The future of travel in the post COVID world

The arrival of COVID-19 may have changed the travel industry forever. We’ve asked sector expert, and Webhelp Group Chief Sector Growth Officer, Nora Boros, to reflect on how far we have come and, most importantly, what the future holds for this most human of industries?

 

What was the travel industry landscape prior to COVID-19, were there any ongoing issues, or significant changes on the horizon?

Although it feels like an age away right now, looking back to 2019 the outlook for the travel industry was fairly optimistic and, on the whole, the industry was in a place of maturity in customer experience - especially when compared with other sectors which might be perceived as being weaker in this area such as financial services.

In fact, the industry had developed some depth in the ability to emotionally and personally connect with its audience, in order to deliver unique leisure experiences.  Brands were using new consumer behaviours to create buy in, especially in creating enriched customer journeys, something that I explored in a previous blog.

As travel is such a broad and diverse industry, some disruption was evident and there were emerging players and newcomers to the market, joining travel from competing sectors.

There was the growth of personalised, sustainable and eco-tourism, and its impact on the traditional value, luxury and price based travel campaigns - plus the continued arrival of start-ups, bringing new technology, fresh services and additional booking avenues to the industry.

Unfortunately, some areas of the travel industry were already financially fragile. For example, where low operating margins coincide with high cost in distribution or intermediation. This is especially apparent in models where there are go-betweens such as resellers, who are bridging the gap for providers and the consumers themselves, and draining income flows.

Alongside this, there was the growing financial challenge faced by the traditional retail brick and mortar travel providers from new players in digital technology.

And, there was huge impact from the way that technology can very quickly, change a regional provider to a global one – going digital provides the ability to easily disseminate an offer across multiple geographies and languages.

Interestingly, at Webhelp we are in the perfect position to provide support in this area, creating a unified customer experience across multiple markets.

What was the initial response to COVID-19 from the industry, and what challenges did Webhelp face as a company?

In the past decade, the travel industry has weathered many storms, including the ash cloud crisis in 2010 and the impact of the tragic events of 9/11. So when COVID hit, there was the awareness that it was going to hurt – but it was approached with a certain amount of resilience.

We saw a significant drop in sales volumes across our existing client operations, which we approached with a high degree of flexibility. As a people first company, we value our people and moved to protect them with swift workforce management measures like redeployment and adapted hours while working to reduce negative financial impact on our clients.

The travel industry has a substantial learning curve when producing the best customer advisors, particularly in the airline, tour-operating and hospitality segment. There must be a deep understanding of the sector, tools and processes – which can only be provided by time-served and highly trained advisors.

We focussed on retaining this wealth of experience; we knew that once the immediate challenge passed, our clients would need a highly skilled service.

And, it’s important to note, that as sales volumes fell, customer service needs in areas like refunds, information and rescheduling rose dramatically.  We protected the industry and our clients by cross-skilling advisors, redeploying them and introducing homeworking, where possible, to protect our people and ensure continuation of service.

We have also deployed automation where possible to accelerate digital transformation at a lower cost.

We entered a crisis discussion with one of our clients, who were understandably deeply concerned for their business and were considering calling off their contract. In response we provided a clear and robust financial roadmap through the crisis, working with local legislation to retain our people, safeguard their salaries and reduce the financial drain on our client and the ability to re-invest the savings to the post-crisis situation.

And now, as the industry is gradually returning to business under the next normal, our client is in an ideal position to come back strongly – and appreciates the flexibility, cost reduction and value Webhelp brought to the long term relationship.

Can we touch on the impact of COVID from an air travel perspective?

Yes, obviously the global travel industry has a symbiotic relationship with the airline industry, because travel by its very nature is closely linked to transportation.

The past three months have created a highly unusual situation, with limited (or no) cross border transportation and grounding several airlines.  This is without a doubt one of the single largest crisis’ to hit ANY industry, and we will see ripples and consequences for the next decade, if not longer.

There will be lasting consumer trends resulting from this, including a renewed interest in sustainable tourism and more purposeful, meaningful travel.

The recovery period for airlines may create a decrease in availability resulting in a potential price increase, both for the leisure market and particularly for business travellers. I think that for the corporate market, recovery will be much longer, and many companies will need to adapt their propositions to suit this new reality.

As a consequence we should see short term growth in domestic markets, as people have less in their pockets and less opportunity for international travel. There will be a return to travel as a simpler and more meaningful activity, with family relationships and new experiences assuming greater importance as some global destinations are limited.

The way ahead for the industry and your thoughts on the future of Travel under COVID-19?

Transformation and restructuring will be visible across the whole industry, which is already evident in the actions of Ryanair and British Airways and hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton. Travel companies will need focused customer experience during this difficult time and Webhelp can really support operational and digital transformation in this area.

