"The Quick And The Dead"
During the mid-to-late 1990s, one technology executive used a title from an old Western movie to describe two types of technology companies. Challenged with rapid scientific advances, and pressured with aggressive competition, you either had to be 'quick,' or you would end up 'dead.' Similar to the gun fighters in the Old West, these firms had to quickly release state-of-the-art products or become obsolete. This theory proved itself true, as many slower companies disappeared from the competitive landscape while the quick ones grew and prospered. Similarly, organizations with contact centers must be 'responsive' or they will suffer the same fate as those now-defunct technology companies. With the proliferation of e-business, prospects have many options. Today's savvy consumers expect and demand superior customer service, and they have little tolerance for anything less.
Customer-centric interaction (CCI), defined as seeing your business through the eyes of the customer, is now more critical than ever before. What are your customers thinking? How do they feel your company is treating them? How long were they put on hold? Were their concerns adequately handled? Did they receive what they ordered? Are they happy, and will they continue to do business with you? These are simply a few key questions for companies and, more specifically, contact center managers.
In the competitive business climate we currently face, organizations must focus on gaining the customer's trust through personal service. If they do so, sales and customer satisfaction will increase. If they don't, service levels will be reduced and margins will decline. Unfortunately, too many contact center managers do not know the answers to the very simple questions raised above. You can't manage what you don't measure, and you can't measure what you don't record and monitor.
A Simple Plan
How can you understand and improve the customer experience? First, you must analyze a typical interaction to understand the needs, wants and buying motives of the customer. When you record this interaction, you can determine the requirements and then begin building the perfect solution by creating a value proposition sprinkled into the brand experience. Second, you must recreate the customer interface. What is the key message to be communicated, and how can the interface assist customers with their decisions? Don't forget intangibles such as behavior and attitude. Finally, you must strive for continuous improvement and innovation. Whatever can be done to create a customer-centric interaction should be considered.
Previous Training Methods
The concept of recording interactions has been around for years; unfortunately, a large majority of contact centers have not invested in this valuable technology. Live 'side-by-side' coaching was originally used for evaluating and training agents. However, the agents were always on their best behavior and were somewhat intimidated with the supervisor watching over their shoulder while they attempted to satisfy the customer. This method was soon replaced by 'silent monitoring' or 'service observe' in order to catch the agent doing something wrong by secretly listening to the live conversation and then breaking in on the call. As a less obtrusive approach, it yielded some beneficial results. Both methods, however, are random, generally unproductive and inflexible for overall evaluation, specifically because you could not keep a copy of the call for training purposes, and it was rare to hear the customer complain.
How can you improve the quality of the interaction and increase customer loyalty with recording technology? First, you should choose a recording solution from one of the leading vendors to ensure you get the best equipment, long-term technical support and the latest upgrades in this continually changing field. The newest systems to hit the market are based on the Linux operating system because Linux leverages open-source technology to provide a powerful solution in a secure and reliable environment. In most hectic contact centers, when finding and replaying a customer complaint is critical, these solutions provide instant retrieval and playback capability. They usually do not require proprietary hardware platforms and integrate easily into your network infrastructure. The media layer of the software architecture records traditional digital telephones on either the trunk or extension side of the switch, and it offers voice over IP (VoIP) solutions to provide an additional level of flexibility.
This software-based solution runs on customer-supported servers, reducing the total cost of ownership while still providing the necessary fault tolerance.
Recording systems may be used for selective or total recording of customer interactions. As the name implies, selective recording allows management to record a percentage of the calls and is used when you are recording strictly for quality assurance. Rules-based recording allows you to record calls based on certain predetermined criteria, such as the date, number dialed, customer account number, call duration, etc. A script or rule may be designed by the management, for example, to record 10 calls per month per agent; or record every other call from this particular customer telephone number. Or the system may simply be programmed to record a random sample of calls. Either of these methods will provide enough criteria to score and evaluate the agents.
On the other hand, if you are concerned about the total customer experience, or if you are recording for compliance reasons or for protection from liability, then total or bulk recording should be chosen. Total recording is essential to understand the complete picture and to recreate customer complaints for dispute resolution or to monitor for threat calls.
Combined selective/bulk solutions provide the agent with a record-on-demand feature to initiate recording, or allow you to save or delete a recorded call. For some secure applications dealing with sensitive information, parts of a recorded call may even be muted.
In addition, intelligent recording allows a third-party application to control the recording. In this scenario, entering data into a field within a CRM application can trigger recording to start and/or stop. Management may use this system to initiate recording whenever a particular error message pops up or when the agent chooses a specific option from a list or drop-down menu. Additionally, customer-specific data may be tagged to the call record database, providing additional search criteria.
Applications being run on these platforms are now more flexible than ever before. They may be run on a single-server platform for one location, or run locally with a central server for contact centers with multiple branches. The call data may be stored on a separate server configured to store calls for a predetermined period of time, or the data may be archived to another location for disaster-recovery purposes. Smaller departments may purchase a stand-alone, 'all-in-one' solution wherein the entire system is self-contained in one chassis, including the database, a hard drive for local storage, and archive drives for long-term purposes. These systems utilize existing storage components such as the customer file server to store recordings online. The calls database may then be managed with a flexible archive manager application to decide where calls are stored and for how long.
For larger departments, especially those with multiple locations, the enterprise configuration would be more appropriate. Here calls may be recorded, stored on the hard drive for an interim period, and then transferred to a customer-provided, off-the-shelf, storage device ' where the calls may be stored for as long as you like before being archived. As focus on compliance rapidly increases, additional online storage is of paramount importance. Also, many companies are moving the data to secure, central IT departments for an additional level of redundancy and centralized management of the system.
Many recording systems scale from eight to hundreds of channels per unit with the ability to network thousands. Today's solutions come standard with larger hard drives, providing more online storage for eliminating the need to playback calls from the archive media; in fact, the fastest growing trend for new solutions is the offer of online access to all calls without ever having to interact with discrete archive media. They provide the quickest access to all calls and allow disputes to be resolved quickly.
Connectivity to other business systems is also critical; and, therefore, the solution's interaction layer should interface with data from other contact center applications. Customer-specific data, such as phone or order number, may be attached to the recorded call for additional search criteria by using open integration tools to tag data from an agent desktop and include it in the call record database. In fact, the customer application may be used to control the recorder.
What is recorded is just as important as when the recording takes place. Recording only the audio portion of the call limitedly provides the supervisor with half of the picture. Was the agent slow to respond to the customer request because of inexperience with the customer database application, or was the product delivered to the wrong address due to a simple keypunch error? The best solution for providing management with the total experience is to record the screen data from the agent desktop in addition to the conversation. The media layer provides the flexibility to record different forms of communication and agent actions.
The client applications are becoming as powerful as the system architecture itself. Accessing calls remotely via a Web browser allows users access to the system data and calls from any secure PC in the world by inputting a valid user I.D. and password. Search-and-replay via a browser interface provides widespread access, also allowing system deployment with limited resources and reduced support. The graphic user interfaces (GUIs), user friendly for minimal training, allow even the occasional computer user access the system.
Many contact centers running multiple shifts need to support free-seating environments. CTI integration or a flexible call-tagging application leverages existing login I.D.s such as those used for a standard MS Windows network.
Additional agent interaction tools enhance productivity by providing immediate feedback. Live monitoring of an agent and real-time listening to the customer interaction, while the call is recorded for backup, can assist in providing the type of information required to better manage your employees and reduce customer defection.
Specialized criteria for testing, as well as customized reports, are available; and analyses and performance trends may be charted. The results measure call center efficiency, productivity and the efficacy of training programs. This valuable feedback may be used to plan future campaigns with a customer-centric approach.
Obtaining timely and cost-effective customer feedback on the interaction ensures customer loyalty and retention. Some quality-monitoring vendors offer customer feedback or survey modules to analyze a customer's stated opinions and compare them to the recorded call. Giving the customer the opportunity to express any grievances makes a difference. Fifty percent of customers not communicating bad experiences defect, while 87 percent of those doing so stay!
As with any system, the customer feedback module must be designed properly to yield the proper answers. Therefore, a lot of thought must go into developing a set of questions based on your marketing plan, and then they should be modified depending on the customer's perception and responses.
Using the latest recording technology provides a key advantage over rival firms. Not only does it yield better customer relationships, more efficient staff and increased profits, it also ensures your company will remain quick and not dead. CIS
Tony Procops, senior vice president and general manager of ASC (www.asctelecom.com), established ASC's North American subsidiary in 1998 and oversees all of its operations. Prior positions include VP of Healthcare and regional VP of Voice Recording at Dictaphone Corporation. ASC is a provider of integrated communications recording and quality-monitoring solutions for contact centers, financial institutions and public safety and government organizations.
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