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Those of us who have been in the technology industry for many years remember the phrase “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Then IBM was both a hardware and a system software vendor, and most IT managers new that hardly anyone would question a decision to go with IBM. These days IBM has done extensive marketing to make itself known for everything “smart” – planets, cities, commerce and of course technology. While its website suggests it offers a limited number of software products, in fact IBM is one of the largest providers software and is committed to innovation. David Stokes, CEO of the U.K. and Ireland division, kicked off its recent U.K. BusinessConnect event by reminding the audience that IBM is driven by three fundamentals – data, the cloud and security.

Regarding the first he pointed out that there are ever growing masses of data and almost limitless things a business can do with it. He illustrated these statement through “interviews” with executives from the U.K. Rugby Football Union and Wimbledon. I have always been surprised by the multitude of statistics commentators give during a game of rugby, and I wasn’t wrong that the number of them seems to be growing: Each player wears a transponder that collects information about every move he makes and sends it in real time for analysis. Then in the same way as tools can analyze and predict machine performance, specialist IBM software can do the same for players – how far they run, in what direction, how many calories they burn, their impact during tackles, how their performance compares to previous performances, the likely impact of a drop in specific metrics and many others. Indeed someone in the audience commented that perhaps games are becoming analyzed too much and we should “just let players get on with it” – something I suspect will never happen as the trend moves in the other direction. Also during the discussion, the phrase “Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it” came up; I will come back to this comment.

The sports examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Car manufacturers can now collect and analyze all the data produced by their vehicles. Using smart IBM analytics they can predict when a car might break down and advise the owner to take it to the shop to fix the problem before it happens. Perhaps the data could show a car speeding and automatically restrict its speed; here is an instance of whether we should do that. An example of how data and analysis can make peoples’ jobs easier was an IBM customer that spent an eight-figure sum to enable data to be collected from all the oil rigs it owns. The results are shown through what the speaker described as one of the world’s most expensive mobile apps as action icons on appropriate employees’ iPads. Also I recently covered the IBM Engagement Manager, which by collecting vast amounts of data and using Watson analytics on it, enables consumers to self-serve more easily and accurately through a mobile app. All of these, illustrate what you can do if you can collect enough data and apply smart analytics.

The cloud has become a key driver for many vendors, and IBM is no different; It recently announced the addition of 12 new cloud data centers. This is perhaps a timely reminder that the foundation of cloud computing actually has little to do with “clouds” – it is really about having data centers where organizations can have their applications hosted, or a vendor having its applications hosted, which users access via the Internet, or vendors providing services based on applications running at remote sites. The key for many organizations is whether those sites, applications and the data are secure, how reliable the service is and how much it costs. The key for me is the applications themselves. Cloud-based applications and services allow companies of all sizes to access and use some of the most innovative software without having highly IT skilled employees to make it possible.

As I said, security is one of most-often cited concerns for organizations as they investigate cloud computing. IBM addresses this issue directly and has developed software and services that can help alleviate companies’ concerns, not just for cloud computing but on-premises as well.

vr_NGCE_Research_01_impetus_for_improving_engagementOne of the breakout tracks at the event was customer engagement, which is of particular interest to me and which IBM increasingly is focusing on.  A smart move as our benchmark research on customer engagement finds that that improving customer experience is top driver for 74 percent of organizations. One session included presentations from IBM clients and partners discussing how they are using data, analytics and the cloud not only to improve the customer experience but also to reinvent their business models to alter the whole experience. Two examples made the points. One company asked why we need credit cards. The speaker made his point using the following example: If you eat out, at the end of meal you ask for a bill, which typically comes in printed form. Most people examine it, and if it is correct, hand over a credit card that is inserted into a reader. The customers type in the security code and later the payment turns up on the credit card statement, which people may authorize to be paid out of their bank account. The point is that this is a long, tortuous process, which incidentally adds costs at each step. This scenario could replace it: You ask for the bill, it is texted to you, you hit the button on your cell phone authorizing payment, and later the amount is taken from your bank account. Another example goes even deeper into your personal life. A system recognizes you catch the same train to work every day; one day the service is severely delayed, so you get a text advising you of this, suggesting perhaps an alternate means of travel. This can be done now, but again we might ask, should it be done?

These and numerous other examples make clear that there is a lot of data out there already and that machines we use are generating more and more of it. It can be and is being captured and analyzed. The analysis can change a business process, a product design, a customer experience, marketing messages, indeed almost anything. It can help companies reinvent their businesses. As regards the question, should I do it? I am sure that to survive and prosper, businesses at least have to understand what is possible with these masses of data and advanced analytics. IBM has tools that make many things possible and is investing to make them even more capable and readily available. I recommend you investigate how these tools can help you innovate your business, while taking into account how your employees and customers might react to this appetite for information.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Today companies handle an increasing number of customer interactions and they do this through a greater number and variety of communication channels, and by using more employees that are dispersed throughout the organization. Managing the pool of agents in a contact center has always proved a complex task and this is made more complex as interactions are now handled by most lines of business (marketing, sales, customer service, finance, HR, home workers and mobile workers). To do this many companies have deployed what collectively is called workforce optimization (WFO) systems: interaction recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, training and coaching, compensation management and reporting/analytics. My benchmark research into Next Generation WFO set out to discover what people, process, information and systems companies are using, the benefits they have gained, future plans to change and what barriers are holding back those changes.

Overall the benchmark shows a mixed level of maturity in those Untitledcompanies that responded to our survey. Overall our maturity model shows 47% of companies at the lowest Tactical level, 23% t the next Advanced level, 17% at the Strategic level and 13% at our highest Innovative level. Closer examination shows that companies are least mature in the use of Information (54% at the Tactical level) and Technology (50% Tactical), with People (34%) and Process (30%) both significantly less immature. This is reflected in the number of companies at the Innovative level with People at 19%, Technology 15%, Process 14% and Information least innovative with only 6% at the Innovative level. Overall the maturity models shows us that companies are not yet taking full advantage of the latest WFO systems to revise their performance metrics, and make even more improvements to their processes and people.

vr_NGWO2_03_key_agent_metrics_usedThe lack of maturity in the use of information is highlighted in the metrics companies use to monitor and assess agent, contact center and interaction handling performance. The benchmark shows that four of the top five most popular metrics relate to operation efficiency: average length of a call, number of calls handled, quality scores and average time to complete after call work. While these metrics are important because they have a direct impact on costs, it is disappointing to see it is only the fifth most popular metric that relates to customers and the outcome of interactions: customer satisfaction. The results also raise questions over the level of hype surrounding newer metrics such as net promoter and customer effort scores which are 9th and 12th in the list of seventeen we included in the survey. Overall I conclude that despite claims to the contrary, the majority of companies are still focused on operational efficiency and reducing the operational costs of handling interactions and are less concerned about the outcome of interactions and the possible consequences.

This conflict is highlighted further by examining two other key vr_NGWO2_01_drivers_for_improving_agent_performancequestions: drivers for improving agent performance and companies’ priorities for improving interaction handling. The top drivers are mostly customer-focused and relate to improving outcomes, while the priorities are more about improving operational efficiency and reducing the cost of handling interactions. The two top drivers are to improve the customer experience (86%) and customer satisfaction (72%), while the third, increase first contact resolution rates (44%) relates to operational efficiency and outcomes as any improvement will reduce operational costs (less call backs) and make customers happier as everyone have come to expect their issues addressed at the first attempt. Balancing these requirements is likely to be a struggle for most companies because on average companies are seeking to improve on average in almost six areas and the conflicts continue with other drivers ranging from increasing agent utilization (6th out of 14), increasing sales (10th), and satisfying regulatory requirements (13th).

However the real conflict arises when you compare these drivers with companies’ priorities. Based on first choices, three of the top vr_NGWO2_02_reasons_to_improve_interaction_handlingfour all relate to efficiency and reducing the cost of interacting with customers: direct customers to self-service to avoid the cost of handling call by a live agent (27%), optimizing agent utilization (15%) so agents spend more of their time handling interactions, improve agent training (9%) so it is less generic and more focused on individual agent needs. Agent satisfaction rates joint forth but it is only the fifth highest priority that in any way realities to customers: route calls to best agent, which if achieved is likely to improve the opportunity to resolve the interaction at the first attempt and thus result in the desired outcome. Given the low level of maturity relating to information, it is pleasing to see that improving the production of metrics and utilizing more agent-related both feature in the list of priorities.

In one role or another I have been involved in the contact center industry for over 25 years and it would be easy to say the results of this benchmark show that things haven’t changed a great deal in that time, and indeed there is a great deal of truth in this. However analysis of what systems companies plan to deploy gives me hope that at long last companies realize the customer experience is of paramount importance, and insights from other consumer research that show one bad experience can drive a customer away are at last having an impact. One significant change is the importance being placed on using new forms of analytics that allow companies to improve the process of producing reports, analysis and dashboards based on more sources of data, and as a consequence make it easier to produce more customer and outcome-focused metrics. This will show where companies need to take action and more companies adopting next generation WFO systems that support improved processes and join up interaction-related activities.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director – Customer

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