Finally… A Contact Center for the Digital Era

Imagine interacting with a company—any company—via your preferred method whenever you want, whether making a phone call, using online chat, sending an SMS, or messaging via Facebook. And, you end up having exactly the experience you were expecting. No not another bad experience. Rather an exceptionally pleasant and good experience, that surprisingly takes less time than you originally anticipated. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

The reality is that traditional business communications have failed to keep pace with consumer-focused technological devices. As a result, customers’ expectations—while very high—are rarely met when interacting with a business. Customers know what a good technology experience looks like, sounds like. The simplicity, built-in intelligence and sophistication of today’s devices and apps have taught customers that it’s not difficult to have a simple and tailored experience. It’s not difficult to teach a computer to know who you are, what you prefer, what you like to listen to, watch, read, how you like to interact. If it’s not difficult, then why are customer experiences with companies so predictably bad?

It’s time to break the mold. It’s time to start a new customer experience wave that makes customers happy about doing business with a company, excited that a company values their time and loyalty. Let’s give companies the freedom to be innovative, proactive, independent and capable of operating in real time to meet the demands and needs of their customers and agents without fail.

Unlike their traditional predecessors, today’s technological systems and capabilities have finally caught up with digital customer expectations. We have arrived at a point in time where the digital brain of a machine and the reasoning mind of a human are aligned closer than ever. Look at IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa.

Now, all that’s needed is similar thinking and innovation applied to business communications. What’s needed is the re-invention of the contact center for the digital era.

Enter Avaya Oceana™

Oceana is a departure from traditional business communications, just as the smart device was a departure from the basic, voice-only flip phone. This is a contact center for the digital era. Companies today don’t want to risk losing customers as a result of a bad experience. They can’t afford it. Companies want a single solution with best-in-class flexibility that gives them the ability to:

  • Drive adoption of self-service channels by seamlessly linking these into the contact center to deliver an omnichannel multi-touch experience.
  • Make agents more efficient and more effective by enabling them to handle multiple parallel interactions using an integrated multi-media desktop.
  • Reduce call times through utilizing contextual knowledge of prior and in-progress interactions to streamline customer interactions.
  • Drive higher customer satisfaction / NPS by tailoring the engagement experience to address their business’s unique/specific customer needs.
  • Rapidly optimize and continuously improve how they engage with their customers by leveraging their system’s flexibility, openness and integration capabilities.

In turn, customers get the experiences they know modern-day technology is capable of providing. The sophisticated yet simple and intelligent experiences they have grown accustomed to having with their smart devices, tablets, laptops, digital televisions and other smart appliances. This is Oceana.

Avaya Is the Innovative Leader for the Digital Era

When we made the decision and accepted the challenge to lead the industry in re-inventing the contact center, we did not enter into this without careful thought and consideration … of everything. Leaving no stone unturned, we diligently looked at what our customers and our competitors’ customers are working with today. We uncovered more cobbled together, Frankenstein-esque systems than I ever thought existed. The complexity of processes and user experiences that companies unintentionally created by not keeping up with technology upgrades was amazing. Holding on to these older technologies today when all of these digital capabilities are available is similar to keeping a shelf full of CDs for your music. Eventually you realize that making the choice to go digital can transform your world for the better.

What we also learned was that if we were going to re-invent the contact center for the digital era, we had to think differently because digital technology and digital customers require different thinking. We challenged each other daily to think differently. That’s been the biggest challenge all along for companies struggling through digital transformations. But as Avaya learned with our own transformation, once you make the hard decisions, start thinking differently and get to the other side of the transformation, a whole new world of opportunity becomes available to you.

As Oscar Goldman used to say during a time when human-to-machine technology was something only Hollywood could dream up, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.” The truth is we finally do have the technology. We can rebuild the contact center. This is no longer a futuristic endeavor, this is now. In fact, let me rephrase that: we have rebuilt the contact center.

This is Oceana. This is the contact center for the digital era. This is the start of something new, the start of something big.

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From Smart City Buenos Aires 2017: Converging AI, IoT, Blockchain

I had the pleasure to attend and speak at the recent Smart City Buenos Aires event. At this first event in the city’s new convention center, many technology and industry experts discussed how to accelerate adoption of digital services and transform customer and citizen experiences. In my session, I talked about three topics: AI, IoT, Blockchain. These are usually covered separately, but I talked about how the fast convergence of these technologies is adding tremendous value to the businesses and people using these new services.

There is clearly a lot of buzz around AI (Artificial Intelligence) and automation is top of mind to deliver better experiences while driving higher levels of efficiency for businesses. IoT on the other hand has been discussed a lot over the last few years and its role is to bring real-time analytics output to the automated framework (which AI is part of). IoT triggers a sophisticated workflow to personalize and customize the customer and user experiences enterprises deliver.

So, why Blockchain? As you start delivering personalized services it is likely you will need to access or store a lot of personal information, which requires a much stronger security architecture than what we have seen in the past with a centralized model. Blockchain, being a distributed architecture using cryptography and a concept of “write a record once,” provides enormous value to the use cases required as part of digital transformations. All of these combined provide a very powerful solution and I see these being jointly implemented a lot more in the near future.

A Use Case Shows the Benefit of Converging AI, IoT, Blockchain

Imagine wearing a device that monitors your heart rate and level of exercise every day. You have loaded all of your personal info (identity—including fingerprint and facial recognition, contact info, doctor, medications, allergies, etc.). For security, this info is stored in a Blockchain database architecture. Your personal medical insurance company takes your health seriously and is constantly monitoring various aspects of your health throughout the day through the wearables you have registered with them.

While attending an event, your wearable device reports an abnormal heart rate. The AI, through its analytics, determines the abnormality is a precursor to a heart attack. An event is immediately triggered to notify your doctor and provide any concerning data gathered over the last few days. Your doctor sees something serious and orders an ambulance to pick you up and take you to a hospital.

Your wearables determined your exact location, which is sent to the emergency response team with all the necessary data for them to assist you. When you get to the hospital, the system tied to your personal digital currency (let’s say bitcoin), which also uses Blockchain, enables you to upgrade and pay for a private room.

The AI-enabled framework provided a complete automated experience which may have just saved your life.

Endless Use Cases are in the Works

As people continue to envision scenarios like this, I see AI, IOT, and Blockchain converging at a very fast pace to bring highly valued experiences to customers and citizens. This isn’t the stuff of the future. All of this is technically possible today—there are limitless use cases being created right now that will change how we all live.

Sign of the Times: Avaya at Dreamforce this Year!

When for many companies Dreamforce is simply a given, at Avaya we wanted to connect our presence to a unique value proposition. In all aspects of our business decision making, we think of ourselves as a leader, not a follower. Are we being a leader if we participate in an event because everyone else is? The answer is simple: No. We still continue to be the current global leader in contact center and our own Avaya Engage events attract thousands of customers, partners and prospects. The January Engage event in New Orleans is already on track to be the biggest event in Avaya history. Thinking of ourselves as a leader—not a follower—in all aspects of our decision making, works for us.

This year, we announced a significant partnership with Salesforce that many of our competitors can only dream about (no pun intended). This year being at Dreamforce to support and showcase our partnership is a great decision, a great opportunity. I have it on good authority that both Avaya and Salesforce believe that the timing of this particular partnership is perfect. No other contact center-CRM partnership compares.

Sure, like everyone else, we could have aggressively sought a partnership with Salesforce years ago when Marc Benioff famously changed the conversation with his “NO SOFTWARE!” slogan to get companies thinking and talking about cloud differently. We could have jumped on that bandwagon. We were doing integrations with Salesforce CRM for a lot of customers of all sizes at that time. But the reality was that the majority of our 30,000 enterprise contact center customers were not ready to go Cloud yet when it came to their mission-critical, contact centers. There was still too much uncertainty surrounding Cloud. Sure they wanted to integrate Avaya voice with the most popular CRM application in the world, but that was all they wanted at that time.

Now as digital transformation is something most companies are embracing, they are learning that there are attributes of transformation that can benefit them tremendously. Cloud, mobility, embedded, analytics, multichannel integration, omnichannel, customer journey, workflow automation, customization, artificial intelligence, and the list goes on.

The integration of any and all digital channels (email, chat, SMS, social, etc.) is in a formative state. It’s early days. We hear from customers that they want digital channels but they’re not quite sure how they want to deal with going digital. We already know that not everyone will activate all the channels at once. Some might never use all the channels. Companies have to do what’s right for their business, what’s right for their customers.

According to our recent about the adoption of digital channels, 80% of customers have been focusing on best-of-breed digital channels; meaning that they are using SMS from one vendor, email from another, chat and social from another. But 50% of those same customers have said that they will evolve to a single vendor solution of integrated digital channels over the next three to five years. The important part of integrated digital channels is integration with voice and CRM. Digital transformation is the driver.

Enter the Avaya Salesforce partnership. What this partnership means to Avaya and Salesforce customers is: the choice is yours. We are not going to force you into a single solution. Working with Salesforce, we want to understand what experiences you’re trying to drive for your customers and your agents. Do you want Avaya Oceana digital channels integrated with Avaya voice and Salesforce CRM? No problem. Do you want Salesforce digital channels integrated with Avaya voice and Salesforce CRM? No problem. What experiences do you want to drive for your customers and agents? Avaya and Salesforce can work together with you to get you what you need to transform how you are engaging with your customers.

And the choices don’t stop with channel integrations. Embedded is an important transformation attribute. It’s well known that for many industries, contact center agents live and work in their CRM application. Yet the number of windows they have to click and resize to jump from the customer data in the CRM app to the contact center desktop and back again, wastes valuable time and money. No agent should have to waste seconds clicking open, close and resize windows when interacting with a customer or multiple customers at a time. We can embed Avaya digital channels including voice, into the Salesforce desktop. Unlike our competitors, we don’t have a sense of ownership when it comes to the desktop. We recognize that agents live in their CRM application, especially when it’s as easy to maneuver as Salesforce. The desktop is not what Avaya specializes in. High quality voice, sophisticated routing, ease of integration, workflow automation, etc. these are the sophisticated functionalities that customers want and expect from Avaya.

Going to Dreamforce for some may be because it’s what the competitors are doing. For Avaya, we are going to Dreamforce because being a leader is about knowing when the timing is right. The timing is right for Avaya and Salesforce. As a result, the timing is right for Avaya to be at Dreamforce.

The Contact Center Industry is Exciting…Again!

  • “How can we get our customers connected to the right information faster?”
  • “We can’t forget the importance of convenience.”
  • “Simplification. We need everything to just be simpler. Is that possible?”
  • “We have to focus on our transformation journey while also growing our business.  It’s not easy.”
  • “We are excited to embrace bots, AI and even IoT, especially if these technologies can improve our customer and agent experiences.”

These are just a few of the challenges heard around the expo floor and in the Avaya Innovation Lounge here at Call Center Week this week. The topics are many. The conversations are inspiring. The need to digitally transform is painfully obvious.

There is no doubt that contact center leaders are feeling the pressure to have their centers and their agents perform more efficiently, faster and with more insight. Companies today are mostly competing on customer experience. Many contact center decision makers are realizing that just upgrading technology will not suffice in this transformational era. Transformation is a journey. The technology purchase decisions made should be open, scalable, and flexible enough to undergo the entire journey and beyond.

Now that we are about three years into digital transformation of enterprise communications, the contact center has taken center stage. The intensity of the spotlight has attracted other influencers such as the Chief Marketing Officer, the Chief Experience Officer, VP of Customer Service, and so forth. These executives are finding that their business priorities and goals are attached to customer experience outcomes. As a result, they want to understand what technology purchase decisions are being made and why. What does this mean? The traditional contact center decision makers can no longer go it alone.

No surprise that the battle cry for simplification is louder than ever. This need for simplification is rooted in the fact that transformation is happening very quickly. The faster companies transform, the faster they can adopt newer technologies such as AI and IoT to improve customer and agent experiences. However, with any new technology comes the need to simultaneously begin transforming the agent’s experience. The newer technologies, including omnichannel, need to quickly become as intuitive to the agents as a voice call or email. To do this, training the agent needs to be easy and efficient. This is where automated workflows, consistent and intuitive agent desktop, and the ability to quickly design and customize both become a huge benefit. Likewise, built-in call/screen capture recording and quality monitoring, supervisors and managers can quickly spot areas of training/improvement across all channels. They can observe interactions and provide coaching as well.

To borrow a line from the original Top Gun movie: “I feel the need, the need for speed.” Though not said exactly like Maverick and Goose, speed is a very trendy topic at this event. Business at the speed of thought is our goal at Avaya. We challenge ourselves to keep this idea top of mind when developing and innovating. Speed is key. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear some people here are actually talking faster than normal because they feel the need for speed!

It’s an adrenaline rush to be here, especially in the Avaya Innovation Lounge where many people are realizing that Avaya is the ideal trusted advisor with the expertise, the right portfolio, and the partner eco-system to digitally transform a contact center. As challenging as it is, I truly believe that digital transformation has made the contact center industry very exciting again.