Interview with Brian Cantor, Customer Contact Week – Part 1

We had the privilege of speaking with Brian Cantor, Principal Analyst and Digital Director of Customer Contact Week, about trends in the industry. In this first of a three-part series, we discussed observations from the industry group’s most recent conference in Las Vegas. Take a look!

RB.AI: From your perspective, what were some of the hot topics and trends discussed at CCW Las Vegas? Or things that were of interest to you that you heard on the floor or maybe had confirmed while you were there?

Brian Cantor: I think the biggest takeaway started with the kickoff speech and it really carried through all the keynotes, and that’s that we’re past this point of talking about competing on the customer experience as some sort of novel concept. We know that’s what’s going on. We know we have to be customer-centric. We know Amazon exists and if we don’t live up to their standard, we risk disappointing our customers. Everyone understands that.

The focus now has to be on winning that competition. So what are we doing that our competitors haven’t, can’t or won’t to create stronger and more unbreakable bonds with with their customers? That’s what I see really as one of the main motifs of the event, this idea of — you already know you have to compete on the customer experience. Now, how do you go about winning that competition?

There are few other takeaways. I think one included the shift to an “omni-moment” experience. And while that term itself is something that I’m kind of personally pitching and that’s a term that I very much believe in, the topic and the core of it was very much discussed throughout the event. And that is, Omni channel was a great step in getting us to focus on the connection. It was very important because — if you think about the biggest business challenges and certainly the biggest customer experience challenges, they tend to be along the lines of misalignment and disintegration. There’s silos within the organization. Systems don’t talk to each other. So thinking about Omni channel, how you can kind of create unification and integration and consistency across all channels, that was a great philosophical kind of step in getting the context center to the right spot. But now we have to think about — OK, now that these channels are connected, now that we’re kind of integrating our systems better, are we maximizing the value at each of those individual moments of the customer experience journey? Is every channel functioning as a full service channel that can really resolve problems? And just as importantly, do agents within the different channels, do they have the context and are they empowered enough to actually elevate engagement?

And without that, then that’s really where the heart of a great experience comes from. It’s great when you can press 1 to move to a different agent or it’s great when you’re in Facebook Messenger and you can jump to a live phone call. But wouldn’t it have been better if that Facebook messenger experience was amazing to begin with? Or let’s say you do escalate, isn’t going to be so much better if the agent, when you get there knows who you are and knows how to solve the problem? So really making the most of moments using data and context and training is super important.

A few other wants to go through. I think that, certainly nothing new in terms of the idea of reducing effort, but what I think was really valuable about this discussion here is that we really broke from that sphere that reducing effort and emphasizing quick, painless transactions is somehow the enemy of personalization, it’s the enemy of that magical “wow” customer experience. Because in reality it is the magic, right? If you think about how rarely do you actually get to go from point A to point B without frustration, without delay, without effort, and so if a brand can actually do that, you’re going to love that. You’re going to think that brand is magical, even though it maybe wasn’t the most personal conversation in the world.

So I actually think that it was really good to see the idea that you can be efficient, you can reduce effort, and you could also still create that delightful connection-based customer experience.

Speaking of connections, we have the role of humanity. And I think this came up on a few fronts.

First, obviously there’s that constant effort to define personalization. Because on the one hand you want to make sure that you’re maintaining that cordial, polite, conversational feel, but you also know that efficiency matters to the customer and to the business. The customer wants a fast resolution. The business can’t afford a slow resolution. So you need to be productive. So I think looking at how you can make sure that you’re using customer insights to improve and make the experience quicker and more resolute as opposed to just making it a friendly conversation, I think is a really important tenet of personalization.

There is also the intersection of humanity and technology, and I have a feeling based on the company that’s interviewing me right now — this is going to be a big one for your team as well — and that’s the idea of, basically as interactions become more digital or even non-conversational with bots, how do you maintain that human touch? Or should you? Do you need to maintain a human touch now that technology can handle so many problems?

And then finally just looking further at technology, I think there’s that idea of humanizing technology partners. The best exhibitors that I spoke to — and I spoke to a lot in the floor, I was doing interviews in my CCW digital area, so I had the opportunity to talk to a few of them — and the best ones were not talking up their technology. Because there were over 200 exhibitors there, and many of them have on paper, awesome solutions; they’re doing great things. What really makes you stand out is how you can tailor those solutions for the individual contact centers for the leaders who were in that room. So that idea of putting a human face on the technology partner was a big thing as well for the vendors that were there.

RB.AI: There’s a juxtaposition between the personal human side of customer interaction and yet the immediacy that needs to occur within the outreach efforts itself, but also in that experience, in that venue at that time, even if things need to pass to somebody else, or for a whole host of reasons. So there’s this push then, because of the time and expense in the immediacy, to interject chatbots into the customer experience.

