ICMI Contact Center Expo 2019: Connecting With Customers Is Key

FORT LAUDERDALE — To generate value for companies, contact centers must emphasize connecting and collaborating with customers as well as fostering a caring mentality among employees, said Brad Cleveland, senior adviser and founding partner at ICMI, in his keynote on day one of ICMI’s Contact Center Expo 2019.

Establishing a connection with customers is paramount and leads to everything else, he stressed. “We have an opportunity in every interaction with our customers, and we certainly have that opportunity horizontally with our colleagues across the organization,” he said, citing Gucci as an example of a company that is creating connection with its customers—it recently opened six customer service centers in key locations. “They’re opening these six contact centers, and they’re not cheap real estate: one in Florence, Italy, their headquarters; Shanghai; New York; and a few other parts of the world to serve those regions.” He added that the centers will provide customers with a direct connection to Gucci employees.

“Connection opens the door to collaboration,” he continued. He brought up toy company Radio Flyer, known for its steel red wagons, as an example; the company faced a challenge when it realized that its customers had moved on from the iconic wagon, and it had to innovate. It has since gone on to produce folding red wagons, tricycles, scooters, and even a to-scale, battery-powered Tesla car co-designed with Tesla. Radio Flyer re-engaged with its customers to find out what they need and want, and that it is “thriving today because it learned to listen,” he said.

As for the third element, Cleveland said that it’s essential to foster a caring mentality among employees by demonstrating that you value them. “When they know that they’re part of something bigger, yes, they’re going to handle some interactions today, and that’s important for those customers, but what you’re enabling [them] to do is innovate, to really understand our customers and improve our organization across the board,” he said. “They know they’re part of something that truly is making a difference, that truly matters.” He offered Southwest Airlines as an example, saying that the company consistently puts its employees first and knows that if it values its employees above everything, that will translate into happy customers, increased business and profits, and happy shareholders.

Putting employees first also means involving them early and often in decisions to make changes, said Erica Mancuso, director of customer success at Straightaway Health Careers, a provider of online healthcare training, in a breakout session on driving change in the organization. “A lot of times people on the front lines may not feel like they were involved in the decision to make the change, and the change was just sprung upon them, which can make those folks feel like they were doing something wrong,” she noted. “[Companies] want to make sure that they get their folks involved, that they’re getting their input.”

She cited psychologist Carol Dweck’s concept of fixed mindset versus growth mindset and suggested that engaging directly with fixed-mindset employees can be beneficial. “One of my customers recently told me that she’s not a computer person—she fits squarely into the fixed mindset,” she said. “With her, it just took a little bit of one-on-one time. We sent some people out to see her in her environment and to really coach her through this change we wanted her to make so that she could start using the technology that we were offering her.”

In another breakout session, Cleveland discussed the traits that make up the best-managed contact centers. One such trait is a focus on delivering significant value. “Southwest Airlines is in business for a reason; you have to, at the end of the day, have that value. The same thing is true for our contact centers: There’s got to be an ROI, there’s got to be a reason we exist.”

Another trait: having a customer-focused culture. “That’s true north. Without exception, the best contact centers, they’re customer-focused. If it comes down to a question I have about any interaction, ultimately that’s true north—we’re focused on the customers,” he said.

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