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3 Components of Best-in-Class Social Support

customers request social support


Social media has become one of the BIG THREE customer service channels—especially in B2C—joining phone and email to form the triad of support modalities. But customers have high expectations, and there aren’t many companies meeting them.

Market Reality – Emerging Expectations

What are the emerging expectations from customers seeking support through social channels? You need to be fast and always on.

Jay Baer says his social research indicates that rapid reaction from a brand is becoming the norm.

  • 32% of customers who have contacted a brand on social media expect a response within 30 minutes.
  • An additional 42% expect a response within 60 minutes.
  • 57% of respondents expect the same response time at night on the weekends as during normal business hours.

Market Reality – Falling Short

The reality is, most companies just aren’t meeting these consumer expectations. According to the State of Customer Service Experience 2015:

  • 33% of consumers who contact a brand on social media never get a response.
  • Of all channels, social media has the lowest percentage of issue resolution and follow-up, with only 13% and 9%, respectively.
  • 63% of consumers have to engage with a brand two or more times on social media before a customer service inquiry or issue is resolved.
  • Despite the immediacy of social media, only 13% of consumers get a response within minutes.
  • 26% of consumers turn to social media when they can’t reach a rep through another channel—the highest of all reasons—indicating that many use social as a last resort.

Organizations have been quick to socially visible, yet have struggled to build a support structure to understand and respond to customer expectations; equip themselves with the tools, resources and training to enhance the customer experience in social support interactions; delineate between marketing coverage and customer care and support; and utilize data to better inform and optimize the customer support experience.

3 Components of Best-in-Class Social Support

There are three best practices to ensure customer satisfaction and achieve success with a social customer support program.

1. Immediate Response

To meet consumer expectations of response and resolution within a very short time frame, a social support should include the following:

  • Active listening for specific, actionable support issues requiring immediate identification and resolution
  • Workforce management practices to ensure adequate staffing during periods of peak response volumes
  • Timeliness metrics to assure issues are identified and addressed in a timely manner
  • Customer satisfaction measurement on all support issues to continually assess performance in relation to meeting customer expectations

2. Social Support Issue Data Analysis

Data plays a crucial role in defining and solving customer complaints. A successful program will aggregate support issue data to assist with identification of new and emerging issues. Once resolutions have been determined for those issues, (reliable, confirmed fixes), best practice is to use that data to create resolution-related content pieces to be proactively shared and promoted on customer forums and other watering holes. Customers can then find this content before experiencing the problem or before contacting support to solve the problem. The organization should also add the solutions to the enterprise knowledge base, as well as new and recurrent agent training modules.

3. Customer Persona and Journey Mapping

Speaking of data, a successful social support program will also use aggregated support data to create a customer “Care Persona.” This persona considers the various means of resolution customers pursue to “self-serve” their issues and addresses the tools they use in that process.  It seeks to assure those who choose to “self-serve” have the tools they need to achieve success on their own without intervention. The Care Personas also identify where in the customer journey customers are experiencing challenges and categorizes customers based upon their attempted resolution behavior.

Accurate, data-based Care Personas help organizations to better enable support personnel by assisting them in recognizing customer issues and equipping them with resources to more quickly and effectively solve those issues. They also enable the organization to build fixes into the support system to aid in the speed at which agents can respond.

Improve Customer Experience AND Reduce Support Costs

While this type of approach clearly addresses issues related to providing a better, more balanced customer care and support structure, it also has a significant impact on reducing support costs. Support issues often arise in the social sphere ahead of traditional mediums (phone, email, chat, etc.). As a result of this “early warning,” we have the opportunity to update the customer facing knowledgebase and create training content for our call center agents. This means we are better prepared to manage support tickets for these issues and can solve social inquiries before they reach the phone lines.

For example, one consumer electronics manufacturer noticed that, for each of the respondents whose issues we have resolved through social channels, 70.4% indicated that their next course of action was to reach out to the contact center if their issues wasn’t resolved. By resolving these customer issues on-line we are able significantly reduce costly on-phone handle times and drive down overall support costs.

All in all, social support isn’t going away. If you haven’t already, it’s time to integrate it as an integral part of your support strategy and allocate resources appropriately. You’ll not only reap the rewards of satisfying your customers (that demand an always-on social presence), but you’ll also reduce costs associated with more expensive support channels.

How to Engage Your Organization in Supporting Your CX

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 3.11.35 PMMost of the companies we work with have a difficult time executing against a unified customer experience as different groups within the organization have different definitions and perceptions of what that experience should be. Customer Service tends to have a reactive approach, measuring performance through CSAT, response time, and reaction to market “noise”. On the other hand, Sales and Marketing may offer a different point of view of the customer experience, focusing more on the vision of what the buying experience should be. But rarely is this vision effectively operationalized across the organization consistently.

This lack of consistency across an organization can lead to conflicting goals and actions that create unintentional barriers to the customer experience, for example:

  • Difficult online order processes
  • Unfriendly return policies
  • Unusable or unsuitable IVR systems
  • Insufficient customer support representative staffing/management
  • Cumbersome promotions that do not consider customer effort
  • Loyalty programs built without considerations of support needed
  • Marketing campaigns that focus on product features rather than customer benefit

When working with customers, we follow a three step process to create and execute a cohesive customer experience across your organization.

1) Map your customer journey

Fortunately, we now have a wealth of information and data that can be used to develop a roadmap of our customer journey and the effectiveness of each touch point within that journey. Customer experience is about interactions, and those interactions usually leave a trail of data that can be analyzed, understood and modeled. These interactions can include:

  • Product awareness: ease of access to information needed to make purchase decision through traditional, web and social channels
  • Purchasing process: CRM data analysis, IVR mapping, website content and traffic patterns
  • Expectations of support: self-help, traditional support, social support, web-based content, videos
  • Customer feedback: what mechanisms are in place, what is the process to address customer problems

In addition to analyzing data, you should spend some time being the customer of your own company and understanding how your organization presents itself to your customers (think “Undercover Boss”).

2) Identify the customer pain points

Understand that this can be an uncomfortable exercise. The issues you identify can be frustrating and often require you to admit that your current process isn’t working from the customer’s perspective…..even though they may seem well intended.

Using the data compiled in the previous step, identify the major points in your customer journey that are distracting from the customer experience. You may identify pages on your website that have high drop-off rates, low opportunity conversion rates for specific staff members, or specific promotions that do not generate repeat business.

Find and map these customer termination points against your customer journey, and then work to engage all groups that affect customer experience to help implement improvements, including customer support, sales, marketing, service, technology, and human resources.

3) Evangelize a unified customer experience vision

Once you’ve implemented resolutions to your customer pain points, you can start the process of engaging the entire organization and rallying around a single customer experience vision. Executive level sponsorship and commitment is critical to the success of this process. The executive team needs to make it known to all departments that customer experience is the top priority, and that resources should be focused on that single goal of customer experience.

