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 Avaya’s Fix for Your Frustrating, Outdated CX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.

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Connected Health: The Digital Transformation of Care Innovation

All around the world, across the spectrum of disease, IT is changing our approach to chronic conditions and how we approach connected health. Text messages remind people living with HIV to take their medication and keep their medical appointments. Smartphone apps diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder by analyzing a user’s voice. Online forums enable breast cancer patients and survivors to trade information related to every stage of their care.

Collectively known as “connected health,” these recent, IT-driven innovations represent the intersection of digital technology and care. They’re transforming not only the way people manage their own health, but also the way they interact with their healthcare providers.

Unintended, but welcomed, consequences

By and large, connected health is an adaptation of technologies that were originally developed for other purposes. Mobile technology started out as a voice communication tool. Instant messaging was an outgrowth of online chat rooms. Social media became a means for making new friends.

Now these technologies have evolved and converged in a way that is overcoming formerly intractable barriers to care. By minding the agenda of day-to-day care, for instance, they give people the opportunity to stay in adherence with their treatments even where clinical visits are impractical due to cost, distance or availability. And by helping patients preserve their privacy, make sense of their conditions, and learn from others with similar experiences, health IT can lift the stifling veil of stigma from disease. 

The implications don’t stop with the individual. Connected health also helps people manage their own disease state so they don’t spread it to others. Across whole populations, it can allow interventions aimed at preventing chronic diseases, such as behavioral modifications that reduce the incidence of obesity.

Changing care innovation paradigms

In all these respects, connectivity is bringing to medicine a level of accountability and democratization that seemed unimaginable not so long ago. But it’s also dialing up the urgency of some unanswered questions. Among them:

  • What information is appropriate to gather? Not all information has value in a healthcare setting.
  • Will information remain proprietary? It’s unclear to what extent stakeholders are willing to advance the interests of the community ahead of the interests of a company.
  • What would a sharing paradigm look like? If companies were to share information, they would need a seamless, cohesive way to do it.
  • How will privacy and security be preserved? Artificial intelligence and machine learning are critical pieces of this equation.
  • How will healthcare use technologies to create new models of care? Today’s applications are largely geared toward improving quality and outcomes of existing care models.

There’s no one-size fits all solution to these questions. Neither is care innovation strictly a technology issue. Technologists must collaborate with clinicians, patients, and patient advocates to take care coordination and operational efficiency to the next level in helping people cope with long-term diseases. A new, technology-powered paradigm—one that transcends existing constraints of time and resources—can bring a welcome transformation in the ongoing management of care coordination and the patient experience.

Avaya Equinox, Now with Team Collaboration, Just Got More “Go-To”

 

I recently read that the Apple App Store now contains about 2.2 million apps. It’s an amazing number and a testament to the creativity of developers and the variety of our human interests and needs. But it made me wonder: how many apps can we really use on a regular basis & for what? Are they for fun? Are they informative? Do they increase team collaboration? If your smartphone is like mine, you’ve got a number of go-to apps that you use regularly, let’s say weekly, and probably a few you use daily or almost constantly. Then there are the Tier 2 apps, hiding in your folders that seldom see the light of day. It’s fun to delve into these folders every few months and rediscover the apps that I thought looked so interesting at the time but now languish for months on end.

What’s fun for personal apps however, can often become a nightmare in the work world. We all have someone in the office that has that need to be first with the latest hot app, to provide their take on what’s cool and what’s not and make everyone else feel a little short of the mark for not using it first. Of course most of these apps get frenzied activity for about 3 ½ days and then slip into oblivion. The issue for most of us is we simply have too much on the go to be constantly changing the way we work and coercing others to adopt our favorite app of the week.

What my work day really needs is a true go-to app. One that makes me more productive, more reachable, more on track and that lets me get to my tasks and meetings with a single touch. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know where I’m going with this: my go-to app is Avaya Equinox®. With its “mobile-first” Top of Mind screen, it provides me with at-a-glance visibility to meetings, instant messages and my call history giving me a single place to keep up to date and productive regardless of where my day may take me.

I’m happy to say that my go-to app just got more, well, “go-to”. The Avaya UC experience that I rely on every day is now being extended with the integration of a cloud-based team collaboration capability.  It gives me the full benefits of a team work environment that integrates voice, video, persistent team chat and messaging, along with file and screen sharing, all from within the Avaya Equinox experience.

Let me give you an example of these new Equinox team collaboration capabilities in action. I’m currently working with an external vendor on a major project. Our work will carry on for several quarters with new materials being created that need review, discussion, and likely several rounds of back and forth. To get the project kicked off and a vendor selected, we needed the full gamut of collaboration capabilities from simple voice calls to several all-day video conferences with participants joining from around the world – something easily managed with Avaya Equinox. 

The next step was to establish a core team and shift into a regular cadence of interaction. Adding the participants to the team collaboration space from both inside and outside Avaya was a snap and we were instantly able to communicate with one another – I use one to one instant messaging for small items or questions and chat when I want to involve the entire team for broader issues. Tasks get assigned within Avaya Equinox to keep our review cycles on track and we use the file sharing capability avoid clogging up our email. If I’m off line at some point, due to travel or other activity, a quick glance at Avaya Equinox gets me back up to speed with the team’s progress.

On a weekly basis, we usually need some face time, and Avaya Equinox provides complete meeting capabilities including audio / video conferencing with screen sharing so we all gain the advantages of personal interaction. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can all collaborate on content in real-time – it’s more productive and prevents misunderstandings across a widely distributed team. 

In many ways our team collaboration space has become a virtual “war room”.  Information is clearly visible and easily shared, I can see who’s available at any time and formal and informal discussions can be initiated with ease.

There’s no shortage of apps available to anyone with a mobile device and the time to spend browsing around an app store. The real challenge is finding those few go-to apps that you’ll use every day. If you aren’t using Avaya Equinox yet, I’d encourage you to give it a try. I think it will make your short list of “go-to” apps and in a month or two, you might wonder how you got through your day without it!

Building SMS Text Bots is a Breeze

As a nerdy guy, I love movies about other nerdy guys. Give me movies like “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Theory of Everything,” or “Einstein and Eddington” (two nerdy scientists for the price of one), and I am in geek heaven. Recently, I was thrilled by “The Imitation Game”—the story of Alan Turing and his quest to break Germany’s WWII secret code. While I would never dare to compare myself to Mr. Turing, I like to think that we would have a few things in common. One area would be our shared interest in natural language processing and intelligent behavior.

Way back in 1950, Turing crystallized his research into these studies in what has become known as The Turing Test. Simply put, The Turing Test is a test of a machine’s ability to impersonate a human being. For a machine to pass The Turing Test, it must be able to participate in a conversation with a human being to the point where the human doesn’t realize that he or she is interacting with a machine. I can only imagine what Turing would think of today’s technology such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Home. Better yet, imagine Alan conversing with the robot, Sophia. Would he be excited or frightened? Personally, I am a little of both.

Real or Not

If you have been reading my articles on No Jitter and here on the Avaya blog, you know how enamored I am of the Breeze and Zang workflow designers. Although I have spent the bulk of my professional life writing software in programming languages such C++ and Java, I have fallen in love with how quickly I can use the Breeze/Zang tools to go from idea, to prototype, to a production-quality application. I like to say that if you can draw it on a whiteboard, you can “code” it with Breeze.

So, the day I decided to build a text bot, I knew exactly how I was going to do it. Starting with a list of things I wanted my text bot to do, I was soon drawing out message flows and decision points (if this, do that). Once I was happy I had captured all the salient points, I turned to my computer and began typing. Early on, I realized that there was no way on earth I could capture all the different text messages my application would need to process. For instance, how many different ways can you ask for the location of a store? “Where are you located?” “What is your address?” “What city are you in?” “How can I find you?” The variations are nearly endless.

To solve this problem, I turned to natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). That, of course, led me to the 500-pound gorilla in the room—IBM Watson. With Watson, I can build “Conversations” that allow me to create intents, entities, and dialogs. Intents are used to classify a request. You can think of entities as modifiers to those intents. Dialogs are the words you want to “speak” after determining the intent.

For example, consider the phrase “Are you open on Sunday?” Here, the intent could be classified as “hours.” The entity is “Sunday.” A proper dialog could be, “We are open on Sunday from 12:00 to 5:00.” To keep things simple, I created three intents for my bot: Directions, Holidays, Hours. Those intents resulted in three dialogs. I left off entities for now.

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My next decision point had to do with maintaining a conversation over many text messages. For that I choose Avaya’s Contest Store, which allows me to temporarily store information about a text conversation. This information can then be accessed over the life of the chat.

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Now that I had an engine to process incoming text messages (Watson), and a method of maintaining a chat’s context (Contest Store), it was time to launch the Avaya Breeze Engagement Designer. I will admit that I still had a few logic problems to work through, but I would not be stretching the truth if I said that I had a rough draft of my text bot up and running in less than an hour. Working through those remaining issues consumed another couple of hours, but in a fraction of the time it would take me to write my application in Java, my bot was accepting text messages, building contexts, and texting back replies.

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I should also say that my bot is fully multi-user. It didn’t matter if one or one hundred people were all texting in at the same time. My bot kept track of each individual conversation and no one received a text meant for someone else.

 
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While my example bot is fairly simple in terms of what it can handle, the framework is extendable to just about any SMS conversations you might want to support. Future plans have me using Context Store to save the entire conversation between human and machine. Not only could this be useful for determining how accurately my bot responds to incoming requests, but it could also be used to help better serve customers. A recorded chat sessions could be presented to a human agent in the case where the user moved from text to a phone call.

Next, I would love to incorporate some of the other features that Watson provides. For example, by detecting the tone/sentiment of the conversation, my bot could sense if the human was becoming frustrated with the answers he or she was receiving from my bot. This would allow the bot to either escalate the chat to a live agent, or have an agent follow up afterwards to help soothe over what might have been an unpleasant experience – or both.

Mischief Managed

Human to human conversations aren’t going away anytime soon, but more and more machines are going to step in to handle the easy to moderately hard stuff. The point is not to trick people into thinking they are talking to a human being. The point is that machines can handle tedious jobs without coming across as machines.

While I highly doubt that anyone will ever make a movie about Andrew and his fabulous text bots, it isn’t all about fame and glory, right? This is exciting technology and the fact that I can use Breeze to create sophisticated bots by easily combining powerful, but disparate technologies, is red-carpet stuff.