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Navigating the CX Maturity Journey with Customer-Centric Excellence

Navigating the CX Maturity Journey with Customer-Centric Excellence

In this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, The Futurum Group’s Enterprise Applications Research Director Keith Kirkpatrick is joined by Gina Whitty, Product Management, CCaaS + AI at GoTo, about the challenges faced by SMBs and mid-market companies that are trying to undergo a digital transformation, and discusses the maturity journey involved with improving CX delivery via the use of generative AI, omnichannel engagement, and automation.

For more information on GoTo, please visit the company’s website. Download a copy of our Research Brief, done in partnership with GoTo: Prioritizing EX and CX Via Digital Transformation and AI, here.

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Transcript:

Keith Kirkpatrick: Welcome to another episode of the Futurum Tech podcast. I’m your host, Keith Kirkpatrick, Research Director, enterprise applications with The Futurum Group. Today we’re going to dive into an interesting topic that will be particularly timely and interesting to mid-market and SMBs. One of the key challenges faced by mid-market and SMBs revolves around conducting a digital transformation efficiently and effectively.

Now naturally, organizational leaders are focused on the incredible capabilities being offered by all types of vendors, particularly around the use of artificial intelligence, smart automation, and omnichannel engagement. Every day it seems like a new product or feature is introduced as a magic bullet that will instantaneously improve worker efficiency, reduce operational costs, and drive customer experience and NPS scores to the stars.

However, organizations would be really wise to consider taking a more strategic approach to incorporating technology, focusing on driving incremental improvements, managing costs, and keeping business goals as the organization’s North Star, rather than homing in on a particular technological capability or feature set. So to help me dive into this topic, I’m joined today by Gina Whitty, product management, CCAs and AI at GoTo, a SaaS and cloud-based remote work platform for collaboration and IT management, including contact centers. Gina is a veteran product manager with many years of experience in the CX space having worked at startups through enterprise companies. Gina, thanks for joining me today.

Gina Whitty: Thank you so much for having me. This is a subject I’m really passionate about, so love to always have that discussion with like-minded people, right?

Keith Kirkpatrick: Absolutely. Absolutely. So let’s just dive right in and talk about the current state in the market, particularly focusing on the current needs and challenges of contact center operators, particularly those that serve SMBs and mid-market companies. Where are they succeeding and in which areas are they really seeking to drive improvement?

Gina Whitty: So this is a great question, and as I look back at my career servicing enterprise customers and SMBs, I think it really comes down to understanding for smaller businesses that every call counts. Every contact is really, really important. Sometimes with enterprise or larger volume customers, you get a lot more feedback and calls and there’s higher margin for error, but small businesses, we all interact with them every day. It really comes down to that personal touch, and I think they feel that pressure as well, making sure that every call is handled well.

And it’s not just in the moment. They’ve got a lot on their plates when it comes to the staffing and providing the needs for those individual reps. I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about COVID and all the disruption that had in the market. You know, adjusting to remote workforce is still a thing, and so there’s parts of the technology that SMB and mid-market companies are adopting well, and they’re starting to really get up off the ground in some of those newer technologies, but managing those people and their processes is just as vital and required for every step along the way.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. It’s interesting you’re mentioning things like… If you look at the differences between say, an enterprise customer and SMB or mid-market, where as you said, every call counts, they need as many at bats as possible. It sounds like they really need to have a solution that lets them strategically approach this idea of digital transformation instead of just taking a one size fits all, let’s deflect every call possible so we can hit our KPIs.

Gina Whitty: Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of times it’s about meeting the customer where they want to be met in the channel? is your business more focused towards millennials or do you have an older audience and what are the channels or capabilities that they’re most interested in? So understanding that and meeting the customer with those technologies is super important.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah. The technology piece is certainly important, but as you rightly state, it’s also about people, it’s also about processes and balancing all of that. One of the things that I’ve noticed, and I’m sure you have as well, is particularly over the last year, there’s been this massive focus on generative AI and what it can do or what they promise it can do for organizations. I’m just curious about whether or not you think that a lot of the contact centers that your company works with, are they really ready for it? Or is there something that they need to do to prepare? Because it sounds great looking, at all the stuff we see on the internet, but I think there’s probably a little more to it.

Gina Whitty: Yeah, a little bit. Like you said in the intro, there’s no silver bullet, and a lot of people are promising that GenAI will be that, but there’s a little bit of steps to go through. But the most exciting thing that really gets me up in the morning is that that barrier to entry for SMBs and for mid-market to dip their toe into the AI pool, it has really, really significantly lowered. We’re seeing solutions that are much lower cost, more easily implemented, and that bring higher value, higher accuracy, and better customer experiences. I mean, in the old days of communicating with bots and stuff, they were treacherous sometimes and took a lot of costs in implementation.

So as that barrier is lowering and SMBs and mid-market companies are starting to look at what can they adopt, it’s really important to think about the other parts of your business that are going to need to center around that North star. Are your people already focused around digital interactions and are they off… Just pure phone experiences, right? Because a lot of the agents or bots that you can employ for that automation and those call deflections, I mean those can be digital chats, they can be calls. So just understanding, again, those channels where your customers need to be met I think is super important.

And once the people, your agents and everyone are centered around those experiences, understand how processes and your organization can be how… Okay, let’s start over.

Then you understand how various processes may need to mature in your organization as well. Are you looking at quality management across all channels and making sure that your evaluations and such rise to the need of those very new technologies and people responsibilities?

Keith Kirkpatrick: You know, Gina, you mentioned something really interesting there I want to go back to, talking about looking at your organization’s level of technological maturity. I think we were talking before about, I believe you guys have some sort of a blueprint for growth and maturity within organizations. Can you talk a little more about that and why is that important and what can organizations gain by taking a view of their actual level of technological expertise and maturity?

Gina Whitty: Yeah, definitely. So I mean at the heart of all of it, I think it has to do with the golden KPI that customers want to get to in their contact centers, which is reducing cost and reducing those handle times. So as the beginning stages, you really establish your phone system or what that communication with your customers looks like when you’re establishing your customer experience program. And so as you mature along, you may move away from just a single channel to multiple channels. And really what’s interesting here is how that solution for communication integrates with your other business solutions, customer relationship management or CRM systems.

So that single source of truth, bringing that into the contact center so your agents can better service those calls and those interactions, that’s highly valuable. That cuts down on a lot of work that agents may have to be doing looking at various systems. So as you raise the maturity, you’re looking at integrating multiple systems, you’re expanding your channel capabilities, and ultimately that leads to higher automations and more potential to train other systems or call deflection capabilities that GenAI is capable of now.

Keith Kirkpatrick: But it seems like, though, to do this in the proper way, it isn’t about going from zero to 100 in one step. I would think that the way to really do this responsibly and make sure that you’re addressing all the business needs, that it’s more of a stepwise approach. Is that something that you can kind of elaborate on?

Gina Whitty: Yeah, exactly. I love that point there. So everybody wants the shiny new tech and GenAI is the buzzword and everything, and everybody thinks of, “Oh, call deflection and all that. Yeah, I want reduced costs.” But if you’re going from a phone system and you’re trying to look at adopting a virtual agent, you really want to look at have I centered around a digital experience, not just for my customers, but for my workforce?

A lot of the solutions that offer those kind of call deflection capabilities, they’re not just centered around a phone. So it’s a giant leap to go from one end of the spectrum to the other, but if you chunk it up, there are manageable steps for getting there. And a lot of times that has to do with the channel adoption and creating those proper processes for your workforce.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. So if you’re taking a look at a typical organization that had been using hard phones or whatever, how should they start in terms of focusing, in terms of a technological priority? Is there one particular area they should focus in or a channel? How should they think about it?

Gina Whitty: Yeah, so I think first of all, make sure you understand your customer experience. Really lead with empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and try to understand now how difficult is it for them to talk to you and either reach a live person or get a question answered that could just be answered maybe via an email or information on your website. So we’re finding more and more evidence, and I’m sure Futurum Group has a lot to back this up, but that people want to interact increasingly through digital channels.

So getting that content available and updated is a big part of those processes and training your workforce to make sure that information is updated all the time. And then obviously the tech piece follows that. So if your customers are communicating with you via email, do they want to chat? Do you want to put a digital chat solution on the website so that your agents can then handle multiple interactions at a time, multiple conversations in a chat, whereas in a phone system, they can only have a one-to-one conversation. So that alone gets a huge advantage in the efficiency of your workforce.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. I would assume though that also when we’re talking about integrating things like new channels where there is the possibility of having workers handle more interaction simultaneously, there’s a training component to that as well.

Gina Whitty: Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s all with your quality management or even just the way that you scale your business. You could have agents that are focused around digital channels, you could have agents that are focused around phones, or you could think more omnichannel and making sure that your workforce is training against all of them. I mean, again, this is something that we’re still seeing the effects of COVID with and remote workforce, but having those methods for onboarding and training your agents is super important.

Doing things like measuring the customer satisfaction with those agents too is integral. So after those phone conversations or after that digital chat conversation, are you asking the customer satisfaction? Are you asking for NPS scores that measure the growth of your business? And that alone will help assess what kind of steps to do next or how to potentially train or coach your agents.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. One thing we haven’t touched on here on the technological side is right now there are any number of different providers out there saying that, “We can provide a chat solution or we can provide a voice transcription solution,” or this, that and the other. What are the challenges, particularly for your market, looking at SMBs, looking at mid-market companies, for using point solutions versus looking at sort of an all-in-one platform? Because to me, I think there are different needs and different capabilities based on the type of customer you are.

Gina Whitty: Yeah, that’s another really great point. So of course leading with empathy, the first thing to consider is what does that customer experience look like across these various solutions? You may be able to get something that works pretty well or at least is seamless from the customer experience standpoint. But then after those interactions happen, how easy is it for you to measure the success or gain that reporting and those insights to be able to understand those interactions across channels? How do you understand easily that your workforce is being efficient in their day? And how many interactions are they handling? Is that easy to see across channel or do you have to go into every single point solution to dig for that information?

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. I would also imagine that depending on the type of customer you are, there may be just some basic technical challenges with trying to integrate a variety of different point solutions because you just don’t have a 20-person IT staff who is available to handle a large implementation of different solutions.

Gina Whitty: Absolutely, yeah. You may look at the price tag of certain point solutions like, “Oh, that’s really appealing,” but I urge our SMB customers in mid-market, “Think about the overhead and maintenance, and the reliability obviously is number one, and the security.” There are a lot of great point solutions out there. They’ve gotten to market really quickly. But if you’re a healthcare provider, if you are in a business that’s sharing or dealing with sensitive information, making sure that that can be handled in an appropriate way is also very important to that maintenance piece.

Keith Kirkpatrick: I’m glad you mentioned security because that seems to be one of those things that everybody says, “Yes, yes, we’re going to consider. We’re look at that,” but particularly with regulated industries, I have to imagine that should be, if not the top priority, up near the top just because of the amount of risk that it brings to an organization for ignoring it or not treating it as seriously as possible.

Gina Whitty: Absolutely, yep. And it comes back to the regulation and the customer experience, making sure that it’s all flowing across the board. And just being aware of the implementation of certain technologies and training your agents to maybe get the information that they need but not overshare and put your company at greater risk. So that all has to do with those three legs of the maturity model that we’re talking about: the people, the processes, and the technology.

Keith Kirkpatrick: And I guess the other thing that’s also particularly important for… If we think of the world today, you have the Amazons of the world that do sort of mass personalization, but you don’t expect that personal touch with Amazon. You expect to deal with a bot or just it’s all automated because they have so many transactions.

But for SMBs operating in a local market or even mid-market companies, I would assume that personalization, and real personalization, not sort of fake, we pulled one piece of data out of the CRM and we’re going to use that to personalize, is still important. And that has to also factor in to what channels you use, how you engage, what are some of the roles for doing handoffs or not handing off based on the customer type and the action that the customer’s trying to take? Is that something that’s important in the market?

Gina Whitty: Yeah, absolutely. Yep. And I think you touched on it. Customers, they don’t expect perfection from your business, but it is all about that personal touch of maybe how you handle everything from a sensitive request and a scheduling update to how you handle a problem. So yeah, the personalization piece there is, it’s just as much about the technology as it is training your people and providing that. But yeah, the SMBs and mid-market, when every call counts, they’re a little bit more held to the fire than some of our enterprise customers like Amazon.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right, right. And finally, are there any other considerations that companies in this space should keep in mind whether they’re looking to modernize their context center or implement other things to improve the customer experience that they need to keep in mind as they move forward?

Gina Whitty: Yeah, I mean, I touched on it a little bit, but definitely think about security, and not just if you’re in a regulated industry, but think about the solutions you employ and how they would handle your data. And if you are looking at venturing into AI, think about the ethics of it. I think that’s scaring a lot of people into adopting AI, but it shouldn’t. I mean, it’s a little bit of research and a little bit of time spent upfront, but making sure that you’re contracting with reliable vendors who take ethics and security seriously, as well, are very transparent. So ask those questions early on in sales cycles. Be mindful too, again about the implementation of a solution. Are you making it clear to your customer that they’re interacting with a virtual agent and being upfront about how you’re employing those methods throughout the customer experience is very integral there.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right, right. You know, you just mentioned something really important there in terms of asking the right questions of a potential vendor, particularly around things like guardrails, because as we’ve seen through very, very high profile examples, like the Air Canada chatbot, I think there’s another one where there was a problem, to put up mildly, I think that’s very important and making sure that the questions are asked and that you’re getting the information in terms of what strategies, not specific things necessarily, but what approaches are they going to take because the technology is evolving. It’s not static.

Gina Whitty: Yep. Well said. I mean, I couldn’t have said it any better myself, but absolutely. We don’t need to… Yeah, we have more examples out there in the market, but as the solutions evolve, there will be additional guardrails put in place. And like I said, the vendors who are taking AI seriously are also taking security and ethics seriously as well.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. All right, well Gina, thank you very much. We have reached the end of our time, but your insights have been very valuable and helpful, so thank you very much.

Gina Whitty: Yes, this was a lovely conversation. Always enjoy speaking with you, and we will definitely talk soon.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Sounds great. Well, if anyone wants to learn more, please go to GoTo’s site to learn more about the company and how it is helping SMBs and mid-market companies evolve and undertake digital transformation initiatives. Thanks everyone for joining us. Hit that subscribe button and be sure to check out all of our episodes of the Futurum Tech podcast and our interview series with insightful leaders from across the tech industry. Thanks, and we’ll see you all again very soon.

Author Information

Keith has over 25 years of experience in research, marketing, and consulting-based fields.

He has authored in-depth reports and market forecast studies covering artificial intelligence, biometrics, data analytics, robotics, high performance computing, and quantum computing, with a specific focus on the use of these technologies within large enterprise organizations and SMBs. He has also established strong working relationships with the international technology vendor community and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events.

In his career as a financial and technology journalist he has written for national and trade publications, including BusinessWeek, CNBC.com, Investment Dealers’ Digest, The Red Herring, The Communications of the ACM, and Mobile Computing & Communications, among others.

He is a member of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

Keith holds dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Magazine Journalism and Sociology from Syracuse University.

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