Recession-Proof Your Customer Service with Scott Prater
Season 2 – Episode 1
Vanessa Gates 00:11
Hey everyone, welcome back to Masters of Support. I am your host, Vanessa Gates. And today with me, I have Mr. Scott Prater. He is the Senior Vice President of Technology at PPT solutions. Scott, thank you for being here with me today.
Scott Prater 00:27
It’s great to be here live from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Vanessa Gates 00:30
Let’s take a minute before we get started, if you could go ahead and to share with me who PPT Solutions is, you know, what do you do with the organization? And how does PPT Solutions service the CX industry?
Scott Prater 00:41
So I’m the Senior Vice President of Technology, so I’m front and center with with all our technology partners, as well as just big roles to keep my pulse on the technology industry. Understand what’s out there with what emerging trends are and to help our customers. So when you hear PPT The first thing you think is PowerPoint. Now we’re not a PowerPoint company, we’re actually stands for people process and technology. At a core, we started as a contact center consulting firm. So all we do is contact center. You know, typical things that you see in the space.
Vanessa Gates 01:12
All right, Scott, thank you today. Today, we’re going to be talking about how you can make your customer experience a recession proof constant. We’ll get right into it, you know, with this impending recession. Scott, let’s talk real quick about how a recession can impact [the] customer service industry.
Scott Prater 01:32
Yeah, so in, you know, in a recessionary economy, and if you look at it, everybody’s predicting it, I think the big one most recently, that really everybody rattled is when FedEx announced their earnings. And they literally said they see a global economic recession coming right. So I think that really got a lot of companies attentions. So you know, if you look at what companies need to do, in a recessionary economy, if you look at the situation we’ve got, right, we’ve got increasing prices, right, which are causing increases to costs of labor, you know, driving that. And companies really need to focus on becoming more profitable. And they do that through a lot of ways. And one of the key ways to do that is to really understand your customer experience, there’s no better way to get revenue than from your existing customers to keep them or to grow revenue with them. And the only way to achieve that is really by having a premier customer experience. And it’s becoming, you know, more and more of a necessity and a differentiator in the market, especially in a recessionary economy.
Vanessa Gates 02:38
So let’s, let’s pivot a little bit, let’s talk about like the meat. The metrics of the CX industry, and how specifically, recessions are impacting it. I mean, metrics is how we operate. It’s it’s the bread and butter of our industry, you know, we’re able to have benchmarks and you know, how well or how not well, we’re succeeding. So let’s talk about how this recession can impact it.
Scott Prater 03:05
Yeah, it’s, you know, it’s interesting, when we get into consulting engagements, you know, one of the things we’re often trying to help customers do is how to figure out what their cost per contact is right? Or what the cost of their labor is, it’s amazing how many companies in the space don’t even have the benchmarks, they need to truly understand their true costs, not just for labor, not just for technology. But the key metric is around cost per contact, right, or cost per customer service. And they’re going to differ between voice and digital. You know, so that is really the biggest one is around, you know, cost per contact. On the sales side, there’s some more unique metrics over there. A little bit different kind of space. But you know, really, what I’m gonna focus on here more is around existing customers, customer retention, and all of that, obviously, staffing is another one. And that fits into the labor costs, whether that’s insourced labor, whether that’s outsourced labor a little bit easier if it’s outsourced labor, quite frankly, because those are fixed contracts, you can understand what those labor costs are, because you see the bill every month, you know exactly what you’re paying. But on the insource side, oftentimes companies don’t understand and build in the cost to capture and to hire, right?What’s your agent turnover rate is, you know, how, what is the shrinkage? All of those metrics, if they’re not measured properly, companies just do not understand. As an example, I think so metric once on average, onshore agent, the capture cost is between $3,000 and $5,000 for an agent, right? Between all the marketing spend and everything, if you have a high turnover rate, that’s all all money that’s costing you, you know, a significant amount towards your profitability. So you got to find ways to find find cost savings be that internally be that with how you’re servicing customers, how you’re meeting them, or just the cost of your labor arbitrage.
Vanessa Gates 04:54
So for the cost conscious customer, you know, we are seening an all time high in cost and inflation, I would assume they’re going to need to invest in proper tools to be able to assist with these cost saving items. Let’s talk about these tools and how can they prioritize these tools to make sure that they have the right ones in place?
Scott Prater 05:21
Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s fascinating, if you just look back, just two years ago, what COVID did to the industry, right? How companies realized fundamental things, they needed the technology to be able to send agents home. And if they were on legacy premise system, that became very challenging, at times, there was additional costs VPNs, all these things to do it. So really, fundamentally, it gets into just ensuring that you’re in the cloud. And it doesn’t matter if that’s your core ACD platform, or some of the surrounds around analytics, when you’re on a cloud platform, it inherently gives you all the latest and greatest and modern capabilities. And because you consume it via cloud, you’re essentially getting all of the upgrades, and all the future kinds of capabilities automatically rolled out, whereas companies that are on legacy platforms, you know, they’re, they’re, they’re victims of the upgrade cycle, right, every two or three years, they’re gonna get a major upgrade. And obviously, the entire industry has pivoted that. So Cloud foundationally is the most important thing. The next really gets into omni channel, right? So obviously, you want to meet your customer, wherever they want to be met with and increasingly in the digital space. You know, if you look at some of the things I believe it was Gartner that said, they believed COVID increased digital adoption by rate of almost five years, right, just because so many people pivoted to digital adoption through COVID, because you couldn’t reach voice agents, companies didn’t have enough of them, right? Companies that couldn’t send ages homes were an agent deficit, you were waiting for hours to, to get to an agent. So omni-channel, Cloud is, you know, it’s very, very foundational. And then if you look into, you know, what we’re looking at today, specifically, around the impacts of the recession, it really gets into, you know, how do you staff against that platform, not just from a staffing perspective, which is critically important, but also from an automation standpoint, right? So the two levers on driving that labor costs, which is roughly 70%, in the contact center space, generally speaking, compared to the technology, which is only 30%. You know, you really got to find out how you’re going to automate things through that, you know, through that cloud based platform. And then importantly, how are you going to properly staff those agents, which, again, that are the most significant costs you have?
Vanessa Gates 07:48
So regarding this, the staffing agent challenges that you’re mentioning in the omni-channel world, and specifically regarding just staffing in general, you know, what are some examples of some tools that these now hopefully, Legacy now migrated to cloud organizations are using to help manage their staff in this new digital world that has been fast tracked, as you said, in five years?
Scott Prater 08:16
Yeah, I mean, it really gets down to, you know, the platform has been around for 30 years now. Right? Workforce Management, staffing, but it’s fundamentally changed, right? It used to be workforce management platforms, obviously used to be premise. Now most of them are cloud now, we’re really tied to understanding the metrics on the voice side, right? And ensuring you staff your agents properly on the voice side. And most of them, you know, did that very well. But with the increasing adoption of digital contacts, and even if you look at the model, as a business, you know, as an example, I can allow my agent to handle two or three simultaneous digital contacts, right? What is your business rule going to be around how you can do that, it becomes increasingly difficult to actually understand how to staff those digital agents right?Now, a lot of times those digital agents can be done offshore. So they’re a little bit lower cost basis, but you still have that efficiency you need to manage. And I think that’s where the gap kind of falls in, in the workforce management space, you know, tools are evolving there. But the companies that are, you know, procure platforms that really can do both the digital, and a lot of times, for example, digital agents aren’t even on the core ACD platform, they may be in Salesforce, they may be on Zendesk, right? So you need to take that workforce management platform, and not only look towards whoever your voice ACD is, but maybe one or 2/3 party digital platforms, and then bring it all together and understand how to staff.
Vanessa Gates 09:46
So is there an efficient way? I mean, you talked about the digital and you talk about the agent way. What are your thoughts on that?
