It will surprise many to learn that the telephone remains consumers’ preferred means of contacting businesses. Online, digital and social channels may have redrawn the landscape of global communications, but research repeatedly reveals that nothing quite beats human-to-human dialogue over the phone. Yet, over the past decade, the perceived value of telephony in UK businesses appears to have diminished. Organisations have made it increasingly difficult for customers to make direct contact over the phone, opting instead to channel communications through email, web mail, online chat tools and even social media.
Yet with 72 per cent of people still preferring customer contact via the telephone, the digital approach seems to be at odds with businesses’ oft-quoted commitment to customer-centricity. Since telephone dialogue is often the final, pivotal conclusion of the sales or customer service process, incremental moves away from telephony appear all the more perplexing. Thankfully, however, the pendulum is swinging back the other way. Voice is making a comeback.
The advent of Cloud telephony is putting the telephone back on the map, and giving executives access to real-time metrics that were previously out of reach. In the process, telephony – for so long a barely-noticed and functional part of the office furniture – is finally being recognised as a business tool that supports strategic decision-making. The most proactive organisations are discovering that there are not only value-added alternatives to telecoms ‘establishment’ like BT and Mitel, but better still, they don’t need to rip and replace their legacy systems to enjoy the benefits of Cloud telephony.
Finding your voice
Recent developments suggest that telecommunications strategies have come full circle. Having ‘lost their voice’ in favour of online communications platforms, major businesses are now recognising the limitations of a digital-only approach and returning to more familiar human engagement pathways. Meanwhile, many of the UK’s high street banks have also replaced much-criticised overseas call centres with British-based Customer Service Centres that operate 24/7. A hoard of other bluechip businesses have followed in their footsteps. But optimising the value of telephony goes beyond geography - it requires a system that can turn mundane voice calls into an incubator for analytics to inform responsive business decisions. The answer is in the Cloud.
Prior to the development of Cloud technology, the nearest UK telecommunications ever got to the Cloud came through the ‘Buzby Bird’ in the BT commercials. Back then, BT was the only game in town, with all UK telephone calls routed through its public switch telephone network. That largely remains the case today. However, as technology has advanced, the control of routing calls has moved from the on-site hardware at each end of a call, to a new scenario where everything can potentially sit at the centre. This cloud-based approach allows end-users to manage their own service via the web and, crucially, gain access to business-critical information in real time. It’s changed the marketplace and reinvigorated telephony.
Many years ago, BT coined its infamous tagline: it’s good to talk. And they were right. But unfortunately, although it was indeed good to talk, you’d have to wait weeks before you got your bill and the accompanying call metrics were disappointingly basic. Moreover, the delay in correspondence typically meant that call logs were effectively nothing more than an itemised bill while the opportunity to respond to trends or manage activity had long since disappeared into the ether. In that old world, call management activity and transactional data was kept under lock and key by the networks. As a result, evaluating telephone activity was a narrow, retrospective exercise rather than a gateway to insightful business informatics.
Cloud-based telephony has changed all of that. It has unlocked previously elusive call management information and made it freely available to businesses. What’s more, users no longer have to wait weeks to review call activity and assess vital metrics - they can have them in real time to help inform data-driven business decisions.
The development of Cloud telephony is a game-changer. It can be leveraged by the full range of business professionals: from the c-suite and senior executives to marketers, operations, shared services and commercial functions. And it’s already being deployed to meet common productivity, efficiency and resourcing challenges across public sector and commercial organisations. For example, in the commercial sector, consumer marketers are using Cloud telephony to measure the real-time response to regional TV advertising campaigns and target crucial marketing resources responsively and effectively. In the healthcare sector, regional 111 services are using the real-time cloud-based metrics to allocate, share and adjust call centre resources in line with fluctuating demand. Moreover, they’re helping to reduce call abandonment and accelerate patient care through the agile optimisation of available resources. Similarly, in the retail sector, call centre operations are pooling resources across large geographic areas, including pan-European, to maintain consistent standards of service, improve customer satisfaction, and offer a service in regions where there might not be a physical presence.
What’s more, real-time call data is not only proving instrumental in improving the customer experience, it’s benefitting employees too. One NHS organisation has successfully managed to retain disenchanted doctors on the verge of early retirement simply by using Cloud telephony to enable home-based tele-health consultations. The implications for patient engagement have been significant, whilst the Clinical Commissioning Group has ensured that the local health economy has not lost valuable knowledge and experience.
The benefits of Cloud telephony are transferrable across all sectors and industries. Furthermore, because the smartest solutions are interoperable with all legacy telephone systems and painless to implement, organisations can reap the rewards quickly and without disruption. The cost-savings and efficiency gains of the Cloud-based approach are, on their own, enough to demonstrate a speedy return on investment for any business. But in a modern era where consumers still rate the phone as their preferred means of customer contact, the Cloud can also help all businesses find their voices and establish telephony as an indispensable business tool.
Modern-day developments suggest that, as telecommunications slowly go back to the future, voice is finally making a welcome comeback. To make the most of it, businesses would be well advised to pay attention to the voices from above – and sign up to the Cloud.
Lee Bryant, Managing Director, Sesui