South Africa and India both chosen as CX Leaders by Ryan Strategic Advisory

Earlier this week I attended the CX Outsourcers event in Windsor. It was billed as a mindshare event where many people from different parts of the customer experience (CX) industry would get together and discuss common challenges and strategies.

The event was organised by Peter Ryan, the Principal analyst at Ryan Strategic Advisory. Peter’s company has recently put together research on the most favoured location for companies engaged in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and other forms of CX services. For the 2019 Front-Office BPO Omnibus Survey he polled over 500 decision-makers, so the poll is a great indication of which countries are improving and which are in decline.

Naturally to get the complete research you need to buy it from Peter’s company, however he presented information about the top five results during the conference and he simultaneously released a podcast too.

The poll results were exciting news for the team at Webhelp because South Africa and India – which were joint second place - are two very important locations for our delivery teams. To see them both ranked so highly is an important sign that executives making decisions about their CX globally see these locations as highly trusted.

In a blog post on his website Peter Ryan explained why South Africa and India did so well in his research: “South Africa maintains its second-place ranking in the 2019 offshore favourability rankings, albeit in a tie with India.  In the case of South Africa, the country’s outsourcing stakeholders have made efforts at courting new investment that are clearly paying off. Buyers in the US, Canada and Australia are affirming their confidence in South Africa. As for India, its history as a quality customer experience management delivery points cannot be understated, nor can its emergence as a go-to point for many buyers from the perspective of non-voice, digital channel management.”

The entire CX industry is facing a wave of digital disruption at present as companies explore how some brand-to-customer interactions can be automated. This was also a key feature of the CXO conference that I will follow up on in a separate comment, however it’s worth noting that I believe the real answer is to only use automated tools and AI where it improves the customer experience. Getting this blend of digital and human service is now an important part of the planning process when considering how to deliver great CX. In fact, we are releasing a paper on AI and Automation, so be sure to sign up for it now.

Back to South Africa and human contact… In South Africa we use a strategy known as Impact Sourcing, working with an organisation called Harambee. This partnership helps our team to find unemployed young people who would not usually have an opportunity to enter formal employment without the training Harambee provides. Not only is this great for the local community, but because of the investment Webhelp and Harambee makes  in helping these people get a job you simply cannot find greater loyalty and dedication. These young people love coming to work because they can remember when they didn’t have a job and it was almost impossible to find one - good for the community and also good for business too. You can get a flavour of the calibre of our Impact Sourcing colleagues, as well as the impact rewarding employment is having on their lives, by reading their stories: Celine Walters and Morgan Wagner

It’s these innovative ideas and an agile approach to customer service in both South Africa and India that sets our team apart in these locations. In conclusion, it was a pleasure to be at the CXO conference this week and we all felt great pride hearing just how valued South Africa and India are in the wider CX community.

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If you’d like to find out more about Webhelp or ask Craig a question, email: craig.gibson@uk.webhelp.com

 

Craig Gibson

CHIEF COMMERCIAL OFFICER – WEBHELP UK, INDIA & SOUTH AFRICA

 


Artificial Intelligence On The CX Frontline

Much has been written about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the way that customers interact with brands. Tools such as chatbots are offering a way to provide an immediate and automated service and successfully handling many simple questions from customers. People are getting very used to asking ‘Alexa’ for help when they have a question about almost anything.

AI is becoming very pervasive, even for people who might generally avoid new technologies, but how does this change the customer service frontline – the contact centre? It is clear from the recent Webhelp study undertaken with YouGov that customers are actually quite wary of too much automation – they still prefer human interactions – but what do the people in the contact centre think?

I thought it would be a great idea to talk to some of our team, so I arranged a focus group with our customer service advisors who handle customer interactions on behalf of our clients every day to find out what they thought about AI and how it might change their role at work and their life in general. They had some really interesting insights that I’d like to share with you here.

