News and blog updates
News and blog updates2021-02-22T10:17:36+00:00

Will other executives learn from Jeff Bezos’ legacy?

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.

By |March 24th, 2021|

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

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?”

By |February 18th, 2021|Tags: |

INTERVIEW: The core of diversity and inclusion

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.

By |October 26th, 2020|

INTERVIEW: Aileen Allkins, Founder of Aileen Allkins Consultancy

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.

By |October 8th, 2020|

PODCAST: The CX Chat: A Paradigm Shift is on the Horizon for Contact Centres

The people at the frontline delivering service to your clients are your most important asset, but far too few businesses appreciate this….

The people at the frontline delivering service to your clients are your most important asset, but far too few businesses appreciate this.

Aileen Allkins spoke to Matt Dyer and Simon Thorpe from Sabio for The CX Chat podcast to discuss her guiding principles for customer service, the long-term impact of coronavirus on the sector and the importance of investing in your employees.

Listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts

Listen to the podcast on Spotify

Listen to the podcast on Google Podcasts

Listen to the podcast on Stitcher

Listen to the podcast on Podchaser

Listen to the podcast on Listen Notes

By |September 30th, 2020|

NEWS ALERT: Aileen Allkins appointed to ABBYY board

UK – September 2020 – Aileen Allkins Consultancy is pleased to announce the appointment of founder Aileen Allkins as Non-Executive Director on…

UK – September 2020 – Aileen Allkins Consultancy is pleased to announce the appointment of founder Aileen Allkins as Non-Executive Director on the board of ABBYY. ABBYY is a digital intelligence company that currently supports more than 5,000 businesses, by using real-time data to help them gain an accurate view of how their business processes are working.

Aileen will be using her expertise to support ABBYY in improving its customer service capabilities and says “Customer delight is at the heart of every successful business and ABBYY truly understands this and the interconnected relationship between customer engagement and company growth. I’m looking forward to joining the Board of Directors to help the business cement its status as one of the most innovative digital intelligence companies to work with.”

About ABBYY

ABBYY empowers organizations to gain a complete understanding of their business processes and the content that fuels them with its Digital Intelligence platform. ABBYY technologies are used by more than 5,000 companies, including many of the Fortune 500, and is recognized for its leadership in Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) and Process Discovery & Mining for driving significant impact where it matters most: customer experience, effectiveness, profitability and competitive advantage. ABBYY is a global company with offices in 13 countries. For more information, visit www.abbyy.com/company.

By |September 21st, 2020|

Thought leadership – The good, the bad, and the ugly: business responses to COVID-19 and lessons for the future

COVID-19 has been an opportunity for businesses to demonstrate empathy towards customers at a time of great need, but it is also…

COVID-19 has been an opportunity for businesses to demonstrate empathy towards customers at a time of great need, but it is also a period where gaps have been exposed. Some businesses prospered, and some faltered. But what are the similarities between those that delivered excellent customer service? And what lessons can we learn for the future?

Aileen Allkins recently shared her insight with Elite Business on who’s been the saints and sinners of customer service during the pandemic and why now, more than ever, businesses must adopt a customer-centric mindset.

Find out more and read Aileen’s full article in Elite Business here.

By |September 7th, 2020|

INTERVIEW: The consultancy diversifying companies and delivering excellent customer experience

Customer service success starts at the top, but can we honestly say enough members of the C-Suite actively engage frontline teams to…

Customer service success starts at the top, but can we honestly say enough members of the C-Suite actively engage frontline teams to get their perspective on important business issues of the day?

Aileen Allkins spoke to Martin Friel last week about customer centricity, diversity in business and the support needed by frontline CX teams to optimise customer experience. No member of the C-Suite will deny the importance of these issues, but delivering meaningful change that permanently moves the dial for employees and customers is a trickier task.

Find out more and read Aileen’s full interview for The Independent’s A View from the Top here.

By |August 17th, 2020|

C – Suite Commitment to the Frontline teams: Engaged Employees = Engaged Customers

Delivering a positive customer experience is vital for any business. An article in Forbes reported 97% of CEOs believe customer satisfaction is…

Delivering a positive customer experience is vital for any business. An article in Forbes reported 97% of CEOs believe customer satisfaction is the key to business success. We know good customer service drives revenue, with 93% of consumers more likely to make repeat purchases at companies with excellent customer service.  An often-overlooked factor in delivering positive customer experiences is the direct link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction – and businesses that take time to invest in their frontline teams will reap the rewards.

There are four core questions businesses should be asking themselves when it comes to supporting their customer service and support teams. Taking time to focus on frontline agents is the first step to improving customer satisfaction and financial performance.

