So it was with some wonder and welcome surprise that I was recently introduced to SatMap, a division of The Resource Group based in Washington, D.C., that is applying the same sophisticated artificial intelligence and neural networking technology used by the CIA and National Security Agency to the somewhat "old fashioned" world of telephones and call centers. How interesting.
Lest we forget, people do still talk -- and not always through the keyboard. So while everyone is focused on the convergence of technology occurring on mobile, the reality is that the thing we all carry around is still a telephone. And with over 4.6 billion cellular subscriptions at the end of 2009 (four times more than the billion or so personal computers in the world), the opportunity has never been greater to conduct a real conversation with your customer.
Unfortunately, many businesses today don't seem to want to further that conversation -- at least not over the phone.
Obviously, companies are intent on reducing their cost of sale, and automation and lower call volumes have enabled them to reduce call center payrolls and overhead as consumers become further empowered by the Internet and the transactional and informational prowess of a good website.
However, I remain one of those marketers who doesn't believe consumers are on a quest to avoid all human interaction, especially when it comes to considering pricier and more complex purchases. It's just that most of these human interactions are so mediocre. And, nowhere is this more evident than in the call center world, where efforts to shorten talk times and embrace technology have given birth to such horror shows as the endless voice tree and other prompts that are simply too painful for most of us to endure. And, when you finally do reach an agent, they usually have no empathy or connection with the consumer who has been randomly served up as simply the next one in the queue.
SatMap is attempting to change this old paradigm. By analyzing over 100 demographic and psychographic variables of both the agent and consumer in real time, it can ensure that calls are routed to the agent with the personality that's best suited to build empathy and rapport with the caller. And research has shown that empathy and rapport between caller and agent are critical drivers of increased customer satisfaction and conversion.
Caller information is gleaned through the compilation of demographic and psychographic information that gets appended in real time to the phone number, but the possibilities get even richer when you think of adding transactional information that you can gather through a loyalty program or affinity credit card. Just as importantly, the approach creates a new dimension from which to look at and quantify the strengths and success of an agent, enabling you to retain and hire those personalities that best fit your customer.
While SatMap's system is best suited for larger enterprises (are you listening, major travel brands?), it claims that its clients are experiencing double-digit increases in conversion rates through the technology deployment and the company is even offering its services on a no-risk, profit-share basis.
SatMap is just one example of what I'm sure are many other companies that are demonstrating how the conversation can be better leveraged, modernized and monetized. By providing a way to innovate and enhance something as basic to the travel business as a phone call, they remind us that we all must continue to focus on ramping up the dialogue and service delivery across every channel, and that what once seemed dated and marginalized can quickly be made more relevant and powerful.