TMC 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 our contact center and customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Andy Lee, CEO, chairman and founder, and Andrew Bereczky, senior vice president of enterprise applications and infrastructure, at Alorica.
How and when was your company established?
Lee: I started the company in 1999. At that time, I saw an opportunity to start a company solely focused on providing a premier level of service to clients’ customers through technology, efficient processes and people. I acquired a contact center with all the equipment and associated people and from there was able to secure our first client based on the belief that we could deliver a better and more efficient customer experience.
We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s (News - Alert) Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What have been some the most important developments in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?
Lee:Without a doubt, the most dramatic development in the contact center arena has been the globalization of delivery centers. The ability to tap into talented labor pools across the globe to serve U.S. consumers changed the landscape very quickly. The fact is, there are thousands of contact center and back office agents in countries outside the U.S., like Philippines, India and the Dominican Republic.
More recently, customer interaction transactions are now a constant and an open, engaging, two-way approach. Customer involvement happens at all times, in all places and through a variety of communication avenues including texting, social media, community forums, etc. It is a very open dialogue where the company no longer controls the message. Companies are more open to listening to their customers, gaining their input, involving them in product decision to define strategy. It is a much more involved and interactive approach. Some companies understand the value of these interactions and are making investments into delivering a better customer experience.
When and why did the trend toward call center offshoring take off?
Lee: The concept and practice of offshoring outside of our industry has been around for a several decades. However, in our industry several key contributing factors helped with the evolution of offshoring in the later 90s early 2000s. Countries like India and the Philippines built an education system which supported, and encouraged, the development of an English speaking workforce. We encountered the Y2K scare which created a sudden demand for IT talent from all over the world – and therefore a level of comfort with this talent. At the same time, the world experienced the explosion of the Internet, along with a boom in telecommunications capacity and capability that made offshoring much cheaper and communications between the U.S. and offshore locations much more efficient. The confluence of available workforce, first-hand experiences, global connectivity and stable and willing governments made for the perfect environment.
Is the tide turning on call center offshoring?
Lee: There has been a definite slowing of growth rates associated with offshoring. However, companies still pursue the concept where it makes sense. It is important to understand that we live in a globally connected and competitive marketplace. To compete today, companies have to find the best sources of differentiation. Sometimes, this comes from locales outside the U.S. – and at other times within the U.S. At Alorica, we have a very large U.S. domestic contact center infrastructure – employing over 15,000 people in the U.S. We are obviously bullish about creating new jobs in the U.S.
How is CRM changing?
Lee: CRM in the traditional sense is changing from customer relationship management to customer experience management. No longer does it suffice to simply know a lot about your customer or have a 360-degree view. Today, it is about managing a set of experiences across multiple interfaces – both physical and virtual. It is about differentiating a product by virtue of the customer experience – much of which happens in contact centers and online.
How is WFM changing?
Bereczky: Technology and business practices have evolved dramatically in the workforce management solutions space. This maturing combination has enabled the WFM discipline to add more value and be more strategic in guiding business opportunities. As a literal evolution in business practices and technology, adherence monitoring has grown into an integrated activity management system applicable across multiple common and recurring tasks including meetings, developmental learning sessions, employee development, etc. This makes WFM data useful to a broader audience and more effective in monitoring the activities of employees and the overall goal of informed and efficient scheduling.
There have also been significant improvements in the evolution of planning, hiring and scheduling related to full-time headcount requirements. Best practices in these areas have been incorporated into flexible vendor-driven software management capabilities that have the ability to provide consistency across an enterprise. As the discipline of WFM continues to evolve by including front and back office planning, the natural inclusion of new strategies and technology have increased the validity and enhanced the effectiveness of WFM data. This timely milestone is now enabling executives and operations teams to more effectively manage their businesses while addressing the real-world workforce enablement factors that can make a business thrive.
How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Bereczky: As a matter of course the rise of cloud computing has changed the conversation and value proposition in business discussions. The buzz surrounding cloud computing ensures a discussion will always, and should, occur. While at large there remains a general conception of what cloud computing is, when probing at a deeper level the conception remains un-defined and falls somewhere between outsourced services, application service provider models, and co-location services. At that deeper level, many businesses understand that cloud computing encompasses their multi-model phone, web, chat, e-mail, IM, social and other interaction channels that many of their customers now expect to use.
The impact of this expectation is that businesses now must support the essentials of full life-cycle of customer cloud computing interactions. Otherwise they risk alienating certain categories of their customers. Potentially worse yet, not embracing modern cloud computing capabilities may portray their inability, or unwillingness, to support these channels – something a more agile and hip competitor may embrace. As such, companies that embrace cloud computing may experience not just a shift in market demographics for their products, but also, in how their organizations are perceived, how product lifecycles are effectively sustained (delivery/service/support), and also how satisfied their customers are.
When considering the rise of cloud computing, one cannot ignore the material benefit of bringing customers into a bi-directional relationship that evolves the previous touch point-based models to the more modern community of support and ecosystem of sustainment that cloud computing can bring.
How is the widespread use of social networking technology impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver to the customer?
Bereczky: Social networking technology brings the concept of all of us or one to business. As these tools enable communities and individuals of interest to form, interact, and make known their needs and preferences across the global stage, businesses are both forced and encouraged to act in ensuring they understand how to address the needs of the social networking arena. As businesses recognize, interact with, and potentially target social influencers proactively, product delivery, service, and support interactions at both the individual and community level occur that would not exist prior to the advent of social networking. The modern social networking ability to tweet, or post information regarding a products suitability, support, or dissatisfaction for a particular usage requires a robust business response capability. Businesses must ensure customers are effectively engaged in near real-time to maintain not just current business, but reputations, marketing effectiveness, and future revenues.
How is the increased use and comfort level with video impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver to the customer?
Bereczky: The explosion of video with involving the customer has had a profound impact. Customers can now go online and see precisely how the product works, learn about issues, listen to customer experiences, etc. Companies have to be accurate, precise and 100 percent confident in the products and services they are delivering to the customer.
What new tools and practices are businesses using to better leverage their own and/or outside data to target, engage with, and deliver to the customer?
Bereczky: The arena of big data, and its associated visualization and analysis tools, has arrived as businesses work to analyze data and establish useful trends among the myriad of heterogeneous data points available both in a traditional sense and across the social networking arena. As value is derived from trends, the ability of businesses to recognize and qualify data while utilizing actionable intelligence in areas ranging from speech analytics to social networking is emerging. This powerful combination will materially evolve the business ecosystem towards more real-time customer engagement on a scale previously un-imagined.
How is the mobile boom impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver to the customer?
Bereczky: The mobile boom has created a new platform for how companies connect with customers and deliver support. Businesses need to be readily available 24/7 to service customers, respond to inquiries, and fix technical issues. Social media outlets make it a constant live platform for customers to communicate feelings and experiences. Companies have to be real, honest, and genuine and always on with being able to connect and take care of the customer.
Consumers are constantly connected to their mobile and managing a large portion of their business through this platform. Companies have to be ready to serve customers via this medium.
Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.
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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli