Customer Service Innovator Spotlight: Michelle Deese

Replicant’s Innovator Spotlight Series

This series is dedicated to customer service innovators and leaders that have managed to turn their obstacles into opportunities, reinventing what it means to be a great leader and delivering exceptional customer service experiences despite today’s climate. From managing their teams through crisis, to pivoting tactics in record speed, to innovating with emerging technologies, these are the leaders transforming contacts centers in 2022.

Michelle Deese, OCCC Learning and Development Manager at Orkin

Can you share more about your background and how you got into the customer service industry?

I initially got my start working at a call center for a local cable company in college. I worked the third shift which is always an interesting one! After college, I worked as a paralegal for a bit and realized I had more interest in the customer service industry than law or politics. I decided to move to Orkin and started working as a sales agent on the phone in 2004 and have been in the industry ever since.

How has the contact center changed since you first entered it?

The biggest and more recent change is operating fully remote rather than going into a brick-and-mortar building. Our organization started working remotely about five years ago, but it was a hybrid model in which agents split their time between working in the building and at home. When the pandemic hit, we shifted to a 100% remote environment. What has not changed is the fact that customer service is just being a genuine human to people and helping them resolve whatever concerns they have. My perspective is that if you are kind to people and help them, no matter what changes happen within the industry you will be successful.

What are the biggest challenges facing contact center leaders today?

The biggest challenge that we are facing is engagement in a work-from-home setting. This impacts many things such as training, communication, and team building. Before, with in-class study, we were able to interact face to face and ensure everyone was up to speed and getting what they need.  Communication was abundant and human interaction between agents helped build a strong and creative culture. Virtually all of this is harder. Everything needs to be more intentional when keeping our team connected. We have conquered this challenge by live stream training with cameras, gamification, and competitions.  It took us about a year to figure out the right balance and rebuild a successful culture.  

“Customers want to choose how they interact with companies. That includes things like self-service options over the phone or on the website, chat, SMS, and well-trained human interaction when dealing with an emotional subject.”

What trends are you seeing today that you think will have a big impact on contact centers in the future?

Hands down, technology.  Customers want to choose how they interact with companies. That includes things like self-service options over the phone or on the website, chat, SMS, and well-trained human interaction when dealing with an emotional subject.  They simply want to use companies that are easy to do business with but also speak with them when needed. It is important for contact centers to have that self-service, but at the same time, customers want to know they will always have a human connection on the other side who will be empathetic and reassuring. 

What are some of the ways you are driving change and innovation within your business?

Our team’s approach is to understand that everything that “used to be” will and can change. Contact centers must evolve just like every other industry. Just because something worked in 2006 or even 2018, doesn’t mean it will work the same today.  Our contact center and our culture were completely rebuilt when the pandemic hit. We had to redesign all training materials, policies, metrics, and expectations to coincide with a work-from-home setting. The same goes for using technology. The technology that we used 3 years ago may not be the best technology today and it takes time to change technology.  This means you must think of next year’s goals and job expectations when implementing new software or systems.  Overall, leadership must be open to change, never discount new ideas, think 5 years ahead of where you are now, and most importantly learn from the failures.  

What are you most excited for in the customer service industry?

So much has changed in the last 20 years. With the generational gap and consumer knowledge growing we are asking our agents to be smarter, faster, flexible, and productive in ways that I would have never imagined.  I’m excited to see how we can use the needs of the business and technology to compliment the work our agents are doing and make that agent role successful and balanced.  It takes work to get an agent trained, it is important we do what we can to help and grow that investment for their lives and our business.  

Check out our previous spotlight and discover more Customer Service Innovators with Replicant’s 50 Leaders Transforming Contact Centers.

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