Create and evangelize a set of universal tenants that embody the vision and commitment that should govern all customer interactions, for example:

  • Interactions should be easy, fast and personal (when possible)
  • Support personnel should be informed and empowered to resolve problems
  • Content should be available in many forms and naturally consumed (knowledgebase articles, how-to videos, etc.)
  • Tone should be consistent and speak the language of the customer

If you implement these three steps, you will have gone a long way in enhancing your customer experience and rallying your organization around supporting that journey. Ultimately it’s all about how you define and express your culture, and how well your culture matches your customers’ expectations. And most importantly, approach it as an ongoing process, continuing to identify areas of improvement and opportunity.

Rusty Langford is Vice President Client Services, Harte Hanks Contact Centers. Have you championed a customer experience vision at your organization? Share your experience with us on Twitter @hartehanks.

How Pharmaceutical CRMs Can Lead to Healthier Relationships

Boosting physician and patient engagement

pharma CRM postCustomer Relationship Management (CRM) software offers a great deal of potential for the pharmaceutical industry. However, this is a complex sector, riddled with regulations surrounding sensitive data. It is not easy to find a solution that fits business needs while complying with relevant laws. This is especially true at an international level when different rules need to be observed for different countries.

Purchasing a standard CRM solution and trying to adapt it to various business and regulatory requirements is time consuming and difficult. Inevitably it involves compromise and hidden expense.

Instead, many pharmaceutical companies could benefit from international CRM programs that are purpose-built from the ground up by a marketing services provider.

Bespoke CRM for pharmaceuticals

A truly customized approach uses business goals as a starting point and builds a CRM framework around them. This ensures variations across different countries can be accounted for and embraced at an early stage, rather than being bolted on later. The result is a highly specified solution intrinsically optimized to meet business needs. It can have built-in scalability and the flexibility to handle international differences in data laws or standard practice, such as call centre versus nurse-led activity.

Ultimately, custom-built CRM offers better value and efficiency. Adapting existing systems is expensive, license fees can be high and product release cycles can delay the implementation of certain functionalities.

Using an MSP to build, manage and implement the solution brings multiple advantages. Since all aspects – from database management to phone calls, emails and SMS to direct mail – are handled by one organization, the program is more cohesive and affordable. What’s more, sensitive data is all held securely in one place.

Physician and patient communications

The best pharmaceutical CRM programs empower physicians and patients to make better, more informed choices – whether they’re prescribing treatment or following it.

Meeting physicians in person is becoming increasingly difficult for pharmaceutical companies. Physicians are often under pressure to see a certain number of patients per day, leaving limited time for meeting with third parties. Some countries also have complex regulations surrounding personal interaction between pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals. In many cases, direct marketing can play an effective role alongside or in place of face-to-face meetings. It enables physicians to keep abreast of the latest developments in treatments and processes such as pharmaceutical-led patient support.

Patient-focused activity varies depending on the nature of the patient’s condition, where they are in the treatment cycle, the level of data available and nuances of their country of residence. Naturally, when more is known about a patient, activity can be better tailored to their current needs and communications become more meaningful.

A central aim of pharmaceutical CRM should be fostering good relationships between patients and physicians. This means acknowledging the authority of the physician in prescribing drugs, while enabling patients to get more out of their appointments and the overall treatment. Ideally communications should operate progressively, supporting patients as they move from the initial awareness that they may have a certain condition, to actively acknowledging it, then learning to live with it. The latter stage is vital to boost adherence to treatment regimen and enhance overall patient outcomes.

Overcoming challenges

There are many challenges facing the marketing of pharmaceuticals today. However, deeper engagement rooted in custom-built CRM can help navigate many of them.

Direct alignment of patient and physician communications is complex from a data perspective, but with care and attention it can usually be achieved. Bespoke CRM programs can incorporate specific opt-in language to overcome many of the barriers surrounding sensitive data. This ensures that patients who are happy to share their data can access the wider support that is on offer should they need it.

Achieving buy-in from physicians and patients is not easy – nor should it be. Pharmaceutical organizations need to earn trust and loyalty over time. Striving for better, deeper engagement is a critical factor. An effective way to realize this in the short- to medium-term is through the empowerment of patients and physicians, arming them with knowledge and information so they can make informed choices. In the longer term, improved patient outcomes will speak for themselves.


Harte Hanks handles CRM programs for leading global pharmaceutical companies. Patient data is handled sensitively and an integrated approach ensures improved patient support and outcomes. Natalia Gallur has more than ten years’ experience in the sector.


Four Simple Ways to Amplify Your Customer Support with Social Media

Social Media-BlogSocial media is quickly becoming a critical factor in augmenting and enhancing your customer support strategy. Last week, I participated in an industry roundtable hosted by CRM Magazine on the subject. When businesses think of social media, it’s often in terms of marketing or public relations. And while social media is a great tool to help extend both, its impact goes beyond promoting and marketing your company. Increasingly, social media has become a powerful contributor to customer service and support. Customers are now powerful influencers. They take to social media to talk about brands and products – positively and negatively – in an attempt to influence their peers and the brands they buy from. So how do you influence the influencers, and utilize social media to enhance your customer service?

  1. Start by listening.

The first step in extending your customer support system through social media is to listen – and learn. Start by scanning social media channels for complaints, compliments and questions about your brand. Find out who is talking about your brand (customers, prospects, competitors?) and what they’re saying. You can learn a lot about customer pain points and perceptions that you might not learn through your contact center customer support. You will quickly identify areas of opportunity and then you can build a cohesive strategy, start to engage with your customers and prospects – and begin to influence the conversation around your brand.

  1. Set the rules of engagement.

Social media can be a bit like the Wild West – an unpredictable place where anything goes. As such, it is important for brands to devise a set of rules and operational goals. Who will be authorized to speak for your company on social media? How will they go about engaging customers? At what point should a public conversation be moved to a private conversation? Will you have a proactive presence as well as a reactive one? How will your social presence support your brand promise?

A defined social strategy is paramount. Social media is a free-flowing, casual platform that requires 24/7 resources. A single poor choice of words or an ill-timed post can damage your brand. As an example: If a consumer posts a message that your product injured them and you respond by apologizing, you may have implied guilt without knowing any of the facts. Your rules of engagement will ensure that your social customer support benefits both your brand and your customers.

  1. Ready, set, engage.

Your strategy is set, and you’re ready to go. Now it’s time to engage. Find someone who is talking about your brand and start a conversation through authentic engagement. It’s not unusual to find that customers are already reaching out to you using social channels. Whether it’s thanking someone who complimented your brand – or engaging with someone who is seeking assistance with your product or service – a simple conversation can go a long way in changing the perception of your brand. And you just might learn something you hadn’t previously considered. More often than not, the audience you engage via social media will be completely different from those who contact your customer service center. They may have a similar issue or topic, but they are approaching you from a position of influence. Consider it an opportunity to become an invited contributor into a public conversation. When handled correctly, social customer engagements can turn antagonists into fans who will spread the gospel of your brand.

  1. Inject helpful content.

Social customer support should be as proactive as it is reactive. Helpful content – like “how to” guides or useful tips about your product – will help you engage with your customers after the sale, positioning your brand as one that is consistently connected with and cares about its customers. When injecting marketing content into your social presence, be careful not to push hard sales messaging. Imagine social media platforms as a conversational dinner party. It is OK to talk positively about your brand, but hard sell tactics go against what is considered to be a good “social citizen.” Social media audiences can spot a pitch from a mile away and nothing will turn your community away faster.

The Harte Hanks contact center teams and agents utilize these techniques to manage social commentary and customer support for many of their clients. If you would like to dive deeper into how social can enhance your customer support, you can view our roundtable discussion on Destination CRM here.

Elevate Your Contact Center Through Smarter Agent Workspace

contact-center-3This is my third blog post on contact service solutions this month. This blog series has been designed to help our readers understand and create “smarter customer interactions” including recommendations on customer experience technology solutions. This week, I want to share insights and tips on how to improve customer experiences through the creation of strong agent workspaces.

As Andrew Harrison notes in his blog post on building customer loyalty through contact centers, a well-trained agent can be a make-or-break touch point in the customer lifecycle. Creating a smart agent workspace can be one of the best investments you make when it comes to customer experiences. And that doesn’t simply mean hiring strong agents. We can take the experience many steps further once the customer is connected to an agent via chat, email, social or voice.

Create a Smarter Agent Workspace

So what is the first step? It is to create one single solution for support agents to use. Most customer support programs require agents to access more than one system to solve the customers’ problem, such as order management systems or any other source customer database. Once you are in an environment where agents have to log in and launch multiple systems to handle an incident, you have instantly increased the time it takes for the agent to help the customer. If these systems require the agent to re-enter the same data you have also decreased the integrity of your customer data as a whole, due to manual errors that occur when reentering data into multiple systems.

Knowing that most programs will require multiple systems, there are a few easy steps you can take to simplify the process:

  1. Implement a single sign-on strategy. Give the agent one login for all the systems they need to access to immediately reduce training issues and interaction time.
  2. Expose those external systems into the CRM. Using browser controls you can launch external systems inside the CRM, allowing agents to work out of one system to reduce handle time and decrease redundant data entry. This saves money and improves data integrity.
  3. Make sure to design your workspace to keep relevant customer data on display throughout the interaction. Customers are most satisfied when the agent is able to concentrate on the interaction and not struggle with the systems. Handling an issue quickly and on the first call improves your customer satisfaction score. Dock key data points for viewing at all times. Exposing relevant customer data to the agent at call arrival and enabling the agent to see the entire customer picture on one screen increases their ability to resolve the customers’ issues quickly and during the first interaction.

Putting Our Tips Into Practice

Let me walk you through a real world program that required us to implement all of the best practices I just described. Harte Hanks was helping a large entertainment provider launch a new subscription service that allowed viewers to watch their programming via online streaming. The support had to cover phone, email, chat and social channels, as well as subscriptions, billing and technical support. Harte Hanks had to launch a support system less than 30 days prior to the first major online event, and we had to make sure our solution and agents could handle a peak of up to 240,000 calls per hour. No big deal, right?

We quickly implemented Oracle Service Cloud, our preferred solution and a great platform to use as a foundation. Then, we trained agents to handle the interactions as quickly as possible to address the massive amounts of call volume. To do this, we loaded the Service Cloud with ongoing data from all of the streaming service customers to ensure our agents had access to information on any customer that contacted us. We immediately applied CTI functionality that would automatically bring up the customer’s record and history when a call was connected to the agents. This reduced the amount of time agents spent searching for customers in the system. We had to make the work flow fast to handle the volume.

Next, we set out to find ways to reduce the expected volume. We wanted to deflect calls while still keeping the customers satisfied. Using the customer portal, we designed an easy-to-use customer support site that allowed customers to find the answers to their questions quickly and easily. We published the “Contact Us” information inside the support site to drive customers to the site before reaching out for live support. Then we integrated our IVR to offer up automated services such as “Forgot Password,” allowing us to identify the subscriber while in the IVR and see if they had not logged into the service recently. If it had been a while since they last logged in, the team assumed they may have forgotten their password and offered an option to reset it from the IVR.

These technologies allowed us to reduce the volume, but what else could we do? Using our call and screen recording solution, we were able to evaluate how the call flows changed over the course of the program. We noticed that data elements we had placed on tabs inside the workspace were now relevant earlier in the interaction. So we redesigned the workspace to match the new flow, keeping not only the customer data but also the device information docked and visible to the agent at all times on the workspace.

Lessons learned? As programs evolve, technology should as well. Watch how your agents are using your solutions and make adjustments that will continuously improve the quality of your programs. If you invest in a great customer support site, use the insights from that site and apply key integrations and technologies to the agent workspace.

We’ve covered a lot these past few weeks in regards to improving customer experiences and satisfaction through the contact center. Using the technology solutions that I’ve outlined will help get you on well on your way to creating smarter customer interactions.

The 4 Biggest Challenges Facing B2B Tech Marketers Today (Part 3)

Maximizing ROI with Fewer Resources and Smaller Budgets


If you’ve been following my four-part series on the biggest challenges impacting B2B tech companies today, you’ll have already picked up some tips on maximizing your tools and technologies and generating high-quality, real-time data.

In this post, I’m going to address one of the most pressing and urgent pain points that marketers face today: how to show an increased return on investment for marketing activities despite shrinking head counts and budgets.

CHALLENGE #3: How do I Maximize ROI with fewer resources and less investment?

With the rise of data analytics, there is more pressure to measure results and account for ROI on ever dollar spent. At Harte Hanks, we’ve found two complementary solutions that work best for driving ROI without hiring a team of marketers or straining existing budgets: Marketing Automation and Centralized Tele-services Programs.

Marketing Automation: Marketing automation platforms help plan, coordinate, manage and measure all of your marketing campaigns, making them more personalized, effective and efficient. The best part is they are executed just as the name suggests­­ – automatically, with minimal need for resource oversight.

Marketing automation has been a buzzword for a few years now, but according to Sirius Decisions, in 2014 85% of B2B marketers using marketing automation platforms feel they are not using them to their full potential. My colleague Anthony Figgins recently wrote about creating more relevant, personal customer interactions using marketing automation as well as some tips for getting started, which I’ve summarized here:

 5 Tips for Implementing Marketing Automation

  1. Pick the tools that best suit your business needs: Identify a tool that fits your goals and budget. We suggest tools that prevent unhealthy data and support better conversion rates, progressive profiling and social integrations.
  1. Select the right team: Because of the complex nature of many marketing automation systems, training will be crucial to success. Empower your team to know, understand and follow best practices and spend an adequate amount of time with vendors to fully immerse with the systems.
  1. Integrate your automation marketing platforms with a CRM system:Many brands use marketing automation solely as an email platform and then sync data with a CRM system. Your marketing automation platforms should work in tandem with your CRM to tell a holistic, cohesive story to and about your customers.
  1. Engage your sales force: Your sales team is the eyes and the ears in the field. They know what is happening with your customers. They can be an excellent source of knowledge about what is working and what needs to be re-evaluated.
  1. Have a plan, process and goal for your tools: Integrate and build processes early to ensure the success of your marketing automation systems. Take a crawl-walk-run approach: Start with an email, then test and refine based on real-time data.

Centralized Teleservices Program: While automating your marketing processes is a sure path to increase ROI, a complementary hands-on approach through a consolidated telemarketing program can also contribute to the bottom line. By simplifying engagement through a central point and single CRM, companies can drive and support both inbound response management to ensure quality customer experiences and outbound lead generation to drive new business.

I’ll give you an example. One of our B2B tech clients was challenged with a waning sales pipeline and declining brand awareness. They had a decentralized model with multiple local agencies, which led to inconsistent service, process, pricing, training, reporting and management. With all of these inefficiencies, the sales pipeline was clearly suffering and the customer experience was fragmented and inconsistent.

Harte Hanks collaborated with the client to design and execute a centralized telemarketing program. The new program offered marketing efficiencies and a commonality of process through a single CRM. Customer experience and sales ROI improved dramatically through simplified engagement with one central support system that drove inbound response management and outbound lead generation.

Through handling 128,000 calls and 30,000 customer and prospect interactions in a centralized manner, the client increased its sales pipeline 300 percent and qualified leads to pass to sales by 500 percent.

With marketing automation and centralized tele-services, marketers can save money and time while still driving ROI.

Join me next week for our final installation of this series: How to unify communication strategies across channels to drive customers through the buyer journey.


Tips to Create Smarter Customer Interactions Using Innovative Technology Solutions — The Voice Channel

contact-center-2Last week, I published a blog post to help our readers create smarter customer interactions from a custom experience standpoint, including recommendations on customer support websites. This week, I’ll share some insights and tips on how to improve customer experiences through the voice channel.

 Using the Voice Channel to Create Smarter Customer Interactions

A crucial second step in creating smarter customer interactions via contact center solutions is through the voice channel. There are three common technologies that you can use in new ways to take your support to the next level:

  • Integrate interactive voice response (IVR) services with your CRM. Since most CRMs have easy-to-use APIs to access customer and incident data, this has become a quick and inexpensive solution. When you are able to identify customers in the IVR by accessing CRM data you can provide them with smarter IVR features. Once you have a view of the customer and possible reasons for the call you can tailor your IVR self-help options in real time or apply custom routing to get the caller to the best-suited support agent.
  • Most of you are aware of computer telephony integration (CTI) / screen pop technology because it has been available for quite some time. Leveraging CTI technology can help populate the customer’s information (way beyond just a name) to the agent as the call is connected. You can instantly display open orders, tickets and account status. These can come from inside the CRM or from various systems via API calls. This puts all relevant customer data in front of the agents, reducing the search time. The agent now has insight into the customer before they have asked the first question.
  • Expose all relevant customer data to your CRM. This can be done by importing the data or exposing it via APIs. Good examples of data sources you should be tapping into are the marketing database and order management systems. By integrating your CRM with your marketing database you now have the ability to identify the customers needing support even if they have never contacted the support team before.

Check back next week as I will be sharing more insight into contact center solutions, including how to create smarter agent workspace.

Tips to Create Smarter Customer Interactions Using Innovative Technology Solutions — The Customer Support Site

contact-center-1A few weeks ago, I participated in a webinar with CRM magazine, and discussed how to create smarter customer interactions and more effective contact centers. I have dedicated the last several years at Harte Hanks specializing in Customer Experience Support solutions, leading a team of technology experts who specialize in Oracle Service Cloud for Contact Centers. Today, I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences on defining what a “smarter customer interaction” means, as well as suggestions on customer support tools that can improve your overall customer experience.

Defining Smarter Customer Interactions

At Harte Hanks, we have been specializing in smarter customer interactions for 80 years. But what do “smarter customer interactions” actually look like? I’d suggest the following:

  • Enable your customers to find answers to their questions quickly and accurately.
  • Allow them to find answers using their preferred method of communication whether that is social media, digital chat, self-help, email, voice or video
  • Require that customer support representatives have easy access to data and tools that enable them to focus on the customer interaction and solve any issue in a timely manner
  • Improve your Contact Center continuously via learning from previous customer interactions and observed behaviors

Let’s take a look at the steps you can take to create smarter customer interactions.

Start with a Great Customer Support Website

Your starting point should always be a customer support website. When executed properly, a great support site can allow customers to self-help by finding the answers they need quickly and efficiently. Remember to make your site more robust than just a traditional FAQ by including website tracking mechanisms that allow you to analyze and improve your knowledge base over time. You can then use that data when customers decide they need to interact with a Contact Center agent multiple times. This is a big step towards creating a smarter customer interaction because it gives insight into where and when your customers give up on self-help and reach out to an agent.

Here are a few other tips for executing a top-notch customer support site:

  • Select a technology that allows you to integrate all of your channels. Harte Hanks uses Oracle Service Cloud for this, which creates consistency by using one knowledge base on the public support site and across all agent channels. This ensures consistent, reliable responses to questions regardless of the customer’s preferred channel.
  • Format answers differently than traditional FAQs. One simple trick is to reduce the length of a written article and replace it with pictures or video instructions.
  • Improve the success rate of self-help by adding guided assistance logic to knowledge base articles. This changes a long written answer into a step-through guide to ensure the customers’ questions are answered and they are not overwhelmed with too much information all at once.

There are no shortages of customer experience solutions available to help create smarter interactions. Check back next week as I will be outlining how to improve the voice channel, and how it can contribute to improved customer interactions.

Get to Know the Harte Hanks Team

Barry Winn, Senior Strategist

BarryWinnBarry Winn has spent more than 15 years working in the digital, multi-channel agency business. His diverse background comes from having worked in several of the key roles across the global agency landscape.

Prior to joining Harte Hanks, Barry served as Director of Strategy and Business Development for Realtime Media, a technology-driven consumer engagement agency. Not only is Barry a pro in our digital marketing world, he’s also an avid musician – writing, producing and performing in his spare time. He even has a national commercial jingle or two under his belt. A left and right brainer – sounds like the kind of guy you need to know, right? We think so too.

Let’s learn a little bit more about Barry:

Q: Tell us what a typical day at Harte Hanks looks like from your perspective.
A typical day involves a nice mix of collaborating with the teams (Creative, User Experience, Account, etc.) and working alone to create solutions and meet deadlines for our clients. During the last year, my primary client has been a national insurance company. Recently, I’ve participated in several new business pitches as well as taken on additional client work for a variety of healthcare clients. Daily interactions include both internal team members and clients.

Q: What is your role in making customer interactions smarter and how did you get there?

I provide omnichannel strategic planning services; working with our clients to create meaningful experiences for their customers and prospects. My background is a bit of a winding road in the agency world, as I’ve worked across Business Development, Strategy, Client Services and Tech. However, this background has given me a great perspective on many of the roles across a typical agency team. Smarter customer interactions start with smart team interactions within the walls of Harte Hanks. Understanding and respecting all of the stakeholders in the room – and what they’re trying to accomplish – makes us more powerful and effective for our clients.

Q: What is your favorite part of working for Harte Hanks?

Harte Hanks offers a great combination of autonomy and a collaborative environment. It allows me to surround myself with great people who have great ideas (and those who can execute the ideas as well) – but also lets me spend the necessary quiet time on research, trends, case studies, and what’s next for my clients. Also, the client portfolio at Harte Hanks allows me to work across B2B and B2C as well as verticals that I’m passionate about such as healthcare, financial services and retail.

Q: What about the future of marketing are you most excited about? Trends? Tools? Platforms?

I’m excited about the opportunity to be more relevant to the audiences we’re communicating to. Relevance is the key to building relationships in an age where it’s all about the customer. Content, channels, devices, timing, personalization; it’s all about customer choices. Marketing automation and data visualization are two things I’ve been working with for years. It’s been a great experience seeing these disciplines evolve and become such an integral part of what we do. We’re seeing and addressing customer behaviors in an individualized way – and have a great set of tools at our disposal – which are only going to get better!

Q: What is something about you that very few people know?

I am a devoted dog rescuer of the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed, working as a foster, volunteer and adopter. Our organization (RRCUS) has rescued hundreds of abandoned and abused dogs from all over the country; placing them in the loving homes they deserve.

Building Customer Loyalty Through Integrated Customer Experiences

Long gone are the days of achieving customer satisfaction and loyalty by simply selling them a good product. Now more than ever, it takes consistent positive brand interactions, from consideration all the way through to the post-sale experience. Outstanding customer support provided through a well-run contact center can strengthen loyalty and helps to move brand experiences and business forward.

A recent survey by Call Center IQ, sponsored by Harte Hanks, found that 82 percent of contact center professionals agree, “What is good for the customer is ultimately what is good for the business.” But, as the study concluded, different businesses—or even different components of the same business—often view “what is good” differently. That’s because every organization is unique, with its own mix of priorities for customer satisfaction and loyalty. There is no cookie cutter solution to customer loyalty and each brand needs to define its own objectives and measurable goals to achieve loyalty.

Transitioning a customer from satisfied to loyal takes focus

What’s really important to understand is customer support provides brands with an opportunity to differentiate themselves through the entire journey, including the post-sales experience. I am sure your organization suffers from what a lot do – siloed departments – and, typically, support is one of them. In some cases, raising the visibility of the support function can help an organization attain company-wide objectives and goals as they relate to customer loyalty.

Bring customer support along for the loyalty strategy ride

In order to grow and maintain customer loyalty and retention, we know customer support organizations should align with the company goals related to customer loyalty and brand experience. Don’t be afraid to bring all parties from marketing, sales and support functions to the table when creating a brand experience and loyalty strategy that includes a measurement plan. It makes sense, right?

I know, typically contact centers are most concerned with performance metrics like average handle time and average speed of answer. As the marketing, sales and support teams start to align, these and other traditional measures remain integral to customer satisfaction—but they are no longer the only priorities. Successful companies go beyond daily pain points to build a customer experience that’s consistent across the channels of their customers’ journey that not only delivers satisfaction but also reinforced the brand, creates loyalty and supports growth.

So how do you create a successful journey to customer loyalty?
Businesses executing best-in-class customer loyalty programs look left-to-right across their organization to ensure all functions are fulfilling the brand promise. From conversational phone interactions to branded live video chats to personal email follow up, the best experiences integrate customer support in a unique way, and do so in a relevant manner. The tone and flow of the customer interaction should reflect the brand promise by creating reinforced customer experiences from end-to-end.

You know what it’s like when you call a company’s 800 number – you often are repeatedly asked to provide account numbers or personal information, and, if you’re lucky, you get to talk to an actual person. Properly trained agents are able to conversationally navigate the process with the customers and make them feel valued and understood. We all hate those clunky interactive voice response systems, rigid and impersonal scripts and poorly integrated agent desktop software. They don’t do anything to achieve an optimal customer experience. This type of customer interaction can have a huge impact on customer loyalty and can and should be measured and taken into account by the marketing organization.

We can help you map out your loyalty plan

Harte Hanks has a long-standing heritage for driving customer loyalty and can help devise and implement an overarching strategy that touches your customers across all engagement points, including the contact center solutions. We identify and create synergies and harmonization between marketing, support and sales functions to create an immersive and holistic brand experience.

5 Ways to Improve Your Contact Center Through Digital Marketing

Use Your Contact Us Page and Digital Marketing to Improve Customer Satisfaction

five ways

We live in an age where the customer – not the company – dictates your brand. In the old days, you could put out a massive advertising campaign with the moniker “Fly the Friendly Skies” and convince consumers that your airline was the nicest around. Today, an angry customer can create a video called “United breaks guitars,” and millions of consumers will share it in second.

Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to create a brand advocate or a raving-mad critic. Many companies don’t realize that there are relatively painless ways to use digital marketing to increase the chances that you wow every customer who interacts with you. Here are five ways digital marketing can help:

  1. Help people find your contact info online via search engine optimization. Some companies purposely hide their contact us info deep into their website, in the hopes that customers will end up getting their questions answered without talking to an actual human. While this saves money in the short term by reducing the size of your contact center, the long-term negative hit to your reputation when customers complain to their friends and through social media will cost you dearly. Using search engine optimization (SEO), you can edit your website content and code to increase the visibility of your Contact Us page, making it easier for clients to get their questions answered promptly.
  2. Retarget visitors with a customer satisfaction survey. Retargeting is a form of advertising that serves banner ads to customers who have visited a particular page or completed a particular set of actions on your Web site. While most people use retargeting to convert a customer from a browser to purchaser, contact centers can use this technique to increase their customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey results. Simply retarget everyone who visited the Contact Us page of your website with a banner ad inviting them to give you feedback about their experience with your contact center, and your company overall.
  3. Use analytics to reverse-engineer why customers contact you. When a customer visits your site, your online analytics tool (usually either Google Analytics or Omniture) follows their every move. Which pages did they visit? In what order? How long did they stay on a page? How frequently do they visit the site? All of this information can be mined to figure out how your customer ended up at your Contact Us page. Did the customer look at your “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page and not find what they wanted? Use this information combined with your call log to create additional FAQs to resolve future customers’ needs. Do numerous customers go to the same product page right before calling customer support? Check the URL of that page; perhaps it is broken.
  4. Test different landing pages to optimize business objectives. The way you design your Contact Us page will influence the way customers interact with it. For example, a page with a giant toll-free number in the middle of it – and not much else – will inevitably lead to lots of calls to your contact center, but a page with links to your FAQs, a live chat option, and a less prominent phone number will increase site interaction at the expense of your contact center. The right balance of contact center versus web-based customer support will vary for every company. The good news is that there are plenty of tools available to help you test different Contact Us page experiences to figure out what look and feel drives the best business success for your business. Tools like Optimizely and Unbounce as well as “landing page optimization” (LPO) experts can help you set up the right tests.
  5. Encourage mobile app installs for customer loyalty. Many companies use their mobile apps to drive sales to their business and also respond to customer questions and concerns. When a customer visits your Contact Us page, why not encourage them to download your app with a prominent link? This is even more relevant if the customer is visiting your mobile website.