Change is certainly ahead for the hospitality industry, and some independent hotels could struggle to comply with the new social distancing regulations, reduced guests and increased costs required to stay open while maintaining the bottom line.

Travel brands, like Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia, with more diversified portfolios or private rentals where new regulations and safety measures can be introduced quickly, may be in a position to benefit.

As we live more flexible work lives, leisure travel will become blended with business needs, creating the new travel concept of ‘Bleisure’, something that we will be exploring in future blogs.

The real trends will become more apparent in the first quarter of next year, as the financial and social effects of COVID become clearer.

And finally, I think that the human experience of travel, the need for personal contact and connection will be increasingly valued and promoted.

Travel is the most universal way to unlock boundaries and understand how diverse and beautiful the world is, and I am confident that the industry will recover and remerge. It may be changed but will remain just as meaningful.

In future blogs we will explore the travel horizon in further detail, re-imagining the customer experience and looking at how this can unlock meaningful opportunities for the travel industry. Feel free to contact Nora Boros via LinkedIn and to explore more of our services.


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


How CX can help the insurance industry survive in 2020 and beyond

As insurance firms compete to adapt to swiftly changing consumer demands and the prospect of an economic downturn in the first half of 2020, Webhelp UK region CEO, David Turner considers how moving on from legacy environments and integrating customer experience (CX) innovation, with emotional connection can really change the game for this industry.

There is no denying that the Insurance sector has been under pressure to switch up its digital game for a number of years now - in fact, as far back as 2018 I suggested that more focus on CX was critical as insurance companies began to undergo digital transformation programmes.

More recently, our 2019 YouGov powered research, published in our Whitepaper on Emotion in Customer Experience, proved that the industry still has a long way to go in making connections and using CX to really resonate with its customers – something that will be absolutely imperative in the COVID-19 era.

In our exclusive poll of over 2,000 UK adults, worryingly, only 4% of respondents indicated that they feel any kind of emotional connection with brands in the insurance sector. Perhaps, the insurance industry has suffered in the past by the impact of dated legacy environments and late adoption of innovation and new technology – this is likely to have created an emotional dislocation between customers and providers.

However, this gap (if addressed carefully) could present a unique growth opportunity for insurers, as our research also showed that customers who are emotionally connected to a brand are 55% more likely to purchase other products/services from them and 63% are more likely to recommend them to family and friends.

Better emotional links and increased connection, would certainly be beneficial at the moment, as many companies and individuals will be expecting the insurance industry to buffer ongoing financial loss during the COVID-19 crisis.

As well as remuneration, impact will extend into many other areas - from employee and business continuity issues, client service considerations, compensation and employer liability and event cancellation, and finally class actions relating to the pandemic.

Obviously, the immediate concern for many insurers will be protecting the health and safety of their employees and partners in the agent and broker communities, as the industry – like many others, struggles to maintain business continuity.

However, as Deloitte, a leading global provider of audit and assurance, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax, and related services reveals:

“The bigger-picture concern is how the outbreak might affect the economic environment—specifically, prospects for growth and profitability in insurers’ underwriting and investment portfolios.” Source: Deloitte Insights

As early as March, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), reported that the coronavirus outbreak has significantly weakened near-term global economic prospects, stating that:

“Together with the recent marked deterioration in global financial conditions and heightened uncertainty, this will depress global GDP growth in the early part of the year, possibly even pushing it below zero in the first quarter of 2020.” Source: OECD.org

At the same time, the probability of declining interest rates will create waves in the entire insurance industry, most especially in the life insurance and annuity sectors.

This will quickly become a race for survival, and insurance companies that do not rethink their business, transform and offer innovative digital services, and centre the experience around what the customer wants will fail to gain traction in this new world.

In addition, as this recent research from polling experts YouGov highlights, the pressure is mounting for the industry to attract and retain customers. In fact, only 6% of UK customers intend to stay with their current provider, and almost three quarters (73%) of policyholders are actively shopping around for alternatives.

So, what do insurance customers want – and how can excellence in customer experience help deliver this, under crisis?

Hervé Mazenod, Managing Director for Insurance and Investment, at Gobeyond Partners - part of the Webhelp group, believes that this can be boiled down to a few key principles, with simplicity being the most important:

“Today’s online consumers have high expectations of insurance companies – they want competitively priced, clear and simple policies that they can apply for and activate in just a few clicks – without lengthy registrations, calls and delays.”

“While many customers will have expected some interruptions as an inevitable consequence of COVID-19, they will rapidly expect a more normal service to resume - at the same time as insurers putting the safety of their people and their customers first.

