Patrick Barnard
Group Managing Editor, TMCnet

Restoration Hardware's E-commerce Fighting Formula

A Tasteful Blend of Starbucks and Apple Retail Experiences designed to make customers fall in loveApple has the most valuable retail real...

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Thoughts on ThinkGeek Customer Service

I’m on the phone with ThinkGeek because I purchased something which they shipped incorrectly. I tried email and didn’t get a...

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New T-Mobile Pay as You Go LTE Pricing Changes Everything

Until recently, if you wanted a real data plan on a major carrier while using your cell phone, you were forced...

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How Sony May be Fighting to Unleak its Information

The recent attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment is about as scary as it gets as emails which insulted the company’s hired talent...

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You need a Flip Phone for Your Data Center

The big news of the week is celebrities are eschewing smartphones for flip phones. What you ask? Yes, flip phones, those clamshell...

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AirHopper: Even Air-Gap Networks are Not Secure

It’s a good time to be in the Cybersecurity business. Quite often, highly secure computers are disconnected from the outside world so...

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10 Reasons Why Microsoft is Winning

With new CEO Satya Nadella at the helm, Microsoft is changing and into something it needs to be. A company embracing a...

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10 Reasons why CurrentC Will Lose the Mobile Payment War

By now, most of us have heard that retailers such as CVS allowed NFC-based payments for a few days via Apple Pay...

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Why E-Mail Sucks and How to Make it Smarter

Many of us live in email. I get hundreds per day and I need almost every message. I am also a source...

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Amazon Fire Phone Should be a Laptop

I’ve written a lot of headlines in my life but this one is among the oddest. Why on earth does a phone...

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Apple Pay Vs. Google Wallet

Replacing credit cards can likely only be done if the new system is dead-easy to use and it moreover has to be...

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Birdstep Improves Wireless User Experience, Reduces Churn

A smartphone user can get tripped up easily when in motion as today’s smartphones look for WiFi networks to connect to and...

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Sonos BOOST, For Music in Tough to Reach Places

I’ve been using Sonos as an in-home streaming solution for many years and since it relies on WiFi it provides infinite levels...

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Microsoft CEO Raise Controversy: What's Not Being Discussed

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella when asked how women should ask for a raise said they shouldn’t… Specifically he said: It’s not really...

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Will Amazon Drone Delivery Fail?

While there have been reports of shooting at drones, you may not be familiar with the fact that birds can be quite...

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Ethertronics Active Steering Boosts LTE Antenna Throughput 30%

One of the biggest challenges facing smartphone users is keeping the devices connected at all times. After all, the trend towards storing...

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3M's Role in Improving Cell Phone base Stations

It’s quite common for people to look at the cellular industry as a bunch of phones from different companies competing on features...

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EasyNDA aims to Lubricate Business

We live in a sharing society which seems to be divided by generational lines which dictate your level of privacy. 30 and...

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Apple's Positioning Should Scare Intel and Others

Will the combination of the ARM processor coupled with 14 nm FinFET process thanks to Samsung change the dynamics of the...

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Apple iPhone 6 Plus: Top 20 Must Know Thoughts

After spending a good deal of time with the iPhone 6 Plus, I feel confident enough to point out its pros and...

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Improving Agent Performance Takes a Holistic Approach

Improving agent performance in the call center requires a holistic approach – not only do you have to a thorough job of assessing agent skills during the recruiting/hiring process, you also have to train your agents to become customer care experts and then continuously improve their skills through ongoing coaching. Perhaps more importantly, you also need to do a careful job of recruiting and training your call center managers. The manager’s role is becoming increasingly critical today, as so many organizations are now near-shoring or off-shoring their centers and spreading their centers across the globe. In some of these off-shore locations, managers find themselves in a 1:6 manager-to-agent ratio -- and facing major cultural and language barriers. Needless to say there can be some serious challenges for these managers as they try to adapt to their new environments. But regardless of these challenges, there is a systematic and proven method for organizations to improve operations at their off-shore call centers and boost customer satisfaction.

Cisco Issues Security Alerts for its Unified Communications Products

Cisco has issued two security alerts relating to flaws in its unified communications products which could enable hackers to launch denial of service attacks or hack into company telephony systems and retrieve sensitive information, among other annoyances. According to published reports, one of the alerts concerns a flaw in certain Cisco Unified IP Phone models running its Skinny Call Control Protocol (SCCP) and/or Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The other alert relates to a vulnerability which might enable a hacker to launch an SQL Injection attack affecting Cisco's Unified Communications Manager software. Numerous models of Cisco’s SCCP- and SIP-based phones contain a buffer overflow vulnerability in the handling of DNS responses. The company said a hacker launching a specially-crafted DNS response might be able to trigger a buffer overflow and execute arbitrary code on a vulnerable phone. The company has already patched the vulnerability in SCCP firmware version 8.0(8) and SIP firmware version 8.8(0), but certain other versions are still vulnerable.

