Fraud Prevention and Happy Customers - You Really Can Have It All

Customer Data

By: Tim Prugar

Ponemon Institute found that “more than two-thirds (70 percent) of [executives surveyed] said they plan to increase their investments in next-generation security technologies.”  Maybe you’re one of these executives – What’s your plan?

Next Caller and IntraNext Systems recently sat down to discuss call center fraud prevention and customer experience - areas both companies are extremely passionate about.   The discussion explored how different vendors complement and support each other to prevent fraud while adhering to regulatory guidelines and providing a seamless customer experience.  

If there’s one definite that this conversation surfaced, it’s that call center security leaders need to take a holistic approach to call center fraud and customer experience. Here’s a closer look at why:


The Push-Pull of Fraud and Customer Experience

Defeating fraudsters and improving customer experience is not about checking boxes. There isn’t one solution to solve each respective problem; conversely, solutions always have effects on both problems.  For example, if you implement an in-depth screening authentication technique that cuts down fraud, it probably adds some friction to the customer experience.  On the other hand, adding solutions that make it easier to access your account often makes it easier for fraudsters to access your account too.  Luckily for consumer-facing businesses, there are solutions that don’t force this tradeoff, helping to both prevent fraud and improve customer experience.


Passive, Multi-Layered Authentication

Authentication is a big buzzword these days.  It should be - preventing fraudsters from gaining access to accounts plays a huge role in fraud prevention, and saving customer time plays an equally important role in customer experience.  With new authentication methods, customers can complete a transaction via any customer service channel they choose, be authenticated quickly, and move on to carry out their business.  That is a game changer for customers.  Compare that to customers getting stuck in the IVR loop, repeating information multiple times, or being interrogated to prove their innocence and only then being allowed to carry on with their inquiry. As call centers move to technically advanced biometrics and call analytics, they must employ an integrated multi-layered approach to authentication with as passive a process as possible.  That way there will be multiple catching points for fraudsters along their path to account access that combine to form a comprehensive case for suspicion, and the customer experience will be more seamless than any password or knowledge-based authentication.


Compliance, Regulation, and Fraud Prevention

Regulations and guidelines cannot just be a box to check off either.  Call centers handle an extraordinary amount of Personally Identifiable Information (PII).  Companies in the financial sector, the healthcare industry, or anywhere in between are responsible for adhering to different compliance standards and security regulations.  Compliant doesn't necessarily translate to fraud prevention or data security for your customers, so working with a vendor that can help bridge the two should be something to consider.


Continuous Cybersecurity Throughout the Call

Similarly, implementing layered passive authentication and rigorous regulatory compliance do not mean that fraud will not occur during the call. Call centers must spend time looking at vendors that offer data security options within live agent transactions as well. Technology exists that completely eliminates the verbal exchange of sensitive data and allows customers to control the input of their information - reinforcing a company's commitment to security and customer experience. If sensitive information is not heard or seen, it makes it difficult for it to be misused.


Choosing the Right Solutions for You

Preventing call center fraud while delivering a seamless customer experience can seem like a daunting undertaking when faced with stats like

But it doesn’t have to be.  Vendors exist that can help call centers excel in integrated multi-layered authentication methods, biometrics, call analytics, regulatory compliance, and security measures in live agent environments. Both Next Caller and IntraNext Systems propound that when call centers employ a holistic approach and engage with the right group of multiple vendors they can significantly cut down fraud and improve customer experience.

What Does a Customer Experience When You Handle Fraud the Right Way?


By: Tim Prugar

This morning, tens of millions of Americans woke up and experienced the same, sinking feeling:

Was my information exposed in the Equifax Breach? Am I at risk for being a victim of fraud?

As a business, your customers are frightened right now. They're worried about their accounts, and their identities, and the lives that they have worked hard to build for themselves and their families. What they want more than anything is the peace of mind that if something goes wrong, it can and will be taken care of in a timely fashion.

I know that feeling well - last month I was the victim of credit card fraud. The feelings above were real, and they were intense. However, my bank was able to transform a very scary experience into a positive one by making it easy to have my problem addressed and fixed. The fundamental tension in fraud prevention is between Customer Experience and Security. However, as you'll see here, those two can very easily work hand-in-hand to protect the customer while ensuring loyalty. 

My story, originally posted over at CustomerThink, is as follows:


I had just become the victim of credit card fraud.

While sitting at my desk, I received an email alert from my bank — one of the largest in the United States — that my credit card had just been used in Iowa. Of course, I wasn’t in Iowa. And I hadn’t used my credit card in nearly three weeks.

Upon looking, to me, it was an amount that clearly showed someone was testing the card to see if it would go through — often the first step in a fraudster’s bag of tricks.

My bank prompted me to confirm the purchase — “Was this your purchase, or is something wrong?” it read. They had started on the right foot, and with 15% of banking customers who experience fraud closing all accounts with that provider, the bank knew the next steps were just as critical to keeping my business.

I clicked “something is wrong” and my card was immediately frozen. I called the support number listed in the email, was quickly authenticated by the bank, and in less than five minutes, my card was closed, the fraudulent transactions reversed, and a new card was on its way.


Chances are, you or someone you know has or will be a victim of credit card fraud. According to the consumer financial protection bureau, more than 10% of the US will fall victim at some point in their lifetime; indeed, the United States accounts for 47% of the world’s credit card fraud cases.

To combat this, companies are always improving their security. For example, the advent of EMV, the smart chip on your card, has led to a decline in total losses in recent years, as it has become more difficult for some fraud acquisition techniques like card skimming.

So where do high-tech fraudsters turn when they’re thwarted? The weakest link, of course. And today that is the call center. The place where customers are earned and lost.

In 2016, call-center fraud rose more than 110%. Financial institutions authenticating primarily through ANI — automatic number identification — were startlingly vulnerable to attacks carried out by phone spoofing, which remains a heavily relied upon technique for fraudsters.

Shoring up this vulnerability is a fine line for financial institutions to walk.

Too little security and perpetrators of fraud can easily game the system. Too much security, and you’re putting an already aggravated customer through the ringer.

The worst thing a bank can do is handle this poorly: bouncing someone between multiple agents, poorly thought out knowledge based authentication question that either the person may not know the answer to, or a fraudster may be able to figure out through social media, long hold times, etc.

You need a system that does this, and does it quickly, so a customer can get on with their day as quickly and efficiently as possible.


Ironically, having my credit card stolen ended up being a pleasant experience, because now I’ve got a great story to tell — a firsthand account of how a powerful authentication system can transform the customer experience in fraud cases.

How a company handles fraud and makes the customer feel is important; a company has the same responsibility as when they’re trying to convince a customer to buy. If someone has a terrible experience dealing with the counter-fraud measures of their banking institution — that can derail the entire relationship.

Speed is a factor in situations like this, and with a solid authentication system in place, my bank and I can operate with trust and peace of mind that I am who I say and solve the problem at the speed I desire as the victim. I want to get a person on the phone as quickly as possible.

When a company can authenticate a caller quickly, they chop off the clunky knowledge based process at the beginning of the call and it allows them to green light calls like mine.

The primary benefits are twofold: identifying fraudulent calls and beginning the procedures on dealing with such calls, or authenticating the call quickly before any further damage is done by a perpetrator of fraud.

Who knows what the damage of an additional 5, 10 or even 30 minutes means in terms of fraud — but we can stop the damage before it gets that far.

When companies use efficient technology to put the customer experience first while simultaneously demonstrating a commitment to strong security measures, everyone comes out ahead.

Even though my account was compromised, even though there was fraud — I walked away with a positive feeling about the company, because of the efficiency of how my case was handled.

With brand loyalty harder than ever to win, and fraudsters continuing to evolve the way they commit attacks, smart organizations will do well to bake fraud prevention into their CX.


Tim Prugar is the VP of Operations at Next Caller. He can be reached at

What Can AI Learn from School Teachers?

Over at ICMI, Next Caller's Director of Customer Success, Tim Prugar, reflects on his career in education and provides some thoughts on what Contact Center AI can learn from the thousands of real-time adjustments and decisions that teachers make on a daily basis. 

Read Tim's Post Here.

Offline Interactions Don't Exist: Wisdom from Dan Gingiss

By: Tim Prugar         

           Last week, I had the pleasure to sit in The Standard Club in Chicago, Illinois and listen to Dan Gingiss present to a room full of Customer Experience Executives regarding his philosophy on social customer service. With a single, calmly delivered thesis, Dan changed the tone of the room from interest and curiosity to stunned realization: there is no longer any such thing as an offline experience.

            This point is even more pertinent during the recent whirlwind of airline controversies. Whether it’s assaulted passengers, threatened parents, slapped cell phones, or retaliatory reservation cancellations, it’s clear that what happens on airplanes or in airports is not probably going to find its way on line, but is certainly going to do so. An endless spate of blog posts have been penned expounding upon the need for empathy and knowing the full situation before reacting (or in these cases, overreacting). However, when these PR nightmares explode online, brands typically have at least a few precious hours to huddle, fact-gather, game-plan, and ultimately craft an A/B tested response with more complete information.

            But what if you’re a Contact Center agent, and your “Customer Service Nightmare” is happening with you, on the phone, in real-time?

            The strongest agents have an ability to de-escalate, gather information, express empathy (or even sympathy!) and work rapidly towards a resolution. However, even agents possessing those incredible professional and social skills start the conversation from behind the proverbial 8-ball. So what can brands do to ensure that a contentious customer service phone call doesn’t become a viral social media debacle?

            It’s simple. Arm your agents with more information before they even pick up the phone.

            If I’m experiencing a CX nightmare, and the first thing I have to do is spell, respell, repeat, and re-respell my last name? I am certainly not going to de-escalate any time soon. If it takes upwards of 2 minutes to link my call to the item I’m calling about that was never delivered? Not helping the situation. If agents are able to acquire information as basic as the name and home address of the caller, or as advanced as the caller’s email address or social media profiles, they are immediately better equipped to skip the friction-filled portion of the call and get right down to collaborating with the caller to solve the issue.  

            There is no situation where more information or more context cannot better prepare the customer-facing brand representative to do their job more effectively.

            Keep yourself off of the internet for bad reasons and on it for good ones. Give your agents the information they need to handle every interaction, every time.


Tim Prugar is Next Caller's Director of Customer Success. He can be reached at

Three Strategies for Call Center Optimization

  Artist's rendering of Michael Cho dictating a blog post.

Artist's rendering of Michael Cho dictating a blog post.

