Probe Group has been expanding its business presence since being acquired by Five V Capital in early 2018. At the time, Probe acquired Salmat’s Contact business, a broad-based CX operation which helped Probe expand their presence in Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. Looking out for further opportunities, in December last year Probe Group acquired Australia-based and Philippines-focused Beepo and quickly followed this with an acquisition in January this year of the Philippines outsourcing agency MicroSourcing, a counterpart to Beepo which greatly expanded Probe’s Philippines offering. These acquisitions helped Probe extend their service offering from CX into Shared Services and Knowledge Services.
This is a brilliant move as Stellar is one of the most successful contact centre outsourcing providers in Australia. With successive growth for 22 years and having a strong footprint in both the public and private sectors, the acquisition will give Probe Group entry into some large accounts. Additionally, Probe will gain a large pool of well-trained agents in Australia and other locations across the globe.
The merger comes at an interesting time when we are seeing several organisations re-evaluate their outsourcing strategy. There is also an active interest in enhancing CX through AI/automation. Both the Probe Group and Stellar understand the Australian market and consumer sentiments and the merger is expected to drive better customer outcomes in the Australia market.
Prior to COVID-19, Probe Group employed 8,500 agents. With this acquisition, they will have 12,600 agents and an expected turnover of USD 420 million. That is not only impressive but will help Probe offer a variety of services including both onshore and offshore, to take on their rivals.
Rise of Onshore Activity will see New Shifts in CX Delivery Models
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about several changes to the outsourcing sector. The disruption caused by services in many key offshore markets led to organisations re-evaluating their contact centre outsourcing strategy and some have started moving contact centre jobs back to Australia. Westpac is the latest organisation to announce that they are moving 1,000 jobs back to Australia. They have stated that while they expect productivity benefits over time, there is clearly a cost to adding 1,000 roles – likely an uplift of around $45 million per annum in its costs by the end of 2021.
The cost element is bound to creep in over time and contact centres will ask outsourcing providers to help drive costs down. Options would include moving some services offshore, while the critical remain onshore. Striking that balance to manage costs will be important and so will be the ability to offer various options for customers. Additionally, we can expect to see an increased demand for self-service technologies. Many organisations are in the midst of re-evaluating the use of AI and automation technologies not only as a way to drive great CX but as a way to also reduce costs (Figure 1).
Contact centres are starting to realise that to modernise their contact centre, the ability to lead with machine learning and AI technologies are critical. It will drive the deployment of natural language understanding (NLU) and conversational AI, sentiment analysis, transcription capabilities – and ultimately provide intelligence about the call even prior to the call being fielded. However, it is worth noting that whilst automation is on the rise, the role of the agent is not going away anytime soon and will grow in importance. We will see the rise of the “super-agent’’ and the agent’s role will evolve over time and AI/automation will generate rich insights to help aid the agent and the contact centre team to better predict customer behaviour and patterns.
The Next Generation of Outsourcing Providers must Drive Innovation for their Customers
Companies today are not outsourcing just to save labour costs. While cost remains an important angle, it will not often be the main driver for outsourcing in the future. The next generation of outsourcing providers will have to build rich solution capabilities, customer journey maps and help customers understand how to align all channels. This involves working with many different technology providers to build the right capabilities for their client organisations. Organisations are keen to modernise their contact centre operations to achieve excellence in CX. Outsourcing providers must have the capability to deliver that innovation.
Ecosystm research finds that 63% of organisations that outsource their contact centre functions are challenged with finding the right partner that can drive innovations (Figure 2).
Contact centre outsourcing providers have a role to play in some of the following areas:
The ability to adapt to change and take on risks together with the client
Ensuring that all forms of security and governance measures are in place. This includes considering factors such as data security, data handling, and security features enabled across devices, applications, and the network. This is especially true for Government and Financial services contracts. Additionally, with some organisations preferring the work from a home model, there are security issues that must be addressed for the scenario.
Helping the move from a traditional contact centre to a contact centre that delivers the highest levels of CX for its customers. Applying technologies such as AI and machine learning, NLU, biometrics, speech analytics, customer journey analytics and robotic process automation (RPA) will be key to modernisation.
Being able to build a business continuity plan (BCP) for their customers in the event of another crisis.
Probe Group started off as a business specialising in outsourcing services in the credit and collections segment. Their customers in 2016 ranged from organisations across Financial Services, Utilities, and Federal and State Government. At that time, Probe employed about 300 people and their turnover was about USD 25 million. They did not rest on their laurels and realised that organic growth combined with strategic acquisitions would give them a foothold across various geographies and add new capabilities to their portfolio. With the rise in onshore activity, they will now be in a strong position to offer their customers various services and models of engagement to help drive CX excellence. The acquisition of Stellar will help Probe Group propel to greater heights and we see a new CX outsourcing giant being born.
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The move comes as many businesses and governments are witnessing a spike in inbound contact centre volumes since the outbreak of the pandemic. The telecom company aims to help the contact centre industry through its on-demand contact centre suite of solutions that can be scaled up or down according to the organisations’ requirements. It can be combined with existing CRM platforms in a single dashboard for better access to data and resolution support.
Vodafone Connect is built on the AWS Connect cloud contact centre solution and uses data analytics and machine learning tools to automate customer interactions across multiple channels – email, messaging and social media – to support the contact centre agents with real-time information.
COVID-19 has accelerated the move to the cloud
The recent pandemic has seen many organisations make a leap almost overnight to cloud contact centre technologies. Many organisations that previously had concerns around data privacy, and securing customer data – and were thus hesitant about deploying cloud contact centre solutions – have moved to the cloud model. The cloud model helped get agents that were forced to work from home up and running in a short duration. The immediate urgency was primarily due to a massive spike in voice calls and non-voice activity such as emails. During the COVID-19 crisis, many organisations used Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections to their legacy on-premises phone system to enable the remote agents. However, there have been challenges reported by many organisations with that approach such as increases to IT budget, difficulty in scaling easily, and the requirement for more IT support that could have been avoided.
Ecosystm research finds that only 30% of organisations have fully migrated their cloud contact centre solutions on the cloud.
This indicates a market opportunity for vendors in the cloud contact centre space. The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely triggered a strong move towards the cloud model. It has become imperative for vendors and solutions providers to strengthen their cloud capabilities.
Driving an Omni-Channel Experience has become increasingly difficult
Ecosystm research also finds that organisations find siloed organisational data as one of the biggest challenges in driving consistent customer experience.
This has been further exacerbated by the high volume of interactions that organisations have been having with their customers, and the need to accommodate work-from-home policies for their customer care agents. At the same time, nearly 60% of organisations want to drive an omni-channel experience to improve CX. This provides a huge opportunity for contact centre vendors and partners to offer consulting services to help organisations bridge the gaps in achieving an omni-channel experience. For many organisations there has been a greater push to integrate CRM, the voice of the customer/surveys, customer journey analytics to the contact centre technologies and this is not an easy task as it involves different stakeholders with different sets of KPIs. Having a single platform that can manage this omni-channel experience will be a huge benefit for many organisations.
New Players in the Competitive Landscape
AWS is a relatively new player in the contact centre market, but it is starting to disrupt the existing players, with a global installed base. However, it is worth noting that Avaya, Cisco and Genesys have a higher installed base and they continue to win new deals. The move to the cloud is witnessing more service providers, telecom providers and other contact centre partners push more cloud-based solutions in the market. Apart from AWS, other important players include NICEinContact, 8×8, Talkdesk, Twillio, Five9, and UJet. The competitive battleground is heating up and there are a lot of options for customers to choose from. It will all come down to working with a vendor that can help them achieve their desired CX outcomes.
There are other important elements in CX that are growing in importance and these include conversational AI, voice biometrics, knowledge management systems, machine learning and CX management solutions. Contact centre solution providers are having discussions around these areas with tech buyers. This will mean that we can expect deeper partnerships and acquisitions in the short to medium term. Security has also emerged as an important issue to be resolved, especially with agents working from home. This is from a compliance perspective and pertaining to how agents are viewing and handling customer data. These new trends indicate that customers will need to work with different vendors to solve the variety of issues they are facing.
The Vodafone Connect solution on AWS Connect is one of the many examples of how more partners of contact centre solutions are gearing up for the rapid move to the cloud. Globally, Vodafone also sells contact centre solutions from Cisco and Genesys. The next 3 years will see a great movement in the market and this will include vendors from North America that will set up operations to push their offerings across Europe and the Asia Pacific.
Click below to access insights from the Ecosystm Contact Centre Study on visibility into organisations’ priorities when running a Contact Centre (both in-house and outsourced models) and the technologies implemented and being evaluated
While the private sector is often quicker in their adoption of digital technologies for better customer experience (CX), the adoption in the public sector can be challenging due to various concerns such as legacy systems, privacy, national security, inter-departmental dependency and more. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Audrey William says, “Most cloud contact centre solution providers today have the highest level of security wraps and certifications including country-level certifications. However, verticals such as Government, have remained concerned about security. This has not allowed them to innovate as fast as some of the other sectors on leveraging some of the best-in-class customer experience technologies.”
In the US, MAXIMUS, a government services provider company and Genesys recently announced a partnership to set up the MAXIMUS Genesys Engagement Platform, an integrated, cloud-based omnichannel contact centre solution. This was driven by the government requirement for public sector organisations to provide seamless customer experiences similar to those offered in the private sector. The platform is certified by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). FedRAMP promotes the adoption of secure cloud services across the US Federal Government, in partnership with federal agencies, cloud service providers and 3rd party assessment organisations and provides the standards for security and risk assessment.
This is in line with what we see in the Ecosystm data. Government agencies that use contact centres are increasingly evaluating cloud options, with 17% saying that they operate fully on the cloud (Figure 2). While this may be difficult for all public sector organisations, with mandates around data location and security, a majority are partially on the cloud.
There are several benefits to using the cloud model including the ability to make changes and scale up/down without much customisation or professional services (which can come in handy for a quick re-alignment of the workforce) and manage seasonal spikes. Additionally, cloud solutions allow almost instantaneous access to new features and easy testing of proofs of concept. Public sector organisations are fast realising the value of cloud contact centres.
William sees the FedRAMP certification having immense potential. “FedRamp provides a secured environment for any service that is rolled out as this involves multiple levels of security. Citizens expect a more personalised service through chat, Twitter, mobile, social messaging channels like WhatsApp and many more. However, they also want to feel safe when providing personal information and want to know that the platform that holds their data is secure. When they know that security is at the highest level, they will be more open to providing personal data.”
Managing an Omnichannel Experience
Over half of public sector organisations in the Ecosystm CX study mentioned that they are driving an omnichannel experience for their customers. This has become especially relevant today, as organisations have the need to reduce the call volumes for their contact centres – through non-voice services and customer self-service. The MAXIMUS Genesys Engagement Platform will leverage Genesys Engage, which provides integrated features and functionalities across multiple channels through a single voice and digital user interface. Solutions such as these provide the ability to integrate calls, emails, chats, messages and social comments into one connected platform.
William says, “The cloud platform can help with the highest level of efficiency, scale and speed by integrating multiple channels on a single platform, for more connected customer experience. Government departments will look to leverage capabilities such as Conversational AI, in-app mobile messaging, SMS, email and voice calls within a multi secure environment. Citizens have high expectations from government departments – they expect fast, reliable and efficient service and automation. It would be difficult for governments to provide that level of service without leveraging cloud contact centre technology. That is the only way to move away from inefficient traditional architectures.”
Speaking about the adoption of cloud contact centres in the Asia Pacific region, William says, “Despite initiatives like Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency, the adoption has been relatively low in the public sector. But that has been changing fast with the COVID-19 situation forcing some government departments to move almost immediately to the cloud allowing easier changes to call workflows and other dynamic services that may have to be addressed on a daily basis.”
For more insights on Ecosystm’s ongoing research on business and technology priorities in Contact Centres
5/5 (1) In 2018, DBS Bank came together with AI start-up impress.ai to implement Jim – Job Intelligence Maestro – a chatbot that helps the bank shortlist candidates for positions in their wealth planning team. This is primarily for screening for entry-level positions. Apart from process efficiency, the introduction of AI in the recruitment process is also aimed at eliminating bias and objectively finding the right candidate for the right job. The DBS chatbot uses cognitive and personality tests to assess candidates, as well as providing them with answers to the candidates’ frequently asked questions. The scores are then passed on to actual recruiters who continue with the rest of the recruitment process. DBS claims that they have curtailed the initial assessment time of each applicant by an average of 22 minutes.
While some organisations have started evaluating the use of AI in their HR function, it has not reached a mass-market yet. In the global Ecosystm AI study, we find that nearly 88% of global organisations do not involve HR in their AI projects. However, the use cases of AI in HR are many and the function should be an active stakeholder in AI investments in customer-focused industries.
Telstra employs AI to vet Applicants
Last month, Australia’s biggest telecommunications provider Telstra announced its plans to hire 1,000 temporary contact centre staff in Australia to meet the surge in demand amidst the global pandemic. In response to the openings, Telstra received overwhelming 19,000 applications to go through and filter, with limited workforce. To make the recruitment process more efficient, the company has been using AI to filter the applications – and has been able to make initial offers two weeks from the screening. The AI software takes the candidates’ inputs and processes them to find the right match for the required skills. The candidates are also presented with cognitive games to measure their assessment scores.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Audrey William speaks about the pressure on companies such as Telstra to hire faster for their contact centres. “Several organisations are needing to replace agents in their offshore locations and hire agents onshore. Since this is crucial to the customer experience they deliver, speed is of essence.” However, William warns that the job does not stop with recruiting the right number of agents. “HR teams will need to follow through with a number of processes including setting up home-based employees, training them adequately for the high volume of voice and non-voice interactions and compliance and so on.”
The Future of AI in HR
William sees more companies adopting AI in their HR practices in the Workplace of the Future – and the role of AI will not be restricted to recruitment alone. “A satisfied employee will go the extra mile to deliver better customer experience and it is important to keep evaluating how satisfied your employees are. AI-driven sentiment analysis will replace employee surveys which can be subjective in nature. This will include assessing the spoken words and the emotions of an individual which cannot be captured in a survey.”
In the future, William sees an intelligent conversational AI platform as an HR feedback and engagement platform for staff to engage on what they would like to see, what they are unhappy about, their workplace issues, what they consider their successes and so on. This will be actionable intelligence for HR teams. “But for a conversational AI platform to work well and to encourage users within the organisation to use it, it must be designed well. While it has to be engaging to ensure employee uptake, the design does not stop at user experience. It must include a careful evaluation of the various data sets that should be assessed and how the AI can get easy access to that data.”
AI and Ethics
With the increased use of AI, the elephant in the room is always ethical considerations. While the future may see HR practices using conversational AI platforms, how ethical is it to evaluate your employees constantly and what will be the impact on them? How will the organisation use that data? Will it end up giving employers the right reasons to reduce manpower at will? These and allied issues are areas where stricter government mandates are required.
Going back to AI-assisted recruitment, William warns, “Bias must be assessed from all angles – race, education, gender, voice, accents. Whilst many platforms claim that their solution removes bias, the most important part of getting this right is to make sure that the input data is right from the start. The outcomes desired from the process must be tested – and tested in many different ways – before the organisation can start using AI to eliminate bias. There is also the added angle of the ethical use of the data.”
AWS has been gearing up for the launch in ASEAN over the last 6 months. The region is very competitive with some long-standing contact centre players having a large share and installed base in the large and medium enterprise accounts. The launch indicates how serious they are about growing their contact centre business in the region. There has been good progress so far in Singapore and the Philippines. Amazon Connect will look to grow its presence in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam in the months to come. The market dynamics in each Asian country is unique and AWS will work with partners such as Accenture, Deloitte, DXC, ECS, NTT and VoiceFoundry to grow their presence in the region. Some of the more traditional partners will need education and upskilling to understand the Amazon Connect value proposition
Click below to access insights from the Ecosystm Contact Centre Study on visibility into organisations’ priorities when running a Contact Centre (both in-house and outsourced models) and the technologies implemented and being evaluated
5/5 (3) I was a guest last week at the NICE Interactions Summit in Sydney and it was great to hear from executives from NICE talk about the journey the company is taking their customers on. Australia and New Zealand are witnessing good adoption of cloud contact centres and many organisations (as covered in some of previous blogs) are at the inflection point of investing in a cloud contact centre, machine learning, customer journey mapping and predictive analytics technologies to drive greater customer experience (CX). Across Asia Pacific and in the ASEAN region, more organisations are at the verge of embarking on transformational CX projects to help them raise the bar on CX in a highly competitive environment. We can expect the adoption of cloud contact centres to grow rapidly in the next few years across the Asia Pacific region as companies move from expensive and traditional legacy environments to agile platforms.
Investing in Analytics and Cloud
Darren Rushworth, NICE’s Managing Director APAC, talked about how NICE has moved from being an infrastructure player to become an analytics company and talked about the acquisitions that are helping them alleviate their game in CX. Key acquisitions since 2016 have been instrumental to shaping their offerings and these include Nexidia, an Interaction Analytics software company and InContact, a cloud contact centre vendor. In 2019 NICE acquired Brand Embassy, whose technology brings to CXone a full range of integrated channels, enabling any digital channel to be integrated into customer service operations. In a Mobile First economy where customers want the applications of their choice, allowing customers to use the social media or messaging application of their choice in their contact centre interactions, will be critical. The Brand Embassy platform supports more than 30 channels and these include Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, SMS, email, and live chat. This is an important acquisition and not many contact centres have addressed the issue of allowing multiple forms of messaging to be used when customers want to communicate an issue or get answer to a query. Customers are gravitating towards social media platforms and messaging apps for daily communication and being able to integrate those channels to the contact centre is important.
The Move to the Cloud with NICEinContact
It was interesting to hear Tracy Duthie, Head of Service Development at 2degrees Mobile talk about why they deployed a NICEinContact solution. She talked about 2degrees having too many legacy systems that were not all integrated. The problems with not having the systems integrated drove the team to think hard about embarking on a journey with NICE. The objective was to grow their market share and to drive greater contact centre efficiency. She mentioned that 2degrees were keen on a SaaS option and it was not just about replacing the legacy solution. The move to the cloud as many organisations are starting to tell me, is to drive transformation and further innovation including deploying agile methodologies to deliver great CX. Also because this was a cloud deployment, they invested heavily in the network. This is an important aspect for an organisation when embarking on a cloud journey especially for mission critical applications such as voice, video and collaboration applications where latency and jitter can spoil the experience. Many times, I have heard customers blame the vendor for the technology. For cloud voice, video and other contact centre applications to work well in real time, the investment in the network must not be compromised especially when working on a tight budget. When this aspect is ignored, the problems discussed early are bound to arise. She also highlighted how important it was to eventually get the agents on board the new deployment and they adopted an open culture of allowing the agents to provide feedback and an open dialogue was initiated. As this was a big change from when they were running the contact centre in a traditional environment, the change management aspect was critical for the agents.
Compliance is something that has to be adhered to seriously
Efrat Kanner-Nissimov from NICE presented on driving a proactive compliance culture. This is a highly talked about area in the contact centre, given the increase in legislation around privacy and all countries having strict legislation around customer data and data privacy. Contact centres store sensitive customer information and knowing when to dispose off that data or for how long the data can be kept is an aspect that cannot be ignored. With what the banks have been through in Australia in recent times with the Royal Commission, serious questions around compliance and how compliant the agents are cannot be ignored. Ecosystm research finds that several organisations fail to identify what could be sensitive information. The journey towards a compliant environment starts with data classification, long before security roadmaps and solution implementations.
There is a greater emphasis on compliance and whilst many contact centres will claim that they have the processes in place, some of these have not been looked at for years. Compliance impacts the IT Manager, the agents, the Supervisor and ultimately the business. An automated compliance solution will help detect violations, prevent errors and allow for better visibility across different systems. She presented how Macy’s claims to have reduced their infrastructure and storage costs by 40%, through automating and deleting interactions that were no longer required. This helped lower IT costs and reduced time on audits. With the emphasis today on data privacy, data storage, data deletion and being compliant when you talk to your customers, the CX agents have a critical role to play in ensuring compliance.
Organisations across the Asia Pacific region are re-inventing how they look at CX as mentioned in my previous blogs. Banks, airlines, retailers, telcos and organisations from other verticals are investing in projects to drive transformation in CX. Applying deep analytics along every step of a customer’s journey will help the contact centre and the wider organisation better serve customers. The traditional methods of just looking at inbound and outbound interactions and setting KPIs for that, are no longer enough to drive this new vision. Machine learning, customer journey mapping and analytics, as well as shifting to the cloud is needed to drive transformation and agile ways of running CX. The Brand Embassy acquisition is an important one for NICE given one of the challenges not addressed by contact centres is integrating the various social and messaging applications and making them available to customers as a way to interact with the brand. This is an area contact centres have been looking to resolve.
In a highly competitive CX market where CRM, analytics, cloud and machine learning technologies are important aspects of a CX journey, NICE is investing in these areas to further strengthen their cloud contact centre value proposition. Compliance as highlighted earlier cannot be ignored and it is an area contact centres will be looking to invest in due to the multiple strict regulations underway across the Asia Pacific region surrounding how customers data is treated.