New Age, New Requirements, More Innovation: Three Ways to Keep Up (Part 3)

The 2016 Rio Olympics may be over, but the excitement is still palpable. As I watched the performances from some of today’s most gifted athletes, I couldn’t help but think about this blog series on business innovation and the need to push further.

Think about it: U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, yet she succeeded in smashing even her own world record in the 400m freestyle competition. Meanwhile, Simone Biles—the most decorated female gymnast in World Championships history—has a floor move named after her called “the Biles.”

My point here is that the very best in the world don’t become so without continually innovating and pushing themselves. In this same vein, businesses today must excel in an environment where not only keeping current but driving innovation is mandatory. In fact, nearly 60% of CIOs surveyed by IDG this year said that innovation is a top business mandate. If you take away only one key point from this series, I hope it’s related to this need to continually innovate within your business.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series outlined how companies can evolve their contact centers and networking strategies to keep up with today’s rapid pace of innovation. But these are only two parts of a massive puzzle that companies must piece together.

As I mentioned earlier, it feels near impossible to cover everything that has changed within the last 25 years in technology and business. What I can tell you is this: the innumerable changes that have happened have led to what we here at Avaya call “digital transformation.”

Digital Transformation: A Mindset Fueled by Technology
Digital transformation is a belief that the greatest innovation is driven through digitization and simplification. By automating information, simplifying processes and connecting more objects through the Internet of Things (IoT), businesses can transform from the inside out.

It’s critical that business leaders understand the importance of reengineering their organizations in this way. Why? Because 75% of CIOs surveyed by Deloitte last year said that digital technologies will significantly impact their business. Because IDG’s survey found that more businesses are scrambling to prioritize budgets as a result of this deep focus on digital transformation. Because research shows that the IoT will consist of more than 34 billion connected devices by 2020.

This digital transformation isn’t just happening at the enterprise level, though. Take a look and you’ll see the changes that are happening all around you. For example, you may notice a smart meter on the side of your neighbor’s house that allows them to view real-time energy usage on their smart device. You may see cars parallel parking themselves on the side of the road. We’re seeing everyday objects, cities, campuses and hospitals becoming Internet-enabled in ways that were incomprehensible decades ago. I even tweeted recently about Wilson Sporting Goods getting in on the action with the “Smart Football,” which will quite possibly change the game of American football.

The Greatest Challenge of Digitization (and How to Overcome It)
Digital transformation opens the door to a smart new world where outcomes and possibilities are constantly being reimagined. At the same time, however, it’s creating more unique, industry-specific needs than ever before. These needs drastically vary and can be challenging to meet.

For example, healthcare organizations need to efficiently connect doctors with care teams via cutting-edge medical devices and communication capabilities. All of this needs to be done while remaining compliant with industry regulations.

On the other hand, financial organizations need to securely deliver anywhere/anytime/any-device account access to customers while ensuring fraud prevention. Meanwhile, educational directors need to deliver a next-generation learning experience as well as a safe campus environment for students. You see where I’m going with this? The list of vertical-specific needs goes on and on.

The problem we’re seeing is that many companies don’t understand that there is no cookie-cutter framework for digitization. Just like every Olympian’s tools and training are different, every company’s digital transformation will look different depending on its vertical-specific needs.

So, in a world where business needs are getting more granular by the minute, how can organizations keep up? How can they stay on top as true innovators and change seekers?

I can’t tell you in good conscience that there’s an end-all solution here, because there’s isn’t. At Avaya, we believe the key to mastering digital transformation begins with the right support. In other words, you need to find the right strategic partner/integrator who will work with you to determine your vertical-specific needs and how you can meet and exceed them. Better yet, find a partner/integrator who can also deliver the solutions you require to quickly adapt to your customers’ needs and capitalize on new opportunities. This way, you can avoid most of the leg work while keeping a leg up on the competition.

Your partner/integrator of choice should have a deep focus on such things as analytics, automation, networking, security and IoT. Above all, seek a partner/integrator that has a solid understanding of and passion for smart vertical solutions.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the possibilities today for businesses are limited only by the imagination. Find a partner/integrator who’s ready to step into your world and come along for the ride.

