Building genuine relationships with your customers

Industry analysts are always making predictions about how companies and entire industries are changing - Customer Experience is no exception. One of my favourite reports from recent years was published by Gartner in 2015. It was an attempt to describe the customer experience in 2020 and we are now closer to the date of the prediction than the publication date.

But this report stands out for me because I believe it was the first time I heard the analyst community talking about the need for major corporate restructuring because of CX. Finally a respected analyst company had acknowledged that customer service is not just about managing a contact centre and handling complaints.

The Gartner report suggested that all companies in all industries need a new approach to the interface between the brand and the customer. Instead of having internal teams, such as advertising, marketing, public relations, sales, and customer service, companies need to combine all these functions into a customer experience hub. All customer-facing activities need to be coordinated and managed together.

It sounds logical, but it’s three years on from that report and I have not seen many companies completely integrate all customer-facing activities. However, I believe that this may still become normal by 2020. Digital disruption is accelerating the rate of corporate change to the extent that many CEOs now clearly believe that they need to redefine the brand to customer interface or they will become irrelevant.

This will completely redefine how customer service is planned and delivered by most companies. Instead of focusing on a transactional relationship with the customer and measuring how quickly an agent can handle a customer problem we are entering an environment where brands need to develop a life-long relationship with customers. Measuring great customer outcomes will be more about how the customer feels at the end of an interaction, rather than how long it took to answer their question.

If this sounds like psychological nonsense, then think about a brand like Apple. Their laptops and phones are far more expensive than those offered by rivals. If customers are focused only on price, then Apple would not sell anything, let alone have long lines of people outside their stores when a new product hits the shelves. The way that Apple focuses on being a part of the customer’s lifestyle will be far more common because of this change in the brand to customer relationship.

Asking a supermarket for a recipe, engaging in a Sunday motorbike ride and running a half-marathon with your neighbours - These are all ways that brands are engaging with their customers today. This isn’t traditional customer service or marketing, it is a completely joined up approach to the customer relationship that embraces the idea proposed by Gartner three years ago.

Some brands can see how far the customer journey has changed, but many are still running marketing campaigns without even informing their customer service team. By 2020, I think we really will see the Gartner prediction come true - just watch. What would you think about Gartner Prediction? Leave a comment below, or get in touch on LinkedIn and let me know.


Ronald Van schijndel appointed CEO webhelp the Netherlands

Ronald van Schijndel has been appointed as the new CEO of Webhelp the Netherlands. Ronald steps into this role following the unexpected passing of our dear colleague and former CEO Gert-Jan Morsink with whom he’s worked closely on the development and growth of the business since 2012. Thanks to his experience and passion for organizational development Ronald has been a key influence in shaping the current business earning the respect of his colleagues and peers along the way.

After obtaining a master’s degree in Business Economics at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University, Ronald started his career in consulting at KPMG before taking on various senior leadership positions at Deutsche Post DHL. Upon his return to the Netherlands in 2010 he was appointed Managing Director of DHL Global Mail. In 2012 he took on a new challenge and joined Webhelp, first as Managing Director Belgium and then as Chief Operating Officer for both the Dutch and Belgian activities.

Management team, the Netherlands

The Dutch management team will be completed by Jan Willem Hoekman and Thomas Blankvoort. Jan Willem will continue in his current role as CFO and Thomas has been appointed Chief Commercial Officer as of today. Both bring extensive experience in Customer Experience and Business Process Outsourcing to the organisation.


The tech your customer really cares about

The Webhelp team will be attending the RetailWeek Live event in London on March 7th and 8th. I’ve been taking a look through the agenda to see what is being discussed and one session titled ‘The Tech your Customer Really Cares About’ really caught my eye.

The constant innovation in retail technology is something that executives have to manage all the time. Whether you are managing point-of-sale systems, logistics, supply chain, or customer service, there is an endless wave of new technologies that commentators promise will change the game. But what do customers really want?

The answer is not easy. Take a look at the Amazon Go concept store in Seattle. It has captured the attention of the media and futurists across the world have declared that stores without checkouts are the future. But I think it will be a long time before the technology in this single grocery store can be rolled out in scale. What Amazon has done is prove that it is possible to build a store that does not require checkouts. However, it requires an enormous number of cameras and sophisticated computing power to monitor what customers are doing.

In the short to mid-term, what is far more likely is that more stores will create self-scanning apps so customers can use their own smartphone to scan and then pay for items. This achieves the same end goal - customers do not need to line up at a checkout - but it uses the technology that most customers are carrying around with them every day. Major retailers such as Walmart have already been installing systems like this and though it may make theft more likely, a few small losses can be offset against the benefit of improving the experience for most customers.

