Agile Service in an unprecedented environment
In this episode, we are joined by guest speakers, Amanda Reynolds and Craig Pumfrey to discuss agile service and how companies need to improve their approach and shift their mindset during unprecedented times
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Guest Speaker - Amanda Reynolds
Amanda Reynolds is an Executive Customer Director who loves helping companies to transform their service offering, and reduce the operating costs. She is bi- lingual and have been a member of the Executive Committee both within FTSE 100 industry roles and top 5 consultancies, working across Europe, the US, India and the Philippines. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.
Diversification on a grand scale in rapid time – they’re just such brilliant things. It just proves what organisations and people can do in times of difficulty. And if you follow that through to when we’re out of this situation or even in the new normal, then retaining some of that entrepreneurial spirit will just be brilliant and essential.
Guest Speaker - Craig Pumfrey
Craig Pumfrey is VP Corporate Marketing at Sabio and has been part of Sabio’s growth journey since 2015. He has worked in the communications and customer experience industry since 1991. Connect with Craig on Linkedin.
Cultural focus and organisations that understand their markets. They’re always going to be the ones that do well, but it’s being able to act quickly in that more agile manner and to sustain it as we end this awful period. I think those are the organisations that are going to really make the difference.
- What do we mean by agile service?
- How easy is it for an established company to implement an agile service approach or is this really more suited to start up businesses?
- How critical is feedback and customer insight data to an agile CX process?
- How well prepared do you think the industry was for the COVID-19?
- Do you think the contact centre industry has had too much reliance on offshore?
- Who are the winners and losers right now?
Simon Thorpe – Welcome to CX Chat with Matt and Simon, our podcast series on all things customer experience. Each week we talk about some of the hottest topics and biggest issues facing cx professionals right now and invite special guests to join our discussions. My name is Simon Thorpe, and as ever, I’m joined by my colleague Matthew Dyer. And this week we are delighted to be joined by our colleague, Craig Pumfrey. Craig, how the hell are you? We’re excited to have you in the pod booth today.
Craig Pumfrey – I’m very well thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here as well. This is my first podcast and it’s great to be part of the story around the agility of CX and all things customer experience, so just don’t ask me too many awkward questions, okay.
Simon – I can’t promise but we’ll do our best. Only kidding. Really lovely to have you.
Matt Dyer – Welcome Craig. This is gonna be an interesting one, based on the experience we just had the deploying our VA, which was done using an agile approach, as opposed to a typical waterfall. How did you find it?
Craig – It was quite an experience. I mean, for those of you that don’t know, our VA at Sabio is called Abi and we deployed Abi on the website actually, a few weeks ago when the whole world was kicking off COVID style. The approach was brilliant, we focused very much on short sprint’s to test and learn how to actually deploy the VA. We are still really in that process. So all I can say is that so far, we’ve had, you know, a couple of missteps, but we’ve corrected them very, very quickly. Abi is learning. She’s still young, she’s still inexperienced, and I’d encourage anybody to go over to sabiogroup.com and ask her some questions, and then we’ll watch and we’ll see, you can ask me this question in a few months time.
Simon – And did everyone get the name Craig?
Craig – The name Abi. Well, if you take the “S” and the “O” away from Sabio, you’ve got Abi in the middle that’s as deep as it went. Yeah, if you look at it, it’s a bee, which is the genius idea of one of our marketing team. So I can’t claim that one.
Simon – Excellent stuff. And how are you, Matty? You well as always?
Matt – I’m good. I’m good. I’m really looking forward to this topic, very timely, speaking to a lot of customers regarding how they’re going to come out of COVID. And they’re going to be moving towards an agile type approach to kind of meet the different challenges that are experiencing, so getting some real insight around kind of what does that actually mean and what it takes is going to be good for our listeners. Hopefully.
Simon – Well, shall we get on with it then and introduce our special guest?
Matt – Sounds good.
Simon – So on the podcast this week, we are delighted to be joined by a lady who has held executive leadership roles for some of the biggest brands in the UK. She has worked at places like Nationwide, Santander, Affinity Water, Accenture, just to name a few. She is a transformation expert, a multi award winner, she’s bilingual. Do you know what I’m going to stop this introduction because I’m feeling hugely inadequate, and I’m just gonna get on with it and introduce Amanda Reynolds. How are you Amanda?
Amanda Reynolds – I’m really good. Thank you Simon, good to talk to you today.
Simon – Well, thank you for being on the podcast. We’ve known each other for many, many years. And you have had a really diverse career path working in lots of exciting brands and this whole theme of agile I know is very close to your heart.
Amanda – Yeah, I’m really passionate about it actually. And it’s been mulling through my mind for those who have been going through this pandemic, just, you know, talking and listening on how companies are responding to the situation and the environment we find ourselves in at the moment. So yeah, I’d like to talk a little bit about that today with you guys, I think it’d be really helpful.
Simon – It’s something that is very close to us. I know Craig, myself and Matt, thoughts as well and Sabio’s and we’ve been doing it actually a lot of discussion on previous podcasts about some of the kind of cultural things that you’ve got to consider around agile and some of the impacts on people. But before we get there, let’s just dig into what we’re meaning about agile customer experience. I mean, the whole theme today’s podcast is agile service in an unprecedented environment. You very kindly came up with the theme for us Amanda, but when you’re talking about agile service or agile CX, what does that mean to you?
(What do we mean by agile service)
Amanda – Yeah, so it’s really a good question. So, you know, typically when we talk about agile we’re talking about agile in terms of programme management and transformation. Essentially in my view, it’s how companies need to tweak or radically shift their operating models and be creative in their approach to maintain the service to customers during this really difficult time. So agile in terms of methodology is entirely appropriate. However, companies need to go much further than that and think about the whole operating model and their customer directory, if you like in how they respond.
Simon – Matty, I know you’re keen on this theme. When we were talking about putting this podcast together, well, what was what immediately sprang to your mind?
Matt – Yeah, it would be good to get Amanda’s take on this and I think we talked in another podcast regarding it. A lot of organisations we talked to, who potentially haven’t gone down an agile route before, I don’t think really comprehend the kind of the mindset shift that they need to go through. So kind of everyone talks about failing fast, being quick, but is there a kind of a concept where as a business, they need to not have a culture of pointing the finger if things don’t work, and it’d be good to guess explore that about that kind of psychological support. People need to feel comfortable to enable a kind of an agile mindset. What’s your thoughts, Amanda?
(How critical is feedback and customer insight data to an agile CX process?)
Amanda – Yeah, so from my perspective, it’s, you know, being agile, particularly at the current time is absolutely critical. And you know, companies talk about failing fast and, and all the rest of it, but this for me is just about evolving and iterating. So trying things out, you know, and testing them. So proof of concept pilots, for example, but really what underpins all of this around agile is the data and analytics. So what is the data telling you? What’s, you know, what’s happening in terms of the demands? What are customers talking about, you know, what are their queries? How is the resource effectively mobilised? So you know what were good opening hours and shifts, you know, a few months ago? No longer is that the case. So the data and the analytics will say that actually the peaks have now shifted from maybe, you know, core hours on a Monday morning to something like mid afternoon, for example. So companies need to be agile in how they approach that. So very quickly, they’re going to have to look at changing their shifts, for example, on top of already a complex infrastructure of all of their or virtually all of their workforce working remotely. So how do they do that in a really quick fashion, and make sure that they’re responding to the customer’s needs, and also in terms of the frequently asked questions on the website. So many companies have really rallied around, not just in terms of moving and shifting their virtually entire workforce to homeworking, but also around having the right information on the website so customers can go there and actually could potentially avoid that contact. But actually having the right frequently asked questions, and the virtual assistants behind that, the chatbots behind it can really help companies deal with increased volumes, but without putting further pressure on their workforce. So it’s responding to things in a really quick fashion. And things that are really relevant right here right now.
Matt – Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think kind of what we see is before this, people who procrastinate and take a long time to make decisions around do we deploy a chatbot? But now, because obviously, the spikes and peak in call traffic has kind of forced their hand to actually look at the containment or kind of deflection strategies. So from a perspective of the need to get on with it quickly, I think I generally do think they’re going to come out with a sink actually working in an agile fashion. Does derive a lot of business value. So it will be interesting to see kind of how things progress moving forward.
Amanda – Yeah, totally. I mean, you know, only a couple of months back to deploy, you know, chatbots, virtual assistant would enquire a business case. Probably several conversations, a committee, maybe depending on the scale of it and the organisation, presenting it to the board. So scheduling in the next board slot, and so on and so forth. But, you know, these are, you know, times where companies and people have just got to respond immediately. So, they’ve just got to, you know, take a leap of faith that they wouldn’t have ordinarily done previously.
Matt – Yeah, and I think that’s the big thing in terms of the silos we’ve seen a lot of see a lot of breaking down to the silos that we typically saw previously. I just hope when we come out of this, that mindset is going to remain, because we are getting a lot more done at this time.
Amanda – Yeah, I totally agree. And for me, when we think about some of the positive aspects that have come out of this, you know, awful situation if you like, in terms of the pandemic, you know, when we think about the real sense of community spirit and kindness, the homeworking for, you know, contact centre staff, if you like, you know, previously they’ve been virtually the only department in large organisations that haven’t been able to work, you know, remotely flexibly from home. And there’s some real reasons for that, such as GDPR etc. I won’t dwell on that. But for me, there’s some great thinking there and that can only improve employee engagement, attraction, retention, NPS scores increasing, CSAT increasing and all the rest of it. But coupled with that the speed of action that companies have taken the creativity and you know, diversification. If you look at the designer brands now making PPE and the alcohol distilleries making hand sanitiser. I mean, that’s just diversification on a grand scale in rapid time. They’re just such brilliant things. I think for me just prove what organisations and people can do in times of difficulty. And if you, you know, follow that through to when we’re out of this situation or even in the new normal, if you like, then retaining some of that entrepreneurial spirit will just be brilliant and essential in my mind to be, you know, competitive and what will be a difficult economic situation.
Simon – Amanda that there seems like there’s been some clear winners in this environment. And as you say, there’s some brilliant, brilliant examples of diversification and companies do some wonderful things for the staff. But I think there’s obviously lots of examples of companies that are simply just been caught off guard and rabbits in the headlights, frankly, in terms of being able to adapt to the situation. You know, in those in environments does that come down to, you know, preparation? Does it come down to leadership? Craig, I’d like to get your thoughts on this, you know, why have some companies been able to you know operate in an agile, in a pivot situation and why have some so clearly been left behind?
(The winners and losers right now – who has managed to pivot and adapt and who has been bogged down by process?)
Craig – I think that’s one of one of the $64,000 questions to be honest with you and I’d be interested in Amanda’s take as the expert here but my my gut feeling and anecdotally talking to organisations and professional bodies in our industry, a lot of it comes down to, you know, a real empathy and understanding of the client base or the stakeholders of those organisations. Coupled with that, the cultural willingness to make those changes and to recognise I’m desperately trying not to say fail faster, so I won’t, but I just did, but to recognise that actually, the market at the moment is a little more forgiving. It is allowing, you know, the odd crimp in the otherwise perfect plan. So I think, you know, cultural focus, but really, you know, organisations that understand their markets, well, they’re always going to be the ones that do well, but it’s being able to act, you know, quickly in that more agile manner and to sustain it as we end this awful period. I think those are the organisations that are going to really make the difference. But I bow to Amanda’s experience in this. What do you think, Amanda?
Amanda – So I really love your point about you know, customers at the moment are more forgiving, and that totally, you know, is refreshing and also, you’re hearing from so many different friends, families, companies, whoever you’re talking to at the moment, but actually, that whole kindness and appreciation that times are difficult for everybody. I think enables companies to maybe be a bit riskier, a bit bolder. Because actually, they know what they’ve really got nothing to lose because they’ve got to do something radically different. But also that people are just generally being kinder and willing to go on the journey. When we think about the winners and losers, for me, the differentiation here is that if you had a large part of your customer contacts online, an experienced digital conversations team, so you know, virtual assistants, chatbots, you have robotics running your back office processes with you know, straight through processing, and a data and analytics team that can drive best next steps in real time, who also have the ability to inform trends, data driven decisions, to really flex and tweak the model in real time, then these companies will have much less reactive running around and more capacity to focus on what next. So that for me is sure, if you’re still in the, you know, traditional mindset, if you like and you’ve tinkered around the edges, you’ve got to self serve, you’ve got an online offering, you’ve got a web chat team, but you’ve still got a big back office and you’ve, you know, reliant on those manual processes, for example, or you’ve got a really large frontline workforce where predominantly your channel of choice and the largest volume is still voice, then those companies will be grappling with it more. So for me, you take some examples, you know, I’m a customer of octopus energy. They sent out emails, their channel of choice actually is self-serve online and by emails. They had an email this week to remind me to submit my metre reading, but they’ve changed their email and they’ve also changed the click through buttons which you know, a topics of today and very relevant to all of us at the moment. So one of the emails included a click here. So if a customer did want to cancel or change their Direct Debit, because they know that’s going to be a frequently asked question, and that’s going to drive demand into the business, they’ve actually created a slick process where customers can self-serve and do it themselves. So, you know, for companies like that they will be able to respond much better than the other companies for sure.
Simon – Amanda, can I ask you a question because your experiences is very much executive leadership. And it’s really refreshing to hear your points about some of the technology and the kind of automation enablement. But I would imagine that some of our listeners will be thinking, so we’re in kind of unprecedented times at the moment and we’re operating with a certain amount of corporate fear of you know, what’s going to happen when we come out of this and recession and things like that. How would you go about justifying, you know, the potential spend on something like a VA or a bot or something like that right now where you may run into a wall of you know, we just need to batten down the hatches right now, keep costs at the absolute minimum.
(Automation enablement during unprecedented times)
Amanda – Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I do think, you know, there will be those conversations happening without a doubt. But I think if the leader turned it on its head and actually looked at it to say, Okay, if we had invested in virtual assistant, if we had got RPA running all of our processes in the back office, if we have, you know, driven digital adoption, from 30% to 55%. What would the model look like in terms of the volumes and the associated costs? And how could that company shift its cost to serve from you know, what it is today to what it can be tomorrow, and there’s no doubt about it that for whilst you know, these functions if you like and offerings need, and you know, require investment, there is a really advantage in terms of reducing costs to serve over a longer period. And also, there’s a huge amount of data and case studies that customers satisfaction will be higher, the NPS will be higher, because we’ve all got really busy lives, right. And we want to interact with companies in the most frictionless way, in the way that it’s intuitive. We want to access it at time and we want things fast, we want it to be convenient. We’ve been talking about all of the things in the last few years, if not longer, to be honest with you, but not everybody has reacted as fast as some. So for me, it’s about how can you move your current business if you have been grappling with this and you haven’t made the required investments, from a disrupted organisation to a disrupter. And what we now know is that there is going to be a new normal, there are going to continue to be things that, you know, we need to question and respond quickly to. Companies should already be thinking about what’s next in terms of debt management and collections. How can they, you know, build some rapid tools, which help them respond really quickly, so customers can make those flexible payments via an app, via text and so on. So for me, it’s always thinking about how can we just operate simpler, take out the complication, and really look at you know, maybe starting from a zero base. So in other words, if you were redesigning your blueprint in your operating model right now, how would you design it and then match that against the operating model that exists today? And look at how can we streamline this? How can we take up some of the clunkiness? What have been some of the barriers in the situation that we face, you know, ourselves in right now? And how can we prevent something like this in the future? Because we already know there’s going to be future waves until we get a vaccine. And who knows, you know what after that. So for me, it’s, you know, how can companies really make sure that they’re agile in their thinking, and the way they’re acting in terms of their service offering?
Craig – Amanda, there’s one thing you said a minute or so ago which chimed with me as well. We shouldn’t, you know, obviously we need to focus on our clients, focus on the experience that they deliver to their their clients and their customers and the consumers. What’s your view on on the experience of the employee because it’s not just the clients and our consumers that want those frictionless, excellent experiences, but actually, employees now wants to work for agile organisations. Because when these things happen, and the chances are this may have happened again in the future. They want to work for an organisation that actually has that flexibility and that, you know, heads up view on the market and how they respond. What do you think about that from an employee point of view?
(Employees experience with agile organisations)
Amanda – Yeah, I totally agree. You know, from an employee perspective, everybody wants to work in an exciting company that’s creative, innovative, you feel like you’re learning, progressing, and not just standing still, and, you know, working on monotonous tasks, if you like. So for whilst there has been some nervousness over the last few years around, you know, back offices shrinking or eliminating because robotics are running those processes. And therefore, you don’t need people to serve, you know, manage those processes. Actually, what you then do get to give colleagues is the opportunity to do more interesting and more variable roles. So for example, I know from companies that I’ve worked in and teams that I’ve had working with, they love the web chat. Absolutely love it. So, you know, initially there was a bit of, I’m not sure I want to go into the web chat team because I genuinely like having conversations with customers or I genuinely like doing something else. But actually, in terms of the web chat, they’ve loved it. And also what they’ve been able to do is help, if the companies really involve their frontline colleagues in the customer journeys and the new ways of working, then it will pay dividends both for the you know, the business being very relevant, but also for the colleagues to feel really engaged with it and like they’re designing the feature. So that for me is really important. So I think for whilst, you know, some of the old opportunities if you like to either close down or they’ll be diminishing over time. It brings with it such great new opportunities for colleagues, which I genuinely think will help the attraction and the retention of staff.
Matt – Amanda, there’s one question that I’d like to ask you, and it’s, I guess, the outsource sector. So do you think there’s an over reliance on offshore? And to add to that is do you think the gig economy in terms of contact centre region, do you think that’s an area that’s going to kick off post COVID? What’s your thoughts on that?
(Do you think the contact centre industry has had too much reliance on offshore?)
Amanda – So I think for the first question, actually, for me, I I think there’s been a good blend of in-house and outsource resource if I’m entirely honest, there are some companies that have outsourced for, if not virtually, all of their operations, and they will be of course entirely reliant on the outsource company’s ability to respond to this. As well as you know, naturally they want to work in partnership and oversee it and work with them on all the rest of it but ultimately, for me, outsourcing is brilliant. It gives companies economies of scale, the ability to reduce your cost to serve, tap into some expertise that you may not have in-house, gives you some flexibility for peaks and troughs if you want it, maybe you’ve got an overflow facility or something like that. But when you think about this pandemic, a lot of the outsource industry in the customer space is in large delivery centres such as India and South Africa. And of course, what we’ve seen in India is the fact that they’ve had to close down and South Africa too, although they’ve reopened up South Africa. What companies have done is respond to that brilliantly, I’ve been talking to them frequently and you know, they sent them home with laptops and they had people working remotely in a matter of hours. So I think they’ve done a fantastic job of setting up, but actually what will be really, really important, as is always is the contractuals that sit around all of this. So, you know, I guess what companies won’t have is a pandemic on a global scale. But actually, if they had, you know, flexibility where maybe they had outsourced a lot of their operation or all of it, instead of working in one location, they actually had a contingency with a few locations. And that just helps spread and mitigates the risk. Because South Africa’s backup and online now, if you like, India, still a lot of homeworking but actually companies could have spread that risk. And I think that’s really, really important, as well as selecting the right outsourcer. And companies are really reluctant primarily because of GDPR. And, you know, other things competitive, collateral and the rest of it, but if companies did have a bit more of an open mind, you know, around using some of the same resource for multiple clients, as happened years ago. Then actually, they could get much more flexibility at a really good economical rate. So I think there’s some things to think about for many companies with regards to what do we do in terms of outsourcing? And actually, how do we operate on a go forward. And for me, the ones the companies that have really succeeded in this environment, if you like, as best as they can have been ones that have had outsourced operations, and they’ve been able to really boss to them, support them. And also give them some specific advice as to what’s happening across all of their clients. So what are they seeing in terms of some of the trends and share that best practice if you like, in these kind of uncertain situations?
Matt – Yeah, it’s interesting, I thought of the kind of the BPO doing the benchmarking piece around that.
Simon – Do you know one of the things that I think has been really interesting and you just touched on it Amanda, is how quickly some companies have been able to get through some of the debates and the hurdles and the risks that we’ve been talking about for years, like, you know, the fears of homeworking because of data security, you know, the compliance of GDPR. And, you know, some of these debates that companies have been having for, you know, months and months and trying to get decisions, and we’ve been able to make them within days to pivot to the environment. So hopefully, it’ll show a lot of companies when we do come out of lockdown, and hopefully get back to some sense of normality that maybe we don’t have to have these long orchestrated debates about things and we can look back and go, you know what, we move pretty quickly when we need to. So maybe we can learn from that, that speed and agile approach.
