Look In the Mirror: Do You See Your Customer?

In my recent travels, I was having dinner with a client and experienced an epiphany: Many businesses may be turning customers away and not even know it.

The client I was dining with is a contact center executive at a consumer products company in an emerging market. He lamented the fact that his customers won’t use alternate support channels like email, chat and SMS, much less video. He said they still prefer voice calls.

Yet as we ate dinner, he kept pulling out his smartphone to check emails and exchange texts with employees, vendors and customers. It was clear that both he and they were very comfortable using those alternate channels.

Hmmm… the proverbial light bulb went on.

It made me wonder: How many companies could be missing some percentage of revenue growth–or at least opportunities to improve customer experience–because they underestimate their customers?

Related article: The High Cost of Customer Inconvenience: Gradual (Then Sudden) Failure

Clearly, adoption of consumer technologies such as smartphones and tablets lags today in some emerging markets simply due to cost. But that’s changing rapidly. Think about the opportunity it represents.

Technology adoption will accelerate quickly in emerging markets as purchasing power there expands. It’s already happened in the BRIC countries–Brazil, Russia, India and China. And a new wave of emerging markets is cropping up across Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

How can your company take advantage of the opportunity this represents?

Take a look backward

If you haven’t already, map the journey of your typical customers from end to end. Take an outside-in look at your contact center operations and learn what your customers want from you and how they expect to get it. Then dig deeper into the data and make sure you pinpoint where they are happiest with their interactions and where you can improve.

Put together a playbook

If your company or your competition has advanced contact center operations in established markets, go back and document how and when they introduced new channels. What worked and didn’t work? Which channels were introduced because of customer demand, and what trigger points made the business case to invest in each channel? Be very specific about those triggers so you can recognize them next time.

Be ready

With those new insights, you’re now ready to look at emerging or underdeveloped markets. Assess the opportunities there, and if conditions aren’t favorable, repeat the assessments in a few months. When “the stars align” according to your playbook, pull the trigger. Chances are, you’ll be ahead of your competitors and first to market with something new that customers will value.

If you think outside the contact center and look at your business the way your customers do, you may have an epiphany too–and many great opportunities along with it. Let me know when you do.

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Innovation that Accounts for Increased Mobility

Today Avaya announced Avaya Mobile Experience, an innovative offer initially targeted at enterprise contact centers to help them expand the range of digital interactions for their customers, as well as to accelerate the velocity of their digital transformation. Personally, it is a special day for me as I’ve been driving towards this vision and offer for more than a couple of years. There is a strong development-minded and innovation-oriented team at Avaya delivering this new offer to the market.

With the Avaya Mobile Experience, we pose the question: Is there a way for enterprises to take advantage of the rising number of mobile phones—many of which are smart phones—being used to call into contact centers today, that creates a better experience for the customer and greater cost efficiencies for the enterprise?  The answer is a resounding, YES! And here’s how.

Unlike products Avaya has introduced into the marketplace such as Contact Center Elite or Avaya Aura Contact Center, Avaya Mobile Experience is different. It is different because it is not a product, rather it is a service.  The service is rendered from software that sits on the newly created Avaya Cellular Business Network . There are three main elements to this service:

  • Carrier-scale Mobile Core
  • Pay-as-you-go Mobile Network
  • Software assets that sit atop the mobile network

Given Avaya’s leadership and legacy in enterprise communications, we found a willing and energetic mobile partner. We partnered to source a carrier-scale Mobile Core and the pay-as-you-go Mobile Network. The Mobile Experience software that then sits atop the network was created in-house by Avaya. All together, these elements make up the Avaya Cellular Business Network.

How Does Avaya Mobile Experience work?

This pay-per-consumption service starts by first identifying whether a call destined for a number owned by the subscribing enterprise originated from a wireless network or not.

If it is from a wireline network—a landline phone—then it is treated like an ordinary inbound call attempt. However if the call is recognized by the Avaya Cellular Business Network to be from a cellular network, then we can provide special treatment and add contextual information about the call as pre-programmed by the enterprise.

