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CX Failure Is Not An Option: 5 Takeaways From Customer Contact Week

Brian Cantor

Members of the customer contact community have encountered hardships. They have faced intense scrutiny. They have battled executive resistance. They have combated organizational inertia.

The 2000+ community members in attendance at the 19th Customer Contact Week have not, however, let these challenges break their will. They steadfastly refuse to accept a world in which poor customer experiences, poor agent experiences and poor contact center practices are inevitable.

While their success may not be guaranteed, their failure is utterly unacceptable.

This hungry, inspiring attitude was present in all corners of Las Vegas – for the entirety of the five-day event. Whether communicated in keynote presentations, interactive discussion groups, informal networking gatherings or site visits, the prevailing vibe was one of rebellion.

It was a declaration that past contact center challenges, shortcomings and clichés need not define the function in the future. It was a vow to make good on the idea that the contact center could be a value center. It was a promise to not merely compete on the customer experience but win the competition.

The event, fittingly, began with a keynote from real estate mogul and “Shark Tank” principal Barbara Corcoran. There were many obstacles that could have derailed her journey. Instead, she made the most of every moment of truth – and built an empire.

No, the average CCW attendee did not leave with a blueprint to amass tens of millions of dollars in personal wealth. By pairing an aversion to failure with clear action points, these attendees will nonetheless be able to eradicate sources of stigma within their contact centers. They will create environments that drive customer happiness, agent investment and stakeholder satisfaction.

There were several areas in which attendees demonstrated a particular distaste for the aroma of defeat.

Customer service does not have to be difficult

Given its standing as the #1 customer contact objective for 2018, it should come as no surprise that “reducing effort” took center stage at CCW.

When it comes to the customer experience, “effort” is a universal currency. Customers hate slow, difficult, frustrating engagement processes. Agents loathe factors that prevent them from readily performing their jobs. Business stakeholders, in turn, despise the costs of unhappy agents and customers.

Mindful of this reality, the customer contact community is vehemently protesting the idea of “effort.” They are leveraging journey maps to identify sources of pain and frustration in the support process. They are evaluating customer insights to identify recurring issues that should not be happening in the first place. They are leveraging automation technology to help customers resolve problems on their own and agents perform more productively in the event of an escalation.

Whether in the context of an approach to training, the introduction of new contact channels, the deployment of a chatbots, the relationship with an outsourcer or the scaling of contact center resources, the ultimate question at CCW was whether significant effort is involved.

If so, this community will look somewhere else for a solution.

Agent attrition does not have to be high

Historically, “attrition” has helped to unite customer contact leaders. They bonded over their experience dealing with the costs of losing agents and hiring and retraining their replacements. They collectively dismissed agent retention as pure fantasy.

The tone was markedly different at the 19th CCW. Certain that engaged, happy agents are the key to a successful customer experience, they would not accept substantial attrition as an inevitability.

When one organization tried to sell “45% voluntary attrition” as acceptable in the age of customer centricity, several attendees rolled their eyes. When Las Vegas Valley Water District touted a near-perfect agent retention rate, they started enthusiastically taking notes.

As they navigated the different elements of the conference, attendees consistently worked to identify ways to not only reduce agent attrition but grow employee loyalty. They approached training discussions from the context of building employee loyalty. They evaluated technology for its impact on the agent experience. They considered the interplay between “metrics” and contact center culture. They debated the merits of using at-home work opportunities to better engage their workforces.

Outsourcing does not have to be bad

Any conversation about call center stigmas will inevitably involve outsourcing. Many thought leaders (and consumers) position outsourcing as the enemy of customer centricity – as the embodiment of putting short-term cost-cutting above long-term customer satisfaction.

For many of the outsourcing providers and buyers in attendance, CCW represented an opportunity to debunk that misconception.

Not one of “filling seats” or trimming costs,” their vision of outsourcing involves partnering to create value. It involves leveraging outsourcing as a solution – in the same sense as a great CRM or workforce management tool – to expand the organization’s capabilities, drive organic growth and/or conquer pressing challenges.

It means adopting a customer-centric approach to outsourcing – one in which the provider mirrors the brand’s culture, aligns performance with the brand’s KPIs and leverages its expertise to foster meaningful connections with the brand’s customers.

Given the emergence of exciting new technologies and challenging customer demands, few organizations will be able to do everything on their own. That does not, however, mean they must relinquish their identity or cede control.

When done correctly, outsourcing strengthens both.

Technology does not have to be impersonal

Unwilling to position man against machine, hungry customer contact leaders focus on the synergy between the two.

They are looking to let technology handle simple, transactional tasks so that agents can spend more time helping customers with deep, meaningful, unique issues.

Through advanced CRM technologies, they are hoping to give agents the insight they need to engage in more personalized conversations with customers.

Through robust analytics tools, they are hoping to gain vivid insight into the sentiment of intentions of their customers.

In essence, they are tapping technology as the key to treating customers as people rather than numbers.

The intersection of humanity and technology does not, however, strictly concern front-end engagement. It also speaks to the idea of a partnership between technology providers and contact center leaders.

Aware that many solution providers offer impressive technology, the hungriest exhibitors emphasized the human component. They stressed the extent to which they can partner with organizations to build custom solutions for their customers and agents.

Metrics do not have to be dry

As the saying goes, you cannot manage what you cannot measure. Without numbers to support your vision, it is hard to drive motivation or change.

Intimidated by that notion, some refuse to look beyond basic, “dry” data when constructing their scorecards or quality reviews. They focus exclusively on conventional, quantifiable metrics like average handle time and adherence because they fit cleanly into the “data-first” philosophy.

The attendees at CCW did not necessarily disagree with the core philosophy. They expressed a clear appreciation for the value of data – and a clear cognizance that numbers are essential to the performance management effort.

They did, however, demonstrate a broader, more ambition approach toward “hard numbers.” They constantly asked questions -- and shared best practices – about incorporating “softer” contact center skills into a quantitative scorecard.

They considered ways to “measure” personalization, effort and sentiment. They challenged technology vendors to reveal how their products create more customer-centric (not just more efficient) journeys. They evaluated opportunities for including voice of the customer and voice of the agent in their quality monitoring initiatives. They theorized appropriate techniques for measuring “return on learning” in the contact center.

They, quite simply, refused to accept that a performance management strategy must be dry and detached in order to be credible.