Pin It

March 29, 2017

Live Google+ Debate: Will Technology Kill the Call Center?

By michaelpace on October 15, 2012

Contact Center DebateRecently, I participated in an live Google+ debate hosted by Software Advice that asked, “Will Technology Kill the Call Center?” The research firm basically wanted to investigate trends in consumer contact channel utilization, technology and the impact of these trends on the future call center.

The event featured a panel of experts that answered scripted questions, before the discussion was opened to the audience. The prepared queries included:

1.    How have you seen consumer contact channel utilization change in the last decade?
2.    What role has technology played in this change?
3.    How do you see technology impacting the way customers contact a company in the future, and the kind of service they receive?
4.    Will technology eventually render call centers irrelevant?

Click on the video below to watch the entire recorded debate hosted by the talented Ashley Furniss.

I was able to send comments directly to the panel during the live event. One of the speakers, IntelliResponse Vice President of Marketing Mike Hennessy, made a statement that questioned the value of social media for customer service. He argued that according to analysis he’s seen about social customer service, the return on investment for time spent is not there. I disagreed:

Here are some other key takeaways from the responses.

Become Truly Multi Channel
All of the speakers agreed that consumers are embracing newer contact channels, such as virtual agents and self service, at a pace never seen before in the contact center world.

This doesn’t mean customers are choosing these new channels instead of voice. Rather, they are using self service, FAQs, mobile and other channels in addition to the telephone.

In response, companies need to do more than just make these channels available. They should leverage each to better serve the customer. For example, can you tell what a customer was looking at in your FAQs before they called your 1-800 number? Do you know if they interacted with a virtual agent? Having these answers can bring context and personalization to the live response experience. This increases efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Accommodate the Customer’s Contact Channel Choice
Technology advancements have had a huge impact on the way organizations interact with customers. Advancements such as intelligent virtual agents and self service can finally devlier on the promises from five and six years ago.

These contact channel improvements have leveled the playing field as far as user experience. The customer is now empowered to choose the communication channel they want, when they want. It’s up to the company to “right channel” their business–to determine which channels are most important to its customers and invest in those technologies.

Ready Your Agents for the Reborn Contact Center
All of the speakers agreed that customer contact preference is shifting away from voice. But this won’t kill the call center because it’s already dead.

The concept of a call center comprising phone agents has evolved into a contact center comprising ”command teams” who manage customer interactions through multiple channels. That’s because today’s consumer demands instant gratification, and the reborn center is expected to support those demands, whether they come through Twitter, live chat or a phone call.


Visual Service can be Proactive Customer Service

By michaelpace on August 8, 2012

Madonna and customer service

We are living in a visual world, and I am visual girl (ummm guy).  Even back then Madonna knew the importance of how visual we are as human beings.  Whether it was provocative videos, suggestive stage acts, or pointy cone-shaped bras, she understands the impact of using “visual aids” to draw in an audience.  Twenty to thirty years later, social networks and our lives are flooded with the use of visual tools to grab share of audience attention.  Pinterest, Instagram, and SocialCam have acquired multi-millions of users, and bigger players like Facebook and Google have made significant enhancements to make photo and pictures front and center of their applications.  LinkedIn purchased Slideshare for $119M.  If we know that visuals (images) are enticing and important to our customers, how can customer service leverage the power of visuals to provide proactive service?

Disclaimer: I do not condone the use of picking arbitrary tools (social networks or any tool), and basing a strategy around the tools.  Your strategy is based on your objectives; if the tool helps you deliver your objectives/goals than use it correctly.  In your “regular life”, you do not buy a miter saw, and then decide what you are going to build around your house with it.  You have a project, and select the appropriate tool to accomplish your task (it’s the same with social media tools).

Let’s work backwards from the customer (like we should for every initiative).

How do your customers find answers to questions, concerns, how-to’s, and issues?

