• December 1, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Video, At Your Service

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For the rest of the December 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

When this year’s Customer Service Week began in early October, it happened to coincide with the International Customer Management Institute’s (ICMI) weeklong Annual Contact Center Exhibition (ACCE), the self-proclaimed “global gathering of the contact center community.” Veterans of prior ACCE events may have noticed a new addition to the conference scene, a result of which came out of a desire to “really showcase the positive customer experience,” says Ruthann Fisher, executive vice president and global brand director of the ICMI. How? During a particular marketing brainstorm session, one idea took hold—a video contest. 

“The negative experiences in [contact] centers and customer experience are well documented,” Fisher laments, and this contest was a chance for customer service representatives to promote their side of the story. The plan, in fact, took on heroic stature: “to use the vehicle”—that is, video—“for good.” (See “Video Is More Than Viral,” page 36, for a clearer picture of the maturing channel.)

This was the first-ever video contest hosted by the ICMI, and the impetus was a theme that’s been stirring up Americans for the past year: change. “We have lots of testimonials, lots of case studies,” Fisher says. “We’ve done a lot of that, so [we were] challenged to do something that’s new, fun, and exciting.” (The overwhelming response has encouraged the organization to run another video contest at its ACCE event in New Orleans next June.) “We never expected the [submissions] to be as creative as they were,” Fisher adds. “We were blown away.” 

Videos were to be no longer than three minutes and the winners were featured before each keynote presentation during the ACCE. Playing them in front of a conference full of contact center employees seemed a bit self-serving, but Fisher argues that the group represented precisely the kind of people who need convincing. “The [contact] center community still needs work,” she says. “Our plan is to promote these healthy [contact] centers…and say, ‘See how good these guys and gals are doing? You, too, can be one of those.’”

The top three winners this year were retailer Hot Topic, New York’s NYC 311 hotline for government information and nonemergency services, and automotive insurance provider Progressive. 

The five judges for the contest came from companies including Coca-Cola, Thomson Reuters, and Employees Retirement System of Texas—organizations that Fisher says have been recognized as “the top call centers in the country.” Judges scored the video submissions on three equally weighted criteria: supporting the theme of positive customer service experiences; creativity; and originality. 

Roger Lee, a manager at Thomson Reuters and one of the contest judges, says that the significant amount of time, energy, and commitment required to put together a video submission indicates the level of pride each of the contestants had in their customer service operations—making the submissions that much more difficult to judge. 

When Joy Hussey, customer service manager at Hot Topic, learned about the contest she recalls thinking it was “pretty crazy, pretty cool.” Not so much because the contest involved video—Hot Topic hired Michael Sullivan, manager of video production, a year ago to beef up its internal- and external-facing video assets about fashion and music—but that it was video for customer service. For Hot Topic, service was always supposed to speak for itself, but an industry award certainly amps up the volume.

To celebrate, both Progressive and Hot Topic sent representatives to the ACCE event. In addition, Hot Topic pooled the names of all those who participated in the making of the video and randomly selected an individual to also attend the event. (The rest of the team had to make do with a pizza party.) Due to scheduling conflicts, NYC 311 was unable to attend, but NYC 311’s Executive Director Joe Morrisroe, who spoke on behalf of Call Center Director Saadia Chaudhry, says the video was to be the centerpiece of its Customer Service Week celebrations, which, for the last three years, involved events such as potlucks or “team-look-alike dress days.”

For all three companies, videos rarely get outside the department, let alone the company. It’s been more “a source of internal inspiration,” says Laura Guilliam, associate manager of communications at Progressive. Morrisroe called the contest a “morale-building effort” that brought to life NYC 311’s internal motto, “customer service is public service in action.” 

Hussey says that the objective wasn’t to “go out and convince anybody”—except, of course, the judges. Ultimately, she says, this was more for the team. In one part of the video, the lead male donning black nail polish has a line of dialogue about company philosophies designed to “rock our customers’ socks off,” after which socks go flying. “That was probably the team’s favorite part of the video,” Hussey laughs. “They couldn’t wait to throw the socks.”  

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