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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Finally… A Contact Center for the Digital Era

Imagine interacting with a company—any company—via your preferred method whenever you want, whether making a phone call, using online chat, sending an SMS, or messaging via Facebook. And, you end up having exactly the experience you were expecting. No not another bad experience. Rather an exceptionally pleasant and good experience, that surprisingly takes less time than you originally anticipated. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

The reality is that traditional business communications have failed to keep pace with consumer-focused technological devices. As a result, customers’ expectations—while very high—are rarely met when interacting with a business. Customers know what a good technology experience looks like, sounds like. The simplicity, built-in intelligence and sophistication of today’s devices and apps have taught customers that it’s not difficult to have a simple and tailored experience. It’s not difficult to teach a computer to know who you are, what you prefer, what you like to listen to, watch, read, how you like to interact. If it’s not difficult, then why are customer experiences with companies so predictably bad?

It’s time to break the mold. It’s time to start a new customer experience wave that makes customers happy about doing business with a company, excited that a company values their time and loyalty. Let’s give companies the freedom to be innovative, proactive, independent and capable of operating in real time to meet the demands and needs of their customers and agents without fail.

Unlike their traditional predecessors, today’s technological systems and capabilities have finally caught up with digital customer expectations. We have arrived at a point in time where the digital brain of a machine and the reasoning mind of a human are aligned closer than ever. Look at IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa.

Now, all that’s needed is similar thinking and innovation applied to business communications. What’s needed is the re-invention of the contact center for the digital era.

Enter Avaya Oceana™

Oceana is a departure from traditional business communications, just as the smart device was a departure from the basic, voice-only flip phone. This is a contact center for the digital era. Companies today don’t want to risk losing customers as a result of a bad experience. They can’t afford it. Companies want a single solution with best-in-class flexibility that gives them the ability to:

  • Drive adoption of self-service channels by seamlessly linking these into the contact center to deliver an omnichannel multi-touch experience.
  • Make agents more efficient and more effective by enabling them to handle multiple parallel interactions using an integrated multi-media desktop.
  • Reduce call times through utilizing contextual knowledge of prior and in-progress interactions to streamline customer interactions.
  • Drive higher customer satisfaction / NPS by tailoring the engagement experience to address their business’s unique/specific customer needs.
  • Rapidly optimize and continuously improve how they engage with their customers by leveraging their system’s flexibility, openness and integration capabilities.

In turn, customers get the experiences they know modern-day technology is capable of providing. The sophisticated yet simple and intelligent experiences they have grown accustomed to having with their smart devices, tablets, laptops, digital televisions and other smart appliances. This is Oceana.

Avaya Is the Innovative Leader for the Digital Era

When we made the decision and accepted the challenge to lead the industry in re-inventing the contact center, we did not enter into this without careful thought and consideration … of everything. Leaving no stone unturned, we diligently looked at what our customers and our competitors’ customers are working with today. We uncovered more cobbled together, Frankenstein-esque systems than I ever thought existed. The complexity of processes and user experiences that companies unintentionally created by not keeping up with technology upgrades was amazing. Holding on to these older technologies today when all of these digital capabilities are available is similar to keeping a shelf full of CDs for your music. Eventually you realize that making the choice to go digital can transform your world for the better.

What we also learned was that if we were going to re-invent the contact center for the digital era, we had to think differently because digital technology and digital customers require different thinking. We challenged each other daily to think differently. That’s been the biggest challenge all along for companies struggling through digital transformations. But as Avaya learned with our own transformation, once you make the hard decisions, start thinking differently and get to the other side of the transformation, a whole new world of opportunity becomes available to you.

As Oscar Goldman used to say during a time when human-to-machine technology was something only Hollywood could dream up, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.” The truth is we finally do have the technology. We can rebuild the contact center. This is no longer a futuristic endeavor, this is now. In fact, let me rephrase that: we have rebuilt the contact center.

This is Oceana. This is the contact center for the digital era. This is the start of something new, the start of something big.

3 Predictions about The Future of Customer Experience

Sometimes I know what the fictional Rip Van Winkle must have felt like when he woke up from his 20-year slumber. It seems like only yesterday that we in the communications world were marveling at the benefits of integrating voice and data. Now it’s all about the multi-touch customer experience and mobile everything. The speed at which communications in general—and customer engagement specifically—are advancing is nothing short of astonishing.

This prompted some thinking around what the next few years might bring. So we gathered insights from a variety of Avaya customers, visionaries within our own organization, and industry analysts to piece together a picture of what the future of customer experience will be in, for example, 2025. A few key themes emerged:

The nature of service will change. In the future, we won’t be talking about a device or media type. It will be all about what smarter consumers expect as outcomes—it starts with WHAT they want to do, followed by HOW they want to take action. It’s all about a customer being able to initiate contact in any number of ways and seamlessly move from one action to the next, in pursuit of resolution, knowing that a business will instantly know who they are, what they purchased (or anticipate what they want to purchase), what previous interactions they’ve had, what the outcomes of those interactions were, and then respond or, better yet, proactively address their needs. Everything is integrated at the point of interaction for the particular desired outcome at that moment.

