Monthly Archives: March 2012

Make sure your tech talks to your agents

This article written by Michael Maoz from the Gartner Blog Network demonstrates the importance of consistency and communication across multiple departments, and, between intelligent technology and human employees. It’s absolutely crucial to involve technology, people and processes in customer service. It’s no good deploying an amazing IVR, if, when a customer reaches your contact centre agents they have no idea what’s going on!


Does anyone watch anything but sports live on television anymore? There actually are some folks who do, and they mostly drive cars assembled in Oshawa, Canada. But. Not to digress: I recorded a number of shows to watch on Wednesday night, the only night I watch television. On Sunday when I went to add a recording, I received a message that there was a technical problem, and a Customer Support telephone number was listed to help me. I dial the number, work through two simple IVR prompts, et voilà! A recorded message came on that informed me, based on my telephone number, that there was a known problem with service in my area. The message said that they were sorry, and that when service was restored a phone message would be sent out notifying us that DVR service had been restored.

So far, to quote from George Gershwin, “Who could ask for anything more?” Well, as it turns out, I could ask for more, and here is the rest of the story. Alright, I will digress for a second: that Gershwin line is in a beautifully and cleverly written song called, “I got rhythm.” There is almost no one in the Western world who does not know either the song, the syncopated rhythm, or the hints from the song that are embedded in Jazz – like Dizzy Gillespie, who looked back to Gershwin as the source of some of his bebop sound. Because Gershwin was celebrating rhythm –  cool and seductive. At my cable company: not so much. Wednesday rolled around, and now you know – if it’s 22:00 then I am likely turning on the DVR player, and this week I pressed ‘forward’ on my recording of Madmen to see what Matthew Weiner had come up with after a year and a half.

Aiysh! The dreaded black screen, and no show. But no more messages saying that there was a service problem. So I reached for my cable bill, called Customer Support, snaked through the IVR with little problem, and got a sweet and helpful young man on the phone. I told him that on Sunday there was a message on the screen and then when I called there was a message about a technical problem in the area. A) He knew nothing about any phone message and, B) he knew nothing about an outage and C) my system appeared to be working fine according to his system and D) I would have to check both Cable boxes to see which box had the problem. So I deftly removed the box, carefully engineered to fit in a recess. Why? Because the only way to identify the box is through a code stamped onto the rear of the device and written in tiny script only a fighter pilot of micro-surgeon could read. Why not on the front of the box? Why not a QR code on the front? Why not better device monitors embedded in the machine?

Ok, he said, based on the code, I can see that the set top box experienced a software corruption or undetermined origin (i.e., we are definitely maybe not to blame – plausible deniability is a lovely thing for more than just political leaders.). The technician sent through a patch, rebooted the system, and the DVR was working fine.

NET: The social media traffic had detected a problem on Sunday, but Tech Support was not told. The systems had detected a flaw and put it on the IVR, but didn’t tell the humans in the Contact Center. The young man said, “We flush all messages as soon as a problem is fixed, so there is no way for me to know what, if anything, caused a problem, if there was a problem on our side.” Convenient corporate amnesia. The company has all of the right stuff, but it can’t say, “I got rhythm.” But that is what it needs. Who could ask for anything more? Or anything less?

Let’s see if I get a credit for the three days without service. I’ll let you know. But in the meantime: whose responsibility do you believe it is to detect that there is a process problem? There are five different groups involved, and none are coordinated: Social Media, Systems, IVR messaging, and Technical Support, and Billing/Sales. Who OWNS the issue? Who represents the customer?

Flexibility in your contact centre

79% of SMEs in Australia directly attribute higher employee productivity to flexible working conditions, according to this article from My Business online. This is also applicable to larger organisations, but many simply haven’t recognised the cause-and-effect relationship. So, how do you utilise these findings for increased productivity in your contact centre? Many agents will find it much more convenient to work from home. Now, there is always debate about how this lenient approach affects work output, but most companies find that agents respect the privilege of working from their lounge room and may become happier and more engaged. This in turn, has fantastic implications for customer service. One way to allow your contact centre staff to enjoy this flexibility, is to run your contact centre in the cloud, so that agents may access the necessary software from any location with ease. For more information, check out GSN’s Cloud Contact Centre.


A new study has found that 79 per cent of Australian SMEs report higher levels of employee productivity as a result of flexible working practices.

The study, conducted by Regus, surveyed over 16,000 senior business managers around the world and analysed the impact of working habits on both company performance and employee well-being.

Among the Australian businesses, results show:

78 per cent of businesses of all sizes work more flexibly now (in terms of time and location).
Globally, small businesses (81 per cent) have embraced flexible working more readily than large companies (67 per cent).
The majority of Australian firms believe flexible working has a positive impact on employee health and morale, with 59 per cent saying employees feel healthier and 64 per cent saying they feel more energised and motivated.
Although small and large businesses in Australia agree that they generate more revenue working flexibly (69 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively), SMEs are more convinced that productivity is a direct result of flexible working (79 per cent) than large businesses (63 per cent).

Regus says its results are evidence of the positive connection between flexible working and improved productivity and revenue generation.

“Our results clearly demonstrate the positive benefits of flexible working on businesses and their employees, with 64 per cent of firms saying their staff feel more energised and motivated,” Regus Regional Vice President of South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, William Willems, said. “Flexible working is also acting as a valuable employee attraction and retention tool, helping businesses to minimise staff turnover and assist in finding new talent.

“With the Australian Productivity Commission highlighting the importance of adopting flexible working practices to close the productivity gap between Australia and other countries, this survey confirms the business case for flexible working and the positive impact this has on company performance and revenue.

“As workforce expectations and demands continue to evolve, flexible work is becoming an attractive option for workers looking to achieve a better balance between work life and life. With the rapid developments in technology and network improvements helping to drive this demand, flexible working is now emerging as the norm rather than the exception.”

Can you trust non-Aussie cloud providers?

Research by Charles Sturt University finds that organisations are not making sure their data is safe, when selecting an overseas Cloud Computing provider. Dr. Zia says “privacy concerns were not as strictly adhered to as they were in Australia, and that cost was a main driver for cloud computing adoption.” Scary stuff! Better to go with an Austalian Cloud provider?


LOCAL organisations are trading cost over security by using offshore cloud providers, a security expert has warned.

Despite the rapid adoption of online services and cloud computing, security threats are not decreasing.

A study by researchers at Charles Sturt University found many organisations were moving swiftly to the cloud without making sure the information they put there was secure.

CSU school of computing and mathematics senior lecturer Tanveer Zia took part last year in a study of cloud computing service providers in India.

Dr Zia, a pioneer of CSU’s Information and Communications Technology Security Research Group, said the research found security controls used by offshore cloud providers were not up to international standards.

He said privacy concerns were not as strictly adhered to as they were in Australia, and that cost was a main driver for cloud computing adoption.

Dr Zia said there was no exact data on how many Australian organisations used overseas-based cloud-computing providers, but outsourcing was a widely adopted trend.

He said organisations could take advantage of cloud services from other countries at a fraction of the cost in Australia.

In many cases, data transmission from India to Australia were cheaper when compared with data transmission within Australia.

The 40 organisations involved in the study provided services to most Western nations, including Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand, but not many wanted to know, or were aware of, what sort of security methodologies they had adopted, Dr Zia said.

Some service providers that were handling very sensitive data had really few security measures.

According to the study, most organisations were engaged in using the cloud to host applications or their infrastructure and compromising security over the cloud would affect these two platforms directly and severely.

The research urged organisations to spend time assessing the security risk involved in moving assets to the cloud. and recommended the use of Secure Sockets Layer to secure cloud computing, but this technology was still under the radar for practical use.

Dr Zia said we were yet to see a practical security measure for cloud computing to be a safer platform and he would not recommend Australian organisations use overseas cloud providers.

Money an afterthought when it comes to Cloud

This article from GigaOm is titled ‘In cloud computing moves, money isn’t everything’, citing the ability to launch new products/services as a benefit that isn’t related to dollar value. I agree completely, deciding to move to the Cloud is not usually instigated solely by a desire to save money. Having said that, reducing the cost of infrastructure is a definite reality and companies are able to transition from CapEx to an OpEx model. The author questions the cost of Cloud in a long-term sense “After five years paying a cloud provider for storing data — and also paying the networking charges for accessing that data — in some cases it may actually make sense to go with an on-premise solution. Companies need to do this math up front to determine which model works for them.” Depending on your contract and your provider, the cost savings may minimise over time, however, the value of Cloud in comparison to Consumer Premise Equipment (CPE) is derived from its future-proof existence. If you opt for CPE, then you will regularly need to buy new equipment to keep up with technology changes. Also, you will need to employ full-time staff to maintain and upgrade the system. In contrast, Cloud can be automatically upgraded and this feature is normally part of your contract. Plus, you don’t need any technical staff to maintain the system, your service provider takes care of that for you. To discover more benefits of GSN’s Cloud Contact Centre, click here.


While saving money is a commonly reason cited for moving IT to the cloud, it is really not the overriding driver at all for most companies, according to new research.

What’s more important than cost savings for companies — at least in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific regions — is the ability to standardize their software and business processes across the company, according to a new survey of 600 large companies by Tata Consultancy Services, the $8 billion IT service provider. In Europe and Latin America, the primary rationale was the ability to ramp systems up and down faster.

According to the survey:

The factors driving companies to launch entirely new applications in the cloud are quite different – to institute new business processes and launch new technology-dependent products and services.

The results confirm at least one bit of conventional wisdom — that European companies lag their U.S. counterparts in cloud adoption. Among U.S. respondents, 19 percent of their total applications run in the cloud compared to 12 percent in Europe. But both regions lag Asia and Latin America in adoption — at least in percentage of applications now running in the cloud: 28 percent for Asia and 39 percent for Europe.

However, companies in all regions expect their cloud usage to grow dramatically by 2014. For example, U.S. companies expect that 34 percent of their total applications will be cloud-based in two years. European repondents said they expect cloud applications to hit 25 percent in that period. But Asia and Latin America will keep up the pace, with Asia-Pacific companies expect to hit the 52 percent mark and Latin America 54 percent in 2014.

One of the reasons companies typically cite for moving to the cloud is that they’re able to move such IT budgets to an operational expense (OPEX) that can be spread out over the course of deployment as opposed to a larger, up-front capital expense. OPEX is far easier to get approved but, in terms of actual cost, there can be a point after which the cloud cost can exceed the operational expense. After five years paying a cloud provider for storing data — and also paying the networking charges for accessing that data — in some cases it may actually make sense to go with an on-premise solution. Companies need to do this math up front to determine which model works for them.

But, as Tata’s results show, cloud computing is big now, even if it’s not a panacea for bloated budgets. Actual adoption likely will ramp up significantly as companies get comfortable with the model and better understand how and when to use it, and what it might cost.

Can Cloud Computing improve healthcare?

Healthcare budgets would be optimised by reducing IT expenditure on infrastructure and moving that cost to the Cloud, on a pay-per-use model. The following article from investigates the possibility of Australian healthcare finally catching up with modern technology…


For all the innovations transforming the healthcare industry, one area where it remains almost universally behind the times is in the use of information technology. Many healthcare systems are built on analogue workflows that consist of paper-based medical records, handwritten notes, duplicated test results, non-digitised images and fragmented IT systems. As a result, information remains siloed, which leads to inefficient provision of patient care.

Even some of the best equipped hospitals in Australia still rely on pagers as the primary communications tool for doctors; coordinating care schedules and other administrative processes remain cumbersome. At the same time, consumers and patients have very little transparency on health plan costs and covered services, with health insurance websites providing very little clarity to alleviate the problem.

One reason for this slow adoption of installing advanced IT solutions is attributed to high equipment costs, which usually involves new servers, storage and applications. In addition, there are high maintenance costs associated with keeping these systems up-and-running with software patches and upgrades. As a result, hospital administrators and boards would rather invest their limited financial budgets on new medical equipment or hire additional doctors, specialists and nurses. For smaller private clinics and doctors, the cost of technology is simply too high to even consider the option.

After years of data centre growth and IT evolution, many businesses are left living with complex, overgrown computing platforms that are chronically underutilised and highly expensive to maintain.

Is there then a way to eliminate the high capital expenses while still acquiring the latest IT solutions to improve healthcare services?

Benefits of Cloud computing

There is a lot of conversation on Cloud computing and how it could benefit our healthcare practices. With Cloud computing, hospitals, particularly the large ones, are able to deliver IT as a service without the costly and complex investment in infrastructure and applications, freeing them to focus on strategic business initiatives while delivering better service levels, increased business agility and reduced costs.

The big gain is hospitals pay only for the services they use, without having to maintain or incur upfront infrastructure costs, giving businesses the technical tools to become more agile.Cloud computing presents an opportunity for healthcare providers to improve patient care, protect their privacy and mitigate the risks associated with implementing expensive technology.

Even though Cloud computing comes across as a complex web of knowledge it provides some crucial long-term benefits including:

Increased IT responsiveness and efficiency
Reduced capital expenditures and operational overhead
Greater flexibility through an on-demand, pay-as-you-go model that scales with your business.

With the implementation of Cloud computing, healthcare professionals across the globe can collaborate in real time and share information without the need to invest in expensive infrastructure. The Cloud provides a centralised platform for healthcare professionals to access reports, scans, electronic medical records (EMRs) and prescriptions and patient information and history such as insurance claims, prescriptions, and lab reports from anywhere in the world. Having a central repository for patient information will mitigate the risks of misdiagnosis or the prescription of the wrong medication, as well as eliminating chances of conflicting treatments where multiple healthcare professionals are involved.

Correctly implementing and utilising information technology will offer healthcare practices enormous benefits, with Cloud computing offering better access to healthcare services and information that would subsequently result in improved outcomes, fewer errors and increased cost savings.

Cloud computing’s pay-per-use model means healthcare providers can leverage the latest software solutions while keeping operating costs to a minimum, covering only the essentials. In addition, with patient data stored in the Cloud, health professionals and hospitals will no longer need to invest in storage systems.

Finally, Cloud computing fits very nicely with increasingly mobile healthcare professionals who may need to administer service from remote locations, enabling physicians to provide better patient care at a lower cost without sacrificing their quality of work and productivity.

Things to watch out for when choosing a Cloud partner

Although Cloud computing innovation in the healthcare industry is underway, choosing the right solutions with long-term viability remains an issue as only a few commercially proven solutions are currently out in the market.

Risk is something all medical professionals and organisations are acutely familiar with. When looking at Cloud solutions, be sure to ask about the provider’s disaster-recovery strategy, backups, compliance with national health standards.

As the key promise of Cloud computing is its ability to make information available anytime, anywhere, it is critical to check if the applications can be accessed in locations where health services will likely be delivered when reviewing available Cloud-based offerings.

There is a plethora of medical applications in use today that are built on proprietary systems, developed specifically to conform to the way organisations operate such as Windows or Linux platforms. When looking to migrate to a Cloud-based solution, it’s important to check that your Cloud partner offers a transparent migration path from your existing infrastructure.

Future outlook

According to Laura DuBois, program VP Storage Software at IDC, Cloud-based solutions can bring quantifiable raw cost savings, as well as a number of strategic benefits designed for the betterment of the company in a much broader sense. “These include operational cost, cost restructuring, competency alignment, risk management, rapid scalability and deployment benefits.”

DuBois, “Today, 41.8 per cent of a healthcare organisation’s IT budget is allocated to a traditional IT deployment, whereas in two years’ time this will decrease to 35.4 per cent, a decline of six percentage points. With this change comes an increase in the percentage of the overall IT budget allocated to private and public Cloud services. For infrastructure suppliers, this signals a very real change in how firms will procure services and solutions in 2013.”

Cloud computing is more than reducing the costs of delivering services by eliminating on-premise data centres. The real benefit is achieved by taking advantage of a new generation of innovative applications and freeing up IT resources for much needed innovation.

Healthcare organisations will continue to see IT budgets being squeezed. CIOs and IT managers need to find creative approaches to delivering higher levels of service to their users. Cloud computing offers a viable alternative for many organisations of all sizes and health professionals seeking to solve current problems while delivering the best possible healthcare service.

Brian Sharpe is CEO of Uber Global Enterprise

Does IT cost-cutting affect the Cloud?

Within this comprehensive article from, the point I find most interesting and relevant is the reference to IT cost-cutting. I completely agree that the attempt to reduce the cost of technology will forever be on the agenda, but I also believe that  there will be sufficient budget for IT initiatives that help the business as a whole, and add to the bottom line. Replacing legacy applications with Cloud SaaS offerings is one such initiative.


Everyone’s had the experience of discussing a concept with someone and suddenly seeing the look of understanding appear on their face as the meaning of the concept sinks in. I engage in a lot of conversations with IT managers about cloud computing, and have encountered many interesting reactions.

It can be intriguing to observe how IT executives perceive cloud computing will affect their organization’s processes and people. Most seem to regard cloud computing simply as a technology development that will affect one or perhaps a couple aspects of their organization. For example, some CIOs think of cloud computing as something that supports developer agility by providing the self-service of virtual machines. Others think of it as an infrastructure improvement that will reduce the cost of supporting legacy applications.

In short, most executives think of cloud computing as a drop-in replacement for some aspect of the existing IT environment, but don’t view it as a transformative technology with an overarching impact that will affect the entire organization. That perspective is understandable. IT has a long history of absorbing innovation and slotting it into the existing environment, swapping one existing element for a new one that provides better functionality or performance. Virtualization, the foundation of cloud computing, is one such swap-in. The genius of virtualization is that it can be inserted between servers and the supported operating systems, disrupting very little of the existing environment while providing tremendous financial benefits.
It’s a mistake, though, to think that cloud computing will conform to the established adoption pattern of IT innovation.

The reason is straightforward: Cloud computing brings automation to the mix, and in every industry that automation has touched, profound disruption has followed. IT will be no different. Those who think of cloud computing as a segregated innovation, like virtualization, fail to recognize how profoundly it will change enterprise IT as we know it.

As background for this profound disruption, consider that IT funding is going to remain under pressure, but that pressure is going to change. In the past, it’s all been about cutting costs. In the future, there will still be cost pressure, but as business units realize that IT can enable business initiatives (think mobile and consumerization), there will be plenty of money available for IT investment linked directly to business outcomes. The challenge for CIOs will be to respond to this revenue-oriented demand while addressing the cost-cutting pressure that will remain.

