Great Content Comes From The Internet, Not a Cable Service

A recurring theme on my blogs has been that competition does not always come from where you expect it. BT Sport has just secured rights to screen the next Ashes series – five years ago who would have thought that a “phone company” would be competing to screen major sporting events?

But now companies that offer content are going head to head with traditional pay-TV companies. In the UK our dominant player since the 1990s was traditionally Sky, but with the arrival of content packaged up with Internet services things are changing fast.

I saw an interesting blog on LinkedIn that looked at the US market, where pay-TV has been far more dominant and for longer than in the UK – because of the effect the BBC has had on the British market. Quarter two was the worst sales period ever for US pay-TV companies. Together they lost of half a million subscribers and at about 0.7% of the entire market it does not sound like a lot, but could signal the way the market is changing.

What’s happening to the pay-TV market is exactly what I have talked about on this blog several times. Great content is king. Great content comes from the Internet, so any TV provider asking me to pay a subscription fee needs to also be offering me an Internet service that allows me to stream services such as Netflix. If that’s not on the table then I’m not going to subscribe.

The biggest players in the UK have seen this change coming. Virgin, Sky, and BT all focus on a package of services that includes phone, Internet, and TV. Customers have lost interest in the network itself. They really don’t care how the show gets to their TV so long as it works, is a good price, and when they need help there is an excellent customer service team ready to advise.

In many ways, the UK market appears to be more advanced than the US as consumers have less of a legacy attachment to pre-Internet cable operators, but in both markets it is the quality of the shows that will determine which companies gets the consumer business.

Sometimes it pays to think laterally. The traditional pay-TV companies used to advertise their subscriptions by promoting the shows you could watch on their service. However, the Internet has disintermediated these organisations in the same way as record companies are now trying to define why they exist in a world where artists can publish content that consumers can find.

So long as I can get a connection to the Internet, I can watch pretty much any content I want. The media wars of 2016 will not be about cable connections or network speeds, but who has the best content on their network.

What do you think about the changing media and Internet market? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn profile.

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Technology creates more jobs than it destroys

My colleague Simon Dillsworth recently wrote an excellent blog about the growth of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) here. Despite the name, RPA does not imply that services – such as customer service processes – are being overrun with robots that resemble the Daleks from Doctor Who, however there is a big change taking place.

As Simon described, many companies are finding that software systems are smart enough to help customers through many situations. The most common types of support can be entirely automated and managed without the need for people to be involved at all.

This sounds great for companies that need to offer a high level of support to their customers, but at first sight it doesn’t sound so great for those people who have worked for years helping customers. If automated software agents or robotic processes can do their jobs then doesn’t that mean these jobs are doomed?

What developments like RPA really mean is that the process of providing services to clients is constantly changing. Anyone reading my blogs over the past few years will see that I have always been exploring and thinking about what is about to happen to our industry.

The acceleration of change in customer services started with the boom in mobile Internet access that smart phones such as the iPhone (born in 2007) started offering. Then the rapid adoption of social networks from about 2008 onwards changed the way that customers talked to each other and how they expected to talk to brands.

This decade has seen an ever-accelerating race for brands to explore how multichannel service can be perfected and it is now clear that customer experience is at the top of the agenda for most CEOs. These executives will not want to change the way their customers are served if the new processes do not do the job at least as well as the earlier methods, so there is a constant battle between what is technically possible and what is acceptable for the customer.

RPA is just one way that companies are changing though and a look back at history shows us that even if some jobs are destroyed by progress, others have always been created. A new study from Deloitte that analyses jobs in the UK going back to 1871 has found that technology and progress has generally been a “job-creating machine”.

In areas of the economy such as medicine, education, and professional services, technology has not only created the ability to increase production output, but the number of jobs in these areas has also increased over many years.

Although the Deloitte research is exploring the economy as a whole, I believe that their findings match Simon’s comments on RPA and the development of customer service in general. There are still vast numbers of people calling phone numbers for support, but the more recent social media channels have been the fastest growing areas of customer support.

But there is no sign of any decline in the rate of change in how customers want to be served. A brand that adds Facebook and Twitter support and thinks that they have solved the problem of offering multichannel support are not exploring what is about to happen.

Google Glass may have been a failed experiment because people didn’t want to obviously wear a computer on their face, but I’m sure that more discreet versions (by Google and others) will be available soon. This opens up a new world where augmented reality and virtual reality can play an integral role in the way that customers are supported.

People are still thinking of the centre of their connected life as “a phone” yet so many wearable and connected devices are now becoming common that I believe we are only a few years away from no longer requiring a smart phone. All our connectivity requirements will be built into other devices – or our clothes.

These technological changes will dramatically change the way that customers interact with brands – far more than just having access to the Internet via a smart phone.  And this means that the type of jobs that can be categorised as ‘customer service’ will also dramatically change.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter once called this process of change ‘creative destruction’, meaning that as new ideas and methods are created, the old are destroyed. It sounds dramatic, but it’s certainly true in customer service. As the Deloitte research demonstrates, technology can not only improve the way that many businesses operate, but also create many new work opportunities that we have not even thought about today.

What do you think of the research into technology and jobs – particularly in how customer service works? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn profile.

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UK Retail Volumes Are Going Up

This post is by Liz Parry, Strategic Account Director at Teleperformance UK.

The UK retail market declined in June, but last month it was up 0.1%. That’s not much, but at least it’s positive growth and compared to a year ago there was 4.2% growth.

But the situation is complex. Oil prices are sinking with prices at below $39 a barrel as I write this – that’s lower than anything seen for at least six years. With reduced energy costs, retail logistics become cheaper and the UK has seen average in-store prices drop by 3% in the past year.

Inflation remains low and the Bank of England looks unlikely to do anything about a rate rise until next year, so the wage increases that people have been getting are finally feeling real.

After the tough years following the economic crash it finally looks like people in the UK are feeling better off and more confident in the future. The retail data shows that people are spending on home improvements and big-ticket items, such as furniture.

But what I noticed in that data that was really interesting for the UK is that 12.6% of all retail sales are now online. That’s growth of 13% in the past year in Internet shopping.

£1 in every £8 spent on retail is now coming from the Internet making it important for retailers to really start planning how their multichannel strategy works – if they have one – and what are the changing expectations of their customers? Customers that shop online have different needs and expectations to in-store customers, but often the two will blend. In-store shoppers also use the Internet and vice versa.

House of Fraser is a great example of a company that is exploring what this means. Their plans include the idea that they can use their stores as ‘beacons’ – even if the store is closed, the window displays will encourage online shopping and even if customers are in-store then the online option will be facilitated.

Customer service, logistics, and the complete customer experience online and in-store are all affected. With growth this fast in online shopping it’s time for more retailers to really consider what this means for the way they serve their shoppers.

What do you think about the new retail data? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... (_K3_0759)

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Fasten your seatbelts – the Amazon speed machine is coming!

The BBC motoring show Top Gear was possibly the most popular TV show in the world, until production was stopped after an incident involving one of the three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, and a producer. Clarkson apologised, but after sailing close to the wind several times, the BBC decided that this incident was too much – Clarkson was out and his co-presenters decided to leave.

In the intervening months, the BBC has been putting together an alternative presenting team. They clearly want to keep the Top Gear brand alive by working with talent such as Chris Evans, but to many viewers it is the Clarkson/May/Hammond chemistry that makes the show what it is.

And so Amazon has stepped in to work with the team that the BBC decided they could no longer work with. Amazon Prime recently announced that the three presenters of Top Gear would be working on a new motoring themed show and that they would have more control over the format. Many viewers have also noted that without the broadcasting restrictions placed on traditional networks, such as the BBC, the team will be creatively free to get away with far more than they ever could on a network.

This is a very serious deal and was a surprise to many, who assumed that an alternative broadcaster would snap up the Top Gear Three. Watching Amazon buy their services underlines that content really is king and will be used to drive adoption of services. Amazon know that Top Gear viewers all over the world will adopt their service just to watch this one show – and they are likely to then use the service more once they are subscribed.

The exact figures have not been released, but this deal will be huge. Time can only tell if the investment will pay of for Amazon, but I would not be surprised if they start moving into other areas soon – such as sports. It’s not inconceivable that a company like Amazon could start challenging BT and Sky for Premiership football rights and Amazon has a “stickier” eco-system as they can offer films (Prime), goods (the .com site), re-ordering goods (Dash), voice-based customer service (Echo) all from the one membership.

This entire Top Gear saga should also make the BBC management start thinking about their future. The license fee has served the organisation since 1946 yet a tax on television sets looks hopelessly archaic in the present media environment and to see the most popular show on the BBC shift to an online service only demonstrates how far we have now moved from media consumption being all about the TV in a living room.

I’m sure there are many individuals who consume almost all their sport, films, and other media content from services such as Amazon and Netflix. The Top Gear experience is not only a lesson in the importance of content for building a subscription base, but also in the direction that the media business is moving.

