Tuesday, 28 May 2013 15:34

The ACE up Aspect’s Sleeve

Last week I attended Aspect’s ACE 2013 customer gathering in Scottsdale, AZ.  This was Aspect’s second ACE, which stands for Aspect Customer Experience, since putting the program on hiatus four or five years ago.  If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it was certainly apparent at this event as the enthusiasm of Aspect executives was matched equally by the enthusiasm of the several hundred Aspect customers in attendance.

The mark of a good customer event is, in my opinion, the accessibility of company executives with their customers.  With a spate of new executives, Aspect ensured at the start of the event that executives were not only available, they were individually identified in the main session so attendees could find them if desired.  Aspect CEO Stew Bloom kicked off the event with an overview of Aspect that described in detail what the company has been doing to address the re-invented customer experience in a world where the relationship between consumers and organizations is undergoing radical changes. 

Stew also provided an overview of new solutions that Aspect expects to release to the market in the near future.  Although I can’t specifically discuss these solutions yet, suffice it to say that they address real industry problems and that they are or will be in high demand from contact center professionals according to the research that Saddletree has conducted in association with the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) at The University of Southern Mississippi.

While adequate coverage was given to emerging technology solutions such as cloud-based contact centers, conference sessions for the most part were firmly rooted in reality.  Concentration on social media, mobility issues, customer interactions strategies, and workforce optimization (WFO) ensured that Aspect customers left the conference with practical customer care knowledge that they can immediately put to use in their contact centers.

I continue to be impressed by the caliber of executives representing the relatively new Aspect management team.  I believe the diversity of the executive staff has invigorated Aspect in terms of strategy and ability to execute while recharging longtime Aspect employees who have steadfastly stuck with the company through the various changes of recent years.

I want to say that Aspect is like a whole new company, but that’s not really true.  This is clearly an enthusiastic company, reenergized by a new management team, encouraged by renewed investment in research and development, and optimistic about the future.

Revitalized is what the company really is.  That’s the ACE up Aspect’s sleeve.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Interactive Intelligence’s Interactions 2013 global conference held at the JW Marriott hotel in Indianapolis.  I have attended one previous Interactive Intelligence analyst/customer conference several years ago and I didn’t find it to be useful in terms of getting the information I need in order to do my job.  I was hoping for a better experience this time.

I don’t have much of a relationship with Interactive Intelligence, business or otherwise, so my knowledge of the company is limited to the few phone briefings I’ve had with them over the past year.  Interactive Intelligence seems to have their favorites and Saddletree Research isn’t one of them, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received the invitation to attend this year’s analyst/customer conference.

Overall I was favorably impressed by the event.  The venue was first class with excellent meeting facilities and exceptionally generous meals, refreshments and accommodations throughout.  I think the meeting planners at Interactive Intelligence did their best to pack as much information into the analyst day as possible although some of the presentations only skimmed the surface and left me wanting more in-depth detail.  While the subject matter was a mile wide it was only about a foot deep, but I give Interactive Intelligence credit for their efforts to make the day as diverse and interesting as possible.

If you took to heart the Interactive Intelligence conference marketing message you would get the impression that the entire contact center industry is in a mad scramble to move all their customer care solutions from the premises to the cloud.  Our research has shown that this is simply not the case.  Saddletree Research clients have in hand our April 22, 2013 report entitled “Finding the Silver Lining in the Contact Center Cloud” that details the demand and lack of demand for cloud contact center solutions by vertical market and size of contact center.  At this point the data doesn’t mesh with the Interactive Intelligence marketing message.  I got the impression that Interactive Intelligence has invested heavily in cloud solutions and now expects the market to respond, thus their conference emphasis on the benefits of the cloud-based contact center.

When I visited the conference exhibit floor it was packed with Interactive Intelligence customers and a variety of interesting exhibitors.  Among the most intriguing of these exhibitors was a company called OrgSpan (www.orgspan.com).  OrgSpan is a startup founded by a former Interactive Intelligence software engineer and funded by Interactive Intelligence founder Dr. Don Brown.  OrgSpan offers a cloud-based (what else?) employee directory and customer support tool designed to help organizations of any size find and connect with the right person at the right time.  Besides offering internal enterprise support for finding personnel resources it can also be used to allow customers to find the best customer support representative to help with their service need.  It’s something like LinkedIn for enterprise and customer support.  It’s worth a look.

My impression of Interactive Intelligence remains positive, reinforced by the company’s demonstrated commitment to the continued development of their platform solutions.  Interactions 2013 was a well-planned, well-executed and worthwhile event.

Monday, 08 April 2013 10:25

Contact Centers by the Numbers

In my research role at the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) at The University of Southern Mississippi, the two most common questions I am asked are as follows:

 

1.  How many contact centers are there in the U.S.?

2.  Can I get a directory of all the contact centers in the U.S.?

 

The second question almost always comes from some sales rep who thinks they are going to call every contact center in the U.S. and sell them his/her product (like they’re the first ones who have thought of that).  The answer to the second question is always “No,” for a couple of reasons.  First of all, NACC membership records are kept confidential.  The other reason this is a “No” is closely related to the answer to the first question.

 

The answer to the first question, the number of contact centers in the U.S., does not exist.  There is no reliable count of contact centers in the U.S. today.  The task would be overwhelming for a private firm to undertake and the only organization that has the manpower to undertake the task, the U.S. government, doesn’t count contact centers as contact centers in their economic census unless they are standalone contact centers like outsourcers.  In other words, companies like Convergys would be counted as a contact center.  Companies like Verizon, that may have a dozen contact centers, are counted as telecommunications companies.  Their contact centers are not counted as contact centers.

 

Last week I was interviewed by an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) regarding industry trends and issues for the updated Customer Service Representative job description in the BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.  I was able to confirm that although there is interest in eventually getting an accurate count of contact centers in the U.S., no change in policy is imminent.  I did, however, get some other interesting insights.

 

Most interesting is the fact that according to the BLS, there are 2.2 million contact center customer service representatives in the workforce today.  Even though the economic census doesn’t ask about captive contact centers, they do ask respondents about the number of contact center CSRs they have in-house.  I find this fascinating because we have always used an approximation (guess) of about 3.5 million agents in the U.S.  We were way off, but not as far off as other estimates I’ve seen that are taken as gospel by the industry due to the name of the company purporting to know the number.

 

Here’s another interesting thought.  At the NACC we make the assumption that the average contact center is somewhere around 48 seats.  That’s based on member information we obtain and extrapolate to represent the population of all U.S. contact centers.  If we take that average and divide it into the number of known CSRs in the U.S., we’re looking at an approximation of about 45,830 contact centers nationally.  That’s less than half of the 100,000 number that’s usually thrown about in reference to the total number of contact centers in the U.S.

 

What if the average contact center size is larger or smaller than our estimate?  This idea opens the door to a lot of questions, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that the actual number of contact centers in the U.S. is closer to 50,000 than it is to 100,000.  I don’t think that has any negative bearing on potential sales for vendors or potential jobs in the future, but it does have value as a reality check in an industry that often touts fantasies and fiction as fact.