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April 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 11
High Priority

Interview With Spanlink's Scott Christian

By Rich Tehrani (News - Alert)

Are companies really cutting their investments in customer acquisition and retention in this economic climate?

I recently had a chance to speak with Spanlink Communications' relatively new President and CEO, Scott Christian (News - Alert), and he walked me through what the company is up to, the full details of which is on my blog (www.tmcnet.com/5106.1).

For example I asked him about Spanlink's international footprints and he told me that his customers do seek it out for international work. Spanlink has customers and installed locations throughout the world. It is for example deploying a solution in South Africa for a customer based in Seattle.

One of the more interesting parts of our interview revolved around our discussion of how companies are looking at spending more or less on customer acquisition and retention.

"Both for unified communications as well as for contact center applications the current market trend is significantly less spending than six months ago," said Christian. "Spending decreased when the market collapsed in fall 2008. At the same time what we do see is a growing pipeline. Customers and prospects are still interesting in talking with us and planning for their futures."

I asked him if there seems to be optimism in the contact center space going forward and he replied there was no doubt about it.

"What is compelling people to spend money today are on [those solutions] with very short returns on investments," said Christian. "If we can work with customers to provide an ROI that is six to 18 months out they will spend money. [For those solutions] that require longer-term ROI, those that take three-four years to realize the returns, companies and prospects are holding off on the spending but they are planning to spend. And as markets improve spending will accelerate."

What are some of the reasons that Spanlink would tell companies that are considering changing their communications systems for doing that now? He broke his reply into addressing two segments: those that started to invest prior to the decrease in the market, so that they have already committed money and started the technology conversion, and new initiatives.

For the first group they should continue to deploy applications that deliver value on the infrastructure that they have already invested in. That comes in the form of unified messaging, speech recognition, and conferencing. The reason is that that they have already started migrating their applications and it would be "a waste to not to continue to develop that so that they can realize the return."

For new customers and prospects he gives a few reasons why they may want to invest now. One might be is that the technologies installed from their current providers could be at end of life. Another is to reduce costs. That could come in the forms of reduced number of agents in a call center and reduced travel. He said between 2009 and 2010 there could be 2 million fewer airline seats than in 2007 and 2008 as people cut back on travel. Unified communications products can bridge that lapse with a feature rich experience that continues to enable enterprises to collaborate.

I told Christian that I had found that in tough times companies often reduce spending on items like contact centers, sales, and marketing: the areas that actually drive the sales. If a market shrinks in size, such as retail, retailers need to fight harder to get a bigger share so that they can retain as many sales as the prior year or potentially eke out a slight increase. I asked him what advice does Spanlink give to clients to help them keep their current customers as they cut costs.

Christian replied that firms can get better presence in the market with existing customers by unlocking employee potential. One way is through better call center applications and unified collaboration technologies to get more work done by each employee. They also need to serve their customers better to retain an intimate relationship with them.

"One of the things we talk to our customers about as they reduce their spending is trying not to impact customers," said Christian. "We offer managed outsourced services so that if they reduce the number of employees we can bridge that gap. Another service that helps companies manage this need is the borderless enterprise where they have remote virtual workers. They can employ them on a part-time basis that retains that customer intimacy. We sell a lot of our products on a leasing program so that they become operating expense in short-term one rather than a long-term capital expense."

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