Shift-Your-Focus-from-Omnichannel-to-Opti-Channel
Shift Your Focus from Omnichannel to Opti-Channel

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Customer Experience teams are focused on creating a great omnichannel experience for their customers – allowing customers to choose their preferred channel or touchpoint. And many of these teams are aware of the challenges of omnichannel – often trying to prise the experience from one channel into another. Too often we create sub-optimal experiences, forcing customers to work harder for the outcome than if they were using other channels.

I know there have been times when I have found it easier to jump in the car and drive to a store or service centre, rather than filling in a convoluted online form or navigating a complex online buying process. I constantly crave larger screens as full web experiences are often better than mobile web experiences (although perhaps that is my ageing eyes!).

One of the factors that came out in a study conducted by Ecosystm and Sitecore is that customers don’t just want personalised experiences – they want optimised experiences. They want to have the right experience on the right device or touchpoint. It is not about the same experience everywhere – the focus should be on optimising experiences for each channel.

We call this “opti-channel”.

Use an Opti-Channel Strategy to Guide Investment and Effort

This is what you are probably doing already – but by accident. I suggest you formalise that strategy. Design customer experiences that are optimised for the right channel or touchpoint – and personalised for each customer. Stop forcing customers into sub-optimal experiences because you were told to make every customer experience an omnichannel one.

The move towards opti-channel accelerates your ability to provide the best experience for each customer, as you ask the important question “Does this channel suit this experience for this customer?” before the fact – not after the experience has been designed. It also eliminates the rework of existing experiences for new channels and provides clear guidance on the next-best action for each employee.

Customer Experience Insights

There Will be Conflict Between Opti-Channel and Personalisation

The challenge for opti-channel strategies will be to align them to your personalisation strategy. How will it work when you have analytics driving your personalisation strategy that say customer X wants a fully digital experience but your opti-channel strategy says part of the digital experience is sub-standard? And the answer to this lies in understanding the scope of your experience creation – are you trying to improve the existing experience or are you looking to create a new improved experience?

  • If you are improving the existing experience, then you have less license to shift transactions and customer between channels – even if it is a better experience.
  • If you are creating a new experience, you have the opportunity to start again with the overall experience and prove to customers that the new experience is actually a better one.

For example, when airlines moved away from in-person check-in to self-check-in kiosks, there was an initial uproar from customers who had not yet experienced it – claiming that it was less personal and less human. But the reality is that the airlines took the check-in screen that the agents were using and made it customer-facing. Travellers can now see the seats and configuration and select what is best for them.

This experience was reinvented again when the check-in moved to web and mobile. By turning the screen around to the customer, the experience actually felt more human and personal – not less. And by scattering agents around the screens and including a human check-in desk for the “exceptions”, the airlines could continue to optimise AND personalise the experience as required.

Opti-Channel Opens Many New Business Opportunities

Your end-state experience should consider what is the best channel or touchpoint for each step in a journey – then determine the logic or ability to shift channels. Pushing customers from a chatbot to web chat is easy. Moving from in-store to online might be harder, but there are currently some retailers looking to merge the in-store and digital experience – from endless aisle solutions to nearly 100% digital in-store. Some shoe and clothing stores offer digital foot and body scans in-store that help customers choose the right size when they shop online. And we are beginning to see the rollout of “magic mirrors” – such as one retailer who has installed them in fitting rooms and you can virtually try different colours of the same item without actually getting them off the shelf.

Businesses are trying to change customer behaviour – whether it is getting them into stores or mainly shopping online or encouraging them to call the contact centre or to even visit a service centre. Creating reasons for why that might be a better option, while also providing scaled-back omnichannel options is a great way to meet the needs of existing customers, create brand loyalty and attract new customers to your company or brand.

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Bridging-The-Tech-Talent-Gap
Bridging the Tech Talent Gap

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As technology vendors, their channel partners and organisations deal with the tech talent crunch, there are consequences for the entire technology ecosystem. Vendor solutions are less impactful than their potential; their channel partners are losing a lot of time in closing sales cycles and their customers are left with sub-optimal deployments.

