Episode 7 | Season 1
Growing Up in a Call Center: Thomas Laird
I think the days of “this is how we do customer service and these are the channels that we’re gonna offer” are over. It’s just because people are scared or nervous or they’ve never done it, but again we just talked about how the reps were struggling with soft skills – one thing they’re really good at is typing and texting in chat.
Thomas Laird, CEO of Expivia Interaction Marketing
CEO of Expivia Interaction Marketing
The Call Center Geek himself is here – Tom Laird, CEO of Expivia Interaction Marketing Group. He’s been in this industry since he was 9 years old helping his parents, and now he leads a team of hundreds of agents to new heights. He’s the founder and CEO of the award-winning Expivia Interaction Marketing Group, a USA BPO omnichannel contact center. Thomas has 25 years of experience in all facets of contact center operations. Plus – he’s also a consultant and published author – so let’s learn from his expertise together in this episode of First Contact.
Growing Up in a Call Center: Thomas Laird
Tom is probably the best exception we could find to the “oh, I got into the call center in college to earn some money” rule. He’s been in it since he was 9! Learn about the call center geek that he is and his experience as CEO of Expivia Interaction.
S3E4: Digital Transformation and Future of Work for Contact Centers: Jon Arnold
Christian: All right. Hey everyone. Welcome back to First Contact: Stories of the Call Center. Super excited for today’s episode. Today we’ve really been joined by a true thought leader, a speaker tech analysts, content creator in the world of digital transformation in the world. That’s a lot to say a mouthful, but look, I’m not even done yet.
Look, he’s been cited as several times among the top analysts covering the contact center industry and look 2019 named top 30 contact center influencer 2018 included in the top 10 telecoms influencers and top voice bloggers to follow over 20 years of experience in consulting and has been at the forefront of countless digital shifts within the business world has a podcast as well. Watch this space, which is great. If you have any interests, you got to look it up where we’re exploring technology driven places, future of work, contact centers, CX just the name of few, a ton more.
However, we can’t think of anybody that is more responsible for thought leadership in this space. Then the person we’re going to introduce next, which is John Arnold, the founder of J Arnold and associates. John, welcome to the show. So glad to have you on.
Arnold: Wow. Thank you, Christian. Yeah, that’s a, that’s quite the buildup and you didn’t mention I’m a pretty good piano player, but that’s for another time, Hey, lots of there’s going to be a spa.
Christian: I’m going to be able to get to the right part on here. And hopefully we can dive into what, what you do outside of work. But look, we’re so excited to have you on. And one of the things we love to do here, especially with the theme of the show is not everybody crosses paths with a call center space and goes, oh, that’s my dream job.
I’m going to go and end up working or crossing paths in that space, but you’re also in the tech space. So we’d love to know your story. Understand how did you get into the tech space? And then where did that cross paths with the context contact center world?
Well, I’m glad you asked that Christian, because we earlier comment about, you know, 20 years is a long time.
In our lives, but it’s a really long time in technology. Right. And yes. I can now say, you know, I’ve lived through and written about and talked about, you know, various technology trends that have come and kind of, you see the life cycle of these things and that’s important. And certainly it, it will tell you how I got here from there.
So I was as is usually the case. We don’t go to school to be working in technology generally, unless you’re a programmer, you know, I’m not a techie tech, I’m not a developer or an it guy, but I I was a market researcher by trade prior to this space. And that kind of took me into the analyst world quite a long time ago, where the rise of analyst firms that focused strictly on technology was fairly recent because tech itself was a.
As a relatively new industry. And I got into it that way, where I wasn’t like trained to learn about this stuff, but in tech, the biggest thing to be successful, it doesn’t matter what the type of job is. You gotta be curious and you gotta be a fast learner. And that’s exactly what happened with me. I landed in a, with a, with an analyst firm and I was told you’re going to be covering VoIP now.
And my answer to that was what’s VoIP. Their answer to that was you’ll find out. And that’s all I had to work from, but I’ll tell you a Christian within two and a half years, I became the top guy in the voice space and don’t ask me how I did it, but it that’s just kinda how it rolled. And I said, you know what?
It’s, you can enter a new space where this is around 2000, where voice was really just starting to become a thing. And you. You can enter a space early without knowing a lot. And it doesn’t really matter, right? You, you, as you learn, you develop that expertise. And so that’s kinda how it got started and it’s gone from there.
So it used to be, it was a time when voice was big enough of a story and disruptive enough of the technology that you could cover that topic full-time and be plenty busy, but then voice like any other tech matures, right. And things evolve. So once voice kind of gets seated in the marketplace, we eventually get to what we call a unified communications, right.
Which is the idea of bringing all of these apps together in one platform, voice data, video, et cetera. And then along comes the. And so once cloud becomes the home for everything, you’re you have these concentric circles. As you’re an analyst, you start with voice, then there’s a circle of UC, which is unified communications.
Then the cloud becomes the next big club, big piece that you have to kind of chase and follow. And then as cloud becomes the default for almost everything, Christian contact center starts to fall into this bucket because like voice and telephony, which was always premise-based contact center world has always been premise-based that’s the way technology has always been hardware, right then cloud comes along and the rise of SAS, the software as a service model, where everything is in the cloud, nobody owns anything.
There’s no hardware that contact center is starting to trend in that direction. And before you know it, everyone’s talking the big story you hear from all the vendors now, We have to marry these two UC and contact center, right? So we call them seek has, and UCAS in the cloud as a service. So cloud has kind of homogenized almost everything now, or everything can be in the cloud.
So this world of contact center that you guys know so well and Nobel biz is like, okay, that’s been it’s universe unto itself, really forever. Just like the phone system, the PBX lived in its own world in the enterprise for a million years and no reason to change it. Now that all goes out the window and now everyone’s scrambling and the contact center is a few years behind where the telephony space is in terms of migrating Nicholas.
