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Jeff Toister Keynote at ICMI Contact Center Expo 2019 – Hidden Obstacles to Outstanding Customer Ser

Here at CC Expo, it’s clear that the world of the contact center is at a turning point. The Expo hall is crammed with state-of-the-art technologies and promises of automation, higher efficiency, lower costs. New software and solutions are dazzling and daunting in equal measure.

While it’s important to adapt to technological change, it’s important also to be able to look at your customer service function and seek to improve what’s there already. And that would be easy, if working with people was simple. But customer expectations are on the rise, and our agents are rarely in the best place to recommend improvements to the customer experience as a whole. They’re in it, living it, and it can be tough to see the wood from the trees.

That’s why it’s always so valuable to hear from customer experience experts like Jeff. His experience means he can not only see the issues endemic within the agent experience that many contact center managers simply don’t hear about - but he can trace the impacts of incidents of negative service through to organisational customer experience as a whole.

Jeff is introduced by Fancy Mills, ICMI’s Group Training & Content Director, who explains that he’s provided training via LinkedIn Learning to a massive 140,000 people in six countries. So attending one of Jeff’s keynotes means that you won’t hear shallow motivational fluff - you’ll walk away with solid, actionable plans.

This keynote is no different, as the theme of overcoming obstacles in customer experience is one that he’s researched and written in depth about.

Jeff starts his keynote by telling us a story of an abrasive encounter he had with a customer service rep. Jeff was paying a cashier for a $4.05 transaction with a $5 bill, only for the cashier to tell him “I hate people like you!” when asked to provide the change. The crowd audibly gasps - we’ve all seen and heard bad service, but this outright hostility is really terrible!

This begs the question: why do customer service reps end up doing things that they (and we) know that they shouldn’t do?

Jeff’s keynote centers around three reasons why this might happen.

Quality vs Quantity

The first happens when you ask agents to balance quality and quantity.

To illustrate this, Jeff asks us to introduce ourselves to three other people, find out one of their interests and their customer service strength. I spent a great time talking travel with Catalina and books with Holly and time quickly runs out before I get to person number three.

When asked for a show of hands around the room, it quickly becomes clear that nobody else managed to finish either. We all had great conversations, but not in the quantity we aimed for.

Jeff highlights that this something that our agents struggle with each day. When we ask agents to balance quality versus quantity, they don’t always perform the way we want them to perform. They don’t always make the right decision, even when they have the best of intentions. And when people go too fast or they have too many competing interests, they often make the wrong calls.

While it’s falling out of favor to track agents on handle time, we need to be aware of the ways we reinforce speed over quality, for example by displaying time-based metrics on wallboards. Jeff explains the positive results that one center he worked with experienced when they took down the wallboards and simply asked them to focus on the customer.


Jeff’s second hidden obstacle is multitasking. We live in a working world where multitasking is important to getting things done quickly, and done for others on schedules that suit them. But too much multitasking, with constantly interrupted attention spans, can result in bad outcomes.

We all know of contact centers that ask agents to handle calls and emails between calls, and Jeff calls this out as an example of where multitasking can cause problems - agents are constantly trying to get rid of emails so they can focus on calls, and quality suffers.

Jeff says there are two ways you can reduce the impact of multitasking-related quality issues. The first is simply to generate awareness with agents. Flag up to them that multitasking tends to make you feel like you’re really busy, but it generally ends up with more errors.

Secondly, divide agents into separate queues for phone and email. When people have more focus, they tend to do better, so don’t be afraid to let your agents focus on one channel at a time, without having to divide their attention between two.


Jeff’s last example of hidden service obstacles is framing. We all have our own frames, or ways of seeing the world, based on our perspectives, culture and many other factors in ourselves and our environment. In many circumstances, our frames are helpful in allowing us to make good judgement calls based on our previous experiences. But other times, our frames can get in the way, making us miss the opportunity to empathize.

Customer service is no different. Agents can miss the opportunity to serve well if they’re locked into their own frame.

How does Jeff work to fix this? He helps agents take those different perspectives that customers hold. Since empathy comes from a shared or relatable experience, he’s worked with companies who help agents become customers when possible.

As Jeff says, “When you change the frame, you can move beyond the transaction and understand there’s a bigger impact.”

It’s clear that Jeff’s points aren’t only great for improving interaction quality with customers, but they’re also great in improving interaction quality with each other. To that end, Jeff leaves us with some conference-related pointers that can help us improve the quality of our experience a the Expo:

  • Balance Quality & Quantity: Conferences can really overload you with content! You can often leave with a notebook full of ideas but no clue how to implement them. Jeff’s challenge to combat this is to think of just one thing you want to achieve, or change, off the back of your culture experience - and look for ways to fulfill that goal in full.

  • Combat Multitasking: Resist the urge to email in sessions. Fully concentrate and you never know how much more you might pick up on.

  • Break the boundaries of your frame: Be inquisitive about other people. Ask them questions and seek to understand others better.

Jeff’s final challenge is to ask yourself the question - How committed are you? It’s in commitment that real change lies. Jeff explains how Jenny Dempsey, Customer Service Health Coach who is also in the audience, got an anchor tattoo after learning about Jeff’s concept of attitude anchors. The point here isn’t to go out and get tattoos but to encourage you to dig deep to the root of issues to really question why they’re happening.

Jeff brings us back to the terrible customer service encounter he shared at the start of the session. He realized, much later, that the reason why this happened is because the cashier was scared of being yelled at by his manager for running out of change. At the time the incident happened, the manager was yelling at people at the back of the store. When a cashier runs out of change, it’s the manager who has to go and get more, and that manager certainly didn’t seem like the type to be happy about it.

It’s not only great customer service advice, but solid advice for life. The next time you encounter behavior that makes you recoil, or that you don’t understand, don’t just leap to judgement. Try to understand, and seek to find out why. The answer might surprise you.

Download Jeff’s workbook, “10 exercises to uncover hidden customer service obstacles” by texting Hidden to 66866.


Kaye Chapman is Comm100’s Customer Experience & Training Specialist, an internationally-experienced writer and trainer, and an MA student at University College London, the world’s #1 center for Education and Social Science. Kaye has worked with Fortune 500, governmental and private firms across the globe to advance customer service operations and embed leading learning and development strategy. As a specialist in Contact Centers, Kaye is passionate about using technology and training to improve experiences for customers and employees alike. Kaye's LinkedIn


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