Friends and colleagues of journalists believe we live charmed lives, forever travelling round the world in business class, hosted at the finest hotels and restaurants by companies eager to share exclusives with us and us alone, our every whim catered to by subservient PR flunkeys. And all we have to do in return is generate 500 perfectly formed words for our magazine or newspaper.
Except it’s not like that, at least not in the IT industry.
Here’s a dose of reality, based on a recent trip to Prague. Beautiful city, by the way. There are many good reasons to travel there but food is not one of them.
It began, as always, with a panic call from a PR company. “Dave, can you go to Prague next week for a user conference?” I am, flatteringly, often the go-to-guy for these events, the possession of a British passport meaning that visa complications – especially to Europe and the US – do not affect fairly spontaneous travel. I agree and then, knowing how travel plans made by others are usually a nightmare, sort out an itinerary – thankfully Emirates had just started direct flights. I start negotiating with European PR over a hotel room, airport transfer, interview slots and so on, all the while conscious the “you must register for the conference on-line” imperative is impossible to obey as on-line registration has closed. I hope for the best, get my ticket and, the afternoon before an early flight, details of the hotel.
The event is the annual European user conference for Genesys, an Alcatel-Lucent company leading the call centre space, an area of the industry growing in importance across the region as more and more enterprises realise that satisfied customers are more likely to be repeat customers. By the time I check into my hotel in central Prague, a whole working day out of touch has resulted in over 350 e-mails to deal with. No chance to look around the city…
Late afternoon, we transfer to the main convention hotel – we’re in the overspill – for what is encouragingly referred to as a welcome reception. As usual, it’s an overcrowded exhibition hall with too many people trying to relax under hot spotlights whilst harassed waitresses try to reach us all with drinks. Another PR to meet. A chance for a quick look at exhibitors and to note, amongst exhibitors and attendees, a lot of enthusiasm for this market sector – people are sharing success stories instead of listening to problems, which is more common at these events.
And then the usual tedious of gathering people for the relevant buses – we’re all split into regional groups for a dinner on the town. As always, this seems to take half an hour but then we’re off to a stylish restaurant overlooking the river. The group of about 25 represents Middle East and Africa consisting of Genesys and Alcatel-Lucent staff, customers and a handful of press. By this stage it’s more than 15 hours since leaving my apartment and I need to relax – so too do most of my table from Genesys, BT and RakBank. The food is good but in tiny portions and glacially slow to arrive – four hours to deliver four courses.
Back to the hotel, up early for registration and then the keynote. Our one perk as media is that we get reserved seats at the front – yes, just where the bright lights are so the PR people can keep an eye on us! I won’t really detail the event – see the Analysis section in our July issue – except to say it begins bizarrely with a kind of flash mob – random individuals stand, have a spotlight thrown on them and start singing what feels like a Czech liberation song, though for a moment it feels uncomfortably like the scene in ‘Cabaret’ where the Hitler Youth rather spoil the mood at a country inn. On stage leap crazed drummers. The singers form a choir and Tom Eggemeier, GM of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise EMEA, joins them with a giant red flag before beginning the start-off session.
The morning passes in a blur – trying to understand the call centre market, taking notes from the presentations for my article, tweeting interesting quotes. Very unusually for an event like this, there is very little focus on technology or on Genesys’ achievements – normally companies take the opportunity of an auditorium of customers to play some hard ball selling. Instead, the Genesys execs are focusing on how customers are benfitting (great stuff) and on trends in the market.
The key message, which of course ties in with the latest release of Genesys’ core offering, is that a customer’s interactions with a company need to be unified – it’s no longer good enough to have separate siloes of information such as back office, or call centre, or support. In the same way that the big data players are now stressing the importance of capturing ‘big data’ – that’s the unstructured stuff from social media and on-line access, for example – so too a call centre’s multiple interactions with a single customers need to be consolidated to give a holistic view of the relationship. Genesys are branding this next-gen approach as ‘start the conversation and it certainly makes a lot of sense to me and, when I have a number of impromptu conversations though the day, to customers and potential customers too.
Finally, lunchtime! However, the press office provides the only opportunity to get on-line, catch up with e-mails and do some research for my afternoon interviews. A quickly snatched plate of food is interrupted – journalists are easy press for company representatives who see an ideal opportunity to proselytise!
So, escape to an interview for the Emirates case study – again, see this issue – before rushing back to the press office for the promised one on one with President Paul Segre, whose ‘just off the plane’, spontaneous presentation had been a morning highspot. Except he’s running late. How late we’re not sure, so it’s risky to go off to listen to more presentations or revisit the exhibition. A chance to relax for a minute, have a cup of tea.
Paul arrives and our promised short spell together stretches, which is good news, but also means I miss the late afternoon break-out session that looked particularly interesting on 360 degree customer engagement.
Finally, escape! In the evening is a giant party – 1,200 delegates wining and dining in sumptuous surroundings with visual entertainment and music promised. I hate these things – too formal, too forced so I beg off to have some quick time to catch my breath. I discover Zinc restaurant, on the site of Gordon Ramsay’s ill-fated Maze and with many of the same staff. A pleasant two hours reading the paper, enjoying good food and not thinking about the IT industry! Then more e-mails before sleep.
My return flight to Dubai means I have to leave the city for the airport around midday so next morning there are a couple of hours free to wander the old town and realise I want to come back to really see the city. But there’s a final twist: at check-out, there’s no record that my room is being paid by Genesys and I have a frantic ten minutes phoning around to get someone to talk to the hotel. That’s done but I can’t face another $45 taxi to the airport. I descend into Prague’s metro and five stops and a bus later I’m at the airport, all for just $1.50!
So, not quite as exotic as you may have thought perhaps. And, with three days out of the office, there’s work to catch up with as well as the case study and event report to write, as well as this blog.
Phew! The jetsetter life…