Thursday, November 29, 2018

Securing Network Access for Call Center Staff

The importance of getting access management right cannot be overstated. You need to make sure that anybody accessing your systems – and the data within - is exactly who they say they are.

This is especially important when dealing with agents and customer service representatives who have access to vast amounts of sensitive data. This trusted access to cardholder data, personal details or medical records helps ensure the best customer experience but it also makes the call center a prime target for a security breach.

Many organizations fall down in the same areas where access management is concerned. So to help you, here are details on four of the most common mistakes when it comes to managing access across your networks:

1. Time and disruption for IT

At first, we wouldn’t think this is a big mistake but following some research, we found that one of the biggest barriers to adopting a technology is the amount of time it takes IT to actually manage the software. Of the 250 American companies we surveyed, 18% of them believe that ‘time to manage and oversee’ is the biggest barrier to adoption.

The thing is, if you spend too much time managing the software, it has some serious repercussions on productivity. This impact on productivity means that the total cost of ownership for the tool is often much higher than you would initially think. The best advice would be to try the product first, if you can, to make sure that it’s the right choice for you.

Security solutions with ‘stickiness’ tend to be simple to implement and intuitive to manage.

2. Adoption by your users

If security overwhelms and stifles productivity, users can’t do their job and the solution is already dead on arrival. Organizations are, however, aware of the problem — 47% believe that complex IT security measures in place within their organization negatively impacts employee productivity.

Security should be behind the scenes, protecting the users and the environment until the moment the user is truly conflicting with security protocol.

3. Monitoring every last bit of the network

As said before, you need to make sure that anybody accessing your system is exactly who they say they are. Spending all your (limited) time trying to monitor every last bit of the network, looking for anything that looks out of place is a failing proposition.

It's a pretty costly mode of operation; it requires significant IT time and resources to put proper detection mechanisms in place, will likely raise an initial set of false positives that need to be fine-tuned, and necessitates reports and meetings to ensure the detection is actually working.

You are far better off running and monitoring solutions that offer automated controls in addition to threat identification and real time response.

In short, should something fall outside a set of established restrictions, your solution should automatically take action before the damage is done – not only when IT intervenes.

4. Blaming rather than empowering employees

While users are often the weakest link in any network security, they can also be the solution if you empower them in the right way. Call center agents are (usually) human. They are careless, flawed and often exploited. In fact, attackers love exploiting the naivety of your employees because it’s so easy.

All it takes is one successful phishing email to persuade just one user to hand over their organizations login details. And also keep in mind that almost every external attack eventually looks like an insider threat. The use of compromised internal credentials by an external attacker is the most common threat action in data breaches (Verizon, Data Breach Investigations Report 2018).

Education is key. Once you’ve put an education program in place, you need to then ensure that your access management software can warn users themselves of unusual connection events involving their credentials.

Who better than the user to judge whether the activity is suspicious or not.

Sensitive Data is at Risk

Many call center and BPOs in today’s cybersecurity world are facing these four issues. To solve this problem, we suggest looking for access management solutions that include context-aware security.

In a nutshell, when someone attempts to connect, this approach uses and benefits from supplemental information to make a decision on whether this access is genuine or not. After that, the system can automatically grant or deny access using admin-set rules that are based on this supplemental information.

Restricting access in this way monitors the right aspects of security, doesn’t take much time to manage, doesn’t force users to jump through hoops all the time, empowers those employees to make the right security choices and doesn’t force you to choose between security and convenience. It’s a win-win scenario for you and your call center agents.

Learn more about how call centers can verify access to the network and the data within.

All numbers quoted are from IS Decisions’ research into the access security priorities of 500 IT Security Managers in the US and UK.


Fran├žois Amigorena is the founder and CEO of IS Decisions, and an expert commentator on cybersecurity issues.

IS Decisions is a provider of infrastructure and security management software solutions for Microsoft Windows and Active Directory. The company offers solutions for user-access control, file auditing, server and desktop reporting, and remote installations.

Its customers include the FBI, the US Air Force, the United Nations and Barclays — each of which rely on IS Decisions to prevent security breaches; ensure compliance with major regulations; such as SOX and FISMA; quickly respond to IT emergencies; and save time and money for the IT department.

Connect: LinkedIn | Twitter

Monday, November 26, 2018

Contact Center and Back Office Talent Acquisition and the Knicks

By Ron Rhodes

Your former Recruiting team just took you through a PowerPoint presentation in which they proudly announced that Recruiting should hence forth be referred to as “Talent Acquisition.” Great! But renaming the Recruiting team, Talent Acquisition, is part evolution, part trend and part semantics as I observe, yet this is far from unusual.  Evolution, of course, just as we eventually learned to walk upright, our approach to recruiting labor eventually progressed in reaction to the threat of poor performance and waste-driven financial impact stemming from workforce instability. This is especially true in large contact centers and back office organizations given their high human density, spontaneous growth requirements, increasing competition and turbulent levels of employee attrition. Trend, yes, in the same way that we discovered that tattered jeans are so much better than those with durable fabric that covers the skin, we see others do it and think it will look or in this case, sound cool. Semantic, absolutely, if we just change the name of the function without meaningful process or philosophical adjustment, isn’t Talent Acquisition merely Recruiting dressed in tattered jeans?

I have a confession to make. I am a lifelong New York Knicks fan which suggests that I am both, a dreamer and an optimist trapped in a maze of disappointment. You may not see it at first, but this disorder gives me an unusual vantage point from which to view to the topic of talent acquisition in contact centers and back office organizations. True, having spent over 30 years leading centralized customer contact and back office functions, from Business Process Outsourcers to captive operations, from on shore to near shore to off shore to virtual workforce, from pre-IPO to giant global public firms, does inform my perspective. However, most of what I have come to understand about talent acquisition I owe, ironically, to my beloved New York Knickerbockers.

If you are not knowledgeable when it comes to professional basketball, to appreciate my reference to the Knicks, you simply need to know that the Knicks struggle (struggle being code for a more colorful “s” word that fellow New Yorkers would naturally insert). The Knicks struggle year over year in the areas of performance consistency, customer satisfaction, front-line talent and leadership retention.  All of this struggling, however, is not intentional - says the optimist - and yet it is the relentless reflection of a really, really bad organizational process. In Six Sigma Lean terms, New York Knicks basketball is a process that yields a heartbreaking ratio of defects to opportunities while simultaneously generating even higher levels of waste. Just consider the combination of questionable draft choices, bad trades, player melt downs and season ending injuries; then add to these the seemingly erratic changes in coaching philosophy and overbearing executive oversite and you have one of the most over-paid failures in modern sports. Go Knicks! Seriously…go.

I submit to you that professional sports provide a valid index of assessment metrics to help evaluate the effectiveness of an organization’s efforts to acquire talent, key performance indicators (or KPI) if you will. Starting with the obvious, there are playoff appearances, championships, and win/loss ratios. Secondarily, player, coaching and back office retention are crucial factors. And then there are auxiliary metrics like season tickets and sold out ratios, jerseys sales, endorsement deals, all-star appearances, lower levels of bad press and controversy. Let’s stop there.  My point is that teams that consistently win are not just lucky. Despite the overwhelming pressure of aggressive competitive forces, they prevail. They prevail despite their challenges because they make insightful personnel choices that fit their short and long-term direction, they bring on talent and often emphasize character over skill. In the simple, but important words of former Porsche CEO, Peter Schutz, you want to “Hire Character. Train Skill.” Are we still talking about basketball?

The term talent acquisition seems to hold meaning that is almost too obvious. Talent Acquisition is the act of acquiring talent or what we call the department that does it, correct? Well that may be what the Knicks thought and still think, but only because they were focused on the wrong word, acquisition. The focus should be on the talent part and this word should indicate far more than skill or ability. As in professional sports, skill is only a fraction of the talent requirement. Character, work ethic, adaptability to culture, geography, fans, teammates and the long-term strategy of the organization are also critical aspects. Will the player fit? Will the player perform? Will the player grow? Will the player stay? Will the player attract other players with the same profile? If that was not happening before you changed the department name on your business card (to Talent Acquisition), and there has been no meaningful initiative to improve the process, look up the definition of insanity.

