2018: The Times They Are a-Changin’

2018: The Times They Are a-Changin’

/ People, Culture
2018: The Times They Are a-Changin’

A focus on employee engagement is impacting every facet of the contact center industry.

Back in 1964, Bob Dylan wrote and recorded a song called, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Dylan wrote the song not as a protest piece but rather as an anthem for change at the time. The song went on to become a lasting song with a purpose. It is ranked No. 59 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and has been covered by acts as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and the Beach Boys.

“The Times They Are a-Changin’” could also be an anthem for the changes that are occurring in the contact center industry as we look forward to 2018. As I noted in my February 2017 column in this publication, titled “Power to the People,” a new concern for employee engagement seemed to be emerging as we entered this year. In a series of interviews I conducted with customer service professionals at the end of 2016, there was a clear indication that the industry as a whole is starting to view its human capital in entirely different terms than it has in the past.

Those of you who have been in the industry for a while will remember that, for many years, the contact center was referred to in the press and in informal discussions as a “white-collar sweat shop.” Although work conditions in the typical contact center were slightly better than those of the typical factory, workers were not always held in the highest of esteem. Back in those dark days, contact center employees were considered to be disposable assets, easily replaced by a revolving door in the human resources department and a hiring strategy that was no more complex than maintaining a steady stream of warm bodies coming through the door.

I’m not sure what is driving the very real change in attitude toward contact center employees today, but it probably has something to do with changing workforce demographics and perhaps a new generation of managers that view agent turnover as something to be managed and conquered rather than something to simply be expected and accommodated, as it has in the past. The change is impacting every facet of the contact center industry, from contact centers of all sizes to technology suppliers that have recognized and embraced this shift.

This past October, I had the opportunity to attend Calabrio’s customer conference, called C3, and witnessed first-hand how much the industry has changed in a keynote session that was extraordinary in more ways than one.

Calabrio CEO Tom Goodmanson was the first to take the stage on the morning of Monday, October 2nd at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, site of C3. He began his keynote address by asking all of us in attendance to observe a moment of silence in honor of those who had lost their lives the night before. The night before was the night that a gunman opened fire from Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel and took the lives of 58 innocent concert-goers and injured another 546.

Rather than the typical booming music, flashing lights and over-stimulated announcer shouting introductions at a fever pitch that usually accompanies the opening session of customer conferences, Calabrio C3 was a much more dignified affair with CEO Goodmanson launching into a keynote that seemed exceptionally appropriate given the events of the night before. The topic of the keynote was employee engagement and caring about others, not only in the contact center but in Calabrio itself. Goodmanson used the employee experience at Calabrio to illustrate his own passion for employee engagement and stated Calabrio’s goal of helping each of their customers reach a goal of zero employee attrition.

Needless to say, I was intrigued and had a headful of questions I wanted to pose to Goodmanson after his address. Unfortunately schedules at C3 didn’t allow time for a follow-up conversation but I was recently able to get Goodmanson on the phone with me to discuss the evolution of employee engagement in greater depth.

Stockford: When did you first recognize the nearly universal shift in concern for employee engagement in the contact center industry?

Goodmanson: I think it become obvious to me about two years ago. First, we noticed increases in sales of solutions like workforce management and quality assurance, which directly address employee engagement. Also, at just about every conference I’ve spoken at or have been a panel member at for the past couple of years, people want to talk about employee engagement. The topic of zero attrition is becoming more common during discussions. It’s been building slowly, but it’s definitely building.

Stockford: What was your motivation to choose employee engagement and the goal of zero attrition as the topics of your keynote?

Goodmanson: I was inspired by Richard Branson’s quote, “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.” And I had a number of Calabrio customers ask how we could help them in terms of eliminating attrition in their contact center. I’ve also spoken to many customers who don’t have the attrition problem and observed the difference. Everyone’s happy at these contact centers and it shows in the way they help their customers. There’s clearly a link between how employees are treated and the success of any customer service function, and I thought this was a timely and important topic.

Stockford: I thought it was interesting that you practice what you preach. Talk a little about the onboarding process at Calabrio and what you hope it will accomplish in terms of employee attrition.

Goodmanson: On day one, we’re prepared for our new employees. First, we host a breakfast for them with their new managers and several new colleagues in the boardroom. Honestly, everyone in the company knows that if they show up when we have new employee breakfasts, they’ll get a free breakfast, too! Everyone’s welcome.

Later, on day one, new employees have lunch with their managers to review projects and better understand their role in these projects. We publish a company handbook that explains our initiatives for the next year and new employees get a copy so they’re not in the dark. Then they go off for a week of in-depth training that also involves their new coworkers. Bottom line is, we make sure we spend the time and money necessary to ensure our own employee engagement. It’s part of our culture.

Stockford: I was intrigued by the presence of the Veteran’s Village in the C3 solutions hall, where your customers spent time putting together toiletries kits for veterans in need. Most customer conferences are better known for their epic parties. What’s the story behind the Veteran’s Village?

Goodmanson: We, as a company, are part of a community, and we owe part of what we are to that community. We had our first C3 customer conference seven years ago in Nashville, and as part of that event we wanted to do something to give back to the community so we started bringing charities into the meeting mix. At our first C3, everyone joined in to build toys for underprivileged children in Nashville. Since then, we’ve had a charity represented at our customer conference each year. This year we chose Veteran’s Village.

Veteran’s Village provides housing and other services for veterans in need, and our customers assembled 150 toiletries kits for veterans housed at Veteran’s Village. Calabrio also made a cash donation that covers 150 nights’ stay at Veteran’s Village. Philanthropy is part of Calabrio’s culture and it will be as long as I’m here. Hopefully beyond!

Stockford: What do you think the long-term impact of this renewed focus on employee engagement will be? Where will it lead the industry?

Goodmanson: It will lead the industry to a good place, without a doubt. No more white-collar sweatshops. Engaged employees are happy employees, and happy employees provide great customer service. Companies who embrace employee engagement will see their brands surge, and I see branding as being increasingly important in the future. The improvements will be tangible.

As I wrapped up my interview with Tom Goodmanson, it became clear to me that the definition of a successful company in the contact center industry in 2018 will be entirely different than it has in the past. The times are definitely changing, and they’re changing for the better.

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford served as Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specialized in contact centers & customer service, from 1999-2022.
Twitter: @PaulStockford

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