Off Center
With 57 percent of customers calling contact centers for support after attempting to find answers online first (according to the Customer Contact Council), it makes sense (and cents) for your organization to look for ways to optimize web self-service.

Now, you’re probably getting tired of my take on everything, so I’ve brought in a knowledgeable guest – someone even smarter than I think I am. Following is my exchange with Ashley Verrill, a call center analyst and self-service expert with Software Advice, who was happy to discuss some of the winning online self-support practices of top customer care organizations.

What is the most important web self-service feature, and how does not offering this feature impact the customer experience?

I would say having a really effective search bar is crucial. Often, customers will land directly on an article because they typed their question into Google and your self-service content was among the results returned. However, if the article they navigate to doesn’t directly answer their question, you’ll want to provide them a simple “out” for quickly finding the right content – otherwise you risk them switching to a more labor-intensive channel, such as phone or email. Also, the longer it takes for customers to find the answer, the more likely they are to become frustrated. There’s nothing worse than landing on a self-service support homepage only to find a long list of FAQs or discussion threads. It doesn’t leave the impression that finding the right solution will be easy or fast.

I’ve heard (and read) you mention that it’s essential to offer an “escape” – an easy way for the customer to chat with a live agent if he or she can’t find an answer. But what about proactively “chatting up” users once they arrive to your site? Which of these is a more critical feature to offer?

It really depends. Proactively chatting with every website visitor can be really labor intensive – particularly for websites that experience thousands of visits on any given day. I would recommend a proactive chat feature only if it could be used to directly drive more revenue, like if you’re able to offer more consultative advice to new opportunities that could lead to a sale, or if existing customers have the potential to become return customers. Some very large organizations have the ability to dynamically offer proactive chat based on characteristics about the site visitor. For example, I’ve seen proactive chat solutions that can be programmed only to appear if the site visitor is recognized as being in their marketing “sweet spot” – based on data from their IP address, social, potentially mobile and other sources.

Another alternative might be having your contact center agents proactively serve up chat only to visitors who navigate to your support pages. This wouldn’t help you generate more revenue in a direct way, but at least it’s a way to more exclusively target those people looking for support…and it might improve the customer experience by not having them sit on hold or wait for an emailed reply.

What are the best ways to showcase an online community moderator, and how should he or she go about identifying customer service opportunities? Does having a community moderator impact the customer’s perception, or does it simply ensure that questions get answered?

I think having a community moderator is imperative. One of the biggest obstacles companies face in driving engagement in an online community is the perception that customers won’t actually get an answer, or at least they won’t get one quickly. So, if they dive into a discussion thread that matches their question only to find no one has responded, they probably won’t ever try the channel again.

For this reason, moderators should be present to proactively provide an answer if it doesn’t come from the community. As far as how long a moderator should wait before intervening, I’ve heard average response time ranges between 1-3 hours. Many tools provide features that can automatically notify a moderating agent if a community question goes unanswered. I’ve also seen a lot of communities that will add some kind of visual indicator to call out moderators so it’s really obvious. This usually comes in the form of a branded icon or color-coded indicator.

With 67 percent of customers preferring to find answers online (according to Nuance), what are some quick tips for improving web self-service with minimal effort?

I’d say first you need to make sure that your community is stocked with answers to your most common customer questions. So, take a survey within your contact center and identify the top 20 most popular questions. Write solid content that answers those questions, then add them to your community. Then, ask agents to record instances where customers said they tried to find an answer online. This will identify gaps in your content or improvements that could be made to the presentation of your content.

For additional info on web self-service, you can check out my post from a couple of years ago:
“Web Self-Service that Won’t Self-Destruct”. Keep in mind I drink more than Ashley does.

With text-based communication fast becoming the norm in society today, anthropologists estimate that by next year humans will have no vocal cords to speak of. Spoken conversation will soon become as rare and as odd an occurrence as a good Samuel L. Jackson movie or the closing of a Starbucks.  

Thus, offering a web chat option in your call center is no longer merely recommended but totally essential if you hope to ever acquire and retain any customers born after 2012.

To assist you, here’s a quick list of the best practices in chat implementation and management:  

Invest in an advanced chat management solution.  Plenty of call centers are able to get by using basic chat tools, but getting by isn’t nearly enough in today’s text-obsessed world. To ensure that service level objectives and high customer satisfaction are achieved, progressive managers invest in advanced chat applications specially designed to make the call center seem customer-centric and fully literate. Today's chat solutions feature the following capabilities:

·      Intelligent routing, which ensures that smart customers are routed to smart agents, and that dumb customers are tricked into using self-service.

·      Access to complete customer history, which informs agents what level of profanity to expect during each chat session.

·      A knowledgebase of FAQs, response templates and web links so that agents needn’t try to formulate full thoughts while interacting with customers.

·      Web collaboration tools that enable agents to fill out forms for customers who lose the use of their hands after punching their computer.

·      Multilingual capabilities, thus allowing each customer to insult your company and your mother in their native tongue.

