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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | August 24, 2017

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Q&A: John Bryson, Sitel

Q&A: John Bryson, Sitel
Outsource Q&As

This article originally appeared in Outsource magazine Issue #32 Summer 2013.


John Bryson is Director Product Management for Sitel – a role giving him a place at the heart of one of the most dynamic and innovative areas of the outsourcing space. We caught up with John in the spring to discuss just why the customer contact arena is the place to be today – and what he envisages for tomorrow…

Outsource: John, social media is still, for many organisations, a bit nascent.  How far along the curve do you think your own organisation is?

John Bryson: In the context of legitimising customer care as a channel of interaction and for problem resolution, I think we are reasonably advanced.  We’ve got multiple clients across multiple industry protocols that are using us for social support today. When we focus on social support, it tends not to be exclusively isolated to just Twitter or Facebook, or some of the other mainstream use cases, but it also tends to look across the digital channel – and so we’re very practical in terms of our adoption of the technology with the customer care user base.

User cases are often focussed on deflection from alternate channels, ie less effective or more expensive channels –as well as being able to establish more of a real-time cadence to the support.  We can talk about some of the differences around why email isn’t typically viewed as a real-time channel, while social, potentially, can be viewed as such, and – not wishing to use a cliché – there are a lot of online moments of truth where someone may be researching to purchase and if you can intersect them at the right moment, you may be able to pull that volume in and make something incrementally happen offline.  So there’s really a bifurcated value proposition.  There’s that incremental acquisition side, and then there’s also the cost-deflection side if that contact is deflected from some alternate, competing channel.

O: As an organisation, what are your biggest challenges when it comes to maintaining a place at the cutting edge globally?

JB: Our clients tend to want to provide the technology most of the time.  We have the technology but they look to us more for our customer care expertise, for our people and processes.  I think we see that changing – and that’s really important as, often, for the stakeholders on the client side, when they’re evaluating a technology, it may be marketing that may be driving that analysis.  So they may make an investment based upon what’s best for the marketing side of the business without sometimes even consulting the customer care side. For example, customer care may not be aware of what their needs are, because they don’t have the experience. This is definitely a challenge, that we may have customers having certain expectations about how a service level is going to be maintained or how an experience is going to be delivered with an expectation that will leverage a customer-provided tool.

We’ve worked to overcome that by making our tools very centric to the customer care, use cases and also doing things to make them in some cases somewhat un-naturally available, by offering proof-of-concept periods and things that allow them to actually pilot what we have to offer side by side with some of their legacy investments – and it’s not necessarily to supersede any of the legacy products or tools that they’ve already got deployed, but to validate in a production environment if the legacy tool is really as good as some of the competing tools. If the competing tools are better, how do we validate the business case? Is it based upon the number of interactions or cases that are managed per house? Is it done by some sort of measurable impact on customer experience or incremental acquisition? If we can get those data points for a real production environment and put a dollar value on them, it can make the decision and the conversation a lot easier around if there is any incremental investment around technology required in order to maintain and deliver that experience at scale.

O: Do you feel that as technology becomes more and more complex, that your own ability as a provider to leverage economies of scale is going to be more and more important?

JB: I think maybe I have a bit of a different take. As an industry, we’ve got to be sensitive to the needs of our customers, and we also have to be aware that the technology is evolving as an extremely fast pace.  I don’t expect that’s necessarily going to change, I don’t see that slowing down, but I think you’ve got this combination of social platform evolution, mobile device platform evolution, the developer community. Think about it: you and I work in outsourcing.  We are now having a conversation about what influence is the developer community going to have on our business?  Could you imagine us having that conversation, legitimately, even two years ago?

Generally speaking we wouldn’t have been thinking about that.  Well, guess what?  Our clients probably weren’t really thinking about that either.  So this convergence has taken place and we’re talking a lot about how the voice channel’s going to be impacted, how the self-service channel’s going to be impacted. And then there’s the impact of self-service. That’s the real gorilla in the room in terms of what’s going to drive some of this channel shift. Social customer care is interesting; it’s gone from something almost no-one was doing two or three years ago, to something almost everybody is trying to figure out today and I think it’s going to be very mainstream within the next couple of years.

Combine the impact of that with some attrition from customers that maybe are less predisposed to contacting us through legacy voice channels, and then combine that with improved availability of self-service applications – whether it’s a better website, better access to the websites that are out there via mobile devices, tablets.

Then there’s the concept of what happens in the virtual space.  There are a lot of companies that are trying to understand that right now and figure out what are the different problem types; what are the use cases which lend themselves to some of these different scenarios. I think we’re all going to get a lot smarter as time goes on and the platforms mature about understanding how certain problem types, certain use cases are best resolved by voice, self-service, social customer care. And so it’s less about trying to shift people from one channel to the other, but trying to position the channel in such a way where it’s the right channel for the right time of enquiry, at the right time as a balance of experience, efficiency and all the other metrics that we’re trying to solve for.

O: Do the skill sets that you are now looking for when you recruit differ, as a result of the advent of social media, from the kind you were looking for ten or even five years ago?

JB: Absolutely! At Sitel we recruit for digital agents, full stop! We recruit from voice agents. We have tons of documented processes and testing and protocols about how to validate for tone and inflection and cultural fit and all these in a voice environment; in a text environment it’s generally very different. It’s not as simple as how many words can you type; a lot of it goes down to how digitally savvy you are. Maybe you can understand the language, but do you understand some of the colloquial intonations of the words within the language? And understand the spoken cadence of that versus the written cadence, and how the latter could come across and be perceived as different. The other thing that is really interesting, that I always like to point out here when talking about a recruiting profile for a digital agent versus a voice agent, versus something else, is that it’s not even homogenous between fulfilment regions.  If I look at the Americas or most of Western Europe as an example, as a fulfilment location generally speaking a digital agent is viewed as a job to be put on a pedestal. You walk into any of our contact centres today, about nine out of every ten agents you see is a voice agent.  So by definition, there is something different about those one out of every ten and those differences help to take what can admittedly be a pretty monotonous job for our agents and make it somewhat unique, something that stands out among their peer group.  That’s actually an advantage to us in terms of how we build and resource those queues.

Now the flip-side of that can be true on the other side of the world. If you talk about an offshore cost-centric outsourcing environment, there’s a lot of competition for employees across outsourcers across captive centres.  In some cases, the employees are interested in developing the skills which are viewed to be most marketable and if there are nine voice call centre jobs for every one digital job, then maybe there’s a perception that those voice skills are a little bit more marketable. If you walk into a town like Manila or Chennai or Mumbai you’re going to get a different answer, a different expectation from the agent.

O: Finally, how important is a global footprint when it comes to being able to stay at the forefront of what is a global revolution?

JB: I think that’s more of a differentiator relative to why a company will outsource in the first place; it’s probably less of a differentiator for the digital queues specifically because realistically, if a company doesn’t have a need for multilingual agents, multiple locations, that kind of applies whether it’s a digital channel, voice channel or something else. If they need those things they need them that much more as they start to increase the complexity of the problem types that are resolved. You look at the investment required and the management, training, attrition management, contracts, all of those things; there’s a lot of investment on the client’s side and on the provider’s side to get those things right and make them scaleable over time.  Naturally, if you’ve got a provider that can scale across geographies, across languages, to be able to consolidate some of that is extraordinarily powerful.  To have the same partner that can do that and also support multiple types of queues and problem types of increasing complexity, that’s powerful as well.

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