It Should be a No-Brainer: Online Customers Want Better Experiences

Is it “Amazon or bust?” It certainly has been for a number of businesses.

The online shopping trend has been cannibalizing the sales of brick-and-mortar stores for quite some time now, as the last decade has seen major retailers such as Borders and Circuit City fold under competition from online retailers, even as others (Best Buy, for one) struggle to reinvent themselves in a “brave new world.”

This article originally appeared on the LiveLOOK blog, and is reprinted with permission.

Shopping at physical storefronts is still the primary way that consumers browse for and buy goods from their favorite brands, but they like the ability the Internet affords them to do extensive research about specific items and choose from wider selections of inventory. There’s only so much shelf space, and not many employees on the sales floor have in-depth knowledge of all the products they sell, if they can even help you locate everything.

Even with these seemingly baked-in opportunities awaiting online retailers, there are still some fumbles going on in the customer experience.

Online shoppers struggle regularly

While retailers aim to make their websites easy for consumers to navigate and buy items, more people encounter problems with ecommerce processes than decision-makers may think.

Eighty-three percent of customers require brands to guide them through their online purchases, according to Business 2 Community and Invesp. In addition, 89 percent of shoppers have left retail websites due to poor customer service, suggesting that companies’ support strategies must be finely tuned for success the digital age.

Customers have high expectations for ecommerce support platforms, which don’t always deliver. Thirty-one percent of customers with questions or concerns want to be helped immediately when they log on, while 40 percent expect to be in contact with a representative within five minutes.

Brands need to make themselves constantly available to meet consumer demands. Customers who experience poor service are reportedly twice as like to tell others about a business’ shortcomings than those who enjoyed their interactions.

Related article: Online Retailers Strive to Overcome Integration Challenges

Today’s customers want it all – and now

Not only do consumers in the digital era expect their questions to be answered quickly and accurately, but there is also a growing demand for integrated services across a range of platforms.

While 61 percent of consumers still turned to call handling as their primary channel of communication with companies, newer platforms are quickly catching up with this standby. Customer support email was chosen by 61 percent of shoppers as their preferred method, while 57 percent found live chat to be the most helpful.

The data speaks for itself: Online retailers must adopt the latest customer service technology as they can’t afford to miss out on opportunities and fall behind their competitors.

Most customers have an idea of what they expect from brands with regard to ecommerce support, but what is the most important component of service today?

Eighty-two percent of survey respondents cited quick issue resolution as the top element of a great customer experience, while 56 percent thought that resolving the problem in one interaction was the most vital component.

In addition to answering speed and efficiency, companies should work on keeping their customer-facing staff engaged and enthusiastic, as 45 percent of respondents said that friendly service reps were a crucial part of any memorable support experience.

Brands must hone their craft

With such a diverse array of consumer expectations facing brands today, it can be overwhelming for decision-makers to figure out where their support strategies are lacking, which is why BizCommunity suggested that managers seek feedback from both their target audiences and service representatives.

With a better idea of a brand’s strengths and weaknesses regarding the customer experience, leaders can make a more directed effort at improving aspects of their support that lag behind.

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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.

Every Week is Customer Service Week for this Credit Union

It’s not easy for credit unions to compete these days. Many need to win against neighboring big banks, with nearby branches, billions in operating expenses, and national marketing campaigns. To compete against their larger banking competitors, the IT staff of one top 20 U.S. credit union with 500,000 members and fewer than 50 locations focuses on three strategies while being very mindful of the budget.

Three Strategies Ensure Credit Union’s Commitment to Superior Customer Service

“We’re very conscious of fees,” says the senior telecom and contact center engineer at the top-20 credit union. “When it comes to our credit union members, our motto is: ‘We never forget it’s your money!’”

Having a customer-centric culture during Customer Service Week (October 3-7) and beyond requires a persistent focus on providing a consistently strong contact center. To accomplish this day in and day out, choosing a partner with the same focus on proactive customer service goes a long way.

Not long ago, the credit union launched a new internet banking service, which resulted in a significant uptick in call volumes to the call center. Some members calling in were not hearing the correct recorded announcements.

To fix the problems like this, and minimize the impact to the customer, the credit union IT staff selected a managed services provider that offers 24/7 support for its service center, corporate headquarters, and disaster recovery location. Three strategies help the credit union maintain their customer centric culture:

  1. Resolve problems quickly:

    The managed service provider used its extensive toolbox of innovative diagnostics and expertise to trace the problem to a Local Access Carrier issue and an internal server not rebooted in 900 days. The remote technical support specialist found the root cause and quickly fixed the issue. “Usually when you open a ticket, you feel like the first tier person is going to be just a ticket-taker. I was expecting to wait,” added the engineer. “But the gentleman I spoke to was able to stay on the phone, get another engineer on the line, and stay on the whole time. Both engineers on this case were solid,” she adds, “but I was most impressed that the first support engineer who took the initial call didn’t just hand us off, he stayed engaged throughout the resolution process.”

  2. Don’t repeat the same mistakes:

    The software specialist flagged the server reboot issue and recommended rebooting at regular intervals along with a recent software patch to further promote stability in the credit union’s environment. Receiving proactive guidance on how to avoid the same problem in the future helped the credit union once again to deliver consistent strong customer service. “The fact that our partner is so open and willing to integrate with other vendors is huge for us,” said the engineer. “The platforms that were offered—and the support I get—are top notch.”

  3. Use automated diagnostics:

    The IT staff is small but very efficient. During the day, they focus on projects that will drive customer satisfaction and at night—they sleep! “We’ll get alarms on our system on occasion. When I get in in the morning, I can see that our managed services partner’s automated diagnostic systems have been in at night, testing things and resolving those alarms,” says the IT manager. “It’s nice that you don’t have to be woken up in the middle of the night for those little things. We focus on being very efficient, so that we can turn around and give our members better dividends and rates.”

How is your contact center running these days? What helps you keep the focus on your customer service? What emerging trends are you watching in 2017?

E911’s Fatal Flaw is Lack of Location Data—How Avaya Breeze Can Solve

The night of her husband’s death, Alison Vroome did everything she knew to be right. She grabbed her phone, called 911 and told the operator her address. Then she repeated her address a second, third and fourth time.

The call went to a different North Carolina county; the operator couldn’t understand her address. It was more than 10 minutes into the 911 call before paramedics arrived. Like anyone calling 911 in an emergency, Vroome expected her call to go quickly and smoothly, but it didn’t. Vroome’s call was one of 5.7 million 911 calls that come from wireless phones in NC—about 74% of all 911 calls in the state according to data from 2015. Yet 911 call centers rely on the cellular carrier to provide a cell phone’s location data. The legacy 911 network is voice only and cannot pass any data from the device. Instead, they can only receive the location data from the tower pinged by the call, something not nearly as accurate.

No one can say for certain if Vroome’s husband would be alive today had paramedics arrived sooner, but there isn’t any doubt that the current technology used in E911 emergency situations fails citizens. And this isn’t an issue isolated to the U.S. With the rise of mobile devices, countries and communities around the globe face the same technological flaw—the lack of location information.

As Avaya’s Jean Turgeon addressed in his recent blog on the current state of public safety and E911, accurate location information is one of, if not the most important piece of information that an emergency responder needs; and resolving this fatal flaw requires proactive urgency.

How Today’s #Tech Can Address E911’s Fatal Flaw

My Avaya colleague Mark Fletcher, ENP, recently wrote that when it comes to significantly improving public safety and E911 response times, tech is king. He’s right.

Case in point: In Europe, the introduction of EU eCall to become an integral element of the European emergency number 112 is solving the GPS precision challenge for new passenger vehicles sold in the EU after 2018. In an emergency, an eCall will relay a vehicle’s exact location, time of the incident, and direction of travel to emergency personnel, as sourced from the device, and very accurate. This is done automatically by the vehicle or can be triggered manually by the driver by pushing a button inside the car. That’s technology in action! While we have about two years to go before it becomes available large scale, we’re heading in the right direction.

In addition to eCall, there’s another remarkable solution called Advanced Mobile Location (AML). When a person in distress calls emergency services with a smartphone where AML is enabled, the phone automatically activates its location service to establish its position and then sends this info to emergency services via an SMS. The current downside to this is that AML is only compatible with Android mobile devices (R3.4 or greater). But still … it’s a huge step forward, and sets an excellent example for others.

The concept of AML was developed in the UK by BT’s John Medland in partnership with mobile service provider EE and handset manufacturer HTC initially. First tests were so promising that the European Emergency Number Association (EENA) began to promote AML, which sparked the interest of Google, ultimately getting AML introduced into Android natively. Talk about a ripple effect!

As the world’s leading software and services company, Avaya understands there are better ways to deliver public safety and emergency services, and we’ve been innovating these same capabilities in many commercial arenas for years. Our efforts there have set off their own ripple effect across the public safety industry, urging government agencies around the globe to harness the power of technology to enhance public safety services for citizens. What’s more, our teams are leveraging the Avaya Breeze™ Platform to intelligently link the location data to the incoming eCall or AML call and make it available to the E911 responder. Recently, in partnership with Engelbart Software and Oecon, we’ve developed a flexible and scalable solution for this type of enhanced emergency calling scenario and the results have been positive.

In fact, eCall is looking more and more like a potential game changer, and here’s why.

Let’s look at the technology side of the overall process:

  • A car is involved in an accident.
  • Sensors in the car trigger a sequence of events performed by the In-Vehicle System (IVS).
  • The SIM card registers to the strongest mobile network to raise the emergency call to the EU E112.
  • A modem kicks in, coding the GPS data and other car-related information as audio tones into the voice channel.
  • Immediately following the data transmission, the IVS switches to the hands-free communications system allowing the people in the car to communicate with the E112 responder.

What does this mean for the emergency responder?

  • The E112 responder picks up a call from a mobile device, immediately receiving precise location information. That’s new!
  • The E112 responder can be sure that it’s a serious situation because the airbags have been deployed, which triggers the emergency call sequence to start. So no one is left to wonder the seriousness of the call.
  • Most likely there’s no one for the E112 responder to speak with in the car. Why? Because this is an automatic call, not a call voluntarily initiated by a real person. And while the modem is beeping its data to the Public Safety Answering Point, the passengers might already have stepped out of the car and can’t hear the E112 responder’s “Are you OK?” Or they simply can’t respond because they’re unable due to the severity of the accident.

So are we still talking about a normal emergency call? From my point of view, this is the Internet of Things (IoT) plunging right into public safety and emergency services: sensors, data, processes and integrations. IoT under the disguise of a voice call … this IS a game changer!

At Avaya, we leverage our Breeze workflow engine to tie together voice calls and the IoT. Even though eCall is an initiative in the European Union, we see the concept of telematic calls being discussed around the globe, in public safety as well as in private businesses like the automotive industry. And, yes, we strongly believe that this approach of integration building on Avaya Breeze can also work to help overcome E911’s same fatal flaw, location.

I’ve delivered a series of Avaya Breeze webinars with my colleague, Andrew Maher, featuring Engelbart Software developers. Together, we demonstrate how to deal with eCall and AML. Have a look to learn more about the capabilities of Breeze and its impact on public safety. The demo starts at 00:19:30.