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contact Center

Top 3 Strategies for Win Win Vendor Relationships

By | contact Center, empathy, podcsting | No Comments

It’s not about driving down costs — at all costs.

Procurement Cloud states that 47% of vendor relationships will hit a wall. Why is that?

There isn’t one single answer but many times it comes down to building win-win relationships vs. trying to drill down the price to shave percentage points off your supplier fees. Even in the middle of a Pandemic and economic downturn, there are ways to build strong relationships. Here are three top strategies:

  1. Good communication and setting ground rules
    1. Christa Heibel of CH Consulting Group, a well-known Contact Center Consulting firm, states in order to create a Win-Win relationship, begin with ensuring your contract flushes out all of the details of the relationship including how each party will contribute creatively. Listen to her Words of Wisdom an excerpt from our Contact Center Insights Podcast

2. Be transparent – I’m not saying give away trade secrets but the better the vendor understands how decisions are made, what other priorities are demanding resources the more valuable input they can provide. My first experience with this was 20 years ago when I worked for a company win win situationthat had an onsite contract with Sears headquarters. At that time it was rare that a vendor would be invited to sit in on staff meetings and participate in the planning process but it gave us greater insight as to how we could provide our services in a more valuable way. We were able to become more pro-active in recommendations and felt truly part of the team.

3. Create channels of trust

When you’re making a buying decision, trust is a large part of the equation. Will the vendor deliver what they promised, will support be at the level you expected it to be. The same can be true for your role. Giving timely responses, clearly outline what your expectations are, and stick to them, not delaying payments or changing the terms of the deal allow the vendor to have faith in the relationship and align their resources accordingly.

For example, a BPO set terms with their client to abide by specific KPIs for managing a campaign. Mid-way through the campaign, the client’s business had a major re-organization and put pressure on the BPO to stick to the original terms and fees, even though their employees were putting in more time and effort to manage a new set of metrics and requirements. Even though the vendor may fear losing this client, in a solid win-win relationship, it would be fair to expect the vendor to ask for a revision of their contract.

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Simulations to Teach Coaches How to Coach

By | call center, contact Center, empathy | No Comments

Practice without a purpose is wasted time

Many organizations are great at taking a top performer and promote them into a manager’s role. But what they forget is that not all good frontline employees are good managers.

Recently I was working with a client who wanted to find a new way to teach her managers how to be good coaches.

Let’s first define the difference between “telling” vs. “coaching”. In an article written by Julia Milner & Trenton Milner, in the Harvard Business Review, it presents a great case study on how you can teach managers to be good coaches. Many of them start off with telling employees what to do — this is NOT coaching.

Coaching is a combination of skills that allow the employee to come to a solution of their own accountability vs. being told exactly what to do. I made a two-step recommendation to my client. As she was overseeing Quality Analysts for a global software company, I recommended she first take a look at a Coaching for Performance certification program from Benchmark Portal. They have many certification programs but this seemed to be a great way to give the foundational skills needed to understand coaching. coaching employees

Then I recommended that she use our simulator to build tailored coaching conversations her QA could use to practice various scenarios. As stated in the HBR article, you need to let coaches practice in a safe environment. This is exactly why companies use our simulator. It provides realistic experiences that can blend all of the skills needed such as:

  • active listening
  • questioning
  • giving constructive feedback
  • assisting with goal setting
  • showing empathy
  • letting the coachee arrive at their own solution
  • recognizing and pointing out strengths
  • providing structure
  • encouraging a solution-focused approach

The embedded smart analytics reporting system will allow my client to access detailed metrics in real-time to see how well her QA’s are doing in the capstone activity of completing coaching simulations.

With many people still working remotely, it’s even more imperative that managers have the right skills to help their employees succeed.
If you’re curious to see how to use our simulator to build your own coaching simulations, please contact us.

