It’s clear that in the last few years, the global pandemic has created unique circumstances for business and IT leaders at small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Yet a relentless focus on customers can help build resilience and success.  

In this 3rd episode of our 5-episode podcast, Essential Connections: The Business Owner’s Guide to Growth During Economic Uncertainty, we explore why success and resilience depend on high-quality customer engagement.

For MK, this focus is essential, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses.

“It’s always been true, how well you connect with your customers. But now we’re communicating with and supporting each other in ever more critical ways,” says MK. “All of us need those seamless interactions with each other. We used to be able to have these rich interactions when we were face to face. And now technology must pick up the slack.”

In fact, the importance of customer experience now trumps goals such as cutting costs as a deciding factor around IT investment, MK says.

I think it’s important to realize that just like all of us, our customers and our employees are experiencing uneasy times. It’s almost like concentric circles of unease. And that has drastically changed the way they work, the way we work,” she says. “But expectations have only grown. Customers, employees, people, they value staying connected. The stakes are very high. We commissioned some research with Frost and Sullivan. And we found that nearly half of employees say they won’t consider working for a company unless the company offers some flexibility.”

“Now consider how hard it is … in this labor market … to make hires. And you see why the stakes are super high,” she says. “With customers and employees – these are your two most valuable assets.”

Listen in to learn all the details, including MK’s actionable insights on how to prevent poor customer experience from undermining your company’s resilience.

Be sure to listen to other episodes in our series, Essential Connections: The Business Owner’s Guide to Growth During Economic Uncertainty, and learn how you can future-proof your business with agile IT leadership.

IT Leadership, Small and Medium Business

The age-old debate on technology versus human capability remains inconclusive. But in this time of artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and cloud, we’re seeing more opportunities to think of how humans and machines can come together as a team, rather than acting against each other. From diagnosing diseases and delivering effortless customer experiences to understanding human preferences and providing new customer insights, the human and AI partnership is evolving — and more in sync than ever. That’s making our lives simpler and more convenient. 

Gartner predicts that context-driven analytics and AI models will replace 60% of existing models built on traditional data by 2025. We will see new types of data — including unstructured data, such as audio, video, and images — being leveraged to give organizations a competitive advantage, get more value, and develop new use cases to set the stage for a new customer-driven era.  

This offers a glimpse into a future of close human and AI partnerships, where we think, collaborate, and create augmented by technology and business intelligence. This kind of partnership is important when the objective is to empower customers with personalized and relevant insights that can help them make informed decisions to buy products, subscribe to services, or use various offerings, which in turn adds to their trust and loyalty in a company. 

A real-life example of this can be found in an intelligent virtual agent or chatbot used by organizations to provide personalized service and guidance to people. Chatbots use AI and scripted rules to ask questions, identify the challenge, and resolve customer queries. 

Chatbots seem like a fool-proof solution to creating and delivering a good customer experience with fewer human resources, but recent Avaya research with Ipsos indicates that, based on their last interaction with a virtual agent, only 1 in 3 customers would recommend that business to others. This is because only 50% of them had their issue or concern resolved. This lack of success is due in part to the historical complexity of developing and delivering effective virtual agent solutions.    

Traditionally, it could take months to deploy a virtual chatbot, by which time consumer preferences, business processes, or even basic company information may have changed. Relying on a chatbot alone is a failure to leverage the potential of human-to-AI partnership.  

Avaya Virtual Agent removes this complexity, enabling organizations to quickly deploy Avaya-designed, pre-built, cloud-based self-service agents instead of building them from scratch. It leverages the Avaya Experience Platform™, which reimagines communications composability, providing customers with the option of constructing their own workflows or subscribing to pre-built experiences. This also enables businesses to participate in the Experience Economy by elevating their customer interactions beyond just making them more efficient to also making them more engaging to capture increased customer time and attention. The Avaya Experience Builders™ community can assist businesses with getting started or with addressing more advanced deployment requirements.

The ready-to-deploy virtual agent is designed to deliver the full benefits of virtual, AI-based communication experiences by leaning into the human-to-AI partnership. The solution reduces call volumes to live agents, decreasing average call wait times. It also increases agent productivity by providing important context to the humans who may have to solve more complex customer issues. Most importantly, though, it delivers true speed-to-value, enabling companies to infuse high-value capabilities into the customer experience in a matter of days. This means you can scale your AI efforts while leveraging an existing CX framework, building a true partnership between human and machine. 

That partnership is a win-win-win situation for the company, contact center agents, and the customer. The company can swiftly compose the kinds of interactions that its customers expect; the call center agent is given access to a single, easy-to-use dashboard that eliminates the need to train and helps dedicate more time toward meeting customer expectations; and customers appreciate the heightened level of responsiveness.

This advanced capability also does away with misconceptions about technology taking over jobs. This perception stems from the inability of companies to have an open discussion with employees about embracing AI across business functions. Using technology with a purpose is known to help employees focus more on business innovation and value-added tasks, rather than spending time on mundane work. It is a company’s responsibility to demonstrate and educate their employees on how technology can augment and support their work to achieve satisfaction.  

In today’s experience economy, human abilities can fall short, due in large part to the outweighed importance of heavy data analysis. But relying entirely on machines is hardly the right approach — organizations need the automated, fast-calculating power of AI. But they also need the human ingenuity that’s required to solve complex issues. The focus, then, should be on adopting AI technologies that enhance the skill sets of your employees. 

Artificial Intelligence

Erin Howard, executive director of product, service, and experience design at Charles River Laboratories, admits she doesn’t get into all the scientific intricacies of the blood products her company supplies to its customers for their research needs.

But she and her team did understand what was working and, perhaps more importantly, what wasn’t working in the interactions that Charles River had with blood donors and its own business customers.

In fact, finding those pain points — where customer experiences need improvement — is squarely in her wheelhouse.

Howard joined Charles River, which provides products and services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, government agencies, and academic institutions for their research and drug development efforts, in March 2021 as the first one in her role.

“I joined to bring design thinking and to reimagine how we work,” she says.

According to Howard, the company created the position, which reports to the CIO and is part of the global IT leadership team, to ensure that its digital products deliver the best customer experiences and to ensure those experiences help customers do their own jobs better.

“We’re hoping that digital transformation with its focus on customer experience will take one year off the drug-development lifecycle,” she says. “We want to be that impactful.”

Howard and her 14-member design team hunt for ways to do that. She subdivided her teams into groups assigned to different customer areas, with those groups working with the IT teams delivering customer-facing products, engaging in continuous discovery activities and scheduling regular meetings directly with customers to learn about their needs.

That’s all to understand the customer journey and create customer personas so the groups can help develop digital products that better meet customer needs.

Insights and customer experience improvements gleaned by one group are shared, thereby creating synergies where pain points within different customer journeys are similar, Howard explains. And her design team works with agile development teams to iterate, test, learn, and rapidly evolve customer experience features.

“It’s about enhancing the customer experience with a digital tool,” she says. “We’re talking about ease and speed. We can’t just digitalize our ways of work. We’re looking for ways to reimagine the solutions, honing in on pain points and finding a technology-enabled new process or new way of working with us.”

That’s what led her team to the blood donation process and its drive to fix how it was falling short.

“We found that the product donation experience was a great opportunity for really impactful customer experience change,” Howard says. “We were still making a lot of phone calls, finding people word of mouth, and we were calling in the same donor pool. But donors are now mobile and used to digital tools, so we weren’t really meeting the donors in the way they wanted to interact with us. We weren’t honed in on their needs.”

Her designers created customer personas to understand both the donors and the business customers, taking the insights gathered from that exercise to ideation sessions focused on how to reduce the time it took to identify, diversify, expand, and ultimately enroll the pool of blood donors in their collection process.

The designers then used those donor-side improvements to create customer experience improvements for the company’s business customers, who as a result of all this work see both a quicker delivery of blood products and more diversity within those products — two essential elements for the clients’ cell and gene therapy development.

After nine months of work, her team launched the new digital donor experience in October, reducing a process that took weeks to one that donors can do themselves in minutes via a new app.

CX: A central tenet to digital transformation

The idea of meeting customers “where they are” has became core to digital transformation success — a tenet that, in turn, has put more of the work of customer experience (CX) under the remit of IT as companies look to make good on the promise of digital transformation.

In fact, customer experience is now a priority for all enterprise executives. The 2022 Be Digital Research report from digital consulting firm West Monroe surveyed 700 C-suite executives and found that improved customer experience is No. 1 among the top three priorities for growth. (The other priorities were enhanced data capabilities and increased scalability through process improvement.) Executives also listed customer experience as one of their top 5 areas for “next big digital investments.”

Calvin Cheng, managing director of West Monroe’s Product Experience & Engineering Lab, defines CX as “the impression and perception customers have when they interact with a company and a brand.”

He says everyone within an organization is responsible for customer experience. Consider, for example, that a company trying to resolve a customer complaint about a missed or late shipment will need information from finance, supply chain, logistics, and others.

Yet CIOs, he notes, are the “executives at the table defining and delivering on the corporate customer experience strategy and enabling the technologies that brings it to life.”

“The CIO has a high level of responsibility to coordinate technologies that enable and ensure the privacy and security of those engagements,” Cheng says, adding that those enabling technologies include artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as automation such as robotic process automation (RPA).

Moreover, he says, CIOs must also know how to make those enabling technologies work across various touchpoints to ensure a seamless experience.

Despite its growing importance to enterprise success, CIO efforts to build CX capabilities within their IT shops and their ability to use those capabilities to transform their organization’s customer experiences have had mixed results.

The West Monroe survey found that 92% of organizations said they are effective at putting the customer at the center of everything; 93% said they’re effective at creating “fluid, connected experiences across digital and physical worlds”; and 75% are investing heavily in the customer experience. Yet only 37% of companies gave an “A” to their customer experience.

“There are still companies that are struggling to bring customer experiences to life,” Cheng says, noting that companies in the business-to-business space and those in the middle market tend to lag behind the largest companies and consumer-facing ones when it comes to maturing their CX disciplines.

CIO as owner of CX

As CIO of tech company Logitech, Massimo Rapparini has taken direct responsibility for customer experience: He took on the head of customer experience title and role about four years ago after serving as only CIO for about 18 months.

“The intent is to have a single person for experience. I’m not the only one who shapes experience, but we want someone to bring it all together, and knowing how technology drives experience is the driver behind using me [the CIO] in the role,” Rapparini explains.

He says having a single owner of CX has helped the company focus on creating consistently positive and seamless experiences at all touchpoints, rather than having siloes of great experiences.

And having that single owner be the CIO allows the company to create unified experiences throughout, he says, “because technology plays such an important role in how you stitch together all these different customer touchpoints in the journey.”

Furthermore, he says having one owner has brought companywide alignment to Logitech’s vision of what great CX should be. Rapparini says he and his team did that by developing a list of objectives (known as the “7 Es”) for designing experiences.

“Building on our company values, we are committed to delivering an experience based on the 7 Es to advocate for our customers: empathy, expectation setting, effortless, engaging, eliminating errors, equitable, and environmentally sustainable,” he says.

Rapparini also uses other commonly recognized CX best practices such as creating personas and customer journeys, having CX teams engage business groups and products teams, and following agile development methodologies with incremental delivery.

Rapparini credits this cohesive CX program for recent customer experience improvements and shaping planned CX innovations, such as using artificial intelligence to predict product failures before they happen and creating embedded self-healing capabilities.

CIO as conductor

Monica Caldas, deputy CIO for Liberty Mutual Insurance, is also looking ahead to determine how and where CX can better serve the company’s customers.

“When we start with our company’s purpose, ‘We exist to help people embrace today and confidently pursue tomorrow,’ you understand that the customer experience and helping our customers at their time of need is always in focus,” she says. “Specifically related to the customer experience, it is always important to us to provide products and services that deliver on our promise. Across the globe we have teams that are working on improving what we deliver, and we incorporate the customer journey perspective into our work when we are delivering technology capabilities.”

Liberty Mutual has been building such capabilities for more than a decade, when the customer advocacy team was first established.

“The team’s mandate is to serve as passionate customer advocates who work across the business to ensure that everything Liberty Mutual does begins with the customer in mind,” Caldas says. “The team ensures that customer-facing employees are empowered and equipped with the tools, training, processes, and support to consistently deliver an outstanding customer experience.”

Caldas points to one recent example to illustrate how all this work enables IT to deliver value to Liberty Mutual customers when they are most in need of service.

IT created a tool that uses AI, aerial imagery of an area before and after a catastrophic event, and weather data to identify damage to customers’ properties before policyholders even call in claims. “This enables our claims organization to be more responsive and deploy resources to those areas with customers most in need,” Caldas says.

Creating such impactful customer experiences by rallying resources should be the CIO’s goal, experts say.

“Customer experience is like a symphony orchestra. There are a lot of players. They need to be working together to create something beautiful. They have to be playing all together to deliver a great performance. In a similar manner, the elements across an organization have to work together in concert to deliver on customer experience expectations,” West Monroe’s Cheng says.

CIOs will become even more important in orchestrating those coordinated efforts moving into the future, as customer expectations continue to evolve and as they rely on emerging technologies such as digital payments and the metaverse.

“Customer experience continues to change and customer expectations of brands continue to increase,” Cheng adds. “Those companies that can make bold moves to make customer experience their competitive differentiator can have better business performance by increased customer acquisition, customer growth, and customer satisfaction. And those companies that can align their internal people, processes, and technology to adapt and meet those customer expectations will be the most successful.”

IT Leadership, IT Strategy

In the second of this two part CIO webinar series ‘Driving business success with true enterprise applications’, we speak with DXC Technology, brewing giant Lion and analysts Ecosystm about ‘How to take customer experience to the next level’.

Today more than ever before, the customer is king.

And having been conditioned – some might say spoilt – over the past several years to hyper-personalisation via the growing number of intelligent digital platforms, delivering them the best possible experiences has now emerged as a major competitive differentiator.

Key to this is ensuring you have the right data and systems to underpin every customer interaction. This means having all customer-related data in a single repository, updated in real time, and accessible by business critical systems.

But as with so many challenges in this business, it’s a lot easier said than done. You need the right strategy, the right teams and the right culture, as well as the right solutions in place. And you need a proper plan to bring everyone in the organisation along with you on the journey.

Brewing giant Lion is one of the most established companies in Australasia, having carried some of our most famous and enduring beverage brands over a more than one hundred year history. And the explosion of new beer brands, especially in the craft space over the past several years, means it’s a more dynamic and complex business than ever.

Back in 2019, before COVID, Lion’s head of customer business process excellence, Nicole Parés and her team embarked a mission to gain a “360 degree view” of the company’s partner customers.

Shortly after, they met and quickly partnered with DXC Technology to set out a strategy to optimise the SAP Marketing solution and provide a customer experience that only a fully integrated tech stack could provide.

Changing customer – and partner – expectations demanded that the company undertake a full transformation if it was going to develop proper systems for managing its many moving parts and remain competitive into the future.

“I recognised that we had, three hundred legacy systems that had very little integration between them, making it difficult to utilise data and analytics, to draw insights and make business decisions,” Parés recalls.

Deployment of multiple SAP modules followed, until one day the legacy systems were switched off and Lion was operating in a new digital world.

Data driven

Perhaps the most profound change, Parés says, has been the cultural shift towards becoming an organisation that properly understands the value of data, especially in terms of driving better customer experiences.

“I can see the impacts through that our entire value chain … it [data] gives you the avenue through the technology of that marketing cloud to be really targeted in who your customer segments are.

“That in itself has been a transformative journey for our business”.

Matthew Varone, SAP CX consultant with DXC Technology says he and his team were initially brought in to work on a fairly narrow use case deploying SAP CX applications and marketing cloud.

From there the remit was expanded to encompass a broader plan to improve engagement with Lion’s extensive partner channel.

“[We started] working towards the right solution that’s 100 percent focussed on excellent customer experiences”.

This meant making sure the solution was right for everyone “and so that involved partnering very closely and doing lots of discovery, and going on the journey together to make sure we get the right outcome.”

Alan Hesketh, principal adviser with ecosystem and author of Start fast: Achieving rapid impact from digital transformation, has himself been at the coalface of several major digital transformation projects, in particular for the retail and fast moving consumer goods sectors.

He notes that for companies like Lion the challenge is how to harness data so that people find it easier – and are more inclined – to do business with you.

It’s essential therefore, to have “accurate data”.

“[It means] you’re able to use the data that they’re giving you to do the right kind of promotional activities to get that the expected returns .. and so when they’re doing that electronic ordering, it just flows through smoothly.”

Varone explains that DXC has helped Lion connect with its customers across multiple touchpoints.

“We’re measuring click through rates and engagement when they’re on the phone with agents and through the CRM system. You know those interactions are coming back, and all of those are being centralized and building this vision of one picture of a customer.”

Parés adds that being able to demonstrate that the project would give rise to new revenue streams was a key factor in getting buy in from the broader executive team. And further endearing her and her team was the fact that there were “zero issues” after ‘go-live’; a remarkable achievement for a project of this scale.

“It’s amazing now to look back and reflect on what that journey was like for us, putting that case forward and getting the buy in. Now we have the right technology, we can turn that into a competitive advantage.

Working on the marriage

Much is made of the importance of having great teams if major digital projects are to achieve their most ambitious objectives. And that also means different teams being able to work well together.

Parés reflects that hers and Varone’s team at DXC were united by strong sense of purpose but without any illusions about what needed to be done.

“We kept each other accountable, challenging what it was we were trying to achieve, and how we would get there.

“I think for me what I really enjoyed was it wasn’t a case of saying ‘here’s what I want to do. Go and do it. It was a partnership to understand, ‘well, have you considered that this is possible, or you are doing this process right now?’.”

Varone feels that that’s what made the “marriage” between Lion and DXC special.

“Did it take work? Yes, like most teams like this, forming and storming and norming, and all of those sorts of progressions that we all make together.”

“But there was always a lot of respect for each other”.

SAP

There’s an old saying when something you value changes and no longer brings you the joy the way it used to, “it’s not like it used to be.” For those who remember the good old days, great service was an essential part of the customer experience. Nowadays, customer service is not what it used to be. For decades now, customer service has become a necessary cost center. The emphasis on scale, automation, speed, and margins have also come at the cost of customer experience. However, new research now shows that the role of service is shifting back to “service,” to unify the customer’s experience.  

Since the dawn of the contact center in the 1960s, customer service evolved into a transactional entity. Over the years, executives learned to think of service as a numbers game, cycling customers on and off the phone and closing-out tickets as fast as possible, regardless of whether or not customers had a positive impression of the company in each interaction. That mindset would serve as models for deploying next-gen technologies, including IVRs, knowledge centers, chatbots, automation/RPA, text/messaging, with each designed to scale transactional engagement vs. delivering the level of service customers hope to receive. 

Customer experience reflects all customer engagements; Service can no longer serve as the weakest link 

The customer experience — the sum of all engagements, beyond customer service, a customer has with a business — is core to business success today. A related study of customers and B2B buyers published by Salesforce, the “State of the Connected Customer,” showed that nearly nine-in-ten respondents consider experience to be as critical as the product, itself, in deciding whether or not to buy from a company. This means that the experience you deliver is also a product.  

Nearly all respondents to that survey said a positive service experience makes them more likely to make a repeat purchase (94%). The same study also found that 71% of customers had switched brands in the last year with 48% switching companies for better customer service. These are critical insights especially in the current economic environment, when budgets are tightening, and loyalty becomes more important to the bottom line.  

Every facet of that experience must contribute to the great whole of the brand experience you promise. If customer service is viewed as a cost center and metrics prioritize speed over quality and transactions over relationship, it will always take away from the customer’s experience instead of enhancing it.  

There’s good news to report for service professionals. In its fifth edition of the “State of Service,” Salesforce found that companies are increasing investments in employees and technology budgets to match case volume and customer expectations. Over half of service organizations (55%) report increased budgets — up from 32% in 2020. And 51% report increased headcount — up from 19% in 2020. 

Mindset: The value of service shines when it’s meant to enhance the customer experience 

As customers become increasingly connected and empowered, their expectations soar. Service as a cost center is no longer a viable strategy to stand out against competitors where everything either takes away from or adds to the experience. It comes down to a shift in mindset, from a cost center mentality to a revenue generator. When executives invest in customer services that enhances their experience, customers are more likely to make repeat purchases and stay loyal.  

That truth is increasingly penetrating the hallowed walls of C-Suites and the boardroom.  

More than 50% of respondents in Salesforce’s survey of customer service professionals say their management now views their department as a revenue generator, rather than the cost center it may have perceived to be. That’s a significant tipping point that makes service performance all the more important not just for companies as a whole, but for the people in charge of delivering customer service. 

If you need more proof of this phenomenon, consider that over one-third of customer service leaders are now in the C-level — an unprecedented level of representation at the highest reaches of business structures.  

The fact that these are sourced from customer service ranks speaks volumes. And there’s appetite for this trend to continue. Nearly nine-in-ten of customer service respondents who don’t have C-level representation see its value. 

With the rise of roles such as chief customer officers and chief experience officers, service becomes one, albeit critical, part of the overall customer experience. It no longer has to represent the weakest link in the customer journey. 

Connection is the heart of service 

Driving customer success starts with connection to engage customers to meet and eventually exceed customer expectations. 

Think about the myriad of touchpoints that proliferate the path to purchase — and repurchase and loyalty — today. We often talk about this in terms of striving for omnichannel engagement. But beyond business buzzwords, a customer would never use the word omnichannel, it’s important to humanize the customer experience by considering the different, disconnected, departments that touch the customer journey. For example… 

Are service agents aware of marketing campaigns a given customer has received when they make contact? Do they have an informed sense of how a customer has navigated the company’s e-commerce touchpoints? Is the customer’s historical experience, preferences, previous purchases, available to service agents and all frontline executives responsible for customer engagement through their journey? Is integrated data and insights available to power AI in ways that present next best actions and experiences at a personal level, whether that’s an agent, chatbot, or self-guided path? If in a B2B company, are they aware of salesperson interactions?  

This is all critical context that service reps need to meet elevated customer expectations for efficient, tailored engagement. 

So, have companies met those customer expectations for connected engagement? According to the “State of the Connected Customer” survey, they have not.  

Three-in-five respondents say they generally feel like they are interacting with different departments rather than one company. And unfortunately, two-thirds say they often need to repeat information to different agents. When nearly all customers say a positive service experience makes them more likely to make a repeat purchase, is this status quo serving service’s elevated business mandate? 

This attests to a cost-center vs. growth mindset. In each case, the outcomes are very different. 

Compare high-performing service teams — those with the highest customer satisfaction levels — and their underperforming peers. The top teams are empowered to treat unique customers with unique engagement, think freedom from restrictive policies that don’t put all customer situations into a single category of service. Top teams are also more empowered with contextual information that details a customer’s entire journey, whether with service, or another team.  

In these cases, over three-fifths of service teams now share the same CRM software with their colleagues in other departments like ecommerce, sales, and marketing.  

Context matters in a digital-first world 

Let’s talk about the other critical element of meeting elevated customer expectations: digital channels and, more importantly, customer context. 

Even though the world is opening up, the use of digital channels, such as social media and customer portals, have not backtracked. In fact, customers say they are likely to spend more time online than before 2020. This is leading to the adoption of more digital-first touchpoints. Nearly three-in-five customers now prefer to engage through digital channels.  

Before you ask, yes, that preference skews higher among younger demographics. But still, channels such as phone and email are dropping, and digital-first touchpoints are rising across the board.  

Responses to this trend are represented in the increasing adoption among service organizations of channels like mobile apps, forums, and especially video. But a wholesale shift to digital channels ignores critical nuance…context. 

Key objectives are shifting to reflect a focus on efficiency, cost savings, and doing more with less 

Customers veer towards different channels depending on the circumstances. For instance, 59% of customers prefer self-service tools for simple issues while 81% of service professionals say the phone is a preferred channel for complex issues — up from 76% in 2020.  

Wherever they go, customers want their interaction to be easy, seamless, and fast. Let’s focus for a moment on the preference for self-service for simple issues. This is a great example of where customer and company priorities meet — in this case, in the pursuit of efficiency. 

Customer success excellence in today’s environment isn’t easy. Salesforce research found that 83% of customers expect to interact with someone immediately, and 83% expect to resolve complex problems through one person.  

Service professionals are feeling the pressure too, with 60% recognizing the increase in customer expectations since before the pandemic. 

Shifting KPIs reflect a focus on efficiency 

The preference for self-service for simple matters coincides with a heightened focus on efficiency for companies facing uncertain economic conditions. 

Organizations are being asked to do more with less and reduce costs. This is reflected in the rise of efficiency-related service KPIs, such as case deflection, customer effort, and first contact resolution.  

While self-service is a great foray into this pursuit, it can only go so far. How else can service organizations maximize customer satisfaction while using resources most efficiently? 

The answer lies at least in part in technology. Specifically, nearly three-fifths of service organizations now use at least one form of workflow or process automation — freeing up agents to focus on the higher value, more complex work that customers with more pressing or unique needs demand in exchange for repeat purchases.  

Users of automation reported significant benefits, such as time savings, better customer focus, and fewer errors in addressing customer needs. 

Three takeaways to transform service into a growth (and customer relationship) engine  

Service plays an important role in delivering a connected, efficient, and product customer experience. More importantly, service itself is shifting from a necessary cost center to a strategic growth engine. 

Service organizations are now at the forefront of strategic shifts across industries. Leaders are investing in continued momentum as well as future disruptions as customer expectations only continue to increase. 

1) Shift from a service mindset to an experience mindset 

Customers don’t see a “service department” — they see one company. As elevated, connected experiences become more commonplace, any instance of a disconnected, siloed experience across sales, service, marketing, and beyond will stand out and prompt customers to seek out better alternatives. Connecting service people, processes, and technology with their cross-functional counterparts helps mitigate this risk and elevate the overall customer experience. 

2) Empower employees as much as customers 

Scaling digital engagement offerings for customers has its merits, but we need to also think about what capabilities employees need to engage across these channels and provide the tailored, empathetic, and contextualized service customers deserve. Technology is a big part of this equation. But all the technology in the world won’t make much of a difference without the evolved policies and processes that transformation requires. 

3) Audit metrics for efficiency, scale, and experience 

Tried-and-true service metrics aren’t going anywhere, but a narrow focus on closing out as many tickets with as few agents as possible is a recipe for CX and service failure. Think about how KPIs can help identify areas of improvement as you scale across new channels, for instance. As resources get scarcer among economic uncertainty, look for ways to do more with less, without compromising the experiences customers have and take away from each engagement. 

Business Services

Digitalization is a double-edged sword for banks, especially when it comes to security. A massive shift to cloud and API-based ways of working has made the sector become more agile and innovative, but it has also opened the floodgates for identity theft. As interactions and transactions become more interconnected, even the simplest processes like opening a new account or making a balance transfer become riddled with security concerns.

As financial services become more digital in nature, it’s important that banks think differently when using data analytics, security tools, and education to improve identity authentication and customer data privacy. Avaya’s research report reveals three critical ways to do so.

1. Make the Most of the Powerful Tool in Your Customers’ Hands

Almost every customer owns a smartphone, and they use that device to call into the contact center when they need to resolve an issue or complicated matter. Have you thought about what can be done with this device to enhance identity authentication? Older security methods like Knowledge-based Authentication (KBA) only prove what a person knows. By leveraging the sensors in a customer’s connected device, banks can go one step further to prove who someone is — and that makes all the difference.

These sensors, which include location services, cameras, and QR code scanning, make a customer’s smart device a valuable source of a vast amount of information and inputs that help banks create a trusted identity template for customers. Once this identity template is established, all transactions are tied directly to a customer’s verified identity. This allows simple but risky transactions like requesting a new debit card, ordering checks, or updating an address to be done simply, quickly, and with far lower risk to the bank and its customers.

2. Shield Sensitive Data from Agents Using Zero Knowledge Proof

When a customer calls into the contact center, all of that person’s information is made visible to the agent who needs to verify them: their address, their driver’s license number, their social security number, etc. What’s stopping an agent from using their cellphone to take a picture of a customer’s personally identifiable information? It’s a scary thought, especially with so many customer service jobs now offsite out of supervisors’ views. Customer service workers don’t need so much visibility into this data.

Zero Knowledge Proof is an advanced cryptographic technique that makes it possible for organizations to verify sensitive or personally identifiable information without revealing that data to workers. The agent doesn’t need to see the data to verify its accuracy or authenticity and will therefore have no knowledge of it — hence, “zero knowledge proof.” All employees will see are the results that matter to them (whether a payment went through, whether a document was signed, that a customer’s SSN checks out) with a green checkmark verifying its approval from whichever third-party company verified it.

