Avaya Labs: Developing collaboration tools for today & tomorrow

I’ve had a number of opportunities over the past few weeks – including my Fireside Chat with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak during Avaya Evolutions San Mateo – to reflect on the past year and contemplate the priorities that will emerge throughout 2013.

Woz and I completely agree that as BYOD and Consumerization of IT continue to infiltrate enterprises and disrupt existing business technologies, the demand for cross-device, cross-platform collaboration tools will grow tremendously in 2013. But that’s just the near-future. Today we’re focused on enabling communication experiences that are engaging and self-aware and use a range of stationary and mobile devices powered by the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Google. The bigger question is forecasting the challenges and opportunities and understanding how they will impact our customers in five, 10 or even 20 years from now?

Avaya Labs – our world-class Research and Development arm — is key to our mission to transform the way people communicate and collaborate to improve customer service, worker productivity and business efficiency. Our researchers work closely with our customers, weaving the insights from actual customer settings into new and enhanced solutions that have immediate benefits today and will help shape the way they approach business communication and collaboration in the future.

Recently, Jeremiah Owyang, a distinguished industry analyst on Customer Strategy and a Partner at Altimeter Group, included Avaya Labs on his evolving list of “innovation centers” focused on the technology and media spaces across a wide range of industries. Owyang’s emphasized that researching current data and technology now is of paramount importance to the ability to develop and provide products and services of the future. .

We’re looking forward to seeing his upcoming research on the trend as well as sharing the many exciting innovations graduating from our Labs with you right here on our blog.

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Don’t Underestimate Smart and Secure Remote Access

Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of time watching great NCAA March Madness games in the last two weeks. During the commercials, I’ve been thinking about the challenges faced by athletes aspiring to get to the Final Four—and realizing that many careers bring similar tremendous pressure. In my communications industry, I think of IT professionals trying to solve technology issues, bridging legacy and new solutions, always on tight deadlines and tight budgets. These teams need things to go right—and when there’s an error—they need smooth, secure, fast fixes from their vendors.

Underestimating the skills of the remaining NCAA players might be a mistake—don’t blame their current success on luck or a fluke. That’s basketball, but I’ve seen IT departments underestimate the problem-solving power of remote connectivity in a similar way. Remote Access is often dismissed as being too risky for network security.

In his blog “Achieving Secure, Mission-Critical Technical Support is a Two-Way Street” Mike Runda, President of Avaya Client Services, refutes the misconceptions IT can have about remote access. Mike discusses the three key attributes that IT managers should demand of a remote access solution. Before you choose your communications solution, make sure that the provider’s connectivity into your enterprise is smart, secure, and gives you full control.

Secure remote access connectivity is the foundational component for resolving complex network issues. Mike tells the real-life story of an Avaya customer having a network issue, and blocking remote access for Avaya support technicians. The techs needed access to diagnose and resolve the problem. The customer was steadfast in its cybersecurity. The situation became a full-court press (i.e., escalations) by both teams. Once both teams got together and discussed the power and security of Avaya’s remote connectivity, the issue was quickly fixed. Read the whole story in Mike’s blog.

For now, we know the teams heading to the Final Four are doing all they can to bring their A Games to Phoenix. Likewise, when the pressure’s on in IT, Avaya customers can work with us via remote connectivity—with confidence that the pros at Avaya will protect security and bring proven results.

Customers Explain Why Chatbots Matter for Contact Centers

I recently attended Jeff Pulver’s 2017 MoNage conference to get the latest views on chatbot usage and expectations for serving customers. Jeff Pulver created the Voice over the Net Conference when voice over the internet was in its infancy. As a co-founder of Vonage and other companies, his vision helped drive the industry we all take for granted. He’s brought his vision to the world of chat with his 140-Character conferences and most recently the MoNage conference.

Jeff says that “as chatbots get better and better, there may be less of a need to visit a business website.” We may reach a point where chatbots connected to Facebook pages and voice services via Amazon’s Alexa become the main conduit for getting information.” He probably is right. There is no shortage of software and services companies, including Avaya, that are investing significantly in the field of chatbot technology for contact centers applications.

