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Puzzel

Is on-screen clutter getting in the way of good customer service?

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Contact centres are still wasting precious time on administration instead of servicing customers. Colin Hay, VP Sales at Puzzel UK, believes the answer is, quite literally, staring you in the face.  Here are 5 tips for improving the customer experience using the latest agent desktop applications… 

Automating business processes and providing a clearer view of what really matters certainly makes life easier in terms of delivering customer service. 

However, just as the advent of electronic communications failed to deliver on the promise of the paperless office, contact centres are still required to deal with online administration which is often a major barrier to delivering an exceptional customer experience (CX).  

In fact, recent research by Call Centre Helper in the UK has highlighted that contact centres waste over 40% of their time handling administrative tasks instead of servicing customers. Much of this time is spent by agents switching between screens and on post contact wrap-up, updating different enterprise systems. The same research showed that less than 10% of contact centres integrate their customer communication channels.  

It’s time to tidy-up the desktop. The first step towards revitalising the contact centre is to get rid of the clutter. The next step is to take a fresh look at the humble agent interface.  Amazingly, it is often over-looked and yet it offers the perfect de-cluttering solution when supported by the right technology. Recent advancements in agent applications mean they are becoming more easily accessible, crystal clear and simple to use. They also help agents to clean up their own messy screens to produce a single contextual view of customer interactions by bringing together all channels and systems into one place.  

Five-star service, five ways
The answer to five-star service is literally staring you in the face. Make the most of today’s agent applications to:

1.Welcome in a brand-new widget concept – new agent desktop applications remove on-screen clutter by supporting direct integration between enterprise systems and agent screens through widgets. Customisable and flexible, widgets allow every agent to be presented with the information and functionality most relevant to them in any given situation without switching screens or resorting to pop-ups.  
This provides a single view of customer conversations that increases agent confidence, empowering them to provide a highly personalised and satisfying customer experience at all times. Look for a vendor that offers a collection of ready-made widgets for faster set-up and effective in-house training.   

2.Easy switching between customer enquiries – the superior functionality of today’s agent applications means that each customer interaction is handled via a separate tab which is opened automatically. This provides easy switching between channels  and customer enquiries, whatever the channel while allowing agents to deal with multiple simultaneous interactions at any one time.

Agents can even customise their screens and highlight the functionality tabs they use most frequently such as queue overview, queue details and personal queues as well as identity and verification tabs for specific partners or customers.

3. Extend social media capabilities – modern agent interfaces enable contact  centres to become more flexible and responsive by providing a far greater choice of social media communications options for customers. For example, they link directly to the latest WhatsApp Messenger and consumer review website Trustpilot.com. They can also scale readily to add new channels rapidly as they appear on the social media networking scene.    

4.Integration with partner systems for vital information – new agent desktop applications connect effortlessly to selected third parties and knowledge -bases, vastly accelerating an agent’s ability to solve user or product queries from one single user interface.  Information on orders, stock availability and delivery times are instantly available. What is more, today’s agent screens support co-browsing to enable simultaneous viewing of products while dealing with a customer’s enquiry.

5.Future proofing for an omni-channel experience – look for a vendor with a forward thinking approach to product development. The best agent applications have been developed with the future in mind as customerexpectations demand a sophisticated, seamless service from contact centres. They should support a variety of customer communication channels, systems and advances in Softphone that enable companies to provide a complete customer experience that meets the requirements of today and tomorrow. 

Spring clean your agent application to re-energise the contact centre and revitalise your customer careprogramme.

For more information on the latest agent applications, visit www.puzzel.com

GUEST BLOG: What role will Chatbots play in 2020? 

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Interesting times are ahead as contact centres cut through the jargon, dispel the myths and embrace new AI technology to serve customers and agents.

Colin Hay at Puzzel takes a closer look at the top three uses for Chatbots… 

This time last year, Gartner predicted that Virtual Customer Assistants (VCAs) or Chatbots will dominate the contact centre industry by 2020. Already, more than half of organisations have invested in the technology for customer service.[i] 

However, despite all the hype and discussion about Chatbots and all things Artificial Intelligence (AI), there is still an element of confusion about their value and a reluctance to adopt this new technology more quickly.