Right. But now they’re going really fast, really hard. And all the contact center vendors, you know, are pushing cloud summer cloud native, right? That’s all they do. And so this space is really moving fast because they see that this is where the future is. And more importantly, because we’re talking about contact center in the world of customer service, this is all about how do we make customers happy?
And, you know, consumer consumer ization of it is a trend we all know about. And it really plays big in this world because when we’re wearing our consumer hats, especially digital natives, their level of adoption of technology is generally way ahead of what contact centers are used to supporting right?
Customer service member used to be called a call center because you made a phone call to go to the con, you know, to get customers. Now it’s become a multi-channel world where Telephany is just one of many channels. So now it’s the contact center where you could call, you could text, you could mobile, you could video, right?
You could, you could find many ways in to get service. And that’s a much harder thing for a contact center to manage. And now it’s become, okay. Well, not only that, but customer expectations with all our cool technologies and mobile phones, we expect instant service, right? We expect solving problems on the spot.
We don’t want to wait anymore for anything. I mean, you look at your kids. I mean, five seconds is a, is a lifetime for them to wait for something. And the contact center doesn’t move that fast. Right? When you’re picking up the phone and trying to help somebody well, let’s look up your records. Let’s see.
They don’t have the patients. So all of a sudden the ability to provide the service that customers expect. Now, this is a big kind of what I call it. Right. There’s a, does this like performance gap and expectation, but with expectations, the contact centers are really struggling to keep up with, especially if they’re still living with technology that’s legacy and premise of spaced, which is still very prevalent in the contact center space.
So that’s a good point to stop. That’s a long ramble, but I think you got the idea of how I got
here from there. No, that’s a great journey. And I think that sets up a lot of our discussion in, in a perfect way. But one thing I just want to make a comment on when you were mentioning, you know, these digital natives and how quick they want and expect things.
And you know, they’re almost unreasonable by technology standards, but it’s the expectations. You have to find ways to delight them. And so you go back and you think of, you know, the beginnings of the telephone. You, we talk about voice, but you think of the beginning of the telephone, the idea is I wait. This thing called a call on this device, and I can hear this person across the world or across the country.
And you can think of any other technology while you can see someone on the television and so on and so forth. But now people are just so frustrated that we’re not flying cars yet and doing other things right. That you’ve seen in TV and movies for a long time. So the dynamic around that shift of the mindset from going surprised, and I couldn’t believe it, I’m a little scared to adopt it to now going.
I’m so frustrated this isn’t already so high tech that it meets my newfound expectations and needs with, with that said, though, let’s go back to where you started your business, right? Where you moved and you started creating J Arnold and associates. How did that come about what made you say, I want to do this as the next chapter of my.
Arnold: Okay. Yeah, sure. Christian, so that that’s more via my own journey, so to speak. So I I, I mentioned I was a market researcher by trade, so I had my own boutique consultancy in, in market research for B2B for a long time. And that business kind of plateaued probably in the late nineties. I, I live in Canada and there was a a new regulations came along called free trade agreement, which is a big thing.
And they call it NAFTA for a long time. And the U S people are in the U S they’re not as interested in stuff like this, but in Canada, this was a very big deal. And it was free. Trade pack was a good thing for some industries. It wasn’t very good for my market research business because it, it, Canada has always been a bit of a branch plant economy.
And so the people I needed to give me business. Who are based here in Canada, all of a sudden had no budget left anymore because everything was centralized out of the U S and I couldn’t, it was hard to get work. So I, I saw what was coming that way. And I, I, I gravitated to the tech space because I, it, it, it just, I did a lot of work for some of the telephony companies here in Canada.
And that kind of pushed me that way. An opportunity came up for one of the one of the analyst firms, frost and Sullivan, who were opening offices in Canada. And they were looking for someone with business experience to help run and market research prime me for a lot of that. I said, well, analyst work is not that different.
So I said, okay, I’ll give it a try. And that was really all. I went into it with Christian and said, I’m going to move from my own business to work for this company to get into this space. So it worked out as a good idea, but I’m like a lot of things. If you’ve been entrepreneurial, most of your life, you, you, you expect different things when you go to work for a company.
So anyways, I, I did kind of hit a wall there after a few years. I stayed, I think, four years and it was a great opportunity, learned a lot. And a lot of people I left there when I moved on are still there. It’s a company that has bred really good loyalty with its people. I think I, I bet right.
Ongoing with them to kind of get my feet into this space. But yeah, 2000 I went on my own. I, I found, I mentioned I was making a good mark in the VoIP space, Christian, and that was leading to a lot of requests for me to do things that I couldn’t really do being strictly an analyst within a company. I was doing things to really help build the brand, but that’s really not what they wanted me there for.
And so I reached a point. I said, you know what I, I’m not going to get any further doing what I’m doing here and I’ll take a chance. And I went out on my own and that’s how J Arnold and associates started. So then that was in 2000, sorry, 2005. So yeah, 16, 17 years now. So so far so good. Right? It’s been keeping me going and when you work as an independent, you’re.
You operate differently than when you work for company, obviously. So I’m, I get a lot of my business now because I’m entrepreneurial and I take a creative approach to what I do. And for some companies, that’s exactly what they need. And you’re not going to get that from a big name analyst firm, aside from costs being different, obviously you know, a lot of the big firms are structured to work in certain ways with clients, right?
So they’re a great fit when you want certain things, but they’re not so great fit for other things. So that’s where there’s opportunity for, you know, niche people like me. And when you start doing this for awhile, you find your tribe, right? So there are other independents like me and we’re all kind of similar.
Mindset age backgrounds, very, you know, that kind of thing. And the reason I say that, Christian, I mean, we may talk about this a little bit later, but as an analyst, we, we, our stock in trade is, you know, staying current with all the companies out there. And the way we do that is we do do a lot of briefings with the vendors.
