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Richer customer experiences at your service

The arrival of contact centre technologies and services into the world of unified communications and collaboration has seen core features expanded to make customer experiences richer and more profitable

Ask IT leaders these days what their biggest challenges are for 2024 and it’s likely that improving customer experience will be a key objective. And even though this is nothing new – in fact, it has been going on over the past decade, accelerated by the pandemic and significant global macroeconomic developments, businesses across industries have intensified their efforts to deliver high-quality customer experience (CX).

And while making predictions is generally a mug’s game, it’s fairly certain you will see over the course of 2024 a shift in the industry for firms to expand their focus beyond the conventional CX parameters to enhance customers’ overall perception of their firm at every touchpoint, many of which are now digital. You are also going to see further integration of traditional collaboration, communications and contact centre technologies into services that can not only drive collaboration across your business functions, but also drive benefit within the operations of your company by being fully focused on your customers.

The IT industry is increasingly getting the bigger picture on this. Businesses are rapidly seeing that CX and employee experience (EX) can be crucial differentiators and key drivers of their performance. Industry leaders are working to the principle that successful brands will need to differentiate themselves on customer experience and not necessarily on the traditional pillars of product, price and availability. That is to say, how does a brand make you feel and how is it delivered in a fully omni-channel business environment.

These sentiments are also being recognised at board level. A study from NTT – the IT infrastructure and services company’s 2023 Global customer experience report – observed that CX remains a top C-suite priority, with 95% of organisations now having a named C-suite executive responsible for this business area while EX has risen in importance to become a top-three priority for CEOs.

NTT also found that CX has now been proven to foster long-term customer trust and loyalty while having a measurable effect on the bottom line, so it has become a priority for C-suite executives and therefore garnered investment in technologies that support the organisation’s CX strategy at every touchpoint, in both the contact centre and the broader business.

Some 92% of CEOs interviewed for the report saw CX improvements as potentially being able to directly impact their net profit, with EX up 91%. This has elevated CX to board and C-suite level, with 95% of organisations now having a specific C-suite executive responsible for CX, up from 75% in 2021. Yet NTT cautioned that there was clear room for improvement, as over 80% of organisations agree that CX and EX are currently a weak link for them, leading to a negative impact on their business.

Additionally, it showed that once organisations want to strengthen their CX, they consider enhancements that include developing an EX strategy that incorporates technology and goes beyond staff well-being, moving to cloud-based CX and EX platforms, and deploying AI and machine learning. The latter two are really where a lot of action has recently been and will be in future.

Generative CX

In October 2023, comms and customer experience technology provider Avaya launched its Generative CX concept, what it said was a pitch to set a new standard for AI-based use cases spanning agent experience to customer satisfaction to operations. The move sees generative AI technology and capabilities integrated in the core Avaya Experience Platform (AXP) to help CX practitioners implement workflows and gain actionable insights.

As it explained the rationale for its move, Avaya said its customers were looking to bring AI, on a large scale, into their contact centres, and in a way that brings AI to the core of their CX transformation. Yet it also said that until now, AI in the contact centre has typically been at the front end, usually answering routine questions from customers in the form of intelligent virtual assistants. The launch was aimed at demonstrating how AI can also be extended to the heart of contact centres, creating workflows, reports and helping agents better serve customers.

Explaining why AI is essential in the days of the experience-focused business, chief product officer Omar Javaid says: “Generative AI, specifically large language models, is an early field – there’s a lot of interest in it. There are a number of different technology vectors – broadband cost, speed, processor, power storage – converged.

“It’s become real now. Our customers are at the nexus of a lot of human interaction,” he says. “We have very, very large customers, such as airlines, and they may have thousands of contact centre agents. Just think about how they’ve done that business for decades. You have all of this customer data. You have call detail records (CDRs); you have actual voice recordings. Then you also have patterns of how those users behave. Whether they came to you via a website via chat, via a phone call and all this kind of stuff.

“You can actually build these really interesting [models] and then you can incorporate all of the internal knowledge management of a company,” says Javaid. “And the net benefit of it is that the technology is here so you can create interesting experiences and products using these large language models. Let’s say you’re an airline and you have 20,000 contact centre agents, and you’ve had that call centre for 20 years and it works really well, but now you want your customers to be able to communicate with you on WhatsApp, on WeChat, all these different sorts of things, and maybe you want to do an AI bot.”

Smooth transition

One thing Javaid was keen to stress was that such a transition, necessary as it is, should not have to entail wholesale changes for companies, especially having to rip out and replace existing contact centre infrastructure and transition to new products to get all of the new benefits to do all these new things. He argues that you should be able to plug in capabilities such as chat, app integration, AI bots and advanced analytics into existing on-premise infrastructure and innovate around it.

Zoom is another company that is making a huge investment in AI to develop systems intended to elevate customer experiences. Indeed, the collaboration and communications company regards AI as key to driving the firm to new levels in 2024 with its new GenAI technology to be the cornerstone of hybrid workspace, where it said technology aligns with real user needs.

“Expectations have really changed for how our customers engage with their customers,” says Zoom chief product officer Smita Hashim, speaking with Computer Weekly in November 2023. “We had a webinar product from the early days, and we have been expanding into hybrid events. We have our contact centre, which has been growing really nicely, again built very much with hybrid in mind. It’s a full suite with a virtual agent, and it has workforce engagement management scheduling and quality management.”

Hashim believes Zoom is taking a unique approach in how it’s implementing a GenAI assistant. “Some of the folks in the market have gone with one very large foundational model, most notably Open AI, but for us, what we take is a federated approach. Early on, this is a very dynamic space, and you don’t need to use really large models for all use cases.”

Read more about customer experiences

One thing about these use cases is that they will be supporting totally personalised experiences, based on an AI model that is engaged and intercepting every step of the customer journey, enabling you to predict and understand patterns of behaviour and even create new business contexts that your company could benefit from.

Adopting a customer experience-focused approach could result in direct revenue gains through the new role of chief experience officer. Already, tech firms are seeing the synergies between revenue and customer experiences and giving the same person responsibility for both.

One leading tech firm is taking this approach to drive a customer-centric focus across all operational functions of her company, being in charge of sales while representing the voice of the customer to arrive at a customer-driven culture through ensuring ease of doing business, and reducing and eliminating friction.

The tech company says the starting position is showing up with a point of view and understanding your business. Are there new revenue streams that you want to create for your business? This then translates to customer conversations. It believes that if you’re the voice of the customer in your firm, you’ll know your customer’s business and discover where they are today and where they want to go.

This means the contact centre is now transforming into an experience centre where your customers are reaching out to you in many different ways. It’s not just voice. It’s not just email. It’s not just social or video. It’s all a digital experience. That’s what will keep your customers. It’s not just the technology. You deliver a customer experience in a way that builds loyalty and then impacts revenue positively. And that changes the whole concept of customer culture from transactional-based relationships to personal experiences.

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