Keeping up with the customer in 2017

As technology continues to evolve at an astonishing rate, so too is the behaviour and expectations of consumers. It’s imperative therefore that companies keep pace with this change as we head into 2017 and to help them do this, I recommend they focus on digital transformation, mobility & networking and AI.

Digital transformation

2016 was a landmark year for advances in technology and the ways that companies interact with customers and 2017 is set to go above and beyond. At our global technology forum, Avaya Engage, in Dubai this December, nearly all the attending delegates cited improving the customer experience as their number one goal for next year and for many digitisation was a key way to do this. They’re not alone in this sentiment.  A recent global report by Forbes Insights, found that 51 per cent of the 573 senior executives surveyed said investing in new technologies to enable digitisation is the top investment priority over the next two years.

However, despite digital transformation being a top priority for businesses, it seems to me that most of them still fail to grasp the most important point: how digital transformation fits into the bigger picture. Focusing on the development of digital products or increasing operational efficiencies is important but ultimately, the goal for all businesses should be to engage and delight their customers – and digital transformation is a means to achieve this.

By starting your digital transformation programme with the goal of creating a step-change in the customer service you deliver, companies not only gain a purpose and focus, it also impacts all areas of the business – because I would argue that at the end of the day, everything a business does should improve the customer experience. The customer experience is the responsibility of everyone in the business, from the graduate to the CEO, so digital transformation should ideally touch them all.

Once the decision to go digital is made and communicated, going digital starting with the customer experience is exciting. The ability to have each customer’s historical record of interactions across all channels readily available means the agents are better informed about each customer, which allows the agents to do a better job with each customer. The more efficient the technology is at hand, the more productive staff can be and the happier customers will be.

The issues, trends and challenges that effect customer service can rapidly evolve and change, so it’s crucial to have the ability to react to these at all times, and turn challenges into opportunities. The companies that get this right will be the ones saying ‘what a year!’ this time in 12 months.

Mobility and networking

In order to adapt to digital transformation and provide on-the-go services for customers, you need to make sure your products and services are accessible anytime, anywhere - and the right network must be in place to support this.

For the first time this year, mobile and tablet devices (51.3 per cent) accounted for more of the worldwide internet usage than desktop (48.7 per cent). This was a wakeup call for businesses of all sizes, highlighting the importance of making sure that their sites and services are mobile friendly – and mobile centric.

Research has also shown that UK consumers look at their smartphones over a billion times a day so if businesses are able to effectively map the customer journey, there is massive potential. Avaya’s Oceana™ is one solution that lets you personalise every step and possibility of customer interactions with your company. This type of purpose-built, omnichannel solution gives you complete integration and management of your traditional phone and digital channels, capturing every detail and allowing real-time, fully meshed insights into what’s going on with your customers. By gathering this context, companies are able to seamlessly tailor services to the individual needs of customers and increase satisfaction and loyalty.

A recent report showed that consumers wait time tolerance for businesses has gone from 10 days to just 10 minutes - a decrease of 99.93 per cent. Businesses can no longer allow a delayed response to customer queries. Instantaneous access and interactions have cultivated an era of impatience and with customers and users ultimately deciding whether a business succeeds or not, companies in 2017 will need a step change.

To enable this mobility for both customers and employees however, the network must be robust, reliable and secure. Not only is the ease of access important, it is business-critical to protect customer data and ensure that your customers can feel safe. 2016 was the turning point for mobile interactions and 2017 is set to go further so companies need to adapt to this change in order to be successful – and safe. 

AI

Artificial intelligence and analytics was one of the hottest topics at Avaya Engage, with standing room only in the related sessions. The report from Forbes Insights I mentioned earlier also found that 51 per cent of businesses said increasing data and analytics capabilities over the next two years is a priority. AI and automation technologies have the potential to help a company adapt to the digital era and maximise customer experience – something we are already seeing happen and I believe will continue to do so in 2017.

Chatbots are a great example, customer service automation is all about making things faster, easier and more streamlined for customers, meaning customers don’t have to repeat themselves multiple times, and explain our problems to different agents every time we contact an organisation. For example, earlier this year Avaya announced its own chatbot, allowing our customers to retain and boost service levels with fewer agents and reduced costs on the overall contact centre infrastructure. 

However, chatbots aren’t the answer to all of our problems, they are another channel that must be integrated into an organisation’s overarching customer experience strategy. Failure to effectively integrate this technology – or any for that matter – will just reinforce a siloed approach to customer service. Organisations must think long and hard about how to link everything together in a seamless and effective way to make a tangible difference to their business.

Going back to what I said earlier, however, the main challenge for 2017, identified by delegates at Avaya Engage and echoed by CIOs around the world, will be shifting the mindset of your business. Regardless how well integrated your technology is, you need to remember one thing: every customer is an individual – and only by bearing that in mind can you offer first class customer service.

With all the new information available to businesses made possible by the rise in connected devices, we can now easily get to know our customers and offer a personalised service. Analytics are at the heart of this and must be considered as we head into the New Year.

Platforms, such as Avaya’s own Oceanalytics, can capture and capitalise on big data across entire organisations. This deeper insight on data allows real-time, smarter decision making, which can help drive customer satisfaction and improve customer loyalty.

Customer expectations are constantly evolving. As new technology innovations emerge, companies need to be ready to integrate them into their customer experience. This will be an ongoing challenge but as long as companies truly understand their audience and put them first, customers will appreciate the effort and 2017 will be a fruitful year. 

Steve Rafferty, UK MD, Avaya
Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy