The hype surrounding AI-based voice and chatbots is evident, but do they deliver? Most still perform only extremely basic tasks and often mirror the poor practices of traditional IVRs. Customers may be open to the idea, but only 30% believe that chatbots and virtual assistants make it easier to address their service issues.

The things customers say bots are good at – replying quickly, helping them outside normal business hours, being friendly – are not as important as what 60% say bots fail at: understanding them well. Any company that underestimates the value of AI in this area will fall behind in 2023; however, reevaluation is necessary. 

How can you implement AI bots in your company, and what will they be able to do for you? Here’s how Avaya expects things to shake out: 

Companies will take a more realistic approach to bots with a strong focus on improving dialogues and designing superb services behind conversational user interfaces

Customer expectations are drastically changing with the proliferation of AI-enabled speech devices such as Alexa, Google Home, and Siri and the introduction of new applications like ChatGPT. We will see a focus on making customer interactions easier to understand, resulting in less repetition of information and disconnects to create better bot experiences. Integration with cognitive intelligence (context-sensitive knowledge management, predictive analytics, and similar) will be key for doing so.

Don’t expect to see night-and-day differences but rather a turning point in the relationship between machines and humans. We’ll see the continued shift away from button-based chatbots to conversational virtual agents that can handle more complex interactions with a sophisticated reasoning engine and integrated back-end systems. 

Companies would be wise to start with small-scale, attainable applications (ex: having their virtual agent successfully “talk” customers through the steps required for a given task or process such as initiating a password reset, filing a support ticket, or making a reservation). Then, build from there to start using conversational AI in more advanced ways such as instantly capturing and analyzing conversations to initiate action or having bots read between the lines to understand what customers want and feel. 

For now, it’s “slow and steady wins the race.”

Handing off interactions from live agents to bots (not just from bot to agent) for process completion will become an increasingly interesting option

Most bot-initiated interactions result in live agent transfers. Could we see an increase in reverse handoffs where customers go from agent to bot? Yes, especially as processes near completion so that agents can free up more time. 

Here’s an example of how this could work: A customer calls his car insurance company after being in a minor fender bender. The agent walks the customer through the steps that need to be taken (how to file a claim, where to upload pictures of the scene, and how to handle all other needs) and answers any questions along the way. 

It’s at this point the agent offers the customer the option to be transferred to a digital experience facilitated by the company’s AI chatbot. The customer accepts, the call ends, and the bot steps in via text/SMS. The bot can send links to knowledge-based articles, embed “how-to” videos directly into text messages, help the customer navigate the company’s mobile app, and answer any questions in a natural, human-like, back-and-forth conversation. 

The customer can opt out of this digital experience at any point and be elevated back to a live agent with all contextual information. Avaya expects more organizations will consider or facilitate agent-to-bot interactions in 2023 to improve costs and productivity while maintaining, if not increasing, CSAT. 

This will be the year when CX no longer depends on contact center platform features but on the platform’s ability to collect, process, and react to data

Expect to see a surge in interest for communication analytics as companies seek to convert data hidden in customers’ conversations into actionable insights that can be used to make strategic, tactical, and operational decisions. For example, using AI-powered speech analytics to: 

Put together accurate profiles of individual customers based on their interests and attributes so they can be strategically used in future conversations (both bot and human).Generate key insights about a customer group and proactively communicate (via bot or automated notifications).Help your bots understand what customers are requesting (even if phrased in an odd or unexpected way) to recognize their aim in starting a conversation. 

An AI-powered Experience Platform, built on open API architecture, provides the predictive, cloud-based AI capabilities needed to gain deeper customer insights, personalize interactions, and reduce operating costs while reaping the benefits of continuous improvements over time. The platform seamlessly integrates with existing infrastructure, preserving current investments, while empowering organizations to find valuable data immediately and start managing and leveraging that data more effectively. 

An effortless way to get started with AI bots is by using a pre-built VA solution. These solutions are the epitome of “innovation without disruption.” They can be managed and customized from a simple dashboard without needing help from a developer team and can be used for simple to very sophisticated purposes. It’s likely we’ll see an increase in the adoption of these solutions over the next 12 months. 

How do you see AI bots continuing to evolve for customer experience?

Find out more about how Avaya AI solutions deliver intelligent experiences.

Artificial Intelligence

The metaverse—a fast-emerging combination of technologies including augmented and virtual reality, IoT, and blockchain—is poised to change the way financial services organizations and other companies do business.   

“By blending the physical and the digital worlds, the metaverse is changing the rules of engagement and enabling us to connect without barriers,” says Anupam Singhal, a Senior Vice President at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). “For financial institutions, it can transform the way they offer services and training, making them more convenient, engaging, accessible and inclusive.”   

Metaverse applications are developing quickly. According to Gartner, 25% of people will spend at least an hour in the metaverse by 2026. While financial institutions are starting to experiment with pilot programs, they must ensure that they have the right infrastructure and security protections in place to reap the full-scale benefits the metaverse has to offer.  

Innovative products and services 

In the metaverse, financial institutions can offer customers and employees personalized experiences that leave a lasting impression. For example, clients can hold virtual consultations with investment advisors across the globe and improve their financial knowledge by using 3D interactive tools. Financial institutions can also cater to underserved and underbanked customers with minimal to no charges.  

Employees, even the ones situated in isolated, remote locations, can take virtual tours and gain knowledge faster. TCS is developing an application, for example, that leads new employees on a lifelike journey through a bank’s corporate buildings and history as part of their onboarding experience. And with virtual training, employees can practice skills in a realistic, risk-free environment. 

Metaverse services can also help banks attract new customers.  

“We have a lineup of exciting projects, including creating a virtual bank for retail transactions and a non-fungible token marketplace using blockchain,” Singhal says. “We have already implemented augmented marketing and branding solutions in retail, and we are working on pilots in the business-to-business and business-to-consumer spaces.”  

A seamless, secure infrastructure 

To make these dynamic services possible, organizations must create digital replicas of the real world, supported by dedicated offerings on Microsoft Cloud. Seamless connectivity and extremely low latency, enabled by specialized graphics and edge processing, are also critical to providing vivid experiences and near-real time interactions.   

“With decentralized Web3 technology, users can also take advantage of peer-to-peer capabilities, running some tools and platforms on their devices instead of relying on the cloud,” Singhal says.  

In addition to creating ground-breaking experiences, the metaverse, like other emerging technologies, brings a new set of security challenges. Rogue actors could attempt to steal target NFTs and tokens, or use deepfake techniques to impersonate financial advisors. Personal data collected by AR and VR applications creates greater opportunities for identity theft.  

“We must rethink how we address data privacy and security in the metaverse,” Singhal says. “We need strong regulations like GDPR to define clear boundaries. We also need more security measures like multi-factor authentication and digital encryption to ensure secure experiences.”   

Getting started in the metaverse 

Every organization must carve its own path to the metaverse, a process that starts by examining existing technology and defining services to prioritize.   

“TCS has a successful history of helping businesses grow and transform through technology and make a meaningful difference. We can help leaders identify areas where they can improve, whether that means upgrading infrastructure, investing in new technology, or bringing in new talent. We can co-develop metaverse strategies that align with their business goals and objectives,” Singhal says.  

Organizations can then co-create experiences on the TCS AvapresenceTM platform, which uses blockchain, AI, AR, VR, and mixed reality technologies to address customer needs. For financial services companies, TCS has developed a specialized program that involves training their associates to become proficient in using several 3D engines and platforms to address industry challenges, including security, data privacy, and compliance concerns.   

Financial organizations that want to gain a competitive edge should get started soon.  

“Banks that offer virtual services are going to have a larger consumer mindshare, particularly among younger generations,” Singhal says. “By engaging with the right experts, leaders can break boundaries and take advantage of the metaverse’s limitless opportunities.” 

Learn how to master your cloud transformation journey with TCS and Microsoft Cloud. 

Financial Services Industry

One of the biggest challenges confronting retailers today is ensuring convergence between customers’ traditional in-store shopping experience and their digital journey, thereby delivering a seamless customer experience (CX).

For brick-and-mortar stores, legacy technologies often make migrating online difficult. Over time, as they explore online opportunities, traditional retailers often find it challenging to unravel all they have built and imagine their technology stack afresh.

Here, new-breed of players such as New Delhi-based Hippo Stores have a distinct advantage, providing a prime example of how retailers can rethink both business and technology in service of omnichannel transformations.

“We are India’s first omnichannel construction retailer offering the largest and widest range of building materials under one platform,” says Ranjit Satyanath, CTO of Hippo Stores. “Our primary proposition to the customers is that they can get all genuine product categories in one destination. A digital-first, born-in-the-cloud company, Hippo Stores is focusing on using technology to rapidly build and optimize value in the entire building material value chain.”

Ranjit Satyanath, CTO, Hippo Stores


The one-stop-shop for construction materials, including steel, cement, bricks, hardware, paint, tiles, electricals, and sanitaryware, caters to both professional construction companies and individual consumers. Hippo Stores opened its first outlet in New Delhi in 2021. It has since expanded to Noida and Chandigarh and plans to ramp up the number of stores to double digits by the end of this year.

“Most traditional retailers believe online will be a small percentage of their overall business and they shouldn’t disturb what they are already doing,” Satyanath says. “This approach of not disturbing status quo leads to building up of legacy online too. As a result, business and technology process at the physical and online stores never really merge. So, even though the same set of customers come online and in store, they get different experiences because of difference in the technology stacks.”

To avoid this trap, Satyanath’s team at Hippo Stores has built a common technology stack to power both its online and brick-and-mortar stores. Such a technology strategy has provided the much-needed agility beyond just elevating customer experience and reducing costs.

Building an omnichannel stack from scratch

When Satyanath joined Hippo Stores in 2020, he had the advantage of not having any legacy technology, and made the most of it. “We were starting from scratch and could leverage modern technology. There was also clarity that we would own everything that was customer facing. We saw companies that built their technology IP quickly pivot their business models during the pandemic. To gain agility, we had to build technology in-house. Whatever little technology we bought, it was done with much thought,” he says.

For instance, Satyanath deployed SAP HANA because “there was no strategic advantage to be had in building our own ERP,” he says.

Instead, Satyanath focused on customer-facing solutions, creating an engineering team that “is now around 50 people strong,” to build a range of products, “including the most critical technology piece — the ecommerce platform,” he says.

When the online ecommerce application was complete in 2020, it could enroll customers and ingest products and prices from downstream applications. But the in-store experience relied on separate tech.

“As a stop-gap arrangement, we were using a subscription-based POS solution for our store. However, it was time consuming and expensive to build our custom features on top of it,” he says. “Once the online solution stabilized, we decided to build the store solution also on top of it for the cashier to use.”

The team that built the solution consisted of engineers with strong skills in Ruby, Node, React, and DevOps. The MVP was completed in around four months.

“As we built it on top of our online commerce application, we reduced a lot of engineering build time. The store commerce solution has common functionalities such as pricing, customer registration process, and promotions engine that makes for very simple manageability,” says Satyanath, who calls the new solution ‘Unified Commerce’ as it unifies both online and in-store retail functionality, offering a channel-agnostic and uniform customer experience.

The entire tech stack is deployed on public cloud and is based on cloud-native microservices architecture. The commerce application has a headless architecture, which decouples the frontend presentation layer from the backend infrastructure (such as security, pricing, etc). This decoupled approach gives Hippo Stores more control over the customer experience as it leverages APIs for customer promotions, refunds, and wallets to ensure a consistent and personalized CX, and it enables the company to provide its online customers a self-service interface and its cashiers a POS interface, both backed by the same backend.

“The entire commerce application, regardless of the channel, sits on a single platform. The underlying technology, except the user interface, is the same,” says Satyanath, who had to take care of several other aspects while building the ecommerce solution. For example, if the company was offering a 10% discount in store, it had to be applicable online too. Similarly, if a customer was enrolled online, he or she should not have to be enrolled again in the store. Just as in online shopping, returns, cancellations, and refunds had to be enabled in the solution deployed at the store.

“These are the unique advantages that our solution has — a completely integrated yet different solution,” he says. The solution was rolled out first to the store in New Delhi in August and subsequently to the other two stores.

“The challenges we faced were primarily around prioritising requirements, but we managed it by working in close partnership with other business stakeholders. While functionality is one part of the solution, I strongly suggest investing in a good QA team and invest in strong infosec best practices,” says Satyanath.

Empowering business agility

With its unified commerce platform in place, Hippo Stores can react faster to business changes. “For example, if we must add payment options for our customers, it is now easier. In an off-the-shelf solution, it would have been a long process to do so. With our own product, it is just a couple of weeks, and we are done with it,” says Satyanath.

The company can also develop new features quickly. “Credit-based sales, for instance, is something a typical POS won’t have but since we have both B2B and B2C customers, we need to provide for credit-based sales. We also allow payment by cheque, another feature that a POS doesn’t have. Customers can pay by cheque, their inventory will get reserved. The system will automatically check when the payment has been made and ship out goods to the customers. All this is automated. An off-the-shelf solution would have taken huge amount of time to develop these capabilities, but we are building new functionalities across our platforms, and nothing takes more than two weeks,” he says.

Hippo Stores is now pivoting into a new model of business. “We are now taking the franchisee route with the first such store coming up in Ludhiana. As the technology is fully developed by us and under our control, we can quickly make the changes for franchisee in our systems and are ready to go live,” says Satyanath.

The new solution has also elevated CX for the company. “We offer the capability that a customer can put items in the cart while shopping online and then check out in the store through the cashier,” he says.

Hippo Stores was paying a significant amount annually in subscription fees for its off-the shelf POS solution it was using in the store, which would have gone up with the addition of new licenses with each new store. “The fact that we saved some money in subscription is the icing on the cake,” he says.

Digital Transformation

According to a PwC report, one in three consumers (32%) say they will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience. Unlike personal relationships, loyalty in the consumer world can be surprisingly transitory. This gets worse in the digital world where it takes just a few clicks and minutes to uninstall one app and replace it with a competitor’s app. There are similarities between how loyalty is formed in the physical and digital world. It all boils down to two things – how you feel about that relationship and how much time you are investing in it.

Deliver Delightful Customer Experiences

156. That’s the number of apps I’ve installed on my mobile phone. On any given day, I will be using at least 10% of them. And out of these, my favourite app is a local banking app. It’s one app that I feel was designed just for me. It’s completely intuitive, allows me to perform most tasks in less than 3 clicks, has all the functions that I need to perform banking on-the-go, is constantly updated with new features, comes with great performance and stability and most of all is very secure. These are what I’d refer to as key ingredients to provide delightful customer experiences.

A great amount of design thinking goes into building such modern apps that deliver intuitive user experiences. A pod-based team structure can be set up where you have all the stakeholders responsible for delivering the app. There needs to be strong alignment amongst all the stakeholders ranging from the software developer, the product manager, line of business all the way to the quality engineer. Everyone should know what they are delivering, why they are delivering and how they will be delivering.

Leveraging the right set of technologies will be a key success criterion for such apps. The app should adopt a cloud native architecture to ensure agility, scalability, and resilience. Security should be incorporated from the earliest stages of app development to minimize risk, time, and costs. These best practices coupled with a sound design thinking approach can help enhance customer experience and as a result improve loyalty.

Elevate Customer Engagement

Another way to measure loyalty in the digital world is by the amount of time consumers are using an app. App engagement time is crucial as it influences revenues through ads, spendings, as well as consumer data that can be monetized in the future. To maximize engagement and app-stickiness, companies are increasingly introducing more revenue-generating offerings within their apps. To that end, we’ve seen the rise of the one-app-to-rule-them-all aka a Superapp. Some of the well-known Superapps in Asia are household names e.g., Grab, Gojek, WeChat and PayTM. Grab for example started out as a ride-hailing app. Today its offerings include deliveries, mobility, financial services among others. Gartner anticipates that Superapps will be one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2023.

A major downside of a Superapp is that if compromised due to security vulnerabilities in the app’s code, a malware in its libraries, or a configuration error, it can become the-one-key-to-access-them-all for bad actors. It can be a free pass to not just tamper with, but also exfiltrate all types of sensitive consumer data. According to a McKinsey report, 71% of consumers said they would stop doing business with a company if it gave away sensitive data without permission.

To tackle this data privacy issue, all data exchanges within a Superapp should be encrypted. In addition, we should also perform real time monitoring of sensitive data leaks such as credit cards, and other personal identifiable information (PII).

Engage a Trusted Partner

To build customer loyalty in the digital world, businesses need to delight customers and keep them engaged. Leveraging cloud-native architectures, incorporating sound security and data privacy practices, and using design thinking methodology will be instrumental in building modern, secure, and engaging apps. In addition, it will also be important to engage the right technology partner who can support you on this journey.

For the past 30 years, SUSE has been helping customers realize their business goals through transformative and cutting-edge open-source technologies.

Rancher Prime is an industry leading platform that helps companies roll out scalable and resilient cloud native and container-based apps across a distributed IT landscape. It empowers DevOps teams to build and deploy modern apps and updates in a rapid and automated manner.SUSE NeuVector protects apps from bad actors throughout its software lifecycle from development to production environments. It helps security teams implement zero trust controls for apps that may be running in a distributed environment. NeuVector also comes with advanced preventive threat capabilities to prevent data loss in real time.

Learn more at this link: Rancher by SUSE.


Vishal Ghariwala is the Senior Director & CTO, APJ and Greater China for SUSE, a global leader in true open source solutions. In this capacity, he engages with customer and partner executives across the region, and is responsible for growing SUSE’s mindshare by being the executive technical voice to the market, press, and analysts. He also has a global charter with the SUSE Office of the CTO to assess relevant industry, market and technology trends and identify opportunities aligned with the company’s strategy.

Prior to joining SUSE, Vishal was the Director for Cloud Native Applications at Red Hat where he led a team of senior technologists responsible for driving the growth and adoption of the Red Hat OpenShift, API Management, Integration and Business Automation portfolios across the Asia Pacific region. Before that, he spent a significant amount of time with leading middleware vendors such as IBM, ILOG and Intalio, as well as the public sector.

Vishal has over 20 years of experience in the Software industry and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Vishal is here on LinkedIn:

Application Security, Mobile Development

Breaking communication siloes between contact center and non-contact center employees is paramount to improving customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and operating costs. 

The average contact center agent spends 15% of their working day chasing down information needed to serve customers. These hours can add up to a financial loss of $1.5 million annually for a 200-agent contact center, according to Aberdeen. How much is your organization losing?

