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Technology – Follow your Needs, Not the Crowd’s

Six contact centre tips to ensure long term business value.

Ian Goss-Ross

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There is no safety in numbers when it comes to contact centres – history shows us that the crowd can make mistakes that are as bad, or worse, than those made by individuals. The technology you choose for your contact centre is critical, and the costs of heading down the wrong road can be enormous and protracted. It’s not just money wasted when you get it wrong – the planning and implementation can set your organisation back years.

The future also needs to be seriously considered when technologies are being assessed. Today you might need simple functionality, but tomorrow could require a lot more, or even less. Given the pace of change in the market it’s often impossible to figure out what your future requirements might be. Structural flexibility is the watchword, if your vendor can’t start over or change course in quick time, your technology could damage your brand.

Contact centres aren’t just for the big guys

Cloud based services have cracked the contact centre open for smaller organisations, who in the past simply didn’t have the budget to compete with larger rivals. The barrier to entry has lowered significantly, so if your instinct is that you can’t go there just yet, you might be surprised at what’s possible via the cloud.

It’s your best practice that matters

Benchmarking against global best practices always sounds very good, but the reality of the exercise is a little more nuanced than the catch phrase suggests. Every business views best practice through a different lens, and how you define a best practice depends on your type of business. When you are working towards setting your best practice benchmark, make sure you’re comparing apples with apples – it’s your context that really counts.

Outsource – ignore track record at your peril

Outsourcing all elements of a contact centre, including the crucial customer service interactions, can be a cost and resource saver. But if you make this choice, remember that the track record of your provider must be very strong. It must also be relevant to your specific industry. If you’re satisfied that your provider’s credentials are top notch and appropriate to your industry, the other critical factor is negotiating an air-tight service level agreement. If you choose to outsource the full contact centre there is no margin for error on service levels.

Skill defines the quality of the blend

The division between inbound and outbound contact centres has all but disappeared. Most modern brands need to operate a blended centre, with inbound and outbound functions operating as part of a greater communications whole.

Strong management of a blended centre involves two key elements. 1) Predicting interaction volumes accurately 2) Ensuring staff are adequately trained to deliver in critical areas. Weakness in either area can see the blend between outbound and inbound hurt the business, rather than help it. Which makes a focus on skills levels across the centre vitally important. Skills development has to be viewed as part of the company culture, rather than an intervention.

Look to the future

Powerful new tools are emerging in the contact centre space, and contact centre strategy development should take place with these in mind:

Speech analytics – Some 10 000 voice recordings are taken per day in a contact centre, but much of the potential value in these conversations isn’t realised, because the content itself is not analysed. New speech analytic systems investigate the recordings for key words, and then offer significant analysis to decision makers. Equally, some new systems are tracking tone of voice in real time and escalating calls to supervisors when there’s too much heat coming down the line. Either way, speech analytics tools are quickly changing the status quo.

Mobile – With the youth and high income professionals now carrying sophisticated smartphones as a matter of course, brands are developing applications that deliver a new self service paradigm. No more mind numbing IVR menus and holding in contact centre queues. Mobile Apps mean efficient and personalised service, at the customer’s convenience.

Content management – Back in the day a document was scanned and simply filed, but today’s companies require seamless anytime, anywhere, anybody access to workflow details that incorporate staff, customers and suppliers. New object orientated contact solutions allow attributes to be assigned to an item that determine how it is stored, who has access to it and what future action must be taken.

Ian Goss-Ross is the CEO of Elingo. He holds a Masters degree in Electronic engineering with a specialisation in digital signal processing and image processing technology. He has been involved with multi-media contact centre and CRM software development for over twenty years and has extensive knowledge of contact centre technology, applications, supporting infrastructure and implementation methodologies.

Innovation

How I Built A Company The Lean Way – By Using The Scientific Method

Starting a company is one of the most irrational acts you can do as a human being. That’s why employing hypotheses and experimentation is crucial.

Joe Kinsella

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In the past five years, the cloud management company I founded has grown from a one-person business into a global employer of over 300 people. Recently, VMware, the most important provider of infrastructure and technology in our industry, purchased us – an exciting milestone as we look to the future and continue to execute on our vision.

In spite of all the twists and turns I’ve experienced, there’s been one thing I did right in the early phases of building this business: Committing to continuous experimentation.

When I left my previous company, I had an idea of where I could bring the most value in the market, based on my previous experiences in cloud computing. But I’d also been inspired by Stephen Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany and indirectly by the Lean Startup movement. As a result, I knew I would start my business from the top down: By devoting myself to a market (cloud management) and to the scientific method for entrepreneurship – dispassionately testing all assumptions and hypotheses, and following where they led.

