GDPR: RETHINKING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH DATA

GDPR[1]—these four letters are inescapable as we begin the year 2018. Amid concerns, both real and imagined, and contradicting opinions, the Webhelp Group, in collaboration with all parties involved, chose an innovative, pragmatic, and straightforward approach to the challenge.

There is no denying that the relationship from economic players and individuals to personal data is undergoing change. The nature of this change forces those working in Customer Relationship Management to walk a tightrope, trying to balance legitimate needs which are often at odds with one another. On one side, consumers rightfully require that their data be used only to provide them with services they have signed up for; on the other, the need for customised, speedy, and relevant response calls for a more holistic approach to data usage. Indeed, we all know how unpleasant it is as a customer to have to repeat your requests over and over again…

This dichotomy is brought at the forefront of Webhelp’s GDPR programme. For many years, we have been at the forefront of strategic thinking regarding the future of Customer Experience – and we have become convinced that meeting the challenges and expectations regarding privacy protection depends on “creating a virtuous model based on data quality.”

Rethinking Our Relationship with Data

Today’s digital world creates and circulates an impressive amount of data, with some sources quoting a figure of 163 zetabits (that is, 163 billion gigabits) for the year 2025, a ten-fold increase relative to levels processed in 2016. Each person generates data voluntarily and often also involuntarily. When a form is filled in online, or when a user sends a text message, is filmed outdoors by a video-surveillance system, browses the web, or agrees to their data being transferred across platforms, data is generated. Almost 85% of that data has no real use. Of the remaining 15%, only one-fifth is usable –so less than 1% of all that data captured! Despite this, a sizable amount of data remains, traces of their presence in the digital or physical world. This reality can no longer be ignored. Indeed, it is the subject of the protection afforded by European regulation, and of the integration of the latter into the Webhelp Group business.

Customer Relationship is based on loyalty toward the consumer. We must provide a service that meets valid consumer expectations, in the best interest of our customer. From a variety of technological environments, Webhelp handles about 2 million conversations each day, across all channels. Those interactions may be saved to allow for continuous service quality improvement and to provide the responses consumers require. By adapting to the customer context and creating on-demand solutions, Webhelp brings its expertise and know-how to its principals and their customers.

However, being so fully involved in those relationships, Webhelp recognized that we cannot remain systematically neutral with regards to the processing of personal data.  Our efforts started years ago within the Webhelp Group, when it very quickly became apparent that a global effort would be required to ensure respect for consumer privacy. This effort has put us at the forefront of thinking around GDPR.

As we emphasize in our BCR (Binding Corporate Rules): “We believe protecting personal data is not just a matter of security or compliance with the law, but above all a matter of collective and individual obligation.” This ambitious approach has been the principle guiding the Webhelp Group’s action for several years, and it has been transposed to our successful innovations with Chatbots, Speech Analytics (Speech Recognition and Processing), and Machine Learning for work volume forecasting, etc. We have, in each of those projects, worked toward minimizing the amount of data used, while carefully monitoring the impact those projects might have on privacy.

These improvements are based on solving the dichotomy discussed earlier. We use data to meet the dual legitimacy of consumer requirements – but we only use relevant data, and strictly for achieving positive outcomes for our principals and their customers. From a risk-based analysis, data processing and the relationship we create based on that data became an opportunity for expanding the services we provide to our customers. This relationship is what lies at the core of Webhelp Group’s “Privacy” initiative.

Creating a Virtuous Cycle in Customer Relationship Management

Customer Relationship Management is actually tripartite, with strong links between the various partners. On one side, the principal client: like every business, it has a life of its own, counting on its partners’ expertise for support and advice. This is where BPO players, such as Webhelp, are especially relevant. We must be in tune with our client’s expectations and ultimately provide the most accurate, respectful yet relevant service possible to the consumer. Consumers are at the center of that relationship, its purpose, and their satisfaction is absolutely necessary.

