Tenfold Talks: Contact Center Metrics and Leadership with Nate Brown

Customer experience and service expert, Nate Brown, sat down with us to discuss some hot topics in the contact center industry. Nate is quickly becoming a household name in the customer service realm as a recognized top thought leader by both ICMI and HDI. He currently serves as the Director of Customer Experience at UL and founded the popular service blog, CustomerCenticSupport.com.

As a frequent speaker at both ICMI and HDI conferences and expos, Nate spent time with us discussing topics he often teaches:

  • Incorporating CES as a key metric in the contact center
  • Importance of gamification in preventing agent turnover
  • Role of leadership in creating a customer centric service center

To learn more from Nate, click above to listen in, or read the highlights from our discussion below.

Q: Back in 2015 you did a session at the ICMI Expo on Customer Effort Scores and the Net Promoter Score, can you talk to me about that and what you learned and taught during that session?

Absolutely. The more customer service leaders that I talk to that are looking to build out a CX dashboard or customer dashboard of some kind, they’re all looking for alternatives to NPS. NPS has really gotten a bad rap over the last couple of years. It is a very old metric and there are many failures associated with NPS, but NPS is a very legitimate way to measure the larger temperature of your customer base. It’s a simple, powerful question and it still has a place within our customer dashboards, but it’s absolutely not the end all, be all. There are other metrics that need to be combined with it that are going to hold accountable, that are going to bring other things in perspective, and ultimately bring in that creative tension that will let you find the truth of what’s actually going on with your customer base and where you can dive in.

My absolute favorite counterpart to NPS is the customer effort score, or CES. We started using this back in 2013. It was introduced with the book, The Effortless Experience, by the Corporate Executive Board, now Gartner, and it was an absolute game changer at that time. It still continues to be an absolute game changer within the industry. What that question is, is just simply how quickly, or quick and easy was it for you to resolve your issue. We do ask that on our transactional surveys and we do have that conversation with our customers of how easy is it for you to do business with us and how can we serve you better to ultimately save you time and create efficiencies for you. We have found, in such a compelling way, that what customers value more than anything else is their time.

Q: Were there any difficulties introducing a new measurement system? Was it difficult or was it pretty streamline?

I would consider it to be a very easy thing to implement. The way that we did it effectively is just putting people in the shoes of their consumer hat. Introducing them to the concept and very simply explaining, “When you’re in a customer service situation, you’re looking to save time and you’re looking for a quick resolution. We’re gonna start number one, measuring that. And number two, trying to create that as much as we possibly can.” People get on board with that. We’ve had very little resistance to the overall concept.

Q:  I’ve read a couple things that say the Customer Effort Score outperforms NPS and CSAT in means of predicting buyer behavior. Do you agree? If so, why? Is that something that you’ve seen when you’ve implemented it at UL?

Yeah, absolutely. We have done a number of research studies within our lean six sigma black belt team at UL who conducted an internal study and validated that CES is a better predictor of customer loyalty than NPS with our demographics here. We’ve been able to validate that personally. For me, the way that I like to view it, NPS is great to get that 20,000 foot view of your customers and get that heartbeat. But if you want to actually be able to dive in on more of a touch point level, on more of a transactional level, this is where the rubber hits the road.

Q: Can you talk to us about gamification? How are you using it at UL?

I’m a big believer of this concept. We’ve had a remarkably low turnover rate in the past couple of years since implementing somewhat of informal gamification strategy. Not just because of the gamification, many other things come into play on that, certainly. We definitely have enjoyed and have seen an impact from the gamification that we have done. What we have implemented here is, what we would consider to be, low tech gamification. Just to take a quick step back, for me, my favorite definition of gamification is it’s just using game mechanics to motivate people to high value actions.

There’s a whole bunch of different things that you can do that breaks the monotony of a contact center job, which I think at the end of the day is really the biggest power of it. You’re taking something that can become very repetitive, doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning or purpose unless you’re intentional about inserting that meaningful work. Inserting that fun element into the job. A lot of times this can be a high burnout, high turnover role.

There is some really great software out there. I’ve got peer, ‎Neal Topf, the president of Callzilla, who I presented with a couple years ago on this topic. He’s got a wonderful story of how using a gamification software platform helped to really get their customers involved. Being able to motivate and reward the agents to be participatory in the QA process.

In my mind, having seen success with both I really think that there are synergies with both. You want to approach the lifestyle experience of working for your company, create that low tech fun gamification experience. You also want to combine that for things like training, things like QA. You want to have a high tech gamification aspect as well.

Q: Once you started implementing these gamification techniques, how long did it take to see results in your agents? Were there increases in their metrics? What did that look like?

Well, the only metric that I was concerned about was turnover. Years ago, we were in a very rough place in terms of agents and to advocating the role. A lot of it was the turnover, which I don’t consider that necessarily a bad thing to a degree, right. Yeah, that was my absolute goal. It certainly accomplished that goal. Again, very small contact center here. We’re not very official. We’re somewhat informal with many of our metrics, so there wasn’t something where I could, “Hey, this gamification program equaled this result other than we just had a wonderful reduction in turnover.”

Q: Talking about gamification and agent turnover, what role does leadership play in that? Do you think enough people in leadership positions take it seriously and with the importance that it deserves?

Yeah, a lot of people like to go out and buy a piece of software and consider the problem to be solved. Which the software is an important part, but the intentionality and thought process behind what you’re doing or the problem that you’re trying to solve has to be there. At least in part of a larger execution process. I think the intentionality piece is key because there’s no shortcut to creating a good, functional, enjoyable working environment. You have to constantly keep it fresh. You have to put new energy. You have to put a lot of time and effort into creating this type of program. So, if you don’t have leadership involvement … and then also, if you’re not getting the agents themselves involved to help you to carry the burden of this thing and to make it fun for themselves, you’re gonna burn out.

Q: You interact with a bunch of contact center leaders through HDMI, ICMI, and of course your work on your blog. Do you have specific examples or characteristics that you see in leadership executives? What does good look like versus what does not so good look like?

Yeah, I think there’s been a big shift with different expectations of how we view leadership. I don’t think it’s necessarily just in the customer service sphere per say, but obviously there’s been a huge shift to the more authentic, more personal, more relationship based leadership model. People want to be able to come to work, to know their boss, to be a friend with their leadership, to ultimately share life not just with their leader but also to be able to share life in a meaningful way with the people that they’re working with. We spend way too much time at work to have to come here and then ultimately despise the people that we’re spending so much time and so much of our life with.

It’s the leader’s responsibility to focus on removing those hurdles to a great team environment, to creating a fun and engaging and meaningful work experience. I think those leaders really focus on how can I take what’s meaningful, what’s unique about and organization. For UL, we have a wonderful mission in the fact that we are keeping people safer. We have 320 items on average in your home that we’ve tested to make sure it’s not going to catch on fire, or emit harmful chemicals, or otherwise hurt you. That’s an easy mission to get behind.

So, how can I, as a leader, take that really compelling and awesome mission about our organization and make sure that on a day to day basis that people feel valued, and that people have an opportunity to meaning to serve that mission in a way that makes a difference.

Cailyn:  Absolutely, and I think that’s also really giving somebody a purpose beyond just servicing a client. It’s, ‘what does my service do beyond just that one person. What does it do as a whole?” A very simple idea, but again very important. Sometimes I think, especially in a very hectic, busy contact center, leaders can often overlook the importance of that. You have to do it on an individual level to get that on a team level and an organizational level as well.

Nate:  Yeah, and the best leaders do exactly that and they focus on not just the operational level and that relationship piece but they can bring it to that business tier. They can create a return on the investment with all the different things that they’re ultimately accomplishing within the contact center. They can be a good corporate citizen to the business to help them to achieve their goals both financially and otherwise.

It takes those two hats. If you have a leader who is just always focused on, “How can everybody have fun at work” and the different things. That’s a path that ultimately ends in failure. At the same time, on the other end of that coin, if all you focus on is, “What’s the average handle time of all of my agents?” You just extrapolate every bit of utilization that you possibly can and suck the life out of your contact center that ultimately ends in failure as well. There is a balance that has to be found, and it’s not everybody that has the capacity and capability to find that balance.

Q: Contact centers are often looked at from top down as a cost center but often contact centers are the ones interacting the most with the clients, they have the most data. What are your thoughts on that? Do you agree? Do you see your contact center being that vital to UL’s business?