Here is how vendors and their channel partners can bridge the gap:

Re-evaluating Certification Programs

The first step is to move to a case-based training model with the participant needing to respond to a situation rather than answering multiple-choice questions. We do not discount the usefulness of standard testing, but it needs to be mixed with evaluating the situational awareness and subjective understanding of the participant. This will require more detailed answers and case studies and will require a knowledgeable evaluator at the other end who will need more time than that required to assess MCQ answers. While AI tools are starting to address this, for now, this means a fairly large investment in resources.

Tech Talent - Channel Partner Feedback
Channel Partner Feedback

While giving the tech talent – whether Sales or Delivery – a greater context of competitors’ strengths will give them a better chance to win deals, it has the potential to open up a host of issues that are best avoided. However, part of that knowledge can be provided as a general solution context – focusing on customer benefits in doing a certain transition and the kind of use cases that would be most appropriate for each transition. This will require, in most cases, a redesign of the curriculum.

Rethinking Partner Sales Support

A much bigger initiative by the vendors could be to set up sales support specialist groups within their own organisations that can be booked for customer meetings by channel partners. This has become easier now with most organisations being quite accustomed to video conferences and virtual meetings.

The set-up of such a “centre” will require careful planning, expertise, and investment in systems. Most vendors do have something like this for escalations and technical support, but few have a comprehensive program to assist with sales opportunities.  

Tech Talent - Channel Partner Feedback
Channel Partner Feedback

The resources at these centres should be highly specialised and well-paid. This will add cost. However, a group like this can pay for itself as long as more deals are converted. We do not recommend using gold-plated costs, but penny pinching, especially on the quality of resources and systems used here will be a classic case of penny wise, pound foolish. Success here will come from increasing revenue, not decreasing cost.

Clarifying Hiring Policies

Finally, vendors need to be clear about the policies of hiring staff from their channel partners. It is unlikely that this practice is going to stop. For one, if they don’t hire these talents, their competitors might. And channel partners often attract more talent if they are able to hold out the carrot, that the employee can eventually get employed by the vendor.

However, there should be clearer policies, such as only hiring those who have spent a minimum specified time with the partner; providing a longer than normal off-ramp period; seconding the talent to the channel partner for a period during which the employee gets additional training on the vendor’s solutions while working for the channel partner. Incentivising channel partners for providing successful candidates might also be a good idea.

Having bad policies, an attitude of poaching or not cooperating just leads to the channel partners underinvesting in people which harms the vendor as well as the channel. Innovative strategies here can deliver a solution where the channel partner is able to attract better talent and manage the talent while they are in their formative stages. Essentially, they are rewarded for incubating talent. The best talent eventually “graduate” to working for the vendor. This will be a true win-win for both.

Making Upskilling a Norm

The leadership of channel partner organisations need to embrace upskilling of their teams. Employees need technological capability building as well as certification.

Upskilling is a slower burn process than some of the steps discussed earlier, but for partners, this is the key. Partners will need help to put together a full program that nurtures employees at different levels of experience and capability and builds them up with a step-by-step approach. This is actually the job of a full-fledged Learning and Development organisation. Very few partners today either invest in such an organisation or have the ability to work this into their HR practices.

Finding an outsourced partner who can help to design and implement such a program might be the way to go. There is also an opportunity here for multiple channel partners to coordinate and engage one agency, in effect paying to hire an outsider as a joint Chief Learning Officer for all their companies.

Tech Talent - CFO and CHRO
The quote is most likely apocryphal, that many would have seen. While its origin is questionable, its truth is proverbial.

In an exploding market where the skill of the employee can land the extra contracts, reel in the customers, whose lifetime value can be enormous, upskilling is vital – it is not really a choice.

Conclusion

There is a need to do things differently and to invest a lot more in talent. In a growing market, channel partners are getting by as revenue is moving upwards anyway. A smart step-by-step investment approach, however, can dramatically change this growth trajectory. That will alter the fortunes of the vendors too. Maintaining the status quo and not spending more on tech talent is actually a poison pill – the market growth is just hiding that fact.

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Using-AI-for-Business-Decision-Making
Using AI for Business Decision-Making

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Why do we use AI? The goal of a business in adding intelligence is to enhance business decision-making, and growing revenue and profit within the framework of its business model.

The problem many organisations face is that they understand their own core competence in their own industry, but they do not understand how to tweak and enhance business processes to make the business run better. For example, AI can help transform the way companies run their production lines, enabling greater efficiency by enhancing human capabilities, providing real-time insights, and facilitating design and product innovation. But first, one has to be able to understand and digest the data within the organisation that would allow that to happen.

Ecosystm research shows that AI adoption crosses the gambit of business processes (Figure 1), but not all firms are process optimised to achieve those goals internally.  

Top 10 Areas where Organisations are usings AI

The initial landscape for AI services primarily focused on tech companies building AI products into their own solutions to power their own services. So, the likes of Amazon, Google and Apple were investing in people and processes for their own enhancements.

As the benefits of AI are more relevant in a post-pandemic world with staff and resource shortages, non-tech firms are becoming interested in applying those advantages to their own business processes.

AI for Decisions

Recent start-up ventures in AI are focusing on non-tech companies and offering services to get them to use AI within their own business models.  Peak AI says that their technology can help enterprises that work with physical products to make better, AI-based evaluations and decisions, and has recently closed a funding round of USD 21 million.

The relevance of this is around the terminology that Peak AI has introduced. They call what they offer “Decision Intelligence” and are crafting a market space around it. Peak’s basic premise was to build AI not as a business goal for itself but as a business service aided by a solution and limited to particular types of added value. The goal of Peak AI is to identify where Decision Intelligence can add value, and help the company build a business case that is both achievable and commercially viable.

For example, UK hard landscaping manufacturer Marshalls worked with Peak AI to streamline their bid process with contractors. This allows customers to get the answers they need in terms of bid decisions and quotes quickly and efficiently, significantly speeding up the sales cycle.

AI Research and Reports

AI-as-a-Service is not a new concept. Canadian start-up Element AI tried to create an AI services business for non-tech companies to use as they might these days use consulting services. It never quite got there, though, and was acquired by ServiceNow last year. Peak AI is looking at specific elements such as sales, planning and supply chain for physical products in how decisions are made and where adding some level of automation in the decision is beneficial. The Peak AI solution, CODI (Connected Decision Intelligence) sits as a layer of intelligence that between the other systems, ingesting the data and aiding in its utilisation.

The added tool to create a data-ingestion layer for business decision-making is quite a trend right now. For example, IBM’s Causal Inference 360 Toolkit offers access to multiple tools that can move the decision-making processes from “best guess” to concrete answers based on data, aiding data scientists to apply and understand causal inference in their models.

Implications on Business Processes

The bigger problem is not the volume of data, but the interpretation of it.

Data warehouses and other ways of gathering data to a central or cloud-based location to digest is also not new. The real challenge lies with the interpretation of what the data means and what decisions can be fine-tuned with this data. This implies that data modelling and process engineers need to be involved. Not every company has thought through the possible options for their processes, nor are they necessarily ready to implement these new processes both in terms of resources and priorities. This also requires data harmonisation rules, consistent data quality and managed data operations.

Given the increasing flow of data in most organisations, external service providers for AI solution layers embedded in the infrastructure as data filters could be helpful in making sense of what exists. And they can perhaps suggest how the processes themselves can be readjusted to match the growth possibilities of the business itself. This is likely a great footprint for the likes of Accenture, KPMG and others as process wranglers.

