All entries for July 2014

Rants & Raves: Summertime & The Living Is Easy... Or Is It?

Featured Speaker Kathleen Peterson of Powerhouse Consulting speaks out on her summertime sadness when organizing her annual vacation.

The Call Center has historically been linked to "production" environments in which the dynamic is to process as many calls as possible in as short a time-scale as possible. The focus on how many calls came in and how many calls each person handled has historically caused a perceived conflict in quality. The agents on the phone are often torn between the call they are on and the
calls in queue. This is further amplified in some centers with reader boards alarming, lights
flashing and managers running around like lunatics. No wonder there is a resistance among Customer Service departments to acknowledge that they are, in many cases, Call Centers, or atleast use a Call Center as a key delivery channel.

These conditions certainly do not have to be true. Just for the record, in a well-run Call Center,
the agent is responsible for the call and the management is responsible for the queue. So what to
do to create a high performance service culture within a Call Center environment? Here are four
key areas to evaluate in your quest for Call Center mastery.

1. Make sure that the Call Center is part of the big picture.
To take on the responsibility of the queue, management must view the operation as a total process, one that is connected to the enterprise. This connection must be made in terms of the organization’s values, vision and mission. Is it clear what role the Call Center plays in the overall objectives of the company? This clarity will allow for inclusion and recognition instead of being thought of as a back-room operation. Call Centers do not generally generate their own activity (queues); these are typically a result of marketing promotions, product enhancements, billing issues, service additions, changes in policies or procedures, and so on. This being true it would follow that the parts of the organization responsible for these functions should partner in the planning and audit process. This involves acknowledging that the Call Center is part of a total process, not simply a random series of phone calls coming in and being handled by our staff.

2. Evaluate your planning process.
Queue management begins with an effective "forecast" of demand. Strive for accuracy within plus
or minus 5%. An effective forecast is tied to the other objectives we have for our center. These
include customer retention and satisfaction, sales, employee satisfaction and shareholder return.
In order to evaluate the planning process, we must determine if we have allocated the proper
resources to the task. The forecasting tasks include storing and analyzing historical data, creating
and adjusting schedules, managing the intra-day queue, reallocating staff and managing the
scheduling software system, if you use one.

The forecast person is sometimes known as the "capacity manager." This person should also be responsible for formalizing the flow of information between other departments and the Call Center. The position of capacity manager should not be shared; to be effective there needs to be a dedicated source. This person may need the support of the Call Center manager (and occasionally even more senior management) to be certain that other departments provide theinformation necessary to achieve a high level of accuracy. Historical data is only the starting point for an effective Call Center forecast.

Call Center managers must radiate credibility to their counterparts. They have to be kept "in the loop." In order for that to happen, their peers must respect them and feel confident in sharing vital information with them - information such as two million sales brochures going out in Tuesday’s mail or listing the Call Center’s toll free number as a response mechanism, for example. The Call Center manager, as well as the "capacity manager," needs to be aware of this information in order to know how many people to schedule for what is likely to be an increase in the number of calls. Sometimes, those information handoffs are never made. The result: lost revenue and frustrated customers. All the staff-forecasting software in the world cannot overcome a problem like that. To make matters worse, Call Center morale can take a nosedive when reps are faced with angry customers who know more about a sale or product launch than they do. A strong liaison with other department managers and a calendar prepared by the capacity manager or forecasting team can solve the problem.

Conversely, the Call Center can and should provide vital management information to other
departments. Inbound Call Centers are staffed, to a large extent, on the basis of the number of
inquiries and/or complaints they receive on a given number of issues. If, for example, an
automobile manufacturer’s top consumer complaint last year was that customers’ keys broke off
in the door, it is incumbent upon the Call Center to share that data with the engineering
department. Fixing that problem will mean happier customers and fewer calls to the Call Center.
Fewer calls will mean a need for fewer reps on the phones and will cut overall costs of the center.

3. Focus on quality.
Do you tell agents on the phone to act differently during busy periods? I have repeatedly asked
this question of Call Center managers and often get an emphatic "well, yes, of course". "Exactly
what do you tell them to do?" I ask. Some say, "We just tell them to hurry up!" Others say, "We
tell them not to cross sell." So, we sacrifice revenue opportunities in favor of calls in queue. Ask
yourself, "Does the answer to this question - what to change when it is busy - initiate a quality
conflict for the people taking the calls?" If so you are making a mistake.

We must understand that it will always take longer to do it over than it will to do it right. If we ask
front-line staff to compromise quality because we have a queue issue, we will be setting the stage
for the oft-found belief of Call Center staff that management cares more about quantity than
quality. This is not to say that our front-line staff may not be able to reorganize the workload or
make some adjustments in their behavior during peak periods, just not at the risk of quality.

4. Commit to training.
Training is the single most important investment in the Customer Service Call Center. In most
Call Centers, initial training is often lengthy and ineffective; ongoing training is often canceled and
monitor programs leave much to be desired. Training also acts as a morale booster. One of the
major contributors to turnover is when staff feels as if their growth doesn’t matter to the
organization. To improve quality, improve training.

Call Centers must also be creative about training because we simply cannot take staff off the
phone for instructor led programs, as you can with other departments. The use of the
Internet/intranets, video tapes, CD-ROM and computer-based training all lend themselves to
dynamic scheduling and self-paced learning.

When preparing your budget, plan for a minimum of ten hours per year per person for training.(This is a minimum – not a recommendation; I believe it should be much higher). Then measure
whether the training took place.

Study the error rates and types of errors in your center to adjust the training curriculum. Have
your training people do an analysis of the types of calls handled and the skills required, so they
can maintain a skills matrix and prepare individual training plans.

Finally, make your monitor program an absolute training vehicle and not necessarily a strict
performance measurement tool. The monitor program is like providing your front-line staff with a
"personal trainer". This is a very expensive program when you figure in all the supervisor hours
and in many cases, the technology investments. We must demand a performance return on this
investment. Hold your monitor scores up against other measurements. If the program is effective
(assuming your turnover rate is not in the double digits), you should see improvements in handle
time, service level and occupancy.

Naturally, the right kind of training is essential - product knowledge training, Customer Service
training and training in how to use the phones, computers and software needed to run a Call
Center enterprise. However, when training lasts eight, ten, twelve weeks, there’s a risk your
people will be overwhelmed with information. On-the-job training can go a long way toward
teaching reps the practical skills of applying product knowledge to a factual situation or learning
how to diffuse an angry customer.

The configuration of your people should also drive the type of training provided. For example,
while all staff may be trained in answering basic product inquiries and complaints, several reps
might be assigned to specialized teams which deal with technical issues, high ticket items, high
volume customers or customers with special needs. Those special needs must be addressed in
the training curriculum. Be aware, however, that productivity is a potential tradeoff though in an
environment with many small teams. Larger generalized groups of representatives can take more
calls than a consortium of smaller ones.

Many Call Centers receive training from a designated corporate training department, somewhat
disconnected from the Call Center. It is important in a Call Center for the trainers to report to the
Call Center director and to have continuous exposure to the Call Center environment.
Within that framework, trainers can take on a mentoring role during the first 90 days a trainee
spends on the floor. It is key for trainees not to feel they have been cast adrift the moment the
initial training period is over.

Kathleen Peterson is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting. Kathleen Peterson is an acclaimed Contact Center consultant and industry visionary. Kathleen has emerged as one of the most sought-after experts in the field of Customer Experience and works with the world's top customer-focused companies. She is widely published in prestigious journals in the US and abroad. Kathleen is a featured speaker at conferences and Fortune 500 companies. She has shared her humour, philosophy and experience in keynotes in the US, London, Paris, Turkey, Dubai, and Hong Kong. 

Kathleen will be speaking at the Contact Center Summit in Sarasota-FL this November, covering the topic of "Backstage at the Customer Experience."

On the Line: The New Recording Battle

 “Why is it that you don’t want the faster speed? Help me understand why you don’t want faster Internet?”

