News

Thought leadership

By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media

On Thursday 26th September, the 2019 Engage Focus Groups took place at the Hilton Hotel in London. These thinktanks create spaces for thought leadership discussions, and provide valuable ‘take home’ implementable knowledge for senior individuals working in customer and employee engagement.

The event had five main themes running throughout: CX Strategies for the Customer Journey, Evolution of CX Service Design, Trust and the Contact Centre, Future of the Contact Centre, and Flexible Homeworking. A panel discussion also took place for the topic moderators to engage with each other and discuss questions raised by both delegates and the panel moderator.

CX Strategies for the Customer Journey

This stream was moderated by Martin Hill-Wilson, Founder of Brainfood Consulting, and discussed: ‘How to Design and Test New Contact Strategies: Maintain Flawless CX While Adding Channels’. Martin began by raising the point that the contact centre is the crossroad of all organisational activity, and explained the different customer contact routes companies can take. This includes: voice (assisted service), which Martin notes was going out of fashion but is now returning in an automated form, text (self-service), and video (proactive service).

Martin highlighted that emotion is the most significant driver of brand loyalty for customers, and raised the issue of ‘liquid expectations’: the very high expectations customers now have for ease and efficiency in purchasing and delivery time across the board, due to their experiences with large brands who can afford to follow through on their ever-increasing promises.

To navigate this, he emphasised the importance for brands to make a great effort to ensure the customer experience is as simple and easy as possible. This is particularly significant due to the negative consequences of causing cognitive overload in customers through a complicated, difficult buying experience, which damages trust and deters customers from returning. This links to another key point made, in that every customer interaction either increases or decreases their brand loyalty.

However, Martin also said that it is imperative for brands to strike the right balance when striving for simplicity in still providing customers enough choice. In addition, he said that AI should only be introduced to customer service when the service journeys have been perfected and simplified, with well-engineered solutions and solid back-end management behind them.

Evolution of CX Service Design

Moderated by Nick Sellers, Senior Director of Strategy and Marketing at Sykes Enterprises Inc, this stream discussed: ‘Future CX Service Journeys will be Personalised, Planned, and Productive’. Nick stated that customers are always looking for an outcome, and that they embark on journeys with an end in mind.

Similarly to the first stream, the need for simplicity and customers’ high expectations for ease and efficiency were discussed. Although in this session, Nick expanded the point to explain that a common issue in customers’ negative experiences is that most companies create their digital experiences with the business’ objectives in mind, but not necessarily how the customers will experience it.

The role of marketing in creating and raising customer expectations was another hot topic in this stream. It was agreed that this can be both beneficial when the customers’ experiences are positive, but can be detrimental to brand trust and loyalty when reality falls short of what’s been promised.

Furthermore, Nick said that customers expect authenticity and honesty from brands, and companies need to understand who their customers are in order to appropriately market to them. This linked to another point raised around personalisation, in that in its increasingly popular usage by brands, it is crucial to not cross the line in becoming invasive in the way customer are advertised to, and to never use their data carelessly, as this also has the potential to damage trust.

Trust and the Contact Centre

Continuing with the theme of trust, Tony Smith, Sales Director EMEA of Strategic Accounts at PCI Pal, moderated the third stream, discussing: ‘UK Consumers Won’t Spend with Brands they Don’t Trust’. Tony opened the discussion with some interesting statistics, including the fact that 38% of the UK population, and 44% of the US population have been affected by security breach in their lifetime, and that 56% of the UK and 42% of the US dislike sharing credit card details verbally over the phone due to security worries. Additionally, 41% of Britons stop spending with a brand forever after a security breach, almost double of their US counterparts who sit at 21% making this same permanent decision.

Tony stated that trust is now at the forefront of customer decisions. This is even to the extent that customers feel more comfortable sharing their data with small local stores than large multinational companies. This was reiterated by the room due to the accountability of face-to-face experiences, and the belief that small stores are less likely to be targeted by hackers.

Hacking continued to be a focal point of this stream, with Tony mentioning that 41% of consumers want businesses to admit responsibility in the event of a hack, and to be honest and transparent in their communication around security breaches, addressing the customers’ fears to try and redeem their trust.

Future of the Contact Centre

This stream was moderated by Andrew Hall, UK evangelist, Odigo UK, discussing: ‘Achieving and Exceeding the Customer Experience Expectations of the Uber, Monzo, Deliveroo Generation’. A key point raised in this talk was that the customer journeys should be the first priority, and the metrics will follow. He emphasised that a customer-centric approach is best, and discouraged brands from wholly focusing on financial gain.

Andrew led the conversation around the importance of brands empowering and engaging their employees in contact centres by giving more freedom in the way they communicate with customers. The discussion then moved to gamification and rewards schemes for certain accomplishments and meeting targets, and how it generally can be positive to implement for teams to work collectively towards a goal if the rewards are motivating enough, but on an individual basis it can risk demoralising employees over time or making them feel like their efforts are reduced to numbers. It was noted that if a reward or bonus is in place for certain achievements it must be consistent, as taking a pre-existing reward away can be incredibly demotivating.

Moreover, Andrew said that looking forward, all companies have different goals regarding contact centres. Some aim to remove their contact centres over time, and some want more customer journeys to be digitised, increasingly through AI, and to only keep contact centres for more complex queries, particularly when human contact and empathy are needed.

Flexible Homeworking

Moderated by Mark Walton, CEO of Sensée, this stream discussed: ‘Benefits for Businesses, Customers and Society of Flexible Working’. Mark introduced how his company has successfully utilised flexible working from home to benefit the business in maximising productivity and efficiency, and empowering employees with autonomy over their schedules. He also said that flexible homeworking allows for a more diverse workforce, with a significant proportion of Sensée’s employees being disabled or new parents returning to work on a part-time basis, with training delivered virtually.

Mark explained that companies need to evolve and trust employees more with autonomy over their working hours and in working from home, and pushed the importance of not getting stuck in traditional ways. Mark also recommended brands monitor the customer feedback they receive, as a significant number tend to respond positively to their contact working from home due to reduced background noise and increased focus on the conversation.

Another interesting point raised was that investing in customer satisfaction can mean revenue decreases slightly, but it is worth it for loyal, positive customer relationships. He does note that this is not a one size fits all structure for companies to follow, but hiring a workforce specifically looking for flexible homeworking can be a contributing factor to succeeding in this effort.

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion, moderated by Gerry Brown, Chief Customer Rescue Officer at The Customer Lifeguard, created a space for all the topic moderators to openly discuss and share ideas on the main points raised from the day, and answer questions from the audience. It was concluded across the board that the most crucial takeaways from the day were the importance of simplifying customer journeys, breaking down silos where possible to engage and motivate employees, building trust being imperative in improving customer relationships, and the importance of finding an appropriate balance between AI and human interaction in the contact centre moving forward.