Thomas Jefferson began the second paragraph of the US Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” We can debate the meaning of equal and whether the word men should have really been people some other time. I quote our third US president only to remind us that all people – while I believe equal - are not created the same. If they were, just call the department, Acquisition, and be done with it. Everyone would have the same level of talent.

Diversity is genius, however. People are vastly different and it is therefore essential that companies sift through the shiny rocks to find the real gold, but how:
  • Be Selective. No call/no show is often the highest employee attrition category (not attrition reason) in contact center and back office organizations. In other words, most employees, without prior notice, simply stop showing up. This is especially true when the market is highly competitive so the employee sees multiple alternatives (e.g., the Philippines). HR departments, as a reactive common practice, often flag these employees as “not for re-hire” by their company, permanently locking them out.  Over time, this floods the market with candidates that may be designated “not for re-hire” by several former employers. And here they are at your door. They pass your assessment tests as they did in other companies. They certainly have had enough practice. They may even be offered a higher starting base wage for their…experience. The unintentional result of this is a massive recycle of bad employment habits.
  • Be Proactive.  If your entire sourcing strategy is to place help wanted ads on billboards and job sites, smarter companies may have already beaten you to the prime candidates. Rather than wait to fill staffing requisitions in bulk, for them, recruiting is thoughtful and perpetual.  They have deployed more assertive tactics like win/win partnerships with community and educational institutions. They have recognized that millennials crave challenge and interesting experiences and also realize that not driving harvest initiatives like inter-department employee movement is antiquated thinking. These companies analyze their own data, invest in selection automation and watch the industry closely driving new discovery and continuous improvement. For example, they post all open positions, especially back office and contact center agents. They tolerate the perceived logistical inconvenience of in-house movement, because they realize that ultimately lower recruiting and training costs along with higher customer satisfaction and employee loyalty will be the end result.  Besides, these employees will likely just quit and “take their talents” elsewhere –no call/no show. (Yes, I just quoted LeBron.)
  • Be Smart. Will + potential is far more valuable than skill + instability. Throw out your model that stresses experience as the most critical attribute and move it to desired, but not required. Trust your training, development and coaching to get them up the curve. As for will, job hoppers are trying to tell you something. Listen. Listen when the candidate asks for substantially more than you are offering, but will take substantially less (for now). Listen to their career and educational plans. They are telling you their priorities. Listen to their transportation challenges. Listen when they tell you where their friends are working and what great salaries they earn or how they were hoping for better hours. Listen, track and correlate these utterings to the people on your no call/no show list. Predictable?
  • Be Proud. If brand and reputation matter when you’re marketing products and services, why would they matter any less when you’re trying to attract and retain employees that make you a superior company? Employees want to work for an organization that is known and known for. That is known for success and growth, known for community engagement, known for employee support, opportunity and fun. Invest heavily in this.  All employees want to play for championship teams or teams that undoubtably will be.
So back to those Knicks. In this holiday season, after peace on earth, I wish for the Knicks to understand the importance of true talent acquisition. May they objectively evaluate the things that have them playing less than 500 (more losses than wins) basketball, learn from them and change with guided aggression. And may we all come to realize that prioritizing people over profits is the best way to ensure profits in the long-term.  Happy holidays.


Passionate about mentoring and developing the industry’s future leaders, in 2000, Ron authored Fundamentals of Call Center Management, a guide intended to help entry level managers, as they begin to master their craft. Having spent 20 years with category leaders, American Express, Nestle, Moore Business Forms (now RR Donnelly) and Comcast, Ron's background includes an additional 10 years of key global BPO assignments with TeleTech, Convergys, Stream, STARTEK and now Connext. Ron's international experience includes stints in Jamaica, Canada and currently the Philippines.

