Tripudio Telecom: Telecoms solutions - Jonathan Collard
The ease with which firms can now communicate with consumers globally has made transitioning into international markets easier for SMEs and conglomerates alike. Jonathan Collard, commercial director at Tripudio Telecom, looks at what's driving these advancements, and the difficulties faced when implementing an appropriate customer service network.
Getting in touch with businesses has never been easier for consumers. Email, social media and web chat have now muscled their way into the customer service repertoire - the telephonic monopoly has seemingly been broken. Options are great for the customer but, for businesses, selecting the most appropriate strategy is a minefield of unnecessary expenditure and convoluted systems.
The selective burden used to lie with network vendors, who would develop products and market them out. Now, consumers have much more influence over what solutions are installed. End-user experience has become a fundamental consideration and customers have a greater grasp of the options available to them. Even still, the rapidly changing appetite for new technology trends means catering to consumer demand is not without risk.
Jonathan Collard, commercial director at Tripudio Telecom, feels the new mediums available should complement telephonic services, rather than replace them.
"Despite the rise in web chat and social media, it doesn't detract from the fact that people want to talk on the phone, especially in emotionally charged environments or where there is an immediacy of need; for example, if your car breaks down," he says. "Businesses should never discount the power of human-to-human interaction."
For Collard, the effectiveness of new communication channels is questionable. Recent research conducted by Tripudio suggests that 70% of complaints made via social media networks were ignored (source; thedrum.com) - a statistic that would be unfathomable for the more direct forms of communication. A lack of social platforms' suitability to customer service, reluctance from businesses to take such mediums seriously and the need for better staff training all contribute to this figure.
"One of our accounts has over 400 agents working in the customer service team, only ten of which are monitoring social media," says Collard. "Demographics play their part too. People of different generations have varying expectations about how they should be treated. The lexicon required to engage with people over Twitter, Facebook and other sites is dissimilar to what you would use in emails or phone calls. Even B2C and B2B correspondence requires a different style. The essence of good customer experience is to unify your network in a way that distils these divergences while retaining the impression you are treating them differently."
Still one of the most common customer service solutions, call centres have been merging services with "generation Y" driven innovations - the ubiquitous smartphone, for example, has forced many outsourcers to incorporate click-to-call functionality. Google's own research indicates that 70% of mobile searchers use the search engines's click to call feature, which can account for 40 million calls a month, clearly highlighting that voice communication remains a vital element in building consumer confidence and satisfaction. Though there are more services to supervise, managers prefer to delineate responsibilities, and agents capable of monitoring email and social media, as well as calls, is part of utopian future Collard believes is harder to cost effectively achieve - operationally - than many currently envision.
Tripudio was set up to help businesses implement relevant telephony solutions that they can integrate with other customer-service platforms. Everyone in its senior team has a background in working internationally, and such experience has meant Tripudio is able to specialise in helping firms break into lucrative foreign markets.
"We're currently working with a customer who has translated his webpage into 18 different languages. They need local operations to coincide with each one, but setting up so many different offices is hardly cost effective. We're able to put them on a telephony structure that gives the impression they're based locally, with calls routed back to them or diverted to an offshore service centre with multilingual skills," explains Collard.
The Tripudio team pride itself on its ability to individually tailor each solution, something Collard feels is often overlooked in a highly standardised industry. While he is careful not to define it as a consultancy, there are aspects of its approach that certainly fit such a description.
"We're very much into needs analysis. More often than not, people have been poorly advised and customer demand is out of sync with what they actually need," he says. "Most of the time, for us, it is a consultative engagement, whereby we do scope requirements and present a solution."
It is not unusual for conglomerates to have numerous disparate systems in place, and homogenising these can prove challenging. In an era of rapidly advancing technology and company mergers, upgrading current infrastructure in its entirety can prove expensive, often with little guarantee that services will be more efficient.
"We look at it very holistically; we want to know what's in place now, how it can be used and where things need to be fine-tuned," Collard says. "A lot of customers will sit down and think they are developing a strategy, but what they are really doing is reacting to something that has either already happened or they've seen in competitors and other industries. It doesn't necessarily mean it's applicable to their customer demographic. Some of our clients may handle similar products, but how their consumers expect to be treated could be inherently different. We excel in working out what they, our clients and their patrons, really want."
The initial capital expenditure and ongoing maintenance costs used to restrict SMEs in the services they could afford. Even large conglomerates have to think more economically now, with increasingly complex infrastructure requiring specialist knowledge, for which engineers are able to charge a premium. Both are part of the reason why cloud telephony services are now prevalent in multinationals and SMEs alike.
End of the line
Despite relatively little physical difference from their predecessors IP phones have changed the communicative landscape, reducing the need for physical infrastructure without impacting functionality. They can now be rented at low monthly tariffs, while still providing a comparable service to that of more expensive and intricate systems -SMEs can portray themselves as bigger than they are at a fraction of the cost.
"From a user-experience perspective, little has changed; you still pick up the handset, wait for the dial tone and key in the number. But, on an industrial scale, it's manifestly different," says Collard. "Ten years ago, functions like multisite load balancing, automatic DR plans and PCI DSS-compliant call recording were traditionally available only to the big corporate businesses who could afford the physical infrastructure. Now, they are widely adopted by even the smallest companies. IP telephony has brought power to the masses."
Notions of how companies are perceived by their customers have much more precedence than they once did.
"Everything is driven by mobility and uniformity of content, whether it's on a 52in plasma screen in the boardroom or on your smartphone," says Collard. "Research from Econsultancy suggests that just 11% or people expect to actually receive customer service via social media as opposed to 71% via the telephone."
With consumers now a primary driving force behind changes in the way customer service is conducted, making the experience simpler and more familiar for them seems like an obvious investment. But, just as technology can quickly become redundant, so too can the latest consumer fads, and firms would do well to tread carefully around those yet to exhibit longevity - a characteristic demonstrated by the nuances of human-to-human interaction found over the telephone.