Customer Contact Centers' Criticality During Disasters Necessitate Business Continuity Strategies
Customer contact organizations are at the heart of business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) strategies, as they are the go-to information centers in times of calamities and disasters. Due to the vital role they play in disseminating information, there are wide arrays of BC/DR-enabling methods and solutions available to handle all kinds of events.
Disasters account for more than a thousand deaths and billions of dollars of damages in the United States annually, according to sources such as the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), the National Fire Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Labor. The sources range from natural events, such as storms and fires, to workplace violence.
With the rise in mobility and advent of social media, customers expect real-time updates on delays, disruptions and changes to the products and services they purchase. However, Frost & Sullivan's survey of more than 250 IT managers in 2012 revealed that only 31 percent of the respondents claimed their organizations are prepared to handle outages and disasters.
Customer contact organizations face two challenges when devising and implementing effective BC/DR programs. The first is balancing the potential risks and losses from adversity and the investments needed for putting in place effective BC/DR solutions. The second challenge pertains to enterprises' lack of motivation to deploy these solutions due to the unpredictability of these events.
The BC/DR solutions that will find the highest uptake are those that support customers, employees, and operations and yet minimize capital investments and operational costs. Some of the methods to achieve this include selecting sites away from vulnerable areas, "multishoring," enabling employees to work from home, placing applications and data in the cloud, employing multiple backup and response tools and channels, alerting customers through proactive customer contact, and improving contact center access control.
Effective BC/DR depends on the development and maturity of cloud/hosting to supply and support applications and data. The solution's success also rides on cloud vendors' deployment of redundancy, including active-active server backup, geo-redundancy, and onsite generators.
For BC/DR to be wholly functional, wireless communication should be prevalent. While social media has proven to be a useful alerting and interaction tool, it is effective only if the recipients have Internet access. Nevertheless, even with Internet access, the bandwidth can fluctuate wildly in the aftermath of a disaster. Hence, there is a huge need for a multilayered approach, such as inbound and outbound interactive voice response (IVR) and SMS/text.
Apart from these external threats, contact centers also must prepare for employee violence, especially aggression against women. This is all the more relevant in the light of the fact that women account for more than two-thirds of customer service representatives. Furthermore, contact centers will do well to initiate military veterans into the workforce, as they have proven abilities to assess and respond to sudden and difficult situations.
US Consumers Want Today's Companies to be Proactive in Customer Service
inContact, a provider of cloud contact center software and contact center agent optimization tools, announced the findings of their July 2013 customer service survey, that examined the preferences of consumers when it comes to incoming calls and other proactive communications from companies.
The study, conducted online by Harris Interactive, on behalf of inContact, among 2,034 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older, shows that consumers are open to being contacted proactively by companies. According to the findings, 87 percent of U.S. adults want to be contacted proactively by an organization or company.
Yet a major hindrance to proactive customer service is the initial pause or delay that often occurs in traditional legacy predictive dialers. The inContact survey uncovered that the pause is not only common, but it prevents customers from talking to companies. The most common initial reaction to a delay or pause, among those who answer calls from unfamiliar numbers, is to simply hang up (49%).
Customers would be more receptive if the pause could be eliminated. Over half (55%) of those who answer incoming calls from unfamiliar numbers say that if there was no delay or pause they would be more receptive to what the caller might have to say and/or more interested in hearing who’s calling them from an unfamiliar number.
Additional Key Findings Include:
Nearly one-in-five (17%) of those who answer incoming calls from unfamiliar numbers believe the delay/pause conveys that they are not important to the caller.
The most popular reasons why U.S. adults would want to be contacted is about fraudulent activity on their account (65%), for setting appointments or reminders (53%) or with questions about an order they placed (51%).
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those who have had a pleasant surprise or positive experience with an incoming call from a business/service provider report they had a positive change in their perception of the organization calling them.
62% of those who have had a pleasant surprise or positive experience with an incoming call from a business/service provider have taken an action as a result of that positive experience.
Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders
While the state of the U.S. economy has changed substantially since 2000, the state of the American workplace has not. Currently, 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work, and the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is roughly 2-to-1, meaning that the vast majority of U.S. workers (70%) are not reaching their full potential — a problem that has significant implications for the economy and the individual performance of American companies. Gallup’s research shows that employee engagement remains flat when left unmanaged.
This report includes an overview of the trend in U.S. employee engagement, a look at the impact of engagement on organizational and individual performance, information about how companies can accelerate employee engagement, and an examination of engagement across different segments of the U.S. population.
Key finding from the report include:
Engaged workers are the lifeblood of their organizations. Work units in the top 25% of Gallup’s Q12 Client Database have significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than those in the bottom 25%.
Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion per year.
Engagement levels among service employees — those workers who are often on the front line serving customers — are among the lowest of any occupation Gallup measured and have declined in recent years, while engagement for every other job category increased.
More than one-third (36%) of managers and executives were engaged in 2012, up 10 percentage points from 2009. By contrast, professional workers overall saw a modest two-point increase in engagement levels from 2009 to 2012.
Gallup has found that managers who focus on their employees’ strengths can practically eliminate active disengagement and double the average of U.S. workers who are engaged nationwide.
Although certain policies such as hours worked, flextime, and vacation time do relate to employee wellbeing, engagement levels in the work environment eclipse corporate policies.
Despite not always having a manager nearby to monitor their productivity, remote workers actually log more hours at their primary job than do their on-site counterparts.
Only 22% of U.S. employees are engaged and thriving. When employees are engaged and thriving in their overall lives, they are more likely to maintain strong work performance — even during difficult times.
Only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’ brands.
Eleven percent of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) interviewed recently say they will expand their IT teams in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to the just-released Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Forecast and Local Trend Report. This compares to 12 percent in the previous quarter. In addition, 65 percent of CIOs plan to hire only for open IT roles, 19 percent expect to put hiring plans on hold, and 5 percent plan to reduce their IT staff in the fourth quarter.
In the same survey, 86 percent of CIOs said they are somewhat or very confident about their companies' prospects for growth in the fourth quarter, and 64 percent said they are somewhat or very confident that their firms will invest in IT projects in the fourth quarter.
U.S. IT Hiring Forecast
CIOs planning to add more staff to IT departments
Q3 – 12%, Q4 - 11%
CIOs planning to hire only for open IT roles
Q3 – 56%, Q4 - 65%
CIOs planning to put IT hiring plans on hold
Q3 – 26%, Q4 - 19%
CIOs planning to reduce their IT staff
Q3 – 6%, Q4 - 5%
Don't know future hiring plans
Q3 – 1%, Q4 - 1%
The IT Hiring Forecast and Local Trend Report survey was developed by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology professionals on a project and full-time basis, and conducted by an independent research firm. The survey is based on more than 2,300 telephone interviews with CIOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees in 23 major metro areas. Robert Half Technology has been tracking IT hiring activity in the United States since 1995.
In terms of recruiting, 68 percent of CIOs said it's somewhat or very challenging to find skilled IT professionals today. It is most difficult to find skilled talent in the functional areas of networking (19 percent), data/database management (13 percent) and help desk/technical support (12 percent).
Confidence in Business Growth and IT Investments
The survey results suggest CIOs are largely optimistic: Eighty-six percent reported being somewhat or very confident in their companies' prospects for growth in the fourth quarter of 2013; 64 percent said they are somewhat or very confident that their firms will invest in IT projects in the fourth quarter.
Skills in Demand
Among the technology executives surveyed, 54 percent said that desktop support was the skill set in greatest demand within their IT department. Network administration and database management followed, each with a response of 52 percent.
Finding Capable Employees Is Greatest Management Hurdle for Small Businesses
When it comes to running a successful business, finding a highly skilled team of employees is crucial. But it isn't always easy. In a recent survey by Robert Half, six in 10 (60 percent) small business owners said the biggest challenge in hiring or managing staff is finding skilled professionals for the job. About one in five (19 percent) cited maintaining employee morale and productivity as the chief concern.
The survey was developed by Robert Half, the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on interviews with more than 300 small business owners and managers from a stratified random sample of companies with less than 100 employees in the United States.
Small business owners and managers were asked, "Which one of the following is your company's greatest challenge when it comes to hiring and managing staff?" Their responses:
Finding skilled workers - 60%
Maintaining employee morale and productivity - 19%
Managing difficult employees - 8%
Retaining staff - 7%
Something else - 6%
Human Resources Kit For Dummies®, 3rd Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) by Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half, can help small business owners enhance their recruiting efforts and position themselves as employers of choice. Following are four tips from the book:
Make your company stand out. Small businesses offer advantages that larger companies cannot match. Emphasize the potential for new hires to wear multiple hats and advance quickly. Also, highlight the benefits of working with a small, close-knit group, which may be less common at bigger corporations.
Have an accurate job description. The description of your open position should be specific and identify the must-haves for the job. If a description is too broad or doesn't adequately convey the position's requirements, you run the risk of receiving an overabundance of resumes from unqualified candidates. It's better to have five applicants who definitely deserve an interview than 100 who don't.
Network. Participate in local professional association or community groups to build your personal network. Also, ask your existing employees to provide referrals. Employees tend to recommend strong candidates, since they don't want to tarnish their reputation by recommending professionals who are unequipped for the job.
Work with recruiters. Professional staffing firms can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to find a qualified applicant. Look for ones that specialize in the field for which you are hiring. For example, if you are hiring an accountant, work with a firm that specializes in filling accounting and finance roles.