That’s a great question. I think that’s a question that a lot of customer service leaders are still asking. It’s not a new question by any means. I think over the past five, ten years, we’re still in this age of the customer so to speak. We have this rise of the quote unquote customer experience. Which, in some ways, is customer service 2.0 in the sense that now those that are interfacing with customers are viewed as strategic resources. They’re a critical, critical part of the business’s ability to generate customer loyalty and ultimately long term revenue.

So now, all of the sudden, the customer service leader is a very strategic position and the contact center is a very unique weapon in the company’s arsenal to achieve it’s financial targets. I think it’s wonderful that we’re starting to be viewed in this customer industry as being more strategic and getting the seats at the strategy meetings and at the table so to speak. I think a lot of customer service leaders are having difficulty making that transition to being able to reach outside of the contact center where they’re very comfortable and start to be able to coordinate things out on the more holistic level of the business.

Q: Within your own contact center how are you relaying the importance of the agent’s role, to overall customer loyalty and how that ultimately plays up to the importance of the organization and the company’s revenue and performance? How do you relay that message to your agents and make them realize that their role has a lot to do with the overall company performance?

We make a big deal publicly about what quality service does in terms of earning the right to grow our business. Within our, what we call being connected meetings, our town hall meetings, we celebrate that on a regular basis. We have different banners and things around the office for celebrating that. We try hard to make the agents feel like celebrities for what they’re doing and for the role that they play. Often times, very frustrating customer facing role that’s there. So, yeah, it is hard and it’s still something that we need to get better at doing is painting that compelling picture and showing that line.

One thing that I’m working on now is creating a better CX dashboard. We have a great NPS base and we have the customer effort score element but where I want to evolve to is to have a better understanding of what the lifetime value of our customer looks like. If I have somebody that’s on the median area within NPS and I can move them to that promoters tale, what does that look like? We know that those promoters are gonna spend six times more with your business over the lifetime of the partnership than somebody that’s quote unquote stuck with your organization.

I need to be able to paint a more compelling revenue picture of what good CX does for the business. It’s very difficult to do, but it is not impossible. Then I would like to … once I can have more of that, is be able to show the agents, “You guys are so critical to the bottom line of this business.”

Cailyn:  Right, it’s way more cost efficient to keep a current customer rather than acquire a new one. Like you said, contact center agents are and can be very critical to that. You look at this age of automation, of a lot of the processes that customers go through now, and often sometimes one of the only touch points we have with a customer is in the contact center.

Q: Do you have any leadership courses or best practices that you’d love to share or recommend?

Yeah, there’s two books that have really blown my mind recently. We’ve used, The Effortless Experience, within our contact center in a whole variety of ways, but most recently we’re taking all of our coaches through the book and we’re helping to develop and new self-service strategy using that as the backbone of it. So, that’s been a phenomenal resource. Also, Jeanne Bliss wrote a book, Chief Customer Officer 2.0.

Cailyn: Yes, it’s a great book.

Nate: Yeah, and that’s helped me a lot. I spoke about how it’s hard for a customer service leader to move into that CS realm. That’s been a guide book for me more than anything else that I’ve gone through. It has been remarkably helpful. Then, you’ve got to get with other people that are doing the work that you want to be doing or that you are doing. The CXPA is wonderful on the customer experience tier. On the customer service side, I have gotten so much value out of the communities of ICMI, CCW, HDI, and others have just been wonderful in terms of the network that has been collected there. I am, on regular basis, looking for support and guidance from my peers and from my mentors that I have met through those communities.

Cailyn: Completely agree. We are very involved with a lot of the same communities and such great resources for us, of course, to learn about our customers, the challenges you’re facing, and helping be a resource in solving those problems. I spoke with Jeanne, actually a couple weeks back, and she’s has a new book coming, “I Love You More Than My Dog: Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad.” We are super anticipating that. I think it’s going to be a great read. So, shout out to her. She’s great. I know she speaks a lot at CCW conferences as well.

You can gain more insight from Nate on his website. Catch him speaking at HDI’s next conference in April 2018.


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Aki Merced

Aki Merced

Aki Merced writes about B2B sales and marketing as a content marketer for Tenfold. Follow her on Twitter @akimerced!

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