Love it or hate it, when December hits there’s one thing as sure as mince-pie overload – it’s also the time of year we all get our crystal balls out and start predicting what’s on the horizon for the coming year.
The last ten years have seen a rate of change in customer service faster than the last 100 years combined. Salesforce have dubbed it the ‘fourth generation’, where boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds have started to blur. It’s fundamentally changed what consumers have come to expect from brands. No wonder that 80 percent of customers consider their experience with a company to be as important as its products.
The upshot here is that businesses are still clearly missing a trick in how to differentiate their brand and delight their customers base – but will next year be any better? Well there’s huge scope for improvements, but ironically the ones that may fair best are the ones that focus on the basics over buzzwords.
And we all know the buzzword of the moment – artificial intelligence (AI).
It’s had by far the lion’s share of the word of mouth this year but there is still confusion as to the role it can play, especially in complex environments, as well as the consumer acceptance of it.
There’s also lessons to be sought given the changes taken place in the cyber security market. Even the least savvy of Internet user has seen the furore over election manipulation, foreign state hacking and increasingly credible phishing and social engineering attacks. This has influenced strategy because providers operating online channels have had to enhance the protection of data with pin numbers, confirmation codes, captcha boxes and two factor authorisation. The problem is that these things make for a terrible customer experience.
I can also see huge scope for improvement when it comes to receiving customer feedback, which is instrumental for CX programmes to succeed.
According to Microsofts’s 2018 State of Global Customer Service Report, nearly all customers (90 percent) have a more favourable view of brands that give them the opportunity to provide feedback. However, less than a quarter (24 percent) of customers are given the opportunity to provide feedback regularly.
In 2020, I think that the traditional ‘long format’ survey will become largely obsolete. I was speaking to a major retailer last week who said they had sent out 3,000 surveys and had just two responses.
Social media listening is useful, but they are a very self-selecting audience in terms of response. Forward-thinking brands will need to embrace the concept of “react with a gif”, “react with an emoji” and seek out more seamless ways of embedding feedback options into their day to day customer interactions.
Lastly, I believe the concept of gratitude from providers towards their purchasers and audiences will be really important. The “got to have this” type out outbound and social marketing we see has led to a purchase frenzy especially amongst beauty and fashion and lifestyle brands, but I often wonder if many consumers do not feel that their loyalty is rewarded.
Forrester’s report explains this well: “Consumers will evolve from recipients of a brand experience to participants in it.”
As we look ahead, deeper relationships between brands and consumers, with genuine rewards for staying loyal, feel like they will become important. It’s the modern equivalent of the corner shop throwing an extra item in with your shop because they know you – personal service, to delight and reward each customer.
A few months ago, I was retained to find a medical executive for a growing biotech.
The Hiring Manager set forth all of the expected criteria during our briefing and then something extraordinary happened. “You don’t need to find me a pretty CV,” she instructed.
“I am happy with a messy one. You know, its ok if you find someone with diverse experiences or who took some time off or traveled the world or whatever.”
As the proud owner of a messy – aka nontraditional career path – CV, I was ecstatic with this instruction. Understanding my joyous response probably requires a little background.
You see, 30 years ago, I applied to law school with a pharmacy degree and two years of pharmaceutical industry experience under my belt. I still remember the sting of reading my Harvard Law School rejection letter, which expressly declared my five-year pharmacy degree to be “vocational training” unsuited for legal studies.
Luckily, I have always been the type to persevere and received my law degree despite these narrow-minded rejections – performing quite well, thank you, despite my alleged lack of educational foundation. I then survived the interviewers that told me that I appeared professionally “unstable”, and landed a job at a top international law firm.
I spent the next 14 years pursuing a legal career, even reaching that coveted partnership milestone. The next decade, however, involved more wonderful mess. Expatriate living in two different European countries as a trailing spouse and mom, and my current (perhaps third) career evolution to a partner in a boutique (female owned and operated) executive search firm.
Now, when I walk someone through my professional history, the most common word that comes back at me is “impressive”. And, more importantly, in my current role, literally all of my life experiences are professionally relevant.
Given the historical response to my non-traditional career path, the current response to my “messy” CV always makes me smile. So, what has changed exactly to give a boost to the credibility of the non-traditional CV?
The answer is simple. The life sciences business trends are creating working environments that are increasingly dynamic (i.e. a nice word for messy) shifting the types of competencies needed for business success. Pressure to boost pipeline innovation and speed to market – while preserving efficacy, safety and quality – is creating a business model where cross-functional collaboration and external alliances are the norm.
Big Data, digitalisation, and artificial intelligence are drastically changing the scope and impact of products, services and operations. Precision and personalised medicine are creating health care delivery models that are literally dismantling established treatment norms.
Sustainability of health care ecosystems with limited resources are requiring that patient access to treatments be value driven. And, changes in global patient demographics, emerging market demands and opportunities, and an increasingly female talent pool, are presenting the industry with diversity demands that benefit from cross-cultural understanding and inclusion.
In an environment where change is a constant and lots of flexibility and curiosity are needed, the owners of a non-traditional CV experiences suddenly have attributes that are recognisable as being valuable to business success.
Messy CV owners have proven an ability to challenge the status quo, an attribute that is needed to drive and/or embrace creative and innovative ways of working. Flexibility and change management resilience are derived from both personal and professional life choices. Living and working internationally supports multi-cultural understanding. Engaging in cross functional roles or educational experiences enhances contribution and collaboration.
So what is our advice? If you are a professional with a nontraditional career path, take a look at the competencies you’ve gained as a result of your varying professional and life experiences and display them confidently in your messy CV.
No apologies needed.
If you are hiring manager, don’t be afraid of messy CVs. Nontraditional candidates might just have all of the competencies that are needed for success in your challenging and dynamic global environment.
You offered discounts, expedited service, and a weekend at your summer home, but your customer dropped you anyway.
Once you finish eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the bathtub, you have two options: move on forever or keep the door open for a potential return.
Even after customers leave, you can still win back their business in the future – and you should make every effort to do so. According to research consolidated by Small Biz Trends, a two percent increase in customer retention can lower costs by up to 10 percent. Further, your odds of selling to an existing customer are over 60 percent, while your odds of selling to a stranger are below 20 percent.
Customers who leave for a while still count as customers. They know your brand and your products, and despite their choice to stop paying for those products, they saw value in your services at one point. You can win them back, but to do so, you need a win-back strategy that provides consistent returns for your business.
What is (or isn’t) a win-back strategy?
Offering 10 percent off to all former customers three months after separation does not qualify as a win-back strategy. People leave for different reasons, and while a better price may appeal to some, focusing solely on price will not help you create the boost in customer lifetime value your company needs.
Ineffective win-back strategies share a few common traits. Most companies that struggle to win back customers don’t understand why those customers cancel in the first place. If you don’t collect data at the time of cancellation, all you can do is guess. Maybe they didn’t like paying so much money, but maybe they also wanted more variety in product choices or more helpful customer service.
Unless you ask, you’ll never know.
Imagine a gym-goer who cancels her membership because she moved to a new area. Would a 25 percent off coupon inspire her to commute across town just to use her old treadmill? Probably not. A newsletter announcing new locations, however, might inspire her to find a new gym home nearer to her house.
Audience segmentation plays a role as well. Some customers will never return to your business, no matter how much you beg. Targeting those customers will only harm your brand as they tell people how annoying you are. When a relationship breaks beyond repair, don’t press the issue. Your customer won’t win his ex back by liking all her Instagram posts, and you won’t win your customer back by spamming unwanted communications.
Your business must also show consistent improvement to implement a successful win-back strategy. Customers who cancel often do so because someone else offers something better. By improving the quality and availability of your products, services, and customer experiences, you can greatly boost your odds of success in win-back attempts.
Designing a better win-back strategy for your business
Win-back strategies that consistently bring back old customers depend on timely, relevant communications. You should make your first attempt to reestablish a connection within 30 days of the separation, before your customers forget why they were paying you in the first place. Communications should get specific about why customers left to open the door for future business once you solve the issue.
To create those communications, segment your audience by departure reason. The better your segmentation, the more relevant your messages will be and the greater the odds customers will listen to you will grow. Continue to refine your segments to speak mostly to customers who are likely to return, not customers who have moved or otherwise no longer fit your business.
Identify potential win-back opportunities by using an exit survey or similar information-gathering technique at the time of departure. Relevant communication within the first month after separation will greatly up your odds of reconciliation. Discounts and promotions work well within this window, but only for customers who are more concerned about price than variety, service, or another issue.
Even if you can’t address the concerns of a departed customer immediately, keep the line of communication open to share news about new product features, customer service improvements, pricing changes, new locations, and other relevant factors.
Treat your customers like friends by keeping them in the loop. Regardless of whether you rekindle the spark with the one that got away, people who view your business favourably may tell their friends about your improvements, paving the way for a host of promising new relationships.
As we’re all aware, PPI represents the largest consumer mis-selling scandal this country has seen.
UK lenders collectively expect PPI to cost them close to £50 billion in total, having already paid out over £48 billion in compensation and admin by June 2019. But what now the PPI claims deadline has passed?
We can be certain that the massive claims management industry that sprung out of the PPI scandal – an industry that currently employs in the region of 20,000 people – won’t be going anywhere any time soon, but it does mean that the Claims Management Companies (CMCs) will be actively seeking new targets, something that financial services businesses are extremely aware of.
One potential issue for CMCs to pursue, and a much-discussed topic at the moment, is that of customer vulnerability – in particular how financial services businesses are ensuring the appropriate levels of not only service but care for vulnerable customers. Such is its importance that the FCA has made it one of the central themes of its business plan for 2019/20.
Underpinning this focus by the FCA is the idea that firms aren’t taking vulnerability seriously enough. However, as yet, outside of their own best practice framework, there are no set guidelines for businesses to follow when it comes to dealing with vulnerable customers.
Although vulnerability as a whole can be hard to define, harder to legislate for, and even harder still to identify, many financial services businesses are taking the opportunity to review their current processes. Aside from instilling best practice across the business, for many, it’s an attempt to pre-empt any regulatory requirements that the FCA could well introduce, not to mention helping to build a robust defence should the CMCs try to pursue vulnerability as their next source of income.
A challenging task
The main challenge faced by financial services businesses is identifying vulnerable customers in the first instance. For example, in the case of a disability, not all disabilities are obvious. Also, it may be that customers don’t realise they’re vulnerable, or even if they do, they’re loath to self-identify.
Others may be experiencing transient vulnerability, perhaps as a result of a major life event or upheaval, something that hasn’t been evident before and won’t continue to render them vulnerable in the future, but for the here and now, is a real issue for that individual. Not only does this make it hard for businesses to spot vulnerable customers, but it makes it nigh-on impossible to regulate for it, such is the scope and the scale of the whole ‘vulnerable’ label.
Another hurdle to cross is to ensure staff have the training and tools necessary to help to identify vulnerable customers, as well as empowering them to do the right thing once vulnerable customers have been identified. On the whole, front-line staff are younger people, with not as much life experience as their older counterparts, perhaps making it more difficult to empathise with customers for whom major life events or circumstances have caused them to be vulnerable. It’s difficult to train for that but with greater clarity on what makes a customer vulnerable, from the regulator and the business itself, it’s certainly not impossible for staff to increase their awareness and understanding.
Aside from increasing employee ability to recognise vulnerability, a vital part of the equation is to empower these very same staff to take the necessary action that vulnerable customers require. This might be by way of a triage-type process, where those identified as vulnerable are passed on to a special unit that’s empowered to deal specifically with vulnerable customers.
Or, again, through training, it’s possible to give employees the option to side-step the rules or standard Ts&Cs when needed, not only giving them the adequate time needed to consider what needs to be done differently, but furnishing them with the knowledge needed to know how to do things differently.
The role of technology
Even if you have the most empowered employees in the industry, the crux of the issue is still successfully and accurately identifying vulnerable customers. Training is good but ultimately it still relies on people to apply things learnt in training to everyday situations, something that doesn’t always translate, and something that still risks people falling through the gaps.
Technological developments are in the pipeline though, with consumer vulnerability detection systems incorporated into customer experience software or a case management platform able to detect patterns in customer language to flag up potentially vulnerable customers. It’s not a case of trying to take control and responsibility away from employees, but more a concerted effort to ensure the obvious signs aren’t missed.
However, even this isn’t watertight. Humans aren’t always right and it’s certainly very helpful to increase automation with technology wherever possible but you still need an element of quality assurance on top. To date, it’s this quality assurance that’s led to best practice development within a good number of financial services businesses, with the opportunity to reassess and review historical cases leading the business to realise that actually, certain policies are unfair or unreasonably applied.
This benefit of hindsight has triggered many to make the necessary changes to proactively help not only vulnerable customers but the entire customer base, too.
Do I think customer vulnerability will be the next PPI?
No, I don’t. It’s not as black-and-white as PPI and such is the breadth and scope of potential vulnerabilities, not only is it impossible to cover all bases from a responsible business point-of-view, but even the regulators are so far unsure how to regulate on it. If any direct enforcement action is to be taken by the regulator, what’s needed is greater clarity on how vulnerable customers are defined, not to mention how they should be treated. As much as CMCs are trying to find a new hook, customer vulnerability isn’t it.
What it does represent is a real opportunity for financial services businesses to raise standards in the industry, applying sound principles to every customer interaction, treating every customer in accordance with their particular needs, and constantly reviewing their own processes to ensure the appropriate levels of service and care for vulnerable customers.
I’m sure that regulators will continue to regulate as they understand it better but so far, financial services organisations themselves are taking the issue of customer vulnerability very seriously, driving best practice, raising the bar and setting the standards required for responsible business practices for today and the foreseeable future.
The Masterclass in Stevenage takes place at the BTC Business Technology Centre on January 27 – 28, and the following day, an optional CCXP Exam Workshop is also available for those keen to seek CCXP accreditation.
Further UK Masterclasses and Exam Workshops with Ian Golding will take place in 2020 in March, April, May, July, September, and November. Click here for further details.
In-house training events with Ian are also available, with further details available here.
Among those attending November’s CX Masterclass was Carmen Barleanu, CX & Marketing Consultant at Endava. Speaking afterwards, she said: “I particularly enjoyed how Ian delivered the class – he managed very well to put order in a field that can be perceived as rather chaotic. He also came with inspirational and practical examples to demonstrate the concepts and tools presented.
“I found Ian as an exceptional CX professional, as well as human being, truly interested in adding value to the participants and to the CX field. Also, it was great to meet such a diverse group of CX practitioners and have valuable discussions on each other’s perspective on the subjects.”
Meanwhile, Merlin Iles-Jonas, Senior CX Manager at Avalara, said: “I’m looking forward to validating everything I’ve learnt so far through the CCXP accreditation, and view this coupled with Ian’s Masterclass as a significant chapter in my career as a CX professional.
“I’ve absorbed so much in the last few days it will take a while to fully digest. However, I am champing at the bit to implement all I’ve learnt and feel empowered to do this as effectively as possible with the backdrop of the methodologies and frameworks that Ian taught.”
The CX Masterclasses have a bright future and a busy year ahead, and Customer Experience Magazine’s very own Events Manager Antonija Kadarijan, told us of her pride in helping to bringing together people passionate about expanding their CX skillset.
“It really is a special feeling when you’re able to work with people across the globe and watch them grow in a professional way and place customers at the heart of everything they do,” she said.
Over the past four years, we have celebrated many CCXPs earning their qualification and it is wonderful to see people achieve recognition for their dedication and hard work.
“Working and learning from Ian Golding is also an honour. Having attended his classes I could feel his energy and enthusiasm, which helped me upgrade my own CX knowledge.
“I cannot wait to see what 2020 has in store, but our main purpose will remain the same – support even more professionals and organisations to deliver authentic and exceptional Customer Experiences.”
The nature of selling is evolving at an exponential rate.
Thanks to the internet’s provision of easy to access information, buyers no longer look to sellers to educate them on products and services. Research from CSO Insights reveals that 70 percent of buyers now say that they define their needs before engaging with companies.
The fact is that the artful delivery of information is no longer enough to secure a sale. Sellers need to provide their customers with solutions to problems that haven’t even thought about yet. And this means that sellers need to know their buyer inside-out, pre-empting their needs, rather than having a purely reactionary relationship – as has traditionally been the way.
So, what attributes do today’s sellers need to have in order to deliver this?
Technology competence and analytical skills
Across all sectors, corporations have realised the potential for technology to optimise decision-making and resource allocation. This has been no different within sales. Organisations that have not embraced the benefits of digitising their methodologies, will soon find out that they are no longer able to compete.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have revolutionised the game. Rather than having to rely on sellers’ instincts, specialist software now analyses and identifies the deals and new business opportunities that are worth pursuing. Evaluating past data on wins, losses and no decisions, AI generates guidance on how strategies can be improved. Over time, as more data is collated, ML refines its algorithms and provides recommendations of greater precision and sophistication.
As technology continues to provide smarter and superior means of selling, the cost of non-adoption has become greater. And this is having a significant impact on the sales organisation demographic. Leaders are beginning to place more emphasis on IQ over EQ when hiring, looking for individuals from maths, statistics and economics backgrounds. Equally, those already in sales positions are being required to upskill on data and analytical processes.
A propensity for learning and up-to-date industry knowledge
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for salespeople to follow the desires of buyers. The choices available to them have proliferated. Globalisation and the opening of new markets have resulted in increased competition, this in turn pushing through greater innovation and superior products and services.
While this is of course a good thing for all of us, it nonetheless sets a fast pace of change for sellers to keep up with. In such an environment, mastery of one’s craft can never be assumed. Sellers depend more than ever on the latest theory, tech and market knowledge to stay afloat. A hunger for learning must therefore be maintained throughout a career in sales.
Sellers should know their customer and markets on both a micro and macro level. The onus is on sales leaders to facilitate this. They need to ensure that a culture of learning is inculcated and that their salesforces have access to all the necessary resources, mentors and training.
With markets volatile and near-impossible to predict, though ultimately powerless to prevent such turbulence, an educated salesforce is one that is best placed to anticipate difficulties, react to change and to absorb shocks.
Empathy, persistence and broader EQ qualities
It would be a mistake to think that the digitalisation of selling means that traditional sales skills are now obsolete. Tapping into soft skillsets is essential for knowing how customers and team members tick; understanding what drives them and how to then best communicate and motivate them accordingly.
The notion of the ‘slick salesman’ is an old cliché but there is undoubtedly much truth to it. Industry knowledge is futile if not supported with excellent communication skills, a focus on results and post-sales relationship, and the ability to deliver perspective and insights.
Whether in person or on the phone, sales teams need to be having mutually valuable conversations to understand a customer’s challenge and ensure that they do not appear target-driven but instead eager to add value to their business.
Adapt or fall behind
While selling has always been a demanding task, it has never been more so than in our current era. Sales organisations have been able to rely in recent years on high customer demand. Strong global economic growth has driven this, but they need to be prepared should this flip.
Sellers can’t lose sight of traditional skills. But those that want to be at the top of their game need to be adapting to the changing buying habits of their customers and taking advantage of innovations and methods that will make their jobs easier, approach more sophisticated and deliver better results.
Idit Aloni is Head of Product Marketing at Amdocs, and has over a decade’s experience consulting and leading Marketing and Customer Experience within large organisations globally.
Recently, I’ve been feeling like a child in a candy shop, as I had the pleasure and privilege to judge at the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards, where I was able to learn about how some of Britain’s biggest brands are delivering exceptional CX.
The event saw a range of winners rewarded for their initiatives, and as a judge I was able to identify many of the common factors shared by the top performers
1. Doing CX for the sake of CX
True CX practice is for the customer’s benefit first and foremost. Business benefits, operational efficiency, and cost savings naturally follow, but organisations that do it right set aside their ROI calculators.
2. Keeping it real
In an era of smartbots, authenticity goes a long way in establishing customer trust, and there are very simple and clever ways of achieving that.
One of our telco finalists told us how they run regional routing, so that agents cater to customers from their area. This way, they are “in” on local slang, and can even be up to date on the performance of the local football team!
True authenticity creates much more personal customer interactions – ones that are truly genuine and not just guided by system logic.
3. Rocking the boat
Firms should not be afraid to challenge the status quo and traditional norms that no longer apply.
One of the UK’s top insurers did an exceptional job in measuring success solely against NPS performance, while removing metrics like AHT and schedule adherence from KPI dashboards. These may still be tracked for operational purposes, but are not used to measure agent performance. The same goes for simple changes in terminology to inspire thinking, engagement, and personal ownership.
Provide intent, not instructions; ‘conversation guides’, not scripts; and ‘activity frameworks’ rather than job descriptions.
4. Getting the basics done
Many effective CX initiatives are grounded in plain and simple process improvement. There’s no way around it and there are endless options to go for, ranging from Six Sigma to Design Thinking.
So, like the top performers at the UKCXAs, pick your poison and go for gold.
5. Making people meaningful
Whether they are employees or customers, people want to feel that they matter, and that what they do makes a difference.
Winning firms encourage an organisational ‘brag data’ mentality to motivate agents to create story-worthy experiences as part of their BAU.
6. Talking about Human Experience (HX)
To me, this key differentiator sets the winners apart from the rest.
It’s the notion of impacting Human Experience rather than just Customer or Employee Experience only.
One of the UK’s telcos showcased a game-changing strategy around this concept by setting up their entire service centre to support people with mental issues, offering a unique employment environment in their community.
They created a comprehensive, well thought-through call centre operation that includes agent coaching, mindfulness sessions, a ‘buddy system’ for performing daily tasks, and so on – all to support those service staff members grappling with depression, anxiety, and other mental issues.
To me, delivering a game changing HX/CX/EX is about creating a meaningful impact on people’s lives. It could be about making small moments easier and stress-free, and offering some sunshine on a rainy day, or it can be about making a true social impact.
As we dive head-first into the holiday season, we can expect to see a familiar set of stories about the changing face of the retail industry. Headlines will no doubt focus on consumers’ increasing reliance on online shopping and how it is compounding the tight margins and challenging trade environment that retailers with physical locations must battle. This is, in fact, a disruption which has been taking place since the dot-com bubble – and nearly as long as the term ‘disruption’ has been in popular business parlance.
A more recent consequence of this disruption has been the emergence of omnichannel retail, in which the Customer Experience online and in-store is brought together and purchasing journeys can move seamlessly between online store-fronts, social media, targeted advertising, mobile apps, and physical retail locations.
As a way of converting a greater portion of product interest into product sales, omnichannel has emerged as a key defensive measure against tightening margins and falling footfall. One Harvard Business Review study found that omnichannel shoppers spend four percent more during each store visit and 10 percent more online than shoppers who only use one or the other channel.
Even more bullish analysis from the ICSC found that operating across multiple channels leads to an average follow-on spend of $167 online for every $100 spent in-store.
The business upsides of an omnichannel strategy, like the business pressures driving its adoption, are well known and broadly accepted. Much less, however, has been said about the technological change which lies beneath this evolution. Traditional retailers are increasingly moving essential IT infrastructure to the cloud, tempted first of all by the lure of being able to scale costs with demand and in line with often fluctuating revenues.
Combining these reduced overheads with increased revenue, however, means not just replacing traditional IT infrastructure with public cloud solutions on a like-for-like basis, but taking the opportunity to optimise the huge data sets that retail generates. Unifying duplicated data, rationalising database structures, and opening lines of communication between silos of information means that the product on a shop floor, the product’s page on an ecommerce site, and the product photo displayed in an online advert can all, from the perspective of the business’s IT systems, be understood as the same item.
While this transformation in how data is managed – together with a boost in available processing power – is bringing different retail channels into alignment, it also establishes the foundations upon which emerging technologies can be implemented.
If Step One for a retail business is converging its data, and Step Two is using that data to converge its physical and digital channels, retailers are increasingly discovering the benefits of a Step Three in which it is made more valuable with AI. As cloud computing becomes prevalent, we will see the addition of AI bring unexpected benefits to how personalised shopping can be, how environmentally friendly it can be, what kinds of experience it can give – and a retail sector which can disrupt even as it is being disrupted.
To take personalisation as an example: this is already a familiar experience for all of us from shopping online. In its simplest form, retailers promoting items on the basis of ‘customers also shopped for’ find significant potential for upselling, as an online shopping basket gives so much more detail about what a customer needs than where they are in a store does.
Data sourced from the context of physical retail stores can also be collected, analysed, and applied in ways which are analogous to this. From how many customers visit a location, to the route they take through the shop, to how they interact with different product lines, there is a rich source of information in traditional retail which is only now – thanks to AI-based analysis – becoming available.
This unstructured, organic information is fundamentally more difficult to make use of than the natively digital information of online shopping baskets and website interaction. As retailers on-board these capabilities, information on how factors from outside the business affect shopping behaviours also becomes available.
Weather or sporting events, for example, or broad cultural trends which pertain to specific segments of the buying audience, or cultural factors which are specific to a store’s location all change what people buy and when. Businesses which have invested in the technology needed for omnichannel retail find themselves in a position to collect this data and go beyond the personalisation which is prevalent in online shopping. Rather than focusing on correlation – ‘people who buy x also buy y’ – AI-powered analytics is opening up the potential for causation-based shopping predictions – ‘people buy y because of x’.
Looking beyond the immediate task of upselling, it’s easy to see other ways in which this level of insight might be applied. Anticipating when someone will need a product and shipping it to them just in time, connecting people with locally-stocked or manufactured products to minimise transport carbon emissions, and offering specific product configurations on an individual basis are just a few examples.
People with an interest in retail marketing or disruptive technology, or both, will be aware that the retail industry has for some time been engaging in consumer-facing demonstrations of this kind of technology – such as Westfield’s AI-powered Trending Store.
Beneath such one-offs, however, there is something more fundamental happening: as retail businesses upgrade their ability to gather, analyse, and apply data, traditional shopping as a whole will begin to behave more like its online counterpart in how it responds to the customer. We might therefore look at retail’s emerging data-driven potential also as its post-disruption reality – and other industries might want to look to retail to see what’s in their own future. How will access to rich contextual insights into a person’s needs and requirements affect sectors like finance, healthcare, or transport?
Well, retail has been in the thick of disruption for longer than anything else; that should be where we look to find the next steps.
2019 has proven to be a successful year indeed for the conversational AI experts at ContactEngine, which is leading the vanguard in changing the fundamentals of how 21st-century customers interact with brands.
It’s been a year in which their trophy shelf found itself a little squeezed and in need of an extension, with added honours including a Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 title, and a UK Customer Experience Award, collected at Wembley Stadium in October and presented for the firm’s successful partnership with BT Enterprise.
The Gold category win for Best Use of Technology is testament to ContactEngine’s position at the cutting edge of what is the most exciting – and often most misunderstood – tech affecting the modern Customer Experience: artificial intelligence.
Their sophisticated algorithms offer intelligent omnichannel customer conversations, and the firm’s founder, Dr Mark K. Smith, is a man whose passion for excellence is evident as he explains what his company stands for, and where the advanced computing involved behind the scenes can lead for both businesses and customers.
Speaking with CXM, Dr Smith described his firm’s work with BT as an example of what ContactEngine does for an organisation with a duty to communicate with countless customers through various channels.
“We start conversations and invite a response from our client’s customer,” Dr Smith explains.
“With BT, it was specifically to improve a process by better communication; by trying to reduce the amount of cancellations that would have occurred had there been no communication. It was to reduce the amount of calls someone would make to a call centre due to a lack of communication. Our goal is to increase the engagement rate and then ultimately to see if we can make customers happy as consequence of that.
“To put it simply, we start conversations – all automated – and invite responses. From there, we carry on the conversations using our own NLU (Natural Language Understanding) and a machine learning algorithm we call ALAN (Advanced Language ANalysis), and we deliver efficiency gains for our clients, making their customers happier.”
From this description, ContactEngine couldn’t be more suited to Digital Customer Experience if it tried, but surprisingly, the PhD that provides Dr Smith with his title stems from a science of an altogether less-computerised kind.
“Up until my late-20s I was a career academic, and my PhD is in Biochemistry,” he says, before explaining how he adapted his skills in that particular field to AI tech development.
“The biological sciences are all about generating mass data sets and trying to seek out trends in that data. Of all the sciences, biology and biochemistry present quite a lot of mystery, so you generate a lot of data and look for trends. That’s very similar to what AI is actually, so you can post-rationalise it. I love technology and always have done.”
Describing the business’ origin in the telephony-based live-streaming of events, Dr Smith said using the tech that would eventually lead to ContactEngine’s current offering through streaming the 2011 World Transplant Games in Australia led to the realisation that proactive communications could solve many of the problems faced in business.
“Firms such as Virgin Media used the tech for corporate social responsibility work – in their case broadcasting from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro through their social media channels.
“They asked us a simple question: can you improve the way we communicate to our customers in this omni channel-way that you have provided to us in a social media context?” continues Dr Smith.
“The answer for people like me is always ‘yes’ to any questions to do with IT. The real question is ‘how long and how much’ but the answer is always yes! You see, unlike my biochemistry days, computers can always be made to work.
“We stepped into the world of customer communication, and almost accidentally built an omnichannel outbound comms tool, so we can start conversations by phone, email, text, instant messaging, or collecting video.”
This powerful tool was soon utilised by clients such as American telco giant Verizon, which learned the value of implementing the technology and what it means for a company’s bottom line.
“When an appointment was missed, it cost Verizon well over 100 dollars. If you can improve communication with the customer to stop that from happening, then you can save that 100 dollars,” he explains.
“If a company has 100 million customers, then that’s a lot of money to be saved, and we can charge them a fraction of the money they save.”
As AI becomes ever-more central to even the most basic of customer communication, Dr Smith tells us that despite fears among some about where the tech will eventually lead, it will remain a benign benefit to society.
“I’m no great believer in singularity,” he tells us, referring to the theorised future in which AI outgrows the need for human masters and snowballs into an uncontrollable overlord.
“It’s not that I think it will happen in the future either – it just won’t happen!
“I start from the position of a rationalist – I’m not a believer in ‘Skynet’ or other fantastical problems that AI could bring. It’s important to realise that AI is often the only solution in areas where a human simply cannot compete.
“If you have a company with 100 million customers, as many do, it is impossible to have enough people to communicate well with all those human beings. You cannot do it!
“Computers are the only way you can do that, and what’s most interesting about the world of AI for us is a subset known as machine learning.
“This takes vast data sets – bear in mind we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of people a day – so we have vast amounts of data and responses to the questions we ask. If you have vast amounts of data, then you have some really tremendous possibilities for teaching your algorithm to be human-like.
“Machine learning is simply taking an algorithm and giving it sufficient data for the next piece of information it receives in order for it to have a pretty good stab at it in a manner which exceeds the way a human can respond.
“Think of the ‘100 million customer challenge’ and you’ll see why you want to have a proactive outbound conversation – only made possible through computers, not people.
“We automate a way to simpler conversations. A machine is better than a human for 95 percent of customer conversations. But there will always be the five percent where a machine just won’t cut it.
“Take an example; I was with an insurance company recently, and they said that with their life insurance product, they would only usually get one phone call, and that was from a bereaved partner.
“Now, it’s not wise to put that call to a machine, as a machine will never display empathy. They may display ‘faux empathy’, but a customer will catch that out pretty rapidly. A human needs to be involved in that conversation, and these calls were often taking up to two hours.
“However, once that conversation is completed, it’s perfectly reasonable for the machine to take over in order to inform the person of progress on their claim, or any other information.”
Other fascinating aspects of the tech behind ContactEngine includes a profanity filter, which detects when a customer needs to be transferred to a human as a matter of urgency, in order for that person to be talked to and returned to a level of calm where their issue can be resolved.
“Interestingly, there’s not an enormous amount of research about when humans are best and when machines are best, but I believe that by working together they can vastly improve the Customer Experience, and the Employee Experience of call centre staff also,” Dr Smith continues.
“We have a case with a European bank which commissioned us because they were losing their call centre people because they were doing too many cold calls after a certain customer process had failed.
“The customers were saying ‘why are you calling me a week after this happened? I’m really not interested in talking to you’.
“Machines fill that knowledge gap and can filter customers who actually do want a conversation with a human, then we broker an appointment for them.
“So what happens in this case? The person in the call centre has a better Employee Experience, potentially staying in their job for longer, while the Customer Experience was vastly improved also.
“It’s about knowing when humans are best, when machines are better, and knowing the exact best moment to flip between them.”
So with a successful foundation in telcos, where next for ContactEngine’s revolutionary CX tech? Clients already include household names including BT, Virgin Media, and Whirlpool, and the future looks seriously promising.
“We have enjoyed success in other areas including retail and banking; we have a foundational communication product that can be used in any industry, so we need to spread our wings and grow in other sectors,” Dr Smith says, adding that work is already underway with a “large UK retailer”.
“On a technical front – what fascinates me about what we’ve done is, if you talk to companies in the UK and beyond, roughly speaking, three-quarters of them will be handling their AI over to the usual suspects.
“They will be using Dialogflow from Google or Watson from IBM. We made a conscious decision many years ago to build our own machine learning algorithm, and we did that because we wanted to be white box, not black box, and we wanted to be explainable.
“We have the benefit of: when you start a conversation, there are a limited number of intents that come back to you, so it’s quite easy for us to visualise and explain the decisions we made.
“We wanted to use labelled data sets for one client and not share that label data set with another client. We felt that was a GDPR problem. So, we built our own machine learning, and rather interestingly, when you take the training data we use to feed our algorithms, and you present that to others that I mentioned, we actually out-perform them!”
On the horizon for ContactEngine and its clients is the next generation of ALAN, with multi-intent capabilities, and developing further the concept of ‘human-computer rapport’, where the next customer conversation is informed by the earlier exchange in a more human-like way.
“We are incredibly excited for the future, and to see what 2020 has in store for us after the amazing year we have just had.”
This article was jointly written by Annette Franz, CCXP, and Joakim Thorn, XM Scientist, co-founders and hosts of upcoming free online event Experia Summit.
Google the term “experience management” and you’ll find as many definitions as colours of the rainbow, and then some.
Here’s just a smattering of some of those definitions.
“The practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.” Gartner
“The management of customer interactions through each physical and digital touchpoint in order to deliver personalized experiences that drive brand loyalty and increase revenue.” PwC
“The process of monitoring every interaction people experience with a company in order to spot opportunities for improvement.” Qualtrics
“An effort by organizations to measure and improve the experiences they provide to customers as well as stakeholders like vendors, suppliers, employees, and shareholders.” Wikipedia
“A concept that describes how a company takes control of how it interacts with its customers. [It’s] about viewing and then improving the interactions between your business and your customer entirely from the customers’ perspective – and across the entire journey they have with your business.” Medallia
So experience management is about designing, reacting, managing, monitoring, viewing, and improving. It’s about doing all of those things with regards to the interactions that people (customers, employees, vendors, suppliers, stakeholders, etc.) have with the organisation.
In other words, it’s all about the people. People first. People-centric businesses. Putting the people at the heart of the business. People before products, metrics, and profits – and on a deeper level, understanding how people’s feelings and emotions will lead them, your customers, and your employees, toward your company or away from it.
That all sounds simple enough, right? People are important to the business, so let’s take the time to ensure that their feelings, emotions, and perceptions about their interactions with the business are positive. Hence, experience management.
One of the biggest challenges that experience management practitioners face today is to go from ‘fluff to stuff’ and to connect all activities, behaviour change, and output metrics to a strong story, one that describes the business case and the economic impact every spent pound has, in order to secure the right funding for a successful transformation to a more people-centric organisation.
Another challenge they face is to align the whole organisation with that compelling and engaging story – the story about a better future that experience management initiatives with people-centric outcomes can create for the company that also resonates with all stakeholders.
It’s important to align the organisation so that every executive, every manager, and every individual contributor strongly feels that “this is absolutely the right thing, and I will do everything to contribute and to make things happen with the appropriate actions in my day-to-day work”.
People need to feel this and to understand the WHY behind it to be fully committed to making things happen, to making decisions and taking small steps toward that better future every single day.
Experience management is an ecosystem that spans several disciplines, including customer experience, employee experience, brand experience, product experience, culture, and leadership. They are all closely linked and must all work together to achieve those positive feelings, emotions, and perceptions for all constituents. In doing so, the business achieves its outcomes, as well. Forrester found that experience-led companies have 1.6x higher brand awareness, 1.5x higher employee satisfaction, 1.9x higher average order value, 1.7x higher customer retention, 1.9x return on spend, and 1.6x higher customer satisfaction rates.
With that in mind, we developed Experia Summit, the world’s first virtual summit exclusively dedicated to experience management. Our mission is to bring together the world’s top thought leaders and practitioners in this field to inspire and to lead people to create passionate and authentic experiences – in every interaction and transaction, for all constituents.
We see experiences as the new currency for businesses – and we know there is a lot of room for improvement and endless potential to disrupt every industry. Experia Summit drives toward that mission through invaluable education, unbiased interviews, and inspiring content for individuals at every level of the organisation and with varying degrees of experience.
Our speakers will teach the audience how to build a people-centric organisation that not only puts people first but also experiences phenomenal growth as a result.
Speakers include global consultant and author Ian Golding, author, consultant and coach Mike Wittenstein, and New York Times bestselling author of Open Leadership, Charlene Li (pictured right).
Let’s turn back to the question of ‘But is it really that simple?’ Given the fact that experience management spans multiple disciplines; involves people, processes, products, data, technology, and more; must be led from the top down and adopted and evolved from the bottom up; and provides such weighty benefits to the organisation makes nothing simple but the answer to that question: “No.”
If it had been easy, then everyone would have done it already.
This is why we’ve gathered the brightest minds in this field to share their tools, tips, and techniques with the audience. We all agree experience management is a lot of work, and we all agree that it can’t be done alone – so we’ve brought together for you 35 ‘friends and family’ to help set you on the right course.
We’re excited about the content from each speaker. It is solid, and it is actionable. We guarantee that all content flows nicely together, with each speaker complementing and supplementing the next. We guarantee that you will be feverishly taking notes throughout.
As the godfather of Customer Experience, Bruce Temkin, has said: “This is the go-to online summit when it comes to actionable Experience Management!”
Emotions run high in the build up to Christmas, with sentimental songs, moving charitable causes, and emotive TV ads all tugging at consumer heartstrings.
So, in the midst of the festive shopping frenzy that starts this week with Black Friday and continues right through to the January sales, retailers mustn’t overlook the impact of sentiment on their festive campaigns.
Christmas spending remains strong, with a recent survey suggesting almost nine-in-ten are planning to spend the same or more than they did last year, so retailers have it all to play for. Despite some scepticism around the value of Black Friday deals, UK shoppers are still expected to spend over £2.5 billion on the day – a significant rise from last year.
With a continuing trend for consumers to move online during this busy shopping period, rather than face the crowded High Street, retailers need to pay particular attention to how their brand and products are perceived in the digital world.
The peak shopping days place a lot of focus on low cost deals, but getting the cheapest price isn’t the only thing that impacts a consumer’s decision to buy. Factors such as value for money, simplicity in delivery and returns, and the quality of customer service are also crucially important.
And, as consumers do the majority of their festive shopping research online, their opinions of a retailer or product are greatly influenced by online content in the form of reviews, articles, or blog posts.
As festive shopping drives an increase in online traffic around this type of content, retailers need to ensure their brand messaging and products are seen in environments where surrounding sentiment is positive. This can be achieved through a holistic, semantic approach to content analysis that goes beyond the words on the page and looks at the relationships between those words to gain an in-depth understanding of what the content actually says, before making the decision to place an ad.
Sentiment analysis identifies and categorises opinion expressed in written content such as articles and reviews to determine whether the attitude towards a particular product, brand or retailer is positive or negative. While constructive, positive opinions affirm the shopper’s decision and encourage them along the path to purchase, negative sentiment can just as easily influence undecided shoppers and can prevent a potential consumer clicking ‘buy now’.
In general retailers will want to ensure their ads and messaging appear in high quality, brand-safe environments, and at this vital time of year they should take advantage of relevant targeting segments such as ‘Black Friday bargains’, ‘Cyber Monday deals’ or ‘Christmas gifts’ to ensure their messages resonate with the contextual environment.
But they must also actively ensure their ads are kept away from negative feeling, and placed alongside content with an affirmative vibe, reaching consumers when they are feeling positive about the product and putting sentiment at the heart of their festive campaigns.
In October, Legal & General Homes landed the Customers at the Heart of Everything gong at the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards. Here, the firm’s Sales & Marketing Director Denise Stewart writes for CXM on why quality Customer Experience is an essential foundation for today’s housebuilding sector…
Buying a home is an emotional experience.
The process can take months, and for most people it’s the most expensive purchase they’ll make in their lives. Expectations, quite rightly, run high – and even more so when buying a new-build home. After all, people expect brand new clothing to be more durable than second-hand, and a new car to work better than one with 100,000 miles on the clock.
This is no different.
When Legal & General Homes entered the housebuilding sector in 2017, we wanted to make the buying experience as enjoyable, exciting, and stress-free as possible and to make new-builds the preferred option. It was a no-brainer that excellent customer service would be a huge part of our vision.
Customer service became one of the four key pillars which underpin the way we work, along with quality, social value, and sustainability. We took a proactive approach to CX so that we could get things right from the off, evaluating each step of a person’s home-buying process from the moment they first consider moving to the days and weeks after they’ve got their keys.
Most importantly, by doing so we could identify the most challenging times for customers when buying a new home and work hard to make them into something positive.
We are making our vision a reality. Every home we build is a home we would happily live in ourselves and every customer who walks through our doors is treated like a member of our own family. This spirit is championed at every level of the organisation.
There are no hidden costs; each home has the latest technology like Hive smart thermostats and energy-efficient Bosch appliances included as standard, as are the carpets, tiles, and lawns. There’s no hard sell, and our doors are open for anyone to have a look around regardless of the stage they’re at in the buying journey.
Our ‘meet the builder’ breakfasts give customers a chance to mingle with their new neighbours and ask our teams about their new home as it is being built. Then, on moving in, each customer has access to a handyman for a day – someone to help hang their curtains, put up shelves, and turn a house into a home.
They also all receive a free iPad on arrival, with pre-installed ‘how to’ videos and manuals, and we can arrange for fibre optic broadband to be wired into every property from day one – so that they can get settled in straight away.
For us, it’s about the little things that collectively make a huge difference, and by taking a holistic approach we can keep customer service front of mind for all our employees. Though there is always more work to be done we believe our efforts are getting results: to date, 100 percent of Legal & General Homes customers completing the NHBC New Homes Survey have said they would recommend us to a friend.
We want to look outwards and be known as a CX leader irrespective of sector. That’s why entering the UK Customer Experience Awards was so important and taking home the Gold Award in the Customers at the Heart of Everything category means the world to us.
As the first housebuilder to win one of these prestigious awards we’re making a positive statement that challenges the perception of the new homes industry and underlines our commitment to providing an exceptional experience for our customers.
It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that major retail periods like Black Friday and Cyber Monday would boil down to anything other than price for consumers.
But as competition between brands gets tougher and tougher year-on-year, and sales periods start to span days and weeks rather than short 24-hour bursts, consumer expectations are starting to shift. And more importantly, brands are having to raise their games in order to meet these changing demands.
As a specialist MarTech company, we have a wealth of data on how and where consumers spend their money – and our insights show that while Black Friday is showing no signs of stopping when it comes to drawing in crowds of eager bargain hunters, it is also apparent that price is no longer the deciding factor when it comes to their purchasing decisions.
Whereas once consumers were solely concerned with finding the best and cheapest deals they could on Black Friday – stampeding through shopping centres and fighting in the aisles to do so – the options are now so vast that filtering through the mass of marketing and promotions is simply too big a task for those seeking a quick and easy sales haul.
Today, consumers often approach Black Friday with a clear idea of what they want to buy and the price they’re prepared to pay. The growing popularity of price comparison sites and voucher code offers mean shoppers are much savvier when it comes to applying discounts on top of discounts – they know how to get the best deals themselves, meaning it’s no longer enough for brands to simply slash their prices and hope for the best.
What we’re starting to see is consumers placing a much greater importance on a smooth and seamless customer journey – from hyper-personalised offers landing in their inbox, through to a fast and efficient checkout process online.
This ultimately means that ecommerce retailers need to prepare a strong and robust omnichannel strategy well in advance of Black Friday if they truly want to capitalise on the opportunity. Setting up specific Black Friday landing pages, refining and reducing the number of steps between product selection and product purchase, and ensuring that the online experiences is as flawless on a mobile device as it is on a main website, are all crucial elements that can make the difference between a customer checking out with you – or ditching their basket and moving onto a competitor.
Without a doubt, the Black Friday revenue opportunities are there and brands have to be in it to win it. But to truly win it, it’s the brands that approach their omnichannel marketing smartly that we predict will come out on top.
For many organisations, the contact or call centre is still the shopfront of the business.
At last count, there were 6,175 contact centres in the UK, employing some 772,500 agents. As the first port of call for clients and customers, the role of call agents shouldn’t be underestimated.
You might be the first person a caller has ever spoken to from a business; you might even be the first person that a caller has spoken to in weeks. Establishing a positive customer relationship from that first moment of contact is essential; impressions are often made quickly and can have a lasting impact.
With the internet now being so accessible, customers are more inclined to be vocal about a bad experience. Negative reviews can spread like wildfire on social media and the last thing a company wants is their organisation bad-mouthed in public.
Call North West is an organisation that supports contact centres in the region and each year they award stand-out people and companies for their contribution to customer service. I was proud recently to be named Sales Agent of the Year at their annual awards ceremony in Manchester. When new recruits name you as the agent they aspire to be, you know you must be doing something right!
I have worked for Freedom Finance, a fintech lending platform that matches consumers to suitable loans and mortgages, for over three years. Like other financial service providers, we strive to provide excellent customer service and have managed to excel in this area, with a top Trust Pilot rating. The business has achieved this all whilst operating on an almost fully digital model, with 872,000 amount of customer journeys currently completed online over the last rolling 12 months.
Where does that trust stem from? It starts with the people in the contact centre. Collectively, we strongly believe that customers need clarity and not just choice – sometimes the best way to accomplish this is through the help of an actual person, whether that’s on the end of the telephone line, or through an online chat facility.
Being self-motivated has allowed me to exceed targets and step-up when extra support is needed on the floor. Whilst these are personal attributes, there are some simple and achievable steps that anyone working in a contact centre can take in their pursuit of an excellent customer outcome.
Here are my top three tips for delivering excellent customer service:
Tip 1: Your attitude
You have to wake up and be ready for the day before you even start. If your mindset isn’t right or you don’t have the right attitude, you’ve already failed, and you can’t give the customer your best.
Tip 2: Be patient
We speak to customers from all walks of life and every customer is different.
Some need more support than others, which could be anything from understanding the terms and conditions, to having someone verbally navigate them through the digital application process online. It’s these customers that sometimes matter the most. They require extra assistance and the human touch to help them make a properly informed decision.
Tip 3: Remember, it costs nothing to be nice
Your interaction could impact someone’s life. Even if you can’t provide the customer with the product or answer that they want, you can always be nice and friendly, and hopefully leave them happy with the service you have provided.
It’s fair to say that customer expectations have evolved rapidly in recent years.
Across all sectors – public services, transport, even utilities – today’s consumer expects a seamless experience. If this is not delivered, people now have the ability to publicly vent their frustration, such as on social media, and find an alternative provider, as there are plenty of others keen to win their custom.
One sector which has particularly felt this shift over the past 10-15 years is retail. Gone are the days when delivery in 3-5 business days was exceptional, and page load times didn’t matter as people were used to dial up.
Now, online is king and physical retail lags behind, reeling at the news that 16 stores close every day.
Online retail has opened up the sector and led to the emergence of a host of new competitors. Resultantly, UK retail powerhouses (think M&S, Debenhams, John Lewis) have seen market share cut due to faster, more agile competition branching into their space.
Woolworths’ decline coincided with Amazon’s rise – in-store customer service was no longer enough. Add this to changing customer preferences, and younger generations preferring to ‘self-serve’, and it’s easy to see why retailers are worried about ensuring customers come back. Acquisition and retention are harder than ever, meaning price and product range is no longer the be-all and end-all to consumers.
Today’s era of flexibility and choice has spoilt shoppers. The goalposts keep shifting and retailers need to offer consumers additional incentives to keep them coming back for more. In isolation, good end-to-end experiences are not enough – they need to be frictionless, exceptional, and across multiple touchpoints in order to form a seamless retail experience. Customer experience is no longer about physical service, but about ease and making the process effortless for shoppers in today’s always on world.
A prime example of a retailer which didn’t adopt the right strategy is Jack Wills. Ten years ago it was flying high as the brand of choice for university students; but it failed to keep tabs on the needs and wants of its target demographic. It acts as a stark reminder that continued relevance is more important than historic brand name and reputation.
By failing to prepare to meet the needs of new and evolving generations, the retailer recently faced collapse until a last-minute intervention.
So, what can retailers looking to offer optimal customer experiences learn from this? Other sectors should also monitor this trend, especially as the bar for Customer Experience keeps being raised.
Know who you want to sell to
This perhaps sounds obvious, but keeping up with a target demographic is key in order to effectively proposition new consumers but also to offer the experience they will demand. For example, the emphasis on online needs to be more prominent now compared with ten years ago – something that Jack Wills did not seem to adequately cater for.
The failure to meet demand as preferences for delivery changed may have been an issue. The retailer’s offering of a minimum spend of £50 for slow free delivery or a £6.99 price-tag for next-day wouldn’t have sat well with consumers who are now accustomed to quicker and cheaper delivery. Combine this with its high price tag compared with fast-fashion alternatives like ASOS, which today dropped the price of its annual next-day delivery subscription from £14.99 to £9.95 due to customer feedback, or Boohoo, and it’s not hard to see how heads were turned.
There’s also brand perception. Jack Wills always positioned itself as an elite brand – reflected by its preppy in-store experience and curated sales people, chosen to be synonymous with its image. For some this may be off-putting – especially when combined with its strapline of ‘outfitters to the gentry’, which it quietly dropped a couple of years ago.
In an era where aspiring to be part of a secluded social circle is far less of a priority, Jack Wills no doubt turned away many prospects with the exclusive attitude which had proved so successful in a different time. Abercrombie and Fitch suffered this same issue a few years ago in the United States. Others must learn the lesson that simply changing lines doesn’t keep customers coming back.
Court customers for years
Boohoo is a retail brand which is working wonders. Its profits and growth are extraordinary, and its figures show that is has tapped into a successful formula, with revenue up 48 percent this year and turnover growing 37 percent and 64 percent respectively in the UK and internationally.
It clearly knows what its audience wants – but not content with meeting this need now, it’s also looking towards the future. Its acquisition of the online businesses of Karen Millen and Coast emphasises this.
Boohoo’s online-only offering caters to younger people’s preference for digital shopping, whilst providing more ‘grown up’ options with Karen Millen and Coast will allow it to continue meeting its consumers demands as their tastes evolve. Boohoo is not giving its fanbase a reason to shop around as it is being sure to meet their current and future needs.
Couple this with its frictionless experience (fast, free delivery or incentives to unlock money saving offers) and it’s easy to see why customers love it. This is a stark contrast to Jack Wills failing to offer free returns, unless goods are returned by hand in-store (something time-pressed millennials were no doubt put off by) and the aforementioned delivery costs. It’s clear why younger audiences choose the easier, faster option.
Don’t let them down
It’s also important to remember that reviews matter, and in the age where a bad testimonial can haunt a brand for years, retailers must get better at delivering on their promises.
ASOS is an example of this, and some of its recent problems have related to stock issues and customers being let down last minute as a result. This highlights the importance of a frictionless experience – and one that doesn’t end when a purchase is ratified but extends to after-sale care. A simple way for a retailer to work towards the aim of a frictionless experience is to link its online offering to Order Management Software (OMS).
This will ensure that online stock predictions are accurate at all times so customers don’t lose out. Additionally, physical stores can be used as more than just a showroom – offering pick up from store is becoming increasingly common, and can provide a cheaper, quicker delivery alternative which is appealing to ‘generation now’ (whilst also being more profitable for the retailer).
Customer experience is perhaps entering its most transformative era, as online becomes more important than physical retail. Training for store staff may become less rigorous to match the preference for online, and AI will start to pick up the slack. For retailers, it’s a volatile time and they must be prepared to meet the customer at every possible touchpoint to keep them happy.
There is no doubt that this sky-high expectation will influence customer trends in other sectors too, as brands look to pull their socks up to fight off the competition. In my view, meeting and beating expectations in a timely and profitable manner will be one of the biggest issues facing brands moving forward. What can’t be denied is that firms need to start thinking in the long and short-term in order to court consumers and retain a loyal customer base.
No longer is this relationship simply a transactional one – it’s personal and connected to the feeling the brand elicits. My advice to all is to keep things simple and meet the needs of your audience, thereby not giving them a reason to go elsewhere, now or in the future.
With days to go to the annual seasonal sales extravaganza, including Black Friday, the holiday season is well and truly upon us.
Like many other consumers, I often start readying my gift shopping lists in the autumn. From my many conversations with Monetate clients, I understand that the challenge for retailers to stand out amongst competitors is tougher than ever.
It’s a crowded market, and brands must build strong foundations to nurture that purchase relationship, looking beyond deep discounts and a one-size-fits-all approach, to create a personalised shopping experience.
For 63 percent of consumers, personalisation from brands and retailers is now an expectation, however two-thirds of marketers are failing to invest in the appropriate technology to deliver this.
Smart personalisation strategies can be the key change factor as brands push to stand out and drive conversions. As Brexit looms, so too does the financial uncertainty facing consumers. Brands and retailers must rise above this and focus their efforts on cementing sustainable and long-lasting relationships that will in turn withstand what is expected to be a nervy and unsteady holiday season.
Our latest Ecommerce Benchmarkreport noted that ecommerce conversion rates dropped by seven percent in Q1 – a trend likely to have been driven by Brexit.
So how can marketers overcome the barriers that can often stand in the way when creating an optimised Customer Experience? As retailers strive to be best-placed to meet demand ahead of the busy ecommerce period, the following factors should be key considerations.
When it comes to personalisation, there is no blanket approach; recognising that every customer behaves differently with unique expectations is crucial.
Distilling audiences into groups by location, device, or demographic is an effective way to begin. These insights can work in tandem with machine learning and will enable brands to use real-time models to identify what works best for each individual. The use of data should continue to improve a shoppers’ personal experience as insights inform the how, the where, and the when to inform the best tactic for interaction with each potential customer.
Get to the heart of the customer
It’s easy to become buried in customer data, which is where segmentation and analytics tools are incredibly handy; providing instant insights into your customer behaviour, using everything from simple attributes such as device type and geography to more complex attributes such as product categories viewed and brands purchased.
Actionable customer data is the key to success when implementing a one-to-one personalisation programme, which drives higher conversion rates, increases average order value (AOV), and increases the quality of CX.
The more data available, the more effective and tailored the personalisation will be, but you can start small to reap value from the offset. From there, brands and retailers will be able to easily scale any personalisation efforts as they grow in data maturity and continue to get to know their customers.
Follow the data signals
When marketers think of multi-screening, they often see it as a new challenge or obstacle, but the truth is that we live in a multi-device world. When it comes to Customer Experience, implementing an omnichannel edge into your marketing can set you apart from your competitors and build lasting relationships with your customers.
Survey data collected by our team at Monetate and WBR Insights for our 2nd Annual Personalisation Development Studyindicates that only 15 percent of marketers are observing and tracking customer sessions across two or more devices. When compared with industry data, they are failing to detect at least 25 percent of the sessions that are part of a multi-device journey to purchase.
Moreover, the move from specialised departments to cross-functional teams may postpone the personalisation process. For example, one team might be focused on website optimisation, while another team is solely looking at advertising display. Ensuring full alignment and buy-in across the organisation will enable a more seamless process where all teams can work towards a unified data and technology goal.
Master the visual
Whilst consumers expect a personalised experience, content does not have to be unique to each user to be considered effective. A collection of creative assets and copy relevant to a broad scope of interests is key to finding the right balance to appeal to individual users. It’s not just about the brand imagery, product recommendation, or message, but a combination of all of these elements, on the right platform, at the right time.
Achieving effective personalisation is challenging. As the Chief Marketing Officer of a technology company, I’m familiar with the challenge of finding the strategy that not only works, but also sticks. It’s easier said than done. The moment you implement personalisation marketing is the moment you change the way your customers view you – for good.
If brands can strive towards a future with machine learning and marketer creativity working hand-in-hand, they’ll see the benefits of increased loyalty and greater ROI more quickly.
When Bitcoin was created it was done to be a seamless payment method – backed up by the blockchain – for cheaper, faster, and safer worldwide peer-to-peer transactions.
Even Satoshi Nakamoto probably did not foresee blockchain technology spanning into different areas and industries than finance. Yet that has become the reality, and blockchain technology is now playing an integral part in every corner of the New Digital Economy.
Anyone who is considering starting a digital business should consider how the blockchain and Bitcoin can benefit them, which means having a Luno Bitcoin Wallet to hand and reading up on the latest blockchain developments.
Luckily, you can start right here.
What is the New Digital Economy?
The New Digital Economy (NDE) refers to digital technologies that contribute to processes and transactions within the economy. It is not to be confused with the internet economy which also influences economic dealings, but solely focuses on online technologies.
One technology trailblazing the success of the digital economy is blockchains.
Blockchain and the New Digital Economy
From the definition above, it is easy to see why the contemporary digital economy is vast and includes many different cogs. Ultimately, thousands of businesses and services could land between the brackets of the digital economy.
1. Widening global markets
Blockchain at its basics is a founding pillar of cryptocurrency transactions, which have become essential to digital markets. Through their secure and borderless nature, paying with crypto allows businesses to attract customers from other countries, enabling the digital economy to scale quicker and easier.
2. Fostering investments
Digital ideas and technology entrepreneurs often rely on heavy investment to get their businesses off the ground due to the costs of developing such inventions or services. Investments of this kind are often made safer with blockchain technology through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) that allow businesses to obtain enough capital from investors effortlessly and even allow them to bypass banks.
3. Data safeguarding
Data handling and protecting user data has become a fierce topic among businesses in all industries, and the digital economy is especially important.
Businesses need to make sure they are protecting data from hackers to comply with the EU’s GDPR laws and protect their reputation. The blockchain comes in useful for this and is one way of securing information and making it pretty much bulletproof to hackers.
4. Business partnerships
Blockchain technology is also the foundation of Ethereum’s smart contracts. These contracts allow businesses to take an almost-hands-off approach to processes between businesses. Smart contracts are used to execute payments once milestones have been reached and allow digital businesses to save costs on human input and administration.
What else to expect?
The integration of blockchains can also be expected to merge with developments in artificial intelligence and data analysis. However, these integrations have not been finalised as of yet.
The future is bright for the new digital economy with blockchain technology to hand.
Companies know all about the importance of visual content.
According to a 2018 study from Venngage, 56 percent of marketers surveyed said that between 91-100 percent of their content contained visuals. Delivering the right compelling visuals quickly is critical to achieving the desired visual hook. However, many images and videos can be optimised to provide better user experiences and higher engagement levels.
Too often it’s the technical details that derail your visual storytelling efforts. Nothing is more frustrating than having invested a lot of time and resources creating beautiful visuals for a campaign only to discover that audiences aren’t seeing them how you intended. When high-quality images are cropped in the wrong places or displayed incorrectly in social sharing, for example, response rates and brand image suffer.
The browser and its long tail
Another recent report revealed that 75 percent of consumers expect a consistent experience wherever they engage with brands – website, social media, mobile, or in-person. This is easier said than done. One big reason for consistency failures is the browser long tail, which refers to the different versions of browsers people use.
Cloudinary recently published its State of Visual Media Report to help people understand how visual content is being consumed. Analysing billions of media transactions across a sampling of more than 700 of our customers, we were fascinated to discover just how many different types of browsers are in use worldwide.
While Chrome and Safari, as expected, dominate the browser market (45.9 percent and 4.1 percent respectively in the UK), there are significant regional differences across lesser known variants. For example, the research shows that Nokia Symbian smartphones are still popular in some regions and that Nintendo devices DS devices share more than 15,000 images per day. There is even image traffic coming from the very old legacy office software, Lotus Notes.
This is important as not all browsers support every image or video format you might use for your campaign. JPEG, GIF, and PNG are the most popular image formats used on websites today. However, developed in the 80s and 90s, when they’re not properly optimised they may not always be the best choice as they are quite heavy in file size and don’t offer the image quality and color spectrum expected for delivering today’s immersive online experience. Newer image file formats such as WebP and HEIF offer advantages worth exploring.
The same applies to video formats. The old H.264 video standard is pretty common but newer more lightweight formats such as VP9 and H.265 are anywhere from 30 to 50 percent more efficient.
Now for the long tail of browsers out there, JPEG and GIF for images and H.264 for video are the lowest common denominator that work with almost every browser. Does this mean you have to compromise your visual storytelling efforts just because some of your users still stick to their legacy BlackBerry web browser?
The browser’s long tail doesn’t need to compromise visual storytelling
Fortunately, the answer is no.
Your web developers don’t need to abandon the unlimited visual possibilities that come with newer image formats. Newer AI-based image and video management solutions can automatically detect your web visitors’ visual requirements and their browsers. Based on this information they automatically deliver each image and video in the most efficient format, quality, and resolution – even to a BlackBerry web browser. But these tools can do even more.
Intelligent image detection and cropping
As mentioned earlier, the last thing your brand needs is for beautiful images that you’ve invested dearly in to get badly-cropped and poorly displayed. AI-based image and video management solutions can solve this problem. These tools apply AI smarts to optimally resize and crop images. For example, AI applies algorithms to automatically detect the subject in an image that is most likely to capture a viewer’s attention.
It also analyses the type of browser and device the images are displayed on. Based on all this combined information, brands are able to deliver images and videos that will drive greater customer engagement.
Visual are great for boosting engagement and fostering long-lasting connections.
With a little help from AI you can be assured that the browser long tail doesn’t degrade the user experience so that your visual storytelling efforts really pay off.
Organisations are increasingly relying on chatbots for customer service as a way to deflect inbound calls and reduce costs, but Forrester Analytics data shows that consumers aren’t thrilled with this approach.
They found consumers are reluctant to trust a chatbot to resolve their service issues, and remain skeptical that chatbots can provide a similar level of service as a human agent.
However, it seems companies are enforcing technology solutions at every opportunity in the hope of improving their CX strategy.Amid all the talk of technical advancement, we seem to forget about the human factor, that personal touch that only people can deliver to consumers no matter the channel of engagement.
Clients today have huge goals for their CX strategies, such as 50 percent of all calls to be self-serviced, 80 percent of contact to be automated, 50 v of calls to be eliminated and all of this along with, in most cases, being tasked to make significant cost savings.
Ian Jacobs, Principal Analyst at Forresters, said: “Customer service organisations have been looking for ways to cut costs for decades.Now that chatbot mania has taken over, many are jumping on the bandwagon and attempting to replace their human agents with chatbots.In theory, that makes sense – a chatbot costs less than a human over time, and most customer service organisations tend to focus more heavily on cost than on customer experience.”
It is fair to say many companies are struggling with automation, whether to automate, why automate, what to automate and when to automate.According to Forrester, when it comes to automation and customer service, brands are getting the last three questions wrong.
We regularly see in the industry news headlines such as Chatbots set to take over most cost service work or Robots are set to replace humans and costly contact centres.However, according to Forrester’s Analytics Consumer Energy Index on-line survey 2018, consumers expect chatbots to disappoint with 54 percent of US online consumers expecting interaction with customer service chatbots to negatively affect their quality of life.
The message from Forrester’s research is clear: ‘Augment, don’t replace and blend AI and humans’.
The question is which blended operations model works better for your business?
Forrester has identified four approaches to agent augmentation:
1. A chatbot for agents where the conversation is with a live agent and a chatbot
If your customer service agents search a knowledge base during their interactions with customers, why not create a natural language interface for that task?It’s a great starting point if you’re just beginning your chatbot journey.
2. A human-intermediated chatbot for increased efficiency and seamless suggestions
Here, an AI tool observes a conversation between a human agent and a customer, providing suggestions that the agent can either push out to the customer, or modify, or personalise the suggestion, or even reject it and type their own answer.
3. A front-end chatbot where the chatbot authenticates the customer and determines intent and gathers all relevant information
Chatbot hands interaction off to the agent and the agent resolves the customer’s issues.The benefit of this one is that agents are handling the meat of the interaction and have more time for upselling/cross selling and it also significantly reduces handling time.Conceptually agents are more engaged as they are adding value and not doing mundane tasks.
4. Intermingled workflows with both agents and chatbots do what each does best
The human agent can invoke a chatbot to handle a specific task, then have the chatbot hand the interaction back to the agent.Similar to the front-end chatbot, human agents are relieved of routine tasks, but in this workflow, the agent and chatbot can flex back and forth to tackle the portions of the interaction they excel at.
Using one or more of those approaches to augment customer service agents can result in significant benefits to an organisation, such as reduced handle time, increased employee engagement, and improved experience -0 while also ensuring your customers don’t lose faith with your brand after a frustrating chatbot interaction.
One thing is for sure, AI is here to stay. Brands that want to keep ahead in a competitive world will need to re-think their business models and make sure there is a place for human employees and AI.
It’s not your average job interview, but a description from Luke Murfitt, founder of Integrity Cleaning, of how one woman kick-started her career after a chance encounter shines a light on the ethos of his business.
Picture the scene: a dark, damp evening at a London train station, and after disembarking, a mother struggles with her children and bags as she attempts to scale steps up to the pavement and begin the long walk home.
“No-one else was offering, so I asked if I could help get her up the steps,” says Luke as he explains exactly why ‘supporting mothers back to work’ is more than just a media-friendly slogan for his firm
“We got to the top and I asked if I could help her further. She said she lived about a 20-minute walk away, so I offered her a lift in my car. During the drive I was able to ask her where she worked. She said she didn’t work, and that people didn’t want to employ her.
“I asked her what she would want to do, and she said she would like to be either a carer or a cleaner. I said ‘happy days, I have a cleaning company – would you like to start this week?”
It sounds like the happy ending to a feel-good film, but this was reality for the mum in this story. She was able to work as a cleaner, fitting her duties comfortably around school hours, and as a result was able to move into a larger home than the one-bedroom flat she had before. Thanks to her income from Integrity, was able to start planning for her future.
“She’s now a full-time carer, in the career she wanted,” Luke says.
“She calls me her angel, but she was pretty good to me too, working hard and driving Integrity forward.”
Integrity Cleaning has been shortlisted in the Best New Business category of this week’s 2019 UK Business Awards, and this achievement is part of the ongoing success story for a firm that was born out of personal adversity.
Luke is a former high-flying salesman at a blue-chip company, who in 2015 was handed a life-changing diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
But rather than allow this to limit his scope for life, Luke decided to challenge himself and use the diagnosis to spur a career change that has led to a current total of 85 cleaners signed on for employment through his company, ranging in age from 19 to the mid-60s.
“After the diagnosis, which was obviously a bit of a challenge, I realised I didn’t want to wallow in self-pity, and so I used it as a catalyst to springboard me on to do greater things, and here we are,” he says.
That route first took him to his local job centre where he was told to seek benefits following his diagnosis, but his hunger for something more led him instead to seek advice on starting his own business.
“I felt I had a lot more to give. I told the staff at the centre ‘there are people over there who are looking for jobs, and I’d like to employ them’. I wanted to set an example of what can be achieved, and they said ‘fine, go for it’. So they sent me upstairs to the next level and a department that assists in setting up businesses.”
From the window of that same building, Luke gazed out at London’s ever-sprouting skyline, with gleaming new buildings taking shape.
What was simultaneously taking shape was his own business future, thanks to Luke “turning adversary into opportunity”.
He continues: “I looked into the cleaning industry, and spent six months planning. I was careful though, as I had seen people who set up cleaning companies and ended up cleaning themselves out!”
However determination, and the hard work and support of wife Diana, pushed Luke towards realising the recession-proof nature of his chosen sector, and what it could do for them as a family, along with the wider community.
“Cleaning has grown and grown and is a massive employer. I saw it as a chance to impact many more lives and provide better opportunities, rather than with, say, an office of five people.
“With around 33,000 cleaning companies in the UK, with 700,000 cleaners, there’s plenty of scope. I knew I needed only a small portion of that to be successful, and not to fear the competition, but actually be better than them.
“And also be something that they are not, because what I realised was – not many people actually choose to be a cleaner. Instead they often ‘resort’ to being a cleaner.
“I thought to myself, these are the people I want to help. They’ve found themselves in a situation they didn’t choose to be in, but I could at least assist them and make the area of work they’re in as pleasant as possible – give them opportunities and ensure they feel respected and are able to grow, move on, and not just remain cleaners forevermore.”
Integrity continued to take shape, and the ethos of assisting mums at a crucial time of their lives grew from Luke meeting fellow parents at the school gates while waiting to collect his daughter.
“There comes a point when a lot of mothers want new working opportunities, but there are often few firms offering that. This was part of my plan – to offer such opportunities, and make a success of it.”
The company got off the ground when Luke secured a significant contract with a hotel in London’s Bromley borough, having first garnered a workforce ready and willing to put the hours in.
Low start-up costs and lots of hard graft helped Integrity gain momentum, and as the journey continued, so too did the cleaning contracts with churches, community groups, and other eager clients.
However, it was a return to the skyscrapers of central London that saw Luke land the firm’s most significant contract.
“I was at a training event and I looked out the window at these apartment buildings which were going up, 41 storeys high, and I thought ‘they need cleaning’. I had no experience of construction cleaning at all, but I walked over to the site, which had around 600 people all milling about.
“I was wearing a suit while they were in their construction safety gear, so I got some looks. I found a door saying ‘staff only’, walked in, and eventually located the project manager. I said to him, ‘Hi, I’m Luke from Integrity Cleaning, you’ve got some great buildings here, and we’d like to be the company that cleans them’.
“He told me my timing was interesting as they were just three days away from tendering for a cleaning company, so he took me to the senior management in order to apply.”
Several months later, having seen off competition from some of the biggest companies in the market, Integrity was offered the contract.
“They could see I wanted to do a good job, and we ended up replacing a company they had used for the last 25 years.”
Luke’s bold approach to securing employment for his team provided many months of solid work, cleaning 1,000 or so million-pound apartments, over four thorough stages each, to make them ready for residents.
And so Integrity rose to its current position as one of the UK’s most caring and community oriented commercial and construction cleaning firms.
“My primary goal isn’t about making money, it’s about helping other people,” Luke states.
“This year alone I’ve helped 25 mums back into work. Of course, helping mothers doesn’t just help them, it helps their children, families, husbands, and whoever else. It impacts lives.
“We help with their training, and we look towards assisting with transport costs, and being flexible with working hours. We’re also there to provide references for when they’re ready to move on. We work as a team, and they love it. To me, each of them isn’t merely a cleaner – they are a person; something they never normally hear in this industry.”
From year one to year two, Integrity has grown by 650 percent, and his nomination for a UK Business Award tops a hugely successful year that has also seen him share his story with thousands of listeners on radio station LBC.
“I have appeared twice on LBC’s The Business Hour, and plan to return to answer questions from listeners in the near future and share my advice.”
On the subject of advice, Luke leaves us with one final inspiring message.
“Never let a challenge – in my case my diagnosis – stop you from doing what you want to do. Never limit yourself.”