Monday, November 23, 2009

Twitter in Contact Centre & Customer Service

I had a very interesting comment from Simon on a past post, where he asks,

"What's the best example you've seen of a company embedding Twitter in its suite of contact centre channels? I'm interested to know what's seen as the best of the best."

I've covered Twitter in quite a few recent posts ("Cisco Contact Centre on Twitter ", "Cisco Contact Centre on Twitter - part two " and from back in February "Google and Twitter for Customer Service? "), but I haven't really talked much about Twitter as part of customer service in the contact centre.

Part of the challenge is that very little has yet been done beyond trial stages, and as result there's very little research on what best practice might be. It's also the case that a lot of the trials are in B2B environments (such as the two Cisco Twitter feeds I've blogged on), rather than the more traditional B2C environment of contact centre. Datamonitor have a short but interesting report "Twitter and Google as Customer Service Tools" and Forrester have the interesting report: "Using Twitter As A Customer Service Channel".

Forrester cites the US company JetBlue and mentions Bank of America and Comcast. I'm interested to see Jet Blue as an example and their Twitter page is here. To be honest, Twitter is clearly about much more than the traditional narrow definition of 'customer service'. My suspicion is that is about 'customer relationship' but with the focus on the 'relationship' part of things that CRM so completely missed by focusing on 'customer' and 'management'!

The other interesting thing is that JetBlue has always been innovative around customer service. They were one of the first companies to really use home contact centre agents extensively (there's a write up on the business model in Fast Company magazine here), and so it's not a huge surprise to find that JetBlue is they type of company innovating with Twitter.

The interesting thing about Twitter is how fast it all moves, so my suspicion is that best practice will evolve very rapidly as firms practice and play with it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The UK Contact Centre industry - a snapshot & top contact centres

I was very interested to see the Times carrying a "Top 50 Contact Centres" supplement on the 7th November. It was backed with a decent sized event in London and accompanying website.

This is tied to the CCF (Call Centre Focus) magazine and aims to recognise outstanding customer service. I have no quibble with the aim of putting customer service higher up the business agenda, but my concern is that there is a real danger of too many awards from too many organisations. Afterall, the 4th & 5th of November was the CCA (Customer Care Association) awards, where I had a vested interest because I had provided some sponsorship and where Cisco's own customer service operation has previously done very well (see the past post: Congratulations to Cisco's own contact centre team ).

I don't think we're quite at the stage of world professional boxing with the alphabet soup of title awarding bodies, like the WBC, WBA, IBF, etc..., but we are getting close.

There is, though, a decent argument that this shows that the UK contact centre industry is in good health and extremely vibrant. I think there may well be an element of truth in this and that the number of associations is a reflection of that.

I was also particularly interested to see that the excellent Australian blog "Your Call" on had also seen the Top 50 supplement and provided a snapshot from it of UK Contact Centre Industry stats:

  • 5180 contact centres in the UK
  • 48 billion calls received by companies from customers annually
  • 3% of UK workers are employed by call centres
  • 53% of employees would recommend the job to a friend
  • 84% is the overall average performance score for the Top 50 centres with regard to timeliness, ease of use, personalisation, reliability and knowledge
  • 94% of queries are answered in the first call.
While it's hard to draw quick conclusions from such high-level stats, this looks like an industry that is generally coping even though the downturn has made things quite challenging. This was the impression I got from the rather good Contact Babel report, "The UK Contact Centre Decision Makers Guide". A decent range of statistics but from my reading of it, supporting the view that the UK contact centre industry is generally very capable, even if under pressure due to the economic circumstances, and is a significant part of the UK economy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The annual Cisco & Dimension Data Speech survery 2009

Never one to rush into comment, the blog is pleased to note that the annual Speech Survey from Cisco, Dimension Data and (new this year) TellMe. For those interested, a PDF of the report is available from here, and I recommend it highly.

I covered the report last year (in the post "
It's time again for the Cisco/ Dimension Data Speech Survey"), so I'm please to see that the 'annual' report is continuing to be annual! This may seem a bit silly, but in the downturn many companies have cut previously committed marketing programs and so it's good to see that Cisco, Dimension Data and Tellme are continuing to invest in this research.

There are three key findings of the report that I found quite interesting:

  1. Online self-service is critical when thinking about IVR: Very interestingly, the report found that 44 per cent of consumers use online self-service first for their customer service requirements. Some 52 per cent of consumers between the ages of 16-34 fall into this category. As the report says “The increasingly multi-channel nature of customer service creates a real challenge for enterprises and vendors to design and deliver service experiences that are consistent across channels,”. It's clear that the voice portal and re-use of presentation components is likely to be the future way to go for IVR development.

  2. Customers don't like most speech implementations: Some 41 per cent of consumers say they would prefer to use speech recognition as little as possible, while 15 per cent of enterprises have this position. Only 3 per cent of vendors have this negative response. Reinforcing consumers’ dislike of speech recognition, 40 per cent of respondents said they avoid using speech systems “whenever possible”. Only 25% of consumers say they would be happy to use speech solutions again.

  3. Customers and Enterprises don't see speech as bringing the same benefits: While vendors and enterprises largely viewed speech recognition’s ability to reduce waiting times as an improvement in customer service, consumers did not, the report found. In fact, he number of consumers who perceived no benefit to using automated services had grown from 20 per cent in 2008 to 31 per cent in 2009. “It clearly shows a failure on the part of vendors and enterprises to explain the benefits to consumers and highlights an area for improvement,” the report said. “To achieve a shift in customer perception, vendors and enterprises need to actively invest in delivering and promoting the perceived benefits and educating consumers on the additional, less apparent benefits.”
I think the key issue here is the user experience. If you deploy speech for inappropriate functions and do so purely to cut costs, then (oddly), customers do not feel valued or that they have had a good experience. I found it very interesting that the report also found that one reason for the high level of consumer dissatisfaction with speech recognition systems came down to poor or non-existent levels of integration with the next stages of customer service which resulted in callers having to repeat all their information again to an agent once they got there. It strikes me as elementary, but if you are going to spend all that money on a speech implementation, then ensuring that the data you capture in the self-service environment is passed on to agents is surely a basic step!

All very interesting and highlights that some of the success challenges that Speech faces are not the ones that vendors tend to think of!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cisco and launch joint offering

Quite an exciting development earlier this month, when Cisco and announced the launch of a joint contact centre in the cloud offering.

This is very interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that this is a very interesting example of a cloud based, fully bundled CRM and contact centre solution. The second is that this is part of a wider trend of alliances in the IT industry where customer needs require firms to integrate pre-sale, rather than the more traditional post-sale integration of all the bits the customer has selected.

The Cisco and solution is (for the moment) only available in the US and is targeted initially at mid-sized firms. There's been a lot of coverage internationally (click here for UK examples) and I expect the solution will be available in Europe, perhaps during 2010.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Contact Centre Expo 2009 - Day Two

I meant to get this post published yesterday, when it really was the end of Day Two of Contact Centre Expo. Sadly, the lack of a wireless connection on Virgin Trains meant that it has had to wait until now for me to get the post up onto the blog.

In my previous post ("Contact Centre Expo 2009 - Day One"), I raised the question as to whether there was much innovation to be seen at this years CC Expo. I was very please to have my question taken up by Plantronics (see the comments to Day One's post) on stand D17, who suggested that if I was interested in innovation I should come and have a look at their stand.

I'll admit that I was slightly unsure, as while I was sure that headsets could be improved from the days when I was an agent (back in the late '90s), I just didn't know what was possible. In fact, an awful lot is possible, and 'headsets' was a totally misleading concept.

Two of Plantronics products showed innovation that got me very interested:

Plantronics IP40 Audio Processor - The name is all a bit deceptive. What Plantronics are really talking about here is a SIP endpoint that gives all the benefits of a phone handset to an agent without the cost (and space) of having to buy each contact centre agent a traditional phone handset. After all, a contact centre agent usually drives their telephony environment through the CTI user interface on their desktop computer and so doesn't use most of the buttons that a phone provides. This rather neat little device gives the agent all the controls they need while saving on space, power and cost. The use of SIP was, I thought, particularly intriguing as the this opens up a lot of software to device options that could stretch beyond the traditional contact centre. It's potentially a very disruptive technology as it attacks those contact centre manufacturers who have relied on high-priced handsets to subsidise the cost of their core software technology. It's potentially very interesting and for a little device it may be much more disruptive than it looks.

Plantronics Savi Office - I've encountered wireless headsets in the past, but generally these had been unsuitable for the contact centre as they'd run Bluetooth. I was much more taken with the DECT based options that I saw on the Plantronics stand. These headsets were reliable enough for proper contact centre use, but allowed the agent to move away from their computer for an extended period. I wouldn't see this as suitable for the majority of agents, where the agent handles so many short duration calls that they need to be close to the screen and a cable makes little difference over wireless, but for higher end agents (such as financial planners), I could see this working well. This type of agent that has longer duration, very high value calls may well need to move around or get information that's away from their desk and this sort of headset is definitely the way forward for that type of role.

Other stands that caught my eye were:

  • CCC - Another interesting outsourcer, this time focused on Germany and Central Europe. The CCC stands for Competence Call Centre and they had some interesting ideas around BPO and how to add value when running contact centres in a high cost country.
  • Eptica - An interesting company focused on the web and e-mail parts of multi-channel customer service. What was interesting for me was that being European, they instinctively understood the need to manage channels in multiple languages, something that the more US-centric start-ups sometimes forget.
All in all, a good show (at least for me) and I think perhaps more valuable for me than last year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Contact Centre Expo 2009 - Day One

It's that time of the year again, when most of the UK Contact Centre industry gathers in Birmingham for the Contact Centre Expo.

I covered the Expo last year (see the posts "UK Call Centre Expo" and "UK Contact Centre Expo Day 2") and was interested in the feedback I got as both comments and as e-mails. In the feedback, there was a solid body of opinion that the 2008 Expo lacked much innovation from the vendors. This needed to be weighed against a smaller set of feedback arguing that the show did offer new and valuable ideas, but nonetheless, there was a strong view that the exhibitors needed to raise their game.

I understand where the first group are coming from, but I still find the Expo very useful just because it has so many vendors and customers gathered in the same place and I find innovation a bonus on top of that. There are interesting ideas out in the exhibitor hall (as well as a few rather tired ones) and it's worth going round the Expo to see what is genuinely new.

So the stands that worked for me in the exhibitor hall, in no particular order, were:

  • Sword Ciboodle - In some ways, nothing radically new from what I used to know as Graham Technology. In other ways some interesting incremental improvements and a feeling that the market for process based CRM was probably one of the growth areas of CRM. I've felt for a while that the record-centric approach of Oracle/Siebel grown too big for many customers and too 'one size fits all', so it was interesting to see a CRM approach that was much more process-centric.
  • 60k - Presenting themselves as 'The Alternative BPO & Contact Centre Outsourcer', I was interested to see what 60k thought distinguished themselves from the many other outsourcers in the hall. Part of the answer was "Bulgaria", but the value proposition was much more than that. I've managed outsourced contact centres in a past job (we had European customers with customer service sites split between Europe and South Africa), and my experience is that outsourcing to far off locations can have real disadvantages when you try and manage the resulting operation. Nearshoring and so locating your centre within three hours flight time, but still with cheaper labour is very interesting. The crucial advantage of Bulgaria is that it is in the EU and the EU location is a big advantage over destinations like India when you think of the challenges with outsourcing and data movement compliance with the laws on exporting data outside the EU. What also interested me was the focus of 60k on higher value business process. I've long argued that this is where outsourcing needs to go (see past posts like "Offshore - why I would go for South Africa over India") and it was good to see 60k as a European outsourcer positioning things like 'Insurance Claims Processing' and 'Product Recall Management' that add real value to customers, rather than trying to sell cheap call centre seats.
  • Egypt - I am very interested in the Egyptian contact centre industry as it shows what growth can happen very quickly with government support. I had a good chat with Raya contact centres, who run the contact centre operations of a number of the big tech firms. I must confess a vested interest here, as I recently blogged on Cisco opening their 300 seat centre in Egypt (see "New offshore developments in the European Market") and it was very useful to hear the Egyptian perspective on this.

So all in all very useful (on top of being an exhibitor with a decent number of customer visits to our stand).

Tomorrow, things I'd like to do are:
  • Catch up with Redbox Recorders to understand what they are offering.
  • Have a look at the Nortel stand to understand how they are presenting things after last weeks acquisition by Avaya.
  • Talk to Aspect and better understand the relationship with Microsoft that is so prominent on their stand. (I'm guessing things have moved on since I covered posted on the tie-up announcements back in March last year "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect")
As always, do let me have any suggestions for other areas that are getting attention.....

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cisco Contact Centre on Twitter - part two

One of the things with Web 2.0 is that it can be a little bit of a lottery as to which information sources you find.

So earlier this week, I blogged about Cisco CCBU getting onto Twitter. In fact, this is just one of the developers in the Cisco Contact Centre Business Unit setting up a Twitter account for his area of work which is the next generation reporting based around the Cisco CUIS product.

What I'd not known was that already on Twitter was the Cisco Contact Centre feed, run by the business unit and available at: . More generally, for those who want contact centre news as part of the wider Cisco Collaboration offerings, there is: , covering the wider Cisco collaboration portfolio.

There should be something for every level of interest in contact centre in there....

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cisco Contact Centre on Twitter

It's good to see that the Cisco Contact Centre Business Unit (CCBU) is up and running on Twitter at .

At the moment there's a focus on the CUIS product, which is Cisco's new and rather appealing web based reporting tool. There will (I understand) be coverage of Cisco Unified Contact Centre Enterprise and Cisco Unified Contact Centre Express, as well as such core individual products as ICM.

I like this use of twitter as although I'm not a big user, I do like to be notified of updates and 'hot off the press' updates. I find RSS is good for this if I have my laptop set up, but if I'm off on customer sites (not all of which provide guest access) then twitter works well for my mobile device.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

BT has problems returning contact centre jobs & workforce management

It was only in July that British Telecom announced that it was returning at least 2,000 contact centre jobs back to the UK. I covered it in the post "British Telecom brings back contact centre jobs to the UK" and thought it was excellent news.

Now it seems there are problems as The Times reports that British workers are unwilling to cover the shifts that the Indian employees worked. The union is arguing that it is difficult for some employees with family commitments to change work patterns. I have a feeling this story is perhaps subject to an element of 'PR spin'. The Communications Workers Union is (I suspect) negotiating hard for its members, as it should, and BT is haggling over how much it flexibility it can get from it staff. In short, both sides are doing exactly what they should, and it will tend to look ugly until they get to an agreement.

To a certain extent these issues with shift work and agent availability are relatively familiar and have long been addressed by the call centre industry.

Whether through agent skills, or personal reasons, or employment legislation there are always restrictions on which calls which agents can take. This is why there is a lucrative industry of contact centre workforce management (WFM) software and why these products are needed in most large call centres. I've gone into the subject in some depth in the post "Workforce Management - is it only for high end call centres?" back in 2007, but it may be worth a re-visit. The point is, that with this software it is possible for BT to automate the management of some elements of their call centre changes without great cost.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to reach an agent , Aussie style, and 0870 numbers in the UK

Not strictly a European story, but interesting to see on the very good site that covers APAC and Australia, a news story on how to reach agents directly.

It seems that such is the frustration with IVRs and self-service that an enterprising Aussie has set up a wiki type site called so that consumers can share details of how to get straight through to a human. It's interesting to see how consumers really haven't bought into self-service the way much of the contact centre industry has. My suspicion is that consumers still need a lot of persuasion that self-service can benefit them and isn't just there for companies to save money.

To show how this can back fire badly, it's worth looking at non-geographic numbers in the UK. Originally these were introduced as a way of ensuring that consumers knew how much it would cost to call and so that a business could provide a single number for contact, regardless of where it's staff were located (or moved to). The problem was that once free local calls became more common in consumer telephone packages, a local non-geographic number meant that the consumer was now paying for something that free for them. Also consumers began to realise that non-geographic national numbers were costing them substantial sums in an era of otherwise falling telephone costs.

The consumer response (similar to Australia) was to set up the Say no to 0870 website, which was entirely designed to bypass national non-geographic numbers by instead giving the true, local number for each call centre. This was picked up by national media (especially by BBC Radio 2) and is now widely used in the UK and can save consumers significant sums.

The results for the users of non-geographic numbers have been less happy. One bank described to me how they had used non-geographic numbers to virtualise multiple contact centre sites in the UK. The idea was that by providing a non-geographic number they could virtualise their operations, use any agent anywhere in the UK to serve customers, and provide customers with a shorter wait time in queue. The problem was the Say no to 0870 website had had caused havoc with this by providing the local number for each contact centre so that calls were no longer queued centrally and customers ended up waiting longer.

The trouble is, that like the self-service example in Australia, the bank had never explained to consumers why the 0870 number might benefit them. As a result, consumer have seen something that appears to disadvantage them and have responded. It is arguable that this is all part of the consumer Web 2.0 response, and that these examples highlight how web 2.0 (or at least some technology changes, if you don't like the "web 2.0" term!) have empowered consumers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Man in the middle fraud in call centres

Never one to post only on up to the minute stories, the blog was quite interested in the Finextra report a fortnight ago on "man in the middle" fraud in call centres. I just haven't had a chance to write on it until now.

Traditionally, man in the middle fraud has been more associated more with the web channel than the telephone channel (see for example "Man-in-the-middle phishing kits circulating freely on the Web" or "ABN Amro compensates victims of 'man-in-the-middle' phishing attack" from Finextra), so it's interesting to see the attack take place in the telephone channel. It's also interesting that the attack described in Finextra is very low tech compared with the programing knowledge required for the phisihing attacks. The telephone version of man in the middle is described as,

"....where a fraudster calls the victim claiming to work for their bank, warning that their account may have been breached or compromised. The criminal then puts the customer on hold and calls their bank, connecting the two while remaining on the line.

The bank then requests authentication information, such as social security number, passwords and other personal information. Once the personal information is provided, the fraudster quickly ends the conference line and informs the customer that the issue has been resolved.

Meanwhile, with the personal information gathered during the call, the fraudster can take over the customer's phone banking relationship and transfer money out of their accounts."

The interesting thing for me is that for this type of attack to be successful, it highlights how weak the process side of some banks can be. This attack depends on the banks authentication process revealing (a) all of the customer's authentication data each time and (b) not ensuring that customers have multiple levels of authentication. Most banks I've worked with probably wouldn't be caught by this kind of fraud, so I'm interested to see that there are banks out there that still lag so far behind.

It's far less sophisticated than some of the the attack I've seen recently, where fraudsters have built fake IVRs to pretend to be the bank and used VoIP diversion to fool customers into thinking they are calling a local number (see posts like "Contact Centre impersonation arrives in the UK") and probably far less likely to succeed. Similarly, targeted social engineering attacks are also more likely to succeed as these tend to rely on bypassing security procedures rather than attacking them head on.

I would argue that deception based attacks around identity impersonation (such as the one on Barclays discussed in the post "Security, Call Centres and Fraud") seems to be where the real threat remains, but I'm not so sure that the man in the middle approach is where the real threat lies. My suspicion is that combinations of phishing and contact centre impersonation will remain the fastest growing threat for some years to come.

Friday, July 17, 2009

British Telecom brings back contact centre jobs to the UK

Amidst all the gloom, it was good to see one positive news story. Yesterday, The Times reported that British Telecom was to bring at least 2,000 jobs back to the UK from India. In some ways it's a very significant move that, despite a recession and the cost problems at its Global Services arm, BT is not looking at running it's contact centre on the lowest possible cost base. In fact, BT is planning to close about half its Indian operation.

I was interested to see in the report that Ian Livingston (the BT CEO) denied that this was to do with customer service, despite a popular perception that BT hasn't got good customer service. The blog has looked at this previously (see the post from last year "CEOs of BT, the Royal Mail and Corel discuss telephone customer service"), and BT were quite open that they did not consider their customer service optimal.

I'm not sure this was a particular problem from their Indian operation, but it is certainly the case that Indian no longer represents the cheapest destination for offshoring and I've never thought India should compete for work on that basis. The problem is (as I've discussed in posts like "Indian Outsourcing, is it in decline?") is that many Indian organisations have competed on a cost basis and so have not necessarily delivered on quality or customer satisfaction. As a result, customer perception (regardless of the reality) is that many offshore contact centres are not going to meet their needs.

BT may have its own additional reasons for bringing the work back to the UK, such as wishing to minimise UK redundancies, but I think the CEO will appreciate any gains in customer satisfaction that this brings!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Scale and its problems in the contact centre

This week and last week I've been on site at the contact centres of some of the UK's biggest banks. These are also some of the UK's biggest contact centres, so it's been very interesting to see the challenge scale presents.

These organisations tend to have at least 10 million customers, which is a decent number if they all decide to phone you! What makes it even more challenging is that these 10 million customers have they data spread across thirty or more years of legacy systems.

It's interesting for me that the challenge of scale that this presents has been well addressed by telephony but the IT industry still lags behind to a certain extent. This might sound controversial, but if I explain that this is viewed from the perspective of customer service, it should become clearer. Contact Centre telephony (whether Cisco, Avaya, or Genesys) pretty much scales to run a very large customer service operation. It's taken twenty years of ACD development to get here (and the evolution of TDM technology to IP), but the telephony side of things works in terms of getting a call to anywhere that the organisation wants it to go.

By comparison, the availability of data and customer information (especially in real time) is still a real challenge. All the organisations I've been working with run 3270 sessions, or other terminal emulation, as so much of their data is still mainframe based. Processes similarly can be embedded in applications and present real challenges scaling to the wider enterprise. There is recognition that the process and application layer is now one of the choke points for customer service and IT System Integrators are starting to address it (see posts like "System Integrators write interesting things about contact centre for the downturn!"). The problem is that while mainframe was previously a very good answer to many of the scaling problems that organisations experienced, integrating yesterdays good solution into today's customer service requirements is still a struggle.

It's an interesting set of challenges and one I'll blog on further.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New offshore developments in the European Market

The blog is back from a week's sailing and is much refreshed. (Apologies to readers, but this is the European Contact Centre Blog, so please understand that the blog takes a European approach to getting enough vacation!).

I was very interested to see two new developments in contact centre offshoring while I was away. South Africa and Egypt may not be countries that instantly say "Europe", but both are making big plays for a share of the European outsourcing market.

The first was that South Africa did extremely well at the Contact Centre World EMEA awards on the 17th June. There were South African gold medals wins in the categories of Best Community Service Award for Kelly, Best OutSource Partner for The Institute of Performance Technology and in the the Best Supervisor for Zainool Abedeen Bux from Rewardsco Contact Centres. there were also a number of good silver medals and other runners up awards. There's a good report here at the Contact Centre World EMEA site or in the news section of the BpeSA Gauteng site. I've long thought that South Africa was potentially the next big thing for offshoring (see past posts like "Offshore - why I would go for South Africa over India") and the evidence seems to support this. I like the focus and the marketing on "business process offshoring". This is is a good differentiator over the "your mess, for less" approach of some of the Indian firms that have competed simply on the lower cost of Indian agents. Instead, a focus on process allows the South Africans to stress the value add potential of their work that comes with the cost advantages of their local labour market. I've always thought that with the widespread use of English and Dutch in South Africa (I know it's Afrikaans, but it will work for the Dutch/Belgian Flemish markets), that the South Africans have a potential advantage in any offshored work that required good language skills.

Meanwhile, on June 11th, Cisco announced that it was setting up a significant contct centre operation in Egypt that would to provide service for Europe and the Middle East. This is a 300 person centre which will provide customer service for Cisco's emerging markets customers in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. This is a very interesting example of the power that government intervention and support can have, as the Egyptian Ministry of Telecommunications has been building up the country's contact centre and IT capabilities. The Egyptians were quite prominent at the UK's Contact Centre Expo last year (see my post "UK Contact Centre Expo Day 2") as the South Africans were the year before, which was what prompted me to write the "Offshore - why I would go for South Africa over India" post.

My suspicion is that there is enough market in Europe for both South Africa and Egypt to win share. I also suspect that this won't hurt the competent and forward thinking European call centres who understand the need to add value and be efficient. I suspect the casualties will be those older contact centres in Europe that weren't adding much value and are no longer meeting customer needs. Of course, one other important point is that both Egypt and South Africa have the opportunity to become regional hubs for Africa and they will both I suspect have opportunities to grow beyond the outsourcing market.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Contact Centre impersonation arrives in the UK

I wrote yesterday on the problems the Commonwealth Bank of Australia was having with a phishing attack that caused customers to call a fake contact centre that impersonated the bank's centre and captured their credit card details ("Phishing fraud steps up a new level with fake bank IVR & contact centre").

It now seems that this fraud has reached the UK. The BBC is reporting here that the Bank of Scotland has been targeted by fraudsters who have been able to divert customer calls. There's few details in the BBC report other than that the calls were diverted and that there is a theory that a former contact centre employee may be involved. An inside job does seem a strong possibility, and the infiltration of call centres by organised crime is a real risk. Although it wasn't widely covered, the BBC reported back in 2006 that Strathclyde Police believed that perhaps one in ten call centres had been targeted by organised criminals (article here). Normally, though, crime in contact centres has been opportunistic and carried out by individuals. A typical example was when the Barclays Chairman, Marcus Agius, had his details and money stolen by one of his own employees (covered on the blog in the post "Security, Call Centres and Fraud").

It is a worrying development if organised crime has, well, got itself more organised, and moved up from individuals stealing details to systematic attacks from the inside on the banks' contact centre systems.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Phishing fraud steps up a new level with fake bank IVR & contact centre

I normally focus the blog on Europe, but this story from Australia shows a very alarming new level of fraud. In this case fraudsters have targeted Commonwealth Bank of Australia customers with a fake IVR and call centre.

The story ( fully available at here ) is very worrying. It shows that fraudsters are graduating from e-mail phishing to a far more advanced form of fraud. While the e-mail is still the basic trigger for the fraud, a sophisticated use of VoIP (Voice over IP) and IVR systems is a new development. While most consumers are now knowledgeable enough of the risks of fraud to avoid clicking on e-mail links, phone numbers are much more trusted. This fraud relies on customers trusting local dial codes and the familiarity with entering information into the touchtone IVR system. APCmag describes the fraud as:

"An email sent out on 26th May included a phone number in Brisbane to call to unsuspend blocked Maestro cards, but as of today, the number is disconnected. However, another email received this morning has an 08 area code number that is still in operation. According to ACMA, the number is a GoTalk VoIP number, which anyone could have registered over the web using stolen credit card details. (We've tried contacting GoTalk to notify them of this problem but were not able to immediately reach our regular media contacts.)

We called it, and were alarmed that the computer on the other end recognised the fact that we were keying in bogus numbers — an indication that at a bare minimum, it is doing algorithmic validation of the numbers being entered, and in a worst case scenario is operating a live payment gateway system to immediately siphon funds from accounts."

At the moment, most consumers would see a local phone number and trust that to mean that their call was really going there. Few would understand the potential of Voice over IP to route the call anywhere in the world. Fewer consumers still would understand that an IVR system that answered a phone call and asked for identity verification and card details might not be what it seems.

Like most frauds, this is a clever exploitation of some basic technology, but an exploitation in a brand new way. It may be a one off, but I suspect it may represent a new development as the fight against e-mail based phishing becomes more successful. To date, security in call centre has been focused on internal threats and social engineering attacks (see my posts like "Security, Call Centres and Fraud" and "Call centre worker gaoled for data theft"), but no-one has yet impersonated a contact centre on this scale before.

In my view, it looks as if the ease with which IP protocol allowed websites to be impersonate will become a danger for voice.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Where are Speech Biometrics in Europe?..... and the Your Call Blog

I was very interested to see the news on the Call site that CentreLink is moving to replace its PIN and password system with voice biometrics. For those not so familiar with Australia, CentreLink is the Australian Government's welfare agency and so it's a pretty substantial and sizable public facing organisation (there's more information on the organisation here).

What I find interesting is that in Europe I'm hardly seeing interest in speech on the same scale. Last time I wrote about speech (in the post "BBC Moneybox on Speech Recognition for banking"), I got a big response and a very good example of speech being used in the Philippines for accessing government services. Another APAC example, and I can't think of anything comparable in Europe.

What it makes it very relevant to me is that this week the Call blog ("Your Call" by Dr. Catriona Wallace) is over in Europe. I admire Dr. Wallace's blog for the frequency of posting, even if this week I wasn't so sure of the etiquette discussion! Now in this week's blog post, she highlights that Europe seems to know very little of the APAC and Australian contact centre market. Of course she is writing from Lisbon, and Portugal is not one of those countries with strong connections to Australia. This is one of the problems with treating Europe as a single entity, I suspect she'd probably find Britain much more knowledgeable on APAC, but Britain would be no where near as knowledgeable on Brazil and South America as a Portuguese audience.

I appreciate that the many languages and size of some of the markets has made things difficult for speech vendors in Europe (and I went into this in more details in the post "Technology firms, Europe and speech recognition"), but that doesn't fully explain why speech seems to be taking off in Australia and making little headway in Europe. Is it perhaps ignorance of what is being achieved elsewhere? Are there more fundamental barriers to speech adoption in Europe that I'm missing?

This is perhaps time to appeal to my readership and say, "Why do you think we're not seeing many speech projects in Europe?" All ideas welcome!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Axa to create 600 new UK contact centre jobs

A piece of good news reported on CCF, "AXA to create 600 jobs". I was particularly interested to see that these jobs are onshore in the UK.

The blog has looked at Axa contact centres before, at least the Swiftcover bit of the business) in the post "Are call centres so bad they hinder business?", so it's good to see that another part of Axa has more confidence in the power of customer service.

It's one of those things where the insight comes from the detail. The part of Axa creating these jobs is Axa Helathcare, and the part with the aversion to call centres is Swifcover who specialise in motor insurance. These are very different business, with different margins, expectations of service and complexity.

I've written on this a lot before, but Axa encapsulates this neatly. If the service required is simple, move it to the web. If it's complicated and a brand differentiator, then think about onshore and service quality as higher priorities than simple cost to serve metrics. It's noticeable that this contact centre will not just be onshore, but be in Kent (not the traditional lower cost contact centre areas of the North of England or Scotland). Presumably the ease of access to London and Paris, as well as access to high quality labour from a large catchment area influenced the thinking.

The view of automate or keep it high-quality isn't just my thinking, more authoritative writes than me have covered this, such as Sramana Mitra and her controversial article "The Coming Death Of Indian Outsourcing" in Forbes (covered on this blog at: "Indian Outsourcing, is it in decline? ").

I can see strong value in offshoring some back-office functions (see "Lloyds TSB offshores IT, not call centre"), but I do believe that if customer service is to be valuable, then it needs to be done with quality agents who understand the environment the end customer is in. This partly why I do see roles for countries like South Africa (see: "Offshore - why I would go for South Africa over India"), but I struggle to see a role for countries that try to bid for customer service business on a cost basis.

Still very good news in the current economic environment to see jobs being created.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Nortel - the misery continues

I was very sorry to see the story on the Register of "Nortel Confirms Fire Sale - and shrinking revenues" . It is a dreadful situation for the employees to be in and not much fun for their existing customers either.

I was particularly struck by the short paragraph towards the end mentioning that Nortel employees were to demonstrate outside parliament over their dissmisal without notice or redundancy payment. This has been reported on the UK contact centre sites (see for example "Ex-Nortel staff lobby Parliament" on Call Centre Focus), but I'm surprised that none of the mainstream news organisations have featured it more prominently. It seems very harsh, if reports are accurate, that staff lost their jobs with no notice while at the same time the administrators approved executive multi-million bonus payments.

I appreciate that the troubles at Nortel are no surprise, and even this blog had problems at Nortel as one of its predictions for 2009 (see "First of my contact centre predictions for 2009 happens - Nortel"), but there's no satisfaction in seeing the what's happening.

I think this story will run and run, as while at the moment we're looking at the 229 staff who are demonstrating over the administrators actions, the pension fund will be the story soon. There's not been much since January when the size of the pension fund deficit was revealed (apart from this story in March in the Guardian "Nortel pension fund deficit rocks state lifeboat"), but the pensions will affect perhaps 43,000 people or more. If the administrators Ernest and Young think that there are problems now, it could be nothing compared to what happens if there are any issues with the pension fund.

Friday, May 08, 2009

FSA (finally) determines offshore call centres a risk

I seem to hear the sound of a stable door being shut, and long after the horse has bolted.

The FSA seems finally to have realised that offshore call centres can constitute a risk in financial services. This is not to say all centres, but that offshore centres managed and compliant only to local standards may not protect consumer data that well. Indeed they may be in countries where the law does not recognise most cyber crime or where it is unenforceable.

This isn't news to anyone in the industry, but the FSA has been remarkably relaxed about this until now. It has amazed me that if the data was in the UK it had to be managed securely and comply with what the EU demands, but if the same institution took the data offshore, then the FSA took little interest.

It's perhaps best quote the report in the Financial Times, as it sets out all the issues very well:

"The FSA found that all firms it visited had a high staff turnover rate and a need for constant recruitment, which was seen as a key financial crime risk given the continuing infiltration of financial services firms by organised criminals seeking to obtain sensitive customer data.

In a number of firms the FSA also found that staff vetting procedures were "inconsistent" and did not apply to all staff, which increased the risk that firms may inadvertently take on a person with a criminal background.
The FSA also found that some employees had provided the financial services call centres with false CVs.
The regulator said: "We were informed that fake CVs, inconsistent references and previous employers being reluctant to provide references were common in India."

On top of this, the FSA also said staff training was "generally poor" and urged firms to do more to ensure staff are equipped to identify and report potential financial crime risks.

An FSA spokeswoman said the review was aimed at helping firms understand how having an offshore centre affects firms responsibilities. She added: "Whatever security processes or compliance measures you apply to your business in UK, firm must makes sure those standards are also being applied to the business elsewhere.""

The thing that amazes me is it has taken so long to get to this position. This blog has covered some of the failings in onshore contact centres (see "Call centre worker gaoled for data theft" or "Security, Call Centres and Fraud", for example) and the BBC has highlighted a number of examples in the offshore area (see "Indian Call Centre Fraud and the BBC News"). It's been an area of huge consumer concern and one of the focal points of the opposition to offshoring.

I still believe offshoring has a role to play but it has to be done in a way that complies with UK security standards and where the threat is no greater than onshore. It is no use getting customers to check a waiver box agreeing to their data being handled outside of the EU and thinking that is an end to the matter.

This also highlights one of the great fallacies in offshoring, that it is just a cheaper way of delivering a call centre with the value proposition of "your mess for less". I've long argued that offshoring for cost reasons only is a mistake (see "The comming death of Indian Outsourcing" or "Onshore, Offshore & Internet Resilliency" for examples) and that offshoring for cost has significant risks in areas outside of security such as brand perception and customer experience..

Longer term, I think offshoring still has great potential for businesses who want to provide 24hr customer service through a follow the sun model, but this story is another nail in the coffin for those who see outsourcing as a cost saving.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Design and the Contact Centre

It's a hectic week, which is why I haven't had a chance to blog until now about the radio program I heard on Sunday night.

I was listening to the BBC's "In Business" program and it was one of those thought provoking epiphanies. The program was focused on how design should influence business and there's a good summary on the presenter's blog.

Now, design is something that manufacturers think about for products, but how many contact centres consider it? When we think of customer experience, it tends to be owned (if at all) by the marketing department. Yet, as Peter Day's program makes clear, customer experience could be tackled by designers equally well or perhaps better.

A brief think about Apple and their design led approach suggests that there might be a lot of merit to this approach. I would argue that Apple is not that technically superior to most of its competitors (though it is very good), but that Apple are light years ahead of the competition in looking at design as a way of driving the whole customer experience. Yet until Apple started getting serious market momentum, most of IT was led by a marketing based approach to features and functions.

What really interests me is what would happen to the contact centre if it were to take a design led approach to it's functions. I think it's something I should spend more time thinking about. IT seems to tie in very well to two other subjects dear to the blog's heart, brand and process (see posts like: "Barclays, silent calling & we've been here before... " for brand and "System Integrators write interesting things about contact centre for the downturn!" for some thoughts on process).

In the meantime, though, it's off to catch the 6am flight to Edinburgh.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another outbound call that worked for me.....

I think it's like buses, you wait for ages for one and then two come along at once.

In the same way, I've complained about poor outbound calling for ages, and then have received two good outbound calls. The last one was from my utility company (see blog post: " Getting a good cold call ...and from a utility company too! "), this one was from my television provider.

Again it was a smarter offer than most cold calls. It offered me something I'd been thinking about doing (upgrading my package to watch the British Lions vs. South Africa rugby union test series) but I probably wouldn't have got round to doing. Instead with a bit of a nudge and quite a bit of a discount, I did.

I'm not sure if this was good use of analytics to identify customers by interests, but it was a well timed call with a good offer. Not rocket science, but still something beyond much of the witless automated outbound dialling that goes on in the UK market.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Happy holidays - and bad news on jobs

It's time for the Easter break across most of Europe but, welcome as a holiday is, the news on jobs stays grim.

For every story like that of Sallie Mae returning offshore jobs (covered on the blog earlier this week in the post "Sallie Mae - Customer service or protectionism? "), there is another side.

The BBC is reporting that T-Mobile is looking to offshore 500 UK contact centre jobs to the Philippines. This comes in the same fortnight that the UK CCF site reported that Virgin Media was looking to shed 150 jobs in its Nottingham Telesales operation.

Compared to the massive job losses reported at the banks (e.g. 9,000 at Royal Bank of Scotland) this may not seem much, but 650 call centre jobs is significant and the losses seem to be steady. All we can hope for is that things look a bit better after the Easter break.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sallie Mae - Customer service or protectionism?

An interesting story on Finextra that Sallie Mae is looking to bring back onshore around 2,000 jobs.

It's a trend that so far in Europe has been primarily associated with customer service. I've covered some other business that have brought work back onshore in previous posts (see "Despite the credit crunch, still call centre growth at Barclays" or "HSBC creates 250 UK call centre jobs & offshore in decline"), and in the UK this trend for onshoring has also been the case for non-financial services companies like Orange.

The main reason up to know for taking previously offshored work back onshore has been problems with customer service. This hasn't necessarily been a language competence issue (though sometimes it has been) but has been primarily about how agents' accents, soft-skills and cultural awareness have not always tied into the image a brand has wanted to project. It's also been the case that a broken customer service processes don't get fixed just by moving country. There is also little point for a firm to spend a great deal on marketing if the media regularly cite them as an example of poor customer service.

Sallie Mae, though, seems to be the first example of what might be a new trend. Their CEO is quite explicit that this drive back onshore has nothing to do with customer service, and is quoted in the Finextra article as saying:

"The current economic environment has caused our communities to struggle with job losses. They need jobs, and we will put 2000 of them into US facilities as soon as we possibly can,"

Sallie Mae does need to be attractive to politicians in the market it serves, but that need is not just confined to US financial institutions at the moment. It will be interesting to see if this drive back onshore to win favour with national politicians becomes a trend. Often it is some of the European countries who are most associated with protectionism, but my view is that this will only work for the countries that do it if it also gives customers better service.

Monday, April 06, 2009

VoiceCon 2009 - Now that the dust has settled, and IBM and Microsoft

So what to make of VoiceCon 2009 Orlando?

There didn't seem to be the major announcements that we got in 2008 (see: "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect ") but in some ways I think we saw events of more significance.

