Customer Experience, Learning & Training, Work

How to drive customer experience through effective agent training

Picture this. 

You’re managing a contact center where your agent team has received all of the information they need to serve customers perfectly. New starter training helps your agents start taking queries at precisely the point they feel confident to, armed with the skills and knowledge needed to serve customers efficiently. Training on new products or services is completely effective, and afterward, agents immediately start delivering the right information to customers. As a result, your first contact resolution (FCR) stands at 100%, as agents are always sure to give out complete, correct, and concise information to your customers so they can get their issues solved on the first try, with no hassle.

If that sounds like a dream to you, that’s because achieving this standard of service is almost impossible.

The joy of customer experiences delivered by people is that those experiences can be full of wisdom, empathy, and the human touch that makes customer relationships feel really special.

On the flip-side, though, humans are complicated. We all have our own lenses and ways of interpreting the world, and we’re all individuals with different preferences.

In the example above, that means it’s just not possible for every agent to react the same way to the information that you give them during training. Whether your contact center is onboarding new starters or updating existing staff on upcoming changes, the learning that agents need to undertake is almost always a more complicated process than passively soaking up information and perfectly parroting it back to customers. 

effective contact center training

I’ve spent my career trying to understand what makes for really great learning, and there aren’t any simple answers. Learning is complicated and is influenced by our emotions, our culture, our environment, and a myriad of other factors. 

We can, however, look to some established theories on what makes for great learning, and compare them with what we often see in contact center training. In doing so, we can see where the gaps are and how we can fix them.

I can’t promise you 100% FCR. But I can guarantee that by augmenting what you do currently with what we know makes for effective learning, you can improve information retention, training quality, and ultimately, create better customer experiences.

What makes for effective learning?

Let’s take a brief look at some of the main theories on how people learn well and compare them with how learning in contact centers works.

Learning should happen in the environment in which the knowledge gets used

We’ve all been there. You attend a training course and hear some excellent ideas that you feel sure will change the way you work for the better.

Then you get back to your desk, and those good intentions fade. Those ideas might have sounded great in the training room. But faced with the reality of day-to-day work, the frustrations and barriers that prevent you from applying your new learning are all too apparent and difficult to conquer.

Training programs around the world suffer from this problem – that learning received in an environment away from the workplace is often difficult to apply when back at your desk. 
The idea that learning should happen in the environment the knowledge gets used in makes sense when you apply it to hands-on skills. Imagine trying to learn to play the guitar by merely reading a book, and never actually playing a guitar. 

However, in agent training, our goal is generally for agents to change their behavior when interacting with customers. The environment is then one they interact with customers in – at their desks, on the phone, or taking live chats. The problem with this, though, is we can’t easily simulate this environment in a training context. 

Many agent training programs recognize this and build in other training methods to try and shift learning into an environment that better mirrors an agent’s work. Role plays are one way to do this. But role plays can make many agents want to die from embarrassment. The anxiety can interfere with effective learning, either burning a negative experience into the agent’s mind or causing them to want to forget about the activity entirely. 

How to fix this: I’m excited about the potential for Virtual Reality to simulate an agent’s environment in a training setting. But this technology isn’t exactly widespread or achievable for most.

Instead, focus on how you can bring real-life elements into your agent training program. Shadowing is a great way to do this. Pair up newer agents with more experienced ones so that newbies can learn in context. This allows them to see how more experienced staff members react to the customer curveballs that don’t often get covered in theory-focused training. You can also have agents listen to old phone calls or analyze live chats, and encourage discussion about the nuances of each case.

Learners should receive reinforcement

If you’ve ever owned and trained a dog, you’ll have used reinforcement theory to help your dog learn what behaviors are desirable and undesirable. When your dog sits on command, you give them a treat. The treat becomes positive reinforcement for the behavior you want them to learn, increasing the likelihood that they will repeat it. 

Humans also respond to reinforcement in helping us to learn, and words of encouragement or constructive criticism are how that’s done. Feedback serves as validation that a learner has interpreted the information they’ve learned correctly. Or if they haven’t done so well, the input should reinforce what they should do instead. When a person does do well, a healthy dose of validation and encouragement also serves to strengthen the new behavior simply through the feedback feeling nice.

Even the worst of contact centers employ some form of feedback mechanisms that serve as reinforcement for behavior. More specifically, you tend to see that when a customer complains about something an agent has done, that feedback will get relayed to the agent, and they’re told to buck up.

But there’s a world of difference between that kind of feedback and truly useful feedback that effectively reinforces both good and bad behavior.

How to fix this: Quality assurance is an excellent way to get started with reinforcing agent behavior. Ensure that agents are given specific and timely feedback, on both the good and the bad, to allow them to keep improving their skills. But a better way to do this is by building a feedback culture that lets your entire team learn and create best practices together. You can get started by sharing when things have gone well, and (anonymously) discussing the cases where things haven’t gone right. Whichever way you choose to give feedback, involving your team in the process ensures that feedback feels like something that’s for them – not done to them.

Learning should be social

Since the dawn of time, humans have learned new skills from other people. Rarely are we struck with inspiration that comes from nowhere. Figuring out an elegant and effective solution to a problem is often best done by talking to someone who has had similar experiences.

And the very nature of customer experience means that it can often take a team effort to change things up at a touchpoint in ways that enhance the entire journey. CX is subjective, so it can take more than one person to come up with great solutions.

It’s also important to recognize that learning doesn’t always occur in ways that are neat and formalized. Learning happens in conversation all the time. By the water cooler, chatting with your desk neighbor, and in meetings where education isn’t the intended outcome at all, learning still occurs. 

But the very nature of contact center targets means that learning from others is often a luxury. It’s usually tough to take an entire agent team away from the queues to be able to attend a training session together. Their days are on a timer, and if your entire team took extended breaks to talk about the finer points of customer service, you’d have a problem.

Contact center work can be isolating. If you’ve experienced life as an agent, you know that sometimes you might spend your entire day talking to customers but barely speak to your colleagues. 

That setup might be great for productivity, but it’s rarely good for quality. For the trickiest cases, it can take a range of ideas and perspectives to decide what makes for the best customer outcomes. As the adage goes, two heads are better than one – so relying on individual agents to have all the answers rarely results in quality outcomes.

