Category Archives: System Integration

4 Common Contact Center Challenges and How to Solve Them

In previous years, the contact center was seen as an operational necessity, an important but non-strategic wing of an organization. That has changed.

Customer experience (CX) is now understood to be among the most powerful differentiators for businesses today. Contact centers, and the technologies enabling them, now feature prominently in strategic decision making.

Many organizations know their current system for engaging with customers could be improved, but with new technologies, new vendors and new jargon seeming to appear every day, it’s difficult to determine the best place to start.

This blog will introduce four common contact center challenges you may be facing and show how four organizations overcame them.

Siloed Technologies

Silos are one of the great challenges facing contact centers today. A “silo” refers to a technology that is disconnected from the others.

Different departments acquire technology (billing system, dispatch system, WFM, etc.) based vendor strength, but they are not tied together, which hinders the ability to create smooth transitions between departments to support an end-to-end process. Data becomes siloed as the customer view is carved up between these systems. There is no master customer “system of record.”

The impact on the enterprise? Agents are forced to play the role of integrator, using multiple screens and numerous applications to resolve customer requests. Customer metrics sink due to the complexity of support. Agent turnover increases. Management lacks actionable insights into contact center events and trends. Maintenance costs rise, and rise, over time.

If technology silos are hurting your CX, the need for change is clear. The best course forward may not be.

Technology silos and process silos — you can have one, but you usually have both. Technology silos often lead to process silos.

See how SMART Technologies successfully overcame siloed systems and achieved a flawless customer experience without impacting their day-to-day operations.

Inflexible Infrastructure

Another common challenge facing contact centers is the use of inflexible, on-premise systems. Often requiring continual hardware upgrades and “quick fixes” to remain functional, these systems are the underlying cause of many of the silos mentioned above.

They also cause a heavy drain on the IT department’s resources, as more time is spent managing complexity than thinking strategically about where technology can create an advantage.

Many organizations dealing with inflexible infrastructure understand the benefits of migrating to a modern cloud contact center: minimum required investment to deploy, maintain and support; ease of managing multichannel communications; improved employee performance and CX; and the ability to adapt to changing business needs.

But there’s a natural resistance to change that stems from the fear of disrupting day-to-day operations.

See how a medical technology company with strict parameters seamlessly transitioned from an an end-of-life system to Salesforce to reduce maintenance and support costs, achieve unprecedented agent visibility and experience a 5X increase in order processing.

Introducing & Managing Multiple Channels

Customers demand more connected experiences than ever before. They expect to be able to communicate with you digitally, and expect you to provide a consistent journey across all touchpoints, whether they’re engaging in a web chat, texting or speaking to a representative by phone.

Many contact centers avoid adding digital channels because their legacy infrastructure won’t support it, and they don’t want to add new siloes to an already complex system. Others add digital channels, but struggle to integrate their data into the agent desktop so agents lack context and information on prior interactions.

Another difficulty related to managing multiple channels is integrating it properly with WFM systems, which makes it difficult to effectively forecast, plan and schedule agents across channels.

The end result of all these challenges — whether it’s a lack of channels or channels being poorly stitched together — is that you run the risk of customers churning to competitors that offer more consistent and personalized experiences.

See how a publicly traded financial services company with limited customer care channels and disconnected legacy technology turned their customer experience into an asset by introducing digital channels, modernizing their systems and optimizing the agent desktop.

Lack of Contact Center Visibility

Another harmful side effect of complex, siloed contact centers is that they hinder an organization’s ability to spot and resolve problems. Delivering consistent CX is a challenge; it’s near impossible if you can’t identify areas that need improvement.

Lacking a modern infrastructure, many organizations necessarily turn to the IT department to identify and fix problems with agents or operations, as they are the only ones with the technical know-how to navigate the system and manually analyze the log files. But dedicating IT resources to solve non-IT issues isn’t a sustainable solution.

See how a Fortune 500 transportation logistics company with the challenges above leveraged an operational analytics application to sift through massive amounts of data in minutes to identify and resolve issues, improve agent performance and achieve unprecedented visibility into their contact center operations.

About Aria Solutions

Aria Solutions is a customer engagement center solutions company that helps some of the world’s biggest organizations achieve unified customer engagement centers free of silos.

Over the past 22 years we have empowered 550,000 agents and completed over 1,200 successful projects, collaborating with our customers to help them achieve their business goals and find better ways to serve their customers.

Visit our about page to learn more about Aria Solutions or contact us today if you’d like guidance on how your organization can overcome your contact center challenges.

Thanks for reading!

How to Increase ROI for Your Custom Development Projects

It’s an exciting time to be in IT these days! Digital transformation is gaining in popularity, one element being the move of IT infrastructure to the cloud. Many different platforms that are available today provide a lot of opportunities to build exciting functionality through custom development and platform integrations.

On top of that, companies are looking for more options to provide their customers with self-service opportunities, either through customer portals or through bots using traditional and modern service channels such as telephony, SMS, or instant messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.

All of this requires a significant number of process automations and system integrations, which allows companies to build custom solutions for their internal and external services, so they can provide better customer service and more efficient processes.

Why is all of this important?

Because companies that ignore the digital transformation will miss out on the next generation of customers, and continuously lose ground on their competition, which will be faster and better at delivering business value.

Why digital transformation is affecting project development

Software development is at the heart of the digital transformation!

Here are some examples of contact center and business cloud platforms, innovating for the digital transformation era:

Overall, more and more companies are transforming their applications into platforms or at least investing heavily into APIs that allow for deeper integration.

Unfortunately, the increasing demand for custom development comes with a maintenance cost attached. And that cost can vary significantly, based on the quality of the architecture and implementation of any given solution. If a company relies on an integration to submit orders from their CRM to the order management system, the integration becomes an additional point of failure (in addition to the two systems involved). An error in the code could prevent the orders from being submitted, and in a worst case scenario, this error might not even be noticed right away.

In theory, those automations provide a defined business value, but the reality is that this value is reduced by technical debt accrued during development. This includes not only errors in the implementation that cause the integration to fail, but also the additional effort needed to implement new business requirements in the future. The latter is very difficult to track, since there is no reference point to what a “perfect” system looks like. Nevertheless, it exists, and I have seen simple feature requests take a substantial amount of time refactoring the initial solution because it did not follow best practices.

This brings us to the last question: What can be done to reduce the negative effect that software quality issues can bring to a project or a business solution?

3 steps for improving the quality of your projects

I recommend the following 3 key steps as a starting point to improving the quality and outcome of your custom development projects. There are obviously more things that you can do, but from my experience, the following actions are essential for maintaining the ROI of any project.

1. Use software design patterns and development best practices

Design patterns have been proven to be successful when it comes to increasing code quality in a product. Not only do they introduce consistency between developers, they also ensure that the developed code is easy to understand and extend as your business solution evolves. Applying those patterns even to the smallest components will help to reduce bugs and, consequently, maintenance costs further down the road.

2. Introduce quality processes and automated testing

These elements are core to any software application development these days. First of all, any code developed, whether it is big or small, should be tracked in a version management system such as Git. It is critical that developers can review the history of a file to understand the context of how it evolved. With that, it is also possible to introduce code reviews as a standard process of everyone’s work. Any changes should be peer reviewed to ensure that standards are followed, and to reduce the risk of introducing errors. Adding automated tests, such as unit or acceptance tests, will further improve the quality of the solutions. While code reviews ensure the quality and correctness of the implementation at the current time, automated tests are there to detect regression introduced by future modifications of the code. All automated tests should be executed every time a new change is introduced to the environment.

3. Add Reliability Engineering

This step is the most difficult. Reliability Engineering extends the solution by building a framework of utilities and services that business solutions use for the implementation of the use cases. Those utilities and services are designed to handle malfunction of the business logic by recording incidents, raising alerts, applying strategies of self-healing, or possibly even initiating a restart of an entire system or component. For example, in the situation described above where the integration between the CRM and order management system would fail, notifications could immediately be sent out to IT that the integration is broken. If the reason for the failure was a connection timeout, which could mean that the order management system does currently not have enough resources available to process the order, the integration could queue the record and process it at some later time, assuming that more resources will then be available and the order submission will succeed.

In the best case scenario, human intervention is not needed, but if it is, it is important that every failure is handled consistently. While it is understood that production issues will occur, the goal of the framework is to detect those early and to collect critical diagnostic information that will significantly speed up the root cause analysis. Reporting this information will enable IT to make the right decisions to solve the issue quickly.

It should be noted that many of today’s cloud platforms have these features baked in. The key is to utilize their framework to make sure application and platform issues are handled in the same fashion. There obviously must be a balance between value and implementation time when deciding what reliability features should be included in a solution.

Nonetheless, any steps taken in this area will further secure the ROI, by ensuring that the final solution will work as expected. If it does not, it will have the smallest impact possible on the organization.

The value in following these steps & breaking down silos

It needs to be understood that any of these steps will add development time for the initial implementation of any use case. However, it should be noted that this time increase is mostly just theoretical nature. In practice, if those measurements are not applied, a project typically requires more time for bug fixes and re-work of those use cases, often exceeding the time spent adding those quality processes.

Breaking down the silos between enterprise systems adds a lot of value to the organization. This is an important part of the 4th industrial revolution. However, the applications that link those systems together are becoming a critical element for a company’s operations and must therefore be set up using strategies that ensure quality and flexibility for the future. This let’s your organization focus on continuous expansion rather than chasing the mistakes made in the past.

Building a Fully-Integrated Contact Center with Amazon Connect and Salesforce

When AWS launched the Amazon Connect cloud-based contact center service, our breath was taken away by the power and the flexibility – making us quickly become one of the first APN partners and take part in creating new add-on functionality and services.

