CX Power Hour

How COVID-19 Changed CX And How Orgs Are Pivoting

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed customer's expectations for customer support, but it has shifted the way businesses operate. In this session of CX Power Hour, leaders in the customer experience industry will discuss the impact of the pandemic on the way we work, and how to succeed in the post-COVID world (what of the many changes we’ve implemented should persist and what must be done to be resilient operationally). 


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Webinar Transcript

Amanda:
All right. Let's start the panel discussion, shall we? Okay. Thank you, everyone, for joining. This is our first CX Power Hour. First of many, I hope. What we wanted to talk about today is the impact that COVID-19 has had on customer service. It not only has changed customers' expectations for support, but it's really shifted the way that businesses operate. As businesses now begin opening up and life begins moving towards an unfamiliar, new normal, we wanted to pause for a moment and discuss the transformations that have happened over the last year. Our objective for today is to share some of the thinking about what CS teams must do to be successful in a post-COVID world.

Amanda:
With that, I would like to introduce our panelists. With us, we have Rose Wang, the Head of Customer Experience at Forethought, a software company that builds AI tools like Agent Assist and ticket routing. Before joining Forethought, Rose was included in Forbes's 30 Under 30 list in social entrepreneurship. In 2016, her co-founding a business with the goal of converting consumers to a more sustainable source of protein.

Amanda:
We also have Sasha Antonenko, the Head of End User Support at D2L, an online learning platform and ecosystem. Before joining D2L, Sasha held numerous customer service related jobs for companies like the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan, TextNow, and Rogers Communications, to name a few.

Amanda:
We also have Doc Shufelt, CEO of ArenaCX, the marketplace to find and manage outsourcing relationships across the globe. Previously, Doc was a general manager at Republic Wireless, a cell phone service provider that was recently acquired by Dish, partially due to their innovative approach to customer service.

Amanda:
So, with that, thank you all for joining us. Say hi to the crowd.

Rose Wang:
Hello, everyone.

Doc Shufelt:
Hey, everyone. Happy to be here.

Amanda:
Sasha, you're still muted.

Sasha Antonenko:
Hi. Thank you.

Amanda:
Perfect. Okay. We're good to go. Chett, you're good to stop sharing your screen. All right. I am going to just refer to my random questions that I have in front of me. I want to start by revisiting the year that horrified everyone, 2020. Sasha, you run B2C support for an education platform, a business that was significantly impacted by COVID as the need for remote learning grew. What was that like?

Sasha Antonenko:
In a word, intense.

Amanda:
Okay.

Sasha Antonenko:
We went from having a nice, predictable volume of incoming requests to forecast against, to train, to hire against, even just looking at our sales pipeline as to what's coming up in the future, to, all of a sudden overnight, quadrupling our volume, and then, a week later, quadrupling it again, and then a month later, quadrupling it yet again. So instead of kind of doing what normally we'd do, which is seasonal volume for us, kind of going up and down with semester starts in September and January, we just kind of went up and stayed up.

Sasha Antonenko:
Now that we're at pretty much just over a year of that, the volume is still up there. So that tells me we did a lot of things right by bringing a lot of people on board and retaining a lot of those customers who all of a sudden found themselves not wanting but actually needing to have an online option to continue educating their users. At kind of the very beginning, we realized very quickly where we had opportunities to improve, even with something as simple as we only had one BPO partner to actually be able to support the millions of users that we support through this program. And when they went down, we went down. That was scary. They recovered.

Amanda:
What brought them down?

Sasha Antonenko:
COVID.

Amanda:
Ah. Right.

Sasha Antonenko:
Yes. What nobody could have foreseen is that, literally, the world was going to shut down completely. So the logistic effort of sending all of our agents home with equipment, setting them up with a platform to work from home, took some time to configure. And our HQ operators were able to compensate for some of that. But, certainly, there was a gap in between where it was scary. People need our help, and we're kind of struggling to be able to actually give them the help that they're looking for.

Sasha Antonenko:
That led us to very quickly evaluate and then select a new BPO so that we always now have going forward two partners, where if something happens with one, the other is always there. We treat that side of our business, as in being there for our customers all the time, very, very seriously. That is always at the top of our priority list. So being able to kind of doubly invest in our support partners was critical.

Sasha Antonenko:
But, in order to do that, that takes time, right? Normally, a six-month selection process to select a new BPO and to actually sign them up, we kind of crunched it down to about a month. And then, within another couple of weeks, we had a first class of agents ready to be trained. Within another month of that, they were on our actual cue supporting our users. So we recovered pretty quickly. It was intense, like I said. But we recovered.

Sasha Antonenko:
Part of that recovery, actually, Forethought helped us quite a bit with one of their tools. Our traditional training model is a couple months long. We bring people in, educate them on our platform, on how to support our various clients. The ramp-up period with something like what Forethought had been able to give us had actually been cut down by about 40% at this point. So our ability to pivot really, really quickly, at that point in time, was hugely tied directly to Forethought. We're still-

Amanda:
That's a great plug. Thank you for that early on. I'm going to pause there because I want to go back to the stress and chaos of 2020. So, Rose, in your day-to-day job, you talk to the support leaders across the spectrum of different types of businesses. If you can recall, what were some of the themes that you were observing or hearing about from them?

Rose Wang:
Yeah. I love this question, and I want to help illustrate Sasha's point even more. Thank you for giving us that very detailed view of day-to-day, what it looks like from the support organization, because so many different departments in the enterprise were hit during COVID, right? Finance has to go deal with budget cuts. HR has to go deal with furloughs. And then you have customer service departments hit very hard.

Rose Wang:
I think from a more expected place, and exactly what's Sasha's saying, is more people actually spent more time online. I think we saw a 60% rise of individuals spending more computer time in the US. So what does that really look like? It means a lot more interactions, more expectations on the digital front. But where that really hits hard, also, is, yes, the number of channels in which customer service departments are being hit has increased. There's more interactions. But the part that hasn't really been highlighted, which is where Sasha, I think, is coming from, is how does that hit agents? This is the first time support agents have had to work from home, really, and so what that means is, one, you're dealing with tech issues, internet issues, and customers are becoming increasingly frustrated.

Rose Wang:
Harvard Business Review did a study with an AI company of a million conversations for customer support, and what they found was the number of difficult conversations rose up by 2.5X. Customers are generally just more frustrated and angry, which makes sense. Everyone's at home, so that sentiment's already not great. And then, on the other hand, agents now have to deal with that rising negativity while not having their own support, not only from the tech front, but also, they're by themselves now. In the past, they're surrounded by their peers. So if you don't have something that you know, you can go tap someone on their shoulder. That's not true anymore. There aren't that many collaboration tools out there that can go help agents, where they don't operate individually normally. There's a collective of knowledge, and that suddenly goes away.

Rose Wang:
What can we go do and fill that gap? I think that's what the post-COVID world still looks like. We've now learned there's probably going to be more things that come up. We should plan for resilience and capacity building. So let's start now in thinking about, okay, next time there is a disruption in the system, what can we do to prep, like Sasha getting more than one BPO.

Amanda:
Yep. Awesome. You guys are definitely hitting on the themes that I was planning on covering at the end, but I love that we're bringing them to the Forethought because ... forefront ... Wow, that was-

Doc Shufelt:
Nice.

Amanda:
Yep. Because-

Sasha Antonenko:
Ba dum tiss.

Amanda:
... I do think that's going to be ... Yes. That is the name of the game in terms of preparing our businesses to survive whatever is coming our way. Hey, Doc, as CEO of a company, can you talk a little bit about what it was like to take a ... What were some of the challenges to take an entire business going from in office to remote?

Doc Shufelt:
It was pretty wild. Yeah. Arena essentially launched right when the world shut down, so heading up the company, it's interesting to have to think about ... There's always the weight of any time you have a team that relies on you to make good decisions, that are good business decisions. But then, on top of that was layered in this new set of anxieties and this new set of challenges of I need to also ensure that I'm making good health decisions because this is a ... It's not every day that I'm making life and death decisions. But in this particular case, you can put yourself there pretty quickly. So that, for me, was a big one, was really talking to the team, talking with my co-founder Alan Pendleton. What's the best way to handle this? Is everyone taken care of, first and foremost? And then the second was does everyone have what they need to do their job when they're from home?

Doc Shufelt:
Back to Sasha's point earlier, and Rose, some people can work from home reasonably easily. Lots can't. If you're a customer support agent, for example, and you're supporting a cell phone company, then lots of times you need a bunch of different phones around to do testing and troubleshooting. That's hard to do from home. So really helping make sure everyone was supported, had the tools they needed, and had the direction that they needed to work confidently with that.

Doc Shufelt:
And then another one that's related to that is culture. Being in person, knowing [inaudible 00:14:55] learning body language, the way people ask questions, those are all really big deals. And the question, can I replicate that? Building a culture from not much with a startup together virtually was really challenging. I think we were successful at it because we were very disciplined about it, and we were very thoughtful about it. We were very Forethought about it. No chuckles? All right. There we go.

Amanda:
We smiled.

Sasha Antonenko:
That was great.

Doc Shufelt:
Yeah. I mean, it was this macro questions of things that have been done a certain way, that didn't really require a whole lot of thought. You show up to the office, you do your work, and it happens. Suddenly, a whole slew of new complexities around safety, around efficiency, around employee mental health is another big consideration when you're tying those things together. So yeah, it was a challenging time. Fortunately, we have a great team. We have great support systems, great families, and it worked out. But yeah, it was definitely a challenge.

Amanda:
I want to touch on the tools and making sure that your teams had the right equipment to get their jobs done. Now, obviously, I would imagine, Sasha, your team, going from an in-office team of agents to now being spread working remotely, what was that like? What new tools did you adopt, and what were some of the challenges that you have faced rolling those out?

Sasha Antonenko:
In HQ, which is Ontario, Canada, that was super quick, super painless. The day before, knowing that this was coming, or imminently coming, I had gone to a home hardware type of a store, bought a bunch of cases for people, like totes, brought them back to the office and said, "Okay. We are ready." And then, at that point in time, literally, when we got the news, people just took their equipment from the office. We all went home, and that's that. In Canada, I think for us it was really painless, aside from having to create a workspace beyond that, that's somewhat private, at least. Beyond that, that wasn't much difficult.

Sasha Antonenko:
For our BPO partner, they had to come up with an entire infrastructure to be able to send their staff home, come up with equipment, come up with a solution that would allow to keep all of their agents online, but really working within their same workspace. That was difficult. I mean, there was a lot of partnering, a lot of collaboration required to be able to make sure that they're meeting our needs, our expectations are being very clear. We got it all done within a matter of days, but that effort and how we actually got that done, the only reason why it really was accomplished is just because we all spent hours on the phone like this, just talking to each other and communicating and making sure that we were very point blank clear about what was needed, what needed to get done, and when it needed to get done.

Sasha Antonenko:
As far as tools, yes, lots of new tools that got rolled out, lots of new equipment that got rolled out, not for HQ but for our BPO, and then the second BPO that we rolled out, in the midst, kind of, or the very beginning of the pandemic, they were poised really well to already start from home, which wasn't a challenge in that case, and that was wonderful. And then, actually, transitioning them back to the office was a little bit ... not challenging, but it presented a different set of interesting opportunities. Whereas, working from home, because that's how we started, it was just a no-brainer. So I think the thing to consider, really, here, is not even should you be working from home, should you be working from the office, and what's better, but rather do we have a good transition plan in place to go from one environment to the other? Have we considered all of the points of potential failure to be able to get it done well?

Amanda:
Did that factor in your decision when you chose your second BPO, about who has ... wanted to make sure they had cloud-based support versus maybe on premise systems?

Sasha Antonenko:
Yes, absolutely. That was one of the largest, really, deciding factors. We could not be without support, so having a partner who could move seamlessly to offline when something crazy like COVID is going on in the world is hugely important.

Amanda:
What about programs that you may have adopted to actually manage the performance of your team?

Sasha Antonenko:
Lots. I think the biggest thing that we've kind of evolved over the course of this year is actually our own onboarding and training program, which is the thing that D2L does as a business. We are in LMS, and part of our business is as corporate clients. So we became our own corporate client, and we've done it really, really well. My husband happens to be a solutions engineer here, also, at D2L, so collaborating with him and making sure that I have the best of all worlds really tied in this one nice, neat, little package.

Sasha Antonenko:
We took advantage of our own technology, and, I mean, we had used it before. But we put ourselves in the position of our own customers. What are people going through now that online learning isn't an option anymore, but it is the way of the world now, right? For many of our kids, as well as for even corporations and higher ed educators. So we've put ourselves in the position of our customers and kind of developed our training programs with that in mind, but also helped significantly to expedite our training programs, because the sooner you can help your agents understand the world of your customers, the more effective they're going to be at actually addressing those questions.

Sasha Antonenko:
So training program was a big hit, and it's continuing, and we'll probably always continue on the same kind of way. Partnering with Forethought was huge for us, to the point where first it started with Assist, like I was saying earlier, when we brought all of the knowledge sources for agents that we have internally at D2L into one spot, so that when they're working on a case, on a specific request from a customer, it's all right there for them. Not just the documentation, but also previous cases that are similar to that from the same client, perhaps, or maybe even a list of any company has, obviously, of known things, of known issues that we're working through. As opposed to sending the agent on a wild goose chase, to be able to figure out what it is, it's right here in front of them. So that was huge, and we adopted that.

Sasha Antonenko:
And then another big one was adopting Triage from Forethought, which is a tool that scans all of our queues, all of our support queues, and looks for nonsense things, like Nigerian princes looking for your bank deposit information to give you millions of dollars, or to marry you, one or the other. It's a huge waste of time, and we get hundreds of those, thousands sometimes, depending on the volume overall, every single month. To have people spend their time on that rather than real customer requests is a really, really big deal.

Sasha Antonenko:
We have started to use our own internal communications tools differently. Slack is generally what we use, among some of the others. But we've put out things like Workflow Builder, as part of slack, right? Rose is shaking her head. I feel like you probably know this one.

Rose Wang:
[inaudible 00:23:27]

Sasha Antonenko:
It's as simple as essentially the philosophy being teach a man to fish, better than just giving them the fish, where, instead of just coming to us and asking the questions, like the BPO agents coming to HQ as their help desk, instead of them just coming and asking a question, we are now asking them to filter it through just a set of really basic questions, like where did you look for this information? What did you find? Where was the gap? What's the actual problem? Just forcing them to kind of work through the steps that we would go through ourselves. By doing that, we dropped a very significant number of the back-and-forth conversations. That's just not necessary anymore, allowing us to get to real problems much, much faster. I mean, I could go on about lots of different technologies, but I bet Doc probably has a few examples, too, that he could share.

