The Ultimate Guide to Providing a Seamless Customer Experience

Creating a seamless customer experience might take time and effort, but with 86% of customers willing to pay more for the best experiences, the rewards are more than worth it. 

In this article, we’ll be showing you how to create a consistent customer experience that’s designed to reduce customer tension and eliminate customer pain-points. 

In turn you’ll see a whole host of benefits, from increasing customer engagement and loyalty to boosting sales and profits. We’ve a lot to cover, so let’s get started!

What is a seamless customer experience? 

The term customer experience refers to the entire journey a customer will take when researching, buying, and using a product or service. It also includes the buyer’s impressions and perceptions of a business and their feelings about the interactions along the way. 

With this definition in mind, a seamless customer experience is a customer journey that is devoid of any mistakes, delays, or setbacks. 

In other words, this kind of customer experience is efficient, smooth, and enjoyable. It should also be consistent across all channels.

For example, whether the customer is buying in store or online, the business should demonstrate consistent branding and tone, high levels of customer service, and a dedication to fulfilling customer orders. 

In essence, with every touchpoint meeting or exceeding expectations, a seamless customer experience is a wholly positive experience in which customers face no obstacles to their purchase. 

Why is this approach important? 

A seamless customer experience is important as it’s the most effective way to keep customers happy and loyal to your business. For instance, 51% of customers are more likely to stay loyal to businesses that offer timely personalised suggestions and updates as part of their customer experience.

Consistently offering this kind of approach is also proven to attract new customers too: 65% of customers say they find great experiences to be more influential than advertising. 

It’s for these reasons that customer experience has now been crowned the key brand differentiator for customers. It’s why offering a seamless customer experience is the best way to set yourself apart from your competitors too.

Seamless customer experience in action

To illustrate how a seamless customer experience can work for both businesses and their customers, let’s take a look at the customer journey – one of the most important aspects of the customer experience.  

The perfect experience: a customer journey map

The customer journey is the complete collection of steps a customer takes to purchase a product. As such, it’s a huge part of the customer experience as it compromises the actions a customer takes before, during, and after their purchase. 

The duration and length of a customer journey will change depending on your business and customers. Nevertheless, to understand how a seamless customer experience will look, it’s worth developing an understanding of the customer journey’s basic stages.

For this discussion, we’ve broken down the stages into five easy steps. If each step is positively achieved with no setbacks or problems, a business can be assured that they’re offering a seamless customer experience. 

  1. Awareness: The customer becomes aware of a need/a particular product. 
  2. Consideration: The customer researches and considers one or multiple products.
  3. Purchase: The customer purchases a product.
  4. Retention: The customer finds the product useful or enjoyable and purchases with the business again. 
  5. Advocacy: The customer recommends the business/products to others. 

Let’s look at these stages in more detail. In the below example, a customer purchases a new t-shirt online. Notice how the business meets or exceeds the customer’s needs and expectations at each step of the journey, leading to a seamless customer experience that results in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. 

Awareness:

1. The customer browses social media. 

2. The customer sees a t-shirt advertised by a company. 

Consideration:

3. The customer visits the site and reads the reviews. 

4. The customer connects with customer service on live chat to ask a question about sizing. 

Purchase:

5. Happy with the answer to their query, the customer is offered the chance to purchase the t-shirt with the agent. They accept.

6. The customer is asked for feedback on customer service. They are happy and give a positive response. 

7. The t-shirt arrives on time with some extra goodies, and the customer loves their purchase.

Retention:

8. The customer receives a free discount voucher via email as a thank you for their order. 

9. When they are updated on a new product, the customer explores the site again. They purchase a new item using their discount and receive the same excellent service.

Advocacy:

10. The customer leaves a glowing review and recommends the product to others after enjoying such a great experience.

As we can see, there’s several stages in this example where the business has aimed to make it as easy as possible for the customer to discover their products, learn about them, buy them, and enjoy them. 

Ultimately, making the customer journey as easy as possible is all about reducing obstacles that create friction or tension. For instance, say the customer in the above example had a question about product sizing. If the company had no customer service contact channels to speak of, this customer obstacle might’ve ended the customer’s journey right there – without a purchase. 

There are many obstacles a customer can face during their journey with many different solutions available. Still, if you start to recognise and rectify these obstacles now, your customer journey and the overall customer experience is only going to benefit. 

Let’s take a look at a case study to see how a fashion retailer adopted a new contact channel to tackle a very large obstacle for their customers: the temporary closure of stores due to the Covid pandemic.

Case study: Lululemon and video chat

Between 2019 and 2020, Canadian athleisure retailer Lululemon saw a staggering 40% increase in brand value. The secret to their colossal success was making their customers’ purchases as easy as possible, all through offering a seamless customer experience online.

This approach continued even during the Covid pandemic. While other companies failed to adapt, Lululemon quickly realised that their customers were facing a new obstacle: with stores and shopping centres being closed the world over, customers who wanted a personal customer service experience were being failed online. It was an obstacle that could’ve undoubtedly damaged the company’s bottom line – like it has with so many other businesses worldwide. 

However, Lululemon decided to address this customer obstacle head on. To make sure their online customers were getting the same service that they used to receive in person, the company took the opportunity to expand their omnichannel presence. Their biggest innovation was the use of video chat for customer service.

