Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthSeptember 17, 2019
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25min127

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

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

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

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

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

Donna O’Toole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s not to love?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Marie Cross

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, wholeheartedly!

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

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

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

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


Angus BurrellAngus BurrellSeptember 16, 2019
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8min337

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

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

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

Time to revitalise

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

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

A shared responsibility

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

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

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

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

Rejuvenate the returns process

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

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

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

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


Alice NewAlice NewSeptember 11, 2019
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10min470

Ranked in the global top 10 of the most desirable companies to work for, Netflix is an employer that clearly gives a great deal back to its employees in terms of salary, culture, and development opportunities.

However, it also expects a lot in return and is well-known for its unusual performance assessment method, the so called ‘Keeper Test’.

Instead of having traditional appraisals and annual reviews, Netflix has introduced a permanent evaluation process. Managers and team leaders are encouraged to ask themselves a simple question of colleagues: “If an employee told me he or she had found another job, would I do my best to keep him or her at Netflix?”

If the answer is “no”, the employee in question may be reviewed and eased out of the organisation.

That might be an extreme approach, but they are not alone. An ever-growing number of leading companies, especially those in the technology sectors, are moving away from traditional top down performance reviews and taking a continuous approach instead. Rather than highlighting room for improvement, often when it’s too late, their aim is to emphasise the positive, offering personal development and opportunities for growth.

One simple way companies can enable a continuous feedback approach is to introduce the concept of ‘good talks’. These are regular – but not necessarily informal – conversations, intended to engage, motivate, inspire, and improve employee productivity.

They replace the need for expensive formal assessment interviews conducted twice a year and mean that any issues can be addressed more quickly, before they become serious problems. This is an important factor.

More people leave their employer because of a poor relationship with the line manager and a dearth of development opportunities than for any other reason, including salary. Millennials in particular find that a non-hierarchical working relationship, with opportunities for continuous feedback, is very important, according to research conducted by Careerwise.

Five key ingredients for ‘good talks’

1. Flat hierarchy: Before the good conversations approach can be introduced, there needs to be equality in the relationship between a manager and their team members and an open company culture. There needs to be a feeling that people can speak openly and be listened to, without facing negative consequences.

2. Being well prepared: To be able to give your employees continuous feedback, it’s important to have a clear end goal and ask relevant questions. You also need to understand what motivates the person involved. Is it money, flexibility, autonomy, status or social interaction for instance? And offer them appropriate development opportunities.

Preparation should also include spending time observing their behaviour before any conversations start. This way you can go into depth during your talks and offer opportunities that will motivate them to achieve the best for themselves.

3. Introduce measurable changes: To ensure that routine conversations can become viable replacements for an annual review, implement the following measurable changes…

  • Increase the number of talks held per year. This can vary from once a month to having one every three months. It’s up to the manager and employee to agree the most worthwhile frequency to suit their goals.
  • Hand over ownership of these conversations to employees and make them more involved. Let them take the lead when preparing and handling mutual conversations and give them the opportunity to influence the right outcomes.

4. Ask the right questions: When preparing for good conversations, managers can consider the following questions as a starting point for a useful discussion.

  • What do changes in market/technology/society/politics require of my team, now and in the long term?
  • What influence do internal developments have on the expertise and skills of my team within the next three years?
  • How do I see the future of my team?
  • What are the three most important goals for my team in the coming years?
  • Which competences and skills are already available for this, and which are not?
  • How do I facilitate and stimulate a culture where learning and development are common?
  • To what extent am I an example when it comes to (career) development?
  • Who, or what, do I need to keep my team up to date?

5. Encourage employees to ask questions like these:

  • What developments do I see in my field and in the environment in the coming years?
  • Do I expect my position to change in the future?
  • How do I view this expected change?
  • Are other requirements set for me to continue to function well in the future?
  • What questions do I have about this with my supervisor?
  • What changes in the personal sphere do I experience and what does this mean for my development?
  • What do I need to keep functioning well and to keep work that suits me?

The best companies are moving away from formal review meetings held once or twice a year, and introducing continuous feedback loops instead. Rather than let poor performance and dissatisfaction or insecurity set in, informal discussions highlight any issues quickly, employees gain more insight into how current performance impacts strategic goals and have the chance to adjust as necessary.

Employees who receive regular feedback on their performance in an informal way enjoy their work more. When people feel listened to and have a say in work processes, their motivation gets a boost and this is always good for business.


CXM Editorial TeamCXM Editorial TeamSeptember 11, 2019
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7min571

In the world of customer contact, the nurturing of a diverse and inclusive culture not only creates a team that reflects the market it is serving, but it generates an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work and unlock their full potential, which ultimately yields productive employees and stronger, more creative teams.

In a recent interview with Helen Gillett, Managing Director of Affinity for Business, and Petra Mengelt, Head of B2B Business Relations at Mash Group Plc, we explored the role of D&I in the world of customer contact and demonstrate how your biggest asset – your people – can set your business apart from the competition.

Here, we explore some of the key takeaways from the interviews.

Why diversity and inclusion can benefit customer contact

For many years, companies have thought of diversity and inclusion as affirmative action or box-checking, but it is everything but that. Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) is not an HR issue. Instead, it is about diverse thinking, perspectives, experiences, work styles, and cultural backgrounds, as opposed to counting heads.

Statistics show that organisations that embed D&I in their culture have a distinct advantage to their competitors. Research by McKinsey & Company shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 21 percent more likely to outperform in profitability and 27 percent more likely to have superior value creation. Additionally, the most ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform the least ethnically diverse. Meanwhile, leading consultant John Bersin also shares that diverse & inclusive companies have 2.3x higher cash flow per employee than homogenous companies.

From a customer contact perspective, an environment of diverse cultures combined with individuals of different ages, genders, abilities, and sexualities creates a plethoric pool of opinions, skills, and ways of approaching challenges that work to benefit both the business and its customers. In a setting where unique challenges arise frequently, it is only favourable to have a diverse team that can share ideas and create best practices through collaboration.

How to create a culture of diversity & inclusion in your organisation

When it comes to creating a culture of inclusion, good intentions are a start, but implementation and accountability matter more. It is vital that organisations seek to cultivate a culture of D&I and make it a core part of their DNA. Here, we share three actionable steps to making a culture of D&I a reality in your customer contact centre.

1. Start from the top

Responsibility for affecting change should not be driven by HR. Instead, it starts with business leaders. Accountability is an essential factor in establishing a culture of D&I. When executive leadership incorporate talent as an active agenda item, that’s when it becomes intrinsic in the culture of the company.

2. Communicate to educate

Creating opportunities for employees to learn more about one another as people, rather than just colleagues, is a great way to build a sense of trust and community in your team. Petra encourages a culture of always asking questions to aid this, and also to dispel any negativity that may stem from misunderstandings.

“It’s important to never ever leave anything that stems from cultural difference hanging or unresolved, otherwise there is always a risk of encouraging negative stereotypes. I am always asking questions such as ‘can you explain what you mean?’ to create clarity,” she says.

3. Lead by example

It’s a well-known mantra that people don’t leave companies; they leave leaders. In order for a culture of D&I to thrive, employees must feel as if they are being coached by a leader who truly has their best interests in mind.

As demonstrated by Helen’s own comments on being honest about her journey, an effective way to do so is by leading by example. If a leader can bring their authentic self to work, their employees will feel confident enough to do the same. This can be especially important when discussing inclusion and mental health, as Helen shares: “Having leaders tell their stories lets people know that mental ill-health can happen to anyone and it’s not anything to be ashamed of – it’s ok not to be ok.”

Click the image below to learn more about how a culture of D&I can improve your customer contact experience.


James MarlowJames MarlowSeptember 10, 2019
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7min677

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ian HallIan HallSeptember 4, 2019
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17min672

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

We would probably all recognise these typical Christmas shopper habits:

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

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

There are some subtle trends to be aware of:

The ‘mother-in-law effect’

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

The shopper is not always the consumer

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

Weather makes a difference

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

Christmas Day falls on different days of the week

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

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

Depots have fixed capacity

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

Planning and forecasting varies by category

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

Waste and availability remains a delicate balance

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

So what – what can you do with this insight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Brian StraussBrian StraussAugust 28, 2019
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9min1406

In the not too distant past, a few brave companies adapted their chat products for use within a sales context and produced some startling results against some marquis ecommerce KPIs.

The conversion rate of customers who engage in a chat has increased. In addition, the revenue per engaged customer has seen 5x – 10x growth. With numbers like these, it wasn’t long before many other companies were moving chat from the back office, where it was used primarily in a service context (to save money over phone calls), into the front of the store in hopes of driving sales gold.

While some have realised their chat gold rush dreams, several companies ran into a few economic stumbling blocks along the way, and have been skittish to reattempt widespread ecommerce engagement.

1. Chatting during a sale eats into precious sales margin and can erase profits for many retailers and travel companies, and increases the cost of acquiring new customers for all verticals.

Many etailers and travel companies – that compete on price and service – don’t make a lot of money per transaction as it is. Adding the cost of a chat to a transaction can negate the gains realised from the conversion and order value boost. In short, when you chat you may sell more, but you’re making less or nothing at all in profit (siting feedback from Newegg, United Airlines, Walmart.com, and Expedia). Companies that have been successful with sales chat typically are lifestyle brands – companies that hold exclusivity over their goods, and control all of the means production, distribution, and marketing – and can command higher sales margin.

2. Chatting in a sales context drives up chat volumes and the related supporting costs.

Sales chat volumes often rise to levels that rival or eclipse the amount of service chats that an organisation receives. This puts significant operational pressure on these companies to hire and train significant numbers of additional agents. Some companies are able to endure this and become successful, but may have resisted doing this because of the lack of profit realised in the exercise. 

3. Reach is a challenge.

Even the companies that engage in Sales chat and realise the often incredible boosts to conversion and revenue, are only able to scale up to engage about one to two percent [1-800-flowers engages 0.81 percent of their sales traffic) of pre-sales visitors. Since every chat requires a live agent, the average busy retailer would need many hundreds if not thousands of agents live an available at all times to engage a more significant number of customers.

This is just not feasible for many online companies. In addition, more and more studies show that many customers – particularly those in the ever-growing mobile demographic, don’t start ecommerce journeys expecting to talk to you on the phone or on chat! They want to self-serve. 

So this conundrum exists where the many customers don’t want to engage, and companies are not incented to talk to their customers. Was the whole promise of customer engagement merely fool’s gold? Or is there another way to turn digital engagement into real profits by overcoming many of the key limitations of the format?

There is another way, and the solution is Guided Digital Commerce.

Digging into the challenges a bit more, it turns out that if you can address two key realities, you can pump profit back into digital engagement, reduce costs like never before, increase customer satisfaction and retention, and reach customers that never would have engaged with you previously.

Reality 1: Repetitive Contacts are a huge problem. It turns out that as customers we’re not as unique as we’d like to think – at least in terms of our shopping and engagement patterns online. The customers who do engage companies via the phone, email, or chat tend to be asking about the same four or five things relative to where they are in the customer journey.

Go ask a contact centre agent. They know the top five reasons why someone gets in contact with them like the back of their hand. And these repetitive topics can sometimes make up the overwhelming majority of the total contacts. In financial services, password lock out issues alone can make up 70 percent of total contacts.

In retail, “Where is my order” (known by it’s nickname, WISMO) can make up more than half of all contacts. However, our phone, chat, and email solutions do absolutely nothing to deflect contacts on these topics. Not only do these contacts drive up costs, but they increase the wait time for everyone, and lower customer satisfaction.

Reality 2: Just because large segments of customers don’t want to talk to you during a sales or service journey, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help. It just means that customers want to self-serve.

They want to find the answers to their questions on their own, but often the answers to the most common questions are tucked away on some FAQ page, or are hidden away under some tab – in short, the keys to overcoming the most common struggles and hesitations are not easily available to the customer where and when they need them.

Guided Digital Commerce takes the answers to the most common questions and puts them in front of the customers when and where they need these questions most. This is achieved by understanding where the customer is in the journey and offering a timely contextual and proactive solution to what they are struggling over. As in: “I see you’re struggling with that expired coupon code, here is one that works.”

This also means giving the customers who do like to or feel the need to live engage, an opportunity to find the answer to their question faster than they could with a live engagement. This can mean intercepting chat requests with common solutions first, as in: “Checking on your order? Give us your order number and we’ll give you the latest information.”

The key to Guided Digital Commerce is proactive automation for the majority of contacts and preserving your live channels for your more unique and complex inquires. If you can give the customer the right answer to their concern the overwhelming majority of time, you can deploy a profitable engagement solution that can reach all of your customers instead of just a few.

This doesn’t mean that chat and email completely fall by the wayside, but it means that while automation is handling the majority of contacts, your chat and email practice can focus on the more unique customer use cases, escalating profit, reducing costs, increasing satisfaction and reaching more customer than ever before.


Bartek RozbickiBartek RozbickiAugust 27, 2019
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8min814

When it comes to property and real estate, virtual reality (VR) has a remarkable number of use cases that are set to transform the way brands engage with customers.

But before we dive into the many applications and benefits of VR in the real estate sector, it’s important to understand the technology and how consumers perceive it.

VR is a computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment that you can interact with using special equipment such as a headset and controllers. It sits under the wider extended reality (XR) umbrella, which also includes augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

Agency SYZYGY XR recently polled 1,000 consumers in the UK to better understand their mindset, behaviour, and decision-making in relation to VR. Advancements in the underlying technology have brought the cost of consumer VR products down while increasing quality and functionality. When asked: “What are the biggest barriers stopping you from purchasing a VR headset?”,”quality” ranked as the lowest barrier to entry, with just three percent of consumers concerned about the quality of VR products.

Second, consumer behaviour has matured to a point of acceptance and anticipation – in other words, the modern shopper can now envision VR in their daily lives.

According to our research, 72% of consumers believe that VR will become part of their daily routine, just as the smartphone is now. Younger generations are even more bullish. In fact, 81 percent of 16- to 34-year-olds believe that VR will play a ubiquitous role in their daily lives.

Keeping up with change is pivotal, but adoption must be done in such a way that it solves existing problems in the business infrastructure.

The commercial case for VR in real estate

VR is a powerful tool for real estate brands, but most have yet to harness the technology in a meaningful way.

Get this: more than half of all shoppers (53 percent) would be more likely to purchase a product or service if it included a VR experience. While the public holds a positive view of VR, just 26 percent of consumers have taken part in a VR experience when purchasing a product or service.

This gap between consumer demand and brand activation highlights an exciting opportunity: today’s shoppers would be more likely to purchase if advertising included a VR experience. Yet brands either a) aren’t offering VR experiences or b) aren’t delivering VR experiences that provide quality, value and substance. As a property developer or real estate agency, now is the time to act.

Redefining the future of Customer Experience

Over the past decade, pioneers like Amazon have rewritten the rules of business, meaning today’s real estate brands must deliver purpose-driven experiences that are fast, reliable and super-efficient.

Consider this: in 2019, 81 percent of companies expect to compete on the basis of Customer Experience. While competition is high, the rewards are great. In fact, customers who have a very good experience with a brand are 3.5x more likely to repurchase and 5x more likely to recommend that company to family and friends.

In 2018, Danwood S.A., a leading property development company in Europe, approached us with a challenge: “How can we convince potential clients to purchase a premium house that is not yet built and can’t be seen real life?”

Designed by Danish architects, the property development featured luxurious, modern design with a clean look and finish. To capture the essence of the homes, we created software that would take the customer into a virtual house, so they could look, feel and touch.

Tasked with creating a line of premium houses named ‘Vision’, we crafted each home in 3D with astonishing attention to detail and light. The experience, which only requires VR goggles and a sales representative, means that the property line can be shown to customers in any market across Europe.

Vision for tomorrow

For the first time, property viewing has become mobile and agile. This is a bold move that redefines the future of real estate.

With VR, the customer and agent experience full immersion in the house. This technology serves as more than just a compelling visualisation; it actually enhances the selling process, since a salesman can enter the property with the customer and advise or even modify aspects of the home as they journey together.

For an industry that relies heavily on aesthetic appeal to drive marketing and sales, the use of lifelike VR simulations opens up an entirely new window of exploration. With in-store VR headsets, real estate agents can build virtual applications that thrust the customer into a rich, vivid, lifelike home.

For businesses skeptical about the significance of XR, we must learn from history: innovation speaks louder than words.

As the world hurtles towards a more immersive digital ecosystem, the convergence of VR and human behaviour will usher in a new era of discovery, interaction and purchase. 


Martin NewmanMartin NewmanAugust 27, 2019
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8min1072

Not long ago, I was across the Atlantic in New York City, filming for my series Fix the High Street.

Having recorded episodes in Glasgow, Newcastle, and London, I’d decided it was time to go further afield and to see if the Customer Experience was different; to see if the legendary American service culture really stood up to scrutiny. I spent three hectic days there with my team and emerged at the end, tired, but much better informed.

New York is an assault on the senses.

It seems to move at a speed somehow 50 percent higher than anywhere else in the world. And, of course, one of the strange things about New York is that it’s all so familiar to us, even on first visits, because we’ve seen it films and television since childhood. But, as regular visitors know, the reality doesn’t disappoint. It really is a Mecca of sorts – a strange kind of laboratory where the human race tests some of its wilder ideas, styles, and techniques.

Big Apple: NYC businesses aren’t afraid to embrace disruption

That’s certainly true of retail and customer service.

I tried to visit as many outlets as I could in my short time in town. I went to a giant Amazon bookstore, Forever 21, Covergirl, Levi’s, and H&M, among others. What I was looking for was the distinctive American flavour, or maybe I should say, even more specifically, the distinctive New York flavour to the way they do business.

What’s uniquely them? How are they different from the UK and the rest of Europe? What can we, on this side of the Atlantic, learn from them? And what can they do better?

One thing I certainly pay tribute to is the willingness of New York businesses to embrace disruption. Earlier this year, for example, Macy’s, having bought veteran brand Story, opened curated ‘Story’ boutiques in 36 of its stores; this is a perfect example of giving customers a reason to come into the store and discover new products, without needing to have an eye-catching sale running.

And it represents a new revenue stream, too, as Story has traditionally charged a fee to curate partners’ products. This kind of innovation is absolutely vital for retailers and other industries to do more than simply keep their heads above water in the difficult waters of the current marketplace.

So far, so good. New York is fun and edgy and progressive. Just as you’d expect. But there are areas in which they could improve, based on my experience and insight.

Numbers game: New York stores often seem to lack enough staff

The first is a simple numbers game: stores often don’t have enough staff. It’s a common misconception in modern business that technology can wholly supplant human sales assistants and operatives; certainly, there are a lot of tasks from which people can be freed by machines, but it’s not a like-for-like substitution.

There are half a dozen reasons why shoppers want to be able to interact with a real person, to ask advice and opinions, to get a sense of the sales environment in the round, and, much more fundamentally, just because some customers are more comfortable with the warmth and empathy of human interaction. So New York retailers need to think about that.

The other area in which I’d offer some gentle criticism, because it’s right in my field of expertise, is their relative lack of progress in the multichannel area.

I’ve argued for some years that a truly successful business will embrace all kinds of sales opportunities; every conceivable and practical way of delivering the product to the customer to maximum satisfaction. People are complex animals, and they want to shop in different ways. More complicated still, each individual may have multiple preferences: they may buy books or music or similar goods online, but prefer a face-to-face experience when purchasing, say, clothes.

They may be happy to have one kind of goods delivered but wish to collect another from in-store. The retailer must be ready and agile enough to be able to cater for these differing and sometimes conflicting demands. Multichannel propositions give you flexibility, adaptability, and, ultimately, drive profit.

New York was a great experience, and a real learning curve for some of the team. The edited version of the lesson is that it’s a business environment which is open to innovation and horizon scanning, but has yet fully to embrace some of the possibilities which already exist to sell products to consumers. 

Vision: NYC retailers should embrace more possibilities for improved Customer Experience

CXM Editorial TeamCXM Editorial TeamAugust 27, 2019
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9min802

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regulation

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

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

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

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

Hefty: GDPR fines can be crippling for a company

The cost of poor CX

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

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

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

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

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

‘Difficult balance’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to register.


Aidan CramerAidan CramerAugust 22, 2019
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6min987

The traditional recruitment model is broken.

In fact, anyone who has braved the world of CVs and cover letters, impersonal correspondence, and the apparent disappearance of all jobs that sound appealing will be hard-pressed not to reach that conclusion.

But the UK’s lagging productivity furnishes us with yet more proof. In April, Richard Hays of the Office for National Statistics told the BBC that “it has taken the UK a decade to deliver two percent growth, which historically was achieved in a single year”.

The headline of the article refers to the ‘lost decade’. This loss in productivity points to mass disengagement among the workforce, and the recruitment industry has to take its share of the blame. When the wrong people are in the wrong jobs, they switch off or become unhappy, neither of which is conducive to efficiency.

It would be easier not to criticise traditional recruitment if it were not such a vast and wealthy sector whose actions play an important role in the lives of individual people and the health of the economy. I was one of those graduates who spent days perusing job boards, speaking to recruiters and refining cover letters and CVs, and it was an experience that was frustrating and demotivating. I’ve heard countless stories of recent graduates who came out of university full of enthusiasm and ready to throw themselves wholeheartedly into a career only to find themselves in exactly the same position – regardless of grades or experience.

Especially damaging is the inexorable trend towards the commodification of candidates. These – we should remember – are young people at a very important and stressful time in their lives. In their eyes, the job they take next could define their entire career. And although those who’ve had several jobs would be quick to point out that a misfire (or two) doesn’t preclude you from a fulfilling career, that’s not the way you see it when you’ve just come out of university.

And yet the traditional recruitment industry has come to see graduates as units rather than people, and always puts the business first at their expense. Without understanding the candidate as an individual person with a unique set of skills and characteristics, it’s impossible to know in which jobs they’ll thrive – and this is as much to the detriment of businesses looking for people as it is to candidates.

Then there’s the CV and cover letter, which has its origins with Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago. That might be proof enough that change is overdue, but we see more proof in the industrialisation of the CV-and-cover-letter-writing process in many fee-paying schools. Young people at these schools are far more likely to have interview practice and training in finding a job, and this not only creates a lopsided world of work, with privileged candidates more likely to take privileged jobs, but breeds homogeneity: supposedly individual documents which somehow look the same for different people, and convey little of the personality and attitude that is so vital to work.

What we have is an entire industry that hasn’t caught up with the changes taking place in the world of work. Millennials and Generation Z are emerging into a post-recession digital world in which ‘disruption’ is always around the corner. Tech has overtaken finance as the most exciting sector, and the familiar promises of money and security ring hollow: those who watched the collapse of household-name companies from Lehman Brothers to Blockbuster are rightly suspicious of these kinds of appeals.

A gap has opened up between the recruiting industry, the candidates, and the companies, and we see evidence of that in a disengaged workforce and a trend towards ‘going it alone’ in the form of entrepreneurship.

As it is, the candidates are losing out and the companies are losing out. And in the long-term that’s bad news for everyone, not solely the companies or people losing out directly. What we should adopt instead is something 21st century and tech-powered. Most important of all, we should adopt something that puts the candidate first.


John BuniJohn BuniAugust 19, 2019
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6min1662

The technology that now infuses our lives can do many things.

It can connect us by video with someone on the other side of the world, post our thoughts or pictures to thousands (or millions) of strangers, or teach us foreign languages. It can hail us a cab, book us a holiday, or order us a piece of clothing right to our front door. It has its shortcomings – and I’ve written extensively about these before – but on the whole it’s made our lives easier, and that’s a fact.

It’s no surprise that we delegate so much of our everyday existence to the unassuming devices in our pockets and bags. They are amazing, after all.

Articles like that which adorned the cover of Forbes magazine in 2007 now seem ridiculous. (“Nokia. One billion customers,” read the headline. “Can anyone catch the cell phone king?”) But there was a time, not long ago, that tech didn’t dominate our lives so comprehensively. And though not all of us predicted it would, there is a feeling now that there isn’t a problem tech can’t solve.

