Just when you think you’ve got mobile etiquette sussed, out pops a new statistic that makes you think again. New research issued by Co-operative Funeral Care this week showed that even in death there is no escape from the tyranny of the mobile as it found that one in six people would not turn off their phone during a funeral.
And just to underline that little is sacred in the mobile age, a popular YouTube clip of a couple’s wedding shows a text-mad bride with a mobile stuffed down the front of her wedding dress so she could send a last message as a single woman before tying the knot.
Meanwhile in the entertainment world there are signs of a backlash against audience members who refuse to switch off their mobiles. James McAvoy became the latest thespian to succumb to stage rage recently, halting his performance of ‘Macbeth’ until an audience member stopped filming him on their mobile.
We are witnessing daily the unstoppable march of the mobile into our lives as not only the dominant technology device but one which is almost constantly switched on and by our sides.
There are also increasing signs that the mobile trend is moving from the personal sphere to the business world which raises interesting questions about whether the days of landlines in contact centres and other workspaces may be numbered. A look at what is happening in the US suggests that this is the case in businesses both large and small - at a software company in California, only seven of 285 employees have landlines while the majority of Google’s 53,000 staff have company smartphones.
Mobile as the core communication device is moving from concept to reality faster than anticipated. A researcher recently set to test the veracity of the oft-quoted statistic that more people in the world now own mobiles than toothbrushes. After laudable statistical analysis and much ‘Googling’ she found it was true and mobile penetration continues to rise in the developing as well as the developed world.
The ‘always-on’ world is not coming, it’s already here and it is having ripple effects on all aspects of our lives, personal and business. As a consequence boundaries between work time and personal time are rapidly eroding, forcing us into a rigorous analysis of the implications for customer service.
The implications for customer service operations include changing customer expectations on speed of response and service hours. But we also need to think about a customer situation more deeply - whether the kind of help we are offering them is pertinent or convenient in their situation. You can no longer assume a person can talk and look up information on a screen simultaneously as they would if they were using a PC and landline. They may be calling you from a hillside, the bath - or dare we say it, a wedding or a funeral - so we have to model different scenarios into our service templates.
Last year at our Convention we launched ‘Future Scenarios’ in which we called on the CCA body of experts as well as external advisers to be bold and imagine what the world of customer service and customer contact would look like in 2022. This year, on the first day of Convention we will be asking delegates to vote on how close they think we now are to each of the four Future Scenarios which include changes in the workforce, the boardroom, and the retail environment as well as in the ways we collaborate with our customers. I have no doubt that the pervasive influence of mobiles is propelling us closer than you might think to all four of them.
Unless you have been living on a desert island you cannot have missed the media coverage and fulsome accolates surrounding the resignation of Sir Alex Ferguson from Manchester United.
Many would profoundly disagree with his idiosyncratic and aggressive management style - which included furious ‘hairdryer’ post-match bawling out sessions and the infamous incident where he lobbed a football boot at David Beckham and hit him in the face. However few could criticise the results he obtained for the club he led for almost 27 years and the world-class performances he wrought from the players he managed, including more than a few mavericks who might have struggled to fit in under a different manager.
For Sir Alex, the outpouring of praise and widespread acknowledgement of his managerial skills must be all the more welcome as it comes while he is still alive rather than posthumously as so often is the case.
Recognition was also the theme of another media story this week - this time for naval veterans who fought the ‘Battle of the Atlantic', the longest continuous military campaign of World War II. Servicemen fought valiantly to keep vital supply routes to Britain open, battling in the roughest sea conditions, with tens of thousands paying the ultimate sacrifice. Unfortunately, the survivors and the families of those who lost their lives did not receive medals or gratitude until now - the 70th anniversary of the climax of the battle when their heroic contribution is finally being recognised.
During this difficult climate it is easy to forget about the importance of recognition as pressures of business demand a greater degree of effort, sometimes without tangible returns. Consumers are understandably looking for better deals, more likely to complain and generally looking for more reassurance. It requires us all to shape and deliver service in a more empathetic way and it entails even greater efforts on the part of our people.
At CCA, recognition and reward is very much on the agenda with our Excellence Awards programme going from strength to strength each year. We anticipate more entries than ever as we approach the submissions deadline of 31 May. Complaints handling is a particularly important category - arguably even more so currently because of the tough economic climate and the changing nature of customer behaviour and attitudes.
Complaints handling processes and techniques are becoming a recognised science as organisations wake up to both the opportunities to delight customers by better handling and also to the pitfalls if they fall short on this measure. Customers are increasingly likely to vent their frustration on social media or appeal to regulators - both of which can result in significant reputational damage for a brand.
This year, for the first time, members have a unique opportunity to showcase their triumphs in this area before a television audience as our Excellence Awards will be filmed for a TV documentary which aims to highlight the growing complexity of complaints handling. Winners will in effect achieve double recognition - within our sector and before a wider world and the opportunity is open to both private and public sector organisations - so start telling us how good you are at it now before the opportunity passes. For more information on CCA Excellence Awards click here
I was drawn to a headline in Wednesday's 'I' newspaper which read: “How to raise GDP? pick up the phone!” The writer makes a cogent plea on behalf of frustrated consumers who are increasingly infuriated by organisations which require them to navigate poorly-designed IVR menus.
IVR sparks a 'Pavlovian' response, raising customers’ hackles as soon as they hear the words ‘Press 1 for...’ And yet IVR, when deployed intelligently, is an excellent technology that is currently suffering from a desperately poor press due to clumsy and ill-thought-out application.
Another gripe voiced was being made to wait for weeks for a written response to a telephone enquiry - even when the enquiry is of a relatively simple nature. The author makes a simplistic but perhaps valid point that if all companies simply picked up the phone and answered enquiries promptly, GDP could be a great deal more than 0.3%.
Organisations frequently pride themselves on offering an increasingly large choice of contact channels but in reality some channels (often those preferred by a significant number of customers) become far less consumer-friendly and simply harder to access. Choice becomes an illusion rather than a reality and as a result consumers are left with the impression that organisations are trying to avoid contact. There's nothing more frustrating than being forced to go online because your attempts to just pick up the phone and sort things out have been thwarted.
There seems to be an illogical belief among organisations that if they publish their numbers openly then we will all go mad and phone them - the ‘forbidden fruits’ theory. But seriously, how many of us have the time or inclination to make unnecessary calls just because we can?
Most organisations in the CCA network are well aware of the need to reduce failure calls and to proactively reduce the need for inbound calls in order to free up valuable time for productive conversations. But achieving this is easier said than done as evidenced by the numbers of calls still being received despite a proliferation of multichannel offerings.
Undoubtedly the issue of diminishing trust lies at the heart of why many consumers feel the need to call, check and check again. Fixing this is a hard nut to crack and requires relentless focus from the whole organisation and support from the board, on treating customers openly, consistently and fairly.
CCA research shows that in the financial sector regulations designed to protect consumers increasingly result in robotic interactions rather than empathetic conversations. Organisations need to take an innovative approach to counter this: there are encouraging developments which augur well for the future eg Barclays Wealth is making intelligent use of voice biometrics for customer ID verification security checks reducing the need for Personal Identity Numbers and for repeated ID questions. Also, RBS is training all frontline staff to deal with technology enquiries rather than referring them on to a specialist team.
Sometimes it is the simple things that are easiest to fix. If every organisation that uses IVR did a regular and thorough test of its effectiveness and helpfulness to customers then I am convinced that levels of customer trust would improve and levels of frustration would fall. Who knows, maybe that would encourage consumers to do more business and provide a much-needed fillip to the economy. At the risk of repeating myself, good service doesn't need to cost more than bad service.
No doubt brows were wiped with relief as Westminster announced a tiny but essential 0.3% growth in GDP. We had narrowly avoided the dreaded ‘triple dip’ recession. Closer scrutiny revealed that it was in fact the service sector gains which cancelled out losses in other areas.
There was some irony in this for CCA as we were in the midst of our two day partner event just a few miles along the Thames, near the Tower of London. We were considering how organisations can discard the shackles of process driven customer service and instead make room for more personalised and common sense responses to meet the needs of today’s ‘always on’ mobile enabled customers.
