Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Live from Parafest

Today I am writing from Las Vegas, where the great folks at Parature Software invited me to kick off day 2 of their Parafest ’09 conference with a workshop on what to say to my favorite prickly mammal. It was a fun talk with a very engaged audience, whose ranks included some of the best minds in the customer support profession.

This conference was interesting for me beyond the speaking gig, because as many of you know I am a veteran of managing call centers and implementing CRM myself. So it was refreshing to see how far things have come in my old profession in ten years: today’s customer support environment is more automated, integrated, and global than ever. We are now in a world where agents can handle over 20 chat sessions simultaneously, agents pop up automatically when you are filling out a form, and your support center can be integrated with Twitter – or even, in one case, a virtual world.

Once in a while I can read people’s minds, and I can read some of yours right now: you are thinking that in many cases service is worse than ever today. But not at this conference. I was very impressed with the fresh ideas I heard from Parature’s customers, and – given the long faces I remember from many CRM users years ago – what a bond there is between “Paraturians” and their customers. And Parafest’s choice of speakers - service culture legend Tony Hsieh of, motivational speaker Shep Hyken, and even little old me – underscores their focus on how service starts with great customer experiences.

I was also very heartened to see a company draw record crowds to a live event, particularly one that started not that many years ago as a bright idea among Cornell graduate students in my home town of Ithaca, NY. And particularly at a time when the Las Vegas economy could use more successful events like this. Well done, Parature, and thank you.

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Speaking of speaking, I am proud to share that I have been just been accepted as a member of the National Speakers Association, which is the fraternity for professional speakers.

Joining NSA requires that you do lots of speaking engagements and/or make lots of dedicated speaking revenue, and I‘ve done plenty of both this past year thanks to a growing national platform as a communications skills author. So look for the NSA logo on my website soon – an honor that I consider as the beginning, not the endpoint, of my journey as a professional speaker.


Chuck Van Court said...

Greetings Rich:

Nice work on your recent book! Working through sensitive issues with customers can be less painful for everyone involved when the support staff have empathy, knowledge and good customer care techiques. Your book provides many useful tips!

Although technically possible, only over zealous chat vendors trying to sell
potential ROI would even suggest more than 4-5 concurrent chats being handled by
a single chat operator. Otherwise, the delays between question and response will
not meet consumer expectations and staff will be certain to deal with lots of porcupines!

A survey we completed in conjunction with identified that
1/3 of the under-20crowd expected a response with 10 seconds of sending their
chat string. Not much time even for the most proficient chat operator!

The complete results for the survey that covers chat and email expectations for
all age demographics can be found at

Chuck Van Court

Rich Gallagher, LMFT said...

Hi Chuck,

Thanks for your kind words - and for the survey - this is fascinating. has always been a good "conscience" for the IVR world.

I was frankly stunned when I heard a speaker describe watching an agent handle 20 simultaneous chats - and in all fairness, this was in the context of a young hotshot showing off, not a service level expectation. I agree that response time and customer sat needs to drive everything, and I sense the vendors agree as well. Good catch to call me on this one.

As an aside, my (very inexpensive) web host provider used to provide live chat support in a chat room, where all the customers could see everything going on - and it was fascinating to watch a couple of support techs do rapid-fire acknowledgements, short answers, and even research and escalations within a crowded chatroom. Kind of like watching chefs on display cooking in a crowded restaurant, and not altogether a bad experience. It will be interesting to see where things go from here. Thanks! -Rich