Mike Palmer joined Spearline as CMO at the end of 2018. With a background in technical support and operations, it’s been an interesting career move for him.
We recently sat down with Mike to find out a bit more about his career to date and how he ended up in a marketing role!
Good day Mike! You have a techie background. How do you find yourself in a marketing role?
I’ve had a long relationship with Spearline, most significantly as a happy customer. The team are great and have always been customer focused and quick to develop creative solutions to business challenges.
With regards to the marketing role, I welcome it as an opportunity and a challenge. Marketing itself is a fascinating technical arena, and with the ever advancing capabilities of marketing automation platforms, techniques in digital marketing, bots, AI and more, it’s a very exciting role.
It is very interesting that you were a customer. Can you tell us more?
I worked in the tele-conferencing space for many years where I was responsible for a growing global infrastructure and working with a large number of telecoms carriers. The provisioning of new inbound toll-free numbers was often problematic. Service activation could go wrong or the termination point might be incorrect.
These are numbers that can only be dialed from in country, so testing them from our office was never an option.
A practice developed where staff would network with friends and family who might be backpacking around the world and ask them to test dial numbers. When that was not an option, we might reach out to the local Irish embassy or an Irish pub in the area and ask if they’d assist us with testing. It actually worked reasonably well, but it was far from scalable and the demand for conferencing services was growing rapidly.
Spearline changed everything for us. It was incredible and remains so!
Matt and Kevin listened closely and came up with a fantastic solution which not only allowed testing from in country, it allowed us to check connection and get an objective measure of the audio quality using the ITU standard PESQ algorithm. A real game-changer.
Why a game-changer?
Before Spearline, escalation to the carrier was often ineffective. If a customer complained that their conference call was disrupted by a participant with poor audio, we may not have the originating phone number, and might only be provided a rough understanding of the call time. Carriers need the “A-end” and “B-end” of a call to identify it in the massive log files that keep network history. Without the caller’s phone number, traceability is gone. And these log files are a genuine big-data environment, so the timing of a problem call is important. +/- a few minutes for the start of a call involves researching a large amount of data. Also, due to the volume of data, these log files are rolling files, so if a problem is reported well after an incident, there is a chance the data is no longer available.
With Spearline in the picture, a test failure is accompanied by all of the call detail necessary for a carrier to investigate fully and immediately, including a recording of the call experience.
That recording is an incredible help. Users may report “noise”, “wobble”, “echo”, or any number of adjectives to describe an experience, but no two users will describe things the same way. Pass a recording to a carrier’s senior engineer and the conversation changes - “oh, yes … I’ve had this one before”. Additionally, where the recording captures network messages such as “all pathways are busy”, that senior engineer might say “hmm … that’s not our prompt, we don’t use a female voice with that accent, but that sounds like carrier-X”. Root cause and corrective actions follow quickly.
That is impressive. How did that change your carrier relationships?
We always had great technical relationships with our carriers. The conferencing application was really an intensive use of inbound contact centre services - many multiple simultaneous callers with spiky call demand always hitting the top or bottom of an hour at meeting start times. Contact centres normally see a more random distribution which is a bit less stressful on network resources.
Service levels and SLA’s were a constant challenge however. We were constantly pushing for better commercial terms and that meant pushing hard to win price concession, or migrating routes to alternate carriers with better rates. With such a focus on cost, carriers were reluctant to sign up to SLA’s which had any real teeth.
Keep in mind, it wasn’t penalty credits we wanted. We simply wanted high-quality of call delivery. With Spearline, we were able to provide clinical evidence of poor quality. We were able to identify if an issue was repeatable or transient, and we were able to work with the carrier to improve our service and their network delivery. Spearline allowed us to be a more significant part of the carrier troubleshooting process while improving the efficiency of our own resource use.
How specific are those benefits to conferencing providers?
Those benefits apply easily to any business with customer contact via phone, and to the carrier community that provides services.
I recently saw some feedback from cloud-based call centre solutions provider, Aircall, where their co-founder and technical architect, Pierre-Baptiste Béchu, described Spearline as a “crystal ball like tool”. The insights provided are magical.
Aircall had little visibility over quality with their network suppliers, and were taking calls from customers alerting them to issues. They were “reactive”.
In order to improve customer experience they wanted to be more proactive, detecting issues before a customer was impacted, and to choose carriers that offered the highest levels of service.
Working with Spearline, Aircall are now proactively monitoring their network, and spotting problems before their customers encounter them.
PGI’s Director of Vendor Mangement, Rosie Scott, a colleague of mine, says “I cannot overstate the value of their solutions”.
Rosie’s work with Spearline introduced the toolset to many in the carrier world which helped carriers raise the bar on quality and keep it high while they expand and make changes in their network environments.
But is voice communication not giving way to new forms of customer contact? Email, chat, social media?
Other channels are important and customers like to know they have multiple options to interface with a business, but voice is still the primary channel. It seems that people do like talking to people, particularly when they have complex questions or issues, or when they are contemplating a key purchase.
Recent studies have shown the voice channel services >70% of customer demand in the contact centre. Live chat saw some growth last year, but it seems this is at the expense of email and with the technology potential to convert chat to a voice call as needed.
We also see the growing potential for voice interactive service bots with technologies like Amazon Lex, and these interactions too will require a high quality voice channel if the customer experience it to be a good one.
Before we get there however, people talking to people is good for business. Conversations are more than the words. As humans we can sense if a customer is experiencing stress or frustration and adapt accordingly to manage a situation. A quality voice channel helps provide good customer service and customers respond to good customer service with loyalty and more revenue.
In closing, what is the biggest challenge you face in this marketing role?
Spearline have a toolset and a solution to the problems encountered by so many professionals managing voice networks, customer experience, contact centres, etc. We have an obligation to ensure that the market knows we are here and that we can transform their approach to managing that key customer contact interface. Our biggest challenge is evangelising.