Email, messaging and phone calls cover many of our communication needs, but some conversations still need to happen face-to-face: a sit-down with your mortgage advisor, for example, or a doctor’s appointment. With bank branches closing and GP services overstretched, it’s getting harder to arrange these meetings in person. And even when we can, none of us enjoy waiting to be seen.
Enter Vpod: a company that provides seamless video calls between clients and their customers. According to MD Sam Farrant, Vpod’s video calling technology enables companies to centralise their resources, reducing the number of on-site agents required while allowing customers to talk to businesses “anytime, anywhere, on any device”.
Coming from an electronics background, Sam joined Vpod as technical director in 2011, when the company sold “pods” or secure environments for making video calls. Shortly afterwards Vpod changed tack to focus on the technology side of things and moved its office and showroom to Workspace’s Kennington Park. The company now provides, in Sam’s words, “end-to-solutions for businesses wanting to centralise their resources…the hardware, software, content and environment.”
Vpod’s holds an impressive client list that includes Google, the BBC, Pfizer, Vodafone, LAX airport and of course, Workspace. Visitors to our buildings and LAX alike are welcomed by Vpod products called VGreet — smart displays which provide information and connect to a remote receptionist via video call if required.
Sam sees great opportunities for Vpod, especially in the financial services sector. Secure and seamless video calling can “completely transform the way that banks communicate with their customers,” he says. Instead of going to a branch and waiting to be seen, the customer can schedule the meeting via their online account. When they log back in at the appointed time the agent will be waiting for them in a video pop-up window. Alternatively, the technology can be used in-branch to loop others in. “Let’s say you’re taking out a mortgage at a bank branch”, says Sam. “Your partner can be at work and still join in the conversation.” Agents can also bring in experts if required, no matter where they are based.
Healthcare is another area with huge potential. As the majority of GP appointments don’t involve physical examination, waiting times could be slashed if initial consultations were done via video. GPs could even write a prescription during the call and send it to the patient’s local pharmacy for collection. Vpod are already working with private healthcare providers such as Life Plus Clinics but getting the NHS on board would be a step change for the business.
Sam sees a use case in retail as well. Rather than requiring assistants on the shop floor to explain each and every product in a department store, why not connect customers directly with the manufacturers who can do the selling themselves?
It’s Vpod’s technology that makes it so much more than a glorified version of Skype. “Unlike other traditional video conferencing systems, we can put customers in queues,” Sam explains. “That is absolutely critical to reducing the ratio of agents to customers. We can forward calls, we can add participants, put people on hold – all of the features that are common to audio calls.” This means that everything can be on demand and on the fly. There are features, too. Businesses and customers can browse, annotate and e-sign documents during conversations.
Vpod joined Workspace five years ago, when it moved into Kennington Park. Flexibility was the big draw. “You’re not tied into long-term contracts,” says Sam. “You can scale up and down.” The company’s 10-strong workforce also takes regular advantage of hot-desking at other Workspace offices around town. “Because we are a communications company, we’ve got the flexibility to move all across London and still have an office.”
What’s on the horizon for Vpod? VGreet is already using facial recognition to identify regular customers in a retail environment. But as the technology advances, VGreet will be able to display offers that correspond not only with a customer’s age, gender and purchase history but also their mood. Otherwise, as bank branches close, says Sam, banking video pods will start to appear in shopping centres. So, when you’ve just splurged on new clothes, you’ll be able to ask your bank manager for a loan there and then.
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