Archive for the ‘Welcome’ Category

How influential are your customers?

In customer relationship management and in contact centers in general, it’s not unusual to cluster your customers into groups such as platinum, gold or bronze. Depending on their status, they get connected to agents faster or get agents with better skills. The criteria for the selection might be customer loyalty, reliability when it comes to making payments or simply the type of service/product they have. Another very important aspect is a customer’s social media influence.

With social media, there is a lot of communication about your company and services which happens out of your immediate reach. With customers interacting with one another over channels like Twitter, Facebook or blogs, it becomes very difficult to survey all the channels manually. Specialized social media search engines can help your contact center to filter out certain keywords related to you and your products. But how do you know how influential a customer is on the social web? Does a customer who openly complains about your company and your services really influence others? This person may not only be an avid user of Facebook and Twitter but may also be a blogger with a large readership. To cut a long story short, you have to quantify a customer’s influence and rank them on a scale such as 1-10. The more likely it is that a customer has influence on others and may be an opinion leader, the more priority you should give to their posts.

This person’s social media rank should be visible in the social media module of the Agent Workplace and should also interface with the CRM. Online activity is important customer information and should therefore be part of the customer data.

When you react to a complaint from a customer who is active on the social web, it is better to use the same channels the person uses themselves. If someone complains on their Facebook wall, reply directly and offer a solution. That way you meet the customer at eye level and you show that you’re taking their concern seriously. You also show their peers that you interact with customers over these channels and deal with their concerns professionally.

To rank the social influence someone has, you can use a service like Klout which has an open API. There are also other proprietary solutions and the integrated social media dashboard in our Agent and Manager Workplace will also enable you to see how influential your customers are on the social web. Do you want to know more? Please get in touch.

The Contact Center Hashtag

Social media is rapidly becoming part of the contact center world. Almost all software manufacturers offer some form of social media for contact centers or at least have it on their roadmaps. The idea of direct customer interaction makes things happen faster and adds a dynamic element to communication. Agents are expected to reply instantly to a customer enquiry or a complaint. But how does a Tweet or a Facebook message reach the right agent in a contact center? Is there something like Automatic Tweet Distribution or Wall Post Forwarding?

Maybe all your agents have access to your company’s Twitter timeline or Facebook wall but how can you make sure the right agent feels responsible for the incoming enquiry if you don’t have skill groups? How about things that happen off your Twitter timeline and outside of your Facebook wall?

Typically, users of social media highlight certain topics with hashtags like #contactcenter. You click on the tagged word and a list appears with posts and Tweets that use the same hashtag. Now here’s the idea: in order to make sure the right agent or skill group sees the post with the keyword, you assign a cluster of words to each skill group. They see it either in search results that get updated constantly or in a separate window in the agent workplace. You make sure that agents only see the information they need for their work and don’t have to filter to see what’s potentially relevant to them.

Now you may ask: who needs this? This could be a useful tool for large enterprises with big contact centers. These companies typically have multiple Facebook or Twitter accounts and a handful of agents can’t easily monitor them all. So to make sure direct enquiries are answered and all indirect complaints and comments about your company are being read, you need to assign relevant topics to your skill groups by clustering tagged keywords. This enables you to follow the discourse on your products and services, to participate in it and react quickly.

What is an Icon?

We’ve been talking about icons a lot recently in this blog, so I thought it might be time to explain what an icon is and what you can do with it.

We’ve all experienced IVR in one way or another: mostly when you’re calling a company for support and are asked something like: “for support press 1”, “for sales press 2”, etc., there is logic in the background in the form of a routing plan or call flow.

