By Fadi Hani
40% of executives believe that their company's customer experience journey is 'poor' or 'average', writes Fadi Hani, vice president for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Avaya
A new generation of connected smart services are redefining the way organisations in the Middle East are approaching customer experience management.
There is a clear recognition amongst public and private sector leaders that giving customers a better, more relevant experience through technology differentiates them from their competitors.
In the GCC, organisations are also working to better integrate their offerings into smart city initiatives and those which aim to enhance citizen happiness.
Yet a recent global poll by Avaya found that 40% of executives believe that their company’s customer experience journey is ‘poor’ or ‘average’, with 93% saying they will be focusing more on improving the customer experience in 2018. But many still do not know where to start.
Considering recent discussions with our regional partners and successful customers, it’s clear that there are three essentials for digital customer experience success that organisations in the region can’t afford to ignore.
There are a lot of buzzwords flying around today when businesses talk about ‘digital transformation’. It’s important for organisations in the region to really understand these terms and their specific applications in a customer-experience context.
For example, blockchain-based solutions offer immense opportunities for the customer experience.
The UAE Blockchain Strategy 2021 is already focusing on how to save time, effort and resources at a government level, whilst enhancing happiness levels for citizens. Real-time blockchain technology can now be used to measure the customer experience across multiple organisational departments.
Looking at the Avaya Happiness Index on Blockchain as one example, companies and governments can leverage blockchain to access industry-wide, real-time competitive customer insights - from call centres, email, and social media. These can be used to stay competitive and respond rapidly to citizens’ needs.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also beginning to be adopted into customer experience programmes. Think about the simple impact of chatting with devices that have natural language interaction, such as an Avaya Vantage desktop communication device. These holistic communication devices are being integrated with customer service and CRM programmes by organisations across the region, with AI-powered chatbots also seen in industries such as banking, hospitality, and telecommunications.
These technologies are making customer engagement simpler, faster and more rewarding. They make a real business impact. The region’s first intelligent voice-based virtual assistant for banking - launched by Emirates NBD and known as EVA - is a great example of this.
The Internet of Things (IoT) may have been ignored by some brands because they don’t have tech embedded on a ‘device’ like a car or a refrigerator.
However, organisations are thinking smaller this year - specifically, mobile apps. Businesses are increasingly understanding that every consumer’s phone is a de-facto IoT device and a mobile app is the key to tapping into it.
A great example is wearable devices. As an example, a healthcare provider can place a device on a patient’s wrist with a mobile EKG to monitor heart health in real-time.
Health insurance providers can add-value by creating branded apps that help customers keep track during everyday life and whilst exercising. IoT-powered devices and apps also allow hotels to deliver better value to guests with built-in room keys, and banks enabling mobile payments without the need for a physical card.
Our global research shows that as much as 96% of organisational spend in 2018 is earmarked for tech solutions specifically related to engagement.
Whilst this is good news for businesses and their customers, purchasing managers and business owners must ensure that the technology solutions adopted provide appropriate flexibility for future growth, with the bandwidth to implement complex scenarios quickly.
In today’s multi-platform digital world, customer experience success cannot be delivered by a single product. It requires agile, standards-based solutions that can connect to a full range of proprietary and 3rd party data, applications and services. We see this often when it comes to the contact centre.
If your company’s contact centre team does not have access to CRM databases, customer payment histories, and if their systems do not comply with industry regulations such as the recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), your customers will find it challenging to do what they want to do as fast and effectively as possible.
Such scenarios also create frustration amongst employees (which works against the pursuit of a harmonious relationship between employees and customers) and lead to long-term inefficiencies.
So, how do business leaders feel they’re doing? Whilst optimising the customer experience is critical to keeping and winning business, one recent IDC study commissioned by Avaya found that only 28% of companies believe they integrate customer communications with fulfilment and delivery ‘extremely well’.
If you concentrate solely on the technology, you can lose sight of the most important asset in delivering rewarding customer experiences - your people.
A workforce that isn’t familiar with the collaboration tools available, or which isn’t able to adopt those solutions quickly, will not be able to address customers’ needs.
So many of the organisations I meet with today say they’re on board to go digital, but they still don’t have the right people to manage and optimise those projects. This is an unnecessary waste of resources. Even amongst top consultants and vendors there’s a talent gap that we’re all striving to fill.
A recent survey by UAE-based recruitment specialists Robert Half shows that customer relationship management (CRM), analytics, and application-development skills are some of the most in demand across the Middle East.
In markets like Saudi Arabia, we have seen a particular focus on training local talent and bringing more women into the workforce - all in support of the Saudi Vision 2030 emphasis on digital transformation. This is much-needed good news for businesses and customers.
Within this context, partnerships between local companies, government entities and large multinationals are proving to be the most effective way of tightening the digital skills gap. Moving forward, this must include the expansion of professional-development courses, mentorship exchange programs, and the building of cross-functional teams to broaden your existing digital capabilities within an organisation.