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call center week 2017 recap

Cutting-Edge Customer Experience Ideas from Call Center Week 2017

Customer service is in a huge state of flux. From Chatbots to culture shifts making their mark on the industry, there were a lot of new and important topics for speakers to talk about at this year’s Call Center Week Conference.

The conference certainly gave the Comm100 team some food for thought, so we wanted to share these ideas with you. Here’s our top selection of thoughts and ideas from the speakers at this year’s event, to help you get up to date with everything happening in the customer service field right now. We’ve also included some tweetable quotes for you to share these ideas with your network.

Opening Remarks from the CCW Team

The CCW Team opened the conference with a host of facts and stats, with several hot topics discussed including Live Chat and AI.

80% of customer service managers say improving Live chat is a priority this year. And 68% plan to implement AI this year, too. However, don’t think about getting rid of your agent team yet – only 5% think AI will replace humans.

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Headliner Keynote: A Proven Model for Creating a Winning Culture – Disney Style

Jeff James, Vice President and General Manager at the Disney Institute, headed up the first keynote.

Jeff shared how the team at Disney have a “maniacal focus on world class customer experiences” and how he felt that customer experience for many businesses in recent years has been in decline, fueled by a focus on improving the efficiency of processes.

Jeff noted that “Customer loyalty is earned by delivering on brand promise time and time again.” But how do you make sure your employees deliver on brand promise?

The answer, says Jeff, is employee engagement. And at the source of that is strong leadership.

call center week 2017

Jeff had some insightful things to say about great leadership, noting that:

  • Every leader is telling a story about what he or she values.
  • We judge ourselves based on our intentions, others judge us based on our behaviors.
  • Great leaders do not allow themselves to become separated from our occurrences on the front line.

Disney’s common purpose, throughout all their staff from the CEO to the street sweeper, is to create happiness. Jeff described a culture where employees are not afraid to deliver great customer experiences even if they don’t fit exactly with their job title, emphasizing that creating happiness is everyone’s job.

It was fantastic to hear how Disney’s culture empowers everyone to create great guest experiences, every day. Jeff closed with some fantastic stories around their staff creating fantastic, above-and-beyond guest experiences, and shared how important this behavior, and the recognition of it, is to create the culture Disney needs.

We search for people doing it right. Go out and find that. Then reward them. Reverse the model of managers looking to bust ass. They’re looking for opportunities to recognize and reward great behavior. To reward, we almost never use money – it’s ‘Nice job!’ or sharing success in a meeting with peers. When you catch somebody doing something right – that’s great for not just cast members but customers too.

Game Changer Keynote: Move Your Ideas into Action Through Emotional Transportation

The second keynote was given by Peter Guber – Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment.

call center week 2017

Peter started by describing how businesses need to be able to create purposeful stories that move their audiences. Successes need to be able to be packaged into a narrative to allow customers to evangelize, and this narrative forms what is emotional transportation.

Peter explained that businesses need to focus on creating narratives through sharing benefits, not just features. The whole time you’re treating the customer in a transactional way, you’re moving the customer away from sharing the message you want with them. That’s why emotionalizing messages help – this is what moves people and builds relationships.

“Relationships trump transactions, all the time.”

This panel was hosted by Gary E Barnett – Senior VP & GM Engagement Solutions at Avaya. The panel itself consisted of Gail L Smith – Chief Customer Officer at Metroplus Health Plan, Jon Robertson – Chief Customer Officer at Desk Yogi, and Darren Toohey – Head of Global Sales & Customer Retention at Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

call center week 2017

Gary opened by noting that the industry is “right in the middle of a tornado today” regarding how quickly change is happening.

Darren opened the panel discussion, noting that his industry has changed significantly with the advent of Generation X, Y and Millennials demanding more self-service and live chat options, with less telephone conversation.

Gail introduced herself and her background in healthcare, noting that the Affordable Care Act of 2014 changed healthcare service dramatically, exposing healthcare providers to a wider customer base with different demands from what Metroplus were used to.

Jon explained that changing customer expectations had impacted the fabric of his business dramatically. Where previously companies used to dictate how customers interacted with them, now the tables have turned, with legacy systems and silos causing problems in adapting to this new standpoint.

Gail echoed the idea that breaking down silos is critical to building great customer journeys, noting that communications between different teams can be critical in creating appropriate responses to tricky customer service situations.

The discussion turned to data, with Jon drawing attention to the close relationships needed with developers for data to be scaled and unified as organizations grow. Gary highlights that conversations have shifted from businesses asking for reports, to businesses asking what data they can access, and the benefits inherent within organically interrogating this data.

Discussion around customer expectations was the focus towards the end of this panel discussion, with Gary noting that customers are becoming more demanding. Jon shared that he feels customer expectations are increasingly influenced by companies like Amazon, who have the ability to get a parcel on a customer’s doorstep with just a few hours of the order being placed. Gail mentioned that other industries do certainly influence customer expectations, with the satisfaction of healthcare customers often being met through above-and-beyond customer experience initiatives.

Keynote: The Journey to Customer Centricity – People Powered, Customer Driven Strategy

Tim Spencer, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Safelite Group, opened this keynote by discussing the transformation of Safelite’s business through a focused customer service agenda. Later, Tim was joined by Troy Mills, former VP of Customer Care at Walgreens, now CEO of Customer Card Advisory.

Tim shared how any transformation starts with purpose – that unless everyone within an organization is aligned, it’s vital to establish a purpose that helps their people, or Associates, understand not just what they do, but why they do it.

Safelite’s business is in repairing windshields. For them, many customer interactions start with a situation of distress for their customer – nobody expects that they’ll need to repair their windshield, and it’s often a time of stress while it’s being repaired. Safelite recognized that turning a distress situation into one where Associates show care, no hassle occurs in getting the issue sorted, and customers can get on with their daily lives, is crucial to building a company that people love.

Like Jeff James at Disney, Tim also linked exceptional experiences to employee happiness, created through outstanding leadership. Tim noted that in this sense, CX always starts with AX (the Associate Experience) and that his organization does some key things in building a great culture where Associates genuinely want to create the best customer experiences:

  • Build an environment where people are empowered to act and have autonomy
  • Make it personal
  • Engage closely and understand what’s going on in your people’s lives
  • Recognize performance

Authenticity was also a hot topic here, with Tim recognizing that authentic leaders who engage with their staff helped Safelite’s leaders “make it real.”

Tim discussed ways Safelite’s infrastructure, innovation, and KPIs have shifted to accommodate their new customer focus – with CSat being phased out in favor of customer ease of business scores, new technology such as Chatbots being explored, and HR departments being replaced with People & Leadership Development teams.

call center week 2017

Keynote: Customer Management Practice Executive Report: Three Bold Predictions

This keynote was headed by Mario Matulich, Executive Director of the Customer Management Practice at IQPC. Additionally, Mario was joined by Troy Mills, former VP of Customer Care at Walgreens and current Chief Academic Officer at CCW University.

Mario opened by stating that the stakes are real. It’s time to be bold! 77% of people talk to friends about poor customer experience. 78% of the same people make decisions based off word of mouth feedback. 62% of customers change brands if they have just one poor experience – and 61% of those will tell you they’ll move even to an inferior product or priced higher if they’re getting a poor experience.

  • Prediction number 1 was that speed becomes a number 1 priority for customers. Hold time was found to be twice as important as personalization, with the understanding that while personalization is great – if you waste a customer’s time, they can never get that back. Wait time was found to be the number 1 reason why customers complain.
  • Prediction number 2 was that disintegrated technology must go. Making customers repeat themselves through disintegrated solutions frustrates customers, which then puts staff on the back foot. Because 68% of customers say agent demeanor is a critical part of their service experience, ensuring that solutions are integrated and help form linear, easy customer experiences are critical to help your agents do the best work they can.
  • Prediction number 3 was that today’s Contact Center agent will become obsolete in the next 24 months. But this idea isn’t about the steady march of automation taking jobs – rather, that the traditional contact center skill set is changing drastically with the advent of omnichannel and the increasing complexity of agent interactions. This issue doesn’t just concern agent training, though – it’s also about future leadership development.

Troy opened on this topic by discussing that at many big companies, training is one of the things that gets left behind when service levels decrease. But that’s not how to develop leaders. Ultimately, Troy said that getting better predictions about the future, sharing them with staff, and developing time for their development is key to lead staff to become true leaders.

