As a kid, I enjoyed leafing through my dad’s copies of Popular Mechanics. One of my favorite columns was entitled, “Things I Wish Someone Would Invent.” This always included some outlandish ideas, but occasionally readers suggested simple ideas that solved real problems. Any of you who have watched “Shark Tank” probably also have been taken aback at the simplicity of some of these ideas and how successful they later became.
Now, as a longtime observer and commentator on the contact center industry, let me share some of my thoughts about things I wish the customer care industry would invent. I make no concession to practicality. Whether or not any of these ideas could actually come to fruition is irrelevant at this point. The point of this exercise is to get our collective creative juices flowing. I’ve been around the telecommunications industry for a very long time (but don’t believe the rumor that I actually met Alexander Graham Bell), and during this time, I’ve seen many successful products and software solutions that were once thought impossible.
1. Follow up with the same agent
About 25% of queries to the contact center are not resolved at the initial interaction. After a long discussion during which you have researched and provided all the relevant information, you hear the dreaded words, “I need to discuss with my colleagues. This could take a while. Let me suggest that you call back tomorrow.”
“Fine, will I talk to you?”
“No, but anyone you reach will be able to help you.”
Yeah, we know how that works. Is there really no way to reach the very same individual you spent time with before?
2. Video sharing
How many times have you reached an organization, and before you can proceed, you have to supply numerous details that few of us keep handy? Examples are account numbers, serial numbers, tracking numbers, invoice numbers, software release numbers and the like. I can still remember the fruitless attempt to obtain tech support for our big-screen TV. The service advisor wanted to know the serial number and model number. Of course, that was a long string of numbers in tiny print, located in the back at the TV which was flush up against the wall. In this day and age of smartphones, can’t we just take a picture of this information and share it in real time with the agent?
3. Speech recognition of call reason
There are many issues with the traditional IVR but for me personally the most annoying is having to listen to a litany of menu selections and never hearing one that applies to my particular call reason. With the technology we have today, why can’t we just explain in conversational speech the reason for our call and have the IVR or robot automatically route the call to the proper department, or better yet, actually answer the question or solve the problem?
4. Improved protection for personally identifiable information (PII)
We can feel confident that our credit card and related PII will be protected by the big corporations which have a great deal to lose if they are found to be in violation of privacy laws and standards. However, what if we are ordering takeout at a mom-and-pop eatery, reserving a seat at the local theater, or contributing to a telethon fundraiser staffed by volunteers? We can be pretty sure that these organizations have never heard of PCI DSS. You call and give your credit card and assume (hope) the individual at the other in the line is honest and will not share your card information. My question is why can’t someone invent a system where it is not necessary to share the CCV number of your card over the phone to secure credit card authorization?
5. Autofill by voice
I find the autofill feature very helpful when I register for webinars or request white papers from vendor websites. My question is why does this have to be done from a computer? There are many instances when individuals have to provide detailed information over the phone. Common examples include making a travel reservation, booking a hotel, requesting a car rental, filing an insurance claim, or applying for an apartment rental. This is both time-consuming and error-prone. Why not autofill certain basic information such as address, shipping address, phone number, email, etc., by simple voice command or telephone keyboard entry?
6. Simplified call blocking
Every day we receive junk email messages in our inbox. We can banish these to the junk file and command the PC not to accept any more messages from this address with a simple keystroke. If this is so easy to do on a computer why can’t we do it on our telephone? Yes, both service providers and equipment providers have various call-blocking features. But all of these, at least to my knowledge, require that you first determine which numbers you don’t want to hear from and enter those into the computer or telephone instrument. Alternatively, you can enter your contact list and instruct the device to not accept calls from anyone else. Both of these methods are useful but limited, particularly in view of the common practice of “phishing” local exchange numbers. It would be much easier if we could simply press a key on our phone or state a command that automatically blocks this number from ever calling again, just as we do with junk email.
Your Solution Needs to Solve a Frequent and Serious Problem
If you stop and think about it, just about all of the successful new products in our industry over the past two decades solved real problems. We rarely think about the products that did not solve problems, and therefore, made a graceless exit to the dust heap of wasted money and energy.
Let me share some noteworthy examples.
Maybe you remember walking through a busy airport and spotting the occasional traveler wearing a “Google Glass.” Google tried a bit too hard to squeeze a PC into an ungainly pair of spectacles. The idea flopped. And what about the Segway? Remember those two-wheeled, self-powered devices that were supposed to relieve us of the physical strain of actually using our feet? Didn’t quite work out the way the inventors had hoped—although you can still spot a few shopping mall cops tooling around in them. Actually, the high-tech landscape is littered with forgettable and costly mistakes.
If, as an innovator, you want to avoid designing the next financial flop ask yourself three questions:
- Does my solution solve a serious problem or a minor annoyance?
- Do these problems occur frequently or rarely?
- Are there other solutions on the market that solve this problem at an affordable price?
There’s actually a market research technique for quantifying these key questions. It’s called, unsurprisingly, Product Detection Research. During my stint as a director of market research for a large telecommunications company, I used this technique to help define a new generation of small-business communication systems. We identified several problems that were both frequent and troublesome and for which there was no available resolution. Given specific goals, our engineers developed solutions to each of these problems. This product achieved over $500 million in revenue over its lifetime and features developed from this research remain standard on modern business telephone systems even today.