It is streamed across the internet, humiliating one of the largest contact centers in the world as Ryan Block, vice president of product at AOL attempts to disconnect his Comcast service. To the chagrin of listeners who share similar service call experiences, Comcast reportedly released an internal memo to its employees undermining the recorded employee and shunning his customer treatment. To avoid crisis –Comcast’s senior management is directing all further questions to media contacts. As the habit of customer’s recording service calls is becoming more and more common, what can other contact centers learn from one exasperated rep’s mistakes?

While companies often say they record service calls for future training purposes, experts say recording calls is beneficial should legal scenarios arise. Glenn Conley, president and CEO of Metropark Communications Inc., tells Market Watch that most calls are archived and used in the case of a legal or policy dispute. “It’s more in line with covering what legal issues might arise down the road,” explains Conley.

To the dismay of large telecommunication companies, experts are now advising consumers to record calls too. While permission to record is often required, experts warn consumers that there are fewer legal reasons for the second party to seek recording permission to record if one party is already recording, particularly if the conversation is no longer considered confidential.

While some companies, like American Express, have set processes to prohibit consumer call recordings, the Digital Media Law Project by Harvard University reports most state wiretapping statutes permit recording if one party to the conversation (the consumer) gives consent. These laws vary by state, California and Washington being two states that require two-way consent.

As contact centers battle to stop two-way recordings, technology is making it easier for callers to do just that. Google voice is just one app that records all incoming calls and while Apple makes recording more difficult, placing a device on speaker phone makes recording easy for any device user.

Lessons to be learned from one failed retention rep? Customer treatment is key, especially when you’re not the only one recording.

Hiring & Keeping Millennials

Businesses across the country are learning to adapt to an influx of employees from the millennial generation. These younger employees are breaking onto the professional ground in rocket numbers and are demanding a new perspective from the 9-5 workday. As employers – it’s our job to make sure that companies adapt to meet the expectations of this up-and-coming workforce.

Millennials – who are they?

-        Born between 1981-2000

-        Nearly 80 million in population (Baby Boomers = 72 million; Gen X = 41 million)

-        41% of the total population

-        25% grew up in single-parent households

-        75% grew up with working mothers

-        About half are currently in the workforce

Below are several tips to tailor your training technique for Millennials.

Be Straightforward.
Millennials want to know what is expected of them right away. Be up front with these employees – tell them how they will be evaluated and your expectations of them. If there will be assessments or evaluations during the training – let them know this ahead of time.

Be Technologically Friendly.
Draw attention by using technology in your presentations. Millennials are familiar with technology – leading lives on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. Consider using social media accounts during training to generate feedback and engagement.

Be an active coach.
Praise employees, especially Millennials. This group of employees crave feedback and advice. Engage mentors or senior associates to participate in portions of the training and consider e-learning options to reduce the time and cost of constant development monitoring.

Say it with visuals.
Use visuals in training activities. Consider infographics as a method of educating and entertaining.

Forum Events Kicks Off the 4th with Team Wars!

The Forum Events team took just a few moments out of their office event planning duties to participate in a fun round of team building exercises for a cause. Located in sunny Sarasota, the team paused for some good ol' challenges in honor of Independence Day. The office is divided, with Forum originating in the UK - many of our staff are english, therefore it only seemed fair to play in true revolutionary war style - the red coats versus the blue coats! 

Teams competed in a build-a-bike competition. Each team was given a children's bicycle in a box with tools and had to race to build the bikes. Although it's up for debate who finished first, the bikes will go to Forty Carrots, a local charity focused on developing children and their families. The organization is dear to the Forum Events team as Forty Carrot's parenting school, preschool and professional training center greatly impacts all aspects of the Sarasota community.

The team then took to an equally divided hot dog eating contest. Again, the winner is up for debate but there were no hard feelings at the patriotic catered lunch that followed. 

We hope everyone enjoyed the fourth of July weekend safely and are back to making business better this week! Looking forward to meet everyone at upcoming events, 


The Forum Events Team


Featured Article: Security on a Budget

A good place to start is the front door of any campus facility.

