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Entries in conference (5)


Three terrific thought leader panels from ACCE 2013

ICMI's ACCE 2013 conference for call center professionals was a customer service extravaganza and a terrific learning experience (see my re-cap here). 

One of the best features of the conference was the Thought Leaders Discussion Table. It consisted of a rotating group of panelists who engaged in fifteen minute, freeform discussions on a variety of call center topics ranging from technology to social media. 

I was fortunate enough to moderate the first three panels:

Panel #1
Panelists included Tiffany LaReau of Human Numbers, Todd Hixon of Intuit, and Bob Furniss of Bluewolf. They kicked things off right with a great discussion on social media.


Click here if you can't see the video.

Panel #2
Panelists included Katy Wild of Freeman, Ben Paganelli of VIA Unlimited, and Lou Paduto of Satori Software. Incidentally, Lou and I will be co-facilitating a webinar on reducing call center stress on Thursday, June 20.

Click here if you can't see the video.

Panel #3
Panelists included Clare Wenham of New Voice Media, Tristan Barnum of Telcentris, Ruben Moffett of TantaComm, and Dave Bethers of TCN. And yes, astute readers will recognized that a story from Clare Wenham helped inspire my post on how companies are training customers to complain via Twitter.

Click here if you can't see the video.


ASTD 2013 ICE Conference Re-cap

I attended the ASTD 2013 International Conference & Exposition in Dallas, Texas last week. This is the premier conference for Training and Development professionals with an estimated 9,000 people in attendance. This conference is always important to me since training is at the core of what I do to help clients improve customer service.

Attending a conference like this can feel like drinking from a fire hose so I’ve put together a summary of my top take-aways from the conference.

Conference Overview
You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference.

Another great resource is a collection of David Kelley’s curated resources from the ASTD 2013 Backchannel. 

Conference Themes
These are the top three themes I took away from the conference.

Theme #1: Where's the Performance?
The whole point of training should be to help people perform their jobs better. This topic was conspicuously lacking at the conference.

The conference was certainly rich in content. There were wonderful sessions, keynotes, and vendors sharing the latest trends in learning. The place was abuzz with technology. You had to literally run and hide if you wanted to avoid networking with amazing people.

The missing piece was why any of this should matter. How can we do a better job of helping the employees we serve improve their performance?

Theme #2: Problem-centered Learning
Most training courses today are built around a specific collection of content. A problem-centered learning approach builds training around a specific problem. The content is only introduced (or discovered by participants) as they need it to help solve a problem. 

For example, let’s say you wanted to learn about geography. You could take a course that taught you all sorts of geographic facts. Or, you could try playing a round of GeoGuessr where you are shown a random location and must try to locate it on a world map. The game-based approach challenges you to develop your geography skills by examining clues in the picture to narrow down the location. (Warning: this game is addictive, especially if you try to beat my high score of 27,151.)

This theme promised to move us closer to performance if we can build training around real work challenges. For example, a customer service training program could be designed around around finding ways to improve customer satisfaction ratings. This could make the training much more useful than simply providing a set of generic customer service skills.

Theme #3: Technology
ASTD released its newly updated competency model in 2013. One of the biggest changes was the introduction of Learning Technologies as an area of expertise for the Training & Development Profession. This recognizes the growing influence of technology in how we deliver training and support our employees’ performance.

Two big technology themes at the conference were social and mobile learning. Social learning is a broad term, but at the conference it primarily meant using social technology like Twitter to help foster learning. Mobile referred to learning from a mobile device such as a phone or tablet. In many ways, conference attendees were doing both since we could access most of the session materials from a mobile application and many of us were exchanging ideas and resources via Twitter throughout the conference.

Another area where I see technology growing is the use of webinars for training. Most webinars today are delivered in a boring death-by-lecture format, but they can actually be highly engaging and interactive if facilitated correctly.

For example, I recently facilitated a customer service training program entirely via webinar for a call center client. The highly interactive class was split into one-hour sessions so participants could apply what they learned before focusing on a new skill. The sessions were highly rated and, more importantly, they used what they learned to improve customer service.

If you attended the conference, or tuned in via Twitter, what were your take-aways?


ACCE 2013 Conference Re-cap

I attended ICMI's ACCE 2013 conference in Seattle, WA this week. This was the 10th anniversary edition of the premier global gathering for contact center professionals.

If you are like me, you find it hard to keep track of all the brilliant ideas, inspiring speakers, and helpful contacts you come across at a conference like this. And, it's sometimes just too difficult to choose between going to one session or another! 

With this in mind, I’ve put together a brief re-cap of some of the conference highlights.

Conference Overview
You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference if you didn’t attend.

I owe a special note of thanks to Voiance Language Services for giving out copies of my book, Service Failure. They made me feel like a star. When people asked how to get my book I was able to send them over to Voiance’s booth in the expo hall!

Conference Themes
Three themes really stood out for me.

Theme #1: Multi-channel customer engagement
Contact centers are interacting with customers in more ways than ever before. We’ve moved beyond phone and email to engage customers with chat, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, text, mobile, and other means. Some customer conversations span multiple channels which makes keeping track of everything even more challenging.

Kathy Hutchens from Sharp Rees-Stealy and David McCann from Varolii co-presented an interesting session on this topic. They talked about ways that Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers engaged customers through multiple channels by learning and acting upon customer preferences. Hutchens gave the example that picking the right channel for appointment reminder notices reduced appointment no-shows by 25 percent.

Many participants told me their companies are still struggling to determine who owns some of these channels. I think this Tweet may have said it best:

Theme #2: Technology + People = Success
Technology was a hot topic. It dominated the exhibit hall. Many participants were in search of new technology solutions for their contact centers. It was even a hot topic on the call center tours.

The most successful uses of technology also accounted for the people using it. For example, technology is making it easier than ever before for contact centers to utilize home-based agents. I toured the Starbucks call center where I learned some of their best people practices for making home-based agents successful.

The tour featured a coffee tasting hosted by some of the contact center employees (known as Partners as Starbucks). One of our hosts was a home-based agent who participated via conference call. Their home-based agents regularly participated in these types of events to maintain their connection to the team.

Theme #3: Resource Constraints
Many contact centers don’t have a lot of resources. This puts a lot of technological solutions out of reach, but they still have to find a way to get the job down.

One example came from Tamara Taylor and Dorian Anid at Abbot Vascular. They were part of a session on creative solutions at small call centers. Taylor and Anid used Microsoft Access to create their own CRM system after their request to buy a technology solution was denied. Their homemade system has helped reps work more effectively, but it is also enabling Taylor and Anid to gather data to make a business case for a more robust solution.

I also participated in a roundtable discussion about gathering voice of the customer feedback. The discussion was hosted by Josh Chapman from Chapman’s company employs a lot of sophisticated tools and third-party research firms to gather useful VOC data. This makes sense for, but what about a small contact center with no budget for VOC? The roundtable participants discussed a simple solution where the contact center could leverage their company’s existing Survey Monkey account to start a rudimentary VOC program at no cost. It was a small step, but would still yield data they could use to improve customer satisfaction.

On a side note, Josh Chapman was one of several people honored at ICMI’s Global Call Center Awards Dinner. He won the Customer Service Business Leader of the year award and created a memorable moment where his wife tuned into the ceremony via Facetime to see his acceptance speech. 

If you attended, what were your biggest take-aways?


Contact Center Conference Spring 2013 Re-cap

Last week was a real treat. It was the first week this year that I didn't travel, but I still got to attend an amazing conference in my hometown of San Diego.

Here's my re-cap of Contact Center Conference Spring 2013.

Conference Overview
If you didn't attend, you may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference:

Conference Themes
I always look for the topics that people are buzzing about at a conference. There were at least three major themes I encountered at Contact Center Conference Spring 2013.

Theme #1: We can do much more with our quality assurance data
Contact centers generally gather a lot of quality assurance (QA) data from monitoring calls and other interactions, but several speakers made a compelling case for using this data much more wisely.

John Goodman, author of Strategic Customer Service, suggested call centers should take at least 50% of their QA staff away from monitoring calls and refocus them on analyzing the root causes of service failures so they can help prevent problems from happening. 

Rebecca Gibson, a Contact Center Solutions Consultant at Interactive Intelligence, made the case in her session that contact centers should correlate the behaviors we monitor with the results we're trying to achieve. This approach enables the QA function to focus on behaviors that actually contribute to good performance rather than a generic set of standards.

Theme #2: We're still not where we need to be with social media
This is such an interesting topic because the importance of social media is widely recognized, but best practices and standards for contact centers are still in their infancy. 

Kristyn Emenecker, VP of Product Marketing at inContact, cited a FastCompany article that estimated Dave Carroll's viral video about United Airlines breaking his guitar may have cost the airline nearly $180 million. The lesson was that today's unhappy customer has the potential ability to tell thousands or even millions of people about it, but smart companies can proactively use social media to create positive impressions with their customers.

Contact Center Consultant Michael Pace gave a nice overview of how to get started and posted his presentation on SlideShare: 5 Steps to Building a Social Customer Service Team. One particularly interesting stat was that 55% of the top 50 brands don't respond to comments on Facebook and 71% ignore compalints on Twitter. Yikes!

Theme #3: Focus on FCR, not productivity
I spoke with several contact center leaders who were trying to focus their teams on First Call Resolution (FCR) while de-emphasizing more traditional metrics like Average Handle Time (AHT).

This is a theme I've personally championed. See my article: Call Center Metrics that Can Hurt Service.

This type of initiative is not without its challenges. One call center manager told me he wanted to take down the display boards that broadcast metrics like wait times, calls in queue, etc. so his team could focus on one customer at a time. This move was vetoed by an executive who felt they had paid for the displays so they might as well use them. 

If you attended the conference, what was your biggest take-away?


2012 Call Center Demo & Conference Re-cap

I attended the 2012 Call Center Demo & Conference last week in Dallas, Texas. If you are like me, you find it hard to keep track of all the brilliant ideas, inspiring speakers, and helpful contacts you come across at a conference like this. And, it's sometimes just too difficult to choose between going to one session or another! 

With this in mind, I put together a re-cap of some of the conference highlights. 

Conference Overview
If you didn't attend, you may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference:

Day 1 Site Tours
Day 1 of the conference featured site tours to several call centers in the Dallas area. (See tour schedule.) This was a travel day for me, so I missed out, but participants were definitely abuzz about their experiences. The tour of the NOVO 1 call center generated a lot of conversation in particular:

Day 2 Keynote: Ann Tardy
Ann Tardy opened Day 2 with an inspiring keynote, Rousing the Remarkable: The Secret To Unleashing Moxie in a Mediocre World. Ann's credentials:

There were plenty of quotes from Ann's presentation on Twitter:

  • @MartaKelsey: "To influence your team members you must understand them and how they tick"
  • @sstealey: "People love to make a difference! Leaders are key to influencing their success." Ann Tardy is giving us those keys!
  • @bobfurniss: "Give people permission to fail. Fear of failure is a barrier to success but a powerful opportunity to learn."
  • @hawgbald: "Reject "lookism"... making assumptions about people by their appearance."
  • @chammarb: Ann Tardy tells us, "Declare a battle cry." What's YOUR battle cry?

Day 3 Keynote: Garrison Wynn
Garrison Wynn kicked off Day 3 with a humorous and energetic keynote, Mastering the Art of Influence. Garrison's credentials:

Once again, Twitter made it easy to collect inspiring and helpful quotes from Garrison's presentation:

  • @DanielDougherty: "Trust is built on 2 things: compassion and competence."
  • @justinmrobbins: "The #1 thing that people value is feeling valued."
  • @hawgbald: "The leading cause of stress is knowing exactly what you need to be doing and doing something else."

Day 3: The Journey to a Customer-focused Culture
I facilitated a session on day three that discussed ways to build a customer-focused culture in your call center. The participants were wonderfully involved and energized, making it a fun session for me. Here are some resources from the session in case you missed it:

More Learning
Going to a conference (or missing out on one) can sometimes generate a strong desire to keep learning about a particular topic. Here's another opportunity to gain more knowledge:

Webinar: Three Hidden Causes of Call Center Service Failures
Date & Time: Wednesday, November 7; 10am - 11am Pacific (1pm - 2pm Eastern)
Cost: Free thanks to our sponsor, Voiance Language Services

Click here to register

If you attended the conference, what was your biggest take-away?

Jeff Toister is the author of Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It. The book is scheduled to be released on November 1.

You can learn more about the book at or pre-order a copy on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or Powell's Books.