Is the future moderation of social media companies at stake?

§ Section 230
Enacted in 1996, § Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) states that “No provider or user of an internet computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any content provided by a third party". In other words, social media platforms will not be held responsible for content that is hosted on them, except for federal crimes (e.g. terrorism or child abuse)

Passed more than 20 years ago, Section 230 has been the blueprint for the internet we know today. It is a legal framework that heavily relies on user generated content as opposed to the content that companies create. Fundamentally, Section 230 grants the Tech companies immunity from lawsuits regarding the content on their platforms. This gives them the freedom to run their businesses without fear of negative repercussions.

The executive order
Last year in August, President Donald Trump prepared an executive order that would challenge the Federal Communications Commission to create rules that could inhibit the protection of Section 230. This action was not received positively with the legal experts and regulators. Subsequently, the White House seemed to have lost interest and it was tabled until this year in May when it was actively considered following a feud where Twitter flagged Trump’s post as “glorifying violence”. Trump signed the executive order on Thursday 28th of May with the aim of limiting the legal shield that protects the social media platforms from taking liability for user generated content.

Since his inauguration, Trump and his administration believe that social media platforms unfairly censor their content. What added fuel to the fire was when Twitter carried out a fact check of Trump’s posts that disproved his claim about mail-in ballots. This made Trump even more furious and he hastily vowed to make greater regulations concerning social media sites.

Tech companies and industry advocates state that modifying Section 230 alters the original purpose of the act. They further caution that the order which supposedly seeks to protect free speech by stopping the flagging of posts, will actually have the opposite effect.

The impact of Section 230 reform
The implementation of Section 230 depends on an array of Democratic lawmakers, conservative advocacy groups and free-speech activists. The amendment of Section 230 will mean that users will be directed to file their complains to the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) who will investigate to determine whether the platforms rightfully and lawfully flag content. Furthermore, the reform will gain liberty in interpreting the law and compel agencies to follow it rather than the interpretation offered by Congress or the courts.

Facebook’s take on this is that the government could hold tech platforms responsible e.g. by setting a compulsory median response time for removing posts. This would in fact hurt instead of help Content Moderation as they will be under pressure to timely remove the content and hereby stop screening older posts which might leak through despite being inappropriate for the audiences.

Google also denounced the reform by stating that they follow clear content policies and enforce them neutrally without taking any political stand. They continued to add that their platform has empowered many people and organizations by not only giving them a voice, but also creating new ways to reach their audiences. They believe that altering Section 230 will hurt the economy and global leadership on internet freedom.

Twitter proclaimed that the order is a “reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law that was created to protect innovation and freedom of expression underpinned by democratic values. Attempts to unilaterally remodel it threatens internet freedom and the future of online speech.”

The Backlash
A Washington-based tech group filed a lawsuit against President Trump declaring that his order violates the First Amendment which “restricts government officials from using their power to retaliate against an entity or individual for engaging in protected speech”. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) believes that the target is to chill and curtail free speech which undermines the efforts of social media companies in ensuring their platforms are used responsibly even during elections. The lawsuit comes after a long-standing clash between the social media companies and Trump’s administration.

Many civil rights groups and internet freedom agencies condemn Trump’s order with the co-creator of Section 230 Senator Ron Wyden saying Trump’s action is “plainly illegal”. Facebook also released a statement affirming that the company upholds freedom of expression in their services whilst protecting communities from toxic content including posts designed to stop voters from exercising their voting rights.

Even though Trump’s order hasn’t taken full effect, the modification of Section 230 will most likely have a counterproductive effect that could push the social media companies to impose stricter regulations than before. Ironically, this would hinder Trump who heavily relies on social media to spread his views and statements which are often partly or entirely untrue.


Five key questions for CEOs, a response to McKinsey Digital

In a recent article from McKinsey Digital, several experts posed a number of key questions focusing on a digital-led recovery from COVID-19 aimed at CEOs, a total of five in fact, and never being one to ignore a challenge, David Turner, CEO for the UK Region shares his insight.

I’m responding not only in my role as CEO for Webhelp’s UK region, but as a passionate advocate of digital transformation – something that drives our service structure and is deeply embedded in the innovative partnerships we create with our clients. I hope that my answers illustrate both the resilience shown by our teams during COVID-19 and our desire for our clients not just to recover – but to thrive.

  1. Do you have a clear view of where the value is going to be and a road map that will get you there?

Here at Webhelp, conversations with our clients on the topic of digital transformation are built in to our processes. The impact of increasingly sophisticated technology in the hands of consumers driving changes in their behaviours and expectations, combined with market disruption from new, online business models has been apparent for some time.

However, Dave Pattman, Managing Director CX Services for Gobeyond Partners, part of the Webhelp Group, highlights that:

“What COVID-19 has changed is the pace at which organisations have found themselves having to respond and adapt. For many this pandemic has resulted not only in the virtualisation of their workforce as offices closed but also the virtualisation of their customers as the shutters came down on physical outlets as well.”

In our view, it is very likely that the increasingly digital consumer behaviours arising from the lockdown experience will stick, forcing many organisations to radically rethink the fundamentals of their business and how they reach and serve their customers.

I firmly believe that Webhelp has the right resources, expertise and more importantly the flexibility to create and sustain digital strategy and online growth for our clients.

The insight driving every stage of this strategy should come from deeply understanding and tracking customer behaviours, something that is built into all our client solutions and forms the backbone of agile customer experience.

The digital landscape is also highly dependent on regulation, so the roadmap to success must be achieved in a compliant manner. For many organisations, this will create an added complication in the digital transformation journey. Our well-established risk function with expertise across regulation, cyber and compliance enables us to confidently navigate these challenges on behalf of our clients.

  1. What role should business building have in helping you accelerate your entrance into new markets or access new customers?

Here, McKinsey concludes that many businesses can only match the pace of both the crisis and the change in customer behaviour by building something outside of the core company.

This is true in our experience, we have worked swiftly with our clients, increasing their business building capacity in digital.

This has taken a range of forms, from re-engineering blocked and over-subscribed customer management routes, to creating blended services that move seamlessly between on site, voice, virtual hubs, digital messaging and homeworking.

They also highlight the potential for growth in remote service providers, which I can certainly confirm, and that data visionaries are finding ways through analytics and automation to use new types and sources of data to generate value. We have been a long-term proponent of this, with several blogs and whitepapers creating conversation and tracking innovation in this field.

  1. How can you lock in the benefits of a more agile operating model to increase the metabolic rate of your business?

McKinsey asserts that the very nature of the crisis has required teams to act quickly amidst uncertainty and react to changing situations. This was certainly true for us, and we immediately established a high-level rapid response unit to handle the major crisis decisions, while creating an agile and cascading level of responsibility to prevent our senior teams from becoming overwhelmed.  This allowed us to react across countries with one voice, while adapting to what was a rapidly changing set of international parameters and regulations.

Our senior leaders create flexible strategies based on current research and highly probable outcomes, always keeping real-time customer data at the top of the decision tree.

An incredible amount of momentum was reached and we have certainly benefited from clarity of focus, something which I will endeavour to sustain, and I have a renewed depth of confidence in the commitment and flexibility of all our people.

In the post-COVID digital world, Webhelp’s Think Human positioning has never been more relevant. Digital technology has been an enabler rather than a barrier to human connection during the lockdown. Separated families and friends of all generations have kept in touch over video calls and communities have mobilised over social media to support the vulnerable and key workers on the frontline.

As Dave Pattman also points out:

“It would be a mistake for organisations to assume that they can or should seek to remove all human interaction with customers. The value for Webhelp is going to be found in helping our clients to simultaneously digitise the human and humanise the digital.”

How should you rethink your talent strategy so that you have the people you need when the recovery starts?

Recruiting and retaining the right people is absolutely key to the successful growth of any campaign or company.  Our commitment to make business more human drives us to deliver an exemplary people strategy – something that we genuinely pride ourselves on – this will no doubt continue to evolve in the recovery stage, post-COVID.

Melanie Buckley, Director of Employee Value Proposition & Engagement Programmes UK, India and South Africa, points out that flexibility is again the key here saying:

“We have moved from being reliant on our people reading key business messaging in work hours on the company intranet, to posting on closed Facebook groups that they can access any time of the day or night from the comfort of their own home. After all; good communication between the company and your people works both ways.

Being highly visible ‘where they live’ online (like social networks) also helps us to bond with our people as a brand, by sharing their successes and recognising their hard work.”

This topic deserves a blog – or a series - in its own right. And, as a people first company this is something that we will be bringing to you in the near future. In the meantime I will leave you some insight from Gillian Campbell, Chief People Officer UK Region & Director Global Engagement for Webhelp:

 “When developing our employer value proposition over the past year, we took the time to understand what is attractive to employees from different backgrounds and levels of experience. This endeavour is a cycle of continuous engagement, feedback and improvement, through which we identify areas for growth in the existing employee experience. Moreover, our investment in our employer brand is paying off – it’s helped us to attract and to retain the right people.”

  1. What investments are the most necessary to create the technology environment that will allow your company to thrive in the next normal?

Investment in technology infrastructure is absolutely critical.

We have already made significant investments in our digital and automation capabilities to help clients improve customer experience and reduce costs using digital self-service, and leverage technologies such as chatbots to reduce volumes of non-complex and low value interactions.

As we became aware of the impact of COVID-19, we took steps on the logistical front to reinforce our strong digital framework, and this continued as the crisis progressed. We did this both practically: improving, increasing and securing our network capacity, and with rapid digital innovation, creating bespoke solutions for our clients – which were delivered alongside the substantial task of moving 40,000 colleagues to homeworking.

The result has been the provision of a truly responsive range of solutions, a journey which hasn’t been without challenges, some of which Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer, for the Webhelp UK region, reveals in her recent blog.

At the same time, we are identifying where human support adds value to digital experiences. Providing guidance and support to customers during high value, complex and emotionally important journeys.

It’s becoming very clear that success for any organisation will only be achieved through combining the right technology with a human mindset and strong digital strategy.

Digital strategy now has an almost universal impact on maintaining business continuity, and CEO’s need to both invest in and maintain their digital ecosystems across the board, making sure that data service providers and all respective technologies create a streamlined experience.

However, many businesses are not yet ready as Mark Palmer, CEO at Gobeyond Partners explains:

“Prior to COVID-19, there was a misperception of digital maturity across many sectors. As the crisis took hold, the world turned wholly digital, almost overnight. The varied level of response has exposed the lack of capability and flexibility inherent in many organisations. For brands to survive, leaders can no longer pay lip service to digital transformation. Digital needs to be fully integrated into their overall operating model”

Shockingly, before COVID 79% of businesses reported that they were still in the early stages of digital transformation, and this crisis will have been a huge wakeup call.

