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Voice is never going away, says Natterbox CEO

Neil Hammerton at Natterbox tells Nick Booth how some of the issues he experienced with the NHS recently might have been eased with technology

Any service providers out there looking to maximise your profits? Here’s some intelligence I can offer you for free. The National Health Service (NHS) offers a massive easy win. Its phone services are dreadful and completely out of step with all its other channels of communication.

I know this for a fact, because I’ve spent nearly 18 months in and out of five different hospitals.

The out-of-synch communications system costs the NHS millions because, for example, every single patient at one hospital is sent two sets of times for their appointments. The computer records generate letters that go out to thousands of patients every day. Then a comms service provider texts out a time. This happens in every department. It causes confusion that results in hundreds of missed appointments, every day.

But, according to my personal survey of nurses, ward managers and admin staff in outpatients, dermatology, vascular surgery, tissue viability, MRI scanning, X-ray and ultrasound, the reaction is, “Tut” in 25% of cases, and, “It’s the IT supplier, so what can you do?”.

Surely some plucky service provider or consultant should call and offer to fix the problem?

Delivering tech that is wanted and needed

Neil Hammerton, CEO of fast-growing comms specialist Natterbox, is a case in point.

Hammerton built his business by identifying what people hated about phone systems. Then he worked out what they would like. Then, despite being a non-techie, he somehow persuaded some developers to build a telephony system based on his plan.

How on earth did he do that? Over the past two decades, bezillions of pounds have been wasted on projects that failed thanks to the incompatibility between “newbies” and seasoned IT veterans.

Hammerton’s miraculous achievement was made possible by the liberating weapons of cloud computing and Salesforce. Cloud computing helped him keep control of costs and Salesforce provided the foundation, the skeleton that he could flesh out with his time-saving telephony apps.

Focus on the customer experience

The reason why the NHS – to take one example – has such dreadful communications is because “the technology is rarely based on the customer experience”, says Hammerton.

For example, most hospitals have a one-minute pre-recorded message about flu. Once you’ve heard this statement of the obvious, you never need to hear it again. Oh, but you will. Every time you call.

Hundreds of thousands of minutes of working time are wasted because there is no bypass option for people who’ve heard this same advice countless times before. Exactly the same is true of the systems for your local health centre, general practitioner and district nurses. There is a huge opportunity here for resellers, according to Hammerton. “If I was them, I’d be straight on the phone to speak to the IT manager,” he says.

Natterbox is now developing artificial intelligence (AI) telephony apps for call handling that can gauge the mood of the caller. It notices if they are raising the volume, through either anger or enthusiasm, and raises an alert.

Another big time and money waster for the NHS is the practice of withholding numbers when they call patients. That drives you nuts because the mystery call, which you inevitably miss, could be one of many specialists you are desperate to speak to. So you have to ring them all up. And waste time listening to that pre-recorded message, again.

That could easily be profitably replaced, says Hammerton. The current insistence on caller anonymity is based on misplaced fear of falling foul of the Data Protection Act. Natterbox offers a spectrum of use cases – too many to explain here – that anticipate the caller’s need and avoid the trap of telephone tag.

Call recording is another waste of money for many companies. “When we got into this business, we took legal advice on call recording, and found there is not a legal obligation in every case. You are allowed to record a call for personal recollection, but it can’t be used as evidence in court,” says Hammerton.

For service providers or consultants there is so much room for them to make easy improvements in many companies, says Hammerton, because they have accepted the user has bought a telephony system and blindly accepted the clunky script. Just configuring to the way they work would save a fortune for them.

Natterbox has solved its recruitment problem – a challenge every company in the channel faces – creatively too. “It’s not important to require people with the right qualifications,” says Hammerton. “We try to hire people with the ability and desire to succeed. It’s always the ones you weren’t expecting who are the ones who do best.”

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