Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Allegiance's John Epeneter Discusses EFM and Open Source Benefits

December 19, 2008

Allegiance, a privately owned company based in South Jordan, Utah and serving more than 1500 customers, is bringing companies in all industries and of all sizes, the power to grow faster and increase profitability.

Through the company's Allegiance Engage Platform, a suite of Web and phone-based Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) solutions, it is possible to increase and better manage loyalty and engagement with customers and employees by gathering, analyzing, and responding in real-time to customer and employee complaints, comments, and suggestions.
Earlier this year, the company was presented with a 2008 CRM Excellence Award by TMC's Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. The company is also taking part in the upcoming ITEXPO event happening February 2-4, 2009 at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami, Florida
I recently had some time to chat with John Epeneter, VP Product Management at Allegiance about the companies offerings, and his thoughts on a few other industry topics.

Who has influenced you most in your career and why?

I was very lucky that my first job was working for a very small firm and for a president who was super-entrepreneurial. He taught me how to work very hard, how to meet customers’ needs, and how to work together as a team. While I didn’t realize or appreciate it at the time (ah, why is youth wasted on the young) - the team you are on, and the mission your team has, makes all the difference in the world.  

What excites you most about our industry?

I have been around in the contact center and telephony industry for a long time.  What makes me most excited for the future is that while we still have yet to see what I would consider a full integration in voice and the data world, we have made great strides especially in contact centers. 

What areas do you wish you could devote more energy/attention/resources?

We need to see a ubiquitous smashing of the barrier between text and voice data.  It is one thing to capture voice data in the data center and then either do speech-to-text conversion or speech analytics, but it is quite another to see no difference at all.  I would love to see CRMs have complete search ability to all conversations between customers and company employees regardless of whether they are sales, support, customer care, etc.  I would love to see a day where it is a simple report or query to know the heart and mind of an individual customer, or my entire customer base.

What pain does your company take away for customers?

We take pain away from companies by helping them centralize the many different channels for customer feedback.  We take pain away from companies customers by helping them have a voice into the company.

How did your company get to where it is and where is it headed?

Our company has become a leader in customer relationships through hard work, a passion to be one with our customers, and an understanding of how important customer’s feedback is to a company.  We are working even harder to build products and services that help our customer’s do the same. 

What does your dream mobile device look like?

Honestly, the dream would be where I don’t distinguish between mobile and non-mobile devices.  I would like to get to my office and my cell phone takes a back seat to my office phone.  When I walk out of the office, my cell phone takes priority.  I would like to see no distinguishable difference between my laptop, my cell phone, my Wii, or my DVR.  The fact that I have to think about any of my phones, devices, computers, and when to use one vs. the other, tells me we have a long way to go.  But for now, I think the iPhone is pretty darn cool.

If you were forced to head Nokia, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, GM, Cisco, Nortel or the U.S. … Which would you pick and why?

I am a small company guy. I have worked for some big companies and would rather not.  None of the companies sound all that great as I don’t think they have a clue what the “new consumer” is looking for and they haven’t been able to adapt to the rapidly changing market.  The U.S. has some serious issues too.    

Poof – you become President Obama’s top advisor on tech. What should he do to foster more technology use in the U.S. and abroad?

I would make him work for an entire month online.  Absolutely no interactions with anyone if it is business.  Only those who can work online will be able to get his attention including senators, lobbyists, or staffers.  Second, if he wants any information to do his job, it will have to be via a Web interface.  Nothing as an attachment.  Then we will keep points as to which departments and individuals are able to work in that kind of environment. Those who get the most points will get extra funding to really make a difference in their areas of expertise. 

How has open-source changed our space and what more can it do for us?

First, open-source lowers the barriers to entry in many markets.  Companies now have access to infrastructure software that can be downloaded modified and installed in minutes, upon which something truly innovative can be created.  This has led to an acceleration of 2-6 people virtual companies that don't even have physical office space and yet have instantly world changing applications.  Take YouTube or Twitter as examples.  Second, open-source has taught the business world is the value of building a community around your product and of empowering your users.  One could say that the social networking and community movements wouldn’t have even happened without the open-source movement leading the way. Finally, open-source has taught the world the power of sharing.  Because of Wikipedia, we are better off / are we - all because there is a quick, free way to get accurate information on any number of subjects?  But within companies people often see knowledge as power and hoard it rather than share.  A company with an internal culture of sharing knowledge and techniques makes all of its employees more effective and capable.  Just setting up an internal catch-all WIKI can be a powerful tool.

Open-source sent a shock-signal to the software industry. There are a small percentage of open-source companies that are making money.  There are a larger number of companies that are using a variable amount of open-source software as part of their deliverables. But the question of whether the open-source movement can be the central basis for a stable economic society has yet to be seen.  Similar to communities, social networks, and other emerging areas, open-source has lots of hype and lots of problems yet to be resolved.

Currently something to keep squarely in the center of the radar, but until a significant percentage of the code in applications we use day in and day out are open-source, and we can get reliable support for those applications, we have a long way to go.  Regardless, open source will be a center of innovation and collaboration moving forward.

When does Microsoft become a major force in communications?

Microsoft has already been a significant force, if not a major one.  They certainly will be major as soon as they can get Windows Mobile finished.  Considering the decade long lead time Windows regular has had, and the current state of Vista, ask me again in 2020.   

Apple? RIM, Nokia?

iPhone’s market share growth is amazing.  As a result, the other players are shifting dramatically and therefore Apple is a force.  However, Apple’s decision to be exclusive with AT&T may give the rest of the cellular market enough time to create alternatives.  Not just for that reason, and certainly because of their absolute dominant position in overall market share, I wouldn’t count out Nokia.  

What surprised you most about 2008?

The downturn didn’t surprise me, but the severity of it did. 

Is the green movement dead now that oil is plummeting in cost?

Just wait.  Green 2.0 is coming our way.

How does IP communications help in a recession?

My area of expertise is how communications help in a recession.  Increase your communication skills with your customers (especially listening) to increase their engagement, and in return, they will help you through a recession.

You are speaking at ITEXPO which takes place Feb 2-4 2009 in Miami. Why do people need to hear what you say, live and in person?

They are going to get lots of technology dumped on them.  However, technology is only 20 percent of a solution.  Another 50 percent involves people, which means you need engagement.  Other than that, I much prefer a live and lively debate rather than boring and non-personal communication methods.

Make some wild predictions about 2009/10.

Not-so-wild: It will be at least in part better than 2008. 
A-bit-more-wild: We are all going to become more like our teenagers.
Way-out-on-the-wild-side: There is going to be a radical shift in how we do things on the Web.  Something new will cause the Islands of Communities (Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, LinkedIn, Plaxo, yada yada yada) to begin to interact explosively.  Of course, someone said the same thing of instant messaging and we still can’t really have AOL people talking with MSN people.

Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor-in-Chief of TMC. In addition, he is the Chairman of the world’s best-attended communications conference, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (ITEXPO). He is also the author of his own communications and technology blog.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi