Hi Paul, tell us about yourself and your background.
I first got involved in the world of contact centers and customer experience in the mid-1990s, which was the time when businesses first started using the telephone channel for sales and service. No longer did consumers have to walk the up high street to buy insurance or visit the bank; they could call up from home – on their landline phone – instead.
This change was enabled by technology – and hey presto, the call center was invented based call routing, reporting, and workforce management. Fast forward a further fifteen years, and the internet become a way for consumers to interact with organizations, and so the call center became the digital contact center that we know today.
The channels may have now increased from phone and email to include chat, social, messaging, and bots, but the fundamentals around how you operate and run a contact center – balancing supply with demand and striving for positive outcomes in terms of resolution rate and customer satisfaction – all remain the same.
I have spent much of that time as a consultant, where I have worked for big four firms (most recently for Deloitte) as well as running my own consulting practice. I have always been an advocate of helping operations to excel, and for many years have been an awards judge. However, over the past few years, I have turned my interest into supporting innovative, early-stage CX technology businesses, initially as an investor and now as a Non-Exec Director. On LinkedIn I have the title of “the contact center innovator,” and I think that sums me up very well.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about customer experience, in your opinion?
I see customer experience sitting at the intersection of sales, marketing, and service. An often forgotten fact is that contact center agents – who are at the front line of customer service – interact with more customers in one day than most executives in these functions do in a year. So whilst feedback and voice of the customer surveys are structured tools from which to collect CX data, there is a powerful alternative that organizations too often miss out on – and that is to tap into the insight gathered from your front-line staff. Your experienced agents know the problems that are at the root cause of why customers get in contact, so executives should put in place a means to harness and then act upon that insight.
Also, the consequence of 25 years of customer management practices is silo thinking around who is best placed to answer customer queries. Does it always have to be an employee or outsourced agent (if you choose to manage customer contact through a third-party BPO)? These staff or representatives consume a lot of management time to recruit, induct, train, coach, and develop.
But who actually knows the most about using your products and services – well, that will be your customers, and in particular, that segment who are the most regular users. Why not tap into customers as a ‘GigCX’ resource pool so that they can help their peers? The results in terms of resolution rate and satisfaction can be as good – if not higher – than the best contact center agents can achieve, at a fraction of the cost in terms of management support.
What are some of the newer CX companies/solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
I think the GigCX concept is definitely one to watch. There’s a really informative ‘state of the industry’ research paper from the leading vendor Limitless – where I am an investor – where early adopters like Microsoft, Sage, and Zwift explain how the concept of customers helping customers is making a difference to their CX strategies. Whilst the use cases started out as a way to deflect contact away from the contact center – and save support cost as a result – now there are some compelling commercial outcomes where it can be proven that those first-time users and early adopter users generate more revenue following an interaction with a customer expert. It’s what the marketers recognize as the impact of micro-influencers, where an informative and authentic customer peer is really powerful as an advocate for the brand. I think we can expect to see more pre-sales and product adoption customer journeys involving these GigCX interactions in the future.
Now there are so many channels of contact, and there’s also an increasing need for technology to guide the user to the most relevant solution – whether that is self-serve or assisted support – based on understanding their intent. There’s a key CX differentiator for proactively offering knowledge and self-help to a user at their moment of need – when using a product or searching online, for example – and then triaging those inquiries that can’t be resolved by self-serve alone to the appropriate resource pool, whether that is contact center agent or to a GigCX customer. I’m a fan of the type of solution that Genesys now have available on their cloud platforms that orchestrates the combination of predictive engagement chatbots to GigCX solutions such as the Limitless managed service customer crowd, in addition to contact center agents. It makes all of these resources available when designing customer journeys and closes the loop of saving those customer interactions in the CRM system regardless of how the user has engaged. All very neatly packaged to deploy easily.
What can companies do to improve customer loyalty and retention?
Many CX professionals have got their organizations to implement advocacy scoring measures (such as NPS) to determine the extent to which customers are willing to recommend their products and services – the belief being that the higher the average NPS score then the greater the customer lifetime revenue that will be generated.
I think this idea of chasing a higher NPS score is a flawed logic, but there is one part of the net promoter approach that is valuable – and that is to turn the telescope around and look at the characteristics of the so-called ‘hard’ detractors i.e., those scoring 0, 1 or 2 out of 10. From client projects that I have worked on then I have seen a strong correlation that hard detractors will have the highest probability of churn. So if you get your Continuous Improvement (CI) teams to focus on the customer feedback from these low-scoring transactions then you can understand a lot about the root cause issues that mean people will switch – whether that is flaws in product design/usage or in the service response. By reducing or even eliminating the factors that cause customer frustration, then the customer retention rate will improve over time.
What do you think is most relevant and why: CSAT (customer satisfaction score), NPS (net promoter score), or CES (customer effort score)?
