How Dun & Bradstreet creates a 'sophisticated' customer service

Seth Adler

In this week’s CX Network podcast theatre interview, the Global Customer Service Leader for Dun & Bradstreet talks about the continued need for the human element in the contact centre.


Brad Nichols is the Global Customer Service Leader for Dun & Bradstreet, and he joins host Seth Adler in this week’s CX Network Podcast Theatre to cutting away high volume repetitive stuff, to get into a more sophisticated form of customer service.

He shares some background on an automation solution search from a past position and explains that while it's important to look for solutions for high volume, low value calls of an easily solved nature, the low volume escalated true conflict issues still demand a human element.

Nichols affirms that empathy is the magic of the contact centre, though he says that when you've got products and services that have created an emotionally charged situation, it's critical. He shares a key lesson, which is that a boatload of confidence and a decent suit will get you a long way!




Seth Adler:  From Dun and Bradstreet, Brad Nichols joins us for some supporters to thank, and thank you for listening.

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Global service leader for Dun and Bradstreet, Brad Nichols, joins us live from CCW Fall, where he shares some background on an automation solution search from a past position. He explains that while it's important to look for solutions for high volume, low value calls of an easily solved nature, the low volume escalated true conflict issues still demand a human element. Brad affirms that empathy is the magic of the contact center, though he says that when you've got products and services that have created an emotionally charged situation, it's critical.

Brad also shares a key lesson, which is that a boatload of confidence and a decent suit will get you a long way. Welcome to CX Network on B2B IQ. I'm your host, Seth Adler. Download episodes on or through our app on iTunes, within the iTunes podcast app in Google Play, or wherever you currently get your podcasts. Brad Nichols?

Brad Nichols:  Before I was at Dun and Bradstreet, I was with an organization called Risk Management Solutions. And what they do is they provide catastrophe modeling to the insurance industry. It really is a space, so what we're talking about here is, insurers usually use actuarial science and data to determine their level of risk in pricing when they are providing coverage to a person. When it comes to natural disasters and understanding those, you really don't have the type of data behind you to do that kind of an analysis. So the company that I worked for, they really carved out their space by creating big scientific modeling exercises that allowed the insurance companies to really understand what kind of risk they were absorbing in terms of the likelihood of impact and the dollar value of impact of loss if natural disasters hit the portfolios that they were underwriting.

So that has nothing to do with intelligent chatbots, but that's the context. When I was there, one of the big tasks was to build an entire self-service portal. And so what we were trying to do was, as many of you are when you're embracing self-service, is you're really trying to deflect a lot of the traffic that's coming into your contact centers, right? Allow your customers to find answers themselves because it's a better experience, it's lower cost, it's all those good things. So as part of that exercise, one of the components that we looked at was a virtual agent, which is really, this was probably about four years ago now, so it was a little bit less mainstream than it is today. But there were still a couple of examples of this being done very well out there. Alaska Airlines had a really good one, TD Ameritrade had an excellent virtual agent. So we looked into it.

In the end, although it was the cool, sexy new technology, which of course you always want to embrace if you can, we didn't end up going that way. And the reason was that the price tag associated with that software at the time really didn't justify itself in terms of the returns it brought to our organization because we didn't have the volume of inquiry that really allowed you to recapture the value on the ROI. So if we had been Comcast or Cablevision or those organizations that were getting hundreds and hundreds of thousands of inquiries, I think it may have been a different story, because you had a different ROI on it. But at the time, it was gonna be a seven-figure sort of deal between the licensing and the installation and all that work, and what it would have gained us from a deflection standpoint just didn't justify that. So ...

Seth Adler:  Were they promising, though ... was there a machine learning component of, I get this information and then I can kind of decipher and output something else? Or was it simple, kind of RPA type stuff?

Brad Nichols:  Yeah, so a lot of it was connective between the text inputs that were coming from the customer and the programmatic back end that was looking for those words or combinations of words. So it was really a very sexy way of delivering knowledge management at the time, right? So you would free text in what you were looking for. It would say "How can I help you today?" And you'd enter several words, and it would then go back into the library that it had of those words and those word combinations and access pieces of knowledge or information to then serve up to the customer and say "Hey, I think this is what you're looking for."

Seth Adler:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). As I talk to customer contact people, what I have heard about intelligent automation, AI, or simple RPA, is that's all well and good for a certain level of support. But I cannot give up my contact center for those escalated, true customer conflict issues. Where do you come down on that kind of thought?

Brad Nichols:  I think that is 100% accurate. Most of my experiences in the B2B world, I was with Reuters for about 15 years before I was at Risk Management Solutions, which was before Dun and Bradstreet, and I think nowhere does your statement ring truer than in that space. So there is, I think when you're looking at this kind of technology and you're looking at how you're gonna use it, there is only ever going to be a certain proportion of your contacts and your inquiry base that you're gonna be able to manage this way. As long as what you're selling, from a product and service perspective, has a degree of complexity to it, there's gonna be a degree of complexity in the types of inquiries that you're getting from your customers.

And the easiest stuff, yeah, you should be finding a way so that the client never has to ask that in the first place. And if part of that is using automation and tools, fantastic, but I think there's always gonna be a certain proportion of that that has to be handled, because it's more sophisticated and complex, by human beings.

Seth Adler:  Yeah. The magic of conflict resolution would be empathy, and I guess by a show of hands, for the folks that are in the audience looking at intelligent workforce solutions, how many have you come across that promise empathy? And there are zero hands up, as I run a podcast, so no one can see this, there are zero hands up as far as empathy is concerned. Is empathy, in fact, the magic of the contact center?

Brad Nichols:  I think it always is. I mean, you're talking about a degree of human to human interaction, right? I think it's more critical in certain situations, obviously, than others. If you're getting fairly straightforward, routine "I need information" or "I need this thing," it's less critical. If you've got the types of products and services that have created an emotionally charged situation with your clients, then it's critical. So when I was at Reuters, if we had someone from Goldman Sachs on the line who had just done a seven-figure deal off of bad data that we'd given them and was now looking at the consequences of that for their client or their job ...

Seth Adler:  Run that with a chatbot.

Brad Nichols:  Hell, yeah, you'd better have some empathy.

Seth Adler:  Exactly.

Brad Nichols:  Or you're not even getting off the phone.

Seth Adler:  Right.

Brad Nichols:  So yeah, I think there's a spectrum, obviously.

Seth Adler:  As far as your conversations with industry peers, is that spectrum lost in the search for the shiny, bright object? In other words, is the solution so promising that folks are forgetting the essence of the contact center in general?

Brad Nichols:  I think that's gonna come down to the way they think about the use of the technology. If you approached it from the practical perspective that we've been discussing and recognize that there's a limit to what you want to try to accomplish with it, and those limits are sort of framed by the highly repetitive, straightforward activities that you're going to have to do over and over, I would suspect those are not the highly emotionally charged problems that your customers are facing, or your business is in bigger trouble than the one you're trying to solve.

Seth Adler:  Right, you've got different problems, right.

Brad Nichols:  Exactly. So I think as long as they appreciate the technology for what it's really meant to do, and where it has the best value, then I don't think it's a problem. I think if you're trying to make it a magic bullet, then that's where you run into that kind of a challenge.

Seth Adler:  Okay. Well, so you have proved that you are an intelligent person, human. And so we need to ...

Brad Nichols:  Whew, all right. See, he said he was a tough interviewer, and I passed the first hurdle.

Seth Adler:  That's it, we've made it to the second part.

Brad Nichols:  Nice.

Seth Adler:  And the second part is you, right? So where are you from?

Brad Nichols:  Originally I'm from Toronto. I'm a Canadian.

Seth Adler:  All right. And I've heard of this place.

Brad Nichols:  Yes, it's just to the north.

Seth Adler:  Indeed.

Brad Nichols:  We do not live in igloos.

Seth Adler:  No?

Brad Nichols:  And nor do we take dog sleds to work and school.

Seth Adler:  Fair enough.

Brad Nichols:  We have roads and cars and many good things.

Seth Adler:  But as far as the dogs, how close are you to Mississauga versus Toronto? You know, how much of a ...

Brad Nichols:  So, Mississauga is a suburb of Toronto.

Seth Adler:  Indeed.

Brad Nichols:  Yeah, and so I'm from the east side of Toronto originally, which is maybe about 25 miles.

Seth Adler:  So right in between, right? I mean, you could be confused for ...

Brad Nichols:  For a Mississaugan?

Seth Adler:  Indeed.

Brad Nichols:  No one would ever actually call themselves a Mississaugan. They just, everybody uses Toronto.

Seth Adler:  I gotcha.

Brad Nichols:  We got, especially down here. Because we struggle enough just to get you to see where that is on the map.

Seth Adler:  It's up here, exactly.

Brad Nichols:  We don't want to get into suburbs.

Seth Adler:  So it's 416 area code?

Brad Nichols:  905 area code. So just outside, yeah. Suburbs.

Seth Adler:  905. So really, I'm more correct than I thought I was.

Brad Nichols:  Yep.

Seth Adler:  Which happens never. But, all right, so growing up in Toronto, did you play youth hockey? Like, what is it like?

Brad Nichols:  Of course. It's what you do as a Canadian. In fact, in order to get any form of government identification, you have to have already played a certain amount of youth hockey.

Seth Adler:  Ah-ha.

Brad Nichols:  So whether that's on the pond or on the street, that's the sport we grew up with. It's number one.

Seth Adler:  Understanding that you're speaking to someone with absolutely zero athletic ability, how much did you have? In other words, did you kind of go far here, or was this just something that everybody did?

Brad Nichols:  No, no, it's something that everybody did. I mean, I certainly didn't play any sport to a level that anyone would consider to be noteworthy.

Seth Adler:  Right, you're sitting here.

Brad Nichols:  Exactly. I'm in the contact center space, I'm not on ESPN.

Seth Adler:  Right, right. Okay. But what did you learn from playing hockey, whether it be teamwork, whether it be leadership, whether it be just staying up on skates?

Brad Nichols:  I think, you know, as with all athletic programs, you learn some dimension of teamwork, first of all. Any team sport, I think it's about understanding that it takes more than just one individual to accomplish an outcome. And that game is no different than any other. You can't, you aren't gonna win championships with one great player. You need to understand what the roles are that need to be played by various folks on the team and they need to play those parts. So I think you've got that, you've got the healthy sense of competition that comes with it. And of course, then, you have the challenge of having to be able to both skate and manipulate a stick at the same time, which is a little trickier.

Seth Adler:  Yeah, two things at once.

Brad Nichols:  Right, it's not just running. You're on a blade.

Seth Adler:  Yeah, and I tell people all the time, I'm male, so I can't do two things at once. I can only do the one thing. So I just love the Wayne Gretzky quote, which everybody knows, which is to skate to where the puck is going as opposed to ...

Brad Nichols:  Where it was. Yep.

Seth Adler:  Anything else. Did you know about that quote when you were playing, or did you learn that later?

Brad Nichols:  Well, so, without, of course, the folks on your podcast can't see, but were they able to observe my haircut, they may realize that I played youth hockey before Wayne Gretzky was making famous quotes.

Seth Adler:  Fair enough.

Brad Nichols:  But that aside, I did not know about that quote at the time I was playing. But I think, you know, it's obviously very true. And there was another one that I use of his all the time, where he said you don't score 100% of the shots you don't take. Right? So you know, for a guy who made all of his money playing hockey, he has a few pearls of wisdom in there that he can share.

Seth Adler:  Absolutely. Which is interesting, that he was not a good coach.

Brad Nichols:  Yeah.

Seth Adler:  Meaning, he understood it inherently, these two giant concepts, but was not able to communicate it other than in "form". And as far as your ... I thought it was a fashion choice as far as your hairstyle.

Brad Nichols:  Ah, well, it is. It is more streamlined.

Seth Adler:  It is fabulous. Indeed.

Brad Nichols:  I do find I get less wind resistance.

Seth Adler:  All right. So finally, we put the skates away, where did you go to school?

Brad Nichols:  McGill, which is in Montreal.

Seth Adler:  Absolutely. A great school, my buddy's dad went there. What'd you study?

Brad Nichols:  Economics and political science.

Seth Adler:  Okay. Poli sci?

Brad Nichols:  And economics, yeah. So international relations. There was a time when I wanted to go into politics, and then what became very clear to me was, A, politicians are hated by everyone, so that was a strike.

Seth Adler:  I think we've noticed that, yeah.

Brad Nichols:  Yeah, they don't do all that well financially, and they are constantly in the spotlight and scrutinized. So that just ended up changing my direction entirely. I went into private industry and thought if I can do good things there, where nobody knows who I am and everyone leaves me alone, why not?

Seth Adler:  Right. These sound like good goals. That's an interesting kind of concept, though. You went into political science with the understanding that you would be almost a public servant, and it turned ... you realized in real time that that wasn't actually what it was.

Brad Nichols:  Yeah, so I'm not sure that it is that, or at least it used to be that, right? When we think about the original intention of the political institutions and the roles that those folks play, representing your constituents from an area and being their voice to the larger nation, to make the country a better place, very noble.

Seth Adler:  Right.

Brad Nichols:  I think somewhere along the way the whole thing went pear-shaped. Whether it's ...

Seth Adler:  And kind of no matter the country, is your point.

Brad Nichols:  Exactly. And that is the point. That no matter the country, you could be doing what is ultimately the right thing, but there will be a whole lot of people who don't see it that way and then, prepare to be vilified in the media and the press and in public and all those other things. So really, when you think about that, for a public servant's salary, it's just not worth the hassle.

Seth Adler:  Right, right. All right, so then the econ piece, then, would be what you worked on?

Brad Nichols:  That's the other side, that's what allowed me to get into the private industry space.

Seth Adler:  All right, and then where did you go? Who was the first kind of group to say "Hey, Brad, we'd love for you to kind of come here every day"?

Brad Nichols:  So that was Reuters.

Seth Adler:  All right.

Brad Nichols:  For those who don't know, Reuters is a British organization that was originally in the journalism space and photography, but the majority of their money, from a revenue perspective, is made in the trading and wealth management parts of financial services. So they aggregate real-time stock exchange information across all exchanges around the world, and then they integrate that with other financial information coming from financial statements, so income statements, balance sheets, quarterly reports, and then they serve all of that content up to decision-making professionals, either in the trading or portfolio management space, through software tools, and that information is used to make investment decisions. That's where the money comes from for then.

Seth Adler:  All right. Fair enough, and as an economics major we can see ...

Brad Nichols:  That's how I got in there.

Seth Adler:  Why they wanted you. But where did they want you, what job did you get?

Brad Nichols:  I got in there, I was responsible for all of the pricing information for all the North American securities markets. So this is where the economic stuff came in.

Seth Adler:  Yeah.

Brad Nichols:  So every day, I would be looking at all the pricing that came in from, and all the securities from all these exchanges, and I was running basically quality reporting profiles on those. And anything that came up failing several of the validation rules that were there to determine whether the prices were right or wrong, it was my job, in a very short timeframe, to figure out whether those values were correct, change them, and get them out to the consuming, trading public.

Seth Adler:  And that's what you did.

Brad Nichols:  That's what I did.

Seth Adler:  And who noticed that you were good at that, so much so that you could maybe manage people doing that?

Brad Nichols:  That would have been the manager I had at the time.

Seth Adler:  All right.

Brad Nichols:  So as usual, the paradox of management, they decided that since I was good at managing that information, I should be good at managing people.

Seth Adler:  Sure.

Brad Nichols:  And I moved into that space. Luckily, it turned out that they were at least partially correct, so I did okay at that.

Seth Adler:  But why, what were you ... 'cause it wasn't the analytic mind, which served you well ...

Brad Nichols:  It did.

Seth Adler:  In, you know, kind of determining what we should do with these reports and the pricing and everything like that.

Brad Nichols:  Yep.

Seth Adler:  When they gave you people, what were you drawing on? As far as how to do that?

Brad Nichols:  So I think there is a ... that's an interesting question. I mean, certainly from a desire and ambition perspective, what gets me out of bed in the morning is solving a problem that's never been solved and helping the organization deal with a challenge or a hurdle that they've never been able to cross. And so ... and through that being able to provide greater and greater value and scope to the business. So moving from the opportunity to be an individual contributor to having responsibility for a group of people who were working on similar things, I saw that as a chance from a scope perspective to tackle a bigger challenge. Right? I think, in terms of your question around what did I draw upon, I mean, you could say your wits and a good smile, for a large part of it. At least in the beginning.

Seth Adler:  Is this the "fake it till you make it" approach?

Brad Nichols:  There is a dimension of that, a boatload of confidence and a decent suit will get you a long way. But I think, you know, there's also another piece of it where great organizations will provide the tools to their staff in order to develop that skill set. So I'm very thankful that Reuters had a great leadership development program that allowed me to spend a lot of time, whether it was learning the ins and outs of coaching and facilitation to empowerment, consultative skills, and overall leadership dimensions, I was able to grow those over the course of my career, that allowed me to expand the scope of my role in greater and greater capacities.

Seth Adler:  Yeah, and we're starting to kind of take a step back and see the whole thing. When does contact center come into this?

Brad Nichols:  Ah. So yeah, I was grounded in the financial information space, as we talked about. And then that sort of transitioned through staff leadership to large programmatic change leadership. So as they were putting in place new systems and tools, I was taking leadership roles in helping solve those problems on behalf of the data side of the business. And then where that translated was into, they wanted to try and get into a consulting space.

So there was a time when Reuters was doing an awful lot of consulting that was outside its core products and services. And my area was one of them, so they asked me to take the leadership of a consulting practice, where what we were trying to do was leverage the expertise that we had in house, around people who understood financial information and how to use it, and basically sell that expertise to many of our larger customers, who were many of the big investment banks and global banks, who had quite an appetite for solutions that involved bringing a lot of data and information in and finding a way to move that properly around their enterprise, to take advantage of it in various front to back office capability.

Seth Adler:  Give it to me in this dashboard, give it to me in that dashboard.

Brad Nichols:  Yep. I need it in my training engine, I need it in my settlement and clearing, I need it in statements.

Seth Adler:  Right.

Brad Nichols:  Right. And I need the Japanese stock exchange data to look the same as the US stock exchange data by the time it gets here, or these things won't work.

Seth Adler:  Yeah, the Nikkei, right?

Brad Nichols:  The Nikkei.

Seth Adler:  The Nikkei to NASDAQ conversion, of course.

Brad Nichols:  That's it, that's what we called it, the space. The N to N.

Seth Adler:  As you would, sure.

Brad Nichols:  So did that for a very short period of time, until they as a company realized that we shouldn't be doing consulting in spaces that were outside our core products and services in terms of the software and solutions, because they were playing against traditional consulting firms, big five, big six at the time. And credibility was always an issue. If you wanted to have a provider come in and help you better manage your financial information, there was a credibility question in that client base as to whether we would ever truly recommend Bloomberg, which was a competitor.

Seth Adler:  Right.

Brad Nichols:  Which was fair, right?

Seth Adler:  Sure.

Brad Nichols:  So that only lasted a few months. But I think what was recognized in the time was, I really had a pretty good set of skills for talking to customers and being able to spend time with customers and being able to develop relationships with them. So my role then evolved to really taking ownership of the client facing side of our content organization and how that was represented through to the client base, because there was a gap between what our straight-ahead contact center staff could handle and the needs that our customers had. So what we found was, as many of you will know with your contact center agents, you tend to, at the coalface you have a very broad but very shallow knowledge across all the products and services that you offer, and that's what a contact center agent is. To be able to turn around most of what you get as fast as possible.

