Off Center
 
“Smile, you’re on Customer Camera.”

Such a statement isn’t quite as silly or absurd as it sounds. Video calls are no longer just a whimsical fantasy. The technology that drives video interactions with customers is ready for prime time, and has been for a while.

Not a lot of contact centers have experimented with video calls to date, but some have and even report success in the visual medium. These centers claim that video calls aren’t just a gimmicky trend but rather something that many customers want – particularly those who are voyeurs and/or exhibitionists.

Video calls break down the barriers that exist with faceless phone conversations (and emails, chats, tweets), thus enabling companies to establish stronger rapport and more personalized relationships with customers. And because video lets customers put a face with a name, it makes it much easier for a disgruntled customer to find the exact agent he wants to slap after driving (or flying) to the contact center site, thus saving innocent staff members from any harm.

Achieving success with video calls, however, requires careful planning and strategy. Easy to overlook when implementing video are the unique performance metrics the center needs to measure in association with this new contact channel. While many of the metrics used for traditional phone calls also apply to video contacts, there are a few new measures that are particularly essential for success with video, including…

Food Particles In Teeth Per Shift (FPITPS): Agents who handle traditional voice-only calls can get away with having a piece of spinach or broccoli caught between their teeth, even if it does disgust their coworkers. For video agents, however, such a common occurrence can cause a customer experience disaster. In fact, a recent study found that video callers are 87% less likely to continue doing business with a company whose video agents fail to floss effectively.

Video agents should be coached and trained not only on proper pre-call flossing but also on the use toothpicks and hand mirrors to ensure that their FPITPS numbers remain very low. While there is no industry standard for FPITPS, the best video-enabled contact centers aim for between 0.0 and 0.2 food particles in teeth per shift for the entire center. The exception is suicide prevention hotlines, where higher FPITPS numbers are not only tolerated but encouraged, as studies have shown that agents with food caught in their teeth on camera helps emotionally distressed callers feel a lot better about their own lives.

 
Agent Smile Radius (ASR): Agents have historically been told to “put a smile in your voice” (and your emails/chats/tweets). Despite being an annoying and ambiguous command that makes agents feel like punching their supervisor, this practice has been shown to increase customer satisfaction. Now, with video, agents must learn to put an actual physical smile on their face when interacting with customers – no easy task when you consider the long hours, verbal abuse, physical confinement, low pay, and corporate motivational posters that agents must contend with each day.

To ensure that agents smile widely on a consistent basis during video calls, it’s important to hold them accountable and reward them for achieving an ambitious yet feasible Agent Smile Radius (ASR). ASR is the distance from one corner of an agent’s mouth to the other when forcing a smile during customer interactions. When choosing an ASR objective, select one that requires agents to smile big enough to make customers feel warm and special, but not so big that the customer mistakes the agent for Julia Roberts or Mick Jagger.
 
If you have some agents who simply cannot force a smile onto their face during video calls, consider using some strategic tools and props to help elicit genuine grins from these grumps. Possible smile-inducing tactics include having a supervisor stand off-camera wearing a pinwheel hat, and investing in workstation chairs that tickle.

 
Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR): For traditional phone agents, the rolling of eyes while speaking to bothersome customers is as common a practice as sobbing alone in the break room or beneath a workstation. However, video agents must strive to keep such insulting actions in check. If customers see an agent rolling his/her eyes, they will feel the company doesn’t value them – thus increasing the likelihood of them taking their video contacts to a more caring company where agents merely have food particles stuck in their teeth.

Given the idiocy of some customers today, it’s unfair to expect video agents to completely refrain from rolling their eyes. Still, it’s important to keep eye-rolling to a bare minimum. Establishing a strictly enforced Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR) objective and educating agents on said objective will help in this endeavor.

For best results, reward and recognize video agents who maintain a low AERR over time, or who last more than 10-15 minutes without rolling their eyes even once during a shift. And be sure to deal with problematic eye-rollers swiftly and sternly, either by docking their pay or by telling them that if they don’t stop rolling their eyes, their face is going to stay that way. 


Got any good (read: funny) metrics for video-enabled contact centers you’d like to recommend? Please share them in the comment section below.


 
True contact center success comes when organizations make the critical switch from a “Measure everything that moves” mindset to one of “Measure what matters most.” Given that we are now living in the Age of Customer Influence, “what matters most” is that which most increases the likelihood of the customer not telling the world how evil you are via Twitter.

No longer can companies coast on Average Handle Time (AHT) and Number of Calls Handled per Hour. Such metrics may have ruled the roost back when contact centers were back-office torture chambers, but the customer care landscape has since changed dramatically. Today, customers expect and demand service that is not only swift but stellar. A speedy response is appreciated, but only when it’s personalized, professional and accurate – and when what’s promised is actually carried out.

AHT and other straight productivity measurements still have a place in the contact center (e.g. for workforce management purposes as well as identifying workflow and training issues). However, in the best centers – those that understand that the customer experience is paramount – the focus is on a set of five far more qualitative and holistic metrics.

1) Service Level. How accessible your contact center is sets the tone for every customer interaction and determines how much vulgarity agents will have to endure on each call. Service level (SL) is still the ideal accessibility metric, revealing what percentage of calls (or chat sessions) were answered in “Y” seconds. A common example (but NOT an industry standard!) SL objective is 80/20.

The “X percent in Y seconds” attribute of SL is why it’s a more precise accessibility metric than its close cousin, Average Speed of Answer (ASA). ASA is a straight average, which can cause managers to make faulty assumptions about customers’ ability to reach an agent promptly. A reported ASA of, say, 30 seconds doesn’t mean that all or even most callers reached an agent in that time; many callers likely got connected more quickly while many others may not have reached an agent until after they perished.


2) First-Call Resolution (FCR). No other metric has as big an impact on customer satisfaction and costs (as well as agent morale) as FCR does. Research has shown that customer satisfaction (C-Sat) ratings will be 35-45 percent lower when a second call is made for the same issue.

Trouble is, accurately measuring FCR is something that can stump even the best and brightest scientists at NASA. (I discussed the complexity of FCR tracking in a previous post.) Still and all, contact centers must strive to gauge this critical metric as best they can and, more importantly, equip agents with the tools and techniques they need to drive continuous (and appropriate) FCR improvement.


3) Contact Quality and 4) C-Sat. Contact Quality and C-Sat are intrinsically linked – and in the best contact centers, so are the processes for measuring them. To get a true account of Quality, the customer’s perspective must be incorporated into the equation. Thus, in world-class customer care organizations, agents’ Quality scores are a combination of internal compliance results (as judged by internal QA monitoring staff using a formal evaluation form) and customer ratings (and berating) gleaned from post-contact transactional C-Sat surveys.

Through such a comprehensive approach to monitoring, the contact center gains a much more holistic view of Contact Quality than internal monitoring alone can while simultaneously capturing critical C-Sat data that can be used not only by the QA department but enterprise-wide, as well.


5) Employee Satisfaction (E-Sat). Those who shun E-Sat as a key metric because they see it as “soft” soon find that achieving customer loyalty and cost containment is hard. There is a direct and irrefutable correlation between how unhappy agents are and how miserable they make customers. Failure to keep tabs on E-Sat – and to take action to continuously improve it – leads not only to bad customer experiences but also high levels of employee attrition and knife-fighting, which costs contact centers an arm and a leg in terms of agent re-recruitment, re-assessment, re-training, and first-aid.

Smart centers formally survey staff via a third-party surveying specialist at least twice a year to find out what agents like about the job, what they’d like to see change, and how likely they are to cut somebody or themselves.


For much more on these and other common contact center metrics, be sure to check out my FULL CONTACT ebook at http://www.offcenterinsight.com/full-contact-book.html.


 
Earlier this week I delivered a keynote presentation at a fun and informative user group event sponsored by Calabrio (www.calabrio.com). Prior to the event, Calabrio posed a handful of cogent questions and asked me to provide some insightful responses.

I provided these instead.

How have you seen contact centers change in the past 5 years?

For one, the contact center now receives much more respect from the rest of the company and the business world in general. What used to be viewed as a mere back-office operation is now highly valued for the critical customer data and insight it gathers daily (and shares with key departments) to greatly enhance customer loyalty and revenue. No longer do contact center managers and staff get beaten up and have their lunch money stolen by big mean bullies in Marketing, Sales or other departments. If you work in a contact center and still do endure such bullying, let me know and I’ll take care of it. I’m tough like that.

Another big and very positive change in our industry is the increased use of home agents. After years and years of contact centers just tinkering around and testing the home agent waters, many are finally fully embracing this powerful staffing model, which studies have shown to improve agent recruiting, retention and performance, as well as decrease facility costs and enhance staffing flexibility. Add in the obvious “green” benefits the home agent model affords, and it’s easy to see why more and more companies are kicking their agents out of the contact center. 

And of course, no conversation about big changes would be complete without mentioning the emergence of social media and its impact – both real and imagined – on customer care. Just when contact centers were starting to get a handle on the phones, email, chat and web self-service, social media comes barreling in and forces managers to return to therapy.  


What are a couple of the biggest challenges facing contact centers now?

One of the biggest challenges contact centers face now is one that they have always faced: Keeping agents in place and inspired. While with ICMI from 1994-2010, I was involved in several research studies and reader surveys in which we asked managers to list their biggest concerns and challenges. Agent turnover and burnout always topped the list. Fostering agent engagement and retention is especially critical in today’s crazy competitive business climate, where top-notch service and support is often the differentiating factor – the thing that determines what company a customer decides to mate with for life.

I’ve already alluded to what I see as the other major challenge in today’s contact center: Managing the multichannel madness. Have you ever tried accurately forecasting and scheduling for phone, email, chat and social media contacts – and ensuring that customers receive consistent, efficient and effective service regardless of which of those channels they choose? Scary. It’s why I merely analyze and write about contact centers rather than actually RUN one.


You’re a humorist in a unique industry. Can we use a little more comic relief in the world of customer service?

Absolutely. Just look at what we’ve got: An industry full of managers being pressed by execs to constantly do more with less; agents being measured on a multitude of performance metrics while sitting in a cubicle that’s the same square footage as their body; and the entire center having to handle a seemingly endless stream of calls and other contact types from highly demanding customers who are often abusive even though they know that you know where they live. If that’s not an industry begging for comic relief, I don’t know what is.

Managing a contact center is no laughing matter. But if you want to survive in this business, laughing matters. Humor defuses. Humor relieves. Humor inspires. And if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at – besides the guys over in IT.

 
When I came into this industry as an eager young journalist way back in 1994, the call center wasn’t sexy. It wore a frumpy dress, horned-rim glasses and sensible shoes. It was sturdy and reliable, but by and large was overlooked by the rest of the organization. Sure, there were some inbound centers that handled sales in addition to customer service, but few generated enough revenue to get invited to sit and eat at the popular kids’ table.

The call center helped plan the school prom, but rarely if ever got asked to go to it.

That was then. This is now. In today’s ultra-competitive business climate where there exists so much parity in available products and offerings, the differentiating factor is often the service and support the customer receives. Customers have tons of viable choices when it comes to which product to buy, what account to open, what policy to purchase, what airline to fly, and what hotel to sleep in. What typically tips the scales today and keeps these customers loyal for life is not what they see during a television ad, or read in a magazine, or hear on the radio; nor is price alone a determinant factor. No, what turns a potential or existing customer into a company advocate is what they experience when they contact your organization:

·      How long do they have to wait in queue when calling to reach a live agent?
·      How long do they have to wait to receive a response after sending an email or initiating a chat session -- or, gulp, firing off an angry tweet.
·      Once reached, how friendly, empathetic, engaged and knowledgeable is the agent, and how quickly is the agent able to provide the information needed?
·      How easy is it to use your IVR and web self-service apps (when self-service is what the customer chooses)?
·      How personalized is the overall experience when interacting with the agent/application in question?
·      How adept is your company at anticipating the customer’s needs?
·      How accountable is your company when it has made a mistake or fallen short of customer expectations?
·      How much does your company care about the customer?
·      How much does your company care about itself?

As you can see, the contact center – or the call center, or whatever you want to call this place where millions of customers interact with your company – not only has an impact on customer loyalty and overall business success; it has perhaps the biggest impact.

And let’s not forget the impact that the contact center has internally on the rest of the enterprise. No other area in the company has the capability to capture even a fraction of the data, expectations, desires and behavioral trends of customers – who are, in essence, the lifeblood of any organization. Once captured and shared within the enterprise, such invaluable information and insight makes Marketing, Sales, Research & Development and plenty of other departments a collective force to be reckoned with.

And the beauty of it all is that the contact center hasn’t let its increased power and popularity go to its head. It doesn’t strut around talking about its importance and value; rather it works very hard at demonstrating it. And it doesn’t ask for all the credit whenever lilting customer satisfaction is converted into lifetime customer loyalty, nor when revenue shoots through the roof due to highly consistent and positive customer experiences.

No, it doesn’t ask for such recognition; but unlike in years past, it’s starting to get plenty of it.

And deservedly so.


Note: This post was taken from the closing chapter of my book, Full Contact: Contact Center Practices & Strategies that Make an Impact. To learn more about Full Contact, check out the following link: http://www.offcenterinsight.com/full-contact-book.html