Avaya: Strong Now, Stronger in the Future

This article also appeared in the Khaleej Times on October 9, 2017.

As a long-time leader in unified communication and contact center applications, Avaya is completing the final stages of its chapter 11 restructuring with a new CEO, a sharpened vision, and a renewed plan for growth. Making his public debut at GITEX Technology Week in Dubai, we speak to the man in the hot seat, Jim Chirico, about his plans for Avaya —in the region and beyond.  

First, I’d like to welcome you to Dubai and to GITEX. This is your first public event since becoming CEO. Why GITEX, and what does the event mean to Avaya?

We have developed fantastic relationships here, and I’m looking forward to meeting our people, our partners, and our customers while sharing Avaya’s exciting new plans with them.

Dubai is a very inspirational city to begin with, one that has witnessed phenomenal growth in the last decade. In many ways, GITEX has developed alongside the city, both in size and in global importance. This reflects the fact that Dubai has become a crossroads for the global technology industry, both geographically and as a city that values and encourages innovation. Here at GITEX, established global firms such as Avaya can meet the emerging tech pioneers from the region and other fast-growing parts of the world. There is simply no other show like it.

In such a competitive technology landscape, where does Avaya see itself providing value to businesses and governments in the region?

Customers come to us because they trust our expertise and heritage as specialists in discovering new ways to improve the customer and citizen experience. We have a unique approach in which we work collaboratively with partners and customers to understand their real business requirements and identify their pain points—something our competitors seldom do. We then take ownership and commit to delivering a solution for their organization, not just a new tech product.

Moreover, the solutions we design are in high demand in this region. For example, nations across the region are investing significantly in Smart Government solutions. Dubai and the UAE are especially advanced in this regards. But it’s not just governments that are looking for digital solutions that transform the services and experiences they deliver. We’re seeing strong demand in the private sector as well. In fact, this week we’re presenting real-world use cases of how we’ve helped companies all over the globe meet and exceed customer expectations in today’s fast-moving digital world. This includes exhibitions devoted to vertical industries such as banking, healthcare, hospitality, public safety, and more. It’s in these applications that Avaya really excels.  

Transformation seems to be a constant in the technology field. How do you stay one step ahead of emerging tech trends when designing solutions for the marketplace?

This week you’ll hear us talking a lot about solutions that go beyond the digital experience. This reflects our belief that the conversation is no longer just about technology; it’s about what we do with technology. After all, technology is an enabler, not an end in itself—a tool to transform the way we live, work and experience the world around us. Our goal is to use technology to help organizations create superior customer and team engagement, experiences and relationships—all of which are crucial to the business success of our customers.

In terms of staying one step ahead, Avaya has a technical vision unmatched by anyone in our industry. In contrast to our competitors, who continue to offer complicated schemes and siloed structures, our systems are based on open approaches. This makes it easier for our customers to adopt emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, IoT and blockchain while protecting the innovations and investments they have already made. These open structures also enable our customers to do business with greater speed, agility and innovation.

With so much emphasis being placed on technology and automation these days, is the ‘human’ element being lost in the shuffle?

I think when we concentrate solely on the technology we lose sight of some of the most important pillars in driving successful businesses. Here I’m really talking about people’s commitment and passion. Customers, employees and partners are at the heart of everything we do. If we don’t get those relationships right, the technology is meaningless.

Let me give you an example. A study by the industry analyst firm Gartner found that 89% of organizations expect to compete primarily on customer experience. Think about that for a minute. They didn’t say they expect to compete on products, or services or the quality of their supply chain. They recognize what many organizations are discovering—that to survive they need to deliver truly differentiated experiences to their customers and their workers.

To really thrive though, companies need to inspire passion in the people who work for them and do business with them. Technology plays a role, but the reality is that passion stems from effective relationships based on trust and respect.

This is where Avaya has the edge. Even during our latest financial restructuring, our relationships remained strong. Our customers and our partners in this region stood by us, and I think that’s as much a testament to the strong relationships we’ve forged as it is to the innovative solutions we’ve delivered to our customers. I wouldn’t trade our large and loyal customer base for anything.

You’ve just taken on the role of CEO following a major transformation period for Avaya. What’s your plan for the company moving forward?

The whole purpose of our chapter 11 restructuring process in the U.S. was to reduce our burdensome debt and enable Avaya to emerge as a stronger, more competitive company. Our business operations have remained strong throughout this process, and we continued to win customers and recruit new partners.

This reflected the fact that we never lost sight of our customers. We put them at the heart of our transformation. We listen to and understand our customers in order to create better customer and citizen experiences—and better business outcomes. We have also re-engineered our business model so we can invest, make acquisitions and take advantage of new efficiencies to drive profitability and growth.

While Avaya has been working through the chapter 11 process in the U.S., I would add that our business in this region has progressed strongly. We see enormous opportunity and will continue to help companies create superior customer experiences and drive business success in today’s digital world.

The world’s top 10 airlines and top 10 banks are running Avaya, and we service more than 90% of Fortune 100 companies. Our value to the business community has never been more visible, and we look forward to providing even great value to our customers and partners in the years ahead.

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Using AI in Contact Centers to Create Better Customer Engagement

I’ve been through quite a few technology trends in my career, and to say Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest may be an understatement. If you have customers that are 55 and under you need a customer experience plan to address digital channel preferences and AI in contact centers now, before it’s too late.

Avaya recently announced Avaya Ava™, our cloud AI solution that supports your customers who use social media, chat and messaging channels to engage with you. To address the communication preferences of your customers, Ava interacts with social and messaging platforms by automating digital interactions through chat bot and Natural Language Processing (NLP) with sentiment analysis—in 34 languages! And Ava provides seamless hand off of the customer experience, with full context of the interaction, to an agent when and if one is required.

Why the Time for Avaya Ava is Now

To put things in perspective, if you do a quick search you can find that there are over five billion mobile device users globally, sending 22 billion text messages and over 60 billion social network messages per day. This makes it no surprise that Dimension Data found the 55 and under crowd prefers to engage with organizations through digital channels like social media, mobile applications and web chat. In fact, I’m often hearing stories about someone’s parent or grandparent over 55 who prefers to text rather than talk.

The real question is how do you serve your customers who are living on those mobile devices? The answer: Start with AI.

But why is AI so hot? Why start there? Because it eliminates the need for human interaction by adding intelligent automation? Or maybe it’s the ability to reduce siloed experiences? These are definitely true, but only part of the equation. AI is such a big deal because it also has significant potential to help drive revenue, reduce costs and increase CSAT. Everybody wins! And that is why you see market research predicting a CAGR of nearly 60% in the global AI market by 2025.

AI is Not All the Same—What You Should Look For

With all of the excitement around AI, it’s no doubt there’s a bit of “bandwagon jumping” going on. Imagine that I am a new customer of a large insurance company, and I tweet about frustrations with recent billing issues I am having. This could go one of two ways: Good or BAD.

Let’s say that this insurance company has a bot and social mining that recognized me as a frustrated customer. After an initial exchange with the bot it was determined that a live agent was needed, so after a lengthy hold, a voice connection is established with the agent. But the agent has no context explaining who I am and why we have been connected. How do you think this ends? Likely with a great opportunity for the competition.

Now, let’s look at how this scenario but be improved with a truly intelligent AI solution—one like Avaya Ava. My tweet and frustration sentiment is detected by the AI application and I am recognized as a relatively new customer, so it is known that I am in a critical phase for retention. I receive a response from the company’s bot, who understands who I am. We engage in a “conversation” to gather some additional details and validations for security purposes. Since it is determined that I already have a relationship with Jeff, the representative who set my account up, the bot sends me a link that connects me directly to Jeff. Jeff has all my information—the complete context of my interaction—and my billing issue is resolved in a matter of minutes. Happy customer! Retained customer!

This not-uncommon scenario highlights the need for a truly valuable AI solution—one that has the potential of delivering the business results you need—to meet a set of core capabilities:

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand written language
  • Machine Learning which “observes” human interactions learning to provide relevant, meaningful automated responses
  • Sentiment Analysis to assess emotion or attitude of a customer, either positive or negative, and assign a qualitative score to guide proper treatment
  • Chat bot for real-time automated services leveraging the aforementioned capabilities to be effective

What You Need to Know About Contact Center Automation

So, if you implement an AI solution with all of these capabilities you can completely automate your contact center, right? Well, not quite–at least not yet. Rather, you should look at AI to “humanize” the automated customer experience. Having a machine (bot) interact with me and understand my intent is leaps and bounds a better experience than what an IVR can offer, but the live agent experience is still paramount.

