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.

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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 Power of Change

Change is bound to happen whether you enable it or not, whether you are ready for it or not. It will just happen. The question is: When change happens, are you making the most of the opportunities that result?

Consider the customer engagement or contact center industry as it’s commonly known. What’s driving tremendous change is digital transformation. It’s rare when two words can make such an impact in every company, worldwide, invoking an equal level of heightened fear and extreme optimism. This is a point in time for our industry that historians will look back on and point to as a revolution. For the contact center industry, it’s doubly impactful because not only do contact center companies need to transform themselves, they need to be innovating to enable all their customers and partners to transform as well.

As fate would have it, the biggest driver of enterprise-wide digital transformation is the need to transform how customers, companies and employees communicate. To meet a need of this magnitude takes vision coupled with the experience and expertise to execute the vision, to change the conversation.

At Avaya, we have that vision, experience and expertise. Since the beginning of the contact center industry we have been and are innovating communications tools and applications that enable business to get done at the speed of thought—true transformational change that meets the expectations of consumers and employees head on. The foundation of doing business at the speed of thought requires utilizing cloud, automation, and pervasive analytics to optimize communications: employee-to-employee, customer-to-company, machine-to-machine, machine-to-people, etc. requires the ability to change.

Recently a different type of change prompted a fresh conversation. Gartner published its Magic Quadrant for Contact Center Infrastructure Worldwide. For the first time in 16 consecutive years, Gartner has decided that Avaya didn’t qualify to be in the leader’s quadrant due to its chapter 11 filing. Gartner has stated that this change has nothing to do with our solution capability, nothing to do with the Avaya’s operations.

Avaya remains the global market leader in contact center with 34% share, which is 14.5 points ahead of the No. 2 contact center company. Avaya is also still the leader, No.1, in all regions of the world.

We have signed more than 1,100 customer contracts since the chapter 11 filing through March 31, 2017. Furthermore, Gartner acknowledged that due to our innovation and investment in the Avaya Oceana™ Solution with its Avaya Breeze™ development platform, our vision is improved. With our continued Avaya Oceana and Avaya Breeze customer win announcements we are also demonstrating solid sales momentum of our omnichannel offering.

IDC recently observed that 2017 will be a landmark year for digital transformation. Companies are done kicking the tires. It’s time to take action now. They predict that this year we will see transformation happening more quickly than ever before, which is being demonstrated in the momentum we are seeing with Avaya Oceana. As an omnichannel contact center built on a development platform (which also becomes available to users to create their own personalized, highly scalable, cloud applications in just hours to days) Avaya Oceana is well positioned to become the transformation tool of choice.

There is no doubt that the industry is changing and digital transformation is the motivator. At Avaya, our CEO has a talk he gave to our sales teams at the beginning of the year called “From the Basement to the Boardroom.” He observes that due to the impact of digital transformation and the spotlight now on the importance of the contact center’s role in enterprise-wide transformation, no longer are contact center decisions relegated to the basement where all the hardware and data center gear traditionally resides.

Contact center decisions have now caught the attention of the c-suite: from the basement to the boardroom. The Chief Marketing Officer, Chief People Officer, Customer Experience Officer, Chief Product Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, etc. all have a vested interest in needing to transform how the company is communicating and collaborating in order to meet their individual and common business priorities. With the sophistication and complexity of how a contact center is designed to operate coupled with the detailed historical and real-time information that flows in and out of it, the level of importance of the contact center has raised significantly.

As a result, the contact center is quickly becoming the showcase for how to transform an entire organization. The importance of attribute routing to ensure the best person or team is engaged, the value of communicating across multiple channels, the benefit of maintaining real-time, historical, predictive and actionable analytics about each customer experience—these are just a few contact center capabilities that can be applied to other areas of the business to drive transformative efficiencies. The value of the information generated and maintained as a result of utilizing these capabilities, beyond the contact center, can change how an entire global organization is functioning for the better.  

When change happens are you making the most of the opportunities that result? For Avaya, I am proud to say that the answer has always been and will continue to be a resounding YES! Change is how we move forward. Having the foresight and the vision to see past today, past this week, past this month and see the bigger picture is how a leader embraces and affects change. Together with our customers, we are making the digital opportunity happen, and will continue.