Who’s handling your company’s customer experience (CX)?  

Customer inquiries today far exceed basic requests that can be completed faster and cheaper via self-service. People now reach out with complicated issues (and prefer not having to repeat themselves about them) that involve multiple parties and/or lines of business. Why should agents be the gatekeeper of complex customer journeys so many others have a stake in? 

Business leaders need to understand and embrace a shared CX ownership model in which every employee is connected and fully vested. 

Actions in three areas make all the difference, and they are within every contact center’s reach:

Better connect departments for faster knowledge sharingEmpower employees to be more productive and creativeQuickly bring in experts to find crucial information

Avaya expects Workstream Collaboration (WSC) will be a key investment this year for achieving these collective CX objectives, as well as for achieving innovation without disruption.  

Create a conversational workspace 

Workstream Collaboration is a cloud-based application that converges siloed unified communications (UC) and contact center technology into one tool with one single application. 

UC capabilities like presence, messaging, screen share, voice, and video conferencing are available directly within contact center architecture so agents can effortlessly and organically communicate with anyone across the organization – whoever they are, wherever they happen to be – and vice versa, with full security and compliance. Integrated with agent desktop applications, there’s no stopping your contact center workers. 

Two scenarios demonstrating this include a parent who doesn’t know their child’s healthcare costs aren’t being covered or a customer who doesn’t understand why he or she has an outstanding balance on his healthcare account. 

You could see who’s available to help using presence (functionality) and then chat about things such as policy changes and customer qualifications in real-time. You could find the person who has the answers to get the information you need, pull them into the customer conversation with you, or have them help you creatively problem solve. 

All of this happens while the customer is on the call, meaning no need for multiple transfers or even hold time depending on how quickly information can be obtained.

Just as importantly, you can innovate your customer experience while retaining your core service. Workstream Collaboration is a fantastic step toward innovation at a pace and path that fits your business needs. 

You’ll improve information-sharing – helping agents get a complete view of situations to make informed decisions quickly – without abandoning current investments. 

By the end of this year, it’s expected that 75% of organizations will be using Workstream Collaboration company-wide to improve CX, productivity, and company culture. 

CX is everyone’s business 

Customers don’t see communication siloes. When they have a bad experience, they blame the brand. This often falls on the contact center agent who is generally considered the voice of the company. This needs to change. Every employee impacts CX in a certain way, not just the agent who says that first “hello.”  

This year, we will see a significant focus on enabling contact center agents to quickly get in touch with employees from different departments while handling customer requests. The ability to consult subject matter experts or even pull them into interactions with customers will become table stakes when it comes to delivering a great experience.

Start connecting different departments for faster knowledge sharing, empowering your employees to be more productive and creative, and making it easier to engage experts. 

Learn more about Avaya’s award-winning Workstream Collaboration solutions.   

Digital Transformation

Conventional wisdom says businesses must balance the cost of security with user experience—implying that security is a tax on digital interactions. Conventional wisdom appears to be outdated.

According to Foundry, the need for improvements in cybersecurity was cited as the No. 1 reason for the increase in tech budgets this year. Further, CEOs’ top priorities for IT in 2023 are:

Strengthening IT and business collaborationUpgrading IT and data security to reduce corporate riskImproving the customer experience 

IT leaders do not have to compromise. Advanced security policies, increased efficiencies, and improvements to the reliability and performance of your applications for a better user experience can be achieved together. It doesn’t need to be a tax or a tradeoff.

The security paradox

To understand the “tradeoff” mentality, let’s review the ‘security paradox.’ Cyberattacks are increasing exponentially every year. According to NETSCOUT, one DDoS attack occurs every three seconds, and MITRE has reported more than 25,000 new common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) in 2022, which is a 24% increase year over year from 2021. For most organizations, it’s not if a cyberattack is going to occur, but when.

As the latest attacks and statistics make headlines, leaders often tend to overcompensate by implementing chains of security solutions, often layering on top of each other in a disjointed fashion to protect against new exploits and prevent service interruption in case of an attack.

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. These disjointed solutions can add latency and performance bottlenecks between security layers and create single points of failure, which impact the speed and availability of businesses online. Therein lies the security paradox: an organization could inadvertently harm itself while attempting to secure its network and applications.

The cost of a data breach

Beyond the implicit cost of security, what is the actual cost of a data breach when one strikes an organization?  IBM’s annual Data Breach Report revealed that the average data breach cost in 2022 was USD 4.35 million—an all-time high. Gartner has estimated the cost of downtime from DDoS attacks to be $300,000 per hour.

What these numbers don’t include is the potential damage to a brand’s reputation and to its customers. CIO Insight reported 31% of consumers stopped doing business with a company due to a security breach; a significant number of these said they had lost trust in the brand. And certainly, poor performance leads to higher bounce rates and lower conversion rates.

With layers of piecemealed security solutions increasing operational complexity and reducing application performance, coupled with the increased frequency of cyberattacks, it’s no wonder these factors lead to negative impacts on customer experience and their ability to quickly and safely interact with businesses online. 

The good news is that a holistic approach to approach security can detect and mitigate attacks quickly before they hit the bottom line. With the right unified security solutions, performance and customer experience can improve, too. 

Debunking conventional wisdom

As already stated, businesses can indeed increase security while improving performance, operational efficiency, and customer experience. But how can this be achieved without tradeoffs? 

By adopting holistic edge-enabled security solutions built on an extensive, globally distributed platform, businesses can address the latest cybersecurity threats and achieve comprehensive protection across networks and applications without a single point of failure or performance bottleneck. The benefits of an edge-enabled holistic security solution are:

Massive scale and resiliency to ensure uptimeIntelligent rules execution for faster threat detectionIntegration with edge logic and CI/CD workflows to improve operationsAttacks mitigated at the source to improve performance and user experience

Security solutions that provide easy integration and automation can enhance IT workflows and enable quick deployments of security updates to keep up with the evolving threat landscape. Platforms like Edgio’s provide developers with a single pane of glass with visibility and control to manage their application performance and security.

So yes, businesses can, in fact, debunk conventional wisdom when it comes to performance and security, but having the right security solution matters. 

