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

FIND OUT MORE Aileen Allkins
Consultancy
Helping businesses deliver a truly exceptional customer experience
Customer service lesson from the pandemic READ OUR LATEST PAPER Get the latest news and blog updates FIND OUT MORE

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

Start a conversation
Find out more about AAC

Our services

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

CX Advisor

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

Read more

Differentiating Through People

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

Read more

Transitioning to the Cloud

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

Read more

Scaling customer support in the cloud

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

Read more

Insights

Customer service lessons from the pandemic

By |September 22nd, 2021|

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

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

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

Read now >

 

Avoid the small mistakes that drive customers away

By |November 25th, 2020|

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

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

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

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

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

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

See all insights

News & blogs

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

By |September 8th, 2021|

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By |August 24th, 2021|

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Career growth for Customer Service & Support teams

By |August 11th, 2021|

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

By |June 21st, 2021|

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

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

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

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

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

Steps to successful transformation

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing everyone on the journey

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

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

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

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

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

By |May 19th, 2021|

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

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

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

Another angle on AI and automation

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

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

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

How AI and automation can empower the manager

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

AI and automation will enhance this role:

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

Applying AI and automation in the right way

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

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

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

Will other executives learn from Jeff Bezos’ legacy?

By |March 24th, 2021|

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

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

What is the true state of customer service?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instilling a culture of understanding

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

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

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

Learning from the legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

See all news and blogs

Working with us

Start a conversation

To contact us, please fill out the form and we will get back to you within 24 hours.

If you would like to follow or connect with Aileen, please click on the link below:

    Go to Top