An AI solution should be fully integrated into the rest of your customer experience solution as part of the complete customer journey–one that allows the full context of an interaction to be visible to a live agent. This way, the agent becomes an extension of the automated experience, and in turn creates improved CSAT. And because the automated experience is always available with real-time and intelligent responses, you will be better aligned to your customers’ engagement preferences. This in turn will help drive down cost with increased self service and accelerate revenue opportunities due to a more personalized and “intelligent” experience.

We generated a lot of buzz about AI when we introduced Ava at our partner and customer conference last month. People are seeing the potential to build enviable customer experiences by better connecting with customers through social and messaging channels and by journey mapping customer interactions.

At Avaya we take a consultative approach to helping our customers meet their business objectives. To help you with AI for contact centers, we offer a Professional Services Discovery Workshop. Contact us to learn more.

10 Key CX Predictions for Success in 2018

New year. New goals. New CX Predictions. 40% of executives recently polled by Avaya rate their company’s customer experience as “poor” or “average,” and 93% say they’ll be focusing on improving customer experience in 2018. But how do they know where to start? To gain a better understanding, we must take a look at the past.

Eighteen months ago, we weren’t seeing interactive devices in our homes that responded to our every request (i.e. music, movie times, shopping lists, news,  and general information). This provides a tremendous capability beyond what we had even on our mobile devices, and it indicates something very important to watchful businesses: technology becomes real when it gets in the hands of the consumer.

This reminds me of a piece I once wrote about Tool vs. Toy, which explores the changing value of technology driven by users vs. investors. With that in mind, we analyzed key information—polled by our own teams of experts—and have emerged with 10 CX predictions companies can’t afford to ignore…

  1. Artificial Intelligence begins to take hold in CX…in the most basic ways.
    It doesn’t have to be big to be valuable! Think about the simple impact of chatting with natural language interaction. AI technologies like Siri, Google, Alexa and Bixby are all taking shape with different customer experience strategies. For example, Alexa (Lexbot) engages in continuous listening and data collection to endlessly refine and improve the user experience. Looking at the big picture, this data will be used to shape the way Amazon evolves its digital engagement efficiency. Other spoken bots will need to learn from this approach, and all platforms will need to unify chat and spoken AI to deliver more compelling and valuable customer experience.
     
    Overall, AI will allow more brands to focus on context and anticipatory engagement at the individual level to hone in on the customer segment of one. The goal will be to intuitively understand the nuances of each individual consumer as they inevitably change to deliver deeper levels of personalization.
     
  2. Connecting your digital experience is here and now.

    The simple blocking and tackling of connecting your Digital Experience with the rest of your customer service capabilities must still occur. If you don’t, you face the real and inevitable risk of falling behind (side note: too many companies are spending time catching up to where consumers already are). Yet, it’s important to note that brands are tackling different things than before. For instance, many will now skip things like email and go straight to bots (where AI and digital meet).
     
    The bottom line: Companies will need to begin the digital experience in the expected ways consumers dictate. Keeping up with these expectations requires an environment in which customer data can be seamlessly gathered and provided across teams, processes and touchpoints.
     

  3. IoT starts with the mobile app.
    Many brands will “ignore” IoT because they don’t have tech embedded on a “device” of sorts (like in a car or a refrigerator). Think smaller in 2018…specifically, mobile apps. These apps are essentially IoT in the pocket or purse of every consumer today. Start visualizing every consumer’s phone as an IoT device and your mobile app as the key to tapping into it.
     
    Consider the Apple Watch. At a glance, it’s a wearable that consumers purchase to unlock a suite of cool new features. Yet in reality, Apple was revolutionizing industries and changing lives. For example, the brand was allowing healthcare providers to put a device on patients’ wrists with a FDA-approved EKG. It was allowing hotels to deliver better value to guests with built-in room keys. We also see this with the Verizon mobile app, which functions as a sales app when used on the carrier’s Wi-Fi (in store, for example) and as a service app when not. This is just a taste of this “app evolution” and how it will change the game as apps become more IoT-defined.
     
    The bottom line: Once a technology is in the consumer space, users will naturally innovate on top of it to figure out how it can be best used to improve their lives and/or industry. 
     
  4. The race for (the right) customer engagement solution will intensify
    Our research shows that 96% of organizational spend in 2018 is earmarked for tech solutions, specifically related to engagement. Demand for customer engagement platforms will peak in 2018, forcing executives to comb through countless vendor solutions. Take a short cut by making sure the solutions you are considering provide the appropriate flexibility for future growth, and simplicity to implement even complex scenarios quickly.
     