How engaged with CX is the C-Suite?

There is a positive correlation between a CEO’s involvement with CX teams and customer experience success, attested by the fact 64% of companies with a CEO focused on customer service have greater financial success than their competitors. It’s vital for the C-Suite to invest time in frontline teams to gain personal and direct insight into the customer experience.

Encouraging employee feedback can allow Senior Leadership Teams to understand the challenges frontline workers face. Companies that share customer experience feedback directly with the CEO achieve on average of 6 points higher net promoter score than companies that don’t. Feedback is particularly important during a time of crisis, when customer service teams are under additional pressure. An Ark Group survey found whilst 95% of CEOs value effective internal communication as ‘critical’, only 22% believe this is delivered. Take the time to integrate regular feedback opportunities into CX workflow – this will encourage employee engagement and provide more useful, timely data on employee and customer experiences.  I always prioritised spending time with the frontline teams so I could put myself ‘in their shoes’ and truly understand their perspectives in order to implement meaningful change. Employees who feel their voices are heard are also 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to deliver their best work.

Do employees want to remain in their role?

The link between a company’s mission and its customer service is vital. A recent study from Perkbox, however, found just 41% of UK employees feel aligned with their organisations’ goals. This disconnect can lead to a lack of engagement – directly impacting customer satisfaction.

Call centre jobs have one of the highest rates of attrition. In the US, turnover ranges between 30-45 percent, more than double the average for other occupations. Losing employees at such a high rate is damaging to company culture, but also has a financial impact – according to research by Oxford Economics and Unum, the average cost of turnover per employee, earning over £25,000, is £30,614.

T-Mobile successfully decreased call centre attrition and absenteeism through their pioneering ‘Team of Experts’ model. They encouraged CS workers to collaborate in shared ‘pods’, a teamwork-driven approach which increased the company’s net promoter score by more than half and reduced customer churn to an all-time low. Increased collaboration and engagement could reduce the cost of resources invested in training and onboarding, helping to create a cohesive, positive work environment for frontline teams.

Are staff empowered and equipped to problem solve?

Ninety-four percent of CEOs believe customer feedback can help their company retain their best employees. Positive feedback will boost morale, in turn improving consumer satisfaction. From a management perspective, trusting your staff is key – and encouraging frontline workers to adapt processes to support each individual customer will empower them to provide better service.

Empowering staff to problem solve will also reduce customer transfers. Limiting these across call centres increases loyalty from service users – research has found only 3% of customers who have a problem solved during the first service interaction are likely to churn, compared to 38% if the issues isn’t resolved after the first call. Equipping frontline workers through regular training such as active listening and problem solving is vital to customer service success – translating into a better experience for the customer.

Does company culture engage frontline staff?

Senior Leadership Teams must be aligned with customer service experience and strategy. If your frontline teams struggle to connect with organisational goals and company culture, customer experience will suffer. Business divisions must work together to create a good customer experience: companies with successfully aligned department goals have seen up to 36% customer retention rates and 38% higher sales win rates.

Maintaining company culture has become a greater challenge for teams working remotely in the wake of the coronavirus – research has shown 4 in 10 employees feel less productive working from home during the pandemic. Where workers feel isolated and disconnected, motivation drops. Encourage your teams to maintain office relationships via regular video catchups and virtual socials, to remind them they are part of a wider organisation.

 

Businesses need to focus on their employees if they want to improve customer service. Think about the wellbeing of frontline workers and ensure they have the correct training and tools to do their role, as well as opportunities to feedback to the wider company on the customer journey. These people are too often overlooked but they set the tone for a customer’s first interaction with your company. If companies improve interactions between employees and customers, they’ll see a positive impact across the business – but it starts with an internal focus on frontline staff.

By |July 29th, 2020|

NEWS ALERT: Aileen Allkins joins Boston Consulting Group as Senior Advisor

UK – June 2020: Aileen Allkins is delighted to announce that she will be working with the Boston Consulting Group as a…

UK – June 2020: Aileen Allkins is delighted to announce that she will be working with the Boston Consulting Group as a Senior Advisor, assisting them to transform the customer service and support experience of brand enterprises across the globe.

About Boston Consulting Group

Boston Consulting Group partners with leaders in business and society to tackle their most important challenges and capture their greatest opportunities. BCG was a pioneer in business strategy when it was founded in 1963. Today, we help clients with total transformation – inspiring complex change, enabling organisations to grow, building competitive advantage, and driving bottom-line impact.

To succeed, organisations must blend digital and human capabilities. Our diverse, global teams bring deep industry and functional expertise and a range of perspectives to spark change. BCG delivers solutions through leading-edge management consulting along with technology and design, corporate and digital ventures – and business purpose. We work in a uniquely collaborative model across the firm and throughout all levels of the client organisations, generating results that allow our clients to thrive.

By |June 15th, 2020|

NEWS ALERT: Aileen Allkins appointed to Black Pearl Mail International Advisory Board

UK – June 2020: Aileen Allkins is pleased to announce that she has been appointed to the International Advisory Board of Black…

UK – June 2020: Aileen Allkins is pleased to announce that she has been appointed to the International Advisory Board of Black Pearl Mail. Black Pearl Mail is a solution that provides a powerful end-to-end enhancement to the standard email experience.

About Black Pearl

Founded in 2014, Black Pearl Mail is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product that helps companies increase their brand and grow revenues. Black Pearl has been engineered to integrate with Microsoft’s O365 as well as G-Suite and on-premise email systems. It is a true force-multiplier for traditional works on any email system and integrates with marketing & sales integration tools like Marketo and Salesforce.com. By providing companies with powerful email signatures, simplified email signature management and the ability to use every day email as a digital marketing channel, Black Pearl Mail is amplifying what companies can do with email, one of their most-used, and least-utilised tools. The company is now headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, also has a growing R&D hub in Wellington, New Zealand. To learn more, please visit www.blackpearlmail.com.

By |June 15th, 2020|

NEWS ALERT: The Explosive Rise of GigCX – Limitless report

Aileen Allkins, founder of customer experience consultancy, AAC, has contributed to the recent annual Gig Customer Service Report, released by GigCX platform,…

Aileen Allkins, founder of customer experience consultancy, AAC, has contributed to the recent annual Gig Customer Service Report, released by GigCX platform, Limitless.

Limitless releases its annual report to better understand the trends and developments within the customer service market. The study, which the report is based on, surveyed 500 current GigCX experts across the globe in February 2020 to look at the rise and impact of gig based customer service.

The survey found interesting results, with two thirds of people who had signed up to gig customer service platforms seeing an increase in demand for CS tasks since the COVID-19 pandemic. Business leaders also believe between 20-25% of their customer service workforce will consist of gig economy workers by 2025.

Aileen provides analysis and understanding of the trends that are currently being seen within the customer service market as well as discussing the rise in use of GigCX at Microsoft when she was Corporate Vice President of Customer Service and Support. Her contribution to the report can be found in the foreword and the ‘In the spotlight’ section.

Following the release, both Real Wire and Director’s Club Newswire shared news stories announcing its publication.

Please click here to download a copy of the Limitless report.

By |June 3rd, 2020|

Adapting Customer Service during COVID-19: Support customer service teams and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created significant upheaval to every industry – not least the customer service sector, which is simultaneously in…

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created significant upheaval to every industry – not least the customer service sector, which is simultaneously in more demand than ever whilst grappling with social distancing measures and staff shortages.

Businesses have scrambled to move their customer support functions to work from home as, despite the challenges, the need to maintain high standards of service is heightened during this period. Under normal circumstances, only twelve per cent of customers believe a company when they say they “put the customer first”. These are customers that businesses simply cannot afford to ignore or lose as we face a COVID-19 induced recession.

With whole industries in turmoil, businesses have had to deal with a massive increase in inbound customer calls and queries. While most customers will initially look online, if the answer isn’t easily available, they will inevitably reach for the phone to get an answer from a customer service advisor and the now stretched customer service teams can become easily overwhelmed, as happened last month with Canadian airline WestJet whose customers experienced waits in excess of 10 hours.

Less is not more – Put as much information online as possible

Businesses must prioritise their online customer service capabilities in order to have the best opportunity to minimise the need for the customer to speak to an agent.

Businesses need to put careful thought into the questions their customers will have and provide easily accessible information which addresses these concerns – much of this can be done by boosting AI chat functions, social media updates, updating blogs and creating clearly signposted FAQs.

A great example of this thinking in practice is UK bank TSB’s new Smart Agent Function which sits on its website and gives customers immediate access to the measures the bank has introduced during the pandemic. This not only helps to fulfil customer requirements, but also allows TSB employees in contact centres to focus on serving its most vulnerable customers or those that need essential bank services.

Safety first – Businesses need to protect the well-being of customer service advisors

It’s no secret that without adequate internal support, a call centre can be a stressful work environment– 1 out of 3 call centre staff have taken time off due to mental health and 42% have considered resigning due to workplace stress.

This already high-pressure situation will be worsened by the pandemic as staff deal with increased enquiry levels and outside factors, such as personal and family health, and financial concerns. This combination could lead to staffing issues that could seriously damage a business’ ability to give high-quality customer service. It is therefore paramount that business focuses on how it can alleviate any increased workplace stress. CS leaders should think about measures they can put in place to provide support to their workforce to ensure their well-being.   Training managers how to lead remote teams and keep them engaged is critical and training employees how to work from home and maintain their workplace friendships is also a simple action that all CS leaders can take.

Simplicity is key – Businesses need to revisit their website layouts in light of coronavirus

It is not sufficient just to put information online, it must be ordered in an accessible, straightforward way for customers to navigate.

A business could achieve this by updating its website to clearly communicate which queries call centres can and can’t answer as well as the latest wait times – and putting this text front and centre of their landing page. If staff are unavailable or unable to take phone queries, then website needs to clearly direct customers to where they can get help. Businesses also need to demonstrate an understanding of customers’ heightened stress and the fact that some people who less comfortable interacting with businesses online may be doing so for the first time.

Business leaders need to remember that building a straightforward, customer-friendly website will not only keep their customers happy but will also help reduce the workload, anxiety and pressure on their customer service staff.

Shift your communications channel mix

Businesses could also redeploy sales and customer service efforts to new online channels both in B2C and B2B enterprises. This will not only reduce the workload on call centre staff but also open up new channels of communication with customers – it may even result in higher sales.

For instance, after 40% of its stores were closed due to the pandemic, Chinese cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan redeployed its 100+ beauty advisors to become online influencers who engaged with customers virtually via WeChat. This innovative use of digital tools to support customers through this turbulent time resulted in a 200% growth of sales in Wuhan compared to the same period in 2019.

Businesses could adopt a similar tactic by setting up dedicated social media accounts or forums where customers can ask questions. This could sit separately from the customer service teams thus, easing the pressure on cs agents and instead redeploying resource from across the business to make sure that customer queries are answered in a timely and responsive manner.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is dramatically increasing the demand on call centres. Now more than ever, customer service teams are under a huge amount of pressure to continue to deliver the same high-quality service despite a dramatic uptick in the volume of calls and a potentially smaller, and remote, workforce. Expecting customer service teams to continue to maintain high standards in these conditions is not sustainable without concerted and organisational support from senior business leaders to help them adapt.  Any business that overlooks these risks turning customers off their business at a time when they need their support more than ever.

By |April 23rd, 2020|

New rules for Customer Service – Training and nurturing the next generation of customer service agents

With the evolution in technology and customer expectations, today’s customer service landscape would be almost unrecognisable to a CS agent from as…

With the evolution in technology and customer expectations, today’s customer service landscape would be almost unrecognisable to a CS agent from as little as a decade ago. It follows that businesses must consider how this essential job requires a new skillset and a new way to look at training and supporting the front-line employees who work with customers day-in, day-out.

As companies transition more of their applications to the cloud and take advantage of the capabilities this gives them, they need to consider what the implications are for the front-line CS agents whose roles may change as a result of the new capabilities available to them.

Technology creates new service opportunities

Co-Op is a perfect example of a company that went through a cloud transition that changed the demands on its customer service function. The company was struggling with separate systems managing its different lines of business which was problematic as there was no single view of a customer. This impacted quality of service and also the opportunity to provide proactive advice to customers and even upselling opportunities as different CS teams dealt with different customer problems depending on the product/service.

Co-Op moved its processes onto Salesforce’s cloud platform, allowing the business to have a single view of customers’ data. The shift would have placed new expectations on the customer service team as they now would be in a position to help with any customer query and also it would require them to have knowledge of more products and services so that they could advise and upsell the customer. Training on how to “use” the new Salesforce platform is only one part of the training needs. CS agents would also need to be trained on how to transition the conversation from problem solving to advisory to upselling. These are new soft-skills for which agents need to receive training.

A new approach to learning and training

Because customers are increasingly aware that it is possible to have a complete view of them as a customer and to have the first CS Agent who they reach help them with any issue, this is fast becoming their expectation of all service providers. This places increasing pressure on Customer Service organisations to find ways of enabling their front-line teams to be able to resolve the majority of customer issues without having to bounce the customer over to another team. Their knowledge needs to be broad and current. As a result, businesses must now consider how to effectively train agents in the best way to find the right answers for customers and to learn on the job rather than necessarily teaching them the answers during an extended onboarding period.

The introduction of ‘micro-learning moments’ which provide real-time, short, compelling content bursts has proven to be a very useful training strategy. According to the US’ Association for Talent Development, 79% of talent development professionals are using or plan to use this technique in the next year to keep up with the pace of change.

It’s certainly a method that suits the ever-evolving customer service landscape, as more technologies are introduced and expectations from customers continue to grow. This also places yet another demand on the front-line teams as they need to capture their knowledge in real time as they solve new problems so that it is readily available to all other agents who might receive the same enquiry from another customer. CS Leaders need to be looking at new ways to incentivise the CS agents to create, share and use knowledge, and consider that traditional KPIs on call handling and wrap up times will need to change.

Empower the front-line

Businesses must also move away from rigid processes that are typical within the customer service sector. These are often a hindrance to great customer service as they prevent empowerment at the front-line to do the best thing for the customer. There is a need to provide the freedom to a customer service agent to think outside the box when dealing with complex problems and empower and trust them to use their initiative. Building problem solving skills within the customer service team will allow for more autonomy when it comes to dealing with more complex and varied issues.

T-Mobile’s US launch of a ‘Team of Experts’ completely overhauled how customer service works for the telecoms company. It listened to both its customers and customer services team and came up with the best solution – giving customers in various regions of the US their own dedicated “team” of customer care representatives to offer quick and efficient assistance, removing robot voices and confusing push-button menus. By specially training various group of human representatives and making them available 24/7, T- Mobile invested in promoting knowledge sharing within and across teams – creating faster and more agile learning environments.

Focus on the human being

The role of the customer service agent is clearly changing, as are the pressures placed on them. Businesses need to adapt how they look after and train these members of staff beyond looking at traditional metrics. The role is becoming more challenging, with customers demanding more and business offerings evolving at a faster pace. Businesses of any size must understand that they must to adopt a new way of training agents and offer them ongoing opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills.

In order for agents to be resilient and well equipped in dealing with the customer they must be supported after experiencing difficult conversations with an upset customer, whether that’s through a mentor, team meetings or more formal HR or coaching services. Treating the customer service agent as a vital human asset will allow them to flourish and ultimately increase retention and quality of service.

In the race to keep up with, or even get ahead of the competition, businesses must invest in the right type of training so customer service agents fully understand how to maximise new technologies and how to develop the necessary soft skills to support their changing role. It can be the key success factor for delivering exceptional service, increasing positive brand perception and retaining the best and brightest of the Customer Service workforce.

By |March 10th, 2020|

Wellbeing in the workplace: how the work environment impacts customer service

There’s been a sea change in the last five years in how people talk about health and wellbeing in the workplace, and…

There’s been a sea change in the last five years in how people talk about health and wellbeing in the workplace, and the wellbeing of customer service employees is vital. We’ve known for some time that there’s a strong correlation between employee and customer satisfaction, but companies are just starting to define employee satisfaction beyond the historic metrics of job security, pay and benefits. We need to think about wellbeing in a different way: looking at health to ensure it not only includes mental health, but also holding the physical work environment and a company’s culture to account.

In customer service, it’s especially important to think about the environment in the contact centre as the people here are, for many customers, the only representative of that company they will talk to. It’s essential to make sure the environment is conducive to the best possible interaction. This also applies to outsourced customer service operations, where representatives may not feel like direct employees but must be considered as such, as they’re talking to your customers every day and their wellbeing is just as important.

Great customer service is all about people – on both sides of the interaction – and this is all too easy to forget in an age of chatbots and automated communications. Customer service agents are on the receiving end of the full range of human emotions in their working day, from anger to elation, and their role is to take it in their stride and respond in an appropriate, productive, nurturing way. But who’s nurturing them? If they are feeling uninspired, in an uninspiring office, and facing a constant stream of negativity without support and training, it is short-sighted to assume your customer service agents will want to stay with you long-term, or positively reflect your brand.

Smart companies are realising that tangible changes in the workplace improve wellbeing. Nike’s East Coast base, spanning six colossal floors, features a full-size basketball court designed to engage and encourage its customer service teams. The retail giant wanted to ramp up its digital output but recognised if it wanted to deliver better, more personal customer service at scale, it had to start thinking about what the people expected to lead this change wanted; to feel included, incentivised, able to quite literally live the brand by playing a game of basketball in their downtime! Seems extreme, but many other companies can learn from this approach by Nike – and think about ways to improve the environment for their vital front line.

In the world of customer service there’s a lot of chatter about empowerment and the danger is that it’s seen as just a buzzword rather than an essential component for a culture that supports employees as the serve customers. It’s important to consider the approach to the front line teams – are they engaged, productive, and trusting of the customer handling protocols? If the answer is no, change this immediately. And if the answer is yes, just check when was the last time you asked a front line employee for their feedback on how things are going? Not just in a business sense – but on a personal level too. An outstanding customer service employee is a fantastic problem solver, but everyone faces issues from time to time, and if someone is struggling then it can be a barrier to delivery of great service. The front line sees it all, and there must be a business mechanism to tap into their invaluable feedback, and make sure they feel empowered enough to share honest and frank updates. IT firm Wolters Kluwer developed a programme called Converse which offered an internal 360 feedback scheme ahead of the rollout of a product asking for everyone’s thoughts before it launched and engaging everyone by valuing their opinion.

Across the full sweep of companies and roles, internal recognition is chronically undervalued – and a customer service team needs to feel appreciated. Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report showed 77% of respondents rank ‘new rewards’ as important to their workplace wellbeing – favouring personalised rewards systems. It is so important to invest in what might contribute to wellbeing for people in this specific role, and this varies between each company’s unique employee culture and identity.

Monzo, the British digital-only bank which has just launched in the US, recognises that some employees may have private struggles that impact performance, and recently introduced Spill into the workplace – an app that splits costs of message-based counselling 50/50 between employers and employees. While some people may not see this as a ‘reward’, private counselling can be prohibitively expensive for some, and it’s an excellent example of an online-only company understanding its employees’ preferred way of communicating. Monzo’s response to combat staff stress in an organisation that provides 24-7 customer support complements their working style, and alleviates financial pressure for anyone who may need extra support for their mental health.

Wellbeing is the workplace word du jour – but it’s so important to think beyond surface schemes like free fruit and think about what matters. Whether that’s an exhilarating office environment, like Nike’s customer service team, or a way to recognise the essential feedback from the frontline, the common denominator must be: will this increase the genuine wellbeing of the people speaking to customers all day, every day? Companies that take heed of this will be rewarded exponentially by a team that feels not only empowered to represent you day-in, day-out to customers, but also feels free to share honest, commercially impactful feedback on what is and isn’t working – which will ultimately benefit your business.

By |February 18th, 2020|

The changing nature of customer demands – how can we predict the next trend?

The rapid pace of technological change has completely revolutionised the business world. Long gone is the norm of face-to-face contact between customer…

The rapid pace of technological change has completely revolutionised the business world. Long gone is the norm of face-to-face contact between customer and company – we are in an era that presents challenges and opportunities in how we build customer relationships.

It is vital for businesses to understand changing customer preferences and assess how they currently – and predictably – could affect operations. Implementing the right changes now could be the difference between flourishing and floundering. Any business wanting to future-proof should consider the three trends that have made – and will almost certainly continue to make – a big impact on customer interactions.

The need for speed

An estimated five billion people mobile phone and over half of these are smartphones. Our constant connection has fostered a need for instant gratification and instant information. Businesses are under immense pressure to make consumers feel like they are always available – introducing technology to lessen wait times and prioritise speed.

Amazon’s constant communication with customers turned fast and simple customer experiences into the norm. This laser focus on communication with the customer, which Bezos calls “True Customer Obsession” has been vital to its success and expansion into the B2B world with Amazon Web Services.

However, unlike Amazon, many companies have struggled to keep up in the online landscape and have been left behind. A recent study found that 56% of British customers would stop using a service if there was slow customer service and many businesses have not been quick enough in updating and improving their customer support experience.

We are on the cusp of the roll-out of 5G and customers are about to have faster internet at their fingertips. Businesses have no choice but to realise that the need for rapid response systems has never been greater.

Personalisation

With an appropriate strategy and smart technology, businesses can tap into the wealth of consumer data quite literally at their fingertips. It opens up the opportunity to provide a personalised service – because no customer wants to be provided with an identikit reply.

Smart businesses are providing systems that help customer service agents know exactly who they are speaking to, the products consumers use, as well as access to any previous conversation had with a company. As this has become the new norm, there’s an expectation that any customer service agent we speak to will have access to this type of information – and disappointment if this isn’t the case.

Segment’s 2017 state of personalisation report found 71% of consumers find impersonal experiences frustrating. One-to-one personalisation was initially found to be a bit nerve-racking for customers, but as it is becoming more mainstream it has been widely accepted – although reports that uncover the human element of data analysis, privacy and personalisation (such as Amazon staff listening in to Alexa recordings) still raise eyebrows. Businesses must invest in this bespoke service; there is little value in training the frontline on scripts alone. Organisations of all sizes must ensure they are providing its customer service teams with the correct tools and training to have a personable, tailored conversation with a customer.

Brand personality

Finally, it is vital for a brand to add colour and personality to its communication style which can be applied depending on the circumstance. A great example of this is the rise of communication over social media. Younger generations are more likely to communicate through social media as their first port of call. Offering a standard or slow response across these channels can negatively set you apart from your competitors – as response times are displayed so prominently on Facebook Business pages. Creating an appropriate personality for your brand through social media communications is vital and it’s remiss to not consider this in a customer strategy.

An example of a company who appropriately changed their customer service offering is Salesforce. Upon realising the importance of various channels of communication, they changed their customer service offering. Today, Salesforce encourage employees that “when a text message comes in, the phone rings or a social media post pops up, it’s kind of like a customer coming up from behind and tapping the agent on their shoulder.” Customers don’t want to be treated like a commodity and this Salesforce strategy is testament to this changing demand.

Offering personality at the end of a text, phone call or social media post provides customers with the feeling that they are important to the organisation and that their needs and opinion matter. These small adjustments will be extremely beneficial for businesses across all industries and sectors.

It is unlikely that the pace of change is going to slow down any time soon. There are always new trends on the horizon, and it is rarely right to try and ‘do a bit of everything’ with a customer strategy. A few rare businesses will be able to set trends by raising customers’ expectations, but for the majority, simply keeping in line with the competition is a good approach.

Through continuous analysis and research, businesses can position themselves to recognise what trends are taking off, which are raising the bar, and which will be right for their specific customer base.

By |February 4th, 2020|

Walk before you can run: are businesses at risk of overlooking customers as they rush to digitally transform?

There is continuous pressure on businesses to improve their customer service and end-to-end customer experience – and it’s driven by customers themselves….

There is continuous pressure on businesses to improve their customer service and end-to-end customer experience – and it’s driven by customers themselves. Customer service experiences from a single company can set the bar for the rest, and we all know it’s getting easier by the day for us, as customers, to take our business elsewhere.

This means the pace at which companies need to optimise their customer-facing operations is much faster than historical transformations, and businesses will suffer the consequences if they can’t keep up. Challenger brands can drive mature businesses to run before they walk when it comes to transforming customer service – and consequently they may rush to digitally transform and miss focusing on what the customer really wants. Vodafone, for example, has been criticised for its target of a transition to 60% of customer service interactions to chatbots by 2021 – and the consequent impact the may have on the customer experience as well as human job losses it could cause.

The expectations customers have for a more responsive, personalised and seamless experience has never been higher. This has led to a huge amount of change within the customer service sector; however, businesses need to be wary. Rushing a digital customer experience transformation can end leading to an overall failure to meet the basic needs of customers.

Digital touchpoints

Challenger businesses are increasingly favoured when it comes to customer service and rank higher in satisfaction than their legacy counterparts. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK recently analysed customer service in the retail banking sector: legacy supplier RBS was ranked last in a list of customer satisfaction ratings, and challenger Metro Bank came first. Metro Bank has set new standards for others to follow, and it wasn’t by being digital-first.

While it is generally accepted that many customer service and support issues for a consumer-facing company can be resolved online, it’s pertinent to note that an ONS statistic shows that a staggering one in ten people in the UK are not yet online.

Unfortunately, some businesses take shortcuts to keep up the appearance of innovation – adding social buttons, chatbots and hiding the phone number, overlooking the vital importance of addressing customers real needs. In doing so, they can fall into the trap of offering what they think is needed, but not actually innovating to deliver an effective multi-channel customer strategy. Shortcuts can end up causing more issues than benefits.

One of the greatest challenges faced by legacy brands is managing the scale and pace of the shift to online customer experiences. The newer challenger companies have the advantage of building their customer service and support operations as digital-first and this is a gap that will not be closed any time soon. But, crucially, there are multiple ways that strategic tech investments and organisational tweaks from legacy companies can have a very positive impact on keeping pace with customers’ digital expectations.

Fundamental changes that can help

Companies must take a step back and put their customer first before embarking on major changes to their customer service operations, and ground discussions in what customers truly want and not what you think they want.

There’s a general lesson to be learned here about mapping out the end-to-end customer journey and all its supporting touchpoints: think about what works for your customers, rather than implementing change for change sake. Marks and Spencer, for example, started implementing AI in its call centres last year. As more British retail brands crumble, there are calls for retailers to improve digital strategies, so this is an important and interesting move: it allows AI to handle the re-routing of calls and access to departments, and ensures employees are moved from call centres to customer-facing jobs, so they can effectively represent the British high street stalwart. It means M&S can handle more than a million more inbound calls a month, and deliver better in-store, in-person experiences, improving the customer experience overall and perhaps helping to secure its future.

Improving employees’ training improves customer experience

Technological advances do need to be made by most customer service functions, but digital innovation is not the only way to improve customer service. There is a lot to be said for improved employee engagement in customer support and service sectors.

BA has introduced new training for staff who deal with customers at airports. They will be trained on a range of different areas including ticketing and finding delayed luggage. Even though this is not revolutionary, it shows that the business understands when a customer asks a question, they want the answer to come from the first person they speak to. We all know how much we hate being ‘bounced around’. It is through these small, human-oriented changes and investment in training that businesses can succeed in improving their customer service offering.

Businesses need to walk before they run when looking to improve their customer service experience. Some companies feeling under pressure from challenger brands are rushing to digitally transform aspects of their customer experience, without looking first at how they fundamentally need to redesign the end to end customer experience.

We should not forget the human factor – increased focus on the front-line employees who represent the brand, in terms of training, empowerment and well-being can do wonders for the customer experience and become a true differentiator for a business. Think about it: you and your competitors can all have a clever bot, but only you have your unique frontline customer service team.

When it comes to customer service and support, the start-up mantra of ‘fail fast’ does not apply, but there is also something to be said for ‘do or die’ when it comes to transformation. Getting the right balance is key.

By |January 21st, 2020|

Getting the balance right between technology and humans

Technology has the potential to transform the customer service and support sector, but we must carefully manage the balance between human interactions…

Technology has the potential to transform the customer service and support sector, but we must carefully manage the balance between human interactions and technology in order to avoid making our customers feel devalued.  When we impose technology on our customers at the time they need help from our organisation, we must deliver an experience that the customer perceives as easy, fast and effective and we must also carefully consider which scenarios are better served through humans for the benefit of a great customer experience.

When considering any technical advancement in the customer service world, it is vital to ensure humanity remains at the core.  As every customer interaction will impact brand perception its crucial to get it right.

Man vs. Machine

Customer service technology should be developed with the end-user experience in mind – and human nature is central to innovation.

Applications such as chatbots and personalisation tools, learn from customers’ past behaviour to tailor individual service interactions. It has become so “normal” that many customers are happy to interact with a ‘non-human’ customer service agent and often don’t notice that they are not interacting with a real person. Google Duplex AI assistance can make phone calls on a person’s behalf – and people found the calls to be so humanistic that it was difficult to distinguish whether the caller was human or AI. Human-like robot calls however are still regarded with mild suspicion – not least because robocalls are becoming excessive and called American smartphones nearly five billion times in May 2019 alone. It’s important to be careful with the rollout of this technology to ensure it doesn’t alienate customers.

As smart customer-facing technologies are implemented worldwide, it is crucial for AI algorithms and automated processes to take into account the nuances of the regions they are operating in and the unique cultural requirements of legality and ethics. HSBC, for example, has announced plans for a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to ensure its technology is developed safely, ethically and is beneficial for society and this will inform its practices worldwide. This rigorous monitoring, self-regulating and testing must be applied by any company rolling out AI.

Changing habits and expectations  

While AI will radically alter how work gets done and who does it, the technology’s most important contribution will be in complementing and augmenting human capabilities, rather than replacing them. It has been predicted that the acceptance of technology filling traditionally human roles will grow, if it leads to improvements in service, experience and quality of life.

According to Servion Global Solutions’ recent estimate, 95% of all customer interactions will be powered by AI systems by 2025.  In a survey conducted by USABILLA, 54% of people surveyed said they would in fact choose a chatbot over a human customer service representative, which must to some degree be a reflection that speed and ease are priorities for customers. That said, the survey showed that while chatbots were popular with customers, having the option to speak to a customer service representative is still important.

Companies across the world are continually raising the bar with customer service and support experiences. AirAsia announced its new chatbot AVA, integrated with Siri, who will answer questions instantly in eight languages. It follows that if travellers experience such technology from a low-cost airline, they will be disappointed if the more expensive, premium airlines don’t offer a similar experience.  This principle applies across every industry – if companies do not innovate, customers will begin to question if their experience is not a top priority, especially when they see that others are focusing on improving the customer service experience.

Collaborate to innovate

In order to get the most significant performance improvements in customer service, humans and machines need to work together. Technology cannot handle customer service alone especially when there is a need to recognise emotional nuances of a conversation with a customer. What comes as natural to humans, picking up on body language or tone, for example, can be very tricky for machines, and what’s straightforward for machines (analysing gigabytes of data) is near impossible for humans. Both capabilities are required to secure the best results.

Chatbots can empower customers – enabling them to resolve basic issues conveniently and efficiently.  However, when a situation is complex, a personal, human touch is often needed. Forrester predicts that customers may turn against chatbots, especially if they continue be perceived as ineffective – but if companies invest in the human element as well as the technological one, they will be able to avoid this phenomenon and stop customers from feeling what Forrester calls “jaded”.

AI will drastically alter the way customer service is offered, but the bigger challenge will be ensuring that human capabilities are complemented and augmented, not replaced. This is vital to succeed with a future facing customer service proposition.

By |January 7th, 2020|
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