In today’s challenging economy, customer expectations are high, patience is low, and attention is at a premium. Your customers demand a seamless experience with your products and services, with easy access to detailed, helpful self-service support options. So how do you stay ahead of ever-increasing customer demands? Data. Harnessing numerous customer data points, often scattered across multiple departments, is the key to unlocking a proactive approach to customer satisfaction (and growth).

So your customer success organization is more integral to your brand than ever. And its job is significantly more complex, too. Your customer success team is tasked with ensuring that your customers have everything they need when they need it. And they must also offer a personalized experience that leads to increased product or service adoption and revenue growth.

Essentially, they need to act as a growth engine for your organization. So, instead of simply responding to customer requests, your teams should be proactive and prescriptive. Anticipate your customers’ needs, impressing and delighting them at every turn. The key to this transformation lies in intelligently using the data you’re already collecting.

Predictive insights. Self-service experiences. Highly satisfied customers.

Unifying data in the cloud to visualize it, analyze it, and apply tools like machine learning allows you to unlock new customer insights. Predict when they’ll need support. Better understand when they’re most likely to drop out of your lifecycle. Recognize when they’re most apt to increase their investment. And, of course, doing all this while carefully respecting privacy and adhering to laws regulating the use of data.

Armed with this information, and the right tech platform to glean insights from it, your teams can digitally engage with your customers at the right time with relevant content.

Like any business initiative, scalability is critical. You likely don’t have the workforce to connect with every customer personally. In an already overcrowded digital communication landscape, you’ll achieve greater success by putting the power back in your customers’ hands. Offer the self-service options they want, powered by elegant search experiences that deliver fast access to the information they need.

3 key customer experience drivers

There are three initiatives your customer success organization can implement now to ensure it proactively engages with your customers, offers a self-service experience, and generates continued and repeat business:

Ensure that a customer-first approach is baked into your organization’s DNA.

To position your customer success team as a growth engine, you must have alignment with sales, marketing, product, and other parts of your business.

Make sure everyone in your organization is on the same page about your data collection efforts. And, most importantly, evangelize how all your teams can use that data to set customers up for success and help them grow long-term relationships with your organization.

2. Identify and fill gaps.

What KPIs are important to your customer success team? Are you collecting the right data to report on them?

Ask the right questions of your data based on your KPIs, and you’re likely to uncover gaps or attrition points and identify ways to resolve them. Maybe your customers aren’t receiving enough training or information. Or your team is reaching out to them at the wrong times. Or not at all. When you understand the critical gaps, you can fill them to ensure a smooth road to customer loyalty.

Invest in documentation and metadata.

Your customers need to be able to search for, and quickly and easily find, tools and resources. Your metadata tagging strategy is vital to ensuring they can.

Many companies simply tag their content with internal or company-driven terms, but incorporating the language your customers use to search for information will help them find it faster. Continue to analyze your data over time to see if you’re missing additional content your customers need.

Your customers are at the heart of your organization’s success. And your data is what keeps it beating. When you leverage it strategically to delight your customers, you cultivate loyal customers who are eager to increase their investment in your products or services — a real win-win!

See how Elasticsearch helps foster a culture of customer success.

Rick Laner is the Chief Customer Officer at Elastic.

Data Management

Data velocity – how quickly data is generated and moved – is the key to achieving any number of business outcomes. But it’s especially important in customer experience, according to IDC’s Marci Maddox, Research Vice President Digital Experience Strategies, and Aly Pinder, Research Vice President Aftermarket Services Strategies.

“We’re finding that the customer experience is the first or second priority for digital leaders today,” Maddox said during a recent Foundry webinar with Pinder.

Being able to act quickly with data could be one use for generative AI and other emerging tech. Maddox will share insights into how organizations can use these tools at FutureIT Washington, D.C., on May 11 at the Convene conference center in Arlington, Va.

