How Do You Understand What Customers Will Want In The Future?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It was great to read the article published on the IBA Group website about the CXOutsourcers Mindshare event in Windsor, UK. This was a very interesting event hosted by Peter Ryan and Mark Angus connecting together the service providers from the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) and CX (Customer Experience) industry.

The IBA team was there at the event because their expertise in areas such as Cloud Computing and Robotic Process Automation is highly in demand from the CX companies – hopefully they managed to strike a few new partnerships!

As mentioned in the IBA article, I was speaking at the event about the future of the customer experience – how can you profile and understand the customer of the future?

What I tried to do with this talk was to initially frame expectations. It is easy for people to make wild predictions about how customers will behave in future, but what they often forget is that social and technological progress is not always gradual. Sometimes an invention or innovation can completely change the way that people behave.

A good way to think of this is by considering how railways changed society. Before railways people were forced to live within walking distance of their workplace. Railways created the freedom for people to travel to work and this in turn created the concept of the suburb.

We have seen a similar change in the past decade. Since the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007 and the subsequent explosion in the use of social networks, the way that people communicate with each other has dramatically changed. This has led to a radical change in the way that people communicate with brands and an evolution in the way that the customer journey works – this is the journey from first hearing of a product to learning more and then eventually buying it.

That customer journey used to be quite simple and was focused on advertising or marketing to create awareness and then a sales process followed by customer support. Now we can see brands that are not building customer service contact centres, they are building customer experience hubs. They are using a mix of human and digital technologies and building an ongoing relationship with customers that can last for half a century or more.

What is so interesting about the present day business environment is that there is so much potential for dramatic change in so many ways. A retailer planning strategy in the era of my parents would only ever be planning new store locations and sales promotions – nothing in the future was dramatically different to the past.

Look at the retail environment today. Not only is online retail creating a new era of competition, but the way that town centres are featuring retail is changing. Other huge factors may also change how society interacts with business, such as climate change, geopolitics and the dramatic rise of China, the creation of social inequalities, and the preference to rent experiences rather than owning products.

You can click the link to read through my slides for some more of the ideas I presented at CXOutsourcers, but I think that what we will see more often today is emerging business models and services driven by the online economy and the desire of the customer for greater convenience. Go-Jek in Indonesia started out as a ride-hailing service with motorbikes – like Uber with two wheels. They expanded into offering services such as medicine or food delivery by leveraging their network of riders and eventually they created such a wide array of services that they introduced their own in-app payment system. They now process more payments than any major credit card brand… they are now a financial service brand and they started out offering rides on scooters.

How might this happen in your industry? Think about it, your competition in 2020 may not even exist today or they may be working in a completely different industry. Now that’s scary because it means that we are moving faster than ever to stay ahead of business trends, but we are never going to be going this slow again in future.

Mark Hillary for CxOutsourcers
(c) Mark Hillary

How Technology Companies Are Delivering A Wave Of CX Innovation

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It’s always great to see when the new issue of Intelligent Sourcing arrives. It’s updated all the time online, but there is still something nice about seeing a collection of news bound together in a real magazine. I know that’s old fashioned, but a quarterly business journal is like a collection of thoughts from that time.

The issue is focused on innovation and I contributed a column that you can read if you click the later link to the magazine. Although my article was a focus on Customer Experience (CX) innovation, as I read it again I noticed that so many of the specific innovations I was documenting require technology expertise.

This is quite a change from the days when customer experience was called customer service and involved nothing more than a contact centre full of phones. Handling interactions between customers and brands today is highly complex and operates across a number of channels. Here are some of the key areas shaping CX innovation today as outlined in the Intelligent Sourcing feature:

Customer expectations and journey; interacting with customers today takes place 24/7 across many different channels (including social) and involves thinking about a 50-year ongoing relationship with the customer, not just managing a single phone call.

Technology; almost every emerging technology you can think of is being applied to the customer relationship. To list just a few – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Robotics, location awareness, cloud computing, the app store. All these technologies are being shaped and influenced by the way that brands are using them to interact with real customers.

Automation; Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is being extensively deployed as a tool to make customer service agents more efficient. The blend between digital service and human service is now one of the most important areas of research in this field.

