Thursday, April 30, 2009

Design and the Contact Centre

It's a hectic week, which is why I haven't had a chance to blog until now about the radio program I heard on Sunday night.

I was listening to the BBC's "In Business" program and it was one of those thought provoking epiphanies. The program was focused on how design should influence business and there's a good summary on the presenter's blog.

Now, design is something that manufacturers think about for products, but how many contact centres consider it? When we think of customer experience, it tends to be owned (if at all) by the marketing department. Yet, as Peter Day's program makes clear, customer experience could be tackled by designers equally well or perhaps better.

A brief think about Apple and their design led approach suggests that there might be a lot of merit to this approach. I would argue that Apple is not that technically superior to most of its competitors (though it is very good), but that Apple are light years ahead of the competition in looking at design as a way of driving the whole customer experience. Yet until Apple started getting serious market momentum, most of IT was led by a marketing based approach to features and functions.

What really interests me is what would happen to the contact centre if it were to take a design led approach to it's functions. I think it's something I should spend more time thinking about. IT seems to tie in very well to two other subjects dear to the blog's heart, brand and process (see posts like: "Barclays, silent calling & we've been here before... " for brand and "System Integrators write interesting things about contact centre for the downturn!" for some thoughts on process).

In the meantime, though, it's off to catch the 6am flight to Edinburgh.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another outbound call that worked for me.....

I think it's like buses, you wait for ages for one and then two come along at once.

In the same way, I've complained about poor outbound calling for ages, and then have received two good outbound calls. The last one was from my utility company (see blog post: " Getting a good cold call ...and from a utility company too! "), this one was from my television provider.

Again it was a smarter offer than most cold calls. It offered me something I'd been thinking about doing (upgrading my package to watch the British Lions vs. South Africa rugby union test series) but I probably wouldn't have got round to doing. Instead with a bit of a nudge and quite a bit of a discount, I did.

I'm not sure if this was good use of analytics to identify customers by interests, but it was a well timed call with a good offer. Not rocket science, but still something beyond much of the witless automated outbound dialling that goes on in the UK market.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Happy holidays - and bad news on jobs

It's time for the Easter break across most of Europe but, welcome as a holiday is, the news on jobs stays grim.

For every story like that of Sallie Mae returning offshore jobs (covered on the blog earlier this week in the post "Sallie Mae - Customer service or protectionism? "), there is another side.

The BBC is reporting that T-Mobile is looking to offshore 500 UK contact centre jobs to the Philippines. This comes in the same fortnight that the UK CCF site reported that Virgin Media was looking to shed 150 jobs in its Nottingham Telesales operation.

Compared to the massive job losses reported at the banks (e.g. 9,000 at Royal Bank of Scotland) this may not seem much, but 650 call centre jobs is significant and the losses seem to be steady. All we can hope for is that things look a bit better after the Easter break.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sallie Mae - Customer service or protectionism?

An interesting story on Finextra that Sallie Mae is looking to bring back onshore around 2,000 jobs.

It's a trend that so far in Europe has been primarily associated with customer service. I've covered some other business that have brought work back onshore in previous posts (see "Despite the credit crunch, still call centre growth at Barclays" or "HSBC creates 250 UK call centre jobs & offshore in decline"), and in the UK this trend for onshoring has also been the case for non-financial services companies like Orange.

The main reason up to know for taking previously offshored work back onshore has been problems with customer service. This hasn't necessarily been a language competence issue (though sometimes it has been) but has been primarily about how agents' accents, soft-skills and cultural awareness have not always tied into the image a brand has wanted to project. It's also been the case that a broken customer service processes don't get fixed just by moving country. There is also little point for a firm to spend a great deal on marketing if the media regularly cite them as an example of poor customer service.

Sallie Mae, though, seems to be the first example of what might be a new trend. Their CEO is quite explicit that this drive back onshore has nothing to do with customer service, and is quoted in the Finextra article as saying:

"The current economic environment has caused our communities to struggle with job losses. They need jobs, and we will put 2000 of them into US facilities as soon as we possibly can,"

Sallie Mae does need to be attractive to politicians in the market it serves, but that need is not just confined to US financial institutions at the moment. It will be interesting to see if this drive back onshore to win favour with national politicians becomes a trend. Often it is some of the European countries who are most associated with protectionism, but my view is that this will only work for the countries that do it if it also gives customers better service.

Monday, April 06, 2009

VoiceCon 2009 - Now that the dust has settled, and IBM and Microsoft

So what to make of VoiceCon 2009 Orlando?

There didn't seem to be the major announcements that we got in 2008 (see: "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect ") but in some ways I think we saw events of more significance.

The first thing is that Microsoft are in this business and are in it seriously. Last year's announcements, while significant, suggested that partnering was the key to Microsoft getting into the voice business. This year the revolutionary aspects of Microsoft's arguments were much more explicit. I rather liked their key-note session. It made one or two very key points that as voice moves from a hardware based solution to a software centric solution, it changes dramatically and that this is the logical evolution of VoIP. I also liked the fact that their demo used a Mac running Safari to Microsoft compatibility. I'm not normally a fan of Microsoft, but I felt they did make the more insightful points. I remain dubious about their ability to execute, but then so were the TDM vendors about IP Telephony! The video is worth checking out:

IBM also did a good pitch, around their UC2 solution from Louts. I liked the blue screen of death April Fool's hoax, but otherwise I felt that they were showing an evolution of Lotus Sametime rather than the more radical changes that Microsoft had in their vision.

In short, I think this software-centric approach to voice is the vision of the future. Whether or not it will be delivered by Microsoft is open to debate, but this was a far more visionary view than the alliances of last year.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

VoiceCon Orlando 2009 - Day 1 & Day 2

The blog is not at VoiceCon this year (travel restrictions as part of the global downturn), but I'm taking a keen interest at long range. Fortunately for those of us not able to travel, the VoiceCon 2009 site is running a good series of videos of all the key note speakers.

Last year saw some big announcements (covered in my blog post "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect ") but so far these haven't translated into much market change. To be sure Microsoft continues to push with OCS and has a developing Unified Communications story but I have yet to see them get significant traction in Europe. Microsoft and IBM go today, so it will be interesting to see if there are any major announcements from them.

Yesterday it Cisco and Avaya (among others) doing the key note speeches.

Avaya announced the launch of their new solution architecture 'Avaya Aura'. I have to say that at the end of it I was slightly underwhelmed. It seemed good but not as radical as some of their previous SOA type of messaging. There's a very good summary of Avaya Aura on the site from Shelia McGee-Smith.

Cisco's key note was by the CTO, Padmasree Warrior, and focused on the interaction between collaboration, social networks and video. This was illustrated with a (fairly lighthearted) scenario showing how these could be applied to health care. It also showcased real-time translation which is rather gee-whiz stuff, though probably going to be necessary in the future if conversations between different language speakers are to take place.

In short, so far all very interesting, but nothing terribly radical. We'll see if any of that changes with today's presentations. Even if there aren't major changes, it's clear that VoiceCon remains the main event for most of the world's voice industry.