Podcast | Why enterprise workflows will drive the value of programmable communications in 2021-2022

Jean
Shin

Director, Strategy & Content | Podcast Host of Mobile Interactions Now

25min podcast
Podcast Episode 32 - Alan Quayle

In this Part 2 of our conversation with Alan Quayle, a star analyst in the programmable communications industry and the founder of TADHack and TADSummit, we delve deeper into what’s in store for the enterprise communications market and which use cases will drive enterprise adoption of communications tools many businesses have been using during this prolonged pandemic. (Plus some bold predictions!)

Podcast Transcript

Jean:

Alan, welcome back to the show. In our previous episode, we talked a lot about some of the changes that happened. After 2020 here we are. Some of the circumstances still prevailing, but I want to force us to look beyond that. Since we have you, we really want to get to what is likely to happen and why? So that you can come back at the end of 2021 and do a little checklist of what happened and what didn't happen. So feel free to take your battle. First, let's just quickly recap. Is this going to be continuing? Is this going to be still part of what is going to fuel Programmable Communications?

 

Alan:

So we've got a long, hard slog ahead of us. We still have to get vaccines distributed. It's going to take time. There are a lot of people that have been indoctrinated by basically the paid chills of creepy billionaires. It's not going to happen quickly to getting to the point of significant herd immunity. It really will be Q3 of this year. So the first half of this year, it's still going to feel like it has through the three quarters or two thirds of 2020.

So all the Band-Aids, as I mentioned, will still be there, but we're going to see, because of new budgets in financial years, a rationalization. Because it's like, "Okay. We increased IT budgets because of the pandemic, but we need to get things down and back to normal." So we'll see, I think, this rationalization across both customer and employee communications. All companies in this messaging aggregation space or allied to it, are all in play. I mean, we've seen ridiculous numbers in terms of Infobip raising 200 million, MessageBird raising 100 million, Cisco buying IMImobile for a massive multiple.

So there's a lot of cash and that cash isn't going away. It's basically burning holes in basically the companies that raised its pockets because the investors are looking them and saying, "Show me the growth, show me the growth." So we're going to see a lot more activity and even more frenetic than happened through the last half of 2020.

I know I'm being a little negative here but I think Q3 will be when things start to feel better. It will still be social distancing. There'll still be some people who aren't ready to go to an event. We'll still want that remote option. So I think Q3 will be a transition. I think Q4 will be when things start to get a little bit more normal. It will be to that point where you can go to a friend's and have dinner together without wearing masks and not worry about sharing dinner where it'll be sort of... I don't mean sharing glasses, but not bringing your own glasses and then sitting at either side of basically a table outside and having a drink, it'll be back to sort of a more normal feel.

It's going to vary country by country because you've got to bear in mind that vaccine distribution is very inequitable. I mean, Canada is nice in that once it's distributes the vaccines to its people, anything leftover it'll send to basically countries that can't afford the vaccines. But it will take time, there will be countries where it will be Q3, Q4 and there's still social distancing protocols they won't have entered. So I think for most developed markets, simply because of the infrastructure and distribution, we will see that. I mean, some countries may be a little bit more weird and wacky than others.

 

Jean:

Okay. Now that we've tried doing everything online, remotely, it turned out not everything is ideal for that. So, you talked about rationalizing some of the Band-Aid related costs and stuff like this, what do you think will stick as more of a, "Hey, this, we proved that it's, it's a pretty decent use case. Is there some kind of priorities or some kind of a guidance in terms of how to think about what to make it a trend?

 

Alan:

Whatever's happening at the moment is an exceptional situation. The Christmas presents under our tree have been ordered via Amazon. That wouldn't necessarily be the case years before when we can go to stores and mooch around in a relaxed way because you don't go to a store... it's like going to the supermarket and shopping it's in, out, get what you need, we're done. Basically masks on, hand sanitizer on, and then you move on. Online shopping will, as a percentage, drop a little because people are more willing to go back to stores after the pandemic. But that's true, I think, of most of the business processes. There isn't one that I go, "That's it, case proven." Even in business there's a human element. Yes, you can sell online but as soon as the social distancing rules disappear, if that gives you an edge in being there in the customer space.

 

Jean:

I mean, you did mention verticals in different industries dealing with it differently. So, I mean, for example, say we had some of the automation happening where the industries that haven't seen before, but, do you see this as another big experiment? How do you see this?

 

Alan:

So there is some restaurants that I don't order from normally. I mean, with the pandemic I have because of the particular plates that we like. Normally we'd actually go there and have a meal together. So you're going to see for some restaurants, it will go back because it's about the experience, not just the food. I've not seen a process that's so sticky that people are going and pointing to it as that's been fundamentally changed.

 

Jean:

But I can tell you another psychology as a picky customer I am. I may not be using it, but once I had it, and if you try to take it away, I'll be very upset. When I’m accustomed to having choices and a certain level of control, and if they try to switch me back and I have to call rather than placing a order or whatever, I will be upset. So is the adoption that happened, is that here to stay?

 

Alan:

It isn't going away. But during the pandemic, I have no choice. I have to offer it and it's costing me more. I'm not going to pass that charge on to you as a customer. Okay? Because there's a pandemic, you've got your social distancing. After the pandemic, we still have it as an option, but the prices are different. So there's a premium in there because it's costing me more as a business. So you haven't lost the option. It's just now the costs are being more properly reflected to you as a customer. So I think you will see that in the food services side.

You could say, "Well it's online, it's more efficient." No it's not because you've got middlemen in there that are providing these services, that are providing these charges, they're taking a cut off the credit card. Do you notice... A lot of these online platforms... Do you have any billing issues, you talk to the middleman. If you have a delivery issue or a food issue, you talked to the restaurant. Like the whole delivery thing, the Door Dash and the rest, it's ridiculous. People are like... One of my neighbors uses it all the time and I asked them how much they're paying and it's doubling the price.

 

Jean:

So looking back now, we went through many crazy different situations.

 

Alan:

Yeah.

 

Jean:

Have you observed things that should've worked that didn't?

 

Alan:

I think on the video conferencing side, we should be a lot further ahead than we are. Say low latency. We even had a hack at TADHack in mini Orlando three or four years ago where a programmer, her brother runs a studio, and she'd learned about, through TADHack and it's low latency options and she created a collaboration tool for musicians. So it was down in like milliseconds delay.

We should be there already. You should be able to use your device hands-free, especially when it's music, you can't have a headset on and for all the reverb and noise and all that mess, we should have solved that already. I look on at video conferencing as one of the big successes, but also one of the great disappointments in that we really haven't solved some basic use cases. In fact today, I was reading an email from one of the teachers that was obviously aimed at the parents not the kids, basically saying, "Remember to bring your headset in," to the kids because they weren't, and then the noise of the classroom was basically stopping people being able to hear people when they were talking because it was just so much coming through all the different mics.

So many basic user issues. That, again, it's not when it's a core technology issue, it's when it's the horrible technology stroke, soft human issue, that crossover around experience. I think that, to me, as being one of the great disappointments that we haven't solved. I mean, I remember back when I worked at BT in the 1990s, over two decades ago, we were doing PSTN and ISDN video conferencing and multi-party stuff as well, and I still don't look at the performance of where we are today from an audio perspective, and it's not that much better, which I find is appalling.

So that I sort of highlight is we've still got a lot of room for improvement. On the workflows, a lot have been accelerated in terms of their adoption. I think that we've seen messaging, whether it's SMS, or internal corporate messaging platforms, or even sort of social platforms, we've seen more use of that to speed up processes, to speed up response, to help individuals work more effectively together because email is not a real-time communication platform, especially on the weekend. Sometimes I'm just like, "I'm not looking at my email. I want some time off. So you can message me on a Friday afternoon and I've already gone. I'm not going to be responding until maybe Sunday, or it could be Monday." So there's a delay that, well, if I received a message because it's on my mobile device I might... I mean I have Gmail on my phone, which I do use quite a lot, but I purposely don't open it on the weekends. It's an acceleration. Nothing has fundamentally changed.

