Brands can define their culture just by talking to customers

One of the more exciting aspects of customer service moving from phones and email to a wide variety of social channels is that brands can engage in public dialogue with customers - everyone else can see the conversations that are taking place.

In some cases the conversations can be hilarious; in particular where retailers develop a bond between customers that demonstrates their own brand culture. Look at some of the examples published in this Daily Telegraph article to see what I mean.

The team at Argos replied to a customer reflecting the same street slang used on the initial question. Greggs offered a tray of doughnuts to Google if they could fix the problem of someone uploading an edited corporate logo on Google Maps. Google responds by saying they can fix it if Greggs gives them a sausage roll in addition to the doughnuts! Look at the conversation undertaken by the Sainsbury’s team when a customer asks a question using an obvious pun.

Some brands shy away from this type of communication, preferring instead to hide behind corporate communication directives and style guides. Of course, when the customer was receiving answers by email, this might have been more necessary, but I think there is a need to reflect a more casual style of social communication. Brands that can reflect their own culture as a business and engage customers in dialogue not only succeed in helping that customer, but they reinforce the culture of the brand as many other customers will see interesting exchanges and share them.

Greggs was recently featured in a Buzzfeed article titled “19 times Greggs was unexpectedly brilliant at Twitter.” There are many amusing images that Greggs has shared with the intention of getting customers and fans of the brand to share them - such as an emergency fire alarm containing a sausage roll – but they also comment on the posts of others.

It requires confidence in your brand to allow the customer service team the freedom to engage in this type of dialogue, but it also reflects how social networks operate. Brands don’t call a meeting to decide on the wording of a tweet: they empower smart individuals who understand the brand values to just go out there and comment. For retail companies like Greggs, Tesco, and Argos this allows a real conversation with customers, and is a marketing boost because the brand culture can be reinforced with these exchanges.

What do you think about retail brands having open conversations with customers? How does this help to define brand culture? Leave a comment here and let me know, or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


Webhelp Wins Four Awards in the 2017 BPeSA and CCMG Awards

Leading global customer experience and business process outsourcing expert Webhelp has been named the top operator in four categories at this year's BPeSA and CCMG Industry Awards.

For the first time this year industry bodies BPeSA and CCMG joined forces to run a combined awards process. The BPO and contact centre industry in South Africa is building its reputation on the international stage and is a key sector in boosting employment in the country. Offering long term and fulfilling career opportunities with minimal barriers to entry, the contact centre and BPO industry in SA is one that the government is keen to encourage.

The Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura was present at the awards and congratulated all the winners on their contribution to such an important sector for the South African economy.

Webhelp was successful in the following categories:

  • Best Shared Services – Webhelp People Services
  • Best Analyst – Zaheer Mullajee
  • Best Contact Centre Customer Service Professional - Bronwyn Frick
  • Best Contact Centre Support Professional and Workforce Planning – Iemeraan Duncan

CEO of Webhelp UK, SA and India, David Turner, said: “I am absolutely delighted that the team in South Africa has done so well in these awards. This is the first time there has been an awards ceremony to truly celebrate the best of the South African contact centre industry on a national scale and it is fantastic to see Webhelp taking home so many national titles.

“I am tremendously proud of our team in South Africa. They are hardworking, dedicated people who are absolutely committed to delivering the best possible customer experiences for our clients. They live and breathe the brands they represent and this shows in the excellent results they achieve day in and day out for our clients.”

 


Why data breaches are disastrous for retail brands

Over the past two years, retail has suffered more data breaches than any other industry. Security breaches are particularly troubling for retail brands because they often hold a large amount of personal data on customers. This can include their complete shopping history, payment details and delivery details.

Retailers around the world have paid a high price for losing customer data in various breaches. When Target allowed data on 40 million customers to leak they were fined $18.5m. A 2014 data breach by Home Depot initially cost the retailer $27.25m in compensation payments to customers, but once legal fees and other costs were added up it possibly cost the brand around $179m.

Research by KPMG in 2016 showed that around one in five customers would completely stop shopping with a retailer if the company was hacked and data stolen. This view still applied even if the retailer had taken immediate action to improve data security and limit any data loss.