By Patrick V. Fiel, Sr., Guest Speaker & Security Expert
Published in the Security Products Magazine.

There’s an old axiom that a good salesman could sell virtually anything to anybody—even if the item isn’t always the best fit for a need. Unfortunately, school administrators can be victims of a good, but deceptive sales pitch. Often, K-12 school districts purchase expensive security components designed to protect students, staff and property. This equipment is likely high quality and serves a legitimate purpose, but does it really meet the district’s overall needs? Does it integrate with other equipment already in place? Or, could security needs be met while spending less?  

Through careful planning and following a checklist, it is possible for schools to develop a quality security plan that meets campus needs without breaking the budget. Any new or upgraded security plan should begin with a risk assessment performed by experienced, independent security professionals, who will work closely with school administrators and local law enforcement to complete the process.  

Assessment results serve as the initial step in developing an action plan for each campus. Assessments should begin with the surrounding neighborhood as businesses, parks and traffic patterns can impact a school. Student passages to and from school, landscaping, parking lots, athletic fields, outbuildings and communications systems should also be included in the plan. An assessor should then move on to one of the most critical points on campus—the main public entry.

Sourcing the Entry

For too many K-12 campuses, the front door provides open and easy access for parents, volunteers and vendors but also for registered sex offenders, thieves, vandals and even active shooters. By controlling this entry and locking all others, school administrators can go a long way toward protecting their campus. 

The goal is to provide layers of security, each contributing to keeping unwanted visitors away from students. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) requires that the front entry is free from trees and bushes that could serve as a hiding place for people looking to piggyback into the school with other visitors or hide weapons and other contraband. Also, make sure lighting is bright enough to identify anyone trying to enter on a dark afternoon.

Here is a look at the basic equipment that can be purchased and installed at a reasonable cost to provide layers of security to protect one of a campus’ most vulnerable points.

Signage. Have signs in the parking lot and around the perimeter making it clear—in multiple languages, if necessary—that all visitors must use the main entry to access the school building.  

Remote-controlled locks. Keep the front door locked at all times while providing a receptionist or other front office workers the ability to remotely open the door with the push of a button.  

Video intercoms. Consider these to be a school’s video doorbell. A video intercom lets an office worker see and talk with a person who is requesting access before unlocking the door. If the person has a legitimate reason to enter, the lock is opened; however, should there be any doubts, the door stays locked. Signage should clearly explain the process for using the intercom.

Security screens. Glass doors at many schools still leave locked entries vulnerable. The shooter at Sandy Hook elementary, for example, shot his way through a glass panel next to the locked front entrance doors of the school to gain entry. Stainless steel mesh security screens can make any glass in doors or windows virtually impervious to gunshots or knives.  

Entry vestibule. Once inside the main entry, visitors still should not be cleared to enter campus areas such as classrooms, cafeterias, libraries and auditoriums. A vestibule should open into the office for the next step in the entry process. In many schools this may require the building of a wall and an extra locked door.  

Visitor management. For years, schools have simply asked visitors to sign in upon entering the campus, and too many schools are still using this method. Instead, once a person arrives in the office, he or she should be asked to present a government-issued ID to swipe through a visitor management system. In seconds, the system should check the card’s information against federal and state databases for registered sex offenders. The system also can check locallyentered data to identify non-custodial parents or former disgruntled school employees.  

When a visitor is approved, the system prints a temporary photo ID badge to be worn throughout the campus visit. At this point, a visitor can be cleared to enter the rest of the campus with the remote unlocking of the vestibule door. There are also a couple of add-on pieces of equipment that can further enhance security at the entry:

Panic button. A discreet button under a receptionist’s desk, tied to a school’s access, intercom or intrusion system, can immediately notify first responders of an emergency situation on campus.  

Video surveillance. Cameras mounted just inside the entry can help guard against piggybacking at the front door. Another camera placed in the office will provide another view of visitors as they check in at the front desk.  

Keeping the Rest of the Campus Secure 

Most of the solutions for protecting the entry will have applications throughout the school. 