Industry analyst Jon Arnold says contact center operators need to ensure millennials have a chat experience that is fast and personal. The ability for an agent to leverage the full context of all of the previous transactions is at the heart of providing a personalized one-to-one customer experience.

Anyone with a teenager knows if you want to reach them, you text them—unless you like the nostalgia of hearing a voice mail greeting and leaving a message that may not be picked up for a week. Those millennials, who use chat over email, including chat applications at work, are the same ones raising the bar for businesses to serve them via chat. How long will it be before the response a millennial expects for a package status is an emoji?

The introduction of chatbots represents the re-birth of interactive voice response in textual self-service instead of voice prompts. Chatbots enable a customer to answer questions via text. They ask, “How can I help you?” The customer’s answer of “What is my account balance?” is the equivalent of speaking to a speech recognition application.

With chat, recent AI innovations interpret your sentence and provide a response that is best matched to the context of your question. This is similar to Amazon’s Alexa listening to your voice and providing a response. Many companies are working to perfect the ability to interpret chat sequences, often to assuage the customers who press 0 multiple times to reach an agent. Today, customers can have the same frustrating experience with chat that they’ve had with interactive voice—ultimately they want to talk with a live agent. The goal has always been to enable more automation and self-service methods to reduce costs, without having a negative impact on customer satisfaction. There is a critical need to get it right.

Requesting a live agent to assist with a chat session introduces major challenges for businesses. They must staff a contact center with agents who can respond appropriately to chat messages. This introduces the need for typing and grammar skills and new staffing level challenges for balancing voice and chat demand.

Businesses must ensure consistency in chat responses and, most importantly, ensure a positive experience with the live agent during a transaction. So agent skills must now include the ability to respond to SMS and text chat sessions from websites and mobile applications. This includes the ability to type clearly, and often handle multiple transactions simultaneously to fill the delays with customer responses. Many of us have experienced chat sessions with agents where there is a long delay due to agents serving other customers.

Chat sessions are often emailed to customers at the end, creating a document that customers can use for many purposes: tweeting about what an agent just wrote, or using what an agent just wrote to get improper discounts or advantages from errors. To guard against such customer behavior, agents must have fast access to standard, consistent answers to common questions and ensure responses conform to company policies.

Customers Communicate with Companies—Not Agents

Customers expect a business that can communicate via live chat to ensure the agent understands their situation. The last thing they want is to send a lengthy email describing a situation, and then be offered a live chat with someone who doesn’t have access to the email. Internal information silos require the customer to ask if it is worth starting over again and again. They expect the agent to have the full context of all their interactions. The effort to serve the customer by chat can result in a negative experience even if the agent tried everything they could to serve them.

Agents Need Contextual Information

Chatbots start with an attempt to serve a customer via automation. Costs are avoided when customers serve themselves, just like they deposit a check by taking a photo instead of having a bank employee process it. Contact center managers must enable their agents to access the full context of the chat dialog, any emails, and CRM records so they can serve the customer without asking what they should already know.

Chat Introduces a New Opportunity to Leverage Agent Attributes

Once you make the move to introducing live agent chat, you need to determine which agents have the proper attributes for handling chat, including multiple simultaneous chat sessions. You’ll need to train employees how to properly respond, including how to deliver recommended standard responses. In addition, you’ll have to evaluate how many multiple chats an agent can handle, which will vary based on individual abilities. Selecting agents based on these skills can make all the difference in customer satisfaction results.

Agent Attribute Models Increase Contact Center Operational Efficiency

There is a tremendous opportunity to increase contact center operations by having agents with the attributes for handling voice and chat and SMS sessions. Did you know 250+250=450. Here’s why: the workload of 250 voice-only agents plus 250 chat-only agents can be served by 450 agents who can do both. The result is a higher utilization level than with individual silos. Evaluating agent availability by their individual attributes and operating your contact center at higher utilization levels significantly reduces your most costly resource—your contact center agent labor expenses.