This event was part of a bigger programme of activity looking in detail at four sectors: utility, retail banking, insurance and retail. Following the influential 2012 report on the ‘Future of Customer Service’, this year’s programme: again in partnership with Kcom; is delving deeper to compare and contrast the real issues in a sector specific way.
So what progress have we made and did we uncover anything unexpected? The issues common to all appear to be siloed structures preventing true customer focus - no surprises there then. The degree to which loss of trust has led to high levels of unnecessary and expensive contact was an issue raised by all. However, the prospects for change ultimately depend on boards being brave enough to allow the personality of their organisations to shine through in a channel agnostic fashion, unfettered by internal politics and legacy issues. A tall order indeed, but an issue which all four sectors tackled with great gusto, providing real insight into what can happen.
We set each sector a ‘dragons den’ scenario of convincing a board to invest in the necessary changes; assuming austerity will be less of an issue in 2-5 years. This allowed us to indulge in the art of the possible rather than being limited by the constraints of our current economic crisis. We learned that there are some things which organisations simply can’t control: the changing demographics of our population, and the extent to which we will remain ‘hard wired’ to austerity behaviour - even if/when things get better.
But we also learned that the efficiencies gained by a relentless push to understand where you need to be present in the customer journey, can free up the necessary investment to have the right experts on hand in an increasingly differentiated market-place. Good service doesn’t necessarily have to cost more than bad service.
We are looking forward to launching the full report at Convention in November and to agreeing a plan for change - we really hope you will take part in the process.
Our industry is changing at a pace. The future is approaching faster than we know. Many organisations are motoring ahead with transformations we could never have envisaged before. So why are these changes not changing customers’ views of call centres? The media and general public perception is an out-of-date view dominated by off-shored call centres and outbound cold calling. Such a misconception when only around 5-10% of activity is actually managed in this way.
Yesterday we held our Future Workforce conference at RBS Gogarburn where we were privileged to hear from a wide-range of brands about the transformational and inspirational work they are doing.
Tesco shared the success of their home working initiative where they now have around 300 home-workers successfully responding to customer enquiries. EE (formerly Everything Everywhere) has undergone an amazing transformation by reshaping its employee engagement strategy allowing advisors to bring their own personalities to conversations and steering away from a more scripted approach – and ultimately reaping the rewards. Arrow XL has rebranded from Yodel and responded to the huge online purchasing explosion by revolutionising their service element with an enterprise-wide responsibility for customers – in particular with those actually delivering the products to customers. Delivery personnel will soon have access to hand-held, real-time feedback from customers allowing staff to understand the impact they have on the overall success of the business.
The technical adversity that RBS experienced last year quickly brought them into the world of social media as it was critical they responded to customer complaints through this channel. They have also embraced web-chat, serving customers where they want to be. They now no longer differentiate between their technical helpdesk and customer service (which is the approach they had in the past) – no small task for the faint hearted!
The changes in our sector are profound and interesting and it is time we were shouting more about it. Yes the economy is gloomy, yes GDP growth figures are pessimistic but the service sector is bucking the trend being the only area of significant growth. It’s progressive, innovative and should be recognised for doing great things.
CCA is working hard at driving this agenda forward and is currently in discussion about a number of media opportunities with national television to work with leading brands to show the real story of customer service delivered through contact centres. The challenge we have is getting organisations to take the brave step to invite the media in as too much coverage in the past has been so negative. However, for those pioneers out there really looking to make a difference, we would love to hear from you about profiling the fantastic work you and your teams carry out for customers each and every day. Let’s work on this together and who knows where we might end up?
Love her or hate her, the death of Margaret Thatcher has sparked heated debate on the nature of leadership and the legacy of the Iron Lady.
The arguments are particularly pertinent for the customer contact sector as the reforms Thatcher introduced - deregulation and privatisation - paved the way for the emergence of large scale private businesses serving huge swathes of the population with essential services such as gas or electricity and of big call centres to serve those customers.
