Working from home is a new reality for many. As COVID-19 continues to spread and place hundreds of thousands of lives at risk, companies such as Google, Amazon and others have been quick to respond by mandating their staff to work from home. For many, this convenience comes with a new set of challenges and introduces a new reality?—?and a new possibility. While they’re forced to find strategies to manage time effectively and communicate with fellow coworkers in different ways, the flexibility and freedom of remote work forced upon millions of individuals in the labor force is a major boon for the future of telework. Marlon Williams, the CEO of Qubicles, joins Warren Whitlock to discuss the future of contact centers with the use of blockchain technology, where clients can be matched directly with agents working remotely.
Listen to the podcast here:
Blockchain Solution For Remote Working Contact Centers – Marlon Williams, CEO Of Qubicles
COVID-19 Increases Demand For Remote Workers. Global Virus Pandemic Forces Remote Work For Thousands Worldwide.
This show is going to be me talking to my friend, Marlon Williams. I’ve done some advising work for Marlon as he’s gotten into using blockchain in contact centers. He’s quite the expert. He’s been in the contact center world for a decade more and running an online service for the software for the contact center industry. The cool thing about it is that he is the only one working on using blockchain for this and taking it to the future. You may not like an annoying telemarketer call you, but inbound and friendly outbound calls are a big part of giving better customer service, especially as we move to most things being handled online. Marlon is the expert at this. I’m glad to welcome Marlon Williams on the show.
Thanks for having me.
We could go hours talking about what’s the truth about contact center. I know I attended a show here and was blown away. It’s the only trade show I went to where I ended up spending more time than I thought I would at the exhibits in the small exhibit hall. There are some exciting things going on but in all of that, nobody’s putting it on the blockchain. Let’s start there. Why did you decide to build something on the blockchain?
There are real challenges with that. When you apply blockchain, it makes perfect sense for us in the industry. There are always ways to address these challenges off-chain. Utilizing blockchain technology, it helps make things easier.
Let’s get specific on that, specifically the immutable part. You were telling me about recordings being one place you’re going to be coming out with soon. Why would you put a recording on an immutable record?
It’s primarily for compliance purposes and the perpetual nature of the storage. We’ve had clients in the past who wanted years and years old recordings that were no longer available for one reason or another. If we apply that same technology or service to the blockchain where records can be stored indefinitely, perpetuity, that’s one problem solved for the industry, which is a huge problem.
One lawsuit can ruin the company, so that makes perfect sense. The real breakthrough you’re working on is that you’re going to be able to use part-time workers, the gig economy, and assign calls all over the place. Tell us how that compares to how a call center works now.
Some quick background, I worked in a call center. First as a software developer where I was responsible for writing applications that the agents will utilize during a call. I ended up running the IT Department for that company doing such great work. I worked there for ten years. Being on the executive team at that organization helped give me insight into the different challenges in contact center places. This was a roughly 1,000-agent organization with three locations across the US. I was responsible for all of the technology initiatives beyond software development, which happened to be my favorite area but also telecommunications, etc.
Part of the conversations that we had always led to was staffing issues. There were times, particularly during the holiday seasons, where specific clients would need us to ramp up in staffing, hire 100 to 200 people within a 45-day timeframe for a short period of time, only for the season, then these guys would have to find jobs elsewhere. It was challenging for the company to do it year-over-year. Staffing happens to be the number one business model for contact centers. They make money based on the number of heads that they have and how they charge per head. That’s where the idea for Qubicles came in.
I left that company and started another company where we provided cloud-based call center technology, all the inbound, outbound, we expanded to live chat, call recordings, quality assurance, etc. We never got into the people side of things. We were supplying the technology to existing or newly established call centers, only the technology. Looking forward, to realizing where do we go next, by that time, I had a solid understanding of blockchain technology and its benefits. That’s when the lightbulb hit. We realized that staffing, the biggest problems at contact space, which results in bad experiences for customers is where we should take the division. That was it.
In case somebody is wondering why we’re interested in contact centers, it’s a $425 billion industry of which its biggest expense is staffing. You can break the whole business by not having the right amount of staffing. I like to use the example of a Super Bowl commercial running. You know you’re going to get twice as many calls, but you may get four times as many calls. You can make a mistake by hiring too many people or too few people. Plus, it’s going to happen for a peak for a couple of days. You want that if there’s news and Super Bowl ad being a metaphor there. If something happens in business that people start calling new product comes out or whatever, no matter how you plan, you don’t know the volume. You wind up with something like 25% of staffing goes to the waste factor in this.At the end of the year, roughly 40% of the US labor force will be in the gig-based economy. Click To Tweet
Each agent spends roughly 25% of the time in idle. If you’re looking at an average eight-hour shift, there are 30 minutes breaks and so forth. Spending about two hours doing absolutely nothing. That’s another area that we’re attempting to help contact centers fix by allowing them to lease those resources to the network so that we’ll reduce that 25% significantly and help them turn that into a revenue center. It’s a cost center.
