Customer service, generational expectations and the brand experience

In preparation for the next chapter of our Disruptor Series looking at the Generational factors within CX, Anne Marie Forsyth, Chief Executive, CCA Global shares her thoughts on the challenges brought by the shifting populations.

Customer experience is a broad challenge. The number one issue in this industry is handling vulnerable people. This is massive, especially as we’re in an uncertain, stagnated climate.

A brand may have a longstanding workforce that finds it challenging to adapt to new technology, or a young workforce without all the necessary life experience to deal with difficult calls. There are various perspectives. It’s a very mixed issue.

On the front-line we are likely to find more emotionally difficult complaints. It’s important to train people carefully.

So, while people are trying to automate, we are finding that more and more of these issues are surfacing. Some are having to wind-back, as a result, and perhaps not automate so quickly.

Also, while there is a tremendous wealth of IT and multitasking knowledge amongst younger workers, in particular, realising that value within a call centre environment is not always easy. We can’t be as freeform as people might like in this environment.

Understanding how to measure progress around the customer journey is another big issue. Related to this, there is an appetite for instant feedback from those delivering the service. Younger generations, in particular, are used to instant feedback. To them, the notion of a biannual review may seem odd.

        There are age related challenges within the CX workforce         

Photo Credit: Anthony Brolin/Unsplash

For most companies we work with, voice is a large part of the customer experience offer, but also most are trying to reduce the reliance on this channel. This is seen as the right thing to do and, over the last few years, there’s been a race to become more digital.

Over the last six months there has also been a trend in terms of slowing down the pace of change and putting more energy into the people agenda. I think the uncertain climate is driving some of that. It may be transitional, but I’m noticing this across numerous forums, and seeing people development rising up the agenda. There is a lot of talk about how to make the workforce more effective and an increasing appreciation of ‘kindness’.

This younger generation also want that personal touch. Our research has shown that it’s a bit of a myth that young people are found online only. Brands, like people, never stop being a parent.

Over the next few years I think we will see much more attention paid to understanding emotion, especially when using voice for customer service. There is a huge need for this. It’s important to remember that, when it comes to voice or automation, it’s not one or the other. Both are needed.

In case you haven’t registered yet, Sign up to receive fresh insights and invitations to exec events with our Webhelp Disruptor Series campaign, and look out for the launch of our second Disruptor Whitepaper on Generational impact in CX.

Are Focus Groups essential to developing CX?

In the age of digital screening, AI data collation and the transformation of the market research industry, is there a place for the traditional focus group? Webhelp’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Ewan McKay, looks at the value of this research staple to enhance and inform modern Customer Experience strategy.

The humble focus group has a long and chequered history, it appeared in social science literature as far back as the 1920s and, surprisingly, was used as far back as the Second World War to examine the effectiveness of propaganda. But, it was only in comparatively recent times (80s-90s) that renowned Psychologist and marketing expert Ernest Ditcher coined the familiar term "Focus Group.”

Heavily publicised by political movers and shakers throughout the Blair years, the focus group is now valued as a significant insight tool, something that Carol Anne Morgan, Director, B2B International, believes is firmly embedded in the industry research toolkit:

The focus group technique has evolved over the years within market research and has strongly influenced the business community from product design through to promotions and advertising.” Source: B2B International

However, along with the rise of focus groups, the past 20 years has seen a rapid transformation of the market research industry, which is now teeming with innovative online advances like instant surveys, digital screening, social media insight, AI data collation, and live webcam interviews.

Photo: Nik MacMillan/Unsplash

This much variation begs the question - are focus groups still relevant? And furthermore, with so many effective choices on offer, how important are they in the CX services sector?

Patricia Lotich, Management Consultant, may have part of the answer, when she explains that:

“The main purpose (of focus groups) is to provide data to enhance, change or create a product or service targeted at a key customer group.” This is key to evaluating CX, and she goes on to explain: “Customer expectations are a moving target so it is important to stay on top of understanding the customer perspective.” Source: SocialMediaToday

So, if we take on board the notion that focus groups can provide the key to understanding specific consumer viewpoints, then they also have increased their relevancy in evaluating the particular customer experiences offered at every stage of interacting with a brand.

Laura Livers, Chief Executive Officer, Focus Pointe Global agrees with this position saying:

“We utilize focus groups to gain valuable insight into the heart and mind of the consumer… As CX is the journey that impacts every aspect of the buying cycle, and one that can make or break a company’s marketing success, focus groups are an excellent way to gain valuable insights on both.” Source: GreenBook 

Furthermore, as all good marketers know, this journey includes everything from discovery, to research, to purchasing, to customer support. Laura further explains that focus groups are unique in being able to discover not only the facts but the complex motivations behind them, “not only what people are thinking but why?” She believes that:

“As more and more of the process of conducting research, is shifted to tech-based solutions to answer the ‘who, what, when, where, and how’ of business questions… researchers will be tasked with answering the ‘why and now what?’ Those are inherently human functions and should stay so.”

This connects very closely with the Webhelp goal to keep the human touch (Blog link) within our CX journeys, particularly when it comes to how we utilise customer insight. We believe that it has never been more important to understand the views of the public, especially as they are at the end of an increasingly complicated and automated campaign funnel.

Recently, in preparation for the next chapter of our Disruptor Series: Generation, our team had the opportunity to speak to a number of customer advisors in Webhelp’s Dearne Valley customer experience centre. We asked for their opinions not just as employees, but as consumers themselves, and some valuable thought-provoking points were raised, some of which will be revealed in our forthcoming Whitepaper.

At Webhelp, we are constantly improving our client’s customer journeys and transforming the CX approach to be more human facing and reassuring. As revealed in our Model Office blog (link), feedback is taken from all levels of the business to create custom-built solutions for problem-solving and forward planning, so that CX evolves with consumer needs.

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How Gen Z will affect the Generation Game

As the Millennials move steadily into their 20s and 30s, their successor Generation Z is emerging as a global consumer force to be reckoned with. In preparation for our forthcoming Generations series Polly Ashdown, Marketing and Communications Director, examines what makes Gen Z so distinctive and how brands can capitalise on the opportunities they provide.

Born into the age of the Internet, Gen Z has more information at their device nimble fingertips than any prior generation. Smartphone ready, they seem to easily navigate a wide range of apps for socialising, entertainment and, of course, shopping!

They are the first generation who think it is perfectly reasonable to make an online purchase and see it arrive within the hour, something firmly in the realms of science fiction for the Jetson watching Baby Boomers.

Interestingly, the impact of Gen Z is spreading through families, this study by Interactions shows that 70 per cent of parents turn to their Gen Z offspring for advice when making a buying decision. And Gen Z has set the bar very high indeed, as retail author and former president of Rick Segel & Associates, Mathew Hudson, explains:

“Their expectations of a retailer are more demanding and higher than any other generation. If the store experience does not deliver, they will walk. They want a store that embraces technology the way they do, that makes products accessible and easy to test, yet they still desire human interaction.” Source: The Balance

The result of this ‘always-on’ culture is the increased need for seamless automation, instant updates and concise communication. Having grown up with both ‘fake news’ and targeted digital advertising, this cohort are brand aware – especially when making purchases, and will soon be a consumer force to be reckoned with.

In fact, Bloomberg reports that by the close of this year Gen Z will surpass Millennials to become 32 per cent of the world population, emerging as a lucrative target market with sheer purchasing power.

It isn’t surprising that global brands are searching for new and innovative ways to exploit this sector. A pertinent example is the way that established names such as L’Oréal, Shiseido, Estée Lauder and Chanel are developing a new cosmetic industry for young men. This fledgling market is already worth $1.14 billion and looks set to grow.

Frictionless and bite-size formats like YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, Siri and Alexa are part of the ordinary life for Gen Z members. They are exposed continuously to online sharing, preference-based advertising and social influencers, so maintaining a positive digital reputation and market share in the online community has never been more critical for brands.

To stay on top, businesses must create strategies to increase (and manage) their social media footprints and supply always-on communication like chat, messaging and video services.

This digital focus is certain to continue, as according to a LivePerson study of behaviour trends, 8% of Millennials and Gen Z members interact with each other more online than in person, an incredible 70% even sleep near their phones.

Photo Credit: Sylvie Tittel on Unsplash

It’s clear that younger adults are at the vanguard of the always-connected, with some online ‘almost constantly’ according to the Pew Research Center, who reveals that:

“Roughly four-in-ten 18- to 29-year-olds (39%) now go online almost constantly, and 49% go online multiple times per day. By comparison, just 8% of those 65 and older go online almost constantly, and just 30% go online multiple times per day.” Source: Pew Research Fact Tank

As a result, this generation will enter employment fluent in more digital devices than any other preceding group. By 2025, the workforce will significantly be composed of people for whom technology and globalisation is a way of life. This will create challenges for employers and John Hall, Co-founder at and entrepreneurial speaker, is right on the money with this advice:

“I strongly encourage others to consistently educate themselves on how to understand different generations. Changing how you manage early career talent can ensure they not only stay but also add value for years to come.” Source:

At Webhelp we help organisations to attract and engage this new generation in several ways: by looking after social footprints, providing seamless automation and technological innovation and by recruiting the best fresh talent to surpass the competition.

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Oor Wullie’s Big Bucket Trail | Charity Week

Webhelp is delighted to sponsor Oor Wullie’s Big Bucket Trail 2019, Scotland’s first-ever national public art trail, raising vital funds for children in hospital across Scotland.

Each week of the event takes on a different theme, as it is Charity Week, it’s a perfect time to look back at a past campaign for one of the trail’s charities the Glasgow Children’s Hospital and the incredible impact it had on one very special family.

Nichola Hazard, who works for one of Webhelp's key clients, shared the story of her young son Hugo, who was diagnosed with dense cataracts in both eyes just before his second birthday. Within a few months, Hugo had surgery, less than a week after he could see his mum smiling at him for the first time ever. Supported by this improvement to his vision, Hugo also started walking and learning to use sign language.

However, in order for Hugo to do things that normal children take for granted such as, swimming or playing in the bath, he has to wear strong contact lenses. This results in constant eye infections and pain when changing the lenses.

Hugo, now 3 years old, had the opportunity to get permanent lenses fitted, which would mean no more lenses and a chance for his vision to improve. But a vital piece of equipment, called a Keratometer and costing ten thousand pounds, was needed before the surgery could be performed.

Nichola took the courageous step of deciding to raise the money so that Hugo and other babies like him could get this life-altering surgery. Hugo’s story touched the hearts of everyone at Webhelp, and teams at City Park and Hope St stepped in with a local charity day to help Nichola raise vital funds, contributing £1700 to the cause.

The family have been delighted with this result, as Nichola says:

“We are so incredibly grateful to Webhelp for the fundraising that they did. The great news is that NHS has now purchased the Keratometer that was needed for Hugo to have his surgery.”

A final total of £17,591 was given to Glasgow Children’s Hospital to fund this equipment. Hugo’s consultant has confirmed that he should have a date for surgery in the next few months and that they will also use this opportunity to correct his slight hearing loss. Nichola welcomes the positive changes this will bring for Hugo adding that: “His dad reckons he’ll be like the bionic boy by the time he starts school!”

The family is also delighted that the Keratometer will benefit several other children on the waiting list for similar operations, and everyone at Webhelp wishes Hugo all the best for his operation and a speedy recovery.

Click here to find out more about Oor Wullie’s Big Bucket Trail, which supports children’s charities the Glasgow Children’s Hospital, the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital and the Archie Foundation.

How Model Office combats ‘fear of failure’ and boosts innovation

Interview: Dave Rumble

As a part of their strategic Partnership with Shop Direct, Webhelp UK launched a highly innovative approach to improving customer experience through a Customer Closeness Centre (CCC) powered by Gobeyond Partners. The CCC 'Model Office' provides a platform for the Partnership to deliver a new approach to designing and delivering service improvement initiatives. Here we talk to Dave Rumble, Managing Partner at Gobeyond Partners and look at the truth behind the Customer Closeness Model Office approach.

