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How is it that certain brands, in the face of wandering customer focus, are still able to strongly engage with customers?

Their top leaders have a lot to do with that engagement.

For example, Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Group, has always focused on being in the "experience business," Forbes contributor Carmine Gallo explained. Here's a perfect example of that mindset with Virgin America's airline boarding video.

Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, and John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, also have strong customer engagement strategies. These three men all seem to have one key attribute that differentiates them from their competitors: They trust their teams to deliver amazing customer service. That trust creates an amazing effect—the employees feel empowered.

The power of trust from agents to customers

The culture of Virgin America is, as reported by Gallo, hyper-focused on customer service—flight attendants, in the face of a flight delay, have served cocktails to waiting passengers when stuck before boarding. Virgin America flight attendants embody the Virgin spirit with this problem-solving attitude. And that is what makes the difference in optimizing customer engagement. While training is integral to succeeding, opportunities to creatively problem solve is also important.

  1. contributor Jonathan Long said it another way when discussing John Legere's outlook: work to fix your customers' problem. By giving your contact center agents the opportunity to solve a problem, they have greater ownership of the process—and will be more willing to continue doing it moving forward.

Empowering your employees to problem-solve is key to boosting customer engagement.

What does this look like in day-to-day operations? Work to put aside the time and resources to train your team to make sure they have as many tools at their disposal as possible. In a separate article for Forbes, customer service consultant Micah Solomon suggested starting each work day with
ten minutes to discuss key customer engagement strategies.

Take a cue from these leaders and make yourself available to brainstorm with employees and to listen to their ideas—and importantly, realize there are many ways to get from point A to point B when problem solving. Praise the employees that have found another way to solve a problem. Other employees will notice and internalize the cue.

It also means, as a leader, taking a step back and letting your people do what they do best: help the customer. By working to empower your team, they will in turn be more motivated to take the initiative—and that is the most important tool when engaging with customers.

Kelleher gave a word of advice in his Fortune interview, saying "[customer service is] not a job that you do for six months and then you just say, 'Well, that's behind us.' It's something you do every day." What actionable changes can you make that will yield results quickly? Those small wins will keep morale high and make it easier for the team to continue in that direction without losing focus or getting disheartened.

How would you optimize your customer engagement?

Are you struggling with how to best utilize Big Data to power a better customer experience? We reached out to 35 marketing experts and customer experience pros for their top tips on leveraging Big Data for CX insights. Here’s what they had to say.

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Sometimes it feels impossible to not multitask within a given workday. When on the phone with a customer, agents are responsible for juggling the incoming information that a customer provides while processing data presented on the screen in front of them. Have you ever noticed how exhausted you feel after doing that for several hours?

The reason, wrote Olivia Goldhill for Quartz Media, is that your brain is really switching between tasks, not accomplishing them simultaneously. In addition to feeling tired, individuals who multitask also feel more stressed - which is counterproductive in a contact center, when agents are assisting customers. There are additional drawbacks to multitasking: When our brains attempt to juggle multiple projects, we lose the ability to separate important information from mindless chatter, noted Forbes' Travis Bradberry.

Agents may have more success by practicing active listening when working with customers. The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Bernstein laid out the definition of active listening: Fully interacting with another person, without distraction. However, this can be difficult to do when worrying about average handle time and resolving the call quickly.


Customers feel heard when agents employ active listening techniques.


Nip the problem in the bud when hiring agents. CJ Silva of the International Customer Management Institute recommended seeking out agents that are empathetic. In practice, that means these agents are good at identifying certain emotions in a person's voice or speech. Active listening can help agents strengthen their empathy muscles. They have the opportunity to ask open-ended questions - and without any distractions, can pay attention to a customer's tone.

Technology can also help agents become more empathetic. In a previous article, we highlighted AI that can identify when calls are going off-track. This technology can pick up on a customer's faster speech pattern or language that suggests anger. The human element - in the form of the agent - can use this information to slow down the conversation and check in with the customer, to ask if they feel listened to.

In addition, speech analytics software can help managers understand and measure their agents' empathy. The software can look for open-ended questions. When paired with other metrics - like average handle time or first call resolution - managers may be able to get a better sense of whether an agent is actively listening with a customer.

Active listening is a skill that requires dedication and maintenance. While it's tempting to multitask, both agents and customers will benefit from active engaging

How will you increase active listening?

Silicon Valley has given traditional businesses a long list of lessons on improving the digital customer service. Companies in the valley have the agility to shift with consumer needs, whether it for the actual products or the way customers interact with the brand. The Valley calls it pivoting. We call it digital transformation.

Put simply, digital transformation is a company's investment in new technology to maximize its own value. Larger companies, bogged down by internal checks and balances, have a hard time doing this and sticking to these new investments. It doesn't help that there is a mess of conflicting information: some publications suggest innovating in only a small pocket of the company to avoid that dreaded red tape. Others insist that the entire organization has to be on board in order for the digital transformation to work.

Call center professionals looking to join the digital transformation revolution can take a lesson from Silicon Valley. Here are five ways you can begin implementing changes.

Small steps are the key to success.