You have idle people. They take different calls. All of that can be routed because of knowing who’s qualified to take a call. You’re not doing the staffing, but as this model grows in the future, each person will have a mini CV in code and says, “This is the person.” Like picking the right kind of a driver on a ride-sharing service or anything else in the gig economy. It won’t be blind because of all the records. Those all can be stored in secure, immutable records. The person’s personal contact information will be, “Here’s a group of people that meet these standards. I hired 100 people. I only needed 50,” and the rest of that time can be used to answer somebody else. That’s huge. It’s a majority expense for the call center.
If they make income, they’re spending at least half of it on the labor and staffing that they need. You’re talking about a 25% change. It could be huge. We’re talking billions are wasted with people sitting idle. We’re not talking about slave drivers. We’re making them do more. I would imagine somebody sitting at their desk idle and sometimes that becomes more than idle for a couple of minutes waiting for the next call. There are not enough calls coming in. It’s a better job. Plus, if you get more productivity from the workers, you can afford to pay them more. Since I’ve been involved with you and brainstorming the other things, this is the meat.
This is where it’s going to save people a ton of money. The businesses that you can do when you start to interconnect like this. You won’t send Ford’s customer service calls to Chevy people, but you will send them to maybe some other non-automotive related industry where the people have the knowledge to take the call or if it’s simple, answer the call and help people get logged into a website, they could go across industries or whatever like that. That’s the meat and potatoes right there. I love the examples of one software technician setting in Tehran who gets a call because somebody needs help in Farsi and they could be making $50 or $100 an hour and use the same system. I am changing the logo for Distributed Computing. I went back to find the person. I had found them on Fiverr. I went back to Fiverr. It’s been many months. I use it occasionally.
Usually, I have other resources for that kind of thing. When I first designed the logo, it had been some time. I went back in there. The front page, there’s nothing under $100 and the site is called Fiverr. Several of them look like, “I could use that,” instead of having to hire a person or go out and hire a consultant who they’re all the overhead of that. I say, “I need this task done.” That whole trend is going to continue where when somebody needs money instead of who can I go beg and borrow to get a little bit of cash from? Hop in their car and drive somebody or send it to their computer or take a few calls and make some money.
It’s interesting you said that because the projection in the United States is that roughly 40% of the labor force in the US will be doing some gig-based work. It’s a new trend that I believe will usher in a new phase for the workforce in the future. One of the things you mentioned before was the size of this market. It’s over $400 billion market that touches different industries as well. It’s a cross-industry from financial services to technology, life sciences, healthcare. The contact center is all over the place. It’s grown as a critical touchpoint for any business that wants to provide excellent customer experiences. Who doesn’t want to do that?
When I pick up the phone and call somebody, I’ve already researched it online. I’m a fairly smart person. I’d been in tech since 1981. I can figure out how to use my computer. I don’t need to be asked where the on switch is. I have one company where I use the software. I call them. There was a time when I wanted to use email and they refused. That software company refused to do email support. They then went to refusing to take email and only phone. They’ve grown and they take everything in their contact center. I’m amazed at the same phone number I’ve been calling for many years. Now instead of getting a runaround and some problems, I get to take you to the second level person.
I’ve had an experience where I sat down and they informed me somebody else was on the call. I normally ask these people how long they’ve been with the company. I know the founder. I like to drop that in. It’s fun. It’s not like I’m demanding service because I know the guy. You’d never do me a favor like that anyway. At the end of the call I asked him, “How long have you been with the company?” On this one, it was an insurmountable problem that I had found a place in the software where we wouldn’t do what I wanted to do. They knew that. I knew that and we worked through it. The customer rep had to check with a couple of places.
In 5, 10 minutes’ time, we had a good solution, “This won’t work, but maybe something else will. Sorry, I couldn’t fix your problem.” I said, “How long have you worked with the company?” “I’ve been here for a couple of weeks. This is my first call.” That’s the level of service we want, you pick up the phone. That was a few years ago. Ever since then, I call anybody and I start looking at what’s happening. What I want is a real live human being so I can bitch and moan for a few minutes. They can reassure me I’m doing the right thing and it’s okay. I love that company because they have the people that did do that. The software hasn’t gotten any better.
That brings up an interesting point because there are a lot of people who think that AI is going to reduce the need for contacts to the workers. From my estimate, the inverse is true. It’s going to cause more frustrated people who call into contact centers. Typically, there are lots of systems that an agent needs to interact with to provide a solution to a customer. Unless these bots are developed to integrate and speak to virtually every system that’s out there or the most popular ones, it’s going to be a challenge to get rid of humans.AI makes things easier, but people will always look for that distinctively human touch. Click To Tweet
If I want to call up and tell a story about what my grandkids would do, trust me, after many years of thinking I wasn’t going to have grandkids getting comfortable with it. Anytime somebody said something about it, had a grandkid like, “Drop my world. Everything changes. This is the new love of my life. My world revolves around what she’s doing.” I have to be careful that I’m not constantly showing pictures to everybody and doing all those corny things. If I do mention my granddaughter in a conversation and my favorite is the type if somebody accidentally saw my screen.
They’re sharing the screen. I shut down the program before turning on screen sharing. They saw that she’s on the background and says, “That’s cute.” It didn’t matter that the company was screwing me on a deal. At the point of going like, “You’re such a nice person. I love you. You have kids.” You can’t do that with a bot. You could train a bot to emulate that, but you can’t get that human touch. In an episode, we were talking about this and all the studies say that a surgeon that goes in and touches a patient and in some way feels their forehead for a temperature, it gives them the cold shoulder or elbow touch or anything, maybe they pull out a stethoscope.
It has nothing to do with the medical outcome other than healing goes up by about 30%. We need AI helping the doctor diagnose, getting all that in. I’m hoping our audience gets the idea from all of this. We’re not talking about whether or not you should invest in a contact center. We’re talking about a future where everything that needs to be routed to the right person or whatever happens. When you do pick up the phone and ask for help, I would assume in the future it’s going to be I’m on the computer. I need some help. I click a button and almost immediately somebody is there to greet me with chat and/or voice. I’m talking to a real human being. Those conversations will get me to spend a lot more, even though the person never has to try to sell me anything.
The fact that human contact will skyrocket, it’s what I’m doing as an advisor. Full disclosure, I hope Qubicles makes a lot of money. I’m looking for to telling people about you’ve got eCommerce going, why haven’t you improved your call center to the point that at least your VIP customer can call up and get concierge service. I know this. I have a huge following. I use Groupon. I was public about I have a large following online. I don’t feel like I deserve anything for this following. If I go into a sandwich shop, I’m using an electronic coupon and they know who I am, they ought to do something.
I’ll take the free sandwich. Pay me to endorse them. All that would be lovely. The fact that says, “We’re glad you’re here now. We know who you are,” which would take two seconds to let it pop up on some screen or a software engineer probably could design something that the screen goes off every time it reads somebody is in. Why do you limit that to me with a million followers? Why not do that for every person that comes in for whatever reason and give superior service? That’s how frequent flyer programs and better contact centers have evolved over the last few decades has been because they’ve had the technology to give better service to the exclusive people, the VIPs. Soon, it’s not just the rich people that have a smartphone, it’s everybody. Where can people find out more about Qubicles and you?
It’s by visiting Qubicles.io.
Go there and find out about this. You also can figure out how if you’re in that business, you could save a lot of money by switching to this. I’ve seen the comparisons in the good, old, off-the-chain stuff. You’re competitive. I’ve known customers that used you and loved it. The future is figuring out how to tie this all in so when I reach a certain number of points on my frequent whatever program or whatever vendor that instead of a gift certificate or a tchotchke, I’m going to get something like, “We’ve had this concierge service. You could go talk to somebody.”
The ideas that generate not in, “Will it be in a contact center?” but everywhere. I love that idea that any person on Earth can now participate. Another one with the grandma, there is a grandma helper thing where it’s mostly people that qualify for looking and acting like a grandma. That’s what it was called, but it could be anybody who helps kids. Somebody needs tutoring. You don’t have grandchildren needing tutoring, but you know about math or science. You can help a kid. The biggest thing you can do is a face-to-face conversation. All of that could be routed better with blockchain. We’re going to see more and more of that. That’s what we do in our spare time.Blockchain offers a future where a client can simply click a button and be routed to the person who can give them the right kind of help. Click To Tweet
When the routine stuff gets taken over by the robots, the robot overlords are going to love that we do with all this. I only use a robot or overlord because of the obvious metaphor. They’re not going to take us over. They’re going to serve us so that we can serve each other better. You’re doing good work in the right direction. I encourage everybody to see Marlon. You can find him online and more about him through Qubicles.io. Please subscribe to this show. Tell your friends. No implied endorsement that you’re going to make money by investing in anything here. Take a look. There are good things out there. If not this particular episode and company, all of the future is going to be more and more blockchain. I’m going to reduce friction and bring us abundant life.
About Marlon Williams
For a decade, Marlon Williams spent his career leading technology services for a large contact center and one of the Best Places to Work in Miami, Florida.
That experience proved invaluable to what would end up becoming an important part of my journey: creating an award-winning contact center software startup, Fenero, that offered small and medium businesses the same features and functionality as the big boys – all while helping them lower costs and increase their sales, customer satisfaction, and retention rates.
Today, as Chief Executive of Qubicles and Founding Member of the Telos blockchain, he is bringing extensive experience in contact center services and blockchain to usher in a new phase for our industry: a trusted network for contact center professionals to find or create jobs, network and learn, and deliver exceptional customer experiences across the globe.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the Distributed Conversations Community today: