The 4 Things You Should Do (And the 4 You Should Avoid) When Delivering Omni-Channel Customer Support

In our last blog, we disclosed the 8 key questions that mid-market should ask when picking a services partner.

Just as important these days is finding the best way to meet the needs of ever-demanding customers looking for answers in the fastest possible time with the least amount of effort.

A recent survey showed that 93% of business managers recognize that failing to provide a holistic, personalized, proactive customer experience could lead to lost customers, missed sales opportunities, lower revenue, and reduced loyalty.

The Harvard Business Review article, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers“–based on a survey of 75,000 customer interactions–identified five loyalty-building tactics:

  1. Reduce the need for repeat calls by anticipating and dealing with related downstream issues.
  2. Arm reps to address the emotional side of customer interactions.
  3. Minimize the need for customers to switch service channels.
  4. Elicit and use feedback from disgruntled or struggling customers.
  5. Focus on problem solving, not speed.

The same article goes on to state that “most customers encounter loyalty eroding problems when they engage with customer service,” including these reported problems:

  • 56% of those surveyed said that they have to re-explain an issue
  • 57% had to switch from the Web to the phone
  • 59% expended moderate-to-high effort to resolve an issue
  • 59% were transferred
  • 62% repeatedly contacted the company to resolve an issue

So what can IT managers do to help overcome these obstacles aggravating customers, while coming up with cost-effective solutions? Let’s take a look back at our December 2013 white paper, The Top 7 Communications Trends for 2014:

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.

Consider these 4 dos and 4 don’ts around minimizing customer effort in a multi-channel support environment:

  • Do minimize clicks: An extra click or two to test microphone and headset compatibility before an audio or video conversation can be the difference between 10% and 90% customer effort
  • Do go mobile! The customer is not chained to the desktop anymore. With the huge growth and proliferation of mobile devices, the channel and the interaction can vary significantly depending on location. Consider mobility when designing the omni-channel experience. Quick interactions are necessary. Develop a mobile application!
  • Do decide if multi-tasking is needed: Some channels enable agent multitasking better than others. Chat is great for multi-tasking; the video environment is not. One bad customer support experience can destroy personal brand equity and the customer relationship.
  • Do know your customer’s preferences, by industry or personal attributes: Some industries lean more toward specific channel communication preferences–high tech companies may gravitate to video while traditional manufacturing may want the asynchronicity of chat. While Baby Boomers still prefer phone and in-person contact, Generation X has shifted from the phone to e-mail and text while Generation Y turns to video and text as the first channel of communication.

For every do, there are don’ts that should not be avoided:

  • Don’t underestimate today’s customer! Empowered and fluent in a variety of technologies, today’s customer is more interactive, collaborative, knowledgeable, and time-sensitive than ever before. Make sure your channels can match your ever-demanding customer’s needs.
  • Don’t let your support personnel become complacent: Forever challenge your support agents to keep them on their toes. Are support agents answering the same questions over and over again? A survey of 3,000 agents at Avaya found that 85% of the time spent by agents was answering the same questions over and over again. At most, the agents said that they tackled new problems only 10-15% of the time. Avaya changed the paradigm by using applications that are much better than people at serving up existing solutions and then challenging the humans to solve new problems 85%+ of the time
  • Don’t assume that the customer knows your business: Develop channels with the novice customer in mind. Setting up a site assuming they know your business only creates friction for the customer. Avoid acronyms. Not all acronyms or customers are the same. While speaking to the lowest common denominator, enable power users and developers alike to quickly scale, while allowing others to stay with the most basic of information.
  • Don’t let your support agents be knowledge consumers, make them be knowledge generators: Agents should be trained and incentivized to publish their findings to the Web for all other customers to see in 30 minutes or less. At Avaya, the goal of posting new knowledge in 30 minutes or less is being achieved 85 to 90% of the time.

What communication channel do you expect to grow fastest this year?

When will your company rollout video in the contact center?

What questions are you asking of your omni-channel vendors?

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3 CX Stats That May Change How You Think About Digital Transformation

Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, automation, big data, and the Internet of Things have made digital transformation an absolute necessity for organizations. With people, processes, services and things more dynamically connected than ever, companies are feeling relentless pressure to digitize, simplify, and integrate their organizational structures to remain competitive.

But there’s a big hole in the fabric of most digital transformation (DX) plans: the customer experience (CX). The problem isn’t that companies fail to understand the importance of the CX in relation to digital transformation. Rather, most fail to understand their customers well enough to envision a truly customer-centric, digitally-transformed environment. Just consider that 55% of companies cite “evolving customer behaviors and preferences” as their primary driver of digital change. Yet, the number one challenge facing executives today is understanding customer behavior and impact.

A massive part of digital transformation involves building a CX strategy, and yet customer centricity remains a top challenge for most. In fact, I encourage you to be your own customer within your organization. Walk in your customers’ shoes, contact your organization as your customers would. What was your web experience? Was the expert knowledgeable during a chat conversation? How well did the mobile app work for you? Did you have a connected experience? Given your experience, how brand-loyal would you be to your organization?

Here are three statistics that will get you rethinking your CX strategy in relation to digital transformation:

  1. 52% of companies don’t share customer intelligence outside of the contact center. In other words, over half of companies are limiting the customer journey to the contact center even though it naturally takes place across multiple key areas of business (i.e., sales, marketing, HR, billing). Businesses must ensure customers are placed with the right resource at the right time, whether it’s in a contact center or non-contact center environment. The key is being able to openly share customer data across all teams, processes and customer touchpoints.
  2. 60% of digital analytics investments will be spent on customer journey analytics by 2018. Customer journey analytics—the process of measuring the end-to-end customer journey across the entire organization—is critical in today’s smart, digital world. Companies are rapidly investing in this area to identify opportunities for process improvement, digitization, automation and, ultimately, competitive differentiation.
  3. 60% of customers change their contact channel depending on where they are and what they’re doing. This means organizations must focus less on service and more on contextual and situational awareness. Businesses must work to create a seamless experience—regardless of device, channel, location or time—supported by customer, business and situational context captured across all touchpoints.

The CX should influence every company’s digital transformation story. For more tips, insights, and impactful statistics check out our eBook, Fundamentals of Digital Transformation. Let me know what you think. We look forward to hearing from you.

Let’s Talk about the Modern Business Ecosystem: Why We Need to Open Up

Forty years ago, technology vendors had it all figured out. They would differentiate themselves by continually bringing new proprietary solutions to market—a recipe for success in an age of a closed hardware dependent architecture. By exclusively building their own product portfolio under patent or trade-secret protection, companies could easily secure long-term revenue. This proprietary race fueled business for decades, and it still does today. Consider proprietary software solutions from Apple, which have licensing terms that limit usage to only Apple hardware (for example, Mac OS X).

A proprietary model offers several perks, yet not enough in today’s era of digital transformation. Intelligent, connected technologies like IoT, AI and machine learning have ushered enterprises into a new era of any-to-any communication, one filled with seemingly limitless collaboration and CX possibilities. As companies worked to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation, they came to realize that proprietary solutions stifled their efforts to grow and evolve, and they could no longer rely on one or multiple vendor or their life cycle timelines to develop the next-gen CX and/or vertical-specific services they needed.

A Big Change in a Small Amount of Time

Over the course of just a few short years, we saw a massive paradigm shift in which companies began seeking niche vendors to drive revenue and competitiveness. They turned to cloud-based businesses that were born in the digital era. They looked to startups that specialized in vertical-specific strategies. It wasn’t long before the average organization had created a unique, multi-vendor ecosystem in which various solutions were integrated to meet specific customer and vertical requirements. Case in point: the average business now leverages up to six different cloud solutions.

As every market filled with competing vendors, it seemed the most influential players were those that offered engaged, open ecosystems. These vendors allowed customers to freely modify original source code for virtually any purpose, versus retaining copyrights. With so many companies operating complex, multi-vendor ecosystems, open architecture that enabled collaborative app development became ideal for driving desired customer outcomes. We even see customers now acquire their own technology to accelerate the digitization of their business. You can’t do that in a proprietary and rigid architecture.

Multi-vendor Ecosystem vs. Open Ecosystem

This rise of niche vendors isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. In fact, Gartner predicts that startups will overtake leaders like Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft in markets like AI by 2019. If not properly supported, however, a multi-vendor environment can create infinitely more harm than good.

For starters, companies must secure their multi-vendor ecosystems. Research shows that the average organization’s network is accessed by 89 different vendors and partners per week, a number that should send chills down your spine from a security perspective. If that’s not shocking enough, one-third of companies admit they don’t know how many vendors access their systems at any given time. Despite this, over 70% believe their number of third-party vendors will increase by 2018.

