Unifying Customer Touch-Points within Recruitment

Business process automation is becoming a common discussion point for larger Recruitment organisations using advanced CRM systems. The ability to “systemize” process creates consistency , predictability and scalability.  The visualisation of performance using user friendly Dashboards and Reports enables management  to scrutinize  and control crucial KPIs.

recruitment_touch_pointsHowever, many Recruitment businesses are experiencing disjointed customer and candidate journeys. This is primarily because the various touch points within the recruitment business operate within separate silos. For instance, it is still rare to see Recruitment and Staffing professionals working from a single system that gives a unified view of a Candidate (emails, phone conversations, CV and Social Data). This in turn means that conversations that happen between a candidate or customer and their recruiter rarely make it to the management team who can effect impactful actions and improvements based directly on this real-time information.

By the same principle, customer requirements also may not make it cleanly to the candidate or their recruiter allowing them to better determine if indeed they will make a good fit for the role in question. This emphasis on client and candidate openness will lead to better placement, less candidate churn and greater overall satisfaction which inevitably leads to increased repeat business.

Integrating real-time communications into the CRM creates the environment for agents to become far more productive. It streamlines training and simplifies onboarding and creates accountability across the organisation, this combination leads to better Customer and Candidate experience and greater employee satisfaction.

By unifying telephony into the Recruitment system it is possible to predict the destination of the outbound sales call and dynamically alter the sales person’s phone number to match closely the destination number location, greatly increasing the answer rate for that call. Powerful analytics gives businesses greater insight into conversation outcomes, best times to call and reduction in the need to make  lengthy ‘post call’ notes which impacts productivity.

The Business Impact of Unified Touch-points

Consistent and Unified Customer and Candidate Touch-points provide Recruitment Businesses with huge benefits including:

  • Increased Successful First Placements
    • Improved Customer Satisfaction
    • Repeat Business from existing Customers
    • Easier retention of Candidates (they know you place them accurately)
    • Less time spent re-placing roles which improves profit and reduces credit noting to customers.
  • Feedback reaches management faster
    • Giving Management Teams access to a Unified Customer and Candidate view including call recordings, outcomes and analytics will lead to faster Business improvements based on real unfiltered feedback directly inside your CRM records.
  • Knowledge sharing will improve across the organisation
    • Recruiters who have Business Development Teams and separate account management teams can suffer from information lag or proxy (2nd or 3rd hand information) to or from the candidate or customer. Removing the barriers to information sharing across voice and data will make the business more efficient for all concerned.
  • Voice Unification allows for a data driven Sales Processes
    • Calling contacts from inside the CRM ensures data consistency and quicker more accurate calling
    • Matching outbound calling numbers to the recipient destination increases pickup rates.
    • Integrating the call recordings of sales calls back into the CRM contact record ensures accountability and consistency
    • Real-time analytics of sales communications gives agents and management insight into the best calling times and conversation outcome.
    • Customer and candidate web enquiries no longer require manual processing in order to generate sales calls. The system automatically places the sales call and connects to the correct team or recruiter.

Implementing integrated communications into your Recruitment CRM system using a suitable CloudCall system is now straightforward and highly cost effective facilitating a clear return on investment.

Integrating your customer and candidate touch points leads to a better recruitment process and improved profit and retention.

The Rise of WebRTC and what it means to Businesses.

WebRTC is going to FUNDAMENTALLY change the way businesses interact with their Customers.

Within the next couple of years,  many Customer self service portals will have WebRTC (web real-time communications) capability which will connect your customer using audio, video or chat directly to your sales or service people without the need for a telephone at either end, using nothing more than their favourite  web browser.webrtc-logo-vert-retro-255x305

The technology is already here, the mainstream adoption is not, that is where the couple of years comes in. Welcome to the world of WebRTC.

WebRTC v1.0 is a standard based on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which itself was based on original work developed at Ericsson Labs and later on by the WebRTC open source project published by Google in 2011.  WebRTC v1.1 (also known as ORTC – Object Real-time Communications) is currently in development and is actually part implemented in some web browsers already.

Essentially WebRTC gives the web browsers and developers a standard way of implementing and integrating real-time communications capabilities which have the ability to deliver four main capabilities which are 1. Voice Communication 2. Video Conferencing 3. Realtime chat 4. Information sharing (ie: desktop and file sharing). These capabilities are already pre-baked into the latest Web Browsers and platforms:

For PCs and Macs: Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox and Opera have support in their latest versions. Android Smartphones and tablets have  Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera Mobile support.  Apple Smart Phone and Tablets (ie: latest iPhone and iPADs) have support in their  built in Web Browser. (Notable exceptions that do not have support are Internet Explorer and Apple Safari.)

Given the fact that there is already broad fixed and mobile platform support for WebRTC  the major barriers to adoption have been removed. In the next few years we expect to see this technology really come of age and proliferate throughout the business world.

WebRTC-Diag2

I know there will be some questions, so I have attempted to answer a few of the common ones below, but first the obligatory diagram showing how it can work.

What advantages does WebRTC give your business?

Firstly WebRTC gives you to ability to communicate more effectively with your Customers and Staff. The technology is programmable using HTML5 and Javascript – within the capability of most good Web Developers. The ability to integrate WebRTC functions into your business workflows, integrating to your existing Website,  Customer Portal and CRM means you do not have to swap out large chunks of your software or infrastructure to gain this capability.

Two example Use Cases (there are many more)

A Service Team wants to create more efficiencies with Customer Interactions. Using WebRTC they can create a WebRTC enabled web page in their Support Portal so customers can interact directly with the support team directly, maybe after creating a support ticket. The Support agents can also use WebRTC software and can receive a call/chat/video and desktop share from the customer without having to use a traditional or VoIP phone or any telecoms infrastructure at all. The communication is delivered from the Customer Webpage to the Support Agent via the company’s WebRTC service. Both the Customer and the Agent  have a camera, audio and microphone provided in their PC/Mac/iPAD/iPhone/Android which WebRTC uses and controls throughout the communications session.

A Recruitment Company wants to create a better way to interact with their Candidates and Customers throughout the interview process. The recruitment company contacts a WebRTC Service Provider who integrates a WebRTC solution into their interview process. This integration videos the candidate whilst they are answering a series of interview questions driven from the CRM and uploads the video as part of the candidate’s CV package which can be given to prospective employees. The candidate can use their PC/Mac/Laptop/iPAD/Android device to log on to the recruiters interview portal and run through the interview questions.

How secure is WebRTC?

WebRTC offers good security for calls. Signalling (instructions that tell WebRTC clients what to do next) is delivered over secure websockets (similar to https).  The media (the actual audio/video/messages/information) is transferred using SRTP (secure real-time protocol) again is also encrypted.  There are some minor security concerns to do with reading users IP addresses and of course there are the ones we haven’t discovered yet. The best advice I can give you is to consult a WebRTC/Integrated Communications specialist on such matters prior to implementing WebRTC inside your network.

What is the Call Quality like?

This is where we have to get a bit technical. The audio is encoded and decoded (the codec) using one of two methods or codecs as they are known – either G.711 or Opus. (Think Wav file or MP3 file.)

Both codecs offer good quality calls but Opus is more flexible because it can adapt to low bandwidth environments. Opus is actually based partly on the “Silk” algorithm which is used by Skype and can provide near HD quality using up to 80 kilobits per second (ISDN is 64 kilobits per second) all the way down to 6kb/s for bandwidth constrained environments like mobile – although don’t expect High Definition calls at that level!

The reality is that for any enterprise grade voice quality, you need to ensure that your own business local area network and wide area network (your internet connectivity) is capable of supporting voice calls over IP. That means no dodgy/cheap home-grade ethernet switches in your network and a properly setup router with Quality of service settings configured correctly. Best advice here is: Buy cheap, buy twice.

Peer to Peer or Client-Server?

Peer to Peer (web browser to web browser) communication is certainly possible using WebRTC. However the compelling Business case is where WebRTC clients (your customers and staff using WebRTC enabled applications) are connected through a WebRTC Gateway which will mediate the calls and even connect them to the PSTN (outside world) through a suitable SIP service. There are other advantages to routing the RTP through a central source, for example allowing calls and video to be recorded. Therefore my advice to you would be to seek advice from a suitably knowledgeable communications company as part of your planning.

WebRTC sounds interesting, where do I go from here?

My advice would be to speak to a few companies who are providing or planning to provide WebRTC services and also visit a good conference on WebRTC. A good one would be the European VoIP Summit in London in March 2016. I am on one of the Q+A sessions talking about WebRTC. More information is available by clicking here.

As a follow up, I am planning to write a couple of follow-up articles talking specifically about a few WebRTC applications which our company – SYNETY – will be launching later in 2016 so I hope you enjoyed the article and found it useful.

The Customer System – Scaling your Cloud Business

building a cloud business is hard, Building one that scales beyond the startup phase to profitability is far harder.

graphFor those Entrepreneurs that don’t possess a legendary degree of foresight but also don’t want to want a costly lesson in hindsight there is always the hard earned learnings of others to guide you through the pitfalls of scaling your Cloud business.

I’d like to discuss how to architect your business systems right from the start to not only scale beyond  handling your early adopters but get you closer to your actual goal of creating a cash generative recurring revenue business. Do this without having spend big on re-architecturing your systems because they are creaking.  I’ve been there, and I’ve worn the bloody T-shirt that goes with it.  I promise you that having a thriving business which is being held back by non-scalable architecture is not a good place to be.

The last thing any business needs when it is gaining traction or closing the cash gap is to have to shell out cash on re-architecture projects or redirect valuable product development resource to the task.

When you think about your new business, or new product, think about the Customer System that needs to go with it.

The Customer System in one sentence is:

Interconnected process across each area of your business which create high quality, scalable and consistent experiences for Customers and Staff.

No matter how tedious, time consuming and irrelevant this may seem to you, this will be the single most important business foundation you will create (beyond actually developing your product/service in the first place).

The Customer System spans across your entire business but first I’d like to start with your product or service  area because this is probably the main revenue generator and value creator for your business.

Map each step a customer will take and this means mapping every possible request, delivery, upgrade and general contact point (in and out) for any new and existing customers. Think about the flow of information, what possible information will give you, what you need from them and what format you will follow up. Make it super easy for Customers to exchange information with you. You will need a flexible and customisable CRM system and  third party cloud services like email/marketing automation, SMS and telephony integration. Choose the best of breed providers and plug them into your Customer System.

Define a product/feature release system for your service. Create a sub-committee (consisting of various stakeholders across the business who will be connected to your Customer and Service departments) who will be responsible for voting the priority of features for the following quarter’s roadmap and ensuring the product/feature specifications have covered all angles. If is also the job of your committee to ensure communication is fed into your departments and be the ‘go-to person’ within their department for product related questions.

The quality of your documentation is part of your Product and is paramount to the success of of your entire business. You need to educate your staff and your customers very well so decide on the system to do this and ensure that any system you choose has an API so it can be easily integrated into your overall system.

Automate as many tasks as possible, including the core provisioning of customers services. Use this mantra – “Where a robot will do – use a robot” (aka software scripts). Automation costs less and is more accurate than a human –  plus they don’t have days off.

Where there is a-lot of complexity in a process, a human may be necessary. Use a human but ensure this costly resource is trained to an inch of their life – don’t forget they are carrying the company brand. ensure than any manual process has a system wrapped around it so you can create metrics – dashboards or reports, showing you the performance of the employee and/or process.

The diagram below represents my view of The Customer System plus a the core components for a product department handling feature releases. This has been used successfully in our business, copy it, change it and improve it (if you do, please send me a copy:)

Customer SystemProduct-Processes

The next article in The Customer System series will  be the Sales and Pre-Sales system where I discuss in detail the idea of systemising your Sales and Pre-Sales Processes and how they integrate into the overall Customer System to create great upsell opportunities and reduce churn.

CloudCall API – the new way to build Comms Apps

During the last year, I have been working on a start-up called SYNETY which has developed a telecoms web service called the CloudCall API.

Building customised IVR, Outbound voice applications or Hosted PBX services  is currently an expensive proposition. Traditionally, you needed to purchase an IVR platform (software and hardware) then install either on-premise or host in a carrier’s data-centre, plug in E1 trunks and then build and test your application. As you grew, you would be constrained by the trunk capacity of your IVR equipment and as time went on, your application and IVR equipment would become out of date. Any idea how bad text to speech (TTS) or Voice recognition technology was just 3 years ago ?

CloudCall_Platform2011

Now there is a new way to build, test, deploy and scale your IVR or outbound communications applications – the SYNETY CloudCall API.

More information is available at www.cloudcall.com

SYNETY will be officially openening its doors for business on January 3rd.

SYNETY, Convergence and Unified Communications for SMEs.

Working in both Telecoms and Internet businesses for the last 16 years has given me a useful insight into convergence and the emergence of Unified Communications. 
cloud-scene.png

For me it all started in 1998 whilst I was 3 years into running my first ISP.  The initial emergence of Voice over IP technology was definitely too early. Then there was instant messaging and following closely was early software video conferencing, all bleeding edge technology, mostly unreliable but an indication of things to come.

As convergence of telecommunications and IT continued to progress through the noughties we started to see and hear the ramifications of this, from acquisitions of businesses to share value being slashed off public companies deemed to be on the back foot of these changes.

I know many telecoms reseller businesses that have been told they dead or dying if they do not embrace Unified Communications (posh name for converged communications) with this Software Company or that.

Indeed I’m guilty of this myself having been wrapped up so tightly inside an Eco-system that every fiber of me believed that UC was the life raft to every business in a recession and was truly bewildered by any business rejecting it.

It is true that some Unified Communications platforms like Microsoft Lync can help improve communications and bolster collaboration in certain multi-site businesses; the benefit really depends on the type, size and business culture.

Even though it may seem so, I’m not trying poo-poo Unified Communications or Microsoft Lync. I still believe it can be transformative for businesses in many circumstances but in my previous role I was focused solely on medium and large businesses but not any-more.  Now I’m back to my grass roots – focusing on startups and SMEs.

During the planning and preparation stages of our new business I’ve spent time talking to various small and medium sized businesses – from start-ups to 50 person businesses. I needed to find out exactly what SMEs really need from their communications in order to ratify our business strategy and generally get closer to the types of customer we will be supplying services.

I was surprised to find that many smaller businesses I interviewed have neither the technical capability nor the need to take full advantage of many of the features that this emerging technology offers. They don’t need to see people’s presence – they can just look over their desk. They don’t need desktop sharing – they can pull a chair up at someone else’s desk, and even when a couple enquired about whether their iPhone’s or Android would work with Lync the conversations soon turned to other technology.

Microsoft believes the phone is dead – and maybe it will be one day but not for now, not according to the businesses I spoke to.

I was also surprised to find that many of the business simply didn’t want big changes to their working practices or communications technology – many of them felt that it wasn’t the time to try radical new ways of working.

Instead, businesses want to improve and hone their working practices, in other words make small incremental changes with a low risk strategy, the theory being that a larger number of small incremental changes adds up to bigger changes down the line. In summary, the conversations always turned to improving not replacing.

Also given these un-certain times, the SMEs I spoke to wanted definite and measurable return on their investment on any new communications technology or systems and the return on investment needed to be in the months – not years.

They wanted low or no setup costs – definitely no CAPEX, a get out clause if it all goes wrong,  and the solution needs to be very easy to use and manage. Unsurprisingly I did find they were far more acceptable of outsourcing to the cloud but wanted to have good assurances around service quality and up-time.

In numerous occasions I found that businesses wanted to keep their existing software and telecoms in the most part or have the ability to improve their communications abilities and scale out existing systems using the cloud.

After planning SYNETY for nearly a year, I feel as though the business has now developed products and services that SMEs will want in order for them to incrementally improve their business performance.

In the following blogs, I will discuss the types of business issues our technology solves and provide in-site into the ongoing technology development.

Its early days, but following our launch this October,  I’m confident that  SYNETY can help many businesses achieve an improved bottom line.

E-Reading in 2011. Virtual Software or Physical Device ?

Rather than writing a review on E-Readers (there are hundreds of them on Google already) I thought I would share my personal E-Reader story with you.

The two big questions around E-Reading are: Should I use a dedicated E-Reader or use a Tablet device running an E-Reading application? And will the latter kill the Dedicated Kindle Device?

In 2010 a raft of second generation dedicated e-readers were launched giving consumers access to a device designed specifically for reading on the move. Like most, the two most popular e-readers – Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader – are based on e-Ink technology which has two important capabilities; firstly they require no backlighting and therefore can be read in direct sunlight and secondly they have extremely good battery life. In my opinion, the best of these e-readers is the Amazon Kindle 3G which links up to the Amazon store, enabling customers to purchase content directly from their Kindle using their Amazon account. The device comes with a built in SIM card enabling the content to be delivered straight to the device whilst on the move without requiring Wi-Fi access. The Kindle is a low power device – both from a battery and processor perspective and after reading several magazine reviews I purchased one of these devices in late 2010.