And if the analysts covering the same stuff, we’re all talking to the same companies fairly regularly. And they do a lot of analyst events lately. It’s been virtual, but earlier it’s been more in person. So we find, we ended up, we kind of travel in packs, right. So, you know, a Cisco has an event. Oh, well, I’ll see you at Cisco next month.
It might be RingCentral. We’ll see what RingCentral, next month it might be nice and contact. We’ll see. So there’s kind of a, a comradery there amongst independence that we can. We’re following the same spaces and we kind of look at the same things, but we’re all different. We all have different act.
There’s no school. You go to, to be an analyst, right. You, you know, some people are very technical, I’m very business and strategy minded. That’s just my forte. And so you stick to what you’re good at. And I wouldn’t be around this long if I wasn’t finding, you know, ways to help companies. Right. So,
Well, great, John, one of the things I think you just had a perfect segue anyways, for those of my audience that really don’t understand what an analyst does. Right. And why is it important? Can you just give, I think you touched on it just a bit, but if you could just give a little bit of an overview of that, I think that’d be great.
Arnold: Sure, sure. So one of the you know, we live in a very, kind of very, you know, always on you know, Twitter, LinkedIn, social media, everything happens really fast. And there’s a lot of emphasis on news and information that flows. An analyst is different. The main thing that people get confused with, especially, especially in the PR world analysts and media.
So there’s journalists, there’s tech bloggers, right? So the big difference between us is that the way I just look at it is the simplest way to look at it is to think about this is journalists, generally speaking, look, when you read news stories in the press, right. They’re written by journalists, right?
They describe analysts describe, but they also explain. So like, we try to make more sense of things and try to, you know, really connect dots rather than just say, here’s the news. Here are the facts. That’s, that’s the starting point. But what we do is we step back as we see the broader industry, we try to make sense.
Okay, well, here’s why these trends. Are happening now and why they’re important. So this idea of the why rather than the what, so we kind of, because we try to understand the bigger picture. Now there are technical analysts who only want to get under the hood and really do feature by feature comparison.
That’s not my world. It’s much more about the, you know, what does this mean for the business? That, that kind of thing. So journalists can do a very good job with that as well, but they are generally writing as a byline for publisher. Whereas analysts, we are especially independence. Our brand is our thought leadership, right?
Because that’s why people come to us to say, well, you’re objective, you’re independent. What do you think now, if anyone wants to explore this further, or if I’ve still got you confused, because I know this is a common question, Christian. I have a thing on my, a spot on my website, on my homepage, where I actually was interviewed at a conference about this.
What does an analyst. And I post that video there where I talk through the things that a, an analyst does. And I also have for fun a video of someone explaining on a, about a technical thing that is just so impossible to understand. That’s what you don’t want an analyst to. Do. You want an analyst to clarify simplify, make it relevant, right.
And that’s, that’s good. I mean, we w at heart, we have to be good communicators, right? You gotta be a good writer. You gotta be a good speaker. You gotta be able to break things down and kind of connect dots, because otherwise you can just go on and on and on talking about features and stuff like that. But that gets kind of confusing after awhile.
This is James. James is a contact center manager with a passion for philosophy and hiking
Arnold: kid, he made a promise to himself that he would always follow his.
Today, he ponders on the thought that this promise is probably the best decision he ever made today. James loves his job just as much as he loves hiking so much that he sometimes brings the scent of fresh pine and the tranquility of the mountain streams back to the office with,
with Nobel bids as his company’s provider, James found the necessary peace of mind to finally bridge the gap between his passion
and his work
Arnold: by choosing the partner with the promise-keeping voice and software provider of the industry contact center, technical issues, downtime, and for customer experience are now a thing of the past in an industry ruled by uncertainty, Nobel biz combines balanced pricing with the highest quality
topped off without standing support.
Arnold: But above all Nobel biz delivers peace of mind to contact center managers and owners. And for the first time, James hit that sweet spot of focus and confidence that is allowing him to take his business to new Heights, the profitability and
success after all,
Arnold: no, what they say, promises are the uniquely human way
of ordering the future
Arnold: Nobel bins, the promise keepers of the industry.
No, it makes sense. And look, John, I call that the, so what let’s get to the, so what, what does it mean? Right. And that’s how I oversimplify things. Is it, so what, what is the point now? How do we get there with that said, you had mentioned being virtual for certain things now recently more being in person than you’ve talked about talking to vendors and events.
And so recently I think you were at enterprise connect and channel partners. What did you get from now being in person again at, at, at these events? Anything different than you’ve seen in them? What are you, what was hobbled was trending that you felt either excited about or things that were continuing from when things kind of went on pause.
Arnold: in person. Yeah. Well, first thing is what I didn’t get and I did not get COVID so I I’ll come away with that as kind of like the good news. And that’s not just because I’m going to a live events, but traveling, I got to tell you guys when you’re traveling across any cross border activity is, has a few extra layers.
So traveling out and to Canada is there’s a lot of hassles, a lot more steps involved. So but you just take that on. That’s just comes with the territory. So enterprise connect has long been what I call the super bowl events in the enterprise comms space, which does include contact center by the way.
That is kind of the, that’s kind of like the touchstone event, especially for the big vendors, especially for those who want to make a lot of impression impact on the market. So the big vendors will often time they’re big launches and announcements acquisitions for that event because that’s really.
Industry has gathered and everyone wants to own the spotlight. Right? So the last two enterprise connects had to go virtual. So 2019 was the last time I went in person. Then it was this two year gap where you had to, had to do virtual. So going back last March, well, this March was the first time in like three years.
So it was what I call like almost like going on a family reunion. So it’s almost like the content was secondary, but for a lot of people, this was the first big event they’d been to, not just by choice, but also cause a lot of the big companies weren’t allowing people to travel, which is the big one that killed a lot of these events for being live.
Because once the tier one vendors pull out the, as exhibitors and sending hundreds of people, the event is no longer viable economically. So they have to, you know, pull the plug. But anyway, It’s almost like that the, the, the, the joy of being in person, again, almost the content almost was secondary. It’s kind of like, oh, good.
That I’m here, but yeah, it’s just good to see you and all let’s catch up and all that. So the content of the event is always good. Now, this, if you’d never been enterprise connect, you would have thought, oh, wow, this is a big show. And it is a big show, but normally it’s quite a bit. Yeah. And I think one of the big takeaways, Christian is anyone who came, you know, it’s kind of like putting your foot back in the water, you say, oh, it’s okay.
Which means it was a good experience. So next time you should fully expect it to be back to where it’s always been. There’s a lot of pent up demand. People want to get out. We want to see people and anyone who’s running a trade show, you know, they need buyers and sellers. They need a market place to go.
So there’s real motivation to be there in terms of the content of the show at the big, the big kind of story there was hybrid work. Mainly because the concept never existed before. So for as a first time back to the event, that’s when people want to talk about, because that’s what everyone’s struggling to do since the last in-person enterprise connect.
So there were a lot of messages from the vendors there about how they’re making it. The challenges, the realities, that kind of thing. So I think the event delivered pretty well on that front. Another surprise if you want to call it, that is Polly was one of the more visible vendors at the event.
And they were very well behaved because at the time they knew they were getting acquired by HP and HP could have chosen to make the news public at the event. And that would have captured all the attention on them, but for whatever reason, and maybe they had to, they didn’t say anything for like the day after.
And then the news broke. So, you know, the timing is everything with these kinds of things, but that was a surprise too, to say, oh, well poly sure. Seen very busy and high profile at the. And, but little did we know? Well, they’re not around, not should say not around because they are very much around, but they’re going to be changing hands.
So that was, that was important to see now, switching gears and I’ll, I’ll pause in a second year, Christian. Yeah. The chow partners event, which was a couple of weeks after in Las Vegas. I’ll, I’ll S I’ll stop before talking about that, but just for transparency for the audience to understand the parent company is informa events and there they put on both of these properties.
So informa has a lot of stake here on the show business. It’s, you know, when you’re going back to in-person, I mean, that’s where the money’s made. So this was a very important kind of time of year for them to see. Can we still do these big events?
Yeah, Nope, totally makes sense. And you know, we can shift if if you want to cover something related to channel partners.
Otherwise I definitely want to get to some other stuff as well, so I’ll leave it. Let me know if there’s something that really stood out for you for channel partners.
Arnold: Well, I think the main one there is, and I’ve written about this first of all, because they had actually done in person last year, they’ve already been back to the live event thing, but even that, even waiting to the next one, this was like the biggest one ever.
I mean, they had like a robust and event is that they’ve ever had again, showing you not just the pent up demand to get back to the live events, but that the channel space is thriving. So for listeners out there, especially a contact center world, it’s like, okay, you know there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of knowledge.
There’s a lot of learning that these channels need to do. And this is where you go to get a lot of that. But also it’s important to understand that the takeaway from that event is the private equity. Community has gotten religion about the channel secretary as a hot play. So there’s a lot of M and a lot of consolidation going on in the space right now.
And I think, you know, what that’s translating to is more of more of these independent channel operators and VARs and agents, whatever that is going to win out a little bit. And we’re going to have bigger maybe. Deeper pockets running a lot of the sales channels come the future, and that’s going to maybe make the space a little less entrepreneurial than it’s always been.
That’s my concern as a solo operator, but also that, you know, the space is going to be, you know, it’s, it’s going to be run more like a business than it’s always been. But, you know, I’m just saying scale when you consolidate there’s more demands on, you know, sales revenues, reducing churn, getting the margins up.
And so that’s going to put a lot of squeeze on these players to be really, really competitive. And that might make it a little harder for new introductions of technologies to come to market because they don’t want to take risks. Now they’re now they’re being running quarter to quarter or even more than they’ve ever before.
So that’s kind of a bit of a caution that I take away from that. You know, it’s almost like one of those be careful what you wish for things. So, but you know, once they S they sniff it out and say, okay, we’re just, you know, it’s everyone has a selling price, right. So, you know, they, you know, like, like, well, look what Musk just paid to buy Twitter.
I mean, you know, whatever you want, you know, I’ll double it. And you’re not going to say no. And I think that you’re going to see some of that happen in this space for, for better or worse. But again, back to the way we started Christian tech, you’ve been in the space long enough. You see these technology curves come and go.
This is just another example of market reaches. A certain point in maturity change happens. Consolidation comes, shakes out. You’re a fewer smaller guys. There’s going to be less choice out there for the buyers more, you know, that kind of thing. So I expect we’re going to see some, some more. Happening. So
with that, the let’s talk a little bit about a future of work.
You’ve mentioned this concept of work itself becoming very fluid. Can you kind of elaborate and give some better detail to our audience on that topic?
Arnold: Yeah. Yeah. And this applies equally well, by the way to work, what we think of as being in the office, right. In an enterprise, in a business setting, but it applies equally well to agents and supervisors in the contact center, their employees to their work is being impacted in exactly the same way an office worker would be, or a frontline worker at a hotel or a restaurant, right.
Or, you know, for healthcare worker in a hospital, everyone has a job to do, and they need to be able to communicate. They need to have tools to share information and, you know, that’s what you, Kaz is all about. You see, but the idea of it being fluid, you know, it comes back to what I said earlier with cloud is, is a kind of.
It makes everything as possible in the cloud now. And that’s also translating into, you know a shift in the balance of power in the relationship between workers and management. And we’re seeing this with the rise of the gig economy, right? And now the pandemic has just amplified this with all the work from home that we’ve kind of been forced to do.
The relationship between employer employee has really changed a lot, especially in traditional settings where you’re used to working in an office. Well, now the people who’ve gotten a taste of working from home, as we know, and they’ve been able to work from home, cause that’s not a new thing anymore.
People are starting to make those choices. You hear this term great resignation, which is a whole other topic, but you know, it’s also kind of given workers a sense of agency now that they said. I don’t have to be in the office. I can work from anywhere. Of course now people are leaving cities to go to small towns and, you know, hinterlands, so they can just work from anywhere, pretty attractive concept.
But it, th that’s where the fluidness comes in is now you know, employees are no longer beholden to the employer, like they used to be, and this is creating some very, you know, I call them existential issues for both sides. Like employers invest a lot in having office spaces. And if you’re going to be downtown, that’s expensive real estate to have, if you’re an employee, you say, well, I’m the one doing all the commuting, you know, I’m the one working, you know, almost 24 7 here, and I don’t have any family life.
And you start to both sides of these dis you know, decisions to make about what do I really want? So that’s the fluidness that, it’s it, it’s kind of like a bipartisan thing. Now we’re employees and employers. Kind of have sets of needs that they have to somehow be balanced. And that’s why we have this hybrid work thing happening because it’s allowing kind of each to kind of, you know, have, you know, the best of both worlds, so to speak and technologies right in the middle of this, because you can’t do any of these things without good tools.
Like I suppose, describing with UCAS and you know, like zoom listen right place, right time. Right? The, the pandemic was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to that company. Now, of course, they’ve saturated the market where they go from here is another conversation. But, you know, it’s given rise to a tool that without it, we really couldn’t have had a good work from home experience.
Right. So now again, all these cloud-based tools are accessible to anybody. It’s like, oh, why do I need to come to an office? Now I can do this from home and, you know, drop my kids off to school and take them to soccer and, you know, do all these things in my life by, and what work-life balance is all this.
So John, when it comes to the contact center, right, let’s look at that hybrid or even work from home environment shift that everything went home. I didn’t have a choice for those that could meet the obligations for security and try to perform in some way. What are the tools that you’re seeing the most in the context, spinners space, being adopted to be able to help them still provide great experiences, but maybe not at the rate they would have had the pandemic not happened.
Arnold: Well, I think a big one and we’re going to get to AI because that is part of the story here. But the key here is to that, to whether you have agents in a physical. You know, contact center environment or at home that doesn’t matter to the customer, right? So you’ve got to make sure that, that the agent has consistent set of tools and capabilities wherever they are.
So that means if the contact center now has to support a pool of agents working. Disparately. Right? Cause now we’re all atomized. You know, the agents are all in different places. You know, a lot of variability there in terms of their equipment. Like they’re, they’re like we’re doing now. I will wear their headsets with their microphones, with their broadband, all of that stuff.
They don’t have a desk phone. But you go on a soft phones now anyways, but you know, the there’s great variability there that has to kind of be smoothed out somehow. Right? And so this is why tools like UCAS are really gaining traction because when you’re using one common platform that’s in the cloud, that means you don’t have to, you know, roll out, you know, phone lines to people’s homes.
You can do it over the internet. Okay. Now we can have that consistent set of two. Consistent experience all from, you know, it doesn’t matter where you are that opens up a lot of possibilities actually, for them to say, oh, now I can have agents anywhere. This is actually a good thing because now I can broaden my labor pool and have more geographic diversity to serve customers.
So in terms of what they’re doing to support this, you know, UCAS is a good starting point because now you’ve got similar set of tools that perform fair, you know, pretty universally. If we talked earlier about it, because customer expectations are so high now they want it now kind of thing. Well, for agents, they can perform well in a home-based setting because they know with UCAS, they can get these back channel conversations going on the fly, because the whole idea is to be able to provide that resolution on the first, you know, interaction.
So w with the idea here is that, you know, when agents don’t have all the answers at their fingertips, you know, CRM might have it. They might not, they may need to draw from other people in the organization, right? You cash provides that back channel. And with AI, some intelligence to kind of quickly find the right people, either, you know, the lithical SME subject matter experts across the organization, bring them in to resolve the issue right away.
That’s a big value add or we, you know, you start getting the things about like intelligent routing, right? Where you say, well, I don’t have the special authorization or the authorization to address this, but I’m going to hand you off to this other agent right now and do it in a seamless way. That’s harder to do than it looks.
And you know, a big challenge of course, is that a lot of context centers are still driven by, you know, premise-based legacy technologies, which don’t have these capabilities. So this rush to cloud that I talked about earlier is pretty accentuated in this space because there’s this performance gap I talked about that they’ve got to somehow address.
So the quicker they can bring cloud capabilities in the better they can support them. It’s also an important factor to Christian because agents are employees too, right? So they’re, you know, we know turnover has always been high in this space. So recruiting costs are high training costs are high. So there’s a lot of variables there.
This is what. The cloud contact center space is so hot right now, because there are all of these fundamental challenges that kind of all like it’s like unintended consequences with one thing happens. All these other things happen around it. And you say, oh boy. Yeah. Well, great resignation. People are quitting these jobs because they’re not great jobs.
They’re not great jobs. Not because this, the job suck, but it’s because the technology kind of gets in the way of allowing them to do a good job. So people, agents can hit a wall very quickly. Right? And then they say, well, I don’t have the tools to do this. Why I can’t, this is a crappy job. So I’m going to do something else.
And then, you know, that’s where all of the, the C cap, the shift from UCAS to seek has really resonates because now I say, oh, no, no, no, we’ll give now you can have the right tools to do this. And now, oh. And then I can deliver a really good experience. Then it’s different story, right? So there’s, there’s a lot of opportunity there.
And you mentioned you touched on security earlier, Christian. Yeah. That that’s a big one too, because when you’re working from home and home might be in a coffee shop for all, you know, cause these agents aren’t necessarily going to be on camera. They rarely are actually. Right. Yeah, you’ve got to know, oh, am I using a hotspot for this, you know, public wifi you know, even within the whole.
If they don’t have a good security regime in place, that’s pretty risky. So you have to anticipate that. So when you roll out work from home with agents, you got to make sure that, you know, those conversations stay secure and obviously, you know, compliance issues or, you know, things like PCI, right? Any financial information you’re taking customer information, it’s gotta stay secure.
So that’s, that’s like a given that that’s gotta be there and we haven’t even touched on stuff like fraud, you know, impersonating and phishing and all that stuff, which can ruin everything for everybody in a
hurry. Yeah. And I think one of the common themes across a lot of the conversations I’m having and it aligns well with what you’re talking about is.
You have to make it easy for people to do good work, right? The harder it is, the more you put in their way, the more mistakes it’ll happen. The more friction that cause with the customer. And it’s just going to unfortunately impact other things, right? Lifetime value, whether or not they’ll want to continue to do business with you and say good things or tell everyone and their friends that they’ll never do business with you again with that said, though, when we look at the dynamic of work from home, I mean, you think of an office environment where maybe people have two screens, maybe they have good solid internet.
Maybe they have a conducive work environment where they have that comradery. They have that shift of having in-person contact with people, sense of community, whatever it may be. Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolute benefits to being remote, but maybe someone doesn’t have multiple screens, high turnover.
What are you going to do that? You’re going to invest in sending a bunch of secondary screens to everybody in the first week, and then. You know, they stay in the job or they keep the screen or you don’t get it back where it’s broken. So there’s just a logistics piece around it. And a human piece that if the agents aren’t happy, it’s going to be really hard to have happy customers.
And, and that, that, that line of where technology we’re training, we’re onboarding where continuous training or reinforcement of a community and a culture. You have to, over-communicate now both in leveraging all these technologies we’re talking about to do that communication. Otherwise it becomes very challenging.
Any thoughts on
Arnold: that? Well, for sure. And you know, what I was hoping we could get to is yeah. This idea that okay. Work from home has its appeal for sure. But on the other hand, not everybody is cut out to. And isolation and sooner or later takes a toll on everybody. And so there, that means there is extra effort needed from the organization to do things, to make agents feel included part of a team.
There’s gotta be ways to do social things that creates some culture and bonding. And then, yeah, you talk about, boy, what about the supervisors? You know, how do they help when they can’t just pop their head in over cubicle and look or other agents to provide a little moral support? Yeah. You can do it virtually, but it’s just not the same.
So you have to, as you say, you have to over-communicate and say, how do we, you know, make sure, cause if these, if new hires do not take quickly, they probably aren’t going to stay. So you’ve got to make that kind of good first impression and show that, you know, you understand the challenges and you also know, you know, you just stick with us.
We will, we’ll give you the tools and we will. And when they see that, yeah, there’s a good chance that they’re going to gonna stay, but there’s you’re right. I mean, you, you, you, it’s not just a technology thing right. Where you say, okay, ah, you need a new computer show. We’ll give you all the right things there, but no, it’s just like how do you ensure that there’s more to it, right?
It’s not just a technology thing. You’ve gotta, it’s gotta be a culture there that values employees just as, as people, because otherwise, you know, you don’t need agents at all. Just do everything on self-service and that’s, that’s a whole other direction of going where, you know, AI and improving on a IVR experience, that kind of thing.
Yeah. Well, I think when we get to some topic around that, we can definitely dive into that balance between where does technology enable the agent to do more higher level things versus when do you not need the agent, but let’s kind of before we jump to that, let’s just tackle the term digital transformation for just a quick minute, right?
There’s a lot of interpretation of what does that mean, especially in the contact center space, but from your perspective, what is digital transformation and how is that impacting if anything, the contact center space.
Arnold: Sure. So it’s one of these, what I call meta trends. You know, the cloud is like this, you know, it’s, this is why, you know, like the difference between, I hate to say it, but a pandemic and an endemic, right.
A pandemic is everybody’s affected by this. And digital transformation is the same thing and it’s not, and it’s not a thing, right. It’s a process. And it’s something that probably never ends because we, we, you know, for, for anyways, pre-digital people, pre-internet people and that’s a lot of us out there when the world was only analog, you know, that we didn’t think too much about these things, but.
Everything is transitioning from analog to digital. Some things are already there, but some things are not when it’s, when everything is all digital people like me won’t have jobs anymore because of me, no need for it. We’ll all be in Nirvana if you want to call it that. But you know, digital means the, once everything becomes, goes from analog to digital, that’s where you want things to be because it’s all binary, right?
Ones and zeros. When everything is digitized, it speaks a common language. Now you can do more with everything that you, you got and you can capture it in a way you can use it. So for example, in the contact center call recording, right? I mean, with legacy analog technology, you could, you could record. And in many sectors you have to record every call, but in reality, for call quality purposes and compliance, supervisors can only.
2%, 3% of calls they’ll actually listen to, for, to check those boxes. That’s an impossible task to really do a good job. Once everything is digitized, AI tools can come in and monitor every single call. So your coverage goes from like 3% to a hundred percent. That’s a huge plus for the contact center, right?
So the digital transformation has a lot of benefits because once everything’s in a digital format, you can do a lot more with it and get a lot more out of it. Right. So in other words, like the content of our conversation here is. Valuable, right? Because we’re what we’re just talking. But if you layer AI into this and you, cause it’s digital words recording this on the internet now, so it’s all digital AI can layer intelligence on top of that, because now it can search for words, it can connect ideas together that, you know, patterns right.
