With feet on the ground, and heads in "the cloud," today's customer experience professionals continue to develop their service offerings by investing in emerging technologies that extend and enhance the customer relationship. Through cloud computing and applications, companies across industries have been able to improve their software capabilities and data collection methods in ways that allow for stronger customer engagement and brand loyalty.
Yet, while such tools have become an accepted and integral part of the customer service space, less than one decade ago, these revolutionary technologies were on the cusp of altering the way businesses connect with customers, employees, and partners.
"Just a few short years ago, cloud computing was considered less than a mainstream idea, something more suited to early adopters," says Bryan House, vice president of product marketing at Acquia. "With reduced costs, less need for staff, redundancy, and scalability, the cloud is now presumed to be the smart option, and sometimes the only option. Six years ago, platforms for marketing automation, email, CRM, analytics, and digital experiences were on premise. You'd never consider hosting them in a datacenter. But today, the cloud is just presumed to be the easier way."
Cloud technology has grown in sophistication to keep up with the speed and demands of today's digital marketplace. Because many organizations face fewer IT resources and smaller IT budgets, cloud services fulfill an important need for innovation and responsive design. Vish Mavathur, vice president and head of cloud services at iGate, notes that the cloud is not a single technology, but a set of convergent technologies that are steadily coming together to transform the experience on information technology. Cloud-based systems offer cost efficiency, scalability, and agility so companies may adjust their performance according to demand, thus devoting less time to maintenance and support, and more time to innovation and business-driven results.
"Using cloud services enables companies to focus on their real business instead of allocating expensive resources to take care of their operations," says Udi Keidar, vice president of cloud operations at ClickSoftware. "This is one of the major benefits the cloud brings to small-and-medium-sized businesses and enterprise companies alike: the ability to better compete in the market and grow the business faster, without the need for a large up-front investment."
Bringing the Cloud into the Contact Center
But, as the customer service landscape begins to evolve alongside these emerging cloud technologies, the enterprise must use these tools to adapt strategies and equip customer service agents with the necessary capabilities for resolving issues and satisfying consumers. Contact center representatives are often the primary conduit for customer service, and with the growing ability to tap into the consumer's past history and interaction data across the organization, agents can bypass the silos once ingrained in the in-house servers and software of yesteryear.
As Liz Osborn, vice president, product and solution marketing at Five9 highlights, cloud services allow companies to employ a remote workforce, for contact center representatives no longer need the requisite hardware. Instead, agents can now work from anywhere with an Internet connection, opening up the potential for new hires that would've otherwise gone unemployed and reduced location costs. Through the cloud, all representatives have access to the same consumer information, allowing for a consistent, holistic view of the customer's past interactions and history. Cloud technology also encourages better quality agents and brand flexibility, as employees can work off-site and maintain work-life balance while still delivering consistent, optimal service.
Moreover, cloud services can help contact center managers to retain highly-skilled agents who due to changes in their personal lives are required to work from home, says Mariann McDonagh, CMO at inContact. This type of flexibility can enable contact center leaders to avoid the costs of replacing and training new agents while retaining their most knowledgeable and productive agents. Meanwhile, companies that experience seasonal or periodic changes in the volume of customer support inquiries are able to easily scale up with additional agent seats as needed via the cloud without having to incur the costs of supporting agent seats when they aren't in use, she adds.
Mobilizing Cloud Computing Capabilities
Just as call center agents now have more freedom to work from home, consumers also have the luxury of mobile technology, further revolutionizing the customer service space. Because numerous customer interactions take place via smartphone or tablet, companies cannot effectively serve consumers until they establish methods for tracking behaviors, collecting data, and analyzing insights—which is where cloud computing comes in.
"Today, even our cars are connected to networks," says Phil Novack, senior manager, product marketing at Salesforce.com. "Our smartphones can control the lighting in our houses, our shoes tell us how far we ran, and our refrigerators tell us when we need more milk. With literally billions of devices connected to networks, companies have the opportunity to get smart about how people use their products and be more proactive with service and sales opportunities."
Cathal McGloin, CEO of FeedHenry, emphasizes that cloud-based innovation truly gained traction when Apple launched the first iPhone in 2007. Smartphones disrupted the traditional way consumers obtain information, pushing consumers toward user-friendly mobile applications and driving companies to adopt cloud technologies to store and manage both incoming and outgoing data. Mobile apps triggered a rising demand in processing power, storage space, and secure access to business data, making these two emerging tools a natural fit. Now, as smartphones and tablets become increasingly common, companies are more readily integrating cloud capabilities to withstand the growing volume of consumer information and service those on the go. Mobile has become an undeniable force in the customer service space, and cloud computing enables companies to track behaviors, store data, and align goals within the enterprise.
Implementing Cloud Technology to Improve Customer Experience
For Headland Machinery, supplier of metalworking machinery and services in Australia, implementing a cloud-based application dramatically improved its field technicians' service delivery. According to Edward Marshall, senior vice president and general manager, services vertical at NetSuite, by bringing in iPads, the company offered its employees real-time visibility into service jobs, streamlining work on nearly 2,500 projects each year. Mobile billing and electronic signing capabilities have also enabled 85 percent of invoicing to take place in the field, speeding up cash flow and avoiding the expense of a full-time staffer to manage invoicing. By putting cloud capabilities in the hands of every field representative, Headland Machinery now delivers quick, efficient service that streamlines the customer experience and enhances overall satisfaction.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) moved its operations to the cloud in an effort to upgrade its infrastructure in the wake of budding popularity. MTA not only needed to improve its ability to communicate with customers during everyday traffic, but also handle the average three-fold increase in traffic during emergency and severe weather events. By working with Acquia and Drupal, MTA brought real-time content delivery of service notifications and news to its enhanced website, completed just days before Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast. The cloud-based website worked reliably throughout the entire storm, for MTA had the ability to expand hardware and communications bandwidth to compensate for traffic spikes, allowing access to 30,000 customers per second. MTA kept its 5.1 million customers informed by tapping into resources in California and Australia when the organization lost access to its internal development and support staff at the height of the storm, resulting in uninterrupted service. Because it's essential for MTA to constantly communicate to its customers, particularly in the case of emergencies and outages, the organization also integrated maps outlining service disruptions and restorations in order to maintain clarity and safety for its customer base.