The world has moved online, and it looks like it will stay there indefinitely.
Business need to act fast – or risk becoming obsolete.

Click here to discover more about our transformative range of services or read more from Mark at gobeyondpartners.com

 


Customer engagement insight for 2020 and beyond

In recent months digital communication has become much more prevalent and is now essential to many global sectors, so Andrew Hall, Managing Director Customer Solutions, Webhelp UK region, takes a look at how this is having an impact on the evolving customer engagement landscape.

Customer engagement insight

The onset of COVID-19 has made it imperative for many of us to live and breathe on digital platforms. As this switch has become firmly embedded in our behaviour patterns, four distinct themes have emerged in the customer engagement arena, which are likely to become even more relevant over the next 12 months.

Exceptional Delivery

There are two golden rules for creating customer engagement: Make it easy. Make it exceptional. The need for exceptionality across sectors is driven by twin imperatives; to create added value and provide positive differentiation.

In short, making the experience exceptional can set you apart from competitors and increase business. Achieving exceptional quality experience across all channels will pay dividends, as David Turner UK regional CEO for Webhelp UK region remarks:

“Thinking carefully about your customer journey is becoming far more important than just designing how to deliver great service – it may in fact be essential for the survival of your business.”

The power of transformation

Harnessing the power of digital transformation is, arguably, the best pivot point on which to leverage changes in customer behaviour and embed positive relationships with consumers. Times have changed radically from the fixed model of voice delivered after-sales customer service. Customers now have a wealth of choices in the ways they can interact with brands. Companies that fail to embrace transformation and don’t work hard to maintain the right content and context right across the entire customer journey, will put themselves at serious disadvantage.

Flexibility in channels and operations

The customer engagement layer - the point at which your consumers have contact with the business, can now take multiple forms. This can be purely automated contact, like chatbots and online ecommerce or via blended human and AI platforms like messaging or social media, or with the traditional telephone advisor - who will always be needed for cases that require human insight and empathy.

However, customers now expect 24/7 contact, and an omni-channel model is now considered the norm, along with the latest mobile messaging services! And of course it is more effective to seek out and speak to your customers on their digital home ground – rather than wait for them to find you!

Results focused

It’s becoming very clear that customer engagement benefits from increased focus on long-term customer value, retention and engagement measures. Good future planning, the adoption of digital technologies and customer design thinking, can help to realise vision and deliver strategies to accelerate innovation and improve customer experience.

Webhelp Chief Customer Solutions Officer, Helen Murray, considers the best way to use engagement measures to drive performance:

“Evidence, no matter how well researched, cannot create engaged and loyal customers on its own – instead, it must inspire digital transformation and top-down strategies. Which in turn must then be embraced at every part of the customer journey. I know from experience, this is not something which can happen overnight, it takes investment, passion and the right insight.”

Together these four pillars can support customer loyalty and advocacy, creating a substantial competitive advantage. There is a huge benefit to be found in designing and embedding the right experience for your customers.

Find out more about how the game is changing for customer experience markets and channels here, delve into our service catalogue here, or look me up on LinkedIn, where I would be delighted to read your thoughts and questions.

 

 

 


Sectors impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown

The business landscape is rapidly changing due to the influence of COVID-19. Here we take an at-a-glance look at which sectors have been positively and negatively impacted over the past few months.

Read our blog from Marketing Manager Ewan McKay for more in depth insight and look out for a new Whitepaper exploring the operating models of the future.

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE


Content Moderation: AI vs Human Moderation

Did you know that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic Facebook’s daily active users have gone well over 1.73 billion source: engadget.com, Zoom’s daily meetings are over 200 million and Google’s video conferencing is 25 times higher? Source: theatlantic.com. From positive work related interactions, communities coming together to help the most vulnerable, support and encouragement for the health care workers, humorous posts about the lockdowns to negative and atrocious content such as, fake news, racists posts, child abuse and pornography, the shared content varies from one user to another. With this immense increase in content creation, uploading and consumption, the internet can become a dark place.

And because people are free to anonymously publish posts or stream live, the anonymity shield makes it easier for them to go out of line. Content moderators who manage these online communities indeed have their work cut out for them. Reviewing User Generated Content (UGC) is not only a challenging but also a very demanding task.

Tech giants like Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms were forced to close their moderation centers in March sending most of their content moderators’ home for safety reasons making a risky bet on AI to entirely moderate content. This caused a serious void in the content reviewing of ads and posts. Despite their efforts to curb the myths and false information related to the pandemic, these social media platforms faced the harsh reality of the gruesome content like child pornography that had leaked into the internet!

As a result of the lockdowns and also the security of office-attending employees, the content reviewing system was hugely incapacitated. Consequently, Facebook had to make the hard decision of calling back its content moderators whilst ensuring safety protocols were met i.e. checking temperatures, reducing building capacity, and providing protective equipment to enable the reviewing system resume blocking away and filtering out of child exploitation, terrorism and misinforming content.

Is AI reliable enough?