As I have indicated before, there are pros and cons to different measures. What’s behind your question is what measure will most likely be a predictor of a positive customer service outcome?
And I think the answer to that all depends on the customer journey stage:
- Whilst you are onboarding customers, then measures like customer effort make a lot of sense in that you can identify – and therefore address – any barriers that customers face during the adoption phase. Think of brands like Apple that have focused on ‘being simple and easy’ to use a new product straight out of the box.
- For service inquiries, then CSAT gives you a customer perception of how the inquiry was dealt with, but I would argue that First Contact Resolution is a better measure of determining that the issue has been fully addressed. When you log all customer interactions within a CRM system, then you can easily run analytics to determine the proportion of customers that follow-up (i.e., call back in) within 7 days of the initial inquiry. Again once you have identified these repeat contact scenarios, then get your CI team to understand and then improve the root causes.
- Finally, remember that a user’s perception of the service – following an interaction – is not always the best indicator of future purchasing intentions. This is where analytics has a role to play to understand – and potentially codify – the impact that a service interaction has on product usage. Here data science could yield more meaningful insight than ‘trusting’ how a user has scored the organization in a survey.
How can companies better use social media in the era of customer-centricity and personalization?
My favorite positive story of the power of social media as a one-to-many interaction mechanism occurred in the days that followed the Manchester Arena bombings back in 2017. This was a tragic situation that could easily have impacted people’s future plans to attend large stadium events and concerts. At that time, I was doing a project for an events company which two weeks later had 60,000 people due to attend an open air stadium concert. The Customer Service team was 8 people in total, and as you can appreciate, that was nowhere near large enough an operation to deal with the expected influx of requests. I watched first hand as the team worked with internal security and planning teams to make sure that the appropriate safeguards and checks were in place. The event was given the green light to proceed, but now the question was how best to communicate with attendees?
This is where the power of social media proved to be really effective. As official announcements and information were made available online, social notifications were sent out promoting that content, along with encouragement to share that information. It was a one-to-many comms approach that significantly reduced the number of customers contacting Customer Services, meaning that those attendees with more specific inquiries could be dealt with. Even though the phone service was effectively de-prioritized (because it had the longest handle time to reassure the most worried customers), the focus was on responding in minutes to those ‘direct message’ social inquiries that needed action. This proved to be a better way to manage demand.
And because social media was effective at managing inquiries prior to the event, then the social notifications that were sent out on the day – during the concert event – provided a ‘feel good’ sentiment around the fact that the event was taking place and that it was safe and secure. The customer service team was brilliant throughout, and exploited social media as a service tool in ways that I had never seen done so well before. An old dog learned several new tricks that week!
What is your opinion on AI-based chatbots to handle customer support?
To use the metaphor of a school teacher, then I think the feedback to the current class of chatbot designers and implementers would be “could try harder.” By that, I mean that the raw ingredients are now in place to achieve an effective conversational UI experience:
- Accurate speech to text translation – meaning that natural language voice interfaces could be automated
- Improving AI capabilities – where a ‘test and learn’ approach can improve outcomes over time
- Closed-loop processes can be identified – so that high containment rates can be achieved.
- Escalations paths exist – so that the full interaction history can be passed in the chat-messaging session to the GigCX customer or the contact center agent whenever assisted support is required.
- When all these elements are in place, then the likelihood of improving CX through automation is good, but is it me, or are there still too many stories of chatbots that don’t understand the customer intent or provide a closed-loop jail to the user from which there is no escape?
Having presently this skeptical view, then I should also add that the opportunity for a technology vendor to ‘get it right’ is massive, and I’m certainly on the lookout for an emerging start-up that can apply AI effectively to crack the conversational UI code. That’s an innovation that I will invest in when I see it for myself.
What was the best movie you saw that has come out during this past year?
So the pandemic lockdown over the past year has meant trips to the cinema have been off-limits, and streaming services and movies on catch-up at home have become the new normal. Over the winter, my wife and I found ourselves longing for some sunshine (i.e., a holiday) and so a ‘feel good’ series like the BBC’s Death In Paradise – set on the fictional island of San Marie in the Caribbean – became a must watch series.
But the Netflix series of The Crown is definitely the most memorable. Production values and story-telling were magnificent, particularly as series four moved us into the 1980s, which is a time period that I remember well. I’m definitely keeping my subscription as we wait for the final series to be made.
Paul’s favorite CX metric
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
Well, as I have spent my career working in and around contact centers, then the metric that I think is the most powerful is the one that has the ability to recognize and empower staff when they give good service. And it comes from customers because at the end of the day it is those that judge what good looks like.
Have you guessed it yet?
It’s simply the ability for a customer – at the end of contact – to give verbatim comments about the agent who has helped them resolve their issue. These are always genuine and heartfelt – and have the emotive power to energize and engage employees better than any five-point scale metric can ever achieve.