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Contact & customer service centres: 2020 buying trends revealed

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Agent Coaching & Monitoring, Artificial Intelligence and Call Centre Technology top the list of solutions the UK’s leading contact centre and customer services professionals are sourcing in 2020.

The findings have been revealed in the lead up to the Contact Centre & Customer Services Summit which takes place on April 27th & 28th at the Radisson Blu, London Stansted.

Delegates registering to attend the event have been asked which areas they needed to invest in during 2020 and beyond.

A significant 60% are looking to invest in Agent Coaching & Monitoring, with 58% sourcing AI solutions.

Just behind were Call Centre Technology (49%), Staff Incentives & Motivation (46%), Web Self Service/Web Chat (42%) and Call Handling (40%).

% of delegates at the Contact Centre & Customer Services Summit sourcing certain products & solutions (Top 10):

Agent Coaching & Monitoring – 60%
Artificial Intelligence – 58%
Call Centre Technology – 50%
Staff Incentives & Motivation – 46%
Web Self Service/Web Chat – 42%
Call Handling – 40%
Multi-Channel Comms/Integration – 40%
Training & Development – 40%
Staff Wellbeing – 38%
IVR – 36%

To find out more about the Contact Centre & Customer Services Summit, visit https://contactcentresummit.co.uk.

UK boards must take more responsibility for customer experience – Research

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Customer experience is largely perceived as a strategic issue and one that should be driven at board level, with measurement of CX varying wildly within key industry verticals.

That’s according to research conducted by Gobeyond Partners, which surveyed over 450 managers and above across retail and wholesale, financial services and banking, private healthcare, and insurance, finding that 86% of UK businesses are currently measuring customer experience and that 81% of respondents believe customer experience to be a strategic issue which requires more senior level accountability.

It says the results highlight a clear need for senior executives to be knowledgeable about customer experience, and importantly, measure it across the entire customer journey. The results revealed that 36% of organisations surveyed only measure customer experience at specific touchpoints, and not across the entire customer journey, whilst 12% of UK businesses are still not measuring customer experience at all.

Rather it was those companies who do indeed measure customer experience across the entire customer journey (50%) who were found to be 1.4 times more likely to report revenue increases over the last 12 months, than those that don’t.

Other key findings  include:

  • Of those who agreed customer experience should be driven at board level, only 37% strongly agreed that their company utilises customer feedback to improve service design and delivery;
  • 86% of retail respondents agreed that customer experience should be driven at board level and was the most likely industry to see customer experience as a strategic issue. This was followed closely by 85% of insurance respondents, 77% in banking, 72% in private healthcare and 85% insurance;
  • 12% of UK businesses are not measuring customer experience at all;
  • 11% of businesses said they had no senior manager with accountability for customer experience

Mark Palmer, CEO of Gobeyond Partners, said: “We were pleased to see that our recent survey findings validate the work we have been doing with our clients; namely that customer experience is a human issue which should be addressed strategically and prioritised by the board.

“We regularly recommend looking at the end-to-end customer journey through a more human lens. Our findings clearly highlight that introducing the human touch – at all levels of the journey – can radically transform the way you deliver service. For organisations to win in the race for customer loyalty and stronger profitability, they will need to successfully marry great technology and innovation with a major focus on what this means for customers and employees in the transformation journey. Taking this ‘human lens’ will differentiate the quality of solutions offered, drive greater efficiency in getting there and will better engage their people on the change journey.”

Millennials and Gen Zs ‘driving digital-first customer experience’

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The third annual 2019 NICE inContact Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark has detailed how understanding younger generations’ use of and expectations around next-generation solutions like artificial intelligence (AI) and digital channels are fundamental to building exceptional, best-in-class customer experiences.

As Millennials and Generation Z become dominant consumer groups, with Generation Z purchasing already reaching an estimated $100 billion according to research conducted by Barkley, their comfort level and familiarity with multiple digital channels including social messaging and chatbots means organizations, no matter their size, must provide digital-first omnichannel experiences to meet consumer expectations and effectively compete in the experience economy.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Almost 60% of Generation Z and Millennials have used private social messaging for customer service. In contrast, 38% of Gen X, 19% of Baby Boomers and 16% of Silent Generation have done so.The majority of Generation Z and Millennials also want companies to allow them to interact with customer service using private social messaging apps (72% and 69%, respectively).
  • Consumers are using AI more and feeling more positive about chatbots over time.Half of all consumers have used AI for any purpose (50%), compared to 2018 (45%). This can be attributed to a significant increase in the use of an automated assistant/chatbot online (34%, up from 25% in 2018). Generation Z and Millennials are more likely to agree that chatbots make it easier and quicker for their issues to get resolved, and are also the most likely of all generations to have used all forms of AI for any purpose, as well as for customer service.
  • Half of consumers who start with AI are transferred to a live agent, and age is a significant factor when it comes to AI and the importance of the human touch. While chatbot usage and performance are improving – and preferences and attitudes are changing – most consumers want to be informed if they are using a chatbot (92%) and 91% of all consumers prefer a live agent. However, this preference follows a downward trend generationally: 98% of the Silent Generation, 96% of Baby Boomers, 91% of Generation X, 86% of Millennials and 83% of Generation Z say they prefer a live agent.
  • Seamless digital-first omnichannel experiences are vital to positive customer experiences.Most consumers (93%) want seamless omnichannel experiences, and yet they are increasingly giving companies a poor rating on seamlessly switching between channels – 73% give companies a poor rating, up from 67% in 2018. This is especially important for meeting and exceeding the expectations of Millennials and Generation Z, who are the most likely to have experienced omnichannel customer service (16% and 21%, respectively).

“Understanding the nuances of what consumers expect, and how they actually engage with brands via a myriad of digital channels, and integrating these in-demand channels seamlessly to deliver digital-first omnichannel experiences, is key to sustainable growth,” said Paul Jarman, NICE inContact CEO. “The NICE inContact CX Benchmark looks beyond education around demographic customer service trends and gets to the root of what makes new channel options attractive. Millennials and Generation Z are bellwethers of what consumers expect and are increasingly likely to recommend a company on social media based on personal experiences – the influence they wield is tremendous.”

Click here to read the full report.

80% of business leaders say Robotic Process Automation improves customer service

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NICE has revealed insights from a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting that shows the connection between improved customer service and Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

The findings indicated that 80 percent of business leaders surveyed felt RPA is important in making customer service teams more efficient.

RPA is not only a key component of a broader digital transformation, but 88 percent of respondents also consider it a cost mitigation strategy, while 72 percent reported looking at RPA as an enabler of customer self-service in emerging channels.

NICE asserts the findings testify to the strategic importance of embracing technologies that drive true and full digital transformations for enterprises while empowering employees to improve performance and automating increasing levels of processes at varied complexities.

This survey-based research study highlights the rapid growth of the RPA market and indicates that deployments are still the tip of the iceberg, stating: “According to Forrester’s research, RPA’s growth will continue, with global spending on RPA services in 2019 set to exceed $5 billion – and $12 billion by 2023.”

The research brings to light that 78 percent of business leaders are willing to leverage digital workers or robots for routine tasks while human contact center agents take on more strategic roles. Additionally, almost half (49 percent) of employees surveyed said RPA has removed all or some of the mundane tasks and helped them focus better on their work. These statistics indicate that RPA technology increase employee engagement and enable improved levels of customer service delivery, thus boosting brand differentiation in today’s customer experience-driven era.

Additionally, the study also noted that 47 percent of employee respondents stated they sometimes or often forget a step in the process. This directly ties into 41 percent of managers and employees reporting that the reduction of manual errors is one of the top three impacts of RPA on the employee’s job. Both these findings indicate RPA also improves service quality.

