Read our Q&A with Ed Creasey, Consulting Director, EMEA at NICE Ltd…
What do you see as the single biggest challenge the contact centre/customer service industry has faced over the past 12 months?
I think one of the biggest challenges, not just of the last 12 months, but for some time now is to do with delivering a fantastic customer experience in the face of financial pressures. Rising customer expectations have led to more demands on the industry, particularly around how to deliver a fantastic level of customer service while under growing pressure to keep cost down.
That’s the biggest challenge that I’m seeing. I don’t think that there’s only one single challenge, but that drives the context of everything else. People are expecting more, and they actually believe their service providers are delivering worse services.
What do you think is the biggest priority for the contact centre/customer service industry in 2018?
The first priority for many of our customers is moving to the cloud. In the past, upgrades could take months if not years and could be extremely painful to deliver. Consequently, customers delayed doing upgrades, and it was extremely hard for many to add new capabilities. The bottom line is that it was hard for organisations to innovate. This major challenge of customer satisfaction can be solved the cloud’s ability to bring on new capabilities quickly, and to drive innovation. So the first thing is that more organisation, even those who had never considered the cloud, will be seriously considering moving their contact centres to the cloud.
Then the second priority is around customer journey data; indeed there have been many years of work to collect big data in one place because digital transformation has caused data to reside in many places. You have your web-data, voice-data, messaging data, app-data, transactional data and so on. A lot of work has been done to gather all of this data in one place, however, I often see that data being controlled by specialist teams rather than the journey owners, process experts and operational leaders. My customers are realising that they need to take action on this data and make predictions from it and that’s a big priority for organisations. How can they take action and push that incredible amount of data to the front-line employees dealing with the customer.
The third one is also the most significant issue in the contact centre industry – employees. Now some would say that AI and Robots will gradually automate the contact centre employee. If we look at the history of self-service, we started with the IVR, so people could start to self-serve themselves on the phone, then we moved onto web pages, then to apps. You’d think that with all of this developments that the volumes of voice or face-to-face interactions would’ve gone down. The volumes did go down, but the complexity didn’t. For example, we have many customers that tell us that while the voice interactions as a percentage of all interactions is much lower, but they are getting longer and more complex calls – therefore the overall call load is the same
The reason this links to employees is the type of employees we are going to need when customers finally wants to speak to a human being are different. Previously you could hire cheaper, less skilled employees because the interactions were simple. Now the interactions are going to be more complex because self-service has failed. So contact centres will have to recruit people with more capabilities, more empathy, who are better at problem-solving and better at theoretical resolution. At the same time, we are seeing the second generation; the generation Z come into the workplace. Generation Y or the millennials have been in the work place for probably 15 years, and we are seeing a different set of requirements. The key indicator for these requirements (and the fact they are unmet) is the increasing levels of attrition we are seeing. Millennials have different pressures to the previous generations. This generation is under massive financial pressure and have different values and expectations to earlier generations. They enter a contact centre environment that frankly doesn’t meet their expectations, that have been formed by growing up with the internet and most significantly, the smart phone.
So you have this combination of a requirement for more motivated people to deal with complex customer journeys, and a set of employees who don’t want to work in environments with legacy technology but want more flexibility, engagement and empowerment. This has led to the uberization of the workforce. Contact centres used to think about competing with other contact centres in the market place, if someone would pay 50p more, they would go there. Now people can go to Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon and have the flexibility they want.
The last big trend we are seeing is robotics. More and more organisations are going to be deploying robotics. Robotics process automation (RPA) provides the ability to take the repetitive process away from the employees is already a big trend. I see RPA moving in two areas. Firstly, customers are going to focus on using it in the front office where processes can be partially automated. We believe 80% of the opportunity lies here.
Secondly, RPA has traditionally worked for highly repetitive, structure and rules based processed. However, by using AI and Machine learning to identify patterns in unstructured data, RPA is now being used to automate processes that previously it couldn’t address. For example, the ability to use advanced Optical Character Recognition to automate processes where the documents aren’t in a consistent format or enabling chat bots to trigger more sophisticated processes by using text analytics to look for key triggers.
What trends are you expecting to see in the market in 2018?
This is very linked to the priorities I mentioned earlier. We will continue to see digital transformation from organisations who want to move from quite siloed contact centres with front and back offices to “contact centres at the hub” that will deal with every kind of task (e.g. voice, messaging, email back office processes and case management). This will require organisations to think very differently about how they route, plan, analyse and automate work. Also, people will want to have a digital-first contact rather than a human first contact. Pretty much every customer I am working with is doing that, and I think that will continue to mature.
Another trend would be workforce engagement, and it is becoming far more significant. Pretty much every customer I am talking to about workforce management is also talking about on employee engagement.
Also, robotics will be very focussed not just in the obvious use cases in the back office, but in the compelling use cases in the front office – like “how can you assist employees in real time with mundane tasks”. It will also start to use advanced analytics to automatically identify opportunities for desktop automation through analytics.
The final trend is where a lot of organisations have put their data into one big view of the truth , and now they want to take action on it. Organisations will want to move a lot of their analytics into the operation. So that gives us four major trends.
What technology do you think is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year?
The ability to deliver customer experience in the cloud is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year. There is a massive shift in thinking for contact centres that enables them to focus on innovation and to deliver a great customer experience and work with organisations like NICE who can deliver everything they might need for a customer journey in the cloud.
Which customer interactions do you think cannot or should not be automated?
I love this question because I was an agent 26 years ago. Whilst I am a big believer in robotics, I strongly believe that robotics will not replace every single customer facing jobs, quite the opposite. To give you an example, I see organisations that want to replace their reception experience with a QR code and an ipad. When executed well it’s effective, but this key “moment of truth” in a customer journey shouldn’t be replaced by a robot. First impressions count. So I believe there are certain things about a brand that you shouldn’t automate unless the end to end digital journey is effective
Also, for certain interactions, the customer will want to speak with a human being when you have very complex outcomes. For example, when you are selling to a customer, and the customer is giving sales objections, I don’t think automation can identify those yet, and it’s very complicated to give a good response to these as a human being. Another example is complaints. When someone wants to express a complaint, if we put automation barriers in front of people when they want to express human emotions, this will be a big challenge. Finally, when you need to ask someone for an overdue payment. I don’t think AI will be able to ask for it effectively. With this in mind, I believe brand, revenue or emotion based conversations will have to remain human-to-human conversations unless the whole customer journey is effectively digitised.
Do you see any new technologies on the horizon?
Blockchain technology is going to be very interesting. When you think about this online ledger that is going to cut out a lot of middlemen, and you look at the contact centre world, where there is a lot of middlemen, it will have a big impact on contact centres. Also the continuing use of chatbots – at the moment I believe they’re used as concierge, but I can see more customer journey being managed by them.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?
“It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.” Benjamin E Mays. This quote is about how you must keep going even though you don’t always achieve your goals. It’s a brilliant quote on the importance of taking risks, trying and having goals.
I also have another quote I learned as I used to be head of complaints in a contact centre. I learned that: “The customer is not always right, but they need to feel like they are right”. The customer can’t possibly always be right. We are human beings – emotive, manipulative and irrational. However, if we are rude to customers, they will leave us, and they have the capability to tell the whole world about this within seconds through social media. So it’s really important to give a great customer experience even if that customer is giving you a hard time unfairly. After all, the customer pays all our bills.