How to fix this: Build opportunities for your team to learn together in both formal and informal settings. Part of that should come through a workforce management (WFM) strategy that provides agents with down-time to learn. And don’t forget to give them the ability to learn from other teams. Another tactic is to improve resource opportunities by implementing AI, whether on the agent side in the form of agent assistance tools, or on the customer side in the form of chatbots. Both tools hold the potential to cut the time that agents spend responding to routine queries – allowing you to double down on quality and boost your training time provision.

Agent training shouldn’t come at a cost

If you’re a manager looking to implement more effective agent training strategies, it’s tempting to think of those interventions as coming at a cost.

That’s a dangerous perspective, for a couple of reasons. Training can take many forms that don’t have to drain resource levels – from implementing tech solutions that make learning on the job easier, to simply improving the processes you have. 

This perspective also assumes that a lack of training results in outcomes that are just fine. But when agents haven’t received effective training, you’ll pay the price in repeat contacts and low customer satisfaction.

Looking at the frequency with which customers have to repeatedly contact companies to try and get the correct information or satisfactory resolutions, research suggests that around 30% of customers have to call or chat more than once. That means that there’s a lot of room for contact centers give their agents more of the training they need to deliver the right information, the first time.

Of course, great customer experiences aren’t about dispensing the right information. They’re also about responding with an appropriate tone, sensitivity, and tact. Training should focus on these more emotional aspects of customer service, too.

Finally, investing in training is an investment in your agent experience, especially if your agent team sits in a younger demographic. Gallup recently found that 60% of millennial employees say that the opportunity to learn on the job is extremely important. There is a  growing expectation for companies to offer not just a job, but a job with the potential for skill growth and improvement.

Improving CSat, reducing repeat contacts, while also making agents happier are goals that can all be met with agent training. And in 2019, the possibilities for technology and cleverer processes to make a difference (even for resource-pressed contact centers) are more tangible than ever.

Customer Experience, Technology, Work

[Webinar] Building Strategy and Confidence in Contact Center AI

If you liked mine and Matt’s article for ICMI on building Chatbot trainers in the contact centre, you’ll like our webinar too.

You’ll also like this webinar if you believe in Knowledge Management as a preface for great customer experience!

Click through to access the recording, and here’s a rundown of what we cover…

“As a contact center leader, you’ve worked hard to grow your service quality and efficiency to where it is today. Now, with AI on your mind, new challenges are emerging.

Register for our webinar to learn implementation strategies that provide a practical path to AI adoption for all kinds of businesses – regardless of your size or industry.

You’ll learn:

  • What types of contact center AI technology are available to you today
  • How to identify low-risk entry points to AI technology
  • How to mitigate your roadblocks to AI adoption
  • New strategic opportunities for contact centers post-AI adoption”

Access the webinar recording via the Comm100 website.

Learning & Training, Technology, Work

Intelligent Assistants (+7 Insights on How Agent-Facing AI Can Accelerate Training and Onboarding)

How does your contact center handle new starter training and onboarding?

Most businesses fall into three camps:

  1. Trial by fire: give agents a manual to read, then throw them on customer queries and hope for the best.
  2. Outsource to colleagues: make training another agent’s responsibility, ask the new starter to shadow them, and expect the new hire to be ready in a week or so.
  3. Actual training: devoting resources (not just e-learning!) to coaching each employee to success, measuring and providing feedback along the way.

Option three is by far the best to develop happy, engaged staff, giving them what they need to become successful and confident before they get anywhere near customers. This investment in employee experience (EX) can be found at the foundation of all great customer experiences.

But great training or onboarding comes at a cost. Research suggests that for centers who invest in training, onboarding a new employee can cost upward of $14,000, with a new hire’s break even point for ROI not kicking in until week 22.

That’s a significant amount of time, resource and expense, and smaller businesses especially will know how tricky it can be to secure buy-in for these efforts. It’s still vastly better than trial by fire, where savings on training cost are dashed by poor quality customer interactions leading to dives in customer satisfaction and peaks in churn.

However your center trains your staff, you’ll know that there’s been a lot of talk about how AI can be used to improve customer-facing interactions – but there’s more to AI than meets the eye. The development of new technology means that it is possible for HR and contact center managers to augment traditional training and onboarding processes to help employees learn and access information in better ways than before.

Where does AI fit in the training and onboarding process?

Put yourself in one of your new agent’s shoes for a moment. It’s your first day, you’ve been introduced to your team, signed into your computer for the first time and you’re ready to start learning how to answer customer queries. 

For complex queries, it’ll take you a decent amount of learning to figure out when you’re making the right judgment call – those queries that fall into the gray-area of your organization’s rulebook where a good answer starts with “Well, it depends on…”

But for a lot of other queries, answers are more black and white. When it comes to getting comfortable with basic FAQs and straightforward inquiries, you’re not so much learning them as remembering the right sequence of clicks to get to find information or memorizing answers by rote.

While AI isn’t meant to help employees make tricky judgment calls, it can lighten the load of those straightforward queries when integrated into the systems that agents use in their day-to-day work.

Intelligent Assistants are a form of AI that can do this by integrating customer communication channels with your existing knowledge resources to present answers to agents, at the point they need them.

Equipped with natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) capabilities, Intelligent Assistants work by scanning text-based customer conversations and providing answer suggestions based on your internal or external knowledge bases, chatbot responses, and other knowledge resources you already have stored in text form.

These systems can even learn from customer interactions within the system, eventually building a response model that’s more robust than your recorded knowledge resources alone.

Just as you have everything you need to drive your car while sitting in the driver’s seat, locating key resources in the agent console has huge benefits – allowing for new starters to start using internal resources confidently and with speed, right in the window where they work. 

What other benefits does AI bring to the onboarding and training process?

We often talk about the necessity of eliminating friction in the customer experience, but we rarely think about what the equivalent might mean for employees.

It’s a reality that for customer-facing employees, getting the right answer to even black-and-white questions might mean fruitlessly consulting a FAQ page, then paper-based manuals, then your online knowledge base, and finally other colleagues, all the while knowing your customer is getting more irate the longer they’re on hold.