Situation awareness
Last year in March, a terrorist in New Zealand live-streamed from two different mosques, the brutal killing of 51 people. Unfortunately, Facebook’s algorithms failed to timely detect and block the gruesome video. It took them 29 minutes to detect the brutality in the video which was watched live with nearly 4000 people. In the aftermath, they struggled with taking down the posts from users who reposted the video. Although the company uses the most advanced innovation and technology, its AI algorithms still failed to correctly interpret the odeal.

Content & intent discernment
One of the drawbacks facing neural networks is their inability to correctly understand content and intent. In a call with analysts, Mark Zuckerberg Facebook’s CEO stated that it is much easier to train an AI system to detect nudity than it is to distinguish what is linguistically considered hate speech. According to Facebook’s statistics, its AI system is able to correctly detect nude content 96% of the time but struggles to discern safe nudity e.g. breastfeeding and prohibited content of sexual activities.

A good example of misinterpretations of AI algorithms is when the Facebook post of Norway’s Prime Minister was flagged as child pornography because it showed the image of the famous “Napalm girl”, a naked girl fleeing from an attack in Vietnam. Later on, Facebook apologized and restored the post.

And as the Corona virus continued to surge, Facebook experienced a massive bug in its spam filter for News Feeds that flagged URLs from genuine websites like USA Today and Buzzfeed source: techcrunch.com that were sharing Corona-virus related content most likely because of content misinterpretation with the AI systems.

Societal subjectivity
Because we are intrinsically diverse, our beliefs, values, cultures and religion differ from one region to another. What is considered okay in one country might be taboo in another for example wearing a Bikini is appropriate in most cultures but considered nudity in other cultures. Since most of the Application Programming Interface (API) providers are from the U.S. and Europe, they are often not in-tune with the cultures in the conservative parts of the world. So apart from the obvious explicit content, tackling the question of what is accepted is very country and region-specific and can only be effectively approved with human moderators from the different regions to avoid false positives or negatives flagged with the AI systems.

Racial disparity
In a content moderation study conducted with Nanonets, they assessed the accuracy of two API systems in detecting a Not Safe For Work (NSFW) image. The picture was contained a nude Japanese Woman dressed in a kimono. So because the neural networks were trained with pictures of European individuals, they failed to flag the image as NSFW. Users who are not based in the EU or U.S. were able to upload offensive content without the AI systems blocking them.

Stay tuned for part two….


Webhelp SA during the COVID crisis: Protecting our people

South Africa has experienced a unique set of challenges during the COVID-19 crisis. The impact has been felt across our communities, our employees and their families. As the country takes its first steps out of lockdown, we asked Cathy Kalamaras, People Director for South Africa, some tough questions on how Webhelp’s people have responded and what the future holds.

As a People Director, what have been (and are) the main challenges for Webhelp South Africa in responding to COVID-19?

Being a people first company really defines Webhelp South Africa, so our immediate concern was putting our people’s health, safety and well-being first, whilst executing the government’s guidelines to a tee.

Communication & engagement

Initially, communication and engagement was a challenge for us, and we had to vary our channels to reach all our employees; those working from home (WFH), those not working at all and those working onsite on essential services. Instant messaging proved to be an effective medium for reaching a large audience quickly and effectively.

A comprehensive communication strategy was critical to keeping our colleagues safe (many of whom had never experienced WFH), and there was a need for awareness in people’s families and home communities, so campaigns were translated into several languages.

Moving at pace, we urgently needed to make sure our people understood the real practicalities and challenges around WFH. These included; how to separate working life in a home/family environment, good dietary habits and sleep patterns (very important for shift workers), establishing the right work-life balance and how to switch off at the end of a shift.

We also delivered education and support on finance, resilience, domestic & gender-based violence, mental health and wellbeing.

Government guidelines, adoption, education and policies

Keenly monitoring and reacting to changing government directives was (and still is) absolutely critical, and (alongside a collaborative approach with all functional departments) was also key to the execution of changing remuneration models; as was introducing clear and updated policies to cover remote location, home and onsite working.

Additionally, as a third party partner delivers a medical aid and employee assistance programme, they had to be quickly brought in line with the WFH solution, both informing and assisting with virtual counselling and support.

Finally, a leadership training and education initiative was rolled out, covering regulatory changes and best practice for remote management, new mind-sets for WFH, holding remote team and one on one meetings and the importance of monitoring team health and well-being.

How has the workforce transformed under this ‘new normal’ and how have these changes affected our advisors?

Understandably, there was a universal period of shock and adjustment, but our people have faced individual challenges, like social distancing and maintaining both personal and working relationships, working from home with a lack of childcare and adaptation on site/remote locations to rigorous safety protocols. However, supported by strong communication, our people have adapted well to the ‘new normal’.

We learned that, as changing safety protocols can be daunting, messages needed to be clear and repeated, until we were absolutely sure they had landed and were being enacted.

This helped establish a level of clarity and trust, to remove uncertainty – which was key in reaching our people and creating grass-roots behavioural change.

What surprised and impressed you most about the response from our people during this time?

  1. Their incredible resilience and positivity in the face of crisis.
    Feedback has been that, whilst this was difficult at first, the vast majority of our people continue to be enthusiastic and committed to their employment, and thankful that their economic security has been maintained. They have been undaunted by the changes, and for some the switch to working from home often under challenging social conditions.
  1. Their willingness to go the extra mile, even under pressure
    Colleagues have been really adaptable and focused on getting the job done. Maintaining a can-do attitude and often putting in extra time on their own without being asked. They have maintained excellent commitment to performance for our clients both individually and in campaigns.
  2. The rise in team spirit and the feeling that we are in it together!
    To prevent some of our employees from becoming isolated, managers have driven a lot of fun activities to keep motivation and engagement high. Our people have really embraced this and have been working together to maintain morale, keep connected and raise team spirit under these difficult circumstances.

 

How do you foresee the way forwards for human resources in our industry in South Africa, and what advice would you like to share with other industry leaders?

We now have solid proof that homeworking, from a people perspective, is extremely viable in South Africa. I believe that, by building the right policies, practices and processes for working from home, we can revolutionise the solutions offered to future and current clients and colleagues.

As we move out of lockdown, the lessons learned here can help the industry in several ways:

The industry can now confidently access a broader, fresh talent pool.

Employment diversity could improve, as our capacity to hire disabled candidates has now increased, as could the use of different staffing models, with increased flexibly and a wider pool of wider remote working for provinces that are distanced from operational hubs (holiday/permanent basis).

Although some of our home workers will gradually return to office working, the focus on virtual and interactive engagement and learning models will increase and we are also likely to see a switch to more online performance management and coaching.

However, businesses must continue to transform and mature the employer and employee relationship, remain flexible on staffing, continue to minimise unnecessary red tape and be open to new possibilities.  This agility must extend to decision making and leadership. It’s important to upskill your people and create consensus, rather than let crisis management rest on the shoulders of the few.

Finally, I can’t stress this enough, don’t assume the message lands first time round, especially under crisis situations. The right communication is key, so really consider your audience and use the channels and ideas that work for them, not just the company.

Find out more about our stance on the COVID-19 crisis, and read CEO David Turner’s thoughts on how this challenge will create a radical shift in the future of homeworking.


How the game is changing for CX markets and channels

As part of our Game Changers series, Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer for the UK region, looks at how current events are influencing the Customer Experience sector and how brands must evolve their channels and embrace optimism to create fresh new strategies and opportunities.

In global business circles, the phrase “unprecedented times” has been repeated so frequently that it has now become almost meaningless, especially when measured against the human cost of COVID-19. However, a period of extraordinary transformation is certainly upon us – and how brands respond, across all channels, will set the pace for recovery and future development.

Broadly speaking, brands could take several courses - maintain current levels, adjust under pressure or take radical steps to stay in front of the curve.

The award-winning consulting and transformation business, Gobeyond Partners - part of the Webhelp Group, has developed an insightful overview of the typical response phases to a crisis, and the take back control phase they identify may be critical for businesses currently experiencing an increase in ‘contact’ from anxious customers

I firmly believe that CX Leaders, who want to confidently transition to the new normal, must identify the best contact channels for both marketing and CX communications – and consciously strengthen and develop them.

Before the world changed, primary brand goals were loosely based around the three principles of product penetration, share of market and customer attraction.

However, many business are now sharply focused on connecting with and preserving the customers they currently have, which I would agree is imperative – but so is building for future growth. As Mark Ritson, former marketing professor and award winning columnist, writes:

“It might seem superficially mercantile to discuss brands, pricing and customer behaviour as we stare down the barrel of a pandemic. But the practical reality of global economic trade means that we need to market now for the good of all mankind.” Source: Marketing Week

Behaviourally people are creatures of habit and any channel shift now is likely to continue when the new social norms are established. Brands must be ready to take back control by acting on this change.

Social channels are booming, Facebook alone is nearing 3 billion platform users, and is seeing a sharp increase in the consumption of news and insights. Social Media Today highlights that LinkedIn has added 15 million members since January, and reports growth of 26% this quarter.

Webhelp Marketing & Communications Director, UK region, Polly Ashdown realises that:

“To maintain high visibility in their sectors, it’s now imperative that business be proactive in the way they position and represent themselves online. And, this must be reinforced with grass-roots cultural clarity, a strong brand identity and clear top tier thought leadership.”

And the conversation shouldn’t stop there, casual social customer feedback can be very telling, and inform brands of major customer service issues, which can then be driven back into solutions development, tackling challenges before they become ingrained.

Unsurprisingly, the current climate has dramatically increased the desire to communicate. Voice as ever remains a prominent channel for CX, and we know that person to person contact is preferred by customers when they have a complaint and as a platform for issue resolution. The coronavirus pandemic has created a larger homeworking pool of advisors, for voice, working in a more personalised space – and brands need to stay ahead of any possible impact.

As the business-like hustle and bustle of the contact centre is being replaced by the gentle and familiar hum of the neighbourhood and family life, we may see greater connection and advisor focus on the customer wants and needs. Early indications are good but it will be extremely important to measure the relative success, differences and advantages and pitfalls which the shift brings and create future channel strategies around these points.

The influence of the humble chatbot is growing too, with the World Health Organisation recently launching one to combat misinformation and keep the world better informed. As media magazine, The Drum reports, to adapt to the current reality, some companies are rapidly being forced to adopt chatbots and messaging platforms, as frontline CX.

Thinking positively, as brands recognise the advantage this platform brings in cost effectiveness, engagement and personalisation, we could see adoption increase over the long term.

