Posted by Shawn McCormick on July 19, 2023
Late June turned out to be a beautiful time to visit Sacramento for the Northern California Contact Center Association in-person event. It’s become a recurring theme to present at conferences and events that are doing their first in-person meeting since before the pandemic. No one is sure how many people will attend, but we accept that we have to (re)start somewhere.
Fittingly, the theme at NCCCA’s first in-person event in three years was “Successful Contact Center Tactics in the Post-Pandemic Era.” And since almost all of us in attendance have yet to return to the office, there was a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd as they were finally able to reconnect with friends and colleagues in a face-to-face setting. But even as we discussed topics that are pressing for the contact center, we had to admit that we were getting together in-person to discuss remote work.
Contact center professional associations are amazing platforms for staying on top of evolving trends, networking, and sharing innovative ideas. Groups like NCCCA bring together professionals from both the public and private sectors, creating opportunities for knowledge exchange, collaboration, and industry-wide learning. Networking within these associations allows professionals to connect, build relationships, and expand their professional networks, which can lead to new career opportunities, partnerships, and collaborations. Most of them have traditionally offered an in-person multi-day conference or half-day event, but they became virtual after 2020. Now that most groups have started meeting again, we can’t help but ask the same question that many well-known corporations are asking: what are we getting from in-person interaction that we can’t get from an online meeting?
It’s not just the bagel spread—the warm welcomes and catch-up conversations among the attendees were more than just networking, and it’s not like anyone shows up to a Zoom call 45 minutes early to chat. So it was very timely to have a standout presentation from Tacie Donati, a member of the NCCCA and a representative from Clark Pest Control who shared her team’s success story of “Taking Brick and Mortar Culture to Remote Workers.” Tacie detailed inventive, steal-this-idea-immediately initiatives that effectively engaging her company’s remote workers, ensuring they felt connected, supported, and appreciated even when working outside the traditional office environment.
These are the kinds of practical, doable ideas that people crave from a conference, and there’s no doubt Tacie would have been equally successful presenting this content virtually. So, were we getting anything extra from seeing it in-person? We did have the opportunity to ask questions, but Q&A is part of any online preso, and arguably some people feel more comfortable typing questions into a chat rather than raising their hand and speaking in the in-person presence of a large group. But having presented at two in-person events in the last couple of months, I do see some advantages that make them worth the travel.
In an article about online presenting, Harvard Business Review quotes an executive who dreads them, saying : “I used to enjoy getting up in front of an audience,” she explained. “I loved working the room. Now, I feel like I’m speaking into a black hole.” While I don’t “dread” online presentations, I do get what she’s saying about working the room. When an online presentation doesn’t allow for the audience to be on camera, such as the public-facing webinars Call Design does, I sorely miss the audience feedback. Nodding heads, crossed arms, laughter at a humorous comment, people looking at their phones—these let you know whether or not your audience is picking up what you’re putting down. Plus, it can be challenging logistically to keep up with chat comments online as you present, where in-person you can sometimes see from a person’s face that they are itching to ask a question and invite them to do so.
I also tend to talk with my hands a lot, and that doesn’t usually work online. Obviously there are some upsides to online presenting, not the least of which is the control and familiarity you have with your own computer and how to present. The pc at the NCCCA event was a little uncooperative at first, which happens a lot out at in-person events. Thankfully our gracious host got it working and I was able to present on the topic “Making it Through the Next Recession by Investing in Your Employees.” Expanding on the post-pandemic theme, this presentation explored the connection between employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX). Despite a large majority of businesses’ stated plan to compete based on superior CX, the latest Forrester CX Index report showed a decline in customer experience for two consecutive years. Together with the NCCCA audience, I worked to identify the disconnect, and how investing in Employee Experience drives better Customer Experience, especially during an economic downturn.
While I had statistics to illustrate the value companies can realize by investing in their employees, and I will be giving this presentation online in August, I admit that I appreciated the opportunity to have my audience in close proximity so I could really read reactions in their faces. Some of the statistics are not going to surprise people who’ve been working in the contact center for years—they have seen the results of clear communication, knowledge access, and flexible scheduling for employees. But it’s very helpful for a speaker to see how the audience is feeling when they see data that validate their experience: lower attrition, improved service quality, increased sales and customer loyalty, and a better bottom line.
And from the “Let’s Test That Theory” Department, I will find out first-hand how it feels to present this particular presentation virtually next month. Please join me on August 23 on LinkedIn. You can register here.
The event featured breakout groups covering various topics of interest, including Artificial Intelligence in the contact center, Employee Experience/Customer Experience, Remote Work, and Workforce Management. The discussions in the Workforce Management breakout session were particularly animated. As attendees shared their workforce challenges, they sparked some brainstorms among the other WFM experts who love solving scheduling problems (it’s an occupational hazard). It was remarkable to witness the willingness to collaborate and the eagerness to help one another overcome common obstacles.
As attendees engaged in conversations about engaging remote workforces and the importance of employee experience, the irony of discussing these topics at an in-person event was not lost. The consensus among participants was that flexible work arrangements, including hybrid in-office and work-from-home setups, are the future of contact centers. While recognizing the potential of these models, being able to come together and interact face-to-face reaffirmed the value of in-person connections, idea-sharing, and observing firsthand how their peers react to different insights and approaches.
As the contact center landscape continues to transform, events like the NCCCA gathering provide a platform for professionals to learn from one another, foster collaboration, and stay at the forefront of industry trends. The attendees’ shared experiences highlighted a common theme of resilience and adaptability in the contact center community, and served as a reminder that while remote work and flexible arrangements are becoming increasingly prevalent, the power of in-person interactions and the sharing of ideas is still very real.