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.

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

Get To Know Your Caller: The Power of the First 30 Seconds

Jenny is the Visitor Support Manager for DMV.ORG. With over a decade of customer service experience, Jenny has been recognized through social media channels as a thought leader. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on the Customer Service Life Blog (http://www.communciatebetterblog.com). She can often be found on the beach in San Diego, California.  Follow here on Twitter: jennysuedempsey

Jenny is the Visitor Support Manager for DMV.ORG. With over a decade of customer service experience, Jenny has been recognized through social media channels as a thought leader. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on the Customer Service Life Blog (http://www.communciatebetterblog.com). She can often be found on the beach in San Diego, California. 

Follow here on Twitter: jennysuedempsey

 

Ready...set...GO!

You have 30 quick seconds to make a million fast decisions.

First impressions about a company via customer service channels make lasting impressions to the customer and whoever the customer decides to share them with (friends, family, social media). When Sir Patrick Stewart waited 36 hours for his Time Warner Cable appointment he took his thoughts to Twitter on their initial customer support. It resulted in a media backlash that had the TW social media team on their toes.

In most cases, the single point of contact with a company is when they reach out to customer service.

How will you, mighty customer service representative, measure up to the clock?

 

1. Be Prepared

If you’re a customer service agent that is provided with a technology to pull customer data, such as a name, phone or account number, address, etc. on your computer screen before every call, consider your job made 10% easier. If you don’t, you still have the ability to do one simple thing: ASK. By referring to the customer by name throughout the entire call, as well as opening their account to read through any previous service notes, you are a step ahead of the game to kindling the fire on a great call.

 

2. Be Kind

You’re on the customer’s side. Your job is to have their back. When you answer the phone, are you answering in a tone that you’d use with your best friend? Setting and keeping a genuine and friendly tone during the conversation welcomes your customer to your company, starts to build trust and showcases your brand voice in a positive manner. Not only that, it will benefit the bottom line. According to JitBit, businesses lose upwards of $84 billion per year due to poor, untrustworthy customer service.

 

3. Be Purposeful

The customer called for a reason. They may voice their frustrations immediately, not caring about your kind voice or that you know their name. What actions do you take then? By listening to the customer speak and release their dissatisfaction, you can zoom in on what the larger issue is at stake. You can then hold the reigns to define the purpose of the call to keep things on track and help your customer get to their desired resolution.  

 

Here’s a Customer Service MadLib Style Script for you to act as a baseline on how to keep the empathy in your word choices when you may be challenged by a difficult customer:


[After listening quietly to customer on phone]

______________  thank you for sharing your experience with me. I completely understand why you feel   

(Customer Name)             

_______________.

(Customer Emotion)

I am disappointed that _____________ has happened. Our company takes ownership of this and apologize.        (Sum up customer story)    

My goal is to resolve this. I will _____________________ and I look forward to working with you!

             (Realistic Customer Expectations)

 

In a nutshell:

  • Be Prepared.

  • Be Kind.

  • Be Purposeful.

Write that down on a Post-It and stick it to your computer monitor, friends!


All of this happens within the first 30 seconds of the call. And the power is all in your hands.

The Perils of Omni-Channel and Social Media Marketing - A Philosopher's Look

A member of the Next Caller team, Zach Shaw holds a Philosophy degree from Princeton University with a certificate in Computer Science. Every so often, Zach shares his musings about the intersection of big data and technology with some age-old philosophical questions. 

 

In her recent book Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle explores the effects of our constant use of social media on our mobile devices.  Originally, the constant connection brought about by new technologies was seen as an extension of our personal identities.  However, as Turkle notes, there are many adverse effects from these information communication technologies (ICTs) - foremost the replacement of face-to-face communication by digital interaction.  People do not learn empathy through the use of social networks.  They learn how to get the most likes on their profiles.  Our self esteem is intimately linked with our popularity on such websites, and we'll do everything in our power to boost that popularity, including sacrificing an intimate conversation with a friend or family member.  Even when we are conversing face-to-face, our mobile devices make it possible for us to be 'alone together.'  We can be physically together with another person, but completely inattentive to them as a human being.  As a society this is a major development, and, in the eyes of Turkle, a major problem.  

