5 Essential Ways to Boost Your Customer Experience

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photo credit: Phil Dowsing Creative via photopin cc

Everyone knows that keeping your customers happy is key. “How customers perceive their interactions have been will drive whether they will buy more from your company or go to a competitor,” is how Forrester analyst Moira Dorsey phrased it during a webinar on Thursday. Watch the recording here.
Despite that recognition, most companies still put way more effort into wooing new customers rather than keeping existing ones happy – this despite the widespread recognition that retaining customers is far less expensive than acquiring new ones. And also the noted correlation between companies that invest in customer experience and stock price:
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One reason may be a seeming dearth of effective and practical tactics for keeping customers. At Thursday’s webinar (sponsored by Avaya), five methods were presented by the panelists, who included tech journalist and host Ellis Booker; Dorsey, a vice-president for customer experience management research at Forrester Research; Raymond Pettitt, a managing director for telephony at Barclays bank, overseeing a 3,500-strong team in the UK and India, and leading a transformation within Barclays from a traditional contact center organization into a more customer-centric one; and Avaya senior vice-president and CTO, Brett Shockley, who boasts 25 years of experience as an executive in the contact center industry. 
While the panelists generally endorsed the methods offered, they also offered nuance and sounded cautionary notes.
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1) Make Customer Experience Management a project, with a budget, a plan, a business case – because customer experience happens by design, not chance!
2) Make someone, at the executive level in the organization, accountable for the Customer Experience – empower them with the right authority, level and support
These two methods are closely related, due to the fact that it is usually a change-agent type of executive that is hired or elevated and empowered with a budget, plan and authority to re-imagine how a company manages its customer experience. 
This executive, often called a Customer eXperience Officer (CXO), needs to be strong enough to smash through the existing silos typical in most companies, says Pettitt, including at Barclays. “The only way for companies to get the initial momentum” for creating an end-to-end customer experience strategy is to empower a change-agent type of executive.
That means having the CXO report all the way to the top. “A CXO should report straight to the CEO to make things happen, otherwise you’ll reinforce existing siloes,” Shockley says. 
One way for the CXO to gain internal support, said panelists, is to overcome the perception that handling customers is a cost without a benefit. To gain support inside the company, CEM projects need to be designed that not only cut costs, but also create incremental revenue. 
3) Know your customers really well – Use every source of data you have in the organization to know your customers better – know what they want, where they transact, how and when they communicate. 
All of the panelists endorsed the better use of customer data to glean actionable insight. Plenty is out there: Avaya’s Shockley said that one of the vendor’s largest customers generates 1 billion events every day – all of which could be analyzed (but as of today, aren’t). 
Analyzing big data includes more than just the usual collection of quantitative KPIs. It also includes the analysis of qualitative data, says Pettitt, who said Barclays is one of the biggest users of speech analytics in the UK. 
For instance, it will look for specific positive or negative keywords like “ridiculous,” for example, and then correlate that with a follow-up action or outcome with the customer, says Pettitt. That’s more effective than doing simple sentiment analysis of customer phone logs to confirm existing impressions.
“If the data tells you what you already know, what’s the point?” he said.
Forrester’s Dorsey endorses that more subtle approach. “You really need to use qualitative information to build a map of the customer journey,” she said.
4) Invest in the contact center as the Customer Experience Management nerve center of your Customer Experience strategy
As contact centers go multi-channel by adding mediums such as social, Web and video, it makes even more sense to make it the place from which to manage all of your CEM activity, said the panelists. For instance, having your social media customer service managed by a “bunch of 25 year olds in the marketing department,” as Shockley put it, is not a fruitful long-term strategy.
5) Change what you monitor and measure to ensure continuous focus and improvement and think through the implications on the customer when making those changes

Besides adding speech analytics to the mix, panelists argued that companies should consider having executives listen in on recordings of customer calls or live calls. “It’s an excellent practice,” Dorsey says. “While some companies have been doing this for a long time, let’s be honest – if this were widespread, our customer experiences would already be better.”
All told, there were more than 900 registrants for the webinar. All attendees will receive a hard copy of the book: “Managing the Customer Experience: How to Maximize the Lifetime Value of your Most Precious Asset. The e-book can also be viewed and downloaded here, or on iPads and iPhones using Apple’s newsstand.

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What Smart Analysts Think About Microsoft's Lync Telephony Claims

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The big brains at UCStrategies had a very relevant podcast last week. Ten of the Unified Communication industry’s leading independent analysts weighed in on Microsoft’s recent claim that its Lync unified communications suite was “leading” in shipments of enterprise voice/telephony software.

Microsoft appears to be basing its claim on shipments of Lync voice, but doesn’t say much more. As a result, “there’s a lot of debate and discussion” about what Lync voice shipments actually mean, says UCStrategies analyst and podcast moderator Blair Pleasant. “Are they paid licenses, free licenses that customers get from enterprise CALs (client access licenses), (voice) seats actually being used and deployed, or (numbers) just out there because companies have Lync [suite]?”

One thing’s for sure: when you go by the tried-and-tested methodology of tracking the number of phone lines actually being deployed to users today, Microsoft isn’t on top according to any of the analyst firms. Indeed, according to one of the most respected market watchers, analyst Alan Weckel of the Dell ‘Oro Group, Avaya is actually number one in enterprise voice. My colleague Enzo Signore pointed this out in a blog several weeks ago – before the UCStrategies podcast.

There were too many opinions in UCStrategies’ 38-minute podcast to neatly summarize. Not all of them agreed with each other, of course. But here are the quotes that particularly stood out for me:

Blair Pleasant: “I personally have some issues with these numbers and what they mean…I don’t think it’s fair to say that Microsoft is a leader in enterprise voice at this point. Again, they’re doing gangbusters, but they’re still a niche player. And the companies I speak with aren’t rushing out to deploy Lync voice.

Marty Parker: “I think [Blair] you’re exactly right, that any claim like this should be greeted initially with some serious skepticism…Microsoft, pretty uniquely among the leaders, sells licenses far ahead of deployments. The number of licenses can be 2x or more what is actually being deployed. The deployment reports we’ve seen from a number of sources put Microsoft in the 5% range in terms of actual deployments for FY12. If you extrapolate from that 6-7% for FY13, and then double that, you get 13%…That is a number that wouldn’t stand up when someone goes out to use a rigorous approach to market share data. Maybe for shipments, but it doesn’t reflect reality on the ground.

Dave Michels: “I see a lot of firms deploying Lync. I don’t see a lot of firms deploying Lync voice…I also know from other observations that Microsoft is pretty shady about their numbers. A lot of other firms are very open. Microsoft is very secretive about this stuff. They don’t put a lot of detail behind this…It’s a whole different level of open-ness you don’t see with Microsoft.

Jim Burton: “When I was in debate in school, my Bible was a book called ‘Lying with Facts and Figures.’ I don’t think he [Microsoft blogger] lied, but the way he presented it was a bit of a misrepresentation, if you understood all of the facts.”

Roberta Fox: “It really wasn’t til late 2012 where Microsoft was considered for telephony or even desktop video. They really were not seen as reliable or credible telecom solutions from enterprise clients as replacements for their PBXes, due to concerns about reliability, availability and the feature set. Another interesting thought: there was very little interest in Lync for desktop video applications.”

I encourage you all to take a listen to this podcast.

How Mediocre Customer Service Is Driving Your Customers Away

Some companies drive away loads of customers with one big move. Like that department store chain that got rid of coupons and sales promotions. Its base of cost-sensitive mom shoppers quickly fled to other stores

For most companies, losing customers is a slow, inexorable process, that looks more like this:

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What’s the cause? In many cases, it’s weak customer service. Most companies over-spend on customer acquisition and under-invest on keeping existing customers happy. The result is statistics like this from Forrester Research:

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There are many reasons why your customer service may be leaving customers less than thrilled. Customers are more diverse than before, for one:
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Technology has also made customers more independent – and demanding. They want to be served right here, right now. 
Problem is that most companies, even if they talk the multi-channel talk, fail to walk the walk. Beyond voice, they may have deployed 1-2 additional ways for their agents to deal with customers. Turns out, there are a dozen channels besides voice that your customer may want – nay, demand – to be able to reach you on. Also, companies trying to deploy new contact center channels will, how can I be polite about this, often do it BADLY.
Do these problems sound familiar at all? Are they ones you want to solve? If so, you might consider attending the next Avaya Customer Experience webinar, ‘Where Did All of my Customers Go (and How Do I Win Them Back?)’
Broadcasting this Thursday Nov. 7 at 11 am PT (2 pm ET), it features a mix of experts in this area, including:
– Sheila McGee-Smith, independent customer experience analyst;
– Tony Bridgewater, Executive General Manager, Technology & Products, for Australian system integrator, Salmat;
– Mark Wilson, CMO for Avaya;
– Jeanne Bliss, our moderator, who writes and consults on customer experience and is a former Chief Customer Officer at multiple companies; 
Attendees to the webinar get a print copy of the book, Managing the Customer Experience, mailed to them.

