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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In less than two weeks, we are hosting Experience Avaya Asia-Pacific in Singapore, a city that ranks alongside the likes of Dubai and New York as a global business hub. As I get ready for this event, those two cities are very much top of mind for me right now—and it’s because of blockchain.

By now, just about everybody is aware of blockchain, which likely originated in the Asia-Pacific region, as part of the development of bitcoin. While bitcoin today seems to have gone through its bubble moment, blockchain is definitely here to stay.

Invented to serve one purpose, we’ve only just started figuring out what blockchain can do. In my world of technology and customer service, we would say we are developing “use cases.” Our job is to figure out how technologies can be used to solve a business problem, a social challenge and so on.

The inspiration to develop use cases can’t come from a single source—ideas come from everyone and everywhere. We have a team that picks up on those ideas and plays around with technology, putting the pieces together to create use cases to solve problems that are brought to us by our ecosystem or the customers we serve.

Our Winning Blockchain Use Case: Avaya Happiness Index

Inspired by the Dubai government’s drive to improve the citizen experience—and make it literally a happier place to be—our team, with our partners, looked at how blockchain can help track sentiment and enable organizations to respond more quickly to user trends.

We showed the Avaya Happiness Index on Blockchain to the world at GITEX in Dubai last year—and it was a huge hit. While plenty of companies are keen to use the word “blockchain” we didn’t present a concept, we delivered a blockchain use case. Real-time sentiment analysis may seem a very long way away from cryptocurrency, but we’ve demonstrated how this technology can enhance the citizen/customer experience. The value of bitcoin may rise and fall according to market demand, but the ability to make people happier? That is priceless.

I’m proud to say that the Avaya Happiness Index on Blockchain was a Gold winner for innovation at the world-renowned Edison Awards in New York this week, a milestone achievement for the Avaya team, and for our partners, Avanza Innovations and Sundown.ai. By combining our efforts we’ve created something of real value—a concept we call value co-creation.

When I meet with customers in Singapore this month, I will talk more about value co-creation. In today’s fast-moving digital world, it is no longer viable for technology companies like ours to create products and solutions and just push them out to market. Real value doesn’t come from a packaged solution; it comes from stakeholders working together and combining to create better outcomes. Avaya realized this several years ago, and we opened our platforms to make it easier and faster for customers, partners and suppliers to work with us. The end goal is to share the value creation process across our digital ecosystem so that the end result is magnified for all.

For me, it doesn’t matter so much who originated a technology. What matters is what we can do with it. The Avaya Happiness Index isn’t just a blockchain use case—it’s a proof point of Avaya’s business approach and cultural belief.

I’m looking forward to Experience Avaya Asia-Pacific in Singapore because I know that plenty of you share our belief. This event will give us the opportunity to come together and lay the groundwork for future collaboration. I can’t say where that will take us but maybe, it might just take some of us to New York next year for the Edison Awards 2019!

Please don’t feel you have to wait until we host an event near you. If you have an idea you want to discuss, please share it with me, or your local Avaya contact.

Five Things You Must Do to Shift Customer Experience in 2018

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.