 

Not lagging behind, the customer service space has adapted to such technologies.  We can tweet about our bad experience on an airline.  We can email the customer service department about our phone malfunctioning.  We can online chat with a representative about our order on Amazon.com.  Communication to address our concerns with a product or service has been extended by these ICTs; consequently, as customers, it is easier than ever to solve our problems.  Yet, when we really are frustrated we still resort to the phone.  

 

A customer service phone call is uniquely outside the grasp of distracting mobile technologies because both individuals on the call are focused on achieving the same goal: solving the customer's problem as quickly as possible.  You, the customer, want your concern addressed, and, until it is, you will give your undivided attention to the phone call.  Conversely, the representative will lose his or her job if not engaged.  So in this one case, the ability to have limitless distractions and data at your fingertips does not hinder the quality of your conversation.

 

Let's compare this to a typical conversation with a friend.  You both have several different goals.  You each want to improve your status on Facebook.  Maybe one of you wants some encouragement to work harder at your job from the conversation.  The other friend wants to talk about the latest gossip.  There is somewhat of a prisoner's dilemma here.  Because you both took the time to hang out, let's assume that you both enjoy hanging out more than going on Facebook.  Given that assumption, let's give the value of 1 happiness point to each of you for the action of going on Facebook, and the value of 5 for the other two activities of face-to-face conversation.  However, if you choose to go on Facebook, you are guaranteed 1 point whereas, if you choose to engage in the face-to-face conversation where you both are pursuing different goals, it is likely that one of you will not achieve your goal.

 

This analysis assumes that you cannot have a conversation where both your and your friend’s goal - in the example provided, encouragement and gossip - can be accomplished simultaneously.  Although they are not mutually exclusive, with the developments of technology and our need for immediate gratification, a conversation achieving both goals and yielding a ‘5/5’ level of happiness is becoming increasingly rare.  Moreover, there is the possibility that neither person’s goal is accomplished by staying engaged in the conversation, yielding a ‘0/0’ level of happiness.  This possibility gives further impetus to go on Facebook.

This analysis assumes that you cannot have a conversation where both your and your friend’s goal - in the example provided, encouragement and gossip - can be accomplished simultaneously.  Although they are not mutually exclusive, with the developments of technology and our need for immediate gratification, a conversation achieving both goals and yielding a ‘5/5’ level of happiness is becoming increasingly rare.  Moreover, there is the possibility that neither person’s goal is accomplished by staying engaged in the conversation, yielding a ‘0/0’ level of happiness.  This possibility gives further impetus to go on Facebook.

Even if you are very risk-averse, you would probably choose the conversation at first - that's why you both are hanging out.  But if the conversation starts to veer off course of your individual goal to another topic (I assume in my model your friend's goal instead), it is more beneficial for you to stop paying attention to the conversation and to go on Facebook.  If there is a more comfortable, egotistical alternative to genuine empathy, we will take it.  Therein lies the dilemma of being 'alone together.'

 

Conversely, returning to customer service calls, the conversation is actually improved by recently developed ICTs.  Certain technologies allow representatives to access demographic information about their customers which these representatives can use to better meet their customers' needs.  With new innovations like omni-channel integration, representatives can specialize their knowledge to specific products or services, and thus better achieve the joint goal of any customer service conversation: addressing the customer's concern.  Instead of destroying the quality of these conversations, new technologies are enabling better communication in the customer service space.  

 

In spite of the stigma arguments like Turkle’s have started to propagate against ICTs, customer service providers and call center professionals need to take advantage of these new technologies in order to maintain customer loyalty.  The average person’s patience is dwindling because of the immediate gratification these technologies have brought to us.  As a result, customer service needs to be better than ever before, and these new technologies are the only way to meet consumers’ rising expectations.  Without adapting to this changing landscape, customers will go on Facebook if they aren’t satisfied within a couple minutes - and choose a competitor.

