Why Professional Services Are Critical For Enterprise Success

Our customers are constantly trying to find ways to save money and be more efficient. One of the best ways to save money and increase efficiency is by leveraging new communication and network technologies into your business.

However, improving an enterprise’s efficiency isn’t as simple as downloading a new piece of software and hitting “Go.”

A complete understanding of communication and network technologies is required to implement and support new solutions.  Simply stated, it requires the experience and knowledge to know what to expect, and how to plan ahead in order to avoid potential roadblocks.  To meet end-users expectations, the key points to address are:

  • Unified Communications – Though it adds complexity to the network, as a result it improves and simplifies the communications experience for the user.
  • Network Architecture – A solid foundation to build upon is paramount. Leveraging the experience of a professional services team will improve implementation efficiency, increase network uptime and help avoid problems before they start.
  • Enterprise-Wide Data Planning – Create a more optimal operating environment, with an eye to future growth and development.
  • Centralize Your Core Data Networking Components – Lower your costs by allowing a professional services team to implement SIP trunking services that consolidates voice, video and data over the same SIP connection.  This will translate to a better utilization of network resources and save you money.

However, each enterprise is different; one size does not fit all.

The implementation of new and complex technologies requires someone with the knowledge and experience to get it done right the first time, someone who can ensure the solution will work in your unique situation, with professional implementation and support.

For example, it seems like each day we learn of a new incident where someone has hacked into an organization’s network and stolen sensitive customer information, credit card data, etc.  Now, imagine you have a contact center and you need to provide secure voice communication to safeguard credit card transactions made over the phone.  We don’t often view a phone call as something that can be hacked, but it can.  How will you protect that information?  What is your plan?  What are you going to do to protect your customer’s privacy and credit information, and comply with banking regulations?  This is when having a trusted professional services partner will prove invaluable to you and your organization’s future.

So when considering professional services options, here are some questions you should ask before planning to implement any new technology:

  • What impact will the solution have on our network?
  • Who has the experience to analyze our network and business requirements?
  • Who provides a consultative approach that addresses ideas to maximize enterprise performance and revenue, save costs, and avoid expensive problems and issues?

Leveraging the right professional services team is incredibly important, so choose wisely.

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This article, by Steve Saffel, originally appeared on the Altura Blog, and is reprinted with permission.

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CX Experts Agree Customer Journey Maps Help Build Relationships

I recently attended the 2017 MoNage conference, which focused on the Age of Messaging over the Net—a phrase coined by the founder Jeff Pulver. Jeff was a pioneer in the VoIP industry, having created the Voice over the Net conference, co-founding Vonage. He extends his vision that messaging is at the center of the digital transformation era. I wanted to explore some of the observations from the conference—especially those about contact center operators leveraging customer journey maps for serving customers effectively via chat, SMS and other messaging communiques.

Digital transformation has made the mobile device the preferred method for contacting businesses. The accessibility of compact smart phones has made them readily available to communicate at any time. Whether it is checking email during a TV commercial or when a player goes offside at a hockey game, we’re obsessed with interactions, many of which impact our relationships with companies.

The accessibility of devices has led to a preference for human-less customer services, including web commerce applications, chatbots for addressing basic questions like order status, and electronic updates via SMS for transactions like shipping notifications. Research shows that humans still prefer to communicate with humans for more complex transactions. According to Accenture’s 2016 study “Digital Disconnect in Customer Engagement” in 2016, 83% of customers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues. Experienced travelers know using a friendly tone on a call to an airline representative is the most likely way to get an issue resolved.

The challenge for customers is they often must interact with a business’s numerous touch points before they finally can speak to a live agent. As Avaya’s Laura Bassett highlights in her blog “Winning the CX with Apps, Integrated Data Views, Custom Agent Desktops”—over 40 % of customers were already using up to seven different service channels including live chat, email, social media, SMS and traditional phone to engage with companies.

Imagine if the agent who answered your call had telepathic powers. Imagine that instead of hearing, “How can I help you?” you were given an answer before you even asked your question. The use of text chat is creating an expectation of immediate gratification with answers in seconds, not days—compared to the old-school way of sending an email knowing it will sit in a company for hours or days. When a customer contacts a company, they are contacting a company, not an agent. If they have sent an email, the last thing they want to do is to repeat what they have already told the company. To the customer, the agent is the company.

Technologies have evolved—business can now route interactions to agents with the best-matched attributes to serve individual customers’ needs. Agent selection criteria can include gender, age, location, language—tailored as needed for different industries. It’s not surprising to find a female agent is more successful upselling to a male customer buying flowers. But how do you empower the agent to serve that customer as if they are the only customer that matters? It starts by examining why customers contact a business in the first place.

Is Calling a Contact Center an Admission of Failure: Many People Believe It is

Many businesses often view a call to a contact center as a failure. It’s a failure because the customer could not serve themselves, and had to incur the most expensive resource in the company—human agents. If you examine the reasons people call a contact center, the most common reason is due to a previous event. In many cases, there is an attempt to resolve an issue by going on a website and trying to find information, or using a chatbot to get an update, or sending an SMS requesting an account status. Knowing what a customer has done prior to the agent receiving the transaction is the secret sauce of the customer journey.

Maintaining a View of the Customer Experience with Customer Journey Maps

Customer journey maps lay out a view of the entire customer experience so agents can add value to previous transactions and steps. By knowing what a customer has done, or what the customer tried to do, the agent can be one step ahead of them with a response. It’s like being a detective. If a customer chatted yesterday with an agent about an order and today places a phone call, it is likely to be about the same transaction. By presenting the history of most-recent transactions, the agent is able to have a full 360-degree view of the customer journey. A representative can know what information was exchanged with the last agent, so they can continue with the customer journey as if the journey never stopped. It’s a great way to reduce agent time requirements, while making the customer experience more personalized than ever before.

Avaya can help with the formulation of customer journey maps that capture all forms of communication, including SMS, email, website activity tracking, and more. For example, just last evening I booked a hotel for a trip. Early this morning, I received a message indicating my reservation had just changed, with an offer to chat with an agent. The agent informed me via chat that my preference for a high floor had been confirmed. The neat part was the agent knew I had used the college discount code on the web and wrote “enjoy visiting Arizona State University.” They totally know me. That’s what making a great customer experience is all about. The more you know about the journey your customer takes, the more you are likely to keep that customer on a journey with you for the long term. That customer might even tell their friends about the experience. I’ll definitely tweet about mine!

Winning the CX with Apps, Integrated Data Views, Custom Agent Desktops

An estimated $6 trillion in global revenue is up for grabs due to dissatisfied customers constantly switching providers, seeking a better customer experience—CX. From finance to retail to hospitality, it seems virtually every industry is grappling with above-average customer churn. Why? Technology has evolved to a point where there is now an inconceivable number of ways for customers to engage with brands, creating a communications environment that many companies simply aren’t set up to handle.

Think about it: if customers aren’t connecting with a brand using one of their three personal mobile devices, they’re leveraging a myriad of other channels and connected platforms to research, communicate and engage. Consider that 150 million emails and 2.4 million Google search queries were sent last year per minute. In that same 60 seconds, almost one million customers were logging into Facebook, and almost 350,000 new tweets were being posted. Over 50,000 apps were being downloaded per minute through the Apple App Store, and over 20 million messages were being sent via communication apps like WhatsApp.

If these statistics show us anything, it’s that experience is everything. The average consumer today uses a combination of the above channels to engage with his or her favorite brands. In fact, in 2014, over 40 % of customers were already using up to seven different service channels including live chat, email, social media, SMS and traditional phone.

The Entire Organization Contributes to the CX

In this next-generation communications environment, a series of unique interaction touch points are created to form a dynamic, inimitable customer journey, as Avaya’s Bernard Gutnick discusses in his blog “Customer Journey Maps Help Strengthen Relationships.” This journey extends across an entire organization, regardless of business line or function. It transcends the limitations of time and space. Conversations continue where they last left off and are routed to whoever is best fit to help, regardless of where that expert resides within the organization. As mentioned, however, many companies aren’t set up to handle this kind of environment from an architectural standpoint. Just consider companies in industries like government, where 71% of federal IT decision makers still use old operating systems to run important applications

Communications-Enabled Applications

To create this revolutionary environment, businesses must operate on open, agile infrastructure that enables them to build any communications-enabled application organization-wide. In today’s smart, digital world, companies need the speed and flexibility to design, build and run unique applications to meet constantly changing customer needs and business requirements. This open environment supports businesses with a contextual, 360-degree view of the customer journey—a view that seamlessly extends across all teams, processes and customer touch points to deliver unparalleled brand experiences.

These apps need to be easy for IT to create, deploy and manage, and they must be agile enough to serve multiple departments to improve ROI and TCO. Driven by the right tools and strategies, every employee must be empowered to do his or her job at maximum potential each day. As we’ve mentioned time and again, gaining a 360-degree view of the customer means serving both contact center and non-contact center environments within a company. This is exactly why best-in-class companies are 30% more likely to align their entire organization around the customer to ensure consistency and contextualization.

Integrated Data Views and Custom Agent Desktops

Here’s how this next-generation communications environment specifically works:

  • A full library of customer engagement capabilities for contact centers—plus team engagement APIs to build business apps for almost any computer environment (i.e., Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and Javascript)—enables businesses to continually reinvent the communications experience, thus reimagining CX possibilities and business outcomes. This is how any expert can be made available for any customer inquiry or issue regardless of their location within the organization.
  • Companies can build their own contact center apps, or embed specific functions into their existing apps, to customize the agent desktop for any unique customer configuration. This ability to instantly innovate customer communications enables organizations to anticipate and respond to the speed of the consumer. Keep in mind that virtually anyone should be able to oversee these customizations, be it the company’s development team, system integrators, or the provider’s professional services team.
  • To know where your customers want to go, you must first know where they’ve been. With CRM information directly integrated within its interface, a web-based application empowers agents with a single, integrated browser view. This enables employees to view all data—both historical and real-time—across every fathomable interaction channel. This means an agent seeing that a customer communicated with a chatbot twice over the last two days about a billing error, for example. Agents will never have to wonder what steps were taken prior to their interaction with a customer, and consumers will never have to repeat the same information or be transferred across multiple different agents. Also keep in mind that this move to a web-based application offers contact center operators more flexibility to leverage general purpose browsers on a range of computers such as Macs, PCs and Chromebooks. This not only eliminates the need to upgrade client apps, but allows companies to customize the layout of each contact center so that information matches the requirements of each individual operation.

As technology continually evolves, businesses will have no choice but to press forward if they wish to perform at the speed of the consumer. Experience is everything, and organizations need a new way to design, deliver and manage customer engagements. With customers now using more digital channels than ever to engage with the brands they love, it’s clear that customer-based business applications have won the war.

Interested in learning more or chatting about transforming your environment? We can help enable you to compete and win the hearts and minds of your employees and customers. Contact us. We’re here to help and would love to hear from you.

Customers Explain Why Chatbots Matter for Contact Centers

I recently attended Jeff Pulver’s 2017 MoNage conference to get the latest views on chatbot usage and expectations for serving customers. Jeff Pulver created the Voice over the Net Conference when voice over the internet was in its infancy. As a co-founder of Vonage and other companies, his vision helped drive the industry we all take for granted. He’s brought his vision to the world of chat with his 140-Character conferences and most recently the MoNage conference.

Jeff says that “as chatbots get better and better, there may be less of a need to visit a business website.” We may reach a point where chatbots connected to Facebook pages and voice services via Amazon’s Alexa become the main conduit for getting information.” He probably is right. There is no shortage of software and services companies, including Avaya, that are investing significantly in the field of chatbot technology for contact centers applications.

Industry analyst Jon Arnold says contact center operators need to ensure millennials have a chat experience that is fast and personal. The ability for an agent to leverage the full context of all of the previous transactions is at the heart of providing a personalized one-to-one customer experience.

