Jonathan SharpJonathan SharpJuly 7, 2020
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9min174

As lockdown starts to ease after months of the world being turned upside down and everything coming to a halt, life will slowly start again. Children are being phased back to school, and shops and businesses are starting to open for commerce to recommence.

This is still a time of immense uncertainty for all: how will employees return to work in offices? Will the workplace ever be the same again? Will the UK suffer the worst economic recession that it has ever seen since World War Two?

Businesses will need to recoup money lost from the last few months of lockdown and re-evaluate their workforce. Do redundancies need to be made? How long will they keep employees on furlough?

It will be a mammoth task to approach but the areas that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency are – how to improve the customer experience and for businesses to look at their processes and operations to see how they can not only save money but also make money.

Now, more than ever is the time to invest in technology and evaluate your business processes and customer experience. Now, is the time to put measures in place to ensure you thrive and not just survive.

Time to Get Agile

The days of long development cycles are gone and Senior Managers are aware that they don’t have the time to procrastinate and need to deploy technology solutions that can improve their business and the customer experience now – there is no time to wait.

This can be achieved with contained trails and pilots and non-invasive solutions that don’t impact on the underlying technology but speeds up implementation and at the same time mitigates the risk.

Maintaining a Superior Customer Experience

You would assume that in a crisis such as COVID-19 customers would be more forgiving of an inferior customer service. Unfortunately, this is not true, even in a crisis competition is strong, in fact, it is probably stronger and the 24/7 demands of consumers have been more prevalent particularly in lockdown when customers are eager to receive their goods or services.

If you don’t provide a superior customer service you will not only lose business but your brand becomes in danger of being destroyed by negative comments on social media.

Providing an intuitive and seamless customer experience is paramount to not only your survival but offers you the opportunities to thrive and lead with differentiation.

Leading with Online Commerce

It’s likely fewer people will be going into shops in the foreseeable future and more will turn to online shopping, so it is paramount to ensure that your online commerce is seamless. It needs to be intuitive for customers and staff and must be slick from the ordering point right through to the delivery and the returns. The end to end journey must be flawless for you to compete effectively.

Outshine your competitors with Seamless Service

During COVID-19 a lot of organisations experienced high levels of customer enquiries that proved difficult to manage and respond to. Automation can be used to manage digital interactions and streamline operations to reduce costs and increase efficiencies without impacting on the business’s performance or customer experience.

An automation solution can reside outside the contact centre acting as a triage, processing large volumes of digital interactions such as email, web chat, social messaging or WhatsApp messages, presenting the agent with a single screen of all digital communications.

Enabling businesses to only allocate human agents to deal with real time urgent enquiries, handing over the other requests to the automation solution where it automatically reads content, context and sentiment and can respond automatically using set bespoke answers from templates. It can also prioritise, categorise and create queues and tickets for fulfilment.

The travel industry has been truly hit hard by COVID-19 and many travel and insurance companies have had an increase in transactional enquiries. Sunspot Tours & Mercury Holidays were inundated with enquiries from customers who wanted a refund or to delay their holiday until 2021. They deployed a solution to streamline customer enquiries with categorised, automated and prioritised responses.

Mercury Holidays has implemented a self-service functionality on their website using templates to provide the answers to general enquiries. Tickets were created so the enquiries could be prioritised and complex enquiries were routed to a contact centre agent to deal with the issue.

“In the most challenging business climate we have ever seen, the biggest gain for us implementing the INBOX is efficiency. We now have all enquiries coming into a single central point which enables us to prioritise them and deliver a seamless service. We have also automated the organisation of our workload during this hectic time and now have the ability to implement self-service for our customers which will lead to improved efficiencies and vast cost-savings,” Neil Whitaker, Head of IT, Sunspot Tours & Mercury Holidays

COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of having a superior customer experience that is easy for both customers and staff. Even in unprecedented times, customers expect outstanding customer service, especially when there are competitors that are providing it. New entrants agile enough to adapt to new environments and recognise new opportunities have adopted new technologies and ways of working and have left traditional competitors behind.

Optimise and Re-align your Workforce

Further to lockdown businesses will start to see the benefits of enabling home working, with increased productivity, happier and healthy employees and cost savings on desk space. Many companies have of course had to relocate their contact centres so agents can work from home and are realising the potential cost- savings on real estate as an added advantage and also the fact that their contact centre can remain open and operational with agents based from home.

