CX Files Podcast: Victor van Baal and Amahl Williams of SYKES Digital Services On CX Transformation In 2021

The first CX Files podcast of 2021 features a look to the future with a focus on digital transformation, innovation, and automation. The CX self-service experts Qelp recently re-branded as SYKES Digital Services (SDS). Although SYKES has owned Qelp for a few years now, it’s clear that they are now drawing together all their digital CX services under a single brand.

Victor van Baal is the Go-To-Market leader and MD of Qelp at SDS. Victor is based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Amahl Williams is a director of SDS and he is based just outside Boston, in the US. They talked to me for CX Files on where digital CX might be heading in 2021.

First, Victor explained some of the ideas and logic behind the recent rebrand: “SYKES has been acquiring various businesses over the last couple of years on a journey to become a customer experience management company, based on the heritage of 40 years of contact center experience – really making sure that we enable a digital customer experience. So SDS is really a combination of the acquired businesses in this in this space.”

Amahl then addressed how the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an acceleration in both innovation and transformation. Plans that were scheduled some time in the future all had to be brought forward. He said: “There’s been a huge spike in retail e-commerce players. And for some of those folks who are proactive, they were ready for this. And for the folks that are reactive, they had no other choice but to tackle this because they understand that it’s going to impact not only their acquisition strategy, but their retention strategy.” He went on to add: “I think the software, tech, banking, and manufacturing verticals haven’t changed too much, but the two industries that have the greatest increased appetite since the pandemic have probably been e-commerce platforms – retail specifically – and healthcare companies.”

One area that has clearly been changing over the past year is the renewed focus on self-service and automation. I asked Victor for his thoughts on some of the changes to self-service and how that fits into the broader customer journey. He said: “It’s become an integral part of the experience. What we have often seen is that it has been really just an afterthought. So you launch your product or service, and there is this ‘aha’ moment of ‘we need some form of self-service’ – it is not really a part of the product launch. I think it is really positive that there is this increased focus on self-service.”

Amahl voiced some of his predictions for automation in 2021: “I’m really excited about Machine Learning, AI and Natural Language Processing – that’s actually what got me into robotics.” He added: “The three high priorities for [companies] in this year are going to be customer facing AI, Big Data, and customer activism.”

Victor said immediately that this is a dangerous time for predictions, and he is right because we have seen an unprecedented wave of change in the past year, but he also said: “It’s a phenomenal time to to be in digital. My parents, who are in their 60s, have placed their first online order about six months ago. By now, they are ordering their groceries through an app on a weekly basis. So if you look at look at how proficient they are now, and how comfortable they are, that’s not going to go away.”

Victor’s summary is perhaps the most important point. Some companies have rushed to survive 2020 through transformation. Some have seized the opportunity to quickly drive through change that would take years under normal circumstances, but more importantly the consumers themselves are also transforming. All those shoppers who found online shopping more convenient during the lockdown are not suddenly going to return to shopping malls – the world is changing quickly and customer service executives need to keep up.

Digital transformation will be one of the big CX stories of 2021 and Victor and Amahl are clearly leading the way.

To listen to the entire podcast, search your favourite podcast app for ‘CX Files’ or click here to listen online.

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