If you’re a fugitive from the law -- or even if you’re just super paranoid about your privacy -- you might want to steer clear of a new biometric payment system which has been implemented at about ten Shell gas stations in the Chicago area. The biometric payment system, developed by San Francisco-based Pay By Touch, works by linking a user’s fingerprint to his or her credit card or checking account. For now, customers must scan their fingertips at a kiosk inside the gas station – however, Shell is reportedly considering the idea of having the scanners installed on the pumps to facilitate even faster payment. But what if the scan taken could be linked to other databases – even be cross-checked against the NCIS database? We’ve heard about how this technology can be used to create “theft proof” smart cars which can only be used by the driver registered to that vehicle. And now it appears the technology can be used to verify a credit card user’s identity as well.
Speech analytics software vendor Verint -- which acquired workforce optimization software vendor Witness Systems earlier this year -- has integrated the contact center solutions of the two companies on a single platform. The combined solution, called Impact 360 (named after the popular WFO solution from Witness), is “analytics-driven workforce optimization software,” with an emphasis on the word “analytics.” This tightly integrated suite of apps includes workforce management, performance management, call recording/monitoring, speech and data analytics, customer feedback and eLearning. The company has added new functionality to most of the apps – enhancements which it claims will help organizations “improve the entire customer service delivery network, from contact centers to branch stores and remote offices to back-office operations.” Verint has been working toward this integration for some time – in fact, it reportedly started working on it before the acquisition of Witness Systems got into the “official talks” stage. As explained by Erik Laurence, vice president of solutions marketing for Verint, during a visit to TMC’s offices yesterday, the acquisition is all about “creating a better and stronger company … it’s a merger of growth.” When asked about the restructuring and what the new company should be called, Laurence explained that the parent company will continue to be Verint Inc., with Verint Witness Actionable Solutions now operating as a separate division within the company. As he explained, Verint Inc. was originally comprised of three divisions, Video Intelligence, Communications Intercept and Contact Center. Witness Systems, he explained, has been combined with the Contact Center division, and this is the new Verint Witness Actionable Solutions.
A recent report from the UK Contact Centre Operational Review confirms what most of us already know -- that low pay is one of the main reasons for the high turnover rates found in contact centers in the U.K. and the U.S. From where I sit, it never ceases to amaze me that companies are now putting more emphasis than ever on providing quality service to their customers (in fact, providing good customer service is largely viewed as critical in order to stay alive in today’s highly competitive business world), yet the people on the front lines -- the call center agents who are expected to consistently deliver this high quality service -- are among the lowest paid (and often the worst treated) in the corporate hierarchy. But, as the report points out, low wages aren’t the only reason agents leave – in fact, in the UK it isn’t even the main reason. Lack of opportunity and the repetitive nature of the work are more likely to result in high attrition rates, the report finds. The report suggests that if companies offer more opportunities for agents to move up the ladder -- and also give them more varied roles and tasks to take on during the course of the work week -- it would go a long way toward reducing turnover and improving customer service. However, the study recommends that contact center managers first survey their agents to find out what areas they would like to see improved -- whether it is wages, benefits, opportunity for promotion, more varied tasks or whatever -- before jumping to any conclusions as to why agents are leaving (after all, every center is different, isn’t it?). I’m still waiting for the study that concludes that all the money spent on recruiting and training new agents would actually be better spent on offering higher wages to existing agents, which in turn, might, just might, make them want to stay longer … For more about the report from UK Contact Centre Operational Review, check out Susan Campbell’s article.
The Software-as-a-Service trend continues to take hold in the contact center industry – but how many more organizations will take this route for their contact center systems over the next few years is anyone’s guess. Although some organizations still seem dead-set on keeping their systems in house, the vast majority now seem like they are at least open to the idea of going with the hosted delivery model. From where I sit, it appears that a surprisingly large number – perhaps upwards of 20 percent – of all contact center operators have already deployed hosted solutions – however, it seems most are using only one hosted application, or a set of applications, to test out the waters, and not very many have not shifted their entire architecture over to the SaaS model. It’s interesting to talk about the SaaS trend with the software vendors operating in the contact center space. Most of the vendors I’ve spoken with which do not yet have hosted versions of their software say they eventually will … in fact, most make it sound inevitable that they must move in this direction, regardless of the level of interest among current customers. Many of the software vendors which offer “middleware” or peripheral solutions are saying that as contact centers increasingly migrate over to all-hosted systems, they, too, must evolve to offer their solutions on a hosted basis (here I’m talking about solutions such as CRM integration, which have traditionally been on-premise only). The benefits of going with hosted solutions are now well established.
Call centers are always looking for ways to get more productivity out of their agents. Now, researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have discovered something which could one day help call center managers squeeze every last bit of energy out of their workers: A brain chemical call Orexin A. The naturally occurring chemical is said to regulate sleep. The researchers found that when the chemical is administered to sleep-deprived monkeys, they can perform just as well as if they had a normal night’s rest. So now, pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and Actelion are developing new drugs which will let sleep-deprived people perform just the same as if they a full night’s sleep – supposedly without any side effects. If and when this drug becomes available, you can be sure that the call center outsourcing firms in the Philippines and India will want to start slipping it into the water coolers. As many of you already know, call center agents in those parts of the world are expected to put in long hours – typically more than 10 hours a day – as there are no restrictions on shift length (or the labor laws simply are not enforced).