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The post pandemic 'new normal' in the contact center industry.



Juanita Coley: So, Joel, thank you so much for joining us here today. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. And what did you think about history lesson?


Joel Richardson: Yes, let's go to the history lesson first. The moral of that story from what I'm taking from you Juanita with the patents where Alexander beat Ms. Gray. What I take from that is follow the money and you'll figure out where the solution is because it sounds like according to your research that Alexander, through a couple Franklin's underneath somebody's desk there and because of that, is patenting through early but so yes, I also found out I must have been one falling asleep, even though the history teacher was talking.

No, that's cool stuff about kind of the way telephones came about and you think about it right that's, 150 years ago if you will, and we're still using a telephone. Now it's completely different, different technology but the thought of a voice-over voice transfer, back 100 years ago when you and I were kids, we had the Styrofoam cup with a thread. And we talked like this, you could hear me and I could hear you. We were doing the Alexander Graham Bell telephone. And now, we don't need a thread. We do it all over the airways, yes. Isn't that crazy?


Juanita Coley: It’s called handy device. And it's so funny because I was talking to the girls last night. So, for those of you that don't know, I have three girls. And I was talking to them last night, and we were talking I was like, you want the latest iPhone. Tell me who created the phone? Can you tell me who it is?


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Joel Richardson: And they probably said Bill Gates, right?


Juanita Coley: Yes. I'm so ashamed.


Joel Richardson: Right?


Juanita Coley: Yes. So that's what my daughter said, she was like, yes, it was Jobs. It was a Steve Jobs. He created the iPhone. Okay. Not the phone. I felt so ashamed. So, I thought that was super interesting. And I started to dig into some more details around that whole patent situation and found a lot more information out.


Joel Richardson: Yes, once you start talking about, he slipped some Franklin's underneath, you kind of wonder, okay, how else does that work? Whether things are going that way?


Juanita Coley: It was some pretty good research that I was very intrigued about by and the other thing that stuck out to me, Joel was how call centers begin to be mainstream, the more the internet came into play. So, while the internet wasn't created in 1990, was created before that, the more people had access to the Internet, and it became more mainstream, so did the call center. So, that got me thinking about the technology in the things that we have, like now speech analytics, things that we didn't have before. Were those pieces of technologies becoming more mainstream, how that will shift our call center, or how different things like pandemics shift how we do business in a call center, will it become more mainstream, will we work at home? Will we even have a center? Or will we just always will we now go into this model of people being worked from home? And so that's kind of what I want to talk about today. So, I thought it was cool that the internet shifted that, you know, kind of made it more mainstream.


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Joel Richardson: And very interesting, yes.


Juanita Coley: So, let's hop right in. So, Joel, tell me a little bit more about yourself, what you do at Group Elite? And tell me more about your career? And then we'll hop right into your questions.


Joel Richardson: Yes, sure. Absolutely. So, Juanita when you're talking about how technology changes and changes our lifestyle. I was thinking back in the 1990s when I worked for UPS, and I had the opportunity to kind of be a Call Center Consultant way back then at UPS. Little did I know that, 30 years later, I'd be talking about call centers. But at that point, I remember sitting down with a call center manager and saying, there's this new technology called an IVR. And what that does, is that makes it so you don't have to answer all these calls. Your agents don't have to answer all the easy calls. But you can get them answered by themselves, and you can route them to different areas. So, you don't have to have everybody knowing everything. And that call center manager was like, I don't know if that'll work for us at UPS, we like to answer the phone and I still think they do. But I just thought about that. As you were talking about that.


Now, if you're a call center and you don't have an IVR, there is something wrong with you, you're doing something wrong. So anyway, let's see. So, I guess I started my call center career way back then, didn't know at that time. But currently, I'm Senior Vice President of services at Group Elite, Group Elite is a business partner of Verint. And so, we do a lot of work with Verint, we're a self-sufficient, full suite, application, distributor, and reseller of Verint. And so, what's that mean? That means we can sell we and my team goes in and does all the services for them, the project management, what I call turning wrenches engineering, the consulting, the training, the technical support, managed services, just everything from soup to nuts after that cell is done. And so, I'm responsible for that and have a fantastic team that does that very well. And one of these days Juanita, I'm going to get you to join the team again, I don't know.


Juanita Coley: You know. Joel, man. So awesome. So, let's see, one of the questions that I have for you, Joel, was, I keep hearing this thing off, I can't wait until we get back to normal. If I had will say, dollars, it's not going to say $1. But I'm going to have $5 every time I heard that, I probably, be a good thousandaire hundredaire, something in there. And so, every time I hear that, I know we're talking about the pandemic. I know, when people say that they're typically talking about the pandemic. But I always transition I don't know if it's because of my love of the call center in life, but I'm always thinking about the call center.


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And so, when I hear people say, I can't wait to get back to normal, I wonder what that means for the call center. And then when I begin to do my research that just drove that home even more because I began to think about the internet and how when the internet hit, not that the internet was the pandemic or anything, but, it was a new phase in how we live life. And so, I think about the pandemic, and how this is, we have the vaccine, and we have all these, we have kids that are at home now. And we have all these different options. Is this a new phase where, just like the internet, when we got the internet, we didn't go back to pre-internet, we just have gone forward? So, what does that mean, now for contact centers? As far as the new normal? What does that mean? What do you think it means? And what have you been saying?


Joel Richardson: Yes, good thoughts on that, you said a couple of key things that I want to latch on here a little bit is, one is when the internet came, we didn't go back afterward, or whatever that means. We kept on evolving. And I think that's kind of where I'd like to focus the discussion. And that is the evolution of how we're doing and progressing. I, like you here many times, is this the new norm? When are we going to go back to my normal life? And I've thought about that a lot. And I was listening to a podcast from Patrick Lencioni, on leadership, and it was a segment on what he called the Neutral State. When we get into a situation where we don't know if we should go left, front, or back. It was funny because when I was listening to us, I was in my wife's Mustang. It's a five-speed. And he calls it the Neutral State. And I thought it's so right.


When you shift, you shift from first to second, you don't go first and then sit there in neutral because you're not going anywhere, you're coasting. And that's kind of what you were saying. You put in a second, and then you put in the third and fourth, and you go somewhere. Now, did I walk through that neutral state? I did. But did I stay in that neutral state? No. And I think that's a challenge that some of us may be having. When we say, I can't wait to get back to the new norm or the norm. Because we're sitting there in a neutral state and not evolving, not progressing. I've got a lot of thoughts on this, the other thought on it is exactly what you said Juanita, and that is, with the internet, do we go backward? No. And think about in 1978 when we're all driving that, that beautiful new Ford Pinto.


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And can you imagine if we still had to drive that Ford Pinto today? Because it's normal, right? And I want normal. No, we don't want normal. We want evolution, we want to progress and innovate and find ways to do that. And so, what is that going to look like? Well, you and I can pontificate all day long on that. But I think at the end of the day, instead of asking ourselves, when can I go back? And that's a key point that you made. When you kind of go back to normal? I'm not sure that's healthy for us, right? I think we need to figure out what is this going to drive us so that we can become better, faster, stronger. Nobody wants to drive a Ford Pinto today. We want the Mustang; we want the Maserati. So, it's that type of innovation, that this pandemic, I believe, has brought, it has brought some great things that we can talk about later.


Juanita Coley: That's so, you got gems, Joel, you got gems drop. Okay. So that's our thing here at Call Center Chronicles, we drop these gems, when our guests say something that's just like, we should do the little mind blow emoji. And we should do that. Talking to the production team, guys. We should do them the mind-blown emoji, but no, what you said about being a neutral state and we're so quick to say, when do we go back? It's like we don't want to go back. We don't want to go back to the horses, what I was thinking about, as you were saying that was one of my favorite quotes is by Henry Ford. He said, "If I were to ask them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". It's like, No, I don't want a faster horse, give me put the horse on the actual emblem, but give me actually something automated, that can go faster, quicker, get me there quicker, safer, all of those different things.


And so, I think what has happened is the pandemic has embodied the Henry Ford slogan if I were to ask you, if you wanted to send people to work at home, you would have kept going back and forth with me on no how we can't do that. And we don't have the technology that is not compliant. But because the pandemic has happened, I've had to figure out how do I work from home? How do I stay in compliance?


And so, the pandemic, when I think about what you're saying about the kind of shifting and shifting those gears, it puts me in that mindset of Henry Ford of how, if the pandemic would have access, we have said we wanted a pandemic we want people to die. Not. We wouldn't have said that. But through the pandemic, and this new normal, we have found ways to evolve, which is what you're saying. We found ways to evolve, we found ways to innovate and become better, stronger, quicker and more proficient, and efficient as an industry. And I'm talking about the call center industry and hopefully as people as well, but specifically, as an industry that services customers.


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Joel Richardson: Yes, necessity is the mother of invention. I wish I would have coined that phrase. But it's so true. And it's so true in our personal lives, when something a little bit challenging happens in our personal lives, we have to solve it. We have to find a way around that. When something happens to an industry like the call center industry, we've got to find a way to solve that problem. And guess what, we're smart, and we can solve that. And I love what you said about, 18 months ago, two years ago, we had agents at home.


They were working at home. It wasn't the majority, but it was some, and every time we'd meet with call center management and say, there's this thing called the cloud and we can move it there and people can go home. They go, yes, I'm not sure I want my people working from home. But as you said, because of this occurrence. Now it forced the issue. And we had to quickly figure out and pivot and figure out how are we going to make that happen and I think as an industry I think we did pretty well.


Juanita Coley: Talking on mute. Yes, that's so good. So, tell me, how important do you think and we've kind of alluded to this already, but I'm so interested to hear your perspective on it. Because, again, the pandemic and this new norm I think people have just been talking about it, as it makes sense. From a just a people standpoint. And I just always associated with call centers, how important do you think it is for call centers to contain to adapt to the new norm?


Joel Richardson: Great question. So, a couple of thoughts come to mind. Number one is that there was a study done recently by Forrester that he says that they say, and in this year that the call center, the customer service branch of a company is going to be a lifeline to consumers. And dig in a little bit further in that, and they did a study now, and basically, the consumer wants a more empathetic experience versus quick resolution. Now, Juanita we both know, that is a total switch. If that same survey two years ago, three years ago, it would have been, lopsided to say, I just want to get my item resolved. Get my bill resolved, get my Dish Network resolved, or whatever it is, I just want it resolved. You need to be nice to me, you need to be civil to me, but get it done.


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All this research shows that it's all about being empathetic. Why is that? Well, I think there are a couple of reasons. One is, as human beings, we're social animals. And when you lock us in four walls all day, even true-blue introverts like me, sometimes we go, I need to talk to somebody, I need to see somebody's face. And so, I