Can you Change the Customer Experience with Technology?

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit the YMCA of Greater Louisville to gain insight into how they used technology to solve a common business problem. After speaking with customers and employees in the branches, I noticed just how much the organization cares about serving its members and visitors. And I was even more impressed with how they handle customer interactions. You can check out the results of our visit in the video case study.

One of the first things I noticed was how quiet the lobby was. Not one phone ringing. Instead, members were having direct face-to-face conversations with Y team members at each desk, and receiving their undivided attention.

Since the YMCA of Greater Louisville has centralized all incoming calls to customer service via UNIVERGE® 3C and Contact Center solutions from NEC, the front-line staff at Branch locations can focus on providing a great customer experience. This gave on-site employees the necessary time and the freedom to address every concern in person, while the customer was in the branch. Part of the YMCA’s mission is to ensure customer satisfaction via uninterrupted, one-on-one interaction, either in person or by phone.

So often, as we get caught up in the technology and not the people that it serves, we lose the intended purpose of the technology. But this was not the case for the YMCA of Greater Louisville. This organization found the right balance to meet their customer needs.

Free Ebook: UCaas RFP 2016

YMCA’s VP of IT (Ryan Kingery) and CEO (Steve Tarver) had encountered a problem that is not unique to any retail outlet or public organization serving its community: WAIT TIMES! At the core of the YMCA mission is the ability to serve its community and members, but the challenge they faced was the increasing wait times in their branches, which necessarily led to less in-person customer interaction due to long lines and busy phones.
Think of this scenario: if you have kiddos, you know that swim camp, t-ball registration or even your own “ME” time at the indoor pool cannot be done without registration. And the quicker you can get your registration(s) complete, the quicker you move on to being a satisfied customer, which is what we all want. The solution the YMCA put in place did just that–and it improved the quality of the real-time, one-on-one interactions between employees and clients.

Happy Customer = Better Customer Experience = Revenue Growth

Whether it’s about internal accounting clients at your company utilizing core IT- supported services, or a customer whose satisfaction is crucial to the continuing revenue growth of your company, a pleasing customer experience is the ultimate goal.

So, after this experience with the YMCA, I am wondering how many IT professionals are running across similar business problems that negatively impact a customer experience within your own organizations. What are you doing to change that experience?

You can watch the video below to see how the YMCA was able to achieve its mission.

Free Ebook: UCaaS RFP 2016

Free Ebook:

UCaaS/Hybrid RFP & Review IP Telephony and Unified Communications System

There are significant differences in offerings from the major vendors in terms of architecture, functionality and total cost of ownership. IT organizations are encouraged to work with their business units to understand their unique requirements and to articulate these in an RFP or other formal procurement vehicle.

How to Spot Interoperable Education Technologies at FETC 2015

nec_uc_educations_solutions_4-resized-600This week while preparing for FETC 2015, I thought back to an article that Education Week published in December on digital content delivery and interoperability. With E-Learning software topping most educator’s shopping lists this year, interoperability is bound to be one of the many hot discussion topics heard on the exhibit floors during the show. So, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the article here.

A handful of large school districts (like Houston Independent School District) have begun aggressively pushing big publishers of education-based digital content to begin revamping the way they deliver instructional materials—a movement which will upend the long-established purchasing patterns that typically keep educators from accessing materials from other vendors.

The movement is reminiscent of several interoperability debates in the IT/Tech world right now, and we’re seeing many school districts lead the charge in declaring that they will not do business with publishers who refuse to become interoperable.

It’s a huge step on the part of the school districts. A shift towards interoperability means many things. It can revolutionize how content-delivery systems interact with each other. It could also transform how schools purchase and consume digital content, allowing districts to procure small “chunks” of content (individual chapters, lessons or videos, for example) from multiple vendors, perhaps through licensing agreements, rather than rely on yearlong or grade-span textbook series from a single publisher.

Finding Interoperability

As FETC helps kick off trade show season and as school districts start moving into 2015, it may be time to begin evaluating content technologies that can easily manage both the interoperable content coming from publishers as well as any other content types/formats.

Here are a few things to look for as you begin to evaluate new content distribution platforms:

“Create-ivity” and Customizability

Content distribution platforms (a.k.a. Learning Management Systems) traditionally employ a structured sequential learning method that drives students to move through class material in a predefined order. The best interoperable technologies are going to offer more by way of on-demand flexibility—letting teachers either create or select content relevant to each student’s learning experience, helping achieve the best possible results in the classroom.

A fully interoperable, flexible content management and distribution solution should give professors and students the option to employ either a traditional sequential learning model or the ability create a truly customized learning experience by accessing individual content pieces in multiple formats (video, presentation, documents, etc.) that the school has either licensed from multiple publishers or created on its own.

Collaboration and Interactivity

There is an increased focus on collaboration in higher education in order to prepare students for today’s collaborative and adaptive work environments. The right Learning Management System should provide the social interaction to which students have become accustomed, and should include tools that allow students and teachers to create discussion feeds and workgroups for classroom-based conversations and project-based learning.

Today’s Learning Management Systems should allow students to work collaboratively and efficiently together in real-time to complete class assignments and projects, and also include tools that allow interactive experiences with the course content,  including online components and hybrid learning strategies for flipped-classroom style learning.

“Integrate-ability” and Modernity

There are many challenges facing educators as classroom technology continues to advance.  That’s why a content distribution platform should be easy to use, should integrate existing educational resources, and should be integrate-able with your existing district technologies (think Unified Communications solutions, virtualized or cloud storage systems, or analytics technologies).

Collaborative Content Management

School districts like Houston’s are drawing lines in the sand—demanding more from the publishers creating K-12 content. The same demands will now need to be made of the technologists creating the distribution solutions.

That said, NEC is going to be at FETC this week demoing several of our education solutions—including our Collaborative Content Management solution, a cloud-based Learning Management System which is fully interoperable, flexible, and collaborative right out of the box.

If you’d like to learn more about NEC’s Collaborative Content Management before the show, check out our webinar below.

If you happen to be at FETC this week, stop by booth #1268 to chat with an NEC expert during normal Expo hours.


What does WebRTC do for the Enterprise?

nec-webrtc-unified-communications-enterprise-trendsWith the New Year nearly upon us, now is the time to scrutinize new technologies, business strategies, and capabilities. How will they fit your enterprise? Will they live up to the hype?

WebRTC is an emerging open source project that aims to enable the web with real-time communications capabilities—giving users the ability to conduct peer-to-peer voice and video communications directly through web browsers without needing a plugin.

WebRTC has set the Unified Communications industry to buzzing. But while early WebRTC apps seem promising, WebRTC has yet to see mainstream adoption by enterprises.

So, with WebRTC making the rounds on all of the “Top 10” IT lists (it even makes an appearance on our own), now is the best time to take a closer look and see where WebRTC hits the mark for enterprises, and where the misconceptions lie.

Separating Reality from Hype

There are many expectations and misconceptions as far as what enterprises can expect from WebRTC functionality. Slowed by standards battles around video codecs, the lack of end-user demand, the absence of browser support from Apple and Microsoft, and the high priority challenges facing the UC architects who are attempting to incorporate the standards into their solutions, WebRTC has so far failed to gain the support/demand needed to cross into the mainstream communications market.

In early 2014, Nemertes Research interviewed approximately 200 IT leaders responsible for unified communications strategy, architecture, and operations in end-user companies (not vendors or service providers). During the interviews, the IT experts were asked about their plans for WebRTC adoption. As it turns out, fewer than 7% of the respondents had definitive plans to deploy WebRTC over the next two years, while the vast majority had either no plans, or were still in the evaluation phase.

Here’s a breakdown of what the “early-still” applications of WebRTC will and won’t do:

WebRTC will (eventually):

  • Be most useful for public-facing organizations—Businesses with public-facing websites will likely see the most use out of WebRTC. The protocol allows SMBs and Enterprises to enhance their web properties with click-to-call capabilities—features that, up until recently, cost money to have. WebRTC gives public-facing organizations an opportunity to recoup that money—spent on 800-number services that enable browser-based calling, and/or multiple trunk lines. WebRTC will enable customers to talk immediately to the right person, keeping them from having to dial multiple numbers or sift through multiple menus with numerous extensions (hello customer service benefits).
  • Free users from extraneous plugins—the opportunity for plugin-less communications is on the horizon. WebRTC will allow enterprises to host internal and external meetings using only a web browser on any device. Once the open-source, pre-standardized protocol is available on all web browsers, the need to download extra plugins will disappear. WebRTC is currently enabled in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. Microsoft recently announced future support, whereas Apple’s has yet to say anything at all. As long as there are hold-outs, the standard will still require plugins. The use of plugin-less WebRTC, however, could potentially spur further development, greater functionality, and greater cost savings as the standards gain popularity according to Irwin Lazar, VP and Service Director at Nemertes Research.

WebRTC applications won’t:

  • Communicate freely without the help of an Session Border Controller (SBC)—Despite what many people believe, WebRTC audio and video sessions are encrypted—something that cannot be said of the still popular landline telephone call. But, with enterprise firewalls in place, the web clients supporting these conferencing sessions will have to “negotiate” with each other to determine whether or not the level of encryption coming from the alternate party will be supported. Session border controller vendors will be key to helping peer-to-peer communications technologies work with enterprise firewalls.
  • Replace whole VoIP/video conferencing infrastructures—while software development around WebRTC applications is increasing, that does not mean that enterprises are or should be jumping to replace current video and audio meeting infrastructures for WebRTC counterparts. WebRTC is not yet mature enough to replace existing technology—and never will be without greater adoption and significantly more development. WebRTC can, however, fill certain gaps that current communications technologies leave open, said Nemertes’ Lazar. WebRTC gives many businesses—especially those with call centers—an opportunity to simplify customer engagement. There could be real possibilities for financial and healthcare organizations to apply WebRTC to: customer meetings, telemedicine, and when improving customer service.

Other Communications Alternatives

All of this to say that while WebRTC can benefit the enterprise, it hasn’t yet. For businesses looking for more immediate ways of streamlining and simplifying business communications, the still-immature WebRTC shouldn’t be too high on your list of solutions, but should be at the forefront of the trends you watch develop during 2015. Applications for the contact center such as ‘click-to-call’ for customer facing e-commerce or service websites may be the most successful initial commercial use of WebRTC and could be avialble through several UC vendors in 2015.

Consultants agree that more widespread enterprise adoption will become more likely if the WebRTC protocol can soon deliver on the promise of very little maintenance and support. Until then though, a Unified Communications and Collaboration Solution would be your best bet in terms of ease-of-use and high return on investment.

Want to learn more about this year’s Smartest IT Trends?


NEC Salutes SMBs this Holiday Season

nec-shop-local-small-business-saturday-communications-uc‘Tis the season for shopping, and three of the U.S’s favorite shopping days—Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday—are just around the corner. This is one of NEC’s favorite times of year, and it’s at this time that we give thanks for our small and medium-sized dealers and customers.

NEC would not be the successful organization it is today without the help of small businesses—the remote workers, the startups, and the established retail shops, doctor’s offices, and all the people who sometimes get overlooked during this time of year.

You may think that, with a whole week devoted to celebrating small businesses in May, that small companies don’t need us to say how great they are and that we value what they bring to the economy. But they do need focus—a little attention and a polite “thank-you”—during this time of year.

So to say “thank you” to our small business customers, NEC wants to remind everyone about how valuable SMBs are to our communities.

What is Small Business Saturday?

We all know what Black Friday and Cyber Monday are—the big-box retailers’ opportunity to get us out (or online) to kick off the holiday season. And while these are important days for the U.S. economically speaking, one day that’s relatively new to our history, Small Business Saturday, may get overlooked by holiday shoppers.

In 2010, American Express founded Small Business Saturday to help small businesses with their most pressing need—getting more customers. The day encourages people to shop at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The day has grown into a powerful movement, and more people are taking part each year. In fact, an estimated 5.5 Billion dollars was spent on Small Business Saturday in 2012, and 1,450 “neighborhood champions” signed up to rally both local businesses and local shoppers in their towns in last year.

According to the National Retail Federation, SMBs make 20 to 40 percent of their yearly sales during the last two months of the calendar year.

The Economics of SMBs

With so many businesses depending on holiday sales to make or break the bank as it were, it becomes easier to understand why Small Business Saturday matters so much to so many.

