Over the past dozen or so episodes of the Verint podcast, we had some great chats and insightful conversations with senior executives responsible for delivering customer service right across the APAC region. For this edition, we’re taking a slightly different approach and talking to an analyst to get their perspective on what is happening with the industry right now.
Audrey William, from the research organisation Ecosystm, has been studying and researching the customer engagement market in the APAC region for over 20 years and some may say that what she doesn’t know about the industry perhaps isn’t worth knowing. It turns out she also has an encyclopedic knowledge of Brazilian jazz.
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Martyn Riddle: Hello, and welcome to In Conversation With, a series of podcasts from Verint, featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX, and customer engagement industry in the Asia Pacific region. During this series, we want to find out what customer service organizations are doing during these challenging times and try and discover what it is that drives the leaders in this space and what makes them tick.
My name is Martyn Riddle, and as well as being your host for this series, I’m also Verint’s vice president of marketing for the region. Over the past dozen or so episodes of the Verint podcast, we’ve had some great chats and insightful conversations with senior executives, responsible for delivering customer service right across the APAC region today.
Today, however, we’re going to take a slightly different approach and talk to an analyst to get their perspective on what’s happening with the industry right now. Our guests has been studying and researching the customer engagement markets in the APAC region for over 20 years. Some may say that what she doesn’t know about the industry, perhaps isn’t worth knowing. From the analyst firm, Ecosystem. It’s my great pleasure to welcome their principal and advisor or Audrey William. Audrey, welcome.
Audrey William: Hey, thanks, Martyn. Great to be on your show.
Martyn: It’s wonderful to have you on board. Hey, Audrey, as we speak right now with me in Brisbane and you in Sydney, COVID restrictions of being eased back by the respective state governments, and aside from a problematic flare-up in Victoria, Australia as a country appears to have got the situation largely under control. However, across the wider APAC region, there are still plenty of countries who are desperately fighting to get on top of things. This may well be the new normal for quite a time to come. What do you think this means for the industry?
Audrey: Yes, absolutely. I think this is the new normal. I think it’s been really challenging, Martyn, for a lot of industries, not just here in Australia, but across the region. For example, a lot of organizations have downsized. They’ve been a lot of job losses but they’ve also been a lot of good learnings during this time. I think companies are working very hard to make do with what they have right now in terms of the employees, in terms of the sales staff they have.
There is also a great concern about what does this mean for our business in the next two years. Is this going to go on for a long time? What does it mean to the travel industry, for example? As Martyn, you and I know, as part of our jobs, we used to travel a lot. I think even that is going to become a luxury right now. We were in this new normal whereby video conferencing is being used on a daily basis, all the collaboration tools.
You’re starting to see this new trend that’s happened in the last six months where organizations are saying, “Hey, we can get a lot done by having employees work from home.” Very interesting times ahead, but definitely also challenging times in terms of jobs being lost. I think I’ve also started seeing a lot of empathy being shown in the industry, which I think is a real positive. There’s a lot more understanding right now, so yes, interesting times.
Martyn: As I mentioned in the introduction, you’ve had a huge amount of CX experience right across the region. I’d be interested to hear what you think has been done well during the crisis. Perhaps what have been those challenges that you talked about facing the contact centres?
Audrey: Sure. I think, Martyn, if there is a second wave and some are predicting that, then I think the good news is the contact centres will really be prepared this time. This will be part of the BCP, business continuity planning. They will be better prepared in terms of basics like laptops. Understanding the challenges with working from home and what they should provide the agent with, issues that will arise such as connectivity. I think they will be really well prepared because they would have tried and tested and piloted various models.
I think another thing that we’re going to see in the contact centre industry, and this is just by speaking to a lot of outsources, but also industry leaders. Contact centres is the rise of the gig economy. This will open up a whole new labour force for the industry, so that’s positive. Meaning that if you want to work for a few hours, and I know some organizations are doing that right now where if you meet the requirements, you have a laptop, good connectivity. You’re in the conducive environment, you have the right headset, then you can be an agent.
You tick all the boxes and you can also end up doing a lot of backend processing if let’s say for some reason you can’t take calls. I think retirees who want to work for a few hours, we’ll be suitable, housewives as well. That’s a very interesting perspective that’s come from this. I think with agents working from home, Martyn, the biggest challenge that I’ve heard from some large contact centres is that social element that is lost when you have agents working from home. For a lot of them, they have been used to this whole concept of being in a building, being on one floor or multiple floors.
They sometimes even have meals together as a group in a cafeteria. This is common in the Asia Pacific region. They play games together. Training was conducted in a room. All of a sudden that social element that engagement is lost. I think the challenge there is how do you keep them engaged by using video collaboration tools, perhaps social messaging apps. I think just to end the note on this in terms of one of the biggest challenges that’s come out in all my discussions is with agents working from home, I think security has come up many times.
I think it’s about how do you– I think there’s a lot of trust that contact centres have with their agents because agents are their biggest assets. I think trusting them with how they handle the data now that they’re at home has come out a lot. I think for example if it’s with regards to customers in government or healthcare or financial services, then it’s been difficult for them to have agents working from home.
For example, dealing with the private and sensitive information, like your healthcare records, mobile number, your home address. Many have also mentioned to me that the agent can always take out the phone and take a shot of that CRM screen in front of them, or just any form of data. I think there’s huge opportunity for vendors to address this issue in this space. For example, if you take a photo, that photo then shouldn’t come out clearly. There should be some sort of masking. I think security has been a challenge that’s come out in a lot of my conversations.
Martyn: I think you’ve touched on some very interesting points there. Perhaps two of those things even align the use of the social interaction and what it is that team leaders could do to drive that social engagement element amongst their teams but also the compliance and regulation side of things. We’ve heard on the podcast in recent episodes of leaders who have rushed out deployments of teams as an example to try and boost the collaboration and the social elements.
Of course, that on its own then leads to further regulatory issues and compliance obligations. Try and balance those two things together I think is providing another layer of challenges. Of course, naturally, Audrey, there are some vendors that are handling that very well. I think of one called Verint with some of our applications that enables the masking of sensitive information during the remote applications.
This is not a Verint podcast. Well, it’s a Verint podcast, but we’re not promoting Verint solutions. We’re talking about the industry leaders here. From my perspective as a consumer, there appears to be a lot of satisfaction surveys going out. I know you mentioned empathy earlier on and we’re being bombarded now, I think as consumers, appears to be particularly rampant during COVID-19. What’s your take on this tactic? Do you think there’s any best practices?
Audrey: Yes, I think you’re right. We’re being bombarded with a lot of surveys, I myself. I think asking the right questions during this time is very critical. I recently heard from a friend that a bank in the Asia Pacific region sent out a survey. They said that the survey was to help understand the customer’s needs during COVID-19 but there was no mention of like if you’re facing financial hardship. I think also one thing that was brought up time and time again by friends, but I myself witnessed, is Martyn whereby if I stop using a product or a service from a company, I get asked about that.
It just shows that sometimes these surveys are sent out blindly by the organizations not really understanding where the customer is at on the journey, or if they’ve stopped using some of your products. I think during this time if you can ask the right questions if you can make it short and simple, I think that will go a long way. Just a few weeks ago, there was the CEO of a big RSL club here that sent out a survey. I thought it was a very well-designed survey because this is a club where family and friends go to dine.
The survey had really good questions around, what are your concerns during COVID-19? How would you like to, for example, see us in the new future, when we get back to operating in the new norm from a engagement perspective? Should our staff wear a mask? How would you like to see the seating in the restaurant? How would you like the cutlery to be packaged, for example? All these questions came out in a survey. I thought it was so well designed because it was relevant.
They showed that they were listening, but they also showed a lot of empathy. I think when you can do that, I think it will go a long way. I think another very good best practice is for example if you can now design surveys that are short and simple. People are busy today, customers are busy. If you send them long surveys, they will not have time. In fact, I recently received a very good design survey to my mobile app, and it was easy to fill out, it had about three questions.
One of them even asked you to give a thumbs up or thumbs down or an average. I thought that was good. Quick, simple, and they got to the point and it was relevant. I think designing surveys have to be really carefully thought about. If it’s not right, if it’s not relevant, and if a customer just gives you that feedback, then you’re not really collecting the real or true data.
Martyn: I think one of those challenges you talked about there, the surveys, is often we’re finding organizations are deploying surveys almost as standalone elements.
Martyn: Perhaps it’s a particular marketing department, there’s pushing out a survey and not doing it as part of 360-degree holistic customer viewpoint. Do you think there’s lessons to be learned there?
Audrey: Yes. You’re spot on, Martyn, because that’s what I’m finding as well with that example about the bank, in APAC, sending out a survey without really understanding that the customer is no longer using their product or service and it’s marketing that, sending it out. This is where you’re not getting the 360-degree view. It also goes to show that marketing is probably also not integrated, by talking to some of the other departments when designing that survey.
Martyn: One of the other things we’ve noticed as a vendor is the desire for organizations right now to deploy intelligent virtual assistants or IVAs. Do you think we’ve moved away from some of the basic use cases around the traditional dare I say, dumb chatbots? What direction do you think the market’s moving towards for conversational with AI?
Audrey: I think, Martyn, we are entering a new phase of what I call the relooking. Companies relooking at their conversational AI strategy. This time it’s like, how do we make it work? I think the market has seen some really bad deployments of bots, and these bots have been very basic in nature. They do not really go through a tree of questions across various scenarios or permutations. They’re rather one dimensional. Hi there, how can I help you? It’ll give you a list of options, but outside of those options, then the bot cannot answer or cannot help you.
Customers get frustrated because that’s the first time they’re interacting with a brand. That’s their first perception of a brand. When they’re frustrated and they can’t get what they want, they’ll just say, “I should’ve just called the contact centre. I should’ve just picked up the phone and dialled a number.” I think what I’m starting to see, Martyn, that is really positive in the Asia Pacific region, but also globally, is that there’s some really good cases now.
Some very smart, conversation on AI deployments where there is a proper dialogue through text, chat or voice commands. That is very promising. In Australia, there are some very good deployments in the market. It is still early stages. I think where consumers would like to see this go is for example, like when you talk to your home device and they say pair on this and it takes you there. Similarly, in the contact centre, it will be like I want to speak to someone about my recent booking. Or my home loan and true analytics and truly listening, true machine learning.
They’re gathering all that history about the past, but you’re also speaking your intent. From there, it takes you directly to what you want. I think right now the frustration is you can say home loan, for example. The voice comes back asking did you say home loan? Or sometimes it will say, no, sorry, did not get that. Can you say that again? I think it needs to move away from that. It’s early days, but I’m starting to see some really good deployments in the market. I think the other challenge is also a lot of companies have spent a lot in the last 15 years on IVR and have been a lot of big IVR investments.
It’s a big decision but it’s definitely a hot topic right now. I think we’re getting the conversational AI deployment right is important, Martyn. It means working with the right vendor, the vendor that understands the contact centre industry. You need to make sure the solution is integrated to a good knowledge management solution. There’s got to be a lot of understanding around the ability to listen, to calls, listen, to call recordings, spot keywords and issues.
Then finally, ultimately I think where this is really going to be important is you’ve got to find a good balance between that virtual assistant, that conversational AI engine, but also that seamless handoff then to a live agent. If that is not there, I feel that that can spoil the experience. For a lot of these good case studies I’m seeing right now, it’s really there.
You can have a conversation for about, let’s say 80% of the discussion about a home loan application. The moment you want to speak to a home loan specialist, you can request for that and you go into a queue and you eventually get onto a call. I think that’s important so that there’s a continuous flow of discussion.
Martyn: I think some of those negative examples you give there perhaps could also be compared to the previous topic around feedback. That’s a lot of organizations are rushing out bots as a simple call deflection technique or practice without considering the full implication. Or perhaps even worse, they are doing it as a pure cost-saving measure to try and save a headcount as we’ve all experienced them.
That’s a very short term objective and you end up almost being, and you mentioned IVR. We’ve all experienced the horror stories over the last 20 odd years of very dumb IVRs that just ended up frustrating the customer. In this modern age where we’re trying to deliver exemplary customer experience, that really perhaps should not be acceptable.
You touched on there also machine learning and artificial intelligence. There are obviously core components of a well-designed conversational AI. We’re also seeing the use of those technologies and some of the traditional contact centre applications and maybe such as workforce management. How do you think that this perhaps the wider topic of automation in general, is going to impact such traditional measures as agent KPIs and metrics?
Audrey: Absolutely, Martyn. For now, a lot of the contact centre metrics are subjective in nature. For example, anything could take 45 minutes to an hour to complete a call, but the agent would not have met the AHT metric, average handle time metric. Actually what has happened is the agent was dealing with a prospect. We had a lot of questions, let’s say, about a home loan or product they were looking to buy or a car. The prospect will likely spend, let’s say, half a million dollars on the home loan in the next few days because there’s real interest, but there’s also urgency from there end.
I think rather than penalizing the agent, I think this is where machine learning and AI can come in to help augment that whole experience. Yes, the agent took 45 minutes to an hour. Yes, they exceeded all the metrics that were put in place. Through sentiment analysis, through listening, you can spot keywords. You can also through emotion detection find out that the prospect was actually a very happy prospect. Someone senior from the loan department should really get on a call, talk to this person and close the deal.
I think having those metrics are important because they’ve been around for years, and contact centres live and breathe by these metrics. Re-looking at them and using machine learning and AI to augment the metrics will be important. Similarly, with NPS, Martyn, we always get asked this question about would you likely recommend the product? Was the call satisfactory? I think, sometimes a very unhappy customer that will likely give your brand, then we’ll likely leave your brand, gives an average rating, or a frustrated customer just says, yes. They will recommend when actually they were actually happy with the agent.
The agent on the call was a good agent and the agent took a long time to explain the issues, but it couldn’t be resolved. The customer will either– You’re not getting the true feedback from the rating. Again, to my previous point, this is why that whole process around sentiment analysis, listening to keywords throughout the duration of the call, and then matching that with the NPS rating is a more realistic way. I think this is still very early days, but it’s definitely going to go a long way. I’m starting to hear about some call centres exploring using this and then weighing up how they look at metrics in a whole new manner.
Martyn: In a way, it amazes me and often horrifies me, the amount of organizations that are still using NPS as a single measure and not really considering the wider pool of unstructured data they have across all interactions and use advanced analytics to get a true measure of what the customer engagement really is.
Audrey: I agree, Martyn, because I think NPS has been around for a long time in the industry. Contact centres are used to using that and they go with that book approach saying, “Hey, this is how we look at all the metrics. This is also how we look at NPS,” but it’s subjective in nature. Even if a company says our NPS has gone up by 100% or whatever per cent they say, you’re not really getting the true analysis of sales, of repeat business, of a very happy customer. I think there are a lot of missing pieces there.
Martyn: Indeed, indeed. Now we need to make sure you don’t become too Australia centric on this discussion. I’ll be interested of you to get your thoughts or your views on what COVID has meant for some of our Asian clients, and their use of messaging platforms. WeChat in China or Line in Japan, have you seen an increased take-up of those sort of applications?
Audrey: It’s a hot topic now one that I get asked a lot, but one that I’m hearing a lot as well when I speak to contact centre leaders in the region. I think it’s because, to your point, now more and more customers are turning to social media applications. In countries like Japan, for example, Line is being used. I think contact centres are starting to realize that if we want to get closer to our customers, we shouldn’t just dictate the channels of how they should contact us. That is through a phone call or through email because those are very traditional methods when your customers today are really on the social messaging platforms.
I’m starting to see some very good use cases, I think an insurance company here in Australia, not too long ago, just deployed WhatsApp as a channel for their customers. That’s been really encouraging. I know a lot of the airlines are working through that. I know a very big European airline, Martyn, just to give context here about China, they felt that they were losing a lot of their business from the Chinese market. When the chief digital officer and innovation teams got together, they thought that we should really look about how we’re engaging with our customers in China.
They realized that in China everyone uses WeChat. In fact, that’s just the norm there in terms of how they socialize on these messaging apps. They thought if we want to get deeper and we want to win back our Chinese customers, we should start opening up that channel and they did that. They experimented with that and they found that their customers wrote in. They sent emails. They said it’s great you’ve given us this channel and all of a sudden, they saw their bookings rise. That whole intimacy that they created through WeChat not only increased their sales, but it just allowed them to explore different areas now.
I believe now they’re in a phase of even seeing how they can apply some bots onto the messaging channels. I think it’s absolutely important because when you can confirm a booking or if you can send a customer, and this is where proactive engagement comes in. If you can alert them that something has gone wrong before the problem arises before they call you, but you send them an alert. Just notify them through WhatsApp, for example, I think you will go a long way. The customer will be will feel appreciated. They will appreciate it, sorry. They will also say that’s great. I think the option can be there as well if you want to speak to us, you can call us on this number or we can get on a quick call.
I think another very interesting one that I observed, Martyn, and I faced this personally myself is with Twitter. Not Twitter on the social forum, but the direct messaging platform on Twitter. As we all know now, during COVID, it’s nearly impossible to get through to some contact centres. The wait times are really long and so I had to solve any issue. I wanted to speak to someone recently, couldn’t get through. I went to the direct message channel on Twitter, and I was quite impressed because I was served quite well there.
