Mobile Experience: Avaya’s Got It, Do Contact Centers Need It?

By Michael Finneran
11 Apr 2018

At Enterprise Connect 2018 last month, a resurrected Avaya surprised both the contact center and carrier businesses by announcing it was forming a group to offer toll-free carrier services, and introducing a new toll-free voice service for contact centers. The new service is called Avaya Mobile Experience, and Avaya claims it will deliver big benefits for mobile callers to contact centers. The service should be general availability in the May-June timeframe. The announcement caught many of us by surprise, and now it’s time to figure out just how big a deal it really is.

What Avaya Announced

Specifically, Avaya announced it has become a "mobile operator," a distinction that will be key in terms of the services it looks to deliver. While the term "carrier" may conjure up images of numerous points of presence (POPs), miles of fiber optic cable, sales offices across the country, and so on, Avaya will be doing little of that. In today’s world, Avaya only needs some data centers (housed in commercial hosting facilities), and with that it can offer nationwide service with geo-redundant access.

To get mobile operator status, Avaya has partnered with an unnamed mobile operator. However, that mobile operator status means that the company has access to the cellular signaling network. That access will be key to the unique aspects of Avaya’s Mobile Experience and to future service offerings it might introduce.

What’s Different About Avaya’s Network Service?

Signaling networks, or more specifically, common channel signaling networks, are the carriers’ internal data networks that coordinate the process of setting up and tearing down calls and providing calling features (like vanity toll-free numbers). All long distance carrier networks have these signaling networks that use a standard protocol called Signaling System 7 (SS7).

Cellular networks also use common channel signaling, but those systems have to accommodate a much wider range of capabilities than a fixed-line network. For example, cellular signaling networks must support functions like users roaming outside of their home networks. Roaming users must be authenticated with the Home Location Register in their home area and their over-the-air encryption initialized.

One differentiator of the cellular signaling networks that is key to Avaya’s offering is that the signaling also identifies if the call is originating on a wired or a mobile line. That distinction is important to mobile operators for a number of reasons, not the least of which is they need to know if they can send SMS messages to the station.

What Mobile Experience Delivers

The unique feature of Avaya's service is that it can identify mobile callers and offer them mobile web service as an option. Among the goals of any contact center operator is the need to improve customer experience while controlling costs, and shifting callers to web services is a big part of that. Web support is already a way cheaper service option than live voice agents, and the expanding use of AI-enabled chatbots will only accelerate that.

With Avaya Mobile Experience, when calls arrive, all landline calls are delivered to the contact center as before. However, mobile calls are identified and routed to an IVR that gives a voice prompt asking if the caller wants "an enhanced mobile experience." The mobile caller accepting that offer will be sent a personalized SMS message with a link to the customer service area of the company's website. The voice call is disconnected (stopping the toll-free billing charges), and the caller can click the link and be taken to the company's website. Avaya's press materials also note that the service can be used with any vendor's contact center platform.

Is It Worth It?

Avaya makes a big deal (too big a deal in my opinion) about reducing toll-free costs; giving callers the option to be called back already accomplishes that goal. Call back also lessens the amount of time users spend “fuming on hold.”

There is also the question of whether the web option will meet the caller’s needs. It’s safe to assume there is 100% customer awareness of the web support option, so a good percentage of the callers will likely have tried that already and found it wanting before they picked up the phone – did we just remind them of that annoying, time-wasting web experience?

Even if the web was not an option the caller considered, the on-hold message reminds them (way more times than is necessary) that there’s a web service option available. My contact center friends tell me we now have an option on some platforms where the mobile caller can press one digit, and an SMS message with the web link can be sent to them, so we don’t need to do all this “fancy stuff” before the call is delivered.

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong, I think that Avaya’s Mobile Experience is a significant development. While everyone else has sought to develop new capabilities with on premises or cloud-based capabilities, only Avaya looked at what else they could potentially get from the carrier. Though, if you think about it, a lot of the neat functionality from Mobile Experience comes by way of cloud-based CPaaS functionality through Zang.

Avaya figured out you could get a lot more useful information (particularly about mobile callers) by getting access to the cellular signaling network, and they came up with a way to do it. However, Avaya’s first attempt at developing a meaningful service based on that capability may be flawed; if you just think through the various scenarios, is Mobile Experience really that much better than the solutions we already have in hand?

Avaya is clearly looking beyond Mobile Experience and has hinted strongly at a follow-on service that could provide more information about the caller including mobile user location. The cellular signaling only gives you access to cell-tower location accuracy, which means “within a couple of square miles,” which limits the range of applications.

If nothing else, Avaya has opened the door to a new set of possibilities; it will be interesting to see if any of the established carriers introduce competitive offerings- Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all have both wired and cellular operations. The carrier industry has become a commodity-oriented race to the bottom, but maybe there’s a new way to look at this.

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