Monthly Archives: March 2012

FCR trumps speed

Quality and quantity are no longer mutually exclusive in the contact centre world. About time! Happy customers do not come from being pushed off the phone faster than they can say ‘Hello’. It’s true that time comes into the equation, but it’s definitely not the only indicator of a successful call. What’s more important is FCR (First Call Resolution). A customer is more likely to praise your agent’s efforts if they resolve their issue the first time they call the contact centre. And, as Rick McFarland picks up in the below article, agents need to be aware of what is expected of them by the Marketing department. The quickest way to shatter a customer’s trust and confidence in your business is to break promises. The story you sell to the market about having ‘the most amazing, fantastical, personalised-to-the-max service’ means squat if a customer calls your centre and is less than impressed.


Moving From Case to Conversation – How Contact Centers Help Build Better Brands

By Rick McFarland

It is no secret contact centers of late have taken it on the chin. Whether due to significant technology investments that have failed to deliver expected ROI or agents who don’t make customers feel as cared for as they should — and in most cases, it’s a bit of both — today’s contact center managers seem more and more focused on one fundamental goal: to prove the operation’s worth to the company and to find ways to deliver value. Of course, the go-to strategy for companies has always been to leverage up-sell and cross-sell opportunities through the contact center channel. And the reasons have always been good ones, like more direct income for the bottom line, and tangible and measurable return on the dollar. Those familiar mantras have been much thought about, written about, and consulted upon, so it would be fruitless to mimic the same.

One area of thought that should warrant further exploration and discussion, however, decidedly has more of a marketing angle, but one that is no less relevant or impacting to a company’s bottom line. It is the issue of brand management. The question on a company’s collective mind these days shouldn’t solely be ‘How can our contact center sell more?” The more pressing challenge to tackle should be “Is our contact center helping to strengthen our brand or is it slowly and systematically debilitating it?” More than philosophical pondering and posturing, this question gets to the very crux of not only the contact center’s ability to sell, but also the company’s ability as a whole to do the same. Because no matter how dedicated or aggressive a contact center’s up-sell and cross-sell efforts may be, sales efforts enterprise-wide will fail if the brand is consistently compromised by what its contact center is doing—or not doing. And, since every touchpoint is a pure and direct customer-facing moment, the opportunity to fail or succeed is repeated with every connection that’s made.

Calling For a New Perspective

Both top and mid-level management must begin to reexamine the contact center from a different lens of perspective. The mindset must be reset. Before the seeds of up-sell and cross-sell can be sown, the customer field must be weeded first of choking negative perceptions, and then it must be consistently fertilized with enriching customer interaction. Just another apt metaphor? Not at all. While the argument may seem rudimentary at first, this goes beyond simple Branding 101. It’s about having the insight, the courage and the fortitude to get back to basics.

Marketing departments would kill for the kind of direct access that contact centers have with the customer every day. These calls, emails, chats, posts, tweets, and everything else are more than simply nameless impression metrics populating colorful projection charts and graphs; these are actual people, flesh-and-blood customers, all who want more than their problems solved; they need to know that they are cared about. They need to know they count. It begs the question thatif marketers want so desperately to know and manage how customers feel about their brand, why does such a divide still persist between these two crucial departments — marketing and customer care — when it makes so much sense to strategically integrate their efforts? With such ideal synergies to be leveraged between these two customer-influencing business units, why do their day-to-day operations remain so far apart?

If companies are looking for new ways to squeeze value out of their contact centers, they need to fundamentally remember with whom they are making contact in the first place — the customer. And because they are doing so quite literally on a daily basis — and some around the clock — they are presented with recurring moments of priceless customer connection, and each is a monumental branding opportunity. Yes, monumental; the term is not glibly used. In fact, monumental doesn’t come near to describing the importance of that first customer connection. Too often these moments are thought of as simply ticking seconds on a perpetual timer; the longer they last, the less customers are reached, the more time and money are spent. But an agent can disillusion a customer just as easily in a quick call as he or she can in a lengthier one — and, ironically, the odds for failure grow often greater when less time is spent with the customer. Thus, this issue is less about the length of the contact and more about the quality of its content.

Maximized Efficiency; Minimized Humanity

For decades now, efficiency and productivity have been the rally cry for the modern contact center. Reduce call times by x%. Condense and standardize “if/then” scripts to accelerate call resolution. Implement self-service IVRs to exponentially increase call handling while reducing costly personnel. The more these nameless and complex metrics were collected and empirically crunched, the less human, and, therefore, less real, these contacts soon became. Today, it has all amassed into such a mountain of mind-numbing math, that the customer has become carelessly relegated to an abstract numerical value: a fraction of a dollar, a percentage point, a faceless data bit.

The time has come for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction. Companies today must shift a step or two left of what has become traditional contact center SOP — meaning, shorter contacts and more of them — and they need to loosen up their death grip on this rigid time-oriented thinking. The moment has come to focus less on strict statistical values and more on the actual value of people; in particular, the value of interaction… interaction with the customer. Nothing builds brand loyalty more than a customer who feels consistently well cared for. Period. No ad, no Web site, no catchy jingle can or will ever do more for your brand.

Trust-Based Marketing

Enterprises who understand this dynamic tend to stand out in their competitive fields. The Zappos shoe company, and now full apparel enterprise, serves as a good example. Did the Zappos brand get to where it is today with clever ads and marketing? No. Did they succeed with insightful PR? Not entirely. They built their premium brand utilizing a simple and recurring resource at their disposal each day: contact with the customer. Zappos understood early on from its birth that customer perception was everything. They understood a simple truth: that they weren’t selling exclusive products; they weren’t offering exclusive pricing; and they certainly weren’t reaching customers through some exclusive sales channel. In fact, they built their model on the most heavily populated and cluttered marketplace in history: the Internet. So, what was their simple truth? How did they succeed — and do so, so convincingly? They understood the importance and opportunity in every customer contact, and they ensured that these contacts served to instill and sustain one value over all: trust. Zappos agents did more than sell; they interacted with the customer. They conversed with the customer. They got to know the customer. And the customer, in turn, got to know them, came to trust them, and, as a result, believed in their marketing.

Not only didn’t the management at Zappos discourage calls, they actually encouraged customers to call, inherently understanding that the time spent with these customers would provide invaluable opportunities for building their brand. They saw the Internet not as a means of distancing themselves and minimizing contact, but as a way to conversely initiate that contact — quality, human, brand-building contact. The marketing folks at Zappos made sure that contact center personnel not only understood the brand’s core values, but also worked hand-in-hand with contact center operations to infuse those brand values into day-to-day procedure. This went beyond having agents recite a brand tagline or tie into some current campaign. This was about agents fundamentally understanding that building and sustaining customer trust meant everything to the company’s future. Zappos championed this strategy so compellingly, so consistently, that their knowledgeable contact center agents soon became perceived by the customer as more than customer sales or service representatives, but actually as trusted advisors, making not only initial selling a lot easier, but up-selling and cross-selling a slam dunk.

Moving From Case to Conversation

Contact center managers today can take a few lessons from this proven Zappos model. How can they interject trust-based marketing into their busy contact centers? By implementing a subtle but important shift in perspective, and then inviting their marketing departments to collaborate in the shaping of a new communication — not simply a customer transaction, but a meaningful interaction.

For the most part, today’s numbers-driven contact center operations view customer contacts as cases to be solved — as issues to be identified and resolved — and done so, as a matter of policy, in as little time as possible. But if they viewed that same contact as a conversation to be had — an opportunity to get to know more about the customer and for the customer to comprehend more about the company — the results would be substantially different. Negative brand perceptions would be neutralized on the spot, not just through slower-working and more expensive traditional advertising and marketing, but through real-time words and actions; conversely, positive brand perceptions could be consistently reinforced, not by dropping rehearsed and tinny-sounding slogans, but by actually listening and responding to the customer’s appeals. Up-selling and cross-selling would come more smoothly and naturally, more effectively, not through rigid and robotic scripts, but through a meaningful conversation and interaction conducted agent-to-customer/customer-to-agent — where preferences are uncovered with no undue pressure, needs are expressed more freely and fluidly, and solutions are spontaneously suggested by the agent, not transparently hawked.

But what about time? Yes, time is still money and seconds still count. True. But thankfully, technology has finally caught up to the contact center, so that an effective contact center operation need not sacrifice one for the other — quantity of time and quality of time are no longer mutually exclusive. The progress of technology now allows yesterday’s promise of relationship-based marketing, or CRM, as it was familiarly coined, to become the highly implementable Trust-Based Marketing of today. All it takes is the belief in the potential and the desire to make it happen; technology will facilitate the technical connection, so that agents can create a meaningful connection. Enhanced “screen pop” functionality, for example; more dynamic, intuitive and customizable IVRs; seamless integration with social media; anytime/anywhere mobile access; the technology possibilities today are endless, and every breakthrough enables agents to find out more about the customer in a lot less time, so that more of that priceless moment of contact can be spent on relationship building, and on brand building, and, ultimately, on trust building.

This paradigm re-shift won’t happen if marketing is still off on its own, spinning highly researched brand messages that contact centers will rarely use, because the numbers being crunched by efficiency experts won’t allow them the extra time. Rather, it will take a concerted C-Suite effort to ensure that these two company silos begin sustaining a real and ongoing collaboration in constructing a new kind of contact center communication — one that moves from process to people… from time-driven sterile customer transactions toward value-based human interactions… from solving cases to having conversations. Building trust to build better brands.

Knowing when to speak

Seth Godin, have you ever spoken a truer word? Traditional advertising is failing in effectiveness, we know that for sure. So, why not talk to your customer 1 on 1, with a personalised offer that they actually care about? Spot on in my opinion. There are many ways to make this idea a reality without busting your budget for the next five years. Your company could enlist the help of an IVR that recognises characteristics of a customer when they call, (e.g. male and  over 50) and offers a particular product at a ‘special price’ targeted at their demographic. Now, isn’t that smart advertising?


Advertisers struggle to be heard through the noise. Customer service reps, on the other hand, can whisper.

A few organizations have figured out how to turn customer service into a marketing opportunity and thus a profit center. They figure if they’ve got your attention, if they’re talking to you at a moment when you care a great deal, they can turn that into an opportunity to delight. And being delighted is remarkable and worth talking about.

That means that if your organization has a stall, deny and avoid policy when it comes to customer interaction, you will almost certainly be defeated if a competitor comes up with a scalable way to delight.

Overseas call centers and online chat handled by untrained workers with no incentives seem like clever ways to cut costs during stressful times. What they actually are is scalable engines of annoyance, time-sucking processeses that raise expectations and then totally dash them. Better to not even have a phone number. (You can’t call Google but you don’t want to call Adobe–which one generates more animus–the inability to call, or the promise, unfilled, of respect and thoughtful help?)

Or consider: Some airlines are starting to realize that a delayed or cancelled flight is actually a chance to earn some remarkability. In the two hours that someone is stranded, they’re paying very careful attention to your brand. What are you doing? Notifying them by email that the flight is late, offering them free wifi, even giving them a link to a free book or movie online–none of that costs more than caring…all of them important opportunities to be heard and remembered.

Investing in delight via customer service is cheap to experiment with and easy to prove. Just siphon off 1% of your calls to a trained person who actually cares and wants to help–and see what happens to customer satisfaction and word of mouth. Cancel a few TV ads and you can pay for it–soon it will pay for itself.