So, where did I begin? And where do you begin? Here are the steps.

Develop your initial hypotheses

The process of entrepreneurship starts with a set of hypotheses to identify the product or service you will bring to your customers. A good hypothesis is that it answers critical questions regarding your initial business concept that can be proven only through experimentation.

I started my own journey by putting a poster on the wall and using sticky notes to capture the critical hypotheses I needed to test. Every two weeks, I selected a set of hypotheses and designed experiments to prove or disprove them.

En route, I thought about the ecommerce company Zappos – a supporter of the Lean Startup movement – and its initial hypothesis that people would buy shoes online. For the file-sharing company Dropbox, the hypothesis was that users needed a radically simplified way to share files. For the coffee retailer Starbucks, it was that Americans would embrace the Italian coffee culture.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Lean Start-up Model

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Design an experiment

Next, choose a set of hypotheses to test, and design an experiment to test them. A good experiment should eliminate all ambiguity from the hypothesis to the answer. It should also prove or disprove the hypotheses with the least possible investment.

I was inspired at this stage by stories from entrepreneurs like Dropbox’s Drew Houston, Zappos founder Nick Swinmurn and Starbucks’s Howard Schultz. To prove his hypothesis, Houston didn’t invest in building yet another file-sharing app; he instead created a video that demonstrated the ease of use of his idea for Dropbox and how it could be a differentiator.

Similarly, Swinmurn didn’t choose to buy inventory for his new online shoe store, instead, he took pictures of shoes. He posted them on a website and purchased the shoes from the store only after receiving a customer order.

Schultz, meanwhile, chose to cram his early concept for delivering Italian coffee culture to American consumers into 300 square feet, inside another retail store.

Experiment and observe

My experiments ranged far and wide – from driving an advertising campaign, to creating an A/B test website, to performing customer interviews with large financial institutions, to delivering professional services.

For example, one of my sticky notes asserted simply that, “Cloud cost management is a feature and not a market.” The experiment I designed to prove or disprove this statement was built around helping five local businesses optimise their cloud costs.

As an early-stage entrepreneur, you have to be willing to conduct these sorts of tests to determine what works, what doesn’t and how you can identify real and durable problems in a market. You need to to take risks, to be willing to fail and understand that you’re always learning.

Dropbox’s own critical video experiment resulted in its beta user requests growing from 5,000 to 75,000 users, validating critical hypotheses without investing in a single line of code. Starbucks’s first store attracted 1,000 visitors per day to a location that had previously never seen more than 200. Zappos’s website resulted in actual sales of shoes, which were fulfilled with purchases – at list price – from a local store.

Related: Game-Changing Lessons From Lean Start-Up Founder Steve Blank

Discuss results with advisors

Before starting the company, I created my own informal board of advisors, who included a venture investor, two technology CEOs, a business development executive and a technology founder. All were dedicated to my success, with no strings attached.

I met with them for coffee throughout the experimentation process, and always discussed with them what I was learning. Having talented colleagues to provide feedback and advice frequently produced new insights.

Rinse and repeat

Once you secure answers to your first hypotheses, it’s time for you to go back to the drawing board and create new hypotheses, design another experiment and test it. A hypothesis without an experiment does no good. You gain the most knowledge when you’re testing the ideas you propose.

Start the business

I equate the start of my company to an experiment I called “the sale.” After several months of developing hypotheses and running experiments, I had a good sense of where I could add strong and durable value for customers in the market. But what I hadn’t tested was price.

I hypothesised that a prospective customer would need to be willing to spend $50,000 annually – roughly the average price required to sustain the business model – on my product, to support the inside sales-driven model I was projecting. So, I designed an experiment around cold calling a handful of prospective customers and trying to convince them to purchase my minimum viable product for $50,000 per year.

In the process of being rejected, I hoped to learn about the additional features these companies needed to justify purchasing a product at that price point.

As part of the exercise, I first spoke with the CFO of a fast-growing technology company. While the CFO understood the problem I was addressing, he had almost no input on features, and no interest in paying for a solution. But then he surprised me by asking for another call the next day with his vice president of engineering and members of his team.

The assembled team not only had deep knowledge in the area in which I had built my MVP, but had already built many of my features themselves.

By the end of the call, the vice president of engineering made the surprising statement: “Sure, we’ll buy.” When faced with the potential for a sale, the first instinct of every good engineer is to do exactly what you shouldn’t: keep talking. Instead, I proceeded to explain how the CFO was hadn’t been convinced the previous day, and that maybe the engineering VP should talk to him before agreeing to a purchase.