These are interesting times with exciting possibilities on the horizon for Chatbots as organisations explore the options and the opportunities ahead. From accelerating response times for customers to plugging the gaps in agent skills and availability, Chatbots are here to stay but how are they best used?

Three Top Uses for Bots 

Here are three ways to use bots to enhance customer conversations and boost agent performance for improved service.

  1. Direct transactional contact with customers – these are good old-fashioned Chatbots as we know them and their function focuses primarily on the customer. Designed as an efficient and cost-effective addition to any organisation’s self-service offering, they integrate directly into the core contact centre solution to improve first contact with customers and save valuable live agent time. For contact centres which already have existing investments in Chatbots, ready-made connectors allow companies to “Bring their own Bot” and seamlessly link to their contact centre infrastructure.
  2. An all-important triage resource – in many ways, Chatbots are a Chat version of IVR by acting as a smart connector as they transfer customer conversations over to human agents. Chatbots bridge the digital and human worlds by ensuring live agents have all the information they need, at the time of hand-over, to deliver a complete and end-to-end satisfying customer interaction.
  3. Dedicated Virtual Personal Assistants for Agents – the latest application of Chatbots maximises AI learning from the contact centre and other parts of the business to provide agents with the real-time knowledge they need, along with suggested solutions, to solve customer queries. Media archives within the contact centre solution are a perfect place to create a living library of machine learning and historical records of previous Chat interactions. Transcribed voice conversations, full of unstructured data, are transformed into structured data that is easily searchable by text, thanks to the power of AI.A new breed of “bot buddies” will enable advisors to boost their performance at work and deliver exceptional customer experience. Agents can engage with them through speech or text communication while the virtual technology works hard behind the scenes, using inbuilt intelligence to respond to agent enquiries and support staff in real-time.

What role will Chatbots play in 2020?

Some might say that “the jury is still out” in terms of the real role that Chatbots will play in 2020 but one thing is sure they will be a part of customer service. According to Gartner, more than 50% of enterprises will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation, than on traditional mobile app development by 2021[ii]. It’s just a question of what part those bots will play in contact centres?

To find out more, Puzzel invites you to join an executive breakfast briefing with the UK Contact Centre Forum on 27th February 2019.

To register or to discover what role Chatbots will play in your contact centre in 2020, click here.

Puzzel improves position as a Challenger in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant

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Puzzel has been positioned by Gartner as a Challenger in the Magic Quadrant for Contact Center as a Service, Western Europe report, for the fourth consecutive year.

The firm’s omni-channel, cloud-based contact centre solution is designed to support smaller enterprises with contact centre operations as well as global corporations with thousands of agents.

In 2017 the company re-branded to Puzzel raising its awareness amongst contact centre professionals and expanded its operations in Finland and Bulgaria, both supporting factors in strengthening its position as a key contender in the contact centre software as a service market.

“We are encouraged by our improved position as a Challenger and feel we are getting closer to the Leader’s quadrant each year,” said Børge Astrup, Chief Executive Officer of Puzzel. “We believe this reflects our growth and is recognition of our continued efforts to improve the product year-on-year. The flexibility and efficiency of the cloud business model allows Puzzel to be commercially competitive and innovative while offering strong functional capabilities to our customers regardless of their size.”

Thomas Rødseth, Chief Technology Officer of Puzzel, added: “In a changing world channels such as webchat and social media are gaining momentum. As a company we are dedicated to solving customer interactions whatever the channel. It is especially rewarding to see this being recognized this year as our reference customers were all multi-channel deployments. Also, we are committed to self-service and organisations are benefitting from our new Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions. Customers see the value of being empowered by visual design tools to manage their omni-channel customer experience.”

Astrup, concluded: “Puzzel’s strength lies in the solution’s functionality, particularly in meeting required standards and compliance regulations. Our support operations combined with our understanding of customers’ business needs and the ability to demonstrate how Puzzel delivers value, have fuelled the growth in our customer base and we believe this in turn has strengthened our position in the Magic Quadrant of Contact Center as a Service, Western Europe.”

GUEST BLOG: Elevating the role of self-service – 8 Top Tips

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Self-service has a greater role to play than simply reducing the number of voice calls into contact centres.   Mashud Ahmed of Puzzel explains more…

The role of self-service is in a state of transformation as contact centre leaders look for smarter ways to meet customer demand and corporate business requirements. Research by ContactBabel indicates that 80% of organisations offer some form of self-service with web self-service and telephony self-service or voice IVR being the most widely adopted across contact centres of all sizes.[i]  When it comes to other forms of self-service adoption, by far the most prevalent are FAQs (83%) followed by self-help customer videos at 23% and virtual agents at nearly 10%.[ii]

Self-service is growing but it has a far greater role to play than simply reducing the number of calls coming into the contact centre.   Puzzel’s latest white paper outlines the options and explains how to create an effective self-service strategy supported by the latest cloud-based contact centre technology.

8 Top Tips for Self-Service

An important rule to remember is that self-service shouldn’t be left to chance.  A successful self-service implementation comes down to a clear, carefully thought-out process that puts the customer at the heart of everything.  Puzzel’s white paper offers 8 top tips to maximise self-service in contact centres including:

Have a clear goal

Start by questioning your organisation’s true motives for deploying self-service?  Whatever the reason, make sure the customer is the key motivator.  Give customers what they really want and consider rewarding them for using self-service.

Focus on existing self-service assets

Find out what works and what does not work by focusing on your existing self-service assets while looking for opportunities to improve their value.

Make the experience more engaging

Customer intimacy is the name of the game.  Why not use tools such as speech recognition to bring a human element to voice IVR?  Customers can ‘speak’ with the added bonus of round-the-clock self-service availability for example to look up their bank balance, pay their utility bills, purchase theatre tickets or book flights.

Look beyond IVR

Today’s self-service options are varied and appeal to different senses from automated speech recognition, web self-service including search text and FAQs, bots, virtual agents to the latest Smartphone apps and Visual IVR.

Zero out the “zeroed out to an agent” statistics

It is estimated that typically 17%[iii] of all calls that go into a self-service option are “zeroed-out” when the customer decides they would actually prefer to speak with a live agent. Remember to listen to what customers want and avoid complex IVR functionality.

Consider Visual IVR

Smartphones make it possible to offer visual representations of IVR menus.  Visual IVR can be used to send video presentations such as relevant ‘how to’ YouTube clips, while waiting for an agent.

Bridging the gap with bots

Bots offer a powerful way to build a bridge between the digital and human world.  They are a powerful addition to an organisation’s self-service portfolio.  The secret is to choose the right bot for your contact centre.

Take a closer look at virtual agents

Virtual agents often appear as an embedded widget on support pages, sometimes fronted with an avatar, inviting customers to engage via text in the hunt for answers.  Whether you decide to use bots or virtual agents, be sure to make them an intrinsic part of your self-service offering to deliver far greater levels of personalisation.

Good self-service should be customer-focused and become a part of the customer journey.  Take on board these 8 simple strategies to get it right and you’ll be rewarded with customer loyalty, healthy profits and a distinct competitive advantage.

To download Puzzel’s latest white paper entitled “8 Top Tips to Make Self-Service a Success”, visit www.puzzel.com

[i] The UK Contact Centre Decision-Marker’s Guide 2017-2018
[ii] Call Centre Helper – What Contact Centres are Doing Right Now (2017 edition)
[iii] The UK Contact Centre Decision-Maker’s Guide 2017-2018

Puzzel announces new chat bot functionality and GDPR readiness

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Puzzel has announced new functionality in the latest release of its cloud-based contact centre solution, designed to extend the system’s multi-channel capabilities and help organisations to meet important changes in EU data protection legislation.

Users are now able to integrate third party or Puzzel’s own Chat bots directly into their core contact centre solution to improve first contacts with customers and save valuable live agent time. Furthermore, Puzzel has made several adjustments to its platform in preparation for the advent of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May this year.

