Aspect Discusses the Cloud in Sunny Cancun
At the Aspect analyst conference in beautiful Cancun, Aspect discussed its past, present, and future, with an emphasis on - wait for it - the cloud. After last year's analyst event in Phoenix I wrote about Aspect's transition and the reinvention of the company, with a new executive staff, new cloud offers, and several acquisitions, including Voxeo and Quivox. The theme this year continued to be transformation and change, with a greater emphasis on execution.
As I wrote last year, 2013 was a time of turning the company back around, and as CEO Stew Bloom noted, "In 2013 we turned Aspect back into a highly relevant company with the best software in the industry." At one point Bloom showed a blank screen to illustrate Aspect's cloud strategy in 2012, demonstrating how far the company has come in a short period of time. Today, Aspect has several types of cloud offerings, delivered directly by Aspect or partners, including Zipwire, a pure cloud contact center solution supporting contact centers with fewer than 250 agents, as well as the Aspect Cloud, a multitenant solution with built-in disaster recovery based on an opex model, and Partner Cloud, enabling channel partners to host and provide cloud services to their customers.
Bloom discussed "creative destruction" and how business model disruption is the new normal. Bloom also talked about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how Aspect can enable a deeper consumer experience in the IoT value chain, as companies will need to utilize contact center capabilities to acquire, aggregate, and analyze information, and most importantly, to act on this information.
Joe Gagnon, SVP GM, of the Cloud business unit discussed "Consumer Engagement 20/20," providing some insights the company gained from its survey and research work around consumer engagement. The survey found that 91% of users would use self service if it were available, and 72% of customers prefer text over picking up the phone. However, most companies don't provide this capability, creating a gap between what consumers want and what companies provide.
Gagnon stated that, "It's the experience, not the features, that matter," which I wholeheartedly agree with. He described Aspect's Consumer Engagement 20/20 blueprint, noting, "Looking ahead, companies must embrace a new model for Consumer Engagement to achieve sustainable growth in an emerging 'flat and frictionless world.'" This includes consumer self service as "the most compelling long-term solution for meeting customer expectations," excellence in customer service to enhance traditional marketing, and the new collaborative/sharing economy, which challenges conventional consumer engagement models. Customer Engagement 20/20 involves increasing customer interactions (the more interactions you have, the better, as frequency drives satisfaction); improving customer satisfaction, decreasing costs through self service, and maximizing agent value.
Aspect is trying to transform and improve self service, where "a smooth handover from self to live service is more crucial than ever to providing excellent support," according to Aspect's Tobias Goebel, Director of Emerging Technologies. For example, Aspect Experience Continuity provides continuity to customers when they move from self to live service, or when switching between channels or proactive outbound communication and inbound service inquiries.
While there was a good amount of discussion about Aspect's products and cloud services, what I was most impressed with is the focus on and transformation of Aspect's professional services. Ken Ewell, Senior VP, Worldwide Professional Services, discussed how Aspect's professional services team is shifting the way they think about themselves, their customers, and their business, moving from being an implementation arm to helping customers throughout the customer buying cycle. Ewell described some of the services that Aspect is providing to customers, including "mentor" services, customer journey mapping, cloud services transition, and a business review/health check. The goal of Aspect Professional Services is to help customers attain their desired outcomes by "aligning our resources and skill sets around customer business issues instead of technology." This is the type of thing I've been advocating for many years, and I was glad to see Aspect move in this direction.
When I think about contact centers, what is most important isn't the technology or capabilities, but how they're deployed and implemented in order to improve the customer experience. If you look at it from this perspective, it means that the key to success doesn't rely on a vendor's particular product or service, but the way in which the product or service is used. By asking questions and understanding what the customer is trying to achieve, companies like Aspect can better help their customer go beyond the technology to the customer experience.
Another area where Aspect transformed itself is in channel sales. As Mike Moors, VP of Worldwide Channel Sales, noted, "Our objective is to become more channel and partner centric. Aspect is implementing a methodology for market mapping, screening, enablement, incentivizing, scorecarding," adding that Aspect is increasing the amount and quality of partners to drive significant incremental revenue growth from the channel. Services will be key, as that's where the VARs make money.
As mentioned earlier, Aspect also focused on execution, and its results in 2014 were impressive, as the company stabilized its revenue base, acquired new customers, saw significant growth in its cloud bookings, and won some very large deals.
The company still has its work cut out for it, as there are many competitors in the customer engagement area, all of which are moving to or have moved to the cloud. Aspect needs to focus on empowering and transforming its sales force, providing them with the tools needed to help customers identify the business results and outcomes they're trying to achieve and the best way to realize those results, whether with premises-based, cloud, or hybrid solutions. The move to the cloud isn't as simple as some people would have you believe, and Aspect (as well as its competitors) need to not only help customers make the move to the cloud, but more importantly, help their channel partners make the transition.
I was pleased to see the energy and passion of the Aspect team, as well as the candor and transparency that we don't always see at analyst conferences. Aspect is certainly on the right trajectory - and no, those aren't the frozen drinks talking. And for insights from Aspect on how to put on an analyst conference, here's a fun blog from Aspect's Tim Dreyer.