Top Call Center And Telecom Trends For 2016

Authored by: Sheldon Smith is a Senior Product Manager at XO Communications (XO.com). XO is a telecommunication services provider that specializes in nationwide unified communications and cloud services.  Sheldon has an extensive background in UC and he has over 15 years of experience in the technology industry. His position involves overall product ownership of Hosted PBX, SIP, VoIP and Conferencing.

Overview

Research and Markets, a market research store, states the global contact center market is on track for a compound annual growth rate of 9.26 percent over the next four years, as companies look to outsource communication services and improve the customer experience. However, growth isn’t just happening over the long term. With 2015 almost over, it’s worth taking a look at what next year may bring for the call center and telecoms market: Here are five top trends for 2016:

Improved Mobility

Most telecom providers have built-in support for mobile devices and in some cases, wearable technology — but according to research firm Gartner, 2016 will usher in a new type of mobility powered by the “device mesh.” Put simply, this mesh extends beyond “traditional” consumer devices to also include home electronics, automotive digital systems and environmental tools. For telecom companies, this means increasing demand from users to support any device, anywhere, anytime.

The Ambient Experience

Gartner also predicts the rise of “ambient user experience” over the next year. Enabled by the device mesh, the idea here is to create a customer experience that “seamlessly flows across a shifting set of devices and interaction channels blending physical, virtual and electronic environment.” This is a sea change: Consumers are trending away from devices as discrete channels but instead view them as part of a unified whole. For call centers, the means a rise in the number of callers who expect agents with full access to historical records along with any online, mobile or previous phone conversations.

Stepped-Up Security

Breaches are now an expected outcome for many companies regardless of size or industry. The same applies to telecom providers: Personal data stored by your organization is a hot-ticket item for determined hackers. In 2016, expect to see a rise in the number of security startups and VoIP providers that offer native encryption for all communication data — in transit and at rest. Improved controls for local admins are also on-tap: C-suites and security pros alike want to know what is happening on their network, why and how they can put a stop to it, as needed.

Power to the People

According to global online community Customer Think, one big change coming to call centers of the future is the ability for customers to help themselves with minimal assistance from an agent. While CT takes the long view and says 2020 is the year to watch for this kind of transition, the tech market of 2016 should lay critical groundwork. For example, improved interactive voice response (IVR) systems will make it possible for customers to “self-serve” most of their issues, in turn putting more pressure on front-line call center staff to become subject matter experts. Over the next year, expect the view of agents to shift from one of “first contact” to “final option” — knowledge and skills must improve to match demand.

Bandwidth for Big Data

If telecom providers want to stay competitive through 2016, they’ll need to do better with big data. It’s no longer enough to simply store this steady stream of information — consumers expect their provider to offer real insight when it comes to buying habits and predicted needs. Handling the big data deluge means providers need to shore up available bandwidth and make sure they’re ready to manage the transition from steady flow to rushing river as data demands. According to business news publication Trade Arabia, companies in the Middle East — the world’s second-largest mobile phone market — faces the challenge of dealing with a tech-savvy consumer base that effectively jumped over landline adoption to embrace Internet-connected devices. The result? Massive amounts of data to analyze and insights to glean, and the chance to get a leg up on North American providers that don’t dive headlong into big data.

Ready for 2016? The future holds better mobility, improved user experience and security backed by a tech-savvy populace with big data focus.

Top Tips For A Successful Data Management Strategy

Contributed by: Sheldon Smith is a Senor Product Manager at XO Communications. XO Communications is a nationwide provider of communications services for businesses including SIP Trunk Services. Sheldon has over 15 years of experience in the technology industry. 

 

Effectively managing data is about more than securely storing and transporting information — companies need a strategy that covers data through the entire lifecycle. As noted by a recent Deloitte Center for Health Solutions study, however, this is a challenging task, and the report found that fewer than half of all companies surveyed had a “clear, integrated analytics strategy.” With big data quickly expanding in scope and gaining speed, it’s essential for businesses to draft a plan before jumping in; here are four top tips for a successful data management strategy:

Understand Value

The goal of any data strategy is to provide high-level guidelines that can be applied across departments, applications and use cases with equal facility. To accomplish this aim, companies need to first understand the value of their data. According to Souvik Choudhury of SunGard Availability Services, “all data is not created equal — and understanding the business value of data is critical for defining the storage strategy.” The same holds true for broad-spectrum policies. Companies must take the time to logically segment their data based on frequency of use, ability to replace, and potential loss impact if stolen or compromised. Once value is assigned, data strategies become a far less daunting task.

Consider Compliance

Compliance is a critical part of any data management strategy. Worth noting, however, is that the requirements to stay “in compliance” vary widely across industry verticals. While some standards, such as PCI DSS, are relevant to companies in a variety of sectors, certain standards carry more weight in one sector than another. Consider health care; HIPAA demands not only specific data handling procedures but also holds health care providers accountable if third-party vendors mishandle patient data or experience data leaks. Law firms, meanwhile, must be able to demonstrate clear data paths from creation to the current moment, and ensure that all data is discoverable in the event that a trial demands an accounting of specific communications or transactions. To form an effective data management strategy, therefore, companies must take the time to understand specific compliance requirements — better to meet or exceed the standards up front rather than risking a fine or other penalty for noncompliance.

Spend on Security

Data security is the next step in an effective management strategy. According to CIO, there are two key components to ensuring that data is protected: Securing information virtually and physically. Virtually, this means limiting employee access and using two-factor authentication for any kind of high-level movement or editing. Physically, companies need to spend on server stacks that are secure — this could take the form of cloud-based offerings, colocation providers or on-site storage, as long as servers are set apart from general foot traffic and are reliably monitored. In addition, it’s worth investing in a solid data encryption solution. This way, even if information is stolen or compromised it’s of no use to malicious actors.

Pursue Accuracy

Last but never least is the need to pursue accurate data. Your best bet here? Start small and ensure that all data collected is timely, relevant and comes from a reliable source. Once DevOps teams get used to handling this flow of accurate data, ramp up the speed and see what happens. By taking the time to ensure accuracy before going all out, it’s possible to reduce the possibility of human error and save money over the long term by avoiding unnecessary data management investments.

Want better data management? Start with value, seek compliance and security, and ensure accuracy for best results.

Next Caller Takes Dallas

contributed by Ryan Cash

After a Q3 of hard work by the prospectors, the Next Caller team took a trip out to Dallas, Texas as a celebration of achieving our goals.  The trip there was by no means a unified effort. Individuals from the team were scattered about the United States, taking flights at different times from different locations, to congregate at the hotel. Each Next Caller employee entered the hotel at a different period throughout the night, droopy-eyed, messy haired, and equally un-presentable. Eventually, the concierge just stopped inquiring about our identities at check-in. Instead, a comment like, “Ah, you must be with the Kirchick party,” was commonplace.

The team napped through the early morning and hit late morning head-on, the healthy way, with a balanced breakfast of egg mcmuffins, hashbrowns and caffeinated beverages out of a can. Today was Texas State Fair day; a congregation of thousands of people joining together to eat fried food, listen to country music, check out the livestock and consume some choice adult beverages. In typical tourist fashion, the team decided to Uber over to the fair, much to Texas native Sam Espinosa’s dismay. However, the Uber did not disappoint Sam nearly as much as Jeff’s purchase of a cross-laden cowboy hat from the local 7-Eleven… When asked his thoughts, Sam said he was “disgusted.”

The Texas State Fair proved to live up to all of the hype. It was the day of the Red River Showdown, hosted at the Cotton Bowl, which pits two of college football’s most elite teams and rowdy fan bases against one another. It was a sea of crimson from the Sooners of Oklahoma and burnt orange from the Longhorns of Texas as far as the eye could see. Aside from Longhorn fan Sam, Next Caller played Switzerland and went with their home light blue colors, not having an affinity for either side. After some failed scalping attempts to get inside of the stadium for the sold out event, we gave up and decided to explore the rest of the fair.

While wandering around the massive fair grounds, the team encountered challenging, though provoking questions throughout the day, such as: “Would you like that fried or deep-fried?” and “Should we get one more corn dog?”  Ian’s responses were predictably: “the latter” and “yes.” Finally, once the number of corndogs consumed had become 3x larger than the number of people in the group, everyone was thoroughly satisfied.  Or thoroughly sick to our stomachs is probably a better term. This was more than enough to send everyone into the proverbial food coma, and they made their way to the stage for some sun-soaked midafternoon naps.

Midafternoon turned to late afternoon and the marginal value of more corn dogs had dropped significantly for all parties.  There were a few who switched over to fried chicken sandwiches (Ian) to induce some self-loathing, but otherwise, the feasting was basically over. Everyone headed back to the hotel for some relax time to recharge before heading out to spend a fun night out in Dallas. Jeff decided he was going to skip out on the night’s events, as he needed to rest up in order to properly root on his beloved Patriots and man crush Tom Brady the next day in their contest against the Cowboys. He stuck to his guns and ignored the onslaught of insults and persuasion by everyone else. As a purveyor of persistence, he is apparently immune to its effects.

Due to the State Fair and the impending Cowboys v. Patriots game the next day, there were people in droves at the local bar scene. Locals and tourists were everywhere, amicably socializing and recounting the exciting events from the day. There was an exhibition wrestling match held between Sam and Ryan.  Some would say the results could be summed up by the saying “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Others could say that 14 years of training had some influence. Either way it ended in a handshake and a late night trip to McDonald’s.  Under the unreasonable assumption that the food for the day had been digested, Leo decided to combine a McChicken and a McDouble into one sandwich.  Leo still believes it was a great idea. Others do not agree.

The next day, everyone hopped out of bed to get ready to tailgate the big NFL game.  Jeff and Sam put friendships aside for the day, sporting their respective allegiances to the Patriots and Cowboys. Colleen, trusted carrier of the Party Pass tickets, showed up just in time for everyone to get a good standing spot for the bum rush. Thanks to her extensive Dallas connections, Colleen had the opportunity to sit smack dab at the 45-yard line, avoiding the impending mayhem and having some of the best seats in the house. The tailgating festivities had live music and drinks, before an eerie quiet came over the crowd.

Everyone stood at the ready with 5 minutes until 1 o’clock. The second the doors opened, it became an “every man for themselves” bum rush to the best seats. Gianni turned sideways, and his slender frame allowed others to brush straight past him, leaving him unscathed, while others were trampled in the madness. A few of the quicker Next Caller team members darted out ahead to get a great standing location, and made themselves as wide as possible to secure our seats. With some great real estate secured, everyone settled in to watch the contest. Adding insult to injury, Sam owed Jeff his first $50 of food and drink, as the Patriots handily took down the Cowboys. Gianni decided to take a nap. Being an engineer from Italy, he could’ve sworn this was a “fútbol” game, and took more liking to the marvel of the stadium than the players in the contest.

Once the game ended, it was time to head back to the hotel and crash after a long weekend of fun. Members of the team parted ways on Monday at different times, leaving in similar fashion to their arrival. This time, everyone was a little less disheveled, and full of a few more memories… and corndogs, than when they came. Leaving the only unanswered question remaining, “where in the world will the next Next Caller trip be?”

Big Data and the Value of Making Repeated First Impressions

Contributed by: Ryan Cash

We spoke a couple of weeks ago about the importance of utilizing big data to create engaging and personalized content for consumers.  In today’s environment, people demand personalization in customer service and experience, and, not surprisingly, that same sentiment exists for marketing and advertising.  However, there is a crucial difference between the two.  With many services, one great interaction and a personalized experience can create significant loyalty.  And one bad interaction can serve the exact opposite purpose  

For example, if a hairdresser does a great job cutting your hair and engages you in an enjoyable conversation, you will probably go back to the same hairdresser.  Then, if they do not cut your hair as well the next time, your impression from the first experience may still drive you to return to the same hairdresser.  Conversely, most people would not return to a hairdresser who gave them a poor haircut on the first try.  Essentially, first impressions matter for good service.

Advertising, however, does not work the same way.  Personalization of the content becomes a necessary but insufficient condition to even make a first impression.  And much of this derives from the rise of the mobile internet, which has created a massive increase in data traffic.  We referenced a statistic in our last post that, according to Cisco, more data passed through mobile internet devices in 2014 than passed through the entire internet in 2000.  Consumers on their mobile phones are being blasted with content from all angles making personalization imperative to stand out from the crowd.  It’s well known that standardized, mass advertisements are less effective today.  They end up in the abyss of disregarded spam and internet trash.

In order to personalize content, you have to know your customer.  This clearly is where data is important.  It’s self-evident that knowing more about who you want to reach empowers you to better reach them.  It allows you to understand what they desire, and why they desire it; it allows you to make your message relevant to them.  In essence, you are practicing the art of effective communication, that is summarized succinctly by author Stephen Covey, who teaches the maxim, seek first to understand, and then to be understood.  Until you fully understand who you are trying to reach, you cannot really expect to know how to be understood by them.

But, it is still a necessary but insufficient condition.  You have to understand to be able to personalize and you have to personalize to be able to make a first impression, but it requires more.  Why?  People are bombarded by a surplus of information and they have a scarcity of attention span.  We need to be reminded.  Something may catch my eye on a web page, but I may accidentally click the back button, or change browser tabs, or a call may come through my phone, and I forget about it all together.  Even if I’m enticed to click something or take a next step from a personalized, creative direct advertisement, I may not have the time to go through with the process at the current moment, and I forget.  People need reminders.  And if you do not give them reminders, then you cannot expect that first impression to last.  An enticing advertisement is not congruent to a great haircut.

This means that you must not just know your customer, but you mustcontinue to know your customer.  You must be able to consistently put forth content that is relevant and personalized to your audience, and in order to do so, you must have accurate and current data.  It is easy to say that storing good data about your customers is key to knowing them, but is it really?  How frequently does that data become outdated?  People move, get married, change interests and jobs, and if you sit on a store of dated data, it will no longer be relevant more quickly than you think.  This speaks to the benefit of aggregating data in real time, but it also means that data collection, validation and storage needs to be a continuous process for companies.  It’s vital to be abreast of changes in the lives of your consumers and to always desire to learn more about them, their habits and their needs.  Only then can you consistently engage with your customers in ways that are meaningful to them.  And only then can you remind them frequently enough to stay current in their mind, and to entice them to action.

Cost of Social Media

contributed by: Colleen Boyce

Gossip has existed as long as humans have.  It is simple, as people are curious, social creatures who learn from one another.  It makes sense that we share our problems, our friends’ problems, our friends’ friends’ problems, and so on.  We use this information to gain a better understanding of the world around us so that we can survive.  In that sense, gossip is a blessing.  

However, in the past, gossip would only spread so far.  It would stay isolated in the area of the incident or would become so outrageous that it turned into folk stories used to scare children into behaving.  Today, gossip, whether true or false, spreads to every corner of the earth because of advancements in technology, most notably social media.  

With one click of a button, information can be sent to the world and never taken back, which in most cases is not all that bad; it might even be funny.  On the other hand, that one little tweet or Facebook post can cost a company millions in damage control.  No matter how exceptional customer service may be at a company, it only takes one person slightly faltering to cause an explosion. Anyone working in a business that interacts with people knows how serious the damage can be.  

This drives at the question, was social media a blessing or a curse for big businesses?  With it came new opportunities to advertise, a new wealth of information on customers, and a portal for users to share their exciting experiences with a company.  Some will argue that outweighs the cost of one bad mistake, and maybe it does for companies that can afford to make a mistake.

Others are not so lucky, but there are ways to prevent such disasters.  The easiest and most common solution is to have your employees trained to adhere by the age old adage, “the customer is always right.”  Another way is to have an alert set so that when a customer “hashtags” or discusses a company/brand then they are notified and are able to defuse the situation quickly and fairly quietly.  A slightly different solution would be preventing the problem before it is too far under way.  In this case, people who have a high number of followers are routed to the front of the line in the IVR because, if they have a complaint, they could cause the company the most damage.  

However, we will never be able to stop someone who, rather than seek help when they are unhappy with a product, instead turns to the internet to take out their frustration.  In this instance the only solution here is the goal of any company: produce the best product possible for your customers.  

The Pulse of a Startup

contributed by: Leo Inguaggiato

Walking into our office in Soho, you’ll be met with a sight that few in the business world have the pleasure of seeing. You’ll encounter a team of individuals happy to be working. At the same table you’ll find our CEO, COO, VP of sales, and business development team all sitting together finding the best verbiage for a flyer for our next conference.

The startup life is a gift that I encourage everyone to pursue. Each team member is happy to be here because all of our efforts make a tremendous impact on our company. It may sound corny, but we are blessed to function as a family unit where accountability and honesty are held above all else.

Next Caller may be the new kids on the block, and it’s always hard to make new friends, but when the new kid has a heart as big as ours it’s hard not to like us. We will save American companies from living in the dark about their clients, and allow them to know their callers one at a time.

Connected Customers: The Value of Leveraging Big Data to Build Customer Conversations

Contributed by: Eric Eriksen

Next Caller is excited to share some information ahead of the upcoming D2C Convention in Las Vegas. At the event, Sam Espinosa and Jeff Kirchick will be speaking on the importance of using big data to increase customer response and maximize contact synchronicity.

Constant connectedness has fundamentally changed the relationship between corporation and customer. Internet usage has generated more actionable data in the past decade than had been created in the previous century. Mobile internet, which has the greatest surveillance potential, increasingly drives data traffic. According to Cisco, more data passed through mobile internet devices in 2014 than passed through the entire internet in 2000. Additionally, wireless data traffic should exceed wired traffic for the first time by the end of this year. Contact with corporations is no longer one-way. In the past, corporations bombarded potential customers indiscriminately with ads, while consumers indicated their feelings solely through purchase decisions. Today, consumers can express their feelings through social media, while corporations can target their messages. Customers and corporations can have “conversations,” with consumers constantly sending data to corporations, and companies constantly modifying and personalizing their messages.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously declared that there were no second acts in American lives. Telephones and rails, cars and radios, these things brought the world together in such a way that a thousand miles could not protect people from their pasts. Today, it seems quaint that our ancestors thought the world had become small. Yes, we can now go to sleep on a plane in New York and wake up in New Delhi, but the real advance has been that acts of connection are no longer intentional. Generating information was once an active process. If you wanted someone to know something about you, you or someone who knew you had to volunteer the information. A mistake could haunt a man in large part because it was one of only a few data points associated with him. Major events made their way into documentation, but the minutiae of daily life passed without notice. To find information, a person needed to undergo a targeted search, traveling to the physical archives of the world. There is simply no way for me to know what my great-great-grandfather’s preferred brand of whiskey was.

Today, data generation is a passive process. An American’s every move is monitored through GPS embedded in devices, with multiple corporations receiving constant location updates. Every Google search and web visit is recorded not only by the website visited but by every other website a person has visited. The result is an enormous feedback loop. As there are more and more data points for every individual, there is more and more reason to search for information, thereby generating more data. Beyond knowing what my favorite whiskey is, it is now possible to determine how often I go to the store to buy it as well as whether I’ve investigated other options online.

People today are connected in a way that would have been inconceivable even a decade ago. Nielsen estimated last year that the average American adult spends multiple leisure hours a day between smartphones and the internet, to say nothing of the 64% of employees Forbes estimates use the internet for personal purposes every day. The modern American consumer spends enough of his day interacting with all-knowing social media and shopping platforms like Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter that he develops an assumption that the businesses he patronizes know everything about him. He knows that searching for one pair of boots will haunt him for a month in the form of ads for everything from shoes to country music concerts. As a society, we have normalized constant surveillance, and we expect the positive effects of that surveillance in the form of personalized customer service.

The problem is that most business is not done through Facebook, Google, or Amazon. Business is overwhelmingly done with legacy companies, which are inherently not digital natives. Marketing is still mostly done by traditional marketers, who operate on the assumption of limited data. Rather than targeting Blue Label to affluent customers who regularly consume whiskey, marketers put ads in train stations and the backs of glossy general interest magazines. Most of their efforts are seen by people who would never buy the product. We passively volunteer huge amounts of information, yet many marketers do nothing with it. We no longer feel special and privileged if a company gives us personalized service. We feel cheated if they fail to treat us as individuals, and we express our anger on social media, permanently harming the brand.

This expectation of individuality means that cross-channel inconsistency undermines the brand across all segments. The vast majority of companies fail to recognize that data provided through one source is equally valid when utilized across other media. A customer who lives on Dixie Road when he inputs data online does not live somewhere else when he calls a toll-free number. Forrester estimates that 82% of companies do not have a synchronized view of customer data.  A customer with 50 interactions through social media can make a phone call and be treated as a total unknown. To the customer, this feels like someone he knew forgot his name. In order to overcome this, a company needs an omnichannel customer management solution. Corporations must maintain a consistent, consolidated, and comprehensive customer profile that integrates phone, social profiles, address, and email. Calling should not be a radically different experience from interacting on Twitter. We have seen this repeatedly in the past year, as poor call center experiences resulted in high-profile social media disasters for companies such as Comcast and Southwest Airlines.

In the direct response space, these factors are even more important. Huge call volume means that connecting the right customers as quickly as possible can boost conversions and revenues, while high levels of online ordering mean that customers calling to ask about Internet orders have to either input long, often forgotten, numbers or go through something almost as long as the initial registration process. Throughout this whole ordeal, direct response customers also have the ability to hang up at any point, making customer service, and every second, count. Plus, no one in Direct Response has to be told how important social media has become in generating a runaway success. The Snuggie became a pop-culture phenomenon in a way that was almost impossible prior to the rise of online communities.

Disaster Planning: Five Tips To Safeguard Your IT Infrastructure

Contributor:

John Fakhoury is the Founder and CEO of Framework Communications. Framework is a single-source Managed IT and Telecommunication firm that makes technology more user-friendly and approachable for businesses. John is a value-driven technology entrepreneur and he works hard to give back to the community.


What’s the real cost of a long-term power outage, server failure or widespread malware attack? According to a recent EMC survey, the double threat of data loss and downtime sets back businesses more than $1.7 trillion each year. What’s more, 71 percent of IT professionals said they’re “not fully confident in their ability” to get back on track after a disaster-type incident. With IT infrastructure now a critical line-of-business asset, protection and planning are key: Here are five tips to help safeguard your technology platform:

Defining Disaster

First up? Decide what constitutes “disaster.” As noted by Small Business Computing, it’s critical for organizations to understand the threats they face and the impacts of specific loss scenarios on the bottom line. For example, financial-sector companies must be especially wary of mobile malware, while health care agencies face compliance and continuity challenges if servers suddenly fail or cloud providers experience a security breach. Managing disaster risk means developing a plan that describes specific events, ranks their likelihood, and describes their impact. This allows IT staff to design targeted responses and prioritize issues — essential if multiple issues emerge concurrently.

