TMC (News - Alert) this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going. We’re also rebranding and retooling our customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Daniel Taylor, vice president of operations at Vocalabs.
The bootstrap startup that launched for business in November 2001 sells immediate live agent surveys that are tied to a specific customer experience, along with reporting services to companies interested in increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. The company’s clients include major brands in key service industries and retail.
What’s your own professional background? How does it relate to the customer contact/customer service/customer management space?
Taylor: In college I paid the bills working off-shift front-line technical support, so I got a crash course in what can go right and wrong where the company meets the customer. After working my way through the tech industry in various roles, I got the opportunity to help Peter Leppik start Vocalabs with the intent of making that front line experience better for everyone involved. In the past 10 years we have worked with all sorts of companies and processed information on hundreds of thousands of real customer experiences in addition to more lab-style IVR evaluations.
We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What has been the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?
Taylor: No question that it's automation, and the attendant realization that automation has its limits.
In the past decade?
Taylor: The dramatic accumulation of a critical mass of non-technical people using the Internet has opened up new opportunities and risks for companies.
In the recent past?
Taylor: Social media is a deeply disruptive technology for businesses and their customers; it has never been easier for individuals to get the word out to their social contacts in the event of a particularly good or bad experience. The formation of stronger communities around celebrity influencers in particular means that individual experiences that meant little merely a decade ago get amplified rapidly and to dramatic extent.
When and why did the trend toward call center offshoring take off?
Taylor: Call center offshoring is mainly an artifact of improved telecommunications and telecommunications competition making it both possible and affordable to set up call centers in regions where there was significant economic advantage.
Is the tide turning on call center offshoring?
Taylor: It may not be turning but it appears to have crested.
Taylor: The economic advantages to offshoring are not as great as they once were, and the management challenges involved are significant. Additionally there is considerable customer disenchantment with offshored call centers. These forces appear to have come into balance finally, so any dramatic changes to the offshoring environment are only likely to come with changes in the conditions that make it desirable.
How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center?
Taylor: Data networks have begun a dramatic transformation of the call center, creating previously inconceivable arrangements such as distributed customer contact organizations that don't have a call center to speak of at all. The ready availability of relevant customer data in many organizations also improves the efficiency of call center agents, allowing them to provide better service more quickly.
How is CRM changing?
Taylor: CRM exists now for many companies that relied solely on rolodexes and personal organizers only a few short years ago. The introduction of hosted CRM solutions has brought the concept into small and medium-sized companies for whom previous solutions were simply out of reach, and allowed better coordination for organizations that were previously dependent on specialized, proprietary CRM solutions in different divisions. This has also allowed the tie in of previously disconnected services such as Vocalabs surveys directly into the CRM processes.
How is WFM changing?
Taylor: For larger companies, the availability of resources like Vocalabs surveys and real-time reports are providing a return to a level of small shop immediacy, with managers at all levels having rapid access to performance measures of front-line employee's contacts with customers. This allows for much more immediate and effective rewards and retraining.
How is marketing changing?
Taylor: As a more technical person I'm not all that close to how this looks to marketing people, but I do know that in our marketing buys we have all the old choices with an ever-expanding array of channels to consider.
How is the rise of cloud computing affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Taylor: For client companies it means more powerful tools are available at a lower cost to the efficiencies of shared resources. For cloud and SaaS (News - Alert) companies like us it means managing a higher level of computing resources than would be needed if we were shipping software and data out to our clients in a more traditional manner, and being able to provide them with services that would be impossible in the old annual release and quarterly data world.
How is the increased use and comfort level with video affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Taylor: This is an area we are still exploring. We focus mainly on telephone and in-person interactions, and there is still a lot less immediacy in video interactions, though that is changing with on-line video calls being accessible to more and more people.
What new tools and practices are businesses using to better leverage their own and/or outside data to target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Taylor: I like to think that our reporting engine, with or without surveys attached, can be such a tool for an increasing number of companies. For us it is heavy duty tools such as large capacity Xeon servers running sophisticated application delivery platforms like Apache Tomcat on Azul's Zing JVM that have made delivering desktop-level responsiveness in a hosted application possible.
How is the mobile boom affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Taylor: It's taking all the rest and making it even more immediate and personal. There's a lot of change still to come as more people integrate smartphones into their lives.
What other key trends are you seeing as it relates to how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Taylor: There's a lot of fascinating work going on in data analysis with companies getting serious about meeting their customers' needs. Combined with the increased contact and more continuous access it is clear that we have only seen the start of some very dramatic changes in how we do business.