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Reducing Gladwell’s “10,000 Hours by 90%”

By | bots, call center, contact Center, simulations | No Comments

Deliberate Practice vs. Traditional Training

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and I’m sure many of you are familiar with the term “10,000 hours to mastery”. This has since been proven to be taken out of context but he still references it as a guide to how long it takes for someone to master an innate skill. In Frans Johansson’s book, The Click Moment he explains that Deliberate Practice is a more likely predictor of success. Here are the core elements to Deliberate Practice

  1. Set a specific targeted goal or task you want to master
  2. Provide focused intense periods of practice
  3. Receive immediate feedback and self-correct
  4. Prepare to be uncomfortable in order to overcome barriers to success

One of the core reasons our customers use our simulator is that it uses this deliberate practice approach. Many of our customers need to get contact center agents up to speed quickly. Traditionally they are putting them on the front lines before they have had time to really master interacting with customers. By using our simulator, they see how this gives agents realistic practice so they can reduce the time it takes to get to mastery. Like Johannson’s approach, our simulator is a predictor of agent performance — here’s how.

  1. Simulations are built to look and feel just like your scenarios with a specific skill in mine – such as how to change credit card information, how to handle product returns etc.
  2. We recommend building different levels of immersion so that as agents score out of one level they continue to practice one transaction 3-4 times at a minimum
  3. They receive automatic immediate feedback from a built-in bot who guides them through how to handle verbal and on-screen interactions successfully
  4. They are uncomfortable at first due to the fact they have not had any exposure to this. Our conversational interactions are built on best practice responses. Once they become comfortable with each level, they can move on to more complex transactions

No need to use a crystal ball to try to determine who will be successful. Our ACES  automates this process. The intelligence embedded into the system, allows the managers to know right where in the transaction the agent may have gotten off track.

Businesses don’t have the luxury of 10,000 hours of time to help employees get up to speed on their skills. So imagine if you had the ability to help your agents master many of your complex transactions in 5-10 hours vs. 5-10 weeks? You can view some examples on our video page.

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How to Accelerate Contact Center KPI Performance

By | bots, call center, contact Center, empathy | No Comments

Reducing agent’s learning curve.

In a recent conversation, I had with a client we discussed why they are using our simulator in their contact center. As a large BPO, their revenue is directly tied to documenting agents are following very detailed KPIs. They asked for me to provide a full list of how our simulator can impact each of these so I thought it would be helpful to share this list with others.

  1. Reduction of AHT, this client wanted to reduce new hire AHT of 12 minutes down to an average of 7
  2. Increase agent confidence which impacts CSAT scores
  3. Improved soft-skills such as expressing empathy, active listening and asking open-ended questions
  4. Improved accuracy of keystrokes and data entry
  5. Reduces the number of times call will be escalated to a manager
  6. Automates measurement of English proficiency

In number six, this was not an intended KPI but as a result of working with a very large technology company, they now use our simulator as a way to ensure outsourced agents are English Proficient. This came up when they enrolled agents at a call center in Vietnam. They were struggling to complete a simulation successfully. Our client thought that the simulator wasn’t working correctly. I assessed that their accents were too strong. The client was somewhat skeptical that this was the case so they placed them into production as voice agents. Shortly after they were in production, customers complained they were not able to understand them. They are now all chat agents. Moving forward all of their simulations now account for and measure their English proficiency with our simulator.

As we have proven many times, if you pro-actively use a tool like our simulator, you can address a lot of the “back office” metrics on the front end and improve the customer experience.

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How Active Listening Benefits Your Company

By | Adaptive Learning, call center, contact Center, empathy, simulations | No Comments

Responding Authentically Drives Customer Retention

There is a lot of talk around replacing contact center agents with bots or some form of self-service options. But according to research conducted by NewVoiceMedia, 75% of customers still prefer a live agent (voice or chat) to help them solve their issues.

Successful companies know how to create a culture that allows agents to not only express empathy but express the Right level of empathy for the customer’s situation. Here is an example.

A customer who is calling to get roadside assistance because they have a flat tire.

Agent#1 “I apologize for your situation.”

Agent#2 “I’m sure that’s really frustrating for you.”

Agent #2 does a better job of expressing empathy that expresses what the customer must be feeling. They recognize what is going on in the customer’s world. This would be perceived as “more authentic” vs. canned and routine.

You can teach agents how to use the skill of active listening, here are 8 steps created by David Grosman that are right on target with how we teach this skill in our simulator

  1. Approach each dialogue with the goal to learn something. …
  2. Stop talking and focus closely on the speaker. …
  3. Open and guide the conversation. …
  4. Drill down to the details. …
  5. Summarize what you hear and ask questions to check your understanding. …
  6. Encourage with positive feedback.
  7. Listen for total meaning
  8. Pay attention to your responses

I’ve highlighted number 5 as this step is really critical step.  It demonstrates to the customer that you truly understand their situation and can accurately paraphrase what is going on.

When the customer senses you are truly trying to get to the heart of their issue or how to help them out. This builds a level of trust. This connection is priceless and should not be taken lightly. When customers feel you are trustworthy they are more likely to continue doing business with you.

 

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How Omnichannel Drives Businsess

By | call center, contact Center | No Comments

Do you know the difference between Omnichannel vs. multichannel? The latter refers to how customers complete a transaction. Omnichannel refers to providing customers with a variety of how they begin and end their customer journey.

Companies seem to be scrambling today to implement some form of omnichannel strategy but just how important is it to your business?omnichannel growth

Based upon the Aberdeen Group, it’s very important to year over year growth.

But how is your company managing resources and your investment to support these channels? First understanding your target customers will drive which channels you support. If you sell a line of hearing aids, more than likely you’re not going to use a lot of Social Media to drive customer experience.

But what about brands who may have a prospect click on an image on Instagram, then connect via chat. The chat rep could then recommend a coupon or other products and increase their chances of closing a deal – in minutes vs. days.

In order to provide this level of experience the organization may need to completely restructure how it supports these operations. I’ve spoken to many consultants who help companies make these transitions and one of the biggest – as usual – is the change management process to make these modifications.

One fear they have is losing a customer because they don’t feel completely confident about their ability to manage these channels and risk losing a customer.

The majority of contact centers are starting with some form of self-service as their first point of contact. Even if these channels provide great customer experience, some people still need to reach a live person. When this happens, it’s usually not a basic interaction. This is why it’s so important that your channels have some path to carry interactions with a live person to reduce the need to “re-explain” the situation. No one likes to do this. You will need to enable these agents with skills to handle the more challenging situations vs. the basic interactions. This is one reason our simulator ACES™ is sparking interest. Companies need a scalable way to help teach more complex skills in a small window of time. Using simulation-based training is a great way to immerse employees into realistic training situations.

So please don’t forget all of the legs of the stool when deploying your omnichannel strategy:

  1. Deciding which channels drive results
  2. Putting a strong change management process in place to support this strategy
  3. Ensure the culture and skills you train to support your strategy

 

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Is Your “Nesting” for the Birds?

By | call center, contact Center, Employee Rewards | No Comments

If you have spent any time in a contact center you’ve probably heard of the term “nesting”. It’s that phase for newly hired contact agents after they have had some initial classroom training but aren’t quite ready to go on their own.

On average, the ramp-up time for new agents is for two weeks. This doesn’t really give these agents enough time to digest all of the information they will need to be successful – at most, they will be able to greet the caller properly, and ask how they can help the customer.

To add to their pain, many companies are putting in place self-help tools for customers to use which means by the time they reach an agent, it’s a more challenging situation to handle.

Luckily there are some alternatives to this stage of onboarding. A term I heard recently was “phased nesting”. Meaning don’t force all agents hired at the same time to move through the onboarding process in lockstep. If you notice an agent is moving along faster than some of the others in the group – allow them to progress. This will maintain their engagement and self-confidence while the others moving slower are given more time to adapt to their new tasks.

One alternative we recommend is using our ACES simulator. ACES (accelerated engagement contact system) allows you to deploy realistic immersive simulations that use a phased-in approach to help agents get hands-on experience, with automated feedback from our built-in digital coach. This reduces the risk of taking a live call with an inexperienced agent and gives your managers the ability to see who is truly “floor ready” before placing them into the production environment.

