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Start the New Year by Harnessing the Power of Conversation | #ICMIchat Rundown (December 8, 2020)

Women engaged in discussion at conference table.

Communication is at the core of contact centers' mission; their ability to create positive conversations with customers is key to their value and success. Contact center leaders must also foster great dialogue among their teams and colleagues in other business units to navigate challenges and accomplish organizational goals. Despite the obstacles businesses encountered this year, many are thriving by having the right conversations with their stakeholders.


Thank you to Uniphore for sponsoring this week's #ICMIchat. Follow them on LinkedIn and Twitter for more great content, and check out their upcoming live stream of 2021 Contact Center Predictions, featuring friends from the #ICMIchat community.

Uniphore sponsors this week's chat, and Randy Ksar joined us to lead the conversation. In this special edition of #ICMIchat, we asked our community how to harness the power of conversation to maintain and enhance contact center performance in the year ahead. Although how we work has changed, the fundamentals of people, processes, and technology remain constant.

A Year of Great Conversations

While it's easy to remember the struggles we all experienced in 2020, we must also highlight the positive conversations we've had with brands and their representatives this year. Despite challenging supply chains, working in new places, and new hurdles around every corner, many businesses' empathy and customer focus cut through the haze. By leading with empathy and humanity, contact centers continued delivering customer service that builds positive, lasting relationships.

I recently needed a wheel replacement on one of my Samsonite suitcases. This was the first time I actually had to take advantage of their warranty, and I was pleasantly surprised how friendly, easy, and frictionless the entire process was! Took less than a week.

I had a surprisingly pleasant experience chatting with NordicTrack. I was worried getting a replacement part would be a chore, but they were quick, understanding, and very helpful! They showed great respect for my time.

I have a great example from Ring just this morning! I was so mad when I called thinking I had been enrolled in something I didn't sign up for and was about to get charged. June did a BRILLIANT job de-escalating and helping me see the truth. Well done!

Positivity On Purpose

Fantastic interactions with customers are no accident; they're designed and engineered through contact center processes. Leveraging the right technology enables customers to reach out for help exactly when and where they need it, and it connects customers to the best resource for their challenges. Well-trained agents bring the necessary humanity to our interactions by carefully listening and communicating with customers on their own terms. Finally, contact centers must understand the complete customer experience and equip agents to deliver on their brand promises.

To create more positive convos w customers, brands can
- Improve their processes & products
- Listen more. Listen better.
- Avoid making customers wait for a response
- Avoid introducing aggravation, such as asking cust to repeat account number, etc.

"Positive conversation" implies two things:

1. It's positive. Garbage, firewall corporate-speak is eliminated.

2. It's a conversation, not a telling.

It all starts with having better conversations with our frontline team members. Lead by example and coach them how to have better interactions with their customers. The best way to accomplish that is to talk less and listen more. Be attentive. Be curious. Ask!

Actually have a conversation. Read the previous chat history. Route them to the right person. Employ people who speak the native language rather than guess it. Use better chatbots that answer genuine questions not FAQs.

Capitalizing On Conversation

Contact centers must invest heavily in their people, processes, and technology to have consistently great conversations with customers. In the end, these investments pay off through greater customer trust, advocacy, and retention. Once brands have earned trust, customers are more cooperative, forgiving, and likely to repurchase or advocate for the company in online reviews or social media.

People do business with people. Positive conversations strengthen the relationship and trust within a business and the value it provides its customers. Hopefully those positive conversations add buffer for those times when negative experiences are had.

Positive conversations, in my experience, bring down customers' guards and allow for a more free flow of information. That allows for faster identification of issues/resolutions which only increases business value.

If you leave a customer who is marginally frustrated out in the wild, they will multiply and grow in frustration faster a wildfire spreading. Not only are we fortifying the brand, we are creating ambassadors.

Positive conversations build rapport and connections. Connections create loyalty. Customer relationships create retention and longevity.

How Technology Helps

Contact center technology is undoubtedly improving how businesses serve their customers. New channels increase our communication's convenience and richness, even when we cannot be together in person. Behind the scenes, agents are equipped with better information than ever before. Advanced analytics tools are helping contact center leaders better understand what customers are talking about in real-time.

Technology impacts productivity, convenience, consistency, scalability, compliance, training, and everything else. First, everything was manual. Then came rule-based automation, now it’s machine learning. People+Processes+Tech = Results!

Channel choice (technology) improves how businesses converse w customers because it allows customers to choose a channel that suits their needs. For ex, live videochat w bank tellers assures customer they're completing transactions properly. Harder to do via email.

90% of the time I don't want to have to talk to you. I want to be able to resolve the problem myself. Technology, when implemented well, can make this possible. It shows you value the customer's time!

Agents Take Centerstage

Agents are the heart of great customer conversations. Because they touch so many customers' lives, leaders need to support and empower them to be a positive influence. Not only do they need the best training and knowledge to prepare them in advance, but they also need great technology and processes to help them serve customers in their time of need. Agents' experience fundamentally impacts their emotions when serving your customers, ultimately influencing customers' experience, too.

"Customers will never love a company until they employees love it first." -Simon Sinek
Your job as a leader is to make the agents LOVE their work. The agent should be flowing over with the positive energy and knowledge you helped bring to them.

Leaders must also endow contact center agents with the authority to make decisions on customers' behalf w/o fear of blowback if the decisions cost the company a lil time or $$. Leaders must also allow agents the time it takes to create a positive experience.

Simple: Without employees, there are no positive conversations. As leaders we must do everything in our power to equip them with the skills, tools, and knowledge they need to make the magic happen! Coaching on communication skills ranks high on the list for me!

Fresh Skills for the New Year

Because agents are so vital to the customer experience, it's crucial to pause and consider the skills and abilities they'll need to excel in our changing world. It's more evident than ever how imperative flexibility and agility are to service delivery; agents must be empowered to do the right thing even when the circumstances are unprecedented. There is no script or flow chart that can account for every possibility, and to create them is not a wise use of time. Instead, train and prepare agents to use their own good judgment to handle the unexpected.

One thing agents need more of is space. Not the physical kind. The space to be empathetic. To stray from the script. To research and follow-up. To respond to the unusual. Because nothing is normal.

Agility. What this has shown is how quickly things can change and your entire business model is upended. The ability to manage remote, on prem, etc will be key.

Flexibility to deal with changes beyond one’s control. Coaching to address gaps in EQ when everyone is having a tough year. Collaboration in a new asynchronous remote environment. Cushion to err on the side of the customer. Enough paid time off!

Coping With Chaos

Humanity has been an essential customer service theme this year, but it comes at a human cost, too. The mental health of our teams has never been more critical and more threatened. Stress has been pouring into their lives from within and outside the workplace. Leaders must have a strategy to help their employees cope. Open dialogue, empathetic listening, and knowledge of available resources are crucial to managing inevitable workplace stress.

Conversations about emotional well-being must be had with compassion, foresight, no-legalese, and genuine intent to address root causes of friction. Doing it any other way means you’ll only make things worse!

Leaders can & should discuss workplace stress & mental health to prepare employees for 2021, but they should do more. Leaders should stop causing the stress. Instead, coach sincerely. Believe agents can & will grow. Serve employees & customers not metrics reports.

We must be in tune with the mood & stress level of our team members, ask questions, build trust in conversation, help guide somebody through a tough time. For most, mental health is personal —> be prepared to talk about the resources available, e.g. EAP.

Priorities for the Year Ahead

The end of the year offers time to reflect on accomplishments and set goals for the year ahead. While much remains uncertain, there are some safe bets for goal setting next year. Our contact centers can help the organization become more agile through robust knowledge management practices, sharing customer knowledge with other business units, and improving how we manage our workforce and culture.

I feel like knowledge management is the heartbeat of everything in the contact center. This is what makes the agents able to work together effectively and provide a frictionless experience to the customer. And it's the very same thing that empowers self service!

The responsibility of delivering exceptional CX cannot solely rest on the CC. Front-line team members not only need to know and understand what’s going on in the organization holistically, but they also hold valuable insights other BUs can benefit from! [Ban] Silos

Volume of conversation has gone up because customer anxiety has shot up this year. Agent availability has also become tricky given everyone had very little time to go remote. Self-service infra has gone up in IT priorities.

Keeping Up With Customers

As the world continues to change, customer preferences will, too. Contact centers must stay one step ahead, ready to offer the solutions customers seek just in time. Their ability to listen and act on feedback continues to be a vital function. Prepare your contact center for the coming year by evaluating the processes used to listen and react to what customers feel.

Give your customers some love:


Give your customers some JEFF


Get better at listening to your customers and employees!
- Reevaluate your survey strategy, look at the questions, what’s being done with the responses?
- Look for customer sentiment on social media
- Garner feedback from employees who are closest to the customer

Make everything flexible. Prioritise customer alignment above everything else. Give employees the space, training, and rewards they need to help customers succeed. Plan for 2 years, budget for 1yr at a time, execute in quarters, measure in weeks.

Thank you to Randy Ksar and Uniphore for guest-hosting this special edition of #ICMIchat and selecting the discussion topic and questions. Follow them on LinkedIn and Twitter for more great content, and check out their live stream of 2021 Contact Center Predictions, featuring friends from the #ICMIchat community!

About Uniphore


Uniphore is the global leader in Conversational Service Automation. The Company's vision is to disrupt an outdated customer service model by bridging the gap between human and machine using voice, AI and automation to ensure that every voice, on every call, is truly heard. Uniphore enables businesses globally to deliver transformational customer service by providing an automation platform where digital agents take over transactional conversations from humans, coach agents during calls, and accurately predict language, emotion and intent. All in real-time. With Conversational Service Automation, enterprises can now engage their customers to effectively build loyalty, improve customer experience and realize operational efficiencies. For more information, please visit www.uniphore.com and connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

#ICMIchat will return after Winter Break.

#ICMIchat will return after Winter Break. We hope you'll join us again in 2021 for more exciting discussions about contact center trends and best practices! Until then, explore rundowns from our favorite #ICMIchat discussions of this year.