Companies around the world are telling employees to work from home to protect themselves from catching coronavirus and to stop it spreading.
Business continuity is not the only reason for employees to work from home – remote working increases productivity, results in a happier and healthier workforce, and encourages employees to remain in the business for longer.
The outbreak of coronavirus may change or influence working patterns from now on, with more companies willing to accept the request for remote working.
More than 1.54 million people now work from home for their main job – an increase from 884,000 ten years ago (ONS Labour Force Survey 2018). The Office of National Statistics believes that 50 percent of the UK’s employees will be working remotely by next year and a total of 90 percent of staff will request to work remotely at least part-time.
The workplace has and will continue to change beyond recognition with new technology enabling employees to work remotely and collaborate more effectively.
The younger demographic has turned the traditional office and working practices upside down, with requests that are radically different to previous generations. Coupled with the existing and increasing digital skills gap, companies need to transform themselves and invest in attracting and retaining talent by vanquishing traditional mindsets and processes.
The now and future employees
The European workplace now encompasses 160 million millennials and naturally this is set to increase to 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. Companies need to shift from ‘this is how we have always worked’ to ‘how can we make changes to attract and retain the younger demographic?’
The desires of millennials and younger generations are very different to previous ones, where the expectation was to be shackled to the same desk every day from nine-to-five and there was very little flexibility on any level. They only want to work for businesses that believe in work-life balance, bringing them flexibility and the ability to work remotely.
A positive work-life balance reduces workplace stress, resulting in a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.
Widen your recruitment pool
By implementing remote workingyou can widen your recruitment pool and attract and retain top talent from further afield and even overseas.
You can also work with freelancers, opening up the ‘gig economy’ that now includes approximately 4.8 million people with freelancers comprising 42 percent of that population, and six percent of the UK workforce as a whole (as measured by the Association of Independent Professionals).
Technology the enabler
Companies need to provide employees with the correct technology to enable remote and flexible working.
Cloud based conferencing and collaboration solutions such as Mitel’s MiCollab and Avaya’s Spaces empowers employees to hold audio and video conference calls together over their desktop or via a mobile.
Send instant messages, and share and work on documents and presentations together; it is important to use intuitive technology that is easy to use, set up, and to keep your documents secure to protect data and privacy.
Seeing things differently
Employees need to be trusted from the outset and given autonomy to do their jobs wherever they are.
Trust should be given and not earned. Naturally, this may be more difficult for the baby boomer managers because they are used to traditional methods of working, such as being seen in the office working late at night. Providing them with remote and flexible working that fits into their personal life demonstrates that you trust them to do the job, no matter where they are.
Employees require clear direction of what needs to be done and key performance indicators can be put in place to ensure that employees are achieving. Software such as workforce management tools and collaboration software ensures you can access project progress and knowledge bases.
Time to step up the productivity
Remote working increases productivity because you are enabling your employees to fit work in with their personal lives. Your employee will feel happier, therefore will be willing to work harder and go the extra mile if required.
Airtasker recently issued some research stating that remote workers work an extra 1.4 days a month, which equates to 16.8 days a year more than people work in an office.
Healthier and happier workforce
ConnectSolutions’ survey states that 52 percent were less likely to take time off ill when remote working; 45 percent of remote workers sleep better; 35 percent exercise more; and 42 percent have healthier diets. Mental health is protected, with 53 percent claiming they suffer from less stress.
Implementing remote and flexible working clearly results in healthier and happier employees who will take less time off ill and ultimately be more productive.
Connecting people together
It is important to provide remote and home workers with the correct tools to communicate with so they still feel connected to the team and maintain a social bond with their colleagues. Buffer stated that 19 percent of remote workers get lonely and 17 percent struggle with communication and collaboration.
Conferencing and collaboration tools help combat this, enabling you to conduct phone and video conference calls, share documents, and send instant messages. Some companies schedule virtual coffee breaks into their agendas so they can socialise over video chat or IM.
Home workers will usually worker longer and harder, and are less distracted in the day so it is vital that you set guidelines on switching off from work so they can separate their home and work life.
Suggest no emails after working hours and no working on holidays; this will ensure that your productive remote workers remain happy and healthy and are more likely to stay with you if clear expectations are set.
Future-proof with flexibility
Remote working is much bigger than business continuity issues such as protecting employees from illnesses.
Future-proof your workforce by providing them with the flexibility, trust and autonomy to work at home or remotely within flexible hours if required. Set your employees free and you will have a healthier, happier, more dedicated, productive, and efficient workforce, along with the ability to attract and retain the top talent that you need.
Technology is constantly delivering new methods of communication to the workplace in abundance.
There are so many different communication channels available, we often question which one is best to use and what for.Sometimes, issues occur when we don’t question, and then use the inappropriate tools to communicate something. This can lead to misinterpretation, people may get offended or misconstrue what’s been said, or left feeling they haven’t received sufficient information.
