One of the delights of working for ContactCenterSolutions is that I get to speak with some of the wisest people in the industry. People are always asking me how I stay on top of news and trends, and while the Internet is invaluable there is no alternative to speaking to the best subject matter experts. At the top of my list of “go-to” people is Interactive Intelligence Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Joe Staples. This being the end of the year, I asked Staples to take a look back at 2012 and a look forward to 2013 to provide insights into not just what is going on at Interactive Intelligence, but also his perspective on industry trends.
Starting with a question about his pre-Thanksgiving holiday blog, Why you won’t hear about the cloud three years from now, which I happen to violently agree with and which he whole-heartedly affirmed, as usual his perspective was quite illuminating.
I stopped looking at network schematics that showed a PBX (box) attached to a network (cloud) attached to another PBX (box) in the late 1970s, was an early user of Tymnet and Telenet shared computing (cloud) services in the 1980s, stopped counting Class 5 Central Office features (apps served up by a shared computer) when they exceeded 2,000 around the same time, and lived through the application service providers (ASP) boomlet and bust. All of this is prelude to my curiosity about Staples’ thoughts as to whether the cloud is just hype.
“There is no turning back this time,” Staples explained. He added that, “This is the magnitude of shift we saw from analog to digital and are going through with the move from TDM to VoIP. The wave of change is unstoppable.” And, talk about what is going to be an industry watershed moment, he added that, “In 2012 the cloud will pass out premises sales in order dollar volume for new customers. We expect that in 2013 more than half of total dollar volume with come from the cloud, things like add-ons and new seat licenses.”
In fact, one of the things that Interactive Intelligence is experiencing is contrary to the popular notion that the cloud is about picking off SMB opportunities because in theory they are the low-hanging fruit. “The cloud deals we are winning are big deals. The average size of these new deals is bigger than the average size of our premises deals, which happen to be strong as well,” Staples stated.
This brought me to the obvious question as to why the cloud success, and what does 2013 hold forth for Interactive Intelligence on this front and competitively. Staples got right to the point. “We will be market leaders based on trust. There are now five thousand customers worldwide on our CIC software. They know we have a strong record of financial performance, innovation, channel partners and support. But, what they also know is that whether they are using our flagship CIC product on their premises, or using our software via the cloud, they get the same features and functionality. We could change you over a weekend from premise to cloud over vice versa, and your end users would never know the difference. That is a huge differentiated value we offer, and our history proves customers can trust us that this commitment to consistency and ease-of-use will continue. It is part of our DNA.”
Before leaving the discussion of the cloud, both in terms of his views on why it will become so commonplace that the term could even disappear, it is also important to note the investment that Interactive Intelligence has and will make to separate itself from traditional contact center solution vendors. These suppliers from my own perspective of being an industry observer and analyst in this space for several decades, have a bit of catching up to do when it comes to cloud solutions and consistency of experience. In the year ahead, Staples says Interactive Intelligence plans on building on the investment it has in the seven data centers it has around the world, and noted that the company is seeing good traction “in every geography.”
Mobility and social media, speech, apps and other growth opportunities
Needless to say, I was interested in some thoughts on hot areas for 2013 aside from the cloud. Below are some highlights of Staples’ views.
“The mobile piece is in class by itself because of shift in marketplace based on adoption of smartphones and mindset of people of how they want to obtain service. Think about it, the younger generation’s preference is to not talk to somebody, and their communications device of preference is their mobile. This is big shift. It means concentrating on developing applications, particularly those that let the mobile device user engage in compelling self-service experiences…. Research says that you will still need live agent up to two-thirds of the time, but when you do that experience of moving to a live interaction had better be seamless and content and context rich so that the user experience is fast and responsive.”
He added that while mobile device self-service will take place of some live interactions the goal of companies like Interactive Intelligence is to provide the ability for those interactions to be possibly more frequent (i.e., making happy customers brand advocates on social media) and more intimate (BTW “intimate” is my word for more contextual). And, none of this can be compelling if the user experience is not seamless between self-service and live agent. That is why there is such excitement around the company’s introduction this year of Interaction Mobilizer. It can be a game-changer for those using CIC as their platform for contact center interactions.
Staples, like all of us, believes we are still on the bottom of the on-ramp of the learning curve as to how social media are going to change the nature of customer interactions with business, and business interactions with other businesses. Clearly, the impact will be profound, and it is likely to happen rather fast. What Staples iterated is that enterprises today, “Have to be multi-channel. They cannot afford to lack the ability to interact with customers and value-chain partners the way they choose to interact.”
For those of you who follow my writings for this community, you know that I was so impressed with the recent introduction of Marketplace, Interactive Intelligence’s e-commerce portal for accessing internal and third-party approved applications to run on CIC, that it has been my Editor’s Choice. Staples said that my enthusiasm already was being matched by, “Our resellers who are looking not just for third-party value but also value they have created with their own apps, consultants who might not wish to promote our core so they can remain vendor agnostic but who really like recommending apps, and obviously by the third-party app developers.” He added that at the launch in January there should be as many as 50 plus apps and sees real interest in the third-party ones for help desk and CRM and the Interactive Intelligence ones that provide process templates for the growing process automation part of the business.
Really not much to say here except that Joe says there is confirmation in the market that real-time speech analytics has proven to be as valuable as expected when we launched Interaction Analyzer.
On the horizon for 2013
Staples had some final thoughts on growth opportunities for 2013. He said, “Starting from our belief that it is going to be all about the cloud and helping our customers transition to it or find a comfort hybrid solution with the trust that they can move back and forth as needs dictate, what we are very excited about is that 2013 is going to be when our customer base moves to CIC 4.0.” The reason he noted was important, “Interaction Mobilzer and Analyzer are only on 4.0.”
I asked about vertical markets and partnerships. Joe said that in 2013, “We intend to replicate the successful vertical strategy we have enjoyed in insurance, accounts receivable and the utilities markets by working with industry experts and through acquisitions where they make sense.” Banks, credit unions, contact center outsourcers, healthcare providers and government are all sectors where Interactive Intelligence has traction and is looking to expand.
We closed with a discussion about strategic partners. “We have strong relationships with Microsoft, SalesForce.com, Oracle and IBM,” he said. “These are deep relationships that are important to us, to them and our customers who are seeking solutions from companies they can trust.”
It is interesting that the outlook for 2013 revolves around something that is foundational to why organizations invest in state-of-the-art contact center solutions. Contact centers are the leading edge of companies’ value-chains and the place where they have the most intimacy with customers. Hence, they are place where if trust is not created and sustained, brand value can be easily destroyed. And, as we all know from our respective educations at home and in school, trust is hard to obtain, easy to lose and extremely difficult to get back.
As Staples stated, “We believe that trust is our differentiated value.”
His observation is cogent. Given all of the challenges roiling enterprises as they attempt to make the customer experience priority number 1, who you trust to do this with and for you is going to make 2013 one heck of an interesting year.