Seth Adler:  Or live like a millionaire without a dollar in your pocket.

Brad Nichols:  Or both. Yeah. But the need that we identified was, most of our larger customers, so the big global banks, they had, because they were doing so much of this enterprise management of financial information, they knew our content and our feeds as well as the people in our data organization did and far better than any of our contact center agents ever could.

Seth Adler:  Right.

Brad Nichols:  And the problem was, from a customer service and experience perspective, they had no interface into our organization to have the kind of conversations they needed to have. So the technology teams, so we had technical account managers, we had folks who installed software and put in servers, they couldn't talk about the content in that degree of detail, nor could the contact center agents. So the solution that I was charged with resolving was how to unlock the knowledge from 5,000 different people across the globe into a small number of folks that ... most of our larger customers.

Seth Adler:  And how is it that you did that?

Brad Nichols:  Well, I'm glad you asked, Seth. So what I did there was I recognized that it was easier to teach customer facing skills to content people than it was to teach the content to customer facing people.

Seth Adler:  Interesting.

Brad Nichols:  So I went into that group of about 5,000 folks and plucked out probably 25 or 30 who were already data experts in various dimensions of the financial information, and taught them how to be good consultative customer relationship frontline people. So they brought the knowledge with them, taught them how to do the front side of that job, and then allow them to interface with the right contacts in the client side.

Seth Adler:  Some folks say that that can't be taught, though. That kind of softer side, that kind of softer skill, that kind of, that empathy.

Brad Nichols:  Mm.

Seth Adler:  How did you go about kind of instilling that into folks, you know, that wasn't apparent to them?

Brad Nichols:  Yeah. So I think there was a degree of looking for folks with the right approach and outlook. So there were an awful lot of those data people, as I know there are an awful lot of software people, that you would never ever, ever, ever put in front of a customer, right?

Seth Adler:  Right, yeah.

Brad Nichols:  They can't have that kind of a conversation, they don't work that way. But I think, if you know what you're looking for, there are those that have that skill set. So one of the things, and to this day I use this as a criteria when I'm looking to hire folks in the contact center, how an individual will characterize their validation. So the question that I use oftentimes is "How do you know you've done a good job?" And so there's two types of people. There's people that validate internally and people that validate externally. The answer to that "How do you know you've done a good job" from an internal, someone who internally validates, is "I know I've done a good job because I've convinced myself, I'm confident in what I've done and I know it's good." Right?

Seth Adler:  I ticked off the boxes that I know I have to tick off.

Brad Nichols:  "And I'm sure it's good." If you ask the external person, the one who externally validates, their response is "Because someone told me that I did a good job."

Seth Adler:  Right.

Brad Nichols:  And so yeah, there's dimensions of personality and behavioral attitude that, if you're able to identify them, regardless of the subject matter expertise that that person happens to have gathered, you can find folks who can be unlocked. So I think there's that, and then it's a matter of the way you break down how you want them to approach a customer relationship. So I spent a lot of time in those years developing course content and actually teaching and facilitating sessions around how to build empathy and how to recognize that. And how you incorporated that into the way you operated with a customer. And so there is an awful lot of development, but it's a skill like any other as long as those base characteristics, I think, are there.

Seth Adler:  And you mention it as a skill, and we were in round table the session before lunch, where you said ... the question was posed, "Which one is more important, skill or will?" Which one are you hiring for? And everyone around this table said both. And then you added a point, which I found interesting.

Brad Nichols:  Yeah. So what I said was the skill will get you an interview, but the will will get you the job. And what I mean by that is, especially if from a contact center perspective, the products and services you're supporting are, require a degree of expertise coming in, right, you can't just hire anyone off the street, put a headset on them, and away they go. You're not even gonna get in the door to have a conversation with my organization, I suspect many of yours, if you don't have the minimum skill qualifications that you're looking for. That'll get you an interview, but then when you are holding up candidates against each other who have similar skill, it's really there, then, how you identify or how they identify with those key behavior and attitudinal elements, when you're deciding who it is you're gonna choose, right?

