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Ask Me Anything: Brad Cleveland on Contact Center Management on Fast Forward

We sat down with Brad Cleveland, founder of ICMI, for a preview of the latest edition of Contact Center Management on Fast Forward, available now on ICMI.com. Here are a few answers to some of your burning questions...


ICMI: Will contact centers be important in the future?

Brad: Yes, more than ever! I’m reflecting on some of the recent contacts I’ve witnessed first-hand: The homeowner who needed urgent assistance from her insurance company after a natural disaster destroyed her family’s home; the retiree with questions on the resources he saved his entire career; the scared mother of a small child who accidentally ingested a household product; the manager struggling to get her computer working before the biggest presentation of her young career.

Developments in artificial intelligence (AI), advanced self-service, and others are only putting more importance on the role of contact centers. Today’s contact centers handle work that is already escalated—the complex issues not immediately resolved through search, online resources, self-service capabilities, or other means. There are new types of interactions all the time, and they are more important to customers (and, therefore, to organizations’ brands) than ever.

ICMI: What’s happening with omnichannel?

Brad: Contact centers have handled multiple channels for years. The concept of omnichannel burst onto the scene as technologies and management practices began integrating channels and enabling them to work together seamlessly. The term is beginning to fade somewhat as the principles of omnichannel become widespread and assumed. But successful customer experience leaders remain focused on creating services that customers find intuitive and easy to use.

ICMI: What is the contact center’s role in customer experience?

Brad: A clear trend is that contact centers are becoming more deeply involved (along with other functional areas) in improving customer experience. Handling interactions will be just a start. Learning from those interactions and using that insight across the organization to improve products, services, processes, and customer experience—that’s where significant opportunities to add value continue to emerge.

ICMI: You provide many case studies and examples of what organizations are doing. Is there a lot of development and innovation going on in contact centers?

Brad: Absolutely! Some of the examples mentioned in the book include:

  • The University of California developed a customer access strategy (a “playbook” as they call it) that gives their contact center team a strategic view of what they do, and a development path forward. It’s working wonders in keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Fast-growing Hulu provides insight on how they forecast accurately, even as their customer base is so rapidly evolving. (They call it “pioneer forecasting”.)
  • Highly-rated Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) has completely dropped scores from their quality scorecards. They instead focus on direct customer feedback—and both quality and employee engagement have taken off.
  • GM is harnessing AI to handle more than 17 million social media mentions and engage in more than 400,000 customer care conversations each year. They are finding the sweet spot between harnessing technology and involving their agents.

And there are so many other examples of organizations innovating in their contact centers!

ICMI: What’s one piece of advice you’d give anyone leading a contact center?

Brad: Create services that ensure your organization’s personality shines through! Many leaders point to Harley Davidson, or Zappos, or Amazon.com as the holy grail of customer loyalty, and wonder what they can do to be more like them.

My advice: don’t try to be Harley, Zappos or Amazon. Be you. Connect with your customers in your own way to build excitement that is unique to your brand!


Spotlight on Strategy: Join Brad at ICMI Contact Center Connections from October 28-30 in Chicago. He'll be speaking in session 103: "Characteristics of the Best-Managed Contact Centers." To purchase a copy of Contact Center Management on Fast Forward, click here.

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