Cloud computing is not going to solve legacy application challenges and costs. I recently talked with the CIO of a large media company who commissioned a study of his legacy apps to determine how many could operate in a cloud environment. The results: 10 percent. That means that 90 percent of those applications will go forward with the same inflexibility and high costs that they’ve had in the past. There is no cloud dividend available to make existing applications cheaper and free up money to invest in business-focused initiatives. This also means that the pressure to reduce costs in the legacy environment will continue unabated.

What all of this means is that IT is going to have to be rebuilt for cloud computing. Every group, every process, every skill will have to be re-evaluated in light of the need to reduce cost, implement automation and support revenue-focused business initiatives.

What will this look like? Here are some areas that CIOs will have to focus on:

Chopping Legacy Cost

It will be impossible to rebuild for cloud computing if you carry forward a huge technical and financial debt of legacy applications. For one, the cost will dominate your budget and hinder your ability to adapt in the future. Just as important, legacy applications require you to keep staff on hand with lower-level skills to perform manual interaction.
This cost-cutting will play out in two ways: re-architecting home-grown apps to be truly cloud-based (more on that below), and shifting to on-demand SaaS applications to replace on-premises packaged applications.

Down the road, only a very few on-premises applications will be kept in the legacy format. These will be applications that have high security or privacy aspects or those that provide competitive differentiation such that IT organizations can justify the continued maintenance of a high-cost installation. But keeping an on-premises standard package like email? There’s no future for that kind of thing.

I’m actually a bit heartened about progress on this front. I recently spoke to a gathering of CIOs and was surprised at how aggressively most of them are pursuing SaaS initiatives. This group was looking to get out of the non-value adding IT business as soon as possible.

Make no mistake: Absent an aggressive push to get out from under the legacy burden, all your cloud computing plans will wither on the vine.
Re-architecting the Application Development Process

Many IT organizations decide to pursue cloud computing through a develop-and-test cloud initiative. Often the impetus is that software engineers are turning to Amazon Web Services and IT management wants to prevent it. The thinking goes that by offering developers a local cloud, they can be dissuaded from using a public offering.

That’s OK as far as it goes, but it misses the far larger point. Most IT organizations rolling out a developer cloud have only thought about optimizing one facet of applications: developers getting access to resources. They haven’t thought about the other two elements of applications — the development process and operating applications once in production.

Leveraging cloud computing for accelerated access to resources is a big win, but optimizing this element without optimizing the others does not speed applications into production or make them easier to update once in production. Speeding up one part of a process (and that’s what application development is, a process) and leaving the other parts unchanged does not appreciably reduce overall deployment time.

At a minimum, to rebuild the application process requires a move to agile development in which overall development duration is trimmed through short development cycles and intense communication. That’s just the start, though. The processes underlying development also need to be updated to support agile development. Continuous integration and deployment within a development environment reduce the errors that occur when developers attempt to merge code artifacts that have been developed in isolation for weeks or months.

Only by marrying quick resource availability with agile development practices will IT organizations achieve real application benefits from cloud computing.

Restructuring IT Operations

IT operations are going to have to undergo enormous change as well. Taking applications that have been developed with agile methods and then placing them into a slow-moving operations environment in which every change is implemented manually creates a mismatch in the organization, and, crucially, hinders overall business agility.

IT operations will need to be restructured and automated to support cloud computing. This goes well beyond using tools to support dynamic application deployment to virtual machines in the cloud. This means modifying the processes by which IT infrastructure itself is installed and configured. The catch phrase is “infrastructure as code,” and it means using tools to install and configure operating systems, networks, and storage implementation.

At the very least, manual installation and configuration of all software assets must shift to automation. The cloud environment itself should be able to absorb additional hardware assets as they are added to the environment.

Frankly, this is the area that is most likely to require radical rethinking on the part of IT executives. I’ve seen many people proclaim that they are going to run an “enterprise” cloud. In part, that presumes the use of expensive, high resiliency equipment, but it also implies that the cloud environment will support custom, one-off infrastructure configuration and unique application requirements.

This is admirable, but it’s not cloud computing. It is virtualization yoked with traditional system administration practices. Long-term, this approach is unsustainable and any IT organization that doesn’t realize it is going to be left behind as application groups embrace other alternatives. Failure to adopt the infrastructure management practices pioneered by the large public providers will consign an operations group to slow, reactive and expensive processes, which are unacceptable in a world that has embraced automation as a quotidian practice.
Finance and Pricing

The third element of an IT organization that must be rebuilt for cloud computing is finance. Obviously, there is the pressure to be as inexpensive and transparent as the public alternatives — that goes without saying. The opaque, mysterious and highly lumpy forms of IT cost allocations will no longer be tenable in an environment where alternative providers publish price lists on the Web.
Just as important, though, will be a financial approach that provides real-time feedback and analytics to enable application groups to assess the tradeoffs in terms of deployment location, load variation, time-of-day load shaping, and other factors.

To be blunt, the kind of crude assertion that an internal storage deployment can undercut a public storage provider based on the cost of an array fails to comprehend how revolutionary a transformation is required in terms of IT finance. This is not about proving that one alternative is cheaper than another — it’s about ensuring that the right alternative is selected based on application characteristics, and ensuring that any of those applications can be deployed into environments that support the necessary functionality at an appropriate price. Any CIO who cannot support such a sophisticated analysis of overall application costs is assuring his or her own obsolescence.

In my view, cloud computing represents a step change in IT. We’ve had lots of experience bringing in new generations of technology — the shift from mainframe to mini, from custom RISC chips to commodity x86 chips and so on. The list is lengthy.
But cloud is the first technology shift that implements automation, thus removing human intervention from the equation. The logic of automation requires a radical rethinking of every aspect of IT processes and operations. Those who recognize this imperative can succeed in the future. Those who insist on cramming it into existing constraints will find the future a much less friendly environment.

Email only for old folks?

Email is not only for old people! I think there is an urgent need for companies to provide dramatically better customer service through the written word. One definite way to reduce call volumes is to provide responsive service through email. As for social media, I think it will only rise in popularity. These channels will not, however, replace the need for calling companies directly – sometimes issues simply need to be discussed in more detail than an email, or chat, can provide. Contact centres need to embrace multi-channel communication or face the very real possibility of being left behind. The article below from presents varying opinions on the topic… who do you agree with?


“Email is for old folks,” I was told recently.  “The younger generation are more interested in texting, instant messaging or social media.”

So is email on its way out?  We decided to ask our community.

You can’t replace a phone call

In my opinion, far too many conversations are had on email. Call me old-fashioned, but I would far rather pick up the phone, so much can be missed or misunderstood!

Email is fantastic for confirming information or reminding people, but cannot replace that good old phone conversation.

Zoe Kendall

Email is not likely to challenge for the top spot

If email was a football team it would be Tottenham Hotspur – firmly in the top four communication channels for customers, but not likely to challenge for the top spot.

Last year we ran a survey to look at the customer experience in a multi-channel world and invited more than 2,000 consumers to talk about their preferences. Email was the fourth most popular channel, behind speaking with a contact centre agent on the telephone, visiting a physical location, or the company website and in front of IVR systems.

33% of respondents to our survey would choose email as their channel of choice to interact with organisations and, interestingly, this was consistent across all age ranges (38% of 18-30 year olds; 33% of 31–45 year olds and 30% 46-65 year olds) and vertical markets (financial services, telecoms, retail, travel and insurance).

Poor response times are driving up call volumes

Fail to meet their expectations and they will likely pick up the telephone. In fact, 53% of respondents commented that they would revert to the telephone if their email was not dealt with to their satisfaction.

Social media is the least-used channel

The rise in profile and popularity of new channels, particularly social media, is one of the reasons that is prompting debate over the death of email, not only in the contact centre but in commerce in general. However, our survey revealed that currently social media is perceived as one of the least useful for accomplishing tasks and is the least-used channel, with only 3% of respondents using it.

Craig Pumfrey, Director of Marketing & Communications, NICE Systems

Email is here to stay

Email is here to stay; social media isn’t a replacement, it just means our customers have more opportunity to communicate with us.

Sent in on Twitter by @Carlz990

If customers want email we have to deal with it

As long as customers want to email companies, companies will have to learn to deal with it. Still not easy to deal with.

Sent in on Twitter by @PaulSweeney

Email volumes will drive up in the short term

I’m a great fan of email and in the short term I think it’s going to drive up quite dramatically, particularly with things like web-based forms on websites.  The challenge is, it has been put to me recently, “email is for old folks”.  It’s quite interesting, my daughter, who’s 16, has got an email account, my son, who is 13, doesn’t.  He does everything either through text or chat, and I know that chat is one of the channels that certainly in sales centres is growing quite dramatically.  So I think we are going to see a big continuation or growth of emails and perhaps a flattening-off as text or chat increases.


A mean average of 10.4% of inbound interactions to UK contact centres are via email (20% in retail and 19% in technology/media/telecoms).

Since 2003, there has been a 37% increase in the number of companies offering email, but a 189% increase in the number of email interactions, showing a growing acceptance amongst the customer base due to an improvement in usability and effectiveness. 15% of emails are answered within an hour, and a further 43% within a working day. Still, 20% of contact centres do not offer email as a channel at all.

Moving forward, inbound email is more suitable for B2B and complex enquiries (including complaints), as well as confirmation of interactions initiated through other channels. It is likely to poach work traditionally carried out by white mail / letter, but will itself relinquish some of its own current tasks to web chat, which offers a more immediate non-voice channel. Email will, of course, continue as a very strong outbound channel.

Steve Morrell, ContactBabel

It’s too early to write off email

I think it’s far too early to write off email with any great certainty. There are many factors driving both its sustained use and potential decline.

As far as organisational use is concerned, email has provided a universal communication platform that links people within and beyond the firewall in a reliable, secure way.

Most would agree that there is too much of it and that being included in email threads happens far too often. But it’s proven effective across all operating systems and devices (desktop to mobile). In contrast, social messaging is still trapped at platform level, e.g. Facebook messaging, Skype.

The only trend that appears to be eating into this volume is enterprise social collaboration. So in case studies, Chatter/Yammer-style deployments which mimic social network communication  behaviour are reported to be changing closed communications such as email into more publicly available sources of knowledge via a more collaborative working style. However, these experiments are still very much in the minority.

If social media takes off, email volumes will decline

If the social business model really takes off over the next few years, then email volumes could significantly decline within organisations, since this seems to be a common outcome of this new style of working. However, how organisations communicate externally will remain an issue and email’s future grip on that market depends on what alternatives emerge.

So for now email looks likely to remain a familiar habit when at work.

Consumer communication behaviour is another matter. Yes, there are clear generational preferences. However, if an organisation does not offer these preferences, e.g. two-way SMS interaction, then those customers will need to use whatever is offered anyway.

The email box on the website

I would also add that I’m not so sure that all consumers readily associate the style of inbound customer service email with their normal use of email. For a start, it’s uncommon to be able to initiate contact using your own preferred email client. Normally it’s an online facility embedded in the Customer Service area as a dialogue box, without many of the features of a dedicated email client, such as the ability to cc an email. Also the ability to add a file is not that common.

Shouldn’t email be a two-way function?

Many find the automated ‘do not respond’ return email a further frustration since the whole point of email is that it is an intuitively two-way process.

That said, as more customers relate to brands online (most recent UK retails figures show 50% of our monthly disposal income is now spent online) it is natural that customer service needs to begin on that channel. Since we are a while away from online voice being common, text rules. If there is competition to non-real-time email then it’s real-time web chat, which is certainly gaining traction. If immediate resolution is mainly expected then web chat clearly wins. So email might decline as a result. But if you want to spend time gathering facts or thinking through what you want to say, email remains first choice. Also I’ve yet to see this work on a smartphone so maybe this is an inhibitor (we are now at 50% smartphone penetration in the UK, according to latest stats).

SMS text messages are declining

So what is the future for email? I think it is important to remember that its commonality with other text channels could well mean it does not die. Rather it mutates. Yesterday I read that global SMS volumes have declined (from a massive volume that social channels don’t even come close to!). However, it’s an important revenue stream for the operators, so the advice was to mash in some of the social features that has made social-network-based messaging an attractive alternative. I can imagine the same insights are being applied by Google, Microsoft and Lotus on their email roadmap.