Seth Adler:  And so that's the humans at Dun and Bradstreet. And as you move forward here, as you look to an intelligent workforce, or at least supplementing your humans with an intelligent workforce, what are you looking for in the solutions that you're looking to and how are you kind of conceiving of the whole solution?

Brad Nichols:  Yeah, so I think we've got the same motivators that I suspect many in the room do. So we have, several of our high-volume inquiry areas are fairly straightforward and fairly repetitive. So what Dun and Bradstreet does is, primarily they're really ... think of them like a credit agency for businesses rather than individuals. So an organization, small business, small or large but starts on the small side, if you're looking to get credit from a bank or anyone else, they are going to do a degree of credit worthiness review on you. And Dun and Bradstreet is a big source of the financial information about your business that they would use to make that decision.

So we get a ton of our inquiry that's all around getting a Dun's number, which is getting yourself established in the system so that there is information on record about you, like a Social Security number for a business, and/or trying to correct that information. So as I think about intelligent workforce and where that applies for us, there's a degree of it that's really related to information and explanation. So most small businesses don't know what a Dun's number is or why they need to have one before they can get whatever they've built into a Walmart or an Amazon.

Seth Adler:  Right.

Brad Nichols:  But you need one, and so a ton of our inquiry is around some of that learning and explanation type of information. And then a lot more of it is around getting a number or editing the information about them within their record. And so for me, it's about looking at that repetitive universe and figuring out what the best way is to get that result for my customer. And if the answer ends up being some form of chatbot side, great. If it's some form of self-service knowledge management that doesn't leverage bots, great. But to me, you have to start with what you're trying to resolve for the customer, and then allow technology to get you to the right, most effective answer, rather than starting with technology and figuring out what you're gonna do with it.

But it's like the company that builds an app for the sake of building an app that really doesn't do anything 'cause it's sexy, right?

Seth Adler:  That bright, shiny object.

Brad Nichols:  Exactly.

Seth Adler:  So you've mentioned and described the layer of what you would automate. For the humans that are doing that layer right now, have you conceived of how you'll upskill or upscale them into different work, and what might that work be?

Brad Nichols:  For sure. So, and I think this is really important when you're thinking about your workforce and how you get them to embrace this kind of technology, or just automation in general. Because there is a, as we were saying in that particular discussion group, there's an inherent, natural, reptilian sort of reaction in the brain, where they're afraid, right, that they're gonna lose their job. So they don't embrace the technology, they don't use it the way you want them to, I think there's a whole bunch of ways to approach that. But when I think about what that means for my organization at Dun and Bradstreet, as we sort of cut away all of that high volume repetitive stuff, it allows us to get into a more sophisticated form of customer service, that we don't get the opportunity to do today because ... you know, we can't sharpen our saw because we're too busy cutting down the tree, right?

Seth Adler:  Right.

Brad Nichols:  So it's about helping them see what the horizon of progression looks like within our own organization and how unlocking the time and effort that at the moment is attributable to the repetitive items can then be reapplied into some of the more complex solutions and partnership that we'd like to pursue with our customers if we get rid of more of this transactional. And that then, what comes with that is a set of skills that you need to develop within them, within the staff. And so giving them visibility into the roadmap of what those skills look like and when those are modern and valued skills that help them in their broader career perspective, enhance their own capability and their own potential, then I think you're able to turn what is seen as a win-loss into a win-win, to go back to our game theory from economics.

Seth Adler:  Absolutely.

Brad Nichols:  And so once you've got a win-win in place, I've found that, together with getting them involved in creating the solutions and helping decide where we apply these things and how to make it work, as much as possible, gives you all kinds of buy-in and participation. And that helps a ton.

Seth Adler:  What about the inflection of the millennial workforce being more robotic than what I feel are gen-X, which is me, you, and pretty much everybody in the room here? We're less robotic because we're less, you know, kind of digital natives, and we are asking that workforce, which is more robotic, to be more human. In other words, for us to be more human is easier. For them to be more human is more difficult, and what you're saying is we're gonna need them to be more human. Now, they do want to do more value-added tasks, and we are painting with an extremely broad brush, but as far as this kind of managing generationally, where do you come down on that?

Brad Nichols:  Yeah, so I think, I would take a little bit of issue with you saying that they are less human.

Seth Adler:  Oh, did I say less human?

Brad Nichols:  In their interaction.

Seth Adler:  I meant ...

Brad Nichols:  More robotic and less human is what you ...

Seth Adler:  Well, I mean, there's not a lot of eye contact ...

Brad Nichols:  Oh, yeah.

Seth Adler:  There's not a lot of conversational ability.

Brad Nichols:  No, no, I understand how you got there, I think the reason I bring it up is I don't think it's less capability. I think what it is is it's not the first tendency.

Seth Adler:  Fair enough.

Brad Nichols:  So I think, to me there's two really effective ways to leverage them. I think as we in the contact center have to start to deal with an increasing number and complexity of the digital channels and the environments, I think that audience is better suited than we are to help us figure out how to be good at that. They're gonna be able to provide that sort of input and insight and design far better than we are. So that's one.

Seth Adler:  As our chairperson said, the connection between humans and, you know, bots, so to speak.

Brad Nichols:  Yeah, so I think leverage that, but then because I don't think their capability is any less, it's just a tendency, I believe they can rise to that.

Seth Adler:  There we go.

Brad Nichols:  I think so.

Seth Adler:  Okay.

Brad Nichols:  I have faith.

Seth Adler:  So do I, believe me. So I have three final questions, I'll tell you what they are, and ask you them in order. What has most surprised you at work along the way? You've given us your background here. What has most surprised you in life? And on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's gotta be on there? First things first, though. Along the way here, what's most surprised you at work?

Brad Nichols:  I think what's surprised me most, and I'll speak sort of over the collective career, is when you see things going on in industries and you see software providers here and you see and you read cutting-edge articles about business and where it's going, most companies are nowhere near what everybody's talking about. Frankly, especially any organization that's been around for any length of time, they've got older systems and older technology and it's just not as easy to embrace the concepts and the tools as many believe it to be. And I think that's surprised me. I would have thought that companies should be far more nimble than they are.

Seth Adler:  Interesting. But just the legacy systems are there, and we've gotta deal with them.

Brad Nichols:  You've gotta deal with what you've already got, right? Second question was?

Seth Adler:  What's most surprised you in life?

Brad Nichols:  What's most surprised me in life? That it's taken the Maple Leafs my entire life to win a Stanley Cup and it hasn't happened yet.

Seth Adler:  Fair enough. I'm trying to remember the number, 14, in the late '80s, what was his name? The center?

Brad Nichols:  14? Darryl Sittler, you thinking about, 27 was Sittler.

Seth Adler:  Sittler was another one.

Brad Nichols:  You had Mats Sundin.

Seth Adler:  Mats Sundin, that's it.

Brad Nichols:  Yeah.

Seth Adler:  All right, on the soundtrack of your life, Brad Nichols, one track, one song that's gotta be on there.

Brad Nichols:  One track, one song that's gotta be on the soundtrack of my life. Wow, that's tough.

Seth Adler:  This isn't necessarily your favorite song, it's not necessarily the perfect answer song, but you know, as you've gone along here from Reuters to there to here, you know, one track that's definitely on the soundtrack of your life.

Brad Nichols:  David Bowie's "Changes."

Seth Adler:  There you go. That's perfect. And that brings us right back to intelligent workforce. Brad Nichols, thank you so much.

Brad Nichols:  Thank you, Seth.

Seth Adler:  And turn it back over to our chairperson.

Brad Nichols:  All right.

Seth Adler:  And there you have Brad Nichols. You aren't gonna win championships with only one great player. You need to understand what the roles are that need to be played by various folks on the team and they need to play those parts. I very much appreciate Brad and his time, very much appreciate you and yours. Stay tuned.