The term Model Office describes a collaborative environment that brings together a cross-functional team to design and implement complex business change. How is Webhelp using this methodology for the benefit of clients?

Essentially, the Webhelp Model Office Customer Closeness Centre is a safe environment where the Partnership can test different service improvement ideas and initiatives, which predominately focus on customer experience factors. Examples might include, evaluating conversational tone, developing new processes or supporting the implementation of new technologies, backed by Agile project methodology as an approach.

The CCC focusses on:

  • Augmenting customer experience using the existing tools and assets from a technology perspective
  • Reducing service friction when engaging with customers via human assistance
  • Improving situations through the simplification of non-voice processes using customer journey and conversation design

The team are empowered to support journey re-design on things like IVR, Knowledge Management, and Web-Chat. Finally, the team helps with future thinking around digitisation both in messaging and the use of automation technologies for chatbots and similar platforms.

How are digitisation and augmentation implemented in this model?

At Gobeyond Partners we have several Model Office options using our Customer Journey design methodology that can be tailored to client concepts or scenarios in which human interaction can be effectively augmented or replaced by digital components.

Model Office generally utilises two approaches. Firstly our Pathfinder approach; a short term, rapid proof of concept stage organised and arranged around a sprint or series of sprints, which might test a specific service improvement need. Secondly our 'Customer Closeness' approach, which is embedded within the client service environment as long-term strategic customer initiatives. In both cases sprints are run on a cycle of two weeks, giving a continuous rotation of improvement initiatives that flow through the model.

New project methodologies create space for innovation Credit: İrfan Simsar/Unsplash

The Model Office is also deployed in non-Contact Centre environments where digitisation can be deployed to uplift the performance of our client business in areas like Marketing, Finance, Supply Chain and Manufacturing.

What are the challenges in this approach, and how do you combat them?

Undoubtedly, the fundamental challenge facing many businesses is how the process of digitisation matures in their organisation. Technology is moving very quickly, so the ability to deploy it seamlessly into a legacy environment is becoming more complex.

We are using cutting-edge methodologies and principles and our Model Office approach to empower our client teams to innovate through analytics supporting diagnostics, solution design and supporting the with the delivery of value, without the fear of disrupting the core of the operation.

The Model Office is a safe environment, restricted to a specific area with a micro-market or micro-service approach that is perfect for supporting the in-depth evaluation of new approaches.

So, teams of human advisors are critical to the Model Office system?

Absolutely. Our philosophy is based on going further than customer experience to deliver great human experience.  Having a human 'in the loop', provides a vital opportunity for our clients to enhance their customer experience through personalisation. Technology is often used in a very logical way to address a single process, customer trait or customer need and we recognise that the sentiment that goes into customer experience is often more emotional than logical.

Our Customer Experience Experts allow us to add individuality and bring the brand essence and emotion to life. We bring the customer to life for clients because we understand that machines don't have a conscience and to deliver an authentic human experience we must think more holistically about our social and human moral viewpoint in the process.

What are the crucial benefits of the Model Office environment, how does it deliver results?

Our Customer Experience Experts are trained in service improvement skills, technical skills in Lean and Agile and are coached in relevant methodologies not generally available in the core operation. Surrounding them is a range of specialist skills like analytics and customer journey design. The Experts spend time dealing with routine customer interactions but have the freedom to conceptualise and generate improvements without intruding on the whole operation.

It gives us a unique opportunity to identify and codify service advancements 'there and then' in the environment. To deliver an effective change we need to harness a mix of creativity and discipline and the Model Office gives us the balance to avoid disrupting the whole operation.

We have invested in a platform where our people are able to test ideas and be creative, ultimately supporting the wider client organisation to advance and re-imagine their customer experience strategy. There is an old Chinese Proverb which goes: "Vision without action is a daydream, action without vision is a nightmare", and our Model Office enables vision and action.

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Groupe Bruxelles Lambert enters into exclusive negotiations for the acquisition of the Webhelp group

GBL announces today it has entered into exclusive negotiations to acquire a majority stake in the Webhelp group, together with its co-founding shareholders, Olivier Duha and Frédéric Jousset, who would retain their role as founding executive directors, and its management team.

Founded in 2000, Webhelp is today one of the world's leading providers of customer experience and business process outsourcing (BPO). The group has doubled in size since the KKR acquisition in 2015 and aims to achieve a turnover of €1.5 billion in 2019. Webhelp develops innovative solutions combining consulting services, technological solutions and omni-channel processing capabilities thanks to its
55 000 employees in more than 35 countries. This performance is the result of an organic and external growth strategy that GBL aims to maintain and accelerate together with the strong collaboration of the co-founders and management.

As a result of this transaction, GBL would acquire a majority stake in Webhelp on the basis of an enterprise value of €2.4 billion.

It is expected that the legal documentation will be signed by the beginning of August for completion, after obtaining regulatory authorizations for use, within the course of Q4 2019.

Ian Gallienne, CEO of GBL, said: "We are enthusiastic to become a partner to Olivier Duha, Frédéric Jousset and the Management team in continuing the successful development of Webhelp, supporting the transition from a European Champion to a Global Leader. This transaction is consistent with GBL’s announced objective to increase its exposure to private assets.”

Olivier Duha and Frédéric Jousset, said: “We thank KKR for its investment over the past 4 years and we welcome with confidence GBL in order to write together a new growth and investment phase. The management team has chosen to surround itself with a shareholder renowned for its longstanding support to companies with international ambitions such as Webhelp.”

Stanislas de Joussineau, Director at KKR said: "We are proud to have been a partner for Olivier Duha, Frederic Jousset and the outstanding management team at Webhelp over the last four years to create one of the leading global business process outsourcers. During our ownership, Webhelp has doubled its revenues to €1.5 billion and increased its number of employees globally from 30,000 to over 50,000. We believe the company is strongly positioned for future growth and we wish Webhelp and GBL every continued success."



About Groupe Bruxelles Lambert

Groupe Bruxelles Lambert ("GBL") is an established investment holding company, listed on the stock exchange for over sixty years and with an indicative net asset value of EUR 19 billion and a market capitalization of EUR 14 billion at the end of June 2019. GBL is a leading investor in Europe, focused on long-term value creation and relying on a stable and supportive family shareholder base. GBL strives to maintain a high quality, diversified portfolio of global companies, leaders in their sectors, with whom it can contribute to value creation as an active professional investor. GBL seeks to offer its shareholders an attractive return, resulting in a sustainable dividend and growth in its revalued net assets.

GBL is listed on Euronext Brussels (Ticker: GBLB BB; ISIN code: BE0003797140) and is part of the BEL20 index.

About Webhelp

Webhelp is a global business process outsourcer (BPO), specialising in customer experience and payment services in addition to sales and marketing services across voice, social and digital channels.

From more than 150 sites in 36 countries with an approximately 50,000-strong team, our focus is on engineering performance improvements and delivering a real and lasting transformation in our clients’ operating models to generate financial advantage. We partner with some of the world’s most progressive brands including Sky, Shop Direct, Bouygues, Direct Energie, KPN, Vodafone, La Redoute, Michael Kors and Valentino.

Headquartered in Paris, France, the company has grown its revenues by more than 250% in the last 4 years by investing in its people, the environment they work in and developing its analytical and operating capability to deliver a transformational outsourcing proposition that addresses the challenges of an omni-channel world.

More information can be found at

About KKR

KKR is a leading global investment firm that manages multiple alternative asset classes, including private equity, energy, infrastructure, real estate and credit, with strategic partners that manage hedge funds. KKR aims to generate attractive investment returns for its fund investors by following a patient and disciplined investment approach, employing world-class people, and driving growth and value creation with KKR portfolio companies. KKR invests its own capital alongside the capital it manages for fund investors and provides financing solutions and investment opportunities through its capital markets business. References to KKR’s investments may include the activities of its sponsored funds. For additional information about KKR & Co. Inc (NYSE: KKR), please visit KKR’s website at and on Twitter @KKR_Co.

People not programs, will drive the new AI revolution

Artificial intelligence, combined with Automation, has an incredible ability to simplify and perform tasks like ordering, searching and reporting. But deployed in the wrong way, it has the potential to damage the customer experience. In this article: David Pattman, Managing Director CX Services at Gobeyond Partners, part of the Webhelp Group looks at future of AI and the untapped potential for it augment human performance.

Across the Globe, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming a seamless part of every significant system. Digital world leader Estonia is bringing AI systems into their courts, whilst in the US, organisations like the Air Force, Social Security and the Environmental Protection Agency are already using AI and machine learning algorithms to improve performance.

Lilli Cheng, corporate vice president of Microsoft AI & Research Artificial intelligence, agrees viewing AI as one of the hottest, least understood and most debated technological breakthroughs in modern times. Writing for Time magazine, she says:

“In many ways, the magic of AI is that it’s not something you can see or touch. You may not even realize you are using it today. When your Nest thermostat knows how to set the right temperature at home or when your phone automatically corrects your grammar or when a Tesla car navigates a road autonomously – that’s AI at work.”

Wherever we go today, AI is a constant and invisible companion
Photo Credit: Talles Alves/Unsplash

While the growth of AI has recently captured media attention, the technology has been steadily developing for over 60 years. American AI pioneer Arthur Samuel Arthur Lee Samuel coined the term "machine learning" way back in 1959!

We know that AI is practically unavoidable in modern living, but should we assume that consumers want their Brand interactions to be as simple and impersonal as asking Alexa to “play me a song?” or saying “Okay Google, where is my nearest takeaway?”

The research indicates otherwise. Our YouGov study of over 2000 people, the vast majority said they would choose to speak to a human over an AI-fuelled customer service advisor.

Despite this, I believe that the key to success will be found in collaboration - human advisors working alongside AI will drive innovation forward and dramatically improve our social and working lives. It will also allow businesses to enjoy increased productivity and efficiency without negatively impacting the customer experience.

Paul R. Daugherty, author and business technology futurist, is right on the money in this Harvard Business Review article:

“Smart machines are helping humans expand their abilities in three ways. They can amplify our cognitive strengths; interact with customers and employees to free us for higher-level tasks; and embody human skills to extend our physical capabilities”

Companies now recognise the degree to which AI and Automation can streamline operations, cut costs and increase productivity. But these technologies should not – for many types of customer requirements - be at the expense of the human touch.

A combined approach to human and AI customer experience could be a very successful one, as the Harvard Business Review explains:

While AI will radically alter how work gets done and who does it, the technology’s larger impact will be in complementing and augmenting human capabilities, not replacing them.”

However mankind will still be in the driving seat - as Jason Jackson, assistant professor in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning reveals:

"We really control the future of ways of AI and machine learning will be built into work," said "We can think about ways machine learning can be used to complement existing work, and make it even better." Source Tech Republic

The implications are vast, however company culture and established thinking must be flexible to create an optimal hybrid workforce.

In short, tomorrow’s winners will be companies that understand that when it comes to designing services, organisations and systems, the mantra should be ‘collaboration is key’. At Webhelp, we can help you discover what inspires and influences your customers to build the ideal balance between human autonomy and automation.

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Webhelp’s Disruptor Series reaches new heights

Webhelp hosted a sky-high event in London yesterday, as part of the year-long Disruptor series. This innovative series examines and identifies the major disruptors of CX and explores what brands need to do to compete and thrive in this rapidly changing marketplace.

The executive roundtable dinner was held at the Capital City’s tallest restaurant, the Duck and Waffle, and the discussion centred around AI and Automation. The conversation, which was lively and informal, revealed what the general public really think about AI and Automation and how brands action AI in reality. The importance of striking the right balance between human talent and AI and Automation in customer experience was also considered.