  • All other exterior doors should be kept locked. Assign only one as the entry for faculty and staff. A keypad or a cardkey system will allow them access while also providing an audit trail of who has entered.
  • Make sure all classrooms are lockable from the inside, and keep them locked when children are present. Add a $10 peephole so the teacher can see who wants entry without having to open the door.
  • Lock the loading docks where supplies are delivered throughout the day. By adding a second video intercom, office personnel can allow known vendors access for deliveries.
  • Cameras placed in key hallways, the cafeteria and around all exterior entries provide valuable, real-time, forensic information. This allows emergency responders to view the situation live to take appropriate action.
  • Consider doing background checks of your volunteers and vendors. There are a number of services that now make this an affordable option while adding yet one more layer of protection to campus security. (Did you know that there are over 700,000 registered sex offenders in the United States?)

Policies and Procedures 

Don’t spend the money to secure a campus without the proper policies and procedures to make sure the equipment is being properly used. Train several people on the use of the video intercom system. Although its operation is simple, you want to make sure the operator asks the right questions of would-be visitors before allowing them access.  

Instruct all faculty and staff members to challenge anyone in the school building that is not wearing a permanent or temporary badge. Impress upon all staff members—even students—the dangers of propping open a door. It’s an open invitation for would-be criminals.  

Also, budget funding to maintain the various systems and keep them running as intended. 

When it comes to protecting students, you want to put as many layers as possible between the public and all classrooms. Concentrate on what has been proven to work while being aware of slick sales pitches. Salespeople can make any product sound like a vital piece of any security plan when, in fact, it may not be appropriate or is more than what is necessary. It all starts with securing and limiting front entry options and then tightening down on the front door.  

The solutions outlined here are generally affordable for most schools and districts, and are valid for virtually all schools no matter age, design or type of construction. 

The Pulse of Social Media

Change is coming for the customer service world. A recent study found 50 percent of consumers prefer using social media to reach their service provider than calling a contact center. Long gone are the social media skeptics as large, growing companies turn to these outlets for customer engagement, lead generation and brand development.

Amdocs found using social media as a platform for customer service is beneficial for multiple reasons: one, it cuts down on call center costs, and two, it improves the customer experience by boosting engagement. Emerging software connects customers’ social media identities to their profiles stored in the customer relationship management (CRM) system. Using and managing the data from social media outreach, companies are able to analyze trends and media shouts, identifying and resolving problems in just moments.

Contact Center software like Five9 is constantly introducing new technology that includes social media integration and social engagement tools. To prove that social media is here to stay – Five9’s Summer Release 2014 raised $73 million.

In a study by BI Intelligence, they found that social activity is the top internet activity. This means that Americans spend more time on social media than any other major internet activity – including email. Of that time, 60% of social media is accessed on smartphones and tablets, not desktop computers. Of the social media networks, Facebook attracts roughly seven times the engagement that Twitter does, meaning that user interaction on Facebook is more influential.

Here are some key facts regarding social media in the customer service world and correlating tips to improve the consumer experience:

  • Speedy Response: 52 % of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes of their social media contact, but only 24 % of service providers say they respond within that timeframe.
  • Invest in a CRM system with innovative social media software: 64 % of customers say they would be willing to share their social identity with their service provider, in return for better service and 48 % would like to receive relevant, personalized offers from their service provider via social media.
  • Link customers to their virtual identity: There’s still plenty of room for improvement in the social media world – 93 % of service providers say they cannot identify customers from their social media profiles and 64 % of service providers do not store social media interactions in their CRM database.

“When people take to Twitter or Facebook to ask questions, or worse yet, complain about their service provider, that’s an opportunity the service provider can take to proactively resolve that customer’s issue – if they know that customer’s real identity.”
- Rebecca Prudhomme, VP Product and Solution Marketing at Amdocs

For more information on customer service via social networks, check out the infographic below.


Click to Enlarge Image

The Industries With the Most Customer Complaints — Brought To You By

When (Corporate) Social Media Goes Horribly Wrong




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