Jim Davies headshot black and white with blue branding

Closing the experience gap: Calabrio’s chief experience officer

In the latest instalment of our podcast series, MYC'D UP with Tech Leaders, we speak to Jim Davies of Calabrio about the experience gap between customers and companies and why digital transformation has been over-hyped.

20th Apr 2023

In the latest episode of MYC'D UP with Tech Leaders, we speak with Jim Davies, chief experience officer at Calabrio. 

Before joining Calabrio, Jim spent over 20 years at Gartner as vice president of research, so to say he has his finger on the pulse of customer experience technology would be an understatement!

In the following discussion, Jim explains why there is an experience gap between customers and companies, why employee engagement is a bigger concern than ever for contact centres, and even shares advice about where companies go wrong when using Gartner Magic Quadrants to guide their CX tech purchases. 

It's too easy to get caught up in all the hype around digital transformation. There's so much content on it from research organisations, media outlets and software vendors that you can get swept along with that. To me, it's more about balance and choice.

MYC'D UP with tech leaders


MYCUSTOMER: Hi, Jim, thanks very much for joining us. So I wanted to talk to you about Calabrio's recent State of the Contact Centre research, and in particular that it revealed that contact centres rate their performance a lot higher than consumers do. This survey showed a 30 plus point gap between consumer and manager perceptions across every facet of the customer experience from providing emotional empathy, to quick response times. So why do you think there's such a huge gap in perceptions between contact centres and customers?

JIM DAVIES: Yeah, thanks. Now, I think at the end of day, it is a perception. And I think the reality probably lies somewhere in between the two. So managers might have slightly rose-coloured spectacles on and maybe overstate that the reality of the experience their centres are providing. But at the same time, I think consumers are a little bit beaten down by decades of underwhelming experiences and so maybe are a little bit more sensitive to this topic - and sometimes maybe overzealous in negative scoring. I mean, if you think about it, if a consumer had five service experiences, where four of them, the response times were under three minutes, so pretty good, but one where it was over 10 minutes, they only remember the one where it was bad, and score lowly on the survey based on that, and it's just human nature. But the point does remain that more does need to be done. I think overall expectations are not being met by many contact centres. And so now greater emphasis does need to be placed not just on improving the experience, but also better understanding the customer's perspective of it, and what potential areas are lending it down, I think needs to be much better alignment between what the customer thinks and what management's perception is of it - this is known as the experience gap. And it's a recognised factor within CX management. And trying to close that gap through a Voice the Customer programme is therefore a really important first step, because, for example, that customer might be perfectly happy with their 10 minute response time. And were actually really frustrated by the fact the agent didn't seem to be bothered about trying to help them. Or perhaps it was a chatbot that was making them annoyed before they even connected to the agent. So undercutting these perspectives, and then seeking to address the most obvious shortcomings, or what I would call 'low hanging fruit', can really go a long way, even these tougher economic times. So it's not about bashing contact centres overstating their performance and providing bad service. But instead that they just need to find ways to get more in touch with what consumers actually want. I think there needs to be more of an informed assessment based on data rather than guesswork that we're not really applying at the moment. And I think actually equally as part of that now speaking to agents speaking those agents who have the most contact with customers can be another use useful information source for this as well.

MYCUSTOMER: We do our own research on an annual basis, surveying senior customer experience professionals every year. Our most recent research found that employee engagement has taken on greater importance to customer experience leaders of late - only 7% reported it as a priority three years ago, compared to 26% last year, and now it's being reported as a priority by over a third (35%) of respondents. Now I know that Calabrio's latest research concludes that employee experience challenges are causing a great deal of CX damage. So why is it becoming of greater significance and particularly so in the contact centre?