And, it’s not just smarter consumers. Because the customer of tomorrow has done their own research, attempted to fix their own issues, etc. they require smarter, better equipped and, frankly, happier customer service agents and experts. To meet customers’ increasing expectations for fast, effortless and personal service, employees need to be empowered, be more knowledgeable, have the right tools, and—this is a bit subtler—better motivation. Increasingly, employees expect better work-life balance, more flexible scheduling, the latitude to work from home and the freedom to use their own devices. All of this—on both the consumer and agent side of the equation—means having seamless, adaptable, integrated, and responsive contact center infrastructure and applications. Organizations will be required to have an even smarter enterprise.

Extreme analytics will power customer experience. What is Extreme Analytics? It is analytics driven by context, supported by workflow automation, working with machine learning, and feeding artificial intelligence, just as a start. These are what will be needed to drive highly customized personal experiences. Natural language processing with analytics running in the background will make consumers feel that they are receiving a unique personalized experience, even though they may talk voice-to-voice or face-to-face with anyone from the company. No matter what means—digital or otherwise—the customer uses to initiate contact, the technology will be in place to translate, interpret, understand behaviors, anticipates needs, even if it’s a first contact between the customer and the business. If a customer chooses to visit a store or other location in person, there are still means by which—using GPS, geo-targeting, Internet of Things and other technologies—a highly personalized experience can be sculpted in real time. It will no longer be a digital interface alone. It will be about enabling interaction and personalization no matter where a customer wants to conduct business.

Loyalty is dead. As the post-digital world unfolds, the only loyalty customers will have is to whoever can make it easiest for them to do what they need to do. It will no longer be cognizant or mindful loyalty. Instead—whether it’s retail, banking, cab service, travel, prescription drugs, whatever—tomorrow’s consumers will certainly derive some level of comfort from knowing they’ve interacted with a business before, but that won’t be enough to keep them coming back. The next company that comes along and makes it faster, easier and (maybe, but maybe not) cheaper will get their business.

Here, extreme analytics come into play again. Driving in-the-moment loyalty will require customer segmentation that goes far beyond age groups and other demographics and customer profiles. It will include behavior analysis and an up-to-the-minute understanding of what a customer is doing (or anticipating next) so their experience can be personalized. It doesn’t matter that I fit into a certain age bracket or that I am a platinum customer of this financial institution or of that hotel chain. I have different “care abouts,” and a company needs to know those about me so they can create “anticipatory engagement.” The company anticipates what a customer will need, perhaps even from adjacent industry analysis, which drives knowledge of next best action, and drives proactive outreach—product and service offers that meet an expectation that is only now materializing.

Are these themes the things dreams are made of? Absolutely not. Consumer expectations are already headed in the direction suggested above, as are the technologies that are beginning to enable those capabilities. It’s only a matter of time, the future is now.

Curious to hear more about how we envision the Future of Customer Experience? How are customer expectations changing in your business? I’d love to hear from you.

User-Defined Engagement is in Avaya’s DNA

User-defined engagement is our new mantra at Avaya. We dream it, innovate for it, develop it, live it. It is in our DNA. With more than 300,000 customers worldwide utilizing Avaya communications software, services and applications, we understand engagement better than most. We also know that in this new consumer-driven digital world, the customer should be the one to define their own digital experiences.

In this new Avaya video, I talk about what we mean by user-defined engagement and how we have transformed our portfolio to be able to innovate for today’s digital customer experience.

User-defined engagement is the new ideal for any software company to embrace. It’s about listening to the customer first, before we develop a solution. It’s a mind shift for any development organization, but an important shift to make. A one-size-fits-all approach with a few customizable pieces and parts is no longer acceptable. Customers are the users of the solution. They know better than anyone what problems the solution needs to solve.

At Avaya, we understand that “going digital” requires not only a commitment to user-defined engagement but also a commitment to an all-software development platform. Digital transformation requires us to continue to evolve and simplify our portfolio of solutions and services to prioritize the quality, speed, accuracy and security of every experience when engaging with or within an enterprise. We are seeing a melding of customer and team engagement solutions, which makes sense. After all, your employees might not all be your specific customers but they are someone’s customers. Likewise, many of your customers are likely someone else’s employees. Both groups expect to be able to use similar solutions that enable similar experiences with your enterprise.

With this commonality in mind, we are building all of our customer and team engagement solutions on the same platform, Avaya Breeze™. A middleware component, Breeze pulls together applications and acts as a developer platform for building new, turnkey applications. In fact, Breeze is our developer platform of choice inside Avaya. Everything we do for customer and team engagement applications and services is now based on Breeze, which brings me to the Avaya Oceana™ solution.

Finally, a true omnichannel customer experience solution for the digital age. Avaya Oceana is the only all-inclusive experience platform for today’s digital enterprise. Built with employees, agents, and customers in mind, Oceana represents the convergence of the contact center with the enterprise. With historical and real-time analytics, Oceana provides that full contextual experience across all channels, enabling the enterprise to be smarter, employees more productive, and customers simply happier.

Never before in the history of customer and team engagement has technology been so advanced, yet so simple to use. At Avaya, we like to say that we engineer out the complexity so the user experience is simple and intuitive. We are at a point when the enterprise and the contact center equally have the ability to exceed customer and employee expectations, while enabling new and innovative engagement opportunities for improved business outcomes. Oceana is the one solution that can make it all happen…easily.