New Technology: Yay or Nay?

New tech changes how we perceive the world, it connects us in ways never imagined, however, is it a bane or a boon?

In order for new technology to be embraced by all user groups, it needs to meet these three essential criteria – secure, accessible & reliable.

 

Don’t get obsessed with efficiency

This is basically “New Technology 101”, do not impose the latest technology on customers. It’s the most rookie mistake companies of all shapes and sizes make.

Remember, service and customer experience come first. Implementing new solutions, that will fix efficiency problems within your organisation is a great idea, but at the same time take customer service into consideration. If it will complicate the process for the customer or make them “jump through hoops” it’s a “NO GO”.

Staff and customers alike will cherish technology that speeds up the process and makes it almost unnoticeable.

 

Provide security

Security is crucial, how many media outlets have reported security breaches, within the last year only? Especially when it comes down to the public sector.

Remember, if new technology is to be embraced it needs to be trusted by the customer and staff. Be aware of the fact, the more valuable and complex transaction or process is, the bigger the need for fast and successful resolution.

Fully automated systems can fail, just like humans.

 

Don’t expect a dramatic shift in customer preferences

Plan for the future, implement new technology in order to “catch the wave”, don’t expect an immediate change in customer behaviour patterns. Keep the customers notified of any updates and changes concerning your communication channels.

Simply let them know in a non-intrusive way that they do have additional options, but leave the choice to them – do not impose methods.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that some newer solutions have higher hardware and tech know-how requirements – keep that in mind, when considering abandoning some of the “outdated” systems.

Make the transition easy for the customer.

 

Gather feedback

During the planning process, take notes of what customers and staff want and expect from the CRM technology. Don’t just rely on the IT Department or managers, they might think they do know what’s needed, but in reality, they often don’t.

Equip agents with appropriate “tools of the trade” and create the ultimate customer experience.

Don’t implement new technologies just to reduce costs, you won’t notice a real gain in customer service. Make improvements an integral part of your CRM strategy, the long term goal is building a lasting relationship with customers.

Myths surrounding cloud-based solutions

There’s a whole bunch of myths surrounding cloud-based communication solutions that are mostly used to dissuade enterprises from implementing them. Lack of control over company sensitive data and problems that may occur when integrating cloud-based solutions with other more traditional applications are the two most common concerns.

Companies Lose Control Over Key Data.

This is one of the most common arguments in the effort against cloud-based services. You have zero control over your data, you are at the mercy of your cloud provider when it comes to even the most minute matters like day-to-day changes in configuration or access control.

This argument could not be further from the truth since one of the key advantages is the modular user interfaces developed by providers – those turn into multifunctional tools in the hands of a manager. When it comes to contact centres, the managers can implement vast changes without any involvement from the IT department while even closely monitoring their agents since the tools they are using are fitted to them specifically.

As for the loss of control over key data, every cloud-based system allows storing sensitive information on the client’s premises.

Difficult Integration.

The difficulty with integration is yet another myth that shrouds Cloud solutions. Most customer care centres today operate on-premise based systems that require cost-heavy CTI integration. Cloud, on the other hand, uses latest web services technology. It is designed with the phrase “user-friendly” in mind – making it easier to actually implement into a premise-based system, not to mention other cloud applications.

The Aftermath.

Cloud-based solutions are easily integrated and you don’t loose control over any data. So is this solution right for your enterprise? That is for you to decide.

Keep in mind that consumer demands are on the rise, mobile customer support access, social media integration and much more. Cloud could unify the whole field.

It does not solve all the problems but can solve most of them or in the very least point us to the logical solution.

 

B2B Lead Generation: Quality, Quantity or Both?

Ah yes, the good ole marketing vs sales clash; quantity vs quality – where should we start to in order to solve this conundrum?

To be frank, sales reps need fewer leads, to be precise, fewer unfiltered, unrefined leads.

If a lead is properly and consistently nurtured and developed its chances of “flourishing” into a completed sale increase.

The main problem within companies is that the marketing teams are rewarded for quantity, and not lead quality. Technology also helps with generating those leads at an astounding pace at a relatively low cost. Also, the fact that more than a third of sales reps are missing the quota, doesn’t help either.

To simplify, the usual report from marketing looks like this “Great quarter in lead generation. We generated more than 1564 leads from all sources – that’s a 20% gain over last year. Despite higher PPC cost, we managed to keep our leads under the standard price.”

So when sales executives take a closer look at these not-so-awesome leads, their response is quite harsh:

  • No defined budget info? Begone!
  • Not a senior enough lead? Bye, bye!
  • Planned for next year? Toodles!

The whole mess goes back and forth, without a proper resolution. It’s quite insane, marketing teams think they are keeping their end of the bargain, and they are if you consider things from the volume only standpoint, while sales are dismissing leads, rightfully so, since they are not nurtured.

Companies are also to blame, gambling with leads is a common practice. Why pay twice the average price for a well nurtured, quality lead when you can, pay half of that and gamble a bit, while receiving double the amount of leads with a conversion rate ranging from 20% to 60%.

Lead vendors that dabble in such practices are equivalents of “sweat shops”, pumping out leads “en masse” without consideration for quality. In return, companies waste millions on low quality, poorly qualified leads. There’s also a metric to justify this sort of behaviour, ROMI (return on marketing investment) – sometimes, as little as 20% close rate is considered good. Although, the actual return is, in fact, close to zero.

Since quantity over quality, simply doesn’t cut it, what steps should companies undertake?

  • Measure the quality and cost per ACTUAL lead.
  • An “overseer” (c-level executive) that keeps sales and marketing in check, evaluating their work and making sure both departments have the companies best interest in mind, and not their own.
  • A special group whose focus is nurturing leads till they are sales ready if a particular lead can’t gain momentum this special team will “look under the hood” and diagnose.

BPO & The Cloud: A match Made in Heaven

It’s quite easy to notice the synergies between cloud computing and BPO.

Businesses around the globe acknowledge the benefits of cloud-based solutions and are aware of the competitive advantage those provide. Many enterprises are pushing for transitioning to a cloud-based environment.

This solution is mostly praised by small and mid-sized businesses as it provides a big cost reduction since there is no need to maintain complex in-house systems that require frequent upgrades and support.

This new level of flexibility a cloud-based environment provides is not only faster but more efficient with resource utilisation; your company will have even greater control over IT spending than ever before.

It’s no wonder that BPO and Cloud go so well together since both offer agility, scalability, reliability and cost reduction.

Traditionally, the BPO service provider maintains a large data centre infrastructure with all the technology to run the customer’s business processes. However, if the service provider has his infrastructure in the cloud, it can make it available at a much lower cost. That can even open the possibility of offering business processes from day one, thanks to utilising shared platforms, applications and sometimes whole infrastructures to transform their customers’ business processes.

Cloud’s advantages

The greatest benefit is the coming of the virtual shared service centre. The virtual centre support staffs remain in their offices but work together online in a standardised way.

 

Cost reduction

  • Hosting standard applications. No need to host these applications individually, since cloud BPO providers host them for their clients.
  • Offload capital expenses and move to an operational expense model
  • Control over expenses and operational costs, providers offer most of these services as a pay-per-use.
  • Utilization. Providers are able to achieve a higher utilisation by balancing differing timeliness and work peaks.
  • Reduced need for a disaster recovery plan. Cloud connectivity is a built-in disaster recovery measure.

Standardised

BPO providers have optimised their processes. They also have access to the latest platforms and newest technology. Clients can access these at a much lower cost than if they had to develop them in-house.

Free up internal resources

Since they no longer have to maintain the infrastructure.

Potential risks and challenges

Data protection seems to be the biggest concern since sensitive corporate information is being hosted and accessed over the Web. Service providers must be able to assure their clients about their security practices. (employee background security checks, segregation of employee functions and sufficient encryption.)

Also, compliance with government regulations is a key concern.

 

If BPO providers will be able to solve these issues Cloud will be here to stay for good and will be the most often picked solution amongst customers and providers alike.

 

Turn Your Hiring Program Into a Powerful Retention Tool

Multilingual contact centre managers realise the key to success is having skilled, engaged and fast thinking agents manning the front lines of each campaign.

This is where the hiring program methods distinguish the great contact centres from the decent ones. If you want to provide excellent customer experience with highly engaged agents you need to treat the recruiting process like an agent retention tool and not like the usual agent acquisition process.

The widespread myth of “high turnover rates” is to blame.

Take your time

Careful and precise selection of the most qualified and committed candidates is the best way to reduce attrition among contact centre agents.

Customer service requires a plethora of soft and hard skills and it would be highly unwise to rush the whole recruitment process. Trying to quickly meet the contact centres staffing requirements will only be a waste of time and precious resources.

Screening and filtering are essential steps – don’t skip them.

Overconfidence will get you nowhere

Many contact centre managers make this rookie mistake, overconfidence is your biggest enemy when it comes to turnover rates. Even if your contact centre has an empathetic corporate culture that attracts many candidates, so many that there is always a line of “soon-to-be” agents waiting just outside the door to fill in for your front line “grunts” – it’s not the time to boast.

Having a long line of applicants doesn’t mean they’re all highly qualified and engaged.

Use the numbers to your advantage

Simply “stack the deck” in your favour, a large pool of candidates provides no advantage unless you have tools in place which will help filter out the real talent from replicas.

These tools include:

  • a focused recruiting process
  • screening and assessment techniques and technologies that pinpoint which candidate possess qualities to succeed in the dynamic multilingual contact centre environment
  • realistic job previews, be clear on what is required from potential candidates

Having overbearing numbers of job applicants isn’t anything to brag about, especially in this economy. If you believe that long lines of candidates outside the office are a valid metric of how special your company is we’ve got bad news for you – it’s time to get off your high horse.

If agents are quitting despite the situation of the current job market it might be a sign of poor management

In order to form teams of highly engaged agents and forming a customer-centric climate, you need to view your hiring program as a powerful retention tool.

Reducing Costs While Maintaining Efficiency & Versatility

When operating a multilingual contact centre, customer service costs can add up fast, and over a short period of time they will quickly add up to A LOT.

If you are looking to improve your business’s bottom line, or provide better customer service, you need to implement these methods to reduce customer service costs without sacrificing the support part, and still providing exceptional customer experience.

Equipment

Re-evaluate your equip­ment, it could be cost­ing you more money than you think.  For example, automat­ing your contact centre’s tele­phone sys­tem for the less used cus­tomer ser­vice func­tions could potentially save time and reduce cost on pay­roll and train­ing. Cloud-based technology can also centralise your whole contact centre into one consolidated customer service centre.

  • Phone Sys­tem: Find an appropriate calling system that will streamline the process. An automated attendant or system that reroutes calls to correct contact centre agents quickly can be a life saver, especially during customer service peaks
  • Soft­ware: Is your CRM software integrated with your calling and scheduling systems? If not, make it your top priority.
  • Stor­age: Most on-site systems can be moved to the cloud, especially if they take up valuable space and resources. Evaluate if doing so will help you save on utility costs.

Multi-Channel

Embracing the multi-channel approach, implementing it and then aligning all your communication channels is what all contact centres should aim to achieve in 2015.

It’s not only about the technology, it’s about the people. Your contact centre is as strong as its core employees – the front line grunts, contact centre agents.

Make sure that your teams can handle multiple communication channels, be it email, phone call, live web chat or social media. Assigning two people per campaign to each communication channel might seem a reasonable choice, but in the end, it might cost you more.

Remember about attrition and turnover rates, which despite the efforts of contact centre managers still plague the industry to this day. Train each representative, they need to provide exceptional customer service on each communication channel – versatility is essential.

Also in the case of returning customers, if the same agent handles the quarry throughout all communication channels, it adds a new depth of personalisation thus creating a compelling experience for the customer resulting in increased customer satisfaction.

Cutting customer service costs is not about blindly “swingin’ the ole axe”  and reducing budgets, it’s about making your business more efficient.

Upgrading software, as well as hardware, will lead to increase in employee efficiency while embracing the multi-channel approach and centralising all communication channels will lead to increase in customer satisfaction, both of which will in the long-term lead to better customer retention.

Evaluate budgets, look for ways to increase efficiency, and only then cut costs.

 

How to Make Agile & Outsourcing Work

Can you apply agile methodology when outsourcing software development? Yes.

There are however a few key factors to consider, before applying agile approach to a nearshore software house.

 

Agile Competency

Is your business accustomed and knowledgeable in regards to agile software development as well as agile project management practices? If not, then outsourcing a fraction of your software development efforts will only complicate the process and make it more challenging.

Agile approach requires a lot of open communication, collaboration and trust between all parties involved; the client as well as the nearshoring partner have to be on the same page when it comes to the software development process.  You need at least some semblance of understanding of how agile methodology works and how it’s applied, and if you do not possess the necessary information then it’s advised to pick a partner who does have it instead as he’ll be able to assist and introduce you to it.

What if you already are have a nearshore software development partner but you’re a beginner and have no idea how to properly apply agile methodology to your current situation? Will it make the process more challenging that if you tried this in-house? Well the most obvious answer also happens to be the correct one; yes, it will be more challenging and demanding but with proper fail-safes even this conundrum can be overcome.

Sadly, factors which  impair or complicate communication, collaboration and trust-maintenance have a tendency to challenge agile implementation.

So taking all of the above into consideration, what can we do to ensure not only success but also maintain a desirable cost to quality ratio?  Shift focus to two key areas: vendor evaluation, agile contracts.

So assuming that we must work with an outsourced component of our product development, what can we do to help ensure success? There are two key areas of focus:

 

Vendor Evaluation

While traditional vendor evaluation focuses on process certifications, manpower and rates. Agile vendor evaluation due to its perks focuses on criteria such as:

  • Productivity
  • System quality
  • Flexibility
  • Collaboration level
  • Scalability

The above vendor qualities are tough to measure, they are however essential in selecting a vendor capable of delivering agile software development and project management, which is what a nearshoring partnership should be in an agile environment.

While these qualities of a vendor are not easy to measure, they are relevant in selecting a vendor for an agile development partnership, which is what an outsourcing relationship should be in an agile environment.


Agile Contracts

Agile software development is centred around one key aspect, building mutual trust between software developers and other parts of your business. If you however outsource software development and project management to another company, it can get pretty convoluted as you have to map mutual trust between your organization and the vendor alongside the usual process range.

Now comes the hard part, are you capable of developing contracts which treat your nearshore software-house as a partner?
It can be pretty difficult at first as most outsourcing contracts are written in a manner which focuses on the possibility of collateral damage and have little to do with ensuring the delivery of value.

I’m speaking from experience here but traditional outsourcing contracts usually prohibit change and as a direct result, encourage inflexibility – both of which are the bane of agile approaches. Furthermore, due to how the relationship is fostered, posturing as well as legal action are a common occurrence which unfortunately leads to trust and open communication erosion.

When developing agile contracts, please consider:

  • Focus on processes and their flexibility instead of which specific results they bring as aiming for a specific result doesn’t allow for change or gradual improvement over time.
  • Close collaboration is far more important than strict contract negotiation; your project needs to fulfil your business goal, not your lawyer’s – make him aware of this beforehand.
  • Agile contracts minimise the risk of a lawsuit by maximising software development efficiency – focus on real value delivery.
  • Determine what needs to be contracted and make sure people with vast understanding of how agile processes work are responsible for this step. Once done, consult your lawyer to put it in legalese.

 

Best Practices

The best practices bellow will assist in making outsourced software development more efficient as well help in fostering a working relationship with your nearshore partner:

  • Minimize dependencies
  • Align training, focus on common team practices and tools
  • Integrate teams and work (mix in-house and outsourced teams and tasks)
  • Enable continuous improvement by including outsourcing partner on customer feedback

Mixing agile methodology with outsourcing adds additional challenges to software development. However, you can minimise the magnitude of these challenges by applying more agile-friendly criteria during partner selection as well as contracting them in a manner which focuses on delivering real value, encouraging flexibility and not impeding collaboration.

Coaching is an Art Form

Suffering from poor agent performance and not reaching targets is a common occurrence in the contact centre industry.

Managers facing such issues approach their staff and try to push them to work harder and just “be” more efficient as if that alone was enough to boost their productivity as well as solve underlying causes.

But as with all choices made under pressure, this one isn’t the optimal solution. Team leaders and supervisors often think they are coaching their contact centre agents but in reality, they are simply highlighting problems and ask to “magically improve performance”, without providing any coaching whatsoever.

Improving coaching skills should be a priority for each and every supervisor.

 

Support & challenge

Remember, your staff is already frustrated and demotivated after not being able to hit the predicted targets. Those relatively easy goals are becoming impossible – adding more pressure from their managers could be fatal to your business.

Support and nurture your agents, especially when morale is down. Provide challenges as well as goals to reach but at the same time establish clear and reachable goals.

 

The “I want to…” not “I have to” approach

Time should never be a reason for a poor coaching session or a complete lack of one. This is your job as the manager – don’t ever label coaching as “wasted time”.

Remember to engage the coachee in such a way, that he or she will leave the session with a sense of involvement in the coaching process, help them identify the problem themselves – this will strengthen their desire to improve their skills.

Highlight the good and the bad, give your agents “contrast”. Encourage self-development, it’s a great asset, especially in the outsourcing industry.

 

The coaching plan

Prepare a solid coaching structure, one that addresses each potential issue, remember about proper questioning techniques. The plan is vital, it will bring consistency to your sessions and will put the “value” back into coaching as an art form.

Just be sure to keep it simple, clear and involve agents as much as possible – interactive coaching is the best possible solution to performance issues.

 

The process

  • Introduce; make it clear from the get-go, what is expected from both parties involved and what should be the outcome.
  • Pinpoint;the problematic area by listening to recorded calls, reviewing data entry quality or missed sales opportunities. Finding and reviewing particular problems alongside the agent will provide tremendous insight when you compare both sets of information.
  • Summarise;make notes, ask simple open questions. Ask the agent, what they did well and what areas need to be improved upon? Let them explain “How” will they improve, offer tips and exercises.

 

The outcome

Through proper engagement during coaching sessions, you will create value for the activity – no longer, will it be considered a mere “time sink” by agents and managers alike.

The feeling of self-development is a tremendous morale booster and will benefit your staff as a whole.

Your business will thrive thanks to improvements in key areas such as; customer contacts, sales conversation, staff and customer retention.

How to Hire Great Software Developers

Tech savvy entrepreneurs know all too well a high performing, software development team is the difference between successful product launch or failure to meet consumer expectations.

Recruiting developers can be quite the daunting task, especially if you have no coding experience or if you’re an absolute newbie to software development.

We have sat down with our CTO, who provided their 10 tips for evaluating top development talent:

Skill and culture specifics

Create a list of all the required skills the person needs to fill the position, as well as bonus ones the ideal candidate will poses. There’s no such thing as a “perfect candidate”, however you can come pretty close.

When hiring an iOS developer for example, he or she must know:

  • Objective C
  • Optionals
  • Control Flow
  • Classes, inheritance & initialization
  • Error handling

Which have to be evaluated during the initial screening process, however if it would be a bonus if they knew PHP for backend development purposes, but it won’t be used regularly then don’t disregard candidates because they’re inexperienced in a particular programming language.

Being too picky ends in chasing engineering unicorns, thus vastly lengthening the hiring process.

Furthermore, it’s not all about hard-skills as a cultural fit is just as important. Remote teams do not mesh with candidates who require hand holding and if you’re entire company maintains a professional image, then some of the “rock-star” archetypes will disrupt your entire work flow.

Know your company culture, ask appropriate questions to determine what type of working environment the candidate prefers and performs best in.

Market price

You can’t grab great talent at a bargain bin price, software developers are in high demand and it’s only going to go up. When eyeing a potential hire research properly and know the real market price as losing a candidate to another opportunity, or overpaying for an under performer can be quite devastating – plus word would get out that you aren’t savvy enough, which has dire long term consequences.

Have a budget, plan around it and know exactly what skill set you’ll get for it.

Team players

Software developers are notorious for being loners who don’t do team work well, which would be fine if their only obligation was to code all day. Unfortunately it’s not the case as they also have to respond to requests in a timely manner, participate in mandatory project meetings and coordinate with other team members.

Communication skills are often undervalued, but they tend to be the real deal-breakers for experienced CTOs. Which should come as no surprise, since ensuring your software development team runs like a well oiled machine takes more than just hard skills.

Deadlines

You know what’s the worst case scenario in the software development world?

A developer who ensures you he’s fine and will make it before the deadline, but fails to deliver at the last possible moment, and you find out he’s not even close to submit code, thus he sets the whole project back or even your whole company as a result.

This is why product roadmap deliverable and iteration cycles are the main driving force behind software development – they’re always tied to deadlines.

Provide certain scenarios to potential hires and ask about deadlines. Note their answers and reactions; what happens if they don’t hit deadlines and most importantly, how will they alert their manager when they fall behind.

Standards

Coding standards can be detrimental when it comes down to potential bugs, crashes or other issues.

You want to make sure your software engineers will be able to provide clean code, written with industry best practises in mind and with sufficient comments – such code will not cause any issues once someone else has to takes over.

Enforce uniform standards across all aspects of your company, ask for proper documentation to ensure quality – you don’t want to end up with spaghetti-code.

Coachability

An employee who can’t take feedback is the biggest problem any employer can face.

Unfortunately software developers can take negative feedback or any non-self imposed changes to their code quite personally – this is why your potential candidates need to be coachable.

Ease your software developers in and get them accustomed with the process, after a while they’ll not only take coaching, but will also want it themselves as they’ll notice the true long term value it provides.

Portfolio

Don’t be surprised if a software engineer sends you their portfolio as it’s a common approach, however instead of taking it at face value ask to see a demo of the product. That way you’ll be able to see their skills in action and also check their references by actually confirming they worked on the product.

Live coding

The most enjoyable interview for a software developer is a live coding test, and rapid prototyping a feature is by far the best approach to see if a candidate really is adept at a certain skill – it’s a win/win for both parties involved.

If a potential hire really stands out from the rest, it might be wise to let them work alongside your software development team to see how well he meshes with the group and how others respond to him – don’t be afraid to try novel solutions.

Watching a developer code while simultaneously having him explain his thought and work process to you can be essential in making the right choice as you’ll experience firsthand if they’re a good fit.

Don’t rush

Rushing is never advised as it will land you the wrong fit every time. Create a multi-stage, recruitment process which includes a phone/VOIP screening, an in-person interview, a peer interview and a live coding test. These stages will reveal any red flags before you hire, but also confirm their skill set and ensure they’re a cultural fit as well.

Networking

Developers know other developers, even if only by virtue of their profession and the highly specialised industry, but think about your long term goals and try to hire people capable of bringing their networking assets over to your company.

Learn to leverage your employee contacts and networking skills, and never settle for hiring a single developer – plan for the future.

Look for potential leaders when hiring software developers, you might be just starting out, but your end-goal is to have a highly functioning software house at your disposal, which can’t be achieved without charismatic people at the helm.

 

Keep The Leadership Framework Simple

The concept of what constitutes as “high performance” isn’t new to customer care experts, unfortunately implementation methods are in need of tweaking.

Depending on the objectives set by the higher echelon of managers and the frame of reference used , the definition of high performance can vary and will have many different iterations and interpretations. Most of the time however, high performance correlates with staff engagement levels and returns on shareholder’s investments – contentment and satisfaction.

Leadership framework

We should ask ourselves if we are focusing our efforts on the tasks which provide maximum return value.

Simple and clear expectations

Make the team aware of what is expected – this is your number one priority as a leader. You don’t want your employees guessing what their goals are (and that’s the best case scenario).

Those expectations should be: clear, simple and actionable, but at the same time refined to fit each team or project separately.

Everyone needs to know exactly how they can help. Positive reinforcement is also a great morale booster – everyone’s contribution to the project is valued.

Leave no room for interpretation, this will remove confusion and will lead to greater understanding of the expectation – it will unify the team on a personal level. Working for the common goal.

Provide support

Our role isn’t complete after setting transparent expectations, we need to provide support for our staff; guide and help them gain the needed knowledge in order to complete the desired goal.

We can support our employees in multiple ways: feedback collection, coaching, training and development through courses. We need to equip our agents and managers with the best tools of the trade, to not only meet the required expectations, but to excel.

Relevant feedback provides great insight on performance, and coaching will reinforce positive behaviour.

Reinforce consequences

Positive reinforcement plays a key role in proper employee management. It might sound trivial, but it’s up you to determine what behaviour as well as corresponding consequences will be accepted or reprimanded – either directly or indirectly. If you want certain patterns replicated, you need to reward employees and the actions that led to them. At the same time manage those falling short of mark appropriately.

…and more

The points mentioned above are just a simple framework that can be used by leaders, supervisors and managers to define boundaries within which they operate.

Contact and call centres are a highly measurable environment, thanks to the metrics used to evaluate all aspects of its functions. High performance should be achievable if you: set expectations, provide support and utilise consequences to reinforce desired behaviour.

Your main role as a leader is to make the message clear.