Can you tell us a bit about your career so far and how you arrived in your current role?
I’ve been at 8×8 for around five years but I’ve got over 20 years’ experience in the industry. In 2001 I founded my own company ICT Associates, winning the BT Voice and Data integrator of the year for our work in the design and deployment of Public Sector contact centres. Since then, I’ve worked in a number of roles in the telephony and contact centre industry, which has helped me develop my expertise in combining voice and data techniques to help drive down transactional costs and increase efficiencies.
Tell us about 8×8 and what the company does
8×8 is the world’s first Communications Cloud. We connect employees, customers and applications to improve business performance for organisations anywhere in the world.
While we have been 8×8 in the UK for just three years, our UK presence and capability in hosted and UCaaS has been building since 2004 when Voicenet was founded. We led the way as a leading independent pure play cloud service provider of that time. For us, it’s no longer about just replacing phone systems, but helping companies move to a seamless communications system that helps employees interact using whatever device they need. What we call Enterprise Communications as a Service (ECaaS) brings all real time communications and contact centre services together in one integrated platform, that’s user centric, 100% cloud and mobile first, delivering continuous communications for distributed organisations.
What has been the company’s greatest success?
One of our biggest strengths is that we own and develop all our technology. We are constantly innovating to build on our 132 patents, as a result leading research analysts Gartner has named 8×8 Magic Quadrant UCaaS Leader for five consecutive years by leading research analysts Gartner. For partners and customers, this means they can be confident they are always using the most innovative tech on the market, but also means we can react quickly to developments in the market.
What does the future hold for 8×8?
2016 was an exciting year for 8×8 in the UK, and we expect to continue growing over the next few years– especially in the UK and Europe. We’ve got ambitious growth targets and we’re excited for our partners to join us in the exciting next steps of our business. This won’t be a short sprint – we’ve got our sights set on long term growth to ensure our status as a leader in the industry.
We will also continue to build on our 132 patents so our customers always have the latest technology that helps them grow their businesses. For example, we acquired Sameroom earlier this year, which will further strengthen our cloud communications capabilities. This means employees, customers and partners will be able to collaborate across disparate team messaging solutions, such as Slack, Skype, HipChat and more.
How has the contact centre industry changed since you’ve been involved in it?
We’ve seen a huge shift in recent years away from on premise solutions to cloud-based systems. More and more businesses are seeing the benefits that this technology can bring that allows them not only to deliver excellent service, but continuously analyse and improve that service.
Nowadays, even small teams have access to tools that large contact centres have traditionally used. Our Virtual Contact Centre quickly routes customers to the most appropriately skilled agents no matter where they are located, reducing customer transfer numbers. Contact centre managers can listen to voice recordings, watch screen captures and jump from point to point within a conversation with the way 8×8 displays every customer interaction. Scorecards also help give consistent agent reviews.
We’re also seeing the rise of contact centres analysing call data and using this information to make decisions that will help them operate more effectively. Businesses can now not only track how many outgoing or incoming calls are being made, but can also monitor how long they last on average, what time of day they tend to peak or how often they are being made and on the incoming side, where they’re going. With this insight, companies can plan for peaks in call volumes or demand and flex staffing rotas accordingly to ensure customers are not left on hold. In a nutshell this means that both performance and cost targets can be met.
What do you think is the greatest challenge faced by the industry today?
Currently there are 766,000 people working in contact centres in the UK. However, there are more than 4.6 million additional staff dealing with customer service enquiries who don’t work in a traditional contact centre.
There are more than six times as many people working in ‘invisible contact centres’ than there are in official ones. This secret army is still having to communicate professionally with customers across multiple channels, but in most instances they haven’t been trained and don’t feel confident doing so. With the right specialist technology and training in place, staff can be supported, even if this is only a small two person team or a larger and more established department.
What does the future hold for the industry?
The use of chatbots and AI is a huge trend this year as businesses attempt to scale their customer service channels. While automation is important, we don’t see this as a threat to human agents.
Companies will continue to invest in AI as a way to reduce easy to fix issues, which would only drain the time of experienced agents. However, there’s no code at the moment that could allow a chatbot to sensitively deal with specific customer enquiries or emotional support.
The ability to track and analyse calls has been around for a while and has been used predominantly in contact centre environments. However, we’re seeing wider adoption of call analytics platforms across businesses as a way to make better decisions based on big data. Call analytics platforms are now easier than ever to deploy across any department. The data can be used to improve employee performance, sales campaigns, customer experience management and offers greater insight into staffing requirements.
Which companies do you admire and why?
I tend to admire people rather than companies. Every great company is made up of brilliant people. Leaders who I find particularly inspirational include Sir John Harvey Jones, and Sir Frank Whittle, to name just a few. These stick in my mind because they had complete faith that they would achieve and were determined to continue until they did succeed.
If there were one piece of advice you could give to contact centre professionals reading this, what would it be?
Make sure you’re getting the most out of your technology. With the advent of cloud-based systems, even small contact centres can have access to the same tools as large organisations, but at a fraction of the price. It’s worth remembering that agent-related expenses make up 75% of the cost of running a contact centre but with the right capabilities and tools, it’s easy to maximise the value your agents bring to your business.
What do you do for fun?
My job keeps me extremely busy. So when it comes to my spare time, I generally like to relax. That takes many forms: from walking my dogs with endless energy (the dogs that is) and landscape garden design, to studying neuroplasticity and aviation. I’m fascinated by physiological performance, which comes from my aviation days and my deep understanding of robotics – these topics link them all together.