The popularisation of share ownership during Thatcher’s premiership also resulted in a new hybrid of customer-shareholders, creating a new and more complex customer service dynamic. Also, a monolithic service culture in state-run enterprises gave way to a plethora of management creeds as newly-privatised businesses sought to put their own stamp on service methodologies.
The Thatcher years also saw major technology developments which impacted on the growth of contact centres, as advances in such things as automated call distribution enabled businesses to concentrate activities in purpose-built centres and employment in the sector rocketed. Technological advances (accompanied by political decisions to encourage greater competition) also fostered new business models such as insurer Direct Line in 1985 and First Direct Bank in 1989.
Thatcher lit the touch paper for change and passed the torch to the bosses of the deregulated businesses. From a consumer viewpoint, the lofty ideals in which those businesses were born have become tarnished. This is not a political statement but a factual observation in the wake of numerous publicly-recorded instances of abuse of power and mis-selling which have driven a wedge of mistrust between companies and their customers.
The sectors most often in the dock are banking and utilities. Banks seem further advanced in making concerted efforts to repair trust but utilities are lagging behind. It requires strong and principled leadership to restore customer trust and to ensure that brand promises made in the boardroom are kept throughout the entire organisation, from the sales force to front line customer contact teams who bear the brunt of customer anger when things go wrong...and many things have gone wrong. Consumers are too often confused or misled by choices not in their best interests and the onus is on companies to confront these failings bravely and honestly.
Tackling change requires nerves of steel and strong convictions but an unyielding approach will not work. The nature of leadership has, by necessity, changed from Thatcher’s time and today’s business leaders should cull the best characteristics of her leadership and adapt them in a way which best serves modern customers.
Whether or not you agreed with her politics, Thatcher had unshakeable conviction, clarity and strength of purpose. She once said: “I’m not a consensus politician. I’m a conviction politician.”
The two are not mutually exclusive. Why can’t we embrace a leadership style which combines clarity and conviction with a more consensual approach than the Iron Lady?
Thatcher was famously obdurate, declaring “The Lady’s not for turning.” But, at a time of crisis in terms of public loss of faith in corporate integrity, such obduracy has no place. Where companies have lost customer trust, leaders need to make a major U-turn and to introduce a relentless focus on re-establishing integrity. Customers deserve no less.
This week saw the 40th anniversary of the first call from a mobile phone made by Martin Cooper in 1973 whilst he was General Manager at Motorola.
Four decades on, the global telecoms industry is now worth around £800bn – much of the growth as we know, is now with smart-phones which accounts for between 50-60% of all mobile devices in use in the UK alone. Who could have imagined 40 years ago that we would now be carrying out so many ‘everyday’ tasks, across so many different channels, on a device we carry in our pockets when the initial invention was to allow us to ‘walk and talk’.
A quote from Martin Cooper truly resonates with our industry. We should all take a moment to consider what this means for our own businesses:
"People want to talk to other people - not a house, or an office, or a car. Given a choice, people will demand the freedom to communicate wherever they are, unfettered by the infamous copper wire. It is that freedom we sought to vividly demonstrate in 1973," said Martin Cooper.
This ‘freedom’ allows us each and every day to contact organisations across multiple channels and multiple devices. This ‘freedom’ also results in an extremely challenging environment for us to respond to customer enquiries.
With mobile predicted to totally replace the PC in the future, CCA are working this year to get an understanding of what the future might look like. We’ve been working with Kcom for two years now on ‘The Future of Customer Service’ and this project is running for a third year but with an added focus on particular sectors so expect some very interesting results towards the end of the year.
Who knows how we might be communicating in 40 years time.........
This week’s CCA Industry Council focused on the main challenges facing some of our biggest brands in meeting changing consumer demands.
An insightful case study was presented by our host, Barclays Wealth, detailing their journey from a cost to value service, aiming to harmonise global operations. Groundbreaking developments such as the use of voice biometrics for real-time verification will surely delight those customers weary of memorising multiple passwords, not to mention repeatedly confirming pets names and special places. Of course the benefit extends to advisors who can instead focus on the conversation they really want to have; a neat example of technology enabling the whole human experience.
On a similar vein we heard about Tesco's growing use of analytics and how this can accurately arm team leaders with coaching issues at the frontline. The group debated the growing use of video technology for some services, and we were treated to some great insights from NHS 24 around the use of video for pre and post operative consultation sessions in remote areas of the country.
Sky's innovative use of iPads for their engineers to demo additional services to customers in their own homes reminded us of the growing need to understand those situations where customers want us to be there for them in their journey - a perfect sales through service example.
Progress towards the ‘Camelot’ round table scenario from last year’s Convention was described by Standard Life with their appointment of a Chief Customer Officer - a title which will surely find its rightful place in most large organisations before too long.
Our consultation with members highlighted a desire to understand more about how the ‘giff gaff’ customer collaboration model could apply to different sectors. Professor Alan Wilson from Strathclyde University shared his considerable expertise in this field using Tom Tom satellite navigation as a working example. This topic will be a main focus for the group over the next few months and we will highlight case studies demonstrating benefits for both customer and of course employees.
So lots to be getting on with - but after the Easter break of course!
Have a lovely weekend - enjoy the chocolate if not the weather!
Watching budget coverage on TV is mostly a sobering experience but it put a smile on my face when I tuned into a BBC report this week which featured post budget interviews with staff at the Sage contact centre in the North East.
Every one of them delivered a bravura performance, giving informed and balanced insight on the implications of the budget. It was heartening to see strong role models in the customer contact sector displaying the same sort of professionalism on live TV that they draw upon every day to deliver great customer service.
It was a happy counterpoint to news this week that the Information Commissioner’s Office has levied its first fine against a company for flouting TPS regulations on cold calling and for harrassing the public.
They were not a member firm and such tactics are absolutely not the norm among our members, but such developments can unfairly tar the reputation of the wider contact centre sector and colour perceptions about the people who work in it.
The Sage team served as a timely public reminder that our sector is full of smart, motivated people who really care about their jobs and their customers. There are one million people in contact centre jobs in the UK and they deserve to be recognised for their skills and dedication.
We are passionate about highlighting the skills, expertise and diversity of the contact centre workforce. Greater recognition may be on the way if the ‘Martini Agent Future Scenario’ we debated at CCA Convention 2012 becomes a reality - with sought-after freelance agents attracting Trip Adviser style ‘star ratings’ for their skills in empathy, complaints handling or sales.
We are currently in discussions with a production company about potential involvement in a TV documentary focusing on the heroic role contact centre staff perform in handling customer complaints. We hope it can help open the public’s eyes to the reality of our industry and dispel some of the myths. We’ll keep you posted on opportunities for members to get involved as potential stars of the small screen.
Sticking with the people theme, ‘The Future Workforce’ is the topic for our Spring conference at RBS Edinburgh on 18th April. We’ll be discussing the people, policies and workplaces required to meet the needs of the future consumer. Contact the team at CCA for more info on the event.
Have a great weekend!
Most of the organisations in the CCA network are really challenged with sorting out which communication channels to use for which service offering to ensure appropriate brand alignment and of course great customer experience.
We all know that customers expect us to have a range of options from Facebook to phone; but they seem stubbornly loyal to traditional channels for significant volumes of transactions.
Like many I was fascinated to watch the news coverage of the election of the new Pope - an event watched by millions was of course communicated by smoke signal so to speak - a tradition lasting a couple of millennia. Clearly the crowd were keen to participate in this tradition and seemed elated with the process. Yet the Pontif was apparently also tweeting soon after his address (ok possibly not him personally!) A couple of thoughts struck me - the first being tremendous loyalty despite the very public challenges that the church has experienced. Are we too quick to assume that customers will desert our brands when things go wrong? Does this effect the strategies we implement to recover from poor press coverage? The results from several sectors show that customers tend to stick with companies and in fact want to see things get better - provided communication channels are open and helpful.
The second thought was that as a customer base we have expectations about the way things should be done and how we want our services delivered. It is a brave organisation that ignores customer preferences thinking they know better - rather they need to work twice as hard to ensure that they have the right recipe with the right quantities to meet the needs of connected and mobile customers.
So it's not always out with the old, but rather being agile enough to blend a perfect communications cocktail for the range of complexities that we all face.