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Core tenets of customer service are timeless: For example, “know your customer” is still as important today as it ever was. If you know your customer, you’ll know that consumer expectations have changed radically over the past decade, largely due to the development of new technologies. On-demand experiences provided by organizations like Uber and Amazon mean that efficiency and personalization are expected throughout all touchpoints of the customer experience. The bottom line is that consumer behavior is changing rapidly and businesses need to stay-up-to-date with the new normal. After all, consumer patience is a finite resource. These five customer service faux pas will not only make your organization seemed outdated, but ultimately harm your customer relationships.

 

  1. Limited Self-Service Options

Now and then, the airline industry’s inclination to automate everything, eradicating customer service interactions in the process, backfires. Online check-in, however, is one of the big wins and in recent years countless travelers have learned the benefits of using it, from choosing seat assignments to saving time at the airport.

The moral of the story is that making it easy for customers to help themselves is no longer seen as a cop-out or, worse still, a nefarious attempt to reduce labor costs. Instead, customers want to be able to find answers and resolves issues themselves. There are other positive externalities to this: If businesses can do this well, agents are free from the pressure of a growing queue to focus on the critical and high-value conversations that require more attention.

  1. A Complete Lack of Personalization

From our Google searches to our social media feeds, the online experience is increasingly personalized.  Imagine then when a customer has to repeat information again and again to sometimes multiple agents. In a world where customers place the onus on the business to personalize the interaction from beginning to end, failing to do so even at a basic level is a major faux pas.

  1. Making Customers Wait

When asking about a product or service, 66% of consumers expect a response to their query on the same day, and over 40% expect a reply within the hour. Convenience is critical to consumers, evident in the growth of eCommerce and offerings like Amazon Prime. Problems happen, we all understand that.

But when a customer calls for help, they expect to talk to someone immediately, or be provided with an alternative option. People who get stuck on hold often turn to social media to vent their anger and share their frustration. Angry tweets should be enough to convince you that it’s one of the new customer service faux pas.

  1. Reactive Service

One of the top trends for customer service is proactive engagement or proactive customer service. Proactive customer support is about identifying and resolving customer issues before they become problems. Whether it’s alerting customers to a mix-up with their delivery or another issue before they even notice is an excellent customer experience. The organizations that succeed are the ones that make personal connections with their customers and treat interactions as possible ways to add value. Proactive service is a great example of this.

  1. An Inconsistent Omni-channel Experience

Customers see your business as a whole, not a combination of separate departments. This goes a long way in explaining why they have little patience for agents who have no record of a Twitter conversation they had with the brand. Customers don’t want to have to repeat the same conversation with a number of agents. If you believe that customers will understand a breakdown in this communication chain, you are, unfortunately, mistaken.

The sooner that businesses accept that the new normal is focused on convenience, efficiency, and personalization, the sooner they will be able to focus on adding actual value. Consumers may expect more from you than they did before, but with the right technology there’s no reason why any business can’t ensure these faux pas become truly outdated.

 

 

 

 

How to Prepare Your Call Center for Open Enrollment

 

How can your call center improve customer interactions during the most important time of year for consumers’ healthcare choices? We provide four ways you can get your healthcare call center into gear before Open Enrollment.

 

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW! 

 

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Customer service has always been the lynchpin that determined success or failure in the hotel industry. Whether it’s housekeeping, restaurant and bar service, or events, members and stakeholders have always had to put customer service first to ensure the health of its bottom lines. With the emergence of Airbnb and its threat to hotel business, coupled with the evolution of technology and its role in the way guests enjoy their experiences, the industry is developing new customer service practices and applications to stay relevant. Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA), spoke to the changing demographics and issues that are impacting customer service trends in the hotel industry.

JM: How would you explain the changes that have taken place when it comes to customer service trends in hotels today?

TE: It’s always been about giving customers what they require and ensuring that we’re meeting their expectations. I don’t think anything has changed in terms of what we see. The only thing that’s changed is how we deliver it and that’s mainly due to technology. It’s given the ability to engage with a customer much more than before. For instance, loyalty points [programs] are a huge draw in the data comes from [guests].

As a guest, the technology has given them options to communicate their needs and I anticipate that we’re going to see more and more as we move forward.

JM: What do you see as the downfalls of those methods, as opposed to communicating with a human being for customer service-related needs?

TE: When you check in to a hotel [using optimized CS technology], there are no lineups, so you can just check in [using a kiosk or something similar]. Many customers and guests are very savvy with their devices now and, for the future generations, we’re finding that more people would prefer to use [self-service] technology.

I think hotels somehow will fall into that; [there will be a time when] a customer will be able to just check in on their mobile device and go up and use it to open the door. That’s the behavior we see from our customers — they want options. Again, you know, look at grocery stores. I would love to go to a grocery store and shop. I’m a foodie guy, right? I like to see the food. I like to know what I’m buying. But there there’s so much growth now in ordering [online] now. You can either have it delivered at the store or be there to pick it up at your door. There’s a lot of options in how customer service is delivered to the masses these days.

JM: Some of what you’re talking about will allow companies to save money on labor costs.

TE: Workforce labor and revenue management are two things, but you’re always going to need people on the ground to deliver quality customer service. Look at housekeeping teams: They are always going to be there, but the way they do their jobs has changed. Maybe they use mobile devices to keep track of rooms they’ve cleaned, or maybe they use it for other reporting tools to better improve the speed and accuracy of their work. People of all ages are more skilled in working with technology and if we reach the point, the room attendants have to use some type of a mobile device to do some checks and balances, and to communicate when the room is clean or whether it needs to be cleaned. We see some companies already offering that software to different housekeeping departments for hotels as well.

I think technology is going to offer more efficiencies, but the human touch still needs to be there, whether you’re on the phone, or at a bar or places where people are still demanding some personality [from their customer service professionals].

JM: What else do you think is impacting customer service in the hotel industry?

TE: Social media. I would say the good and the bad about operating a hotel and using social media has become critical. You can reach so many people and you have to be able to use it right and capitalize on it. Do you train your own employees, or do you hire someone outside of the company to manage your social media [channels]?

Also, what we’ve seen lately is the new brands are more focused on technology. In the old days, you use to walk into a lobby where you’d be greeted by a customer service professional, but now there are more hotels where you walk into the lobby and it’s not really a lobby anymore. It’s a living room.

Down the line, I think sustainability will also be a key issue for young people and customer service professionals and hoteliers will have to cater to that.

Lastly, there are more hotel concepts that are answering the call as customer needs change, and I think that the rest of the industry will just adjust accordingly. It’s no different than when the old motel hotels existed. All of a sudden, hotels came with swimming pools, right? Then they had TV sets and telephones in each room. That was new way back in the ‘50s, where it started because the customers demanded [those technologies and offerings]. Now, access to technology and cool new tools is what customers crave.

How to Prepare Your Call Center for a Crisis: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

How can call centers improve customer interactions during the most important weekend of the year? We provide four ways you can get your call center into gear before Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW! 
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Often, we use terminology and abbreviations that we become accustomed to in our everyday lives, especially within the call center space. Given that the average person spends one third of their lives at work, it is no wonder that we develop whole worlds of vocabulary to use within our professional environments. After all, it is simpler to say, “Where are we with AHT this week?” than to say, “Where are we with the average handling time metric this week?” It may seem insignificant, but cutting words down to vowels or single syllables is evidently preferable to a mouthful of phrases, particularly if they must be used regularly within the workplace. Just look at our use of acronyms and abbreviations in everyday life – ASAP (as soon as possible), LMK (let me know), TTYL (talk to you later), and the list goes on.

Given this, it only makes sense that the call center and contact center landscape be riddled with abbreviations, especially given the technicality and complexity of some of the words and phrases used in the everyday life of the call center. So, in an attempt to demystify the complex acronyms within the call center landscape, today we bring you, as Google defines it; a ‘brief dictionary’ (glossary) of call center terminology.

ACD (Automatic Call Distribution): This is a specialized phone system that handles incoming/inbound calls. The Automatic Call Distributor recognizes and answers the calls and checks in the database, and routes to the most appropriate agent. An important role of ACD is to produce management information that tracks both calls and agent performance.

AHT (Average Handling Time): This is measured right from the time an agent begins the interaction with the customer, including the hold time, talk time, and related tasks that follow the entire transaction.

ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition): A solution that can automate some or all parts of a customer call – it allows call centers to use natural language, with minimum intervention from the agent.

BUQS (Blended Universal Queue System): This is essentially a combination of email, chat and other data enabling universal queuing along with call blending.

CEM (Customer Experience Management): Procedures adopted by a company to track the interactions between a customer and the call center agents.

CLI (Calling Line Identity): A technology that uses Computer Telephony Integration software to match a customer’s number and their previous call records.

CTI (Computer Telephony Integration): The ability to automatically combine voice and data at the agent desktop. It is also known as screen pop – when customer details appear automatically on an agent’s screen at the same time a call is attended. Such technologies help call center agents do their job more effectively, and in turn, create happier customers.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management): This is a system which helps in identifying the customers’ needs, improving customer interactions, customizing contacts, sales approaches, and automation to provide optimum service to each type of customer.

DMS (Document Management System): There are many call centers that handle large amounts of incoming emails which can’t be checked manually. Therefore, they are opened and scanned by DMS for electronic distribution.

DTMF (Dual-Tone Multifrequency): A signaling system that sends pairs of audio frequencies to represent digits on a telephone keypad.

EWT (Expected Wait Time): In a call center, EWT is the expected time that customers are told to wait before they can speak to an agent. It is one of the best practices to measure the average expected time.

FCR (First Call Resolution): This is a way to identify the customer’s issue the first time they contact a call center agent. It is a metric that monitors the quality of service that customers are receiving, by counting the number of times their issues got resolved on the first point of contact. Providing an ideal caller experience will ensure the customer keeps coming back to engage with your business.

IVR (Interactive Voice Response): IVR asks customers to press the buttons on their telephone keypad to select which service they want. Thereafter, the IVR routes the call to the most appropriate agent.

PBX (Private Branch Exchange): A telephone system located at a customer’s site that handles incoming and outgoing calls. ACD software can provide PBXs with ACD functionality.

PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network): The public telephone network which provides the capability of interconnecting any home or office with any other.

Unified Desktop: A Unified Desktop may also populate an underlying (CRM) system with interaction or customer data, in real time.

VRU (Voice Responsive Unit): An interactive technology that allows humans to communicate with computers, either through voice or dual-tone multifrequency.

VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol): The means by which a voice channel is delivered as packets through Internet Protocols, using a pre-existing streaming (CODEC) format.

WFM (Workforce Management): An integrated set of processes that call centers use to optimize productivity of its agents on the individual, departmental, and entity-wide levels. It includes determining and providing schedules, forecasting, and adherence for a workforce in their future events.

As evidenced by this extensive list of lingo, it becomes crystal clear that those of us within the call center and contact center spaces love and rely upon our acronyms and abbreviations.

How to Prepare Your Call Center for Open Enrollment

How can your call center improve customer interactions during the most important time of year for consumers’ healthcare choices? We provide four ways you can get your healthcare call center into gear before Open Enrollment.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW! 
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Text or talk? Voice conversations are still critical, but data shows that the former is becoming a bigger part of customer service interactions. This trend is driven partly by consumer preferences and partly by companies striving to lower costs. Companies are also leaning towards text because of the promise of increased automation, which is easier to do once a conversation has shifted to text.

To facilitate text conversations, you also have to ask the question: “Which channel?” There is SMS, of course. And then there are the big messaging platforms: Messenger and WhatsApp (both from Facebook), Apple’s Business Chat, and Google’s offering called (for now) Google My Business Chat. Among those platforms, a big battle is raging.

Facebook, Apple, and Google each control a channel (or channels) of communication used by a significant portion of the population. Apple does this through iMessage on Macs, iPhones, and iPads; Google through Android; and Facebook through its social networks. (Internationally the dynamic is different, but in North America, they are the only ones with the power to change the game.)

Each has the same goal: to dominate business-to-consumer communication, but since they are coming at it from different directions, they can’t use the same strategy.

SMS: Slow and Steady Wins the Race?

It’s possible none of the three will win. Good ole’ SMS – now 20+ years old – still has a distinct advantage in at least one dimension: deliverability. For more, see “Amid Messaging Channel Jungle, SMS Stands Alone.”

SMS has been somewhat hindered by the fact that there are unclear (and unevenly enforced) rules around how business-to-consumer messages can be sent (vs. consumer-to-consumer). Carriers played a somewhat conflicted role in enforcing these rules but also urging companies to move to short codes (which gave carriers more revenue). Now the new “10DLC” initiative is seeking to simplify the landscape.

RCS: The Dark Horse

RCS is the successor to SMS that promises to bring it on par with the more modern messaging channels via increased character limits, read receipts, and media types (like photos and videos). RCS was created by the carriers, but floundered for years. It was rumored that Apple was going to support it. But now Google is its main benefactor.

For now, the results are not great: With the Pixel 3A, T-Mobile just proved how broken the RCS Chat rollout has become. The author of that piece, Dieter Bohm, states: “It’s very difficult to accurately convey all the technical nuances behind whether, why, and how carriers do or do not support the Universal Profile for RCS. A carrier could support RCS but not the Universal Profile. A carrier could support RCS but apparently not be fully hooked up to the interconnect that makes it work with other carriers.”

Lack-of-Trust: A Problem for Facebook and Google

Facebook has had several years of bad press around privacy and questionable business practices. That has surely been a factor in the slow adoption of Facebook’s “Messenger for Business” program. WhatsApp is doing better in this sense, evidenced by Zendesk’s acquisition of Smooch last month. We covered that here: “Acquisitions Point to Messaging’s Future in Customer Service.”

In March, Facebook’s CEO gave a major announcement focused on a renewed commitment to privacy. One of the promises was encryption across all the messaging channels it owns: Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. This could re-energize interest by businesses.

The trust problem extends to Google as well. A recent story in MarketWatch called it “platform paranoia.” Authors PV Kannan and Josh Bernoff state: “It’s not only customers who don’t trust these platforms. The companies don’t trust them either. The data appetites of Facebook and Amazon are a serious impediment to companies considering these platforms for customer service. Why would a retailer set up shop on Alexa when Amazon, likely the retailer’s biggest competitor, might be eavesdropping on customer conversations?”

These troubles strengthen Apple’s hand, which is increasingly seen as the more trustworthy actor.

Upcoming presentation

On October 15th, I will be giving a presentation on this topic at the TADSummit event in Chicago.

The focus will be on how Facebook, Apple, and Google are competing with each other; the ecosystem of vendors around them; and how proprietary messaging platforms compare with other text-based channels.

Hope you can make it!

How to Prepare Your Call Center for a Crisis: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

How can call centers improve customer interactions during the most important weekend of the year? We provide four ways you can get your call center into gear before Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW! 
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Ah, the great outdoors. In Canada, we are blessed with an abundance of wildlife, majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and seemingly endless forests. Since the 1970s, if you were an experienced outdoorsman seeking to explore the authentic, raw, outdoors, then a trip to your local Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) was in order. Customers came to MEC stores to buy the best hiking, rock climbing, and back-woods skiing gear.

Back in 2008, then CEO David Labistour looked at the tea leaves and saw that “the times they were a-changin.’” The granola-powered, anti-consumerist community MEC relied on post-inception was steadily being replaced by a more diverse, urban cohort. As a result, they engineered a shift away from their original mission statement of encouraging “self-propelled wilderness recreation” to one that wanted to “inspire everyone to get off the couch and out the door.” The gambit paid off: For the second year in a row, MEC topped the list of Canadian companies with the best reputations, compiled by market research firm The Reputation Institute.

This is the little-told tale of how MEC put the customer first during the company’s transformation from niche purveyor of mountaineering equipment to hub for outdoor lifestyle enthusiasts. The results speak for themselves: In the intervening years, MEC has doubled its brick-and-mortar locations and nearly doubled its membership, which currently tops five million people, during this period of transformation.

They focused on building diverse communities.

While many brands compete in the outdoor lifestyle space, MEC has positioned itself as an industry leader by building a community around its brand. As the company is structured as a co-op, every customer is a part owner of the brand, which has undoubtedly helped. Yet, the co-op doesn’t stop there and has been putting on races, events and clinics for the last seven years. They have even started offering MEC Adventures’ tours where people can book trips around the globe.

While people who partake in these events don’t necessarily buy from MEC, they can still become active members of the community. In essence, they are focused on providing their customers with more than just “stuff.” MEC also does a great job of adding experiential components to the company’s retail operations. Its flagship Toronto store, for example, features a 1,000-square-foot bouldering wall and augmented reality applications that allow customers a dynamic 360-degree view of each tent.

The organization has also looked to broaden this community and challenge what they call “the perpetuated image of a predominantly white outdoor community.” In a letter from the CEO of MEC, he apologized for prior lack of representation and subsequently committed to ensuring that they would do a better job of representing the diversity of their members.

They doubled down on a customer-first mentality.

MEC has managed to remain relevant, even as more competition has entered the marketplace, by consistently meeting the needs of its members, and by producing and offering high-quality gear at affordable prices. All of MEC’s decisions and operations are geared toward this member-centric mentality.

As each customer is also a member, MEC has access to copious amounts of retail data, making for a better understanding of purchasing needs, ultimately allowing them to focus on what their members want. This, coupled with their focus on hiring people that share an enthusiasm for sustainable outdoor recreation, leads to consistency and trust from their members. The staff’s knowledge and experience about the MEC gear and the activities in which members engage provide a high-quality in-store customer experience.

As Mr. Labistour noted, “it’s trying not just to sell product but tying the community, the supply-chain pieces and the service into one cohesive brand statement.” While MEC’s co-op status is unique, companies are short-sighted if they focus solely on just meeting short-term revenue goals. The focus needs to be on creating new customers and maintaining newly-formed customer relationships.

What struck me most about MEC’s transformation is that throughout there remained an obsession with the needs of their customers. In other words, when you put your customer’s interests first, you gain important, lasting relationships that are mutually beneficial.

That’s how a business achieves long-term success.

How to Prepare Your Call Center for Open Enrollment

How can your call center improve customer interactions during the most important time of year for consumers’ healthcare choices? We provide four ways you can get your healthcare call center into gear before Open Enrollment.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW! 
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Good training teaches employees in the customer service realm how to handle complex customer issues in the most efficient and customer-friendly way possible. This is important, as customer service is the touchstone for all kinds of customer-facing interactions. In training CS representatives, it’s crucial to help them understand a) what they are doing; and b) why they doing the job. It’s also important to encourage them to form strong relationships with customers through consultative communication, and ensure the customer is taken care of through the life of their relationship with a company.

Why Should I Care?

If you are in a customer service training scenario, you will undoubtedly be taught how to deal with issues brought to you via customer interactions. These interactions may be sales-related, or directly customer service-related, but either way, the situations are related to something the customer wants, needs, or desires. They may want to purchase an item, or they may be calling in to resolve a problem. Whatever the channel, the customer wants you to care about their issue. Training CS representatives to create a positive, caring environment for the customer should include recognition of problems and customers’ issues. It does not take a great deal of effort to understand how important communication is within customer service. Indeed, communication skills are essential to building a strong customer relationship.

Here’s a quick education, new customer service representatives: If a client or customer is present, you are representing the company. You are the first voice a customer hears, and therefore are key to resolving issues for the customer. This should not be taken lightly; you are there to solve the problems the customer may have, and these problems should be met with respect, empathy, and solutions. This is why your job is vital to repeat business and brand-building: It helps build relationships with customers that are long-lasting and rewarding for both the company and the customer.

Consult. Don’t Sell.

A potential customer often drifts away when they realize they are trying to be hard-sold on something. If you take the approach of helping the customer understand how an item or service actually helps them, and aiming for transparency and truth during the interaction, you have a greater chance of nurturing relationships that are profitable for your business and beneficial for the customer. This is why consulting is so important.

Working collaboratively with customers can be an extremely rewarding experience if you have the right tools and the correct approach in tow. You can easily create a loving and successful work environment through learning the needs and desires of a customer. Are you helping them find what they want? Are you using all of your resources and training to help them? This is where proper training becomes fundamental in knowing how to handle issues that may not be typical, and should inspire outside-the-box thinking that results in good consulting and customer resolutions.

Good Training is Good Service.

Good training for customer service employees should focus on building and obtaining customer relationships through collaboration, and retaining the service of new customers. A company that retains its customers remains strong and employs the most effective ways to keep customers happy, no matter the channel.

Thing about it: Consider a time when you have had to call a customer service firm for something that wasn’t working. How were you treated? Do you feel your issues were resolved? It comes down to a simple rule: Treat people how you want to be treated. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and build empathy by understanding how your customer feels as they express their desire to resolve the problem. This is your greatest education.

Customers contact customer service for two basic reasons: They want to purchase something or they want to resolve something. For example, think of call centers: They are the front line of customer service interactions, and so it is essential to understand the importance of helping customers and how call center agents’ efforts represent the larger company. Call centers agents (or customer service agents) are not simply programmatic voices on the end of a line: They are brand ambassadors, and these ambassadors should be trained to know how important they truly are in the life cycle of a business, based solely on their interactions with customers.

A solid customer training program will go a long way in instilling these values and best practices, those which keep customers happy, and businesses alive.

How to Prepare Your Call Center for a Crisis: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

How can call centers improve customer interactions during the most important weekend of the year? We provide four ways you can get your call center into gear before Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW! 
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Last week, Fonolo hosted an insightful live discussion on the current state of AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP). The expert panel discussed how NLP relates to the general field of AI, the pros and cons of different approaches to NLP, and more. To save you some time, we’ve extracted video snippets showcasing highlights from the discussion.

First, let’s take a quick look at the panel of speakers: Frank Schneider, Tobias Goebel, and Shai Berger.


The Panelists Introduce Themselves - YouTube

Under AI’s Umbrella

NLP, or natural language processing, is a fairly specific concept. It is the process of extracting intent from human language. On the other hand, the term “AI” is an umbrella that covers an ill-defined group of technologies. Some approaches to NLP use machine learning, and so are more qualified to fit under that umbrella, but some are rules-based and don’t fit as well. The connection with AI also sets sometimes unrealistic expectations for what NLP can do.

Should we continue to call NLP a subset of AI? How about “NLP” vs “NLU”? What are the right ways to talk about this technology?

Under the Umbrella of AI - YouTube

Machine Learning vs Linguistic Rules

The advantage of NLP is that it allows open-ended dialogue with a customer. In theory, this leads to higher completion rates with self-serve processes. Ultimately, we’re trying to serve a customer without requiring a human in the loop. There are two basic approaches to get there, one based on machine learning and one based on linguistic rules.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? Which of those two approaches is winning in the market right now?

Machine Learning vs Linguistic Rules - YouTube

What are the advantages of “speech to intent”?

For the voice use-case, another option with NLP is to bypass entirely the transcription stage and instead go straight from the audio signal to intent. This is a newer approach that is leading to some very impressive results.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of going straight from speech to intent?

What are the advantages of “speech to intent”? - YouTube

ACCESS THE FULL DISCUSSION HERE

How to Prepare Your Call Center for Open Enrollment

How can your call center improve customer interactions during the most important time of year for consumers’ healthcare choices? We provide four ways you can get your healthcare call center into gear before Open Enrollment.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW! 
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Open enrollment is one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year for healthcare insurance providers and consumers alike. In fact, many healthcare insurers start planning for open enrollment the minute the last season has come to a close. This is good thinking, as no company wants to find themselves getting ready only a few weeks before November 1st. Regardless, one of the main challenges during this time period is communication, with the cumulative call center volume in the federal marketplace totaling more than 14,569,000 in 2016 alone, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medical Services.

It makes sense: Customers are likely to be overwhelmed by the information they need to sift through in order to make serious decisions about their healthcare coverage. They are bound to have questions for call center agents. This, compounded by their desire to obtain the same level of customer service as they would from their favorite retail and tech brands, leads to massive spikes in call volume for most healthcare call centers. And while it might be tempting to forgo quality customer interactions and neglect the customer experience during this extremely stressful time of year, it’s of the utmost importance that call centers aim to please. After all, this is how customer relationships are made or broken.

How can your call center improve customer interactions during the most important time of year for consumers’ healthcare choices? That’s easy. In our latest tip sheet, you will learn the most important steps to take to get your call center into gear.

(Get the full tip sheet here!)

Optimize your Self-Service Channels

Digital-savvy customers don’t want to waste time and energy calling agents when their answers can just as easily be found using self-service. Employing self-service options for customer interactions, like making sure your website clearly identifies in-network providers, will remove an unnecessary burden on agents, while keeping customers happy.

Workforce Management

One of the most important issues call centers face during open enrollment is scheduling their staff. During open enrollment, call centers typically have the biggest total staff on board as well as new staff joining their teams. In 2015, there was a 40% increase in new call center employees brought on-board to deal with the expected onslaught of healthcare insurance signups during this time period.

Offer a Call-Back

According to an Accenture study, consumers’ top two complaints were 1) having to contact customer service agents multiple times; and 2) being kept on hold for too long. Customers hate waiting on hold. There’s no nuance here. Subsequently, agents start the transaction at a disadvantage with a less-than pleased customer. It’s a lose-lose.

Agent Training

Many call centers hire additional temporary staff to deal with open enrollment. Healthcare.gov increased their staffing levels by 40%. Even the highest quality agents will need training and time to get up-to-speed and to effectively handle their work during peak times.

While November may trigger holiday shopping for most, for healthcare insurers it signals the stress of open enrollment and the challenges that arise specifically from a time where consumers compare plans in order to choose the one that best suits them.

Don’t get left behind: Learn how to get your call center ready for open enrollment with our tip sheet, which you can download here.

How to Prepare Your Call Center for Open Enrollment

How can your call center improve customer interactions during the most important time of year for consumers’ healthcare choices? We provide four ways you can get your healthcare call center into gear before Open Enrollment.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
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Back in 2009, Apple filed for a trademark on its buzz-worthy phrase, “There’s an app for that.” Almost a decade later, there’s no shortage of apps cluttering up the Android and Apple marketplaces. While many factors are at play here, the growth of the mobile app market has been partly driven by the fact that more and more businesses are integrating mobile apps into their customer service strategies.

When it comes to travelling, people are increasingly reliant on their smartphones. From last-minute flight changes to on-the-ground local expertise, there truly is always “an app for that.” With the Transportation Security Administration calling 2019 the “busiest summer travel season ever,” these three customer-focused apps are not only worth downloading, but can provide valuable insights into what customers expect from businesses.

1. Airhelp

Anyone who has had to deal with a delayed or canceled flight knows that it can be a frustrating experience at the best of times. In a majority of instances, US and EU laws require the airline to provide compensation, though fewer than 1% of passengers ever receive it.

Airhelp effectively automates the process. All that is required from you is some flight information and details of the issue, and Airhelp takes care of the rest. They do take 25% of the payout if the claim is approved, but this seems like a small price to pay to avoid the nightmare of airlines’ notoriously long hold times.

The Customer Service Takeaway: Customers want convenience on their terms, not yours. In fact, customer convenience is a key driver in loyalty. From Amazon Prime to Uber, people are using their mobile devices to free up their time. The future of customer service is about using technology to make tasks so easy that your customers can’t remember how annoying something used to be. Airhelp is a perfect example of this in practice.

2. Trail Wallet

Sticking to a budget while traveling is a lot more difficult than doing so from the comfort of your home. Spending can fluctuate wildly from day to day and it’s easy to abide by the motto: “Screw it, life’s too short.” Trail Wallet is an expense tracking app that is both comprehensive and intuitive to use. It allows you to organize and record your expenses, as well as switch between your home and local currency.

The Customer Service Takeaway: By calculating exchange rates and offering immediate insights into your expenditure, Trail Wallet takes away both a huge administrative headache and a nagging worry for people who are afraid of blowing their holiday budget. Trail Wallet is a perfect example of the power of anticipating your customers’ needs. You almost certainly have access to the data that increasingly surrounds your customers and their interactions with you. Use it to better understand what they want and how they want it – and give it to them.

3. TripIt

To use TripIt, all you need to do is forward your confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com, and, in a matter of seconds, it will put your trip together. It builds your entire itinerary, including flights, car rentals, hotels, theater tickets, and dinner reservations. It also updates you with flight statuses and lets you know if cheaper or better seats can be found.

The Customer Service Takeaway: People today not only want the personal touch from customer service representatives—they expect it. While personalization is often seen as within the remit of marketing and sales departments, companies often fail to take advantage of this collected information to benefit the customer in a time of need – yet that doesn’t need to be the case. Proactive service, as TripIt showcases, can have a substantial impact on customer service in two ways. Firstly, it’s a delightful surprise to customers because it helps them avoid a problem. Secondly, if done well, it can help ensure the best possible experience for the customer.

The above customer service apps send the message that if there is a problem facing consumers, technology will come along and solve it. If you’re not invested in solving your customer’s issues, increasing the convenience factor, anticipating your customer’s needs, and providing a personalized experience, there may soon be an app that does it instead. This is something to mull over as you put your feet up by the pool and order another Piña Colada.

How to Prepare Your Call Center for a Crisis: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

How can call centers improve customer interactions during the most important weekend of the year? We provide four ways you can get your call center into gear before Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW!< 
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Picture it: A young American family booking a flight to a city in another country via Air Canada. Imagine them having to wait for more than 20 minutes before a customer service agent gets on the phone, only to then be transferred to another department.

