Banksy’s Dismal View on Customer Service

This week saw the closure of British street artist Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition at Weston-super-Mare in the southwest of England. Banksy parodied the DisneyWorld theme parks with his vision of a miserable theme park filled with art from over 50 collaborators. One thing I really noticed at Dismaland was that several works in this collection of the dismal commented on customer services, such as the sign reading “Customer Service Desk Closed 24 Hours.”

Contact centres and the quality of customer service offered by some companies has long been good material for stand-up comics, so it’s no surprise to see artists also taking aim at complex IVRs and long waits for help from an agent.

The reality that I see is very different though. The companies I am working with offer support to their customers across many different channels at any time of the day or night and there are no fixed scripts or automatons – just really knowledgeable agents with the freedom to do what it takes to help the customer.

But, I know that the media features bad news above good. Who would want to read endless good news anyway? We all tend to prefer disaster or rumours, because it is more interesting to talk about. 

The attitude of the artists and comics to customer service centres is exactly the same. A comedian would not walk out on stage and talk about the fantastic help they received earlier in the day. What gets a laugh is talking about the agent with an undecipherable accent or the menu system that leads them to spend 30 minutes just selecting their problem.

And I’m laughing as I think of this too. I can remember seeing some comedians doing routines like this and it is funny because it is a shared experience. Everyone has had an awful customer service experience, but my question is really, has one of those awful experiences been in the recent past?

Managing the customer experience is so complex today that it requires specialist companies with global experience of how to manage customers across multiple channels. In a recent Deloitte study 93% of managers said that the experience the customer has with a brand is the primary or secondary reason why they stay loyal to that company. If you don’t treat your customers well today then nine out of ten will not stay with you.

This elevation of the customer service team to be at the forefront of customer loyalty strategies has led to some fantastic career opportunities too. People can get into this business today as an agent and move into various other areas that are now connected to customer service, such as marketing and sales.

So Banksy’s criticism can be taken lightly with a smile, but it’s not the reality of the customer service business today.

What do you think we can do to highlight just how much the industry has changed? Leave some ideas here or get in touch with me directly via my LinkedIn.


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Should I be worried about a robot taking my job?

As I have blogged about before, it is a common misconception that robots will suddenly replace humans in their roles at work – at least in most jobs. As things stand, I am not personally feeling any real threat that my cyborgtwin is about to make me redundant, although I dare say there are things a robot could do more efficiently that would help free up my time to do other higher value activities.

And this is the key point about Robotic Process Automation (RPA): there will absolutely be tasks that could be automated or improved through the use of software that drives RPA. Why pay someone to process invoices when a piece of software could do so in half the time allowing the human employee to address the more pressing issue of improving the overall invoice process?

There are many examples in several industries, such as insurance, where RPA is making a real impact to automating transactional or back-office processes and it is difficult to argue the case against in my view.

A recent TV news programme also brought this point to light: set in a local dairy farm, the reporter was showing how ‘robots’ (or in reality, software) was allowing for many human tasks to be automated in a fraction of the time. Yes there may be a threat to some human labour, but balance this against the fight dairy farmers have with the supermarkets to protect their own livelihood. Just like the supermarkets, the farmers need to innovate to survive too and if they can offset falling prices with reducing their own production costs, then RPA cannot be the malicious threat some commentators would have us believe.

I believe this is another example of how technology will help to improve our lives and we will develop new human roles in response. Did Internet shopping kill the supermarket trade – no – it made it boom with new jobs in ecommerce. Have UBER and HAILO killed the taxi trade? No the licensed taxi trade has innovated and now uses the same, or similar, systems themselves to compete. The result is a better customer experience. Adding technology to industries that have relied on labour can change how services work, but time has shown that it’s not the jobs apocalypse some commentators predict.

In a recent blog the president of the Institute for RPA, Raheem Hasan, argues that 140m jobs might vanish by 2025 because of RPA or similar kinds of business automation. However, he also points out that the creation and management of the RPA itself creates many new roles that do not exist at present. He compares the introduction of RPA today to when ATMs were introduced to banks several decades ago. The role of the clerk or cashier has not vanished, but the machine has taken on many mundane or repetitive tasks – so the human role becomes more sophisticated and requires customer engagement or interaction that cannot just be scripted.

RPA has the potential to improve many areas of business where repetitive tasks need to be delivered to the same exacting level of quality. Customer service is a great example as many brands find that a small number of queries constitute a large percentage of customer interactions. If RPA can help to automate help for customers for common problems then the human agents can focus on spending more time with customers and engaging at a deeper level. Everyone wins. 

What are your thoughts on RPA and how jobs are changing? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

Robbie the Robot

Photo by Dave Mathis licensed under Creative Commons.


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Can retail banking customers have it all?

As previously explored in my blogs customers like to take the path of least resistance which has resulted in a surge towards online banking and more recently banking through a smartphone App.

A recent report from consultancy McKinsey has suggested that as many as 2,400 branches could be wiped from the high-street in the next 5 years with the move of transactional banking online.