But tech can’t do everything – at least at the moment. And that’s a point that has (let’s be honest) somehow escaped the notice of some in the business world. Like a wave, tech has rolled over industries where a genuine relationship once existed in the Customer Experience and carried that human connection out to sea. In the short-term, the convenience or novelty might have made up for it for the consumer, and the increase in sales might have made up for it for the business. But now, people are realising they miss that human element in their experience.

They might need it for practical reasons – in customer service, for example – or simply want it because it makes the buying journey more personal and more enjoyable. It’s no coincidence that florists, beauticians, and hairdressers have come through the ‘retail apocalypse’ without a hair out of place – at least not their own, in the latter case. The human touch is actually built into the product.

PwC’s consumer intelligence survey, ‘Experience Is Everything, found that for 80 percent of American consumers, the most important aspects of a positive Customer Experience are speed, convenience, and friendly and knowledgeable service. Tech may take care of convenience and speed, but only people can supply great service.

Nearly 60 percent of consumers in the US feel companies have lost touch with the human side of CX, and 85 percent of consumers want more of it in the future. Outside of the US, the number (74 percent) is lower, but still points to a widespread desire for more humanity in business.

In the US, $75 billion in revenue is lost each year due to a poor Customer Experience, and between mid-2016 and early 2018, as tech played a greater and greater role in business, call centre volume went up by 39 percent – a trend that’s set to continue. The human touch in Customer Experience, even at the level of customer service, is becoming a key differentiator in the Digital Age.

Tech isn’t the problem. The problem is the belief that tech can or should replace people.

Technology like the cloud makes businesses faster, more dynamic and more flexible, which frees staff from more menial tasks so they can pay more attention to their customers, or think about how they can improve customer experience.

Technology can help businesses familiarise themselves with customers through recording names and purchase histories and recommending products. Tech doesn’t need to take the human touch out of customer experience. The opposite: it can make it better.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthAugust 13, 2019
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18min1910

A thought leader and visionary when it comes to bleeding-edge Customer Experience technology, Chris Connolly is an interesting man to know.

A man fortunate enough to be Vice President of Product Marketing at Genesys, his genial Aussie exterior belies a knowledge of exciting CX innovation that will make your head spin. That knowledge was among the fuel that fired this summer’s Xperience19 conference in Denver, Colorado, where the latest advancements in CX and call centre products were divulged and debated.

The hugely successful gathering was also where Chris (pictured left) spoke to Customer Experience Magazine about his role at the organisation which is changing how customers interact with brands forever, and as he explains, that’s an ongoing evolution – one that will never cease as long as creativity and the ability to identify and incorporate excellence remains a central tenet of Genesys, which is sponsoring the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards.

“I try and tell great stories about our amazing products,” is how Chris modestly describes his role, which involves keeping the company at the forefront of the technology curve as Customer Experience continues on its unstoppable rise to become the key differentiator for firms jostling to outshine others in a crowded commercial playing field.

It goes without saying that artificial intelligence (AI) plays a central role in keeping Genesys products, such as PureCloud, at this forefront, and Chris, currently based in Raleigh, North Carolina, tells us he believes that the time is right for innovation in company structures to match the growth in technological prowess.

This, as he explains, is all about establishing trust – and not just for customers.

“We have done research, and engaged in debates around the world which are focused on enterprises and how they perceive AI as affecting their customers, and their workforce,” he says.

“Through those debates, there’s a concept that’s becoming more popular in organisations – the role of Chief Trust Officer.

“They wouldn’t be in HR – they would be there to make sure data is clean; to make sure it’s not biased; and to make sure the bots are not taking the organisation down paths they don’t want to go. They could also look at human aspects, such was what happens if an employee is displaced by a piece of AI or automation, in which case they could have that trust officer on their side.”

As current AI tech has the ability to transcribe conversations in full and mine them for data to enable actions such as targeted advertising, there is, as Chris says, a concern over being able to trust the endpoint that you are talking to. 

“Some of the newer voice endpoints in your home, such as Amazon’s Alexa, or Google Home – they are listening to what you say, so do you trust Amazon to choose the brand of paper towels you put in your shopping basket?”

Speak up? Endpoints in your home, such as Amazon Echo, are listening to you

However, talk of trust and AI ethics can oftentimes overshadow the positives of the world of CX tech, and there is plenty of those to choose from.

Chris, as VP of Product Marketing, is all about that, and is excited to share details of the innovations Genesys has been working on for its wealth of global clients.

“One that comes to mind first is something we call predictive routing. There was a TV show in Australia in the 80s called Perfect Match, similar to Blind Date in the UK, which tries to pair a contestant with their ideal dating partner. Well  predictive routing is a little bit like that. What it does is look at everything we know about a customer when they call.

“So as that ringtone is ringing in your ear, we have a wealth of information about you – what you’ve done, what you’ve purchased previously, how many times have you called, how quickly you speak…that is all pulled up in real-time. Then we also know a ton of information about employees in the workforce – what training they have been on, who was the trainer that trained them, how many days off do they take a month, do they speak quickly, are they male – a ton of information!

“Predictive routing matches that customer and that employee together using machinery. And so, what I think people don’t realise is there is so much intelligence now that goes into who you speak to when you call an organisation or when you chat with them. It’s revolutionary in terms of what’s there.

Clever calling: Contact centre innovations include ‘matchmaking’ a customer to the ideal agent

“Added to that – and this is something people kind of know, but I don’t think they realise the ease in which organisations are able to do it – is understand your digital footprint on a mobile app or website.

“We can see in real-time genuinely every click that you make, where you are, what your screen is browsing. We can tell what you’re looking at with your eyeballs based on where the page is scrolling to.

“All of that information is being pulled in now to engage you better. Engage, in this sense, might be a piece of content, and that’s sort of traditional, but increasingly AI tech is being used to predict things like – should you speak to a human?Should you speak to a bot? What should the bot say? Should we rout you to another piece of content?

“The visibility and clarity surrounding your digital footprint when you turn up to someone’s dot com is amazing. I don’t think people realise that there are folks sitting in a building somewhere watching their web traffic in real-time.”

Tracked: Your digital footprint on a site can be observed in real-time

That might, of course, nudge us as wary customers back to the issue of trust, but Chris is what he describes as an “evangelist” on the idea of convenience trumping privacy for the vast majority of consumers. That’s not to say that extra protections shouldn’t be implemented to ensure responsible use of our data, hence his championing of Chief Trust Officers earlier in our conversation.

“This generation – in fact all generations almost – will happily yield their private info over if it makes things easier,” he says.

“And yes, it’s not for everyone and there will be hold-outs, but on the whole, they are giving it up. That said, this is where we need a bit of regulation, both from governments and from industry; self-regulating, for an organisation to be smart enough to know they have a responsibility not to abuse that power.”

Chris refers to the ongoing industry debate around data collection – how much “protection” does a firm like Genesys bake into their products, versus letting the buyer of the product choose it for themselves.

“We have to walk this fine line. So the steps we are taking include being very open and transparent about our AI  principals and ethics standards. We are publishing guidelines on what you should and shouldn’t do. We have debated that with industry analysts and lots of different customers, and have gravitated to a set of principles regarding transparency and responsibility.

“Another step is from a pure technology perspective: we are providing tools for anonymised data. So when data goes into our Genesys cloud, we strip it of anything sensitive and just put a number in place. Our clients still know who it represents, but we don’t, and that keeps us protected, and therefore customers protected from data breaches also.”

Thanks to his role at the coalface of creativity at Genesys, Chris is ideal to probe for tidbits of tech trickery – magic that will pilot our customer journeys as they wind ever-onwards to a future featuring myriad possibilities.

So what’s on the horizon? What’s the Genesys genius we can expect down the line, but “aren’t quite there yet” with?

“I feel like we’re so close to two things: one is what I’ll call interaction summarisation, and this is using sequence-to-sequence learning, or machine learning. This is when you provide a pattern and say ‘given this pattern, I want you to produce this pattern’. The inputs are words, so you give it text and say ‘here’s a sequence of words – I want you to reduce that to two sentences’.

“Where we are now is that we can do real-time streaming of audio into automated speech recognition and we can get the transcripts back in real-time – that’s achievable today.

“The next step is taking the conversation you are having with a bot, either by voice or by text, and summarising it to ‘this is what you’re actually talking to us about’. 

“What that then allows is for the employee to essentially do a ‘hands-off’ interaction. So the call might drop into their ear and they have a great conversation with the customer. Normally, at the end of that call they have to go ‘wrap’; they have to tag it – did you buy this or that? There’s follow-up notes to consider.

“Well with interaction summarisation, all that goes away.

“Now we have a conversation and the AI is listening to the call. It transcribes it, and the interaction summarisation says what’s going on and what’s needed as the follow-up. So the agent is basically hands-off, and that’s a very cool new way of working.

“Imagine not even needing screens, because it’s all done for you. So we are really close to that tech – that sequence-to-sequence learning or summarisation.”

The second innovation close to changing the face of customer contact forever, Chris states, is journey forecasting – tech that can replace the use of the Erlang C formula, which ‘predicts’ waiting times for callers.

“Where we are today is we have models being run to do forecasting, like workload demand forecasting, which can be applied to anything – such as how many street lamps are going to be broken in a particular city, or how many garbage bins will be intact after a storm.

“In the contact centre, it can be used to predict, for instance, how many agents you’ll need tomorrow. That’s current state, but we are on the cusp of journey forecasting, which goes beyond that one interaction. 

“Let’s look at the example of an expecting mother. In that pregnancy journey there are lots of milestones that happen – for instance, calling about health insurance. It’s not one interaction with the healthcare provider – it could be 10 over the nine months. We have the math now to forecast journeys and every business process along the way. We will also be able to forecast the impacts and the resource demand. That is so close, like within a 12 to 24 month window.

“The problem with manually mapping customer journeys is that no matter what you invent, a customer is going to do something different. So what’s happening is we can apply machine learning to do pattern recognition. It will actually have more of a profound effect on the workforce than the customer.”

With passion for his products on full display, Chris is a true advocate for the advancement of Customer – and Employee – Experience, and brands can feel safe in the knowledge that the quest for improvement with Genesys will never come to an end, no matter how many technological milestones are reached.

 

 


Edd WellerEdd WellerAugust 12, 2019
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9min975

The age-old argument tells us that retaining existing customers is cheaper, and more strategically sound, than acquiring new ones.

Retention strategies, however, are often a huge challenge for marketers, who find it easier to throw money at quick wins upon failing to crack the retention code.

Loyalty programmes show a brand’s investment in their customers through forming, sustaining, and rewarding brand loyalists. The power to influence preferred behaviours, gain deeper insight into consumers’ daily lives and remain front of mind during purchasing decisions is a major asset to brands.

Recent research revealed that 66 percent of consumers are more interested in experiences than price. So, in an increasingly fragmented market, the question is how can brands go about building their loyalty programmes?

Think of the times colleagues have sent an email around the office asking for an O2 priority code; it isn’t just the discount they’re after, but early or exclusive access to a particular event. Similarly, how many times has someone you know boasted about the number of air miles they’ve accumulated by spending on Amex? Loyalty programmes must now provide a wide range of access, benefits and privileges to keep customers engaged.

A great loyalty programme pulls data, audience insights, relevant partners, brand objectives, and creativity into an easy mechanic to use and understand. If you’ve hit this magic mix right, then signing new partner benefits and fuelling customer growth will be straightforward and crucially the programme will be both interesting and engaging.

Audience and relevance

Nowadays, a common bugbear is with banks and the relevance of their partner programme merchants that consumers are encouraged to use. Often these merchants are situated nowhere near where the banks know their customers live or shop, so taking advantage of these benefits immediately becomes impossible – and more importantly they tend to be somewhere the consumers in question don’t spend. Considering they have all the relevant data, what’s their excuse for not using it to construct an offering that is actually rewarding?

Knowing your audience to this degree may be reserved for the telcos and banks (if they look at the data) but there are some very basic demographic metrics any partnership manager should be comparing in the initial meeting point. This will help to establish what the target behaviour (and therefore offer) should be.

The smaller your audience, the more difficult it becomes to secure partners. As an initial step, really understanding your demographic and what triggers them to redeem, purchase or attend will help sign the right partner.

Quantity vs quality

The quality of the offers should be your first priority.

Even great partners with non-exclusive or generic offers divert audience because they’re better or more easily available elsewhere.

Try and keep to the right partner in the sector, if you’re a youth-oriented brand, Boohoo rather than John Lewis. DriveNow for a London audience vs Enterprise for the traveller; think about context or why they’ll want to use these partners when shaping the offer.

It’s also important to keep in mind that getting a quality offer from a partner brand takes negotiation, the best in the business will establish hard metrics for you to meet before unlocking the best bits. British Airways, for example, will need a spend metric hit from your audience before offering lounge access etc.

Without adhering to this, your programme becomes more Wowcher than Wow.

Mechanics

Over the last few years we’ve seen two big travel brands go opposite ways in loyalty. BA increased its premium offering, with a programme weighted to really reward the top spenders and crucially make it harder to reach that status. Hilton, on the other hand, has gone after the lesser value customer with as little as one stay before people can receive offers.

Making choices like these depends largely on where you want to position your brand. For Hilton this is repeat customer acquisition at large, but for BA its recognition and reward. Either way it is key that the mechanic matches your objectives.

When it comes to promotions has your brand asked the tough questions? Do you need points, or is that handing out liability unnecessarily? A prize draw isn’t actually rewarding anyone other than those that win – is that loyalty? If you’re driving spend to another brand, is that hurting your share of wallet?

Boosting loyalty programs through brand partnerships

At Ingenuity, we believe partnerships are one of the key ways to make a loyalty programme work. Consumers are more likely to care about your brand if it’s offering them something they want right now; easy if you sell vodka, not so much if you’re British Gas. If consumers use direct debit for your brand, they’re unlikely to think about it as often. So how can brands keep them engaged with a loyalty programme? By introducing them to things they would otherwise have no access to or helping them save money on things they’d be likely to interact with in the first place.

Clever mechanics, such as Netflix being paid by customers’ Amex points may add up to little ‘engagement’, but they do show up on bank statements every month, showcasing great loyalty benefit. Even better when consumers can use the rest to pay their Amazon purchase of laundry powder.

These integrations take much more work and this more broadly is the point. You have to invest in the programme and the partnership. You have to manage it, communicate it internally, and externally engage your customer service team as well as your partners’, and crucially deliver the media behind it that it deserves to ensure people actually know what they can get, with you!


Jonathan SharpJonathan SharpAugust 12, 2019
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10min988

Technology is constantly delivering new methods of communication to the workplace in abundance.

There are so many different communication channels available, we often question which one is best to use and what for.  Sometimes, issues occur when we don’t question, and then use the inappropriate tools to communicate something. This can lead to misinterpretation, people may get offended or misconstrue what’s been said, or left feeling they haven’t received sufficient information.

We can all feel like we are drowning in digital communications and are consumed by the 24/7 digital noise. The norm is to respond to everything the instant we receive it and to check all social media updates and sink with FOMO if we weren’t invited to a party or even a meeting!

The objective of technology is make us more effective and productive and not hinder us. It is time to stop manic multi-tasking and thinking that everything has to be now and instant – take a step back, breath, focus, and learn to how to manage your digital communications so you become empowered by technology and not enslaved by it.

Phone: the Power of Voice

By speaking on the phone we can develop a personal connection with a person, understand their tone of voice, and talk in more depth therefore strengthening the connection. There is less margin for error or misinterpretation, and of course the advantage is also there are more opportunities for conversations on a personal level and for humour. Another benefit is trust and authenticity can be built more quickly in comparison to an email or text.

When to use it:

  • To resolve something urgently that is complex. It is often easier to get results face to over the phone as you can talk around the issues
  • When you are chasing someone – if a client or employee has been ignoring your emails and messages then pick up the phone and talk to them about it. It will be much quicker
  • There are times when you must deliver bad news or discuss something personal and empathy is required. This can only be achieved in a face to face meeting or on a phone call
  • A catch up – you have a business issue to chat through and also it’s been a while since you spoke to the person so you want to catch up with them

Email or ‘snail mail’

Email is still very much the most used communications tool in business. The issue is that you end up with a full inbox and people still copy you in on irrelevant emails. We send roughly 281.1 billion emails a day, a figure that is estimated to increase to 333.2 billion by 2022, according to Statista.

Therefore, we would expect that emails often get ignored, deleted, or end up in the junk box. Emails are not the most effective way to communicate and it is much easier to use other tools such as picking up the phone.

When to use it:

  • Sitting at your desk or on move from smartphones or tablets
  • To document conversations and activities
  • To send files

Video and audio conference calls

These tools are great when you want to speak with a group of people in another location without having to travel. With video you can read people’s body language and easily gage reactions to what you are saying.

When to use it:

  • For a team meeting to discuss a project or proposal
  • If there is an issue you can have a collective discussion
  • To screen share a document and go through it together

Instant Messaging

Conferencing and collaboration solutions contain instant messaging tools and you can see your colleagues’ presence, when they are available and when they aren’t. However, people expect an instant response and tend to ignore the ‘busy’ and ‘do not disturb’ signs.

When to use it:

  • When you need an instant answer to a question
  • You may need to talk to someone and ask them to call you when you are free. Instant messages are more intrusive than emails and are harder to ignore

Social media

Companies may use Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter etc to communicate to customers or other stakeholders.

When to use it:

  • To share photos or information
  • To ask questions and generate a multitude of answers
  • To answer customer complaints
  • For customer reviews

Bringing it All Together

The key is to know how and when to use the different communication tools available. Therefore using them at different times and when appropriate to improve efficiencies and productivity.

Downtime

Knowing when to switch off is vital, so if you need to focus on a piece of work or need some downtime, and don’t want to be disturbed then you could set your ‘Do Not Disturb’ or turn it all off.

Be guided by the experts

A Solutions Provider in communication solutions will advise and guide you on what communications technology you need for your business and its objectives. They will assist you with setting guidelines on how and when to use the tools, setting ‘etiquette’ rules and ‘duty of care’ policies on how to minimise interruptions utilising them to their potential.

Empower and set yourself free

Set yourself free from drowning in digital noise and instant gratification, and manage your portfolio of communication tools to empower you and not enslave you.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthAugust 12, 2019
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19min1238
Gethin Nadin is a world-renowned Employee Experience expert, who has lent his knowledge to the judging panels of events including the UK Employee Experience Awards.
 
A psychology graduate, Gethin understands the thought process behind what brands need to ensure effective employee engagement, and his new book, A World of GoodLessons from Around the World in Improving the Employee Experienceis teaching organisations the steps required to make any workplace a happier place to be.
 
Fellow EX visionary, author, and Employee Experience Masterclass leader, Ben Whitter, has offered his seal of approval to Gethin’s book, describing it as “a great read and a great message to the world”.
 
Gethin, who is Director of Employee Wellbeing at Benefex, spoke with Customer Experience Magazine to discuss A World of Good, his inspirations, and why Employee Experience continues to be of vital importance for business.

Hi Gethin, tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background

After graduating with a psychology degree, I worked in television for a few years for the BBC, Channel 4, and a stint in local radio (even racking up some production credits on IMDB). Struggling to get work in the media, I got a job working in pensions at Legal and General. Five years later I was managing the key accounts team and had developed some strong pensions knowledge as well as CII and ILM qualifications.

After leaving L&G, I moved to Barclays, where I started working in employee benefits technology for clients like GSK, Coca Cola, and British American Tobacco. Fast forward a few years later and I set up the employee benefits department for (at the time) one of Europe’s largest insurance brokers.

I then moved to Benefex, where I have been for eight years as part of the senior management team. My time at Benefex is when my interest in Employee Experience really took off. As well as working closely with organisations like EY and PwC, I started writing and speaking publicly to share my growing knowledge of ways to improve EX.

Benefex has given me the opportunity to help some of the worlds biggest brands to develop their employee engagement, experience, and wellbeing strategies. It’s also give my own best Employee Experience to date.

What led you towards the world of Employee Experience? Did your own previous experiences influence you positively or negatively?

For years I was passionate about improving engagement at work and was lucky enough to help great employers do amazing things to get their people more engaged. But while all of this was going on, there was a growing trend for employers to take a different view of engagement – that it was a psychological product of how we designed employees’ experiences.

In the same way organisations had focussed on how great Customer Experience led to better sales and loyalty, the most progressive ones had now realised that a carefully designed Employee Experience was the best way to boost employee engagement. At the time, Jacob Morgan’s book, The Employee Experience Advantage, really opened my eyes to how the most experimental organisations were achieving this.

When I started to think about my own experiences, I started to realise that historically, when I had been disengaged at work, it was as a result of lots of things – difficult commutes, poor technology, uncomfortable offices, lack of autonomy, etc. I’ve had some of the best and worst experiences that both had an impact on my wellbeing. I wanted to make sure that I could help as many employees as possible have a great experience at work and this started by writing my thoughts down in a book.

Tell us about the book and your inspirations/influences in writing it.

Aside from my own experiences, I became really taken with the idea that employment in general has a significant effect on humans. Work has become a big part of our lives and rightly or wrongly, plays a part in how we identify ourselves and how we define success. The lines between home and work life rarely exist anymore, which means the way we feel about our experiences at work have a big effect on how we feel about our lives.

The more I read, researched and wrote about people’s experiences at work, the more I found the growing body of evidence for how treating employees well leads to business growth. I also found that the more time I spent with employers, the more I realised that lots of this knowledge wasn’t well known.

In 2017, many employers were still treating employees unfairly. However, what did start to happen at that time was that the media was paying close attention. As whistle-blowers started to expose poor employment practices, we saw well known brands dragged through the mud.

This started to have a big impact on consumer behaviour for those brands and so suddenly, lots of organisations really started to see that they had to treat employees better if they were going to deliver the kind of Customer Experience they needed to. At the time though, the big issue seemed to be that many organisations didn’t know how to improve the Employee Experience. Most organisations couldn’t afford to be as experimental as the likes of Google, so I saw an opportunity to help these employers improve the experience easily and with little investment.

As I started writing the book, I realised that so many of the new and progressive EX practices companies were using were actually really old. In some countries, they were hundreds of years old!

That’s when the format came to me – I could use lessons from different countries and cultures all over the world as a way of telling a story I could then back up with academic research. Where possible, these would be stories that could help organisations take a different view of their employees’ experiences and the impact old ways of thinking were having.

Since its publication, the book has hit the Amazon HR bestseller list and won an award. But the most rewarding achievements come from the messages I receive from the people managers who tell me they’ve changed their EX after reading the book. In some cases, decades old HR policies have been binned in favour of ones that improve the lives of their employees. I never expected that would happen!

Employee Experience is now a deciding factor for job seekers. Can you tell us where many firms are going wrong when it comes to attracting and retaining talent?

One of the most popular reasons employees give for leaving a new job is that the experience didn’t match up with the expectation. Many employers spend huge amounts of effort developing an employer brand and an employee value proposition, but if the reality is that their employees are struggling at work, it becomes wasted effort.

We live in a world where your employment practices can be publicly discussed. Organisations can now analyse your employer brand to see how ex-employees talk about you online. Employees can also rate and review their employers.

We have never had transparency like this before!

Add that to low unemployment and a shortage of talent and suddenly, the job is the product and the employee is the consumer. The employee now has the choice and ease to decide who they want to work with. This means employers have never had to work harder to recruit and retain employees. 

Where lots of organisations are now going wrong is that they aren’t thinking about how their experiences are being designed. Your EX shouldn’t be something that just happens; it should be something you have carefully designed.

This begins with empathising with your employees. Take something like changing jobs: when an employee has signed a contract with you and quit their old job, they are an engaged employee in their prime. They are excited, but they are also nervous. Changing jobs is stressful and ridden with anxiety, yet many organisations don’t empathise with these feelings.

We make potential employees wait weeks to hear from us after an interview and then after we’ve signed their contract, we don’t speak to them again until their first day. Then we give them lots of paperwork to do and so rather than a fun, exciting first day, it’s usually full of admin that could have been done weeks before.

World view: Gethin Nadin, author of A World of Good: Lessons from Around the World in Improving the Employee Experience

On a more positive note, what are your experiences of interacting with organisations that are getting Employee Experience right?

Its probably the question I get asked most: “Who is doing Employee Experience well?”, but it’s not the question employers should be asking.

We are obsessed with wanting to know what other companies are doing in a desire to do it better than them. When it comes to EX, every employee has different wants and needs and what employers should be concentrating on is developing the best experience they can for them. A unique experience that you can deliver will be your USP. A potential employees’ best experience to date will be their benchmark, so you should be focussed on making an experience that is better than that, rather than a competitor. Every company is unique, so the kind of experience you can offer should be too.

Where I see organisations with great employee experiences, there is trust. I believe its at the heart of any great experience at work. When real trust exists, employers can get the employees to design their own experiences. When we trust employees to make the right decisions, great things happen.

Employee Experience naturally leads to better Customer Experience. Can you tell explain why this is the case to any organisations that might not yet realise this?

When I come across organisations that are doing the experience right, I can really feel it. I notice this more as a consumer than I do as someone working in the industry. We can’t expect employees to deliver the best CX unless they are cared for and treated well themselves. You can follow a great Customer Experience backwards and find a great Employee Experience. The best CX will always start with Employee Experience!

There are some really good examples of where great EX has enabled employees to do great things for customers. A UK bank gives employees a discretionary budget each to empower them to make their customers’ day great. I’ve seen them buy pizza for a hungry customer visiting the bank on their lunch break, and deliver flowers to a customer that was having a difficult day. As humans, we love to do things for other people and when we make others happy, it makes us happy.

We are also seeing how some major brands are now using their EX to market themselves. When John Lewis re-branded as ‘John Lewis and Partners’, it was to reflect the key role their staff play in the company’s success. An expensive advert campaign declared ‘When you’re part of it, you put your heart into it’. Brands now know that the way they treat their staff will play a part in whether you want to buy their products or services. When organisations have struggled to realise that, they’ve felt the damage. We’ve seen this with Uber, Amazon, and Sports Direct.

As I write in the preface of the book – more than ever, a company’s front line affects their bottom line. Improving the lives of employees should be a priority for every employer. Nowhere is this more important than with those who deal directly with your customers.

 


Cameron SmithCameron SmithAugust 9, 2019
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8min1824

At its best, science fiction taps into our contemporary anxieties to predict the fate of humanity.

An episode of Doctor Who, for example, featured robotised mega-corporations, human irrelevance, and despair. The Doctor may be sci-fi fantasy, but the issues are real.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is reshaping many sectors – for both good and ill. Gartner predicted that artificial intelligence would generate $1.2 trillion in business value in 2018 – an increase of 70 percent from 2017. But on the negative side, it creates much anxiety about the elimination of jobs, and prolonged focus on the cost and job-cutting aspects of AI has overshadowed how the technology can help human employees.

The CX example: how tools can hinder trade

In the customer service sector the rise in AI, decision-support, automation, and chatbots has exploded across the industry, driving multi-channel customer experience (CX). But adoption of these technologies for employee engagement has been slow. Contact centres have some of the highest employee turnover rates in the world, and there’s been troubling analysis suggesting new technology is inhibiting employee performance, engagement, and satisfaction.

Gartner analysis reveals service representatives use the mindboggling average of 8.2 different systems and tools during a customer interaction. Small wonder, then, that talk-time is up nearly 14 percent while call volume has remained the same.

We have amazing systems driving less-than-amazing experiences for the people charged with using them. A primary source of the problem stems from something obvious. We’re measuring the wrong things.

Just exactly what should we measure?

In our rush to capitalise on AI technologies, we’re failing to evaluate the way they ultimately integrate into human workflows. In the customer service sector, technology is better at handling many discrete tasks but does not replace human representatives.

It’s becoming standard practice, for example, for companies to host automated, largely self-service interaction options for customers that are always available. Digital account portals supply constant access and handy personalisation capabilities, while well-designed chatbots and virtual assistants are excellent at taking orders, payment processing, status checks, or informational queries.

But for more complex requests that require human nuance and context, technology-enhanced services can complicate the situation. When dealing with the customer, human agents are at a loss without access to what transpired during those digital interactions. And even when human agents can access those systems, they shouldn’t be flipping back and forth between applications and databases while attempting to deliver proper support to a customer.

This problem is perfect for AI solutions. Analytics engines that deliver historical and/or relevant customer information to support agents automatically and in real time can speed rather than delay productive conversation. Natural Language Processing (NLP) systems recognise spoken keywords and supply agents with useful prompts or notes, sparing them from app fatigue and task-switching. Virtualised on-demand training systems can keep them stimulated and engaged.

This employee-centric AI deserves more study and development. Systems that aren’t generating a positive Employee Experience will negatively affect the Customer Experience they deliver. Exploring ways AI can better serve employees is the solution. And measuring how employees view these tools should be the first metric for success, not an afterthought.

Collaborate to work out what best to measure

Applying AI to better serve the employee is crucial, but should be measured and managed with caution, given the enormous amount of data available.

One of the greatest struggles from an AI development perspective is determining how often a system should prompt the employee and whether there should be a trigger. Can such a mechanism be ranked? Do we allow the employee to turn off certain notifications because they’re annoying?

There’s a risk of overdoing AI assistance for Employee Experience. It could get very frustrating, very quickly. The only way to arrive at balanced employee-centric AI application is through collaboration. The people using the technology should have representation at the development table, which is also an excellent way to increase job satisfaction.

The future will require us to adapt what we measure

As AI technology becomes integrated into the enterprise, we must adapt how we gauge human performance. In CX management, technological innovation dictates that businesses restructure how they view customer contacts and the human staff who perform those jobs.

Contact centre positions will no longer be entry-level or outsourceable roles. With automation handling all the basic contact tasks, human customer service becomes a more specialised profession. Savvy and emotionally intelligent customer service employees with thorough understanding of a business and its technology will be a necessity. They’ll be managing only the most important, complex, or delicate customer concerns.

Today’s metrics, such as talk-time or calls-per-hour, provide little quantification under such circumstances – but the quality of this work will largely determine a company’s reputation among human beings.

And that’s not science fiction!


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10min4893

Explaining to a child how to cross the street in front of their school without being hit by a car only takes a few repetitions and their knowledge can then be generalised to most roads and vehicles.

It would instead require huge quantities of images for an AI to learn the same and it would make mistakes as soon as confronted with situations which are slightly different from what it had seen in his training data set.

The current breed of artificial intelligence – in its most advanced version – is built upon a metaphor of the human brain as a computer made of interwoven neurons. Through a ‘training’ process, the system can ‘learn’ to ‘recognise’ identical patterns without being programmed by a human and then apply this ‘knowledge’ to real world situations, more and more with a better accuracy than humans themselves.

The limit of this metaphor is that it takes a huge quantity of data to obtain this type of result and those hard-learned skills are confined to the very domain where the AI was trained.

The abstraction and generalisation capabilities of humans are still a mystery to AI researchers, but an element that may guide them in their quest is the emotional nature of human beings. We memorise much better when feeling strong emotions than in ‘boring’ situations. Children’s ability to quickly learn how to properly cross the street is certainly related to their feeling of danger and somehow fear of what could happen if they made the wrong decision.

A machine obviously doesn’t feel – we’ll leave to the sci-fi fans the debate of whether consciousness could emerge as a property of complex systems such as neural networks. AI is high on IQ and low on EQ some might say. But progress in mimicking the functioning of the human brain could require an acknowledgement and a modelling of the emotional nature of homo sapiens.

Current AI algorithms are not yet able to learn from less data and improve their abstraction and generalisation capabilities using emotions. But they are improving at recognising them within humans, exploring correlations between symbolic representations of emotions and human expressions, whatever their format.

Progress being made

Some research has already be done on the range of human emotions, thanks to the EU-Emotion Stimulus Set, and people like Houwei Cao, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at New York Institute of Technology, who is busy working on algorithms that can read emotions.

Initial efforts were called ‘sentiment analysis’, trying to guess an individual’s state of mind based on what they write or say. This has now taken a larger perspective by adding language patterns, voice tone, facial movements, sentence structures, and eye motions into the mix.

For instance, a mouth shaped in a particular way, plus voice with a specific pitch compared to its baseline, plus use of words tagged as being positive, equals happiness. Of course, to the average philosopher, that is a rather partial and limitative definition of happiness. But it only needs to be operational in the specific context where it is used.

Emotional AI applied to customer engagement

Indeed, those efforts are improving AI’s relevance to the business world and the fields of application are numerous.

Whether it’s customer engagement or support, a hiring process, or addressing disputes, emotional AI can play an important and useful role for humans. Employees can base their interactions on its insights, adapt their response to emotional changes in the customer and have a more effective communication with the person on the other side of the line or table.

For instance, the stakes are high for the call centre industry: born out of financial necessity so businesses can afford to serve and support large customer bases, it often turns out to be a source of frustration for users despite well-scripted conversation scenarios followed by the responding agent. When there’s pressure, good manners and empathy can be forgotten. Emotional AI can act as a reminder to employees, so it doesn’t happen.

It is also true of the sales forces whose likelihood to convert a prospect into a customer is directly linked to their ability to empathise with the individual(s) they want to strike a deal with. Indeed, approaching another human with an offering that is rational (adapted to its needs and budget for instance) but presented without taking into account their current state of mind is at best a waste of time and at worst a loss opportunity.

Emotional AI can help a business stand-out from its competitors for the quality of its customer engagement. But what will be the acceptance of emotion-driven algorithms by humans?

There will be challenges

In the age of GDPR and stringent privacy rules, considerations about voice, face, and writing being processed by emotional AI algorithms is something that businesses will need to explain to customers, since there is a very thin line between individual mood monitoring and intrusive Orwellian surveillance.

Will a customer value consideration for his or her feelings or mood by a computer as much as genuine empathy expressed by another human-being? If after asking how I am doing – something most people won’t need an AI to remind them to ask – the next question about my latest holiday is in fact an AI-scripted line, the whole introduction might sound a bit phony.

Eventually, could overly relying on AI to read other individuals state of mind turn us all into sociopaths unable to properly relate to other humans, like GPS has slowly but surely decreased our ability to use a map to navigate in the real world?

However, those questions might be irrelevant in the not-so-distant future. With the growing sophistication of virtual personal assistants – think Alexa, Siri or Google Home – we may soon delegate our buying decisions to those machines. This would imply that vendors’ own AI systems now have to pitch our AI agents instead of ourselves. And the billions spent annually by marketing departments on branding and ads designed to appeal to our emotions would fall flat.


Dan EnnorDan EnnorAugust 9, 2019
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7min799

The delivery process plays a vital role in the overall Customer Experience journey.

Get it wrong, and you risk damaging your reputation with customers, losing out on repeat purchasers. Delayed deliveries, inadequate communication, and unexpected tariffs all have an impact on how the brand is perceived by that customer.

Research from the UK’s online retail association, IMRG found that more than half of consumers have abandoned an online purchase at checkout because of delivery related reasons. Which further intensifies the need for ecommerce businesses to evaluate their delivery strategy and ensure that what they’re offering customers is convenient and seamless.

Do customers really expect fast and free?

When people talk about ecommerce delivery, one of the internet’s originators, Amazon, is never far from anyone’s lips. And understandably so; there’s no doubting that its reputation as a retail giant is largely down to being able to deliver a multitude of products quickly.

With that reputation comes an inordinate amount of pressure on retailers to offer ‘fast and free’ delivery in order to compete. But that’s not really the case. Delivery choice and convenience trumps speed, but more importantly, it underpins a successful delivery experience.

While next-day delivery is great for an urgent purchase, it may not be practical or financially prudent for every retailer to offer this. As a brand, you don’t want to offer customers an experience that you can’t deliver on. In fact, 41 percent of consumers told IMRG that they abandoned a purchase due to a lack of convenient delivery options in the last year, confirming that breadth of choice is just as important as speed.

Where’s my parcel?

Managing expectations is a huge part of ensuring seamless CX. This is especially true when it comes to the delivery journey and giving customers transparency of where their parcel is through online parcel tracking and regular notifications. More than 60 percent of respondents in the IMRG survey listed access to all aspects of online order tracking as their top priority for making deliveries more convenient, such as failed delivery, dispatch date, tracking details, and progress of the order, to name a few.

Receiving regular notifications along the delivery journey is equally important – in particular when it’s not good news, such as when the delivery is going to be late or it’s failed because nobody was home when a delivery attempt was made.

For brands that want to offer an exceptional Customer Experience at all moments of the shopping journey, communication from checkout to doorstep has to be made a priority for managing customer expectations and reducing ‘failed deliveries’. 

Don’t forget about returns

We know that delivery capability is a huge motivator for customers to choose to purchase from a particular brand. However, many retailers tend to focus so much on delivery that they neglect the returns process, and ultimately lose out on repeat purchasers. The same diligence applied to delivery through multiple carriers, communication, and convenience has to be replicated across the returns process, ensuring returns are seamless and convenient for all customers. Consumer expectations on retailers is quite high at the moment, thanks to an uncertain high street environment, so to lose a customer at the very end of their journey seems a waste of the hard work established at the beginning.

Improving customer satisfaction through delivery

Mamas & Papas is a prime example of a brand that put their customers first and used an end-to-end delivery strategy to improve the Customer Experience. Working with Global Freight Solutions, Mamas & Papas were able to personalise delivery options for each customer, presenting the most efficient and cost-effective range of delivery options that are available based on the customer’s own order composition and address. Mamas & Papas were also able to manage multiple carrier relationships and easily troubleshoot the delivery structure, in the event that one of their carriers experienced issues that would impact levels of service. As a result, Mamas & Papas saw a 10 per cent increase in customer satisfaction.

Delivery (and returns) are not just hygiene factors. The choice a retailer makes, ultimately has an impact on the customer’s final purchase decision and whether they return as a loyal customer. A thorough delivery strategy that factors in convenience, speed and open communication can impact the purchase decisions. Not only that, but it can be a differentiator, whereby a good delivery experience encourages customers to come back and buy again, just as a bad delivery experience can push them to buy elsewhere.


Becky LynnBecky LynnAugust 7, 2019
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5min1045

There are many common customer service metrics in place in contact centres: CSAT, NPS, FRT, CES, AHT, FCR, the list goes on.

Some are more valid than others and some are simply outdated and add confusion and conflict to both the organisation and customer. When measuring customer service, it’s important to firstly be clear as to what you are scoring against.

The front-line agent? The organisational growth? The customer journey?

Different measures all suit different purposes.

When we look at the front line, the first thing organisations need to do (if not already done) is remove AHT (Average Handle Time). 

This antiquated stat only serves to pressure the agent into a quick wrap-up and offers nothing to the customer in return except reducing the quality of service. Whilst it may be important to measure AHT as a business to understand trends and consumer behaviour, this should never be used as a KPI at the front line.

NPS (Net Promoter Score) is the most commonly used measure for organisations when tracking their customer service standing. But again, is this really a fair way to verify front-line performance when so many other factors contribute to the decision the customer makes?

The initial reason for their interaction, the organisation processes and tech, the level of empowerment the agent has to enable them to assist – an agent cannot be rated on NPS alone!

So what can you use to measure your agents’ performance? At Top Companies for Customer Service we use five key criteria to evaluate the Customer Experience, all of which can be used at both front line and an organisational level.

These are: Timeliness, Ease of Use, Reliability, Staff Knowledge, and most important of all, Personalisation.

These pillars of excellence are adopted from customer expectation research carried out by our partner Ipsos Mori, and encompass many elements of other classic metrics. The difference is that all our findings are gathered from a customer perspective and provide the measure of a journey from start to finish. For example, we do not measure AHT, but instead ask if the length of time of the interaction was reasonable based on the specific experience had.

Our research shows the key Drivers of Customer Dissatisfaction are a mix of both soft skills and basic hygiene factors, including: Agent Knowledge, Understanding and Caring Attitude, and Ease of Access. Whereas the Drivers of Satisfaction – Effort, Loyalty, and Advocacy – are predominately enhanced by strong personal skills.

Our findings reveal the measure that should be top of contact centre KPIs is FCR (First Contact Resolution).

When you have trained, coached, and empowered your agents to enable them to confidently, calmly, and swiftly respond and resolve the customer enquiry without barriers and technical issues holding them back, you will see FCR increase and in turn Customer Satisfaction, Effort, Loyalty, and Advocacy stats will advance in the right direction.




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