Off Center
Some people are simply blessed with the power of prognostication. They have visions and pick up signals the average person cannot, thus enabling them to provide unique insight into how things are likely to go down in the future.

I am not one of those people, but that has never before stopped me from making bold predictions about contact centers and customer care.  

With the aid of my crystal ball and a couple cans of Red Bull, here’s what I see happening in 2012:

A new metric – “Average Speed of Anger” – will take hold.  Customers are more demanding than ever. It’s nearly impossible to respond to their calls, emails, chats, and social media comments/inquiries before they start whining or worse.  Many companies now find measuring traditional accessibility metrics like Average Speed of Answer (ASA) to be a waste of time. After all, even when the contact center hits an ambitious ASA objective, customers still complain and clamor for quicker service.

That's why a growing number of centers have started secretly tracking a new metric: Average Speed of Anger (ASA grrr),  which measures the average time it takes customers to become so enraged they curse your agents/IVR and/or blast your brand on Twitter. By focusing on ASA grrr, the contact center can make training and staffing adjustments that will quite possibly keep customers from killing anybody, and maybe even satisfy a few.

A law will be passed that makes it illegal for a contact center to not have a home agent program in place. Study after study has shown the huge impact home agent programs have on employee engagement, retention and performance, as well as staffing flexibility and operating costs. Nevertheless, three in four centers still don’t have a single home agent in place.

Fortunately, the leaders of these centers will soon be imprisoned and/or fined if they don’t get with the program. A militant but growing group – led by me – has been lobbying Congress about the issue for over a year now. I’ve been told by powerful sources that, thanks to my group’s efforts, Congress now views expanding home agent positions as a top priority, right behind balancing the Federal Budget and bringing down Kim Kardashian.  

A new type of cancer caused by over-exposure to acronyms will plague the customer care industry. This is one prediction I hope doesn’t come true; however, I don’t see how it can be averted. Medical researchers have strong evidence that excessive absorption of acronyms radically alters brain cells and can cause severe vowel deficiency.

A recent landmark study showed that lab mice placed in a cage lined with shredded ACD reports were 17 times more likely to develop malignant growths than were mice whose cage was lined with shredded long-winded speeches free of any abbreviations. The study led medical researchers to conclude that excessive exposure to acronyms may be more dangerous than smoking two packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day while standing next to a Japanese nuclear power plant. The researchers implore contact center and customer service professionals to start using fully spelled-out terms as much as they can, and to do so ASAP.


_ It's that time again – that time when my fearless journalistic tendencies flare up after a year of repressing them. I can only keep the lid on controversial and shocking contact center-related stories for so long before they start to gnaw at my conscience and disrupt my daily mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps.

Here are a couple of the most contentious contact center news stories our industry has been censoring for months.

Overly Convincing Speech Recognition App Blamed for Customer's Death

Managers at Ephemeral Airlines' reservations center knew that callers would love the company's new advanced speech recognition system. However, it never imagined that a caller would actually fall in love with it, nor that it would cause him to perish of a broken heart.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened to James Dumas, a 31-year-old accountant from Bloomington, Ill. Dumas, who first called Ephemeral's reservations center on July 12, 2011 to book a flight to Boston, became enamored with the sultry and overly friendly voice of Ephemeral's automated attendant. The highly advanced system features natural language recognition that gives customers the impression they are speaking with a live agent, or, in Dumas' case, a really sexy woman.

"The poor guy called our center about 15 times a day, each time asking the system for its name and if it would meet him for a drink," explains Amy Powers, Ephemeral's Director of Reservations. "Sadly, the system was only programmed to handle reservations-related inquiries, and thus repeatedly responded with, 'I'm sorry, I don't understand your request, could you please repeat it,' which Mr. Dumas interpreted as playful flirting and teasing."

After over 100 calls to the reservations center, Dumas reportedly starting telling friends and family that he was madly in love. Consequently, his mother insisted that he invite the "woman" to dinner. When Dumas called the reservations center to extend the invitation, the speech recognition system – which had just received a new upgrade that expanded its vocabulary from 10,000 to 15,000 words – told him that it had to wash its hair that night. Enraged by and despondent over the torturous game of "hard-to-get" he had endured, Dumas told the system that he would stay on the line and hold his breath until he received a "yes." Eight minutes later, he was gone.

Although Ephemeral Airlines was full of remorse over the tragedy, the company found solace in the fact that that its very expensive speech app was good enough to dupe a human. "We are deeply saddened by Mr. Dumas' untimely demise," said Brian Richardson, spokesman for Ephemeral. "And while our thoughts and prayers are with his family, we are tickled over the ROI we expect to see from this new technology."

To ensure that a similar incident does not occur in the future, the airline is looking into replacing the current voice of its speech system with that of comedienne Kathy Griffin.

Contact Center Consultant Wins "Nobel Prize for Ambiguity"

After years of penning obscure white papers and books, leading non-distinct seminars, and providing incomparably vague advice to clients, contact center consultant Stephen Blank has finally earned the recognition he deserves. Yesterday, Blank was awarded the Nobel Prize for Ambiguity – a new category in the prestigious award series – for his groundbreaking ability to gain a huge professional following and earn a substantial income without actually providing any specific insights or actionable practices to speak of.

Blank was up against some worthy adversaries for the award – including five multinational CEOs, three U.S. governors and the guy who coined the term "mission-critical." Experts believe that what likely tipped the scales in Blank's favor was his best-seller, Applauding World-Class, Best-of-Breed, Synergistic Customer Care Organizations.

During his acceptance speech, Blank said that it was difficult to describe exactly what he was feeling, and then spent a minute thanking nobody in particular for helping him earn such an honor.