“We need to look at ways the customer experience is more than just a marketing activity, but it becomes everyone’s focus as we move to a more empathetic customer experience and customer-centric organization,” Maddox said.

In addition to Maddox’s talk, the event will focus on leadership, technology, and personal development with speakers from Boeing, Momentous Capital, National Association of Corporate Directors, and more.

Learn more: Register here for FutureIT Washington, D.C. Not in the area? Join us at an upcoming program in Toronto, Chicago, New York or Southern California.

Artificial Intelligence, Emerging Technology, Events

John Meister is the senior vice president and CIO of Panera Bread, a chain of bakery-cafe fast casual restaurants with more than 2,000 locations across the United States and Canada. Over the past decade at Panera, Meister has been instrumental in driving Panera’s customer digital experience initiatives and building an innovative IT culture that continues to stay ahead of fast changes in the marketplace. Under his leadership, Panera’s websites and apps have won numerous awards, including #1 Most Innovative Company in Food by Fast Company and Industry Best in Tech by Restaurant Business.

When we spoke for a recent episode of the Tech Whisperers podcast, Meister shared some of the secret sauce of his leadership, including how he navigates complexity and his passion for delivering on the experience promise, both externally for customers and internally for IT associates and team members. Afterwards, we spent some more time talking about his winning formula and what’s next for his team. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Dan Roberts: IT leaders are always looking ahead to the next big thing. What’s next for you in setting Panera up for continued success? What are you and your team excited about looking ahead?

John Meister: For Panera, everything begins with the guest experience. Recently, we’ve done some great things in our rewards program around choosing your next reward. We’ve traditionally guessed at what it is you’re going to be ecstatic around — our ‘surprise and delight.’ But the reality is, we don’t always guess right — you may want to try something new. So, we’re adding options. Here’s a popular item if you’re in the mood to try something new, or here’s something that people like you typically choose, or you can do your regular order.

We’re also thinking a lot about personalization — creating all these micro-moments that can make ordering a little bit better. If we know, for example, that a guest always takes the onions off their order, then if they forget, we know to ask about it.

We’re also excited about digital drive-thrus and finding ways to improve the guest experience, whether it’s conversational AI ordering or picking up the digital order in the drive-thru. For years we contemplated doing a digital order pickup in the drive-thru, but thought, we can’t train the consumer to do it. Now, everyone’s gone there with COVID. So we return to those moments and think much more deeply about the interaction. We’re seeing very high customer satisfaction scores in those interactions. To summarize, I do think there is room to innovate in our main ordering wheelhouse. From an innovation standpoint, we’re still excited about conversational AI. We’re still excited about automation. Whether it’s accounting tasks, IT tasks, taking orders, or prepping food in the kitchen, there are a lot of exciting things on the automation horizon.

Roberts: There’s another complexity you have to contend with in your business, and that’s the fact that your industry experiences 100% turnover annually in the cafés. How are you addressing and impacting that?

We watch restaurant GM turnover and associate turnover closely, and our operations partners and HR partners have done such an amazing job over the last 12 to 18 months. It blows my mind how much they’ve improved Panera. Our attrition is among the best in the industry, and we’re rated the number one restaurant to work at by Black Box — that’s amazing. Still, you must think about quickly onboarding new team members. How do you segment people that are inspired by more hours? Or learning different roles? Or career growth? How do you think about inspiring team members, and how do you speak to them from that mindset? How do you teach a GM to treat the cafe associates like family? We look deeply at these aspects.

At the same time, we must make things easy — so easy that even I can go into a cafe and make sandwiches for an hour without a lot of training ahead of time. That’s hard to do because I’m not very good at making sandwiches. We constantly think about onboarding and our ease of use as intensely as we think about the guest experience.

Roberts: I joke that data is a four-letter word in many companies. How are you thinking about data and using it to address the logistics of the business?

Step one is hiring people smarter than you in any given subject. We have people much smarter than me when it comes to restaurant data. The first part of leveraging data is really understanding what we want to do with it — what is the KPI or the business metric we want to change? Maybe it’s attrition. Maybe it’s store profits. Maybe it’s location analysis for choosing new real estate locations. Then we look at the business situation and come up with a hypothesis around x. Now let’s get the data behind the hypothesis and see if the hypothesis makes a difference. Then, as you approach those learning moments, turn it into a dashboard, so it’s something that can live and breathe across the enterprise. If we look at store profitability, is it labor? Is it food cost? Is it overhead? Is it paper goods? Let’s put all the usual suspects onto a page so that the GM can understand it very quickly. If something starts to veer off our normal, the GM should be able to find it quickly and easily.

So, you go from thinking about a hypothesis, proving it, creating a dashboard, and then the next thing you know, you’ve got a million pieces of data screaming for attention, and you’re overwhelmed. Then you decide to make the data proactive. If something veers off course, send a proactive alert. Make the data much more interactive: It looks like there’s something going on with x, do we need to pay attention to it — yes or no? Even if it’s a no, let’s take that back and learn from it. Was there something else that we can look at over the long haul? Or, we have ten no’s and we don’t understand why. Let’s call some restaurant GMs to educate us. In the end, we come away smarter, and we discover new things we can do with our tools, and our end goal is to always make life better for the GMs.

Roberts:  We talked a lot about the culture you’re building and how you help your folks think about their value and show up differently. For example, you have your people out in the cafés and connecting with that broader purpose. Can you talk a bit more about that and how that impacts customers and associates?

I loved working at MasterCard — top of the technology game, amazing talent — but it was very hard to see what you did every day translate to the real world. Here, it’s just the opposite. I can finish coding something and test it today, put it in the cafe for a prototype or proof of concept, and then go into the cafe and watch our associates or customers use it. If I coded something to help us make sandwiches better, I can go make sandwiches myself or watch others make sandwiches. You get to experience it and live it.

Every new support center associate must go work in the bakery-cafe for a few days — it’s part of our onboarding process. That’s phenomenal, because you come away with ideas to improve our business with technology to make life easier for our employees and our customers. In the moment of working in the cafe, you might dread it because you are nervous, but then you get immersed and love it. You’re going to spend the next five years wishing you could do it again. And then when you finally get that opportunity, you’re so happy to have all these new insights. You want to do something that makes a difference. We really try and walk the walk.

Roberts: As leaders we are always being watched. People read how we handle ourselves in situations, especially the more challenging ones. How do you think about that in terms of how you show up and take ownership in the hard times?

I always say, mood is contagious. You must not take yourself seriously. Laugh at yourself a little bit. At the same time, think about the big picture, understand how your role resulted in this situation and remind people how we got here. It’s so easy to beat yourself up when things aren’t going well. Remind yourself of the big picture, why I’m here, what’s the difference I’m trying to make.

And look for ways to refresh and inspire others. There’s times I have to remind everyone, we’re here selling soups and salads and sandwiches, and we’re making a difference in people’s lives. Go out and look at some of those customer stories about how we helped the mom or dad who had cancer or made this other person’s dream come true. Those stories melt your heart and remind you why you’re here. But always try and have as much fun as you can. Because mood is contagious.

Roberts: Speaking of showing up, could I get you to share the ‘toasted bagel’ story, which speaks to the commitment your leadership team has to continuous improvement? I also see it as the story of a CIO who is seen as a business leader first.

This was in around 2014 or so. Every morning, the CEO would use our new mobile app to order breakfast and get it on the way to drop his son off at school. He’d stop at the light and send his son in to pick up the order. If his son could come back with the order before the light turned green, I had a good day. If he had to pull into the parking lot, I had long morning.

The CEO always ordered the same thing: a Green Passion smoothie and a toasted plain white bagel. It’s an order that we can’t leave on the shelf for too long, so there was no way for me to beg the GM to make my life easier. I would go about a week without hearing from the CEO and think, we’ve finally got this experience down. It’s 25 seconds from the time you get out of the car to get your food and get back in the car. I would time myself over and over. But it had to be that way every time. The CEO would change cafes and sure enough, I’d hear something again. Eventually, I went about three weeks without hearing from him and I thought, maybe this is it.

Then I started to get these text messages: ‘This is the toasted bagel I got this morning at this location. Then I went to a different location, and this is the toasted bagel there, and I went to a third location, and this is the toasted bagel there.’ In the pictures, one bagel was dark, one was light, and one was barely toasted. One had toast marks on it, one didn’t. The inconsistency was terrible.

That’s when I knew I’d arrived as a business leader, because I’d owned this experience so much that now he wanted me to fix our toasting. I laughed, because I thought, I can go out and buy $100,000 AI-enabled toasters with cameras in them, but that’s not what the CEO is going to want. I went to Boston for my standing Friday meeting with him, and he had a poster with bagels from about 30 cafes, organized from light to dark. What are we going to do?

I went back to the Operations Services team, who are much smarter than I am, and asked for help. They suggested looking at the factory settings on these toasters. Let’s get a color guide out to the cafes. If a toasted bagel matches this color, turn it down a notch, if it matches that color, let’s turn it up two notches, etc. We needed to go out and adjust the toasters and get back to the basics on the equipment. That’s when I knew the technology was no longer our challenge — and that our little Rapid Pick-Up® channel had arrived.

For more from Meister’s leadership playbook, tune into the Tech Whisperers podcast.

IT Leadership, IT Strategy

Today’s consumers are accustomed to smooth, frictionless online shopping – and they increasingly expect the same kind of digital experiences from their banks. Insider Intelligence found that 89% of U.S. consumers use mobile banking channels, and 70% said mobile banking is now their primary way of accessing their accounts.  

“Most people do not want to go into a bank to do banking. They want to be able to do everything on a mobile phone or a smart portal,” says Nilendu Pattanaik, Global Head of Business Applications Practice, Microsoft Business Unit, at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).  

Once they open an app, customers expect an intuitive UI rendering smooth capabilities, an interactive, immersive experience that understands their preferences, and seamless connectivity between services, whether they’re checking a balance or applying for a new mortgage or a credit line/card. One of the key priorities of the modern payment sector is to build an e-payments society with seamless interoperability among e-wallets. 

Creating a first-rate, secure digital customer experience is a top goal for leaders across the financial services spectrum, from retail banking to commercial lending, investment banking, and wealth management. But achieving success isn’t easy in a highly regulated industry saddled with legacy technology and applications. 

“Most banks have very old infrastructure that doesn’t produce the data they need, to effectively engage with customers,” Nilendu says. In addition, banks struggle to maintain customer data privacy, security, and compliance amid changing regulatory requirements.  

By moving services to the digital platform and offering the whole nine yards of end-to-end fabric of data, process, AI, apps, and industry solutions on Microsoft Cloud with native persistency and interoperability, financial organizations can analyze customer data in one place and quickly develop the responsive capabilities their clients are looking for. 

At the same time, financial institutions must maintain secure and compliant environments while preventing fraud, giving bankers more time to focus on customer needs. According to a recent Microsoft blog, organizations can use identity, security, and compliance solutions in Microsoft 365 to have visibility into their threat landscape and leverage built-in AI and machine learning in Microsoft Sentinel and Microsoft Defender for Cloud to proactively manage threats and reduce alert fatigue.  

Modernization priorities 

Since legacy technology is often spread throughout the organization, bank leaders need to prioritize their goals and develop a rollout schedule for digital services. One quick win, Nilendu says, is digitizing as many paper processes as possible. Another priority involves improving services for retail customers, whose churn rate is often high. Delivering differentiated and customized services to customers is a key need for financial services institutions; AI enables this capability effectively with proactive analysis and feeds of behavioral trends monitored through machine learning algorithms. Banks can give customers a hyper-personalized experience by embedding AI into consumer applications. For example, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Copilot, the world’s first copilot in both CRM and ERP, brings next-generation AI to every line of business.

“As they analyze customer data, chatbots are becoming more intelligent and capable. AI-enabled Microsoft Dynamics 365 can help financial services institutions enable faster and accurate processing of large volumes of data powered with predictability for market sentiments and better investment options or portfolio rationalization for investors,” Nilendu says.   

In addition to responding to questions with information geared to customer preferences, today’s AI-enabled apps can initiate processes, such as opening or closing an account, credit card applications, etc., during online interactions. They can also assist bankers on phone calls, analyzing customer conversational data in real-time and recommending appropriate products and services. Some banks have added an app feature that allows clients to videochat with a live relationship advisor with the press of a button. Services like these can reduce churn, decrease human error, and provide real-time guidance for the lines of businesses. 

With the help of TCS and Microsoft Cloud, financial services organizations can develop these and other digital capabilities with low-code tools, quickly rolling them out across services. 

“Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services and AI-enabled apps of Microsoft Dynamics 365 powered with Microsoft Power Apps, Microsoft Azure OpenAI, Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft Fraud Protection allow financial services organizations to efficiently build new applications and AI services and scale them across their customer relationship management and sales platforms,” Nilendu says. “AI-enabled smart banking services are revolutionizing fraud detection and risk assessment in financial services institutions by checking financial status, document verification, and risk-related activities of the borrower, and significantly reduce the non-performing assets by enabling early detection of possible non-payment of loans.” 

Microsoft Cloud also provides robust security controls and helps financial organizations manage compliance in an industry where local rules are proliferating and frequently evolving. 

“For regional regulations, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act or the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the platform’s applications are intelligent enough to understand which specific documents and contracts are impacted and recommend actions proactively” Nilendu says.  

By securely developing the right digital capabilities, financial services organizations can provide better service to more customers, enhancing their reputation and gaining a competitive edge. Working together, TCS and Microsoft can help CIOs select and implement the technologies their organizations need for success. 

“TCS is partnering with Microsoft to create secure and compliant next-generation solutions on Microsoft Cloud catering to the needs of financial services institutions across all segments of businesses globally,” Nilendu says. 

Learn how FSIs benefit from digital transformation on Microsoft Cloud led by TCS

Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Financial Services Industry

You heard about a nightmare scenario playing out for peers at other companies and hope it doesn’t affect yours. Trouble tickets are rolling in, and there’s a lack of qualified people to address security alerts and help desk issues right when customer demand, supply shortages, and potential threats are at their peak.

Even with flexible remote work policies, the most seasoned employees in roles such as customer support, data science, business analysis, and DevSecOps move on to greener pastures and leave—just when they finally seemed to figure out how everything works.

Why is an exodus of skilled knowledge workers becoming a recurring pattern in customer-oriented organizations, and what can IT leaders do to improve their digital employee experience (DEX) to convince them to stay?

The great hybrid office migration

A few lucky “born on the web” companies were built on the premise of 100% remote work. The pandemic of 2020 forced the rest of the world to move knowledge workers out of the office into fully or partially remote work models. 

Migratory employees in technology roles appreciated the newfound ability to work from home in sweatpants and avoid the daily commute. Many idealistically vowed never to return to work for an employer that required them to come back to the office.

Employers benefitted too, releasing some of their real estate for savings on facility costs and reducing travel expenses. Less scrupulous bosses took it a step further, capturing additional hours in the workday by implementing draconian attention monitoring tools or letting employees stay on duty beyond typical office hours.

Now that the pandemic has become endemic, some companies are reversing their position on remote work and asking employees to come back into the office, at least some of the time. We’re settling on a hybrid model of digital work. In 2023, 58% of knowledge workers in the United States will continue to be able to work remotely at least one day a week, while 38% will continue as full-time remote workers.

Despite the initial novelty of having pets and kids hilariously interrupting Zoom calls, this new normal of blurring the lines between work and home life has not turned out to be all unicorns and rainbows for digital employees.

Dealing with digital work friction

Employers used to be able to tell teams to stay late in the office to fulfill a rush of customer orders, or be on-call to respond to issues on weekends. The signs of employee burnout were easy to predict even before “the great resignation” of the 2020s. 

CIOs built or bought applications to allow virtual work, which allowed more team members to be available online to respond to requests through remote access, without coming into the office. This was helpful, but unfortunately the burnout rate has only increased for today’s digital worker who may have lost separation between work and home life, and staffing still couldn’t keep up with workload. 

A Gartner HR study recently estimated that 24% of workers would likely shift to a new job in 2022–and this turnover rate is especially true of knowledge workers who must interact daily with the company’s systems. Compared to pre-pandemic employee sentiment, 20% more respondents cited their digital work experienceas a significant contributing factor to job satisfaction.

Even with some arbitrary job cuts happening at larger companies, skilled team members can find work elsewhere if they are frustrated, and unfilled roles in customer service, SecOps, and engineering positions are still common. 

Potential recruits can check any number of salary disclosure sites to figure out what they are worth on the market, and they can also look on Glassdoor to see why employees are dissatisfied working at a company. In a hybrid work world, a bad employee experience is not always about low pay, long hours or “mean bosses” anymore–it’s about digital work friction that inhibits their ability to deliver meaningful value.

Employee expectations of DEX

All employees want to work for employers with fundamentals, like fair compensation, a harassment-free workplace, and work/life balance. In specific, digital employees have a unique set of concerns about the technology environment they must work within, since in many cases it is their only connection to co-workers and customers.

This is why CIOs spend so much of their time researching the digital tools employees use and spinning up new projects to upgrade that experience.

A successful DEX technology suite can positively impact employee sentiment if it delivers for them on three dimensions:

Engagement: Are employees using the company’s suite of productivity tools, issue tracking, collaboration, and system monitoring tools on a daily basis? Individuals want self-service platforms that will work on their target workstation or devices, but they also need education, documentation, and expert support from the organization to maintain successful adoption.

Companies can measure improved engagement through monitoring and visibility into organizational, team, and individual usage patterns, but more importantly, they should offer mechanisms for a positive feedback loop, so employees can register their preferences and concerns about the suite.

Empowerment: Are individuals, teams and regions authorized for just the analytic, management, and problem-solving tools and data they need without unnecessary friction or distractions? Employee empowerment is a continuous struggle for many companies to deliver, as permissions for analytics, user data, work items, and access privileges are usually highly customized to meet overlapping work, customer requirements, and regulatory regimes.  

Empowered employees proactively identify emerging demands and roadblocks, and effectively take action to collaborate with the right team members to find solutions. 

Efficiency: Intelligent automation triages and prioritizes important customer issues for teams, and helps individuals filter through irrelevant alerts from disparate systems and services. Employees progress through tasks with fewer interruptions, spend less time on pointless root cause analysis, and remediate resolutions with automated actions.

All employees want to make progress on goals. The upside of efficiency is almost limitless because as one productivity constraint is removed, another bottleneck will appear upstream or downstream.

Enterprise expectations of DEX

From the CIO’s perspective, DEX is best thought of as an enterprise-wide transformational initiative that increases the value of critical talent over time, rather than as a project that delivers short-term gains.

The customer still comes first. But let’s face it, there are already enough customer-facing performance metrics in the world. 

DEX turns measurement and metrics inward, then captures even more value from the intentional feedback and non-verbal cues provided by employees.

This virtuous cycle of continuous feedback and improvement of the ‘three E’s’ of DEX will fuel engagement, empowerment, and efficiency for employees and executives–and better performance, not just on meeting revenue and cost targets, but in terms of employee satisfaction and higher retention rates.

The Intellyx Take

Work has changed forever. 

