Martin Hill Wilson Chair Report: Future Of The Contact Centre – In Rude Health I’d Say

The teaser for this event proclaimed that contact centres are at a crossroads. Either ascending in value to become the beating heart of the organisation. Or presumably absorbed into some form of Borg like automation, courtesy of RPA and AI fuelled self-service.

Reflecting on what was presented, the jury’s still out. Although on balance there was more mojo on ‘humans being amazing’ theme. That said, the intense conversations with vendors in the break out room suggest we may hear much more about the impact of AI technologies on customer engagement in future conferences once the POCs have been landed.

Meanwhile it was a great mix of speakers and topics.

The first segment of the day comprised two sources of research into customer behaviour and contact centre performance interspersed with a fascinating insight into how customer service is evolving at Microsoft during Satya Nadella’s watch.

Nicola Millard started with a round up on customer behaviour and what matters in terms of satisfying expectations. It confirms what I certainly spend time emphasising in my omni-channel masterclasses. Low effort trumps all. Live assistance is best for when situations are complex and emotional. Self service and proactive for everything else. In terms of modalities, the favoured text channel is chat (although I’m sure BT’s next research report due Q4 this year, will point to the rise in messaging over the intervening 24 months). Nonetheless, voice remains a firm favourite and not just for older cohorts. Especially as a means of escalation when so called digital options (app or web) fail to deliver. Thank you Nicola, a great scene setter.

Steve Morrell has an unrivalled track record in contact centres. Do you know of anyone else who has contributed 25,000 pages of commentary on the industry? As a result, Steve was able to provide a unique perspective. Debunking myths on what has and has not changed over a 25-year period. Here are some of the nuggets:

  • In real terms salaries are down. If so, then I wonder what price is worth paying going forward to become the beating heart of the organisation?
  • Speed to answer has declined from 17 seconds to 41 seconds. My hunch is this still competes well against any other live assistance option.
  • Calls have got longer (33%) which hopefully reflects the impact that automation and self service is having on removing more simple needs from inbound queues. Steve predicts that voice remains the dominant channel (~65% of demand) by 2022
  • First time resolution continues to hover in the mid-70s. Although Eptica research which I also rate shows this bombs to under 50% as an omni-channel challenge
  • Attrition has been stable around 20% since the last recession

And on a final note Steve’s consumer research reaffirms current views that AI augments rather than replaces live assistance. Great stuff.

Then a rare treat in terms of brand appearances, Andrew McGuigan, Director of World-Wide Customer Service Strategy for Microsoft took to the stage. His whole talk was epitomised by this quote from Microsoft’s current boss. “As a culture, we are moving from a group of people who know it all to a group of people who want to learn it all”. As a company that has re-peaked as the world’s most valuable brand, such humility is refreshing and a catalyst for re-invention.

Andrew’s focuses this new growth mindset using a simple framework. Empower Me. Help Me. Advise Me. This provides a point of reference for all global service initiatives. These are surfaced through the value irritant model pioneered by Dr David Naylor over a decade ago with Amazon.

Andrew’s team are clearly on the right path. The ratio of self service to live assistance looks increasingly healthy. It’s always a balance though. “We will always have a need for assisted support and the support will require a deeper level of expertise“

That completed the plenary session. After splitting into two tracks for the rest of the day, the story continued as follows.

To my mind, Sean McMahon, Customer Contact Innovations Manager from Belron is top drawer. He knows his tech. Understands the strategic direction of travel. And is a shrewd innovator, able to develop his own ecosystem. Net result is a customer engagement capability that is as advanced as anything I’ve come across. Plus some. In fact, if you want to benchmark, I’d look him up.

Sean has a great ambition. Customer information will magically appear on user’s desktops. The rest of his presentation explained his cunning plan for orchestrating that experience via the jumble of systems, workflows and data most organisations contend with. His roadmap is just as interesting. Voice analytics to enrich contextual routing. Real time AI to engage no show appointments and a bit of blockchain to craft customer engagement portals. One to watch for what the future looks like.

One the contenders knocking on the door of the omni-channel club is messaging. It has a strong argument for being admitted. Consumers live and breathe it. Some contact centres have embraced it while others are concerned with a potential flood of demand, a growing range of messaging platforms to choose from. Overstated claims regarding bot effectiveness. And the obvious challenge of generating yet more silos.

Matt Hooper, SVP from IMIMobile set out to reassure us that with the right functionality and inbuilt integration it was possible to squish the negatives and roll out the customer pleasing positives. He delivered a messaging centric argument for doing omni-channel properly. I’m on board.

David Rowley from Direct Line reassured us that with enough test and learn, optimisation and expectation management, self service delivered by conversational AI can be made to work.

Peter Finding, Partner, Taylor Vinters then offered an insight into a programme called The Zebra Project. This attracts debates on the key topics of the day. From the ethics of AI to blended workforces and the future of work. These are captured as video interviews after the debates they have hosted. A worthwhile resource worth checking out.

E-gain are long term experts in the nitty gritty of making knowledge management work. For large complex organisations this can result in massive libraries to hunt through. Getting advisors rapidly up to speed, keeping that library up to date and complete yet still allowing the advisor to focus on the customer experience and so be rewarded with positive feedback takes some.

Their EE story showed this was part UX design of the desktop, restructuring the library, enabling an efficient feedback and curation process and presumably using the pattern and prediction capabilities of ML to surface relevant answers as Google does so well. The improvements to FCR and NPS suggest things are working at EE customer service.

By contrast Freshworks is a new name to many. They are a fast paced San Francisco based brand that has decided to shake up the market. Andrew Johnson their local general manager did a great job picking out the classic use cases for AI in contact centres – predictive service, advisor assist, smarter routing, filtering signal:noise in social media service and of course automated responses, and virtual assistance.

3UK retold their story of using customer insight to target customer grievances – network experience, complicated bills and allowances. They multiskilled, added chat for online customers and empowered front line teams to reduce complexity. All the metrics confirm a successful transformation.

Tony Smith from PCIpal knows his numbers around fraud, data breaches and the transatlantic comparison between US and UK consumer reaction. It’s not a pretty picture. I keep track on the same statistics and there is no undue exaggeration. Consumer trust is the price to be paid when their data is stolen or is anyway compromised through a lack of security competence from brands.

Tony paints a much broader picture of the issue we face as a connected digital economy and brands are still behind the curve far too often. Investing in PCI DSS technology is a start.

Sascha Evans, Director of External Relations, Kent College Pembury then provided a wonderful example of what can happen when improvisational theatre meets independent school open days. The whole approach has tons to offer CX professionals. Find her on LinkedIn and invite her in. Genuine talent.

Adrian Morley, Change Consultant at The Co-Op told their version of transformation which started with a contact centre without purpose and low levels of engagement. The team first improved their internal reputation by focusing on a few key outcomes that evidenced they could deliver the basics meanwhile aligning the contact centre strategy to the needs of the business. Operations were then consolidated into single Business Services team to give scale. This three year journey has positioned the team to serve Co-op’s new growth strategy.

Nick King from AutoTrader provides much entertainment in his style of delivery. The gist of his tale is that consumers suffer massive cognitive overload in a digital world and so grabbing their attention makes a marketer’s job a tough one that needs a full array of insight from behavioural economics. Suffice to say if you want to increase margins always present your chocolate brownies on bone china plates! He did of course have much more method. In fact based on extensive research and industry benchmarking he nailed the top consumer drivers and online exemplars around Choice, Experience, Confidence, Enrichment and Fairness. A masterclass.

Finally the day was completed for us by Zane Rudovska, Group Head Of Customer Care & Sales at Sun Finance based in Latvia. This is a fast-paced consumer loans brand that has real dynamism as shown by Zane. Her key messages were not to follow the crowd, deliver your own mix of automation blended with the human touch and make the contact centre a place to be reckoned with.

A great sentiment to end a great day. Till the next one.