The Bigger Picture

By Business, Scott

As a consultant, I get the opportunity to provide an outside-in perspective to clients. Some of them request this perspective asking questions such as “What is the rest of my industry doing?” or “How do other contact centers approach this problem?” They are genuinely curious about how to leverage the learnings of others and apply it to their own business problem. Others are not so open to this type of outside-in perspective. Often times, clients take a defensive stance trying to justify that their operation is so unique, benchmarks or best practices just don’t apply to them. Usually, this feedback comes from leaders that have grown up in the operation for many years. These leaders get so attached to their own operational construct, that any process or operational suggestion meets with a closed minded and defensive response. The resulting business outcomes are predictable, little change in customer satisfaction scores, operational metrics, and employee engagement scores. Worse yet, your company gets outpaced by your competition.

The challenge comes in how you get your leaders into a position to see things with a different lens. Many companies send their teams through some kind of packaged leadership training program. Others, send them to conferences where they see presentations / best practices from others who have faced the same business challenges in the hopes that they will come back and try to apply some of these to their companies’ operation. In either case, there isn’t enough emotional investment to make real change happen. Some minor changes may occur, but nothing of real business value.

From my experience, the most material changes in operational results occur when leaders have an emotional and vested connection with overall company outcomes. Instead of holding them accountable for handle time, utilization, productivity, and other standard contact center metrics, try holding them accountable for company level metrics. Sales / revenue growth, customer acquisition, shareholder value, and other top level score carded metrics for the company’s executive team. This will force contact center leaders up and out of the operation and talk to other leaders about how the contact center contributes to the company bottom line. So, instead of looking at handle time as a measure of success, they will start looking at company value per contact. This will result in your contact center connecting the dots to other business processes throughout the company, which will in turn drive real business value.

I often ask “C” level leaders what value their contact center provides to the company. More often than not, they can’t answer the question. I have a standard response for these situations. “Close down your contact center for a week, and your customers will certainly tell you where the real value is.”

Now, go change something!

Omni-Channel Design Gone Wrong

By Scott

I had recently tried to upgrade our TV service here at the office so we could watch some local playoff games. First step, let’s go to the xfinity web site. After all, every company has options to upgrade services within your web account right? This is what we continue to be preached about in monthly statements, email promotions, mobile applications, and our good friend the IVR. xfinity promotes it so much, I bet I could get a free bowl of soup by just logging in.

After logging into my account and looking around, I couldn’t locate any options for upgrading services. Customer experience breakdown number one. So, I see an option for web chat. Great, I love web chat let’s give that a whirl. I get connected to Arron who asks me a series of account questions. I think to myself, why is he asking me account questions if I am already logged into my account on the web. Shouldn’t my information be passed over to Arron including my search strings on upgrading TV service? That web chat button I selected was in a secure location on the web site after all. I pass over my account information to Arron who validates that I am who I say I am.

Finally time to ask the $1M dollar question “how do I upgrade our service so I can watch my local sports teams?” Arron then responses with, “are you a residential or business customer?” I start thinking about the information I just provided and the fact that Arron should have my account profile in front of him and he should already know the answer to that question. I bury the snide comment, let that slide as an experience issue and answer “business.” Well, good old Arron indicates that this web chat option is only for “sales.” I respond in kind with the most logical response I can think of, “isn’t upgrading services where I provide xfinity more money on a monthly basis considered sales?” I wait a few minutes for my new friend Arron to write a response. Looking into his vast knowledge base of canned responses that were pre-designed by some Six Sigma project team 5 years ago who had no real experience talking to customers. So I wait, and finally the response comes through “you will have to call our business services number to complete that request.” Customer experience breakdown number two.

Arron could have easily had someone from business sales call me, but I guess that must be another team, phone skill, contact center location, organization, VP, and P&L. So, he provides me the xfinity business phone number to call and I give it a go. The first tree in the IVR prompts me to select 1 for residential service, or press 2 for business service. Since the phone number Arron provided was specifically for BUSINESS users, I am befuddled why they are wasting more of my time. So I select option 2, and another prompt comes up to enter the zip code of my billing location. I enter my zip code and again the IVR prompts me to select 1 for residential or press 2 for business service. Customer experience breakdown number three. I enter option 2 and it finally routes me to the next available agent. I get Jodi on the phone and I explain what I want to accomplish. Once again, I get the question, “is this for residential or business service.” Customer experience breakdown number four. I explain that this is for business, again, and Jodi says “oh, that is handled through our business services team and I need to transfer you.” Customer experience breakdown number five. Ok, I am at about 30 minutes into this experience and have navigated four different interaction channels thus far and this ongoing fight between organizations is evident and I am caught in the middle. I imagine the cost to support businesses is far more expensive than it is to support residential services so even though the customer called the business only number, AND selected the business service IVR option, route the call to residential support.

After I get transferred and use my 4th channel, I get the answer I needed and decided not to proceed with the purchase out of frustration. 30 minutes of my time and xfinity’s time wasted on a question or transaction that could have been solved in 2 minutes. It’s no wonder that their services are so damn expensive and customer experience scores for the Internet Provider / Cable Services are consistently the lowest in the industry.

So, for a company to claim to have “omni-channel” support, shouldn’t the customer expect to get 100% of their needs fulfilled in any channel? I would argue yes. So here are a few lessons learned for companies looking to improve their own customer experiences.

1. If you have an on-line account portal or information. Make it clear up front what services are available or not available BEFORE trying to force the customer to self service
2. On line chat options are a great option for companies looking to improve service but they must be able to perform 100% of the activities that a phone agent can
3. If you must have the customer switch channels, make it easy for them and proactively call them. Don’t just give them a number to dial
4. Route the call to the correct skill the first time! Customers would rather wait on hold a few minutes rather than getting transferred multiple times

Just think xfinity, if you actually rethought your end to end support model, you could have saved about 30 minutes of expensive contact center support costs and increased revenue to boot!

Now, go change something!

Scott McIntyre
Chief Instigator – Infinite Green Services

Culture as a Platform

By Business, Scott

For anyone that knows me, I am not a big fan of industry buzz terms.

The “Internet of Things,” “Big Data,” and “Omni-Channel” are the latest examples that drive me bananas. Not because they don’t have foundational meaning and value, because they all do. It’s because they get bastardized into products and services that sell the promise of more revenue, improved customer experience, or reduced expense without the slightest understanding of how a particular company operates its’ business or how skilled and diverse the level of talent is.

The true value of these products or services is derived from how adept the company is to operationalize the insights, tools, processes, data, scorecards, visualizations etc. into meaningful change. This ability to consume, take advantage of, and operationalize change is where the true value of these investments occurs. Unfortunately most times, if you build it, they will NOT come.

So, why don’t more leaders understand the level of change / talent management required when making a significant platform investment? Because it’s expensive to take the time and do the right level of assessment of the companies’ ability to change, adapt, or have the right skills to operate in the new construct.

The true cost of the investment should include the time it takes to train or find new talent to be able to operationalize change across the organization. Most of companies’ existing leaders were hired to perform against existing metrics, tools, and processes. They will resist change until you give them a compelling reason why it will benefit them and even then it won’t get adopted if there is any stumbling block that impacts their performance. Delays in dates, changes in scope, and incomplete metrics will shut down change in a hurry. This often leads to projects that get cut far short of their potential, resulting in companies saying “we tried that, and it didn’t work” even though only 10% of the original vision was put into everyday practice. Even worse, a company deploys a partial solution that adds more complexity, another system, and more steps to a process taking it even longer to service customers. This leads to a degrading of service and an increase in cost.

What is a leader to do? How does one even start on this type of journey without avoiding these pitfalls? In my experience, companies that continue to innovate, change, perform, and adapt all share one quality: they leverage their strong culture as a platform. What do I mean by “platform?” Webster’s dictionary defines it as “a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands.” It’s not enough to declare what your culture is. I have seen plenty of companies that state that innovation, change, risk taking, etc. is part of their culture, but when you get under the covers, nobody is holding anyone accountable to these attributes, they are not written in to the hiring guidelines, and it’s obvious it’s just not in their DNA. This culture platform should be informing leadership on their readiness to change or adopt new operating tools, processes, and constructs. When a specific group starts to fall off the platform, it is easily recognizable and others help to course correct. They don’t simply say, “That’s their problem.” Culture at high performing companies is everyone’s responsibility and should not be used to get a leg up, compare one department to another, or as an excuse when things don’t go well.

Culture as a platform isn’t easy to obtain, it takes time, focus, and the right talent management approach. High performing companies like Intuit, USAA, and Amazon all take advantage of this approach and they have consistent, high performance year over year. Intuit’s culture platform is focused on creating “awesome” customer experiences. It’s the culture platform that drives product development, customer support, and web site design. When some process, employee, or tool isn’t in alignment, the platform identifies it and makes quick course corrections keeping that culture platform very stable and focused. Having a strong culture platform allows these companies to quickly adjust to changing market conditions and take advantage of the latest tools on the market. They don’t have to invest time in the change management assessment mentioned above giving them a significant cost and time advantage.

So next time you are involved in a large company initiative, ask yourself “Is our companies’ culture ready of this?” Not asking this question is why most of these investments don’t live up to the promise that leaders want to invest in. Most likely, the scope of the project will need to be adjusted to fill in the culture void that exists across the company. It will cost more over time, but it will also avoid some of the typical project pitfalls. I would recommend leaders focus on developing a culture platform as an accelerator to get to their business outcomes faster rather than focusing on large investments. Having the right talent all engaged and focused with the right set of guiding principles can outperform products and services buzz terms hands down.

Now, go change something!

Scott McIntyre
Chief Instigator – Infinite Green

When Domain Expertise Gets In The Way Of Change

By Business, General, Scott

So, your contact center has been in place for many years. It probably started many years ago from a few people taking phone calls during regular business hours and has developed into a multi-site, multi-channel, multi-shift operation. What started as an agile team adjusting to shifting and changing customer needs and quickly expanding products and solutions, is now changing at a snails’ pace and not keeping up with company or customer’s needs.

What really has changed? Just because the operation is larger doesn’t automatically mean it takes longer or is harder to change. There are great examples of large organizations with the ability to quickly change at scale. Intuit software has over 5000 agents on the phone supporting customers across the world and their product changes every year to support new tax code. Their product has moved from desktop software to software as a service. Their customer segments and products continue to grow year over year and they continue to be a high growth company with no signs of slowing down.

So, if sheer size isn’t the barrier, the next culprit must be tools or systems. You didn’t have complex tools or systems when you were a smaller operation and were able to change quickly. Why do you need something different as a larger organization?  Companies like Zappos, USAA, and Amazon don’t have complex tool sets to service customers and have some of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any company across any vertical and also have large, complex contact center organizations.  Granted, there are tools that would help facilitate more efficient and effective changes across an organization, but lack of tools isn’t a barrier for these companies and they don’t use it as an excuse not to keep up with change.

There is one common thread I have observed in the 50+ companies I have worked in and tends to be the root cause that prevents change. That common thread is people with too much domain expertise.  They have glued together processes, duct taped systems, and used their ingenuity to keep the operation afloat in the most efficient and effective way possible. Don’t get me wrong,  I admire these people. They have to span the organization, keep up with change, provide insights to multiple audiences, reduce operating expenses, and try to explain to the CEO why they missed service levels at 11:30 PM for a couple of calls while they answered 10,000 calls within service levels throughout the rest of the day.

Over time, they get too close to the fragile operating model they have built. A once agile operating model where change was the norm must now flow through a few people because of the self-induced complexity created over time. They lose the true essence of what got them in business in the first place, providing a differentiated experience to the customer. They now fall back on process, regulations, costs, metrics, quality, industry vertical knowledge, and a myriad of other excuses to not change. They find comfort in this. Every customer issue that surfaces in the operation is a fire they alone must battle and at the end of the day they feel a sense of comfort knowing that they solved a few customer issues. They lose outside-in perspective, and now are the most resistant to change. Once motivated by company growth and culture, has switched them to fear, defensiveness, and knowledge hoarding.

When you identify this behavior, what do you do? Most leaders often try to rationalize with these operators. Trying to fix things one at a time. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. One issue gets pounded down, another one or two pop up and as the game progresses, you never seem to make headway. You must look at your operation from the top down, not from the bottom up. I have seen companies invest millions of dollars on expensive consulting engagements only to get a bottoms up list of things to fix. Most of them sit on the shelf collecting dust because they fixed one thing, and two new issues popped up that needed to be solved. Time to remodel and move the furniture around to get a new perspective and don’t be afraid to break it.

Ask yourself, what value do you want from your contact center operation? If you can’t answer that question, think about what would happen if you shut the contact center down completely. That value statement should inform everything from hiring guides, to SOP, to performance goals.

Now, go change something!

Scott McIntyre

Chief Instigator

The 2015 Service Supported Contact Center

By Business, General, Scott

Contact centers have gone through significant change over the past several years, the most significant being the use of cloud based services. These cloud services allow companies extreme flexibility and platform reliability without the hassle of upgrades, maintenance contracts, and slow IT response time to requested changes. These services are now mature enough to handle every aspect of a contact center’s technology needs with out the need of a large IT support team and millions of dollars spent to maintain it.

Tools like inContact, Corvisa, and 8 x 8 can do everything the old legacy ACD systems like Avaya, Cisco, and Aspect can do. I would argue that they can do it easier, cheaper, and you only need to pay for the capacity that you use versus investing for peak volumes. Infinite Green has implemented a few of these new cloud based tools and based on our experience, these tools can be designed and deployed in a fraction of the time that it would take with premise based hardware and software solutions. The same could be said for CRM or service based platforms including Zendesk, Spice, and Salesforce. These platforms contain all the functionality needed to provide a great customer experience including knowledge management, community, reporting, and scripting tools. For other specialty services you may already have running in your operation, these tools also come with pre-built adapters that allow for easy integration with other service based applications.

I remember a time when I was the business owner of a large contact center operation for a fortune 100 company where I was quoted $1 Million dollars and 9-12 months to turn on an outbound dialer on ourcomplex Cisco contact center environment. Not only did it cost me all of my project dollars that year, it still didn’t work by the end of the project. I had spent all that time and resources on something that we couldn’t even get working. Fast forward to today and Infinite Green has had many projects where with a few simple design elements and requirements, we turned up a full suite of integrated channels including outbound dailers in less that 4 weeks and most of that time was spent with change management issues in the operation.

Technology is not the barrier anymore, it is quite the opposite. I would argue that it would take longer to run through a change management cycle within your operation than it would to make significant changes to your contact management or CRM service platform. They are that easy to change. If you haven’t had experience with these service platforms, I highly recommend you check them out. Carve out a small piece of your contact center operation and give them a test drive.  Find someone on your team that has some technical skills and is curious about how these tools work. Give them a sandbox environment to play in and give them a month to develop a good understanding of how they operate. My guess is you will have an actual proof of concept up and running with live customer calls in no time and would never even consider going back to your legacy platforms ever again.

Scott McIntyre

Chief Instigator – Infinite Green

Build Momentum, Not Projects

By Business, General, Scott

I have been working with a large healthcare company putting together a strategic contact center investment and three year road map, and the team has been discussing how to frame up the approach. The company historically has managed investments as a bottoms up series of “projects” and the team was inclined to use that same approach for this effort.

For some background, the project is focused on moving the contact center in the following direction:

  • Single channel to multi-channel
  • Homegrown desktop systems to an agent portal (using packaged software)
  • Improved First Call Resolution
  • Reduced transfers
  • Segmented levels of service
  • Reduced contacts per customer / handle time

With the amount of change involved in this project, I suggested we take a different approach that defined the overall goals of the project in a way that will build momentum every stakeholder in the organization can get rallied behind. By defining what the project will deliver for the company, each department, and each individual involved everyone would have a “North Star” that would help guide them in support of the series of projects over multiple years. These simple messages can be woven into executive presentations, status updates, company communications, and in a B to B type company it can even be customer facing.

These statements or messages don’t have to be complex, but should define the essence of the work and has meaning for all stake holders. Some examples that I have been thinking about for this specific client:

  • Good to great! – Preparing for the next wave of growth
  • Customer first – Allowing customers channel of choice
  • Process to profits – Designing a more efficient and effective customer interactions

A good message will help every stakeholder get more emotionally involved in the bigger movement and provide support beyond their current roles and responsibilities and on a great day, these stakeholders will become advocates for change. So next time you are framing up a project or initiative in your company, think about how this will impact the company as a whole, all stakeholders, and customers who use your projects and services. Start top down, before thinking bottoms up and think about what  the “North Star” is. You just might be surprised on how many people start to get on board without being dictated by company priority or leadership decree.

Now, go change something!

Scott McIntyre

Chief Instigator


Find Your Passion

By Business, General, Scott

I have been in a reflective mood as of late and I have been thinking about my past, what led me to start Infinite Green 6 years ago with my good friend Jon, and what were the specific inflection points in my career that enabled me to have a point of view others would find value in. I am not sure what started me on thinking about my past, but perhaps it was the trip last weekend to a start up contact center company called Corvisa based out of Milwaukee.

Corvisa was started for one simple purpose, design a contact management system that companies can use that isn’t complex to manage, provides flexibility, and allow the end user to design and create awesome customer experiences that doesn’t require an army of expensive IT resources to keep running. Sound like a dream? I would like to introduce you to Matt Lautz, the founder and creator of Corvisa. He started the company out of pure passion, and maybe a little bit of frustration. He was sick and tired of being limited by the systems of choice in the market. Ones that didn’t allow him to dream up new experiences for his customers. After all, with all the technology on the market today getting simpler and simpler to manage, why wasn’t there a contact management platform following that same evolution? Matt levered this passion to start something special. His product is on the verge of revolutionizing the contact center industry by putting the power of easy to configure software in the hands of contact center operators around the globe.

Meeting with Matt and his team, I realized that this company was going to be great and will continue to grow. Not because Corvisa has the best widget in town, but because he and his team have passion. Passion to solve a business problem that he has come to realize most companies have. The ability to dream up and EXECUTE great customer experiences without hassle, time, and the need to spin up an expensive company project. His passion is contagious and it’s obvious that passion has spread after interacting with various leaders around the company.

This brings me back full circle to my passion and to Infinite Green. Our company was created out of our passion to share our knowledge and unique perspective to the rest of the industry. My specific passion was developed over the years taking calls, managing teams of agents on the phone, and eventually managing 2000+ seat customer care organizations. I had to constantly justify spending for technology, people, and resources through the use of story telling, business models, customer metrics, and voice of customer research. It was a great proving ground constantly having to defend ones reason for being. I honed my messages, created visuals, and used the customer as a shield as I charged the hill demanding changes up stream that would fix the root cause of angry customer’s issues.

Thanks to the downturn in the economy, Jon and I had the opportunity to focus this passion towards others. Others seeking a new way to operate their service operations. A new, more valuable way to operate a contact center. One that is led with passion for improved customer experiences, without having to wait for project dollars or a top down company initiative. That is the core of what we do. Our goal is to help companies design, build, and execute great customer experiences that add company value. That’s what drives me, gets me energized to start early each and every day, and connect with as many companies as I can to get our word out.

This is my passion. Now I ask you, what’s yours?

Scott McIntyre

Chief Instigator