Category Archives: Business Planning

Why B2B Customer Support Matters

Not all businesses are about the delivery of products directly to consumers. Often, companies create products and services that are used by other businesses as a means of delivering services. While you might be determined to surpass your customers’ expectations by offering a feature-rich and loaded product, it is just as imperative that you deliver exceptional customer service too. That is the real “money-maker”!

Great customer service can really put your product in an elevated position in the eyes of your client. This added benefit optimizes the performance of the business and enhances the product use. Customers will be drawn to you like a moth to the flame if you build strong relationships with them. Remember this golden rule:

Productive B2B customer support helps to create a long-term healthy relationship with your customers.

Existing Customers Matter

Research stated that a huge fraction of technology companies generate more than 70% of their total revenue from their existing customers. This more then demonstrates the value of repeat business on the bottom line.

A key point to note is that if a customer does not fully use the product, they are much less likely to consider renewal. Keeping this in mind, the sooner they use and employ your product, the faster they’ll put in an order for another one. And you can generate sales from their use or need to renew their subscription.

Understand Product Usage

Circling the above-discussed analogy, your aim after delivering a suitable and flawless product should be to encourage users to deploy your product faster so they can invest in purchasing it again. And let the cycle continue from there. This way you will establish a wide, loyal, and satisfied customer base.

But the million-dollar question arises: how do you make customers deploy the product?

If everyone knew the answer to it, there wouldn’t be just a handful of successfully run and appreciated businesses worldwide. But the companies who have figured the answer to it are in luck because it has greatly helped their businesses.

Where are your B2B Customer Support calls coming from?

You will observe that a major chunk of your B2B customer requests is related to the “how-to” questions and queries. They will usually have an ambiguity regarding operating the technology, product or will ask how to avail of the service or explore all the aspects of it.

You have to train your agents or your managers to answer this “how-to” question well. By offering the right support you’ll help customers deploy the product sooner and invest more into obtaining the product or service again.

Your post-sale customer interactions will mainly revolve around such questions. So, if you answer these questions for the customers and lend support to the operations and functionality of your tech, you’ll be making them self-sufficient and will be encouraging them to increase the use of the product.

Though you must make sure that your customer support team is aware of opportunities and advantages that could be unlocked by helping customers reach the full potential of deploying the product. While this sounds like a sales function it isn’t. By making sure that clients know how to use the product to its fullest, you’re actually helping create advocates of your technology within your client base. This helps to increase overall loyalty and if you ever create a customer community, improves the perception of all of your clients.

Improving your tools helps make you more efficient

Improving customer support tools is just as important. You must invest in opportunities for automation and self-help so that the customer service system’s working could be made optimal.

Such opportunities can be a major deciding factor that transforms one-to-one sales transactions into one-to-many sales transactions. Customers will be satisfied and satiated. They will adopt more of your product and will engage in a long-term relationship with your company.

Automated Response

Many people are using a chatbot and other software to schedule sessions with respective agents. This way precious resources are saved and customers can easily contact that concerned party that can resolve their query or processes their request.

These responses either solve the customer complaint completely or shift them to the most qualified person. This helps in expediting the case’s resolution.

Self-Help

First meticulously and thoroughly review the support requests and queries launched by the customers. Look at the problem areas and the departments where the issues are recurring. This way you can identify which problems occur more and where you need to invest.

Form this study as a basis to update your FAQs and other blogs and reviews. Shoot tutorial or document training videos and offer knowledge base tools that your clients can access themselves. This can help customers figure out a solution on their own. This way they could avoid the hassle of contacting you or dragging the resolution time.

Routing and Workflow

You must establish ground rules and concrete workflow regulations that can direct the customer issue or request to the related person or the concerned department. This will save a lot of response time. And the customer wouldn’t have to waste time and effort by engaging with unauthorized or unrelated professionals.
The most qualified agents and resources will be directed towards resolving the issue and this will accelerate the rate at which the query is resolved.