Anyone with a teenager knows if you want to reach them, you text them—unless you like the nostalgia of hearing a voice mail greeting and leaving a message that may not be picked up for a week. Those millennials, who use chat over email, including chat applications at work, are the same ones raising the bar for businesses to serve them via chat. How long will it be before the response a millennial expects for a package status is an emoji?

The introduction of chatbots represents the re-birth of interactive voice response in textual self-service instead of voice prompts. Chatbots enable a customer to answer questions via text. They ask, “How can I help you?” The customer’s answer of “What is my account balance?” is the equivalent of speaking to a speech recognition application.

With chat, recent AI innovations interpret your sentence and provide a response that is best matched to the context of your question. This is similar to Amazon’s Alexa listening to your voice and providing a response. Many companies are working to perfect the ability to interpret chat sequences, often to assuage the customers who press 0 multiple times to reach an agent. Today, customers can have the same frustrating experience with chat that they’ve had with interactive voice—ultimately they want to talk with a live agent. The goal has always been to enable more automation and self-service methods to reduce costs, without having a negative impact on customer satisfaction. There is a critical need to get it right.

Requesting a live agent to assist with a chat session introduces major challenges for businesses. They must staff a contact center with agents who can respond appropriately to chat messages. This introduces the need for typing and grammar skills and new staffing level challenges for balancing voice and chat demand.

Businesses must ensure consistency in chat responses and, most importantly, ensure a positive experience with the live agent during a transaction. So agent skills must now include the ability to respond to SMS and text chat sessions from websites and mobile applications. This includes the ability to type clearly, and often handle multiple transactions simultaneously to fill the delays with customer responses. Many of us have experienced chat sessions with agents where there is a long delay due to agents serving other customers.

Chat sessions are often emailed to customers at the end, creating a document that customers can use for many purposes: tweeting about what an agent just wrote, or using what an agent just wrote to get improper discounts or advantages from errors. To guard against such customer behavior, agents must have fast access to standard, consistent answers to common questions and ensure responses conform to company policies.

Customers Communicate with Companies—Not Agents

Customers expect a business that can communicate via live chat to ensure the agent understands their situation. The last thing they want is to send a lengthy email describing a situation, and then be offered a live chat with someone who doesn’t have access to the email. Internal information silos require the customer to ask if it is worth starting over again and again. They expect the agent to have the full context of all their interactions. The effort to serve the customer by chat can result in a negative experience even if the agent tried everything they could to serve them.

Agents Need Contextual Information

Chatbots start with an attempt to serve a customer via automation. Costs are avoided when customers serve themselves, just like they deposit a check by taking a photo instead of having a bank employee process it. Contact center managers must enable their agents to access the full context of the chat dialog, any emails, and CRM records so they can serve the customer without asking what they should already know.

Chat Introduces a New Opportunity to Leverage Agent Attributes

Once you make the move to introducing live agent chat, you need to determine which agents have the proper attributes for handling chat, including multiple simultaneous chat sessions. You’ll need to train employees how to properly respond, including how to deliver recommended standard responses. In addition, you’ll have to evaluate how many multiple chats an agent can handle, which will vary based on individual abilities. Selecting agents based on these skills can make all the difference in customer satisfaction results.

Agent Attribute Models Increase Contact Center Operational Efficiency

There is a tremendous opportunity to increase contact center operations by having agents with the attributes for handling voice and chat and SMS sessions. Did you know 250+250=450. Here’s why: the workload of 250 voice-only agents plus 250 chat-only agents can be served by 450 agents who can do both. The result is a higher utilization level than with individual silos. Evaluating agent availability by their individual attributes and operating your contact center at higher utilization levels significantly reduces your most costly resource—your contact center agent labor expenses.

Interested in learning more about defining and leveraging agent attribute modeling? Get more info in this Avaya blog from Laura Bassett: “Get out of the Queue: Drive your CX with Attribute Matching?” And talk with Avaya Experts—we’re here to help you serve your customers like never before. We can help you match agents with the best attributes for each individual customer. The ultimate win for all. Contact us. Let’s chat!