How Virtual Reality Could Improve the Customer Experience

I wrote recently about the opportunities for Virtual Reality (VR) in retail banking, in particular how branch closures could be mitigated by the use of VR systems that improve on online banking by introducing an element of human service. It sounded like science fiction, I admit that, but then perhaps we are closer than expected to some of these changes becoming a reality.

It was reported recently that Sony has already started sending their new Playstation VR console to the media for review. The console is out in the shops in about two weeks and is fully equipped for use as a VR environment. The new Microsoft Xbox is out early in 2017 and likewise is redesigned to ensure that it can support a VR environment.

Initially it might look as if these consoles are just going to support VR gaming, but I think that we will actually see a quantum leap in the opportunities for VR services, and customer interactions using this technology, just because VR systems will suddenly be available in millions of homes. This is no idle prediction – analysts predict that the new Playstation VR will sell around 1.6m units before Christmas this year. The Playstation alone sold 36m units last year so if you add in the Xbox numbers then 2017 will be seeing around a million homes a week becoming VR-enabled.

I can foresee three immediate areas where this might be important:

  1. Big ticket retail items; looking for a new car, or kitchen, or planning to build a new home? What if the dealer or vendor could show you exactly how it’s going to look by allowing you to virtually experience it before you make a purchase?
  2. Businesses that need to change fast; retail banks are fighting their online and app-based rivals, but as I mentioned in my earlier blog, can they preserve the services of a branch without the costs by using virtual branches?
  3. Entirely new services or personal services that were never online before; imagine a counselling service where you could spend time with a doctor without ever needing to leave your home?

There are some companies already exploring the options that VR offers to them. Travel agents are offering potential customers the ability to virtually experience a destination before booking a trip, demonstrating that if VR can improve the customer experience then companies will use it right now. I believe that the console launches are the real game changer though. A year from now there will be millions of homes across the world that are VR enabled and those customers will start expecting brands to offer a VR experience soon. What will you be able to offer?

What are your thoughts on the use of VR to improve the customer experience? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

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Retaining Customer Loyalty on today’s Customer Journey Rollercoaster

In his most recent blog, Teleperformance UK & RSA CEO Matt Sims wrote about the changing customer journey and how there has been a dramatic change in the way that customers and companies engage in the past decade. Even in the past 18 months there has been an acceleration in mobile and smart device use such as ‘in-app’ customer service like WeChat that far exceeds the expectations of the 2014 consumer. Thinking about the changes Matt mentioned, I saw a recent Forbes article exploring how brands can use the customer experience to create more attached and loyal customers.

The three key areas the Forbes article mentioned were:

  1. Embrace uniqueness; the more that your brand manages to be unique and to stand out, the more that your customers will remember you.
  2. Stay current; know what influences your customers and stay focused on these areas and be ready to change and adapt as areas of influence change.
  3. Show customers they are valued; modern customers expect much more personalisation that ever before – show them you care.

I would go further and argue that your entire strategy around creating customer loyalty needs to be revised so your company truly creates a culture of customer centricity. At the Verdict Retail Future Strategies conference in London recently, the representative from got up and told the delegates “I can tell you right now, you don’t know your customers”! And he was right – unless there is a formed and executed strategy in place that is measured (and therefore managed) – it simply won’t take place. For this includes each member of the senior management team spending two days in the year out with the delivery vans – “up at 4am back by 9am” but “invaluable” in helping the company understand the real customer.

McKinsey recently published some interesting new research titled “The CEO Guide to Customer Experience”. The headline result from the research is that leaders who focus on designing their company to focus on the needs of the customer can reduce costs by 15-25% and see revenue gains of 10% all within 2 to 3 years.

This is exciting in itself, but they also argue that you cannot achieve this without a fundamental change in corporate culture – as has done. You cannot just say that you are customer centric, you need to behave as if the customer is really the most important thing. Again, the white goods disruptor invites customers into their office and interviews them, what comes out is pure gold and helps them understand in a direct way how the company is perceived. They also spend time in the contact centre – saving £76K this year on the tiniest of amends to their website that reduced unnecessary contacts.

