5 Questions For Sharon Oatway – President, VereQuest

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Sharon Oatway
_Sharon Oatway has been at the forefront of the development and introduction of numerous direct marketing channels and customer relationship management initiatives for over 20 years. In 2002, after spending 2 years as the President of Y&R’s North American Relationship Management Center, Sharon started “VereQuest”:http://www.verequest.com/ and launched their state-of-the-art call centre technology and proprietary techniques for validating product messaging. Then in 2003, at the request of Expedia Canada, VereQuest built a virtual organization and site to manage outsourced call and email quality monitoring. Today VereQuest monitors the quality of customer calls and email for some of North America’s leading organizations._
*One Degree: VereQuest provides an inbound e-mail quality assurance service. How does this work?*
As more and more companies are turning to the web as a primary communications channel, email volume has grown exponentially and (unfortunately) the quality of that communication has declined. Given that this communication may be one of only a few interactions companies may have with their clients, the way in which this channel is managed is growing in importance.
VereQuest works with clients to establish quantitative measures of quality which cover areas such as Business Language, Product Knowledge, Selling, Advice, etc. Each standard is weighted and specific shortfalls identified. This ensures consistent and detailed feedback can be captured and reported. Our trained Quality Assurance specialists, working remotely, dip into the email queue of these companies and randomly select emails for QA. They are scored and results are made available in real-time. Importantly, the entire process is totally transparent so all interested parties can see results, gaps, trends and opportunities for improvement. VereQuest also provides consultative support to help close gaps and raise the bar.
*One Degree: What is the most common mistake companies make when dealing with e-mail from customers?*


For those companies who outsource offshore, the classic issues of spelling, grammar and punctuation are always a challenge. However, the most frustrating issue for customers is when the email response does not specifically address the question asked. In many cases, contact centers rely too heavily on boiler-plated information or automated responses and do not take the time to edit their responses. This results in multiple emails going back and forth creating a situation very similar to the dreaded “IVR death spiral”.
*One Degree: Is the speed and accuracy of customer service e-mail improving or do we still have work to do?*
According to Purdue University, the average email response time is 33 hours with the top 25% of companies responding in 2 hours. However, what customers expect is an accurate and complete response within 24 hours and an email update if it is going to take longer. It doesn’t help to get a prompt response if the information is not complete and accurate. What businesses need to acknowledge is that, if we are trying to get more and more customers to use the email channel, we need to make sure the perception is that email has the same or higher level of responsiveness and quality as picking up the phone or walking into a branch.
*One Degree: Outsourcing of call centers is obviously a huge topic these days. Does e-mail support get outsourced as well or is it primarily handled within firms?*
Many companies, faced with a growing amount of email, have opted to outsource the function. Email is particularly well-suited for outsourcing as voice/accent doesn’t play a role and much of the email can be boiler-plated. That being said, those companies who do outsource email need to pay particular attention to quality. While many outsourcers do their own QA, it’s like leaving the “fox to guard the hen house”. By sampling their responses, VereQuest is able to keep tabs on the overall quality and escalate any critical issues just-in-time.
*One Degree: Do web-only businesses undervalue call centers?*
I’ve often heard companies speak of moving their businesses to the web and reducing their call center costs as a result. In many cases, should the customer encounter a problem or question on the site, they will abandon it if there is no easy way to ask someone for assistance. As Expedia will contend, the call center is critical to the success of any web-only business. The difference is, instead of doing the work or providing the service directly, the call center supports the customer to navigate the site or complete a web-based activity. That being said, the fundamental nature of the call center will change and the types of people you hire in your call center will also likely change.
Additionally, many companies are opting to add live web chat to their sites which are linked to their contact centers. While web chat may be more economical than providing live call support (a single web cast agent can handle multiple sessions simultaneously), it simply can’t replace the experience of having a friendly and patient voice guide a customer through your site to a successful conclusion.

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