Leading with Agent Happiness - A Next Caller Interview with Patrick Russell

Patrick has been a leader in the contact center industry for nearly fourteen years working as a vendor, a BPO leader and managing an in-house operation. His experience has been focused on leading teams in Client Services, Operations and acting in a consultative manner. His deep understanding of all of the WFO components paired with real world leadership experience in contact centers adds tremendous value to his organization. Patrick holds his bachelor’s degree in Accounting and spends the majority of his free time traveling or taking part in various adventure sports.

NC: Why are call centers still relevant in today's age of social media?

Patrick: I think part of it is that people still want to talk to businesses because that's what they're accustomed to. I personally think that the majority of people calling in are on the older side of millenials or older, basically people born after '85. There is still a desire to have someone on the phone to get a quicker resolution. I think that there is and is going to be a pretty massive shift away from phone and towards everything else: email, chat, and social. If businesses do it correctly consumers can still get immediate resolution through any other channel. More of the masses need to start shifting that way, which I'm sure will happen as the younger generation takes up a greater share of the market. 

NC: How do you ensure a frictionless customer experience?

Patrick: Frictionless is tough because there are outside factors. To reduce the friction the person needs to sound pleasant and happy. The person needs to be knowledgeable, respect the caller's time, and I guess get to a resolution, whatever the situation is, quickly. 

NC: What are your largest challenges in providing excellent call center service?

Patrick: Before the call even gets to a person, that consumer has already engaged with the brand at least a couple of times - billboards, online ad, went into a store, etc. There are already areas that can create friction or excitement or just general interest. And then the person has to call in and go through an IVR, which hopefully is simple, but has additional areas to create friction. If you call a large company, the IVR can be a maze, and by the time they get to an agent there can be outside factors that have caused the individual to escalate. The agent's job is to come across right out of the gate as if they know what they're doing. The most difficult thing for an agent is to take 30-50 calls a day, sound pleasant on every call, and get all of the issues resolved. It's a difficult job, and in a lot of cases the training is minimal. The "how tos" and "what tos"...most trainings don't arm the agent with the soft skills that are necessary to be really good at the job. That's one of the reasons why you see such high burnout and turnover rate in the call center space. 

NC: How does knowing more about your caller improve the customer and agent experience?

The more information you have about the last time of interaction with a customer and what the interaction was about, the faster you can reach a resolution - it allows the agent to say something in the opening period to make them feel that their time is respected and that you're fully informed and knowledgeable. It inspires confidence. Think about situations where you're transferred to someone else. That second person has no idea what's going on. To me, that's super frustrating. The technology is there for all of the information to be passed in a transfer scenario, the majority of that information should be at the fingertips of that first agent - happier customer and happier agent. 

Some call centers lead with agent happiness, and everything falls into place after that - Zappos and Southwest Airlines, for example. 

NC: In one word, what is your guiding value for your call center?

(Ed. note - enormous pause, Patrick is clearly a very thoughtful guy!) I think, ah man, (longer pause) I guess the guiding value would have to be customer-centric. And to expand on that essentially all things have a purpose- we have contests for cubicles and all sorts of incentives- all of those things have a thought towards how is COULD impact your customer, not how it does. Nowadays it's called gamification, but it's been around for awhile- these activities should have benefits for the agents who then pass their experience or happiness on to the customers. There should be some sort of feature within that activity which helps the agents get better at serving the customer that day. All the things you do can impact the mood of your individual agent, which impacts how your customers perceive your business.  

Four Things Startup Founders Can Learn from Twilio's IPO


By Ian Roncoroni | CEO, NextCaller


Measured growth is greater than growth for growth’s sake

One of the most persistent debates for founders today revolves around growth vs profitability. More specifically, which metric is more important to attract funding. Truthfully, it’s a complex question dependent on multiple variables, including how the economy is performing, how liquid the fundraising climate is, how big the market opportunity is, what your competitors are doing, and so on.

