Editor's Choice - Featured Article

October 15, 2012

Nothing Personal, But It Isn't About You

Don Brown and Interactive Intelligence’s (News - Alert) Quest to Turn Customer Service into a Competitive Weapon

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of CUSTOMER

For all the talk about putting customers first, businesses frequently focus primarily on their own internal requirements when making decisions and investments related to the contact center. Customer considerations typically fall further down the priority list, if they make that list at all.

However, in this always-on world in which social media has made the customer king, the contact center needs to be viewed through a new prism. Rather than looking inward, businesses that want to stay competitive should be making decisions based on the effects those decisions will have on  their customers and prospects. And they should be approaching decisions related to the contact center from a new angle – with customer experience as the No. 1 goal.

“The world has become an increasingly competitive place, and there are so many products and services out there that it’s critical organizations distinguish themselves based on their customer service,” notes Interactive Intelligence CEO Don Brown.

While it would seem obvious that putting the customer first is the way to go, and many companies like to talk about their focus on customer service, the simple truth is that internal demands frequently trump customer considerations.

That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Becoming a truly customer-centric organization is no small task. Not only does it entail a new corporate posture, it also requires organizations to better understand what their customers want, and to put in place the necessary tools to meet those needs.

“The world is changing rapidly, and a lot of companies find they’ve been outpaced by that change,” says Brown.

Interactive Intelligence is helping organizations respond to that change and get into the new mindset that successfully serves today’s customers.

“If you look at contact centers, the reason you want to effectively route a call is to satisfy the caller,” says Joe Staples (News - Alert), chief marketing officer at Interactive Intelligence. “The reason you put in place a multichannel contact center solution is so your customers have additional avenues to communicate in a way they’re most satisfied with. That’s why Interactive Intelligence continually asks itself: ‘What does our innovation mean to our client’s customers?’”

Customers are significantly different than they were even in the recent past. That’s in large part due to the mobile boom, the wealth of online information, and the rise of social media, all of which have spurred new expectations. Customers now believe they should be able to communicate with businesses via any channel they desire, have a seamless experience among those various channels, and get quick and reliable results.

Interactive Intelligence is helping its clients adapt to this new world by working with them to better understand their customers, and outfitting organizations with the technology that enables them to address customer requests and preferences.

Among the solutions Interactive Intelligence delivers to do this are its multichannel contact center automation product, Customer Interaction Center (CIC), and new add-on applications such as Interaction Mobilizer and Interaction Analyzer.

Other vendors offer call center software. CIC, meanwhile, outfits businesses with an all-in-one contact center  automation suite for multichannel interactions. Clients can elect to purchase CIC as a cloud-based service, or as an on-premises solution. CIC delivers an application-rich IP PBX (News - Alert), voice mail, unified messaging, conferencing and collaboration, interactive voice response, multichannel queuing and routing, eServices, predictive dialing, screen recording, speech analytics, workforce optimization, tie-ins to social media, and more.

“The more options a company can provide its customers on how they interact, the more satisfied they will be,” says Staples. “We’ve worked very hard to deliver a product that includes voice, chat, email, SMS, and social media so customers can choose how they interact with our clients.”

To address the growing interest in and preference for online self-help options, Interactive Intelligence recently introduced Interaction Mobilizer. It’s a platform that enables businesses to develop and deliver mobile customer service applications via mobile devices, then tie those apps with the contact center to ensure the best customer experience.

“More and more people live on their smartphones, and they expect to achieve service through these ‘intelligent’ devices,” says Brown.

Indeed, there are some six billion mobile devices in the world, with a high percentage of them being smart devices, so it’s no surprise that end-users frequently leverage these endpoints when interacting with businesses. Interaction Mobilizer helps organizations build mobile apps that enable customers to check the status of an order, make a warranty claim, check shipping details, and review product availability. But this solution from Interactive Intelligence takes customer care a step further.

Because an estimated two-thirds of customers using mobile self-service applications end up needing to talk to a customer service rep according to data from Ventana Research, Interaction Mobilizer bridges the gap between self-service and agent-based interactions. It does this by providing within the mobile app the ability for an individual to initiate a call with a customer service representative or to schedule a future call. And, importantly, it transfers all the data the customer has already provided during the self-service transaction to the appropriate agent. This way the customer doesn’t have to start at square-one once he or she transitions to the agent.

Brown says that Interaction Mobilizer can help businesses respond to the preferences of young people, or anyone for that matter, who prefer online self-help tools over making phone calls to businesses. He conveys a story about his son, who was stunned when he discovered the need to call multiple 800 numbers to transfer his utilities to a new address.

“While people prior to Gen-Y are used to this way of doing business, younger individuals are accustomed to online transactions that typically yield fast results – and they’re easily frustrated by waiting or repeating information they’ve already provided,” Brown says.  “Expectations are fundamentally changing,”

Another innovation aimed at improving the customer experience is a product called Interaction Analyzer, a speech analytics application from Interactive Intelligence that addresses this new, real-time world.

Speech analytics has been available in the market for decades, notes Staples, but to-date such solutions have been focused on recording conversations, analyzing those recording, then leveraging the information to coach agents. Interaction Analyzer, however, works in real time.

That’s important, because when businesses can pinpoint key words and phrases in real time, then act on those interactions while the caller and agent are still connected, they can save lost business.

Interaction Analyzer works by looking for keywords during agent-customer conversations that offer businesses insight about customers calling to cancel service, complaining about a problem, or when an individual might be open for an up-sell opportunity. Keywords are flagged to alert contact center supervisors who can then make sure agents are armed with the tools they need to retain a customer or present them with an offer for an additional product or service – right then and there. The end result is more responsive service and a better customer experience. For businesses, this means increased customer retention and loyalty.

The viewpoint of Interactive Intelligence is that the technology behind the service is a key part of changing the dynamics of the overall service experience. But it can’t stop there. As Staples explains, “Companies don’t buy contact center technology for their own benefit, instead they buy it for the benefit of their customers. Multi-channel interactions, mobile self-service applications, real-time keyword spotting – they are all technologies with a primary goal of improving customer service in a dramatic and differentiated way.”

“We want to help our clients view customer service through a new prism,” Brown says. “It’s not just some slogan. In today’s commoditized world, great customer service really can make the difference between the success and failure of a business.”

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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