  • On your branded site or community
  • Search
  • Connected social networks

On your branded site or community

Most customers will go directly to your site to find answers to immediate issues, learn how to use your products better, learn more about your products and service, find peer opinion, and of course browse or shop.  For all that is holy and sacred in the customer service world, make it easy for you customers to get help.  Don’t bury your service access with a tiny link at the bottom of a page.  Remember prospects like to know help is available and often have “how to” questions before they buy.  Once there, remember pictures can be worth a thousand words.  Use images to link to your most popular questions answered in your knowledge base.  Use slideshows to walk customers through longer step by step processes, better yet, link them to your branded Slideshare site (create virtuous cycles).  Create short videos (no more than 2 min.) introducing new products or enhancements to your service.   Remember to use the thumbnails and short descriptions to attract customers to click.  If you are selling physical products, provide lots of images from different angles (Zappos & Amazon do extremely well here).  Vague text descriptions just invite calls, emails and chats to your center.

On your branded community site, supply content with images, slideshows, and videos.  Better yet, invite your advocates and super-users to provide content using images.  Ask them for help, and to include screen shots and tutorials if they are technically inclined.


More and more customers are using search engines to find information and answers about your company, especially via mobile.  They are not going directly to your site, where you control the message.  They are relying on top search results to learn more.  If your branded content is not at the top 1/3 of the page, customers will rarely select your link.  If you thought Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is just for your Marketing Department to worry about, you are dead wrong.  If you don’t understand SEO, find someone in your organization that does, and spend an hour learning how it impacts your business.  All the tools we have mentioned and many more get indexed by Google and Yahoo.  The more content and viewed content associate with a brand gets “pushed” up higher in search results.  By creating content (whether your own or from your branded community) you give search engines more results associated with your brand.  Online slideshows, tutorials, videos, pictures (tagged), community posts, and knowledge base articles all add to your content indexing.

Connected Social Networks

If you or other departments have established social tools connected to your customers, create sections for customer service, education, or tag as customer support related.  I think this is a place where customer service leaders can influence to have service boards created on a brand’s Pinterest site.  Pinterest allows you to link images or thumbnails to a variety of content, whether it be blogs (with images), slideshows, tutorials, knowledge base articles (with images), and videos.  Again, Pinterest is indexed by search engines, and beloved by millions of users for its use of images to tell you quickly what content lies within.  Leverage your other social networks (again creating virtuous cycles) to let people know about your customer service board.  Sites like Slideshare can be effectively used in a similar fashion.  More visual tools are on their way, early practice on sites like Pinterest and Slideshare may pay big dividends in the future.

Sites like Pinterest, Slideshare, and others are rapidly gaining users because people can quickly view an image and know what the content is about in seconds.  Make it easier for your customers get service answers quickly; images, videos and slides will help support your customer access strategy.  Ok, this Papa will stop preaching.  Express Yourself and don’t be Like a Virgin.  Experiment with the tools, but don’t cross the Borderline, and maybe your customers will be Crazy For you and Cherish your service.

Are you using visual tools for customer service?

What other visual tools have you witnessed being effective?

Open Your Heart to Me with comments.

Putting Social Media in Context or Don’t Hate the Tool, Hate the Carpenter

By michaelpace on February 20, 2012

They say frustration is the mother of invention.  This post is rooted in frustration.  My frustration lies with smart social strategists and users consistently doing the following:

  • Making social media the objective
  • Consistently bashing one social media tool versus another, whether it’s Google +, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Path, etc…
  • Fostering conversations on “who owns social media”

Social media is a tool, plain and simple.

  • It is not the result; it’s a way to get there
  • I have lots of tools in my toolbox, including hammers, saws, screwdrivers (manual and electric) wrenches, and so on.  It doesn’t mean one tool is better than another, they just serve  different purposes.
  • Nobody should “own” the tool.  The phone system is a tool, you don’t see Marketing asking the Customer Service team for permission to use the phone.

Hopefully, my homemade “infographic” can put social media and its surrounding terms in context.
Putting Social Media in Context



















*CLTV = Customer LifeTime Value

While I consistently use the carpenter analogy (just because you swing a hammer, doesn’t make you a carpenter, it just makes you more dangerous), I thought including Lord Vader may connect with my audience a bit more.

Do you have social pet peeves or things that generate frustration?

Do you use a different analogy?

Do you do one of those things that drives me crazy?  If so, we should fight on the playground at Three o’ Clock High style.

Top 5 Reasons Why Customer Service is Avoiding the Social Media Wave

Waiting for the social wave

By michaelpace on August 19, 2011

Ok, show of hands (and be honest, I can see you through your webcam), does your company provide social customer service through your actual customer service department?

Or does Marketing handle it; or some other department or combo? During a webinar hosted by Jeremiah Owyang (a must follow) earlier this month, he stated that roughly in 70% of the cases, Marketing handles social media, including customer service inquiries. In my own experience speaking with customer service executives and at conferences, I estimate less than 10% of customer service departments handle support related inquires or comments. Why? Why are you not riding the Social Customer Service wave or are you waiting for the wave to crash into you?

Reason #1: Marketing owns and handles social

Background or Myth: Marketing should handle social media stuff because of possible public relation issues, social media is a marketing job, or it’s just always been that way.

Reality: Social media is a tool of social business, similar to your phone system being a tool for your customer service. You probably don’t own the phone system, and Marketing probably doesn’t need your permission to use the phone. If individuals are afraid of a public relations issue being created through social media, do they monitor all of your outgoing emails and chats? An email or a chat is equally “socialable” through their own technology or in combination with other social networks. Similar to email and chat technology channels, best practices, process and clear roles and responsibilities are needed to execute effectively. Your customer service team is best equipped to handle service inquiries and provide content that helps educate your customers. And anytime someone tells you it’s always been done that way, you know it’s time for a change.

Reason #2: If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?

Background or Myth: You know there are millions of people on social sites like Facebook, but they are not talking about our brand or service (or at least we haven’t heard it).

Reality: If you are not listening, how can you know if someone is talking about or to you? Have you ever put your company name (or variations of) into Google Blog Search or into Twitter’s Search? There are tremendous amount of free tools to use to listen to understand if people are talking to you or about you. I prefer Hootsuite for Twitter and Google Alerts for everything else on the web. It’s now common place for people to express their opinions to their friends, family and followers on the web, and it will only become more common. Per Socialnomics, ½ of the world’s population is under 30, they do not know what life was like before the internet (think about it).

Reason #3: Not a valuable use of time or resources

Background or Myth: As compared to our other channels, social media related channels are such a small percentage of our overall volume.

Reality: The previous statement is both true and false. It is true for an actual physical count of tweets, Facebook posts, blogs commenting on your business, and LinkedIn discussions, but it does not accurately reflect the impact. For example, at Constant Contact (where I work), the average person tweeting positively or negatively about us has approximately 1300 followers. Over the course of 2010, there were almost 1,000,000 impressions of positive or negative commentary. Now not all of those impressions were influential, but even if a small portion (10% or 100,000) were influential, doesn’t it make sense for you to be a part of those conversations?

Reason #4: We are in a regulated industry; we could break laws by talking about personal accounts publicly

Background or Myth: In many industries, such as healthcare and financial services, public “discussion” of personal information can land your company in a heap of legal and compliance trouble. This statement is true, but there are reasons to still get engaged.

Reality: Probably the most valuable aspect of social customer service (at this point) is pure acknowledgement of being heard. If someone mentions you on the social web, you should still acknowledge their message and then offer to take it to a more secure channel. If you need to track even these minimal conversations, you can do it manually or if you have the scale, most CRMs now are available with social tools integrated into their workcase management. Regulated industries are typically complicated, which also makes them ripe for proactive outbound communications to your customers about your products and services. Blogs, branded communities, Twitter, Youtube and LinkedIn provide fantastic platforms for educational content that can be pulled from existing sources like your knowledge base or marketing materials.

Reason #5: Getting started is too overwhelming

Background or Myth: There is very limited data or information on how to get started in social customer service, let alone operationalizing it.

Reality: Yes, getting up and running in social customer service is a sizeable task, but like other large initiatives, if you break it down it can be less daunting. Below is my high level work breakdown structure:

  1. Get yourself involved in social media
  2. Know your business strategy/what are your objectives/guidelines More information on steps 1 & 2
  3. Listen to your customers
  4. Customer Conversation
    • Develop SLA’s
    • Know your brand (big difference in Tiffany & Co.’s & Zappos corporate voice)
    • Engage your customers
  5. Workflow, Catalog & Tracking
  6. Developing & delivering proactive contentSocial Wave

Customer service leaders have a choice, try to stand strong against the incoming wave, and hope it does not knock you over (or provide a competitive disadvantage), or pick up your board, paddle out and ride the wave. This trend may not have all the same tools at the end of the day, but the premise of social business will remain, and become more prevalent in our lives and the lives of our future customers.

To chat with a bunch of other smart people about the topic of social customer service, and getting started, join me, Brad Cleveland, Bob Furniss & Todd Hixon for a tweetchat presented by ICMI on Tuesday, 8/23 @ 6:30 pm CST – follow hashtag #CCDemo11 for up to date details and more information.


Wave Image Credit,solitary/Interesting

Surfing image

Liar, Liar, Liar!!! … Get Back Witch! I’m Not a Witch, I’m Your Audience

By michaelpace on August 8, 2011

Princess Bride - LiarAttend a social media or call/contact center conference lately?  Have you attended a session or class on social media?  Did the distinguished speaker tell you the first step to get into social media was to LISTEN?  Guess what? That person was lying to you.

Oh no, they were not intentionally lying to you.  You see they have gone too deep inside the social media bubble; surrounded themselves with like thinking/doing individuals, read tons of articles on social media, attended conferences with other Marketing and Social Business brethren.  They have heard countless statistics about how many people use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and write blogs.  And all of this makes sense to them.  They use these tools.  Their smartphone has 97 applications on it.  They are early adopters, and everyone is a luddite still using a television to watch Game of Thrones instead of watching on their iPads with HBO GO.  However, they have forgotten that when they speak or write to Customer Service audiences, they are usually not talking to early adopters any more, they are talking to the heart of mainstream.  (Yes, I live in a glass house, and am not afraid to throw rocks)

Mainstream still doesn’t use Twitter.  They may have an account, because it was easy and “everyone else was doing it”.  Most mainstream people do not have a blog, many do not have any idea what a blog is or does.  More than half of mainstream does not own a smartphone.  (If you don’t have a smartphone at a social media conference, you might as well start breaking out papyrus and quill to take your notes.)  Mainstream still uses Internet Explorer, and it works fine for them.  My family and 90% of people I went to high school and college are mainstream.  Customer Service is by and large made up of people from mainstream.

I have the amazing opportunity to attend and speak at Customer Service and Contact Center conferences all over the country.  These conferences are attended by hundreds, but you MAY find only about a half dozen on Twitter.  Paper and pen far outnumber iPhones and iPads for taking notes and sharing.  If the speaker or conference leader is telling these people that the first step in working with social media tools is to LISTEN, they do not fully understand the audience.  Telling this audience to listen is like telling me to watch Japanese television to learn how to speak the language.  I will not know what I am watching or listening for.  Yeah sure, after a while, I’ll pick up a few things, but you have probably lost my interest by then.  I think this may be one a few reasons why Customer Service is generally a periphery user of social media tools and less involved in social business.

So if LISTENING is not the first step into social media or social media customer service, what is?

Step 1: Get yourself involved

You can listen and read the greatest minds of social business and social media tools, but until you get yourself involved you will never fully get it.  The best analogy I can use here is riding a bike.  You can read books, watch videos, listen to your dad, have Lance Armstrong as your best friend, but until you get on the bike and learn how to balance, pedal and turn, you cannot fully understand how to ride a bike.  My social business mentor, Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable, calls it your “Aha Moment”.  When you have the “Aha Moment”, it may hit you like a ton of bricks, and the clarity is amazing.  Here is my recommendation of steps to get involved:

  1. LinkedIn – Unless you plan on staying with your current employer the rest of your life, LinkedIn is the most important social network for any professional.  It is the new Rolodex and resume in one.  LinkedIn is also an incredibly powerful tool to understand the vastness of your connections and their connections.  LinkedIn can also put you in touch with like minded individuals through their Groups functionality.
  2. Facebook – 800 Million users should be reason enough.  But if you plan on understanding social business, understanding how Facebook works with businesses is an important learning.  LIKE a few businesses you believe may provide good social support or you have general interest in.
  3. Twitter – Twitter is not just for telling people what you ate for lunch.  I like to think of Twitter as my digestible funnel of the world’s smartest/best people and content.   Yes, it can be overwhelming initially, but once you find a Twitter client you are comfortable with (Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Seesmic), you can filter out the noise and build relationships with some amazing people.   The highest majority of Customer Service transactions and interactions occur on Twitter with our customers.
  4. Blogs – I recommend reading/skimming blogs to anyone getting into social business.  I use Google Reader to collect and push to me content about topics that most interest me.  Use the RSS (Real Simple Syndication) button on blogs you are interested in, and connect them to your aggregator (like Google Reader).  To find great blogs that may interest you, try or .