The first thing is that Microsoft are in this business and are in it seriously. Last year's announcements, while significant, suggested that partnering was the key to Microsoft getting into the voice business. This year the revolutionary aspects of Microsoft's arguments were much more explicit. I rather liked their key-note session. It made one or two very key points that as voice moves from a hardware based solution to a software centric solution, it changes dramatically and that this is the logical evolution of VoIP. I also liked the fact that their demo used a Mac running Safari to Microsoft compatibility. I'm not normally a fan of Microsoft, but I felt they did make the more insightful points. I remain dubious about their ability to execute, but then so were the TDM vendors about IP Telephony! The video is worth checking out:

IBM also did a good pitch, around their UC2 solution from Louts. I liked the blue screen of death April Fool's hoax, but otherwise I felt that they were showing an evolution of Lotus Sametime rather than the more radical changes that Microsoft had in their vision.

In short, I think this software-centric approach to voice is the vision of the future. Whether or not it will be delivered by Microsoft is open to debate, but this was a far more visionary view than the alliances of last year.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

VoiceCon Orlando 2009 - Day 1 & Day 2

The blog is not at VoiceCon this year (travel restrictions as part of the global downturn), but I'm taking a keen interest at long range. Fortunately for those of us not able to travel, the VoiceCon 2009 site is running a good series of videos of all the key note speakers.

Last year saw some big announcements (covered in my blog post "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect ") but so far these haven't translated into much market change. To be sure Microsoft continues to push with OCS and has a developing Unified Communications story but I have yet to see them get significant traction in Europe. Microsoft and IBM go today, so it will be interesting to see if there are any major announcements from them.

Yesterday it Cisco and Avaya (among others) doing the key note speeches.

Avaya announced the launch of their new solution architecture 'Avaya Aura'. I have to say that at the end of it I was slightly underwhelmed. It seemed good but not as radical as some of their previous SOA type of messaging. There's a very good summary of Avaya Aura on the site from Shelia McGee-Smith.

Cisco's key note was by the CTO, Padmasree Warrior, and focused on the interaction between collaboration, social networks and video. This was illustrated with a (fairly lighthearted) scenario showing how these could be applied to health care. It also showcased real-time translation which is rather gee-whiz stuff, though probably going to be necessary in the future if conversations between different language speakers are to take place.

In short, so far all very interesting, but nothing terribly radical. We'll see if any of that changes with today's presentations. Even if there aren't major changes, it's clear that VoiceCon remains the main event for most of the world's voice industry.

Monday, March 30, 2009

HSBC redundancies and their call centres

It's always sad to see bad news on jobs and HSBC's announcement last week was no exception.

The BBC report is that while the bank says that 1,200 jobs are at risk, the unions are talking about up to 3,000 jobs potentially going. The jobs will go at an operation centre in Leamington Spa, (for about 280 positions), London will loose about 150 jobs and a call centre in Newport, south Wales, will be shut down according to an HSBC spokesman. The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that 70 of the job losses will be at HSBC's direct banking arm, First Direct.

What's particularly sad is that the Newport contact centre announced in June last year that it was creating 250 new jobs (I covered it here on the blog "HSBC creates 250 UK call centre jobs & offshore in decline") and presumably these will go as will all the existing jobs.

What is better news (and I've only seen reported discretely on the CCF website), is that the bank will be creating 200 jobs at a centre of excellence in Southampton and hopes many of the workers will re-locate.

Although the Unite union is angrily warning about the dangers of offshoring, I suspect that this is something of red herring. Most of the banks are moving IT and back-office offshore (see Lloyds TSB here or Barclays here on Finextra) and there is little sign that this will change. In the contact centre space I do detect that the march back onshore continues.

Although it is expensive to run a UK based contact centre, and the credit crunch is hurting many organisations badly, it is becoming clearer that the real problem in contact centre is broken processes rather than simply the cost of agents. Add in the brand damage that a bad move off-shore can do, and I suspect only the lower end of the market may continue with a push to offshore their contact centres. Of course, consumers can't see where their web-page was coded, so the chances are that IT will accelerate its push offshore.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Indian Call Centre Fraud and the BBC News

The BBC was very excited about its story "Overseas credit card scam exposed " that it ran on the Thursday night news bulletin.

While they did make some good points, they played too much for my liking on the fear around offshoring. the BBC were correct to highlight that India has no equivalent of the UK Data Protection Act and that consumers dealing with an overseas call centre need to appreciate UK legislation may not apply to their data.

The problem is that the main thrust of the report was on what appears to be the theft of data (ironically enough) from the call centre of the security firm Symantec. Data theft is an extensive problem, but it's not one that just happens in India. Only last week, CCF (the UK contact centre news site) was reporting that a British Airways call centre employee had been jailed for two and a half years for data theft. Similarly CCF also reported at the start of March that a Barclays call centre worker had been jailed for obtaining money by deception.

This isn't just a recent phenomenon - this blog has written on thefts at RBS and Barclays by call centre staff (see posts "Call centre worker gaoled for data theft" and "Security, Call Centres and Fraud "). In short theft by employees is a problem in call centres, as it is in many other businesses, but it's not just an Indian problem.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting a good cold call ...and from a utility company too!

I was amazed yesterday to be on the receiving end of a telemarketer's call that worked ...and from a utility company too!

I'm at home on paternity leave (hence why the last post was 24th Feb - apologies), so I don't normally get these kind of calls. I normally hate telemarkets because it is done so badly (see blog posts from last year like Banks criticised by BBC for automated calls" and "Further thoughts on outbound in the UK....." ), so I was surprised to find it done well.

This call worked because it was done by a person. A lot of outbound telemarketing is now done by pre-recorded messages now. I hate that. My view is that if you want a customer's business, then show them that you value the customer by having a person make the call. At this point, advocates of the pre-recorded outbound message point to how cost-effective it is for high-volumes and low response rates. My suggestion would be to understand and target your customers better, otherwise you're still wasting money however cost effectively you are doing it.

The outbound call was from my utility company and highlighted the difference between their offers and British Gas when it came to additional services. Now British Gas have had their customer service problems (see my post last year "The British Gas, the utility industry, customer service and consultants" for an overview of their efforts to sue Accenture over a Siebel implementation), but I've always been pleased with their service.

What the agent did on this outbound call was to highlight pricing differences that related to me and the specific type of services I needed. She then offered to send me all the details by e-mail, so that even if I wasn't prepared to sign-up over the phone, I could look through the specific offer she had worked out with me at my leisure. I was impressed, as this was what I wanted and and how I like to buy things - I don't like to sign up to things without having all the details laid out clearly. The call used multi-channel appropriately (telephone for relationship building and discussion, e-mail for presenting a detailed offer) and that was good to see.

Perhaps the previous research last year that suggested utilities were the worst call centres in the UK (see post "Are utility companies really the worst call centres? ") will need to be revisited!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More on Presence in the Contact Centre...