By offering virtual personal stylist appointments via video chat, Lululemon are able to provide their online customers with the same stellar customer experience that they’re used to receiving in store. Customers can even engage with the company’s contact agents over live chat, before escalating seamlessly to a video call whenever it suits them. 

Lululemon’s video chat page


Lululemon has always offered their customers the best experiences possible, from prioritizing their social media customer service to offering yoga classes in-store. 

Nevertheless, thanks to their adoption of on demand video chat, they’ve been able to offer amazing customer service online, even when they were unable to in store. It’s a prime example of removing an obstacle to offer a completely seamless customer experience. 

How to provide a seamless customer experience 

Whatever your business or industry, the best way to start offering a seamless customer experience is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. 

By recognising the pain-points they face, you can then lower the barriers and hurdles that are stopping them from converting. The following tips will help you take those all important first steps to delivering a seamless experience.

1. Create buyer personas 

65% of companies that update their buyer personas exceed their goals for revenue. The reason why is simple: creating buyer personas helps you understand your true target audience.

When striving to deliver a seamless customer experience, understanding your target audience is essential. If you don’t really know who you are selling to, you are at risk of designing your customer experience around the wrong people. 

For example, do you know which demographic currently buys from you the most? Is it the Baby boomers, Millennials, or Gen Z? What about their spending habits? Why do they seek out your products in the first place?

To develop buyer personas, start by speaking with your previous customers and gather actionable data. This could include their age, income, interests, previous purchases, and a whole host of other examples. 

Whatever data you decide to gather, for larger organisations, full-blown interviews with hundreds of respondents may be required to create useful buyer personas. For smaller businesses, a few key insights can prove incredibly helpful.  

Either way, you should also take the time to speak to your team. Sales staff will be able to identify your most common kinds of customers and their problems. Marketing staff will be able to identify which pieces of content have performed best with which audience. 

However you conduct your research, it’s insights like these that will help you truly understand your customers – the first step to building a seamless customer experience. 

2. Analyse the customer journey

Positive changes to the customer journey have been proven to lift customer satisfaction by 20%. So, whether your business is primarily online, offline, or a mix between the two, analysing the customer journey is a great step towards keeping your customers smiling. 

What’s more, while the goals of analysing the customer journey are to reduce friction and create a seamless customer experience, this approach can also uncover inconsistencies within your processes and procedures. It’ll improve your efficiency in the long run. 

For example, one of the primary reasons for shopping cart abandonment is the discovery of hidden delivery fees. An easy solution is to provide an FAQs link earlier in the sales process. It’ll mean less cart abandonment and less customer tension too. 

To make sure your customer journey isn’t filled with pain-points, utilise website engagement tools like user recording or analytics software. By examining the data of real-life users, you’ll be able to uncover the areas in which you can improve. 

From there, you can begin to design a better journey – one that looks more like our example above. It’ll help you do away with customer tension and deliver a seamless customer experience instead. 

3. Deliver convenience and anticipate needs

90% of customers have said that a convenient experience is crucial when engaging with a brand online. Now that you’ve developed an understanding of your target audience and the customer journey, you’re much better equipped to deliver convenience and anticipate customer needs. 

As the above statistic shows, convenience is one of the most important aspects of a truly seamless customer experience. Customer service expert Shep Hyken even suggests that it’s now one of the best ways to rival your competition too:

‘Look at what Uber and Lyft did to the taxi industry, what Amazon did to retail… these are examples of convenience that have disrupted not only direct competitors but also entire industries.’

Image source

To make sure you’re offering maximum convenience and anticipating your customers’ needs, take another look at your research on your target audience and the customer journey. 

While you might have identified areas of friction for your customers, are you offering them as much convenience as possible? How could you anticipate their needs?

For example, did you know that when getting in touch with a company, 67% of customers prefer self-service options to customer service interactions? 

To best offer convenience to these customers, you could install a chatbot as part of an omnichannel customer service platform that also offers live chat. 

With this kind of platform, your customers can use their favourite channel of choice first. Then, if their option can’t be solved via self-service, their chat can be escalated to a member of the contact team. It’ll prove that a seamless customer experience is your number one priority. 

4. Offer personalisation 

With 71% of customers feeling frustrated by impersonal shopping experiences, it’s clear enough that a personalised customer experience is now the expected norm. 

Customers love personalised experiences for the same reason they love convenience – it makes their lives easier. It’s been proven to boost customer engagement too. As such, offering personalisation is another crucial step towards designing a seamless customer experience. 

One of the simplest ways that online companies can offer a personalised approach is to tailor content to their audience’s preferences. The most obvious examples of companies who use this kind of practice are Netflix and Spotify. 

Image source

However, while these tech giants utilise algorithms and data to offer personalised recommendations and tailored content, you don’t need to get overly technical to start offering your customers similar perks. 

You can make a simple start by prioritizing your customer relations. Ask your customers for feedback, and keep in touch to ask how they are enjoying their purchases. It’ll build valuable relationships that can help you design a more engaging and seamless customer experience in the future. 

5. Be communicative

Great communication is an incredibly important part of the customer experience. In fact, 68% of customers say their perception of a brand improves when they are sent proactive customer service notifications. It’s proof that keeping too quiet around your customers can be a true customer service mistake.

To make sure you’re offering a seamless customer experience, communication with your team is just as important as it is with your customers. 