Connect: LinkedIn 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

How to Build Confidence Through Preparation

Familiarity: Can you drive the route in advance, walk the stage or sit in the meeting room ahead of time? If so, do it so the setting feels as familiar as possible.

Visualization: Close your eyes and mentally walk through the entire meeting. Picture yourself greeting everyone, asking questions, flipping through the deck and closing out the call. Go into as much detail as possible so that you can think of responses and actions you’ll take if things don’t go to plan. It’ll help reduce that feeling of “what if I get caught off guard”.

Micro Attention: We all manage a lot of clients and projects which means most of us need topic refreshers. Take 1 minute prior to each important conversation or meeting and give top line details your attention. Realistically, you know the nuts and bolts, so tune everything else out and get in the zone.

Prime: We work better when we feel better, right? So, if you’ve got an important meeting, don’t check email before (we’ve all received a derailing note that we just can’t get out of our head) but rather, text with someone positive and uplifting, say an affirmation, take deep breaths and smile – anything that gets you into the right frame of mind.

Kathryn Frankson is a B2B event sales and marketing professional at UBM. A believer that 2018 communication means knowing how to get the markets attention through thumb stopping content, audience development and storytelling, she executes sales and marketing strategies in the catering, special event, cruise shipping and pharmaceutical space.

Connect: LinkedIn

Monday, November 19, 2018

Amazing Service Begins With Engaged Leaders

By Sean Hawkins

Providing excellent service to customers is not as hard as we make it seem. However, it takes commitment, diligence and lots of effort to do it well. In simplest form, excellent service is the result of treating customers with courtesy and respect. Treat them like people first, with an empathetic and sympathetic approach, and you are on the path towards success. Unfortunately, in the business world, we may lose sight of that.

If the process of doing business leads to unsatisfied customers, it is time to reevaluate how business is done. Companies are competing for the same customer, and if all things are equal, service is usually a deciding factor for the consumer. As service leaders, you must evaluate how you're doing business. That begins with your customer facing teams.
How can you help your team provide great service?

Review Processes
Exceptional service allows agents to offer immediate solutions without getting bogged down in processes or policy. This leads to happy, loyal customers. In turn, your contact center will see an improvement with CSAT. Removing barriers that prevent exceptional customer service will lead to a more engaged service center. I make it practice of regularly reviewing processes, policies and procedures impacting our customers and agents. As business needs change, policies should be reviewed and updated if necessary.

Employee feedback
I’ve yet to work with anyone, who enjoys denying customer requests. On the contrary, they have a desire to satisfy them. Team members have often requested that they be allowed to offer a good will credit to customers. This request was due to their willingness to go beyond good service to amazing service. They knew that random acts of kindness made customers happy.

This empowered them, and made them feel a part of the decision-making process. They had ownership! Upon implementation, we were able to see how this directly impacted customer and agent satisfaction.

Manager Buy-in
I’ve always treated my team as customers. In my opinion, showing them what great service looks like, is more impactful than telling them. When they see those fundamental service principles in their leaders, they will emulate it amongst one another and customers. Leadership must be committed to improving and should regularly attend training, seminars and conferences.

Front line supervisors, leads and managers are a great source for ideas- one of the best IMO. Allowing them freedom to develop CX initiatives will ensure they are customer focused and invested in organizational goals.

I recommend leadership review customer feedback, customer satisfaction surveys, and other Voice of Customer data, as a team. Doing so ensures everyone is aware of the group's performance, problems can be identified and discussed, and new ideas can be presented to the group.

Next Steps
Below are 4 steps you can implement immediately, to help you get closer to achieving customer service excellence.
  • Empower agents- solicit and accept feedback, and include them in the decision-making process when possible.
  • Be transparent- provide clear, honest and effective communication. Be prepared to answer the tough questions and explain why decisions are being made.
  • Be accessible- make time for your staff, walk the office spaces, and have an open door policy.
  • Be attentive- actively listen to your staff, learn more about them, and be mindful of things that are important to them.
These suggestions can be easily implemented, are quick wins, and address some core areas of customer experience. To be honest, you should currently be doing these things! With consistency, effort, and diligence, I’m convinced these steps will set you on the right path, and improve your service department. It's worth mentioning, you can't achieve and sustain a great service culture, without 1st creating a great workplace culture.

I have over 15 years of progressive customer service leadership experience in the public, private and government sectors. I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers. 

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Job Loss – Why me? What now?

By Ron Rhodes

October 24, 1929 was a Thursday.  The weather was partly cloudy, chilly, with a daytime high of about 49 degrees Fahrenheit, cool for that time of year. People began their day like any other, breakfast, news reports, perhaps even morning prayers.  Many headed to work that day with cheer and positive anticipation, certain of the good things to come.  But by the time the sun went down, the New York stock market had crashed beginning the era in American history known as the Great Depression. Woody Allen, one of America’s most noted humorists, said it best, “If you ever want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

Picture yourself in this situation.  You’re a dedicated workaholic.  You haven’t taken a vacation in two years.  For 70 hours a week you write proposals, review contracts, coach and mentor employees, attended budget meetings, sign forms authorizing whatever it is you authorize, and make eloquent, insightful speeches about the future.

This day starts out like any other (sound familiar?), coffee, family, checking emails and greeting co-workers.   And then comes the summons to report to the conference room. “Please have a seat,” the conversation starts.  As it continues, distraction slurs the speech and distorts the volume until beyond recognition.  There is brown, letter sized envelope on the table in front of you.   You can’t take your eyes off It.  Your name is on it.  And more blah blah blah, awkward smiles and then finally, coherence. “Unfortunately, (your name here) while we value your contributions to the company over the ___years you have been with ______________, your services are no longer required.”  “Me?  My services?” You say to yourself.   “I’ve had superior performance appraisals, progressively increasing responsibility, trophies, plaques and I just purchased a bunch of branded tee shirts from the company store!” But there it is.

Now don’t get me wrong, the dialog and tone are very respectful.  The financial consideration is fair, based on established precedents and guidelines.  Your name is spelled correctly in all the key places on the official notification you are asked to sign.  As a matter of fact, other than the bewildering pause that seems to be awaiting some acknowledgement or reaction from you, you can even say that you’ve had worse meetings, except for the part where you got fired.  No job.

It’s funny, the industrial revolution, a period where the world transitioned to mechanically influenced manufacturing process, took place between 1750 and 1850, more or less.  Prior to that essential period in world history and the relatively brief time after it, mankind was far more entrepreneurial, more agricultural, craft and skill oriented.  What you did for a living had more to do with legacy and tradition, reflecting social status.  Corporations, as we know them, did not exist and neither did these things we refer to today as jobs.  

The job is a relatively new phenomenon.  Yet, somehow, we have come to depend on it like the most addictive narcotic.  I suppose it ties to our general fear of risk in our lives and to our need to feel nurtured and secure like an infant in arms, even though deep down, we know it to be an illusion.

It is human to think of job loss as a tragedy of the greatest proportion.  It rarely is, however, and perhaps not even an inconvenience since we don’t yet know what it will lead to.   What makes job loss so unsettling is the disruption of plan (hear God laughing?) which typically drives one of two reactions. I refer to them as why me and what now.  In cases where the departure is said not to be performance related or even when it is, the why me stage can be draining and counter-productive.  The response is typically business need this and bottom line that, but who really knows and what difference can it make.  On the other hand, the what now stage is critical and should be given the highest priority.  Think about it. Your plan is often the bridge over which God travels with His plan so the quicker you get started it just feels like the quicker something will happen.  Most of us have but so many grains of sand in our metaphorical hour glass.  Bills have to be paid and food has to be put on the table so Job loss can take quite an emotional toll.