Another important point about offering services like self-scanning is that this benefit encourages people to download and login to the retailer’s app. This allows the retailer to know when the customer is shopping in-store and what they are looking at. This valuable information can reinforce the relationship by offering intelligent (and relevant) offers and recommendations in real-time. For instance, if a customer checks for information on a product, but never scans it into their basket, the system might send a special offer alert a minute later if it wants to further attract the customer.

Target now has robots inside stores that scan the shelves and create orders for inventory to be brought out. It could be argued that the shelf-stackers can just take a walk around the store and note what is required using pen and paper, but this is a good example of a retailer using a robot to perform a monotonous task. The robot is constantly checking what is needed and automatically creates lists for the human workers.

The Ikea Place app is another example of how technology is changing the interface between customer and retailer. It’s difficult to buy furniture online because the customer needs to imagine exactly how big a chair or table will be and how it will fit into their home. Ikea Place allows the customer to choose an item from the catalogue and then use Augmented Reality to see exactly how it will look in their home.

The amount of innovation taking place in retail is intimidating, but I believe that even with all this AR, VR, and artificial intelligence, we can identify which tech is going to be useful:

  1. Is it making the customer’s life easier? Does the system speed up the process of shopping or generally improve the experience?
  2. Does it change the relationship with the customer? Such as the Ikea app creating a situation where customers can ‘try out’ any new item of furniture before buying - and buy it without ever visiting a store.
  3. Does it reinforce loyalty? For example, self-scan functionality not only makes the customer’s life easier, but it also helps the retailer know the customer better.

I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion on technology at Retail Week Live. If you plan to be there then please say hello to the Webhelp team and if you have any thoughts on this subject then please leave a comment here, or get in touch on LinkedIn.


Where retail staff love to work

The Webhelp team will be attending the Retail Week Live event in London on March 7th and 8th. A panel session on the opening day titled ‘Where retail staff love to work’ and featuring brands such as Ikea and Oliver Bonas really caught my eye because it focuses directly retail employees.

Employee engagement is critical in retail, just as it is in the wider customer service environment, but according to the 2017 Gallup Global Workplace survey many companies just pay lip service to ensuring their employees are happy at work. The research found that 87% of organisations say that employee engagement is one of their top priorities yet just 15% of employees report that they are actually engaged in the workplace.

How can these figures be so disconnected when executives say this is a priority? In many cases, it is because companies are not connecting what their people do with the processes and technologies they use. Automation is a good example. On the surface some automation programmes promise to reduce costs and reduce customer effort - it must be a good thing. However, if your customers no longer talk to your employees then that can reduce the opportunities to really engage and raise service levels from adequate to excellent.

The Harvard Business Review recently published research on this topic, identifying several specific parts of the customer service process that should never be automated because doing so reduces the quality of the customer experience. HBR cited Domino’s pizza as a good example of a company that is using technology to streamline operations, but at the same time increasing the bond between the brand and the customer. For example, their pizza tracker system allows customers to order a pizza without engaging with a human, however the app allows the customer to directly engage with the person making, cooking, and delivering their pizza. It’s created automation in one area of the relationship and yet the connection is stronger elsewhere.

In retail and customer service generally, employee engagement is critical. Companies cannot just pay lip service to this in their annual report and not actually engage with their team. The difference between a frontline retail employee who is just punching the clock and counting down the minutes and one who enjoys helping customers is enough for a brand to be actively losing customers with each engagement.

However, care should be taken. A recent feature in Forbes magazine outlines how some managers approach employee engagement by surveying the team and formulating an action plan. It often takes six months just to analyse the survey and then even longer to create an action plan. You can’t spend a year thinking about how your employees should be engaged with their employer and customers - they will be gone. This has to be a cultural shift, ensuring that your team is engaged because they like what they are doing.

I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion on employee engagement at Retail Week Live. If you plan to be there then please say hello to the Webhelp team and if you have any thoughts on this subject then please leave a comment here, or get in touch on LinkedIn.


Innovation in insurance sector

Insurance is an ancient business. Humans have always understood risk and organisations have offered protection against risk for hundreds of years. 14th century insurance policies are recognisable as policies insuring against risk and as colonial nations explored the world, ship owners would buy policies to protect against their vessel not returning.

Insurance today does not appear to have changed very much. A 17th century ship owner buying a policy that would pay out if his ship never returned to port is very similar to a car owner today. If the car is stolen or damaged, the insurance company pays out.

