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CX needs a combination of excellence and empathy

7th Apr 2021
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The latest CX Strategy Forum concluded that customers expect more than just excellence from Marketing, Sales, Operations, and Service - they are now beginning to demand empathy and consistency in every interaction and across every channel.

This week I had the great pleasure to take part in my second Genesys CX Strategy Forum hosted by Rik McCrossan – their Strategic Business Director for EMEA. The CX Strategy Forums are an exclusive opportunity to learn about planning and executing strategies for delivering exceptional customer experiences.  An invitation-only event, they are filled with lively discussions and networking between attendees, their peers, and industry experts. There is also a less formal (virtual) gathering the evening beforehand.

In the last forum I attended, I concluded that AI and human-centric design needed to be at the heart of restarted CX programmes. Now four months on, some of the topics we discussed then have risen in prominence as the ‘dash to digital’ becomes the ‘race to recovery’. Notably:

  • Optimism has started to grow in business, government, and in the minds of consumers.
  • The topic of empathy continues to grow in importance on the executive agenda as businesses switch attention from operational necessity back to gaining competitive advantage.
  • We are not done with digital transformation yet, and much of the discussion was about what it means to the human within such large-scale change programs.
  • That said, we are still in transition to a ‘new normal’, so we need to retain the agility of the last 12 months as we enter the next 12, and finally
  • Data and AI are set to play an enhanced role in orchestrating the customer and employee experience going forward.

Networking – an informal time to reflect and chat

Before the forum proper, some of us spent the previous evening getting to know each other - sharing some personal experiences of the last year and our hopes for the next, as well as some of the emerging challenges and opportunities we can foresee - whether as an employee, a customer, or a leader.

Most of us also felt that we are on the cusp of a 'new normal’, but we are not there yet and are still working out how to consistently treat customers with both excellence and empathy (which we have all come to value in the pandemic and heard a lot about during the forum).

This led to us considering the balance between face-to-face interactions and digital / automated ones; whether in a business-to-consumer or business-to-business context. The conclusion was that there is no 'one size fits all' customer experience that is not centred around the customer.

Then we turned to culture - how does an organisation maintain its culture and values if a large part of the workforce is working remotely? and how do they communicate those brand values to customers? after all, our agents are our brand ambassadors – the embodiment of our values.

What struck me most, was how much of what we talked about was about finding a new balance at the intersection of people, processes, and technologies and especially about delivering empathy to keep it human.

CX Industry Perspective 2021 and beyond

The first speaker at the forum was Brainfood Consulting’s Martin Hill-Wilson, who shared with us his views of the current state of CX and its future direction. Martin is an acknowledged expert in corporate empathy but in this article, I am going to focus on two of the other areas he discussed.

Firstly, Martin pointed out that CX has typically been managed in silos; Sales, Marketing or Service. In the future we need to break down these silos to deliver a consistent experience to customers. However, all too often the customer is at the 'bottom of the funnel' that is predominantly focused on the organisation – a mindset resulting because of 100-year-old thinking about managing, operating, and measuring processes within silos. I agree, strategies designed for an industrial era of mass-production are often not fit-for-purpose in the experience economy. Indeed, they may even get in the way.

Secondly, Martin pointed out the relationship between having a joined-up approach to thinking about customers and their journeys, and having an integrated, cohesive strategy to engaging them (itself built on unified set of data and decision-making with the customer at the centre). After all, any artificial intelligence engine is only ever going to be as good as the data upon which it learns and reacts.

Artificial intelligence is at the heart of delivering ‘empathy as a service’

Our second speaker was Genesys’ Joe Smyth, who was also a key speaker in the last CX Strategy Forum.

Joe first shared his definition of empathy; “The ability to sense other people's emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking and feeling”, which was similar to Martin’s definition.

Joe elaborated upon this with his ‘pillars of empathy’ which are at the heart of a systematic approach to operationalising empathy:

Pillars of Empathy
(C)2021 Genesys
  • Listening - as the customer interacts across channels and functions and to what they are saying (for example using Natural Language Processing)
  • Understanding & predicting – to know how the customer is acting and feeling and predict what they want (their ‘intent’)
  • Acting - connecting customers to the right resources (whether a human, a bot, or a knowledge base) to give them what they want.
  • Learning - from the outcomes to tune the engagements for the future.

Turning these pillars into a usable solution of course takes a lot more than a theoretical framework, and Joe walked us through a comprehensive solution journey from when the customer first arrives at the ‘front door’ to delivering a hyper-personalised experience based on real-time data.

