TMC (News - Alert) this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going.
We’re also rebranding our contact center and customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Kim Martin, director of marketing at Voxeo (News - Alert), which today announced that OneReach is now a Voxeo Connect Certified Partner Application, offering multi-channel communications to the small and mid-sized business marketplace.
What all does your company sell to whom?
Martin: Voxeo provides solutions that make it easier, more efficient and cost effective for companies to interact with their customers. Voxeo’s platform capitalizes on the power of the smartphone to enable automated self-service that is personalized to how the customer chooses to communicate, whether by voice, text messaging, mobile web, smartphone apps or social networks such as Twitter (News - Alert). Our customers range from the Fortune 50 to 50 of the most innovative small businesses around. We work with more than 250,000 developers, 45,000 companies and half of the Fortune 100, including global service providers, telecommunications carriers, utility companies, manufacturers, financial services firms, health care providers and more. These companies use Voxeo to enhance their customer service, drive loyalty, improve commerce and connect conversations in real time.
We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What has been the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?
Martin: The adoption of Web standards is one of the most important developments. It created an environment that was genuinely cross-platform and allowed for more stable applications, [and] reduce[d] development and maintenance times, and more efficient development. Web standards also meant that sites could now be accessible to a greater number of devices, meaning it became easier for companies to reach more customers.
The adoption of speech technology was also one of the most important developments as it provided call centers with an opportunity to better support the customer while reducing costs and increasing agent productivity as the same time. For the first time, callers could more quickly and more efficiently have calls routed to the appropriate agents, find basic information they needed, and allow live agents to deal with complex issues and upselling opportunities.
In the past decade?
Martin: The widespread adoption of VoiceXML (News - Alert) essentially revolutionized the way companies develop, deploy and handle automated calls. Until the late 1990s, when the W3C took charge of VoiceXML, there wasn’t an open standard for speech applications. VoiceXML enabled companies to deploy speech-driven IVR applications for customer service knowing they would have portability down the road to upgrade or switch vendors without having to re-write all their applications. Companies no longer had to go out and hire teams of expensive developers with proprietary skill sets to build their voice apps. Integration was easier, and the application logic became separate from the hardware, meaning a company could now host the core infrastructure elsewhere while maintaining control of application, business logic and customer data.
In the recent past?
Martin: The proliferation of the mobile market and particularly the smartphone. With 80 percent of the world population now owning a mobile phone and with nearly 100 million smartphone users in the United Stated and over one billion worldwide, it’s clear that easy and fast access to information has become within reach to the majority of consumers. Customers have become used to getting the information they’re looking for quickly, when they want it and without having to interact with a human. In addition to easy, quick access to information, the functionality of smartphones, including GPS, voice-enabled apps such as Siri, and advanced text messaging have all created additional opportunities for stronger and better customer interactions, such as location-based services, user authentication and more.
How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center – customer interactions at large?
Martin: IP-based networks essentially reduced labor and telephony costs, making contact centers more efficient and economical to operate. They made possible unified communications across one single network architecture, including phone, e-mail, text and Web – giving customers a more consistent experience across multiple interaction channels. In addition, the flexibility of IP-based networks makes it easy to deploy, integrate and manage innovative customer-facing applications. IP telephony also enabled application telephony servers, which were proprietary hardware-based solutions, to evolve into native host software-based application servers. This, in turn, empowered developers to create a wide array of applications that could run on any platform. Unified communications flourished in this environment, resulting in greater opportunity to reach customers precisely when, where and how they wanted to be contacted.
How is CRM changing?
Martin: CRM is changing in a lot of ways, and it’s an extremely exciting time as new technologies are making the customer experience more dynamic and fruitful for both companies and their consumers. Firstly, CRM is becoming much broader, leaving its siloed arena of phone and e-mail and leaping into more input channels, such as mobile Web, text messaging, social media and video. New technologies are making it possible to bring all those input channels together; giving contact centers a single view of their customers to provide better, more efficient communications. Having one single platform enables companies to gather and maintain a wealth of information about customers that can be used to personalize each experience and proactively engage customers.
CRM is also no longer simply about inbound communications. Contact centers now have the ability to reach out to the customer and anticipate his or her needs. This level of insight and personalization has become key to building loyalty and satisfaction, as well as reducing the number of inbound calls to the contact center.
Self-service is also continuing to change CRM. The ubiquity and power of the smartphone has created an expectation of immediacy from the consumer that has made contact centers expand their focus from live agents to one of giving the customer the choice of when and how to communicate with companies. Statistics have shown that in many cases, consumers prefer to get information they’re seeking without speaking to a human, whether it be through mobile Web, text, Twitter or voice applications. A new generation has emerged that is often more comfortable interacting with technology over a human, and companies of all sizes need to understand this and provide customer experiences that are aligned with this changing paradigm.
How is WFM changing?
Martin: As customer expectations rise, so too does the responsibility of the contact center to continue providing exceptional customer experiences, while still optimizing the workforce and workloads. The proliferation and acceptance of self-service applications have allowed companies to better utilize their contact center staff and reduce vulnerabilities and reliability on human agents. Allowing customers to resolve their own questions and needs quickly and effectively frees up live agents to handle more complex calls as needed. It also allows companies without the budget for extended contact center hours to meet their customers’ needs and expectations cost effectively.
How is marketing changing?
Martin: We have entered a very exciting time as marketers, because there are so many channels for communicating with customers in new and innovative ways. Mobile marketing has certainly become one of the most powerful methods of communicating a brand to consumers. Statistics show that nine out of 10 smartphone users use their phone on a daily basis, and it’s not primarily for talking. The most popular smartphone activity is texting, followed by Internet browsing and e-mail. With this in mind, brands that can effectively and creatively reach their customers through these channels will certainly make the biggest impression on consumers.
Social media has also changed marketing immensely. The shear amount of communication channels means that consumers are constantly inundated with information. As such, businesses have to be much more focused in their efforts to reach and gain the attention of their customers. More and more consumers are turning to social networks to seek recommendations, get advice from friends and family and find information and reviews on products and services. As marketers, it’s no longer enough to listen to these conversations, but instead they must proactively engage customers in a value-added way. When customers become engaged with a brand, it can provide depth and relevance to the relationship, thereby increasing loyalty and customer retention. Through the innate power of the social network, one happy customer can easily translate into additional customers as social network users are said to be three-times more likely to trust peer opinions over advertising.
How is the increased use and comfort level with video impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Martin: Video allows for faster, more rewarding customer communications as contact centers can share visual information during a call. One of Voxeo’s partners, Radish Systems (News - Alert), has developed a technology called ChoiceView that allows businesses to share visual information in real-time during smartphone conversations. Video can instantly be sent to a customer’s smartphone while they talk or chat and appear on the caller’s screen as live support staff (or IVR) sends them. By combining instantaneous visual and audio information, the video increases comprehension, problem solving, and recall by as much as 50 percent over just hearing it. The video achieves more rewarding communications as contact centers reduce call handling time, increase user satisfaction, and improve profits. Support representatives find that by adding video to the communication easily allows them to make additional sales, provide accurate information, and enhances their productivity.
Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman