7 Things to Review When Choosing Midmarket Video as a Service

Increasingly, midmarket companies are demanding Op-Ex, cost-effective cloud solutions that are tailored to the needs of their business. We first identified this trend back in Dec. 2013 as one of the top trends to watch in 2014.

“Midmarket leaders are no longer satisfied with solutions that are scaled down versions of larger systems,” we noticed. “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.”

What we acknowledged back then has been confirmed by experts at Deloitte and Gartner. Deloitte’s 2015 report on midmarket firms showed that midmarket companies have been investing quicker than years past to boost competitiveness and productivity.

To maintain productivity and a competitive advantage, many IT managers are turning to the cloud and its many options. What these IT managers are quickly finding out is that there is a wide range of cloud services, support options and even types of clouds that are now available.

A recent study of midmarket executives, IT directors and managers showed that nearly nine out of 10 believe that cloud computing is the future model of IT for midmarket organizations.  More results showed that:

  • The top three concerns for implementing the cloud are security (55 percent), legal compliance (38.5 percent) and privacy (37 percent). Of concern to only one in three of those surveyed: performance and reliability.
  • Slightly more than half of those surveyed feel their in-house IT team can implement a cloud strategy on their own.
  • Top benefits are disaster avoidance/business continuity (72 percent), followed by flexibility (70 percent), scalability (70 percent), lower total cost of ownership (57 percent), which was the subject of last month’s blog, and finally Op-Ex (52 percent).

And the top criteria for choosing a particular cloud partner? Price. The focus on price is short sighted compared to the total cost of ownership for a cloud solution. Key considerations also include the hidden costs of managing a cloud relationship, the depth or lack thereof support provided, ability to upgrade services and equipment, and scalability and agility.

Picking cloud services based on price is like buying a cheap pickup truck without a thorough inspection and without considering your long-term transportation needs. Just as a cheap pickup truck may get you where you need to be in the short run, the frequent cost of repairs and lack of flexibility can make for a short, bumpy ride.

A more holistic evaluation of your cloud provider based on your short-term and long-term needs, considering their ability to enable business agility and scale is key. Just like a tuned-up truck is more likely to get you to your destination, so too can the right cloud provider help you meet present and anticipated needs.

The right provider can ensure a successful unified communications implementation, including the fast-growing area of video. Bringing video into the work space builds team collaboration, supports customers who need help and brings value to stakeholder relationships. The right cloud provider will enable a contact center to offer omnichannel support to its inquiring customers looking for help by chat, email, phone or video.

Video is low hanging fruit in the area of midmarket cloud use. Midmarket companies are turning to Video as a Service (VaaS) to enable employee collaboration and customer-facing services without having to worry about enabling the conference participants’ underlying networks and technologies.

VaaS is a great alternative for businesses that want full corporate video capability without the need to invest in infrastructure, ongoing expertise or resources to maintain and upgrade features over time.

A predictable, high-quality VaaS experience can save clients time and money, and drive optimal levels of user adoption and return on investment. Video can bring customers, suppliers and key stakeholders under a common, secure business-to-business video community.  However, there are many elements that need to be carefully considered before making the right choice for the right partner.

According to Gartner’s recent study, which showed that video is gaining traction in the midmarket, there are three main things to consider when selecting a VaaS provider for the midmarket:

  • Excellent customer service and support
  • Simplified service solution management and maintenance
  • Transparent and competitive total cost of ownership

Also worth considering when choosing a cloud partner:

  • Plug-and-play simplicity and reliability. The cloud solution should accelerate both in-office and remote employee adoption of the capabilities needed to maximize productivity and satisfaction.
  • Extensive accessibility and interoperability. The cloud solution should be able to support any protocol, any video conferencing system, and any desktop or mobile device in any location.
  • Utility pricing. The pay-as-you-go model reduces risk of investing in deep initial upfront costs and provides a smooth predictable cost of scaling as the business grows.
  • Security knowledge. A cloud partner should show knowledge of UC (Voice, Video, etc.) security issues and have a process in place to deal with current security concerns as well as proactively deal with new and unforeseen issues. Key concerns can be mitigating toll fraud, call/session hijacking, denial of service risks, enabling remote connections without a VPN, etc.

Are you planning to implement video at the desktop or in the contact center? Have you investigated VaaS as a solution? What applications are you looking to host on the Cloud?

Follow me on Twitter at @Pat_Patterson_V

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If Getting Work Done Takes Too Much Work—Take the Team to Zang Spaces

Fast Company recently published a survey finding that the average tech CEO works 300 days a year, 14 hours a day. One third of that time is spent managing email, while another third is spent in meetings. Two thirds of a tech CEO’s time is spent communicating and collaborating, and this issue touches everyone in an enterprise, even Bob in Accounts Payable. It turns out getting work done just takes too much work, primarily due to the number of redundant tools users are given to accomplish tasks. Our application Zang Spaces™ addresses the enterprise communication problem in a big way.

What We Have Today

Desk phones and cell phones are great for communicating, but you can hold only one voice conversation at a time, which is nowhere near enough in our multi-tasking world. Digital transformation may seems like a new trend but enterprises digitally transformed communications years ago with tools like email, instant messaging, and web conferencing. While it’s ubiquitous, email is a horrible tool for collaboration. IM lets you participate in multiple conversations at the same time, but everyone has to be logged in at the same time to communicate, which is just dumb. Online meeting tools bridge the challenges of distance, but once a session is complete it’s usually gone forever. Newer collaboration tools such as on-line storage lockers are great for working on documents, but they’re “unitaskers” which only add to the tool overload.

How to Make Work, Well, Less Work

Cloud-based Zang Spaces doesn’t require anything to be installed in your data centers, or on your PC. You can use Zang Spaces to communicate, collaborate, and manage tasks in a single, easy application.

From One to Many

Zang Spaces can be used to communicate and collaborate with individual users via audio, video, and messaging. Since anyone can use Zang Spaces, you can invite resources from outside of your organization to collaborate. Zang Spaces can also be used to communicate and collaborate with groups of people. Simply create a virtual meeting room, called a “Space,” and invite the members of the team to participate by entering their email address.

Smart Messaging

When you first enter a Space, you see the group’s chat stream. Unlike IM, which requires users to be online to receive messages, Zang Spaces uses Smart Messaging. Unlike plain ol’ IM, you can catch up to the conversation that has happened while you were away, and then add your comments for others to read. The chat stream is synchronized across all of your devices, so you can add quick responses from your phone, and then elaborate when you’re back in front of a PC.

Order from Chaos

One of biggest problems with group chat is multiple conversations happening in one thread. Users lose track of what they’re trying to discuss, and it becomes a mess. Zang Spaces delivers order from this chaos with a tool called Posts. On a single form, your team can have topi- based, threaded discussions, which makes it super easy to stay focused. With Posts, you can even upload files that are relevant to the discussion.

Stay on Task

When you have a team working together, many times there are multiple tasks that must be managed to deliver results. Instead of adding another unitasker to your users’ crowded toolboxes, they can manage multiple tasks in Zang Spaces. Users can create tasks in a Space and assign them to one or more team members. Team members can discuss the task, update progress, and upload files relevant to the task on a single form that makes it a breeze to reference later.

Real Time, Not Real Complicated

When you need to get the team together in real time, thanks to the magic of WebRTC, with a single click in your browser, you’ve created an audio/video conference with team members. No plugins to download or software to install, simply share your desktop with team members, and even offer a dial-in phone number for audio-only access.

Start Now

Zang Spaces is absolutely free to use! Simply visit zang.io, sign up for an account, and you’re set. You can send and receive as many messages as you’d like, you can hold audio and video calls with individual users, create as many Spaces as you need, and even host five-party audio conferences … at no cost. If you need additional capacities, Zang Spaces Plus and Zang Spaces Pro offer huge capacities for a great price.

Want to learn more? Get your free account and then send me a message in Zang Spaces at forcum@avaya.com.

Do You Believe in Magic? Avaya’s Fix for Your Frustrating, Outdated CX

Stop me if you’ve had this customer experience before.

You have a problem. You’ve rebooted the device, made sure everything was plugged in, and done all of the “by the book” ways to fix your problem, yet the problem remains. You hunt through the manufacturer’s mobile app, use your “Google-Fu,” read through countless discussion forums, and the problem persists. Resigned to your fate, you then look up the customer service number1 and click dial.

Once the automated announcement starts playing, you begin mashing the zero key to bypass the auto attendant with more branches than a forest has trees.2 Finally, you’re put into queue waiting for an available agent. You are repeatedly told how important your call is, and after the third time you start to wonder how important it really is3. Finally connected with an agent, you explain your tale of woe. After dutifully outlining the steps you’ve taken to fix the issue before calling, and the super helpful agent knows EXACTLY what’s wrong, how to fix it, and right as they begin imparting this valuable knowledge to you … click. Your cell phone signal failed, and the call was dropped.

Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. You’ve been sent to customer service jail.

In a desperate attempt to reach the same agent, you immediately hit redial. You spend ten more minutes trying to convince yourself that this wait will be helpful, thinking maybe that agent jumped on another call but will be free when it’s your turn. The moment of truth arrives, your call is connected with an agent, at which moment you realize you’ve just played a game of chutes and ladders, and have landed on square sixteen which slides you all the way back to square one.

The super-helpful agent who knew exactly what the issue was and how to fix it is gone. Instead, you’ve been connected with a new agent who has no idea how to diagnose your problem or how to fix it. This agent can’t identify who you were speaking with before and doesn’t know what steps you’ve already tried. Forced to repeat everything, you wait while the agent attempts to find someone who can help you.

Imagine What We Can Do

This is an amazing time to be a consumer. We have information at our fingertips, regardless of location. Digital assistants literally answer our beck and call. Information is even becoming more personal, as wearable computers track our journeys and eliminate the need to dig into pockets to access information. We are more informed, empowered, and educated on the products and services that we rely and depend on, without interacting with a business brand or its ambassadors.

However, this empowerment does not mean we consumers don’t need help from time to time. When consumers choose to interact with a customer service organization, it’s mostly because attempts to resolve problems through self-service have been met with no success.4

This is the exact moment where consumers become the most frustrated. They fight through automated barriers that offer tools that don’t apply5, then wait for an agent, then revisit all of the steps that have been tried unsuccessfully.

Customer service organizations need some magic, which can be procured in one of two ways:

  • Option 1 – Hire a Chief Magical Officer
    While I’m sure such a CMO would be a fun addition to the company’s holiday party, this doesn’t seem practical.
  • Option 2 – Choose Avaya
    A much more practical option would be to connect with an Avaya account team or Avaya business partner. Avaya customer engagement solutions, dare I say, come with magic built-in!

Use Self-Service Where It Makes Sense

We know that consumers are more empowered than ever. When something breaks, they know to look at your website, mobile app, and other sources of self-service for tips on how to fix their problems. If they’ve called into your customer service organization, it’s because nothing has worked, so please, just pick up the phone! Poorly engineered voice self-service solutions are a barrier, not a help, to problem resolution.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Avaya IP Office Contact Center and Avaya Contact Center Select enable businesses to embed communications options right into their mobile app or website. Self-service moves to a more appropriate forum (text-based communications), and if the issue is too complicated for self-service, a single click can connect the customer to the customer service organization. Streamline the process and eliminate hurdles in front of customers to deliver better results.

The Customer is Always Right

In today’s hyper-connected world, there are more options than ever to communicate. If a customer’s preferred method of communication is a chat app, why make them choose something else to reach customer service? I guarantee you this—if your business is not trying to blend into its customers’ communication preferences, your competitors are.

Avaya IP Office Contact Center and Avaya Contact Center Select solutions are full multi-touch customer engagement solutions. With a healthy dash of simplicity, businesses of any size can support voice, text, mail and faxes from their customers, all without requiring a million confusing apps on the agent’s desktop. Using the same distribution methods for handling all customer interactions, businesses can gain better insights into their customers, and use that context to provide more magical customer experiences.

Put Everything into the Proper Context

Allowing customers to communicate on their terms sets up the magic trick. In the event that a customer starts an interaction in one channel, such as web chat, but then decides to move to another channel, he shouldn’t slide back to square one in solving the issue. Instead, the customer’s previous interactions with the company should be right at an agent’s fingertips. The agent can then better understand why the customer has called in, what was done previously, and cut down on the customer’s frustration at repeating information.

Avaya IP Office Contact Center and Avaya Contact Center Select place the customer’s history front and center in the agent’s desktop application. Returning to my opening scenario, when the cellular signal failed and the customer dialed back into the queue, with Avaya the second agent could easily see who the customer was previously talking with, read notes left on the customer’s record, and consult with the original agent if necessary. Problems are solved, customers are happy, and what was a frustrating situation can be resolved…magically.

Why Stop There?

Contact Center solutions are typically built around agent utilization, not customer satisfaction. Typically, when a customer dials back into the queue within seconds of a previous call, it’s handled no differently than someone dialing in for the first time. The call is queued with little to no context, and then routed to a new agent—not because the original agent wasn’t available, but because it’s not their turn to take a call.

That’s dumb. Avaya IP Office Contact Center is smart.

Avaya IP Office Contact Center identifies the customer based on their caller ID, and identifies which agent the customer was last speaking with. If the original agent is available, Avaya IP Office Contact Center will reconnect the customer to the same agent … even if it’s not their turn to take a call. Customers are pleased that they have reached the same agent, their problems are resolved effortlessly, and they share that experience with their friends and family.

It’s so simple, it must be magic.

The Fun Footnotes
1Stop burying your customer service number 3-5 clicks from “Contact Us” on your website. Signed: a frustrated consumer.

2Seriously, self-service is light years easier in a mobile app, or via your website. If I’m calling, it’s because something is complicated. If your auto attendant has branches growing out of control, take out the virtual shears because it’s time for some pruning.

3A relic of the past, a result of lazy programming, and a punchline for amateur stand-up comics. Stop the insanity! Signed: a frustrated caller in queue.

4Another thing … if I call in to customer service because I’m having trouble with a single field on your website, please do not assume you need to hold my hand through the rest of the customer journey. It’s frustrating for the consumer, and wasteful for agent utilization.

5I know there are some folks out there who use voice self-service to do things (like check balances, etc.) But I’d bet the utilization is waning. I humbly suggest you offer self-service as an option when answering calls instead of presenting all of the ways your IVR/auto attendant can provide assistance.

The New Era of Engagement Everywhere for the Midmarket

IT decision-makers working inside midmarket companies need to shift from the technology gatekeepers to the technology road pavers–instead of controlling who goes where, they must make it easy for their company’s employee to go where they need and want to go.

The first step is to adopt IT platforms that allow communication and collaboration capabilities to be extended across networks and different devices. Extending capabilities everywhere simultaneously creates value (by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of professional services teams on customer locations) and risk (by creating additional requirements for network access security).

In this new era of open engagement:

Employees will want to buy software like a consumer: In today’s BYOD environment, information workers want to use the devices and services that they are most comfortable with to maximize their productivity. For example, imagine a CEO demanding that IT support iPhones, an operations team adopting a free, over-the-top telephony service for internal calls, or a research and development team using public cloud storage to share planning documents.

Nearly three-quarters of employees say they’re happy with the technology they have at home, while just 59 percent of employees are happy with the technology they use at work. As a result, employees are increasingly bringing their own devices, services and software applications into the workplace.

Networks must be secure, reliable and manageable: Every year, the demands on a company’s network infrastructure grow. The network that strains under today’s traffic will have an even harder time handling the data-hungry applications of the future. Smart midmarket companies know the network is crucial to business success, and adopt technology that’s available, secure, reliable and supportable.

It’s estimated that breaches inside data centers cost an average of $3 million to $5 million to recover from. Midmarket companies would do well to take a closer look at network performance and security, with an eye toward the amount of time it takes to restore operations, and the estimated cost of network downtime. Leaving data security to an unmanaged patchwork of consumer devices and applications is dangerous.

Businesses need to innovate like a startup, or risk failure: In many respects, the business world is a zero sum game where the winner takes all. If you are not taking share from your competitors, they are most likely taking it from you.

A 2014 study by PWC found that “the most innovative companies are growing at a much faster rate: 62.2 percent vs 20.7 percent over the next five years.” Technologies like social business platforms, Web collaboration, and team engagement enable successful midmarket businesses to share information and ideas readily.

Being able to engage is the first step. Employees must embrace the innovation process and tools for them to operate in a high-performance team. To drive midmarket innovation, the company must first enable and support the devices and services that their employees are most comfortable with.

Reliable, predictable service of these devices and applications is key. Technology leaders, with the help of vendors and service providers, share the responsiblity of educating the informing workers on how and when to use new tools to engage with customers and peers. No matter how intuitive a user experience seems, it’s still critical to demonstrate the value of the solution in terms that workers understand. For example:

  • Sales teams can use live data from a Web-based app to check inventory on their tablet or smartphone in a customers’ office to drive urgency (or provide assurance of availability) when closing a deal.
  • Field service personnel can use point-to-point video communications to help fix mechanical issues at a customer site, using forward- and backward-facing cameras to see the expert and show them the problem.
  • Save time, effort and money by using desktop conferencing applications to share information and build personal relationships among distributed teams, whether they are sharing updates on projects, planning new activities, or making a business-critical decision.

New technologies, new processes and cultural adaptation will deliver breakthrough business results. Teams must accommodate shifting work schedules, share data and information, and collaborate rapidly to deliver market-leading innovation. Avaya and its global network of business partners stand at the ready to help your business succeed in the new era of engagement.

For more, read my white paper, “The New Rules of Engagement for Midmarket Businesses.”