Grant CaleyGrant CaleyDecember 4, 2019
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9min1849

What’s really driving the change in how we shop?

As we dive head-first into the holiday season, we can expect to see a familiar set of stories about the changing face of the retail industry. Headlines will no doubt focus on consumers’ increasing reliance on online shopping and how it is compounding the tight margins and challenging trade environment that retailers with physical locations must battle. This is, in fact, a disruption which has been taking place since the dot-com bubble – and nearly as long as the term ‘disruption’ has been in popular business parlance.

A more recent consequence of this disruption has been the emergence of omnichannel retail, in which the Customer Experience online and in-store is brought together and purchasing journeys can move seamlessly between online store-fronts, social media, targeted advertising, mobile apps, and physical retail locations.

As a way of converting a greater portion of product interest into product sales, omnichannel has emerged as a key defensive measure against tightening margins and falling footfall. One Harvard Business Review study found that omnichannel shoppers spend four percent more during each store visit and 10 percent more online than shoppers who only use one or the other channel.

Even more bullish analysis from the ICSC found that operating across multiple channels leads to an average follow-on spend of $167 online for every $100 spent in-store.

The business upsides of an omnichannel strategy, like the business pressures driving its adoption, are well known and broadly accepted. Much less, however, has been said about the technological change which lies beneath this evolution. Traditional retailers are increasingly moving essential IT infrastructure to the cloud, tempted first of all by the lure of being able to scale costs with demand and in line with often fluctuating revenues.

Combining these reduced overheads with increased revenue, however, means not just replacing traditional IT infrastructure with public cloud solutions on a like-for-like basis, but taking the opportunity to optimise the huge data sets that retail generates. Unifying duplicated data, rationalising database structures, and opening lines of communication between silos of information means that the product on a shop floor, the product’s page on an ecommerce site, and the product photo displayed in an online advert can all, from the perspective of the business’s IT systems, be understood as the same item.

While this transformation in how data is managed – together with a boost in available processing power – is bringing different retail channels into alignment, it also establishes the foundations upon which emerging technologies can be implemented.

If Step One for a retail business is converging its data, and Step Two is using that data to converge its physical and digital channels, retailers are increasingly discovering the benefits of a Step Three in which it is made more valuable with AI. As cloud computing becomes prevalent, we will see the addition of AI bring unexpected benefits to how personalised shopping can be, how environmentally friendly it can be, what kinds of experience it can give – and a retail sector which can disrupt even as it is being disrupted.

To take personalisation as an example: this is already a familiar experience for all of us from shopping online. In its simplest form, retailers promoting items on the basis of ‘customers also shopped for’ find significant potential for upselling, as an online shopping basket gives so much more detail about what a customer needs than where they are in a store does.

Data sourced from the context of physical retail stores can also be collected, analysed, and applied in ways which are analogous to this. From how many customers visit a location, to the route they take through the shop, to how they interact with different product lines, there is a rich source of information in traditional retail which is only now – thanks to AI-based analysis – becoming available.

This unstructured, organic information is fundamentally more difficult to make use of than the natively digital information of online shopping baskets and website interaction. As retailers on-board these capabilities, information on how factors from outside the business affect shopping behaviours also becomes available.

Weather or sporting events, for example, or broad cultural trends which pertain to specific segments of the buying audience, or cultural factors which are specific to a store’s location all change what people buy and when. Businesses which have invested in the technology needed for omnichannel retail find themselves in a position to collect this data and go beyond the personalisation which is prevalent in online shopping. Rather than focusing on correlation – ‘people who buy x also buy y’ – AI-powered analytics is opening up the potential for causation-based shopping predictions – ‘people buy y because of x’.

Looking beyond the immediate task of upselling, it’s easy to see other ways in which this level of insight might be applied. Anticipating when someone will need a product and shipping it to them just in time, connecting people with locally-stocked or manufactured products to minimise transport carbon emissions, and offering specific product configurations on an individual basis are just a few examples.

People with an interest in retail marketing or disruptive technology, or both, will be aware that the retail industry has for some time been engaging in consumer-facing demonstrations of this kind of technology – such as Westfield’s AI-powered Trending Store.

Beneath such one-offs, however, there is something more fundamental happening: as retail businesses upgrade their ability to gather, analyse, and apply data, traditional shopping as a whole will begin to behave more like its online counterpart in how it responds to the customer. We might therefore look at retail’s emerging data-driven potential also as its post-disruption reality – and other industries might want to look to retail to see what’s in their own future. How will access to rich contextual insights into a person’s needs and requirements affect sectors like finance, healthcare, or transport?

Well, retail has been in the thick of disruption for longer than anything else; that should be where we look to find the next steps.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthNovember 29, 2019
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17min2448

2019 has proven to be a successful year indeed for the conversational AI experts at ContactEngine, which is leading the vanguard in changing the fundamentals of how 21st-century customers interact with brands.

It’s been a year in which their trophy shelf found itself a little squeezed and in need of an extension, with added honours including a Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 title, and a UK Customer Experience Award, collected at Wembley Stadium in October and presented for the firm’s successful partnership with BT Enterprise.

The Gold category win for Best Use of Technology is testament to ContactEngine’s position at the cutting edge of what is the most exciting – and often most misunderstood – tech affecting the modern Customer Experience: artificial intelligence.

Their sophisticated algorithms offer intelligent omnichannel customer conversations, and the firm’s founder, Dr Mark K. Smith, is a man whose passion for excellence is evident as he explains what his company stands for, and where the advanced computing involved behind the scenes can lead for both businesses and customers.

AI evangelist: ContactEngine’s Dr Mark Smith

Speaking with CXM, Dr Smith described his firm’s work with BT as an example of what ContactEngine does for an organisation with a duty to communicate with countless customers through various channels.

“We start conversations and invite a response from our client’s customer,” Dr Smith explains.

“With BT, it was specifically to improve a process by better communication; by trying to reduce the amount of cancellations that would have occurred had there been no communication. It was to reduce the amount of calls someone would make to a call centre due to a lack of communication. Our goal is to increase the engagement rate and then ultimately to see if we can make customers happy as consequence of that.

“To put it simply, we start conversations – all automated – and invite responses. From there, we carry on the conversations using our own NLU (Natural Language Understanding) and a machine learning algorithm we call ALAN (Advanced Language ANalysis), and we deliver efficiency gains for our clients, making their customers happier.”

From this description, ContactEngine couldn’t be more suited to Digital Customer Experience if it tried, but surprisingly, the PhD that provides Dr Smith with his title stems from a science of an altogether less-computerised kind.

“Up until my late-20s I was a career academic, and my PhD is in Biochemistry,” he says, before explaining how he adapted his skills in that particular field to AI tech development.

“The biological sciences are all about generating mass data sets and trying to seek out trends in that data. Of all the sciences, biology and biochemistry present quite a lot of mystery, so you generate a lot of data and look for trends. That’s very similar to what AI is actually, so you can post-rationalise it. I love technology and always have done.”

Describing the business’ origin in the telephony-based live-streaming of events, Dr Smith said using the tech that would eventually lead to ContactEngine’s current offering through streaming the 2011 World Transplant Games in Australia led to the realisation that proactive communications could solve many of the problems faced in business.

“Firms such as Virgin Media used the tech for corporate social responsibility work – in their case broadcasting from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro through their social media channels.

“They asked us a simple question: can you improve the way we communicate to our customers in this omni channel-way that you have provided to us in a social media context?” continues Dr Smith.

“The answer for people like me is always ‘yes’ to any questions to do with IT. The real question is ‘how long and how much’ but the answer is always yes! You see, unlike my biochemistry days, computers can always be made to work.

“We stepped into the world of customer communication, and almost accidentally built an omnichannel outbound comms tool, so we can start conversations by phone, email, text, instant messaging, or collecting video.”

 

This powerful tool was soon utilised by clients such as American telco giant Verizon, which learned the value of implementing the technology and what it means for a company’s bottom line.

“When an appointment was missed, it cost Verizon well over 100 dollars. If you can improve communication with the customer to stop that from happening, then you can save that 100 dollars,” he explains.

“If a company has 100 million customers, then that’s a lot of money to be saved, and we can charge them a fraction of the money they save.”

As AI becomes ever-more central to even the most basic of customer communication, Dr Smith tells us that despite fears among some about where the tech will eventually lead, it will remain a benign benefit to society.

“I’m no great believer in singularity,” he tells us, referring to the theorised future in which AI outgrows the need for human masters and snowballs into an uncontrollable overlord.

“It’s not that I think it will happen in the future either – it just won’t happen!

“I start from the position of a rationalist – I’m not a believer in ‘Skynet’ or other fantastical problems that AI could bring. It’s important to realise that AI is often the only solution in areas where a human simply cannot compete.

“If you have a company with 100 million customers, as many do, it is impossible to have enough people to communicate well with all those human beings. You cannot do it!

“Computers are the only way you can do that, and what’s most interesting about the world of AI for us is a subset known as machine learning.

“This takes vast data sets – bear in mind we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of people a day – so we have vast amounts of data and responses to the questions we ask. If you have vast amounts of data, then you have some really tremendous possibilities for teaching your algorithm to be human-like.

“Machine learning is simply taking an algorithm and giving it sufficient data for the next piece of information it receives in order for it to have a pretty good stab at it in a manner which exceeds the way a human can respond.

“Think of the ‘100 million customer challenge’ and you’ll see why you want to have a proactive outbound conversation – only made possible through computers, not people.

“We automate a way to simpler conversations. A machine is better than a human for 95 percent of customer conversations. But there will always be the five percent where a machine just won’t cut it.

“Take an example; I was with an insurance company recently, and they said that with their life insurance product, they would only usually get one phone call, and that was from a bereaved partner.

“Now, it’s not wise to put that call to a machine, as a machine will never display empathy. They may display ‘faux empathy’, but a customer will catch that out pretty rapidly. A human needs to be involved in that conversation, and these calls were often taking up to two hours.

“However, once that conversation is completed, it’s perfectly reasonable for the machine to take over in order to inform the person of progress on their claim, or any other information.”

Other fascinating aspects of the tech behind ContactEngine includes a profanity filter, which detects when a customer needs to be transferred to a human as a matter of urgency, in order for that person to be talked to and returned to a level of calm where their issue can be resolved.

“Interestingly, there’s not an enormous amount of research about when humans are best and when machines are best, but I believe that by working together they can vastly improve the Customer Experience, and the Employee Experience of call centre staff also,” Dr Smith continues.

“We have a case with a European bank which commissioned us because they were losing their call centre people because they were doing too many cold calls after a certain customer process had failed.

“The customers were saying ‘why are you calling me a week after this happened? I’m really not interested in talking to you’.

“Machines fill that knowledge gap and can filter customers who actually do want a conversation with a human, then we broker an appointment for them.

“So what happens in this case? The person in the call centre has a better Employee Experience, potentially staying in their job for longer, while the Customer Experience was vastly improved also.

“It’s about knowing when humans are best, when machines are better, and knowing the exact best moment to flip between them.”

So with a successful foundation in telcos, where next for ContactEngine’s revolutionary CX tech? Clients already include household names including BT, Virgin Media, and Whirlpool, and the future looks seriously promising.

“We have enjoyed success in other areas including retail and banking; we have a foundational communication product that can be used in any industry, so we need to spread our wings and grow in other sectors,” Dr Smith says, adding that work is already underway with a “large UK retailer”.

Winning team: The ContactEngine/BT delegation collect their UK Customer Experience Award at Wembley Stadium

“On a technical front – what fascinates me about what we’ve done is, if you talk to companies in the UK and beyond, roughly speaking, three-quarters of them will be handling their AI over to the usual suspects.

“They will be using Dialogflow from Google or Watson from IBM. We made a conscious decision many years ago to build our own machine learning algorithm, and we did that because we wanted to be white box, not black box, and we wanted to be explainable.

“We have the benefit of: when you start a conversation, there are a limited number of intents that come back to you, so it’s quite easy for us to visualise and explain the decisions we made.

“We wanted to use labelled data sets for one client and not share that label data set with another client. We felt that was a GDPR problem. So, we built our own machine learning, and rather interestingly, when you take the training data we use to feed our algorithms, and you present that to others that I mentioned, we actually out-perform them!”

On the horizon for ContactEngine and its clients is the next generation of ALAN, with multi-intent capabilities, and developing further the concept of ‘human-computer rapport’, where the next customer conversation is informed by the earlier exchange in a more human-like way.

“We are incredibly excited for the future, and to see what 2020 has in store for us after the amazing year we have just had.”


Annette FranzAnnette FranzNovember 29, 2019
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10min1261

This article was jointly written by Annette Franz, CCXP, and Joakim Thorn, XM Scientist, co-founders and hosts of upcoming free online event Experia Summit.

 

Google the term “experience management” and you’ll find as many definitions as colours of the rainbow, and then some.

Here’s just a smattering of some of those definitions.

“The practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.” Gartner

“The management of customer interactions through each physical and digital touchpoint in order to deliver personalized experiences that drive brand loyalty and increase revenue.” PwC

 “The process of monitoring every interaction people experience with a company in order to spot opportunities for improvement.” Qualtrics

 “An effort by organizations to measure and improve the experiences they provide to customers as well as stakeholders like vendors, suppliers, employees, and shareholders.” Wikipedia

 “A concept that describes how a company takes control of how it interacts with its customers. [It’s] about viewing and then improving the interactions between your business and your customer entirely from the customers’ perspective – and across the entire journey they have with your business.” Medallia

So experience management is about designing, reacting, managing, monitoring, viewing, and improving. It’s about doing all of those things with regards to the interactions that people (customers, employees, vendors, suppliers, stakeholders, etc.) have with the organisation.

In other words, it’s all about the people. People first. People-centric businesses. Putting the people at the heart of the business. People before products, metrics, and profits – and on a deeper level, understanding how people’s feelings and emotions will lead them, your customers, and your employees, toward your company or away from it. 

That all sounds simple enough, right? People are important to the business, so let’s take the time to ensure that their feelings, emotions, and perceptions about their interactions with the business are positive. Hence, experience management.

But is it really that simple? Hold that thought.

We know today that more than 70 percent of transformation projects fail.

One of the biggest challenges that experience management practitioners face today is to go from ‘fluff to stuff’ and to connect all activities, behaviour change, and output metrics to a strong story, one that describes the business case and the economic impact every spent pound has, in order to secure the right funding for a successful transformation to a more people-centric organisation.  

Another challenge they face is to align the whole organisation with that compelling and engaging story – the story about a better future that experience management initiatives with people-centric outcomes can create for the company that also resonates with all stakeholders.

It’s important to align the organisation so that every executive, every manager, and every individual contributor strongly feels that “this is absolutely the right thing, and I will do everything to contribute and to make things happen with the appropriate actions in my day-to-day work”.

People need to feel this and to understand the WHY behind it to be fully committed to making things happen, to making decisions and taking small steps toward that better future every single day.

Experience management is an ecosystem that spans several disciplines, including customer experience, employee experience, brand experience, product experience, culture, and leadership. They are all closely linked and must all work together to achieve those positive feelings, emotions, and perceptions for all constituents. In doing so, the business achieves its outcomes, as well. Forrester found that experience-led companies have 1.6x higher brand awareness, 1.5x higher employee satisfaction, 1.9x higher average order value, 1.7x higher customer retention, 1.9x return on spend, and 1.6x higher customer satisfaction rates.

With that in mind, we developed Experia Summit, the world’s first virtual summit exclusively dedicated to experience management. Our mission is to bring together the world’s top thought leaders and practitioners in this field to inspire and to lead people to create passionate and authentic experiences – in every interaction and transaction, for all constituents.

We see experiences as the new currency for businesses – and we know there is a lot of room for improvement and endless potential to disrupt every industry. Experia Summit drives toward that mission through invaluable education, unbiased interviews, and inspiring content for individuals at every level of the organisation and with varying degrees of experience.

Our speakers will teach the audience how to build a people-centric organisation that not only puts people first but also experiences phenomenal growth as a result.

Speakers include global consultant and author Ian Golding, author, consultant and coach Mike Wittenstein, and New York Times bestselling author of Open Leadership, Charlene Li (pictured right).

Let’s turn back to the question of ‘But is it really that simple?’ Given the fact that experience management spans multiple disciplines; involves people, processes, products, data, technology, and more; must be led from the top down and adopted and evolved from the bottom up; and provides such weighty benefits to the organisation makes nothing simple but the answer to that question: “No.”

If it had been easy, then everyone would have done it already.

This is why we’ve gathered the brightest minds in this field to share their tools, tips, and techniques with the audience. We all agree experience management is a lot of work, and we all agree that it can’t be done alone – so we’ve brought together for you 35 ‘friends and family’ to help set you on the right course.

We’re excited about the content from each speaker. It is solid, and it is actionable. We guarantee that all content flows nicely together, with each speaker complementing and supplementing the next. We guarantee that you will be feverishly taking notes throughout.

As the godfather of Customer Experience, Bruce Temkin, has said: “This is the go-to online summit when it comes to actionable Experience Management!”

Read more and register for free.


Andrew MorsyNovember 28, 2019
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5min1552

Emotions run high in the build up to Christmas, with sentimental songs, moving charitable causes, and emotive TV ads all tugging at consumer heartstrings. 

So, in the midst of the festive shopping frenzy that starts this week with Black Friday and continues right through to the January sales, retailers mustn’t overlook the impact of sentiment on their festive campaigns.

Christmas spending remains strong, with a recent survey suggesting almost nine-in-ten are planning to spend the same or more than they did last year, so retailers have it all to play for. Despite some scepticism around the value of Black Friday deals, UK shoppers are still expected to spend over £2.5 billion on the day – a significant rise from last year.

With a continuing trend for consumers to move online during this busy shopping period, rather than face the crowded High Street, retailers need to pay particular attention to how their brand and products are perceived in the digital world.

The peak shopping days place a lot of focus on low cost deals, but getting the cheapest price isn’t the only thing that impacts a consumer’s decision to buy. Factors such as value for money, simplicity in delivery and returns, and the quality of customer service are also crucially important.

Merry CXmas: Sentiment should be affirmative this festive season

And, as consumers do the majority of their festive shopping research online, their opinions of a retailer or product are greatly influenced by online content in the form of reviews, articles, or blog posts.

As festive shopping drives an increase in online traffic around this type of content, retailers need to ensure their brand messaging and products are seen in environments where surrounding sentiment is positive. This can be achieved through a holistic, semantic approach to content analysis that goes beyond the words on the page and looks at the relationships between those words to gain an in-depth understanding of what the content actually says, before making the decision to place an ad.

Sentiment analysis identifies and categorises opinion expressed in written content such as articles and reviews to determine whether the attitude towards a particular product, brand or retailer is positive or negative. While constructive, positive opinions affirm the shopper’s decision and encourage them along the path to purchase, negative sentiment can just as easily influence undecided shoppers and can prevent a potential consumer clicking ‘buy now’.

In general retailers will want to ensure their ads and messaging appear in high quality, brand-safe environments, and at this vital time of year they should take advantage of relevant targeting segments such as ‘Black Friday bargains’, ‘Cyber Monday deals’ or ‘Christmas gifts’ to ensure their messages resonate with the contextual environment.

But they must also actively ensure their ads are kept away from negative feeling, and placed alongside content with an affirmative vibe, reaching consumers when they are feeling positive about the product and putting sentiment at the heart of their festive campaigns.


Denise StewartDenise StewartNovember 27, 2019
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7min1416

In October, Legal & General Homes landed the Customers at the Heart of Everything gong at the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards. Here, the firm’s Sales & Marketing Director Denise Stewart writes for CXM on why quality Customer Experience is an essential foundation for today’s housebuilding sector…

 

Buying a home is an emotional experience.

The process can take months, and for most people it’s the most expensive purchase they’ll make in their lives. Expectations, quite rightly, run high – and even more so when buying a new-build home. After all, people expect brand new clothing to be more durable than second-hand, and a new car to work better than one with 100,000 miles on the clock.

This is no different.     

When Legal & General Homes entered the housebuilding sector in 2017, we wanted to make the buying experience as enjoyable, exciting, and stress-free as possible and to make new-builds the preferred option. It was a no-brainer that excellent customer service would be a huge part of our vision.

Building for the future: L&G Homes has had a major impact on housebuilding since 2017

Customer service became one of the four key pillars which underpin the way we work, along with quality, social value, and sustainability. We took a proactive approach to CX so that we could get things right from the off, evaluating each step of a person’s home-buying process from the moment they first consider moving to the days and weeks after they’ve got their keys.

Most importantly, by doing so we could identify the most challenging times for customers when buying a new home and work hard to make them into something positive.

We are making our vision a reality. Every home we build is a home we would happily live in ourselves and every customer who walks through our doors is treated like a member of our own family. This spirit is championed at every level of the organisation.

There are no hidden costs; each home has the latest technology like Hive smart thermostats and energy-efficient Bosch appliances included as standard, as are the carpets, tiles, and lawns. There’s no hard sell, and our doors are open for anyone to have a look around regardless of the stage they’re at in the buying journey.

Our ‘meet the builder’ breakfasts give customers a chance to mingle with their new neighbours and ask our teams about their new home as it is being built. Then, on moving in, each customer has access to a handyman for a day – someone to help hang their curtains, put up shelves, and turn a house into a home.

That’s handy: L&G homeowners have access to a handyman for a day upon moving in

They also all receive a free iPad on arrival, with pre-installed ‘how to’ videos and manuals, and we can arrange for fibre optic broadband to be wired into every property from day one – so that they can get settled in straight away. 

For us, it’s about the little things that collectively make a huge difference, and by taking a holistic approach we can keep customer service front of mind for all our employees. Though there is always more work to be done we believe our efforts are getting results: to date, 100 percent of Legal & General Homes customers completing the NHBC New Homes Survey have said they would recommend us to a friend.

We want to look outwards and be known as a CX leader irrespective of sector. That’s why entering the UK Customer Experience Awards was so important and taking home the Gold Award in the Customers at the Heart of Everything category means the world to us.

As the first housebuilder to win one of these prestigious awards we’re making a positive statement that challenges the perception of the new homes industry and underlines our commitment to providing an exceptional experience for our customers.

Home run: The Legal & General Homes team collect their gong at the UK Customer Experience Awards

Kirsty NewmanKirsty NewmanNovember 27, 2019
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4min1698

It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that major retail periods like Black Friday and Cyber Monday would boil down to anything other than price for consumers.

But as competition between brands gets tougher and tougher year-on-year, and sales periods start to span days and weeks rather than short 24-hour bursts, consumer expectations are starting to shift. And more importantly, brands are having to raise their games in order to meet these changing demands. 

As a specialist MarTech company, we have a wealth of data on how and where consumers spend their money – and our insights show that while Black Friday is showing no signs of stopping when it comes to drawing in crowds of eager bargain hunters, it is also apparent that price is no longer the deciding factor when it comes to their purchasing decisions. 

Whereas once consumers were solely concerned with finding the best and cheapest deals they could on Black Friday – stampeding through shopping centres and fighting in the aisles to do so – the options are now so vast that filtering through the mass of marketing and promotions is simply too big a task for those seeking a quick and easy sales haul. 

Today, consumers often approach Black Friday with a clear idea of what they want to buy and the price they’re prepared to pay. The growing popularity of price comparison sites and voucher code offers mean shoppers are much savvier when it comes to applying discounts on top of discounts – they know how to get the best deals themselves, meaning it’s no longer enough for brands to simply slash their prices and hope for the best. 

What we’re starting to see is consumers placing a much greater importance on a smooth and seamless customer journey – from hyper-personalised offers landing in their inbox, through to a fast and efficient checkout process online. 

This ultimately means that ecommerce retailers need to prepare a strong and robust omnichannel strategy well in advance of Black Friday if they truly want to capitalise on the opportunity. Setting up specific Black Friday landing pages, refining and reducing the number of steps between product selection and product purchase, and ensuring that the online experiences is as flawless on a mobile device as it is on a main website, are all crucial elements that can make the difference between a customer checking out with you – or ditching their basket and moving onto a competitor. 

Without a doubt, the Black Friday revenue opportunities are there and brands have to be in it to win it. But to truly win it, it’s the brands that approach their omnichannel marketing smartly that we predict will come out on top. 

 


Laurianna FordLaurianna FordNovember 27, 2019
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5min2518

For many organisations, the contact or call centre is still the shopfront of the business.

At last count, there were 6,175 contact centres in the UK, employing some 772,500 agents. As the first port of call for clients and customers, the role of call agents shouldn’t be underestimated.

You might be the first person a caller has ever spoken to from a business; you might even be the first person that a caller has spoken to in weeks. Establishing a positive customer relationship from that first moment of contact is essential; impressions are often made quickly and can have a lasting impact.

With the internet now being so accessible, customers are more inclined to be vocal about a bad experience. Negative reviews can spread like wildfire on social media and the last thing a company wants is their organisation bad-mouthed in public.

Call North West is an organisation that supports contact centres in the region and each year they award stand-out people and companies for their contribution to customer service. I was proud recently to be named Sales Agent of the Year at their annual awards ceremony in Manchester. When new recruits name you as the agent they aspire to be, you know you must be doing something right!

I have worked for Freedom Finance, a fintech lending platform that matches consumers to suitable loans and mortgages, for over three years. Like other financial service providers, we strive to provide excellent customer service and have managed to excel in this area, with a top Trust Pilot rating. The business has achieved this all whilst operating on an almost fully digital model, with 872,000 amount of customer journeys currently completed online over the last rolling 12 months.

Where does that trust stem from? It starts with the people in the contact centre. Collectively, we strongly believe that customers need clarity and not just choice – sometimes the best way to accomplish this is through the help of an actual person, whether that’s on the end of the telephone line, or through an online chat facility.

Being self-motivated has allowed me to exceed targets and step-up when extra support is needed on the floor. Whilst these are personal attributes, there are some simple and achievable steps that anyone working in a contact centre can take in their pursuit of an excellent customer outcome.

Here are my top three tips for delivering excellent customer service:

Tip 1: Your attitude

You have to wake up and be ready for the day before you even start. If your mindset isn’t right or you don’t have the right attitude, you’ve already failed, and you can’t give the customer your best.

Tip 2: Be patient

We speak to customers from all walks of life and every customer is different.

Some need more support than others, which could be anything from understanding the terms and conditions, to having someone verbally navigate them through the digital application process online. It’s these customers that sometimes matter the most. They require extra assistance and the human touch to help them make a properly informed decision.

Tip 3: Remember, it costs nothing to be nice

Your interaction could impact someone’s life. Even if you can’t provide the customer with the product or answer that they want, you can always be nice and friendly, and hopefully leave them happy with the service you have provided.

 


Tom WilliamsTom WilliamsNovember 26, 2019
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12min1510

It’s fair to say that customer expectations have evolved rapidly in recent years.

Across all sectors – public services, transport, even utilities – today’s consumer expects a seamless experience. If this is not delivered, people now have the ability to publicly vent their frustration, such as on social media, and find an alternative provider, as there are plenty of others keen to win their custom.

One sector which has particularly felt this shift over the past 10-15 years is retail. Gone are the days when delivery in 3-5 business days was exceptional, and page load times didn’t matter as people were used to dial up.

Now, online is king and physical retail lags behind, reeling at the news that 16 stores close every day. 

Online retail has opened up the sector and led to the emergence of a host of new competitors. Resultantly, UK retail powerhouses (think M&S, Debenhams, John Lewis) have seen market share cut due to faster, more agile competition branching into their space.

Woolworths’ decline coincided with Amazon’s rise – in-store customer service was no longer enough. Add this to changing customer preferences, and younger generations preferring to ‘self-serve’, and it’s easy to see why retailers are worried about ensuring customers come back. Acquisition and retention are harder than ever, meaning price and product range is no longer the be-all and end-all to consumers.

Today’s era of flexibility and choice has spoilt shoppers. The goalposts keep shifting and retailers need to offer consumers additional incentives to keep them coming back for more. In isolation, good end-to-end experiences are not enough – they need to be frictionless, exceptional, and across multiple touchpoints in order to form a seamless retail experience. Customer experience is no longer about physical service, but about ease and making the process effortless for shoppers in today’s always on world.

A prime example of a retailer which didn’t adopt the right strategy is Jack Wills. Ten years ago it was flying high as the brand of choice for university students; but it failed to keep tabs on the needs and wants of its target demographic. It acts as a stark reminder that continued relevance is more important than historic brand name and reputation.

By failing to prepare to meet the needs of new and evolving generations, the retailer recently faced collapse until a last-minute intervention.

So, what can retailers looking to offer optimal customer experiences learn from this? Other sectors should also monitor this trend, especially as the bar for Customer Experience keeps being raised.

Know who you want to sell to

This perhaps sounds obvious, but keeping up with a target demographic is key in order to effectively proposition new consumers but also to offer the experience they will demand. For example, the emphasis on online needs to be more prominent now compared with ten years ago – something that Jack Wills did not seem to adequately cater for.

The failure to meet demand as preferences for delivery changed may have been an issue. The retailer’s offering of a minimum spend of £50 for slow free delivery or a £6.99 price-tag for next-day wouldn’t have sat well with consumers who are now accustomed to quicker and cheaper delivery. Combine this with its high price tag compared with fast-fashion alternatives like ASOS, which today dropped the price of its annual next-day delivery subscription from £14.99 to £9.95 due to customer feedback, or Boohoo, and it’s not hard to see how heads were turned.

There’s also brand perception. Jack Wills always positioned itself as an elite brand – reflected by its preppy in-store experience and curated sales people, chosen to be synonymous with its image. For some this may be off-putting – especially when combined with its strapline of ‘outfitters to the gentry’, which it quietly dropped a couple of years ago.

In an era where aspiring to be part of a secluded social circle is far less of a priority, Jack Wills no doubt turned away many prospects with the exclusive attitude which had proved so successful in a different time. Abercrombie and Fitch suffered this same issue a few years ago in the United States. Others must learn the lesson that simply changing lines doesn’t keep customers coming back.

Court customers for years

Boohoo is a retail brand which is working wonders. Its profits and growth are extraordinary, and its figures show that is has tapped into a successful formula, with revenue up 48 percent this year and turnover growing 37 percent and 64 percent respectively in the UK and internationally.

It clearly knows what its audience wants – but not content with meeting this need now, it’s also looking towards the future. Its acquisition of the online businesses of Karen Millen and Coast emphasises this.

Boohoo’s online-only offering caters to younger people’s preference for digital shopping, whilst providing more ‘grown up’ options with Karen Millen and Coast will allow it to continue meeting its consumers demands as their tastes evolve. Boohoo is not giving its fanbase a reason to shop around as it is being sure to meet their current and future needs.

Couple this with its frictionless experience (fast, free delivery or incentives to unlock money saving offers) and it’s easy to see why customers love it. This is a stark contrast to Jack Wills failing to offer free returns, unless goods are returned by hand in-store (something time-pressed millennials were no doubt put off by) and the aforementioned delivery costs. It’s clear why younger audiences choose the easier, faster option.

Don’t let them down

It’s also important to remember that reviews matter, and in the age where a bad testimonial can haunt a brand for years, retailers must get better at delivering on their promises.

ASOS is an example of this, and some of its recent problems have related to stock issues and customers being let down last minute as a result. This highlights the importance of a frictionless experience – and one that doesn’t end when a purchase is ratified but extends to after-sale care. A simple way for a retailer to work towards the aim of a frictionless experience is to link its online offering to Order Management Software (OMS).

This will ensure that online stock predictions are accurate at all times so customers don’t lose out. Additionally, physical stores can be used as more than just a showroom – offering pick up from store is becoming increasingly common, and can provide a cheaper, quicker delivery alternative which is appealing to ‘generation now’ (whilst also being more profitable for the retailer).

Customer experience is perhaps entering its most transformative era, as online becomes more important than physical retail. Training for store staff may become less rigorous to match the preference for online, and AI will start to pick up the slack. For retailers, it’s a volatile time and they must be prepared to meet the customer at every possible touchpoint to keep them happy.

There is no doubt that this sky-high expectation will influence customer trends in other sectors too, as brands look to pull their socks up to fight off the competition. In my view, meeting and beating expectations in a timely and profitable manner will be one of the biggest issues facing brands moving forward. What can’t be denied is that firms need to start thinking in the long and short-term in order to court consumers and retain a loyal customer base.

No longer is this relationship simply a transactional one – it’s personal and connected to the feeling the brand elicits. My advice to all is to keep things simple and meet the needs of your audience, thereby not giving them a reason to go elsewhere, now or in the future.


Lisa KalscheurLisa KalscheurNovember 22, 2019
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8min1733

With days to go to the annual seasonal sales extravaganza, including Black Friday, the holiday season is well and truly upon us.

Like many other consumers, I often start readying my gift shopping lists in the autumn. From my many conversations with Monetate clients, I understand that the challenge for retailers to stand out amongst competitors is tougher than ever.

It’s a crowded market, and brands must build strong foundations to nurture that purchase relationship, looking beyond deep discounts and a one-size-fits-all approach, to create a personalised shopping experience.

For 63 percent of consumers, personalisation from brands and retailers is now an expectation, however two-thirds of marketers are failing to invest in the appropriate technology to deliver this.

Smart personalisation strategies can be the key change factor as brands push to stand out and drive conversions. As Brexit looms, so too does the financial uncertainty facing consumers. Brands and retailers must rise above this and focus their efforts on cementing sustainable and long-lasting relationships that will in turn withstand what is expected to be a nervy and unsteady holiday season.

Our latest Ecommerce Benchmark report noted that ecommerce conversion rates dropped by seven percent in Q1 – a trend likely to have been driven by Brexit.

So how can marketers overcome the barriers that can often stand in the way when creating an optimised Customer Experience? As retailers strive to be best-placed to meet demand ahead of the busy ecommerce period, the following factors should be key considerations.

Strategy 101

When it comes to personalisation, there is no blanket approach; recognising that every customer behaves differently with unique expectations is crucial.

Distilling audiences into groups by location, device, or demographic is an effective way to begin. These insights can work in tandem with machine learning and will enable brands to use real-time models to identify what works best for each individual. The use of data should continue to improve a shoppers’ personal experience as insights inform the how, the where, and the when to inform the best tactic for interaction with each potential customer.

Get to the heart of the customer

It’s easy to become buried in customer data, which is where segmentation and analytics tools are incredibly handy; providing instant insights into your customer behaviour, using everything from simple attributes such as device type and geography to more complex attributes such as product categories viewed and brands purchased.

Actionable customer data is the key to success when implementing a one-to-one personalisation programme, which drives higher conversion rates, increases average order value (AOV), and increases the quality of CX.

The more data available, the more effective and tailored the personalisation will be, but you can start small to reap value from the offset. From there, brands and retailers will be able to easily scale any personalisation efforts as they grow in data maturity and continue to get to know their customers.

Follow the data signals

When marketers think of multi-screening, they often see it as a new challenge or obstacle, but the truth is that we live in a multi-device world. When it comes to Customer Experience, implementing an omnichannel edge into your marketing can set you apart from your competitors and build lasting relationships with your customers.

Survey data collected by our team at Monetate and WBR Insights for our 2nd Annual Personalisation Development Study indicates that only 15 percent of marketers are observing and tracking customer sessions across two or more devices. When compared with industry data, they are failing to detect at least 25 percent of the sessions that are part of a multi-device journey to purchase.

Moreover, the move from specialised departments to cross-functional teams may postpone the personalisation process. For example, one team might be focused on website optimisation, while another team is solely looking at advertising display. Ensuring full alignment and buy-in across the organisation will enable a more seamless process where all teams can work towards a unified data and technology goal.

Master the visual

Whilst consumers expect a personalised experience, content does not have to be unique to each user to be considered effective. A collection of creative assets and copy relevant to a broad scope of interests is key to finding the right balance to appeal to individual users. It’s not just about the brand imagery, product recommendation, or message, but a combination of all of these elements, on the right platform, at the right time.

Achieving effective personalisation is challenging. As the Chief Marketing Officer of a technology company, I’m familiar with the challenge of finding the strategy that not only works, but also sticks. It’s easier said than done. The moment you implement personalisation marketing is the moment you change the way your customers view you – for good.

If brands can strive towards a future with machine learning and marketer creativity working hand-in-hand, they’ll see the benefits of increased loyalty and greater ROI more quickly.


Administrator CXMNovember 18, 2019
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5min1843

When Bitcoin was created it was done to be a seamless payment method – backed up by the blockchain – for cheaper, faster, and safer worldwide peer-to-peer transactions.

Even Satoshi Nakamoto probably did not foresee blockchain technology spanning into different areas and industries than finance. Yet that has become the reality, and blockchain technology is now playing an integral part in every corner of the New Digital Economy. 

Anyone who is considering starting a digital business should consider how the blockchain and Bitcoin can benefit them, which means having a Luno Bitcoin Wallet to hand and reading up on the latest blockchain developments.

Luckily, you can start right here.

What is the New Digital Economy?

The New Digital Economy (NDE) refers to digital technologies that contribute to processes and transactions within the economy. It is not to be confused with the internet economy which also influences economic dealings, but solely focuses on online technologies.

One technology trailblazing the success of the digital economy is blockchains.

Blockchain and the New Digital Economy

From the definition above, it is easy to see why the contemporary digital economy is vast and includes many different cogs. Ultimately, thousands of businesses and services could land between the brackets of the digital economy.

1. Widening global markets

Blockchain at its basics is a founding pillar of cryptocurrency transactions, which have become essential to digital markets. Through their secure and borderless nature, paying with crypto allows businesses to attract customers from other countries, enabling the digital economy to scale quicker and easier.

2. Fostering investments

Digital ideas and technology entrepreneurs often rely on heavy investment to get their businesses off the ground due to the costs of developing such inventions or services. Investments of this kind are often made safer with blockchain technology through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) that allow businesses to obtain enough capital from investors effortlessly and even allow them to bypass banks.

3. Data safeguarding

Data handling and protecting user data has become a fierce topic among businesses in all industries, and the digital economy is especially important.

Businesses need to make sure they are protecting data from hackers to comply with the EU’s GDPR laws and protect their reputation. The blockchain comes in useful for this and is one way of securing information and making it pretty much bulletproof to hackers.

4. Business partnerships

Blockchain technology is also the foundation of Ethereum’s smart contracts. These contracts allow businesses to take an almost-hands-off approach to processes between businesses. Smart contracts are used to execute payments once milestones have been reached and allow digital businesses to save costs on human input and administration.

What else to expect?

The integration of blockchains can also be expected to merge with developments in artificial intelligence and data analysis. However, these integrations have not been finalised as of yet.

The future is bright for the new digital economy with blockchain technology to hand.


Amit SharonAmit SharonNovember 18, 2019
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7min1558

Companies know all about the importance of visual content.

According to a 2018 study from Venngage, 56 percent of marketers surveyed said that between 91-100 percent of their content contained visuals. Delivering the right compelling visuals quickly is critical to achieving the desired visual hook. However, many images and videos can be optimised to provide better user experiences and higher engagement levels.

Too often it’s the technical details that derail your visual storytelling efforts. Nothing is more frustrating than having invested a lot of time and resources creating beautiful visuals for a campaign only to discover that audiences aren’t seeing them how you intended. When high-quality images are cropped in the wrong places or displayed incorrectly in social sharing, for example, response rates and brand image suffer.

The browser and its long tail

Another recent report revealed that 75 percent of consumers expect a consistent experience wherever they engage with brands – website, social media, mobile, or in-person. This is easier said than done. One big reason for consistency failures is the browser long tail, which refers to the different versions of browsers people use.

Cloudinary recently published its State of Visual Media Report to help people understand how visual content is being consumed. Analysing billions of media transactions across a sampling of more than 700 of our customers, we were fascinated to discover just how many different types of browsers are in use worldwide.

Browser choice: Consumers use a wide variety of browsers to consume visual content

While Chrome and Safari, as expected, dominate the browser market (45.9 percent and 4.1 percent respectively in the UK), there are significant regional differences across lesser known variants. For example, the research shows that Nokia Symbian smartphones are still popular in some regions and that Nintendo devices DS devices share more than 15,000 images per day. There is even image traffic coming from the very old legacy office software, Lotus Notes.

This is important as not all browsers support every image or video format you might use for your campaign. JPEG, GIF, and PNG are the most popular image formats used on websites today. However, developed in the 80s and 90s, when they’re not properly optimised they may not always be the best choice as they are quite heavy in file size and don’t offer the image quality and color spectrum expected for delivering today’s immersive online experience. Newer image file formats such as WebP and HEIF offer advantages worth exploring.

The same applies to video formats. The old H.264 video standard is pretty common but newer more lightweight formats such as VP9 and H.265 are anywhere from 30 to 50 percent more efficient.

Now for the long tail of browsers out there, JPEG and GIF for images and H.264 for video are the lowest common denominator that work with almost every browser. Does this mean you have to compromise your visual storytelling efforts just because some of your users still stick to their legacy BlackBerry web browser?

The browser’s long tail doesn’t need to compromise visual storytelling

Fortunately, the answer is no.

Your web developers don’t need to abandon the unlimited visual possibilities that come with newer image formats. Newer AI-based image and video management solutions can automatically detect your web visitors’ visual requirements and their browsers. Based on this information they automatically deliver each image and video in the most efficient format, quality, and resolution – even to a BlackBerry web browser. But these tools can do even more.

Intelligent image detection and cropping

As mentioned earlier, the last thing your brand needs is for beautiful images that you’ve invested dearly in to get badly-cropped and poorly displayed. AI-based image and video management solutions can solve this problem. These tools apply AI smarts to optimally resize and crop images. For example, AI applies algorithms to automatically detect the subject in an image that is most likely to capture a viewer’s attention.

It also analyses the type of browser and device the images are displayed on. Based on all this combined information, brands are able to deliver images and videos that will drive greater customer engagement.

Visual are great for boosting engagement and fostering long-lasting connections.

With a little help from AI you can be assured that the browser long tail doesn’t degrade the user experience so that your visual storytelling efforts really pay off.


Neil Russell-SmithNeil Russell-SmithNovember 7, 2019
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7min1866

Organisations are increasingly relying on chatbots for customer service as a way to deflect inbound calls and reduce costs, but Forrester Analytics data shows that consumers aren’t thrilled with this approach. 

They found consumers are reluctant to trust a chatbot to resolve their service issues, and remain skeptical that chatbots can provide a similar level of service as a human agent.

However, it seems companies are enforcing technology solutions at every opportunity in the hope of improving their CX strategy. Amid all the talk of technical advancement, we seem to forget about the human factor, that personal touch that only people can deliver to consumers no matter the channel of engagement.

Clients today have huge goals for their CX strategies, such as 50 percent of all calls to be self-serviced, 80 percent of contact to be automated, 50 v of calls to be eliminated and all of this along with, in most cases, being tasked to make significant cost savings.

Ian Jacobs, Principal Analyst at Forresters, said: “Customer service organisations have been looking for ways to cut costs for decades. Now that chatbot mania has taken over, many are jumping on the bandwagon and attempting to replace their human agents with chatbots. In theory, that makes sense – a chatbot costs less than a human over time, and most customer service organisations tend to focus more heavily on cost than on customer experience.”

It is fair to say many companies are struggling with automation, whether to automate, why automate, what to automate and when to automate. According to Forrester, when it comes to automation and customer service, brands are getting the last three questions wrong.

We regularly see in the industry news headlines such as Chatbots set to take over most cost service work or Robots are set to replace humans and costly contact centres. However, according to Forrester’s Analytics Consumer Energy Index on-line survey 2018, consumers expect chatbots to disappoint with 54 percent of US online consumers expecting interaction with customer service chatbots to negatively affect their quality of life.

The message from Forrester’s research is clear: ‘Augment, don’t replace and blend AI and humans’.

The question is which blended operations model works better for your business?

Forrester has identified four approaches to agent augmentation:

1. A chatbot for agents where the conversation is with a live agent and a chatbot 

If your customer service agents search a knowledge base during their interactions with customers, why not create a natural language interface for that task? It’s a great starting point if you’re just beginning your chatbot journey.

2. A human-intermediated chatbot for increased efficiency and seamless suggestions

Here, an AI tool observes a conversation between a human agent and a customer, providing suggestions that the agent can either push out to the customer, or modify, or personalise the suggestion, or even reject it and type their own answer.

3. A front-end chatbot where the chatbot authenticates the customer and determines intent and gathers all relevant information 

Chatbot hands interaction off to the agent and the agent resolves the customer’s issues. The benefit of this one is that agents are handling the meat of the interaction and have more time for upselling/cross selling and it also significantly reduces handling time. Conceptually agents are more engaged as they are adding value and not doing mundane tasks.

4. Intermingled workflows with both agents and chatbots do what each does best

The human agent can invoke a chatbot to handle a specific task, then have the chatbot hand the interaction back to the agent.  Similar to the front-end chatbot, human agents are relieved of routine tasks, but in this workflow, the agent and chatbot can flex back and forth to tackle the portions of the interaction they excel at.

Using one or more of those approaches to augment customer service agents can result in significant benefits to an organisation, such as reduced handle time, increased employee engagement, and improved experience -0 while also ensuring your customers don’t lose faith with your brand after a frustrating chatbot interaction.

One thing is for sure, AI is here to stay. Brands that want to keep ahead in a competitive world will need to re-think their business models and make sure there is a place for human employees and AI.

They will be the winners.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthNovember 6, 2019
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12min2691

It’s not your average job interview, but a description from Luke Murfitt, founder of Integrity Cleaning, of how one woman kick-started her career after a chance encounter shines a light on the ethos of his business.

Picture the scene: a dark, damp evening at a London train station, and after disembarking, a mother struggles with her children and bags as she attempts to scale steps up to the pavement and begin the long walk home.

“No-one else was offering, so I asked if I could help get her up the steps,” says Luke as he explains exactly why ‘supporting mothers back to work’ is more than just a media-friendly slogan for his firm

“We got to the top and I asked if I could help her further. She said she lived about a 20-minute walk away, so I offered her a lift in my car. During the drive I was able to ask her where she worked. She said she didn’t work, and that people didn’t want to employ her.

“I asked her what she would want to do, and she said she would like to be either a carer or a cleaner. I said ‘happy days, I have a cleaning company – would you like to start this week?”

Working with Integrity: Luke Murfitt, founder of Integrity Cleaning Ltd

It sounds like the happy ending to a feel-good film, but this was reality for the mum in this story. She was able to work as a cleaner, fitting her duties comfortably around school hours, and as a result was able to move into a larger home than the one-bedroom flat she had before. Thanks to her income from Integrity, was able to start planning for her future.

“She’s now a full-time carer, in the career she wanted,” Luke says.

“She calls me her angel, but she was pretty good to me too, working hard and driving Integrity forward.”

Integrity Cleaning has been shortlisted in the Best New Business category of this week’s 2019 UK Business Awards, and this achievement is part of the ongoing success story for a firm that was born out of personal adversity.

Luke is a former high-flying salesman at a blue-chip company, who in 2015 was handed a life-changing diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

But rather than allow this to limit his scope for life, Luke decided to challenge himself and use the diagnosis to spur a career change that has led to a current total of 85 cleaners signed on for employment through his company, ranging in age from 19 to the mid-60s.

“After the diagnosis, which was obviously a bit of a challenge, I realised I didn’t want to wallow in self-pity, and so I used it as a catalyst to springboard me on to do greater things, and here we are,” he says.

That route first took him to his local job centre where he was told to seek benefits following his diagnosis, but his hunger for something more led him instead to seek advice on starting his own business.

“I felt I had a lot more to give. I told the staff at the centre ‘there are people over there who are looking for jobs, and I’d like to employ them’. I wanted to set an example of what can be achieved, and they said ‘fine, go for it’. So they sent me upstairs to the next level and a department that assists in setting up businesses.”

From the window of that same building, Luke gazed out at London’s ever-sprouting skyline, with gleaming new buildings taking shape.

What was simultaneously taking shape was his own business future, thanks to Luke “turning adversary into opportunity”.

He continues: “I looked into the cleaning industry, and spent six months planning. I was careful though, as I had seen people who set up cleaning companies and ended up cleaning themselves out!”

However determination, and the hard work and support of wife Diana, pushed Luke towards realising the recession-proof nature of his chosen sector, and what it could do for them as a family, along with the wider community.

“Cleaning has grown and grown and is a massive employer. I saw it as a chance to impact many more lives and provide better opportunities, rather than with, say, an office of five people.

“With around 33,000 cleaning companies in the UK, with 700,000 cleaners, there’s plenty of scope. I knew I needed only a small portion of that to be successful, and not to fear the competition, but actually be better than them.

“And also be something that they are not, because what I realised was – not many people actually choose to be a cleaner. Instead they often ‘resort’ to being a cleaner.

“I thought to myself, these are the people I want to help. They’ve found themselves in a situation they didn’t choose to be in, but I could at least assist them and make the area of work they’re in as pleasant as possible – give them opportunities and ensure they feel respected and are able to grow, move on, and not just remain cleaners forevermore.”

Mum’s the word: Integrity cleaning offers mothers a chance to get back to work in a supportive environment

Integrity continued to take shape, and the ethos of assisting mums at a crucial time of their lives grew from Luke meeting fellow parents at the school gates while waiting to collect his daughter.

“There comes a point when a lot of mothers want new working opportunities, but there are often few firms offering that. This was part of my plan – to offer such opportunities, and make a success of it.”

The company got off the ground when Luke secured a significant contract with a hotel in London’s Bromley borough, having first garnered a workforce ready and willing to put the hours in.

Low start-up costs and lots of hard graft helped Integrity gain momentum, and as the journey continued, so too did the cleaning contracts with churches, community groups, and other eager clients.

However, it was a return to the skyscrapers of central London that saw Luke land the firm’s most significant contract.

“I was at a training event and I looked out the window at these apartment buildings which were going up, 41 storeys high, and I thought ‘they need cleaning’. I had no experience of construction cleaning at all, but I walked over to the site, which had around 600 people all milling about.

“I was wearing a suit while they were in their construction safety gear, so I got some looks. I found a door saying ‘staff only’, walked in, and eventually located the project manager. I said to him, ‘Hi, I’m Luke from Integrity Cleaning, you’ve got some great buildings here, and we’d like to be the company that cleans them’.

“He told me my timing was interesting as they were just three days away from tendering for a cleaning company, so he took me to the senior management in order to apply.”

Several months later, having seen off competition from some of the biggest companies in the market, Integrity was offered the contract.

“They could see I wanted to do a good job, and we ended up replacing a company they had used for the last 25 years.”

Luke’s bold approach to securing employment for his team provided many months of solid work, cleaning 1,000 or so million-pound apartments, over four thorough stages each, to make them ready for residents.

And so Integrity rose to its current position as one of the UK’s most caring and community oriented commercial and construction cleaning firms.

“My primary goal isn’t about making money, it’s about helping other people,” Luke states.

“This year alone I’ve helped 25 mums back into work. Of course, helping mothers doesn’t just help them, it helps their children, families, husbands, and whoever else. It impacts lives.

“We help with their training, and we look towards assisting with transport costs, and being flexible with working hours. We’re also there to provide references for when they’re ready to move on. We work as a team, and they love it. To me, each of them isn’t merely a cleaner – they are a person; something they never normally hear in this industry.”

From year one to year two, Integrity has grown by 650 percent, and his nomination for a UK Business Award tops a hugely successful year that has also seen him share his story with thousands of listeners on radio station LBC.

“I have appeared twice on LBC’s The Business Hour, and plan to return to answer questions from listeners in the near future and share my advice.”

On the subject of advice, Luke leaves us with one final inspiring message.

“Never let a challenge – in my case my diagnosis – stop you from doing what you want to do. Never limit yourself.”

 

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James WalfordJames WalfordNovember 1, 2019
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8min1785

As the move to cloud platforms speeds up, the pressure is on to take advantage of bots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) – especially for IVRs.

Many businesses are at a standstill in adopting AI because they’ve done nothing to their IVRs for a decade or more. Their old IVRs are complex and slow to update, with mediocre customer experience, at best. But most are terrible. The State of IVR in 2018 noted that 83 percent of customers would avoid a company after a poor experience with an IVR.

I recently phoned my utility provider, and the IVR pushed me through eight different menu options. Each option took five to 20 seconds of listening time. By the time I got halfway through the eighth option, I had forgotten what the first one included – and I had to go back to the beginning. Consumers are frustrated by long IVR menu choices.

They’re even turning to online cheat sheets for ways to bypass a particular company’s IVR and get to a live agent.

Fear of change, even when it makes sense

Despite the evidence that customers are frustrated with IVRs, and the rapid decline of the old-school telephony, businesses are still reluctant to change. Some pushback occurs because of successful containment rates of IVRs. For others, it’s fear of changing menu options for customers who know exactly which number to press to self-serve.

One bank told me that they were reluctant to change because they have many customers who program their IVR options into their phones, including their PINs. Banks are exposing themselves – and their customers – to major security breaches, instead of doing anything about it.

While some try improvements like adding automatic speech recognition (ASR) with predefined expressions, they fail to recognise that it’s a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem. They need to fix their outdated design.

IVRs and the challenge of multiple intents

In traditional IVRs, customers select only one option at a time, and the IVR can process only that one intent.

However, most people multitask. Let’s say you dial into an IVR to change your address and open a new savings account. Then you remember that you need to add someone to your existing account. Typically, you’d complete one task and then return to the IVR or have an agent transfer you to another department to do so.

Let’s talk: A conversational IVR can maximise customer Experience

That’s because when those secondary intents come up within the conversation with an agent, the agent isn’t equipped to help. The secondary intent is often not dealt with, recorded or tracked. The customer still needs support, but the case is closed. And all that valuable customer information is lost – along with customer satisfaction.

Voicebots identify multiple intents upfront. They can handle many of them within the IVR and, if needed, pass all those intents on to an agent. Your IVR can become a conversational IVR, capturing context and vastly improving the Customer Experience through personalisation.

This is key to exceptional CX – and using Natural Language Understanding (NLU) within your current IVR makes it possible.

Voicebots and conversational IVR

Google led the modern revolution of conversational AI with NLU.

This technology makes it possible for a voicebot to hold a conversation and conduct back-and-forth questions, prompts and answers – without the customer having to use predefined expressions. In this way, every customer has a hyper-personalised experience.

Conversational IVRs go beyond understanding words as experienced with ASR, to determine what the customer wants and to help the agent understand and respond effectively. Machine learning capabilities enable these increasingly rich conversations – and continually optimise the IVR and improve the Customer Experience.

After the voicebot identifies the intents and self-serves where possible, customers can still go through a standard path within the IVR – or they can be routed to the relevant skilled resource to help them. Voicebots offer a massive opportunity to streamline the entire interaction process.

Let’s say I call my mobile carrier because I’m going on holiday and I want to know what the charges will be when I go overseas. With that one utterance of “I’m going overseas”, a voicebot would understand that this statement likely will require additional information.

The voicebot could ask: “Would you like to enable international roaming?”

If I answer yes, the voicebot could automatically process that request and then inform me of the expected tariffs. And, it can still pass this on to an agent if my questions are too complex. It’s a fluid, hyper-personalised conversation, and it doesn’t have to be complex.

You don’t have to change the entire IVR to use voicebots.

Voicebots move Customer Experience to the forefront

Voicebots not only solve long-standing IVR problems, they also take advantage of the data you already collect. Compare the advantages of conversational IVRs led by voicebots to traditional IVRs that put customer experience second to containment. The time savings, Customer Experience and overall improvement in operational efficiency blow traditional IVRs out of the water.

Register now for an onsite Build a Bot workshop.


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthOctober 30, 2019
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4min2621

The ability of workers to improvise and innovate while on the job is being underused, a new report has revealed.

A study of 1,000 workplaces published in Thinking on your feet, a report by the commercial subsidiary of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, RADA Business, found that 91 percent of people say they regularly experience situations where employees have failed to apply a flexible way of communicating and common sense as a result of not being able to think ‘in the moment’, respond appropriately, and improvise a creative solution.

The report identifies the effects of not being able to think creatively and reveals that 46 percent of people have experienced impatient customer service. Other poor staff behaviours found include unhelpfulness (45 percent), poor communication (38 percent), or rudeness (37 percent).

Customers are quick to make judgements about organisations as a result, with 88 percent admitting that they make negative assumptions about the entire organisation due to inappropriate staff behaviour.

Those working as professionals in the healthcare sector were revealed to have the strongest ability to improvise and work well under pressure (40 percent), followed by counter staff in banks (23 percent) and admin staff in the NHS (23 percent).

At the other end of the spectrum, the research found that those working as estate agents (nine percent), staff at utility companies (10 percent), or staff on public transport (15 percent) struggled to think quickly and be able to improvise effectively.

Stage craft: Customers value staff ‘thinking on their feet’

Although all three sectors require the ability to communicate well with customers and to make a positive impression, it’s clear that often this isn’t always delivered effectively. This can be due to a range of reasons including difficult customers or stressful situations.

Kate Walker Miles, tutor and Client Manager at RADA Business, said: “Customers appreciate being heard and react positively towards workers who go the extra mile, but robotic service and a diminishing ability to improvise can leave customers feeling frustrated.

“By viewing the organisation from the perspective of your customer, you can understand clearly how the business is being perceived and encourage a positive culture of improvisation.

“There are simple training techniques available to support workers who struggle to think quickly and react to situations in a flexible way, tapping into the power of improvisation, which can empower everyone in your workforce to make imaginative yet informed decisions.”

 


Rajnish SharmaRajnish SharmaOctober 29, 2019
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5min2282

The global aviation industry is facing many complex challenges – none more pressing than the increasing expectations of customers looking for a personalised travel experience.

The internet and social media have given customers direct access to airport and airline staff, and this immediate access has led to customers expecting immediate action on their complaints and queries.

What does the passenger of the future expect?

According to the SITA Passenger Insights 2019 Report, by 2025, 68 percent of passengers will be from the ‘post-digital generation’ – i.e. those who have grown up interacting with technology to manage their lives. They understand artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and chatbots, and they expect these technologies to be there for them when they travel.

As the aviation industry struggles to retain and engage passengers, a consistently excellent Customer Experience must remain at the core of their offering. This begs the question, therefore, of what new technologies airlines and airports can confidently rely on to deliver the experience that this post-digital customer demands.

What technology can the industry use to improve CX?

Airlines and airports are increasingly turning to robotics and assisted intelligence solutions to streamline their operations and give their customers options to minimise pain-points on their journeys. Automating first-level support queries, for instance, means that staff can focus on more complex problems without compromising Customer Experience, all while reducing costs.

Plane sailing: A majority of passengers use airline smartphone apps

Chatbots are the perfect ally for customer support agents, since they allow companies to interact with passengers around the clock – and during delays or disruptions can be used effectively to keep customers informed and guide them through the next steps, resulting in higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Roughly 55 percent of passengers are already using technology to improve their journey by downloading their airline’s mobile app. Crucially, these apps also allow customers to voice any dissatisfaction they might feel towards airlines or airports.

Companies need to have a strong engagement strategy to make use of this ‘dissatisfaction data’ to address passenger pain-points and improve Customer Experience. Proactive customer engagement helps to meet customer expectations and allows airlines to better allocate resources and improve organisational efficiency.

Effective digital competitiveness brings humans and technology together

The ‘human touch’ must remain central to the aviation industry despite this new digital environment. It is here that the unique combination of a High Touch, High Tech approach becomes a critical business component.

Matching technological development with a warm and skilled human workforce is the key to building brand loyalty while reducing inefficient time-lags and getting an edge on rivals in the fiercely competitive travel sector. 


Phil DurandPhil DurandOctober 29, 2019
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7min2657

 

If there is one lesson Phil Durand (pictured), Director of Customer Experience Management at Confirmit re-learned as a judge at this year’s UK Customer Experience Awards, it’s that there is real value in making things as simple as possible…

The aim of Voice of the Customer programmes is not to just to listen but to act.

In order to make this a reality, not a theoretical exercise, it’s vital that we all remember that creating a great Customer Experience is all about people. It requires a commitment to empowering people to use their initiative and to make a difference at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Technology is obviously an enabler, helping us to gather customer feedback, but the people that use technology to understand and harness the insight provided are the ones that make the real difference.

In the Best Use of Insight and Feedback category at the recent UK Customer Experience Awards, we were reminded of some of basic CX truths: ask the right people, the right questions, at the right time and in the right manner.

Continuous temperature checks on experience won’t necessarily drive response rates. In some cases they can do the opposite. Hands-on support was stressed, even if this means helping execs to access and make use of the VoC dashboard. Sharing voice recordings so that managers can literally hear the ‘voice’ of the customer can provide a shortcut to understanding what customers think and literally drive action to the next level.

In my view, best practice CX requires careful identification of the key challenges to be addressed. It needs razor-sharp focus on that end goal, whether it be culture change, boosting morale, increased revenue, or cost savings.

Just as important is the determination to share feedback to both the c-suite and the factory floor so that it can be used to take even the smallest of steps to improve the customer experience. Clear and effective communication is needed to make sure that the message is not lost in translation. And this means keeping it simple. If you bombard people with too much detail, you won’t take them with you.

Finals: Phil Durand judged at the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards

Text analytics as a companion to VoC surveys has proven to be the ideal partnership in this respect. They complement each other because they provide insight into what the customer really thinks, in their own words, as well as what they may divulge in answer to a direct question in a survey.

Upon combining both forms of insight in a single dashboard, comments are longer  regarded as ‘random’ but become representative, actively bringing  ‘the numbers’ to life.

The idea, of course, is not to blind people with science or to hide behind the data. There’s no point empowering employees to go the extra mile if they can’t make sense of the insight you’ve gathered. It’s more effective to present insight in bite-size chunks that are appropriate for each stage of the customer journey and then share it in a digestible form with those responsible for delivering Customer Experience at that stage.

This is why I stress the importance of simplicity.

Yes, behind the scenes there may be some serious maths, crunching large quantities of data, but in order for people to engage with the insight there is no point in making it look more complex than it needs to be. Or making it too hard to find the nugget of insight that they need to do things differently.

That won’t empower anybody.

It’s still very true to say that people are more likely to be inspired by another person than a pie chart. They respond at a basic human level so while it is absolutely essential that we embrace data analysis in the background, make sure your employees can hear what customers are saying direct. So they can do something about it.

Not so complex after all.


John WallsJohn WallsOctober 29, 2019
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10min1276

There’s nothing worse.

You book an entire day off work to receive a delivery. You spend the whole time waiting for the doorbell to ring because you don’t know what time the delivery will arrive. You nip out to the back garden to hang out the washing and find out you missed the delivery when you get back inside. 

That might sound like an unlikely occurrence of Murphy’s law but the truth is that the growth of online shopping has more and more customers asking “Where is my order?” – so much so, that the industry has given it its own acronym, WISMO.

And, when they can’t find the answer, the first place they turn is customer service. So even in cases where brands use third party suppliers to ship goods to consumers, it’s still the responsibility of the brand to make sure their customers are informed and happy. 

Research carried out by Zendesk found that good customer service outranks convenience and reputation when people are considering which companies to do business with. That means it’s not just the when and where of a delivery, but how you communicate and help the customer be informed that matters. But over the past five years, customer satisfaction is down 2.2 percent, from 94.6 percent in 2013 to 92.5 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, expectations are rising. 

The rise of WISMO has the potential to increase the load on your customer service centres and turn waiting customers into angry ones. That doesn’t have to be the case though – here are three top tips businesses should consider to get ahead of WISMO and take control to improve on the delivery experience.

1. Help customers to help themselves

The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2019 findings show that 40 percent of customers prefer to use search or help centres before contacting support, yet only 20 percent of support teams provide self-service. 

Companies can implement self-service tools that allow the customer to get quick and up-to-date information on how the delivery process works, with tools in place to push real-time alerts on delivery status and tracking to the customer. That way, they no longer need to set aside an entire day for a delivery that will take a few seconds to take place. It provides a boost in both convenience and customer satisfaction. 

Setting up self-service isn’t a solution that you will implement overnight but the Zendesk customers I speak to tell me it’s worth it. Preparing self-service content enables a business to deeply understand its customers and the way they interact with the business about their questions and concerns.

Done correctly, self-service can speed up the time customers spend looking for answers and, at the same time, free up agent time to add value in areas where they are most needed. 

2. Implement intelligence  

It’s a big mistake to categorise artificial intelligence (AI) as a technology only seen in sci-fi movies. You also shouldn’t put AI on your ‘future’ list for a solution to implement when you’re flush with cash. The figures speak for themselves.

High performing businesses are twice as likely to use AI. It’s helping companies resolve tickets 21 percent faster, while handling six times the volume of requests. Yet 85 percent of enterprise companies still aren’t using AI. 

AI can serve various purposes but if you want to give a better experience for customers waiting for deliveries, one function of AI is to recognise tickets that need urgent attention. Time sensitive questions or messages about an imminent or even late delivery can receive a macro response to both the customer and an agent. This ensures that customers’ needs are being prioritised while the agent is aware of the urgency of the case. 

Whatever the channel that the customer uses to get in touch with the company, AI can be incorporated into an omnichannel solution that makes sure customers are dealt with quickly. When they receive the right response in a timeframe that reflects their level of query, it’s more likely to avoid escalated complaints – even if a delivery has been missed or is late. 

3. Know that robots can’t do everything

No, this isn’t a direct contradiction to my previous point. No matter how sophisticated AI systems become, there will always be a need for human agents. To ensure that customers are updated on their deliveries, with the necessary customer support, it’s key to make sure human agents are in the best position to pick up more complex cases and be the most helpful.  

Nearly half of customers we surveyed (46 percent) said their expectations are higher than they were a year ago. Customers quickly become frustrated when a chatbot can’t answer their detailed questions and if agents aren’t quickly and transparently brought in when needed, it becomes difficult to join the dots that lead to timely deliveries. 

The key to the successful hand-off between bots and beings is the right information that prevents customers going right back to the beginning of the process when they pick up the phone or deal with a human agent on chat. No one wants to have to repeat themselves when talking to different parts of the same company.

By the time a human agent is presented with the case, they should have all necessary context – conversational history, product ordered, delivery information, and more. Connecting all this information in one platform – including integration with your order management system – helps ensure that agents have a full understanding of the customer and can manage more complex requests in a timely manner. 

It’s important not just to deal with late or missed deliveries, it’s also imperative to counteract the frustration that comes with it. And when customer services start to become more proactive than reactive, with the use of AI, we can reduce the amount of anxiety from WISMO altogether.

At the heart of reaching this goal is an open flexible platform that enables collaboration throughout the business and integration with other stakeholders through APIs and app integrations to enable a complete view across the supply chain.  


Jon BussJon BussOctober 28, 2019
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5min1714

The rise of online retail continues to gather pace and consumers are rapidly migrating their spending habits away from brick and mortar to shopping through digital devices.

ONS data shows that ecommerce market size reached £137.38bn last year, with 82 percent of Britons now shopping online.

This shift in purchasing behaviour is set to accelerate further over the coming decade. Customer behaviour could see the internet account for as much as 53 percent of retail sales in 10 years’ time, according to a report by analysts Retail Economics.

As a consequence of an expanding digital retail environment, the breadth of available choice has also grown rapidly. In fact, consumers are now being faced with something of a ‘paradox of choice’ from the available options. This terminology is used to describe the way an ever increasing amount of choice can cause a corresponding increase in anxiety – and it’s becoming a consumer pain point.

As retail has evolved to become more saturated, so too has the expanding range of platforms it operates over. Across social, search, maps, apps, and more recently voice assistants, we have more purchase avenues available to us than ever to add to the chaos. This also means that brands have more touchpoints than ever to manage to ensure that they are discoverable.

How can brands come out on top?

Businesses must now take an active role in guiding potential customers through the seemingly endless choice across digital platforms to ensure that they come out on top. By managing all of the public facts about your brand, as well as online reputation, you can improve consumer confidence that your product or service is the best of the options presented.

In a world where options are countless, reputation management is intrinsically linked to revenue. Time-poor online searchers are looking for answers fast, and typically, they will scan for average ratings and read a few reviews to reassure themselves that they are making the right purchasing decision.

Reviews are important and consumers often shape their perceptions around them, so they’ve become a key brand consideration. They also impact discoverability through SEO as consumers search for ‘best’ and ‘top 10’, for example. So, monitoring this feedback and providing responses is a crucial element of modern day reputation management.

Managing the facts about your brand

Reviews aren’t the only aspect to reputation management. Increasingly, today’s customer journey starts with a question, and customers expect quick and easy access to accurate answers. For your business, that means providing the facts about your offering – from hours, services, locations, professionals, menus to events – everywhere consumers search.

The future of search lies in answers. So, alongside authenticity and transparency, reputation and responsiveness to customers’ opinions should be key commercial considerations right now. Those that offer accurate and useful information across multiple touchpoints will be well positioned in an era of seemingly limitless choice and noise – and their customers will thank them for it.


CXM Editorial TeamCXM Editorial TeamOctober 28, 2019
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6min2157

Some say there has never been a better time to be searching for employment.

It is true that the whole process has significantly improved, especially with the growth of technology and the internet. Plus, long gone are the days when everyone needed to be in London to find a job, with other cities in the UK growing at a tremendous rate. In fact, Manchester has been the fastest growing city in England and Wales between 2002-2015. So finding jobs in Manchester with online recruiters is just as easy as getting a similar position in London.

With that being said, it can be argued that being successful at the interview stage may be one of the trickiest parts of the course. Especially with recruiters getting more creative these days when it comes to looking for their perfect candidate; which has seen digital interviews become increasingly popular.

Digital interviews, in many respects, are the ideal way to put a potential recruit to the test, so if you’re facing one any time soon, we have some fantastic tips for you.

Research

One of the first things you can do to prepare to nail a digital interview is to put effort into research. There’s a lot of things to study ahead of the conversation, but by making time you will give yourself a better chance of being successful.

Begin by researching the company, learn of the vital information. From there, study the role you’re applying for, as well as doing your homework on the interviewer.

After getting the research done, preparing how you’re going to present yourself is the next step. Research again can help here, especially if you’re able to ascertain the dress code of the company itself or the role you’re applying.

Looking smart is always a requirement, and remember, first impressions count. However, don’t be overdressed. The interviewer is more interested in what you have to say, so don’t let your appearance take their attention away from this.

Practise

So, now not only do you know the company, your potential role, and the interviewer you’ll face, you also know how you’ll present yourself too. Now it’s time to call on a friend or two, as you’re going to need to practice ahead of the real thing. Practice digital interviews are essential, especially when using multiple people, as they allow you to refine your approach and work on areas that perhaps need a bit of improvement ahead of the upcoming interview with the employer.

The great thing about practice digital interviews is that they can be recorded and then watched back. It will allow you to get to grips with how you’re presenting yourself, the way you answer questions and everything else which will prove to be prominent on the day. Having the opportunity to have practice runs will give you the chance to perhaps pick up on overusing words or phrases or talking too fast, or too slow.

Rest

Now it’s on to the eve of your digital interview. A good night’s sleep will be needed ahead of the event, as not only will you look more presentable, your cognitive function will also be better too. Therefore, you’ll be able to think quicker, provide better answers, and remain calm too. A shower after walking up is essential also, as this will help refresh and relax you, and again have a positive effect on both your appearance and state of mind.

If you use all the tips we’ve provided above, you should be well on your way to nailing your digital interview. Remember, stay calm and focused, and most importantly of all, be yourself and enjoy.

It is your chance to impress.




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