Martin Hill-Wilson, Brainfood Extra

Email takes longer to handle than a phone call

The use of email is increasing, but email takes 2 to 3 times as long to handle as a phone call. Blending tasks, perhaps by following an email with an outbound phone call, could be cheaper and more efficient.

Ken Reid, rostrvm

Poor email response times are holding it back

As an industry we have stunted the growth of email by poor response times.

Email promised a revolution in customer service; rather than calling, sitting in queues and getting frustrated, customers would be able to send an email and get on with their lives. But the reality is that too few companies geared up properly for email and did not effectively blend it into their communication workflow.

Emails are put on the ‘back burner’

Emails are often put on the ‘back burner’, leaving customers frustrated with no idea when and if their query will be resolved.

Take EDF Energy: 6 months ago I sent an email to EDF regarding a simple account set-up issue, hoping for immediate resolution.  I received a standard email response stating I would receive a reply ‘within 2 weeks’.  Two weeks later, frustrated with still no response from EDF, I emailed again, eventually receiving a reply stating my issue was being looked into and I would be contacted in due course.  Four months later I was still waiting and my account with them was still not live. So, instead, I tried the call centre and got an instant resolution to my request. I still prefer to send an email because it suits me to deal with admin in the evening, outside of working hours, but why can’t I get a resolution or even a response?

Susannah Richardson

Ford Retail, in contrast, demonstrates how email can be a very effective customer service tool: to support their online car retail operation, emails are blended in a multi-channel queue for agents alongside calls.  Emails are responded to in seconds and the management team proudly talk of customers who have been taken aback by how quickly an agent has responded to their query, which has had a massive impact on sales.

But the reality is that too few companies are geared up properly for email, their processes remaining unchanged and their technology inadequate, so customer emails go unanswered.

Social media is the way forward

Now social media is promising a revolution in customer service; the difference being that if queries aren’t resolved, the online audience quickly hears about it. As an industry, will we do better at blending this channel into our customer service processes or will we stunt the growth with poor response times as we have done with email?

Susannah Richardson, Director of Marketing mplsystems 

Email is just another contact channel

Like with any contact channel, there are pros and cons associated with email. Amongst the positives are that it is a more cost-effective customer contact channel for companies than the phone; it is also a non-real-time communications medium, providing greater flexibility when it comes to workforce scheduling. The fact that it is not real time is also a negative, though – making email unsuitable for handling many complex queries, and in situations where callers need personal empathy or reassurance.

But at the end of the day, email is just another contact channel. Phone, email, social media, web chat, fax, self service….. rarely does an effective customer contact strategy rely 100% on just one channel. The skill is in understanding customers’ needs, knowing when it is appropriate to use different channels, providing sufficient channel choice, and giving customers a comparable quality experience regardless of the channel used.

Carl Adkins, CEO, Infinity CCS

Instant messaging rules

I have just discovered you can Instant Message the Vodafone contact centre.  This is a call-centre revolution. So much better than calling. 

Sent in on Twitter by @izakaminska

Email is far from dead, but it is slow

Our recent research into technology adoption trends in financial services contact centres showed that 79 per cent of organisations use email, and are more likely to use it than outbound telephone as a method of engagement. On the other hand, other channels are rapidly catching up, and with good reason. Contact centres have twin aspirations – to improve the customer experience, but at a cheaper cost.

Email is slow

The problem with email as a customer service channel is that it is typically slow. It is slow to create, slow to get a response and often ends up with the customer having to call the contact centre to clarify any details or to pass security checks (especially in financial services). Email is convenient for non-urgent queries and is now expected by consumers as a channel. Customers can send them in their own time and everything is recorded in writing, and also contact centres can prioritise queries by value or urgency.

However, for more complex interactions, it is a bit of a hindrance if managed poorly. A five-minute telephone call could solve an interaction that takes place over a number of days on email.

Instant messaging is becoming the contact centre’s channel of choice

Our research, however, did find that instant messaging (IM) and social media are slowly creeping up as the channels of choice for the surveyed organisations. Currently, around 18 per cent and 20 per cent of financial services contact centres use IM or some form of social media, respectively. In the next 12 to 18 months, IM will be the most popular new channel, with almost one in five contact centres in the financial services industry planning to implement it.

IM, as an instant, less costly method of interaction, is slowly becoming the contact centre’s channel of choice, not only serving to alleviate cost but also to deliver a personalised and one-to-one level of communication achieved previously only via telephone or face-to-face.

Mark King, Senior VP Europe and Africa, Aspect

Love Cloud, get a payrise

Peter Dinham from iTWire reports that non-Cloud adopting CIOs are less career driven than their Cloud-loving counterparts. Fascinating, isn’t it? I can see how this could be true, CIOs involved with Cloud services generally have a better understanding of the business as a whole, because Cloud delivers on business goals, as well as ticking boxes in the technology department.


Australian CIOs have tied their future career prospects very much to the mast of cloud computing, with recent research revealing that they believe cloud computing is shifting the focus of their role away from primarily technology onto vital business services, and increasing their chances of promotion to CEO.

{loadpositon peter}In a global survey of 615 CEOs, including Australian CIOs, 57 percent of the Australian respondents said that’s what they believed about the affects of cloud computing on their careers, with 70 percent of the Aussie CIOs feeling “ideally positioned” to move specifically to the CEO role.  The research was commissioned by CA and undertaken by reseasrch firm, Vanson Bourne.

CA’s report, however, contrasts the feedback from CIOs about their prospects of moving up to a CEO role, with the “global reality.” CA points out that, in theory, the more strategic focus increases the likelihood of CIOs making the transition to CEO, but in reality globally only four percent of CEOs have risen from the CIO ranks, “illustrating the prevalence of a barrier to career progression.”

According to CA’s managing director at CA Australia & New Zealand, Bill McMurray, the Future Role of the CIO’ report by CA Technologies has uncovered that those CIOs who have adopted cloud computing are “more ambitious than non-cloud adopting CIOs.”

