By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: As I listen to you, there are a number of different thoughts in my mind on the topic of entrepreneurial opportunities. Let me go over those, one by one. One of the current trends is the social Web. It is becoming a powerful phenomenon; there are over 500 million people on Facebook today, right?
SM: The entire social community and social interactions on the Web are becoming very powerful. One of the trends I see is the notion of crowd-sourced customer support.
CK: Yes. We view that as an important and real thing. If your life is about managing the customer experience, no longer is the customer experience managed through direct mail or the bill you send to a customer or the call that they make to your customer service associates. Today, it is on the Web, it is crowds, it is communities, and it is forums. We view that as an important [part of the] future. If we consider the trend and the data associated with it, look at the trend in 2005 with e-mail. Now, the majority of these are going to go to self-service. We believe in and support self-service community forums, blogs, and so on. We see that as real. We think if our business is ‘built to last,’ we have to be able to support any touch point or any way that a customer wants to be supported and have the technology and people do so.
SM: Will you elaborate on that? Because this is a significant opportunity to engage customers on a continuous basis without driving operating margins completely crazy, right?
CK: Yes. There are two aspects to the answer here. To explain, let me talk a bit about the cycle for our sales business. We look at a lifetime experience with a customer. If you buy a product, we look at the relationship we are going to have with you over a quarter or over a month, and essentially over years. If we sell a product and we have offerings for that client, then we lay out what we call touch plan for that customer over a period of three years. So, if you buy a given product, you know we will do a follow-up to make sure everything works. It may be an e-mail, it may be a site that we take you to, or it may be a phone call. We take a multi-channel approach, but we look at a three-year time frame. In the context of that period, we consider where and what would be the appropriate offers, touch points, follow-ups, or engagements that we will have over the period of your being a customer. We think about the relationship with customers and the customers themselves on multiple dimensions. We think about what is the best way a customer wants to be treated or approached, depending on the customer segment, and what is the appropriate strategy for that customer.
That is the first aspect or the first side to the answer. To bring out the second aspect, let me give you an example. I have a 14-year-old son and a soon to be 16- year-old-daughter. If I call my kids on the cell phone and they are on the bus at that instant, they want to kill me because you are supposed to text. You just don’t talk on the phone anymore, they say. I can remember when I was a kid what it was like. We had one phone, and it had a cord the size of our house. I would drag it from the kitchen into the bedroom and lie on the bed and talk on the phone. My kids don’t even want to talk on the phone. What they want to do is text. What I am trying to say here is that the market drives it. If you want to be a company that is going to be around forever, then you have to shift toward what the market demographics are. Clearly, with Facebook and the overall self-help phenomenon, people would rather go to a site and get what they need [than have the information pushed onto them]. If someone has given five stars and I can go through that information, and if a hundred people recommended it or if my friends recommended it, I would prefer that.
Clearly, that social phenomenon is playing a completely different role today than it was when I was a 23-year-old and a supervisor in a call center. If you are a player in the customer experience space, you have to have strategies for this. We have offerings where we help clients monitor sites for their own business use. We are the social agents on-site for these clients. We help them with reputation monitoring, understanding how many positive sentiment and negative sentiments are out there on their brand or offering. We help them figure out who is talking about them and what are these negative sentiments by helping them analyze and identify product or service gaps and how we are going to support that. We have partnerships with forum providers to deal with such offerings. We don’t build all of the technology ourselves, but we leverage third-party technologies in this space. Even in our own sites, we have our own collaboration tool that we use with our agents, our internal coaches all the way up to our executives, to improve our programs and how we communicate. We have embraced this social space and phenomenon, and we think it is an important strategy for us.
SM: Great! That sounds very interesting. I think the social space is active; a lot of new things are going to come out of it. Let me ask you one specific question. I run a program called One Million by One Million. You may have seen it on the Web already. Our mission is to help a million entrepreneurs reach a million dollars in revenue. As part of that effort, we are seeing companies in the social space with interesting offerings. One of the companies in the program has a crowd-sourced customers support management technology. After this interview, I would like to have you take a look at this company and tell me what you think – they are called CrowdEngineering.
CK: Ok. Sure.