The right security solution can ultimately reduce costs, increase operational efficiency, and improve customer experience, all while protecting your data, your brand, and your bottom line. It’s a win-win for your entire organization.

Turbo-charge web application and API performance with Edgio Security.


In economic uncertainty, it’s natural for executives to explore where to reduce spending, trim the fat, so to speak, and cut enterprising investments as a matter of caution. But this thinking is also counter-productive for all the reasons that make uncertainty so predictable. We can expect that every company is going to react this way in times of uncertainty.  

In 2023, CIOs are guided to focus on enhancing workforce engagement, customer experience, and data and AI. These are identified as key areas where technology can drive business growth and increase customer satisfaction in the process. 

Yet, it’s not uncommon for executives to cut costs in areas that actually improve customer experiences and also double-down on investments that can minimize them. 

Where winning companies deviate from the norm is that they look for opportunities to attract and retain customers by making experience and service a signature competitive advantage. The key is to understand where investments can deliver returns, accelerated time to value, and success now. 

The importance of customer experience as a competitive advantage 

Customer service is overdue for its makeover, shifting its role in the organization from a cost-center to a growth engine. More so, making service something the customers enjoy and appreciate, instead of dreading the engagement. 

Think about it this way, if 94% of your customers said that the service you provide directly influences future buying decisions, would you solely focus on the 6% who are seemingly indifferent? What if nearly half said that they’d switch brands to get better service? Well, in the last year, 71% said that they had done just that.  

Research shows that almost nine-in-ten (88%) of customers say that the experience your company provides is as important as your products and services. Best-in-class, personalized customer service is more important than ever — especially when it’s in someone’s home or business. 

For those companies that invest in customer experiences and relationships, the economic upside is already there. According to Gallup research, fully engaged customers represent a 23% premium in share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth over the average customer. By increasing customer engagement, Gallup also promotes increases in customer service metrics, including: 

66% higher sales growth,  10% increase in net profit,  25% increase in customer loyalty, and  +20 percentile point increases in customer confidence.  

There’s much to be done. Only 26% of U.S. workers believe their organization delivers on the promises they make to customers. 

Field service is a sleeping giant waiting to deliver business value  

When I say the words, “field service,” what comes to mind?  

Working with service and sales leaders over the years, I can honestly say that it’s usually not “innovation” or “groundbreaking” or “growth driver.” Yet, field service is literally on the front line of the customer’s experience. And CX itself, is ranked by businesses around the world as the top priority emerging from 2020 disruption.  

Field service represents the front line of live customer service, a true human touch point. It also represents a critical, and arguably underestimated or even undervalued, customer touch point that can increase customer satisfaction, drive sales, and lead the charge for overhauling customer service as a growth engine

The time is now. 

In its State of Service report, Salesforce research learned that case volumes for 54% of service teams rose between 2021 and 2022. In response, organizations strengthened mobile workforces by increasing budgets (62%) and headcount (61%). And, the field service management market is expected to grow to an estimated $8.06 billion by 2028 as companies work to meet increasing customer demand while managing costs. 

As mobile representatives serving on a company’s front lines, field service teams have a unique opportunity to manage these expectations and grow customer relationships through interactions that drive repeat revenue.  

Field service drives revenue and cost savings 

If you think about luxury goods and retail, many employ a strategic service offering called “clienteling.” Clienteling is a personalized approach – cater to high value customers in stores. As its evolved, data, insights, mobile tech, AI help service professionals deliver real-time personalization, promote satisfaction, and increase customer lifetime value (CLV). 

In field service, mobile workers are gaining the ability to deliver clienteling-like experiences for every customer. By delivering enhanced customer experiences, field service can significantly contribute to growth. 

New Salesforce research found that 86% of decision makers at companies with field service teams believe these teams are critical to growing the business.  

Fifty-two percent of high-performing field service workers say that their company’s management views customer service as a revenue generator. Specifically, 69% of high-performing mobile workers say their organization tracks revenue generated by customer service. And 82% of strategic organizations depend on mobile workers to upsell products and services. 

With product expertise and knowledge of customer purchases, service history, and usage data in hand, field service teams can tailor recommendations to every customers’ unique needs. As a result, those mobile workers who convert meaningful engagement into upselling or cross-selling opportunities realize an average success rate of 65%. 

Field service management, powered by AI and automation, enhance productivity and employee experiences 

For 93% of mobile workers, there is a direct link between employee experience and the customer experience. After all, mobile workers are brand ambassadors, and they are the face of your company.  

Salesforce research found that 65% of field service representatives feel the weight of customer expectations, more than any other type of service worker. As such, in addition to customer experience, employee experience is also key.  

An overwhelming majority (94%) of service professionals in high-performing organizations cite productivity as a major or moderate benefit of field service management. This should serve as an important consideration as executives look for ways to cut operational costs without compromising customer satisfaction. 

To better support their field service teams, organizations are improving operational efficiency and customer satisfaction with field service management tools. Of the 96% of high-performing field service organizations that use field service management, 90% report increased agility, 55% report higher productivity, and 53% report improved job satisfaction. More so, 98% of mobile workers credit it with productivity benefits. 

Automation and AI are also further unlocking efficiency and productivity opportunities. 

Research shows that 78% of high-performing field service organizations use AI, and 83% use workflow automation.  

For example, with AI-powered tools, like thoughtfully designed chatbots, mobile workers can efficiently schedule appointments, get real-time updates, and quickly find answers to questions.  

With conversational AI, service agents can transcribe conversations in real-time, gain insights, personalize engagement, save time, and the need for customers to repeat themselves.  

Additionally, automation-enabled workflows simplify the ability for mobile workers to create new accounts, place equipment orders, schedule appointments, and automate time-consuming, mundane tasks out of their day-to-day routines.  

Added up, agents get time back to be more creative, spend time engaging customers, and cultivate customer relationships. More so, AI reduces response times and accelerates first time fix rates, enabling mobile workers to serve more customers faster while boosting customer satisfaction. 

In summary 

Research makes a compelling case for businesses to invest in the areas that can drive business growth, improve employee experiences, and foster more loyal customers. As such, field service, and customer service, are no longer cost centers, but instead strategic areas for investment, to deliver a new kind of ROI for these times, return on innovation. 

