Customers first: Using technology to keep consumers happy

Each week we ask chief technology officers (CTOs) and other high-profile technology decision-makers three questions.

Image caption Taking customer service from the call centre to the internet poses huge problems, says Colin Rowland

This week, Colin Rowland, vice-president, operations, for OpTier, is providing the answers.

OpTier is a provider of business-transactions management solutions, used mainly in the financial and telecoms markets. They are also used in new technologies like mobile advertising, with the 'Shopkick app' in the US, a geolocation-based advertising tool.

The New York-based company is privately held, but has raised over $110m (£67.6m) in venture capital from investors. It has over 200 employees.

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

For me it's all about customer service. It's how large organisations that are interfacing with the public are changing their approach to customer service so banks, telcos [telecoms companies], how they are improving that approach.

Over the years what they've wanted us to do is call their call centres. What they've realised is that call-centre cost is hugely expensive. So they've gone through the period of outsourcing call centres and moving them offshore. Customers didn't like it so they moved them back onshore again.

But either way it's hugely expensive for you and I to call a call centre for a bank or a telco, to get something done. It can cost anything between $8 (£5) and $16 (£10) for them to make that happen.

What they're trying to do is get people to go online, to go to an online portal.

The technology problem they've got with that is the call-centre operators have been highly trained to look at multiple screens and have multiple applications running, and to be really slick in the background in the ability to get the job done and answer questions.

Now when you go to do the same thing online it's not the case.

They have to have all of those integrations between all the different things the call-centre operator used so that it looks seamless to you, so it looks more efficient, because if it doesn't look more efficient and it doesn't work, the first thing you do, you call the call centre again and it costs them twice.

So the technology challenge they have is integrating all those systems that the call-centre operator would use to give you the perfect service.

You see a lot of organisations that have not quite got those integration paths right because you're integrating between customer databases, services, new products coming out, etc.

And what happens is a lot of those orders get lost or they don't happen, or they happen too slowly. And as I said before, when that happens the first thing you do is call the call centre and nothing's been gained.

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

I don't know if it's the next thing, but it's the current hype at the moment that everyone's talking about. Everyone's riding this cloud-computing situation, and I think it's now starting to move into reality.

There's always been the concern with cloud computing, do I really want to put my applications and data out there in the cloud? The first thing on everybody's mind is how good is the security? Can I make sure that no one else's got access to it, and that we're not going to have any data leakage out there in the cloud?

I think people are starting to solve that one now, and they're starting to trust the cloud.

The next phase is how we show business that by reducing cost, by putting our applications and our business services out there on the cloud, they're still going to get the same level or an improved level of service.

So that's what customers are asking us about at the moment.

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

I thought about this one in terms of what mistake can I tell you about that has no implications now, and can't get me in trouble! And also what mistake can I tell you about that has some meaning, and then it occurred to me.

Many years ago when I first started working and I was a software engineer, one of my first jobs was developing the test code for the BBC computer. It was a long time ago.

I wrote all the test code for all of those computers. And they had these real fancy things at the time called Asic chips, which were kind of new and exciting and were just breaking through. Would seem really antiquated now, but then they were really new and exciting. We didn't know a great deal about them, but we knew it was the latest and greatest technology.

We didn't know much about the Asics in terms of how to test them, so I developed some test code for them to make sure they were inserted the right way round.

But as it happened they didn't work. And to my eternal shame a lot of BBC computers got built with these chips the wrong way round and had to come back.

I'm holding my hands up to that now after about 25 years!

It was pretty bad at the time I can tell you. We fixed it fairly quickly.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites