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30 Best Small Companies to watch 2019

An Interview with Joe Gagnon, Sparkcentral CEO: ‘We are Here to Change How Customer Service is Delivered around the World’

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“We have figured out a way to operationalize asynchronous messaging in an enterprise customer service setting and be great at it.”

Social networks have become ubiquitous in the twenty-first century. For many people, they have become their de facto communications and collaboration platform to help them share information, find friends, organize their life, and build a business.

Enterprises already have an extensive presence on consumer social networks, particularly for marketing and customer relationships. Now, many businesses are waking up to the potential the newer messaging channels such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger have to improve customer service.

In light of the above-mentioned scenario, we’re thrilled to present Sparkcentral.

The company provides an enterprise messaging customer service platform for high-volume digital engagement. The Sparkcentral platform provides an Automated Message Distribution engine, an agent desktop optimized for asynchronous messaging channels and corresponding agent workflows, enterprise integration, as well as a Virtual Agent framework to involve chatbots in customer communication in new and innovative ways. Features include one universal queue for chat, messaging, and social, as well as an integrated drag-and-drop knowledge base, collision control, team chat, and innovative reporting & analytics such as an “Emoji Cloud” to understand customer sentiment. Sparkcentral has customers in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

The company was incorporated in 2012 and is headquartered in San Francisco, California.

Joe Gagnon, Sparkcentral CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. What is the purpose and spirit of your company?

We are here to change how customer service is delivered around the world.

‘Good enough’ is the enemy of progress. In customer service, it’s time to dump ‘good enough’. We have figured out a way to operationalize messaging in a customer service setting and be great at it.

Thus, we want to spark a movement to connect businesses with customers through messaging. We offer insight, technology, and a great team eager to make a difference in customer experience:

  • We know that consumers want to message businesses.
  • We can now prove businesses can save money by providing messaging for customer service.
  • We see that more interactions with a customer is better and fosters loyalty.
  • We know that more engagement does not have to mean higher costs.

Q. Basic live chat seems obsolete now. What’s new in customer service?

Traditional live chat frustrates us: The world is moving towards asynchronous messaging, and thus long-lived conversations: Send a message, go on with your life and reply at your convenience. In customer service that means: Always reply to a customer quickly, but let the customer reply at their pace.

What has become the number one form of communication for billions of consumers around the planet now (WhatsApp, FB Messenger, iMessage, WeChat etc.) is slowly finding its way into the enterprise contact center. Old forms of doing live chat (mentioned above) are being replaced with asynchronous messaging-style live chat.

This new approach brings with it the need for new workflows for customer service agents. Rather than being tethered to a customer and waiting for their response, ‘timing them out’ when they become unresponsive, agents now need workflows that let them move on to the next task after having replied, without closing out conversations that have the next agent waste time on searching for and studying the conversation history. That is what Sparkcentral has implemented for many enterprises around the world.

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Q. What are the factors that make your company stand out from the competition?

Sparkcentral has a head start of six years in doing asynchronous communication. As one of the first true social care platforms (not just social listening/monitoring), we have been helping enterprises operationalize this new form of communication long before others.

Agent productivity is one of our brand promises: fixing those productivity leakages you get from not optimizing your workflows for asynchronous channels. In light of that, we have now also introduced a new framework for including AI powered Virtual Agents into the mix. Rather than treating them as an ‘IT project’ and constraining them to the beginning of a conversation only, we are distinguishing 3 different entry points for VA’s:

  • Inception (authenticate the customer, prequalify them, answer FAQs, route them to the right-skilled agents)
  • Delegation (allowing live agents to handover a conversation mid-dialogue to a VA that is specialized in mid-dialogue tasks such as updating an address, collecting payment details, conducting a backend transaction, etc. – but also allowing a VA to hand back over to a live agent with full context and conversation history preserved)
  • Conclusion (post-conversation surveys, follow-up conversations, …)

Most vendors stop at number one, leaving more efficiency gains on the table.

Q. It is always good to let customers know about problems before they even notice. Do you think now it is time to be proactive?

Companies usually have an ‘information advantage’: They know something that the customer would like to know. It makes both business sense and improves the CX if you always strive to balance that advantage out and keep the customer in the loop with any and all new developments (an update on their mortgage process, a delivery shipment, a new account balance, an update on an insurance claim …). Messaging allows to be subtle in these updates. More importantly, customers love to stay in the loop and to stay in the know.

It’s something fundamental human to not want to miss out. Now is the time to ‘over-communicate’. And businesses will benefit from preventing the inbound customer contact that is usually more expensive to serve than informing the customer proactively.

Q. A company must have a sense of authenticity and originality to succeed. Is your company a leader or a follower?

We like to be ‘productively disruptive’. We like to challenge conventional wisdom and develop new ideas for how to solve tough problems. We have shown this repeatedly in our company history, whether it was being one of the first to offer an enterprise grade tool for social customer care, or being an early adopter and partner for WhatsApp’s new Business API, or being one of the first to implement the concept of asynchronous messaging for live chat embedded in both websites and mobile apps, or showing how you can implement the principles of the ‘Future of Work’ in the contact center today, by finding the optimal balance between AI and human intelligence and human contributions in the workforce.

One of our customers just informed us that their call volumes have gone down by 20% in only 3 months when they implemented and promoted asynchronous messaging. You will barely find other solutions deliver these kind of outcomes in the contact center.

Q. What kind of responses have you received from your consumers over the years? Did they motivate you to shape the company’s growth?

We cannot be prouder to count brands such as Nordstrom, Zappos, Netflix, jetBlue, or Discover amongst our long-time customers – brands that are known to be paving the way in customer service. Like any good relationships, we are challenging each other. Being able to grow together with our customers and enable them to be early adopters of new technologies, while learning from them how they put these technologies in place is rewarding on many levels.

Joe Gagnon: An Entrepreneur at Heart

Joe Gagnon is an entrepreneur, innovator and adventurer. In his career, he has worked with leading companies in more than 40 countries and is known as a creative problem solver with new and emerging technologies. Mr. Gagnon is currently CEO at Sparkcentral and focuses on the next generation of consumer engagement and customer service solutions using messaging. He is an international public speaker and panel list at numerous industry conferences and events such as SXSW.

Mr. Gagnon is the founder of THPL, The High-Performance Life, and is an avid blogger, serious endurance athlete and author of the book ‘Living the High-Performance Life’. In 2017, he ran six marathons, on six consecutive days on six continents.

“We want to spark a movement to connect businesses with customers through messaging. We offer insight, technology, and a great team eager to make a difference in customer experience.”