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Building lasting customer relationships has many benefits, including increased revenue, positive word-of-mouth recommendations, and saving on acquisition costs. But how does one build customer relationships that truly last? In this interview series, we’re speaking with CROs and other RevOps professionals who can share their “Top Five Tips For Building Lasting Customer Relationships.” As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Hoekstra. 

Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has spent his entire professional career in customer service, but it wasn’t until he found WFM that he found his true passion. With over 20 years in WFM, Dave has gained insight into the real-world challenges of working in today’s customer service. He is one of the few people who truly gets excited when someone wants to talk about Real Time Adherence or Net Staffing reports.

Thank you for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your backstory and what brought you to this specific career path?

In all the years I have worked for and with contact centers, I have yet to meet someone who says, “I want to be a contact center agent when I grow up,” but I might be as close to it as one could be. Like a lot of others, I took a call center job because I needed a job. Over the years, I got various promotions, did different jobs within contact centers, but it wasn’t until I landed in the WFM department that my passion really developed.

I loved working with the analytical side of things, with just the right mixture of dealing with people. If I needed to, I could retreat into the numbers and spend days putting together analyses of KPI, but I could also head out to the floor and chat with real humans and try to see what makes them tick. For the last 15 years, I have worked closely with WEM providers to ensure that we help them deliver the absolute best experience for their customers and I do that by never forgetting where I came from.

What’s the most interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway? 

My favorite story has to do with a wonderful woman named Sharon. Sharon was an agent at a contact center I worked for, and she was what we call a “call center lifer.” She had worked for the company for 15+ years, was completely set in her ways, and there was no hope of changing her. I would always ask if people wanted to go home early, as a way of optimizing staffing. Sharon always said “No, thank you” to my requests; so much so that I eventually stopped asking.

After several weeks, Sharon’s face appeared in my office door and she completely berated me for not asking if she wanted to go home early. I explained to her that she always said “No!”, and she looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Well, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be asked!”

I learned a major life lesson that day about making assumptions. Thinking you know something and confirming that you know something are two completely different things. Sharon pops into my head every time I think about assuming something that I am not sure of. 

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!

At Calabrio, we embrace our motto of being "Innovators with Purpose." Our teams constantly seek novel and innovative solutions to enhance our customers' business operations. Each project presents new challenges, allowing our teams to find and deliver fresh solutions. Witnessing our team thinking outside the box and collaborating across departments is always exciting. Customer success drives our own, and our customer-centric mindset shapes our approach.

Recently, we announced an integration with OpenAI—a leading AI research and deployment company—to accelerate the potential of our proprietary AI and ML capabilities and the framework of our modern workforce performance solutions. We eliminate tedious, manual tasks, and provide strategic, data-driven insights at the blink of an eye—generative AI only speeds up these opportunities. The integration with GPT systems, such as ChatGPT, is another step forward in Calabrio ONE’s product evolution to augment the agent experience, not replace it, so they deliver the highest standard of customer support. 

What is your experience with building lasting customer relationships? 

One of the toughest challenges of building lasting relationships with your customers is that most individuals have a built-in distrust of people trying to sell them something. Because I work for a software vendor that, yes, would love to sell you something, I have to work extra hard to build trust that I have your best interests at heart.

The first few interactions are critical because there is usually ZERO trust at the beginning, and I have to earn it from the very start. I am often asked to speak at conferences and events where I am required to stay away from a “sales pitch” and it isn’t until after I am done that I get feedback saying “You weren’t overly salesy,” and then we can start a real dialog. The key is to never forget that the reason we are here is to help these organizations grow and improve, and they have to come to the realization themselves that the Calabrio product can do that, not from us telling them. 

In today's fast-paced and constantly evolving landscape, what strategies do you employ to maintain a strong connection with your customers and anticipate their changing needs?

For me, the most effective strategies are ones that maintain routine contact and face-to-face interactions with our customers such as user groups, regular check-ins, and voice-of-the-customer groups. 

Our in-person customer events are a great way to connect with customers and gain valuable insights from roundtable discussions—which further assists me in anticipating their needs and resolving new challenges as they arise. In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, my end-to-end strategy is through the lens of helping companies with the shift towards humanized technology adoption. 

True-cloud solutions and AI-powered analytics enable contact centers to access valuable data that can improve interactions and anticipate customer needs and challenges. However, contact centers must also harness this power to scale their operational requirements. For instance, speech analytics not only identifies self-service containment opportunities or agent knowledge gaps but can also detect customer frustration, enabling timely actions like a supervisor callback later in the day.

From the employee perspective, adopting modern self-scheduling capabilities empowers agents to achieve work-life balance, while managers can monitor service levels and adjust based on real-time customer demands or unexpected events. Additionally, better management of employee well-being, engagement, and fatigue may require more frequent or self-assigned breaks.

Can you discuss the strategies that companies can employ to strike a balance between driving revenue and profitability, and focusing on building customer relationships and loyalty?

It’s important to seek out the win-win opportunities for our customers. What I mean by that is there are investments that can be made that can have a positive impact on operational productivity, employee engagement and the customer experience. Contact centers often lean towards projects that drive efficiency but if there are initiatives that have the same operational impact but can also elevate the CX then that’s the best approach for long-term success. For instance, workforce management solutions can drive operational efficiency as well as more motivated, empowered agents.

