UK Customer Experience Award winner ContactEngine has been named as one of Europe’s fastest-growing companies in The Financial Times 1000 ranking.
The rating is the result of a joint project by the Financial Times and Statista, which – now in its fourth year – conducted months of research, public calls, intensive database research, and directly contacted tens of thousands of companies. In the end, they were able to identify outstanding companies among the millions of existing European enterprises.
ContactEngine, the conversational AI technology used by large corporations across industries to automate customer communications, is deployed by the top UK, European, and North American brands in telecommunications, utilities, financial services, auto, and retail, including British Gas, Whirlpool, DHL, Sky, TELUS, Verizon, Virgin Media, and BT.
ContactEngine’s partnership with BT earned the firms a Gold title for Use of Technology at the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards in London.
The company was also recently presented with the Best Use of IP Award at The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 Awards Dinner.
Speaking of the latest high-profile recognition of his firm’s work, Dr Mark K. Smith, CEO of ContactEngine, said: “We are pleased to be recognised as one of Europe’s fastest-growing companies. It’s a testament to all those involved in ContactEngine – our employees, investors, and clients – and to the technology in transforming the way global brands engage with their customers.
“Looking ahead as a business, we continue to focus on growth and expansion both geographically and by industry – it’s an exciting time for us and for our customers.”
Focusing on Customer Experience directly leads to higher business growth, reveals Adobe’s 2020Digital Trends.
According to the study, UK brands leading in CX were three times more likely to exceed their 2019 business goals. It was also found that those leading in CX all shared a common approach to investing more in people, technology and structures.
Now in its tenth year, the Digital Trends report, in partnership with Econsultancy, surveyed over 13,000 global marketing, advertising, ecommerce, creative and IT professionals to understand their 2019 achievements and 2020 priorities.
Alvaro Del Pozo, Vice President of Marketing, International, at Adobe said: “Today’s consumers have more choice, are better informed, and are more demanding than ever.
“A customer-led approach is no longer optional – it’s business critical. Brands need to connect with customers in more dynamic and engaging ways. By focusing on creating the right culture and team, supported by the right technology, brands will be able to react to changing customer and market needs, faster than ever.”
Businesses in the UK clearly recognise the importance of taking a customer-first approach, with almost a quarter (24 percent) of British brands ranking CX optimisation as their most exciting priority for 2020. Encouragingly, the UK’s focus on CX outranks the global and European average of 22 percent, ahead of both Germany (23 percent) and Italy (16 percent), and behind only the Nordics (26 percent) and France (25 percent).
However, a clear maturity gap has opened up between CX ambition and actual capability in several European countries, with just one in 20 brands from the UK (5 percent), Germany and the Nordics (both 6 percent) ranking their CX development as ‘very advanced’.
French brands rank themselves highest in Europe when it comes to CX maturity, with 16 percent saying their strategy and technology is aligned to the customer experience, ahead of Italy at 12 percent.
For brands seeking to close the maturity gap, they must look beyond a single piece of technology or initiative, instead focusing on creating an organisational structure and culture that adopts a customer-first model.
Having the right people will be critical for brands looking to reach CX sophistication in 2020. However, the hunt for quality talent is proving to be a challenge for many, with one-in-five (19 percent) UK businesses leading in CX, admitting that attracting and retaining talent in CX-related areas is their most pressing challenge in 2020, second only to France (20 percent) in Europe.
Perhaps more worryingly, almost a third (31 percent) of British brands say finding people with the right digital skills is preventing them from creating successful digital experiences, ahead of the European average (29 percent).
To plug the digital skills gap, particularly around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), brands must ensure they take an agile approach to upskilling, which aligns to long-term business strategy, flows from the top down, and spans the entire organisation.
The appetite for AI and ML among UK businesses is continuing to grow in 2020, with 43 percent of British brands already using AI/ML or planning to invest this year. Brands that embrace automation possess a clear business advantage. Equipped with the ability to make intelligent real-time decisions that are personalised to the individual, businesses will be closer to their customers than ever before.
Encouragingly, a third of UK companies cite targeting and personalisation as their main area of focus in 2020 – while one in five say data-driven marketing that’s focused on the individual is their top priority, ranking ahead of both France (11 percent) and Germany (15 percent). This indicates that commitment to automation will only continue to grow this year and beyond.
A new digital CX service is promising to alert employees and management of potential issues facing their customers as soon as they arise.
Finnish tech firm HappyOrNot is integrating ‘Real-time Collaboration’ into its product suite in order to deliver further service enhancements to its 4,000 clients, which include McDonald’s, Elkjop, Amazon, JACK & JONES, and London Heathrow Airport.
The new software allows for managers and employees in all sectors to be alerted as soon as a potential issue arises (based on spikes in ‘Smiley’ data), such as long waiting times at airport security or unstocked shelves in a retailer.
When the number of negative or positive responses from designated Smiley Terminal and Smiley Touch products exceeds a preset value, staff are sent automated push notifications through the HappyOrNot mobile reporting app.
Once these alerts are sent, managers and frontline staff are able to acknowledge the alert and comment on the situation as it unfolds.
All within the app, they are able to communicate and issue direct instructions and on how to handle the situation. For example, if ‘wait time’ is a commonly-cited problem on a Smiley Touch, receiving frequent dark red negative feedbacks, retail employees will be alerted to this and can open a new checkout in response, while also telling their colleagues the issue should be solved.
Managers and team members are also able to review alerts and log processes retrospectively, meaning organisations can learn from previous problems to prevent them from happening again in the future. Alongside this, managers can celebrate staff who respond quickly and effectively to any issues, as demonstrated through the app.
Heikki Väänänen, CEO and Founder of HappyOrNot, said: “We’ve all been there. You’re waiting, impatiently, in line at a store, confused as to why more checkouts aren’t open. If a staff member were to arrive and start serving customers, wait times would be halved and we’d all go home happy.
“Despite this frustration, it’s not fair to expect staff to have a psychic awareness of these problems. Through our data, however, teams are notified of situations like these, and can in real-time collaborate to fix issues. All this means that customers are happier and able to get on with their day, staff are less stressed and feel empowered by their ability to resolve issues more quickly, and businesses can flourish as a result.”
The SAS/Futurum Experience 2030 report has posed an interesting question: what will drive customer loyalty by 2030?
The landscape of customer loyalty is changing. Gone are the days where consumers placed blind faith in brands, shopping habitually for their convenience.
Empowered by technology, consumers are using easy browsing to compare the competition, finding the best deals for them at the click of a button. Does this mean that all hope of customer loyalty is lost?
Definitely not. Brands simply need to react to this new age and work harder to firstly understand the driving forces of loyalty, and then to actually earn it.
Customer loyalty theory boils down into two different aspects:
Behavioural loyalty customers repeat purchasing your brand/product. This is sometimes referred to as “continuity”, as it could be simple convenience that drives this behaviour, or customer “inertia” (can’t be bothered to switch) – neither can hardly be described as loyalty!