In Twilio’s case, there’s no doubt that VCs, who have valued the company at around $1 billion, pegged their belief (and their checks) on the startup’s growth. Despite not posting a profit since its inception, Twilio’s revenue (up 78% YTD) and customer base -- which boasts the likes of Uber, Facebook and WhatsApp -- continues to grow at a steady clip.

While different investors will weigh different factors when deciding whether to invest in your company, if you’re able to show that you can capture your market through steady growth, they’ll certainly take notice.


A Bird in the Hand

In general, most startup founders want to stay private longer, simply because of the red tape and scrutiny that comes with going public, not to mention the risk of having your stock prices moored down when going public because of a perceived inflated valuation -- hello Square. I once heard the CEO of a privately held unicorn respond to the question of whether or not he’d ever go public by saying, “Go public? Why would I go public? I already have a pocket square.”

Because of this, some have speculated that Twilio might not have received the valuation they wanted from private investors, and were prompted to go public sooner than they would have liked instead of seeking additional private funding.

While this is purely speculation, there is a lesson here for founders. During times where capital is harder to come by, it’s better to make a reasonable compromise on valuation than risk running dry altogether, or making a deal that almost certainly sets you up for failure down the road, especially if you aren’t turning a profit that can help you sustain dryer times.


Friends in High Places  

As a Twilio partner, their IPO filing is very exciting for us; it gives us quick exposure and legitimacy, much like going through a top-notch accelerator like YC. For any startup, integrating with such a high growth platform and brand is a way to reach more customers than you might have been able to do with an early stage sales force.

Twilio is no stranger to this philosophy themselves. The company’s rocketship growth has in part been driven by integrations with some of Silicon Valley’s most prized unicorns. Uber’s mobile app uses Twilio to update riders with mobile messages, while WhatsApp uses the service to verify the 1 billion+ users on their platform in a deal that drives more than $28M a year in sales for Twilio.

One of a startup's biggest challenges lies in crossing the chasm between early adopters and the mainstream market. Companies like Twilio are great vehicles for startups looking to make this leap because they understand that small companies can (and often) do things larger companies can’t, and therefore are more apt to seek partnerships with other young startups. At the same time, these companies are big enough to be respected and even feared by some of the biggest companies in the world.


A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

While an IPO by a company like Twilio is a positive signal for telecom startups that enterprises continue to adopt cloud-based technology, I believe there could be bigger picture implications here.

Many have been lamenting the cool IPO climate thus far in 2016 and pointing to it as further proof that we are entering dark times. Others say we just need a rock star IPO to open the window and rally companies to go public again.

Whether or not Twilio will be that rockstar to reenergize the IPO market for 2016 remains to be seen, but there’s no shortage of folks who are betting that their stellar business model, consistent performance, and strong leadership will get the waters churning and create a spillover of funding for startups throughout the rest of 2016.


The Endangered Customer - A Next Caller Interview with Richard Shapiro

Richard R. Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) and a leading authority in the area of customer satisfaction and loyalty.  For 28 years, Richard has spearheaded the research conducted with thousands of customers from Fortune 100 and 500 companies amassing the ingredients of customer loyalty and what drives repeat business.  His first book wasThe Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business and The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business, was released February, 2016.

You can order a copy of The Endangered Customer, a Next Caller favorite, here.


NC: What inspired your interest in customer service, and ultimately, to write this book?

Richard: In the book, and this is true, it came from my dad, working in his store. Age 10,11,12. My father was the ultimate salesperson and he clearly believed in relationships and treating people as people first. I was in retail until after college, every summer through high school and college I worked in a retail store, and I think retail is the best way to learn about customer service. Retail can be hospitality or working at a department store. Both of my sons worked in the local pizza parlor starting at age 14 and both are very, very passionate about service. If I’m hiring somebody I love to see that they worked in a pizza parlor or a gas station or anywhere where they talked to consumers one-on-one.

