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Shutterstock Clicks With Cloud Contact Center

If you were charged with overseeing a global contact center operation supporting business in more than 150 countries, you'd rightly be daunted by the challenge. But then you're not David Cohen, director of information at Shutterstock, a popular digital imagery marketplace.

Spoken like the true triathlete he is, Cohen told me he prefers to think of the challenge of supporting customer service and sales phone calls and email in 12 languages not as daunting, but rather as "fun" -- all sorts of fun. "Every one of our customer service reps is speaking at least two languages, and many of them speak three, four, or five, which presents all sorts of fun challenges," he said.

The Shutterstock site itself is viewable in 20 languages, a business necessity given the company's global scope. In 2014, Cohen said, more than 70,000 individuals contributed imagery to the marketplace, which served around 1 million paying members last year. "We've sold an image to just about every country on earth."

David Cohen, Shutterstock

Since April 2013, Shutterstock has been supporting its far-flung operation via cloud-based contact center services provided by 8x8. I had the chance to sit down with Cohen at last month's Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando (catch up on all EC-related news here), where 8x8 recognized him for his innovative approach to communications. We talked about the business factors that drove Cohen to cloud communications, the importance of data flowing out of the contact center, and, yes, the challenges of operating a global contact center.

Where In the World Are You?
Funny thing is, if you ask Cohen where all his contact center agents are situated around the world, he can't give you a precise answer -- or at least not off the top of his head. "For the core call center, Shutterstock has "a couple of people in London, a dozen or so in Berlin, and the rest in New York" working at small offices. In addition, a handful of agents work from their homes here and there.

"Frankly ... the fact that I don't actually know where they all are working is part of what I view as one of the benefits of the solution we're on -- that I don't need to know," Cohen said. "My IT team knows that if we hire someone new and he's in this department, we're going to ship him a new phone. And that's all we have to do -- ship a phone, plug it in, and it will work."

Shutterstock doesn't outsource any of its call center operations, Cohen added. Its ideal is to be able to treat each agent line as just another phone extension, but fronted by the routing functions necessary for a call center. "We didn't want our agents tied into a special system that segregates them from everyone else."

Bring It On
Cohen takes that idea a step further, into his disaster recovery (DR) strategy, too. At the time that Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in October 2012, Cohen said he had already made the decision to go with cloud-based communications. Still, the migration hadn't happened when it struck, and with its Wall Street office closed due to flooding, Shutterstock lost its in-house phone system for four months, he recalled. Any executives on the fence about the cloud decision got off really fast after that, he added.

In Sandy's aftermath, should a similar situation ever happen again, Cohen said he knew he wanted the company's DR plan to be, literally, "Take your phone home. It will work. "

Equally as important was that Shutterstock get all of this from a single vendor that could provide a unified environment, supporting both its call center and PBX requirements, Cohen said. The vendor also would need to support the free flow of phones and show intent to build a global data center footprint (which 8x8 is in the process of doing), he added.

You Can Never Have Too Much Data
When Cohen thinks about the biggest benefit Shutterstock has gained in its move to its cloud-based contact center, "data" is the first thing that pops to mind, he said. "We're a very data-hungry organization -- everything we do is based on data."

With a unified communications environment, Cohen gets a central feed of all Shutterstock call data. Using that call data, Cohen said his team measures a variety of factors, including the number of outgoing calls for account reps and call duration, by language, by queue, and by individual. It then publishes all of this insight in a self-service tool to which all managers and executives have access.

Shutterstock does its own analytics, tying together call data from 8x8 with in-house data to create the big picture. Cohen's team works with 8x8 APIs, he said, pulling down the data and importing it into its own formats and structure. "Just the ability to have a place that was opening up that data and having APIs readily available was so important. Prior to 8x8, I couldn't get to any of that at all."

With call data on hand, Shutterstock has been able to make a number of operational improvements, Cohen said. For example, it has changed how it schedules call agents based on the languages they speak -- moving from two shifts to three shifts. And, from learning gained through analyzing incoming call volume per language, by day and by hour, Shutterstock changed shift start and end times "so we could better align the needs of customers with when our reps are working."

In addition, the company has changed the distribution between chat and phone support based on insights gleaned from the data, Cohen said. "When we first started, we were kind of guessing on how many phone calls a rep was taking in a day -- and the number was wildly off. Because we had believed reps were handling many more phone calls a day than they were actually handling, we had also thought chat looked like a bad investment," he relayed. Measurements showed otherwise, however, with the phone calls "not nearly as efficient as everybody had thought they were."

Today Shutterstock agents handle about 60,000 contacts a month, about 30% of which are via the phone and the remainder through email and chat, Cohen said. Over the long term, he added, he expects Shutterstock agents to reduce their use of email and increase their use of chat and phone calls.

"Ideally, we'd love to target chat for quick questions, like 'Hey, I can't download this, what do I need to do?', and use phone for licensing questions and other things that require a little more nuance, as well as for things that have the potential to turn into sales. It's definitely easier to sell over the phone than it is to sell over chat," Cohen said.

If you think, like me, that it's unusual for the same guy to handle both communications and data analytics, you have to understand Shutterstock's data-driven mandate. Cohen joined Shutterstock in 2010 with the mandate to "run data" and make the company a data-driven organization. Leveraging the phone system, he said, was another way to do that. "I saw we had a gap in our data collection and we didn't have clean data." And that led him in pursuit of cloud-based, data-rich communications service.

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