Cisco Customer Collaboration Summit – Two Messages for UC
I am just back from Cisco’s 2015 Americas Customer Collaboration Summit in Austin, TX. While the focus is primarily on the contact center, there were relevant themes for UC, and I’m going to touch on two here. Like UC, the contact center space is being redefined by new technologies and business models, and by virtue of the latter’s deeper roots, UCStrategies followers should pay heed to how companies like Cisco are responding.
Theme #1 - Reimagining Customer Care
Providing great customer service is much harder to do than it looks, and same applies to delivering a great UC experience. The challenge for both really is two-fold. First, the technologies are evolving faster than our ability to adapt, and businesses struggle in many ways to acquire and leverage these new capabilities. Secondly, consumers/customers have generally adopted these technologies faster than businesses, and with that come higher expectations. In the contact center, that impacts customer satisfaction, and with UC, it means that employees will stick with the standalone communications applications that serve them well instead of embracing the vision of UC where everyone uses the same tools.
On that note, reimagining customer care was a central theme of Cisco’s event. For too long, enterprises have not tied their customer care strategy to business-level priorities around growing revenues and profits. Competition is relentless and customer loyalty is diminishing, and enterprises are now seeing the value of connecting these business drivers. The process of reimagining has given rise to omnichannel as the new model for addressing these needs.
Omnichannel is an evolution from multichannel much like how UC is an evolution from Unified Messaging. These new concepts are more powerful than what came before, but also more complex both technology-wise and in terms of showing clear business value. For these reasons, omnichannel is difficult to sell into an enterprise, and that should have a familiar ring to UC vendors.
A key challenge raised in the sessions is the ability to identify shared objectives across the various lines of business that omnichannel impacts. Customer care isn’t owned solely by the contact center, as their interactions with customers have implications for Sales, Marketing, R&D, etc. Omnichannel allows agents to seamlessly draw information from all these silos to deliver a great experience to keep customers satisfied. Once that shared objective is in place, it becomes much easier to get both business-level buy-in and budget for omnichannel. In short, when the contact center performs well, sales should rise, brand recognition should flourish and product innovation will meet customer needs better than ever before.
The key here is that Cisco is having great success by focusing on outcome-based selling rather than solution-based selling. Multichannel applies to the latter – it’s really a technology-based sale, and not directly tied to business outcomes. Omnichannel is the exact opposite – built on a consensus around business outcomes that all stakeholders agree to. They all want top-line growth, and Cisco’s customer care vision enables this outcome by delivering experiences that improve customer satisfaction and retention.
While outcome-based selling isn’t new, it is a more effective approach for complex offerings like omnichannel. Whether selling directly or through channels, the same holds for UC. Too often, UC is positioned as a technology solution, but the real value comes from driving outcomes that are horizontal in nature. All employees want to be more productive, and management wants teams to collaborate more effectively. Those are shared objectives and outcomes that resonate with management, and takes UC beyond the domain of IT. That’s how I would reimagine UC, and if you’re not seeing the traction you expected, you should think about doing the same.
Theme #2 – Markets in Transition
This certainly holds for both the contact center and UC, and Cisco made it clear where the risks lie. Omnichannel elevates the contact center in new ways, making this space more difficult to define as well as measure. Agents no longer just resolve problems, and they cannot only be reactive. To deliver the outcome of satisfied customers, they need to build and manage relationships as well as be proactive to anticipate problems before they become pain points. To do that, they must be empowered with the same communications channels as customers and have access to enough data to address customer needs in the moment.
There’s a powerful vision being sold here, but the underlying technologies are not just in the domain of the leading contact center vendors. In Cisco’s eyes, this means Avaya, Genesys and Interactive Intelligence, but there are others that bear watching. As a matter of course, they have to compete with the established players, but as the cloud matures, viable PaaS competitors can come from anywhere.
The traditional competencies of this space do not make for a complete solution today, and increasingly the value will come from vendors that can leverage cloud platforms, social channels and Big Data. We heard a lot about how critical analytics is becoming to manage all the customer data that comes from digital channels. To compete effectively, this is where the expertise needs to come from, and Cisco isn’t ruling anyone out. Twilio was cited as a prime example of a disruptor that could potentially impact the landscape, and in some ways needs to be watched more closely than the competitors already in your back yard.
UC faces similar transitions with the cloud, and we have already seen how non-traditional collaboration platforms like Slack, Flock and Fuze can present alternatives that certain segments of the market will embrace. Just like the definition of a great customer experience is evolving, the same can be said for what constitutes UC as well as everyday forms of collaboration. Both vendors and channels struggle with this, and more than ever, the leading UC players need to spread their radar beyond the known landscape as this transition will be with us for some time to come.
Cisco definitely has both eyes wide open, and to support their evolving contact center portfolio, they have developed a strong partner ecosystem, both with household names and emerging niche players (names under NDA, sorry). The takeaway here for me is that UC vendors need to follow the same approach and make sure they stay close to the bleeding edge, otherwise these transitions will pass them by entirely.