The beauty of integrating Intelligent Assistant AI within your communication systems means that you can draw on the combined wisdom of all of these resources and let the AI present you the best answers, no waiting required.

While much of what has been discussed so far is especially relevant to onboarding, Intelligent Assistants can even be helpful to train veteran agents during a new update or product release. 

Many organizations struggle with operationalizing knowledge management and obtaining resources to manage KBs. A lack of solid knowledge resources is a major reason why some companies don’t feel ready to start automating.

But the beauty of internal-facing AI is that you can give it exactly the same resources as you would give any new employee, or what you already present to customers, and start from relatively rough and humble beginnings without that ever impacting on the customer.

Intelligent Assistants only suggest answers that can be edited before sending, so if answers aren’t fully-formed or grammatically correct then they can be built upon by the agent. Agents can also suggest extra answers to the assistant for an administrator to add into the tool, improving its responses over time.

In this way, Intelligent Assistants can help to build stronger internal knowledge tools. They can reinforce a living knowledge management system, where agents interact regularly with a tool that can capture the best of their knowledge and expertise.

If you’ve ever tried to implement KCS or other knowledge management workflows within your centre, you’ll know that encouraging contact center employees to update knowledge resources alongside query handling can be incredibly difficult. There simply isn’t the time in their day to do so. But integrating those knowledge resources in the console where they work means that building robust knowledge resources suddenly becomes a lot easier.

7 insights for smarter onboarding and training

Like any AI investment, it pays to plan well from the inception of the project. The more time you invest in the initial set-up, the better the AI will work, and the more confident you can feel in your new employees with the software guiding them through customer interactions.

The three areas you need to consider the most when deploying Intelligent Assistants are the information it draws on, the deployment process, and a continuity plan. The insights below touch on each of these items, ensuring that quality of information is balanced with speed and cost benefits. 

1. Ensure your knowledge resources are up-to-date

Ask your team to check your existing resources to ensure they are up-to-date and don’t include any glaring errors.

Because Intelligent Assistants are able to draw on your cache of support tickets, previous chat transcripts, and they can learn from agent feedback, it’s not necessary to have a 100% robust knowledge library from the off – the system will become more robust over time.

You should, however, ensure that any information you feed your assistant isn’t outright wrong.

2. Plan the automation process

Be realistic about the types of questions your Intelligent Assistant will be able to handle.

AIs won’t be able to empathize authentically or grow real relationships with your customers – those are the things your agents shine at. Your agents are also best equipped to make the judgment calls on complex queries that really draw on their skills and expertise.

Select relevant queries for your AI to handle from your knowledge resources accordingly.

3. Communicate with your agents

In the same way, let your agents know the strategy and purpose for your Intelligent Assistant. Involve them from the earliest planning stage, secure internal champions, be open and transparent. Including agents from the design stage means that you’ll end up with a tool your team is brought into, and that won’t be perceived with fear or negativity.

You’ll also need to be clear about the types of questions that the tool is best equipped to handle by giving them some example questions so they can see where the boundaries lie. Introduce them to the feedback process within the tool, reward your best contributors, and consider whether you need to reinforce the new process with agent KPIs.

4. Add in knowledge resources and synonyms

Each question will need an answer, and you’ll need to add them into the tool accordingly.

One extra thing you’ll need to account for at this stage are synonyms or business-specific language that your customers and agents use. By adding in a number of alternate word definitions for the same term, for example: customers, clients, and members, your Intelligent Assistant will be able to better handle variations in language that your customers and agents use.

5. Test it, then test it again

Just like you would never want to throw a new employee into any task without making sure they know how to do it right; you never want to deploy any form of technology to your team without making sure it works. Is it fetching the right information? Are the workflows processing the correct information? Most importantly, is the AI helping your agents?

6. Create a maintenance plan

Just like keeping your resources up to date, making sure your AI is up to date is important. While the Intelligent Assistant will learn from customer conversations and agent feedback, any and all product updates, releases, and other new information or links still need to be programmed into the AI.

7. Tune and refine as you go

In the back end of your Intelligent Assistant, you’ll have access to a wealth of information to fine-tune your AI – agent suggestions, stats and statistics on usage, and suggestions from the platform itself. Use this information to keep refining the information your system provides.

The start of an automation journey

Intelligent Assistants are a low-risk way to get started with automation, strengthening your internal knowledge resources to build a customer knowledge model that understands your customers and the way your agents speak to them. Since strong knowledge resources are key to effective chatbots and more, the possibilities for further automation then unfold.

Even if the chatbot route isn’t for you, it’s not just in training and onboarding that Intelligent Assistants can provide benefits. Extended use cases include having the Assistant pull personalized information from a CRM, eliminating the need for agents to put the customer on hold and look up an answer in that system. 

Intelligent Assistants can also be used to automate entire workflows – such as the process of order tracking, password resets or taking payments. Any process which requires multiple, standard steps can be kicked off automatically by agents to gather details, and the agent can then take back control when the customer completes the workflow.

Better onboarding and training with no more trial by fire

Five years ago, nobody would have believed that this degree of automation within contact center training would be here today. Back then, we were barely getting to grips with the concept of omnichannel marketing, yet now it’s a part of standard contact center working.

Technological advancement is happening fast, and Intelligent Assistants are here right now. It’s amazing to be on the forefront of what promises to be change that disrupts our contact centers and training programs for the better.

Humans will always be essential to the customer experience, but we need to better support and develop those humans that serve our customers. AI offers us the opportunity to do that.

The beauty of Intelligent Assistants

When your fledgling agents finally start taking their first queries, even if they’re not 100% confident (and even with months of training, many rarely are), they’ve got an extra safety net to help them out.

While Intelligent Assistants will never be able to coach and mentor, dispense deep wisdom or grow authentic human relationships, it’s possible for them now to take enough of the strain so our teams can have more time to focus on those things.

That’s ultimately the goal of AI adoption. To allow us humans to better exercise our uniquely human skills, and to free us from basic, transactional work – allowing our agents and ourselves more time to focus on the things that truly matter.

Originally published at G2Crowd.

Customer Experience, Learning & Training, Technology, Work

How to Train Your Agents for the Next Generation of Contact Center Work

Since the dawn of time, humans have used technology to improve the way we live. From our earliest forays into fire-making to building the first cars, it’s human ingenuity which has helped us take raw materials around us and transform them into new inventions to make our lives easier.

In the present day and the realm of the contact center, we’re on the cusp of widespread adoption of a new technology. One which holds the promise to make business faster and easier, for us and for our customers – and that’s through automation, with Chatbots leading the fore.

Any technology requires human skill and knowledge to make it work. Even those first humans making fire needed to understand how friction could be transformed into sparks, applying their abilities in combination with materials to produce those first licks of flame.

Just because a technology is advanced, doesn’t mean it can create or maintain itself, and Chatbots are no different. Behind every great Chatbot experience is a great human – someone who can design a service which effectively meets customer needs, and who grows the bot’s capabilities over time through testing and feedback.

Despite all of the hype and excitement around Chatbots, there’s often little said about the humans behind the bots. What sort of people are building bots? What skills do they require? And what do contact center leaders need to do to find, grow and nurture these people to help their centers get ready for automation?

To help answer these questions, I’ve called on Comm100’s resident Chatbot expert, Matthew Jinks. Matt has been instrumental in building our own chatbot on our website, as well as helping companies around the world get great results from their chatbot implementations, so he’s well qualified to share what’s needed to nurture a budding bot building specialist.

Hi Matt! What got you interested in building and training chatbots?

I liked the idea of working with emerging technology. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of AI, and I thought it was a great opportunity to expose myself to something which will probably play a growing role in our lives moving forward.

Personally, I don’t like waiting for service for something simple. Waiting on the phone for 20 minutes to update my billing address when I move is a waste of my time. If more businesses offered bots for functions like this, I would jump at the opportunity to use them. That being said, I know there are a lot of interactions which shouldn’t be automated, and I wanted to develop something which frees up agent time to handle those more complex and sensitive interactions.

Are specific technical skills or knowledge, like coding, for example, needed to build and train chatbots?

There are a lot of great software companies out there who make it easy for non-technical people to build chatbots, without needing to code. If you’re implementing sophisticated chatbot functions like account management or order taking, this side would normally be handled by an IT team. But for the bulk of the building and ongoing training of a bot through an established chatbot platform, this doesn’t need to be handled by people with an IT background, and someone without a lot of technical skill could definitely get to grips with the work.

What about specific personal attributes and attitudes which are likely to gear bot builders up for success?

The bulk of the work that needs to be done when building a chatbot is researching which questions your customers are asking, identifying which ones can be automated and then crafting clear and concise answers. This work is ideal for someone with strong communication skills, who enjoys understanding customer behavior, and a passion for delivering great customer experiences.

It’s a plus if a person enjoys systems-oriented thinking. Sometimes customers ask questions which require the bot to ask clarifying questions before it can return a proper answer. For complex interactions like this, it’s best to map them out beforehand, so you understand how to get the customer where they are trying to go to as quickly as possible.

What’s most interesting or rewarding about working with chatbots?

When I deploy a new chatbot or significantly upgrade one, I read all of the bot’s conversation transcripts to see how it’s doing. There’s no real need to do this since we have analytics and learning components that tell me where the bot may be falling short. But seeing someone come in with a query or service request and having it successfully handled by a response or workflow I’ve created is really satisfying. You put in all this work and thought into the chatbot, but never know whether customers will like it or not until it’s deployed. It’s great when that work pays off.

What advice would you give to a contact center manager looking to help an employee take on chatbot responsibility?

Give them time to understand the technology. The more their skillset grows, the more complex interactions they’ll be able to design. This is an emerging technology, and there’s a lot to learn. If you let the person handling your chatbot deployment invest time and effort into understanding the technology, you’re going to have a much better internal SME and an even better chatbot deployment.

Understand that they probably won’t get the whole thing right on the first go-around. Test out your chatbot thoroughly internally before launch, keep fine-tuning and making things better. Be patient, because the rewards for doing this task well are immense.

Thanks, Matt for your time and insights!

Automation promises to change the working world fundamentally, and our contact centers are no different. McKinsey state that by 2030, as many as 375 million workers – around 14% of the global workforce – may need to switch roles as digitization, automation, and advances in AI change the way work has been done in the past.

But there will always be a need for human oversight into customer interactions, even if Chatbots handle them. Rather than agents being replaced by Chatbots, the contact centers of the future will need employees to act as stewards of this technology, guiding and training bots to perform the best they can. Customer needs are never static, so that fine-tuning will take place well into the foreseeable future.

I hope this interview with Matt has shown that there aren’t better candidates for these roles than the stars that work within almost every contact center out there – those agents who are technologically savvy, emotionally intelligent, and who already understand customer needs inside-out.

These could be great roles for staff who are keen to develop beyond traditional contact center career paths. Job descriptions in this area could be filled with vital and pioneering new responsibilities to tackle, such as:

  • Creating sophisticated, personalized Chatbots which adapt to different types of customers, different types of processes, or different places in the customer journey
  • Using AI to sort and categorize messy data, uncovering hidden customer trends and insights
  • Customer Journey Mapping specifically to find areas where automation could do better than the status quo
  • Knowledge Management responsibility (the backbone of many good Chatbot implementations)
  • Chatbot building for internal uses (Onboarding bot, anyone?)
  • Chatbots that sit alongside internal knowledge bases to suggest answers for live agents – and even suggest answers to be added to the knowledge base from agent interactions.

AI is becoming better and more sophisticated by the day, offering more possibilities for businesses who are seeking to scale in ways that don’t just involve hiring more staff. The days of “easy calls” are already largely gone, due to self-service. The contact center landscape is changing fast and adapting to these changes can seem intimidating.

But I know that all of our contact centers contain bright, talented people who can help us to get there. There’s certainly no rulebook for adapting to technological change – we’re all on the cutting edge together.

The beauty of starting change through adopting chatbots is that software is now at a place where we don’t even need much of a rulebook. We don’t need our automation SMEs to have an IT degree and know how to code in 15 languages. We just need to develop the bright, talented people within our centers in the right ways.

The more that contact centers can create career paths which align with new technology, the more that our businesses and our people will be able to really benefit from technological change – making the next generation of contact centers pioneering, future-ready, and truly exciting places to be a part of.

Originally published via ICMI – and picked as their #1 most-read article in May 2019!

Customer Experience, Learning & Training, Work

ICMI Contact Center Expo 2019 Conference Roundup

ICMI Expo 2019 took place from the 13th-16th May at the rather glamorous Diplomat Resort, Hollywood Beach, Florida. My time at the Expo was a breath of fresh air in more ways than simply letting me escape the heat outside. Expo 2019’s theme was “Navigate the tides of transformation” and as well as covering a lot of the type of best practices CX pros are familiar with, the Expo contained a lot of fresh topics and technologies too.

Whether you missed out this year or you’re just looking for a refresher, here’s a rundown of my favorite sessions, with pictures, quotes, tweets and takeaways.

Jeff Toister Keynote – Hidden Obstacles to Outstanding Customer Service

The conference kicked off with a keynote from customer service author, consultant, and trainer, Jeff Toister. Jeff’s session identified some of the counter-intuitive reasons why agents might deliver bad service, even though we (and they) know that they shouldn’t.

Takeaways: There was a lot of valuable advice shared in the keynote but I loved Jeff’s suggestion to take down the wallboards in your center and simply ask your team to focus on the customer. While this might feel dangerous to businesses who have traditionally tracked time-based metrics, allowing your team to focus on quality instead of quantity means that they’ll typically make fewer mistakes, improving FCR and CSAT.

(You can read my longer writeup of this session over at CX Accelerator.)

Ginger Hardage Keynote – Unstoppable Cultures: Creating and Sustaining Organizations of Enduring Excellence

Next up is Ginger Hardage of Southwest Airlines who shares some amazing stories about Southwest’s culture – the people in front of customers and behind the scenes who are energized to deliver amazing service and who all play a part in a positive, flourishing culture. Southwest has seen profitable business for 46 consecutive years, so it’s clear they’re doing things right.

Takeaways: I’m a big advocate of lived organizational values and Ginger gave a lot of good advice and tips on this – I really liked her idea to explicitly search for stories from your employees that match up with your values, share and reward them.

“As leaders, how we act always trumps what we say. If our employees are going to follow us every day, we must live our values. Nothing can turn our organizations toxic faster than not living our values.”

Ginger Hardage

Jenny Dempsey – Create a Culture of Self Care in your Contact Center

By this point, I’ve done a lot of walking, talking, writing and thinking. I have notes exploding out of my bag and my feet are hurting. So when Jenny opens her session with a short breathing exercise, it’s a wonderfully welcome moment of calm in a sea of conference madness.

We spend the next hour working out what areas of our lives could benefit from some small improvements to help make us more resilient to contact center stress. I’m baring my soul and talking about everything from my cooking skills to how I’d love more space at home. At the end of the session we’ve all taken a step away from day to day concerns to focus on what truly energizes and rebuilds us – not something that many of us often take the time to do.

Takeaways: As Jenny says, “In order to take the best care for others, we must first take care of ourselves.” It’s wise advice when so often in people work, we think most about others, and our own needs can fall by the wayside.

Nate Brown, Matthew Dixon, Justin Robbins – Judge Judy NPS Edition: The Case Against NPS

There’s not much that gets CX pros riled up like a good discussion about NPS. Combine that with the professional smarts and funny anecdotes that you’ll get from hearing Nate, Matt and Justin speak, and you end up with a session that’s electric, insightful and full of laughter.

NPS is on trial, and Nate is the defending attorney. He presents a strong case, highlighting its ease of use and widespread understanding among exec teams and throughout organizations. I’m almost convinced until Matt takes the stage, highlighting how easy NPS is to game and how loyalty is more than just what a customer says – it’s also about purchases, word of mouth and more.

The honorable Justin does his best in Judge Judy’s seat to maintain order throughout, but passions are running high. When the bribe of a signed copy of Matt’s book gets thrown out I’m shamelessly surrendering to the anti-NPS side of the audience along with a flurry of other attendees amidst cries of “Order, order!”

Takeaways: Love it or loathe it, NPS isn’t going anywhere – use it in a mix of metrics to benchmark and measure customer loyalty.

Andrew Gilliam – Ho hum No More: Re-imagining Customer Surveys to Drive Results

Post-interaction surveys are something that most contact centers implement after chats or tickets are closed, but few think about how the wording of the survey itself affects uptake and subsequent opportunities for CX improvement.

Andrew’s session was an insightful look at how customer surveys can be optimized to achieve better results, walking us through ideas and best practices. Andrew is great at not just presenting ideas but giving us all truly actionable insights, and upon chatting to attendees after the session it became clear we’d all walked away with some inspiration to make changes in our own businesses.

Tuesday wrapped up with the ICMI Awards, and a fantastic ‘white hot’ themed party with a lot of dancing. I took the sensible option and bounced out of the party before 9pm, deciding to take an early night to be well rested before tomorrow’s busy day.

Crisis Services Canada – The Power of Virtual Human and Digital Connections During a Crisis

This amazing session early on Wednesday spoke right to the heart of why I’m passionate about the work we do here at Comm100 – taking advantage of technology to facilitate more effective communications and build deeper customer relationships.

Hearing Kate Kuehn share her experiences as a suicide prevention first responder was incredibly moving, and glancing across my table at other attendees, I can see I wasn’t alone in shedding a tear at her stories of this vital work.

“We think of [text and chat] as being removed from real connection… but I’ve personally experienced that they can actually help you connect better and circumvent the issues that can prevent a person from reaching out.”

Kate Kuehn

Henry Winkler Keynote – Discover Your Greatness – Overcoming Life’s Obstacles

Many of us had been looking forward to this keynote from the great Henry Winkler, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Henry shared how undiagnosed childhood dyslexia didn’t hold him back from achieving his dreams.

There’s a lot said about the processes and practices that we know drive success in our contact centers, but less often we look at the personal attributes that make for successful contact center leaders – tenacity and positivity, with the will to keep on going even when life gets tough. Henry’s story demonstrated this, and more, in spades.

“Don’t put a period at the end of a negative thought. If you finish that negative thought, it becomes a sentence, then a paragraph, then a thesis of negativity.”

Henry Winkler

Customer Experience Leadership: How Moo, UL, Navy Federal Credit Union & IBM are Leading with CX

I love sessions like this, featuring distilled CX wisdom from CX pros leading a huge range of different types of companies. No matter your industry or business type, you’ll end up hearing at least one thing that resonates with you.

First up was Dan Moross. Dan shared the challenges that come from scaling CX when a business is rapidly growing, and stressed the importance of building the internal relationships that will allow you to gain buy-in and achieve positive CX change.

“You will achieve nothing, even if you have the best numbers and storytelling in the world, if your people don’t trust you.”

Dan Moross

The theme of collaboration was continued by Nate Brown. Nate opened by acknowledging how no one person can do CX on their own, and that collaboration is what’s needed to achieve real CX change. Nate drew on his personal experiences to explain how he adopted a positive, persuasive stance when explaining CX value to internal stakeholders. I really liked how Nate highlighted that given that self-service and AI are taking a bigger share of customer queries, what’s left are challenging problems and issues for organizations – which by their nature require the skills and commitment of a cross-functional team to resolve.

Achieving buy-in is a complex and nuanced process – and that goes not only for our internal stakeholders but also our customers. Kristy Powers presented a great discussion around the role of emotion in buying decisions. It was refreshing to hear Kristy confirm that emotions are a very powerful factor in decision-making, and that contact center leaders should account for this if they are to build balanced, understanding relationships with colleagues and customers.

“People will buy based on emotion and defend that decision with logic. We need to deliver on both.”

Kristy Powers

Linking it all together, Bob Furniss shared some valuable pointers around developing a CX culture. I especially liked how Bob highlighted the importance of making the most of the rich data we collect in our day-to-day interactions and ensuring that data gets shared both up and down. Bob explained that your contact center agents are absolutely central in this process. They speak to your customers every day, so they’re in many ways the internal stakeholders who are closest to your customers. As an ex-agent myself, it’s always fantastic to hear senior CX leaders like Bob vouch for the importance of taking the time to speak to your agents face to face, and to give them the tools they need to create the stories that show how CX is truly lived within your business.


If you’re striving to improve the customer experience your organization provides, you might find that there are few people in your organization who really ‘get’ the full scope of what you’re trying to achieve. Gaining buy-in, developing employee engagement, drawing insights from data, and tightening up processes are struggles that many without a cross-functional outlook might not be able to relate to.

But one thing that can really help is having the ability to connect with people in the same shoes as you. Those people who have fought the same battles you’re fighting, who can share not just the successes they’ve achieved but also empathize with the struggles that you face.

As an attendee of ICMI Expo for three years now, I’m finding that my conference experience is getting better on account of this. The conversations I’m having are getting richer, and the friendships I’m building are getting stronger.

It’s this focus on relationship building, as well as the high caliber of learning and knowledge-building on offer, that makes ICMI Expo a truly valuable event to attend.

Customer Experience, Technology, Work

5 Tips for Finding a CX Platform Your Agents, Customers, and Exec Team Will Love

You can’t build a house on a weak foundation. In the same way, the standard of customer experience that consumers expect isn’t achieved without technology to bring together disparate channels and make consistent, seamless experiences an easy thing to achieve.

Thanks to the growth of omnichannel strategies in recent years, there’s no shortage of customer experience (CX) platforms out there. But in the same way that CX can be applied differently within different organizational areas, many CX platforms can be similarly varied in functionality. Some might be more appropriate for marketers, some for operational functions and others aim to meet just about everyone’s needs.

Despite this, there are some overriding considerations that will help you identify the right platform for you, regardless of the nuances of your CX strategy. Some things in CX just don’t change, like the need for personalization or easy agent training.

Read on for my full checklist of five criteria to help you find the best customer experience platform for your business.


  • What depth of personalization options are available?
  • What segmentation capabilities are available for customers in different regions or languages, or of different demographics?
  • What kind of data is provided and does it provide the right insights to create more personalized experiences?
  • Is there intent-based routing available to automatically direct inbound queries to the right department the first time, without triage or transfers?
  • Can integrations and APIs be used to connect the platform to other systems, making deep personalization automatic?

Bottom line: Quality CX platforms allow companies to create personalized messages to customers based on their geography, browsing history, shopping cart activity and more. These personalized touches should be able to be used at many different points of the customer journey, whether pre- or post-sale and throughout the customer’s lifecycle. It’s through personalization that companies get to demonstrate deeper customer understanding and build stronger relationships with their customers.


  • Would your agents get excited about the capabilities of their new platform?
  • Is the interface user-friendly and intuitive for agents to pick up quickly?
  • How long will it take to train new agents on?
  • Can agents see a customer’s communication history across different channels on one screen?
  • Does it integrate with knowledge bases to allow for internal knowledge acquisition and learning?
  • Does it help make agents’ work faster or more accurate?
  • What other innovative tools or capabilities (like AI) are available to help increase efficiency and pave the way for future automation?

Bottom line: Your agents are your primary end users of any new platform, so it must enhance their ability to do great work without needing lengthy training or workarounds. 98% of organizations state the agent experience (AX) is a key part of any successful CX strategy, so any good customer experience platform needs to enhance AX as much as the CX.

Customer experience versatility:

  • Does this platform make issue resolution smoother and easier than the status quo?
  • Does it provide efficiencies that reduce wait times and unnecessary friction?
  • Can this help to provide better quality service and support to my customers?
  • Is this platform easily accessible by the right internal stakeholders?
  • Does it provide the raw data to help track and adjust different parts of the customer experience as strategy changes over time?
  • Does this platform perform over different devices, operating systems or browsers?
  • How well does the platform integrate into my current technology stack?

Bottom line: The right customer experience platform should be versatile enough to contribute to every single one of an organization’s customer experience metrics and be flexible enough to adapt to any technology stack through customization options.

Conversation quality:

  • Does this platform help my customers get service that’s fast, friendly and accurate?
  • Will this platform improve conversation quality while ensuring there are no trade-offs in terms of time spent?
  • Does this platform allow you to access information to suggest when you should proactively offer help to customers – even before they ask for it?
  • Does this platform offer rich media features that can speed up time to resolution (e.g. image or document sharing)?
  • What are the customer satisfaction benchmarks for this platform? Does the platform provide the ability to make and track improvements?

