Fueling Asia’s Innovation Ecosystem

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Since the start of this millennium, no region has transformed as much as Asia. There has been significant paradigm shifts in the region and the perception that innovation starts in the US or in Europe and percolates through to Asia after a time lag, has been shattered. Asia is constantly demonstrating how dynamic, and technology-focused it is. This is getting fueled by the impact of the growing middle class on consumerism and the spirit of innovation across the region. The region has also seen a surge in new and upcoming business leaders who are embracing change and looking beyond success to creating impact.

What is Driving Innovation in Asia?

The “If you ain’t got it, build it” attitude. One of the key drivers of this shift is the age of the average population in Asia. According to the UN the Asia Pacific region has nearly 60% of the world’s youth population (between the age of 17-24). With youth comes dynamism, a desire to change the world, and innovation. As this age group enters the workforce, they will transform their lives and the companies they work in. They are already showing a spirit of agility when it comes to solving challenges – they will build what they do not have.

The Need to enable Foundational Shifts. The younger generation is more aware of environmental, social and governance issues that the world continues to face. Many of the countries in the region are emerging economies, where these issues become more apparent. COVID-19 has also inculcated an empathy in people and they are thinking of future success in terms of impact. The desire to enable foundational shifts is giving direction to the transformation journey in the region. The wonderful new paradigm that is the Digital Economy allows us to cut across all segments; and technology and its advancements has immense potential to create a more sustainable and inclusive future for the world. 

Realising the Power of Momentum. The pandemic has caused major disruptions in the region. But every crisis also presents an opportunity to perhaps re-imagine a brighter world through a digital lens.  The other thing that the pandemic has done is made people and organisations realise that to succeed they need to be open to change – and that momentum is important. As organisations had to pivot fast, they realised what I have been saying for years – we shouldn’t “let perfect get in the way of better”. This adaptability and the readiness to fail fast and learn from the mistakes early for eventual success, is leading to faster and more agile transformation journeys.     

Where are we seeing the most impact?

Industries are Transforming. There are industries such as Healthcare and Education that had to transform out of a necessity and urgency brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to a greater impetus for change and optimism in these industries. These industries will continue to transform as governments focus significantly on creating “Social Safety Nets” and technology plays a key role in enabling critical services across Health, Education and Food Security. Then there are industries, such as the Financial Services and Retail, that had a strong customer focus and were well on their digital journeys before the pandemic. The pandemic boosted these efforts.

Ecosystm Industry Optimism Index

But these are not the only industries that are transforming. There are industries that have been impacted more than others. There are several instances of how organisations in these industries are demonstrating not only resilience but innovation. The Travel & Hospitality industry has had several such instances. As business models evolve the industry will see significant changes in digital channels to market, booking engines, corporate service offerings and others, as the overall Digital Strategy is overhauled.

Technologies are Evolving. Organisations depended on their tech partners to help them in their make the fast pivot required to survive and succeed in the last year – and tech companies have not disappointed. They have evolved their capabilities and continue to offer innovative solutions that can solve many of the ongoing business challenges that organisations face in their innovation journey. More and more technologies such as AI, machine learning, robotics, and digital twins are getting enmeshed together to offer better options for business growth, process efficiency and customer engagement. And the 5G rollouts will only accelerate that. The initial benefits being realized from early adoption of 5G has been for consumers. But there is a much bigger impact that is waiting to be realised as 5G empowers governments and businesses to make critical decisions at the edge.

Tech Start-ups are Flourishing.  There are immense opportunities for technology start-ups to grow their market presence through innovative products and services. To succeed these companies need to have a strong investment roadmap; maintain a strong focus on customer engagement; and offer technology solutions that can fulfil the global needs of their customers. Technologies that promote efficiency and eliminate mundane tasks for humans are the need of the hour. However, as the reliance on technology-led transformation increases, tech vendors are becoming acutely aware that they cannot be best-in-class across the different technologies that an organisation will require to transform. Here is where having a robust partner ecosystem helps. Partnerships are bringing innovation to scale in Asia.

We can expect Asia to emerge as a powerhouse as businesses continue to innovate, embed technology in their product and service offerings – and as tech start-ups continue to support their innovation journeys.


Ecosystm CEO Amit Gupta gets face to face with Garrett Ilg, President Asia Pacific & Japan, Oracle to discuss the rise of the Asia Digital economies, the impact of the growing middle class on consumerism and the spirit of innovation across the region.

Designed for change in a rising digital economy
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Woolworths Announces Future of Work Fund

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2020 was a strange year for retail. Businesses witnessed significant disruption to supply chains, significant swings in demand for products (toilet paper, puzzles, bikes etc!) and then sometimes incredible growth – as disposable income increased as many consumers are no longer taking expensive holidays. Overall, it was a mixed year, with many retailers closing down and others reporting record sales. The grocery sector boomed – with many restaurants and fast-food providers closed, sometimes the supermarkets were some of the few remaining open retailers.

For many retailers, technology has become a key enabler to their transformation, survival and success (Figure 1).

Technology Focus 2021 - Retail Industry

Woolworths, Australia’s largest retailer, operates across the grocery, department store, drinks, and hospitality sectors. They hold a significant market share in most markets that they operate in. The company had a strong 2019/20 (financial year runs from July 2019 to June 2020) with sales up 8% – and in the first half of the 2020/21 financial year, sales were up nearly 11%. But the company is not resting on its laurels – one of its 6 key priorities is to “Accelerate Digital, eCom and convenience for our increasingly connected customers”. This requires more than just a deep technology investment, but a new culture, new skills, and new ways of working.

