Five Things Every Call Center Should Remember Before the Holiday Seasons

 

The holiday season is generally the busiest time for call centers. To make things more complicated, agents aren’t just dealing with a high volume of interactions, but also higher expectations from customers. This doesn’t have to be feared, however—it can be an opportunity. By properly preparing for the holiday season, you can deliver an exceptional experience to customers and ultimately turn the experience into a value-adding proposition.

Here are five important things to remember ahead of the holiday season:

  • Make sure that your team is staffed up – A call center with a sophisticated data analysis platform should be able to look back at call volume and other metrics in previous holiday seasons to gauge demand in upcoming seasons. This will give your team enough time to acquire the necessary manpower to manage the heavy load.
  • Identify potential problem areas and create new processes – While some problems can’t be predicted, it is valuable to make a concerted effort to prepare for issues that your organization is already aware of. Be careful, however—don’t encourage agents to give canned responses. Instead, train them to quickly recognize underlying customer issues with an understanding of how to solve them.
  • Arm you agents with actionable knowledge and best practices – The lead up to the holiday season isholiday the perfect time to instill new knowledge and skills into your customer support team. This includes new customer interaction techniques and insight into your products and services. By doing this, you’ll ensure that everyone is on the same page ahead of the rise in call volume.
  • Strengthen your technological systems – Putting aside customer service agents themselves, your business needs to focus on the IT side of the holiday season. A system outage at this time would be highly detrimental. Many businesses fail to take this crucial step and are left with dissatisfied customers at the end of the holidays.
  • Expand your customer service offerings – While it’s important not to overextend your customer service team during the holidays, the season is the perfect time to offer expanded services to your customers. Whether that’s the use of new live chat features on your company website, or a more dedicated social media customer support presence, these steps will both satisfy customers and reduce overall call volume.

These steps will help your customer service team prepare for the always-hectic holiday season. Providing effective service during this difficult time to your customers has the potential to create an immense amount of loyalty to your brand.

Stratus Contact Solutions is a leading US-based provider of multichannel contact center solutions including call centers, social media, live chat and email. Every interaction through each channel is an opportunity to turn contact services into a value-adding proposition for your brand.

 

Six Traits to Look for in Effective Contact Center Agents

No matter how strong your processes and best practices, your contact center will suffer if it is not staffed with effective call center agents. This doesn’t just apply to the hiring process. In order to hold your agents to this high standard, you’ll need to engage in ongoing education and the continued application of emerging call center agent practices. This won’t merely create more effective call center agents—it will have real bottom-line impact on your business as a whole.

Here are a few of the top qualities to look for from call center agents:

  • Effective Organization – In a multichannel contact center, agents are tasked witcall center agent h communicating directly with customers, managing CRM databases, and communicating with other departments to reach solutions. This requires a great deal of focus and organization to be made successful. One way to determine this quality in prospective agents is to look at their actions during the application process: did they meet deadlines, arrive on-time, and submit proper information? This is will give you an idea of whether they’ll be up to the multi-tasking needed in a modern contact center.
  • Learning Ability – Customer service agents don’t merely need to know how to deal with customers—they need to know your products or services as well. Beyond this, ongoing education is crucial. You need customer service agents who are able to quickly learn about new products and services, as well as emerging best practices. Be sure that prospective agents are eager to learn new information and effective at putting it into practice.
  • Focus – It can be easy for customer service agents to fall into a routine once they have become acclimated to a new work environment. Customers ask similar questions, after all, which makes it tempting to deliver the same answer every time. That’s not the way to deliver exceptional customer service. Instead of hiring agents who give canned responses, look for candidates who actively engage in conversation and focus on what’s being said. This skill will prove to indispensable in the career of any customer service agent.
  • Flexibility – Every customer service interaction is different, requiring customer service agents to react on the fly to changing customer needs and even difficult service interactions. Failing to hire customer service agents who are flexible will put your business at a strong disadvantage.
  • Positive Demeanor – Of course, one of the key components of an effective customer service interactions is a positive tone from your agents. Sincerity and friendliness are hard qualities to quantify, but they have a world-changing effect on the efficacy of your call centers. If you can deliver a positive experience to customers, even when their issues are not easily resolved, you’ll instill a great degree of loyalty in them.

There are many qualities to look for when hiring a customer service agent, but these six are a great place to start. In the context of a multichannel customer service center, the need for quality customer service agents is more important than ever.

Stratus Contact Solutions is a leading US-based provider of multichannel contact center solutions including call centers, social media, live chat and email.

In his position as COO, Bryan is responsible for  the day-to-day operations of the company’s contact centers, customer relations and client acquisitions. Gross has 30 years of extensive customer contact center industry experience, on both the client and agency sides of the business.  Prior to joining Stratus, he served as Chief Operating Officer for Global Interactive Services, LLC, where he was responsible for operating the company and it’s strategic direction.  He has a proven track record for building successful operations at such companies as TCIM Services, ACS (XEROX), Center Partners, Teletech, Sprint and MCI.

Four Ways to Boost Contact Center Agent Engagement

Despite the range of emerging techniques in the field of customer service, the single most important aspect of a customer service interaction is the engagement level of your brand’s agent. A dispassionate agent will frustrate customers and turn them away from your brand, while a truly helpful agent will help instill satisfaction, even if their issues cannot be immediately resolved.

So how do you get agents to be more engaged in interactions with customers? Take a look at these four tips:

  • Ask agents for insight and get them involved in processes – Your customer service agents will be
    incentivized to become engaged if you can create an contactcenteropen work environment. The street must go both ways: agents should feel comfortable to speak openly with management and make suggestions, while simultaneously remaining open to constructive feedback. This sort of work environment fosters increased engagement.
  • Show agents the behind-the-scenes of your business – Agents will be better equipped to deal with the wide range of customer concerns if they have a full understanding of your company’s offerings. The effects of this are two-fold. First, it will show agents that they are a valued part of your organization. Second, it will give them more insight into the concerns faced by customers.
  • Make agents feel valued and impactful – Though we’ve touched on this idea briefly, it merits greater focus. By now, it’s well proven that employees who feel valued by organizations are more likely to deliver strong work performances. This is especially true for customer service agents. If your agents feel like they are having a positive impact on your bottom-line, they’ll be encouraged to redouble their efforts.
  • Trust your agents – If you trust your business’ hiring processes, then you should trust the skills and knowledge of your employees. After all, who has better insight into customers than the agents who deal with them directly? To this effect, don’t be afraid to come to your agents for insight when developing new products and business processes. Their knowledge will improve your business, and your trust will show them that they are valued members of your teams.

There are many other effective ways to get your contact center agents more engaged, but these suggestions are great first steps. Ultimately, doing so will not merely have a positive effect on your call center, but also the bottom line of your business as a whole.

Contact Stratus Contact Solutions to learn more about our multi-channel contact center management capabilities.

Dennis has served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company since May 1997 and as a director since the Company began operations in 1996. Dennis has been involved with 18 successful acquisitions and integrations of various communications companies during his tenure with the Company. Prior to joining the Company, Dennis was President of the Communications Group of Intellicall, held various positions on both the audit and the consulting staffs with Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young) and concluded his tenure with Ernst & Whinney as Senior Consultant.

Get Your Contact Center Ready for the Holidays

It’s the time of year when holiday customer service requirements in the contact center surge.  Stress levels are high and agent performance needs to be at it’s best.  Below are some suggestions to keep in mind as you get your contact centers ready for the holiday season.

Communicate Holiday Changes
A variety of things may be adjusted in the contact center during the holiday season.  Whether you are changing operating hours to meet holiday demand, offering a special holiday product, Get Your Contact Center Ready for the Holidayschanging agent priorities or adding additional peak time agents, it’s imperative everyone in the contact center is aware of the changes.  Use the most efficient and effective method available to you to communicate the information.

Set Accurate Expectations

Managing agent expectations will go a long way to reducing stress and increasing productivity during the holidays.  To ensure your agents perform at their best, make sure you provide them with anticipated peak volumes and your performance expectations.

Increase Performance and Reduce Absenteeism

This is the time of year when agent absenteeism can seriously affect your call center results.  It’s also the time of year when everyone can use some holiday cheer.  Creating incentives during this time of year is a great way to motivate and reward your agents.  Offer rewards that are oriented toward holiday gift giving. This allows the agent to keep it for themselves or give it as a gift to family or friends.  Such things as, restaurant and movie gift cards, food gift baskets, a smoked turkey, cash, company t-shirts, an extra day off, etc.

