Customer Authentication and Fraud Detection: The Contact Center’s Looming Challenges

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • The costs of compromised security in the customer care environment are high to both the enterprise and the customer, and the occurrences of security breaches continue to grow briskly.
  • Although not widely used technologies today, the combination of voice biometrics and predictive analytics has great potential to enhance fraud deterrence.

The methods of customer identification and verification used in contact centers today take too much time and are a major source of customer irritation. Agents’ questions inquiring about personal identification numbers (PINs) or asking pre-arranged security questions, such as “What is your father’s middle name?”, have outgrown their usefulness and are often easily circumvented by fraudsters seeking illegal access to customer accounts and private corporate information. High on the list of technologies destined to replace these traditional techniques are voice biometrics coupled with sophisticated predictive analytics. Read more of this post

Improving High Contact Center Attrition Rates – Not Easy, but Worth the Effort

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • A recent Dimension Data survey report based on an annual contact center global benchmarking survey concluded that front-line customer service staff (contact center agents) are leaving their positions at a growing rate.
  • The cost of replacing a contact center agent can amount to a year’s salary when the direct and indirect costs of recruiting, interviewing, training, start-up times and the disruption of customer service and satisfaction are considered.

I recently reviewed the summary findings of Dimension Data’s “2013/14 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report,” which is based on an extensive survey of 817 contact center decision makers across 79 countries and 11 vertical markets and has been implemented each year for the last 16 years.  Given the rapidly changing technology in the contact center industry, it was somewhat surprising to me that the study reports customer satisfaction levels are down for the fourth consecutive year and first-contact resolution rates were still showing no improvement.  However, most disturbing to me is that the agent attrition rate is up 26% since last year’s survey.  As anyone who works in customer care knows, the human resource portion of a contact center budget typically represents anywhere from 65% to 75% of total contact center expenses.  Given that the direct and indirect costs of replacing an agent could in many cases amount to an agent’s annual salary, and the average annual agent ‘churn rate’ across contact centers is approximately 35%, this trend can cut into company profitability very quickly, if not reversed. Read more of this post

Contact Center Trends in 2014: Can the Pace of Big Change Continue?

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • It’s that time of year again – time to talk about what is coming next year.  So many fundamental changes have occurred in the contact center world in the past few years in terms of the cloud, mobility, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and multichannel customer care, it is hard to imagine what else will happen next.
  • I believe that so many big changes have occurred in technology, standards and business processes that for the next year or two contact center managers will focus on ensuring they are taking advantage of everything available to them to optimize agent workloads, customer satisfaction and center effectiveness.

Now that we have just entered into the last calendar quarter of the year, it is a natural time to start thinking about the top industry trends we expect to see developing in the coming year or two.  I have been thinking about the developments in the contact center areas that have recently changed the industry.  As a start, I looked back over the trends that had been predicted by many over the past five years.  These included broad industry-changing standards, technologies and business approaches such as the moves from hardware to software, from time-division multiplexing (TDM) to Internet Protocol (IP) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), and from single mode (voice) to multimode customer service. Read more of this post

Mobility Will Shape the Contact Center of the Future

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Technological developments are making customer service for mobile customers simple, convenient and very effective across many vertical markets and for a select group of special, high-net-value clients.
  • Thanks to a cloud-based infrastructure, delivery systems and sophisticated contact center applications these mobile systems and customer service applications are coming from new and very agile sources and spreading quickly.

In previous blogs I speculated about how mobility was affecting the contact center in terms of the end user customer, the agent and the contact center supervisor. Admittedly, I was simply projecting out a few years and commenting on how current technology was changing basic factors such as where the agent worked, the channel from which the customer entered customer support, and how the supervisor could monitor his/her center. Recent conversations with contact center application developers and people who manage centers have caused me to extend my vision further into the future. Read more of this post

The Hosted Contact Center – An Attractive Choice for ‘Customer Engagement Continuity’

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Hosted contact center solutions are gaining popularity as the level of functionality, reliability and security they provide catches up to that of premises-based systems.  Hosted contact centers’ ability to expand and contract as business needs change makes them an economically attractive choice for many enterprises.
  • Although hosted contact center solutions can be an ideal method of providing backup for premises-based systems, the market has been slow to implement hosted solutions as ‘insurance’ during severe weather conditions, terrorists attacks, flu epidemics and other call center emergencies.  The major cause of this phenomenon has more to do with vendors than reluctance from enterprises.

Approximately 15 months ago, I wrote a blog expressing my surprise that the issue of disaster recovery seldom came up as a driver of cloud-based services, and more specifically as a driver of hosted contact center sales (please see “Cloud-based Contact Centers – The Appeal Beyond OpEx vs. CapEx,” April 24, 2012).  This was despite the fact that prospects for cloud-based contact center services with whom I spoke seemed to agree that the disaster recovery sales pitch was worthy of consideration.  The logic behind their opinion was often based on the fact that recent world events such as severe weather conditions across the U.S., forest fires in the west and terrorist threats around the world made backup services a ‘top-of-mind’ issue for them.  So, why weren’t providers of hosted solutions incorporating disaster recovery into their sales and marketing portfolio pitches? Read more of this post

The Cloud – Simply a CapEx/OpEx Choice?

