Does the Shoe Fit?

Many of us have supported the contact center industry for years as managers, directors, executives, contact center solution vendors — and yet have never spent a single day as an agent. Or, per the stereotype of work-at-home agents, we haven’t stepped into those proverbial bunny slippers.

Two industry articles prompted this line of thought. The first questioned whether a well-known communications provider runs their contact center like a sweatshop. The second article is captivatingly entitled “Witness the Death of Average Handle Time.”

What is it like to be a contact center agent? Perhaps we think of the advantages: they typically work an 8-hour day, whereas many of us work into the evening. If they’re home agents, their morning commute is from the coffeepot to the home office.

But think of the stress an agent faces. Nowadays many consumers get answers to their questions from web sites, industry forums, and discussion groups. People go to agents for the hard stuff — so almost every contact is a tough, out-of-the-norm type of inquiry. Many customers are angry or frustrated because they’ve exhausted other avenues, and perhaps bounced around in IVR hell before reaching an agent. Now, the agent is expected to resolve these difficult issues QUICKLY. And magically turn grouchy customers into happy advocates in three minutes or less!

Empathy aside, why do you care? Because traditional metrics such as Average Handle Time are putting both customers and agents into shoes that don’t fit.

Customers may not get resolution to their issues simply because the agent is pressured to end the call quickly. And if they hang up dissatisfied, their next contact may be with your competitor.

And the agents who juggled challenging inquiries all day, and were then chastised for exceeding the expected handle time? They’re probably going to be searching for a new job – and you’re going to be spending time and money hiring and training their replacements.

It’s time to ask whether the old shoes should be thrown out and replaced. And when you do, one place you can check out is Zappos, a company renowned for exemplary customer service and a loyal following. It’s a company who reputedly values customer satisfaction more than handle time according to “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” a book written by CEO Tony Hsieh. When writing this blog, I called Zappos’ 1-800 number to see what an agent would tell me about how they are evaluated. I spoke with Megan, a cheerful young woman who obviously loves her job. Indeed, customer satisfaction is paramount. Megan’s favorite line is “We’re a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” Obviously the shoe fits – and profitably.

Is it time to reevaluate the metrics we use to evaluate agent performance? I think so.

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5 Key Steps to Modernizing the Federal Government

Modernizing the communications systems of government agencies creates significant challenges—and opportunities—for the new Administration. Key to improving services for the estimated 324 million Americans, the new Administration will need to modernize the communications systems of Federal Government agencies.

Four significant trends have arisen over the last several years that are challenging Federal IT systems and budgets, which can be addressed through technology and innovation for better service at more cost-efficient rates:

  1. A three-year decline in citizen satisfaction between the kind of communications citizens expect and the kind many agencies provide today.
  2. Security incidents in public and private networks are growing at an alarming rate across the globe, with a 38% increase in cyber threats in 2015. The total overall cost to the global economy puts the damage to enterprise businesses somewhere between $375 and $575 billion a year.
  3. More powerful, mobile devices and the impact of consumer-oriented technologies has changed how people interact with the modern world, requiring a shift away from legacy technology That small device a growing number of the populace carries is often responsible for keeping them connected 24/7.
  4. Citizens have expressed their desire for seamless, multi-channel experiences. In 2013, 82% of customers surveyed by Avaya and British Telecom said they prefer organizations that offer multiple channels to meet different needs.

To help the new Administration, an eBook from Avaya Government Solutions, Transforming Government Business for the Digital Age: How to understand and prepare for IT modernization, provides a guide for analyzing and solving the following questions:

  • What communications challenges are government agencies facing?
  • What can government agencies do to improve communications systems?
  • How much do you estimate is the amount of waste in the Federal Government?

Among the recommendations found in the eBook for improving citizen services and creating cost efficiencies at the same time, the new Administration might consider:

  • Consolidating and automating routine tasks inside the network to reduce costs and save resources
  • Simplifying and creating a unified hub for communications systems that syncs up existing technology with technology innovations
  • Implementing an open standards architecture platform that can operate with a variety of service needs
  • Assessing and optimizing an organization’s IT infrastructure and application platform across capabilities and continuity
  • Ensuring reliability and security of network activity so that it is safe, secure and running at peak performance

Stepping into the Oval Office on January 20, 2017 for the first time, the new President will face many challenges. Recommendations found in the eBook can help Federal Government agencies to cost efficiently meet the needs of a new generation of Americans needing assistance.

How Do You Create a Tech-Driven Guest Experience?

Hospitality, one of the world’s most prevalent and influential industries, is using tech-driven guest experiences to boost success. In addition to the usual business trips and family vacations, hotels are a staple for everything from weddings to global conferences to concerts and shows. At resorts, hotels, casinos and cruises, billions of people worldwide book reservations every year, each expecting a guest experience that goes above and beyond the norm.