Incorporate chat into the call center’s WFM process. I went off on the importance of this in a previous post (“Forecasting and Scheduling Beyond the Phones”:, thus I won’t go into it much here. But I would like to point out that reporting, forecasting and scheduling for chat is further complicated in centers where agents handle multiple chat sessions concurrently to gain efficiencies. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to hire slow chat agents who are bad at multitasking, as this will make your WFM team's job much easier. Of course, the Millennial generation lives to text and multitask, thus you might consider revamping your recruiting practices to target people in their 70s and 80s, who tend to be less text-savvy yet still need to work because their nest egg rotted in 2008.   

Set up agents for chat success. Just because most of your existing agents have grown up on text doesn’t mean that they know how to communicate with people who are old enough to shave. Even your agents (actually, especially your agents) who have an iPhone as an appendage still need to be formally trained on chat-handling to ensure that they come off as customer care professionals and not as acronym-obsessed idiots. (LMAO! ROTFL!)

Among the chat-related topics and issues that leading call centers cover in training are: the center’s performance objectives for chat; the company’s preferred writing style; how to use web collaboration tools along with chat; how to fight through the severe pain of chronic hand cramping; and, most importantly, how to spell without ever using numbers (it’s never too L8 to start that last one.)

Put the right chat metrics in place. Centers that don’t suck at chat are careful to embrace metrics that promote a healthy balance between productivity and quality. These centers recognize that focusing solely on such traditional metrics as Average Chat Handle Time or Number of Chats Handled per Hour places the customer experience and agents’ stomach lining at risk. Instead, these centers embrace such customer-centric metrics as Chat Quality (measured via evaluation of chat session transcripts), Customer Satisfaction (measured via timely post-contact surveys), First-Chat Resolution Rate (measured by flipping a coin) and, last but not least, Number of LOLs per Hour.

As customer care and contact centers continue to evolve, so must the metrics that centers measure. Sure, some classic metrics – such as service level, quality and C-Sat – will be around forever; however less pertinent and impactful ones will fade away while newer, sexier measures emerge.

For example, in the early years of customer service, metrics like ATTCT (Average Time Till Carpal Tunnel) and NRPC (Number of Reps Per Cubicle) ruled the roost, but have since become secondary or tertiary metrics in most modern contact centers. As have such measures as HSPS (Headset Shocks Per Shift) and AAL (Average Agent Lifespan).

So, what fresh new metrics can we expect to emerge and soon bloom into powerful key performance indicators? I recently asked several noted contact center practitioners, consultants and analysts their opinion on the matter, but I forgot to record our conversations or take any notes, so here are my new KPI predictions instead:

FTR – First-Tweet Resolution. This will become an increasingly critical metric in this crazy age of social media. FTR measures the percentage of angry customers on Twitter that the contact center is able to “silence” before the customer posts any more tweets about how much they hate your company.

For example, let’s say that 10 of your customers write an incendiary comment about how the last agent they spoke to on the phone was an idiot or how your IVR system made them want to commit a violent crime. If your center is able to contact and persuade seven of those customers to not launch any additional 140-character verbal barrages, then your FTR rate would be 70%. But you will never achieve an FTR rate of 70% because 90% of human beings need Twitter to get the attention they desire but don’t get at home or work. So just shoot for a FTR rate of 10%-20%. 

Naturally, you don’t want the whole world seeing your desperate attempts to convince customers to stop flaming about your company on Twitter. Instead, it’s best to send each fuming customer a friendly private message via Twitter asking them to kindly call or email you to discuss how you might get them to shut up.    

ART – Average Refrigerator Time. This metric’s emergence is a direct result of the recent proliferation of home agents in the contact center industry. ART measures how many minutes per shift a home agent spends searching for snacks in the kitchen when they are scheduled to be on the phones. In contact centers that have a large percentage of former high school football linemen and/or aspiring Sumo wrestlers among their remote staff, ART is measured in hours rather than minutes.

To effectively measure ART, it’s essential to install in each home agent’s house a “fridge-cam” that captures and records every trip the agent makes to the kitchen while on the job. Unfortunately, it’s highly illegal to do so; nevertheless, the best contact center managers know that sometimes you have to break the rules in order to maintain the tradition and integrity of accurate and precise metric measurement.  

Most contact centers struggle to keep ART within acceptable ranges – not just because of the irresistible lure that the refrigerator presents for home agents, but also because most managers and supervisors in charge of home agents are uncomfortable telling an employee that he should watch his carb and fat intake. Some of the most forward-thinking centers have succeeded in lowering their ART rate by installing in each home agent’s fridge a sound card that says something like “You disgust me” or simply “AGAIN?” each time the refrigerator door is opened.

HSPH – Hand Spasms Per Hour. As web chat has grown as a customer contact channel, so have the debilitating finger cramps of the agents who handle chat sessions. A recent study that I conducted or maybe just had a dream about showed that contact centers that offer chat are 94.3% more likely to have agents who have hands that look like crab claws.

Thus, HSPH is fast becoming a critical metric in chat-handling centers that don’t like their employees looking like crustaceans. To measure HSPH, centers simply need to attach to the hands of each chat agent a small non-invasive electrode that detects each muscle spasm that occurs. HSPH scores in the 10-15 per hour range are considered normal; anything over that is a sign that the agent is at risk for moderate to severe hand cramping that could hinder their ability to compose coherent messages during chat sessions with customers. Once an agent’s HSPH score approaches 50 or more per hour, there is nothing left to do but pronounce their hand(s) legally dead, then move them into Sales, where all they’ll ever need to use is their mouth.