Christian Thorsrud, Product Manager at Puzzel, said: “Chat bots and GDPR are hot topics in the contact centre world today. On the one hand, innovations based on Artificial Intelligence such as Chat bots are creating new opportunities to expand and improve customer interactions and Puzzel’s latest release is designed to make them a reality. On the other hand, the imminent arrival of GDPR is putting pressure on contact centres to review how they collect and store their own and third party data. The latest version of our cloud-based software brings renewed assurance that contact centres can rely on Puzzel to provide them with a secure and auditable framework to help meet critical new legislative requirements.”

The key features of the latest version of Puzzel include:

• Chat bots – bring your own or buy from Puzzel – contact centres are able to connect directly to a variety of Chat bots from the core Puzzel platform. Users now have the option to bring their own bot and simplify the integration using Puzzel’s standard integration modules or to buy a bot direct from Puzzel. Whichever approach you take you will be able to ensure a smooth handover from the bot to live agents in the Puzzel Contact Centre. Importantly, this keeps humans in the loop for more complex enquiries as the bot technologies are evolving.

• GDPR readiness – to prepare contact centres for the arrival of GDPR, Puzzel has introduced new functionality that will simplify the compliance process. It will enable organisations to identify end user data quickly; delete data when requested to do so and easily collect and document any approvals given by end customers calling into the organisation.
Already, Puzzel allows the encryption of call recording files which can only be listened to by downloading them to devices with the correct private key to decrypt the file. Today’s announcement underlines Puzzel’s commitment to protecting customer data and aiding compliance with external GDPR requirements.

The latest release of Puzzel’s cloud contact centre solution is available now.

GUEST BLOG: Ringing the changes – The art of reducing call volumes

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Colin Hay at Puzzel believes focus on customer interactions is what really matters and outlines ten strategies for reducing customer call volumes…

Traditionally, contact centre leaders measured success on how quickly customer calls were dealt with. Happily, many organisations are now questioning this metric and instead are looking at what it really means to deliver exceptional customer service. They have woken up and realised that the inside-out approach, where internal processes come before the customer perspective, no longer meets expectations. What is more, digitalisation has changed the rules bringing with it a multi-channel contact centre environment and a new definition of ‘call volumes’.

Studies* show that inbound voice calls, as the overall number of customer contacts, have decreased. There is now a clear shift by customers from voice to digital channels such as email, webchat, social media and SMS. This trend throws the spotlight on how organisations manage multiple “channels”, the new word for “calls” and if they really need all of those channels.

The real challenge for contact centre leaders is to remove contacts that are ‘preventable’ or ‘predictable’ and that offer no customer value, rather than to simply reduce the total number of calls but how can this be achieved?

Ten Strategies for Removing Unnecessary Customer Contacts

The following 10 strategies provide a practical guide to increasing the number of contacts that provide true customer value, regardless of channel:

  1. Create actionable Customer Journey Maps (CJMs) – don’t just create a CJM, put it into practice!
  2. Know why customers are contacting you – involve your agents, the shop window of your organisation and first port of call for customers and then back up their claims with clever technology such as speech analytics.
  3. Proactively manage the Customer Lifecycle – introduce Customer Lifecycle Management (CLM) to proactively manage ‘predictable’ situations such as new customer welcome calls, promotional offers, courtesy calls and health check calls.
  4. Shift customers to self-service – when organisations can accurately predict why customers are calling, dramatic reductions in inbound call volumes can be achieved by shifting customers to self-service channels. These may include IVR, Web page search and online virtual assistants or digital assistants and bots.
  5. Get it right first time – the most effective way of reducing future call volumes is to resolve queries first time, on time and every time that customers make contact.
  6. Act on customer insight – the information contained within customer contacts, if mined and used appropriately, can assist in better understanding customer needs, improving call scripts and agent training, resolving problems and enhancing business processes.
  7. Make customer communications clearer – avoid complicated pricing, unclear legislative information, badly laid-out or worded forms, letter and bills that confuse customers and encourage them to call for an explanation.
  8. Maintain a unified view of the customer – agents need to know that the person they are speaking to over the phone is the same person who emailed yesterday and made contact via Twitter the day before – and they need to know and understand the nature of those conversations to avoid going over the same issues and wasting time.
  9. Create self-help videos and customer forums – online customer forums have for many years helped to reduce the volume of inbound customer contacts. Bring them bang up-to-date by featuring videos on channels such has YouTube for product or “how to” queries.
  10. Effectively use customer feedback – but don’t just restrict feedback to what customers thought of their last experience. Build feedback tools into systems to give customers as many opportunities as possible to provide feedback.

By following these ten simple strategies, organisations can actively reduce demand for live agent service, add real value to the customer experience and boost satisfaction and loyalty.

Puzzel has sponsored a white paper entitled “10 Strategies for Reducing Customer Call Volumes.”

Download a copy at www.puzzel.com.

Colin Hay is Vice President Sales UK at Puzzel.

Email in contact centres: 5 reasons to give it a second chance

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Colin Hay at Puzzel assesses the latest research and believes it’s time to raise the bar for humble emails…

Despite being the first of the non-voice multimedia channels, email was initially doomed to failure when it was introduced well over 10 years ago.

With response times stretching into many days, if not weeks, appalling levels of service sent customers rushing back to the phone. It took many years, much investment and the coaxing of customers, along with the demise of the letter and fax, for email to re-emerge as being credible for customer service.

The UK Contact Centre Decision-Maker’s Guide 2017-18 (DMG) reveals some interesting developments in the often rocky road of email. The Digital Channels chapter reveals how humble email is gaining renewed customer confidence and showing signs of a definite revival. Let’s take a closer look:

• On average, 20.5% of all inbound interactions are now done by email
• In terms of service levels – there have been vast improvements with 66% of email enquiries being answered on the same working day whilst the number of those taking more than one day to be answered has decreased significantly to 28%
• 45% of respondents to the DMG survey already have an email management system to support customer service interactions.

Multi-channel is the way to go

The research also shows that contact centres which have adopted a blended environment, supported by a universal queue system to handle enquiries regardless of channel, can proudly claim that twice as many emails are successfully handled within one hour. This is probably because as contact centres move towards customer engagement centres, the ability to handle all channels through one integrated solution allows for the central management of customer email enquiries. In turn this speeds up response times.

In fact, it seems that the success of email transactions relies on interacting with other channels. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said that fewer than 10% of emails can be answered without recourse to alternative channels, while 10% claimed that more than half of all emails needed supplementary channel assistance. The fact that emails typically require supplementary channel assistance should come as no surprise. However, the advent of cloud-based technology makes it possible to deliver a seamless multi-channel customer experience as integration with other databases, CRM and media archive solutions provides the ability to respond to enquiries regardless of channel, including email.

Five reasons to give email a second chance

Technical innovations have come a long way in ten years providing endless possibilities and a wealth of benefits that have contributed to the rising status of email as a sophisticated communications medium in the contact centre. Here are just a few:

1) No queue time – email is an immediate action, you just press and send.
2) Cost – email is still less expensive than voice.
3) Intelligent routing – means email queries are directed to the agent with the appropriate skills to respond and urgent cases are passed to the next available agent.
4) Time savings and increased customer satisfaction all in one – important announcements can be made by email and distributed simultaneously to multiple parties yet it is simple to create and change, signatures to personalise emails and boost customer loyalty.
5) Superior reporting capabilities – give managers the hard evidence they need to make meaningful service improvements.

A time and place for voice

This is all very good news for email but there will always be a place for traditional voice. Take sectors with complex cases such as healthcare, social work, insurance and law. Enquiries from this type of organisation often require sensitive handling that only a voice conversation can achieve. However, email is perfect for complaint handling where a reliable audit trail is required. This is corroborated by DMG’s research which shows complaints account for 14% of email traffic whereas less than 10% of voice calls involve handling complaints. The latest solutions treat cases not individuals using unique identifier technology. This means sophisticated search, respond and reporting capabilities support efficient case management by triggering consistent, consolidated responses to customers.

Renewed confidence in email is reflected in many of today’s organisations who use it as part of their daily customer service activities. Take Puzzel’s customer, dedicated facilities management help desk provider Fm24. Since deploying cloud-based contact centre technology, Fm24 has noticed a rapid increase in email traffic, currently 30% more than the company’s annual call statistics – proof that it’s time to give email a second chance and take advantage of its elevated status in the contact centre.