Woolworths’ Employee Focus

Woolworths has committed to invest AUD 50 million in upskilling and reskilling their employees in areas such as digital, data analytics, machine learning and robotics over the next three years. The move comes as a response to the way the Retail industry has been disrupted and the need to futureproof to stay relevant and successful. The training will be provided through online platforms and through collaborations with key learning institutions.

The supermarket giant is one of Australia’s largest private employers with more than 200,000 employees. Under Woolworths’ ‘Future of Work Fund’ their staff will be trained across supply chain, store operations, and support functions to enhance delivery and decision-making processes. The retailer will also create an online learning platform that will be accessible by Woolworths employees as well as by other retail and service companies to support the ecosystem.  Woolworths has plans to upskill their staff in customer service abilities, leadership skills and agile ways of working.

Woolworths’ upskilling program will also support employees who were impacted by Woolworths planned closures of Minchinbury, Yennora, and Mulgrave distribution centres due in 2025.

Woolworths’ Tech Focus

Woolworths has been ramping up their technology investments and having tech-savvy employees will be key to their future success. In October 2020, Woolworths deployed micro automation technology to revamp their eCommerce facility in Melbourne to speed up the fulfilment of online grocery orders, and front and back-end operations. Woolworths also partnered with Dell Technologies in November 2020 to bring together their private and public cloud onto a single platform to improve mission-critical processes, applications and support inventory management operations across its retail stores.

Future of Work

For many years, Ecosystm has been advising our clients to invest more in the skills of the business. Every business will be using more cloud next year than they are this year; they will suffer more cybersecurity incidents; they will use more AI and machine learning; they will automate more processes than are automated today. More of their customer engagements will be digital, and more insight will be required to drive better outcomes for customers and employees. This all needs new skills – or more people trained on skills that some in the business already understand. But too many businesses don’t train in advance – instead waiting for the need and paying external consultants or expensive new hires for their skills. Empowered businesses – ones that are creating a future-ready, agile business – invest in their people, work environment, business processes and technology to create an environment where innovation, transformation and business change are accepted and encouraged (Figure 2).

Future of Work

Empowered businesses can adapt to new challenges, new market conditions and respond to new competitive threats. By taking these steps to upskill and empower their employees, Woolworths is building towards empowering their own business for long term success.


 Transform and be better prepared for future disruption, and the ever-changing competitive environment and customer, employee or partner demands in 2021. Download Ecosystm Predicts: The top 5 Future of Work Trends For 2021.

Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 FUTURE OF WORK Trends for 2021
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Salesforce Backs BetterUp

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BetterUp, a mobile-based professional learning and wellness platform that connects employees with career experts recently raised USD 125 million Series D funding backed by Salesforce Ventures, in partnership with ICONIQ Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Threshold Ventures, and Sapphire Ventures among others, bringing the company’s valuation to USD 1.73 billion. Previously in 2012, the company had raised USD 43 million in venture capital funding with an additional Series B funding of USD 30 million in March 2018. The BetterUp platform combines behavioural science, AI, and human interaction to enhance employees’ personal and professional well-being. Recently, the company also revealed two new products – Identify AI, to help organisations determine the right people to invest in and the appropriate coaching needed through the use of AI; and Coaching Cloud for customised training for frontline, professional, and executive employees.

This announcement comes on the back of several wins for BetterUp. To boost employee performance and organisational growth NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) partnered with BetterUp to support new ways of coaching and preparing a workforce for change. The world’s largest brewer, AB InBev has partnered with BetterUp to strengthen diversity and inclusion through BetterUp’s coaching platform.

The Need to Improve Employee Experience

The pandemic changed the working arrangement of millions of employees and industries across the globe who are now working remotely or in a hybrid environment.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Audrey William says, “Driving better employee experience (EX) should take centre stage this year with enterprises putting employees at the centre of all initiatives. We will see EX platforms get integrated further and deeper into workplace collaboration and HR applications. In the last 12 months, we have seen apps monitoring wellness and sleep, training and coaching, meditation, employee motivation, and so on sit within larger collaboration platforms such as Slack, Zoom, Microsoft, Cisco and others.”

While the primary focus has been on optimising the work environment, it is time for organisations to start focusing on employee well-being. Ecosystm research shows that organisations implemented several measures to empower a remote workforce last year when the pandemic hit. But there was not enough focus on employee well-being (Figure 1).

Organisational measures to enable remote working

William says, “A hybrid work environment may have negative impact on your employees. You may face issues such as longer working hours, employee burnout, lesser social engagements and connection, loneliness – and mental and emotional issues and depression”.

“Organisations that place an emphasis on the employees will see their revenues grow and also see less attrition. The more you invest in your people, the more you will get back in return. It is as simple as that! You can see that now in some organisations where employees are being given more flexibility, employers are not dictating how they should work, diversity and inclusion efforts have become mainstream, and efforts are being made to make employees feel like they belong.”

William adds, “However, Ecosystm research finds that organisations have gone back to putting customers and business growth first – losing focus on their employees. Only 27% of organisations globally say that they have improving employee experience as a key business priority in 2021. It is time for this culture and mindset to change. And solutions such as BetterUp can make a difference.”


Transform and be better prepared for future disruption, and the ever-changing competitive environment and customer, employee or partner demands in 2021. Download Ecosystm Predicts: The top 5 Future of Work Trends For 2021.

Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 FUTURE OF WORK Trends for 2021
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Prioritise your Customer Experience spend for faster Business Growth

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The past twelve months have been tough. Most businesses in Singapore (68%) still haven’t seen revenue recover to pre-pandemic levels. Many budgets are down and you are likely to have a long list of spending options that might help you grow revenue and pull your business out of the pandemic-induced slump. Even if your business is doing well, the pressure on budgets is real.

Businesses in Singapore have not recovered from the pandemic

Increasing your CX Spend

Despite the pressure on budgets Ecosystm data makes a strong case to not cut your customer experience (CX) spend! Businesses in Singapore that are cutting their CX spend are less likely to return to growth, more likely to be competing on price (hence cutting margins), not focused on their digital and omnichannel customers, and have lower levels of innovation. Funnily enough, these are also the businesses with complex, legacy systems which need more focus to provide an improved CX! To be quite frank, businesses in Singapore who are cutting CX spend are setting themselves up for failure. With other businesses increasing CX spend, the gap between the customer experiences will grow to a point where customers will leave and it will be hard to catch up.

Prioritising your CX Spend

So now that you have secured your CX spend, where will you get the biggest bang for your buck? Let’s look at where businesses in Singapore are focusing their CX initiatives in 2021.

Offering an omnichannel experience. Your customers expect more than just a great digital experience – they want the right experience at the right touchpoint. The CX leaders in Singapore (who, unsurprisingly are often the market leaders) are already offering great omnichannel experiences, so this is quickly becoming about catching up – and not about getting ahead. Providing a consistent, personalised, and optimised experience across your digital touchpoints needs to be a top priority for your business today. If you are not offering conversational commerce solutions, start that strategy as soon as possible – you need to be where your customers are today. Extending this to physical channels and broader ecosystem partners should also be on your agenda.

Improving knowledge systems. Your knowledge systems don’t do what they say on the box. They don’t provide answers to questions – for employees or customers. In fact, if your customer service agents get asked a question they don’t know the answer to, their number one source for answers is actually their colleagues or team leaders – NOT the knowledge management system! Start investing in systems – or ideally a single system – that help your employees get better, faster answers to questions. Make sure that the system is providing the same answers to both your employees and your customers across all touchpoints – physical and digital.

Where do Customer Service agents go for answers

Migrating customer service platforms to the cloud. Over half the businesses in Singapore that we assessed have this as a top CX priority. Cloud solutions offer faster time to value, lower management costs, give access to more regular improvements and often provide the ability to easily integrate with partners who offer product extensions and customisations. This trend will continue in 2021 and 2022 as more businesses realise that their legacy customer service or contact centre platform is inhibiting their ability to innovate their customer experience. These systems also help businesses to stay compliant and reduce the reliance on internal IT – which has traditionally struggled to keep up with the fast-changing nature of the contact centre and customer service teams.

Reasons for Adopting Cloud Customer Service solutions

Investing in AI and machine learning. Many businesses are using AI to provide the personalised and optimised customer experiences they aspire to. AI and machine learning are allowing businesses to create personalised offers, offer a next-best action and automate services. Advanced banks in Singapore can create interest rate offers for each individual customer based on their credit profile and history. 46% of businesses in Singapore are already using AI to offer recommendations for customer service agents, 44% to optimise or test messaging and campaigns and 43% to provide faster, more accurate access to information and knowledge. 18 months ago, AI was a business differentiator – allowing your business to create a stand-out CX. Today AI is quickly becoming a standard practice – the battle now is around using AI to create personalised and optimised experiences.

A great customer experience will be the most important factor in lifting your business to pre-pandemic growth levels and helping your business remain competitive in today’s tough business conditions. When it comes to CX, there is no such thing as “saving your way to growth”.


Your opportunity to drive greater business success lies in your ability to better win, serve and retain your customers. Refresh your customer strategy and capability today to make 2021 an exceptional year for your business.

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The Value of the Human Touch in 2021

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Authored by Alea Fairchild and Audrey William

There is a lot of hope on AI and automation to create intellectual wealth, efficiency, and support for some level of process stability. After all, can’t we just ask Siri or Alexa and get answers so we can make a decision and carry on?

Automation has been touted as the wonder formula for workplace process optimisation. In reality it’s not the quick fix that many business leaders desire.  But we keep raising the bar on expectations from automation. Investments in voice technologies, intelligent assistants, augmented reality and touchscreens are changing customer experience (Figure 1). Chatbots are ubiquitous, and everything has the potential to be personalised. But will they solve our problems?

Important customer touchpoints

100 percent automation is not effective

Let’s first consider using automation to replace face-to-face interactions. There was a time when people were raving about the check-in experience at some of the hotels in Japan where robots and automated systems would take care of the check-in, in-stay and check-out processes. Sounds simple and good? Till 2019, if you checked into the Henn-na Hotel in Japan, you would be served and taken care of by 243 robots. It was viewed by many as a template for what a fully automated hotel could look like in the future.

The hotel had an in-room voice assistant called Churi. It could cope with basic commands, such as turning the lights on and off, but it was found to be deficient when guests started asking questions about places to visit or other more sophisticated queries. It was not surprising that the hotel decided to retire their robots. In the end it created more work for the hotel staff on-site.

People love the personal touch when they are in a hotel; and talking to someone at the front desk, requesting assistance from hotel staff, or even just a short chat over breakfast are some of the small nuances of why the emotional connection matters. Many quarantine hotels today use robots for food delivery, but the hotel staff is still widely available for questions. That automation is good, but you need the human intervention. So, getting the balance right is key.

Empathy plays a big role in delivering great Customer Experience

Similarly, there was a time when many industry observers and technology providers said that a contact centre will be fully automated, reducing the number of agents. While technologies such as Conversational AI have come along where you can now automate common or repetitive questions and with higher accuracy levels, the human agent still plays a critical role in answering the more complex queries. When the customer has a complicated question or request, then they will WANT to speak to an agent.

When it reaches a point where the conversation with the chatbot starts getting complicated and the customers need more help there should be the option – within the app, website or any other channel – to escalate the call seamlessly to a human agent. Sometimes, a chat is where the good experience happens – the emotional side of the conversation, the laughter, the detailed explanation. This human touch cannot be replaced by machines. Disgruntled customers are happier when an agent shows empathy. Front line staff and human agents act as the face of a company’s brand. Complete automation will not allow the individual to understand the culture of the company. These can be attained through conversations.

Humans as supervisors for AI – The New Workplace

Empathy, intuitiveness, and creativity are all human elements in the intelligence equation. Workers in the future will need to make their niche in a fluid and unpredictable environment; and translating data into action in a non-replicable way is one of the values of human input. The essence of engineering is the capacity to design around human limitations. This requires an understanding of how humans behave and what they want. We call that empathy. It is the difference between the engineer who designs a product, and the engineer who delivers a solution. We don’t teach our computer scientists and engineering students a formula for empathy. But we do try to teach them respect for both the people and the process.

For efficiency, we turn to automation of processes, such as RPA. This is designed to try to eradicate human error and assist us in doing our job better, faster and at a lower cost by automating routine processes. If we design it right, humans take the role of monitoring or supervisory controlling, rather than active participation.

At present, AI is not seen as a replacement for our ingenuity and knowledge, but as a support tool. The value in AI is in understanding and translating human preferences. Humans-in-the-loop AI system building puts humans in the decision loop. They also shift pressure away from building “perfect” algorithms. Having humans involved in the ethical norms of the decision allows the backstop of overly orchestrated algorithms.

That being said, the astute use of AI can deepen insights into what truly makes us human and can humanise experiences by setting a better tone and a more trusted engagement. Using things like sentiment analysis can de-escalate customer service encounters to regain customer loyalty.

The next transformational activity for renovating work is to advance interactions with customers by interpreting what they are asking for and humanising the experience of acquiring it which may include actually dealing with a human contact centre agent – decisions that are supported at the edge by automation, but at the core by a human being.

Implications

Ecosystm research shows that process automation will be a key priority for technology investments in 2021 (Figure 2).

Digital Technology focus for 2021

With AI and automation, a priority in 2021, it will be important to keep these considerations in mind:

  1. Making empathy and the human connection the core of customer experiences will bring success.
  2. Rigorous, outcome-based testing will be required when process automation solutions are being evaluated. In areas where there are unsatisfactory results, human interactions cannot – and should not – be replaced.
  3. It may be easy to achieve 90% automation for dealing with common, repetitive questions and processes. But there should always be room for human intervention in the event of an issue – and it should be immediate and not 24 hours later!
  4. Employees can drive greater value by working alongside the chatbot, robot or machine.

Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Customer Experience Trends for 2021

Download Ecosystm’s complimentary report detailing the top 5 customer experience trends for 2021 that your company should pay attention to along with tips on how to stay ahead of the curve.

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2021: The Year of the Customer

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In 2009 one of the foremost Financial Services industry experts was giving my team a deep dive into the Global Financial Crisis (GFS) and its ramifications. According to him, one of the key reasons why it happened was that most people in key positions in both industry and government had probably never seen a full downturn in their careers. There was a bit of a hiccup during the dot com bust but nothing that seriously interrupted the long boom that began somewhere in 1988. They had never experienced anything quite like 2008; so they never imagined that such a crisis could actually happen.

Similarly, 2020 was an unprecedented year – in our lives and certainly for the tech industry. The GFC (as the name suggests) was a financial crisis. A lot of people lost their jobs, but after the bailouts things went largely back to normal. COVID-19 is something different altogether – the impact will be felt for years and we don’t yet know the full implications of the crisis.  

While we would like to start 2021 with a clean slate and never talk about the pandemic again, the reality is that COVID-19 will shape what we will see this year. In the first place it looks like the disease will still be around for a substantial part of the year. Secondly, all the changes it has brought in 2020 with entire workforces suddenly moving to operating from home will have profound implications for technology and customer experience this year.

As we ease into 2021, I look at some of the organisational and technology trends that are likely to impact customer experience (CX) in 2021.

#1 All Business is Now eBusiness

COVID-19 has ensured that the few businesses which did not have an online presence became acutely aware that they needed one. It created a need for many businesses to quickly initiate eCommerce. Forbes reported a 77% increase in eCommerce infrastructure spending YoY. This represents about 4 years of growth squeezed into the first 6 months of 2020!

