/ 29 May 2015

Insight into service

Andrew Cook and Andrew Burns of Smoke Customer Care Solutions
Andrew Cook and Andrew Burns of Smoke Customer Care Solutions

Sometimes innovation is more than just a word or idea that has the potential to transform an industry. Sometimes it’s an experience that pushes one person so hard that the only way out is to redefine and redesign — the status quo is no longer an acceptable choice. This is exactly how Smoke Customer Care Solutions came into being and the solutions it provides are not only transforming an industry, they are reintroducing care to the concept of customer care.

In 2007 Andrew Cook, founder of Smoke Customer Care Solutions, had an extraordinarily bad customer experience. It was so unpleasant and frustrating that he decided to leave his promising career as a chartered accountant and explore the hitherto unknown realm of customer experience management. Together with Andrew Burns, he formed Smoke Customer Care Solutions (CCS) and they developed a remarkable platform designed to change the way businesses engage with their customers.

“Andrew, my business partner, phoned a company call centre about a burst pipe outside of his house; it wasn’t even his pipe and his home wasn’t affected, but there was water gushing into the street,” says Burns. “He called the call centre and didn’t have any joy. It’s that same story when you phone any call centre — you get bounced around and nobody takes any responsibility for what you are trying to explain to them or ask them to do. After a 40-minute process he went from being helpful to wanting to complain, but there was no mechanism to do this either! This started the whole thought process on how we could improve service delivery in South Africa and led to Andrew identifying this specific spot in this specific area — the call centre.”

The software designed by Smoke CCS is known as Eyerys and hands organisations the keys to consistently monitor service levels delivered in call centres. The application can be deployed across call centres, retail and numerous other customer touch points that can be tailored to suit individual organisational requirements. The solution has won awards steadily over the past few years; the Technology Top 100 in 2012 for Excellence in the Management of Innovation and another two awards in the 2013 Technology Top 100, plus a finalist space in the 2013 Accenture Innovation Index.

“When we got into this industry it wasn’t really an industry, and the ability to spot the opportunity and stay ahead of the curve definitely helps,” says Burns. “The industry is so new that it is constantly evolving and you have to navigate that path correctly every time you come to a fork in the road, and I think we have managed to do that.”

Burns believes that their business model has also played a pivotal role in their steady growth and development. The firm uses an annuity-based system for the way in which it sells its products. This meant that initially growth was slow, but today it has resulted in a stable and sustainable business that is continuing to grow. 

“It has helped us so much in the later years of the business, as now we have this very reliable income that we can plan on and strategise on and make business decisions knowing that we can get this every month,” says Burns. “This has made a massive difference as we don’t need to battle the revenue peaks and dips of once-off business deals.”

From a technology perspective, Smoke CCS’s products have been built on a robust platform that is unique to the organisation. The business blends innovative technology solutions with advisory services and significant capability to ensure that clients can enhance and manage their customer experience strategies far more effectively. The software allows voice-of-the-customer feedback across 14 channels that include IVR, SMS, USSD, email, web, CATI, CAPI, social media, kiosks and QR codes. It has also been designed to be as ubiquitous and user-friendly as possible. 

“I understand what our customers go through when they try to implement a system like ours in their organisation,” says Burns. “We have structured the system to deal with these complexities and to try and make it far easier for our customers. This means that our software gets installed a lot quicker and easier than most.”

Smoke CCS as an organisation doesn’t see innovation as just a product or a service; the brand’s ethos is also focused internally to ensure that things are done in the best possible way. Sometimes even they don’t necessarily like the answers.

“We look at whether or not we are doing things well, in the best way they can be done, and occasionally the answer is ‘no’,” says Burns. “As a team we ask one another if we think something is a bad idea or if we can perhaps come up with a better way of doing something. We really want to hear honest answers and implement those kinds of changes. It could be a new addition to the software or the way we welcome people at the front door, but if it works we want to hear about it.”

Eyerys was designed to make it easy for customers to give the business feedback and harness the value of this information to improve performance, solutions and services. It listens to the customer at every point of interaction, regardless of what methodology he or she chooses, and collects the data for analysis. The system can also create surveys across all channels of feedback, connect to existing customer relationship management tools and has advanced reporting and analytical tools.

“We see our growth and development as a permanent mountain that we are climbing, with landmarks along the way,” says Burns. “Right now we have some multinational customers that are pulling us into the international space and that’s always been one of the markers along our route.  We have put a strategy together on how to take the business internationally and how to scale it over the next two years, and that will be a really big feather in our cap.”

The product itself isn’t going to be left stagnating as plans for international domination grow. Smoke CCS is committed to keeping itself as a constantly evolving solution that adaptively meets the changing requirements of a mercurial customer base.  The team is focused on ensuring that innovation remains a key part of their strategy going forward as well as the development of their products.

“Innovation for us is improvement and change within the organisation regardless of where it is,” says Burns. “It doesn’t matter if this is making tea in the most efficient manner possible or making the best product possible, but I think across the business, innovation has to be significant and positive. Those two things are key to measuring innovation within our organisation. If it is going to make a change it’s got to make a big enough difference that it has a knock-on effect. If you’re going to make a change and it doesn’t move things forward, then that’s not really innovation.”

Today the business offers a variety of different products and services that can all be used to enhance the customer experience and allow for improved brand engagement.

“Initially the idea wasn’t to make money, it was just to solve the problem of the bad call centre experience,” says Burns. “I think that we’ve done a good job of doing just that. The software that we create has the ‘rate the service’ at the end of the call and so many people tell us that they never do those things. A lot of people don’t, but you usually find that the ones who have phenomenally good experiences or really bad experiences are the ones who will do it. And it turns out that it’s representative of the results of everyone rated, so for us that data can be turned into real change.”

Burns not only believes that this can bring about significant change for a business, he has actually experienced it himself as a customer of one of his own clients. 

“It means that you can believe your own marketing. When you see it happening and really doing what it should, it feels fantastic,” he concludes.