    In other words, buy systems that provide you with broad options—not just point solutions.
     
    This means systems that go far beyond traditional contact center and UC; technology that reimagines communications and redefines business value as we know it. For example, communication-enablement for contextual engagement (using an open SDK to embed real-time communications like voice, video and chat directly into client-facing apps and to create an optimal agent experience). Or, flexible application integration using an open architecture platform (being able to integrate apps that are either ready-made from a trusted provider or existing within an App Store).
     
  5. The rise (and simplification) of customer journey mapping
    Our data shows that 70% of companies believe improving customer experience requires mapping out ‘desired state’ customer journeys. As a result, 60% of large enterprises in 2018 are expected to perform customer journey mapping  to gain a contextual view of the end-to-end experience. The question we have is: how can this be made simpler?
     
    Customer journey mapping is still a sensitive spot for most as only 1/3 of companies believe their data and analytics are differentiating. Everything is made simpler with a customer engagement platform built on open, extensible architecture.
     
    This kind of platform allows you to flexibly gather, collect, process and analyze real-time and historical data across virtually every channel (IM, co-browsing, SMS, phone, email, IoT) and device (phone, mobile/tablets, branch, desktop, kiosks) to gain a rich visualization of the customer journey enterprise-wide. This puts to bed the significant challenge of delivering consistent, contextual experiences regardless of where and when they begin, end and continue (and no matter how many people consumers communicate with).
     
  6. ‘High tech, high touch’ without coordination will put companies on thin ice

    Technology drives customer experience, but it won’t replace human interaction (consider industries like hospitality, where 93% of customers believe the value of personal service cannot be replaced). Therefore, a certain level of coordination will be needed in situations where human customer service becomes part of the digital experience.
     
    For example, building a more flexible communications infrastructure that allows for real-time human interaction to maintain a personal service feel. Or, bringing skills-based routing to the help desk and contact center to optimize resources and strengthen customer relationships. In 2018, major players will be defined by their understanding of this delicate balance. Those who fail to keep up will operate on thin ice.
     

  7. Security, Privacy and Accountability Pressures Spike
  8. New technology for e-commerce and communications has long brought with it new ways for those intent on criminal behavior to breach systems. Increased focus on solutions that protect and secure customer data and interactions starts in the contact center. 
     
    Consider the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (MiFID II), which became effective on January 3, 2018. This legislation requires the capture of all voice and non-voice communications intended to lead to execution of a financial trade. This applies to any firms who conduct business in the European Union (EU), creating global impact.
     
    Meanwhile, the EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) becomes effective on May 25, 2018. If your business processes personal data in any way and operates in the EU, it will be affected by this new legislation.
     
    Today, 75% of business apps lack key capabilities to ensure EU GDPR compliance. These new requirements will force companies to change the way they process, store, and protect customers’ personal data. In 2018, enterprises will need to evaluate their policies, procedures and operations to ensure compliance with these new consumer privacy, data security and data control rules—and they’ll turn to new contact center technology as their first line of defense.
     

  9. Customers demand connections with purpose
    There are endless ways in which customers can now connect with brands, yet each connection should serve a purpose greater than itself. Companies need to see the close-up and the big picture of how they’re positioning their brand. This is what makes customer experience an actual experience.
     
    For example, instead of simply routing customers to agents based on KPIs, they can build customized learning algorithms that match customers with agents based on next-level variables like personality, emotion and relatability. Instead of only driving inbound experiences, they should offer proactive, intelligent communications across the end-to-end customer journey. Instead of just ‘serving customers,’ organizations should be working towards a higher purpose and defined experience vision.
     
  10. Blockchain becomes more than just technology
    Any company that handles transaction records should be eyeing blockchain if they’re not already. The technology is ideal for continually growing a list of financial records without exposing any confidential information. Yet blockchain has also grown to offer immense opportunity for customer experience.
     
    For example, real-time blockchain technology can be used to measure the customer experience of multiple departments. Companies can leverage blockchain to securely gather sentiment information across multiple sources—call centers, email, social media—to identify key trends and customer insights. In this way, blockchain has evolved from a security technology to a strategic weapon for business growth and competitiveness.
     
  11. Employee experience will legitimize with consumerization of work
    Employee disengagement has become nothing short of an epidemic. Companies must strategize long-term around employee experience to improve not only customer experience, but costs and operational efficiency (companies can capture an additional $13k to $26k of productivity per employee per year with better engagement).
     
    This calls for the consumerization of work, in which companies look beyond IT and devices towards workflow, behavior and rising expectations that mimic personalized, real-world apps like Snapchat and Instagram. 2018 will continue a massive shift in which enterprise software embodies consumer apps and, ultimately, reshapes the role of IT and the processes it manages.

In the end, our CX predictions are that 2018 will be about seamlessly delivering a breadth of capabilities in an ever-complex digital space, with a simple brand consumption approach that aligns with costs and customer value. No one said it would be easy, but we’re here to help.

You can hear more about these predictions by listening to our Get Smart session where I am joined by Val Matula, our lead for innovations applications, and Tim Gogal who leads Digital Transformation consulting team where we review these predictions more in-depth. 

As your organization prepares for 2018, Avaya can help you gauge customer experience readiness and implement award-winning solutions that complement your budget and existing business ecosystem. In the end, our goal simply is to help you with experience, expertise and solutions you can count on. We know you can make 2018 your organization’s best year yet.

Five Things You Must Do to Shift Customer Experience in 2018

We all know that to drive competitiveness, you must shift customer experience—and that this is now more important than ever. But shift to what? How? When? I hear these questions all the time when meeting with customers in our Executive Briefing Centers, and at tradeshows and conferences. The industry is rallying around terms like “omnichannel,” “cloud,” and “analytics,” but the contact center is not a one-size-fits-all entity. You can’t instantly accomplish a great shift for your business simply by buying omnichannel for your contact center. Rather, it’s a delicate process that requires you to refresh and integrate systems together.

How to Shift Customer Experience

As executives and leaders in customer experience, we must be ready to make changes that can shift a contact center to deliver a better customer experience. Here are five things that Avaya recommends you do in 2018. These may seem obvious, but collectively they can yield true lifetime value results from customers:

  1. Understand Your Customer Journeys
    Rather than looking at countless different, individual interactions, choose to put your customer on a journey, one that rarely starts and stops with just one contact. Take an outside-in view by identifying several important customer journeys and customer preferences. Or, consider low CX scores that can be improved either through self-service assistance or by linking channels together with context (this helps to understand where the customer has been before).
  2. Listen to Your Feet on the Street
    While your customers’ feedback is essential, it is your frontline staff who will give you direct pointers. These individuals understand the necessary tools and training for reaching new levels of customer experience. Consider, for example, that 84% of global contact centers are adapting to meet the needs of next-gen millennial workers. Give your agents a sense of ownership and they will tell you where they can personalize and engage with customers on a greater level. Your agents could potentially sell more when they’re able to make customers feel great about their overall experience. The key is to arm agents with the right information on their desktops.
  3. Support Advanced Automation and Analytics
    According to Gartner, more than 50% of CIOs will have artificial intelligence as one of their top five investment priorities by 2020. AI will assist greatly in understanding the customer journey: augmented reality and bots can automate more processes over human-to-human interactions. Keep in mind, however, that humans are still needed. It’s just that advanced automation and analytics, when put in the right place, can lead to richer and more effective experiences between customers and representatives.
  4. Break Internal Silos
    Creating an orchestrated experience requires executives to look as a team at organizational processes. Take charge as the person who identifies and leads change across your entire organization. Departments working in silos—sales, marketing, service—all stop short when processes are not stitched together. Also keep in mind that your CRM systems and contact center processes must complement one another. They need to come together to drive better customer and business outcomes.
  5. Bridge The Gaps
    Now comes the fun stuff: ownership, budget and getting a project underway. This can be done either by way of proof of concept, or segmenting a certain group of interactions to begin changing processes. Take note of the before and after, and check-in with your customers on improvements (consider surveys or one-to-one outreach). Assess if there are new roles or skillsets needed to keep up with the change. Take it one step at a time and prove a return on investment against identified use cases before moving on.

You need to make a shift happen in 2018 to continually innovate customer experience and improve lifetime value. It will require some research and a few bold moves. I promise it will be a rewarding process if it is inclusive of input and bridges critical gaps.

So, where do you start? I encourage you to talk to Avaya about an assessment or visit one of our Executive Briefing Center sites. From initial strategizing to execution, Avaya can help you develop a solid customer experience plan that yields true lifetime value—we can even model a potential ROI or CLV based on your own estimates. Contact Avaya to learn more.