3. Outbound Notifications for Fraud Protection

In a sea of scam callers, most customers immediately send unknown numbers to voicemail. This is a major challenge for banks trying to reach customers to perform a number of legitimate tasks and build relationships. By securely sending notifications across the channel of a customer’s choice (SMS, in-app message if the company offers a mobile app), banks can reach customers faster and with high veracity authentication. In this way, customers will receive a notification via text or in-app message before an incoming call asking them to “tap” and log in. They will be instantly authenticated and, if desired, can schedule the call for a convenient time.

These notifications can also be used to simplify routine interactions like checking an account balance or bill pay. For example, a customer can click on the link in a text message their bank sends them reminding them that a payment is due for their credit card. Notifications can be sent for non-payment interactions as well, such as post contact surveys and new customer eForms.  All of this can be done with full PCI compliance. In fact, banks can take their contact center out of the scope of compliance altogether.

Learn more from Avaya’s research about what banks should consider to digitally evolve. View the full report, Five Recent Trends Shaping the Banking Industry.

IT Leadership

As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, attendance at Wonderla amusement parks has hit new heights, leaving Bengaluru-headquartered Wonderla Holidays Ltd. at a crossroads.

The company, listed on both the National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange, operates three amusement parks in Kochi, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad that were set up in 2000, 2005, and 2016, respectively, and plans to open two more amusement parks in the near future, in Chennai and Bhubaneswar. But outdated processes have been holding the company back in two important areas: operational efficiency and customer experience (CX).

“One of the most important parameters for running smooth and successful operations at an amusement park is to manage the crowd and deliver better utilization of rides and facilities with proper time management to the guests.  However, at Wonderla, visitors and managers had no visibility into the crowd at other rides and facilities, which led to the guests spending more time in the queue, adversely impacting their experience,” says Arun K Chittilappilly, managing director of Wonderla Holidays.

“If we could provide real-time information about the occupancy at various zones, land rides, water rides, pools, restaurants, and changing rooms, it would help guests to decide their route to maximize enjoyment at the park. Displays with better and on-time communication with guests on the availability of rides and expected queue waiting time for each ride would improve CX in a big way,” he says.

In the absence of insights into guests’ data, not only the rides but other areas of the amusement park were also getting impacted. Multiple paper bands were being used for tagging captured photos and videos. There was no way to locate guests’ missed items. Also, the marketing, food and beverage (F&B), and retail teams were missing out on huge monetization opportunities.

“To overcome all these bottlenecks, going digital was the only way forward,” says Arun.

RFID wonders through Wonderband

To improve customer engagement and experience by extending personalized offerings to guests, Wonderla Holidays has decided to leverage RFID technology in the form of a wearable band, called Wonderband. The band is to be made available to all guests as a valid entry ticket.

With the pandemic subsiding, domestic tourism has seen a sharp rise contributing to Wonderla Holidays registering its highest ever quarterly footfall of 1.1 million in Q1 of FY23.  The Bangalore Park recorded 4.23 lakhs footfalls, Hyderabad Park recorded 3.47 lakhs footfalls, and Kochi Park recorded 3.48 lakhs footfalls.

“The band would understand each guest’s ride liking, preferred routes, fondness for food, and inclination towards merchandise while they are in the park. Based on real-time information generated by this data, we can extend our personalized services,” says Ajikrishnan A G, vice president of engineering and IT at Wonderla Holidays. “They can enjoy land rides, and water rides, utilize the lockers, and make payments at restaurants and shops all by using the band. Photos and videos captured at various rides and locations can be connected to this band and later they can purchase at their convenience.”

The critical part of the project is to have two different frequency RFID chipsets aligned in such a way that the band performs with a high read range. Multiple RFID combinations were tried to get the best range. As the performance of RFID is inversely proportional to body contact, the design and development of the mould were made in such a way that the surface contact with the body was very limited.

“One of the frequencies of the RFID chipset will help us with all the payments and locker operations, and the second frequency RFID chipset will help in tracking the customers. We are expecting each band to send out around 3,000 pulses to 5,000 pulses per millisecond,” says Ajikrishnan.

One pulse sends 150 bytes of data. So, each band can send out 500KB to 750KB of data. To handle the huge volume of data thus generated, the company is in the process of deploying a data lake, data warehouse, and real-time analytical tools in a hybrid model. The entire data from the band would be pushed to the cloud for analytics to work on it, while the infrastructure to process all the cash transactions would be located on-premises. 

The project, expected to cost US$400,000, will be initially piloted at the Bangalore amusement park in 2023.

One band delivers multiple business benefits

Wonderband will become one band for ticket, wallet, locker, and ride usage. The data captured by it and processed at the back end will yield valuable information for the company to act upon.

“Manual data logging to understand the ride cycles and utilization by guests will be overcome by using the band entry and exit tracking at each ride. In addition, ride usage based on gender, adult, or child, etc., will be available. We will be able to track ride preferences of guests such as high thrill, family, and kids, including the numbers of rides utilized by a guest, as also the peak time and non-utilization time information of rides and facilities,” says Arun.

Virtual queue booking of rides can be validated with the band through a mobile application. Multiple paper bands used for tagging the captured photo and video can be linked to a single band. Lost and found tracking will be improved based on the guest routes.

“In addition, the marketing, F&B, and retail team can improve their operations by persona creation for more optimized media spending and partnerships. There are implications for proximity-based marketing as we can check probable routes and play with messaging based on day part and use cases. ADMP [all day meal plan] booking can be mapped with the band and identified from restaurant kiosk,” he says.

Wonderla Holidays expects spend per person to improve once Wonderband is in operation, due to better service and more digital transactions through the band rather than cash payments. Guests will also be less likely to encounter mobile network issues for UPI and card transactions.

“We expect an additional footfall per year of approximately 5% of the yearly footfall, as well as an additional 5% sales per head. In addition to the saving in ticket paper printing, there is no waste generation as it’s a reusable band, which makes it an environmental-friendly initiative,” Arun adds. 

The project is expected to go live in the next five to six months. The company will see if there are any teething troubles in the Bengaluru park before rolling out the solution across all its amusement parks. 

The project recently bagged a 2022 US CIO 100 award, which acknowledges excellence in technology innovation.

Digital Transformation, RFID

Your customers expect their payment experiences to be simple, secure, and consistent, whether they’re buying online, on their devices, or in store. They also want to pay the way that best suits them. Customers are increasingly adopting alternative payment methods, such as eChecks and digital wallets.

However, all that choice has made the payment environment increasingly complex. That’s where tokenization can help simplify payments for your business. In fact, it’s already part of the payment security strategy for many businesses with an e-commerce channel – helping keep data secure.

But tokenization can also help you create a seamless payment experience, across channels and payment types, to keep customers coming back.

The evolution of payment tokenization

Almost 20 years ago, sellers, acquirers, and payment platforms started issuing tokens for individual payment credentials with the primary aim of keeping those credentials secure. A customer’s sensitive payment data is replaced with a digital identifier, or token, while the real data is securely stored. Even if the token is compromised, it can’t be reverse engineered to reveal the payment data.

The next iteration was network tokens, generated by payment networks like Visa. Instead of replacing a single primary account number (PAN) for its lifespan, a network token represents a customer’s payment credentials for all subsequent transactions. Even if a customer replaces their card, the credentials are automatically updated via lifecycle management. Customers can be recognized by their network token, allowing you to gain a better understanding of buying behaviors across different channels.

Now Cybersource goes further with its unique super token – the power behind our Token Management Service. Our proprietary super token links together network tokens from different card brands, banks, payment types, and channels.

Cybersource

How super tokens help increase customer loyalty

By linking previously disparate network tokens and payment types together, Cybersource’s super token centralizes and simplifies token management and connects and unifies customer payment data. This allows you to create a complete transaction history for each of your customers, as well as:

Deliver simple, seamless payment experiences, no matter how your customers are shopping.Offer personalized loyalty, reward, and promotional opportunities for every online, mobile, and in-store transaction.

Making payments seamless and personalizing customers’ interactions with your brand can enhance loyalty – and drive repeat business that boosts revenue. You also get peace of mind that you’re keeping payment credentials safe and refreshed and reducing your Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance scope.

To learn more about how payment tokenization can boost customer loyalty, download our guide.

IT Leadership

New York-based insurance provider Travelers, with 30,000 employees and 2021 revenues of about $35 billion, is in the business of risk. Managing all of its facets, of course, requires many different approaches and tools to achieve beneficial outcomes, and Mano Mannoochahr, the company’s SVP and chief data & analytics officer, has a crow’s nest perspective of immediate and long-term tasks to equally strengthen the company culture and customer needs.

“What’s unique about the [chief data officer] role is it sits at the cross-section of data, technology, and analytics,” he says. “And we recognized as a company that we needed to start thinking about how we leverage advancements in technology and tremendous amounts of data across our ecosystem, and tie it with machine learning technology and other things advancing the field of analytics. We needed to think about those disciplines together and make progress to maximize the benefit to our customers and our business overall.”

Another focus is on finding and nurturing talent. It’s a pressing issue not unique to Travelers, but Mannoochahr sees that in order to deliver on those disciplines advancing analytics to foster a healthier business, he and his team recognize the need to cast a wider net.

“We have a tremendous amount of capability already created helping our employees make the best decisions on our front lines,” he says. “But we have to bring in the right talent. This is kind of a team sport for us, so it’s not just data scientists but software engineers, data engineers, and even behavioral scientists to understand how we empathize and best leverage the experience that our frontline employees have, as well as position these capabilities in the best way so we can gain their trust and they can start to trust the data and the tool to make informed decisions. [The pandemic] slowed us down a little, as far as availability of talent, but I think we’ve doubled down on creating more opportunities for our existing talent, in helping them elevate their skills.”

Mannoochahr  recently spoke to Maryfran Johnson, CEO of Maryfran Johnson Media and host of the IDG Tech(talk) podcast, about how the CDO coordinates data, technology, and analytics to not only capitalize on advancements in machine learning and AI in real time, but better manage talent and help foster a forward-thinking and ambitious culture.

Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On the role of the Chief Data Officer:

Due to the nature of our business, Travelers has always used data analytics to assess and price risk. What’s unique about the role is it sits at the cross-section of data, technology, and analytics. And we recognized as a company that we needed to start thinking about how we leverage advancements in technology and tremendous amounts of data across our ecosystem, and tie it with machine learning technology and other things advancing the field of analytics. We needed to think about those disciplines together and make progress to maximize the benefit to our customers and our business overall. It’s a unique role and it’s been a great journey. Collectively, the scope spans about 1,600 data analytics professionals in the company and we work closely with our technology partners—more than 3,000 of them—that cover areas of software engineering, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and architecture, for instance.

On business transformation:

We perform around our current business and want to meet to be able to deliver results. But at the same time, we’re thinking about the transformation of the business because opportunities are endless as you start to marry data, technology, and analytics. So the transformation of the next wave that we’re driving is really coming from the nexus of the infinite amount of data being generated, advancements in cloud computing and technology, and, of course, our ability to continue to expand our analytics expertise. We’ve always used these things in some form or fashion to appropriately price grids, set aside a group of reserves for being able to pay out claims, and, of course, serve our customers, agents, and brokers. But what’s changed is a greater world of possibilities. On a yearly basis, we respond to about two million folks from our brokers and agents and process over a million claims per year. So if you put it all together, every one of those transactions or interactions can be reinvented through a lens of technology, AI or machine learning. So we need to inform our front lines and workers how to make the most of the information available to do their job better. It’s an opportunity to reimagine some of the work on the front line that we’re getting excited about.

On having a data-first culture:

This is not about just the practitioners of this discipline or these capabilities. This is about being able to lift the rest of the more than 29,000 people in the organization and make them better and more informed employees through being able to deliver some set of training to elevate their capabilities. So we’ve been on a mission to raise the water mark for the entire organization. One of the things we’ve done is produce data culture knowledge map training, which is designed to help our broader operation understand that the data we create daily could be with us for decades to come, have a life outside an employee’s own desk, or inform about the many different ways data has been used. We have about 13,000 employees through this set of training and it’s received great feedback from the broader organization. Plus, we’ve also started to focus on our business operation leaders and help them understand how they can better utilize analytics and data, overcome biases from a management perspective, and continue validating them so they make the best decisions to run the business.

On sourcing talent:

We have a tremendous amount of capability already created with over 1,000 models being deployed in different parts of the business, helping our employees make the best decisions on our front lines. But opportunities lie ahead, so we have to ensure we bring in the right talent. And I would say this is kind of a team sport for us, so it’s not just data scientists but software engineers, data engineers, and even behavioral scientists to understand how we empathize and best leverage the experience that our frontline employees have, as well as be able to position these tools and capabilities in the best way so we can gain their trust and they can start to trust the data and the tool to make informed decisions. One of my goals, and one of our broader team, is we want to spread the message and help the talent out there understand a lot of the great, challenging problems we’re solving for the business, and how rewarding that work has been for us. But the challenge has only increased from a digitization perspective as COVID-19 hit, which created a lot of demand. It slowed us down a little, as far as availability of talent, but I think we’ve doubled down on creating more opportunities for our existing talent, in helping them elevate their skills.

Chief Data Officer

Salesforce is putting a new customer data platform, Genie, at the heart of its software to deliver real-time access to customer information across the enterprise.

“Genie is the world’s first real time CRM,” said chief product officer David Schmaier on the eve of the company’s Dreamforce 2022 customer conference. “It’s a high-speed, hyper-scalar data lake infrastructure that powers all of Salesforce’s applications.”

Running on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s public cloud, the new customer data platform (CDP) uses the same metadata as the rest of the Salesforce platform, and connects with the company’s Flow automation tools and Einstein AI-powered recommendation engine, enabling them to operate with real-time data too.

For Sheryl Kingstone, VP for customer experience and commerce at 451 Research, Genie could be a solution to the business problem of creating unified customer profiles based on a single source of truth, finally getting rid of customer data siloes across every department, business unit, and all the different regions, she says.

It’s been a challenge for Salesforce to get to the point where it can combine its rich legacy of transactional data with more modern sources of real-time data, according to Kingstone.

“They were doing it in stages,” she said. “Salesforce acquired MuleSoft to solve app integration, but it didn’t solve the data integration problem. Einstein solved some of the architectural shifts to bring the data together, but it still was a baby step.”

A bigger step toward solving the data integration problem, she said, came with Salesforce’s 2020 acquisition of personalization software vendor Evergage, which enabled it to rethink the data architecture of its applications from the ground up.

It’s not just about Salesforce applications, though: Genie also opens a gateway to Snowflake’s data cloud; enables Amazon’s SageMaker AI models to interact with Salesforce data in much the same way as its own Einstein models; and through Salesforce AppExchange will allow third-party developers to create apps that exploit its capabilities. Already, 18 partners have created apps for the Genie platform, Salesforce said.

All this gives Genie the power to release customer data trapped in the marketing department, according to Liz Miller, VP and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“For the most part, CDPs are sold as marketing toys that address marketing things, but what we have here is a unified data model that is now a shared service across the stack,” said Miller.

Better yet, Genie’s open approach means it’s unlikely to interfere with CIOs’ own data lake strategies, she said.

“It might not be as sexy as big new unveils, but it can deliver and is real, which I think the market craves after decades of chasing lofty terms like ‘personalization,’” said Miller. “It makes Customer360 usable instead of it being an aspirational model of what we want to achieve.”

As 451’s Kingstone surmised, the new customer data platform has its roots in Salesforce’s 2020 acquisition of Evergage, which had built a personalization engine (later rebranded as Salesforce Interaction Studio) on top of its own CDP.

Genie has parts of that Evergage CDP at its heart, according to Patrick Stokes, general manager for Salesforce Platform.

“It was originally constructed with quite a bit of the lake house type of capability that Evergage brought to bear,” he said. “We’ve since updated that pretty significantly to implement Apache Iceberg.”

Iceberg, an open-source table format originally developed at Netflix, is key to Genie’s openness. It enables the efficient use of SQL for big data analytics, and is supported by data lake engines including Snowflake, Dremio and Spark.

Although Snowflake is Salesforce’s marquee partner for data sharing with Genie, the door is open to anyone who wants to implement Iceberg, whether they’re a software vendor or an end user, Stokes said.

The case for real-time data

Genie officially goes live on September 20, the opening day of Dreamforce, but behind the scenes, hundreds of enterprises are already using it to personalize customer interactions, Stokes said.

Among them are L’Oréal, which is interconnecting online and offline shopping experiences with Salesforce; Formula 1, which is using it to connect with motor racing fans; and Ford, using it to provide a single source of truth all the way from purchase through onboarding of connected services to ongoing maintenance of its vehicles. Ford can use Genie for everything from scheduling periodic service to delivering urgent roadside assistance, he said.

However, not everyone will benefit from the new real-time capabilities, Stokes said, but there are situations where the difference between live and day-old data can be critical.

A key feature of Genie is that data — whether clinical, environmental or transactional — isn’t just ingested in real time: “We have the ability to stream all of that in in real time and make what we call calculated insights in real time,” he said. “In the healthcare industry, they’re trying to keep their customers alive. Operating off batch data can literally be life or death for some.” Fraud prevention applications will also benefit from Genie’s real-time capabilities, he said.

Data Management