Robots Are Coming To A Retailer Near You

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

New research by the consulting experts Deloitte suggests that an enormous chunk of the UK workforce will be automated by 2036 – including over 2 million retail workers.

Retail isn’t a sector where the threat of automation has seemed very likely. Robots have taken off in manufacturing and software agents are now becoming more common in areas such as customer service – handling common enquiries rather than requiring a human – but surely shop assistants are safe?

The researchers at Deloitte are not so sure. Angus Knowles-Cutler, vice chairman of Deloitte, explained to the Mail Online website that the march of the machines was already well underway and nothing could be done to stop it: “You either adopt the technology or your economy suffers, it’s hard to resist these changes.”

The research suggests that 1.1 million food services and accommodation workers are at risk. In the USA, fast-food chains like Eatsa are already experimenting with systems that ask customers to place orders on a tablet and then to collect their food from a hatch.

However, the Deloitte research is not all bad news. They suggest that technology has destroyed 800,000 UK jobs in the past 15 years, but technology has also created 3.5 million jobs during the same period of time – and usually the new jobs are better paid than the old ones.

The World Economic Forum meeting at Davos last week focused extensively on how robots will change the world around us. The initial impression for workers is often negative. Jobs will be destroyed and society changed beyond recognition. As the Deloitte data suggests, we are also seeing new jobs created all the time, so the headlines can be misleading.

In any case, I’m not sure that smart retailers would want to replace all customer service functions with robots. For repetitive or mundane tasks it makes sense, but imagine visiting a clothes store and asking for advice on colours? It doesn’t quite work with a machine does it? I imagine that when brands are focused on creating a great experience they will figure out where robots can help and where human interactions make the experience better for customers.

What do you think about the robot revolution? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn profile.

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Exploring the 2016 UK Customer Satisfaction Index

The UK Institute of Customer Service recently released the January 2016 UK Customer Satisfaction Index. This research is updated twice a year and explores the level and quality of customer service in the UK across various industry sectors, including both the private and public sector.

The immediate headline that leapt out for me was that customer satisfaction across all industries is now at the highest recorded level since January 2014. Clearly, companies in the UK are taking customer satisfaction more seriously than ever.

The research features many well-known brands, exploring their own ability to keep customers happy. John Lewis lost their title as best British company for customer service and actually has toppled out of the top three for the first time in seven years. Amazon UK rose up from number two to number one with a score of 86.6, followed by the energy provider Utility Warehouse, a new entrant, and the HSBC-owned online bank First Direct.

Overall, the utilities sector improved the most, gaining 1.9 points on last year, closely followed by insurance companies and food retailers, which added 1.6 and 1.5 points respectively. Banks and building societies fell by 0.4 points to an average of 78 points despite improving significantly since the banking crisis. Non-food retailers held their position as the sector with the highest satisfaction score.

Satisfaction when using multiple channels is driven by the type of experience or interaction. In person (46.9%), website (22.6%) and over the phone (20.2%) are the primary methods customers use to interact with organisations. Most customers (58%) use only one channel of communication when they interact with organisations. However, a sizeable minority says that they use two (34.1%), three (5.6%) or more than three (2.3%) channels.

Personally I think that this figure of 2.3% of customers using three or more channels appears to be lower than what I would expect, but it may be that many customers just don’t appreciate how many channels they are using regularly today. Customers who used three or more channels were much more likely to say that they had experienced a problem with the organisation in the previous three months and give organisations a lower customer satisfaction rating. This probably reflects the sophistication of customers familiar with many channels – they are the most likely to be posting complaints on Facebook and Twitter.

One of the key implications this research highlights is the importance of your people. The biggest differentiator between the top 50 companies and all the rest is the way that they work with their employees to ensure they are engaged and able to offer genuine help to customers via any channel. I agree that this is a critical element. If your customer service team is disengaged and not interested in the work then it doesn’t matter how great your strategy looks when presented on PowerPoint.

You can read a summary of the research on the ICS website here. Please do leave a comment or get in touch via my LinkedIn – do you agree on the key issues I highlighted?

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WEF 2016: The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Later this week the World Economic Forum will meet at Davos in Switzerland for their annual gathering where business leaders and thinkers get together to consider the future – of business and society in general. The theme this year is the Fourth Industrial Revolution; this quote from the WEF programme for 2016 sets the scene:

“Earlier Industrial Revolutions advanced human progress through new forms of power generation, mass production and information processing. Building on a ubiquitous and mobile internet, smaller, cheaper and more powerful sensors, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is distinct in the speed, scale and force at which it transforms entire systems of production, distribution, consumption – and possibly the very essence of human nature.”

To many this might sound rather detached from the reality of life in the office, esoteric perhaps, certainly a problem we may only face far in the future. However, these issues are being faced right now within the area of customer experience. I think perhaps because the customer facing area of all companies is changing so fast we are seeing some of the most interesting innovations taking place in this area.

In fact, when I am talking about the way that outsourcing is now so common as a business strategy I often say that outsourcing has created the 21st century industrial revolution. This business strategy that once focused on a client and supplier relationship has now completely changed the way that companies are structure, how employment works, and how services are delivered. I don’t think anyone planned for outsourcing to have so fundamentally changed our world, but it has. It’s almost like an accidental industrial revolution. Consider just a few areas where I am already exploring the implications of technology developments for our business today:

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA); many contact centres already have robotic systems that can handle many of the more repetitive tasks that customers request. It’s not something from the future – this is live right now and the quality of the robot helpers is getting better really quickly.
  • Artificial Intelligence; adding the ability to learn to the robotic helpers used in RPA systems takes the idea of customer service automation to a new level. If automated systems can start out on mundane tasks, but learn from every customer interaction and gradually improve until they are capable of handling extremely complex enquiries then this changes how service can be delivered to many customers.
  • Internet of Things; allowing every object or device to communicate on the Internet opens up the possibility of your devices self-diagnosing problems and contacting customer service without your knowledge. Your car or stereo system at home can talk to the manufacturer directly when a problem is sensed, diagnose the fault and either fix it or tell you what is needed to put things right. So it will not be just humans contacting customer service teams, but the items they have purchased.

It’s always interesting to hear what comes from the Davos discussions, but I can see that many of these planned fourth industrial revolution discussions are already taking place in the real world. If any of the leaders want to come and talk to me after the conference is over then I’d be happy to show them how customer experience teams are witnessing these changes right now – not in the distant future.

Davos, Switzerland

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Will The Tech Giants Make Us Cut The Cord On Pay TV?

I have talked a lot about how content and innovation is the key to winning subscribers. I have also talked about how pay-subscription TV services such as Sky will come under increasing pressure as over-the-top streaming services become better and better.

Whilst your customer service is good and your content both unique and in-demand, companies can occupy a relatively protected position. I remain a loyal Sky fan as the service is great and I have access to content (Sports/Box-sets) that I cannot get elsewhere. Simple equation. BT Sports muscled in on this position, and, surprise-surprise, I now pay for that too.

But content is expensive, and bills have risen for subscribers year-on-year. It is inevitable that they will start to look at what other options – as they become available. And there lies the opportunity. Companies that deliver content via the web need to get access to the best content. If they can make this investment work, then their lower costs to deliver must enable them to offer lower prices to consumers. I anticipate increasing activity in acquisitions as those than can invest, will.

Nothing has been announced, and it may never happen, but if we wanted to scan the market for potential deals, there are two companies that I think could make a big move in this direction: Apple and Amazon. Content providers, such as HBO, are an obvious target. HBO produces brilliant content: I have been hooked on Game of Thrones, True Detective, Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos….the list is endless. And all are available on Sky currently. Whilst I like other services such as Netflix, I am not tempted to move across to this service as I will not get anything ‘more’ than I get with Sky – in fact I will get less as there is no premium sport content available.

If Apple TV or Amazon TV were to make this kind of investment, I think many subscribers would take note, and begin to seriously consider their existing pay-TV service vs the lower cost of moving to an OTT net-streaming provider. Both Apple and Amazon have the brand, and purchasing power to be able to make such a move. Whether they will, only time will tell. If they ever moved into sports-rights acquisition in the UK, well that would really set the cat amongst the pigeons for me personally…..

There is a clear opportunity for companies like Apple or Amazon to drive subscribers towards ‘cord-cutting’ and replacing traditional cable with streaming services, but they will need to make some big statements with respect to content to be able to turn a trickle of defectors into a stampede.

Let’s watch this space…

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BT and EE Merger Approved: Good For UK Telcos?

So the UK Competition And Markets Authority (CMA) has cleared the merger of BT and EE after investigating the deal for six months. Several companies in the telco sector objected to this merger so what does this mean for the telecoms industry in the UK and for customers?

The main reason the CMA waved the deal through was because they believe the deal is complementary. BT has strengths in broadband to the home and EE has strengths in mobile – the two companies fit together to create a bigger player with all the services needed for a strong quad-play offer.

The problem for the competition will be the enormous size of the combined firm. There will be some customers already using services from both so the combined customer base of 35 million will almost certainly reduce when the companies are consolidated into one, but in a country of 64 million people that’s an enormous market share.

There is an ongoing deal where Hutchison (Three mobile) plans to buy 02. Given the CMA approval for the EE deal this is also likely to be approved, but it would mean that the UK has only 3 major mobile companies competing for business.

Ofcom is still considering whether BT needs to sell off its Openreach business, which is the broadband provision. Given that Ofcom is still to decide on this important issue it seems unusual for BT to be engaging in M&A activity where their dominance in providing broadband is a major part of the deal.

So there are still many questions around the BT/EE deal and associated M&A activity in the wider industry, but I think that if we look beyond the network and connections alone there is some positive news.

All the networks are finding that they need to offer more than just a connection to the Internet to succeed. The combination of BT and EE will mean many more eyeballs on the sports and drama content that BT is broadcasting – especially customers watching via mobile devices. The combined size and power of this new group will also lead to innovations in content and other areas of the business that might be difficult to achieve with a smaller base of subscribers.

So the market is changing fast and there are still questions about some of these mergers, but on the whole I can see a positive future for BT and EE that is about much more than just sharing broadband customers.

BT Artbox - Box Lounger

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Hacking the Customer Experience

Hackathons have been around for over a decade in the tech industry, possibly longer if different terms are used. Basically, a group of techies get together and spend a period of time focused on fixing a single problem or creating a new idea entirely from scratch. They are periods of intense activity often involving long night sessions fuelled by coffee and pizza.

The Facebook ‘like’ button was born from one of these hackathons, so almost everyone has seen products, apps, or services that were a result of a hackathon, but what has become an established tradition in the technology business is going mainstream. A recent article in The Economist reports that hundreds of companies in a variety of industries are now using hackathons as a way of stimulating innovation and fixing problems fast.

The credit card company Mastercard held their most recent hackathon last month, something that they run regionally with the best ideas from teams across the world percolating up to a global event. Disney holds four internal hackathons every year and storage company Dropbox dedicates one week a year to allowing employees to do anything creative – to just follow their ideas to see where they might be useful for the firm.

Last November a group of UK train operating companies got together for a 48-hour hackathon on board a train. The focus was to work out a system to help customers find vacant seats on trains – all in just two days.

Many large companies are now holding hackathons as external events, sponsoring the events rather than just holding them internally. It’s great for marketing, some great ideas can be built in a short period of time, and it is a fantastic way to recruit people who excel within the hackathon. Many HR commentators now believe that the hackathon is a much better way to recruit people than just holding a job fair and handing out leaflets describing your business.

I’m really interested in the way that hackathons work and how we might be able to apply these ideas to customer experience. It’s true that many of the changes to CX in the past 5 years or so have been driven by technology. Perhaps we could see some interesting innovations by concentrating just on how to improve the technology that supports CX for a 48-hour period?

What do you think about the idea of a customer experience hackathon and what issues do you think would be worth focusing on?

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Banking Faces An Uber Moment in 2016

The former CEO of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, recently spoke in various media interviews about the global banking industry facing an ‘Uber moment’ in the near future. Jenkins warned that traditional bank headcount could shrink by 50% and profits on services by as much as 60%.

The reason? Financial Technology, better known in the industry as fintech, changing the way that banking services are delivered and allowing new market entrants to entirely change the game.

Jenkins said: “In my view only a few [incumbent banks] will have the courage and decisiveness to win in this new field.”

Jenkins was fired from Barclays in a disagreement over the scale and pace of change required in that company. Some might consider that he has an axe to grind, but his comments are representative of the whole market and not centred on any single organisation. There are already some interesting numbers when you look at the industry as a whole – Business Insider magazine has already declared that the ‘Uber moment’ is happening now.

Analysis by the Financial Times shows that of the big 11 European and US banks, headcount has been cut by 10% this year – that’s around 100,000 jobs.

Banking analyst Jon Peace, from Nomura, explained to the FT: “Digital transformation could also be a driver of further headcount reduction longer term, with retail banks cutting branches in favour of online services and investment banks cutting back offices in favour of online technologies such as blockchain.”

Business Insider is not sure if this is the single most important factor in the headcount reduction. They cite the extremely low interest rates in most developed markets, which has reduced client activity, and the increased regulatory burden.

What is clear is that customer behaviour is changing and the banks must change also if they are to maintain the network of physical and technology to cope with the new demands.  Those of you that use Uber will know all too well that sometimes you need to converse with a person rather than use an app and herein lies the challenge to the banking industry…. How do you deliver both experiences without incurring more costs?

I believe that it is too early to connect recent job losses solely to the growth of fintech, but the analysts and Jenkins are right in pointing out that this could be a game changer for the industry. Banking is facing an Uber moment, but the big unknown is how the banks will react. They know the challenge that they face. If they can react and use the same technologies to improve the way they deliver services then the apocalyptic predictions may never come to pass. Will they react fast enough to what customers are demanding? Only time will tell….

What do you think about the Uber moment for banking? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

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