NC: What do you see as the largest challenges facing businesses attempting to provide outstanding customer service in this day and age?

Richard: Budgets are very tight. In any business there’s always money for some things and not money for others, so it’s a challenge to work within a budget. They’re penny wise and pound foolish – to me, the strongest loyalty is to a person – not to a company and not to a brand. Under that basic premise you need to hire good people and treat them well and keep them because these days, products and services are very complicated and if you don’t keep the people who really are knowledgeable- that’s a tremendous asset that you’re losing. As a company, look at where you’re spending money and continually invest in hiring the right people, training the right people, and making sure that they’re customer friendly. That’s one of the ingredients of generating repeat business. Coupled with that, companies think they can save money by having customers shop online, but unless they’ve set up their site to be people to people instead of people to computer they’re turning their products into a commodity. My eight steps are really good for call centers, brick and mortar or eCommerce. That’s the exact same thing for a call center. Unfortunately in the call center, most of the time companies are paying their employees very low wages and many times they’ll leave for another dollar an hour – it just doesn’t make sense to have them go for another dollar an hour.

NC: In your opinion, what differentiates "great" from "outstanding" customer service?

Richard: The great are kind of like my first five steps – the customer really feels that they had a really good customer experience. Their rep was friendly and knowledgeable and engaging, all those things make it a really good customer experience. I’m going to say that makes it great. Where it goes outstanding are my last three steps – getting them to return, showing them they matter, and surprising them in good ways. The customer experience continues. It should not be "one and done." That experience can be great, but if you want it to be outstanding and you want to generate repeat business you have to continue the customer experience. Tell them you want to see them again, call them again, let them know that they matter. Especially in a call center environment, the company many not know them before, but now they reach out to the company so you can collect that information, once you have that customer in your database, you can show them that they’re a loyal customer and they count. That’s what makes the call center so important, after you solve the problem how you continue to communicate with that customer – through email or promotions or letters – is really critical. That way you can continue to build upon that database.

NC: How can companies use enhanced customer information to improve their customer service?

Richard: Number one, if they do the first step which is make them feel welcome, which is why I love Next Caller’s information. It’s really hard, even for the best rep, to enter all that information while also having a personal conversation. The more that the fields are populated with information, then I think that it does allow psychologically, physically, and mentally for the rep to establish some kind of personal relationship at the outset of and during the call. Then three or six months later reach out to the customer again – we know you had an issue, we wanted to let you know that we appreciated your business and care about you, things like that really help. In addition, so many companies that keep good track of their consumers and have it categorized. Sometimes a product is discontinued, and knowing who those consumers that would care about that to reach out to them is important.

NC: Any parting advice for call centers regarding customer service?

Richard: Yes! So many times in a call center environment somebody will say "Thanks for you help!" and the rep will say “No problem” – and they should never be saying that – they should always be saying “No, my pleasure.”


Like what Richard has to say about customer service, call centers, and knowing your customer? Check out his book here.

Law of the Land: The Spokeo Decision

Law of the Land: Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins

By: Ryan Cash

The recent Supreme Court case involving Spokeo, Inc. and Thomas Robins has implications for data providers and companies handling consumer information. Next Caller takes a deeper dive into the case, decision, and importantly, the dissent, to evaluate what this means for the industry moving forward.


One can search Spokeo for personal information (address, marital status, age, economic health, occupation) about an individual via his or her name, phone number or email address. The case invokes the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, (FCRA), which applies to companies that provide information bearing on someone’s credit standing, character, reputation, etc. Given the nature of the information Spokeo provides, it is alleged to be subject to FCRA. Companies subject to FCRA must follow “reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of” consumer reports. To make sure reporting agencies follow FCRA, Congress grants consumers the right to sue noncomplying agencies.

Thomas Robins’ Spokeo profile contained inaccurate information. He was unemployed and claims the misinformation affected his ability to get a job. By presenting wrong information, Robins says Spokeo willfully violated FCRA’s requirements. The key is establishing whether Robins has standing to sue. To have standing, he must show that Spokeo’s conduct caused him “injury in fact” which requires “particular and concrete harm.” In English, Spokeo’s conduct injured Robins himself, as an individual, not the greater public, and the injury is real, not hypothetical. The District Court ruled Robins’ did not meet the requirements. The Ninth Circuit reversed saying Spokeo violated his rights under FCRA, and the mishandling of his information harmed him as an individual, so he has standing to sue. The Supreme Court evaluates the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

Decision and Reasoning:

The Supreme Court rules the Ninth Circuit’s analysis was incomplete. This rests on a distinction between the terms “particular and concrete.” According to the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit wrongly combined the two independent requirements, and their analysis only satisfied one of them: “particular.” They successfully showed that the handling of Robins’ personal information affected him as an individual, rather than the greater public (ie. the wrong information in Robins’ profile did not harm you or I). However, their analysis did not take up the question of concreteness. They did not adequately address whether the FCRA violation resulted in real harm. Justice Alito provides examples of where FCRA violations may cause no harm, such as if Spokeo gives an incorrect zip code, it would be a rather innocuous violation. It’s important to understand the Supreme Court is ruling on the Ninth Circuit’s analysis, not the case itself. The Court takes no position on whether the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion was correct or not. They simply rule that the analysis is incomplete, and send the case back to the Ninth Circuit.


Justice Ginsberg leads the dissent, and her reasoning rests on two arguments. One is historical precedent. She provides multiple cases where the terms “concrete and particular” were combined in the ruling. In other words, historically the court has not needed to discuss “concrete” and “particular” independently, as this ruling claimed it did. The second, and in my opinion, more interesting argument, is that Justice Ginsberg believes the violation of FCRA’s requirements in this case did in fact cause concrete harm, and that Thomas Robins has standing to sue. She essentially finds the court’s observation to be a red herring. The opinion stated there are cases where an FCRA violation would cause no harm, such as providing an incorrect zip code. However, in Ginsberg’s eyes, this case is fundamentally different. Spokeo misrepresented Robins’ education, economic status and family situation, which could create an impression that he is overqualified for the positions that he is seeking and materially affect his job prospects. FCRA’s requirements were designed to prevent situations exactly like this. Therefore, she sees merit in Robins’ complaint and would affirm the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

Discussion and Implications:

Okay, enough legal jargon. So what does this mean? There are important considerations embedded in this ruling. First, the Supreme Court did not officially rule in favor of Spokeo or decide on the merits of Robins’ allegation. They gave the legal equivalent of a “maybe, but I’m not convinced yet; go back to the drawing board.” In other words, this case is very much alive and not settled. Second, Justice Ginsberg’s dissent gives an indication of the type of reasoning that will be used moving forward. She says there is concrete harm here. The misinformation from Robins’ Spokeo profile constitutes real and concrete harm to his employment prospects. The Ninth Circuit’s judgment simply did not address it in full, but if they do, they can reaffirm their decision. Hopefully they do not just copy and paste, but you never know. 

For data companies, it’s important to be aware that protection of consumer information is top of mind for litigators and the courts. Companies need to take extra precaution to ensure that they are carefully, responsibly and accurately handling consumer information, and they are compliant with relevant statutes, like FCRA. If you do not wish to fall under FCRA, know that a disclaimer alone is not enough to exempt you. Know who is using the information you are providing and how they are using it. Ensure that those using the information are aware of the requirements of legislation like FCRA, because if they use it in a way that violates said requirements; the hammer comes down on the agency. If you provide information that could relate to credit, character, personal characteristics, etc. make sure it is not being used for discriminatory practice or creditworthiness evaluation (ability to pay bills, employment, etc.). For further reading on best practices consult the FTC Big Data Report here.