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Click-to-call Webinar – March 7th

eStara, who recently wrote a great guest writer post on click-to-call, is holding a webinar on March 7, 2007 at 1:00 PM ET to discuss about click-to-call, its possibilities, and how one can go about implementing the technology. Part of the description from the page is below:

“Join Brad Strothkamp, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, and John Federman, CEO of eStara, for a webinar on March 7, 2007 at 1:00pm EST to discuss best practices for deploying proactive Click to Call and Click to Chat solutions.”

All the information about the webinar can be found here.

It should be an interesting for those of you curious about click-to-call and the solutions available.

Disclosure: eStara has written two guest writer posts for Service Untitled.

Call Abandonment Basics

Western Electric 202Phone systems (also called IVRs or PBXes) usually measure something referred to as a call abandonment rate. How exactly the call abandonment rate is defined varies from company to company and from phone system to phone system, but in general, the inbound call abandonment rate tracks the number of people who hang up before they start talking to an employee. (There are call abandonment rates for outbound calls that telemarketing companies track, but that’s a different thing entirely.)

Some companies actually strive for high call abandonment rates (a higher proportion of people who hang up). These companies generally don’t place a huge emphasis on phone-based customer service and want to reduce the cost of the customer service they provide. Fewer callers getting through to employees means fewer are employees are needed and more money saved, so companies design extremely complicated phone systems that are designed to help customers automatically (self-service) and have messages pushing customers to other support mediums (e. g. email, web, etc.).

More customer-centric organizations tend to favor lower call abandonment rates (fewer people hang up, more people talk to employees). They work to have simple phone menus that don’t do anything more than they have to (route the call to the right person/place) and these companies go out of their way to ensure that customers are having an easy time getting to talk to their employees and getting the help they need. They have hold music that isn’t annoying and that says “We’ll be with you shortly. Thanks for your patience” instead of hold music that says “You can get your answers online at support.company.com.” It is a different way of thinking and a way I’d encourage companies in any sort of competitive industry to think.

Some call abandonment rates factor in things like a 10 or 20 second delay before counting it as an actual abandoned call or require that someone push a button and actually wait on hold and then hang up before counting it as actually abandoned. There are then a number of math/proportion nuances that a lot of companies use when calculating abandonment rate. I generally advise including a 10 or 15 second delay in the numbers and counting all hang ups that meet that criteria. As long as the methodology is consistent, how exactly you go about calculating your call abandonment rate doesn’t matter as much.

photo credit: clickclickclickclick

Top 10 Call Centre Website and Upgrade

I got an email earlier this week telling me that Service Untitled had been recognized as one of the top 10 call center websites of 2009. Service Untitled was listed as number one on the list and I’m honored to see that Service Untitled was included and referred to as one of the author’s “real finds of the year”.

I’m also glad to see that my friend Tom Vander Well from QAQNA made the list, along with eight other interesting sites and blogs.

In other news, I upgraded Service Untitled to the latest version of WordPress (2.8) earlier today. Everything appears to be working fine, but if you notice any problems or oddities, please send me a quick email and let me know.

If you’re running WordPress and haven’t upgraded yet, please take the 10 seconds required to do so and get your blog upgraded. There are some nice improvements in 2.8 (new widget interface, speed improvements, one click themes, etc.) that certainly make it a worthy upgrade.

How to reduce calls to customer service.

AA009679 This week has been a week of some great questions asked by readers. A recent inquiry and post request was “how to reduce calls to customer service.” This is a question that a lot of companies would like to know the answer to. It isn’t a question with a simple answer and the answer depends a lot on the company, their product, and how the company operates.

Here are some basic first steps to reduce the calls coming into your customer service department.

Make your email support better.
A lot of the companies I work with have really good email support. As a result, the number of calls they get is a lot lower. No one ever thinks to email Dell, Microsoft, or HP because they either don’t get a response or it is just so useless that it isn’t even worth it. If your email support is good (and you can prove to your customers that it is), then you will see fewer calls.

More self-service.
Like email support, a lot of companies have terrible self-service options. If you can make your self-service offerings actually useful (consider Flash tutorials, checking out this post, as well as this post) , then customers will be a lot more likely to use them.

An easier to use product.
This may seem like a broad suggestion, but there are a lot of ways to make your product easier to use. A lot of smart companies include useful tips and information built right into the product. One company I worked with that makes web applications for people who aren’t that technically inclined had tips on every page. The first week or two of use after signing up, more tips would be displayed than average. After that, there would be fewer. It is just creative thinking like that which will make it easier for customers to use your product.

Consider alternatives.
Besides a regular call in number, consider some alternatives. A lot of companies like click to call. Some charge just a dollar per call to discourage those “casual” calls where the customer just doesn’t want to read the FAQ. This will obviously depend on your industry and the sort of service you want to provide, but can help cut down on calls.

Amazon Gets Call Backs Right

I talk about click to call/call backs every now and then. Recently, I saw a post on the GetHuman blog about how well Amazon did with their click to call/call back solution. Amazon seems to have used the click to call technology to their advantage. eStara provided their thoughts as well.

The technology was able to tell that Lorna was logged in and automatically verify her identity. By checking out who you are logged in as, they can skip account verification, and answer questions right away. I believe that when companies use click to call for reasons like that, they are using it effectively. It seems to be a powerful technology and like many technologies, when it’s used correctly, it can be a lot of help.

By doing this, Amazon can avoid a lot of frustrations. It saves time on the call and subsequently, saves the company money. Lorna was connected to a representative right away, which is a lot better than being connected to just a hold queue. That seems to be what a lot of companies do with click to call – they just connect the company to the hold queue.

Lorna pointed out that the represenatives sounded foreign and the company was having some technical problems. She also pointed out that the prompts talked a bit much, but weren’t too bad.

I don’t like how Amazon forces you to use click to call – they should allow you to just call a number as well. However, since they do click to call right, it isn’t so bad.

I wonder if GetHuman is going to start including click to call in their ratings? Should be interesting.

Cut back on phone service? No way! Enhance it instead.

This is a guest writer post by John Federman, the CEO of eStara, a leading provider of online conversion solutions for enhancing multichannel sales and support initiatives.

As mentioned here about two weeks ago, a number of companies are implementing alternative contact solutions, like click to call, to control the volume and quality of calls sent to their contact centers.

Analysts agree that click to call is an effective means of reaching out to Web site visitors to engage them in conversation. For this reason, thousands of companies around the globe are deploying these solutions to enhance multi-channel sales and support efforts.

Basic click to call functionality is very easy to set up. It requires no additional software or hardware, and calls are routed directly to your existing CRM and telephony infrastructure. By pasting a JavaScript code into a Web site script, a standard click to call button is embedded on a Web site, and customers can start talking with your agents immediately either via their computer, or by entering in their phone number for an immediate call back.

If volume is not a concern, then this is the way to go.

However, if your business is growing and you’re attracting a lot of customers, you face the very real possibility of being overwhelmed with customer sales and support requests.

This is why most companies would prefer not to have every customer inquiry result in a phone call or chat, and invest heavily in providing self-service tools like FAQs and knowledgebase systems. However, in those instances where customer contact is desired or required, click to call not only helps offer quality service, but enhances the customer experience and increase sales conversion as well.

But not all click to call deployments are equal. Before deciding which solution is right for your business, it’s important to understand the deployment options for click to call functionality. These include:

Dynamic/Rules-Based Deployments – Unlike the static click to call buttons described above, dynamic/rules-based deployments are visible only when specific conditions exit. Dynamic buttons are triggered by a series of rules that are predetermined by the business during implementation. Business rules can range from:

  • Number of items in a customer’s shopping cart
  • Total shopping cart value
  • Amount of time a customer has spent idle on a page
  • Incomplete transactions
  • Preferred customer status
  • Hours of operation or call center availability

Because there may be uniform reasons of when customers abandon your Web site or require customer service, rules-based deployments provide a way to automate a call offering to prevent these things from happening and offer customers a chance to speak with a live agent based on their perceived needs.

Proactive Deployments — Like dynamic deployments, proactive deployments offer more flexibility than static click to call buttons, and give contact center agents more control over when to engage online prospects. Using real-time Web analytics, and rules-based triggers, contact center agents can determine if, and when to engage customers to call or chat based on their online behavior. With proactive deployments, the agent can control when and where they decide to offer the click to call invitation to offer a customized online shopping, or service, experience for each consumer.

Integrated Deployments — Integrated click to call deployments can either be static, dynamic or proactive, but leverage unique data integration and collaboration technology to create a truly seamless experience for customers as they transition from an online session to a phone call.

This is done through a process called “cross-channel data passing.” Cross-channel data passing ensures a continuity of customer experience by transferring information about the customer and the context of their online session directly to the call center at the time of call initiation. The call center software can be configured to display this information directly on the agent’s desktop screen, or it can use the incoming data values to trigger lookups into the company’s own databases to retrieve related details (customer records, purchase history, billing information, etc.)

Rather than having the customer start all over again, the contact center agent can use this information to verify account status, identify problems with the online transaction, and more efficiently troubleshoot whichever issue prompted the customer to call.

Additionally, integrated deployments also open up a new level of collaboration between online customers and contact center agents. Using data passed when calls are initiated, agents can push relevant pages to customers, or initiate co-browsing sessions to guide customers through the sales or support process.

Conclusion — Nothing is more frustrating to a consumer than having to “start all over again” when they transition from the Web to a phone conversation. Click to call offers one solution to this problem by integrating the power of Web analytics with the convenience and comfort of the telephone. Given the range of options available, it’s critical to have a full understanding of your business goals and how customers behave on your Website. Doing so allows you to offer the right form of contact at the right time to maximize the benefit of click to call offerings, and not only reduce call center costs, but turn your call center into a revenue generator.

John Federman is CEO of eStara, a leading provider of online conversion solutions for enhancing multichannel sales and support initiatives. Mr. Federman is responsible for eStara’s strategic direction, growth and corporate vision. He brings more than 20 years of experience with innovative information technology and media companies to eStara, and has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, including Continental Airlines, DaimlerChrysler and Dell Financial Services, to enhance their multichannel sales and support operations.

An Old Dog Learns a New Trick: How to Drive Phone Leads from Your Web Site

This guest post is written by John Federman, the CEO of eStara, a leading click-to-call company.

Remember the golden age of e-commerce when the entire industry leaned almost exclusively on internet self-help tools to address their customer service? Finding a 1-800 on a Website was next to impossible. The problem with this singular reliance is simple: consumers shy away from large or complex online purchases if they are not 100% certain about their expenditure. One issue, however insignificant, can spook the potential customer, resulting in Website abandonment and great dissatisfaction.

Anyone reading the business trade pubs this past week has no doubt seen the news about Google and eBay partnering to offer click to call service to online merchants, thus opening the promise of online advertising to an audience who may have avoided it in the past due to the complexity of their transactions or lack of a web presence. This partnership signifies the growing need for online merchants to connect with potential buyers over the phone. However, click to call offers much more than just a connection between buyers and sellers. When used strategically, click to call can increase sales conversion, reduce site abandonment and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Google and eBay are not the first to discover the customer service benefits of offering potential buyers instant phone connection to an online merchant. Major companies like Sears and Jenny Craig have been using click to call solutions to provide better service and improve customer loyalty. Because it is IP-based, click to call has the potential to erase the usual customer frustration of having to start a transaction over when the they transition from the web to a phone conversation. And, it could help reduce the need for customers to wade through “IVR hell” to speak to the right agent.

Customer-oriented companies have found that by offering click to call rather than a static toll-free number, they can ensure a continuity of customer experience by transferring information about the customer and the context of their online session directly to the call center at the time of call initiation. With click to call, call center software can be configured to display this information directly on the agent’s desktop screen, or it can use the incoming data values to trigger lookups into the company’s own databases to retrieve related details (customer records, purchase history, billing information, etc.)

Some companies may be concerned about the added cost of taking calls rather than allowing customers to complete transactions online, but what if the customer has a question or just isn’t comfortable purchasing online? Wouldn’t it benefit companies to offer these kinds customers a chance to speak to a live agent and thus complete the transaction?

A recent study by Jupiter Research found that for high-value, complex transactions, most customers still prefer live voice interaction over other methods of contact, including e-mail, text chat and FAQs. Ironically, the future of customer service isn’t a fancy new technology; in fact, it’s one of the oldest tools in existence: the human voice.

The fact is that the kinds of products and services that can be found online are becoming more and more complex. We’re not just buying books on Amazon or EBay anymore; we’re buying TVs, Cars and Boats. For these kinds of interactions, consumers have traditionally shown that they’re more comfortable researching online and buying offline. Click to call service bridges that gap.

This guest post was written by John Federman of eStara, a leading provider of proactive conversion solutions for enhancing online sales. Mr. Federman’s worked with companies such as Amazon.com, Dell, Sears and Verizon to improve online customer service and sales. To learn more, visit http://www.estara.com or call 1-866-4ESTARA.

If you have an idea for a guest writer, feel free to post the person or company’s name, web site, etc. in the comments section.

Ease up on customer service demands during inclement weather

Snow Storm, Dec. 2008Whether it be hurricanes, blizzards, fogs, or floods, inclement weather has its own way of leading an otherwise civilized society into moments of rage and unacceptable behavior. Spend a few hours in a busy airport and listen as a few narcissistic and petty customers scream profanities at service workers in fast food establishments, airline employees, or transport personnel as if the adverse weather and all of the complications that frequently occur during such times are the fault of the employees.

For airlines at least, and of course in my business of real estate sales, force majeure, or an act of God as contracts state, parties are free from liability when an extraordinary event or circumstance prevents them from fulfilling their obligations. Of course this rarely excuses them altogether, but at the same time airlines are not required to compensate passengers for hotels or other expenses during the delay, and hence something seems to click negatively in the human brain of a few, but no matter how upset we may all become, maybe a “teachable experience” can remind us of what we teach our children.

It is the responsibility of airlines and other services to safely operate during severe weather and emergency  conditions. Businesses that stay open during harsh conditions often have employees who have risked their own safety and comfort to provide necessary services. So instead of telling the person behind the desk she is a “blithering fool,” please learn how to treat people with decency and respect.

For employers who need their staff to brave serious weather conditions, be flexible and realize the difficulty of the situations. Employees are not automatically entitled to being paid if they can’t get to work, and those policies should be clearly explained in staffing contracts or the company handbook. Maintain fair and consistent employment relations with employees before emergencies and have an “adverse weather” policy in force for the continuation of services in case of such emergencies. If employees are able to work from home using remote devices, it maintains stability of the business as well as an important morale booster in times of stress for both employers and employees.

And for all of my fellow travelers in the airports of the world, although airline companies can be a challenge all of their own, use these simple suggestions to ensure a better experience during inclement weather:

  • Check online before your flight or call ahead when adverse weather conditions are expected.
  • Call reservations. While most delays do not require rebooking, some do.
  • If you are expecting to board a connecting flight, see the reservation personnel for additional help.
  • Maintain your patience.

Check the website of the airline carrier for their policies concerning inclement weather. For instance, United Airlines has some extremely useful and informative information.

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