When I first powered the device up and looked at the screen my thoughts drifted back to using an Etch-A-Sketch as a child. This may seem a little unkind, but the biggest issue I found with the current E-Ink displays is the refresh time – ie: the time it takes to change the image on the screen to a different image which is approximately half a second, my second bug bear, is that there is no colour.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Kindle is great if all you want to do is read text and this device lasts for at least a week on a single charge.  But I don’t just want to use a device for reading; I want colour pictures and videos and applications and games.  Granted, the Kindle has some extra applications on board, like a compact web browser – but in my opinion it’s not a good experience.

At the end of the day if I must carry a tablet device it needs to be flexible, so I want it to be a jack-of-all-trades not a master of just one.  My Kindle has been consigned to the bed-side drawer and my iPad is now used for all of my e-Reading activities.

Amazon must have seen this coming, predicted my behaviour, because they have built a Kindle App available for the iPad. Now I have the best of both worlds’, my favourite tablet device – iPad – and my favourite reading device in software on the same physical device.

Now my e-Reader is in colour with fast screen refreshes, has back-lighting so I can read in bed with the light off and because it’s touch screen I change the page by swiping my finger across the screen just like a real book. I can still order my ebooks from Amazon just like before, but now I also have access to iBook – Apple’s answer to the Kindle App which has a better search facility. That said, I still prefer the Kindle App, but guess what – I don’t have to choose between the two – I can use both if I choose; now that’s real flexibility.

There are dozens of Tablets on the  market now that can operate as an  E-Reader; in my opinion the iPad  is still the best by a considerable  margin.  So if you have an iPad and  want to use it to read then  download the excellent Amazon  Kindle App from the AppStore and  if you want to purchase a future  proof e-Reader – buy an iPad and  get the Amazon Kindle App.

So what do I think of the future for the dedicated Kindle Device?  R.I.P it was fun while it lasted.

A Royal Smartphone Marriage – The Nokia Microsoft Strategic Partnership

This week Smartphone history was made. In response to Nokia’s declining  market share, Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a historic strategic partnership which involves Nokia adopting the Windows Phone 7 operating system and integrating Nokia’s own applications into the Microsoft Marketplace.

Nokia has always been very good at making hardware but has struggled to transform the company to meet the challenges of new rivals in the form of BlackBerry, Apple iPhone and Google Android.

There is no question that Nokia was, and is, good at making mobile phones. But the internet has transformed mobile devices into handheld PCs, and more recently the game has changed again with smartphone application ecosystems and usability becoming key factors for success.

3 years ago Apple changed the face of Smartphones with the introduction of the iPhone, but Nokia seemed unable to respond until late last year with the hiring of their new CEO and Microsoft Veteran Stephen Elop.

Indeed it wasn’t just Nokia, even Microsoft was facing Smartphone market share decline but the difference is that Microsoft is a fighter, seemingly incapable of defeat and very good at rapid change even at an Organisational level. Microsoft recognised they needed to up their smartphone game and responded last year with the great new Windows Phone – essentially dealing them back into the game.

You just need to look back at the monumental change Microsoft faced in the 90’s when they nearly missed the Internet wave – once they recognised that fact, change was swift. Microsoft ended up winning the web browser wars and securing their future.

The big question is: Can Nokia change, or more specifically, can Mr Elop change the culture of Nokia to make it adaptable to rapid change at an organisational level?  The bottom line is that Nokia needs to launch a device soon, not a year from now.

Strategically they have a great plan with both companies benefiting and plenty of synergy. Microsoft benefits more in my opinion as it gets the Bing search and Marketplace platform on many more devices plus some useful applications for its Application Marketplace which help it compete with Apple’s Appstore. Other companies benefit also: the mobile carriers, dealers, resellers, distributors and application developers all have a good opportunity.

So all in all it makes perfect sense – Microsoft is great at software, Nokia is great at hardware, put the two together and bish-bash-bosh you’ve potentially got a great consumer and business device. Nokia will have more challenges in the months and years ahead but I think with great leadership, Nokia could turn this around and prosper again in the long run.