Digital marketing is usually known as a way to efficiently drive new customer acquisition and increase existing customer purchases. Using it to enhance your customer satisfaction is just one more great reason to invest in digital marketing.

Creating Contact Center Efficiencies through Workforce Management

workforce management in the contact centerLast month, I attended Call Center Week in Las Vegas and shared my thoughts on the key trends coming out of the show. There was a lot of chatter about how new technologies are helping to create enhanced efficiencies in the contact center setting. A more efficient contact center results in cost savings for your company, healthier agent and employee morale and, most importantly, a better customer experience, which can build loyalty and drive sales.

This month I want to share insight into why workforce management is a key piece of architecting an efficient, effective customer experience. A properly executed workforce management strategy will help you to work smarter, be more productive and improve the overall customer experience through better interactions.

What, Exactly is Workforce Management and Why Does it Matter?

You could liken workforce management to the “engine” of a car—without it, your contact center wouldn’t be able to function. Workforce management is a blend of actions including forecasting, scheduling and managing teams in real time. A good workforce strategy ensures your contact center is properly trained, staffed well at all times and always providing outstanding customer service. And in the long run, can minimize costs and lead to great morale and a working environment agents want to be a part of—all while improving the customer experience and overall satisfaction. 

You probably feel like you don’t have a whole lot of extra time to properly plan and forecast for future success and efficiency. The priority for many supervisors and managers is always the end customer and ensuring that incidents are being taken care of in a timely and efficient manner. But, it is more important than ever, particularly in today’s digital world where one bad experience can lead to a social media headache, to implement proper workforce management.

Tools and Training: Getting Started with Workforce Management

To get started, you need to understand the latest contact center software and marketing automation tools that help streamline process and react to real-time data—and implement the tools that are best suited to help you achieve your particular goals. Contact center data can be a gold mine for uncovering future incident levels and workload. Having the right software tools in place can alleviate a lot of daily tasks that may currently be conducting by an agent or being neglected all together.

Once you have the right automation tools in place, it is important to focus on innovative training that can help expedite new agent on-boarding and increased efficiencies with your current workforce. Ideally, when agents are handling incidents 85 percent of the time, you can leverage downtime to offer continuing education programs and ongoing development that will ultimately result in an outstanding customer interaction. With the right software, this training can be automated—sent to the agents during their downtime—and then you’re assured it is done.

Plan, Plan, Plan

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this post, it is to never under estimate the importance of proper planning in workforce management. Done well, it will lead to better forecasting of workload and incidents, as well as preparing staff requirements and schedules and the ability to respond well to marketing programs and other corporate initiatives.

A contact center is only as good as the agents who are handling customer incidents. Accurate forecasting can help reduce turnover and attrition and help agents feel fulfilled and satisfied on the job. Through proper planning, agents will be given more breathing room between incidents and allow for appropriate scheduling to reduce burnout. We have found that the more incidents an agent is required to handle each day, the longer those incidents take to be resolved. Proper planning can unveil critical synergies between how your contact center is being run and what your proper staffing needs really are today, tomorrow and in the future.

Creating Memorable Customer Interactions

At the end of the day, any good contact center should be laser-focused on providing a memorable and outstanding customer interaction. The right workforce management strategy can help achieve this by:

  • Creating stronger, smarter agents by avoiding staffing surpluses or shortages and decreasing agent retention
  • Implementing ongoing education, learning management tools and training in easy-to-retain chunks
  • Reducing wait times for customers through training in the workplace. This makes it easier for agents to immediately become available for calls if volume increases.
  • Increasing success/conversion rates through educated and well-trained agents. Your staff will be able to answer technical and non-technical questions quickly and exceed satisfactory levels of support, resulting in a more loyal customer and a healthier call center environment

As I’ve said before, managing a contact center is tough work. However, taking the time to create and execute a proper workforce management strategy can pay off in dividends and make life much easier for you through proper planning and forecasting. Take the time to execute proper workforce management and start seeing efficiencies and successes in your contact center today.

New Technologies & Enhanced Efficiencies: Key Themes at Call Center Week

Presenting with Intradiem at Call Center Week 2015
Presenting with Intradiem at Call Center Week 2015

Last week, thousands of customer service executives gathered in Las Vegas at the 16th annual Call Center Week. There are many reasons why Harte Hanks attends this global, premier conference for contact center leaders, and this year was the most heavily attended that I have participated in.

What’s Hot in the Contact Center

One of the critical themes and takeaways in 2015 was that technology is continuing to move at a very fast pace, creating new opportunities for efficiencies when managing a contact center. A noticeable trend was the number of new providers supporting hosted environments from ACD’s, Business Intelligence and Social Support. The energy and the enthusiasm for learning was contagious, and I was encouraged by how many executives were seeking out real technology tools and partners to make their products and services better.

Efficiencies through Data and Automation

Throughout the week, I attended several great sessions and had the pleasure of sharing the stage with a partner of Harte Hanks, Intradiem. Intradiem is the leading provider of Intraday Automation solutions to frontline workforces. We discussed our long-standing partnership, and I highlighted how their solution helps drive automation, tying together real-time and planning data to create more nimble, flexible and smarter business decisions in a Contact Center environment. Our legacy has been built around creating smarter interactions, and Intradiem shares that vision. Together we’ve been able to automate contact center services and better prepare and train agents to deliver an enhanced customer experience.

Other notable takeaways from our session include:

  • Contact Center managers are realizing that agents need more training on a regular basis to be better prepared to answer difficult or technical questions. Many call centers are implementing training or task services to improve agent retention and knowledge to better serve customers during agent downtime. This also has helped drive operating costs down while maintaining or improving CX.
  • Finally, we are seeing more and more call center managers trying to leverage real time data to make logical business decisions based on their knowledge of the business. The industry continues to automate tasks that were traditionally completed by a manager. This results in freeing up resource time, adjusting faster to customer demand while improving performance and profitability.

Call Center Week 2015 was all about new technology tools, new entrants into the contact center space, new relationships and, most importantly, creating a smarter, more cost efficient contact center. Check out our new Customer Experience Support case studies.

See you next year!

Social Customer Support: Happier Customers, Lower Costs

Social customer supportWhen you think of customer support, you probably think about calling into a contact center. But I’m not a big fan of the phone–and I’m not alone in this sentiment. As early as 2012, we’ve been seeing a decline in millennial’s use of voice minutes, and we just recently found out that many in this general age group have stopped listening to their voice mail.

On the other hand, I love social, and it would appear that many people of all demographics feel the same. According to PewResearch, 74% of all internet users use social networking sites. This percentage increases to as high as 89% for the 18-29 age group. It logically follows that if you want to reach someone in their preferred channel, social is probably a good bet–and this is also true for providing customer support.

Hello? Are You There?

After recently contacting the online print company Shutterfly regarding a disappointing Christmas card order and receiving no response, I tweeted the following (excuse the typos…I was mad):

Social Customer Service

I received no acknowledgment of my tweet, which made me more mad and extremely less likely to bring my business back during the next holiday season (after being a repeat customer for the past several years).

But it didn’t have to happen this way.

Dedicated Social Customer Support

If Shutterfly was smart about their customer service, they would have had a social customer support program in place (they would have also responded to my email, but that’s another story). Lots of people like me are looking for customer service on social, and 42% of those people expect a response within 60 minutes, so it behooves brands to put in a little effort here.

Let’s take a look at social customer support done well. I recently wrote a case study about one of our clients, a large, recognizable consumer electronics brand, that was caught off guard by a customer complaint that went viral on social. While working to put out the fire, the company realized it should have a more strategic presence in social communities. The company decided to proactively seek out and engage customers in the social sphere, addressing their concerns and support issues in real time, in their preferred social channels.

To get the social support program up and running, the company followed these steps:

  1. Complete a social audit to determine where the brand had official social presences and where its products are often mentioned online.
  2. Identify key influencers on these topics and platforms. Listen to these influencers to find the best keywords to monitor around the brand’s products.
  3. Develop a team to monitor these keywords on social channels.
  4. Build a framework around how to engage customers discussing brand/product issues on social channels.

Real Results for the Customer and the Brand

Starting with only two dedicated employees, the social support team for this client has grown to nearly 30 members and has seen the following impressive results:

  • Surprise! Their customers are happier! The social customer satisfaction (CSAT) score is 93%, whereas the call center CSAT score is only 84%.
  • They’re solving issues quickly with a social first contact resolution (FCR) of 95%. This one is a great indicator of a reduction in operating costs and increase in customer retention rate.
  • They’re improving satisfaction AND saving money with a call deflection rate (CDR) of 69%. This means this social support interaction “deflected” potential callers into a channel that has a higher resolution rate and higher satisfaction score while also boasting a lower cost. That’s a double bonus.
  • With a net promoter score of 90, the social support improved the willingness of customers to recommend the company’s products.

These results speak for themselves. Customers are getting the support and answers that they want in a timely manner in the channel of their choice, improving the individual interaction as well as the overall customer experience. All of this is resulting in more satisfied customers that are more likely to hang around. As a bonus, the company is also saving some money.

Take note, Shutterfly.


12/13/14: Shutterfly did, in fact, respond to my tweet containing this blog post, and we will hopefully work out my issue (maybe I just needed to shout a little louder?).

Social customer support from Shutterfly


1/8/15: I DMed my order number to Shutterfly shortly after their tweet, as requested, and I have yet to receive a response. Even bigger fail!

Why the Omnichannel Customer Journey Must Be a Smooth Ride

Contact-Center-Must-Be-Integrated-within-Omni-channel-Efforts We’ve all suffered a frustrating service or support call.

Maybe you’ve called your auto insurer to follow up on a claim, and had to repeat your address and phone number or retell the story you filled out online. Or you’ve had to repeat your software support issue on the phone because the agent has no access to the web-based live chat you had an hour ago (that didn’t solve your problem). Chances are, you thought about switching providers.

Both B2Bs and B2Cs are investing in programs to manage omnichannel customer journey, but they’re not making that journey a smooth one that customers demand. Fully 99% of companies use multiple channels to interact with customers, but just half of those have plans or current activities for an omnichannel program that integrates those channels for a seamless customer experience. Even fewer extend the experiences of customers across multiple touch-points as a formal organizational program for the contact center; instead they act as if the customer journey ended with the sale.

Best-in-class companies use customer and operational data to personalize the conversation, regardless of which channel it comes through. And those that integrate their contact centers into the omnichannel experience enjoy a 9% annual increase in customer retention, versus just 7.1% if the omnichannel experience doesn’t encapsulate all the customer interactions, including those that take place with the contact center. Finally, they boost their customer lifetime values by 5.8% versus just 1.4% for those who don’t integrate. Integrating the contact center within the omnichannel CEM programs pays, and handsomely.

But where to begin?

Step 1: Understand the right channels to take

A lot of companies with omnichannel programs don’t bother to find out if they’re using the right channels. Mobile apps get a ton of press, and concert-goers and sports fans love to pull out their smartphones and use TicketMaster’s app to nail down great seats. But someone seeking support for their internal technology solutions will use their laptops or desktops, and might want the choice of a knowledge base, live chat and phone conversation —whatever suits the individual best. That’s a question best left for existing customers and their user groups, else you risk wasting time and money optimizing something customers don’t want.

Step 2: Empower your agents

A second step is to empower contact center agents as part of efforts to manage the customer interactions via multiple touch-points. Some facts that Aberdeen has discovered:

  • The typical agent spends 20% of his or her time trying to grasp different applications via the agent desktop – as they are interacting with a client.
  • On average an agent has to switch between five screens to pull up information.

Consequently, the service delivered by agents who lack access to effective technology tools isn’t timely, agents are far less productive than they should be, and customers are frustrated by sitting on hold (or worse, repeating information). So the agents must be empowered with a single view on an agent desktop that’s integrated with the relevant enterprise systems like CRM and ERP; but also with others such as automated contact distribution (ACD) and interactive voice response (IVR). And that agent must not be tasked to “drill down” into the customer’s issue, it must be clearly presented on a single screen.

Step 3: Build a strategic alliance with IT

A third step is building a right working relationship with IT, wherein you work together to stamp out bottlenecks to data flow and create an agent desktop that integrates well with enterprise systems. This is no small feat for IT—not with so many touch points in the omnichannel customer journey, and new touch-points evolving. But it is more of a one-time project than a continuous task, then a series of one-off projects as customer requirements change and you introduce new t. Best-in-class companies view IT as a strategic partner, and IT understands well just how serious an impediment non-integration is to company profit and market share. IT becomes an enabler, eager to craft that smooth customer journey.

Serving the agent serves the customer

Integrating the agent desktop with enterprise systems isn’t some “nice-to-have” activity for contact centers; it’s a must-have to better serve the customers. The idea is to delight and inform the clients at every step of the journey, from becoming aware of a product through engagement and into becoming a loyal repeat customer. Otherwise, you risk looking irrelevant compared to competitors who knows how to leverage customer data across all channels, and at every step of the journey—support and service included. The customer sees the same context carry over from one point to another because the databases are integrated, and companies that successfully integrate their channels reap the rewards.

Provide Show-Stopping Support: 4 Benefits of Outsourcing Customer Service

Infographic about outsourcing customer serviceEntrepreneur recently featured an infographic about the “skyscraping cost of bad customer service.” According to the graphic, an estimated $83 billion is lost by U.S. enterprises each year as a result of poor customer experiences.  In fact, 89% of consumers who have a negative experience will leave your brand for the competition. That’s a whole lot of people. And they’ll leave quickly: 50% of consumers will give you only one week to respond before they stop doing business with you.

On the flip side, this Customer Experience Impact report says that 86% of consumers are happy to pay more for great service.

THE POINT: you need to provide fabulous customer service. But should you do it in-house? Or would you be better off outsourcing customer service?