Business, CIO, Employee Experience

The insurance industry is undergoing a sea change, with IT playing a crucial role in rolling out digital customer experiences for policyholders and agents, as in-person meetings all but vanish in the post-pandemic era.

This pivot to digital customer experiences has become a new insurance industry imperative, as John Aflac, Liberty Mutual, MassMutual, MetLife, and a host of other insurers have embraced digital strategies for interacting with and delivering new services to customers — in some cases, integrating advanced cloud technologies such as analytics and machine learning to design new insurance policies.

Bill Pappas, who joined MetLife as head of global technology and operations three years ago to drive the CEO’s customer-first strategy, exemplifies the new insurance CIO ethos.

“We are paying very close attention to trends from a customer perspective. We call our approach high tech and high touch, because that takes into account the very clear feedback that we’re getting from our customers — that they want digital solutions to take the transactional nature from our relationship away in a way that is intuitive and secure, but they want us to be there when it matters the most,” he says.

For Pappas, the customer has become the “North Star” in the digital era, and other insurance CIOs concur, as improving the customer experience and operational excellence — not revenue growth — tops the list of insurance digitalization initiatives in 2023, according to a recent Gartner survey of CIOs across 81 countries.

“The customer experience in life insurance has not been very digital,” says Gartner analyst Kimberly Harris-Ferrante, noting the very traditional human-to-human interactions in the industry. “Now it’s really more about [digital] customer experience and operational efficiency, particularly given we’re just coming out of COVID.”

The seismic shift toward digital services during the pandemic served as a wakeup call for the insurance industry, which by and large lagged other industries in technology modernization, analysts say.

“In the last few years, the [insurance industry] has taken us in some new directions, being more remote and virtual and changing behaviors than we would have seen in 2019 or before,” Harris-Ferrante says.

And for insurers like MetLife, digital customer-centricity means new approaches to serving agents and policyholders alike — without straying from the heart of the insurance relationship, the human touch.

“In some cases we are b-to-b; in some cases we’re b-to-b-to-c,” Pappas says. “We will digitize mostly the transactional nature of the product, but we do want to safeguard that ability for a person to be there for the customers where that matters the most.”

IT as industry differentiator

Insurers and financial services firms like MassMutual, of Springfield, Mass., are substituting face-to-face meetings with advanced, value-added digital interactions with customers. But the impact of IT in revitalizing what insurance companies offer their customers goes well beyond facilitating video meetings and digitized documentation.

Tara Long, MassMutual’s newly appointed CIO, points to the company’s patented enterprise data application platform and enhanced cybersecurity as integrated digital services that add significant value to its digital customers. For example, digital customers may use biometric login with Touch ID and Face ID for security.

Other key resources that benefit the customer experience include BI and analytics for anything from actuarial pricing to risk selection and customer intelligence, the CIO says.

“There are a lot of self-service capabilities and new digital portals that are going to help service our policyholders as well as our financial advisors,” Long says. “There’s a lot that goes into our digital transformation. It’s a journey with lots of components to it.”

Acrisure, of Grand Rapids, Mich., for instance, uses artificial intelligence to build custom insurance policies and financial services for businesses as well as consumer policies. Matt Marolda, the company’s chief innovation officer who came on board in 2021, has played a key role developing AI models for “custom-tailored” insurance packages, for example.

The COVID wakeup call

For most insurance companies, the global shutdowns that followed COVID-19 were the tipping point.

When the pandemic hit, Aflac CIO Rich Gilbert felt like the firm’s insurance agent business could be a dead duck. Yet Gilbert tapped the company’s Hatch Innovation Lab to build a new virtual enrollment system that had its origin in the data center but was quickly redesigned for the cloud amid the pandemic.

“COVID was the digital disruptor. Our agents sell to small, medium, large businesses at their work site and now there was no work site,” says Gilbert, who signed on as CIO at Aflac in 2019. “So we had to kind of rethink and reimagine our whole model of engaging with policyholders or potential policyholders.”

Aflac’s Virtual Enrollment Experience fully utilized the cloud and SaaS solutions in its construction, Gilbert says.

“We needed the speed of the cloud to assemble a new experience for agents to work remotely. The Virtual Enrollment Experience is fulfilled via a microsite customized for each account and is hosted in the cloud (AWS). Each microsite is composed of several components, including product information and videos to inform, a decision support tool to help decide, a calendaring tool to schedule a virtual consultation with an agent, a virtual collaboration platform via Webex to consult on product offerings, and a connection to enroll and e-sign to complete the process,” he says.

Aflac also expanded its marketing outreach to direct customers to microsites where they can learn about Aflac’s supplemental cancer insurance, set up a virtual meeting with an agent, and use the homegrown system to sign on to policies. “We actually built a whole new enrollment platform that is much like an Amazon capability,” Gilbert says. 

John Hancock is another insurance company that overhauled its operations to be more digital-centric by integrating SaaS services such as Clareto to simplify the insurance purchasing process and reduce underwriting times, while using its homegrown JH eApp to streamline the overall life insurance process.

Building for tomorrow

With new platforms evolving, insurance CIOs are eyeing new possibilities for the future.

Liberty Mutual, which has been an industry leader in digital transformation, operates a hybrid cloud infrastructure built primarily on Amazon Web Services but with specific uses of Microsoft Azure and, lesser so, Google Cloud Platform.

Roughly 60% of Liberty Mutual’s data runs on the cloud and taps into an array of business applications and analytics dashboards that yield real-time insights and predictions, recently-retired CIO James McGlennon told last year.

The insurance company under his direction spent 17 years developing a robust platform that today enables consumers to access an automated claims system that uses chatbots, cameras, and e-mail to initiate a claim and rent a car while a machine learning model analyzes the photograph of the damaged vehicle to detect whether its airbag has been deployed, for instance, and to determine immediately whether a vehicle is totaled or the damage is limited to a fender bender.

That’s today. The platform will enable data scientists to build the next generation of applications for its consumers tomorrow.

“We’re really trying to understand the metaverse and what it might mean for us,” said McGlennon. “We’re focused on augmented reality and virtual reality. We’re doing a lot on AI and machine learning and robotics. We’ve already built up blockchain and we’ll continue with all those.”