Amanda:
Yeah. Doc, do you want to talk about anything that you've noticed that has been really helpful?

Doc Shufelt:
Slack has been a bit of a lifesaver. I think, even from a business perspective, obviously, because not only have we been able to communicate internally using [inaudible 00:24:48] to set up channels with partners and clients and everything else, and be able to communicate through that, but Slack also has a funness to it that you can kind of dive into. GIFs aplenty. We have a virtual water cooler where we tell stories and things like that. So that type of communication tool that makes you feel present, even if you're sitting at home, has been really key.

Doc Shufelt:
And then, yeah, other workflow tools. I mean, we use Monday.com to track things and has been really helpful. Just being able to offer a little better visualization and access to people, for folks to see what everyone was working on and what the challenges are has been really helpful. And, sadly, I mean, I love Google Suite. It's great. I wish we didn't have to use it as much, but that was also super helpful, where you can put up task lists and things like that, and people can easily go in and see, okay, this has to happen at this time, to supplement some of what you would typically do in the hallway or at an actual water cooler. I think I was joking with someone the other day, like, "I can't imagine what would've happened to the world if COVID had happened even five years ago. 10 years ago, for sure. 30 years ago, I don't even know where we would be."

Sasha Antonenko:
Farming.

Doc Shufelt:
All of these tools have just been lifesavers, and just the general technical [inaudible 00:26:21] for communications. This level of maturity has been huge.

Amanda:
Yeah. I want to shift gears for a second and go back to something that Rose said at the top, about the macro changes that COVID has had on support and the way that consumers interact with brands and think about engaging with companies. Obviously, it made online first and contact free, the main and the normals. Sasha, I was wondering if you could go a little bit into how your support offerings, the channels that you use, changed over the last year, and if you had any short-term or longer-term evolutions in that offering.

Sasha Antonenko:
The actual offerings haven't changed at all. I think as part of the offerings, what we've realized is immensely helpful, not just to us, but to our customers, is instead of waiting to do the analytics of understanding what our customers are asking us about, instead of waiting for post-semester start, let's say, or post [inaudible 00:27:35] which is a very traditional kind of way of doing it, especially when the world stopped last year, we started doing it daily to understand what was happening right now. What could we do? How could we change our business today so that tomorrow, when customers are reaching out to us, we can be better, smarter, faster?

Sasha Antonenko:
I have countless examples of where doing that for specifically even larger clients that we have, where, like I was saying before, we would quadruple our volume overnight, right? But the majority of those requests weren't actually even meant for us. How frustrating is it to contact a help center after waiting, especially during COVID, for 20 minutes, a half an hour, and God forbid, two hours, like I recently just had to do for our bank. How frustrating is it to get there to just be told you've reached the wrong department, let me actually get you somewhere else?

Sasha Antonenko:
So one of the major things we've evolved is that analytics process where we go back and look. We have a debrief, essentially, and examine how did today go? What can we do better tomorrow? And not just theoretically. We actually dig into every interaction, all of the customer satisfaction results, and try to understand, where did we fail, where did we do a good job, how can we do more of the good things? What can we put into our workflows, whether they're automated, documented? Or even just training for our agents, what can we change for them to make it easier for our customers tomorrow? Doing that very, very frequently significantly improved the efficiency of our business, and I think that is the one thing that will not end at this point in time now that ... And analytics is one of those things that I don't know about you, but for me, at least, in even my previous jobs, it's one of those things that we kind of do reactively at the end of a specific segment, almost like as a formal ending rather than now it's part of our day-to-day. It's making us much more agile and much more intelligent in how we actually correspond with our users. So that-

Amanda:
That's awesome.

Sasha Antonenko:
... will not be going away. Yeah.

Amanda:
Rose, the clients that you spoke to, did you notice any broad changes in the way that they adapted their delivery of support?

Rose Wang:
Yeah. In general, I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of more digitalization. Shifting the conversation to post-COVID, which is the world we're entering, we can kind of look ahead at other countries that are a little bit ahead of our timeline, in terms of how things have changed in their country. So China. McKenzie just did a report to see, okay, well, how have consumers in China changed? Because they're about a couple months ahead of us in terms of reopening. And it's been really interesting.

Rose Wang:
What they saw is that in China, the share of consumers over the age of 45 using e-commerce increased by 27%, from January to February, that, in general, 55% increase in consumers intending to permanently shift to online grocery shopping. I think we're seeing massive shifts away from brick and mortar to online, which also shifts a lot of different channels in which we are now communicating with customers. More online also means more channels online and maybe less traditional support than we're used to, in terms of maybe phone. And while all of that is happening, we're also waiting for the market to recover. There's a lot of businesses where they're being squeezed from a budget standpoint, and so really trying to push things towards the digitalization and using currently information that's already out there.

