The Future of Work – Implications for Business Leaders & HR

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The COVID-19 crisis has required major resets in how organisations function – across industries and economies. In this environment of intense changes, businesses that have been agile in their operations and were better digitally enabled have thrived, while others have struggled. Irrespective of whether an organisation has been able to pivot fast to thrive or struggled to cope, it is very clear that the Future of Work is here now. Every organisation has had to make some changes to their People and work practices. It is time to (re) focus on employee experience holistically so that organisations can be ready for whatever model of work becomes prevalent in the future. I have recently published a report offering guidance to business leaders and HR Teams on how to make holistic workplace shifts, with inputs from Ecosystm Principal Advisors, Tim Sheedy and Audrey William.

Employee Experience at the Core of Customer Strategies

It has become increasingly clear that customer experience (CX) is not just about good sales skills or customer service. It is about the overall experience of the customer from start to post-purchase. Customers are focused on not just what they are buying but also on how they are treated along their entire journey. Good CX has consistently shown to help increase price premium, impulse buying, and loyalty. Consequently, one bad experience can drive a customer away forever. Customers pay for your products or services, but it is your people who can really deliver the experience.

Audrey says, “As it becomes clear that we are headed for a hybrid/blended model of work, employee experience (EX) has to be a key focus area for organisations. Organisations will have to support remote work and simultaneously evolve their physical workplaces so that employees have the choice to come into work. But business leaders and HR will definitely have to come together to re-evaluate their policies around employees and improving EX – irrespective of where they choose to work from.”  

The Role of Productivity in the Digital Workplace

Productivity has been at the core of an organisation’s desire to be a digital workplace. Tim says, “A digital workplace is one that has the capability to support any employee to access the process, information or system they need on their device of choice, in their moment and location of need. In the wake of the pandemic, the digital workplace went from being a ‘good idea’ to an ‘absolute necessity’ – and the seeds were sown to build true digital workplaces, years ahead of plan.”

This is the time to retain that focus on productivity. A lot of energy is being spent in defining and measuring productivity. The focus seems to have shifted to how to get the best out of the remote/hybrid workforce. It is time for business leaders and HR to go back to the drawing board to re-define what productivity means to their organisations.

Tim says, “The focus should be on enabling productivity rather than on monitoring activity. Productivity is an outcome, not a process. So, measure the outcome, improve the process. Productivity will be driven at an organisational level through removing friction from overall operational processes, to make things more streamlined and effective to create more value.”

The True Implication of Flexibility

There has been a rapid shift in practices around working from home and flexibility. But it is time now for organisations to create a framework (policy, performance expectation and management) to manage these practices. Many companies do not really understand the implications of flexible working to their business. In fact, they may be unaware of shifts in work patterns that have taken place in the last few months and the impact these shifts are having on the business.

Framework around flexible working should be backed by data and an understanding of the feasibility of such practices. If your employee has to work on her compulsory day off, then you do not have a truly flexible work practice. This will have a negative impact on employee experience and ultimately on your business.

 The Evolution of Employee Engagement

Audrey says,One of the areas that business leaders and HR will have to bear in mind is that despite flexible working hours, employees might be overworked – it is emerging as a common problem with working from home. It is common that many employees are working longer hours.”

Ecosystm research finds that some organisations have been evolving their HR practices, since the start of this crisis (Figure 1).

Key HR Measures to Empower a Future of Work, Remote Set-up

But more needs to be done. Organisations have to work really hard to replicate their employee engagement and social hours in the virtual world. It is critical that organisations design mechanisms of keeping employees connected – to each other, as well as to the organisation. “Virtual social groups” not only provide this connection, it can also be a rich source of input for HR and wellness teams to quickly adapt their programs to meet the changing needs of employees.

Shift in Managerial Styles

Performance management has been traditionally done through annual cycles, and by monitoring and tracking. In the Future of Work, organisations will have to increasingly give their employees the choice of working from home. Meetings, check-ins, 1:1 and team huddles for close monitoring will not work in this remote/hybrid model.

It is time to stop close monitoring and really focus on outcome-based management. And this will have to start with re-skilling people managers. Training should be provided on softer skills such as emotional intelligence, being able to sense across boundaries and digital spaces, and being able to be responsive to employees’ needs. The people manager must evolve into being a coach and a mentor – internal coaching and mentoring networks will have to be established. Line managers, business leaders and HR teams will need to collaborate more to ensure that these skills are developed and that the right support system is in place. 


For more insights on how organisations should evolve their Future of work Work practices to strengthen their agility and market competitiveness, read the report.
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How is AI Helping you Improve Customer Engagement?

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5/5 (2)

Your CEO and Board are asking you to cut costs and do more with the IT budget.

This is the usual refrain you get used to as a Chief Digital or Information Officer. COVID-19 has increased the need for cost savings, without compromising your organisation’s mission. In Ecosystm’s on-going research, Digital Priorities in the New Normal – a COVID-19 Study, there are several common themes that emerge for retailers. 

Impact of COVID-19 on Retail Industry

The impact of the cost-cutting measures that organisations are implementing, on CDOs and CIOs has been discussed in my report Managing Costs in the New Normal, where I provide guidance on how to address the necessary cuts.

Super Retail Group (SRG) recently presented at SalesForce Live on their success in using AI to improve their customer engagement – linking digital customer engagement and re-calibration of AI models. I want to highlight a couple of aspects of SRG’s experience for those retailers addressing these themes.

Increasing Customer Engagement

In a well-run online presence, retailers acquire a significant amount of data about their customers’ online behaviour. Data such as customer’s purchase history as well as how they traverse the site, how long they remain on the site and how they leave – often without purchasing. The challenge is how you can collect and use this data to improve the customer experience (CX) and increase sales in our new normal.

SRG, trading under banners such as Super Cheap Auto, BCF and Rebel across Australasia, has adopted a Salesforce tool called Einstein to address this challenge. SRG is using this AI engine to present product recommendations in several contexts across a customer’s online journey.

The impact of COVID-19 means overall sales across the group has declined. At the same time, online sales have grown to be generating almost 20% of the overall sales. Within these online sales, the AI recommendation engine has directly influenced 1 in 5 customer purchases.

SRG has developed a significant base of customer data since they introduced omnichannel and club offers; and are now seeing the return from this investment. Recommendation engines operate best when they have quality data in volume – and the proportion of and growth in, online customers using these recommendations is a guide to the quality of the platform.

Coping with Increasing Online Demands

Ecosystm research finds that over 56% of retailers are increasing their use of digital technologies for CX and will continue to invest after the immediate crisis. As always, getting the right value from this increased expenditure will be critical to a retailer’s price competitiveness and profitability.

With online sales growing dramatically, SRG’s online share of sales has more than doubled over April and May, the potential return from an engaging online CX has increased significantly. In turn, this has increased the importance of the online CX to a retailer’s competitive positioning and market share.

Tech leaders will be expected to provide direction on how to achieve this improvement, with AI engines offering an increasingly important tool in increasing the speed of response to changing customer behaviours.

With their mapping of customer journeys, SRG has been able to target specific stages in the journey for the use of the AI recommendation engine. Their focus on increasing the size and value of a customer’s basket provides the explicit measure of success. And SRG’s customers are showing their enthusiasm for these recommendations. The share of online sales influenced by the AI engine grew by over 600% in the past 12 months.

Customer expectations are continually being redefined by their experiences across the online environment, not just by retailers. In our new normal, with online becoming significantly important, retailers need to be consistently improving their offer to remain competitive. 

Our study results shows that retailers are taking this step and will need to pay careful attention to their cost base and profitability while making these changes. SRG’s success with the AI engine shows that this is possible.

Lessons to Learn

COVID-19 has changed customer behaviour significantly, and tech leaders are identifying new tools and processes to improve their CX in line with these changes.  SRG has continued its customer-focused omnichannel approach by adopting the Salesforce Einstein AI engine. By using one of their key sales metrics – size and value of basket – they have been able to assess the contribution of this tool.

There are some clear lessons for other retailers from their experience:

  • Be very clear on why you are introducing the new tool – how you are going to achieve value.
  • Understand the foundation that you need, to introduce new technology. You will find being successful using AI without quality data in volume will be difficult.
  • Experiment and learn quickly from experience gained. In this cost-constrained world, don’t over-commit to a new approach without evidence.
  • Use products and services that have a low cost of entry and a variable cost model. Cloud services generally provide this cost model.

Our research, along with press release such as SRG’s, show that retail leaders are continuously improving their customer engagement. As a tech leader, you need to be aware that customers will vote with their clicks, for retailers that are delivering. 

And getting those non-essential costs out has never been more critical.


More insights on Retail organisations and their most significant response to COVID-19, can be found in the Managing IT Costs in The New Normal – Report
Managing IT Costs in the new normal

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Putting EX at the Core of your CX Transformation

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The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with a set of circumstances that we have never seen before – health, safety, and economic livelihoods are being affected. Companies are being asked to take on roles that they are not familiar with. The global situation continues to evolve rapidly, and we are all having to adapt as we go. During this time, the expectations of customers and employees are evolving in tandem. Companies should look at understanding this evolution and take fuller advantage of the opportunity this evolution will present.

CX at the Centre Stage

Customers have always been the top priority for businesses. In the last few years, we have seen the transition that organisations are making from selling to creating; evolving from selling products to solutions to experiences. This has led to reframing of the selling methodology and, consequently, the technology and people skills needed to make that happen.

While companies have been able to understand the need to make this shift intellectually, it needs to be backed by the right investments in their people and customers. However, industry estimates find that only about 10% of organisations put money where their mouth is. Those that have been able to do so, have been consistently able to meet and exceed their goals.

As such, investments in customer experience (CX) technology is taking centre stage. Ecosystm research finds that improving CX has been the top business priority for organisations, before COVID-19 (Figure 1).

If we take a deeper dive into CX, it becomes clear that CX is not just about good sales skills or customer service. It is about the overall experience of the customer from start to post-purchase. Customers are focussed on not just what they are buying but also on how they are treated along their entire journey. Good CX has consistently shown to help increase price premium, impulse buying and loyalty. Consequently, one bad experience can drive a customer away forever.

So, what does improving CX look like? A vast majority would think technology. That is only part of the story; the key component of making your CX strategy come to life is your people. Customers pay for your products or services, but it is your people who can really deliver the experience. Glassdoor research shows that there is a clear link between employee and customer satisfaction. On an average, a 1-point increase in company rating on Glassdoor is associated with a 1.3-point increase in customer satisfaction, measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

So, the fact that only 33% prioritise employee experience (EX) (Figure 1) shows a gap in understanding how to achieve excellent CX. In this gap lies the true opportunity of gaining sustainable competitive advantage.

Reset During COVID-19

Due to COVID-19 all of us have had to re look at who we are and how we operate. It has really changed the world of work and business, almost overnight. Companies have invested a significant amount of time on just enabling their employees to stay safe and work from home. Overnight, access to physical offices was gone and everyone was transitioned to digital workspaces.

The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study, that was initiated to gauge the immediate and longer term impact of the pandemic finds that during the crisis, the focus on employees increased drastically, with 75% of organisations introducing measures to manage their employees, while 30% focused more on their customers.

This is a complete reversal in the focus of the organisations. Employees have come into sharper focus. This should be good news. Yes, it is – but partly so.

Initial focus has been rightly on safety and on employees being able to work from home. This was an “adapt” mode, focussed on services like payroll, handling employee queries and onboarding without disruption. After the initial crisis-handling, organisations have been able to focus on digital learning and skills enhancement, while others have been trying to increase productivity (predominantly through giving access to collaboration tools).

The Journey Ahead

As we continue to work in the new normal, one thing comes out even stronger: the new experience needs to be seamlessly connected between all channels – and be agile and more human. It is now even more evident that organisations and people – that are its lifeblood – need to constantly adapt and pivot to meet these changing landscapes.

Customer expectations have evolved in the last few months from a cost and product view, to being loyal to companies that show more empathy and are able to solve their problems. Employee expectations have also evolved, simultaneously – and it now goes beyond a good pantry and an engaging, fun-loving environment. Employees today value connectedness, and expect the organisation to show more care (so they can do their work effectively), and create opportunities for them to grow (job security) as they continue to grapple with the situation.

Thus, the more relevant the EX product and the faster it can adapt to the evolving situation, the better it translates into better engagement and loyalty. But what will definitely be required of organisations, is a continued focus on their employees. If we compare the business priorities before and after COVID-19, we get an indication that EX might once again be left behind in organisations’ obsession about their customers (Figure 2).

The gap is not as wide as before COVID-19 hit us – but there appears to be a shift towards a customer focus. This is evolving differently from our expectations and can potentially cause a misalignment.

Opportunity to Reshape

The reset has pushed EX and CX expectations closer to each other when it comes to designing experience with the company. The opportunity lies in taking a more holistic view of the company business – bringing HR, IT, Customer Success and Marketing teams together into agile tribes and guilds – to design a consistent CX by improving EX.

This would help to increase the speed of prototyping new experiences, and consequently drive greater visibility of what is needed – from skills to IT systems. Overall, it will drive a greater degree of connectedness between the employee and customer worlds; resulting in better engagement and loyalty.


More insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and technology areas that will see transformation as organisations get into the recovery phase can be found in the Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study
Ecosystm COVID-19 Research Data

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Creating Ecosystems to Thrive in the New Normal

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5/5 (2) A decade ago, the axiom of a successful business model was to identify a need, find the market and then develop an idea or product that fits into that chain. It was a process of inserting a product in the customer’s already existing experience journey with the hope that the product/idea would deliver efficiency to the client. This efficiency could be financial, operational, marketing or cost savings – the uni-product, uni-feature approach.

There has been enough said about the many companies that failed to innovate beyond their existing product/feature and failed to stay ahead of the game. Nokia and Blackberry remain at the centre of any discussion about “lack of innovation”. There are others like Kodak, Canon, Napster, Palm, Blockbuster – that were devoured by innovative competitors.

The predators were ones with the vision to see the entire value chain and not just their own product. Netflix created content and distributed it, Apple touched the lives of their customers in multiple ways and AirBnb provided accommodation inventory, choice and booking all in one. The new secret sauce is to provide the customer with an ecosystem and not a product!

The Need to Transform

Cut to the COVID era – there are many businesses facing the downturn and experiencing the “moments of truth” giving rise to a desperate attempt to innovate, transform, survive, and come out as the rising stars. Ecosystm research finds that 98% of organisations have re-evaluated their Transformation roadmap (Figure 1), while 75% have started, accelerated or refocused their DX initiatives.Impact of COVID-19 on Digital Transformation

New business models are evolving, and accelerating digitalisation is the result. The digital movement, be it in food delivery or payments, is here to stay. This digital acceptance and absorption exaggerate the need for business models that capture holistic ecosystems and entire customer journeys, due to reasons that separate the hunter and the hunted.

  • Margins will never be the same again as in the uni-product model. Using the F&B analogy; with the increasing number of customers wanting to dine in the comfort of their homes, restaurants cannot use ambiance as the price differentiator. Since most restaurants are available on food delivery services, customers are getting brand agnostic. This is the start of commoditisation of dining. Restaurants (or food caterers now!) will need to play the price card to remain competitive resulting in compressed margins. The food delivery market is expected to grow 4-fold to USD 8 billion by 2025 but with lower margins. This example of the food delivery model will be the same as experienced by retail, apparel and other industries.
  • Customer experience will still be the differentiator and lever for loyalty and repeat purchase. Factors like proximity, parking, in-store experience, and store layout are fast getting replaced by the ease of navigation, user experience, seamless check out and finally efficient and timely delivery. The ease of transaction including multiple steps of search, assessment, evaluation, payment and delivery is of paramount importance. Customers do not want fractured journeys with multiple drop-offs. A unified seamless journey will win.
  • Virtual, Digital and Automation are the three mantras that management consultants are betting on. However, this trilogy will not guarantee survival since the road to recovery is not a straight one. Different work schedules, observing various curves and on what point of the curve the business, its customer and the market are at, will add to the complexity of decision making and transformation.

Given the above, an obvious strategy to beat the existential crisis is to transform and seek out sustainable operating models. However, it may not be so simple since most businesses may not be able to change models as quickly as needed. There is an inherent cost to change since the existing processes and procedures have been well oiled and smoothed over time. The much-needed change requires the infusion of the 3Ts (time, technology, training) and associated costs. Most often, there is an inverse correlation noticed between the sturdiness of the business and its ability to be flexible to change. Businesses that are “rock-solid” and profitably sturdy and stable, have high inertia of transformation versus FinTech businesses, as an example, that pride themselves with nimble operations but are financially fragile and may not be able to absorb the cost of speedy transformation.

This Sturdy-Flexible continuum is the tight rope walk that businesses will need to walk in this need for transformation. Businesses that embark on this walk alone will find it extremely painful and lonely. Especially in the case of small business owners who are scared and low on all 3Ts.

The Rise of Ecosystems

The new world has manifested that businesses that use physical space or assets as their competitive advantage are more prone to be impacted. Retail, Education, Hospitality and Entertainment are some obvious examples that have been impacted by the physicality in their propositions. Digital businesses are more agile but have suffered in their inability to scale up in time to capture the increased demand.

Fashion retailer FJ Benjamin has decided to shut 300 physical stores and rely on online sales. This strategy also helps to utilise precious time to scale diversification. Other retailers too have been going down the FJ Benjamin path and ramping up eCommerce as this trend is expected to stick beyond COVID-19.

Zouk, the renowned nightclub with 30,000 square feet of space in Singapore uses this venue as a live streaming venue during the day to host bazaars for eCommerce vendors. From June 2020, it launched an online shop selling merchandise, bottled cocktails and food from its RedTail kitchen.

Transformation of businesses will require capabilities that were not created within their models. The instinct to survive in the short term will require businesses to create symbiotic partnerships. This will require some fresh thinking by business leaders.

  • Change the “Build” obsession and not try to own every leg of the customer journey. That will not only take time but also distract capital and management.
  • Rethink the customer needs – and this time think of the entire journey rather than an inward view of product-market fits. Customer needs are changing at breakneck speeds, so chasing and “building” these “fits” will always remain a common string amongst laggards.
  • Connect with like-minded ecosystem players and complement strengths with a single-minded focus on solving customer problems.
  • View technology stacks through the lens of your partners. There may be opportunities available from near open source technology solutions.

For example, FJ Benjamin will need the last-mile-delivery capability that will be provided by partners who have optimised in that field, Zouk has tied up with Lazada to host the bazaars and GrabFood is using underutilised taxi capacity to meet the increased demand for food delivery. There are many other examples in the O2O (Offline to Online) space.

This ecosystem approach is also relevant to other sectors like Financial Services. These firms also need to understand the changing consumer needs faster, with a mantra to deliver. Aspire, originally an alternate lending platform has gone through a metamorphosis and transformed into a Neobank. From a uni-product loan provider, it is now solving for a business account, card solution, integration with expense management solutions and continue to provide loans. Capabilities not necessarily built in-house.

The changing world will give rise to business models that will integrate and complement each other. Businesses with an ecosystem mindset will be winners while others might just be relegated to oblivion.

 


Visit Ecosystm’s COVID-19 research module to take part in the Digital Priorities in the New Normal study and get a benchmark of how you compare to your peers in regards to your organisation’s response to COVID-19.
Ecosystm COVID-19 Research Data

For more information on Ecosystm’s “Digital Priorities in the New Normal”, please contact us at info@ecosystm360.com


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Probe and Stellar Merge to Become Largest CX Outsourcing Provider in Australia

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5/5 (1) Probe Group, a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) solutions provider and Stellar – a customer experience (CX) management organisation announced a merger to create Australia’s largest and most diverse CX provider group. The partnership will combine the experience and expertise of both companies and will employ 12,600 people to provide outsourcing of business process services for customers across six countries. Probe Group is backed by Quadrant Private Equity and Five V Capital.

