Six Things I’ve Learned During my Nine and a Half Years at Interactive Intelligence

Nine and a half years is a long time at one company… in the same job. As a result, I’ve learned quite a bit along the way. And while the list of things I’ve learned as chief marketing officer might be longer, I’ve identified six key lessons that I think have been some of the most valuable:

  1. There is no substitute for a visionary CEO. Market conditions are constantly changing. I’ve learned that a good, smart leader can usually get the current conditions right. But the secret to long-term sustained growth is a CEO who is constantly able to see what changes are coming – early enough –to adapt and take advantage of those changes. Interactive Intelligence’s CEO Don Brown is as good as I’ve ever seen at this. Countless times he’d describe a new initiative that he wanted us to pursue, only to be met with blank stares from the rest of the executive team. But time and time again his ideas would turn out to be the exact right move we needed to make. The rest of us simply didn’t get it right away because we didn’t have the forward-looking vision that he does.
  1. The importance of building good partnerships. A company can’t grow beyond a certain size all by itself. It really takes an eco-system of deep relationships to succeed in a big way. We spent a lot of time cultivating relationships that were beneficial to us and to those we associated with. These included resellers, consultants, analysts, technology partners, marketing partners, community relationships, and even cooperation with competitors. You can’t make it on your own.
  1. What got you to where you are might not get you to where you want to go. I tend to rely on past success as a way to reach future success. However, over the years I’ve realized that this way of thinking doesn’t work very well. There are too many variables introduced all around us each day. The people we are dealing with change. Customer needs change. It is inaccurate to think, “It worked for me before so it will work for me again.” We need to adapt and adjust to changing dynamics, which are constant.
  1. Marketers need two core skills – and most don’t have them. I’m a marketer by trade. Like any profession there are multiple skills required of people in my position. That said, there are two that are fundamental that every single marketer should constantly work to perfect, but sadly, the majority aren’t very good at. What are they? A marketer needs to be an exceptional presenter and a great writer. So much of marketing involves these two skills that putting in the time to develop them is well worth the effort. And the good news is that both of these skills can be learned and perfected.
  1. The customer experience really does matter. The theme at our 2012 global customer and partner conference was, “It’s all about the experience!” Each year since, we’ve created variations on that same theme. The “experience” we were talking about was the experience we, and our partners, deliver to our customers. I’m a firm believer that a successful business is built only when the experiences your customers have when they do business with you are positive. And those positive experiences don’t just happen. They take effort, but that effort is worth it. A realization that your customers – not your products, your cash in the bank, or even your employees – are your most valuable assets will drive a remarkable behavior and attitude throughout your organization.
  1. Value people above business. Okay, I admit I might not have learned this at Interactive, but I certainly tried to apply it while there. And this one might sound a little too “motherhood and apple pie,” but I really believe it is true. For the most part, people want to succeed. They want to do a good job. They want to develop their skills. They want to improve. They want to contribute. They want to be a part of something. They want to be recognized for what they accomplish. As we take an interest in the individuals who we work with and help them achieve their goals, we have a chance to affect others in profound ways — and the business benefits as a result.A couple weeks ago I got an email from one of our employees, no longer on my team, that metaphorically read, “Thank you again for taking me in as a beat-up older ballplayer after I had taken some time off to resolve a lifetime health issue. I will always be grateful to you for brining me into your department in a new position, and allowing me to get my swing back.” Do things always work out with every employee? No. There are times when we have to part ways because it’s not a good fit. However, developing the attitude of putting people first is the right way to lead and the right way to succeed in business. I’m not perfect at it by any means, but I’m working on it.

Thanks to all the people at, in, and around Interactive Intelligence and the Interactive Intelligence Foundation for your friendship and for all you’ve taught me.

Joe Staples


Why Aren’t You Using Quality Monitoring?

I come across people in my training classes all of the time who are not doing any sort of quality monitoring of their contact center agents and it completely baffles me. Now, when I say “quality monitoring”, I mean some sort of recording and scoring of the agents’ interactions with your customers. There are so many justifications for it, such as allowing the agents to actually hear what they sound like when speaking to customers, that it seems monitoring would just be an obvious thing to do and yet so many companies don’t.