The channel was very active and it took time, of course, but I found that as another channel for engagement. I think contact centres are starting to think beyond the traditional channels of just voice and email and webchat.
Martyn: They are but I think the adoption of some of these other channels, again, causes its own problems. I also recently needed to amend a service. I couldn’t get through, I had to speak to them on Twitter. I ended up being left with no option, but to cancel that service on Twitter and I just approached it as a transactional action. It wasn’t a sale. I’m guessing it went through the back end and somebody realized, oh, this guy is actually a very longstanding platinum customer. We can’t let that happen.
I then got an outbound call from their customer care centre saying, “Please, don’t cancel. Please don’t cancel.” By that time, my whole sentiment, my empathy to the organization had reduced significantly. I think that’s where organizations really need to exercise a lot of care. If they are going to use some of these other channels as low-cost deflection techniques, they need to be aware that they have other processes in place, to manage the outcomes that might be generated.
Audrey: Correct. I think also if you want to drive that, a lot of companies are still struggling to achieve that whole omnichannel experience. If you’re going to open up some of these channels, you’ve got to make sure like what you went through it’s got to be integrated well to the backend. If that same customer that had that chat with the agent on Twitter, then when they call the contact centre, the contact centre should know about that conversation.
Martyn: Indeed. I know a vendor that can help them do just that. Now you’ve given us some very interesting insights and what’s happening with the industry at the moment due to the COVID-19 crisis. Let’s find out a little bit more about what it’s meaning. Audrey, you touched upon it earlier on that you are usually quite a well-travelled professional visiting clients right around the region. What impact has COVID had on you? What has it meant for you personally?
Audrey: I think not being able to travel to Asia to see my family, I think that’s been the biggest impact for me. Especially being here in Australia now with strict lockdown measures, and with the borders not opening up till 2021. You worry if there’s a second wave, the borders will be shut till much longer, then it’s going to be hard to travel to see family occasionally. I think that’s been the biggest impact for me, Martyn.
Martyn: Let’s see if we can find out a little bit more about Audrey as a person. We asked this of most of our guests coming on the show. Has there been a particular piece of music that has been your go-to tune during the lockdown? The picture in a happy place. A particular tune that makes you feel all as well with the world?
Audrey: Oh, wow. I’m definitely I’m a big fan of jazz, so listen to a lot of jazz, various artists. I think in recent weeks I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian jazz for Bossanova is something that I’ve been listening to. Love artists, such as Antonio, Carlos, Jobim and Stan Getz. It’s just very relaxing, puts you in a very good mood. It’s just incredible musicians that you just think like, wow, they’re just fantastic. Jazz for me, for sure.
Martyn: That’s great. That’s the first time you’ve had jazz mentioned in all the episodes. That’s great. How about a book, a film or a TV show? Is there one title that that’s keeping you entertained at the moment?
Audrey: Oh, I think I’ve watched The Crown on Netflix really enjoyed that a lot. I’m reading a book now called Where the Crawdads Sing written by Delia Owen. It’s a book about this girl from a quiet town. She’s barefoot, wild, they say unfit for society, but there’s a murder that happens. Someone’s hounded so it goes into a court case, but it’s just a very well-written book. Obviously, the book got a lot of awards, but I thought something very well put together very entertaining. I read a lot of fiction, so this is definitely one I recommend.
Martyn: Awesome. Finally, is there a material object or a gadget that puts you in a happy place? Something you just couldn’t be without?
Audrey: I’m not really a gadget person, but the one device that I cannot live without or that I really love is definitely my Samsung Galaxy Note 10, great device. It comes with a pen so it’s really nice sometimes where you can take notes but it also can turn into some a paintbrush so you can use that to explore and hand paint. I think more than that it’s just the pen really, that’s the big attraction. So yes. I just use my Samsung for checking emails but yes, I think taking notes, I think that’s been a big feature of that device.
Martyn: I’m sure our friends at Samsung will be delighted to hear you giving such a glowing endorsement. Hey, Audrey William, principal advisor at the analyst firm, Ecosystem. It’s been great to get your insights today, thank you so much for joining us on the Verint podcast. I wish you, your family, your colleagues, all the very best for a safe and happy future and thanks once again.
Audrey: No, thank you, Martyn, and thank you for having me on your show. It’s been great. Thank you and I wish you all the best too, and stay safe.
In conversation with . . . is a series of podcasts from Verint featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX and customer engagement industry across the Asia Pacific region.