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).Adoption of AI-Enabled Contact Centre Solutions

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).Challenges of Outsourcing Contact Centres

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.
Ecosystm Comment

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.


Read Audrey’s Report on the future of contact centre outsourcing and the evolving expectations of organisations from their outsourcing providers.
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The Path to Digital Ready Retail

5/5 (2)

5/5 (2) 2020 has seen extreme disruption – and fast.  The socio-economic impact will probably outlast the pandemic, but several industries have had to transform themselves to survive during these past months and to walk the path to recovery.

Against this backdrop, the Retail industry has been impacted early due to supply chain disruptions, measures such as lockdowns and social distancing, demand spikes in certain products (and diminished demands in others) and falling margins. Moreover, it is facing changed consumer buying behaviour. In the short-term consumers are focusing on essential retail and conservation of cash. The impact does not end there – in the medium and long term, the industry will face consumers who have acquired digital habits including buying directly from home through eCommerce platforms. They will expect a degree of digitalisation from retailers that the industry is not ready to provide at the moment. This raises the question on how they should transform to adapt to the New Normal and what could be a potential game-changer for them.

Translating Business Needs into Technology Capabilities 

In his report, The Path to Retail’s New Normal, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “Satisfying their old consumers, now set in their new ways, should be the ‘mantra’ for the retailers in order to survive in the New Normal.” To be able to do so they have to evaluate what their new business requirements are and translate them into technological requirements. Though it may sound simple, it may prove to be harder than usual to identify their evolving business requirements. This is especially difficult because even before the pandemic, the Retail industry was challenged with consumers who are becoming increasingly demanding, providing enhanced customer experience (CX), offering more choices and lowering prices. The market was already extremely competitive with large retailers fighting for market consolidation and smaller and more nimble retailers trying to carve out their niche.

In the New Normal, retailers will struggle to retain and grow their customer base. They will also have to focus aggressively on cost containment. A robust risk management process will become the new reality. But above all else, they will have to innovate – in their product range as well as in their processes. These are all areas where technology can help them. This can come in the form of technology partnerships, adopting hybrid models, increased usage of technology across all channels and investing in reskilling or upskilling the technology capabilities of employees.

Re-evaluating the Supply Chain

One of the first business operation to get disrupted by the current crisis was the supply chain. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Alea Fairchild says, “Retailers are finding themselves at the front-end of the broken supply chain in the current situation and there is an enormous gap between suppliers and buyers. Retailers will have to aim to combine inventory with local sourcing and become agile and adopt change quickly. This will highlight to them the importance of transparency of information, traceability, and information flow of goods.”

Ecosystm research shows that supply chain optimisation and demand forecasting among the top 5 business solutions that firms in Retail consider using AI for (Figure 1).

Business Solutions for AI Adoption - Retail Industry

 

“In the New Normal, consumers are going to demand the same level of perfection that they have received and at the same cost. In order to make that possible, at the right time and at a lower cost, automation has to be implemented to improve the supply chain process, fulfill expectations and enhance visibility,” says Ghatak. “Providing differentiated CX is intimately dependent upon an aligned, flexible and efficient supply chain. Retailers will not only need to innovate at the store (physical or online) level and offer more innovative products – they will also need to have a high level of innovation in their supply chain processes.”

Digital Transformation in the Retail Industry

Ecosystm research reveals that only about 34% of global retailers had considered themselves to be digital-ready to face the challenges of the New Normal, before the pandemic. The vast majority of them admit that they still have a long way to go.

With COVID-19, the timeframes for digitalisation have imploded for most retailers. The study to evaluate the Digital Priorities in the New Normal reveals that in Asia Pacific nearly 83% of retailers have been forced to start, accelerate or refocus their Digital Transformation (DX) initiatives (Figure 2).

So, what technology areas will Retail see increased adoption oF?

Fairchild sees retailers adopt IoT, mobility, AI and solutions that deliver personalised experiences such as push notifications. What they are likely to do is blend different aspects of their physical and virtual environment to create a solution for customers. “To address in-store processing, hygiene, safety standards and compliance requirements, retailers will change their processes through a combination of resources, KPIs, automation, task management software and switching the information flow.”

Ghatak thinks automation has a significant role to play in improving both CX and the supply chain. “This is also an opportunity for retailers – both online and in-store – to create a solution experience where technologies such as Augment/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) can help. While retailers are adopting these technologies, with 5G rollouts, there is potential that the adoption will implode in a short time-frame.”

Those retailers that are not re-evaluating their business models and technology investments now will find themselves unprepared to handle the customer expectations when the global economy opens up.

Ecosystm Principal Advisors Kaushik Ghatak and Alea Fairchild were part of a conversation with Ecosystm CEO, Amit Gupta. Watch the video here ?
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Technology Enabling Transformation in the Utilities Industry

5/5 (1)

5/5 (1) In the midst of the current global crisis, the Utilities industry has had to continue to provide essential public services – through supply chain disruption, reduction of demand in the commercial sector, demand spikes in the consumer sector, change in peak profiles, remote staff management, cyber-attacks and so on. Robust business continuity planning and technology adoption are key to the continued success of Utilities companies. The Ecosystm Business Pulse Study which aims to find how organisations are adapting to the New Normal finds that 6 out of 10 Utilities companies are accelerating or refocusing the Digital Transformation initiatives after the COVID-19 outbreak, underpinning the industry’s need for technology adoption to remain competitive.

Drivers of Transformation in the Utilities Industry

The Evolving Energy Industry. As consumers become more energy-conscious, many are making changes in their usage pattern to stay off the grid as much as possible, potentially reducing the customer base of Utilities companies. This increases their reliance on renewable energy sources (such as solar panels and wind turbines) and batteries, forcing Power companies to diversify and leverage other energy sources such as biomass, hydropower, solar, wind, and geothermal. The challenge is further heightened by the fast depletion of fossil fuels – it is estimated that the world will have run out of fossil fuels in 60 years. The industry is also mandated by government regulations and cleaner energy pacts that focus on climate change and carbon emission – there are strict mandates around how Utilities companies produce, deliver and consume energy.

Business Continuity & Disaster Management. Perhaps no other industry is as vulnerable to natural disasters as Utilities. One of the reasons why the industry has been better prepared to handle the current crisis is because their usual business requires them to have a strong focus on business continuity through natural disasters. This includes having real-time resource management systems and processes to evaluate the requirement of resources, as well as a plan for resource-sharing. There is also the danger of cyber-attacks which has been compounded recently by employees who have access to critical systems such as production and grid networks, working from home. The industry needs to focus on a multi-layered security approach, securing connections, proactively detecting threats and anomalies, and having a clearly-defined incident response process.

The Need to Upgrade Infrastructure. This has been an ongoing challenge for the industry – deciding when to upgrade ageing infrastructure to make production more efficient and to reduce the burden of ongoing maintenance costs. The industry has been one of the early adopters of IoT in its Smart Grid and Smart Meter adoption. With the availability of technology and advanced engineering products, the industry also views upgrading the infrastructure as a means to mitigate some of its other challenges such as the need to provide better customer service and business continuity planning. For example, distributed energy generation systems using ‘micro grids’ have the potential to reduce the impact of storms and other natural disasters – they can also improve efficiency and quality of service because the distance electricity travels is reduced, reducing the loss of resources.

The Evolving Consumer Profile. As the market evolves and the number of Energy retailers increases, the industry has had to focus more on their consumers. Consumers have become more demanding in the service that they expect from their Utilities provider. They are increasingly focused on energy efficiency and reduction of energy consumption. They also expect more transparency in the service they get – be it in the bills they receive or the information they need on outages and disruptions. The industry has traditionally been focused on maintaining supply, but now there is a need to evaluate their consumer base, to evolve their offerings and even personalise them to suit consumer needs.

The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for Utilities companies, that are focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). It is noticeably clear that the key areas of focus are cost optimisation (including automating production processes), infrastructure management and disaster management (including prevention).  Top Tech Priorities for Utilities Companies

Technology as an Enabler of Utilities Sector transformation

Utilities companies have been leveraging technology and adopting new business models for cost optimisation, employee management and improved customer experience. Here are some instances of how technology is transforming the industry:

Interconnected Systems and Operations using IoT

Utilities providers have realised that an intelligent, interconnected system can deliver both efficiency and customer-centricity. As mentioned earlier, the industry has been one of the early adopters of IoT both for better distribution management (Smart Grids) and for consumer services (Smart Meters). This has also given the organisations access to enormous data on consumer and usage patterns that can be used to make resource allocation more efficient.

For instance, the US Government’s Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program aims to modernise legacy systems through the installation of advanced meters supporting two-way communication, identification of demand through smart appliances and equipment in homes and factories, and exchange of energy usage information through smart communication systems.

IoT is also being used for predictive maintenance and in enhancing employee safety. Smart sensors can monitor parameters such as vibrations, temperature and moisture, and detect abnormal behaviours in equipment – helping field workers to make maintenance decisions in real-time, enhancing their safety.

GIS is being used to get spatial data and map project distribution plans for water, sewage, and electricity. For instance, India’s Restructured Accelerated Power Development & Reforms Program (R-APDRP) government project involves mapping of project areas through GIS for identification of energy distribution assets including transformers and feeders with actual locations of high tension and low tension wires to provide data and maintain energy distribution over a geographical region. R-APDRP is also focused on reducing power loss.

Transparency and Efficiency using Blockchain

Blockchain-based systems are helping the Utilities industry in centralising consumer data, enabling information sharing across key departments and offering more transparent services to consumers.

Energy and Utilities companies are also using the technology to redistribute power from a central location and form smart contracts on Blockchain for decisions and data storage. This is opening opportunities for the industry to trade on energy, and create contracts based on their demand and supply. US-based Brooklyn Microgrid, for example, is a local energy marketplace in New York City based on Blockchain for solar panel owners to trade excess energy generated to commercial and domestic consumers. In an initiative launched by Singapore’s leading Power company, SP Group, companies can purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) through a Blockchain-powered trading platform, from renewable producers in a transparent, centralised and inexpensive way.

Blockchain is also being used to give consumers the transparency they demand. Spanish renewable energy firm Acciona Energía allows its consumers to track the origin of electricity from its wind and solar farms in real-time providing full transparency to certify renewable energy origin.

Intelligence in Products and Services using AI

Utilities companies are using AI & Automation to both transform customer experience and automate backend processes. Smart Meters, in itself, generate a lot of data which can be used for intelligence based on demographics, usage patterns, demand and supply. This is used for load forecasting and balancing supply and demand for yield optimisation. It is also being leveraged for targeted marketing including personalised messages on Smart Energy usage.

Researchers in Germany have developed a machine learning program called EWeLiNE which is helping grid operators with a program that can calculate renewable energy generation over 48 hours from the data taken from solar panels and wind turbines, through an early warning system.

Niche providers of Smart Energy products have been working with providing energy intelligence to consumers. UK start-up Verv, as an example, uses an AI-based assistant to guide consumers on energy management by tracing the energy usage data from appliances through meters and assisting in reducing costs. Increasingly, Utilities companies will partner with such niche providers to offer similar services to their customers.

Utilities companies have started using chatbots and conversational AI to improve customer experience. For instance, Exelon in the US is using a chatbot to answer common customer queries on power outages and billing.

 

While the predominant technology focus of Utilities companies is still on cost optimisation,  infrastructure management and disaster management, the industry is fast realising the power of having an interconnected system that can transform the entire value chain.

 


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PropTech: Driving Digital Transformation in the Wake of COVID-19

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5/5 (2) COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation activities across industries. Remote working is now standard practice and digital engagement is replacing face-to-face interaction. Cloud technology has become essential rather than an option, and rollouts of new technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and intelligent automation are being expedited.

One of the industries that offer great potential for technology-driven transformation is the property sector.

Many activities within the property ecosystem have remained unchanged for decades. There are several opportunities for digital engagement and automation in this sector, ranging from the use of robots in construction to the ‘uberisation’ of the residential property customer journey.

The processes associated with buying or renting property remain cumbersome and complex for customers. Indeed, customers engage with many different organisations throughout their residential property lifecycles. When compared to some other industries, the customer experience can be poor. Components of the journey – such as property search – offer some great experiences but other parts such as exchanging contracts can rarely be described as positive customer experiences.

Although AR and virtual reality (VR) technologies can facilitate property inspection, most inspections are still undertaken on-premise, together with a real estate agent. Contract exchanges often involve interactions with legal professionals in-person. Securing a mortgage or a rental agreement also typically requires face-to-face interaction. Deposits commonly necessitate the physical presentation of a cheque.

The Uberisation of the Property Sector

So, in the residential sector, there are clear opportunities for start-ups and property search platforms to offer greatly enhanced customer experiences. The COVID-19 crisis will speed up the rate at which digital technologies are used to automate activities throughout the residential property customer journey and to engage customers digitally.

Property search platforms such as Singapore-based PropertyGuru, have been creating innovative ways of engaging customers and extending their range of services, for many years. For PropertyGuru, its news features, mortgage calculator, and ability to search for investment properties overseas, have enabled it to offer customers more value from its platform. Its PropertyGuru Lens feature uses AR and artificial intelligence (AI) to give customers a more immersive and improved experience. In common with other real estate platforms, it offers AR and VR tools for inspections.

Today’s crisis creates opportunities for platforms such as ProperyGuru to engage customers throughout their journey. It can potentially transform the residential property business, by becoming an Uber-style platform for agents, movers, shippers, storage companies, interior designers, renovation firms and all other stakeholders within the residential property ecosystem. Subject to regulation, it could also act as a mortgage broker and an agency for the exchange of contracts. In other words, it could ‘own’ the customer journey and act as a platform for all services associated with residential property. From the customer perspective, such a platform would be a welcome way of enhancing the experience associated with buying, renting, maintaining, improving, managing, and selling residential property.

IoT and the Commercial Property Sector

From a commercial property perspective, the COVID-19 crisis can also be expected to accelerate the digitalisation of many activities associated with the construction, maintenance, and management of buildings.

According to the findings of the Ecosystm IoT Study, the Construction industry is evaluating several technology solutions that are expected to benefit the industry (Figure 1).High Traction IoT Solutions - Construction Industry

While the industry views these solutions as beneficial, the adoption has so far been low. This will change. Drones have been used to inspect the outside of tall buildings for several years, but this is not yet standard practice. Structural inspections and maintenance of buildings will be automated at a much faster rate post COVID-19. IoT technology will be used for building management. Using IoT technology for the predictive maintenance and management of lighting, climate control, elevators, security, windows and doors will become standard as firms seek to reduce human interactions. Technology that measures footfall, manages safe distancing, takes peoples’ temperatures and identifies those who enter and leave buildings will be introduced, as organisations guard against disease clusters developing within or around their premises.

