Vincent Potier Q&A Part II: Humanisation, not Personalisation, is Key

We produced the following interview in preparation for our upcoming eTail Europe event, being held in London, hence the (very) authentic use of “s’s” in place of “z’s,” in case you were wondering. But that’s really not the point – the point is that Vincent has some super interesting things to say about the online experience and how we should look more toward making it emulate an in-person experience. If you missed Part I, check that out here. And here’s the second installation – enjoy!

For the past few years, one of the buzzwords of multi-channel retail has been “personalisation.” Vincent Potier, Managing Director at Vonage UK, says we really should be talking about “humanisation” instead. According to Potier, people want a more human experience when interacting with their favorite brands digitally. That’s why Vonage was one of the first companies to launch a chat function on its website and also one of the only British Telcos to offer free customer support.

Kelly: You’ve mentioned that there are a lot of analytics tools that you’re using and I understand you can’t necessarily get into all the details of those, but are the right tools out there for you? What are the challenges of dealing with these types of tools and techniques to manage not only the multi-channel aspect of marketing and sales but the fact that your core product is a multi-channel product?

Vincent: That is correct and I would say, I don’t want to sound too simplistic but I would say the challenge really lies in the past, in the history. We’ve been doing this for many years now. So it’s like driving a car, really. You don’t think about it when you turn the ignition key. That’s really the way we use our tools. I’m not saying they’re perfect but we really are satisfied and we forget, actually, that we’ve got so many tools at hand. But we do that and one other very important thing is we’ve got a central point of control over those tools, who would be there if, for one reason or another, one of the tools is not working for a few hours. Or if we want to run specific and bespoke reports because we got a specific question.

It’s better to have a set, a range of standard analytics tools, and then every time you have a specific question, have a database which is flexible enough to be able to run bespoke reports or rather customisable reports. And that’s what we have. So it’s very easy for us again because it’s a small organisation here from a people point of view. I just have to turn to one guy and he will run whatever bespoke report we need, thanks to the database that we have, which is extremely efficient. We will have the answer within two hours. On top of that, you’ve got all the tools which are produced and generated on a daily basis that we will all look at in the morning.

Kelly: Moving away from analytics just a little bit and back into the customer focus; how do you create and implement a marketing strategy that gives way to truly personalised customer experiences especially as we said, when you’re dealing across these multiple channels that Vonage serves through?

Vincent: I wouldn’t say that we have reached yet our final objective from the personalisation point of view. For example we still need to do a lot of work on usage of social media and we are looking at things. That’s one. Also, I’m not sure we’re using all the full potential of the Internet, from a customised page point of view. So we could have different pages for customers as prospects. We could have some kind of predictive algorithms which would tend to present certain pages and certain products to certain customers based on certain criteria, and we don’t have that yet. And I feel that clearly is a topic we’re very interested in and that we’re working on.

Kelly: As for the customer experience strategy that you do have in place, what are you doing to try and work toward a more personalised experience, perhaps with your call centers? Or is there anything you are doing right now or that you feel you have mastered?

Vincent: We’re working on it, so I can’t really tell you everything because there are quite a few good things coming soon, but it has a lot to do with algorithms and decision trees. It has to do with social media which helps personalise, which helps make the experience more human. But the only thing I would add, Kelly, the one thing we haven’t talked about, is humanisation of the Internet, which is something I’m truly a believer in. Maybe because our core product is selling voice, voice calls. And voice calls by definition will always be more humane than data communication, or at least I see it that way. It’s not always the case but it has the potential to be. And bear in mind that we are one of the only Telcos in the UK which allows customers to call for free. People forget that. But our customers can call us anytime they want. And they do, by the way. And we always try to answer the best we can. And we’re open seven days out of seven. Very few Telco’s are actually doing that in Britain. I know it’s quite common in the US. It’s very uncommon here.

Actually, one of the key complaint subjects of most telecom customers in this country is the cost. Whenever they’ve got a problem, number one, they have to stay 25 minutes on the phone to get anyone, and number two, it costs them a fortune because they are being charged premium rates to call customer care. So this is something which is a situation in Britain, and we do not do that at all.

The other thing is, we were the first company in the UK to actually implement a full range of chat solutions back in 2007, and we’ve been very active on that ever since. So chat is a very interesting tool in order to improve the precision and in a way, the personalisation of the human experience, but not from a social demo point of view but from behavioral point of view. Because in reality, chat allows you to actually offer conversations based on a certain behavior on the website. So personalisation, yes, we’re working on it, but something we’ve worked on for a very long time is the more humane ways of personalising the experience.

Kelly: So making sure that you’re using the digital channel in a way that’s almost more like a human channel, like a call center or something like that?

Vincent: Totally, and chat even is not the voice communication of course but we’ve been very, very active and very early on to help people. For example, you can build business rules on your site saying, if someone is stuck on a technical page for more than one minute then that means they may have a problem and don’t know where to find the answer. So then we launch a chat window saying, “Hey, can we help you?” And we are making very, very sure that it’s not something which is intrusive. And remember, because it’s behavioral here, in this case, but not behavioral cookie wise, rather, based on real behavior, then it is totally anonymous.

Kelly: So what’s next then for Vonage in terms of improving the cross channel experience? You hinted at some social media things but can you talk about any of them?

Vincent: In the UK, we are being a little bit slow at adopting social media. So it is something we’re going to be very active on. And very soon on all the main social media channels, the ones you know as well as I do, four or five channels mainly, we will want to engage in conversations with our customers and prospects…a little bit afterhours kind of thing. And we want to look to help customers in other ways. You don’t have to always go through the typical customer care, customer service channel in order to get answers to your question. The same way that a lot of customers now, when they’ve got a problem, especially with technology products, they just go on specific and dedicated forums to get answers rather than call a customer care line which never answers. Then we are looking at ways of enriching the overall Vonage customer experience by the use of social media.

Kelly: So you have strategies in place – anytime we can expect them? Are we going to see you more on Twitter, more on Facebook, anything like that?

Vincent: That’s exactly what we’re working on.

Kelly: We’re excited to hear more about that and hopefully we will by the time June rolls around and we see you at the conference.

Vincent: That is very possible.