Let’s Talk Technology! (What is SaaS?)

This blog entry isn’t about what you get from a cranky youngster with a bad attitude – that’s a different kind of “sass.”

Rather, SaaS refers to “Software as a Service,” also known as on-demand software, whereby access to a computer program is provided to an individual or company on a subscription basis and delivered over the Internet.

SaaS is closely related to cloud computing.  You can think of the cloud as a computer located in some remote location, with SaaS being the software applications stored on that computer, accessible to anyone who pays for the service.

Traditionally, the most common way of obtaining software was to simply buy a copy of a program and install it on a computer.  This still happens quite frequently, but now there are also many SaaS applications on the market, whereby a program can be “rented” on a subscription basis instead of paying a large, up-front fee to purchase it.  Because SaaS applications are delivered over the Internet, they can typically be accessed from multiple locations, which can be a major advantage.

To give an example, MS Outlook is an example of a traditional software program, which is installed onto a single computer.   Gmail and Hotmail, however, function more like SaaS applications in the sense that they can be accessed and used by any computer with an Internet connection.

SaaS programs have the same basic benefits and drawbacks as cloud computing in general.  That is, reduced costs and improved accessibility, but heavy reliance on an external business partner (the cloud-based company providing the service).

SaaS is becoming an especially prevalent software delivery model for customer relationship management (CRM) systems.  More and more contact centers are recognizing the benefits of SaaS-based CRM systems, and are using them as part of their solution to deliver their outsourced customer service and technical support.

This is a growing industry, and more and more SaaS CRM packages are popping up every day.  It is important for a contact center to heavily research what is available in order to determine the best SaaS CRM solution to suit its particular needs.

Let’s Talk Technology! (What is a Cloud?)

I know what you’re thinking.

“What is a cloud?  What kind of silly question is that?  It’s that big fluffy white thing up in the sky, of course!”

Well, that’s true, but in the world of computers and technology, the word cloud can have another meaning.

To understand the modern cloud, it helps to first visualize how a computer system works.  Chances are, when you think of business computing, the image that probably pops into your mind is a dimly lit room, probably tucked away in a basement somewhere, filled with a bunch of computers hooked together with wires, and large, continually-running fans to keep the machinery cool.  For years and years, these large, in-house mainframe-computing systems were the standard technology for most businesses.  Any software/data used by the business was stored on these internal computer systems, and physically accessed through cables by employees and anyone else who needed to use the programs.

Cloud computing is a bit different.  Instead of software applications and data being housed on site at the company’s facility, they are instead hosted by a provider on a server in a remote location called a “cloud” and delivered over the Internet.

Having applications located off site in a cloud can have many advantages for call centers.  Cloud computing avoids the need to have complicated physical setups on site.  There are also fewer maintenance activities and less need to make costly system upgrades.  Programs can be used over the Internet, improving overall accessibility.  Finally, having data stored remotely provides a layer of protection in the event of a disaster.  If damage occurs due to a natural disaster at the central facility, critically important data is safe because it is stored in the cloud off site.

There are many factors for call centers to consider in the decision to implement a cloud-based computing system.  Most importantly, it is critical to have the right cloud-computing partner.  You will trust this partner to handle critical business processes and customer information, so they should have a high level of experience and expertise, as well as a solid reputation.  It is also important to personally know all the general ins and outs of how your business operates, in order to decide what processes should be kept internal and what might be outsourced to a cloud.

If implemented properly, cloud computing can help a company streamline its technological operations and become more efficient overall.  For many companies, including call centers, the right cloud computing system can put you on cloud nine.

It’s Okay to Have Fun While Providing Customer Service

Let’s face it.  Unless you have some rare incredible job like gourmet chocolate taster or manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, chances are that your workdays are not exactly going to be a blast 100% of the time.

However, that’s not to say that call center agents can’t have fun while providing excellent customer service.  Here are some ways to liven up the workday:

1. Personalize your workspace.  Unless you are a robot, you would probably admit that staring at bare cubicle walls all day is not very much fun.  So, why not decorate those empty spaces with some photos or artwork?  Most call centers have no problem with their employees doing this as long as nothing controversial or offensive is displayed.  The best part is that it allows you to express yourself.  Do you love animals?  Why not hang up that cute picture of a hamster wearing a tuxedo that you found online?  Or, if you are a sports fan, maybe an action shot of LeBron James dunking would do the trick.  The key is to find things that appeal to you as an individual.  By surrounding yourself with things that put you in a good mood, you are more likely to deliver great customer service while having more fun at the same time.  Of course, this might not be feasible in all call centers, especially in an environment with where each desk is shared with other agents.  While you may absolutely adore that photo of kittens playing tennis, the night shift agent who shares your desk may not appreciate it.

