20 Years in Customer Contact with Industry Experts


Customer service has come a long way from the days when consumers had to physically travel to storefront locations to buy, return, ask questions, and get support. As little as a decade ago, the concept of AI-powered chatbots handling customer service needs was nothing more than a futuristic fantasy. However, fast-forward to today, and intelligent bots are a standard feature of websites across the world, virtual assistant are handling phone calls through voice alone, ecommerce stores know what we want before we search for it, and algorithms are serving up tailored content to make customer journeys streamlined, personalized, and magical.   

For twenty years, Customer Contact Week has been bringing customer contact, customer experience, technology, marketing and operations professionals together for inspiring keynotes, actionable case studies, interactive discussions and unparalleled networking. Our events are the number one place for customer experience leaders to learn about the pace of change, find out about the emerging technologies set to disrupt the industry, and build valuable relationships with industry peers.

To celebrate two whole decades of CCW,  we interviewed experts who have been in the industry for 20+ years to learn more about what’s driving customer contact and customer experience in 2019 and beyond.  

Who we spoke to:

  • Becky Ploeger, Vice President, Sales & Strategy, USAA
  • Brad Nichols, Global Customer Service Leader, Dun & Bradstreet
  • Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations LLC.
  • John Pompei, Head of Customer Care Operations WW, Electronic Arts
  • Cheryl China, Director Credit Card Servicing, Citizens Bank
  • Steve Beard , VP of Customer Experience, The Zebra


What do you feel has been the leading driver of change in customer contact over the last 20 years?

Ploeger: Technology. As the pace of technological change has accelerated, customer contact expectations have evolved at the same rate. And that growth trajectory is going to continue in the years to come, making it harder and harder to manage customer expectations.   

Nichols: Without question, the growth and expansion of the internet has been the single largest impacting factor on the changes in customer support. It’s led to a proliferation of different channels and different ways in which customers can engage with a business. It’s also provided customers with platforms to share their experiences with your company, and that’s really changed the way in which we have to pay attention to what they say and what they think.

Pompei: I think two things. First, the commitment to customers from the corporation and leadership standpoint. Second, the innovation and the technology that’s come about over the past, ten, fifteen, twenty years has really made a big difference. Those two things together have moved the needle the most.

Hyken: One of the biggest drivers has been rock star companies setting the bar higher than ever, and what that means is that our customers are no longer comparing us to a direct competitor. What customers are doing is looking at the best experience they’ve ever had, and they’re thinking, “Why can’t these people be as good as that?” So, we shouldn’t be looking at our competition. We need to be taking a look at the very best in class, and thinking about how we can apply what they do so well in what we do at our own companies.  

Beard: The biggest things are that there are now a lot more tools, and that customer expectations have changed. So, not only have the tools gotten better, there are also a lot more of them – such as text, the evolution of email, chat. Before, it was a phone call or nothing, and it had to be during business hours. But now, customers expect more than that, and, quite honestly, we can deliver more than that.

What was the #1 technology in customer roles back in 1999? And what would you say will be the #1 technology in 2019?

Ploeger: In 1999 I think it was order entry systems and transactional systems – some of which are still around today. But in 2019 – I think the number one technology is going to be AI [artificial intelligence], and how it can make customer contact more predictive and proactive, instead of reactive. You see it happening now – but in 2019 and beyond, AI is going to keep growing in importance.

Nichols: Back in 1999 you really just had the internet in its infancy, which gave you the ability to find and source information. When I think about 2019, it’s definitely the incorporation of artificial intelligence and machine learning into the interactions we have with our customers.

Pompei: In 2019, I think the number one technology from a contact center standpoint is still going to be something that sounds archaic like chat. And the reason I say that is because, although we have AI and we have bots and those things are good and are evolving, I don’t think they’ll evolve enough to the point where they overtake the technology we already have in place. 

Beard: In 1999 it was the mobile phone, and in 2019 it still is. The difference is that now we can do everything on our smartphones – not only can I call, but I can email, I can text, I can do everything and stay constantly in touch no matter where I am. And it’s the same for consumers. The majority of our customers are contacting us on our website through their mobile phones – they’re not using desktop, they’re using mobile. And that all changes a lot of stuff – they’re looking at our site on a tiny screen, but they’re expecting everything to work as seamlessly as it does on desktop.

When did you see the concept of “customer experience” emerge on the scene?  How did that concept influence your role over the years?

