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Put the Customer at the Center of Everything You Do

Craig DowningEach month, we’re featuring a member of ICMI’s Strategic Advisory Board. This group of industry thought leaders, practitioners, and solution providers help ICMI keep tabs on customer insights and contact center market developments, ensure our content offerings are aligned with industry best practices and our products evolve at pace to serve the community, and grow industry relationships.

This month, we’re featuring Craig Downing, who leads Salesforces' Service Cloud Line of Business GTM across both contact center and field service engagements.

1. Can you describe your current role?

I translate solutions that customers need into products we build, and spend my time working to ensure that the conversations we’re having with customers are useful in both directions. This includes conversations about how current and future Salesforce clients can help us prioritize our roadmaps, and how we can ensure that the way we talk about our products is most useful for our clients.

2. What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of someone who is successful long-term in this industry?

It’s critical to have a passion for your products, and it’s important to have an appreciation for your business model, but it’s most important to have dedication to your customer’s success. I don’t care if you’re working in an airline contact center, the IRS, or as someone supporting a highly complex piece of technology, it’s critical that you bring empathy to each situation – both for the problem and for the people impacted.

Beyond your official interactions, you have an obligation to bring your insights to the rest of the business. You have an opportunity to advance both the interests of your customers and the relevance of your product offerings.

Some people will be fortunate to find a career-long calling in supporting customers, while others will use their time in service as a stopover to a different career destination. Whichever happens, recognize how lucky you are to have as much face time with the customers as you get in this role. No sales executive or product leader has the luxury of all-day customer engagement like you do. Treasure those insights.

3. What is one piece of advice you would like to share with those who are just setting out on a career path in the contact center industry?

It seems so obvious – but put the customer at the center of everything you do. As a frontline worker, never abdicate the championing of the customer experience and insist that other teams understand how your success is linked to customer success.

4. There have been so many changes in the contact center industry, both because of new technology and because of the COVID-19 crisis. How do you feel those changes will shape the industry in the next decade?

We’re not all going back to the office. Some of us will, but many companies have figured out how to turn their pandemic-induced business transformation into an upside for their customers and their service organizations, for reasons that go way beyond real estate costs or the investments they made in self-service and digital channels.

When you remove the boundary created by the four walls of the contact center, you’re freeing yourself to hire the right talent unconstrained by their physical location. You’re making it easier to increase diversity in your organization by reaching into communities and demographics who were hard to onboard previously but are easy to engage in a virtual world.

This new operating environment comes with a risk, of course. Not enough organizations have processes to hire, onboard, train, engage and retain world-class agents remotely. Not every organization can easily coach and develop agents in this distributed environment. And every single IT professional I talk to is working frantically to get out ahead of the implications of endpoints living outside of the hardened perimeter of the firewall and security infrastructure of our contact centers.

We all had to quickly figure out responding to Covid-19. Sending people home with laptops was the easy par; how do we ensure that this model is ready to scale if it’s here to stay?

5. It’s clear by your participation on the board that you believe in the role of mentorship in the contact center industry. Can you share a valuable lesson you learned from a mentor, and share who that mentor was?

My first contact center role was providing phone support for heavy manufactures using my company’s MRP solutions. Given the nature of the business, we ran a 24 X 7 X 365 support center, and one day I was bemoaning to my boss Vicki that her day shift got all the easy “just read the manual’” support tickets, but on the night shift we got all the gonzo operational problems that were non-repeatable, non-recreatable, time-critical and often impossible to troubleshoot over the phone. That means my team had the worst KPIs in the contact center, and that just didn’t seem “fair”.

A few days later, I found a plane ticket and directions to a steel mill owned by one of our largest clients on my desk. I spent those next 3 nights on the floor of a rolling steel mill, and learned to my embarrassment first-hand, how our “marketing leading” software was almost impossible to navigate while wearing required safety gloves, how the grime-covered computers didn’t perform well in an environment that would routinely hit 140 degrees and had the worst possible electromagnetic interference, and how some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met didn’t have the luxury of waiting for a bug patch to be applied to a database before they poured molten steel into a mold that was going to irreversibly modify $100,000 worth of inventory.

I realized that Vicki sent me there not because I didn’t understand our products or our processes, but because I didn’t understand our customer, who often didn’t have interest in computers except that they were a barrier to their getting their jobs done and home to their families at the end of the shift.

From that moment on, I could visualize the high pressure and challenging operating environment that every one of my tickets was attached to, and I came to consider myself a member of the shop floor production team more than as the help desk. That change of mindset, becoming the customer, was the foundation for my team to embrace the scale of our challenges and own the tough tickets that kept our clients business operating.

Topics: Coaching And Quality Management, Culture And Engagement, Customer Journey Mapping