From a CX point of view there is going to be far more interaction with brands and products through online channels. This is not just about eCommerce and buying from a portal. It is also about using tools like Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms more widely. It is about learning to interact with the customer in multiple ways and touching their journeys at multiple points, all virtually using the web – mostly the mobile web.

Ecosystm research shows that almost three out of four companies have decided on accelerating or modifying the digitalisation they were undergoing (Figure 1). It is fair to expect that this gives a further boost to moving to the cloud. For the customer it will mean being able to access information in many new ways and connect with products, services, brands at multiple points on the web.

Impact of COVID-19 on Digital Transformation

Since interacting with the customer at multiple points is new for most services, I foresee a lot of missed opportunities as companies learn to navigate a completely different landscape. Customers pampered by digitally native organisations often react harshly to even a small mistake. It will become critical for companies to not just become a bigger presence online but also to manage their customers well.

New solutions such as Customer Data Platforms (CDP), as opposed to CRM will become common. Players who are into Customer Experience management are likely to see huge business growth and new players will rapidly enter this space. They will promise to affordably manage CX across the globe, leveraging the cloud.

#2 Virtual Merges with Real

Virtual and Augmented Reality are not new. They have been around for a while. This will now cross the early adoption stage and is likely to proliferate in terms of use cases and importance.

AR/VR has so far been seen mainly in games where one wears an unwieldy – though ever-improving – headset to transport oneself into a 3D virtual world. Or in certain industrial applications e.g., using a mobile device to look at some machinery; the device captures what the eye can see while providing graphical overlays with information. In 2021 I expect to see almost all industrial applications adopting some form of this technology. This will have an impact on how products are serviced and repaired.

For the mainstream, 2020 was the year of videoconferencing – as iconic as the shift to virtual meetings has been, there is much more to come. Meetings, conferences, events, classrooms have all gone virtual. Video interaction with multiple people and sharing information via shared applications is commonplace. Virtual backgrounds which hide where you are actually speaking from are also widely used and getting more creative by the day.

Imagine then a future where you get on one of these calls wearing a headset and are transported into a room where your colleagues who are joining the call also are. You see them as full 3D people, you see the furniture, and the room decor. You speak and everyone sees your 3D avatar speak, gesture (as you gesture from the comfort of your home office) and move around. It will seem like you are really in the conference room together! If this feels futuristic or unreal try this or look at how the virtual office can look in the very near future.  

While the solutions may not look very sophisticated, they will rapidly improve. AR/VR will start to really make its presence felt in the lives of consumers. From being able to virtually “try” on clothes from a boutique to product launches going virtual, these technologies will deeply impact customer experience in 2021 and beyond

In the immortal words of Captain Kirk, we will be going where no man has gone before – enabled by AR / VR.

#3 Digital CX will involve Multiple Technologies

AI, IoT and 5G will continue to support wider CX initiatives.

The advances that I have mentioned will gain impetus from 5G networking, which will enable unprecedented bandwidth availability. To deliver an AR experience over the cloud, riding on a 5G network, will literally be a game changer compared to the capabilities of older networks.

Similarly, IoT will lead to massive changes in terms of product availability, customisation and so on. 5G-enabled IoT will allow a lot more data to be carried a lot faster; and more processing at the edge. IoT will have some initial use cases in Retail, Services and other non-manufacturing sectors – but perhaps not as strongly as some commentators seem to indicate.

AI continues to drive change. While AI may not transform CX in 2021, this is a technology which will be a component of most other CX offerings, and so will impact customer experience in the next few years. In fact, thinking of businesses in 2025 I cannot believe that there will be a single business to customer (B2C) interaction which will not feature some form of AI technology.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the technologies which will impact CX in 2021 – Connect with me on the Ecosystm platform.


Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Customer Experience Trends for 2021

Download Ecosystm’s complimentary report detailing the top 5 customer experience trends for 2021 that your company should pay attention to along with tips on how to stay ahead of the curve.

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Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Customer Experience Trends for 2021

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In 2020, much of the focus for organisations were on business continuity, and on empowering their employees to work remotely. Their primary focus in managing customer experience was on re-inventing their product and service delivery to their customers as regular modes were disrupted. As they emerge from the crisis, organisations will realise that it is not only their customer experience delivery models that have changed – but customer expectations have also evolved in the last few months. They are more open to digital interactions and in many cases the concept of brand loyalty has been diluted. This will change everything for organisations’ customer strategies. And digital technology will play a significant role as they continue to pivot to succeed in 2021 – across regions, industries and organisations.

Ecosystm Advisors Audrey William, Niloy Mukherjee and Tim Sheedy present the top 5 Ecosystm predictions for Customer Experience in 2021. This is a summary of the predictions – the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform.

The Top 5 Customer Experience Trends for 2021

  1. Customer Experience Will Go Truly Digital

COVID-19 made the few businesses that did not have an online presence acutely aware that they need one – yesterday! We have seen at least 4 years of digital growth squeezed into six months of 2020. And this is only the beginning. While in 2020, the focus was primarily on eCommerce and digital payments, there will now be a huge demand for new platforms to be able to interact digitally with the customer, not just to be able to sell something online.

Digital customer interactions with brands and products – through social media, online influencers, interactive AI-driven apps, online marketplaces and the like will accelerate dramatically in 2021. The organisations that will be successful will be the ones that are able to interact with their customers and connect with them at multiple touchpoints across the customer journey. Companies unable to do that will struggle.

  1. Digital Engagement Will Expand Beyond the Traditional Customer-focused Industries

One of the biggest changes in 2020 has been the increase in digital engagement by industries that have not traditionally had a strong eye on CX. This trend is likely to accelerate and be further enhanced in 2021.

Healthcare has traditionally been focused on improving clinical outcomes – and patient experience has been a byproduct of that focus. Many remote care initiatives have the core objective of keeping patients out of the already over-crowded healthcare provider organisations. These initiatives will now have a strong CX element to them. The need to disseminate information to citizens has also heightened expectations on how people want their healthcare organisations and Public Health to interact with them. The public sector will dramatically increase digital interactions with citizens, having been forced to look at digital solutions during the pandemic.  

Other industries that have not had a traditional focus on CX will not be far behind. The Primary & Resources industries are showing an interest in Digital CX almost for the first time. Most of these businesses are looking to transform how they manage their supply chains from mine/farm to the end customer. Energy and Utilities and Manufacturing industries will also begin to benefit from a customer focus – primarily looking at technology – including 3D printing – to customise their products and services for better CX and a larger share of the market.

  1. Brands that Establish a Trusted Relationship Can Start Having Fun Again

Building trust was at the core of most businesses’ CX strategies in 2020 as they attempted to provide certainty in a world generally devoid of it. But in the struggle to build a trusted experience and brand, most businesses lost the “fun”. In fact, for many businesses, fun was off the agenda entirely. Soft drink brands, travel providers, clothing retailers and many other brands typically known for their fun or cheeky experiences moved the needle to “trust” and dialed it up to 11. But with a number of vaccines on the horizon, many CX professionals will look to return to pre-pandemic experiences, that look to delight and sometimes even surprise customers.

However, many companies will get this wrong. Customers will not be looking for just fun or just great experiences. Trust still needs to be at the core of the experience. Customers will not return to pre-pandemic thinking – not immediately anyway. You can create a fun experience only if you have earned their trust first. And trust is earned by not only providing easy and effective experiences, but by being authentic.

  1. Customer Data Platforms Will See Increased Adoption

Enterprises continue to struggle to have a single view of the customer. There is an immense interest in making better sense of data across every touchpoint – from mobile apps, websites, social media, in-store interactions and the calls to the contact centre – to be able to create deeper customer profiles. CRM systems have been the traditional repositories of customer data, helping build a sales pipeline, and providing Marketing teams with the information they need for lead generation and marketing campaigns. However, CRM systems have an incomplete view of the customer journey. They often collect and store the same data from limited touchpoints – getting richer insights and targeted action recommendations from the same datasets is not possible in today’s world. And organisations struggled to pivot their customer strategies during COVID-19.  Data residing in silos was an obstacle to driving better customer experience.

We are living in an age where customer journeys and preferences are becoming complex to decipher. An API-based CDP can ingest data from any channel of interaction across multiple journeys and create unique and detailed customer profiles. A complete overhaul of how data can be segregated based on a more accurate and targeted profile of the customer from multiple sources will be the way forward in order to drive a more proactive CX engagement. 

  1. Voice of the Customer Programs Will be Transformed

Designing surveys and Voice of Customer programs can be time-consuming and many organisations that have a routine of running these surveys use a fixed pattern for the data they collect and analyse. However, some organisations understand that just analysing results from a survey or CSAT score does not say much about what customers’ next plan of action will be. While it may give an idea of whether particular interactions were satisfactory, it gives no indication of whether they are likely to move to another brand; if they needed more assistance; if there was an opportunity to upsell or cross sell; or even what new products and services need to be introduced. Some customers will just tick the box as a way of closing off a feedback form or survey. Leading organisations realise that this may not be a good enough indication of a brand’s health.

Organisations will look beyond CSAT to other parameters and attributes. It is the time to pay greater attention to the Voice of the Customer – and old methods alone will not suffice. They want a 360-degree view of their customers’ opinions.


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Going Green: The Impact of COVID-19 on ESG Investing

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Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings towards investment criteria have become popular for potential investors to evaluate companies in which they might want to invest. As younger investors and others have shown an interest in investing based on their personal values, brokerage firms and mutual fund companies have begun to offer exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and other financial products that follow specifically stated ESG criteria. Passive investing with robo-advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront have also used ESG criteria to appeal to this group.

The disruption caused by the pandemic has highlighted for many of us the importance of building sustainable and resilient business models based on multi-stakeholder considerations. It has also created growing investor interest in ESG.

ESG signalling for institutional investors

The increased interest in climate change, sustainable business investments and ESG metrics is partly a reaction of the society to assist in the global transition to a greener and more humane economy in the post-COVID era.  Efforts for ESG standards for risk measurement will benefit and support that effort.

A recent study of asset managers by the investment arm of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) showed that more than 12% of respondents reported heightened importance of ESG considerations in their investment decisions or stewardship activities compared to before the pandemic.

In the area of hedge funds, there has been an increased demand for ESG-integrated investments since the start of COVID-19, according to 50% of all respondents of a hedge fund survey conducted by BNP Paribas Corporate and Institutional Banking of 53 firms with combined assets under management (AUM) of at least USD 500B.

ESG criteria may have a practical purpose beyond any ethical concerns, as these criteria may be able to help avoidance of companies whose practices could signal risk. As ESG gets more traction, investment firms such as JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs have published annual reports that highlight and review their ESG approaches and the bottom-line results.

But even with more options, the need for clarity and standards on ESG has never been so important. In my opinion, there must be an enhanced effort to standardise and harmonise ESG rating metrics.

How are ESG ratings made?

ESG ratings need both quantitative and qualitative/narrative disclosures by companies in order to be calculated. And if no data is disclosed or available, companies then move to estimations.

No global standard has been defined for what is included in a given company’s ESG rating. Attempts at standardising the list of ESG topics to consider include the materiality map developed by the Sustainable Accounting Standard Board (SASB) or the reporting standards created by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). But most ESG rating providers have been defining their own materiality matrices to calculate their scores.

Can ESG scoring be automatically integrated?

Just this month, Morningstar equity research analysts announced they will employ a globally consistent framework to capture ESG risk across over 1,500 stocks. Analysts will identify valuation-relevant risks for each company using Sustainalytics’ ESG Risk Ratings, which measure a company’s exposure to material ESG risks, then evaluate the probability those risks materialise and the associated valuation impact. ESG rating firms such as MSCI, Sustainalytics, RepRisk, and ISS use a rules-based methodology to identify industry leaders and laggards according to their exposure to ESG risks, as well as how well they manage those risks relative to peers.

Their ESG Risk Ratings measure a company’s exposure to industry-specific material ESG risks and how well a company is managing those risks. This approach to measuring ESG risk combines the concepts of management and exposure to arrive at an assessment of ESG risk – the ESG Risk Rating – which should be comparable across all industries. But some critics of this form of approach feel it is still too subjective and too industry-specific to be relevant. This criticism is relevant when you understand that the use of the ESG ratings and underlying scores may in future inform asset allocation. How might this better automated and controlled? Perhaps adding some AI might be useful to address this? 

In one example, Deutsche Börse has recently led a USD 15 million funding round in Clarity AI, a Spanish FinTech firm that uses machine learning and big data to help investors understand the societal impact of their investment portfolios. Clarity AI’s proprietary tech platform performs sustainability assessments covering more than 30,000 companies,198 countries,187 local governments and over 200,000 funds. Where companies like Cooler Future are working on an impact investment app for everyday individual users, Clarity AI has attracted a client network representing over $3 trillion of assets and funding from investors such as Kibo Ventures, Founders Fund, Seaya Ventures and Matthew Freud.

What about ESG Indices?  What do they tell us about risk?

Core ESG indexing is the use of indices designed to apply ESG screening and ESG scores to recognised indices such as the S&P 500®S&P/ASX 200, or S&P/TSX Composite. SAM, part of S&P Global, annually conducts a Corporate Sustainability Assessment, an ESG analysis of over 7,300 companies. Core ESG indices can then become actionable components of asset allocation when a fund or separately managed accounts (SMAs) provider tracks the index.

Back in 2017, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the State Secretariat for International Finance (SIF) made it possible for all Swiss pension funds and insurance firms to measure the environmental impact of their stocks and portfolios for free. Currently, these federal bodies are testing use case with banks and asset managers. Its initial activities will be recorded in an action plan, which is due to be published in Spring 2021.

How can having a body of sustainable firms help create ESG metrics?

Creating ESG standard metrics and methodologies will be aided when there is a network of sustainable companies to analyse, which leads us to green fintech networks (GFN) of companies interested in exploring how their own technology investments can be supportive of ESG objectives. Switzerland is setting up a Green Fintech Network to help the country take advantage of the “great opportunity” presented by sustainable finance. The network has been launched by SIF alongside industry players, including green FinTech companies, universities, and consulting and law firms. Stockholm also has a Green Fintech Network that allows collaboration towards sustainability goals.

Concluding Thought

We should be curious about how ESG can provide decision-oriented information about intangible assets and non-financial risks and opportunities. More information and data from ESG data providers like SAM, combined with automation or AI tools can potentially provide a more complete picture of how to measure the long-term sustainable performance of equity and fixed income asset classes.

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Where is the Digital Economy Headed?

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In this blog, our guest authors Randeep Sudan and Yamin Oo talk about the pervasiveness of the Digital Economy, and the key trends that will determine its future trajectory. “That the world in 2030 will be very different from today is obvious. We may, however, be surprised by the extent and sweep of the change ahead of us.”

The Digital Economy – a term first coined by Don Tapscott in 1994 – is not easy to define or measure. At one end, it is limited to the production and consumption of digital goods and services. On the other end, according to the European Parliament, “The digital economy is increasingly interwoven with the physical or offline economy making it more and more difficult to clearly delineate the digital economy“. We are, however, witnessing the Digital Economy transitioning to an economy that is digital.

Given the pervasiveness of the Digital Economy, its future will be determined by the complex interplay of several trends. Some of the trends that illustrate the future trajectory of the Digital Economy are:

Technology

We will see AI becoming ubiquitous as it is leveraged in every sector and sphere of activity. According to one estimate, AI is estimated to contribute USD 15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030, which is more than the current GDP of China and India combined! We are also likely to see rapid progress in technologies related to Extended Reality (XR) in the coming years. COVID-19 is accelerating this trend, as we can see from the offerings of companies like Spatial and MeetinVR that facilitate virtual business meetings. The analog world’s rendering into its digital twin will see us moving towards a metaverse – a virtual shared space imagined in Neal Stephenson’s novel Snowcrash. Some of the biggest names in the tech industry – Apple (Apple glass), Facebook (Oculus), Sony (Playstation) – are assiduously working towards this direction.

