Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 3)

In my first post of this three-part series, I covered the basics of customer service and social media. The second post made the case that social media is the newest customer service channel and that it needs your attention. Below is the third and final post in this series on protecting the brand by providing customer service in social media.

There is encouraging news that companies see the need to move into social media as a customer support channel. In fact, 80% of companies were planning on utilizing social media as part of their customer service strategy by the end of 2012; something they know is important as 62% of their customers are already there (source). While companies are moving to this space, that does not mean they know how to approach the problem. Here are my recommendations on how to proceed.

1. Go with Speed

In most sports, the faster an athlete executes plays, the better the results. The same applies to monitoring for issues online. If an employee can quickly address a problem, they can prevent the complaint from becoming a public relations disaster. Rather than waiting to build the brand’s overall comprehensive social media strategy, the contact center team should create a Twitter handle and target a few of their contact center agents to handle contacts, preferably those that are already engaged in social media themselves. If no such agents are available, consider targeting tech-savvy agents, who will be able to quickly grasp social media concepts. An escalation plan is also important, as customers can be unpredictable, in particular after a poor experience. Agents should not be afraid to pull in more experienced personnel to assist.

However, one caveat to “going with speed” is being prepared. Bradley Leimer of Mechanics Bank stresses banks should not set up a presence on a social media site unless they are equipped to deal with customer expectations in that medium. “Once you’re on a platform, you’ve got to be ready to go (source: Crosman, P. (2010, July). Social Butterflies. Bank Systems & Technology, pp. 33-34).” A study by A.T. Kearney found that in 2011, 56% of the top fifty brands didn’t respond to a single comment on their Facebook pages. On Twitter, brands ignored 71% of customer complaints (source).

2. Have a Social Media Manager for Coordination and Direction

Simply being a user of social media does not qualify someone to manage a company’s social media program any more than a driver of a car is qualified to lead the release of a new car platform. A proven Social Media Manager will have a track record of not only creating professional Facebook pages, but also coordinating engaging programs that increase the number of online followers, turning many of those followers into champions of the brand. This role not only coordinates social media activities between the marketing and support departments, but also provides guidance and process to teams on how best to perform their function in the new channels.

While Facebook and Twitter are the clear heavy-hitters of the industry, an experienced professional will know which other channels to pursue depending on market requirements (LinkedIn, Google+, Pintrest, YouTube, blogging, etc.). With this broad knowledge base, a Social Media Manager can develop a strategy for how to manage the overall brand(s) of the company in this new marketing channel.

Note: At Avaya, we have a great SM Manager, Jaime Schember.

3. Collaborate on a Social Media Strategy

While past customer service interactions were mostly one-to-one, actions on social media are all public, thus handling a complaint is not just customer service, but also branding/marketing. As such, the marketing, social media, and customer service teams all need to collaborate on the company strategy.

A comprehensive strategy should start with the company’s purpose for using social media: a mission statement that serves as the commander’s intent for all involved in social media on behalf of the company. Whenever an employee or hired agent acts on behalf of the brand, they should understand not only the tactical purpose of their efforts, but also the company strategy. While understanding that a blog post can convey needed information, understanding the larger intent is vital. For instance, a goal that their blog should drive traffic to the website from users who would not typically interact with the brand, would guide the author to include keywords and links to mentioned topics, thus increasing the odds that the blog post will be picked up by as many people as possible.

The social media strategy would outline what sites to be used, which tools will manage content and how analytics will be collected, reported, and then actioned. A good strategy is based on researching which networks customers use and find the best match to reach the customers effectively.

4. Selectively Respond

It is important to evaluate the context of a brand mention and decide if it warrants a response. A one off complaint about the temperature in a company’s retail store does not deserve a response. However, a negative review of the company by an analyst or a legitimate complaint from a customer should be addressed as quickly as possible and within the same channel (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). “Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media, but to move attempts to resolve the issue offline,” said Gartner’s Carol Rozwell (source). Determining the right hours of operation is important as well. A small Mom-and-Pop-Shop may only need to staff their presence during normal business hours, but larger companies like an airline, need to staff their social media desk 24×7 because social media users expect real-time response rates.

If the group handling “mentions” on social media cannot handle all relevant comments in a timely first-come-first-serve fashion, then they should consider prioritizing them.

5. Prioritize Responses

Given the cost to the business of customer churn, one approach to prioritizing is to determine if the user is an existing customer and focus on her. Another approach is to use the person’s social influence to determine whom to respond to first. One such rating service is Klout which measures a user’s network reach and their ability to leverage it on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, WordPress, and many more. Many social media tools, such as HootSuite, enable the employee to see a user’s Klout score as part of the tweet and filter and sort tweets using this as criteria.

Such an approach would have helped when Jayne Gorman, a travel writer, who was struggling with British Airways online reservation. She was unable to reach the company via telephone, so she reached out to them on Twitter.

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BA could have done a better job at identifying Jayne early on as an online influencer. With over 5,000 followers on Twitter and a Klout score of 63, they should have prioritized the handling of her tweet. Instead, BA took thirteen hours to respond, leading Jayne to write an article on the experience for The Huffington Post. You don’t need to necessarily resolve an issue the way the customer wants it resolved, but what you cannot do is ignore them.

6. Integration with CRM and the Contact Center

The days of treating social media independently from a company’s operations are gone. It needs to be integrated into most, if not all business functions. Some organizations just getting started in social media have implemented the first stages of a social media engagement process, only to make the mistake of treating engagements as ad hoc. These interactions can be much more effective if you are able to match the online user to a customer in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

In the previously mentioned DMG study, while 63% of respondents were using social media to provide customer support, only 37% were using a contact center approach. The consequence of not integrating social media with a contact center means that the company experiences missed gains in productivity and customer satisfaction. Without contact-center functionality, the team responsible for monitoring and responding to social media will need to have the skills necessary for supporting customers. Contact center applications provide a work assignment engine, making sure each item is assigned to one and only one employee, helping to determine average response times. “It’s important not only to keep records of individual conversations, but constantly to analyze the interactions to see what insights can be gleaned from them,” said Gartner’s Ms. Rozwell (source).

What tools to use will vary depending on what CRM and contact center tools may already be deployed in the enterprise and the size of the brand. As companies get started, especially smaller organizations, the default Twitter interface may be a starting point, but users will quickly need at least a product like Hootsuite to provide more control. While more than half of monitored brands still use these off-the-shelf tools (source), they provide limited ownership and reporting.

Avaya’s Social Media Manager is an example of suite that provides more advanced tools. It acts as an analytical funnel for all the potential mentions of a brand online and then feeds the actionable items to contact center agents through its integration with Avaya’s Interaction Center or Aura Contact Center applications. A key component of this product is its ability to consume social media mentions, determine which are actually relevant to the brand since approximately 30% are usually spam, and then determine which of those are actionable. Rich LeGrand of Avaya estimates that of 100,000 hits in a social media search, less than 2% are actionable by the brand.

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Having a tool that narrows down the actions from 100,000 to only 1,400 can clearly reduce the cost to monitor these channels. The tool can be expanded to integrate with an existing CRM database, linking actionable items to real customer information. This tool also provides real-time and historical reporting capabilities, allowing both the contact center and the Social Media Manager to know exactly what is going on and how to handle it.

7. Don’t be mistaken for a Robot

Users of social media are not just there to complain. They have joined these networks in order to socialize with other people. To help build relationships and loyalty for a company’s brand on social media, the online presence must be humanized as well. A call center agent who is used to running through a structured script will need to be trained to properly represent the brand. These individuals need to balance making the experience both an enjoyable experience for them and the customer, while also keeping within the branding guidelines. One company that does this well is HootSuite, a maker of social media tools. They tweet “shift changes” of who is responsible for their Twitter account. The individuals are encouraged to introduce themselves and have a little fun.

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“If your customers have an emotional attachment to your products, make sure your social media agents have that same passion. Even in 140 characters, it shows” – Jeffrey Cohen (source).

8. Segregate your Presence

After a company’s social media presence is established and processes are in place and have been shown to work, some companies choose to create multiple Twitter handles and Facebook pages for different parts of the business if the social media load increases. Research shows that in 2012, 35% of brands use more than one Twitter account, up from 7% in 2011 (source). The most common split is to give customer support their own presence, allowing users the ability to self-segment the types of interactions they want to have with the company. Such segmentation may also occur if the company lacks proper social media coordination and a business function wants to operate independently.

9. Market your Customer Support

You should be communicating to your followers your new support offerings, not just responses to complaints. Expose your personality and your value. It is important for users to know where to turn if they have a problem, and it helps establish the brand as one that takes care of its customers. For example, if a customer tweets about how wonderful support is, retweeting that to the company’s followers not only markets your support, but also further strengthens the emotional bond between that customer and the brand.

10. Don’t Overcommit

The proactive use of social media by marketing departments has increased dramatically over the last decade. The danger is that its use may leave people too dependent on using technology to speak, not allowing enough time to listen to customers. Social media is a key part of most companies’ strategy going forward, but it should not be the lynch pin…

So, what will the future bring? As available tools improve, further online channels can be monitored to provide brands with more information about what users are saying about them. For example, when a software developer runs into an apparent bug with Microsoft software, they do not typically call up Microsoft for support. Instead, they search for others who have reported the same symptom and hopefully there is a documented solution. These are often found in blogs and online forums. While one of those discussion boards may be Microsoft’s, there are countless other sites that contain that data. If Microsoft could crawl those sites, identify that a user found a potential bug, and then route that action to an employee to investigate and fix, they could improve their software quality. Consumer-focused products could take a similar approach with online retailers like Amazon, pulling product feedback either into the support team or to the marketing team for future action.

As social media technologies continue to grow in use and reach, companies must consider their integration and how they impact their brand(s). This is no longer the exclusive realm of the marketing department. Customer service teams must play an active role in monitoring the brand’s online presence. In order to get the most value and scale out of these activities, the effort should be integrated with CRM and contact center technologies, delivering the right contact, to the right employee with the right context. Solid execution of this approach will allow for quick and effective responses to negative brand impressions, not only allowing for image control, but also converting brand detractors into promoters.

Contact or follow me on Twitter @CarlKnerr.

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Why Multi-Touch Matters more than Multi-Channel

When it comes to customer service, it seems that change is the only constant. I know you’ve heard it all before; how single channel service evolved into multi-channel service evolved into omni-channel service. You’ve heard countless times about the importance of keeping up with this accelerating pace of change to consistently deliver amazing customer experiences.

There’s a good chance you’re part of the nearly 90 percent of companies today that compete solely on the basis of CX. But what if I told you that your customer engagement strategy is missing the mark? What if I told you that the customer experience is not necessarily about the channels you implement? Yes, you need them, but it’s how you use them that matters. 

I realize you’ve heard this statement before, but have you considered what it really means? I’m betting you have also heard the term “customer journey,” but have you considered the depth and breadth of each interaction held with your organization along that journey? Better yet, have you considered how you’re nurturing that end-to end-journey with your brand?

From Servicing Channels to Channeling Your Customers

Today, it’s not so much about what channels are used during the service experience, but rather how those channels are used to engage customers at every touchpoint, enterprise-wide.

Think about it: there are dozens of channels that customers can leverage today depending on what they believe best meets their needs, and dozens more will inevitably emerge as technology advances. By 2020, for instance, Gartner predicts 100 million consumers will be shopping in augmented reality, and 30 percent of Web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.

The question isn’t how many of these innovative channels companies can adopt. Although it’s important to offer a dynamic set of service channels that grows alongside consumer demand, what’s infinitely more important is that those channels are being seamlessly integrated to enable consistent, contextual, predictive experiences across an organization’s entire brand. This is the fundamental difference between multi-channel and multi-touch service.

The Multi-touch Difference

Now don’t get me wrong, multi-channel service has done a lot to help define and shape the end-to-end customer experience. As I mentioned in a previous blog, however, the problem with multi-channel service is that channels act independently in this environment. This means that any data captured across these channels is kept in silos, creating fragmented and isolated communications for customers and representatives alike. Unfortunately, about 90 percent of businesses today still operate within this type of environment. This is why consumers still find themselves dealing with the biggest dissatisfier in customer service: repeating the same information to multiple agents across multiple channels during the same interaction. In a multi-channel environment, channels aren’t intelligently tied together.

Omni-channel service—in which contextual information travels from channel to channel—seems to alleviate these pains; however, there’s still the issue of enabling a contextual visualization of the customer journey organization-wide (in other words, beyond the contact center).

This is where multi-touch service comes into play. This type of environment supports the end-to-end customer journey with 360-degree transparency as interactions travel across an entire brand via any channel. In this environment, for instance, all historical, transactional and real-time data is kept intact as a customer travels from a live chat session with a contact center agent to a phone call with a billing rep to email correspondences with a salesperson. In a multi-touch environment, customers are also matched with the ideal subject matter expert depending on their circumstance; it doesn’t matter who this person is and where they are in (or outside of) the organization during the customer’s time of need.

In these ways, multi-touch service allows businesses to truly keep a finger on the pulse of their customers. This enables them to create anticipatory engagement, contextual awareness and predictive insights that drive the best experiences possible throughout the entire brand journey, however long it may be. After all, a customer’s journey with a brand could be one minute or one month; multi-touch environments are timeless.  Providing the optimal experience and customer journey, all the time, every time will result in positive Customer Lifetime Value.

Research indicates this is exactly the direction the market must take to meet the next-generation needs of today and tomorrow’s customers. The findings of a recent Loudhouse study sum it up best: among 7,000 surveyed consumers, 67 percent made purchases that involved multiple channels; however, 87 percent believe brands must work harder to create a truly seamless customer experience.  

How to Master Multi-touch

Understanding the need for multi-touch is only part of the process. The other, more challenging, part involves taking the right steps to effectively gain this contextual, enterprise-wide view of the customer journey.

It’s not easy to go from “contact” to “engagement,” especially in a way that builds on your existing investments and knowledge. So, how can you begin mastering multi-touch service? To drive exceptional customer experiences at every touchpoint, you need exceptional technology. This means a solution that drives unprecedented value in today’s digital world; one that:

  • Offers integrated, multi-touch support for all media:

    To provide customers with the perfect experience, you must be able to meet them where they’re at—wherever that may be. This requires integrated support for all media (i.e. social, phone, email) across any device or endpoint (i.e. mobile, Web, phone) at any moment for any duration of time. Keep in mind that as you migrate your architecture, you’ll need to ensure the seamless combination of data gathered from past interactions (via your existing systems) with all new data to begin delivering contextual, multi-touch service.

  • Finally breaks down traditional UC&CC barriers:

    To gain 360-degree organizational alignment around the customer experience, the barriers that have historically existed between unified communications and customer contact must be broken once and for all. The right solution will deliver this lasting blow with the ability to flexibly create processes and applications that deeply embed easy-to-access communication capabilities into everyday services and workflows. In short, breaking these silos allows all applications, services and technologies to become more flexibly leveraged organization-wide. This is what ensures customers are paired with the right resources, and that those resources are equipped with the right information at the right time so that information doesn’t have to be repeated (and let’s not forget the ROI impact that will result from this).

  • Captures and capitalizes on big data across the entire enterprise:

    As I mentioned, you simply can’t rely on quarantined data. The right solution will break down the silos surrounding traditional analytics tools, empowering you with a richer visualization of data throughout your entire organization. This will fuel real-time, smarter decision making (which, of course, will drive customer satisfaction and loyalty).

At Avaya, we believe that multi-touch service is a necessity that shouldn’t be so complicated. This should be easy for companies to adopt in a way that meets their budget and infrastructure requirements, allowing them to migrate at their desired pace with no disruption or financial strain.

The way we see it, when someone asks how they can capitalize on today’s multi-touch world, you should be able to tell them that the solution is simple (literally).

Want help getting started?  Using a proven process, we’ll help you create a strategy to increase your customer experience and develop a priority plan – short term, long term, you name it – to help transform your organization.  Interested?  Interested?  Contact us.  We’d love to hear from you.

Leveraging Big Data to Fine Tune Customer Experiences

Whether you realize it or not, big data is at the heart of practically everything we do today. Billboard companies, for example, are now leveraging eye tracking and traffic pattern analysis to gauge interest among drivers. Chances are one of those drivers owns a 4G-enabled vehicle that can track such things as performance and maintenance history. That person can also now record and analyze their utility usage via smart home solutions—anywhere, anytime. On a more critical level, doctors can now record and analyze patients’ heartbeats and breathing patterns to develop life-saving predictive algorithms.

In today’s smart, digital world, big data has opened the floodgates to never-before-seen possibilities. It has the power to course-correct potentially devastating outcomes, and it’s become a necessity for continually refining the customer experience. If you ask us, though, the best customer experiences today are supported by customer journey analytics.

The Need for Customer Journey Analytics

Customer journey analytics is a process that requires tracking and analyzing the way customers use a combination of available channels to interact with an organization. These channels range from human interaction (like speaking with a contact center agent) to fully automated interactions to assisted service (like live chat and co-browsing).

The need for customer journey analytics is simple: data solutions of the past simply won’t meet the next-generation customer needs of today and the future. Consider that just 10 years ago, channels like Web chat and social media were in their infancy (Facebook had only been around for two years). At the same time, the world’s first smartphone had only been on the market for one year. A lot has happened to transform the customer experience in a very short amount of time. As companies move forward in today’s age of rapid tech innovation, they must be armed with the right data strategy.

As mentioned, customers today use a vast number of channels and devices to interact with the brands they love. Each channel and device offers its own set of diverse scenarios for linking to other channels and devices, making no two customer experiences the same. Companies must be able to understand customers’ actions on any given channel or device in order to infer insights and create anticipatory engagement at the individual account level. For instance, why did one customer choose to purchase a product in a retail store verses online? Or, why did a customer end a live chat session before his or her inquiry was handled?

This level of understanding requires a comprehensive view of the data gathered from all channels and interactions that proceeded the moment in question. Customer journey analytics is a process designed to provide this comprehensive view and deliver deep benefits organization-wide—so much so that 60% of all large organizations are expected to develop customer journey mapping capabilities by 2018, according to Gartner.

Making Customer Journey Analytics Work for You

Companies need a data-driven customer approach to survive—and it needs to be effective to thrive. Many companies, however, struggle with taking their customer data and turning it into actionable results. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by PwC found that 43% of companies obtain little tangible benefit from their data, while 23% derive no benefit whatsoever.

To effectively apply your data, you must first determine what you wish to achieve with your data in the first place. In other words, what key objectives do you hope to achieve or improve upon by using big data (or specifically, customer journey analytics)?

Not sure? Here are four core initiatives to start you on a path to maximize your customer journey analysis efforts:

  1. Enable self-service.

    Self-service options—especially mobile—are rapidly increasing in popularity. Just consider that in 2015, Apple users downloaded over 51,000 mobile apps per minute. Also last year, 90% of customers used their smartphones in stores to make price comparisons, research specific products, and check online reviews.

    In today’s mobile-first world, businesses should leverage customer journey analytics to develop a sophisticated and integrated mobile experience—one that seamlessly integrates self service into their mobile app via visual, in-app self-service options. Conversely, this experience should offer customers callback options (either immediate or scheduled), as well as mobile chat (automated or agent-assisted) and video service. In addition to offering a stellar mobile UX, businesses should ensure backend capabilities that intelligently route customers to agents based on available context in order to drive relevant, meaningful interactions.

  2. Improve resource matching. We live in a world today where cars can park themselves and doctors can 3D print new organs, yet we still struggle with routing callers to the right subject matter experts. The time for next-generation routing is now, and it all starts with improved resource matching—specifically, attribute-based matching. This means matching customers with agents based on rich context, business KPIs, and organizational goals across all work items, channels, and resources to drive segmentation, increase prioritization, and determine the best course of action per customer.

    This also means choosing the right resources for each customer, regardless of where the resources reside within the organization. The right subject matter expert, for example, could be a contact center agent, a supervisor in your billing department, or your VP of sales. Customer journey analytics provides a 360-degree view of available resources organization-wide to support this level of attribute-based matching.

  3. Increase agent awareness. Not only is it important to collect the right information, but it must also be presented in a way that is visually understandable and easily accessible for agents. Imagine, for example, an agent being able to see where a customer has been on the company’s website over the last month, as well as that person’s live chat interactions last week. Imagine an agent being able to quickly see that a customer sent an email two days ago regarding a recent bill, or reached out via SMS because the company’s mobile app wasn’t working properly. Imagine if agents could gain this 360-degree, comprehensive view all in just one or two clicks of a mouse.

