|Latin America 2008
|Trends you can’t ignore
|President, Verint Americas Inc.
Elan Moriah is President of Verint Americas Inc. and a Corporate Officer of Verint Systems. Prior to joining Verint, Mr Moriah held various management positions with Motorola, including as Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Motorola’s paging subsidiary in Israel. Mr Moriah also worked for Comet Software Inc., as Vice President of Marketing and Sales and as Operations Manager.
Surfing trends ahead of the curve can bring real competitive advantages. There are risks and costs, especially for the earliest adopters, using pieces of solutions from various vendors that have yet to be tested in practice, but it can be worth the risk. Three ICT trends are likely to have a significant impact upon businesses in the near future: analytics and data mining; Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and unified communications (UC); convergence of service delivery tools and workforce optimization (WFO).
The ground-breaking technological advancements in the last century have brought revolutionary changes in our day-to-day lives, as well as how we conduct business in a global economy. Not surprisingly, business executives often worry about the next Big Things that are going to impact their organizations. Regardless of the size of their organizations or the industry they are part of, executives tend to focus on two critical questions: How will we manage these changes? and, How can we make them work in our favour? While some technology can arise abruptly and have significant market impact – portable digital music and email come to mind – the vast majority of change in the corporate world develops over time before moving into mainstream practice. This is especially true in the technology sector, where comparatively few innovations are developed in silence and launched to an astonished and unprepared market. That is because unprepared correlates closely with unbudgeted, and few businesses have unallocated funds stashed away to invest in new, unfamiliar technology, regardless of its purported sophistication and potential return on investment. We all need to plan ahead. So, in the interest of planning ahead, what is on the technological horizon for your business? What trends should you be anticipating and planning for over the next year or two? Here are four that you should keep at the top of your list: Trend 1: Analytics and data-mining go mainstream – As markets grow increasingly competitive, organizations are revisiting the customer data they have captured in recorded interactions to glean valuable information that has previously gone untapped. Typically collected in the contact centre, recorded customer interactions historically have been used for internal purposes, such as monitoring the quality of service provided by agents or ascertaining how quickly calls are answered. Now, enterprises are taking an external perspective and examining the interactions captured for customer complaints, issues, trends, and more. Analytics solutions help simplify the process. Speech analytics convert recorded speech into data that can be searched and categorized, enabling businesses to quickly discover trends and other useful information, such as references to competitors, among thousands of calls. The technology to do this has grown quite robust. Not surprisingly, demand for these solutions in the contact centre and the greater enterprise is expected to increase substantially. Datamonitor projects that speech analytics will become an essential enterprise tool, with a market escalating from US$79 million in 2007 to US$255 million by 2013. 1 Other contact centre analytics that can help drive your business include data analytics, which examine all of the data associated with a call or Web contact to provide new insight into specific scenarios that might be helping or hurting overall contact centre performance. In doing so, data analytics can find problems or issues that you may be unaware of, as well as provide insight into their root cause. This level of information is a far cry from traditional contact centre metrics, which merely show what is happening in the centre, as opposed to why. Another form of analytics, customer feedback surveys, takes a new approach to an old problem: polling customers to solicit their opinions about some aspect of your business. Paper surveys, and most phone surveys, generally produce very poor response rates, often with unacceptable lag times between when the surveys are administered and when the results are tabulated. Customer feedback analytics use surveys that are delivered immediately after the phone or Web interaction. When the service representative has finished providing assistance, he or she asks if the customer would like to provide input on the quality of the experience, and then passes those who agree to the feedback system. The immediacy, relevancy, and personal approach of the request – coupled with a very small set of survey questions – tend to result in better customer participation and immediate response times. Leveraged properly, speech, data, and customer feedback analytics can provide organizations with a significant competitive advantage. Since contact centres are the primary source of this data, it stands to reason that they will play an increasingly strategic role in the analytics-driven enterprise. This implies a change in mindset, and skills, for contact centre executives, who will need to think beyond traditional quality reporting metrics and focus on broader aspects of enterprise service delivery. Trend 2: Breaking enterprise silos with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) – Cheap bandwidth and aging telephone switches have helped drive the movement to VoIP. In 2007, a Forrester Research survey of enterprises in North America and Europe reported increased spending on IP telephony desktop equipment and services, with most respondents reporting that they expected to complete their migrations within five years. 2 There’s more to VoIP than reduced costs for toll calls. By enabling voice and data to be routed seamlessly throughout the organization, VoIP can link contact centres with branch offices and back-office operations, enabling them to share information and applications. In fact, the VoIP handset and network can bring different forms of communication together into a single interface. In industry parlance, this is unified communications (UC) and it represents a radically different way of doing business. Imagine using your phone to begin a billing process, to collaborate with colleagues across the globe using a single interface to share voice, video, and data. Also, use presence awareness – the ability to transmit employee availability and willingness to communicate – to help route service calls from your overloaded technical support unit to any available, appropriate, expert elsewhere in your organization. This does not just mean employees sitting at desks within your facilities. VoIP can make homeshoring – the practice of using at-home agents or employees – economically viable. The potential benefits are undeniable, but so is the impact on employees and traditional business practices. Organizational procedures tend to be built around functional silos – accounting, marketing, sales, order processing, and so forth. There is generally an established, logical flow for processes, along with rules of engagement, either tacit or explicit, for how one silo interacts with another. These practices may have to be reinvented in a unified environment, where everyone, from executives to field staff to back-office employees, is reachable via multiple means of communication. What happens when the marketing department reviews contact centre analytics data and spots an order processing issue that is adversely affecting the results of its latest promotion? How will the engineering team in Singapore react when a critical system goes down in Philadelphia, and customer support passes the overflow of calls on to them? How do we manage, train, and evaluate employees in remote offices scattered around Europe? Trend 3: Service Delivery Tools Converge – As different forms of communications media converge, the tools used in delivering customer service converge as well. These tools typically include workforce management software, which is used to forecast workload and schedule agents in the contact centre; quality monitoring and recording software to capture and evaluate customer interactions; performance management tools, such as scorecards and the aforementioned analytics showing staff performance against key performance indicators; and eLearning software that makes training available on the employee desktop. Many contact centres have implemented some or all of these disparate pieces of functionality as their requirements and budgets have dictated. Many of them have also incurred the integration and maintenance challenges posed by making the software from one vendor communicate with equipment and software from others. Now, these disparate collections of equipment and software are being brought together into workforce optimization (WFO) solutions. The most comprehensive solutions take a unified approach, allowing the functionality to work together seamlessly while adding analytics, along with functionality tailored to the special needs of branch, remote, and back-office operations. The benefit is a WFO solution suite that can enable better, more cost-effective service delivery across the enterprise. It is a far more holistic – and realistic – approach than focusing exclusively on the contact centre, which often has little or no insight into the other areas of the organization that can deeply influence the customer experience. Additional advantages include simplified administration and maintenance. With benefits such as these, it is not surprising that organizations are increasingly adopting WFO solutions in their customer service centres. Gartner estimates that revenue from the combined functional domains with a WFO suite exceeded US$1 billion in 2006 and will achieve a 9.3 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2011. 3 From trends to reality Okay, you have identified some of the trends that can impact your business in the near future. Now what? Resist the temptation to make decisions as an island within your organization. Virtually every trend listed above involves exchanging information beyond a particular functional area or silo. Given the complex nature of most organizations, you are going to need input from a variety of internal resources to understand the pros, cons, and implications of accommodating and capitalizing on trends. In addition to gathering information on your own, call in vendors and consultants who can help you define and clarify your requirements, and then explain how their technology can help you meet them. Your requirements should drive the deployment, not vice versa. Look for vendors who have a track record of stability and innovation, defined implementation and support methodologies, and a history of successful deployments. While it is obvious that you will need to plan your budget, don’t forget to think about the impact of new technology on your people, processes, and customers. Their ‘buy-in’ is critical to helping your organization turn the next Big Thing into a resounding success.