Getting to An Agent More Quickly

I think most people who call customer support functions today are seeing a 'delay' in being connected to an agent. This means that the customer has the pleasure of interacting with the IVR and as most people have experienced, it can be frustrating and highly unproductive.

So what’s a person to do? Well, the most encouraging approach to getting to a live agent more quickly lies in going to the company’s website, interacting with the chatbot and then requesting (or asked) to talk to an agent.

When you call the contact center it can take from 10 minutes of hold time to an hour or longer (if you have the patience or the overriding need to pursue this). But the connection to the agent through the chat feature in the company’s website is a much better option and can result in an agent on the phone (or will call you back) in 5-10 minutes, and that’s after some of the verification and other requirements are completed with the chatbot, in other words, productive time waiting.

The only downside that I’ve noticed is that this ‘feature’ is only available with relatively large organizations. Smaller ones, in general, are not there yet.

But I believe and hope that this approach will continue to evolve in this direction.

S. Bloomfield


RFP or Client Relationship, No Contest

2020 with all of the restrictions on social and business distances requirements was a tough year from start to end. And it is not over of course, it won’t be till most people are vaccinated (and maybe not even then).

But work goes on, and as consultants for contact centers, customer experience & engagement we typically spend 2-5 days on site(s) so that we can understand how the operations and the people work. We need that human interaction to see what is going on in the center not just from an operational perspective but from a cultural one as well; and to be able to understand how we might be able to make customized recommendations that help.

It is also true that having a prospect or client to talk to and understand the issues that they want addressed is not just a ‘nice to have,’ it is critical. Yes, some of that conversation can be handled virtually, but none of that can be achieved when one is starring at a formal RFP that requires many hours of prep and compliance. 

So I made the decision, that since we are a small consultancy I did not think it was worth spending easily 40-50 hours developing an RFP response for a potential client that, according to their publicly available most recent budget spent over $6mm with a large consulting firm.

And then I realized that in future I will not make it a priority to respond to RFPs that require not only a lot of work and effort, but without the benefit of really understanding what they are looking to address and the ability to establish a professional relationship that will allow the client and the consultant to provide a more helpful and relevant discussion of issues and remedies.

S. Bloomfield

Today’s IVRs: and How They Have Escaped CX Accountability

I’ve noticed that when I call a contact center and it asks me for feedback it is very specifically and often exclusively targeting agent-related performance/behavior. Nothing wrong in itself with that of course, giving feedback on agents is very important and we should all be glad to provide it (at least once at the same organization) to help everyone get better.

At some point while interacting with the IVR, it asks the caller if he/she wants to take a customer survey. When the caller gets to the survey the questions usually make it clear that they want to get feedback on agents only…in other words, “don’t bother telling us about your IVR experience.” This is unfortunate, the IVR (pretty much universal now) is a very important part of the customer experience (CX) and ignoring often 50% or more of the customer’s total interaction makes for a very incomplete and distorted view of the CX.

And this focus is becoming even more important as IVRs are getting more aggressive and restrictive, not just for call deflection purposes (although that is a big part of it) but I suspect also in order to direct the conversation and wear-out the customer from proceeding with what he/she really wants to do (e.g., talking to an agent).

What do I mean? Why does the IVR force me to listen to 90 seconds or more about my credit card balance, and how much I need to pay by the due date, and what my cash position is, and a host of other things that I did not request and am not interested in; and are irrelevant for the purpose of my current call.

Another example, a large US ISP and cable provider will not let most customers get through to a live technical support agent until and unless the customer agrees to have his/he modem reset first (even if it has just been reset).

Now there are some things customers can do to “trick” the IVR to get to an agent; but why is the IVR designed to put this barrier up to creating a good CX? The same company also will ask for personal identification information (e.g., home address) and then once connected to the live agent he/she will invariably ask for that information again. I have written to the highest levels of this organizational and received no satisfactory answer. The technology to quickly and securely pass the information from the IVR to the agent has been available for at least 30 years. I understand the short-term advantage of these tactics (which does not mean that I agree with it); I don’t get the longer-term plan or advantage.

Maybe AI, when it is fully rolled-out in most companies, will change all of that, but unless the IVR objectives and integrated role with agents change, it won’t happen.

So we as consumers must insist that we evaluate and provide feedback on the entirety of the experience, not just the agent’s part.

What thoughts do you have about how we might do this?

S. Bloomfield

About Getting Better and the NPS Question

First Thing: Always Getting Better

High performing contact centers are that way for many reasons. One reason that I’ve noticed is that they are always looking to improve. Now that may sound a bit counter-intuitive (i.e., if you are already good, why focus so much on improving?). But it is the culture, values and strategy associated with being good (in addition of course to the actual performance) that drives wanting to be even better. So we often work for clients who already are good, because they recognize that being better is a never-ending goal.

