REDWOOD CITY -- Marty Beard joined LiveOps three years ago to help revolutionize the way traditional bullpen call centers interact with sometimes angry and frequently frustrated customers.
Today nearly 350 clients including Pizza Hut, Electronic Arts and Salesforce.com use LiveOps software to interact with customers like never before through Twitter, chats, Facebook and other nontraditional "channels" while getting rid of banks of screens full of information -- and even the telephone.
The agents don't even have to show up for work. With only a Web browser and a laptop, they can work from home as independent contractors, eliminating traditional overhead costs such as paying for lights, water and even a call center lease, Beard said.
With Beard as chairman and CEO, LiveOps' cloud-based call center business has grown 55 percent while some more traditional competitors have seen revenue fall as much as 11 percent.
Beard sat down recently with this newspaper in LiveOps' Redwood City headquarters to talk about how call centers can use technology and social media to turn angry complaints into happy customers. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q What is LiveOps doing that's different from the stereotype of a call center staffed with people wearing head sets, listening to angry calls all day long?
A All those agents are sitting in a cube with all this complicated technology -- four or five screens -- in front of them that's all optimized for a phone call. But people are emailing for help. They're chatting for help. They're tweeting that they're unhappy and call centers were not ready. They were only ready to handle phone calls. We sell software to manage that call center -- we call them contact centers -- in a much more efficient fashion. We got rid of the phone, the actual phone. All the agent needs now is a browser, a laptop or desktop and a headset to talk into.
Q Sounds like those companies' agents have a lot more work to handle with all of their new social media interactions.
A Agents actually see up to a 25 percent improvement in efficiency, partly because they don't need to navigate from one screen to another and they can actually process more interactions. A company with 100 agents can save $5,000 to $10,000 per agent per year just in efficiency gains, and they're handling more interactions on multiple channels they didn't even worry about before. Then, if you get rid of all that hardware and the need for a building, the payoff there is quite dramatic, too. Within the past year, Pizza Hut was one of our first customers to say, "OK, we'll get rid of the phone." Now Pizza Hut has 400 agents in front of a browser and a computer with a headset. This is groundbreaking for call centers.
Q How have social media changed the call center experience?
A In 2011, close to 95 percent of all interactions were voice. Now it's 55 percent but the total number of phone calls hasn't declined. Twenty percent is now email, chats are 12 to 15 percent and Twitter is in single digits but is growing really, really fast. Two years ago if you tweeted a complaint it went nowhere and no one responded. Now if you tweet that you're unhappy, you're going to get a response within 15 minutes and the agent will say, "Thank you for your tweet. Please clink on this link, which is a chat session, or call this number to resolve your issue." Agents aren't happy when a customer is unhappy. So we spend a lot of time on agent happiness. We have a strong belief that happy agent equals happy customer, which equals better lifetime value for the brand because they'll go back to Pizza Hut because they're happy with the experience.
Q What's the next evolution for call centers?
A The agent is going to become a more important position. You'll have to pay them more but it's worth it because the impact on your brand is huge. The old world view was, "50 percent of you will leave by the end of the year and I'll treat you that way." But why are agents less important than your marketing folks? They spend more time with your customers. Some of the more forward-thinking contact centers know that it's true.
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.
Current job: Chairman and CEO of LiveOps, based in Redwood City
Previous job: President of Sybase 365, a mobile messaging and mobile commerce subsidiary of SAP
Education: Double major in rhetoric and history, UC Berkeley; MBA, Georgetown University.
Family: Wife, two daughters
Residence: Old Town Encinitas
FIVE THINGS ABOUT MARTY BEARD
1. Started surfing two years ago near his home in north San Diego County. "I absolutely love it. It's a total rush catching a wave, a huge rush."
2. His first job was as a stock boy at City of Shoes in his hometown of Walnut Creek.
3. He had no idea what to do with a double major in rhetoric and history. "My plan was, study what I enjoy and I'll do better instead of doing what everyone told me to do, which was studying business."
4. He flies back and forth between his home in San Diego and Silicon Valley every week. "I've met a gazillion people doing the same thing who want to live in San Diego and work in Silicon Valley."
5. When they're together, the Beard family watches little TV. "We read a ton and play a lot of board games."