Safety in Three Parts

The next step in disaster planning covers three key aspects of IT safety: Prevention, detection and correction. While many recovery systems focus on the last part of this triad — correction — this forces companies to react in the event of disasters, rather than making allowance for proactive efforts. Start with prevention: This could take the form of surge protectors to eliminate the risk of power spikes or off-site data backups to remove the chance of total data loss. Detection is next. Event monitoring tools can warn IT professionals about possible malware threats and resource consumption issues, while physical tools such as fire alarms reduce the chance of total loss.

Testing, Testing

IT Web offers clarity: “If you don’t test it, then it’s not really a disaster recovery plan.” Too often, companies design complex and redundant DR plans but fail to conduct regular tests. The result? When disaster does occur, the system doesn’t work as intended. Often, failure can be traced to one of two causes: Changes in system configuration that seem incidental or innocuous — such as an update to newer server software — or unexpected interactions that prevent DR processes from executing. Bottom line? Regular, end-to-end testing of disaster recovery plans is critical.

Getting Back Up

It’s not about getting your data backed up. It’s about getting your data back up and running. Many back up services guarantee your data is backed up somehow/somewhere but don’t help you actually get back up and running. Eg a new server may need to be set up for the data to be used/usable.“

How do you get your system back up and restore data access after a disaster? Answering this question means identifying two key components: Recovery time objectives (RTO) and your recovery source. Setting an RTO is critical, since this gives you an acceptable “baseline” — how long could systems be unavailable without compromising your bottom line? Achieving this objective means selecting the right recovery option. For some companies, this is off-site storage that can be mobilized and migrated as needed, while others require the on-demand speed and scalability of a cloud backup provider.

Beyond IT

According to Information Age, it’s also important to think beyond IT and consider other aspects of your DR plan that could impact recovery objectives. These might include emergency contact numbers for water, electricity and gas suppliers to your building, or an up-to-date list of IT staff numbers in the event of a weekend or nighttime emergency.  What if the problem isn’t with IT — if a fire or flood cuts off power to your server stack, what’s the game plan and how will services be restored?

Safeguarding your IT infrastructure means creating the best defense for the worst possible outcome. By defining your risks, addressing prevention, detection and backup issues, and devising a regular test schedule that goes beyond IT silos, it’s possible to improve your DR outcome.

“Into the Wild”: Next Caller Camping Trip 2015

Contributed by: Ryan Cash

A few weeks back, the Next Caller team took off for our first (of what we hope will be many) annual “Into the Wild” camping trip.  Sporting matching t-shirts, which displayed a questionable interpretation of the spelling of “Kaatskills,” we boarded the van for a supposed 2 hour drive.  First stop was Wal-Mart to stack up on supplies on the way.  In the name of efficiency, we took a divide-and-conquer approach, splitting into different groups who were responsible for obtaining different items.  And in about half the time, the team bought triple the amount of supplies that would be needed for the weekend.  Luckily, the trunk did end up closing after some skillful suitcase maneuvering by Camp Counselor Sam Espinosa  

Five-and-a-half hours later, the van pulled up to Devil’s Tombstone camp site with a car full of weary campers.  Tents and sleeping bags were distributed, and, in a matter of minutes, the group had set up shop.  Some of the campers were given heavily insulated, sub-zero, military grade, tundra sleeping bags to exacerbate the effects of the oppressive, summer heat, and to test their will.  We’re happy to report that everyone was smart enough just to unzip the bag and lay directly on top.

For health reasons, the team ate a well-balanced meal of grill meats and s’mores the first night, and eventually turned in relatively early to prepare for an intense bout of hiking the next morning.  Sensing the impending crack of dawn, Counselor Sam popped up in the pitch dark and startled everyone from their deep slumbers with a “Rise and Shine” call.  The droopy-eyed campers wolfed down some breakfast and woke themselves up with some instant coffee, which was almost indistinguishable from sweeping a pile of dirt off of the ground and adding it to a cup of hot water.

Everyone piled back into the van and we drove to the trails to begin the hike.  We began with an intermediate difficulty trail up to Sunset Rock.  Jeff Kirchick would argue that it was “advanced” difficulty.  In order to counterbalance the inevitable bulk the seemingly strenuous hike would add to his legs, Jeff made sure to hit copious sets of push-ups to maintain his upside down triangular figure. 

The team hit Sunset Rock without too much struggle, and proceeded to the more difficult trail up to Newman’s Ledge.  While the humans huffed and puffed in the back, team mascot and best friend of co-founder Ian Roncoroni, Muesli, was scaling all of the rocks and leaving the group in the dust.  We attributed Muesli’s success on the trails to her small size of 8 lbs to avoid the embarrassment of realizing that a trip to the gym or 20 was in order for the next week.

Finally we arrived at Newman’s Ledge and took a break to admire the view (catch our breath).  Thankfully, co-founder Gianni Martire insisted on taking photos at every turn, or the trip would have gone almost entirely undocumented.  The group headed down the mountain back towards the camp site to complete the 6 mile loop, which apparently was a walk in the park compared to our camping neighbors, who politely informed Leo that they were engaging in a 13 mile trek, blindfolded, without food or water… Or something like that.

Back at the campsite, Eric and myself began to set up Ladderball, which tested our resolve.  After 30 minutes and a struggling effort, Ladderball was all set up and ready to go, with two broken goal posts held together by used ice bags and tape.  The first and only match up was Ryan & Lucy v. Sam & Colleen, as the dead-even game extended over an hour in duration.  It was basically dark and nobody else even wanted to play by the end of it.  Keeping consistent with the health kick theme, Sam cooked up some Frito Pie’s, which consisted of a bag of Fritos filled with chili and cheese.  The Pies still proved to be insufficient, and Jeff and Ian engaged in a double-hot dog, Frito Pie eating contest.  Leo called a stop to the madness after about 6 hot dogs a piece.  It was called off for “safety reasons,” as everyone was concerned that they would not have enough room to close the night out with some more s’mores.

