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 Eric Camulli, vice president of marketing for Virtual Hold Technology (News - Alert). He joined the company in 1999 after four years in sales at Voice-Tel Enterprises.
How and when was VHT established?
Camulli: Current president Mark J. Williams founded Virtual Hold Technology in 1995 in Akron, Ohio. Mark recognized the need to facilitate the process of getting customers and companies talking, and he invented and patented the Virtual Hold solution that has eliminated thousands of years of frustrating hold time for consumers all over the world. Hundreds of companies also recognized the need and got on board, increasing customer satisfaction and elevating contact center productivity along the way. Instead of hanging up, trying again later and hoping to finally get through, VHT’s solutions let customers keep their place in line and get a callback when it was their turn and in the time promised. Now we have extended our original technology to websites, smartphones, online social communities, TV set-top boxes and more to solve the problem of self-service dead ends everywhere. This is the Conversation Bridge.
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?
Camulli: Clearly, the most important development in the past 30 years has been the proliferation of the Internet. It opened up a new avenue for commerce, making it easier for both customers and companies to interact, transact and communicate with one another. It increased competition and changed the landscape of entire markets allowing the opportunity to serve and reach customers that were otherwise not reachable.
In the past decade?
Camulli: Since the introduction of the iPhone (News - Alert), the race is on for companies to provide amazing user experiences for customers that will provide a full range of services that are simple to use, easy to access and, most importantly, right there in your pocket. The idea of the world at your fingertips has been made a reality. Companies and their brands are also at consumers’ fingertips, and these mobile interactions are the new customer service paradigm.
In the recent past?
Camulli: Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter have transformed customer interactions forever. Companies can now be in tune with their customers’ thoughts and feelings about their brands in ways never imagined before. The challenge for companies now is with how to engage customers within social media networks in ways that build relationships and not just sell.
How is CRM changing?
Camulli: CRM needs to track interactions from all channels of communication. Customer preference management will become increasingly important as well in the future. Customers will expect you to communicate with them using the mode and channel that they prefer, not the one more convenient to the business. In addition, CRM needs to improve tracking of the customer experience tied to each interaction in order to create a customer effort score or a customer sediment score. These scores and the experiences that generated them may be used to design marketing campaigns and programs that yield better results.
How is WFM changing?
Camulli: The rise of at-home agents is changing the face of workforce management. WFM software applications must be designed with this in mind in order to ensure agent accountability.
How is marketing changing?
Camulli: Coming up through the ranks is a huge generation, bigger than the baby boomers, that we affectionately call the millennials. They’re glued to electronic devices and interfaces and as a result, the entire world is at their fingertips. For this reason, when something or someone is not reachable in a reasonable amount of time (let’s say 10 seconds), it creates a degree of cognitive dissonance and a rush to judgment regarding the person or entity they assume is inhibiting their forward progress. This group expects answers and access immediately. The companies and brands that are able to meet their expectations will have a significant competitive advantage. They can meet or exceed customer expectations by paying close attention to creating positive experiences using the modalities of communication that they are most inclined to use. Marketing needs to focus on creating simple, easy to use and understand offers through emerging channels of communication, such as Web, smartphone, tablet and social networks.
How is the rise of cloud computing affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Camulli: Cloud computing is about delivering easy-to-use services to customers in a format they can easily understand and consume. The companies that can provision services in the cloud will have a competitive advantage from the standpoint that they will be more agile and responsive to their customers’ needs.
How is the widespread use of social networking technology affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Camulli: This channel on communication is growing rapidly, and while businesses are not friends, they need to be friendly. This means engaging customers online in a professional way and serving them. The challenge is with how to do this at scale. Customer service centers are just not ready to service customers in social networks at scale. They assign a small team to monitor and correct customer service issues, and it’s just not enough. Contact centers need to start paying larger attention to these new business processes or they will lose customers to those businesses that do.
How is the increased use and comfort level with video affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Camulli: Video is becoming a very important part of the customer service mix. With smartphones, customers can watch videos anywhere anytime. They can become viral. Companies should use them to convey their value proposition. In addition, companies should provide libraries of how-to videos for customer service. Humans all learn differently. Showing a customer how to do something may be far better than just an explanation or a static picture. Companies need to take advantage of this more.
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?
Camulli: Self-service is a brilliant innovation when it helps customers meet their in-the-moment needs. However, when customers run into a dead end and are forced to dial a toll-free number, start all over, repeat account information and wait on hold, the interaction can quickly turn into an abysmal customer service failure. As customers increase usage of self-service apps on the Web and on smartphones, companies will need to effectively bridge the gap between the self-service portal and the skilled resources in the contact center. When customers run into a self-service dead end, an effective solution is to use a multichannel conversation strategy that includes virtual queuing and intelligent callbacks. This will allow customers to package up the context of their call and submit it along with a callback request for service so that they can finish the conversation that was started in self-service.
How is the mobile boom affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Camulli: The explosion of smartphone apps is current and real, with more than half a million apps available just from Apple’s (News - Alert) App Store. However, linking these apps to live customer service in an intelligent and integrated way has fallen way short from a customer experience standpoint. Today, companies offer customers a toll-free number when they run out of options in the app and reach a self-service dead end. The problem is that, in doing so, the entire context of the conversation is lost – the interaction has to start all over, frustrating the customer and costing the company.
Good experiences create passionate users and advocates of a company – and self-service dead ends do not create good experiences. VHT developed the Conversation Bridge to enhance self-serve applications by leveraging the existing communications infrastructure to create an intelligent bridge from self-service to the contact center. When customers use the Conversation Bridge to connect to a live person, they are happier because they don’t have to repeat information, wait on hold or start all over.
What other key trends are you seeing as it relates to how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Camulli: We’ve seen it happen with mobile, and we’ll see it again in the living room: Apps will dominate the TV. Whether it’s an Xbox, Wii, PlayStation, Blu-Ray player, Roku, Apple TV or cable box, these boxes are the next-generation communication channel. Customers should not have to dial a toll-free number ever again. A Conversation Bridge between self-service portals and the contact center will allow customers to sit back and use their remote controls to request a callback from a customer service representative who knows exactly who they are and precisely how to help.
Want to learn more about video? Then be sure to attend the Video World Conference & Expo, collocated with ITEXPO West 2012 taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. The Video World Conference & Expo highlights the latest strategies and technologies available to executives who are serious about leveraging emerging video communications capabilities to build competitive advantage. By bringing together the industry’s most innovative video technology vendors with end-users who are pioneering the use of video in the corporate environment, the Video World Conference & Expo mirrors a burgeoning market -- no longer just a corporate novelty -- with a growing appetite for learning the best practices in implementing video to make business communications more engaging and effective. For more information on registering for the Video World Conference & Expo click here.
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Edited by Braden Becker