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 customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Serge Hyppolite, vice president of product management at Aspect, a company established in 1973 that brings together unified multi-channel communications and effective people management with Microsoft (News - Alert) SharePoint, CRM and Lync platforms to enrich customer interactions. Starting with an engineering background at Nortel, Hyppolite also worked at Lucent.
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, and the recent past, related to customer interactions?
Hyppolite: So much has changed in the last 30 years when it comes to customer interactions. Automated dialing alone has transformed the collections and the telemarketing industries, leading to different regulations. We’ve had CTI (News - Alert), and that has transformed the way customers are processed and triaged because agents know ahead of time who is on the line. This has generated a whole industry of systems integrators and service providers around bridging information from these telephony networks to PCs. The PC world didn’t even exist 30 years ago.
In the past, telephony switching platforms were needed, and now it is software on industry-standard servers that is driving applications and not hardware. We, at Aspect (News - Alert), wouldn’t have products like Aspect Unified IP if it wasn’t for modern open-software technology. These are all big changes that have led to a lot of transformation in the market. CRM didn’t exist 30 years ago, and this has done a lot for businesses in managing their customers and their preferences.
The Internet has truly transformed the whole industry, especially with the idea of collaboration, information sharing and with websites, in general. The Internet has led to voice over IP, which has also transformed the industry and continues to do so. Multi-channel communications and mobility continue to change consumer behaviors and expectations. All of this has had an impact not just in communications with the customer but even with interactions inside of a business, largely due to functionality such as instant messaging and presence. The use of IM within a unified communications enterprise has decreased e-mail volume and call volume. UC and unified contact centers have modernized the way communications are delivered.
How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center? Customer interactions at large?
Hyppolite: IP-based networks have helped improve processes in a number of ways. The idea of work-at-home agents is a lot easier in an IP infrastructure as agents can be located anywhere. Distributed contact centers are very expensive without an IP-based network. At the same time, customer interactions have improved because it is easy to reach out and access skilled resources anywhere and it’s not limited to one place. If there is a resource you want to tap somewhere else in the world, you can easily leverage that through an IP-based network.
How is CRM changing?
Hyppolite: Fundamentally, the concept of CRM is the same. What has changed, however, is that CRM is more for a multi-channel environment incorporating not just voice or transactional communications, but incorporating social within the context of CRM. People are starting to use CRM as a platform for insight to help drive how they manage customers. Certain companies are using CRM information on customers to give them a completely different self-service experience. There will be much more personalized experiences, all led by CRM.
How is WFM changing?
Hyppolite: The biggest changes in WFM have to do with a few things:
- Multichannel is having an impact. An agent isn’t just designated to inbound calls. In the past, WFM was designed to handle just inbound and forecasting for inbound voice demand.
- Work at home agents. WFM capabilities have to be expanded to provide better tools to manage people with dynamic partial-day schedules, which are having an effect on things like back office. This is because WFM is being applied not just for people in the front office contact center roles but also to look at how effective back office resources are, their workload, skill demand, etc.
- The whole idea of WFO is impacting WFM, too, because it’s not enough to just forecast and schedule an agent anymore. You need to ask how effective where they? Did I assign them to the right work?
- An emergent trend is marriage of WFM into the larger business processes of the enterprise. Organizations are looking to reduce complexity, streamline workflows and inform interactions – all to deliver a great customer experience. It is not enough to only engage the contact center…the entire business needs to be on board and in sync.
How is marketing changing?
Hyppolite: Telemarketing is changing as it is being affected by regulations. Some companies abused the calling of people and that ultimately led to regulations. There is increasing targeted marketing with strong web and social aspects. Companies are looking to SEO as a key differentiator and competing in rankings with other companies on the web. There is limited to no direct mail marketing anymore, and personalization is key.
How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Hyppolite: Cloud is impacting parts of the business, and it is moving fast. Even outbound contact is moving more to the cloud. To a great extent, a lot of SMB buyers will be cloud-based versus premises. I think it’s mostly that enterprise customers are going to have premises but also more of a hybrid environment where some things are in the cloud and some on premise.
How is the widespread use of social networking technology impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver to the customer?
Hyppolite: Social networking is impacting the business and will continue to as it continues to get bigger, especially with the idea of communities and it’s changing the delivery model. Customers today don’t just want service by calling a company, but look to peer-to-peer networks as a source of information. People want easy access and feedback on their terms.
What other key trends are you seeing as it relates to how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product to the customer?
Hyppolite: A key trend emerging is analytics and really around synchronizing insight to make better business decisions. Organizations are looking to see investments in analytics to gain that knowledge and not just view interaction analytics after the fact. It is all about understanding the customer context.
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 (News - Alert) 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