What’s Hot (and What’s Not): Customer Contact Week 2020


The conversation has shifted.

In recent years, contact center conference discussions tended to focus on “what” – omnichannel, speech analytics, artificial intelligence, chatbots, analytics, etc. We learned what these new and emerging technologies could do to help reduce costs and improve metrics.

How has this changed?

These technologies and capabilities are still important. But now, front and center is a focus on Customer Experience (CX). A plethora of research and analyst studies have confirmed what we know to be true from our own behaviors: if our customer experience with a company isn’t good, we leave. As a result, we’re seeing discussions move from “what” technologies are available to “how” – how can we use these technologies to improve customer service and experience?

Last week at the Customer Contact Week (CCW) conference in Nashville, the focus on customer experience was everywhere – from keynotes to breakout sessions to discussion groups. And often, presentations and discussions addressed how to get alignment and executive buy-in within the company.

Gaining executive buy-in for CX

Target, Federal Reserve Bank, Dow Jones, Fiserv, Humana, Motorola, FireEye, Harbour Air Seaplanes, Groupon and many other companies participated in a “Think Tank” discussion group titled “How to Gain Executive Buy-in for Customer Experience Design” led by Justin Robbins of 8x8 and Alison Lichtenstein, Head of Customer Experience at Dow Jones. In this session, one attendee expressed frustration that there was no clear path to getting a “yes” for CX initiatives. A VP of Client Operations at a large financial services company mirrored that sentiment; she knew orientation toward CX was critical but struggled to get/maintain funding. She was told phone calls would drop by 50% as customers started to use other channels; what actually happened is that calls dropped by only 5% and became more complex.

A supporting theme of the conference was EX = CX. That is, if the employee experience isn’t good, the customer experience won’t be up to par either. This theme clearly emerged in the “How to Gain Executive Buy-in for CX” Think Tank sessions. One participant, a CX Lead at Humana, shared an insight garnered from their practice of listening at least one hour of calls per week. He said, “It’s the most eye-opening experience you’ll ever have – and sometimes the most painful.” He went on to say that agent impediments result in customer pain.

To tackle the problem within Humana, focus groups meet with agents and ask them “What do you like about the CX we provide?” and then conversely “What do you not like?” Intriguingly, they’ve learned that what they hear from their agents are the same things they hear from their customers. For example, when agents are frustrated by not being able to find the right information, customers are annoyed too.

Touching on the EX = CX approach, Robbins recommends conducting “stay interviews” with agents. Rather than spending time on exit interviews with customer service reps who are leaving the business, seek honest, open feedback from those who have stayed. Ask those reps what you should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. Robbins says, “If they want to help people and we make it impossible, they’re out.”

A recent Aberdeen Research study bears this out. Astonishingly, the Aberdeen survey of 354 companies reveals that equipping agents with the tools to do their jobs is even more important to agents than pay or benefits. On a side note, this study is the topic of an upcoming 8x8 webinar. Click here to join and learn more.

Back to the conference, recommendations emerging from the “How to Gain Exec Buy-in...” discussion included:

  • Be intentional about working with stakeholders.
  • Step back from your own tasks long enough to look at the larger picture.
  • Build relationships across organizations so you can work together to resolve problems.

New insight on customer journey mapping

More than one conference session highlighted that a key to optimizing customer experience is journey mapping. One participant shared that when evaluating the journeys of 100 customers, “We encountered a few surprises. It opened our eyes to areas where we were lacking.” Another attendee advised “How will you know great CX when you see it? Take your opinions out of it,” and went on to talk about how setting measures of success is critical.

Lichtenstein, co-moderator of the session, agreed. She emphasized the need to baseline where you are today as a starting point, and temporarily suppress the inclination to immediately focus on where you want to go. Lichtenstein’s point is that CX expenditures are easier to justify if you have the metrics. By identifying and tracking measures from the very start, you have quantifiable results to assess your progress.

Chatbots: Only as smart as their design

Another conference session “Debunking Common Misconceptions of AI and Automation” was moderated by CCW Principle Analyst Brian Cantor and Erik Ashby, Director of Product at Helpshift. An important point they emphasized is that it’s critical to identify the right applications for automation. Focus on making it easy, and find situations where it’s not just easy but practical. Ashby emphasized “Be sure to understand customer intent” and proactively address all options customers would want to select upfront. If you’re implementing chatbots, keep this in mind: they’re only as smart as the design.

The risks of chatbots were discussed. Applications must be carefully selected. For example, some situations require empathy, which is hard to automate appropriately. Chatbots can miss the critical context of the conversation.

Tips for winning at social customer care

Another Think Tank discussion, moderated by CX speaker and consultant Dan Gingiss, focused on social engagement. Gingiss lists several factors important to social strategy:

  • Identify your support channels: where do your customers engage?
  • Set expectations for your response (71% of users expect a response within one hour).
  • Work with your brand team to develop your tone and voice.

Gingiss distributed copies of his book “Winning at Social Customer Care,” in which he provides salient guidance in many areas of social customer care, such as how to handle trolls, when to take discussions off-channel, empowering your team, and what to do in a crisis.

Actionable analytics

Actionable analytics was the focus of another Think Tank discussion group. Here again, EX=CX was a sub-theme. Noteworthy tips garnered here included:

  • Measure the level of effort for agents. How many clicks does an agent use, and can you reduce the number of screens they must navigate between?
  • Keep scorecards simple, and let your reps help build them.
  • Speech analytics is a game-changer - it gives you the data to accurately assess complaints and get product feedback.
  • Assess IVR containment, and know where you start losing customers.
  • Use data to get the attention of executives.

I find these conferences provide so much valuable information that it’s impossible to fully capture in a blog. Find out for yourself first-hand by joining the next Customer Contact Week conference in Las Vegas this June. I hope to see you there.

Kay Phelps


Kay Phelps is a contact center professional who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years. Her experience spans systems engineering, defining requirements for new products and new releases, as well as product management and product marketing. Kay is a frequent speaker at conferences and webinars, has authored numerous industry articles, and has blogged extensively on all things contact center. Kay holds a Masters in Computer Science from Colorado State University as well as a BA in Computer Science and Journalism from East Tennessee State University. [...] Read More >

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