Similarly, with the decrease in the brick and motor outlets, many businesses are now choosing to dip a toe into the e-commerce space for the first time, with the retail sector likely to undergo a significant transformation – something to be discussed in depth later in this series.

With the way forward starting to crystallise, the importance of flexibility, adaptability and early adoption, something we pride ourselves upon, will become more important across all channels.

As Webhelp Group MD and UK Region CEO, David Turner reflects:

“In this undeniably testing time, the CX industry must maintain optimism, think long term, and continue brand building for their clients. Honouring their values, protecting their staff and creating new avenues for future success.”

Discover how our services can help can you find the best channel strategy for your business, read the Gobeyond Partners article for more information on the Crisis Curve and the impact it will have on your operations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Can the Crisis Curve create a roadmap for CX transformation and stability?

As well as the tragic cost in human lives, the COVID-19 crisis continues to create instability at every level for global industry. While it is too early to accurately forecast the full implications and severity, Group MD and CEO for UK, SA and India David Turner suggests that senior-level insight combined with informed and decisive action could be the key to better outcomes for CX providers.

To steal a timely phrase from JRR Tolkien; it's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.

It has never been more important for our industry to maintain a firm footing during the turbulent environment created by COVID-19. It’s clear that, along with the catastrophic impact on global health and radical curtailment of our social freedoms, the pandemic has brought a series of rapid changes and challenges in the delivery of CX, impacting our clients, their customers, and of course, our people.

As businesses begin to take their first tentative steps out of this extraordinary crisis, Gobeyond Partners, part of the Webhelp Group, have created a succinct analysis to identify and explain the key stages we should expect to encounter.

Mark Palmer, Gobeyond Partners CEO, recognises that the political, social, and economic rules for business have been radically altered and that:

“Although the impact of the crisis, and this associated shift, will vary across country, industry, and organisation, we are seeing a distinct phasing of business and operational responses as we slowly make this transition. We call this ‘The Crisis Curve’.” 

Mark further identifies five clear phases resulting from crisis; rapid crisis response, take back control, business as unusual (BAU), transition to new normal and finally crisis futureproofing.

Crisis Curve graph

My personal view is that companies will be able to utilise this model to inform strategy and predict future trends, something that could be invaluable at this point, when it’s obvious that many brands and business are still struggling at the first hurdle.

In term of rapid response, at Webhelp, we have been transparent about the significant challenges we met to mobilise our resources at breakneck speed. Within two weeks we created a safe and stable home workforce of 7,000 connected individuals, which is growing as more clients reach out to us for rapid off-site solutions.

Our response to this problem was both ethical and agile, as Helen Murray, explains in her COVID-19 response blog:

“As a people-first business, taking a human approach to this crisis has been a logical step, which has meant rapidly looking at ways to increase our infrastructure to support homeworking where possible. While this solution won’t be suited to every operation, it is something that we will continue to look at and develop in the months ahead, in partnership and responding to the needs of our clients.”

The next stage Mark addresses, centres on taking back control – which could prove to be the economic tipping point in many sectors, as the financial impact of COVID-19 really starts to bite. This will be an especially difficult time for those brands or sectors, which either lack knowledge and expertise, or refuse to adapt. The exception to this rule will be companies that are sitting comfortably in the black financially, who can afford to make a choice to wait it out.

Operations will face considerable stress as they adapt to employee issues like furlough, self-isolation and remote working plus the inevitable changes in stock and supply. But, I believe that flexibility and access to skilled human resources will be the true factor in enabling successful business transformation.

It may not have been a straight path, but at Webhelp, we have now confidently taken back control for our clients, both on and off site. And encouragingly, the new homeworking operations are performing better than expected, in a very short time frame, which is a compliment to the resilience and adaptability of our people.

In South Africa, the Customer Engagement Industry has worked together in a unique collaboration with clients, industry bodies and the government, to create a robust CX platform and to safeguard jobs and their economy. Our passionate teams have been at the forefront of this endeavour.

The forthcoming BAU phase could benefit those companies who need to successfully pivot their service structure, to sustain and generate new revenue streams.

Gobeyond Partners believe that crucially, this is the point at which operating models start to permanently shift, which will require a renewed focus from leadership teams on performance optimisation, transformational programmes and some medium term investment. If done well this could be key to creating competitive advantage.

And customers will be carefully watching this stage too, as Craig Gibson, Chief Commercial Officer for the UK region comments in his recent blog:

Companies will also be remembered for the way they adapted ways of working to support their people, during a time when the public focus is (understandably) on unity and standing together.”

I believe that by considering and responding to the parameters of the crisis curve, we can begin to create an informed roadmap. Watch this space for a new series of blogs, interviews and studies, exploring how CX transformation can help customer experience providers ride the curve, navigate changing forecasts and guide their customers safely through the storm.

Read Mark’s article here, find out more about our stance on the COVID-19 crisis, and read my further thoughts on how this challenge will create a radical shift in the future of homeworking


The importance of emotional connection with customers during the Coronavirus.

Craig Gibson, Chief Growth Officer for the Webhelp UK region, reveals how brands can use emotional connection, integrity and unity to draw us closer, as the distance between us increases due to the Coronavirus.

Emotion. Unity. Connection. 

These themes are everywhere we look at the moment. From the heartfelt children’s rainbow pictures in our windows, and chalked onto our pavements, to the frequent government communications that urge us (young and old) to curb our social interactions and stay home for the good of all society.

And across the UK, every Thursday, millions of us have been clapping alone, but together. We stand united in our universal support of the hardworking NHS and emergency staff. Our passionate applause and shouts spread positivity and illustrate the power of the very human desire to connect – across the physical distance that separates us.

Emotions are high, and rightly so – and in the business arena we have begun to see how this tide of feeling can quickly turn against brands and companies who misjudge the force and direction of the national view-point.

It’s hard for brands to find the right way through this, as they are in the unenviable position of balancing customer benefit against operational stability, and with the growing media attention it’s easy to fall foul of public opinion.

Dave Pattman, Managing Director CX Services at Gobeyond Partners, a Webhelp company, reminds us that in the pre-Covid world, discussion of how brands should make emotional connections was focused on the emotional state of the customer and how brands should detect and empathise with this, and that:

“An interesting impact of Covid is that organisations themselves have become much stronger emotional entities in their own right. They are now judged by how they have cared for their people, and how they have transformed themselves to support the community and frontline services.”

However, he concludes that this surge of emotion does not always lead to positive outcomes:

“There will also be ramifications based on how they have reacted to the fear of not being able to survive economically with fight or flight. This includes how pro-active or protracted the process has been for customers to cancel subscriptions or get refunds.”

He goes on to say that these emotional reactions will certainly have been strongly felt by customers, who have been facing stresses of their own.

In many respects the current crisis has revealed the depth of emotional sincerity in the connections between brands and their customers.  It is at times like these that the difference between deeply held values and more superficial marketing activities is revealed.

But there are some positive stories, and the Forbes Coronavirus Champions list makes interesting reading, as it documents the global brands that they feel are getting it right during this crisis.

And, companies closer to home have risen to the challenge, like Pret a Manger who are providing NHS discounts and food retailers like Sainsbury’s and Asda, through their work  prioritising vulnerable customers.

Webhelp CEO for the UK Region David Turner; believes that the emotional and financial turmoil brought by COVID-19 brings a tipping point in customer relationships for companies, and urges them to look at the bigger picture by saying:

“In the panic brought by the Coronavirus, brands could easily become caught up in the demands of the moment – and to forget that they have long-term relationships to maintain with their customers and employees. I’d encourage brands to step up during times of need, as this can really make a difference… and unfortunately for brands that can’t – it won’t go unnoticed!”

Interestingly, the in-depth research in the Webhelp Whitepaper on Emotional Connection provides us with a pre-COVID-19 benchmark for the level of emotional connection with sectors – and it will be very revealing to see how new relationships evolve in the post pandemic world.

It is already becoming clear that some industries will come out of this crisis with a different and more meaningful relationship with their customers - for example the technology sector.

Our original research showed that the technology sector was an area in which a third of us had emotionally connected with brands, and it is easy to speculate that this figure will continue to grow.

In fact, as more people work from home and maintain social distance, the pandemic has increased reliance on services from the technology sector, with the New York Times concluding that:

“While the rest of the economy is tanking from the crippling impact of the coronavirus, business at the biggest technology companies is holding steady — even thriving.”

Source: Big Tech Could Emerge From Coronavirus Crisis Stronger Than Ever

We expect that this reliance will extend into telecoms and media, as connectivity becomes so much more important to communities in lockdown.

Andrew Hall, Director: Strategic Engagements at Webhelp, an industry specialist in innovation and strategy in customer engagement, hits the nail on the head here, saying:

“There is no doubt that the pandemic has radically shifted online behaviour, with a rapid increase in the use of news and social channels, as people look for connection, reassurance and information during the pandemic.”

He goes on to explain that:

“With this societal shift to online communication, conversations with brands will increasingly move into the digital realm, radically altering how people communicate – which could have a lasting impact. Brands will have a unique opportunity to build emotional connection as they react and respond to this new conversation!”

As online content increases, so will the need for swift and professional moderation, which Andrew recognises, commenting:

“We are likely to see a boom in content moderation services, but the companies who will really succeed in this area are those who use insight to understand and act on the current level of heightened emotion and respond with empathy alongside speed and accuracy.”

With capacity to create good online experiences and positive associations, these sectors will gain by increasing amounts of emotional connection across demographics - and brands that support this sector well, will reap the benefits.

In a nutshell, brands that inspire human emotion during this difficult period will build better relationships.

Moreover, emotion has been linked to heightened learning and memory,* especially in areas of motivation and attention, so any positive experiences customers have during this difficult time will affect their decisions long after this crisis has passed.

Companies will also be remembered for the way they adapted ways of working to support their people, during a time when the public focus is (understandably) on unity and standing together. Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer, has shared our efforts on this front in her recent blog, where she comments:

“As the reality of the pandemic hit home, the most important and challenging task was to ensure the safety of our people.”

And, as a people-first business, committed to supporting essential services, we want to open a conversation on the value of connection and to encourage brands to communicate and act for their customers and employees in the most human way they can.

Over the coming months our new game-changers series will be looking at how emotion can be used to create mutually beneficial bonds between customers, employees and brands, whilst exploring the data and dynamics that can reinforce and create these connections, and the lessons we can learn from the impact of the Coronavirus.

In addition, in collaboration with Gobeyond Partners, part of the Webhelp Group, we will taking an in-depth look at the expected phases of the pandemic for business, with a guide to the Crisis Curve and what it will mean for the future of CX.

Find out about our stance on the COVID 19 crisis here, and read UK Group CEO, David Turner’s thoughts on how this challenge will create a radical shift in the future of homeworking.

*The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory - NCBI

 


Industry collaboration during the Covid-19 crisis in South Africa

The Coronavirus has shaken the world’s health organisations and financial systems to the core as well as altered the face of the global BPO sector. Here Brandon Aitken, Chief Commercial Officer for Webhelp South Africa, reflects on the groundbreaking level of industry collaboration that has occurred, which may be unique to South Africa. 

As the impact of COVID-19 began to hit home, BPO leaders quickly realized that swift and decisive action was urgently needed to prevent devastating ramifications for the sector, a critical pillar of job creation for our country. This industry creates tens of thousands of jobs and contributes billions to the nation’s economy. In fact, over 50,000 young South Africans work in BPO for international clients, with significantly more supporting the domestic market.

We knew that the impact from COVID-19 was inevitable, but that protecting our people and minimising the loss of business and jobs was absolutely critical. As the stakes were high, our actions would be fundamental to both the future of the industry, and the economy.

Unique industry collaboration

At Webhelp, we were incredibly heartened to see the willingness with which key players, including competitors and their stakeholders swiftly came together to address and resolve the challenges faced - to make sure that the industry comes out of this crisis in the strongest position possible, safeguarding the people at the heart of the sector, and their jobs.

This unique collaboration has not just been limited to BPO providers and industry bodies such as Business Process Enabling South Africa (BPESA), the Cape Town and Western Cape tourism and investment agency (WESGRO) and the national trade association for the hospitality industry (FEDHASA). There has also been strong and active support for the sector from all areas of Government, including the Presidency, national, local and provincial authorities and law enforcement.

Some of the industry problems that we are trying to solve together include trying to activate home working in the Western Cape, for nearly 8000 young people providing non-essential services. This would add to the nearly 3000 people delivering essential services already for international and domestic clients.

Keeping our people safe and responding to change

One of the first tests we faced was how to deal with the frequency of the  changes the regulations issued and how to best interpret these for our sector considering the levels of ambiguity, not least of which was the accurate qualification  of essential services.

However, the most urgent piece of work was undoubtedly to protect our people on site, by stringently adhering to all the government guidelines. Followed by the logistical challenges in the transportation and connection of IT assets as we enabled our non-essential people to work safely from home.

Inevitably, there have been a variety of challenges raised toward the industry which have impaired how quickly we have been able to sustain our delivery of essential services and attracted some negative press. We do however realise that the intentions have been to hold us to account collectively, something that we appreciate and have responded to.

South Africa First approach

The problems we have faced are not unique to our industry; but I believe that the collaborative effort has been a unique differentiating factor that we should be proud of.  We must recognise the significant contribution that BPESA has made in bringing us together, under a “South Africa First” approach. They have worked tirelessly to make connections, inform decisions and safeguard both job sustainability and our people.

They have aided stakeholder collaboration across the private and public sectors in several key areas: gaining clarity on the interpretations of directives, and subsequent revisions, obtaining support from law enforcement to allow the free movement of our essential services workers and facilitating the supply of essential goods to maintain compliance to protocol, including facemasks and sanitizer. Finally, the BPESA teams have driven collaboration with enabling services, such as data provision for home workers and with the FEDHASA to help create a temporary home working environment for teams providing essential services.

The pace at which BPESA mobilised to support and generate engagement was pivotal in creating a unified effort aligned to policy and government directives, and the whole industry owes them a huge debt of thanks.

Building integrity and trust

Some other positives can be drawn from these unusual circumstances. BPO business leaders have made themselves available, at all times, to act as a mutual sounding board on the fast moving issues as they have arisen. The openness, collaboration and accountability shown has helped to establish industry integrity, as has the introduction of a comprehensive self-certification process.

Suppliers that have embraced flexibility have seen new opportunities arising with clients that are heavily reliant on other traditional BPO regions and which have experienced a loss of supply during this crisis. Working together, our prompt response has created enhanced trust in BPO in South Africa through our ability to offset some of that disruption.

The swift and stable rise in homeworking bodes well for the future of this operating model for our sector, and early indications are that it is working well.

Looking ahead to the future

However, as a sector we must continue be alert to the pace of change, in order to maintain this positive momentum. We must avoid complacency at all costs and look carefully at the wider issues affecting both our communities and the industry.

There are many potential ramifications if the lockdown extends past the end of April. Further disruption to the national workforce could create new social, economic and community tipping points and our industry must continue to be conscientious in creating timely and relevant support to put our people first in these areas.

On a personal level, I am extremely proud of our own people who, where possible, have kept providing exceptional service to our clients and their customers. Their resilience has proved that home working works; paving a way for the future. In particular, those who continue to provide essential services, both from home and from our offices deserve exceptional admiration as those services continue to run at a relentless pace.

We thank all of the stakeholders and industry peers who have worked so tirelessly with us to help BPO in South Africa to continue to thrive. Most of all, we thank our people for staying positive and representing South Africa so well during this time.

One thing is certain, sadly, this crisis is far from over, and the way we continue to approach these future challenges together, will set the pattern for industry growth and resilience into 2021 and beyond.