Customer-centricity; new companies can design their entire service around what customers want in an age of smartphones. There is no need to copy how a bank or insurance company operates – especially if they designed their processes many years ago. This is having an enormous impact on traditional brands that are being challenged by brand new companies that can deliver services better.

CX and Business Process Outsourcing is often presented as an entirely separate type of business that is unconnected to what IT service companies are doing, but I believe that most of the innovation taking place in CX is being driven by IT. In fact, many of the IT experts are now becoming experts in areas such as RPA and that means they are rapidly becoming CX experts. The market for technology services is changing and CX innovation is creating many of these new opportunities.

Spring issue of Intelligent Sourcing

CX and technology

How Tech Plays An Important  Role In Delivering A Great Customer Experience

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I recently visited IBA Group in Minsk and I had the pleasure to speak with Andrei Lepeyev, the director of software development at IBA Group. As someone who studied software engineering at university myself, I’m always fascinated by the way that platforms such as cloud computing and the app store have changed what it means to deliver software, so it was really great to catch up with Andrei.

You can hear our conversation on the CX Files podcast by clicking here or search your favourite audio podcast provider, such as iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. Because we were focused on CX we talked about some of the technologies and systems that Andrei is working on that have a direct impact on the quality of CX for the clients of IBA Group.

I had initially asked Andrei about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used to predict customer behaviour, but he explained to me that IBA has gone further and created a product called APPULSE that offers a complete Level 1 and 2 support service for mainframe computer systems.

Andrei said: “APPULSE not only detects the system and finds problems, it uses Machine Learning to learn about the solutions so in many cases it can create a self-healing mainframe system. Mainframes are still really important and unbeaten in the range of directions they are deployed. They are the most stable and virus-free systems, but their user-interface is not usually so good.”

Andrei was talking about the importance of keeping mainframes running because they are often overlooked by most customers, yet your bank will be relying on those systems to be running if they want to offer a 24/7 online banking platform. Ensuring that the system can heal itself before problems even happen is an enormous improvement in the way that a traditional IT support operation would run – fixing problems only after they have caused a problem. That’s always a disaster for customers who need service now.

One of the big trends for 2019 in CX will be Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Andrei explained to me that IBA Group has delivered implementations all over the world using the top four RPA platforms so they are not just riding a wave of RPA hype, they have real customers and case studies from numerous countries. But I asked Andrei how they choose the best platform for different customers – is the software really very different?

He said: “First we think about the support level of each supplier. Can they provide education or trial systems? Can they add specific requests to the software? Can they give extra information to a company like ours that may be implementing the solution?” However Andrei also added an interesting point which is not often discussed in the industry – sometimes it is just which software system is seen first by the customer. He said: “It is also important to see how each of the companies is marketing their product to the client. Often we will be approached by a potential client who already has a pilot system – developed free by the software vendor – and it can be very hard to move them to another system even if we think it could be better.”

Andrei mentioned Machine Learning when describing the mainframe support system and I asked him about the popularity of this in 2019. Are more and more customers asking how to make their systems learn about customers and systems automatically?

Andrei said: “Yes, many more clients are asking about it. The main reason is that there has been an evolution of hardware. A simple mobile phone allows almost every standard machine learning platform to work. Ten years ago this was impossible. We are not talking about huge brands like Google and Amazon – even smaller companies can deploy a machine learning system today – there is a very low barrier to entry now.”

When I asked Andrei about his priorities for 2019 he said that he wanted everyone in the industry to remember that none of these technologies exist in a vacuum – they all need to interact with other technologies and business processes. He said: “When we are talking about AI we cannot talk about it alone, it should be the business application of AI. We can’t talk about RPA without Machine Learning. We can’t talk about Cloud Computing without talking about the solutions that are built and deployed on the cloud. I’m looking forward to some projects in 2019 that involve AI using RPA and are delivered on the cloud.”

My conversation with Andrei provided a great insight into how some of these technologies are really affecting the customer experience. A large amount of media coverage is just hype, but as Andrei demonstrated, there is a great deal of substance here. These technologies can deliver game-changing systems, but the companies using them to interact with their customers need to have great products and services – it is not the use of an RPA or AI platform alone that will help them to be more successful.

To listen to the CX Files podcast featuring Andrei Lepeyev from IBA Group, click here.

