Lessons From CCW Winter: What's Hot, What's Not in Customer Management

Brian Cantor

When it comes to conferences like Call Center Week Winter, insight comes from beyond the sessions identified in the agenda. It also comes from observing how attendees react to those sessions – and how they interact when away from the session theater.

Over the next few weeks, Call Center IQ and the IQPC event team will be sharing notes from sessions and interviews with speakers. In advance of that content sharing, however, I wanted to reveal some insights I gathered from the "in between" time.

I wanted to discuss the pulse of today’s contact center professional: which topics are firmly on the radar, and which have fallen off?

Based on my experience at last week’s Call Center Week Winter in Orlando, FL, here are the topics that are hot and not:

Hot: At-Home Agents

Not one but two group breakfast conversations centered on at-home agents. Largely supportive of the idea, attendees are now focused on overcoming challenges, establishing best practices, and optimizing performance. Key discussion topics:

  • Should remote agents be compensated differently?
  • What are the best strategies for monitoring and managing agent performance?
  • What kind of training is required for at-home agents? How does that differ from on-site training?
  • How can a business best engage its remote workers? How can it incorporate off-site agents into its workplace culture?
  • How frequently, if at all, should remote agents report to the physical contact center?

Not: Outsourcing

During one breakfast conversation, an attendee inquired into whether his tablemates outsource contact center operations. He did not receive many affirmative answers.

The group of executives – some from iconic, global brands, some from smaller, niche organizations – was resounding in its preference for an insourced customer care operation. Conversations in the various sessions and networking breaks revealed a similar sentiment.

Some are not there yet, but many organizations are indeed pursuing a more internal contact center approach – or at least not pursuing a greater reliance on outsourcing.

Hot: Live Chat and Self-Service

While the abstract concept of "omni-channel" is increasingly registering as a clichê, specific channels remain on the radar. For the Call Center Week Winter attendees, live chat and self-service hold particularly firm positions on that radar.

For chat, key focuses include determining when to route customers to the chat channel, how to best staff agents within the channel and when to escalate interactions to telephone agents. Specific performance measurement techniques are relevant in the short-term; in the long-term, the idea is to create unified metrics across all live-touch channels.

For self-service, key focuses include minimizing steps to resolution, humanizing the technology, and streamlining the process through which a customer can acquire assistance from a live agent.

Not: Social Media

When a roundtable facilitator referenced "social customer care," a chorus of groans emerged. The implication was clear: today’s contact center professionals have heard all they want to hear about social media.

That does not mean those professionals have successfully implemented and optimized social customer care in their organizations. Based on the conversation and ongoing research conducted by Call Center IQ, the overwhelming majority have not.

It does, however, mean they are not excited by the prospect of introducing full-service, wholly monitored customer care on channels like Twitter and Facebook. They understand the trend, know the risks, know the potential rewards, and thus know where it ranks on their strategic totem poles.

Hot: Unifying the Customer Experience

A combination of formal roundtable and informal networking discussions shed light on an ongoing challenge facing customer-facing professionals: how does one make customer experience an organizational priority?

The concept of the "siloed" organization is as clichêd as they come, yet it continues to plague many organizations. Marketing focuses on demand generation – and operates with limited direct interest, let alone insight, into what existing customers are saying. Product development is driven by its own innovation, often without a complete sense of which design elements will resonate from a sales standpoint and minimize issues from a support standpoint. HR recruits talent and establishes culture without more than a surface-level understanding of cross-departmental needs. And, yes, even customer service teams are guilty of managing operations without wholly thinking about the impact on sales and marketing.

Some departments have visitation and informal knowledge sharing, but neither is an ingredient from which an integrated, unified experience is created. Cross-departmental insight does not come from elevator pitches and reports but rather from complete, structural alignment between teams. Everyone sees himself as all at once a marketer, salesman, product developer, and customer service agent.

One organization is creating this alignment by situating all managers – not just the customer service ones – in the middle of the contact center floor.