We can all feel like we are drowning in digital communications and are consumed by the 24/7 digital noise. The norm is to respond to everything the instant we receive it and to check all social media updates and sink with FOMO if we weren’t invited to a party or even a meeting!
The objective of technology is make us more effective and productive and not hinder us. It is time to stop manic multi-tasking and thinking that everything has to be now and instant – take a step back, breath, focus, and learn to how to manage your digital communications so you become empowered by technology and not enslaved by it.
Phone: the Power of Voice
By speaking on the phone we can develop a personal connection with a person, understand their tone of voice, and talk in more depth therefore strengthening the connection. There is less margin for error or misinterpretation, and of course the advantage is also there are more opportunities for conversations on a personal level and for humour. Another benefit is trust and authenticity can be built more quickly in comparison to an email or text.
When to use it:
To resolve something urgently that is complex. It is often easier to get results face to over the phone as you can talk around the issues
When you are chasing someone – if a client or employee has been ignoring your emails and messages then pick up the phone and talk to them about it. It will be much quicker
There are times when you must deliver bad news or discuss something personal and empathy is required. This can only be achieved in a face to face meeting or on a phone call
A catch up – you have a business issue to chat through and also it’s been a while since you spoke to the person so you want to catch up with them
Email or ‘snail mail’
Email is still very much the most used communications tool in business. The issue is that you end up with a full inbox and people still copy you in on irrelevant emails. We send roughly 281.1 billion emails a day, a figure that is estimated to increase to 333.2 billion by 2022, according to Statista.
Therefore, we would expect that emails often get ignored, deleted, or end up in the junk box. Emails are not the most effective way to communicate and it is much easier to use other tools such as picking up the phone.
When to use it:
Sitting at your desk or on move from smartphones or tablets
To document conversations and activities
To send files
Video and audio conference calls
These tools are great when you want to speak with a group of people in another location without having to travel. With video you can read people’s body language and easily gage reactions to what you are saying.
When to use it:
For a team meeting to discuss a project or proposal
If there is an issue you can have a collective discussion
To screen share a document and go through it together
Conferencing and collaboration solutions contain instant messaging tools and you can see your colleagues’ presence, when they are available and when they aren’t. However, people expect an instant response and tend to ignore the ‘busy’ and ‘do not disturb’ signs.
When to use it:
When you need an instant answer to a question
You may need to talk to someone and ask them to call you when you are free. Instant messages are more intrusive than emails and are harder to ignore
Companies may use Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter etc to communicate to customers or other stakeholders.
When to use it:
To share photos or information
To ask questions and generate a multitude of answers
To answer customer complaints
For customer reviews
Bringing it All Together
The key is to know how and when to use the different communication tools available. Therefore using them at different times and when appropriate to improve efficiencies and productivity.
Knowing when to switch off is vital, so if you need to focus on a piece of work or need some downtime, and don’t want to be disturbed then you could set your ‘Do Not Disturb’ or turn it all off.
Be guided by the experts
A Solutions Provider in communication solutions will advise and guide you on what communications technology you need for your business and its objectives. They will assist you with setting guidelines on how and when to use the tools, setting ‘etiquette’ rules and ‘duty of care’ policies on how to minimise interruptions utilising them to their potential.
Empower and set yourself free
Set yourself free from drowning in digital noise and instant gratification, and manage your portfolio of communication tools to empower you and not enslave you.
Today we are swamped with a plethora of digital tools to communicate with one another, from Whatsapp, texting, Facebook, Instagram, to email, and much more.
We are led to believe that these technologies make communications easier but at the same time we are bombarded with messages daily where instant responses are the norm. This multi-tasking is overwhelming and the lack of focus affects our productivity at work and at home.
People are no longer reaching for the phone and it is fast becoming the lost art of communication. Are we getting lost in the digital noise that surrounds us? Is it time to rediscover the power of voice?
Lack of focus
There are over 20 billion devices connected to the internet today. That equates to three devices for every single person (Gartner). With this mind-blowing statistic, it is not surprising that many people suffer from nomophobia (smartphone addiction).
Let’s face it, if the majority of the workforce are constantly checking Instagram, Facebook, and their messages while trying to work, it’s clear productivity levels will reduce.People now multi-tasking more than ever and instant responses to messages are expected. A total of 83 percent of millennials open text messages within 90 seconds of receiving (Openmarket research), and as they are a generation of instant gratification, naturally they expect an instant response. This results in lack of focus, which leads to jobs being half done or not finished, therefore reducing efficiencies and productivity.
Drowning in Emails
Let’s not just blame social media and messaging applications such as Whatsapp – email is also a major culprit. We send roughly 281.1 billion emails a day, a figure that is estimated to increase to 333.2 billion by 2022, according to Statista. Therefore, we would expect that emails often get ignored, deleted or end up in the junk box. Emails are not the most effective way to communicate and it is much easier to use other tools such as picking up the phone.