When Will Your HR Team Start Learning To Code?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

There are many emerging technologies that are not only changing the workplace, but changing the way that jobs are structured and the skills that modern (or future) employees need. I believe that three of the most important changes taking place at present include:

1.    Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace
2.    Remote working
3.    Creating tribes

There are technologies and systems emerging, such as AI in business application support, that are fundamentally changing how corporate processes function – and this changes the skills that people in professional jobs need. Employees need to become comfortable with the idea of AI delivering performance feedback, personal development, coaching and evaluation. This offers many advantages to both employee and employer, but it can still face resistance by some employees, especially when they feel it will change their job.

Forbes magazine recently published data from a study by the Center for Effective Organizations at USC Marshall School of Business. The study suggested that only 37% of employees would share innovation or automation ideas if they believed they would have to do different work as a result of such technology being implemented. However, when employees believed the technology would help make their job better, 87% of them said they would share innovation ideas with their employer.

Both AI and employees will help companies to reengineer their processes, but with AI exploring how to optimise systems there is an opportunity to change processes without the natural reluctance of the employees.

Remote working is increasingly a reality in many industries. Customer service companies are now actively promoting the Work-At-Home-Agent model instead of increasingly large contact centres. Companies with a large number of home-based employees can dramatically reduce costs for office estate and more easily scale up and down as the business requires.

The need to create tribes is partly related to the trend for home-working, but it is also linked to our increasing use of social networks. As we see people less in real life and more in virtual spaces, such as social networks, it becomes more important to be more methodical about socialising – both in person and virtually.

All these changes in the way we work are related back to the increasing intelligence of systems that can help us to perform more effectively at work. We are now reaching a point where coding skills are becoming useful for employees in almost any professional job – accounting, HR, and law companies will all be using AI business application support and this means that professionals need to learn how to manage their virtual tools.

A great change is coming soon. It’s not that every job will vanish as many are automated, but those that remain will become more interesting and more technical – the HR team needs to start coding soon!

AI Is Bringing Brands And Consumers Closer Together

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quite a pervasive technology in the present-day environment. Even regular consumers with no technical knowledge are becoming aware of AI and are comfortable interacting with these systems. Examples are all around, from Siri on the Apple iPhone to the movie recommendations made by Netflix and song playlists on Spotify.

But there are many other ways in which consumers are beginning to interact with AI systems and many of them are not so obvious, at least to the end consumer of the services. Think of self-driving cars. They may not be common yet, but they are being tested all over the world and they rely on AI to constantly monitor the environment outside the car and to decide what to do next to keep the vehicle safe.

AI can also help to predict what people will do in the future. Facebook can tell if you are likely to take your own life based on recent posts. Stanford University trained a system to detect if you are gay or straight based just facial photographs. The HR system designed by IBM can predict who is likely to quit their job. The implications for these insights are fairly clear – imagine what an insurance company or government could do with this data.

Perhaps more positively, there are now investment algorithms that outperform regular investment managers and AI-powered disease diagnosis means that your virtual doctor will be aware of any relevant research and drug trials – even if it was just published yesterday.

Most consumers will be largely unaware of these developments, but there is one area where people are creating a huge demand for greater investment and research into AI systems and that is personalisation – the interaction between consumers and brands.

Years ago it was Amazon that really started this wave of personalisation by offering deals or recommendations based on the specific shopping behaviour of the individual customer. This was extremely innovative at the time because most brands could only ever offer the same deal to all customers at the same time. Now this is commonplace and expected. A clothes retailer needs to know what the customer likes, dislikes, their shopping history, and what they have browsed and lingered over in the past. All these insights would be impossible for a person, but an AI system can figure out what to offer the customer – either as a recommendation or as a special offer – and ensure that the offer is made at exactly the time that the customer is most likely to respond positively.

Now these personalised insights are not only becoming more common, but customers know that brands have the data so they are expecting greater personalisation. Customer demand is creating a wave of IT research and development. AI is moving quickly from being interesting and innovative to becoming essential for brands across many industries and it is customer expectation that is driving this change.

Can Your IT Deliver Great CX?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Take a look at what the industry analysts are all saying about customer experience (CX). It doesn’t matter which industry you are focused on, it is typical to see that improving CX is now considered to be one of the most important strategic priorities – often it is more important than the more traditional revenue maximisation and cost reduction strategies that most CEOs focus on.

