A contact centre for the future

We have already entered the age of virtual agents, voice recognition and immediate verification through biometric data, suggesting the future role for intelligent automation meeting customers wherever they are. Furthermore, by adding context to add value and anticipating customer needs, the contact centre could become a key aspect of brand differentiation. The key premise and challenge lies not in doing things differently, but in enabling consumers (and staff) to do different things. Gartner believes that autonomics-based managed services and cognitive platforms will fuel a 60% reduction in the cost of IT solutions by automating repetitive tasks currently tackled by humans[i]. This may not mean the end of the contact centre per se, but almost certainly indicates significant forthcoming change to both the levels of contact centre employment and the type of work done there, the skills needed for it, and the general elevation of customer service levels.


Aside from excellent communication skills, agents will need analytical problem-solving skills, project management skills, and in some cases, technical training to understand the finer details of their product or service. Customer service agents will need to adapt to changes in technology, from becoming experts in apps & wearables and social networks to utilising. In essence, the remaining core of contact centre workers will need to become knowledge workers. The range of technologies impacting on customer service could actually create whole new classes of consultant-like jobs in the contact centre space. Future contact centres will likely be able to cater to non-traditional services such as medical examinations using biometrics and similar smart technologies.  Predictive analytics is likely to enable pre-emptive and perhaps even proactive customer service delivered through the omnichannel or via consumers’ virtual personal assistants. This will place greater demand and emphasis on the contact centre but could lead to greater customer satisfaction and brand loyalty if done appropriately.

The economics of this disruption are compelling. Machine learning technology and advanced speech recognition can improve upon conventional interactive voice response system and provides cost savings of 60-80% over an outsourced contact centre consisting of human labour[ii]. Customer preference must also be considered; 75% say self-service is a convenient way to address customer service issues, whilst 91% of consumers would use an online support centre if it was tailored to their needs[iii]. Personalised customer service is the ultimate goal of almost all industries and those that strategically align the contact centre experience to their overall strategy stand a chance of discovering new areas of value, providing better customer service and establishing points of differentiation.

[i] http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/245827

[ii] http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

[iii] https://blog.proonto.com/blog/customer-service-in-2030/

The future CMO

A key principle of marketing has long held that better knowledge of a customer helps better tailoring of products and services to a given segment or individual. With the volume, variety and velocity of contextual information all increasing and set to do so further, knowledge of consumers is entering a new phase.


Whilst close to half of CMO’s acknowledge that digital capabilities have significantly changed their customers’ behaviour, only 12% feel sufficiently prepared for the consequences of digitally enabled customers[i]. Technology, analytics, consumer relationships, growth and even organisational renewal are all issues intertwined with the emerging CMO role. The extent of the role change could be significant, with 78% of leaders agreeing it will change fundamentally in the next five years[ii].

The challenge to change will ostensibly feature a new skill set, centred around analytical capabilities, but also augmented with the requisite soft skills needed to collaborate across business units and demonstrate the value of marketing as a driver of organisational revenue. Perhaps within a few years, the notion of marketing as a cost centre will finally be proven as dated.

However, the framework in which CMOs operate must also be conducive to broader change. Marketing functions that operate in silos are highly likely to fall behind those that integrate with wider business units and processes. Here, and elsewhere, CMOs are unlikely to be able to enact change with support from other executives. Given support by other stakeholders such as CIOs and HR executives, and by focussing on talent, analytics and customer experience, CMOs can begin to craft a more conducive framework to operate within. It should be acknowledged that cultural change is never easy to enact, and will require supportive measures that codify behaviour change – whether it be through different processes, incentives or new talent in key positions.

New models underpinned by new company wide collaboration must be built as traditional marketing, I.T and organisational models expire. Central to this must be the idea that data should be viewed as an enterprise asset rather than a departmental asset. This broader view of data and of the organisation can help the CMO and CIO develop and implement insights that deliver greater value to the business and form a key building block of the ‘Marketing 2.0,’ organisation.

[i] http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/bought-not-sold-marketing-and-selling-to-digitally-empowered-business-customers.aspx

[ii] https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-win-campaign-management?c=glb_artalerttwt_10000556&n=smc_0815

Why tech problems may be cultural problems.