Having experience building customer engagement functionality in Salesforce that only supports digital channels, our team realized that Amazon Connect and its voice-based channel was a natural fit. So, this was the obvious first place for Aria to invest in to provide customers with a fully-integrated contact center.

Bridging the silos with pre-built components

No one wants to have their technology run in silos. By integrating both cloud-based solutions, organizations can:

  • Improve customer experiences by properly managing customer interactions across voice and digital channels
  • Improve employee productivity by automating tasks and reducing the number of screens they must use to handle customer interactions
  • Gain full visibility of how well the contact center is meeting customer demand

To make this happen fast with less effort and lower risk, Aria built two options:

1.  Free toolkit to try things out on your own

This is an advanced adapter that’s using Salesforce’s Open CTI, which brings Amazon’s Contact Control Panel right into Salesforce. The toolkit offers out-of-the-box integration between Salesforce and Amazon Connect, which is built on industry best practices. Agents can receive and control the calls and see customer information right within Salesforce – the same place where they handle digital channels.

As part of this integration, the toolkit migrates Amazon Connect call data into Salesforce, for all interaction data to reside in one place. Providing contact center managers with a clear view of their operations across all channels.

Other AWS applications that are often used in the contact center, such as Lex bot data, and transcriptions with Amazon Transcribe, are also made available right within Salesforce.

Not only does it provide some great features out-of-the-box, it’s also meant to be customizable and extensible, by giving you the rights to copy and modify almost all pieces of code to adjust the functionality to your own needs.

2.  More advanced, supported integration through Legato

Another option to consider is Aria’s Legato, which includes all the same functionality as the free toolkit plus a customizable softphone. It is a packaged and fully supported product that includes automatic upgrades and will soon be available on the Salesforce AppExchange.

This option lets organizations skip the internal development stage and go straight to a supported product – should that be the desired path.

Making your customer engagement center even more advanced

Aria has over 20 years of contact center experience and a depth of knowledge on how everything interconnects as a single solution.

If you want to add more functionality to improve customer and employee engagement in an efficient manner, here are some service options:

  • Setup of Amazon Connect
  • Voice and digital bots with Lex
  • Integration of industry-leading CRM and WFM tools
  • Advanced functionality provided by Amazon Connect partners, such as advanced sentiment analysis, dynamic phone numbers, fraud detection, and in-session SMS

To learn more about these options and what’s possible with Amazon Connect contact us to talk to our experts!

3 Tech Trends & Factors That Impact Employee Experience

Who does not love a nice dinner out on a Friday night? It’s a great way to start the weekend and relax after long days at work. But then a server—clearly unmotivated—shows up, does not answer my questions, and gets my order wrong. What was supposed to be a relaxing evening turns out to be a stressful disappointment. Even if the food ends up being good, or even delicious, the moment is ruined. And if it was my first time at this restaurant, I would not come back, ever. 

Sounds familiar? I am sure many of you can relate. 

Well, the experience in a contact center is no different than the one in the restaurant. At a time when all products are similar and switching services happens seamlessly, the customer experience can make it or break it. This means the people on the front line of your company are key to your success, whether you like it or not. Consequently, it is in your best interest to motivate them, so that they represent your business in the best way possible. 

In other words, satisfaction of your employees has a direct impact on your customers’ loyalty, and therefore on your revenue and profits. While leadership, employee engagement, and other HR related measures obviously play a big role, the importance of technology in the workplace is steadily increasing. The primary reason is a steady increase of demands, and technology helps employees work more efficiently to meet their goals. It’s as simple as that. 

What are the key technological factors and influences that improve the employee experience (EX) and as a result make a company more successful? 

1. Automation

Automation is still one of the most important factors. Unfortunately, many companies are not fully leveraging it.  

Painful, repetitive tasks such as copying and pasting data between multiple systems are the result of these shortcomings. It is one of those common productivity roadblocks that is increasingly frustrating in an environment where performance is rigorously measured.  

Building integrations between multiple systems allows automation and is essential to improving the EX.  

For instance, a common scenario is the handling of an order or return between Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and an Order Management system (OMS). If agents have to create an order by copying all customer details and product line items between the two systems, they can become extremely frustrated over time. Adding a button that does all that work with one click, where the agents only have to validate the order before booking it, makes a big difference. 

2. User Experience

“It’s all about saving clicks” is what people say when talking about automation. But automation is not the only means to save “clicks” for the user. An often overseen factor is the user experience (UX).  

With the high level of configurability and customizability of today’s applications, such as a CRM software, it matters what agents see on the screen. This is all about showing the right information in the right place at the right time. Button locations, dialogs, and wizards are just some of the tools that can improve system usability, and consequently employees’ satisfaction. Even the look and feel plays an important role, since the users are spending several hours a day looking at the software.  

UX has been crucial for product development, but it is often neglected when building systems for internal users. For example, screen pops are a common feature utilized in any contact center. If an agent only sees the service record for the customer’s current incident, it is certainly helpful. But, if the system is configured to show key customer information (besides just the name), for example, recent history and other related information (such as the products the customer owns) – all on one screen, the agent can operate much faster and provide better service, leading therefore to reduced handle time. 

3. Artificial Intelligence

Last but not least, the power of artificial intelligence (AI) offers a huge potential to improve EX. This is a real game changer because AI is not meant to improve how users do things, but what they are doing.  

This is significant because every employee can now be a rockstar sales person or a customer service champion. In an environment that thrives on success metrics, such as sales numbers and service level agreements (SLA), this can help each individual meet or even exceed their goals.  

Lead scoring is a great example. If a sales representative handles 50 leads a day out of a pool of several hundred, success depends on converting those leads into real opportunities. Based on historical data, lead scoring algorithms will help choose leads that have a higher chance of converting into a sale. This will not change the number of leads the agent will call, but it will improve the number of sales during a day.  

It will make the agent successful, and there is no better motivator than success. If people feel empowered and effective, they are more willing to face obstacles in their way. 

But keep in mind that AI is still an emerging technology. It needs to gain trust from business users and technology experts alike. Rolling out features to smaller groups first can be helpful in collecting valuable data, thus proving the positive impact of AI. Building a success story is key to getting acceptance. 

Evaluate and Apply Technology Properly

From my experience working with contact centers, I know that a great employee experience is driven by productivity. A productive and rewarding day can boost your employees’ happiness and engagement, leading to an even better performance in the future.  

Technology is a key ingredient in nurturing this successful experience, and it is crucial to make it a standard, not an exception. However, it is important to understand that there is no silver bullet. There should be an evaluation first – to understand the greatest weaknesses and how the technology can help resolve them. 

Technology can only reach its full potential when applied properly. Often, business users describe their needs by providing a solution to the problem. Unfortunately, their solution does not include a full understanding of features and dependencies within the systems they are using. So in short, IT and business users should work closely together to come up with the best implementation. 

With technology evolving so quickly, the journey is the reward. 

If you need help with business challenges, choosing the right solution for your pain points, or evaluating specific technology – Aria is here to help!

We offer expert services on the Salesforce platform and can help you customize your crm to fit your needs. We also have many omni-channel desktop products, including our newest product Legato which includes a robust softphone and integrates Salesforce with Amazon Connect Voice so your agents can see everything on one screen. Contact us today to learn more or visit us at booth 2226 during Enterprise Connect Orlando.

Cloud + Automation: The Future of the Contact Center Infrastructure

Technology fuels so many aspects of businesses today, that it is now the lifeblood of the organization. CIOs and Infrastructure leaders must own the design for the full eco-system to deliver an infrastructure that can be the foundation for the business.

Evolved infrastructure trends

Infrastructure powers everything and therefore is the foundation of every customer experience. For CIOs and Infrastructure leaders this means they must focus on the technology, systems, and processes to win, serve, and retain customers.  But new and emerging technology has changed traditional infrastructure and infrastructure design must now be looked at in a new way.

1.Cloud services

It’s true, infrastructure now comes in more forms than ever including the always expanding family of cloud services. But even though cloud has certainly changed the game, we must embrace it!

Instead of trying to control what happens within these technologies, CIOs should focus on governing how their organization should use services, such as cloud, and the best way to integrate these services into technology, systems, and processes.

When looking at cloud services, it’s helpful to consider the 3 main types, and analyze where these fit in the transformation strategy:

IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) – organizations keep pre-owned or custom software, but save on hardware infrastructure costs

SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) – organizations migrate a business application to the cloud, doing away with the app infrastructure completely

PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) – offers organizations many infrastructure options, from acting as cloud based “glue” between existing systems, or a way to more quickly build your own cloud app without starting from scratch

2.Automation

Automation has become extremely powerful and created a changing environment when it comes to traditional infrastructure. Embracing automation gives organizations the agility to change, speed of execution, security, and dependability that delights customers.

For example, by integrating CRMs such as Salesforce with other systems, organizations can centralize data and eliminate silos that impact customer and employee experience. As the company grows, this type of infrastructure can also scale providing the organization with the agility it needs to adapt to changing customer demands.

How to start the infrastructure transformation journey?

In Forrester’s Infrastructure Transformation Playbook, they define 4 phases that Infrastructure teams should consider when approaching their transformation. In our view, these 4 phases can be described in the following manner:

First, you need to discover how you will transform your infrastructure to service design which includes thinking about the role that cloud services might play in your organization especially if you have existing on-premise systems.

After that, you’ll plan your transformation path, which should not only include your timeline and steps, but also the purpose for doing the transformation.

This brings you to phase 3, implementation, which will likely be the longest of the 4 phases.

And finally, the last phase is where you’ll optimize service experiences by continually measuring and refining. Once you’ve reached this phase, you can benchmark your progress against your competition and, depending on where you fall, determine the area to look at next.

To learn more, download the complimentary January 2018 Forrester report where the above phases are discussed: “Master Automation & Software To Transform Your Infrastructure”.

 

6 CX Competencies to Driving Better Customer Engagements

Overwhelming evidence confirms that improving CX does drive business results and that prioritizing customer experience is the proven path to success. However, many customers feel that only a few companies engage with them well, and even with those companies there is room for improvement.

So why are companies still struggling to deliver great customer engagements? For many organizations, this requires a customer engagement transformation. And how to go about this is often unclear.

Before moving forward with any CX strategy it’s important for your company to understand why it’s important to improve CX and what this will mean for the organization, including what CX competencies you need to establish. You need to assess where you stand on your journey to CX transformation and benchmark where you are against your competitors. This will help your company understand the level of transformation required as well as the urgency.

Once that’s done, you can plot your strategy. In the June 2017 report “Why and How to Lead A CX Transformation”, Forrester has identified 6 crucial CX competencies that companies must establish to start the transformation: research, prioritization, design, enablement, measurement, and culture.

6 CX competencies to establish and optimize

1. Researching your customer preferences

CX competencies
Figure 1: Forrester’s 6 CX competencies from the Forrester Report, “Why And How To Lead A CX Transformation”

If you are just getting started on your CX transformation, then the first thing to do is research to ensure there is a good understanding of your customers wants and needs. This should be the first competency you look at because otherwise it will be very hard to move forward with the other cx competencies necessary to develop your CX transformation strategy.

2. Prioritizing based on what matters most to both – your customers and your business

Prioritization can be done by ranking your most important customer groups, journeys, and interactions and aligning that with your business values and business success criteria, so you can then move forward with the right focus.

3. Designing customer experiences

Then, you will identify and define the experience you want customers to have based on your CX vision and customer understanding (developed in the research and prioritization cx competencies above). This requires generating ideas, prototyping, testing with customers, and repeating that process many times before deciding that a design is done.

It’s important to not define the experience based on what the business wants. Capture what your customers want, and then design the way the organization engages with customers to meet those experiences.

Remember that you want to achieve the experiences that you define, but you don’t control experiences directly. What you do control is how your organization engages with customers, which then leaves customers to perceive these interactions and this results in the experiences your customers have with your organization.

4. Enabling your employees with training, information, and tools

Once you’ve defined the customer experience you want to deliver, you must provide employees with the resources that they need to properly engage with customers, and ultimately provide this experience.

And so, for some companies this might be the hardest part of their CX transformation. If you are dealing with system and process silos or legacy technology, delivering the right CX might mean upgrading technology or fully integrating your business and contact center systems. Depending on resources, it might take longer to work through this stage. But don’t let that deter you. The alternative option of continuing to deliver low quality CX will hurt your company in the long run.

By having the right architecture in place, you can start providing your employees with training, information, and tools that support the intended experience across all touch points.

5. Measuring CX metrics

To understand if your company is doing CX well, will require you to quantify the quality of experiences and link them to your organizations’ overall metrics. Ideally, you want to analyze what happens when customer interact with your brand, how they perceive these interactions, and what they do as a result.

This might require a shift in how you look at customer interactions and what metrics you report on. For further insights into how to measure CX, read the blog Looking at Contact Center Metrics In A Customer-Centric Way.

6.Establishing a customer-centric culture

To make sure that CX is a priority in your company will require a system of customer-centric values and behaviors that focus employees on better engaging with customers.

This is an especially important competency to continue your CX vision and drive business success. If you try to create this culture without looking at the other cx competencies, you are likely to be unsuccessful.

A good start is to educate employees about your customers, CX vision, and their roles in fulfilling your vision. Reinforcing customer-centric behaviors through routines, celebrations, and rewards is another good way to establishing customer obsession in your organization.

Don’t wait to start your CX Transformation

Some CX competencies you may be more mature at than others. Forrester Research suggests that companies establish the competencies they are missing, and optimize those already established. Eventually all competencies need to be optimized to be a well-managed “customer obsessed” organization, and be able to keep innovating.

Remember that with great CX being uncommon these days, acting now means you can more easily get ahead of the competition.  Putting off the number one way to differentiate your business, will make CX differentiation much harder later on.

For more guidance on a CX transformation & how to implement these 6 competencies watch the webinar “CX Transformation: Six Essential Competencies”.

Your Agents are Not Superheroes! Increase Efficiency by Connecting Data Silos

I am sure you’ve come across several resources that talked about digital channels now dominating over traditional ones.

Even though your contact center might still be in the process of deploying or optimizing these channels, customers don’t care. They want their issue addressed now, and they expect you to know everything about their journey, no matter what communication channel they use.

