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Unlike virtually every other IT company, Genesys’ recent G-Force EMEA conference in Prague stayed resolutely away from technology, despite the recent release of a major upgrade to its core technology. Customers, benefits and industry trends were to the fore.

Two decades in and one decade from its launch European customer event in Prague the Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Applications company Genesys returned to the city. More than 1,000 customers of the leader in customer service applications met with partners and experts with global quality customer implementations with BT, Emirates Airlines, Orange, T-Mobile UK and Swedbank forming the heart of the general sessions.

For once, despite a number of technology sponsors and the availability of the innovative Genesys Conversation Manager, technology discussions were sidelined in favour of customer experience and a timeline of how far the call centre space has evolved over the last 20 years.

The game changer, as keynote speaker Tom Eggemeier, GM of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise EMEA, explained was that “service centres now talk to thousands of millions of people in real time”.

Social networking, he explained, is changing the relationship of customer or potential customer to company. “We now trust our peers more than we trust companies. There’s a ‘loyalty loop’ that companies need to be aware of.” Take as an example, he suggested the event hotel, the Hilton Prague. One Tripadvisor.com, the hotel has received 500 reviews – some good, some not so good. “But each one has had a response on-line by a Hilton manager – that’s an excellent example of responding to what we call crowd sourcing.”

So social media is changing the way people do business. Most of us get that. But what does it mean to the call centre? “You have to catch up to where your customers are, to how involved they are in it. The problem you face is that you don’t hold the history of social media customers and all the advances to the call centre industry over the last decade need to be carried forward into the call centre space.”

Those advanced have been matched by the major releases of Genesys’ main product – in the 1990s when the industry was focused on phone calls, Genesys 6 (G6) focused on that; in the 2000s, G7 moved to interaction; and now, in the 2010s, G8 is all about ‘the conversation’. That is, the combination of interactions between customer and business through social networking, call centre activity, personal contact, the Internet, back office operations and mobile contact.

“The reality is that with social media, our ability to proact has really increased,” stressed Paul Segre, President of Alcalel-Lucent Applications Group. “The issue we’re facing is that a customer’s experience may be by voice, text, chat, Web, scanned documents and so on, but the links between a company’s departments such as back office or marketing and the contact centre are not always clear.”

So the problem is simple: modern forms of customer interaction are not being recorded by contact centre staff and so valueable customer data is lost. “We need to track individual interactions across communications channels and time.”

In effect, the contact centre is merely facing the same issues that other parts of the business are facing coping with so-called ‘big data’ – the largely unstructured information that modern forms of communication and interaction are throwing up. Business analysis – and therefore better response to customer – means that we need to fully understand customers. It’s not rocket science, but for many businesses it still seems a step too far. The reality of creating, recording and then analysing an end-to-end view of customer interaction over time is daunting.

“But it’s important,” stresses Segre. “In contact centres, people represent 60-70% of the cost but 100% of customer satisfaction. They need the right tools to deliver.”

This is important because there seems to be decreasing correlation between customers’ experience and loyalty, according to recent research. Does this mean that we should stop trying to delight our customers, asks Nicolas de Kouchkovsky, CMO of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise? “No, but we need to understand the changing nature of loyalty. Good service is now expected whilst bad service is increasingly being punished and the word on that going out through social media – the notion of social vitriol. The truth is that the notion of customer service has dramatically improved over the last two decades but the bar of expectation has been significantly raised.”

If excellence is a given, then we need to understand what it is that customers want, de Kouchkovsky believes. “They expect you to be reachable through multiple channels. They expect you to be responsive – the right resource with the right knowledge. They expect your response to be relevant to them. And, finally, they expect you to know who they are. All this means you need to personalise the interaction based on historical context and shift from a multi-channel approach to customers to a cross-channel one.”

As an example of the new way that customers expect to be dealt with, he spoke of the US-based Zipcar, a fully digital car hire service. Based solely on mobile phone usage, the service finds the nearest location of a suitable car, sends GPS directions to the site, unlocks the remotely when you arrive and does the opposite at the end of the flexible rental period. The whole operation is mobile – there is no human interaction at all.

“What we’re understanding now is that the smartphone is a hub – voice, text, video, Internet and, increasingly, a notification channel and directory. So the challenge we face is scaling customer service across new channels. That doesn’t mean that your job will get easier but that conversation is a model that can help.”

A typical customer interaction, for example, might take place over five channels. Firstly, a customer browses and checks products and services over the Net, then speaks to an call centre agent before using social media to make some checks. That’s three channels already with an SMS query and a face-to-face meeting with a specialist making up the five.

And feedback on the interaction at any of those points or the business’ inability to link e-mail queries with an agent conversation, for example, make ideal fodder for potentially helpful or harmful Twitter conversations.

“What this means is that we need to virtualise access to all parts of the customer-facing experience. A customer sees a seamless conversation but it’s not easy to deliver. A recent project with United Airlines, for instance, meant combining 35 different apps in order to make customer context universally accessible. The shift we need to make is from an interaction-driven business to a conversation-linked one.”

Judging from the animated discussion between sessions, it seemed to me that the conversation had begun already.








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