An example of a special treatment the enterprise might offer is the ability to automatically move the mobile callers to a lower cost, more fit for purpose digital channel.  In this case the caller would be asked if they would like a smart phone web or app experience. If the answer is yes, then the caller will be sent a personalized (text) message containing a link to an app or webpage for them to click on and access the information they are calling about. At this point, with the customer now connected to the business via self-service text and web channels, the voice portion of the call terminates automatically. What would have been an expensive voice self-service interaction will be an inexpensive and more satisfying digital self-service interaction with Avaya Mobile Experience. This advances that enterprise’s digital transformation adoption.

If in the course of the digital interaction, the caller still wants to interact with a real person, then the web or app can escalate to real-time media be it voice, video, or screen share (or even co-browse with an agent) giving the customer a mobile, omnichannel experience.

Added Context for Better Customer Experiences

Likewise, when the mobile caller does not want to use the mobile web or an app, then they may be offered a segmentation menu via voice recognition. After selection, the caller will be routed to the contact center via a SIP trunk. However, unlike traditional carrier SIP services, with Avaya Mobile Experience the routing of the mobile customer will include added context that is encapsulated in a special SIP method, known as a MIME attachment.

Additionally by interacting with the cellular network the caller is using, Avaya Mobile Experience verifies the authenticity of the phone’s number and knows about the phone’s home geography. This increases the fidelity of that context. Geographic routes are more effective from the core as a result. Also caller-ID is far less likely to be spoofed. These benefits extend to contact centers universally irrespective of vendor technology.

The added context of the MIME attachment helps the contact center better service the customer. There is no restriction of how the context is consumed. The MIME attachment can be consumed by an SBC or SIP router and then used to influence CTI methods to add context to the call. A modern Avaya Contact Center, for example, might use a Breeze Snap-in for such a purpose.

The net effect is that the contact center can now better service the mobile caller. It helps propel the digital transformation of the contact center and the enterprise. Avaya already has many patents pending for this innovation, and the approach allows us to apply methods for other scenarios that will also reduce friction between the customer and businesses serving them.

Wait! There’s More!

We are also announcing an Identity as a Service solution. This service helps solve the ever-growing problem of ensuring that the person on the other end of the connection is exactly who you need them to be.

As with Avaya Mobile Experience, Identity as a Service also has a no friction adoption method that means consumption billing for what is used, no long term commitments, and a very easy and compelling pricing structure.   And we have other ideas that expand into the Unified Communication space and even payment facilitation. Whenever you wonder whether it truly is a new day at the newly public Avaya, just check out our innovations. We are here to reduce the friction of innovation and transformation.

Different Preferences, Same Expectations: Can Your CX Platform Handle it All?

When was the last time you as a customer used live chat to interact with a brand? How about a self-service option like IVR? Have you ever received an automated message with a discount, or perhaps an appointment reminder? Chances are, you’ve engaged in at least one of these forms of service at some point. In fact, I’m willing to bet you frequently use them. I do, too. That’s because we now live in a world where our first level of interaction is usually some sort of automation. This has thrown a wrench into the standard CX platform.

These service examples are just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of today, more than 3 million people will have chatted with Amazon Echo’s AI assistant, Alexa. Over 70 million people will have enjoyed listening to Spotify’s automated “Discover Weekly” playlist. U.S. sales of Google Home smart speakers increased by 40% in Q3 2017 alone, reaching 7 million units. In a very short amount of time, automation has evolved from static and human-operated to dynamic and autonomously learning.

Because of this growth, automation is now everywhere we are and in everything we do. It is proven to transform experiences and enhance the outcome of nearly every customer interaction. The ROI is there, too. For example, research has found that after customers start using Echo, their spending increases by 10%. Bottom line: businesses should be aggressively working to embed automation into their existing IT ecosystems.

But what about your traditional customers? Like I mentioned above, our first level of interaction is usually some sort of automation. Not always.