Who's the Real Number One in Business Telephony?

The telephone is far from dead. You know who still loves to call people? Family members, close friends and…the Pope. No joke: 76-year-old Pope Francis has startled a quite a few strangers with a call from a Vatican landline in which he simply announces, “It’s the Pope.” It’s happened to enough people that the Corriere della Sera, a leading newspaper in my native Italy, published a front-page article offering tips on how to make small talk if His Holiness calls (tip #1: talk about soccer).

You know who else loves the telephone? Businesspeople. Unified Communications may be a diverse, ever-growing set of tools and technologies, but the channel that started it all still plays a central role. It’s why there’s a never-ending stream of articles advising how to schmooze colleagues on the phone, how to run your phone meetings, how to close sales deals on the phone, how to ace telephone job interviews, etc. The stakes are high, which is why telephony remains such a hotly-contested market.

Last week, Microsoft put out a blog claiming it is “now shipping more enterprise telephone lines than any other technology company in the world.” It was a bold claim. So bold that longtime industry expert, Eric Krapf of No Jitter, felt compelled to investigate. One respected market watcher, Infonetics’ Diane Myers, told Krapf that her own research – which shows Cisco and Avaya neck-and-neck far above other rivals in telephony – made her “struggle” with Microsoft’s claims. When Krapf confronted Microsoft’s spokespeople, they admitted that Redmond’s claim to have shipped the most telephony lines was based on different data, revenue. As anyone familiar with software bundling knows, revenue alone can paint a deceptive picture.

However, revenue COMBINED with other data CAN be illuminating. While Microsoft and Cisco bicker, they are ignoring what’s really going on in the voice market. According to the well-known telecom market research firm, the Dell’Oro Group, Avaya passed Cisco in Q2 this year in telephony according to two key metrics. First, powered by growth in our small and midsized UC solution, IP Office, the number of telephone lines Avaya shipped grew 10% quarter/quarter to 1.8 million, while Cisco’s slipped for the 3rd-straight quarter, according to Dell’Oro:

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Source: Dell’Oro Group

As a result, Avaya had a commanding lead of the global enterprise telephony market by revenue, both for Q2 2013:

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Actually, Avaya led Cisco by the same margin for all of calendar year 2012, too:

 

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How come Microsoft’s nowhere to be found? We asked Alan Weckel, Vice President, Enterprise Telephony & Ethernet Switch Market Research at Dell’Oro and author of the report, who “confirmed that Dell’Oro Group does track Microsoft in the report. While Dell’Oro group does not break out Microsoft call control directly, based on the size of the remaining market, Microsoft would not be amongst the largest vendors on the charts.”

Why is Avaya gaining telephone users and increasing sales revenue? For a number of reasons:

1)The rock-solid quality of our flagship Avaya Aura platform (read how billion-dollar real estate firm Forest City Enterprises virtualized Avaya Aura software onto VMware and cut costs and increased reliability);

2)The cutting-edge advances in the Aura platform, including the new Collaboration Environment platform to enable developers to quickly build communications apps, and the Avaya Messaging Service that finally brings texting into the enterprise world (and supports any vendor’s system, even Cisco);

3)The quality and cost-competitiveness of Avaya IP Office;

4)The increasing attractiveness of IP Office 9.0 to the fast-growing mid-market segment;

Importantly, we see many customers that use the Microsoft Lync solution for IM and presence turning to Avaya for voice. Rather than deploying Lync software all the way or integrating with Cisco, hundreds of enterprises are trusting the Avaya Client Applications (ACA) plug-in, which offers scalability, ‘Five 9s’ of high-availability, technical features such as open call control, protection for your other communication investments, and tight integration with our contact center solution, which happens to be number one in the market according to Gartner.

Related article: Avaya’s New Wireless LAN 9100 Mutes the Sucking Sound of Network Downtime

ACA is not a tactical solution, either. Providing a comprehensive, open alternative for customers who wish to avoid vendor lock-in is part of the Avaya long-term strategy. Simply put, we want to be the best Lync integrator in the industry.

Lync software undoubtedly excels at IM and presence. But as Cisco Collaboration chief Rowan Trollope pointed out last week, IM and presence are last decade’s news. The future is things like enterprise-friendly text messaging (like Avaya Messaging Service) and open collaboration platforms that let businesses pick the best technologies for their needs.

So when you’re thinking about your UC solution, don’t think it’s only about Lync software vs. Cisco vs. Avaya. The telephone isn’t going away anytime soon. And if telephony is important to your business, the right solution might very well be a combination of a Lync client and Avaya.