Why Midmarket Companies Must Compete in the Customer Engagement Big Leagues

Midmarket Customer Service

Every large company was, at one point, a startup. As they grew—in some cases literally out of a garage—they had to evolve their tools, systems and processes appropriate with their business phase. For every successful large company, there were hundreds that failed on their way.

If you find yourself on the path from small company to midsize company, you’re likely running into a number of challenges inherent among midmarket companies. Today, I want to focus on one of the biggest challenges—improving customer engagement.

In the beginning, startups are intensely focused on customer engagement. It’s one of the reasons they become successful. But as they grow, customer engagement can become overwhelming, with different types of interactions across multiple channels.   It’s all part of the proverbial “crossing the chasm” experience.

However, customer engagement is a competitive way for midmarket companies to differentiate themselves—showing customers that they’re just as  attentive as startups, while being more personal and nimble than large companies.

In my experience, it’s clear that the customer engagement imperative among midmarket companies is alive and growing. And the stakes are high.

Ignoring customer engagement comes at great cost for these midsize organizations. Customers expect midmarket companies to respond to their needs quickly, efficiently and through a variety of channels. At best, inefficient processes, equipment and applications become massively expensive to manage and maintain. At worst, companies lose their mojo.

Corporate brands deteriorate due to customer service missteps. Without the right tools, agents can’t prioritize appropriately, and time-consuming tasks take the lead while mission-critical needs get lost in the shuffle. When agents aren’t given the right tools to engage with customers, their own employee engagement deteriorates, and then all bets are off when it comes to delivering a great customer experience. It’s a vicious cycle!

The Midmarket Playing Field 

The business drivers that fuel customer engagement upgrades in the midmarket  – ancient phone systems that need replacing, growing contact center volumes, and a greater need for data and analytics –  are found in almost every segment. But midsize companies compete on a unique playing field.

As midsized companies grow, the applications and processes that once served them when they were small don’t scale very well. On top of this, some have corporate or product acquisitions fueling their growth, causing disparate data silos and applications.

In other cases, large enterprises are downsizing to a midmarket scale because of divestiture or market fluctuations. Some are opening independent subsidiaries in foreign countries, which compare to being a startup.

In either case, these companies must assess both their current and future growth requirements to make the best investment decision. They need solutions that are able to grow with businesses.

Stepping Up to the Plate

With these unique challenges, what would you do?  I ask myself this question when I speak with customers, and try to imagine their particular needs and fears along the way. Oftentimes, they’ll choose one of four paths forward:

  • Current system upgrades: Get the latest releases for the equipment you’ve already deployed
  • SaaS/cloud/outsourced services: Try one or more out, overall or in select areas
  • Build-it-yourself: Use open source tools to enhance existing systems or build a new system from scratch
  • Vendor solutions: Invest in sophisticated contact center systems designed for the midmarket

After comparing a large-system upgrade with a new midmarket contact center solution, many customers decide their needs were met with a Avaya IP Office-based contact center package. Plus, the same choice was more budget-friendly and faster to deploy than an existing system upgrade. In other cases, customers either brought outsourced services back in-house or decided their SaaS or managed service wasn’t integrated well enough with their back-office system to be most efficient.

There are many organizations with lots of internal IT skills, coupled with fairly robust open-source tools available on the market. Before embarking on this development journey, it pays to engage experienced advisors to help you evaluate these options and your requirements before making such an investment.

A Home Run for Ballantyne

One company that made such an upgrade choice is Ballantyne Strong, a commercial lighting business in the U.S.

Ballantyne Strong began more than 80 years ago as a cinema equipment company. As its business evolved to selling state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment and professional lighting, it outgrew its out-of-date business communications system.

The shortcomings of its antiquated system became obvious as the company realized it needed its own call center. Additionally, the acquisition of another company meant that Ballantyne Strong was facing five-figure travel bills each month. Ballantyne was looking for a one-vendor solution – fully-functional, well-integrated and packaged right for a midsize business. And so, Ballantyne decided to implement Avaya Customer and Team Engagement solutions — Avaya IP Office, Avaya IP Office Contact Center and Avaya Scopia.

With the help of Avaya partner DataVizion, Ballantyne Strong cut over to its new Avaya-powered call center system on a Friday morning at 8 a.m., and was fully functional within 10 minutes. Right away, the company was able to begin easily tracking and monitoring its call center activity. Ballantyne is also able to create custom calls queues routed to the correct technicians.

Focusing on delivering better customer engagement is a crucial success factor for midmarket companies. Fortunately, there’s a well-documented migration path forward, and trusted advisors along the way.

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News & Solutions at ENGAGE 2018 Show Avaya is Back in the Fight!

Now back from last week’s Avaya ENGAGE 2018, our annual customer and partner event, we’re finding the energy of the conference continues to drive the cadence at Avaya. What a show! In my last blog I wrote about taking time for a bit of introspection—thoughts echoed by our CEO Jim Chirico during his ENGAGE keynote. One of his points really resonated with me: how you get up off the mat. All of us face challenges everyday—most of them are manageable but occasionally an event comes along that can really take the wind out of your sails. Jim pointed out that while we all get knocked down from time to time, what really matters is how you get up. How you carry yourself and how you get ready for the next challenge.

In 2018 Avaya is back up. We’ve got our gloves on and we’ve come out swinging! ENGAGE 2018 was a great opportunity for us to thank our customers and partners for their outstanding support over the past year and give them a taste of the new Avaya: poised, fit, and ready to win.

Our commitment to win was reflected in a number of key announcements from last week, but the headliner was the acquisition of Spoken Communications, a leading innovator in the Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) market. The Spoken platform is based on the Avaya Aura® Platform and Avaya Aura® Call Center Elite, making it a perfect architecture for both Avaya omnichannel offerings, such as Avaya Oceana®, and its Unified Communications as a Service solution. But Spoken brings much more than a proven xCaaS capability to Avaya—the really exciting news is Spoken’s transformative real-time customer experience management applications built on conversational artificial intelligence (AI). A true innovator in AI, Spoken will be accelerating our “Think Avaya, Think Cloud” strategy with solutions that not only provide a clear path for customer migration, but offer improved efficiency, drive more intelligent responses, and gain deeper insight into customer sentiment and experience.

And there was more news at Avaya ENGAGE on the AI front: Avaya introduced Avaya AvaTM , a cloud, messaging-agnostic solution that offers new AI capabilities for social messaging integration and automation of digital interactions. An evolution from our Ava technologies offered for over eight years, Avaya AvaTM delivers AI 2.0 architecture including natural language processing and machine learning. And innovative analytics enables effortless customer engagement through social media and messaging platforms.

Last year we introduced the Avaya Oceana® Solution—our omnichannel context-driven contact center solution. Now we are thrilled to bring the Workspaces environment to our existing customers later this year. This modern agent desktop will take advantage of key elements such as context and customer journey and be made available to our existing customer base, enabling them to transform their CXs.

Avaya also unveiled compelling enhancements to its signature unified communications user experience, Avaya Equinox®. These include:

  • Enhancements to Avaya Equinox Meetings Online, a cloud-based meeting and conferencing service that can be deployed with or without an Avaya infrastructure. The economical, pay-as-you-go cloud model offers the same capabilities as an on-premises deployment, making it easy to take a hybrid approach and mix and match between the two.
  • The new Avaya Equinox Attendant, which enhances customer service and brings the power of unified communications to front-desk operators. We will extend Avaya Equinox to the IP Office platform—providing a single UC platform for all our customers.

Devices remain a key part of Avaya’s strategy to deliver a unique UC Experience Everywhere. Avaya has shipped over 100M phones to date and currently ships almost 10,000 new devices every day. For 2018, Avaya is expanding customer options for UC devices like never before. The Avaya Experience has evolved to be more modern, connected and personalized, and tailored to vertical specific needs such as hospitality and retail. Key additions include:

  • Launching Avaya’s new Essential Experience portfolio of industry leading phones for a state-of-the-art user experience that includes Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.
  • Extending the Avaya Vantage Experience to include support for IP Office.
  • Announcing the new Avaya CU-360 Collaboration Unit, which provides easy set up and collaboration in huddle room spaces.

Providing our customers a bridge to the future is a key focus for Avaya this year—and this goal will drive a great deal of our activity. To start, Avaya has launched a number of new promotions:

  • Loyalty2gether: This exciting and bold offer provides all our loyal Communication Server 1000 customers with a path forward to either IP Office or Avaya Aura with full support for the surrounding applications like customer contact and messaging. It’s an opportunity to reinvent what communications, customer experience, and collaboration can mean to your business and to do so with an unprecedented level of experience and investment protection.
  • Oceana NOW: This program focuses on helping organizations evolve and transform their CXs.
  • Automate CC NOW: Through the use of automation capabilities, Avaya is helping organizations modernize for less.

These programs are a prime example of our focus to ensure no customer gets left behind.

ENGAGE 2018 was a very busy week of announcements, meetings and demonstrations, and the energy and enthusiasm of our customers kept us going and underlined our confidence that Avaya is back and ready to do battle. Continue to watch for updates and details on Avaya.com and let us know how the new Avaya can support your plans in 2018.

A Closer Look at MiFID II Recording Requirements

The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (MiFID II)—arguably the greatest reform to hit Europe’s financial industry—is finally in effect as of January 3, 2018. This EU legislation serves as a much-needed upgrade from the original MiFID, enacted in 2004, and addresses key issues that resulted from the 2008 global financial crisis.

The directive requires all national governments in the EU to adopt certain laws, which they are free to do in their own way should the resulting effect be the same. Financial services institutions—specifically investment firms, credit institutions and trading venues—are subject to MiFID II, including companies that are headquartered outside of the EU but do business there (for a more thorough overview, see this blog by industry analyst Sheila McGee-Smith).

Recording Regulations: Raising the Bar

Perhaps the greatest impact of MiFID II is the law’s tighter recording regulations. Under the 2004 MiFID directive, there was no mandatory requirement to record communications involving client orders. To ensure fairer, safer and more efficient financial markets, MiFID II now requires firms to record communications (both phone and electronic) for the following investment services:

  • Reception and transmission of orders
  • Execution of orders on behalf of clients
  • Dealing on own account (takes place when a firm puts its own trading books at risk)

The specific customer interactions that are required to be recorded in relation to investment services include:

  • Receipts of client orders
  • Transmissions of orders (both where the investment firm transmits and executes the order)
  • Conclusions of transactions when executing orders on behalf of clients
  • Conclusions of transactions when dealing on own account, regardless of whether a client is involved in the transaction

Important note: MiFID II covers all communications relating to activities intended to result in the conclusion of a transaction or the provision of client order services, even if they do not result in a financial transaction.

Communication of orders placed through channels other than voice—postal mail, faxes, emails, SMS, face-to-face conversations recorded using written minutes—must be stored in a durable medium.

Keep in mind a few rules that apply to this ‘durable medium’:

  • Records must be able to be replayed or copied
  • Records must be retained in a format that does not allow the original to be altered or deleted
  • Firms are required to ensure the quality, accuracy and completeness of all phone records and electronic communications
  • Records must be kept for a minimum of 5 years and, if requested by the National Competent Authority in a specific country, up to 7 years
  • Clients must be notified in advance of recording
  • Records must cover communications made with, sent from or received by equipment provided or permitted by the investment firm (privately-owned equipment used by employees or contractors is not prohibited)

Ensuring Compliancy with MiFID II Recording Regulations

If your business is involved in financial services in any way—even if it’s not your main focus (i.e. credit institutions performing investment activities, branches of third country firms)—you’ll need to investigate to understand whether this new legislation will affect you and, if so, what you need to do to comply.