All organisations and industries are built, to varying degrees, around (traditional) assumptions and beliefs surrounding value creation as well as a resultant set of behaviours. This ‘mental model,’ has often been found as unfit for purpose in the digital economy and inverting some core beliefs is a prerequisite for changing wider business models and any successful digital transformation[i]. All too often however, technology is diagnosed as both the problem and solution; both the cause of disruption and the answer to it. In some cases this is true; but in many cases it is the friction of new technology against legacy systems, legacy processes and legacy people that causes problems.


Prior to the Uberisation of many industries, a general belief pervaded that physical assets were durable and reliable, yet the creation of platforms for under-utilised assets (in Uber’s case, cars) brought this into question. Business models and their components have changed as a result – we are not witnessing a merely technological response. Indeed, for GE this inversion meant transforming from a manufacturing company into an IoT based analytics one and divesting various (mostly hitherto successful) parts of the company along the way. New structures, new talent and new management forms have all been necessary. Clearly, adding new technology onto the old business models wouldn’t have worked – it would have allowed them to do things differently, but not different things.

The process of digital transformation is so problematic for this very reason. The requisite changes in ways of doing things runs contrary to layers of accumulated and established ways of working, both within management and the day-to-day operations of workers. Its’ strategic nature means that it directly threatens management practices that have little changed since the 1980’s and in some cases are little changed from their 19th century military origins. That said, certain cultural characteristics can better enable transformations than others. Harvard Business Review[iii] notes the following as propitious;

  • A strong, shared sense of purpose
  • Freedom to experiment
  • Distributed decision-making
  • Open to the influence of the external world

More specifically, leadership behaviours, job descriptions and roles and the systems and processes that allow people to work must be changed if the way people (and technology) work and act in an organisation are to improve.

[i] https://hbr.org/2016/06/to-go-digital-leaders-have-to-change-some-core-beliefs

[iii] https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-company-cultures-that-help-or-hinder-digital-transformation

The disappearing bank or the invisible bank?

A couple of years ago, PwC made the claim that banks as we know them may no longer be needed by 2025. This claim of disappearing banks is rendered plausible by the rise of FinTech and various other actors seeking to gain a niche of the evolving banking ecosystem in which death to the incumbent is assured through a thousand cuts. An alternative scenario would see the banks as little more than providers of infrastructure  – or banking as a platform – from which third party API’s proliferate.


A common prescription for those facing disruption is to disrupt themselves first. In this case, perhaps the key for disappearing banks is to make themselves invisible. The rise of personal digital assistants in the period to 2020 will make this possible, with Gartner for one predicting that by this date we’ll be having more conversations with bots in their various forms than with our spouses[i]. The continuation of an ever-more connected digital lifestyle, the emergence of the IoT and a profusion of digital applications is likely to augment this trend in which banking becomes embedded in every-day activities to a greater degree. Data driven, tech-savvy banks should be able to adapt a truly customer-centric model if they are able to use their data stewardship to open new value chains. For example, 97% are happy for banks to use their data if it were used to offer them a wider range of services[ii]. The opportunities in such a move would appear significant, but are matched only be the challenges of ignoring this trend; API-powered and data fuelled business models are already appearing such as Figo and Open Bank Project.

To be clear, both the disappearing bank and invisible bank scenarios suppose the dissolution of chunks of the traditional banking infrastructure. The choice is not between costly and potentially painful decisions but rather on whose terms these decisions will need to be made. It is estimated that machine learning will have the potential to disrupt 40% of banking roles[iii] and some banks have already instigated this; for example in its’ billion euro attempt aim to digitise and automate 80% of its’ processes by 2020, Commerzbank has announced 9,600 job cuts[iv]. ING has announced similar plans.

In transitioning to am ‘ambient’ bank – able to use platforms to give you personalised information, data and insights unobtrusively and at actionable points, incumbent financial institutions are essentially accepting the value proposition of FinTech. The adoption of a FinTech veneer is easy enough; the processes, systems and culture of the incumbent must align with the technology is its’ full potential is to be realised. To adapt legacy systems and legacy people to enable the deeper benefits that come from excellence in data provenance, interface design and value proposition are more difficult, but will help distinguish those who disappear from those who choose to become invisible in the digital age.

