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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 believe that's what Forrester getting at is that we as human beings want that connection, we want that human connection. And so that AHT is going to go up a little bit because I'm sitting here all alone. And guess what I might ask you how the weather is, in Milwaukee, where you're at? versus is my bill resolved now? And now I got to go. So, how important is it that call centers adjust and evolve? way important!
We can talk about Netflix and Blockbuster. Blockbuster said, no, it'll never go that way. They'll never be streaming, guess what, and now their history. And it's going to be the same way with our call centers, that they need to understand, for now, they need to be a lot more empathetic with those customers to give them that experience that they're looking for.
Now, I don't know what a year or two, when this pandemic is kind of come down a little bit. I'm guessing that survey is going to go, 180 degrees again. But that's the beauty of evolving and making sure that the customer's experience is what you want it to be and what they want it to be that more importantly, so they need to evolve.
They do that with technology, they do that with coaching, they do that with making sure that their agents are being treated well, that schedules are good and all that, WFM stuff, Juanita, you know much better than I do. But that's what's going to help them evolve. That's what's going to help them keep and retain those customers. Otherwise, they're going to be the next Sears they're going to be the next Blockbuster Video.
Juanita Coley: Man, that's so good that you said that because it reminds me of a book that I recently finished and I was talking about it in the last episode, but it was the E-myth Enterprise by Michael E. Gerber. Have you read that book, Joel?
Juanita Coley: Okay, Joe, I see you okay, so I get excited. Okay, so I'm on the right path. Okay. Why didn't tell me about the book Joel?
Joel Richardson: I got another book for you too. That one's another good one by Jim Camp, Start with No. You got to get that one.
Juanita Coley: Alright. I'll let you off the hook. Since you gave me the second one, okay. So, I was reading E-myth Enterprise by Michael Gerber. I was reading the enterprise version, I got to get that one. That's called Mastery. It looks at that. And he talks about the stakeholders and how you have your employee, you have your customer, you have your supplier, you have the investor.
And so, what I was just basically hearing you say is we have to evolve on all fronts. So, we have to think about the agent, and do we have the right kinds of shifts? And do we have the right type of time off policies and all of those different things so that we can have a happy agent that's going to translate and be more empathetic and take time to think about all of those different things that in turn, turns into a customer experience, we have to think about the customer that's dealing with the pandemic that has been shut-in, so to speak, for months on end, and they are calling and they want more one on one time, they want to talk more, they want to do more of those different things.
And so, we will see in turn, AHT Average Handle Time for those of you that our call center buffs, average handle time, began to tweak up, because we're in a pandemic, because people are shutting and they want to talk more. And again, as opposed to post-pandemic or pre-pandemic, where everybody's on the go, and I got a million things to do, I'm trying to chat with you, if I call in, it's a problem.
So, it's so many different experiences. And as we think about the different suppliers, we think about the investors, we think about the agent, we think about the customer, where we at, at this particular time with each of those individuals, that are stakeholders to our business, and what is the environment that we're in, that now shapes how we do business, how we evolve and how we innovate.
And unless we're thinking about those four components, then we're not truly evolving and innovating. Because we can't just think about customer experience, we hear that all the time, customer experience, well, we're only thinking about one aspect.
And that's kind of the result without thinking about all the inputs, we have a saying and forecasting, you guys probably hear me say this all the time on the show, trashing equals trash out. So, it doesn't matter, if I have a Maserati of a tool, if I have a Veyron, the aspect or whatever nice doesn't matter what I have, if I feed it, that information is going to spit out that information.
And so, to think about the customer experience completely and holistically, I have to think about the whole thing. What type of ages are talking to these customers? Do they have the right shifts? Have they been coached to now think about the pandemic, and how to be more empathetic, based on the Forrester’s report versus thinking about their AHT and how they're going to get dinged if they don't get off the phone quick enough, so all of those different things? And I think, as we begin to think about those four pieces, that's what's going to make up how we evolve, and how we adopt this new normal as a call center.
Joel Richardson: Yes, I think you said some interesting things there, Gerber, the E-myth, where he talks about the whole ecosystem. And we become pretty good at the supply chain, kind of the physical ecosystem of a supply chain. Look at 20 years ago, 30 years ago, we didn't even have the word supply chain, we now understand how important that getting those physical goods from point A to point B and the logistics involved in that is so important to give that customer experience where they can pick up that toilet tissue in the pandemic, they can pick it up off the shelf, I foresee a time when call centers are going to do the same thing and vendors are going to be held a lot more accountable to the customer experience. So, I mean to be fair today, the customer experience vendor will walk in there put their application in consult, train, and then we kind of step back and go to somebody else.
I foresee a time when that ecosystem of the supply chain from vendor to investors to finally that agent and then finally that the customer themselves, that we will all be much more accountable to make sure that happens. Now, how's that going to work? Juanita, I don't know. But we've seen it in the physical world of logistics and inventory, I think it's going to come in the digital world and that customer experience where the vendor, the investor, the agent, the supplier, everybody is going to be a lot more ingrained, incented, and accountable to ensure that at the end of that supply chain, that there's a customer experience that everybody wanted for that customer.
Juanita Coley: I wish I had the bomb emojis right now, that is so good. I can't even explain. I'm going to try these; I can't even explain how good that is. Because the whole reason Solid Rock exists, is because I come from a user background where I was using the solutions working in companies like United Healthcare, Liberty Medical, Walgreens, so forth, and so on, using the variants, the IEX's and all of those different things, building the workforce teams and love workforce management, love the call center operations experience, but then I moved over to the technology side, because I wanted to understand, well, how is all this powered?
And so, I understood from a user perspective, how to use the tool, and what it gave me as the output as a result, and then I moved over to the technology side to find out more of, how is the system created and how it is creating this versus that give me the end-user a result. And so, I saw, as I moved on to the technology side, a big gap between how we train the solution without training the discipline.
And so, people know which buttons to press, but they don't understand the call center discipline, they don't understand quality programs and how to develop a quality program, they don't understand the workforce management and the inputs that go into the workforce, it's not the solution. It's the discipline in what you're saying, the result of getting the customer information adequately, effectively, efficiently to where they feel like they've been taken care of. And until you understand the discipline in those inputs, then it doesn't matter.
Again, if you have a Maserati, if you have a Honda, if you don't understand that you have to put gas in the vehicle, then it's not going to go anywhere. And so, as you begin to talk about being held accountable, and us being having that whole experience, I believe that that's where we're headed from not only just a supplier, the vendors and the technology, the call centers, the ages, all of that, but it also has to be this whole song and dance to make sure that we get cohesive, and that we're not kind of working in these silos to where it's, well, I deliver the product, you got the product, and I don't know what to tell, no, I got to know how to work the product, and why I'm configuring it a particular way. So, I 100% agree with that.
Joel Richardson: And we're kind of getting to that point when we're moving to the cloud. So, we move to the cloud, and we don't just wash your hands and go, it's up to you, we now continue to provide that service to that call center. So, they can provide that service to the customer experience. So, we're taking one step towards that. And in addition to that, you know what interesting Juanita you talked about the why, and I love that, the Why?
Simon Sinek, he's all about the WHY. And if you think about your children, my children, when we, when we ask them, tell them to demand them, to do something, they'll do it, because mom said so dad says, it takes a little bit longer the first couple of times.
But if we let them understand the why in it, and if they can comprehend that, then it's less of a just push the button as you talked about, but understand when I push that button, what happens? And I'm not talking about the bits and bytes, but what happens such that what impact does that have on my schedule? On my peer schedule, on the technology on the customer? How does that impact them? Because if I understand that now the WHY, I'm going to be a lot more engaged and a lot more accountable when I do push that button at the right time to make sure that, that's the right thing to do at the right time.
Juanita Coley: That's all good. This leads me to my next question, it's crazy, this guy was a great segue into why diversity matters, then in call centers, right? Because if I haven't had a similar experience, or, you know, whether it's, you know, we're diverse on so many levels, whether it's experienced, whether it's ethnic background, whether it's religion, whatever, you know, we're diverse on so many different ways, and we share so many commonalities in the same hand, why does diversity matter? And how do we get to an end result where that diversity program and contact centers matter in what we deliver to customers?
Joel Richardson: Yes. Interesting, thoughts on that? So, I think, first of all, there is never an end. We will never arrive. And I think that's good. I think that's good that it's the journey of getting there versus a point in time. Now, we have to have milestones to say we made it to hear we made to there. But it's the journey that I think is an important part of diversity.
And, Juanita, I love how you said that. And that is that we all see the world a little bit differently.
Even my wife sees things quite a bit differently than I do. And sometimes that causes a little bit of friction. When we're doing new flooring, she says, I want purple, and I say, let's go with blue, whatever the case is. And so, there's a little bit of friction, but at the same time, if we were all just, yes, men and we know what that means. The boss says something. Yes, sure. Great idea, boss. Great idea.
Where does that lead us? That's just horrible. And so, the diversity of thinking, the diversity of I grew up in this, and seeing the world this way, right wrong or indifferent and you grew up the seen world this way, right wrong and different. And that gives us better ideas and better collaboration. Leadership is really kind of changed through the years.
Well, let me say this leadership, I don't think has but management has, 30 years ago, management was all about the iron fist. I say jump and you say how high. And leadership has changed that and turned it more into a collaborative, diverse type of environment so that the boss doesn't have a monopoly and all the right answers. And so that's why the boss has teamed. And that's why the boss has a staff to collaborate with and to get feedback from such that, when three people say to go left, and six people say to go, right, it's not a democratic vote, it's looking at different perspectives.
And then, at that point, taking the information that you have and making a decision, and that decision can be right or wrong. But as long as we make that decision, and make it quickly, and I think it Gerber talks about failing fast, I'm pretty sure I think maybe it's Jim Camp, I can't remember. But to fail fast. And so that didn't work. Let's try another trial. So, I think diversity brings those different perspectives to that Management Group, that leadership group to that call center so, that the most optimal solution at that time can be attained, we can arrive to that.
Juanita Coley: That is so good. Can you hear me, Joel?
Joel Richardson: I can I looked like I was getting a little slow there.
Juanita Coley: Yes, the beauty of working remotely we have bandwidth issues from time to time, but it's all good. I think that's a really good piece that you're talking through, is that point of diversity. That point of diversity because as you said, you and your wife have some different thoughts. I won't Pink floors well, why don't we do Grey, it's like having those different perspectives is why I think it's so important that we have diversity.
Because without that diversity, and just having “yes men”, then my customer suffers because no one said, well, let's think about how we do business for this group of people, whether it's elderly, or whether it is African Americans, or whether it's a certain religious group, how does my product or my service translate to that customer group? And do we have representation that will be able to speak directly and have the same experiences that the group have, that we'll be able to translate a good customer experience too?
And then train it to other people that may not be a part of that group, but they can at least understand, this is why this matters. In case in point, I'm thinking about, AEP season at United Healthcare, and my mom, she sells health insurance, and every AEP season, she's doing over 65.
And so, she's talking to a certain group, because, she is nearing that age, she understands about, why they want an appointment at this very specific time, because they got to go and catch their bingo, or they got to go to the doctor, she's getting that. And so having someone like her out in the field, as opposed to having somebody fresh out of college and never had to deal with scheduling an appointment themselves, period, may not be your best bet. But then if we have someone like her in leadership, that can now teach that, it is still a skill set that can be taught, so you don't have to necessarily always experience being 65 to be able to empathize with someone who is the other age bracket.
And so, I think that is where we mustn't have only diversity, just diversity across the board, so diversity on the frontline’s diversity on leadership, which is, again, one of our goals is to normalize women in tech, normalize diversity in the leadership as well if you caught the show before last, I think it was an Orlando show, but it was Ebony show. And she was talking about, based on I think it was a Mercer reporter, some report that talked about, it would take 95 years at the rate that we're going as far as diversity, for women to catch up as far as equal equity in leadership roles.
And I thought, get my mind was blown. I don't know why I have that emoji yet. But my mind was blown on that, 95 years really, we must speed this process along, what else has to happen for us to can we get it down to 30 years, maybe it'll happen during my lifespan. But I think the best so important that as we think about the new normal, and we think about I mean, you hit so many key points about this new normal and evolving, that's the big thing he talked about is about evolving.
And so that we can move forward with the internet, we didn't go backward, we continue to move forward. And I believe that's what we will do. And you talked about the different stakeholders, as far as the vendors are technology moving to the cloud, all of these different things if we would have asked, clients or contact centers six months ago, 18 months ago, they were no, we can't do that. Now it is a requirement. Or you will be a blockbuster or sear, you'll be irrelevant, or not have the technology to evolve.
And so, you hit so many key points. And thank you so much for hanging out with us today. It's always good and fun talking to you. What do you have any final words of wisdom? That's what we have to do. We have to do a wisdom segment. I feel like I get so much information when I talk to you guys. I'm like, tell me the juice. Joel, any final words of wisdom as we embark on this new normal and how we adapt?
Joel Richardson: I think when people ask me about words of wisdom, the one thing that always comes to mind, there's a phrase by Stephen Covey. He put a book out years ago, 20 30 years ago, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And the one thing that's always stuck in my mind is this phrase, and the phrase goes like this. "Seek first to understand then be understood".
And so how does that relate to what we've talked about today?
Well, I think that relates to diversity.
So, instead of trying to make sure that you understand me, first of all. How about turning that around? Let me understand you and then by doing so I might have some more input that I can give that adds more value, or when I'm an agent and talking to that customer, and I think, it's another agent who wants a discount on their bill. Well, let me tell you how it works, you're not going to get a discount. So, maybe turning around and saying, why would that discount be important for you and understanding them and then being understood? So, that's my words of wisdom for today.
Juanita Coley: Listen, and on that note, we got to drop the gem, Joel. That was so good. First, seek to understand, then be understood. That's so good. I think when we understand each other, then that opens up what we call true communication because we're able to send a signal to receive a signal, and we're not just sending signals we're able to send and receive and I think that is important as we continue to evolve and embark on this new normal. So, thank you so much, Joel, hang out with me for a little bit on the scene to the green room close the show out. Thank everybody for joining us one moment here.
Joel Richardson: Alright, see you guys. See you, Juanita.