Katie Sillo: Can you start by providing us with an overview on Altivon as well as your role within the organization?
Frank Tersigni: Altivon is a boutique systems-integration firm specializing in customer interaction and customer-experience solutions. Our particular expertise is in enhancing customer-facing operations to support whatever strategic objective a company may have, and we focus specifically on the contact center. One of the things that is unique about us is that we work exclusively with Interactive Intelligence as the software platform as the underlying foundation for our solution. We’ve been at this for almost 25 years, and though we’re headquartered in Phoenix we have operations and customers and deployments throughout North America and internationally.
My role at Altivon is Executive Vice President of Business Development, which makes me responsible for all the sales, marketing and strategic relationships for the company. The fact that I’ve got some very good people working with me allows for a fair amount of time focusing and understanding the implications of current trends like social media and mobile customer service, their impact on customer experience management and how to use them for our customers’ advantage.
Over the last several years the customer experience has evolved exponentially in order to meet a customer’s needs. What key changes have you seen, especially in regards to the contact center?
The big thing we’ve seen is that the conversation has elevated significantly, and it’s now not an unusual discussion to have at the c-level of an organization. There is a growing recognition that customer care and customer experience have become the last area of competition that companies have to differentiate themselves and to build a strategic competitive advantage. With globalization, the availability of information and the low barrier for entry for most companies, it’s increasingly difficult to compete on product or price as a means of having a profitable, longstanding business. So the only remaining way for companies to attract and keep customers, in my and many people’s opinion, is to give them a positive and memorable differentiated experience when dealing with them.
With that growing recognition of the importance of customer experience, the contact center now plays a critical role in impacting brand, image, customer loyalty and ultimately the financial performance of the company. It’s become a really important part of the discussion. It’s amazing to me how many CEOs of publically traded companies now write in their annual reports about their desire to be number one in terms of customer satisfaction; it has risen on almost everybody’s agenda. We’ve even seen the creation of a new c-level position – Chief Customer Officer – and I don’t think this is all lip service. And a key part of that program is to have a really strong contact center and customer-experience program. With that said, the big changes in the contact center include deploying solutions that take advantage of more flexible and holistic software based technology like Interactive’s to facilitate an improved customer experience. Things like centralizing multiple contact centers to better utilize agent resources for lower hold times, actually implementing multimedia queuing for email, web chat and text messaging in addition to voice to address the needs of younger customers, using outbound as a means of follow up and proactive customer care, offering callbacks in queue to again better satisfy the timing needs of customers and very tight integrations to back office systems to improve First Call Resolution rates. One of the more exciting technologies is real time speech analytics which allows the system to recognize key words and phrases uttered by the caller and or the agent and react in real time – with alerts to supervisors, with suggested script pop ups for the agent, for simple marking for subsequent analysis. The big point is that this allows us now to actually impact the customer experience in the moment for the first time and that is extremely exciting.
How has technology paved the way for this evolution, including social media platforms and its promotion for this new wave of mobile?
One of the other reasons that this has gotten a lot of attention at the c-level is because social media has been on everybody’s tongues for the last couple of years. And everybody’s heard the stories about how an individual with an unhappy experience now has an incredible megaphone on the social network – whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Google+ – to tell thousands if not millions of people about it. Unfortunately the bad experience gets more attention than the good. So folks at the c-level are starting to realize that they need to pay attention to that, and the best way to do that in our opinion is through the contact center with people who have always been that part of the organization that has dealt with customer complaints. Technology allows organizations to effectively monitor these social networks to see if their brand is being talked about, and then turn those blogs or posts or tweets into interactions that get sent into the contact center and given to the right person with the right skills at the right time to handle in the most appropriate way.
So that’s been a big reason for the elevation of the game, and the technology around this social networking world has driven that. What’s more interesting to me is that while social media has gotten a lot of attention, I think more people are realizing now that the mobility and the use of mobile customer service is absolutely going to be a bigger shift in terms of what that means for our customers and for customer care and experience. People ask if it’s social media that created the wave of mobility, or is it that mobility has created the wave of social media? It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg situation. One can surmise that the ability for smartphone users to access and post to social networks via a mobile app has increased the use of mobile devices and online social networks, so it’s a symbiotic relationship. But the natural fallout is that a lot of organizations have created mobile applications for their customers because so many people get access to information via the smartphones now, and that’s where the big impact on customer care and customer experience is going to come from in our opinion.
Going a bit deeper into the whole mobile theme, what do organizations need to do in order to successfully incorporate mobile into their business?
We’ve been getting asked that question a lot. The most common high-level discussion we’re having with the customers and prospects is around mobility. In terms of successfully incorporating it, we really believe that this is about putting customer care and customer experience in the center of the discussion about mobile applications. Right now most organizations have marketing running the mobile app projects, and those mobile apps are terrific and we’ve all got them from our airlines, our banks and companies that we do business with personally. However, what’s interesting is that oftentimes the customer-service of it is not really dealt with. You get to the end of an app or at the end of trying to book a flight or a banking transaction, and if you need help you have to call a 1-800 number which is not the most satisfying treatment at that point and in fact can be extremely frustrating.
So putting customer care and the customer-experience team with the marketing folks is one of the first steps that needs to happen, so that everyone is in the same room and talking about the complete holistic experience. The second thing is they need to start preparing for the new customer conversation. All these things for mobile, web, voice, chat and eventually video, the mobile app and the website will become one and the same; they will look identical. We’ll need to access and manipulate the same data and the same data sources and the same information we’ve always had. Consumers are going to expect to be able to transition from mobile and web self-service to chat, and to speaking to agents and back and forth seamlessly, with all the information being transferred. So they expect that the interaction they go through next will include the context from the last interaction they had, regardless of the channel they were in. Those are things that you need to start preparing for in terms of incorporating mobile into your organization.
So while technology will allow the immediacy of data, this can be an issue for organizations struggling to organize and analyze this extensive amount of data. So what can corporations do to ensure the data is collected, organized and used efficiently?
Yes this is a really big issue, and it’s difficult to overcome for large companies. But there are options out there. There are a number of business-intelligence solutions, both stand-alone and within CRM suites, that are attempting to deliver that insight. But the challenge requires some very specific considerations be given to the strategic objective use of that information. Oftentimes people are just trying to collect this massive amount of data and read something into it, instead of sitting back and asking what are they trying to do? How do we think it will change our service, our product and how we interact with our customers, as opposed to a broad-brushed approach?
There are a couple of really interesting technology initiatives in the early stage that will allow the use of these insights by tying into a bunch of different databases and business-intelligence systems in the moment of the transaction, so the customer experience can be improved as it happens, as opposed to doing it after the fact and then trying to change something moving forward. Actually trying to impact the experience as it happens is ideally the way you want to use this information.
Could you provide an example of a leader who is successfully utilizing mobile?
The first comment I will make is, what does one mean by successfully using mobile? There are a number of mobile apps that deliver value to the consumers, but when it comes to applications that deliver true mobile customer service, I’m not aware of any that have really met the mark. In terms of the former, the financial services industry, banks, hotels and airlines certainly have some of the highest demand for frequent interactions and self-service directing to the consumers. So they tend to lead the pack in terms of the quality of the mobile app. They basically have some of the characteristics that we look for such as consistent capabilities across the different channels. You’re allowed to do a lot of the same things on the mobile app as you can on the website or in the IVR within reason. Where they still fail is in the ability to transition between these and have the conversational context remain intact.
But those are pretty high standards, and there aren’t many that meet those just yet. Now it’s moving so incredibly quickly that I wouldn’t be surprised to soon see some deployments that met these characteristics. The industry’s just recognizing that this is so hugely important to their competitive positioning and customer loyalty that they’re getting or not getting from their customers.
What do you foresee as the next chapter in mobile and customer care?
The next chapter is something that we would call integrated mobile customer care, where you have the ability to seamlessly transition from a web or mobile app to voice and to an agent and back. For example, if you’re in an application and you’re doing an airline reservation and having trouble with it, you go to the next page for help instead of calling a number. You can have a web chat or a texting session with an agent and at some point on video when everyone’s mobile phones are enabled. You get access to that agent and get information from the contact center because it’s integrated, and you know how long the wait will be. If it’s too long, you can schedule a call back. When you do reach an agent live, that agent knows exactly where you’re coming from and what applications and portions of the applications you’re in. If you were trying to book a flight from here to there on this date and ran into a problem, they know all of that information on who you are and where you are using location-based services.
So they’re able to much more quickly deal with your issue. You don’t have to rededicate yourself and explain what you’re trying to do. It’s a very friendly, context-rich transition from a mobile app to a live agent and then back. So let’s say that you want to go back to the offered survey. There’s no reason why that survey can’t be offered on the mobile phone, which is a much easier and quicker way to do it.
So we see a simple construction around the mobile experience and an associated phone call. No more IVR audio menus; it’s all visual. No more trying to remember 1-800 numbers, no more have to repeat context from one interaction channel to the next. If you take advantage of the inherent location-based information available from mobile devices you can do some interesting things as well. There is an opportunity for some truly incredible customer experiences, and technologically we can do all of that now. It’s just a matter of some leaders investing to make this happen and set the example for a higher degree of customer service from the mobile world.
Before we conclude is there anything else that you wish to add?
The key for us is that too many folks are taking a static view in an attempt to do a onetime catch up to better compete in the battleground of customer experience. We think that the right organizations are viewing this as an ongoing process, and they recognize that the market is changing so quickly and consumer demands are changing so quickly that to deploy in a static approach is really a mistake. You need to keep checking your assumptions and keep checking your customers to ensure that are expecting what you think they’re expecting, and only then can you make sure that what you’re delivering is meeting the needs that are out there. As a last word, I would add that this is also a very interesting and fun area of the technology industry that is easy to be passionate about because we are all customers and completely understand what a great customer experience is all about and it is extremely rewarding to help organizations have a positive impact on the experience they are giving their customers.
Frank Tersigni travels more than one hundred days a year, spending time with contact center directors and managers who are taking on the challenges of multi-channel interaction support and social media. These are still early days for many, but the message is clear: customers want to interact with customer support when and how they choose. Tersigni has spent his career helping companies evolve their communication processes—both with customers and internally—as new technology has emerged. He has held executive positions within IBM Canada/LGS, NetDriven Solutions, VoiceGenie Technologies, Genesys Labs and Got Corporation. He was a co-founder of CallPro Canada, a leading provider of multi-media customer interaction management solutions. At Altivon, Tersigni leads a team dedicated to providing the best contact center solution and consulting services for each company’s particular needs.
Katheryn Sillo is a part of the Content and Programming team at Argyle Executive Forum. In this role, Katheryn works on content development and speaker recruitment for events, specializing in the Human Resources space. Additionally, Katheryn oversees the content platform, Argyle Journal. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Journalism and minor in Political Science from Fairfield University, where she was captain of the Division I Rowing Team and on the executive cabinet for the Fairfield University Student Association.