Step 2: Know your Business Strategy

Social media and social business are tools and disciplines that are means to the end, not the end.  Your company’s or department’s goal is not to be great at how to use Twitter or YouTube successfully.  You’ve never heard someone say we are going win in a market, and proclaim its measurement was Microsoft Project and Project Management methodologies used in successful manner.  Social media and social business is no different.  Start with your department’s objectives, determine your strategies, identify tactics (here is where social business and tools fit), and finally create execution and control plans.  Once you understand how you plan on leveraging social, you can begin to understand where it will fit in your business.  This step should be followed up with step 2B. – involving the appropriate individuals or departments in your organization.  You should “socialize” your plans with Human Resources, Legal/Compliance, Marketing, Public Relations and Technology Security.

Step 3: LISTEN – Now you may heed all of the advice you have heard for the past 2 years.

Maybe I was a bit harsh on the social media conference speaker or writer earlier, they were not exactly lying to you, but just left out or assumed you understood steps 1 and 2 which are critical pieces of information.  I have not historically been an early adopter.  I had a LinkedIn account because my line of business was closing at Capital One, and had a Facebook account to keep track of people in high school I couldn’t stand in the first place.  I feel that I was extremely lucky to have found my passion in Customer Service has been equaled by social business.  I hope my experience in both worlds is helpful to even just one person starting out or a presenter or writer addressing the Customer Service audience.

I love to hear from Contact Center leaders, when speakers and writers tell you that listening is the first step, does that resonate?

Do you actively participate in social business and leverage social media tools daily for personal, professional and work use?

Miracle Max video

Image & video: Courtesy of The Princess Bride (love that movie)

Shocker: Great Customer Service is not for everyone

By michaelpace on July 18, 2011

Twitter Conversation

Great Customer service is not for everyone.

There I said it.  My fellow customer service leaders may hate me for saying it, but it is true.

After reading a great post on B.L. Ochman’s blog “Google’s missing link: customer service. It has none.”, we began engaging in a conversation over twitter.

My heart agrees with B.L. about the importance of great customer service as a key differentiator for many companies, and my head knows many of the most profitable companies in the world are not customer service focused.  Take a look at the most profitable companies of 2010 from CNNMoney, I don’t see any customer service superstars.

Most Profitable Companies

Don’t forget, for companies, customer service is not the end goal.  The end goal is for the company to win, and for most companies, that usually directly ties back to share of wallet, profitability and/or shareholder value.  Exxon, Microsoft, Walmart, BP and IBM do not inspire customer service leaders or customers, but evidence shows that they are successful (at least monetarily).

B.L. brought up a good point around Apple.  I do not think Apple provides a great customer service experience, I think they provide a great customer experience.  I think they provide a great customer experience through design and usability.  The Genius Bar is nice, but if I have to go all the way to an Apple Store to get something fixed and speak to someone, I would not consider that a great customer service experience.

So does Google need great customer service? I do not think they do.  Their core competencies are about search technologies and other work tools.  Just as in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, Google can be the best in the world at search.  Customer service does not fit into their hedgehog.

Now all this being said, customer service can be a huge differentiator for many companies; it is part of the mission and value proposition of the company that employs me.  Superior service can keep customers loyal in high competition and commodity markets.  Incredible service can make it easier for your customers to spend more with you each month/year.  With the addition of social business and media tools, fantastic customer service can help you acquire customers via word of mouth promotion.   Delivering “awe inspiring” customer service is critical to many companies, especially small businesses, but I do not believe it is right for everyone.


Do you agree with B.L.?

Does Google need to provide good customer service to remain a top performing company?

When does customer service matter, and when does it not?