The campers retired to their tents, while Ian and Muesli retired to the hammock.  Everyone awoke the next morning in severe need of vegetables and showers.  The team cleaned up, packed up and headed back to New York completing their adventure.  After a weekend of great team bonding, the only question remaining was how many days until we go “Into the Wild” again.

Getting In Above the Ground Floor: The Value of Segmenting Customers at First Contact

Contributed by: Eric Eriksen

By some estimates, there are over 2 billion loyalty program memberships active in the United States, meaning that, on average, Americans actively use between 6 and 7 loyalty memberships each. Significantly, these memberships are skewed towards the prime consumer goods demographic of 18-44 year olds. The people buying the most with the most brand flexibility are the same people who have a pile of loyalty cards. Having a regular loyalty program is no longer an advantage; it’s the norm. In order to stand out today, companies need to have outstanding customer service from the start. Pre-purchase analysis is the next great frontier in this evolution. By leveraging data early in a relationship, companies can boost revenues and build brand loyalty.

It’s no secret that the rise of Big Data has reshaped targeted marketing. The ability to analyze a customer’s purchase history and demography to provide personalized products, services, and ad messages has changed the entire game of mass marketing. Data analytics has allowed modern businesses to incorporate the personal aspects of small business with the scale and performance of a major corporation.

Biology dictates that familiarity and positive experiences breed loyalty through an inherent sense of reciprocity. The more a customer feels that a business cares about her, the more she’ll feel an emotional attachment to the service provider. Before mass production and the bureaucratization of business, personalized service and products were the norm. Eventually, this gave way to the “take-it-or-leave-it” product-focused strategy of marketing. Companies turned their products into regularized commodities, and customers responded by becoming more rational consumers and eschewing loyalty.

Today, a business thinking of a single product and a single marketing strategy seems antediluvian. Big Data allows a company with two million customers to treat each one as an individual. Knowing about a customer’s personal life, preferences, and spending habits allows a company to leverage small-business charm on a big-business scale. Unfortunately, most companies fail to take this principle to its logical conclusion and go even further than a small business can.

Too many corporations wait until a customer has already had a number of contact points to begin customization, chiseling out an idea of customer needs from a standard template. Relying on internal data maturation requires a number of inefficient initial experiences, which bleed revenue. By looking outside of an organization for existing customer data, a company is able to skip the rough beginning stages of a relationship. Knowing a target’s demography from the beginning allows a better baseline specialization which the company can enrich to quickly build loyalty. The first few months of a business relationship are vital. In that period, the new customer does not have the tunnel vision that will eventually make a particular company his default option. By giving the customer what he wants from the moment of first contact, it’s possible to build flexible market segments from the beginning and to skip the most difficult stage of a relationship. 

This improved baseline also enhances omnichannel integration. By working in every channel from the same baseline, an organization can boost message conformity and contact points from the start. Making a good first impression through the power of baseline market segmentation means that a company can begin building a customer for life the moment contact is established, gaining an important competitive advantage in an over-saturated loyalty marketing world.

The Resurrection of Robocalling: Once a Relic, Robocalling Has Reemerged as a Threat to Contact Centers

contributed by Eric Eriksen

It goes without saying that the rise of VoIP has revolutionized the Direct Response world. Plummeting costs and enhanced CTI opportunities allow contact centers ever-better customer relationship management and improved bottom lines. By most standards, internet voice communication has been a godsend. However, these advances cut both ways. VoIP has empowered unscrupulous organizations to overcome the regulatory and price hurdles that once laid harassing robocalls to rest. Law-abiding contact centers stand to lose the most from this development, with as much as 10% of inbound call volume at contact centers coming from robocall operations. Increasingly, an agent will find himself answering multiple dead air calls every day, wasting the company’s time and increasing agent frustration and churn.

Traditional robocalling declined precipitously in the 1990s with the expansion of federal regulation under the TCPA. In 2003, robocalling declined further in the wake of the Do Not Call list. FCC powers covered all US telephony, making it relatively easy to track down and punish violators. At the same time, outbound calls from foreign countries were expensive enough to be cost-prohibitive for low-return robocalling operations. For a brief period, the era of harassing robocalls seemed to have ended. As anyone with a phone knows, however, this calm was short-lived.

While VoIP first emerged in the 1970s, protocols initially resembled those of the first telephones, with no standardization and few calling options. Internet calls only became prominent around 2004, about a decade after a standardization process began. Easily integrated VoIP offered the capability to call the full spectrum (mobile, landline, and other VoIP) of devices across the world for rock bottom prices. Shortly thereafter, the deluge began.

Despite increasing calls for a government response, little headway has been made. This is in large part because VoIP regulation is nearly impossible without private-sector cooperation. VoIP, especially in combination with ANI spoofing (a process in which the apparent number of a caller is altered,) allows overseas robocalling operations to cheaply place calls to American lines of any type. Shutting down a VoIP robocalling number takes time, by which point thousands of useless calls have probably been made. Additionally, the FCC has no authority over telecommunications in the robocalling centers of Eastern Europe and Asia. The result is a totally unregulated industry with low financial barriers to entry and no risk. It’s easy to see why robocalling is increasing at an enormous rate.

Many of these new robocalls differ from those of the past in that they are not meant to harass, inform, or sell. The purpose of these calls is simply to collect a cut of a tiny “CNAM Dip Fee” attached to the call. Essentially, whenever someone makes a call, the phone company on the terminating end of the call must pay a fraction of a penny to the company on the originating end. Robocalling operations take advantage of the new VoIP environment to profit from this through revenue sharing agreements with VoIP providers. The robocall center doesn’t want a real call center’s time or interest, they only want their fraction of the dip fee. Prior to VoIP, the costs for this kind of operation far exceeded the potential benefits, but today, it is possible to make millions of calls (or in some cases, billions,) at almost no cost. The dead air call has turned into an industry in its own right, and it is here to stay.

Top Advantages of SIP Trunking for Businesses

Companies often hear about the benefits of voice over IP (VoIP) communications as a way to increase corporate efficiency and deliver enhanced ROI. Yet, VoIP is just the beginning; as noted by Markets Morning, SIP trunking — which uses VoIP to facilitate a PBX connection — has been growing steadily over the past few years, with almost 60 percent of businesses now leveraging SIP in some form. Despite increased adoption, however, there’s still confusion about exactly how SIP trunking works and the specific advantages it offers your company. Here’s what you need to know:

SIP?

Before you can make best use of a SIP system, it’s important to understand the basics. According to Tech Target, session initiation protocol (SIP) is an IETF standard for initiating multimedia user sessions — in other words, it carries voice, video and data transmissions. This protocol allows companies to link their internal private branch exchange (PBX) with an Internet service telephony provider (ITSP) to provide worldwide VoIP-based communications.

Communication Unification

The ability of SIP trunks to combine data, voice and video streams into a single line offers the most obvious benefit — by leveraging SIP solutions, companies can make and receive local and long distance calls, use both mobile and fixed line telephones along with sending emails and texts. What’s more, the protocol also supports audio and video conferencing; together, these features provide the basis for what’s known as unified communications (UC), which eliminates the need for separate physical media for each type of connection. Often, this results in improved ROI thanks to reduced management costs and more efficient use of corporate PBX systems.

Enhanced Mobility

SIP trunks also provide the benefit of mobility. With companies quickly on-boarding BYOD and cloud-based communications, it’s easy for local networks to become fragmented, leaving IT to deal with a blend of plain old telephone service (POTS) lines connected to fledgling VoIP networks, while also managing the unique access and permissions requirements of BYOD deployments. SIP trunking, meanwhile, allows companies to easily connect any device — mobile, fixed or cloud based — to their network, in turn simplifying management and oversight.

Scale on Demand

POTS and T1 lines are often considered less expensive ways to empower global communications, with SIP detractors pointing to the costs of deployment and integration as potentially limiting returns. Though choosing a SIP trunk offers a significant advantage: scalability on demand. With POTS and T1 solutions, companies must be constantly prepared with extra bandwidth in case of a sudden upswing in demand — this is both costly if unused and many prove insufficient if demand exceeds prediction. SIP trunking services, meanwhile, scale up on the fly to meet demand in real time and scale down when demand fades. The result? You only pay for what you need, and never for bandwidth you don’t use.

Choose Your Benefits

According to No Jitter, one of the biggest mistakes companies make when transitioning to SIP is investing because they “should” instead of defining specific reasons for the move. Best bet? Leverage a call center that relies on SIP. This provides all the benefits of SIP trunking and allows you to enjoy specific benefits — such as real-time call analytics or voice recognition — without the need to add extra services at a local level.

Considering a move to SIP? It comes with benefits: Unified communications and mobility to start, along with the ability to scale on demand and choose the best mix of services to suit your business needs.

Sheldon Smith is a Senior Product Manager at XO Communications. XO is a SIP Provider and also provides many types of cloud solutions. Sheldon has an extensive background in unified communications and process management.

Top Benefits of Hosted VoIP Solutions

Hosted VoIP For Call Centers: Top Five Benefits

According to data from Infonetics, the hosted VoIP and UC market is set to reach $18 billion by 2018, with hosted VoIP services making inroads across businesses and call centers of all sizes, and “more companies evaluating and choosing providers” than ever before. Yet what’s driving this adoption? Here are the top five benefits of going hosted for call centers:

Pay Less

It’s possible for call centers to save a significant amount of money by leveraging hosted VoIP services instead of traditional packet-switched telephone networks (PSTNs). Why? Because PSTNs are billed minute to minute, while hosted plans typically offer a set monthly fee plus small charges for extras such as long-distance calls or specific features. In addition, going hosted lets a call center run lean on infrastructure since all back-end installation and maintenance rest with the provider. This also means deployment time is almost negligible, helping to minimize spend from day one.

Talk More

As noted by Tech Republic, another big benefit for call centers using hosted VoIP is the ability to empower conference calls. Most businesses know that unlike traditional PSTN solutions, it’s possible to connect more than two or three people on the same call but often overlooked is the fact that VoIP solutions can be used to create “conference floor monitors” which manage invitations, requests to speak and can even mute users on demand.

Scale as Needed

Scalability is also key for call centers, especially when companies are expanding into new markets or enjoying periods of unexpected growth. Hosted VoIP solutions make it possible to add single lines, multiple features or tap new bandwidth on demand. What’s more, companies can scale both ways; expand when needed and then reduce the size of your hosted infrastructure when it’s no longer required. Cloud-based VoIP services also come with the benefit of utilization reports which detail everything from call duration to destination, cost and total bandwidth used, helping to minimize cost overruns and streamline operations.

Move on Demand

Another big benefit for call centers? Hosted VoIP solutions allow calls to be directed to any device or multiple devices on demand. The Huffington Post notes that you can have calls sent straight to voicemail, ring on more than one device at the same time, or “follow” a particular employee throughout his/her day. It’s now possible to precisely describe the behavior of calls; after two rings at a certain phone, for example, calls can be shunted to a mobile device and then eventually routed to voicemail. Simply put, hosted options give call centers total control over what calls come in, where they go and how they’re handled.

Port as Needed

The last big benefit for call centers when it comes to hosted VoIP? Portability. First, it’s possible to transcribe voicemails, making them more portable as emails or text messages. Decision makers still get the pertinent information they require and can listen to the full voicemail on demand but aren’t bogged down listening to the entire recording to pick a single piece of relevant data. It’s also possible to make almost any device apart of the VoIP ecosystem, allowing users to make any conversation portable. Phone battery running low or desktop out of commission? Laptops and tablets can be used as stand-in connections with access to all the same features.