To see ACES in action you can view some video samples by watching our Videos

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Why Your AI Investment Should Be In Employee Training First

By | bots, contact Center, simulations | No Comments

Did you know that poor customer service is costing corporations $80 Billion a year? Even though our economy is still healthy, I don’t think any company can afford to lose customers.

Every day I read about some new products with “AI” or supposed AI embedded into it. Many of these are bots or customer-facing applications to automate or collect data during a customer journey. But even as you deploy these solutions, if the customer still needs some form of human interaction, your contact center staff will need to have stronger skills to handle the more complex problems.

There is a growing trend and awareness in the corporate training world that has finally recognized that the traditional forms of training either via classroom, online or blended, simply doesn’t fully guarantee your training is effective. It simply allows you to check the box training was giving and maybe an evaluation to tell you if the employee found it enjoyable. So What! I don’t know if they can actually perform their job correctly do you?

Here’s where AI comes into play for training. There are new training applications (Like our ACES) that leverage AI and NLP applications to automate one-on-one coaching and guidance to walk an employee through hands-on tasks. Imagine putting a contact center agent into a variety or real-life scenarios multiple times until they have mastered these situations. The embedded AI tracking their behavior pro-actively addresses any mistakes they may make before they engage with live customers.

Plus using a bot like coach removes the need to use your seasoned staff to coach and assist your new hires. Keeping productive and skilled staff on the phone is a much better use of these resources.

Studies show that using this type of technology can even reduce the amount of time it takes to get that new hire up to speed. If you haven’t heard of the term Adaptive Learning you will. This form of learning allows a learner to learn at their own pace with ongoing feedback to calibrate their skills at just the right time.

If you spent a portion of your AI budget in applications like these, it should actually give you a higher ROI on any money you are spending on monitoring customer experiences. If you can proactively reduce call handling times, assure CSAT scores will be high before your agents are placed into production, I think it’s money well spent.

If you want to see an example of this, just click this link to view some sample videos of our ACES simulation.

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How To Make Your Own Intelligent Agent

By | bots, contact Center, simulations | No Comments

Do you talk to Siri or Alexa like they are a personal friend of yours? Intelligent agents and voice technology has exploded over the last three years. Our appliances, cars and HVAC systems talk to us. Now you can build your own intelligent agent without the need to have programming skills.

Amazon Alexa’s Skills has some great templates. Their Blueprint Skills page provides easy to use templates that cover topics from telling jokes, quiz games, and corporate applications.

Google has DialogFlow which provides templates and tools to incorporate, the built-in functions of your device, like time, location, directions etc. DialogFlow had a longer learning curve for me but I can certainly see the benefits of using this to create your own bots. It will even begin to “learn” how to accept inputs that may not be word for word what it needs to listen for but will begin to accept variations of what you are asking the bot for.

They also offer Actions as an extension of their Google Assistant with some pretty easy to use templates.

There are several new companies forming to provide you with a nice user-friendly tool to build your own bot.

Here are some tips to think about when you are building your bot.

  1. Do you want your bot to have a specific persona
    bot agent

    Facebook bot agent

  2. Who are your target users, do they have a device that works with this platform or can they install an app to interact with the platform you are building your bot for
  3. You need to think about what response you want the bot to provide if the user is giving it an input it doesn’t understand.
  4. Does your bot need to be private or secure
  5. Do you want to collect what someone is saying to the bot

Both Amazon and Google have free options which are a great way to play around with them at no risk. Have fun and test it out, you’d be surprised how easy it can be to build your own intelligent agent.

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Simulation vs. RolePlay

By | bots, call center, contact Center, simulations | No Comments

The Differences of RolePlaying – vs. Scalable Simulations

Click here to see simulation demos

When I speak to people about our simulator ACES™ some people will interchange the term roleplaying and simulations but there is a difference. As I tend to be a little biased on using simulations vs roleplaying.  I thought it would be a helpful exercise to create a chart to list out the similarities and differences between the two activities. This chart below compares the two. There is room for both types of learning methodologies but studies do show that allowing students to spend time in a simulator vs roleplaying, they do perform better. Here is a link to a study conducted by Georgia Institute of Technology conducting a side by side comparison of traditional roleplay in a call center vs simulation.

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