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Consultancy
Helping businesses deliver a truly exceptional customer experience
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Aileen Allkins Consultancy2021-02-25T10:45:54+00:00

We assist companies that are committed to differentiating through world-class customer experience (CX). Our approach will develop a continuous connection between your company’s mission, people, culture and customers. Instead of concentrating on just one area, we empower your front-line teams and align what they do with your company’s objectives. With a more fluid style of CX, you can become more resilient and adapt to changing customer demands.

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Find out more about AAC

Our services

As an independent consultancy, AAC provides impartial advice on how to lead your customer service organisation forward. Our services are designed to support enterprises with significant customer support operations across the technology sector.

CX Advisor

The responsibility for major service transformation rests with senior management. We provide impartial, executive-level guidance as you design and implement your strategy.

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Differentiating Through People

Technologies may be hard to tell apart but the same cannot be said for people. We develop creative cultural programmes that make your people your biggest asset.

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Transitioning to the Cloud

Customer service organisations are often hampered by legacy technologies. We can help you accelerate the adoption of cloud to continue providing world-class customer experience.

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Scaling customer support in the cloud

Rapid business expansion can add costs and undermine the personal touch in customer service. We can help you avoid the pitfalls with guidance on planning for future growth.

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Insights

Avoid the small mistakes that drive customers away

By |November 25th, 2020|

A staggering 97% of CEOs believe customer satisfaction is key to business success. Business leaders often talk at length about the importance…

A staggering 97% of CEOs believe customer satisfaction is key to business success.

Business leaders often talk at length about the importance of customer experience, but all too frequently fail to support customer service staff and deliver on the most basic customer tasks. Customer service calamities have become a regular occurrence during the pandemic, but it is the consistent small issues that arise that can drive people away.

As customers rein in their spending during a time of crisis, businesses cannot afford to be lax with their customer experience.

Aileen Allkins shared her insight with MyCustomer on how to avoid the small customer service mistakes that drive customers away.

Find out more and read Aileen’s full article on MyCustomer here.

Five ways to add value to retain your customers

By |November 17th, 2020|

Attracting new customers is, of course, critical for business success, but retaining existing customers is just as important. Too often businesses get…

Attracting new customers is, of course, critical for business success, but retaining existing customers is just as important.

Too often businesses get lost in the excitement of winning new customers and fail to recognise the long-term value of existing customer loyalty. Businesses need to remember that sustained success can only be achieved through a combination of recruiting and retaining customers.

Aileen Allkins recently shared her insight with Small Business, on five ways to add value to retain your customers.

Find out more and read Aileen’s full article on Small Business here.

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News & blogs

Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

By |June 21st, 2021|

Authenticity is an over-used buzzword in the business world and yet its true meaning could hold the key to future success in customer experience (CX). [...]

Authenticity is an over-used buzzword in the business world and yet its true meaning could hold the key to future success in customer experience (CX).

In a recent Econsultancy article, CEO of Engine Transformation, Emma Robertson, proposes “The future of CX isn’t what the customer sees on the outside, but what’s done organisationally and operationally internally.” Her point being, it’s not enough to establish a standalone CX function because delivering great customer experiences needs to be right at the heart of a business.

In my experience, if CX is part of the DNA of a business then everyone in that business understands the part they play in delivering it. Responsibility doesn’t just rest with a particular department, it’s for everyone in the organisation.

As Emma Robertson rightly points out, not every business is at that stage of CX maturity. Internal transformation is a huge but necessary task to get organisations into a position where CX is not about what a customer can see on the outside but how they feel because of the way the business operates on the inside.

Steps to successful transformation

The article recognises the need for organisations to be pragmatic about internal transformation and how aligning internal behaviours towards CX will inevitably require compromise. In particular, “Organisations should be prepared to compromise on what we think of as a typical customer-facing change if it cannot be delivered upon consistently or aligned strategically.”

Instead of overpromising, the suggestion is that CX should be contextualized and that internal transformation must also draw on brand, culture and organisation, data, strategy and technology. Since every business is different, the focus on these interdependent elements may be different too. Yet there are some common themes for successful transformation:

  • The activity should accentuate what makes the business different (unique)
  • The activity should avoid one area dominating resources over others (balanced)
  • The activity should be well thought through and managed as a whole (connected)

As Emma Robertson argues, addressing these themes will help make customer experience, “Part of the DNA of your organisation, not a department within it.” There are clear advantages to this holistic approach to change. As she goes on to say, it can power external experiences and influence how customers feel about the business in three particular ways:

  1. Creating differentiated and authentic experiences that turn into positive relationships.
  2. Shifting the emphasis of data and metrics from reporting what just happened to predicting what happens next.
  3. Aligning employee experience and customer experience to ensure what the customer feels is authentic and that people can consistently deliver this.

Bringing everyone on the journey

For me, the whole essence of this article is that you should say what you mean and mean what you say. To emphasise this point, there is one word that comes up several times and I have found is fundamental to internal transformation: authentic.

Designing a programme of internal transformation is one thing, but people will only come on that journey if they feel it is authentic. As the article rightly points out, this applies to both employees and customers.

So leaders need to stand up and be authentic too. When they speak about the organisation’s focus on the customer, they should mean it. If they truly want to do the right thing for customers, they need to show empathy and understanding for those customers. And if – as the article suggests – the future of CX is that it must be part of the very fabric of the organisation, they should make it happen. Incrementally, pragmatically and authentically.

With honesty, empathy and authenticity from leaders, internal transformation can deliver a step-change in CX that leaves the customer not only experiencing something but feeling it too, and isn’t that emotional connection the very goal we are all trying to achieve?

AI and automation in customer service: How will it benefit the frontline manager?

By |May 19th, 2021|

Commentary on AI and automation in customer service tends to overlook the crucial role of the frontline manager. There seem to be two general viewpoints. [...]

Commentary on AI and automation in customer service tends to overlook the crucial role of the frontline manager. There seem to be two general viewpoints. The first is the organisational outlook. How will new technology support efficiency and reduce costs? The second is the agent’s point of view. What does the use of robotic process automation or AI mean for people’s jobs? The impact on the manager is often forgotten but is a vital consideration.

In a rare foray into the world of the customer service manager, CNBC published an interesting piece after an interview with a senior executive at IBM, Rob Thomas. The article covered a number of topics. But one of the most pertinent points was, “AI is not going to replace managers but managers that use AI will replace those that do not.”

Another angle on AI and automation

IBM is a leader in AI customer service software. Its ‘Watson Assistant’ solution is used around the world by banks like NatWest and large tech companies like Cisco. Naturally, much of the focus on its projects are on the fine balance between company benefits and the impact on individual agents.

To put this into context, an earlier article from CNBC highlighted World Economic Forum (WEF) research states machine and automation are set to eliminate 85 million jobs by 2025. Yet the same ‘Future of Jobs Report 2020’ noted the WEF forecast 97 million jobs to be created. In England, a 2019 report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said 1.5 million people could have their jobs replaced by technology and it went on to highlight that 55% of customer service jobs were ‘at risk’.

These articles, reports and statistics point to one thing: the dual-sided debate about the impact of AI and automation in customer service. Yet the point the IBM executive was making was that the customer service manager is central to all of this. Managers that are able to rely on AI and automation to free up their time will prosper. Managers forced to continue spending hours of every day compiling call logs, sales reports and countless other sources of customer service metrics are less likely to be successful.

How AI and automation can empower the manager

The customer service manager sits in between the individual agents and the organisation. They are the people tasked with getting the balance right – keeping employees engaged and happy while helping the business be more efficient. Crucially, a manager’s role is about giving people a sense of purpose and coaching people to become better customer service representatives.

AI and automation will enhance this role:

  • It can bring multiple data sources together and deliver intuitive visualisations and insights into patterns of performance. All of which will save valuable time for managers not having to spend most of their days pulling data from various sources and then crunching numbers in a spreadsheet. Managers can be pointed to a specific source of good or bad service, enabling them to take action sooner on sources of poor service, and to quickly leverage learning points from sources of good service.
  • It can help customer service professionals provide better customer interactions with suggested next-best-actions for example, allowing managers more time to spend on coaching the tasks that are not so easy to automate.
  • And with the time saved by the managers, they can focus on their primary tasks: instilling a sense of purpose, understanding what’s working and what isn’t and coaching people to be better agents and be more productive.

Applying AI and automation in the right way

Providing the technology to empower managers is clearly a valuable use case for AI and automation. It also crosses the divide between the two usual viewpoints. Armed with the insights from AI, managers can provide senior leadership with a much clearer picture of what is going on within the organisation. With automation freeing up more hours in the day, managers can support individuals within their teams to become better agents and deliver better customer service.

An April 2021 article in Computer Weekly highlights a number of successful AI and automation implementations. It also analysed some of the issues associated with deploying these technologies as though they are a ‘silver bullet’. The article explains that the rush to deploy AI and automation can prevent businesses from seeing the positive impact and even undermine customer service. It goes on to say, “To reap the benefits of AI and automation, you must identify the right place and role in your customer service journey.”

Given the organisational and employee benefits, using AI and automation to actively support and empower your frontline managers seems like a good place to start.

Will other executives learn from Jeff Bezos’ legacy?

By |March 24th, 2021|

When a successful CEO departs, they often leave behind something that is ingrained in the very fabric of their organisation. In the same way [...]

When a successful CEO departs, they often leave behind something that is ingrained in the very fabric of their organisation. In the same way that Steve Jobs left a legacy of design thinking at Apple, Jeff Bezos leaves behind a relentless focus on the customer at Amazon. We know plenty about these two CEOs and their successes. So why do so few other companies do what they did? Especially the seemingly obvious need to focus on customer needs, expectations and service.

What is the true state of customer service?

At a time when there is a heated public debate about whether customer service has improved or declined during the pandemic, executives clearly have a key role to play.

Tech Radar summarised the findings of a study from the Call Centre Management Association. It found that more than half of customers had difficulties with customer service in 2020. The article also highlights how there are huge issues with trust in chatbots among all age groups and this is contributing to poor customer service.

A comment piece in the Telegraph around the same time suggested that businesses were using the pandemic as an easy excuse for delivering poor customer service. And that the general public was willing to accept it. Most executives would want to distance their own companies from such findings or see problems elsewhere as opportunities to make customer service central to their offering.

As Diginomica reports, in some cases customer expectations are actually driving positive change within organisations. It highlights how Zendesk upgraded its messaging function from an optional add-on to a core part of its customer service offering.

Another article in Forbes provides examples of how businesses have actually improved customer service operations – from more personalisation and empathy through to investing in channels. Interestingly, it quotes “Nearly 80% of CEOs surveyed by Accenture said they will fundamentally change how they engage with and create value for customers.”

Figuring out precisely how to do that is something all executives can learn from Jeff Bezos.

Instilling a culture of understanding

An interesting piece by Mark Ritson in Marketing Week gets to the heart of the matter. “For all Amazon’s innovation and invention, it is the world’s most valuable brand principally because its founder Jeff Bezos got to know his customers.”

Bezos’ obsession with customer thinking is what transformed the business – and Bezos himself – from a bookseller in a cramped garage into a ubiquitous name worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Despite being the only person who could answer customer queries in the early days of Amazon, Bezos continued to read what customers sent him via jeff@amazon.com as the business grew. He made senior leaders attend call centre training so they could hear exactly what customers were saying instead of reading lines in a management report. And he would wheel in an empty chair to important meetings to represent “the most important person in the room” – the customer.

Learning from the legacy

Among all of the insights into Jeff Bezos’ approach, the empty chair is perhaps the most pertinent. It represents an awareness of what you – the executive – do not know. Call it customer-centricity, market orientation or relentless customer focus, it is important to recognise that it is a void.

Building a corporate culture that values customer research helps to fill that void. There are three interdependent elements to this:

  • Be inquisitive about your customers
  • Be ready to capture what they think
  • Be open enough to apply the lessons

As the debate about good or bad customer service reveals, some enterprises have this culture of research and understanding and some do not.

One of the key issues is leadership. As people gain seniority within the organisation there is a danger they become disconnected to what is happening on the ground with the customer. Despite general agreement that executives must be aligned to a common customer experience goal (thereby impacting customer service), the reality is that few actually take time to understand what customers need.

A CEO can set the tone for a customer-centric culture. Yet first they and their senior team must go out and discover what this really means.

Customer service vs. customer experience: What’s missing from the debate?

By |February 18th, 2021|

Customer service or customer experience? These descriptions are often used to mean the same thing but any seasoned practitioner will tell you there are very [...]

Customer service or customer experience? These descriptions are often used to mean the same thing but any seasoned practitioner will tell you there are very clear differences. In his ITProPortal article on this very subject, Neil Hammerton, makes a strong case as to why businesses need to understand the difference between the two terms. Yet there is one crucial factor that the article overlooks and it’s all to do with the definition of customer experience.

 

Defining the difference

Before exploring the missing link, it’s important to understand the difference between customer service and customer experience. The article highlights the obvious ones. Most notably that customer service is just one piece of a much more complex customer experience puzzle.

 

Customer service is about reacting to customer needs. It focuses on one-off interactions and that is often how it is designed and measured. Training focuses on agents understanding and empathising with customer needs. The agents need to have good product knowledge and be able to offer some kind of solution to the problem or query the customer has.

 

Customer experience (or CX) encompasses the customer’s entire brand journey. This is measured by how that customer feels about the business, their sense of loyalty and whether they would act as an advocate.

Here, the article clearly defines key elements required for creating a good customer experience:

  • Bringing every staff member into the process
  • Ensuring all customer touchpoints are aligned
  • Working on each step at a time
  • Getting the basics right, like providing great customer service
  • Training agents in the right way
  • Investing in the tools and technologies to support agents
  • Collating data from customer interactions and presenting them to agents
  • Giving customers a clear demonstration that everything is seamless

Yet, there is something missing from this list that will determine the success or failure of your approach to customer experience.

Touchpoints aren’t the only thing that should be aligned

If best practice dictates that all customer touchpoints are aligned, how do you actually achieve this? Especially when many of those touchpoints are ‘owned’ by different departments within your organisation. Often these departments have individual goals and measurements. The only way to align all touchpoints is to have alignment across the C-Suite.

This is not as straightforward as it sounds.

Functional silos are a major obstacle. Performance metrics – or even managerial expectations – that reward silo performance over organisation-wide results perpetuate divisions. This prevents alignment and undermines customer-centricity.

Executives in charge of these departments must be connected to a common goal. That single-minded objective then must be cascaded and amplified down the organisational hierarchy.

The reason Jeff Bezos was able to step away from running Amazon having created one of the world’s most valuable companies is down to one thing. Amazon is what it is now because of Bezos’ relentless focus on the customer. It was at the very core of Amazon’s strategy.

If you have different C-Suite interpretations of your customer strategy, you will be left with inconsistent or conflicting approaches. Ultimately, this will undermine how customers experience your brand.

How can you achieve C-Suite alignment?

It starts with the CEO or the head of the organisation. He or she owns the strategy and sets the customer-focused tone for how the C-Suite should deliver that strategy. The C-Suite should also ensure that customer experience is tied to the company mission. In particular, what does the customer-focused organisation look like? What words, actions or behaviours should the company – and the people in it – display?

If customer experience is not already embedded within the organisational culture then it is the role of the C-Suite to find the gaps and address them. Training programmes right across the organisation should be focused on delivering a stand-out customer experience. The same goes for introducing technology or data analytics. The C-Suite must be in agreement that these are employed to continuously improve customer experience.

While it is clear that customer service is the front line for most brands, customer experience should run right through the organisation. This can only be achieved with complete alignment among the C-Suite. No matter what part of the organisation you’re from, the simplest place to start is always to ask, “How does what we’re doing benefit the customer?”

INTERVIEW: The core of diversity and inclusion

By |October 26th, 2020|

Aileen Allkins Consultancy was founded to help businesses support frontline customer service staff who are often unintentionally undervalued and not always recognised...

Aileen Allkins Consultancy was founded to help businesses support frontline customer service staff who are often unintentionally undervalued and not always recognised for the impact they have on a business’s customers.

Founder Aileen Allkins recently spoke to Data Economy about this mindset, her career, the plans for her consultancy, and the importance of a diverse and inclusive senior executive team.

Find out more and read Aileen’s full interview on page 34 in Capacity e-magazine here.

INTERVIEW: Aileen Allkins, Founder of Aileen Allkins Consultancy

By |October 8th, 2020|

Aileen Allkins Consultancy was founded to help businesses develop and improve their customer service offerings and to integrate first-class customer experience across…

Aileen Allkins Consultancy was founded to help businesses develop and improve their customer service offerings and to integrate first-class customer experience across every level of their organisation.

Founder Aileen Allkins recently spoke to TechRound about her experiences launching her consultancy during the coronavirus pandemic, her goals for the business over the coming months and how Covid-19 has highlighted the need for a clear, accessible, and empathetic customer service offering.

Find out more and read Aileen’s full interview here.

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