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Symposium Insider: Lessons Learned in Chicago

My first ICMI event was last year’s ACCE Conference in Seattle, Washington.  I found the conference to be really helpful and insightful, and I came away wanting to delve deeper into some of the topics that were covered.  When I read about ICMI’s Symposiums, I was immediately interested in the ability to spend multiple days focused on a few key areas of improvement and development.  I can absolutely say that the Symposium in Chicago met and exceeded my expectations!  First, the overall attendance at the Chicago Symposium was smaller than ACCE, which allowed for attendees to get to know more of their peers.  Consequently, the individual classes were also smaller; I did not count more than 25 participants in any of the classes I attended.  Again, this made the learning process much more effective.  Additionally, the courses were exactly what I wanted:  a more intensive look at call center management strategy and best practices.  It was really encouraging to learn from instructors for whom call center management is not an academic study; they have spent years in the trenches developing the material that they present!

One of the topics that I was looking forward to was learning how to strategically plan for my department moving forward.  I’ve read books and have even had some training on the topic, but it was so helpful to receive training on strategic planning within the context of contact center management, and drawing from the experience of fellow attendees was very beneficial as well.  Gina Szabo did an excellent job of showing the how and why of strategic planning, from doing the foundational work to presentation to executive management and beyond.

There was a group of other takeaways that I would collectively refer to as “customer centricity.”  I was in two classes during the week, and one thing that I really appreciated was how ideas and themes from one class overlapped and complemented the other.  Gina’s Strategic Planning and Cheryl Helm’s Essential Skills classes both stressed the need for listening to the “voice of the customer.”  I was well familiar with the idea, but it was good to hear the questions that my instructors asked:  “What is your organization’s vision and mission?”  “Are your quality forms helping to accomplish your mission?  If not, what are you going to do to change that?”  Also related to this topic was building a Customer Access Strategy.  While my organization has developed and established most of the pieces of a Customer Access Strategy, I do not know that we have ever looked at the elements as a cohesive whole until now.

There were also some unexpected takeaways.  Most of these centered on the idea of strengthening the amount (and quality) of the intelligence that is available.  Cheryl was really helpful in challenging our class to go back to support offices (IT, Telephony, Finance, etc.) and get IVR flowcharts, VoIP and network diagrams, and up-to-date budget information.  The comment she made often was, “if you don’t know, you need to find out!”  In learning how to plan strategically (and with the customer in mind), it was also really good to remember that we need to start with the best data available.

Without a doubt, the accommodations and hospitality of the resort staff were excellent, but ultimately what made this Symposium a great value was the instruction and material that I received.  This is evident by the fact that I came away from the conference with three pages of action items and ideas to develop and implement!  Now the real work begins of applying this knowledge to making our contact center operations even more efficient and effective!