ACCE 2010 Conference Brief: The Global Gathering for the Contact Center Community

Updated: June 29, 2010

Opening Remarks

Brad Cleveland opened the conference and shared some demographics of attendees. The highest industry representation was Financial Services, which made up twenty percent of the attendees. Computers and Telecom came in next with twelve percent of attendees. Most of the call centers represented at the conference had twenty agents or fewer. Twenty-three percent of attendees had a role of Services, Supervisor, or Manager. A similar sector at twenty-two percent was comprised of Executive Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Directors. Almost half of all attendees have been in the call center industry ten or more years.

Many in attendance indicated that they had major customer experience initiatives. Currently, top challenges include changes in external and internal environment, meeting customer expectations, as well as direction, planning, operations. Informal conversations often turned to discussions of the challenges of new channels being supported, such as live chat. The skills and training for the channels are challenges as well as reporting, scheduling, monitoring, etc.

Opening Keynote

John Foley, High Performance Climb

John appeared as a pilot in the movie Top Gun, is a jet pilot, and was a member of the Blue Angels - an elite exhibition team for naval aviation. He is now a performance consultant.

John discussed the critical thinking and processes required to achieve high performance in an environment requiring high precision. With merely three feet between planes in formation - a space that is narrower than your head to your feet when sitting - John knows the importance of performance. As one of only six people in the world at one time to be a demo pilot, John is familiar with behaviors of the top one-tenth of one percent of the performance pyramid.

The Blue Angels program has fifty percent turnover in its top echelon, which is a planned rotation of demo pilots. To support excellence, the group requires consistent processes and procedures. A new member of the Blue Angels undertakes intense training in becoming a fully trained demo pilot as the program sustains 300% improvement in three months.

John asserts that elevating your belief level in turn elevates performance. The first level of belief includes vision and clarity. Is the vision liberating or limiting? Limiting is from without. Liberating is from within. When a new entrant comes to the program they have six weeks to watch, learn and absorb the culture. They are exposed to a liberating vision, and their belief level increases.

Thirdly, in the increasing levels of belief, a team establishes trust, execution, and commitment. The key to execution is trust. There is a contract between members - an agreement with consequences. This contract is not written or formal, but rather verbal between team members. If the wingman is off, he must say he is off. He does not try to correct on his own or hide it. If he is on target, there is no need to say anything. He trusts that his wingman has it.

Finally, the last level includes assessment, discipline, and accountability. During debriefing, rank and experience are put aside. Each team member critiques his own performance and commits to correcting mistakes. High performers celebrate victories as well.


Contact Center Operations 101: Seven Critical Issues

Rose Pulchin, ICMI

Rose Pulchin is a consultant at ICMI, but started her career as an agent, progressing to supervisor and center management. Her introductory session is intended to give a base understanding to those who may not have had formal training is the business but need to get a handle on the economics and undercurrents of the call center.

The contact center is a hub of communication, encompassing phone, email, fax, mail, text chat, and more. The center has touch points with many other areas: corporate strategy, marketing, finance, legal, R&D, production/operations, IS and telecom.

Customers have certain expectations from the contact center. First and foremost, customers expect the contact center to be accessible. Along the same lines, customers want their concerns to be completed promptly, to save them money, and to do it right the first time. Without asking, a customer wants his expectations set, exceeded, and to receive follow-up. Additionally, contact center representatives should be well-trained, informed, ethical, courteous, and showing concern about the customers' needs and wants.

Incoming Contact Center Management is the art of having the correct number of properly skilled people and supporting resources in place at the right times to handle an accurately forecasted workload at service level and with quality.

The first of three driving forces of the call center is the effect of random call arrival. Secondly is the visible or invisible queue. With visible queues, the customer knows how he is progressing. With invisible, the customer is unaware of the length of the wait. Often long wait times create longer handle times as customers complain and agents apologize, adding seconds to each call. Thirdly is the caller's tolerance for waiting. Underlying factors for tolerance include degree of motivation, availability of substitutes, competition's service level, level of expectations, time available, who is paying for the call, and human behavior.

There are two major categories of inbound transactions. The first is those that must be handled when they arrive. Performance objective are stated as a service level expressed as x% answered in y seconds. (commonly 80%/20 sec). The second is those that can be handled at a later time. Performance objectives are stated as a response time expressed as 100% response within n hrs/mins

The data required for forecasting:

Call load equals: Volume x Average Handling Time (talk time + after-call work)

  • Historical data
    • Look for trends
    • Consider if business will grow or decline
  • Judgment
    • Special events
    • New product lines
    • New self-service options

Base staff = agents idle/available, agents in after-call work, agents on a call, which does not include off-phone activity - also called shrinkage. You will always schedule base staff plus shrinkage for off-phone (breaks, absent, training, etc.)

