Future of the Contact Centre Conference Speaker Interview – Dr Nicola Millard

With just two weeks to go until the opening of the 2019 Future of Contact Centre conference, we sit with speakers to hear an insight into their industry and what you can expect to learn from their case studies. Today, we are joined by Nicola Millard,  Head of Customer Insight & Futures at BT…

Can you provide us with an insight into a ‘day in the life’ of your role?

There isn’t a typical day in my role – which is why I like it! 

I’m part of BT’s innovation team, so I can be doing research one day – which can be a combination of qualitative, or quantitative, but always involves wading through large amounts of data and trying to find meaning somewhere in it. The next day, I can be talking to colleagues in our fabulous innovation ecosystem in BT – sometimes colleagues at Adastral Park (our main research HQ in Suffolk), or professors and researchers at some of the world’s best universities, like MIT and Cambridge. Sometimes I’m working on new ideas with start-ups or innovation partners. Most of the rest of my time is spent innovating with customers around the world – mostly our large global corporate clients in industries such as banking, insurance, retail and airlines – but also speaking at conferences like this.

I never get bored!

What do you think is the biggest factor affecting contact centre performance at the moment?

I think contact centres are in the middle of a massive transition at the moment. Automation is shifting a lot of the transactional contact to self-service and what is left is gradually becoming more complex and emotive. This is great because it allows human agents to sink their teeth into more challenging – rather than routine – interactions across multiple channels. It is changing the skillsets, measures and tools that we need in the contact centre.

It is impossible to continuously train agents for this challenging landscape – so they need technologies like augmented (rather than artificial) intelligence to enhance their (uniquely human) skills.

However, because we are still mid-transition, there are still a fair number of mundane, transactional contacts coming in. That will change as better, more ubiquitous and proactive automation comes in.

What do you think the future looks like for the contact centre?

The contact centre can have a very exciting strategic role into the future, or it could fade into oblivion – we are at a tipping point. If it is regarded as a cost and a non-value add function, it will be automated out. I don’t think that will happen for two major reasons. 

Firstly, people tend to be a genuine brand differentiator. Customers don’t really want to contact a contact centre but, when they do, if they have a brilliant experience, they will remember it. It is very difficult to differentiate on technology alone – because technology is easy to copy. People aren’t easy to copy and can add significant value to the brand, if they aren’t treated as if they are robots and are valued themselves.

Secondly, the data coming into the contact centre across multiple channels is invaluable for business strategy – if businesses are willing to listen and respond. Contact centres tend to be a central repository for everything that customers think and say about products and services in real time. Contact centres are usually the first to know when things go wrong, because they get deluged with calls. The trick is to use this data to sense and respond quickly. This is why collaboration is becoming increasingly significant in the contact centre space, as they need to be able to rapidly connect the dots between internal functions on behalf of the customer.

The contact centre could become both the heart and soul of the business.

We’re very excited about your case study! Could you provide a sneak preview into the global research you’ll be presenting on?

Since 2010, we’ve been tracking consumer behaviour in an increasingly digital world through an extensive global research programme (the last iteration of the research spanned 10 countries). I’ll be talking about the key trends that we see driving consumer behaviour and how we’ve used these trends to drive future innovations which can transform the contact centre and help customers to “chat, tap and talk”.

What are you most looking forward to about the event?

Inevitably, because many of us have been in this industry for a while, these events are usually a great excuse to catch up with old friends. But it is always fantastic to meet new people as well.​