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ICMI's Elaine Carr Shares Secrets to Successful Global Support

Serving customers is complicated, and it’s only getting more complicated. According to recent ICMI research, 73% of contact center leaders have noticed an increase in the complexity of customer contacts. Another 62% expect to increase the number of agents supporting multiple channels within the next year. Customers are more empowered than ever and have more unique needs than ever—including the desire to be served in their language, channel, and time of choice.

Earlier this year we spent some time chatting about the challenges of supporting customers in today’s global environment. What’s the best way to serve customers across all time zones? That’s one of the questions we grappled with during an #ICMIchat this summer. It was a lively discussion, and one that left many participants with even more questions (questions that couldn’t be covered in 140 characters or less). So, as we’re looking back on some of the burning questions of 2015, we decided it would be useful to answer those questions and help you prepare for a successful 2016! Over the next several weeks we’ll be highlighting a series of interviews with industry experts.  They’ll share their thoughts on what it takes to provide great global customer service, what to try, what to avoid, and more.

Last week we shared our interview with consultant Scott Sachs of SJS Solutions.  This week, we’re featuring our Training and Development Manager, Elaine Carr. Elaine has extensive experience in call center outsourcing, so she brings a unique perspective  to overcoming the challenges of global support.

Read the interview below and then tell us what you think! How does your team approach global support? What tips, questions, or advice do you have? Tell us in the comments!

Look for part three in this series on our blog next week!

ICMI: One challenge of global support: a team member in one time zone picks up customer's ticket in another, then drops it when they leave for the day. What’s the best way to coordinate efforts when your teams are in different time zones?


a.)    The system needs to have alerts in place so that when the response time limit is approaching, the supervisors and manager receive alerts with the location of the ticket so that it can be reassigned to another team member at any location. Alerts also for people who have tickets in their box but are not logged into the system, as well.

b.)    Ideally, the system will not let a user logout if a ticket is still in their box, but we all know that people don’t always “logout” of systems but instead, just close the system.

c.)    System also needs to have global view into who is doing what, with several users around the world who can address and remedy such a situation. It should be part of each supervisor’s beginning of shift and end of shift routine to look for tickets that are stuck in a box for someone who is not currently logged in.

d.)    And the system needs to have a place for notes on tickets in process so that another rep can see what was started (if anything) by someone else.

Different locations, but still one system and one company, and they need to be managed as such rather than as completely separate entities. Managers need to be able to view activity at all centers and systems need to be coordinated across centers.

ICMI: Do you think customers should be routed to support reps who are in their time zone? How feasible is this for the contact center?

Elaine: While it would be nice, not every time zone (or sets of time zones) has support reps and part of the reason some centers have global locations is so that they do not have to staff 24/7 at any one location. So it really is not all that feasible and not necessary if systems and centers are coordinated and managed as a whole.

ICMI: If a customer reaches out for support after business hours in their time zone, should a team member in another location pick up the contact?

Elaine: It does really depend upon the business and the issue. With that being said, customers are moving towards expecting 24/7 service no matter the issue and the company, so contact centers really need to move towards 24/7 service on at least channels such as email, SMS, and social media—social media particularly.

So yes, if service guidelines, training, quality monitoring, systems used, and service capabilities are the same for all of the centers, then it should not be a problem for another location to pick up the contact. But service capabilities might not the same across all centers—some will service certain languages and not others, some will be focused on a particular country’s culture, and some will be trained on particular channels but not others. Lots of factors play into this question, so it really has to be looked at under the business circumstances of the centers and aligned with that business’ strategy and purpose.

ICMI: Do customers today expect 24/7 service? When did this expectation shift?

Elaine: I think on phones, there is less an expectation of 24/7 service. On other channels, however, like email, text, chat, and social media, the expectation is 24/7. Increased globalization with people traveling all over the world, always being “on” with widespread technology in everyone’s lives, and increased flexibility in work lives, people have come to expect a quick response no matter when they request support. The expectations shift has been gradual (but with rapidly increasing velocity) over the last decade as smartphones have become more powerful and interspersed in our lives and as social media has spread.

ICMI: Should every service channel be staffed for 24/7 support? How do expectations vary by channel?

Elaine: Again, this should be looked at on a business-by-business case. But as a general rule, social media is one that really needs to be staffed for 24/7 support as this is a channel where people truly expect instant replies. I can post to Facebook or Twitter in the wee hours of the morning, and some friend responds who is also up at that hour (and not one of my many friends in another country but one here in the US). With that kind of response from my friends, I’ve grown to expect even better response from companies I do business with.

Even email is important. When I had a recent problem with a package delivery where some of the contents were damaged, I emailed the company early on a Thursday evening. When I had not had a reply by Saturday morning, thoughts of cancelling my service began to grow. The company replied back on Monday afternoon, well within a 48 hour response time if you do not count the weekends, but not within my expectations. Their email response was wonderful and helped appease me somewhat, but it was still too long to wait for a response. (I’ve since cancelled my service with this company due to taking 3 weeks to replace my damaged products!)

ICMI: What do you think is more important--prompt service, or accurate service?

Elaine: I don’t think you can choose between the two, as demonstrated by my email example above. The company was not prompt in responding to me, and they were not accurate about how long it would be before my replacement products were shipped—they made it sound like it would be two days but it was three weeks (and two more emails) later before the products were actually shipped.

If a company can’t provide an accurate answer quickly, then at least they need to promptly inform the customer what they are doing and set expectations for when an accurate answer will be forthcoming. Both are important and you cannot choose between them.