One of the most important considerations for businesses, as they strive to squeeze out efficiencies and become more competitive, is understanding that to be truly relevant and appealing for customers and staff, they need an intelligent business communication platform. This implies the ability to adapt and react based on real-time insights.
At the heart of having an intelligent communication platform is making sure the customer journey throughout the business is easy and the touchpoints are pleasant. Everyone will have a host of positive and negative experiences. Let’s take a moment and think about the last time we were stuck in a seemingly endless contact centre vortex as an existing customer, where every new agent had no idea who we were, what we needed or how to solve our problem.
Those days are ending precisely because technology and innovation are allowing businesses to release human capacity to be deployed where it is most needed, leaving the mundane tasks to automation, because if we’re honest, the machines are far better at those than us. And so, as technology makes lives easier, human brains can be deployed to manage more complex, nuanced matters.
Where does an intelligent business communication platform start? It begins with the identity of the person – you’d like to detect your customer’s identity as soon as they contact you, and greet them by name, accurately. This simple move changes the tone of the engagement. Then, if you’ve had past conversations with that user, you want to be able to have immediate access to that context to ensure you have all the insight you need to delight the customer.
Many customers prefer digital interactions in the first instance. One can reference findings from research around the world where people are happy to deal with self-help and bot assistance until they have a complex issue that needs addressing. Here, they want to be transferred to a human – immediately. There’s little use investing in FAQs and automated chatbots if, when a complex issue arises, the customer must insert text and wait – the issue is present, they have invested the time, and they need it dealt with then and there.
As time goes on, we will see more and more of this capability emerging. Some sectors, such as financial services, have made great strides in their self-service models but few allow an instant transfer to a human agent. This is due to a systems gap, and it requires a host of backend investments, not least leveraging the capabilities of the cloud, but the result is an automated process, with the option of human touch on demand, all by design.
We are likely to see several trends already gaining traction to gather even more momentum over the next few years.
1. Breaking down silos
Historically, various systems were handled in silos. Many customer relationship management (CRM) systems can deal with various channels elegantly, just not audio, whereas cloud-based PBX solutions can deal with all channels but still need to communicate effectively with CRM solutions, so there is a balancing act. The thinking over the next few years is going to be around fusing these silos.
Until now, most business communication was over voice and e-mail. Those days are gone, and to be relevant today a business needs to have the capacity to handle voice and email, but also the high-pace environment of video and chat functionality on social media and the Web. These channels all need to work in harmony.
2. Head in the cloud
The pandemic has accelerated cloud adoption. This allows companies to leverage more of the applications available in the cloud, such as high-end analytics, including transcriptions and voice sentiment analysis. This powerful capability immediately enhances a business’s intelligence.
Another trend, which we are currently experiencing, is the permanence of working from anywhere, where companies look at a full-time blended, or hybrid, working model. This means there is an increased reliance on mobile-first applications, and so, as businesses seek to develop intelligent platforms, this thinking needs to be considered at the start, from the planning phase.
Automation, which is crucial for scale, could be self-help, easy-to-use applications, or bot-aided assistance for customers, and it may well be that a business needs to automate its business-to-business processes simultaneously. The key, though, is allowing the functionality – at any stage – to hand off to a real person when the user has a complex issue to solve.
5. Reduce contact centre reliance
Over the next few years, we will also see an increased reliance on operational support systems to enable a seamless digital journey for a customer. At the moment this function is limited by historical and on-premise legacy architectures. A technological leapfrog needs to occur for businesses to truly unlock the power of these support systems.
That leap forward to embrace technology, and specifically the cloud, will see high-end cloud feature sets democratise the customer journey landscape and reduce reliance on premise-based contact centres. Cloud applications allow businesses to enjoy the types of features in general communications solutions that were previously the preserve of high-end contact centres.
Where to from here?
Fibre accessibility is not yet up to par. As remote working increased over the past 18 months, this challenge became apparent as many companies had to fall back on a mobile solution such as 4G, where data costs are exponentially higher. With high data usage this is just not scalable, and so to achieve the economic dispensation we desire, the population and businesses alike need access to fibre networks. This cannot be overemphasised.
Many companies rely on underlying operational systems that cannot support a digital journey. They need to either work with partners to modify and change these systems, where possible or move to new solutions altogether. Only by making this bold – but necessary – move will they be able to offer self-help and automation and all the other joys of intelligent business systems.
When the decision is made to adopt services from the cloud, businesses must recognise from the outset that there will be a high requirement for interoperability of solutions and systems. Businesses will need access to data, the data will need to be useable across platforms, and it needs to be secure and compliant. From day one, interoperability should be a key attribute to thinking and planning.
A challenge that frustrates many in the C-suite is that the shift towards automated models is by its nature a start-stop process. One often finds that the first-generation iteration of systems can be clumsy, and so instead of improving the customer experience, they work against it. The key here is quick regeneration – it is critical that this process is ongoing and so as systems evolve, the kinks become fewer and further between.
Finally, a digital transformation journey is just that – a journey. It is a long road, not a flip of a switch, and so businesses must choose the right partner to take along for the ride. Success is often not inherent in the tool itself, but rather the service frameworks and service delivery to the organisation. Working through these with a partner that is likely to be around over the long term is crucial for businesses to unlock the value they desire from intelligent communication platforms.
About David Meintjes, CEO at Telviva
Meintjes is a qualified chartered accountant who holds a master’s degree in business management from the University of Johannesburg. He has been a key Internet business player from the start, serving as financial director, commercial director and CEO of UUNET SA, the first commercial Internet service provider in South Africa in 1996. After serving as chief operating officer of software development company Korbitec Holdings, Meintjes became chairman of Connectnet and Connection Telecom. From January 2010 he took up an operational role in the business to support its rapid growth phase and changed the name to Telviva to support the company’s international expansion.
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