For example, such a routing plan could look something like this:

  • You call a number and hear a “welcome” announcement (Prompt – icon).
  • The system checks what time you are calling (Time icon)
  • For callers within opening hours, we play a menu (Menu icon)
  • For callers outside opening hours, we play a message and disconnect (Prompt icon)
  • Callers who select sales will be sent to the skill-group “Sales”  (Destination)

Our icons are end-user building blocks and represent a pre-built feature set based on the mode that is chosen for that particular icon.  Icons are graphic elements that you can use to build routing plans or call flows. We have packaged the most frequently used functions in IVR service creation and created numerous icons for our Visual Call Flow Builder (VCB). As a result, we now have over 30 pre-defined icons such as “Menu”, “DTMF”, “Http”, “Prompt”, “Destination”, “SOAP”, “String” etc.

In everything we do, we aim to make communication simpler, so rather than programming call flows, we offer a fully web-based graphical user interface in which icons are configured and connected: if you understand the logic of the call flow, you can create it. To check the parameters of an icon, you just need to double-click on it and can then make adjustments to suit your requirements.

Here are some screen shots of our VCB and the available icons.

This is an example of the logic for a credit card payment.

Call Flow - Credit Card Payment

Pre-defined Icons

Pre-defined Icons

If you want to know more about our icons and how to build call flows quickly and easily, then please get in touch.

Seven Ways to Improve Your Automatic Call Distribution

Just recently, I called my carrier because I needed some information. I found myself dialing through an IVR. Thanks to clearly structured menus and DTMF it worked really well (no surprise, this carrier uses our solution) but then I needed additional help from an agent.

It took more than five minutes until I spoke to a real person. This agent was very competent and could answer the various questions I had, nevertheless, I found the waiting time too long. Over five minutes elapsed until my call was transferred and I called during off-peak hours. Apparently, my carrier doesn’t have the best ACD they could have.

What can you do to enhance customer satisfaction with Automatic Call Distribution? The ACD should get you to the right place the first time. This saves the caller time and frustration and the contact center money. However, there are a few criteria for this to work. Here are seven options to improve your ACD:

  1. First come, first serve. The caller that has been waiting the longest should be the next to be connected to an agent.
  2. Use skill groups. As your callers are guided through your IVR, you learn the reason for their call and can transfer them to a skill group, where an agent with the required knowledge takes over. Enhanced ACD logic filters the incoming calls and sends them to the right group of people the first time, keeping callers happy and avoiding expense for the contact center.
  3. Combine ACD and IVR with your CRM system. The agent who eventually takes the call should already have the customer’s information available and the caller shouldn’t have to authenticate again having done that in the IVR.
  4. If you have multiple contact centers you may want to distribute the load across all centers to ensure the best level of service across the enterprise.
  5. Have enough agents. One reason queues get so long is because there aren’t enough agents. If you need more agents, e.g. during peaks, consider using on-demand seats, either on-site or elsewhere to handle each and every incoming call in compliance with your target service levels.
  6. Avoid transferring your callers from agent to agent. That’s the other extreme to keeping them in the queue for several minutes. A caller wants answers from the agent and not to hear “Sorry, I can’t help you, let me transfer you” three times.
  7. Put your customers in groups like “Platinum” according to their “value”. Customers that are ranked higher get connected faster or to the best available agents. Those who are e.g. always behind with paying their bills should not get this treatment.

In my opinion, skilled agents and a good call flow are very important for good customer service but if your call queues are too long or calls reach the wrong agents, customers will still be dissatisfied with the service. What do you think?

The VoiceXML Icon

One of the reasons we developed our Visual Call Flow Builder in which you arrange complex routings by just dragging and dropping icons is to spare users the hassle of programming in VoiceXML. Usually, people who administer a company’s Interactive Voice Response system are not programmers, so they don’t know how to write VXML code. To enable them to do their daily work with the IVR, we offer the Visual Call Flow Builder, a graphical user interface over which users arrange icons over the browser of any PC.

Each icon contains certain functionalities e.g. “SOAP request” or “database request”. It makes writing code in VoiceXML superfluous. The underlying code of every icon is in VoiceXML and our own ECTXML®. This XML language, which is also our core intellectual property, is fully compliant with CCXML 1.0 and VoiceXML 2.1.