What do you think about the Top Gear team moving to Amazon? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn profile.

Arctic Trucks - Top Gear Magnetic North Pole Expedition

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We are the Robots: The rise of Robotic Process Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a subject that has just crept up quietly for many people. Most of us are aware that manufacturers have long used ‘robots’ to automate repetitive or dangerous processes, but now the robots are entering the service sector too – even customer experience management!

It’s an area that’s been slowly growing over the past three years or so, but it is not quite as exotic as the name suggests. Implementing a RPA strategy might sound like the physical deployment of robots inside the contact centre, but the reality is that the robots are usually just pieces of software – automated agent processes. Their mission is to automate repetitive tasks that human agents need to perform – saving time and money, and freeing resource to handle high value, complex customer interactions.

But RPA should not be confused with the recently popularity of self-service strategies. Encouraging customers to help themselves to support information or even creating ways in which one customer can help another does not mean a brand has deployed robots and these strategies can co-exist.

The National Outsourcing Association (NOA) recently published a great interview with Wayne Butterfield, the Head of Digital Service Innovation & Transformation at O2, focused on his own experience managing RPA. O2 is a great example of a well-known consumer-focused company that is actually using RPA, rather than just exploring the idea.

In the NOA interview Wayne says: ”We were doing 1.2m transactions with 400 FTEs and now half a million of those transactions are performed by 165 robotic FTEs. For example sim swaps, when a customer swaps phone or service we have transformed a process that used to take 24 hours (often with several calls from the customer!) to one that takes 10 minutes. So we have transformed the customer experience and saved cash too. It’s not just the sim swaps but finance and access control. We have around 15 core processes that are now automated. I think that we have one of the biggest RPA deployments in the world.”

There are some important points to take on board here. Not just related to customer service, but for any company that sells service expertise and any company that needs to buy in services. Instead of processes requiring vast armies of people, RPA can automate tasks and drastically reduce both cost and time. This is a game-changer, yet it remains misunderstood, partly because of the use of the term ‘robotic’ in the name.

Wayne explains: “Robotics is still a bit of an unknown. I have presented at several events and the people at the events often see ‘robotics’ as an actual robot. They do not understand the concept yet. The biggest reason for not adopting a technology is that they just don’t understand it.”

In the NOA interview, Wayne goes on to explain some of the implications for service companies and the companies – like his – that buy from them: “The key change as a buyer of outsourced services is that it’s no longer about the number of people. I long for the day when a supplier says we do a billion transactions with 100 FTEs, not 50,000 FTEs.” He added: “There is the long-term ability for RPA to transform service pricing. This will affect the offshore BPOs faster than the nearshore or very voice-centric ones. RPA will transform back office transactions in most organisations.”

Analysts such as HFS Research are taking RPA seriously. They even publish a league table of all the business process outsourcing companies to indicate which companies are the most mature in their expertise of applying RPA to their processes.

I feel brands have not yet bought entirely into the RPA concept. When the NOA recently asked 158 companies about their RPA plans, only 23% said that they had asked their service providers to explore how their service could be improved using RPA. A study by HFS Research at the end of 2014 indicated that only 7% of European executives thought that RPA was a mission-critical concern. Of course, Wayne Butterfield believes that these low numbers are because RPA remains misunderstood by many executives – as he said in his NOA interview.

In addition to the defined processes Wayne talked about, I believe that the customer service implications of RPA are in the future development of the omnichannel. Customers now insist on defining when and how they engage with brands, which has raised many new challenges that never existed when the brand offered a way to get in touch and expected customers to use that channel.

When a customer email arrives, if a robotic process can scan millions of other customer interactions and pull together internal customer records, tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, and phone call records to paint a single view of this customer then that can provide an important insight that helps any agent to improve the way they answer the customer query.

I think we should stop thinking of RPA as a robotic replacement for humans providing a service – especially back-office services – and think more about how customer service agents can be empowered through the use of smart robotic support. This is about real-time robots supporting humans.

Wayne Butterfield believes that service companies who are not already exploring RPA face a tough future: “As a buyer of outsourced services, I don’t even want to talk to a BPO that is not adopting new technologies. BPOs cannot just put bums on seats and offer a good price. Instead of outsourcing a back office offshore, why not just automate it with software in the UK? There is an understanding that by using robotics and local FTEs you can get very competitive pricing. The market is ripe for a change and buyers of outsourcing are always looking for a cheaper and better alternative. Adopt this technology or your current contracts will not be renewed.”

While a great customer experience will always mean more than just process and automation, at the same time, the message is clear – innovate or die. 

RPA could be a game-changer for companies operating in a multichannel service environment. Have you considered how it might affect your own strategy? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn profile. 

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Real Leadership Means Listening To Your Customers

I recently blogged about the problems some executives have identifying with their own customers. The Institute of Customer Service research I referred to shows clearly that many executives have no idea what the customer really wants and don’t appear to care about the information their subordinates send up the boardroom.

But is this attitude just one part of a wider issue in modern management today?

Is there an inherent fear of showing empathy with customers because this could be mistaken for weakness in the power-hungry executive world that company leaders inhabit today? I can’t remember reading about any MBA course that teaches humility and empathy as key attributes for leaders. In fact, most executive education appears to be teaching managers to be warriors, rather than listeners.

When does this ‘Gordon Gekko’ approach go wrong? Obviously for Mr Gekko, breaking the law was his downfall, but take a look at how many company leaders face enormous problems because they just failed to apologise after a problem. They tried to ignore the bad news or to just tough it out as customers complained and the problem just increased.

Product recalls are an excellent example. Cynical commentators have long believed that product recalls only happen if the expected product problem may cost more in legal damages than the recall cost. Smart leaders have realised that the equation involves reputation and trust too. Coming clean about something that may only potentially be a problem for customers, and offering a voluntary recall, may in fact only have a limited cost and yet have a highly positive value for the reputation of a company that is looking out for the customer.

The business press is full of insincere apologies by corporate leaders that have had a direct impact on the share price of the business. Telling the truth and connecting to customer needs has to be good for business even if some communication advisers believe that the less said publicly, the better. The faulty present-day conventional wisdom appears to be that leadership can only be achieved by listening less.

I believe that the executive team not only needs to start apologising earlier for their errors, but also should be closer to their customers in the first place. In many business case studies of failed apologies or product recalls the connecting thread is that the leaders just didn’t really appear to know what their customers were thinking.

With the buzz monitoring and brand analysis tools available today there is no excuse to remain ignorant of what people really think of your brand or service. But there is a difference between increasing awareness and actually listening. Get out there and find out what your customers really think about your service. It may be a surprise.
Greed is good

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Why Being Easy Isn’t A Bad Thing

As a technophile I was proud to already have used Apple Pay on my iPhone to pay for last Saturday night’s takeaway.Until this watershed moment I had always paid in cash or occasionally online but using Apple Pay was a turning point because it was so easy.

My weekend experience is far from the sophisticated and complex customer service utopia that we all strive towardsbut it was a perfect example of how something easy is something you are happy to repeat.

Now that might not sound like much but when there’s a process requiring little effort that a consumer is happy to repeat, they see no reason why they need to change their brand preference or service provider. That is a consumer who is more likely to becomes a loyal advocate. If you’ve read my previous blogs you will know that loyalty and advocacy equates to incremental growth which in turn creates prosperity.

My top five ways to become easy…

  1. Offer your customer the channels they want the most. Then deliver a consistent customer experience on every channel. Invest in each channel as if it were the only one so you don’t force operational or technical limitations onto the customer and you avoid the trap of having a channel simply because you think you ought to rather than because you know your customers deserve it.
  2. Don’t make the customer move channel unless they ask to or if the nature of the contact demands it. This is as frustrating as ordering a takeaway from one restaurant only to be told that you need to go to another to pick up your order. You already have the insight locked in to your operational reporting and analysis, use it to understand customer channel preferences and how these relate to the range of customer contact scenarios. Then ensure the processes are in place to support advisers and customers, reducing effort for both.
  3. Equip frontline staff with a single source of knowledge. Silos of knowledge result in the customer being passed from one department to another. On that journey they will be forced to re-tell their story, regurgitate their customer number and go through security checks over and over again. We’ve all been there, it’s a waste of your time and the company’s time and it leaves you asking why things can’t be easier!
  4. Empower customers to self-serve when it’s convenient. This might be hard to hear but no matter how much they are engaged with your brand, how loyal they are, how high your NPS score is and how fierce an advocate they are for you; sometimes your customers don’t want to talk to you. They will love you more for not having to talk to you when they don’t want to.
  5. Regularly review what it is you are doing as a business to make it easy for customers. The easier something is and the better it works, the more you take it for granted, so if you become easy you need to stay easy. What works right now may soon be outmoded by new apps, new devices on the customer side and technology solutions on the operations side. Ensuring these remain aligned to take best advantage of improvements across the entire spectrum of technologies and processes that customer engagement is key to maintaining the ‘ease’ with which your customers and interact with your brand.

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