Rose Wang:
If you can automate that process where that information already lives in a knowledge base somewhere, why put a human on something that's tedious and manual, where right now, AI is in a state to go and pull that information? What we know as chat bots on the front end, on the back end, the technology has progressed significantly. It's not just keyword search, if/then statements that provide the future predictions. But it's actually taking in multiple variables, and so we see that aspect.

Rose Wang:
Another really interesting change is real time on customer preferences. In the past, surveys have often 18- to 24-hour delays between launch and read out. And that's very generous. But things are shifting sometimes hour by hour now. And so the technology today should also shift to meet the needs of, hey, how do we know what customers are feeling on an hour-to-hour standpoint. And that's actually really important support. We are not operating on a day-to-day. We need to be getting back to customers within hours, not days.

Rose Wang:
And so how do you go read sentiment? Rather than waiting for self-reporting on CSAT, how do we go and actually pull out that sentiment without the customer even needing us to tell us anything? And so that's really where I feel like the pandemic has pushed the timeline for AI even more forward. There's a bigger need now today than ever before. With more online means more data, means more fast reactions. And so there's really no way to kind of manual effort that. Where are we going to go find the workforce and train and onboard them that quickly? And so I think the next phase is how do we go find tools to help bring to light the best practices? Currently, we've discovered and use tools to go push those forward.

Amanda:
Yep. You answered three of my questions I had planned for you all in one, so thank you very much for that.

Rose Wang:
I'm sorry.

Amanda:
No, no. That's great. I love it. I appreciate it. Expound away. Yeah. In terms of planning for, I guess, the broad conversation about AI versus humans and the way that we deliver support, Doc, can you give us a little bit of an overview of how you think about it as a CEO and managing your capital, and how those two kind of investing now in AI versus investing in humans, how do you think that those two play against each other. What are the C-suite thinking about as far as that's concerned?

Doc Shufelt:
I'm a big believer that people will be important to a support experience forever. But I love the way Rose described AI as picking up the slack of the increase in online support. The one thing that I sort of expect and we've seen, and what I hope happens, is as AI continues to develop ... And it's pretty good now. For those of you that have not been out in that market in a little while, it's pretty amazing. What I hope that does in a way that I think about it and Alan thinks, when we're riffing on this, is not only does it take some of the pressure off of the humans, but it actually allows the people to focus on problems that require human judgment.

Doc Shufelt:
I think Rose is kind of getting at this, where if you think about the day-to-day life of someone that works customer support, if you've not done or you've not been with those teams, it is a brutal, grueling job. And, when you are remote, you don't have that support system that we were talking about earlier, and you've got [inaudible 00:35:55] as Rose mentioned earlier, then you start to get kind of squished. And if you add into that like I have to answer this question 5,000 times on top of that, it just makes an already really difficult situation that much more difficult.

Doc Shufelt:
AI can take that and allows the humans to continue to upscale, to train, to answer harder questions, to be more advocates for the customers that they're serving. So I think that there's going to be much more interplay between the development of AI and how that affects the human labor aspect of delivering support than most. Some people think that AI will just conquer the world, and we won't need people anymore. I don't particularly fall into that group. But I think there's some really interesting things that AI does as well or better than humans that humans wouldn't want to do anyway. So we should continue to invest and leverage it.

Doc Shufelt:
For me, I think about investments and placing the right dollars on the right area of the table. It would depend a lot on the nature of what I was supporting. If it's a lot of e-commerce, hey, where's my order, my payment didn't go through, yeah, I would go really heavy on bots and automation because those things are handled so well now. If you need really deep technical support, you need human judgment and experience, creativity, ingenuity, to do that. So finding the right place to apply the right resource, whether it's ones and zeros or whether it's a human brain, I think is going to be the key next step that we're probably figuring out right now as we start to go back to work and can engage more on this.

Amanda:
Absolutely. I think the way you just summed that up is a great segue because what I want to give ... While we're running out of time, I want to make this as helpful for the listeners here as possible. Doc, I was wondering, if someone in the audience has heard what Sasha said and thought, you know what? I want to do two BPOs. How do I think about making that business case to my executives? I think I need to invest in a tool like Forethought or AI to kind of handle these types of things. As a leader of a company, what's the best way for a support leader to approach his or her bosses, maybe, and say, "I need more budget than I thought," perhaps at a time when we don't have that much budget because it's important. What advice would you give?

Doc Shufelt:
That is the probably trillion dollar question, isn't it? For me, I think what Sasha did is incredible, and, interestingly, I wish that I had known you last year because that's exactly what Arena does for a living. But awesome to hear that story. I think, one, it's sort of a drip campaign. In some respects, there's just a tenacity that has to happen to educate leaders. My team is, and Amanda can attest to this, constantly educating me on where we need to be going and what we need to be doing. So having the conversation early and often and frequently, that customer support is not a call center. It drives me insane where I hear it described as that. There is an ROI to that spend that is the most important ROI in your business. Imagine if you didn't have customer support at all. You wouldn't have any customers. So I think that's a big piece. Advocate for your function at all times because it's that important.

