NEWS ALERT: YNV Group appoint Aileen Allkins as Executive Director
UK – January 2022: Founder of AAC, Aileen Allkins, has announced she will join YNV Group as Executive Director, effective January 10th, 2022, and will [...]
UK – January 2022: Founder of AAC, Aileen Allkins, has announced she will join YNV Group as Executive Director, effective January 10th, 2022, and will hold senior leadership roles across several Group companies as Chief Executive Officer of Wize Solutions and Chief Customer Officer and Executive Director for Tek Experts and Elev8.
YNV Group is a multinational holding company with brands in a growing number of sectors including technology, education and real estate. As an accomplished customer focused executive who has spent her career transforming the customer service and support experience of some of the world’s best-known technology companies, Ms. Allkins brings a wealth of experience to her new roles.
YNV Group Founder, Yaniv Natan, commented, “Aileen’s appointment is a strategic milestone in YNV Group’s plans for accelerated growth. Her principles and values towards both customers and employees are entirely in line with those of the YNV Group and we very much look forward to the impact she will have on the customer experience for Tek Experts, Elev8 and Wize.”
Discussing her new roles, Aileen said, “In my previous experience with the group as a client, I have always been impressed with their agility and willingness to do whatever it takes to deliver great customer experiences”.
Aileen added, “The synergies between Tek Experts, Elev8 and Wize place them in an exciting position to play a leadership role in the 4th Industrial Revolution through the design and delivery of digital skilling programs and technical job creation in current and emerging markets. I am excited to be part of it.”
Aileen will continue her role as Senior Advisor with the Boston Consulting Group and as Non-Executive Director at ABBYY and will be relocating to Cyprus to be closer to the YNV Head Office.
About the YNV Group
YNV Group is a holding company that began as a highly successful tech support start-up. In just a few years, it grew into a multi-brand group of companies serving global enterprise clients and governments. Today, it has brands in tech support, digital skilling, software, fintech, and real estate. Its family of companies benefits from a unique synergy often enabling them to provide complementary services to shared clients. With over 5,000 employees across 10 countries, YNV helps the people and communities in which they operate thrive and grow in the modern digital world. Having recently expanded in Rwanda and Qatar, they will see further expansion in 2022.
Find out more about the companies here:
How upskilling and reskilling could hold the key to long-term success
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?
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
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
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
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.
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:
- Creating differentiated and authentic experiences that turn into positive relationships.
- Shifting the emphasis of data and metrics from reporting what just happened to predicting what happens next.
- 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?
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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?
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
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.