Aileen Allkins Consultancy2021-09-22T10:28:38+01:00

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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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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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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

Customer service lessons from the pandemic

By |September 22nd, 2021|

As we look towards a post-COVID world, there are many lessons enterprises can learn from the pandemic. For brands, this [...]

As we look towards a post-COVID world, there are many lessons enterprises can learn from the pandemic. For brands, this is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of customer sentiment.

In our latest paper, Aileen Allkins looks at what executives can do to adopt a customer-centric mindset at every level of the enterprise.

Read now >

 

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.

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News & blogs

How upskilling and reskilling could hold the key to long-term success

By |November 5th, 2021|

Discussions on talent development in Customer Service tend to exist in the relatively limited context of HR or workforce strategies. Individual or collective training and [...]

Discussions on talent development in Customer Service tend to exist in the relatively limited context of HR or workforce strategies. Individual or collective training and development planning is often linked to people-related goals, such as boosting employee engagement or fostering future leaders.

There is nothing wrong with that because much of the day-to-day decision-making on skills comes from close to the ‘shop floor’. But one article on the subject that caught my eye framed the discussion on upskilling and reskilling in a broader context and the opening line had me nodding along in agreement. “Talent development is vital to sustainable business growth and success”.

The article goes on to argue that with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and widening skills gaps, companies will need to upskill and reskill their people to thrive in the future. The suggestion here is that businesses now have to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Perhaps with an HR or Customer Service audience in mind, the article flips back to positioning the benefits of upskilling and reskilling in terms of HR and workforce strategies and goes on to conclude with seven steps to creating an employee development plan to realise those benefits.

At the top of its seven-point list is “Decide business goals”. While I agree with the further six points for creating the plan, it is this step that I believe is more important than any other in determining the parameters for upskilling and reskilling programmes. However, it is also important to be clear that the business goals in question must relate to the longer-term strategic direction of the organisation, rather than simply today’s objectives. Particularly when the broader argument in favour of reskilling and upskilling is that it’s vital to on-going organisational success.

So how do you link the two?

A traditional Customer Service personal development plan focuses on technical knowledge of products or services and some soft skills. As a result, any upskilling or reskilling involves simply acquiring new knowledge on new products and services and fine-tuning soft skills.

But, what if the longer-term business strategy is to pivot from being a software provider to a data insights consultancy, for example? Do the people working within the Customer Service operation have the aptitude to support this strategic redirection with the right investment in upskilling?

To understand this requires in-depth analysis of your existing skills base, the differences between individuals, and an understanding of what the jobs of the future might look like in your organisation. Knowing which skills are required to do such jobs and making sure people acquire them to keep your business relevant will give you more chance of thriving in the future.

Finding the people you will need to take the business forward is just as important as setting the strategic direction in the first place. Therefore, the upskilling or reskilling programme you design will need to be individually tailored. Technical knowledge is just one part of it. Gauging employee commitment (attitude) and assessing employee potential (aptitude) are imperative. You may have a new strategic direction in the pipeline but not everyone will feel comfortable changing their skillset. People will need you to explain things clearly and demonstrate how they are an important part of your journey.

The upside to this approach is not just a more complete upskilling and reskilling programme. It is a future-ready and resilient organisation with the additional people-related benefits of higher levels of engagement, loyalty and retention.

Attrition in Customer Service: Why do people leave and what can employers do about it?

By |October 27th, 2021|

Anyone who has worked in or around Customer Service will tell you there is a grudging acceptance that high attrition rates go with the territory. [...]

Anyone who has worked in or around Customer Service will tell you there is a grudging acceptance that high attrition rates go with the territory. It’s often blamed on early career staff joining to get a foot on the career ladder before moving on to ‘bigger and better things’.

While it is true that attrition is to be expected to a certain degree – especially across entry level positions – I don’t believe that means it should be the defining characteristic of our industry, especially if Customer Service is to be valued as a career rather than a stop-gap.

In an article published earlier this year by customer experience vendor, NICE, author Paul Chance highlights the scale of the issue. “Attrition in the contact center is high – 25% to 40% on average – but can reach 100% in some contact centers, such as ones operated by business process outsourcing companies (BPOs)”. Even more worryingly, he goes on to say, “In fact, the 2020 Contact Center Pipeline Survey found that attrition is the No. 1 challenge for contact centers – yet most contact center leaders have no plans to address it”.

The impact of attrition for employers is two-fold. Firstly, they don’t get the full ROI for the cost and time associated with the hiring and onboarding of new employees, and secondly, when the organisation is left without enough of the right people to perform existing or emerging roles it impacts their ability to meet client demands and differentiate through their most valued asset – their people.

The article points to a series of problems that contribute to high attrition rates in Customer Service. The majority – like employee disengagement or excessive pressure and stress – would seem to stem from workplace design and organisational culture. Addressing such issues can take time and sometimes even a change in strategic direction. Yet there are two in particular that I know employers can address in the short to medium term: appropriate candidate selection and career growth and development opportunities.

As Paul Chance writes, “…survey after survey finds employers complaining about how difficult hiring is.” A popular approach among employers for dealing with the problem involves the increasing use of data science through algorithms to source and evaluate candidates for specific roles.

The NICE article links to an in-depth article by Professor Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Professor Cappelli sounds a note of caution about the role of software in the hiring process. “The rise of data science-driven algorithms to find and assess job candidates is promising because they are not constrained by prior theory and results, but worrying because data scientists seem to know so little about the context of employment.”

That contextual understanding, or the ‘human element’, is critical in not only hiring the right people but ensuring that they stay. In Customer Service hiring, candidates may be faced with a number of online questionnaires and assessments to determine their suitability for a role. These may be technical, psychometric or soft skills tests. What many of these evaluations do is determine whether someone meets the criteria for a specific role at a specific time. I believe this simplistic view of employment contributes to the high attrition rates we see in our industry because it does not take into account what the employer and employee need in the future.

Instead of looking at whether a candidate is right for that specific role, what about whether they are right for the organisation two to three years down the line? As Professor Cappelli highlights, “The big problem with all these new practices is that we don’t know whether they actually produce satisfactory hires.” In other words, are the people who pass likely to stay for long enough to not only make the outlay on their time to competency worthwhile but also to fill other, newer roles later on that will save time and effort in the hiring process as businesses leverage internal hiring at a higher rate than they do today?

As Professor Cappelli suggests, organisations are right to be cautious about relying solely on software for making hiring decisions. A binary (Yes or No) approach to hiring may reject candidates who are over- or under-qualified at that time. Say you’re recruiting for a Level 3 support engineer and the candidate fails the ‘Level 3 skills questionnaire’, the algorithm may discount them from the process. But they may be an excellent candidate for one of your Level 2 support engineering jobs as well as being someone who is looking to grow their career with an organisation that will invest in them. In other words they could be a valuable Level 3 hire in the future who has gained valuable experience through the Level 2 role.

The importance here is to close the loop on the hiring process by recognising the human factor in the whole process. Hiring assessments should combine the best elements of data science in this field with practical know-how from hiring managers. Evaluations should look at how people think, their working preferences and potential future plans as well as their current technical skills.

A person is not always ready-made for a role but this doesn’t mean they won’t be among the best hires for your organisation. Instead of checking whether they can perform just a specific role, it clearly pays to understand what is important to them and why they would want to stay. In many cases it is not simply the hourly wage but feeling valued and seeing their future growth prospects.

And this leads on to ways that employers can change the impact of the other factor contributing to high attrition rates: a lack of development opportunities. As I wrote in a previous post on career growth, poor development prospects can have significant damaging effects on the organisation, including attrition, productivity and costs. Looking at career progression through the lens of an employee and investing in career pathways is clearly beneficial.

However, identifying candidates who will stay because they feel they can progress their careers with you will only reduce attrition if it is backed up by real action on individual career pathways.

I believe leaders need to pay attention to both sides of the coin. One, the human side of the employment process and, two, longer-term development for employees to reduce attrition. Until organisations do this, they will continue to see people leave and not solve the knock-on impact of attrition in customer service.

Equalising the relative importance of in-house and outsourced customer service teams

By |September 8th, 2021|

The contact centre outsourcing market is growing and is projected to reach a CAGR of 9% between 2021 and 2026. With so many companies outsourcing [...]

The contact centre outsourcing market is growing and is projected to reach a CAGR of 9% between 2021 and 2026. With so many companies outsourcing it is worth exploring if they truly capitalise on the opportunity to enable their outsource partners to promote their brand and positively contribute to enhanced business outcomes?

Whilst one of the most common reasons a company will outsource is to reduce operational costs, there is a growing trend for start-ups to outsource to enable them to have fast access to skills and talent they would ordinarily not be able to hire until they reach a certain scale.  This helps us see outsourcing providers in a fresh light – as business partners critical to our success instead of a low-cost commodity player which has often been the case historically.

Most companies retain some in-house roles to work alongside their outsourced partners, however, the outsourced frontline teams are often not viewed with the same level of importance when it comes to the impact they have on brand perception, yet they have just as much impact, indeed potentially more if a higher percentage of the business is outsourced. Outsourcing shouldn’t be about handing over the responsibility for the customer and appreciating the cost savings.  Customers expect consistently good experiences and levels of service and every touch point with a customer matters equally whether from an employed or outsourced agent.

Customer Service leaders need to create meaningful partnerships, build excitement and loyalty for the brand, recognise and appreciate great customer service and provide the same level of support (tools, training etc) as we would for in-house teams. It’s also worth considering incentives for “up-telling” moments that bring added value to the customer and as a result drives cross-selling or up-selling opportunities as well as creating a deeper engagement with the frontline teams.

During the pandemic, many contact centres played a vital role in connecting consumers to brands, enhancing the customer experience and fostering loyalty. By extending your workforce strategy to include outsourced partners, you gain access to skills and experience you can leverage, have extended business continuity options but more importantly expand the eco-system of brand advocates who can help deliver great service and impact brand loyalty.

Why personalised training journeys for Customer Service & Support teams is the way forward

By |August 24th, 2021|

Widescale digital transformation has meant an increasing prevalence of self-service options and AI-enabled chatbots which in turn has significantly reduced the need for humans to [...]

Widescale digital transformation has meant an increasing prevalence of self-service options and AI-enabled chatbots which in turn has significantly reduced the need for humans to handle the simple customer queries. However, it may come as something of a surprise, but studies show that the telephone is still the preferred method of customer communication.

In the UK, the Call Centre Management Association’s (CCMA) ‘Voice of the Contact Centre Consumer 2021’ study showed 71% of people still used the phone to contact organisations. In total, telephone calls made up 31% of interactions and one in three people (33%) said they expected to use it more in the future.

The value of our customer service and support frontline teams has never been higher as they now deal with more complex and challenging customer cases and often with more unhappy or stressed customers, who have not been able to self-solve their problem.  It’s time to re-think how we approach training our frontline teams in this increasingly digital world.

Training for frontline employees usually starts at the onboarding stage, which is typically a one-size fits all program. Straight away all employees are assumed to have the same training needs and employers miss the opportunity to fast track those who are closer to being ready for the role, and to provide enhanced training for those with wider skills gaps. This represents two missed opportunities – the first is to show new employees you see and value them as an individual (important for employee engagement) and the second is to get those who are ready to serve customers into the role sooner.

Once new hires have completed the onboarding training and actively serving customers, their ongoing training usually consists of programs linked to new tools, processes and policies. Yet all employees will have a different level of knowledge and experience following the onboarding stage and what they subsequently learn on the job. Some may need additional training on very specific areas based on customer feedback or other measures of effectiveness, but this is often not identified and inevitably can lead to more negative performance improvement measures.

Imagine the impact if every frontline worker had a skills and development road map, personalised to meet their specific skills gap with training programs tailored to their individual career progression and aspirations?

The starting point for this personalised learning journey is to conduct a skills and knowledge assessment when the employee first joins the organisation (or even during the recruitment phase). Assessing their level of skills and competency means onboarding can be tailored to the specific requirements of the individual, making onboarding more relevant and engaging.

During and post onboarding, a continual cycle of follow-up assessments will enable both the employee and employer to track progression on the learning journey – some training elements might be skipped, others might be revisited as required. If career paths are clearly outlined for employees, they can be offered or self-selected enabling micro-learning and other training content to help them progress towards their next role.

I believe taking a personalised and tailored approach to training demonstrates that the organisation values their employees as individuals, whilst at the same time the employer also benefits from all the follow-on consequences of that.

The key to this approach is to look at your employees as individuals, not as cohorts; specifically what skills they individually require to fulfil their job effectively and efficiently as well as supporting their career aspirations.

In my experience, it also has a wider impact on employee loyalty and lower attrition rates, customer service satisfaction levels and the overall brand experience.

Career growth for Customer Service & Support teams

By |August 11th, 2021|

The customer service and support industry is synonymous with high attrition rates and a key contributing factor is the lack of career growth options for [...]

The customer service and support industry is synonymous with high attrition rates and a key contributing factor is the lack of career growth options for the frontline teams.

These frontline roles are often taken by early career workers and start at the lower end of the pay scale. They can be highly pressurised roles, dealing with unhappy customers all day and often in an environment where they are intensively measured. It is therefore not surprising employees don’t want to stay in these roles long term and will seek new opportunities once they’ve gained valuable skills and experience.

As a result of limited career growth options, employees can become quickly disengaged as they begin seeking opportunities outside. We should not underestimate the impact this cycle has on businesses. Productivity for those looking to leave can drop, and the productivity of the new recruits is lower until they effectively ramp. Employers also have to bear the time and cost of recruiting and training new staff. This can quickly add up to a notable impact on costs.

This isn’t a new or recent issue either, it has been reported and researched for several years. Back in 2009, the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University published a study entitled Building the bottom line by developing the frontline: Career development for service employees. In the opening chapter, the authors state, “Too often, employees are overlooked from a developmental perspective and regarded as expenses to be controlled, rather than viewed as assets to be developed.”  It’s a shame, and disappointing, that these issues are still very real today.

Customer Service and Support leaders need a clear and deliberate strategy to show frontline employees they are valued and how they can grow and develop their career opportunities within the business, rather than seeking new roles elsewhere.

Of course, the reality is there will not be opportunities for everyone but showing employees what paths are available and how to get there will create a new level of engagement and organisational stability. This means developing and supporting the path from entry level to senior frontline roles and beyond to supervisory and leadership positions. Seeing which employees make progress on their individual journey is great for both the business and the employee.

I believe team leaders, managers and executives have a crucial role to play in developing career pathways, investing in learning opportunities and offering ‘stretch’ roles which offer a way to fast-track the development of skills and experience whilst also enabling the employee to move to the next stage in their career aspirations and goals.

In the 12 years since the Kelley School study was published, the lack of attention to career development in customer service and support persists. However, as the same study highlighted, with the right commitment to frontline staff, leaders could make a huge impact across the board:

“In addition to reducing employee turnover and thus increasing customer satisfaction, career development programs can also provide service managers with empowerment opportunities for their employees—including coaching and training—this will better enable them to handle the stress and responsibilities that come with serving customers, while also improving their job satisfaction and performance.”

We can all play a role in changing the future headlines showing how we are investing in our frontline employees. It’s not just a win for the employee, but a win for customers and a win for the business too.

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?

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