By Tomas Gorny, co-founder and CEO at Nextiva
In this era, conversations are by far the most rich, powerful sources of information that businesses have to work with. The ideas, perspectives, concerns and desires that staff, providers, clients and customers express in all these conversations — many of which take place digitally — are the keys to unlocking solutions and new innovations.
It’s a new reality that was largely unforeseeable just two decades ago. In fact, as of 2001, not even half the U.S. population was accessing the Internet. Just ten years ago in 2012, less than 40% of Americans owned a smartphone. The idea of instantaneous communication as a standard feature of business had not set in.
Now, brick-and-mortar visits and phone calls join email, video meetings, chat, text, social media, messenger applications and other apps. Businesses have tried to keep up by being available across as many channels as possible, both for coworkers to collaborate and for clients or customers to reach out. But it has become an unmanageable deluge.
So, unfortunately, the vast majority of these conversations end up in separate threads. They take place in silos across dozens of different platforms, each of which on its own lacks the full context. If someone were to join just one of these conversations, there’s a good chance they’d have no idea what the people in it were talking about.
This has been a growing problem for years, but it was exacerbated by the pandemic. As of 2018, large companies were already using an average of 129 apps, while smaller businesses used 73. But when businesses suddenly shifted their operations for remote work, they picked up all sorts of new apps. By last year, companies were using more than 200 on average. Even individual departments within companies were using up to 60.
The chance to interact in so many different ways does have benefits, of course. Being reachable and accessible to clients and customers is crucial for B2B and B2C companies of any size. And having so many opportunities to share ideas and discuss possibilities with coworkers can boost opportunities for collaboration.
But this disorganized system causes major problems.
The price of app sprawl
When conversations are broken up into so many different places, daily losses ensue. App sprawl (which includes “SaaS sprawl”) drags down both internal collaboration and external communications.
What a customer says in one channel often stays there. When a company representative communicates with that same customer on another channel, they have no idea what the customer’s concerns are.
As I explained in a recent column for Nasdaq, it’s no surprise that customers say one of their biggest gripes is having to repeat information. It’s a major reason customer satisfaction levels have been falling, and are now at their lowest level in 17 years.
Consumers don’t just expect businesses to be reachable; they expect any representative of the business to have all the relevant information about them at the ready.
Meanwhile, inside organizations, 71% of workers say the growing number of communication and collaboration tools is making their work more complex. They’re toggling among different apps an average of 30 times a day. It’s a form of “context switching” that decreases productivity and increases stress.
And workers, just like clients and customers, also find themselves having to repeat what they’ve said before on different platforms. The problem is clear: What gets lost in all of these apps is the chance for external and internal users to maintain continuous conversations with teams, vendors and clients, and all the crucial information that goes along with those conversations.
Learning from Google
That’s why conversations are to today’s organizations what Internet pages were to Google 20 years ago. Just as Sergey Brin and Larry Page realized that organizing all those far flung, disparate web pages could change the world, businesses are starting to realize that organizing conversations can revolutionize their operations.
The key is to bring together conversations into a single place that provides all the necessary context and information. But this can’t happen overnight. Just as it took Google years to develop, it takes years to create a successful system that streamlines conversations across a business, creating threads that are easily accessible, intuitive, user friendly and catch all the relevant data.
Fortunately, at Nextiva, we’ve seen this problem coming since 2014. We could tell that two major factors were taking shape that would require a solution. First, the growing reliance on standalone apps was leading to new complexity. And second, we foresaw a seismic shift in which most conversations would be powered by tech rather than phones.
So we got to work. We filed more than 50 patents. We developed our NextOS platform to enhance the customer experience, while working to build the software that would take businesses into the new era. Now, it has arrived.
The ultimate digital workhub
For years, the CRM (customer relationship management tool) has served as the heart of business IT. In previous eras, that made sense. Maintaining a static repository of call notes was once the best way to retain customer information. Maintaining tickets as a way to keep track of customer requests also made sense.
But CRMs are prone to become outdated, often remain incomplete, and require manual updates. They can act more like virtual rolodexes than true stores of context-rich information about customers and business operations.
CRMs certainly continue to have an important role — but as part of something larger. It’s time for digital workhubs to take center stage.
As Aragon Research explains in a report, these are starting to take off because they consolidate functions found in other apps, streamlining operations. “The opportunity is to leverage both communication and content management with intelligent analytics that can help the enterprise keep track of more that is going on.”
“The combination of better digital workhubs combined with savvy business leadership means there will be more demand for an integrated work environment. The ultimate reason for all of this is to better serve customers by getting work done faster and more efficiently,” the report says.
But simply pulling together information from various apps into a single place is only the start. A hub will only serve the organization well if it creates value by presenting conversations filled with context, allowing anyone to instantly understand what it’s all about. That’s our focus.
In our new hub, every relevant interaction involving any client, issue or idea is presented as a single thread. Whether text, video, email, social media or elsewhere, all forms of communication show up as part of one continuous conversation. In addition, all the relevant information is attached — file-sharing, call notes, calendars, everything. And customer engagement tools are built in as well, including surveys, automation and more.
We think of it as “the Google of customer relationships.” It’s a system for effortless, instantaneous data sharing. When information is this easily accessible, searchable, and referenceable, businesses see vastly improved productivity — and customer “wow moments.”
Aragon CEO and founder Jim Lundy says, “Nextiva is well-positioned to disrupt team productivity and customer service — further improving the customer journey across all industries.” Clients are excited as well, with one describing the technology as “a game-changer for our teams and will help us deliver consistent, high-quality customer service.”
Making tech work for people, not vice versa
The proliferation of business technology should not make today’s workers feel overwhelmed, as though each new solution requires them to do more and more work in order to keep up with the demands of their jobs. Technology should make workers feel as served and empowered as users outside the organization.
I’m driven by a fundamental recognition that when people are given the right tools, they can do amazing things and accomplish their business dreams. I’m also a big believer in the power of human connections. I hire and work with people who feel the same way. It’s part of the culture of Nextiva. We know that anything we create must reflect that ethos.
Technology has the ability to make life and work faster, more enjoyable and less stressful. So it’s unacceptable for today’s workers to feel more and more stressed, just as customers should not have to feel more and more dissatisfied.
With the arrival of Nextiva’s next-generation workhub, we hope to turn the tide. To deliver greater convenience and meaning to everyday work, and to expand authentic connections. Organizations should be able to make customers happy, grow, and retain employees by making tech work for them. In short, it’s time to put both customers and teams first — and to make technology work for them.
That’s what the digital workhub is all about. And that, we believe, is the future of business.