Conference Re-Cap: Customer Service Experience & CRM Evolution 2015

This week, I attended the Customer Service Experience and CRM Evolution conferences in New York City. The conferences were two of three conferences put on simultaneously by Information Today. The third was SpeechTek 2015

It was the second time I had attended the conference. (See my re-cap of the 2014 conference here.) This post provides an overview of the conference along with a few key insights from the event.



You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the background of each conference.

The Twitter backchannel is always a great way to see what speakers and ideas are resonating most with conference participants. You don't need to have a Twitter account to view Tweets posted to the conference hashtags:


Key Takeaways

There are always a few things that really stand out at a conference. Here were the top takeaways for me.

Shane Snow's Keynote

Snow is the Chief Creative Officer at Contently and the author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

His presentation focused on a concept called Lateral Thinking. This technique, popularized by Edward De Bono's book by the same name, is a way of gaining insight by looking at problems from a completely new perspective.

One story Snow shared was how operating room doctors in a children's hospital cut errors by more than 50 percent by borrowing ideas from Formula One pit crews.

This really resonated with me because customer service employees often struggle to see things from the customer's perspective. Lateral thinking can often reveal new opportunities to serve.


Jason Young's Keynote 

Young is the President of Leadsmart, Inc . He's also the author of The Culturetopia Effect.

He focused on culture and drew heavily from his time working at Southwest Airlines. One part that really stood out was how Southwest uses its customer service vision to give employees clear guidance on the type of service they should strive to deliver.

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

Young also shared a little bit about Southwest's fascinating history. You can learn more about their incredible business story from Herb Kelleher's book, Nuts!

It's no secret I'm a huge proponent of using culture to drive service. A key part of that is creating a clear Customer Service Vision for employees to follow. I even referenced the Southwest Airlines mission as an example in my book, Service Failure.


Burg Hughes's Presentation

This was my favorite breakout session. Hughes is the Vice President of Operations at BuySeasons. They operate three brands - BuyCostumes, Costume Express, and Birthday Express.

His presentation focused on how BuySeasons uses customer feedback to improve service and save the company money. Hughes shared multiple examples of how he investigated service icebergs to uncover problems and find solutions.

One story he shared revolved around a piñata the company sold. Here's the feedback BuySeasons received.

Source: Burg Hughes, BuySeasons. Customer Service Experience 2015 presentation.

Source: Burg Hughes, BuySeasons. Customer Service Experience 2015 presentation.

Hughes knows customers often don't complain. That means one complaint might really signal a problem experienced by many others.

So, his first step was to contact other customers who ordered the piñata. He learned that many of them felt the same way about the packaging.

Next, he took the problem to the distribution center leader. He learned that such a large box was used because it was the only box they had that could hold both the piñata and stick that came with it. 

Hughes shared that feedback with the merchandising team that sourced the product. They did some research and discovered they could change the stick for a slightly smaller one that came in two pieces and could be screwed together by the customer. 

This allowed BuySeasons to ship the piñata in a much smaller box. It addressed a source of customer discontent, but it also saved BuySeasons a lot of money on shipping since the size of the box factors into shipping costs.

Hughes shared example after example like this in his presentation. It was really impressive to see how a few points of feedback could translate into cost savings and happier customers. I call this having a customer service canary.


If you attended the conference, what were your biggest takeaways?


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.