These new customer digital experiences extend well beyond requiring customers to fill out policy applications digitally or use chatbots for answering basic insurance questions. When designing modern policy applications for digital customers, data scientists at insurers will continue to use the cloud, advanced data tools, business intelligence, and machine learning models that will change the entire business practices — not just the method of communication, insurance CIOs point out.

Digital Transformation, Insurance Industry

Journey Beyond, a part of Hornblower Group, is Australia’s leading experiential tourism group. Headquartered in Adelaide, it operates 13 brands and experiences spanning the country. The company’s overall strategy is to “have a customer experience that’s second-to-none — from the moment they first engage with the company to plan their experience, to when they return home at the end of their travels — regardless of what Journey Beyond adventure you are booking.”

However, the company’s disparate technology systems were proving to be a hinderance in its commitment to consistently deliver unmatched services and experiences to customers. As its business diversified, including its own acquisition by Hornblower Group in early 2022, Journey Beyond inherited a range of disparate technology systems, including six different phone systems and an outdated contact center that was only servicing Journey Beyond’s rail journeys. The remaining brands in the company’s portfolio were using basic phone functionality for customer enquiries and reservations.

Madhumita Mazumdar, GM of information and communications technology at Journey Beyond


“The different communication solutions were unable to provide an integrated 360-degree customer view, which made it difficult to ensure a consistent, unrivalled customer experience across all 13 tourism ventures, and any other brands Journey Beyond may add to its portfolio in the future. The absence of advanced contact center features and analytics further prevented us from driving exceptional customer experience. Besides, we couldn’t enable work-from-anywhere, on any device capability, for employees,” says Madhumita Mazumdar, GM of information and communications technology at Journey Beyond.  

These challenges forced the company to transition to a modern cloud-based communication platform.

Multiple communication solutions cause multiple challenges

Because Beyond Journey operates in the experiential tourism market, providing a personalized, seamless customer experience is essential — something its previous communications systems lacked, Mazumdar says.

“For instance, our train journeys get sold out a year prior to their launch. Therefore, when we launch a new season, there is a huge volume of calls from our customers and agents. The existing system lacked callback mechanism, leading to callers waiting in queue for as long as 40 minutes, which adversely impacted their experience,” she says, adding that there was also no way to prioritize certain calls over others.

The existing system also lacked analytical capability to provide any customer insights and it wasn’t integrated with Beyond Journey’s CRM. As a result, representatives interacting with a customer didn’t know whether the customer had traveled with the company before. “The communication between us and the customer was transactional instead of being personalized,” Mazumdar says.

Since the existing systems were very old, they couldn’t be managed remotely. In case of an outage, the company had to send a local person to rectify the on-site phone system, which could take a couple of hours. During this time, customers were unable to call Journey Beyond.

“The IVR was also not standardized across the company. As the IVRs were recorded in voices of employees from different business units, a caller had no idea they were part of the same business,” says Mazumdar.

Incoming calls to Beyond Journey’s toll-free numbers were also adding to the operational cost. “We paid per-minute on the calls received to our toll-free numbers. The high call volumes meant huge costs for us. Even if the call was hanging in the queue, it was costing us every minute,” she says.

Implementing a consolidated communications platform

To overcome the bottlenecks and drive customer engagement to the next level, Journey Beyond launched a contact center transformation, the first step of which was to establish a common unified communications (UC) platform across the business and integrate it with a new contact center (CC) solution. After evaluating several UC and CC solutions, Journey Beyond chose RingCentral’s integrated UCaaS and CCaaS platforms — RingCentral MVP and Contact Center.

“We started evaluating multiple vendors in the first quarter of 2021. The software evaluation process took three to five months after which the implementation started in August 2021. We went live in October 2021,” Mazumdar says. The entire SaaS solution was hosted on AWS.

The company took this opportunity to shift to soft phones and headsets by getting rid of all physical phones. “We purchased good quality noise-cancelling headsets, which was the only hardware we invested in significantly,” says Mazumdar. “Although we had premium support from RingCentral, we decided to learn everything about the solution and take full control over it. So, while the integration and prebuild was completely done by RingCentral, over time we trained multiple people in the team on the solution. In hindsight, this was the best thing we did,” says Mazumdar, who brought in two dedicated IT resources with phone system background for the new solution.

“Different business units within the company work differently. For instance, the peak hours for one business could be different from those of another business, which impacts how you set up the call flows. It’s not one basic standard rule that could be set up for all businesses across the company. With in-house understanding of the solution, we had full control over the solution and were able to make changes, refinements, and complex prioritization rules to it ourselves without depending on the solution provider,” she says.

Cloud-based solution delivers customer visibility and value

Connecting multiple businesses with a common communications platform to deliver consistent customer service across the group has yielded compelling business benefits to Journey Beyond.

A key advantage of the tight integration between UC and CC is the customer service operation’s accessibility for the entire Journey Beyond team.

“At a national integrated level, we now have subject matter experts in each of our experiences available to deliver unrivalled customer experience, with economies of scale. So, if one team is under duress in terms of call volumes, the call can be overflowed and picked up quickly by a consultant with secondary expertise in that brand,” says Mazumdar.

Journey Beyond is supporting its customer experience drive by integrating the CC solution with its CRM to develop omni-channel CX capabilities and build towards a 360-degree view of the customer.

“We are building up our ‘Know You Customer’ strategy, which starts with our customer service agents knowing who you are when you call any of our Journey Beyond brands,” says Mazumdar. “Callers who have travelled with us before, have their phone number in our CRM. When they call, their records pop up. The executive can look at the customer’s history with the company and the communication between them becomes a lot more personalized. The integrated view of the customer also helps to cross sell. For instance, if a person is booking a train journey from Adelaide but our executive knows that he is coming from Sydney, he can sell him another trip in Sydney.”

The other major advantage is the scalability and remote capabilities of the cloud-based platform. The solution allows Journey Beyond to run operations 24×7 with centralized administration and distributed users, working from anywhere, on any device. This has also given Journey Beyond the opportunity to recruit for talent in other locations outside the market around its Adelaide office.

Journey Beyond has also rolled out the solution’s workforce management functionality to better align agent availability with customer demand. The advanced feedback capabilities allow Journey Beyond to measure customer net promoter scores (NPS) right down to the consultant level. That NPS functionality will then be integrated into Salesforce, enhancing the 360-degree view of the customer experience.