Matt – And that can be the tipping point to using people in the gig economy actually, because of the kind of barrier to entry is reduced. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Amanda – Yeah, I mean, for me there still would be some nervousness. And you know, we’ve talked about, you know, customers and people being more forgiving at this current time. And then no doubt, there’ll be some learnings when, when we come out of this, if you like, around data and GDPR and the rest of it. It’s for me about how do those risks get managed in an appropriate way that makes sure that you’ve got a viable business model and a flexible workforce that you can rely on in times of need, and also demonstrate the benefits of having homeworking because, for me, these you know, what will be six weeks, eight weeks, who knows when we go into phase two. But what we’ve got now is a really good sample of actually how have people responded, how have customers responded, what’s been some of the learnings, what’s been some of the advantages and actually some of the things that we do need to change. So there’s a really good sample now to take that forward. And ascertain right, what next? And how do we adapt our risk models to respond accordingly because that’s what will be talked about in the boardroom and with the regulators. So it’s a good sample to really kind of prove a point if you like and learn some lessons.
Simon – I think it would be a brilliant podcast to have you back when we hopefully get out of this situation and get back into this new normal Amanda, to see whether the companies have actually learnt and whether you know, some of these new practices have been put into place. We’re unfortunately gonna have to draw a conversation to a close for another week and we could talk for days I’m sure about this very theme but Amanda, a huge thank you for giving us your time and your expertise. Like we always do on the podcast, we like to leave our listeners with three takeaways, three things that they could be thinking about that pertains to the theme, so are there any things that you think people should go away and have a think about?
(Takeaway one – use data and insight and robots to handle processes)
Matt – So I think from my perspective, big takeaway that I took today was to use data and insight and more robots to kind of handle the street through processing, so that businesses can free up time to focus on new business models, and looking at how they can improve the CX to kind of differentiate coming into the new normal.
Simon – Nice. What about you, Craig?
(Takeaway two – listening to the market and making sure your strategies are answering client’s needs)
Craig – Yeah, from my point of view, I mean, this is the marketers view of the world. But I think, you know, fundamentally some of the key points around, you know, listening to the market, making sure that your strategies you know, are answering the needs of your clients. Also, you know, using mechanisms to gain the feedback and push it efficiently back into the organisation and of course, employing that inwardly as well and looking at the welfare and the feedback from your employee base, because these are the guys that are delivering the business for you.
Simon – Absolutely. And just to finish, Amanda your takeaway point?
(Takeaway three – have a refresh look and adapt your risk models)
Amanda – Yeah. So, as we know, these are all really uncertain times at the moment, difficult, emotionally, and it’s all a bit of a roller coaster. And when we do go through these difficult times, and you know, I guess unprecedented we should call it, we have huge learnings. So for me, this period of time should be looked at as, actually what did we learn? How did we respond? What could we have done differently? And for me have a refresh look at your risk models. So what were the top risks may have slipped down the priority list and new risks will become more important. So what can we learn and actually, let’s adapt our risk models so that we can respond accordingly on a go forward?
Simon – Couldn’t agree more. And what a brilliant way to close out this episode of the podcast. Amanda, can we say a huge thank you for giving up your time and joining us. Did you enjoy it?
Amanda – It’s been an absolute pleasure. I totally loved it. Thank you for having me.
Simon – Anytime. Well, I think we genuinely would like to take you up on the on doing another one when we see whether we look back and find people have learned or not as the case may be. So thank you for joining us. And Craig, how about you? How’s your first podding experience been?
Craig – It’s been superb, thank you very much. Made all the better by you looking after us Simon. And of course, Amanda’s expertise and Matt’s. Brilliant, thanks very much.
Simon – Lovely stuff. And Matty a pleasure as always, sir. Yes, looking forward to the next one.
Craig – Said with enthusiasm.
Matt – It’s been thick and fast at the moment.
Simon – Indeed, indeed. Well, thank you ever so much guys. And for any of our listeners that want to get in touch with Amanda, we will publish Amanda’s LinkedIn address on the promo and documentation on our website. And as always, we record these every week. We’d love to hear from our listeners in terms of feedback in terms of questions, maybe any themes that you’d like us to cover. But for now, a big thank you for tuning in. And we look forward to having you listen to the next podcast next week. Thanks again.