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8 contact center best practices

These eight tips, culled from experts such as Donna Fluss and Michael Krigsman, offer insights into how companies can ensure their contact centers are in the best shape possible.

Customer service organizations are getting the big squeeze from managers and customers to do more with social media, video and mobile support. But all these new technologies will not mean much if contact centers do not provide the basics of good customer service by following contact center best practices.

Here are eight tips for improving the customer experience from contact center experts Rebecca Wettemann, Donna Fluss, Kate Leggett and Michael Krigsman.

  1. Run a cloud contact center if it suits the business model.

Cloud computing allows companies to benefit from Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) technologies for their contact centers. No large capital investments are required, and deploying applications in the cloud is fast and efficient. Also, agents can access the software through a standard Web browser.

“Using the cloud for your contact center helps you to manage costs and scale as your needs change,” said Rebecca Wettemann, a research vice president at Nuclear Research in Boston. “If you need people with special skills or technical knowledge, they can be anywhere, and you don’t have to pay them to relocate.”

  1. Use text analytics to monitor the quality of customer interactions and identify cross-sell or up-sell opportunities.

Wettemann said analytics is a more cost-effective and scalable way to monitor phone calls than having somebody listening to them. “Analytics nowadays can even monitor for sentiment and emotion to determine if someone means what he’s saying,” she said.

In addition, analytics helps managers identify trends in complaints, whether they are related to a particular product or even agent. “If you have five people call in to complain about a particular problem, you want to identify that quickly,” Wettemann said.

  1. Hire people who like helping customers and are willing to go the extra mile to get the job done -- then train them properly.

Customer service agents are at the forefront of the business; it’s important to hire the right people to drive its success. One way is to use a competency-based assessment tool to evaluate call center agent candidates as part of the hiring process, according to Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting LLC in West Orange, N.J. Such tools assess skills as well as personality traits to determine whether candidates have the potential to be successful call center agents.

“Empower your staff to get the job done. Give them the training, the tools and the freedom to go beyond the basics and do what needs to be,” she said.

Companies also need to train staffers on their products and culture, along with communication skills. “If you have a culture of service excellence, that needs to be communicated, because it’s not the same in all organizations,” she said.

  1. Have the right management support.

It’s also important to hire the right contact center managers. Competency-based assessments can help companies hire supervisors with the necessary leadership, project management, problem solving and communication skills.

Managers should be as dedicated to their customers as they are to their staffs and organizations. “We shouldn’t train our staffs to do one thing and then have managers do another,” Fluss said. “Managers need to live the culture of service excellence, and that also needs to be demonstrated by the senior executives.”

  1. Don’t forget to listen to your customers.

After every interaction, gather customer feedback and ask open-ended questions to solicit honest opinions, according to Kate Leggett, senior analyst at Forrester Research. In addition, monitor what customers are saying over social channels such as Twitter and Facebook. Then use their opinions to try and improve your products, services and processes, she said.

  1. Give customers the same information regardless of delivery method.

Enable a consistency of information across the different communication channels, Forrester’s Leggett said. “The customer expects to be able to use one communication tool one way and then continue the conversation on another communication channel,” she said. Customer information should be consistent across channels.

  1. Understand the customers.

Customers know what good service is, and they demand it from each interaction over any communication channel they want to use. For instance, younger people are more comfortable using peer-to-peer communication, social networking and instant service channels such as chat, so make those technologies available, Leggett said. Companies have to understand the demographics and communication preferences of their customers and ensure that they can engage with them through various channels.

  1. Don’t install five systems when one is better.

Companies that implement a unified platform to manage, administer and monitor contact center performance can become more productive, save money and inspire customer loyalty.

“You don’t want agents to have to transfer data manually from one system to the next,” said Michael Krigsman, CEO at consulting firm Asuret Inc. “Anything the agent needs to do that takes his attention away from the customer is going to contribute to a less positive experience for the customer. So working within one straightforward system will make it easier for the agent.”

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