Rail: Small Speed Increases Can Bring Big Changes For Customers

This post is by Sasha Jenkins, Business Development Director at Teleperformance UK.

What I find really interesting about the new Virgin Trains “Azuma” train from Hitachi is not so much that it can go faster than the existing rolling stock, but how much a small increase in speed can improve the service for customers.

The Azuma will not be in full service until 2018, but when it does it will be cruising at 125mph and able to get up to this speed a full minute faster than the existing trains. This small improvement makes a big difference to the service.

The London to Edinburgh journey time will be reduced by 20 minutes and London to Leeds will be a two-hour journey in total. Given how long it takes some commuters to just travel across London by tube it seems possibly easier to just live in Yorkshire and commute by rail!

The Azuma has the potential to travel much faster – at 140mph – although track improvements are required to facilitate this. Assuming the tracks can be improved there are many additional benefits that customers might see in addition to just faster journey times.

The existing service improvements will already increase the possibility for journey frequency, with the potential for 28% more capacity during peak times. In addition, because of the improved speeds it should be possible to serve additional stations such as Middlesbrough, Huddersfield, Harrogate, and Lincoln.

Virgin Trains has ordered 65 Azumas from Hitachi at a cost of £3.3bn showing a strong commitment to the improvement of the East Coast Mainline service. I think that with much of the debate around rail improvement in the UK focused on HS2 and HS3, and with little certainty around when these projects will be delivered, it is great to see projects that are measurably improving rail travel for customers.

Virgin Trains is demonstrating that even a small increase in performance can make a big difference for customers in the frequency of trains and number of stations served. It’s a real story of how a one-minute improvement in acceleration can dramatically improve the customer experience.

What do you think about the Azuma and the changes it can bring to the East Coast Mainline? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


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Moving Beyond the Customer Experience

Have we moved beyond the term CX to describe Customer Experience? I’m starting to think that 2016 is surely the last year when we can keep on talking credibly about CX without acknowledging how the interaction between brand and customer has really changed in the past few years.

McKinsey recently published a report focused on the customer journey that particularly emphasised how brands need to see the world as their customers do. In 2016 this should go without saying. The customer journey today is infinitely more complex than it used to be because customers now have access to the mobile Internet and social networks. This not only allows the customer far easier access to information on products, like competing prices and reviews, but allows the customer to contribute to the reviews and comments too. In addition, the customer is now defining when and how they contact a brand.

So the journey has not only become more complex, but the way that customers interact with brands has naturally changed as the way that people communicate has changed. The McKinsey analysis is a good start, because it talks about moving away from individual customer touch points and starting to consider the complete end-to-end customer journey, but I believe we need to think even bigger. After all, how do you define a complete end-to-end customer journey when some brands manage to create loyal customers for life? There is no end.

This is a much bigger change to the way that customer service is delivered than simply announcing the support for multiple channels. There is a fluidity in the behaviour of customers today that has never been seen before recent years therefore I believe that instead of focusing on customer experience alone it might be better to start considering how to make your brand customer-adaptable.

What do I mean by customer-adaptable?

Well, the biggest change in the past few years, particularly to the customer journey, has been that customers now set the rules for engagement. The customer will not search for your free telephone number or customer service email address if they have a preference to use a social network or chat for communication. They will just choose how they want to get in touch and when.

But this is really just the start. You don’t need to be a behavioural scientist or futurist to see that there are many other important trends changing how customers are served today.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is allowing contact centres to get smarter by directing real human agents to difficult problems and allowing software agents to manage all the repetitive questions. Combining this ability with the way that Artificial Intelligence is so rapidly improving and it surely cannot be long before the idea of an FAQ list (Frequently Asked Questions) that has to be manually searched will be archaic. The automated agents will have the knowledge of every question ever asked by customers and every possible solution and will learn as each new problem is resolved.

More intelligent insight into what customers need and want is also improving the way we interact because it allows problems to be resolved with more insight and can be combined with marketing initiatives. It has now become possible for brands to genuinely create a personalised offer for a single person because the company knows what that customer likes, when they like to buy it, and where.

