Social Media Thought Leader Panel at CCExpo 2014

One of my favorite features of ICMI's Contact Center Conference & Expo are the Thought Leader Panels.

These are short panel discussions on specific topics featuring thought leaders from the contact center industry. I had the privilege of moderating the Social Media panel at the 2014 conference.

Here's the video (click here if you don't see it):

New Training Needs Analysis Course Launched on

A needs analysis is the first step when developing a new training program.

It can help you identify what training participants really need and connect that training to business objectives. In many cases, a good needs analysis allows you to create training that's faster, cheaper, and more effective.

My new course on will take you step-by-step through the needs analysis process. It’s intended for instructional designers, but anyone who creates training programs can benefit. 

Topics include:

  • Setting project objectives
  • Identifying the target audience for training
  • Selecting data sources
  • Facilitating focus groups and interviews
  • Designing effective surveys
  • Identifying participant needs
  • Defining learning outcomes
  • Presenting results to project sponsors

The course is part of’s online library of video-based training programs. Using video allowed me to create some interesting visual examples.

In the sample video below, you’ll see me meeting with a Vice President who requested an interviewing skills training program. Initial meetings like this can help trainers discover a lot of really useful information. (Click here if you don’t see the video.)

You’ll need a subscription to view the entire course. The good news is your subscription gives you unlimited access to all of their courses. 

Even better news? You can drop my name and get a free 7-day trial. 

Do Your Employees Know Their REAL Job?

Some service failures are frustratingly obvious.

Take this one for example. I spoke at the CRM Evolution 2014 conference last week. The conference was fantastic (re-cap here).

There was just a small issue with how the hotel set up my breakout room:

It’s obvious that seats shouldn’t be placed directly behind this enormous pillar. So, why did it happen? Ironically, I touched on the root cause in my session on hidden causes of poor customer service.

The root cause is employees who didn’t know their real job.

Try to see this room through the eyes of the people who were responsible. An obvious blunder can easily be overlooked when people are focused on tactical responsibilities:

  • The salesperson who sold the room was focused on selling the event.
  • Banquet staff who set up the room were focused on the event plan.
  • Audio visual staff were focused on the technology.

Nobody stopped to question the big picture because they weren't looking at the big picture.

The problem is caused by something called framing that allows your customers to see what you don’t. The tough part is framing happens to us instinctively. And, it's further supported by job descriptions that read like a laundry list of tasks.

So, what is their real job? Their real job should be helping their guests enjoy a successful conference.

View the job this way and there are multiple opportunities to prevent this service failure from happening.

  • The salesperson could have offered a different room or a different set-up.
  • The banquet staff could have set up the room without the obstructed seating.
  • An audio visual person could have noticed the obstruction and alerted the banquet staff.


Help Employees Find Their Real Job

On a strategic level, companies need a strong customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that’s understood by all employees. 

On a tactical level, employees should see their jobs from their customers’ perspective. Here’s an exercise that can help: 

  1. Write down some of your basic job duties.
  2. Re-imagine each one from your customers’ perspective. 

Here are some examples of customer-focused perspectives excerpted from my book, Service Failure

Sales reps at a flower and plant wholesaler decided their role was helping florists (their primary customer) grow their businesses by helping them select flowers and plants that will sell well in their shops.

Information technology employees working on a college campus determined that their role was helping faculty and staff minimize downtime from malfunctioning computers.

Call center agents at a medical device manufacturer realized their role was helping to save lives by making sure the right products got to the right doctor in time to help the patients who need them.

Service failures are often obvious, but discovering their root causes can often require deeper insight. I've compiled a set of ten exercises you can use to help your team understand some of these obstacles. You can access them by downloading the free Service Failure Workbook

CRM Evolution 2014 Conference Re-cap

I attended the CRM Evolution 2014 conference in New York City this week. It was my first time attending the conference, so I was anxious to see how it would go.

The conference focused on customer engagement strategies and technology. There were also two other conferences sharing the same space, SpeechTek and Customer Service Experience, so there were opportunities to go to even more sessions.

This was a smaller conference with mostly senior level attendees. I really like these types of conferences because you have direct access to a lot of thought leaders and quite a few opportunities to chat with them.

Here’s a re-cap of some of the conference highlights along with links to additional resources.


Conference Overview

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


Conference Themes

Every conference seems to have a few themes that thread through the sessions, keynotes, and hallway discussions. Here are a few themes I observed:

Simplifying Complexity

There’s no doubt that the world of customer relationship management (CRM) is getting more complex.

One session I attended shared an impressive success story that came from simplifying complexity for both customers and agents.

The session was delivered by Eric McKirdy, Global Customer Care Manager at McKirdy and his team were able to reduce support ticket volume by 60 percent by presenting customers with a cleaner self-service interface:

Powered by Parature, their customer service software also gave agents a unified view of all the channels they were supporting so they only had to monitor one queue. 

The unified queue is likely to be an important trend in the near future. According to ICMI, the average contact center agent uses five software programs to serve customers. This set up encourages unhealthy multitasking that can easily lead to service failures.

Focusing agents on just one queue allows them to focus more of their attention on solving issues for their customers.


New Approaches to Analytics

Customer service analytics and big data were hot topics, though there wasn’t a lot of agreement on best practices. (Maybe that's a good thing?)

I attended two analyst panels where the panelists seemed downright angry about metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Effort Score (CES). The main contention was these measures are frequently used incorrectly and there’s little value in them anyway.

Unfortunately, the analysts were short on clear opinions about what companies should be doing instead.

One session on analytics that was impressive was presented by Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond the Arc, Inc. Ramirez showed us how banks and other financial institutions are able to use social media complaints to predict complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Ramirez believes this concept can be applied in other industries too.

For example, let’s say a company launches a new product. Analyzing the volume and content of social media mentions about that product might alert the company to a potential defect before large numbers of consumers actually contact the company or return the product to the store.

The company can proactively respond to the problem by fixing the defect, bolstering customer service staff to handle increased volume, and re-engaging affected customers.

It’s definitely a concept worth investigating, especially for companies that typically receive a lot of social media mentions already.


What the Heck is Customer Engagement?

Customer engagement was a hot topic at the conference.

Stick the word “engagement” on the end of anything and it seems like people will all nod their head in agreement. Employee engagement, brand engagement, customer engagement, you name it. We need it and the analysts all agree its a good thing.

But what the heck is it? This is where there was little clarity.

Perhaps most telling was when a panel of CRM executives were asked to define the term. Four out of five either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Only George Wright, Senior VP and General Manager at offered a clear, concise definition. 

Engagement is a positive, long-term relationship between a company and a customer.

Do you agree with this definition?

Whether or not you do, it seems clear that we can’t really know if customer engagement is important until we’re sure we know what customer engagement really is.