Next Caller Philosopher-King Michael Cho was recently asked by Execs in the Know, a global network of customer experience professionals, to put together some thoughts for a guest blog post. You can read Michael's insight on optimizing the call center not only for excellent customer service, but also to increase revenue below:

Michael's Guest Post at Execs in the Know

The Endangered Customer - A Next Caller Interview with Richard Shapiro

Richard R. Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) and a leading authority in the area of customer satisfaction and loyalty.  For 28 years, Richard has spearheaded the research conducted with thousands of customers from Fortune 100 and 500 companies amassing the ingredients of customer loyalty and what drives repeat business.  His first book wasThe Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business and The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business, was released February, 2016.

You can order a copy of The Endangered Customer, a Next Caller favorite, here.


NC: What inspired your interest in customer service, and ultimately, to write this book?

Richard: In the book, and this is true, it came from my dad, working in his store. Age 10,11,12. My father was the ultimate salesperson and he clearly believed in relationships and treating people as people first. I was in retail until after college, every summer through high school and college I worked in a retail store, and I think retail is the best way to learn about customer service. Retail can be hospitality or working at a department store. Both of my sons worked in the local pizza parlor starting at age 14 and both are very, very passionate about service. If I’m hiring somebody I love to see that they worked in a pizza parlor or a gas station or anywhere where they talked to consumers one-on-one.

NC: What do you see as the largest challenges facing businesses attempting to provide outstanding customer service in this day and age?

Richard: Budgets are very tight. In any business there’s always money for some things and not money for others, so it’s a challenge to work within a budget. They’re penny wise and pound foolish – to me, the strongest loyalty is to a person – not to a company and not to a brand. Under that basic premise you need to hire good people and treat them well and keep them because these days, products and services are very complicated and if you don’t keep the people who really are knowledgeable- that’s a tremendous asset that you’re losing. As a company, look at where you’re spending money and continually invest in hiring the right people, training the right people, and making sure that they’re customer friendly. That’s one of the ingredients of generating repeat business. Coupled with that, companies think they can save money by having customers shop online, but unless they’ve set up their site to be people to people instead of people to computer they’re turning their products into a commodity. My eight steps are really good for call centers, brick and mortar or eCommerce. That’s the exact same thing for a call center. Unfortunately in the call center, most of the time companies are paying their employees very low wages and many times they’ll leave for another dollar an hour – it just doesn’t make sense to have them go for another dollar an hour.

NC: In your opinion, what differentiates "great" from "outstanding" customer service?

Richard: The great are kind of like my first five steps – the customer really feels that they had a really good customer experience. Their rep was friendly and knowledgeable and engaging, all those things make it a really good customer experience. I’m going to say that makes it great. Where it goes outstanding are my last three steps – getting them to return, showing them they matter, and surprising them in good ways. The customer experience continues. It should not be "one and done." That experience can be great, but if you want it to be outstanding and you want to generate repeat business you have to continue the customer experience. Tell them you want to see them again, call them again, let them know that they matter. Especially in a call center environment, the company many not know them before, but now they reach out to the company so you can collect that information, once you have that customer in your database, you can show them that they’re a loyal customer and they count. That’s what makes the call center so important, after you solve the problem how you continue to communicate with that customer – through email or promotions or letters – is really critical. That way you can continue to build upon that database.

NC: How can companies use enhanced customer information to improve their customer service?

Richard: Number one, if they do the first step which is make them feel welcome, which is why I love Next Caller’s information. It’s really hard, even for the best rep, to enter all that information while also having a personal conversation. The more that the fields are populated with information, then I think that it does allow psychologically, physically, and mentally for the rep to establish some kind of personal relationship at the outset of and during the call. Then three or six months later reach out to the customer again – we know you had an issue, we wanted to let you know that we appreciated your business and care about you, things like that really help. In addition, so many companies that keep good track of their consumers and have it categorized. Sometimes a product is discontinued, and knowing who those consumers that would care about that to reach out to them is important.

NC: Any parting advice for call centers regarding customer service?

Richard: Yes! So many times in a call center environment somebody will say "Thanks for you help!" and the rep will say “No problem” – and they should never be saying that – they should always be saying “No, my pleasure.”


Like what Richard has to say about customer service, call centers, and knowing your customer? Check out his book here.

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.  

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.

15 for 2015 – Customer Service Trends

by Rich Shapiro

reposted with permission from

A new year is approaching and time to tap into what’s here and now.  What should your company focus be to make it the best?  All businesses, any size, any industry should examine some of the trends I see.

1.    Chat is here to stay

More brands than ever before are offering chat as an option to ask questions and discuss issues. This doesn’t mean that fewer consumers will be emailing or calling; it indicates that companies will now have the opportunity to interact with more people who would have not contacted them at all.

2.    Customers expect help when they need it and that means 24/7

Customers have the expectation of around the clock service.  Whether or not you’re a global organization, sunrise to sunset service is what’s in. Corporations may need to extend hours or outsource their calls for after-hour support to accommodate this growing desire for 24/7 service.

3.    Reward your employees who reward your customers

It will be a vital component of every business model to calculate the ROI of frontline associates and determine those who should be rewarded.  Businesses are developing targeted programs to recognize employees who are instrumental in creating and maintaining customer relationships. Since loyalty can begin and end at the employee level, these reward programs are essential to success.

4.    Brick and mortar and online retail is blending

Companies recognize that shopping online and in the store must not only be consistent but integrated. Whether the initial interaction was online or at the retail store, the experience should be seamless. Every interaction must be easy, personalized and coordinated to meet the needs of the individual customer.

5.    Customers want to be brand loyal, but will quickly jump ship

It’s simply human nature to resist change.  Therefore, customers are predisposed to loyalty but will seek out the competition if they are not welcomed, listened to and treated with respect. It’s almost impossible to get customers to return once they feel unappreciated.

6.    NPS, Customer Effort Score, and CSAT are all valid but…

One measure is not enough when it comes to customers because one size doesn’t fit all.  It is vital to evaluate the customer experience. Obtaining specific feedback and using it to improve is golden. One number doesn’t always tell the whole story in spite of what any proprietary research may show.

7.    Response time has become just as important as the actual response

This is a critical piece of the puzzle.  A major indicator of an organization’s efficiency and commitment to customer service is the lag time between a customer’s question and the answer.  The longer it takes to respond can directly impact how a customer feels about your company.  Make your customers feel important and respond timely.

8.    Establish customer service guidelines, not rules

Inflexibility breeds unhappy customers.  Creating adaptable, thoughtful guidelines and eliminating stubborn rules is a cornerstone of good customer service.  Empowering your employees to make decisions within those guidelines completes the package.

9.    Text messaging is the new business tool

The banking and airline industry have been leaders in leveraging text messaging to proactively service their customers.  In 2015, more businesses will begin to follow suit.   But beware of going too far. Use your judgment and utilize text messaging wisely.

10. Customer reviews are king

Where are customers getting their information about hotels, restaurants, etc.?  They look at reviews on sites like Trip Advisor to evaluate where they want to stay or eat.  More establishments are concentrating on increasing their reviews in all business arenas. But be cautious, consumers are wary of paid ads on review sites that tout doing business with certain recommended establishments.

11. Invest in technology to improve the customer experience

Even budget conscious organizations are finding the need to invest in technology to enhance the customer experience and create seamless service delivery for an integrated channel approach. Spend the dollars to differentiate yourself.

12. “Please call us” responses in social media are so 2014

When consumers post a question or complaint on a brand’s social media site, the days of asking them to call you are coming to an end.  Consumers expect a response in the same channel of communication.  If your brand has a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. page and you invite consumers to interact, then companies truly need to respond; that’s the definition of interaction.

13. Once you opt-in, you can never opt-out?

The answer is NO.  I can’t stress this enough.  Customers expect it to be as easy to opt-out of communication as it is to sign up. Having a transparent and simple way to opt-out for all channels; text, email, and phone will eliminate frustration.

14. Engage your employees to get the competitive edge

According to a recent Gallop survey, 63% of global workers are not engaged and 24% are actively disengaged.  Employee engagement, creating an environment of participation and involvement goes a long way to generating a competitive edge and research has shown a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

15. The customer experience continues after the transaction

Last but certainly not least, it makes good business sense that a transaction does not end when the cash register closes.  In fact, it’s only the beginning. Customers must be shown they are still relevant when the transaction is complete.

- See more at:

About Richard Shapiro

Richard R. Shapiro is the founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR), which provides research, training and consulting services to Fortune 500 corporations on how to improve the customer experience. His first book is The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business.

- See more at:

Move over United, Comcast customer experience debacle goes viral

Reposted with permission from the Interactions blog

by Bob Sullebarger

There are at least a dozen ways to create a customer service nightmare, but none will get you there faster than a customer with 82,300 followers on Twitter. 

Meet former tech editor, Ryan Block, who recorded and uploaded his experience as he attempted to cancel his contract with Comcast on Tuesday this week. The 8-minute recording has now amassed nearly 4 million plays and is probably just getting started.   This puts the Comcast event on a pace to be in the company of customer experience classics like United Breaks Guitars, which has driven 14 million views to date on YouTube.

By this time, Block’s audio clip has likely been played during Comcast’s weekly executive team meeting and caused a major firestorm across the customer care organization.  It’s even possible that the agent involved is “no longer with the company.”

But despite all the best intentions, bad interactions like this inevitably happen when humans are involved.  Contact center employee satisfaction rates are notoriously low - it can be a tough job to listen to and manage hundreds of potentially unsatisfied customers while striving to hit tough performance metrics.  This drives high turnover - rates as high as 20-40% annually are not uncommon.  So the cycle of constantly recruiting, hiring and training agents without fixing worker dissatisfaction issues can only add to the likelihood of a “bad” customer service interaction like this one.  

And it’s interactions like Block’s experience with Comcast that inevitably go viral, causing significant damage to brand and reputation that is hard to recover from.  I have no doubt that Comcast sincerely intends to deliver a consistently great experience, even on tough retention calls like this one.  But with call center operations on the scale of Comcast, quality assurance is a major daily challenge.  

One place to start is a fresh look at the metrics and tools that drive the contact center.  By focusing on building better customer experience and ensuring that agents are fully trained, empowered to make the right decisions and supported by tools that improve their workflow, organizations like Comcast can start the shift from purely meeting cost metrics to better supporting the customers they have.  

Could the customer service agent changed Mr. Blocks mind even with a more positive approach?  Definitely not.  But ending the relationship happily would have left the Blocks with a better impression of Comcast and saved the company from this unfortunate viral publicity.  And isn’t that what everyone wanted?

Customers Want You to Take Things Personally

by guest blogger Laura Zegar (@LauraKZegar)

It’s 2014, and our customers expect us to know everything about them. They expect their information and preferences to be readily available across every customer channel – and they demand an excellent customer experience while doing so.

As customer expectations shift, companies are increasingly taking advantage of their customer data to shape a superior, unique experience for each customer.

Personalized IVRs are rapidly evolving in this direction. Built with customer interaction efficiency in mind, a personalized IVR tailors its greetings, options and/or scripts based on unique customer information. Essentially, a personalized IVR is the antithesis of the stereotypical IVR, where we repeat our selection multiple times, hear irrelevant offers and menu options, and feel like just another anonymous customer in a sea of millions.

With a personalized IVR, customers can explicitly select IVR preferences, while companies can proactively customize individual IVR experiences using customer preferences, data and history.

Customer-selected IVR preferences allow callers to choose the information a company uses to tailor their experience. Starwood Hotels customers who create a unique PIN, for example, can select personalized IVR preferences, including automatic recognition by phone number and reward points balance announcements. As a result, these customers can skip the IVR authentication process and automatically hear rewards information, eliminating common IVR transactions and streamlining their overall experience.

Callers can also select their greeting name upon entering an IVR. Take two customers named John Smith. The first may prefer to be formally addressed as “Mr. Smith,” while the second is comfortable with the more casual “John”. This is an easy opportunity for customers to foster a more personal connection to enhance their overall experience with a company.

Likewise, company-initiated IVR preferences yield significant opportunities to create unique customer interactions with tailored menu options, scripts and routing based on the caller’s location, status and previous interaction history.

Flexible IVR menus further enhance the customer experience by tailoring caller menu options to fit their customer profile and anticipated inquiries. An airline may customize its IVR menu options differently for frequent fliers with existing reservations vs. new customers. Frequent fliers might hear options for flight notification status, reservation changes or rewards transactions, while occasional customers hear options to book a new flight or enroll in the airline rewards program. Both customers are offered the most relevant selections, resulting in faster IVR navigation.

Many companies also tailor their IVR scripts based on customer data. For example, a cable company IVR may proactively ask customers with frequent billing inquiries if they are calling about their recent bill, rather than forcing them to wade through multiple prompts for the correct option. Callers might hear service outage messages based on customer geography or relevant marketing offers related to a specific product or service they recently inquired about. Again, the customer experience is simplified because the caller is greeted with relevant information without having to ask for it.

Finally, companies can also leverage their customer data to proactively route callers to specific or specialized queues. A cable customer classified as a high risk for churn, for instance, may be routed to a retention agent who addresses their inquiry while mitigating a potential service cancellation. Likewise, a caller who always selects the Spanish queue could automatically be routed there based on customer recognition, geography and interaction history. By proactively identifying the customer’s needs and connecting them to the best agent, companies minimize customer transfers and simplify issue resolution.

Personalized IVR options are beneficial as standalone offerings, but when combined together into an overall IVR strategy, the effect is powerful. Let’s look at the impact on overall customer experience:

John Smith calls his wireless provider with questions about his latest bill. He is immediately bombarded with a message about a service outage nowhere near his geographic area, and cannot select the Spanish IVR option until the message is finished. John goes through several layers of menu options before locating the correct billing option.

He is then transferred to a general customer service agent. Although the agent addresses John’s inquiry, he is frustrated at the work and time needed to reach the agent.

John goes through the same process several months in a row, his overall frustration increasing with each call. He indicates to agents that he is thinking of canceling his service.

One day, he logs into his online customer account and is prompted to select his greeting name for future IVR calls. He selects “John” and decides to call customer service about his bill. The IVR automatically recognizes him by caller ID, greets him as “John”, and asks in Spanish if he is calling about his bill. John says yes and is automatically routed to a Spanish-speaking retention agent based on his classification as a high churn risk customer.

The agent assists him with his bill inquiry and proactively addresses his concerns. Based on the interaction, John decides not to cancel his service, impressed by his effortless customer experience.

Pretty compelling story, isn’t it?

As you can see, John’s customer experience and view of the company increased with each proactive step the company took, from greeting him upon entering the IVR all the way to routing him to a retention agent equipped to address his concerns.

His initial frustration, created largely by the work needed to reach an agent, mounted with each IVR roadblock he encountered. Because John was calling specifically to speak with an agent, he remained on the line, but not all customers are willing to do so. Faced with an impersonal, complicated menu for a simple self-service transaction, customers may skip the IVR altogether and go directly to an agent. Worse, they may hang up – and take their business elsewhere.

But if customers reach an IVR that knows who they are and what they want, they are more likely to walk away feeling satisfied by the ease and personal touch of their experience.

Gone are the days where a one-size-fits-all interaction works for customers – or companies. As the customer service world becomes increasingly self-service and multichannel-centric, personalization plays a key role in helping companies foster superior customer service and loyalty.

Only time will tell how much greater a role personalization will play in customer experience enhancement. In the meantime, take a look at the IVRs you call. How do they measure up on personalization?

Ice Bar Pics!

Did you attend our happy hour event at Minus 5 Ice Bar during Call Center Week? If so, click the link to check out pics. If not, well, you missed out. And now you can see what you missed out on.

We again thank our friends at Zendesk, Genesys, and BluIP for co-sponsoring a great event!

Here are the photos:

-Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

Small Company X vs. Conglomerate X

by Laura Zegar

Raise your hand if you’ve ever loved to hate your cable, Internet, wireless or other conglomerate-sized company after one or more bad customer experiences.

I bet we’re all raising our hands right now.

Most of us, at some point, have unsuccessfully tried to resolve an issue with a large company at their mercy. The bigger the company, the more insignificant or powerless we feel. After all, we’re just one of their millions of customers. Bonus points if your provider has the monopoly on your local market.

We may turn to social media, online reviews and blog posts to be heard within a community of our peers and, hopefully, grab Conglomerate X’s attention.

When that fails, we may start looking at Small Company X to fill the void left by Conglomerate X.

Smaller companies have an obvious advantage over conglomerates: They can often create the superior, personalized customer experience we don’t always get from the big guys. I bet that’s why many of us do business with Small Company X in the first place.

Most organizations battle issues related to people, processes or technology at some point in their operations. A small company with superior capabilities in all three areas can often withstand such struggles, particularly with personalized, proactive customer service. They become the Little Company That Could, a darling of their markets.

But what happens when something goes wrong there? Suddenly, being Small Company X may be a liability, not an advantage.   

Case in point: My own recent Small Company X experience with my Internet / satellite TV provider, a small third-party authorized reseller for a major satellite brand’s services.

I recently moved my service after switching units in my apartment building, kicking off a disappointing, blog-worthy customer experience.  

It all went south when they cancelled my old account and created a new one. This is a standard practice for utility companies, so I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, my online account was entirely deleted during the transfer, leaving me with zero billing or account status visibility.

“OK,” I said to myself. “That’s annoying, but I’ll call to pay the old-fashioned way this time and reestablish my online account later.”

But before I could re-register, they mistakenly cancelled my account again and disconnected my satellite service. I didn’t immediately notice because I hadn’t been watching much TV and, miraculously, my Internet service somehow remained uninterrupted.

One night, I settled onto the couch and switched on the TV, ready for a marathon of recent Revenge episodes. To my surprise, nothing was there.  This was serious. I needed to catch up on what was happening with my favorite fictional TV characters in the Hamptons, and I needed to do it right now.

First, I tried to create my new online account, but was unable to register after receiving the notification that my account was “invalid”.  I called to inquire further.

The unapologetic customer service rep’s response: “Oh, yeah, we’ve been trying to reach you to get your equipment back. You never contacted us. And your Internet should have been turned off, too.” 

No, actually, neither should have been turned off! Both the customer and customer experience professional in me cringed. This phone call did not seem promising.

According to the rep, Small Company X had left voicemails and, since they service my entire apartment building exclusively, sent a representative to my apartment to retrieve the equipment. Just one little problem: Small Company X never actually reached me with a single contact attempt.

My 14-year-old cell phone number on file had never received a call or voicemail from them. I was primarily home during the time period they sent someone to my apartment. No knocks on the door or notes left to indicate anyone had visited. I even checked the enormous batch of delayed forwarded mail I’d recently received to see if I missed a notice. Nothing.

When I expressed my confusion, the rep failed to acknowledge my concern and simply said they would turn my service back on. “And,” he advised me in a tone that suggested he was doing me a favor, “we won’t charge you for the reconnection fee.”  

Gee, thanks!

My service was restored within the hour with no extra charges incurred on my end. That was the bare minimum I expected as a customer, and unfortunately, that’s all I got. 

I finally restored my online account with some extra effort after placing a second call to obtain a special company-provided PIN to enter during registration. Sure, I could have requested a supervisor at some point, but after my initial conversation with the rep, I did not want to chat with anyone else from Small Company X for a second longer.

I hung up the phone, muttering something to myself about being a masochist for wishing I could voluntarily switch back to one of the big guys everyone loves to complain about. Unfortunately, that option is out for me since it’s either Small Company X or nothing in my building.

Oh, and I couldn’t even tweet about my disappointing experience because the company completely lacks a social media presence. I generally reserve customer service complaints via social media for only the most egregious experiences, and this certainly met my criteria. Alas, my planned “Hey, @SmallCompanyX, I’m bummed about my recent bad experience!” tweet only made it as far as this blog.

Afterward, I mused about the issues that led to my service breakdown, how excellent customer service could have negated or minimized its effects on me, and whether such an experience could have been avoided at Conglomerate X.

First, the obvious: An unidentified technology issue led to my service disconnection. It can – and does – happen at companies of any size. I probably wouldn’t even be blogging about this had my customer service rep simply apologized for the inconvenience. Technical issues are par for the course at utility companies, and it’s all about how the company handles them. In this case, the Small Company X rep’s demeanor made the experience more unpleasant when he could have quickly turned it around with positivity.

Certainly, I could have received the same response from a Conglomerate X rep, but I consider this a huge strike against Small Company X when customer service should be a key differentiator against their competition. Because they don’t beat their Conglomerate X competitors on price, programming, equipment technology, value-added features or account management, I expected high quality customer service – but didn’t receive it.

The extra effort that went into creating my new online account was another strike. Canceling one account and creating another during a move is standard practice for many utility companies, and it works as long as it’s executed properly. In this case, my previous account was entirely deleted, and I can’t view any historical account data under the new account. 

By contrast, ComEd enabled me with flawless account management when I transferred my power service. My old account remained online and linked to my new account, all under the same user name. I can review my entire billing and payment history for each account without multiple logins, guessing games, or fervent prayers to locate the information I need. Not once did I have to call ComEd for extra assistance during the two moves within my building I’ve completed in the past three and a half years, but I’ve already called Small Company X twice in a very short period of time. A more effective, less complicated account management system easily would have eliminated the need for my second phone call. Conglomerate X Customer Experience– 2; Small Company X Customer Experience – 0.  

And finally, Small Company X’s process for contacting me failed utterly. I’m still not sure who, if anyone, they actually reached when attempting to contact me, but something failed in their customer data management and/or outbound contact processes. Had they reached me in any capacity, I still would have considered this a more proactive attempt to notify me of the situation. Every other provider has successfully contacted me when necessary since my move.

Small Company X has my email address on file. Leveraging it with my phone number in proactive outbound contacts and enhanced online account management features for more effective communication attempts would be a huge customer experience win for them. In the meantime…mark this down as three out of three customer experience wins for Conglomerate X.

And there you have it. Surprisingly, Conglomerate X does beat Small Company X hands down sometimes, and it’s not always the demon we customers make large companies out to be.

For me, this experience reinforces my key customer experience philosophy: Your customer experience is only as good as your people, processes and technology.

For you, as a customer, that means the experience you walk away with is largely dependent on how your selected company manages these capabilities and overlays them with customer service, rather than their size alone.

Only you can decide whether David beats Goliath. Take a look at your providers and see how your experiences with Small Company X and Conglomerate X measure up against this philosophy. You may be surprised. 

Airline Customer Service: How JetBlue is Leading the Charge

by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

For the past few years, I have been a loyal frequent flier with a legacy carrier, slowly making my way from silver member one year, to gold member the next, all the way to platinum today. It’s amazing how instantly one becomes a “travel snob” upon finding a job that sends you places. I remember the days of watching the elite members board before me, muttering under my breath that “the plane won’t leave until we’re all on board anyway,” or the times where I waited in line for TSA, only to see a handful of people cutting me. What’s the big deal about racing through security if the plane has to wait for regulars like me anyway? Are there mysterious planes that pick up the elite members at their convenience and whisk them away to their final destination? It can’t all be for the extra bag of peanuts…

Once you start traveling, these little things start to matter. I’ve become impatient with people who don’t know to take their laptops out of their bags or to take off their shoes before going through security. Whenever I step into the X-ray machine and the TSA agent tells me to put my hands up, I always want to turn and say, “This ain’t my first rodeo,” but I don’t.

I’m a travel snob. I’ve accepted it.

But when you’re on the road a lot, you can’t help it. When your plane is delayed, it’s nice to have a lounge to relax in. When you’re carrying some extra bags for a business trip, it’s nice to be able to check them for free. When the security lines are long, it’s nice to skip the line so you can get some work done. The perks I once considered to be frivolous and self-aggrandizing were, in fact, real perks.

So it was with great interest that I participated in JetBlue’s Mosaic Challenge. As you may know, JetBlue is a younger carrier, much more hip than many of its competitors, and known for providing great service. Whenever my airline of choice did not have a direct route or a competitive price, I would fly with JetBlue as a second option. That might change soon. 

The Mosaic Challenge worked in two ways. Fliers who were not elite with a competitor were given a “challenge,” which was to fly with JetBlue enough times to earn Mosaic status by the end of the year. The caveat was that JetBlue was going to make it easier for those taking the challenge to gain Mosaic status than for members who did not accept the challenge. Brilliant marketing: they’re using gamification to get people interested in booking flights with JetBlue. People who never in their dreams thought they could ever gain elite status with an airline suddenly had a real opportunity.

The other part of the challenge was for people like myself who were elite members with other airlines. In my case, if I could just prove I was an elite member with another airline, JetBlue would match my status by making me a Mosaic member immediately. So it was a no-brainer to give it a shot, especially because I already flew with JetBlue several times a year as is. 

JetBlue has long been known as an egalitarian airline – there is no first class, and many of the same perks you get with other airlines have not really existed for JetBlue. Instead, JetBlue has tried to use speedier security lanes and roomier seats as upsell opportunities. Clearly, JetBlue wants to woo elite members away from other airlines and show them that you do not need all the perks to get a better experience. And eerily enough, they might be on to something.

As someone who travels frequently, my number one complaint with airlines is change fees. They suck. I understand why they exist - they exist because fickle customers like myself would always make changes to reservations if there were no penalties in place. This kills revenue for the airlines, so they cannot afford to operate without putting stiff penalties in place. This way, customers really figure out their plans ahead of time. Something unexpected happens? Tough luck. Pay up $200. There’s dozens of empty seats on the flight you want to get on? You still owe $200. 

But JetBlue gets it. As a JetBlue Mosaic Member, you can make changes to any reservation and receive a full refund to a travel bank that you can use for future flights. No change fee included. JetBlue understands that their most loyal customers are going to continue booking flights with them anyway. So putting the money in a Travel Bank that can be applied to future purchases makes great sense. And because JetBlue offers this perk only to its most loyal customers, it does not crush the airline’s revenues. It’s also the sensible thing to do, because the perk is being offered to people who fly more frequently and who are more likely to need it. It’s simply a thoughtful reward to their most loyal customers. Plain and simple. It makes their elite members arguably happier than those who get to eat pretzels and wine in first class with other airlines. I am living proof of that, because I am 10x more loyal to a competing airline that would never in a million years waive my change fees.