Call centers are the front lines of communication for many businesses. Hosted VoIP offers a way to streamline consumer access and employee response by lowering total costs, empowering calls and offering scalability, movement and portability on demand.

Sheldon Smith is a Senior Product Manager at XO Communications. XO Communications, XO.com, is a telecommunications services provider that offers unified communications services and various cloud services.  Sheldon has over 10 years of department and process management experience.

Do You Know Your Caller?

by Cas Hoefman (@CasHoefman)

In today’s customer-centric world, providing quality customer service is more important than ever but running a high quality Service Contact Center is an expensive operation and is viewed as a cost center by most businesses. However, by using Next Caller’s Advanced Caller ID services to enhance the customer identification process and deliver rich caller data to agents in real time, contact centers can reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction while at the same time identifying cross-sell and up-sell opportunities to boost the business’ revenue.
Next Caller maintains the industry’s largest database of customer profiles with over 250M records, which include data like name & address, email, income, social profiles, and other demographic data. This data, linked to the landline and mobile phone numbers of your callers, can be used to expedite the identification process, thus reducing costly agent talk time.
Take for example a contact center that takes a million calls a year: statistics show that 60% of these callers are not automatically identified and, at an average cost of over 50 cents to identify a caller, that costs the contact center upwards of $300,000 per year. This is a cost that can be greatly reduced by tapping into Next Caller’s Database.
Using the simple Next Caller API which, in most cases, can be implemented in a matter of hours, your agents will be able to more easily identify these unknown callers. But using the Next Caller service to quickly identify these unknown callers not only saves cost by reducing talk time, it also greatly increases customer satisfaction. No more spelling of difficult first and last names, and no more incorrectly entered address information means your customer feels like you know them and are there for them! 
Additionally your agents will now be able to use the rich demographic data Next Caller provides to tailor cross or upsell offers, providing your client with information on products or services that they are really interested in and, because Next Caller can be easily integrated into your existing CRM or Ticketing system there is a very short learning curve for your agents.
As for pricing, we are very excited about our product and pride ourselves for delivering the best data in the industry at the best price in the industry. No setup fees, no annual contracts, just simple month-to-month, and you only pay if we return an accurate result!
I want to finish up this blog post with an example of a customer that I have worked with, to show how better caller identification impacted their business. This company, a large telemarketing company, takes tens of thousands of calls a day. Unfortunately, in their business, a very large percentage of their callers are calling to cancel their service. 
We were able to increase their caller identification rate to over 85% and while this helped them save over $300,000 per month by reducing agent talk time, more importantly, it also helped the agents increase their “save rate.” The fact that the agents knew who the caller was helped them change the dialogue in such a way that their “save rate” went up by more than 25%. This made a dramatic impact on their bottom line!

Next Caller announces partnership with Oracle Corporation

Press Release as distributed through the Electronic Retailing Association

Next Caller Inc., a leader in CallerID data for use in call center solutions, today announced a strategic partnership with Oracle Corporation, the world’s leading supplier of SaaS solutions. The partnership enables organizations using the Oracle Service Cloud, Sales Cloud, other Oracle Cloud solutions and the numerous legacy Oracle CRM & ERP solutions to benefit from Next Caller’s CallerID Data Services.

Next Caller’s extensive Caller ID database make this innovative partnership possible. The easy-to-use API can be integrated quickly within new and existing Oracle Cloud and legacy on-premise solutions to provide customers with an easy way to identify callers and enhance existing customer data. Next Caller boasts the largest database of caller profiles in the US today, linking over 80% of US telephone numbers to up to 20 points of data.

“We are very happy with this new partnership between Oracle and Next Caller”, said Cas Hoefman, VP of Sales. “By integrating our solution with Oracle’s Cloud and legacy on-premise solutions, customers get access to a wealth of data available through the Next Caller API. This will help them to greatly reduce their cost of caller identification while at the same time helping them increase customer satisfaction so as to build valuable long-term customer relationships.”

The most recent industry research indicates that the average contact center manually identifies over 60% of its inbound callers, resulting in a 50 cent to $1 inefficiency per call. Earlier this year, Next Caller announced similar partnerships with ticketing platform Zendesk, as well as the leading VoIP provider, Nextiva. Yaniv Masjedi, VP of Marketing at Nextiva said, “We’ve evaluated the leading data sources, and Next Caller has the best match rate, hands down.” The company has differentiated itself from traditional data providers by establishing the highest mobile match rate in the country.

Next Caller Welcomes Cas Hoefman to the Team

by Cas Hoefman
         In early 2014 I met Ian Roncoroni and Jeff Kirchick at ICMI in San Diego. After they introduced me to Next Caller and the services it provided I immediately saw the incredible potential this company had to make a real change in this industry that is crowded with archaic companies that have not innovated in years.
         I realized that Next Caller’s approach to the technical and financial aspects of their products were both innovative and disruptive in this market space and would drive a fundamental change to the way customers interact with company’s sales and service organizations.
        When Ian and Gianni approached me with the idea of joining their team I had absolutely no reservations, although leaving behind the team at Oracle, where I spent the last 7.5 years working with Oracle Service Cloud enterprise customers, was not easy.
         After just a short period on the job I must say that I am even more excited about the company now then I was when I first joined. We have an amazing team, amazing customers, and every time I speak with one of our current or potential customers about how we can help them make a difference for their customers, I get even more excited.
          Using my past experience at companies like Intel, XO Communications, RightNow Technologies and Oracle together with the four core services, Advanced Caller ID, Data Cleaning, Lead Validation and Fraud Detection Next Caller offers today will help us grow this company rapidly while we keep being innovative and disruptive in the industry.
         In following blog posts I will, in detail, describe how I think each of the different services is changing both our industry and can make an impact for the customers using these solutions!