Building Next-Era Customer Tech
NCR looks for new ways to meet the expectations of the on-the-go customer
NCR—a 129-year-old company specializing in self-service solutions for point-of-sale systems and ATM machines—has its eye on the future. Over the past year, the Duluth, Ga.–based company has rolled out several new products that enhance the customer service businesses can provide consumers who increasingly expect 24-hour, personalized service.
"They [NCR] are trying to position themselves for what finance and banking will look like to the consumer ten years from now," Nicole Sturgill, research director of retail banking and cards at CEB TowerGroup, says, "and we've seen that in the moves they've made over the last twelve months."
In 2011, NCR and uGenius Technology, a maker of video conferencing software for teller machines, began collaborating on building an ATM that lets consumers talk and bank with a live, remote teller. NCR acquired a minority stake in uGenius in January 2012, and announced a year later that it had acquired uGenius.
Peter Leav, executive vice president of NCR, has publicly stated that the acquisition will further boost NCR's APTRA Interactive Teller solution, which gives customers the choice of self-service or connecting with a remote teller through a video interaction.
"Video banking—or, as we prefer to call it, remote assisted service—will continue to gain momentum in the U.S. and other countries in 2013. Remote assisted service is proving to help financial institutions grow revenues while at the same time reduce their operating and real estate costs," Leav said. "By acquiring uGenius, we are…innovating for our customers and reinventing NCR as a software-driven business, while [enhancing] existing technology platforms and [creating] a new segment of remote assisted service."
While organizations that install self-service solutions can improve service, they also risk leaving customers with the impression that the company is withdrawing services.
What NCR has done well is identify ways where it can enhance the customer experience, according to Sturgill. She points to installing Interactive Teller in a bank's drive-up window as an example of its usefulness. Doing so lets customers who cannot get to the branch during normal banking hours still have the option of interacting with a live teller.
"What it [Interactive Teller] does is add hours and services to locations in a way that wasn't possible before," Sturgill remarks. "That's the right way to go after the market."
In addition to the Interactive Teller, NCR also introduced Customer Voice, a Web-based customer loyalty, retention, and referral tool for restaurants. Using the Net Promoter Score's methodology, the software lets restaurant owners ask customers—via email or a survey link on their receipt—how likely they are to recommend the restaurant to their friends or colleagues, based on a scale of 0 to 10. Analytics based on the Net Promoter Score are then used to draw attention to any customer concerns so that operators can quickly address them.
Tom & Eddie's, a quick service restaurant in the Chicago metro area, tried out NCR's Customer Voice, and within four months of implementing it, received 2,000 completed surveys with 16 percent of customers referring their friends to the restaurant by sharing incentives through their social networks, according to an NCR case study. "Over twenty percent of these referrals have come into the restaurant, driving new customer traffic and giving us the opportunity to create more brand ambassadors," remarks Tammy Cicora, chief hospitality officer of Tom & Eddie's.
Last year, NCR also launched Express Key, a hotel check-in kiosk that lets guests who have checked in on a mobile device collect their room key, and NCR SelfServ Checkout Convertible, which switches between self- and assisted-service checkout modes, based on a retailer's operating model and customer traffic.
Keeping pace with the innovations of smaller and more nimble start-ups is "a challenge for larger companies," observes David Albertazzi, a senior analyst with Aite Group. "Whether it's from the hardware or software side, NCR is constantly looking for ways to expand…and as businesses evolve, they will be in the right spot."
CEO | William Nuti
Founded | 1884
Headquarters | Duluth, Ga.
Revenue | $5.3 billion (2011)
Employees | 24,000
Customer count | Undisclosed
Adding Service Through Acquisitions
An expansion at Noble Systems brings the provider of unified contact center and outbound dialing solutions to new markets and verticals
Noble Systems has been providing unified contact center and outbound dialing solutions since 1989, but 2012 was one of its busiest years yet. The company made three key acquisitions, expanded its operations in Europe and Asia-Pacific, enhanced most of its core products, and created an entirely new browser-agnostic contact center reporting tool accessible from anywhere. It also created a dedicated healthcare solutions group offering industry-specific expertise and solution sets focused on precare and post-discharge patient contact, revenue cycle management, and more.
Through its acquisitions of TelStar Hosted Services and Stratasoft in the fall, the company added cloud and premises-based solutions that include predictive dialing, contact center database management, contact center campaign scripting, predictive dialing algorithms, and contact center management systems. And when it acquired ALI Solutions, it gained the Vincio and OnQ analytics-based decisioning platforms and the CallTech call optimization and best-time-to-call engine.
The company "has taken advantage of the downturn in the contact center market to acquire companies and products that are complementary to its product portfolio and strategy," observes Donna Fluss, president and founder of DMG Consulting.
The string of acquisitions follows the company's release of Noble Web Reports, a contact center management tool that is designed to free managers from their desks and get them back on the floor where they are able to manage more effectively. The company also made several significant enhancements to its existing Maestro management portal, Composer unified agent desktop solution, and Harmony browser access tool for remote and mobile contact center management. And working with Nexidia, with which it has had a partnership since 2007, enabled the company to make notable enhancements to Noble Speech Analytics as well. The solution is able to tell companies at a glance how well their overall contact center operations and individual agents are meeting organizational expectations.
Fluss, meanwhile, notes that Noble Systems "is the third-place vendor in the outbound dialing market, and they continue to make investments to enhance their products and offerings."
The company, she adds, "is relatively quiet about what they do, but they clearly want to be a major player in the sectors in which they compete."
One of those sectors is the healthcare industry, where the company has recently refocused some of its energies. In October 2012, it announced the formation of a dedicated healthcare solutions group offering specific expertise and solution sets for integrated healthcare delivery networks, hospitals, regional health systems, physician practice groups, and other providers. Noble Systems' healthcare solutions, which are available for deployments on-premises or in the cloud, are designed to address the full spectrum of patient contact needs, including patient scheduling, insurance verification, satisfaction surveys, accounts recovery, and related activities.
Other areas where the company is channeling its efforts include remote and mobile access to contact center information, which company president and CEO James Noble Jr. sees as "a necessity" going forward.
"The entire industry has moved beyond desk phones and workstations, expecting real-time access to information from handheld devices, laptops, home computers, and more," he states.
CEO | James Noble Jr.
Founded | 1989
Headquarters | Atlanta
Revenue | Undisclosed
Employees | 350
Customer count | 4,000
Supporting the Supporters
Zendesk turns multichannel customer support cases into tickets with mobile and CRM compatibility
If Facebook's popularity is what every consumer software company secretly hopes to emulate, Zendesk may well be its enterprise equivalent.
Twenty-five thousand customers, ranging from Disney to Dropbox, use Zendesk's help desk and customer support ticket software, which promises unified access to customer information. But big-name clients are not the only believers in Zendesk's cloud-based appeal.
This September, Redpoint Ventures led a $45 million round of equity financing in the company, along with a $15 million credit facility from Silicon Valley Bank. Satish Dharmaraj, a general partner with Redpoint Ventures, called Zendesk "disruptive" with "stellar performance in the customer service sector."
With that funding came an overhaul of Zendesk's customer service platform. The company introduced an application framework, Zendesk Apps, which lets a company extend Zendesk functionality to third-party business applications. The updated customer help desk platform also brought what the company called "a seamless integration" to a business's live chat, social media, online community, email, and telephone customer support cases within a single interface.
The crux of the Zendesk platform is its ability to translate multichannel customer communications into support tickets for agent resolution. However, the company also offers self-service options for customers who prefer the online community atmosphere or who prefer to search a knowledge base.
Zendesk "fits into that core provider category where they may be considerably less expensive to deploy…with multichannel integrations sorted and solved at a deep level," says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president at Nucleus Research.
Zendesk introduced its mobile customer portal this August with single sign-on access for Google and Facebook.
Brendan Read, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, says people are increasingly turning to the Web as the first stop in their retail purchase and customer service journeys. "The…growing popularity of smartphones and tablets, and the development of mobile apps, will strengthen this predilection," he notes.
Zendesk also teamed up with eBay's open source e-commerce platform provider Magento in November to offer new ways for commerce companies to solve customer issues. Debuting a two-way integration between the two platforms, frontline customer support teams gained access to transaction data like shipping status and order ID information. On the flip side, a sales agent using Magento could escalate a Zendesk support ticket or file a ticket without leaving the e-commerce system.
The company also rounded out analytics for customers with the introduction of Search Analytics for companies with a higher ratio of self-service to agent interactions. Search Analytics helps companies determine what customers are searching for, and suggests or alters content and results based on customer entries. A new reporting dashboard combines advanced reporting from partner GoodData with benchmark data and online forum, voice, search, and ticket statistics.
This year, Zendesk became the first help desk software to be compatible with Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, offering all of the same support capabilities available to customers on the desktop application. This past year also marked Zendesk's entry into the Google Apps Marketplace, which gave Google Apps users access to Zendesk using their Google OpenID for simple sign-on. As for CRM partnerships, the company updated its Salesforce.com integration to bring complete ticket information into sales and support workflows in Salesforce.com.
With Zendesk customer companies such as Pinterest and online point-of-sale software company Vend improving their first-response times by as much as 300 percent, it's safe to say that the company gets the rapidly changing environment for customer support and self-service. And rumor has it, Zendesk is eyeing an IPO in 2013. Its success would make CEO Mikkel Svane's goal for Zendesk to be "the new face of customer service (and) a globally recognized brand" a reality.
CEO | Mikkel Svane
Founded | 2007
Headquarters | San Francisco, Calif.
Revenue | Undisclosed
Employees | 300
Customer count | 25,000