A couple of posts ago (see: "Presence, Agent Availability and the practicalities of Contact Centre "), the blog was looking at presence and how it might be useful in the contact centre.

For those not familiar with the concept, presence is a concept of agent state or availability, depending on whether you approach it from the perspective of an ACD (Automated Call Distributor) or IM (Instant Messaging). The development of IP Convergence in the contact centre has brought these ideas much closer together and it's now possible to use this for customer service.

For those interested in the idea, CRMxchange have a good webinar coming up, titled "The Power of Presence for Customer Care: Buddy Lists and (Far) Beyond". You can register here, and it's presented by Ross Daniels from Cisco, who's written a couple of CRMxchange papers on the subject.

It's a subject that's well worth a look.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Google and Twitter for Customer Service?

Google and Twitter for Customer Service?

It's an interesting idea, and one that caught my attention. Datamonitor have just produced a short (four page) report on this, and you can get from the Datamonitor website here.

I've rather liked Datamonitor's research lately (see:"More 2009 Contact Centre Predictions - Datamonitor ") and this is also good stuff.

I liked the coverage of and their work with Google, but it was Twitter that really caught my attention. The idea of Twitter as a form of outbound IVR or outbound SMS appeals, and I think Datamonitor have hit on something with a lot of potential.

As I'm writing about Twitter, I'll keep this post short (I'm already way over 140 characters!) and end here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Presence, Agent Availability and the practicalities of Contact Centre

I was very glad that my last post ("BBC Moneybox on Speech Recognition for banking ") was so interesting to so many readers. Thank you for the feedback and comments. It's very good to see so much happening in the speech market and I certainly wasn't aware of all the projects readers mentioned, especially those in Asia/ Pacific.

One of the other areas that has had a lot of interest lately is presence. Traditionally, presence has been a concept for intstant messaging and the contact centre has focused on agent state from the ACD. This distinction is now blurring and the big instant messaging vendors like IBM with Sametime and Microsoft with OCS are getting very interested in presence in the contact centre. It was something we saw at VoiceCon last year (see post: "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect ") and I'm sure will develop further.

Aside from the technology, there are a lot of practical issues around how presence might be manged in a contact centre environment. There is a very good article on CRMxchange by Ross Daniels from the Cisco Contact Centre Business Unit setting some of the practical considerations and how you might look to use presence as practical function, not just a neat technology:

"For many people, "presence" means the little colored icons next to colleagues’ names on the buddy list of their Instant Messaging client. Is someone available? Do they prefer to not be disturbed? This is useful, and many modern business users would be at a loss without IM and its straightforward application of presence technology.
Since presence has proved its worth in facilitating communication between business users, how can it help improve interactions between businesses and customers? One obvious answer is to provide contact center agents with an IM client that allows them to chat with fellow agents or subject matter experts outside the contact center; this gives agents an opportunity to get answers to caller questions that are outside their areas of expertise.
There are a number of potential problems with this approach, however. Who should populate the agents' IM buddy lists? If agents do it, how do they know who the best experts are for answering specialized questions? What if five hundred agents add Bill from Engineering to their buddy lists, and then twelve of them try to IM poor Bill with questions simultaneously?

Consider also the usage challenges facing an agent armed with an IM client and a buddy list. When the agent is on the phone, do they really want to have to scroll through buddy lists to find the right expert to consult with? Presuming they find one or more available experts, how will they enlist their aid? IM them sequentially, or scatter ten IM’s to ten experts and go with whoever answers first? What if the best way to address the caller's problem is to have the expert join the live call? Finally, consider that a number of contact center administrators prefer that their agents don't use IM clients at all, since internal chat can be a distraction.

While it's true that there are ways to mitigate these kinds of issues, it's also true that presence technology can do much more for customer interactions ... if we broaden our thinking

You can read the rest of the article on here on CRMxchange, and I do recommend it.

Monday, February 09, 2009

BBC Moneybox on Speech Recognition for banking

I appreciate the BBC Radio's weekly personal finance program 'Moneybox' may not be something that all of my blog readers are aware of, but this week it's been looking at speech recognition and biometrics as a way of authenticating customers.

The article on their website is here and the podcast/recording is here. The reason for the interest is that two of the big UK banks say they are following developments closely and that a major Australian insurer is running the authentication in production. The story is being pushed strongly the vendor concerned, VeCommerce.

I have to feel a little bit of cynicism here. Speech recognition (and it's close cousin, speech biometrics) have been 'the next big thing' more often than I can count. It's not that this isn't good technology (VeCommerce are impressive, as are VoiceVault and a number of others), but adoption has been slow. Part of this, I feel, is that there is a big gap between what the makers of the technology are interested in and what the users/buyers seem to want. This was highlighted in the last Cisco/Dimension Data Speech survey (see here for my blog post on it). The industry tends to talk very technically, while the buyers are much more interested in customer experience. I suspect until this gap narrows, speech biometrics will remain a nice, niche technology having a vigorous debate about how successful it is as an anti-fraud measure.

Fraud in call centres is a big problem (see past posts like "Security, Call Centres and Fraud " from January last year and "Abbey National - did an IVR survey lead to a customer getting locked out their account? "), but I think speech biometrics needs to be much closer to the customer experience before it becomes more widely used.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Do I stay or do I go the Cisco blog site?

Well, dear readers, I'd appreciate your views.

My blog seems to be liked and it's been suggested that I could run it from the Cisco blog site at . The posts up to 8th August last year have been moved across and I'll try to bring it up to date with the rest of them shortly.

The question is, do you (as my reading public) think this is a good place for the blog? Alternatively should it stay on Google's blogger? I'd appreciate your views, so please do leave comments or otherwise let me know what you think.

Friday, January 16, 2009

First of my contact centre predictions for 2009 happens - Nortel

I'm more than slightly surprised by how quickly one of the predictions I posted last week for 2009 has come to pass (see: "My Contact Centre Top 5 Predictions for 2009 ").

Nortel's troubles have been well documented, but it was still a surprise to see the article that Nortel was filing for Bankruptcy in the Toronto Globe & Mail on Wednesday. In many ways it is very sad to see a great company that once led its industry in such trouble. Of course bankruptcy doesn't mean the immediate end of Nortel, but it is hard to see how the company could regain it's once dominant position from where it is now.

The Globe and Mail also has a good article on whether Nortel could have been turned around. I tend to agree with it's view that they probably had the right CEO in Mike Zafivorski, but they needed him earlier than 2005. The blog has looked previously at internal management excellence (see the post: "Does lack of management experience cause most contact centre problems? The perspecitve of the "Puritan Gift"") and it's telling that one of the things damaged Nortel so badly was when it ripped up its internal people development processes in 2000.

There's no pleasure in seeing a great company and once inovative get into so much trouble and my sympathy is with the staff at Nortel.