  1. 1. Take a step back and assess. Before making any changes, find out what needs improving. Are more of your customers reaching out via social media instead of dialling into the call center? This will help make sure you're investing in technologies that will yield results quickly (more on that later).
  2. 2. Make a culture shift. While the temptation will  be to start small in a "pocket of innovation" the risk of the project failing is higher. The reason? The project can't survive if there isn't a cultural shift to accompany it. An organizational buy-in is critical to help make the transformation shift. For instance, if call center managers don't see the value of Twitter and don't train their agents, the company will lag on that platform, creating a negative customer experience. That, as a result, will hinder a successful digital transformation.
  3. 3. Focus on a project with tight focus and immediate payoff. As mentioned in step 1, choosing one initiative will ensure that call center agents won't get overwhelmed in implementing several changes, potentially leaving many unfinished. Seeing results quickly from one initiative works, in Valley-speak, as proof of concept. You'll be more likely to want to proceed with additional digital transformation initiatives, keeping the project's life source alive.


Focus on one initiative to increase the likelihood of success.

  1. 4. Bring in an outside pair of eyes. Ford is one of the most prominent large companies that is working with...Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The company understood that it needed agility while using its ability to scale. If you don't have the number of a few Silicon techies handy, translate that idea into reaching out to other departments. Digital transformation, given its name, might start with IT. Bring in marketing or sales teams and get their feedback. They might see the problem- and solution- differently.
  2. 5. Use metrics wisely. Big data has given us the ability to further segment customer populations and to dive deep into a pool of information provided to us. The benefits seem to be endless. Customers are better able to get their needs served through the information they give. The pool of customer experience metrics (or voice of the customer or
    call center metrics, for that matter) could drown any company if its teams aren't sure what they should be looking for. By understanding what you want to measure beforehand, you will better be able to keep your gaze focused.

Digital transformation offers a great opportunity for companies to stay relevant with their customers and to reach out to new potential customers. By staying agile and focusing on manageable projects, companies can begin to see the changes they need.

How will you begin your digital transformation?

Leveraging Natural Language Processing To Its Fullest

Twenty years ago or even ten, if we were seen talking to our laptops and smartphones, we would have gained the stare from quite a few people around us, not anymore. Devices these days especially smartphones come equipped with technology that allows us to voice our demands and generate the necessary results. So, asking Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or even Google Now the best route to get to work in a jiffy and make a coffee stop while at it is a cakewalk.

Most tech enthusiasts will say that with the use of natural language processing that the aforementioned technologies use, technology has come of age. But, has it? Well, to be honest not quite. Though, natural language processing has a very promising future, with a McKinsey report claiming that 80% of technology could be automated through the use of natural language processing; its current state presents an opportunity for vast improvement.  This is especially true, for call center software that relies on natural language processing.

It is a scientifically established fact that our voices are as unique, if not more, than our fingerprints. The number of spoken languages in the world keeps growing year-on-year, with the current number of spoken languages in the world is being capped at 6909. The most advanced technologies such as Google are investing more and more resources to enhance their natural language understanding capabilities.

With more and more customers relying on self-service and automation such as quality management, meeting customer expectations is the only edge that contact centers can have. There are three common mistakes that most businesses are making when relying on software that offers natural language processing. Let’s analyze what these mistakes are.


Three Missed Opportunities For Businesses

1. Treating language as data

Though data is the basis of analytics that can help businesses understand their customers better, when it comes to natural language processing, this is not the case. Each data string needs to be treated individually instead of clubbing it together. Like each voice is unique, each request is unique, so should its results. Computational statistics and pattern recognition is not the best approach when it comes to artificial intelligence that uses natural language understanding. Simply transforming language into data and not understanding the context is a flaw that will need to be addressed.

2. Not a set formula

The context of a language is integral to its meaning. Language cannot be compartmentalized to a fixed set of formula. What most artificial intelligence models are missing out on is understanding the context in which the search request is being made. With customers having little patience to voice their concerns and even little time to repeat themselves, contact center software has to have the ability to understand the context of the query to completely and correctly address it.

3. The rationale behind language

The ‘customer is king’ is still the ruling phrase of the contact center industry and will be for a long time to come. The AI model that a contact center relies on should be facilitated with the ability to rationale a request. Our voices represent a myriad of emotions and often we forget that we are talking to a machine instead to a fellow human. To start with, a query can be resolved better if factors such as the time and location of the person making the request can be taken into consideration. Building trust and ensuring that eventually, the customer becomes dependent on the assistant should be the long term goal of any business.


Being At Par With Customer Expectations

Though technology is advancing at a rapid pace, growing customer expectations are matching their speed. Natural language processing has to understand all the nuances that language presents. Artificial intelligence models will need to be empowered in a way so as to understand not just the words being spoken but also the emotions represented by them.

Businesses can either blame movies such as the Star Wars and Iron Man series or actually use them as benchmarks that they need to achieve and even surpass. Research and development with the adoption of every achievement are necessary when it comes to the evolution of technology. Results that are effective, accurate, and efficient in the eyes of the customer need to be commonly achieved by all businesses.


A Promising Future

Natural language processing has the power that will enable our customers to directly interact with machines the way they do with fellow humans. Machines will need to evolve training and skills that will help them cater to the request of a baby boomer and a millennial differently.

The interactions between machines and humans are only likely to strengthen efficiencies of all parties involved. A McKinsey report clearly spells out a bright future by saying, ‘rethink how workers engage with their jobs and how digital labor platforms can better connect individuals, teams, and projects’ through natural language processing.

Ideal call flows are a great tool for contact center agents to interact with customers. These scripts give agents an expectation of how the call will proceed and can even ease anxiety when agents aren't sure what to expect or if they're new to the job. Sales and collections agents use call flows frequently - but all contact center agents can also benefit from ideal call flows. The difficulty with these call flows is the simple fact that they're ideal. As many contact center agents and managers can attest, customers do not always act as anticipated.

Active listening is key for customers

In addition, customers don't like the idea that they're being given a general remedy, instead of an individualized fix. A recent Forrester report, as cited by Amy Clark, showed that nearly seventy percent of those surveyed believed that scripts did not make their experience better. These users have a point. As Shawn Feaser pointed out on Engagement Optimization, when working off a rigid script that doesn't account for multiple pathways, it transforms interactions with customers into a series of unrelated events. Agents may be less likely to actively listen to customers' concerns. Instead, they're waiting for their turn to speak and giving canned responses - or even worse, they're preemptively answering for customers. That can lead to customers feeling like their feedback isn't valued. That negative interaction can have larger implications on the brand's relationship with customers. To remedy that, Fast Company contributor Harvey Deutschendorf suggested focusing on staying present, as opposed to preparing what you will say before the customer has finished talking.

Customers prefer when agents go off-script to help them.

What other tools do managers and agents have to handle this and make sure calls don't get derailed?

Feaser suggested creating categories that identify how the call went off script. Did the agent cut the call short (or resort to sarcasm)? Did the customer get frustrated and exit the call prematurely? This is where speech analytics and predictive analytics software can help. As Lucy Fisher noted in Marketing Week, predictive analytics can offer "next best steps," which can bring a derailed call back on track. Speech analytics can also offer solutions that can improve training. It can look for keywords that signal a deviation from the script. Managers can point out these trends when interacting with agents. As agents notice these patterns, they'll be more likely to catch them as they happen in real time and will be more prepared when facing tougher customer interactions.

There are a long list of reasons, related to both the customer and the agent, that an agent can lose focus. However, by employing these changes, managers can help keep calls on track.

As is the case with most buzzwords, customer engagement has a fuzzy definition, which can make it difficult for companies to create strategies that improve customer satisfaction and experience. As a result, engagement has a large number of misconceptions, which can stop contact center leaders from taking full advantage of the benefits that customer engagement offers and miss out on the opportunity to build a long-lasting relationship with their customers. To develop an effective customer experience strategy in their contact centers, leaders need to separate fact from fiction. Does your contact center hold any of these misconceptions?

1. Customers need to have the perfect interaction with your brand every time

Mistakes happen. Agents, like their customers, are human. Instead of worrying over mistakes, contact center leaders can turn them into opportunities to make customers loyal for life. It all depends on how your agents respond. Do they keep their cool in the face of a tough situation? Do they make the customer feel important? Training agents in empathy as well as investing in predictive analytics solutions can help turn a negative interaction into a learning experience. An additional benefit to this? Your agents will be empowered to offer solutions when working to deliver a positive outcome.

2. Customer engagement only happens on social media

With many customers opening fewer emails and turning to social media more and more frequently, it makes sense that major brands flock to the latest social media platform. However, successful customer engagement strategies look to build a relationship with customers every time they interact with a company and across multiple channels. For retailers like Amazon, that means there are multiple opportunities for success - from the moment customers log on the site to when they call in about complications with their Kindles.

Working across multiple channels can help contact centers achieve higher customer engagement.

3. You can only boost engagement one channel at a time

If you're looking to optimize customer engagement metrics, it's best to focus your resources on one channel at a time. This ensures you don't lose focus and only create a thin presence on multiple platforms. There's one problem, however: Your customers are already working on multiple channels. You may be losing a chance to create a strong bond by neglecting them. Some companies have handled this challenge by offering online chatbots while others have seen the opportunity to reassess how they're interacting with their customers.

4. Customer engagement is an 'intangible'

Similar to word-of-mouth, customer engagement is something business leaders strive for, yet don't insist that it have a concrete return on investment. This is probably one of the most deep-rooted misconceptions about customer engagement. How can you put a price tag on customer engagement? While it may be difficult to quantify when first implementing an engagement strategy, leaders can focus on incremental successes to measure their customer engagement. For instance, it may be difficult to know whether a website update made the customer journey easier based solely on purchases. However, if your analytics reveal customers are spending more time shopping and less time on FAQ pages or taking to social media to rave about the company, this could suggest they are engaging more.

Only by breaking down these misconceptions can leaders see how engaging with customers can help them develop sustainable long-term relationships.

Want to learn more about how you can optimize your customer engagement? Click here to download our latest whitepaper.


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