specs and offerings, take voluntary quizzes to test product knowledge and listen to sample calls to help become more familiar with the products and call flow.

You have the skills for success and we have the tools, resources and an online community to support you. We encourage you to check out opportunities at http://join.liveops.com/ and make a fresh start.

Image courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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Is Crowdsourcing the Future of Customer Service?

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Crowdsourcing isn’t new. The overuse of the term itself is a recent development, but in truth, consumers have been sharing their opinions in public forums for years. Through social media pages, discussion boards, and third-party review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, people have formed communities of advice and support long before anyone knew there was a “crowd,” and that things could be “sourced” to it.

But as the voice of the customer grows louder, a question lingers. And it has business impact: will customers become so intelligent, so savvy, and so vociferous that they take over traditional customer service?

What We Know

The Internet has proven to be the perfect incubator of opinion. Consumers share good, bad, and ugly insight without the restraints of face-to-face communication. Worldwide, Internet users generate 500 million tweets per day. Facebook “likes” far exceed that.

Over time, these candid tidbits have become a legitimate source of guidance for many. According to YouGov, a UK market research firm, 78 percent of consumers read customer reviews before making a purchase (44 percent submit their own reviews). That’s not a bad thing.  Other studies have suggested that crowd intelligence can be “smarter” than up to 99 percent of individual intelligence.

But there’s also growing concern that this crowd intelligence could rise up, grow legs, and begin to think and act for itself, to the extent that we would barely need customer service departments anymore.  A well-known Gartner analyst, for example, predicted that application service providers will replace 20 percent of their staff with crowdsourcing by 2016.

As with most projections, this remains to be seen, but there are already tremors of change in the industry. Similar to the early 2000s emergence of cloud computing, a few companies are spearheading innovation in crowdsourcing. For example, San Francisco-based startup Get Satisfaction offers a platform that incorporates forums, FAQ, and social networking to help companies make use of customer intelligence. Or there’s LiveOps, a virtual contact center system that enables brands to deliver great customer service on-demand through its network of 20,000 home-based independent contractor agents. All LiveOps agents are recruited, educated and accredited through its crowdsourcing and LiveOps University e-learning platform, which helps ensure that they’re experienced.

New products like these are built to accommodate the growing influence of the crowd. In that sense, they fit nicely into Paul Greenberg’s much quoted axiom: “. . . the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

What to Make of it All

While the full-scale substitution of crowdsourcing for traditional customer service is unlikely, that doesn’t negate its value for driving solutions and innovation. The nature of customer service is changing, and it may be time for businesses to consider a new model—one that works across multiple channels and leverages customer influence for good.

If you’re curious about crowdsourcing, take a look at your existing online community and consider the following:

–  Do you have any data management tools, such as social customer relationship management, that can help you analyze and moderate the way your customers are helping each other?

–  Do you have a strong enough following (in quantity and quality) to support a community forum?

–  How will you moderate what’s being posted?

–  How will you measure ROI?

With some forward planning, the right management system, and a willingness to think outside the box, the voice of the community can be your next catalyst for growth.

Author Bio

Aleksandr Peterson is a research writer at TechnologyAdvice. He covers CRMs, gamification, project management, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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General Specialists or Special Generalists?

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We each have special skills. Perhaps you are the reigning Scrabble champion in your family. Maybe you can reassemble any electrical device you’re given. Perhaps you are the “Office Genius” when it comes to historical project knowledge. Or maybe you can recite from memory the name of every man who signed the Declaration of Independence.

On top of those special skills, you likely have general skills. You know how to drive. You know how to operate a smartphone, laptop, tablet—any number of personal technology devices. You can cook at least one dish. And you can read and write.

Most brands hiring for their customer contact center want a combination of specialized and general skills. They want customer service specialists. And sales specialists. And “people” people. And people who are detail-oriented. That’s a lot of specialties to require…and some may call those people generalists, rather than specialists. Fortunately, many of those specialized skills are complementary.

Like people who specialize in both sales and service. The skill sets are different in some ways, but very similar in other ways. Agents with sales and service skills are knowledgeable about your product or service; they are good at reading people to determine the most effective sales pitch; they empathize with customers so they can tailor their approach to each customer’s needs; and they can tell when it’s appropriate to make the upsell pitch or just resolve the issue at hand. Those complementary skills probably mean they are more flexible in the type of customer interactions they can handle. And those sales-and-service generalists are specialists at monetizing customer interactions.

So how do you get these expert generalists on board? Your brand will likely need to revamp the hiring process. Think about the skills that are listed as “essential” and “preferred.” Think about the recruiting language that is used and whether it skews toward sales or toward service. You need to build a new agent profile, one that captures elements of sales and service, so that you can find those generalists best suited to be your brand ambassadors.

Once you’ve got the profile figured out and the generalists hired…what about training?

Training can be daunting no matter the job description and role. It may be a bit more challenging to design and deliver effective training after changing your agent profile—but it can be done. In addition to the product or service training to familiarize the agent with your offerings, you’ll want to include technology and process training to ensure smooth interaction with your systems and customers. Don’t forget to offer a refresher course on sales and customer service best practices so to immerse the new hires in your brand’s culture.

And how do you make that training interesting and keep those generalists engaged? Try games. Gamification of training is hot now, and there are so many ways to inject that level of fun into your training. Set up head-to-head competitions where agents role-play a call and whoever resolves it (fastest, most completely, most creatively) wins points. Tally those points to create a leaderboard, to keep people earning points and battling for agent supremacy.

It can also be helpful to establish an agent communication hub, whether it’s a dedicated website, chat application or discussion forum. Make it simple and fun for people to interact to share what works and support each other. It balances out some of the competitive aspects of the gamified training and goes a long way to maintaining a team feeling—especially if your agents are geographically dispersed.

I offer these suggestions because LiveOps has implemented most of them within our community of 20,000 independent work-at-home agents and found them successful. Finding and keeping solid contributors to your bottom line is difficult, no doubt. Do whatever you can to find those right people, train them quickly and effectively and get them interacting with customers. Having those generalists who are experts in monetizing customer interactions whenever possible will keep that bottom line healthy and prepare you and your team for growth and expansion. Read more in my recent article for ICMI.

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Insuring Your Future, One Independent Agent at a Time

LiveOps Insurance Agents

Charismatic. Goal-oriented. Empathetic. Self-motivated. A desire to help others. Focused. These are just a few of the descriptors used in insurance-related opportunities. And if you combine those words with things like working from home…setting your own schedule…building your own business—you just might find the best of both worlds.

“I am constantly learning new things and helping people.” – Jean, Florida

Insurance is a growing industry. As the economy grows, so does the need for insurance—and the need for people to sell policies and provide customer service. As a matter of fact, insurance sales and customer service are two fast-growing areas for contact centers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for insurance agents is projected to grow 10 percent through 2022. This growth is driven by the expanding economy as well as the aging U.S. population, which demands long-term care coverage.

“I’m no longer spending half my time and energy traveling.” – Pamela, Florida

One way insurance companies keep up with this growth is by contracting with third-party contact centers to field calls and manage customer relationships. When you call your insurance company to file a claim or purchase a new policy, you might be talking to a LiveOps independent licensed insurance or claims agent. We work with many of the best-known and most respected insurance companies in the U.S. to provide support for their sales and claims operations. And, all of our agents are working from home.

“I have a greater sense of security and I can set my own schedule and work as much—or as little—as I want.” – Jill, Indiana

As demand for insurance sales and support grows, LiveOps’ independent agent base is growing to meet the demand. LiveOps currently has more than 20,000 work-from-home independent agents and that number increases all the time. As a matter of fact, insurance sales and claim processing were two of our fastest growing segments in 2014 and we expect this growth to continue. We are working hard to ensure our independent agents are prepared to continue to offer the outstanding sales and service our clients expect for their customers.

LiveOps independent agents are an outstanding group. Each and every agent is an extension of the brand they represent—and they want to be good representatives. Our agents are passionate about helping people. They are compassionate and empathetic when working with callers filing claims. They genuinely care about the customers they work with and want to help them achieve resolution—whether it’s purchasing a policy, filing a claim or simply asking a question.

“I can be there for my children and grandchildren for special events.” – Pamela, Florida

Not only does LiveOps provide opportunities for motivated people who want to be their own boss—we also provide the best tools in the industry for them to succeed. LiveOps offers free award-wining certification to help our agents prepare to provide the service our clients need to keep their customers happy. We continually invest in new or upgraded tools so our agents have the best of the best. The recently launched LiveOps University 2.0 offers independent agents new opportunities to build their skills and establish peer relationships with fellow independent LiveOps agents. They can showcase their expertise, build on their existing certifications and further enhance their knowledge and productivity through peer engagement. The new online portal provides simulations, online and self-paced classes and access to a supportive social community offering forums, blogs, agent-to-agent chat and course ratings for an improved and interactive learning experience.

“Working from home gives me so much peace—there is just nothing like being your own boss!” – Victoria

And it’s not just for independent insurance sales agents…there are opportunities in a variety of industries, including insurance claims, retail and healthcare. Customer service is a growing field and there is definitely a need for motivated go-getters who enjoy interacting with and helping people. Talk about insuring your future.

If you are interested in becoming a LiveOps independent agent, please visit: http://join.liveops.com/.

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2015 Prediction: The Workforce of the Future Will Rise to the Customer Experience Challenge

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This time of year is full of looking back, looking ahead and evaluating the difference between the two. That can be interesting and informative. Or it can be overwhelming. Or both. My colleagues here at LiveOps have made a few predictions for next year, focusing on technologies and tools. I’m going to focus on people—the contact center workforce of the future. My prediction? The workforce of the future will be even more flexible, important and top-of-mind for both customers and brands.

2015 and beyond will bring an even more intense focus on the customer experience—and therefore, on the contact center. The people customers interact with—whether in a store, on the phone or via social channels—are the brand as far as the customer is concerned. Sure, customers know the person is working for the brand and doesn’t (usually) set the policies and pricing, but they are it in the interaction. Contact center representatives, especially, are the “face” of a brand. A single interaction can inform a person’s opinion of the entire brand.

Brands always strive for outstanding service and delighted customers—but that can be a challenge to deliver in each and every interaction. 2015 will bring an increased emphasis on customer experience ownership and accountability. Everyone who works for a brand, whether they deal with customers or are behind the scenes, has an effect on and is impacted by the customer experience. Delivering that “excellent customer experience” has a few important elements.

  1. There will be a greater shift from reactive customer service to proactive customer service. Part of that shift will be driven by newer technologies and tools, as my colleagues have mentioned, but the implementation is my focus. Agents will be able to “save” a transaction, and a customer, using new technologies. Based on customer profile information that is more easily accessible, agents will be able to more effectively cross-sell and upsell. Agents will also be more able to engage with customers when and where they are, including on newer technology channels. This will all be extremely important with the increased focus on providing positive customer experiences.
  1. Availability. Those descriptors are used more and more in reference to work schedules and workers themselves. The importance of flexibility and availability for contact center workers will continue in 2015. It’s becoming rarer for workers to be located in centralized contact centers, and more common that workers are based in home offices. That arrangement offers an increased level of flexibility and availability for both brands and workers—working whenever they are available, even if it’s outside “normal” business hours. Taking time when needed for personal events. Jumping in even during downtime or time off to answer a question, support a peer or help a customer finalize a transaction.
  1. “Knowledge Workers” will become essential. The perfect type of person for the contact center is someone with a solid combination of “soft” skills and “hard” skills. These workers are technically savvy, think critically, collaborate smartly and take ownership of the customer experience. They are empathetic, patient, helpful, caring and listen well. Not only that, but these workers are well-versed in newer technologies and enjoy bringing those skills to the online world as well. They relish the opportunity to engage via social channels. They want to work with customers in whatever medium they are most comfortable. They understand the importance of being available and responding in real time. These will all be required skills in 2015.
  1. New technologies will make every interaction simpler and more efficient. These Knowledge Workers bring that comfort with technology to their interactions with peers and supervisors as well as customer interactions. They are as comfortable participating in a webinar as an in-person meeting. They believe in the benefits of live chat to provide and gather feedback. They enjoy playing games and undertaking simulations to learn and improve their skills. They embrace the benefits of combining technology and people skills to streamline interactions and delight all customers—external and internal.