Matt’s blog on the changing customer journey emphasises this. The way that customers engage with companies has dramatically changed and I believe that most organisations must instigate a regular review that explores how central the customer is to their strategy. This would then feed into the loyalty strategy and create an environment where the employees feel more animated about interacting with customers because that relationship is treated so seriously and is valued so highly.

Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts on the changing customer journey and you can get in touch directly via my LinkedIn here.
IBM and Facebook Team Up to Deliver Personalized Brand Experiences Through People-Based Marketing

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The Customer Journey Is More Complex Than Ever

Last week saw the annual Execs in the Know Customer Response Summit take place in Austin, Texas. I was not able to attend, but I know that several of my colleagues from Teleperformance USA were there and Amit Shankardass was one of the speakers – focused on the omnichannel.

I was interested to see that several of the talks were focused on the changing customer journey though. In my view this is one of the most important, but least understood and debated areas of the customer experience (CX) story.

It’s important to remember just how far we have come, how much the customer journey has changed. Think back a decade and this would be a typical scenario:

  1. Discover; the customer learns about a product from marketing or advertising campaigns and becomes aware that your company and products exist.
  2. Explore; the customer seeks out more information on the product – online or in a shop.
  3. Buy; the customer buys the product.
  4. Engage; the customer communicates with the brand via a customer service team asking for help, or with comments or a complaint.

That’s it. It was simple. There was no iPhone back there so the idea of customers expecting service from anywhere and at any time had not yet arisen. Social networks were also not common until after 2008, so it was not likely that the customer was talking about your products online.

The brand controlled how a customer could get in touch by publishing an email and phone number and stating the times that engagement was allowed.

Now, things are very different. Customers choose their own channel and communicate when they want service. Multiple channels need to be monitored 24/7, including social channels:

  1. View an advert.
  2. Download an app.
  3. Read some reviews.
  4. Post reviews.
  5. Social chat.
  6. Interactions direct with the brand.
  7. Talk to friends.
  8. Write a blog.
  9. Ask questions on forums.
  10. Buy product.

You could really place any of these in any order because the journey is circular and can be thought of today more like a relationship rather than a step-by-step process that just gets the customer to the purchase.

Think about the way that many customers now engage with airlines. They talk to the airline about planes, new services, the on-board entertainment, and many other related subjects – communication is not just questions about how to buy a ticket.

So the management of the customer journey has really matured into the management of the customer relationship. I know that there was some great feedback on how best to manage this at the CR Summit and I’m looking forward to hearing what my colleagues tell me about the conclusions from Austin.

If you have any ideas about the customer journey then leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

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Is Virtual Reality A Game Changer For Retail Banking?

We know that the banking industry is going through one of the most revolutionary periods in the last 300 years with the phenomenal rise in customers switching to mobile banking.  Figures recently released by the British Banking Association show internet banking logins fell by 100,000 to 4.3 million per day in 2015 down from 4.4 million in 2014. Meanwhile mobile device apps were used 11 million times a day in 2015, up from 7 million a day in 2014. But to be honest the switch from online to mobile is only a fleeting cameo in the bigger picture of customers shunning high-street branches because their ability to self-serve through contact centre and online has evolved sufficiently to give customers fast and easy access to the information and services they need.

Today you can now access your bank whenever you want with the click of a button and an imprint of your thumb which means that’s the end of the mobile evolution right? Wrong. Only last month British Banks were told that they also needed to offer the same services on mobile devices that can be found in the high-street branch and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has set a deadline in 2018 for Banks to make this happen.  The CMA, following its two-year probe into how competitive bank accounts actually are, is committed to forcing banks to let customers have access to their entire finance portfolio including loans, overdrafts, mortgages and every day banking.

A single app to manage all your finances is a tantalising prospect but it won’t be easy.  The Banks are bound to push back on the changes, citing the increase in risk of fraudulent activity.  Quite right too if you recently saw Fintech Finance’s episode on the Dark Web you’ll know how easy it can be to obtain fraudulent documents which could be used to open a bank account.  However, if we put that to one side for a moment and think how life would be with a single app for all personal financial matters it makes me think this could be the tipping point that completely kills the traditional high-street branch.

I bank like most people using a mix of online and mobile, calling or using web-chat when something goes wrong (usually me forgetting my password) or to query a transaction (usually an impulse buy, made so easy with touch-payment technology that I soon forget). But despite this I whimsically visit my branch if I happen to be passing.   There is something novel about waiting in line, using the pens chained to the desk, and seeing somewhere branded with the latest posters and pop up stands that makes me not want to lose the reality of my local bank.

Up to July there had been 650 branch closures this year, then Brexit happened and more closures were announced by Lloyds Banking Group soon followed by another U-turn on Williams & Glynn’s long-awaited return to the high-street so more and more branches are at risk.

If we consider for a moment that PWC research indicates that more than 50% of the world’s largest economies will be Millennials by 2021, it isn’t difficult to take a leap forward and visualise a banking industry that no longer seeks to represent itself on the high street. 

How then, will I get my nostalgic fix and how will customers feel part of a bank if they can no longer visit? Virtual Reality could be the answer. If you read ‘’Pokemon Go: a New Reality for Customer Experience?’’ you’ll know where I’m going with this and it really isn’t as bonkers as it sounds.

To set up a VR for your bank, follow these 5 simple steps:

  1. Create a virtual Branch that is connected to a secure, Customer Contact Environment or Centre of Excellence, supported by Virtual Assistant technology that already exists
  2. Customers get sent a pair of Virtual Reality glasses
  3. Enable thumbprint ID verification for simple transactions
  4. Enable retina ID verification for more complex/valuable scenarios (you’ll be facing your mobile screen already!)
  5. Customers visit the VR branch whenever they want or need support for more complex scenarios to and therefore still feel some sense of loyalty  to their preferred bank

Will banks differentiate themselves by the quality of their VR headsets and their VR branch? Would you choose a bank because they offered you a VR branch? Could a VR branch experience be better than a traditional visit? Could opportunities for generating revenue, through loans and extended financial services, become synonymous with VR banking just as they once were with the local branch and laterally financial services telemarketing?

While interest rates remain so low and the scope for savings products and loans is suppressed, this might just be the right time to grab the moment and prepare for a future that will undoubtedly be different to today’s personal banking infrastructure.

What do you think? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

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No Need For Fear: Social Robotics And AI Can Create New Business Opportunities

Last year I read a fascinating book called “The End of Nice” by Richard Newton. The book explores how robotics and service automation are changing the society we live in and particularly how this will affect employment as we know it.

We are constantly reminded about service automation. Many industry commentators have predicted the end for millions of jobs as robots take over. Contact centre workers will all be replaced by Robotic Process Automation (RPA), retail will all go online, and truck and taxi drivers will all be replaced by self-driving vehicles. That’s the nightmare vision that many futurologists talk of, yet Newton describes quite a different scenario.

He does not deny that robots and automation will change the work environment, but he notes that there are many creative areas where robots are useless. To thrive in an age where robots can be trained to do anything means that humans need to emphasise their own differences – to become more like the artists, entrepreneurs, and inventors we see creating and innovating today.

Newton suggests that humans can co-exist with more automation, but to succeed in this environment the human workers need a different attitude. We need to be anti-safe, anti-certain, anti-moderation, anti-conformist, and anti-order. In short, to succeed in a highly creative environment means dropping many traits and behaviours that are desirable in the present-day world of work.

Next week I’m attending a conference in Oxford focused on Social Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. It sounds technical or academic, but the emphasis of the conference is on work, jobs, and how businesses will really be affected by these technological advances.

I can see from the agenda that there will be a law firm talking about their use of virtual assistants and Vodafone talking about how cognitive computing is completely changing their procurement process. Atom Bank has changed their customer service system so every query ever asked is stored and processed with the intention of learning from every customer interaction. These are all great insights into the way that real businesses are using some of these new strategies today and they certainly don’t indicate that the end of the job is with us anytime soon.

What we are now looking towards are more meaningful, less time wasting and more productive relationships with our work, our employers and one another.