The solution’s quality management functionality is providing Journey Beyond with a level of automation to ensure the contact basics are being completed, allowing leaders to focus on scoring the more complex or intangible components of customer engagements — delivering a recording of both the call and what is happening on screen at the same time. “Quality analytics completes the picture in terms of everything we need to see from a skills gap perspective,” says Mazumdar. Journey Beyond has deployed the UC solution to all businesses nationally. The CC solution has been rolled out at the company’ rail division and Rottnest Express while onboarding for the other businesses is in progress.

Unified Communications

Customers are increasingly demanding access to real-time data, and freight transportation provider Estes Express Lines is among the rising tide of enterprises overhauling their data operations to deliver it.

To fuel self-service analytics and provide the real-time information customers and internal stakeholders need to meet customers’ shipping requirements, the Richmond, VA-based company, which operates a fleet of more than 8,500 tractors and 34,000 trailers, has embarked on a data transformation journey to improve data integration and data management. Like many large organizations, prior to this effort, data at Estes Express Lines was spread across disparate data sources, which meant that each agile project team had to write its own code to access data from those source systems.

“Besides impacting customer experience, the absence of a seamless data integration and data management strategy was adversely affecting time to market and draining valuable human resources,” says Bob Cournoyer, senior director of data strategy, BI and analytics at Estes Express Lines.

Data woes impact business success

With shipping concerns coming under greater scrutiny, Estes Express Lines customers are increasingly interested in up-to-the-minute details about their shipments, such as expected charges, delivery time, and whether their goods are damaged or not. While the company had a data warehouse, it was primarily used for analysis. As it was batch updated every 24 hours, it didn’t work in real-time.

“Since the data was living everywhere — in the cloud, on prem, in multiple databases throughout the organization and even on desktops at some point — we were unable to fulfil the needs of our customers. It was frustrating for both the customers and those serving them,” says Cournoyer.

Pulling data from multiple sources and then sharing it in a common way was also taking a toll on the company’s IT department. “Our cloud-based systems are very specific and disparate in nature. For instance, we had Salesforce CRM to manage our customers and Oracle ERP for our back-office functions. A lot of times data from all the different systems needed to be combined into one, which was a tedious process. Users couldn’t self-serve themselves and we had to assign a resource to them to satisfy that need,” says Cournoyer.  

Under the old system, IT would have to write ITIL processes to source the requested data, which would then be moved to another database to be accessible to the business user, as opposed to giving a direct connection to the actual data source. “Every time somebody made a new request for a new piece of information, we had to touch the code and go through the entire testing lifecycle. It was frustrating for the business, to say the least,” Cournoyer says. “At one point, I had 15 people on my data team and seven of them were engaged only in data analysis.”

Those data bottlenecks also led to delayed time to market. “Whenever we needed to deliver a solution that was going to add value to the business, we had to build in all the extra time needed to source data and do data analysis, potentially write code. Depending upon the complexity, this could add six to eight weeks to a project,” he says.

In addition to these challenges that urgently warranted a data management platform, Estes also had a mission to reduce technical debt. As Cournoyer says, “We didn’t want to keep digging the hole deeper. Copying and moving data has its own costs associated with it and we wanted to do away with it.”

Future-proofing Estes Express’ data strategy

Considering these challenges, Cournoyer set about developing a data strategy aimed at making data available to internal business users and IT systems in real-time without creating any technical debt.

“To start with, the entire IT department was reorganized. The data team was decoupled, and all the data analysts were formed into agile teams so that they could support whatever the data needs would be. We then started our exploration for a platform to solve the data problem,” Cournoyer says. 

Estes Express Lines evaluated all the big players, including IBM, before deciding to leverage Denodo’s logical data fabric to access all its enterprise data and have it available in one central location.

“Before deploying the solution, we decided to do a six-week proof of concept. We picked a couple of key areas of our data that were the most requested in the company and virtualized them, which formed about 10% of our entire data universe. We built and delivered some APIs on top of it within the six-week timeframe, and we did it with the internal team that had never seen the system before. That’s how easy it was to learn and use the new solution,” he says.

At the end of the six weeks, Cournoyer and his team “were able to approve two or three key concepts back to the business,” and the proof-of-concept work was rolled over to the next project. “During this time, we were able to map over 50% of all our data and started to use some of the more advanced features of the product. Now, a year and a half later, we’re well versed in it,” he says, adding that the freight transportation provider now has “well over 90% of the data in the organization completely mapped.”

While Estes Express chose an on-prem implementation because it still has a large presence of operational data on premises, the data fabric covers all the company’s internal and cloud-based data sources, delivering real-time data consistency by establishing a single source of truth.

Ramping up CX, slashing time to market

With the logical data fabric in place, powered by data virtualization, Estes Express is now able to manage, integrate, and deliver data to any user, in real-time, regardless of the location and format of the source data.

“Our customer care representatives now have information at their fingertips and no longer fumble or search for it. This ability to deliver value back to our customers and to our internal customers as well has been huge. Unprecedented insight into where shipments are and how they are moving through systems provide an optimal customer experience,” Cournoyer says.

“We measure the sentiments of our customers through a third-party company. They have come back and told us our numbers have gone up. Besides, we can analyze customer scores and perform sentiment analysis to adjust offerings to better the customer experience,” he says.

The new data strategy has also reduced the time to market. “It used to take us weeks, and months in some cases, to deliver solutions. We can now do it in days and even in hours. Reduction in time to market helped us deliver data faster to applications business users and has also reduced our labor cost by 10%,” he says. By enabling centralized, consistent data to all projects, post deployments issues have also come down, saving the company time and resources.

The IT department no longer needs to move and store data, which has reduced the company’s technical debt by cutting down the number of SQL databases, lowering license and storage costs.

The new strategy has also helped Estes Express bring API development back in-house. “We were paying a third-party company to build APIs for us. It used to take us six to eight weeks to get an API but if the requirements changed in the middle of that cycle, they had to go back and reset. With this new data platform, we built a couple of APIs in two hours. I don’t know how to put a number on that but our reliance on third parties to build APIs has gone way down, which has been a huge cost savings for us,” Cournoyer says, adding that the data fabric–based strategy has also laid the foundation for the company’s new data governance program.

Data Governance, Data Management