[i] http://www.cio.com/article/3133771/emerging-technology/gartner-by-2020-youll-say-more-to-a-machine-than-to-your-spouse.html

[ii] http://www.insuranceage.co.uk/insurance-age/news/2456807/insurtech-futures-customers-demanding-digital-first

[iii] https://ascent.atos.net/look-out-2016/banking/

[iv] http://qz.com/799816/dutch-bank-ing-is-replacing-5800-people-with-machines-at-a-cost-of-2-billion/

Digital security models


McKinsey suggests that by 2025, the IoT could have an $11 trillion impact[i].  A range of technologies with high values at stake – from driverless cars to the emerging wearables ecosystem will rely on this very infrastructure. New security models are sorely needed if this potential is to be realised; if our current models are insufficient for today, they will be woefully unable to deal with tomorrow’s threats. Relying on perimeter defence and rule-based security is already inadequate, especially as organisations exploit more cloud-based services and open APIs for customers and partners to integrate with their systems[ii]. This security set-up remains all too common. New, as-yet-untested models of security are needed that can deal with new and evolving threats such as deeply embedded advanced persistent threats.


Whilst technologies represent new vectors of attack, they also represent a range of tools that could improve security. Analytics will be key. Blockchain – the technology behind BitCoin could for example, dramatically reduce the cost of governing regulatory compliance in the future. New encryption methods and interfaces – such as MasterCard’s scanning of your face to authorize payments will increase in the coming years. Biometrics are evolving in new areas; ‘brainprints’ represent a new system allowing accounts to be unlocked using brainwaves[iii]. Whether quantum computing will break all known security architectures, renew them or do both remains to be seen. In any case, the acceptance that preventative services cannot be solely relied upon will be a cornerstone of data security in the future, even as the array of preventative services evolves.

Adaptive security architectures are likely to prevail. IT leaders must focus on detecting and responding to threats, in addition to the more traditional blocking. Application self-protection, as well as user and entity behaviour analytics, will help fulfil the adaptive security architecture. Such systems need to balance access with security, and concepts are gaining traction that seek to do just this. Cloaking and containing, which can also be described as the concept of least privileges, provides the least amount of information that someone needs to do their job. At the same time, security could be built inside services, by design – especially with regards to customer facing applications and services. Perhaps the key missing issues for many in visioning new security architectures lies with the board. Cybersecurity needs to be regarded as a strategic organisational pillar and a shared cultural concern, for which both executive level and board level awareness needs to rise. Appointing members fluent in tech matters is a critical step, as is building the competence of existing members and ensuring an open and transparent relationship with the CIO and other key stakeholders.

[i]  http://fortune.com/2015/07/22/mckinsey-internet-of-things/

[ii] http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3143521

[iii] http://www.cityam.com/217060/you-could-soon-unlock-computers-and-bank-accounts-using-nothing-brainwaves

Future of staff engagement

The rationale implicit in digital transformation and a wide range of reorganisation projects lies in customer experience, or customers’ journeys. The focus on the customer has become the new source of differentiation in an era of commoditized consumption yet the exclusivity of this focus ignores a key group of people that help drive productivity. BCG notes that whilst ‘…companies spend $1 trillion a year understanding and shaping their customers’ journeys, they spend 1,000 times less gathering and acting on insights about their own employees[i].’ This is remarkably unbalanced and more likely than not to contribute to a degree of turnover, both customer and employee, given the key role customer service can play in customer retention.


That is not to say that business ignore their employees – some 77% of executives believe that people analytics is important[ii]. The purpose and application of such analytics is, however, equally important – whether it used as a carrot, a stick or something in between. But as BCG notes, ‘…what if companies used the same tools and techniques to learn what engages, frustrates, and inspires their employees?’

The benefits from introducing such a worker focussed system is two-fold. First, public trust is greater in organisations that actively treat their employees and second is the new normal that an imminent Millennial-dominated workforce represents. Millennials are forecast to achieve numerical advantage in the workforce in many countries over the next decade yet remain the least engaged part of the workforce (less than 29% report feeling engaged[iii]). Standard prescriptions of flexible working and the promise of a provision for work-life balance are unlikely to increase this or suffice as stand-alone efforts to increase the in-flow of Millennial talent to a given company.

Research has revealed the desire amongst a majority of Millennials for a sense of purpose in their job, as well as a desire for more feedback compared to other generations. This latter point also extends unto technology, where the choice of a given medium will increasingly be expected to at least match the consumer technology experience empowering their personal lives. Meeting these initial Millennial needs will require many companies to either restructure, learn new capabilities or in some cases, repurpose their business model and the difficulty in doing-so – whether stemming from cultural or managerial inertia or just the cost of implementing change –  will undoubtedly dissuade many companies from attempting fundamental change. This would be a major mistake however; since aside from constituting the future workforce, Millennials offer the perfect testing ground for introducing metrics that actively measure employees’ performance, wellbeing and engagement as well as unearthing insights into how these measures can be improved. It is about time worker engagement and experience received the levels of attention given to customers.

[i] https://www.bcgperspectives.com/onwards-upwards-growth/people-productivity/need-treat-employees-thoughtfully-as-customers

[ii] http://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/focus/human-capital-trends/2016/people-analytics-in-hr-analytics-teams.html

[iii] http://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2016/02/25/how-to-engage-the-millennial-workforce/#7b22b3028d26

Board-level tech awareness

Board-level tech awareness

In response to the challenge posed by digitally enabled upstarts as well as the the opportunities inherent in digital business, a wider swathe of industries and business than ever before are aiming to prove that, ultimately ‘…every company is a technology company[i].’


The disconnect between corporate ambition and ability in using these technologies, and the need to remodel corporate architecture to maximise the potential of such technologies receives much attention, and rightly so. However, a greater issue – and one generally receiving less attention is the issue of board level technological competency.

Technology and its role in digital transformation compels board level expertise, and the issue ostensibly resonates. Research suggests that almost two-thirds of boards prioritising widening the skillset of board members, especially in digital. However, a number of worrying statistics suggest that efforts to date are insufficient. Digital efforts have tended to lack strategic alignment since 29% are still led by individual business units[ii]. Worse still, 69% have not discussed cybersecurity at board level in the preceding six months[iii] and 46% have made no efforts to educate their directors[iv], whose average age is 63. Overall, only 14% claim their boards have produced a comprehensive digital strategy[v]. With risks inherent in digital and the rewards far from assured by employing an operational plug and play tech strategy, such a set-up could well account for the predictions of an increased future turnover of the Fortune 500 and of corporate failure.

A shift in board education, competencies and even composition may be necessary if a clear, cohesive and strategic view of technology is to be achieved. This means adding directors with technical knowledge and a concurrent strategy to build IT awareness amongst existing members. The latter will require significant investment of time and money, at least initially as the board grapples with core issues:

  • How does our tech infrastructure and specifics compare to peers, within and outside of the industry?
  • To what extent does legacy technology impinge us? What investment is needed?
  • How and where does our digital strategy match our overall strategic priorities?
  • What capabilities do we need to achieve our strategies? Does our operational structure maximise technological ability?

One established an oversight position can be better established and should be aided by a new emphasis on lucid and open contact with the (right) CIO, as well as an outside-in perspective by subject-matter experts when needed. Periodic review, educational boot camps could also help inspire not only competence but perhaps the longer-term goal of the board providing tech education to the workforce. The challenges and opportunities presented by a digital world are both imminent and immense; can analogue boards change in time?

[i] http://blogs.gartner.com/mark_raskino/2013/11/28/every-company-is-a-technology-company-more-and-more-evidence/

[ii] http://digitising-it.eiu.com/what-is-its-role-in-digital-transformation/

[iii] http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY-Global-Capital-Confidence-Barometer-April-2016/$FILE/EY-Global-Capital-Confidence-Barometer-April-2016.pdf

[iv] https://marketing.kpmgenterprise.co.uk/TakingTheOffensive

[v] http://www.hrinasia.com/hr-news/board-appointments-still-made-within-closed-networks-why/