Davide Petramala and Laura Faughtenberry: “How can you be more proactive with customer experiences to make them feel more effortless”

…How can you use artificial intelligence to elevate these experiences at scale? Leveraging AI to enable the experience to go beyond basic and transactional that will at best evoke a neutral experience, AI will enable a wow experience by making it intelligent, personalized as well as evergreen as it will improve the more it engages. […]

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…How can you use artificial intelligence to elevate these experiences at scale? Leveraging AI to enable the experience to go beyond basic and transactional that will at best evoke a neutral experience, AI will enable a wow experience by making it intelligent, personalized as well as evergreen as it will improve the more it engages. Great example is without contact tracing use case where we had massive value in response rates but during case management it new the user and could proactively reach out based on age, risk and days in quarantine to provide personalized experience on next steps


As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Davide Petramala and Laura Faughtenberry of Avaya.

Davide leads GTM strategy and a team of specialist for the Avaya OneCloud platform as a service for building composable, intelligent experiences. Davide has over 20 years of experience as a tech entrepreneur and executive. His previous company was acquired by Avaya in 2015 for their immersive user experiences technology for real-time communications.

Laura is the marketing leader for Avaya OneCloud Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS). She has a demonstrated history of success with a variety of SaaS companies.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Davide: Absolutely. I was a founder at a Canadian tech startup building immersive user experience for real-time communications. We built a global network of partners and customers embedding our solutions with their communications platform. In 2015 Avaya acquired our company and I was part of a team leading Avaya’s venture into global public cloud services working with partners, developers and customers to help them on the business of customer experience delivered with Avaya innovation.

Laura: I actually started as a tv reporter for a news station. I loved the spontaneity of not knowing how each day would turn out. Eventually I transitioned into marketing and I’ve loved being able to use my training in storytelling to help me relay stories to prospects and customers.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Davide: Early on in my career I was focused on delivering the best features at the lowest cost to be able to compete and launch our business — only to find out very quickly that more is not always better, and in fact it is often more confusing, complicated and creates no value. Once we started looking at companies we wanted to do business with and listened to their feedback, we quickly realized customers pay for value and the experiences you can deliver. Actually doing “Less” delivered more value as we focused on what functions could deliver the most value to the businesses we marketed to. This transformed every part of our business- solution delivery, support , sales , customer success and branding. It created a new paradigm on building our business, which was increasing the focus on customers success. Anytime we could deliver value to their business, price was no longer part of the conversations

Laura: Once I was covering a story and a storm broke out. I was wearing heels in a flash flood situation, and by the end of the day I had eye-liner smeared down my face. From that day on I always knew to prepare for the unexpected. For that job it meant always having rain boots with me. 🙂

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Davide: My success in life and work has always been based on the amazing teams I had the pleasure to work with and build businesses with. You’re only as good as the team around you and I always had smarter and better people around me that I could learn from, and it drove me to excel and succeed. As a young man growing up, my dad was a massive influence on me as he set my moral compass and taught me by example that hard work, commitment and passion will always pay off if you believe in what you’re doing. From there it led me to always work with and associate with leaders and experts that had the same belief system and passion to succeed.

Laura: I can’t pinpoint one person because honestly there have been different people at different times in my life. I think constantly networking is important because you never know who will inspire you next. I think achieving success includes setting goals and putting in steps along the way to help you achieve your goals.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Davide: Customer experiences that invoke a positive feeling are crucial to the success of business because a happy customer is one who is likely to become a loyal, long-term customer who will share that experience with others and become an evangelist for your brand. This is critical in today’s climate, as there has been a paradigm shift from the traditional business model where the customer is at the end of the supply chain to the point where the customer is the center of your business model. And the influence and impact they can have on a company’s brand based on their feedback and experience is huge. Companies are now in the business of customer experience to build competitive differentiation and brand loyalty.

Laura: When you love an experience you have you with a company you may tell a few people about it. But on the flipside, when you have a bad experience you probably tell more people about it. So you could arguably have the best product or solution in the world, but if you don’t focus on customer experience your business could fail.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

Davide:

There is not silver bullet to customer experience that you can repeat over and over. With the advent of the everything customer, they want simplicity but also a rich experience, they want personalized engagement but at the same time protect their privacy. Its simply not easy. To do it right, companies need to commit to being in the business of customer experience with a focus on consistency on every way a company may engage with a customer. While online versus in-store may be different, I am referring to consistency in the perceived positive value from each engagement. It’s not easy and there is not simply a blueprint you can purchase. It’s about knowing your customer, getting their feedback constantly and consistently so you are always optimizing based on their ever-changing needs. This is why technology and innovation are so important to the process, as it enables companies to move quickly and dynamically to address a complex and ever-changing market.

Laura:

It can’t be black and white. Customers are different and their expectations are always evolving. They want to choose their own journeys, they want to feel important, but they also often want conflicting experiences at times. Think about it, sometimes you may want to run into the grocery store to grab a few items. Other times you may want to do grocery pickup or delivery. But each time you want the items you need to be easy to find and you want the process of acquiring those items to be seamless. So it’s important to spend time creating customer interactions, and to utilize artificial intelligence in the process, so that customers can self-segment and choose the journey they want when they want it.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Davide: 100%. if a company is not committed to the customer experience then they are not building differentiation and customers will actively go out and seek companies to do business with that will meet their expectations. This is exactly what disruptive companies do to industries, i.e. uber to transportation and logistics, Airbnb to hospitality, Amazon to retail. These disrupters raise the bar and expectation of customers and you either adapt and compete , like Walmart did in retail or you decide to stick to the legacy business model slowly become irrelevant like Kmart.

Laura: Sure, customers are drawn to work/shop with/at companies who make them feel like they are the most important customer. I personally always look at reviews before I make decisions. If I know I can trust a company then I’m more likely to make a purchase and feel confident that I won’t have to jump through hoops to rectify the product or service if something out of the ordinary occurs.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

Davide: One of our major grocery chain customers completely disrupted their customer engagement strategy by changing how they listened to their customers and focusing on what they were really asking for. Previously customers would call local stores and ask several consistent queries. Note the experience was to call the local store. And if no one answered because staff were on the floor managing the in-store experience, then the callers were extremely frustrated. If they called a call center they had no idea of local store data and really couldn’t help. Even worse, if they went to the store and it was closed or there was no toilet paper they were even more frustrated and would simply go to a competitor. Our grocery chain customer took this problem as an opportunity do something different that would create brand value and loyalty by delivering the remote experience with the same value as an in-store experience. They used intelligent systems to determine who the caller was and where they would be calling from so they could provide them local answers to any question they had. This enabled the Store to deliver better customer experience, while improving efficiency for staff. More so the more callers called in the smarter the service became as it understood patterns of intent and request and every time someone called in. Every call created a better and richer personalized experience driving massive customer satisfaction in engaging with the chain.

Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

Davide: The project started with 5 stores and over a two-month period rapidly expanded to over 300 locations as word of mouth of the success spread like wildfire and more and more store managers wanted to opt into the service. Originally its team was focused on networking and cost optimization but after they realized the value of investing in customer experience, the IT function has expanded to help build out a real customer experience strategy for the CIO. Innovation in customer success helped drive significant business growth.

For another customer that leveraged Avaya to build AI enabled Covid contact tracing and testing capabilities, we were actually saving lives. Moving from a manual, slow process that was getting less than 20% response rates on positive tests and taking up to 5 days to even notify users was causing major distress in the community. Our AI-enabled outbound automation experience was able to notify users within 24 hours as well detect language and engage with the user in their native tongue, resulting in massively improving the response rates to over 50%, translating into saving lives and controlling and containing the crisis in the community.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

Laura: I’ll use some of our checklist items from our master class presentation for this. It’s about asking yourself questions and continuing to collect feedback from your customers even after you put experiences in place.

  1. How do customers want to connect with your business? -Live in person or 24 hours via any means. With covid live in person become not possible so that rich experience need to be delivered in other ways- web, text, social even voice. Our banking customer had to open their operations 24/7 to meet these needs and it became a must have vs nice to offer service.
  2. What do customers want to do when they are engaged with your business? — they want to have connection and have a conversation. They are not interested in the business dictating to them what they can access, they want to connect to your business and tell you what they need. With our healthcare customer callers wanted to find out about loved ones and how to connect, check account balances and even register or verify insurance policy and coverage. The only answer to this question comes from actually asking your customer. Know what you want allows you to optimize the engagement without overengineering the experience, again customers want simplicity not complexity.
  3. How can you use artificial intelligence to elevate these experiences at scale? Leveraging AI to enable the experience to go beyond basic and transactional that will at best evoke a neutral experience, AI will enable a wow experience by making it intelligent, personalized as well as evergreen as it will improve the more it engages. Great example is without contact tracing use case where we had massive value in response rates but during case management it new the user and could proactively reach out based on age, risk and days in quarantine to provide personalized experience on next steps.
  4. How can you be more proactive with customer experiences to make them feel more effortless. — leveraging intelligent outbound engagement to go beyond the expected and drive even more perceived value in your customer relationship. Again eg is our retail customers knowing customer buying habits and proactively informing them of special programs, rebates or specials that are of interest to those specific customers.
  5. How are you collecting insights to evolve your customer experiences and build more personalized engagements.- Data is key it will highlight what is working and what’s not and allow you to constantly reiterate and improve the experience you’re delivering. The process is defining the problem, develop the solution, deliver the outcome, analyze the results, get customer and user feedback, finally constantly improve and optimize.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

Davide: Feedback is critical to the lifecycle of building everlasting experiences. Engaging and enabling customer feedback also empowers your customer and allows them to be more deeply connected to your business, and the better and more consistently this is done the bigger the impact on your customer relationship and positive feeling it will invoke. This will organically grow your business as the positive experience will inspire your customer to share that experience with others as well.

Laura: Yes — you have to make it easy for them to deliver their feedback! This is all about the paradigm shift of composing experiences around your customers and not thinking of them as the end of the supply chain. Davide can expand with an example.

My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Davide: Let me give you the example of Etsy, and unique custom items available but at premium price. Their growth is phenomenal, as they built a unique user experience for shoppers and vendors to shop for customized and personalized services at the simplicity and ease of use of an Amazon. Amazon is setting the bar of what we need to be prepared to do to meet the needs of the 24-hour customer but companies can compete and excel by focusing in on what their customers want and their specific needs around connecting with your business. Doubling down on this personalized approach can help you differentiate from the big box online retailer that wants to sell you everything at a low cost. Your experience hones in on making your customer part of your business and helping shape the experience you can deliver so the perceived value of connecting with your business can be more relevant to them and drive an even more positive and connected experience.

Laura: Experience is so important. Say you are buying a new shirt. If you order that shirt and you expect it to arrive on a certain day/time and it doesn’t you’re not going to be happy. If you get it and it doesn’t look/feel/fit as you expected it to you aren’t going to be happy. If it’s not easy to exchange or return that item then the whole experience is not positive. Personally I’d rather spend a bit more every single time if I know that I can trust a company and the experience matches my expectations.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

Davide: My focus would be around empowering people to believe in themselves so they can set massively audacious goals and dreams and then inspire them to achieve them. The movement would be the power of passion and how passion in your goals can transform any life or any business. It would be to inspire individuals to focus on their dreams, goals and what they believe in to optimize human happiness.

Laura: For me it would just be helping people grow. It’s so easy to say I want to do X, but I don’t have time or I’m so far behind, etc. But really, it’s never too late. You can develop and acquire new skills and achieve goals you may have thought weren’t even a possibility if you have the right support along the way and set the stepping stones along the way. (For me, this was learning how to play the guitar. It’s never too late.)

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Davide: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidepetramala/

Laura: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurafaughtenberry/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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