In this tripartite relationship, there are key moments when consumers interact with the Customer Relationship Management provider. It is exactly at these moments that the strength of the relationship between consumer and brand is activated—a “third moment of truth,” in Marketing—crucial for brand image and loyalty. In such a decisive setting, there is no room for error, and the consumer demands service that is tailored to them as an individual – but that also respects their privacy and integrity in the use of their personal data. At those times, an approach consistent with legitimate consumer expectations must be employed, and the strategy regarding data processing is crucial. Without going as far as providing an extensive list, GDPR strongly strengthens obligations of transparency and information disclosure for consumers. Consumers must be made aware of, and in some instances, agree to the methods and means implemented to respond to their needs. This effort is now the responsibility of the principal and the BPO players, who must together reflect this requirement to the consumer. An example of practical implementation is the creation of both dedicated and shared GDPR teams, which will respond to consumer requests starting May 25th, 2018, as well as the use of KYC systems to identify the person making an access request.

It is upon this framework, both legal and pragmatic, that our initiative to create a virtuous model based on data quality is founded. By understanding and anticipating consumer needs and by providing a coordinated, accurate, and transparent approach, Webhelp is building, alongside the brands for which we work, this new relationship with data. Data usage must from now on be regarded no longer as a risk, but as an opportunity to provide optimal service. This endeavor is defined by a shared assessment, determination of processes, documentation, and transparency.

This common effort, driven by the principal and with Webhelp’s support through the services we offer, will shape the future of Customer Relationships. Together we will successfully navigate the journey from the age of Big Data to the age of Valued Data – an age in which brands and CRM players will continue to be able to take advantage of the possibilities that contextual data provides in delivering a personalised service for the individual consumer, whilst also successfully ensuring the right levels of respect for consumer rights and expectations.

Boris Paulin
Data Protection Officer – Webhelp

[1]          General Data Protection Regulation – European regulation No. 2016/679 of April 27th, 2016


Managing a more complex contact centre environment

There are many articles and books being written about the future of the contact centre at present. Many are focused on the development of innovative new technologies, but the real future of the contact centre will be a blend of several factors:

  • Changing customer expectations
  • The changing customer journey
  • Innovation in supportive technologies

Let’s explore each of these factors in turn. First, there is a changing expectation from customers that is important to acknowledge. I recently tried calling my bank to deal with a card problem on a Sunday and heard a message saying the bank will open again on Monday. That was a disappointing experience - I called with the expectation that the bank would be open 24/7 because that’s how things usually work in 2018.

A recent feature in Forbes magazine suggested that 64% of customers expect brands to interact with them in real-time. Not waiting hours to respond to an email or chat message. They expect to be able to initiate an immediate dialogue. Most brands take several hours to respond to the most popular social channels so this is a challenge for them all.

The customer journey has changed dramatically as customers have become more connected. Smart devices and mobile Internet access has created an environment where customers can obtain information on products, read reviews, check prices, and all from a store or when browsing online. The old linear customer journey of seeing an advert, searching for more information, then making a purchase and possibly following the purchase with a customer service is history. Now customers may be in touch with a brand at any point in the journey - as well as accessing information from previous customers too.

Technologies that support agents can include machine learning systems. These capture every customer question that the contact centre has ever dealt with - along with the solution. An Artificial Intelligence platform can then support agents by tapping into this complete history and suggesting solutions to agents in real-time. Decision support is another useful technology that helps agents follow a sales path when the product is complex or has many variables. Choosing a new phone is a good example - by asking a few key questions about required features the system can lead the agent to relevant suggestions.

All these changes are taking place simultaneously and the important connecting thread is that there is a requirement for contact centre agents to play a much more important role than ever before. They need to move beyond a supportive customer service function into roles that require sales and marketing expertise. They need to adapt to the use of these supportive technologies and they need to be meeting these new customer expectations.

This combination of people, process, and technology changes is good news for contact centre workers. Not only is their role becoming more important, but they are being recognised for the value they can bring to the brand-customer relationship. This recognition is leading to real careers in operations, sales, and marketing, for the team members who start out working directly with customers in the contact centre.

Contact centre agents are increasingly the only link between brands and customers - especially as social networks become more important than traditional advertising. It’s important for all companies planning their customer service strategy to be aware of this and to recognise the valuable role these team members are providing. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


GDPR: RETHINKING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH DATA

GDPR[1]—these four letters are inescapable as we begin the year 2018. Amid concerns, both real and imagined, and contradicting opinions, the Webhelp Group, in collaboration with all parties involved, chose an innovative, pragmatic, and straightforward approach to the challenge.

There is no denying that the relationship from economic players and individuals to personal data is undergoing change. The nature of this change forces those working in Customer Relationship Management to walk a tightrope, trying to balance legitimate needs which are often at odds with one another. On one side, consumers rightfully require that their data be used only to provide them with services they have signed up for; on the other, the need for customised, speedy, and relevant response calls for a more holistic approach to data usage. Indeed, we all know how unpleasant it is as a customer to have to repeat your requests over and over again…

This dichotomy is brought at the forefront of Webhelp’s GDPR programme. For many years, we have been at the forefront of strategic thinking regarding the future of Customer Experience - and we have become convinced that meeting the challenges and expectations regarding privacy protection depends on “creating a virtuous model based on data quality.”

Rethinking Our Relationship with Data

Today's digital world creates and circulates an impressive amount of data, with some sources quoting a figure of 163 zetabits (that is, 163 billion gigabits) for the year 2025, a ten-fold increase relative to levels processed in 2016. Each person generates data voluntarily and often also involuntarily. When a form is filled in online, or when a user sends a text message, is filmed outdoors by a video-surveillance system, browses the web, or agrees to their data being transferred across platforms, data is generated. Almost 85% of that data has no real use. Of the remaining 15%, only one-fifth is usable –so less than 1% of all that data captured! Despite this, a sizable amount of data remains, traces of their presence in the digital or physical world. This reality can no longer be ignored. Indeed, it is the subject of the protection afforded by European regulation, and of the integration of the latter into the Webhelp Group business.

Customer Relationship is based on loyalty toward the consumer. We must provide a service that meets valid consumer expectations, in the best interest of our customer. From a variety of technological environments, Webhelp handles about 2 million conversations each day, across all channels. Those interactions may be saved to allow for continuous service quality improvement and to provide the responses consumers require. By adapting to the customer context and creating on-demand solutions, Webhelp brings its expertise and know-how to its principals and their customers.

However, being so fully involved in those relationships, Webhelp recognized that we cannot remain systematically neutral with regards to the processing of personal data.  Our efforts started years ago within the Webhelp Group, when it very quickly became apparent that a global effort would be required to ensure respect for consumer privacy. This effort has put us at the forefront of thinking around GDPR.

As we emphasize in our BCR (Binding Corporate Rules): “We believe protecting personal data is not just a matter of security or compliance with the law, but above all a matter of collective and individual obligation.” This ambitious approach has been the principle guiding the Webhelp Group's action for several years, and it has been transposed to our successful innovations with Chatbots, Speech Analytics (Speech Recognition and Processing), and Machine Learning for work volume forecasting, etc. We have, in each of those projects, worked toward minimizing the amount of data used, while carefully monitoring the impact those projects might have on privacy.

These improvements are based on solving the dichotomy discussed earlier. We use data to meet the dual legitimacy of consumer requirements - but we only use relevant data, and strictly for achieving positive outcomes for our principals and their customers. From a risk-based analysis, data processing and the relationship we create based on that data became an opportunity for expanding the services we provide to our customers. This relationship is what lies at the core of Webhelp Group's “Privacy” initiative.

Creating a Virtuous Cycle in Customer Relationship Management

Customer Relationship Management is actually tripartite, with strong links between the various partners. On one side, the principal client: like every business, it has a life of its own, counting on its partners' expertise for support and advice. This is where BPO players, such as Webhelp, are especially relevant. We must be in tune with our client's expectations and ultimately provide the most accurate, respectful yet relevant service possible to the consumer. Consumers are at the center of that relationship, its purpose, and their satisfaction is absolutely necessary.

In this tripartite relationship, there are key moments when consumers interact with the Customer Relationship Management provider. It is exactly at these moments that the strength of the relationship between consumer and brand is activated—a “third moment of truth,” in Marketing—crucial for brand image and loyalty. In such a decisive setting, there is no room for error, and the consumer demands service that is tailored to them as an individual – but that also respects their privacy and integrity in the use of their personal data. At those times, an approach consistent with legitimate consumer expectations must be employed, and the strategy regarding data processing is crucial. Without going as far as providing an extensive list, GDPR strongly strengthens obligations of transparency and information disclosure for consumers. Consumers must be made aware of, and in some instances, agree to the methods and means implemented to respond to their needs. This effort is now the responsibility of the principal and the BPO players, who must together reflect this requirement to the consumer. An example of practical implementation is the creation of both dedicated and shared GDPR teams, which will respond to consumer requests starting May 25th, 2018, as well as the use of KYC systems to identify the person making an access request.

It is upon this framework, both legal and pragmatic, that our initiative to create a virtuous model based on data quality is founded. By understanding and anticipating consumer needs and by providing a coordinated, accurate, and transparent approach, Webhelp is building, alongside the brands for which we work, this new relationship with data. Data usage must from now on be regarded no longer

[1]          General Data Protection Regulation – European regulation No. 2016/679 of April 27th, 2016


Webhelp Unveils the UK’s Favourite Insurers

LONDON, UK, March 29, 2018 – Aviva, Post Office, Petplan and Direct Line top the charts of the UK’s favourite insurers according to the latest research commissioned by leading global customer experience and BPO expert, Webhelp.

Aviva was the most popular choice of insurer for home buildings/contents insurance, life/critical illness insurance and health insurance. Those looking for pet insurance were most likely to have opted for Petplan and Post Office was the most popular choice among those looking for travel insurance. Direct Line was the most popular choice for car insurance.

The most common types of insurance that UK adults hold are car (68%) and home (buildings and/or contents) (67%). Men are more likely than women to have insurance, with 14% of women saying they have no insurance at all, compared to 8% of men.

Least likely to have any insurance at all are the 18-24s and those earning less than £10k pa, with 35% and 31% respectively choosing this option.

Most likely to have insurance are the over 65s, 100% of whom said they had some form of insurance and those earning more than £40k pa, where only 1% said they had no insurance.

Pet insurance is more common than health insurance with only 16% of people having health insurance. Only just over a third of people (36%) have life insurance – which may be a surprisingly low figure since most mortgages require it.

Overall 11% of people surveyed said they have no insurance.

In general people are not very likely to make a claim on their insurance.  The type of insurance most people have made a claim on is car insurance (32%). 21% of people surveyed have made a claim on their home insurance, 19% have made a pet insurance claim, 13% have claimed on their health insurance, just 10% have made a claim on their travel insurance and not surprisingly only 2% have claimed on their life/critical illness cover.

For those who have claimed on their insurance, their experience was very positive. The most positive experience was for customers of car insurance, 98% of whom said their claims had been approved in full. Nobody surveyed had a car insurance claim rejected.

The next best experience was with home insurance where just 6% of people surveyed said their claim had not been approved in full. Again no-one surveyed had their claim rejected.

At the other end of the scale is life/critical illness cover. 24% of claimants said their claim was not approved in full, of which 19% had their claim rejected altogether.

Overall more than two thirds of people surveyed (68%) said they would either definitely or probably recommend their insurance provider to a friend or family member.

David Turner, CEO of Webhelp UK, SA and India, said:

“There is some really encouraging news here for the insurance industry. With more than two thirds of people being willing to recommend their current insurance provider and very few feeling unhappy about rejected claims, there is clearly some really good examples of customer satisfaction in this industry.

The percentage of people who have insurance is perhaps surprisingly low and this presents a real opportunity for insurers to capitalise on their ability to meet customer expectations and secure new customers.”

 

ENDS


GDPR: rethinking our relationship with data

GDPR[1]—these four letters are inescapable as we begin the year 2018. Amid concerns, both real and imagined, and contradicting opinions, the Webhelp Group, in collaboration with all parties involved, chose an innovative, pragmatic, and straightforward approach to the challenge.

There is no denying that the relationship from economic players and individuals to personal data is undergoing change. The nature of this change forces those working in Customer Relationship Management to walk a tightrope, trying to balance legitimate needs which are often at odds with one another. On one side, consumers rightfully require that their data be used only to provide them with services they have signed up for; on the other, the need for customised, speedy, and relevant response calls for a more holistic approach to data usage. Indeed, we all know how unpleasant it is as a customer to have to repeat your requests over and over again…

This dichotomy is brought at the forefront of Webhelp’s GDPR programme. For many years, we have been at the forefront of strategic thinking regarding the future of Customer Experience - and we have become convinced that meeting the challenges and expectations regarding privacy protection depends on “creating a virtuous model based on data quality.”

Rethinking Our Relationship with Data

Today's digital world creates and circulates an impressive amount of data, with some sources quoting a figure of 163 zetabits (that is, 163 billion gigabits) for the year 2025, a ten-fold increase relative to levels processed in 2016. Each person generates data voluntarily and often also involuntarily. When a form is filled in online, or when a user sends a text message, is filmed outdoors by a video-surveillance system, browses the web, or agrees to their data being transferred across platforms, data is generated. Almost 85% of that data has no real use. Of the remaining 15%, only one-fifth is usable –so less than 1% of all that data captured! Despite this, a sizable amount of data remains, traces of their presence in the digital or physical world. This reality can no longer be ignored. Indeed, it is the subject of the protection afforded by European regulation, and of the integration of the latter into the Webhelp Group business.

Customer Relationship is based on loyalty toward the consumer. We must provide a service that meets valid consumer expectations, in the best interest of our customer. From a variety of technological environments, Webhelp handles about 2 million conversations each day, across all channels. Those interactions may be saved to allow for continuous service quality improvement and to provide the responses consumers require. By adapting to the customer context and creating on-demand solutions, Webhelp brings its expertise and know-how to its principals and their customers.

However, being so fully involved in those relationships, Webhelp recognized that we cannot remain systematically neutral with regards to the processing of personal data.  Our efforts started years ago within the Webhelp Group, when it very quickly became apparent that a global effort would be required to ensure respect for consumer privacy. This effort has put us at the forefront of thinking around GDPR.

As we emphasize in our BCR (Binding Corporate Rules): “We believe protecting personal data is not just a matter of security or compliance with the law, but above all a matter of collective and individual obligation.” This ambitious approach has been the principle guiding the Webhelp Group's action for several years, and it has been transposed to our successful innovations with Chatbots, Speech Analytics (Speech Recognition and Processing), and Machine Learning for work volume forecasting, etc. We have, in each of those projects, worked toward minimizing the amount of data used, while carefully monitoring the impact those projects might have on privacy.

These improvements are based on solving the dichotomy discussed earlier. We use data to meet the dual legitimacy of consumer requirements - but we only use relevant data, and strictly for achieving positive outcomes for our principals and their customers. From a risk-based analysis, data processing and the relationship we create based on that data became an opportunity for expanding the services we provide to our customers. This relationship is what lies at the core of Webhelp Group's “Privacy” initiative.

Creating a Virtuous Cycle in Customer Relationship Management

Customer Relationship Management is actually tripartite, with strong links between the various partners. On one side, the principal client: like every business, it has a life of its own, counting on its partners' expertise for support and advice. This is where BPO players, such as Webhelp, are especially relevant. We must be in tune with our client's expectations and ultimately provide the most accurate, respectful yet relevant service possible to the consumer. Consumers are at the center of that relationship, its purpose, and their satisfaction is absolutely necessary.

In this tripartite relationship, there are key moments when consumers interact with the Customer Relationship Management provider. It is exactly at these moments that the strength of the relationship between consumer and brand is activated—a “third moment of truth,” in Marketing—crucial for brand image and loyalty. In such a decisive setting, there is no room for error, and the consumer demands service that is tailored to them as an individual – but that also respects their privacy and integrity in the use of their personal data. At those times, an approach consistent with legitimate consumer expectations must be employed, and the strategy regarding data processing is crucial. Without going as far as providing an extensive list, GDPR strongly strengthens obligations of transparency and information disclosure for consumers. Consumers must be made aware of, and in some instances, agree to the methods and means implemented to respond to their needs. This effort is now the responsibility of the principal and the BPO players, who must together reflect this requirement to the consumer. An example of practical implementation is the creation of both dedicated and shared GDPR teams, which will respond to consumer requests starting May 25th, 2018, as well as the use of KYC systems to identify the person making an access request.

It is upon this framework, both legal and pragmatic, that our initiative to create a virtuous model based on data quality is founded. By understanding and anticipating consumer needs and by providing a coordinated, accurate, and transparent approach, Webhelp is building, alongside the brands for which we work, this new relationship with data. Data usage must from now on be regarded no longer as a risk, but as an opportunity to provide optimal service. This endeavor is defined by a shared assessment, determination of processes, documentation, and transparency.

This common effort, driven by the principal and with Webhelp's support through the services we offer, will shape the future of Customer Relationships. Together we will successfully navigate the journey from the age of Big Data to the age of Valued Data – an age in which brands and CRM players will continue to be able to take advantage of the possibilities that contextual data provides in delivering a personalised service for the individual consumer, whilst also successfully ensuring the right levels of respect for consumer rights and expectations.

Boris Paulin
Data Protection Officer - Webhelp

[1]          General Data Protection Regulation – European regulation No. 2016/679 of April 27th, 2016


IoT creates a completely new environment for connected customers

In the modern online environment, almost any electronic device can be connected. The Smart Home predicted a few years ago has become a reality far sooner than many people imagined because the Internet of Things (IoT) makes it easy to control any device that can connect to your home wifi network.

As an example, I recently read about a device called the Furbo. It’s a device that you can load up with treats for your dog. It has a sensitive camera that can be viewed live using your smartphone and the owner can click a button to call their dog remotely and give them a treat. It sounds like a gimmick, but what’s really interesting is that the device also scans your home for facial patterns and barks from your dog. So if you are away from home and your dog is alone, the device will send an alert to your phone if the dog has been disturbed or if it detects a person in the house when you don’t expect someone to be there.

A few years ago this all sounded like science-fiction, yet it’s now a product that retails for less that a couple of hundred pounds. The wifi network and smartphone app store provides the infrastructure for a product like this to be a reality and to be installed by anyone without any technical knowledge of computer networks.

In general, this environment of connected devices is called the Internet of Things (IoT) and it’s now creating an environment where almost every electronic device in your home can be networked and controlled remotely - or using a voice-controlled system like Google Home or Amazon Echo.

But here is what I think is really interesting and is rarely mentioned when most commentators are discussing the opportunities for the IoT. It is creating an entirely new type of customer service requirement. Almost every device in your home is not only connected in a way that allows you to control it, they can also communicate with the manufacturer, run diagnostics, self-upgrade, and self-repair when problems arise. The Tesla electric car company has already demonstrated this - Tesla users have become used to their cars upgrading themselves when sitting unused in the garage at night.

This creates a new dynamic for brands that build devices and want to offer a great customer experience. They not only need to plan a regular customer service strategy involving contact from the customer, but they need to also plan for the product itself to be reach out to the manufacturer and asking questions or checking on certain data.

This requires a layer above the usual customer service system that allows products to interact with automated bots, that can escalate automated queries to human agents when unusual conditions are detected or a problem is impossible to rectify automatically.

The IoT creates a need for a new type of customer service where the customer or the product can be in contact with a product manufacturer or retailer. This is missed from most of the debate about connected customers, but I believe it creates a new paradigm for customer service strategy. We don’t just need to plan for self-help and multichannel service - we also need to plan for automated systems that can answer questions from the product, not the customer. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


Are connected customers becoming overwhelmed with information?

Information overload. We all know about that experience at work. The diary that is just too full of meetings. The emails that can only be answered if they are urgent, with the rest of them disappearing into a sea where they are never seen again.

But what about your customers. In general new technologies have been great for customers. They can read reviews, post reviews and comments, check prices, and generally access far more information about products before ever making a purchase, but are they sometimes becoming overloaded with choice?

It wouldn’t be a surprise. Think about your own experience at home. When you had to choose music or movies from what was physically in your living room then it was easy. With Spotify and Netflix you now have access to almost anything at anytime, and yet how many times have you sat there in front of the TV without a clue what to watch or listen to because there is just too much choice?

Retail Customer Experience (RCM) recently published a feature focused on this question and asking if retailers need to start signposting ideal routes to purchase, rather than just allowing customers to find their way through all the choices available. They noted that the average customer using a smartphone is exposed to over 5,000 messages from brands every day. With all this communication is it any wonder that sometimes they just want to be guided?

The RCM feature focuses on in-store merchandising, but I think this problem applies to all areas of retail. The connected customer has more access to information than ever before, but at the same time they sometimes value simplicity and time-saving over choice.

Smart retailers will use the information they have on customers past behaviour and preferences to always offer suggestions that cut through the choice and reflect the usual shopping habits. For instance, if a customer regularly buys French white wine from a specialist retailer then the next time they return, make a few recommendations (and deals) reflecting their usual preferences - don’t just bombard them with the same money-off offers that every customer sees.

I think this issue of information overload and the need to get smarter about using recommendations to cut through the noise will become increasingly important in the year ahead. Customers are more connected than ever, but without context more information is just data. Too much meaningless information can create frustration and that’s the last thing any retailer wants to give to a potential customer.

Do you agree that connected customers are becoming overwhelmed with information? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


Finding the ‘killer’ technologies that transform customer experience

The connected customer  is one of the hottest trends in retail at present. Retailers need to connect their in-store experience with their website and app so that customers can choose how and when to shop using the channel of their choice. But there is also an enormous amount of hype. Sometimes the technology appears to be a solution looking for a problem.

When I see the hype around subjects like , Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and the connected customer, I sometimes remember the early days of personal computing. Before PCs invaded the offices there were personal microcomputers. One of the most popular for home and business use was the Apple II. In 1979 a company called Software Arts released a spreadsheet application called Visicalc for the Apple II system and it changed the world.

The reason was that suddenly people could see a genuine use for the technology. Spreadsheets used to be manual - literally grids of information on a board that had to be manually calculated. With Visicalc the entire process was automated and visual. Suddenly these little computers were enormously useful. This one piece of software was the catalyst for IBM to create the first PC - they wanted to create a robust business computer that could run applications such as spreadsheets. So one single change in how we see or use some existing technology changed how we do our jobs today.

I think we are now reaching this point with Augmented Reality. AR has been around for several years - the first time I can recall using it was in 2012 with the Google Sky Map. This was a great app that allowed you to hold your phone up to the sky and see the stars and planets named on your phone screen all in the correct position - depending on where you are holding the phone.

AR never really took off beyond being a technological curiosity, but then in 2016 the enormously popular game Pokémon Go managed to blend gameplay and characters with the view from your phone camera. Millions of people were suddenly using AR without even realising it. This became quickly accepted as normal, so now it’s easy to describe a business idea that uses AR.

But the really big change now is that companies are saying, we can use this technology to really make a difference for our customers. AR is no longer a solution looking for a problem. Companies like Ikea have said, we are going to allow our customers to see how a product will look in their home before they buy it - using AR.

That’s the difference. Ikea customers are not going to think about this functionality as an example of AR, they are just going to think that it’s fantastic that they can see how a product will look before they buy it. Now the functionality and customer experience is defining how the technology is used. AR has finally found a purpose. I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion on technology and if you have any thoughts on this subject then please leave a comment here, or get in touch on LinkedIn.


Embracing immediacy and the connected customer

In a very detailed report on the state of the connected customer that gathered information from over 7,000 survey respondents. The research is over a year old now so some detailed sections may have moved on, but the broad conclusion is still valid.

The Salesforce research focused on how increasing customer demands are changing the way that companies need to do business. New technology has put the customer even more firmly in the driving seat and companies that do not respond to connected customers are much more likely to sink rather than swim. The six broad conclusions from the research are:

1. Put customers at the centre of your business: this is the major difference between hot new startups and tired incumbent companies. When you start fresh on designing how a company should work, you place the needs of the customer at the core of every process. Even if your business has been around for hundreds of years, think how you can redesign the process flow to encourage this.

2. Embrace the culture of immediacy: you need to be mobile-first and all those old expectations on how long a customer should wait (we will reply to your email within 24 hours) need to be discarded. You need to respond now.

3. Get smart about personalisation: customers want to be treated like humans, not automatons. They are all different and your data tell you exactly how they are different. Use the data and ensure your service is personalised.

4. Reinvent the sales process: companies using a sales pitch approach will ultimately fail. Customers today expect a much more problem-solving approach to sales. The sales team has to be knowledgeable and helpful - not pushy.

5. Lead with instant, omni-channel, and personal customer service: just make life easy for your customers and they will return. Don’t bounce them from one channel to another unless there are good reasons to do so and the data follows the customer. Demonstrate that you know your customer.

6. Don’t fear disruption - be a disruptor: we are only just entering a connected world, but already we can see some of the fundamental changes. Who would have believed you could order more laundry liquid just by asking a virtual helper to add some to your shopping list? Don’t fear change, seek out the opportunities it presents.

All these points are valid, however I would add a note of caution. Most executives know they need to address the connected customer and most don’t know exactly what to do because it is a moving target. The six research conclusions outlined here are a good summary of what needs to change to achieve success, but these bullets don’t capture just how much your organisation may need to change to accommodate these changes. This is serious - your entire business model may even need to change.

The real question is: what will happen to my company if we do not address the connected customer? If phones do ever go away, it will be because the functionality they have at present can be offered by other wearable devices - we are not going back to a time when customers were not connected. Embrace the culture of immediacy and start planning a connected customer strategy now. Let me know what you think about if companies don’t embrace the culture of immediacy by leaving a comment here or get in touch directly via my Linkedin.


Managing the expectations of the connected customer

Forbes recently published a feature describing how the connected customer will impact your business model. The feature notes that most customers today are connected to the Internet constantly. In fact the only time that most of us can completely switch off is on a flight -although many flights now offer wi-fi so even that is not guaranteed.

The important statistic in the article is that 64% of customers now have an expectation that brands will react to their questions in real-time. That’s not two-thirds of customers having an expectation that they can send an email or tweet and check later for a response - it’s two-thirds of customers expecting that when they send a question to a brand using their smart device, it will be immediately acknowledged and answered.

How times change. It seems that while most customer service executives were focused on trying to enable omni-channel service, customer expectations have gone through the roof. It’s no longer good enough to offer all those communication channels as options, but they all need to be available in real-time.

In addition, the Forbes data suggests that half of customers will switch brand if they feel that the company they are communicating with does not anticipate their needs and 74% will switch brand if the checkout process is complicated.

What I find really interesting in these statistics is that the customer is now very self-aware. They know that brands have a lot of information on their preferences and past behaviour and they expect that the brand should use this to make the shopping experience easier. Any brand that behaves as if they know nothing about customer preferences will struggle when customers are so demanding.

The connected customer really is driving customer experience strategy. If any road-blocks are placed in the path of the customer, from the selection of an item to payment, then most customers will just click on the site of a rival - they will not tolerate a shopping experience that is difficult or one that does not recognise them and predict their needs.

This is creating an entirely new set of requirements for customer experience planners. You need to offer omni-channel service, but also ensure that you can use customer data to predict what they might want next. It is also important to offer deals, recommendations, and ideas without annoying the customer - they don’t want spam.

It’s a delicate balancing act to satisfy the modern connected customer, but as this Forbes data shows, if you ignore customer expectations you can expect a large percentage of your customers to migrate to the competition. What do you think? Leave a comment here or get in touch directly via LinkedIn.