Is it a financial thing? Perhaps the [...]

The 3 Elements of Social Media Affecting the Workplace…In a Great Way

We live in amazing times. With a web browser or a mobile phone, I am a simple Google search away from the answer to almost any question I can think up. Whether it’s finding out the average yearly rainfall in Burma, how many Academy Awards has Michael Caine won, or getting walking directions to the nearest Starbucks, finding information in the modern world is unbelievably easy. The most frustrating exception to this rule is information about the people I work with. I have lost track of how many times I have needed to reach a co-worker on their [...]

The Great Contact Center Role Reversal: Social Customer Service

Even since the dawn of the call center, and through to the morphed version of today’s modern-day contact center, the roles of the service provider and the customer have been pretty clearly defined. The customer needed answers. The agents have the answers (at least that is the hope). And the provider of the service determined the rules of how a customer would get to an agent, which agent he or she would be routed to, and how fast that routing would take place. Machines, like sophisticated automatic call distributors (ACDs) automated this process…but still the rules of how all the [...]

The Distributed Cloud Spawns a Unique Period of Innovation

Now that we’ve launched Interactive Intelligence PureCloudSM, I can finally talk about an area of innovation I’ve been excited about for the past year.

Like many, I used to think of innovation as a single discovery made at a specific point in time. A video by Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From, changed my thinking. He explains that important breakthroughs usually take time. That ideas have to incubate, smaller hunches need to collide, and missing pieces must be discovered before major breakthroughs and big change can happen.

When interviewing a few of the PureCloud developers a while back, it [...]

Workgroup Mania! When is Enough, Enough?

Some customers coming through my training classes struggle with finding the “right” number of workgroups for their organization. With our Customer Interaction Center, workgroups are the primary organizational component. Interactions are typically routed to workgroups. When you are looking for a co-worker’s phone number, you see it sorted by the workgroup they are in.

Is your company going “workgroup crazy” and creating more than needed? Maybe even creating more groups than can be easily maintained?

Here are some questions to ask when determining if a workgroup is really needed or not.

Do you need to route interactions to a specific [...]

Relief – The Final Emotional Response of the Customer Experience

In my last post, “The Emotional Response of the Customer Experience”, I shared a rather negative interaction with the customer service team at my bank. As promised, here’s the follow-up detailing what happened next and how the customer service team redeemed itself and pulled me out of the “detractor” category, at least for now.

The final emotional response (relief) occurred shortly after 7:00am when I called in to the customer service center – again. This time, I decided to attack it from a different angle, and selected the option for checking account support. After only five minutes in queue, I [...]

Wanted – Innovative Technology Ideas for the Contact Center

Recently, I was asked by an executive at Interactive Intelligence about how excited contact center leaders get over cool new technology. “How jacked up would they get over smart watches or voice biometrics? If we could give them what they wanted in future technology, what would be on the list of cool things they would salivate to get?”

Uncharacteristically, I was at a loss for words on how to respond. I came to the realization that it was because contact center people are mainly doers, executors, tactically-driven people that get things done. We’re not dreamers. We take action. Successfully managing [...]

How to Make “Cloud First” work for Government Agencies

There continues to be challenges with budget constraints and legacy systems in all levels of government. Consolidation efforts are increasing, as are the requests to share services with other agencies to increase efficiency. The rising demand from citizens for enhancements like self-service continues to be a driving force for change as well. These requests may be familiar to you as you look to the cloud to create a more citizen-centric communication environment. What criteria should you look for in a new communication solution?

Moving to the cloud for call center communications gives increased flexibility and faster deployment time making [...]

Three Ways to Meet the Patient Experience Challenge

Patient engagement solutions and population management strategies have been at the top of the list for many healthcare providers. All of this is driven by recent regulations and changes enforced by the Affordable Care Act. At the end of the day, providers are looking to cut costs, reduce readmission, and avoid penalties. What many are missing is the power of the patient service centers (or contact centers) in assisting with these initiatives.

In a recent article I authored on the Advance Healthcare Network web site, entitled, “Improving Patient Engagement: Top five contact center initiatives for providers”, I outlined 5 areas [...]