by Brian Stacy, VP of Customer Service Operations at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @brian_stacy44
A great customer experience (CX) can be the difference between a customer coming back to you again and again or them going with your competitor. It’s the compelling reason people buy your product or service and recommend your business to others. Today, CX is a key differentiator for most businesses, big and small. And many are looking to technology to deliver the kind of innovative experiences that will help retain and win new customers.
Take chat bots. At their best, these can help customers get answers to their questions quickly. They can even help train customer assistants to deliver a better service. One beauty brand launched a chat bot on the popular messaging app, Kik, to offer customers quizzes, personalized beauty tips and reviews — you can even buy the beauty products you’re chatting about without ever having to leave the app.
And there are plenty of other ways in which tech is driving better CX. There are the advanced collaboration tools that help call center staff handle queries and orders faster. And there’s the artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics that are enabling organizations to take the vast amounts of data they’re collecting on their customers — online, via social and in-store — and turn it into actionable intelligence.
That all sounds great. It also sounds expensive. If technology is providing an edge when it comes to CX, is it the large enterprises with equally large IT budgets that have the edge? How can small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) like you hope to compete?
Tech is levelling the CX playing field
SMBs have a natural advantage when it comes to CX. They’re often closer to the local communities that they’re based in and understand their customers’ needs. But tech can take these experiences to the next level.
You might think tools like chat bots and AI will break the bank or require specialist knowledge. The reality is quite different. Take this tool that enables you to build your own Facebook chat bot in about seven minutes with no coding involved. The best bit is that if you think you’ll get less than 500,000 monthly active users, you can do it for free. Big businesses like Volkswagen and Uber are using this kind of solution to create additional channels for reaching customers. You can too.
Innovative CX solutions are becoming more and more available — no matter what the size of your business. Many of the advanced tools that large enterprise would have developed in-house are now available off the shelf. For example, Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are readily available that enable real-time video conferencing from any device — no need for an expensively outfitted office. That means a better experience for business clients you can’t easily visit.
Many SaaS solutions provide more advanced functionality than you’ll find in large enterprises using in-house systems. They’re developed and maintained by experts. And SMBs are often better positioned to take advantage of them than big companies, typically being far less encumbered by legacy IT systems. That means you could actually be the one gaining an edge.
From advanced apps to cheaper cloud storage, from social media to more agile connectivity, technology is enabling great improvements in CX. And it’s not just for the big guys.
Avoid tech for tech’s sake
But technology isn’t the answer to all ills. You shouldn’t just implement new technology for the novelty factor or because someone else has it — this kind of decision could backfire and result in worse CX. You need to determine whether a particular piece of technology will improve experiences and help your customers reach their end goal sooner. You also need to think through whether it’s something your customers will be comfortable using. If they typically avoid social media, a Facebook chat bot won’t do your CX much good.
Start by mapping your customers’ journeys to get a clearer picture of how they interact with you. That means looking at key touch points and identifying any pain points. And not just those that come after you’ve made the sale. The customer journey starts from your very first contact with a customer — through a tweet or advert, say. Think about the experience delivered by the product, the marketing, the selling and the operations. Examine the whole journey and ask yourself, where can tech make a difference? Where can it really improve CX?
Some large organizations are using big data analytics to help them build digital profiles of their customers and understand customer pathways. But this is actually somewhere you could have an advantage. SMBs often have simpler customer propositions — based around one core product or service. And that could make it easier for you to identify where tech will have the biggest impact on CX. These don’t have to be huge changes, but they should be driven by the right motivators. Be led by CX, not by cost savings or novelty tech.
When you’ve identified where to make these improvements, the technology to make a difference is well within your reach. But this isn’t the case of once and done. Products, technology and customer expectations are changing all the time so you need to work with companies that understand the latest trends and can help keep you up to date.
by Martin Burvill, Group President at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @burvill_martin
Think back 10 years. If I’d told you then that by 2017 most video content would be watched on a small screen that people carried in their pocket, you’d never have believed me. But it’s true. What if I’d said that many of us would have a little box in our houses that we talked to and it answered our questions, could turn our heating and household devices on and off, and could DJ your music library? You might have actually thought that was more likely, after all it’s the sort of thing that science fiction has been promising us for decades. You might have been less likely to believe that the box would cost less than a pair of brand jeans.
Technology has vastly changed the way we do everything. It’s making life easier in ways that we could never have imagined. I’ve always thought that futurologist sounded like an amazing job, spending your time imagining what might come next. Working at Verizon I get to rub shoulders with many of the people that are building the next generation of networks and making the next wave of technology possible. I recently visited the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for an event and watching the children there made me think about how all this new technology will affect their lives.
From education to learning
Whether you’re from iPod generation, or like me the Walkman one, a lot has changed in the classroom since you went to school. It’s vital that schools keep up to date with technology as everything is changing rapidly and kids need to be prepared for that world when they graduate.
Back when I was in school I don’t think that the job of data scientist existed—I know that social media specialists didn’t. Most of the children entering pre-school this year probably won’t enter the workforce until the mid-2030s. How can we prepare them for jobs that we don’t even know about yet? We need to teach them problem solving skills and encourage and empower them to innovate. And technology has a huge role to play in that.
I wonder what today’s kids would make of it if their teachers pulled out an overhead projector in class? It was a default in my childhood, but would probably look like an ancient relic to them. And the next generation of kids will probably think the same about tablets and 2D video calls. Virtual reality is already starting to appear in the classroom, and that’s opening up incredible new ways to learn.
But that’s not all, technology is also improving access to education. There are apps for just about everything and an amazing range of online learning resources. You can now take an MIT course whether you live in Cambridge, UK or Cambridge, Australia. Billions of people now have the opportunity to try new things and learn new skills: from basket weaving to advanced math. This is helping children find what Sir Ken Robinson calls their “element”—the thing that they love and are great at—and achieve their full potential.
From health to wellbeing
My reason for attending the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh event was to donate two more VGos on behalf of Verizon. These are remote-presence remote-controlled robots with cameras, microphones and video screens connected over the Verizon network. They enable the children who are patients there to attend classes or visit places virtually, while physically in the hospital or house-bound. The feedback on our previous donation was that this can make a world of difference for children with serious health conditions. It can help them to stay connected to their friends, family, classmates and others, which is great for their development and their self-confidence.
Technology can also help kids with chronic conditions. Children with diabetes can now have an insulin pump fitted that tracks their sugar level automatically, and warns them and their parents if it reaches a defined threshold. There are also intelligent teddy bears that can teach children how to manage this and other long term conditions. This can help children lead a more normal life and achieve more.
Of course, it’s not just about when things go wrong. There are also many ways that technology can benefit everyday wellbeing, including tracking fitness and monitoring vital statistics like heart rate and blood pressure. There’s even an artificial intelligence app that can help detect when a child is stressed and notify their parents that they need attention.
Equal education opportunities
There are over 4 million jobs in science and tech and that number is growing. But our youth needs access to education and resources to develop the skills needed to get these jobs and reach their potential. We need to make education, particularly in STEM subjects, better and more readily available to children regardless of their background or physical abilities.
While plenty of excellent online learning tools already exist — many of which are free, like Khan Academy — we need to do more to help give children access to them. Because how can a child take a free online course to improve their math skills if they don’t have a computer or a network connection?
At Verizon, we’re doing our part to give more children from all backgrounds, abilities, and physical abilities access to what they need to succeed. The Verizon Innovative Learning program provides free technology and immersive, hands-on learning experiences to students and teachers from disadvantaged communities across the US. This is giving children who otherwise wouldn’t have access a better chance of getting the challenging, well-paid jobs of tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can achieve: from amazing medical advances to visiting another planet, even the sky isn’t a limit.
by Jacob Heinz, Executive Marketing Director at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @jlheinz
Working with people in other offices—whether that’s the other side of the country or the other side of the world—is a reality for most of us now. It might be a distant branch, a home worker, corporate headquarters, or an overseas supplier. The pace of modern business means that we can’t wait to see people face-to-face—that would be massively expensive too—and sometimes email just doesn’t cut it.
94% say video collaboration increases productivity.
But we’ve all suffered bad online meetings, right? People scrabbling around under the table for the right cable, noisy mobile connections, the list goes on and on. Only the other day a friend was telling me how the post-merger integration project she’s been working on has been held up by problems doing something as simple as sharing a large file. She reckoned that close to half of each meeting has been wasted. It’s such a common experience that it’s been parodied many times—like in this great video.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Good technology isn’t a “nice to have”
We all have fantastic communication tools at our fingertips these days. Smartphone messaging and videocalling apps are now incredibly powerful and easy to use. That’s why when we—especially the millennials among us—come across outdated collaboration tools we find it so shocking.
So why are business collaboration tools still such a laughing stock? The answer is that they’re not—at least not all of them. If you’re still suffering from a bad user-experience then it’s time to upgrade. The days of hunting around for dial-in numbers, poor-quality audio or video, and cumbersome reservation systems are gone.
By 2020, the majority of the workforce will be millennials.
It’s not only staff productivity and morale that can be affected by not keeping up. If your technology is out of date then you’re going to struggle to recruit the best new talent. These days candidates aren’t just looking at your latest earnings figures, they want to know about your culture too. And if you haven’t invested in the technology that they expect, then it might be them sending the “thanks, but no thanks” email.
The answer is out there
There’s no need to put up with technology that wastes your time and gets in the way of you achieving great things. There’s no need to leave your desk, the tools available on the desktop are now pretty impressive. And it’s not just the big screen, you can do a lot on your smartphone—including sharing applications.