This year has seen a tremendous focus on how technology can help improve customer service. I foresee 2015 being the year that brands switch their focus back to the heart of providing positive customer experiences: People and the interactions between them. With big data, predictive analytics and contextual routing firmly in place, tomorrow’s workforce will be able to rise to the customer experience challenge. Next year will be the contact center agent’s year to shine.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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eLearning and Collaboration Help Remote Workers Exceed Expectations

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Remote workers. Working from home. Telecommuting. Flexible schedules. We’ve all heard about remote work—and most of us would like to try it! But the mere mention of it gives most employers a chill running down their spine. For some employers, it is their greatest fear—losing control. If you can’t keep an eye on your employees when they’re in the office, who knows what they might doing on “company time?”

Like most fears, the concern about remote workers is largely unfounded. In reality there are numerous business benefits in allowing workers to work remotely. The more you learn about and prepare for remote work, the easier (and less scary) it is. Remote workers are skilled, talented people, in locations across the country, working from home. With today’s smart phones, laptops, tablets, cloud computing, video chatting and instant messaging, it’s easier than ever to work outside of the office and keep workers connected and productive. With the right people and the right tools, remote work really should be a win-win for everyone.

It’s clear that some businesses and industries are more appropriate for remote work than others. Contact centers—and the brands they serve—can experience great benefits from remote workers. Whether taking in-bound calls ordering the latest must-have product, making outbound survey calls or monitoring and engaging on social media to maintain a brand’s stellar reputation, contact centers are busy places.

It takes the right person with the right mindset to succeed in that environment. LiveOps has a community of 20,000 independent, work-at-home agents who excel at providing excellent service to customers for a variety of brands. Central to this, our newly introduced LiveOps University 2.0 is a social learning ecosystem that supports the unique needs of work-at-home agents. Part learning resource and part learning community, LiveOps University 2.0 helps remote workers feel like part of the team, every day.

A big part of helping remote workers be efficient and effective is implementing the right technologies—such as “the cloud.” There are a multitude of business and productivity tools available and accessible with simply a computer, Internet connection and phone. Contact center technologies offered in the cloud are easy to use, offering all of the functionality users need to be productive. In a contact center environment, cloud-based technologies and reporting ensures that supervisors have real-time visibility into agent availability, skills, calls in progress, web chats and other text-based interactions as they are happening. When supervisors can access productivity metrics so they can assist, respond and manage their remote agents more effectively, both customer and agent satisfaction rises. And the cloud offers greater scalability. When a brand needs 25 agents one week and 100 the next, a contact center based in the cloud can adapt and meet those needs.

There are, of course, some challenges to be addressed when including remote workers in the employee mix. With people working from different locations, how can they establish and maintain relationships? Employees can’t gather in the break room to discuss the developments on last night’s episode of that hot new show while on their break or eating lunch. How can companies ensure their remote workers are engaged and happy?

There are many ways…from embracing chat capabilities (on your cloud platform) to encouraging video calls for a face-to-face presence. There are also benefits from establishing an online community, a location full of job specific information paired with ways to interact, such as discussion forums and a blog. Remote workers can give and receive peer coaching, find information to answer their questions, and feel like an important part of the group. Remote workers need to be empowered with real-time coaching, conferencing, and other productivity tools to stay effective.

Training goes hand-in-hand with the online community. People often learn better from peers and real experiences, so peer coaching and simulations are essential. Provide instruction on a concept or process and then let the remote user practice in a simulation before “going live” with a real customer. It will reduce anxiety, increase confidence, and improve speed-to-performance.

LiveOps University 2.0 offers skill-building exercises and simulations and a social community with blogs, forums, and agent-to-agent chat. Peer support and a variety of opportunities for engagement mean that agents are “together,” even when working in distant locations.

Overall, the ROI benefits of remote, cloud-based workers are huge. LiveOps remote agents participating in a social learning community have show a reduced time in certification of over 50% when compared to traditional classroom training. Allowing agents to be on the phones quicker, building their business, and providing services to clients. This also means employers are not paying employees to sit in long classroom training sessions when they could be on the job benefiting the business. Performance in a remote workforce is also improved greatly. LiveOps agents are able to obtain knowledge transfer quicker through “always-available” elearning that has shown to increase performance by up to 10% on key metrics.

Greater flexibility benefits both the employer and the employee. Access to a wider candidate pool and the ability to scale up or down the number workers being utilized at any time are important elements to any business. Cloud-based systems just make it easier and more cost-effective for businesses to use contact centers and provide their customers with first-rate service.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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