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • The cloud approach to telecom solutions is catching on like wildfire as a growing number of vendors offer a cloud version of their products and some report that cloud solutions already account for the major portion of all sales.
  • In addition to a shift of expenditures from a large capital outlay to a monthly operational expense the reasons companies are moving to the cloud fall into a few more categories including; flexibility in changing capacity levels, speed in adding applications to premise-based solutions while protecting current investments, and disaster recovery back-up.

While much is made of the CapEx versus OpEx comparison of premise- versus cloud-based solutions, it seems those decisions are limited, for the most part, to end users that are in the start-up or “greenfield” mode of their lifecycle. Conversations I have had with many enterprise end users regarding the premise versus cloud decision process, as well as vendors selling telecom solutions, suggest many purchasing situations fits into one of three scenarios. In scenario 1 the business has a premise-based solution but appreciates the ability of the cloud to add capacity when needed and shrink capacity when activity slows down. Such a situation could be a retail contact center with a premise-based solution that must expand and shrink based on the seasonality of their business. Adding remote, home-based agents via a cloud offering is the perfect solution. Scenario 2 are end users with a substantial investment in a premise-based solution but a requirement to add applications and broader functionality quickly and efficiently without scrapping the not yet depreciated investment. The application of a “hybrid” solution allows the business to add applications to existing solutions without scrapping the premise based solution prematurely, before it is fully depreciated. In scenario 3, a few end users see cloud solutions as a method of providing a disaster recovery, back-up system to their premise-based system that will take over operations when disaster strikes. In this situation the cloud solution can be run in parallel to the premise solution and the cloud could take over if and when the premise-based solution fails for any reason, maintaining operations. Although the disaster solution may add significantly to operating costs, in many situations company revenue streams can be preserved, which make it a feasible investment. Read more of this post

Step Three in Mobilizing Your Contact Center – Let Management Roam

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • The ubiquitous nature of tablets and smartphones, coupled with the breadth of network access now made available via private and public clouds are making these endpoints valuable tools in managing systems and business processes remotely.
  • Changes in the contact center are occurring rapidly based on new and advanced technologies and the supervisory role of the management team will be affected positively as the use of tablets and smartphones allow supervisors to manage agents and processes more effectively, while roaming inside or outside the enterprise.

In my two previous contact center mobility blogs, I discussed making agents mobile by sending them home and providing a seamless customer experience via a smartphone. Recently while walking the aisles of the Enterprise Connect 2013 exposition this year something got my attention very quickly. Smartphones and tablets were everywhere and their use is transitioning from being a personal communication endpoint to a tool that can be used to simplify and enhance the user interface for demonstration and management purposes. A specific example of a contact center company making this transition is Voice4Net, a provider interactive voice response (IVR) and contact center applications for the enterprise, The company was introducing its new contact center management interface based on the iPad, to be used by contact center supervisors working remotely. The time to mobilize the contact center management team is now upon us. Read more of this post

We Have Smart Consumers and Smartphones; Why Not Smart Contact Centers?

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • The vast majority of consumers calling into a contact center believe they know more about the products and services in question than the customer service agent answering their call.
  • More than three-quarters of consumers say they will only continue to buy from businesses that make interacting with their customer service organizations easy.

I recently read a report on a piece of research which revealed some interesting consumer perceptions about the state of the customer service industry.  According to the report, British Telecom and Avaya teamed up to do a market research study based on a survey of 1,000 consumers in the U.S. and the UK.  As we might expect, the study confirmed that the use of smartphone applications, video conferencing, and video and Web chat is rapidly on the rise with consumers interacting with companies to ask questions and resolve product and service issues.  However, of more interest to me is the fact that 80% of people think agents struggle to answer their questions and 85% believe they have been put on hold simply because the agents did not know what to say during their conversation due to a lack of information and/or proper training.  This leads me to believe that enterprise customer service executives and managers, as well as contact center providers, are not doing a good job of tapping into ‘big data’ in the customer’s enterprise or preparing their agents to do the job.  From experience, I know that the data exists in most enterprises, but apparently enterprises are not very successful in getting the data to the agents when they need it, or getting the customer to the proper agent on the first try. Read more of this post

Speech Analytics: The Time for ‘Listening’ to the Voice of the Customer Is Upon Us

K. Landoline

K. Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Hundreds of millions of minutes of customer care conversations are recorded annually in contact centers, but less than 0.1% of recorded conversations are ever replayed and analyzed.
  • Automated speech analytics, which can mine most of these conversations for useful information, is finally getting the attention of customer care executives as the technology improves and the ROI is validated.

I have been following the speech analytics market as it pertains to customer care and contact centers for the better part of a decade.  The application has only come into its own as it gained credibility through successes in the past two or three years.  Recently, there has been an uptick in sales at companies that provide the technology to monitor the ‘voice of the customer,’ such as CallMiner, Nexidia, NICE, Utopy and Verint.  There has also been a flurry of merger and acquisition activity among companies that provide contact center solutions and those that deliver customer feedback applications.  Verint acquired Vovici, a provider of feedback management solutions; Avaya purchased Aurix, a speech analytics company based in the UK; and Hewlett-Packard bought analytics platform provider Vertica.  I believe the industry is now leaving the embryonic stage and moving into a more mature phase of growth that will continue for the next decade. Read more of this post