As an independent and research-based think tank, Toronto-based Strategy Institute, facilitates intelligence sharing through learning and networking opportunities for professionals around the world. Strategy Institute has a uniquely agnostic perspective, at the fulcrum of knowledge exchange and business development across many corporations, and industries—from financial services to healthcare. In his role as Strategy Institute Sponsorship Manager, Simon Wren knows the answers to some of today's most pressing challenges for businesses—such as "What is exceptional customer service?" And, more to the point, "How do we get there?" Here, HGS Vice President, Analyst and Advisor Relations Wendy Shlensky gleans essential insights from Simon on how today's organizations are sharpening their customer service delivery. WENDY: Can you share the trends you've seen in consumer service? SIMON: We have been covering the customer service space since 2011, so we have a good understanding of the changing expectations for optimized customer experience. There have been a number of circumstances that have changed the ability for brands to deliver a more consistent level of service to customers. Perhaps, most notably, today's proliferation of and accessibility to technology-driven solutions give much better insight into customer wants and needs. And we can now provide more service offerings catering to these preferences. Millennials, for example, are looking to engage on different platforms—with more mobile and social media engagement. That said, there is still a need for voice and human-to-human engagement, whether face-to-face within bricks and mortar establishments, or through the traditional call center model. And what's essential is how the more traditional engagement sits beside digital channels. Companies are ensuring that they are engaging customers on the channels they are comfortable with, while delivering a cohesive, consistent experience across multiple platforms. This has empowered companies to be able to compete on the basis of the journey that they provide a customer and not just the price or features of their product or service. In addition to technology investments, companies are looking more closely at corporate culture to try to be more genuinely customer centric. Most recently, with our client base, we have seen a need to temper that customer-centric drive with a tangible return on investment. Today's businesses are increasingly looking for proofs of concept and are guided by metrics and absolute results. We've also seen the creation of more chief experience officers (CXOs), who are assigned to drive and measure engagement and experience. This responsibility has typically moved from the marketing department and into a more clearly defined and specialized customer experience role.
WENDY: How essential are digital CX tools in today's marketplace? SIMON: With the changing landscape of customer engagement, the use of digital tools has become paramount for companies looking to engage with an increasingly tech-savvy group of customers. No industry vertical is exempt from this, and even sectors that were seen to be somewhat old-school—like wealth management, for example—have seen new digitally focused competitors like roboadvisory services emerge, forcing them to adopt a blended approach to their product delivery models. While seemingly essential,deployment of a digital platform doesn't guarantee better results. It is important to remember that any digital CX tool must demonstrate genuine value and sit comfortably alongside both the existing I.T. infrastructure of an organization and their underpinning mission statement. Strategy Institute has a unique point of view on how businesses are engaging thousands of clients across m ultiple channels. While, undoubtedly, digital plays an important role in today's business, we see that most of our clients seem to guard against "technology for technology's sake" and introduce new methods of communication and commerce as and when they make sense. Digital customer experience tools have to add genuine value. And ensuring this value requires the ability to test and experiment in an agile and cost-effective manner. You can't expect digital platform adoption to deliver the results you want without tweaking and finessing the solutions. And the key is doing this within a cost-effective environment with the right technology and expertise. WENDY: Do you see the role of BPO service delivery changing in the industry? And if so, why? SIMON: BPOs will continue to play an integral part in the world of customer service, but organizations must weigh the potential risks and rewards that exist when outsourcing perhaps the most sensitive area of their business. For example, the banking industry has had mixed success in this regard. These organizations hold extremely valuable personal data and are operating in an era of customer migration based on brand confidence, A key driver in the decision to outsource will be the opportunity that exists with deploying proven cutting edge technology solutions at a pace that is difficult to replicate in-house. As delivery methods of customer experience continue to evolve, staying ahead of the competition and offering measurably excellent service levels requires an agile approach, that can be found with best of breed BPO providers. Of course, changing public perceptions, regulatory oversight, and other outside influences will sway decisions one way or another and cost effective "out-of-the-box" technology may see some brands look to internalize some or all of their customer facing activities. To this point, many of today's BPOs have evolved into consultative solutions that are more customized, rather than a one-sized-fits-all approach. Companies aren't necessarily outsourcing based on predefined service offerings. They want to be engaged with a BPO in conversation to find a solution that works. Many see BPOs as a low-cost alternative, but the reality is that whatever the bottom line is the partnership needs to be valuable for the organization, as a whole. Businesses are measuring success based on sales, marketing, customer retention, NPS scores and many other variables. Basically, they're looking for results against activity. WENDY: What do you see as the future of customer care? SIMON: Real-time, data driven approaches to customer service are already prevalent, and we expect there will be further adoption in the future. Predictive analytics will also start to become more widely used, as technology allows brands to react to consumer needs ahead of time. These solutions are increasingly more accessible and more cost-effective. This innovation is also easier to use and adopt. We also see advancement in already used methodologies surrounding omni-channel engagement, VOC, and customer journey mapping, with more adaptable and easier to deploy solutions continuing to gain ground. As the core driver of all of this innovation, customer care/experience will remain a key driver in gaining competitive advantage for many organizations. And the smart businesses won't just roll out solutions with crossed fingers, they will measure ROI every step of the way.