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The Elusive Search for the Right Tech Talent

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As the world has had to cope with a scenario never seen before in modern times, technology has been at the forefront of the response. This means hardware – computers, servers and the like – flew off the shelves. Cloud infrastructure and migration have been top of mind. “Digital Transformation” and the adoption of digital tools is expanding like a house on fire! We found that over 3 in 4 companies accelerated their digital plans in some way. Another 20% put plans on hold, largely because they felt the need to evaluate the old plans which became inadequate.

Digital Transformation has emerged as a key priority

As vendors, channel partners and organisations scramble to put their new digital houses together and build the best digital castles possible, there is a major talent crunch. There are few who can deeply understand customer needs and recommend the right solution. While this affects all parties, the channel partners are feeling this more acutely. In my recent conversations with channel partners, it became evident that they are facing difficulties in finding and retaining good Sales and Solutions talent. There have also been complaints about talent being poached by the tech vendors they partner with!

The standard response to this problem is vendor certification and training. However, this is inadequate, due to three main reasons.

The Pace of Technological Change

The latest technology and what is possible with it changes on almost a daily basis. In this environment, for a person to keep up with everything is almost impossible. The ways in which a specific technology can be applied and the solutions it can deliver change, based on the ecosystem that forms around the technology and with the improvements in capability with time.

Small changes in different applications can cascade to create a solution (in terms of meeting a user need) which was not possible a short time ago. This may then compete with a completely different technology that has been considered satisfactory till date for the same user need. If the new option performs better, the old option is gone before you can snap your fingers.

For a salesperson to be across all this requires a solid understanding of the industry and its environment at a conceptual level. Given the pace of change, such people have become increasingly rare. They can be trained on a specific technology, not on perspectives, conceptual clarity or industry depth – that would require a formal degree!

The Limits of Lecture Style Training

Old Confucian saying that Benjamin Franklin is often credited with

Unfortunately, there is a key shortcoming in the whole certification program. A person going through any kind of classroom type training is limited in how much they can understand. This includes any kind of knowledge download or dump – videos, online courses, virtual classrooms, reading, webinars or physical classes. With technology that changes every day, the depth of knowledge imparted through such knowledge downloads is woefully inadequate. Expertise in technology is difficult to attain without getting one’s hands dirty.

Trying to make the training more “practical”, involving more exercises is good and does lead to better-trained personnel. But this is a long process and does not fit in with the timelines of most certification programs.  

An actual customer implementation is probably the best teacher available right now. However, this leads to an unintended consequence – channel partners tend to stick with the vendor solutions that they have implemented before. Even if they can partner with other tech providers for better options they prefer to stick to what they know.

Vendor Bias in Training Programs

Certification is done, quite understandably, from the vendor’s point of view. The program is not built to generate an understanding of the tech world that we live in. That is taken as a given. Expertise in the vendor’s solution is the focus, and rightfully so. Talking points refer to that solution’s strengths and gloss over the weaknesses. There is no reason for a vendor to teach the participant the advantages of the competitor’s technology. Or explain the shortcomings of their own.

When the certified salesperson, however, is in front of the customer, this certification does not help them address all the queries. They are unable to clear the doubts or provide a complete (and objective) view that would satisfy a probing customer.

But there are ways in which this skills gap can be bridged – it will require both vendors and their channel partners to change how they view and grow talent. Stay tuned for the next feature where I share how the tech talent landscape can be changed.

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Welcome to the Great Bounce Forward

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As economies around the world are beginning to recover from the recessions and slowdowns caused by the pandemic, we are beginning to witness, what I like to call, the “Great Bounce Forward”.

Why the Great Bounce Forward? Because too many businesses, journalists and economists are talking about businesses “bouncing back”. But there is no bounce back. We are bouncing into the “economic unknown”. The trading conditions we see today are nothing like what they were at the beginning of 2020. While many people refer to the “new normal” I have heard few talks about how they are or will benefit from these new market conditions.

Bouncing back may not be relevant as we negotiate the economic unknown – it is time to evaluate how we can bounce forward!

