Rory OConnorRory OConnorOctober 7, 2019
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13min1212

Customer Experience is shaping the future of ecommerce.

AI is no longer science fiction – it’s real present-day technology and many ecommerce businesses are already using some form of AI to understand their customers better and provide an enhanced CX.

2019 is shaping up to be the year that AI becomes truly prominent in ecommerce. Investment in AI and machine learning is increasing across the board, just as the developments in technology are expanding the range of uses. According to IDC, the global retail industry is set to spend $5.9 billion (£4.45 billion) on AI systems this year.

AI is changing how people find products and shop online; there are systems that can analyse millions of daily interactions to create targeted incentives to individual customers.

In a highly competitive and dynamic marketplace such as ecommerce, the drive to integrate these emerging technologies is accelerating. AI has the power to be a game changer in ecommerce by pushing CX to the next level. Virtual assistants, product recommendations, voice search, and augmented reality are just some examples of these technologies. 

AI is a trend, but it is not a fad, so brands that wait to implement it into their business will rapidly find themselves eclipsed by their forward-thinking competitors.

What can AI do for your ecommerce store?

It’s predicted that ecommerce businesses that personalise successfully could see profits rise by 15 percent by 2020 (source: Gartner).

There are various ways of capitalising on AI and machine learning platforms for your business but the most significant advantage of AI is the level of hyper-personalisation that becomes available to your customers.

The demands of online shoppers are evolving at a spectacular rate, faster than human retailers can respond to them.  Consumers now expect personalisation as standard as they are used to experiencing it on a daily basis. For instance, the recommendations Amazon and Netflix make based on the user’s prior interactions. Eighty percent of watched content on Netflix comes from algorithmic recommendations, according to findings by Mobile Syrup.

Meanwhile, McKinsey found that 35 percent of Amazon’s revenue is generated by its recommendation engine. Your business may already be collecting data on the online behaviour of your visitors but vast amounts of data can be overwhelming and pretty useless if you don’t know how to analyse it for the purposes of putting effective strategies in place.

An effective AI system has the capacity to filter through petabytes of consumer data to predict online behaviour, and offer individually specific recommendations that are buyers find relevant. This level of intelligence is vital in delivering a personalised shopping experience to the consumer.

Quite simply, stores that have not deployed ecommerce personalisation will lose out on revenue. Brands that engage this tactic can transform their online stores in a way that serves the customer’s needs and best interests. And do it efficiently and even cost effectively!

Humans cannot compete with AI when it comes to deconstructing big data. AI facilitates multiple ways to segment your audience to gain intelligent insights that allow retailers to personalise in a range of different ways.

  • Product recommendations: Algorithmic recommendations that update in real time, depending on the visitor’s behaviour. Buyers expect the ‘you may also like this’ feature to show items that are relevant to their tastes. Personalised merchandising sorts the product display to show customers products that genuinely appeal to them.
  • Personalised website content: Presents visitors with various configurations of online content according to their personal preferences. This can even include personalised navigation of the site, with a personalised home page, which is proven to increase conversions.
  • EA (Evolutionary Algorithms, a subset of AI): This can carry out sophisticated content testing and optimisation at a rate that humans simply cannot, by assessing which layouts and content drive the highest conversion with different customer segments and then configure the online experiences to the individual in real time.
  • Customer-centric search: Using tools such as natural language programming, searching online is becoming more intuitive to what the customer is actually looking for during online searches.
  • Currency auto-detection: Detects and presents the correct currency for your visitors and converts the prices accordingly so there are no surprises or extra steps for the customer.
  • You can even use AI to tackle fake reviews by finding and removing bot generated reviews by competitors. Negative reviews and lack of customer trust impacts sales. Ninety percent of shoppers surveyed said that positive reviews influence their online buying decisions. 

Brand benefits

The benefits of creating such a personal and convenient Customer Experience are vast. By increasing the level of visitor engagement through recommendations and customised content you reduce bounce rates, improve conversions, and increase sales. And better still, generate repeat business.

These tools eliminate the need for time-consuming content testing, and reduce the amount of money spent on ads. They can create valuable efficiencies across operations that free up precious time to focus business at the strategic level. An AI engine that continuously monitors all devices and channels has the ability to create a unified universal customer view; for the first time its possible to deliver a seamless cross-device and cross-platform experience.

AI systems can be integrated with digital marketing solutions and can be utilised to build unique customer experiences that are consistent across all marketing channels.

For instance, since implementing AI, clothing brand Footasylum saw a 28 percent increase in email campaign revenue from hyper-personalised marketing communications.

Marketing copy that speaks directly to the customers based on their purchase history, search queries, and page visits, is an extremely effective tool for cart recovery and post-purchase promotions. Abandoned cart emails achieve a 4.64 percent conversion rate, according to Proteus Themes.

Personalised ads on social media as a tool may not lead to people buying directly from the SM platform but they do drive relevant traffic that increases conversion rate so should not be left out of the AI strategy.

Privacy and ecommerce personalisation

Of course, the price of hyper-personalisation to the customers is their private data, but even cautious shoppers will part with their intimate details for a high level of customisation and ultra convenience.

Building value-based, trusting relationships with your customers is essential for long-term loyalty, so remaining fully transparent on how and why you collect people’s data and the security levels in place are vital.

Invespcro found that 57 percent of online shoppers are comfortable with providing personal information to a brand, as long as it directly benefits their shopping experience.

Chatbots and virtual assistants

Chatbots are a machine learning technology that interacts with shoppers in a chat environment simulating human conversations. Chatbots and virtual assistants are being deployed across online retail to mimic the personal touch of a shop assistant.

They learn and evolve to become better at assisting the visitor with customer service needs and product queries. They can even be trained to say ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’, making them more forgivable if they do frustrate a customer.

Chatbots present an effective and low-cost way of providing customer service, 24/7, which reduces the need for expensive humans. Virtual assistants are impacting the way customers make purchases and provide retailers with a creative opportunity to deploy across the customer journey.

Where to start?

Investing in AI may still seem like an enormous undertaking, but there are several ‘off the shelf’ platforms available, many of which offer 30-day free trials. By testing out different applications on your site, you can see which works for your business. The real question is, can you afford not to invest in ecommerce personalisation for your business?

The smart approach is to do so with the intent of ensuring your customers feel personally valued and focus on providing them with an engaging and seamless shopping experience that will build long term brand loyalty.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthOctober 2, 2019
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2min1260

The 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards is almost here, and finalists from among Britain’s most customer-centric organisations are preparing to put their best foot forward at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Marking a decade of celebrating the very best Customer Experience initiatives, this year’s 10th anniversary event, hosted by Awards International, features finalists including O2, Capita, Sky, Aldi and many more.

Representatives from each organisation will spend the morning and afternoon of October 10 presenting details of their CX strategies before official UKCXA judges, including some of the most important names in the world of Customer Experience.

Joining Awards Chairman Ian Golding – global CX consultant and author – are some of the country’s most influential figures involved in CX management, and other prominent business leaders. A full list of 2019 judges is available here.

Meanwhile, new parters for this years event are CX and call centre tech revolutionaries Genesys, and data consultancy experts Kantar. They join existing partners Cranfield School of Management, Barnardo’s, and the Customer Experience Professionals Association.

Awards International CEO Neil Skehel said: “This event has grown exponentially to become the biggest CX event of its kind in the world, and we are incredibly proud to be marking its tenth anniversary.

“Customer Experience is now a brand’s most defining characteristic, and it is impossible to overestimate its importance to the economy. These awards play such an important role in not only celebrating achievements, but also setting the standard for organisations to follow if they are to be successful in this new era where the customer really is at the heart of everything.”

 

 


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthOctober 1, 2019
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3min1408

It’s CX Day, and CXM would like to wish all its readers the very best as we celebrate the hard work and professionalism of those who make memorable Customer Experiences happen.

Celebrated globally on October 1, the day is championed by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), with events taking place across the globe, from Lagos to London, and from Dubai to Dublin.

Alongside in-person events, at 5pm, a live panel is being held, where winners of the CXPA’s Impact Awards will discuss the individuals igniting the spirit of CX in their various organisations.

Along with official CXPA events and networking, organisations are encouraged to embrace the spirit of CX Day by engaging with employees and discussing new methods to bring customer centricity into the heart of their brand.

Among those encouraging brands to embrace CX Day is Ian Golding, CX consultant and author of Customer What? The honest and practical guide to customer experience.

He said: “Whilst a focus on Customer Experience is a never ending cycle of activity, it is hugely important to recognise the amazing work being done by CX professionals all around the world on CX Day. The global CX community puts the human at the heart of business a little more every day – you are all an inspiration.”

Meanwhile, October begins with CX Day, before bringing the focus of the CX community to London shortly afterwards with the hosting of the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards in London’s home of champions, Wembley Stadium.

Stay tuned to CXM as we bring you exclusive coverage and insight from winning brands in the weeks to come.


Joe GlassfieldJoe GlassfieldSeptember 30, 2019
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8min1880

Corporate strategy is a funny beast.

It’s often built from a few extremely well worn phrases: statements like “We are one team”, or “Sustaining the future”, or “Empowerment”, perfectly executed in the brand colours and font, as tall and wide as the most prominent office wall allows.

Some of your more cynical colleagues suggest it can all sound a little 1984-esque. But most people ignore these statements: research shows our brains actually switch off when we hear clichés. Even when we make people wear these words around their necks every day, they ignore them. The words are the starting point of 200-page-long “agile transformation blueprints”, “pyramids”, “love keys”, and “brand onions”. Most of us ignore those too.

Why? Why does the clear and guiding light that the C-suite wants to become a fog generator for the company’s people and customers? And how do you find your way out of it?

Behavioural science has some answers.

From top-down to bottom-up

Imagine you’re on your C-suite away day. You’ve hired a top consultancy and they’ve got everyone in the room energised and focused. In three hours you’ve come up with a fresh vision (or purpose, or core idea, or whatever it’s called this week). It has a PR-able social dimension, and you can fully explain why you’ve picked these things to your stakeholders, colleagues, and customers.

Unfortunately at this point, you’re probably suffering from The Ikea effect: like the shelves we build for ourselves at home, we put more value on something if we’ve made it ourselves than other people do. But you can make that effect work for you: involve people beyond the top team and more people will feel that sense of ownership.

In the jargon, this is “co-creation”. Maybe it’s about working groups to flesh out how you’ll show and deliver “one team”. Maybe every employee gets an equal vote on what your strategy should be. You might even try to find out about the personal values of your people, and match your corporate values to those. The point is to include as many people as you can.

From words to behaviour

Think about the last time you tried to get a child to stop having a tantrum. You could say “In this family, our aim is to always be well behaved”. But that would probably be met with continued crying and rolling on the floor. In real life, we instinctively focus on their behaviour: “get up”; “follow me”; “put the sweets down”.

Behavioural science helps us understand the difference between giving people a goal, like “be healthy”, and giving them practical steps to hit that goal, like “eat five pieces of fruit and veg a day”. There’s lots of evidence that focussing on day-to-day behaviour is the only way abstract big picture thinking to work.

The same applies to strategy. You need to give people clear and defined steps that lead to the goal. If your culture is to ‘empower’, then don’t just talk about it, change how your business works to empower people: let the people doing the work set the timelines. Let call centre staff decide the outcome of a complaint. Give votes on HR issues to employees as well as the board. (Changing what people actually do also shifts their attitude than any amount of top-down communication.)

Test what’s actually working

A crucial insight from psychology is that as humans, we spend a lot of our time substituting questions. If a question seems too big, we’ll trick ourselves into answering an easier question. Instead of answering “Am I healthy?”, we ask ourselves: “Do I eat salads sometimes?”. Because we’ve answered a question, we feel good. Feeling good offsets the fact we didn’t answer the first, trickier question (and justifies our whole tub of ice cream in one sitting).

Say you wanted to “put customers first” as your strategy. Maybe you’ve hired a whole bunch of Customer Experience people and given them a fancy toolkit. They’re happy, and you’re happy: it feels like you now have progress towards being more customer-centric.

The hard question you need to answer in time is: “Are we actually putting customers first?” But often we substitute easier ones: Is my Customer Experience team changing things? Are they spending a lot of time changing things? Is everyone involved happy? Did I pay a lot to make this happen?

But answering those questions doesn’t mean you’re necessarily answering the harder one.

This is where well defined behaviour come back in. You can measure that people are really doing the practical things that lead to your strategic goals, and make sure that behaviour is having an impact on your business results. That way you can prove your strategy isn’t just languishing in a PowerPoint deck, but really making a difference.

The brutal truth is that just because a strategy’s clear, it doesn’t guarantee that anything ever changes. Thinking about how people actually think and behave means you might need to shift your focus. Yes, paint a big picture. But you also need to think about the 10,000 tiny behavioural brushstrokes that make it up.


Phil DurandPhil DurandSeptember 27, 2019
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10min1347

It’s not long before the winners of the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards will be unveiled.

As one of the judges, Phil Durand (pictured), Director of Customer Experience Management at Confirmit knows that success comes in many forms and that the key to continued success is a combination of evolution, and the occasional spot of revolution…

 

 

Such is the growing acceptance of CX that there are few businesses today which have not embraced customer insight or deployed Voice of the Customer programmes in one form or another.

A greenfield site really is a rare find! This is great, but it’s fair to say that whether you are ‘doing it yourself’ or doing it on behalf of a client, there may be elements that you have inherited from a previous initiative that are no longer providing the insights that you need today.

There may some great foundations in place, but your business objectives may have changed and the CX programme may therefore need a refresh.

The challenge is how do you decide which aspects of the CX programme would benefit from renovation, and which elements should be discarded? From time-to-time, you need to take stock of what is working, what would benefit from remodelling, and where you need to pour new foundations and build from the ground up.

Take a listening inventory

A useful way to initiate a CX remodelling exercise is to take a listening inventory to help you identify and increase your focus on current business objectives; improve the integration of operational data with customer feedback; better understand how, when, and what types of questions are asked; and how you can use the results (beyond improving NPS and customer satisfaction scores) to drive business change.

Note: do not assume that your CX team controls every customer survey, because you’ll almost certainly be wrong. In any large business, it is incredible to learn how many well-intentioned but often ill-advised surveys are being sent out to customers seemingly at random. Find them!

Consider the following questions:

Is anyone using the data?

If people are no longer taking action on the feedback gathered, why ask?

You may be asking survey questions that are no longer aligned to current business objectives. If surveys and reports aren’t motivating people to do things differently within your organisation, don’t be afraid to consign them to the bin.

Ask yourself what business problems need to be solved, or what business objectives need to be achieved. What should be the focus of your CX surveys? Achieving culture change? Increasing revenue? Reducing costs? Uncovering cross-selling opportunities?

Is it too vanilla? 

If the CX programme only uses surveys to gather data, it’s probably time to try something different. Try integrating background data with simple surveys to make the process easier on customers and to add depth to reporting. This will enable CX teams to more efficiency prioritise key customers and critical actions with the additional context. 

If you are not integrating operational data with customer feedback, it will be much harder to create a truly accurate and complete picture of the customer. Mapping and integrating data from across the business could help to make CX data more useful and actionable, providing additional detail and different perspectives.

Too many questions? 

This is the most common cause of low response rates and dismal completion rates. The last thing any organisation should do is turn customers away from the brand by deploying surveys that are too long.

The solution is to minimise disruptions to customers by cutting irrelevant or unnecessary questions. Try to look at survey questions from the customer’s point of view – what would they like to answer and when? Is the relationship survey being sent around a customer renewal date? Are you using triggers like when people have filed a complaint or purchased an additional product?

Are you addressing shrinking attention spans by keeping questions short and using phrases customers will easily understand? Can you replace half a dozen closed questions with more open questions that invite customers to share their stories in their own words?

If so, do it and use text analytics to mine the insight from these words.

Spread too thin? 

If the CX team is trying to do too much, there could be an increased risk of programme sprawl. This will not only result in haphazard data and customer-facing chaos but potential damage to the brand. Your CX programme must have a clear structure, a well-defined plan and a commitment to consistency. Otherwise it will be hard or nearly impossible to connect all the data. 

What is your definition of success? Is there an executive sponsor sharing the results? Is there a dedicated team responding to systematic issues customers are raising? Is there a network of frontline CX champions with a clear role?

Sharing ownership of CX across the entire business will help you to drive business change. Remember, collecting data is great but the aim is not just to analyse it but to use it to bring about business change. Can you link your CX activities back to financial metrics like an increase in revenue or cost reduction? Look beyond improvements in NPS and customer satisfaction scores.

Continuous improvement

Whether your CX programme requires a complete rebuild, an extensive remodel, or a lick of paint, completing a listening inventory will help you take a step in the right direction. Taking the time to audit the programme will help you to protect the brand; ensure the efficient use of technology and help you engage with your customers.

The single source of VoC truth is an achievable goal and if you put in place a process of continuous improvement, you will achieve your goal of delivering richer insights and enhance Customer Experience at the same time.


CXM Editorial TeamCXM Editorial TeamSeptember 26, 2019
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9min1961

Businesses in regulated markets don’t have to choose between satisfying their customers and regulators, because compliance and CX isn’t a zero sum game.

Yet with the right tools and focus, they can do both.

Customer expectations are perhaps higher than ever. Conditioned by the interfaces dreamed up by Cupertino’s and Silicon Valley’s finest, we expect things to just work.

And those expectations don’t exist in a vacuum – we carry them with us into other areas of our lives, demanding equally great experiences from banks, retailers, and almost anyone else who provides us with a service.

For example, Salesforce research found 74 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands if the checkout process is difficulty, while 50 percent said they’d go elsewhere if a business doesn’t anticipate their needs or provide an easy-to-use mobile experience.

On-the-go: An easy-to-use mobile experience is a must for half of all customers

Regulation

It’s a particular challenge for businesses in regulated markets who have to carry out due diligence on their customers. These kinds of checks can add friction to an onboarding experience and give already flighty customers reason to abandon sign-up and go elsewhere.

Worse still – regulation is a moving target! To stay compliant, businesses have to continually adjust their processes to keep up with changes in regulation, leading to yet more risk of friction.

In financial services, for example, businesses are currently having to deal with new anti-money-laundering rules (The Fifth Anti Money Laundering Directive), the introduction of the Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) and ongoing compliance with GDPR.

The consequences of failing to meet these and other regulatory obligations are serious. Those found guilty of breaches potentially face massive fines (GDPR infringement can result in fines of up to four percent of a company’s annual global turnover or €20 million – whichever is greater) and prosecution, not to mention the bad publicity and damage to their reputation.

Hefty: GDPR fines can be crippling for a company

The cost of poor CX

It’s understandable that a business faced with these challenges might err on the side of caution and in so doing, introduce the kind of friction that makes for a lesser Customer Experience.

But while the risks associated with poor Customer Experience might be less tangible, they’re no less real.

Customer Experience consulting firm Walker predicts that CX will overtake pricing and product as the key brand differentiator by next year. Meanwhile, PricewaterhouseCooper’s Future of CX report found one-in-three (32 percent) consumers in the US will walk away from a brand after just one poor experience, while 54 percent say Customer Experience needs improvement at most companies.

Clearly, there’s a big opportunity cost to getting it wrong.

Again, traditional financial services have a particular problem here. Their fintech counterparts are more agile and, without the legacy systems and infrastructures of incumbents, are better placed to create great new experiences for customers – even if they’re subject to the same regulatory requirements.

‘Difficult balance’

Cathie Hall, Customer Experience Manager at identity verification specialist GBG, said: “Every single market is being disrupted by people who want the here and now yesterday; who don’t want to wait weeks to open an account; who don’t want to wait weeks to start a service or even get a product. They want what they want now and they want it personal to them.

“And in regulated environments and in a changing landscape, it’s very difficult to get that balance between compliance and the Customer Experience.”

Businesses need to find ways of complying with strict due diligence requirements without making it a chore for their customers, as the best Customer Experiences are frictionless, fast, and intuitive.

Reducing the number of key strokes, auto-populating as much customer information as possible, and performing background checks in real-time removes the burden of onboarding from the customer and speeds up the process, leaving less time or motivation for them to abandon the process.

Using technology to anticipate your customers’ needs and show that you respect their time also makes for a slicker experience that can instil confidence and trust in your brand.

It’s common in retail and other sectors, so if you’re operating in a market that struggles with abandonment, your customers are likely to already expect the same kind of experience from you…and if you don’t provide it, they may go elsewhere.

GBG and Customer Experience Magazine are hosting a free webinar, The Compliance and Customer Experience Conundrum, on October 3 at 11am, British Standard Time. GBG’s Head of User Experience, Henry Thomas, will share insights and CX hacks to inspire attendees. 

Click here to register.


Nicola CollisterNicola CollisterSeptember 25, 2019
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10min1337

It’s time to rethink connected services and the way we interact with our customers.

A lot has changed during the last 20 years in the customer service sphere, and it’s vital that companies engaging in it change too – and challenge themselves to be better. That change is not about to decelerate, and Gartner predicts that by next year, a poor Customer Experience will destroy 30 percent of digital business projects.

Cost is killing innovation and that problem must be solved.

Tackling the swipe right mentality

First, let’s set the scene.

Twenty-seven percent of the world’s adult population was born between 1995 and 2010, and they have never known a world before the dot.com era.

1995 saw the launch of Amazon, eBay, Hotmail, VoIP, PHP, SSL, Javascript, and HTML 2.0, and even those technologies, though still hugely important today, will feel antiquated to the 65 percent of those currently at school today who will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet. And a similar number, we’ve discovered, would sooner stick their head down a toilet than get in touch with a contact centre.

Some reputation, eh?

But it’s symptomatic of the world we live in today, where a ‘swipe right’ mentality trumps persevering with something that isn’t immediately easy to engage with. Of course, we must seek to equip our customers with the tools to help themselves, but that isn’t enough.

Customer engagement opportunities should be cause for celebration and an opportunity to reaffirm a brand’s worth.

Large and small players

The latest figures tell us that 20 percent of customer contact is now outsourced in the UK and there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. It provides brands with an opportunity to deliver service through specialists, where scale and diversity can help smooth out some of overhead challenges, like needing to house people in buildings and equipping them with the right technology.

The problem, however, is the drive for low-cost servicing that often comes with it. Larger players seek to be the lowest bidder, putting technology between people and service to achieve the bottom line.

Smaller players are sometimes able to offer an approach that ‘cares’ more, but too often can’t compete with a technology and innovation offer. Furthermore, the squeeze on margins through the procurement process has jeopardised how people relate to service delivery.

And disparate delivery creates a fragmented approach that makes no sense to the poor individual who decided to make that call – instead of taking the ‘head down loo’ approach!

Innovation killers

Customers have become commodities and service a number on a balance sheet, and this cost game is killing innovation.

Three-in-ten (29 percent) UK customers are prepared to pay more to receive a great customer service, while 36 percent say they’ll stop doing business with a brand due to poor customer service.

And those numbers are growing all the time.

It’s not just about getting it right; getting it ‘extra right’ increases brand favourability. Those customers who had a positive experience that was better than expected were more than twice as likely to increase their brand favourability than those who had a positive experience that was in line with, or worse, than expectations.

These surveys were done a couple of years ago, but I believe expectations will have only increased. This is why getting it ‘extra right’ can increase brand favourability two-fold.

Meeting expectations

The marketplace is also waking up to the realisation that the more competitive and rapidly-changing the sector, the more at risk they are of not meeting expectations. For example, airlines are five times more likely than public services to have customers citing ‘better experiences with competitors’ cited as a reason why a ‘service encounter’ failed to meet their expectations2.

And studies have concluded that consumers’ expectations are influenced by a much wider body of prior experiences than before. They now go beyond directly comparable sectors, and this should mean there is more of a focus on more fluid expectations in the future.

For many, the experience of booking train travel is now comparable to the experience of online shopping; we’re simply doing more stuff online.

Tail wagging the dog

In other words, I believe that the tail is wagging the dog when it comes to service delivery, simply because service is the biggest driver of value.  So, it is all the more baffling that brands continue to force bad business solutions onto customers.

All customers want are simple, responsive services – regardless of who they are chatting to or what they are chatting about, and whether that be through voice or text.

Innovating, not cost-cutting

In a market that is increasingly becoming defined by a ‘lowest-cost’ approach, it’s time to shatter the myth that out-sourcing is simply a cost-cutting exercise. There is growing demand from customers for responsive, connected, and seamlessly delivered services – and out-sourcing is helping to meet those challenges.

But the so-called ‘race to the bottom’ that cost-cutting creates is damaging the market and causing businesses to overlook the true benefits of partnering with a specialist outsourced contact centre provider.

A good Business Process Outsourcer (BPO) provider should work with its clients to understand their reasons for outsourcing their customer contact centre, and incorporate them as fundamental elements of the services we provide.

The provider will work with clients to deliver each of these benefits and build a relationship that is defined by far more than just an advisor hourly rate.

On our own journey as an outsourcing solutions provider, we strive to be open and pragmatic in everything we do and aim to offer something unique and different in the industry, all while shattering myths like this one along the way!


Jeroen van GlabbeekJeroen van GlabbeekSeptember 23, 2019
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13min1246

Recent studies have found that over a third of the UK’s population have attended a festival since 2016, proving there’s always a fanbase ready to trade home comforts for a weekend of music, food, and drink in a field.

Yet while the demand from music-lovers continues to grow and organisers remain eager to meet these demands, it’s surprising that the outreach and sales process is still rather old-fashioned.

Festivals are big business, but margins are getting squeezed all the time. Glastonbury is the UK’s largest festival with a turnover of £37 million, but this only translates into profits of £86,000 – under 50p a ticket.

When looking forward to 2020 planning, event organisers should be looking for new opportunities to ensure they remain relevant and profitable.

With today’s technological solutions, event managers are not only able to get to know their customers better but also deliver the best, most satisfying fan experience possible through ‘conversational commerce’. When fans are having a good time they’re more likely to spend at festivals and continue to return for years to come. By rethinking how to approach and interact with fans directly – through bypassing costly and rather generic display social media ads and simplifying how payments are  processed before, during and even after the festivities – organisers can achieve the ultimate fan experience.

The personal touch

Festivals are renowned for retaining loyal fanbases, with festival-goers opting to return to the same festival year after year for a guaranteed good time. However, with so much choice on offer, it’s proving increasingly difficult to ensure that your event remains top of mind when sales open for 2020 festival season. How you approach fans in the build-up is critical to whether they chose your event or a competitor’s.   

Fortunately, by utilising the previously unused data collected the first-time round, you can create highly personalised and relevant content for the future. The true value of data is how it helps you get to know your customers on a personal level; what artists did they favourite on your festival app last year, and what drinks did they order? By collecting all of this data in a Customer Data Platform (CDP), it can help to determine which fans are the most likely to become frequent attendees for your upcoming events. Useful data – such as contact details, which tickets they bought and when – can be put to good use in building a loyal, recurrent fanbase.

Every customer is unique and so it makes sense that the way they like to be approached differs drastically. By using each customer’s unique data from the CDP, the fan’s preferred messaging channel established, and be used as the default route for engagement. Nowadays generic emails will likely end up deleted or in a customer’s junk folder, but by proactively approaching the fan on the messaging channel of their choice, that is tailored to the customer, you greatly increase the chance for engagement and conversion. 

As the smartphone grows in importance as a basis for ticketing and customer engagement, channels like SMS – that still enjoy a 98 percent open rate – will remain important, but festival organisers also need to think of the future. There is a growing trend of a move towards Rich Communications Services (RCS), Apple Business Chat and Over-The-Top (OTT) messaging services like WhatsApp as customers seek greater convenience and the ability to transmit in-call media.

By catering to these rising services, organisers are futureproofing communication and engagement with customers by talking to them on their preferred platforms and ensuring that all personal data is collected, used and stored in GDPR-compliant manner. 

Far too many event organisers make the mistake of completing their ticket sales and then dropping any form of customer engagement in the weeks and, sometimes, months between the point-of-sale and the festival kick-off. This period of time is an invaluable opportunity to build excitement in the fan leading up to the event.

Between the ticket sale and festival date, more information becomes known as bands are confirmed and merchandising and supplier deals are signed. Proactively communicating these updates via the customer’s messaging channel of choice will build their excitement for the event and help them plan their time for maximum enjoyment. What’s more, informing them of special deals and merchandise ahead of time will only maximise revenue opportunities once they get there. 

Fan club: Keeping fans informed on events can be done via their chosen channel

Taking the stress out of payments

During the build-up to ticket release, most festivals will release teasers a few weeks prior and a couple of reminders a few days before. For the most popular festivals, hardcore fans will often queue up online hours before the ticket sales page comes online, constantly refreshing in the hope of getting ahead in the virtual queue.

This is an unfair and unnecessarily stressful process for the customer. The person with the fastest processor on their machine almost always gets their ticket first. As a result, the customers experiencing frequent disappointment, are left dissatisfied with the festival, increasing the likelihood of them giving up on ever trying to go again.

Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome these pitfalls. Once you have proactively reached out to festival fans, you can offer a preregistration by asking them how many tickets he or she wishes to receive and what kind. This way a fair drawing can be organised where everyone who preregistered gets the first opportunity to reserve tickets and a notification telling them whether they were successful. Additionally, new fan profiles can be created and added to the existing ones on the festival organisers customer data platform – all enriched and updated in real time based on customer preferences and purchase history, allowing for highly personalised engagement.

Fans will then receive a payment link on the same messaging channel they were first contacted on – or a different one based on their preference. You can set the system up so that if they don’t pay within a set amount of time the tickets are offered to another preregistered fan. Once payment is complete, the tickets can be sent directly to the customer or made accessible through a festival app or an OTT app of their choice. Organised and efficient solutions such as these are already being deployed by the likes of Formula 1.

The same app-based approach can be applied to customer payment solutions during and even after the event. By linking their account to the festival app, a customer can open a festival ‘tab’ to order refreshments and merchandise in-app, enjoy the festival experience and settle the bill automatically after the festivities are over.

This means no more standing in line to order, losing cash or having to shout over the music for a bartender’s attention. All fans need to do is show the QR-code automatically generated after making their order. As a result, fans have more time to enjoy their festival experience without the hassle of payments. This solution was pioneered by the organisers of Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands this year.

When payments is an effortless part of the fan’s festival experience, you’ve achieved true conversational commerce. When you cater to all communication channels and ensure payments processes are embedded in each, the customer can contact and do business with you the way they want. They have both the optimal Customer Experience and the incentive to come back to you again and again. 

The new communication age

Personalised contact and conversational commerce are only the first step. If you want to understand your audience to their core, imagine all the other platforms your audience use and link them to their festival account. With the consent and approval of the fans, all relevant social media accounts could be linked to a single customer data platform. This way, you could analyse their favourite artists and make relevant suggestions to the customer in real time, such as which stage to visit and when to get the best views.

In order to deliver this next level communication experience, event organisers need one platform that ticks all the boxes – from data collection to messaging and processing payments. With the right tools and data infrastructure, however, the truly customised fan experience of the future is there for the taking.


Alan PerksAlan PerksSeptember 23, 2019
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11min5205

In an age of digital disruption, creating powerful experiences has never been more important.

Marketers know this – 84 percent of Vice President and C-Suite level executives believe in-person events are a critical component of their company’s success.

Designing with a human focus should be at the core of any experience marketing and brand activation. By layering insight with human behaviour, rather than focusing solely on product alone, brands can create authentic and intuitive experiences that ease their audience into embracing new technologies.

Here are some of the most important experience marketing lessons we’ve learned over the last 21 years of producing Cisco Live events worldwide, the tech provider’s education, advocacy, and sales event for Network Engineers, IT Managers, CIO’s, customers, prospects, and industry influencers. Each element plays a key role in ensuring brands craft experiences with a human focus.

Stay fresh

As with any annual conference, where you see repeat attendees year after year, ensuring the Cisco Live experience feels new and relevant every year is always a top priority.

The theme for 2019, Imagine Intuitive, was based on Cisco’s brand campaign, The Network. Intuitive. We began with the floor planning and layout, taking into account what worked from the year before and adding new spaces to further improve the ease with which delegates navigate and explore the event.

Next, we refreshed the creative. Every year we have a new campaign and creative playbook as the primary source of inspiration, thanks to Cisco. This year, we brought the Imagine Intuitive message and visual identity to life by translating the strategic insights around the proposition into a series of major physical interventions in the experiential environment.

All of these identity landmarks throughout the 75,000 sqm of Cisco Live were created to enable wayfinding and locations for interaction, networking and learning. Each individually remarkable, the installations followed our developed design principles to provide a consistent and coherent brand experience.

Be customer-centric

The refreshed creative drew delegate attention to new opportunities, reflecting the changing needs of the event whilst providing a lively yet effective context to the client content.

At Cisco Live 2019, we also enhanced the presentation experience for speakers by creating a text message alert system that allowed them to book bespoke appointments with presentation designers. From crafting the look and feel of the deck to working on overall creative direction, every possible effort was made to enhance their experience of the event.

To make our speakers feel welcome, we also created an enhanced catering service and airport style lounge where speakers could relax, rehearse and connect with other attendees. It’s important to keep both attendee and participant needs front of mind.

Engage multiple senses

Designing with a human focus means engaging all five senses. The beauty of live experiences means you have a unique opportunity to tap into human behaviour and emotion.

For Cisco Live, we reinvented the look, feel, layout and content in order to create something visually and sensually striking. This ensured we could capture attendees’ attention and constantly provide new elements of surprise and delight.

The pinnacle of this strategy came to life in Cisco’s ‘Playground’, a vibrant interactive space that harnessed the power of imagination to help visitors solve problems and learn.

Games and challenges can help bring ideas to life in a very human way. The Cisco and Domino’s Pizza challenge is prime example. In this tactile experience, we showcased how Cisco supports Domino’s digital transformation and ensures customer needs are always met by asking visitors to match Cisco services to their correct functions in the fastest time possible. By creating a challenge that needs to be solved, you can drive brand recall and generate stronger memories among attendees.

Integrate technology

While physical experiences tap into an entirely different world of emotion and engagement, brands shouldn’t be afraid to leverage the capabilities of modern technology at the same time. Let’s face it, designing with a human focus in 2019 means brands must account for both. Today’s customers are using technology day-in-and-day-out in countless ways, including in order to engage with them, therefore brands inevitably need to integrate tech into live experiences.

As a tech brand Cisco understands this better than most. For Cisco Live this year we created a virtual reality (VR) experience that enabled thousands of attendees to go on a captivating journey across the Golden Gate Bridge, the icon at the heart of the Cisco logo. As guests travelled across the bridge, the letters I-M-A-G-I-N-E converged, with a view to inspiring them to make the most out of their week at Cisco Live.

As digital sits at the heart of Cisco’s brand, our digital team prototyped and created an activation that showcased the power of Cisco’s facial recognition technology. To really draw the human element out, we created a mural of participants’ photos  to make the experience more personalised and bespoke to this year’s attendees.

Blend social and physical

The omnipresence of social media in today’s world means that you must account for shifting customer behaviours across channels when designing experiences with a human focus.

At Cisco Live 2019, we used social media to attract delegates and showcase all the elements to the event’s followers. This meant users could explore the event and engage with our range of activities and Cisco experts.

On-site, we created a sense of FOMO by sharing behind the scenes footage of the build as well as the different activations. In these ways we were able to bring together the physical and digital worlds of the event in a variety of engaging ways for both attendees and wider audiences.

Make a difference

Today’s consumers are increasingly discerning about where they spend their money, and most would prefer to work with or buy from brands that show ethical and moral sensibilities. But you don’t have to be a non-profit or a charity to make a difference.

Cisco takes its CSR seriously, and where possible likes to engage with communities local to where it’s operating. That’s why we asked attendees to help us customise 150 skateboards, creating an installation during the event to promote three local children’s charities in Barcelona. The skateboards were donated to the charities post-event, to be used by children to connect with others and learn new skills.

This element allowed attendees to directly participate in a fun activity that had a positive impact on the local community. We had to ramp it up on site as engagement levels were so high.

Creating powerful experiences requires designing with a human focus; as these lessons show there are countless ways to take that approach in your own activations.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthSeptember 20, 2019
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4min1162

The Customer Experience Professional Masterclass is coming to Sweden, where world-renowned CX consultant and author Ian Golding will impart his knowledge over two days in October.

Taking place on October 22 – 23, the Masterclass is held in collaboration with the AROS Congress Centre in Västerås, where attendees will gather for an intense course covering all core Customer Experience competencies, such as strategy and brand proposition; the role of employees in delivering the strategy; customer journey mapping; CX measurement (VOC, VOE, and VOP), CX improvement; and CX culture.

Highly practical and engaging, The CX Professional Masterclasses are hugely popular in the UK, UAE, and beyond, and now is the chance for Sweden-based CX professionals to learn from Ian, founder of the Customer Experience Consultancy, and author of Customer What? The honest and practical guide to customer experience.

In 2015, Ian (pictured) became the first person in the world to become an Authorised Resource and Training Provider for the CCXP accreditation, and his Västerås Masterclass is taking place ahead of the 2019 International Customer Experience Awards in Amsterdam on November 21, which will be chaired by Ian and will feature some of the biggest brands in Europe competing across a wide range of CX categories.

Speaking of her experience at a previous UK CX Professional Masterclass, Pam Whitehouse, Customer Engagement and Improvement Manager at LGSS, said: “Ian Golding is utterly knowledgeable in this subject matter, and is able to bring the training to life using real-life examples that anyone can relate to. His passion and drive for helping people to improve their customer experience is inspirational.”

Speaking to Customer Experience Magazine, Ian said: “I’m really looking forward to the Masterclass in Västerå this October, and to bringing our curriculum to a Swedish audience. Customer Experience is continuing to redefine how brands do business right across Europe, and it’s exciting to have the CX Professional Masterclass at the vanguard of this movement. It’s a busy time for CX in the continent, with the International Customer Experience Awards also set to take place in Amsterdam in November.”


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthSeptember 19, 2019
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2min2265

Data insight leader Kantar has appointed a new Commercial Director to drive its CX strategy into 2020 and beyond.

Chloe Woolger (pictured), the former Marketing Director of Watermelon Research, will be based at Kantar’s London HQ, reporting to Tim Pritchard, Managing Director of CX at Kantar UK.

The Vice Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Surrey Branch and a committee member for ‘&Thrive’, a support network for women in research and marketing, Chloe’s new Kantar brief is to build on the brand’s commercial success with its expanding CX offer.

Working closely with Kantar’s UK marketing team, Chloe will help to develop the go-to-market strategy for CX, managing client and business development activities. Her aim is to strengthen Kantar’s existing CX partner ecosystem, working with Medallia and SAP-owned Qualtrics, to drive sales.

Kantar’s end-to-end CX capability helps organisations better understand their customers, improve how they deliver CX and, in turn, improve their business outcomes and commercial ROI. Capabilities includes programme design, best-in-class platform solutions, advanced analytics, activation consulting, and managed services.

Tim Pritchard, Managing Director of CX, Kantar UK said: “We are pleased to welcome Chloe to a growing, successful team. Over the last 18 months, we have secured over £20m in new CX contracts including client wins such as Bupa, Hyundai, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays and most recently Post Office and Nationwide Building Society. Her appointment will drive the business forward, helping to maintain Kantar’s reputation as a global centre of excellence for customer experience management, and ensure our long-term commercial success.”


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthSeptember 19, 2019
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3min916

Gaming firms in the UK are facing a customer loyalty crisis, with 96 percent of punters saying they switch betting providers every year.

Customer insight firm Feefo found that despite this challenge, 93 percent of customers claim they can be persuaded to stick with a favourite firm, and 98 percent admitting that they value aspects of their current gaming firm.

Exploring the habits of 1,000 adults who use UK gaming firms, along with the views of 50 gaming industry decision-makers, The Gaming Report  found customers feel no incentive to be loyal. More than a fifth of customers (21 percent) switch every three-to-five months. Younger and more frequent customers are more likely to switch.

A quarter (25 percent) of 18-34-year-olds switch every two months, for example, compared with six percent of over-65s.

Punters are tempted away by better odds (40 percent) and better introductory offers (39 percent). Only 44 percent of decision-makers say their company can persuade more than half its customers to make more than two deposits.

Ben Marley, head of market development at Feefo, said: “UK gaming companies are employing lower league loyalty tactics against top-level competition, constantly losing customers to rivals. Almost all punters are ready to quit their company at least every 12 months, yet more than nine-in-ten tell us they will stay loyal if they get the right offers, odds or overall quality of experience.

“It’s time for a serious re-think about the tactics betting companies employ. The majority still lack real insight into what precisely customers want.”

The research found that 82 percent of respondents use more than one company at any time and more than half (51 percent) use two. Half of players (50 percent) stick with a company because they like the loyalty programme, and almost as many (46 percent) because a firm is ready to match another company’s offers. However, 50 percent of customers choose a company because of its good reputation.

Ben Marley added: “There’s an ace up every company’s sleeve they continue to overlook – using customer feedback insights to understand precisely punters want, so that loyalty programmes, odds and offers hit the jackpot more often. They need advanced, AI-powered Customer Experience platforms to provide game-changing levels of insight into what players want right now.”

 


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthSeptember 18, 2019
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3min930

Outrage culture has left businesses unable to sincerely say sorry.

Instead they apologise routinely for trivial transgressions, issuing ‘fauxpologies’, ‘nonpologies’ and baffling their customers with incomprehensible jargon in a way that undermines their reputation, damages their credibility and impacts on their bottom line.

In The Apology Impulse, authors Cary Cooper and Sean O’Meara reveal how businesses are getting it wrong on an epic scale.

Whether it’s Paperchase apologising to the Twitterati for a marketing promotion with the Daily Mail and cutting themselves off from the Mail’s 1.5m readership by promising never to advertise with them again. Or the boss of United Airlines apologising for ‘reaccomodating’ a peaceful passenger who was bloodied by United staff and physically dragged from his reserved seat so it could be given to aircrew for United’s operational convenience.

Cooper and O’Meara show how the business world is increasingly driven by an instinctive fear of mass disapproval and hyper-sensitivity to even the smallest criticism. They apologise for the most trivial of things but withhold the big apologies when things really go wrong, due mainly to an unfounded fear of litigation.

Getting it wrong is damaging, but getting it right can enhance an organisation’s reputation even in the midst of a major crisis. Nick Varney, the CEO of Alton Towers, was widely praised for his direct, plain-speaking and empathetic handling of the 2015 rollercoaster crash. He accepted full responsibility and made sure the victims were at the heart of his response, famously replying: “You’ll forgive me if I’m not really focused on the share price at the moment,” when asked about the commercial impact.

The Apology Impulse explores our modern addiction to apologising without really saying sorry. It looks at the best and worst examples to help readers understand when and how to make meaningful amends and why respectfully holding your ground makes you better at being sorry.

It reveals the tricks and techniques we all use to evade, reframe, and divert from what we did. Explaining the psychological reasons why people quickly demand apologies and why businesses are so quick to give them.

The book illustrates why stage-managed apologies can harm businesses and their clients and provides essential lessons for every business, CEO or communications professional who may find themselves in the eye of a crisis in the future.

The Apology Impulse is published by Kogan Page and out 3 October, priced £14.99. 

 


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthSeptember 17, 2019
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25min830

The 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards is just around the corner, and CXM is shining a spotlight on how fantastic training can help your strategies burst out of the boardroom and become worthy of awards recognition.

Among this year’s finalists is finance and admin solutions provider Equiniti Group, which is partnered by First Impression Training (FIT), a firm that enhances CX by assisting companies in developing their employees to build better relationships with customers.

However, good training goes deep, especially when it comes to earning awards recognition for your efforts, and FIT have been assisted in crafting an entry worthy of judges’ admiration by the one-and-only Donna O’Toole, the force behind August – The Awards Consultancy.

Donna lives and breathes awards, and knows exactly what it takes to bring your in-house achievements to a wider audience, with the aim of garnering industry recognition that can open doors to future success.

In a special look behind the scenes of an awards journey, CXM spoke with Donna and FIT’s Training Director and co-founder Marie Cross, about how dedicated training can lift a business to new heights and, ultimately, awards glory…

Donna O’Toole

Hi Donna. Tell us about August and yourself. What inspired you to found a masterclass aimed at preparing organisations for an awards journey?

I started August – The Awards Consultancy in 2015 as a way of helping people to achieve their dreams. I’m a true ‘people-person’ and my background is in English linguistics, so I combined my geeky language skills with my deep knowledge of the awards industry to create an agency that empowers businesses by using awards as a growth tool. August actually means respected, celebrated, and admired, and that’s exactly what we help our clients to become. 

Over the years, I have overseen literally thousands of award entries, including nominations for high-profile awards like the Queen’s honours, and award panel presentations. I see every single entry as unique. It needs to reflect the true values of the brand or individual, but it also needs to deliver a powerful, highly-evidenced argument that makes the reader (in this case a panel of judges) truly believe in them and want them to win too. 

I continuously analyse award entry results, stories, evidence, and feedback, and I’m never satisfied with good results; I strive for excellence in everything – both for my clients and for my own team. It’s this determination to succeed, and to see people truly shine, that has driven me to develop a unique blueprint for awards success.  

I created the unique awards training programme for my own team, then expanded this to train individuals and teams around the world who don’t want to outsource their awards, but do need support to win. I also train PR teams and communications professionals in exactly what they need to do to help their clients win too. I think sometimes people think writing an award entry is just ‘copywriting’. Well, I can tell you for free that it’s not!

We are not a copywriting agency – we eat, breathe, and sleep awards, so the copywriters I train get a surprise when they realise what they have written for a website or blog is completely and utterly wrong for an award entry!

For a firm like FIT, how does the Masterclass help bring out the confidence to put themselves forward for industry awards such as the UKCXAs?

When Marie came to our training day she had the same issue that a lot of people have – she was so busy making sure her customers were achieving everything they wanted and needed to, that she had very little time left to focus on getting recognition for her own business.

First, she needed to think about which awards to enter, and be objective about the value they could deliver back to her business. Then she had to think about what she needed to collect from her own business and that of her clients’ in order to win. When you are running a customer-focused business like FIT, you really don’t have time to think about promoting yourselves, so this was a fantastic opportunity for Marie to take a good look at her achievements so far, and make a clear plan for the future progress of the business, using awards to support and drive further growth. The little time Marie did have to focus on awards needed to be used effectively. She needed a formula that would allow her to put an award entry together that had the right structure, story, content, and evidence right from the off. 

With First Impression Training, you were essentially ‘training trainers’. Did Marie’s training background help when it came to her adopting the skills she learned?

Working with Marie was a dream, because she was not only ‘ready to learn’, she is a trainer herself, so she knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the table! Marie has also judged lots of awards too, so she knows what the judges are looking for in a winning entry. 

Marie and I also have in common the fact that we work with global brands and organisations, as well as smaller businesses and leaders who want to bring out the best in their business. So she understands the challenges that her clients face and was able to use these in our awards training to bring out their unique qualities and achievements, as well as her own. This is so valuable for award entries where businesses are working in partnership, or where you have a supplier relationship and want to gain recognition for both brands. 

 

There is always a ‘eureka’ moment during the training day, when you see a light come on for the trainees. Suddenly, they can see exactly what their strategy should be; what their ‘win theme’ should be; what to include in their entries, and what to leave out.

They can also see exactly why previous entries haven’t been winning, and what can make them win next time. Marie was able to draw out what was both challenging and unique about the projects she had been working on with her clients, and see what she needed to do to present these in a way that would truly ‘wow’ the judges. 

As an awards industry expert, what would you say to a company that is considering taking the plunge and entering, but might have reservations about the process and what benefits it will bring?

The canniest businesses know that you really don’t have to be changing the world to win an award. And you don’t necessarily have to be the best in your industry to win!

You only have to know how to beat the businesses you are competing against at that particular time, in that particular category, to win.

However, when you do win, that’s when the value of awards comes into its own. Your team will be massively motivated by the recognition, and happy employees make happy customers! Your customers have another ‘reason’ to trust you, which means they are more likely to choose to spend their money with you rather than your competitors. And you can use your awards to leverage interest in your business for PR, recruitment, referrals, investment, and Thought Leadership, as well as in your advertising. We are constantly asking our clients for feedback on what’s been happening in their business since winning awards, and the results are always hugely positive. Winning awards can create an immediate uplift in sales, help you to secure significant investment (investors love to see you winning awards), help you to recruit the best talent, and even lead to personal benefits like promotions and pay rises.

What’s not to love?

However, the value in entering awards is not purely in the win – it is in the entire process. Many people are put off entering by the amount of time it will take to prepare their entries, or by looking at previous winners and thinking they are bigger/better and so they couldn’t possibly win, or by a previous awards experience where they didn’t win.

These are all big mistakes, and probably why their competitors keep winning awards and they stay on the sidelines looking like the poor relation in the industry! 

Going through the process of entering awards gives you an opportunity to do a gap analysis on your business – anything you don’t have ready for that award entry (evidence, feedback, growth, and performance stats etc) needs to be either gathered, created, or implemented. And once you’ve got this, you can use and reuse the information, usually for at least a year, to enter and win lots of awards. So you’re already adding value to your business just by starting the process! 

How does August help an organisation that has lots of talent and drive, but has less knowledge about what it takes to enter – and ultimately win – an industry award such as the UKCXAs?

We help businesses in lots of ways – not just by training them to win, but by doing all their awards work for them if they wish. Firstly though, and most importantly, before we can help a business to win, we need to get to know them. What do they want to achieve over the next few years? What are their biggest challenges? What are their biggest achievements? What are their company values? How are they different from their competitors? Why do they want to win awards, and what is their experience with awards so far? Just going through this process reveals so much and allows us to make sure our clients only enter awards where they will have the best chances of success. 

 

An awards event like the UKCXAs is outstanding for recognising and celebrating the success of so many different types of business, but it takes work to win it! And it is one of my absolute favourite awards to judge because the competition is fierce, and you know that during the presentations you’ll hear stories that make you proud to be part of the process.

It is an award that aligns completely with our own ethos too; it’s not just about doing the right thing by your customers, it’s about making their hearts sing!

Marie Cross

Hi Marie. Tell us about First Impression Training and the work you do with firms seeking to boost their CX offering.

First Impression Training is a small organisation with a big pedigree, having worked with some of the giants of industry over the last 18 years since our launch, including AXA, Aviva, Kuoni, Equiniti, Legal & General, BUPA, and the NHS.

We’re an award-winning, people development consultancy specialising in the CX arena.

Wholly focused on developing the talent of frontline teams and leaders, we enable cultural and behavioural change that enhances our clients’ Customer Experience, increases employee engagement, and improves operational efficiency on the front line.

Our training solutions are tailor-made for each client we partner, applying our unique S.H.A.P.ETM methodology, which enables clients to fully own and internalise the FIT solution in a smooth and seamless way, so that the ‘FIT Way’ is kept living and breathing within the organisation, long after we’ve left the building!

 

You met Donna while judging at Awards events. Did your judging role inspire you to take FIT down the awards entry route, after seeing the success enjoyed by winners?

I’ve been involved with many award programmes over the years, since industry legend Don Hales and I first met (over 18 years ago) when he persuaded me to become a judge for the (then) National Customer Service Awards and the National Sales Awards. 

I was also heavily involved with the National Training Awards led by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills for five years, before the programme was taken over by the National Apprenticeship Service.

So yes, I’ve certainly been witness to some amazing winning entries during this time.

And this experience definitely does get you motivated to go for it yourself, partnering your clients – which is exactly what FIT has done this year with the culture change programme we’ve delivered for Equiniti’s 400-seat Customer Experience Centre, and now we’re finalists in four categories across three prestigious award programmes with them!

Donna’s Masterclass is the UK’s premier ‘how to win awards’ tutorial. What skills did you learn from August that FIT will use in its goal of achieving industry recognition?

Donna is a consummate pro! She’s an articulate awards expert, PR guru, and marketing whiz! I love what she’s about and I learned heaps from her at the Masterclass, from designing an award-winning strategy and creating your ‘win theme’, through to the very specific techniques she teaches for crafting your story, content, and evidence for your award entry.

She also shows you how to get the best out of your PR once you’ve actually taken your well-deserved place on the winners’ podium.

If you need a hand ‘bigging yourself up’ and getting your story out there, Donna’s yer gal!

While learning from Donna, what did you discover about your own organisation that you now realise needed improving, but might not have been aware of beforehand?

At the risk of sounding a little boastful here, what Donna really helped me recognise was that we’d spent the last 18 years helping our clients get the recognition they deserved, both inside their organisations and externally, putting them forward for the big award programmes, shouting from the rooftops about their commitment to employee engagement and staff development, without actually doing anything to ensure we stood out alongside them! 

As Donna said to me: “Why on earth would you not consider entering awards – both independently as a training provider and jointly with your clients – when you’re half the reason for your clients’ success stories?” 

So that’s exactly what we’ve done this year!

Donna helped us realise: it’s not that we needed improving – we needed to become our own publicity agent and stop hiding our light under a bushel if we really wanted to get noticed and stand out from the crowd in this increasingly busy marketplace in which we operate. And the result? As I said: finalists in four categories across those three prestigious award programmes: the UK Customer Experience Awards, the UK Business Awards, and the European Contact Centre & Customer Service Awards.

Would you recommend other organisations to take the plunge and prepare for their own awards journey through August guidance? 

Yes, wholeheartedly!

I’ve already paid tribute to Donna and the August Consultancy publicly through my social media posting and our weekly blog to our ‘FIT fans’.

I know for sure that our written entries were as good as they were, resulting in us reaching those four finalist positions, thanks to the lessons I learned at Donna’s Masterclass. 

I’m a creative myself; I love to write and I’m told I’m good at it too! However, I also know that I couldn’t have crafted such a brilliant story – as I have done for the entries we submitted – if I hadn’t first learned the award-winning tips, techniques, and strategies that August has taught me.

The 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards, hosted by Awards International, takes place in Wembley Stadium on October 10.


Angus BurrellAngus BurrellSeptember 16, 2019
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8min1544

The ‘high street’ we used to know simply doesn’t exist anymore.

While independent retailers are struggling, household names are also feeling the pressure, shuttering at an unsettling rate. In fact, according to the British Retail Consortium, the number of empty shops in town centres is at its highest level since 2015, with over 10 percent of shops currently left vacant. This is only four percent lower than the figure of 14 percent a decade ago, which was recorded right after the 2008 global financial crisis.

The latest victims, Karen Millen and Coast, have continued the unfortunate demise of the high street, but the suffering extends past traditional high street retail. Bookmaker William Hill is closing 700 stores and axing 4500 jobs, indicating that the high street isn’t just taking a hit within the retail industry. As customers have flocked to quicker and more convenient online options, the traditional high street has struggled to retain a distinct role in customers’ lives. This has had an undeniable impact on what was once the beating heart of many city centres and local communities.

Time to revitalise

If the high street is to regain its former status, it has to focus on the needs of today’s consumers and put Customer Experience first as a way to differentiate itself. While this may sound obvious, right now this isn’t being done. Nowadays, customers want more than just products; they also crave an experience to go alongside the products – one that can only be facilitated in a physical environment. By differentiating on customer service and experience, retailers can reinforce their business, growing loyalty and driving continued engagement from their customers.

Microsoft, for example, recently opened their first European store in London. The three-storey shop on the corner of Oxford Circus has a gaming lounge, a learning theatre, and a dedicated business area. The store has multiple zones to cater to their customers’ needs, allowing them to immerse themselves in their latest innovations, and engage with them on a deeper and more personal level.

A shared responsibility

In order for the high street’s turnaround to be successful, all stakeholders must commit to a single vision for the high street, rather than sole responsibility falling on one party. This task won’t be easy, so it requires retailers alongside landlords and local councils to work together to make the high street an exciting and rewarding place to visit.

To make a change, each stakeholder has to play their part. Keeping Customer Experience at its core, local councils and authorities can focus on basic issues like improved transport links and free parking. Likewise, retailers themselves need to completely rethink the in-store experience. They can’t focus on only one channel – they must consider their physical, digital, and social presence and bring these elements together. By doing this, they can create a single experience of their brand, regardless of channel.

There’s no doubt that the solution to this transformation won’t be quick. However, listening to each stakeholder’s opinions and insights is critical. Failing to address fundamental issues or respond to areas of opportunity will contribute further to the high street’s demise. Such has been seen in Lowestoft, where expensive parking had a notable impact on footfall – resulting in numerous store closures.

Luckily, there are some British high streets that are leading the way and starting this transformation. Doncaster Council, for example, has prioritised the future development of the high street and acknowledged that it needs to be an experience destination. Doncaster Council plans to consolidate the quality of retail offerings in an area identified as their ‘Retail Core’. In turn, they will free up nearby areas where shop vacancy rates are higher, redeveloping and giving them a new identity within the city. It’s time that other councils around the country follow their lead and respond to local retail trends.

Rejuvenate the returns process

Kicking off a transformation is daunting, but starting with small changes can make a real difference – provided it doesn’t just stop there. Valitor’s recent research on the After Payment Emotional Experience (APEX) discovered that more than half (54 percent) of consumers expect at least a basic level of care after making a purchase.

Undeniably, returns are one of the main elements of the after-care experience. Their importance was highlighted again by almost two thirds (60 percent) of shoppers who claimed they wouldn’t shop with a retailer if there were any issues returning a product. With almost one in four (38 percent) consumers wanting to return items to a store, retailers must look at adapting their stores to facilitate an improved returns experience. Addressing such issues will make a retailer stand out from their competitors on the high street, helping them thrive in these difficult times. 

Ultimately, resurrecting the high street comes down to a number of stakeholders, who must be willing to work cooperatively. The question is, will they commit to put the interests of the consumers first? Retailers have to spark the changes to the high street, rather than simply wait for them to happen. Focusing on issues such as returns policies and perfecting the approach to this is an ideal way to encourage modern consumers to visit in-store.

The future for bricks and mortar stores doesn’t have to be bleak, but it’s crucial that we commit to a single consumer-led omni-channel vision of the high street to turn the situation around.


CXM Editorial TeamCXM Editorial TeamSeptember 12, 2019
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2min1276

Customer engagement software firm Freshworks Inc has announced its Freshsuccess customer success management software, delivering an integrated customer view for marketing, sales, support, and success professionals.

From January 2020, all go-to-market teams can leverage unified, holistic data of both accounts and contacts yielding the most up-to-date account activity and health information to identify accounts that are either at risk or ready to buy more goods and services. 

With Freshworks’ Freshsuccess, users get detailed analysis of past behaviour to create and configure customer health scores, allowing companies to grow an established customer base, identify any red flags and increase customer retention rates. In addition, Freshsuccess helps teams operationalise customer success in other important ways.

These include keeping customer success teams organised, allowing everyone to centrally manage all of their customer-related activities such as alerts, workflows, and tasks.

Users will also be able to streamline business intelligence and easily identify behavioural trends while uncovering valuable customer insights.

Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of Freshworks, said: “Our Customer-for-Life vision revolutionises customer engagement to take advantage of the never-ending customer journey. Meaningful customer insight doesn’t end at market, sell, and support. You need to engage continuously to get a customer for life.

With Freshsuccess integration, businesses will be able to leverage actionable data across the entire suite of products – including Freshmarketer, Freshsales, and  Freshdesk – for predictive analytics, customer intelligence and workflow management to proactively court, close, keep, and grow customers for life.”


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthSeptember 11, 2019
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6min1297

The G-Summit Europe event, hosted by global Customer Experience and contact centre solutions firm Genesys, is underway in Amsterdam.

The three-day conference brings together CX professionals from across Europe to share the latest in technology solutions and good practice, and features guest speakers including Huib Van Bockel, the former head of Marketing at Red Bull Europe and author of The Social Brand, and Dave carroll, whose famous viral video, United Breaks Guitars, helped usher in a new era of accountability to customers.

Genesys customers, including, HeinekenKiwi.com, and Lowell Group will illustrate how they are using innovative technologies such as the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), digital channels, and more. G-summit Europe will also celebrate agents from Swisscard, Harambee and Ving as Genesys CX Heroes for going above and beyond to provide exceptional customer service.

Merijn te Booij, Chief Marketing Officer at Genesys, said: “Through G-Summit Europe we aim to show attendees how immersive, experiential service is the new standard for every customer, every time. Attendees will glean insights from industry experts and businesses that have had success using innovative technologies to empower their employees and turn conversations with customers into the best-connected moments across marketing, sales and service.”

Meanwhile, Genesys is making it even easier for businesses to extend the power of its PureCloud software with the launch of single-click free trials for Premium Applications. Now available on the Genesys AppFoundry, this is the industry’s first fully self-service, automated free trial program available on a dedicated CX marketplace.

Jeff Wise, Vice President, Application and Developer Marketing at Genesys explains: “Our free trial program is a truly modern approach for companies to buy software. We’re offering a hassle-free way to try trusted apps, integrations and services that seamlessly tie into our leading SaaS solution, PureCloud.

“In a matter of minutes – not days or weeks – customers can test drive solutions to help them address real business challenges and deliver value. This is just the latest example of how we’re removing barriers to help businesses build deeper, more meaningful relationships with their customers and enrich their employees’ experiences.”

Quickly and without risk, Genesys PureCloud customers can sample a variety of select integrations, applications and services that work in lockstep with their cloud contact center software. Currently, there are 11 free trial applications from AppFoundry partners including: Avtex, CustomerView, nGuvu, PureInsights, Softphone, Survey Dynamix, CoBrowse, SmartVideo, Outleads, and more. These span a variety of capabilities including business intelligence, workforce management, CRM and more.

With fully automated installation and setup, Premium Applications are built to accelerate speed-to-use and deliver optimal time-to-value.

Softphone, a leading contact centre solutions developer & system integrator, currently offers free trials of four Premium Applications on AppFoundry.

Alan Lugiai, Softphone chief executive officer said: “We expect free trial offers to generate an incredible response from Genesys customers. This is a tremendous opportunity to help even more businesses amplify the value of their Genesys Cloud Customer Experience solutions by giving them friction-free access to and integration of our products.”

Businesses have 30 days to evaluate the offering and can choose to license or cancel at any time without friction. In addition, Premium Applications are fully integrated with PureCloud’s subscription and billing system, further streamlining and simplifying the entire process for customers.

Learn more about Premium Applications providers and the full roster of Genesys AppFoundry partners here.

Genesys is sponsoring the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards in October. Click here for booking details.


James MarlowJames MarlowSeptember 10, 2019
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7min1590

The connection between a good Customer Experience when people come directly into contact with a brand and business performance is now a given.

In the age of the smartphone, people have become used to fast, fluid access to information and services. Our tech-driven culture has pushed expectations of brands way beyond what heritage, siloed customer service systems were designed to deliver.

When it comes to brand perception, customer service has become an intrinsic and critical part of the overall brand experience and reputation picture. Huge investment in clever brand building or social media engagement will be instantly undermined by a frustrating service experience on the phone, or through digital channels that seem disconnected from people’s needs and expectations.

More than ever, brand reputation, differentiation, loyalty, and choice, are connected with brand performance and its ability to serve and communicate effectively. This is especially so as new generations of direct-to-consumer brands emerge, putting Customer Experience at the heart of the operational business and brand models.

Inevitably, brands in every sector are racing to answer the challenge through investment in technology tasked with speeding up CX processes, making both the management and delivery more efficient.

New digital platforms and avenues for customer engagement have completely changed the way brands interact with their audiences. Moreover, there are an increasing number of tools now that allow for broad spectrum analytics and automation that enable customer experience departments to increase efficiency at a scale that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago.

But getting this investment right in a discipline that has for years been geared towards doing more with less, and partitioned from the brand marketing teams charged with out-reach and brand offering, has been a big challenge. Indeed there is a real risk that many brands will make strategic mistakes.

Most of the tools available to customer service teams sell themselves on increasing the speed of clearing actions first, and on guaranteeing a positive Customer Experience a distant second…if at all!

The ticketing system at the heart of most customer service platforms reduces people and their problems down to numbers, to the detriment of customer service teams’ abilities to empathise with customers – worsening the interaction for all involved. It’s an obvious fact that well-motivated CX teams that enjoy their roles provide better customer service than those that don’t.

So perhaps we should not be surprised that even though the choice and efficiency of digital service platforms and channels has expanded hugely and the concept of customer service has morphed into a much more holistic “customer experience”, a staggering 59 percent of consumers think that brands have lost touch with the human element of Customer Experience.

It seems that while many businesses have quite rightly aimed to enhance efficiency through automation, the other vital part of the equation – empathy and the all-important human touch – has been neglected.

The challenge and the opportunity for customer-centric brands is to balance their strategic path to first-class CX with humanity and a far closer connection between brand marketing and service.

The key to the humanity part is understanding how your people can be enabled to enhance your customer interactions. To shamelessly quote Richard Branson: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

If you ask any customer service agent what the best part of their role is, it will usually be when they get to solve a problem and actually help somebody – doubly so if the customer is grateful and walks away with a smile on their face. To put it simply, people like to help people, and tools that put anything in the way of this are stifling a natural instinct which should instead be encouraged.

It also means connecting digital efficiency with human interaction so the two become seamless and fluid. We all know in the right circumstances, CX will be enhanced with pure automation – a fast, efficient, digital interface. For example, when was the last time you called to order a pizza when you could do it via a couple of clicks through an app?

Nonetheless, 75 percent of consumers have said that they would like more human interaction and this is especially true of more complex interactions or those relating to sensitive or higher value products and services.

So, the next part of our journey as an industry will be framed by growing recognition that business performance can and will be achieved by a balanced or holistic approach that blends human, personal, friendly interactions with the huge advantages in terms of efficiency that automation is giving to brands.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthSeptember 9, 2019
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6min1268

Global companies are expecting to apply artificial intelligence (AI) within their organisations in the next few years, but are lagging behind when it comes to discussing the ethics of the technology, it has been revealed.

New research from CX and contact centre solutions firm Genesys has revealed that more than half of all employers questioned in a multi-country opinion survey say their companies do not currently have a written policy on the ethical use of AI or bots, although 21 percent expressed a definite concern that their companies could use AI in an unethical manner.

Genesys, which is sponsoring the upcoming 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards, questioned 1,103 employers and 4,207 employees regarding the current and future effects of AI on their workplaces. The 5,310 participants were drawn from six countries: the UK, Germany, the US, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the employers surveyed expect their companies to be using AI or advanced automation by 2022 to support efficiency in operations, staffing, budgeting, or performance, although only 25 percent are using it now.

However, in spite of the growing trend, 54 percent of employers questioned say they are not troubled that AI could be used unethically by their companies as a whole or by individual employees (52 percent). Employees appear more relaxed than their bosses, with only 17 percent expressing concern about their companies.

Twenty-eight percent of employers said they are apprehensive their companies could face future liability for an unforeseen use of AI, yet only 23 percent say there is currently a written corporate policy on the ethical use of AI/bots.

Meanwhile an additional 40 percent of employers without a written AI ethics policy believe their companies should have one – a stance supported by 54 percent of employees.

Meanwhile, just over half of employers (52 percent) believe companies should be required to maintain a minimum percentage of human employees versus AI-powered robots and machinery. Employees are more likely (57 percent) than employers (52 percent) to support a requirement by unions or other regulatory bodies.

The Genesys survey found that millennials (ages 18-38) are the age group most comfortable with technology, yet they also have the strongest opinions that guard rails are needed. Across the countries, the survey questions about AI ethics resonated more with millennials than with Gen X (ages 39-54), or Baby Boomers (ages 55-73).

Whether it’s anxiety over AI, desire for a corporate AI ethics policy, worry about liability related to AI misuse, or willingness to require a human employee-to-AI ratio – it’s the youngest group of employers who consistently voice the most apprehension. For example, 21 percent of millennial employers are concerned their companies could use AI unethically, compared to 12 percent of Gen X and only six percent of Baby Boomers.

Steve Leeson, VP UK & Ireland, Genesys, said: “As a company delivering numerous Customer Experience solutions enabled by AI, we understand this technology has great potential that also comes with tremendous responsibility. This research gives us important insight into how businesses and their employees are really thinking about the implications of AI – and where we as a technology community can help them steer an ethical path forward in its use.”

He continued: “Our research reveals both employers and employees welcome the increasingly important role AI-enabled technologies will play in the workplace and hold a surprisingly consistent view toward the ethical implications of this intelligent technology. We advise companies to develop and document their policies on AI sooner rather than later – making employees a part of the process to quell any apprehension and promote an environment of trust and transparency.”

Read CXM’s interview with Olivier Jouve, Executive Vice President of Genesys Purecloud, for more on ethics in AI.


Ian HallIan HallSeptember 4, 2019
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17min1110

You don’t have to be a retail expert to foresee an uplift in turkeys, alcohol, and mince pies through December, but in reality almost all products see a dramatic increase leading up to Christmas.

Simply put, people buy more of (almost) everything.

The week leading up to Christmas is by far the biggest sales week of the year for almost all suppliers (unless you are in the Valentines or Easter egg business), but an often overlooked fact is that the week after Christmas normally sees the lowest sales of the year. Fresh suppliers, in particular, need to consider the impact on waste and replenishment orders that comes from people having plenty of food in, living off turkey sandwiches for seven days, and shops that are barely open.

The graph below is a typical annual profile of weekly sales for a supplier that has ‘core grocery’ products (Jan-Dec):

 

 

Let’s start by making a key distinction – Christmas products vs seasonally affected products:

  • Christmas-only products are those which are ranged temporarily, and are sometimes even themed (such as dog toys that look like reindeers). They often come in as a job-lot, depending on shelf-life, and are cleared immediately after Christmas.
  • Seasonally affected lines can have just as big an uplift in sales at this time of year, but are ranged all year round (e.g. Stilton cheese). Almost all lines in a store are seasonally affected in some way at Christmas.

For Christmas-only products, there are limits to what you can do at this time of year, and seasonal product forecasts tend to be self-fulfilling, i.e. with products sourced from the Far East, the volumes are typically agreed in March, shipped through the summer, into retailer depot in September, and in store at the start of October ( often much to general public outcry).

 

 

Everything that is shipped to the retailer gets sold (sometimes on markdown post-Christmas), and best sellers can run out early – unless you are Mystic Meg you will have either guessed at (sorry, ‘forecast’) too much volume, or too little. The balance for the supplier is to avoid missing sales by supplying too little versus getting hammered for markdown rebates in January when the excess stock is cleared at a fraction of the RRP.

All other products in store will be affected, to a greater or lesser degree, by the general uplift in sales; but why does this matter if stores order more every time they sell one? Three important reasons:

  • If suppliers don’t forecast accurately they may not be able to produce enough to replenish orders
  • Depots are incredibly busy through December – it is not always easy to get delivery slots (if you supply washing powder you are going to be de-prioritised vs Christmas crackers and mince pies)
  • Most of the sales uplift occurs in the seven days leading up to Christmas – by the time products are replenished, it’s over

We would probably all recognise these typical Christmas shopper habits:

  • four weeks to Christmas – we load up the cupboards
  • one week to go – buy all the fresh stuff, and impulse/distress purchases
  • one week after Christmas – we live on turkey sandwiches, and the shops are not open for normal trading hours.
  • January – everyone renews their gym memberships, has some vague thoughts about ‘dry-January’, and lives off soup and Slim-Fast

But of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

There are some subtle trends to be aware of:

The ‘mother-in-law effect’

Most consumers trade up to more premium products in December. Nobody quite knows why – maybe it’s because you have more visitors, or want to impress the in-laws, but people buy more quilted toilet rolls and branded washing up liquid.

The shopper is not always the consumer

Of vital importance all year round, but amplified at Christmas; for example, most beer is purchased by women but consumed by men. Take this one step further when you consider pet food, and further still when you realise that people buy gifts for friends with dogs and cats! So whilst you might not have thought about it, sales of dog toys rise disproportionately in December (and not just on Christmas-only lines – even things like tennis balls may quadruple in sales). Just because dogs don’t eat more in December does not mean that pet food is a static category from a sales perspective!

Weather makes a difference

A cold snap will lead to panic-buying (even things like dishwasher salt and cat-litter to clear snow!)

Christmas Day falls on different days of the week

It is really important to know which day Christmas falls on (yes, I know it’s December 25th, but which day of the week is that?). Christmas is a Wednesday this year; that probably means that people will be doing their ‘big shop’ on the preceding weekend (Friday/Saturday/Sunday).

Very few people leave their main shop until Christmas Eve but, equally, if Christmas falls on a Friday, not many people are going to buy their sprouts and double cream five days before. This has a big effect on the last few days of sales, and is extremely important for suppliers of short-life products. In 2017 the peak trading day was Friday 22nd; this will probably extend to Saturday 21st this year

Depots have fixed capacity

Retailer depots will be bursting at the seams, and booking slots are limited, so you need to be precise with delivery planning and highly reactive to traffic challenges – get on the front foot and talk to your retailer customers in advance.

Planning and forecasting varies by category

Some categories are harder than others to get right. Some can be forecast at the category level, for example if products can be easily substituted, and are impulse purchases, such as dog toys – if one toy runs out, chances are that the shopper will buy a different one. In other categories, forecasting only makes sense at SKU level – if you run out of sprouts, people won’t simply buy broccoli as a substitute, and I for one would be dismayed to be offered Dairylea with my glass of port just because the shop was out of Stilton

Waste and availability remains a delicate balance

The age-old balance between availability and wastage is never more important than at Christmas. You don’t want to run out of stock and lose sales to competitors at this key trading time, but excess stock will turn into waste in the days after Christmas, or seven days, 21 days, 30 days later, depending on shelf-life

So what – what can you do with this insight?

1. Monitor sales daily – it is no good reviewing on a weekly basis and not being able to react in time.

2. Collaborate with your retailer now – share your forecasts for December, and share analysis from last year – poor availability can be eliminated with better forecasts, but time and time again we see suppliers losing sales in December because their lead times do not allow them to react quickly to sales that could easily have been anticipated. Get the stock through the depots and allocated to store ahead of the sales spike.

3. Use detailed historic data to forecast – blend sales and availability information to get the best picture you can of true demand. Where appropriate, ensure that you forecast at SKU, not category level; Stilton and Brie do not behave the same as the cheese category in general.

4. Monitor (depot and store) stock not just sales – you cannot react quickly enough to sales in late December, so track stock levels and use these to predict potential availability and waste issues.

5. Manage stock run-down on seasonal and short-life SKUs – remember those days afterChristmas when the stores will be closed, and nobody is shopping.

6. Plan replenishment and ‘business as usual’ trading for early January – unless you sell Weightwatchers products or Baileys

7. Analyse your data to win more business – analysis in January is the best way to predict order volumes for next year, and the earlier you do this, the more effectively you can begin to collaborate with the retailers.




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