Services like video conferencing have become much better as connectivity and network management have improved, but some of the biggest improvements have been in the user experience:
- “Call me” services eliminate the need to scrabble around for dial-in numbers.
- Screen sharing and whiteboarding are now easier to setup and more intuitive to use.
- Instant meetings and personal meeting rooms make it a piece of cake to start an impromptu meeting.
- And capabilities are expanding all the time. Products like Microsoft Surface Hub and Google Jamboard mean that conferencing can be almost like being in the room.
So what’s holding you back?
The technology is there, but implementing it well takes skills that many businesses don’t have. And no matter how good the technology, a bad implemention can damage return on investment. That’s where a specialist IT services provider, like a Verizon partner, can add tremendous value. Their experience can help you accelerate deployment, avoid common problems and build better a better user experience.
by Jay Coblentz, Executive Marketing Director at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @strategyJC
There’s rarely been a day in the last few months when I haven’t seen an article about how many jobs will be impacted or replaced by robots in the coming years. Some of the predictions may sound far-fetched, but the kids entering education now won’t be joining the workforce until approximately 2030. Think about that. By that time, I’m expecting autonomous flying cars and home 3-D printers to be widely available. We’re educating kids for a world that we can barely imagine.
But change can also bring opportunity. Technology is already transforming where, when and how we learn.
Making learning part of our daily routine
The internet has totally changed education. When I think back to how I researched projects and papers in college it seems positively antiquated. The volume of information that we all have at our fingertips now would have been mind-boggling not very long ago.
It’s not just academic information. Now when faced with a new challenge—like fixing a broken faucet or setting up a home security system (IoT, anyone?) —my first instinct is to look for an online video tutorial. Within seconds I can have the guidance I need right in the palm of my hand, almost anywhere I am.
The smartphone is also bringing learning into our everyday lives through gamification—the application of game-like ideas, like awarding points and achieving rewards, to increase motivation. It used to be that you’d have to pay a tutor or attend night school to learn a new language. Today, we’re spoiled with the range of apps available to learn this and other life skills at the pace we prefer and the location of our choosing. I can brush up on my Italian while waiting in line for my espresso fix. And because I can choose to compete with family and friends, I’m more likely to complete the course. Not that I’m competitive or anything.
Giving everybody access to greater quality education
Most of us have had at least one great teacher that inspired us. But unfortunately, not every learning experience is like that. What if every student could go to one of the greatest universities and learn from the best teachers? Many of the things that used to be a barrier in the past—like distance or money —are no longer as much of an obstacle.
Many educational institutions, including some of the best universities in the world, are already making many courses available online. This is enabling them to reach significantly more students. Online learning isn’t new, but the richness of the experience that’s now possible is incredible. Immersive video-conferencing services mean that attending online is a lot more like being there in-person, and is becoming more interactive every year. You won’t be safe from a cold call on your tablet for long.
And this is enriching peoples’ lives. Take a boy with spina bifida, for example. Attending school in the traditional sense would be impossible, but if he were home-schooled, he’d miss out on many of the important social aspects of education. With the help of technology, he is able to overcome many of those challenges by attending school virtually. Using a special robot, he can follow lessons, answer questions in class, and even chat with his friends.
In a year or two this experience could be even more immersive, as mixed reality becomes commonplace. Imagine being able to put on a headset and instantly be transported to a class given by a world-class educator. You might be in a class of thousands, but everybody could have a front-row seat. And why limit yourself to a classroom at all? There’s no reason why your class on gas giants couldn’t be held on Jupiter—virtually at least.
Of course, that means that education providers are going to have to invest in IT and recruiting technology savvy employees. In the marketplace of ideas, if they don’t embrace digital education, they risk falling behind and becoming obsolete.
Turning learning into a life-long experience
To keep pace with the changing world we’re all going to have to keep learning throughout our lives. In the past, that might have meant going on the occasional training course or being forced to sit through a tiresome computer-based training session. The compromise between quality and cost for continuing education is being reduced through technology.
Whether it’s an ad hoc team meeting or a planned training session, you can now get together with colleagues around the world without the inconvenience or expense of travel. As well as audio and video conferencing, there’s a growing range of ways to collaborate using the web. The miniaturization of devices and near ubiquity of high-quality connectivity means that an expert need never be far away.
Many manufacturers and utilities have experimented using headsets to provide workers with instant access to technical information. Some solutions even allow you to contact a fellow employee with just a tap or two. Imagine being able to have an expert right next to you, whether you’re atop a jumbo jet or servicing a pipeline a hundred miles from anywhere. That’s possible right now.
It’s a brave new world
As I think about my 5-year-old heading off to kindergarten, I’m truly excited about the future of education and learning. I’m looking forward to working with educators to discover new ways that technology, and particularly connectivity, can create better learning opportunities for everyone.