2. Get to know your neighbors.  Before and after shifts, or during breaks, why not strike up a conversation with a co-worker?  Developing a friendly rapport with other call center agents can have many benefits.  An interesting chat can help make the workday go by faster, and if you ever have a particular question or are in trouble, there is someone close by who can help you out.  Who knows — you might even make a new friend.

3. Engage with callers in a fun way.  Many callers appreciate it when their customer service agent interjects some level of individuality or humor into their call.  You have to be careful, though, because not every caller will enjoy this type of thing.  That’s why call center agents need to be chameleons, with the ability to adapt their communication style to suit the preferences of each caller.  Just be sure not to go overboard to the point where it becomes unprofessional or interferes with your ability to efficiently solve their issue.  People in general like to get their issues resolved quickly, and too much personal banter may extend the length of a call to an inappropriate level, resulting in increased Average Handle Time (AHT).  Maintaining an appropriate balance between AHT and other important metrics like First Call Resolution (FCR) can be a constant struggle, and the individual expectations of both the client and the customer must always be taken into account.  Also, just to be safe, it is a good idea to always avoid commenting on any potentially contentious issue like politics or religion.  You don’t want to risk offending the customer.

4. Take part in office activities.  Many call centers have special events like dinners, parties or “themed” workdays such as crazy hat day.  Engaging in these social activities can help to break up the regular work routine while allowing you to build stronger relationships with co-workers and management.  This often results in a less stressful work environment where people are more comfortable with each other.

As you can see, there are many different ways to liven up the workday and have some fun while providing great customer service.  However, it is important to remember that in the end, it is a job, and you have to remain professional at all times.  Having fun is important, but you have to do a good job too!  It’s all about balance.

The Wild and Wonderful Customer Service Story Contest!

Here at Tacamor, we love a good story.  We are also committed to customer service, so these types of stories are particularly interesting to us.  In fact, we love customer service stories so much that we are willing to give away cool stuff to read them!

That’s why, in order to jump start 2012, Tacamor is hosting our first ever Customer Service Story Contest!  All you have to do is send in your own customer service story, and you will have a chance to win!  The top story will receive a $100 gift card from Amazon.com, second prize is a $50 gift card, and third prize is a $25 gift card.  Not a bad deal for 15-20 minutes of typing!

As for the appropriate type of story, we want to see them all – the good, the bad, and the ugly!  If you want to write about a time you received customer service that went above and beyond what you expected, that’s great!  Or, if there was a case when the customer service was beyond terrible, send that in too so we can all cringe together while reading it!

Stories should be around 250–500 words, although we won’t get mad if you make them shorter or longer.  We will be posting many of these stories right here on the Talkamore blog, so by entering this contest you consent to having your work published on our website.  Also, please don’t name any specific people or companies in your story, especially if you are writing about bad service (we don’t like to point fingers).

Your odds of winning a prize depend on the number of people who enter.  There are no restrictions on entrants — anybody is welcome to submit a story, and you can send in as many as you like.  The contest will be open until mid-February, so send in your story today!

Please submit your customer service stories to contest@tacamor.com along with your name.  We look forward to reading each and every one of them.

Good luck!

Contest details at a glance:

  • Eligibility:  No restrictions.  Anyone can enter as often as they like.
  • Prizes:  Amazon gift cards — $100 1st prize, $50 2nd prize, $25 3rd prize.
  • Closing date:  The contest will run until mid-February.
  • Story theme:  Any type of customer service experience, good or bad.
  • How to enter:  Send your story to contest@tacamor.com along with your name.
  • Publishing:  Selected stories will be posted on Tacamor’s blog.

Let’s Talk Technology! (What is VoIP?)

One of the most commonly found contact center acronyms these days is VoIP. While at first glance VoIP may look like some random gibberish that would be spit out if you fell asleep at your desk and bumped your head against the keyboard, it actually stands for something pretty cool.

VoIP refers to “Voice over IP,” which, without getting into too much technical mumbo-jumbo, is basically a way for people (and contact centers) to make and receive calls over the Internet instead of through regular phone lines.

Now why would anyone want to do that?” you might ask. One of the major advantages is cost savings. Although actual fees vary depending on the specific provider, in the vast majority of cases, PC-to-PC and PC-to-phone VoIP calls are substantially cheaper than regular phone-to-phone calls. VoIP services also offer many features such as call forwarding, call waiting and 3-way or conference calling. Additionally, because it takes place over the Internet, computer-based VoIP systems can allow the sharing of data and applications back and forth between users.

It is typically very simple to place and receive VoIP calls, and VoIP devices can be used anywhere there is a digital broadband connection. In addition to PC-based VoIP calling, there are also digital VoIP phones that allow VoIP calls to be made without the use of a computer. In some cases, VoIP calling can even be made in areas of the world beyond the reach of cell phones, such as some isolated foreign countries.

If VoIP is so great, then why isn’t it more common?” you might ask. The main reason is that without a strong network in place with modern equipment and suitable bandwidth, there is a possibility of lower sound quality. VoIP systems must transform the voice information into a digital signal when transmitting data over the Internet, and sometimes this signal may become degraded during the conversion or transmission process if the network is not up to date.

A VoIP system may also not be practical in areas with frequent power outages because, unlike traditional phone systems that can function during blackouts, when the juice is cut off, a VoIP system will go down.

While these concerns may be relevant for average consumers, for modern call centers that run on state of the art networks with redundant power supplies in place, the benefits of VoIP systems far outweigh the disadvantages. The bottom line is that VoIP systems offer increased levels of control and flexibility for contact centers, usually at a lower operating cost than a traditional phone system. Therefore, it is easy to understand why more and more contact centers are now using VoIP technology. Also, as overall digital network technology improves, more and more data will be able to be transmitted at a faster rate, leading to better overall signal quality and improved sound.

VoIP truly is the future of calling.

Projected Call Center Trends for 2012

"Happy New Year from Tacamor!"Happy New Year from Tacamor!

We hope that your 2011 was great and that your 2012 is even better!  To kick-start the New Year, we are going to focus on some call center trends that many experts are predicting to occur or intensify over the next twelve months.

1.  An increasing amount of customer service being brought back onshore.  Simply put, customers are becoming more demanding and do not want to talk to someone who cannot immediately help them.  Cheaper alternatives like offshore call centers are often not cutting it, and are costing companies a lot of revenue by delivering sub-par customer service.  To address this, it is expected that more and more businesses will put a halt to their overseas operations and instead explore higher quality outsourcing options such as onshore or nearshore call centers.

2.  Contact centers will become the emotional mouthpiece for companies.  This is the information age, and these days there are often many different ways to find what you are looking for.  Digital channels such as the Internet and social media can deliver large quantities of information at lightning-fast speeds.  Because information is so easy to find nowadays, when someone calls in to a customer service line they are often looking for something more than a simple answer to their question.  For contact centers, getting better at soft skills like demonstrating genuine interest, empathy and concern for the customer’s issue will become increasingly more important.  Contact centers are no longer simply informational channels, but are also emotional channels for most businesses.

3.  Self-service options will become more prevalent.  Nothing can ever replace the level of customized care you get from a live agent, but in many cases the ability for customers to perform specific account management tasks themselves can be a great advantage, and should become more common throughout 2012.  Companies need to be careful, though.  Making it too difficult to reach a live agent can lead to frustration for many customers.  Also, there are some problems that cannot (or should not) be completely left up to the customer, such as self-serve account cancellation, which makes it impossible to “make a save” and change the customer’s mind.

4.  Movement towards mobility and social media.  Smart phones are becoming more common, which means that mobile applications and social media use will continue to grow.  To embrace this trend, contact centers must be willing and able to deliver customer service via these channels if demanded by clients.  There should also be an increasing need for customer service and technical support for wireless software applications as companies continue to deliver more of their services through mobile devices.

All things considered, the future is bright and 2012 could shape up to be a great year for North American contact centers.  At Tacamor, we certainly are looking forward to expanding our client base and continuing to deliver top-notch customer service and technical support for all of our customers throughout 2012!

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