Doc Shufelt:
When it comes to making a case for that, you don't have to necessarily spend a lot more, but the easiest and probably the most effective argument is the one that Sasha made. Do you want to have this exposure where you're trying to scale and you can't, either because the BPO you're working with isn't big enough, or they've got other accounts, or, as in her case, everything just goes down? I had a similar experience at Republic Wireless where one of our three BPOs went down for three weeks with a ransomware attack. I was the GM at the time and barely knew because we had balanced our portfolio. We had the risk mitigation of a multi BPO strategy, and we had invested in that. Had that not been the case, it would've been an epic disaster. So really helping think about the case for resiliency and the case for scalability, those are two things almost everyone always needs all the time.

Doc Shufelt:
And then the ancillary benefits are you get that little competitive dynamic to it. One BPO solution, you get what you get. You have carrots and sticks that you've laid out in a contract some years ago, and you live by them or not. In a world where you've got a little bit of a competitive dynamic, costs ultimately stay lower, and quality typically goes up. At least, that's what we've seen in Arena. And so I would point to those things as that's smart executive decision making. It's what we get paid to do, is think about those disasters, fund our teams in the right way to make sure that they have what they need to mitigate and contingency plan.

Doc Shufelt:
But just laying out what the alternatives are, sometimes there just isn't the dollars, and I understand that. But moving away from call center mentality is going to be key on a lot of the things that I think we've talked about today. And then that resilience piece. In this day and age, when everyone's now going hard online, as we've talked about, it's got to be there. It's got to be there.

Rose Wang:
To add to that, too, I-

Amanda:
Yeah, of course.

Rose Wang:
... couldn't agree more with Doc in terms of cost is just one side of the equation, so if you get all the other parts of the equation, you have a limited view, and it's a misnomer. It doesn't actually give you much information about your business. Cost is only relevant in terms of revenue and profit. And so it's always about value.

Rose Wang:
I laughed when you first asked that question, Amanda, because Sasha and I, I think, are very familiar with, hmm, how do we get creative here with the budget? A big thing that we do talk about with our clients is it's really important to hold your vendors, your software vendors, to ROI. Okay. Great. You can do this, but does it actually do this, and what does this look like in terms of the revenue and the cost savings? How does it actually impact your business? So when you go talk to your different vendors, when you're looking at different solutions to help increase the capacity of your agents or these collaboration tools, I think getting down to that ROI and asking for those reports ... very important.

Rose Wang:
And then the other piece, I think, on top of that is not only getting that ROI but getting data period. I think some of these support leaders have to make decisions blind. They don't know how many cases per hour an agent is working. What does a capacity look like when they go from in office to home? And so how do you work with vendors who are very open with that data, give you that data, because my opinion is, if they're hiding it, then there's something to hide. And so, ultimately, definitely look out for that, and work with your vendors to get as much data as possible. That's what we go and try to work with Sasha's ... Hey, when we go and get the software, this is the cost savings and the revenue you should be looking at from both ends.

Sasha Antonenko:
And, subsequently, when I take that data, that's exactly what I report to my C-level team, is to say, "You don't need to understand all of the workings. Just know that if I do this, this is the ROI." From, I'm sure, Doc's perspective, while it's not the only thing that matters, that's one of the key components that really, really matters. So if you can kind of succinctly summarize all of your points and assign a nice, clean dollar value to them, it makes a decision for C-level teams really simple.

Rose Wang:
That's right.

Amanda:
Great. Thank you guys for that.

Doc Shufelt:
Giving me a positive ROI opportunity and risk mitigation at the same time? You got it yourselves. We're winning. [crosstalk 00:44:38]-

Sasha Antonenko:
We should talk about the other project that I'm working on with Foresight right now.

Rose Wang:
Yeah. Lots of [crosstalk 00:44:46]-

Amanda:
Well, I want to open this up to questions from the audience, so if you have a question, feel free to message it in at the bottom of your screen. There's a Q&A section. Feel free to hit that. In the meantime, while I'm waiting for those to come in, let's see. Rose, I feel like you'll have one. What is your counterintuitive, half-crazy prediction about customer service, about what will happen in the next five years?

Rose Wang:
Ooh, this is fun. My crazy prediction?

Sasha Antonenko:
Robots everywhere, right?

Doc Shufelt:
[inaudible 00:45:32]

Rose Wang:
Yeah, yeah. You can't tell. You'll have no idea who is who, maybe in 25 years. But in five years, I do ... I mean, I think mobile is just going to be a whole different game where, essentially, everyone's going to be texting social, et cetera. We're going to see, I think, this idea of emailing in or filling in a webform is going to be very old school. And so I do think that we're going to have a huge shift towards mobile.