Digital noise is ubiquitous and we are beginning to get lost in the abyss. Companies are reverting back to using direct marketing campaigns as they are tangible and cut through the digital noise.
Millennials and Generation Z are referred to as Generation Mute because they rarely use the phone to call people, if at all. Bankmycell discovered that 75 percent of Millennials don’t use the phone to make calls as it is too time consuming; instead they much prefer to text, use social media, or send an email than to pick up the phone. Eight-one percent of respondents also acknowledged that they often feel anxious about talking on the phone – indeed, that they sometimes must work up the courage to do so (Bankmycell).
Employer Skills UK discovered that one-in-three job applications don’t have the oral communications skills they require. Naturally, this is an issue for businesses – what was once an expected basic skill has now been eradicated and unbelievably some new recruits are taught how to answer and speak on the phone.
Is it time to come full circle and encourage people to speak on the phone more, and dare I say it – to have more meetings face to face, or at least a video call?While there is no doubt that we have gained tremendously from digital communication tools like Instant Messenger, backed by Millennials and Generation Z in the workplace, we also must be careful not to lose our basic communications and social skills of speaking to people over the phone and face to face.
When and why face-to-face and phone calls cut it
The Harvard Business Review recently discovered that face-to-face requests were 34 times likely to garner a more positive response than emails. So why is face-to-face and over the phone or video communications more effective, and in what situations should we use it over digital communications?
1. When speaking to someone directly, either face-to-face or over the phone, we develop a personal connection with them which is important for communications.
2. We can read people’s body language, understand their tone of voice, expressions and emotions
3. In face-to-face meetings, or over the phone, conversation is natural and fluid.
4. Create a good impression on someone, whether it’s a new or existing client. It’s easier face-to-face or on the phone than over email or messages.
5. Relationships can be strengthened with the connections made in the meeting, with small talk, humour, and a deeper conversation.
6. Clarity! Face-to-face and phone conversations are much clearer with less margin for misinterpretation. Communications over digital communications tools are often unclear and lost in translation.
7. Trust and authenticity are also built more quickly with face-to-face or phone conversations rather than text.
8. Believe it or not, issues are resolved more quickly with face-to-face meetings and phone calls as they are often shorter, as opposed to long email trails and messages.
Meeting someone face to face or phoning them is more time consuming, but it is worth the extra effort. After all, you only get back what you put in.
When should you meet, or make a phone or video call?
1. When you need to resolve something urgently that is rather complex. It’s often easier to get results face-to-face or over the phone as you can talk around the issues seeking for a solution.
2. When you are meeting a new client – if you are meeting a new customer or a prospect then it is a good idea to meet with them so they can see who you are and you can spend some time going through your proposal and getting to know them.
3. When you are chasing someone – if a client or employee has been ignoring your emails and messages then pick up the phone and talk to them about it. It will be much quicker.
4. There are times when you must deliver bad news or discuss something personal and empathy is required. This can only be achieved in a face-to-face meeting or on a phone call.
5. When you want to catch up – you have a business issue to chat through and also it’s been a while since you spoke to the person so you want to catch up with them
Look through the digital noise and out onto the horizon of clarity, and next time you are about to fire off an email or instant message, think for a second would this be better communicated by speaking to someone.
If so then arrange a meeting, take time and have lunch with them, pick up the phone, or make a video call. By choosing the right tool to communicate with, your productivity will increase and you will get the results you want.
Human and social connection is important, let’s not lose that basic skill and let digital tools take over our communications. Sometimes an emoji just won’t cut it!
The future is upon us, with companies digitalising their contact centres with disruptive technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Processing Automation (RPA), that are improving the Customer Experience beyond recognition.
In the age of Brexit and political and economic uncertainty, more companies are tasked with the hard remit to cut costs and improve services at the same time. Mission Impossible? Surprisingly, it’s not!
By using AI and RPA solutions in your contact centre you can reduce the cost to serve by as much as 95 percent compared to other communication methods such as telephone call, email, or live web chat – and at the same time improve the experience for both agents and customers.
The aim is to make the customers’ journey seamless at every touch point helping you improve customer experience and reduce cost to serve.In turn this helps to reduce customer churn (retain existing customers) and increases their willingness to buy again from you and buy more. As we know consumers are more vocal than ever before, especially within the social sphere and review sites.Great customer experience increases advocacy, helping you to attract new ones – becoming your best marketing channel.
By removing wasted effort and the repetitive and mundane, your people will have the time to not only do their job more efficiently but importantly support the shift towards an innovation and value driven culture. This in turn presents new opportunities to transform, differentiate and develop new target operating models, helping to drive accelerated revenue growth.
