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July 05, 2012

Avaya Offers Insight on Social Media in the Contact Center

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC

TMC (News - Alert) this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going. We’re also rebranding and retooling our customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Laura Bassett, director of Customer Experience and Emerging Technologies at Avaya (News - Alert).

Bassett, a supporting author of Avaya’s Social Media in the Contact Center for Dummies, also has managed contact center solutions as well as spent several years in the field working with customers as a contact center specialist.  

Avaya is a leader in the customer care space. Could you give us a brief history lesson on the company?

Avaya is known as a leader in helping organizations around the world succeed by integrating communications with business strategy and operations. In 2000, Avaya became an independent company from its parent, Lucent Technologies, with a dedicated focus on innovating in business communications.  Management chose the name Avaya. At the time we announced the name we said, ‘Avaya sounds open and fluid – reflecting a company that’s open-minded and that provides seamless, effortless interconnections among people and businesses.’  In October 2007, Avaya was acquired by Silver Lake and TPG Capital in a move to private equity from a publicly-traded, NYSE-listed company. This move provided Avaya with an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate its strategy, act boldly in the marketplace, and serve customers with even greater innovation and responsiveness.

We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What has been the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?   

The creation of a reliable, worldwide network (first telephone and now data/Internet) has driven in-country automation and innovation, offshoring, and enabled emerging countries to fast forward their economic development.

In the past decade?

Without a doubt, the Internet has been the most important development, which has moved through several phases. The first phase was about creating websites for customer awareness. The second phase enabled self-service transactions on the Web. The third phase has been taking the Web on the road by refactoring it, and bringing it to smartphones and mobile devices.

In the recent past?

The fourth phase – the consumer communication phase is the most recent development, which is still under way. It is about allowing customers to communicate in their preferred manner, from their laptop or mobile device, or via social media connecting with companies or other customers. It is moving real-time customer interactions to the Internet, so that the Internet instead of the PSTN becomes the primary real-time chat, voice, and video network for customer interactions.

How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center? Customer interactions at large?

The rise of IP-based networks, including VoIP and the widespread use of the SIP protocol, has allowed voice, data, video and presence technologies to converge in the contact center and on the agent’s desktop. IP-based networks have made richer customer information available to the contact center – through IP-based multimedia customer contact channels chat, Web, mobile (mobile apps and SMS are both IP-based) and social; through IP-based back-end business process integration (automated orders, escalation); through IP-based customer database integration (screen pops, enhanced customer care based on order history); and via enhanced, data bearing telephony. SIP is an example that brings customizable data channels that can be carried with the traditional voice calls. For example, presence and cideo that can be carried with the call/interaction and enhanced caller id that can include what type of device the caller is using.

How is CRM changing?

Collaboration, the rise of the mobile device, and BYOD (bring your own device) movements are having an impressive impact on how businesses manage their customer relationships. Consumer expectations have reached a level where instant gratification is the new normal. Consumers want to be able to contact a business whenever and however they desire and, furthermore, they want the business to know who they are and provide them with more personalized service. It’s easier than ever for consumers to find their own relevant information, and they are much more willing and able to switch to a competitor if they aren’t satisfied with their service. These changes in behavior and expectation are driving businesses to address customer experience as a differentiator – implementing customer experience management programs and measures.

How is WFM changing?

WFM has become much more dependent on dynamic scheduling of full or partial work shifts than 10 years ago, as call centers seek to quickly bring on staff when call volumes quickly peak. In addition, WFM is becoming much more integrated to social media and speech analytics to drive workforce assignments. The idea that analysis of a certain campaign through social media may generate a need for more agents versus fewer is the simplest form that impacts WFM. The opportunity to feed work assignments based on customer feedback through speech analytics will be the next game changer for WFM.

How is marketing changing?

Marketers must evolve in many ways to keep up with the competition. Similar to when a customer contacts a business, consumers searching for information expect simplicity and instant gratification. In many cases, businesses have just a few moments to capture attention and hold their attention. Marketers must continually evolve their awareness and outreach methods, bringing together an effective mix of the Internet, print, social media, instant awareness tools like infographics, and other highly impactful, informational media.

How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?

Cloud computing has changed customer engagement in three ways. It has simplified the deployment of certain processes or applications, so customer service innovation can move at a more rapid pace. It enables technology adoption with less up-front investment to do a technology trial and see if there is real business value in a new application or innovation. This means that more companies can try out new offers, at a reduced financial risk. It absolutely requires IT departments to be right in the middle of customer engagement planning. 

The rise of cloud computing and SaaS delivery models require companies to rethink service delivery. In the Software-as-a-Service model, the product is a service and the service is the product. While that may seem obvious, traditional models have often lead businesses to think of service as a separate transaction from the product sale. In that way of thinking, service is something that happens after the product is sold. The SaaS model encourages companies to think of the product and service delivery as a single unit, which can have an upside in terms of customer satisfaction as well as business potential for the company which now has an ongoing opportunity to sell enhanced applications and services to the consumer at each service touchpoint.

How is the widespread use of social networking technology impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Social networking is evolving at a rapid pace. For example, a business establishes pages, seeks friends, and then quickly looks for how to process the inquiries or opportunities of thousands of postings. The phases are very similar to the ones noted earlier. In some verticals, it is at stage one: the information phase. In other specific verticals, though, it has evolved into the self-service phase by becoming a welcome mat for product or service support, ordering, trouble resolution, etc., either between consumers or consumer to business. Adaptations for the mobile phase are also under way. If the paradigm continues, we should expect the evolution to the next level of Internet evolution, the consumer communication phase, with immediate and seamless launch into live communication with the contact center via chat, voice, and video as appropriate.

How is the increased use and comfort level with video impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Video customer service – especially from an agent to a customer ­– enables a customer to know enough about an agent to trust the service they are being provided. When viewed this way, it’s no surprise that we are seeing the majority of video customer service solutions being sought from us are related to trust verticals: financial (I trust you with my money or my retirement plans), health/pharmacy (I trust the mail-order pharmacist will get it right), or personal consultation (I trust my weight loss coach). Video customer service is taking off because the general population now has expectations that match what the technology can accomplish. Before Skype (News - Alert), Facetime, and the like, folks knew video as TV – almost always continuous, with a great picture, transmitted from a full studio setup.  After years of video calls on webcams with family, friends, etc., they now know that Internet video can be useful, but there can be issues – just like with cell phones. This means that businesses can now comfortably make the decision to deploy video, knowing customer expectations are realistic.

What new tools and practices are businesses using to better leverage their own and/or outside data to target, engage, and deliver to the customer?   

On one hand businesses must understand their customers’ needs and experiences, and on the other they also must understand the strengths and weaknesses of their business processes. Analytics must be multi-faceted in order to make constant improvements on both sides in order to remain competitive. One of the key areas is in agent quality monitoring and WFM. Speech analytics is now very practical, possible, and ready to help businesses monitor their conversations. Avaya’s purchase of Aurix (News - Alert) last October is an example of how we see this technology becoming mainstream, especially when incorporated by design into a contact center solution instead of being an optional add-on.

How is the mobile boom impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Very few people think to themselves, “I’d like to buy something, let me call around to see what companies have today.”  They start on the Web, and with mobile devices. Capturing that Web visit and turning it into a sale or, if needed, an agent-assisted transaction, is what successful companies are striving to accomplish. Anything less is not as competitive given the proliferation of the portable Internet. 

Mobile devices and consumerization are also having tremendous impacts inside the contact center. Agents and supervisors are much more likely to be remote or mobile. Supervisors can manage on the move using their tablets, for example, as a source of real-time operational and analytics data. Subject matter experts can be brought into interactions wherever they may be and, probably most importantly, consumers are electing to interact with contact centers using their mobile devices in a variety of modes.   

Beyond just Internet browsing, there is very often an app for that.  It is becoming an expectation that major corporations provide an app for consumer engagement – for example, with financial institutions or airlines.  

The question now becomes how does a company turn that into an opportunity – let’s say if a customer cannot get his or her question answered via the native app? More and more companies are realizing the value of integrating that application directly into their contact center to provide the customer an opportunity to ask for more assistance in real-time, at the moment of need.  

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.

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