No matter how fast your initial response time is, how high your resolution rate is or how low the number of queries or requests you receive is, none of these can define success for your business if these don’t translate into an increase in your sales or customer base. All these efforts must offer some unmatched benefit to your company, otherwise, all this is vain.

No matter what triggered the support, either it is customer retention, improving operational functionality, widening customer base, delivering customer satisfaction, or just because of financial reasons, the important factor is to define your goals and achieve high business results. Your aim to offer exceptional support shall be to attain positive business results. And this will only be possible when you would align your support operation strategies to observable and calculatable customer support metrics.

Building a NOC or Outsourcing

This post was initially published on CX Expert. It has been updated and revised based on current technology and changing business requirements.

Regardless of which side of the issue you are, there are a few people who would dispute the fact that the managed services model of facilities offers the most control and security for the client. The reason behind building a NOC should be evident.

If the NOC is built and operated correctly, it will provide a secure and enclosed space for the managed service provider (MSP) to be able to view its managed services operations. You can think of it as a mission control center where managed service providers can view the IT network of the client and manage all the activities that take place across an MSP’s entire network of clientele. The NOC has come to represent one of the characteristics of MSPs for many years. Companies can still rely on software such as Freshdesk CRM to ensure good results.

For the NOC to be effective, it must possess certain features. The features tend to be similar when you compare them side by side. For the MSPs who are starting out, there are cost-effective methods to help them achieve each of these essential features.

Security

It is necessary for a NOC to be secure. However, most people might find it difficult to understand what this means. A lot of smaller MSPs have visions of expensive and large NOCs. These preconceived notions cause smaller businesses concern and many never undertake to build their NOC.

A NOC does not have to be expensive and cost millions of dollars for it to be effective. It is essential to have a NOC enclosed. It should be limited to the employees who can access client networks. Also, the facility should have security controls to ensure that only the authorized employees can enter the NOC. This simply means that you must have locked in place and have systems or people to watch the technicians who come in, work and leave the facility.

If a business is or deals with credit cards for example, the requirement is quite similar and the PCI or PA DSS certifications require a secure facility.

Redundancy and Backups

It is worthless to build a NOC on the sand. The NOC represents the security, stability, and integrity for those MSPs who possess one as well as the clients who rely on them. The NOC should be well-built.

This means that it should take into consideration the natural order of things. This includes how unforeseen problems can happen to throw an MSP’s entire world into problems. Some natural occurrences such as storms, earthquakes and power disruptions can cause havoc on an unsuspecting managed service provider.

Backup power and redundant internet connectivity are just a few of the features that will make a NOC effective and viable.

Sharing of the minds

A good NOC should be able to do more than provide physical and network security. It can offer a managed service provider with something more important than the technological benefits. This means that the MSP’s technicians working in a central place should collaborate to solve problems.

Physically proximate technicians to one another can work together and solve issues concerning client and share information that can help in educating the MSP. As a managed service provider, one of the most important traits is expertise and education related to business and technology. Being in the same room is more superior to sharing information through the email.

Building a virtual NOC

A lot of MSPs choose to forgo building a NOC that is physical in favor of building a virtual NOC. Maybe you don’t know what is involved in constructing a virtual NOC because it is very natural. For you to answer this crucial question, it is important to consult with the UCS which is the Unified Certification Standard because this is the template that exists and addresses how the MSPs should employ a virtual NOC in an environment of managed services.

The certifications of managed services and audits outline the use of virtual NOC and the operation guidelines for technicians as they travel. Operating a virtual NOC and MSP comes with the challenge of maintaining adequate security. As the virtual NOC technicians leave or enter the office, traveling to client sites and going to other locations, keeping physical security, accurate logs and maintaining managed services of high standards can be difficult. Therefore, the MSP should implement certain protocols that will ensure the integrity of client data. Using encryption technologies, poison pill technology, strong authentication and other forms of common sense should be cheap and small MSPs should be able to afford them.

This means that a technician who takes a laptop that was used to monitor a client should be guarded both outside the MSPs office and inside. The managed service provider should, therefore, have a mechanism for auditing the work done by its technicians irrespective of their location. In short, audit procedures and security employed in running a NOC that is physical should also be used to operate a virtual NOC. The redundancy backups and physical security are the only things missing which only a physical NOC can offer.

Partner vs. Build

This is an important issue that consumes the attention of a lot of young entrants to the managed services profession. There is the opportunity to build a virtual NOC that is robust although there are some MSPs who still decide to partner with existing managed service providers in order to leverage that manage services provider’s NOC. Partnering with another MSP to access a physical NOC should not be taken lightly. It is important to know all the facts and make informed decisions for your practices.

Young MSPs come into the partnerships for the reason of having nothing to do with the availability of a physical NOC. It is normally a reason for lack of confidence and business process. However, MSPs should weigh the decision because the wrong choice can lead to unwanted repercussions. It is difficult to advise everyone on the right path in the long run because companies have unique situations. However, if a business decides to partner with a managed service provider who has a NOC, then it is important to choose a partner that has passed the audits.

DIDs and SIP Trunking for Dummies

With regard to real-time communications, there are two aspects that businesses focus on. They would like a system that not only saves them money in the long run but is more efficient than the system they already have in place. This way, they can seamlessly upgrade their system while at the very same time keep their more sophisticated users happy.
 
Earlier, a PBX telephone system and later PRI (Primary Rate Interface) Line, integrated with TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) interface. This allowed 25 to 30 individual voice lines for a single connection and was the most used business telco system in place. It was easy to use and manageable at the time.
 
Various employees connected to the same system could call one another using the employee specified extension or use a programmed digit – “7” for instance – if they wanted to get an outside line. The way these lines were connected to one another is how branches of a tree are connected to the trunk of that tree, hence the term “trunking”. Even though the system worked for decades, it was not cost-effective and it had problems. Thus, as soon as companies saw a way out, they took it and what we call SIP trunking emerged.

How Does SIP Trunking Work?

As mentioned, the PBX and later the PRI system worked well for a long time, but as soon as SIP trunks utilizing VoIP (Voice over IP) was introduced businesses realized that additional alternatives existed. SIP trunks, coupled with VoIP, were faster since it used a data connection to connect users to a network, often the same data connection that the business used to access the internet for other reasons also.
With the development of technology in use, SIP trunks with VoIP services could easily-manage voice signals through a data connection. This helped businesses realize significant cost savings as they were able to make a call and video connection as well as hosting cloud services and managing an e-commerce business all through the same network.

ITSP

SIP trunking used a carrier called the ITSP i.e. Telephony Service Provider that offered the VoIP Services. It relied on internet services and protocols as opposed to circuit-switch voice protocols in use for the purpose. This enabled businesses to merge their voice connections and data usage under a single data connection, allowing them to save serious amounts of money annually. Additionally, it also provides a private system with public access, serving the purpose fulfilled by the traditional circuit-switched voice i.e. transport and termination of SIP trunk calls.
 
 

SBC

The key purpose of using SIP trunking services is to provide a seamless transition between different VoIP gateways. Here, VoIP is the device handling the calls and video conferences, while SIP is the protocol that enables smooth handling of both calls and video conferences. The one element here that keeps this system running smoothly is the SBC i.e. the Session Border Control. It is the device that protects a private network by managing traffic and preventing spammers and blacklisted users, such as telemarketers from gaining access to the network. This keeps the system running smoothly.

What Role do DIDs Play In the Process?

DID or Direct Inward Dialing is a series of numbers that are primarily used to dial into your PBX i.e. Private Branch Exchange or networks. These numbers are allocated to the customer and then forwarded to your respective PBX through SIP trunking services
 
The PBX is distinguished on the basis of the last three or four numbers in the series. These digits are known as DNIS i.e. the Dialed Number Identification Services and are responsible for routing the information to the correct telephone extension directly.
Presently, DID services are provided on a PRI circuit. DID services also play a similar role with VoIP communications, using PSTN to reach users directly. It works as a gateway to route and translates calls between the two networks. It is also worth mentioning that with a DID in place, your business can get the much needed local presence which plays a significant role in increasing your profit margin. Not only does it enable number portability but it also provides you with local number availability lacking the toll-free 800 number. This can help you build a local presence without having to change your number.

Why Prefer SIP Trunking Services?

When all has been said and done, as a business owner, your primary concern is probably how the service could best benefit your organization. Thus, here are a few reasons to prefer SIP Trunk Services for your business.

SBC and Networked Policy Management

SBC is the one element of your SIP Trunk Services that keep all the spam at bay while securing your network and keeping it from overloading. Thus, it goes without saying that many SBC based solutions require hands-on policy management as well as configuration, especially if you require a big deployment.
 
This may cost a bit in the initial stages, but if you keep your needs in mind and choose wisely, it will definitely be money well spent for you and your business. Plus, they handle bulk traffic, which makes your entire system run efficiently.

Media Support and scalability

With trends in the world of communication changing on a daily basis, it is a given fact that business will continue to move into better, more efficient forms of media which can improve the pace of business. This includes video conferencing and high-definition audio among the few things.
Thus, equipping your business with state of the art SIP trunk services will ensure that it is always able to keep up with the changing megatrends of the telecom world, keeping your business a step ahead of the competition.
 
Additionally, most SIP Trunk Services are scalable. Meaning, as soon as you have more traffic that needs to be handled, you can easily just upgrade a few components and you are ready for that extra capacity.

Ironclad Security

Most highly ranked SBC and SIP trunking services have a network firewall in place which is backed up by a highly efficient intrusion prevention system. These not only keep spam at bay but also deter data based attacks, enabling it to work with various different systems.

Robust Session Management

As you increase the range of your PRI to SIP services, expanding to VoIP apps, one thing that you will notice immediately is the robust session management of the new system you have in place.

The Bottom Line

At this point, you have a general idea of what of the various aspects of real-time communication dealing with business SIP Trunking services. It is one of those efficient and always evolving systems that can be modified at any time to fit the needs of your expanding business. 

THE UPS AND DOWNS OF PERFORMANCE MANAGMENT – USING A BELL CURVE

Management of teams in a call center environment is never easy. Depending on your industry and your hours of operation not only do you often have to provide services and support during holiday periods, you often have to do it with a skeleton staff.  If those employees are on the bottom end of your performance bell curve – well let’s just say, you might not have a good holiday season!

With any business, not only do you need to ensure that you have the appropriate number of agents to deal with the incoming issues, but you also need to ensure that these agents have the right skills and abilities to handle the volume that they get. You are forced to juggle resources based on the type of issues you might get – based on your historical trends – but you also need to always keep in mind the SLA you are offering to your customers and partners.

Phone calls & online chat need a significantly higher response rate than emails and the volume of issues while it can be planned for, can never account for emergencies and issues outside of your control (this is why they are called emergencies!)

One tool that you can use to help you ensure that you have the right number and type of resources is the Bell Curve.  Utilizing this tool along with other KPIs that you have in place will help you in your planning and assist you in ensuring that you have the right people available to answer the customer’s query at the right time.

How to Create Performance Bell Curves

Bell curve graphs are called histograms. By reviewing individual performance (let’s take output as an example) and grouping it together across your team you will have a simple scale that graphed out shows a distribution. A normal distribution will have equal numbers on either side with the bulk of your team grouped in the middle.

Importantly, the bell curve (like any statistical distribution) describes a large number (or population) of individual things. The horizontal dimension (X-Axis) of the curve describes a range of values. The vertical dimension (Y-Axis) describes the incidences of “N” occurring. If we stick to our example of output, we would have a count of the number of emails responded to (for example) on the Y-Axis with a corresponding group of employees on the X-Axis. By determining where your employees fall in the distribution you will see where they stand in the distribution.

Now this can be done for quite a few of your KPIs (calls handled, average talk time, speed to answer etc…) and the more data of this nature that you add to your employee scorecard the better as graphical representations are extremely powerful and can tell you at a glance how an employee is “doing” in comparison to his peers.  

What gets measured?

You will need a reasonable sample size to create an accurate assessment – do not judge your teams performance on one months data, but gather several months and ensure that your measurements are accurate by taking account of time away from the job (supervisors and other special projects that would impact their output and performance) and averaging your output over the course of the period in question.
In addition, you really need a sample size of at least 20+ agents to get a proper distribution – it’s even better when you get into multiples of that! As a rule, the more data you have the better your analysis will be.
You would take that data on a weekly/monthly basis and average it out over a specific period for all of your CSRs comparing their performance against your target goal. For example, if the output is to be 40 emails/day your distribution would have staff spread around that number in a fairly equal proportion (based on the size of your sample of course). Statistically speaking, the bell curve is defined entirely by its mean (average) and its standard deviation. But for our purposes, we need to know only that its shape can tell us a lot about agent group performance.

Understanding Bell Curves

As you can see in the graphic above, the peak is where the majority of your employees are in relation to output. You have some staff on the high side and some on the low side. You will see that the majority of employees are at the average with others above and below that average. By reviewing what the above average performers are doing in relation to the below average performers you will be able to compare and contrast behaviors and determine what actions you can best make to improve your lower performers. (NOTE: if you have a “double hump” curve that’s something I will look at in future posts so don’t think that you’ve done something wrong – double and triple humps happen … a key case in point is called volumes by time of day where you will have several different peaks).

Remember if your skew is towards the lower end of the scale you have a problem that you need to address immediately! Depending on your customer base and type of business this might be fine for you – those on the low side could be your slower performers with regards to output, but conversely, your higher performers in relation to customer retention just because they spend more time with each customer. However assuming that this is NOT the case and that all you are interested in is output, your goal is to “skew” your employee’s output towards the higher end of the scale.  This can be accomplished through training – both technical, and product – as well as feedback from other more senior staff.

How does the Bell Curve impact staffing?

At its simplest, it doesn’t … however what you need to take into account when scheduling that coverage on a holiday or even earlies and lates, is the quality of the team doing the work.  The Bell curve analysis helps you put that into a very clear picture and by combining multiple different curves on a single graph it is sometimes very obvious who your lower performers are.

The Fallacy of Price

A common misconception is that if you lower the price you will get more customers.  This is not always the case by anymeans and there are some significant downsides to playing the price card which you should consider.

Now, you might not really have an option – if your competition has cut their price to some extent you will be forced to match this to ensure that you are not priced “out of the market” – however if this is not the situation and you are choosing to cut your price without any prompting from competitors or customers, there are reasons for and against this action.

Companies that pursue this strategy do so for a variety of reasons including the idea  that lowering prices will revive their customers’ wavering devotion and ultimately make the company better off. To defend the cuts, they cite changes in the competitive landscape, the convictions of upper management, a willingness to share cost savings and productivity improvements with customers, and the mistaken belief that lower prices equates to higher volumes. Because price cuts seem to offer the easiest way to lavish special treatment on customers, companies find the temptation hard to resist.

Now while some of these actions might be true there is significant justification in resisting the temptation.  Proactive price cuts don’t make you different, nor do they make you better off. They make you poorer, unless you have the evidence, the data, and the math to prove otherwise.

Lets look at a simple example:

Price of your widget = $10
Volume sold = 100

Revenue = $1000

New price of your widget = $8 (reduction of 50%)
Volume sold = 150 (increase of 50%)

Revenue = $750 … you would need to sell twice as many units … an increase of 100% to achieve the same revenue you enjoyed before the price cut!

This holds true regardless of how you cut prices. You can cut them through outright price reductions, by offering coupons or cash-back incentives, and by heaping services upon your customers in order to clinch a deal or cling to an existing customer relationship.  Remember that in an established industry there can only be one cost leader … in a mature industry in which competitors offer similar products based on similar technology and inputs, it may even be impossible for any company to achieve more than a slight cost advantage.

The key thing to remember is that you are in a business to make money AND deliver a service.  Your customer wants to pay fair value for the services rendered and they realize that if you went out of business they would need to go elsewhere.