Your home is Alive! …and her name is Alexa

There has been much commentary about a future of ‘Connected Cities and Connected Homes’ and the launch of Amazon Echo is an exciting development that really does start to bring the home alive.

Echo is a combined speaker and microphone system that is connected to the Internet and creates the ability for your home to be online in a way that resembles the computer in Star Trek – you just speak from anywhere in your home and the computer responds.

The speaker can be controlled to play music, audiobooks, news, weather, traffic, or just to answer questions. It can also be connected to other objects within your home. For example, you can easily use voice commands to turn off the lights at night.

Being able to voice activate ‘Alexa’ and answer queries, ask for information from the Internet or to order products is a major advancement in how consumers can interact with brands. There are obvious privacy concerns regarding the search data that is stored and how much background noise is captured, but I can really see this taking off.

Siri has been relatively successful for Apple, and I use Cortana more than ever – particularly for Sat Nav functions – but this feels like a game-changer because it is simple, multifunctional, and works. The reviews for the Echo are almost entirely positive.

When applied to a customer care scenario, I can see a not too distant future where I ask Alexa to connect me to a customer care agent who then connects to me via a TV or PC –with the option of face-to-face video, if wanted.

Amazon is taking the connected home seriously. Their Dash product is also interesting. It allows customers to easily order products direct from the home – even from the kitchen just by using voice or scanning an existing packet. Shopping for food products could be revolutionised by this approach.

Improving the way we shop or making it easier to reach a customer service agent may not sound like a big deal, but sometimes the thought of having to dial a customer care number and then negotiating my way through an IVR really puts me off. If Alexa can get me there quicker, then I’m all for it!

Golden People love Gold Jewelry Robots


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Investing in Customer Experience is essential for growth

Over the past couple of years it has been interesting to see how the analyst Ovum has started ranking customer experience as the number one strategic imperative for company executives today. Based on conversations with their clients, Ovum has repeatedly ranked improving the customer experience as more important for executives today than reducing costs or increasing profit.

But it takes a while for the message to sink in. Hopefully this new research from Gartner, where they interviewed 300 of their Research Circle members, emphasises the point. If you don’t offer a great customer experience today then you might not get a chance to focus on those other strategic issues anyway.

Gartner suggests that by 2018 more than half of all companies will have modified the way they do business in order to improve the customer experience. Getting past the halfway mark within three years sounds good, but is it worth celebrating? It also means that approximately half of all companies are not changing the way they do business in a way that can improve the customer experience.

The problem is that it’s not simple to change. A complete review of the experience your customers have with your brand is not just about adding the option to interact via Twitter. The entire journey from when a consumer first becomes aware of your brand, researches products, and eventually becomes a customer all needs to be considered.

Collecting and analysing feedback from customers is the most popular way to start initiating change. Launching internal and external communication campaigns to help employees and customers understand the brand better can follow from a data-gathering exercise. Reconfiguring the current process is the second most popular step followed by a move to self-service systems.

The important message to remember though is that investing in the complete customer experience is very different to the days when customer service was just considered to be an essential cost to the business. If you want to grow your business, it is essential to invest in the experience that customers have with your brand.

All the industry analysts are now saying this, but what’s your view? Leave a comment here on the blog or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

First customers


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Retailers Need To Analyse Customer Behaviour

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

If you have never heard of the Teleperformance Customer Experience (CX) Lab then click here and take a look at some of the insight and analysis they produce. It’s a fantastic insight into the customer service industry with a focus on analyzing specific events or sectors.

But who needs a CX Lab?

In the current retail environment it is becoming almost impossible to imagine any retailer that takes customer service seriously not having the ability to analyse customer behaviour in a very detailed way.

Retail has been hit harder than many industries by the changing demands of customers because change has been required above the waterline and below:

  1. Customers demand 24/7 engagement across multiple channels that are ideally connected so service interactions can hop channels easily
  2. Customers want to mix and match their online and store experience, buying from one and collecting or returning to the other, so the backroom logistics are also far more complex than ever before.