 

Interested in more of Zach's philosophical musings? Contact the author - zach@nextcaller.com.

So Sayeth The Times: 3 Reasons Why Biometric Authentication Should Give You Pause

 

In Tuesday's New York Times, the Room for Debate blog took on concerns surrounding the growing use of biometric authentication in the banking sector. Typically these arguments are more polarizing, with a traditional "A IS GOOD vs. A IS TERRIBLE!" style of debate. But when it came to Biometrics, something interesting happened: both sides agreed that Biometric Authentication is an imperfect, and sometimes deeply flawed, science. They merely disagreed on the implications of that for banking security. 

Look, Biometric Authentication is LIGHT YEARS ahead of static passwords and easily-researchable security questions. It's here to stay. The debate isn't whether or not banks should utilize biometric authentication - the debate is whether these financial behemoths should be relying on biometrics as their sole, or even their main, first-stage fraud solution. To make a football analogy, the Carolina Panthers would never say to their quarterback "Hey, Cam, you're revolutionizing the quarterback position and doing things we never thought possible - we can just rely on you and don't need to have an offensive line, or receivers, or running backs - I'm sure you can do it all and won't fail." No coach would ever say that. Of course not. After all, that's the Chicago Bears' patented offensive strategy. 

                                Not Funny, Tim.

                                Not Funny, Tim.

So let's take a deeper dive into the challenges presented by Biometric Authentication:

1. Just Because It's Biometric Doesn't Mean It's Not Data

Target. Snapchat. Ashley Madison. Data breaches that have exposed the personal information, home addresses, credit card information, or even Social Security Numbers of customers and employees have made front page news on dozens of occasions. As Claire Gartland of the Electronic Privacy Information Center points out, citizens have action steps they can take when this type of information is released. They can cancel cards or apply for new SSNs. But what recourse do people have when biometric information is leaked? The Office of Personnel Management has already admitted that 5.6 million fingerprints were stolen in a recent data breach, and hackers have already shown their ability to replicate fingerprints and iris scans to game security systems. Voice biometrics has similar flaws. If your customer data can be breached, so too can your biometric data (regardless of the encryption or tokenization).  

 

2.  Do Your Customers Trust You?

Just because I'd let my friend hold $100 for me doesn't mean I'd trust him to hold onto my fingerprints and DNA. I've seen enough Law & Order to know better. Biometric authentication brings about very real Orwellian concerns on behalf of consumers. What are you going to do with this information? What assurance do I have that this will only be used for authentication? While James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes these concerns off as "nervous dystopian projections" and "irrational" (ouch!), the comments show a very different perception of this development in technology. 

                   "I, for one, welcome our new Biometric Overlords!"

                   "I, for one, welcome our new Biometric Overlords!"

3. Impact on Customer Experience

The number one concern for Fraud Analysts is "Catching and Stopping Fraud." However, "Limiting False Positives" and "Ensuring a Seamless Customer Experience" finish a close second and third. Biometric Authentication can have serious impacts on both of those exceedingly important CX metrics. Will MasterCard spring for me to become better looking if my face is consistently judged not to be my actual face? Voice biometrics necessitate 15-30 seconds of analysis at the time of connection on a call - increasing average handle time and also increasing customer frustration at the outset. Biometric authentication also requires certain technologies that can serve as a barriers-to-entry for customers that may not be able to purchase smart phones. Are banks going to be in the business of only offering security to those who can afford it?

So What Now?

While the debate in the Times cast a significant amount of doubt on the viability of Biometric Authentication as the sole solution for banks, we should refrain from throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Biometric Authentication is an enormously promising development in the world of security, but it is a mistake to view this development as a panacea, or a reliable sole method for thwarting fraudsters. Banks who are looking to increase first-stage fraud prevention at the payment and call center level would be wise to combine known fraudster block lists, Biometric Authentication, and carrier and transaction level metadata to best defend against nefarious attacks and protect their customers' assets...and peace of mind. 

By: Tim Prugar (tim@nextcaller.com)

 

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.