I’ve made use of this feature twice already on trips from New York to Boston. Having made travel plans far in advance, and then realizing I wanted to adjust the plans the day of, I’ve successfully canceled two JetBlue flights from Boston to New York. I used my Travel Bank credit to book a last minute flight from Boston to New York the morning after the Boston Bruins tragic Game 7 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. So I can thank JetBlue for getting me to a happier place. I have even really enjoyed their dedicated customer service line. I’ve never had to wait on hold and the reps have always been very helpful. My only complaint? That they can’t match my mobile number to my account. It would be nice if I did not need to have my TrueBlue number handy in order to get the premium service. 

When it comes to change fees, it’s true that I can do the same thing with my current preferred airline of choice – but not without paying $200. And if the fare of my flight was less than $200, then canceling or changing the flight never makes sense for me. 

I’m becoming a big fan of JetBlue. It seems that they are doing the right things all around the board. Specifically, I am a fan of their “You Above All” marketing campaign. Airline consumers never really feel like anything is about them. It costs an arm and a leg to travel, it’s a hassle, and dealing with airline customer service has always been a nightmare. I wonder if that’s about to change.

About a Great Customer Service Experience With Aetna & Why Social Media Is Huge For Customer Service

by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

In today’s day and age, we know people are more likely to report negative experiences than pleasant ones, and they have the medium to do that so easily. Whether it is on Yelp or Twitter, bad reviews are all the more common, and now they have the power to tarnish a brand’s reputation more than ever. That’s why it’s important to spread the word about companies who are doing a good job when you can, so I wanted to share an experience I had with Aetna back in December.

I recently joined Next Caller, and our company decided around the same time to use Aetna as a healthcare provider. With the Christmas/New Years festivities in full swing, our application got approved retroactive to a prior date while Aetna could sort through the holiday madness and provide individual policy numbers in the coming week. However, I was dealing with a medical emergency (what are the odds) at the same time and needed to see a doctor immediately. I tried calling the Aetna customer service line in the evening, but to my dismay, at 7:07 PM, I was told by the IVR that their phone lines close at 7 PM. Feeling like the world was out to get me, I took to Twitter, and admittedly I sent Aetna not the nicest tweet in the world that basically demanded why the world was not revolving around me in my time of need.

Within minutes, I had a response from Aetna.

Clearly, my “emergency” was not as urgent as I thought it was, because I fell asleep and responded the next morning. With some basic information e-mailed over to them, Aetna could then go ahead and provide me with the policy number I would need to provide to a doctor in order to be treated. Problem solved.

However, the message was encrypted, and the person I was corresponding with, who saw that I had sent my e-mail from an iPhone, tweeted back at me asking if I would like a phone call instead with the information since iPhones sometimes have a tough time with the encrypted message.

Within seconds, I was talking to Jennifer from Aetna over the phone. She gave me all of the information I needed. She then proceeded to tell me how she had peeked at the Next Caller website the night before after my initial tweet and asked me some questions about what I do. It’s not often that customer service representatives take an interest in you as an individual, but it was truly a pleasure to feel like I was an actual person over the phone that Aetna cared about, rather than someone they would just like to get off the phone with as soon as possible. In any case, I was on my way.

But it didn’t end there. Later on, I was at the pharmacy picking up a prescription, and I ran into another issue that required me to call Aetna. I became frustrated with Aetna’s IVR, and twice I was disconnected when being transferred to a human. So I went back to Twitter. Being at a pharmacy urgently needing medication is a time where you want instant gratification. Lo and behold, Jennifer was back on the phone with me within minutes to settle the situation and ensure that I could get the medication I needed.

Looking back on the experience, I had a tough time with Aetna over the phone, but a great time with Aetna when dealing with their social media team. This has often been the case – that it is frustrating to call customer service, but I have often received great help through social media. Why is that?

Well, brands today cannot afford for people to be saying bad things about them in online communities, and so they are investing accordingly in putting together teams that meet frustrated customers where they are. Something I have often noticed with social media customer service reps is that they often try to take the issue offline immediately by encouraging the customer to e-mail them at a certain address. This diffuses the situation in a public setting, and brings it to a private place where the customer and the brand can negotiate without others taking notice.

But people who work in social media are quite frankly savvier than others. They take pride in being part of the digital wave and in doing so, they see to it that they are quick and precise. They often need to prove the value of what they do to their superiors who have invested in more archaic forms of communication for the past few decades. Measuring ROI through social media is difficult, so those who work in the field are personally invested in being good performers.

I also believe that because most executives did not grow up with social media, but are being told of its importance, they are putting the proper amount of resources into social media because they know it’s “up and coming” and “popular.” Meanwhile, they continue to do the opposite with their call centers – make them as mean and lean as possible, which leads to longer hold times and frustration for the consumer. Even basic upgrades to caller identification would save companies and customers a lot of hassle, and yet over 60% of inbound calls to call centers today still require identification.

I know that several large companies I have spoken with have at least twenty people who work on their social media. What an astounding number. I cannot express enough how satisfying it was to have an Aetna representative essentially at my fingertips throughout the day in a critical time of need.

As a Starwood Platinum Member, I have similarly had exchanges with their social media team via Twitter to handle certain issues or room upgrade requests and again I have been amazed by the prompt responses and just flat-out results that you get when you can compartmentalize an issue and deal with it head-on with a representative from the company. When you can skip all of the bureaucracy, the voice recordings, the risk of being disconnected or having to spell out your name over the phone over and over again, things are just straight up easier.