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I chaired the recent Customer Engagement Transformation forum on September 24th. We were miles high on the South Bank in a fantastic big screen auditorium and a wonderful roof top view of the surrounding iconic London landmarks.

We all had a smashing time.

There was plenty of evidence that innovation is alive and kicking and progress is being made as a result. However I’d still temper that with a reminder we were being treated to some of the best examples in play at this time. To my mind, we are some years away from mass market competency.

This was well evidenced in the annual Merchants benchmark report which as ever does a good job at highlighting the gap between what contact centres believe their customers now expect and what they feel able to deliver. Tony Smith did a great job punching out the highlighting.

My own reading of other research into key customer touch points confirms this core challenge of keeping pace with consumer behaviour. Expectations for ever improved versions of fast, simple, relevant engagement seem insatiable.

That’s why it was great to hear some of the standout examples during the day showing how brands are listening and trying out new stuff.

For instance, Nationwide Now enables centrally based mortgage consultants, financial planning managers and personal banking managers to hold customer interviews using video conferencing. This allows them to connect with customers at any UK branch. So far 61 branches are locked into the service.

From what I heard this is an excellent use case for high definition video collaboration. Being able to see someone and relate in this way helps make complex and emotional decisions that bit easier for the customer.

While the technology is not new, what is worth shouting out is just how well Darren Shaw, head of Nationwide Now is leading the effort to integrate the service within branch workflows and align his service with their local culture.  In other words technology is only an opportunity when it is executed within a context of helping others to adapt and embrace.

Mathew Keegan from Kano told his story through the eyes of a still wildly successful start up whose initial Kickstarter campaign propelled them into a sizable customer base almost from day one. They sell computers kits that kids build and start to code with.

What was impressive about Mathew’s approach to providing customer service was his ‘test and learn’ approach. He told us up front that he had never run a service business before. And it showed in the originality of his solutions. One of the simplest was to keep FAQs and knowledge management uncluttered by focussing on supplying answers to just the top ten questions.

Back in the land of established brands, the story of the work between Jayne Lansdell of BGL Group and Kenneth Hitchen’s Sabio was I thought great testament to the power that cloud based service infrastructure now offers.

In the attempt to introduce new channels into the service mix, an ongoing test and learn environment was set up by Sabio.  This allowed differing communication scenarios to be tested with real BGL customers.

Why is this important? For years the contact centre market has been trying to introduce new technology. Under the generally negative perception of being a cost centre and little more in terms of value, investment has been glacially slow and point solution based. Incidentally this incremental approach has undermined the whole possibility of seamless journeys in the near future.

Anyway it’s been tough to provide the evidence that ROI will follow. Vendor sourced use cases are both scarce and not always completely convincing. Hence the beauty of a ‘pop up’ test and learn facility. The progress made on establishing the CX and commercial value of channels for certain customer journeys was achieved as a result. A great example of what can be achieved.

In fact this ability to provide test and learn is also one of the services that a customer hub offers. A topic I chose to kick-start the day. Customer hubs are a way of reorganising existing competencies to perform more effectively. They exist to overcome the dysfunctional impact of silo behaviour that remains one of the root causes of poor customer experience.

By co-locating and then continuously coaching to encourage collaborative behaviour, a much more effective model for customer engagement can be prototyped for the rest of the organisation to witness. By aligning engagement, analytics, change management and collaboration, an organisation achieves a major milestone in becoming effective in today’s constantly adapting marketplace.

One outstanding example of adapting to meet new customer needs promises to be Atom bank which is preparing for its phased launch. A huge clue to their innovative approach lies in Stewart Bromley’s title. He is director of people and customer experience. Is this just a power grab? Not at all. It is to ensure that the customer promise and corporate culture remain aligned and in synch.

Using expertise from both First Direct and Metro Bank it is going to be fascinating to watch how Atom impacts the financial services sector. Will it become another Uber and Airbnb in terms of disruption?

There was more. But I’m sure I’ve provided enough to get a sense of what happened on the day. I’d like to thank all the speakers and the audience for providing a high energy exchange of experiences.

Can’t wait for the summit.

By: Martin Hill-Wilson

Martin is a leading customer engagement and digital business strategist. Also an author and international keynote speaker. Working under my own brand, Brainfood Consulting, I design masterclasses and transformational change helping clients evolve their social and digital capabilities. Current topics include omni-channel design, proactive, low effort customer experience, social customer service and customer hubs. All themed around service innovation.

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