He goes on to explain that this desire for 24 hour access to policies and information will only grow as the crisis forces previous slow adopters (like the elderly) to have increased familiarity with the digital world, saying:

“It is likely that COVID-19 will have accelerated consumers’ preference to online channels. This will significantly stretch those firms which have not yet equipped their systems and processes to adapt to and cater for this rapid digital transformation.” 

And insurance is a complicated consumer product, borne out of necessity (like car or business insurance) or for peace of mind, like home and personal cover. Consumer loyalty is shrinking and relationship building and platforms that inspire trust can help brands to build better experiences and drive scale.

As discussed, the pandemic will cause some fundamental behavioural shifts in consumers, Mark Palmer CEO for Gobeyond Partners recognises this and adds:

“Organisations will need to cut through the hype and start to anticipate what these shifts might be; how they may adapt to them or even influence them. By doing this, leadership teams can understand what the future blend should be between ‘pre-crisis’ ways of operating, and certain key elements of the ‘business-as-unusual’ phase.”
Source: A new race to evolve and thrive during COVID-19

It's clear that CX (and particularly the ease of the end to end journey) will be critical in both responding to consumer behavioural shifts - especially on digital channels, and in engaging the customer base, which is crucial for the insurance industry.

Find out more about how our services can help your business achieve positive transformation and discover more of our leadership insight on Crisis business phases and how the game is changing for CX markets and channels.

 


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.


Facing the challenges of the coronavirus

Business priorities are shifting as the world rapidly adjusts to the devastating changes brought by the Coronavirus. Here, Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer, for the Webhelp UK region, looks at how this sweeping force has brought challenges to our business, the astonishing efforts made to meet them, and why our people are always central to everything we do.   

I was recently asked what have been the biggest challenges for us as a business, in responding to COVID-19.

At Webhelp, our number one priority is always our people, and as the stark reality of the pandemic began to hit home across our countries, the most important and challenging task was to ensure their safety and well-being, first and foremost.

This is not empty rhetoric, but something that we honestly live by at Webhelp – and this vision is led strongly from the c-suite. We created specific task forces at all levels of the business - moved swiftly in partnership with our clients to change our way of working across all our operations, to protect our people and to stringently follow all government guidelines to safeguard their health.

There was a wider human issue impacting our operations too - as many of our operations fall under “key worker” categories, as defined by the Cabinet Office and Department of Education, we were also driven by a clear responsibility to support and maintain the supply of critical services.

Our teams are committed to assisting vital service areas which include; helping the telecommunications sector keep people connected, aiding the food retail sector by safeguarding deliveries, assisting insurance services clients to give access to information on claims and renewals and finally allowing the transport sector to keep delivering vital supplies to homes and businesses - all of which is so important at this critical time!

We are actively diverting resources to where they are needed most, and in partnership with some of our clients, prioritising and supporting the most vulnerable of our customers.

In fact, to put this in perspective - almost 7000 (and rising) UK Region Webhelp employees are now working from home. The logistics alone were considerable, and over the last few weeks our operations, IT and support teams have been working round the clock to deliver a viable solution.

As you can imagine, this was a highly complex situation, meeting bespoke technological and regulatory conditions, as required on a client by client basis.

Our teams have now delivered a robust custom built solution which includes a staggering 46 miles of internet cabling (enough to run between Glasgow and Edinburgh!), deployed and configured 10,000 VPN licences and built 12,000 machines, and delivered enough network capacity to stream 500 HD movies every second!

The challenge continues across some of our sites, where we are limiting the number of people to a minimum to create as much distance as possible.

We have brought in our own internal auditing, completed throughout the day to check all safe levels are being maintained and have a highly visible communications campaign, which highlights all our social distancing practices.

As new guidelines are announced, either by UK or local authorities, we are acting on that advice or seeking clarity, as required.

As well as the obvious technical issues, rapidly expanding a remote workforce requires support in many other areas. We are helping our people to adapt with regular advice and assistance; by making sure they have connectivity, are set up correctly and are comfortable working in their new environment.

Home-working policies have been updated and communicated, providing clear guidance on time management, GDPR and structuring the working day at home.

Both in the office and remotely, colleagues are being provided with advice on how to manage stress and help to look after their mental and physical health. This includes specific Webhealth initiatives and access to Care First our employee assistance program.

A transformation has occurred in where, when and how we communicate and engage with our people, as we have had to re-consider and expand our channels and look carefully at accessibility issues and overall effectiveness.

This has significantly changed the way corporate communications are now being delivered, for example we have increased our use of closed social media groups, to engage our people in their homes and during non-working hours, making absolutely sure that they can readily access the support they need.

I personally feel that the speed in which we were able to mobilise and transition so many colleagues to homeworking across the UK region has been hugely impressive. Our people have really embraced the change and have adapted incredibly well to a new way of working in a very short space of time. It speaks volumes on their quality and commitment, our strong culture and the agility of the business.

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.

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.