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.

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