Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will move the world. – Archimedes
Earlier this month in Athens, I spoke at a conference that reminded me how the Customer Experience (CX) will be the lever that helps astute, agile, creative companies gain powerful advantage in the future.
I was still thinking about that lever the weekend following the event, when I went wandering up to the Acropolis, ancient site of Athen’s golden age. Eagerly negotiating a winding and rocky path, I was sometimes forced to pause on slippery stones, cutting sideways to reorient my way – a perfect metaphor for the “channel hopping” that comprise today’s non-linear customer journeys, as consumers move from web self-service, to chat, phone, email and back again in hopes of reaching their goal.
We’re entering an era of intense techno-consumerism, of massive interconnection, and over the past year I’ve been struck by three providers of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) services in particular that, each in their own way, are driven to discover a kind of golden age for their industry, a future characterized by ongoing journeys that become rewarding experiences unto themselves. All of them seek to adapt to changing times, to apply new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to the CX, advances they hope to leverage in order to open up considerable opportunity for clients and client customers alike. All are notable for the enthusiasm and focus with which their leadership engages clients as well as the analyst community in order to share ideas, to articulate their visions.
All Along the Pathway: ibex
Bob Dechant is the CEO of ibex. Over the years he’s seen a lot in the space, and is now determined to carve out a niche in the industry by disrupting voice and labor arbitrage with broader, deeper, seamless, and effective lifecycle services. Three years into Dechant’s tenure, the company is catering to emerging and high-growth market needs through an end-to-end Customer Lifecycle Experience (CLX) solution.
ibex’s CLX platform offers an all-in-one suite, an interconnected toolset for driving end-to-end customer acquisition, support, and experience for high-growth brands. As such, it’s meant to chart a new direction beyond typical BPO by nurturing experiences from their first instance, continuing all the way along the entire journey. Rather than brands having to turn to different vendors for help at different stages of the customer lifecycle, ibex offers a one-stop-shop for servicing the entire customer journey.
In other words, the company’s ambition is to bring together opportunities to greatly improve the CX, from customer acquisition to engagement and growth. The initial phase of the lifecycle is designed to help brands build, launch, and manage digital marketing campaigns across paid search, social, video, display, and organic search. Digital media drives demand, and multichannel digital lead sourcing aims to greatly increase the number of clicks, conversions, and ROI.
It’s a process that is all about taking mobile- and web-based interactions and weaving them in with worldwide contact centers for global customer engagement. ibex’s investment in agent engagement is joined with investment in technologies such as analytical AI to chart a course toward outcome-oriented customer support. To turn customer interactions into growth opportunities, the process tracks and monitors customer needs, satisfaction, and disposition. Strategic offer presentation and optimization encompasses up-selling, cross-selling, and win-back and retention strategies.
Ultimately, ibex seeks to work with disruptive, fast-growing companies, the end-game being real value-added partnerships. One might say that helping clients grow will be more about value creation than labor arbitrage focused site selection. ibex feels that going forward, innovation in CX will be all about using tools such as algorithmic intervention and intelligent sentiment analytics to engage customers all along the purchase pathway, improving the Customer Experience along the way. By leveraging core technology strengths of its parent, TRG Holdings, by emphasizing that the CLX is all about capturing and nurturing customer lifetime value (CLV), ibex aims to differentiate itself in the market.
An Age of Context & Permanent Conversation: Acticall-Sitel
By the time I reached the Parthenon, my thoughts started to shift to another, larger provider in the BPO space, Acticall-Sitel. Cofounder and entrepreneur Arnaud De Lacoste is the author of a recent compelling read, What if Artificial Intelligence Could Make Us More Human? The book is thoughtful and well-crafted, the kind of thought leadership that is going to help move the BPO industry into a new age.
Acticall-Sitel too speaks the language of end-to-end Customer Experience Management Solutions. And for De Lacoste, as the digital revolution picks up momentum, the conversational approach to customer engagement will reign. He writes:
In fact, entering the age of conversation implies a radical shift in CRM and a reversal of the balance of power in favor of the consumer… CRM is no longer a dotted line of intermittent contact – it’s becoming continuous and more interesting, but also more demanding…. Brand success will largely depend on knowing how to control the route these “story lines” take and to reap the benefits of a customer relationship based on reliable, reciprocal interaction. Welcome to the age of context and permanent conversation!
Meanwhile, technology in the form of AI-armed software robots, or bots, will help make sense of increasing waves of data, will be an important part of an entirely new value proposition:
Bots will work in the front office answering consumers’ questions but also in the back office helping agents work faster or find customers better solutions. The bot will listen to the conversation and make recommendations to the advisor by analyzing the consumer’s profile. Customer journeys are not linear, so the back and forth between human and machine will be ongoing. They will work together in more and more areas, and CRM will be characterized by patterns where one part is initiated by the bot and then taken up by the agent.
But while AI-armed bots will certainly become increasingly important as far as support mechanisms for interactions with advisors, “The Customer Experience, and the bonds of trust between consumers and their favorite brands, will be all about conversation. Consequently, the human aspect of that conversation will have to be exceptional all the time.” De Lacoste is adamant on this point:
Laurent Uberti and Olivier Camino, with whom I founded the Acticall Group in 1994, share my deep conviction that human intelligence will be invaluable as long as people are masters of the one thing a machine will never be able to transmit: feelings. As far as we are concerned, long into the future, AI will be constrained to a playing field that doesn’t require emotion. Inevitably, certain tasks will be automated, but people will always have to plug the emotional gap. From this point of view, technology will make us more human by reminding us of our true comparative advantage – our ability to empathize, to understand others and to sense their hopes and fears. No machine is capable of feeling emotion with the subtlety accuracy and indeed the flaws of a human being. The key currency in this new era will be emotional intelligence, and humans, by nature, will remain its sole “master and possessor.”
The company is determined to harness what it sees as the industry’s explosive digital transformation to ensure an innovative, flexible, end-to-end solution for enhancing the CX without forgetting the human-side of the equation.
Teleperformance (& a Pericles for the Industry)
Teleperformance founder and CEO Daniel Julien seems uniquely driven. He’s led the company from modest origins to $5.1 billion in revenue in 2017, the largest provider in the space. As I gazed out over the city of Athens, the vast landscape echoed with history, reminders of the time when Pericles was coordinating the construction of the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Parthenon. And it struck me – having built a vast global enterprise of considerable influence, one of the world’s larger private sector employers, Julien might be the Pericles of his industry.
At a February presentation for analysts in Paris, I asked Julien for his thoughts on the possible impacts of AI on the customer journey, and on the industry in general. His answer was optimistic regarding the potential for our future of massive interconnection:
AI has a role when it comes to interactions and questions that tend to be rational, that could be conducted without a human being, but the role of Teleperformance is to be on the side of complexity and the emotional. We are human beings, after all. I see the new technology as “augmented intelligence” rather than artificial intelligence. Going forward, the world is going to be more complex, with many more interactions. At Teleperformance, it’s a question of being smart and agile; life is dynamic, and so you need to make your company dynamic.
Julien understands that within the next few years, there will be nearly 8 billion people connected online, each of them having access to a megabit-per-second connection to the Internet or better. The deployment of 5G, and networks brought to us by such giants as Facebook and Google, mean that within a decade we’ll all be living in a dramatically more connected world. If Teleperformance already interacts with approximately 40% of the world’s population through various channels every year, what might that number look like in a decade?
To help clients better understand the shifting nature of the customer journey at a time of such rapid change, the impact of trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Teleperformance recently announced the launch of Praxidia, a consultancy business based on the Group’s expertise in omnichannel CX and the nuances of customer behavior. Praxidia will leverage Teleperformance CX Labs research and TP Analytics capabilities, and according to the official release, “Praxidia exists to increase the value of customer interactions and create new opportunities for its clients and their customers by applying the advanced research, analytics, and operational experience of Teleperformance.”
Praxidia will be led by Paulo Righetti, who believes that customization of the Customer Experience through data analytics is our new reality as data analytics continues to improve. Back in Lisbon in 2016, when I took the opportunity to ask Righetti about the impacts of new technologies on the industry, his answer was clear: “AI, analytics, and machine learning are transforming the world,” he said. The future customer journey is going to blend technology with human beings so seamlessly that eventually, in Righetti’s mind, “the customer won’t be able to tell the difference between them.”
Clearly, both Julien and Righetti aim to have companies turning to Praxidia to help them better understand and manage a world of increasing complexity characterized by the rise of new technologies and all the new communications needs that will inevitably result.
It’s a smart move. In an increasingly complex world characterized by exponential technological change, more organizations will seek to differentiate and thrive on the basis of the Customer Experience. And ibex, Acticall-Sitel, and Teleperformance appear eager to usher in a golden age of the customer journey.