We recommend a thorough review of compliance across all channels (including back office processes) to determine if they meet the new regulations. If not, you’ll need to deploy a workforce optimization (WFO) solution to demonstrate that policies, procedures and management oversight of the new recording and monitoring rules are in place. Here’s what you’ll need to consider in a WFO solution:

  • Continuous recording: This goes for all inbound and outbound voice and other electronic communications based on business rules. You need a WFO solution that will capture, search and retrieve calls, offer encryption for secure storage, and offer pause and resume capabilities.
  • Desktop screen capture: This is an undetectable back-end process that records desktop screen activity during each customer interaction. Supervisors and managers can use this both in the contact center and back office to view customer interactions from beginning to end via synchronized screen and call recordings.
  • Quality management monitoring: Identify and capture areas of non-compliance, while measuring how well employees are delivering services that align with customer experience expectations.
  • eLearning and coaching tools: Bring employees fully up to speed on regulatory changes and any new requirements, as well as correct any non-compliance behaviors.
  • Voice analytics: Proactively identify, measure and isolate areas of non-compliance by mining intelligence from large volumes of recorded calls.
  • Workforce management: Schedule employee compliance training while ensuring you have enough support personnel with the right skills to serve customers.

The greatest threat to reputability, revenue and customer experience is the thought that your technology is “good enough” to meet current needs. Your ability to innovate and grow are hinged on technology that meets the next-gen needs of today, tomorrow and beyond—something that only 24% of companies say their workforce optimization and recording systems achieve.

To complete a thorough review of your current MiFID II processes, connect with Avaya. For a deeper dive into MiFID II (including a few WFO features not mentioned above) download the white paper MiFID II: What Does it Mean for Your Organization?

Avaya ENGAGE 2018: Connected Experiences

Avaya ENGAGE 2018 is now only days away and the hard work of the last several months will soon be on display. Flights are booked, bags are packed, and the last few i’s are being dotted and t’s crossed on a lineup of keynotes and breakouts that, if we do say so ourselves, sets a new high mark for content at the International Avaya Users Group. 2017 was a year like no other for Avaya. We are invigorated by the opportunities of a new corporate structure and our re-emergence as a public company. Times like these often lead to a bit of introspection—a chance to take stock, think about what gets you out of bed in the morning and where you’re headed. For us, that introspection has led to some thoughts about what makes Avaya a great place to be in 2018 and what Avaya brings to our customers that no one else can.

Taking stock in the business world always begins with the customer and the experiences they receive from the people they do business with. Those experiences, more than anything else, will define the difference between success and failure. Experiences often vary widely, based on the industry, the product or service, or even the stage of the customer relationship. But one thing that doesn’t change is the fact that the customer sees a business as a single entity and expects to be treated appropriately at every interaction. They want personalized connections, not indifference. They want productive connections, not those that waste their time. They want connections to increase their satisfaction, not ones that diminish it.

To satisfy these demands businesses must perform two critical tasks: they must provide appropriate and flexible ways for connected experiences to occur, and they must enable those experiences across the enterprise. It’s no longer enough to provide your employees with the latest collaboration or mobility solutions. It’s no longer enough to make agents accessible by voice, text, video, email or chat. These solutions must work together. The customer sees a business as a single entity—and businesses must respond to the customer as a single entity.

At Avaya, our job is to connect experiences in ways that drive both the top and bottom line. Think about what customers need. Do they have the right options to connect with your business when and how they wish? Can they get the information they need from their couch, or the subway or the coffee shop? Can an employee get an answer to an urgent question from a colleague a thousand miles away? Or roll out new training to 5 or 5000 new employees? And how do you make all this work together so that everyone is creating the right connections for the customer?

Making those connections work is what we do at Avaya. Seamlessly, quickly, intelligently, intuitively and in ways that make a business capable of responding as a unified whole—not a collection of silos and disjointed applications and processes. No other company can rival Avaya’s expertise in creating enterprise and customer experiences. And no other company can bring these experiences together to create better cross-enterprise connections.

So now you know what gets us out of bed: the drive to create connected experiences that make our customers nimble, responsive, flexible, productive and able to put a single, positive face on all their connections. We’ve been doing it for about a hundred years. And we plan to do it for a hundred more.