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Kids say the darndest things…

…and so do adults.  Back in the 1960’s, Art Linkletter had a variety show that included interviews with children.  When a child said something unexpected, Linkletter would say his then famous line – Kids say the darndest things.  We’re not sure if “darndest” was or is a word, but everybody understood.

One of our current projects is focused on helping the college be more productive with their student services.  Particularly, we’re to improve their contact center productivity with better processes and upgraded technology.

While listening to a phone conversation between a college advisor and a potential student, the caller asked if a driver’s license was necessary to take a course in limo driving.  Without hesitation, the advisor said “yes, you have to have a driver’s license to take the course”.  So, it’s not just kids who say the darndest things.

Great customer service includes brushing aside obvious errors in speech, understanding the context and moving forward in helping the customer.  We are like a great concierge service that helps tourists.  The tourist might get confused or be slow to understand directions, but the concierge is patient and makes sure the tourist gets the information correct.  Same is true for our customer service call centers, our college advisors, our mobility sales team and our visa service professionals, etc.

We must say the right thing, give the right instructions, but most importantly, make sure the customer understands the instructions.  If we get it right, everything is fine.  If we get it wrong, it might sound like the darndest thing.

Have a great week and thank you.

Here’s a Bill Cosby tribute to Art Linkletter, click here.

Management Candidate Program

122566911One of the main principles at GCS is to provide opportunities to those who want them. It is our goal for all associates to enjoy working at GCS and to find it makes their lives better.

That’s where our Management Candidate Program comes in. This program was started over twenty years ago and includes dozens of learning modules designed to develop and hone the skills necessary to become a manager in the contact center advisory services field.

Since the program’s beginning, hundreds of GCS employees have applied, been chosen, completed and received certification in this program.  The Management Candidate Program is well established in our contact centers and we are pleased to see the steady stream of internal promotions as a result.  Our clients are even involved in the approval of each candidate before the promotion to management can take effect. For the past 20 years, our track record of approvals has been excellent.

Applying for the Management Candidate Program is the first step toward reaching the goal of becoming a manager here at GCS and a great way to enjoy a long and prosperous career with us.  At GCS, we want to help make every team member’s life better by giving them the opportunities they need to succeed.

Communication in Emergency Situations

456063367In today’s society, safety and effective communication in emergency situations is proving to be more and more important. Intercede Services, a software company owned by a father of a GCS employee, has recently launched a new emergency incident reporting technology called iAlert. The product was launched in response to growing concerns regarding the safety of school children, teachers, hospital employees, construction workers and many more individuals who are exposed to dangerous situations and elements due to the nature or location of their work.

iAlert was designed to promote effective communication for 3 common types of safety incidents: crisis events, emergency events, and urgent events. iAlert allows users to instantly notify multiple responders of an emergency incident allowing for fast and efficient communication to mitigate critical situations and promote safety and compliance. Pre-determined responders are able to react immediately based on the unique geo-location technology used by iAlert.

This mobile app is a very cost effective and customizable safety tool. It is compatible with iPhone technology and available through a subscription package with Intercede Services.

For more information, please visit intercedeservices.com

Three Reasons Omni-channel Outperforms Multi-channel

Omni-channel-contact-centerThe other day, I read an article that claimed “omni-channel” is just a buzzword word that means the same thing as “multi-channel.” I couldn’t disagree more. Omni-channel contact centers represent a major step in the evolution of customer service.

Look at the history of customer contact. The very first call centers were just that: call centers. They had one channel: the telephone. In other words, they were “uni-channel.” In the 90s, when email entered the picture, contact centers added that to their available ways of communicating with customers, and they became “dual-channel.” Unfortunately, the right hand often had no idea what the left hand was doing, and the customer sometimes felt as if he or she was communicating with two different companies. Once chat was added to the mix, the first true “multi-channel” customer service centers were born, but the customer experience was not necessarily any better.

Fast forward to the present, and you have people talking about the next step in this evolution: “omni-channel.” To understand the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel, it helps to look at the words themselves. “Multi” comes from the Latin word meaning “more than one, or many.” “Omni,” on the other hand, comes from the Latin word meaning “every, all or whole.”

Those three words – every, all and whole – provide a good outline of what an omni-channel contact center is designed to do:

  • Leverage every channel the customer is using.
  • Capture and integrate all customer touchpoints, regardless of channel, for a seamless customer experience, and
  • Present a 360-degree view of the whole customer.

