Digital Transformation Begins and Ends with the Customer

Being a consumer today can be frustrating. We are armed with uber powerful, smart devices that encourage multitasking from anywhere there is a connection. But the one obstacle continues to be the companies, small and large, we want to do business with via these devices. For the most part, these companies are not yet as smart as our smart, handheld devices.

It almost feels like being the first fax machine owner. It must have been a terrific feeling, but who could you talk to?

Is the gap between consumers’ smart devices and the digitization of the companies we want to do business with ever going shrink? Or will the consumer’s device always be smarter?

Smart devices have been around for a long time. In 2016 we would not consider ourselves early adopters. However, when comparing smart device adoption to corporation’s adoption of digital engagement technology, many corporation’s global infrastructures are still not as smart as our handheld devices. Case in point, last year Dimension Data reported that two out of five companies say that their current digital channel systems don’t meet current needs and less than half of those companies believe their digital infrastructure will deliver against future needs. With smart phone subscriptions expected to surpass basic phone subscriptions this year, companies are clearly struggling—and already predicting that they will continue to struggle—to keep up with their customers’ digital needs and expectations, starting with true mobility.

Think about that: the consumer experience is ahead of what most companies’ IT can deliver today and your smart device can do things for you that a global IT infrastructure, with all it scale and cost, can’t. It’s a very strange reality.

The reality for these companies is that investments in upgrading and modernizing to digitize an entire infrastructure takes budget, time, planning, and most important, commitment. Yet, not digitizing fast enough can be detrimental to the bottom line if your customers, partners, suppliers can’t interact with you as easily as they can your competitors.

Where to Start a Digital Transformation

After a company has determined that digitizing their infrastructure is an urgent matter and can no longer wait, the next challenge is planning where to start—all the while, your customers are continuing to get smarter devices. Every function, from human resources to procurement to sales to marketing, will benefit. But the truth is that the need to modernize the infrastructure originated with the customer. So doesn’t it make sense that the modernization starts where the customer interacts most—the customer experience center?

I willfully admit that may be an obvious answer coming from the CTO of Avaya. But as a customer myself, I want to do business with companies that prioritize me as a customer, and invest accordingly. I don’t want to read in the press how great their IT is if I cannot get my questions answered or my requests fulfilled and have a poor or lukewarm customer experience.

This goes back to the basics of business success. The basics that are often overlooked in the fast paced, digital world we live in: the customer is always right. The customer is the priority. The customer is why we’re in business. Treat customers as you would want to be treated. Customer. Customer. Customer. You can’t go wrong putting the customer first. User experience is king.

Unfortunately many companies who have, or are undertaking a digital transformation in order to survive, have forgotten that it’s the customer’s experience that is most important, not the company’s experience. Sure the company benefits from a digital transformation—the CAPEX and OPEX benefits are many. Employees will be more efficient, productivity will be up, performance will be easier to assess and modify. But the focus must still be about how the transition will affect the customer’s experience with the company from beginning to end.

Furthermore, the practice of contact center technology management has enabled teams to perfect how to evolve the services associated with the voice channel. Voice is often considered the most complex, technologically challenging channel—voice quality matters, and issues are immediately perceptible. As an industry, we have spent years studying and understanding how to improve upon the quality and delivery of voice to the customer experience. This same ongoing attention to detail, planning and understanding of quality needs to be applied to every additional touch point made available to the customer to connect with you. This is the humanization of going digital.

A Case for Retailers

Take traditional retailers for example. Any traditional retailer that started out as brick and mortar then needed to evolve to online sales in order to survive is compared to the king of online, digital retail: Amazon. One thing Amazon knows is that being a digital retailer is not just about putting products and services online and making them available for purchase. The real value is in defining the actual customer experience of the online shopper, and increasingly the online mobile shopper.

  • Is the online, mobile experience the same experience customers have when they visit a store or better?
  • Is the process for returning an online purchase the same experience as returning at the store or better?
  • If there is a problem with the product after it’s been purchased, is the online, voice, video, chat, omnichannel customer service experience the same as in store or better?
  • Is the customer punished for purchasing online by having to pay added shipping fees?

Notice that none of these questions ask: is the company’s experience the same or better?

This is why starting a digital transformation with the customer experience center, aka the contact center, is the logical starting point. The contact center will never be pure digital because customers expect some human interaction at some point. Add to that, that more often than not, employees—subject matter experts—outside the contact center are more actively involved with customer experience. As a result, every scenario or use case for human interaction needs to be considered and planned for during a digital transformation. Maybe the human interaction is not during the shopping process or the purchasing process. But having the ability—the option—to connect with another human being when questions or doubts arise before, during, or after the purchase is a key part of any customer journey. It builds loyalty and a long-term digital relationship with the customer.

Hidden Benefit of Customer-focused Starting Point

A hidden benefit of starting with the customer experience is that you already have people excited and ready to help you through the transition. I’m not talking about your vendor—obviously they will be there with a plan in place to partner with you through every step—if not, then you have the wrong vendor. I’m talking about your contact center agents.

Many companies when they start this transition have learned that their agents, as customers themselves and in their personal lives, are very comfortable working on multiple channels in addition to talking on the phone. In fact, the learning curve for the agents is often not as time intensive as originally anticipated. They’re excited to be able to engage with customers on any channel and create an integrated, omnichannel experience. More importantly, they understand the benefits of being able to see the customer’s entire experience history with the company—from in-store, to online, to social, to experience with products and services, etc.

That said, for social channels, more than half of companies will typically have a dedicated social response team in place to respond to customers on social channels. But having access to the customer’s history of interactions with the company across all channels, including social, is a relief to any customer interaction agent—contact center or in store. One of the top complaints by agents is not having a complete view into all of the customer’s interactions with the company. No one likes to feel stupid when trying to calm down and possibly save an unhappy customer. Having a complete view of the customer across all channels including an historical view should be a priority. Yet 79% of companies still don’t have this view today.

Many companies will say that the delay in providing their agents with a complete customer journey view is because they are still trying to leverage legacy investments through their digital transformation. Managing a digital transformation of the customer experience center by keeping legacy investments in place, while completely understandable, is not without risk. With more than 2.6 billion global users of smart phones, the risk in delaying a full digital transition is quickly losing business to competitors who are digitizing their entire infrastructure without looking back.

Once the decision to go digital is made and communicated, going digital starting with the customer experience is exciting. It means being able to be more efficient, which makes people more productive. The ability to have each customer’s historical record of interactions across all channels readily available means the agents are better informed about each customer, which allows the agents to do a better job with each customer. It also provides a single location for analytics to work its magic—but analytics is important enough on its own to be the focus of a separate blog at a later date. This is where and how customer loyalty and customer satisfaction start to go up.

It is clear to me that the level of excitement is directly correlated to the fact that your agents/employees are also customers themselves. They are smart device users. They know from experience how painful it is to try to interact with a company that is not yet digitally transformed.

And we’ve come full circle. The customer—more than 2.6 billion smart device users—is the real focus of a digital transition. On behalf of customers everywhere, please don’t forget that.

 

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Transforming Online Meetings for Team Collaboration

I find it interesting how companies choose to measure team collaboration. Most use surveys, some productivity data, and others standard review processes. Yet team collaboration is about so much more than all of this. If you ask us, it’s about putting people first.

We mean this quite literally. It’s important to provide employees with a suite of face-to-face collaboration capabilities that enable dynamic, real-time team collaboration. Communication staples like voice and chat are surely important, along with the endless other tools teams use to connect and share information. Meeting via video, however, is arguably the best way to collaborate, build relationships, create momentum and build morale. Face-to-face collaboration may not always be needed, but companies will want to make sure they have the best tools in place for when it is.

When done right, online meetings enhance team collaboration in several ways. Consider the most basic of them all: a good part of communication is non-verbal. Being able to observe team members’ body language can help prevent miscommunication and connect across languages and cultures. The technology has also evolved to the point where teams can flexibly share data, documents and other project details via screen sharing or virtual whiteboards. All the while, there’s the opportunity to initiate private chat sessions between team members to discuss simultaneously.

The bottom line: online meetings enable authentic human interaction that delivers real value, time and cost savings, and better business outcomes.

Now, imagine being able to quickly implement an easy-to-use, cost-effective service that skips the capital investment and technical hassle of a traditional video solution. This is exactly what Avaya Equinox Meetings Online offers: a cloud-delivered application that allows users—both employees and outside contacts—to connect with their browsers (no plug-ins required) or mobile apps to effortlessly initiate and/or participate in online meetings. The service places priority back on people, which is where it belongs. Simple as that.

Don’t believe us? Read Nemertes Q4 2017 Enterprise Business Value Matrix for Unified Communications and Collaboration to see what they had to say. If you like what you see, or if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our team for more information via our webchat.

