Customers want to be contacted, but how that is done will shape their impressions of organizations and ultimately their loyalty.
Being alerted to a new deal can save customers money and/or provide them with invaluable products or services they never thought they wanted or could afford.
By the same token, being informed about inadvertently missed payments or someone using their credit cards can avoid a lot of grief.
Meanwhile customers may want to help others when contacted by nonprofits. Or turn out to vote by being reminded to do so by political candidates or parties.
But organizations must be respectful while having to comply with a myriad of laws and regulations that have unfortunately become necessary because of too many instances of annoyance, overaggressive debt collection and marketing, and worse, fraud through outbound channels.
As we hopefully enter post-COVID-19 pandemic new normal what will outbound customer contact be like?
To find out, we asked several leading suppliers for their insights. They include Laura Bassett, Vice President, Product Marketing, NICE CXone, McKay Bird, Marketing Director, TCN, Boris Grinshpun, Vice President of Product Strategy, LiveVox, and Paul Lang, Head of Contact Center Solutions Marketing, Avaya.
Q. What are the top trends in outbound customer contact and their drivers?
Predictive dialing. As consumers’ patience for calls continues to decrease, outbound contact centers must strike a balance between available agents and outreach efforts.
Using insights based on current staffing situations, average handle time (AHT), and when agents are likely to wrap up calls, an advanced dialer can then reach out to several contacts on a list and route the first answer to the available agent immediately.
This maximizes agent efficiency while limiting wasted time and resources. Also, using a dialer solution with no-pause dialing eliminates the pause at the beginning of outbound calls that will make many customers hang up. Engaging with customers right from the beginning of the calls leads to better results for the contact center and helps reduce customer aggravation.
Outbound contact centers must strike a balance between available agents and outreach efforts.
—LAURA BASSETT, NICE CXONE
Callbacks. Automated, customer-requested and agent-initiated outbound callbacks are an effective method to recover calls that were disconnected while in queue or proactively reach out to customers based on a variety of conditions and data related to preferences and other customer insights.
Additional Forms of Communication. Businesses are increasingly using different outbound communication types, like emails and text messages, to help get their messages out without requiring customers to be receptive to their calls.
This can help increase conversion rates as customers can quickly glance at texts and choose to respond, as opposed to ignoring calls when they don’t know why the organization is even reaching out to them.
With the continued struggles of keeping up with changing Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and other regulatory concerns surrounding outbound communications, we will continue to see the adoption of technology.
Technology has already solved some of the more complex problems related to the Reassigned Number Database, Regulation F, and STIR/SHAKEN (Ed. Note: please see box titled Aggression, Fraud, Spam, and Regulations).
As contact centers deploy different technologies that solve these issues, they will be better set up to build and automate tasks typically reserved for a full-time employee.
Consumers want to communicate on their terms and their devices or channel of choice. Specific to outbound, payment reminders, payment links, click-to-pay, and text-to-pay will also be paramount.
More companies are rethinking the delivery of customer communications and the overall customer experience (CX).
Customer service operations that have been traditionally inbound are now looking at ways to build in outbound capabilities to deliver a more integrated CX.
By anticipating customer needs and pain points, contact centers can proactively address issues and reach out with solutions or notifications before the customer ever realizes the need. In other words, companies are thinking about the customer journey holistically.
The impact of STIR/SHAKEN on the industry has been tremendous. Call filtering and third-party applications have stepped in and have attempted to provide a consumer impact, but that hasn’t been without its own consequences of important phone calls not reaching consumers.
Organizations looking to connect with consumers via voice have had to adjust fairly quickly. We will continue to see the shakeout of this. It was a long time coming, but the actual implementation will have a number of consequences on consumer communications for both enterprise clients and their technology providers.
Q. What changes are you seeing in outbound, such as contact channels, purpose of contacts, types of solutions used, and types of organizations employing these tools?
