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Sharpen Executive Interview

Cameron Weeks, CEO, Sharpen

What do you consider to be the greatest obstacles today’s contact center agents need to overcome to provide better service?

Agents have told us that some of their largest pains stem from the complexity of the tools they’re forced to work with, and a lack of useful training from their managers. They’ve told us they’ve previously had to struggle with multiple windows across multiple screens, multiple systems that don’t share information, multiple points of failure, a lack of connection with other agents on their teams, and a lack of ability to connect with customers on an authentic level to solve their problems. These same agents tell us they consider Sharpen’s ability to overcome these issues to be “life-changing.” They’re finding that having all omni-channel communication tools and relevant customer information in one intuitive interface helps them get to the heart of customer issues, find a solution, and solve problems. This lets them be heroes to customers, rather than punching bags. They tell us the improvement in their confidence levels and efficiency are a night & day difference.

Additionally, supervisors report only being able to spend around 7% of their weekly time coaching agents, while 53% is spent on administrative tasks and searching for information. Sharpen is improving the agent experience by defining it, measuring it, and providing that data to both supervisors and agents. While other vendors pay lip service to the agent experience, Sharpen creates its applications with the express purpose of helping contact centers develop their people in a streamlined, efficient, and effective way.

There’s a lot of talk about creating ‘super-agents’ who can effectively manage interactions across multiple channels. Is that possible with legacy technologies or do businesses need to invest in updated solutions to make it a more viable option?

“Possible” is a pivotal term, in this question. The answer is, of course, “yes.” But then it raises another question… “is this the BEST way to accomplish your goal?” When the original multi-channel systems were created, they focused on the concept of combining various discrete hardware-based systems into a single “all-in-one” software system. They succeeded in doing this, but the issue is that their goal was a bit short sighted. Early vendors focused on the systems themselves, rather than on solving the core problem, which is creating a connection that allows agents to resolve customer issues. It’s a subtle but important difference, in that “channels” are not the most important thing… customers are. Yes, customers should have choices of how they reach out, but likewise agents should have tools to transition a conversation to a more suitable channel if it helps resolve an issue. Legacy systems solved the problem of “more channels,” but in doing so they revealed new limitations. Sharpen is focused on, “helping agents and customers solve problems.” The outcome we’re seeing is fast ROI, better First Contact Resolution, higher CSAT and companies who are able to create best-in-class experiences.

What can businesses do to better empower front-line service teams while making individual agents feel more valued within the organization?

One very important way to make individual agents feel valued is by investing in their improvement. This lets agents know they’re a name, not a number. In order to provide meaningful coaching, supervisors and managers need a variety of information including both real-time and historical monitoring tools, scorecards, and reporting. When coaches have this information at the ready, they can spend their time and energy pouring into their teams, rather than fighting systems and hunting for data. Over time, as coaches invest in their teams, these front-line agents are empowered and confident, which helps them connect with customers on an authentic level.

What is “conversational coaching” and how does it go beyond the traditional use of call recording to improve contact center performance?

Conversational coaching facilitates true collaboration between agents and supervisors. Supervisors/agents can access recorded calls within the Sharpen platform, with the option to add color-coded comments, questions, and feedback directly on call recording regions. This keeps all comments, ScoreCards, and call data in one place. When reviewing supervisor feedback, agents can easily respond and clarify next steps in order to set the foundation for success. Coaching’s ease-of-use enables more consistent feedback--ultimately resulting in more developmental feedback.

Many organizations use analytics to gauge the performance of their contact center operations.  How can companies determine the specific analytics that are most relevant to their needs and set up reporting in a user-friendly format that enables them to glean the insights to make the most positive impact?

Good decisions can only be made if they’re well-informed. Businesses need to define and articulate top-level objectives, and determine each team’s role in achieving them. Using this strategy as the guide, KPIs need to be identified and measured.

With this framework in place, the crucial piece remaining is a system that allows the business to track existing data points, or create their own KPIs. The system must also allow for real-time monitoring and historical reporting, as well as sharing and displaying information clearly. With these tools, businesses can move beyond the mundane reporting of the past and into true analytics. This aids the process of identifying core problems, planning their solutions, and uncovering innovation.

In order to provide a consistent experience, contact centers need to unite all service channels and effectively leverage customer data. How does your solution contribute to delivering a seamless customer experience?

The unification and presentation of customer data is crucial to providing a smooth experience for both agents and customers. In order to focus their attention on the customer and on the reason for their reaching out, agents need relevant information and tools for seamless communication in one easily navigated window. Sharpen provides pre-built integrations to the most popular CRM and ticketing platforms, creating an environment that fosters agents and customers working together to solve problems.

Sharpen clients can also take their own directions with this deep connection using a variety of customization options. They can keep it simple with web-based administrative tools, dig in to the open REST APIs, or roll up their sleeves and use the full power of [dot]CX… Sharpen’s first-of-its-kind object oriented programming language focused on customer experience.

With complete access to data and flexible tools for customization, Sharpen’s commitment to creating smooth agent and customer experiences is unmatched in the industry.

Sharpen is a solution that leverages advanced cloud-native architecture.  How does this make it different and more effective than existing cloud solutions?

Before Sharpen’s developers began writing code, they studied. They looked at existing solutions, discovered their limitations, and created a platform that isn’t held back by decades of legacy debt. By taking this fresh approach, Sharpen has been able to create a foundation that overcomes geographical and cloud restrictions. Solving these issues creates a single, true global environment with minimal latency allowing us to achieve the highest possible measurable voice quality (a sustained 4.4 MOS score for the entire year of 2017), no MPLS required.

Upon this foundation, Sharpen built applications for omni-channel communications, again taking a fresh approach. Rather than recreating other vendors’ feature lists, Sharpen created systems to handle the three basic “types” of communication: voice-based, text-based, and data-based. With this approach, the team was able to spin-up channels to match traditional systems, as well as push ahead into SMS/MMS, Internet of Things, and video in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the required resources. Not only is Sharpen built to allow a smooth transition from legacy systems to modern, it’s built to handle channels of communication that don’t exist yet.

The platform is also cloud-agnostic, meaning it doesn’t rely on any one cloud service provider. Instead, Sharpen clients can use (or not use) Amazon Web Services, Google or Microsoft Azure as their business prefers. Doing this provides more than just options. It creates a system that survived a major AWS outage in 2017, suffering only the temporary unavailability of user icons. (Even this failure has since been corrected.)

This is much more than an engineering feat, or academic exercise. It creates actual global ACD capabilities, allowing businesses to connect their offices around the world. A location in Australia can leverage a remote agent in Kansas as easily as if they were down the street at a coffee shop. A customer in London can speak with an agent in Phuket with crystal clarity. Sharpen finally delivers on the capabilities legacy vendors have aspired to for over 20 years.

Sharpen is HIPAA and PCI compliant, carries a financially-backed 99.999% uptime guarantee, and secures all traffic using bank-level encryption in transit and at rest. New features are deployed in real-time, and are included with no increase to the simple per-user monthly price. Users can be added or removed easily, allowing businesses to scale up or down as needed.

With a focus on improving agent and customer experience, Sharpen is more than a software product. It’s a company dedicated to helping business get better.

Who is Sharpen, what do you do, and why do you exist?  

Sharpen creates better agent experience by developing software and relationships to solve communication problems. We’ve created a cloud-native contact center platform that provides the required functionality of today’s contact centers, and picks up the torch from legacy systems, allowing businesses to break new ground in customer experience. Because the foundation of our platform is better, the applications we’ve built on it are more stable, more flexible and more reliable. This allows Sharpen to provide the highest possible quality communications around the world with no geographical or cloud service restrictions. In short, Sharpen provides better omni-channel communications for contact centers.

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