The Social Contact Centre

to a social networking way of working through the eyes of a Contact Centre manager

Call Centre and Customer Management Expo 2012

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Call Centre And Customer Management Expo 2011 courtesy http://www.callcentre.co.uk

In a world where social networking plays an ever-increasing role I visited Call Centre and Customer Management Expo at Olympia recently. There is always a place for “physical” networking and ultimately in the B2B world physical networking is the goal. CCExpo is the event in the UK for contact centre professionals to meet each other and suppliers. There are other membership events which are more about benchmarking and sharing experience such as the CCA and PPF conferences but in the current straitened economy they are less accessible than CCExpo.

The prepublicity is geared around making the most of your visit and over the years there have been various different ways that the organisers have attempted to get people talking to each other. Their success depends on footfall of visitors (who will attend if they know about it and if they get value from their visit), exhibition stand takeup from suppliers (who will attend if there is sufficient footfall of prospects) and sponsors (who will also attend if the sponsorship packages are attractive enough). The problem that pervades all these events is how you get the most from your investment of time/money/sponsorship to justify the visit. In a cyber world, trade shows suffer in the same way that high street retailers do: there are many more ways of getting the information you need in this day and age. The old exhibition stand is being replaced by webinars and, as in all industries, the new method often is more effective and at much lower cost.

As a networking event I think that Call Centre and Customer Management Expo is tricky. My benchmark for networking is the TMA event which used to be held every year in Brighton. It was the place where everyone would be there – customer and supplier alike – and possibly for the whole event. The Marketing Forum on the cruise ships was very similar with the same industry gurus holding court in the different bars around the ship. If you weren’t there, you weren’t part of the industry. The changing attitudes meant that TMA ended in 2002 after 25 years but the Marketing Forum continues. The Marketing Forum is by invitation only (a free cruise to Jersey on a luxury yacht isn’t offered to everyone). Suppliers pay a hefty price to be involved but the threshold to entry does mean attendees feel honoured and suppliers feel they are getting their money’s worth. The agenda is made up of some heavyweight research and industry topic discussion interspersed with mandatory 1-2-1 meetings with suppliers. If you don’t attend your quota of meetings and treat them seriously you won’t be invited back again. The result is a highly personalised, high energy and highly focused event which is possibly the benchmark for all conferences.

I’ve attended CCExpo in the past as an exhibitor. What always struck me was how the tone of the show changed year on year. The themes people wanted to talk about were different, the calibre of attendee changed and the other people exhibiting was always different. Some years you would groan internally as yet another student or supplier sidled on to your stand wanting to talk. In other years you would be overwhelmed with the number of good quality leads captured. You do still see the same faces as you tour the stands and watch presentations but the continuity is less powerful than it used to be and I think this is representative of most trade shows.

What is interesting is to see the use of social media before during and after the event. Claudia Thorpe, the editor of CCF, the title behind the event has been active with Social Media for many years and has championed a multichannel approach rather than just the printed word. She has created forums and executive groups amongst the readership to try to further engage them. The Call Centre Focus magazine itself is now an electronic online resource – callcentre.co.uk. The resource is active in LinkedIn and Twitter as well as having an extensive web presence. Claudia is a very active and creative community manager who regularly networks herself across all industry events. She was active during the event as @CCFClaudia but also the @callcentrefocus was tweeting throughout. The #ccexpo tag was established and was used by suppliers before and during the event. Suppliers monitored the use of hashtags and interacted with prospects throughout. They also attempted to grow their social media followers and establish their own event related hashtags through on-stand competitions. A category of visitors was identified as VIPs and they were given a set of benefits including a lounge area to relax (an excellent idea) and priority access to some presentations. This was a good compromise on the Marketing Forum model. It identifies potential decision makers and spenders for suppliers in a slightly subtle way and makes the event an easy place to visit. One puzzle that never seems to work is an area set aside and sponsored by a supplier for networking meetings. I haven’t seen this successfully carried off anywhere yet and the area which is designated for some kind of business speed dating becomes another seating area for tired punters.

And my day? I find the event to be an example of trending. Every year there is a hot topic. I remember the years when outsourcing, offshoring, speech analytics, and social media were the hot topics. You could tell by the mix of suppliers exhibiting, the products they were displaying, the themes chosen by speakers, and even the words adorning the stands. The trending theme this year was The Cloud. I try not to see any suppliers throughout the year other than those I already use – I could easily spend a lot of time learning about technology I can’t afford and would not use. I do like to occasionally go and see other sites and learn about their experiences.

I am always surprised at the poor practice of some exhibitors. You’ve paid all the money on a stand and a location and unbelievably you then man it with people who are either intimidating or look like you would be disturbing them. I’ve seen people eating their lunch, texting and reading a paper rather than try and engage with passers-by. One stand was set up with advertising boards either side of a door sized gap and the guy looking after the stall stood right in the gap like some kind of bouncer. It is still disappointing to see the number of very attractive young women on stands who can’t answer questions and immediately pass you to one of the few people who know their subject. The other stereotype appears to be alpha males who also don’t know what they are talking about but have no-one to pass you to –  a little team briefing wouldn’t be too much to do? The best idea this year were the two people in really good police uniform who were able to engage pretty much whoever they wanted in conversation – brilliant… if I could remember which product they represented.

When it comes to Expo I like to go with a problem and visit a few stands and presentations to get a rounded view of it. I also like to meet up with people who may be able to give me some of their knowledge and visit my regular suppliers. This year I wanted to get a better understanding of how a hosted switch could operate in my environment. How would it integrate with my existing technology and what are its weaknesses. By discussing the situation with half a dozen suppliers and seeing a couple of presentations I think I have what I need to see me through until next year.

 

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Written by greencontact

October 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Nice summary and sharp thinking. I agree, I only found the call centres in the “cloud” trend in real life, worth tweeting about. And thank heavens that TMA stopped. Well done to UBM and Claudia for being multichannel – but I do get the feeling these physical events are now servicing the digitally poor, rather than the digitally rich. Take a look at Jump on Oct 10th by eConsultancy as an example of something that services the digitally rich.

    Peter Massey

    October 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    • Thanks Peter, the multichannel approach is a hard thing to “get” but once you’ve made the leap you can’t think of anything more natural. I’m Googling Jump right now!

      greencontact

      October 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm


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