It must be tempting for retailers to keep quiet when faced with a data breach, but this approach can be even worse as the betrayal of trust can be extremely damaging. News of the data loss will almost certainly leak, so an open approach is better (providing the breach could not have been prevented, of course).

For companies in Europe, there is an even greater requirement to be vigilant and compliant with data regulations as the EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) rules will be enforced from May 2018. Already law across the EU, but not enforced until next year, the GDPR creates a new approach to data use with a focus on the rights of the customer.

This new compliance regime in Europe and the constant threat of data loss from hacking and social engineering attacks should make all retailers sit up and take notice. Retail data is under attack, from the contact centre to the in-store environment. If you don’t protect the information you have on your customers, then a fine is only the start of your problems - your customers may never return.

What do you think about the new data rules? What else can companies do to recover trust after a breach? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn and let me know.


Voice-activated retail: what does it mean for you?

Conversational commerce is a rapidly emerging trend; one which is creating convenient voice-activated retail experiences mediated by tech companies. This week, Walmart announced that is partnering with Google Assistant, which will allow customers to shop via their Android or Google Home device without ever accessing the Walmart website. Between this and Amazon's takeover of Whole Foods, which will allow customers to shop in the supermarket via Amazon Echo, big changes are clearly happening in the relationship between stores and customers.

To learn more, and see a brief demonstration, watch this week's Friday vlog from Webhelp's Innovation Director Dave Pattman.


Retailers hope for a boost as Alipay is now accepted in the UK

Alipay is one of the leading mobile-based payment systems in China. It’s a part of the enormous Alibaba retail empire and is used by over half a billion customers. It has never before been available in the UK, but this month (August 2017) Barclays started a trial that they plan to run until early 2018. Retailers will be able to accept Alipay payments facilitated by Barclays.

We have credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Square Cash, and PayPal; who needs yet another payment system?

There are two answers to this question. First, the retailers offering Alipay in their stores are hoping to capture more business from Chinese tourists. Although the total number of Alipay users is enormous, they are mostly Chinese, so any immediate gains will be captured by retailers in locations where large numbers of tourists can be found.

Second, though, is the customer. Alipay has an enviable user base in China and they clearly believe that they can become a more globally accepted payment method, thanks to their experience back home.

Alipay does go beyond payment alone, by allowing brands to have featured pages right inside the payment system; it is possible to generate additional sales direct from the mobile device. They clearly believe that the additional functionality of their system, and the large existing user base, will help it win out against American rivals such as PayPal and Apple.

I think it’s an important challenge to the payment market. As we have seen in many other areas, there is often only one real winner once a network gets to a certain size - or network externality as economists like to say. It is hard for new social networks to challenge Facebook or new auction sites to challenge eBay. Once there are enough users on the network, then growth is almost self-perpetuating.

The same will be true for new payment systems and the reality is that the days of carrying a plastic card with a magnetic stripe may well be numbered. If your mobile device has all your payment information and can be secured more effectively than cards, then your wallet is likely to be much lighter in the near future.

The Alipay trial is limited at present, but assuming it goes well, I’m sure they will be looking for European customers to start using the system. Whether it will replace the other mobile-based systems only time can tell, but as we have already seen with many other apps, most customers don’t care about the country of origin of software - they just want it to work. Alipay has just as much chance of success as any of the systems already available in the UK, if they can offer a better service and leverage their existing large user base.

What do you think about the Alipay trial? Will customers embrace it? Leave a comment below and let me know, or get in touch on LinkedIn.


Leading business process outsourcer Webhelp officially unveils new site in Riga

RIGA, AUGUST 24, 2017. Leading global business process outsourcing and customer experience expert Webhelp, officially unveils a new site in the capital of Latvia, Riga to create more than 200 jobs by the end of the year. It allows Webhelp to expand and offer Russian language capability from a new base in the EU.

With more than 100 customer experience centres and 35 000 employees globally, Webhelp revenues are €950 million and is a top 3 player in this sector.

Terje Andreassen, CEO for Webhelp Nordic Cluster, said: “Webhelp has chosen Latvia - a member of EU and OECD to expand its business geographically and bring its sector expertise. Riga also has a strategic position in the Baltics providing employees with excellent language and technical skills which are very much in demand.

“We already have plans for new clients and further development of this site to provide the highest quality service for our customers.”

Arvils Ašeradens, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Economics of Latvia welcomed the new investment: “Webhelp has identified the huge potential of Latvia to attract investment and to become a base for business process outsourcing companies, in turn boosting the growth of the Latvian economy. It is a significant investment which will have a positive effect on rates of employment.”

We believe this is just the beginning. Riga has a highly developed communications infrastructure, in a modern city where foreign investors are beginning to base their businesses. These new businesses, digital technologies and innovative outlook are very welcome.”

Andris Ozols, Director of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia: “The creation of the Webhelp Business Center is the best evidence that the coordinated cooperation between different project partners and our support can deliver the expected results.

In this project, we are only at the beginning of the journey, however I can already say that it is a pleasure to work with such a dynamic and ambitious company that appreciates the advantages provided by Latvia.”

Webhelp has already recruited 125 people and is looking for 100 more new colleagues to work at the Riga site where they will be handling Russian language technical support calls for Webhelp clients.

Līna Boiko, Head of Operations, Webhelp Latvia, said: Webhelp is a great employer offering global experience, new knowledge and an international environment right here in the middle of city center.

“I believe being part of an international company like Webhelp is a stepping stone to further career growth within the company both locally and internationally. We offer job categories that are expected to see growth in the future - it is of utmost importance when technological advancements may lead to big changes in the labour market.”

Webhelp is looking for people who have a positive outlook, social and who enjoy contact with customers. The company provides extensive training on leading customer service as well as technical skills, but it is important that candidates are keen to learn as learning is integral in such an innovative company.

If you would like more information on the available positions or to apply, please visit http://www.webhelp.com/en-lv/careers/

ENDS

Press information:

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Inga Tauriņa, +371 26564629, inga@lejinasleiers.lv

or

Līna Boiko, Head of Operations, Webhelp Latvia, + 371 27311237, lina.boiko@nordic.webhelp.com


Should retailers fear AI or is it now essential?

For a long time, I have talked about artificial intelligence as an enabling tool that should help to improve the customer experience. It’s a technology that helps customer service advisors and retail associates do their job better, rather than a tool that removes the need for them to even be part of the customer relationship.

But AI has taken on something of a mythical quality. Leading executives such as Elon Musk of Tesla warn that systems may eventually run out of control and become more intelligent than humans. These warnings have also been echoed by scientists, such as the physicist Stephen Hawking, who once claimed that AI could be the end of mankind as we know it.

But executives in industries like retail don’t need to fear AI. Technology systems at present still focus on specific tasks. Even if they have the ability to learn and improve, a system designed to analyse customer behaviour in a supermarket will not attempt to form a new government!

This interesting article published in Retail Touchpoints analyses some of the areas where retail executives should be exploiting AI systems today:

  • AI is better than humans at ploughing through data and seeing patterns. This frees up people to actually be in stores meeting customers, not hidden away working on administrative and reporting tasks.
  • AI can examine years of data and determine spikes and trends better than the ‘gut instinct’ of store managers.
  • AI can connect several disparate data sources to help decision-making. For example, by connecting sales patterns to weather records, it is possible to see exactly what people buy when the sun shines or a storm hits town. Connect that to weather predictions and you have a powerful ordering assistant.
  • AI and machine learning systems can be used to capture all customer enquiries with the correct answers, so associates can access a highly powerful knowledge system that has the answer to every question a customer has ever asked - only a completely unique enquiry could beat the system.

There is still a lot of noise around the use of AI, but it is a maturing technology that can really help your team interact more effectively with customers. Combined with supply chain management in retail, it can become an essential tool for ensuring that stock levels are always maintained at a level that is just right, rather than too low or high.

What do you think of the potential of AI in customer service? Leave a comment below and let me know, or get in touch on LinkedIn.


What impact will AI have on the role of contact centre advisors?

There has been a huge focus on how technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning will affect contact centres and the role of advisors. Unfortunately, much of the comment in the business pages is conjecture that is often not based in reality.

The Economist published an article last year, claiming that contact centres are finished under the headline “The end of the line”. The article suggested that AI will soon replace advisors leading to the end of contact centres requiring people. It went on to suggest that this is a disaster for many developing countries where contact centres provide employment.

The Daily Telegraph has also suggested that robots are replacing contact centre advisors too. Their headline actually said “Thank god for that” implying that the journalist is no fan of customer service anywhere.

It’s true that there are some amazing advances in AI. The famous IBM Watson Jeopardy experiment took place back in 2011 and the system has advanced since then. IBM proved that a computer could recognise natural human language, understand the context of a question, and provide a correct answer far better than any human. Now the Watson system is helping doctors to fight cancer because it can sift through everything humans know about cancer in a fraction of a second. Patients can be diagnosed and given a treatment plan, knowing that this doctor knows all there is to know and never gets tired or hungry.

But there are some limitations when applying AI to the customer service environment. If the customer is expecting a very personal service, such as when discussing financial transactions, then it is likely that they will almost always prefer to engage with a human advisor. The opposite might be true if the call is to get advice on a printer that is not working - in this case any help that works will be appropriate.

Another area where AI can be problematic is with voice recognition. As Watson has demonstrated, if you have the resource then it can work well, but most of us don’t have a very good experience with day-to-day systems like Siri or Alexa. They work most of the time, but also make some ridiculous errors and that would be difficult to accept when applied to the customer service environment.

There may come a future time when affordable AI systems are completely fluent in natural human speech and can access an enormous database of knowledge - including how to empathise with a customer - but this time is not yet upon us.

However, AI will transform the advisor role in a more positive way by supporting and guiding human team members. Imagine the contact centre in a bank with an AI system that automatically records every customer interaction and learns about every problem ever recorded and every solution. The system can listen to customers and be feeding relevant solutions to the advisor before they even need to search for an answer.

These are the kind of solutions where AI will be involved in transforming how contact centres operate and these technologies are with us today. AI and robots will transform the customer experience, but it will not mean the end of the contact centre - for now!

What do you think of the potential of bots and AI in customer service? Leave a comment below and let me know, or get in touch on LinkedIn.


Cloud Technology: Why you should be investing

_x000D_

In the wake of the Forbes Cloud 100, our Innovation Director Dave Pattman looks at cloud technology. Specifically, its role in a surprisingly diverse range of sectors, including business process management and data and analytics. To learn more about why you need to be investing in the cloud, take a look at this week's Friday vlog.


Will drones reduce delivery times from hours to minutes?

A few months ago Amazon began delivering orders by drone in the UK. Their drone experiment has moved a long way from the initial tests and regulatory checks to now actually being operational - the first drone delivery was last December when a customer in Cambridge ordered an Amazon Fire TV and the drone delivered it inside 13 minutes.

In Dubai, a general purpose drone system is planned for next year. This would allow any company to deliver products of up to five kilograms anywhere across Dubai. The drone technology market is expected to be worth over $1.5bn just in the Middle East by 2022.

Drones have clearly moved on from being seen as hi-tech toys and are becoming an integral part of the delivery ecosystem. However, there are some legislative difficulties in important markets like the USA.

Drone pilots require line of sight under US regulations. This makes delivery by drone almost impossible, as it would require that the drone can only deliver to locations that are within sight of their operational warehouse. Similarly, in regulatory environments like the UK, it is possible for a pilot to fly several drones simultaneously and this is also not allowed in the USA, reducing the efficiency of each pilot.

Amazon only started testing drones in July last year. By the end of the year, they had made the first commercial delivery to a real customer. The rate of acceleration in delivery technologies is astonishing. Five years ago the media barely ever mentioned drones and now there are dozens of articles on this subject every single day.

That Amazon delivery in 13 minutes is where we should all pay attention. Amazon recently entered the Singapore market with a promise to deliver anything anywhere in two hours. That’s not using drone technology, but there is no reason why they could not extend their capabilities to include drones in future - potentially reducing the delivery time from hours to minutes.

I remember a time when 28-day delivery was common and considered normal. Now customers are impatient if the only option is next-day delivery. Omni-channel retail is developing fast and I foresee that drone delivery will be an important factor, with services run by individual companies, like Amazon, and delivery services offering their drones-for-hire to anyone needing to send a package across town quickly. It will not be long before delivery in two hours is unacceptable. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think, or get in touch on LinkedIn.