The Easy Button for IoT

I am sure that I don’t have to tell you how the Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing our world. Stop by any electronics retailer and you will find smart TVs, smart lights, smart refrigerators, and smart thermostats. Open up the brochure for a new car and you will find more space dedicated to intelligent sensors than horsepower. Tour a modern manufacturing plant and you will quickly discover that nearly every machine used in production has been equipped with an IP address. From the consumer to the enterprise, IoT is the driving force of innovation.

Of course, there is a dark side to this revolutionary technology: It’s not all that easy. As a consumer, it’s not a big deal to have one smart dryer that sends a text message when your clothes are dry. It’s also pretty simple to have your refrigerator email you a photo of its contents. In these cases, it’s just you and your machine.

However, what if you had a thousand dryers and ten thousand refrigerators. Let’s take it further. What if you were American Airlines and your fleet of airplanes had five hundred thousand different sensors reporting information every second. Now, imagine that some devices reported data using Bluetooth while others used Zigbee, WiMAX, LTE, WiFi, and NFC. Want to make it even more challenging? These different sensors report data reading using SOAP, REST, WebSockets, and a myriad of proprietary protocols. It quickly becomes an engineering nightmare to collect, store, and take the appropriate actions on this constant stream of data.

One Bite at a Time

Question. How do you eat an elephant? Answer. One bite at a time.

As with an elephant, the best way to conquer the IoT problem is to break it down into bite-sized pieces. Instead of trying to directly deal with all those different sensors and their unique forms of communication, have those sensors talk to gateways that understand multiple IoT dialects. Those gateways could then normalize the data before sending it off to a central cloud repository. Next, wrap the IoT cloud with web services that allow for a consistent and uniform way to access IoT data. Finally, use those web services to create a suite of applications for data visualization, event processing, analytics, etc.

Now, instead of being inundated with terabytes of data that may or may not be important, you only see what you need to see and only when you need to see it. You also have a scalable platform that allows you to add new sensors without having to constantly redesign and redeploy your business applications.

At Arrow Systems Integration (ASI), an Avaya A.I.Connect partner, we call this distributed architecture of sensors, gateways, and cloud services Arrow Connect™.

Arrow Connect

Arrow Connect is a software architecture that connects any device over any protocol to any cloud. Designed and developed by Arrow with security, scale, flexibility, device management, multi-tenancy, hierarchy, open APIs, and extensibility as its core principles, Arrow Connect is helping customers across multiple industries bring their products to market faster.

The Arrow Connect software development kit (SDK) helps enterprises leverage the full capabilities of any device while an extensible software gateway allows developers to add support for protocols and sensors not currently supported by Arrow Connect.

The Arrow Connect cloud platform enables secure provisioning and management of all its devices. It runs on multiple public cloud platforms and seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Azure, IBM Watson Bluemix/Softlayer, Amazon Web Services, and private data center solutions.

Breeze and Zang Workflows

While support for RESTful web services is essential to being an open and secure cloud solution, this comes with a price and that price is complexity. Despite being an open standard understood by most software developers, the fact that you must be a developer to use web services confines them to a very select group of people.

In our quest to find every possible way to simplify IoT, ASI has partnered with Avaya to add support for Arrow Connect IoT devices, sensors, and gateways into Avaya Breeze and the Zang Workflow Designer. With both of these platforms, access to IoT data and Arrow Connect services becomes as simple as drag and drop and non-developers can create powerful IoT solutions in a matter of minutes. Better still, this simplification does not come at the cost of accuracy, reliability, speed, security, or scalability. The visual tasks embedded in these workflow tools employ the same Arrow Connect web services a skilled software developer would use. The difference is that there is no need to learn Java, .Net, Python, or any other programming language.

 

The Easy Button for IoT

With integrated workflow technology, you can quickly turn an idea on a whiteboard into a fully functional and easily deployable solution.

Next Steps

McKinsey recently said that “Any business that fails to invest heavily in the IoT in the next 10 years is unlikely to be able to remain competitive.” While these may seem like strong words, industry after industry has taken them to heart and the IoT revolution is everywhere. As I stated at the beginning of this article, IoT is becoming pervasive for both consumers and businesses.

The simplification, scalability, and security of IoT offered by Avaya and Arrow Systems Integration helps an enterprise to create the solutions it needs to enhance its business, grow its customer base, and stay competitive.

Andrew Prokop is the Director of Emerging Technologies at Arrow Systems Integration. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely-read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ajprokop, and read his blog, SIP Adventures.

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.