Artificial Intelligence In The Contact Center Paul Stockford, Research Director, NACC and Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research, [email protected]
In November of 2015, Kodak Alaris announced the creation and launch of AI Foundry, a business dedicated to using proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) technology to solve the business challenge of processing unstructured data in the enterprise. AI Foundry’s flagship offering, the Info Insight Suite, uses natural language processing to read and understand unstructured data such as e-mail, web chats, text messages, e-mail attachments, and social media content. Beyond traditional rules-based text analytics solutions, Info Insight relies on linguistics to interpret unstructured data and route the communication to the best qualified person to respond given each person’s skill level, availability, time zone and other qualifications.
Artificial intelligence enables AI Foundry’s Info Insight to continually learn and, in essence, get smarter over time. The algorithms driving Info Insight enable such capabilities as the smart routing described above, as well as, enabling decision-making and providing customer support without manual human intervention. The net result is increased agent productivity, reduced handling times, cost control and the increased probability of achieving first contact resolution.
As text-based customer communications continue to close in on voice customer communications in terms of volume of contacts, the demand for analytics solutions for both structured and unstructured data will accelerate. AI Foundry’s Info Insight and its use of AI offers an intriguing alternative to rules-based text analytics in the contact center.
We have authored a deeper analysis of AI Foundry and the Info Insight solution in a research note format. The analysis is available to members for download at www.nationalcallcenters.org.
Calibrio Webinar Features NACC Member, Jim Lavery Paul Stockford, Research Director, NACC and Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research, [email protected]
If you saw our November 2015 newsletter you’ll recall our telling you about a webinar that I was going to do with NACC member Jim Lavery of Desert Schools Credit Union. The webinar was sponsored by Calabrio (www.calabrio.com) and recorded on November 19th. As a reminder, here’s the description of the webinar:
Leveraging the Contact Center to Help Customers Embrace Change How new contact center technologies can help you reduce confusion and create positive customer experiences Whether your company is changing prices, processes, inventory, or redesigning a store or website, change can be confusing and scary for even the most loyal customers. Every day, your contact center has hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with your customers. Making sense of these conversations can help your organization better understand what your customers are saying about the changes your organization is making. In this webinar, learn how new contact center technologies like analytics can support customer-facing changes to your business by allowing you to pinpoint your customers’ reaction to those changes. Hear from Jim Lavery, vice president of contact center operations at Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, on the challenges he has experienced with changes in the call center environment in the ever evolving banking landscape. Jim will also discuss what he has done to ensure that his organization and contact center were ready for the recent transition to EMV payment cards. Join Calabrio, Saddletree Research, and Desert Schools Federal Credit Union in this free web event to learn: • How to create your own customer experience project to gauge your customers’ reaction to new policies, products or processes • How to leverage your newly acquired insights to drive action across the enterprise to educate customers, adjust plans, and make the transition as easy as possible for your customers • How the right analytics solution can liberate voice-of-the-customer insights from your contact center interactions
Customer Contact Strategies has worked with 200+ companies who have scaled work at home models in 2014-2015. We've been collecting and sharing benchmarking data, thought leadership and best practices, with an emphasis on contact centers and support functions. We help people make meaningful connections with stakeholders within and beyond their industry types.
Three trends in 2014-2015 that have gained material traction in remote work:
1. More companies are hiring directly to home-based positions (vs. moving experienced in-house people home exclusively). Working from home for contact centers has evolved into a mature business model, with tangible, appealing returns and very low failure risk.
The core driver for hiring direct to home is simply the cost of real estate. As organizations find that they are running out of space, and need to consider expansion strategies, work at home is included as a channel strategy consideration.
The heavy lifting in developing a sound strategy that aligns with company culture and business objectives is choosing the right technologies to easily and securely connect people, re-shaping business process to reflect a work-anywhere perspective, and sinking some real time and thought into preparing staff at all levels of the organization.
2. More companies are moving away from physical classrooms and into virtual ones for both on site and remote training. In order to hire people direct to home, and potentially do that without geographical restrictions, virtual training is a must. And it's one of the most labor-intensive components of effective remote working.
The first requirement is a content review, and often times a complete rewrite or major refresh. In many cases, companies have added on to new hire training, and made some modifications where necessary. But when transitioning to a completely different way of design and delivery, an entire content review or redesign is warranted, to ensure that the content reflects objectives, timing, outputs, and resources. Second, design software may need to be procured for both live and self-directed training. A live meeting platform including video becomes the platform for education and exchange. And as a third point, virtual classrooms require two resources for facilitation - always. One person delivers training, and one "produces", ensuring that employees are engaged, contributing, and understanding against the company's intentions.
3. More companies are investing in "one click" technology to easily connect people. If your organization has taken the decision to include remote working as a strategy, you are wise to make it supremely easy for employees to see their colleagues across the enterprise and to share knowledge/socialize with them with just one or two clicks. If it's anything less than easy, the risk rises for declining outputs. Next, don't underestimate the value of face-to-face interactions. Video is high impact and should be included in most - if not all - meeting formats. On line recognition/reward or gamification helps companies motivate and applaud high value behavior. It also reduces time and effort required call out the best, and run meaningful contests and promotions.
The Annual 2016 Remote Working Summit is February 17-18 at the Dallas Westin Galleria. There are 20+ speakers on remote work and 200+ attendees sharing best practices and benchmarking data.
Change Starts With Visibility, And Visibility Starts With The Contact Center Tom Goodmanson, President and CEO, Calabrio, [email protected]
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? That’s how many business leaders view change, and despite implementing digital transformation efforts, organizations are still failing to give customers what they want. Even with an influx of new technology and data, many executives and other key decision makers don’t have the full picture, which can stifle customer experience efforts. According to a new report, 68 percent of executives admit to avoiding making major changes unless there’s a problem.
And more concerning, oftentimes C-suite leaders aren’t using all of the data available to them to make decisions, so they don’t know what’s really going on in the business. Though digital transformation remains a top priority for many organizations, netting a return on customer experience investment requires a deeper understanding of customer needs. That can only be achieved with better data, and better data comes from the contact center. With insights from the contact center, business leaders can finally gain the visibility they need to drive real business results and make the right changes to give customers what they really want.
Is digital transformation truly successful?
Digital transformation is happening, and it’s expensive. Sixty percent of survey respondents say they have made significant sales or marketing changes in the past 12-18 months, and IDC estimates that by 2019, businesses will spend upwards of $2 trillion on digital transformation efforts.
But, more often than not, those changes stem from revenue fluctuations rather than direct customer feedback and insight. It’s no wonder that 59 percent of business leaders admit that they’ve led unsuccessful change initiatives that don’t deliver what customers want. This lack of customer satisfaction leaves executives stuck in an Instant Pot—they must rethink their approach to move beyond simply fixing problems and instead capitalize on opportunities.
What about all that data?
So how do companies make customer-focused efforts successful? The answer is by looking at the complete picture. The majority of executives (85 percent) know that data and analytics are important, but many remain firmly within their comfort zones. In fact, 39 percent of respondents admit that they rely too heavily on one data point, and revenue and social media feedback are their benchmarks of choice. On their own, those numbers give a skewed sense of customer sentiment and don’t tell the daily story of customer concerns, wants and needs.
When contact center data is integrated with those other sources, organizations can finally gain a comprehensive understanding of customer behavior. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of executives are looking to contact center data to drive customer experience strategies. With customer data streaming in across all channels—social, email, webchat, phone and more—the contact center is a rich source of insights coming directly from the people companies are trying to serve.
Driving change from the contact center
To drive proactive business change, contact center analytics must become a primary source of customer information, and that means taking the complexity out of data. Many executives are aware that looking at one data point is not enough, but that doesn’t mean they’ll change their approach. There are a number of barriers that prevent that change, including the perception that the data is too complex (24 percent), there are too many sources (20 percent) or that it’s simply not valuable (19 percent).
When contact centers are backed by robust technology and priorities are aligned with overarching business goals, managers can design initiatives and implement the right analytics tools to deliver the insights that business leaders need. Then, with the right omnichannel strategies, contact centers can collect, analyze and understand why customers are saying what they do and get to the underlying sentiment. Only then will organizations have a complete view of the customer that will allow executives to make informed decisions before things become broken.
It’s certainly true that change is hard, but without it, companies are missing out on valuable opportunities to build customer loyalty. With digital transformation continuing to drive significant evolution across organizations of all sizes, it’s important to cut through the noise to harness the right data and insights to give customers what they want. By listening to the voice of the customer and understanding the sentiment behind customer words and actions, business leaders can proactively make the right changes to build brand loyalty and, ultimately, benefit the bottom line.
Tom Goodmanson, President and CEO of Calabrio, has more than 20 years of experience leading fast growing dynamic software and technology companies. Since assuming the CEO position in 2009, Tom is credited with reinventing the company and its culture around a strategy to expand value and reach through new, innovative products, and remarkable customer experiences. Addressing the market need for simpler solutions to complex customer interaction challenges, Tom’s vision to redefine the standard for software ease-of-use has been instrumental in making Calabrio one of the fastest growing companies in the industry.
Prior to his role at Calabrio, Tom was a senior leader in several successful technology-based companies, including Gelco Information Network and Magenic Technologies. Tom currently holds a board seat at Virteva.
Tom has a B.S. degree in Accounting from St. Cloud State University.
The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Call Center Management Nathan Teahon, Vice President, Quality Contact Solutions, [email protected]
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is nothing short of iconic and is a staple on bookshelves of leaders everywhere. There are lessons to be learned by anyone that chooses to pick up the book. I was recently thinking about this book and wondered how I would change the lessons if I was making the list specifically geared towards managers that work in call center services.
Author note: An infographic for this topic is available here.
1. Be Proactive – Complacency is the Enemy in Call Center Services
Okay, so I am cheating on the first one. Being proactive was the first habit in Covey’s book. This is just too important and too foundational to change. However, we can work to define it, and I did add the second part. What does being proactive in call center services mean? This industry is changing by the moment. Analyze threats and try to cut them off at the pass.
I have seen and worked with a lot of call centers in my career. I have seen a lot of call centers thrive, and I have seen a lot of call centers go out of business. The difference in the ones that thrive and those that fail usually comes down to their ability to foresee issues and adapt accordingly. It is easy to live in a reactive state in the call center services industry if that is where you choose to live. This can apply to regulations and compliance, competition, workforce challenges, and the list goes on.
The examples that I just mentioned were at the industry and business level. However, where I see complacency start to grow roots most frequently is at the program level. It usually occurs in long running campaigns that have roughly similar performance month in and month out. If you aren’t proactive, you can look up one day and realize that performance is 20% lower than it was a couple of years back and you are reacting to an issue that has been slowly chipping away at your results over a long period of time.
One way that my team promotes proactiveness and new ideas is something that we call our HUG program. HUG stands for “Help Us Grow” and we encourage every person that touches each campaign, from our Operations Managers to our IT staff and most importantly the agents on the front lines to come up with HUGs every month. Essentially this inspires the brainstorming of ideas to ensure that we have a steady flow of new ideas that can help our programs continue to thrive and increase performance. Each month every HUG idea is included on a ballot and we give an award for the HUG of the month. It’s a fun way to encourage everyone to be proactive and fight back against the enemy of complacency.
2. Set Good Goals for Teleservices Success
The call center services industry is unique and like no other. Every campaign and every program are able to be measured by very specific KPI’s. It boggles my mind when I see a call center floor without any marker boards with results, or TV’s on the wall showing everyone on the team how they are doing. It happens, and more than you would think. Typically, in those centers, if you sit down with an agent you will find out they aren’t showing people how they are doing because there are no goals. None that are stated.
I am very passionate about goals. Not to have them is completely asinine. Competition breeds excellence. Competition against personal bests, against the person sitting next to you, against that other call center that you are competing against. People more engaged when they have a goal to strive for. And, hitting goals are fun. Every day is an opportunity in a call center to have a fun game built around hitting different goals. Every person within an organization should have personal goals. Every team should have team goals. Every person should have daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, etc. Every team should be the same way. And hitting goals should be celebrated, because hitting a goal deserves to be celebrated.
The only caution flag here is that a goal and a good goal are two different things. A perfect goal is one that is attainable but it’s not a given. If you give a little extra, perform a little better, you can hit that goal. If hitting a goal is a cakewalk, it’s not motivating. The other side of the coin, which is too common, is having goals that are unrealistic. Goals are motivating. Unrealistic goals are demotivating. A good way to balance these two issues is to set a goal and a super goal. The super goal still needs to be attainable but should be even more of a stretch than the base goal.
3. Have a Routine and Be Consistent for Maximum Teleservices Success
This is important in almost any industry, but I feel even more so in the call center services industry due to the day to day volatility that has already been covered. Every team needs to be comprised of members that everyone can count on. Being a manager that everyone can count on is invaluable. Being someone that is always there and is present.
It’s not enough to be a superstar half of the time if you can’t be counted on the other half of the time. Consistency is important and the best way to achieve that is to have a routine. Everyone on our Leadership Team has a word for the upcoming year. One person chose the word “routine”. Routine’s equal process, and processes create efficiency. It’s easy to let a lot of noise disrupt the routine but keeping your eye on the ball and avoiding distractions almost always creates mounds of positivity.
This really isn’t some abstract concept that needs to be unpacked bit by bit. Have a routine. Be consistent. Be present and in the moment. Be someone that can be counted on.
4. Attack Each Day with a Sense of Intelligent Urgency
This is a motto of my team. We operate in a very fast-paced environment. I have seen a lot of very smart people not make it in this industry because of the breakneck pace in which things move. I used to have a coach that would always be yelling at the team to have a sense of urgency. It always stuck with me and I adopted it as my own.