Barry Cooper, President, NICE Enterprise Product Group, said: “We welcome the insights from Forrester’s research which validate the market movements towards intelligent Robotic Desktop Automation solutions that sit at the heart of an organization’s digital transformation. NICE’s vision of bringing automation to the people is more relevant than ever to this dynamic high growth market. We look forward to expanding our partnership with organizations that want to empower their employees and drive their business to new heights of customer satisfaction and efficiency.”

British businesses battle sophisticated security threats with old tools and misplaced spend

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Only a quarter (25%) of business leaders across EMEA are confident in their current cybersecurity practices.

That’s according to a study commissioned by VMware in partnership with Forbes Insights, which shows UK businesses are trapped in a routine of spending without adequately assessing the needs of their organisation.

Three quarters (78%) of business and IT security leaders believe the cybersecurity solutions their organisation is working with are outdated, despite 40% having acquired new tools over the past year to address potential threats.

Seventy four percent, meanwhile, reveal plans to invest even more in detecting and identifying attacks in the next three years, despite having a multitude of products already installed – a quarter (26%) of businesses currently have 26 or more products across their enterprises for this. 

The apparent hope of UK businesses to spend their way out of security crises is coupled with a significant security skills gap: just 16% of UK respondents state extreme confidence in the readiness of their organisation to address emerging security challenges, with only 14% extremely confident in the readiness of their people and talent.

The report concludes that, despite British businesses shoring up their defences against an evolving threat landscape, the complexity surrounding multiple cybersecurity solutions is making it harder for organisations to respond, urgently adapt or improve their strategies. In fact, a third (34%) of IT security leaders state it can take up to an entire week to address an issue. 

Ian Jenkins, Director, Networking and Security UK & Ireland, VMware, said: “Businesses across the UK and beyond continue to follow the same IT security paths, and yet expect to see different results. Yet we now live in a world of greater complexity, with more and more intricate interactions, more connected devices and sensors, dispersed workers and the cloud, all of which have created an exponentially larger attack surface. Investment in traditional security solutions continues to be dwarfed by the economic repercussions of breaches.”

The lack of confidence highlighted in this study sits within a chasm forming between business leaders and security teams. In the UK, only a quarter (24%) of IT teams consider C-suite executives in their organisation to be ‘highly collaborative’ when it comes to cybersecurity. Across EMEA, meanwhile, only 27% of executives and only 16% of IT security practitioners say they are collaborating in a significant way to address cybersecurity issues.

Jenkins added: “Modern-day security requires a fundamental shift away from prevailing preventative solutions that try to prevent breaches at all costs. British businesses must invest in solutions that make security intrinsic to everything – the application, the network, essentially everything that connects and carries data. Breaches are inevitable, but how fast and how effectively you can mitigate that threat and protect the continuity of operations is what matters. Combining this approach with aculture of security awareness and collaboration across all departments is crucial to driving cyber best practice forward, and helping enterprises in the UK and across EMEA stay one step ahead in the world of sophisticated cybercrime.”

Majority of UK workforce lacks basic cyber security training

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Seventy-seven per cent of UK workers admit that they have never received any form of training cyber skills training from their employer.

That’s according to a study from Centrify and comes during the European Union’s CyberSecMonth, which is designed to raise awareness of cybersecurity threats, promote cybersecurity among citizens and organisations; and provide resources to protect themselves online, through education and sharing of good practices.

The survey of 2,000 fulltime UK workers in professional services, conducted by independent survey company Censuswide, also found that over one quarter (27 per cent) of workers use the same password for multiple accounts, including work email and social media, putting both their personal security and that of their company at risk from hackers.

Most worryingly, the survey also found that 69 per cent admit that they do not have the confidence in their own cyber security processes when it comes to protecting their own data.

Additionally, 14 per cent have admitted to keeping their passwords recorded in an unsecured handwritten notebook or on their desk in the office. The news comes despite the UK government’s drive to improve cyber security for companies, with its Cyber Essentials programme.

A further 14 per cent do not utilise multi-factor authentication cyber security measures for apps or services unless required to do so – despite the fact that many consumer banking apps and social media now offer this service. 

Experts have warned that such a lacklustre approach to critical cyber awareness could land employers in hot water.

Donal Blaney, a cyber law expert at Griffin Law, said: “Ignorance of the law is no defence. Company directors and business owners owe it to themselves, their staff, their shareholders, and their customers to know how to protect their businesses and their customers’ data. They will only have themselves to blame if this blows up in their face one day.”

Andy Heather, VP at Centrify, added: “In an age where cyber attacks have emerged as one of the most ruthless and successful forms of crime that can be committed against a business on a large scale, it is astounding to hear that so many UK companies neglect to instil even the most basic cyber security measures in their employees.

“Just one misplaced password could result in the theft of millions of sensitive company documents, personal information and financial fraud, allowing hackers access to critical data. Tackling this issue requires urgent investment in cyber skills training and adopting a zero-trust approach, to further reduce the risk of weak passwords leaving easy entry points and to ensure malicious parties cannot run riot in company systems with stolen log-in credentials.”

Blended human and digital customer service tops investment focus for retailers

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Capabilities that bridge the online/offline customer experience gap prove a key investment focus for UK retailers over the next two years.

That’s according to the latest report from iAdvize, which polled 50 senior UK retailers in its ‘Blueprint For The New Digital Store Associate In The Age Of Conversational Commerce’ report.

It says that with 40% of UK shoppers now wanting human interaction in the online buying process, customer service functionality that blends human and digital touchpoints made up four out of the top five investment priorities for retailers over the next 24 months.  

Almost two thirds (64%) of UK retailers plan to invest in live messaging capabilities with customer service agents – either through online messaging or chat functions.

In app customer service agents (37%), social media influencers (21%) and online brand ambassadors (19%) also featured in the top five investment focuses when it came to customer service. 

In the same way retailers are looking to deliver human interaction in online encounters, retail businesses also plan to use in-store staff to answer digital queries. Over half (58%) of the retail leaders polled as part of the research wanted to digitise store staff by giving them online capabilities, while two-fifths (40%) said they plan to use store associates to engage in digital conversational commerce when store footfall is light. 

Stuart Gordon, UK Country Manager at iAdvize, said: “Retailers realise that store staff need access to quality customer, stock and order insights in general, but even more so if they are going to make a valuable contribution to the online customer journey, successfully closing the customer experience gap.

“There is a growing realisation within bricks-and-mortar retail that physical stores need to focus on what pureplays cannot do, rather than trying to compete on their home territory of price, friction-free convenience and ease of delivery.  And that means unlocking human capital to offer quality insight, delivered with ‘emotional’ human interaction.”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Brits ‘divided’ on AI Virtual Assistant security

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British consumers are deeply divided in their opinion of using virtual assistants via a smart device, with a lack of trust and security fears being the main issues.

That’s according to research from Maintel, in which data protection was cited as a key concern of consumers, with almost half (47%) of them saying that they are unwilling to use a virtual assistant to contact a company out of fear their device could be hacked.

Maintel says this is unsurprising given the high-profile data breaches by consumer brands using this kind of technology in recent months. Almost half of British consumers (46%) were discouraged by the amount of data they believed these communication channels collect, with 44% saying that they were worried that their smart devices were always on and listening to their conversations. 

Out of the whole of the UK population, consumers are roughly split into two distinct camps – those who recognise the value of virtual channels such as voice assistants and AI-powered chatbots and use services such as SIRI, Google Assistant and Alexa in their homes and daily lives, and those who fear the security implications of the technology and currently have little or no intention of adoption. 

There is a wider feeling of reluctance amongst consumers in Britain when it comes to engaging with virtual or voice platforms. Almost two thirds (59%) of consumers don’t own a smart device (such as a smart TV, smart speaker or mobile apps) with access to a virtual assistant and almost half of consumers (46%) have no intention of using these channels to contact a service provider.

Crucially, this group doesn’t see the benefits of adopting this kind of smart technology – almost two thirds of those who don’t own a smart device (59%) have no intention of purchasing one in the future.  

Attitudes towards the uptake of virtual assistants by UK companies 

Despite consumer concerns surrounding data protection and privacy, it’s clear that voice is still a fast-growing and key focus area for companies in the UK. Furthermore, almost a third (30%) of consumers currently use a smart or virtual assistant to contact a service provider.  

The majority of companies (61%) plan to offer customer services via virtual assistants in the next three years, 36% planning to offer them in the next 12 months, followed by 18% in the next two years.

At the same time, just over a third of companies don’t currently see a need for a service of this kind. When asked what challenges were preventing organisations from being able to offer customer services over smart virtual assistant channels, proving consumer demand was the most common obstacle – experienced by 44% of senior decision makers. 

Maintel say reluctance when it comes to adopting voice technology is not only felt by consumers, but is also echoed within companies throughout the UK: 

·        More than a quarter (27%) of senior decision makers stated that they had difficulty proving the ROI and benefits of voice-assisted channels when convincing senior leadership within their companies to adopt this kind of technology. 

·        More than one in five senior decision makers (21%) highlighted selling the need to the board as a key obstacle to adopting this kind of technology.  

·        Over a third of those companies surveyed stressed a lack of available budget (36%). 

·        A third of companies cited a lack of understanding of the technology requirements (33%) for voice assistants. 

·        Just under a third of senior decision makers mentioned the absence of the skills needed to successfully deploy the technology (28%).  

·        The skills gap appeared especially prevalent in customer services teams, with a third (33%) of businesses doubting their capability to deliver a quality service over virtual channels. 

Rufus Grig, Chief Technology Officer at Maintel, said: “The development of virtual assistants via smart devices is inevitable, as technology becomes increasingly intuitive and tailored to fit the needs of its users. However, what this research reveals, is that consumers still tread with caution when adopting this kind of technology or purchasing these smart devices for their homes.”  

“With so many mixed feelings towards this issue, there is a clear call to action for companies to be transparent with consumers on the implications of using this technology and to implement virtual assistants in a responsible way so that consumers’ data is protected. Whilst companies are reluctant to talk openly about security issues, there is clearly work that needs to be done before this technology is welcomed into all UK households. For now, virtual assistants aren’t the ultimate solution and should be used alongside other customer service technology solutions such as call centres, websites and chat bots.” 

Image by HeikoAL from Pixabay

Compliance software investments ‘a priority’ for contact centres

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91 per cent of contact centre IT staff consider compliance software investments a priority.

The research commissioned by enterprise software solutions company, NICE, also found that 97 percent of IT and compliance professionals were concerned about the ability of their organisation to meet today’s compliance requirements.

These concerns ranged from the introduction of new regulations and growing threat of cyber-attacks to the increasing complexity of internal systems.

When asked to identify the most important factor for improving contact centre compliance, 88 percent of respondents highlighted a need to improve proactivity and speed through better mechanisms to detect violations (26 percent), better error prevention (23 percent), improved visibility across different tools/systems (21 percent) and quicker violation resolution (18 percent). 

The survey also found that a quarter of the Contact Center IT staff’s time is being invested in compliance-related activities

A key conclusion identified by the research was that dedicated compliance solutions comprising analytics and automation will help contact centres optimise resources while empowering employees to ensure compliance and building trust among customers.

“Contact centres must protect the interests of their customers when it comes to their personal data,” said Barry Cooper, President of the Enterprise Group for NICE. 

