Tag Archives: call center

Cigna on customer-centricity & experience

Have we reached the end of the call center? Not according to Mindy Lamb at Cigna. That being said, personalization is key to keeping clients and it doesn’t happen overnight. In this interview, I sit down with Mindy Lamb at Cigna to chat about how personalization, customer-centricity and experience can lead to customer retention, thereby leading to long and fruitful relationships.

Mindy Lamb is Head of Operating Effectiveness – Customer Experiences at Cigna.
Mindy Lamb is Head of Operating Effectiveness – Customer Experiences at Cigna.

Most of us are well aware that retaining customers is more fruitful than forging new relationships. Will you tell us about the customer lifetime value at Cigna? How has developing long-term relationships provided better value for customer and company alike?

Customer lifetime value is an ongoing concept that Cigna and many other companies are starting to use. It’s not the only metric we use, but it’s developing and ongoing as we figure out how to leverage it better. If you think about customer lifetime value only, it really is a predictor of an individual customer’s profitability over time. So when you combine the power of that information with personal segmentation of your customers around what they need and what they value and then you understand those customers that have higher profitability projection for your company over the course of their lifetime it allows you to prioritize bringing those capabilities, products and services that individual segments of customers value the most. You’ll see higher retention where you prioritize and spend your money and investment dollars to drive that retention. Of course we benefit because their with us and they benefit because the longer they’re with us the deeper our insights grow into what they need and value so we can continue to deliver on it.

Customer centricity has been redefined in today’s new digital paradigm from a B2B and B2C perspective. Are you now more enabled to use metrics to determine the value of your relationship with your customers?

It’s been around for a long time. For a long time we’ve heard web to call, what’s the call rate, etc., and that’s real. If they’re going to the web to try to achieve their services and they can’t and they have to call, then we’re aware that their satisfaction scores go down. That’s one way you can look at it. But beyond that in this digital age of social media and multitudes of apps; we at Cigna try to meet the customers where they are in order to determine if they have a particular need or a interest. From there we can personalize that information within the digital space and watch to see if they react to that digital channel. We can measure what they find interesting, what they don’t and how to reach them in the way they want to be reached.

There will always be a need for a contact center, but more and more in the Internet age, people like the advantage of going to digital technology to find solutions to what they’re looking for.

How have you aimed to ‘retrain the brains’ of agents to find new means of customer acquisition?

It starts first with technology. Once you understand your individual customer segments, what they value and what they need, then you start to understand the additional acquisition opportunities in the product that you have for that customer to find value in. The technology enables the agent to then take a client in an inbound channel and then segue into a conversation that centers around them. They can say, “I know this about you, and based on that we also have X, Y or Z, would you be interested in hearing more?” It’s really about placing the information in the agent’s hands so they know what to pass along to the customer to continue the conversations.

Not all businesses have robust budgets. How can these agents create a customer experience that is five-star without all the trimmings?

Particularly as it relates to the agents and what they can deliver – if you don’t have the budget and technology is a challenge for all of us – it’s important to remember that at the root of it is people serving people. The best thing you can do in that regard is focus on your hiring and retention of your employees and hire for the right capabilities. You can train individuals to be computer saavy, but what you can’t train so much, and what you’re really born with, is what I call the “servant’s heart.” You either have it or you don’t. You can hone people’s skills around being personal or empathetic, but that person’s never going to be successful at really getting to the heart of customer-centricity and helping customers if they don’t have that baseline nature.

The best thing to focus on when you don’t have the five-star budget and all the wizardry that comes with it is to first start with the right people and then make sure that you incent and reward them right. Give them the power to satisfy the customer within the constraints of whatever the product or service is that you’re delivering. What you may consider as a small ability to make things right or give something back to the customer is in reality the opportunity to create both a great branding image and empowerment for our employees to know that they’re making differences every day. So hire right for the personal touch, for empathy, for people who can proactively think of creative solutions for customers and then empower them to do so.

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In Conversation: MediaOcean’s VP of Support & Training

I spoke with Stephanie Dorman, VP of Support and Training at Media Ocean, about how she singlehandedly overhauled two merging departments.
I spoke with Stephanie Dorman, VP of Support and Training at Media Ocean, about how she singlehandedly overhauled two merging departments.

MediaOcean’s VP of Support and Training, Stephanie Dorman, singlehandedly restructured and advanced the company’s contact center department with an eye for customer centricity and employee satisfaction. She spoke with me in an exclusive interview about how she did it.

“There were times when we all thought we were going to lose our hair […] but we developed a very strong team out of it because of what we had to go through together,” she said on navigating her team through the company’s early days of a company merger.

In the interview, Dorman outlined several options for building a strong team. She insists on support from executives, approachable and readily-available training and foregoing a tiered-management structure as key elements to a successful contact center.

The four-part series on www.CallCenterWeek.com emphasizes customer centricity. Dorman stressed that they key to customer care is in making a personal connection, which means creating a culture where employees are viewed as integral to the department and company. Dorman will discuss these topics further at the event. She will also touch on the tools to empower and train employees.

Video: A Look Back on Call Center Week 2015

I’m trying new things, y’all.

In June this year I attended the 15th Annual Call Center Week in Las Vegas. (It also happened to be where I celebrated my 29th birthday.)

CCW first image

Watch Now: A Look Back on Call Center Week

As Content Director, I was tasked with collecting photos, interviews and articles that accurately and educationally showcased the event.

Click on the link to see the final cut!

Complexity Is the Enemy of Customer service

Save money. Save time. These are the main benefits to implementing a truly streamlined technology suite. Call centers all have the same end goal, but has anyone truly created the formula to successfully align technology with business strategy? What are the ways in which call centers or customer care centers can achieve that balance?

Liz Osborn, Vice President of Product and Solution Marketing at Five9, answers all these questions and more.

I interview Liz Osborn, Vice President of Product and Solution Marketing at Five9, about the new face of multichannel interactions.
I interview Liz Osborn, Vice President of Product and Solution Marketing at Five9, about the new face of multichannel interactions.

Your technology should help you achieve three things: Create a better customer experience, increase revenue and improve cross-sell and upsell capabilities, says Liz Osborn, Vice President of Product and Solution Marketing at Five9, which is one of the leading providers in the cloud contact center space and offers inbound, outbound, blended voice services, contact center infrastructure and multichannel.

The modern customer is self-sufficient and prefers self-help customer care models. It’s ever more important, therefore, that your company’s technology works across all channels to not only aid your customers, but more efficiently support all roles in the contact center. Agents, administrators and management all benefit from the universal view achieved with a unified platform and interface.

Complexity is the enemy when it comes to customer service. Call center agents and management need to think about service from the customer’s point of view. The way to do that is by using a unified interface that maintains simplicity for both the agent and the customer. This leads to the question of what next generation multichannel interactions will look like.

The first thing call centers need to recognize is that customers don’t think about the channels they’re using to interact with your company. They don’t understand that – and are unforgiving if – information about them is lost between their interactions with you. Whether they contact you via social media, by picking up the phone, by using live chat, or by physically going to the store, customers expect the company’s technology to follow their touch points and journey.

Context – the ability to seamlessly move from one channel to another and still have memory of previous interactions – should be the main technology piece call centers should look for in the future.
Further, call centers need to utilize technology to analyze predictive behavior based on buying patterns, Liz says. We need to “be able to take that context and add a number of other external triggers of customer history, skills, a number of other SLAs, and make real-time decisions about how to treat that customer and send them to the best resource available,” she says.

But there are three main inhibitors to maximizing agent productivity; the first is in regards to the customer, the second is in regard to the agents,and the third is the operations around the contact center.

1. With the customer the challenge is servicing them in the channel that they really desire. Five9 conducted a survey of customers,
consumers and contact centers. Customers said over 50% of them would move to a competitor if the competitor offered a channel that the current company didn’t.

More and more people want to be served on social. Customers are asking to be served on social, and yet 60 percent of contact centers surveyed aren’t servicing in social.

2. When it comes to the agents, there are a number of challenges involving the rolling complexity of the different channels. Most
contact centers are still in silos, so they have different applications for chat. If they do operate on social channels, they use a different application for it than for other channels such as voice. Five9’s survey found that around 50 percent of agents use more than four applications to service a customers – and many use up to fifteen. These multiple applications are non-productive for an agent and frustrating for a customer.

3. Operationally, call centers need to take a step back and take a holistic look across channels. This can be very challenging, since
most centers have silo channels and struggle to figure out what the customer journey is and what their best SLAs are across channels.
This is further complicated by the dependence on four or five different applications.

To remedy this issue, Liz and her team developed Five9 Connect, which combines email, chat, social, visual IVR and mobile, which she says is “a secret weapon to allow contact centers to really focus their resources on the highest priority interactions. It includes natural language processing that helps contact centers understand what’s important, relevant and trending in all of the text channels, social, email, chat. It includes business roles to apply your policies, and be able to decide where that interaction should go and what priority it should take. And then finally it includes a number of agent assistant tools to allow the agent to quickly resolve what the issue is, whether it’s a customer service or a sales issue.”

The future of call centers is bright. “I love the words of Peter Drucker. He says that, ‘The whole goal of business is to create and keep customers.’ And I think in the future, as time goes on and companies are understanding that the customer and customer service is a competitive differentiator, that contact

centers have more and more of a strategic role to play … creating and keeping customer service and becoming a profit center and more strategic to the business. So I think it’s exciting times ahead.”

Beyond the Headset: Listen to Your Agents to Create Culture

The first step to managing employee expectations, goals and demands
is to understand what those demands are. The only way to do so is to
ask them. Transamerica, a financial services institution, conducts annual
employee satisfaction surveys, but they don’t just complete the survey
and then put it in a box and file it away. They look at them, evaluate
them and then slice and dice them to identify the top three areas of
opportunity. Action plans are then put into place; the results of which
are later communicated to staff.

Crystal Wyland is the Vice President of Customer Experience at Transamerica.
Crystal Wyland is the Vice President of Customer Experience at Transamerica.

In this interview, Crystal Wyland, Vice President of Customer Experience, explains why Transamerica doesn’t just ask for employee’s opinions. They act upon them.

Listening. It’s all about listening. You should listen to your customers; but you should also listen to your employees. Listening is the key interlocking piece that can help you satisfy business demands while also meeting and exceeding employee goals.

Crystal Wyland is the Vice President of Customer Experience at Transamerica, a financial services organization with more than 10,000 employees across the U.S. The firm evaluates employees annually, but they also make a point to conduct a mid-year evaluation for career pathing reasons. Crystal says the regular evaluation of employee performance helps the firm better understand what they’re looking for and perhaps determine other areas of interest within the organization.

Crystal spoke on “Updating Your Recruiting, Training & Developing Practices to Keep Up with Employee and Business Demands” Crystal Wyland, Vice President of Customer Experience, Transamerica When an employee first enters a large organization such as Transamerica, they’re only really aware of the job they’re entering into. So, they created what they called foundations training, which was an idea that was born out of employee satisfaction survey feedback. Now every new employee goes through foundations training to learn the history of the company, the leadership, and the various locations, products and offerings they provide so that an employee is more enabled to see and develop a career path and understand what’s available to them within the organization.

Another example of how evaluations enabled empowerment was with time off.

With contact centers, it’s always difficult to balance how much time to allow off or how many people to allow off in order to still meet service or contractual obligations. There was a period of time where they weren’t balancing it appropriately in the staff’s view, which was hurting morale.

“We didn’t want that, so instead of operning it up on a quarterly basis, we opened [the leave schedule] up for the full year and allowed them to schedule their time throughout the entire year,” Crystal says. “It really did a lot for improving the employees’ morale and meeting their expectations.”

Expedia Has Technology to Thank For Its Five Star Service

Expedia moves millions of people around the world. It supports a multitude of languages, geographies and brands in more than 20 countries. And yet despite its scale, the company excels at making its customers feel like they know them personally. How do they do it? With their technology.

Mikko Ollila is Senior Project Manager at Expedia.
Mikko Ollila is Senior Project Manager at Expedia.
In this interview, Mikko Ollila, Senior Project Manager at Expedia, explains how they empower agents to meaningfully relate to customers.
________________________________________
By Hannah Hager

In an organization that handles millions of calls annually, the task of ensuring agents are effective, efficient and operating in a meaningful way can feel cumbersome. Agents need to be empowered to relate to customers. The key challenge is to have a scaled operation that can quickly ramp up or down agents based on their peak seasons. To address this issue, Expedia relies on its technology suite.

Mikko Ollila is the Senior Project Manager at Expedia. He manages more than 30 call centers supporting 9,000 agents that field customer service and sales calls who handle roughly up to five million calls per month. Not only do his agents take a lot of calls, but they may struggle with relating to what the caller is experiencing.
Travel is highly stressful. The stakes are really high — Expedia’s customers are often celebrating important life events such as honeymoons, anniversaries, reunions or visiting dear friends. If the company drops the ball, it leaves a negative imprint on the customer that is going to stick around, Mikko says.

Reliance on the correct technology is paramount. It allows agents to see a full picture of what happened and take that context to have an idea of what a customer may be calling about. In essence, it enables them to get to the heart of the matter at a faster rate.

“We have a lot of context about you. We know your itinerary; we know what’s happening to your flight or your hotel reservations. You might be flying into some weather and you don’t yet know it yet, but we do,” he says.

In the future, conversations will continue to swirl around multichannel, Mikkos says. Expedia currently has the ability to see what the customer did on their website, on their mobile and what happened if they called or used the IBR. “That tells a complete, almost like a movie, sort of frame by frame of why you are now on the phone with us and how we can best help you,” he says.