In essence, the COVID-19 crisis will act as a catalyst for the digital transformation of the property sector. There is a huge opportunity to create new business models not least by offering customers a digital platform on which all of their property-related needs can be addressed. For the commercial property sector, a similar platform can be offered. Additionally, many core activities ranging from construction to building management will be automated, fully leveraging robot, AI and IoT technologies.


Milroy was recently part of a conversation with Hari V Krishnan, Group CEO of ProperyGuru Group and Ecosystm CEO, Amit Gupta. Watch the video here ?
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Sales & Marketing: Key Pillar in the Digital Transformation Journey

5/5 (2)

5/5 (2) Organisations across all industries must leverage technology to transform and be part of the digital economy. This has significantly accelerated in the last couple of months as they are forced to transform to survive in these difficult times. Digital Transformation (DX) is no longer a hype, but organisations will continue to struggle to align their transformation priorities to deliver real business impact. From experience, the needs of the Sales & Marketing teams are often lost in the midst of competing for organisational priorities with process optimisation emerging as the first choice.

Why is it necessary for Sales & Marketing to transform?

Organisations’ Business Priorities

The primary reason is that organisations are responding to market pressure and putting customer experience (CX) ahead of even revenue growth as their key business priority (Figure 1).Business Priorities of Global Organisations

It stands to reason that if organisations have the improvement of CX and revenue growth as their top priorities, they should involve functions that have higher customer interactions in their DX initiatives. Unfortunately, this is not often the case, even though organisations are inherently aware that their customer base is evolving. Sales & Marketing is all about meeting customer needs, solving their problems and giving them a great experience. In today’s competitive world, an organisation will fail without a customer focus.

The Evolving Consumer

Customers are challenging organisations to change the way they deliver a great experience. Take the growth of smartphone use as an example. Almost any activity will have some element of the smartphone being involved – researching a product, using an app, looking at information posted on a social media platform, engaging with friends to get opinions. This is driving organisations to respond with a ‘Mobile First’ policy and a digital nimbleness which they must equip their Sales & Marketing teams to handle.

Social and digital platforms are also forcing marketers to evolve the way they grab their customers’ attention. Customer service has tremendously benefited from the drive to go digital. It can impact every Sales & Marketing operation, beginning from first consumer touchpoint, all the way through the customer journey, post-purchase engagement and even in predicting issues to prevent them. This requires a huge degree of automation in the Sales & Marketing processes.

Emerging Ecosystems

As the digital world becomes a reality for consumers, the traditional supplier-vendor-channel model might soon become redundant. This is the age of ‘influencers’ – bloggers, customers, vendors, and paid endorsements – and an ever-evolving ecosystem. Engagement with the digital community can be a game-changer for many organisations. Such strong digital community ecosystems are hard to include in the traditional marketing model.

What should Sales & Marketing do to transform successfully?

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Niloy Mukherjee, has some real-world advice for organisations that are looking to transform their Sales & Marketing practices.

Align with your Basic Strategy

Evaluate your key business goals and work out the changes that are required to achieve those. These changes might be so small and incremental that it may not even appear to be a ‘transformation’. Keeping an eye on the goals, will ensure that you do not invest in areas that do not necessarily need changing. It will also ensure that you simply do not replace an existing process with a new one, without first working out how that change will impact your organisation.

Think beyond features – to the Benefits

Technology investments often end up being the shiny new toy. Decision-makers in organisations may get attracted to snazzy devices and application features – and lose sight of evaluating the true benefits of the technology. For instance, the sales rep selling in-store would have a very good idea of what sells and how much stock to carry. There may be no incremental benefit in equipping the rep with an app that provides real-time sales analytics and inventory data. So, the app gets relegated to being just a feature with no real benefits. On the other hand, a field sales rep might find it extremely useful, especially in sectors that are prone to unpredictable spikes in demand.

Be ready to Invest in the change

You have evaluated the changes that your organisation needs, you have identified the technologies that can truly benefit your organisation – you must be ready to invest in that change. This is not only about financial investments – you have to invest time and in people. This requires your organisation to think of the RoI, again not only in terms of finances but also in terms of effort. Be aware that your biggest challenge in implementing the required change might be people – so invest in making them less resistant and more welcoming of the change.

 

There will be distractions galore in your transformation journey – emerging tech areas, solutions that seem to be working for your competitors and so on. Mukherjee proposes a simple thumb rule, “If it fits the strategy and looks feasible go with it; if it is outside the agreed strategy then think long and hard, and then turn it down – or change the strategy!”


This blog is based on Niloy Mukherjee’s recent report titled “Digital Transformation in Sales and Marketing”.
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