“Ensuring compliance requires contact centres to navigate a maze of regulations, standards and best practices, which are becoming increasingly resource draining for IT and compliance professionals. Businesses must leverage analytics, AI and automation to adopt a proactive approach, uphold the trust of their customers and simplify their employees’ day to day tasks.”

Image by bhupendra Singh from Pixabay

Retail failing at social media for customer service

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Retailers are neglecting social media when it comes to customer service, and are not listening to consumers to drive customer experience improvements.

That’s according to the 2019 Eptica Digital Trust Study, which found that while retailers successfully answered 59% of routine queries asked via web self service, chat, email, Facebook and Twitter, there were wide variations in performance between channels.

Retailers provided answers to 83% of queries on their websites but only responded correctly to 38% of tweets and 50% of Facebook messages.

Performance had worsened on many channels since 2017 – then retailers answered 73% of emails. By 2019 this had dropped to 68%, despite the continued popularity of the channel with consumers, who use it for over a quarter of their interactions with brands.

As part of the 2019 Eptica Digital Trust Study, 20 fashion and food & drink retailers were evaluated on their digital customer experience, alongside brands from other sectors, by testing their accuracy and speed at answering relevant, routine queries, repeating research conducted since 2012.

Questions included asking about ethical sourcing policies (fashion) and allergy labelling (food and drink). Additionally, 1,000 consumers were asked for their views on customer experience.

Fashion (answering 60% of all queries) and food and drink (59%) were the top sectors surveyed, but still failed to respond to 4 in 10 of all routine queries.

The research also demonstrated a direct link between trust, listening and loyalty. 89% of consumers surveyed said they either will stop buying from brands that they don’t trust or will spend less. Building trust begins with delivering on basic promises – 59% ranked giving satisfactory, consistent answers as a top three factor in creating trustworthiness, while 63% rated making processes easy and seamless as key. Just 8% of consumers felt that brands were listening to them all of the time, with 74% believing brands pay attention to their views half the time or less.

“The move to digital has transformed the retail landscape,” said Olivier Njamfa, CEO and Co-Founder, Eptica. “Greater choice means consumers are becoming more demanding and are actively seeking out brands that they can trust and who listen to them. While retail brands have made some improvements since 2017, they have slipped back in others, damaging trust and ultimately customer loyalty and revenues. If they want to succeed they need to listen to customers and use their insight. Only those who do this will thrive and stay ahead of the competition.”

RetailAccuracy 2019
versus 2017
Average speed 2019
versus 2017
Web83% vs 70%n/a
Email68% vs 73%10hr 19m vs 24hr 12m
Facebook50% vs 28%43m 24s vs 3hr 34m
Twitter38% vs 50%1hr 56m vs 1hr 43m
Chat35% vs 25%8m 43s 4m 24s
Total59% vs 55%

Speed of response also varied widely between channels – and even within sectors and brands. One fashion retailer answered a tweet in 17 minutes, yet another took 50 hours to reply. A food and drink retailer responded on Facebook within one minute, but needed nearly 23 hours to provide an answer on email.

Overall response times on chat doubled from 4 minutes back in 2017 to 8 minutes this year. Facebook had the fastest average speed of response, at 43 minutes, 24 seconds – over twice as fast as Twitter (1 hour 56 minutes) and nearly 15 times faster than email (10 hours 19 minutes). This is despite exactly the same questions being asked across these channels.

The study evaluated 50 UK brands, split equally between the fashion, food and drink, travel, insurance and banking sectors. Brands were rated on their ability to answer five routine questions via their websites, as well as their speed, accuracy and consistency when responding to email, Twitter, Facebook and chat.

Additionally, 1,000 UK consumers were surveyed on their attitude to trust, its relationship with customer experience and on loyalty and brand reputation. All research was completed in H1 2019.

A full report, including the study results, graphics and best practice recommendations for brands to transform customer experience is available at https://www.eptica.com/19cxretail.