The Rocket Man and a Watershed Year


For those of you expecting an introductory dissertation on Elton John’s song “Rocket Man” from the 1972 album Honky Chateau, or even a review of the 2019 biopic movie about the life of Elton John, not coincidentally called “Rocket Man,” my apologies. The Rocket Man reference in this column dates back to my column in the November 2016 issue of Contact Center Pipeline, entitled “Rocket Man.” If you want a bit of background on the “Rocket Man” song, you’ll find it there.

Tom Goodmanson
Tom Goodmanson

The point of that column, however, was an exploratory interview with Calabrio CEO Tom Goodmanson in which we discussed what I perceived to be the 2016 meteoric rise of Calabrio to a position of prominence in the contact center industry. My interest in interviewing Tom was the result of my attending his keynote speech at the 2016 Calabrio customer conference, Calabrio Customer Connect (C3). Tom has been in the pilot’s seat at Calabrio since the company launched itself into the industry stratosphere and he continues to guide the company’s direction today.

That column also began what has turned out to be an annual tradition for me—finishing up every year by sitting down with Tom to talk about the year that’s ending, and to speculate on what the year ahead may hold for the contact center industry.

Like every other company in 2020, Calabrio had to hold their customer conference virtually. While the vibe was different from previous years, the enthusiasm and content remained consistent. One of the first phrases to flash across the screen during the introduction of this year’s C3 keynote was the description of 2020 as being “A Watershed Year.” I believe that to be an accurate description, but what does it mean?

Literally defined, a watershed is an area of land that divides the flow of two separate rivers. It’s a division between land and water.

The idiom watershed moment or watershed year came into existence in the mid-1800s. Figuratively speaking, a watershed is a turning point or a dividing point from which things will never be the same. Relative to 2020, I’d call that an understatement.

Every year until this one, I was able to sit down for a face-to-face conversation with Tom at C3. This year we had to hold a virtual meeting at the acceptable social distance of 1,632 miles apart.

STOCKFORD: I hope you remember why I laid that Rocket Man moniker on you back in 2016. It was not only a different time then, it was a different industry and a different world. How would you describe Calabrio, and your role in it, today versus 2016?

GOODMANSON: It is different, but in a lot of ways it’s the same. Even with all the changes, our primary focus was to make sure our customers knew and know that we are here for them. We had all the pieces in place for continued growth even under these new circumstances. We continued to do what we’ve always done, just doing it in a different manner given the restrictions presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

STOCKFORD: At the beginning of the C3 introductory video, I saw the phrase “Rapid Cultural Transformation” used once or twice. What exactly does that mean relative to the contact center industry?

GOODMANSON: A lot of contact centers had to reinvent themselves in order to continue taking care of their workers and their brand. All of a sudden it was impossible to go to a colleague’s desk with a cup of coffee to check in or hash out a problem, so how do they deal with that? The mission of the customer service function was the same, but it suddenly came with a whole lot more stress.

On the other hand, I think people are being more kind to each other. There is a much greater degree of patience from both customers and agents. Customers are more empathetic to the circumstances under which agents must work now, and agents seem to be the same way toward customers. I think the level of patience in terms of how we treat each other has increased exponentially.

STOCKFORD: In your opening address, you stated that the contact center is now more valuable to the enterprise than ever. I would agree with that assessment, but anecdotally I have heard from several members of the National Association of Call Centers that they are expecting budget cuts once again in 2021. Do you see a disconnect here between the way the contact center is valued for its customer and business intelligence, and the way it is valued when it comes to divvying up budgets and other corporate resources?

GOODMANSON: I would really be shocked if the contact centers ended up taking the brunt of any budget cuts that are a result of the business circumstances and the health crisis of 2020. Given the contact center’s role in the enterprise, I don’t think that will be the first place that will be targeted for cuts next year. In fact, we just had a large customer of ours double from 5,000 to 10,000 seats. Their budget was increased because management believes the contact center will be crucial to a successful Christmas season for this retailer.

I think CEOs are looking at long-term business strategies, and strategic thinkers aren’t going to look to the contact center first for budget cuts.

STOCKFORD: One of the most memorable parts of C3 for me every year has been the charitable component of the event. I believe this is quite unique and it has, in my mind, come to define how seriously Calabrio takes its social responsibility. How did you handle the charitable component at this year’s virtual event?

GOODMANSON: That’s been my favorite part of C3 as well, along with the party! The ONE Awards highlight what is core to Calabrio.

This year, the 2020 ONE Awards recognized eight high-achieving companies using Calabrio ONE to drive the future of customer and workforce engagement management. This year’s winners embraced the evolving world of work and overcame unprecedented challenges in the contact center. In recognition of these companies’ hard work, Calabrio donated $500 to each winner’s charity of choice. Additionally, Calabrio donated $5,000 to the charity that received the most votes from attendees at the virtual C3 experience, St. Jude Children’s Research.

STOCKFORD: The pandemic provided the contact center industry with a crash course in managing an at-home workforce. How do you see this playing out in the future? Will work-from-home be the new normal or do you expect to see the industry pivot when this is all over and go back to the pre-pandemic definition of the workplace?

GOODMANSON: We may see some return to the contact center footprint of the past, but it will be in small increments here and there. Now that the industry as a whole has had a taste of an at-home workforce and has seen that it works and offers many benefits beyond the safety aspect during the pandemic, I doubt we’ll see wholesale return to the way things were a year ago.

We’ve responded by emphasizing and adjusting how our solutions can directly address the needs of an at-home workforce, like split shifts, on-the-day autonomous adjustments, taking breaks when needed to fix the kids’ lunch, and things like that. I believe that contact centers will want to continue taking care of their employees so the employees continue to take care of their customers.

STOCKFORD: How will technology have to evolve in order to adequately address the contact center workplace changes? Is the greatest threat going to be keeping up with industry changes, or getting ahead of industry changes and alienating the buyer?

GOODMANSON: I think we have to be thoughtful in terms of our offerings. It will be on us to help our customers to do a good job for them and their brand. Once we’ve proven that all the solutions we’ve been telling them will work actually work, technology evolution will take care of itself. The new definition of the workplace and the work-at-home movement will also help us stay in step with industry changes.

STOCKFORD: How does all of this fit into your definition of the “modern contact center,” which is also referenced in the introductory video for your C3 session?

GOODMANSON: The modern contact center means a more agile approach; working anywhere while meeting service level objectives and taking care of the customer on whatever channel they prefer. The modern contact center is a combination of the natural evolution of customer service that we’ve seen over the past few years, turbo-charged by the management crash course that was caused by the pandemic.

STOCKFORD: I hope this is the first and last time we have to have our year-end debriefing 1,632 miles apart. With that in mind, I’ve saved the most important question for last. What’s the plan for the C3 2021 final-night party?

GOODMANSON: I can tell you that we’re thinking big for next year! It will include a headline act and it will support the charitable goals of C3. Beyond that, you’ll just have to come and see for yourself!

STOCKFORD: I’ll look forward to it!

The National Association of Call Centers

Did you know columnist Paul Stockford is also the editor of In-Queue, the monthly newsletter of the National Association of Call Centers? Get your free subscription and read more of his provocative commentary every month!