For instance, say a customer gets in touch with your company through social media, rather than your regular contact channels. They might end up talking to a member of the marketing department. If that member of staff doesn’t know how to solve their problem, the customer could face a delay in receiving their answer. It’s hardly an example of a seamless customer experience. 

The first step to solving this kind of problem is to make sure you align your team on your goals. Update them frequently on new products and offers, and always remain open to the idea of further training. 

That said, if you’re really serious about offering the best customer experience possible, the best solution is to make sure all your contact channels are connected. 

Take the above example in mind: by integrating live chat with social media, customers will be quickly connected to the right people – ensuring the customer experience is always seamless. 

6. Keep your promises

It might be tempting to offer your customers the world, but if you can’t keep your promises, you’ve no chance of delivering a seamless customer experience. 

Overpromising or overselling aspects of the customer journey is a sure-fire way to invite disaster. As customer experience expert Matt Watkinson suggests, ‘the ideal gap between the brand image (what customers are promised), and the brand reality (what customers actually experience) is zero.’

Let’s take a look at an example. Say you promise your customers you can provide next day delivery. What if your regular delivery service has let you down in the past? If they’ve shown a pattern of late deliveries, you’re at risk of breaking a promise to your customers if the delivery company messes up once again. 

While some unexpected problems can’t be avoided, the best way to make sure you’re keeping your promises is to stay realistic and to test your services as much as possible. 

For instance, let’s revisit the above example about late deliveries. If your business has experienced similar problems and you’ve made some much needed improvements, you don’t want to let the side down by assuming everything will keep running smoothly in the future. 

It’s better to keep testing your processes and procedures again and again, remembering to set competitive but achievable goals. With only 55% of companies currently testing their user experience, it’s another way to set yourself apart. 

7. Make your branding seamless and provide trust

It might be a cliche to say that first impressions count, but neglecting your branding across channels can definitely disrupt a seamless customer experience.

For example, if a customer service agent gets in touch with a customer via a generic email address, rather than a company one, it probably won’t inspire much confidence. 

The reason branding is so important to your customers is that it broadcasts trust and helps to build a relationship. With 81% of customers saying they want to trust a brand before buying from them, neglecting this area can be a crucial mistake. 

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix to this issue: remember that consistency is key. 

If you’ve invested in a logo that you’re proud of, ensure it’s clearly in place across all your marketing materials and contact channels. Make sure to always use your signature colours too – especially on social media and in emails. It can increase brand recognition by up to 80%!

Finally, don’t forget to demonstrate trustworthiness on your website, as well as in your external communications. 

While it might go without saying that your website should feature consistent branding, your website is your opportunity to deliver as many trust signals as possible. Some customers will take security badges and seals for granted, but other visitors to your site may be more eagle-eyed. 

For instance, if you’ve taken the steps to make sure you’re PCI compliant, why not let your more discerning customers know? It’s extra touches like these that mean your customers will always feel at ease, making their customer experience all the more seamless. 

8. Boost engagement and show appreciation

If you’ve put your all into providing a seamless customer experience, you don’t want to do your customers a disservice by cutting that experience short. 

Customers now expect a degree of engagement throughout the whole of the customer journey – including post-sale. It proves that you want to provide a great experience overall. 

The simplest way of engaging customers for longer is to show appreciation through offering additional perks. For example, 61% of customers have said that surprise discounts, offers, and gifts are the best way to engage them. 

That said, some companies have had great customer engagement success by simply providing their customers with email updates and a behind the scenes look at new products. 

Even a simple thank you email can work wonders. Not only is it the polite thing to do, but offering a sincere post-purchase thank you can make the customer experience all the more memorable. 

An example of a thank you email from Slidebelts

Whatever engagement strategies you use, it’s these kinds of tactics that can help turn customers into advocates. With highly engaged customers buying 90% more often, it’s certainly worth the effort. 

9. Never stop asking for feedback

When it comes to delivering a seamless customer experience for the long term, the importance of asking for feedback cannot be overstated. 

Like researching buyer personas and analysing the customer journey, asking for feedback from your customers can help you identify new pain-points that develop over time. After all, while you might have invested in streamlining your current customer journey, it’s more than likely that you’ll have to adapt again in the future. 

For instance, customer service and sales staff used to primarily deal with inbound calls from customers. However, these days many customers see this traditional contact channel as an inconvenience. They want quicker, more efficient means of communication. Live chat or web calling, for example.

So, to make sure you’re always keeping ahead of the curve, remember to ask your customers’ questions and listen. If you can automate your customer feedback process or simply make a habit of engaging your customers in this way, so much the better. 

91% of customers believe that businesses should fuel innovation by listening to customers rather than experts. Aim to please this huge majority, and you’ll continue to grow for the long term. You’ll be better equipped to deliver consistent and seamless customer experiences too. 

The easiest way to deliver a seamless customer experience

According to Microsoft worldwide research, 96% of customers say that great customer service is one of the most important contributors to brand loyalty. What’s more, the same research found that 72% of customers expect contact centre agents to know ‘who they are [and] what they have purchased’ when they get in touch. 

It’s proof that for a truly seamless customer experience, sterling customer service is the most crucial factor of all. The great news is that great customer service is now easier to offer than ever before. 