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Personalizing the CX Requires Blood, Sweat, Time and Passion

Research undeniably proves that personalization is key for delivering amazing customer experiences. (After all, companies can’t provide just one customer experience—rather, they need to provide ongoing experiences that adapt and evolve as technology and customer needs change.) For example, a recent study found that nearly one third of customers desire higher levels of personalization when shopping. At the same time, 96% of businesses believe that personalization is what influences key purchasing decisions and inspires and strengthens customer loyalty. Personalization done right means customers are with you for the long haul.

Customers are hungry for more personalized experiences, and businesses understand the benefits in providing them. So why is it that 20% of companies have no plans to improve their personalization efforts?

As a consumer, I find this sort of inaction unacceptable. As a business leader, I’m perplexed why any company wouldn’t immediately begin to make the shift. The experiences a company offers its customers are its best chance at substantial differentiation. Differentiation means growth. More importantly, differentiation means survival. Organizations need to make customer experiences more personalized, and they have no time to waste. But this isn’t a simple undertaking. Personalization is more than just a buzzword. It’s a mentality, a company culture, a lifetime commitment. Above all, it’s something that’s expected by consumers today and generations to come.

What is a Personalized Customer Experience?

To deliver the personalization that customers desire, businesses must first understand what this really means. Personalization can be summed up into two words: contextual and predictive. Customers must be served in such a way that companies already know who they’re dealing with and how they want to be treated.

Let me give you a personal example to illustrate this. Anyone who knows me knows I love fashion, and I have a favorite retailer. Based on my shopping history and engagement with that brand, the company knows what size I am, what my color palates are, and what styles most appeal to me. They have every piece of relevant information about me to ensure my experiences are contextual and meaningful. So much so that the company can anticipate what products I’d like and dislike. For instance, they know to never suggest to me products from St. John (Vince, on the other hand, I’ll go all out for!).

By having this relevant information at the right time and by leveraging it the right way, companies can quickly create a contextual experience that’s tailored to their customers’ personalities. At the same time, they’ll be able to increase the amount of revenue they generate. In fact, according to the abovementioned study, nearly 60% of customers who have experienced personalization say it’s a notable impact on their purchasing. In my case, this is great for that favorite retailer (and perhaps not so great for my husband!).

The Only Way to Deliver True Personalization: Are You Ready?

The key to delivering this level of personalization is to find the most relevant information about each customer and use it to service them in a way that’s relevant to them.

How can businesses find this relevant information? Think of all of the data that exists about you on the web. Every action and transaction you’ve ever made lives online somewhere as part of your digital footprint. The information is out there. Companies need to be able to mine this information in such a way that it makes the customer feel special and attended to. But this can lead to a big problem: having too much information.

This is where the blood, sweat and tears happen. I wish there was a simple way to resolve this issue, but there isn’t. The only way to effectively work through this is to identify how large your customers’ digital footprints are and sift through that data to find what’s most relevant to them. The goal is to build customer profiles that reflect each individual’s preferences, behaviors and habits. After all, what every customer considers relevant is unique to them as an individual.

The good news is that there are technologies available to help minimize this grueling process. For example:

A customer engagement solution: But not just any solution. You need a platform that is truly multi-touch, enabling you to easily create, innovate, optimize and future-proof customer experiences. You must find a top-shelf platform with a proven ability to generate customer loyalty, retention, and repeat spending at the individual consumer level. Here are a few tips for finding your best solution—invest in a software-based platform that:

  • Supports easy drag-and-drop visual workflow capabilities
  • Supports multiple customer devices and operating systems
  • Identifies and preserves contextual data from every customer touch point to enrich all future interactions

Analytics: Again, not just any solution will do. You need a platform that will provide a powerful, contextual visualization of the customer journey across all touch points, enabling employees to make real-time decisions that will drive positive business outcomes. My tip for finding your best analytics solution: make sure the platform is truly integrated and that there are no silos. This integration enables businesses to flexibly collect, process, and analyze data across all real-time and historical systems to provide rich data visualization. To learn more about the power of a leading analytics solution, I encourage you to read this blog recently written by Avaya’s David Chavez. In it, he brilliantly breaks down how Avaya’s cloud-based analytics software platform, Fanalytics, transforms fan experiences at smart stadiums.

