Why Artificial Intelligence is an Agent’s New Best Friend

Let’s face it. The job of a customer service agent is not an easy job. In a typical contact center, agents are on the phone or communicating through other channels; email, text, web chat, Facebook Messenger, WeChat… When customers reach out to an agent, they need help and are often upset. They may be asking about a lost bag or debit card, a flight that was canceled or a delayed package.

What’s important to remember is customer service agents dedicate their daily professional career to helping people solve these problems. As a company’s brand ambassadors, they are the guardians of a business’s customer relationships. A customer’s impression of a company is directly related to their experience with the contact center and its agents. And since customer experience directly affects revenue, it’s about time an agent’s job got a little easier and more enjoyable so they can better serve the customer.

Unfortunately, in many contacts centers, customer service agents are asked to do more with less and do without the best technology. Imagine taking a calculator away from an accountant? They couldn’t do their job to the best of their ability. When we don’t provide agents with the best technology, they can’t possibly meet customer expectations. The result? Poor CSAT and agent attrition, which is very costly and part of what gives contact centers the black eye of being a cost center. It’s time things changed for both the agent and Customer Service departments.

Enter Artificial Intelligence (AI.) There’s a lot of hype about how AI is going to shape the future. It’s often portrayed in Hollywood as robots taking over the world and at the very least, replacing jobs. The truth about AI and machine learning is that when it’s implemented responsibly it actually allows humans to focus on the type of work they actually enjoy. Take for instance the factory floor. During the Industrial Revolution, automated machines began doing the repetitive tasks human get bored with. There are still many people working in factories, but with automation, people can focus on performing critical jobs where their intelligence is required.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technologies like AI are driving change, the trend for contact centers is similar. Rather than taking jobs away, AI is blending the best of human intelligence with AI, to provide improved, seamless experiences and at the same time improve agent’s job satisfaction.

How does AI help customer service agents? First, AI bots take the burden off agents with intelligent, satisfying self-service by resolving routine customer requests. And when a customer wants to talk to an agent, the hand-off is easy. The interaction with the bot is transferred into the agent console so the customers don’t have to repeat what they did with the bot. This reduces agent’s average handle time because all the agent has all the customer interaction history. And first contact resolution is increased because the agent can quickly resolve the issue with the proper information and context. All of this adds up to increased agent job satisfaction and morale by off-loading routine, boring requests to the AI bot.

Now let’s say a customer wants to talk directly to an agent without interacting with an AI bot. AI prioritizes and classifies cases to help your agents quickly understand what the customer needs to provide a more effective and efficient experience. AI collects information about the customer and the context of their request resulting in a more connected, personalized experience. And AI increases agent productivity with a world-class, omnichannel service experience with full context to customer’s request.

As a result, agents have a sense of accomplishment by working on more challenging customer issues because the AI bots handle the routine questions. And when agents directly help customers, they are able to build loyal relationships because they are enabled by the best technology possible. And at the end of the day, the customer, their needs and exceeding their expectations is what great customer service is about. That’s all a customer service agent wants to do and it’s time contact centers gave the best possible technology to make this real.

@DrNatalie, Service Cloud, Salesforce

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Birst Marketing Analytics Paints a Complete Picture of the Customer Journey

Today’s marketing technology landscape represents a whopping 947 different companies that provide software for marketers, focused on specific functions such as marketing automation, web data analysis or customer relationship management. What this means is that the job of the CMO and Marketer has become increasing complex. The other issue is that often the technology decisions in a company used to be made by IT are now being made by the line of business, or in this case in Marketing.

With the role of IT changing, and Marketers choosing their own line-of-business technology themselves, this has shifted the overall landscape of how technology is chosen, implemented and maintained. Another issue is that not enough CEO’s really understanding the strategic value of marketing and analytics to the point that they themselves are engaged in the decision making process – i.e., choosing the right technology for their organization and / or using the information about their customers to transform their products and services. What’s really required as part of doing business in 2015 is a shift in the overall business’s business model to a more digitally transformed business where all levels of executives are involved in not only the selection but also the use of the data and analytics to make better business decisions.

The Birst Marketing Analytics Accelerator simplifies this increasingly complex marketing landscape by bringing in data together from multiple data sources and embedding the insights into every marketing decision — all using a single platform. Birst provides marketing data readily available in user-ready formats so that marketers can intelligently navigate the customer journey.

Marketers not only focus on nurturing new prospects, but also building loyalty and retention strategies. This means that they are not only responsible for acquiring customers, but also keeping them. However, leveraging data to be able to do all that has become increasingly complex with marketers drowning in a sea of technology solutions.

Brad Peters, Chairman and Chief Product Officer of Birst says, “With Birst’s Marketing Analytics Accelerator marketers can link the various contact points along the market journey of their prospects and customers, which often spans multiple applications, to create a complete picture of how customers are found, sold and on-boarded. We are making it easier than ever to put valuable insights into the hands of marketers to not only improve effectiveness, but to quantify value.”

2015 will be the year that companies either make the decision to go forward with the digital transformation or be left behind. It’s a very important decision that should not be overlooked by CEO’s, CIOs, CTO’s, CFO’s and CMO’s as well as Customer Service Professionals. It may even mean that a whole new role, something like a Chief Digital Officer, is created for every brand and that is the person who pulls all the “old” various roles together to help them see how their role should transform as well as how the company or brand should shift their business model to a more digitally oriented business model, where customer data, at every touchpoint is used to make better business decisions. This requires that the senior leadership team recognize this need and step-up to the plate and make it happen within their organization.

