Designing an effective Cloud Service user experience - what we can learn from the Aspect Via "customer engagement centre"

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This blog was originally posted under: The Norfolk Punt

One of the drivers for the https://www.bloorresearch.com/trends/, an enterprise in a constant state of reinvention in response to its changing business environment, is better customer engagement, with the aim of delighting its customers even as their needs change. This probably needs support from automation and flourishes in the worlds of Mobile and Cloud. But it really shouldn’t be seen as a “nerds’ charter” to design ever more clever technology solutions for human needs. The Mutable Enterprise needs to design collaborative user experiences (in which a given user may change, for example, between supplier and customer roles, and back again, as appropriate), not technology interfaces.

So, anything which abstracts the customer experience away from a set of technologies to a catalogue of self-service, business-level customer (and customer analysis) services, such as an omnichannel Customer Engagement Centre, should facilitate the evolution of a Mutable Enterprise. 

That said, however, remember that this is less of a “new technology” story than a cultural evolution story: the people in an Enterprise aspiring to be Mutable must start thinking in terms of customer delight and business service delivery, not in terms of salesperson delight and clever technology – although this needs to be seen as a holistic story. Happy customers may generate good profits; but happy salespeople and customer support people generate happy customers.

I am thinking of this in the context of the new Aspect Via Customer Engagement Centre. Of course, although an innovative, Cloud-based Customer Engagement Centre might be seen as necessary (by a suitably mature enterprise), it isn’t sufficient – never underestimate the need for a culture of customer engagement if you are going to get the full benefit from customer engagement technology (even if it is delivered as a service). That said, however, technology can be either a barrier to cultural change or an enabler, and I think that Aspect Via falls into the second camp. It exhibits several key characteristics of the new Cloud-native technology solutions – but these characteristics (self-service, persona-based interface design, orchestrated services that can start small and grow with success) are what matters, not the “Cloud-native branding”.

So what are these key characteristics? Firstly, perhaps, persona-based user experience design (equivalent, I think, to “people-centric design”). Rather than concentrating on, say, rich analytics or powerful reporting, as a traditional CRM solution might, it focuses on what, say, “Megan Harris, a.k.a. ‘Megan the Millennial'” needs to engage with her customers or what “Howard Bell, the developer” needs in the way of feedback to help him address any issues Megan meets. The end result in terms of functionality will be much the same, but with persona-based design the user experience should be much more supportive. In other words, the integration of services needed by Megan to do what she needs to do should be part of a much smoother experience with persona-based design than is achieved with a conventional integration portal.

Another important characteristic is intelligent self-service. What this seems to mean in the context of Aspect Via is a text-based intelligent customer interaction, instead of a fixed form (or scripted interaction) that must be filled in using precise terms and in only one way. For example, an automated appointment reminder might get a simple, natural-language response “can’t make it”. The system recognises this and asks for a new date. Having got this, it queries back-end systems and suggests possible times. The response might be something like “those don’t work; and I want to switch consultants” – and the system responds with “do you have a particular consultant that you want to see”, and so on.

Obviously, the interface still needs to be designed properly, with the assistance of people fitting the target persona, and there is a training period while the natural language engine gets up to speed on the language used for a persona. Nevertheless, to me, the possibilities of this sort of “intuitive, contextual workflow” (as Aspect describes it) for rich customer engagement are obvious. I am told this feature is being received well by the market – as “empowered agents lead to happy customers”.

I don’t have room to review all the capabilities of Aspect Via (and I’m not doing a product review anyway) but another feature that is an exemplar for Cloud services generally is omni-channel engagement. Up to 8 simultaneous interactions are supported (although I’m not sure that anyone would want to do that to its customer-facing agents, “effectively no limit” is good), there’s an interactive workspace (with customer context, file share and spell-check) and there’s easy escalation from chat to voice.

I think that just these three capabilities give a good flavour of the sort of user experience Cloud services should be aiming at. It will involve “empowered and informed” participants, with rich visualisations, personalised dashboards, wizards for configuration and workflow set-up, etc.

This all seems very positive, but are there any negatives exemplified by Aspect Via, that might be of general interest? Well, I didn’t see any, at the level at which I was looking at this product anyway, but there is one issue that I think people should be aware of. Aspect Via is built on AWS (Amazon Web Services), after surveying its potential customers – AWS seemed to be chosen by most of them. This is absolutely fine, AWS is a good platform, but the elephant in the room is Cloud lock-in. This isn’t a big issue yet but my vision of a Cloud culture includes no restriction to a particular Cloud platform, not without a very significant business benefit in return for lock-in, anyway (I’ve blogged about this in the context of Salesforce in the past). It will be too late to worry about lock-in after you have been caught and I experienced platform lock-in in the 1980s, and I wouldn’t want to go back there. Cloud lock-in comes from, typically, platform-based services that can’t easily (or cheaply) be replicated on other platforms or hybrid Cloud licensing where it is only easy to ensure licensing compliance if you get the Cloud platform and the on-premise services from the same vendor. There isn’t space to discuss this further here but Aspect is aware of the issue (and will support Cloud/platform migration if/when there is customer demand for it); so should you be.

So, in summary, customer engagement is important to the emerging Mutable Enterprises and things like Cloud services, persona-based user experience design and natural-language self-service capabilities remove barriers to engagement. Aspect Via should have a bright future as a “Customer Engagement Centre”. More than that, however, it is a bit of a poster-child for how a modern Cloud service should be designed, I think.