Given the importance of telecom infrastructure to the Digital Economy, 5G networks are being rolled out in countries worldwide (Figure 1). However, even as 5G is being deployed, the buzz around 6G is getting louder. 6G may transmit data 100 times faster than 5G and may see deployment by 2030 given the decadal cycles for telecom: 1G in the 80s, 2G in the 90s, 3G in the decade following 2000, 4G in the decade starting 2010, and 5G beginning in the 2020s.

Global 5G Deployments

The availability of high bandwidth, low latency networks could lead to newer applications and further breakthroughs in innovative technologies.

The Future of Work

With the rapid growth in automation and AI, we are likely to see significant labour market disruptions. Moreover, COVID-19 has been a watershed for the global economy – its impacts will continue to be felt for many years to come. According to the International Labor Organization, 495 million full-time jobs were lost in the first two quarters of 2020 due to COVID-19.  Lower and middle-income countries have suffered the most, with an estimated 23.3% drop in working hours – equivalent to 240 million jobs. 

A recent report from the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced due to automation and AI, while 97 million new roles may emerge. We will see significant changes and turbulence in labour markets across multiple industries and geographies in the years ahead. If we look at how the top ten skills required by the top 10 US companies have been changing over time, we get an indication of the Future of Work. Companies are more focused on “soft” skills, that are not easily addressed by AI & Automation.

We are also likely to see a shift from humans adapting to technology to technologies adapting to humans. For example, the acceleration in digital twins combined with advancements in XR could allow unskilled workers to do skilled jobs. AR could guide a worker to repair a piece of mechanical equipment without long years of previous training. Similarly, the emergence of ‘Low Code No Code’ (LCNC) applications will allow ordinary individuals to do tasks that previously required specialised training.

Climate Change

Scientists have long focused our attention to limit the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million to avoid catastrophic climate change. In 2016, the World Meteorological Organization reported this concentration had crossed 400 parts per million, leaving us with a shorter runway to prevent calamitous climate change. We are, therefore, likely to see increased efforts to tackle climate change in the decade ahead.

Digital technologies can impact the global climate agenda in multiple ways: smart grids, smart buildings, smart appliances, intelligent transport systems, shared mobility, and 3D printing, to name a few. Digital technologies will also allow new sources of renewable energy to be tapped. For example, the molten core of the earth is over 6,000°C. “Just 0.1% of the heat content of Earth could supply humanity’s total energy needs for 2 million years,” according to AltaRock Energy. Advances in the use of digital technologies that allow for precise directional drilling will allow for advanced geothermal systems to be established as reliable power sources.

Splinternet

Tech bloggers like Doc Searls and Stephen Lewis had begun to theorise about a Splinternet as early as 2008. There was a danger of governments carving the world into geopolitical blocks and creating technology barriers. China’s Great Firewall and the US’s recent responses under the Trump administration are likely to hurtle us in the direction of a fractured internet. We may end up with the US dominating the western internet and China dominating a competing block of countries. The Digital Economy’s evolution would fracture into different camps, making it very different from what it is today.

Tech Regulation

The most valuable companies in the world today are in tech. Seven of the top ten companies in the world by market cap in 2020 are tech companies.

The recent investigation into competition in digital markets undertaken by the US House Judiciary Committee observed: “Over the past decade, the digital economy has become highly concentrated and prone to monopolisation. Several markets investigated by the Subcommittee – such as social networking, general online search, and online advertising – are dominated by just one or two firms. The companies investigated by the Subcommittee – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google – have captured control over key channels of distribution and have come to function as gatekeepers. Just a decade into the future, 30% of the world’s gross economic output may lie with these firms, and just a handful of others.

We have also witnessed the rapid diversification of data monopolies into other sectors. See, for example, the diversification of VC investments by Alibaba’s Ant Group over time. In 2015 they were investing in 5 areas, which has doubled in the last 5 years.  

The call for the regulation of big tech will gain momentum in the coming years. The European Union is likely to lead here, just the way just it did in the case of its General Data Protection Regulation.

Governments will also require data monopolies to share data. China mandates its automakers to share data generated by electric vehicles with a government research institute. This data is essential for public safety and planning battery-recharging stations. The Australian Government promotes the concept of sharing “designated datasets” that could include data held by the private sector that has significant community benefits. Similarly, France’s Law for a Digital Republic requires the sharing data by certain categories of the private sector. Such blurring of boundaries between public and private data will become more important.

We will also see the growing importance of data trusts. These are structures where data is placed in the custody of a “Board of Trustees” who have a fiduciary responsibility to look after the interests of data owners. Such data trusts might give individuals better control over their data.

Every aspect of the economy is being digitalised today. In the next decade we are likely to witness foundational shifts in how the Digital or Data Economy is structured. It will also see increasing risks as cyber threats grow exponentially from cybercriminals and state actors. That the world in 2030 will be very different from today is obvious. We may, however, be surprised by the extent and sweep of the change ahead of us.

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