We’re staying at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, Calif. this week, going around and making our "pitch" to the various software vendors and other companies in the call/contact center space located throughout the Bay area.
The other night, me and my co-worker wanted to get the lowdown on which area restaurants we should go to (oh, yes, ahem, and which ones were “affordable” too), so we asked the girl at the front desk, who in turn said we should ask the concierge, who also has a desk in the main common area, across from guest services. When we asked what the concierge’s hours were, the girl at the front desk said “she works 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” but when we looked at the concierge’s desk and saw no one there, we asked “well … where is she?”
“Oh she’s there … she’s a virtual concierge,” the girl said.
We looked again, and lo and behold there was the “virtual concierge,” on a large flat panel mounted on the wall right behind the concierge desk (at first we thought it was just a TV). So we went over to meet her.
It turns out that the concierge, “Anna,” has worked at the hotel for more than 10 years, but when she recently had to move about 80 miles away, she came up with the idea of “virtualizing” herself through a videoconferencing solution. She explained that it was no longer practical for her commute to work, so she proposed the idea of “virtualizing” herself and handling guests remotely from her own home (in other words, becoming a home agent) to her bosses. Well, apparently her bosses liked the idea – and being the call-center-technology-junkies that we are, we like the idea too!
Anna was as pleasant as a concierge can be - and her presence was almost as strong with this videoconferencing solution as it would be if she was standing right there, serving us in person. With a good microphone, speaker set, monitor and camera in place, Anna both looked good and sounded good too. The conversation flowed well and the video kept pace with the audio quite nicely, thus creating a truly “personalized” experience. I must admit I was impressed.
Anna said she is trying to work with some call and contact centers to help develop her idea farther. She explained that one the main advantages of using this system is that it helps save on transportation costs (as you know, gas isn’t cheap these days) – plus it helps save the environment as well (a good tie-in here for TMC’s First Annual Green Technology World Conference, which is to be held in Los Angeles this fall). She pointed out that there are many occupations out there where a “virtual” person could easily perform all the duties necessary without having to physically be on the job – and of course, right away I thought about how many banking organizations are soon going to be using “virtual tellers” to conduct routine transactions at branch banks. Although these “virtual tellers” will probably be working in large centers either here in the U.S. or abroad – they could, in theory, be home agents. And if you think about it, that alone could mean thousands less cars on the road every day in the U.S. and elsewhere. Multiply that times a dozen other occupations which employ thousands of people, where virtualization could be applied, and you just might end up reducing carbon emissions by a measurable amount!
Anyway, after our nice discussion, Anna recommended a restaurant where could get a “good burger” and then printed out a set of directions for us on the printer which was right underneath the monitor. Pretty neat!
Later, when we got back from the restaurant, we saw Anna again as we walked through the front common area. Amazingly, even though we were about 25 feet away, she saw us too, and gave us a polite wave and smile – again, just as if she was standing right there! Amazing!
Even though I have my doubts that “virtualized customer service reps” will work in every industry, this experience gave me confidence that in certain industries it is going to work a lot better than any of us realize.
Now, the next step is for Anna to find a way to present her self as a hologram, instead of on a flat panel … hmm, maybe that is coming sooner than I think!