The United States was built on the backs of small business entrepreneurs. And even in today’s economy, which is much more geared toward achieving “big business” status, small businesses remain a critical component of and major contributor to the strength of local economies. Even with large corporations making the bulk of the country’s money (which they could not do without their small business partners), the real driver behind the success of the economy is small business. Firms with fewer than 500 employees drive the economy by providing jobs for over half of the nation’s private workforce. The most recent figures from the U.S. Small Business Administration show that small businesses with fewer than 20 employees lead job creation, and have contributed to 63 percent of net new jobs created since 1993.

Small businesses comprise what share of the U.S. economy?

Small businesses make up:

  • 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms,
  • 63 percent of net new private-sector jobs,
  • 48.5 percent of private-sector employ¬ment,
  • 42 percent of private-sector payroll,
  • 46 percent of private-sector output,
  • 37 percent of high-tech employment,
  • 98 percent of firms exporting goods, and
  • 33 percent of exporting value.

2014 Holiday Shopping Statistics

Supporting your local businesses should be of the utmost importance this holiday season. To show you just how important the holidays are to small businesses financially, here are some of Twitter’s Small Business Holiday Insights:

  • On average, survey respondents said they planned to spend nearly $800
  • 7 in 10 respondents said they will purchase gifts for everyone on their list, and a few for themselves
  • 8 in 10 consumers say they want to support SMBs, particularly during the holidays
  • Consumers only plan to spend $3 out of every $10 they have budgeted with SMB retailers and on SMB e-commerce websites

Helping Small Businesses Grow With Smart Communications

If what you’re shopping for happens to be a new communications solution, then NEC’s Smart Communications for SMBs might be what you are looking for. NEC’s Unified Communications solutions are designed to help businesses respond more quickly and efficiently to customer requests to drive loyalty and ultimately grow a small business into a big one. When you shop locally, you give money back to your own community—you help create more jobs, stimulate economic growth, and keep more people open for business.

Contact us if you’d like to talk to your local NEC dealer, and remember we want consumers to #ShopSmall this Saturday—and for the rest of the holiday season.


Contact Center Metrics: The Importance of First Call Resolution

c--users-217216x706252-pictures-nec-contact-center-first-call-resolutionTech professionals love their acronyms, and FCR—First Call Resolution in customer service industries and contact centers is no different. Lately, it seems every vertical industry has its vocabulary; with an acronym for every ideology, methodology, principle, and strategy. Most of these terms have been discussed to death—to the extent that it becomes difficult to get excited about the topic at all.

FCR is one of the acronyms we don’t see nearly enough of, though; which becomes evident when running a simple search for the term. In fact, search engines seem to return every generic name for FCR other than the one discussed here.

FCR is one of the five most important operational metrics in today’s contact centers and is also one of the key drivers of customer satisfaction. You would think that in a challenging economic environment, one that is increasingly focused on the importance of customer satisfaction in a word-of-mouth-equals-free-marketing-distribution kind of world, that the topic would be written about so extensively that it would dominate search engine results.

So why aren’t we talking about it?

Contacts vs. Calls

Customer relationship managers use FCR to mean two principles/metrics that are often used interchangeably—when they shouldn’t be. Is FCR first contact resolution or first call resolution?  The answer to that question depends on your business’ individual needs.

First Contact Resolution incorporates the same principles as first call resolution—which is generally accepted to mean that a contact center agent addresses a customer’s need the first time they call, thereby eliminating the need for the customer to follow up with a second call.

First Contact Resolution takes First Call a step further by tracking the contact’s behaviors and providing additional analytics and data based on their actions.

While purists might agree that First Contact Resolution is the better of the two metrics and most reflective of true customer experience, the reality is that purchasing the customer lifecycle tracking software needed to appropriately track the First Contact Resolution metric is often expensive and impractical.

Why impractical?

Well, for the answer, we must look at the Pareto Principle.

The 80/20 Rule

The Pareto Principle—also known as the 80/20 principle—is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. His theory, originally a socio-economic commentary on the distribution of wealth in early 20th century Italy, was adopted by business strategists in the 1940’s as an all-inclusive philosophy of the “vital few and the trivial many.”

In the context of the call center, this typically means that 80% of customer service calls/requests are coming from 20% of a given customer base.

