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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | August 19, 2017

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Keeping in Touch: Epochal Change for Customer Contact

Keeping in Touch: Epochal Change for Customer Contact
Outsource Magazine

In a business arena as dynamic – and as tech-dependent – as the customer contact space, organisations that don’t have their metaphorical fingers on the pulse and that aren’t able to evolve with their clients’ customers are doomed. But that’s easier said than done when the pace of change is so great – and accelerating. So how are today’s leading providers managing to keep on top of their games? We spoke with a few of them to find out…


How have your client organisations’ requirements changed over the past few years in terms of a) the kind of work you are being asked to do; b) the kind of contractual terms sought; c) the drivers behind their decisions to outsource work to you; d) the closeness of the partnership which is looked for?

Graham Stein
MD of Contact Centre Division, Parseq
Whilst there is still a demand for tactical work, clients are now looking for a more holistic approach to the relationship with their outsourced partners and this is reflected in the type of work they outsource. Whilst multi-channel opportunities do exist the majority of the work is still within a single or dual channel sales and service environment. Flexibility is still a key driver for clients and this manifests itself when it comes to contractual discussions as well as cost and speed of response.
Many of Parseq’s clients view their outsourcer as an extension to their own operation and brand and therefore adopting elements of the clients’ culture is essential.

Robin Lord
Operations Director, BSS Contact
As the front line of any sizeable organisation’s interaction with its customers, contact centres have evolved to keep pace with changes in technology, customer behaviour and the needs of business. From their inception as phone-based problem solvers, the possibilities opened up by new technology mean they are becoming communication hubs, capable of initiating and responding to customer contact across all available channels, with instant access to centralised information and capable of transmitting brand and sales messages at all levels. Employees once referred to simply as advisers or agents are now becoming knowledge workers, adept at communicating across different channels and disciplines.
The contact centre is becoming an effective, future-proof, communication hub.
Contract terms have changed to reflect a more comprehensive approach to the contact centre.
The drivers behind decisions to outsource to BSS Contact have remained consistent over time; financial reasons (including moving from expensive in-house contact centres) but more importantly because there is a cultural fit with BSS as a non-for-profit organisation itself, because at the heart of every good solution is people who care. This revolves around organisations realising that there customers are important, making it personal, caring and engendering real loyalty. This goes for the biggest banks to government organisations (both central and local) and charities. The customer is the focus; creating positive outcomes for them is what BSS Contact is all about.
Relationships between BSS Contact and their clients are really important to deliver the right level of service. BSS Contact has worked with and for the National Careers Service and its previous iterations for over 15 years, the charity Mind for over 10 years amongst many other long-term relationships. This creates a level of trust and understanding that you cannot buy, it creates a real partnership and a working relationship that goes beyond the norm, and ultimately creates better solutions for the people that use the service.

Michael Ringman
Vice-President, Information Technology, TELUS International
Over the last several years, there has been an increasing appreciation around the value that outsourcing can bring to a client’s business. As a result, clients continue to ask for more and more out of their business process outsourcing (BPO) providers. Requests used to be very specific around meeting certain call centre metrics like average handle time or calls per hour as well as being extremely cost-focussed, trying to do things much cheaper than a captive centre. But now, clients are realising that their outsourcers can play a strategic role acting as an extension of their business and brand. Savvy clients are looking for cultural alignment – the ability for their outsourcer to represent their corporate culture to their customers. Cultural alignment is becoming the determining factor before starting a partnership.
Client organisations are also asking their BPO providers to move faster. In some client organisations, there is the perception (whether right or wrong) that they can only move at a certain speed due to various internal limitations. They believe that an outsourcer can help them move faster by reacting faster to changing business requirements, providing access to new and different technologies, and tapping into different skill sets and ways of doing business.

Neil Titcomb
Territory Manager UK & Ireland, Interactive Intelligence
The end user clients’ requirements, and in effect outsource providers’ requirements, have changed significantly over the years in that integration has become very important. The ability for an outsourcer to provide integration capabilities is vital – there’s the need to integrate the outsourced call centre into the client’s system and therefore enable agents to gain access to more in-depth real-time client data that assists with call handling.
In addition, five years ago clients were happy with just voice-based solutions for inbound or outbound calls. Now, however, there is the need for more channel choice like social media, email, web chat, IMs, scan documents, and so it is crucial for outsourcing companies to have that capability.
From a payment perspective, what we are seeing here is there are different models in use. Some look at billable agent hours, while others, which are more prevalent look at price per call or price per contact, and others are service level-driven.
It’s about risk, responsibility and overhead. Outsource call centre providers are nimble, quick to react and are often better at delivering a higher quality of service. They are perceived as having the expertise in technology, people and process and are particularly effective in an environment that is more focussed on service and less on product or sales.
This is a very competitive market so it is crucial that we work as closely with our clients as possible and ensure a long-term, productive relationship. Whether we are working with the outsource call centre provider or the end-user client, a large part of this relationship is ensuring that we are defining their requirements, understanding what they need and then delivering it.