The future is now
Customers expect to be able contact you 24/7, using whatever communications method they choose whether that’s text, phone, email, video call, or web chat. More than 60 percent of customers interact through multiple channels and they expect a consistent service (Deloitte research).We often see IT managers responding to a CEO requesting a webchat solution and then rushing into buying an off the shelf product that it is not suited to their needs and not part of an overall strategy. We must emphasise that it is vital from the start to set objectives and have a strategy in place before you embark on any AI or RPA project.
A digital transformation strategy does not need to be a huge and overwhelming project with endless budgets and deadlines. By working with a Solutions Provider, you’ll be able to deconstruct it into manageable projects which will aid you in getting approval and devising a strategy.
Mapping out the customer’s journey
It is crucial to know which business goals you want an AI and RPA project to achieve. If your objective is to improve tCX with a view to increasing sales and revenue then it is advisable to study the existing journey that your customers take and question what works and what doesn’t.
With the guidance from a Solution Provider you can then look at how it should be improved by asking agents and customers how they want to communicate and what improvements they think would benefit them. By involving all stakeholders, you are not only helping with the buy-in for the new technology but also enabling them to envision how they will collaborate with the AI and RPA solution. It is crucial that companies understand how humans can augment technology and how technology can enhance the roles of humans. This is an imperative step in the process of redesigning business processes to support your objectives.
Integration is everything
A Solutions Provider will ensure that AI and RPA is integrated into the front and back office so you can utilise what you have and maximise your new solution.
A survey from Forrester revealed that 64 percent of respondents commented that a lack of single view of information was one of their biggest challenges in CRM. Often companies deploy an ad hoc AI solution that doesn’t integrate with their existing technology and the contact centre agents then have multiple screens at a time to view all of the communications. We have more technology and communications methods available to us than ever before but if we do not plan how and where to use them, then it can be counterproductive.
The aim is to create a single view of all communications and essentially to have one ‘smart in box’ so the agents can view everything on one screen. All interactions are integrated over an orchestration layer connecting the front and back office together. Then you can truly revolutionise your contact centre, CX, and your business processes.
Segmenting and prioritising customers
Customers want easy to use communications, they don’t want to be left on hold, stuck in a queue, and transferred from one department to another. They expect to move seamlessly between communication channels and not to be asked who they are and what the purpose of their call is again and again.
With AI and RPA, you can segment customers on value and expectations, for example you can prioritise high value customers so they can jump the queue to talk to an agent or provide a call back option when is convenient with them. As the customers are high value you may want to provide them with real time communications, such as a phone or video call, offering a more personalised service.
Agents can also see on their screen that they are your top tier customers and have visibility of their details and history so they can personalise the service and making them feel valued.
Data used to segment customers can be managed, used to upsell and utilised for sales and marketing. The key is that people are required to analyse the datato encourage departments to knock down the silos and share what they are working on.
Re-thinking business processes
The beauty of AI and RPA is that it forces companies to re-think business processes and how technology can be utilised to increase revenues and return on investment. Particularly around one of the biggest investments in your business – human capital. You can realign agents to focus on high value customers or queries that require more empathy and detail whilst offloading the daily mundane administrative duties to a Conversational AI. Enabling you to save cost and reinvest in training your agents to be more specialised to get more return from your investment.
These disruptive technologies provide endless possibilities; redesigning CX and business processes.
Conversational AI solutions can learn content from your website and their customer conversations, so they can pre-empt needs. Relieve your agents and set up a self-serve option where customers can access answers to basic questions on your website. If the enquiry becomes too complex, then the digital agent hands the query over to a human agent.
Employees fears of being replaced
Digital transformation creates an intelligent blended workforce of humans and technology.
Employees must be reassured that with they will not be replaced with an AI and RPA solution, in fact it will complement them. Digital transformation is an opportunity for them to upgrade their skills and specialist areas. They will be able to focus on more valuable interactions as the AI solution frees them from mundane tasks. They will receive more job satisfaction from the new intelligent blended workforce. When rolling out AI and RPA, it’s crucial to ensure your culture is right first, otherwise your employees will reject it. Work on an open culture that empowers employees to share their opinions, digital transformation is a never ending process of continual improvement.
Mindset of a start-up
Digital transformation brings new everything – new technology, new ways of working, new business processes. Companies need to embrace the new culture and change existing ways of thinking, and adopt the same mindset of a start-up. By working with a Solution Provider they will reduce the risk through piloting any technology finding our what works and what doesn’t. They will also hold ‘discovery workshops’ to work closely with all of your teams conducting in-depth discussions on what technology they would like in place.
So, rather than ‘mission impossible’, it is very much ‘mission possible’; especially when you select the right partner.
The Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers are no longer restricted to two days only; retailers capitalise on the opportunity a week or even two weeks before tempting consumers with bargains.
In 2017, £1.4billion was spent on online sales in the UK on Black Friday which was up by 11.7 percent from 2016 according to the online retailers’ trade body IMRG.
Retailers prepare for months in advance for the onslaught of the sales and online activity, ensuring that they have the correct offers in place at the right price and that their servers and technology can take the volume of increased traffic. However, it is not just about the technology, it’s about the customers’ end to end journey ensuring that it is as seamless and easy as possible for the customer from the outset.
Robust and reliant infrastructure
Retailers must ensure their infrastructure is robust and reliant to withstand the high volume of traffic that it will experience during this busy period. They cannot risk having servers that fail and web pages that take too long to load. By hosting their voice and data in a cloud solution they will benefit from resiliency.
A resilient phone system and contact centre with automatic failover leaves customers unaware of any technical glitches as the system seamlessly transfers across to its resilient location. Hosting a solution in the cloud means their infrastructure is more agile, so they’re able to scale up or down depending upon requirements.
Augmenting Service with Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Processing Automation (RPA)
Basket abandonment concerns are heightened during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Retailers do not want to miss out on capitalising on potential high volume sales. They need to offer seamless self-service on their websites and integrate it into their contact centre, making the process easy, intuitive and consistent for customers.
A staggering 61 percent of customers abandon their order at check out because of website errors, 60 percent because they have to create an account, and 46 percent because there is a long and complex checkout (Namagoo 2018).
New disruptive technologies such as AI, RPA and Web Real Time Communications can assist contact centre agents and enable self-service websites to offer a more seamless and enjoyable experience for the customer. For example, a customer may be looking for a product and they can use conversational AI, or digital agent to guide them to the specific product or information that they are looking for.
If the digital agent can’t answer the question, they will be put through to a human agent who can provide the answer with a personal approach, having received a summary of the interaction from the digital agent. Reducing any frustration and making the process smooth and efficient.
Not just about the sale
Retailers need to be aware that it is not just about the sale of the product but the overall customer journey. During Black Friday and Cyber Monday millions of products will be ordered but also millions returned so it is essential that the retailer provides an easy to use and seamless returns process to retain their brand image and customer loyalty. Technology such as AI and RPA can assist by engaging early with the customer, automating and simplifying the returns process.
An end-to-end journey
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the moments of truth in proving a retailer’s customer experience and the end to end journey the customer has to take from the: promotion, enquiries about the product, ordering, payment, delivery and returns process.
To protect their brand image, create advocates and loyal customers of the brand retailers need to make customer experience their number one objective. Utilising the right technology to elevate customer experience is imperative in the age of digital transformation.
Customer expectations are ever-rising, competition is fierce, and retailers’ number one priority at present is improving Customer Experience.
A study by Walker revealed that by 2020, Customer Experience will have overtaken both product and price as the key brand differentiator.
Customers do not want to deal with companies that offer a poor service. If you have phoned a contact centre and experienced inadequate service you will probably feel let down, and the company in question may well lose your business.
For customers to stay loyal to a brand and businesses to win new customers, companies need to invest in Customer Experience. A staggering 62 percent of companies view Customer Experience delivered by the contact centre as a competitive differentiator (Deloitte). Gartner even predicts that by 2018 more than 50 percent of organisations will redirect their investments to Customer Experience innovations.
A seamless journey
Omnichannel takes the customer through a series of touchpoints on their journey from online, to store, to purchasing, and delivery. Companies need to ensure that their omnichannel is seamless and easy to use. Businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies achieve 91 percent greater year-over-year customer retention rates compared to businesses that don’t (Aspect Software). However, for those companies that do have an omnichannel strategy in place, 87 percent of customers think that brands need to put more effort into providing a seamless experience (Zendesk).
Customers now expect service to be slick and effortless without delay or errors, and for all the personal data consumers have become used to providing, they increasingly expect to receive a personalised service experience in return.
It’s all about you
Whilst personalised emails have been around for a number of years, the next level of personalisation has seen retailers create custom content and personalised promotional offers.
Major online retailers and music providers offer personalised content and some even deliver personalised home pages. With consumers time-poor and reluctant to sift through lots of product information, retailers use technology to predict what they are going to purchase based on their buying and browsing behaviours. Although many retailers are stuck at the level of ‘mass personalisation’ but new big data, cloud, automation, and communications technologies are heralding one-to-one personalisation at scale.
Increase efficiencies with technology
The advancement of technology in the contact centre is causing a stir, particularly around artificial intelligence (AI) where there is uproar on how AI will contribute to people losing their jobs. A study by Gartner predicts that by 2020, more than 85 percent of customer interactions will occur without a human.
However, AI will also help contact centre agents to get rid of the mundane everyday tasks that are part of the job and hand them over to technology instead. This could include anything from call routing to answering basic questions that an auto attendant or Web Real Time application can assist with. Essentially, the more advancement in technology in the call centre, the more contact centre agents’ roles will be refocused on soft skills to deliver empathetic, personal service and advice.
Delivering the personal touch
With intelligent call-based routing using CRM records and intuitive self-service options, your customers can connect to the right people and services that they need to speak to – at the right time. This will help resolve their queries quickly and effectively. Inbound automation speeds up low-touch interactions and frees up your best-skilled contact centre agents to solve complex customer issues and add value to higher value interactions.
Agents will then be able to focus on more difficult queries that require a one-to-one conversation with the customer. Inbound automation will also enable companies to personalise content and offers by handing the enquiry over to an agent to speak with the customer, who can then deliver the personal touch over the phone.
With routine and mundane tasks being handled by AI, contact centre managers and agents can focus on creative strategic thinking to improve customer service.
Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) helps companies to create the ‘wow’ factor in personalisation by empowering agents with the technology and information they need to deliver a seamless Customer Experience. When a customer calls the contact centre the agent instantly gets a screen pop on their screen which tells the agent who the customer is and what their history is.
This reduces the repetition of the agent having to ask the same mundane questions to the customer and eliminates frustration.
Technology is now part of our DNA and businesses and organisations are realising that they have to consider it; not only to grow, but to survive.
Now, at the end of 2017, we are in the midst of a new digital revolution that will result in benefits tenfold, but the change has also brought about issues and challenges that we need to address.
An increasing skills gap
A study by Barclays has found that 43 percent of adults in the UK do not have basic digital skills that are required by around 63 percent of jobs and this gap is predicted to increase due to technology advances. Working with a Solutions Provider is one way of ensuring that your company will have access to the latest technology and expertise to deploy and manage your digital solutions.
The subject of ‘Big Data’ has also been huge this year with data collected by technology in retail, over social media, and on websites. The possibilities on how to use this data to maximise sales and marketing are endless but finding the staff to analyse it and put it into practice is challenging.
Big data and data analytics are vital to the UK’s digital growth, and are expected to be worth £241 billion to the UK economy by 2020, creating 157,000 additional jobs. However, businesses need to find the right people with the right skills. Without this expertise, the UK’s ability to capitalise on the big data revolution will be restricted.
The issue of productivity in the UK, or lack of it, has also been hitting the headlines during 2017. Productivity is at the same rate as it was in 2008, during the financial crisis. Economists have warned that the UK’s productivity continues to fall behind the US, France, and Germany.
One of the theories for the low and decreasing productivity rate is the lack of investment in technology since the financial crisis of 2008. Companies’ capital spending is only five percent above its pre-crisis peak, compared with a 60 percent increase over the decade after the 1980s recession and 30 percent following the 1990s slowdown, (FT, Oct 2017).
In the digital age, it is vital that companies invest in technology to retain and attract customers and survive in this fast, competitive world. This year we have most definitely seen a big take-up in unified communications technology, particularly around mobile, conferencing, and collaboration solutions, and multi-media contact centre solutions, all of which improve internal and external communications, business processes and customer service. It is a vital step in making staff more efficient and productive.
Welcoming artificial intelligence
Talk of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots has been present in the media this year with articles on how AI will threaten jobs. However, digital transformation and the new industrial revolution that we are all facing will inevitably bring about change, and change scares people. AI should be looked at as an opportunity for businesses and not a threat.
It will enable companies to deliver a more personalised customer service, bringing information to the customer and the contact centre agent in real time in a user-friendly format that they can engage with. This is called Web Real Time communications, where customers can talk to agents over instant message, phone, or video and share information instantly.
Digital transformation race
2017 has very much felt like a race with companies and organisations speeding ahead to get on board with digital transformation, fearful they will be left behind if they don’t adopt a digital strategy, and their competitors will steam on ahead.
During this year, we have witnessed a lot of companies that have not stopped to take stock and get back to basics. Companies need to make technology core to their success and work out why they require specific technology, and what they hope to achieve from it.
The market is saturated with technology and it is often difficult for people to know what they want and why. Especially as technology solutions are now increasingly complex, consisting of multi-vendor solutions.
This is where System Integrators come into play. They work closely with businesses to discover what their needs and requirements are. Then they will devise a technology strategy and road map that will help them achieve their objectives and yield results.
Digital transformation must be viewed as an evolutionary journey and not a quick fix by suddenly implementing the latest technology.
Access to a leading ecosystem
Technology solutions comprise of multi-vendor technology and applications. By working with a System Integrator and Managed Service Provider, you will have access to an ecosystem of the latest technology from their global leading partners. Moreover, it allows for a level of supplier consolidation that can result in valuable cost-savings, as you don’t need to constantly recruit, or train up your IT department on the latest technology.
Integration is the answer
Of course, it’s not just about having the latest technology and devices. It is vital that technology is seamlessly integrated into the front and the back office for it to be a success. Finding a technology partner with system integration expertise will kill two birds with one stone, in that it reduces the supply chain and, again, gives you IT skills that you may not have available in-house.
Managed Services takes the pain of integration away, ensuring that your new technology and applications are integrated into your infrastructure and work effortlessly.
It can be concluded that 2017 has been a very busy year and the new digital industrial revolution that is upon us is not scary or threatening. It is in fact exciting and we will continue to guide and advise companies and organisations in setting and delivering technology strategies and road maps, connecting technology with people to deliver results. Helping them with change management and accepting a changing workforce, environment, and culture.
The division between the B2B market and the B2C used to be apparent but the distinctions are now blurring with the advancement of technology and the increasing demands from customers.
Customer Experience is at the top of the agenda of every company at present, regardless whether they are B2B or B2C. After all the B2B person is also a consumer. The consumerisation of technology has created demanding customers in both sectors with high expectations of a superior service, price and customer experience. Competition has never been fiercer.
B2B Catching up with B2C
The ecommerce market is forecast to reach 1.13 trillion $ in the US by 2020 and B2B companies are refocusing their customer strategies to catch up with the high standard of eCommerce that B2C has set.
The digital storm is forcing businesses to keep up with consumer expectations and they are implementing technology to improve business processes and customer services. Businesses are deploying multi-media contact centres and presenting customers with the omni-channel so they have a choice on how to contact the business whether it is by: phone, email, web chat, video etc. It is no longer a nice to have but critical to delivering a superior customer service.
Forrester estimates that in the US B2B ecommerce will grow from $855 billion in 2016 to $1.13 trillion by 2020.
The Right Tools
The right technology helps businesses create a compelling customer experience. By having a robust and resiliant infrastructure whether it is on-premise, hosted in the cloud, or hybrid, businesses can access the latest communications technology to communicate more efficiently and effectively with their customers.
Web Real Time Communications (WebRTC) is a disruptive technology that analysts predict will be used by 60% of the global internet population by 2019; 1.2 billion people. WebRTC is a real-time browser based application for real time communications such as voice and video calls, instant messages, file sharing and URL tracking and all without the need to download software plugins. This enables contact centre agents to communicate in real time, deliver a personalised service, increase cross-sell / up-sell and first time resolution rate. Companies can be assured that communications and access are completely secure as the technology requires permission from the user to allow the use of microphone and camera.
The Omni-channel is not just prevalent in the B2C world but very much present in the B2B arena as well. The customer is now well and truly king.
Customers want not only to choose the way that they contact a business whether it is by phone, webchat, instant message or text, but also to have a joined up experience, one where they don’t have to repeat themselves multiple times and start the conversation all over again via a different channel.
Businesses must provide the choice of communications and remove the silos between the different communications methods. Unified communications can augment the customer’s journey and back-office communications, while a multi-media contact centre will improve customer service and margins.
Although some lines of distinction between B2B and B2C are blurring there are still some that are very much widespread.
Consistent customer experience is vital in a B2B environment where sales cycles are longer. The products/solutions are often more complex than B2C, with a greater number of people involved in the process. Businesses are not just targeting a single customer they are targeting various people in the decision-making unit (DMU) and complexity of the DMU is dependent upon the product/solution.
Relationships need to be forged and it takes longer to build up strong relationships with the circle of influence. Customers and businesses need to be able to form a bond and relationship based on trust and reliance.
Today, third parties, in our case unified communication solution providers, are now viewed as strategic partners and not just suppliers. We work closely with the customer to discover their technology needs and work together to meet the customer’s business objectives. It is about working as a team together in a partnership and not simply a supplier.
The sales process from prospecting through to closing the sale is a lengthy process. Whereas in B2C there is often too much information to sift through, in B2B you must ensure that the information presented is relevant, informative and engaging. This is achieved through a plethora of communication tools and methods such as: seminars, campaigns and face to face meetings. Building on each touchpoint and educating, and updating on a consistent basis to ensure you are engaging and adding value.
Buyers in B2B are generally different to the buyers of B2C. The B2B buyer is less emotional and tends to more logical and rational, focusing on what benefits the product or solution will deliver, and what return on investment they will receive.
However, the B2B buyer is more accountable when they make a purchase as they don’t want to damage their or the company’s reputation through the purchase of an unreliable and poor quality product/solution that will not deliver the results. Aside from the product functionality, trust, reliability and security are fundamental to the sales process, the delivery and the customer care.
To deliver a strong B2B customer experience companies need to invest in a digital transformation strategy that includes eCommerce if necessary, deploying technology to improve customer services and business processes. By working closely with a trusted solutions provider to fully understand their needs, the appropriate technology can be put in place to help them achieve their objectives and produce results.
B2B businesses need to continue to build trust and develop relationships with their customers so they can consistently deliver a superior service, add value and differentiate themselves from the competition.
The world is moving faster than ever before and consumers now have better technology than most businesses. Millennials are demanding the latest technology and the digital revolution is upon us so companies need to react to this paradigm shift.
Keeping Up with the Pace of Change
Many companies predominantly use voice and email as communications tools but staff and customers need a choice of tools to use, depending on the purpose of the communication and their currentlocation.Thanks to a plethora of technology options, we can choose from numerous communications tools but, if not used correctly, technology can hinder rather than empower us. Email in particular is the frequent culprit with staff spending too much time managing their inbox rather than working. Knowing what tools to use for communication about the task at hand can improve productivity, increase efficiencies and simplify our lives.
Devising a digital transformation strategy is no mean feat and you will require a trusted and experienced third party solutions provider to assist you. They will advise you on technology strategy, take time to understand your business and your objectives. Plus advise you on what communications tools you require to increase staff productivity, improve internal and external communications and customer service.
It is important to mention that digital transformation and customer service needs to be championed by the CEO and senior management team. Customer experience has extended beyond the realms of the marketing department and the contact centre through to the Board. Customer experience should be the fabric and culture of every business.
The New Age Customer
Customers have changed and are now more mobile than ever, more digital and more social. Research shows that 58% of customers use online chat, 38% text and 37% use Twitter (Forrester 2015). The use of the different communication tools is coupled with increasing expectations of 24/7 availability, instant responses and resolution – 82% of consumers state that the number one factor that leads to great customer service experience is through having issues resolved quickly. If the experience is bad then 64% will defect and go to a competitor (SDL 2015).
Companies are now striving for first time resolution and need to deliver exceptional customer service to differentiate from the competition. A total of 68% of companies view customer experience as a competitive differentiator and 62% of companies are striving for first time resolution (Deloitte contact centre survey 2013).
Customers now want to choose how to contact agents in contact centres. It has evolved from phone and email communications to the creation of the omni-channel where there is a choice of communications to contact the company, whether it is by phone, email, webchat, video call or social media. Companies need to provide these communications tools to augment voice and email; extending to conferencing and collaboration solutions to create a blended omni-channel approach.
A Blended World of Communications
People think email is real-time communication but it isn’t. They write an email to communicate a quick message then fire it off and then forget about it while it is sitting in someone’s inbox waiting to be read. With email you often don’t get the instant response that is expected. Another annoying characteristic of email is the email trail and the fact that people copy others in, creating unnecessary workload.
If companies find that email is increasingly becoming an ineffective medium they can deploy a management tool. This will minimise any downtime and inefficiencies helping to improve processes and maximise productivity that will naturally enhance customer experience.
The management tool uses automated call distribution (ACD) technology and acts like a gatekeeper to determine how many emails are let through and how many sit in inboxes. SLAs (service level agreements) can be set against emails so that customers have an expectation of response time and breaches of the SLA can quickly be escalated.
Companies should work with a solution provider to understand how different communication tools can help them improve internal and external communications, and customer service. Unified communications is the integration of voice, video, web chat/instant messaging and screen sharing bringing the disparate tools together to create a powerful singular solution. United they are much stronger and more effective than when operated in isolation.
Real-time communication has increased to 76% in the last couple of years (Forester 2014) with more and more people embracing it. Instant messaging, Skype for Business, Facetime are all being used in our personal and business lives.
The most recent technology to disrupt the market is WebRTC (web real-time communication).This technology will transform the contact centre and improve communicationsand efficiencies with staff; moving companies away from ploughing through inboxes and playing voicemail tag. It enables users to communicate in real time via a browser-based application that can be used on any device wherever they are. Video calls, voice communications, instant messaging/webchat,co-browsing andfile sharingcan all be carried out via a single web browser.
WebRTC is estimated to be worth $4.7 billion by 2020 with 2 billion plus users,which is around 60% of the worldwide internet population (Disruptive Analysis 2014 WebRTC report).
The technology is very secure as it requires permission from the users to allow use of their microphone and camera. The end-to-end encryption between peers means data is always sent securely with the additional benefit that there is no software plugin to download.
It improves communications, increases efficiencies and delivers first time resolutions. Customers are just one click away from contacteither by video, audio or instant message/web chat.
A sales or customer service agent in a contact centre might find it particularly useful to be able to escalate a conversation from browsing to text chat, to video and co-browsing in a single session. This provides a consistent seamless service that leads to first contact resolution for the customer and improves customer experience.
The Power of Real-Time Communications
Unified communications and WebRTC empower the customer, but also allow staff and agents to decide what tools are best to use to respond to each situation, enabling the conversation to be seamlessly transitioned from one to another. It is about moving around the different channels accordingly and knowing where it is appropriate. Whether the conversation starts from webchat and then the agent makes the judgement that the request should be dealt with over a video call for face-to-face contact. It all depends on the conversation and the task at hand.
Blending communications tools into a seamless, singular solution demands integration of the new and existing technology. A trusted solutions provider can help you with this resulting in aunified omni-channel. Providing your staff with the tools they require to differentiate you from the competition, increase efficiencies and ultimately improve your customers’ journey and experience.