The thing with urgency sometimes though is that you can have too much of it. It can be a bad thing if unchecked. A common example is starting a new campaign and if not immediately getting the desired results, changing everything. The script, the offers, the agents, and so on. Urgency unchecked can create chaos and do more harm than good. You must allow something to succeed or fail, so patience is important too. Then change one thing at a time and measure it. This is also common when a manager is dealing with certain clients. When a client is requesting something or wanting a change, it is easy to act so urgently that we don’t take the time to use our expertise to analyze whether the request is something that is really going to serve the client in the way that they want.
Utilizing Intelligent Urgency is much like walking a tightrope. On the one hand blind urgency is essentially jumping without looking. You can’t make decisions that way. On the other hand, you can have paralysis by analysis which can stagnate action and create complacency. That is dangerous as well. It’s not always an easy tightrope to walk but knowing that the rope is there is a good start.
5. Inspect What You Expect from Your Call Center Team
This should be a credo for any manager and definitely call center managers. If you have hired the right people, then trust and delegation should not be an issue. However, even if that is the case, you can’t live by a set it and forget it mentality. Can you imagine training a call center campaign and never listening to any calls? That would be crazy right? That is certainly a prevalent example that I use for a reason, but it applies in many other aspects as well.
There are a lot of moving parts in an outsourced call center. Control Freak managers tend to not last very long because they can’t juggle all the balls they have in the air and they burn out. To be an effective manager in this industry you must first hire the right people that you can trust and that you can count on. You must train them effectively, point them in the right direction and trust them to do their job. That’s an overly simplistic, down and dirty version but that’s the philosophy. But that only works with maintenance, tweaking, and coaching over time. Whether it be a team of other managers, a team of call center agents, a team of IT Managers, it doesn’t matter. Hire the right people, train them right, point them in the right direction, and trust them. Then, don’t forget the last part. Have a process to inspect what you expect.
6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
There is such a thing as overcommunication. However, I would rather have someone that overcommunicates and I coach them on how to scale that back to be more effective than the other way around. Primarily because getting someone to communicate more when they just don’t do it is just plain hard. Now, this is another example of a habit that is important in any industry, but this industry revolves around communication! It’s downright embarrassing if we don’t get this one right.
I have seen a lot of great managers in this industry over the years. I have also seen a lot that didn’t end up working out. For those, I can confidently say that 75% of them didn’t work out because they didn’t communicate enough. Some people prefer to live on an island. Well, that’s a lonely place and it doesn’t work, not in this industry. I have already mentioned the breakneck pace and the multitude of moving parts. How is a team to navigate that minefield without strong communication?
That’s the gist of this habit, but I have to share a pet peeve of mine. You ever witness an email chain going back and forth, about 10 emails longer than it should? No one understand what the other is talking about and it’s basically a dumpster fire? Why doesn’t anyone just pick up the phone? That would be my advice. The phone is, primarily, the major tool that is used to accomplish what we do in this industry. Its purpose is communication, let’s use it! I’m not disparaging other forms of communication, I use phone, email, text, Skype, and more in any given hour. But sometimes there just isn’t a good substitute for a voice to voice conversation.
7. Invest in Yourself and Have Balance
There are two parts to this, but they go hand in hand. We all get better as we grow. Sometimes this is in additional training or education. Motivational seminars or conferences. Skill building and hobbies outside of work. And read, read, read. Anything you can do to invest in yourself to continue your own personal growth is more important than I can convey.
Along with that comes balance. On more than one occasion in this article I have mentioned the pace and moving parts associated with this industry. It is stressful and requires commitment. To be at your best you need to have balance. Without it, burnout will eventually set in, and that doesn’t do anyone any good. Try to spend a few days on a beach every now and again and make enough room for family and friends.
The 8th Habit!
Most people that are familiar with Covey are probably familiar that he wrote a follow up book to The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People. That book was The Eighth Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. I figured that gave me the leeway to include one final habit of my own. It won’t require a lot of description or explanation, I think it speaks for itself. What I will say is that it is unmistakably the habit that all successful managers have, and it’s just about impossible to succeed without it. Here it is:
BUST YOUR A## EVERY SINGLE DAY
Nathan Teahon is the Vice President at Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced call center services organization. As a highly competitive person, Nathan brings his ‘A’ game to work every day, ensuring that each of his clients wins on a daily basis. Nathan carefully balances the operations resources and client goals to ensure his clients receive the highest possible results at the lowest cost. Nathan is a true, born and bred telemarketer. He grew up in the business and intimately knows (and has played) every position on the field, including supervisor, quality assurance, call center manager, program management, account management, and call center psychologist. Nathan can be reached at [email protected] or 516-656-5133.