Over the past 25 years, Brad Cleveland has been dedicated to maximizing the value and visibility of contact centers. His contributions to industry knowledge have been significant—he is the author and editor of eight books, including the best-seller Call Center Management on Fast Forward, a well-known speaker, consultant and former president and CEO of the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI). Brad has spent years crisscrossing the globe to help organizations evolve their customer access strategies. His extensive experience has provided him with a unique perspective on the changes that are transforming contact centers, and how leaders can better understand and adapt to those changes.
Pipeline recently learned that Brad has launched a free monthly e-newsletter—The Edge of Service—to share his personal insights and observations about the trends and developments that are impacting service delivery, and what organizations around the world are doing to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. We caught up with Brad to find out more about his new project, and to tap his insights about what’s happening in our industry.
What are some of the most critical changes that are impacting today’s contact centers?
There’s a fascinating change under way. Until recently, the most significant developments have been those used by organizations to improve their services: The invention of the 800-number (toll-free) service and ACD routing systems in the late 1960s and early 1970s; the introduction of workforce management capabilities and computer telephony integration in the 1980s; Web browsers and Internet- based services in the 1990s; and more recently, the amazing developments in multimedia, cloud-based capabilities, analytics and others.
We are now, however, seeing a major and fundamental shift: For the first time, developments on the customers’ side of the equation—the meteoric rise of smartphones, social media, broadband and mobility—are the most significant factors driving customer expectations and services. Given what is happening, I’m convinced we’ll see more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the past two decades. We can harness and leverage the trends to our benefit, or we can get tumbled by them. We’re entering a new era of customer relationships.
What challenges will this new era create for contact center leaders?
Customer interactions will increasingly involve multiple channels and serve customers who are more connected, informed about their options and diverse in their needs and expectations. The fundamental issues facing contact center leaders now are: How should your organization interact with your customers? Which channels do you need to make available? Which interactions need the human connection?
Another critical concern centers around return on investment—where do you make your investments and what do those returns look like? And it remains a tricky time, economically. There is still a lot of uncertainty in the economy—many organizations are unsure where things are going and are holding onto capital. Every executive has to make the case for the services and technology that their customers need, and must demonstrate how their investments will impact the business on a long-term basis.
Organizations that rely on past practices will pay a heavy price. But the returns for those who understand the trends and cultivate the right services will be significant.
What made you launch The Edge of Service, and what do you hope that it will accomplish?
In the past couple of years, I’ve had a number of clients, friends and colleagues ask me to share my thoughts on what’s happening in the industry. My aim with The Edge of Service is to share more of a personal perspective on the changes that are taking place in our industry, and what I’m seeing out there that is differentiating both leaders and the organizations they are part of, and how they’re adapting to those changes.
This is in many ways a very disorienting time. If you’re an executive trying to maintain your base of business while making sense of all the newness that’s coming at you, it’s unsettling. Many of the executives I talk to are wondering: Who can I trust? Where should I spend my time? What should our priorities be for our organization? Where do I make my service investments? What strategies and technologies are going to win? What does this mean to my existing base? Yet once we admit that fundamental change is happening, we can be more grounded about it.
There are a lot of different approaches, even from a technology standpoint. This aim of this newsletter is to help to separate the signal from the noise. It’s a discussion about the organizations, people, strategies and technologies that are pushing the limits of, and enjoying the returns from, delivering great service. I hope that it will provide contact center leaders with a level of comfort that they’re not alone—and that there is unprecedented opportunity to boost customer relationships and business results!