Attitudinal loyalty usually described as some sort of ladder with ‘trial buyers’ at the bottom and ‘advocates’ or ‘fans’ at the top.Some CX practitioners are of the opinion that if you ‘wow’ customers enough you’ll make them advocates (high NPS) or fans (with your brand metaphorically tattooed on their arms). There’s merit in this argument, but we can’t automatically assume that high attitudinal loyalty equals your “best” (i.e. most profitable) customers – that depends on their spending power. We also can’t assume advocacy higher up the ladder – studies have shown that new customers are just as likely to recommend a brand if their purchase experience was good
I hope that you see from this (perhaps over-simplified) description that a brand needs both attitudinal and behavioural loyalty to be sustainably successful.
For business value to be delivered, I hope it’s also clear that behavioural loyalty keeps the bread on the table.
It is sobering to realise that some of your most profitable customers (high continuity with low cost-to-serve) may have little or no attitudinal loyalty. These customers may well consider moving their business to a new entrant or more convenient provider if the competitive offer is sufficient to overcome inertia.
The question in the SAS/Futurum Experience 2030 report is clearly more focused on behavioural loyalty, asking for “up to THREE features you believe will be most important to you in deciding to be loyal to a brand or organization”.
The results give eight attributes that consumers say will drive loyalty in the future:
ATTRIBUTES CONSUMERS SAY WILL DRIVE LOYALTY 2025 – 2030
(Top three most important to be loyal)
High Quality Products or Services
Low Cost or Special Discounts
Special Recommendations, Upgrades or Incentives
Immediate Availability (delivery within a few days)
Immediate Availability (same-day delivery)
A live person on the phone to answer questions or provide support
Sale notifications on my mobile or app
Social Responsibility (supporting causes I agree with)
High quality is top of the list. It’s worth reminding ourselves that ‘quality’ is not necessarily about ‘premium’ or ‘luxury’. In its most rudimentary definition, it’s about delivering what was ordered on-time, on-cost and to the required specification – very much about getting the basics right.
‘High’ quality is doing it well! If you can consistently deliver what you promised when you promised it at a reasonable price then you stand a chance of building both attitudinal and behavioural loyalty. It’s not sexy like CX delight theory, but it earns you the right to go on and build and deepen the relationship.
The features that come 2nd, 3rd and 7th are very transactional, and consumers are confirming that their behaviour can be influenced by offers if they’re well-made and appropriate.
This very much speaks to the need for providers to excel in real-time personalisation. Companies will build loyalty if they can truly understand customer needs and propensity, and then meet individual customers on their journeys to make relevant value-adding offers.
Expectations for quick or immediate delivery have soared in recent years, and the fact that they come 4th and 5th on the list shows how empowered consumers now are. Providers used to specify what “on-time” meant. Customers can now easily decide if that’s not good enough and switch provider.
The 6th most important feature – live person interaction – is a timely reminder to companies dashing for digital transformation that they mustn’t lose the human touch. There was a chatbot option in the question but it didn’t make the top eight. Should we scrap our digitisation plans?
What we should do is have equal weighting in those plans for CX and cost efficiency. Transformations that ignore CX in favour of cost savings will lead to customers feeling like they’re just a number and that they’re being ‘processed’ rather than engaged. Good “design thinking” is always CX-driven and should always address attitudinal and behavioural loyalty.
The final feature on the list (social responsibility) is the only one that’s purely attitudinal. Brand image didn’t even make the cut!
This is definitely one to watch, particularly with respect to climate and environmental issues. Even highly loyal customers will reconsider that loyalty if you’re caught out bysomething that society deems as irresponsible e.g. single use plastics.
It’s interesting to note that one of the options in the question – VIP (loyalty) programmes – also didn’t make the top eight. This is a fascinating finding in its own right. It suggests that consumers are beginning to twig that they can get a better/cheaper/quicker-delivered deal by shopping around than by sticking with an existing provider and getting a retrospective “reward”.
Is this the death-knell for loyalty programmes? I suspect not as they are often an economic vehicle by which many of the features that did make the top eight are offered. Simple spend-related programmes are now ubiquitous. My advice is that if you are considering launching or re-engineering a loyalty programme then it needs to be something very special and truly innovative.
We need to change our mindframe: “be a loyalty company, not loyalty programme”. This is how the SAS/Futurum Experience 2030 report regarding ‘Loyalty in the Digital Age’ concludes.
We must instil this attitude into our brands if we are to achieve customer loyalty. It does away with the passive approach of the past, instead urging brands to combine both attitudinal and behavioural loyalty methods. To do this, we must provide innovative design-thinking approaches to our transformation programmes, becoming increasingly customer centric and insight-led in the process.
As a result, we can disembark from the merry-go-round of ever-diminishing customers who have yet to consider our brand and begin to establish a clientele who have truly bought into the brand.
This is how we achieve sustainable business and profit.
2019 was a milestone year for IBM, marking its 30th year as official supplier of information technology and consultant to the All England Club and The Championships, Wimbledon.
Wimbledon is the long-standing jewel in the crown of IBM’s live projects. Every year, behind the scenes, IBM analyses millions of live data points that continuously drive Wimbledon’s iconic pursuit of greatness – from match and player statistics to weather forecasts, cyber security events, and website visits.
All this is key to ensuring flawless delivery of the world class Championships and its connected fan experience.
IBM’s global agency of record and partner for over 25 years, George P. Johnson (GPJ) was last year tasked with creating an experience that raised awareness of IBM’s ground-breaking work on the tournament through innovation.
The experience marketing agency needed to create a tech installation that brought IBM’s involvement in Wimbledon to life – increasing brand awareness by surprising and provoking intrigue amongst the general public, complimenting wider Wimbledon IBM client hospitality activities, and ultimately increasing the brand’s sales pipeline.
Building on the Wimbledon theme of ‘Tennis in an English Garden’, GPJ created the IBM Technology Garden, a unique real-time data activation.
Complex data sets captured by IBM were translated into mesmerising data visualisations in the form of digital flowers. These interactive visual representations of IBM’s impact on the game, the fan-experience and global media allowed visitors to read, experience, and understand how IBM brings The Championships to life through innovation.
Enticing, inspiring, and designed to encourage interaction, each visualisation constantly evolved and transformed to surprise the audience – enhanced by every serve, shot and point of the Wimbledon Championships.
The spectacle centred on watching the flowers grow as they were ‘fed’ IBM’s tournament data, made possible by GPJ’s longstanding partnership with IBM, which allowed the agency to utilise the real-time data collected for the installation.
Every flower was uniquely created based on live data and structured using biological building blocks, beautifully brought to life and nurtured in the Technology Garden.
The forms were driven by the concept of morphogenesis; a biological process that causes an organism to develop its shape. GPJ perceived this as a metaphor for the flexibility of IBM’s software offering, that can constantly change and adapt to the rising challenges imposed by Wimbledon and our ever-growing data-driven world.
Designed to reveal IBM’s hidden story, the Garden acted as a catalyst to conversations with customers at the official Championships. Whilst live data drove the activation, the focus was on demystifying and simplifying complex data sets for the audience. These were captured across five areas throughout the day with different IBM solutions:
Fan Engagement – IBM Cloud and AI
Match data – IBM Cloud and AI
Weather data – IBM Watson Analytics
Cyber Security – IBM Security
Website visits – IBM Cloud and AI
GPJ used colours from both the IBM brand guidelines and the shades of UV light photography, a technique used by scientists to expose patterns visible only to insects; like bees that can see a wider spectrum of light than humans, to echo that there’s more to IBM’s role in the Championships than meets the eye.
To support the installation, GPJ designed an interactive iPad app that allowed audiences to navigate the live datasets, showing both the raw numbers and how they influenced a given flower.
The digital activation was built with reuse in mind, allowing highlights of the 2019 Championships to be replayed and relived. Firstly, travelling around the UK to multiple IBM events and then finally taking centre stage at IBM’s UK client centre – increasing the value of its creation for IBM by using it across multiple events throughout the year.
Across two weeks, GPJ created 2,000 unique versions of the installation, with approximately 20,000 people experiencing the IBM Technology Garden.
One of the UK’s most popular conference venues is inviting visitor feedback on toilet cleanliness through an increasingly popular review app.
The NEC in Birmingham is now using integrated management tool and review app Cleen, which enables customers and visitors to log reviews of washrooms.
Users can either compliment accessible and clean washrooms or post feedback on issues such as the need to refresh soap supplies or toilet paper. The free app allows users to upload photographs to support their review, which can then be viewed by other Cleen users.
The NEC now has its own Cleen dashboard, enabling the venue to have immediate access to reviews in order to take action and directly respond to customer feedback. Each toilet has its own individual QR code displayed above some of the hand dryers to identify where it is located and some washrooms also have a tablet to enable customers to leave a review without a phone.
Steve Cartmell, Group FM Contract Support Manager said: “We are committed to providing all our customers with the very best experience possible. The Cleen app and the introduction of another ‘Changing Places’ fully-accessible toilet for people with severe disabilities will further enhance our offer to visitors and ensure that they can alert us if there are any issues we need to deal with quickly.
“We believe in setting and maintaining the highest standards across our venue and this is another example of how we are always striving to exceed customer expectations.”
Famous last words; Alexa, which many people dismissed as Amazon’s little pet project, was actually a mark of genius.
Just over five years after its initial launch, we’re now 200 million Alexa-enabled devices sold and 90 thousand voice skills down the road. Alexa has expanded beyond our homes – she can now be found cruising in our cars, on our smartphones, earbuds, spectacles, and discreetly in connected rings.
The first thing to acknowledge is that voice isn’t a fad. It’s not going anywhere, because it’s actually useful. Moreover, many of us are starting to trust it. Last year, six-out-of-ten smart speaker owners claimed to have made a purchase brokered by their voice assistant in the previous twelve months.
It’s bridging the gap between people’s domestic and working lives, and that’s only going to accelerate going forward. How? By capturing even more facets of users’ behaviour.
There’s a good reason why Alexa made it onto Fitbit last year (although it remains to be seen whether it will remain there post-Google acquisition), and why Amazon has launched smart glasses. Alexa will become more capable with the release of each new device that taps into additional data sources through sensory inputs.
Imagine the potential for ecommerce – could Amazon’s search rankings and ad strategies ever be dictated by how fast your heart’s beating, or by what your eye is drawn to on the page?
When it comes down to it, Amazon exists to sell, and its success has been built on its search and recommendations engine. You sometimes hear people say Amazon knows what they want before they do. And the thing is: this doesn’t even sound far-fetched anymore. Future iterations of Alexa will become Amazon’s secret weapon by understanding what makes each of us tick.
The more Alexa-embedded devices there are, the easier this will become. We’re already seeing this strategy unfold. Alexa was everywhere at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. She was in motorcycle helmets, electric toothbrushes, and even beds, the latter allowing users to dim the lights from the comfort of a $4,950 berth.
Of course, this is a tech show. It’s overblown and crazy – not all of these items will make an impact. Some will be dismissed as novelties, others will be deemed too fiddly, and some might simply over-step what consumers deem acceptable.
This echoes Amazon’s efforts at HQ – many devices won’t get beyond the limited beta phase, but each experiment lays down the groundwork for the next.
One thing’s for certain, though. In the next five years, Alexa will transform from a reactive assistant to a proactive companion. According to Amazon’s Rohit Prasad, Alexa will become increasingly embedded in our daily lives, taking a more active role, and even leading two-way conversations. The logical outcome is home robotics, and if anyone can make that a mass-market proposition, it’s going to be Amazon.
It seems the future has finally caught up with Amazon’s vision; by this, I’m referring as much to the human aspect as I am the mechanical. It’s easy to be sucked into the brave new world of voice and the convenience it brings – all valid. However, the implications are equally ‘Big Brother’.
There have been instances reported where customers don’t interact directly with Alexa, yet are targeted with products based on their private conversations.
And yet it’s…fine.
There’s no massive moral outrage, people aren’t throwing their Echoes into the streets, and to be honest, there’s little more than the occasional disgruntled tweet. It comes down to the perceived value exchange, and it seems most Echo users are happy to surrender their personal data for convenience.
And while there are still areas we’re not totally comfortable with yet – the use of ‘idle’ Alexa recordings in murder cases, for example – we’ve come a long way, and Amazon’s intelligence is only set to unfold further across the customer experience.
CX and contact centre software firm Genesys has expanded its partnership with Microsoft for a brand new cloud service promising “superior interactions” for customers.
Genesys Engage on Microsoft Azure will be available later this year and will enable firms to achieve the security and stability required to manage the complexities involved with connecting every touchpoint throughout the customer journey.
To accelerate adoption, the companies are providing Genesys Engage on Microsoft Azure through a joint co-selling and go-to-market strategy, in which customers will benefit from a streamlined buying process that puts them on a clear path to the cloud.
With its multi-tenant architecture, Genesys Engage on Microsoft Azure will give customers the ability to innovate faster and improve their business agility. In addition, by running the Genesys Customer Experience solution on this dependable cloud environment, enterprises will be able to maximise their investment in Microsoft Azure through simplified management and maintenance requirements, centralized IT expertise, reduced costs, and more.
These solutions aim to make it easier for enterprises to leverage cloud and artificial intelligence technologies so they can gain deeper insights and provide tailor-made experiences for their customers.
Microsoft’s US President, Kate Johnson, explained: “Large contact centres receive an exceptionally high volume of inquiries across a growing list of channels and platforms. One of the biggest challenges is connecting the details of every interaction across all channels to ensure each customer has a seamless experience.
“By leveraging Microsoft’s Azure cloud and AI technologies, Genesys is helping enterprises create a seamless customer journey with Microsoft’s trusted, secure, and scalable platform.”
Peter Graf, Chief Strategy Officer of Genesys, added: “We are thrilled to give large enterprises the opportunity to run their mission critical customer experience platform in the cloud environment they already know and trust – Microsoft Azure.
“Together, we’re making it simpler for even the most complex organisations to transition to the cloud, enabling them to unlock efficiencies and accelerate innovation so they can build deeper connections with customers.”
The companies are also exploring and developing new integrations for Genesys and Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Azure Cognitive Services to streamline collaboration and communications for employees and customers. More information will be released about these upcoming integrations later this year.
Nemo Verbist, senior VP of Intelligent Business and Intelligent Workplace at NTT Ltd., one of the top five global technology and services providers for the world’s largest enterprises and a partner of both Microsoft and Genesys, sees great value in the partnership.
“Many of our customers have standardised on Microsoft solutions, and Genesys Engage on Microsoft Azure gives them an additional opportunity to take advantage of their investment,” he said.
“Together, these solutions provide enterprises a secure and powerful foundation to communicate with their customers in creative and meaningful ways.”
US tech firm IPsoft has unveiled what it claims is the most “advanced digital employee on the market” in the form of an updated avatar that replicates human conversational behavior.
The firm’s Amelia digital employee system is already one of the market leaders, with B2B customers told “thinks like a human but works at the speed of a machine”. Now the AI system has been updated to feature a new-look avatar (pictured), which IPsoft say “provides the most human-like digital experiences in the industry”.
This new version of Amelia brings together her sophisticated cognitive capabilities – built to mirror the functions of the human brain – with the latest advancements in avatar technology. Amelia is designed to deliver the visual elements of human interaction – conversation, expression, emotion, and understanding – to everyday user experiences, driving deeper customer connections and greater business value.
Utilizing advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP), Amelia is able to understand natural language, follow context switching, and independently execute complex tasks to resolve user requests. Her state-of-the-art affective computing and sentiment analysis enable her to recognise and adapt her responses based on the mood of the user and the context of the situation.
Dube said: “By 2025, I believe that you could pass a colleague in the hall at work and not know if it’s a man or machine. Amelia’s new lifelike avatar takes us one step nearer to closing that gap between physical and digital colleagues to create a truly hybrid workforce.”
Ever since the introduction of the internet, and online shopping in particular, the relationship between customer and vendor has had the potential to become impersonal, distant, and in some cases strained.
As consumers find themselves bombarded with marketing emails as soon as they make an online purchase, and vendors are relied on to provide as many communication channels for customers as possible, both sides are under pressure.
To mark the first Get to Know Your Customers Day of 2020 we spoke to nine industry experts for their advice on how businesses can keep customers sweet.
The popularisation of the subscription economy
“The subscription economy is booming,” explains Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru.
“Whether it’s movies, music, groceries or even razors, consumers are increasingly turning their back on traditional ‘one time’ purchases in favour of forming long-term relationships with trusted brands.
“As such, it is absolutely critical that all organisations understand how to nurture happy long term relationships with their customers. The demand for ‘as-a-service’ offerings across all sectors is clear, and now the key differentiator for businesses is not just understanding how to reach the right customer, but how to implement a consistent, successful and tailored journey across their entire customer base.
“Organisations at the forefront of today’s subscription economy rely on sophisticated customer engagement technology, such as AI-driven Natural Language Processing, to ensure they can meet changing customer demands as quickly, smoothly and effectively as possible. Increasingly delivered through the cloud, the importance of these contact centre technologies only grows as customers not only expect an attentive and efficient long-term relationship, but one that can take place seamlessly across every channel.”
Go the extra mile
“How many businesses can honestly say that they really know and understand their customers?” questions Jon Lucas, Co-Director of Hyve Managed Hosting.
“And by ‘really understanding’, we’re not talking about an annual customer survey or the occasional check-in – genuinely knowing your customers is about being able to anticipate their needs, solve their problems and help them to succeed.
“Obvious? Perhaps, but for just about every business, taking it seriously comes down to a conscious choice about how important customers are. Ultimately, any organisation of any size that wants to live by a strong customer service philosophy needs to make a commitment – both financially and culturally – to go the ‘extra mile’.
“The alternative would be a business that just ‘survives’ despite customer churn, thinks that winning new business is cheaper and easier than keeping customers really happy, and where reputation is ‘nice to have’, rather than a daily imperative.”
Tom Needs, COO at Node4, furthers this point, stating:
“For any organisation it’s important to always validate the customer service part of the equation, but this is especially the case from a managed service provider (MSP) perspective.
“With the MSP market continuing to grow, it’s vital that MSPs keep pace with changing customer needs and preferences, pairing them with the best technology to champion the type of exceptional service that ensures a customer’s business stays successful.”
“One way of doing this is to own the service level agreements (SLAs) and end-to-end infrastructure, because this gives partners and customers control, visibility, and better service levels. However, the most fundamental element is the customer relationship – knowledge of unique needs and preferences comes with constant engagement. If an MSP can act on that knowledge to deliver a better service that works in line with the objectives of the customer, can anticipate their future needs and do a first-class job should something go wrong, satisfaction is going to remain high.”
Paul Zuidema, Managing Director EMEA at Ergotron explains how it’s not just technology that businesses should be thinking about, but also those products that affect work environments:
“The business world is ever-evolving, but one constant that anchors any business is its customer base,” he says.
“Knowing them and anticipating their needs and preferences is key to business continuity.
“For us, employees working in desk-based, seated office environments are our end-user customers.
“As experts in designing and producing kinetic work environments, it’s important that we understand how to support their health and wellbeing while they’re at work, and promoting better physical and mental wellbeing through the use of the right ergonomic furniture, in the right kind of work environment.
“In a similar way, businesses would do well to also regard their employees as a type of internal customer base, providing the appropriate support and working conditions that will ultimately elevate their business bottom line.”
Reap the benefits of data
“Organisations are continually working to better understand their customers and efficiently deliver tailored services that meet the individual needs of every customer,” explains Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise.
“To do this successfully, a business needs to be able to store its customers’ data efficiently and cost-effectively, and extract relevant knowledge from this data.
“Typically, this isn’t too complicated for transactional structured data, but it is often much trickier with unstructured data (such as videos, genomics files, IoT data, etc).
“Increasingly, the majority of a business’ customer data is unstructured, and it’s growing very rapidly. Businesses are now in need of data management solutions that help them understand, successfully manage, and extract value from this overwhelming amount of unstructured data, to keep customers happy and confident in the business storing their data.”
Tulin Green, Senior Director, EMEA Marketing at Commvault agrees.
“In this digital era, customers of nearly every business will interact with them online in some way, creating a data trail. Strong data management is therefore integral to the operation of any business, especially with the increase of technologies that utilise personal customer data to provide personalised experiences online,” she says.
“After all, the business that connects with potential customers best will stand out from the competition.
“However, the increase in customer data being collected and stored also comes with an increased risk. Companies that fail to prioritise data privacy and protection for their business assets – including customer data – will risk not only severe damage to bottom line profits, but to their brand reputation and customer loyalty too.
“To avoid this fate, businesses should prioritise their ability to securely manage all data, and ensure that comprehensive recovery measures are in place.
“In the instance that security measures fail, being able to resolve the issue and get data protection back in place quickly is crucial.”
Keep security threats at bay
“While living in an increasingly networked world has its advantages, it also leaves organisations vulnerable to exploitation by malware, inadvertent employee actions and malicious attacks,” points out Jan van Vliet, VP and GM EMEA at Digital Guardian.
“For security analysts, spotting security incidents arising from within their company, which is arguably their own customer base, is particularly tricky because the attacker may have legitimate access.
“If the credentials being input are valid, the same alarms are not raised as when an unauthorised user attempts entry from the outside. Deploying data-aware cybersecurity solutions removes the risks around the insider threat because even if an adversary has legitimate access to data, they are prevented from copying, moving or deleting it. What’s important when it comes to insiders, in whatever guise, is to be able to detect malicious or suspicious activity and produce real-time, priority alerts that analysts know must be addressed immediately.”
Nir Polak, CEO at Exabeam, highlights how data science can identify unusual activity.
“Securing the network is fundamental to protecting the business and a variety of tools exist to understand traffic flow over a network and to analyse security impacts from that flow,” he says.
“However, despite the capabilities of these tools, attacks and breaches continue to happen. It is time to expand the definition of network profiling to include the riskiest asset on the network: the user.
“Advances in data science, combined with computing power and applied to data already collected within most organisations, can connect the dots and provide a useful profile of network user activity.
“While data science – i.e. Machine Learning – has become an overused buzzword, in practice it can provide very useful answers in certain applications. For example, Machine Learning can discover the connections between seemingly unrelated bits of identities, to create a map of all of a user’s activities, even when the identity components are not explicitly linked.
“Other techniques can create baselines of normal behaviour for every user on the network, making it easier to understand whether each user is acting normally or not. Still other techniques can build better asset models, including which machines are likely ‘executive assets’ and at higher risk of attack. Profiling individual users enables an organisation to understand in great depth and with deep context exactly who is on the network; what they are doing; whether they should be doing it; and what it means to an organisation’s risk and security posture.”
The future in the cloud
“The cloud has brought analytics back into the hands of business users, particularly in HR,” Liam Butler, AVP at SumTotal comments.
“In the ‘old days’, business analytics tools were shrouded in secrecy and owned by IT and MIS as part of the on-premise ERP system. Analytics are now part of our daily life, being used to enable insightful decision-making and to predict business outcomes.
“For example, the linking of workforce management data with training data allows manufacturers to predict workforce capacity planning issues in advance of a product launch, train employees prior to manufacturing demand or move shift patterns to meet demand.”
As demands from consumers grow and the technology landscape becomes ever more complicated, it’s time for businesses to ensure the customers that keep their profits rolling in are satisfied.
Omnichannel CX and contact centre solutions provider Genesys is rebranding its flagship software as a service (SaaS) offering.
The company is changing the name of PureCloud – the world’s leading public cloud contact centre platform – to Genesys Cloud.
The move is to reflect the evolution of the company and mark the launch of Experience as a ServiceSM powered by Genesys Cloud, which enables organisations to achieve true personalisation at scale.
Genesys CEO Tony Bates, explained: “Through Genesys Cloud, we’re delivering Experience as a Service to make it easier for organisations to foster customer trust and loyalty. This starts by helping them know their customers as individuals, not profiles or segments, and leading with empathy throughout every connected moment.
“When businesses can provide distinctive experiences tailored for each customer, they’re achieving the level of personalisation today’s consumers are looking for – and that’s what we enable with Genesys Cloud.”
With the ongoing advances in digital media, I often see organisations claiming to be “customer-centric”, when in reality they are being channel-centric.
In the search for giving the best-in-class Customer Experience, do you understand the difference?
With a new decade upon us, it has never been more relevant to invest in a Customer First strategy. The objective is not only to attract more customers, but also to retain them for repeat purchases; we know that retaining existing customers is somewhere between five and 25 times more profitable than new customers (Amy Gallo, The value of keeping the right customers, HBR).
Many organisations are focussing on specific channels, or becoming omnichannel, which is driving their business activity and direction. It is important to remember that whilst these channels are built and designed to make their user interface easy, they may not match the objectives of your own organisation.
Online channels will heavily promote on-line transactions, whereas not every customer wants to interact that way and importantly, not every product can be sold that way. The important thing is to understand what your customer wants and not what the channel wants.
Three things I strongly recommend that you self reflect on are…
1. Get clear on what is the right mix of online and in-person experience for your situation
Having worked in retail now for more than two decades, I know that retail is not dead, despite the headlines.
Yes, it has evolved and now online plays an important part in the transaction. Look at how Argos and Next use their online presence in combination with their retail presence. Online is there to confirm availability or information about their purchase, but often a customer will complete the transaction in store.
Many of their customers are using a combination of channels and considering it a complete experience.
2. Seek out partners for mutual benefit
Consider everything outside of your organisation as a partnership opportunity – this includes the traditional and digital channels that will use.
It is true that many people, myself included, will buy things online from sites like Amazon, so instead of seeing them as a threat, consider what opportunities this can create for you. Next are taking in Costa Coffee shops, whilst Sainsbury’s and Argos are also working together.
They are seeking out partners, where each is sharing their offering and their audience for the mutual benefit of all. You can develop a referral scheme or a package scheme which will benefit your customers as well.
3. Value your customers’ time
If you think about it, every single innovation that has been successful has either been more ‘fun’ or has saved time. Netflix, for example, is not a technology disruptor – it just makes it easier for us to access movies from various devices.
Work out how you can save time for your customers; they did not come to your business to queue up to pay. They came to eat or they came to buy something.
How can you make this part of the transaction quicker and easier? If they buy online, they can select the products for their basket and pay and get on with their day.
So how can you replicate this in your business?This same thinking can be applied to the start of the process – can you propose to me what I usually buy, so I can even save time up front ordering?
This article has been about customer centricity and the message is for you to think about how can you configure your business to make your customers lives easier. As you get into this new year, and new decade, see what changes you can bring to your strategy and delivery in order to reduce the friction your customer feels.
Do this, and you will see a disproportionate increase in your numbers.
Almost a third of British firms hit by cyber-security attacks last year chose to ignore them, new research has revealed.
Thirty-two percent of UK companies said they took “no action” after an online security breach in 2019. despite this type of crime collectively costing British firms a huge sum.
Research gathered by LearnBonds shows that 61 percent of large businesses identified cyber breaches over the last 12 months, although this figure falls to 32 percent when the country’s medium-sized and small firms are taken into consideration.
UK travel money firm Travelex has faced days of disruption after a software virus attack on New Year’s Eve. The move also affected Sainsbury’s Bank, Barclays, and HSBC, among others, which all use the Travelex platform.
The money firm said it was forced to close take its site offline site to contain “the virus and protect data”.
The most common attacks are ‘phishing’ breaches, where fraudsters send emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to tempt firms to reveal sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. Criminals sending malware and ransomware attacks were also common.
The average cost of these attacks for large firms was £22,700, though when medium-sized and small firms are taken into consideration the mean costs falls to £9,470, according to data from Ipsos Mori for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in November.
The department added that the “costs of cyber-security breaches can be substantial”, adding: “Things like lost productivity or reputational damage tend to be overlooked. This means that when organisations reflect on their approaches to cyber-security, they may be undervaluing the true cost and impact of cyber-security breaches.”
Over the past few years, personalisation has emerged as one of the most dominant and prolonged trends in marketing, favoured by both big brands and small brands alike.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a marketing team that doesn’t employ some kind of data-led personalisation. One of the reasons personalisation tactics have become so commonplace is because they provide impressive ROI and enable brands to tailor their service or offering to their customers, driving loyalty and increased spend.
But while personalisation is the bread and butter of every online marketer and retailer, the hospitality industry has been slower to adopt this valuable practice – and operators are losing out on the bottom-line benefits personalisation can bring about. To stand out from the crowd, hospitality venues need to learn from marketers and embrace personalisation across all areas of their business.
Perfecting guest experiences
The entire online experience is now personalised for each individual user.
Whenever someone logs onto a website they’ve visited before, marketing algorithms kick into action and begin leveraging an array of data points – such as purchase and browser history, psychographics, and social activity – to tailor every element of the page to their particular likes and dislikes.
Yet despite the fact that many of these same opportunities to personalise service and improve Customer Experience exist for hospitality operators, few have deployed the technology necessary to enable personalisation at scale.
One of the big barriers to entry for restaurants is the issue of data capture and storage. Currently, many operators rely on seasoned service staff using antiquated systems to capture notes and store guest data – which merely function as digital notebooks.
But these low-tech solutions are no longer viable for a business in 2020. What if staff turnover or simple human error lead to a valued, long-term customer not receiving the highly personalised experience they are accustomed to?
In this instance, hospitality operators need to begin leveraging the same personalisation tactics that are used online for offline, in-service experiences. For instance, online marketers typically use a platform that helps them capture, store, and leverage user data.
Likewise, data-driven operations, marketing and guest engagement hospitality platforms such as SevenRooms empower service staff to log, database, and then use guest data to personalise diners’ experiences on the fly.
Much like online marketers tailoring every element of a website to individual users, restaurants that use hospitality platforms with a strong focus on helping capture and activate guest data can ensure guests are always greeted by their first name, showed to their preferred table, and offered their favourite drinks – regardless of who waits on them.
By perfecting guest experiences in this way, restaurants can deliver the sort of memorable service that drives repeat business. And, given that regulars can account for up to 40 percent of a restaurants’ total revenue, leveraging personalisation tactics to boost guest loyalty should be a top concern for every hospitality venue.
Personalising menu recommendations
With this in mind, the need for restaurants to offer as personalised an experience as possible is clear. One area of the restaurant experience in particular that hospitality operators should look to personalise is their menus and menu recommendations.
For diners, especially those with special dietary requirements or preferences such as allergies and vegetarianism, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to wade through pages of irrelevant menu choices to find a dish to order. But just as online retailers already leverage customer data to only display products that consumers will be interested in, hospitality venues, too, can make use of guest data to tailor menu recommendations to particular diners.
For example, when a returning guest arrives at the restaurant to eat, service staff can refer to their guest profile on their hospitality platform and check for any dietary requirements. If the guest is marked down as being vegetarian, staff can provide them with their vegetarian menu or point out vegetarian options on the standard menu.
Improving service standards by tailoring menu recommendations like this can help hospitality operators improve their guests’ overall dining experience.
Opportunities for menu personalisation extend beyond the in-service experience and into post-service email marketing, too. By tracking a guest’s order history, operators can gain an understanding of the types of dishes guests enjoy eating – and those they’re likely interested in hearing more about.
For instance, every time a guest visits the restaurant, they always order a pasta dish. If this restaurant then introduces a new pasta dish to their menu, operators can leverage the order history data and deliver a marketing email that invites these guests to try the new dish. This personalisation tactic can not only directly drive sales, but also demonstrate the kind of personalised understanding of guests that will boost customer loyalty.
Tailoring offers for special events
How many times in the week leading up to a special occasion, like a birthday, have you received an email from a brand inviting you to enjoy 10 percent off your next purchase?
Probably every year. How many times have you actually used this offer? Probably very few.
Now, how many times have you celebrated a special occasion with a meal out? Again, probably every year. But despite special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries presenting hospitality venues with a unique opportunity to boost revenue and build brand loyalty, operators have been slower to adopt the personalisation-led tactics used by marketers that are needed to make the most out of these opportunities.
Rather than waiting for guests to come to them on special occasions, operators should make use of guest data to invite them to their venues in the weeks prior to big events. For example, say a guest has an anniversary coming up in a couple of weeks.
Restaurants can leverage this information by emailing them about an offer for a complimentary bottle of champagne upon arrival as an incentive for them to book. In this way, hospitality operators can learn from marketers and embrace personalisation-led tactics to drive repeat business.
Whilst online marketers have long used personalisation to improve consumer experiences, build customer loyalty, and ultimately boost profits, hospitality venues have been comparatively slower at tailoring their offerings to individual diners.
But despite industry reticence, there are many untapped opportunities for hospitality venues willing to invest in operations platforms and begin leveraging guest data to personalise and perfect guests’ experiences.
Customer engagement software specialists Freshworks has shed light on how customers interact with AI tech such as chatbots in an insightful new report.
In AI in Customer Service: A Survey Report from Europe, responses from 6,000 customers and 800 senior business leaders across the continent were analysed to provide answers on what consumers think of the growing technology.
The research reveals that 41 percent of European consumers “see no benefit of chatting with a bot”, while 29 percent said answers from bots “did not help solve their problem”.
For brands, Freshworks has found that 25 percent are currently using artificial intelligence solutions to improve customer service.
The research was commissioned to highlight the disconnect between what brands believe they are providing, and what exactly customers themselves say about the services.
Among the experts providing insight in the report is CX advisor and author Adrian Swinscoe. He said: “There’s been a significant gap in brand and customer perception of the type of service being delivered and received for some time.
“The addition of new technology and new channels, in many ways, is exacerbating the situation, as customer expectations increase, and businesses have to manage more ways of communicating than ever before.”
Companies must provide digital-first omnichannel experiences to meet consumer expectations and effectively compete in the experience economy.
That is the key takeaway from the third annual 2019 NICE inContact Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark report, which details how understanding younger generations’ use of – and expectations around – next-generation solutions like artificial intelligence (AI) and digital channels including private social messaging are fundamental to building exceptional, best-in-class Customer Experience.
As millennials and Generation Z become dominant consumer groups, with Gen Z purchasing already reaching an estimated $100 billion, according to research conducted by Barkley, their comfort level and familiarity with multiple digital channels including social messaging and chatbots means organisations, no matter their size, must provide digital-first omnichannel experiences to meet consumer expectations and effectively compete in the experience economy.
The global study reveals that almost 60 percent of Gen Z and millennials have used private social messaging for customer service. In contrast, just 38 percent of Gen X, 19 percent of baby boomers and 16% of those born before 1945 have done so.
The majority ofGen Z and millennials also want companies to allow them to interact with customer service using private social messaging apps (72 percent and 69 percent, respectively).
Meanwhile, consumers are using AI more and feeling more positive about chatbots over time. Half of all consumers have used AI for any purpose (50 percent), compared to 2018 (45 percent).
This can be attributed to a significant increase in the use of an automated assistant/chatbot online (34 percent, up from 25 percent in 2018). Gen Z and millennials are more likely to agree that chatbots make it easier and quicker for their issues to get resolved, and are also the most likely of all generations to have used all forms of AI for any purpose, as well as for customer service.
Seamless digital-first omnichannel experiences, meanwhile, are vital to a positive Customer Experience. Most consumers (93 percent) want seamless omnichannel experiences, and yet they are increasingly giving companies a poor rating on seamlessly switching between channels – 73 percent give companies a poor rating, up from 67 percent in 2018.
This is especially important for meeting and exceeding the expectations of millennials and Gen Z, who are the most likely to have experienced omnichannel customer service (16 percent and 21 percent, respectively).
Paul Jarman, NICE inContact CEO, said: “Understanding the nuances of what consumers expect, and how they actually engage with brands via a myriad of digital channels, and integrating these in-demand channels seamlessly to deliver digital-first omnichannel experiences, is key to sustainable growth.
“The NICE inContact CX Benchmark looks beyond education around demographic customer service trends and gets to the root of what makes new channel options attractive. Millennials and Gen Z are bellwethers of what consumers expect and are increasingly likely to recommend a company on social media based on personal experiences – the influence they wield is tremendous.”
As we dive head-first into the holiday season, we can expect to see a familiar set of stories about the changing face of the retail industry. Headlines will no doubt focus on consumers’ increasing reliance on online shopping and how it is compounding the tight margins and challenging trade environment that retailers with physical locations must battle. This is, in fact, a disruption which has been taking place since the dot-com bubble – and nearly as long as the term ‘disruption’ has been in popular business parlance.
A more recent consequence of this disruption has been the emergence of omnichannel retail, in which the Customer Experience online and in-store is brought together and purchasing journeys can move seamlessly between online store-fronts, social media, targeted advertising, mobile apps, and physical retail locations.
As a way of converting a greater portion of product interest into product sales, omnichannel has emerged as a key defensive measure against tightening margins and falling footfall. One Harvard Business Review study found that omnichannel shoppers spend four percent more during each store visit and 10 percent more online than shoppers who only use one or the other channel.
Even more bullish analysis from the ICSC found that operating across multiple channels leads to an average follow-on spend of $167 online for every $100 spent in-store.
The business upsides of an omnichannel strategy, like the business pressures driving its adoption, are well known and broadly accepted. Much less, however, has been said about the technological change which lies beneath this evolution. Traditional retailers are increasingly moving essential IT infrastructure to the cloud, tempted first of all by the lure of being able to scale costs with demand and in line with often fluctuating revenues.
Combining these reduced overheads with increased revenue, however, means not just replacing traditional IT infrastructure with public cloud solutions on a like-for-like basis, but taking the opportunity to optimise the huge data sets that retail generates. Unifying duplicated data, rationalising database structures, and opening lines of communication between silos of information means that the product on a shop floor, the product’s page on an ecommerce site, and the product photo displayed in an online advert can all, from the perspective of the business’s IT systems, be understood as the same item.
While this transformation in how data is managed – together with a boost in available processing power – is bringing different retail channels into alignment, it also establishes the foundations upon which emerging technologies can be implemented.
If Step One for a retail business is converging its data, and Step Two is using that data to converge its physical and digital channels, retailers are increasingly discovering the benefits of a Step Three in which it is made more valuable with AI. As cloud computing becomes prevalent, we will see the addition of AI bring unexpected benefits to how personalised shopping can be, how environmentally friendly it can be, what kinds of experience it can give – and a retail sector which can disrupt even as it is being disrupted.
To take personalisation as an example: this is already a familiar experience for all of us from shopping online. In its simplest form, retailers promoting items on the basis of ‘customers also shopped for’ find significant potential for upselling, as an online shopping basket gives so much more detail about what a customer needs than where they are in a store does.
Data sourced from the context of physical retail stores can also be collected, analysed, and applied in ways which are analogous to this. From how many customers visit a location, to the route they take through the shop, to how they interact with different product lines, there is a rich source of information in traditional retail which is only now – thanks to AI-based analysis – becoming available.
This unstructured, organic information is fundamentally more difficult to make use of than the natively digital information of online shopping baskets and website interaction. As retailers on-board these capabilities, information on how factors from outside the business affect shopping behaviours also becomes available.
Weather or sporting events, for example, or broad cultural trends which pertain to specific segments of the buying audience, or cultural factors which are specific to a store’s location all change what people buy and when. Businesses which have invested in the technology needed for omnichannel retail find themselves in a position to collect this data and go beyond the personalisation which is prevalent in online shopping. Rather than focusing on correlation – ‘people who buy x also buy y’ – AI-powered analytics is opening up the potential for causation-based shopping predictions – ‘people buy y because of x’.
Looking beyond the immediate task of upselling, it’s easy to see other ways in which this level of insight might be applied. Anticipating when someone will need a product and shipping it to them just in time, connecting people with locally-stocked or manufactured products to minimise transport carbon emissions, and offering specific product configurations on an individual basis are just a few examples.
People with an interest in retail marketing or disruptive technology, or both, will be aware that the retail industry has for some time been engaging in consumer-facing demonstrations of this kind of technology – such as Westfield’s AI-powered Trending Store.
Beneath such one-offs, however, there is something more fundamental happening: as retail businesses upgrade their ability to gather, analyse, and apply data, traditional shopping as a whole will begin to behave more like its online counterpart in how it responds to the customer. We might therefore look at retail’s emerging data-driven potential also as its post-disruption reality – and other industries might want to look to retail to see what’s in their own future. How will access to rich contextual insights into a person’s needs and requirements affect sectors like finance, healthcare, or transport?
Well, retail has been in the thick of disruption for longer than anything else; that should be where we look to find the next steps.
2019 has proven to be a successful year indeed for the conversational AI experts at ContactEngine, which is leading the vanguard in changing the fundamentals of how 21st-century customers interact with brands.
It’s been a year in which their trophy shelf found itself a little squeezed and in need of an extension, with added honours including a Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 title, and a UK Customer Experience Award, collected at Wembley Stadium in October and presented for the firm’s successful partnership with BT Enterprise.
The Gold category win for Best Use of Technology is testament to ContactEngine’s position at the cutting edge of what is the most exciting – and often most misunderstood – tech affecting the modern Customer Experience: artificial intelligence.
Their sophisticated algorithms offer intelligent omnichannel customer conversations, and the firm’s founder, Dr Mark K. Smith, is a man whose passion for excellence is evident as he explains what his company stands for, and where the advanced computing involved behind the scenes can lead for both businesses and customers.
Speaking with CXM, Dr Smith described his firm’s work with BT as an example of what ContactEngine does for an organisation with a duty to communicate with countless customers through various channels.
“We start conversations and invite a response from our client’s customer,” Dr Smith explains.
“With BT, it was specifically to improve a process by better communication; by trying to reduce the amount of cancellations that would have occurred had there been no communication. It was to reduce the amount of calls someone would make to a call centre due to a lack of communication. Our goal is to increase the engagement rate and then ultimately to see if we can make customers happy as consequence of that.
“To put it simply, we start conversations – all automated – and invite responses. From there, we carry on the conversations using our own NLU (Natural Language Understanding) and a machine learning algorithm we call ALAN (Advanced Language ANalysis), and we deliver efficiency gains for our clients, making their customers happier.”
From this description, ContactEngine couldn’t be more suited to Digital Customer Experience if it tried, but surprisingly, the PhD that provides Dr Smith with his title stems from a science of an altogether less-computerised kind.
“Up until my late-20s I was a career academic, and my PhD is in Biochemistry,” he says, before explaining how he adapted his skills in that particular field to AI tech development.
“The biological sciences are all about generating mass data sets and trying to seek out trends in that data. Of all the sciences, biology and biochemistry present quite a lot of mystery, so you generate a lot of data and look for trends. That’s very similar to what AI is actually, so you can post-rationalise it. I love technology and always have done.”
Describing the business’ origin in the telephony-based live-streaming of events, Dr Smith said using the tech that would eventually lead to ContactEngine’s current offering through streaming the 2011 World Transplant Games in Australia led to the realisation that proactive communications could solve many of the problems faced in business.
“Firms such as Virgin Media used the tech for corporate social responsibility work – in their case broadcasting from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro through their social media channels.
“They asked us a simple question: can you improve the way we communicate to our customers in this omni channel-way that you have provided to us in a social media context?” continues Dr Smith.
“The answer for people like me is always ‘yes’ to any questions to do with IT. The real question is ‘how long and how much’ but the answer is always yes! You see, unlike my biochemistry days, computers can always be made to work.
“We stepped into the world of customer communication, and almost accidentally built an omnichannel outbound comms tool, so we can start conversations by phone, email, text, instant messaging, or collecting video.”
This powerful tool was soon utilised by clients such as American telco giant Verizon, which learned the value of implementing the technology and what it means for a company’s bottom line.
“When an appointment was missed, it cost Verizon well over 100 dollars. If you can improve communication with the customer to stop that from happening, then you can save that 100 dollars,” he explains.
“If a company has 100 million customers, then that’s a lot of money to be saved, and we can charge them a fraction of the money they save.”
As AI becomes ever-more central to even the most basic of customer communication, Dr Smith tells us that despite fears among some about where the tech will eventually lead, it will remain a benign benefit to society.
“I’m no great believer in singularity,” he tells us, referring to the theorised future in which AI outgrows the need for human masters and snowballs into an uncontrollable overlord.
“It’s not that I think it will happen in the future either – it just won’t happen!
“I start from the position of a rationalist – I’m not a believer in ‘Skynet’ or other fantastical problems that AI could bring. It’s important to realise that AI is often the only solution in areas where a human simply cannot compete.
“If you have a company with 100 million customers, as many do, it is impossible to have enough people to communicate well with all those human beings. You cannot do it!
“Computers are the only way you can do that, and what’s most interesting about the world of AI for us is a subset known as machine learning.
“This takes vast data sets – bear in mind we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of people a day – so we have vast amounts of data and responses to the questions we ask. If you have vast amounts of data, then you have some really tremendous possibilities for teaching your algorithm to be human-like.
“Machine learning is simply taking an algorithm and giving it sufficient data for the next piece of information it receives in order for it to have a pretty good stab at it in a manner which exceeds the way a human can respond.
“Think of the ‘100 million customer challenge’ and you’ll see why you want to have a proactive outbound conversation – only made possible through computers, not people.
“We automate a way to simpler conversations. A machine is better than a human for 95 percent of customer conversations. But there will always be the five percent where a machine just won’t cut it.
“Take an example; I was with an insurance company recently, and they said that with their life insurance product, they would only usually get one phone call, and that was from a bereaved partner.
“Now, it’s not wise to put that call to a machine, as a machine will never display empathy. They may display ‘faux empathy’, but a customer will catch that out pretty rapidly. A human needs to be involved in that conversation, and these calls were often taking up to two hours.
“However, once that conversation is completed, it’s perfectly reasonable for the machine to take over in order to inform the person of progress on their claim, or any other information.”
Other fascinating aspects of the tech behind ContactEngine includes a profanity filter, which detects when a customer needs to be transferred to a human as a matter of urgency, in order for that person to be talked to and returned to a level of calm where their issue can be resolved.
“Interestingly, there’s not an enormous amount of research about when humans are best and when machines are best, but I believe that by working together they can vastly improve the Customer Experience, and the Employee Experience of call centre staff also,” Dr Smith continues.
“We have a case with a European bank which commissioned us because they were losing their call centre people because they were doing too many cold calls after a certain customer process had failed.
“The customers were saying ‘why are you calling me a week after this happened? I’m really not interested in talking to you’.
“Machines fill that knowledge gap and can filter customers who actually do want a conversation with a human, then we broker an appointment for them.
“So what happens in this case? The person in the call centre has a better Employee Experience, potentially staying in their job for longer, while the Customer Experience was vastly improved also.
“It’s about knowing when humans are best, when machines are better, and knowing the exact best moment to flip between them.”
So with a successful foundation in telcos, where next for ContactEngine’s revolutionary CX tech? Clients already include household names including BT, Virgin Media, and Whirlpool, and the future looks seriously promising.
“We have enjoyed success in other areas including retail and banking; we have a foundational communication product that can be used in any industry, so we need to spread our wings and grow in other sectors,” Dr Smith says, adding that work is already underway with a “large UK retailer”.
“On a technical front – what fascinates me about what we’ve done is, if you talk to companies in the UK and beyond, roughly speaking, three-quarters of them will be handling their AI over to the usual suspects.
“They will be using Dialogflow from Google or Watson from IBM. We made a conscious decision many years ago to build our own machine learning algorithm, and we did that because we wanted to be white box, not black box, and we wanted to be explainable.
“We have the benefit of: when you start a conversation, there are a limited number of intents that come back to you, so it’s quite easy for us to visualise and explain the decisions we made.
“We wanted to use labelled data sets for one client and not share that label data set with another client. We felt that was a GDPR problem. So, we built our own machine learning, and rather interestingly, when you take the training data we use to feed our algorithms, and you present that to others that I mentioned, we actually out-perform them!”
On the horizon for ContactEngine and its clients is the next generation of ALAN, with multi-intent capabilities, and developing further the concept of ‘human-computer rapport’, where the next customer conversation is informed by the earlier exchange in a more human-like way.
“We are incredibly excited for the future, and to see what 2020 has in store for us after the amazing year we have just had.”
The UK is trailing behind Europe in customer service as brands race to adopt AI technologies to transform how they engage with customers, according to new research.
Customer engagement software firm Freshworks found that just over half (54 percent) of UK senior decision makers state their business currently uses AI – in areas such as chatbots, virtual assistants, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and facial recognition – for customer service departments, compared to 97 percent in the Netherlands, 86 percent in France, and 81 percent in Germany.
However, this investment does not yet seem to be far-reaching for UK customer service. The Freshworks study, which surveyed over 800 senior decision makers in customer service departments, found that only 20 percent of UK businesses have invested more than £250,000 in AI for customer services in the last 12 months, compared to nearly half (46 percent) of German companies, 41 percent of French firms, and 35 percent of Dutch organisations.
Across all territories, chatbots (37 percent), NLP (34 percent) and Robotic Process Automation (31 percent) were the most popular AI technologies for businesses to be adopting to improve their customer service.
The report suggests people do not want to take on responsibility for bringing AI in to overhaul current systems. Over a quarter (26 percent) of senior decision makers in the UK claim no one is driving AI deployment within their customer service department. Yet, C-Suite executives are leading the integration of AI in the vast majority of Dutch, French, and German companies (97 percent, 95 percent, and 91 percent respectively).
Addressing the brand perception gap
The findings also suggest a large gap between business and consumer perceptions of how good their customer service actually is. Eighty percent of senior decision makers surveyed in the UK believe their customer service departments to be excellent, while only nine percent of UK consumers have no frustrations when dealing with customer service agents.
According to the research, a quarter (25 percent) of businesses are using AI to improve their customers’ experience of the brand, for example using AI-powered chatbots to resolve issues quickly by filtering through simple questions and channelling the trickier customer scenarios through to human service agents. Yet, one-in-four (25 percent) of the 1,871 British consumers surveyed who have previously used customer service channels said that being left on hold for too long is their biggest frustration.
UK General Manager at Freshworks, Simon Johnson, said: “Our research shows that British brands’ deep distrust in AI risks leaving them lagging behind Europe in their approach to customer service. It’s incredibly difficult for brands to keep up with consumers’ expectations, but it’s non-negotiable that they constantly evolve their technology to include AI and Machine Learning and approach to keep their customers engaged and happy.
“For those who get it right, it can be a game changer that distances them from the competition.”
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.