Insider Perspectives: ICMI's Erica Marois on Contact Centers

Erica Marois, Community Strategist

Erica Marois, Community Strategist

In any industry, there are a few people you absolutely need to know.

Erica Marois is one of those people for contact center professionals. She's the Community Strategist for the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and a terrific source of information on Twitter. Her role involves connecting people in the contact center community to give them the tools and resources they need to advance their careers.

Marois is uniquely plugged in to contact center trends and the people who are driving them. She's also one of the industry's most passionate advocates.

She recently took some time to share insights on how contact center professionals can grow in their careers and what leading contact centers are doing to succeed.


Q: Tell me about some of the ways you help contact center professionals connect with each other to learn and grow?

"Customers like to connect with their favorite brands in many ways, and our members like to connect with ICMI and each other in many ways too.

"One of my favorites is the weekly ICMI Chat on Twitter [Tuesday's at 10am Pacific, #icmichat]. The discussion revolves around a new topic each week and participants provide a lot of fun and insightful commentary. It's even led to a sort of mastermind community where people connect outside of the weekly chat to discuss challenges and share ideas. A lot of regular participants have had a chance to meet in person at ICMI conferences and have become good friends, which is fun too.

"We've just launched our ICMI book club on Goodreads. A couple of people mentioned they were thinking of starting a book club in their contact centers, so I thought it might be a good idea for ICMI. Our industry has such a thirst for knowledge, and books are a great way for directors, managers, supervisors, and agents to learn new ideas. Each month, we'll feature a new book and have a live discussion with the author at the end of the month. The first book is The Culture Engine by Chris Edmonds.

"We also publish original case studies and articles, a weekly newsletter, and host the annual Contact Center Expo and Contact Center Demo conferences."

Note: You can save $200 on the upcoming Contact Center Expo conference when you use the code SPKR at checkout.

 

Q: You seem to be everywhere at those conferences! What's your primary goal while you're there?

"My top priority is to meet as many people as possible. I enjoy hearing from them and what their struggles are because it helps me do a better job. I’m passionate about helping people overcome those struggles. 

"I also try to maintain our social presence at the conferences. There are a lot of great discussions happening on the conference's Twitter backchannel [note: the backchannel refers to the conference's Twitter hashtag, such as #ccexpo]. I've learned there are even more people who aren't necessarily active participants in those online discussions, but they're still actively listening."

 

Q: What do you see top contact centers doing that others don't necessarily do?

"The most successful contact centers treat their employees like adults. They empower them by giving them the tools and resources they need to serve their customers, and they don't chain them down with rigid scripts or cumbersome policies.

"If you hire people you trust, you need to trust them.

"Employee engagement is a top priority for leading contact centers. They don't get too bogged down in tactics or employee satisfaction. These contact centers understand that engaged employees are self-motivated and invested in the mission of the company. 

"To do that, employees need to know the mission. In The Culture Engine, this month's book club book, the author talks about having a 'cultural constitution' that spells out the company culture and what behaviors are expected. 

"It's so easy to get stuck focused on metrics, that contact center leaders often forget to focus on people. The best contact centers have an employee engagement champion who is constantly making sure this is a priority."

 

Q: What do you think are some unique aspects about serving customers in a contact center?

"I didn't have any contact center experience before I joined ICMI, but I quickly learned to appreciate what these professionals do every day. It's such a relatable industry because we've all been on the receiving end of a contact center's customer service.

"What really stands out for me is the passion. People are hungry to learn, improve, and share their experiences. You've got to have a servant leader's heart to be successful in this industry."

 

Q: Is there something about contact centers you wish other people knew?

"People need to realize the great value that contact centers provide.

"In many cases the contact center is the company's first and primary point of communication with customers. Agents have a big opportunity to create a positive impression of the company in their customers' minds. The contact center also collects an awful lot of customer data that the marketing department, R&D team, and even the CEO should be paying attention to.

"Too many organizations think of the contact center as a cost center where expenses need to be minimized, but the contact center is really one of the most customer-focused aspects of any company."


Conference Re-cap: ICMI's Contact Center Demo & Conference

Last week, I attended ICMI's Contact Center Demo & Conference in Dallas, Texas. As always, the event featured exceptional site tours, keynote presentations, an expo hall, and educational breakout sessions.

Here's an overview of the conference along with some of my key take-aways from the event. 

 

Background

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

The #CCDemo hashtag on Twitter is another great way to catch a glimpse into the proceedings. You don't even need a Twitter account. Just use this link.

 

Key Take-Aways

Customer-focus was at the top of the list. This isn't unusual, given the nature of the conference, but the message dug a bit deeper this time.

The first full day of the conference started with an impactful keynote presentation from Tom Grothues, USAA's Senior Vice President for Bank and Property & Casualty sales and service. USAA is a financial services company that's at the top of just about any list of best customer service organizations.

It's no surprise that Grothues explained much of USAA's ability to be customer-focused comes from getting employees to buy-in to its customer service vision.

It also seemed that contact center professionals are starting to get more sophisticated. For example, I was fortunate to moderate a panel discussion on first contact resolution (FCR). The experts on the panel came to the surprising consensus that FCR was a very limited metric.

Suggested alternatives included "Future Contact Resolution" (thanks, Neal Topf!), "First Conversation Resolution" (thanks, Al Hopper), or limiting FCR to situations where an agent had direct control over solving the issue on one try.

Justin Robbins, Group Community Director for ICMI and HDI, was one of the panelists. He continued the theme in his keynote the next morning where he encouraged contact center leaders to avoid broken promises.

Best-selling author Marsha Collier delivered a keynote focused on helping contact center leaders understand the impact that customer service has on marketing. 

The concept itself isn't new, but Collier revealed opportunities for companies to improve. For example, a company often has loyal customers who engage them on social media channels like Twitter. A smart marketing strategy is to follow those customers and engage with them regularly.

Customer service writing expert, Leslie O'Flahavan, followed Collier's keynote later that day with an impactful presentation on writing to customers in your brand's voice.

She encouraged contact center leaders to work with their marketing departments to identify brand language standards and translate those into guides for customer service agents to mirror the same approach.

O'Flahavan also provided this helpful list of resources for learning to write in your brand voice. 

ICMI's next conference is Contact Center Expo in Orlando, May 22 - 25. I'm already looking forward to it!


Re-Cap: 2016 Contact Center Expo & Conference

The 2016 edition of ICMI's annual Contact Center Expo & Conference took place in Long Beach, California last week. An estimated 1,500 participants were in attendance.

It's billed by ICMI as "the highest rated and most trusted Contact Center event in the industry." I've personally attended the past four years and found it to be true. 

The conference is a great opportunity to learn about some of the latest trends that are shaping the world of customer service and contact centers in particular.

This post is a re-cap of some of the conference highlights. 

Conference Overview

You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference if you aren't already. 

I always enjoy reading what people have to say on the Twitter backchannel, #CCExpo16. You don't need to have a Twitter account to view this.

 

Awards

The 2016 Global Contact Center Awards were presented at the conference. This was a great opportunity to highlight top agents, leaders, and teams in the contact center industry. 

The awards were presented at a festive party that gave conference attendees a chance to mingle with the award winners and the finalists. I had a chance to chat with some of the folks from moo.com, who won awards for Best Use of Technology, Best Chat Support, and Best Small Contact Center. It was awesome to see their excitement after getting such well-deserved recognition.

ICMI is already accepting applications for the 2017 awards.

 

Video

If you'd asked me last year about video as a customer service channel, I'd say it didn't seem to have much promise. I now think I was completely wrong.

Video was a growing topic among many attendees. Here are just a few applications I learned about:

Nurses at Kaiser Permanente can use video through a secure app that lets them see patients who call in for advice.

TurboTax users are able to share their computer screen with a support agent, so the support agent can better understand where they're experiencing difficulties. 

And, thanks to video chat, visiting a bank branch may soon be a thing of the past.

The next big shift will be developing proven methods for training contact center agents on the nuances of video-based service. And, we'll need to figure out how to make customers comfortable with it too.

 

Agent Burnout

This was a big concern among contact center leaders. Perhaps it's the nature of the job, but there might be better solutions out there.

That's why I'm doing a study to assess the causes and hopefully find some cures. The survey is running now through May 31, 2016.

If you're a contact center leader, you can benchmark your agents' burnout level against the average. Just drop me a line and I'll get you set-up.

Or, if you just want to take the survey yourself, you can access it here.


Contest: Win a Two-Day Pass to the Contact Center Expo & Conference

ICMI's Contact Center Expo & Conference is one of my favorite conferences.

It has been locked onto my calendar since I first went in 2013. I also labeled this year's version one of three customer service conferences in May that you shouldn't miss.

So, it was pretty hard to resist when the organizers asked me if I'd like to give away a two-day pass (worth $1,995!) to one of my readers.

Read on to learn more about the conference, what makes this year's version so special, and how you can enter to win.

About The Conference

Contact Center Expo & Conference has something for everyone. 

They have the usual selection of keynotes, breakout sessions, and a vendor expo. (Although, their selection is quite impressive.)

What sets them apart is everything else they offer:

  • Tours of area contact centers
  • Workshops before and after the conference
  • Industry roundtable breakfasts
  • Best practice sharing
  • Global Contact Center Awards ceremony and party

You can read more on the conference's overview page.

These re-caps of past conferences will also give you a flavor of some of the key learning moments and networking opportunities:

 

This Year's Conference

The 2016 edition is particularly exciting.

Scott McKain is delivering the opening keynote on The Ultimate Customer Experience®. My friend Leslie O'Flahavan is delivering a breakout session on quality assurance for social service. And, I'm excited to see who will win the 2016 Global Contact Center Awards.

On a personal note, I'm doing a half-day workshop called How to Get Your Agents Obsessed with Service and a breakout session called Customer Service Surveys Made Easy.

Here's the rest of the conference information:

 

The Contest

I'm giving away one two-day pass to the conference. It's selling for $1,795 until March 18, and then it goes up to $1,995, so this has a pretty hefty value.

Here's what's included:

  • Conference admission May 11 - 12
  • Main sessions
  • Keynote sessions
  • Breakfasts, lunches, and receptions
  • Expo Hall entry
  • ICMI Global Contact Center Awards Party (May 12)

How to enter:

  1. Make sure you're reading this post on my website.
  2. In the comment box at the bottom of the post, answer the question, "Why do you want to attend the 2016 Contact Center Expo & Conference?"
  3. All entries must be submitted by Monday, March 28 2016 at 5:00 pm (Pacific Time).

Entries will be put in a random drawing and the winner announced on Tuesday, March 29. Good luck, and I hope I see you at the conference!


Update: We have a winner!

March 29, 2016 - The winner of the two-day pass to ICMI's 2016 Contact Center Expo and Conference is Adam Howard!

Here's why Adam said he wanted to go to the conference:

The chance to hear the latest and greatest is an amazing opportunity. Finding new ways to engage agents and help them be passionate about the work they are doing and not just about how much money they make is an ever important part of our work.

Congratulations, Adam. See you at the conference!

 

Update #2: All Contestants Get 50% off!

It seems that the folks at ICMI were so impressed with everyone's comments that they have decided to offer a 50% conference discount to each contestant. All you have to do in exchange is agree to let ICMI use your comments in the conference marketing.

Please use this form to send me your email address and I'll email you the details.