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. 



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.



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, 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.



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.

Three Customer Service Conferences You Don't Want to Miss

May is a big month for customer service.

There are three outstanding conferences on the calendar. You might consider attending at least one of them so you can capture the many benefits:

  • Attend educational sessions from industry experts
  • Network with your peers and exchange ideas
  • Learn about the latest products and services

Here's an overview of the three conferences scheduled for this May. I've included a short description along with a special discount code for each one.

Contact Center Expo & Conference

ICMI bills this conference as "the premier global gathering for the contact center industry."

Conference sessions are divided into six tracks including small contact center management, operations management, and technology. There's also a new customer experience track for 2016.

The conference also features half-day and full-day workshops on a variety of topics. (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.)

One of the conference's outstanding features is the site tours. You get to visit local contact centers for a behind-the-scenes look at their operations.

Conferences passes start at $1,995, but you can save $200 if you register by March 18. You can save an additional $200 if you enter this special code at checkout: JEFF200


THE 2016 National Customer Service Conference

This conference is hosted by the National Customer Service Association and focuses on service excellence across a wide range of industries.

This conference features keynote speakers, breakout sessions from customer service experts, and panel discussions. One highlight is a keynote presentation from Tom Knox, CEO and President of Westlake Ace Hardware. Knox's company was the focus of Shep Hyken's best selling book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time.

Conference passes start at $995 ($895 for NCSA members), but you can save $50 if you enter this special code at checkout: ICS2016


Customer Service Experience 2016

I love this conference for it's intimacy. There's just one track, but it's a good one.

Customer Service Experience is held simultaneously with SpeechTek and CRM Evolution, so you get the bigger conference experience for networking, keynotes, and the trade show. 

The conference itself features insights from leading analysts and customer service leaders. In just its fifth year, I've been impressed that the conference continues to draw a sophisticated audience. (I'm doing a session called How to Engage and Retain Talented Agents.)

Full conference passes start at $1,795, but you can save $200 if you register by April 22. You can save an additional $100 if you use this special code at checkout: SPK16

Conference Re-Cap: Contact Center Demo & Conference 2015

This week, I attended ICMI's Contact Center Demo & Conference in Las Vegas. The event featured site tours, keynote presentations, an expo hall, and educational breakout sessions.

This post provides an overview of the conference along with a few key insights from the event.



These links provide a general overview of the conference:

You may also want to check out the Twitter backchannel at #CCDemo15


Key Takeaways

The challenge with a conference like this is you can't do it all! Here were a few highlights.


Site Tours

The site tours were an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at a contact center's operations. There were several to choose from including Zappos, Las Vegas Valley Water District, and Global Experience Specialists.

The Global Experience Specialists (or GES) tour was verify informative. They are a full service provider for live events. They provide a wide array of services such as managing trade shows, special retail events, and museum exhibitions.

GES knows that empathy comes from having a relatable experience, but most of their contact center agents have never set-up a trade show. So, they incorporate a mock trade show set-up into their training program. They also have new hires attend a live trade show so they understand what their customers are experiencing.

They were helping to manage the ICMI event too:

New Data

ICMI typically uses their conferences to share contact center trends and showcase their latest research. 

On Tuesday, Brad Cleveland opened the keynote session with an interesting exercise. He asked the audience to answer a few questions using a live polling feature in the conference app. One poll was surprising - participants said they'd prioritize a technology upgrade over improving the quality of their people, strategy, or organizational support. 

On Wednesday, ICMI's Justin Robbins announced the publication of a free ebook on contact center metrics. It's designed to help you identify and manage the key performance indicators that are best for your contact center. You can download your copy here.



The conference also showcases innovative ideas from award-winning contact centers. Here are a few examples:

  • forecasts attrition and hires agents earlier than needed so they can be trained and ready to go by the time they're necessary.
  • AICPA has offered agents 1 - 2 additional breaks per shift, which helps to keep them focused and fresh while serving customers.
  • Intuit has agents lead calibration exercises so their perspective is incorporated into the process.

ICMI is now accepting applications for their 2016 contact center awards. You can learn more and apply here.


Upcoming Conferences

ICMI's next conference will be the Contact Center Expo & Conference event in Long Beach, May 10 - 13. Registration is now open and you can save $500 on your conference fee if you register by December 31.

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?


ATD 2015 Conference Re-cap: Training is Changing Fast

The Association for Talent Development’s 2015 International Conference & Exposition may have finally caused a tipping point in how we train employees. 

I’ll address this more in just a minute.

But first, here’s an overview of the conference in case you missed it:

The conference was held in Orlando, FL and featured nearly 10,000 training professionals from around the world. There were keynote presentations, breakout sessions in 10 topical tracks, and a massive expo hall with more than 400 exhibitors.

You can read more here:

Image courtesy of ATD

Image courtesy of ATD

Training is Changing

Rigid, formal training will soon be a thing of the past. The classroom may soon be gone or at least unrecognizable. E-learning may look very different.

In it’s place? Problem-centered, self-directed learning where participants train themselves.

In customer service, this has huge implications on the way we deliver training over a number of topics:

  • Training new hires
  • Developing customer service skills
  • Product knowledge training
  • Educating customers
  • Developing customer service leaders

I’ll dive deeper into the how and why over the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are a few resources to start exploring.

On a personal note, I was one of nine recipients of the CPLP Contributor Award, which recognizes holders of the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance credential for outstanding volunteer efforts to support, promote, and advance the CPLP program.

Re-cap: 2015 Contact Center Expo & Conference

The 2015 Contact Center Expo and Conference took place in Orlando this week. More than 1,500 contact center professionals from around the world attended for educational growth, networking, and to share best practices.

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 Highlights

Here are just a few highlights from the conference:


2015 Contact Center Awards

ICMI threw an incredible Cinco de Mayo themed party to celebrate the 2015 Contact Center Award winners and finalists.

These awards recognize best practices from individuals and organizations. Award winners included UPMC Health Plan for best large contact center and VF Imagewear Customer Support for best small to medium contact center.

You can see a list of all the winners and finalists here.

#ICMIchat Live

ICMI hosts a weekly Tweet chat on Tuesdays at 10am Pacific (1pm Eastern). 

These lively chats touch on a wide range of topics from customer service to training to workforce optimization. There’s a new topic each week and anyone can join in by following the #icmichat hashtag on Twitter.

On Wednesday, I joined a few #ICMIchat regulars for a panel discussion in the Expo hall. We touched on a few topics including technology, agent experience, and customer effort.

The panel included:

It was fun to have a conversation in front of a live audience. A few were even live Tweeting:

Erik Wahl’s Keynote

Conferences like this always bring informative, inspirational, and entertaining keynotes.

Graffiti artist Erik Wahl’s keynote stood out on this front. He challenged participants to be a force for positive disruption.

One of the most amazing parts of Wahl’s presentation was his ability to quickly create incredible paintings live on stage.

Here’s his first painting:

Wahl created a moment of uneasy tension when he picked an audience member at random to play a special game of “Fear Factor.”

She was given a sealed envelope and was told the game involved coming up on stage, opening the envelope, and reading her instructions out loud. She was then to do whatever the instructions said.

That’s a pretty scary moment in front of a huge crowd, but Wahl turned the tables a bit. He told the audience member that she could select anyone she wanted to take her place.

Ultimately, she decided to go for it. In a fun twist, the instructions in the envelope informed her that a painting of U2's Bono that Wahl had just created on stage was her’s to keep!

On a personal level, I gained a lot of new ideas, contacts, and information. This is a great conference and I'm already looking forward to next year.

ICMI’s 2014 Contact Center Demo and Conference Re-cap

Last week’s Contact Center Demo & Conference in Chicago, IL was a blast. There were great keynotes, engaging breakout sessions, and lots of networking.

Here’s a re-cap of the conference in case you missed it.


Conference Overview

The conference, known as CC Demo, is put on by ICMI. They provide research, conferences, and training for contact center professionals. 

CC Demo attracts a nice blend of participants from senior leaders to contact center supervisors. You can read an overview here or check out the conversation on the Twitter backchannel.



There’s just too much to cover at a conference like this. Something’s going on everywhere you turn!

Here were a few highlights for me.


Chip Bell’s Keynote

Chip did such a great job keynoting last year’s CC Demo that he was brought back by popular demand! He shared six strategies for delivering innovative customer service from his book, 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service.

One fun moment from Chip’s presentation was when he talked about staying at the Hotel Monaco in Chicago. They made his stay a little brighter by putting a gold fish named Trixie in his room. 

He recounted a return trip to the hotel where the front desk associate asked him, “Shall I send Trixie up to your room, Mr. Bell?”

It got even better when Marriah Barnett sent this Tweet:

Leslie O’Flahavan’s Email Session

Too many conference sessions are death by PowerPoint. Not Leslie’s! Her session was called Not Dead Yet: How to Write Great Emails to Customers in the Age of Social Customer Service.

It was highly interactive with great conversation and hands-on activities. Here were a few take-aways that stood out for me:

  • Critical reading is critical - make sure you understand what the customer wants.
  • Sound friendly, not stodgy by writing like a real person.
  • Integrate self-service options whenever possible.


New Research from ICMI

ICMI’s Senior Analyst, Justin Robbins, gave us a sneak peek at some of ICMI’s latest contact center research.

Here’s one stat that really stood out:

The average contact center agent uses seven screens to serve customers.

That’s up from five screens last year. Given the destructive qualities of multitasking, it seems like this trend is going in a dangerous direction.

Robbins also shared the results of a survey outlining the top ten challenges faced by call centers. Captured here in two grainy phone photos:

ICMI’s next big conference is the 2015 Contact Center Expo & Conference. It runs May 4 - 7 in Orlando, Florida. There’s already big buzz for this one!