Joe Doyle
Vice President, Global Marketing, Sitel
Without any doubt customers are increasing their expectations. We are delivering a number of omni-channel strategies both here in the UK and globally, particularly for the retail sector. Omni-channel presents a huge opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves by delivering that exceptional experience and is rapidly replacing multi-channel solutions.
In our recent ‘Customer Relations Trends to watch in 2013’ report, 86 per cent of customers said that they will pay more for a better customer experience. This means that each interaction across channels and over time must be consistent, positive and on target with a company’s brand promise. Social customer communities, multichannel knowledge management, mobile virtual agents and natural language processing will have the biggest impact on the customer service experience in the following years. Brands that don’t innovate around these trends — and that fail to serve customers where, when, and how they want to be served — will suffer. The winners will be the businesses that learn to run a thread through all channels and experiences by restructuring with omni-channel strategies.
We are seeing much longer contractual periods. Buyers are far more sophisticated and experienced than perhaps five or eight years ago. They know what they are buying and have a much more mature approach to working in partnership rather than purely transactional relationships. As a result clients are looking at much longer term solutions to delivering their customer care. TUPE also has an impact especially for large accounts of more than 100 agents. The [UK] government has been reviewing legislation and if the proposed changes go ahead, they will be introduced in October 2013. These proposals will have a significant impact on outsourcing relationships
Cost remains a huge driver, particularly in the current economic downturn; however I do feel providing an exceptional customer experience is becoming a close second. Companies have realised that the customer care industry has moved from Customer Relationship Management to Customer Experience Management. Many companies are now less interested in simple cost reduction, optimisation and metrics such as AHT and are now more concerned with customer analytics, improving the customer experience and improving their overall return on investment and financial results with a more long-term view.
It’s definitely no longer about just delivering the contract. Clients are recognising a true partnership approach delivers so much more. Establishing a partnership approach, where everyone understands the overall objectives and is incentivised to play their part, means that the we can step beyond contractual agreements to try fresh approaches and deliver real value. For example, we have account directors who often work out of our clients’ premises, attend strategic senior level meetings there and even present at the company’s conferences and events.


What do you see as being your biggest challenges currently?

Joanna Swash
Commercial Director, Moneypenny
It is an ongoing challenge to manage the level of growth we are experiencing while maintaining the feel of the business to ensure all clients, regardless of their size continue to receive the quality service they expect. Our model has always been deliberately scaleable however as Moneypenny Receptionists work in teams of four so we keep adding small teams. Recruiting well is always an important issue for us as we are more than aware that our reputation and the reputation of our clients is invested in our people answering their calls. We deliberately overstaff but it is a constant challenge making sure we have the right mix and our teams are keeping pace with the new clients joining us as it can take at least six weeks before a new recruit takes a single call. On a practical level we are on the verge of outgrowing our premises so we are currently looking for a logistical solution that will work for us. We launched a sister product earlier this year – Penelope, a digital receptionist solution for micro-businesses – so one of our biggest challenges is building its presence in the marketplace while continuing to protect and develop the Moneypenny brand. We had anticipated managing our New Zealand operation may be a challenge but so far
so good!

Robin Lord
Operations Director, BSS Contact
The greatest challenge is balancing commercial interests with caring for the individual, balancing empathy with professionalism and the balance between digital by default and technological changes with ensuring everyone has access to the same information regardless.


Where does the impetus come from for the greater utilisation of new technology: within your own organisation, from the client, or a real mixture of both?

Joanna Swash
Commercial Director, Moneypenny
Genuinely a bit of both. The launch of Penelope was based on the realisation that there are more than 3.6 million micro businesses in the UK potentially struggling to stay in control of their calls. We knew from our own research that large numbers of small businesses, for example sole traders, needed support but felt they couldn’t afford a good quality receptionist or answering service.
Eighty-five per cent of business callers know the names of the people they wanted to speak to so Penelope uses voice recognition to listen to the caller request, matches it against the employees available, and directs the call to the correct person with some covert human back up which the callers are unaware of.
Our clients are increasingly using the technology available to them via the Moneypenny app that helps them keep track of their calls and update their Receptionist on the move as well as the reporting tool ‘Moneypenny Online’, both of which were introduced to add value and improve the overall level of customer service we deliver.
One of the practical issues, particularly with our larger clients is the importing of often large and multi-site employee lists into our system. Our ability to import these CSV files developed from the early days when we would type them in manually and we have also now generated bespoke technology that performs the tasks our clients’ telephony equipment doesn’t to allow them to divert more easily, so we are always evolving. We have to.

