Conversocial Lets Users Join Crowd, Help Customer Support

February 20, 2015

The move to online communications continues to take the business world by storm. As more and more people shop online instead of heading out to brick and mortar locations to do their shopping, they are also turning to the Web to get help and support, and to vent about their issues.

This increased reliance in online communications to discuss and recommend brands has companies listening and responding with new social care options.

Conversocial, a provider of cloud-based social customer service solutions has taken it a step further to allow companies to get their own customers become more than just bran ambassadors- but tech support too.

CROWDS, the new app offered from the company is being touted as the newest in a generation of “social first” customer service solutions.

For companies this can reduce costs and ensure customers are getting replies as soon as possible. Using the app, customers can respond to technical and support issues posted on Twitter (News - Alert).

For users, they can use the app and become “CROWD experts” and earn points for possible reward wins based on their knowledge and passion for the brands.

Social media seems to be the number one place people are turning to for help – because of its far reach and immediacy. The company recently commissioned a study that found most young shoppers prefer using social media for their customer service needs and businesses need to pay attention on this rising crowd because they are no longer going to traditional forums or other online support pages from the brand.

“Today’s consumers are in better control and have a louder voice than ever before, making it imperative that companies empower their biggest supporters to become part of the fabric of their brands,” said Joshua March, Conversocial CEO and founder. “CROWDS allows companies to build brand advocacy and reduce support costs while rewarding the next generation of their most loyal, well-informed customers.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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BT & Scala Deliver Better In-Store Interactions for Customers

February 20, 2015

Retailers in today’s market are at an interesting crossroads of trying to keep customers in their brick and mortar locations as online shopping proliferates, and doing so while still offering deals and pricing to match the online outlet.

To help ensure customers in-store are having top notch interactions, BT (News - Alert) and Scala have announced a partnership to deliver digital solutions that will help retailers innovate, integrate and deliver the best customer service.

Part of bringing the excitement to the in-store experience is adding digital elements. Things like intelligent fitting rooms with digital display that trigger personalized content can be the answer to improving service and winning more sales.

The combined partnership will offer a chance for retailers to push digital offerings around the store – from sales associate’s tablets or even on multiple screen video walls to engage and improve shopper experiences.

The new digital offerings can be tailored to industry specific needs from retailers to retail banking, automotive showrooms, restaurants, hotels, and more.

"The challenge for retailers is to provide the same level of customer experience in the store as the consumer is finding online. The same is true for retail banking, restaurants and hotels." Tom Nix, CEO of Scala said.

At an industry event in Europe last week, Scala showed off some of the innovative things its doing to improve in-store retail experiences – from connected cafés that use self service apps and beacon technology, to heat maps that can help management see what areas of the stores are drawing most traffic. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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Report: Customer Experience a Key Differentiator for Retailers

Econsultancy recently released the survey, The Retailer’s Imperative: A Strategic Approach to Customer Experience. One of its key results was that an overwhelming majority of retailers felt that providing a great customer experience was the most important strategy to adopt.

The modern retailer faces several challenges that make it hard to differentiate it from competitors. A retailer that sells widgets cannot use that fact alone to compel shoppers to buy; lots of retailers probably sell the same widget. It cannot differentiate on price unless it is a giant like Walmart nor can it boast about a great selection, because there’s always Amazon. Another problem with Amazon is that brick-and-mortar stores have fallen into the trap of becoming a showroom for the online giant of retail.

When these and other factors are sorted out, one of the best differentiating factors that remains in a commoditized world is the customer experience. Eight out of nine retailers in the survey agree. It is one of the few things left a retailer has control over that can make or break their chances at success.

Having low prices and great selection means nothing if a customer is aggravated in the process. A great experience is more than the lack of such aggravation. It means not only that the customer went through without a hitch, but that the retailer went above and beyond the norm to serve them and the experience was so good, the customer wants to come back.

Retailers were surveyed on the importance of integrating customer experience technologies. This makes the transition between different contacts seamless without regard to method or time. Forty-five percent of retailers said this was vital to their growth, 45 percent said it was very important and eight percent said it was important. With 97 percent feeling that the issue is at least important, this is as close to unanimous as you can get.

Technology can be a huge benefit in providing a great customer experience. A customer who walks into a retailer is going to expect that store to know about issues that came up from previous emails, texts and other channels without needing to rehash their history of interactions. That was a key finding of the survey. These solutions can track all types of interactions efficiently. They can also identify customer tendencies to give them specialized service and provide opportunities to suggestively sell or offer customized promotions.

Retailers responded to the survey about the technology they used as follows: 72 percent used Web content management; 66 percent used an e-commerce platform; 64 percent used customer analytics; 62 percent used search and merchandizing; 55 percent used personalization; 50 percent used campaign management and 37 percent used testing. Since the totals add up to well over 100 percent, many retailers would have used more than one of these technologies.

In one sense, the Econsultancy survey confirms what many who follow the retail industry have believed for several years. Retail has become commoditized and the competition is stiff. As a result, the traditional ways to gain an edge, like price and selection won’t work. Although this is nothing new, one key conclusion may be: the retailers themselves recognized the need to change and have taken action. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Mobilethink to Supply Device Guides to Digicel

February 20, 2015

  By Casey Houser, Contributing Writer

Spirent (News - Alert) Communications offers network test and measurement services for enterprises' and service providers' data centers, cloud and virtualized environments, and landline and wireless networks. It recently announced that Mobilethink (News - Alert), its mobile device intelligence business unit, will begin offering the Device Guides service to Digicel, a communications an entertainment provider, for customers in the Caribbean, Central America, and Asia Pacific.

Device Guides is a collection of instructional articles, complete with text and video, to which Digicel (News - Alert) can refer its customers when they have issues with specific products. It allows customers to take problem solving into their own hands, and when that is not enough, trained customer service agents who also have access to the Device Guides articles can use them to help customers who are live in voice, video, or Web chat. Geared toward mobile users, Mobilethink's collection contains information about more than 90,000 mobile devices that span more than 120 manufacturers.

Kerri-Ann Mitchell, the head of market programs at Digicel, commented on the partnership and her company's dedication to providing customers with the best support experience possible.

“With our commitment to delivering best value, best network and best service to customers across the globe, we are constantly implementing new ways to improve our customer satisfaction; the Mobilethink Device Guides will contribute to this,” Mitchell said.

The most predictive element of this partnership is the potential that the Device Guides information extends to customers who wish to solve their own problems. It gives them a large body of information that can lead them away from traditional customer service – even that made possible through multichannel platforms -- and onto the Web were everything is presented for them.

For some customers, this may appear as a step in the right direction. It is a central repository that gives customers the information they need for troubleshooting; it does so without forcing people into queues or phone trees and clears up customer service agents for more complex problems than those which customers can solve themselves. Likewise, for some businesses, this could look like a godsend because of the freedom it may offer customers and the time it can award agents who will not be burdened by simple issues.

TMC (News - Alert) points to this possibly being the year of customer self-service. Resources always available to customers without the need to wait in line can be a valuable addition to customer service as a whole. The big concern, however, companies will begin to rely on those self-service portals and skimp on training or supply of live customer service agents. Telling customers to first visit a website may work for some issues, but it will not work for all of them. If businesses begin to scale down their personnel in favor of digital repositories, they may see a drop in customer satisfaction even with the added material available online.

There will always be customers who favor speaking to live agents and there will always be issues outside the scope of the average person's ability to repair. This is where agents need to fill the gap in either desire or knowledge. Device Guides' ability to present information to agents as well as customers can keep agents informed so they can help solve customers' issues. For any companies eyeing that repository, though, it would be best to refrain for thinking that it alone will act as a panacea and a cheaper but still effective method of customer service.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Report: Strategic Differentiation is Key to Customer Service Success

February 20, 2015

By Casey Houser, Contributing Writer

Anyone involved in call centers and customer service should be familiar with the differences between so-called “firefighting” and strategic differentiation. Firefighting refers to the practice of attacking problems one by one as they occur without paying attention to the overall goals of a brand. Strategic differentiation does the exact opposite by making sure that a solid vision for company improvement accompanies any changes made that address issues with customer service.

Market research company Forrester (News - Alert) lays out the differences between the two methods of operation in its latest report, “Embrace Continuous Improvement to Power Customer Service Operations.” The report says that companies may actually create their own fires with high call handling times, misrouted calls, and challenges with hiring because they do not follow a consistent vision. It is not intuitive then when Forrester also mentions that the correction to these issues is grounded in the basics of business itself.

“Many customer service organizations spend too little time mastering the basics of high-quality customer service operations,” the report states, “which means they are unable to focus on strategic initiatives such as offering high-quality new mobile or social customer service.”

Basically, Forrester says businesses must spend time crafting a differentiation strategy that addresses the solid governance of touchpoints like mobile, text, voice, and video and define objectives that match up with a future vision for the company. From there, managers can adopt the right software/hardware and can hire the correct type and number of agents to see things through.

Of course, businesses must also pay attention to the needs of their customers by finding out their preferences for communications channels. If they prefer voice and Web chat, for instance, then make sure those channels are readily available. Structured feedback from surveys and unstructured feedback found in reports or call recordings can be useful here.

Call centers should also acknowledge the best practices of process management, proper technology usage, and business culture such as leadership practices, training programs, and performance management practices. Success metrics for agents, such as average call handling time, and metrics for businesses as a whole, such as call abandonment rate, can also offer valuable information about how to align management and agent practices so they line up with goals for their overall operations.

Although Forrester calls the process of improving customer service “daunting,” it also says a business can make improvements if it begins small by creating a vision and finding out what in-house practices can fulfill that vision; building a communication plan that brings together business managers and stakeholders; focusing on one touchpoint and one key business process at a time instead of jumping from one fire to another with no end goal; and consistently reviewing progress while taking in customer feedback to identify problems and take corrective action. These are the basics that can lead to customer service that works well for everyone involved: agents, managers, stakeholders and customers.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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Mac Apps That Use Garbage Collection Must Move to ARC

Beginning May 1, 2015, new Mac apps and app updates submitted to the Mac App Store may no longer use garbage collection, which was deprecated in OS X Mountain Lion. Instead, migrate your apps to Automatic Reference Counting, using the migration assistant in Xcode to help with this transition. Apps may continue to use retain/release for manual memory management. For more information, read the Transitioning to ARC Release Notes.

Call Accounting is More Than Just Numbers

Call Accounting is More Than Just Numbers

February 20, 2015

TMCnet Contributing Editor

How much does customer behavior impact your activities in the call center space? If you had to stop and think about this, chances are you’re missing key opportunities to improve interactions. It’s likely you’re using call recording to help with your call accounting, but are you also gathering insights from that data?

When you record calls for training and quality purposes, this is an important step. But you are also capturing valuable information that customers are willingly sharing in those interactions. If you’re not doing something with that information to improve your processes and better engage with your customers, you’re missing opportunities to improve your products and services, as well as the bottom line.

For instance, there are solutions available that can determine whether or not a caller is sarcastic, outgoing, serious, upset, shy and more. If customers are reacting to a certain element of the script, the way the agent is talking or even the amount of time they wait on hold, that’s an indicator that something is either working really well or that changes need to be made. This is the ultimate voice of the customer capture, with authentic feedback.

Distress triggers are also important to capture. If you know this information ahead of time, your agents can quickly de-escalate a situation that may be occurring. According to an InformationWeek article, such information is critical in the call center. Yes, your call accounting is concerned with the volume of calls, but your management overall should be concerned with the content and tone of those calls.

Capturing data patterns can also show trends that you may not be aware of in your agent activity, client feedback and more. This gives you key insight into things you thought you had right, that may need just a little more attention. Plus, this information could help you pair the right agent with the customer on the phone. Known callers especially provide insight for the call center from the beginning of the call. If other elements are identified right away, the right person can get on the call and produce a better outcome.

In all, the goal is to improve the outcome for the customer so you can stand apart from the competition. If you don’t put the right tools in place to use information you already have, you’re in a position to hand the customer to the competition. If that isn’t your intent, it’s time to get busy.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Finding: The Desk Phone May Fade but Voicemail is Forever

Communication technology is an evolving process, with new innovation, functionalities and tools being released at a breakneck pace, but it would appear that one function takes priority — voicemail. Whether you have a hosted PBX (News - Alert) or legacy system, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend and increased use of mobile has yet to disrupt the importance of getting one’s messages.

A recent study from AccessDirect, which took a look at how small businesses (no larger than 10 employees) answer the phone and the results gleaned from it, spoke volumes. Holding on to a narrow edge, 48 percent of respondents label their desk phone as their primary means of communication, with mobile not far behind at 42 percent. A mere 10 percent list both.

Age plays a major factor in these findings. Some 82 percent of employees over the age of 60 have a desk phone and 67 percent want to keep it that way.  There is a slight decline in those numbers for employees 45-59, but the drastic difference is with employees 30-44 where only 44 percent have a desk phone and only 38 percent wish to keep it.

So it would appear that much like the dinosaurs, the desk phone is facing extinction but voicemail is not going anywhere. In total, 56 percent of respondents replied that they check voicemail frequently. Five verticals stick out with their reported use of voicemail: legal/consulting; business logistics; real estate; insurance; and healthcare & pharmaceuticals. All reported a rate of 60 percent or higher of checking voicemails frequently, with legal topping the bunch with a reported 100 percent rate of readily checking voicemail.

John Kinskey, president and founder of AccessDirect predicts, "The desk phone faces extinction with upcoming generations, but voice messaging will remain a staple in small business communications."

With over 58 percent of respondents proclaiming that small business will choose affordability over function, it would appear the piece missing for many is the system update sending voicemail to email.

This study is an interesting look at business communications because typically the enterprise is only concerned with the enterprise. Small business communications hold the same priority, so when choosing a provider it is extremely important to check quality, reliability, cost and – obviously – how you would check for voicemail. 


Sales Lead-Management: Success is a Step-by-Step Process

Getting a client to say ‘yes’ and sign on the dotted line is usually the last, best step in a sales process. But it’s getting to that step that can be a real process, and many sales folks aren’t sure about the best way to get there. Fortunately, there’s help available.

Genie Parker is Operations Manager at VanillaSoft, a provider of the industry's leading software for Sales by Phone (News - Alert). As such, she knows a thing or two about catching prospects’ eyes and closing the deal. She co-founded Parker, Murray and Associates, a successful boutique outbound call center, where her company consistently delivered sales, qualified leads, appointments, marketing and fundraising services to companies ranging from the Fortune 500 to small businesses across the U.S. for 15 years. She knows how to make things happen.

In a recent blog post, Parker addressed the issues of ‘sales leads’ and what to do with them.

“Though managing leads is one of the largest expenses and most perplexing pains of inside sales teams, only few companies know how to do it successfully,” she wrote. “Statistics show that a large portion of leads fall by the wayside because of inadequate lead management software, poor organizational skills, and varied levels of diligence among salespeople,” she added.

One important distinction she points out is how to distinguish a regular lead from a “hot” one.

“Here are some questions that can turn an ordinary lead into a qualified lead,” she writes:

Need – Does the company have a need for your product or service?

Timeline (News - Alert) – Is the company ready to buy now or later? Determine the specific timeframe?

Authority – Does the prospect have the authority to make a buying decision?

Budget – Is the company financially stable enough to afford your product or service?

Parker notes that answers to the above questions can be determined by having a “qualifying team” call first to gather information. You might also be able to determine enough information by performing an Internet search on their website, or other sites. However you do it, marketing and sales should work together to build a buyer profile to create qualified leads. Once leads meet the buyer profile, you can then prioritize them as qualified.

Parker also offers other succinct tips in her blog post. The bottom line is, however you go about it, be meticulous in your process. Sales go to the swiftest, but also to the most conscientious.


Inside Sales Lead Management Opportunities Growing for SMBs

Traditionally, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) had few tools available to effectively compete against enterprises, especially in the area of inside sales lead management.

The balance of power is shifting, though, thanks to two main trends: availability of automation technology appropriate for SMBs, and changes to buyer behavior. SMBs are embracing these opportunities, combining them with a deep understanding of operations and customer bases to give enterprises a run for their money.

Competitive advantage, meet SMBs. SMBs, meet competitive advantage.

Enterprises are struggling to keep up. Here’s a closer look at why that’s the case, and how SMBs are closing the gap.

First, the business-to-business (B2B) buying journey is quite different than in the past. These buyers now have online access to extensive information about companies of all sizes and the products and services they sell. This information is accessible anywhere, anytime on devices ranging from smartphones to laptop computers.

By some estimates, these self-educated buyers complete as much as 70 percent of the purchasing process before interacting with sales organizations.

This is good news for SMBs, which have an opportunity to win inside sales management leads with minimal effort, assuming they have a good reputation and widely share details about their offerings.

Larger firms, meanwhile, are struggling to keep up with this change. Often, they’ve invested in marketing automation tools that do little but generate large quantities of low-quality leads. 

It’s hard for large enterprises, with their siloed operational functions, to quickly adapt. Marketing and sales alignment efforts are the wrong approach; what’s required is a new strategy that addresses the needs of self-educating buyers, not the traditional marketing automation machine.

To effectively compete against SMBs and get a handle on the modern revenue reality, enterprises need to embrace a cross-functional sales and marketing process.

SMBs typically already have integrated sales and marketing processes, which is a huge competitive advantage in today’s market.

To take advantage of the opportunities inherent in this change, SMBs needs to do four things:

  • Align with the buyer’s purchasing journey by further integrating processes so there is a single, cross-functional perspective of the customer;
  • Use a process that facilitates and speeds up the buyer’s journey;
  • Leverage effective sales and marketing technologies, such as a CRM solution with automation features;
  • Empower teamwork in a cross-functional environment focused on adding value to each customer interaction.

Of course, the B2B buyer journey will keep evolving, so SMBs can’t afford to stand still. Staying on top of inside sales lead management trends is vital for future success.