We need to think more about this combination of intelligent service and serving the customer in ways that extend beyond just waiting for them to contact the brand with a problem. Brands are becoming more proactive and engaging with customers throughout the lifetime of their relationship so the customer contact mechanisms, the analytics and insight, and operational delivery of products is all changing as customer expectations change.

Exploring all of this change as a complete customer relationship strategy is where I believe we should be focused. Customer adaptability might be adopted throughout the industry, but whether it is or not, I think it certainly is time to move on from just talking about the customer experience.

What do you think about the continued use of CX to describe the customer and brand relationship? Do you agree that we need a more far-reaching way to describe the total relationship? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

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Will CX Become The Key Differentiator for UK Supermarkets?

This blog is by Phil Crossley, Business Development Director at Teleperformance UK.

Kantar Retail recently released their regular analysis of the UK supermarket sector, the latest research focused on Q1 2016. In terms of market share the big three are Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury’s, but with the overall market growing 1.1% since last year the more interesting numbers are the market share trends.

The story over the past few years in UK supermarkets has been about the enormous growth of the discounters, especially Aldi and Lidl. Their limited range and strong focus on own-brand products struck fear into the traditional supermarkets and led to predictions of how they might sweep a big change throughout the industry.

Aldi and Lidl are both still growing strongly in the UK, 14.4% and 17.7% respectively last year, but I think it is interesting to observe that the decline of the big players has almost entirely stopped. Sainsbury’s grew 1.2% and the Tesco decline has slowed to just -0.2%.

On the BBC News recently, Fraser McKevitt from Kantar Retail said that he believes this is a significant change in the market because very few customers will use discount retailers for all of their shopping all of the time and the big traditional brands maintain a strong ‘big box’ pull factor.

The conclusion that I draw from the Kantar Retail analysis and the way the market trends are changing is that the customer experience in supermarkets is about to be seen as far more important than just the discounts available. Customers have already expressed a strong preference online for brands that offer a better service, but I fully expect this to now become more of a factor in-store too.

Sainsbury’s recently confirmed their purchase of the Home Retail Group, which includes Argos, a brand that has been extremely innovative in developing an omnichannel retail offer in the UK market. It’s my view that the application of this improved omnichannel customer experience to the big supermarket brands will allow them to start chipping away once again at the market share of the discounters.

The discount chains have yet to reach 10% of the overall supermarket business in the UK. If the big brands can now focus on developing the experience they offer to customers then it’s likely that the discount offer may well plateau as they start recovering.

What do you think about these developments in the UK supermarket sector and do you think that the customer experience can play a major role in changing loyalty to different brands? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn

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The ‘Uberfication’ of Financial Services

I recently attended the Marketforce 20:20 FS Customer Experience event and wrote about my initial reflections last week in my blog.  I wrote about the need for banks to change and become adopters of technology and new thinking and have since thought about how the speakers at the event surprised me in some ways but delighted in others!

For those of you who have followed my previous blogs (thanks very much J) you’ll know that I have already written about ‘uberfication’ within the financial services and contact experience management industries that the emergence of Fintech companies, solutions, apps and thinking is going to radicalise the market.

I went to the event with the preconceived idea that the general mood amongst some of the largest financial service organisations in the world would be fear and loathing underpinned with a perception that they don’t need to change as the Fintech revolution is actually just a fad. I was delighted to hear that I couldn’t have been more wrong as one speaker after another lauded the need to change to keep up with the industry. 

Some spoke eloquently about how they’ve pushed their organisation to understand just how important the view of the customer is, often using technology, and what will happen to your business if you don’t. ‘rant&rave’ were certainly as disruptive as they like to be stealing the show with a captivating view of how to get customer views and what to do with them!

Others spoke about the desire to become omni-channel but 96% of people polled thought it an impossible task without a complete overhaul of their business. An organisation like K2C is a great place to start for those who want to move to onmichannel but are daunted by the task – Teleperformance have a growing number of clients now realising the massive benefits from the supple console and choosing the modules that work best for them.