Industry analyst and expert Peter Ryan (formerly of Ovum) has been at the forefront of contact centre services, market advisory for over a decade. So, we were delighted that he flew in from Montreal to join our invited guests from a cross-sector grouping of leading UK brands. Webhelp Chief Commercial Officer, Craig Gibson, was also in attendance, bringing his considerable experience to the table.

The event was hosted by David Turner, Webhelp CEO, who thought that:

“It was refreshing to hear such a broad spectrum of new ideas and strategies from within the CX world” and concluded that: “Our industry is moving incredibly swiftly, but forward-thinking companies will equip themselves for the radical changes which are undoubtedly on the horizon.”

A firm believer that staying informed is the best way to compete in the CX arena, Webhelp has commissioned new research with polling experts YouGov. Watch this space for more details, as we prepare to launch the next chapter in our Disrupter series, looking at the generational impact for CX.

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Business transformation is key to surviving the retail apocalypse

Author: Sam Phin, Solutions Consultant, Webhelp

The CX Exchange for Retail is the annual meeting place for the most senior names in the industry to connect with the biggest brands in retail and hear how they are transforming into customer-centric organisations. As our team prepare for the Exchange, Webhelp Solutions Consultant Sam Phin looks at the rapidly changing face of the market and how brands can cope with what some experts are calling the Retail Apocalypse.

A menacing shadow was cast over the sector at the end of last year as retail titans Sears entered a second high profile bankruptcy, taking the store count down by almost 300%, from 1,672 to an estimated 425.

The bells had hardly stopped ringing for the New Year when children's clothing store Gymboree announced over 800 store closures in the US and Canada, in the second bout of financial woes for the brand. In 2017 it liquidated 300 outlets and cleared $900M in debt, but has continued to haemorrhage market share. The demise of Gymboree was swiftly followed by footwear staple Payless, closing all 2,100 of its stores in the US, in what might be the most significant retail liquidation to date.

Global Denim fashion brand Diesel filed for bankruptcy in March, following a significant sales drop, poorly performing brick and mortar sites and struggles with investment and cyber-crime.

This continuing trend dubbed the 'Retail Apocalypse' has claimed 6,000 US stores in 2019 so far, more than the number that shut down in the entirety of 2018, according to Business Insider.

Many factors are contributing to this 'Apocalypse', including the swift rise of e-commerce and the decline of physical retail. With some of the big players hit by a lack of foresight in early digital adoption and the popularity of speed delivery, plus the impact of debt inherited from the post-financial crisis.

With the emergence of new digital behemoths (like Webhelp clients Amazon and Shop Direct) brands that don't innovate and adopt new technologies will inevitably fail to compete. Staggeringly (according to Tech Crunch) Amazon accounts for almost 50% of online sales in the US, a total 5% of the whole retail market.

Economist William Lazonick, president of the Academic Industry Research Network, believes that Amazon's commitment to investment, research and development is behind its success:

"Amazon's resource-allocation strategy — in particular, how it chooses to use the profits that it earns. It is one of the very few large American corporations that is choosing to retain its profits and reinvest them rather than cutting payrolls and distributing corporate cash to shareholders as dividends and buybacks." Source New York Times

Business transformation is another route to avoid dropping behind the online curve, Bain & Co's new study Funding the Future of Retail Through Cost Transformation concludes that:

"Executives at traditional retailers know that they have to invest on all fronts to have a shot at staying relevant (or afloat) in an Amazon-led era. They need to bankroll a reinvention of the customer experience, massive IT upgrades and scores of other improvements."

A surprisingly large pool of funds for reinvestment can be discovered across the cost bar, aided by radical thinking, outsourcing and the right digital tools. Transformation should be linked intrinsically to a digital strategy based on customer insights and personalisation.

The days of the shopping mall could be numbered unless retailers adapt swiftly.

Picture Credit: Photo by Victor Xok on Unsplash

Revealingly the physical stores that are managing to buck these trends are doing so by using customer insights, relying on specific needs like personalisation or perceived budget benefits. For example, the company Build a Bear uses an emotional attachment to drive people to visit, expanding its physical footprint by 12% over the past five years. Sharon Price John (CEO) explains that they were pioneers in the 'store as destination' strategy:

"We've been around for 20 years now, in a space where people have a reason to go to retail for something other than transacting … Build-A-Bear was at the forefront of experiential retail. We created it, to some degree." Source CB Insights

Seamless integration of digital and physical e-commerce will be of prime importance to future retailers. The Apple example of leveraging stores as showrooms for e-commerce and the Ikea Model for logistics will remain, but brands that utilise online channels for customer service with emotional resonance will have the best chance to deliver significant changes in the retail landscape.

Our current UK retail clients include Shop Direct, Unilever, Freeman's Grattan's Holdings, Brighthouse and Sainsbury's/ Argos; who work with us because of our people, our outcome-based transformational outsourcing approach and the results we deliver.

To find out more join us at the CX Exchange on 03 - 04 July at Hilton London, Syon Park or contact:

Exploring disruption and innovation at the EU Digital Travel Summit

Author: Ethel Graff, Account Director, Webhelp

The Webhelp team returned from a very successful visit to the EU Digital Travel Summit, in London last week. Here Webhelp Account Director Ethel Graff, reflects on her experience at the event and the rapid pace of change currently affecting the tourism industry.

There is no doubt that there is an increased appetite for digital expansion in the travel sector, with over 300 delegates attending the summit from a range of innovative retailers like Easyjet, Expedia and Marriot.

Representatives from social media giants, Google, Buzzfeed, Instagram and Uber also travelled to the UK to share practical insights on subjects as diverse as advanced data analytics, response strategies, consumer leverage, frictionless customer experiences and industry trends and disruptors.

This final topic made me consider how disruption in the industry is growing, with many traditional high-street or ‘on holiday’ bookings, now becoming the target of online sales.

For example, TripAdvisor traditionally focused on delivering information, reviews and then added room booking, but last year, there was a marked change in their profit structure. Venue-specific experience and restaurants bookings now account for 27% of their $1.61 billion in revenue. Plus, they have just increased the experience packages they offer by 90% - something that must impact the sector as a whole!

Undoubtedly this will be a growth market - I know from personal experience that it can be frustrating to arrive in a city like Madrid and find that it is impossible to visit The Prado Museum because it is sold out. TripAdvisor is proving very savvy in introducing these lucrative ‘must-see’ experiences as an early part of the booking process.

The lucrative experience market is now being captured by online retailers
Picture credit: Yudi Susilo on Unsplash

The TripAdvisor story is the perfect illustration of how improved understanding can lead to a better relationship with your customers, increasing revenue streams and client satisfaction - something that we work hard to deliver for our clients.

There were many other insights to discover over the two-day event, we were delighted to meet colleagues from across the sector, and there were several thought-provoking and stand-out moments that our team enjoyed.

Nora Boros, Webhelp, Head of Global Sector – Travel, Transportation & Leisure:

“This world-class summit brought together representatives from a wide variety of travel brands with key thought leaders from the CX world to explore and discuss the challenges and opportunities that the evolving digital market space offers.

Speaking to them and sharing ideas, helps to reinforce that in travel, there’s an opportunity to use the right emotional triggers and connections to bring to life the locations, the holiday, or the venue and increase the engagement levels that brands can have with their audience.”

You can read more on Nora’s thoughts in her blog on how emotional connections deliver smoother journeys and increased loyalty here.

Delegates should return to their home countries heartened by this experience of collaboration, with confidence that global innovation and new ideas will strengthen the industry.

Here at Webhelp, we are continually refining and improving our services, maintaining our position as Europe’s largest and most progressive customer experience outsourcing company. We boost the resilience of our clients to disruption and technological change by creating prosperous and smooth user journeys.

Get in touch if you’re facing disruption – or want to disrupt – and want to talk through the implications for CX.

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