Scott Prater 09:54
Well, as far as the best So the way to do it, and again, it kind of gets into the some of the trends in industry, it doesn’t matter what the tool was that you were using, it was always a manual process, right? It was it was, you had somebody that was highly trained, and they would figure out how to do the staffing. So increasingly, not only do you see AI technologies driving things like bots, and all that, but they’re now actually built into these workforce management platforms. So they actually the platforms themselves have the intelligence to look in and do forward looking, predicting, and actually be able to help you. And again, not all the platforms in the space do that, right. Some of them that are more recently come into the space that don’t have the legacy technology that are disruptive, and they’ve come in looking just like that, right, some of the more legacy players are trying to layer it all in, but it’s the classic case in the market where you know, disruptors almost have an advantage, because they don’t have all that legacy stuff. And, and people having expectations, things are going to work a certain way. And they can come in and they show here’s a new and better way to do it. Thank you, we’re gonna go ahead and pivot a little bit, we’re gonna want to talk about the analytics, you know, analytics have changed with the assistance of AI, etc. Let’s talk about that. And kind of what you’ve seen with the history of analytics, you know, pre-pandemic, and post-pandemic, and all that fun stuff. Yeah, so it’s a great topic. I mean, it’s funny, I was a big customer of Avaya many, many years ago, back, you know, in the heyday of AOL, and analytics was was something that was kind of you wish you had. You had essentially screens that looked like spreadsheets, right. And they told you things that happened, and you would get daily reports, number of calls for agent and right, but that really wasn’t analytics, right? You would, you would be able to take that data and look at it and, and then really kind of from there, you moved into things like I think back in the heyday, Business Objects and all these offshore tools that you could take that data, and try and mine it and get some things and some insights out of it. But it had its own challenges, right? It wasn’t, it unfortunately, was one of those things that it only became as good as the user because they could write their own types of queries. And if they didn’t use the right data set, they were telling the enterprise the wrong thing, it wasn’t even real, right. So now knowing and we moved into now that the data set, you know, pretty much on all these cloud platforms, either has its own analytics capabilities built into it, or they, you know, able to export it to data lakes, and using things like Microsoft and BI, they’re more standard, you know, to mine it. But that’s still going into more the way things were done, what I would call, you know, the old way, again, you’ve got all this data, and people are trying to mine it, what we’re really moving to now is the age of AI optimization of analytics, right? So that data set, you know, has be it be at the call recordings, or you know, the actual use, and more often, it’s best if you have not only the call recordings and the metadata associated with them, but even CRM data, right, that you can layer into that. And you can put that together, and then you use an AI engine that’s already purpose built, you know, to find kinds of things. So versus having an analyst that would, you know, it’s been days to build queries and get the data out of it. out of the gate, these platforms today in the AI world, it was like, you know, here’s here’s most common insights for your industry here, let us just tell you push this button, since I’m oversimplifying it, obviously. But that’s really what it’s like. And that’s where you know, the world is today. And that’s really, where companies are differentiating customer experience, right? The quicker you can understand what’s happening in your enterprise, the quickest, cleaner accurate, the quicker you can change, whatever you’re doing to drive, whatever the key metrics you’re looking at, right? You know, be it customer attrition, revenue per customer, whatever they are, you know, the modern AI driven platforms get you there quicker. And then not only do they give you the core analytics, but one of the big things today is taking that to the next level around agent coaching, right. So again, old way things were done, you’d have about three to five calls per agent that would get looked at somebody and manually scored and, and then once a month or once a week, if it was a really, really robust program, you would review one good call or one bad call agent give them coaching at a manual level, right? And and in today’s world, these analytic platforms have what is often called Auto QA. So you’d lay out the metrics that are important to your business, right? Is there a specific call open, you’re looking forward? There’s specific call clothes you’re looking for? Is there a regulatory requirement to say specific things right, all the things that are important to your business, you can essentially tell this AI engine to look for them and auto score all the calls for you. And even better than that, they’ll pluck out the ones that need coaching and automatically send that to the agent to look at themselves without even have the intervention supervisor. Now the supervisors or the Create departments have visibility to all that but they no longer have to do it. They They go from trying to find the data to really just managing the program. And sure the agents are doing what essentially the tool is telling them they need to do to improve their performance. And then, you know, monitoring measure it over time.
Vanessa Gates 15:12
I think the whole Auto QA era is just fascinating shameless plug, Playvox plug, we just launched a new product solution with Auto QA. I encourage our listeners to check that out. But it’s just amazing to go from you know, what two to 3% view of of monitoring monitoring calls to now you’re going getting a higher reach from that 70%,80%, maybe 100%. So it’s just amazing how more accurate these agents or these managers can be with their agents. How do you keep brand loyalty? Let’s talk about that. How do you keep that in this new digital world in this world where customers are paying more but getting less in their eyes? Inflation is at an all time high. Let’s talk about that.
Scott Prater 15:57
Yeah, so um, you know, that was the first thing I think is you got to stay honest. Stay honest to your brands, they honestly the experience, you need to be willing to, you know, and again, it’s I think it’s overused the word empathy, right? agents need to express empathy. I think it’s really overused. I think emotional intelligence is probably the better word, right? Customers aren’t stupid. They understand when you’re reading from a script, I’ll give you a great use case around brand loyalty for me. So I had, I’m usually United Airlines flyer, and I had an experience recently I was going to, I was going to Portugal, and I had a confirmed upgrade to business class, flying to Brussels, Belgium, I check in, I’ve got my seats, with my wife, 3F and 3G, got my boarding pass and everything. I’m in the lounge, I go to the gate, I scan my boarding pass and just goes, you don’t have a seat. What my wife does the same thing and you don’t have a seat, we’ll come to find out what happened. There was a plane change, it was a bigger plane, they had more business class seats. And when they downsize because that was an upgrade, they essentially not only took away my business class seat, but didn’t give me a seat in the back of the plane, either. Right? So so then I have to wait in this line for like, a half an hour to get to an agent. And I’m very frustrated. But I’m also very patient because I’m in this industry and understand is not the agents fault, right? She says Mr. Prater, I’ve been saving two seats at the back of the plane here for you for you and your wife sit together she was I want to apologize. They’re not even in the economy plus, but is it more important you to get there? Or would you rather have me look to try and find your other flights in business? And I said, You know what, I just want to get there. And she apologizes over and over right? The last thing she says to me, as she says, Mr. Prater, can I have your email address? Sure, why not give her my email address at AOL, by the way, AOL email address. And she goes, when you get on the plane, check your email, I get on the plane, I look at my email. And there’s not only for me, but also for my wife $2,000 flight credits for for each of us, right? They recognize that one, I was a 1k customer, right? That they want to make sure that they keep me and retain me and keep me happy. And instead of telling people my horrible experience, I’m not telling people what a positive experience it was, because they recognize they express the right amount of empathy. And, you know, recognize you gotta treat your best customers right, or they’ll leave you and it’s, again, going back into recessionary economy. We all have choices, right? Had that ended differently, you never know, I might be switching the allegiance.
Vanessa Gates 18:38
How can a company pivot from a single vendor to the best of breed of a single era? You know, there’s so many changes in our ecosystem. Now, companies more than ever need help with navigating.