But many businesses today are using and creating innovative ideas that don’t fit into the traditional insurance model. Take professional liability insurance as one example. This is the type of policy that protects a professional from the effect of bad advice or professional actions - a lawyer giving bad advice or an architect creating a poorly designed building that is dangerous. When the client claims damages, the liability insurance kicks in to protect the professional.

But what if your business is a peer-to-peer lending firm matching savers with borrowers directly? Or you are creating a new block chain exchange? Or you are launching an app that gives medical advice?

With new types of risk comes the problem of how to price that risk. Innovative new companies are finding that traditional insurance companies don’t really understand what they do and therefore the cover is either prohibitively expensive, or just not offered at all.

I recently read about a new insurance broker called Digital Risks that acts as a middleman in cases like this. They study the business and attempt to calculate the type of risk involved and then work with over 20 insurance companies to try creating a policy. But ultimately the broker still needs to find a way to manage the risk with a regular insurance policy.

Peer-to-peer insurance has been growing for the past 5 years and may offer an answer. Those who understand a new type of service and the risks involved may want to invest in insuring against that risk - with the opportunity also offered to other investors. Instead of a big company underwriting the policy, a group of investors achieves the same objective. It sounds very similar to the Names system of underwriting at Lloyd’s of London, but in general peer-to-peer insurance hasn’t had the same visibility that peer-to-peer lending has enjoyed.

I believe digital innovation will create big changes for the insurance business. If a major insurer explores the use of a policy underwriting system that resembles Facebook and charges less than any regular policy then I believe people will be willing to explore new ideas. At the end of the day, insurance is about protection from risk. If new methods of creating policies can be shown to still protect the customer then they will experiment.

Our white paper Insure Against Loss examines in detail the opportunities in the insurance sector. In this paper we will explore how delivering an exceptional customer experience can increase customer engagement levels and reduce customer churn.

Let me know what you think about some of the innovations and change in how insurance works by leaving a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


Banking trends to watch for in 2018

Banking is one of the fastest changing industries in the world at present. The traditional incumbents are implementing many new innovations as new startup brands launch a bid for market share. I have often mentioned how the new bank brands can design and mould their services exactly to customer needs, but what are the other key trends to watch for this year?

FinExtra published their list and from that I would draw out three key trends that I think are really going to change banking this year:

  1. Open Banking
  2. Cyber Threats
  3. Mobile Banking - launched by big brand banks

Open Banking is a result of a European Union directive known as PSD2 - Payment Services Directive 2. That doesn’t sound very exciting, but it is a major change in how banks operate. Every bank needs to use a standard gateway (called an API) for their data. If a customer gives permission to a bank or financial service company to access their personal information then other organisations can tap into your bank and extract information.

The most common immediate use for this is to connect together the various financial products that customers are using so a consolidated report can be constructed - putting information on your loans, credit cards, mortgage, and savings all in one place even if they are managed across several different banks. However, I expect many new companies to think of great ideas on how to help people manage their money - especially to watch for trends or alerts in your spending. Many new apps will soon be launched as people get more familiar with Open Banking.

Cyber threats are on the increase and this is an important topic for 2018 because of another European Union directive called GDPR - the General Directive on Data Protection. In summary, GDPR gives customers much more control over how companies use their data. The old days of companies being able to use your personal data because you ticked a consent form that was not even read are over. Companies must be transparent about how they are using your data and all customers have the right to have their data erased. Enforcement of the new rules will start in May 2018 and the penalties are severe - fines can be a percentage of company revenue.

The big traditional banks face an existential threat from Financial Technologies - Fintech. Completely new banks can be launched using apps and those companies don’t need to manage old legacy IT-systems that run overnight batches to serve an enormous branch network. They can design apps that work exactly how the customer wants. It’s no surprise that some of the big players are now deciding that they either need to launch their own spin-off app-based bank or acquire one that is already in the market.

That’s three really big challenges to the banking industry and I expect we will see a lot of news about them in the coming year. What would you suggest as another change or trend to watch in 2018? Leave a comment below, or get in touch on LinkedIn and let me know.


Young drivers with telematic insurance are three times safer

When talking to people about telematics-based car insurance policies I often see quite negative reactions. People often fear a loss of privacy if their insurance company can monitor exactly when, where, and how they drive their vehicle. However, they are exploding in popularity in the UK at present.

The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) recently published data showing that 975,000 telematics-based policies were now active in the UK at the end of 2017. Almost a million people are now happy to have a ‘black box’ in their car monitoring their every move.

