Digital Transformation Begins and Ends with the Customer

Being a consumer today can be frustrating. We are armed with uber powerful, smart devices that encourage multitasking from anywhere there is a connection. But the one obstacle continues to be the companies, small and large, we want to do business with via these devices. For the most part, these companies are not yet as smart as our smart, handheld devices.

It almost feels like being the first fax machine owner. It must have been a terrific feeling, but who could you talk to?

Is the gap between consumers’ smart devices and the digitization of the companies we want to do business with ever going shrink? Or will the consumer’s device always be smarter?

Smart devices have been around for a long time. In 2016 we would not consider ourselves early adopters. However, when comparing smart device adoption to corporation’s adoption of digital engagement technology, many corporation’s global infrastructures are still not as smart as our handheld devices. Case in point, last year Dimension Data reported that two out of five companies say that their current digital channel systems don’t meet current needs and less than half of those companies believe their digital infrastructure will deliver against future needs. With smart phone subscriptions expected to surpass basic phone subscriptions this year, companies are clearly struggling—and already predicting that they will continue to struggle—to keep up with their customers’ digital needs and expectations, starting with true mobility.

Think about that: the consumer experience is ahead of what most companies’ IT can deliver today and your smart device can do things for you that a global IT infrastructure, with all it scale and cost, can’t. It’s a very strange reality.

The reality for these companies is that investments in upgrading and modernizing to digitize an entire infrastructure takes budget, time, planning, and most important, commitment. Yet, not digitizing fast enough can be detrimental to the bottom line if your customers, partners, suppliers can’t interact with you as easily as they can your competitors.

Where to Start a Digital Transformation

After a company has determined that digitizing their infrastructure is an urgent matter and can no longer wait, the next challenge is planning where to start—all the while, your customers are continuing to get smarter devices. Every function, from human resources to procurement to sales to marketing, will benefit. But the truth is that the need to modernize the infrastructure originated with the customer. So doesn’t it make sense that the modernization starts where the customer interacts most—the customer experience center?

I willfully admit that may be an obvious answer coming from the CTO of Avaya. But as a customer myself, I want to do business with companies that prioritize me as a customer, and invest accordingly. I don’t want to read in the press how great their IT is if I cannot get my questions answered or my requests fulfilled and have a poor or lukewarm customer experience.

This goes back to the basics of business success. The basics that are often overlooked in the fast paced, digital world we live in: the customer is always right. The customer is the priority. The customer is why we’re in business. Treat customers as you would want to be treated. Customer. Customer. Customer. You can’t go wrong putting the customer first. User experience is king.

Unfortunately many companies who have, or are undertaking a digital transformation in order to survive, have forgotten that it’s the customer’s experience that is most important, not the company’s experience. Sure the company benefits from a digital transformation—the CAPEX and OPEX benefits are many. Employees will be more efficient, productivity will be up, performance will be easier to assess and modify. But the focus must still be about how the transition will affect the customer’s experience with the company from beginning to end.

Furthermore, the practice of contact center technology management has enabled teams to perfect how to evolve the services associated with the voice channel. Voice is often considered the most complex, technologically challenging channel—voice quality matters, and issues are immediately perceptible. As an industry, we have spent years studying and understanding how to improve upon the quality and delivery of voice to the customer experience. This same ongoing attention to detail, planning and understanding of quality needs to be applied to every additional touch point made available to the customer to connect with you. This is the humanization of going digital.

A Case for Retailers

Take traditional retailers for example. Any traditional retailer that started out as brick and mortar then needed to evolve to online sales in order to survive is compared to the king of online, digital retail: Amazon. One thing Amazon knows is that being a digital retailer is not just about putting products and services online and making them available for purchase. The real value is in defining the actual customer experience of the online shopper, and increasingly the online mobile shopper.

  • Is the online, mobile experience the same experience customers have when they visit a store or better?
  • Is the process for returning an online purchase the same experience as returning at the store or better?
  • If there is a problem with the product after it’s been purchased, is the online, voice, video, chat, omnichannel customer service experience the same as in store or better?
  • Is the customer punished for purchasing online by having to pay added shipping fees?

Notice that none of these questions ask: is the company’s experience the same or better?

This is why starting a digital transformation with the customer experience center, aka the contact center, is the logical starting point. The contact center will never be pure digital because customers expect some human interaction at some point. Add to that, that more often than not, employees—subject matter experts—outside the contact center are more actively involved with customer experience. As a result, every scenario or use case for human interaction needs to be considered and planned for during a digital transformation. Maybe the human interaction is not during the shopping process or the purchasing process. But having the ability—the option—to connect with another human being when questions or doubts arise before, during, or after the purchase is a key part of any customer journey. It builds loyalty and a long-term digital relationship with the customer.

Hidden Benefit of Customer-focused Starting Point

A hidden benefit of starting with the customer experience is that you already have people excited and ready to help you through the transition. I’m not talking about your vendor—obviously they will be there with a plan in place to partner with you through every step—if not, then you have the wrong vendor. I’m talking about your contact center agents.

Many companies when they start this transition have learned that their agents, as customers themselves and in their personal lives, are very comfortable working on multiple channels in addition to talking on the phone. In fact, the learning curve for the agents is often not as time intensive as originally anticipated. They’re excited to be able to engage with customers on any channel and create an integrated, omnichannel experience. More importantly, they understand the benefits of being able to see the customer’s entire experience history with the company—from in-store, to online, to social, to experience with products and services, etc.

That said, for social channels, more than half of companies will typically have a dedicated social response team in place to respond to customers on social channels. But having access to the customer’s history of interactions with the company across all channels, including social, is a relief to any customer interaction agent—contact center or in store. One of the top complaints by agents is not having a complete view into all of the customer’s interactions with the company. No one likes to feel stupid when trying to calm down and possibly save an unhappy customer. Having a complete view of the customer across all channels including an historical view should be a priority. Yet 79% of companies still don’t have this view today.

Many companies will say that the delay in providing their agents with a complete customer journey view is because they are still trying to leverage legacy investments through their digital transformation. Managing a digital transformation of the customer experience center by keeping legacy investments in place, while completely understandable, is not without risk. With more than 2.6 billion global users of smart phones, the risk in delaying a full digital transition is quickly losing business to competitors who are digitizing their entire infrastructure without looking back.

Once the decision to go digital is made and communicated, going digital starting with the customer experience is exciting. It means being able to be more efficient, which makes people more productive. The ability to have each customer’s historical record of interactions across all channels readily available means the agents are better informed about each customer, which allows the agents to do a better job with each customer. It also provides a single location for analytics to work its magic—but analytics is important enough on its own to be the focus of a separate blog at a later date. This is where and how customer loyalty and customer satisfaction start to go up.

It is clear to me that the level of excitement is directly correlated to the fact that your agents/employees are also customers themselves. They are smart device users. They know from experience how painful it is to try to interact with a company that is not yet digitally transformed.

And we’ve come full circle. The customer—more than 2.6 billion smart device users—is the real focus of a digital transition. On behalf of customers everywhere, please don’t forget that.


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IP Office Leads the Way: How Doubling Down in One Product Area Can Drive Best Practices

Just over a month ago, we released the latest version of Avaya IP Office, one of the most popular SMB/MM UC systems on the market today. Over the past year, we’ve doubled the number of partners who are offering IP Office as a cloud deployment and have now shipped more than half a million systems globally—but this kind of success didn’t come overnight.

We’ve evolved Avaya IP Office a long way over the years, growing the product from something geared towards the SMB space (typically 100 users and below) to something that can scale all the way up to the midmarket, serving up to 3,000 users. Adding this scale to the product was extremely important because as our customers and partners grow, we can now grow right along with them. It also opens up the potential market served by the product.

