Undoubtedly, there is an opportunity now for many companies in many sectors to deal directly with the challenges of introducing Ai machine learning, RPA, GigCX and near-shore solutions into the customer management operation supporting their business.
When terrible things happen, businesses first react, then respond and then review. While this may be uncomfortable to acknowledge in the ongoing circumstances, business is business, and the pragmatic in customer management delivery – inhouse and outsourced – will hence forward seek to reduce their cost exposure to ‘people based operations’ in favour of a combination of automation in the front and back office, low cost delivery locations and flexible service propositions through the gig economy. Perhaps no-one will talk openly about this now while the emphasis remains quite rightly on supporting one another through such a difficult time, but past examples press us for an acknowledgment that this is so.
The real-time benefits of Ai / Machine Learning and RPA are much better understood than they were pre-pandemic, and at Ascensos we certainly see that in client and new client discussions. A rifle focus on ROI means businesses today are more often asking the right questions and in the main, companies are responding with meaningful case studies evidencing relevant proof points.
While such discussions take place, minuted or otherwise, the pressing need for many sectors will be seeking commercial flexibility in their current contracts for ongoing operational delivery of customer service and management. As Ryan Strategic Advisory stated in its Top 5 BPO CX Predictions for 2021 distributed nearshore locations in Europe and the Americas will dominate discussions over offshore given the need among many brands for resilience and a desire to grow their ‘CX foot prints in sites closer to home.’
GigCX will also become a key component for the same reasons – certainly not a replacement for entire contact centre estate, but definitely a cost-effective solution for handling peaks and troughs and unexpected demand – especially non-voice. Once again, discussions at board level which might not find their way onto the minutes will include the cost savings achievable and indeed the potential benefits to customers of having their interactions being managed by an engaged, largely self-educated, and motivated workforce that are already brand advocates without being trained to be one. It is worth remembering, for the seven year period immediately following the financial crash in 2008, the US saw a 66% rise in the use of the ‘contingent workforce’ (gig workers) vs. a 6% rise in overall US employment according to an EY study.
Putting it all together – automation of whatever form, the gig economy and nearshore locations, offer native and outsourced customer management providers at scale an appealing alternative to a return to high density contact centres, or indeed the continued daily challenges (critically important as they are to address) of motivating and maintaining the productivity of a largely disparate W@H employee population.
In addition to retail and ecommerce where these discussions are now live, the sectors I expect are most inclined to the pursuit of these models, in whatever combination, will include those that need to gear up for their resurgence post COVID – travel, recreation, leisure, transport, and airlines. Don’t just build back when you can build back better – with agility and flexibility at the heart of the operating model from the outset.
Businesses with significant in-house estate, like the financial services will be most interesting to observe as they too have had to put many people W@H and they will also be grappling with the continued rise of the Fintech brands that may not threaten large parts of their established customer base right now but who will certainly see the challenge they pose to their longer term growth.
Of course, all of this will be of concern to the global BPOs too, and those that can pivot quickly to head off/respond to this line of ideation will be keen to get going. This of course may mean the ramping down of significant off shore estate for some operators that may have felt too exposed to vulnerabilities in business continuity during the pandemic and that now view the combination of W@H, nearshore, the digital work force and GigCX as a solution that offers the kind of agility going forward that they think will suit their needs better.
Finally, we have the continued emergence of IoT CX opportunities. The connected car proposition was only the start, and together with the Digital Twin concept and all things ‘broadcast’ CX, IoT poses further challenges to brands and service providers to stay ahead of the push for real-time, unseen but proactive customer management at a cost that makes sense, freeing up the best of its employee population for advanced engagement with a whole new set of ROI metrics.
This short clip from the Science Museum on the automation of the Enfield Telephone Exchange in 1960 reminds us that it isn’t only cost drivers that are in focus for the board room, but that the very existence of technology and new ways of working that makes life easier will ultimately have its day. The clip cadences with a particularly poignant reflection two minutes in: “The switchboard, which had been alive, was now dead. A few moments later, they cut in the new ‘auto’ and at that time, all the switchboard operators pushed back their chairs came out into the middle of the room, joined hands and sang Auld Lang Syne.”
Business strategies that speak to the balance sheet are not usually concerned with the domestic financial concerns of employees. Like owners of the manual telephone exchange and the staff they employed, the company that maketh work can taketh work away. Acknowledging therefore that these are important and pertinent discussions to have today may help deliver effective near-future models of customer management without acrimony or misunderstanding that will benefit all – staff, customers, company boards and investors alike.