Troy also commented on leaders needing to present revenue drivers rather than cost sinks to company strategists, in order to see change. The stakes are certainly high for these future leaders, and Troy commented that many businesses have knowledge gaps when trying to develop leaders who have people and financial leadership skills, ability with communications and technology, as well as an understanding of where businesses operate in a global environment. In this sense, it’s even more vital for businesses to ringfence time to ensure their leaders are up to scratch on these points.

Keynote: Customer-Centric Transformer – Customer Obsession at Amazon

This keynote was presented by Tom Weiland, President of Worldwide Customer Service at Amazon.

Tom started by discussing good intentions versus mechanisms. A common problem in many businesses is that good intentions aren’t enough – they don’t cause change, in and of themselves. What works for Tom’s team is what he calls mechanisms – which consist of good tools, adoption of those tools, and inspection, working together to form positive change.

Mechanism 1 Tom discussed was working backwards. Tom described the process of starting with a press release, to solidify everything expectations and requirements when releasing a new feature at the planning stage.

Mechanism 2 was creating a customer connections program. One a year, each employee is invited to come to the contact center, listen to customers, get customer feedback, and improve processes as a result.

Mechanism 3 was the Andon Cord. The Andon Cord is a decades-old idea from the manufacturer, Toyota – that if anyone on the assembly line spotted a defect, they could pull the Andon Cord which stopped the production line until it was fixed. At the time, this idea was revolutionary – the idea that anyone on the line could stop it was seen as a major shift in power. Tom used this idea at Amazon by enabling employees to make an item temporarily unavailable if they were getting complaints about its quality. This kind of process is deeply empowering for staff and means that quality issues are dealt with, not glossed over.

Mechanism 4 was Tenets. Tenets at Amazon are principles and beliefs held by staff – Tom described them as “like a north star for a team.” Each team has a few tenets covering their purpose, what they’re working towards, and guiding them in how to act.

call center week 2017

Keynote: Training Innovation – The Revolution of Training: VOC is Just a Click Away

Davy M Roach, Vice President Customer Care PMO at Frontier Communications, gave this training-focused keynote.

Davy argued that the traditional method of training is broken:

  • It’s expensive, both developing training and taking staff offline to train them.
  • It’s slow. Processes within a company can be bad, and increase training time. It also takes many employees to deliver the curriculum.
  • It’s ineffective. As employees, we’re human – we listen for positives, and ignore or bias the negatives. We have selective memory. Feedback through coaching is hard to do – hard to deliver, hard to receive.

Davy shared that social and self-discovery are emerging training models, and discussed some of the differences between these newer and older models.

call center week 2017

Davy discussed what this looks like at Frontier. In a self-discovery training session, employees talk informally and discuss what they could be doing better. Learning here is peer to peer, and much more effective than coming from a supervisor.

Regarding timing training, it used to be that scheduled sessions were timetabled and then delivered, often some weeks after the event that precipitated the training need. Now, Frontier uses VOC data to drive employee training, with reviews of customer feedback being delivered in real time. This VOC feedback allows employees to discover what they did well, what they could improve, and look out for patterns that need addressing.


Call Center Week saw some big themes emerge across several of the keynotes as well as the smaller discussions. Culture, employee engagement, AI and omnichannel were topics that most leading industry figures engaged with, regardless of business size or industry.

The customer service field is now growing far beyond recognizing the need for great customer service processes, and instead, embracing these factors outside of the call center that contribute to amazing customer experiences. These are challenging, yet exciting times for anyone working to improve the experiences of their customers.

Were you at Call Center Week? What did you think? Or do you have a different point of view to the speakers we’ve shown here? Add your comment in the section below.

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Kaye Chapman

About Kaye Chapman

Kaye is an internationally-experienced writer and trainer, and an MA graduate of University College London, the world’s #1 center for Education and Social Science. Kaye has worked with Fortune 500, governmental and private firms across the world to advance customer service operations and embed leading learning and development strategy. As a specialist in Contact Centers, Kaye is passionate about using technology and training to improve experiences for customers and employees alike. Connect with her on LinkedIn.