 

Jean:

Okay, that's kind of depressing because I used to joke about airline industries a lot, their dismal speed because we fly basically at the same speed as we did right after the world war two or something like this. So any industry that’s lack of key metrics in terms of performance and start doing other…to me, that's a telltale sign of something not very innovative is happening or not happening in this case.

That said, when I was trying hard to enable our platform with other CRMs and even ERP systems these days now, part of what my customers are saying is that their problem is that there's this whole feel-good wording of omnichannel where the orchestration is not just between the channels that you talked about, email versus other channels that are more real-time, but at the same time with other business systems. As a customer, if I have to explain all over again, whenever I moved to a different channel…to me, part of programmable-ness of this promise means it should make it really, really easier so that if I already talked to customer support about a problem, and you don't just send me some kind of a sales message that completely has nothing to do with it… when I'm actually angry because the problem wasn't solved.

So to me, my big beef about this is not only you can add communications to what you're already doing, like add a video or something, that it takes integration and programmability of using all these…taking the data from someplace and orchestrating them. Quite honestly, Alan, you have to change me this year because when I say orchestration, I see eyes rolling. So tell me how this is going to be different this year.

 

Alan:

First of all, it got worse because of all the Band-Aids now at the aggregation level, we've seen significant commoditization. We've seen a number of players join forces where the reason they're sort of coming together is because they can better control pricing to maintain margin on what is ever more competitive because it's having to compete against other communication mechanisms, whether it be push messaging, whether it's social, web chat, email, and voice, are still valid forms of communication with their own time temporal-ness. Because when I send a sort of contact through a web form, I have a very different perception of the response rate than when I call versus when I send a text, so each has their own temporal-ness.

But anyway, when we look at the M&A we've got consolidation on the pipes and that's been happening, but it really accelerated through 2020 and we'll do into 2021, but where the value is, it's all up in terms of workflow. So we've discussed that a number of times now around, different enterprise workflows. Also around customer experience, you already gave some examples of where I might contact the business through multiple channels, simply because I have time, I'm calling or I'm doing something else and I'm using the web chats, or I'm sending a text because I'm mobile, but I still haven't had a response to this issue and they should all have the same access to here's the script for how Alan's contacted us over the past X number of days.

A lot of commercial companies that supply to restaurants and also food processing that will close down and they had to move to supplying direct to consumers. Now they only have a few call agents are used to dealing with tens to hundreds of deliveries a day. To keep themselves in business, they had to then stop moving direct to consumer. So now they're moving to tens of thousands. They come to manage that by voice. They did when it was commercial. Now, it's notification by text. So that was added in, but it wasn't in any way integrated with their existing platform. It was basically what they're doing, they're just basically doing Excel spreadsheets or sort of a comma separated variables and cut and pasting. No, because it's all emergency. It's just, we have to survive. You know, this is the Band-Aids I was referring to.

The value now, and this is very much, we see it in the MNA space is around workflow, customer experience, and fraud and security because what's happened is we've got a lot more online transactions taking place. And what's happened during that time? It's fraud has just jumped up enormously because people are taking advantage of it through Phishing, a whole range of things.

So now knowing somebody's identity, when they're calling in or sending a message, being able to have some degree of risk associated with that is very important. And it also goes hand in glove with experience because if I know it's Allen that's calling, he's calling from his mobile phone that he's had for the last 20 years in terms of mobile phone number, I've got great confidence that this is Alan and I'm going to take him to IVR because he's happy with IVR because it's quick, it's easy. I'm going to give them some additional options that they wouldn't give to somebody calling in where I have low risk profile. So all it could be it's Alan. We know Alan is particularly fussy about social media, does not want anything over any Facebook property. We'll send them an SMS.