@drnatalie

VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research

Covering Marketing, Sales and Customer Service to create Great Customer Experiences

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How A Start-up Grows and Becomes so Big They Need CRM To Increase Sales and Reduce Costs

Trek Bicycle began was founded in 1976 by Richard Burke, president of flooring and appliance distributor Roth, and Bevill Hogg, owner of a chain of bike stores. With $25,000 in seed money from Roth’s parent company, Intrepid, Trek started to build bikes by hand in a Waterloo, Wisconsin barnTrek Bicycle began was founded in 1976 by Richard Burke, president of flooring and appliance distributor Roth, and Bevill Hogg, owner of a chain of bike stores. With $25,000 in seed money from Roth’s parent company, Intrepid, Trek started to build bikes by hand in a Waterloo, Wisconsin barn.

Today, Trek designs and develops its bikes at its worldwide headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin or at its design facility in the Netherlands. The manufacturing of its bikes takes place in the U.S. and Asia (under Trek oversight), with select town bikes assembled in Hartmansdorff, Germany. Trek Bicycle sells its bikes around the world through about 1,700 retailers in North America, subsidiaries in Asia and Europe, and distributors in 90 countries. Trek’s 2011 sales totaled more than $800 million. The company sold 1.5 million bikes worldwide that year. Richard Burke’s son, John, runs the company as president.

From its beginning, Trek targeted the prestige bike market. The firm introduced its first mountain bike line in 1983 and the first bonded-aluminum road bike — the Trek 2000 — in 1985. The lightweight Trek 2000 was greeted enthusiastically by serious riders. This was followed by a carbon fiber road bike in 1986. Hogg departed from the company in 1986. And Burke, who had held an advisory role, took over day-to-day operations and presided over the company’s return to profitability.

Amid a U.S. bike industry slump in the early 1990’s, Trek focused on overseas sales and overcame European snobbery toward American bikes. It also moved into accessories and began manufacturing helmets in 1993. That year, the company bought Gary Fisher Mountain Bike, founded by the inventor of the mountain bike. Trek bought two more mountain biking competitors, Bontrager and Klein, in 1995.

“We wanted to spend less time managing servers and infrastructure and more time developing features which provide value to our customers.”Adam Salvo, Development Operations Manager, Trek Bicycle Corp.

Intrepid, Trek’s parent company, changed its name to Trek in the latter half of the 1990s as the company divested itself of its non-biking businesses. In 1997, Burke’s son, John, became president of the bike company. In around 1989 also Trek expanded into foreign markets, opening subsidiary offices in the UK and in Germany. To increase production efficiency, Trek stopped bonding its aluminum bikes in 1998, adopting the more common practice of welding .

In June 2002, the company’s president was appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Seeking to further boost its European presence, the company purchased the bike division of Villiger, a diversified Swiss company, later that year. The purchase included bicycle factories in Switzerland and Germany.

Although it’s a global leader in bicycles, Trek maintains the spirit of a small company. This includes its close-knit, collaborative staff and independent bike shops that sell Trek bikes and gear. These trusted partnerships are the backbone of Trek’s business model. When sales reps leave or retire, it can take years to rebuild the depth of knowledge and the rapport that the reps had established with the bike shops in their territory.

“In my job, there are always a couple of things I am trying to kill: bad process and hardware. Microsoft has helped us to do that. The less stuff I have to manage, the more time I have to focus on the important things in life.” David Peterson, Enterprise Collaboration Manager, Trek Bicycle Corp.

Ultimately, Trek’s success depends on close, supportive relationships between its sales reps and the owners of the stores it sells through. Trek is committed to its 5,000 independent bicycle retailers around the world. To support them, Trek offers an Ascend retail management system that manages inventory, places orders for parts, tracks work orders and processes customer’s purchases.

Trek worked with a data center provider to operate and support these services. As the company grew, supporting these services got more expensive and complicated, requiring more servers and IT staff at both Trek and the data center. This began increasing operating costs. And it could take from two to six weeks to install a new server at the data center, which was not fast enough to easily scale with demand for bikes.

But with so much information coming in, the bicycle maker realized it needed a more efficient and effective way to capture and manage the wealth of information its sales reps accumulated as well as to facilitate employee collaboration that would result in better customer experiences, loyalty, advocacy and referrals.

So Trek decided to make some changes to how they did business so they could have a more complete picture of customers and their data and as a result, they could provide better customer experiences and service.

Integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and other enterprise data sources, including Trek’s JDE ERP system, has helped develop a more complete picture of Trek’s retailers and customers, while the introduction of Yammer has enabled people to collaborate within Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online—replacing email and instant messaging for certain workgroups. And Microsoft Dynamics Integrated CRM Solution helped Trek to support sales reps in bringing all of their customer information into one place, standardizing workflows, and making it quicker and easier for its employees to find vital information.

Trek was also able to improve web sales and customer service by connecting Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online to its public website, where the system captures customer inquiries from a Web form and routes them to the appropriate technical representative. The automated workflow attached to these forms has reduced response times from two weeks to only a few hours, increasing customer satisfaction.

There’s lot’s more that David Peterson’s team did… so make sure to get the full report!

@drnatalie

VP and Principle Analyst, Constellation Research, Connecting Marketing, Sales and Customer Service Through Great Customer Experiences

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    • Dr. Natalie is a business strategist and a futurist. She has spent her careers looking about how businesses interact with their customers and their employees and she provides companies with the best way to create environments that foster loyatly, motivation and innovation.