As Australian organisations struggle to compete in an increasingly complex and dynamic business landscape, the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry is uniquely positioned to help. But the industry needs to go beyond its traditional value propositions around labour arbitrage and cost-cutting to help Australian businesses succeed.
Mark Atterby, Editor of CXFocus talks to Ryan Rayner, Chief Customer Officer and Co-founder of iCXeed about how BPOs can help their clients build leaner, more resilient and efficient businesses.
Mark Atterby (MA): Ryan, can you please provide a brief background on your career and current role?
Ryan Rayner (RR): I have nearly 20 years of client management experience, supporting brands from North America and Asia Pacific in customer experience technology and talent delivery.
I’ve supported these clients with their customer experience outsourcing journeys in Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, India, China, the United States, Guatemala, Jamaica & South Africa.
From this experience, iCXeed was formed to challenge the norms of business process outsourcing. I partnered with my other co-founders from the US, India, and the Philippines to combine our collective 100 years of CX and contact centre experience to build a company that delivers business process innovation leveraging the best of cognitive CX expert talent and artificial intelligence.
(MA): How has the BPO industry evolved over the last 10 years?
(RR):One thing that hasn’t changed is that contact centre work is unbelievably tough work!
We’re still in a world where more than 65% of contact centre volumes are generated from failure demand. All too often, frontline agents become the punching bag for customers frustrated with deficiencies in a company process, technology, product, or service. From a BPO industry evolution lens, the core of what the industry delivers day-in, day-out, certainly hasn’t evolved at the rate that customers’ heightened customer service expectations have become.
The BPO industry started when offices were localised for customer support. You had to go into your local branch or call the local branch’s phone number to get customer service. Then came the idea of centralising customer support teams within a “call” centre in the 80s, which delivered greater efficiencies and economies of scale.
The next major evolution came in the early 2000s with nearshoring, and offshoring talent was the next evolution in the early 2000s. Suddenly you understood the true cost of customer experience, and companies wanted to optimise those costs in alternative locations. This brought on the boom of India and the Philippines as they offered educated talent at lower costs. In fairness, it was not all about cost reduction as labour in these markets tends to bring passion and enthusiasm to this type of work whereas their domestic counterparts would find the work less exciting. This gave companies an instant sugar high of massive cost reductions. But once that initial instantaneous hit of labour arbitrage went away, then came efforts to try to continue to see these cost reductions of prior years by squeezing efficiency out of the operating environment.
This really put pressure on employees, contact centre leaders, and customers. The contact centre experience would result in high burnout for employees and customers alike.
(MA): What can be done to solve this problem and prevent employee and customer burnout?
(RR): It’s the old adage of ‘working smarter, not harder’ and doing what you can to create a great employee experience. Technology solutions like AI and automation can remove a lot of the drudgery from the job while delivering efficiencies and frictionless experiences for our clients that customers prefer.
The core of the job may not be pleasant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create an amazing work environment that alleviates some of the pressure employees face. We shouldn’t answer challenges in customer experience by throwing more bodies at the problem or forcing people to work harder or faster. We need to think more upstream and solve root-cause issues that drive inefficiencies and fractured experiences for customers.
As a BPO we need to be able to design and deliver intelligent solutions that solve the CX and EX challenges that our clients face and deliver exceptional experiences for their customers. My colleagues and I at iCXeed call this Cognitive CX.
(MA): When you talk about Cognitive CX, is it about how a BPO can add strategic value to a client’s business versus simply cutting costs?
(RR): Yes. I think, as an industry, we need to add strategic value for our clients. Many BPOs do that, but I also believe there’s a significant gap in what some deliver for their clients versus what they have the potential to do.
This isn’t necessarily their fault. It comes from commercial constructs that incentivise the growth of headcount in contact centres. Many companies are attached to the revenue associated with growing their headcount in supporting customer service.
No customer, friend, or family member says they enjoy reaching out to the contact centre. And we understand why…the focus on efficiency over the years has supplanted the basics of understanding what customers are asking for and making it easier to get them what they seek.
Service teams have become good at servicing perpetual customer failure and applying a band-aid resolution. As a result, service teams continue to expand at a disparity to customer growth.
For every project and BPO partnership we should be asking:
- Why do customers need to interact with the contact centre?
- Can we address upstream issues with process, technology, product, or service to eliminate the need for a service interaction altogether?
In my opinion, the best customer experience is no service experience. We ask how we can help our clients get there for their customers.
(MA): How important is the employee experience (EX) strategy and has it evolved in the modern workplace?
(RR): The role of the employee is transforming into one requiring skills like critical thinking, creativity, and innovation rather than simply process execution. Tedious and repetitive tasks can be automated. Simple interactions can be handled in self-service channels or through AI solutions. AI can support the employee in performing tasks that would otherwise distract an employee from listening and focusing on what the customer needs.
This is an exciting opportunity to change the employee experience in the contact centre and BPO industry to be focused on more intelligent work. This requires skills like data analytics, customer journey mapping, process improvement, omnichannel orchestration, AI conversational design, and citizen development of automation solutions. These skills future-proof talent for the digital future but also provide rewarding opportunities to make an impact.
BPOs need to create a supportive work environment that recognises the value of each employee and their contributions. Encouraging a culture of learning, curiosity, creativity, and innovation will attract experts who are not looking only to deliver service but want to design and orchestrate more efficient processes and customer journeys to proactively impact the customer experience.
(MA): What are some of the challenges you are seeing for businesses today seeking to optimise their customer experience, and where does artificial intelligence (AI) fit into today’s CX landscape?
(RR): A common hurdle I see for businesses seeking to optimise their customer experience is they are stuck in a cycle of ‘paralysis through analysis.’ The truth is, most of the time, the key to getting going is right in front of them. Think more about implementing an agile methodology in your customer experience teams.
Teams need to work cross-functionally within an organisation to address top customer interaction types and orchestrate more efficient and effective customer journeys. It does not require a massive transformation project. It is about taking action to address the most impactful areas that require the least amount of effort to change first. From there you learn more, and you continue to iterate and improve and eventually, you deliver a CX transformation within your organisation.
The data is there, but sometimes there is so much data that companies are paralysed to take action. Your front-line teams are the ones interacting with your customers day in and day out. They know the ins and outs of the customer experience and can identify gaps much faster than any data crunching or consultancy deep-dive. Gathering all this insight paves the way to a customer-centric service model that engages your CX experts in the solution for your customers. It is a roll-up-your-sleeves approach that unfortunately does not have the “sexiness” of a massive transformation project, but customers need and demand these types of practical solutions. This delivers the best tangible outcomes.
AI offers tremendous capability to deliver massively transformational customer experiences, but this is not a silver bullet. AI is dependent on structured customer data, optimised customer processes, and integrated technology systems to effectively support the customer. How do you get here? You need a CX partner that can evolve your CX ecosystem to the foundation needed to deliver amazing AI solutions. AI is like a fast-powered sports car in your garage. If you are an inexperienced driver, you are likely to crash until you learn how to appropriately drive such a powerful car.
(MA): What advice do you offer the industry?
(RR): As well as being a BPO we also need to be business process innovators. We need to help clients to unlock new opportunities for streamlining the business and creating lasting value. BPOs need to go beyond simply handling customer service interactions to offering significant value to their clients by becoming true partners in their business growth and success. The industry’s traditional ‘bums on seats’ approach has seen its use by date.
The best customer experience is no service experience. Leveraging technology, processes and great people we need to deliver less service but more value to our clients’ customers. My colleagues and I call it cognitive CX, others may call it something else, but it’s about delivering intelligent solutions that solve the CX challenges our clients face.