I’m New to Contact Centers. Here Are 5 Things I Learned at ICMI’s Contact Center Expo
0 min read
Last week, I attended ICMI’s yearly contact center expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The theme was “Navigate the Tides of Transformation,” which was fitting for two reasons. One, because the conference was at The Diplomat Beach Resort, which is located right on the beach. And two, because contact centers are at a particularly transformative point in their existence. New technology, five generations in the workforce and an emphasis on providing the best possible customer and employee experiences make for some unique challenges and triumphs in the contact center sphere.
As a newcomer to the contact center world, I was impressed with the strides the industry has made. Customer service has come a long way from legacy phone systems, one-dimensional channel options and disinterested agents. These things still exist, but I left the conference feeling hopeful about where the contact center and CX industries are at this moment, as well as their potential in the future. Here are a few other points I took away from the experiences I had at this year’s ICMI Contact Center Expo.
1. Positive Contact Center Culture is Vital to Agents and Customers
Ginger Hardage, former SVP of Culture and Communications at Southwest Airlines, began the conference with a keynote about how to create and sustain “unstoppable cultures.” She shared five lies of corporate culture that workplace leaders need to overcome. One lie Ginger shared is that culture is “fluffy.” She emphasized that culture does not equal having a ping pong table—it’s so much broader than that!
Culture is how we feel when we’re at work and how the company values are lived by the employees, starting with the leaders. It’s creating a positive, safe environment conducive to collaboration, input and hard work. This looks different for every company, but you could begin to improve your culture by asking employees what changes they want to see made in their workplace. Their answers may surprise you. Asking for input isn’t evidence of a lack of knowledge or that you’ve lost control of your employees. Rather, it empowers them and makes them feel more engaged.
I also attended Jenny Dempsey’s session entitled, “Creating a Culture of Self-Care in the Contact Center.” This was a session that I’ve been looking forward to since I found out about it! Jenny, the founder of Jenny Dempsey Wellness and Social Media and Customer Experience Manager at Numberbarn, spoke about the need for better self-care in the workplace not only as a means to reduce burnout and turnover but also as a way to create a healthier lifestyle inside and out of the office. Jenny emphasized that workplace wellness “is more than having healthy snacks in the breakroom.” It’s “having the hard conversations” with yourself and others about what you need, and recognizing that people have emotions and lives outside of the office that they can’t “turn off” while they’re at work.
For the second half of her session, Jenny had the audience work with partners to determine what areas of our lives could use improvement and the baby steps needed to make them better. After discussing, someone from each table shared the small step they committed to taking, whether it was taking a five-minute walk each day, or using their commute time to stay in touch with friends and family. Jenny closed the empowering session by encouraging the audience to “first take the best care of ourselves so we can provide the best care to others,” a lesson that can be applied to contact center culture and outside of it.
2. Provide Coaching and Opportunities to Grow
“Many people come to your contact center wanting to make a difference,” shared Justin Robbins, Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Talkdesk, in his Scoreless QA workshop. He encouraged the audience to “elevate the conversation” by avoiding “the checklist mentality and subjective excellence.” Rather than focusing on numbers, which can be “manipulated and negotiated,” Justin outlined a framework that encourages leaders to coach by focusing on behaviors.
The Scoreless QA Framework:
- Define the purpose of your quality process.
- Assign observable behaviors to your goal and core values. This will give executives a way to measure results.
- Target 1-2 behaviors to coach per QA session.
- Align employee development to mastering skills.
Being a contact center agent is a tough job, and some agents don’t want to stay in that role forever. Justin emphasized that implementing a Scoreless QA framework can not only help your agents focus on the right CX goals, but also help them “get to where they want to be by becoming excellent at the job they have right now.”
Learn about Talkdesk’s latest product release: Agent Assist
3. The Importance of Humans in an AI World
Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly common in technology, and contact center tech is no exception. AI was in the product demonstrations in the expo hall and in numerous sessions. ICMI Co-founder Brad Cleveland shared three essential ingredients to a successful contact center, and how AI relates to each of them:
- Connection. Brad said, “Artificial intelligence is called artificial for a reason.” Let that sink in for a second! Despite the amazing things that AI is capable of, “It’s not a substitute for wisdom or relationships.” We are unique, and often failable, humans, but the human touch is something that cannot be completely replicated—even with cutting-edge technology.
- Collaboration. Brad declared that collaboration—with agents, customers and colleagues from other departments—drives innovation. Collaboration with technology is not a substitute for collaborating with other humans.
- Care. Brad cited an example from Southwest Airlines, saying, “Happy employees mean happy customers, happy shareholders, and increased business and profits.” Showing your employees that you care by encouraging them and coaching them simply cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence.
4. CX Should be a Priority in Every Industry
Another great session I attended was called “Customer Experience Leadership—How Moo, UL, Navy Credit and IBM Are Leading with CX!” If you’re familiar with the companies listed in the session title, you know that they are completely different businesses. But despite being unique companies, they’re each in the CX industry—as is every company, albeit in varying degrees. CX isn’t limited to contact centers, though that may be where it is primarily focused on. My top takeaways from this session were:
- Dan Moross, Director of Customer Experience at MOO, shared what he wished he knew at the start of his career, including that “Customer experience is both a science and an art.”
- Nate Brown, Director of Customer Experience at EHS Sustainability, asserted that employers shouldn’t do things for their customers that they wouldn’t do for their employees. He reiterated his point by sharing a quote from Denise Lee Yohn: “Your employees can and will only deliver experiences to customers that they experience themselves.”
- Kristy Powers, Manager, CCO of Quality Service at Navy Federal Credit Union, spoke about how providing stakeholders with an emotional connection and data can drive good decisions and thus, better CX. She said, “Give your stakeholders the emotional connection they need to make the decision. Help them defend that decision with metrics, data and insights.”
- Bob Furniss, VP of Global Service Cloud Practice at Bluewolf, stated that employee experience is the new customer experience. “If you don’t invest in your employees, how can they invest in your customers?” he asked.
5. What You Say and How You Say It Are Equally Important
Leslie O’Flahavan, Owner of E-WRITE, spoke about five things CX professionals need to stop writing to customers and fixes for these commonly-found phrases, which included:
- “We regret any inconvenience this may have caused…” The problem with this that, “Any other glitches in customer service quality make this empty wording sting even more.” The fix is to save the word “inconvenience” for a true inconvenience and, “Own the problem by actually naming it.”
- “Our records indicate…” Leslie says that the issue with this phrase is that it “omits the fact that your agent did something good: Research!” Instead, agents should be emphasizing that there is an actual agent working to resolve the problem.
- “Please do not hesitate to contact us…” Let’s be real. The person is not actually hesitating to contact you about a problem they’re having.
- “Your feedback will be shared with the appropriate department…” For this phrase, Leslie suggests mentioning the department the feedback will be shared with by name. The agent should also inform the customer about what they will do with the information being shared.
- “Please do not reply to this message as the mailbox is not monitored…” Instead, tell the customers where they should reply—ideally on the same channel you are responding on (Twitter, email, chat, etc.).
These are all commonly used phrases in the customer service world, and because they’re overused, they’ve lost their meaning. By replacing these tired sentences, customers will feel that agents are empathetic to their problems and confident in agents’ ability to solve them.
It was an enlightening three days, and I’m looking forward to putting these lessons to use in my work within the contact center industry—and in my life outside of it.
Subscribe to the Blog
Sign up for CX and call center insights delivered weekly to your inbox.