The Top 7 Communications Trends for 2014

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Each year brings breakthroughs, evolutions and benchmarks in equipping organizations and individuals through technology.

These new developments have implications for IT departments and the broader enterprise, in terms of services the IT department provides, and how those services are acquired and deployed.

Heading into 2014, Avaya has for the fifth time turned to its cadre of leading thinkers for observations on the year ahead in information and communications technology. It has led to these Seven Communications Trends for 2014:

#1: Businesses extend deeper into the cloud

Most early cloud initiatives were tactical, focused on vetting vendor capabilities and testing discrete, non-core processes in the cloud. Now, as more businesses make capital expense (capex) vs. operating expense (opex) spending decisions, organizations that choose the cloud option–whether through a private, public, or hybrid model–will see a shift in how their IT organizations operate. IT functions will focus less on delivery and support of technology and instead spend more time as technology advisers and enablers.

#2: Purse strings could be loosening

Signs of invigorated business spending in 2014 are evident in double-digit capex growth predictions by leading global asset managers. However, many organizations face tough rent vs. own decisions when it comes to IT–especially at companies that have underspent on technology and communications since the recession and desperately need to catch up. Deciding whether to build and own IT solutions themselves or migrate to opex solutions from service providers, often involving cloud options, could prove perplexing.

#3: Another major shift in IT focus – from products and services to outcomes

The expectation among internal customers is for IT to deliver outcomes rather than products and services. For example, instead of being asked to deploy an interactive voice response system, IT’s charge might be to help increase call containment rates or reduce agent expense across call centers. This shift in emphasis will create new demands on both IT organizations in terms of business knowledge and consulting skills, as well as the service providers they rely on.

#4: Crowdsourcing emerges in the support services setting

Businesses are discovering that customers are demanding a more robust support experience in general, and not just function- or product-specific support – all support. Going forward, companies that provide a community structure in which customers and company employees, especially subject matter experts, can more easily comingle will have a unique opportunity to create a more fulfilling support experience. Using group problem-solving and reward tools like gamification, as well as sophisticated performance tracking and analytics tools, forward-looking companies will supercharge these highly interactive support environments.

#5: The midmarket will expect different treatment

New technologies are powerful drivers of middle market empowerment. Midmarket leaders are no longer satisfied with solutions that are scaled down versions of larger systems. Instead, they want solutions designed to meet their specific business needs, as well as the ability of their IT people to manage them. Support excellence will increasingly mean providing the right information in a tempo and volume that a smaller operation can handle, along with the tools needed to put that information to use.

#6: Multimodal communications support reaches a tipping point

Businesses everywhere are experimenting with different communication modes for customer support. For example, Avaya Global Support Services has significantly shortened issue resolution times by escalating up and down in various modes – voice alone is often inadequate; voice-plus-web is only marginally better; so voice-plus-web-plus-chat-plus-video can put customers and support resources on the same page.

However, businesses deploying multiple modes will need to monitor and measure customer experience to determine when switching across modes becomes frustrating for customers – recent research indicates customer effort is becoming as important as customer satisfaction. With this realization, companies will seek help to orchestrate their different modes and to coordinate contextual information and analytics capabilities so they can monitor and measure customer effort.

#7: The people you need when you need them

Vendors are continuously creating new applications, some of which are transforming how organizations deploy and capitalize on technology. While this innovation can help boost business growth and improve efficiency, new solutions can further burden IT organizations that are already being compelled to handle growing service demand with shrinking staff resources.

New applications and business-consulting demands may also require skill sets beyond those of existing staff. This imbalance between requirements and resources could prompt organizations to explore staff augmentation options beyond the typical “manage my switch” arrangements. They will also seek help from technology management tools that smoothly integrate into their existing operations.

Thanks to this year’s trend spotters for helping pull together another year of guidance.
• Mike Runda senior vice president and president, Avaya Client Services
• Linda Hartig vice president, Avaya Global Support Services
• Ed Nalbandian vice president, Avaya Operations Services
• Mark Baines managing director Global Strategic Consulting, Avaya Professional Services
• Todd Ronnau senior product manager, Avaya Operations Services

What do you see as the top trend that affects IT services in 2014?

Follow me on Twitter at @Pat_Patterson_V

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We all know that to drive competitiveness, you must shift customer experience—and that this is now more important than ever. But shift to what? How? When? I hear these questions all the time when meeting with customers in our Executive Briefing Centers, and at tradeshows and conferences. The industry is rallying around terms like “omnichannel,” “cloud,” and “analytics,” but the contact center is not a one-size-fits-all entity. You can’t instantly accomplish a great shift for your business simply by buying omnichannel for your contact center. Rather, it’s a delicate process that requires you to refresh and integrate systems together.

How to Shift Customer Experience

As executives and leaders in customer experience, we must be ready to make changes that can shift a contact center to deliver a better customer experience. Here are five things that Avaya recommends you do in 2018. These may seem obvious, but collectively they can yield true lifetime value results from customers:

  1. Understand Your Customer Journeys
    Rather than looking at countless different, individual interactions, choose to put your customer on a journey, one that rarely starts and stops with just one contact. Take an outside-in view by identifying several important customer journeys and customer preferences. Or, consider low CX scores that can be improved either through self-service assistance or by linking channels together with context (this helps to understand where the customer has been before).
  2. Listen to Your Feet on the Street
    While your customers’ feedback is essential, it is your frontline staff who will give you direct pointers. These individuals understand the necessary tools and training for reaching new levels of customer experience. Consider, for example, that 84% of global contact centers are adapting to meet the needs of next-gen millennial workers. Give your agents a sense of ownership and they will tell you where they can personalize and engage with customers on a greater level. Your agents could potentially sell more when they’re able to make customers feel great about their overall experience. The key is to arm agents with the right information on their desktops.
  3. Support Advanced Automation and Analytics
    According to Gartner, more than 50% of CIOs will have artificial intelligence as one of their top five investment priorities by 2020. AI will assist greatly in understanding the customer journey: augmented reality and bots can automate more processes over human-to-human interactions. Keep in mind, however, that humans are still needed. It’s just that advanced automation and analytics, when put in the right place, can lead to richer and more effective experiences between customers and representatives.
  4. Break Internal Silos
    Creating an orchestrated experience requires executives to look as a team at organizational processes. Take charge as the person who identifies and leads change across your entire organization. Departments working in silos—sales, marketing, service—all stop short when processes are not stitched together. Also keep in mind that your CRM systems and contact center processes must complement one another. They need to come together to drive better customer and business outcomes.
  5. Bridge The Gaps
    Now comes the fun stuff: ownership, budget and getting a project underway. This can be done either by way of proof of concept, or segmenting a certain group of interactions to begin changing processes. Take note of the before and after, and check-in with your customers on improvements (consider surveys or one-to-one outreach). Assess if there are new roles or skillsets needed to keep up with the change. Take it one step at a time and prove a return on investment against identified use cases before moving on.

You need to make a shift happen in 2018 to continually innovate customer experience and improve lifetime value. It will require some research and a few bold moves. I promise it will be a rewarding process if it is inclusive of input and bridges critical gaps.

So, where do you start? I encourage you to talk to Avaya about an assessment or visit one of our Executive Briefing Center sites. From initial strategizing to execution, Avaya can help you develop a solid customer experience plan that yields true lifetime value—we can even model a potential ROI or CLV based on your own estimates. Contact Avaya to learn more.

Avaya A.I.Connect Focuses on Improving Companies’ Customer Experiences

For Avaya, AI is all about people. Sure, there are clearly opportunities to increase automation, to provide higher quality, more natural, more life-like conversational self-service solutions for automated IVR, text, and chat interactions. But in all these cases, there is still a person at one end of the interaction—the end customer. At Avaya, our A.I.Connect initiative focuses on using AI and machine learning technologies to enable our customers to deliver more engaging experiences for their end customers.

The Evolution of AI

The term artificial intelligence dates back to 1956 as an academic discipline, born out of a workshop at Dartmouth College by leading researchers in the computer science field. AI’s success has come in fits and starts, with overblown expectations and not a small bit of fear—it’s been predicted that AI-enabled systems and machines will somehow impinge upon the place of human beings in the global pecking order. But interest in AI (and its associated results) is stronger than ever, poised perhaps to deliver upon an almost 70-year-old hypothesis that machines can be smarter than people. But no, we aren’t welcoming our new robotic overlords. At least not yet.

Keeping People in the Center of Our AI Story

Bringing AI capabilities to the table ultimately centers on increasing the positive nature of the customer’s experience. And doing so in the most innocuous, unobtrusive, comforting and, dare I say, enjoyable ways possible.

End customers aren’t the only ones who benefit from a little artificial intelligence boost. AI’s benefits extend to contact center agents and supervisors, making them more capable of meeting customer needs. AI provides capabilities for customer insight and an almost prescient ability for agents to have the right information at their fingertips (and get it to the end customer) just when it can have the most positive impact towards a successful outcome.

Our Key Focus Areas for AI Enablement

Companies are applying AI capabilities in a dizzying number of ways. While consumers may be familiar with automated back-and-forth interactions to select music, play games, order and re-order supplies, or simply update their family calendars, AI in the enterprise is stretching more broadly and deeply.

Within the scope of customer experience, Avaya’s AI strategy takes a more holistic view of the customer journey, creating a feedback loop from first contact through subsequent interactions across any and all channels, to continuously improve the key metrics for customer satisfaction. And through analytics, to feed the outcomes of the customer journey back into the AI engines so that smart technology can grow even smarter for the next iteration of contact by the customer.

As we apply AI to the contact center, we’re focusing on how it intersects with key areas, including:

  • Effortless Self-Service, including adoption through conversational interfaces, and extending Bot-based interaction capabilities.
  • Smart Routing, using Big Data and interaction history, as well as customer sentiment and other analytical/statistical measures, to provide pinpoint customer routing strategies.
  • Agent Augmentation, to drive upsell/retention opportunities through proactive guidance and next-best-action suggestions consistently across voice, video, chat, email and messaging channels.
  • Interaction Insights, using trend spotting and sentiment analysis among other techniques to allow enterprises to elevate offerings and enhance business processes with improved best practices and voice-of-customer analytics.
  • Enhanced Workforce Optimization, automating and improving QA and discovery of best practice models with the assistance of AI, as well as improving resource scheduling by predicting volumes and absentee rates within the enterprise

Introducing A.I.Connect, our Ecosystem of Partners

There’s an adage that says “to be a great leader, surround yourself with people smarter than you.” And that is exactly what we are doing with the launch of A.I.Connect.

A.I.Connect represents our partner ecosystem for delivering AI-enabled experiences joined to Avaya’s team and customer engagement solutions. Drawing upon top-notch AI-enabled technologies, integrators, and capabilities from companies like Afiniti, ArrowSI, Cogito, EXP360, Nuance, ScoreData and Sundown.ai, as well as others to be made public in the coming weeks, we aim to build an ecosystem that delivers exceptional experiences across the entire customer journey, from first contact to improving every subsequent interaction for the lifetime of that customer relationship. 

Avaya at GITEX 2017: Moving to a True Omnichannel Customer Experience

As all too many companies have discovered, increasing customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy is easier said than done. And when you fall short, customers have a lot of channels where they can complain—or worse. Avaya’s recent Customer Experience in Banking survey shows that approximately 38% of consumers would change their bank as a result of poor customer service. One in three would make it a point to share their bad customer service experiences with friends and acquaintances, with nearly 16% voicing those frustrations on social media platforms. Visit Avaya at GITEX 2017, where we’ll show you how to manage, leverage, and thrive in all of the contact channels your customers are using today.  Avaya will be at Stand Z-C20 in Za’abeel Hall, Dubai World Trade Center, October 8-12.

Supporting an Omnichannel Experience

Companies are competing in an era of countless customer touch points. They’re tasked with matching a rapid pace of innovation and anticipating customers’ evolving needs. This has made the concept of an omnichannel customer experience integral for success.

Research shows, however, that companies across the board are still struggling to get omnichannel right. Again, according to Avaya’s Customer Experience in Banking survey, getting the same level of experience and service regardless of how they choose to contact their bank was cited as a top-three priority for consumers in nearly every market surveyed. The insight here is that customers want to see “one bank,” and banks need to see “one customer” regardless of the channels through which they communicate. However, one 2017 study of the retail industry found that 44% of companies struggle to provide a seamless, omnichannel customer experience. In industries like finance and utilities, this number can be as high as 90%.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence

Fortunately, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics are at the forefront of reshaping customer experience design. These technologies ultimately help customers do what they want to do as fast and effectively as possible. By deploying AI chatbots and using AI to automate and enhance typical processes that customers would undertake, businesses can respond to their customers faster and reduce waiting times for key services.

The use of advanced analytics—enabled by AI—can also provide businesses with deeper analysis of customer interactions by bringing together relevant data previously siloed across SMS, web chat conversations, social media platforms, phone calls, and video interactions.

Consumers today expect nothing short of a highly-sophisticated customer experience. Bold technologies within an increasingly digital economy have thrust enterprises into a world of limitless capabilities—and that world is just getting started.