Laura Bassett: Most organizations deploying advanced outbound contact center technology, such as predictive dialing, are for-profit companies hoping to solidify leads for their sales teams. They can then use preview dialing to create the best, personalized CX, increasing the likelihood of sales.
These organizations are also relying more on other forms of outbound communication, such as email or text, to stand out, break through the noise, and get their messages more visible upfront.
Many organizations are taking customer preferences into consideration when choosing channels for proactive engagement. When a phone call feels too intrusive, prospects may be more accepting of a digital channel (email or text) that they can deal with when it suits their schedule.
Organizations should also explore the option of combining different channels in an intelligent, results-driven outbound campaign, for example starting outreach with a less intrusive channel like email and using texting and outbound calls later on in case initial outreach is not successful.
Nonprofits and schools still continue to rely on technology like progressive dialing, as most of these organizations have well-established lists — like of former donors and alumni — of those who are more likely to engage.
McKay Bird: As of late, we are seeing a more significant deployment of automated payments and agentless transactions due to the ongoing pandemic and labor shortages. A few rising solutions that I mentioned earlier include payment reminders, payment links, click-to-pay, and text-to-pay. Collection agencies, which focus heavily on outbound, quickly adopted agentless transactions. Many of our clients have seen dramatic increases in revenue while lowering overall costs.
Boris Grinshpun: We’re continuing to see the upward trend of customers communicating via messaging channels. Some, of course, chalk this up to ongoing digital innovation that is further blending the lines of voice and digital messaging communication.
…we are seeing more holistic orchestration between the combination of voice and non-voice channels.
—BORIS GRINSHPUN, LIVEVOX
Along those lines we are also seeing increased utilization of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled virtual agent and chatbot solutions as ongoing staffing challenges are pushing more contact centers to optimize these channels.
However, as more traditional contact centers adopt digital channels, we are seeing more holistic orchestration between the combination of voice and non-voice channels. This encompasses the wider enterprise, which must consider not only the delivery aspect, but the coordination of it and the legal and compliance ramifications.
Email and SMS as well as voice with more automation.
Q. What verticals are making more or conversely less use of outbound and why?
Politics. Political campaigns, activists, and surveyors have been relying on outbound communication for grassroots campaigns. In recent election cycles, these individuals and organizations have been increasingly wanting to ensure votes and get a sense for how voters are leaning.
Political organizations and surveyors are more likely to reach out through low-barrier channels like text with the hopes of getting responses. More importance has especially been placed on political surveying in the last few years hoping to improve upon previous polling results that were proven to be incorrect come Election Day.
Nonprofits. Due to economic hardship, worsened by the pandemic, nonprofit organizations are activating more outbound communication efforts to fundraise to support struggling students and those who have lost their jobs, and from those seeing a dip in fundraising efforts from their usual donors. COVID-19 halted or scaled back many in-person fundraising efforts and these organizations are increasingly trying to reach donors at home by phone, email, or text.
Government. In many countries, updates and information related to COVID-19 were sent out proactively, ensuring a constant flow of information and using the ability to proactively share with constituents. For example, school boards used a mixture of outbound email and text channels to communicate changes in COVID procedures to the community.
Retailers. Today’s digital-first consumers have higher expectations than ever before. They are more likely to use new tools during their shopping experience, and they expect retailers to communicate with them in their preferred channels.
Retailers are adapting new strategies to communicate with customers, including outbound, because they realize customers want to be provided information proactively on the status of their orders, curbside pickup instructions, etc.
McKay Bird: Contact centers in financial services, utilities, and healthcare use more outbound than any other industry.
But labor shortages have forced many centers to adopt different technologies to help with the unexpected changes related to work-from-home (WFH), payment schedule adjustments, and automated reminders. This is where automation has really come into play because many centers have been able to utilize different solutions that share the workload and increase productivity.
Boris Grinshpun: It’s tough to say which verticals are or are not utilizing outbound well. However, we are noticing more focus on ensuring that contact center agents are aware of all the outbound communications being sent from within an organization.
There is so much outbound communication that is taking place in silos today; for instance, notifications, marketing material, account updates, and general customer service messaging.
The cohesion of all of these outbound communications is where organizations are struggling, especially when you look at the verticals where there are a lot of transactions taking place, such as financial services or healthcare. These are the verticals in the crosshairs of having to figure out how to orchestrate the delivery, legal, and compliance risks associated with outbound customer communications.
If you look across use cases, marketing, sales/lead generation, nonprofit, political, and asset recovery management have been using outbound capabilities for decades.
In more recent years, customer service organizations have been leveraging automation and AI to deliver proactive real-time notifications to reduce the customers’ need for unnecessary contacts.
More service organizations are seeing the benefits of proactive outbound customer communication and are starting to jump on board, so now we’re seeing more of a coordination effort occurring.
Paul Lang: More usage by healthcare and travel verticals, primarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic where these industries are driven to reach out to consumers. The same could be said of other verticals, but these ones immediately come to mind.
Q. Outline the challenges faced when contact centers deploy outbound customer contact solutions?
High Abandon Rates. Many consumers are tired of receiving calls from unknown phone numbers – and this feeling is further exacerbated and reinforced when they answer calls from such numbers only to find out no one’s on the other side and the calls have been routed.
Outbound contact centers struggle to maintain the balance between dialing efficiency and low abandon rates. It’s more efficient to use automated dialing to dial multiple numbers at once, knowing many won’t answer, but that customers who are willing to answer will accept not being greeted immediately by a friendly agent upon answering.
Outbound operations may consider using a dialer solution that even when dialing multiple calls per available agent, each call is connected to an agent even before the called person answers to avoid the tell-tale pause at the beginning of an outbound call that makes so many consumers hang up.
Low Answer Rates. Up to 94% of calls that do not show an identifier like a name or a logo in the display of the receiving device go unanswered.
Interestingly enough, today, probably due to the billions of unwanted calls that we are all pummeled with, consumers are even hesitant to answer calls if it is in their own best interest to do so, for example when they know they have an open order that might require their attention.
There are solutions that can help alleviate this issue. Consumers are more likely to answer calls that provide information like the caller name, the company name and/or logo, and maybe even a short explanation on the reason for the call.
This type of functionality is known as Advanced (or enhanced) Caller ID; since consumers are weary of answering calls that might be “spam”, adding information that helps the called person to understand who is reaching out and why helps increase answer rates.
Compliance Issues. With strict rules and regulations plaguing outbound contact centers, businesses must invest in technology and correctly train agents to remain compliant. The TCPA and Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) create strict rules on customer outreach, specifically around pre-recorded calls and transparency.
These laws are used to prevent customer harassment and outbound contact centers need to adopt technology like predictive dialing that implements checks to ensure compliance is being met, which is more reliable than manual compliance.
Efficiency. Between strict legislation and increasing customer skepticism, agents have been hard-pressed to maintain an efficiency that allows them to meet ambitious KPIs.
Taking time to build a stronger rapport with customers can lower metrics like AHT, but other statistics like conversion rate could suffer if agents don’t prioritize personalized interactions and customers feel distrustful of the organization calling.
McKay Bird: With more contact centers upgrading to cloud-based solutions, taking advantage of a more modern technology stack is becoming more critical to stay competitive.
…switching to a robust cloud solution can make a world of difference.
—MCKAY BIRD, TCN
Hardware-based solutions have the most challenges with scalability, upgradability, and customizability. With cloud solutions, these are not a concern.
A few things to look for when implementing a cloud solution would be:
- Is it easy to train agents on new solutions?
- Does the software offer remote capabilities?
- Is it able to integrate with CRM software or data warehouses?
For a contact center struggling with the common challenges of on-premise software, switching to a robust cloud solution can make a world of difference. With call logs, reports, and automatic syncing to give powerful insights available through the cloud, these considerations cannot be overlooked.