This makes me think of my father. He’s your typical 85-year-old customer who will never consume digital services. His modality of communication will always be voice, and that’s perfectly fine. But he still expects a personalized, end-to-end experience. For example, if he calls his healthcare provider with a question, he expects the organization to know who he is and to have his health records pulled up prior to that first “hello.”

And this brings us to an important point: it doesn’t matter how services are consumed, the experience must be the same. So, how can companies meet expectations across the board? First, they must gain an inherent understanding of each customer’s individual journey, whatever that looks like. Then they need to build technology that adapts to that. Let’s dig into this…

Context: The Crux of Next-Gen CX

When I say, “gain an inherent understanding of each customer’s individual journey,” what I really mean is gain a context-driven understanding. After all, every experience will differ depending on the circumstance. Here are two examples to show you what I mean:

  • A customer (let’s call her Becky) is in the car driving to JFK airport. She called your contact center about an hour ago and requested through IVR to be put into your automated callback system. Her place has been reached in the queue and now it’s time to reach out. However, your system shows she’s currently driving 70 mph on I-95 south. So, although she normally prefers video chat, you choose to connect via a traditional voice call instead.
  • Becky later vents on Twitter about poor service she received from the restaurant in her hotel. With the ability to bring social analytics to the agent desktop, the hotel can have its support team proactively reach out to let her know they noticed her post from five minutes ago expressing dissatisfaction and ask if there’s any way they can help make things right.

A True Next-Gen CX Platform

Regardless of whether customer preferences evolve, your CX platform must in order to drive real-time responsiveness, anticipatory engagement, and intelligent communication at the individual level.

So, what should this next-gen CX platform look like? This isn’t something that can be summed up in a nutshell, but I’ll take a stab: companies need a platform that provides the utmost flexibility for them to bring the right technologies together with the right modality of interactions in an open world (if you have time, I recommend reading this five-part series where I detail the core components of this next-gen platform).

The key here is to be agile and flexible enough to give each individual customer the choice to get what he or she wants, as well as respond to their needs quickly and efficiently. I’d like to focus on two things here:

  • The full integration of UC, contact center, and AI to begin immediately developing features and applications that meet different customer, organizational and vertical needs. Technology has evolved to the point where it no longer takes 10, 12 or 18 months to build a targeted, feature-rich release. A next-gen CX platform offers the necessary levels of agility, flexibility, scale, and openness companies need to very quickly develop these solutions. Or, they can release small footprints of incremental functionality within the platform. Companies can develop at their own paces, depending on their goals.
  • An open data model that rapidly integrates various information sources to present a full visualization of the customer journey. Companies must now bring an immense amount of information together to make smart, real-time decisions (something human beings are incapable of doing). This is where AI, machine learning, and contextual analytics come into play. This is how your contact center will be able to see that Becky tweeted about poor service five minutes ago, and that she engaged in three web chat sessions the week prior. The integration of AI with Becky’s smart vehicle enables you to see statistics like speed and traffic to maximize her service experience. An open data model enables organizations to truly capitalize on big data to make impactful, real-time decisions that transform the individual customer experience.

Note the emphasis on contextual analytics: real-time contextual analytics are needed to continually transform individual experiences as well as handle today’s large volume of different interactions (our Director of Customer and Team Engagement Laura Bassett does a great job breaking down contextual analytics vs. traditional analytics in this blog).

The future of customer experience will be supported by a next-gen digital platform that’s capable of seamlessly converging UC, contact center, and AI. Long gone are the days of proprietary schemes. Long live digital, automated, data-driven experiences!

Using AI in Contact Centers to Create Better Customer Engagement

I’ve been through quite a few technology trends in my career, and to say Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest may be an understatement. If you have customers that are 55 and under you need a customer experience plan to address digital channel preferences and AI in contact centers now, before it’s too late.