With great power comes great responsibility

“The term is not new; vendors such as have provided Cloud services in different guises for many years.” Ah yes, Ian Moyse speaks the truth. Cloud is all but a single word to help people encapsulate and explain on-demand services, something many some companies (GSN included!) has been doing for years. Towards the end of his article, Ian states why it is so important to recognise the actual maturity of Cloud technology. There are many vendors who have been providing Cloud services, under the term ‘hosted’, or ‘on-demand’, or ‘SaaS’, that are truly experienced and therefore, minimise a lot of the perceived risk in adopting the Cloud. Security is often voiced as a major concern when it comes to Cloud technology, but truth be told, a Cloud provider is subject to the terms of your contract and subsequent SLAs like any other vendor. And, speaking generally, Cloud providers are extremely safe and secure, because they have to be!


There has been a thunderstorm of growing noise surrounding Cloud Computing in the past 24 months. Vendors, analysts, journalists and membership groups have all rushed to cover the Cloud medium – although everyone seems to have their own opinion and differing definition of cloud computing. According to the most common definition, it is Internet-based computing where shared resources, software and information are supplied to users on demand, rather like a utility company would supply electricity, water or gas.

The term is not new; vendors such as have provided Cloud services in different guises for many years. Other players have been swift to get on board, including Microsoft, HP, IBM, Amazon and Google, to name but a few. Put simply, users now have the choice of a new way to consume computing power, applications and data.

No longer is it necessary to buy software on a floppy disk or a CD. Instead, you can have immediacy of delivery through the Internet for an application you want now. Users have been educated into this way of working with iTunes and app stores, and they’ve come to expect a seamless link between their locally run application and data and information from the Internet – and at a very digestible and economic price point. Buying a robust, polished application or game for below £1 is now taken for granted.

As an average user you are also likely to be using cloud computing in the form of webmail, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and a plethora of other services; storing what you would consider private information in the Cloud without knowing where it is in reality… or even caring.

In effect, Cloud has become a very simple and trendy way of describing all things that occur outside the firewall whether it be on a corporate network or on your home PC. Cloud computing is already helping to shape the way we digest IT both at home and in the workplace. It is simply a new ‘form factor’, a new way of delivering a solution to a customer.

We have seen new form factors disrupting and changing many market sectors already. Think of Blockbuster Video, once the darling of the entertainment world and now struggling to survive against the new delivery factors of Netflix and LOVEFiLM. Tower Records, once a worldwide brand, has been put out of business by the ability for users to now purchase music faster and cheaper via iTunes and online music stores.

The same trends are occurring in computing. The extraordinary speed at which Cloud computing has come to dominate the landscape has caught many by surprise. None deny it is the Zeitgeist for 2010 when looking back at the past year. With bold press statements such as “Cloud computing will boost UK economy by £30bn a year” grabbing headlines, it’s no wonder it is at the centre of so much discussion and scepticism.

With Cloud computing expected to enjoy an adoption rate and growth of between 30 to 40 per cent per year, every year for the next five years, vendors are rushing to launch and push their cloud offerings. From a customer point of view, it is obviously a good thing to have more choices – although you should be aware that in reality there is a wide range of maturity levels amongst vendors, with some of them taking their first steps and looking for their first few candidates for experimental purposes.

The major brands, Microsoft, Google, HP, etc are all endorsing cloud as key to their future (Microsoft recently announced the majority of its developers have been moved to its cloud platform), and in both business and at home it will certainly change the way we do so many things.

Cloud computing offers substantial benefits including efficiencies, innovation acceleration, cost savings and greater computing power. No more 12-18 month upgrade cycles; huge IT burdens such as system or software updates are delivered automatically with cloud computing and both consumers, small and large organisations can now afford to get access to cutting-edge innovative solutions. Cloud computing also brings green benefits such as reducing carbon footprint and promoting sustainability by utilising computing power more efficiently.

But be warned…
There will be some cloud negatives to go with all the positives. For example, with so much reliance on applications and data stored at the Internet level, what happens when you lose your Internet connection, can’t get a mobile 3G connection or the service itself isn’t available for a period? In all cases, due to circumstances outside your control, you cannot access your data, your photos or perform the action when and where you wanted.

More worryingly, we have also seen a continued increase in threats coming from the Internet from spam, phishing (fake eBay, bank, etc. e-mails asking you to login in order to steal your details), viruses, spyware and scams. There was more malware on the internet in the last 18 months than the last 18 years combined. Never in the field of internet conflict has so much impact caused by so few to so many. The attackers have gone Cloud and are also utilising the great virtual computing power base to their advantage.

We are already starting to see malware targeting non-PC devices. It’s in its early stages, but it is inevitable we will see more targeting of smartphones, tablets and perhaps even Apple Macintosh as the data that users send to the Cloud becomes more valuable – and the wider range of applications used to access it grows at a rapid rate.

With consumerisation today’s generation of users expect to be able to access their applications from their iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or Android device, and they expect web-based applications and resources to be readily available to those devices. We are entering a time when seemingly infinite IT power and information is available to a user on the smallest of devices, on the move and at a price affordable to the average consumer.

Looking back, who would have expected that in 2011 you could have a 59p application on your phone which could ‘listen’ to a music tune being played in a bar and in seconds, using the internet (accessing massive Cloud power to do the look up and recognition analysis), present to you the details of the track and a ‘click here’ to pay for immediate download of the song! The chances are that Cloud will accelerate this affordable power still further. Just imagine where we will be in ten years time!

With so much happening so fast, the pressure is on IT experts to not only deliver more innovation but also greater security to defend it. As devices get more powerful, the internet faster, the demand and supply of Cloud applications will sky rocket and the power in the hands of the user will be greater than we have ever delivered before.

Remember with great power, comes great responsibility and your responsibility is to protect the data, your ID and the information valuable to you. You would not go out and leave your front door open. Therefore, don’t leave your ‘virtual’ front door open when connecting to the internet and such powerful applications. By all means be a Cloud user, but be safe and be secure in doing so.

The Truth of the Tape

Tom Vander Well from SQC touches on the importance of recording calls in your contact centre. He lists agent training, uncovering positive and negative agent performance, and identifying procedural issues as the main drivers of call recording. However, I feel that he misses the standout benefit. Through call recording and after-the-fact analysis, you may discover emerging patterns in customer behaviour. Are your customers frustrated by the time an agent answers their call, due to difficulty with the IVR? What are customers saying about that new product your company just launched? Using call recording on its own, or in combination with a customer satisfaction survey, provides your business with actionable insights to dramatically (and easily) improve your customer service. 


Since Prohibition, when recorded phone conversations with a bootlegger were first used in a criminal prosecution, the taped phone call has had a colorful history. Movies and television have made familiar the image of FBI agents hunkered over spinning reels of tape in a van or an empty warehouse loft as they listen in on the calls of shady mobsters. Go to the new Mob Museum in Las Vegas and you’ll get to hear some of the actual calls for yourself.

The recorded conversation is a powerful tool. In our training with clients, our team will often go into a studio and recreate a phone call using voice actors to protects the identify of caller and CSR, but accurately recreate the customer service conversation between the two. These calls are always a fun and effective training tool because they are based on an actual interaction with which CSRs identify. “I took a call just like that,” we hear all the time, “I think that mighta been me!” Because the pertinent identifying information is hidden, the focus can be on what we can learn from the call and how the interaction might have been improved.

Another important way to utilize recordings is as evidence of a particular procedural or systems related issue. Call recording software often includes a video capture of what is happening on the agent’s desktop during the phone call. When trying to make a point about how obtuse or cumbersome a particular system is for agents while they are on the phone call, a recorded example complete with visual can be a powerful piece of evidence for upper management and decision makers. As they sit and uncomfortably witness first hand the CSR struggling through a jungle of screens as they try to maintain conversation and call flow with the customer, it makes a much more persuasive argument than a mere description of the issue.

Of course, the recordings can also be very effective tools to highlight both positive and negative performance. It’s hard for CSRs to defend their poor service behaviors when there is a plethora of recorded evidence with which to coach them. People often think of call recording as merely a tool to catch people doing things wrong, but our team regularly reminds CSRs that the truth of the tape can also catch people doing things right and become hard evidence of an agents exemplary service skills. Many years ago a frustrated manager asked our team to do a special assessment of an agents calls. The manager wanted to fire the agent and was looking for evidence to do so. In this case, the tape revealed that the agent performed well when serving customers on the phone. The truth of the tape helped protect the CSR from being unfairly terminated.

Call recordings are tools. As with all tools, the results lie in the wisdom and abilities of the person or persons wielding them. When misused, call recording can do damage to people and businesses. When used with discernment and expertise, those same recordings can effectively help build a successful business.

The Cloud is the limit

Ian Moyse from CloudTech summises that selecting a ‘safe-bet’ Cloud vendor is truly important. I agree, but I feel the need to point out that all Cloud providers are going to tell you they are the right choice. And there’s many of them. Since Cloud become the latest buzzword, ‘me-too’ companies have put their hand up for this ambiguous status. Way back in 2001, before anyone had even referred to technology and the white, fluffy object in the sky in the same sentence, Global Speech Networks was offering Cloud-based contact centre solutions. If that’s not an indication of a ‘safe-bet’, I don’t know what is.


The cloud delivery model gives vendors a great amount of power. It is easier to create, deploy, maintain and enhance a service than it has been at any other point in computing history. Just look at Facebook, which grew to 500 million members in a very short period of time. People readily share within it, many with a limited understanding of the potential risks to their private information.

The ability to make an enhancement and almost instantly put it into the customer’s hands is immensely powerful – and immensely dangerous. If you’re a software vendor and distribute software with a bug, the effect propagates slowly as people install the update. And often, you’ll hear about the problem and get a chance to fix it before many customers even become aware.

With cloud technology, however, such mistakes instantly propagate to all users. Because of this ability to quickly affect a wide range of customers, the responsibility for a cloud vendor is greater than we have seen before.

As the industry rushes to capitalize on the cloud delivery model, users are faced with more and more choices, making it harder to distinguish between a robust, reputable vendor and a small, possibly risky, player. Selecting a safe bet vendor is critical.

Many are software vendors that are just dipping their toes into cloud technology. But the cloud is a very different world, and there is a different approach and mindset to deliver upon.

It is up to customers and resellers to perform due diligence on cloud vendors so they can deliver success stories to their customers and business associates. As in any market, there are pros and cons and good and bad providers. Customers and resellers need to take the time to make educated decisions to discern the good from the bad, the safe from the risky. And cloud vendors need to invest in the expertise and solutions required to deliver the high quality of service customers expect.

The benefits of cloud technology far outweigh the potential risks, both in terms of power and quality of service. Smaller businesses and individual consumers can now access robust applications that were previously affordable only by larger firms.

The risks can be mitigated by performing educated decisions and being diligent in your choices. There are plenty of options, and it is up to you to select a vendor who can responsibly manage the power of the cloud.

Is your company easy to deal with?

The article below from delves into a topic that resonates (or it should!) with anyone with a vested interest in customer experience. Is your business easy to deal with? Do customers get the answer they need the first time they ring your contact centre? How many times do they need to be transferred before they reach the right department? Can they opt to speak to an agent at numerous times during the IVR process? And, are you easy to buy from? The latter will determine whether you have a band of loyal customers or if people decline to purchase from you again (if ever) because the process is too complicated. Having different methods of payment e.g. through calling your contact centre or paying online, in addition to offering self-service automated payments over the phone, will increase the likelihood of customers having a positive experience with your business.


Reducing customer effort seems to be all the rage these days. So how can our customer service interactions be simplified?

Read on to find out seven ways to simplify customer service.

1. Develop expert advisors

Advisors lie at the heart of all queries. It’s their knowledge and dedication that unleashes the potential to drive customer satisfaction rates through the roof. Our advisors trust us, and we care about them. We’re committed to unlocking their potential and developing expert problem solvers. Our in-house call advisor trainer offers tailored external and internal coaching, including:

‘Language of Service’ skills courses
Level 3 NVQs in customer care
Personal development plans
Regular call coaching
Annual appraisal
Expert training in specialist areas
Job shadowing
Internal secondments.


Customer service is the responsibility of everyone. Every staff member receives training and guidance on customer service delivery. Every team is eager to help our advisors and update customer information data.
This means we can access real-time information and give our customer a responsive service every time. Our ‘one team’ approach and passion for helping our customers shows.

In 2011, we won the Small Contact Centre of the Year award at the European Call Centre and Customer Service awards and a customer service accreditation for our approach to customer service delivery. We’re very proud of both and strive to continually improve our customer satisfaction.

John Barr, Director of Customer Experience, AmicusHorizon (


2. Offer a choice of channels

I would use 3 words to define what “simpler” means to a customer dealing with us:

Easy. Offering a choice of channels so a customer can select the most appropriate for their interaction
Quick. Customers’ lives are so busy that the speed of the interaction is important
Effective. The customer gets exactly what they require during the interaction.

By having a choice of channels (phone, email, SMS, web chat, Facebook, etc.), customers can select the easiest channel for their interaction. For agent interaction to be quick and effective we need to ensure that the agent has all the information and business processes they need to process the contact instantly available on their desktop; they should not need to access multiple applications or pass the call to another department to action the request. A customised agent desktop which blends existing systems into one agent-friendly interface can ensure life is ‘simple’ for customer and organisation.

Amanda Mone, Contact Centre Practice, mplsystems (


3. Simplify the IVR – or get rid of it altogether

What could be simpler than picking up the phone and quickly getting through to a friendly customer service agent? Sadly, it is not always possible to connect customers to agents quickly, and IVR can help route customers and prevent unmanageable queues.
Jonty Pearce

But is your IVR as straightforward as it could be? One of the most frustrating things about IVR is being faced with multiple options, without any single one definitely suiting a customer’s reason for calling. On the other hand, too many sub-menus to navigate can be incredibly annoying and difficult for customers to comprehend.

When designing or reviewing IVR, prioritise customer experience over everything else. Try to keep it to just one set of options if possible, and consider including an option to connect straight to a customer service agent ready to deal with general queries or redirecting lost customers to the correct department.


4. Improve email response time

Email customer service advice is an important part of a multi-channel approach designed to offer customers a wide range of ways to get in touch. But it can easily become a drag on the customer when the conversation takes too long. Effective email customer service requires agents with a different skill set to those who may man the phones.

Clear, concise communication in writing can pinpoint a customer issue and resolve it quickly, and specialist agents are best- placed to provide that. Well-trained email customer service agents will be able to reply faster and more efficiently, improving response times and cutting down the hassle factor for customers.

Jonty Pearce – Editor Call Centre Helper


5. Keep it simple – especially online

Great customer service revolves around one major thing – communication. But the huge growth in modes of communication has complicated this in a big way, and it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what’s really important.

A great customer journey shouldn’t be long, and it certainly shouldn’t be complicated. Think about what your customers want, and cut out any steps that aren’t necessary in helping them to reach you. Online, this means making your social media accessible, without barriers to communication – and when your customers talk, make sure you respond!

It’s essential that online communication is as much like a conversation as possible. And sometimes, that means initiating it – ask questions, gather feedback, and chat with your customers, clients and fans. It should be simple, fun, entertaining and engaging. Once you’ve built up that rapport with your customers, they’ll thank you for it, and it’ll make it much easier for them to communicate with you.

Katie Lowe, Digital Marketing & Media Manager, Cactus Search (


6. Extend opening hours

Great customer service is hugely important – but it’s also useless if your contact centre isn’t open when your customers want to get in touch. A majority of people work during hours that roughly correspond to a ‘standard’ 9-5 day, and many may find it hard to spare the time to make a phone call on a non-work matter during their working hours.

Getting an issue resolved shouldn’t be something that your customers have to schedule in to their day. It shouldn’t be something they have to disrupt their normal life to do. By opening a call centre for hours that include some evening and weekend time, you give customers greater choice and flexibility over when they get in touch. In turn, this reduced effort and makes you a simpler organisation to deal with.


7. Make it easy for customers to find you on social media

Social media is an incredibly simple way for customers to communicate and resolve their issues quickly. So be sure to make it as easy as possible for customers to find social media account details, usernames and web addresses.

Matthew Brown, Call Centre Helper Features Writer

Work, meet life

In a world full of iPads, iPhones and Android devices, it’s no wonder employees want to mix business with pleasure. The question is, does a BYOD policy cause more problems that it seeks to solve? Employees are going to bring their own technology to work regardless of the guidelines of their employer. It’s better to work with your staff to manage the policies and enjoy a happier team, than banning personal devices altogether. CIO NZ online seems to represent similar views. CIO notes that having the ability to wipe data from a stolen personal device makes creating a sound BYOD policy all the more important.

A panel of five IT executives gathered on the main stage of the Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise Conference and Expo, or CITE, in San Francisco this week to discuss ways to empower a fast-emerging class of workers.

Called the bring-your-own-device workforce, these employees want to marry corporate computing with their personal tech gadgets, such as iPhones, iPads and Android devices. They rely on these devices to manage their personal lives and get work done. It’s the latter part that has CIOs scrambling for ways to support them.

“BYOD is a good story: It has excitement, love, drama, and possibly murders in the making,” says Seng Ing, senior network engineer at KLA-Tencor and a CITE speaker. “In reality, BYOD is hard to implement and support.”

The BYOD Challenge

BYOD is a new computing paradigm that seemingly creates more questions than answers. It’s important to note that BYOD is often used synonymously with consumerization of IT and even mobility. But BYOD differs from the others because of its “personal use” nature. That is, employees own the devices and thus feel empowered to download and visit whatever apps and Websites they choose.

Meanwhile, IT leaders must ensure corporate data either at rest or in motion on these devices are secure and can be wiped in case the devices are lost or the employee leaves the company. Also, IT must make sure that corporate data cannot leave its purview to, say, a cloud storage provider.

The five CITE panelists included: Brian Katz, director of mobility and global infrastructure services at Sanofi; Tony Lalli, infrastructure architect at Bank of New York Mellon; Dave Malcom, CISO at Hyatt Hotels; Jason Ruger, CSO at Motorola Mobility; and Philippe Winthrop, managing director at the Enterprise Mobility Foundation.

The panelists joined attendees and broke out into workgroups to grapple with various BYOD concerns. The top concerns were: social networking on devices; requests to support new devices: the “Dropbox” consumer cloud storage problem; enterprise app stores; white-black listing apps; and dealing with lost devices.

Work, Meet Life
Truth is, BYOD blurs the lines between work life and personal life. Context changes throughout the day and sometimes during a single session on Facebook, says CEO Jeff Haynie at Appcelerator. For instance, a salesperson might fire up her Facebook app and update her status when a friend starts a Facebook chat to discuss a business opportunity.

The iPhone 4S — a popular BYOD gadget — has a high-resolution camera, which often leads to direct posting of social pictures on Facebook. Yet a CITE attendee who works at a winery related that the company policy warned that any employee posting pictures on social media of underage drinking would be fired.

The CEO Wants an iPad

Winthrop’s group, the Enterprise Mobility Foundation, also pondered the sticky-yet-common scenario when a CEO comes to the CIO with an order to support his shiny new device.

If the CIO chooses not to support the BYOD device, he risks alienating the CEO. If the CIO chooses to support the device, he risks opening up the floodgates to chaos: VPs, GMs, directors and others will want to use the same device for personal use and work, too.

One response is to isolate the CEO and his device into a “test group” in order to buy time to create a BYOD strategy and policy. Winthrop recommends sitting down with the CEO to go over the impact and corporate risks associated with allowing a new device on the network.

The Dropbox Problem and Private App Stores

BYOD also invites the use of cloud-based storage through apps such as Dropbox. The trick for the CIO is to make sure corporate data doesn’t find their way onto these mostly free consumer services. Some cloud storage service providers offer an enterprise service. The key is to make it easy and seamless for end-users who are familiar with simple-to-use Dropbox.

“You could try to push people to Sharepoint but that’s probably not going to work,” says Hyatt Hotels’ Malcom.

Building a corporate app store for BYOD can also be quite a feat. That’s when you’ll need to tap social networks whereby employees can discuss which apps are good on the job, and which ones should be avoided, says Lalli of Bank of New York Mellon. Blacklisting apps without this discovery period can lead to trouble; employees won’t stop using apps on BYOD devices because of an IT mandate.

An app store can also play in your favor, too. By creating app stores for various devices, employees in a BYOD program can choose the device that has the apps and Web services available to it. “Give users a sliding scale,” says Ruger of Motorola Mobility.

Lost Devices: To Wipe or Not to Wipe

Perhaps the biggest concern with BYOD is lost devices — and lost corporate data. Most companies with a BYOD policy will reserve the right to wipe the lost device. There’s just one problem: An employee has to report the device as lost. This could take weeks before the employee relents, reports the device lost, and loses all the data on it.

One of the recommendations by the panel is to take a tiered approach, as a way to give employees the incentive to report a lost BYOD device. That is, lock it down first before wiping it.

Clearly, BYOD opens up a host of concerns for CIOs. But CIOs should work through these issues sooner rather than later.

“Don’t lie to yourself, people are going to use these devices,” Malcom says.

Why is the value of speech recognition overlooked?

It was shocking to read that only 18% of contact centres surveyed in this study by Call Centre Helper are using speech recognition in combination with an IVR. A lack of accuracy was listed as the main problem. So, is the real value of speech recognition questionable? Not at all. Firstly, contact centres need to work with solid technology, such as Genesys. How speech recognition is used can have a significant impact on its effectiveness. Callers should be given the option to use speech recognition OR DTMF. Callers can also be given the opportunity to speak with an agent at each selection point, if they don’t have the information required in the initial stages of the IVR. The key to successful speech recognition is smart implementation.


Contact centres have given a big thumbs-down to speech recognition, according to an IVR survey carried out by Call Centre Helper.

Only 18% of contact centres (that fronted their calls with an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system) used it in combination with speech recognition.

The IVR survey was carried out on the Call Centre Helper website in February 2012 and had a total of 425 respondees.

This seems to tie in with the latest figures kindly provided by Steve Morrell of ContactBabel from the latest Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide, showing an average of 10% of contact centres using speech recognition.

The big problem seems to be the overall accuracy – particularly with regional accents.

We asked the users how well they thought the speech recognition software performed.

The range of responses varied from “90% accurate but it does struggle with some accents” down to as low as 30%.  The average seemed to be in the 70% area.

Recognition with different regional accents is a real problem cited by many of the people that responded.  The problem appears particularly problematic when used in countries like South Africa, where the different accents complicate the recognition process and people can be less comfortable with using voice-based technology.

Most speech recognition vendors tend to shy away from publishing speech recognition accuracy rates, but in discussion figures between 90% and 98% are routinely bandied around. Occasionally real-life figures are published.  In an article on tmcnet, Jeff Foley, a former senior marketing manager at Nuance, is reported as saying that “the perceived accuracy of those systems—the accuracy that your callers experience—is only 70 percent.”