RIM Reports BlackBerry Email Outage

Research In Motion is reporting that there is a "critical severity outage" of E-mail service on BlackBerry smartphones across North America, however, the cause of the outage, or how widespread it is, has not yet been reported. According to a Reuters Canada report, BlackBerry users today received an emergency notification email “regarding the current BlackBerry Infrastructure outage.” An AP report says the outage occurred sometime shortly after 3:30 p.m.. The e-mail notification said the outage has affected enterprise clients and "users of the Americas network." Neither the Reuters Canada report or the AP report says how many users in the U.S. and Canada are affected. TMCnet has been searching the Web for more news on what caused the outage and how long it will take to repair. We’ll let you know as soon as we know … Geez, first it was the undersea cables and now BlackBerry email service. Wonder how many conspiracy theories are forming around this one ...

EFM/Survey Space is Starting to Heat Up

I just now completed a brief, over-the-phone survey with my bank, one of the biggest in the U.S., following a routine balance inquiry. They’re trying to determine my satisfaction with their speech-enabled self-serve banking service. My bank has been “tweaking” this service (which, by the way, is actually “either/or” -- i.e., touchtone or speech activated) for about a year now – and it works pretty darn well, if you ask me. I think about 18 months ago it was touchtone only, but now it gives me the choice “enter or say.” Usually, I take the touchtone option, but the speech-enabled system works really well, and when I’ve used it, it has never misinterpreted what I said or asked me to repeat (should I say thank you to Nuance?). Anyway, I’m finding that more and more organizations are asking me for my opinion of their services, following an interaction … and I’m finding, almost to my own surprise, that I’m amenable to giving it to them. The survey I just took was only three questions and it took a total of about 60 seconds to complete.

Thinking about Putting Your Business in the Hands of Total Strangers?

In an article posted yesterday on Marketing Pilgrim, Greg Howlett has some great practical advice for smaller sized companies thinking about outsourcing their calls to a call center.   He makes the point that companies need to do a thorough job of assessing a call center outsourcing firm’s operations – and in particular the skill level of its agents – before making a decision, and that furthermore, once the decision is made, you have to continuously monitor the call center’s performance in order to ensure that service quality isn’t slipping.   “The key is simply this–you cannot hire one and forget about them,” he wrote. “You have to remember that those people whom you have little control over have the ability to make or break your business. That is scary thought.”   He suggests that companies place a lot of “test orders” with the BPO firms they’re considering contracting – and also that they have a sharp eye for the details in the contract itself, in order to protect themselves. He also suggests that companies reps actually visit the call enters they’re doing business with, and meet some of the agents to get a first hand perspective of their skill level and the quality of their work.   As he so aptly points out, when you go to contract with one of these overseas firms, you are basically placing the success of your business into the hands of total strangers. But don’t let them be strangers – go meet with them, assess their skills (and general level of intelligence) – and take a look at the facility.   Good, sound advice.

Contactual: High Class without the High Cost

Hosted contact center solutions company Contactual recently released a case study explaining how temporary staffing company Labor Ready realized significant efficiencies and cost savings since it started using Contactual’s Web-based apps. The case study was covered today by TMC freelancer Anuradha Shukla and is posted on Contactual’s new Virtual Call Center channel on TMCnet. Contactual’s high scalability, reliability and ease of deployment, as well as its “virtualization” capabilities, have brought huge advantages to this busy staffing agency. I think this case study is a great testimonial speaking to the many advantages afforded through today’s hosted contact center offerings. I met with Contactual CEO Mansour Salame and other members of the Contactual team a couple of times this past summer and I am impressed with the company and its offerings, which are accurately described as “affordable yet very full featured.” I think it is a high class operation. You might remember that Contactual landed a sweet deal with VoIP solutions provider 8x8 this past July. 8x8, provider of the popular Packet8 VoIP service (which also comes in a business edition), announced that it was launching a new, fully integrated hosted call center solution designed specifically for small to medium sized businesses with call center operations consisting of less than 100 seats. This offering is based on Contactual’s hosted contact center platform. To me, that speaks volumes about the reliability and scalability of this platform. There are quite a few software providers out there who are now offering hosted contact center offerings, but a key difference (beyond the software’s capabilities and the various pricing schemes) is the level of support – and quality of support – you get with the service.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer to Attend Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for New Sitel Contact Center in Western New York

According to a report in the Elmira Star-Gazette, Gov. Eliot Spitzer was expected to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of Sitel Corp.’s new contact center in Erwin, N.Y. this morning. The new 400 seat contact center -- which will be a real shot in the arm for Erwin and Elmira-area’s economy -- will be located in a 45,000-square-foot former Corning Inc. building at 103 Canada Road. According to the report, the state of New York is contributing $2.25 million to the project, including a $1.5 million grant from Empire State Development and $750,000 from the Governor's Office for Small Cities. Sitel will invest up to $4.6 million to renovate the former Corning Inc. facility. Privately-held Sitel is a leading contact center outsourcing firm with more than 145 facilities in 30 countries employing 67,000 employees. In other contact center opening news, Global Contact Services of North Carolina has announced that it will be opening a new call center in Pittsfield, Pa., creating at least 200 new jobs by early March. This will be GCS’s eleventh call center location. As per a report in the Bangor Daily News, “the move softens the loss of 145 local jobs announced Monday by San Antonio Shoe and six teaching positions that will be lost in June with the closure of St. Agnes Catholic School.”

Dell to Cut Some Call Center Jobs in Ottawa

Dell is reportedly making more staff cuts, this time at one of its Ottawa call centers. According to a report in London Free Press, dozens of employees at one of Dell’s call centers in Ottawa will be given pink slips sometime in the coming weeks. But the bigger blow is that Dell has decided to scrap its plans to add 1,200 seats to its call center operations in the province. Dell representative Jess Blackburn told London Free Press that the cuts are “part of Dell's global review of its business operations and efforts to consolidate and reduce our costs of operations around the world." For the past few years, Dell has opened one call center after another, the philosophy apparently being that opening more centers, rather than improving the quality of service, was the best strategy for boosting c-sat … but now it appears the tide has turned, and lately I’ve seen more announcements about Dell call center closings, rather than openings. This particular report makes me wonder if the current unfavorable exchange rate on the U.S. dollar in Canada had something to do with Dell’s decision … Not to go off on a tangent, but another thing I always wonder, when I read these reports, is whether self-service solutions and other channels for contact, such as email and Web, are gaining favor among consumers and are therefore starting to have an impact on staffing levels …

Arvato Using Aspect Software's Uniphi Connect

Arvato Services, a leading global third-party customer service outsourcing provider, is reportedly expanding its use of Aspect Software’s leading contact center solutions. Specifically, Arvato is using Aspect’s Uniphi Connect with its existing Aspect CallCenter ACDs to create a “virtual” SIP-based VoIP contact center. With this new IP-based solution in place, Arvato will be able to improve agent performance and boost customer satisfaction. It also gains a solution which can scale more readily, and which offers greater flexibility to meet rapidly changing business needs. Because Uniphi Connect is a hybrid solution, Arvato will be able to use it to support agents working in both TDM and IP environments. By coupling the solution with Aspect CallCenter ACD, Arvato will now have a virtual contact center solution, where all end points on the network are “equal.” Such systems are ideal for facilitating the remote agent model, or the informal contact center, where other knowledge workers within the organization can be used as “expert agents,” with all the same software and resources available on their desktops as agents in the main center. Calls and other contacts can be routed seamlessly to all end points using this system.

ISO: Interactive Intelligence is a Tight Ship

Interactive Intelligence yesterday announced that it has been re-certified to ISO 9001:2000, marking its third consecutive year of compliance. That means the company's management system is up to snuff, as per ISO standards, and that it is equipped to deliver the products and services it promises it can deliver, with the quality that customers should expect. The International Organization for Standardization is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Headquarted in Geneva, Switzerland, it promulgates world-wide industrial and commercial standards. In order to gain ISO 9001:2000 certification an organization must consistently follow a set of procedures covering all key processes in the business, including monitoring processes to ensure they are effective; keeping adequate records; checking output for defects, with appropriate corrective action where necessary; conducting regular review of individual processes and the quality system itself; and facilitating continual improvement. Interactive Intelligence underwent an audit at its headquarters in Indianapolis last month to ensure it was maintaining ISO standards for the development and distribution of its call/contact center and enterprise/SMB communications solutions. "Being certified to ISO 9001:2000 gives further assurance to customers and partners that we are able to satisfy their most stringent quality, reliability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness requirements," said Interactive Intelligence founder and CEO, Dr. Donald E. Brown in a press release. "Particularly for large enterprises, as well as those representing regulatory-driven industries, such as government, financial services and healthcare, our certification gives these customers added assurance that we can meet their highest standards." Interactive Intelligence first achieved ISO 9001:2000 certification in December 2004.

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