Striking a balance between driving revenue and fostering brand loyalty requires a customer-centric mindset. Organizations must recognize that the quality of customer relationships directly impacts revenue and profitability. In our recent 'State of the Contact Center' report, 97% of consumers say contact center interactions impact their brand loyalty. Therefore, companies should look at each contact center experience as an opportunity to boost brand loyalty and increase revenue. 

Whether it is the agent fostering the full customer experience in an interaction or there is self-service and channel switching, contact centers need to look at how to keep the whole experience moving forward.

Could you describe the metrics and measures you use to evaluate the success of your customer relationship-building efforts, and how you identify areas for improvement?

As an individual, it is all about feel. Being in sync with the customer base is tough to quantify, but easy to feel. It is very easy to fall back on sales numbers, retention percentages and NPS scores, but sometimes they don’t tell the whole story. It is truly a company-wide objective, from sales, services, support and marketing, to understand the overall attitude towards the organization.

If each employee in the organization can have their voice heard, then we are making real progress. A support representative should be able to surface the things they notice, and a services consultant should have no qualms about raising a flag when needed. Until organizations can say they fully support their employees’ voices, then the relationship with the customer is tenuous at best. 

Regarding customer-facing teams, what steps do you take to ensure they can deliver personalized, proactive, and efficient support, tailored to the needs of each individual customer?

This is an easy answer: Give them autonomy to respond to the customer in the way they feel is appropriate. If the support documentation isn’t adequate, can they get it fixed? Or do they have to jump through hoops to find the right person, and then get four layers of approval to make the change? If the training agenda is lacking detail, can they fix it? Or is that up to someone else in another country that they have never met?

Customer-facing teams require speed in addressing those concerns. If everyone has to follow a 37-step program to address an issue, the customers will notice and that won’t be a good outcome for customer experience.

What tips do you have for responding to negative feedback from customers, and what steps can be taken to turn those experiences into positive outcomes?

It sounds cliché, but the key is to listen. Empathy is a huge factor, which is why Calabrio likes to put former contact center employees in customer-facing positions. If feedback is received by someone who has been through similar experiences, it increases the likelihood that the feedback will be acted upon. Customers can accept that the response may not be exactly what they hoped for, but if they understand that we went to great lengths to get it taken care of, a positive outcome is much more likely. 

How do you use technology or AI to enhance your customer relationships, and what tools have you found to be most effective in building and maintaining them?

The beauty of the AI revolution is the ability to sift through data that wouldn’t have been accessible before. Mountains of data are created every minute, and 99.9% of it will never be seen by a human, so how can we turn that into a good customer experience? By pointing our AI tools at this data, we can understand issues much sooner than we ever could before. Calabrio is a leading provider of these tools, and we utilize them for our customers as well. Our goal is to shut a poor experience down before it gets out of hand and ensure the customer is the primary beneficiary of this experience.  

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the most effective AI tool is still a human being that interprets the results. Not just any human being, though. It needs to be a human who can help the AI interpret the results and continue to tune the engine. There is no such thing as “set it and forget it” when it comes to AI, and a human interpreter is still critical.

Based on your experience, what are five key components of building lasting customer relationships?

1 . Prioritize Proactive Communication – Ensure your customer service team delivers proactive, high-quality CX despite chaos or unexpected meltdowns. For example, during service meltdowns, brands that reach out to customers to provide reimbursement or help before they even asked for it have a much better chance of retaining loyalty.   

2 . Deliver A Personalized Journey – Be attuned to each customer’s individual needs to make them feel valued and listened to. By gathering and utilizing data from customer feedback and interactions, you can uncover patterns and insights about how a customer is really feeling and interacting with your brand.

3 . Build Seamless Channel Integration – Provide a holistic customer journey from self-service to assisted service that captures, analyzes, and transfers all relevant data and information between chatbots and live agents so a customer can channel surf and if they do end up speaking with an agent that agent has access to the full journey and associated information captured along the way.

4 . Invest in an Omnichannel Approach – With the rise of digital first interactions, it is crucial for brands to offer services and support that caters to all the preferences of their customers. Being aware of what digital channels your customer base actually would like to use is another important consideration.

5 . Realize and Enable Your Agents’ Potential – The contact center is the ultimate brand guardian, agents are the critical players in making or breaking a customer’s view of the company. Fools view agents as pawns, winners turn them into knights. That’s why Calabrio is constantly developing software that offers them more of a say in their work, identifies training opportunities, and helps spot agents that deserve praise and career progression.  

How do you ensure that these ideas are implemented throughout the customer journey?

The goals have to match the expected outcome. If systems are incentivized to provide fantastic customer experiences, then that is what will happen. We can’t just provide an amazing customer experience at any cost, though. There needs to be balance, but as long as the proper incentivization is in place, the expected goal isn’t too far behind.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most  people, what would that be?

There isn’t enough patience in the world. Imagine the number of issues that would be solved if we would all just take a beat before reacting. Customer service issues would disappear, anger would be reduced exponentially, and human beings would better understand one another. I would encourage us all to take a beat before jumping to a hasty conclusion as that would definitely change the course of humanity a few degrees towards the positive. 

How can our readers further follow your work online? 

Listen to Working Smarter, where I cover best practices for customer service excellence and discuss success stories and pain points with innovative professionals.

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By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.