Copies of the full UK Contact Centre Decision-Maker’s Guide 2017-18 can be downloaded from the Puzzel website at Puzzel

8 ways to re-energise customer service

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Turning customer interactions into opportunities is easier than you think, according to Colin Hay, vice president of sales at contact centre Puzzel.

The trick, he says, is to keep it simple and to give contact centres the ‘wow’ factor with some quick and easy wins.

“Improving customer satisfaction and turning every interaction into an opportunity to create a good impression is every contact centre’s dream,” according to Hay. “However, far too many organisations make it a complicated business or spend too much time on internal dynamics that bear no relevance to customers’ needs. Essentially, the magic ingredients to achieve this dream are simple enough – a blend of people, process and technology. Get the mix right and you have the perfect recipe for success.”

Here are eight easy ways to re-energise your approach to customer service:

  1. Keep agents happy – happy agents = happy customers. Listen to what the frontline has to say. Agents are the ones who usually suffer the wrath of the customer, time and time again over the same thing. Hold regular listening sessions and internal focus groups to raise any issues and give management an opportunity to change processes. Then, give agents the right training and tools to do their job.Make life easier for staff. Could you introduce flexible ways of working that allow agents to strike an effective work/life balance? Is the office warm enough and the chairs comfortable? Give agents noise-cancellation headsets so that they can really concentrate on the customer, with minimal disruption, to deliver cleaner, crisper calls and find the information they want quickly.

    Finally, motivate, acknowledge and reward outstanding performance using the latest gamification techniques.

  2. Refocus the metrics – why focus on Average Handling Times (AHTs)? Traditional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like these don’t always make a lot of sense and make it hard for agents to concentrate on delivering excellent customer service. Consider moving from time-based to service quality metrics such as first response times and first contact resolution rates.
  3. Remember the customer journey – from beginning to end and check your process, perhaps through mystery shopping. Why do customers contact you in the first place? It is surprising how few organisations actually do this exercise.Understanding what motivates customers to call, for example by looking out for repeat-contact reasons, will give you the information you need to re-align your customer service strategy and introduce a set of relevant, effective tactics.
  4. Be proactive – change contact centre culture by empowering agents to take decisions and actions that have a positive impact on customer satisfaction. Stand out from the crowd. Start by contacting customers before they have a chance to complain, or even better, before they are aware they have a problem. Earn loyalty and customer satisfaction in one fell swoop.
  5. Integrate systems – avoiding the need to switch between applications and having a customer’s account history visible on just one screen, immediately makes life easier for the agent and improves customer satisfaction. Reduced agent effort leads to faster query resolution and satisfied customers.
  6. Make life easy for customers – helping customers to help themselves is the smart way forward, for example provide a Web chat facility for straightforward enquiries? Studies indicate that people today, especially the Millennial Generation, want to self-serve. Make self-service a priority in the contact centre to boost customer service in more ways than one. The latest IVR and automated payment solutions allow customers to order products, book holidays, provide utility readings and obtain bank balances without speaking to an agent. This means more time for agents to dedicate to complex or sensitive enquiries that require a different approach and the human touch.
  7. Make the customer feel special – all customers like to feel valued. Encourage agents to follow up interactions with personalised calls or emails to make customers feel special. Why not take advantage of routing technology, based on CRM data, to prioritise VIP customers? Both tactics will guarantee increased satisfaction ratings and promote longer-term loyalty and profitability.
  8. Review your social customer service – there’s no getting away from it, social media is here to stay. Increasing numbers of people are relying on the world’s largest social media networking sites to source information, find out what others have to say about products and services and even air grievances.Turn this to your advantage by engaging proactively via social media. Create a platform for customers to exchange ideas, feedback and knowledge. This type of social forum will foster a spirit of inclusivity and encourage learning across your client base. Take it one step further by rewarding ‘super users’ who share valuable intelligence to help the broader community.

You don’t need to start from scratch. None of these practical techniques necessarily need new technology but they do require a long hard look at processes and procedures and potentially a tweak to existing systems. So the moral of the tale is don’t over-complicate matters and keep it simple. Adopt these eight quick wins to put the wow factor back into your contact centre.

What are you waiting for?

