Sparkcentral: Redefining Customer Engagement with Innovative Automated Messaging Solutions

Joe Gagnon

Sparkcentral was founded in 2012 and was one of the first vendors to offer an enterprise-grade tool for managing customer care conversations on social media. The company has attracted brands famous for its customer services, such as Nordstrom, Zappos, JetBlue, and also Netflix and Slack. Over the years, people’s behavior changed and pivoted from public channels to more private messaging on Messenger or WhatsApp. The company’s platform has evolved with that change and now supports a variety of such messaging channels including SMS and live messaging embedded in mobile apps or websites. These new channels require a different way to be handled for maximum efficiency in the contact center, as they are not session-based “real-time” channels like a phone call is.

The company offers a Web-based Agent Desktop optimized for asynchronous messaging workflows, with an Automated Messaging Distribution engine (AMD), an integrated knowledge base, and reporting & analytics.

Sparkcentral has found a way to make customer service more efficient in the contact center, increase agent productivity by anywhere between 25 – 65% (!), while dramatically improving the customer experience — through messaging on “social” channels and also what’s known as live chat (or “web chat”) on websites or embedded within mobile apps.

Accomplishing cost containment and CX improvement at the same time is the holy grail for any customer service organization, and the company has brought the industry a way to accomplish just that, better than traditional solutions relying on voice, email, or chat can do it.

 

Comprehensive Leadership

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. As CEO of Sparkcentral, he focuses on the next-generation of consumer engagement and customer service solutions using messaging. Joe is an international public speaker and panelist in numerous industry conferences and events like SXSW. He 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.

Joe sets the vision for the company like few others could. He has a passion for customer service and is impatiently pushing everyone forward that questions whether the state of customer service is where it should be.

 

Leading the Evolution 

Sparkcentral is changing the way customer service is delivered globally. “When was the last time you enjoyed calling a business or waiting 10 minutes on a website for a live chat agent to appear and then give you 3 minutes to respond or you’re out? Exactly. The consumer wants businesses to fit into their lives, not the other way around,” Joe asserts. “When it comes to communication, messaging is now the foundation of everything — that thing we do billions of times every day in our personal lives on WhatsApp, Messenger, or iMessage. WhatsApp alone sees 60 billion messages a day, sent by 1.5 billion people around the globe — that’s 20% of the population on planet Earth! Messaging has become the social fiber of society.”

It is now becoming an enabler of all thing’s customer service. It is essentially poised to become the social fiber of business, too.

 

Benefiting Clients and Customers

 There are five major benefit areas of Sparkcentral solution for enterprises:

•  Agent productivity is 25-65% higher than a typical voice agent.

•  NPS (Net Promoter Scores) are typically 20 points higher than traditional customer service channels.

•  It offers cost and operational efficiencies from having a single platform to manage all digital service channels.

•  No “rip and replace”; a business can get started with messaging customer service without having to worry about the impact on existing investments.

•  Super-fast launch; Sparkcentral typically gets its customers live within 2 weeks thanks to its cloud infrastructure

Moreover, take a channel like WhatsApp. Sparkcentral is an official early launch partner of Facebook’s WhatsApp Business API Program. WhatsApp launched an early access program on August 1, and Sparkcentral just went live with two customers, KBC Bank & Insurance and citizenM in Europe, and are planning to go live with 3 more brands this month. citizenM is an exciting hotel startup that is massively expanding into the US in 2019. Messaging works great in hospitality!

What Sparkcentral customers are getting when partnering with the company is first and foremost decades of industry insight around customer service. Sparkcentral has experienced individuals onboard that have consulted, sold, onboarded, and helped many brands around the world take their customer experiences up a notch or two.

“The solution helps companies stand out in the competitive market through great CX, it helps reduce cost and increase agent productivity. Turns out that agents actually love messaging much more than talking on the phone! Just like all of us, too,” Joe said.

 

Significant Contributions to the Industry

Sparkcentral’s VP of Product Marketing, Tobias Goebel, has been spending his career of over 15 years on the question of how we can teach computers to speak and have a conversation. As a graduate of Computational Linguistics of the University of Bonn, Germany, and Edinburgh, Scotland, he has built award-winning chatbots like Margot the Wine Bot for supermarket chain Lidl in the UK.

Sparkcentral understands AI and Natural Language Processing as an excellent approach to increasing efficiency in customer service. However, it cannot be at the cost of the customer experience. Therefore, the platform follows an approach of treating a chatbot like a new hire, essentially like a Digital Employee. As explained in more depth here, chatbots should be considered part of our workforce. They have different strengths and weakness from human employees, which in turn means that no chatbot should be left alone – there should always be a seamless handover to a human agent in case a customer is stuck with a situation the bot wasn’t programmed to handle.

The Sparkcentral platform offers an API to integrate any chatbot and give him/her a “seat at the table” so that optimal efficiency gains can be reaped.

 

Driving Innovation and Growth Through Partnerships

Sparkcentral is seeking partnerships with chatbot companies to support its approach of a fully open API to pull in any outside AI to improve the automation of customer service conversations. This will be a focus for Sparkcentral in 2019.

Furthermore, the company drives the messaging revolution forward by partnering with BPOs that can act quicker than a large enterprise in ramping up support staff for, say, a new product launch. A large service provider in Latin America has launched their own version of “Netflix”, i.e. a video streaming service. They wanted to ramp up a dedicated channel for customer service, based on Twitter, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. “We came in and partnered with a BPO to not only provide our technology but also live agents to work their aggressive launch timeline. In the course of 2019, we will be supporting them with “hiring” a digital employee/chatbot to augment that service offering,” commented Joe on the partnership”.

 

Enhancing Customer Experience Through Disruption

Joe believes disruption should only be a means to an end, it should serve a purpose. The purpose it has is to push through a change in areas that are stuck and thus not performing to their full potential, i.e. areas that desperately need change. In customer service, that is things like call centers that only take calls from 9 to 5, or branches that are closed on the weekend, or organizations that force you to make a call and wait on hold for 20 minutes, or send a letter (worse: a fax!), when what you really want to do is just send a quick iMessage.

Often times, the disruptors are basing their entire business model around convenience. If convenience essentially is your business model (think Uber and the ease of getting from A to B, or Amazon and the ease of getting a hold of a product you need), then legacy companies need to work even harder to catch up and compete. Technologies like AI or IoT can help in customer service in ways explained above, but also by embedding IoT sensors into products themselves so that they can report their status before you even know something might be breaking soon. All it then takes is a quick message to you to ask something like, in the case of a printer: “I am low on yellow ink. Reorder from Amazon for $19.99 like last time” to which you reply yes and go on with your life…

 

Business Excellence and Awards

 Besides winning the 2016 and 2018 CODiE awards for social care, Sparkcentral has been awarded the “High Performer” badge by software review portal G2 Crowd 4 times in a row in 2018: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. These badges are an immediate result of the company’s customers’ reviews and a testament to the quality of the service it provides.

Sparkcentral is proud to count over 50 well-known brands as customers including jetBlue, Air Canada, Nordstrom, Zappos, Netflix, DirecTV, Slack, KBC Bank, AXA Insurance, ENGIE Energy, citizenM, and many more. “What these customers tell us is that our tool is way easier to use than some of the competition, as it mimics the simplicity of consumer-style messaging apps, but also more efficient for the agents, as it minimizes the number of clicks and tasks to handle a conversation,” Joe mentioned.

 

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Joe said the biggest challenge is likely the saturation of the market of social media tools in 2016/17 and the change in behavior of consumers towards private messaging. Sparkcentral has overcome it now through a product pivot in 2018 that allowed it to focus on the particular challenges of asynchronous messaging channels so that the company made it back to the top and are ready for massive growth as these emerging channels become commonplace in 2020 and beyond.

 

Envisioning the Future

Joe believes the move to messaging will likely take a few years. Enterprises simply don’t move that fast, especially not in customer service and the contact center, a notoriously slow-moving department. Smart companies will realize that the contact center is not just a cost center, but should really be considered a revenue growth and customer loyalty center. It is increasingly about creating and nurturing relationships with consumers, who simply refuse to be treated like numbers and anonymous masses. “Messaging technologies can likely be considered the final frontier in customer service, and many trends such as the increasing consumerization of IT in the enterprise, the ongoing trend towards personalization, and also economic trends such as the focus on customer lifetime value (LTV) point towards messaging being a great way to help”.

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