Our first topic was the customer experience itself. How do customers experience a brand when they are usually interacting with a contact centre and how might this change if an AI chatbot was managing the interaction? Comments included:

“Customers don’t always get what you’re saying when you’re on the phone; or they don’t want to hear it, so they just ignore it. How is a computer going to be able to navigate that?”

“Chatbots are really fast and quite responsive.”

“There is nothing more infuriating than phoning someone up and having to keep pressing buttons.”

These are quite measured responses. It’s true that when automated systems are implemented poorly they can be very annoying, but as mentioned, when they do work they work well. However, that’s a great comment about conversing with people. If customers ignore or miss information when they talk to other people, how will an AI system learn to manage that?

What about the question of whether a brand should automate, or use human advisors, or should the customer be able to choose? Should there even be a customer choice here or should a company just make the decision?

“I think the option always has to be to speak to someone.”

“As long as you give them the option, you may find that people actually choose the automated version over time. But the majority will probably start with humans because they’re comfortable with that. It’s important not to take the human element away from them.”

“It’s about choice – and being able to choose when you speak to a chatbot and when you speak to a human in order to get to something, rather than going through a complicated process.”

“There are some people who get a little anxious about calling up as it creates anxiety for them to actually speak to another human. They might find it comfortable to speak to a chatbot or a speech recognition assistant.”

This is very interesting because the team acknowledged that sometimes the customer doesn’t really want to talk to a person anyway. Think about a company that is calling people to collect outstanding loan payments. The collections process might even work better if the customer can just talk to a computer rather than a real person – nobody feels any shame talking to a robot. It’s also interesting to see that the team believes that the customer should have some choice, but they should always have the right to change their mind. For example, they might think that a chatbot can handle their simple question, but it starts struggling. At this point it should be easy to switch to a human, otherwise the entire process will start feeling complex and challenging.

I talked to the team about some of the day-to-day examples they can think of where they regularly interact with AI. This focused on normal daily activities rather than any complex use of technology. They had some great comments.

“I can just say ‘Alexa, play Spotify!’ without even looking for my phone, without even grabbing a remote. The technology is there to make it more convenient for me to do whatever with Alexa  - it can follow commands without any effort. It’s there to make your life easier.”

“AI is great when it works but there are still faults. My Echo dot seems to just start playing YouTube whenever it wants.”

“You forget the microphone button is there and it’s constantly listening and will hear you talking all time of the day to your family and friends.”

So in many cases there is great convenience. Many of us are now used to asking Alexa for help and find it a chore to search for a remote control or keyboard when it’s now normal to just speak naturally to a device. However, it’s clear that the devices still have some flaws and there is also a sneaking suspicion that we are allowing many of these devices to listen to our entire lives. People are getting concerned about privacy.

This led into a more specific discussion about security, personal data, and privacy. The team tried to explore some of the questions about how well we really want brands to know and understand us.

“Technology as a whole has progressed. It’s the security side that has not progressed as much.”

“In this day and age, you’re being watched 24/7 even when you just step outside – you’re being watched by cameras everywhere you go.”

“AI is an amazing thing, but you’ve got to be wary of the security side of things … Can you allow a computer to make decisions on your behalf? A computer doesn’t have any morals. It doesn’t know what’s right.”

It was really interesting to see this discussion about morals because this is one of the classic problems that many companies now face as they use AI more and more. Self-driving cars are a great example. Should the car always protect the passenger or always try to minimise loss of life? It’s an interesting question because sometimes a car may need to take a decision to save several pedestrians at the cost of the life of the passenger. Would you allow your car to make that kind of decision?

We explored the generational divide and how technology is generally evolving and one of the team summarised it by saying this: “The big mistake humans make is that they rush into things. They see a gap in the market, and they rush into it without thinking about what it actually means. Look at all the people who have iPhones and don’t know how to actually use them.”

This is a very powerful point. We know that the use of smart phones and social networks has been affecting attention spans and how people interact, but nobody knows how this will affect education or relationships or health in future. Some researchers are raising the alarm, but the genie is out of the bottle now – to reject technology and say you want to live a slower, less connected, life would be far from the mainstream. We will soon see AI play a much more significant role in our life, even more so than smart phones, but are we ready to welcome this change with an awareness of what is changing? At the moment our team really don’t think that people are aware of how fast their world is changing and that’s concerning.

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Author: Ewan Mckay


[Fashion] Take advantage of the “Made in Spain” boom

In recent years, the "Made in Spain" tag-line has positioned itself like never before in the fashion footwear area. It has become a "brand" associated with comfort, quality and design, with excellent value for money. A recognition that opens the doors to footwear firms when entering the most demanding markets.

Fashion Made in spain in the US market

One of them is the United States. A complicated market due to its size, payment methods, logistics, but above all, for the structure and mentality of the distribution. This is a challenge for many footwear companies that consider their expansion in this country as an opportunity. Proof of this is the constant increase of Spanish footwear exports to this country, which tops the table of consumers outside of the European Union.

In the first five months of 2018, the United States increased its purchases by 11%. The average price stands at 46 euros, one of the highest in the world for Spanish footwear, and it continues to grow around 20% in the same period. Despite these statistics, the penetration of these brands is not as what is desired expected.

There is a large potential for growth for Spanish companies

There is a large potential for growth for Spanish companies who operate in a country where consumer behaviour is very positive and accepting of the recognised "Made in Spain" footwear, which is on the rise.

The largest segment growth was the "Millennials" who search for luxury and premium brands. According to several studies, this group currently represents 70% of the total volume of sales. Millennials are young people between the ages of 28 and 36, with a high income, excellent education and who prefer to be self-employed and developing their own projects. They are also the largest "age group" in the history of mankind.

"Millennials" choose brands that have a history. They have a keen interest in everything that is part of and that surrounds a product, as well as its quality and design. It’s an excellent opportunity for companies that have products aimed at this consumer group which is going from strength to strength.

The particularities of this market rely on having either agents or distributors. The relationship with department stores is complicated when you don’t know how they operate. These groups, independent stores and online companies, demand that you provide an exact price list for their market, as well as logistics and a strict commitment to the shipping times; In addition, they especially value the existence of stock with fast shipping.

Webhelp Payment Services has been present in the US market for 20 years.

There are more than 50 European fashion brands that have trusted the French multinational, right from their beginnings, to manage their sales in this market.

Angelo Ippoliti, CEO of Webhelp Logbox USA confirms the growing interest in Spanish footwear in the United States. The "Made in Spain" is valued by independent and department stores alike. The clothing and footwear are convincing due to their quality, design and value for money, even to the detriment of "Made in Italy". It is a time when various positive factors come together to favour the introduction of Spanish brands. The potential for growth is very promising thanks to the activation of the consumer market."

In line with the reality of the market, Webhelp Logbox USA has created a customised service, specific to this market. "Runbox: Corporation and Retail management services", launched in 2010 by Webhelp Logbox USA.

Runbox: a Corporation and Retail management services

Runbox provides all the necessary support to those companies that wish to enter the United States market. Companies with a turnover of more than 1.5 million euros, that are committed to innovation, are growing in a fast and constant manner. Its success is based, in part, on the trust placed in Runbox that manages its organizational structure thanks to BPO (Business Process Outsourcing). They thus concentrate their own growth strategy and build solid long-term bases and alliances with the most competent partners in each case.

As Angelo Ippoliti explains, "it is fundamental to decide the distribution channel, prepare the list of final prices "on-site", calculate taxes, implement logistic strategies and manage credit and payments. Also, dealing with the department stores is complicated." Currently, the figure of the agent prevails over that of the distributor, as long as they have a solid support in the management of payments, logistics, stock, amongst other factors. 75% of independent stores work with cheque payments on 60-day terms. The department stores pay on 30-day terms and always by cheque, whilst online stores and other chains pay by cheque on 30-day terms.

With Runbox, the company has a subsidiary in the United States that perfectly handles and knows the strategy of price penetration, the international brand image, the dynamics in the opening of "flagship store", the implementation of electronic commerce, in addition to providing a solution for the "duties".

Companies that are committed to internationalization know that it is necessary to develop a plan on a global level, with teams that are geographically, culturally and structurally apart.


Webhelp Payment Services has had an experienced team trained in international credit management for the last 30 years. It is an approved payment entity with financial strength. It has the capacity to assist companies in the international arena, with the appropriate resources for each case and always connected to the interbank swifnet network.

 

Author : Maite Ruiz Atela 


Tips to optimise your business’ cash flow

Priscilla Jokhoo, Business Services Director at the Fédération Française du Prêt à Porter Féminin, who has organised the Paris Traffic fashion trade fair for the last three years, began by saying, "Fashion seasonality leads to very long cycles: between the time you create a garment and the time it brings you your first euro - about 18 months - you will spend your time writing cheques!"

Priscilla Jokhoo assists around a hundred brands a year on a daily basis, at each stage of their economic development. Her verdict is clear: "Most failures are not due to a bad product or bad positioning, but occur for two reasons: lack of structuring, and/or too rapid growth. Remember that this is impossible: you can only self-fund".

Anticipate your working capital requirements

Cash flow structure varies according to the stages of a brand's development. This principle shows, for example, that accounts payable are relatively more important for a young company.

"When you start your business, you will have leverage on accounts receivable, but little leverage on accounts payable. Then, when the company is over three years old and can prove its financial health, it can negotiate with its suppliers, which will reduce its liabilities. But your B2B customers will ask you for payment terms", explained Aline Abeya, France & Benelux Sales Manager at Webhelp Payment Services.

As a result, cash flow levels vary greatly from one stage to another and may decrease sharply, putting the company in difficulty. Anticipation is therefore essential!

Watch your credit ratings

"Your credit ratings are crucial over the entire life of your business. They are issued by the main credit insurers and rating agencies that analyse corporate balance sheets and are connected to national sources of banking incidents and failures. All suppliers throughout the world can access at least one of these sources that gives you a credit rating. You must also make your business social security and VAT payments without delay because they affect your credit ratings", Aline Abeya recommended.

Another recommendation: send your first balance sheet to the three main credit insurers: Euler Hermes, Atradius and Coface.

"You must communicate with them at every stage of your business life. If you have had to cope with a difficult situation, you must explain the reaons and the solutions adopted," explained Aline Abeya.

What is the advantage of a good credit rating? It gives you leverage to negotiate with your national and international suppliers. For example, you can try to find a contract-based solution over several seasons: your supplier may then be able to grant you discounts.

Leverage best practices with your customers

Several recommendations involving customers will avoid unpaid or late payments:

  • use a specialist lawyer to draw up solid General Terms and Conditions of Sale (GTCS)
  • insist on signed Purchase Orders, without exception!
  • ensure that invoices are properly drawn up in accordance with the standards and practices of the countries concerned
  • issue an invoice upon delivery
  • request payments before delivery if you are a young company
  • carry out quality control prior to delivery.

And Priscilla Jokhoo added: "In many situations, I have found that certain customers have exploited loopholes in poorly drafted GTCS! You should also pay close attention to your customers' General Conditions of Purchase (GCP), for example, with respect to returning unsold items".

Use leverage to improve cash flow

Positive leverage effects on your cash flow: in the case of a first order, you should not hesitate to require a deposit payment, usually 30%.

"Your customer can very well understand that you expect him to make a real commitment to your brand, and not just an order "to see how it goes", Aline Abeya pointed out.

Also note the possibility of granting a 0.5 to 3% cash payment discount.

Webhelp Payment Services manages the accounts receivable as soon as the order is placed. In practice, once you have made a delivery, it is potentially too late, as the payment method or time may not have been appropriate to your customer's situation.

"Webhelp Payment Services gives you prior recommendations about orders with respect to the country where your customer is located: this is very important because it reduces the risks of non-payment at the order stage. Webhelp Payment Services' assistance extends to the collection of multi-country and multi-currency funds", said Aline ABEYA.

On the strength of its experience in the textile market, Webhelp Payment Services has entered into partnerships with financial institutions that rely on its wholesale management services to help brands source and finance their sales.

> To receive the pdf of the "Cash is king" presentation at the 2018 Traffic fashion trade fair, do not hesitate to ask Aline Abeya.

 

 


Tips to conquer an Italian market

Italy is a priority market for fashion and ready-to-wear brands, hence the dedicated Italy workshop that took place during the 2018 Traffic trade show. Here we give you an overview and top tips from Anne-Laure Druguet, Director of Projects at the Fédération Française de Prêt à Porter Féminin, and Claudio Milani, CEO of Webhelp Payment Services in Italy and Greece.

"Italy is France's number 1 customer, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States," says Anne-Laure Druguet, Director of Projects at the Fédération Française de Prêt à Porter Féminin, who specialises in helping French brands export.

In fact, the nature of the Italian market appears to make it an unmissable opportunity for France's ready-to-wear brands:

  • €66 billion annually, with a positive trend
  • 10.5% of France's exports in terms of value (up 7.1% on 2016)
  • In 2016, Italian women spent 10 billion euros on clothes, with the Italian menswear sales volume approaching 7 billion euros.
  • Distribution: mainly through franchises, chain stores and the retail sector (47%), followed chiefly by multi-brand stores (24%), department stores (13%), and online sales (5%).
  • There are big differences between Italy's regions, with the North being a more buoyant market.

1 – Make sure you have the right agent in Italy

Our assessment above focuses more on quantity, but Claudio Milani, CEO of Webhelp Payment Services in Italy and Greece, was more interested in talking about quality: “There are a huge number of stores in Italy, even in small towns and villages. With the odd exception, you can't “sell on your own” in Italy; you have to go through one or more agents, at regional or national level. Contrastingly, committing to a retail network appears to be a risky business."

But should your agent be single-brand or multi-brand? Claudio Milani says, "A small or medium-sized company would be ill-advised to take on a single-brand agent."

And Anne-Laure Druguet adds, "It's important you have the right fit with your agent and ensure you have the same objectives and development potential. You must also make sure you pin down your methods, such as reporting frequency, and agree a mutually binding commitment in writing.”

The Federation offers French brands help with drawing up agent contracts.

Claudio Milani hammers home the point with a quip: "You know who our best allies are? Agents. And our worst enemies? Agents." Hence his advice: “Find the best possible fit between your brand, your products and your agent”.

2 – Choose the safest payment methods and conditions

Like any market, the Italian market has its own particular payment methods, conditions and practices.

Webhelp Payment Services takes care of customer collection management and trade receivable management and acts as an insurance intermediary in various countries, including Italy. This means that Webhelp Payment Services enables you to personalise your payment methods and conditions individually to each of your clients.

To find out more, and in particular for details of the payment methods and conditions best suited to the Italian market and the best way to protect yourself from non-payment, feel free to get in touch with Claudio Milani.

3 – Devise a strategy tailored to the Italian market

As Claudio Milani says, “It's not enough to set yourself financial objectives in penetrating the Italian market. You have to devise, challenge and then implement your own specific strategy”.

This strategy must be consistent with your brand identity and culture. "But beware of imposing your own rules: think globally but act locally," adds Claudio Milani.

4 – Find the balance between sales and finance

Claudio Milani's last piece of advice: “If you focus solely on increasing sales, you'll expose yourself to a lot of risks. And if you put too much emphasis on financial security, you're in danger of missing some great opportunities. You have to strike the right balance to be successful!"

 

For more information, go to our website.

 


Role of agents, reps, distributors and showrooms in today’s fashion market

In an interview for the ‘Fédération Française du Prêt à Porter Féminin’, Dominique Chatelin, CEO of Webhelp Payment Services said, “Fashion agents, reps, distributors and showrooms remain indispensable intermediaries. They're very important partners for brands and for us. It's essential for brands to attract and convince good fashion agents since, in the case of the best fashion agents, they are the ones who choose the brands they represent. A fashion agent's quality and reliability are fundamental. Fashion agents, reps and distributors possess a thorough understanding of the market. That's key, since selling remains a local act." But who are these fashion agents, where do they fit in the industry today, and what is the best way to communicate with them?

Where do fashion agents fit in the industry today?

Twenty years ago, fashion agents, reps, distributors and showrooms played a crucial role in the development of any brand for export because they were much more familiar with the market and clients than the brands. Regardless of these brands' local reputation, they needed the support of their local sales partners to make the connection with clients.

However, the situation of fashion agents has changed considerably since then. About 10 years ago, brands started thinking they could get by without local sales partners and save the cost of their commission (around 10 to 15%) by directly managing their development and relationship with clients abroad. However, this transformation significantly increased their fixed costs, thereby reducing their margins. With uncomfortably high fixed costs and the problems they were experiencing with sales, it was not long before the brands began working with fashion agents again.

Today, fashion agents represent and sell brands while providing additional, locally based services. They foster the retailer-brand relationship by dealing with the concerns on both sides and coming up with mutually acceptable solutions. But they are also constantly on the alert, mindful of avoiding the mistakes of the past.

These days, the biggest challenge to any fashion agent's long-term future is understanding how online promotion works. If this channel makes it possible to by-pass the agent, the question is whether we still need agents at all. With online sales to stores, brands could theoretically do without an fashion agent, but with online sales to customers it is also theoretically possible to do without retailers.

Is the digitalisation of the sector set to do away with some of the players in the fashion industry?

Fashion agents, reps, and distributors are the ones who know the market and different players best. It would therefore be more logical to work with them to develop online stores and tap in to this channel (which these days is pretty much essential) rather than cutting them out of the loop for economic reasons.

Doing away with the players who have enabled a market to grow and who still play an important role in it is sure to cause collateral damage. Without their local sales partners, brands are in danger of losing their grip on the market reality and their know-how and of being influenced by their internal logic rather than focusing on the market.

If you do without your most useful partners at a time when you are growing and dominating the market, once your business stabilises you are in danger of running into problems that may even bring about a decline.

Today, the brands that are doing well are the ones who have understood that the benefits should be shared out among all the contributing partners. Even a well-known brand cannot do without the local players on the market.

Local sales partners add value! how to optimise it and bring across that message more effectively

  1. You should always take into account the local sales partner's opinion on the items and collections that work or will work best. They have a thorough understanding of the market and are often better than the brands at picking out the best-sellers. Conventions can vary hugely from country to country.
  2. You also have to be careful with deliveries and make sure they are on time, to prevent complaints or order cancellations. What's more, the earlier the goods come in, the longer the sale period and therefore ultimately the greater the sales potential.
  3. One important point is to arrange a sales meeting with each agent, reps and distributor at least once a year. This is an opportunity to brainstorm with them, throw around ideas, find out what they think face to face and maintain a close relationship with them.
  4. End-customer demand has to get back to the brand to give the brand the opportunity to improve its collections accordingly. Sometimes, sales don't hit their targets because the brand has not received on-the-ground feedback on actual demand in the market.
  5. One essential thing to do is to work with the agent to assemble a client portfolio that draws on their experience and understanding of their market with respect to both brands and retailers.
  6. You should help agents exhibit at the fashion shows relevant to their market.
  7. The same collection for the same season may come across differently in different parts of the world. Preferences can sometimes even vary between north and south within the same country, especially in Europe, so you have to be flexible. And it is the local sales partners who are familiar with these differences; you therefore need to ask for and listen to their advice on these kinds of variations, which can make all the difference when it comes to sales.

Today, agents, reps, distributors and showrooms remain essential players in the fashion market. Their role has changed in the last 20 years but their knowledge of the market and local clients remains vital when it comes to optimising international sales. These days, logic dictates that you should continue to work with these partners who have a thorough understanding of the market to enable you to remain completely in touch with end-customer demand.

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