Dave Bukovinsky is, in his own words, "a sucker for a good change initiative." From his career beginnings as a software developer in the wireless industry, he moved into project management and program management, deftly keeping pace with fast-moving and ever-evolving communications technology and leading large engineering teams. As he climbed the management ladder, his focus shifted from the changing technology to the people who were most impacted by those changes — the customer and their experiences.
“Over the last few years, I’ve focused on customer experience in the contact center, on messaging apps, and, most recently, headed up Teletech’s contact center and solutions for the cloud,” Bukovinsky said. “When CSG approached me and said they were trying to pull together a customer communications management portfolio, I couldn’t resist."
Bukovinsky is now CSG’s executive director, digital CX product management and strategist. CSG is a sponsor of CMSWire's DXSummit, taking place as a free virtual event on Oct. 21. Bukovinsky is presenting the session, "Rapid Pivot to Digital CX: Check your CX Blind Spots." He spoke with CMSWire about the emergence of CX platforms and the impact of AI and chatbots on customer experience.
Presenting a Unified Customer Experience
CMSWire: What is a customer experience platform? Why would a company choose to use a platform?
Bukovinsky: I think this is something that is on a lot of people’s minds right now. This industry is in its infancy. For our customers, there are a lot of communication touchpoints they are trying to manage and using a single platform is a simplified, streamlined way of doing that.
It used to be that, for example, when you ordered your cable, you would have one touchpoint for ordering. Then, a second touchpoint when the cable company calls you to schedule the installation; that is a separate department. A third touchpoint would occur when the technician came to your house. But again, none of those three different departments talked to each other. So, if you had an issue with billing, and you talked to the technician about it, they could not do anything to help you. You would have to go back and call and go through it all again.
In addition, as communication technology evolved, there have been so many ways for companies to communicate with customers. Print, mail, phone, email, but now there’s text and social media and chat — and companies have not been good about taking advantage of those or integrating all touch points to create a fully orchestrated and integrated customer experience.
That would not necessarily have been a problem, because that is what we were all used to. Enter companies like Amazon, Uber, Zappos — all of these ‘born on the internet’ companies that really revolutionized the game. Now everyone, even the legacy companies, like cable companies, must start stitching together all these siloed departments and systems and technologies and channels so it looks unified and consistent to the customer. A single platform is the best way to do that.
CMSWire: What does an 'ideal' digital customer experience look like?
Bukovinsky: In my mind, I believe it is about being predictive. Anticipating what I am going to need and then taking care of that. If you know me as a customer, especially if I have been with you for a long time, you should know me, and act accordingly.
Here is an example: I have a 15-year-old child who just started driving. There are publicly available data sources that have gathered my child’s data throughout her life and know her age. So my insurance company should have gotten some kind of alert, based on the age requirement for driving in my state, that I am going to have a new driver on my policy and contacted me.
They should be anticipating my needs and reaching out to me instead of me having to initiate that contact. There is at least one cable operator I know of who is doing something similar when they see customers’ service speeds slowing down. They send an alert that says, “We noticed that your performance has slowed; we need to reboot your router because we believe that will fix the issue,” instead of waiting for the inevitable angry phone calls from customers.
CMSWire: How does that differ from what organizations are delivering today? How can they bridge that gap between the ideal and the real?
Bukovinsky: The thing is, the triggers for customer interaction do not look much different than they did 20 years ago: People have billing questions or want to add another service. They want to order a specific product or report that something got damaged, etc. That has not changed much, but the technology has. So, there’s major opportunity to take these knowns and make customers feel understood and cared for.
I think these companies are still struggling with organizational ownership. When we are talking about an organizational platform that can helping to manage that, one of the first questions is always ‘Who has the budget? Is it marketing? Operations? Is it IT?' Etcetera.
Companies need a chief customer officer — someone who has that oversight over all those different departments that CX touches — but most do not have one. So there is a lot of legacy organizational squabbles and silos and budgeting problems that are slowing down the progress toward this unified platform approach. Another big obstacle is that people want to ‘boil the ocean’ when it comes to these initiatives. Instead of starting with one touchpoint, one expert who can tell them how to really have great CX in that area, they try to do too much at once. Instead, they should start small, test, get feedback, tweak it, make sure it works and then expand it.
The Impact of AI and Chatbots
CMSWire: How do technologies like AI and chatbots impact customer experience?
Bukovinsky: They started out with good intentions, like most technology. Sometimes just to make an FAQ page more interactive, and to ease the redundancy for the contact center workers. But in some respects, they haven’t really been that helpful or lived up to their promise, unless the customer is asking something simple like, ‘What time are you open?’
Where I think we’re seeing big innovation is with conversational AI, like Amazon Alexa or Google Voice or Siri, that can connect to the back-end data stores, that can parse conversations and answer complex questions and track intent. These kinds of technologies can really serve as a true virtual assistant, and I think we are finally starting to see success with those kinds of solutions. The impact has the potential to be tremendous — not just in the contact center but across a range of verticals and internal/external communications functions.
CMSWire: What are the challenges to the implementation of those technologies?
Bukovinsky: Well, people have already been burned by these before, so that is one problem. Everyone has a story about when the technology crashed, or when it stuck you in an endless loop, or it got overwhelmed because it could not figure out what you needed. So, getting to a more sophisticated level is still evolving.
One good thing is that, since most of these vendors in this space are cloud-based, they can scale quickly and only pay for what is used — meaning that storing all the relevant data is not a problem.
But, again, silos are a big challenge. What we are seeing is the person that wants to own that solution is the owner of customer care, because they want to take that tedious responsibility out of agents’ hands — which is fine. But to have successful interactions using AI and chatbots, you must integrate back office systems owned by the IT department. And IT is busy and backlogged. So, sometimes, if a company wants to deploy those solutions in, say, 90 days, they must put the brakes on, because IT cannot get to it for six more months, or whatever. It is just not their priority. I think it is getting much clearer that these systems must be a business and IT priority.
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