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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.


1 Social Business Post – 3 Feet – 3 Boobs

By michaelpace on July 25, 2012

What the hell happened last Friday in the social business world? Did the planets align to erase the business brains of people at the customer facing keyboards of 3 disparate companies? Alien hackers took over twitter and customer relationship accounts? Or did 3 companies just get lazy while working in the connected world?

While I do think weirdness happens outside of our little world, my money is on the latter (laziness).

Story 1: How to shove your own foot up your ass

I originally heard the story from Social Media Explorer in a post called Customer Service Isn’t An Act. It’s a Trait. To make a (interesting) long story short, @solve360 chose to pick a fight on their social network instead of helping a customer, and possibly a future business partner. See below: Solve360 conversation with customers

For more details head to Megan’s Meanderings

Lessons Learned:

In my opinion, this is a company culture issue. From bottom to top, this company does not understand service (which doesn’t bode well for a Customer Relationship Management software company). They choose to see service as an unwelcomed cost of doing business, instead of looking at it as an opportunity to help a customer, build a relationship, move a challenger to a champion, or even just retain a current customer. While this may be random incident or everyone was having a case of the Mondays, but Solve360 may want to take a step back, get clear on their Values and decide if retention and loyalty are critical to a cloud or SAAS company (guess what – it is).

Story 2: How to shoot yourself in the foot

This Twitter post is from the NRA (National Rifle Association) the morning of the Aurora murders.

@NRA_Rifleman tweet

On the surface, it appears to be horribly disrespectful and frankly disgusting. The post was deleted from their Twitter stream not long after posting, but what happens on the internet stays on the internet. However, I believe there is more to this story. My assumption is this was a scheduled tweet, scheduled well before we learned of the events in Aurora.

Lessons Learned:

Scheduling tweets is a perfectly acceptable practice of social business. It allows you to create conversations off hours, reach different sets of audiences, and smooth out the workload for your conversation agents. Scheduling is a shortcut; shortcuts are needed. However, every shortcut comes at a risk (otherwise it would not be a shortcut). Like any other area of business, you need to understand your risks, determine what is acceptable, transferrable, or worth creating mitigation steps. In the NRA’s (controversial) line of business, it is sad to say that incidents like last Friday’s massacre can happen at any time. While I would not stop scheduling, I would ensure they have a crisis management plan in place, and understand their roles in executing.

On another note, I think they were smart in deleting the tweet, but they missed an equally important step, admitting to their mistake. As of this date, I have not seen an apology tweet or link (it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist). They may have even deleted the entire account name, as it is no longer exists on Twitter. A simple, accountable explanation with an apology and thoughts toward the impacted families/friends would have gone a long way.

Story 3: You Put Your Foot in My Mouth

By now many folks have heard and/or seen the @Celebboutique tweet from last Friday, only a mere few hours after the horrific tragedy in an Aurora, CO movie theater. I think the picture above speaks to the shear ignorance of person at the helm of their twitter account. I am not here to beat a dead horse; I am here to help with the lessons learned. @celebboutique tweet

Post the immediate public uproar, @Celebboutique tried to apologize. @celebboutique follow up










Lessons Learned:

It is clear that @Celebboutique outsources their twitter handle to an offshore PR agency. Outsourcing can be good; offshore outsourcing can be better. Outsourcing usually allows companies to move many overhead costs to parties who specialize in a specific operation, therefore opening up funds and/or space to move their business forward in other areas. I have a few rules of outsourcing effectively:
1. You never outsource your core competency or value proposition
2. Your relationship with your outsourcer needs to be ACTIVELY managed; it is not an “off the side of the desk” activity
3. Cultural compatibility is more important than all the money talk that follows in the selection process
4. Outsource customer facing solutions at your OWN RISK

Based on the follow up tweets from @Celebboutique, they did not heed to my rules of effective outsourcing.
Their last mistake in the myriad of mistakes was their placing blame on their foreign outsourcer. When I interact with a company, I see it as a single entity. For example, if I shop at Costco, I do not think about how it affects their supply chain department, marketing, or human resources; it is just Costco. As a consumer, I have enough brands occupying my attention; I don’t separate companies into divisions. Regardless, if @Celebboutique hit the enter key or not, it was their company’s mistake; own it.

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.

20 minutes is too long for Twitter Customer Service

By michaelpace on December 20, 2011

Service Level expectations

Recently, I read an interesting post from Simply Measured about @HyattConcierge Twitter Customer Service metrics.  The article started the brain flywheel spinning with thoughts on what do customers see as acceptable and superior service levels.

               Which tweets or social posts should be replied to?
               How quickly should a tweet or social post be responded to?
               Should the brand or company always reply?
               What are customers’ expectations on business hours?

See full article here, please also see their live report.  The post states @HyattConcierge Twitter response time goal (service level) is 20 minutes. Their business hours are 9-5 (I am assuming Central Time since they are headquartered in Chicago).  20 minutes? In 20 minutes, I can walk down 10 flights of stairs and resolve my question at the front desk, plus I will be tired and aggravated.  And only 9-5?  Usually when I stay at a hotel, I am there more than just the hours of 9-5.  Their Twitter page shows them available 24/7? hyattconcierge

I am happy to see that Hyatt has the ability to monitor these metrics, and has service level goals.  But are they the right goals?