Boris Grinshpun: Most organizations today still think about their programs (e.g., outbound voice versus outbound email) in silos.
Blending these channels into current business operations and strategy and having them operate more in sync are some of the biggest challenges organizations should be thinking through. And, of course, being compliance-focused is always top-of-mind for outbound operations.
Paul Lang: Driving performance while keeping compliance top-of-mind. Also, appropriate use of media types.
Q. What are your recommendations/best practices when deciding on, deploying, and using outbound applications?
Improved Technology. A predictive dialer is always going to be the best technology to find the optimal balance between efficiency and personalized interactions, while maintaining compliance with local legislation. They predict when an agent is available to take their next call, and proactively dial multiple numbers before they’re ready with the hopes of connecting with a customer just as the agent frees up.
Predictive dialers are flexible and use intelligent algorithms to ensure they’re dialing the right number of consumers based on current AHT and abandon rates. Predictive dialers also help eliminate the pause between a customer answering and when they’re connected to an agent through machine learning, further reducing abandon rates.
Reliable Call Lists. A good calling list is crucial for successfully reaching your target audience. Agents are less efficient when they have to spend time sifting through inactive phone numbers from old lists.
When purchasing a list or reviewing your existing customer base, sorting by demographic can increase the likelihood of agents connecting with customers, and those customers being receptive to the call. Agents can also log updates as they go to ensure the records are updated for future outreach.
Know Your Goals. Going into outbound outreach with a detailed campaign plan can help highlight goals and ensure managers and their agents are best prepared for success.
Basic project management benefits campaigns immensely – contact centers can maintain better staffing and determine the goals and KPIs of the campaign before outreach even begins.
When a manager establishes campaign start and end dates, progress checks and KPIs (connect rate, AHT), they can plan appropriate staffing to set their team up for success and instill confidence in the team ahead of campaign launch.
McKay Bird: The most important things to pay attention to are ensuring you don’t get locked into long-term contracts and that the solution will help you scale as you expand or make adjustments.
Over the last few months, customers and owners have told me they cannot negotiate or opt-out of SaaS (software as a service) contracts and minimum usage agreements.
When I heard about some of these experiences, I had to check what year it was. Being strapped to a contract is troubling in so many ways. The whole point of the cloud is to scale up or down as contact center fluctuations occur.
In the age of the cloud, you expect to have built-in flexibility, efficiency, and contact center software that provides value. With these advantages of being in the cloud, your center will see an instant increase in KPI performance results, lower cost, and agent turnover — and, like mentioned before, scale.
Boris Grinshpun: As with any technology deployment, I advise clients to consider the following path:
- Start by identifying your customers’ current pain points and/or business objectives. Ask what is frustrating your customers? What is the obstacle for your business? Why are you looking at a program?
- Blend the solution into your business operations. Many organizations begin with a Shangri-La end-state vision and work backward from there, but I recommend starting with the customer. Let’s solve their pain points first and then integrate that solution into your operation.
- Measure the effectiveness of the solution—are your customers happy with it? Then, optimize and/or automate, if possible and desirable.
- Always factor in compliance. Functional, channel, and data silos create high risks for organizations. Embedding compliance controls into a platform simplifies risk management.
- Leave room to innovate and try new things. The pace of change is accelerating within markets, technology, and customer expectations. Give yourself space to evolve with the needs of your customers and business.
- Omnichannel is the new normal. Deploy/move to cloud-based solutions.
- Make greater use of monitoring for outbound conversations.
- Improve outreach strategy through phone, email, and SMS. Elevate the CX via their channels of choice.
- Take the extra steps to ensure customer success or support needs are met.
- Mitigate risk and optimize outbound calling performance.
- Count outbound calls, emails, and text messages. Initiate and lead conversations through voice, email, and SMS.
- Use AI to transform customer satisfaction.
Improve outreach strategy through phone, email, and SMS. Elevate the CX via their channels of choice.
—PAUL LANG, AVAYA