Amanda:
Awesome. Got a couple questions here. One of them is something that I wanted to ask you guys, too, so I'm glad this came up. Rose, this is probably best for you. As you are managing B2B and you're in the B2B business and you're engaging with your clients, what do you think the new normal of client management will look like? Will you continue to be remote mostly with your clients? Are business trips back abound? How do you make and build trust in a virtual world?

Rose Wang:
Yeah. I think if I had the answers, I probably wouldn't be working. I'm just kidding. No. But thank you so much for the question, James. There are four trends that McKenzie has really pulled up regardless of what happens. I think the first one is just there's no question that focusing on care and concern is going to be even more important today than ever before. I think we've seen, in general, as I said, anxiety levels, mental health issues, all of those are coming to the forefront. Ignoring that and saying, "Hey, we're not going to really think about the individual," is no longer going to work, especially now. There are more and more brands, and the competition has ramped up significantly.

Rose Wang:
I think a second one is meeting our customers where they are. Ultimately, we don't know what's going to happen. We're seeing some companies go remote, some companies hybrid. Some are saying "No, it has to be in person." What I think we're waiting for is probably some data after a couple of years to say, "Okay. We're wrong. Remote just leads to low productivity." And there could be a complete swing back from that. My guess is it'll land somewhere in the middle, with hybrid. So if that's true, that means people are going to be a lot more on the go. There's going to be a lot more building online communities. How do we go support that aspect?

Rose Wang:
And then, in general, I think just more agility, just because things are changing so fast. Like I mentioned in the past, the conversation just around, hey, things are shifting not only day-to-day, but now hour by hour. And the world's also more global. How do we go and create tooling that can go and satisfy those trends? I think ultimately what COVID did was just accelerate a lot of what we probably were going to see in more like five to 10 years more quickly. And so now the entire tooling industry needs to speed up to catch up.

Amanda:
Yep. Sasha, I had one for you. When selecting your BPO providers, how did you rank the four following criteria by order of importance? Was it price, convenience, flexibility, quality? And how do you leverage onshore versus offshore partners? Very specific.

Sasha Antonenko:
Location doesn't matter, except, of course, price changes significantly with different locations. Quality was number one. However, how do you kind of assign a quality ranking to a company that you haven't had a chance to vet yet in terms of how they work? So a lot of those things go hand in hand together. It's not an actual ranking. But, from my perspective, quality's always number one. Price was a huge differentiator because, of course, and I'm sure Doc can probably attest to this, margin is super important. Whether you're a cost operation or not, margin is super important. So cost plays a big role in that. And then what were the other two? I'm sorry. Convenience and-

Amanda:
Flexibility and convenience.

Sasha Antonenko:
Flexibility was a big one. Convenience, I mean, that could take on so many different forms. It's super subjective. But flexibility means that I could dictate essentially how the operation is run. At this point in time, all of the agents that are within this specific BPO are effectively just an extension of ours. So having the flexibility of their management report, to me, their agents be able to communicate with me and all of our staff within D2L was super, super important.

Amanda:
Doc, would you agree? Is that the general trend that you see of your customers in terms of BPO selection?

Doc Shufelt:
Yeah, I think that's pretty accurate. There's probably, depending on ... It's always going to be price, quality, and, in some respects, those are two sides of a coin. But that's pretty common. What we do see is, and this is a nice development in the outsource space, the BPO space, is you don't have to hand-wring as much these days, onshore versus offshore, as you probably did in the quote-unquote "old days." BPOs that are in Latin America or wherever, nearshore, India, these are, generally speaking, fantastic places to work for the folks in those communities.

Doc Shufelt:
When outsourcing was first developing, it was, well, it's cheap sweatshop labor overseas. That's absolutely not the case anymore. And there's lots of benefits to geographic diversity of your support team, especially a global client base. So that has become less important, I think, and should become less important to folks. But yeah, it's always going to be ... Depending on your season, and sometimes these things change, you're going to be looking for, obviously, the highest possible quality you can get at the best price.

Amanda:
Great. We got a question about how do you get quiet or more reserved employees to engage in virtual events? I'm assuming that means as working remotely. How have you found for those employees, team members who are a little bit more shy, reserved, how do you keep them enthralled?

Sasha Antonenko:
I can take this one. This is definitely my day-to-day. I have a fairly large team at HQ, and it takes all kinds. I don't have only one type of employee. Certainly, a bunch of them are quiet. There are two key things that I've found that work really, really well. Spending just a little bit more one-on-one time with them and very specifically walking them through how they can participate in group conversations, so giving them a little bit of space and time to plan ahead. For example, we have several team standups every single week. I want every person to participate, but I really want the quiet people who are not otherwise going to speak, to speak up and say something. They all have super valuable things to add to the conversation, but they're just ... Sometimes it's lack of confidence. Sometimes it's I don't want to interrupt and step on people's toes.