1. Leverage every available channel

Omni-channel looks beyond the big three: voice, email and chat. SMS, social media and mobile apps are playing an increasing role in how customers want – and expect – to get service and support. Take social media, for example. According to Gleanster Research, 73% of the top performing companies said their number one reason for investing in social media is not marketing, but customer service. With 71% of online adults using Facebook and 18% using Twitter, it makes sense.

2. Capture and integrate all customer touch points, regardless of channel, for a seamless customer experience

Omni-channel is not just about offering the customer more of the channels they want to use. It’s also about creating an integrated, seamless customer experience. “Multi” means many. And the problem with the old paradigm of multi-channel is that customers were having many different experiences when they reached out to the same company because they were handled by different agents who could not see the entire customer interaction. The goal of omni-channel is to present one consistent, continuous conversation and to do that, the agent and the organization needs to know where, when and what has transpired with a given customer.

3. Present a 360 degree view of the whole customer

And what makes that conversation satisfying for the customer is that, regardless of the channel they use or the agent they reach, they feel recognized and remembered. Because the customer is able to use whatever channel they are comfortable using, and because the agent has access to every interaction, the customer receives unparalleled support with a personal touch.

With customers expecting to use a wide range of channels – and getting more and more accustomed to a seamless, integrated customer experience – can you afford to stay stuck in the world of multi-channel?

If you have been thinking about omni-channel but don’t know where to begin, then we should talk. Our experts at Global Contact Services (GCS) will be happy to discuss your situation and offer guidance.

 

How to Write a Contact Center RFP

contact center rfpSo, you’ve completed the process of determining you need a new contact center, and have the buy-in from upper management to proceed with the project. Now it is time to select a vendor to help you get there, but selecting the right one is an important decision not to be taken lightly since they are an extension of your brand. How do you find a capable partner who will keep your long-term goals in mind? After you do your initial vendor research, one of the first steps in the selection process is typically to issue a request for proposal or Contact Center RFP.

In a nutshell, the RFP is your chance to provide potential suitors with a common, structured overview of your company, what you are looking for, detailed requirements and selection criteria. Whether or not you’ve ever created an RFP for contact center services, we’ve put together some simple guidelines to help you with the process.

Before you write your RFP, take the necessary time to document the following:

  • Outline your current contact center situation including what you like and dislike about it.
  • Envision your future contact center. How would it differ from what you have now and what must you have to get where you need to be?
  • Define the scope of the RFP. How much will need to be covered?
  • Now prioritize and organize the output as a foundation for the rest of the process. Make sure to check if each item is within the scope of the project.

An RFP typically has two main parts, each with labeled sub-sections.

 

Part 1

The first part provides an overview and sets the stage for the potential future relationship. It is where you describe things like:

  • your company and industry
  • your management structure and competitive positioning
  • who and where your customers are
  • your customer contact history and philosophy
  • any contact center experience, including what is and isn’t working (see the exercise above)
  • the rationale for the RFP

This is also where you lay out the process, timeline and deadlines, selection criteria and clear instructions for formatting and submission.

 

Part 2

The second part of the RFP is where you detail your objectives and specific technical and performance requirements. Be direct and as clear as possible. Include as many questions as it takes to get an understanding of your future contact center vendor’s capabilities, experience, operations and service levels, but avoid irrelevant kitchen sink questions or you’ll create unnecessary work for you and your bidders.

Ask a mix of yes or no and open-ended questions to elicit the vendor’s approach to fulfilling specific requirements. You can tell a lot about their potential fit with your organization by their responses, including how creative they are in different situations.

Some other areas you may want to include:

  • approach to staffing, training and supporting personnel
  • management/supervision structure
  • agent recruitment and retention
  • monitoring and quality assurance
  • compliance to all laws, regulations and best practices
  • data flow, reporting and measurement
  • details about facilities or the use of at home agents
  • technology infrastructure (hardware, software, network, etc.)
  • disaster preparedness, security, data protection and redundancy
  • start-up and wind-down process
  • improvement process and benchmarks
  • telecommunications
  • business continuity

Ask specific questions about their experience relevant to the scope and complexity of your needs. Be sure to inquire about current contracts to understand their capacity to service your organization.

Detail the type and quantity of references you require, and don’t forget pointed questions about support and service levels.

Make sure you address financial matters including costs and billing, vendor performance measurement and potential terms for engagement.

Finally, ask for a clear executive summary for the benefit of others in the decision process that may not be as intimate with the details of the Contact Center RFP as you are.

Remember, these are meant as guidelines and not an exhaustive list. What you ask depends on whether you are outsourcing the management, the function or the entire business process of your contact center(s). Make sure you really need what you ask for so you don’t overpay for the services. But, if you use this as a starting point to build upon for your specific needs, it should help you uncover the vendor with the right mix of expertise, capacity, cost and quality to represent your company and brand.