So again, the type of customer communication will very much depend on the context. And this is a very important piece of it. It was brought up actually at Tech Summit, [Amir Americas 00:00:19:18] was the importance of context around customer communication. That comes back to what you were saying before about orchestration, because an important input to how you orchestrate that is also customer context, because that impacts how you communicate, when you communicate, but also the importance that a customer is assigning to that communication.

 

Jean:

What do you see as a main driver? I understand each organization may have their own different approach and solution to this. If there is a main hub to orchestrate this, do you see it happening on a communications layer, or is it coming from... How is going to happen for most companies?

 

Alan:

I see it's higher up. Where I'm seeing most activity last year and into this year is in the contact center. And it comes back to this consolidation I was talking about before where contact centers or call centers had to get online and get their agents virtualized in less than a week and they brought in a Band-Aid of sometimes a CSaaS solution, sometimes they just did some rerouting, and then they realized once they got it there, it works. It's reliability, the price points, the fact that they can add stuff. They can integrate stuff at a fraction, the price they can with their legacy platform. So they can now stop building up a real degree of confidence on the business case, not just salespeople telling them how wonderful the World of Cloud is, they're experiencing it themselves and wherever your centralized customer database, but when it's communication centric, that should sit in the contact center and should work across all the different platforms, whether it's the website, whether it's email, messaging, social, all communications that I as a brand have had with that customer is consolidated there.

 

Jean:

So in 2021, 2022, if you were trying to bring in programmable communications to context center and having a meeting to deliver a meaningful CX customer experience, who should be in the room together and having this conversation?

 

Alan:

It's a hard one to answer because it depends on the vertical, the industry, a brand's most important assets. It's not a cost center. Most brands are moving to messaging because it's cheaper, because you can use your agent to have multiple conversations rather than using voice. It's brand, it's marketing, it's all your work flows, begin and end at there. So it's tough because I think there's a strategic change that needs to happen with a lot of enterprises around how they evaluate the importance of communication. Who you need in the room from the enterprise, I would say it's almost like all the VPs, it's the whole management team, because this is core to how their business operates. But at the very least, you should have not just the contact center people, but all the necessary workflows associated with any line of business that's impacted so that the customer data is as federate, because you're not going to get consolidated, it's as federated as possible.

This is back to the trainings I was talking about where the focus... We've got consolidation on the pipes and roll up, roll up, roll up. And then people are where the value is being created is around the sort of workflows, customer experience, fraud and security. And it's the providers of those solutions to the enterprises. And that's a whole variety. It could be the EUCAST provider, so the unified communications, it was the enterprise comms provider, they could be rolling in a whole range of different workflows in there. It could be salesforce.com. Basically they've got com solutions in there. It could be Microsoft. It could be a local integrator that operates in your city that does most of the IT for your organization.

And basically because of the open source platform they're using, or because of the technology partners that they're working with, say tyntec, they've now got this dashboard. And they add that dashboard in as just one sheet on a number of sheets that the enterprise users for managing their IT. And now they've got one that helps them manage all the customer communication across all the different channels. So no longer is messages lost or, "Oh yes, we did send them a marketing message."

 

Jean:

So before I let you go, I just have a one little nosy question: can you tell us what you use the most on your phone? Name three things, please.

 

Alan:

I have like a Google directory. So that's the one that gets hit the most and within there, Gmail because when I'm not at my laptop, then basically the alerts come through there. The next is BBC news. I need fair and balanced, as they say. And then the other one is in entertainment and that tends to get used on the weekends. And my favorite within entertainment at the moment is Polytopia.

 

Jean:

Fair and balanced.

 

Jean:

All right, with that, I want to thank you again. That was just awesome and I look forward to continuing this discussion when I bring you back at the end of 2021 and go through those projections.

 

Alan:

Thank you again, Jean, for having me on.