The goal is to know your customers so well that you can anticipate what they’ll want. If customers don’t know what they want, the contextual visualization you’ll have of them will show suggestions to make. As Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Two Things That Must Go Hand in Hand

Leaders in personalization understand the critical role that both technology and personal commitment play in driving success. On one hand, advanced technology helps breakdown silos, streamline the user experience, and personalize the customer’s journey across every touch point in their interaction.

At the same time, the way that companies actually use this information is just as important for coming out on top. We must care about our customers. We must be passionate about helping them. We must be their biggest advocates in order for them to become ours.

At the end of the day, customer experiences will always be human experiences. Personalization isn’t something that can be bought. It’s a belief that’s promoted and enacted organization-wide. Companies that have the right technology, supported by this belief, will go far.

New Age, New Requirements, More Innovation: 3 Ways to Keep Up (Part 1)

When we talk about what has changed within the last 25 years in technology, communications and business, it feels only possible to scratch the surface.

25 years ago, the World Wide Web became publicly available. The first iPhone would be brought to market 16 years later, bringing to extinction dozens of devices that took decades to invent. If you really want to see the stark difference a quarter century can make, take a look at this Radio Shack ad from 1991: portable CD players, PCs, handheld cassette tape recorders … man, those were the days.

Today, we live in a new age filled with new business requirements—the greatest being to effectively keep up with today’s rapid pace of innovation. How rapid? The fact that it took 75 years for the telephone to reach 50 million users and Angry Birds just 35 days should say it all.

The bottom line is that today’s businesses are operating in a more complex and changing environment than ever before. People are interacting with one another in exciting new ways. New platforms are being created every day for customers to uniquely engage with the brands they love. Regardless of what industry you operate in, I can tell you right now that it has changed—and your company needs to substantially change if it wants to keep up.

So, where do you start? This series will explore three distinct ways that business is evolving in this new age of innovation and how leaders can stay ahead of the curve. Let’s start with what many businesses consider the beating heart of their CX strategy: the contact center.

The Call Center vs. The Contact Center

96% of businesses surveyed last year by Deloitte are expecting call center growth within the next two years in order to support new CX demands. At the same time, 85% view CX provided through the contact center as a competitive differentiator.

Customers today have greater autonomy and higher expectations than ever regarding their service experience. To keep up with these demands, we’ve been seeing call centers across the globe evolving into more comprehensive contact centers. The former depends on a single channel of communication to service customers: audio. In this environment, customers are required to dial an 800 number and navigate through an IVR. Usually they are transferred among multiple service reps and must repeat specific information or re-explain their inquiry or issue.

The latter offers customers a more 360-degree service approach, which promotes a multi-channel environment. In this environment, it’s not uncommon for a customer interaction to begin in one place and end in another. For example, a customer interaction may begin with a Web interface and elevate to live chat and then elevate to a live agent if the problem hasn’t been resolved. This can be taken even further by moving the interaction from a live agent to a co-browsing experience, where subject matter experts can show customers in a more interactive way how to handle problems or answer questions. Finally, this can elevate to a one- or two-way video conferencing experience, similar to what Amazon’s Kindle Fire “Mayday” button is intended for.

With the rapid adoption of advanced channels like video, chat and mobile, it’s not surprising that 72% of businesses plan to transform their call centers into new contact centers within the next two years.

The Key to Mastering New CX Demands

Leading technology will give you the contact center of your dreams, but the whistles and bells alone won’t get you anywhere. Winning companies understand the need to pair their technology with personal best practices in order to keep the customer experience contextual, relevant and consistent. In fact, 96% of business leaders believe that personalization is key for increasing revenue flow and improving long-term customer relationships.

So, what do we mean by “contextual information?” Imagine Rob has been visiting Tesla’s website contemplating investing in either a new Model S or Model X. In the past, he’s engaged in live chat (interacting with artificial intelligence) and has asked a few questions. Finally, he one day requests to be transferred to a live agent for further assistance.