But what if you have VoiceXML code in use which is good and you want to keep using it with the Visual Call Flow Builder? Then I can offer you the VoiceXML icon. This is a blank icon which you can link to existing code that defines a certain functionality and integrate it into your call flow.

And again, users without programming knowledge can do this. You don’t need to change the existing code, take it as it is and link it to the VoiceXML icon with just one click. Many companies are reluctant to switch to a graphical user interface which makes them discontinue working with their tried-and-true VoiceXML code, however, the VoiceXML icon gives them the opportunity to use their own code within a graphical service creation environment.

Would you like to integrate your own code in a graphical SCE? Contact us and we’ll show you how to do it.

Working from Home

All this happened more or less…

Dominic works in the contact center of a large international bank, so naturally he has a high stress level. People who call him with questions and enquiries are not always friendly. Sometimes he doesn’t even have as much as two minutes between impatient customers who want answers to their questions, right now.

Then there is his boss, who everybody calls Little Nick, and depending on his own stress level, he can be fairly unpleasant too. He has the tendency to let it out on his staff.

To reduce the amount of stress, Dominic had the idea of a home working program. He wants to discuss it with Nick. It would allow agents to work in an environment they do not associate with contact center work. Dominic could then work from home or any other place, like a hotel room, for example, the only thing he would need is a computer with internet access.

Thanks to the web-based agent workplace, Dominic already has all the functionalities he needs available. He can receive phone calls, send SMS and e-mails and access the CRM database to view customer information. With the manager module, Nick can see when each agent is logged on and how long, if the agent is busy and get statistics on each agent, regardless of the agent’s location. He likes having everything under control.

The more Nick thinks about it, the more he sees the benefits. His contact center has to deal with high agent churn. If agents could work off-site this would reduce their stress level significantly. It would also reduce their sick time. After all, contact center agents tend to have a disproportionately large number of sick days compared to other professions. Additionally, the quality of customer service would improve and agent retention increase. To Nick, this is a crucial cost factor because recruiting and training new agents is expensive.

He likes Dominic’s idea so much that he decides to implement it. But it wouldn’t be Little Nick if he didn’t tell everybody that the home-working agent project was his idea.

How to Turn Outbound into a Useful Service

I’d like to touch upon a sore subject today. Haven’t we all been annoyed by outbound campaign calls from direct marketers? Their poor employees have to call people at the most unfitting hours and try to sell them something they had never asked for and never wanted.

Positive examples for outbound campaigns may be market research surveys and opinion polls, but still, these calls are inconvenient for many.

From a technical perspective, outbound campaigns are fairly easy. You have a database with names and phone numbers and a dialer dials the numbers in this database, many hundreds at a time. These calls are then distributed to the available agents.

I think, it can be a really useful technology, so why not use it for something that really helps people? Outbound services could be used in medicine in emergency situations. Doctors register and in case of an emergency, the dialer calls all the doctors in the database asking whether they are nearby and available.

Outbound is really useful when it comes to warning people in a certain area when there serious hazards such as an earthquake, a flood or an accident in a chemical plant. The dialer would call the population in the affected area and either a TTS (text-to-speech) prompt or a real agent would warn the people not to leave the house, close all windows and doors, etc.

There are more options in medical care. Somebody awaiting a call from a laboratory would get a call from an outbound system telling them the result of e.g. a blood test via a TTS prompt. You could have an adjacent call flow with the option to connect to an agent who gives more elaborate information on the lab test results. The TTS would save the lab or the hospital time and resources because none of the staff actually need to call patient and retrieve information from a database.

A fairly popular outbound functionality is the callback button on websites. This is an interesting customer service tool. For example, someone calls an airline, a car rental company or something similar and would receive a call from an agent who has been assigned by the dialer.

There are many more ways to use outbound in a useful way. If you know more, please share them here.

The Call Flow Map

In the contact centers of large companies, such as airlines, call flows can become very lengthy and extremely complex. Whenever you look for a particular functionality in your call flow, e.g. to make changes, you can easily get lost in your own routing plans because they’re so extensive. Despite using our icon-based IVR trees, it is possible to lose track of your own call flows just because of their mere size. When you have over 500 icons, things can get tricky.

So what can you do if you want to find a specific icon or functionality in a complex routing plan? Why not try our search function? You type in the name of an icon, the icon type (e.g. database) or any other property of the icon you’re looking for and click search. The result you get shows all the locations of the icon or icons which could match within the call flow.

This makes it much easier to change functionalities. For example, if you want to change a prompt; you locate the respective icon via the search function and select a new prompt from a drop-down menu. That’s it! You don’t have to do anything with the call flow; you just open a backdoor via the icon. To cut a long story short, the search function helps you to implement changes quick and easy.

Another option to find a specific icon in a complex routing is our locator. It is like a map of the call flow. You can zoom in on a certain area in the call flow and click on icons there to access them in the routing logic. Again, by clicking on one icon there, you can change the functionality for the entire call flow.

And just incase you’ve forgotten; all this happens without any local installation. The search function and the locator are all part of our web-based service creation environment. All you need is a browser and internet connection.

What do you think is the best way to keep track of complex routings? Would you like to learn more about the locator and the search function? Then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Service Creation Environments – Let’s Be Open

Open source is one of the most popular topics in the entire IT and telecoms world. You can’t succeed if you’re not open. This recognition is also valid for contact center and IVR technology. I think our service creation environment for Interactive Voice Response and our Icon Development Kit are good examples.

Our service creation environment enables you to integrate many CRM systems and external databases using our SOAP/ XML interface. The IVR sends a SOAP request to a database or CRM system and retrieves the information desired by the caller. The logic for this is represented by an icon. The system is so open that in most cases it can interface with smaller-scale databases that do not support SOAP interaction. These should be accessible without any additional programming effort. A “database” icon with underlying script in VoiceXML or ECTXML® does the job. For larger systems, there is an icon for “SOAP request” or “http request”.

There is another aspect regarding openness with our icons; you can develop your own if you wish. You just need to be familiar with basic programming principles and be able to use VoiceXML and CCXML. These newly developed icons are 100 per cent compatible with our Visual Call Flow Builder and work together with other pre-defined and user-defined icons.

For even more openness, there are very interesting business models. You develop your own icon and share it. We deliver the Icon Development Kit with low-level building blocks and libraries. Your customers can use it to design their icons. As a carrier or provider of the solution you can even resell the icon developed by another party. It’s the same principle that Apple uses for open app development.

Honestly, can you be more open than that? If so, please tell me.

What happened to CosmoCom?

There was recently some very interesting news from our industry: CosmoCom, a vendor of IP contact center solutions, has been sold for 20 million US dollars. I read the reports again because I could not believe the sum: 20 million dollars! CosmoCom themselves reported that they were able to secure over 64 million USD in five financing rounds by 2000. It is even possible that they raised more money after that and now they’ve been sold for only twenty million to Syntellect, which is wholly owned by Enghouse. This sale for just 20 million dollars represents a big loss in shareholder value when measured against the amount of capital invested in the company. Ari Sonesh, the CosmoCom founder and CEO, has already left the company. Maybe something went seriously wrong?

According to the press information released by Syntellect, CosmoCom’s revenue for the fiscal year 2010 was approximately 17.6 million USD which means the selling price is just 1.15 times that amount. Information found in the internet, shows their turnover in 2009 was still 30 million dollars. To me, the interesting questions are: what happened to the money they gathered from their investors and why did their revenue collapse like that?

As they didn’t publish this information, you can only guess their outgoing costs. According to sources from the web, CosmoCom has 200 employees and with 17.6 million dollars turnover in 2010, this could easily mean they’re making major losses.

After a takeover, the first thing the purchasing company usually does is look for synergies. This often leads to them downsizing operations of the company purchased. This is particularly the case if their own portfolio overlaps with the acquired company and that company has previously made a loss.

So what are the CosmoCom customers going to do now? Maybe you know? I’d be interested to hear from you.