In my humble opinion, these sound like service level goals created by what the company wants or can do, instead of starting from the customer’s point of view.  It would be interesting to me to know if their social customer service is handled and lead by Marketing, or by their Customer Service department.

TIP: Before you commit to providing Social Customer Service (full time versus experimentation), you need to be clear on what your service level goals are, and set up your organization to provide those levels of service. 

Before I provide my thoughts on superior social service levels (because I am not in the business of having average or benchmark customer service), you need to understand you customer’s needs and expectations.  Here are generic superior social service levels.

Twitter: (during stated business hours)

Response Time

@ mentions

Direct Messages

Generic mentions

5 minutes (max)

100% reply (unless Troll)

100% reply

Based on context

You also should not forget to follow social reply tenants:

  • Know your customer
  • Acknowledge
  • Be transparent & human
  • Know when to keep online, take offline or move near-line

Other Social Networks:


Response Time



20 minutes – 2 hours

Always dependent on the comment, see if your Facebook community will jump in first, but every Facebook comment should have something from the brand/company

8 hours

Slightly longer is acceptable to most on LinkedIn.  Great place for your community to respond

4 hours

If you choose to respond by video, write a comment first that a video response is coming.  Video response is not a necessity

3 hours

Bloggers like to be acknowledged
Branded Communities

0 – 48 hours

If they need urgent support, don’t wait for your community.  Otherwise let your community take a shot at the comment.  If the comment goes 2 days without acknowledgement or response, jump in

Most importantly, start with your customers first, and operationalize based on their expectations (then exceed them).  By starting with your customers first, you can build the organization and expectations to support their needs.  Just forming a group to handle these requests/concerns/mentions may actually disappoint before they help out a customer.  “Yes, it’s great you replied, but I needed your help 4 hours ago”.

What do you feel are superior social customer service goals?

Do you have service level goals for your social customer support?

Are you working backwards from the customer?

The Best Twitter Advice I Ever Received

By michaelpace on September 12, 2011

Twitter profile

For the past couple years, much of the chatter and content on/in social networks has been about authenticity, trust, and not being “all about you”.  I am a big promoter of this philosophy, and truly believe this type of open content is the cream that will rise to the top.  But how do you know you are creating authentic sounding and trustworthy content? Or doing it well?

In the Twittersphere, each tweet is often just a moment of thought, sharing, promotion, or piece of silliness.   The roots of context, reliability and sincerity are difficult to ascertain.  Whether you tweet 1-2 times a day or 20-30, people on the other end of your feed build an impression of you.  It might be fair. It might not be.  You may have a different impact than your intent.  You may not realize how often you tweet about your job, promote your workplace, complain, distribute cat videos, or share other’s content.  Or the worst, you could be boring. So how can you tell or at least get an idea of how others see you?

The best twitter advice I ever received: 

Periodically, read through your sent messages and perform a self quality assurance check; a minimum of twenty tweets or a few weeks worth depending on your frequency.

(Paraphrased advice from Jim Storer of the Community Roundtable)

 If you have never done it, open up another browser tab and do it now! (But come back)

  • Be objective about yourself
  • Would you want to read You?
  • Is this the persona you want to portray?
  • What do you really tweet about?
  • Are you boring? Or untrustworthy?

I review my prior month’s worth of tweets usually at the beginning of the following month, religiously.  I block out the time on my calendar (and I am not an organization freak at all – come see my desk at work).  I block it out, because it is important.  If your personal or corporate brand is not important, please skip the rest of this post, I hear there is a new talking fruit video online now.

So what did my twitter feed look like last month (August):

Twitter topics

My thoughts on my own “performance” last month:                                                                 n=518

  • Happy to see General Friend Conversations and Relationship Building as my largest category – these are @ responses or starting conversations with friends or new people
  • Slightly surprised by amount of Twitterchat/Conference tweets from last month, but much of the total came from hosting #CCDemo11 (Prep for call center conference in Oct.)
  • 27% of tweets I consider professional (my blog or event promotion, Constant Contact promotion, retweeting educational material, and Job postings/referrals/retweets)
  • Could promote Constant Contact a bit more
  • I tell people where I am, what I am listening to, and what I am watching a bit too much
  • Qualitatively, I could tweet a bit less from bars after 3 or 4 beers

You need to decide and determine your own balance for yourself and your brand (personal or corporate).  My general theme is to provide edu-taining content while providing a small glimpse into who I am as a person.  The specific goals of my tweets are to;

  1. Establish myself as a Customer Service leader
  2. Become known as a leader in social business
  3. Meet/form relationships with interesting people

While this post has been predominately about me, it’s intention to push you to get introspective about yourself or your brand.  A tweet has a relatively short shelf life on the web, but it only takes a few seconds to create an impression.  That impression can be the difference between people believing you to be authentic/trustworthy and being seen as a corporate shill, fake or boring.

Does anyone know of an easy service to collect information on yourself?  I do a lot this manually.

Let me know if you learn anything about yourselves that you didn’t realize before you reviewed your tweets.

Random helpful twitter resources similar to this topic:

Power 50 Twitter Tips by Chris Brogan

ProBloggers 35 Twitter Tips from 35 Twitter Users

Social Media Quickstarter for Twitter

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)