Erlang C Equation helps solve the unknown to determine number of actual agents needed. The calculation will show how many agents are needed to meet a service level with a certain level of occupancy (on phone, after call work). The higher the service level, the more agents are required to be available, causing lower occupancy. Smaller centers have to have lower occupancy in order to hit same service level - higher percentage of agents have to be idle in order to take call in same timeframe.

Relationship of Service Level and Quality


Service level slips > Customers complain about wait > AHT rises, causing longer waits > Agent feels pressured to hurry to empty queue > Customers feel rushed, mistakes are made > Calls increase to correct errors, call volume increases > Cycle repeats

When service level improves, productivity declines. Productivity is measured by occupancy. It compares time spent handling calls with time spent waiting for calls. It doesn't consider time away from phones for breaks, etc. When service is good, there will be time when agents are waiting on calls. You can't increase service level and occupancy at the same time.

Rostered Staff Factor (RSF) = On Schedule divided by Base Staff Req. Shrinkage = # Lost divided by On Schedule.

Example: 8-8:30 Shift:

Base staff required: 28

Absent: 3

Break: 0

Training: 4

On Schedule: 35

RSF: 1.25

Shrinkage: 20%

The relationship between staffing and trunking:

More staff = less telecom load. Costs must be budgeted together. Higher service levels = more staff = less hold time = lower telecom costs. Have to review telecom and staff costs together to understand tradeoff and get total costs.

Contact Center Agent Skill Demands Are Increasing

  • Higher customer expectations
  • Multi-channel contacts
  • Internet and e-commerce
  • Self-service for simple transactions
  • Emphasis on customer retention

JD Power Top 25 Call Center Brands: How #1 Ranked USAA Wows Its Members

In this session, Leonard Hambrick, VP, Contact Center Management, USAA, and Mark Miller, Senior Director, J.D. Power and Associates share the top 25 call center brands, the to drivers of customer satisfaction and a behind the scenes look at USAA, which delivers a consistently superior customer experience.

JD Power performs voice of the customer research, open research and consulting in addition to the consumer rankings most people are familiar with in regards to cars, etc. Their research has uncovered the top five call center satisfaction drivers. These have shifted in ranking over time. They are:

  1. Courtesy
  2. Timeliness of resolution
  3. Promptness in speaking with customer (last year's top driver)
  4. Knowledge of rep
  5. Concern

JD Power believes customer service is shifting from speed and transactional competence to being a trusted advisor.

Top 25 Call Centers As Ranked by J.D Power

Rankings determined by 875 brands in 20 studies with call centers in insurance, hospitality, healthcare, financial services, utilities and telecommunications.

  1. USAA
  2. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts
  3. The Hartford
  4. Amica Mutual
  5. Geico
  6. New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance
  7. Lowes Hotel
  8. Prescription Solutions
  9. Esurance
  10. Drury Inn and Suites
  11. Automobile Club of Southern California
  12. The Ritz-Carlton
  13. JW Marriott
  14. Progressive
  15. GMAC
  16. Liberty Mutual
  17. Auto-Owners
  18. Progressive (two studies)
  19. Embassy Suites
  20. Automobile Club Group
  21. Wyndham
  22. Microtel Inn
  23. Hampton Inn
  24. Charles Schwab
  25. Kaiser Permanente Pharmacy

Len was previously VP of Operations with United and also worked with Hartford. He is responsible for customer care strategy, outsourcing and the control center.

USAA's mission is to facilitate the financial security of its members, associates, and their families through provision of a full range of highly competitive financial products and services; in so doing, USAA seeks to be the provider of choice for the military community.

The company values are service, loyalty, honesty, and integrity. They have 22,000 employees. With new hire training that averages 8 weeks, every employee also gets a one week new employee orientation that teaches the mission and what is expected of them to deliver on it. USAA invests in over a million training hours for their 5,000 reps. All 22,000 employees get the same percentage bonus, based on how the company does.

Each meeting in the company begins with reciting the mission statement.

According to JD Power's satisfaction index, the IVR accounts for 33% and the customer service rep accounts for 67% of caller satisfaction. Len says USAA treats technology as a slave. People come first. The strategy for IVR is "your channel, your choice." Callers can access an agent from very high in the tree. On a monthly average, 7 out of 10 callers go through the IVR.

JD Power Diagnostics

Nature of the Call: Question vs. Problem

For top performing call centers, 89% of calls are questions.

For the average, 53%.

For the bottom, 37%.

For USAA, 96%.

Hold Time

JD Power does not see that hold time is a large contributor to satisfaction. There is only 1% difference in hold time between top and bottom performers.

One Contact Resolution

Top performers 77%

Average 69%

Bottom 67%

Follow-Up After Call

Top 71%

Average 30%

Bottom 20%

No Transfer

Top 75%

Average 52%

Bottom 45%

USAA focuses on call flow, not necessarily AHT. They have low idle times. Currently, they are using internal knowledge management and are expanding it. They have a group that handles outbound, but are moving to having some blended inbound/outbound in special areas.

USAA has a manager candidate school where new leaders spend 6 months. All leaders get 25 hours of education a year.

They motivate agents by getting them buying into and internalizing the mission. Their turnover is often from people who don't get the mission. An example of perks they provide employees is that on their corporate campus in San Antonio, which is almost as big as the Pentagon, every employee has covered parking.

They have about 1000 outsourced agents. They work hard to get them to internalize the USAA message. Their goal is to have quality as good as internal agents.

Disney Reservation Center "Surprises and Delights" Guests with Chat

Cal Almaguer, Disney Reservations Center

Director, Sales and Service

Cal Almaguer shares how Disney went from a small proof of concept with live chat to a dedicated team that is providing high value to the business.


Live Chat was seen as a way to have the personalization of a live call with the efficiency of the internet. Disney first did a proof of concept four years ago. They have a Rapid Cycle Test Team, a non-incented group used to test new policies, processes and technologies before rollout. Cal cautions to make sure agents are not incented if you do a proof of concept, because incentive can interfere with testing.

The first pilot was with seven agents to test the impact to guest satisfaction and revenue per online booking. They varied the number of concurrent chats. In their research, they found out that some centers do as much as 10 chats, but that was the highest they found.

During the test, Disney saw:

  • Increase in conversion and average order value over self-service, online booking
  • Chats too early or too late in the shopping session didn't maximize
  • It reduced calls
  • For them a maximum of 2 concurrent chats was optimal

As a result, Disney launched a dedicated team to Live Chat. They use a proactive model and invite the chat. When they had a static button, it invited help desk type questions and that was not the intent of the group. They invite based on business rule triggers, and only when an agent is available. Of those invited, 10% accept the chat. In chat, Disney uses pre-populated questions. They do about 50/50 pre-scripted vs. ad-hoc responses. Spelling and grammar are checked in the chat tool, but they tested the agents for those skills before hiring into the group as well. Disney has plans to double their live chat agents. Right now have 24.

Live chat agents have the same coaching interaction goals as phone agents:

  • 30 minutes/week side by side
  • 30 minutes of coaching from chat transcripts
  • Guest feedback goes to leader for immediate action
  • Agent to supervisor ratio is 22-24:1 for both phone & live chat

Statistics of Disney's Live Chat

  • Average 23 second wait time
  • 8% abandon rate
  • Handle 40% more guests/hour than with phone
  • 80% of live chat guests don't call in
  • 134% higher conversion than self-serve
  • 11% higher average order value
  • 72% top box in surveys (phone is 80%)
  • 94% rate positive experience

Disney has experienced a proven value-add to their business with the addition of live chat. Answering guests online not only reduces calls to the center, but it also optimizes labor, results in higher guest satisfaction as well as higher revenue. Finally, real-time feedback helps optimize the website.

Move Beyond Service to Great Customer Experiences

Sherry Steffen, AVP Customer Service Center, Northwestern Bank


Northwestern is a small bank in northern Michigan that has increased market position against large banks by empowering their agents with an "I can do that!" culture.

As an example of the above and beyond type of service Northwestern enables, an agent withdrew money from her personal savings account to cover a customer request that due to some circumstances she couldn't meet with ordinary operating procedures. Everyone has the ability and authority to do what's best for the customer. Standout performers are asked to be part of the "I Can Do That Guide" program. Hedgehog awards, which are based on Good to Great book, are given to standout above and beyond service.

FDIC market share ratings (against a lot of big name banks)

2002 5th

2003 4th

2004 4th

2005 3rd

2006 3rd

2007 2nd

2008 2nd

2009 2nd

Keynote: "FASCINATE! The Seven Triggers of Persuasion and Influence"

Sally Hogshead, Speaker, Author, and Brand Innovation Consultant

Sally Hogshead describes the seven triggers of fascination and illustrates how to persuade employees and customers by drawing upon your innate abilities based on these triggers.

Fascination is irrational, instinctive. Examples of things both innate and irresistible:

  • Scientists have proven that men with a certain type of elbow have more success in life: better jobs, higher pay, more attractive wives.
  • What are smiles for, from an evolutionary perspective? When animals show teeth, usually means they want to eat you, not meet you. Linguists now believe smiles are a way of modulating pitch to sound less threatening. You can hear when someone is smiling, and it puts you more at ease.
  • Jagermeister - everyone has had, very few like the taste. The mystique and maybe even the awful taste are part of the allure. Most fascinating things are a little polarizing.

How do you get attention in this age? Years ago, we had an attention span of 20 minutes. A heavy internet user has a 9 second attention span now, which is about the same as a goldfish.

There are seven triggers to fascination. Sally describes two:

1) Power - to evoke power you can:

  • Control the environment and set a new standard
  • Establish rules and rewards

2) Trust - to evoke trust you can:

  • Become familiar (It's a Wonderful Life was originally a flop. We're all so inoculated to it now, that it's a favorite)
  • Maintain predictability
  • Tap into existing reference points (like favorite songs used in commercials, finding a common interest and attaching yourself to it)

Trust is the most valuable, hardest to gain and easiest to lose

From a pre-conference assessment to attendees, Sally shared that ICMI attendees are predominantly high on Power, pretty high on Lust and Trust. The high number of those with Power dominant is not surprising. If there was ever a group that controls the environment and establishes rules, it's the call center for sure.

  • What could your company learn from online dating?
  • Lust - sparking the imagination with a sensory experience
  • Trust - use familiar cues to communicate loyalty
  • Alarm - use deadlines to your advantage
  • Power - Take command

Perception is Reality: Repositioning the Value of the Call Center

Tim Montgomery, Principal, The Service Level Group

Tim Montgomery shares his experiences working with some of the world's most celebrated service organizations to illustrate how to create a world-class center.

Value Mindset for World Class Centers

Line of Sight is being connected to every other organization that impacts and is impacted by call center.

Tim gave an example of a prescription company that printed the web site on prescription bottle caps. The tiny type was hard to read, and each agent was receiving 2-3 calls a day at 750 agents, asking what was on the bottle cap. Taking that off the cap equated to about $3 million in call handling savings.

The agent mindset should be:

  • I Own It
  • Beyond the Call
  • I am Us
  • I Know Them

What makes some organizations world class?

  • Scooter Store - 2% turnover at about 600 seats. They listen to their front line. Every rep has 15 minutes at the beginning of every day to set their goal for the day. Managers ask, "What do I need to take up?" (take up the chain of command)
  • Zappos - Doesn't measure call times. Too much emphasis on handle time will drive culture. If you tell a rep the AVERAGE handle time should be 5 (meaning some longer, some shorter), they will apply 5 to everything. Unless you give them background on call center economics so they understand.
  • Some organizations are moving away from balanced scorecards, and instead are using ROI. "You get 50 calls a day. Achieve X ROI on them."
  • Apple - Repair relationships. If someone calls, it's because their service failed.
  • Southwest - They make it easy and fun.
  • The Scooter Store - Engage the front line in everything.
  • Starbucks - They know who and what.
  • Nordstrom - They come to my house (if something is out of stock at your store, they bring it to you)
  • Ritz Carlton - Every employee is empowered to spend $2000 to make it right for a customer.
  • Amazon - They target no service.
  • USAA - Teach employees to think like customers. During new hire orientation, they have to eat MREs (meals ready to eat, eaten by service people in the field)
  • Cabelas - Employees can take anything from their catalog home, as long as they come back and do a presentation on the product for fellow employees.

For Your Consideration

  • Diet & Exercise - Consistency. What's important is to consistently deliver the right people at the right time.
  • WHAM - Well, Hear, Alter, Modify
  • Think Outside In - customer perspective
  • Don't Ignore What's in the Box - There is a lot of existing opportunity in your existing customer contacts
  • Draw Your Frothing Pitcher Line - Good ideas come from the front line. (Starbucks money saving example: employee noted that a lot of waste comes from over-estimating the liquid needed for frothing. Pitchers made with lines drawn for different sizes saved millions)

It's true that AHT drives staffing, but Tim recommends coaching to the outliers. If you train reps on call center economics, they understand what and why you're asking them to meet certain metrics.

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