Digital Island Exclusive: Insights from World-Leading Contact Centre Expert Brad Cleveland

On May 22, Digital Island hosted an incredible Business Executive Luncheon, bringing together senior contact centre experts from across Aotearoa. The highlight? We were absolutely thrilled to have Brad Cleveland, a total rockstar in the world of customer experience (CX) and contact centre management, join us via live stream from California.

Brad’s famous work with industry leaders like Apple and American Express, along with his influential articles in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, gives him a profound understanding of the challenges and opportunities in our field, so it was a treat to hear his insights.

During his talk, Brad emphasised the enduring importance of contact centres and even challenged the idea that digital channels will completely replace phone interactions — even showing evidence that Gen Z preferred phone support.

There was obviously a lot to chew on, so we are incredibly excited to share his invaluable wisdom from the luncheon. In this article, we’ll explore just some of his insights, including the vital role of contact centres, and offer some specific, practical strategies to improve their effectiveness in today’s digital landscape.

1. The Evolving Role and Resilience of Contact Centres

Brad Cleveland’s Insights

During his talk, Brad shared some somewhat counterintuitive findings about the importance of contact centres, especially in our post-COVID world where AI and self-service mechanisms have gained traction:

  • Phone support remains vital: Despite the rise of digital channels, all generations (yes, even Gen Z) still prefer phone support. 
  • The need for robust operations: Contact centres handle complex interactions that digital channels often can’t address effectively.
  • Integrated communication channels: Managing omnichannel communications is crucial for providing seamless customer experiences.

In essence, Brad made strong arguments to challenge the common idea that digital will entirely replace phone interactions. While this highlights the ongoing critical nature of contact centres, it also means contact centres need to put more work into phone calls than originally thought.

2. Misconceptions About Digital and Self-Service Channels

Before we talk about how to optimise our phone service strategies, we really need to understand why phone calls are and will remain so important in contact centre customer services. And that starts by undoing some of the prevailing myths that have built up during our era of post-COVID digitisation. 

Gen Z is arguably used as a kind of “canary in a coal mine” to pick trends for how future customers will prefer to interact with companies and brands. So in today’s hyper-digital age, it’s easy (and understandable) to assume that younger generations, like Gen Z, prefer digital and self-service channels over traditional phone support. However, Brad’s presentation painted a different picture:

  • Gen Z’s Preference for Phone Calls: Despite their comfort with digital technology, 71% of Gen Z consumers actually prefer phone support, according to McKinsey. This goes against the prevailing wisdom that younger generations avoid phone interactions. In fact, McKinsey went as far as to say that Gen Z uses the phone just as often as boomers.
  • The Reality of Self-Service Channels: While self-service options are growing in popularity, they often handle simpler tasks. When it comes to more complex issues, customers, no matter their age, tend to prefer speaking with a human agent. This emphasises the importance of supporting a robust phone support system.
  • Voice Traffic Isn’t Going Away: Given that people still prefer phone interactions, voice traffic remains high. Contact centres therefore need to keep focusing on improving their phone support capabilities.
  • Integrating Self-Service and Phone Support: To provide a seamless customer experience, it’s crucial to connect self-service channels with traditional phone support. This ensures that if a customer starts with self-service but needs further help, the switch to phone support is smooth and efficient.

3. The Answer: Improving First Call Resolution (FCR)

Understanding why customers prefer phone calls for customer service is key to improving the overall experience. Brad emphasised that while digital channels and self-service options are convenient for simple tasks, customers often turn to phone support for more complex issues because of several important factors:

  • Human Connection: Customers need the empathy, understanding, and personal touch that only a human agent can offer.
  • Complex Problem Solving: Phone interactions allow for more nuanced communication, which is crucial for fixing complicated problems.
  • Immediate Assistance: Speaking directly with an agent gives immediate feedback and solutions, reducing the frustration of waiting for email or chat responses.

It stands to reason then, that FCR is the key to enhancing these aspects of phone support.

The Critical Role of FCR

In the digital age of self-service, FCR has arguably taken a back seat. It, however, remains crucial for several reasons:

  • Customer Satisfaction: Resolving issues on the first call leads to higher customer satisfaction. Customers appreciate not having to make multiple calls to resolve a single issue. For every 1% increase in FCR, there is a 1% increase in customer satisfaction.
  • Operational Efficiency: High FCR rates reduce the number of repeat calls, leading to lower operational costs and more efficient use of contact centre resources. The math is simple — if you have an FCR somewhere in the industry average of 70 to 75%, let’s say 72%, that means 28 out of every 100 callers have to call twice. 
  • Employee Morale: Agents who can resolve issues on the first call tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, reducing turnover rates. Put yourself in their shoes — agents can only take continued frustration for so long before they burn out. 

Technology Integration

As Brad’s talk progressed to the role of technology in enhancing FCR, there were two key technologies came to the fore: Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) integration.

  • Advanced IVR Systems: These systems can significantly reduce call handling times by efficiently routing calls to the right agents. Advanced IVR systems can also provide customers with self-service options for simpler tasks, making sure that agents are available for more complex issues.
  • CRM Integration: Integrating CRM systems with contact centre operations allows agents to access complete customer histories, which is crucial for resolving issues quickly. This integration provides agents with the information they need to deliver not just personalised, but efficient service.


Practical Strategies to Improve FCR

To effectively improve FCR, contact centres should focus on several practical strategies:

  1. Agent Training: Comprehensive training programs ensure that agents are knowledgeable about both products and customer service skills. Well-trained agents are better equipped to handle a wide range of issues effectively, improving FCR.
  2. Use of Data Analytics: Leveraging data analytics to identify common issues and trends can help contact centres address recurring problems proactively. By understanding the root causes of frequent issues, contact centres can implement solutions that prevent these problems from arising, thereby improving FCR.
  3. Feedback Loops: Implementing feedback loops where agents can share insights and suggestions about recurring issues helps in refining processes and training programs. Regularly updating training materials and processes based on agent feedback ensures that agents are always prepared to resolve issues efficiently.

Getting Agents on Board

Contact Centre Agents have their own doubts about digitisation and self-service, of course — it’s often seen as a direct threat to their livelihoods. But given this encouraging news, it’s crucial to address the concerns directly with your own agents:

  • Clear Communication: Transparently communicate the benefits of these technologies, emphasising how they can assist agents rather than replace them. Explain that by handling simpler tasks through self-service, agents can focus on more complex and rewarding calls.
  • Involvement in Implementation: Genuinely involve agents in the implementation process of new technologies. This helps them feel valued and ensures that their feedback is considered, leading to better adoption and fewer fears about job security.
  • Comprehensive Training: Provide thorough training on how to use new technologies effectively. Make sure your agents understand how these tools can help them resolve issues faster and provide better service.
  • Highlighting Success Stories: Share success stories and case studies where the integration of new technologies has led to improved job satisfaction and customer outcomes. This can help with their fears and genuinely show the positive impact on their roles.

Where to Next With Digital Island

Brad’s insights at our Business Executive Luncheon were quite the revelation, and underscored the enduring importance of contact centres in a digital age. From “getting” Gen Z’s misunderstood preferences to improving FCR with advanced technologies, Brad’s wisdom gave us genuinely actionable strategies that can transform our contact centre operations. 

We hope you found these insights as enlightening as we did. If you’re looking to dive deeper into these strategies and implement them in your contact centre, reach out to Digital Island. Our expertise can help you flourish among these changes and ensure your contact centre remains at the forefront of customer experience excellence. Let’s work together to elevate your customer service to new heights.


Why do customers still prefer phone support over digital channels?

Customers value the human connection, complex problem-solving abilities, and immediate assistance that phone support provides. These factors are crucial for resolving intricate issues that digital channels may not effectively address.

How can improving First Call Resolution (FCR) benefit my contact centre?

Enhancing FCR can significantly boost customer satisfaction, reduce operational costs by minimising repeat calls, and improve employee morale by reducing the frustration associated with unresolved issues.

What technologies can enhance First Call Resolution (FCR) in contact centres?

Integrating advanced Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can streamline call routing, provide self-service options, and give agents access to comprehensive customer histories, all of which enhance FCR.

How can I get my contact centre agents on board with new technologies?

Clear communication, involving agents in the implementation process, providing comprehensive training, and highlighting success stories can help alleviate concerns and ensure smooth adoption of new technologies.

Why is integrating self-service and phone support crucial for customer experience?

Integrating these channels ensures a seamless customer journey. If customers start with self-service but need further assistance, a smooth transition to phone support ensures their issues are resolved efficiently without frustration.