Reduce Agent Stress

Helping to reduce your agent’s stress during the holiday season, can really improve performance.  Provide snacks and beverages to your agents to keep their energy levels high.  Consider offering chair massages to help reduce neck and shoulder tension.  Be observant, and if an agent needs a break or a word of encouragement, make sure they get it.  It could mean the difference between a former customer and a loyal customer.

Taking the time to prepare your contact center for the holiday season, will make it possible for your agents and your customers to have a positive experience.

 

Stratus Contact Solutions is a leading US-based provider of multichannel contact center solutions including call centers, social media, live chat and email.

 

Outsourcing For the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us.  Consumers will soon be purchasing gifts for families and friends. Many companies customer service satisfaction drops to  80% or lower during this time of year. Are you ready for the surge in customer service needs?  Instead of hiring additional staff to meet your increased customer service needs consider using an outsourced inbound contact center.  Below are a few reasons why outsourcing your customer support during the holidays makes sense.

Meeting Peak Time Demand Affordablysnowflakes

You know your customer service needs will increase over the holiday season but peak periods are often followed by slow periods.  Outsourced call centers are equipped to add customer service agents on an as-needed basis. This will allow you to reduce costs and wait times for your customers, resulting in increased customer satisfaction.

Experienced Well-Trained Agents

Hiring and training additional holiday agents is time-consuming at an already busy time of year. The agents used by outsourced contact centers have been trained and are already experienced in providing customer support.  They are used to being trained to support various clients quickly and efficiently.  In addition, outsourced call center agents are capable of supporting your customers through multiple channels.

Various Options To Meet Your Needs

Outsourced contact centers are experienced in providing customer service to a variety of clients who have different needs.  This experience makes them a great solution for the holiday season when you may temporarily need 24/7 service or multiple languages. They are set up to offer many options in a cost-effective way during the holiday season.

Multichannel Experience

Most outsourced contact centers offer customer support through multiple channels including phone, live chat, email and social media. They have experienced agents ready to provide peak time support through whatever customer service channels your company needs.

Outsourcing during the holidays can be an easy and cost-effective way to support peak customer service times.  Before you hire additional seasonal staff, talk to an outsourced inbound contact service company about their capabilities.  It could make your holidays less stressful for you and more pleasant for your customers.

Stratus Contact Solutions is a leading US-based provider of multichannel contact center solutions including call centers, social media, live chat and email.

In his position as COO, Bryan is responsible for  the day-to-day operations of the company’s contact centers, customer relations and client acquisitions. Gross has 30 years of extensive customer contact center industry experience, on both the client and agency sides of the business.  Prior to joining Stratus, he served as Chief Operating Officer for Global Interactive Services, LLC, where he was responsible for operating the company and it’s strategic direction.  He has a proven track record for building successful operations at such companies as TCIM Services, ACS (XEROX), Center Partners, Teletech, Sprint and MCI.

Consumer Usage of Customer Service Channels

Email is still one of the most popular ways consumers choose to reach out to companies for their customer service needs.  With the continued use of mobile phones and tablets, it’s easier than ever for customers to use email as one of their customer support channels.  According to the 2015 Customer Benchmark Study, some consumers stated that if they receive poor email service from a company, they will no longer do business with them.  They also felt that too often, a standardized text was used to address their issue, treating them like a number rather than an individual.

According to the study, email (85%) and phone (82%) are the most used customer service channels by consumers.

consumer-usage-table

 

In spite of the popularity of using email for customer service, participants were frustrated by the length of time they had to wait for a response.  Consumers expect a quick response when contacting a company. One third (39%) of consumers said that they were not prepared to wait more than 6 hours for a response.

consumer-usage-2

With 81% of customers expecting a response within 24 hours or less and the high usage of this channel, it’s essential to have a system in place for adequate response time or to partner with a contact center management company that can meet the level of customer service demands.

Contact Stratus Contact Solutions to learn more about our multi-channel contact center management capabilities.

Dennis has served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company since May 1997 and as a director since the Company began operations in 1996. Dennis has been involved with 18 successful acquisitions and integrations of various communications companies during his tenure with the Company. Prior to joining the Company, Dennis was President of the Communications Group of Intellicall, held various positions on both the audit and the consulting staffs with Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young) and concluded his tenure with Ernst & Whinney as Senior Consultant.

 

5 Tips on Training Agents for Social Customer Support

Most contact center agents have most of their experience in providing customer support via phone and email. Many of them are experts in private one-on-one interactions with customers.  Social media requires a different type of interaction because each social media channel is unique and public. A customer service response on Facebook is very different than one on Twitter. Whether it’s a new agent or one with years of experience, they can be trained to provide great customer support through social media. Below are 5 tips to keep in mind as you train your agents for social customer service.

  1. Provide knowledge of social channels

Don’t assume that because someone is familiar with social channels they’ve used or fully understand them. It’s important to provide a basic knowledge of how to us5 Tips on Training Agents for Social Customer Supporte each social media service and how to best provide customer service for each channel. Help each agent set up their accounts and provide them with guided interactions.

  1. Train through role-playing and simulation

Develop a series of trainings designed for beginners, intermediates and advanced users focused on skills that will be used at each level. If you have agents already savvy in social media, use them to train and mentor other agents. Simulations or role-playing exercises will give the agents the ability to experience interacting on a social media channel. It also allows the trainers to focus on additional help that is needed specific to each agent. When training with simulation, it’s important to give real-time feedback by offering an evaluation at the end of training.

  1. Establish best practices for all social media channels.

Because social media is public and customer interactions can be shared with millions, it is very important agents are provided the resources they need to respond appropriately to customers. Establish a best practice resource that agents can quickly access. The best Facebook responses will be too long for Twitter. Your resource information needs to include basic responses, phrases and examples specific to each channel.

  1. Determine the brand “voice” for social media interactions.

As part of your guidelines for agents, you need to determine what brand “voice” you want them to follow. It might be business professional or casual and friendly. The agents need to be consistent with this while maintaining flexibility It is important that the interactions seem personal to the customer they are servicing.

  1. Start and complete an interaction on the same channel.

When agents are engaging with a customer through social media, there are often other people following the interaction. This is why it’s important to end the customer conversation on the same channel it began. An agent may have to take the interaction offline because of sensitive information, but it’s important to wrap-up the conversation on the original channel. By doing this, followers will see it was resolved and prevent potential problems.

More and more consumers are choosing social media for customer support. This requires well-trained agents who understand the social channels and how best to interact with customers.  Taking the time to provide quality training to agents will give them the foundation they need to deliver exceptional social customer service and great results for the company.

Stratus Contact Solutions is an expert in social media customer service.  Learn more.

Source:  The Multichannel Agent: A 2014 Contact Center Roadmap Research Report and Best Practices Guide

Creating Consistency with Multichannel Customer Support

One significant pitfall faced by organizations that implement multichannel customer care strategies is failing to create consistency across a range of channels. Not only can this lead to confusion among a customer base, but it also fails to utilize the branding potential of customer support. Every customer service interaction defines your business in a small way, and consistency is key to leaving a good impression with customers.

Many businesses still struggle to put this into practice. The survey Are Your Customers Lost In The Multichannel Maze showed that only 10% of businesses have a clear strategy in place to integrate all their contact channels and have successfully implemented it.

This is a missed opportunity. According to a study performed by Aberdeen Group Inc., companiemultichannels that deliver effective multi-channel customer support retain 89% of their customers, versus a dismal 33% among companies with ineffective multi-channel strategies. And that’s just the beginning: companies with effective multi-channel support strategies increase annual revenue by 9.5% year-over-year, while reducing cost per customer contact by 7.5% annually.

As you can see, an effective multi-channel customer service strategy will both drive revenue and reduce costs. It will drive revenue by instilling a strong sense of brand loyalty in your customers and encouraging them to spend more on your products and services. It will reduce costs by resolving customer issues in a more timely manner, as well as leveraging the processes of one support channel to streamline another.

With a wide range of potential customer support channels–from phone to email to social media–it can be difficult to implement consistent processes, while also delivering consistent information. It requires a customer support partner with extensive experience in the field. Still, should this consistency be achieved, it will pay off dividends in terms of customer loyalty, cost reduction, and overall revenue.

Contact Stratus Contact Solutions to learn more about our multi-channel contact center management capabilities.

Dennis has served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company since May 1997 and as a director since the Company began operations in 1996. Dennis has been involved with 18 successful acquisitions and integrations of various communications companies during his tenure with the Company. Prior to joining the Company, Dennis was President of the Communications Group of Intellicall, held various positions on both the audit and the consulting staffs with Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young) and concluded his tenure with Ernst & Whinney as Senior Consultant.

Live Chat Has Highest Customer Satisfaction Rating

When considering what channels are important to include in your customer service offering, live chat should be on the list.  It continues to be a top choice by consumers for resolving customer service issues.

The 2015 Customer Service Benchmark Report shows live chat has the highest satisfaction rating of all customer service channels. Almost a third (31%) of consumers have used live chat to contact a company in the last year – 73% of whom said that they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the experience they received. The below graph indicates consumer’s satisfaction by phone, social media, email and live chat.

stratusblog1

In addition, customers participating in the survey identified the following items as important for companies to include when offering live chat.

  • Clear messages detailing if there is an agent available to talk, and if not, how long they are likely to wait.
  • Messages to signal when an adviser has read a live chat message and when they are typing to respond.
  • Have a dedicated adviser dealing with just their issue and not speaking to more than one customer at a time.
  • Give plenty of time for customer response before ending the chat session.

Another interesting result from the 2015 Customer Service Benchmark Report is 65% of customers expect to wait 1 minute or less to speak to an agent when they are using live chat.   See the below graph for expected live chat response time.

With these types of consumer satisfaction ratings, it is clear that live chat should be considered as a part of any customer service strategy.Customer Satisifaction By Channel

Contact Stratus Contact Solutions to learn more about our mutli-channel contact center services.

Dennis has served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company since May 1997 and as a director since the Company began operations in 1996. Dennis has been involved with 18 successful acquisitions and integrations of various communications companies during his tenure with the Company. Prior to joining the Company, Dennis was President of the Communications Group of Intellicall, held various positions on both the audit and the consulting staffs with Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young) and concluded his tenure with Ernst & Whinney as Senior Consultant.

 

Contact Center Agents Do’s & Don’ts

It’s impossible to deliver exceptional customer service without providing equally exceptional training for your agents. Difficult situations are inevitable in the customer service industry, but proper training ensures that your agents will transform these potentially negative interactions into valuable opportunities to build customer loyalty.

Here are a few of our most valuable “DO’s” when it comes to customer service agent training:

  • Be Informed – If your customer service agents aren’t fully informed of the intricacies of your product offerings, then it will be impossible for them to deal with the full range of customer issues. The foundation of any contact center is your agents’ knowledge.
  • Embrace Active Listening – Once your customer service agents have a baseline of knowledge about your brand’s products, they should put it to work by actively engaging with customers. To achieve this, they must focus on using active listening to get at the root of their issues, which will encourage a swift resolution that benefits all parties.
  • Learn From Mentors – Organized training sessions can be valuable, but there is not a more effective way to learn how to deliver exceptional customer service than to directly engage with the people who know the field best. To achieve this outcome, pair new agents with high-performing employees who have proven their value to your organization.contact-center-supervisor

And here are some important “DON’Ts”:

  • Don’t overuse the script – Scripts can be great for giving customer service agents a baseline of how to handle common issues, but it’s important not to over rely on them, as this results in customer service interactions that feel inauthentic. Instead, use scripts as guidelines but allow agents to push conversations in the directions they feel will be most productive.
  • Don’t forget about timing – While it’s important to resolve customer issues, it’s equally important to do so in a timely manner. In fact, the benefits of helping a customer resolve an issue will be negated if that process takes an inordinate amount of time.
  • Don’t abdicate responsibility – Some customer service interactions require agents to escalate calls to a supervisor, but this should be avoided if at all possible. Not only does this encourage agents to be proactive in resolving customer complaints in a timely manner, but it also simplifies the process for customers, thereby improving customer loyalty.

 

Your customer service agents will only be effective as the techniques they employ, and these training Do’s and Don’ts will provide them with the best practices they need to deliver exceptional customer service. What’s more, this will give your business a tactical advantage when your services are compared against those of your competitors.

Looking for customer service experts? Contact Stratus Contact Solutions today!

In his position as COO, Bryan is responsible for  the day-to-day operations of the company’s contact centers, customer relations and client acquisitions. Gross has 30 years of extensive customer contact center industry experience, on both the client and agency sides of the business.  Prior to joining Stratus, he served as Chief Operating Officer for Global Interactive Services, LLC, where he was responsible for operating the company and it’s strategic direction.  He has a proven track record for building successful operations at such companies as TCIM Services, ACS (XEROX), Center Partners, Teletech, Sprint and MCI.