An efficient supply chain and multichannel customer service system both require great customer insights. You need to be able to take internal data and to blend it in real-time with purchases, returns, and other customer communications to really get a view on what your customers are saying, when they are saying it, and what they want.

Do you have a strategy that supports a detailed analysis and monitoring of your customer service interactions as well as helping to plan logistic improvements? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn if you would like more information.

Thingamagoop 2 from Bleep Labs
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Do Energy Companies Need to Improve Customer Service?

As I wrote in my last blog, the UK energy industry was generally pleased to see that the political uncertainty around the UK general election was swiftly dampened by the Conservative party winning a majority, but there are still critics circling the industry. The apparent certainty of the election result (no requirement for long drawn out coalition discussions) has not stopped the need for change.

Many believe that the energy companies still need to justify their current prices. The companies need to regain the trust of the public. This issue over trust relates to the widely-held belief by the public that energy companies quickly raise bills as international energy prices (such as the price of oil) increase, yet when the international rates decrease, price cuts are applied very slowly.

The head of the Consumer’s Association, Richard Lloyd explained to the BBC that: “Energy firms have totally run out of excuses for not cutting our bills.”

These are strong words from a body that is generally accepted to be the voice of the British consumer. With consumer groups and the media being critical of the entire industry it is likely that changes will need to be applied soon, but many of the companies have complained that they are not making the fat profits they are accused of. If costs related to wholesale energy costs are just half of what customers see on the bill then all the companies involved could make more of an effort to describe what the customer is getting for their money.

The best first step to improving this communication would be to improve the level of customer service offered. Many energy customers are not just angry about the prices – they will often complain about price because it’s an easy to understand complaint, but much of the underlying anger is because it is so difficult to deal with these companies.

Building a new relationship with customers needs a new approach to service that spans many channels and is available 24/7. I think that the pressure over pricing may actually lead to a customer service revolution in energy companies and that will make a lot of customers very happy indeed.

Many customers would even pay a little more if they knew that they could get a great level of service, this has been proven in many industries all over the world. The energy companies need to think more strategically about customer service not as a service they must provide, it could be a strategic differentiator that is even more important than the price they are charging for energy.

What do you think about the demands of the consumer’s association? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


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Retails Banks Need Great Broadband Too

I have frequently blogged about how I believe that Internet Service Providers need to focus less on the network itself – which is becoming a hygiene factor – and emphasise the quality of the content available on their network. What you can view on a network is becoming more of a differentiator than the network itself.

But an interesting new report from the British Bankers Association (BBA) has urged the British government to put pressure on the network providers to improve the quality of their 3G and 4G service. The reason is that retail banks are finding that customers are relying more and more on their phone for most customer service activities and therefore when apps don’t work as they should, the banks find that they are dealing with customer issues that are actually related to the network.

In the first quarter of this year, UK bank customers made transfers worth £2.9bn on their phones and with over half a million British home only able to access very slow speeds, mobile access is also a lifeline for a large group of customers.

It is clear that consumers expect a reliable and fast network when they are at home and on the move. This is an interesting move by one industry body though, to suggest that another industry needs to get their act together because banking customers are not satisfied with app performance.

The BBA has said that mobile banking through apps is a game-changer for their industry, which is no surprise as many services are going mobile, but what does it mean for the banks when the quality of their service is only as good as the networks provided by the telcos?

Leave a comment here on the blog or tweet me on @simondillsworth if you have any thoughts on who is really responsible for ensuring our networks are good enough.

bank secrecyPhoto by Thomas8047 licensed under Creative Commons.

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Outsourcing 3.0: The Rise of the Machines

I was discussing films with a colleague recently and we started talking about the Terminator genre and how we felt the quality had dipped since the original film was released. The concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine-domination is an interesting one as it has a lot of relevance to how I feel that customer care will need to evolve in future years.

A common theme across all industry verticals is the need to do ‘more with less.’ Budgets for customer service and care will only ever go one way in the longer term – as companies compete more aggressively they will need to be smarter with how they spend their money on managing customer relationships. Voice remains the most expensive channel so the question for CEOs is most likely to be: ‘How do I optimise my spend across all available contact channels – without reducing the quality of care?’

My view is that machines will be a large part of the answer: self-service technology is nothing new, but it will need to get better to provide as much proactive care as is possible. Apps will need to be super user-friendly and allow you to answer the transactional queries that otherwise generate those unnecessary and expensive calls – When will it be delivered? What is my roaming charge? When can I upgrade? I don’t understand that figure on my bill?

The use of chat will need to be highly targeted to identify consumers that could potentially call the contact centres but be staffed by advisors that are trained and have the ability to resolve as many customer queries – themselves – as is possible. We are already seeing companies like Amazon investing in ‘drone technology’ that may see deliveries being undertaken ‘across the skies’ and their ‘echo’ system shows that the TV could increasingly become a key care tool in the future – not necessarily requiring a human advisor at the other end.

The ability to automate customer care journeys is an attractive one, particularly if you can re-invest the cost savings in driving a different focus within your contact centres. I could imagine a future where voice is predominantly used to drive attraction, retention, and value-creation. These are specific and unique skills that require enhanced levels of training and people skills to deliver well.

It is not inconceivable that contact centres of the future will be populated more with sales and marketing expertise, as opposed to those providing transactional care. They are likely to have a much larger focus on proactive outbound engagement and have access to the on-site analytics and data-modelling that help companies target customers with services they don’t yet know they need.

The focus will shift from ‘responding’ to the customer to ‘delighting’ the customer.

It is unrealistic to suggest that all customer care will become automated, but there is clear room for investment in ‘machines’ to ensure that voice is prioritised for customer interactions that drive the greatest value for both parties.

Terminator 3


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How did the UK general election affect utility companies?

The UK general election last month resulted in a surprise win for David Cameron’s Conservative party. After five years of coalition government, the UK has returned to a single party majority and the Prime Minister has a mandate to focus on the Conservative election pledges.

Many esteemed political commentators were hoping that the ConDem coalition could be maintained – The Economist was just one of the heavyweight journals asking for more of the same style of government. So it was a shock for the political journalists and pundits when Cameron’s party took a majority.

And this shock affected many in the business world. The FTSE share index soared when it became clear that a government could start business the day after the election. Most had been expecting a hung parliament and weeks of wrangling between parties to agree a new coalition.

The UK utilities sector was no exception to the uncertainty before the election. Look at this Reuters report from a week before the nation went to the polls. The headline reads: “More pain could follow election” and the story describes how price caps, attacks on the market for energy, and greater regulator scrutiny were all expected. Share prices were depressed and Deutsche Bank even went to far as to suggest that a new Labour government would depress Centrica shares by up to 20%.

Strong words. But what happened after the surprise election result?

Companies include Centrica and SSE were included in the biggest gainers on the London Stock Exchange the day after the election. Tougher regulation from ‘left-leaning’ Labour had been avoided. Labour plans to artificially cap energy prices were the biggest fear and had caused bank analysts to price a big discount in the share price of all the energy utilities.

As soon as that danger had passed there was an immediate unwinding of the discount. Centrica issued a statement saying that they welcomed the ‘certainty and clarity’ produced by the majority result in the election. In further news though, the new energy secretary Amber Rudd has already been in touch with all the energy companies to ask how they can justify their current prices. The pressure could be back on again.

It’s great to see such energy and enthusiasm in the utilities sector, but despite this boost to share prices other fundamental issues remain. Customers still rank utility companies as offering some of the worst examples of customer service in the UK. Perhaps this new burst of enthusiasm in the sector could be channelled into making the customer experience with all these firms much better?

Please leave a comment if you have a view on the utilities involved or tweet me on @stuartmorristp.

Energy Field

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