To deliver this, Genesys has developed a Customer Experience Data Platform (CXDP) where data is married with experiences and actions and supports both the customer (through self-service) and the agents they deal with (via agent augmentation).

The role of advisory services

Next to speak was Valentina Postelnicu - Senior Manager, Professional Services Business Consulting at Genesys to share her insights on how delivering a practical solution for differentiated experience takes more that industry-leading technology; it needs expertise in transforming business processes and deployment.

As one might expect, the process starts with an analysis of what the organisation wants to achieve – but this is more than just technical specifications, it requires an assessment of the readiness of the organisation, an understanding of how it interacts with customers, how that is orchestrated, how performance is measured, and how the channel is operationally managed.

Genesys' business discovery methodology
(C)2021 Genesys

In addition to this, it must span both an inside-out assessment (what the organisation wants) and an outside-in review (what the customers and employees want), resulting in an optimisation of the two, sometimes competing views.

In the end, the solution must include:

  • Technology adoption – with a migration strategy, systems simplification, grasping digitalisation opportunities and integration of other systems – all delivered in a process of continuous innovation.
  • Processes enhancement – including maintenance and support, continuous deployment (akin to DevOps - combining software development and operations), systems of governance and change control, and of course, day-to-day operations.
  • People development – spanning initial training and enablement, the continuous development of capabilities and change management and a (re)definition of roles and responsibilities.

What surprised me the most was not the professionalism and capabilities of the delivery team (which is to be expected), but the speed at which Genesys can deploy – in one case a client launched a 150-seat contact centre over a weekend – something that only a well-practiced advisory services organisation could deliver.

Unlocking innovations from the Cloud

Valentina was immediately followed by Amanda Halpin, someone with whom I am already familiar because of our shared interest in the role AI plays in the identification and analysis of emotions and their role in customer experience.

Amanda walked us through a typical client journey, supported by three different case studies; an airline and two mobile telephony companies resulting in increased bookings, increased number of transactions handled by self-service (supported by AI) and reductions the Average Handle Time respectively.

Amanda also explained how the partnership between Genesys and Adobe enables an organisation to see and analyse a customer’s interactions with an organisation across many more channels and the impact of its marketing campaigns (including attribution).

However, I had to admit that it was Amanda’s story of how choosing a puppy led her to question her assumptions and helped her find the perfect canine companion. The lesson? relying on assumptions can lead us astray – far better to trust facts and actual experience.

The Customer Perspective

Finally, Brendan Dykes,  Senior Director Solution and Product Marketing at Genesys was joined by Jacquie Doyle of Irish Life and Harald Niels van Driel of Electrolux in a fireside chat, discussing their experiences of making the transition to the cloud with Genesys.

Both explained what the ‘walk, run, fly’ approach to implementation meant to their organisations, especially how delivering results early (in the ‘walk’ phase) helps paves the way for additions and enhancements in later phases. Whilst the two organisations are organised differently, the rapid-start approach described by Valentina and Amanda was a boon to both.

However, one thing that both could agree on was how using a cloud-based platform enabled them to move many of their agents to remote working quickly, but the technology and the processes had to be augmented with training and a support infrastructure.

In conclusion

  • Now is the time – in the early stages of the pandemic, the focus was on surviving for many organisations, but the emphasis is changing – some are already investing in capabilities that will allow them to thrive in the recovery (at the expense of less-well prepared competitors). We may not be in the ‘new normal’ yet, but we are well on the way.
  • Empathy is vital - in the research into Empathy and Customer Service conducted with, customers surveyed expressed how they expect excellence of service but 97% of customers also said they value empathy, yet over a third said that is not their experience. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity to organisations.
  • Empathy must lead to action – it is one thing to have the EQ to understand what a customer is feeling, why and how that will influence their behaviour, but an organisation must use those insights to offer a personalised experience to the customer (and employee).
  • Don’t fear moving to the cloud – it may seem daunting to take on-premise systems into the cloud, but the need to do so during the pandemic showed us that it can be done quickly and effectively. That said, do not try to ‘boil the ocean’ – as Genesys advise, take a ‘walk, run, fly’ approach.
  • AI will be in the mix – it has to be! Hyper-personalisation requires combining what you already know about a customer with real-time insights into their ‘intent’ (what they want to do) and their context. It can then play an active role in automating decisions and processes – supporting both the customer and the agent.

Get involved!

If you would like to attend the next Genesys CX Strategy Forum at the end of June to learn from the experts, network with your peers and get your questions answered let me know at [email protected] and I will put you in touch with the organisers - I hope to see you there!


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