When Joe Sanda started Astute Solutions in 1995, he had a hunch that customer-relations management was an industry that could benefit from technology.
“I always like to pick a niche within a market. The consumer-facing market was underserved,” he says.
Sanda set about creating technology that would help companies beef up their customer relations departments and arm call center employees with the tools necessary to give callers satisfactory results.
The company developed software to give customer service workers the breadth of knowledge needed to assist customers. Sanda and his programmers looked at ways to sort customer concerns based on what they were calling about. For example, callers wanting to complain need different services than someone asking a question.
Improving customer relations at this level can have several positive impacts, he says. Providing customer service representatives with good information can reduce the amount of time employees spend on each call and increase consumer satisfaction.
In most cases you only have one chance to ensure a consumer who has had a negative experience is retained as a loyal customer, adds Jeanne Jones, director of consumer affairs for ConAgra Foods, one of the nation’s largest packaged foods companies.
“I believe most companies strive for that,” she says. “The key differentiator with Astute is its ability, through its flexible user interface and on-demand administration capabilities, to allow its customers to do things differently, creating not just an experience, but a unique, memorable experience.”
The positive experience “results in loyal consumer advocates, not simply retention,” she says. “Word of mouth is powerful, and when you have a software on your side that enables all of the right questions to be asked at the right time, accurate information to be provided, and trust to be built, it is a true advantage.”
Clients access the cloud-based technology through their browsers. Astute Solutions also develops software that analyzes customer interactions.
“We provide companies with a lot of feedback,” Sanda says. “We help them see and spot trends, spot issues.”
The company has gone on to develop systems that can ask “clarifying questions,” he says. The answers help cull very specific information to answer consumer and employee questions--like whether a specific car has had any parts recalled.
Such capabilities provide data results that are “much more meaningful,” Sanda says. Astute Solutions technology helped fill a gap in the consumer packaged-goods industry, adds Jones. Astute’s software has applications that allow companies to interface successfully with their consumers, she says.
“These features include a customizable user interface that can be modified on the fly, virtually limitless consumer-verbatim capture capabilities, and the ability to set thresholds and triggers that prompt automated work flows,” she says. “These features are essential to a company such as ours that prioritizes food safety.”
Online shopping, social media and new methods of communication also have impacted the products Astute Solutions offers.
It has developed technology to help companies make their websites more useful to customers looking for information online. The company sells products designed to provide accurate results to consumer questions, reduce the need for consumer emails and encourage more browsers to become buyers.
The company also helps clients monitor what’s happening on social media and determine when it’s beneficial to respond. Social media has given consumers a platform to ask questions and voice complaints to a large audience and companies need to be strategic in their response to it, Sanda says.
“A negative experience might be published to a million people,” he says.
People also engage their networks for buying advice and product recommendations, Sanda adds. “We try to find interactions where it might be important to engage…social media is huge. You have to stay on top of that.”
The company can even pinpoint occasions where a real-time response is necessary, he adds. In those cases, one of its clients could text a message to a customer at a store or passenger at an airport.
“When someone fired off a letter 20 years ago, they didn’t expect a response right away,” he says. Today, consumers want a quick response. They also want to have a variety of options for connecting with companies so they must be ready to respond to texts, tweets or emails.
“Having an omnichannel presence ensures increased reach and brand awareness, makes it easy for the consumer to reach the business, and allows the business to offer help at their point of purchase or need,” Sanda says. “An added benefit to the business is cost control, as proactive and intelligent interactions across these platforms will often have the effect of preempting unnecessary contacts to live agents.”