If a seamless customer experience is all about providing a smooth and efficient customer journey with no obstacles or pain-points, an omnichannel solution is not only the best approach, but the simplest too. 

By allowing your customers to talk to you over a variety of channels, you’re providing them with maximum support and convenience. In turn, customer obstacles are reduced, as is customer tension. 

What’s more, an omnichannel approach gives contact centre agents a single dashboard to handle all interactions – regardless of the contact channel the customer uses. It means that whether customers are getting in touch over the phone, live chat, or social media, the customer experience is never interrupted. 

The popularity of omnichannel customer engagement is only growing: 78% of customers now prefer an omnichannel approach to standard contact methods. It’s proof yet again that customers are seeking the most seamless of customer experiences. All that’s left for you to do is meet that demand and watch your customer base soar.

This blog post was first published by Talkative.

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Worst Customer Experience Mistakes in a Hybrid World – and How to Fix Them

As businesses reopen their office buildings, many employees will transition from remote to hybrid work, expanding their geographical footprint while also continuing to blend work and home life.

It’s important to remember the hybrid approach will impact other parts of our lives, too, including shopping, learning and banking, to name a few examples. That means companies will not only need to adapt the workplace for a hybrid world, but they’ll also need to innovate the customer experience (CX).

Of course, this is uncharted territory. Mistakes will be made. But companies can take steps now to avoid the worst of them. As you map out your course, be sure to set a path that avoids these three errors.

Mistake #1: Assuming Customers Are Either All Virtual Or All In-Person

Customers are now as comfortable with virtual interactions as they are at making in-person transactions. So, their engagement with your business needs to fit into their lives―a need that will change depending on what they’re doing and where they are at that moment. A leading CX program will engage them in whatever channel is most convenient: phone, email, SMS, web chat, social media or in-person.

As a result, your business needs to have a real-time understanding of what channels your customers are using to reach you and how they prefer to be contacted. Customer behaviors evolve rapidly, and trends that were true a year ago or a few months ago may not necessarily be true today. The only way to know for sure is to capture and track data on your business, and use analytics to guide your strategy going forward.

Keep in mind it would be a mistake to go too far in the virtual direction. Exceptional CX programs establish a relationship with the customer and are there for them whenever they want a human touch. Be sure to strike a balance between the efficiency and cost savings of technology with the strategic and purposeful use of employee time.

To make best use of valuable employee time, and to make sure customers can effortlessly make contact, your business needs a robust workforce optimization program to have the right contact center staffing in place at the right time (and attending to the right channels). The best CX programs also have a serious, data-driven quality program with analytics and closed-loop feedback to continuously improve the operation. Mitel’s Workforce Optimization Suite can help you and your team analyze customer interactions, increase employee engagement and improve the customer experience.

Mistake #2: Not Realizing Employees Are Customers, Too

Attracting and retaining the most talented employees is imperative for the highest performing businesses. These employees can afford to be highly selective about the company they work for. For this reason, make it a priority to deliver a seamless, integrated experience for your employees―one that includes easy access to work applications, communication and collaboration tools, employee benefits portals, and all other facets of their experience with your company.

Focusing on creating an exceptional experience for employees not only causes them to be more satisfied working for you, it helps them be more effective and productive. This is particularly important for companies and employees who adopt the hybrid style of working.

Being able to seamlessly interact with other colleagues while working remotely helps them reconnect with ease when they are in the office together. Having the flexibility to choose the most effective means of communication is key; chat may be most efficient for some quick interactions, while other times they may opt to speak live with one or more teammates. Being able to easily schedule or kick off a call helps them focus their time and mental energy on more value-added tasks. It also keeps them engaged and avoids frustration. Thanks to the tech products they use every day, top-performing employees have developed high expectations for the tools they use at work.

Companies that recognize and deliver on these expectations will find it easier to engage employees and make them happier. This, in turn, leads to happier customers. Indeed, research shows there is a strong link between employee well-being and customer satisfaction.

Mistake #3: Believing Your Company Has Sufficient CX Capabilities In Place Already

Exceptional customer experience is now table-stakes. To differentiate your business, it’s more important than ever to continuously push forward in this space. For example, Accenture indicates that 80 percent of brands think they deliver a superior customer experience, while only 8 percent of their customers agree.

Customers expect a lot. In fact, Accenture also points out that one-third of business-to-business (B2B) buyers indicate their CX expectations have increased. In addition, 44 percent of B2B buyers switched sellers in the past 12 months. With competition as intense as it has ever been, the business that delights its customers at every contact will prevail. Be intentional, and pay attention to the data trends and feedback. Most importantly, be nimble and course-correct as needed.

The CX business is an exciting place to be right now. We all have increasingly complex and multi-faceted lives, and high expectations for the businesses we interact with. The ability to meet your customers and employees where they are is more critical than ever. Avoiding these common mistakes can differentiate your business and elevate your organization’s CX strategy to the next level.

This blog post was first published by Mitel.

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Remote and Hybrid Workforces: Liam Martin Explores the Now of Work

I’m writing this blog in my pajamas on my couch. Or maybe I’m writing it on the beach in Antigua, trying to keep the sun’s glare from reflecting off my laptop screen. Or maybe I’m wearing a suit, sitting in a cubicle, imagining I was somewhere else.

