Hiding in Plain Sight: The Problem With Presence

In my role with Avaya, I’m frequently asked about my views on unified communication. Often what people really want to know is how important is presence and IM and how is this evolving in the market. This is a difficult question and I find different leaders may give different answers depending on the focus area or use cases.

I recently spent a week with a number of customers and had some time to share my personal views on this topic – which is now the subject of this blog. To my surprise nearly all the executives I spoke with hadn’t given much thought to the bigger problem with presence – one that I believe is right in front of them.

Let me begin by saying that the presence/IM model is initiator centric. What this means is that a person has a client that represents the state of a set of other people. The client indicates a change in the state of a person who is part of this set by changing icons, or colors, or reordering contacts. I decide to contact a specific person based on the indicated represented state, which opens a dialog window for text exchange – or IM. This IM may be escalated to voice or video or web-collaboration at a later time. Since I initiate a session based on this client dashboard – we refer to the model as – initiator centric.

On this dashboard, however, a person is attractively present – or available — when they are typing away on their computer. They are less attractively present when their keyboard has been idle, they are using a phone, they’ve been logged off the network, their computer is off, or they are known to be using a mobile client. A person is most present when they are actively typing on their computer.

The problem is this: In my book, a person typing away on their primary productivity platform is being productive, engaged in a mental flow resulting in documents, communications, and system updates. In a word, they are productive. When a person is being productive is when I’d least like them to be interrupted. It seems somewhat problematic to indicate that a person in the middle of a productive flow is attractively present.

Thus, the problem with the presence/IM model is that it seductively puts the power of collaboration in the initiator’s hands. The initiator gets immediate gratification, the recipient can hardly claim ignorance of the request with the blinking notification at the bottom of their screen as the recipient is published as being available right now on the primary productivity platform.

The result is that the productive workflow is interrupted. Is there a different model?

The obvious answer is yes. Both email and SMS provide a model where the message is crafted without respect to the recipient’s presence. The drawback to email is that the message does not receive the priority or timely response the initiator desires since it goes into a bucket with many other messages. . With SMS, the drawbacks are that delivery is best effort and requires a link to a device the recipient has, it might not be secure, but should be more immediate than email.

Is there a better model than this?

I assert that the answer to this question is a presence-aware model. This model would be totally different. Instead of focusing only on satisfying the needs of the initiator, it would focus on method of message delivery based on the needs/desires of the message recipient.

In a presence-aware model, for example, the recipient’s presence would be less attractive when he or she is in the middle of a productive work flow. I would change contact method when the recipient is in a meeting, with restrictions when the recipient is hosting a meeting, and even further restrictions if the recipient is presenting from the primary productivity platform while hosting a meeting. If the recipient is talking on a phone, sitting next to the primary productivity platform, I might change the notification method. If the recipient is away and on a mobile platform, I would want an iMessage or SMS delivery. Same might be true in the case that they are presenting whilst hosting a meeting. It would be easy to imagine changing notifications based on who is initiating and if they’ve marked the message as urgent (perhaps with even levels of urgency).

The point of the new model is that the needs of the recipient are respected and integrated with the needs of the initiator. A system built for this model would be aware of presence, device states, calendar state, location, and even productivity flow. A presence-aware model is more encompassing, reflecting a potential evolution of presence/IM systems that solves some of the flaws inherent to initiator centric dashboard style systems.

Before we define unified communications with a productivity-killing model as its base, we should collectively consider the impact to workflow and balance any unified communications approach to the needs of the initiator and recipient. Lets not just be present, lets be smart, lets be aware.

Until next time …

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Avaya Mobile Engagement is #1 Seed to Power the March Basketball Championship Tournament

Let’s dance! I’ve been known to choreograph some big half-time dances in my day but this dance is all about college basketball. No, not Sadie Hawkins or the prom, the dance I’m referring to is, of course, the lively Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament. Played mostly during March, the tournament has become one of the most famous annual sporting events in the United States. For the past five years, Avaya has powered these ultimate games in college basketball.

Experience is Everything in the World of Sports

To create a great experience, Allegiant USA partners with Avaya to power the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) annual convention in conjunction with the collegiate single-elimination championship tournament. For an event with this much coverage and participation, Allegiant USA sets up a mobile command center powered by Avaya’s IP Office™ Platform, inclusive of local and remote phones, wireless firewall switches, and VPN for secure, flexible, and easy set up that they can plug into anytime, even from their hotels. This mobile engagement kit enables the NABC to have instant access to an on-the-go office that is backed by simple, powerful unified collaboration technology for seamless engagement.

The Mobile Command Center

Avaya’s elite technology and solutions provide an instant office for the championship weekend, where the NABC sponsors several major events: the College All-Star Game, NABC Marketplace, coaching clinics, and a grand finale at the Guardians of the Game College Basketball Awards Show. During high-adrenaline times, the mobile command center connects coaches, staff, and volunteers with a reliable communications experience.

Scoring in the Cloud

The NABC Convention is home court for professional development and networking for coaches from all levels of play. NABC members use Avaya IP Office in their standard office, remote locations, tournament command center, and on-the-go offices for their mobile workforce. Throughout the single-elimination tournament, the NABC also opens a temporary office to attract new members, job applicants, and also provides networking experiences for participating coaches. Next season, the powerhouse team of NABC and Allegiant USA will be taking IP Office to the cloud for an elite, scalable, and championship-like infrastructure that protects their investment and scales as their communication needs change.

A Tradition of World Class Coaches and Technology

With the remaining four teams officially set (South Carolina vs Gonzaga and Oregon vs North Carolina), Avaya, Allegiant USA, and the NABC know it’s time to suit up and head out from Kansas City and Indianapolis and get to Phoenix, Arizona. While the championship game tips off at University of Phoenix Stadium, the NABC convention will be taking place nearby at the Phoenix Convention Center, which spans 24 acres and is named one of the top 10 conventions centers in the U.S.

The NABC was originally created to protect the essence of the game against the ban of dribbling. (See the NABC site for some background.) It evolved into an all-encompassing association committed to furthering the best interests of basketball for the players, coaches, and participants. Since its 1927 inaugural conference, NABC has grown from over 100 coaches to 2,500 coaches in recent years, and 5,000 members. Serving as an opportunity for the basketball coaching community to address issues surrounding the sport and collaborate on positive evolution of the game, it is ground zero for professional, high school, and collegiate coaches across the country.

Avaya carries a tradition of providing world class technology that pays tribute to the most important events and the highest levels of sports in the world. The national championship will be played Monday, April 3, so keep your eyes on #AvayaSports as the final bracket shapes up and the best of the best face off.  

Hope to see you on the dance floor or sitting courtside!

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!