MEET THE ADVISORY BOARD [Customer Inter@ction Solutions]
(Customer Inter@ction Solutions Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Along with our new branding, CUSTOMER welcomes an advisory board of industry leaders. Here, the members offer introductions of themselves, their companies, and their views of the customer experience.
EnvisiorVs Rodney Kuhn
If you're not familiar with Envision, allow me to provide a quick history first: I founded Envision in 1994 to create software for the contact center that would leverage emerging CTI standards on open platforms. Today we license our workforce optimization suite of solutions, known as Centricity, Click2Coach and Workforce Management, to call centers from 50 to 200 agents, as well as large multi-site implementations on the order of 1,000-8,000 or more agents located in different countries.
Envision is the only workforce optimization provider with an emphasis on agent effectiveness and coaching. Our solutions help companies increase agent performance and job satisfaction; drive revenues through more crosssells and up-sells; lower operating costs and increase call and contact center ROI; and drive customer retention and brand loyalty.
For supervisors, Envision enables more streamlined, one-onone coaching; faster, more frequent agent training; and efficient use of new technologies such as video and social media, which obviously is going to be huge moving forward.
We've had a pretty good run so far. But the point of this column is really to talk about some of the critical issues and trends feeing our industry moving forward. So let's dig in.
Right now it's all about virtualization and the cloud, which will drive scalability and flexibility; and helping companies shift their contact centers into what we like to think of as an "All-Pro Defense" that can properly handle the sheer amount of social media noise that's coming their way.
Contact centers will leverage the cloud to be more flexible and scalable with their centers, particularly as they add workfrom-home agents quickly without large capitalized technology investments.
The contact center will have a significant role in handling customer interactions through the social channel. But this will create huge challenges in training, forecasting and scheduling interaction volume, coaching for appropriate response, and analyzing what's driving customer dissatisfaction.
Analytics and voice-of-the-customer solutions such those offered by Envision will further emerge as tools that can identify what customers like and dislike about products and services. This can lead to cancelling unprofitable product lines that are problematic and drive customer satisfaction down. They also will be used to identify opportunities where coaching agents to change behavior can drive up-sells and cross-sells that increase revenue.
Mobile will continue to create opportunities to route calls to specialized agents who may not take calls ail day but are experts on call and available when needed for certain situations. Imagine an agent with specialized skills logging into the ACD, and receiving two to three calls per day over mobile when their expertise is needed. The definition of the agent will continue to evolve as mobile is embraced more.
This is an exciting and invigorating time for our industry, with some of the biggest technological and social changes in years having a direct impacting on what we deliver and how we deliver it.
But no matter how you slice it, it always comes down to one simple truth: What's important is making every customer contact count. No wonder the new name of this publication is CUSTOMER magazine. I look forward to being part of the success and contributing to the advisory board.
Rodney Kuhn is CEO and founder of Envision» anda member of CUSTOMER magazines Advisory Board.
InfoCision's Steve Brubaker
I began my career with InfoCision in 1985 as a communicator in the call center while still in college at the University of Akron. I've been blessed with phenomenal opportunities here at InfoCision and currently hold the position of chief of staff. In this role I am responsible for implementing InfoCision's important operational processes; addressing staff-related issues; ensuring compliance with the myriad of federal and state regulations imposed on the call center industry; and serving as InfoCision's corporate spokesperson, among other things.
Promoting ethical business practices has always been a top priority for me, and InfoCision. The telemarketing industry has been tarnished by a few bad apples and painted by the same brush, which is why it's important for industry leaders to get involved both locally and nationally in promoting ethical business practices. Some of my industry affiliations include PACE (formerly the American Teleservices Association), having jerfed as national board director for much of the past two decades, Direct Marketing Association, International Customer Service Association, and Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals.
2012 marks InfoCision's 30th anniversary, a milestone we are all very proud of. With decades of expertise in teleservices at our core, InfoCision is uniquely positioned in the direct marketing industry where we provide the highest quality call center solutions to leading non-profits and Fortune 100 companies. Today, we offer a full spectrum of direct marketing services: inbound and outbound call center solutions; direct mail and fulfillment; and interactive (web) and business intelligence.
InfoCision has created an award-winning corporate culture by first and foremost, striving to make sure our employees are satisfied with their jobs, and we feel that InfoCision is a place where they can create a fulfilling career. We've also revolutionized our benefits and employee amenities, investing in on-site physicians and clinics, fitness centers, child care centers, health fairs with free health screenings, and numerous company-sponsored work/life balance programs that are available to all employees and their families.
Our growth is proof that this philosophy works. By creating a great place to work we are able to attract, retain and motivate top-performing employees who provide a competitive advantage so that we can successfully compete and grow. Our employees are the heart and soul of our business and the reason we continue to enjoy prosperity and growth.
As marketers, our goal is to create a superior customer experience. With consumers using communication channels interchangeably - phone, e-mail, text, online, marketers are challenged to ensure a consistent brand experience no matter what the channel. To be relevant in today's market, call centers must expand their service offerings to include multiple channels, which we've done successfully.
However, at the heart of any CRM strategy is the telephone channel, which provides a higher level of personalized communication. By providing a potential customer a great phone experience, you are more likely to convert a call into a sale. Additionally, superior call center experiences lead to better brand impressions - which lay the groundwork for future purchases and the most effective direct response sales tool of all: customer recommendations.
There has been an ongoing shift from focusing solely on selling processes, to incorporating the sales experience into the overall buying experience. By doing so marketers can create rewarding buyer experiences of which the sales experience is one aspect of several.
Much of creating a positive buyer experience is behind the scenes and completely unknown to the consumer. The ability to accurately identify businesses and consumers in real time, to target and recognize the best prospects through predictive modeling and analytics, is going to continue to be a game changer. Using business intelligence and technology to determine service level differentiations to boost conversion rates, improve customer service, customize call center scripts and sales scripts, on the fly, will ultimately increase customer value and drive long-term growth.
I am honored to have been invited to sit on the Advisory Board of CUSTOMER magazine and look forward to lending my expertise to the highly qualified editorial team already in place.
Steve Brubaker is chief of staffai InfoCision, anda member of CUSTOMER magazines Advisory Board.
Interactive Intelligence's Joe Staples
Interactive Intelligence is a fascinating company to work for. It's filled with some of the smartest people I've ever met, and it's really a pleasure to be surrounded by so many thinkers.
It's been great watching the company grow. We now have 1 ,300 employees in 18 countries. Our growth has outpaced the market for at least the last seven years. We're no longer thought of as a small company. We're now close to the size of some of the other major market players, yet I think we've done an amazing job at remaining flexible, nimble and innovative. The best evidence of this is the high marks we consistently receive from our customers. For me, this is a great place to be.
I'm a huge fan of good branding. I hate any marketing approach that seems boring or overused. I think prospective customers want useful, practical, applicable information from a vendor. Add some creative methods to cut through the clutter and help your message get noticed, and I think you've created marketing success.
My career has all been in technology - it's the only thing I know. For me, the last 20 years has been specifically in the communications space. This is a fascinating time to be a part of the communications industry. There is so much change going on.
By far the three areas that are having, and in my opinion, will have the greatest impact are the cloud, social and mobile.
The market is shifting from on-premises software to a cloud-based model. Market growth projections for cloudbased communications over the next five years are nearly 20 percent annually; Contrast that with low single-digit growth rates for on-premises systems. The reasons to move to the cloud are so compelling- increased flexibility, faster deployment times, minimum capital expense, and reduced IT requirements to name a few primary ones.
That said, all cloud communications services are not equal. Companies should look at the size and complexity of their requirements and pick a vendor that matches up well. Security is weak from some vendors and should definitely be examined closely. Also, how complete is the functionality offered by the vendor Due diligence is certainly required, but done properly a move to the cloud can deliver compelling benefits.
The social media space is exploding daily with new applications and uses. And it isn't simply young people tracking what their friends are doing.
It's rapidly making its way into the business world. It's facilitating communities, networking, and changing the way companies need to, and are able to, interact with their customers. Companies that ignore its impact do so at their own risk.
We recommend that companies first determine how active their customers, or potential customers, are on social networks. If it's a significant number, then they should begin to evaluate technology to help them monitor relevant posts, tweets, etc. From there, it's very effective to use technology to properly route, respond to, escalate, and track all the relevant social activity. Technology is fast-developing to help companies take ever better advantage of the social media communications channel.
This last area is really exciting. At the end of last year, the International Telecommunications Union estimated that there were 6 billion mobile subscribers in the world. That's 87 percent of the world's population. According to research firm Gartner, smartphone shipments grew 58 percent, making up nearly one-third of all mobile phones shipped last year. Additionally, mobile tablet sales are projected to double this year.
This means that the location of customers is rapidly becoming irrelevant and that, armed with powerful computers/communicators in their hands, those customers want to use them to interact with product and service vendors. This creates huge opportunities for companies to develop new and more efficient ways to service their customers.
I've been fortunate enough to have been involved in technology for a long time. I'm not sure during my career there has ever been a more exciting technology revolution, maybe with the exception of the broad deployment of affordable personal computers in the early '80s and the birth of the Internet in the early '90s. These are exciting times and, fortunately, customers are the ones who will benefit from this new wave of innovation.
Joe Staples is chiefmarketing officer at Interactive Intelligence (unuw.inin.com), anda member of CUSTOMER magazine's Advisory Board.
Monet Software's Chuck Ciarlo
It shouldn't be a secret for companies that it is crucial to truly understand customer needs and then deliver products and services that meet or exceed those needs. However, you have probably noticed first-hand in your own consumer and buying experience that a lot of companies are still too much product- instead of customer-focused. As the founder and CEO of several companies including Monet Software, I've always believed that a company's mission statement can be stated with a single word, and that is "Customer".
Not to oversimplify the meaning of a mission statement or the importance of having a great product, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to taking care of your customers. We have all heard the old saying: "Take care of your customers, and they will take care of you." It's easy to say, but often hard to implement and execute. In this article, I will share with you five simple but effective recommendations that have worked for us and other successful companies.
Make every effort to truly understand what your customers need, what they experience in their work or day, and what challenges they face. Talk to them, listen carefully, ask questions, observe them, look over their shoulder at work - experience what they experience! This helps to create and deliver a solution that truly meets their needs and solves their problems. We learned from our customers that they need a workforce optimization solution that integrates WFM, call recording, quality management and performance management into one experience, helping them make better decisions and be more pro-active in managing productivity, service levels, service quality, and costs. And that's what we delivered earlier this year.
It sounds obvious, but there are still many companies that make it complicated for customers to buy and use their products and services. Just make it easy for your customers: easy to understand your offering, easy to buy, easy to pay, easy to set up and easy to use. As a leading provider of cloud-based WFO solutions, our key focus has always been to make it as easy as possible for our customers to buy, set up and use our solutions - and that's what our customers appreciate about our business.
The world we live in is complex - business transactions, processes and communications get more complicated by the day. Studi*« faavtf shown that innovative and successful companies ate aWe to hide the complexity behind the scenes and keep things simple for the customer. Monet Softwares mantra from its inception has been to deliver sophisticated call center software, made simple. Instead of adding hundreds of features that most customers will never use, we analyzed and prioritized the needs of our customers and focused on capabilities that are really important for customers and their business objectives.
True value is often not about the lowest price, it's about delivering an affordable solution that meets or exceeds customers' expectations and has a real and lasting business impact, such as reduced costs, improved quality, higher services levels, etc. Also, when thinking about customer value, it is important to include the end customers of your customers into the value delivery. For example, when we think about the value of our WFO solution, we also think about how it helps our customers take better care of their own customers.
In today's commoditized markets, the overall customer experience is often more important than the product itself. The key to a great customer experience is outstanding customer service. There are many facets to delivering great service, but availability, responsiveness, and quality are crucial. We at Monet Software are striving to help our customers deliver great customer service to their customers. With our latest offering, Monet WFO Live, our customers can optimize agent schedules, identify issues, establish quality guidelines and use agent analytics and performance management to measure and get actionable insights and alerts to improve overall performance, deliver a high quality and consistent customer experience, while also controlling costs.
Please take a moment and think about how your company is delivering on the above five principles and how you can make your customers even more central to your business.
Chuck Ciarlo is CEO and founder of Monet Software, anda member of CUSTOMER magazine's Advisory Board.
SugarCRM's Nick Halsey
In my many years working with open source companies, I've taken a lot of delight in disrupting the commercial software status quo. In traditional open source terms, that's meant disrupting notions of price, product development and partnering. Now, at SugarCRM, we're presented with an opportunity to be disruptive again - but this time, at an even more elemental level for the CRM market.
There's been a design conceit built into many CRM applications. That conceit is to start with what management wants to see - dashboards, pipeline maps, forecasts, and so on - and to build the application backward from that starting point.
The reason for doing so makes sense. If you're a believer in the better nature of CRM vendors, you'd say that vendors take this approach to emphasize the results coming out of CRM. If you're a cynic, you'd say its because the people who make the decisions around CRM purchases are the managers who benefit from these features, so making the buyer the design focus of the product makes sense.
Regardless of your take on why this happens, the end result of emphasis on the management-level functionality is clear. CRM implementations still fail at obscenely high rates for the same reasons they've failed for almost 20 years. Forrester Research targeted the major cause: Twothirds of the problems associated with CRM implementation have to do with people problems, and half of those center around adoption.
Why is adoption still such a problem It's because of the user experience. When the product experience is designed for management, the front-line users fail to see CRM as something that helps with their jobs. It becomes a nuisance, a necessary evil forced upon them by managers who use it to keep tabs on the performance of sales, marketing and support. Besides management, who can get excited about that
The manager-first approach may have been useful in selling early generations of CRM, but once those products were rolled out, managers had to fight for adoption in order to make use of the reporting tools that were the main selling point. Without widespread adoption, managers are getting a partial view of what's going on in their sales departments - at best, it's a cross-section of what's going on; at worst, it provides a misleading view based on the activities of a few atypical members of the sales team. A pretty dashboard can yield ugly results if it's being fed poor data. That can lead to bad decisions, slow reactions and misconceptions about what's going on in the sales pipeline - which is exactly what CRM is supposed to combat.
We think that this problem has gone on long enough - especially when the solution is core to what CRM is supposed to be about. One of the tenets of the discipline is the idea of knowing who your customers are; in the case of CRM, the customers come in a certain sequence, and that sequence starts with front-line users. So if you create a user experience oriented around these users, and create an application that plugs into their desires, the result is that the powerful capabilities built into CRM can truly function as they're supposed to.
That means creating an interface that's easily personalized for the user's specific tasks - and one that minimizes the number of clicks it takes to get things done. But it also goes beyond interface design. It also includes tools that help front-line CRM users find information more rapidly, like full text search. CRM should be a tool front-line users see as helpful to their success instead of as a cumbersome hurdle they need to overcome.
This isnt to say that we should stop improving our forecasting, reporting and analysis tools. To the contrary - without these tools, the richer data generated by fuller adoption of CRM would go to waste. But increasing the completeness of CRM data gives these tools more to work with, and that results in more accurate forecasting, better pipeline visibility and a more authentic view of sales, marketing and service performance.
User first seems like a painfully obvious idea, but it's one that the CRM market forgot years ago. It's time to be disruptive and apply the tenets of CRM the discipline, to CRM the technology.
Nick Halsey is executive vice president of corporate and business development at SugarCRM, anda member of CUSTOMER magazines Advisory Board.
Strategic Contact's Lori Bocklund
Talk. Talk. Talk. Vendors, analysts, consultants, practitioners, and other industry pundits spend a lot of time talking about how to optimize the customer experience, leverage technology to do new and exciting things, support a wide range of media, manage channels effectively, and so on.
For all that talk, you'd think contact centers would have achieved unparalleled success in customer interactions and customer experience. Unfortunately, many centers remain stuck in old patterns of behavior and mired in addressing the fundamentals of contact center operations.
How's your service level Have you heard the Voice of your Customer Is your cost per contact (or revenue) where it needs to be
It's time to stop talking and start doing, ideally with a prioritized plan that targets your worst pain points and/or your most impactful opportunities. It's time to move past where the industry has been and get on board with where it's going. Here's where the doers are headed.
It's increasingly common for centers to support a broad spectrum of media, notably voice, fax, e-mail, chat, and even social media and mobile. But the real doers use technology to integrate across media so that the customer experience, regardless of channel, is consistent and bestin-class. They also integrate their resource management to handle all customer interactions efficiently.
VoIP changed the game on what it means to have a multisite center. Virtual operations of all sizes incorporate traditional centers, home agents, and integrated outsourcers. There is no reason to house technology and people in a single location and be vulnerable to a catastrophic event. The new norm must be dual (at least) data centers with resources in multiple locations. This integrated whole enables the greatest efficiency gain and optimizes the ability to get customers to an available, qualified resource.
IVR and web self-service have eased the load on inbound call traffic by giving people the opportunity to help themselves. We're pretty far down the adoption curve on that opportunity. Centers need to extend the self-service paradigm with proactive outbound notification. Timely messages deliver real value to customers while saving inbound calls and avoiding service issues. Mobile will act as a game-changer given its capacity to support follow up by a self-service interface or a transition to assisted service.
You can't talk technology without talking cloud. Most companies have some hosted applications. The comfort level with this sourcing model continues to grow for broader and more mission-critical apps. As long as IT stays resource constrained (and there is no end in sight to that situation), centers will seek ways to pursue the functionality they need quickly and easily, and perhaps with a bit more say and control.
Most centers long for an improved agent desktop with ready access to the right information. In the Google era, with cloudbased applications and social networking ability to build and maintain content, it doesn't have to be a monumental task to fix these issues. The doers will use tools to simplify the desktop and add search capabilities that provide access to up-to-date knowledge and information. They'll reap a solid payback and serve the customer better, while changing the lives of their agents.
It's the ultimate stop-talking-and-start-doing change. Analytics brings value to the mounds of data that centers have been trying to process forever. A robust business intelligence practice will separate the leading centers from the rest as they gain credibility and deliver business value to their organizations.
The challenge in moving from talking to doing is finding the leadership commitment to invest the time, talent and money to make the necessary changes. Its easy to say "we want to be best-in-class" - or even bolder, "world class" - and spout off the industry messages. Its not so easy, and certainly not common, to approach it with a mindset of action. It's time to do it.
Lori Bocklund is president of Strategic Contact Inc., anda member of CUSTOMER magazines Advisory Board.
(c) 2012 Technology Marketing Corporation
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