The challenge is that there is a wide discrepancy between the recognition rate for a single word in a controlled environment and that obtained in normal day-to-day life – particularly when there is background noise.

One contact centre consultant told me that “out-of-the-box accuracy” was typically only around 50%, but that with careful tuning you could get it up to around 90%.

One of the biggest problems with accuracy seems not to be the recognition accuracy, but a word that is not in your list.  These “out of grammar” errors can be in the 15% range.

This accuracy problem has been particularly brought to life by Richard Wilson’s documentary “On Hold”

Perhaps with real-life accuracy of around 70% it’s not surprising that speech recognition has been slow to take off.

So what does the future hold?

It seems likely that the use of smartphone apps will become more widespread for contact centre transactions. Routine transactions could be handled on the smartphone and telephone calls could be routed directly to the best team to handle the enquiry.

Rethinking Cloud SLA's

I’ll begin with a quote from the following article from CloudTech: “You could say that Cloud SLAs should measure just how Cloudy that Cloud is: in other words, how well it lives up to the core value propositions that differentiate the Cloud from traditional hosted computing environments.” Simply a brilliant sentence. How Cloudy is your Cloud provider’s Cloud? Not all Clouds are created equal. So, how do you ensure you’re getting real Cloud value? How many Points of Presence (PoPs) does the provider have? Can the provider scale up (and down) their services upon request? Are you only paying for the components you will use, and not for anything you don’t need?


It’s so easy these days to purchase Cloud-based services. Go online, click a few times, enter your credit card info, and presto! You’re in the Clouds. There’s no question the novelty really hasn’t worn off yet. Have you ever wondered, however, what you’re really paying for? Sure, you have some expectation that the service provider will, well, provide you with some services. But what are they promising to give you, specifically?

Enter the Service Level Agreement (SLA). The SLA is part of the contract between you and your service provider. It spells out the specifics of what they’re providing you as well as penalties the provider must pay in the event that they don’t live up to the SLA.

Or, maybe not.

The reality is, what’s actually in a Cloud SLA, or what should be in such an agreement, is all over the map. Ask the public IaaS providers, and they’ll give you one answer. Ask SaaS or PaaS providers, and they’ll tell you something different. And what about private Clouds? SLAs take on an entirely new meaning there as well. Let’s see if we can make sense of it all.

The Three Contexts for a Cloud SLA

This confusion over what belongs in Cloud SLAs centers on the fact that there are very different contexts for SLAs depending on the heritage of the organization writing them:

The managed hosting provider context: for service providers who had traditionally been in the hosted data center business, SLAs center on availability, measured in the familiar multiple-nines of uptime. Want 99.9% uptime? Pay one price. Want four nines, or five nines? Pay increasingly higher prices. If the provider drops the ball, they pay you a penalty, usually in the form of service credits. In other words, the crappier the service is, the more of it you get.

The software vendor context: when you buy a piece of software, you don’t get an SLA at all. Instead, you get an end-user license agreement (EULA). Instead of spelling out what the vendor will do for you, EULAs tell you what you are allowed to do with the software, and more importantly (to the vendor, anyway), what you’re not allowed to do with it. And then there’s all the boilerplate about no warranties or fitness for a particular purpose. When the vendor moves their software to a Cloud delivery model, thus becoming a SaaS or PaaS vendor, they typically retain the EULA context for their offering. From their perspective, SaaS is more about software than about services.

The enterprise operations context: it is the responsibility of the operations (ops) team to provide and support the IT capabilities the enterprise requires and pays for. If a business unit requires, say, a Web site with a three second or less response time, then infrastructure and solution architects specify the necessary hardware, software, and network capabilities to meet that requirement, the business cuts the check, and the ops team keeps all that gear running as per the requirements. A different business unit may have different non-functional requirements, which might cost more or less, but in any case, would lead to a different SLA. In this case, if the ops team drops the ball and violates an SLA, predetermined mitigation activities that are part of the governance framework kick in, but service credits are unlikely to be on the list.

For consumers of Cloud services, therefore, simply having a conversation about SLAs with your Cloud provider can lead to confusion, especially when there is a collision among these contexts.

When Contexts Collide provides an eye-opening case study that shows how confusing the aftermath can be when these three contexts collide. On the one hand, Salesforce is a SaaS and PaaS provider, built from the ground up to deliver software capabilities via a Cloud provider model. On the other hand, a substantial part of their business is with large enterprises who have come to expect uptime-based SLAs from their service providers.

For many years, Salesforce refused to publish SLAs of any kind, instead favoring EULA-type agreements. That is, until some well-publicized downtime back in the 2006 timeframe. Large customers finally realized that their businesses depended on Salesforce, and sought to strong-arm the vendor into publishing—and sticking to—negotiated SLAs.

The word in the blogosphere was that Salesforce fought the publication of such SLAs tooth and nail, relenting only in the case of their largest customers—and then, required those SLAs to be confidential, presumably so that different customers might get different promises. And what about all those Salesforce customers who didn’t have the clout to wrest an SLA from the vendor? Salesforce rolled out, a PR effort meant to convince their customers that they could be trusted to provide good service. In other words, “trust us, we’re You don’t need an SLA.”

Salesforce’s apparent anti-customer stance might seem quixotic, but makes sense from the perspective of a software vendor. Why offer to provide free service credits or other bonuses when most customers will buy your stuff regardless? But from the customer perspective, people are left scratching their heads, wondering if some other customer has extracted a better SLA. If everybody is sharing the same underlying infrastructure, then why would Salesforce promise different service levels to different customers?

Private Cloud providers must also navigate their own context collisions. On the one hand, these organizations’ Cloud teams are simply a part of the ops team, responsible for keeping the lights on like they always have. But on the other hand, their internal customers are likely to be comparing private and public Cloud options, or at the least, comparing their internal private Cloud with virtual private Cloud offerings from public Cloud providers. Remember, from the Cloud consumer’s perspective, a Cloud is a Cloud. Why would you expect service credits from one provider and internal service level guarantees from another?

On Beyond Uptime

Of the three contexts discussed above, the managed hosting provider’s focus on uptime is perhaps the most familiar context for SLAs. If you’re contracting with a third party for IT capabilities, then making sure those capabilities are up and running is certainly the most important non-functional requirement, correct?

Not so fast. Clouds are fundamentally different from managed hosting providers in one significant respect: elasticity is even more important than reliability. Remember, when working with the Cloud you must plan for and expect failure; it is the Cloud’s ability to automatically recover from such failures that compensates for the Cloud’s underlying shortcomings. How fast your Cloud can scale up, its ability to do so regardless of the demand, its ability to deprovision instances even more rapidly, and in particular its ability to recover automatically from failure, are the characteristics you’re really paying for.

The surprising conclusion to this focus on elasticity over reliability is that none of the three SLA contexts above are actually well-suited for the Cloud. Instead, you want your SLA to focus more on how well the Cloud deals with unexpected events, including failures, spikes in demand, and other situations that fall outside the norm. After all, these are the characteristics of the Cloud that make it a Cloud. You could say that Cloud SLAs should measure just how Cloudy that Cloud is: in other words, how well it lives up to the core value propositions that differentiate the Cloud from traditional hosted computing environments.

The ZapThink Take

However you look at Cloud SLAs—measuring reliability, Cloudiness, or something else—never forget where the rubber hits the road: the business value the Cloud provides. Why not base Cloud SLAs on how well the Cloud meets business needs? Such a mission-focused SLA would have to focus on specific, measurable goals for the Cloud. For example, if you move your payroll app into the Cloud, your key metric might be whether you made your payroll on time.

Such mission-focused SLAs might be workable when dealing with a SaaS provider, but promise to be quite problematic with PaaS or IaaS offerings, since the mission success with those service models depends upon the software running on the respective platform or infrastructure. In these situations, if something goes wrong, is it the Cloud that’s violating its SLA, or is it something wrong with the software you put in the Cloud?

For system integrators and software developers who are building bespoke Cloud-based apps for their customers, this question is paramount. After all, the customer simply wants their requirements to be met. If something goes wrong, and the consultant points their finger at the Cloud provider and vice versa, the customer will only become more upset. The problem is, poorly architected apps aren’t able to take advantage of the elasticity benefit of the Cloud, through no fault of the PaaS or IaaS provider.

There is an important warning here. It seems that every enterprise and government agency is looking to move many of their apps to the Cloud, and they’re hiring consultants to do the heavy lifting. However, both customer and consultant are still thinking of the Cloud as a glorified managed hosting provider, responsible for maintaining uptime-based SLAs. The reality is quite different. As Cloud-based deployments mature, the line between development and operations blurs, as Cloud behavior merges with application behavior. It will take several years before anybody will have a clue how to write—let alone comply with—an SLA that addresses this new reality.

PABX in the Cloud?

One of the biggest challenges for smaller organisations when sourcing your contact centre technology from the cloud is ‘How do we provide basic telephony services (PBX) for the rest of our enterprise?’.

For larger organisations that already have enterprise phone system provided by legacy PABX systems, cloud contact centre technology is often delivered as a ‘layer’ on top of the PBX functionality. Essential voice connectivity is provided by the extensions from the PBX, and routing and higher levels functions are provided from the cloud.

Even larger organisations, faced with retiring their legacy PABX equipment due to increasingly complex and rising PABX maintenance costs, are looking at alternatives to forklifting their old PABX for a new PABX.

There are several alternatives: source the entire PBX solution from the same cloud contact centre provider, source the PBX from an alternative cloud telephony provider, or procure the PBX functionality from a telco independently from the cloud contact centre provider.

First problem is, most cloud contact centre providers do not have enterprise-level telephony solutions that are capable of replacing the traditional PABX functionality, so you need to be sure to ask the question.

Secondly, the interconnectivity between the telephony layer and the contact centre layer is so critical that sourcing this interface from two separate cloud contact centre providers is ill-advised.

Even if you procure the telephony PABX functionality from your telco, typically this is priced in such a way that it only becomes viable due to the reduced ‘internal’ call rates. Depending on how the telco-PABX connects the voice calls with the cloud contact centre solution, these calls may incur additional carriage costs that can eliminate the whole business case.

Furthermore, options are usually severely limited when it comes to using CTI (computer telephony integration) to make your telco-provided PBX and the cloud contact centre solutions work to your maximum advantage. For example, capturing and using caller-ID or facilitating screen-pops can be increasingly difficult without such connectivity.

Finally, a key benefit of cloud contact centre and cloud enterprise phone systems is the reduced reliance on in-house and multi-vendor PABX maintenance and PABX support services and associated costs. If you source your cloud contact centre and cloud enterprise telephony solutions from multiple providers you need to ensure the definitions of functionality and boundaries of responsibility are very clearly defined between providers.

Fortunately, more and more, cloud contact centre providers are providing better enterprise level PABX solutions in the cloud also. This significantly simplifies integration, reduces overall costs, and should provide superior solution by delivering greater functionality to your enterprise users, often similar to the functions available to the contact centre agents.

So if you are considering cloud contact centre solutions, consider also replacing your PBX by selecting a cloud contact centre provider who understands and can deliver cloud PBX at the same time.

Guy Elliott
Head of Product Management @ GSN

Guy Elliott has over twenty years of experience in the contact centre industry. During his tenuous career, Guy has designed, planned, constructed and implemented call centre solutions in over fifteen countries. Over the last ten years Guy has lead creation of cloud contact centre solutions, working with many different platforms, including Genesys technology.