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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.