When I describe to friends what we’re working on at Quiq, the reaction is universally positive, sometimes even rabid enthusiasm. We’re all consumers, and interacting with companies, even our favorite ones, is an unpleasant necessity and not a positive experience — akin to going to the dentist, something you don’t look forward to but have to do nonetheless.
Friction and delay. Those two words sum up the characteristics of phone calls and email, the primary channels of communication with companies today.
Phone calls are inconvenient and unpleasant. In today’s hectic, multi-tasking world, people don’t have time for phone calls. Proclivity to make a phone call is inversely proportional to age, with younger ages rapidly approaching zero. And if one does find time to make a call, there’s the dreaded voice menus and waiting in queue while being subjected to bad music, interrupted regularly with the mindless drivel of “Your call is important to us…”
While email may not be as obnoxious as the phone, it’s not much better because it’s indefinite — a black hole. Consumers are impatient. Waiting and satisfaction are mutually exclusive. When I want an answer, I want it NOW! And if the issue isn’t something that can’t be answered in a simple response, the delay just gets worse as email flows back and forth.
Despite all the effort spent by companies to provide good customer experiences, the communication channels they’ve made available require the customer to interact in ways that are convenient to only the company. Our mission at Quiq is put convenience back on the side of the customer and make communication with companies frictionless and immediate — while also improving the company’s efficiency.
Messaging is Frictionless and Immediate (and also Ubiquitous and Pervasive)
Through the increasing popularity of text messaging, people have demonstrated that they prefer messaging over phone calls or email. SMS, Messaging’s least common denominator, has more than 2.6B users. Add to that the Facebook Messaging platforms (Messenger & WhatsApp) and it’s safe to say that every consumer that matters is using Messaging.
The things that make Messaging so popular for communication with friends also make it the preferred medium for customers to engage with companies:
- Frictionless — Messaging’s asynchronous paradigm facilitates multi-tasking so customers don’t have to stop what they are doing
- Immediate — get assistance at the time of need
- Personal — one-to-one dialogue creates a strong customer relationship
- Easy — consumers are already comfortable using Messaging apps
- Multimedia — everyone already knows how to send a picture via Messaging (a picture is worth 1000 words in a support interaction!)
Introducing Quiq Messaging
So, that leads me back to what we’re working on at Quiq. I’m excited to announce the first release of Quiq Messaging, the only Messaging application built for Enterprise Customer Service. Initially, we’re supporting SMS and Facebook Messenger, but there’s more on the way.
Before I dive headlong into what Quiq Messaging is, it’s first important to understand what it isn’t. We’re not replacing existing CRM’s and customer service systems; we’re making them better! Quiq Messaging has UI and backend integration frameworks, which allow Messaging to be easily added to existing customer support systems, thereby leveraging prior investments made in business process and customizations to those systems. To assist in the addition of Messaging to the most common systems, we’re building standard integrations for Oracle Service Cloud, Salesforce and Zendesk.
So then, to help describe more about what Quiq Messaging is, let’s start with a simplified analogy: Quiq Messaging is to Messaging as phone systems are to telephony. (This is an illustrative oversimplification. We do a lot more than just message delivery — more to come on that.)
Agents are the heart and soul of customer service. An agent’s job is tough enough just dealing with customer issues. There’s no room for slow, cumbersome and unintuitive software. In the design of Quiq Messaging, we took this to heart and focused on ways in which we could make agents lives easier:
- Our UI is simple and intuitive, making it easy to handle a large number of asynchronous conversations simultaneously.
- Text Snippets with simple keyboard shortcuts reduce the time and effort needed to craft great customer responses
- Response Time Coaching helps agents know which conversation needs attention and guides agents to respond within the customer’s expectations. Because of the asynchronous nature of Messaging, different customers have different levels of engagement. The Response Time Coach helps agents respond quickly to customers who are highly engaged, while allowing longer times for other customers that are less engaged.
- Collaboration is built right in. Agents can invite others to silently join a conversation in the background and, when necessary, the agent can easily hand off the conversation to a collaborator.
- Emoji’s allow agents to express emotion, sympathizing with the customer’s frustrations and celebrating successes.
Instead of starting small and moving up market, our target from the very beginning has been large brands with millions of consumers and hundreds or thousands of agents. Not only does Quiq Messaging have enterprise-class scalability and reliability, but it also has the features expected by industrial-strength customer service professionals:
- ACD-like capabilities including queuing, routing and transfer make Messaging feel comfortable to those familiar with traditional call centers.
- Real-time status and performance information allowing managers to understand current conversation volumes, wait times and individual agent performance.
- Conversation monitoring to help ensure that all conversations are being handled with minimum service thresholds.
- Agent coaching through manager observation, background whisper advice and, if necessary, the ability to take over a conversation.
- Historical statistics to understand trends.
- UI customization through our Extension Framework, which easily incorporates data from other systems. For instance, an Extension could be used to display order details when an order number is detected in an incoming customer message.
Our focus on Enterprise Customer Service isn’t limited to features, it extends much deeper. Previously, I was CTO and VP Product Development for RightNow, having joined the company as the 7th employee. RightNow went public in 2004 and was acquired by Oracle for $1.5B in 2011 when we had grown to $225M in annual revenue and 1200 employees. RightNow has become Oracle Service Cloud and it powers customer experience for many large brands. From this and elsewhere, Quiq’s founding team has more than 50 years experience (and scars) developing customer service software. By starting from scratch, we’ve been able to leverage the learning from our prior mistakes (hey, I admit we should have done some things differently last time!). Unlike many startups that make a mad dash to build features while skimping on infrastructure, our experience has taught us the need to build in security, scalability, reliability and manageability starting on Day 1 — and, of course, a great set of features too!
Messaging is Good for Companies Too
Earlier, I focused on why Messaging is preferable to customers (customers first!). However, in addition to better customer engagement resulting from customers interacting in their preferred method, Messaging also offers the company a number of additional advantages:
1. Lower Staff Costs
From their text conversations with friends, customers have learned that responses don’t always come immediately. Our Response Time Coach understands this and helps agents respond within a timeframe that the customer expects. By allowing agents more time to respond to customers that have a lower level of engagement, Quiq Messaging enables the company to serve more customers with fewer agents and helps smooth out the staffing requirements during peak periods.
As compared to email, Messaging can also be more efficient since a conversation provides start to finish problem resolution. With email, if additional information is needed, multiple round-trips may be needed with responses handled by the next available agent, who needs to come up to speed on the issue on each email response.
2. Better/Faster Understanding
A significant part of many customer service interactions is understanding the problem at hand. Since customers are already very familiar with sending image and video, a customer interaction on Messaging is inherently multi-media. Customers can send pictures of what they are seeing (e.g. the broken strap on the handbag or a video showing how the part doesn’t fit) and agents can respond with images and video as well. This leads to faster time to resolution, which improves customer satisfaction and lowers staffing costs.
3. Easy Escalation to a Phone Call
In spite of all the benefits of Messaging, I admit there may be times in which a phone call may be more efficient — a complex trouble shooting situation, for example. But since the customer is likely Messaging from their phone, it’s easy for the agent to ask permission to call the customer to continue the diagnosis. The conversation then becomes multi-channel, with images/video exchanged via Messaging during the phone conversation (depending upon the customer’s network connection and type of Messaging being used).
First and foremost we’re looking forward to working with our first wave of customers to gain feedback and insight. From this we’ll quickly iterate to make the goodness great. Our prior experience has taught us that great product is a result of close collaboration with users.
Another area of upcoming focus is the support for additional messaging platforms. Our system has been built on a microservices architecture, which allows the rapid addition of Messaging platforms. We chose to support SMS and Facebook Messenger first because of the size of the user base in our initial target market and the maturity of the API’s available to support business use cases. WhatsApp is our next priority, pending their release of a business-focused API.
There’s been a lot of discussion (aka hype) about the potential of Bots and Conversational User Interfaces. We are firm believers in the eventual reality of bots. But, bots won’t spring up overnight, instead they will be the result of a long evolution of technology, starting first with very focused, use case specific conversation dialogs (e.g. account/identity verification).