So, taking the Pareto Principle into consideration means understanding that the customers who are on the phone with your contact center agents today, will likely be the same customers who are on the phone with your agents next week. Knowing this turns the immediate need for First Contact-level tracking into a lower-priority concern.

If you have the budget to spend on customer lifecycle management technology, then you should track that data.

But I’d rather focus on First Call Resolution, and how implementing sound practices with appropriate contact center technology makes it possible to improve this essential performance metric.

What the Statistics Say

Last year, WhitePages and the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) performed a study of 542 contact center professionals titled “Using Big Data in the Contact Center.”  The study found that 60 percent of contact center managers feel like they are unable to deliver actionable customer service information to agents due to data overload and a lack of focus on customer satisfaction. In addition, the survey found that:

  • More than 40 percent of customer contact information is manually recorded by agents instead of fed through automated APIs or Web-based systems, which means reps are often not as connected to relevant customer data as they need to be to guarantee FCR.
  • Half of call center agents feel hampered by productivity challenges such as having to ask customers for basic contact information.
  • More than a third of contact centers do not collect any data around customer satisfaction, and 15 percent collect it but don’t use it at all.

While there are a great number of businesses continuing to operate with legacy call center equipment and ignore the importance of technology that helps achieve immediate customer satisfaction, today’s customers are becoming increasingly demanding. Customers are becoming more aggressive when comparing prices and are apt to switch their loyalty to your competition because of a poor customer service experience.

The study shows that without the right tools and guidance, agents are neither able to handle the volume of data that is in front of them, nor able to extract the vital pieces of information that they need to drive successful outcomes.

Everyone lately has experienced a terrible call or long hold time. In fact, the entire experience has created a small culture on Twitter that identifies with the hashtag #onholdwith.

Obsolete technology doesn’t give any business the extensibility it needs to answer customer complaints. When you consider that these same businesses are also becoming overwhelmed by data, one wonders whether or not first call resolution as a principle is also becoming obsolete and forgotten.

Keeping your customers in focus

Failure to resolve customer issues in the first call results in callbacks and increased total costs. If customers have to call back two or three times to resolve their issue, they may not call back ever again.

No matter how fast your company grows your customer service has to remain razor sharp. After all, the cost of acquiring a new customer is considerably greater than retaining an existing one.  So how can you work aggressively to make sure that each interaction with your agents ends with resolution? By considering the following:

  1. Educate agents and get them involved: Educate your agents and then empower them to improve first call resolution-related processes. Your agents know customers and customer care probably better than anyone. Smart managers actively solicit suggestions and insight from their agents regarding how they may be able to enhance first call resolution performance. Given the opportunity, your call center agents will tell you what tools, training, and workflows are lacking and what processes and metrics are interfering with their ability to resolve customer issues effectively.
  2. Consult past records: Don’t attempt to solve the problem without doing due diligence. Encourage your agents to review past interactions with their customers for clues and indications about why certain interactions resolve and others do not. Doing so will put your agents in a better place to remedy problems instantly.
  3. Install recording software: To get a sense of whether your agents resolve customer queries or escalate them, invest in call recording software which can record and archive every single interaction. Doing so gives your call center managers something to rely on to identify best-in-class behavior and zero in on patterns needing improvement.
  4. Optimize workforce management processes: Even the best trained and equipped agents on the planet can’t be successful if they’re over-worked. The same applies if the customer, who has been caged in a queue for 15 minutes, is screaming at them for taking too long when answering the phone. Accurate forecasting and sound scheduling is critical, as is mastering skills-based routing, so callers get sent to the right agent with the right skill set to handle a customer’s specific issue right there on the spot.

Solutions available to your business

Ultimately there is a high cost, in terms of inefficiencies and operational cost, when you continue to operate outdated technologies. Taking inventory of your existing call center technologies can help you determine if it’s time for an overhaul or a simple upgrade.

You don’t have to choose between favorite software and hardware. You can choose to invest in contact centers with automatic call distribution and attendant technologies so that calls coming into your contact center are routed correctly. Many of these technologies now include Unified Communications with presence technology, which can help you identify available subject matter experts instantly.

Check out our whitepaper for more information on Best (and Worst) Practices in Customer Communications.