Joe Doyle
Vice President, Global Marketing, Sitel
Both; our clients and our own organisation contribute to new technology. But we see us as having an obligation to bring new technologies and innovations to our clients. We spend the time and money on R&D so they don’t have to but many of our clients are enterprises who often want to use their own systems and processes which we can easily plug into.

Neil Titcomb
Territory Manager UK & Ireland, Interactive Intelligence
More often than not it is a mixture of both. Interactive Intelligence places great emphasis on keeping up with trends, technology and innovation, but at the end of the day it is the end user client who drives the process. They drive the outsourcer who then comes to use with their requirements. The end user is looking for integration, additional channels, social media, etc.
For example, speech analytics is getting a lot of attention. It is the ability to analyse conversations, spot certain keywords, phrases, etc., and can enhance quality, compliance and a host of other factors. And when offered to the end user client it ultimately brings them insight into their customers – which is something that they are always on the lookout for.

Michael Ringman
Vice-President, Information Technology, TELUS International
When it comes to a greater utilisation of new technology, it’s a real mixture of our own IT roadmaps as well as client and market needs. As an outsourcer, we serve many clients. Some of our smaller clients ask us to innovate on their behalf looking for our guidance and leadership on various technologies from chat platforms to performance management, to quality recording systems. Other times, our larger clients, as respected global brands, are very progressive and innovative in their own right – and we get to learn from them. By serving various client types including industry verticals, we gain a unique, insider  perspective on what is driving innovation, as well as what innovative ideas are succeeding in the marketplace.

Steve Feeney
Account Director, Genesys
We are seeing an increasing level of consumer adoption of digital channels and their expectation is that they should be able to communicate with the service provider – utility, bank, local government or retailer – through these channels. This is driving client organisations to adopt these channels.
But additionally, more and more clients are considering social media for the provision of customer service, which means they need to implement it as a channel within the contact centre as opposed to a silo which exists within the marketing department.
The ubiquity of smartphones and the advent of 4G has also changed the game in so far as consumers will increasingly want to connect to their service provider via the relevant mobile app, and if this is not supported within the contact centre as another channel then the customer experience often becomes disjointed, which consequently has a knock-on effect on customer loyalty and satisfaction.
These are all becoming pressing issues for our clients and need to be addressed by innovative methods of delivering customer service to help clients support their customers’ needs.


How do you ensure you deliver constant innovation to your clients – and who pays for this?

Graham Stein
MD of Contact Centre Division, Parseq
The key is to truly understand the client requirements and business drivers, and innovation does not have to be complicated or expensive, it can sometimes be the simple solutions that provide the best results. Technology solutions are sometimes out of date by the time you finish implementing them, so it is important that any new product is capable of showing a significant return to all parties very quickly. It is very difficult to get clients to pay for generic development, unless it is specific to their needs although this then leads on to the question of who owns the IP of any development.

Steve Feeney
Account Director, Genesys
The key is understanding what expectations consumers have of their service providers and how they wish to use the services provided. This is achieved by listening to all stakeholders and then working with them to deliver what is practically possible and commercially viable.
It is important to remember that it is sometimes necessary to challenge clients who believe that their customers “won’t adopt a certain technology” when in reality they are already consuming it via another service provider!
Innovation is a process of evolution and is paid for in a variety of ways; sometimes innovation can be delivered as products naturally develop and functionality matures, whereas other new services can be justified with a service premium which can be delivered within the boundaries of the contract. Often new services deliver significant cost savings and other benefits and it is important that Outsourcing Service Providers (OSPs) work with vendors to understand how these savings can be made and how they can be used to alleviate increased costs.


How do you ensure strong cultural alignment between yourselves and your clients – especially when you’re representing their front office activity?

Joe Doyle
Vice President, Global Marketing, Sitel
With customer service the key differentiator for many of today’s brands, our clients’ overall objective is to provide their customers with exceptional customer experience whatever the time of day, language or country, and ensure their culture and brand values are reflected in the outsourced environment. Everything from the branding on the site through to the dress code for the agents reflects the brand of our clients. In addition to training on company culture, our people associated with a client (such as account directors, operations managers and agents) often attend client events where they become a part of that company’s team. This may include things like company conferences, product launches or simply social nights out.

Michael Ringman
Vice-President, Information Technology, TELUS International
Strong cultural alignment comes from having everyone at the table from senior executives to program managers to operations to IT. Customer experience is truly a team sport which has its advantages when representing a client’s front office activity. Using IT as an example, you’re not always going to require a technology solution to solve a client’s business problem but, when technology is needed, it has to be there and ready. By including IT in discussions around program management and/or operations, for example, IT is ready to respond because they understand the business and the needs driving the customer experience.

Graham Stein
MD of Contact Centre Division, Parseq
By mutually agreed business objectives which drive behaviours and attitudes that benefit both parties. In Parseq we ensure that each individual knows what impact their action has on the client’s requirements and how the client measures that action internally. Whilst joint branding, joint events and other key elements drive alignment, the focus has to be on the business objectives and goals.

Robin Lord
Operations Director, BSS Contact
Sometimes when asked who they work for, some of the advisers reply with the name of the client; this shows the dedication and the level to which BSS represent the client. BSS Contact started in 1975 as part of the BBC in order to respond to public concerns, and has worked with public sector clients and charities for many years and therefore has a natural cultural fit, based on history.
However the commercial, private sector clients also have that level of front office brand representation when their customers contact BSS. The advisers are dedicated and professional at all times and really do live and breathe the culture of the clients they represent.
In many ways, BSS Contact is the first point of contact for clients’ customers and therefore becomes part of the client’s overall cultural alignment.


How do you build a strong team ethic within your own organisation to counter the challenge of attrition?

Robin Lord
Operations Director, BSS Contact
The advisers in BSS Contact are paid well, trained well and have a strong team ethos, born out of wanting to help the customer move forward and have a positive outcome to their lives. It is a personal thing.
The teams all work together, whether sharing best practices or checking email responses for each other, it is a team effort.
Each adviser has a high level of personal responsibility: how many people do you know have the ability to give the best possible advice, information and guidance for someone who may be suffering from fraud, mental health issues or redundancy?
This personal responsibility for the customer is deep at the core of BSS Contact’s philosophy.

Joanna Swash
Commercial Director, Moneypenny
In an industry where a 35 per cent staff attrition rate per year is considered the norm we consistently experience less than two per cent annual loss with staff usually only leaving for natural reasons such as a career or life change or physically moving away.  As our PAs work in small teams we foster a strong sense of responsibility, decision-making and ownership. We also communicate well amongst ourselves and have regular company meetings.
We realise the job can be repetitive and demanding so when we can we have lots of fun together too. We believe in a strong culture of reward and recognition – for example, colourful flowers can be seen strewn around our offices. This isn’t just for decorative purposes: each flower has a nominal value of £10, given as a token of appreciation to teams for various achievements or just the nice little things they do.
Teams collect them then cash them in to fund a team-based activity – perhaps a spa treatment, a night out, whatever they fancy. In a similar vein ‘Mojo’ certificates and monetary rewards are presented to individuals or teams for going over and above, which all adds to the feeling of teamwork. The culture we create within our own business is critical for the service we deliver and for the third year in 2013, we have been proud to be recognised in The Sunday Times ‘Top 100 Companies to Work For’.
We are fortunate to have the luxury of being able to handpick our PAs as we receive over 1,000 unsolicited approaches every year and never advertise. We actively encourage our staff to recommend good people to us and as a result we have many familial relationships which maintains the feel of the organisation from the early days when we were established by a brother and sister.

Graham Stein
MD of Contact Centre Division, Parseq
In Parseq we have developed the ‘People Promise’, a series of values and commitments to our employees. We have embedded a framework and employee journey that provides our people with clear direction, support and the tools to develop their career with us. Whilst incentives drive a team culture, we still have to make our people feel that Parseq is the best place to work. The combination of investment in learning, remuneration and a great working environment support our reputation of being an employer of choice in a very competitive market.

Michael Ringman
Vice-President, Information Technology, TELUS International
In an industry known for high agent turnover, attrition management is an integral component of contact centre operations. To counter attrition, it’s important to understand the factors driving attrition in the first place including job market competition, compensation, job satisfaction, educational aspirations, skills alignment and so on. The mix of factors will likely vary by city and country. With this background understanding, outsourcers can then focus on the best ways to build a tenured team. This includes addressing organisational practices, procedures and policies around learning and development, benefits, incentives, and work-life balance.
At TELUS International, we also put a lot of focus around building a community not just a company. We want our team members to feel connected to each other and to their work. To support global collaboration and a family-like environment, we leverage IT to connect our employees. This includes using tools like TelePresence and Google Apps to leveraging our global Intranet to building our own internal social network called T.Life. For us, collaboration means connection, engagement and, importantly, retention.