GUEST BLOG: How outbound dialling can work for your company

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Christian Thorsurd, product manager at telecommunications service provider, Puzzel, explains how outbound dialling can be used as a powerful outreach tool by embedding it into agent culture and the customer journey…

Whatever way you look at it, traditional outbound dialling has received bad press over the years.

From simple calls for contact list updating, surveys or verification services to hard-sell telemarketing, sales or fund-raising calls, customers often dread outbound dialling, complaining of time-wasting at best, harassment at worst and of course “silent calls” where agents aren’t connected to destination numbers quickly enough, resulting in a silent call.

However, it is a very different story for the organisations using outbound today. FiveCRM cites five vital benefits of ‘outdialling’ as a valuable outreach tool,(i) particularly when put into the hands of the contact centre. Far more cost-effective than hiring traditional outbound sales teams, a contact centre set-up has the potential for more predictable overheads than travelling salespeople. Furthermore, contact centres can reach a far larger geographical area more quickly and connect with far more people in a single day than a field sales team ever could.

So, why the disparity of opinion between contact centres and those on the receiving end of outbound dialling and what can be done to close the gap? Essentially, it’s a case of joining the dots between agent culture and technical innovation. It’s also time to raise the status of outbound dialling from tactical, second-class citizen to strategic enabler of a first-class customer experience.

Step One: Take the right approach

Far too often, agents make a half-hearted attempt at outbound dialling without any real thought behind it and then wonder why it doesn’t work. Consider these three steps: you might think them logical and simple, but you’d be surprised how few organisations actually take the time to follow them:

  • Be prepared and professional – understand the reasons for outbound dialling and establish the end results you’re aiming for. For example, if it is straight sales, ask yourself how many calls you will need to make the campaign successful and financially viable. Know your audience: find out the name of the person you should speak to – ‘proprietor’ or ‘managing director’ is just not acceptable! Then, call at the right time – when people are more likely to answer the phone ie. not during meal times. Finally, schedule agent breaks and training during quiet times to maximise productivity and campaign results
  • Measure what you do and act upon it – Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are there for a reason but they need to be actively monitored and adapted to changing customer and business requirements. Make them relevant and use the results to plan for the future
  • Reward and train agents – they’ll work harder if you do. However, be sure to set realistic targets and incentives for agents in the short, medium and long-term, with something they actually want (within reason) to keep them motivated. Never under-estimate the importance of good, ongoing training. Help agents to understand the customer information being presented to them so they keep preview times to a minimum and keep human interactions to a maximum.

Step Two: Make technology work for you

Now you have established the right culture, take a closer look at the technology underpinning your contact centre. It could be the perfect opportunity for a complete refresh. As we all know, automated cloud-based solutions bring a series of significant benefits: including preview, predictive and power modes for outbound dialling activities; skill-based routing to accelerate first call resolution rates; integration with databases and CRM systems and support for new communications channels. Furthermore, efficient blending of inbound and outbound calls increases agent productivity, streamlines staffing and improves customer service. The most recent innovations in outbound dialling take these benefits to the next level through:

  • Efficient call scheduling – if customers do not have time to take or finish a call, agents can arrange a future outgoing call at an agreed time. Customers can also request callbacks online, specifying both a day and time for the call. At the scheduled time, the same agent is called as soon as they are available, and on answering, the destination number is called
  • Easier integration of data – the flexibility of the latest technology enables data to be imported easily from CRM solutions, databases and campaign management systems. At the click of a mouse, customer contact details on imported lists can be added, deleted or edited without having to de-duplicate external lists prior to import. This saves time and guarantees the latest customer data is always used.
  • Relevant reporting – different metrics are often applied to outbound activity, however, the most important are the most relevant to your campaign. These are likely to include the success or hit rate ie. the number of connected calls that lead to a conversation and the outcome of those calls such as sales (conversion rates), agreed call backs or no further interest. Quality reports are more relevant than simply counting volumes.

Running an effective and profitable outbound campaign is about combining skilled, dedicated people with efficient technology and giving agents the right tools to do their job. It might be time to re-assess your own approach to people and technology with this simple two-point plan.

Be ready for the outbound challenge!