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Contact Centres Rediscover Their Mojo

What a difference a year makes! This industry gathering otherwise known as ‘Future of Contact Centres’ felt like a completely different event from the one I chaired just 12 months ago. For a start there were two chairs and twice the speakers.

The event’s strap line that the Contact Centre is the ‘beating heart of your organisation’ evidently struck a chord.  I take that as meaning we are on quest to reclaim our strategic relevance. If we cannot tell the story as to why this really is the case in this ‘Age of The Customer’, then we truly deserve to stay in the cupboard underneath the stairs and remain ignored and largely misunderstood in terms of value.

I’ve often complained about the lost decades when call centres were only laboratories for efficiency fiends trying to spin the hamster wheel yet faster. Today they have becomes places for much richer and profitable experimentation.

What I loved about this event was to hear all the stuff we know works actually being put into practice.

For instance Jason Roberts, Head of KnowHow Customer Contact Centre, Dixons Carphone Group has done a terrific job. Shoving aside the stereotype that margin thin, retail store/ecommerce brands can only obsess about a cost reduction agenda, Jason has grown a proactive, innovative culture throughout his team.

He also has the leadership knack of capturing complex change in simple language. Out is the language of ‘average handle time’. In is the language of ‘appropriate handle time’. And of course, behind that lies the long trek from command and control to trust and respect.

A great start to our day’s conversation.

And while I’m on the people theme, I have to mention two other standout speakers for me whose very presence immediately tells you they are a force to be reckoned with. BT Consumer and SKY are both hugely challenging environments in which to align tribes and bring about change. They are heavyweight brands that need extra catalytic fizz in order to make stuff happen.

Abby Thomas, Director of Transformation and Change is doing just that at BT Consumer. The same can be said for Danielle Macleod, Customer Service Director at Sky. Both demonstrated in their presentations that they understand how to unlock mindsets, introduce innovation and land commercial benefit in time to win permission for even bolder plans.

Their secret? They involve their people.  Not at suggestion box level but much more meaningfully as co-designers of the future.

Put another way, they listened hard and gained as a result. This is exactly what we heard from another couple of presenters.  Running council services under the challenge of ever receding budgets requires fire in the belly to keep going. Dawn Crewe, Head of Customer Service, Elmbridge Borough Council showed she too is made of the right stuff. Her story was a peach in terms of how to turn good ideas into best practice.

Most voice of the customer programmes grind to a halt when asked to deliver actionable insight. Nothing a little determination to move beyond silos can’t fix which is exactly what Dawn has achieved. Working smarter is always better than working harder in my book. Something I sense is beginning to dawn on more of us in the industry.

My other inspiration for showing the merits of deep listening and empathy were told by the masterful Nick Brice, Team Brighton Lead at AMEX Community Stadium. His was a top drawer example of what the real deal around CX, service design etc is all about.

From a post war set of facilities the new AMEX Community Stadium has risen to redefine what a football community is all about. The building is grand for sure. But it’s the imagination behind its service experience that makes it so special.

What’s it like to be a visiting fan? Imagine that after travelling on a coach for 6 hours. To help get into character, Nick’s team stepped into the skin of their customers using life size cut outs of fans to walk their walk.

That’s why if you visit the stadium as a visiting fan, you’ll see your football heroes on the screens and be offered your local beer at the bar. To make you feel at home. It’s why rival fans co-exist peacefully after games and stewards have in the moment presence to conga dance inebriated Newcastle fans out of the stadium rather than generate confrontation.

Needless to say season tickets sales and every other metric that a football club uses to measure commercial success is breaking records in an industry which has arguably only increased prices over the last few years without increasing value. Brilliant work.

Of course there was other stuff during the day.

The rise of messaging was well explained by Shakeel Khan, Head of IMCC Alerts at Barclays. No doubt others will follow as the smartphone/messaging platform option overtakes the desktop/browser format we’ve been used to.

Another rising star in the omni-channel firmament is intelligent assistance. I’m a strong believer this is going to help put self service on the map in ways we have never previously achieved. Mark Oppermann, EVP Sales & Marketing from start up Webio certainly got minds whirring on that score.

And of course all these changes come to a natural conclusion in reflecting on what our future people profile needs to become. For sure, we can’t be continuing with our run faster in the hamster wheel game plan. All of which was eloquently explained by the impeccably dressed Carolyn Blunt, Managing Director of Ember Real Results.

And before we knew it, the day was done. A classic I’d say. Congratulations to speakers and audience alike. It was a good conversation.