Hospitality leaders are largely responsible for ensuring that experiences do in fact meet and exceed guest expectations. Nearly 90% of companies today compete solely on the basis of the customer experience, and that certainly includes hotel entities. The guest experience is everything—especially in a smart, digital world where consumers’ demand for speed, agility and quality are at an all-time high.

Guests are focusing less on room service and bell boys and more on 24×7 virtual concierges and personalized mobile travel guides, which proves that the tech-driven guest experience has arrived. In a recent Information Age article, Avaya UK Managing Director Steve Rafferty explores the transformative power of a mobile app for delivering a truly custom—even predictive—guest experience. In Rafferty’s much-needed discussion about the ever-evolving hospitality industry, he concludes that “technology, customized for the hospitality industry and backed by solid in-person service, can help hoteliers today to deliver the superior and personalized experiences their guests expect.”

This leaves just one question: how can hospitality leaders go about creating this tech-driven guest experience, specifically through infrastructure investments and/or upgrades?

Many organizations have proven that a next-gen guest experience is very possible to achieve. To better ensure guest safety, the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas boasts video surveillance speeds that are up to 11 times faster than its competitors. The Rotana Group, an international hotel and entertainment chain, uses advanced contact center and IP solutions to enable secure and seamless communications across its properties worldwide, supporting a more 360-degree guest experience.

Three Ways to Create a Tech-Driven Guest Experience

So, as a leader or IT decision maker within the hospitality industry, how can you proactively address your guest’s needs with the right technology? Here are three significant ways a customer engagement platform can help drive the desired guest experience:

  1. Innovate at the first point of contact.

    There’s no denying that for most guests, the first point of contact is a hotel’s web site. A 2015 study conducted by Expedia found that consumers visit an average of 38 websites before booking a reservation. Overall, travelers tend to double the time they spend surfing the web the week before booking. Needless to say, there’s plenty of opportunity for hoteliers to elevate guests’ web experiences with the right technology.

    How? As opposed to offering guests a web form (or worse, a dreaded 800 number), you can offer guests live chat support via WebRTC. Of course, guests should also be able to easily escalate their live chat session to voice if needed—and from there to video chat or screen sharing for particularly complex reservations or issues. A customer engagement platform created on an open, extensible architecture lets you support this dynamic environment with the ability to create apps that customize and extend your call center. This can help you to create new points of differentiation, or change them as you see fit. So you can ensure a stellar guest experience from the first point of contact onward.

  2. Improve resource matching.

    Front desk workers must skillfully handle calls from families, school groups, business travelers, wedding planners, convention planners, language specialists, and more. With hotels becoming more dynamic by the minute, the need for improved resource matching is vital. This means ensuring callers can be quickly and intelligently routed to the right subject matter experts—regardless of where they reside within the organization—based on rich context, KPIs and organizational goals across all channels.

    An advanced customer engagement platform tracks guest conversations and consolidates customer data across all of these channels (i.e., web, mobile, contact center), creating a real-time data repository for hotel workers to track, collect and share relevant information across teams, processes and customer touch points. This ensures callers will always be paired with the best subject matter experts available. Additionally, this allows agents to focus on callers’ needs without having to ask for the same information multiple times (which, as we all know, is a huge customer frustration). Above all, the technology helps to deliver more consistent and meaningful experiences at the individual guest level.

  3. Enhance the mobile UX.

    Research shows that more than 75% of travelers consider their smartphones to be critical. Additionally, about 1 in 3 people use their smartphones more when they travel than they do at home. As Rafferty explained, mobility is a key way for hoteliers to capitalize on guests’ needs and deliver the experiences they’re looking for.

    There are many ways mobility can be strategically leveraged. For example:

    • Use Wi-Fi location services to recognize when guests arrive
    • Push notifications to alert guests of changes to their stays
    • Use mobile room key authentication, verses a swipe card, for added day-to-day convenience

Perhaps most importantly, hoteliers must offer guests a sophisticated and integrated mobile app experience. This experience should include such things as seamlessly integrated self service and callback options, something that a customer engagement platform easily supports.
Mobility is not only advantageous for usage with guests’ mobile phones—it also addresses a need for staff to be mobile. For example, as mentioned in the point above, callers must be routed to the right subject matter experts regardless of where they reside within the organization. Mobility helps ensure subject matter experts are accessible, wherever they happen to be located on the property, for handling both guest inquires as well as internal operations.

Technology is changing the hotel guest experience. There’s ample room for innovation within the industry, and there’s a way to efficiently, securely and flexibly enable guest experiences that continually exceed expectations. How does Avaya know for sure? Avaya supplied the technology that transformed the Wynn Hotel, the Rotana Group, and many other world-renowned hospitality organizations. A customer engagement platform built on open, extensible architecture gives you an open scope, meaning anything is possible in terms of the guest experiences you want to deliver.

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.