JIM DAVIES: Yeah, the whole awareness around the importance of employee engagement is definitely been increased because of COVID. And I remember when I was back working at Gartner and I rebranded workforce optimisation to WEM workforce engagement management back in 2016. You might remember that I did that back then to try and force the market to look beyond the operational focus of employee management to layer on an element of engagement. But it didn't really takeoff initially. Progress was slow. But things have definitely accelerated now. And there's lots of reasons for this. And then this increasing prioritisation of engagement, I think, firstly, impact loyalty. And therefore the time cost and effort required to recruit and onboard new hires, that's a real key one at the moment. Secondly, with many employees working at home now, this places an additional burden on them due to this isolation, and it's tough for supervisors, they can't walk the room and see how everyone is doing and pick up on their body language. So we need to help we do rely on technology to help us with that. And then we've got this increasingly complex nature of the task in the science due to self-service, handling all those simpler and simpler interactions. And this results in more rapid burnout and stress for the employee. So we really need to be on top of that as well. And then finally, I'd say there's this real key alignment between the level of engagement of that employee and their actual performance, both from the point of view of how it can drive operational efficiency, but also their ability, their desire to really help the customer and deliver that positive experience. And it's been proven many, many times over in numerous academic studies, such as Harvard Business Review, that is intrinsic link between EX and CX. And so we really need to try and exploit that. But as a word of caution, it's not all great. We did a recent webinar that was looking at what top technologies companies should be investing in, in a tight economy. And during that we polled the audience asking them for what their top priorities were in 2023. And nearly half said, it's all about increasing productivity and less than 10% said it's trying to improve the employee experience. So yes, definitely the employee engagement employee experience is a rising focus, but it does look in the face of economic uncertainty is not necessarily going to win out and that's a little bit worrying.

MYCUSTOMER: You mentioned earlier on about trying to get bit more in touch with customers. Another important finding in the Calabrio research is that contact centres are prioritising the wrong channels. And there's a perception gap between what channels customers think are most important cchannels influencing perceptions of a brand and what the business is thinking most important. Why do you think that contact centre managers believe that social media, for instance, and apps are so much more important than phone calls and websites, when in fact, it's the latter two that customers seem to care so much more about?

JIM DAVIES: I think it's too easy to get caught up in all the hype around digital transformation. And whether there's so much content on it from research organisations, media outlets, software vendors themselves, that you can get sort of swept along with that. To me, it's more about balance and choice. And yeah, companies do need to do a much better job digitally. And who can't recite a chatbot experience that drove them mad due to its baffling level of incompetence. And obviously, there's all the new messaging apps that millions of consumers are using every day that we don't support yet in contact centres. So we do need to do a better job here. And that's what's driving this over-emphasis. But as I say, it's really about choice and balance, I think the reality is customers are going to pick the channel that makes the most sense for the interaction they need to have. Now, sometimes this will be digital and maybe self-service. But sometimes calling and speaking to an agent will make the most sense. And most research I've seen suggests that the number of agents working around the world isn't going to change that much over the next few years. So being there to provide customers with a choice of channels, without an emphasis on any one channel makes the most sense to me. And I think the most important aspect we need to really grasp over the next few years, is how we seamlessly deal with the growing percentage of interactions that will start in one channel, and then move to another channel partway through. The challenge I see most centres facing at the moment is they usually lose the context of the interaction during this handover. And this causes significant frustration for that customer who's got to re-enter the information or repeat verbally, their situation to the next agent. So I think that to me is of more importance, getting that balance right and able to transfer that that context of interaction from channel to channel. I think that's more important than necessary, supporting the latest and greatest in terms of consumer channels over the next few years.

MYCUSTOMER: It's more important to be focused on the transition between the channels than the channels themselves in some respect.

JIM DAVIES: Yeah, exactly. I mean, if you think that the basic channels now - phone, email and chat - most contact centres can't seamlessly allow a customer from we've moved from one to the other. And I think just doing that is a massive step forward beyond then all the other challenge that we can potentially add in the future.

MYCUSTOMER: Now, you and I have been in this industry long enough that we are well-acquainted with this idea of trying to turn contact centres from cost centres into value centres. And one way that's always been proposed as the best way is to turn the massive amounts of insight that come through contact centres into something of great value. And there's a huge torrent of insights flowing through contact centres every day. And it's certainly an argument that contact centres should become the sort of central source of truth for customer intelligence. Now Calabrio's research, oh, well over two-thirds of contact centre managers say they've already got the analytic tools, they needed to do that. So what's actually preventing contact centres from becoming this kind of data hub to every other system and team in the enterprise?

JIM DAVIES: Yeah, I think, although it was 83%, in that study claimed that they have all the analytical tools they need. I'm not actually sure that's true. I mean, I know that not far less than that percentage have speechmatics. And that, to me that really fundamental components, so perhaps is a little bit of a disconnect there. I'd also agree that there is a huge amount of customer data flowing through a contact centre. But that doesn't always translate into insight. And I think this is where the problem lies, you need to have the right calibre of tool. But you also need to have the right user skill set to get the best insight from the available data. And I think that isn't always the case within many contact centres. So I think conduct centres need to reassess their situation, do they need to refresh their analytical technology footprint? Maybe they don't, maybe they don't. But equally, do they also need to enhance their internal skillset their internal competency, or protect or perhaps even turn to a managed service to get the most out of the analytical technologies they have? And I think finally, a common issue I see is in getting this derived insight into the hands of the employees across the organisation that can benefit from it, you can quite easily end up with a bottleneck an insight bottleneck, if there's no obvious mechanism for distributing these, these insights to recipients, whether it's in marketing or in product or in sales, if we can't get the information to them in a timely and maybe automated way, then this bottleneck really prevents the value from being realised or this analytical investment in customer service. So I think having that assessment internally, have we got the skills have we got the right technology? And have we got the ability to distribute these insights in a timely way? I think those are things we need to be looking at over 2023 and beyond.

MYCUSTOMER: So when it comes to bottlenecks and the distribution, it sounds like we're talking about that old chestnut of organisational silos. And again, I know that's something reflected within our own research in the last three years, that organisational silos have been the number one biggest obstacle to CX programme success.

JIM DAVIES: Yeah, exactly. Whether you're talking about customer service analytics, or you're talking about a Voice of Customer programme, CX programme, yeah, being being able to overcome those barriers and make this an enterprise-wide thing is a massive hurdle that I think a lot of companies haven't haven't conquered yet.

MYCUSTOMER: Prior to joining Calabrio, you were, of course, the esteemed Vice President of Research at Gartner for more than two decades. Gartner's Magic Quadrant along with Forrester's Wave Reports provide many senior CX professionals and business leaders with some very valuable steer in terms of the enormously complex, crowded and fragmented customer experience technology space. As a final question, Jim, what advice can you share for those professionals, as they try to navigate this really complicated tech landscape? Where should they be looking to get advice to be able to help them?

JIM DAVIES: Yeah, sure. Most importantly, I'd say Magic Quadrants and Waves are not necessarily the answer. Now, this may sound controversial having worked in analysis for two decades, but the reason for this is they're usually misused. Now, what tends to happen is companies create a shortlist based on the vendors who are in the top right hand corner of that research, when, in fact, the most appropriate vendor for that might be down in the bottom left, or maybe didn't even make it into the research at all. And perhaps they were too small, or they're only focused on one region, or maybe had a study limited range of functionality. But actually, that might be the perfect fit for a particular organisation. So using the top right filter mechanism, which most companies tend to do, isn't really the best way forward. So the best advice I could give to anyone really is talk to the authors of those pieces of research and and that's going to provide the value because they can then elaborate beyond the Magic Quadrant beyond the Wave and talk about some of the vendors on the fringe who might actually be a better fit. Then I would say it's really important to reach out to say four or five of those vendors and get to know them holistically look beyond the functionality, look at their vision, look at their culture, look at their approach to customer relationships, and the level of sort of customer centricity that they really strive for. These often don't get as much emphasis as they should in the decision process. We do tend to focus too much on them. The core functionality piece of it, and then look at the architecture. Is it a modern architecture? Is it built for a multi-tenant cloud future? Or are they actually hiding some 20-year-old code behind a hosting strategy and not necessarily making that very clear. So the architecture is important given where the world going into the cloud. And then finally, another overlooked piece is the partnerships - everyone's got to play nicely in this world. And not not everyone is equally successful at doing that. Now, having strong proven partnerships with the other providers in a in a customer's application portfolio can make a huge difference long-term. So really look beyond the look beyond the functionality, look at those other things and talk to the people that write the research. Don't take the research on face value.


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