Second Thing: The NPS Question

The Wall Street Journal recently published a front-page article on NPS (Net Promoter Score). I’m uncomfortable answering the typical NPS question after a contact center interaction. Beyond that one question couldn’t possibly cover the nuance of my experience of and with a product or service, it seems out-of-place to ask me if I would recommend that product/service to a friend. Because even if I was inclined to make such a recommendation it would not be because of the contact center interaction (certainly not by itself), no matter how spectacular that interaction was.

This week I talked to an agent and a supervisor at an impressive service/sales contact center at Worx (gardening tools); and after the call was asked a variation on the typically worded NPS question – asking me specifically about the product I had, not the contact center interaction. That’s what’s usually missing.

I was glad to answer that survey question about the product. Asking the right question is very important to the customer answer, and to the results for the business asking the question, and how they will understand customer satisfaction and what they need to do to keep improving.

S. Bloomfield

What Assisted Living and Contact Centers Have in Common

On the surface, it may not be readily obvious what an assisted living (AL) facility and a contact center have it common. Yet I think there are many areas of overlap; and they ultimately boil down to three things, leadership, culture and the importance of human values and behavior.

Assisted living requires lots of labor at all levels of the organization. Certainly, technology, operations and process are important as well, but they do not make the kind of difference that compassionate, dedicated people who have some basic common sense and are truly interested in improving the lives of the residents.

Let’s face it, when we agree to house our relatives in AL we are outsourcing their care. And just like we outsource a contact center customer service or sales function there is a right and a wrong way to do it. The right way involves managing, nurturing, and paying close attention to the outsourcer, its leadership, management and as importantly the “care providers.” We can’t assume that because they have a facility with beds, table and chairs and nice offices and beautiful plants that they can be trusted to take care of our family. It is not realistic to assume as much; it is not likely to happen and it is not human nature to provide it, even if it is your job.

The best experience for residents is with the people who care and have the patience and intuition to know how to relate and work with usually older people in an engaged and compassionate way.

S. Bloomfield

What I’m Thinking…

Some thoughts about the contact center world today.

I think “seamless” is overused. When was the last time anyone ever had a seamless experience in a contact center? What does that even mean? To me, it means that when I give verification information once (to a human or an IVR) I don’t have to repeat it no matter how many transfers to which I am subjected. So this pretty much happens never. And not just verification data is not transferred but who has ever had to repeat 1,2,3 times why he/she is calling? I can’t say anyone I’ve ever interacted with on the phone (let alone other channels of communication) provides a seamless experience. And it’s not the technology’s fault (it has existed for well over 20 years) it is the process, its design and deployment that is to blame. So let’s just drop the whole idea anyway. Not done, not going to be done, so why do we bother touting its advantages?

I am glad to see that the wind is shifting when it comes to “delighting the customer.” A somewhat irrelevant concept to begin with. I think satisfaction (even being happy) is way more important than delight. I like to be delighted, just not by my contact center interactions. It is kind of not only an impossible standard to attain but one that does not even merit aspiration. So let’s put that one to bed also. I think that change is finally beginning to happen.

How about using some of the technology that’s been around for at least a human generation (about 25 years). For instance ANI (caller ID). Yes, there are users of this technology, but many more who don’t; and seem to have no desire to acquire it. And of course the technology for transferring verification and contact history (see above).

Help me out here, what technology do you know has existed for a long time that is not being used enough? We both know it’s out there.




No Reward, No Redemption

Ever try to redeem your reward points?  I just did…try that is.  Because I’m in the contact center consulting business, I just have to share two incidents I experienced recently, and of course, lessons learned.  Maybe, just maybe, one of the institutions involved will recognize itself, and make some changes.

Spoiler alert:  Good news – I actually did get what I had hoped for.  Bad news – It just took about 6 hours to accomplish what should have been done in about 15 minutes or less.

Incident 1 – Credit Card #1

Like most people, I did not know how many rewards points I’d accumulated with my credit card over the last 10 years.  I looked online, waded through several websites and finally found the right one.  My lucky number was 29,000…points. But that didn’t make sense because I hadn’t redeemed any points in years.  I called the financial institution to search for additional points. The agent told me that about 30,000 points had just expired December 31 (just 30 days before I called).

Expired, as in disappeared forever because I did not use them.  But I never got any notice of potential expiration.  I asked “why wasn’t notified?”  The agent responded that the information was at the bottom of the statement I get every month. I guess they think we won’t read the fine print and therefore lose our points by default.  I didn’t give up.  But why no email reminder or a text message, or even a statement stuffer letting me know that my points were about to expire? They certainly never fail to let us know when our bill is due, to upsell products, or for special deals.

“Unfair,” and “Time to close the account,” I said as I requested a supervisor. The supervisor was sympathetic to my plea. She would try and get my points back and that if she could, they would not expire for another year. That sounded fair.  So I waited.  And waited.  She succeeded and I got my points back!  And it only took 2 hours, and lots of patience.  Except even that began to expire.

Incident 2 – Credit Card #2

One down, one to go.  Same day,  on my next card I’d accumulated 35,000 points.  Armed with points, I decided to spend them before they too disappeared.  An hour later, the email purchase confirmation arrived, along with a link to track the order status.

I clicked through to the site (managed by the credit card company).  This time it was the purchased item that expired…well, out of stock at the national retailer that was fulfilling the order. No further information was provided, like – will it ever be restocked? Will they cancel automatically and return my points?

Finding no guidance online (or contact information), I called the credit card company and asked for help.   I knew I’d have to get to a supervisor.  Call the retailer, she said, to cancel the order.  Then call us back to confirm (to ensure I wasn’t being charged the retail cost of the item).

“Whom do I ask for when I call back?” “Maria,” she said.  “At the Mexico call center.”  Well, that sounded easy.  NOT…

I called the retailer.  You know how ‘options have changed’ so you have to listen to a bunch?  To my surprise, there was no option at all for people who used their points from the credit card company. So I waited to speak to an agent, who asked for my order number.  The card company never sent me one, of course.  It only took a bunch of questions and 35 minutes for the agent to find the order.  And cancel it.  “Halfway there,” I thought.

Not so fast. When I called the credit card co. back I was not connected to the Mexico center but to one in the United States.  What happened to Maria in Mexico?  Another mystery not solved.  After repeating the story to the new agent, and again to a supervisor ‘Mike’, I thought I was almost done.  Except Mike could not confirm that the order had been canceled. Mike said call the retailer back, and then call me back.

Wow! Good thing I know their systems as well as they do.  I gave up for the day.  Next day I called the credit card co. again.  This time, they confirmed the order was indeed canceled and they ‘refunded’ me my reward points.  Only 4 hours for Incident 2.

What did I Learn

Now for the lessons learned part.  All these interactions took about 6 hours. Imagine if I wasn’t in the call center business, trying to understand from the customer’s perspective how things go wrong, and how they might be fixed.

In this situation, I concluded that companies seem to view rewards points as something people should ultimately lose.  Kind of like buying a gym membership and not using it.    I suspect the investment and care had not been pursued in this area because there is no direct profit in it for the credit card companies (it’s essentially a cost center) and it is only used to remain nominally competitive, and primarily for customer acquisition and card marketing. But surely there is a real cost to alienating and acting like this to customers?

Power in Numbers?

From my perspective as a consultant and customer, I’d like to ask the tens of millions of other customers (and consultants among them), to impress upon these companies that they need to take responsibility for the services and benefits they offer. And if they can’t (or won’t) then they should not offer the rewards.  The solution:  radically change how they run, operate and invest in the smooth operation of rewards programs; especially in the call centers who are on the customer front lines and stuck trying to resolve problems not worked out by leadership, operations and other people. The current state is intolerable and if it hasn’t already, will eventually backfire.  Then they will have to listen.

Sam Bloomfield

Should Contact Center Agents be Responsible for What They Say or Don’t Say?

When we call or communicate with a contact center, we want and expect accurate information from the agent to whom we talk or ‘correspond’ (i.e., chat, email, text, etc.). Whether for financial information, healthcare or our order for flowers, we want to know that we can trust and rely on the agent’s word when he/she tells us something about the product, service or anything that is associated with it.

Is this a fair expectation? And is there any recourse if that information is not correct, and causes or could cause significant financial or other consequences? I ask this question less from a legal and more from a business perspective. Should the contact center train, manage, coach and support that belief and indeed commitment to its customers? And in fact how many companies are committed to that objective? I suspect there are many companies that would like this to be the case; we know that many customers would like it as well. But is it actually done and supported in a disciplined and internally accountable way? I don’t have a data-based answer to this question; and I would say that my experience working with hundreds of contact/call centers over the last 25 years would say, not too many do.

For example, if I call my healthcare insurance company and ask the agent if my annual vision check-up is covered when I go to a specific provider, I want to be sure that the answer I get will be accurate; and if it is not, then I want to feel sure that the insurance company will stand by what the agent said (and cover that provider), and not tell me to read the “fine print” in my insurance contract; and that they do not accept responsibility for what their agents say or don’t say. Right now I am not at all comfortable that that is how the average insurance company or any company will act.

One way to understand if this is or is not the case is to see what process and expectations companies have in-place to live up to this customer expectation.

If your contact center lives by this principle how do you do it? Is it a function of a strong and clear culture, is it supported by processes that strengthen the principle at the core of this belief? What goes into to making this real and sustainable and how do you handle it when it requires taking that responsibility seriously and making the customer whole?

I think this is a standard that our industry (contact centers) needs to start discussing, taking seriously and making real and widespread. I have not seen much discussion on this issue publicly but I believe strongly that, starting with industry pacesetters, the time to act is now.

S. Bloomfield

Ask Bob – Redux: Supervising to Success: Two Tips

The TG Blog is proud to periodically re-published some of Bob DiPasquale’s classic short blogs. Bob, who has joined Triadic Group’s performance practice, has over 25 years of contact center experience in training, coaching and overall performance. Enjoy the wit, wisdom and practical advice that comes with every entry.  —editor.


FOLLOW UP! Without it, supervision can be futile.

This is one of, if not the most important duties of anyone who manages others. If you give any type of advice at all, follow up is absolutely necessary to achieve results!

Trusting your team to do what you told them is very good; however, it’s foolish for any manager to depend solely on trust. Remember the very important words: “Trust, but verify.” As a manager, if you don’t follow up on instruction given, your team members will not take any further instruction seriously. They will feel that what you told them is not important because you never checked on it.

One prime example of the significance of “follow up” is being a parent. If you tell your child to clean their room and you don’t check on it, you will not know if it was done. When you discover that your instruction was carried out, it gives you a wonderful opportunity to give praise for a job well done! (If it wasn’t done, it gives you the opportunity to instruct again; or mete out any consequences.)

The same is true of supervision. When your team knows that you will follow up on any advice or instruction that you give them, they are sure to do it – EVERY TIME.

The End

All of the aspects of the sales (or customer service) call are important, but often we forget about how we END the call. The ending of the call should be as pleasant to the customer as the beginning and leave him or her with a sense of satisfaction, closure, and happiness (if possible).

The agent should ALWAYS thank the customer for calling whether or not the customer accepted an up-sell offer! Thanking the customer leaves the customer with a good feeling, and he or she will not hesitate to call again in the future.

One additional piece of advice. Whenever a customer accepts an up-sell offer, it might be nice to congratulate the customer on a wise decision. Although this is not an absolute rule that must be done, it can have a very positive affect on the customer in the following way:

People are “thanked” all the time throughout a typical day – and that is great. We hope that people never stop thanking others! With “thanks” being given so often, it has a tendency to become a little commonplace. However, how many times in the course of a lifetime are people “congratulated”? They are congratulated only on “special occasions” such as graduations, birthdays, weddings, birth of children, special awards, etc. People are not “congratulated” every day. If an associate should offer a small “congratulations on making a wise choice” to the customer when an up-sell is made, it makes the sale a “mini-special occasion.” It makes the customer feel GOOD about their purchase, and it also makes them feel SMART – and if a customer feels GOOD and SMART about what they just bought, there is a lower chance of “Buyer’s Remorse” which leads to eventual cancellation.

Bob DiPasquale (10/16/14)

Let’s Get Smart about IVR

Quick Note Blog

IVR technology (from DTMF to true voice response) has been generally around in call/contact centers for at least 25 years in one form or another. It came into being for two primary reasons: to reduce costs (mostly labor related) and to allow customers to transact business quickly and effectively (i.e., “self-service”).

So how have we done so far? Well no doubt at some level both of those two objectives have been broadly attained. And yet there is plenty of grousing with regard to the technology, its difficulty of use, its outcomes from a consumer’s perspective and its poor scores on efficiency and effectiveness for the enterprise.

So what’s missing from this great idea? Maybe once the decision to deploy an IVR is made, it easy to forget that it needs to be managed and cared for just like every other investment in people or machines. And since a great deal of CX is determined by the effectiveness of the IVR, it is clear that not enough is being done to look after this potentially powerful ally in not just reducing cost, but in actually making customers happier.

Now we are about to embark on a great transformational journey. IVR is going to be co-opted by AI. AI will add a level of intelligence to the IVR ‘ecosystem’ that is just not there now and, apparently, has no other hope of attaining by itself. How this new intelligence will affect the IVR is yet to be seen and heard.

Watch out for more on this as it develops.

Sam Bloomfield