This is growth of 30% on the 2016 figure so the market is growing fast and it is having a dramatic impact on both the way that insurance is sold and road safety itself. The telematic specialist insurance company Marmalade says that their drivers with a telematic policy are 3 times safer than the average driver in the UK. That’s astounding - knowing that the car is being monitored has an enormous effect on safety. It’s like young teenage drivers being forced to carry their mum and dad in the back seat every time they go out.

But far from being a negative technology for young drivers, this can enable car ownership for them when otherwise it might be impossible. The average policy for a teenage driver in the UK is now several thousand pounds a year. If the driver can prove that they are a low risk and safe driver then they can immediately benefit from substantial reductions in the price of their insurance.

Since 2011 road casualties in the UK have dropped by 31.07% for 17-19 year-old drivers compared to an 11.06% reduction for the rest of the driving population. We are seeing a complete reversal of the old attitude that young drivers are the biggest risk - in fact they look like a better risk for the insurance company than older drivers who generally don’t use telematic-based policies.

BIBA is lobbying the government to reduce tax on insurance for younger drivers choosing to use a telematic-based policy, but I would argue that with statistics like this, why don’t they push for a significant price reduction for all drivers who are prepared to use this type of insurance?

Let me know what you think about telematic insurance. The statistics look fantastic, but would you be worried about revealing your location and driving data constantly to your insurance company? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


In Memoriam Gert-Jan Morsink

Tot ons groot verdriet is afgelopen maandag 5 februari onze vriend, collega en CEO Gert-Jan Morsink op 55-jarige leeftijd volkomen onverwacht overleden.

Optimisme, “the sky is blue”, recht door zee, relativeringsvermogen, opportunisme, jongensachtig, bevlogen, netwerker pur sang, no-nonsense, humor, Twentse “Noaberschap” zijn de eigenschappen van Gert-Jan die hem een uniek persoon maakte en voor ons zo waardevol om met hem te mogen samenwerken.

Gert-Jan werd op 9 november 1962 geboren in Enschede en groeide samen met zijn zus en ouders op. Al snel verhuisde het gezin naar Geldrop en vervolgens enkele jaren later naar Goor, waar Gert-Jan ook later in zijn leven steeds weer terugkeerde. Gert-Jan behaalde zijn master in Bedrijfseconomie aan de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen met internationale marketing en bedrijfsontwikkeling als specialisatie.

Wij willen nog helemaal niet terugkijken op de carrière van Gert-Jan. Maar nu dat ineens onvermijdelijk is, blijkt hoe gevarieerd zijn loopbaan is geweest. Gert-Jan heeft meer dan 20 jaar gewerkt in General Management functies bij verschillende bedrijven, zoals Wavin, Constar (Crown Cork & Seal Company), Mainetti-Pendy (Ferguson PLC), Asito Facility Services, Reggeborgh Investments, PCH Dienstengroep (Volker Wessels) en Sandd. Daarnaast heeft Gert-Jan verschillende commissariaten en adviseurschappen in verscheidene sector- en handelsorganisaties vervuld. Ook is Gert-Jan betrokken geweest bij meerdere goede doelen, waarbij zijn support voor Kika en Join for Energy hem dicht aan het hart lagen.

De drijfveer van Gert-Jan was groei en ook bij Webhelp heeft zijn overtuiging hierin gewerkt. Sinds zijn start in 2012 als CEO, heeft hij door de samenwerking met de Webhelp Group te zoeken ons bedrijf twee keer zo groot gemaakt. Sinds 2014 was Gert-Jan lid van de Raad van Bestuur van de Webhelp Group, waar hij ook een grote bijdrage heeft geleverd aan de internationale groei en expansie.

Gert-Jan laat zijn vrouw, zijn drie kinderen en zijn vader achter.

Wij wensen zijn familie en naaste geliefden, ontzettend veel sterkte en kracht. Wij zijn een heel bijzonder mens kwijtgeraakt, die voortleeft in waardevolle herinneringen.

Namens de directie,

Ronald van Schijndel


Metro Bank is redefining customer-centricity on the high street

Last week BBC interviewed Craig Donaldson, the founder and CEO of Metro Bank as part of their ‘Boardroom Stories’ series of interviews with leading CEOs in the UK.

Metro Bank was launched in 2010 and was the first completely new High Street bank in the UK for over 150 years. Donaldson has a very different approach to banking and although his company is a regular full-service retail bank with branches - not just an online app - his company is entirely built around customer centricity. Everything is designed to help the customer.

This even starts with the language used. At Metro Bank, they have ‘stores’, not ‘branches’. Donaldson explains: “You go to a store for service. You go to a bank branch to wait in a miserable dark queue. Language is really important for us. We want to create a culture where we have fans. Last year we only spent £100,000 on advertising. Our customers go out and tell their friends and family about us for nothing.”

Isn’t that such a complete contrast to most banks? They don’t need to advertise because everyone who ever interacts with the bank becomes a fan. I know that I can personally remember a friend enthusiastically telling me that Metro Bank not only welcomed her into a ‘store’ with her dog, but the bank staff had biscuits and water available for customers with dogs!

Metro Bank is also open seven days a week and Sunday is a very busy day for them. Donaldson said: “We see more business customers on Sunday than any other day. Think about it, if you are a builder, decorator, or accountant then you are working Monday to Friday and sometimes on Saturday too. You need to do your books on Sunday. You can just pop in and deal with your banking when it suits you.”

Of course most new banks at present seem to be just launching as virtual companies that only exist on an app. Why does Donaldson think that he needs a branch network in 2018?

“We still need stores. We have 55 stores at the moment, but we want to grow to about 250 across the country. I was paying bills on my mobile last weekend, but [you need a store] if you are getting a mortgage for the first time, or you have a problem with your account, or you might have lost a card, or you might be a small business that wants to deposit cash.” He added: “Most people use the app, but it’s still important to have stores. The difference is that we put our stores in places where it is easy for customers - look at our store by Holborn station for example. Our stores are open from 8am to 8pm and in the case of the Holborn branch, over 35m people use that station every year - that makes it really easy for a lot of people.”

Donaldson strongly believes that it’s not how many bank branches you have, it’s all about locating them where it is easy for people to visit. He also stressed that there are some services they offer in their stores that no other banks on the High Street are doing. He said: “Have you ever lost a bank card? Instead of waiting a week for your bank to replace your card, if you come into any of our stores, we can create a new one for you inside 3 minutes.”

That’s impressive and redefines the branch (or store) as far more useful for customers as they are used to. Metro Bank has had some other advantages. Because they launched from scratch and could design real-time systems as they wanted everything to work, rather than relying on decades-old legacy technology, they can implement new changes quickly - such as the recent launch of Open Banking in the UK.

Donaldson said: “We have launched our Open Banking offering and it cost us about £1.5m to implement the entire system. I have heard of other UK banks spending over £200m to achieve the same level of readiness. It’s the same API (the standard interface that all UK banks are using to share data) and everyone has to do it the same way, but they have old legacy batch processes they need to manage.”

Let me know what you think about the Metro Bank approach to retail banking and their focus on customer experience by leaving a comment here or just get in touch direct via my LinkedIn.


A CX first strategy is critical for the perfect storm surrounding retail banking

The UK retail banking sector is developing quickly. In fact, banking is one of the fastest changing industries in the world at present with some experts predicting dramatic changes ahead if major banks don’t revise their business model. A perfect storm of change is taking place:

  • Traditional retail banks have legacy technology systems that are expensive to maintain and large branch networks that are often underused and unprofitable.
  • Challenger banks are launching entirely new full-service brands. Some feature branches (Metro Bank) that open late into the evening and through weekends. Some are full service, but just work on smartphones (Atom Bank).
  • Fintech innovation is creating a stream of apps that offer specific banking services, such as loans or international money transfer. The Apps are generally very easy to use, designed to be customer-centric, with services that are faster and cheaper than those offered by the banks.

Anyone who studied Michael Porter’s Five Force Analysis at business school can see that retail banks are in a jam. Porter’s model described the various ways that competition can enter a market or become more intense. The number of competitors and technological change mean that change is coming from all directions for most banks.

Yet there are some interesting foreign entrants to the UK market. The US banking giant Goldman Sachs announced in 2017 that they are entering the UK retail banking market in the middle of this year. Goldman Sachs is taking an interesting approach. They are focusing only on the savings and loans business. They will provide a digital-only service to keep costs low, and they will position their rates at the top of the market.

Goldman Sachs expects to be able to build a considerable business by offering better rates and they know that they will get considerable media attention because of their own brand and US heritage.

The leading UK-based retail banks are facing competition from all sides. They have their long established reputation and tradition and they still have millions of customers - many of whom are quite happy staying where they are. But they need to invest in the customer experience and developing digital services if they want to be able to match the services being launched by challengers and digital startups. The customer experience is going to be a key factor in the next decade for this industry. What changes do you think retail banks need to make to be more customer-centric? Leave a comment below, or get in touch on LinkedIn and let me know.