The pandemic has helped make one thing clear: the where of work isn’t important as the how of it. But what’s even more important is the when: we want that router fixed now. We want this blog post delivered now. With all of the tools and technology we have at our disposal, we can focus on The Now of Work and find balance between privacy and accountability, security and collaboration, structure and flexibility.

Liam Martin, Co-organizer of the Running Remote conference and Co-founder of Time Doctor, has been thinking about remote work for over a decade. And now the world is catching up: “A year ago, remote work wasn’t a big thing,” he says. “Four percent of the US had been working remotely. At the peak of the pandemic, 46% of the US workforce was working remotely. And now everyone’s gotten a taste for remote work, and we have to figure out what happens next.”

I spoke to Liam about how business can best support remote and hybrid workers. Here are the highlights from our conversation.

Accountability Vs. Autonomy

Employee retention has always been a top concern for HR professionals, but now, during a time when managers and employees alike are adjusting to remote and hybrid work models, it’s risen to the top of the priority list for many companies.

Liam sees a clear connection between autonomy and retention. “The reality is, you need to have as much autonomy as humanly possible without necessarily damaging the large scale operations of your business,” he says. “Anybody who has ever been stuck in the troubleshooting queue for their wireless provider has heard the agent say, ‘Well, I’ve done all four of these things in a row that are on my computer screen, and now I don’t know what to do.'” This is frustrating for the customer, for sure, but Liam points out that it’s a major point of frustration for the agent as well.

But empowering employees to have autonomy and work through problems creatively is not easy, especially when they are remote. That’s where the issue of autonomy versus accountability comes into play.

“Accountability is absolutely critical,” Liam says. “How are you measuring the work that’s being done? Do you have a quantitative KPI that everyone is supposed to reach?”

At Time Doctor, each employee has at least one quantifiable measure of accountability. That one specific metric can help keep employees accountable and help managers feel confident to let employees know they have the ability to work outside the box when necessary.

Working Hard Vs. Working Smart

When employees are empowered, the correlation between hours logged at a desk and overall productivity is not as strong as you might think. This is important to keep in mind, as managers may fret about whether their remote employees are putting in a full shift when they’re at home.

“We found with almost every single company that we’ve worked with—remote or in-office—that the salesperson who works the longest has never been the top salesperson inside of an organization,” Liam says. “So there’s this push up against “work hard” versus “work smart.” Autonomy really comes into play, here: it’s being able to say don’t get locked into the system; don’t get locked down by the process; have a process and allow that process to develop and evolve organically.”

This may be hard for many to accept, but as more businesses embrace the remote or hybrid model, it’s an essential point to keep in mind. Be flexible with processes and don’t get hung up on punching the clock. Embracing the merging of accountability and autonomy will lead to better results for employees and for customers as well.

The Hybrid Reality

Liam sees the hybrid workforce as “where the majority of the market is currently going,” and he sees a unique set of challenges with that model.

Companies need to ensure that they treat their employees the same, whether they are working from home or in the office. Make sure, for example, that in-office employees don’t advance at a faster rate or get more projects greenlit than their remote counterparts. Remote workers should not be seen as second-class citizens, he cautions.

Liam also stresses the importance of documenting everything, to make sure remote workers are briefed on offline discussions. “If you have conversations that kind of happen around the watercooler, you need to document them. Or, at least you need to identify all the minutes of the meeting and put them where people can consume them,” Liam says.

The New Now

So, where am I writing this from? It doesn’t matter very much. I’ve worked closely with my team, both remote and in-office colleagues, and I’ve been given both a metric to measure the success of this piece and the autonomy to write myself into it. How long did it take me? Well, long enough to get it right, but perhaps not as long as I was given. But the fact is, I’m working in the new normal, and you probably are, too. So we embrace The Now of Work and we do our best, learning from experts like Liam how to avoid common pitfalls and building a structure where employees want to stay and thrive.

This blog post was first published by Mitel.

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2021: The Year of the Cloud

The start of a new year always brings with it the promise of a brighter future. Looking back at 2020, it’s easy to imagine that better days must be ahead. From a work perspective, to say that the past year was incredibly surprising and frustrating would be an understatement. The pandemic threw a sizable wrench into everything everywhere. And you don’t have to go farther than your daily news feed to see that many businesses are still struggling with the adjustments they need to make to continue working in the current environment.

If you’re like most business managers working through those adjustments, you’ve probably had it up to your eyeballs with the phrase “the new normal.” Afterall, at which point does a daily work routine lose its newness and become just plain normal? Obviously, the way we work has changed and it may never be as it was again. So, moving into 2021, we have two options: We can lament the loss of the past or we can embrace the promise of the future.

If you’re an optimist, the adjustments we have all had to make to enable remote working can be seen as the precursors of the brighter future that the new year promises. And 2021 can be the year that you truly leverage the cloud to enable a more efficient and productive operation.

The Need For Business Continuity Drives Change

When business historians look back on 2020, they’ll note that the pandemic created the need for a change to the way we work. And they will probably point out that the adjustments to daily work processes that were needed to maintain business continuity created a paradigm shift to a cloud-first mindset.

The abrupt change from centralized to decentralized work-from-home operations created an urgent demand for technologies that would allow employees to continue to compute, connect, communicate and collaborate from anywhere. While no new technology was invented, cloud-based unified communication and video collaboration technologies that were considered nice-to-have novelties were suddenly in great demand. Enterprises that made the transition were able to do so quickly because companies like Mitel have been promoting the business benefits of the cloud for years, and the systems and solutions needed to enable the shift to the cloud were already available.

Sales and usage skyrocketed. The number of first-time users of video collaboration applications, for example, rose 26.2% in just six months, and the use of mobile apps increased 35% over the same time period. With these and other cloud-based technologies, enterprises maintained business continuity by enabling employees to seamlessly interact with colleagues, partners, suppliers and customers from anywhere.

During that same six months, the cloud became the economic enabler it was always meant to be with increased usage reported for a variety of cloud-based applications:

  • 28.2% jump in first-time use of telemedicine
  • 20.6% increase in first-time use of kiosks
  • 27.5% rise in use of mobile ordering applications
  • 18.4% increase in use of mobile payment applications
  • 22.7% jump in use of alternative payment applications

Moving Forward In The Cloud

Now that the use cases have proven the reliability of the cloud, the adoption of cloud-based technologies by consumers and businesses will continue to increase. At the enterprise level, CIOs and CEOs are already pointing to the path forward.

A global study conducted in 2020 revealed that 95% of companies around the world will continue to keep at least 5% of their workforce home. Meanwhile, IDG Research reports that 48% of enterprise CIOs say that optimizing employee digital experiences is now one of their key priorities. And 37% say that their CEOs have indicated that enabling digital transformation should be a focus as they work through the current disruption.

As enterprises focus on digital transformation, cloud-based communication capabilities that were suddenly in great demand at the start of 2020 will become table stakes in 2021. Therefore, a cloud-first mindset should be the foundation of any enterprise communications strategy. Enterprise managers developing business continuity plans that will see them through any future disruptions should be considering how to integrate cloud-based communications solutions into their operations. With the cloud, enterprises can empower employees to be more connected, efficient and productive wherever they work. Employees can access any feature from anywhere on any device, and the need to go to a physical office will be virtually eliminated.

Beyond these obvious benefits, cloud-based options tick all the boxes on the value chart of what enterprises need from a 21st century communications solution:

  • Agility: Cloud-delivered services can be rolled out as fast as an organization needs them. This enables rapid innovation and reduces time to market with new offerings that meet market demand.
  • Cost efficiency: Enterprises can provision what they need today and then add new features and applications when they need them.
  • Instant access: Employees can use new features as soon as they are available instead of having to wait months or even years to go through testing and refresh processes.
  • Advanced features: By leveraging the virtually limitless processing power and reach of cloud-based systems, new features that harness the potential of AI, IoT, facial recognition and feature-rich video collaboration technologies can be added easily.

Taking The Right Steps

Of course, every enterprise will have a different path to the cloud. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and all enterprises will make the transition at their own pace. Timing should be determined by business need and all requirements should be understood before a migration plan is developed and the first step is taken.

To make the process smoother, make an effort to understand the communications needs of your employees and your customers. Both groups can provide valuable insights based on first-hand experience with your existing communication infrastructure and where it can be improved to meet their needs. By building a culture of partnership and understanding, there is a better chance that the cloud solution you implement will deliver the productivity, efficiency and customer service benefits your business needs.

Likewise, as you embrace the promise of a cloud-based future, take a hard look at all your cloud options. The word “cloud” is a very broad term with multiple definitions and not all cloud-based communications solutions are created equal. Understanding the difference between a public cloud that provides software as a service (SaaS), a private cloud dedicated to your organization and a hybrid cloud that mixes on-premises and private cloud resources is critical. With that understanding, you’ll be better equipped to map out a cloud strategy and define a normal business communications environment that is tailored to your unique operation and business continuity requirements.

This blog post was first published by Mitel.

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Shifting to a Cloud-First Mentality

It’s going to happen. At some point in the not-too-distant future and after years of faithful service, your on-premises business communications system will reach the end of its useful life. Maintaining and upgrading the hardware may become difficult or just won’t make financial sense. Updating the software may no longer be the path to all those advanced features you need to maintain efficiency and productivity. The reality of diminishing returns will kick in and you’ll find yourself considering a new system.

Like most business managers at this crossroad, you’ll be faced with two potential paths to follow. On one hand you could replace the aging communications system with a brand new, on-premises solution and go through all the deployment, configuration and adjustment processes that go with that system. On the other hand, you could eliminate all the time and effort associated with moving to another on-premises system and chart a new business path with a cloud-based communications solution.

While there are a variety of considerations associated with moving to the cloud, the speed of innovation and ability to integrate other business tools with cloud-based systems makes a shift-to-a-cloud-first thought process the best option.

Take The First Step To Digital Transformation

Obviously, there’s no sense making the transition to the cloud just because it’s what everyone else is doing. Although most businesses will eventually migrate to a cloud-based communications system, that move has to make business sense. The end of life of an on-premises system provides the perfect opportunity to examine existing work processes and determine if a business case can be made for a cloud-based solution.

It’s also no secret that a flexible and agile cloud infrastructure makes it easier to adapt to an ever-changing market environment. If nothing else, the pandemic has demonstrated the ease of access and speed to activation that cloud technologies provide. Enterprises that were already leveraging cloud-based communications systems were able to easily make the transition to a remote working normal. Those that were not taking advantage of some form of cloud technology were left playing catch up.