But when you explore what CX transformation really means, it is clear that modern CX is largely supported by IT systems. To create a modern CX environment requires not only a major investment in IT and communication systems, it requires an understanding of these technologies and how they can blend with your people and processes so CX is improved.

This requires multiple skills. Executives investing in the technology systems that are now being used to improve CX may know the technologies, but have no personal knowledge of CX or customer service principles in general. So it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate just how much the various technologies have changed in the past few years. Supporting CX today is no longer focused just on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems alone. This CMSWire article details five key areas where you might want to think again about the kind of technologies being used today – and where we were in the recent past:

  • Moving from websites to apps – it’s no longer enough to have corporate information on a website. If you really want to interact and build a relationship with customers then you need the interactivity of an app.
  • Moving from Web Content Marketing to Artificial Intelligence (AI) – online content is great for brands, but AI will allow brands to automatically share relevant content and to build their content library automatically.
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) moving from a static repository to the centre of your digital assets – instead of just tracking all your digital assets using a spreadsheet, create a culture of sharing every digital asset, even photos and videos, and utilising the DAM database as a key asset throughout the business.
  • Moving from data use to help the marketing team to predicting what the customer will do next – don’t just use data on customers for marketing mailshots, study their behaviour and figure out what they will do next by using predictive data analytics.
  • Personalisation based on strict rules moving to AI – Machine Learning and AI allow you to get much closer to customers by creating a completely personal experience, not just the same experience every customer has. More and more customers are already insisting on this as an expectation.

Robotic Process Automation, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud delivery and Data Analytics. The list could go on. All these emerging and complex technologies are being deployed in solutions that are specifically designed to improve CX, but as this list suggests there is also a need for executives to think beyond what they knew as cutting edge two years ago.

When selecting a technology partner for a CX initiative you should keep in mind that they need to have expertise in the specific technologies you want to deploy, but also talk to their team about how they see these technologies evolving. CX is driving so much investment into these technologies that none of them are static. You need to consider how best to plan for a solution that delivers today and can flexibly grow with the business in future.

IT Companies Globally – Your Future Is In CX

IBA Group
Mark Hillary
Customer Experience (CX) has become an important topic for IT companies in recent years. Technology that helped customers used to be restricted to little more than Point-Of-Sale (POS) systems in retail stores, but now there is an enormous industry focused on CX and technology underpins most of these services. For example:

  • CRM; Customer Relationship Management systems are increasing automated and help brands build a better relationship with their customers by having a better understanding of customer needs.
  • ERP; Enterprise Resource Planning has become increasingly important as complex supply chains need products to be delivered just-in-time to the right place.
  • RPA; Robotic Process Automation is allowing companies to automate large groups of processes – especially in the back office.
  • Contact centres; the traditional link between brands and customers is increasingly complex now that omnichannel service is becoming a customer expectation.
  • Data analytics; Big Data and expertise in studying customer behaviour is becoming an important way for brands to personalise the service they deliver.
  • AI; Artificial Intelligence is helping many brands to predict what customers will want, either to help improve the supply chain or to create a more personal service.
  • VR and AR; Many brands are exploring how Virtual and Augmented Reality can help customers locate more detailed information on their products.

This is just a short an immediate list, but the implication is clear. The customer to brand relationship is far more complex than ever before and it is increasingly these technology systems that are providing the ammunition for brands to improve their customer experience. IT service companies and advisors need to be increasingly aware of how important their role now is in creating a great experience for customers.

Many of these technological changes are helping smaller specialist companies to compete with the major players. Look at the Facebook Messenger and it’s automated bot system for one good example. Even a very small brand can configure the system to offer 24/7 customer support using automated bots – something that would have been unthinkable for a small company to offer just a couple of years ago.

Several major technology systems, such as CRM and ERP, have driven large parts of the technology industry in the past, but I believe that now the main driver is CX. Customer expectations on brands are increasing constantly, leading major companies to explore how they can deliver a better service than their competition. Likewise, many of these technologies are moving from just being used by early adopters to being more universally accepted – look at how Ikea now allows customers to view furniture using an AR system before purchasing.
The message is clear for IT experts – CX is going to drive your business for the next decade. Make sure you are tuned into what the CX experts are saying and what the upcoming CX trends are going to be, because many of them need IT expertise and that will not come directly from companies with experience of customer service.