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Sharpen Hones a Platform that Enables Businesses to Perfect the Omnichannel Agent Experience


Presented By: Sharpen

 One of the most pervasive clichés used by suppliers is that their solution “delivers a seamless customer experience across all channels.” But in the real world, few of these products account for the needs of the agent who is still at the crux of the customer experience. In most cases, agents are too busy juggling disconnected applications from multiple vendors and switching screens to live up to this lofty promise.

Now a previously little known company from the heartland is making a concerted effort to not only make seamless omnichannel service a reality but affect a permanent change in the way agents go about their tasks. Indiana based Sharpen is emerging as a global competitor to the major players in the cloud-based contact center infrastructure market, offering what they consider to be the fundamental ‘agent-first contact center platform.’

Unlike the myriad of new companies that have sprung up only to fall along the wayside with underdeveloped products, Sharpen has spent the past seven years meticulously building a platform from the ground up. Its cloud-native architecture not only offers an integrated approach to omni-channel communications, but also to innovative workforce optimization/workforce management capabilities, data analytics, and highly effective in-line agent training. The platform gives businesses deep integration with CRM and ticketing systems, enabling them to instantly access data for agent reference and smart routing. In addition, it is HIPAA and PCI compliant as well as GDPR ready.

According to Don Stewart, Director of Platform Enablement for Sharpen, the platform currently runs on multiple cloud platforms including Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its primary customers, meaning they are in 35 to 40 data centers worldwide. “But we do it differently than most companies,” he noted. “Unlike some solutions which use AWS as an operating system, we use it strictly for infrastructure so we are not tightly coupled to it. We are also implementing on Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud. Our product can exist across multiple public clouds, which is important for companies who want control over where their implementation is hosted. Sharpen is also totally location agnostic which helps limit any problems that can cause latency.  When a business connects with a data center, all our data exists across our entire platform. This makes us a true globally-distributed data platform.” 

Sharpen started out in 2011 as Fathom Voice, offering a voice PBX platform built on a microservices architecture before any of its competitors talked about microservices. They then developed the data platform and figured out the often difficult process of how to do voice in the cloud. Sharpen found that the platform lent itself to building a contact center and used their experience in voice and cloud PBX to build that strong piece with both out-of-the-box and custom integrations, which they describe as ‘very powerful.’ “We give our customers access to the same REST (Representational State Transfer) APIs that our developers use to build their own custom integrations.” Sharpen works with customers to build apps, sometimes directly, but has also hired third party developers to do the work in highly specific situations. While they support SIP phones, they are not required. Businesses can have their entire workforce on laptops or mobile devices from one or multiple locations, working from home or even from the neighborhood coffee shop.

When the app is opened, the user has access to all the modules of the platform whether they are an admin, a supervisor, or agent. Sharpen Q, their main agent interface, is a highly intuitive environment that makes it easy for the agent to navigate and accomplish all the things they need to do. The interface provides simple toggle buttons that the user can switch on and off, enabling agents to easily log onto a variety of color-coded, omnichannel queues, including native APIs for Salesforce so when a case comes up it can be prioritized.

Other available channels include: SMS, callbacks, voicemail, social media, phone calls, webchats, and email. All of these channels were built into the solution by Sharpen and available to the agent in a single queue. They did not buy outside suppliers or use white-label versions of other technologies. “We built all these pieces so we can control them and we can improve them,” said Stewart. “This means there’s no finger pointing or outside brokers to be contacted. It’s a complete modern contact center with everything a business may need.”

One of the solution’s most appealing features is that a customer can easily communicate with the last rep with whom they interacted.  This information can be instantly looked up in the CRM. Using a single interface agents can see and review the entire history of a customer’s interactions across all channels. Agents are free to move from channel to channel without stopping the conversation and can filter interactions in a variety of ways, whether by the specific media type or by the customer’s name. For example, an agent can simply hover over a phone number in a workgroup queue to call back a customer.  The purpose is to instantly give agents the tools they need without having to waste the time to go to another system to filter interactions or locate history. “Technology can accomplish these tasks more quickly and we want to do that to make the agent’s jobs easier.” 

Sharpen’s overriding goal is to enable the agent to improve in what they call the “three E’s: Effectiveness - the ability of an agent to resolve a customer’s issues or inquiries. Efficiency - how quickly and smoothly this can be accomplished. Empowerment - providing the tools and knowledge they need to excel at the human part of being a front-line agent. This includes the need for solid coaching and learning in a way that enhances rather than takes away from the daily workflow.  The Agent Experience Score (AXS) offers this. Taken together, these elements are combined in a metric that helps businesses measure and track agent satisfaction, mental well-being, and success.

The Sharpen platform includes exceptional educational tools, such as in-line training and microlearning.  Also included is conversational coaching, which facilitates true collaboration between agents and supervisors. Both supervisors and agents can access recorded calls within the platform along with the option to add color-coded comments, questions, and feedback directly on call recording regions. When reviewing supervisor feedback, agents can easily respond and clarify the next steps to set the foundation for success.

“We’re committed to building a community of companies who believe that a happy customer is a loyal brand advocate”, said Stewart. “We’re making this happen by providing a global platform that provides the means to enhance the capabilities and improve the working lives of agents.”