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Global trends… from your local take out

Fast foodI have always been fascinated how unusual things can often be indicators of much larger trends.  On a recent visit to Manchester I was struck by another.

Due to a local football match I had trouble finding accommodation centrally so was staying outside the city centre.  As I spent time studying in Manchester when I was younger, and having some time one evening, I decided to take a trip down memory lane.

After seeing the sights, it was time for dinner and I spotted one of the old fast food chains I used to frequent…. dinner was served.

A fine dining experience!

Now, by no means would I describe the Canadian Charcoal Pit as a fine dining restaurant, but to a 19 year old at the time, this was towards the top end of my budget.  It always served the better char grilled burgers and kebabs in fresh surroundings, at least as I remembered.  Amazingly nearly 20 years later, it was still in business, the food and decor still the same.

The people behind the counter were friendly and busy as ever.  Kebabs were being grilled, with a line of pizza boxes behind them standing like a wall, gradually being filled with orders.

However, something had changed – quite dramatically.

  • I was the only customer physically there, for the whole time.  I ate alone.
  • On paying for my food, by cash, the owner had to go to his car to get £5 of change.

It felt strange and then it dawned on me what had changed….  the world has moved online, we have the internet and computers sitting in the palm of our hand.  Everyone was clearly ordering food for delivery from their smart phones, paying electronically.

By visiting in person I was clearly the outlier, not the norm.

Global trends, local impacts

Now, apart from making me feel old, it was fascinating how this small chain of fast food locations in Manchester neatly illustrated the global communications revolution that is taking place.

As this micro-indicator illustrates, a low-level, fundamental shift in a society, a dramatic change in behaviour is underway.  It is starting to permeate all aspects of our lives, both social and business.

As consumers, this is something we all know and experience.  However, like a time machine, being able to visit the same place many years apart brought these differences into sharp contrast.  In the scramble of daily life it can often be difficult to realise the extent of the change underway.

As employees, employers and business owners, the radical and deep nature of this change needs to be understood.  It is going to be critical to keep up and stay ahead.

…. Best wishes for 2017 everyone.

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Most Read: 2016

Taking a look back on the year, these are the most read posts in 2016.  Many thanks for the support, best wishes for the new year.

  1. The end of outbound calls as we know it?
  2. 1,000 LinkedIn Connections – does it really matter?
  3. Think you are in control?…. think again
  4. Why does no one read my blog – when is comment too much comment?
  5. The Rise of the Micro-Indicator: Getting the lead on leading indicators
  6. Speak customer, not contact channel
  7. Is all social media worth it?
  8. Digital and Customer Centric: The Future of Collections?
  9. Why I went back to Blackberry…
  10. Risk Management:  The importance readiness planning
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Remember the call centre… the next wave of opportunity?

fresco-379933_1920There has been plenty of discussion recently regarding automation in the collections and recoveries industry.

In many companies there has been intense pressure to reduce costs and increase compliance/control, whilst maintaining excellence in customer experience. It has been a trend; one that has intensified and shows no signs of diminishing.

Automation satisfies these criteria well and digital processes, infrastructure and customer interaction is quickly being built into many processes.

Remember when we talked about call centres?

However, with all the rush to multi -channel automation we should also spare a thought for the humble collections call. Once the mainstay of the collections and recoveries industry, it can often now feel like the unloved process, cast aside for the bright lights of new technology.

However, whilst the volume of calls has dramatically reduced as a result of new channels; these declines in volume have been offset by increases in average call length. These have been due to regulation, more complexity in client situations and genuine desire to understand and treat customers better.

Far from disappearing, the dynamics of the call centre have simply changed and substantially in some areas.

Frustration on the floor

Particularly in Financial Services it seems, processes for Identity and verification (ID&V), vulnerability, income and expenditure (I&E) all need to take place before any discussion around payment, and with these calls now easily extending beyond 45 mins, it can be frustrating:

  • Customers, are on the phone for extended periods of time
  • Employees, do not like ‘just following the process’, they enjoy customer interaction
  • Companies, find it time consuming and expensive

With up to 2-5 minutes of each call being spent on ID&V and an average of 20 min spent on I&E (longer than an hour in some cases…), it is little wonder alternatives are being quickly sort.

 I&E, my financial life in 45 minutes?

Listening to employees and customers there is often feedback about the I&E process.

The volume and detail of information required through is extensive, collating the data time consuming, a regulatory must do that we just have to accept.

And, once there is a requirement for a customer to call back, be re-contacted or simply search through a draw to find information, cost is added to processes and customer contacts easily missed.

However, whilst this is a regulatory requirement, not all is lost.

To help, some companies are trying to push the work of completing this information off the call, by having I&E tools online.  Other companies are working with credit bureaus to try to populate as much as possible for consumers, validating information as they go. There is ongoing work in the UK on producing another universal I&E template and there are even discussions, trying to agree a common protocol for sharing information between creditors.

Admittedly though, overall progress is slow, with change and agreement to change difficult.  There is still more to do.

However, this does remain an area of significant opportunity, both in cost and in terms of customer satisfaction.  It should not be de-prioritised.

Whilst it would be great to re-engineer the entire process to nothing, even shaving minutes off the call length can yield savings, and these quickly add up.  It is a prime candidate for process analysis, optimisation and continuous improvement.

How much ID is too much ID?

A similar picture emerges for ID&V.

The pertinent question here is how much additional security is really needed for each interaction? For example, should a balance enquiry be the same as an address change, or making the payment be the same as transferring funds?

Some companies have multiple levels of security depending on the process requested. Financial institutions often also have secondary passwords, secure ids; some are now moving to biometrics.

Voice print technology has been around for a while (‘my voice is my password’), and we have also seen a couple of large corporate launches the last few weeks (with associated improvements in the technology), bringing it even more mainstream.

Some caution is always required if a single form of ID&V can provide access to all account features (the consequences of failure being greatly magnified if a fraudster has unfettered access to all account features from a single breach).

However, it is another interesting area and using the right ID process at the right time, there is significant opportunity to shorten call lengths and have more natural conversations.  A customer and company win.

The value in people talking to people

Channel options, process automation, ID&V automation, I&E automation are all great technologies. They reduce cost, increase compliance and improve customer satisfaction.

Throughout this though, it is important we do not lose sight of the fact that customers are people too. For some, having a real person available to interact with, at a human level, is still essential.

This technology allows our filtering to get better, so the right cases get through. Automated channels allow people to self-serve if they wish; removing the easy, short calls leaving call centres with the complex, organic cases that really need the human touch. This human interaction is often complex, and something we, as humans, actually do quite well. It is a critical role.

Opportunity remaining in the Customer Call

So whilst there is, and will continue to be considerable focus on automation of processes, it is important we also remember the call centre.

It remains an opportunity and with appropriate process design and staff training is one that can substantial yield value.  It is going to be here for years to come.

Previously published on

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