Evolving with Our Customers and Partners

At Avaya, we have two groups of people to keep happy—our end users and our channel partners—and both want to make long-term investments in a communications solution and trusted business partner. That’s why, instead of concentrating on multiple product lines, we’re focused on continually enhancing Avaya IP Office with new features and capabilities, such as the new release 10, which adds a number benefits for businesses in terms of security, resiliency and end-user experience.

Our partners are happy with this approach because their salespeople now only need to know one single product, making it easier to sell, manage and configure the technology for a wide range of businesses (anywhere from a 10-person to 3,000-person company). And our customers are thrilled because as they expand and evolve, they have a flexible, scalable communications solution that can still meet their every need.

Businesses can even expand the solution into a simple and robust multi-channel call center. With IP Office Contact Center or Avaya Contact Center Select, companies can integrate voice, e-mail, and web chat channels, and proactively manage the entire customer interaction lifecycle. They can start at their own pace with one channel such as voice, for example, and add other channels such as e-mail as business objectives evolve. In June, Avaya also announced a highly affordable, simple-to-deploy workforce optimization solution that enables a wide range of insights into the customer experience, allowing midsize businesses to create the most value through every customer interaction.

Providing Investment Protection

While many businesses are aware of cloud, not everyone wants it right now. Because Avaya IP Office is offered as a cloud, hybrid cloud, or premises based deployment, businesses can move to the cloud at a more measured pace—adding new features and capabilities from the cloud as they become available or needed, and leveraging the investment they have in a premises deployment.

For instance, a business could start with an IP Office solution today on premises, and then migrate to cloud or hybrid cloud in a year or even five years from now—and all the features and training they’ve given to employees will stay exactly the same because the end-user experience will be the same.

Providing further investment protection, Avaya even allows customers running on old Nortel technology to seamlessly move their user licenses to IP Office at minimal cost.

A Relentless Focus on Quality

Doubling down in one product area has also allowed Avaya to put a premium on quality. Today, Avaya’s Net Promoter Score (NPS)—a measure of the willingness of a customer to recommend a company’s products or services to others—hovers around 58, which is considered excellent in almost any industry. The Net Promoter Score for IP Office has been over 70 for the last several quarters.

This sky-high NPS is all the more impressive when you consider Avaya IP Office is for small 10-user customers and larger 3,000-user customers. This ability to meet high- and low-end needs is pretty unique in the industry, and is only achievable because of the company’s relentless focus on quality and features.

Always striving to understand the needs of our customers, we’re constantly adding new enhancements to IP Office. Leveraging much of the knowledge and experience we learned at the enterprise-level with Avaya Aura, we continue to add usability and resiliency to IP Office. In fact, the latest version of the platform features built-in signaling and media encryption for endpoints and UC clients, helping preserve privacy and data integrity. This increase in security is especially significant to the midmarket, where the number of attacks reported by midsize companies increased 64% between 2013 and 2014, according to the 2015 global survey report.

Beyond other pure cloud deployments, the latest version of IP Office also takes a unique approach to resilience, providing system failover cloud to cloud, cloud to premises, premises to cloud, and premises to premises, keeping your system active and users connected through any outage.

Moving forward, we’ll continue to add enhancements to Avaya IP Office, relentlessly driving quality and features for our growing list of customers and partners.

Heads in the Cloud: Digital Natives and Unified Communications

Millennial—a four-syllable word that may as well be a four-letter one. Millennials are polarizing, and everyone seems to have an opinion about Gen Y, especially when it comes to the workplace.

For many 20- and 30-somethings in the workforce, an unfortunate reality is a stigma around their generation—a disdain for their unwillingness to cope with the status quo of conventional workplace policies. But with that comes the realization that the guard has changed, and they now make up a majority of the workforce, driving the future of their chosen industries.

Young workers are driving a paradigm shift in the working world, putting a greater emphasis on work-life balance and striving for career advancement, with an unprecedented willingness to jump ship from a current position to find something that better suits their needs and goals. Companies need to be able to court and retain the best of the digital native generation, making adjustments to suit the employees of the future.

As a proud member of Gen Y, I can say that the technology and services available in the workplace are some of the most important factors to me, and I’m not alone. I’m part of a contingent of employees that have more than just our heads in the cloud and having access to our work anywhere and everywhere is vital. In a survey conducted by, 84% of Gen Y-ers polled said they would prefer to work remotely full time. While that may not be realistic in every situation, there’s no doubt that the workplace is becoming more mobile, and productivity is not limited to a desk in an office building. Cloud-enabled unified communications and collaboration tools are the new wave, and something that Avaya excels at.

It’s for this reason that I’m happy—even proud—to work for Avaya. They see the way technology in the workplace is moving, and continue to make it easier for companies to go through digital transformations, moving smoothly into the future. And I, like many Avayans, can speak to the quality of our products and solutions first hand.

I use Avaya solutions just about every day of my life to collaborate and get my work done, from wherever and whenever I need to. I’m still amazed at how fluidly and effortlessly I can communicate with colleagues from around the world, from any device. While it’s nice to disconnect from the working world temporarily, it’s also immensely comforting to know that through Avaya technology, I can be face to face with anyone I need to talk to in a matter of minutes.

Effective communication is important in our mobile world. My generation of digital natives comes predisposed to being connected with one another effortlessly and near constantly. Having the right unified communications technology in place to facilitate fully formed and engaging collaboration experiences is vital, and something that Avaya can do for a business of any size in any industry.

This generation of employees does not want work to be easy; rather we want it to be easier to get work done. Having technology in place that allows people to maintain flexibility in their lives while still producing quality work is a necessary step for any business that wants to retain young talent and maximize results.

Avaya and IAUG: Coming Together for a Better User Group Experience

Marilyn ShuckMarilyn Shuck serves as a Director on the IAUG Board, president of the Puget Sound Avaya Users Group, and as a UC Engineer at the University of Washington.



The combination of the Avaya Technology Forum (ATF) and the International Avaya Users Group (IAUG) flagship event, Avaya ENGAGE, is generating a lot of buzz. As IAUG members, it’s exciting for us because we’ll be there as Avaya is announcing new products and have better access to Avaya. We’re also looking forward to bringing in more technical expertise, session choice, and potential new members to IAUG.

In the past, ATF was held in February or March, and Avaya ENGAGE was in June. By the time we assembled for Avaya ENGAGE, new product lines would have been out for several months. Now, we’ll get to hear the latest announcements. Since we’re partnering with Avaya, we’ll have much more access to them, getting our questions answered, getting trained, and seeing the new products in action.

We’re also able to offer so many more sessions, some with more technical expertise. ATF has historically been a technical conference, and our IAUG attendees will have a choice of breakout sessions that will add a new dimension to the education they’ll already be receiving.

It also makes sense to hold both of these events under one umbrella. There’s some overlap between ATF attendees and Avaya ENGAGE attendees, and in organizations where travel budgets are tight or where the same person is a technical support specialist and a user, you no longer have to choose which event to attend.

Additionally, we’re excited about the possibility of introducing new members to IAUG. Some ATF attendees may not have known about our existence, but now not only will they have the chance to learn more about us but they can network with us. We can continue to share learning opportunities and even bring a whole new quality of technical users to IAUG.

Make no mistake, the foundation of the event has not changed. This is still planned with the Avaya customer in mind. However, it signals our deepening relationship by aligning all customer events.

This is going to be one of those cases where what happens in Las Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. Avaya and IAUG are aligning, and it’s going to provide valuable education and opportunities for customers, IAUG members, partners, and Avaya. The benefits of attending will resonate throughout your organization, so plan to join us in February to learn, network, and return full of ways to make the most of your Avaya implementations. You can learn more at