However, the report also highlighted that customers still want to be able to visit a branch for large and complex queries such as mortgage applications and they still like the presence of a physical branch to make them feel a part of the bank: “People like the technology. But when there’s a bank nearby, they want to go somewhere to get their money out. They actually want to feel like they have the ability to go there.”

McKinsey also highlight that outside the Big 4 Banks the number of branches is actually increasing with Metro Bank and Handlesbanken being prime examples.  Why is this?

I believe the smaller, more agile and nimble banks are acquiring customer numbers through a heady mix of fantastic stand-alone products and customer service.  We know that customers are encouraged to shop around, compare and switch with greater vigour than ever before and the smaller banks have seized upon this opportunity with limited liability products that speak to a specific customer need.  The customer service of the smaller banks is often perceived as more personal and in order to maintain this those banks need to extend their footprint to give the customer the physical feel they sometimes crave.

How will banks keep up with the challenge of maintaining their physical ‘feel’ factor whilst catering for a more modern customers who only visits sporadically because online options support them on 8/10 transactions?

My belief is that banks, established and newbies, will need to guide customers away from branches more and more and supplement a smaller network with video customer service via existing and familiar channels like Skype, secure webchat and social media engagement appropriate to the nature of the enquiry

To support this paradigm, banks will need to establish customer service infrastructures that are scalable, flexible yet secure and compliant. This will include harnessing further advances in RPA, home working and self-serve.

Get in touch if you’d like to know how Teleperformance are preparing for the new frontier of integrated multi channel customer experience in retail banking.

Not a Wine Bar or an Indian Restaurant Yet

Photo by Richard Ellis licensed under Creative Commons.


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Be Brave And Consider How You Can Create A Future-Proof Company

The business journal Forbes recently featured an article by Shawn Price, the cloud technology head of technology company Oracle, where he states: “Going forward, I believe 85% of brand differentiation will be based on customer experience. In today’s world, where every transaction is an audition for the next, it’s imperative that companies make the necessary changes to their systems to ensure customers are not just happy, but overjoyed.”

As you might expect, Shawn also suggests that cloud technologies might be one part of the answer to an improvement in customer service. In many ways, he is right, but no business can ever be transformed just by the implementation of some new software.

A detailed report by Forrester research published a few months back explores this idea further. Forrester believes that by 2020 all companies across all industries will be divided into two camps – digital predators or digital prey. The implication is that technology is becoming so important in delivering solutions to customers that there will be a very harsh divide between companies that either get it, and arrange their systems with a focus on customer-centricity, and those who cling on to the old corporate structures.

In the solutions I work on, across several industry sectors, I can already see this playing out. Some sectors are ahead of others and they are – as you might expect – the ones that need to manage a lot of customer engagement; retail, banking, telecoms and ISPs.

It’s not necessarily about the technology that is deployed, although the ability to monitor customers across multiple channels is now essential, but companies that are succeeding know that their internal hierarchies also need to be redrawn. A quick look at any business or marketing journal will show you how the processes of customer service and marketing are blending because customers only see one impression of a brand – they don’t care about the internal silos. 

This process is being played out in companies that understand they need a Chief Customer Officer, or a similar role, so that all customer impressions of the brand can be coordinated.

So I entirely agreed that customers, now and in future, would strongly differentiate brands based on their experience. I also agree that technology is going to be an essential tool in getting this right. But the key ingredient that is going to help companies succeed in building a customer-centric organisation is the ability to see beyond the corporate structures they know and trust.

The way that customers communicate with each other has changed. Their expectation of how they communicate with brands has changed. All this change has taken place in little more than the past half decade. Executives need to explore customer-centricity even if it requires some brave decisions that involve changing internal structures.

Canadian digital heaven

Photo by Eduardo Zárate licensed under Creative Commons.


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Service is the future for shopping centres

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

Customer service has long been seen as an important focus for retailers, but never before has the complete customer experience figured so strategically in their vision for the future. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the shopping centre.

For years, the shopping centre – or mall – offered parking, a covered environment, and a collection of shops. That was about the extent of the offer, a convenient place to park and visit various shops without needing to brave the elements on the High Street, but this is now changing.

With so many retailers now embracing the omnichannel it is harder than ever to convince shoppers that they need to visit the stores. In fact, many shoppers now visit because they have ordered online and just need to collect an order. They are not hanging around and browsing the neighbouring stores.

So what can the shopping centres do? They need customers to visit more often and to stay for longer, so a detailed examination of the customer journey is required to improve the shopping centre experience. I can suggest three key areas where most shopping centres need to improve:

  1. Information: we live in an age where every customer has a smart phone yet some shopping centres still hand out paper maps or information on opening hours. Get all the relevant information in one place, on a website or an app and make it easy to use.
  2. Convenience: it may feel luxurious to have people carrying your bags, but a personal concierge service where my afternoon visiting several shops results in me collecting all my purchases near to the car park makes life much easier than walking around with bags for hours. Any service like this that makes the experience easier is going to help people to visit more often and enjoy their experience.
  3. Hospitality: think about the kind of stores in your shopping centre and plan food and drink areas around this. How many shopping centres have a food court that doesn’t go far beyond burgers and hot dogs, yet the stores in the centre are often mid to high end? Offer low-priced fast food, but also ensure there is an option for real food, or pub food, too.

With retailers now building a direct relationship with their customers, the landlords and owners of shopping centres need to think ever more deeper about why people visit. It’s no longer just to spend hours browsing the shops. The omnichannel lets customers buy and engage with brands directly so the experience a customer has when visiting a shopping centre is now critical for its success.

Which shopping centres do you think are doing this really well? Leave your ideas here or get in touch direct on my LinkedIn.

Westfield Centre Stratford London E20

CC Photo by Jack Torcello.


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Why Create Content When You Can Buy It?

One news story after another keeps on reinforcing that the landscape for telcos in the UK has shifted dramatically from offering the best deal on a phone line, to an Internet connection, to the best shows and content. As I have consistently emphasised in this blog, the customer does not care about specific upload speeds – they just expect the network to be good enough and the support to be there when they need it.

But content is not easy to create. In the old media landscape, independent production companies would finance and produce shows with the TV channels as customers. This is changing fast, with the example of Amazon Prime deciding to start producing the next generation of Top Gear – with whatever new title they choose – demonstrating that major shows no longer need a terrestrial broadcaster.

ISPs are not content experts. They can buy in sports rights and buy movie libraries, but if they want to be offering new original content then they either need a completely new strategy where they invest in production, or they need to partner with someone that is creating fresh and exciting content.

The Vodafone Spain deal with Netflix appears to follow this principle. The Vodafone TV service will be augmented with Netflix content. This greatly enhances the attractiveness of Vodafone to their customers. But the deal also works for Netflix, as they get access to a large pool of existing service subscribers.

I fully expect to see more partnerships like this be created – and possibly collapse – over the next couple of years. Every Telco realises that customers will expect them to exceed their expectations in terms of content and assume that excellent network speed is a given prerequisite for delivering this.

Netflix Mailbox

Photo licensed under Creative Commons by Mike K


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A Twenty-Year-Old Lesson In Customers By Bill Gates

1995 was a big year for Microsoft. The launch of Windows 95 cemented their dominance of the PC market and this has only been challenged fairly recently with the surge in popularity of open source alternatives – and the resurgence of Apple. But 1995 was also the year when Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote a book called ‘The Road Ahead’ that aimed to explore where technology might lead us in future.

It’s worth remembering this book twenty years on because Gates had insight then that is worth reconsidering, not least because everyone knows how difficult it is to predict the future just by extrapolating trends in technology. After all, if this was simple then do you think that Harrison Ford would have been running into a bar to make a phone call in Ridley Scott’s 1981 sci-fi classic ‘Bladerunner’?

I remember this book well as I referenced the predictions of Bill Gates in my own university dissertation. Gates predicted that content would be ‘rented’ in future. It seemed absurd twenty years ago that you could sit in your home and have access to any movie, TV show, or music recording you desire – immediately. Now it seems absurd to think that the only music you can play at home would be physical pieces of vinyl that you actually own. Gates predicted Spotify and Netflix even before websites such as Napster had launched.

Gates predicted that retail and the customer experience would be transformed by our access to information. In the book he wrote: “We’ll find ourselves in a new world of low-friction, low-overhead capitalism, in which market information will be plentiful and transaction costs low. It will be a shopper’s heaven.”

Just look at the multichannel information-rich environment that shoppers today enjoy. They have 24/7 access to reviews and pricing information on their phones and they can check what previous customers thought before purchasing a product – and can publish their own thoughts easily too.

But perhaps most importantly, Gates also predicted a change in the way that people communicate. He suggested a societal shift that would involve far less face-to-face interaction. Indirect communication, via contact centres for example, would grow and entirely new communication channels would become more popular than those we once knew.

This is perhaps his most important prediction. After all, if the way that all of us interact and communicate changes then this affects far more than just how to manage a customer service team. It means that every business in every industry needs to relearn how to engage with their customers. It means public servants – such as our political leaders – need to relearn how to engage with the public. It means that people are changing the way that they make friends, find partners, and recommend a favourite song or car.

Social commentators often focus on the way that language is changing, in particular the use of text-speak and emojis to replace real words, but I think that Bill Gates was right. It is not that the use of a smiling face icon has changed the way that we communicate, but the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime at almost no cost certainly has.

Brands that fail to see how this may change their business in future will face a sharp response from customers who wonder how the brand became so out of touch with ‘the real world’. The real world was predicted in The Road Ahead and far-sighted executives will already know that customer expectations have changed.

The only problem is, what is going to happen in another twenty years? Bill Gates is now focused on improving global health so it’s up to those of us who are designing the way that brands interact with customers to map this new road ahead.

What do you think we are heading? Leave a comment here or get in touch directly via my LinkedIn Profile.

The Road Ahead

Photo by Derek K Miller licensed under Creative Commons.


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