That you, we couldn’t do as humans. And it will do it more accurately than we could do with our fingers and typing. And then, so you can glean more knowledge and more insights out of that data. And that’s important because decision-making in all organizations, including contact center are increasingly becoming data-driven.
People make more decisions now with numbers and they do with their instincts and their intuition. For better or worse as a creative person. I’m not a fan of that, but that’s just how it’s going. So it’s like your decisions are only as good as the data you have. Well, where’s your data? Well, it’s all going to come from digital sources.
Analog information has almost zero value in that, in that sphere because you can’t bring it into the fishbowl, right? It’s it sits outside. And until somebody transcribes it and puts it in, you know, it’s not going to be there. So as we process things into digital, yes, we get more insights out of it, but also makes things go a lot faster.
And so when you talk digital transformation in a contact center, that means what’s driving customer service now is digital channels. So people are communicating a lot more on social media, for example, or SMS. All of these are digital channels. We didn’t have. 10 years ago, as a matter of course. So when all your communication is coming through those channels, now it’s happening faster and they need results quickly.
All this stuff, contact centers, aren’t equipped to handle that. So one of the biggest challenges in contact centers, how do we support digital channels? Because if that’s where the customer is at, and we can’t be there with them, we’re in trouble. So digital transformation is happening in contact center faster than it’s able to adapt to until it gets on the cloud kind of migration.
Yeah. And so let’s kind of shift a little bit. We talked a little bit about the pandemic, but one of the things that we saw with the pandemic is it broke the norm of adoption of solutions that you either weren’t ready for. You hadn’t thought about, or you needed to do the right due diligence on. And what we’re seeing with a lot of technologies is this shift to operation folks, being able to not only look and procure the solutions, but not having to rely as heavily on it or telecon resources to implement them.
And, and to continue to run the business without having to go back and asking them. And where do you see that shift? Do you see it going forward in a way where it resources will have. Job in the call tech center or they’ll work in different areas, or maybe even work for the vendors because I keep seeing this shift.
What are you seeing on your side and that dynamic of it’s shifting to the operation side versus the it heavy
Arnold: side. Yeah, there is that. And you know, so we were familiar with that term of a shadow it, right where people just have run out of patience. You know, it is neither willing or able to give people the tools they want and comes back to cloud again, when I can get Dropbox right when I can get mobile CA sorry, you know video calling off the cloud, why do I have to go through it to have it provisioned and blah, blah, blah.
And working in my book. So they worked to that’s the workaround and contact center is really no different. And so the thing with the cloud is that it makes everything so kind of user centric, user driven. And, you know, it’s, it’s not as hard anymore. W when, when everything is integrated seamlessly, of course, that’s the challenge with this stuff.
Con contact center operations are complex by nature, and that’s largely because the vendors have always wanted it that way to keep the business. But the reality is today is so many of these other pieces can come from cloud and be self provisioned. Yeah. There’s less need for it to do the things they’ve normally done.
But I think what, what the, the, the challenge for it now is going to be, you know, they’re going to be more. The traditional roles that they’ve had are eroding or going away altogether. So they’ve got to be better at, at, you know, identifying where managed forms of it, like a security or data center, you know, these kinds of pieces that they might have managed in the past, but because it also to be fair, The complexity of doing a lot of this cloud is beyond what a lot of it resource resources can support.
And there is, I, you know, I hate to say it, but there is a generational issue there too, where some of this cloud stuff may not be that native or comfortable for, you know, a more traditional mindset that’s running it and they may be fighting it just because it’s out of their comfort zone and that’s not serving the business well.
And again, if there’s pushback like that, and you’ve got a real hot shot, 20 something operational guy in a contact center say, no, no, the, we, we can get these platforms right now. You’re getting in the way they’re going to, they’re just going to go because they can. And so that’s, that’s really interesting.
I was a great opportunity for channels, of course, to kind of help bridge that gap. But yeah, this is a real fundamental challenge is facing it the way it’s normally done, because they’ve always kind of held all the leavers. You know, they’ve always just said, well, we’ll introduce this when it comes. And I, you know, I could come back quickly for a moment about USI.
For example, when you roll out a phone system, like it has always done over the decades, they just deploy it and it’s done, their job is finished. Yeah. But for you, calves or seek has the success of those deployments is based on user adoption. When you roll out a PBX, there was no choice. That’s your phone.
You use it, no training required, but you can, these new platforms, if you don’t bring them to the users and make it easy, like you said, easy for them to adopt those deployments are gonna fail. And so that’s it didn’t sign up for this, right? Their job is going to be the teachers and the supporters and the help desk for all this stuff.
They really probably don’t want to do. But they’re going to have to, or partner with vendors who are really good at supporting
these things for, we could have a whole nother episode. Adoption optimization, continuous improvement. That happens when you have products that are always evolving and stuff like that.
But one of the things that you had mentioned earlier talking about evolution that, that peaked my interest was when you said that there’s this consolidations a lot of MNAs and all this maybe potentially blocking of innovation. I also see that on the tech side, where a lot of companies are acquiring companies or they’re merging their sheet casts and new casts into one system, and they’re buying a lot of smaller companies where in your opinion, does a smaller company that wants to be able to make a positive impact through innovation find its way when the sea is now being consumed by a lot of the way.
Arnold: Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge. And I th I think a good starting point is that even though cloud makes it easy to scale, I think you have to kind of pick your niche where you can, you know, where you can survive and grow enough, so you don’t get eaten up too soon. And so, in other words, don’t aim for like the fortune 100 companies, we’re going to solve all their problems because you’ll never get that too far there.
So I’d say, you know, focus on a customer set that is more, you know, in your, in your zone that you can, you know sell to and defend. So that’s why as a business strategy, but also too, I mean, a lot of these smaller companies, they do. Optimize themselves to, to align with a particular vendor, right? So I want to be in the Avaya ecosystem or the Cisco or Microsoft or whatever.
And so if that’s the plan then you really have to know what you’re up against with competitors who are trying to do the same thing, and there’s nothing wrong with that strategy. You know, a lot of you know, for example, you know I use a noise suppression application called crisp and crisp is, is the partner that Microsoft uses for their collaboration.
Babel labs is another one and Cisco acquired them a couple of years ago. And again, a niche technology that really has a lot of value in nothing wrong. That’s where we want the innovation to keep coming. Right. But then you got to say, okay, do I want. Place all my bets on one ecosystem and say, that’s what I’m going to be.
Okay. Nothing wrong with that strategy. Right. And the other thing too, I suppose, is to, you know, maybe try to pick a difficult problem set that no one else is going after. Like I keep mentioning AI, I mean, that opens up so many new spaces that are just, you know, no one owns them yet. A lot of the value isn’t even understood.
Right. So if you can be ahead of the curve and that’s where a lot of these AI companies are, that’s why they’re getting so much funding right now is because they are so far ahead of the curve. They’ve anticipated with some of these opportunities are going to be, you know, but anything that you can fix that’s broken, right?
How do you build a better IVR? Right. You know, that’s going to get attention because you’re hitting on pain points that everyone is trying to say.
And I think as we get to the end of our time today, when you finish off on AI, I think that’s the new frontier, because I think we’re not good at it yet. I think it’s still the shiny object where some people have figured out how to make it useful.
Other people have put it in play and it’s actually caused more friction with the customer experience because they may be thought it could just replace a rip and replace of something. And as we get closer to figuring out where does AI live in a self-service world versus where does it live in empowering the agent and the business and to insights and helping in real time versus just after their interaction.
It’s an exciting thing to see. So any closing or final thoughts around AI that you think would be good for audience to know?
Arnold: Well, I’m with you, Christian. Yeah. It’s a shiny ball and the danger there is, yes. There’s a lot of hype. A lot of capability too, though, but you have for a buyer of there, the thing to be aware of is.
Not everything is AI, even though the vendors say it’s AI for starters, but you don’t have enough background to really know that, but it gives vendors licensed to charge a premium. They can just call it AI. And it’s 20% more expensive because it’s AI, but AI itself is not a thing, right? AI is just a term for a, an umbrella of technologies that basically try to emulate human capabilities through technology.
And the thing that the hut term in AI right now for the contact center space in particular is this is the acronym of the day folks. So it’s CAI conversational AI. So. The starting point. We’ve seen with a lot of this automation as the chatbots as again, so improving self service. Well, most of those interactions have been really poor because AI cause the chatbots are well trained.
The AI was early stage. So what’s different today is that the, the voice recognition capabilities. This is an area where I do a lot of work has gotten so good now that not only can these chatbots recognize speech, but they’ve done enough. They’ve built enough through this, through the use of machine learning and natural language processing and understanding that they can be conversational.
So in other words, instead of being command based, yes, no, it’s like dealing with Siri, right. You know, series start my car or Alexa, you know, turn on the oven. That’s great. Those are command based, not interactive where we’re moving to a world of what I call shifting from person to person, to person, to machine.
Or machine to person communication. Well, when you can have conversations, when that chat bot asks you questions and engages with you, it’s asking you questions because it knows you’ll give answers that provide more insights than a closed ended question. And because it has the tools to analyze that and make sense of it and actually make you feel comfortable.
Cause it, they even try to inject humor and human utterances like oh, I see. Trying to make it feel like you’re talking to a person, the more comfortable you feel talking to a bot like that, the more you’re going to share, and that’s the whole name of the game with, with this. So when it goes to that level and gets better and.
It’s going to play a bigger role in handling more complex customer inquiries. That’s a goal of mine for contact centers, because you want to take all that stuff away from the agents, let them do the really difficult jobs where they have the most reward when they solve those hard problems. Right?
So this is a big one.
Yeah. And AI also has a home there as well as you had mentioned, but the extension to that is then how does AI help those more complex interactions with a human being be that much more effective? And I think we could have a whole nother conversation with that, but look where we run out of time today.
And I know that there’s so much more, that everyone that has wanted to learn more about you would want to know more about. So before we get into how they contact you, you had mentioned you played the piano. What’s your favorite.
Arnold: Favorite piece? Well, I’m into jazz and blues. So I, I improvise a lot. So I like to play anything that’s is blues base, but we, I do play in a band with other consultants.
So a good example of a song I really have fun playing would be, I don’t know these are songs most people would know like after midnight is a great song, fun song to play. Heard it through the grapevine is a fun song to play. There’s lots of those kinds of standards that we, you know, we’d like to play in our band that are just a lot of fun feel all right, Dave Mason song, those are all fun songs to play.
And I like anything bluesy is my that’s my bag. So
awesome. Well, John, it was great having you. I think our audience got a lot of great content, but there’s going to be people that want to contact you, how best they get ahold of you.
Arnold: Sure. Well, old school, you can pick up the phone, but I think where we really want people going is sure.
A website is always the starting point. So that would be tripled up. Jay Arnold associates.com. And if you get to my website, check out the video where I explain what an analyst does and then watch the video. That’s next to that one. And if that doesn’t make you laugh, then nothing will. So I try to bring humor into a lot of the stuff and you can see there, my website, yes, the podcast you mentioned earlier, I have a monthly podcast and a monthly newsletter and both are easily found in subscribed to there on my website.
Awesome. All right. That wraps another show. Thanks so much for tuning in. We’ll talk to you next time, John. Thanks so much for joining.
Arnold: Okay, Christian. Thanks. Great. Have great being here and thanks everyone for listening. Awesome.
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