Leaping Ahead Through Digital First

Customer interactions have changed – digital-first is now a requirement – and many customers expect a personalised and optimised experience. Many companies are starting to personalise experiences today – thinking they are “delighting customers” through personalised transactions and journeys. But you don’t delight customers by giving them what they want – you disappoint them if you don’t offer a true personalised experience.

Digital changes are coming thick and fast. For example, Australia Post has announced that online sales are currently 20% higher than what they were at the previous highest peak in December 2020. Yes – much of Australia is in a lockdown, but online sales are dwarfing what they were during lockdowns in 2020.

But it is not just about offering online sales. In the digital world, customers now expect to be able to track packages, get alerts when they are delivered, and have access to easy and free returns. Again – if you don’t do this today, you are creating poor customer experiences and are most likely losing business to those that offer great experiences.

Here is what organisations are witnessing:

The need to evolve their CRM solution. Salespeople expect the CRM to give them insights on who to sell to, why to sell to them and what approach will work best. CRM systems that don’t provide this analysis are letting businesses and salespeople down.

Analytics has to be turned into actions. More businesses are telling their analytics partners to stop telling them what to do, and just do it! Automating the outcomes of BI and analytics is beginning to be expected.

Ease of use has become essential. Interactions and processes need to be intelligent and easy to automate. We no longer throw teams of people at challenges – we automate the outcomes and use technology to deliver entirely new experiences without teams of employees pulling strings behind the scenes.

Process and technology changes happen quickly and seamlessly. We have been taught this by Zoom, Microsoft, AWS and Google. If you aren’t doing this today, you are behind the market and behind the expectations of your employees and customers.

Ecosystems are emerging to enable this agility and innovation. We can now innovate with a growing range of partners. Companies can partner for a single sale and move on. Start-ups are being embraced by dinosaurs, and competitors are becoming partners. More companies than ever are involving their own customers in their innovation processes. Ecosystems are changing the ability of technology and business teams to offer new and improved services to customers and employees.

Customer Experience Insights

Time for a Shift in Organisational Culture

Seemingly, the world changed overnight. But many of these changes have been in the works for years. It just took a global crisis to highlight how important they are and how much organisations need to change to embrace these opportunities. The only thing holding businesses back from thriving in the Great Bounce Forward are their people and culture. If you can embrace these changes, your businesses will move forward and emerge as different companies to the ones that entered the pandemic in early 2020. You’ll be more open, agile, innovative and digitally aware. You’ll be able to move in new, unheralded directions, driving improved customer, shareholder, or citizen value.

So stop thinking about how your business will bounce back. Make plans for it to bounce forward into the unknown.

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Ecosystm Snapshot: Global Open Banking Trends

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The appetite to adopt Open Banking solutions has increased, largely expedited by the pandemic. As consumers look for more digital engagements and better rates and services, they are more open to giving third-party providers access to their financial information that has traditionally been held by their banks.

The success of Open Banking initiatives depends on the Banking and FinTech ecosystem coming together to create an end-to-end digital architecture.

This Ecosystm Snapshot discusses some of the evolving trends in Open Banking, such as product differentiation by FinTechs to address a competitive market; the banking industry’s need to adopt digital and foster innovation; market entry by other industry leaders; and the need for trust in Open Banking adoption.

We cover recent announcements by companies such as Lloyd’s Bank, Mastercard, Batelco Financial Services, CarFinance 247, Credit Kudos, Prometeo, APImetrics and tomato pay.

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Ecosystm Snapshot: The Rise in ESG Consciousness

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We are seeing a rise in social and environmental consciousness – especially in the younger generation. Their awareness of human rights, the environment and inclusion is growing exponentially – they want to create impact. Organisations are being driven to develop and demonstrate an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) consciousness in their actions and investments.

In this Ecosystm Snapshot, we cover some of the recent examples of how governments and individual advocates are creating a difference; and how financial organisations and tech providers are embracing ESG.

Read how organisations such as Sun Cable, Equinix, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Prologis, Zensung, Ergo, Munich Re, Natwest, JPMorgan, Credit Suisse and others are working to make the world a better place.

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