“Demonstrating the extent to which CIOs view their position as a route to more general roles, approximately 93% who have adopted cloud computing, see their position as an opportunity or stepping-stone to other management roles compared to only 30% of non-cloud adopting CIOs of those surveyed, 46% of cloud adopting CIOs versus 13% of non-cloud adopting CIOs saw their current job as a stepping stone specifically to the CEO position. This illustrates the extent to which cloud computing reveals CIO ambition.”

According to McMurray, “there’s no doubt that cloud computing is revolutionising business particularly in these strained economic times,” and he also says it is breeding a “new type of technology leader – one who understands that by using the cloud to innovate, increase speed to market and reduce costs in providing strategic business services, he or she will be in a position to make a significant impact on the business and potentially be positioned to lead it.”

While more than half of the CIOs surveyed said they felt “ideally positioned” to move to the CEO role because cloud computing allows them to spend more time on innovation, business strategy and driving business effectiveness, CA’s McMurray says, however, they face “fierce competition.”

McMurray says the research reveals that 43 percent of CIOs acknowledge that whilst they do have the necessary skills to step up to the CEO role, other job roles have greater experience in using those skills. “How do you marry this ambition with the stark reality today where only ‘4’% of current CEOs has risen from the CIO ranks, 29% have risen from the Chief Financial Officer position and a further 23% were previously Chief Operating Officers?”

McMurray also says that the CIO role today is still viewed as a technical role according to 43 percent of CIOs, and this is the reason why relatively few CIOs have successfully made the transition to the CEO role. McMurray also suggests that a lack of ‘digital literacy’ in the boardroom is compounding this problem with 40 percent of CIOs stating that their board was ’digitally illiterate’ and did not understand the impact of new and emerging technologies. A further 42 percent of CIOs said that the board did not understand the value that IT brings to the business, causing a lack of responsiveness to the market and missed business opportunities.

And, McMurray cites comments by Martin Retschko, national practice director at executive search specialists, Hudson ICT, that the role of the CIO is no longer “purely about technology”, and who further remarked: “In Australia, we are seeing that this position is evolving from the traditionally technical role of a CIO to one that is more strategic and business focused. CIOs that show an understanding of, and commitment to developing the business, are much more likely to evolve beyond their traditional role.”

CA’s McMurray says that the research reveals that ambitious CIO cloud adopters are not complacent either, with 93 percent saying they need new skills to remain effective compared to 63 percent of ‘non-clouders’. Specifically, 48 percent of CIOs, says McMurray, deemed skills in commercial procurement to be vital, while cloud CIOs also prioritised service performance skills and negotiation and sales skills compared to their non-cloud adopting counterparts.

“In many ways, CEOs and CIOs share the same skill-set, particularly in terms of managing budgets, new projects and communicating their plans and strategies with internal and external stakeholders. The role of CIO will continue to extend beyond its technical attributes and we expect to see an increase in the number of CIOs taking on broader, C-Level roles,” Retschko says.

According to the research by CA, perceptions are changing since 54 percent of CIOs report that the C-level management team sees the role of the CIO as becoming increasingly important within the organisation which, according to McMurray, suggests that the boards view of the CIO is already changing.

“This research finds that cloud computing is positively impacting the ambition of today’s CIO and giving rise to a new breed of business savvy technology leaders. To ignore this trend or what these leaders could bring to the leadership of an organisation may well hinder business competitiveness and growth,” McMurray concludes.


Let's talk about the how, not the what

Ian Moyse titled his article (below) ‘Why more education is needed on cloud’, but I’m not convinced this is true. Not specifically on Cloud anyway. Towards the end of his article, Ian touches on the point I’m about to make; that more education is needed on how Cloud can help companies achieve their business goals. The majority of key personnel in any organisation are now aware (or semi-aware) of what Cloud services are and the general premise behind them. Where we’re lacking is in the understanding of the real benefits that Cloud services offer to the business as a whole.


2012 is rumored as the tipping point for cloud. For the last four to five years, we have heard that cloud (Internet-delivered solutions) is about to go mainstream, however, this year it is not the hype, but real user benefits that are driving adoption.

What do I mean by this. Well people are not going out looking for cloud-based solutions (“I want some cloud”), instead they are looking for a solution to a real problem. Some users are unknowingly using a cloud-based solution (either in their business or personal lives) and are quickly seeing the benefits.

Take for example Dropbox, a free tool for sharing (large) files across devices seamlessly, easily and from anywhere, where users adopt it from a need that it solves and not because of the technology factor behind it or because of any cloud hype.

Cloud computing is expected to enjoy an adoption rate and growth of between 30 to 40 percent per year, every year for the next five years and its promise of substantial benefits will drive this adoption. . A 2012 customer study from Rise indicating that 94% of IT departments expect to expand their use of cloud in the next 12 months.

“Enterprises that embrace cloud computing reduce the amount of IT time and budget devoted to legacy systems and routine upgrades, which then increases the time and budget they have for more innovative projects. When IT innovation happens, business innovation is reached, which then supports job creation.” IDC Chief Research Officer John F. Gantz

The key benefits of cloud Include:

Easier more flexible access in a world of consumerisation and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device),
Increased resilience,
Easier migration/implementation,
Simplicity of use,
Consistency across platforms ,
Reduced cost of both implementation and on-going usage, and
Innovation acceleration.

We still hear the downers on cloud – the news stories of gloom, fear and disdain. It was not so long ago that Internet shopping was placed in the same bucket, and yet this has become the norm and is continuing to enjoy compound growth and affect the traditional bricks-and-mortar retail arena.

There is plenty of hype on the ‘cloud’ and certainly plenty of discussion and content, and yet reports and audiences still show a need for education on the terms, benefits and realities of this growing form factor.  Top concerns of businesses in survey after survey on the cloud, continue to be security, data sovereignty and reliability. In a recent end user study from the Cloud Industry Forum 62% of companies using or planning to use cloud indicated Data Security was their prime concern. When it comes to individuals the top concern in the IT arena is job loss and reduction of individual value.

There is no doubt cloud is bringing change. With the Internet and technology, we have a generation of users demanding access to their applications from their iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or Android devices. We have entered an era where infinite IT power and information is available to a user on the smallest of devices, on the move and at an affordable price. As devices get more powerful, the Internet faster, the demand and supply of cloud applications will skyrocket and the power in the hands of the user will be greater than we have ever delivered before. Expect the marriage between mobility and the cloud to continue to grow.

So with this growth of cloud comes a change in skill requirements and job opportunities. One of CRN’s top 10 cloud predictions for 2012 is a growth in demand for cloud jobs as validated by an article in CIO magazine in early 2012. Cloud computing is and will have a major impact on skills across business, with IT being the most logically effected it will also impose itself onto roles in marketing, support and business roles in general.

The demand for cloud-based skills already is showing signs of exploding. A recent report from Wanted Analytics, reported that hiring for cloud computing expertise showed a growth of 61 percent year over year. The cloud market is growing at such a pace that the number of job postings is accelerating and yet the talent qualifying for these roles is marginal.

Cloud isn’t all overcast and according to IDC ‘Spending on public and private cloud services is predicted to generate almost 14 million jobs worldwide between 2011 and 2015. More than one-third of cloud-enabled jobs will occur in the communications and media, banking, and discrete manufacturing industries.’

“For most organizations, cloud computing should be a no-brainer, given its ability to increase IT innovation and flexibility, lower capital costs, and help generate revenues that are multiples of spending,” said John F. Gantz, chief research officer and senior vice president at IDC. The top three industries expected to generate the most jobs from cloud computing are communications and media (2.4 million), banking (1.4 million) and discrete manufacturing (1.3million).

Cloud offers opportunities for those that embrace the new form factor and self-educate and certify themselves for the needs of employers today and tomorrow. More education is needed in cloud across all sectors to enable businesses to understand and utilize this important new technology to its advantage.

CompTIA’s Cloud Essentials certification is an example option that enables employees of varying roles to validate their cloud knowledge, take online training and exam condition testing, and differentiate themselves in the competitive job market. John McGlinchey,Vice President, Europe & Middle East, CompTIA commented “We have had a demand from the user market for a training curriculum with testing to support this rapidly growing new form factor. The demand and adoption is outstripping the skill base and it is key that individuals and businesses recognise and address this shortfall, before it becomes a serious issue for all concerned.”

More education is needed in cloud across all sectors to enable businesses to understand and utilize this important new technology option to its advantage and this need for understanding stretches past simply the border of the IT department. Expect to see more cloud courses and exams providing the market with the required validations in this new cloudy world. Ignoring cloud is no longer an option, utilizing it to your advantage is!

So, how was it for you?

I know, I know,  everyone always makes an example out of Apple. I just couldn’t go past this article by Brian Prentice from Gartner. No wonder Apple has such an enormous band of loyal followers. The iPad launch day strategy and execution was impeccable. Handing out coupons that represent a unit of stock was simple, but had such an incredible impact on customer experience. So, what can YOU change about your service delivery for little cost to create maximum effect?


Daddy’s got a new iPad! I just got it home.

Since I live in Australia, I guess I’m one of the first. And the experience I had getting it was a lesson in retail done right. Heck, it was an example of capitalism done right! There were five keys to making my purchase a great purchase experience.

Honesty – Unfortunately, I couldn’t pre-order my iPad because of my travel schedule. So I had no choice but to brave the Apple Store on launch day. I thought I’d avoid any queues but coming at the nonchalant, but early-enough time of 10:30am. No luck, there was still a queue. I asked the staff running up and down the line how long I’d have to wait. They said 30-45 minutes. I was heading back home with my iPad in 40 minutes.

Efficiency – As I got into the queue, an Apple staff member asked me what model I was looking for. I told them the it was the white 64gb WiFi version. She dug into her bag and gave me a coupon which secured my purchase. The point here is that the Apple Store matched every unit in stock with a coupon. So, if they didn’t have what I wanted I could either pick something else or leave the queue and wait another day. What I didn’t have to do was waste my time to find out what was in stock.

Courtesy – when I got into the Apple Store I realised why there was a queue. It kept the store from being a mad house. What they were doing was managing the foot traffic so I didn’t end up jostling and fighting people for available product.

Commitment – I know it seems trite to say this, but the people working at the Apple Store are on some higher plane of retail existence. They are polite in a way that can only come from the sincerest appreciation for what they’re selling. Add to that knowledge of what they’re selling that can only come from people who use what they’re selling. That was evident by the casual conversations staff were having with waiting customers on what they were doing with their iPads.

The Extra Mile – The Apple Store was prepared to unbox your new iPad and work with you to get it set up. For free! Here in Australia that type of effort would be deemed by other retailers as being a paid-for service…probably one you’d need to book a week in advance.

None of these things happen by accident. Each of these things requires meticulous planning and a sustained effort at maintaining a high performance culture. In a recent interview with Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, he said;

“I think that people’s emotional connection to our products is that they sense our care…”

Well, I certainly felt Apple cared about me as they designed an experience to make acquiring a highly popular product on launch day – one where demand is outstripping supply – a pleasurable one.

Why do I feel compelled to write about this? Two reasons.

The first is to point out to vendors hoping to compete with Apple that this is what you’re up against. Your challenge is how you create the same type of experience with retailers who see your products as just another SKU at aisle 6, floor 4, electronics section.

The second reason is to point out how incredibly hard it will be to achieve that. In a case of ironic serendipity, the National Retail Association in Australia has released an inquiry claiming that 118,000 jobs will be lost to online shopping over the next three years and that 33,000 jobs will vanish because of the GST exemption on imported goods bought online under $1000. Australian retailers (and I’m assuming many other around the world) are obsessed with what everyone else is doing to them rather than focusing on what they need to do to compete in a global digital economy.

What they need to learn from Apple is two critical lessons. The first is to make sure that you have a well-designed and integrated retail experience. One where your customers are not penalised (unavailability of some stock, limited access to specials, etc.) if they chose one over the other.

The more important lesson is price consistency. No amount of experience design can entice people into your shop when your asking price is vastly overpriced compared to online oversees alternatives. If I remove the GST from my new iPad purchase, for comparison purposes, then

I’m actually getting my iPad slightly cheaper than I could in the US. That’s online, or in store. Now, locally Apple faces the same real estate and staff costs and the same legal obligations as local retailers. How come they can do all this and the local companies can’t?

So, Apple, thanks for the pleasurable experience.

So, Apple competitors, best of luck.

So, Australian retailers, stop whining and pick up your game.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a new iPad to set up.