Bottom line: Quality conversations build stronger relationships, but they shouldn’t occur at the expense of efficiency. Organizations need to make sure they’re taking full advantage of a CX platform’s full capabilities – file sharing, co-browsing and more – to provide quality interactions through tactical, interactive experiences that fuel greater customer satisfaction.

Customer Security:

  • Does this platform meet my industry’s security and compliance standards?
  • How is data stored and processed on the platform (if a cloud platform)?
  • Does this platform offer on-premise installation, if tighter security is needed?
  • What security measures are available on the agent side (password protection, SSO)?
  • What type of encryption tools are used at rest and during data transmission?

Bottom line: Safeguarding customer data will always be non-negotiable. Good CX platforms feature should have multiple layers of data protection and compliance with data standards like ISO 27001, GDPR, PCI, HIPAA and more.


Today’s omnichannel CX platforms have the ability to deliver better experiences on a lot of fronts. They should be able to handle incoming communications, allowing you to create service that’s fast and high quality. They should help you to gain new insights into your customer data to make more informed decisions and react quickly to change. And they should enable you to take the first steps into automation with AI capabilities that can be relied upon.

At the same time, companies need to remember that customers want to be treated like human beings, not data points. The advantages of efficient platforms mean that your agents should be able to rush less and spend more time helping customers with the queries they most need human help with. That’s truly a win-win – when entire organizations can reap the benefit of a strong CX platform which helps agents, businesses and customers in spectacular new ways.

Originally published here.

Customer Experience, Technology, Work

5 ways an omnichannel strategy can improve your contact center’s customer retention rates

Agent: “How can I help?”

You: “Well, it’s a long story…”

Have you ever uttered these words when you’ve got in touch, yet again, to ask an organisation to solve a persistent problem? If you have, you’ll know that one of two things can happen. 

Either, the agent stops you right there, looks up your history, and troubleshooting carries on from where you left off. 

Or you’ll need to repeat the whole sorry story to a new agent. Even then, sometimes it can take tens of minutes of waiting while the unwitting rep scrambles to piece together exactly what’s happened, trying to understand the timeline of events from fragmented logs in disparate systems. 

I experienced the latter situation when trying to solve a wifi issue with my internet provider. Unwitting agents would tell me to follow the same troubleshooting steps, forcing me to explain that I’d tried all of that before – turning my router off/on again, reverting to factory settings, checking my access points, getting a new router delivered, all the while my issues persisting and my patience running thin. 

 What’s worse is that agents on live chat didn’t seem to know what agents on the phone had suggested. Twitter reps told me to phone in. Different departments didn’t even seem to share the same access to my communication logs. The experience was drawn-out, painful, and with some bitterness I eventually changed providers. 

According to research, telecom companies saw a 57% rise in customer complaints in 2018, with internet problems being the most common issue. But the rising percentage of customer complaints isn’t new or exclusive to just the telecom industry.

Poor customer service is costing businesses across all industries more than 75 billion dollars a year. Technological developments and digital channels hold the promise to reduce customer service issues, but systems that aren’t integrated can cause more problems than they solve.

It doesn’t have to be this way. An effective omnichannel strategy can work to reduce the fragmentation and provide experiences that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Here are some ideas to think about to create that strategy for your business.

More consistent, personalized experiences

52% of consumers (like me!) switch service providers due to poor service. Even in those customer service situations where a resolution can’t be easily found, consistency and personalisation can really take the sting out of the issue.

Customers shouldn’t have to repeat themselves several times to several different customer service agents. Well-integrated channels mean that agents should be able to instantly see a timeline of contact logs, regardless of which channel they came in on, and provide situations that are tailored to the customer.

Time is something we can never get back. And just as customers hate having their time wasted through repeat contacts and time spent on hold, wasted time is terrible for contact centers too, causing inflated handle times and lower agent availability.

Channel pivoting should never be a barrier to good customer service. Blending all your channels into one platform gives the agent a complete view of the customer so they can solve problems faster and more efficiently.

Customers don’t think channel, businesses do. Understanding your customer and offering more consistent and personalized service helps to build empathetic, considerate relationships that keep customers for the long-term.

Intelligent routing

Effective omnichannel systems allow customers to be transferred to the agent they last spoke to. Many customers breathe a sigh of relief when they’re able to speak to the same agent who knows their history, and this helps to forge stronger relationships too.

An effective omnichannel customer strategy allows you to use intent-based routing to get customers to the right person, no matter how, where or when they try to access service. This not only allows returning customers to be served by agents they’re familiar with but also makes sure that the right queries go to the right departments – curbing the dreaded transfer tag.

Customers should be able to access service in the channels that are most convenient for them. Contact centers need to make sure that customers can get the answers they’re looking for on the channel that they choose, or risk losing them to a competitor that can deliver those answers better and faster.

Faster, more efficient agents

Contact center work can be tough at the best of times, but it’s made even more difficult through forcing agents to juggle disconnected systems. Bringing everything together in one platform prevents agents from needing to switch back and forth between applications. Rather than needing to keep an eye on five different windows or manually copy and paste customer information provided through an IVR maze, agents can focus on simply solving customer problems.

Eliminating the need for multiple logins, siloed information, and endless searching from your agent’s day-to-day lives will make them faster, more efficient, and more productive with their time – not to mention, a lot happier too.

Proactive Engagement

All too often, customers give up and walk away because they just can’t find the information or support they need. If your competitors make this easier, then your retention rate is on the line. A proactive customer service strategy is one way you can truly go above and beyond the rest. Map out your customer journey and identify where people most often drop off.

For example, you can program your live chat system to offer a proactive help invite that pops up after a certain number of failed searches on your website, routing customers straight to an agent who’s ready to assist. This allows your agents to capture customers at risk of falling through the cracks, reducing your churn rate.

By anticipating customer problems and solving them before they become serious pains, you can prevent your customers from ever getting to the point of attrition.

Simplified Reporting

While proactive live chat outreach is a great way to reduce customer churn, it’s also important to widen your focus and proactively search for trends which could signal issues that cause customers to leave.

Different platforms have different reports and analytics suites. Trying to compile reports to identify trends and draw meaningful conclusions or find areas of improvement for your overall customer service strategy is often a hassle when you need to pull different metrics and KPIs for every channel. Not to mention, it makes effective QA doubly difficult.

Bringing all your reports into one, unified dashboard allows you to uncover information and trends that you may not have noticed before. With a simplified reporting suite, you can better see how your customers interact with your agents, what type of questions they ask, and where areas of friction appear – allowing you to make improvements more easily.


No customer likes to be forced to walk away. More often than not, the inefficiencies and frustrations that cause severed customer relationships aren’t deliberate on an organization’s part – they’re simply the result of poorly planned processes, and disconnected systems.

Your contact center plays a major role in maintaining customer relationships which then benefit your entire business. Considering that 68% of consumers will not go back to a provider once they’ve left, and 80% of them believe the organization could have done more to retain their business in the first place, there’s real opportunity for contact centers to make a difference.

Omnichannel might sound like a buzzword, but as a CX tactic it’s solid. By creating an effective omnichannel strategy with integrated platforms sharing a single source of customer truth, you stand the chance to gain benefits that go beyond the technological – helping your customers to perceive you as efficient, understanding, and worthy of their continued custom.

Originally published here.

Customer Experience, Technology, Work

7 Benefits of Unified Communications for Contact Centers

Picture this: A screen with four applications open, arranged in windowed tiles so you can still access the other five other applications hidden behind. The click-clack sound of keyboard toggle shortcuts punctuating conversations between each back and forth. A chorus of “Hold, please” to buy time needed to manually copy and paste the customer information that was just provided via the IVR maze.

Sound familiar?

Contact centers are no stranger to system siloes with 45% citing lack of integrated systems as an obstacle to digital transformation and seamless customer experiences. While not a new phenomenon, new technologies are emerging that are working towards a remedy for this age-old problem – and unified communications just may be the answer your contact center is looking for.

What does Unified Communications mean?

Unified communications is when all your external and internal communications are brought together on a single platform. Simple right?

When one platform connects all the dots within your business, you get a single source of truth for your agents. From phone calls to tickets to social to SMS, unified communications bring together all your customer service channels into one, 360-degree view. Your agents can access customer information, history, and profiles no matter which channel they choose to interact with you through.

Unified communications is powered by a system specifically tailored to contact center needs – even warranting its own software category (Unified Communications as a Service, or UCaaS). These systems not only bring everything into one platform but also streamline the process of channel pivoting. For example, a customer may call in by phone but with a single click, an agent switches them into live chat co-browsing to troubleshoot a more technical issue.

What are the benefits of Unified Communications?

Streamlining processes and integrating systems help contact centers in a variety of contexts. Unified communications bring big business benefits to your contact center by improving agent productivity, efficiency and agility.

  • More seamless customer experiences: It’s a well-known fact that more and more customers will choose who they do business with based on customer experience over price. Customer experience is now a key competitive differentiator and 77% of companies believe unified communications will help them stand out from the crowd. Ensuring agents have access to customer information and support when they need it most means a better, more seamless and consistent experience for your customers.
  • Better agent efficiency: When agents don’t need to keep eight applications open and constantly switch between them just to do their job, they feel more efficient and productive – especially when they don’t have to juggle multiple logins or search for information scattered across different systems.
  • Less risk of data breaches: When switching between systems, it’s all too easy for distracted agents to accidentally look up records that don’t belong to the customer they’re speaking to, bringing the risk of giving out sensitive information belonging to a different customer. I’ve seen far too many data breaches that have occurred this way. Using unified communication platforms, this risk disappears.
  • Work anywhere, anytime: With the rise of work and remote contact centers, unified communication platforms have become the backbone of a modern, digital workforce. These platforms give remote workers the ability to work anywhere without harming agent performance.
  • Reduced operational costs: Contact centers cut costs by reducing the number of applications and licenses they’re paying for, not to mention the reduction of maintenance costs and other IT resources spent on systems. Hardware savings are another factor, as your agents might not even need two screens. Paying for one unified communications platform is normally far more cost-effective than paying for multiple individual systems and the integrations needed to connect them.
  • Quicker and better employee onboardingUnified communications helps scale your team, process, and even internal training. With one single source of truth, your new hires or seasonal workers can find everything they need to learn and get ramped up. When it does come time to onboard agents, you only need to add users and set permissions for one platform rather than needing to distribute a sheet with nine different logins in your welcome package.
  • Simplified IT Maintenance: Bringing all your systems into one platform cuts the IT resources needed to maintain and manage your contact center technology. Bringing one system in line with usability policies as well as security and compliance regulations also becomes much easier.

Imagine having your internal communication platform, CRM and customer-facing support channels at your fingertips, all the time on one screen. With unified communications, your agents can finally stop toggling and start working.

Originally published here.

Customer Experience, Technology, Work

Report: Customer Satisfaction With Live Chat Is On The Rise

Another Forbes mention! 😊

Dan Gingiss did a great write-up of Comm100’s Live Chat Benchmark Report and drew out a number of interesting findings – including that live chat customer satisfaction is on the rise.

This benchmark report is a big effort by all of us at Comm100 every year, and I’ve been involved since our 2016 report.

It’s an original piece of research that’s based on all of our customer’s chats, so there are a ton of insights in there for anyone looking to start or grow their live chat operation.

We’re lucky to have insights from friends and experts around the CX world included too. Thanks to them and to Dan for writing such a great article!

Read Dan’s Forbes article here.

Download the 2019 Live Chat Benchmark Report here.

Culture, Customer Experience, Emotional Intelligence, Work

[Video] The AvoCAREdo Show

We spend 1/3rd of our entire lives at work, so it’s vital to be tuned into what you need to be happy and healthy there.

What’s more, customer experience and customer service are difficult fields to work within. I’ve written before about the impact of emotional labour on call center employees, and the difficulties that come when call center work is stigmatised.

Because of this, it was fantastic to be invited on the AvoCAREdo show by CX and wellness pro, Jenny Dempsey, to chat about my own self care wins and struggles.

Thanks Jenny! 🥑❤

Originally published here.