Interested in learning more about defining and leveraging agent attribute modeling? Get more info in this Avaya blog from Laura Bassett: “Get out of the Queue: Drive your CX with Attribute Matching?” And talk with Avaya Experts—we’re here to help you serve your customers like never before. We can help you match agents with the best attributes for each individual customer. The ultimate win for all. Contact us. Let’s chat!

Digital Transformation—Powering New Experiences for Employees and Customers

There’s no let-up in the pace of change. New apps, new services and new ways of getting it done seem to spring up daily, and can seem at times, overwhelming. Thankfully, many of these new capabilities are actually making our lives easier, more fulfilling, and more productive. We’re on the cusp of a change that will go well beyond Googling an answer or picking up a voice call when you’re out and about. The analyst firm IDC calls the change Digital Transformation (DX) and defines it as “an approach that enables organizations to drive changes in their business models and ecosystems by leveraging digital competencies.”

Digital Transformation is Underway and Moving Fast

Digital Transformation promises to change the very fabric of our lives, as the Internet of Things, mobility, and big data make us more aware, more reachable, and more satisfied with our interactions, both personal and professional. The road to DX will be paved with innovations large and small. They will change the way we interact with other people and with the machines that move us, house us, feed us, and keep us healthy and engaged. But what about today? How can DX allow me to do a better job today?

IDC has done some interesting research on the notion of unified communications—that promised land of intuitive, rapid, well-organized, and multimodal interaction that we’ve been talking of for so long. They’ve determined that the market for UC solutions is growing (by 9% per year to about $38B globally by 2020) and that increasing productivity and collaboration and reducing expenses remain the key motivators for UC investments.

The Day-Changing Avaya Equinox™ Experience

These motivators are at the heart of the Avaya Equinox Experience. Equinox is built around a mobile-first reality—the notion that our smartphones and tablets have become our lifeline to … everything. How often do you look at your phone? Someone told me the average is 84 times a day. If you’re a boomer like me, it might not be that many times, but I’d guess I still look at my phone at least 40 times during my work day. Now what if each time I looked at my phone I was presented with my meeting schedule, my latest IMs, and my recent call logs? And what if that information was mirrored across my devices so that I could move seamlessly from my desk to my smartphone to my tablet to my laptop and always get the same consistent information, presented in the same intuitive way?

Sounds good, doesn’t it? And what if I could take the next step and actually take action on that information with a single tap? Enter my conference calls, open video and collaboration, return a call, or respond to a message? This ability to both understand my day’s priorities and take action on what’s most important is what defines the Avaya Equinox Experience. It’s the ability to have a UC experience that is, in fact, unified! It makes a major difference in my day and you can likely imagine how it could make a major difference in yours.

More DX Solutions from Avaya

Along with the Equinox Experience, Avaya also recently released two other innovations that we think define and support your move to DX. The Avaya Breeze™ Client SDK was used to create Equinox and Avaya now offers it to our developer ecosystem and our customers to create their own unique experiences. Would you like to integrate communications into an existing enterprise application? Does Equinox sound intriguing but you’re wondering if you could make a few tweaks for your specific vertical or enterprise needs? Add collaboration to a unique mobile app you’ve created? Or develop a kiosk experience that includes seamless communications access to additional resources? The Avaya Breeze Client SDK will give you the tools you need to bring the world of DX into your own organization—in the way that you think is best.

But what about placing those unique experiences into your environment? Your hotel rooms? Your patient rooms? Your retail spaces? Or your branch offices? Avaya Vantage is an all-glass device that is secure and admin-able and lets you take the customized experiences you created with the Breeze Client SDK and place them cost effectively into the locations that make sense for your business. You can provide unique offers, tailored experiences, create awareness of your services, and take your customer’s experience to the next level.

Interested in learning more? Check out the video clip of IDC Analyst, Rich Costello, and Avaya Director of Product Management, Paul Relf, as they discuss how digital transformation powers the new UC work experience. Read the IDC paper on DX and Avaya solutions. As always, we’re here to help you on your own DX journey! Send us a note, ask us a question, pose a problem to solve—we’d love to hear from you.