As the HfS Research founder Phil Fersht recently pointed out in a detailed and well-argued piece on his own website, many of the claims around robotics and AI have no basis in data and statistics. We fear change and when business experts talk about automation the general fear is that this means the end of the line for many workers, but really it just means a change in how people will work and be employed.

Let me know what you think and if you can join me at the conference in Oxford next week please do – the details are here. Please say hello if you are attending the event.
Mila 2.0

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Great CX Is Not Just A “Nice To Have” Strategy – It’s Essential

Two years ago the Harvard Business Review (HBR) published a detailed analysis on how to quantify the value of the customer experience (CX). Their research showed that across different industries and business models it could be demonstrated with hard data time and again that the companies investing in improving their CX created better returns for the business owners.

It’s logical to suggest that improving the customer service will make your business perform better, but it is research that needs to be constantly emphasised because as the customer journey keeps evolving it requires investment to keep up with the CX that customers expect.

The negative results of not investing in a great CX also helps to make a similar argument, although as a defensive strategy against loss rather than with the intention of improving how the business operates. Customer service expert Shep Hyken recently published some powerful statistics (based on US customers) in Forbes magazine that I think are worth sharing as they really demonstrate the downside of not investing in CX.

Asked whether a poor experience with a company had made them switch to a competing brand 49% reported that they had and 67% said they had done this more than once in the past. The main reasons were rude or unhelpful staff, but importantly a major reason was also that they were passed from one agent to another without getting a resolution to their problem.

As Shep points out, the implications here are obvious. Half your business is quite literally at stake if you don’t ensure that the CX is at the very least satisfactory. When drilling down to the younger Millennial consumers the willingness to switch is even higher, with 62% ready to move brand because of a single poor experience.

Shep goes on to offer some tips on improving CX and you can read the Forbes article by clicking this link, but I think it’s worth emphasising just how important these statistics are. No matter how good your products are and how attractive your prices are, if you have competitors in the marketplace and you don’t offer an easy and satisfying experience to customers then they will migrate to your competition. It’s that simple.

Ensuring that you offer a great CX today is not just a “nice to have” strategy that delights a few customers, it is a prerequisite for holding on to the customers you already have. As the HBR research pointed out, you can see an improvement in business by creating a business strategy focused on improving your CX, but you can also also see a dangerous loss of customers if your CX is poor. This is one investment that can be defensive and positive at the same time.
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Will Drones Transform Customer Delivery Expectations?

Can you remember back to December 2013 when Amazon announced that they were exploring the idea of drone deliveries? Many people thought that Amazon was joking. Others thought that it was a publicity stunt. The announcement got endless media coverage for Amazon that’s true, but nobody really seemed to know if it was a genuine research project.

Yet here we are in 2016 and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is working on trials in the UK with Amazon for drone deliveries. The CAA is particularly interested in monitoring that drones operating beyond the line-of-sight of the operator are safe and how unexpected obstacles can also be dealt with.

Amazon is also innovating inside the field of drone operation as the drone operators will be flying more than one vehicle simultaneously. This initially sounds dangerous, but I assume that they fly on autopilot to the delivery destination and only require human intervention when the sensors are unsure about a situation.

From the information that Amazon has released it sounds like both they and the CAA are taking detailed steps towards making drone delivery a reality in the UK. When it happens Amazon customers will be offered the delivery of physical products within 30 minutes of ordering.

Deliveries within 30 minutes of placing an order…

Can you imagine that? I remember when mail order products often stated ‘please wait 28 days for delivery’. Amazon shook up consumer expectations first with their promise of next-day delivery and then same-day delivery. Now we might soon be measuring delivery times in minutes, not days.

It’s exciting that Amazon is so far down the road to making this a reality that the CAA is conducting field trials. They have always innovated and created new customer service expectations – this is no different.

Once Amazon can deliver physical products within minutes how will other major retailers react? They surely need to explore their own drone fleets to create a faster delivery system because as we have seen in many other areas of the brand to customer interface, once one brand makes something possible, customers then expect this level of service. The bar will be raised for everyone, making deliveries that take several days seem unacceptably slow.

What do you think of the Amazon drone idea and what do you think might happen if many more retailers start using drones? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn here.

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