“Fireside chat” is the term used to describe a series of evening radio addresses given by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944. Back in those primitive days, before 24-hour television with hundreds of channels and a never-ending news cycle, Roosevelt spoke to the American people about a widely varying selection of important topics, including the Great Depression, the banking crisis and, of course, World War II.
President Roosevelt delivered just 30 of his fireside chats during his presidency, many coming months apart from each other, so he always drew a large audience to these broadcasts. He also liked these radio addresses because, as his press secretary Stephen Early once said, no one can misrepresent or misquote his radio transmissions.
Stephen Early is also responsible for coming up with the term “fireside chat.” He said the president liked to think of himself as sitting by the fireplace with a few other people, discussing the topic of the broadcast. Roosevelt was such a skilled communicator on the radio that the fireside chats did much to encourage the spirit of the American people during times of despair and uncertainty.
I like the whole idea of a fireside chat, too, but I live in the high Sonoran Desert of Arizona so it is rarely cold enough to light a fire. Ironically, I actually have a fireplace here in my office at Saddletree Research Global Headquarters in Cave Creek, Arizona, but most of the time it sits idle. However, in December and January, we do get occasional days where it gets cold enough to light a fire, so I’ll light the fireplace in my office to take the edge off the morning chill before the desert sun warms things up. The photo below was taken looking out of my office on a cold January morning, and presented the perfect opportunity to think about a fireside chat.
To take advantage of this rare occurrence, I asked longtime business colleague and trusted resource Ryan Hollenbeck to join me to talk about the contact center industry in the year ahead. I first met Ryan back in 1999 at the ICCM show in Chicago. For those of you who weren’t in the industry back then, ICCM was always one of the highlights of the contact center conference circuit. It was well-attended and always a great time.
When Ryan and I first met, I was director of the voice and data group at Cahners In-Stat Group and he was Corporate Communications Director at Witness Systems in Atlanta. He wanted to pitch his company to analysts and I was looking for new In-Stat clients, so like the good corporate soldiers that we were, we had our first chat in the luxurious surroundings of the canteen at Chicago’s McCormick Place conference center.
Fast forward 19 years and Ryan is now Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, at Verint. Since that first meeting in Chicago, Ryan and I have not only stayed in touch, but he has become a friend, advisor, supporter and someone whose insights I value and trust. So, I invited Ryan to sit down with me in front of the fireplace and talk about what 2018 will likely hold for the contact center industry.
Q Stockford: Ryan, you and I have been in this industry a long time. Looking back on 2017, what industry trend or development stands out in your mind?
A Hollenbeck: There were a couple of things actually, but the one that really had an impact was empowering the workforce. Workforce optimization has been around for a long time, but workforce empowerment focuses on engaging the employee at all levels and is more inclusive of employee needs and preferences. This also includes the back office and the branch office. It’s important to ensure employees know that they’re important and valued. It’s not just about the millennial workforce, it’s about tangible changes in the workplace.
I think turnover is the main pain-point here. Our customers are telling us that they’re actively seeking ways to communicate to their employees that they are understood and appreciated, so they’re turning to things like internal communities, voice of the employee and gamification to recognize and reward performance. Contact centers want their people to stay, and we want to have an impact on helping them do that.
Q Stockford: Last year we heard more about machine learning and artificial intelligence in the contact center than ever before. How do you think AI will impact the contact center of the future?
A Hollenbeck: I like to use the term automation rather than AI. I think automation will be key to the modernization of the industry. Things that we thought were very futuristic just a few years ago, like using natural language processing for workforce management scheduling and things like voice-activated shift-swapping for agents, are here now.
Things like automated interactive voice response and self-service solutions are very real and widely deployed, and they are paving the way for more automation in the future. We’re very committed to automation at Verint. It will be a driver and motivator for us in 2018 and beyond.
Q Stockford: What about the shift from customer service to customer experience optimization and the customer journey. How do you think that will affect the industry in 2018, and beyond?
A Hollenbeck: Research I’ve read from the analyst community and other sources tell us that this will be a priority for contact centers in 2018 and beyond. In the old days, the focus was on driving revenue and reducing costs by whatever means necessary. Today, the focus is with engaging more effectively with customers and that’s the way it will be for a long time to come.
The whole landscape has changed. Customers today are looking for trusted partners and proven solutions. The notion of collaboration has been tossed around the industry for many years, but it’s becoming a reality now. The contact center has become a focal point of business intelligence and it’s important that the intelligence gathered be shared throughout the enterprise, with the entire enterprise sharing in the responsibility of optimizing the customer experience. It’s a new way of thinking about the customer experience.
Q Stockford: What other factors do you see impacting, or continuing to impact, the contact center industry in the year ahead?
A Hollenbeck: On the enterprise side, faster and more informed decision making. This will result from the sharing of customer and other business intelligence throughout the enterprise. Fraud detection is a good example of how this intelligence-sharing is manifesting itself today. Compliance intelligence is being brought together from throughout the enterprise so companies can react more quickly whenever necessary.
Q Stockford: One of my favorite things to do, particularly in the past few years, is to attend customer conferences like Verint’s Engage. These customer conferences have changed significantly since the days of the user group meeting. Do you think they will continue to evolve? What should attendees expect to get out of Engage this year?
A Hollenbeck: I think customer conferences will continue to evolve to look more like general industry conferences in the future. They used to be all about the vendor, but now there is more customer involvement as session leaders and educators. Attendees should continue to expect thought leadership and the sharing of best practices, and of course plenty of networking opportunities, but some things won’t change. We’re sticking with our annual customer appreciation party!
Q Stockford: As long as we’re looking ahead at 2018, what do you expect to see in terms of technology and solutions that will affect the industry in the year ahead?
A Hollenbeck: Automation, bots, speech-to-text, facial detection, process automation. And I’m just getting started. There’s so much more to talk about. It’s going to be an exciting, innovative year.
As we wrapped up our chat, the desert sun began to warm up the landscape and it brought to mind how similar a phenomenon is occurring in the 2018 contact center. The sun is rising on the industry with the promise of bright days ahead. I agree with Ryan—it’s going to be an exciting, innovative year.