“What do we really mean by customer experience?” says Nicholas Mobbs, partner at PwC.
The question emphasises the ever-widening scope of interaction that business now undergoes with customers, both in B2C and B2B environments. SMS, live web chat, social media and video have joined the more traditional methods of email and call centre communication between company and customer. Indeed, the call centre is now very much the omni-channel contact centre.
“What we try and do is govern and influence every single interaction between a company and their customers and make sure the touch points are positive,” Mobbs continues. “These are multiplying at such a massive rate and it’s possible to drown them with too much information.”
The need for effective automation of communication processes is thus clear, although the drive for efficiency needs to be delivered without losing the personal, human touch that many consumers value.
“You have to record where touch points happen, how customers are helped or not helped, and how they react to different interactions,” Mobbs adds. “The more data you can capture the more targeted you can be and the better you can provide services positively. It’s not possible to manage all of the channels in a manual way so automation is crucial, and this is where technology comes in.”
Ten years ago Mobbs co-founded Outbox Group, now an independent entity within PwC, specialising in the implementation of Customer Relationship Management systems such as Salesforce. The initial, and still important benefit of such systems was the enabling of effective management of calls by routing to the best-placed agent or providing automated responses where appropriate.
What customer engagement technology allows front office contact centre agents to do now is interact with customers via social media, phone, email, SMS, live chat and more, synching and presenting data on previous interactions, making them as well as equipped as possible to deal with a particular enquiry.
The benefits are obvious. Customers’ multichannel enquiries can be automatically routed to staff with the appropriate skillset (e.g. departmental, language) and most likely to provide an effective, positive response.
Outbox Group, working within PwC is an independent entity existing as a centre of excellence across the EMEA region for the professional services giant. “We are really pushing to become a leader in the front office technologies, because that is where there is the most change and innovation within companies,” Mobbs continues.
“The B2B providers are now trying to become B2C providers and B2C are trying to move into B2B and wholesale markets, meaning there is huge change that is forcing them to rework the whole way they support and run their customer-facing functions.”
In the cloud
The most significant development in the customer experience technology space has been the migration to the cloud. Rather than provide an on premise piece of hardware which requires heavy up-front and maintenance/renewal costs, a cloud host can significantly reduce barriers to entry.
Mobbs explains: “One of the biggest changes over the past 12-18 months has been this acceptance that cloud technology is in the front office. Cloud is now standard. If you look Salesforce it has really led the way and Microsoft is very resistant to selling their traditional on premise solutions – everything is Microsoft cloud.”
“You’re only paying for something when you actually need it, whereas previously you had massive upfront investment before the project had even taken off. Cloud is on demand, you pay for the capacity you use. This means the barrier to entry for small businesses is much, much lower because the need for in house IT expertise is vastly reduced. The technology is hosted and developed externally on the cloud by specialist providers.”
In an age of mass data sharing, security is a natural concern for businesses looking to swap on premise for cloud. Industry standards are extremely thorough and rigorous, with countless certifications required to yield customer data and payment information.
“There has been lots of discussion on privacy and security but over the past two or three years the resistance to cloud has been markedly reduced,” Mobbs says. “The problem for those still sceptical is that there isn’t really a viable alternative now.”
Leap of faith?
Research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) shows that while 73 percent see improved customer service as the biggest benefit of developing digital technology, a number of factors are cited as holding business back. The main factors include connectivity, an unclear return on investment and a lack of appropriate skills inside their company. Exploiting the cloud can certainly counter the latter.
Outbox and PwC have already helped the likes of Sky, CBRE, Swiss RE and many SMBs enhance their customer experience operations through technology, all them with unique propositions and hurdles that have been overcome.
Mobbs’s conclusion is that, ultimately, the risk of technological change is vastly outweighed by not adapting at all. And now is a better time than ever before to make the leap. “The rate of change is constant and relentless and business enterprise software will have to keep pace. Everything eventually will be carried out on mobile or on the go. Applications will become richer and richer.
“It is a challenging time and some people are scared of change, and some of the bigger companies have lots of existing investments they need to write off over the coming years, so change for them is extremely demanding. However, most people use Google and Facebook on smartphones today, so if we can make applications that feel familiar adoption will be much easier – 10 years ago this simply wasn’t the case.”
Read the August 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine.