By Alexander Michael
Director of Consulting
Frost & Sullivan
As I am writing this, the 13th Annual Customer Contact Europe: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange has just concluded. The event took place in a fascinating location, Clontarf Castle in Dublin, which dates back to 1172. There was nothing medieval about the content however, which was very much focussed on 21st century solutions to challenges customer experience (CX) practitioners are experiencing right now. I was struck by the positive energy at the event and by the willingness of everyone to engage, share, learn and be inspired.
This year, four overarching themes were top of mind: journey mapping, agent upskilling, simplicity and a review of outsourcing.
European CX leaders are increasingly realising that they must redesign the CX from scratch to reduce customer effort and make the most of technology. Mapping existing customer journeys in full is a good place to start. Fascinating presentations by leaders from PayPal, Allied Irish Banks and Orange Bank described how customer service is not confined to the contact centre, but needs to be part of every solution. At PayPal, 85 separate initiatives were necessary to remove customer friction, and AIB realised that each product had at least 3 journeys attached, based on channel, and that none of the journeys were aligned. Orange Bank mapped all customer journeys before launching, published a book with all journeys, evaluated every journey and analysed 40 different processes.
As shared at the event, 65% of the perception of effort depends on how we make customers feel, and 35% depends on what customers actually have to do. AIB mortgage customers want a decision fast, and they want to feel in control and informed. AIB has designed a new express journey that was taken by 93% of mortgage applications. From the 120 days a mortgage application used to take, 70% of applications are now decided immediately. Market share has increased slightly despite much more competition and €5 million in cost savings were realised by setting up a home centre of excellence and giving value back to the branch networks and call centres.
A piece of insight that really registered with me was that customers pick a channel based on their anxiety, with the voice channel chosen for the highest anxiety levels. That is, of course, completely true, but I had never thought of it that way. It must be one of the reasons why many colleagues articulated that they now hire agents for attitude rather than aptitude. A customer-first ethos must be ingrained in staff, and attracting more highly educated people means developing career paths and revisiting training because it is a powerful retention tool. Agents must train to deliver a new style of services focussed on effectiveness, rather than efficiency, and it is good practice to give an agent a new skillset every 6 months. Likewise, performance management must include behavioural feedback, and most of the existing KPIs should be retired. We had a lot of discussion about new KPIs, and next issue avoidance, rather than AHT was a front runner.
Orange Bank spent 60 days shadowing agents and spent time in Orange shops studying customer interactions to measure the points where the emotional engagement was difficult (e.g. asking credit rating questions). At CarTrawler, senior management participates in “adopt-a-complaint” initiatives to make them appreciate the difficulty of the CX role. Cross-functional teams that include agents are pivotal to successful CX initiatives, and in some companies the teams co-locate on a single floor. ezCater evaluates agents on coming up with ideas to improve processes, but many organisations struggle to formalise the process of capturing feedback from agents.
Many colleagues feel there is a tendency to overthink the next technology at the expense of simplicity. When we try to fix complex journeys with automation, the automation should focus on simple functions, and be limited to what customers really want. We should not get carried away but get back to the basics of purpose, value and ambition, and a very sound piece of advice articulated by a presenter was to stick to the original concept and deliverables, because super sophisticated solutions are not always appropriate. Everyone recommends going in small and delivering change incrementally.
Review of Outsourcing
Several CX leads expressed that they are reviewing outsourcing and might bring activities back in house. One colleague said that he used to outsource everything, but is now down to 50/50, and that could, perhaps, be explained by the deployment of AI. At Orange Bank, for example, AI can currently deal with 500 subjects, which is about 50% of queries. The goal is for AI to deal with 80% of queries. To stay relevant to organisations, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry will need to evolve, be more outcome-oriented, and focus more on low-effort digital channels.
In my own presentation, I talked about the precarious state of digital trust in Europe, and how Frost & Sullivan is now able to quantify how it affects revenue and churn. The participants were so happy to discuss why digital trust is so low in Europe (and what to do about it) that I only got through half my material, but as a presenter that is a great experience. We mostly agreed that there was a higher expectation of privacy in Europe and that the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has done incredible damage to consumer trust here.
The final high point of Customer Contact Europe was the visit to the Hertz Europe service centre for a tour of the contact centre and a roundtable discussion. We also visited their state-of-the-art technology innovation centre, where Hertz has brought together all the technology that is currently deployed to serve customers in the field. The contact centre serves English, French, High German, Swiss German, Dutch, Spanish and Italian customers from one location, just North of Dublin Airport. Meeting the very experienced HR and team leaders at Hertz really hammered home the amount of detail that is involved in delivering a good experience every day.
Based in London, Alexander Michael heads up Frost & Sullivan’s ICT consulting business in Europe and is its lead analyst in the customer experience space. He has been with Frost & Sullivan for almost 14 years and holds a Master’s Degree in European Management from ESCP-EAP in Paris.
Alex has over 20 years of industry and corporate strategy consulting experience, specialising in strategic partner programmes, customer engagement models and value proposition development. He speaks 6 languages and has well-developed cross-cultural problem solving skills and experience in the management of international delivery teams.
In recent years, Alex has focussed on helping clients design customer journeys around technology and on building use cases that harness game-changing technology such as IoT, virtual reality and video in the contact centre to deliver tangible benefits that materially improve the customer experience. He passionately believes every organisation should have a Head of Customer Experience to avoid fragmentation of responsibilities and self-serving.