Building the Perfect Call Center

For building customer loyalty and maintaining an exceptional business reputation, call centers are a critical piece of the puzzle.  Many companies today are seeing the value in having a top-notch customer service operation, recognizing that delivering excellent service is more important than ever before due to the abundance of choices available to the modern consumer, and a growing intolerance for ineptitude.

But, how exactly do you build the perfect customer service call center?

It is certainly not an easy thing to do, which is why more and more businesses are choosing to outsource their call center operations to a dedicated customer service provider.  But regardless of whether a business wants to outsource customer care or keep it entirely in house, there are a few common components that must be in place in order to create a truly exceptional customer service call center.

1.  The Right People:  You can have all the best equipment, technology and procedures necessary to deliver great customer service, but it won’t be worth a darn without a good team of agents working the phones.  Success in the customer service field requires a specific skill set and personality type.  Agents need to be good listeners who are able to understand and diagnose problems, often with limited information.  They also must be able to deal with the occasional angry customer, with the ability to diffuse tension and get to the bottom of an issue without becoming too emotionally involved.  Most importantly, though, they should be genuinely nice people with an overall positive attitude.  A smile can go a long way in the world of customer service, even on the phone.  Finding the right type of people to hire for your customer service call center is not always easy, which is why most call centers have extremely high employee turnover rates.  However, the rewards for building a staff of loyal, skilled and dedicated customer service representatives are immense — a positive and supportive work environment, cost savings from reduced turnover, and most importantly, the ability to provide truly superior customer service that will differentiate you from the competition.

2.  Reliable Infrastructure and Technology:  While at its core talking on the phone or responding to an e-mail may seem to be relatively simple things, there is actually a lot going on in the background at a typical contact center to ensure that everything happens smoothly and efficiently.  There must be a contact management platform in place to direct calls to agents, and the equipment must be good enough to facilitate clear communication back and forth.  Downtime must also be minimized and/or eliminated, because if customers cannot get through to the support line, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will soon go elsewhere, most likely a competitor.  To keep things running smoothly, software and hardware must be regularly maintained and kept up to date, and there should be redundant power and communications systems in place to deal with blackouts, etc.  It is also important to have a skilled and reliable network administrator at the helm to oversee systems operation.

3.  A Detailed Plan:  There are many decisions that must be made in the creation of a customer service strategy.  For example, should a live agent immediately answer all calls, or should an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu be in place to direct calls to the appropriate department?  Because there are different ways to measure customer service, which call center key performance indicators should you focus on?  Is Average Handle Time (AHT) the most critical thing, or are other metrics like First Call Resolution (FCR) more important?  How about self-service?  Do you want to give callers the ability to manage some account functions like cancellations or bill payments on their own via touchtone keystrokes?  There are a lot of costs associated with operating a call center, many of which are not always immediately obvious.  Have you taken things like higher power bills, employee turnover costs, equipment wear and tear, software licenses, management time and energy, and facilities maintenance costs into account?  The answers to all of these important decisions should be clearly outlined in your company’s overall customer service strategic plan.  This will be your road map to success in delivering an enhanced customer care experience.

No two call centers are exactly the same, but these common elements are found in the majority of successful customer service operations.  Incorporating them into your own plans can go a long way towards building, or partnering with, the perfect customer service call center.

Is Tacamor the perfect call center for your company’s needs?  We are true customer care experts with the right people, processes, and facilities in place to deliver the highest quality customer service.  Contact us today to find out how we can help your business!

The Different Types of Contact Centers

Not all contact centers are the same.  Just as there are different kinds of animals stalking through the jungle and different types of vehicles on the road, there are many different types of contact centers out there.

The most obvious distinction among contact centers is inbound vs. outbound.  Inbound centers are designed to accept calls (or e-mails, web chats, etc.) from customers.  People get in touch with an inbound contact center for things like customer service, technical support, ordering a product/service, or obtaining information.  Outbound contact centers, however, focus on proactively making contact with existing or prospective customers, usually for the purpose of making sales or generating leads.  An outbound contact center would be involved in activities such as telemarketing or administering surveys.

Many contact centers are dual-purpose, with the ability to offer both inbound and outbound services, while others are solely dedicated to performing one type of service.  Some call centers are very specific in what they can offer, while others are more general.  A narrowly focused contact center may specialize only in administering surveys for the health care industry, for example, while a multi-purpose center might offer everything from telemarketing to high-end technical support for digital devices.

Some call centers, such as Tacamor, choose to specialize in a certain area (I.e. inbound customer care services) but are flexible enough to offer additional outbound services to clients if required, such as callbacks, survey administration, appointment confirmations, etc.  Under this type of model, a contact center is able to offer a wide variety of services, thus expanding its potential market for obtaining new clients, while still retaining the core competencies necessary to be a true expert in its domain.

The level of technology is another differentiating factor for many contact centers.  Some contact centers operate using the simplest technological infrastructure possible.  As a result, although this may result in lower operating costs, the services these bare bones centers are able to provide are often lacking.  For example, a call center with a primitive technological setup may have the capability of accepting inbound calls only, and be unable to provide support via e-mail, web chat, social media, or other channels.  Additionally, without a solid Contact Management System in place, it may be impossible for a contact center to deliver complicated reports on key performance indicators such as Average Handle Time, Abandon Rate, Service Level, etc., which are demanded by many clients these days.

Finally, the way that agents are assigned tasks can differ from center to center.  Some contact centers use a dedicated-agent system, whereby workers are assigned to a single client account only.  This type of model is advantageous in the sense that by only working on one account, the agent becomes a true expert for that client.  Other contact centers use a pooled environment, where agents may receive or make calls on behalf of several different clients.  These contact centers tend to be more flexible regarding the volume and type of work they are able to perform.  However, quality may suffer if agents are spread too thin and assigned to too many different accounts.

The type of contact center a company needs really depends on its particular business requirements.  While there are many different contact centers out there to choose from, not all of them will be suitable for every company.  Knowing exactly what you need in a contact center is the first step towards finding the right partner and establishing a profitable and lasting outsourcing relationship.

 

Tacamor is a primarily inbound contact center offering high quality customer service, tier 1 technical support, and other contact center services.  Are we the right contact center for you?  Request a quote today to find out!

Let’s Talk Technology! (What is Speech Analytics?)

When you call in to a customer service line with a certain issue, have you ever wondered how many other people are also calling in about the exact same thing?  If a large number of people are phoning in about the same type of issue, then there might be a major problem with the company’s product or service that needs to be immediately addressed.

Do you think companies would like to keep tabs on exactly why most people are calling for customer service?  You better believe it!  This information can be very valuable, allowing businesses to improve their offerings and also quickly address any specific problems or issues before they have a chance to cause serious reputational damage to the company’s brand.

One high-tech way that contact centers can monitor customer interactions is through Speech Analytics.  In a nutshell, speech analytics is the process of searching through a large volume of recorded calls and finding certain keywords or phrases that can help to determine the root causes of problems.

Your word processing program probably has a function that searches through an entire document and highlights all instances of a certain word or phrase (I.e. the “find” function).  Speech analytics works in a similar way, except instead of searching through text, it searches through voice recordings.  Also, instead of simply presenting certain words or phrases, it also performs some level of analysis of the data.  This could include categorizing the information to determine basic trends, or performing a complex root cause analysis to help solve major problems.  The level of analysis that can be performed depends on the sophistication of the particular speech analytics software.

So, why are contact centers interested in speech analytics?  Well, this type of thing can easily be used to help improve agent performance.  By discovering which particular issues are taking up most of the agents’ time, the contact center can introduce targeted training sessions to more effectively deal with these specific problems.  Also, on a more individual level, call data can be used to identify which specific agents may need some extra personal training to improve certain skills.  For instance, if the speech analytics system consistently detects abnormally large periods of silence on a particular agent’s calls, then maybe that agent needs training or practice on how to keep conversations flowing naturally.

In addition to improving agent performance, important problems relating to products or services may be identified through the use of speech analytics.  For example, the system may pick up on major issues such as a product defect or a bug in a software program, which may not otherwise have been noticed.  The sooner problems like this are identified and reported, the sooner a company can go about designing and implementing a solution, so having an automated speech analytics system that is constantly on the lookout for potential problems can be a great advantage.

In order to work effectively, a speech analytics system requires state of the art software with excellent voice recognition capabilities.  It also needs to be able to intelligently categorize information according to certain criteria.  The concept has actually been around for a long time – government security agencies have been using speech analytics systems to screen conversations for security threats for decades.  However, it is only recently that speech analytics systems have become more widespread in the commercial world and within contact centers.  As the technology continues to improve, speech analytics systems will become even more sophisticated and will take on an increasingly greater role in contact center operations throughout the world.

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.

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!

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

Customer Relationship ManagementRelationships are important, both in life and in business.  Competition is fierce and customers generally have a lot of choice these days, so building loyalty becomes more and more of a challenge.  It doesn’t take much to turn a normally happy and content customer into an angry, fire-breathing monster capable of causing serious harm to your business.  Just ask Jeff Jarvis, an unhappy Dell customer who stirred up a whole lot of trouble for the computer manufacturing giant when he created a blog criticizing the company.

Today, most companies know that maintaining good relations is a key step to retaining their customer base.  This has lead to the creation of the term Customer Relationship Management, or CRM.  At its core, CRM is a strategy that companies use to handle interactions with customers.  It is a business philosophy that emphasizes the importance of customer interactions by having specific processes and systems in place to manage each contact.

Information management is at the heart of any good CRM strategy.  The more a company knows about a customer, the better it is able to manage that relationship.  In the call center industry, specialized CRM software is often used to build a centralized database of customer information.  With a good CRM system, whenever a customer phones in with a problem, the call center agent is able to quickly and efficiently find the relevant information about the caller all in one place.  This streamlines the process, allowing the agent to address the issue quickly without having to waste time pulling information from various other sources like spreadsheets or multiple databases.

Callers usually appreciate a speedy resolution to their problem, so having a dependable CRM system can dramatically enhance the overall caller experience and improve customer retention.

Many CRM systems these days are very customizable, with the ability to track and record many different pieces of information for each caller, and create detailed reports.  This allows a company to better understand the specific needs of each of their customers, and thus improve the overall relationship by offering better, more individualized service.

A complete and comprehensive CRM system combined with a top-notch staff of customer service agents like Tacamor’s can turn your call center into a true powerhouse!

Tacamor has the technology, expertise and staff to build effective customer relationships and improve your customer retention.  To find out more, contact us today!

Let’s Talk Technology! (Introduction)

Quick question.  What’s the most important element of a great customer service call center?  Excellent agents, of course!  While that is undoubtedly true, it takes a lot more than a wonderful staff of customer service agents for a call center to function properly.  One thing that may not be immediately visible, but nonetheless is absolutely essential for any modern call center is technological infrastructure.  Or, in other words, the nuts and bolts of the operation.

The world of call center technology can be overwhelming sometimes, especially if you are new to the industry.  There is a lot of terminology that you likely will not hear anywhere else, and a lot of unfamiliar acronyms: CRM, IVR, PCI, WFM, DID, VoIP… the list goes on and on.  While the basic act of dialing a phone number to reach a customer service agent may seem very simple, there is actually a lot going on behind the scenes to make sure that everything happens smoothly and efficiently.

The next set of Talkamore blog posts will deal with call center technology, and attempt to explain several of its key elements in such a way that the average Joe can understand.

So, let’s get started.  Let’s talk tech!

An outsourced call center won’t fix this!

An outsourced call center can solve many problems, but not these!Companies generally outsource their call center services in order to save money and at the same time hopefully improve the quality of their customer service or technical support. With an exceptional call center, everything should go according to plan.

However, sometimes things don’t go anywhere near the plan, even with the best call center on board. No one wins. The company feels let down. Customers don’t get the service they deserve. And the call center is unable to meet the service levels to help it build a solid reputation and bring in more clients.

Where did things fall apart? If we assume that a proper call center was indeed selected in the first place, the problem will often be rooted in either product quality, or the level of communication between the company and its call center. [Read more...]

How do you find a great outsourced call center?

'Search.' photo (c) 2010, Jeffrey Beall - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Lots of companies outsource their call center operations. Sometimes, it works very well. Customers get better service. The company saves money. The outsourced call center makes money. And an agent gets work. Yep, it just works.

But sometimes it doesn’t work. At all. Instead of the happy sequence above, a dark and different one emerges. Customers get lousy service. The company spends way more money than it thought it would. The outsourced call center has to deal with angry calls from the company that hired it as well as their customers. And the agent gets work but then quits, and another agent gets work but then quits, and then another agent… Well, you get it.

So how do you find a great outsourced call center?

If you want a really quick answer, you might find the best way to get started is to focus on the following: [Read more...]

The Happy Customer Cheat Sheet: 23 quick ways to make ‘em smile.

'Happy Customers Are Our Friends' photo (c) 2006, Zeetz Jones - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The customer is on the phone, or maybe across the counter, and you want to see them smile… and come back again and again. And again.

How can you do it? Here are 23 ways to make customers and callers smile and like dealing with you, whether you’re a call center, a restaurant, a hardware store, a travel agent, or a cat. Okay, maybe not so much if you’re a cat.

But if you’re a dog, these totally work.

____________________________________ [Read more...]

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