An effective technology suite translates to a competitive advantage, Mikko says. Expedia utilizes a broad stack of technologies to store and understand data from various sources. Expedia is building things on Hadoop, which is the open source data source system, and they’re also using external third-party packages, such as Pegasystems for case management. It also does a lot of its own Java-based development.

But, not all call centers have these luxuries. They may lack time, budget, the back-end ability or support from their executive suite.

“The advice from our experience is; ‘Be nimble, be opportunistic, because you have to be, but also keep it in the back of your mind that there will be a day when you might have to pay a price for if you don’t keep yourself in check, and allow your tools to proliferate in an uncontrolled fashion,” he says.
In the future, technology should continue to allow for better one-on-one communication with the customer. Times have changed. Today’s customer expects their brands to know them from all of the different ways they’ve conversed with the company. Every customer wants to feel special and none want to be treated like the next person.

“That change in customer mindset over the past couple years and going into the future has a huge impact on how we’re allowing ourselves to interact with the customers and make those interactions truly more specialized and tailored,” even while they’re dealing with millions and millions of customers, Mikko says. “All this technology that we’ve been talking about really gives us the capability to do [that].”

“Real Help” 211 LA County’s Motto, Is a Model for Customer Experience Success

The theory behind excellent Customer Service isn’t complex: Do everything in your power to assist caller inquiries in a timely manner and do so with a smile. Simple, right? Not so fast. Support environments are complicated and mired with numerous hiccups.

Amy Latzer and her team at LA County's 211 offer "Real Help" to their in-need callers.
Amy Latzer and her team at LA County’s 211 offer “Real Help” to their in-need callers.
Amy Latzer, Chief Operating Officer at 211 LA County, says providing excellent Customer Experience starts with proper training. In this interview, she answers the question, “How do you train and develop a staff that is able to possess a skillset that goes above and beyond the caller’s expectations?”
________________________________________
By Hannah Hager

What is it that your customer wants? This seems to be a simple question, yet the end goal of customer happiness often gets lost in support environments that are mired by multiple transfers, dead-end calls, impersonal agent interactions and disjointed communication across channels. These poor practices damage customer loyalty and, in turn, deliver your clients straight into the hands of your competitors. So how do you temper the issue of when a call center unintentionally loses sight of the end goal: a successful interaction — from the customer’s viewpoint?

An excellent customer experience is always front of mind for Amy Latzer, Chief Operating Officer at 211 LA County. 211 LA County is a private, nonprofit organization based in San Gabriel, CA. Its 60 agents serve all 10 million residents of Los Angeles County, fielding nearly half a million calls per year.  The center, which has been in business for around 35 years, will soon celebrate its 10 year anniversary of receiving the 211 designation.

She and her team are in a unique position when it comes to implementing an effective Customer Experience strategy – 211 callers are most often in a state of mental or physical distress. Therefore, her team must respond in an especially caring and compassionate way from the get-go.

How do you train and develop a staff that is able to possess a skillset that goes above and beyond the caller’s expectations? Amy says it starts with training.

“It starts with the hiring selection.  It really, really requires a very specific skill set and personality type.  These are not easy calls.  We’re handling calls from some of the most vulnerable, at-risk population in LA County,” she says.

Unlike many call centers that field requests that can be mitigated with the click of a few buttons, 211 LA County callers sometimes cannot comprehend or express the root issue of their problem. Further, not only do they not know what they need, they don’t know what to ask for or what resources are available to them. This has potential to significantly dilute the Customer Experience process and underlines the importance of hiring quality from the beginning.

Issues with Customer Experience arise when agents are devoid of training and instead are given checkboxes on a Quality Assessment scorecard. What happens then is that an agent will plug in an empathetic or validating statement somewhere in the call that doesn’t sound natural or make sense. This is not the kind of experience 211 LA County expects from its agents.

To deliver truly exceptional customer service, you have to impress a sense of humanity within your agents, Amy suggests. She trains her agents to be curious, sensitive and possess the natural ability to be and sound empathetic in order to offer the caller validation.

“Real Help” 211 LA County’s service delivery motto, means to impress that the call line is more than just a number and the agents are going to give more than just a number for another service.

Lastly, after the call is concluded, she and her team collect the information from each call in order to analyze the reason behind the call and determine the effectiveness of the service rendered. They couple this with the gathered demographic information, which helps tell the full story of who is really calling. In the end, these steps lead to better referrals and better service.

“Understanding our caller population helps us really paint a picture of our community, so that people are going to have a healthier life and families and individuals will thrive,” Amy says.  “If we do not do a good job, if we do not create a good experience, those opportunities are going to go somewhere else.  So it’s really important that we deliver on that promise.”