Where's the innovation?

Customers are demanding better experiences and technology is making it easier for companies to give them what they want.

'New technology implementations, omnichannel efforts and personalisation tactics are often aimed at improving user experience' -- Andrew Hogan, Forrester Research.

Once the mobile device and image industry’s darlings – Nokia and Kodak are now pretty much irrelevant. While the pair innovated and spent a large portion of their revenue on R&D, their ultimate downfalls came because they simply failed to listen to their customers. “Feedback, both positive and negative, needs to be addressed at decisionmaking levels. If not, remaining relevant will be a challenge,” says Manoj Bhoola, chief customer officer at SAP Africa.

Describing the importance of customer experience as an “obsession”, Juan Bezón, chief commercial officer at the PCCI Group, is adamant that transforming the customer experience is not something that can be achieved overnight. “Now more than ever, the experience that a customer has with a brand is more differentiating than the product or service itself.”

He believes the first step is to review and redesign all customer journeys, eliminating pain points, adding new demanded digital touch-points and ensuring a seamless customer experience across all channels.

Tech and the modern customer

Mobile payment solutions offer customers the opportunity to pay for goods without having to visit a cashier. Remote/online ordering allows customers to order food or other items online or via their smartphones. On-the-floor solutions provide shop-floor sales personnel with the ability to speed up transaction processes by interacting directly with customers on the retail floor; check stock and place orders in real time.

According to Hugh Davies, business development manager for business systems at Epson SA, these are just a few ways that smart technologies are improving the customer experience, while streamlining business processes.  “New technology implementations, omnichannel efforts and personalisation tactics are often aimed at improving user experience (UX),” says Andrew Hogan, a Forrester analyst serving customer experience professionals.

Within organisations, the UX function is growing in importance and is well positioned to contribute to customer-centric innovation efforts. This is especially true in digitally native companies, he adds, because UX practitioners are trained to think about human behaviour, using qualitative research techniques like ethnographic research to help them develop new ideas.

Increasingly, customers want to control their time, which means they’d rather not wait in a queue for something they could easily order online, states Bezón. “Self-service is key for companies to survive, and is about automation, where customers are allowed to make all the normal transactions through online channels, either via a website or a mobile app, without human intervention.”

While having multi-channel and self-service capabilities is a big step, it’s not enough to ensure a great customer experience, he continues. Businesses can’t afford to have a ‘channel siloed’ vision of customer transactions and must provide a seamless experience through all touch points. Locally, customer preferences are dependent on function, notes Davies. In industries such as banking and retail, self-service portals have already proved very popular. That said, he points out that although the South African consumer is open to digitisation and self-service offerings, certain industries – hospitality for example – can’t do away with a personalised approach and offer this as a unique selling point.

For Quinton Pienaar, Agilitude CEO, believes that while technology and processes can map and measure interactions with customers, without happy and motivated employees such innovations would be futile. He believes that organisations shouldn’t disregard the importance of the human element. This allows a business to connect with buyers on an emotional level, which is key to customer experience success.

How can I help?

While the call centres of old still have a role to play, this industry needs to evolve in order to remain relevant. A good contact centre provider will support traditional call/voice services, while also offering various digital response channels like e-mail, social media and web-based chat.

For SAP Africa’s Manoj Bhoola, the move is towards streamlining processes so less call centre agents are required. Increasingly companies are implementing a fully electronic call centre. These call centres will essentially be run by a computer that generates answers to a caller’s request. These systems are so advanced that they’re able to forward pre-recorded videos that address the caller’s issue directly to them. “We must, however, never forget the value of the human touch and how much customers like being able to speaking to an actual human who can address their issue.”

Agilitude’s Quinton Pienaar also highlights the role of technology in call centres of the future. These innovations use real-time voice recognition to sense a customer’s personality and their stress levels and advise the call centre agent about how to best respond to the problem. “These call centres are merging into omnichannel centres, offering support across multiple channels and giving the same customer experience.”

Within the airline industry, some airlines have outsourced their call centre work to unemployed community members with high-speed internet connections and a laptop, notes Manoj. “The digital age is driving this business model. Calls can be re-routed automatically to anywhere in the world. This is a great model to increase efficiency and reduce costs.” Some of the downsides of this approach are the challenges around training and managing these agents. “A single unhappy customer who has the same digital channels available can have a very negative impact on the company.”

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