Picture this, too: Imagine trying to get a flight changed at the last minute and waiting on hold for more than 50 minutes until you finally get through.

And, imagine this: You receive a gift card for Christmas and it doesn’t work, so you have to wait for customer service to get back to you. And in this scenario, it feels like that takes days.

These three situations have all been experienced by people just like you and I looking to connect with Air Canada customer service professionals to either book flights, change flight times, or simply access information about travel requirements and needs. According to onholdwith.com, a community-driven website aiming to end hold time for good, website Air Canada is among the most notorious hold time offenders. In addition, data from the website shows a real-time view of Twitter complaints for Canada and research shows more than 119 complaints in just the last week alone.

During peaks in call volume, it becomes increasingly challenging for customers to have their voices heard and their problems solved quickly and efficiently. Quite the opposite often happens: Customers are placed in an on-hold purgatory, sometimes for hours — which causes a surge in impatience. Putting customers with complex cases on hold for eternity is a weak customer experience move. It exposes a frail part of a call center infrastructure; and it may stunt a potentially good future relationship with the customer reaching out for help.

To be fair: Working with what it has, Air Canada customer service operations try their best to respond. But when weather-related issues arise, or a cancellation occurs, call volumes escalate to extremely high levels, leaving customers blowing in the wind as they try to obtain information that is critical to their travel plans. Not getting that information in a timely and convenient manner has crippled the airline’s reputation for customer service.

But you have to do what you have to do, especially when your flight time is quickly approaching. So, we took a stab at it. We called Air Canada to book a flight, and gain some insight into their notoriety.

Here’s what we learned.

Music

Boy, it’s dreadful. It’s the standard stock music that repeats itself every 20 to 30 seconds. After a while — maybe two to three minutes — the music changes to another drab dirge that just drones, “I’ll be on the phone forever.” Every couple of minutes, the music changes to another song that lasts about three minutes in length — the same piano, the same riff, the same run-of-the-mill instrumental pattern. It’s occasionally interrupted by an automated message about Air Canada’s policies. The only problem with that abrupt interruption is it that it restarts the same old boring tune for us to endure once more! Oh, the horror. After 10 minutes, the music gets slower, sleepier. It’s almost cringe-worthy at this point.

Options

On the call, Air Canada immediately depressed us with the information that weather-related events have “led to longer than usual wait times.” Due to this sad circumstance, were being placed on hold for “22 to 32” minutes. We sat back in our seats and began preparing for the long haul. At the very least, Air Canada gives us the option to be placed in priority sequence and be called back at which time a customer service agent can call you back. Still, it’s not guaranteed. It becomes clear that if you’re looking to get a hold of them on the day of the flight, you’re going to have a very difficult time.

Promotions and Sales

While you’re on hold, an automated customer service voice broadcasts the airline’s deals for different flights. At the time of us calling in, the deals were for flights to Florida, Mexico, or New York.

Thanks, but no thanks! I’m just trying to get to Jamaica on time! Where … is … the … agent?

After another five minutes, here comes a deal for a flight to Austria. I wonder, will Arnold Schwarzenegger be there to receive me? I doubt it. But when you’re put on hold this long, your mind starts to wander to these kinds of questions.

Again, Air Canada: Thanks, but no thanks.

The Result

We reached Air Canada after 27 minutes of being on hold, and they were able to help with our issue. But the agony of waiting for a customer service agent over the phone makes you wonder a) why their current call-back solution isn’t more efficient; and b) why their services can’t be streamlined to a more effective online service or method of customer service like an online chat system. Whether it’s to rebook a flight, make a reservations, or find out basic information about your trip, the dial-in service isn’t really effective. According to a recent study from customer service consultant Conversocial, Air Canada has some of the lowest response percentages and slower times among North American carriers when faced with customer service concerns expressed on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

While polite, their customer service reps are usually handcuffed to the technology Air Canada has in place for them.

Among 10 North American airlines in the survey, Air Canada was last, at 10.3 per cent.

There’s room to grow.

How to Prepare Your Call Center for a Crisis: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

How can call centers improve customer interactions during the most important weekend of the year? We provide four ways you can get your call center into gear before Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What’s Inside: 

  • Optimize Your Self-Service Channels
  • Workforce Management Tips and Tricks
  • The Benefit of Call-Backs
  • The Importance of Training
DOWNLOAD NOW!

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