From a morale perspective, remote workers might miss something about the camaraderie of an office: the exciting pre-launch demo, an in-person standup, an informal desk visit, or a coffee break to share ideas about a particular issue with colleagues. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make DEX the best it can be, wherever the team is located.

Therefore, every organization will need to define a digital employee experience that engages and empowers employees, making every working minute a more efficient use of time, including taking some well-earned time off to unplug from the digital world.

©2023 Intellyx LLC. At the time of writing, Tanium is an Intellyx subscriber. No AI chatbots were used to write any part of this article.

Digital Transformation

Traditional IT security methods are increasingly flawed and the volume and sophistication of threats continue to increase. According to NETSCOUT, one DDoS attack occurs every three seconds, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently added 66 new vulnerabilities to its Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog, with new common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) growing over 25% year-over-year in 2022. New security methods delivered at the edge of the network, closer to the customer, are emerging as a more effective method for combating the increase in security threats.  

Latest cybersecurity threats expose flaws in traditional security methods

Let’s consider two methods of security for customer data: firewalls and cloud storage. Firewalls are not well suited to protect against modern threats. They’re meant to protect IT infrastructure, servers, and databases. However, when companies only use this security method it’s like leaving the doors and windows of your home open, without motion detectors, alarms, or other safeguards.

Cloud-based storage, while protecting data from local (user-level) loss or destruction, is increasingly attractive to nefarious third parties. According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report, 45% of data breaches occurred in the cloud. Think about your data center firewall as a safe inside your home, where highly sensitive data is kept. It’s a singular line of defense that, if broken, can be extremely costly. In fact, the average data breach costs $4.3M. If network downtime is involved, it can cost you $9,000 per minute.

The value of edge security

Edge security encompasses a large area that includes more sophisticated barriers, like the gate to your community and alarms on your windows. If a threat is detected, you’re alerted in real-time and can deploy rules instantly at scale with higher accuracy. Edge security products are also more advanced, leveraging AI and other tools to react intelligently to threats. 

For example, edge security products are designed to identify and mitigate various types of attacks that target customer-specific systems and data, such as robust botnet attacks, zero-day threats, credential stuffing, CVEs, or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. It’s even possible to identify bots that attempt to mimic human interactions by leveraging AI/ML and traffic behavioral modeling. This level of security cannot be found outside the edge. 

Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), India’s leading stock exchange, implemented edge security and now detects threats in real-time, deploys security rules in under 60 seconds and has cut infrastructure costs by more than 50%.

Users have come to expect data privacy everywhere they go. If their trust is lost, consider it a breakup. According to PCI Pal, 83% of consumers will stop spending with an organization immediately after a security breach–and over 21% of those consumers will never return. Edge security products add an additional layer of security, even on top of your cached content, and provide another layer of proven security for third-party SaaS/PaaS partners you depend on. 

Improve SecOps productivity by adding security at the edge

Integrating security operations into the edge also makes it possible to implement safe updates across global domains in minutes. Mature edge products allow you to A/B test or perform virtual patches for all changes by previewing modifications in an audit mode so the impact of the change can be understood before it is applied. Instead of deploying a change and then identifying an error, you can quickly validate or iterate until you see the desired impact, reducing overhead. This is especially important for zero-day exploits where you need to react quickly without jeopardizing business operations. 

Take action

Security attacks are increasing in frequency and could happen to your organization at any time–don’t wait to take action. Consider solutions that incorporate a variety of edge security components. First, protect your physical network using PCI DSS end-to-end encryption. You should also protect your data against Origin attacks using DDoS protection, Origin shield, and DNS Management. Finally, protect your applications with WAAP, Bot Management, and Layer 7 DDoS protection that also shields your APIs.  

Edgio, a leader in edge security, will examine your specific environment and tune our solution to meet your needs. Edgio manages all layers of traffic protection using access control, API security, rate limiters, advanced bot management, custom rules, and managed rules to ensure your security operations team can not only quickly react but also proactively take action against security threats. Learn more about Edgio


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