Sasha Antonenko:
So, A, spending a little bit of time with them one-on-one to kind of prep them almost for it, so that they're comfortable with it, and then either ask them kind of almost planted questions in the group conversation around things that they are comfortable in, that they can truly kind of brag about, even when it comes to their own accomplishments. It gets them to feel comfortable in a group setting. Baby steps at first. And then, eventually, you'll get to a point where they'll just be speaking like everybody else. Hope that helps.

Amanda:
Great points. Great advice. Rose, did you have something you wanted to add?

Rose Wang:
No, I love these points. I think that what Sasha's speaking to in terms of diversity is really important. You don't want just one type of person who speaks loudly. But I also think, then, if you do have a diverse team, not only on top of the relationship piece, providing different avenues in which people are comfortable. Some people like to write versus speak, and so thinking about creative solutions to capture where people shine the most.

Rose Wang:
There's also different types of people who are gradual processors versus rapid processors. If you ask them a question in the moment, there are some people who can immediately think of the answer, and those are rapid processors. Gradual processors, they like to take in all the information, go write it all out, and then come up with a very well-formulated response. I think both types of individuals are extremely important to have on the team. But then, having different formats where both shine is also really important.

Amanda:
Great. That's an awesome piece of advice. Okay. I think we have our last question, and we're about at time. So this will probably just go to you, Doc. Are there some industries that are just too specific to hire a BPO company, that it's not the right step, and expanding the CS team in house is the right decision?

Doc Shufelt:
Absolutely. Just having a hammer doesn't mean you go smash everything with it, or whatever the old saying is. I don't know if it's necessarily industry specific. I think there are elements of almost any operation in almost any company that are candidates to be outsourced. But there are certainly areas within a company, even with a support organization, for example, that are much more appropriate to remain in house. And two examples I would give of that, one is technical complexities. If, say, you're a B2B software company that is doing a lot of heavy customization for a client, you probably need someone internal that's very close to the machinery to kind of work on that.

Doc Shufelt:
The other is from a comfort maturity standpoint. If you're very early on, to the point where you're still figuring out, does anyone even want my product, and if so, what do they wish it did differently, I often advocate for people to keep support teams in house during that period because it keeps the feedback loop from the customer that much closer to the people that are building the product. So there are certainly circumstances within which that make sense. But I will point out that today we're working with telehealth. We have BPOs with nurses in the network, and then we have nursing schools that help feed their teams. We have super complicated telecommunications and software support on certain things.

Doc Shufelt:
So I think it's a lot about what you need, either as a leader or as a business [inaudible 00:57:22] and then how much real custom knowledge is required? And I say real custom knowledge because we all think that everything we do is unique and special. Most of it's not. But there is definitely a part of it that is, and so being really disciplined and being really honest with yourselves about this is a thing that we must maintain and know in house, versus something that's not, is a key step. But I would say, generally speaking, you can find a really good experienced BPO for most of what you need. But that doesn't mean it's a universal fit for every single situation.

Sasha Antonenko:
If I can add on that just a tiny bit, find a fit for any or most situations. But also, I think if you work with the BPO or with a vendor off a specific software, whatever it is that you're kind of trying to get outside of the company, if you work with them really, really closely, to the point where they become your extension, the sky's the limit, honestly. And I have lots of that within Forethought, with two of my BPOs. I think it's a matter of how do you organize the control of all of the operations? How does reporting look like? How frequently are your checkpoints, your conversations, to make sure that you're calibrated on all of your objectives? And while, certainly, there are, I'm sure, parts that really can't be outsourced, the majority of them, if you invest the right amount of time into them, I do believe that you can make it work.  

Doc Shufelt:
That's a fantastic point. That is a huge change in how people have approached successfully ... folks that have successfully partnered with BPOs. It's a partnership, not a vendor. That's so huge. That's exactly the way we've thought about it forever. Even the way you talked about BPO internally, like them versus us, we always talk about them. To Sasha's point, it's part of the team. We would write notes to people on those teams, congratulating them on great performance and things like that. If you treat them like they're part of your company, they will act like they're part of your company.

Amanda:
Awesome. Well, we are out of time. I know we didn't get to all of the questions. So if you do have a question, why don't you email ... If you have a question for one of our panelists, if they're so willing, maybe they will share their email addresses afterwards, and they can be reach out directly. Or you can reply back to any of the emails that you get after this, and we can give you their contact information. Thank you Sasha, Rose, Doc. We really appreciate you being with us. I think this was a very successful first CX Power Hour. Thank you for all our participants, everyone who attended. I hope you come back for others, and I hope you found this valuable.

Doc Shufelt:
Thank you, Amanda. Thanks, everyone. This was great.

Rose Wang:
Thanks, everybody.

Sasha Antonenko:
Have a good one.

Rose Wang:
Bye.

Doc Shufelt:
Take care.

Amanda:
Bye.