Manuela Pifani of DLG brought the challenge to like with a perfect ‘mixer tap’ analogy: Some customers like hot, some like cold, everyone changes their preferences and you need to be agile and flexible to mix the water just right for the here and now.

The most remarkable thought I’ve only just come to realise is the general acceptance that well-established FS&I organisations have accepted they can’t compete with all the niche providers, all the Fintech solution providers and the radical new thinking that exists in the market.  The common belief is that by being great at the simple traditional banking and insurance is the right strategy and who am I to disagree.

I was shocked that there was so little focus on people. Every solution to every rhetorical problem centred on solution integration or point solutions or an overhaul of technology and it’s not hard to see why. Technology does need to be the enabler to being the ‘mixer tap’ of customer experience – but without great people the water doesn’t flow.  Taking the uberfication example, it doesn’t work if your taxi driver doesn’t know where he is going!

If you want to see how Teleperformance people become enabled with technology, such as that provided by K2C, you need to get in touch so we can make it happen for you.


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Will CMA Plans Stimulate Energy Competition in the UK?

This week the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced the results of an 18-month investigation into competition in the UK energy market. The main headline concludes that customers are being overcharged by almost £2bn annually and something has to be done to stimulate more competition.

There are two main proposals for action. First is a cap on the price that customers using pre-payment meters can be charged. This is aimed at addressing the problem of customers who find it difficult to arrange post-payment options due to credit rating issues or just something as simple as tenants in a property where the landlord would prefer pre-payment to be used. Historically these customers have been charged higher rates even though they are likely to be the least able to pay.

Second is a database of customers who have been paying the standard tariff at any company for three years or longer. The database would be available to all energy companies and therefore will allow all the energy companies to see who is disengaged and has not been interested in switching – in addition to knowing that the customer is not on any promotional tariff.

It is proposed that any companies wanting to contact customers would have to use post as a contact channel. So at least the publication of this database will not mean a deluge of phone calls and text messages.

Customers will be contacted before being added to the database and given the ability to opt-out. So if you are happy with your energy provider and don’t want to be contacted then it is possible to opt out of communications, but the default is that you would go into the database if you are a customer who has not switched for more than three years.

At present this is just a proposal and the CMA will be taking further evidence and ideas to improve these proposals before a final report in June, but I like their approach. First, it’s a good thing to deal with the pre-payment issue. Some customers have no choice but to use pre-payment and they should not be penalised with excessive rates.

The database of customers is the most interesting proposal though. The fact that competition exists and it is easy to switch energy provider has not been enough to actually stimulate real competition because inertia exists – customers need a reason to switch and most are happy to just keep paying the same provider they always used.

If providers can find out who has not switched for years and directly market special deals to them in a fairly unobtrusive way then I think it really could stimulate more competition in the marketplace. It also encourages all the energy companies to up their game on the customer experience because it is price and service that determine where customers buy their energy. If you can be confident that you are offering a competitive price and great service then it’s likely you can retain customers even with the competition sending them offers in the post.

What do you think? Are those who have not switched for the past three years already aware of the options they have or will this move to allow companies to market to them differently be a useful change, allowing competition to act better because the customer is better informed? Leave a comment here or get in touch direct via my LinkedIn.

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Redefining The Needs Of Bank Customers

Last week I attended a MarketForce event focused on customer experience in financial services. One of the key messages I took away from that event was the growing importance of data in the customer experience and how important it is to build a single view of the customer.

It was also clear from the talks at the conference that very view companies are able to say that they genuinely have a single view of their customer – the omnichannel that customers are demanding today where they receive the same great experience regardless of the channel they prefer to use.

It is clear that the expectations of the customer – especially in banking and financial services – have changed. Customers don’t want to deal with a bank that is only open from 10:00 – 15:00 Monday to Friday. They don’t want to have to enter a branch. They want service available 24/7 and using a variety of channels. Making this work for the company that has to manage these customer expectations requires data on customer behaviour so services can be planned appropriately.

As I sat at the conference listening to the various speakers trying to make this connection between what is possible today and what the customer wants, I made some notes. These are my observations on the issues faced at present:

  • The customer wants to choose the channel they use. They are not longer ready to use a channel that is defined by the bank and they are likely to choose new channels that the bank is not aware of as they become popular.
  • Banks need to be able to provide a service that allows a jump between channels, but without security blocking this process. ID verification is important for banking services, but they need to find how customers can perform verification once and then jump channels if they want to do so.
  • Unsecured channels need to be used better to provide answers to questions in a single contact – such as customers sending a question using an unsecured and open social network. The immediate answer should not be “call us” when questions can be answered.
  • Security is important – data centres need to be Tier 4 level and all cloud based technology needs to be tested.
  • Google Research has found that 46% of customers will start a financial query and then switch device before completing what they are doing. For instance, starting a query on their phone and then completing it on an iPad or Laptop when they need to get more information. It is important to note that about half of customers of financial services now jump channels during a query because this is where a breakdown in service is likely to occur.
  • Banks can only deliver true customer centricity is they can collect and aggregate customer data, which introduces the need for additional security.
  • Agents must have a single view of the customer across all the channels the customer can use.
  • Data can only be truly liberated if it can be used to create insights that generate actions – customers will not allow you to collect data that has no obvious use. You need to demonstrate that you are improving the way that customers are served.

Getting all this right is extremely complex. The banks have many issues though – their entire industry is changing with new players constantly entering the market for both full-service banking and fintech creating technology companies that offer very specific services.

In a changing market it is therefore vital to deliver what the customer wants because the customer has more choice than ever. Teleperformance is already working with a network of partners, such as K2C, to ensure that we are building on our experience of customer service and providing the data security that banks need today.

For more information please click here to access my LinkedIn page, alternatively please leave a comment on this article.

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A 20:20 Customer Experience in Financial Services

More than a year ago, the UK head of banking at Santander said that the banking industry is facing a Kodak moment. Steve Pateman was suggesting that banks are facing an existential crisis because of financial technology (fintech).

We all know what happened to Kodak. Once the world leader in photography technology and supplies they felt that digital photography would never take off because the cameras were too expensive and people would always want printed photographs. Look at photography today. Everyone has a digital camera in their phone and printed photographs feel like museum exhibits.

I was thinking about this when I attended the Marketforce “20:20 Customer Experience: Financial Services” event earlier this week. I was there and I enjoyed the debates, but it seems like the sense of crisis that I see in banking was not reflected in the programme. For example: 

In just one day, benefit from a jam-packed agenda of compelling content and strategic insights including the importance of instilling a culture of customer-centricity throughout the business, developing robust and rewarding omnichannel experiences, leveraging insight and analytics to improve the customer journey and engaging employees in pursuit of great customer service.

This is all true. The customer journey has changed and customers are demanding omnichannel experiences, but in industries such as banking and insurance this expectation of a different customer experience is shaking the entire industry. Companies that believe they can tinker at the edges, perhaps just improving customer service a little, will not exist a decade from now. 

Why do I feel so sure of this? Take a look at the retail-banking marketplace right now. New entrants are opening up all the time. Companies like Metro Bank are reshaping how bank branches work and Atom Bank is showing how a full service bank can operate just using an app.

These companies are redesigning the banking experience. They are designed around the customer from the start without the legacy of hundreds of years of banking processes and an enormous branch network. 

But the change runs deeper. New companies are taking individual processes, such as loans or transferring money overseas, and offering these services on apps at far better rates than full service banks. These are the services that traditional banks rely on to make the bulk of their profits, as operating current accounts is not a great revenue earner.

These new market entrants are able to succeed because they are offering a better experience. Banks have ways of doing business that has just been accepted over time. Many processes have not been reviewed or improved for decades. If you can go to an app and get a decision on a car loan within seconds then why would you endure the process of completing a loan application form at your local bank branch?

The fintech revolution is changing banking and other financial services because the technology is allowing services to be created that are built with the customer in mind from day one. Customers are now reshaping the entire financial services industry so any conference focused on customer experience in financial services needs to be considering this as the first question: Now that the customer is in charge, what will the industry look like a decade from now? Who is the next Kodak?

Please leave a comment here if you have your own thoughts on this or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

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