Ploeger: Customer experience used to just be about customer expectations, but now it’s about the customer journey. How can we remove friction at every touchpoint of a customer’s journey, and how can we enhance the relationship we already have with that customer along that journey? As a result, customer experience and the contact center have started to work hand in hand, instead of in two different siloes.

Nichols: Customer experience, from my perspective, really emerged about seven or eight years ago. I think the biggest impact it’s had is that it’s taken a problem – namely, customer service satisfaction – from being primarily focused in one department, to the recognition that other parts of the business play a significant role in the experience you’re generating for the customer. As a result, we’re taking a much more holistic approach to the way we think about the experiences our customers have and how we improve them.

China: CX emerged about ten years ago when people started to pay attention to J.D. Power scores and NPS scores. I think years ago people thought that technology was always going to help us with customer experience. But it’s not always technology – CX can be something as simple as being really nice and kind to your customers. It’s so easy to do, and it’s something that we’ve all got to train our frontline to deliver.      

Pompei: It’s really emerged from way back in the 80s and 90s. There was a lot of focus on customers, and creating experiences for them – but we didn’t’ really put it in a bubble or tie it all together. Then you see the emergence of ecommerce and companies like Amazon come into play – and since they’re not talking to people in stores, they needed to create experiences. And so I think it was really around that time when ecommerce and technology started to take off that the spotlight was put on the need to drive CX forward.

Hyken: Years ago, when I started my own business, it was all about customer service. Then, one day, somebody thought, “Hey, why not call it something different? Why not call it ‘customer experience’?” And for many years, customer experience was wrapped up in customer service. But today, customer experience is the complete end-to-end experience that the customer has – from the moment they even think about doing business with you, to the moment they actually do business, and continue to interact with you after that. So, CX is everything – from the service that’s provided to the actual packaging customers receive their goods in. Think about if you’ve ever bought an iPhone or anything from Apple – the cool box it comes in. Just that experience alone helps to create confidence in the product. Experience is anything and everything that happens at any level that has to do with the customer.

Beard: I think in the insurance industry, customer experience has always been important, but I don’t think we’ve always looked at it in the same way. I think today, as the cost of acquisition is so expensive, companies are getting smarter and paying more attention to customer experience as a means to retain customers. However, in the insurance industry, we’re very boxed in by old ways of selling – we have very rigid sales models. Those models are trying to evolve to keep up with customer expectations, but some are hitting walls, and are perhaps not keeping pace as well as models in other industries.  

Make a bold prediction on what customer care will look like 20 years from now.

Ploeger: Potentially, the phone channel could be dead in 20 years, though I don’t see it going away any sooner than that.

Nichols: I think we will have a very interesting scenario where human and technology resources combine to provide resolution for customers.

China: As people continue to get more and more tech-savvy, everything is going to be mobile and digital. In 20 years from now, I don’t see call centers being anything like they are today.

Pompei: I think there is going to be a lot more automation to make people’s experiences better, and I think the focus will be on creating experiences that don’t require customers to seek help in the first place. So, I think the industry will focus in on the frontend of developing experiences, so we don’t have to invest as much on the reactive part on the backend fixing and correcting problems.

Hyken: Customer service and experience will simply be this: Instant access to the knowledge that we want. It will be easier than ever. We’re not going to have to make a phone call, we’re just going to say to ourselves, “We want the information,” and it’s going to be there almost instantly.

Beard: I think the idea of “Sorry, we’re closed” will be gone. There will be no situation in which a customer would find that acceptable. They may not be able to do absolutely everything, but customers will be expecting at least 90% of services available at any time.  

What is one trend to look out for in 2019?

Nichols: Agent effort. This is the concept of not just making our team members happier, but understanding where it’s difficult for them to resolve problems and challenges for our customers, and then focusing on making that work easier. Whether that’s through AI, or through simplification of process, or elimination of extra applications and tools – I think that’s the trend to look out for. 

China: I think we need to trend towards better technology – again, as customers want everything mobile, everything in their hand, I think we have to adapt to that.

Pompei: In 2019, we’re going to continue to see a lot of push around AI, chatbots, and things of that nature, and we’ll keep learning how we can better use this technology to complement the experiences we’re creating and delivering today.

Hyken: One of the biggest trends is going to be based on the fact that customers love a convenient experience. You need to create convenience, you need to give customers solutions so they can get answers quickly and easily – rather than having them wait on hold for an extended period of time – because convenience is going to be the big differentiator in 2019 and beyond.   


Join us this June 24-28 at The Mirage in Las Vegas as we celebrate 20 years of CCW!

View the agenda for more information.