These new demands add a lot of pressure into what is already a hectic agent experience. Now agents need to know all about the customer’s journey, which means all interactions across multiple channels, as soon as the interaction comes in. This is a tough thing to do if systems and data are siloed.

Agent efficiency in the world of multichannel

Most agents are dealing with several disconnected systems, such as CRM, siloed voice and digital systems, and knowledge repositories, in an attempt to access customer interaction data. They need to know the history of what has been done and communicated to this customer throughout multiple channels. Finding, reading, assimilating and using information within a call or chat is very difficult and is rarely done seamlessly.

On top of having to do it efficiently, agents need to make sure they don’t deliver conflicting messages. As the hosts in a Westworld storyline might mistakenly say: “I’m only human”. Keep in mind – even if you really want your agents to be superheroes, they just aren’t.

The longer the agents look for information, the longer it takes to address customer needs, which results in agent and customer frustrations. Asking them to repeat information already provided elsewhere only adds to customer dissatisfaction.

It’s about costs too. On average, 15% of agent time is spent shifting between systems and applications. Extrapolating that over the course of a full year means significant cost to your business. Can you afford to let that continue?

Accessing customer data through one platform

Top contact center performers understand the importance of reducing the agent’s struggle, by empowering agents with easy access to all customer data on one platform.

This is primarily a technology struggle that can be addressed with unified agent technology. When telephony and other channels are integrated into CRM for omnichannel capabilities, agents can pull customer data and complete work without opening another window.

If an agent can quickly see that a customer has already reached out about a certain request via a different channel, this customer doesn’t have to repeat everything all over again, while the agent can go ahead and complete the task.

By seeing customer purchase history, agents get an opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell, or ask for feedback on product satisfaction and try to improve their experience.

From implementing projects for our clients, we saw a strong need to enable agents with such integration. So, we built a softphone capable of integrating multiple systems in a seamless way. It lets contact center professionals leverage the value of CRM, by making it the focus of their agent interactions as well as minimizing the need to leave the system to accomplish tasks.

When businesses discover a need for connecting CRM with a contact center platform, some of them start building a custom solution. A pre-built, flexible API-based integration saves a lot of time and money, compared to custom development.

Ultimately, the key to a great customer experience lies with a team of successful agents. Successful agents depend on merging of technology with people and processes, combined with training, and molded into a complete solution.

 

5 Questions to Think About When Planning System Integration

System integration planning is the process of incorporating smaller sub-systems into one larger system to ensure they all work together. Integration is a cornerstone of today’s enterprise environments with their multitude of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

The power of those software applications does not lie only in the functionality that they provide themselves, but in their ability to communicate with one another, in order to make data flow seamlessly through the environment. This improves processes and makes a company more efficient as a whole.

When thinking of integration, web services standards such as SOAP and REST come to mind. Those are meant to simplify the integration with the large number of support tools that are built around them.

Unfortunately, the tools themselves are not the solution to your integration problems, but only the means to a faster implementation. The real solution is proper system integration planning and design, which need to be based on the right criteria. And that is not always the case in a project.

So, what are the best methods for the design when integrating two systems? Well, there are a number of questions that need to be answered in the planning stage.

Let’s go through these 5 key questions:

1. What is the data that the target system requires to complete the integration task?

Identifying the target data is an important first step. It defines what objects or tables need to be accessed, and the rules the data needs to comply to. Typically, the target data model drives the design of a custom integration point, should one be required.

2. Where is the data required by the target system located in the source system, and what transformations are needed?

Common examples for data types that need to be transformed are numbers and dates. For example, date formats and time zones may be different between the systems and have to be converted.

3. What is considered a transaction within the integration task and are there any dependencies between the transactions?

A transaction is an atomic unit of work. It only changes the state of the target system if the data was successfully transferred and processed.

If any failure occurs, whether it is during the transport or processing (i.e. validation), it must be ensured that the target system remains unchanged. For example, if a transaction creates multiple records in the target system (i.e. an account and a contact, and the account was successfully created but the contact failed the validation), it must be ensured that the account record is removed again. This way the target system has the same state at the end of the transaction as when it started.

4. How will you connect to the target system (domain name, IP, etc.) and what security constraints apply (certificates, credentials, etc.)?

Connectivity and security constraints should be identified and verified early on in the project. As those can often be reasons for a project to be delayed or even fail altogether. The reasons are manifold like: missing firewall rules, required certificates, setup of new security roles and credentials, protocol incompatibilities between source and target system – just to name a few.

From a technical perspective, most of those issues can be resolved. But it is often the processes or additional constraints that are only identified during the validation, which add more risk and effort to the system integration project.

For example, the target or source system may need to be patched up before they can communicate with one another. On the other hand, the networking team may need to open up the firewall and create new domain name (DNS) entries for the connection to be established. These are typically not very complex technical problems, but depending on the size of the company, they may require approvals and involvement of other groups requiring additional time.

In some cases, changes such as patching a system may introduce conflicts to other parts of the organization, which may make the integration much more difficult or even impossible.

 5. What interface options do you have available (REST, SOAP, Custom, etc.)?

The interface options have an impact on the tools and implementation design. This is because they help determine whether the solution must be entirely custom or whether productized solutions are an effective system integration method.

Creating the right design may not always include the path of the simplest or most straightforward solution.

The Influence of Transactional Requirements on the System Integration Process

To demonstrate the impact of transactional requirements on an integration design, let’s look at the example of an order submission from a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to an order management system (OMS). Before the order can be submitted, the system needs to ensure that an account exists since the order must be linked to it. If it does not exist, let’s assume the requirement is to create one as part of the integration as well. The account should only be created for a successful order submission, but not if the order submission fails.

The OMS provides a standard SOAP interface that allows for the typical data operations (CRUD – created, updated, delete) on the entities, such as account and order. It also provides the ability to create custom web service endpoints exposed through the same SOAP interface.

Now, choosing the standard SOAP interface has the advantage that no custom development is needed inside the OMS. The CRM can first create the account using the account interface and then create the order through the order interface. However, while this seems like a desirable approach for the implementation, there are disadvantages that need to be considered.

Since the account and order interface are separated by different endpoints, it requires two independent SOAP requests to submit the order. This means that the risk of a communication channel causing an error doubles. It also means that it requires an additional request to delete the account if the order submission fails to fulfill the transactional requirement for accounts to only be created with a successful order. That deletion request itself has the risk of failure, and that would leave the OMS in an invalid state, because the account exists, but the order does not.

Better Integration Planning

To address all those issues mentioned above, a custom endpoint could be created in the OMS that would consume the data for the account and order in a single request. The logic processing the request would have the ability to validate all the transmitted data for the account and order creation before even attempting to persist the information in the database. And it would be able to handle the cleanup of the account should the order entry fail.

On top of that, only a single request would be made from the CRM, which means less overhead, less risk of failure, and the overall integration process is completed faster than if using the multiple requests through the standard interface.

This is just one example. Of course, even though there are many reasons to consider custom endpoint in the given case, it does not mean that it is always an option to go down that path. Using the standard interface is obviously a feasible option as well, but it comes with increased risk and complexity, and that needs to be understood and included in the project planning.

Every system integration comes with its own challenges. Answering the questions listed above will help to solve those challenges the right way. In addition, if the right validations are done upfront to identify and address those risk factors around connectivity and security, it will just be a matter of time until the two systems are integrated with one another, boosting the productivity of your company.

Need help with your system integration plan?

Our enthusiastic and highly experienced team can assist with your software integration planning and contact center integration needs.  Let us know how we can help!

Softphones – Finding the Last Piece for Your Salesforce Service Cloud Puzzle

Many companies are using Salesforce Service Cloud with Omni to engage with customers and handle their service requests. With Service Cloud, you can connect with your customers through social media channels, email, and chat.  Setting up those features paints a great picture to your service team.

However, the picture is not complete because voice still remains the most important way for many businesses to communicate with their customers. Consequently, it is crucial to enable your agents to handle phone calls through the Service Cloud Console as well. Only then will the full picture of the customer journey be completed.

But Integrating the Voice Channel Can Be Tricky!

Salesforce offers voice capabilities through third party vendors that are using their Open CTI toolkit. As a customer, that means you are free to choose from a wide variety of vendors and products. Integrating the voice channel into Salesforce also means that there will be a second routing engine active, which is evidently not aware of Salesforce’s Omni routing engine, and vice versa.

This also extends to the handling of agent capacity and can make the management of your workforce more complicated. Agents will have to deal with two separate interfaces to select their presence status and handle the interactions, which introduces more complexity to their daily work and can lead to more mistakes.

Now, What Can Be Done About This?

One option could be to separate the voice channel from the other channels and have a group of agents (or multiple groups) dealing with phone calls exclusively. This will get you out of the Workforce Management and reporting nightmare, where you can use the reporting capabilities of the voice platform for your voice agents and Salesforce’s reporting capabilities for all other media types.

However, an increasing number of agents do not solely deal with phone calls anymore, but either operate in a blended environment handling multiple media types, or they work on back office tasks during times of low call volumes.

All of this requires a deep integration of the voice channel into Salesforce Omni in order to give your agents, and therefore your organization, the most powerful platform to build on the processes and customer service strategies.

While the softphone needs to fulfill your business needs first and foremost, I would recommend adding the following questions to your checklist when evaluating Open CTI vendors:

  • Does the softphone support both Open CTI frameworks, ̶  the classic and the lightning version?
    Although both integrations require the Open CTI framework, there are actually two different libraries available today. The softphone must be able to utilize the correct library for each of the user interfaces.
  • Does the softphone integrate with Omni’s or Live Agent’s user presence?
    Ideally, the agent should really only have one presence control, but if there are two of them, do they at least synchronize their states, so that one routing agent can be influenced by the other?
  • Does it support screen pop configurations beyond the simple contact or case search?
    Depending on your framework, you may have more things you want to look up based on IVR choices, or create and open multiple records. You may also want different screen pops at different times of the call (i.e. ringing, answered, or released). 
  • Does it properly record the phone call in Salesforce, with the correct records (case and contact/account) associated to it? 
  • Does the softphone provide an API for additional integration?
    An API would allow for the most flexible integration. Depending on capabilities, you might be able to create very sophisticated screen pop behaviors, provide softphone controls from Salesforce record pages, and it can be used to couple your voice channel very tightly with Salesforce Omni-Channel. 

Based on your needs, the perfect puzzle piece to complete your customer service picture may seem elusive. Nonetheless, looking at the above mentioned criteria very closely will help you to find a piece that will be a very good fit. As a result, your contact center agents will see a seamless workflow and your customers will have a better service experience – leading to the customer engagement goals that your business set out to achieve.

5 Keys to Effective Customer Journey Maps

As companies compete for market leadership position, it is quite easy for them to focus internally – either on processes to improve efficiency in delivery of their product, or on research and development to remain competitive. This can distract from understanding the market for which they are competing. Understanding how the market views, interacts and deals with their company is equally important.

Customer Journey Maps are an effective tool for companies to document customer perspective and identify key interaction points to monitor measure and improve upon the entire customer journey. This practice results in enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction. The more touch points you have, the more complicated it becomes.

Creating Customer Journey Maps can be arduous, but the end result, if done correctly, can help all facets of the company understand how customers interact with, and perceive the company in the market. Consider these points when creating Customer Journey Maps:

1. Don’t rely on generic client demographic data, instead determine the segmentation of your customer base

Find an appropriate balance between high level demographic based research and result data from an existing customer base.  For example, the general expectation is that older customers are less likely to use alternative communication channels, such as chat, social media or SMS.

However, in the print media industry, a segment of their interactions come from a more senior population who own multiple properties and migrate between them throughout the year. These senior clients are largely migratory and do not own a land line. Instead, they perform their interactions from a mobile device and are proficient in the use of alternative media channels.

Often, decisions are made on general assumptions about customer behavioral traits that aren’t always true. Most companies don’t regularly gather customer perspectives or share the insights when they do. But without an outside view on what is important, and what does or doesn’t work, your journey map will lack an accurate view of the customer, leading to decisions based on incomplete or flawed information.

2. Avoid analysis paralysis

Given the breadth of data available, it’s easy to include lots of it. This can result in dizzying complexity.

Remember, you are creating a tool to help you easily understand the customer and identify what is most important to them.

Create customer journeys that represent the largest customer interaction segments to achieve consensus to move forward with design, measurement and optimization. As with any collaborative process, define a decision structure with the right levels of empowerment. The goal is not to make everyone happy, instead, find the most efficient solutions to satisfy the customer experience.

Keep your strategic goals in the forefront to guide you in your employment of journey maps.

3. View as a living iterative process

What may be true today may not be true tomorrow. Invest in efforts to maintain a customer journey map that evolves according to the changing needs of the customer. Customer habits can change quickly in the new social world and must be reviewed regularly to address new habits.

4. Establish key interaction points

Identify points of bottleneck, inefficiency, and positive service levels. Journey events of significant impact have a greater bearing on the customer’s perspective of the company. Great journey maps separate critical moments from the rest.

A customer journey map helps to identify gaps, and disjointed or painful customer experiences, such as:

  • Gaps between information channels when users receive mixed messaging across various channels
  • Gaps between departments where users get frustrated with internal communication issues

5. Measure value at key interaction points

Contact Centers are a collection of complex software processes that generate a tremendous amount of interaction data. Most contact centers rely on traditional analysis, such as manual data gathering, text editors and generic log analysis tools in an attempt to understand the data and the customer experience.

Identifying those key customer touch points is not enough. You must set up your environment to correctly measure and track outcomes around key interactions.

A centralized system that breaks down the silos of measurement, minimizes the need for multiple tools, establishes a common set of measurements, and offers a holistic view of all interactions is a key consideration. The solution must have the ability to:

  • Capture all events around all customer interactions and easily enable analysis of that data
  • Provide a near real-time visibility to trends and issues
  • Provide the ability to anticipate trouble in key interaction areas
  • Allow quick drill down and provide cradle to grave visibility of the entire interaction experience

Investigating a customer experience from cradle to grave with traditional tools requires intensive manual efforts and consolidation of data form various systems. Streamlining tools, such as CIMplicity Visualizer, captures as much of the experience as possible, by reducing analysis and maintenance overhead.