Get Creative with Automation

Now, is the time to get creative with re-engineering your business processes and utilising the latest digital technologies to blend humans and tech together to improve processes, the customer experience and deliver results.

The world has entered an unexpected change that may transform our working lives forever so it is time to discover new business models, streamline operations, processes and increase the effectiveness of customer engagement with disruptive technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence. The possibilities and opportunities are endless; it is all in the design.

Data Intelligence

Digital interactions provide an abundance of data that can be used intelligently to ascertain customer behaviour, seasonal trends, pricing structures etc, and target customers more effectively. More people are being appointed to manage data to ensure that it is utilised to make strategic decisions and not left to sit there unused.

Time to Thrive and Not Just Survive

Without a doubt, there are tough times ahead but seize this opportunity as time to thrive and not just survive. By taking the time to evaluate your existing business processes and customer experience you can improve them with the latest digital technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence. Come out of lockdown and be prepared to welcome in the ‘new normal’ and reap the results.


Paul MaguirePaul MaguireJune 30, 2020
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9min632

There has never been a more critical moment to get automation right. As businesses brace for a rough road ahead, simply using technology as a means to streamline manual processes, cut costs and reduce human errors is no longer enough.

While that gave organisations a competitive edge in the past, companies must now take their use of automation to the next level to achieve maximum competitive advantage. That means using automation technologies to drive revenue growth and service improvement by creating new customer experiences that win brand loyalty.

Automation has been quietly transforming the way companies interact with their customers for some time now, but often with mixed results.

A recent survey of large organisations across the United States and Europe conducted by IDG found that most businesses are already using some form of technology to automate business process and customer interactions – ranging from AI (56 percent) to chatbots (53 percent) and Interactive Voice Response (55 percent) to Robotic Process Automation (45 percent).

Many more survey respondents reported that they plan to deploy those technologies in the next 12 months. Yet worryingly, only 41 percent of respondents believed that the way their organisation is using automation helps them to meaningfully forge stronger customer relationships.

Clearly, companies are switched-on to the fact that automation has the potential to upgrade their customer relations, but effective implementation with positive business outcomes is proving a challenge. So where are businesses tripping up? The IDG survey results offer some pretty big clues.

Off-the-shelf software – not such a bargain after all

Firstly, let’s make one thing clear: when it comes to customer service, automation shouldn’t just be about swapping out human workers with bots. While chatbots and Interactive Voice Responses (IVR) are useful for answering straightforward requests quickly, forming that human connection with customers and delivering a higher-value service is something only well-trained human employees can do.

We’ve all experienced, at one time or another, the frustration of being caught in an endless automated loop with an unsympathetic bot when all you want is to get through to a real person. That kind of experience damages a brand’s reputation while causing customer and revenue loses.

Instead, automation should be a mean for employees to better serve customers and create new experiences. It should connect them to relevant data that will help them to build a complete picture of their customer to both reactively handle requests but also identify unmet needs and anticipate future wants. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where many organisations are falling short.  

The IDG survey found that fewer than a third of respondents felt their organisations’ tools greatly help them understand customers, empower them to fix problems and think or act strategically. Why? Well, 65 percent reported that the applications their organisation uses are only somewhat effective at best at providing all the data and context they need to have a full picture of their customers. 

Commercial Off-The-Shelf-(COTS) Software has long been a popular choice for organisations (particularly smaller, more budget-conscious ones) looking for a light-touch, quick application that can automate certain homogeneous tasks and streamline processes. Such products can be good for that. But what they lack is flexibility. In most cases, these COTS software need to be customised to suit each organisation and their unique use cases, thus driving up implementation time and costs. The packaged software cannot adapt to each company, changing business requirements and market needs quickly or easily.

And survey respondents agreed – a shocking 85 percent indicated that their organisation had experienced one or more negative impacts from using packaged software. They reported feeling limited by what the software was capable of and that it even made tasks more complicated. 37 percent said such applications had a negative impact on customer satisfaction.

That’s unsurprising when you think about the sheer amount of different processes that take place in each department of each company every day. Every company will have its own unique processes that are forever changing. A one-size-fits-all solution is never going to work when the need to adapt, evolve and change is imperative in today’s environment. 

Where low-code software comes in

Building custom applications goes a long way to addressing that problem but takes a lot of time and money. That’s why low-code software is transformative. It removes the manual-coding usually required in software development so developers can build multiple high-quality custom applications and automate workflows quickly. It also means that rather than spending months working on one big product that will be out-of-date when completed, developers can make an application that can constantly evolve to meet changing demands.

To put this into perspective, insurance provider Aviva has created 32 new applications using the Appian low-code platform in three years. That’s around 10 new insurance applications per year. And each application has helped improve the way their employees interact with and service their customers.

Over the course of 20 years, Aviva had inherited 750 other insurance companies, along with their systems, data and processes. As you can imagine, that was a challenge for their call centre agents trying to shift through legacy systems to get to the information they needed – far from ideal when there’s a customer waiting on the other end of the line. By using one way low-code automation, Aviva was able to unify 22 different systems under one custom platform, giving operators 360-degree view of their customers and speeding up customer service response times by nine times. 

With organisations flung into new and unprecedented challenges, many will understandably hope that automating processes will drive down costs. Ultimately, it will be effectively engaging new customers and retaining existing ones that will deliver the greatest material benefits in the long run. That’s what must be kept in mind when they consider deploying automation.    


Joey GreenwaldJoey GreenwaldJuly 26, 2019
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11min3776

I rarely use and never want to pick up my phone anymore.

That is, the phone part of the phone. I happily use my mobile phone all of the time – to communicate, read, and for entertainment. But using the call functionality and dialling a human? No, thank you.

It’s partly because I get dozens of unwanted robocalls every week, and partly because I’ve wasted a lot of time on hold. It’s also because one of the few things that I can control in life is my time – and when I’m on the phone, the person on the other line has effectively hijacked my time.

This is especially true when it comes to getting customer support via the phone. If I need help, I’m probably not feeling particularly sociable. The last thing I want to do is pick up the phone, talk to an agent and hope they can solve my problem – or worse, risk bouncing around a poorly implemented interactive voice-response system (IVR). I’d much rather search for and find an answer online. Better yet, I’d like to type a question and let a well-trained chatbot instantly find the answer for me.

I’m not alone

It’s human nature that we don’t want to rely on other people – and the phone – to accomplish certain tasks or gather information. That’s part of what’s driven the internet explosion.

Take Ticketmaster. The event ticketing company launched a self-service website in the early 90s, where event-goers could, for the first time, purchase tickets online rather than going to in-person kiosks – or making phone calls to human ticketing agents. This is illustrated perfectly by the following excerpt from Paul Allen’s memoir, The Idea Man, about Ticketmaster’s very first online sale:

When customer number one had completed the first transaction, our Web people called him and said, ‘Congratulations, you just bought the first concert ticket in the history of the Internet! Can you tell us why you decided to buy online?’ The man said, ‘Because I don’t like talking to people, and I don’t like talking to you.’ And he hung up.”

More than 25 years after Ticketmaster’s first online sale, there’s proof that people are relying less on phone calls than ever before – and it’s having repercussions across various industries.

A few stats to consider:

  • The number of landlines in use is down dramatically. A report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (via Statista) showed that, in 2004, 92 percent of U.S. households had a working landline. By 2018, that number dropped to 42 percent because of the growth of mobile phones.
  • British telecom service provider Ofcom released a study in 2018 revealing that the number of monthly mobile voice call minutes was on the decline among its customers, from an average of 159 minutes per month in 2016 to 157 minutes in 2017. But while phone calls were down, data consumption skyrocketed, from an average of 1.3 GB in 2016 to 1.9 GB in 2017. 
  • Pew Research reported that response rates for phone surveys plummeted to six percent in 2018. The steady and sharp decline has continued since 1997, when response rates were as high as 36 percent.
  • Nearly 60 percent of contact centre leaders believe inbound call volumes will decrease over the next five years, according to a 2018 McKinsey survey, while 40 percent said the number of calls will fall dramatically, perhaps to zero, in the next decade.
Dial it back: Inbound calls to contact centres are dropping dramatically

Automation takes over self-service

In this era of internet-enabled instant gratification, we as consumers expect to get fast answers to virtually any question – without making any calls.

This includes the realm of customer support. The phone call is no longer the primary medium for support – instead, phone calls are the last resort, and this isn’t just because consumers (like me) prefer it. Businesses do too, as companies are implementing AI-powered support automation technology to both improve the customer experience and better manage operational costs. Here’s some data behind that shift:

  • A recent report by call centre industry analyst firm ContactBabel found that only 25 percent of customer support agents believe that customers prefer human support.
  • 41 percent of consumers would choose live chat as their preferred support channel, according to a study from Kayako, while 32 percent prefer phone calls, followed by email and social media (note: the survey did not include chatbots or virtual assistants as an option).

This doesn’t mean that businesses can totally dismiss phone support. However, it does point to the fact that most consumers would prefer not to dial company support unless they absolutely have to. 

As Forrester analyst Kate Leggett wrote: “Today, customers have more choice: more products to buy, more information to influence purchasing decisions, and more devices and channels over which to seek customer service. What they don’t have is more time. It’s no wonder that self-service interactions have overtaken all other channels.”

It’s worth restating Leggett’s words: “What they don’t have is more time.”

That’s why we often turn to Google or a company’s online forums for answers. But a traditional search online or in managed forums can leave you with an endless list of links to sift through. This is where AI comes in. It might take us several minutes or hours to find an answer amidst a library of online information, but applied machine learning (ML) technology can surface the information we need in an instant.

AI also allows companies to provide a uniform quality of service, 24 hours a day, with little to no downtime. Effectively trained chatbots (a.k.a. virtual agents), with brains powered by AI, are becoming the new face of customer support.

The ContactBabel report found that 16 percent of all companies plan to implement artificial intelligence solutions for customer support within the next year, more than doubling the current installed base. Additionally, 27 percent of large contact centres (with 200-plus agents) expect to implement AI/ML within one-year, which means more than 50 percent will have AI/ML in place by 2020.

I know I speak on behalf of consumers everywhere when I say that the era of AI-led support can’t come soon enough. To paraphrase the great R.E.M., it’s the end of phone support as we know it…and I feel fine.


Jamie ThorpeJamie ThorpeJune 5, 2019
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7min1247

The Barbican’s newest exhibition, AI: More than Human, is an artistic exploration of the possibilities that modern technology presents, examining the diverse potential of artificial intelligence (AI). 

A particularly striking installation is MakrShakr, a robotic bartender which can mix cocktails for customers via an online pre-order system.  While undoubtedly a fun gimmick, the introduction of AI into a traditional service role raises important questions about the future of our restaurants, cafés, and bars.

What’ll it beep?: The Makr Shakr robotic bartender on display at the Barbican. Credit Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

The food and drink industry is no stranger to new technologies, and the latest developments are an evolution of sector staples like the sushi belt and fast food self-service machines. However, the gradual move towards AI presents unique new challenges. Principally, to what extent can automation really reflect Customer Experience value generated by humans in what is an intrinsically personal sector? While few would argue that real employees can ever fully be replaced, increased automation should come with a few health warnings.

Choosing the right persona

Finding the right persona for an AI system is the first step to ensuring customers actually enjoy using it. It’s important to have a welcoming interface, but this can be quickly undermined if the technology doesn’t work as it should. Successful AI personalities like Alexa and Siri are approachable and lighthearted when the situation dictates, but they’re primarily programmed to be as helpful as possible so people can find what they want quickly. 

In the service sector, making the interface fun and playful is especially important, but there also needs to be a level of emotional intelligence present for when things go wrong. Investment in self and situational awareness so that customers feel their needs (and frustrations) are understood goes a long way. For voice services this means ensuring bots recognise emotion and intonation when customers speak. And where the technology isn’t voice based, a simple on screen message – for example an apology in the case of slow service – makes technology feel as attentive as humans would be in that situation.

Armed revolution: A visitor interacts with Alter, one of the robots featuring in a new exhibition at the Barbican Centre. Credit Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

This isn’t to suggest AI can ever replicate the value of existing employees, who will always be the major drivers of high quality CX. Instead, AI should complement staff, freeing them up from administrative or procedural tasks and allowing them more time to engage qualitatively with customers and build brand loyalty and retention.

Supersized potential

Upselling is a major part of successful service businesses – everything from ‘do you want fries with that?’ to making sure diners have dessert and coffee at the end of a meal. For AI, this represents both a challenge and an opportunity. Making these transactions appear conversational and informed is key; just think of the persuasiveness of a genuine recommendation from a well-read employee at Waterstones compared with the ‘frequently bought with…’ pop-ups seen online.

Like finding the right persona, successful upselling relies on engaging customers, showing awareness, and demonstrating genuine knowledge. Recommendations should be presented as being bespoke to specific customers, not just based on the habits of other people.

Keep it fresh

Multiple conversations with the same person do not feel like the same experience over and over again – and interactions with automated services should be just as refreshing. Where an AI uses voice, this might mean mixing up the repertoire and programming varied responses to common questions. For others, different aspects can be kept fresh. In the case of our robot barman, making sure the menu is regularly updated to encourage people to come back for more will engender regular customers.

At the time of writing, the Barbican’s robot barman has already temporarily closed because of technical issues – proving that the museum exhibition is a long way from the reality of frontline customer service. It is inevitable that automation will become more widespread, we just need to make sure that the consumer, not the technology, remains king.


Aleksandar IlićAleksandar IlićJune 19, 2018
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6min1950

Giovanni Toschi is the Founder of AI firms Jatana and BotSupply. The Copenhagen-based entrepreneur took time out to talk to CXM about how we are firmly in the middle of the Golden Age of Customer Experience, and where the industry can go from here…

Your role must give you a great perspective on what businesses need and what customers expect from them. How do you see the overall  role of Customer Experience today?

Giovanni Toschi

Customer Experience is probably going through its Golden Age right now. The awareness of businesses all around the world has grown a lot and they really do care about CX and overall customer satisfaction. No business is unique, everyone has competitors; it’s the relationship with your customers that makes the difference between successful companies and the rest of the businesses that fall behind.

What do companies often do wrong when it comes to CX?

There is more than one thing. First of all, many are faking it. They try to seem like they really care for the customer while they actually care for the cash. Yes, everyone is in the business for the money, but that does not mean you should treat your customers as a number or data. They’re not, and they know when you do that.
Second, they do not devote themselves too much. Low effort to satisfy a customer in most cases end up with bad results for the company.

Customer support plays a big role in Customer Experience. How do you see it?

Interaction between the company and the customer is half of it, honestly. The ways you connect with your customers, including providing customer support, is a key differentiator today.

Automation is a hot topic. Do you think it improves the efficiency of a company and Customer Experience in general?

Absolutely yes, if used correctly. Customers today want everything almost instantly. Twenty-four hours to reply is no longer enough – you have to act fast. But they also want you to show effort and focus on them as an individual. That’s where automation kicks in. It provides instant replies to frequently asked questions, and agents can focus on the more complex topics and connect to the customer on a personal level.

When it comes to automation, it is often associated with the fear of AI replacing humans and taking over their jobs. Do you think this is true and how do you see the future with ‘robots’ as our coworkers?

The same fear was present with the industrial revolution, yet we did not lose jobs, we just created new ones. Machines can replace humans in many positions, but that only means new positions will open. Humans will always have their advantages over robots.

What exactly is Jatana?

We are on a mission to bring Artificial Intelligence to customer support teams of any size. Using Jatana, any company can set up AI automation in their contact centre in a matter of hours. Our solution allows support agents to focus on the issues that matter while leaving repetitive tasks to the AI.

What inspired you and your team to create this tool?

Since 2016, at BotSupply, we have been helping companies like Carlsberg and Mercedes leverage conversational AI to provide better Customer Experience. In the process, we kept on getting requests to develop a solution that could do the same for email support. We put together an initial MVP and after closing the first customer we decided to spin-off the product into a stand-alone company and that’s how Jatana was born.

Could you give us an example of a company that successfully included your tool (or any other automated service) into their business?

We have been operational for a few months only but our customer base includes companies from Scandinavia, as well as other parts of Europe and Asia. A good example is Stocard, a fast-growing German company that developed an app to keep all your loyalty cards in one place.

What is your message to the readers of Customer Experience Magazine?

If you’re reading this magazine that already means that you do care about Customer Experience. That’s great – stay on the right track, follow what’s trending, and don’t let competitors leave you behind. Try to be one step ahead, as that’s how you win the race.




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