The Top 3 Lessons I Learned in 2017

This article was originally published on the ICMI Blog on December 21, 2017. While it’s been a few months, these lessons are still relevant. Click here to read it.

Looking back over the past year of working in contact centers, it’s a daunting task to recall the lessons I’ve learned for a few reasons. First of all, I’m turning forty in a little less than a month, and I swear my memory isn’t what it once was. Second, I hate to say it, but if you work in contact centers long enough and read enough books and blogs about wowing your customers, it all starts to sound the same — becoming challenging to uncover those nuggets of wisdom that enrich the experience for you and your customers.

So what did I do to come up with three lessons for 2017? I went through my last year of blog posts and found the experiences that taught me something, and in some cases continued to gnaw at me throughout the year. Here they are.

Lesson #1: Approach AI with caution but DO approach it.

Much is being said and written about chatbots and other support tools that leverage the power of artificial intelligence and specifically machine learning. They promise to help customers connect with answers to questions faster, more accurately, and with less effort.

While chatbots get much of the airtime, the tools I see gaining the most traction are those that make contact center agents more efficient, helping them find the best response or macro based on what the customer wrote. These are tools like AnswerIQ and DigitalGenius which also promise to help agents handle chat more efficiently. Second to these are tools like ZendeskAnswer Bot and Solvvy that present customers with help center articles before they submit a ticket or chat. They can track customer self-solve rate and quickly prove their ROI.

From my vantage point, the adoption of chatbots is much slower, and vendors are flooding the market, but I think in 2018 we’ll see these gain more traction as companies figure out how to use chatbots in a way that doesn’t inhibit the customer experience. And there will be a demand for customer support and experience professionals who know how to configure them.

Lesson #2: Quality scores really don’t matter. Coaching does.

Several years ago, as a customer center leader, I sort of gave up on my QA process. I was tired of running through the quality form over and over again giving my agents a score. It just felt like I was going through the motions and telling my agents over and over again what they weren’t doing right. All of that to come away with a score that really didn’t mean anything. Add to the mix Drive by Daniel Pink, and I found myself wondering how a score achieves those goals of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

In 2017, I finally openly discussed my feelings with other contact center professionals — 14 of them to be exact. Apparently, many of them have similar feelings. The consensus from that conversation was threefold:

  1. Quality assurance is still important. Some form of quality monitoring must be done in the contact center to ensure that we’re delivering consistent customer service at the level we want.
  2. Coaching is important. This is where we make a connection with our agents, reinforce the good behaviors, and develop the ones we want to see and improve. These coaching conversations and the time spent reviewing how agents performed on interactions are essential.
  3. Scores don’t matter — sort of. Quality scores matter and they don’t. They don’t matter in those coaching conversations with agents. The presence of a score can actually cause agents to mentally check out of coaching conversations so share them with agents wisely or not at all. Scores and forms are useful for quantifying where the team and individuals are excelling and where they need improvement. This allows you to monitor the effectiveness of quality coaching over time.

Lesson #3: Where was mindfulness during my last system outage?

Can I be really transparent for a minute? I’ve worked for SAAS companies in the past where we went through phases where something would break weekly, the call queue would go from 5 to 50, and we’d work into the night trying to get caught up on the email queue. The large customers who would call and demand answers that I didn’t have were the icing on top.

Sure, we had a plan of action for these situations, but there were seasons when outages were so frequent that I would just sit at my desk and freeze up. My brain would go in a million directions, and it felt like it took all of my energy to execute the plan.

In 2017, I read this wonderful article by my colleague Sheri Kendall-duPontand had this conversation with my friends Jenny Dempsey and Debi Mongan on mindfulness. I’m still working my way into a regular practice, but I’ve already found that when I pause to be quiet and focus on my breath, even for a few minutes, I’m more able to think more clearly and respond better in stressful situations. This is an essential practice for contact center professionals, and I’m grateful to those who are championing the cause.

So those are my three lessons from 2017. As I look over these again, I’ve covered technology, operations, and personal and employee growth and development. I think I’m rather proud of that balance. Let’s make 2018 another year packed with learning and growth. Here we go!

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premiere provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service and experience professional. He is co-founder of the Customer Service Life blog and a regular contributor. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

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