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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My Thank You Note for the Best Christmas Gift of All

Every Christmas is special. But this Christmas was even more special, thanks to my experience with children young and old who eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus and called the “NORAD Tracks Santa” hotline for info. The hotline has been following Santa’s December 24 travels and answering calls for 61 years—there’s a great story about how it all got started.

The NORAD—North American Aerospace Defense Command—Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado is a long-time client of Avaya Government Solutions. This year, NORAD invited Avaya employees to join its team of 1,500 hotline volunteers. I stepped right up.

Mike RundaThe hotline is part of a highly-sophisticated program to make certain Santa makes a successful journey. NORAD experts carefully monitor his travels and ensure his safety using radar, satellites, jets, and Santa Cams positioned in strategic locations worldwide. As a result, NORAD Tracks Santa volunteers have an insider’s view of Santa’s progress to share as he soars through the night sky.

Calls fielded by the hotline staff have grown steadily to an estimated 691,000 since Christmas 2009. In 2015, calls from all over the globe during a single 23-hour period set a new record of 141,000 calls, topping the 2014 record of 134,970.

To prepare for this year’s calls, about ten minutes ahead of shift we volunteers got a great training booklet, with a page full of how to start and end the conversations, and five pages of facts about Santa (weighs 290 at takeoff, 1,490 pounds when he lands due to intake of cookies around the globe).

Armed with the training booklet, lots of coffee and donuts, all donning Avaya red Santa hats and sweatshirts, the Avaya volunteers were ready to answer pressing calls coming from the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe and South America. The call volume was intense. There was zero break between hanging up on one call and getting beeped to take the next. It’s all made possible by Avaya Customer Engagement technology, the leading contact center solution in the market (shameless company plug!).

Most of the questions were about when Santa would arrive in their towns, where was he now (we had a live radar board in each room showing what city he was over at that moment, great graphic display!). Most kids were surprised that they actually got to talk to a live person! The parents loved it when I would tell the kids that Santa could only drop off presents after everyone in the house was asleep. And I kept pushing to make sure they left food for the hungry reindeer pulling the sleigh (reindeer love carrots!).

Then there were the special calls that took my breath away.

  • There was one from a young man with autism. His mom stayed on the phone to help translate what he wanted to tell Santa he wanted for Christmas.
  • Another came from a young girl who said she hoped that I would get what I wanted for Christmas from Santa.
  • And finally a call from a much older woman (who I believe might have had a learning difference) telling me the three gifts she hoped that Santa would get her from the local Walmart—though she said she doubted that he would stop by tonight. So deeply touching. I wish I could have gotten her address and given her those simple gifts.

Sigh…a very moving experience, in many ways.

Offered a chance by NORAD, I would definitely volunteer again. The military on the base were extremely polite and so happy to see so many volunteers helping to cheer up someone’s Christmas, both young and old. I felt like I walked away having been the one blessed by all the smiles and laughs that were shared by the NORAD teams and all the folks on the calls. So thank you for what was perhaps the best Christmas gift of all.

Why Multi-Touch Matters more than Multi-Channel

When it comes to customer service, it seems that change is the only constant. I know you’ve heard it all before; how single channel service evolved into multi-channel service evolved into omni-channel service. You’ve heard countless times about the importance of keeping up with this accelerating pace of change to consistently deliver amazing customer experiences.

There’s a good chance you’re part of the nearly 90 percent of companies today that compete solely on the basis of CX. But what if I told you that your customer engagement strategy is missing the mark? What if I told you that the customer experience is not necessarily about the channels you implement? Yes, you need them, but it’s how you use them that matters. 

I realize you’ve heard this statement before, but have you considered what it really means? I’m betting you have also heard the term “customer journey,” but have you considered the depth and breadth of each interaction held with your organization along that journey? Better yet, have you considered how you’re nurturing that end-to end-journey with your brand?

From Servicing Channels to Channeling Your Customers

Today, it’s not so much about what channels are used during the service experience, but rather how those channels are used to engage customers at every touchpoint, enterprise-wide.

Think about it: there are dozens of channels that customers can leverage today depending on what they believe best meets their needs, and dozens more will inevitably emerge as technology advances. By 2020, for instance, Gartner predicts 100 million consumers will be shopping in augmented reality, and 30 percent of Web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.

The question isn’t how many of these innovative channels companies can adopt. Although it’s important to offer a dynamic set of service channels that grows alongside consumer demand, what’s infinitely more important is that those channels are being seamlessly integrated to enable consistent, contextual, predictive experiences across an organization’s entire brand. This is the fundamental difference between multi-channel and multi-touch service.

The Multi-touch Difference

Now don’t get me wrong, multi-channel service has done a lot to help define and shape the end-to-end customer experience. As I mentioned in a previous blog, however, the problem with multi-channel service is that channels act independently in this environment. This means that any data captured across these channels is kept in silos, creating fragmented and isolated communications for customers and representatives alike. Unfortunately, about 90 percent of businesses today still operate within this type of environment. This is why consumers still find themselves dealing with the biggest dissatisfier in customer service: repeating the same information to multiple agents across multiple channels during the same interaction. In a multi-channel environment, channels aren’t intelligently tied together.

Omni-channel service—in which contextual information travels from channel to channel—seems to alleviate these pains; however, there’s still the issue of enabling a contextual visualization of the customer journey organization-wide (in other words, beyond the contact center).

This is where multi-touch service comes into play. This type of environment supports the end-to-end customer journey with 360-degree transparency as interactions travel across an entire brand via any channel. In this environment, for instance, all historical, transactional and real-time data is kept intact as a customer travels from a live chat session with a contact center agent to a phone call with a billing rep to email correspondences with a salesperson. In a multi-touch environment, customers are also matched with the ideal subject matter expert depending on their circumstance; it doesn’t matter who this person is and where they are in (or outside of) the organization during the customer’s time of need.

In these ways, multi-touch service allows businesses to truly keep a finger on the pulse of their customers. This enables them to create anticipatory engagement, contextual awareness and predictive insights that drive the best experiences possible throughout the entire brand journey, however long it may be. After all, a customer’s journey with a brand could be one minute or one month; multi-touch environments are timeless.  Providing the optimal experience and customer journey, all the time, every time will result in positive Customer Lifetime Value.

Research indicates this is exactly the direction the market must take to meet the next-generation needs of today and tomorrow’s customers. The findings of a recent Loudhouse study sum it up best: among 7,000 surveyed consumers, 67 percent made purchases that involved multiple channels; however, 87 percent believe brands must work harder to create a truly seamless customer experience.  

How to Master Multi-touch

Understanding the need for multi-touch is only part of the process. The other, more challenging, part involves taking the right steps to effectively gain this contextual, enterprise-wide view of the customer journey.

It’s not easy to go from “contact” to “engagement,” especially in a way that builds on your existing investments and knowledge. So, how can you begin mastering multi-touch service? To drive exceptional customer experiences at every touchpoint, you need exceptional technology. This means a solution that drives unprecedented value in today’s digital world; one that:

  • Offers integrated, multi-touch support for all media:

    To provide customers with the perfect experience, you must be able to meet them where they’re at—wherever that may be. This requires integrated support for all media (i.e. social, phone, email) across any device or endpoint (i.e. mobile, Web, phone) at any moment for any duration of time. Keep in mind that as you migrate your architecture, you’ll need to ensure the seamless combination of data gathered from past interactions (via your existing systems) with all new data to begin delivering contextual, multi-touch service.

  • Finally breaks down traditional UC&CC barriers:

    To gain 360-degree organizational alignment around the customer experience, the barriers that have historically existed between unified communications and customer contact must be broken once and for all. The right solution will deliver this lasting blow with the ability to flexibly create processes and applications that deeply embed easy-to-access communication capabilities into everyday services and workflows. In short, breaking these silos allows all applications, services and technologies to become more flexibly leveraged organization-wide. This is what ensures customers are paired with the right resources, and that those resources are equipped with the right information at the right time so that information doesn’t have to be repeated (and let’s not forget the ROI impact that will result from this).

  • Captures and capitalizes on big data across the entire enterprise:

    As I mentioned, you simply can’t rely on quarantined data. The right solution will break down the silos surrounding traditional analytics tools, empowering you with a richer visualization of data throughout your entire organization. This will fuel real-time, smarter decision making (which, of course, will drive customer satisfaction and loyalty).

At Avaya, we believe that multi-touch service is a necessity that shouldn’t be so complicated. This should be easy for companies to adopt in a way that meets their budget and infrastructure requirements, allowing them to migrate at their desired pace with no disruption or financial strain.

The way we see it, when someone asks how they can capitalize on today’s multi-touch world, you should be able to tell them that the solution is simple (literally).

Want help getting started?  Using a proven process, we’ll help you create a strategy to increase your customer experience and develop a priority plan – short term, long term, you name it – to help transform your organization.  Interested?  Interested?  Contact us.  We’d love to hear from you.

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.