What will be the game-changing technologies of the next few quarters in your space?

Steve Feeney
Account Director, Genesys
Of course digital services are now being widely adopted by contact centres across all verticals, but too many organisations are still managing those services in silos which results in no consolidation of customer data or common customer experience across the different channels.
The requirements for social and mobile are just adding to this issue, so it is vital that any organisation seeking to deploy multiple channels to multiple customers must adopt technology which consolidates those channels and allows that commonality of both user and agent experience.
But let’s also not forget the power of analytics as client success will be gauged on how quickly the Outsourcing Service Providers (OSPs) can adapt to new trends and deliver services to maximise the opportunity to exploit them.

Neil Titcomb
Territory Manager UK & Ireland, Interactive Intelligence
What we are working towards is more interactivity, mobility and ease of transactions.
Firstly, in terms of interactivity, we are looking at an interactive, web-based IVR (interactive voice response) portal whereby customers will be able to use it like a knowledge base. They will input their requirements, for example if they are calling a technology retailer and have a specific question about a camera, they will be presented with a view of the call centre and a list of agent names and pictures of those agents who are available and have knowledge of that product. So in the future we will be using web-based apps and smartphone apps to filter customer care choices.
Secondly, in terms of mobility, we are looking to integrate smartphone apps with the call centre. For example if you’re in a banking app on your smartphone but you’ve reached a point where you can’t go any further, the app automatically takes you to the call centre and allows you to talk to an agent without having to verify your identity again. The app can tell the agent who you are, where you are and what you were doing.
And finally, in video, we are developing a formal video channel in the next version of our CIC (Customer Interaction Center) solution which is not aimed at allowing video calls between agent and customer. Instead it can be used in industries, such as insurance, as a delivery information channel. For example, if a customer has been in a car accident, the insurance company can video call him on his smartphone, he can show the agent the damage immediately and the claim can be dealt with there and then.

Robin Lord
Operations Director, BSS Contact
Contact centres will become ‘communications hubs’, sitting at the core of the truly customer-centric organisation alongside the customer itself. The hub will effectively provide a comprehensive single source of customer sales, service and information provision across every channel using unified communication, knowledge management and data insight technologies.
Organisations will need to adopt a more agile and flexible approach to the design of the communications hub and procurement of associated services and tools. Despite advances in contact, knowledge and data management tools, the increasing pace of change, performance and consumer adoption in emerging technologies, customer education and social trends means contact centre staff skillsets, operational models and technical requirements cannot be forecast with total accuracy over even three to five years.
For this to work, successful organisations will have to embrace the notion of iteratively mapping and redefining customer journeys and deploying the resulting insight at point of contact, to drive continuously excellent customer experience and loyalty.

Joe Doyle
Vice President, Global Marketing, Sitel
Definitely the growth of mobile virtual agents. Customer analytics will also become increasingly important as companies want to understand their customers better so that they can sell more and retain them for longer.
Sales chat will be a game-changer as we have already seen how it can produce a significant increase in online sales, reducing costs per order more than any competing alternative and increase CS scores above other channels.
Pressure to deliver exceptional customer service, along with current economic conditions, is also changing traditional outsourced models. Conversations about home agents or a virtual contact centre model have shifted from being compared directly with bricks-and-mortar contact centres, to the role home agents can play within the overall contact centre environment.
The home agent model has been on the rise since inception around 15 years ago, reaching a new level of maturity with the adoption curve reaching a critical mass and home agents exceeding 100,000 worldwide in 2013. There are distinct advantages to using home agents which can enhance the customer experience through access to a nationwide talent pool that can be matched to customer profiles, such as languages, fans of a particular hobby, or agents who hold specific qualifications or licence requirements, such as nurses or doctors giving medical advice.

Michael Ringman
Vice-President, Information Technology, TELUS International
Cloud services will continue to be a big deal in the contact centre outsourcing and customer service industry. The benefits are widespread with outsourcers able to make their services and technology much more consumable by clients including everything from CRM systems to entire telephony platforms, while clients gain access to these new services and technologies at a much faster and cost-effective rate.
Another game-changer is Business Intelligence or Big Data. As clients become more willing to share their end-to-end client interactions, outsourcers will gain much more insight into end-user behaviour. Outsourcers will capitalise on this data to drive a better user experience including a better use of IT resources on the back end.


This article originally appeared in Outsource magazine Issue #33 Autumn 2013.

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