How to create an innovation-based service culture

17th Mar 2016
Founder Brainfood Consulting
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It’s a truism that we live in a world of change. Within customer service there is a never ending conveyor belt of new things to digest. For instance, at the Future Of Contact Centres Summit I recently chaired, Simon Separghan, director of global contact centres & digital channels at Barclays, made a point of sharing that his teams had been presented with over 800 change items to absorb over just the last 12 months!

When I think about the most disruptive technology for contact centres, my current vote goes to intelligent assistants which is a mash up of some powerful maturing technologies such as natural language, machine to machine learning, semantic search and predictive analytics with extra spoonfuls of AI pixie dust to boost performance.

This tech is already in play. It’s what the self-service mandate has been crying out for. In some sectors up to 45% of live interaction has been transferred to intelligent assistants. In other cases, it’s been used to initiate a customer interaction before dynamically transferring caller and their collected information to a live advisor for more complex discussion.

With that in mind I’ve been asking audiences recently to consider what this means. How many staff are you going to need after downsizing? What will this mean for the space you currently occupy? What’s the new operating model? Where will you reinvest the savings?  Tough questions to answer against a background of relative stability in the core contact centre model over the last 25-30 years.

The facts suggest contact centres are just as prone to being disrupted as the organisations they serve. If so then an important question has to be asked. How are you going to survive when your version of a fintech disrupter comes knocking on your door?

If anyone’s going to disrupt, it’s going to be me!

My answer is to take your medicine early and get into the game of disrupting your own service organisation. However this time professionalise your approach. Here are some pointers.

I know from three years of taking teams through the P&Q Challenge that the current command and control culture that underpins the efficiency agenda within contact centres smothers creativity by encouraging conformance. I also know there is an almost instant response from front line teams as soon as the leash is removed and they are invited to become co-creators in the greater mission of achieving service excellence.

They hear the customer voice every day. Why has that not been a prime source of innovation over the years? One of the answers is that we hold very narrow views about what a productive person does during their working day.

Adobe has recently rediscovered this latent creativity. They launched Kickbox to empower all employees to become innovators. It works like this.

  1. Any employee can request one and managers cannot veto a request.
  2. Recipients are sent a red box containing an innovation 'toolkit': a chocolate bar, a  $10 Starbucks card, Post-it notes, a notebook, a step-by-step innovation manual and a pre-paid credit card with $1,000 to spend as they wish (no receipts are required).
  3. Recipients are challenged to use the toolkit to help them present an innovation idea to senior colleagues. After trials that proved the ROI, in January 2015 Adobe made Kickbox public, enabling anyone to download the materials for free.

This new face of employee engagement moves everything up a notch. 3M has been doing it for years of course. We have Post-its as a result. Google famously allows individuals time to innovate using their own agendas.

If we tend to have our best ideas in the shower or during a walk or run, how can we trigger this creativity for the reinvention of customer service? To answer that we need to be prepared to disrupt what we assume are the ‘untouchables’ in the customer service environment. The way that time is used. The way we use information. The organisation of the working environment. The goals that we set.

For instance think about job roles. No bad thing, they help focus. But by giving someone a title that they and others conform to, how much previous expertise are you ignoring? One of the reasons why start ups appeal to many people is the opportunity to pitch in and use a much broader spectrum of who you are and what you know than being shoe horned into a Taylor inspired org chart.

Let the force be with you

I’ve just read a fascinating interview with Hilary Scarlett who translates the latest neuroscience into change management tactics. She makes a lot of great points. Many of which I’ve learnt over the years as a practitioner, but it’s great to see them validated.

She rightly says that top-down change triggers a survival response which starves the thinking and feeling part of our brains. This makes us distracted and unproductive. We all know how weird we are around being excluded from a meeting. We start to worry despite the fact that when we are included it’s often boring and all we want to do is escape!

Hilary Scarlett says that top-down change triggers a survival response which starves the thinking and feeling part of our brains.

So in tune with my own instincts she is a big fan of co-creation. Let everyone get involved as early as possible. Shaping decisions helps us feel in control and remain part of the tribe rather than becoming a fearful outsider. It is also interesting that she notes the negative impact words such as transformation and change have on us. Fight/flight takes over. Instead talk about doing things differently. 

She also makes important points about the psychology of success. We like to win. And do so frequently since it boosts self esteem and motivation. Short sprints really work so maybe there is something in the current fascination for agile behaviour!

This also implies that if we encourage people to innovate we need to reframe those outcomes. Some will work some won’t. Some for now, maybe some for later. None of them however are failures. Everything learnt has a value in the world of innovation. 

Parting thoughts

So, get a head of the curve and start to challenge your own service organisation to see its future through new eyes. Unleash the innovative spirit you are currently blocking and help people nurture their creative instincts with tangible ways to innovative as Adobe’s Kickbox showed.

Consider the tips that Hilary Scarlett makes about how to establish the right culture to nurture innovation. I think she’s on the money.

In fact I’m going to buy her new book “Neuroscience for Organizational Change: An Evidence-based Practical Guide to Managing Change” as a result.

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