Customer Success in the Retail Sector - It’s All in the Listening
Author: Rob Hamlin, Director Solutions Engineering at VOSS
It is a given in most technology fields that if you task 25 engineers to work towards a result, you will see at least 10 unique approaches emerge in order to achieve that same goal. When looking to introduce automation by deploying UC management tools, this is an important factor in the early days of any technical engagement. When interacting with customer engineers in the enterprise/retail verticals, I find that the reality of approach is very much coupled with a sense of personal pride in the individual engineer’s program. It is easy for the technical engineers to disengage if there is a hint of criticism of any given approach. At the end of the day, who am I to judge any given approach? That is a core value I carry in all customer engagements. I believe that an integration engineer representing the management tool vendor must work diligently to mesh their own solutions into the existing business process and architecture to add the most real value. At times, technical people can lose sight of the fact that whoever came before them did everything for a good reason.
Unlike other business verticals where the top-to-bottom solution is generally defined, like in a service provider environment when a standard cloud-based solution is being provided, generally speaking, enterprise solutions are a result of years of different engineers applying their own approach which were best-practice at a given time. Unravelling the years of different methodologies can be a challenge and potentially counterproductive.
When I take an objective look at the tool sets that VOSS provides out of the box, it can be difficult to simply overlay those tools into a customer’s existing business process. And there is often a conflict where the business owners demand optimisation and automation, but forbid change to the end user experience or process. To achieve success in these kinds of environments, engagement with the customer to understand their business process is critical, so that the management and automation tools can be configured and adapted to fill those gaps in process and augment what is already there. This is one of the most important phases in the work to deploy in a proof of concept or beta in a given enterprise.
I believe there is no such thing as wasted time in my area of work. No matter how lengthy conversations with customers can be, I have found down the road those conversations pay off in understanding exactly how a given group of UC engineers maintain their infrastructure. A great example is VOSS-4-UC in the retail vertical. At several customers recently, I have examined the factors that make a retail deployment different to a generic enterprise deployment. In retail specifically, I have learned that there is a drive to standardisation. In several retail deployments I have studied, the engineers work to deploy the retail locations as “cookie cutter”, in order to achieve deployment and operational efficiencies. It is a truth for these engineers that the more unique retail locations become, the harder that chain is to maintain; which ultimately leads to much longer deployment cycles in the instances of a “net new build” retail location.
In all of the retail deployments that I have engaged with, a retail location can vary dramatically in size; for example, a site’s footprint might encompass 20 end phone devices and then another location might have a footprint with hundreds of devices. The back end data that is necessary to deploy UC services in this environment is generally static. Imagine having 25 retail locations all with one telephone at the customer service desk. The only unique attribute about the phone across the chain is where it sits physically. All of the other information like caller ID, labels, and general configuration are all very static across the chain for that one station.
This data requires the flexibility to be changed, but it is very static. This fact opens the door to a new approach in deployment to ease standardisation. In these instances, I have introduced a new mechanism to store retail data within VOSS-4-UC so that the static table can be accessed repeatedly to deploy the retail location as a template. This approach enables the retail-focused engineer to deploy a new retail location not only with much greater speed but with greater accuracy. Where there was unique data applied to the station, we use the standard VOSS-4-UC macros to build those custom values dynamically. One retailer that used this input method grew to encompass over 300 end stations, which is the definition of their largest retail location.
Using the newly developed deployment tool set to deploy retail locations with all of the other built-in features of VOSS-4-UC, retail engineers have been able to accelerate work that historically took weeks to complete, to now taking approximately 32 minutes, by working directly in the UC applications. The cost and manpower savings are meaningful to the business owners but I find that the reduction in the monotonous work of deploying the same UC data over and over again is most appreciated by the UC engineers on the ground.
The fundamental key to success in these retail engagements is to gain a deep understanding of what the UC engineers deploy in steady state today, and work through the business process that drives the deployment model. By understanding a company’s process there is the highest probability of embedding VOSS-4-UC successfully, and giving the UC engineer the ability to shed the work which is often times seen as a nuisance. In tandem, this gives the business owner a repeatable / efficient process that reduces overhead costs of time and manpower and increases the speed of deployments.
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