The Decision to Outsource

Let’s face it. Becoming a full-blown contact center expert is probably not your top priority—and it shouldn’t be. Your time, talents and treasures would most likely be better spent by focusing on your core competencies than trying to develop a top-notch customer service team.

But it can be tough to relinquish control of such an important task to what may seem like a group of faceless strangers. Consider the following benefits of outsourcing customer service before you make up your mind:

  • Cost savings and efficiency. Outsourcing customer service can save your company from a number of expenses, including investing in the latest contact center technologies, extensive and regular training and facility space. Pricing at contact centers, however, does vary extensively based on things such as volume, hours of operation and technical requirements. Make sure to fully consider the cost/benefit ratio before making a decision.
  • Better results across the board. A good contact center partner is solely focused on one primary objective: wowing your customers. You will see better customer service results as your partner leverages extensive experience and best practices to deliver high-quality care. You’re also likely to see better corporate results as you 1) keep your valuable customers happy and spending, and 2) free up your employees to focus on furthering the business.
  • 24/7 support. Outsourcing customer service allows for greater flexibility in meeting the demands of customers across multiple time zones (and those people that like to deal with their support issues at 2 a.m.).
  • Multichannel Customer Service. Your customers may want to call you on the phone. But they may also want to send you an email or a live chat message. Or maybe they want to connect with you on social media. In addition to traditional phone support, a good contact center partner can support your customers in the channels of their choice.

Still on the Fence?

If you’re still hesitant about outsourcing customer service, you might be succumbing to one (or more!) of the five of the common myths about outsourcing support.

Check out this white paper; to dispel these five myths, learn more about the reality of modern contact centers and learn how to choose a rock solid contact center partner.

Post originally authored by Traci Varnum.


Outsourcing Customer Service: Call Center Week Round Table

By: Lisa Figura

5 Myths of Outsourcing Customer ServiceI recently conducted a lively round table discussion at Call Center Week 2014 around some of the myths about outsourcing customer service. I asked the attendees to share their ideas and got a variety of responses.

They were concerned about loss of control of the relationships with their customers, learning to trust a new vendor and determining when they should even consider moving from in-house to outsourcing. We also discussed off-shoring versus near-shoring (closer to your timezone, agents that don’t sound foreign). What was interesting to me was they echoed essentially all of the myths we recently published in a white paper “Dispelling Five Myths about Outsourcing Customer Care”:

  • Myth #1: I’ll lose touch with our customer care process – and our customers.
  • Myth #2: I will have to give up control.
  • Myth #3: I can achieve better results in-house.
  • Myth #4: I can only outsource simple processes.
  • Myth #5: All vendors are the same, so I should hire the cheapest one.

Check out the white paper which dispels these myths and provides guidance around what to look for to find the right partner.

What other hesitations do you have about outsourcing customer service? Are there any other myths you have encountered? Let me know – I look forward to the dialog!

3 Ways a Contact Center Can Help with Funnel Optimization and Lead Conversion

By: Nicole Bump

Management has assigned lofty revenue goals to your marketing team. Now you need to deliver. 

I bet your first reaction is not to partner with a contact center. While many companies hire contact centers to assist with inbound customer care, a call-based solution is the less obvious choice to improve lead generation and conversion. However, bringing contact center services into your marketing mix can help with funnel optimization at three key points: the quality of prospect records, lead qualification rate and lead conversion rate.

Contact Center Agent
  1. Improve lead quality. If you’re part of that 40% of B2B marketers that say they don’t have the data to drive their campaigns, then you ought to fix your data![i] A contact center partner can validate the prospect records you already have in your database, making sure you can reach them with your promotions, while also helping you to find new contacts. The result is plenty of high quality leads entering your funnel, priming you for success.
  1. Accurately qualify leads. A full 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales, but only 27% of those leads will be qualified.[ii] A good call center partner will ask the right questions to properly score and qualify your leads, improving your marketing- to sales-qualified conversion rate and making your sales team happy.
  1. Nurture to close. Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost.[iii] Tele-nurturing (using a call center for lead nurturing) keeps opportunities moving through the sales funnel, reenergizing leads and even pushing late-stage opportunities over the finish line—all of which shorten the sales cycle and increase your close rate.

Although not always the obvious choice for funnel optimization, adding contact center services to your marketing mix may be just what you need to keep your campaigns on track—and deliver on C-suite revenue goals. Check out this infographic to see more compelling statistics.

[i]  Holger Schulze. “B2B Lead Generation Marketing Trends: 2013 Survey Results.”
[ii] MarketingSherpa. “2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Survey.”
[iii] Forrester Research via HubSpot. “30 Though Provoking Lead Nurturing Stats You Can’t Ignore.”

Enterprise Social Selling: What Does it Take?

Man listensSocial selling may be the buzzword for 2014, but we’ve been working and fine-tuning social-selling programs for a few years now — and we’ve learned what it takes to use social media to drive demand and connect with B2B prospects.

With IBM, we’ve built a social-selling program that spans across North America and EMEA and a sales force of 1,700, plus IBM Inside Sales Reps. As of October 2012, upward of 15 percent of all wins for IBM’s Inside Sales Public Cloud Computing Group were directly attributed to the current social-selling effort.

Through our work with IBM and other comparable organizations, I’ve picked up a number of valuable lessons for implementing and scaling a social-selling program in an enterprise. Organizations considering social selling should keep the following elements in mind:

Social Listening

Your social technology set should be able to help you listen to both internal and external conversations. For internal conversations, it’s important to learn: What are employees saying? Are they on target with your broader marketing strategy? Are they talking about the right topics and engaging with the right type of influencers and prospects? For external conversations, find out: What are prospects and known audience talking about in the social graph? What can you do to make your next social engagement as timely and relevant as possible while maintaining credibility?

Social listening allows you to tap into the conversations in the social graph to align a social-selling editorial calendar.

Location, Location, Location

To complement a socially active sales force, you need a destination for prospects to land on, such as a social-selling rep page. One that offers valuable information and lets prospect do their own research first before contacting you through more traditional means on their own terms. This page can be used to drive traffic to for future conversions.

Measurement and Tracking

Connecting your social-selling efforts internally to an existing CRM solution to track the total volume of social leads and opportunities is vital to tracking success. Some useful tools for this include Unica Netinsight and Adobe Analytics, which could be a part of your current marketing automation or Web CMS toolset.

It’s important to ensure that your tool is scalable across your inside sales force so you can get consistent governance, workflow, and reporting to measure success. And connecting to your social CMS/CRM gives you a better understanding of where your top-of-the-funnel traffic is coming from — and how successful these efforts are at converting unknown-to-known lead opportunities.

Training and Enablement

Prior to kicking off any social-selling effort, take the time to assess your sales organization’s social media maturity. How many of your reps are novices, and how many have a lot of experience?

This knowledge will help you determine how much training and enablement needs to be done prior to a full launch across the organization. It also will reveal the social-selling tactics that your organization can take on immediately. Training that might be needed includes activating sales reps’ social personas, upgrading LinkedIn profiles, and teaching the social CRM tool.

Jon Sander is director of digital strategy for Harte Hanks.

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