If it is your first time through the outsourcing process, consider using a contact center consultant to help with the process. Or feel free to reach out to us, we’d be happy to help get your Contact Center RFP off the ground. A good consultant will make sure you don’t miss key items, can help assess the respondents and even set-up the proper process to managing the on-going new relationship.

Have You Considered Call Center Consulting?

call center consulting

Because of our background in owning and managing centers, we often get a consulting contract to help a client improve or revamp their contact center process.  We’ve engaged in consulting projects all over the world.   Recently we submitted a proposal for a city college system in a major metro area to help them consolidate seven centers from multiple campuses into one center.

Although each centers is small, it’s a fairly complicated endeavor because it requires consolidation of people, process and technology.

That’s where we have an advantage.  When we did our city college proposal, we recommended using five to eight people for the consulting program.  Our competitors might only use one to three.  We use this team approach because our  experts in finance, might not know telephony.  We have experts in human resources who may not have an in-depth background in workforce management.

So we’ll take a project that might last 90 days and have each person work between 10 and 30 days on the process, depending on their discipline.  For example, our accounting people might only spread 10 days over the life of the project to make sure our solution is fiscally sound and we’re on time and under-budget.  Our recruit, interview, hire and train team might spend 30 straight days because their part requires real time continuity and will have major ongoing impact on the center cost.

Our consulting projects take a lot of preparation time and coordination.  We have a point person who acts like a general contractor keeping all the subs accountable for their duties.  The city college project would have a senior executive sponsor to assume the lead role and then we will quickly assemble a team to guide the project from start to  finish.  These types of engagements are intense, fast paced and even though contracts are tightly written, things change on the fly.

Have a call center or customer contact problem that you need solved? Gain peace of mind by turning to our strong track record and talented team, we would be happy to propose a call center consulting solution that delivers value to your organization.

Coaches are Just Teachers Trying to Help Us Win

When asked “Who was the most influential person in your life growing up?” the most common answers (after “my mom” or “my dad”) are usually a teacher or a coach. At GCS, we refer to the most influential people in our CMRs’ business lives as Supervisors but, aren’t they really teachers or coaches? They work daily with CMRs on presentation skills, right? At GCS, we are changing the titles for “the most influential people in our company.

Let's call our Supervisors what they really are - Coaches!

Let’s call our Supervisors what they really are – Coaches!

Coaches and teachers are very influential and so are the individuals working one-on-one with our CMRs. Formerly known as Supervisors, these front-line support folks are the most effective people in our company because they work directly with the most important people in our company, our CMRs. They spend valuable time monitoring, counseling and providing feedback to CMRs each and every day. Yes, they “supervise,” but even more importantly, they “coach” CMRs to be the very best they can be. “Coaching” CMRs on presentation skills daily is the key to success at GCS. These knowledgeable, veteran employees can give CMRs quality information to implement into their presentations, making for a better customer experience. These individuals play an important part in our ability to achieve success in what we do.

Let’s embrace referring to the most influential people in our company as “Coaches” rather than Supervisors today and every day.

Marketing to bank customers has gone from sky high to ground zero…

Our clients need a hug. That’s the feeling I got at the conference in Phoenix this week. The ABIA is the industry association for insurance carriers that market through banks. Over the last two years, marketing to bank customers has gone from sky high to ground zero with almost all marketing being suspended.

So, with this suspension in marketing, the conference networking was around two main subjects: a disdain for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and where we go from here. A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the CFPB and their interest in reducing fraud and deceptive marketing to bank customers. We continue to get requests from our clients to verify sales and document our procedures. To date, we can celebrate our A+, top grade response from our clients and their clients.

Back to the conference. Our booth was well attended and we received many accolades from our existing clients who attended and/or exhibited. We checked off 14 clients from the registration program that came to see us. Jason Sterns arrived from Colorado just in time to help “man the booth” and network with clients and prospects. He did great, as expected.

Our clients are not feeling great right now, but they are great business people. Great business people always figure a way to solve difficult problems. We’re depending on our clients to improve their situation. But in the meantime, we’re working hard to improve our situation, too. Oh, yes, we gave our clients a hug.

Global eConnect

You cannot do it all. In almost every client presentation we are asked to provide a service that is NOT our core competency. GCS provides outsourced teleservices for customer sales, service and support (CSSS). Oftentimes there are fringe services that bolt on to CSSS and it makes sense to subcontract those activities through us. In these cases, we take on the role of Trusted Advisor.

When GCS started in 2001, it got a kick start from Global eConnect (GeC). GeC is an international brokering and consulting company for outsourced teleservices and BPO. Since 1998, GeC has helped clients select and manage outsourcing relationships worldwide. In 2001, GeC convinced several clients to outsource programs to GCS, a then tiny start up operated by seasoned veterans and lots of insurance agents.

Over the years we’ve had clients with various degrees of management latitude. On one end, we have clients who only allow us to access their database by a private network, enter data and then close the network. We have no other responsibilities. That’s fine with us.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have clients who ask us to do everything. Obtain the database, cleanse the data, begin the marketing, handle multiple channels (chat, inbound sales, e-mail, text, postal), analyze results and report. In these cases, GCS may use other partners for functions we can’t or don’t want to do. In this case, our clients trust us to manage the extended services for compliance and performance.

We don’t want to be all things to all people. Clients and prospects of GCS know we specialize in CSSS. That comes in the form of voice and non-voice activities done at a workstation. That’s our core business, what we do better than anyone else and what we want to do a lot. You can’t do it all.

Keeping Customer Service Available During Natural Disasters

Minimize damage to your call center operations in the face of disaster

With Hurricane Sandy on everyone’s mind we would like to take a moment to provide some helpful information on disaster preparation from a contact center standpoint.

Safety is everyone’s first concern, both for employees and customers, and an abundance of resources exist to reference in the face of a natural disaster.  See the CDC’s Hurricane Readiness Tips

But what can you do to minimize the impact of a natural disaster on your business?

Here are a couple of suggestions.

  1. Have operational centers in a wide variety of geographical locations.  Clearly this is difficult to do in a short time frame or if you are a single location operation. Still, you may be able to quickly outsource some of your work and in the long-term, you can certainly contract for contingency capacity with other contact center service providers during a disaster.  For example, one of our northeastern clients has exercised a previous agreement with us to shift some of their in-house work to one of our western centers during the Hurricane window. Because plans were in place, this was done quickly and without disruption for their customers. This will ensure our clients can deliver quality customer service no matter what the storm’s outcome is in their region.Just having a small percentage of seats available can be a real benefit for the customers and the company. Natural disasters can disrupt power, phones, internet and other communication tools for a long time.You can work with outsource providers like us, or maybe even find geographically diverse friendly competitors to work out an agreement. GCS has the added benefit of off-shore locations in the event of a larger national disaster or emergency.
  2. Additional Support and Overflow.  Even if you do not have to close an entire center it is often difficult to maintain a full staff during a natural disaster. Employees have families to care for, communication can be spotty and transportation dangerous. Some critical organizations will experience a much higher contact volume during disasters. Having an outsource provider handle overflow or non-critical issues can provide needed customer support and free your key staff to tackle the bigger challenges. Look for a provider to handle overflow calls so you don’t miss an opportunity to continue operation or satisfy a customer.
  3. Use a recording, IVR or rerouted calls.  You may have to rely on a recording to communicate valuable information to customers and employees alike. This is a great way to make sure everyone is informed and up-to-date about the latest changes for the site and does not require someone to man the phones. Likewise an outsource provider can be contracted to retrieve and handle messages, refer customers and communicate with employees.
  4. Mobilize Fast.  In any emergency, down time will impact your bottom line. A professional and unexpectedly solid response in a crisis can win and keep customers far after the event. This is one of the huge benefits to being prepared ahead of time with an emergency plan and working with a flexible company.  If you mobilize fast, you minimize the bottom-line impact.
  5. Communicate via social media.  When the power goes out, people will be turning to their smart phones, tablets and laptop PCs to stay in touch more than ever.  Let employees and customers know what’s going on and how they can remain in touch during an emergency. Contact centers like GCS can turn the social channel into a positive response channel by monitoring email, chat and text, or providing critical moderation of on-line content.
  6. Be sure everyone is aware of a disaster preparedness plan. Your organization should have plans and policies in place to approach a natural disaster: the steps before, during and after it occurs. All members of management should know what their role is if something were to happen in their local area and they should know how to respond according to your company’s policy and procedure. Be sure to keep this plan updated, review it with all employees and to always communicate its importance.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to respond during a natural disaster but the more prepared you are, the less damage you must undo once it’s over. If you have a solid plan in place to tackle what may come, you can get operations back in place faster, easier and safer.

And once it’s over, always reflect on what your company did right, the tasks that need improvement and the new plans/ideas you can implement the next time something strikes.

We would be glad to discuss ways GCS could help with your contingency planning. Give us a call 704.624.9621 ext 1