“Our CFO is in the room right now,” the VP said. “We’ll buy. Just send us the contract.”

As I hung up,  my excitement at having a first customer was tempered by the reality that I had no contract to send, nor a business entity under which to extend it. Since my experiment had been designed for failure, I hadn’t given much thought to what to do when confronted with success. Thus began my next challenge: Creating a business entity and onboarding a first customer – fast.

Reach a conclusion and communicate it with peers

Starting a company is one of the most irrational acts you can do as a human being. You are taking great personal and professional risk for an unknown outcome. While there is no foolproof way to manage this uncertainty, there is a way to minimise the risk: cContinuous experimentation in the presence of customers. My company exists as a direct result of a commitment to experimentation, a route you should seriously consider when you start down your own entrepreneurial path.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Innovation

Innovate For Change – Think Like A Social Entrepreneur

Why consider the social entrepreneurship model?

Nation Builder

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Social entrepreneurship is an exciting business arena that finds new, sustainable business solutions to long-standing problems. Social entrepreneurs see social challenges (such as poverty, homelessness, poor infrastructure or lack of quality education) as an opportunity for change.

This approach brings together the best that business practices offer and blends it with the best that civil society offers (a social mission, broader stakeholders involvement and the engagement of the community). By generating income from business activities and reinvesting its profits back into driving its mission, this approach generates both social value and economic value simultaneously.

Why consider the social entrepreneurship model?

1. Seeing social challenges as opportunities

South Africa’s social and structural challenges, from our poor ranking in health and education to the high level of unemployment, provide a myriad of opportunities for entrepreneurs that are willing to roll up their sleeves and work to build a better future.

The recent winner of the recent Nation Builder Social Innovation Challenge, Lungi Tyali, is a great example of this mindset.

Across Africa, there is a dire lack of provision for the electrification needs of the majority of the population, especially in rural communities. In South Africa, at present, there are 3.4-million households without a formal, metered electricity supply; 2.2-million in formal and 1.2-million in informal households. Lungi Tyali is the CEO of Solar Turtle who, with her business partner, James van der Walt, created a solar energy solution for rural and off-grid areas. Solar Turtle provides a solar-powered kiosk in a container that serves as a hub for renewable electricity. During the day, the solar panels are open to collect sunlight and at night they are enclosed and locked securely into the container.

Related: How To Be A Social Entrepreneur

2. Social entrepreneurship has low barriers to entry

Many of the most successful social enterprises start off small with an enterprising individual seeing an opportunity in their local community and building from this small beginning. There is no prerequisite for a university degree of formal training. Growing social enterprises can thus also offer employment opportunities to unskilled workers and youth without experience, addressing South Africa’s high level of unemployment.

One such story is that of Nonhlanhla Joye, the founder and facilitator of Umgibe Farming, Organics and Training Institute. Ma’ Joye, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and as a result, could not work to provide food for her family. She decided to grow organic vegetables in her backyard to feed her family. Unfortunately, the chickens ate all her vegetables and she had to come up with a solution.

She innovated a growing system using plastic bags. Before long Ma Joye was teaching other community members to use her growing system. A platform was born where poor communities started growing vegetables to feed themselves and collectively sell their surplus produce.

3. Corporate Social Investment, with purpose

Social enterprises also offer individuals and companies the opportunity to invest in lasting social change. Unlike traditional philanthropy, the impact of social enterprises has the potential to be much more lasting by directly providing affordable social goods and services, as well as employment opportunities.

Nation Builder, for example, is a platform* that brings like-minded businesses and civil society together in order to learn from each other and partner together for the greatest possible impact through wise and responsible social investing.

Related: Miss Teen Social Entrepreneur SA Is Making Its Mark

4. Personal actualisation

Perhaps the most rewarding advantage of being a social entrepreneur is the impact you can have on society, but this model also offers several personal benefits:

  • working to solve issues you care about
  • freedom to explore and create innovative solutions that can inspire change
  • the opportunity to turn passion into profit
  • working as your own boss.

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Innovation

Having The Perfect Product Isn’t Enough To Keep You In Business

The odds of the small business surviving aren’t stacked in its favour. It’s more likely to fail than succeed. That’s the bitter truth. However, once it’s able to shake off the niggling teething problems, watch it as it unfolds from a pupa to a beautiful butterfly.

Matthew Mordi

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There is a small bakery operates in my neighbourhood. It bakes bread; no cakes or other confectionaries. The best home-made bread that has your palates yearning for more. This is in sharp contrast with the bread produced by bigger bakeries. They also supply bread to the neighbourhood.

The bigger bakeries operate a model that is largely automated to the point that they lose a very important ingredient beyond flour, yeast and whatever goes into making bread. They lack the personal touch that gives it the home-made feel. This is why the neighbourhood bakery is preferred despite being pricier.

The small bakery isn’t without its flaws; avoidable flaws that may, sadly, sink the business. My view is more on the certainty of the demise of the business as observers would’ve noticed a slow yet steady decline in the output of the business. These flaws aren’t unique to the bakery, several other small businesses have share the same flaws.

Why would a customer who is willing to pay more for a product suddenly cease patronising the business. What other factor apart from higher price, in the absence of a drop in purchasing power, would make a customer buy bread of supposed inferior quality from the competition.

A couple of years ago when I moved to the neighbourhood the business was doing great. Even during a biting recession the shelves were always stacked with freshly baked bread of different varieties. Despite the excellent product on display, there was an unsatisfactory trend in the operation of the business.

For one, the sales personnel are rude. Having the right staff is necessary to grow any business, but when this very fundamental issue isn’t gotten right it will be fatal to the business. After all for how long would customers put up with poor service delivery in the face of stiff competition from bigger rivals.

Small business owners must realise that proper training of staff is as important as sourcing for capital and shouldn’t be overlooked as the survival of the business also rests on it. Bigger businesses in this regard always come out tops in comparison with their smaller counterparts.

Related: Why Small Businesses Are Unable To Pay Staff Salaries

Annually, big businesses spend billions of dollars on staff training for the simple recognition of the fact that having disgruntled customers, on account of poor service by personnel, is dangerous for business. Despite their size, big businesses tend to understand better the importance of the single customer. Also, how the discontent of a few customers can translate into poor sales which is detrimental to the business.

The mindset of a small business shouldn’t be different. Investing in staff shouldn’t be treated with levity to ensure the business not only stays afloat, but also grow it. Growing a business is in itself tough work, small business owners shouldn’t make it tougher by providing terrible service.

The neighbourhood bakery lacks this important feature and it’s been responsible for the steady decline in sales. I didn’t know the poor service rendered by the attendants had attained much notoriety until I was having a conversation with a group of individuals at a religious gathering and the issue came up. It’s a sad realisation.

For financial reasons small businesses aren’t known for recruiting the best personnel. Most employ the services of family members. While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s important to ensure such person is the best fit for the business. Employing family members may lead to a myriad of problems for the business. Therefore it will be in the best interest of the business not to employ an incompetent family member than have him ruin the business. This is a risky way of running the business.

The feeling of the customer towards the goods or services businesses provide is key to its success or failure. This is because customers can have the most unbiased assessment of the business rather than management and staff. Despite the poor service the bakery openly had on display, no one seemed to have bothered complaining to the owner of the business. So it may seem.

It will be in the best interest of a small business owner to leave an open channel for feedbacks from customers. This isn’t the case with the bakery and some other businesses face this challenge too which may lead to further problems.

The inability to provide an avenue for customers to channel their complaint to the proper individual creates a problem of inaccessibility. Accessibility happens to be an area of strength for small businesses because of their size. In larger businesses, despite creating channels for complaints there is usually no personal relationship between the owners and their customers. This is an area a small business shouldn’t be found wanting.

One would imagine that as a small business, the owner of the bakery should be easily accessible to interact with customers to in order to obtain feedbacks pertaining service and staff performance. This isn’t the case as the business clearly takes this important factor for granted. A lot of customers don’t know the owner of the bakery despite patronising it for years.

On paper the size of small businesses translates to easy accessibility. A closer look will reveal that the owners of small businesses tend to take a lot of things for granted. They fail to realise that they have to be consciously open to the idea and cultivate the habit of seeking feedbacks from customers. A small scale business has to maximise its potential for dynamism and flexibility. If it can’t take advantage of its unique qualities then it’s doomed.

There has been a reduction in the variety of bread baked and in addition to this is the equal reduction in the amount of bread on display generally. From observation it’s clear that patronage has taking a massive hit.

It’s painful witnessing the slow demise of a business with a good product due to its own failures. Having the perfect product won’t on its own keep the small business in business. The odds of the small business surviving aren’t stacked in its favour. It’s more likely to fail than succeed. That’s the bitter truth. However, once it’s able to shake off the niggling teething problems, watch it as it unfolds from a pupa to a beautiful butterfly.

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