Practicing What We Preach

It is official. Appointment Works has gone completely virtual. We ditched the office for “a higher cause”. So we ask ourselves, is this going to work?

We get it. Operating without physical locations is not possible for all businesses, but as we continue to develop tools and systems for business to manage customer interactions, we decided it was important for us to operate around what we do.

Our technology is designed to facilitate interaction between customers and business. That interaction is one in which there is an exchange of information: information describing a request for data, or information describing a release of data. Basically, this is what customer interaction management is all about for us and our customers.

Within the wants and needs of customers and businesses are activities such as scheduling, reminding, screening, qualifying, registering, applying, and notifying. That is where we come in. Those are the action verbs around which we develop technology for businesses. Further, those action verbs can and do exist in the electronic, virtual world.

For us, the result is that our interaction with our customers has not suffered at all from our move to the virtual world. So, is this going to work for us? So far, so good.

Why Are They Calling?

Why are they calling? It’s as good a question as is who is calling. We recently conducted a brief panel discussion to get a better understanding of how our small and medium size businesses kept track of customers inquiries. We discussed some of the core issues as well as methods of collecting and storing that data.

As you might suspect, data collection methods largely consisted of piecing together emails around particular customer service issues, or looking at notes in CRM systems to try to understand what is going on. Some used Web forms to collect and categorize customer service issues. Still, the majority mentioned that the phone reigns king as the manner in which customers want to get their questions answered.

So what did we learn? When a customer takes time to contact a company, they want to know two things: 1) that the company recognizes who they are and why they called, and 2) that something is going to get done to resolve the issue.

It’s pretty much that straightforward.

Nearly all businesses believe that any specific issue brought to their attention should and must be handled at the time that it is brought to their attention. However, not all companies have systems in place that allow them to look at the big picture of issues over time. Doing so would empower them to be proactive in preventing certain issues from happening again in the future.

So you still think customer contact software is not important in your business? Our customers know it is. What do you think?

Virtual Customer Service

Virtual customer service. What does it mean? There are plenty examples of human interaction causing more customer dissatisfaction than desired. At the same time, not everyone cares to interact with a machine when trying to get customer service questions answered. Virtual customer service is the application of technology in customer service functions that replaces or reduces human interaction. Why? Two reasons: It reduces the possibility for human error, and it’s much more cost effective.

Appointment Works uses Web and voice technologies to provide solutions around scheduling, applying, registering, and more. End users of our technology can quickly and easily get answers, hear information, schedule appointments, and apply for services offered. They can do so at any time of the day, over the phone or over the Web, allowing much more flexibility and convenience. For what we do, Virtual Customer Service is a win/win proposition for small and medium sized businesses.

That’s our take, we would love to hear what you think about Virtual Customer Service.

Is Time Really Money?

We’ve all heard the line: time is money. For many, it can conjure up images of a thick Brooklyn accent negotiating a deal, or a long-haul driver trying to make his next transport. It may sound arrogant, but in so many ways, time really is money.

It couldn’t be more true for grantees (often Community Action Agencies) who distribute funding for low-income programs such as LIHEAP. Often, the grantees (agencies) have a specific time period during which they are tasked with fully allocating to those in need the budget awarded to them. The limitations of time create pressures on grantees to operate efficiently and effectively. This is where we come in. We provide customer service solutions that help Community Action schedule, remind, register and qualify those in need. Within that, we deploy technology that minimizes the potential for wasted appointment time (duplicate appointments, wrong location assignments, etc.).

An analysis of data from the scheduling activities of one of our customers showed that we prevented about 450 appointment slots being incorrectly scheduled. Since a typical LIHEAP allocation can be as much as $300, this equated to $157,500 worth of potential unallocated LIHEAP funds. When it comes to LIHEAP, time really is money. That is our opinion. What do you think?

Data-driven decision management has been around for decades now. It may not seem to have much relevance for small to medium-sized businesses, but the results of data analysis can be enlightening.

For example, we analyze call volume data to better improve the workflow of our interactive voice response systems. We also analyze data to identify patterns of abuse of our systems.

The benefits of data-driven decision management are enough to encourage all businesses to be in a position to collect and store data. That doesn’t necessarily mean that individual businesses have to invest in software and data warehousing. When outsourced vendors provide SaaS solutions to your business, they can often be very good sources of useful data.

As a business owner or manager, it makes good sense to think about ways in which you can collect, get access to, and use data to help you deliver better service and better products. That’s our opinion. We want to know what you think.

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