John Moses On The State of Call Centers: Past & Future

by Chris Kontes | May 2nd, 2019

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Cisco Systems Call Center Server

John Moses is the the US Vice President of Sales, Partner Organization, at CISCO Systems. Balto sat down with John to discuss how call centers have changed over the last 20 years and what to expect in the future

When you started your career in call centers what were the big industry predictions back then? Which played out and which never came to fruition?

I’ve been in call centers for over 20 years. Back when I started, people were struggling with IVR, interactive voice response, and there was debate around whether that was something call center agents should even be doing. Ultimately, the financial industry took the lead on that, because they wanted to offer a service to their customers after hours.

Organizations were trying to reduce costs. Skills-based routing was taking hold at that point, because– instead of Group Ring, for example – they were using actual human skill, and it was something revolutionary at the time.

And then there was EFAQ, which was electronic frequently asked questions. There were specific questions that were coming in to contact centers all the time. It wasn’t dynamic, but it was a step in the right direction.

Those were the things that were coming about, and it was all about focusing on better customer experience; right time, right place, right information. And then the flip side, companies were getting significant productivity gains out of it as well.

Finally, call analytics were coming onto the call center scene. If you walked into a call center back in 2000 and asked leadership what technology they felt was most important, they would say call analytics. They were trying to get necessary information – frequency of call, length of call, that kind of thing. Call analytics was big.

Where do you think the call center industry is going in the next decade? What’s kind of the big thing now?

Everything starts and ends with our customers; they’re more savvy, sophisticated, and they have higher expectations than ever before. They research heavily before they buy.

Concurrently, there is a consumerization effect taking place. I recently saw a statistic that mentioning that, “70% of consumers will pay more for a better experience.” And that over supersedes product, and it overshadows a lot of things, including the product itself.

Customer experience is something that consumers are looking for, and companies are catching on. I saw another statistic that said, “60% of CFOs are investing in customer success.” That’s because they realize that customers come first. They also recognize that companies that have customer success programs outperform their peers by anywhere from four to eight percent. And if you start thinking about these big companies – that starts to add up.

Additionally, digitization is happening. Companies are out there using technology. Every single company out there is digitizing their business. Tools like real-time speech analytics, call center artificial intelligence and auto-response are things that I see in the future.

You’ve seen your fair bit of sales coaching throughout your career. What advice would you give current sales managers to improve their call coaching effectiveness?

There are so many companies that stay in legacy mode and don’t innovate. But we’re definitely in a world of disruption, where the speed of business and pace of innovation is happening like never before. The companies that aren’t innovating are left behind.

My suggestion for any company would be to embrace innovation. Not just so that they can compete but so that they can win.

Here is what I mean; first and foremost, every company is built on a strong team.

The culture of any given company is what’s going to make them great. With that in mind, companies need to be continuously building their teams and investing in them. They need to do anything they can to build up confidence and competency amongst their team. That’s where real-time call coaching comes in.

If you could change one thing about the call center market, what would it be? Is that change occurring naturally or is it something that needs to be jump started?

When it comes to call centers, employee turnover is always a challenge. The US economy is at a sub-four percent unemployment rate, which exacerbates the turnover problem in call centers.

Next, Customer experience is simple in theory- what perception doe the customer have when they interact with your company? Customers are looking for a better experience, and they’ll pay more money for it. In many cases, they don’t even necessarily care about the product. High turnover rate is something I would like to see change.

As a possible solution, if we can make the call center agents more effective, more confident and more competent, then those agents are more likely to stay with that organization for a more extended period.

I think it’s going to be a give and get. As call center agents improve, companies are more willing to pay them higher salaries, because right now, call center agents are probably some of the lowest paid people in the organization, yet they’re also on the frontline, interacting with the customers directly. It’s crazy. It doesn’t make sense.

With all the buzz around A.I, how should call center leaders evaluate artificial intelligence? How should they separate the value from noise?

The most effective companies and the most effective leaders are people who use data-driven decisions. They use data as a way to guide their decisions on how they serve their customers and the business decisions they make. As mentioned earlier, back in the early 2000s, people were looking for reporting, which is just data. The same thing goes for today. They’re looking for the intelligence that’s going to help them make the right decisions in the business.

So, as I think towards artificial intelligence, call analytics it’s another form of data, and anyway that they can capture that data in a meaningful way is the best strategy.

What happens when you go from managing a team of just a couple of sales reps to 500 salespeople? What surprised you about how they are similar and how they are different?

I’ll start with the similarities. People are the center of your success. They always will be whether you’re running a one-person organization or a 5000-person organization. You’re only as good as the people you have. And I know it sounds cliché, but it is absolutely the truth.

As an organization grows, embracing diversity and being inclusive as much as you can. It’s also going to be a significant contributor to a team’s success. Those are the two big proof points.

What advice do you have for a salesperson starting their career?

It is a marathon versus a sprint. When I came out of college, I had an aspiration to be a vice-president of a major Fortune-500 company within ten years. And I worked at least 80-85 hours a week while getting my MBA at night. I don’t know if I’d do it the same way all over again. I almost enjoy life a little bit more along the way. And take things in stride.

With all this talk about automation in call centers, what role do you think humans are going to play in the future of contact centers?

Automation is indeed the big thing right now, but the human element will remain constant. We read a lot about artificial intelligence and digital transformation, but people have always been worried about that.

When we look back into time – like the early 1900s, for example – industries like textiles and agriculture were going through something similar. So yes, there was automation, but it created new opportunities and new jobs. I think it’s going to be the same thing now.

And as technology evolves and becomes more integrated into our personal and business life, you’re going to see new opportunities.

What are some of the drawbacks of speech analytics? What should salespeople look out for when they’re evaluating new speech analytics vendors?

Well, they should look at track records of success. They might also consider the innovation that the company has brought to bear in the past. Next, they should evaluate their ability to partner. Do they have good customer service? Do they care? Those are the key things when looking at speech analytics vendors. You shouldn’t have to gamble on a new vendor – you should look for a speech analytics company with examples of success.

What’s a straightforward improvement a lot of sales managers could make to improve the results of their sales teams quickly?

Invest in their teams. A lot of first-line and second-line managers are so focused on hitting their number that they lose touch with their people.

Put another way; they need to slow down so they can speed up. They need to invest and build trust with their team. If they invest in leadership training, some of those types of things, you will see the returns in exponential growth and exponential return.