Takeaways from Cisco’s Customer Care Analyst Event
Last week, I attended Cisco’s annual Customer Care Analyst event in Montreal, and it’s a rare occasion where a vendor event is focused solely on us. This made for a small, but highly focused group of analysts, and being the only UCStrategies Expert there, I’m providing exclusive perspectives here for our readers.
Much of the content is not for public consumption, so I can only share high-level takeaways. While Cisco is a market leader in the UC&C space that we follow so closely here, they are also emerging as a leading player in the more unsettled contact center space. This is worth noting for two reasons.
First, the status quo among the major players is rather shaky, and this presents a great opportunity for Cisco. They have the financial stability and R&D heft to re-imagine this space on their own terms regardless of what the competition is doing. I’d say they’ve largely succeeded, and one way of doing that is to change the narrative by focusing on customer care rather than the contact center.
As with all the talk these days about customer experience, they’re building the value proposition around business outcomes – taking care of the customer, regardless of what the problem is – rather than the process of delivering that care via all the complex technology used in the contact center.
Secondly, delivering great customer care goes beyond the contact center, and that brings us closer to the orbit of UC&C. I’m not alone in advocating the benefits of integrating the contact center with UC, and this is a big part of the omnichannel story. Increasingly, agents need to rely on input from across the organization to support customers, and this is where UC really earns its keep. Cisco is already there with UC, and in Montreal, we got a closer look at how they want to take customer care to the next level.
Connecting Digital Transformation to the Contact Center
It’s still 9 am in terms of talking about digital transformation, and already the term feels over-used. True enough, but get used to it – we have a long way to go. Chris Botting set the stage early by citing a disconnect they often see with customers. He explained that within enterprises, digital transformation initiatives usually come from outside the contact center, as they are focused on internal improvements. However, improving the customer experience - CX - is a top priority for management. Being an external issue, they don’t intuitively associate CX with their digital transformation priorities.
The Cisco view, of course, is exactly the opposite, and if you believe that today’s tech-savvy customers are ahead of enterprises on the digital transformation curve, then you’d really have to side with Cisco, as I do. After all, the push for omnichannel comes from a need to help agents close that gap, and the thinking is the same for integrating the contact center with UC. If CX really is such a top business priority, it’s hard to see how enterprises will have success here unless the contact center is part of their digital transformation plans.
Chris further explained that the workload of agents is getting more complex, and that’s not changing any time soon. Rather than hire more agents, contact centers are relying more on automation to make their job more manageable. Given that digital transformation is largely about automation, it should be clearer now as to why Cisco views the contact center as central to these initiatives. With the contact center increasingly serving as the front door for your business, CX is bigger than just keeping customers happy, and it’s simply too important to not be part of the digital transformation conversation.
Eliminating “who are you and why are you calling?”
Tod Famous cited this as a key objective of their customer care focus, and it really reflects the essence of what Cisco covered during the event. A key aspect of today’s heightened customer expectations is the desire for personalized service along with feeling valued as a customer. The legacy approach to managing inquiries is for customers to initially engage with an IVR tree that may or may not get you to a live agent – and if you do, the process usually needs to be repeated all over again. This does nothing to address those heightened expectations, and is exactly what Cisco is getting at with their solution, Spark Care.
Rather than talk about their various flavors of Spark Care – of which there are many – I’d rather focus on how they’re tying AI, machine learning, chatbots and messaging into a more engaged model of customer service. This model is built about what they call “conversational experiences,” and while digital transformation may largely be about automation and cost reduction, it can also be used to improve CX, and that’s what Cisco is getting at here.
The main idea is to have a two-way dialog based on conversation where intelligent questions are asked not just to refine the need, but also help the customer identify what they really want. With AI and machine learning, this dialog can very much be managed by chatbots – automation – at least to the point where an agent can take over when the conversation becomes highly personal. Instead of having customers navigate IVR menus or fill out impersonal query forms, chatbots can get to the root of the problem right away by simply asking “how can I help you?”
This conversational approach is a radical departure from the legacy model where the customer has to jump through many hoops before talking to an agent. To the extent that these hoops miss the mark in trying to identify – or guess – what the problem is, the customer doesn’t feel valued, especially since they have to expend all this effort just to get some human attention.
By starting off instead with direct conversation, the customer has a chance to own the process from the outset by leading the conversation rather than following the guessing game of 20 questions from a pre-programmed IVR tree. When that happens, the customer is more engaged, and will in fact, provide more revealing answers that allow chatbots to more quickly route them to the exact person best able to help them complete the interaction.
The key to all this is context, and that’s where AI and machine learning play a central role in building a knowledge base over time that allows chatbots to more accurately anticipate how customers will respond, as well as what questions to ask. In short, when agents don’t have to ask “who are you and why are you calling?” – sometimes over and over – they stand a far better chance of getting to the real problem right away, at which point the resolution is better and faster than what was possible with legacy platforms. Spark Care isn’t alone in pursuing this path, but it’s certainly on the leading edge of where customer care is going, and is a good example of what Cisco is doing to become the market leader despite being a late starter.
Time will tell, but since they lack the baggage of being a legacy provider, they can focus solely on leveraging AI and ML to take customer care to the next level. As we heard from one of their partners, legacy vendors have been slow to innovate, and with the market changing so quickly, enterprises need partners that can help them keep up with the changing expectations of their customers. It sounds like Cisco is listening carefully, and they understand the need to draw from across the entire organization to provide the context needed for the solutions that today’s customers are looking for.