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CXBuzz Interview With Bob Furniss and Amas Tenumah, Co-hosts at The Contact Center Show

Hi Bob and Amas, tell us about yourself, your background, and how you guys met?

Bob: Contact centers, customer service, and customer experience have been my only career. For more than 40 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some smartest people in the industry across many of the world’s best brands. While I currently work in the CRM technology space, I have a real affinity for what happens at the frontlines – day-in and day-out – as it relates to how to improve the customer experience. Amas and I meet more than 10 years ago and have worked together many times. Most recently, we decided to jump into the podcast world – to bring our ideas to the leaders, managers, and agents who do the work in the trenches.

Amas: I have dabbled in a few things in my career. I was a developer for a while, but the contact center, customer service, and customer experience were my home, and I have a genuine love for figuring out how to make customers loyal profitably has been my life’s work. I have known my partner in crime, Bob over 10 years, and we have had many of these conversations offline many, many times. What you hear and see on screen is what we do every time we are together, and we are glad the world can join our conversation through the podcast.

Online commerce was booming in 2020, and so did consumer reviews. – How can brands better utilize this data to improve their customers’ experience?

Amas: Just the other day, Bob and I talked about the slight uptick in the Gallup customer satisfaction metric in 2020. Perhaps surprising in a pandemic – that service would be seen by customers as being better.

Bob: I think there are several key factors impacting that improvement. Perhaps some of it is tied to the attitude of the customer – to really need help in these crazy times – and the human-touch of an agent to provide answers in time of need. Covid seems to have impacted almost every part of the human experience.

Amas: We also are seeing contact centers and, by default, customer service, and support have a new voice at the executive table around customer experience. We may have been at the table in the past, but it was to share results or explain metrics. We are not being asked how we can improve the experience overall – and even seeing a budget for better technology to meet the higher expectations. 

Bob: The data is coming from everywhere. We often talk about the overwhelming amount of customer data that exists. Companies can better utilize that data if they get more than just numbers – but analysis. AI applications like Tableau are able to take data from across the customer experience spectrum – the contact center, CRM, marketing response, etc. – and bring forward FINDINGS – and placed to engage to move the needle. It is all about the analysis and the outcomes that the findings can affect. That is the difference today.

Bob and Amas’ tips for personalization

What tips do you guys have for companies that want to improve their personalization strategies?

Amas: We recommend that any strategy starts with the customer. What are their journeys? In areas like Retail and any eCommerce path, we find that customer service is involved in the journey much earlier than most companies think.

Bob: We see the same thing. While it is important to break-down each part of the service journey, it is also important to understand that the contact center is also playing a part in product/service discovery and in the sales process. In the age of order-pick-up, customers are reaching out even earlier in the journey.

Amas: Technology also plays a part in personalization. CRM data is the foundation. An example is what we can provide on the desktop of the agent – the desktop should be a window into who the agent is talking with – and include details about the customer interactions across all channels – and specifically the data about their recent purchases.

Bob: Digital channels are the new “ticket-to-play” for almost any contact center. And now, with AI impacting almost every facet of the center, channels like chat, messaging, social, and even voice – are using AI and bots to improve the experience. A bot can now reach-into places like CRM and ERP to gather information and engage based on that data. 

Do you think personalization and customer-centricity are going to become increasingly more relevant in the coming year? How so?

Amas: As Bob mentioned, the ability for AI tools to use data to provide a better, more personalized customer experience will just keep getting better. It is not about if AI will impact your center, but how? 

Bob: You know, AI is still a scary term for some in the contact center space. Some were burned when they bought “AI for the sake of AI,” – but we now see it permeate most technologies.

Amas: Just look at how we interact with Siri on our phones and with Alexa in our homes. It is all the movement toward doing mundane tasks easier. That is where the contact center is headed – to automate the mundane. Our agents will have to become even better – as they focus on more in-depth and harder tasks. Or as we free them up to engage customers in new ways.

Bob: I love what Peter Coffee with Salesforce said to me, “AI really becomes useful when we no longer call it AI – but it becomes part of the product.” This is true; Alexa and Siri are one example, next best action within a workflow in a case management system is another. Both use AI and integrate with other systems to find data that informs the best way to complete the task. 

Social media pages have become crucial for companies in most industries, especially in eCommerce. What’s the most common mistake you see in a company’s social media strategy?

Amas: The most successful companies we see have social media responses in the contact center. They may have a specialized team to support the work, but especially in service-focused organizations like eCommerce, customers are using social media more and more for service. The most common problem I see is creating a social media service channel – but instead of engaging you to ask customers to use another channel. If you are going to use the channel for service, we think you should use it for service.

Bob: Companies are most successful when their social service matches their “brand” or “company personae.” My experience with Zappos is different from my experience with American Express or Delta airlines. We also see that when a company makes allows its social team to become the best route to a customer-solution. If the company has their best reps and their highest approval level working on the social desk, customers will figure it out and know that they can receive better answers via Twitter and Facebook than they can with the 800 number. This just means that more people hear about the problem via a public tweet or post. While you want good people handling this channel – they should not be the only team with special “approval” processes.

What’s the most insightful book you read in 2020?

Bob: My favorite book over last year was Obama’s book, The Promised Land. A great behind-the-scenes view of the greatest office in the world. But the most insightful business-related book was, The Ikigai Journey. At its core, it outlines and discusses the value of work/life balance and living a life with purpose. Most people have heard of the Veen- diagram of four overlapping qualities: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. I am a new convert – after a close friend shared the concept recently when I was searching for direction in balancing life and work. I highly recommend it.

Amas: I read the German philosopher’s Art Schopenhauer’s “The World as Will and Representation” during the lockdown. I received the book as a gift over six years ago. It is a tough book to read, but I am glad I made it through it. The biggest reminder is that “alone time” and “free time” is where your best thinking occurs, and so it encourages me to guard my “free” time.

It looks like working from home is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. How should Executives gear up to the changing times?

Bob: Our world of contact centers has definitely changed – and we both believe it will have a lasting impact on the future. The researchers differ on the percentages, but let’s just say that the days of 300 and 500 position contact centers is probably a thing of the past.

Amas: It was amazing to see companies innovate and move to a work-from-home environment. Even companies with clear regulatory and Hippa rules were able to find ways to send their agents home. Our recommendation is for companies to now go-back and rethinks the future based on the present. Now that we know it is possible, how do we do it better?

Bob: Technology has changed a lot in the last 12 months – with new functionalities created specifically for WFH. But companies also need to look across their organizations for needed changes – HR policies, hiring policies, training (online vs. classroom), vacation policies – all are things that need to be addressed. WFH has always been around – but I believe it will replace the contact center as we know it.

Amas: Look, I hope Bob is right, as someone who was one of the pioneers of WFH back in the early-2000s, and by pioneer, I do mean – I did everything wrong – which allowed others to do the opposite. I think the impulse is still to bring folks back to brick and mortar because we still have work to do in educating managers and contact center operators to implicitly trust employees. I believe WFH is one of the most underlooked value-prop for contact center leaders.

Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?

Bob: My favorite is still “effort score.” While I know the book that made it famous, The Effortless Experience, is 10 years old, I still see that metric as a “new” metric. It was one of those books I read that I wish I had written. I had been talking about much of the same stuff – but did not have the research to back it up. The question, “How easy was it to solve your problem with today?” says it all to me. Yes, there are many surrounding metrics that are required to analyze and take action if the answer is low, but the simplicity of the question is my reason for choosing it.

Amas: Customer Life Time Value (LTV) and all its derivatives, in the end, are the most reliable way to judge your customers is by their actions. Unless you operate in a monopolistic industry, customers will vote with their feet.

About the author

Alon
Alon is a Tel Aviv-based CMO a VC Consultant and the General Manager of CXBuzz. As a veteran in the Israeli Start-Up scene, Alon supports b2b tech startups in capturing customers' sentiment and embedding customer experience in the decision making process.

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