Universal Routing is Tao for the Omnichannel Contact Center

Is the key to omnichannel simply adding more channels? That is, if you supported every fathomable channel—all of which were seamlessly integrated—would your contact center become its strongest? I’d say no. Not until you’re ready to evolve a core element of omnichannel that is often overlooked. Read on to learn the impact that universal routing can have.

You’re a customer, right? So you know that when it comes to the brands you love to do business with, choice is vital. We want possibilities. More importantly, we want to be empowered to decide which serve us best depending on our needs. This is exactly why 20% of customers now use three or more interaction channels. What starts on a phone call might lead to an order on a website, which may offer chat assistance, followed by an email confirming the order and an SMS when it arrives. And this is just the beginning of digital transformation. Some reports suggest the average customer will be using as many as 11 channels by the end of next year.

But brands are mistaken if they think omnichannel is the end-all solution. While it’s true that we should be doing a much better job of channel integration (almost 60% of channels currently operate in silos), the real question is how resources are being matched across channels. I’d argue that an organization’s routing capabilities outweigh touchpoint integration.

What Really Matters for CX Success?

Omnichannel doesn’t amount to much unless customers are put in touch with the right resource at the right time depending on their needs. In just three years, it’s expected that demand for omnichannel will be driven by the need for near perfect execution. Not necessarily the number of channels that are integrated, but the way these channels are leveraged to deliver unparalleled experiences.

In an ultra-competitive landscape, a masterful balance between human and digital interaction keeps customers coming back. This means more than just basic routing. What I’m talking about here is universal routing: one integrated agent experience, one routing engine, unified reporting, and data-driven resource matching.

The Transformative Power of Universal Routing

We’ve officially entered a new era of routing, one in which the entire resource pool is considered based on a vast array of knowledge and expertise, in addition to availability. In this next-gen environment, agents can be matched with customers based on everything from certifications to similar interests—even to their unique situation on a given day. That employee with a sore throat may not be best for the phone today. You can modify your routing rules to ensure he focuses on chat and email, applying his skills to serve customers for that day. You can also consider employees’ empathy and adjust to reflect day-to-day performance.

For the omnichannel contact center, universal routing is deemed Tao. It sustains operations, drives unique new revenue streams and, above all, strategically leverages resources for the utmost benefit to the customer, making it a better experience for both the customer AND the agent. Consider these scenarios:

  • Meet Greg, the regular nightly supervisor of a customer contact center. Greg knows that chat traffic spikes from 5 pm to 8 pm as customers come home from work and begin browsing the web. With the ability to gain insight into all agent activity across every interaction channel, he can dynamically flex business based on customers’ behaviors and tendencies. He can even create rules that dynamically make this shift every night based on traffic rates to ensure consistency. Better yet? He can apply the same rules to any interaction channel—SMS, email, chat, social media, voice—to support evolving CX initiatives.
  • You’re the CMO of a national pet supplies store. (Congrats!) You need to consistently deliver amazing experiences by matching customers with their best resources. In this case, you may want to program a routing rule that directs interactions based on specific agent attributes. So, when customer Tammy initiates a chat session asking for new food recommendations for her two-year-old cocker spaniel, you can have her routed to a dog-loving agent. While assisting her, that agent may see that Tammy recently called about an out-of-stock toy. That toy may still be unavailable, but what better opportunity to recommend a similar toy? Or, you can see that Tammy is overdue for a checkup and grooming for her beloved pup. Why not proactively offer to set up an appointment with her preferred specialist? This is how companies get their customers thinking three simple words: “They get me.” That’s how loyal brand advocates are born. And they’ll let the world of social media know about it.
  • You’ve been sending out post-interaction surveys to gain insight into customers’ experiences. When going through collected data, you learn that attribute matching increases revenue by an average $8 per interaction. Multiply that by 10,000 interactions and you can begin predicting the financial impact of establishing custom routing rules. From there on out, you can change and improve those rules as needed.

Introducing an Alliance for the Ages

Universal routing is the key to omnichannel, and that’s exactly why Avaya forged a strategic partnership with Salesforce earlier this year. Through this partnership, we are introducing the Avaya CRM Connector specifically for Salesforce integration with the Avaya Oceana™ Solution. The solution is designed to enhance the relationship between Salesforce and the underlying foundation of the contact center. Built on our open application Avaya Breeze™ platform, this modular software enables users to seamlessly integrate with a range of Salesforce applications including Lightning, the company’s all-new framework for enterprise app development.

The Avaya-Salesforce connector gives agents full visibility into customer data across all connected Salesforce systems, and it provides the data access to realize the much-desired universal routing that all contact center managers crave. Information is presented in one consistent, integrated format, enabling managers to create custom routing rules that transform business. This alliance between Avaya, a global leader in customer engagement software, and Salesforce, the No. 1 global CRM provider, is truly a win-win for brands everywhere.

Play this video to learn more about the Avaya and Salesforce Global Alliance.

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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.