Thursday, October 24, 1929, would come to be known as “Black Thursday.”  Will Rogers, another famed humorist, wrote in his syndicated newspaper column that day, "when Wall Street took that tail spin, you had to stand in line to get a window to jump out of, and speculators were selling space for bodies in the East River."  He was kidding of course, but some people did jump, taking why me to a tragic extreme.

If you are going to argue that why me can be a pathway to learning and improvement, in a Six Sigma kind of way, I’ll give you that provided the why (as in the 5 Whys) is restricted to only be the basis of cause analysis. That said, you and I both know that the why me in this situation is more the basis of self-sympathy, ignited by confusion and disappointment.  Let it go or if you simply must have an answer, to quote Bunk Moreland from HBO’s series, The Wire, “because it’s your turn.” (Yes, I quoted the Bunk.)

So, what now? Try this.

  • First, get your mind right.  Things will get better. Make a budget and prepare yourself for a situation that may last longer than you hope or expect.  The Great Depression lasted 10 years, but I assure you this won’t happen in your case.  Stretch your resources though.  Better to be prepared. 
  • Plan your approach.  How many ways can you realistically market yourself?  Don’t rule out entrepreneurial ventures or even creative ventures.  What have you always wanted to try, but couldn’t find the time?  Stay busy.  Stay productive.  Stay positive.  
  • Sharpen your tools.  Unlike in 1929, we have cell phones, tablets, the internet, social media and MS Office 365.  Get yourself organized.  Approach job replacement as if it were a job. Put in the hours.  You will get results. 
  • Build and contact your network.  Use the technology at your disposal to get the word out.  Someone can know someone that knows someone that knows someone looking for someone exactly like you.
  • Don’t give up!  My personal vision can be summarized in six simple words, TRUST GOD – HELP OTHERS – STAND TALL.  Trust God reminds me to do my best with the things I can control and trust that God will bring me through like He always has.  Help others reminds me that the purpose of life is to contribute to lives of others.  People alone make themselves alone and if you’ve lost your job, alone is the worse place to be.  To stand tall is to have dignity in the face of adversity…so take your brown envelope, shake their hands, smile and sincerely wish them well.  Remember who you are.

I claim no expertise on the topic of recovery from job loss and to be honest, I’m skeptical of those who do.  However, I have had enough positive and not so positive experiences in life, survived and learned a few simple, but valuable things along the way.  If you are struggling through job loss know that you are not alone.  My message here is that things will get better.  There is a plan.


Passionate about mentoring and developing the industry’s future leaders, in 2000, Ron authored Fundamentals of Call Center Management, a guide intended to help entry level managers, as they begin to master their craft. Having spent 20 years with category leaders, American Express, Nestle, Moore Business Forms (now RR Donnelly) and Comcast, Ron's background includes an additional 10 years of key global BPO assignments with TeleTech, Convergys, Stream, STARTEK and now Connext. Ron's international experience includes stints in Jamaica, Canada and currently the Philippines.

Connect: LinkedIn 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Are You Breaking Enough Rules?

I'm reading First, Break All The Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Don Clifton. It's so, so good! There are some really crucial lessons but the one that is on my mind the most right now is - great managers do NOT follow the golden rule.

Because strong personal relationships are crucial for success, that typically means treating others as we want to be treated. But acting as if all employees have the same approach isn't realistic. In fact, the best managers reject the golden rule, and treat each person as they would like to be treated.

This allows people to be themselves, use their strengths (which is way more important than trying to coach weaknesses) and work toward outcomes in ways natural to them.

I also think it speaks more broadly to allowing people to be the fullest expression of themselves at work and that the hard lines between work and "life" are blurring. When we have friends at work and laugh and enjoy what we are doing, it shows in the results.

And as someone who sat through financial meetings dressed as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development I can attest to the fact that you can have plenty of fun and get the job done.

Kathryn Frankson is a B2B event sales and marketing professional at UBM. A believer that 2018 communication means knowing how to get the markets attention through thumb stopping content, audience development and storytelling, she executes sales and marketing strategies in the catering, special event, cruise shipping and pharmaceutical space.

Connect: LinkedIn