Scott Prater 18:51
Yeah, so you know, it’s interesting. And it’s not just the contact center space, every industry constantly pivots, and usually roughly a five year cycle from going to single vendor solutions. And then there’s some disruption, and then you pivot to best of breed. And then what happens is there’s M&A activities. And the tried and true vendors do enough acquisitions to acquire the disruptors. And then we go back to single vendor again, and there’s just this constant back and forth. Right. So, you know, up until about a year ago, I’d say we were clearly in the, in the single vendor mindset, you know, companies that were looking to move from a legacy platform to CCAS platform, we’re generally working either with a specific CCAS provider or within their partner ecosystem, right. Some of them have the full stack themselves, WFM, WFO, you know, digital channels, ACD voice, etc. And then other ones just, you know, went to a tried and true partners that they had, right, that are partnerships with legacy industry players and, and I think again, it really pivots back to the disruption COVID caused with companies needing so much more self service and the mark We started recognize there’s a lot of upstart companies specifically in the AI space, that have better solutions around bots, or, or, or analytics or workforce management, right? For that matter, and all of a sudden customers go from saying, Hey, I’m gonna buy this certain way to say, there’s companies over here that seem to be doing it better. But what’s best for me? Right? Do I really need that enhanced capability? Or what my seek as vendors offer me is there and you know, that’s, that’s something that, you know, is a challenge within the industry. And honestly, that’s probably one of the single biggest things we help customers with, right? Try to figure out what’s best for them. Because, you know, not every company needs a Ferrari, right? Ferraris are great, everybody wants to drive a Ferrari. But if your industry dictates that, you don’t need that, maybe you don’t need to go off and get that, you know, amazing third party solution and find how to integrate it into the cloud solution. Maybe it does work for you. Right? So it’s, it’s one of the things that I think it’s just really fascinating in this space, because it’s at the point now you you see companies actually buying these disruptors before they even move the core thing to the cloud, you have a legacy of bias, Cisco company, whatever it is a premise system. And all of a sudden, they wanted digital, they wanted AI or they wanted the bot and they went off acquired it as a best of breed point solution. And then they’re looking to move the whole thing to the cloud, and they’re trying to figure out, well, my point solution I bought doesn’t integrate with the cloud vendor I want to work with, right. So then you have to kind of figure out what what is the best way to go there?And, you know, is it worth building that integration yourself? So it is just a total interesting dynamic. And again, I think we’re probably going to be in this more best of breed environment for probably another three to four years.
Vanessa Gates 21:50
So you bring me to my next and last question. So you, you said you think will be in the best of breed environment for the next three or four years? Scott, two predictions on what you think will happen in 2023 in our industry?
Scott Prater 22:05
So there’s a couple of things. One is, I truly think, you know, we’re going to be dealing with a recessionary economy, that are going to drive companies to really need to understand their customer experience and, and make some hard decisions around investing in the right technologies, right? A lot of times, the last thing companies want to do is spend money and recessionary economy. But I think the people that are gonna win in this space and are continue to drive their profitability and growth are the ones that are willing to make those bets to buy that either migrate to the cloud solution, or find that disruptive AI solution that’s really going to drive and fix their business. And I think you’re gonna see separation there. There’s some companies that hunker down, and recessionary economy. And there’s other ones that essentially see it as an opportunity, and realize if they differentiate, and I think those are the ones that are going to be the winners, and then what’s gonna be interesting to see is which companies do what?
Vanessa Gates 23:05
Awesome, great, Scott, this is the wonderful, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day, to speak with me and to talk about this new impeding recession that we have going on and kind of how it affects our industry. If our listeners want to get some more information on PPT Solutions, where can you direct them?
Scott Prater 23:25
Yeah, I mean, reach out to me. My email is simply first name dot last name
Scott.Prater@PPTsolutions.com. You can also go to the internet PPTSolutions.com is our webpage, there’s a landing page, you can hit there and you know, leave a essentially a message of what you’re looking for. I would give out my cell phone number, but I’ll probably get a lot of weird texts. We’ll leave that one off.
Vanessa Gates 23:50
And you don’t you didn’t provide us or your AOL email. So there’s that. But we’ll make sure that we go ahead and will link the landing page to PPTsolutions on the landing page of this podcast episode. Again. Thank you. Thank you, Scott, I appreciate you so much. Thank you to our listeners for taking time out. As always, don’t forget to subscribe to our page you will get first notification on when our episodes are released. Thanks everyone. I hope everyone has a wonderful day and as always be a good human. I’ll see you at the next episode.