At this stage, Tesla should have every piece of relevant, meaningful information about Rob in order to provide him with the most contextual and personalized experience possible. Once Rob is transferred the agent can say, “I noticed you’ve been hopping between the S and X models. Which one are you leaning towards?” If for any reason Rob needs to be transferred, the next agent he speaks with should pick up right where he and the last agent left off. This kind of engagement is game-changing.

There’s no doubt that contextual information combined with real-time analytics will drive the customer experience to new levels. Over the last 40 or 50 years, the market has evolved from basic call centers to multi-faceted contact centers that offer full transparency into customers’ preferences, behaviors and habits. Companies must embrace change within the contact center to ensure the heart of their CX strategy is pumping strong.

Coming up: Part 2 of this series explores the evolution of networking. Learn how business leaders can ensure their networking infrastructure—the backbone of their organization—stays up to par.

When Analytics Is the Answer Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Depending upon what you read, who you follow, the Business Intelligence and Analytics (BI&A) market is valued anywhere from $16.9 billion in 2016, to $41.5 billion through 2018, and expected to exceed $60 billion by 2025. It’s a huge, growing, global market fueled by ongoing innovation and seemingly endless opportunity. But why now? Why is the market potential so huge? What is making analytics the new in-crowd?

Analytics as defined by Deloitte Analytics in their report titled The Analytics Advantage: We’re Just Getting Started, is the practice of using data to manage information and performance, and has been around for at least 30 years, guiding cause and effect scenarios in almost every industry, any size business.

Until recently, analytics in business communications has been known as reporting. It has been buried in individual communications applications throughout the enterprise. To find out how successful an outbound dialing campaign was, run an outbound dialing report. To determine how many customers opt out of the IVR after 6 p.m. on a weekday, run an IVR report. To determine the quality of all the video conference calls employees hosted last month, run a video report. To determine any security issues in the network, run a report. All of these various reports are separate and typically require different skillsets to run them.

While these reports are full of all the intelligence ever needed about that one specific application, if you want a view of what happened across an entire omnichannel, multitouch journey (voice, self-service IVR, social, email, SMS, online, in-store) during a specific time period, someone will have to manually source, compile and sort all of that data for each separate touch point first. In other words, if you need the information on Tuesday, it will not be compiled, analyzed and put into a consumable format until Friday at best; most likely it will be Monday evening. And this is 2016.

As recently as last year, investing in the right analytics application finally became a priority for any size business, not a nice-to-have. In fact, Gartner reports that by 2018 more than half of large organizations globally will compete based on advanced analytics and proprietary algorithms. By 2020 predictive and prescriptive analytics will attract 40% of enterprises’ net new investments in business intelligence and analytics. Yet, only 50% of the chief analytics officers will have gotten it right.

Meaning, the rush to deploy analytics is overshadowing having a clear understanding of exactly what the business wants to accomplish with analytics. First understanding what the business is trying to accomplish determines which vendor and which analytics application are best needed to meet the objectives.

In my experience, most businesses that are making analytics an urgent investment are doing so because they want to be better positioned to (1) compete more successfully and (2) grow their business to increase revenue potential. In manufacturing for example, analytics becomes an urgent investment when companies need to analyze their processes and operations. Process data is not just for tracking purposes, it’s also for improving operations. When operations can be improved upon, business can improve.

In business communications, we look at two distinct groups: internal employees and external customers/partners. The first question analytics helps us address is: Are these groups getting what they want when they want it? The second question is if they are not getting what they want, when they want it, how can we fix it?

When they are getting what they want when they want it, then internally individual and team productivity should be up, processes and operations should be streaming along and efficient. Overall company performance should be at its peak. Externally, customers/partners should be happy and loyal. It’s about the experience—employee experience and customer/partner experience—people have when they interact with the company. It really is that simple. But getting there is not so simple, which is why analytics is needed.

Ironically the need for analytics is more visible in established companies. Companies that are established have typically passed the hurdles that most start-ups face: running out of funding, being squeezed out of the market by the competition, disappearing signs of growth, unable to pivot for survival in an unstable economy, etc. An established company can be a couple years new or 100 years old. Established companies typically have an enterprise infrastructure that has evolved over time into a complex system of un-integrated silos of solutions. Some of the solutions have been consistently upgraded while others have been barely maintained, yet others have been completely abandoned and need to have all the data migrated to somewhere accessible. Most established companies need to undergo a full transformation to be current and enable the company to utilize analytics effectively in order to compete.

Digitization of the Enterprise and Analytics

One of the most talked about transformations today, is digital transformation. With the digitization of the enterprise, the expectation and realization is that everything can be integrated and made to run faster and more efficiently. Once the enterprise is digitized, there is no longer a need to have separate reporting functions for each communication. Those reporting functions buried inside each application will be able to feed the right information and right events into the single, enterprise-wide analytics application. Aristotle said it best, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In our case, the holistic view is considerably more valuable than compiling a bunch of individual reports.

With a single analytics application it becomes much easier to have a single view into the entire journey—of customer data, partner data, employee data, process data, etc., no matter the channel(s), external or internal medium(s), system(s) or platform(s). Rather all data will feed into what’s called a data lake, which aggregates raw data in multiple formats. From the lake, the data then gets sourced into the four analytics buckets: descriptive, diagnostic, predictive and prescriptive insight.

  • Descriptive Analytics uses data aggregation and data mining to answer the question: ‘what has happened?’

  • Diagnostic Analytics is defined as a look at past performance to determine what happened and why. It answers the question: ‘why did it happen?’

  • Predictive Analytics is the ability to look at current trends within the business and project into the future what to expect based on those trends. Or, it can analyze data with a particular goal in mind and provide the probability of attaining that goal under current conditions. It answers the question: ‘what could happen?’

  • Prescriptive Analytics is defined as the ability to advise a variety of future actions and guide the user toward a solution. It answers the question: ‘what’s next and why?’

Each bucket of data can be further sourced to learn the journey and gain insight into how successful was the experience with the business during any event or action. Finally, a single view of everything is possible.

Internet of Things and Analytics

Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be 25 billion Internet-connected things that will produce close to $2 trillion of economic benefit globally. Such a sizeable impact deserves a mention, especially since the value of connecting something to the Internet is to have the data generated by the connected unit consistently analyzed.

From an enterprise perspective, the leading verticals utilizing Internet of Things (IoT) are manufacturing and utilities. In 2015, it was estimated that the manufacturing sector has close to 307 million units considered IoT and the utilities sector had about 300 million IoT units. The retail sector is not far behind.

The IoT is actually the enabler of the Internet of Everything. These are not interchangeable concepts. While the IoT is units connected to the Internet, whether those units are cars, smart meters, or manufacturing sensors, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is the technology connection. The IoE provides the security, software-defined networking, unified communications, analytics, application-aware networking, database federation and mobile experience. The digitization of the enterprise is the foundation for IoE which is why digitization is so important for companies to stay competitive.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

Just as steam and mechanical production changed the world in the First Industry Revolution, then electricity and mass production changed it again in the Second Industrial Revolution, and IT and automated production changed it again in the Third Industrial Revolution, continuing to technologically innovate is again changing the world. As we continue to innovate—continue to improve technology—changing the world becomes not only more noticeable but also more realistic.

When we talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the World Economic Forum describes it as: a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. What we’re talking about is the power of technology to change how we interact with each other, how we interact with objects, how objects interact with each other, how we work, how we play, how we grow as individuals and as a civilization. Answering how is the role of analytics.

The improvements we’re making with technology are very focused on making everything and everyone smarter. To become smarter requires ongoing analysis inside the technology itself and outside the technology constantly examining the environment around it, how we interact with it and react to it.

Why is analytics the new in-crowd? The ability to apply analytics to anything and everything in the enterprise is at the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Analytics is now at a point where it can be the brain of the enterprise which is why it needs to be thought of separately, as its own application. Analytics allows human beings to be smarter, act faster, evolve and grow. Analytics is something that can be controlled to automatically make everything around us better.

Getting there is a journey. Like every journey the outcome is better with a destination in mind—getting stakeholders what they want when they want it. For a number of reasons described above, analytics has a very important role in enabling business to progress, compete and succeed. Whether you are a Bayesian or a connectionist—though both equally important and interesting–what matters most when investing in analytics is first to understand your business, its needs and its challenges.