But a cloud-based communications solution provides more than the ability to quickly address a specific situation. As the foundation of an enterprise operation, an agile, cloud-based communications system enables all the interactions that fuel business success. It provides the technology needed to streamline interactions between employees and with partners and suppliers. With unified communication and collaboration tools, it can increase efficiency and improve customer service.

Beyond the day-to-day operational benefits, a cloud-based communications system can also be the anchor of a digital technology strategy that leverages a variety of Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings to transform all business operations. As noted by ZK Research in a recent white paper, “the one technology that should be considered the foundation for digital transformation is communications, as it’s at the heart of digital initiatives.”

Key Considerations On The Road To The Cloud

There are multiple cloud options, and cloud migration strategies will vary from one enterprise to another. But there are four fundamental things that you should keep in mind when considering a cloud-based communications solution.

At the top of the list should be availability requirements. Ask yourself a few key questions:

  • Do you need business hours availability or do you need your system to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year?
  • If there is an outage, what will be the impact to your business? Minor or significant? Most cloud implementations don’t require 99.999 percent availability, so be realistic about your requirements.

In addition to availability, consider whether a customized implementation is necessary or if the base package of a cloud-based system can meet immediate business needs and support future SaaS integrations. While some SaaS tools require complex customization, most make up for the heavy lift of customizing software by enabling easy integration with other SaaS tools that provide efficiency and productivity gains. Keep in mind that highly customized systems can sometimes slow support response because they don’t follow the typical scripts IT teams are trained to handle. This requires greater expertise that may not be readily available or easily accessed when it’s needed.

Change management after migration should also be a key consideration. Keeping systems up to date is important for information security and to ensure that your employees are always working with the most current capabilities the system has to offer. Most cloud-based systems are largely self-updating and provide access to new capabilities more regularly. Typically, these updates don’t require intervention by IT staff to implement or roll back plans if things go wrong.

Finally, take a hard look at total cost of ownership by factoring in whether or not your new cloud-based system will require more IT staff to support it. Consider the staffing costs in addition to the hardware resource costs. If you don’t want to increase IT staff, think about your existing team and whether adding cloud technology to the mix will create additional stress by increasing workloads. Typically, cloud-based systems can usually be supported by one or two people, and they don’t necessarily have to be system experts. 

Look Beyond Immediate Requirements

As you stand at the crossroads of on-premises and cloud, shift your thinking to a cloud-first mentality. Consider the big picture by looking beyond immediate needs and factoring future evolution into your thought process.

A move to a cloud-based communications system can be the first step in a digital transformation strategy. At the outset, a purpose-built cloud solution will provide unified and scalable communications to anyone, anywhere and on any device. It will take communications capabilities to the next level by enabling more mobility, rich enterprise and team collaboration and exceptional customer experiences, without the cost and complexity of scaling traditional, premises-based communications systems to meet evolving business needs. Further down the road, the same system can provide the flexibility and scalability to integrate with a variety of SaaS business support and productivity tools to enable a complete transformation of business processes.

And remember that there is no one-size-fits-all cloud solution, so avoid menu-based offerings and get a cloud-based system that is custom fit to your business.

This blog post was first published by Mitel.

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Upgrading Business Communications for the Post-Pandemic World

If your house were on fire, would you spend half an hour picking just the right outfit to wear for the fire department?

Or would you run out the door in your pajamas?

In an emergency, we do the best we can with what we have. These temporary solutions might not be ideal—no one wants to stand in a snowbank in their skivvies—but they’re okay for the moment.

COVID-19 put most businesses in a state of emergency. The sudden need to support remote employees led to improvised solutions and workarounds—ad hoc, cobbled together, but good enough for a temporary fix.

Now, that the fires are mostly out, however, it’s time to upgrade these temporary solutions into more permanent ones. Remote and hybrid workforces are here to stay, and businesses need to properly support them in order to thrive.

In a recent webinar, tech expert Professor Sally Eaves and Mitel CIO Jamshid Rezaei shared their tips on modernizing communication in a scalable, sustainable way. 

Aligning Leadership And IT

Keeping the executive suite on the same page with IT is a perennial challenge, says Sally, and one that has become even more crucial during the pandemic. Alignment between the CIO, CFO and CISO will help ensure that your communication solutions are cost-effective, secure, and meet the needs of your remote and hybrid employees.

With all these stakeholders on board, your business can evaluate what communications solutions you need. Sally suggests starting with an audit of your current state, then developing a list of core requirements and building from there. “It starts with a foundational assessment,” she says. “Where are you now, and where do you want to be?”

Key Elements For A Communication Solution

The emergency, ad-hoc solutions that businesses deployed during the heat of the COVID crisis have a few things in common with each other, says Jamshid. They tend to be:

  • Free
  • Consumer grade
  • Not scalable
  • Using personal devices
  • Using multiple uncoordinated platforms

This type of IT-on-the-fly leads to increased security risks, as well as frustrating inefficiencies that drive employees to seek out their own workarounds. Ultimately that leads to “shadow IT”, with technology deployed outside of the IT department’s vigilance and security.

With this in mind, Sally recommends the following minimum requirements: “It should be secure, integrated, and accessible,” she says. That is, employees should be able to have a seamless conversation across devices and modes of communication, from phone calls to chat applications to videoconferencing.

When you have solutions in place that are consistent and easy to use, your employees can be efficient without sacrificing security.

Emerging And Evolving Technologies

When your business is ready to move beyond the basic requirements we discussed, Sally recommends looking at technologies that are either in early days or just over the horizon.

Automating voice interactions is one way to boost efficiency and provide customers more options for interacting with the brand. Sally points to chatbots and conversational AI as two emerging technologies that are finally ready for business use.

As technology evolves to become more user-friendly, Sally predicts that more business users will get into the nuts and bolts of customizing and creating new solutions. Low or no-code platforms with self-service options can help business leaders build the solutions they need, without having to become expert programmers.

The Case For Adapting Your Business Communications For The Post-Pandemic World

Over 50% of the world has worked from home over the last year—the most since World War II. Now, over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing that many employees have adjusted well to remote and hybrid work. According to Sally, employees are becoming more comfortable with remote work, more willing to communicate and collaborate online, and even more productive than they were at the office.

It’s clear that remote and hybrid work will be a major part of the future of work. This shift in the workforce presents a perfect opportunity to re-evaluate business continuity and optimize for both employee and customer experience. With the right communication and collaboration solutions, remote and hybrid work can benefit employees and employers alike.

This blog post was first published by Mitel.

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5 Habits to Cultivate in the Transition to Hybrid Work

As we ease into the post-pandemic era, many of us will return to a hybrid workplace, where we’ll be expected to spend a few days in the office and a few days working from home. Unlike full-time remote work, though, hybrid work is likely to become the norm, according to PwC. Sixty-eight percent of executives surveyed by the consultancy believe employees should be in the office at least three days a week, but 69% are accepting of some level of remote work.

Just as making the transition to remote work was a challenge, we can expect a bit of a bumpy road before we all adjust to hybrid work. How can you smooth the transition and get the most out of your hybrid workplace? Start by cultivating these five habits.

#1: Mirror Your Home And Office Set-Ups

For optimal productivity, your home and business workspaces should be mirror images. Is your desk at home set up ergonomically? Do you need dual monitors? Would a printer come in handy? The more these spaces look like each other, the less transition time you will need when you switch environments.

This is particularly true for technology and access to communications and business applications. Nothing is more frustrating than settling into your work day at home only to find you can’t tap into the company phone directory or collaborate securely with colleagues. The undesirable result of this approach is a growing list of tasks that can only be completed whenever you’re in the company office.

Cloud-based communication technology like MiCloud Connect integrates with critical business applications like your ERP and CRM. With the right remote working technology, you’ll always be able to reach the people, data and documents you need, no matter where you’re working for the day.

#2: Minimize Household Distractions

Most of us share our homes with some combination of roommates, family members and pets. For everyone’s sanity, it’s important to maintain healthy boundaries. If space allows, create a dedicated office area. Keep regular hours and let other household members know you can’t be disturbed during those times.

In addition, avoid areas where items such as bills, dishes and laundry are in view. Although taking the occasional break to fold clean towels is a welcome refresher, you don’t want household chores to take over your day.

Noise is another common distractor. Whether it’s a neighbor renovating their kitchen or your dog barking at the Amazon carrier, home just sounds different from the office. If you’re distracted, consider noise-cancelling headphones, which are valuable tools for both home and business offices.

#3: Get Used To Virtually Popping In

When working hybrid, it can be tempting to save less enjoyable tasks and conversations for the days in the office. Maybe you feel reluctant to interrupt your coworkers with a video chat. Maybe you simply prefer to conduct meetings in-person. Whatever your reasons, saving up those interactions for the office can quickly lead to unproductive and unmanageable days.

Get used to virtually “popping in” instead. Previously, many of us regularly poked our heads over the cubicle wall to get a co-worker’s input. You can make this a virtual habit. It’s easy to share your screen, web chat or video call with a single click. It may feel different at first, but we are creatures of adaptation. The more you use technology, the more natural it becomes.

#4 Make It Emotionally Sustainable

COVID-19 took its toll on everyone’s mental health. A Harvard Graduate School of Education study shows 43% of young adults reported increases in loneliness since the outbreak of the pandemic. The hybrid model can help alleviate this struggle.

For most of us throughout the past year, our home has served as an all-in-one office/gym/school/theater/24-hour diner. Now that you’re working hybrid, make it a priority to connect with people during days in the office. Eat with a coworker or go on a walk together during your lunch break. The mind needs a balance of routine and novelty; change things up when you can.

#5: Keep The Lines Of Communication Open With Your Manager

The manager-employee relationship is reciprocal, so it’s important to remember that people on each end have different concerns and stressors. And both will be adjusting to post-pandemic changes.

The most effective workers and managers attribute clear communication to their success. Frequent manager communication and feedback motivates employees to be more engaged, Gallup reports. Still, employees can be the ones to set the tone. Rather than wait for your manager to reach out to you, make it a habit to ask questions and seek help―especially on days when you’re not in the office together.

Also, keep in mind that you and your manager may have different notions about the ideal number of days spent in-office versus working from home. Take it upon yourself to discuss your preferences so this never becomes a point of contention.

The transition to a hybrid workplace will be a journey―not a trip around town. Finding the work routine that fits you―and your manager―will require some experimentation. You won’t know at first which habit will stick, but that’s ok. Just take the time to figure out how you work best.

This blog post was first published by Mitel.

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