Avaya recently announced Avaya Ava™, our cloud AI solution that supports your customers who use social media, chat and messaging channels to engage with you. To address the communication preferences of your customers, Ava interacts with social and messaging platforms by automating digital interactions through chat bot and Natural Language Processing (NLP) with sentiment analysis—in 34 languages! And Ava provides seamless hand off of the customer experience, with full context of the interaction, to an agent when and if one is required.

Why the Time for Avaya Ava is Now

To put things in perspective, if you do a quick search you can find that there are over five billion mobile device users globally, sending 22 billion text messages and over 60 billion social network messages per day. This makes it no surprise that Dimension Data found the 55 and under crowd prefers to engage with organizations through digital channels like social media, mobile applications and web chat. In fact, I’m often hearing stories about someone’s parent or grandparent over 55 who prefers to text rather than talk.

The real question is how do you serve your customers who are living on those mobile devices? The answer: Start with AI.

But why is AI so hot? Why start there? Because it eliminates the need for human interaction by adding intelligent automation? Or maybe it’s the ability to reduce siloed experiences? These are definitely true, but only part of the equation. AI is such a big deal because it also has significant potential to help drive revenue, reduce costs and increase CSAT. Everybody wins! And that is why you see market research predicting a CAGR of nearly 60% in the global AI market by 2025.

AI is Not All the Same—What You Should Look For

With all of the excitement around AI, it’s no doubt there’s a bit of “bandwagon jumping” going on. Imagine that I am a new customer of a large insurance company, and I tweet about frustrations with recent billing issues I am having. This could go one of two ways: Good or BAD.

Let’s say that this insurance company has a bot and social mining that recognized me as a frustrated customer. After an initial exchange with the bot it was determined that a live agent was needed, so after a lengthy hold, a voice connection is established with the agent. But the agent has no context explaining who I am and why we have been connected. How do you think this ends? Likely with a great opportunity for the competition.

Now, let’s look at how this scenario but be improved with a truly intelligent AI solution—one like Avaya Ava. My tweet and frustration sentiment is detected by the AI application and I am recognized as a relatively new customer, so it is known that I am in a critical phase for retention. I receive a response from the company’s bot, who understands who I am. We engage in a “conversation” to gather some additional details and validations for security purposes. Since it is determined that I already have a relationship with Jeff, the representative who set my account up, the bot sends me a link that connects me directly to Jeff. Jeff has all my information—the complete context of my interaction—and my billing issue is resolved in a matter of minutes. Happy customer! Retained customer!

This not-uncommon scenario highlights the need for a truly valuable AI solution—one that has the potential of delivering the business results you need—to meet a set of core capabilities:

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand written language
  • Machine Learning which “observes” human interactions learning to provide relevant, meaningful automated responses
  • Sentiment Analysis to assess emotion or attitude of a customer, either positive or negative, and assign a qualitative score to guide proper treatment
  • Chat bot for real-time automated services leveraging the aforementioned capabilities to be effective

What You Need to Know About Contact Center Automation

So, if you implement an AI solution with all of these capabilities you can completely automate your contact center, right? Well, not quite–at least not yet. Rather, you should look at AI to “humanize” the automated customer experience. Having a machine (bot) interact with me and understand my intent is leaps and bounds a better experience than what an IVR can offer, but the live agent experience is still paramount.

An AI solution should be fully integrated into the rest of your customer experience solution as part of the complete customer journey–one that allows the full context of an interaction to be visible to a live agent. This way, the agent becomes an extension of the automated experience, and in turn creates improved CSAT. And because the automated experience is always available with real-time and intelligent responses, you will be better aligned to your customers’ engagement preferences. This in turn will help drive down cost with increased self service and accelerate revenue opportunities due to a more personalized and “intelligent” experience.

We generated a lot of buzz about AI when we introduced Ava at our partner and customer conference last month. People are seeing the potential to build enviable customer experiences by better connecting with customers through social and messaging channels and by journey mapping customer interactions.

At Avaya we take a consultative approach to helping our customers meet their business objectives. To help you with AI for contact centers, we offer a Professional Services Discovery Workshop. Contact us to learn more.