Any discussions from your perspective? At least on the floor or just in past conversations what you see are some best practices in that regard?

Brian Cantor: I’m a big believer in the idea that technology is not about the coolness or the potential functionality. It’s about the actual purpose. I’ve written a few chatbot reports that pretty much started with that idea.

So what that means there, is that launching a chat bot program really needs to begin with journey mapping. First and foremost, you need to know what’s working and also what’s not working within your experience, in order to identify opportunities for optimization. Let’s say you see customers are spending a lot of time changing an order after it’s already been shipped. Well, you may want to see if there’s a way to implement a bot that can expedite that process. That’s an example of you’re looking at what’s creating effort in the journey and you’re looking at how the bot can solve that problem, that’s great.

But to me, that’s only the first step, and the bigger, more important step is starting to focus on customer intent. Knowing what the customer really wants. Because that’s when you find out how to actually add value. You can start to think about ways to enhance the experience and not merely fix pain points.

One of the things I often talk about is if you look at a lot of data, you’re going to find that people still by and large prefer live phone calls. And it’s easy to say — oh, people still love talking on the phone — but do we really believe that? Do we really believe that? We hate calling our friends, we hate calling our family, we hate picking up the phone for any purpose. We love emailing at work. We hate talking on the phone at work. But suddenly we love calling customer service? It’s not realistic.

What really happens here is that people are not aware of the functionality or they don’t trust the functionality of digital channels. So they think that in order to get a resolution, they kind of have to escalate to the phone.

So basically, that would be an area if you just looked at what the customer’s doing, your logic would be to optimize phone calls. But if you instead looked at what the customer’s real intent was, why they were choosing to call, you can start to decide, OK, here’s where we implement a bot, and also here’s where the education needs to come from. Here’s how we have to get customers confident and conditioned to start to use that technology.

And that’s where the real value in this journey mapping approach comes from in terms of bots. It’s not just looking at pain points you can remedy. It’s also about opportunities you can take advantage of.

Another area when you get to the implementation is you want to consider your internal data sources as well as the partners you want to choose. So how does the tool learn? What is its cognitive process? And what data do you have to feed it? How is it connected with your different channels? And also how does it allow customers to engage in different channels? So by that — is there a voice component? Is it web- or digital-only? What is the way it fits into your overall customer experience? And how does it gain data about who your customers are and what they want?

I’ve seen plenty of chatbots that really are just restating information from a knowledge base or an FAQ page, and to me they’re not… They might be chat bots in terms of the actual application, but they’re not chatbots in reality, because all they’re doing is it being a static self service tool. They’re not really AI.

So when you think about implementation, you need to think about where it’s getting the data, how it’s using the data, and how credible that data is. And I think one of the great things too with partners, what you want to look at is — what kind of expertise do they have about the customer experience itself? Are they technology people who came up with a really cool tool but don’t know anything about escalations or appeasing customers? And even beyond that, do they understand the industry itself?

So if you’re a financial, if you’re insurance — you’re going to have very specific compliance issues, specific terminology, things that a generic bot may not be able to handle. So you want to look at who your technology provider is, and can they account for that? Or can they at least allow you as a business to feed that kind of industry specific information into the tool?

And then the final process concerns the management. That’s going to look at everything from setting the right metrics to setting the escalation protocol. So — how do you get the customer into the bot? And what happens when they want to come out and how do you prepare the agent? Looking at the ROI — are you looking at abandonment rates? Are you looking at self service utilization? Are you looking at changes in call volume? C-sat? Net promoter? How you’re going to measure that is very important.

And then ultimately also optimizing the bot as well. So, retuning it, reprogramming it, learning from it, analyzing the data — that all has to happen.

So really what I think that that ultimately leads to is you need to decide who’s going to own the bot within your organization. And this really applies to any AI initiatives. It is — who is responsible for it? Do you have an AI department? Do you have a chief AI Officer? Do you situate it with the contact center and just give them something else on their plate? Figuring out who’s going to be responsible, because this is much more than plugging and playing a solution, it really is about understanding how to consistently evolve this channel, this tool, so it can make more meaningful connections with customers and provide better assistance for agents as well.

David Oates

About David Oates

David Oates is a 20-year marketing and public relations veteran who holds extensive experience in developing as well as executing successful and measurable programs for a wide range of agency, high tech, corporate and government organizations. He is an accredited public relations (APR) expert affiliated with the Public Relations Society of America, and serves as the Chairman of the Board of Advisors for Operation Homefront, California as well as on the Board of Directors for Rotary Club of San Diego. David has worked with Tony since 2001 in numerous capacities such as a non profit Board supporting veterans. He received his MBA from San Diego State University’s Executive Program in 2004 and his bachelors of arts from the University of Maryland in 1991. David was named among the 2009 “40 under 40” list of top professionals by the San Diego Metropolitan.