In addition to this is the inherent challenge of seamlessly leveraging multiple different vendor solutions. You see, if these solutions aren’t properly integrated, they don’t represent a truly open ecosystem. To build targeted solutions that continually improve outcomes, companies must be able to seamlessly collect, track, share and use the data that exists across all vendor platforms and knowledge bases. None of these systems can be siloed from one another.

Consider the benefits of an open ecosystem within the transportation industry. Picture this scenario: administrators have taken notice that the 7:45 a.m. train fills up every morning to the point where passengers must wait for the next train. In a truly open ecosystem, management can leverage data collected across various integrated solutions (i.e., ticketing platforms, video surveillance systems, Wi-Fi/carrier grade services, mobile app systems, movement sensors, etc.) to identify the root cause of the issue and begin driving better customer outcomes. Data from the ticketing platform, for instance, may show that tickets purchased for 7:45 a.m. exceed the train’s maximum capacity by 15%.

At this point, management can leverage data in various ways to determine the best solution to the problem. For example, they may want to build a sophisticated level of automation to dynamically change the train schedule, monitoring it for continual improvement. They may choose to send automated SMS messages informing customers of anticipated congestion times and suggested alternatives for work travel while displaying updated information in real time on their digital signage systems. They could incentivize daily commuters by offering 15% off monthly passes if used for an earlier or later train time. Regardless of how the experience is enhanced, the entire technology ecosystem should be actively working together to make it happen. As I say, dealing with congestions on highways by constantly rebuilding the roads with more lanes is not exactly the smartest approach. Maximizing and optimizing its usage through smart traffic distribution and management can be proven to be way more effective while meeting the citizen’s experience.

The Future of the Customer Experience Relies on Open, Extensible Architecture

The more open a business ecosystem, the more seamlessly data can be leveraged to drive desired customer and citizen outcomes. The ability to track, collect and share data across dispersed systems is what allows companies to create custom solutions that target exact customer requirements. This open, extensible nature is vital within a next-generation platform.

Differentiating oneself is no longer as simple as rolling out a new proprietary solution. To drive desired outcomes and deliver true value, organizations must be open, agile, integrated and future proof. As the world continues transitioning to an open ecosystem, we become that much closer to eliminating a longstanding dependency on legacy hardware and hierarchal architecture.

So far, I’ve discussed four of five critical components that organizations must start looking at within a next-generation platform: next-gen IT, IoT, AI and open ecosystem. Up next, we’ll take a deep dive into the final and most significant of these: the customer (or citizens) experience. Stay tuned.

3 Key Steps to Starting Your Company-wide Digital Transformation

Stats show that 80% of companies identify “digital transformation” as their top strategic priority—but only 5% feel they’ve mastered it. Why the gap? Achieving a digital experience to a point of competitive differentiation requires organizational alignment. Digital transformation represents a crucial paradigm shift across the entire organization, yet research suggests only a fraction of companies currently implement an enterprise-wide digital strategy. To successfully digitize, all lines of business (LOB) must be aligned and move in concert towards digital innovation. This involves communication and collaboration among key stakeholders, especially senior executives, across every business unit—even ones you wouldn’t typically include.

Put simply, digital transformation is more than just digitizing your infrastructure before your competitors do. Yes, it’s about serving the growing number of digital consumers faster and better. But, more importantly, it requires a shift in organizational mindset and redefinition of business processes. The starting point for any digital transformation initiative should be a clear understanding among all business leaders (not just IT) about the nature, direction and projected outcomes of the transformation.

What does the discovery process look like? It can be summed up in three key steps:

  1. Situational Assessment: Executives across every LOB need to weigh in and agree on business drivers and expectations. Insights derived from this assessment should be used to map out short- and long-term business goals and key digital strategies to ensure organizational alignment.
  2. Opportunity Prioritization: Identify target applications and technology architectures, then determine how these new solutions will affect existing technologies and align with core needs (i.e., operational savings, CX improvements). In parallel, use this time to identify, analyze and prioritize gaps between existing and planned processes.
  3. Roadmap Creation: A detailed roadmap helps you finalize digitization plans before implementation. It should outline phasing strategy sequences, risk mitigation plans, and project feasibility reports that define the timeline, dependencies, costs (and return) and controls of each digital initiative. Consider this your digital transformation playbook.

Digital transformation is the foundation of how organizations will succeed or fail. Check out our eBook, Fundamentals of Digital Transformation, to learn more about this discovery process—the first of a five-step plan for creating a foolproof digital transformation strategy. Let me know what you think. We are here to help and happy to discuss.