National Association of Call Centers

Charles Dickens Revisited: Finding the Heart of the Industry

I just submitted my November column to Contact Center Pipeline magazine. The topic of the column was putting veterans to work in the contact center industry. This is the third time I’ve written about this particular matter, the first time being in the March 2011 issue and the next in the July 2012 issue of the magazine. I’ve also taken the fight to the field, so to speak, in my attempts to get the contact center industry to rally around this problem and find a solution.


The result has been deafening silence. Companies with huge profits and expansive resources have shown no interest that I can detect in getting involved with giving back. The singular focus is usually on a relentless pursuit of ever greater profits.


Since this narrative is beginning to sound a lot like a classic Charles Dickens novel it is time to introduce the ray of hope – a light of good in the otherwise dreary story of greed. A few weeks ago I was introduced to a small contact center cloud company in the San Francisco Bay Area called BrightPattern. They are taking on the problem of unemployed veterans and are taking on challenges that companies a hundred times their size don’t have the (guts? nerve? fill in the word of your choice here) to take on.   I was introduced to BrightPattern by my longtime friend John Reynolds, a Vietnam veteran and founder of the not-for-profit Veterans2Work ( What BrightPattern lacks in company size, they make up for in the size of their heart.


Yesterday I saw another hint of industry heart in a news release from Interactive Intelligence soliciting grant applications for the Interactive Intelligence Foundation, a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to use available resources and funding to improve the lives of at risk youth around the world with a primary emphasis in their hometown of Indianapolis. The Interactive Intelligence Foundation was born when executives at the company saw a need in the community and took the unusual step of doing something about it. The Foundation idea was proposed to Interactive Intelligence’s CEO, Dr. Don Brown, in 2010 and an industry charity was born.


Today the Interactive Intelligence Foundation supports a diverse group of charities with missions that range from the care of abused and neglected children to a group that is fighting hunger in central Indiana. The Foundation raises money through a variety of activities, including an annual gala that raised funds exceeding $53,000 for the Foundation this year. Interactive Intelligence employees volunteer their time to run the foundation and Interactive Intelligence picks up the tab for the Foundation’s overhead and administration. Aside from the direct costs of the gala, every penny raised for the Foundation goes to the charities it supports.


Last time I checked Interactive Intelligence seems to be doing pretty well. I imagine stockholders probably don’t complain about the money the company spends on the Foundation instead of putting into dividends, and giving back to the community doesn’t seem to have had a detrimental effect on Interactive Intelligence’s industry standing or performance.


Differentiating factors are everything in today’s competitive contact center industry. While most companies look toward product differentiation, the companies mentioned in this blog differentiate themselves in a way that will live on long past the heyday of whatever technology solutions they offer. These companies distinguish themselves in a way that isn’t measured in quarterly profits and year-over-year financial performance. These are companies with heart and in the long run, that’s what will really matter.


Cisco Wins Contact Center Industry Award the Old Fashioned Way – They Earn It

The 9th annual CRM Magazine Service Awards winners were published in the March 2012 issue of the magazine.  I like these awards.  The reason I like these awards is because no money changes hands before awards are bestowed.  I also like them because there’s only one winner in each category.  Although this may rub against the grain of the Millennials who grew up with a collection of “Participant” trophies lining the shelves in their bedrooms, I think it’s entirely appropriate for the contact center industry.  It’s a good way to recognize exemplary company performance in terms of product offerings and service to the industry.
The CRM Magazine Service Awards is one of the few award processes I’ll participate in these days.   I used to participate in the “Best of Show” award processes many years ago at trade shows like ICCM.  No money exchanged hands there either, except I suppose the money the show organizers received selling booth space.  But when it came to judging it didn’t matter if you had a tiny booth in a dark corner or a two-story extravaganza a la Nortel trade show booths back in the day.  Companies were judged on the merits of their products, not whether or not their check cleared the bank.  CRM Magazine upholds this same standard, which is why I participate and why these awards are significant achievements and not just marketing fluff.
For the second year in a row Cisco has been awarded a CRM Magazine Service Award in the Service Leaders category.  After being named the “One to Watch” in the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) category in 2010, Cisco captured the top spot in 2011.  This is particularly interesting in that Cisco didn’t even place in this category in 2009.
A year or so ago I heard Cisco’s John Hernandez specifically point to IVR as a market Cisco had targeted for industry leadership.  I wasn’t sure how they were going to accomplish this feat but as Cisco’s Web 2.0 strategy, which underlies the Customer Collaboration Suite, became clearer, so did the reasons behind Hernandez’s assertion that Cisco could capture IVR market leadership.
Competition will remain tough for Cisco in the IVR market and there are companies nipping on Cisco’s heels, but the fact that Cisco has made such noteworthy advances in its IVR strategy that it convinced the panel of objective judges to award this recognition is a significant accomplishment in itself. 
The CRM Magazine Service Leader is one of the few industry awards worth having.  Most of the contact center industry awards floating around the industry today aren’t worth the plastic they’re molded out of.  Any company that receives an award given by a panel of unbiased judges has a reason to be proud.  Cisco should be proud to fall into this category.

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