Why Midmarket Companies Must Compete in the Customer Engagement Big Leagues

Midmarket Customer Service

Every large company was, at one point, a startup. As they grew—in some cases literally out of a garage—they had to evolve their tools, systems and processes appropriate with their business phase. For every successful large company, there were hundreds that failed on their way.

If you find yourself on the path from small company to midsize company, you’re likely running into a number of challenges inherent among midmarket companies. Today, I want to focus on one of the biggest challenges—improving customer engagement.

In the beginning, startups are intensely focused on customer engagement. It’s one of the reasons they become successful. But as they grow, customer engagement can become overwhelming, with different types of interactions across multiple channels.   It’s all part of the proverbial “crossing the chasm” experience.

However, customer engagement is a competitive way for midmarket companies to differentiate themselves—showing customers that they’re just as  attentive as startups, while being more personal and nimble than large companies.

In my experience, it’s clear that the customer engagement imperative among midmarket companies is alive and growing. And the stakes are high.

Ignoring customer engagement comes at great cost for these midsize organizations. Customers expect midmarket companies to respond to their needs quickly, efficiently and through a variety of channels. At best, inefficient processes, equipment and applications become massively expensive to manage and maintain. At worst, companies lose their mojo.

Corporate brands deteriorate due to customer service missteps. Without the right tools, agents can’t prioritize appropriately, and time-consuming tasks take the lead while mission-critical needs get lost in the shuffle. When agents aren’t given the right tools to engage with customers, their own employee engagement deteriorates, and then all bets are off when it comes to delivering a great customer experience. It’s a vicious cycle!

The Midmarket Playing Field 

The business drivers that fuel customer engagement upgrades in the midmarket  – ancient phone systems that need replacing, growing contact center volumes, and a greater need for data and analytics –  are found in almost every segment. But midsize companies compete on a unique playing field.

As midsized companies grow, the applications and processes that once served them when they were small don’t scale very well. On top of this, some have corporate or product acquisitions fueling their growth, causing disparate data silos and applications.

In other cases, large enterprises are downsizing to a midmarket scale because of divestiture or market fluctuations. Some are opening independent subsidiaries in foreign countries, which compare to being a startup.

In either case, these companies must assess both their current and future growth requirements to make the best investment decision. They need solutions that are able to grow with businesses.

Stepping Up to the Plate

With these unique challenges, what would you do?  I ask myself this question when I speak with customers, and try to imagine their particular needs and fears along the way. Oftentimes, they’ll choose one of four paths forward:

  • Current system upgrades: Get the latest releases for the equipment you’ve already deployed
  • SaaS/cloud/outsourced services: Try one or more out, overall or in select areas
  • Build-it-yourself: Use open source tools to enhance existing systems or build a new system from scratch
  • Vendor solutions: Invest in sophisticated contact center systems designed for the midmarket

After comparing a large-system upgrade with a new midmarket contact center solution, many customers decide their needs were met with a Avaya IP Office-based contact center package. Plus, the same choice was more budget-friendly and faster to deploy than an existing system upgrade. In other cases, customers either brought outsourced services back in-house or decided their SaaS or managed service wasn’t integrated well enough with their back-office system to be most efficient.

There are many organizations with lots of internal IT skills, coupled with fairly robust open-source tools available on the market. Before embarking on this development journey, it pays to engage experienced advisors to help you evaluate these options and your requirements before making such an investment.

A Home Run for Ballantyne

One company that made such an upgrade choice is Ballantyne Strong, a commercial lighting business in the U.S.

Ballantyne Strong began more than 80 years ago as a cinema equipment company. As its business evolved to selling state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment and professional lighting, it outgrew its out-of-date business communications system.

The shortcomings of its antiquated system became obvious as the company realized it needed its own call center. Additionally, the acquisition of another company meant that Ballantyne Strong was facing five-figure travel bills each month. Ballantyne was looking for a one-vendor solution – fully-functional, well-integrated and packaged right for a midsize business. And so, Ballantyne decided to implement Avaya Customer and Team Engagement solutions — Avaya IP Office, Avaya IP Office Contact Center and Avaya Scopia.

With the help of Avaya partner DataVizion, Ballantyne Strong cut over to its new Avaya-powered call center system on a Friday morning at 8 a.m., and was fully functional within 10 minutes. Right away, the company was able to begin easily tracking and monitoring its call center activity. Ballantyne is also able to create custom calls queues routed to the correct technicians.

Focusing on delivering better customer engagement is a crucial success factor for midmarket companies. Fortunately, there’s a well-documented migration path forward, and trusted advisors along the way.

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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.

Verbio Brings Voice Biometrics to Avaya Breeze™

If you’ve been following the Avaya Connected Blog in recent weeks, hopefully you’ve read about the changes Avaya expects to see in Customer Engagement as we roll out the Avaya Oceana™ Solution, a contact center suite for the digital age.

And perhaps you’ve read how Avaya Oceana is built upon the flexible platform of Avaya Breeze™, which offers extensibility through a Snap-in architecture, creating new opportunities to extend and customize customer and team engagement interactions further.

I’ve previously highlighted how some of our DevConnect Technology Partners are leveraging the Avaya Breeze Platform to do just that, and I’m happy to add Verbio to the growing list of value-added Snap-in vendors.

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Piergiorgio Vittori, who heads up Americas Sales and Global Partnership opportunities for Verbio, as they recently completed DevConnect Compliance Testing of their Verbio Voice Authentication Snap-in for Avaya Breeze. Piergiorgio indicated that it took “about two months, end to end” to bring this voice biometric solution to market, “including design and requirements, programming, testing, demos, tuning, and documentation.”

I daresay that there aren’t many ways to bring out a flexible, biometric-based capability set in that short of a timeframe, which I offer up as a tremendous proof point for how Avaya Breeze really simplifies key aspects of application and communication services integration.

Verbio’s solution, which couples a Breeze-based Snap-in with their core SaaS-based biometrics capabilities, extends the speech search and ASR/TTS capabilities inherent with Avaya Breeze to a new level of speech capabilities, while maintaining a consistent and familiar type of request and error handling methods to be leveraged by other application developers. The Snap-in itself simplifies many of the tasks associated with passing data to the Verbio engine, acting as a sort of Verbio-proxy for application developers already working in an Avaya Breeze environment.

Voice Biometrics has a number of potential use cases, especially when it comes to automated events and actions. From a security perspective the use of voice biometrics can help ward off social engineering hacks, while its application in contact center domains can increase agent utilization and reduce overall call time by eliminating the need to verify a specific users’ identity through numerous Q&A interactions. In this latter case, a users’ voiceprint can very much act like their conclusive identification.

Enterprises and contact center (or even public safety concerns) can further leverage voice biometric analytical capabilities as an emotion detector to determine whether the validity of the users request is being influenced by stress or emotional status.

All of which makes a great proof point for the power of Avaya Breeze in helping to transform how our customers conduct business in this digital age.

Avaya Oceana: Riding the Next Wave in Customer Experience

Earlier this month, the CFI Group, which issues the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index, issued the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI). Here are some of the key findings:

  • The index shows a four-point decrease in customer satisfaction from 2015 to 2016, sliding to the lowest score in the nine-year history of the report.
  • Difficulties are driven by the ability (or lack of) to quickly and effectively solve customer issues: Only 52% of contacts were resolved on the first contact and a third could not successfully self-serve through the IVR system.
  • Millennials have higher expectations for service than those 45+ perhaps largely due to their sense of immediacy and highly digital, multi-modal nature.

Bottom line: The CCSI news isn’t good regarding contact centers’ ability to deliver an excellent experience. And that results in reduced revenues for your business as customers go elsewhere to satisfy their needs.

From our point of view … the timing couldn’t be better. Here’s why: Avaya Oceana just went generally available.

As long-time leaders in customer experience technologies, we know there are two critical points of opposition underlying the findings of the recent CCSI report. One is that consumer technologies and customer expectations change at an ever-increasing pace—even more so for millennials—your next generation of disposable income. This change is so rapid that some business technologies can be nearly obsolete before fully implemented. Second, because of this rapid pace of change, enterprises often hesitate to commit to new technologies that may disrupt a precariously-built, but functional operation—many of which resemble a Jenga stack whereby if one piece is touched the whole shebang comes tumbling down.

There’s a third factor that’s worth mentioning: traditional contact center technologies have been rigid, highly complex solutions, making changes to deployed systems difficult at best. Over time, what may be left as a result are ancient artifacts of routing patterns, complex integrations, and more that—at minimum—slow responses to potentially already frustrated customers.

Avaya Oceana to the rescue! Oceana simplifies that with a flexible, software-based solution that can negate those opposing forces. Suddenly, aligning customer needs and business strategies is as easy as drag and drop, so changes can be made without the traditional hold-your-breath-and-see-what-happens approach that causes migraines and drives significant resource requirements. The easy-to-use, self-adjusting system knows how—and in many cases, why—the customer is reaching out, managing proactive, self service and assisted service as a single thread.

Intelligence gleaned via Oceanalytics can be automatically applied and visually reported to those who need to know, who can also make immediate changes in the workflow pattern without esoteric programming requirements.

What’s more? Since Avaya Oceana is built on Avaya Breeze™ Platform, companies have massive flexibility to quickly customize their approach to customer experience—again with simplicity and ease through the development tools or pre-made Snap-ins from the Avaya Snapp Store.

The end game? To deliver the best experience possible every time in the course of a transaction or in the relationship overall.

While much of the magic of Oceana is behind the scenes, essentially, the solution enables companies to fully realize the omnichannel experience that many talk about and few truly deliver.

Experience is everything—Avaya Oceana enables proactive, persistent, contextual highly personalized experiences. The kind of experience even a millennial could love.

Watch the Avaya Oceana video.