    Data is continuously generated in different ways, and is consumed by different people across different processes and applications. Having the right information at the right time empowers agents to focus on customers’ needs without having to ask for the same information multiple times (which, as we all know, is one of today’s greatest customer frustrations).

  4. Ensure continuous improvement.

    When it comes to big data, businesses can’t manage what they can’t measure. Therefore, it’s important that companies measure their data both in real-time and historically to help improve systems, processes, and applications over time. This is what will enable them to consistently deliver on key business objectives, operate within budget, and maximize every customer experience. Here are four key technologies for ensuring continuous improvement:

    • A data collector that can collect, standardize and normalize raw data across any data source so it can be used for enterprise-wide reporting and analytics.
    • A processing engine that can correlate, translate, calculate and publish normalized data into meaningful business measures.
    • A visual presentation platform that provides unified, real-time and historical reporting and analytics dashboards that can be used to visualize, analyze and explore key business measures.
    • Predictive analytics to discover new trends, apply changes based on insights, and continuously improve applications, workflows, self service and routing decisions.

So, how can you succeed with these four objectives to fine tune your customer experiences? That’s an entirely new discussion—however, we can tell you this: invest in a customer engagement platform that:

  • Provides a single view of customer interactions across all systems
  • Allows you to add data sources quickly
  • Can correlate data across both real-time and historical systems
  • Boasts an open and extensible reporting and analytics framework

Experience is everything. Learn How Avaya Oceana Works.

Serving Customer Buying Patterns Means Our Partners are “Living on the Edge”

Today’s business environment is a competitive and dynamic landscape that necessitates innovation in communications and collaboration. Technology solutions are more than mere infrastructure investments, they are business success enablers. This has led to a major transformation in customer buying patterns. Customers have changed how they approach, purchase, and deploy ICT—information and communications technology–and we’ve changed how we sell to customers. Simply put, customers are requesting as much agility in their solutions and infrastructures as they require functionality, if not more.

Here at Avaya, we recognized several years ago that one size NEVER fits all. That’s why we made the strategic decision to transition to a software-and-services-led company providing solutions and platforms. To keep pace with customer buying patterns, we totally changed our product mix, made everything available as a software component, and gave our customers more flexibility in how they consume our solutions.

That last point reflects another major shift for Avaya—we put our customers first. That may sound self-evident, something all companies should be doing all the time, but it all too often doesn’t happen in the IT industry. It certainly wasn’t happening at Avaya. In 2011, our Net Promoter Score was hovering in the 20s, placing us … well, on par with most of our competitors, which is to say not very good. Today, we’re at 59, or Best in Class, which is in the 50% to 70% range with Apple and the Ritz Carlton.

So, putting the customer at the heart of everything we do has paid off for us big time. Consequently, our channel programmes have to evolve taking that new reality into consideration and that is exactly what we have done.

This month saw the global launch of Avaya Edge, our brand new and streamlined global partner programme, designed to give our partners the edge in the marketplace. Our vision for the new programme has three pillars:

  • Put the customer first
  • Protect and represent the Avaya brand
  • Be highly rewarding for the professionals and organisations that are a part of the programme, wherever they may be.

Avaya Edge also addresses some of the biggest needs for technology partnerships—a simpler structure, greater benefits, and flexibility—and builds them in as the key defining characteristics of the programme. To achieve that we gave our partners a choice to decide in which marketplace they would like to thrive, i.e., Enterprise or Mid-Market, since each of those segments require different level of profiles, skills and investments.

Here’s another way we’re bringing partners more closely into the fold. In previous years, we’ve hosted separate events for partners and customers around the globe. The partners had their own specialist Avaya Partner Forum event, while customers attended Avaya Technology Forums. Fair enough, specialization is not exactly a bad thing—but achieving the best possible outcome requires everybody pulling together in the same direction. The Avaya business teams, our partners (resellers, systems integrators, distributors, etc.) and, above all, our customers need to be aligned if we are all going to achieve our business objectives.

This month in Dubai, we’re hosting Avaya Engage—our first event that brings everybody in the Avaya ecosystem under one roof. Avaya executives will meet with partners, customers and industry leaders, giving everybody an equal opportunity to network, learn latest industry trends and understand where Avaya is going.

Get more details on Avaya Engage in Dubai. I look forward to seeing you there.