Replicant’s Innovator Spotlight Series
This series is dedicated to customer service innovators and leaders that have managed to turn their obstacles into opportunities, reinventing what it means to be a great leader and delivering exceptional customer service experiences despite today’s climate. From managing their teams through crisis, to pivoting tactics in record speed, to innovating with emerging technologies, these are the leaders transforming contacts centers in 2022.
Mike Bowman, Senior Director of Operations, ECSI
Can you share more about your background and how you got into the customer service industry?
I got my first job in a contact center about 20 years ago after seeing an ad in the newspaper and the rest is history. Since then I’ve worked everywhere from healthcare to finance and retail. What I like most is that working in a contact center gives people a real opportunity to learn a business from the ground up. Almost everything goes through customer service, so you get a really well-rounded understanding of the operations and inner workings of a company. Plus, if you are someone who enjoys solving problems, working with people, and learning new things – the contact center is a great place to do that.
How has the contact center changed since you first entered it?
The first thing that comes to my mind is the technology and tools we use today. Things like webchat and self help, to the way calls are managed, monitored, studied didn’t exist back then. There wasn’t the business intelligence and automation like there is now. A big part of what we do today involves using the business intelligence component of our conversational AI technology to understand, at a much deeper level, our callers’ behavior, frustrations, and likes in order to build better self help options and an improved online and service experience.
With things like predictive analytics we can know when we will have a busy day, why it’s going to be busy, which customers will be calling, and then decide what we need to do internally to prepare and handle it. That wasn’t the case when I first entered the space. Technology has enabled us to be much more strategic about our resources than we were in the past.
What are the biggest challenges facing contact center leaders today?
Employee engagement is one of the biggest challenges. Hiring and retaining employees has become more difficult and we are continually looking for ways to ensure we are keeping our agents engaged. Moving to a remote workforce has made this more challenging. For example, with training – some people thrive in digital learning environments, while others prefer to be in a group with an instructor at the head of the class. It’s about striking a balance between the two and making sure we create an environment that’s conducive to the way our employees work.
What trends are you seeing that you think will have a big impact on contact centers in the future?
I think leveraging artificial intelligence and automation to augment the work of agents is something we will see more of. We’re in a transition period right now where we went from people doing all of the work, and now machines have entered the scene to alleviate some of that burden. I know that automation will never replace people, but it will enable human agents to focus on solving higher level, complex problems.
For example, at ECSI we have increased the number of calls we are automating by 50% over the last two years, and we will continue to increase that number in the years to come. The benefit of automation has been two fold: our agents are focused on the complex customer issues and now we have opportunities to upskill our agents and create upward mobility. Continuing to automate where we can while elevating our people to better opportunities within the business is the direction we’re headed. I anticipate that model being something contact centers will continue to adopt in the years to come.
What are some of the ways you are driving change and innovation within your business?
I have leaned into things like contact center automation, analytics and business intelligence technology. As a result, we have a far better understanding of what’s happening with our clients today than we did in the past. It has allowed us to identify problem areas where customers have struggled, that we weren’t aware of and now we’re able to go in and fix that problem. Things like that help us improve our service and better serve our clients.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in contact center operations?
I would say take advantage of the opportunity. I think there is this perception that working in a contact center is just about listening to people complain, but it’s so much more than that. While there will always be complaints, working in a contact center creates an opportunity to learn about business operations from the ground up. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with who started in the contact center, and because of how much exposure they had to the way the business worked, were able to move into senior level positions over time.
Looking ahead, what are you most excited about in the customer service industry?
I’m excited just about the technology that’s available. It’s made it a lot easier for our clients to do business with us and it’s made the lives of agents better. If you were an agent in 1995, your life was pretty hard. You had to research and find the information you needed and hope you got a good answer for the customer. Today, it’s all at your fingertips – you have every single tool to be very successful at your job.
I think there’s even more technology on the way that will allow agents to focus on what they do best – communicating with people and being a people person. We can let the machines do all the administrative stuff, which I’m very excited about. It’s going to make people enjoy this job even more.
Check out our previous spotlight and discover more Customer Service Innovators with Replicant’s 50 Leaders Transforming Contact Centers.