Multichannel. It means that your customers have a presence in and are using all your channels. And nowadays they want answers, quickly and in the same way. But answers are often disjointed and differ, depending on whether Customer Service answers or whether it’s online, or for that matter on whether someone’s talking on the phone.
“Customer Service has to move up to a strategic level. That’s a major challenge for many companies,” says Nicola Millard.
“And communication with customers has to embrace the whole organisation. There’s no other solution.”
She believes that every company must show its customers why they should do business together. This makes communication and simple ways to contact Customer Service extremely important factors.
Global research centre
BT is a multinational telecoms company with its head office in London. But the company’s future can be found on an old military air base outside Ipswich.
“Adastral Park is BT’s global innovation and research centre. And this is where I work,”
explains Nicola Millard.
“We have labs at MIT, in Abu Dhabi and in China, but Ipswich is our hub.”
There’s also research and commercial activity under way outside British Telecom’s walls in this area, which houses everything from BT’s major partner companies to incubators in the ICT sector.
Nicola Millard explains that she and her
colleagues analyse and discuss strategies and trends with all parts of the company.
So, what does a futurologist actually do in the field of customer experiences?
“I’m like a bridge between the research departments and the strategic departments, our product line and decision-makers and at our large corporate customers. Essentially it’s all about keeping an eye on how customers behave. My focus is on people, and how technology changes people’s behaviour,” she explains.
It’s all about looking at trends in the near future, which are expected to break through in the next couple of years. For example, what will be the consequences of new technology for buying habits or for employees in a company? And BT’s attitude to innovation has changed considerably in the last few years.
“We’ve always put a lot of money into research – and absolutely – research is ingenious, but it’s not worth anything if you don’t use the results.”
The link between commercial challenges and innovation is therefore much stronger today.
“What we’ve learnt down the years is that research that is applied is profitable.
“Part of my job is keeping an eye on this, seeing how innovation can be used to change the way we do business.”
And what’s happening just now?
“Just now we’re seeing three simultaneous, important processes of change. We have a generation shift in power, with generations X and Y getting more and more power. We have a technology shift (Consumeration of IT) and a world in which everything communicates – all the time and in an increasingly mobile way. And we’re seeing how organisations are changing and moving from classical hierarchical structures to new forms of collaboration, for example, co-creation and co-opetition,” says Nicola Millard.
This is of course results in modern-day customers expecting something totally different to what companies are used to. This is one of the reasons why new business models and new ways of communicating with the customer are having such a strong impact.
“Then there’s multichannel, the fact we’re increasingly using our smartphone for everything from emails and phone calls to videoconferencing and browsing. The fact that everyone’s using all channels more often and in more ways.”
Help available online
She talks about ‘The networked expert’ and ‘social learning’. The fact that we customers get help from one another and social media instead of companies’ Customer Service functions.
“That’s why online forums, for example, have become incredibly popular in recent years. They’re places where people can find expert assistance and answers to unique questions.”
And as there’s a lot of help available online, any questions that customers finally phone to ask Customer Service about are far more complex.
“We wait a long time before we contact the company – and then we want help at once,”
confirms Nicola Millard.
In the past, the phone was the primary channel used to contact these experts – and it still is. But at the same time, it’s become more difficult to get hold of expertise.
“Most companies have a Customer Service function. But since the 1980s they’ve done their best to answer quickly and often stupidly, i.e. according to a script.”
And that’s not good enough any more.
A scalable network
So how do you change the telephone channel so that it’s used more and in a new way compared to before?
BT talks about a contact centre instead of customer centre, a scalable network of experts who are able, in virtually all cases, to help customers. And there are several different channels that can be used to reach them.
“When it comes to interaction with the customer, we have more faith in the phone and online chats than in social media. For many people, social media are a final option, and it’s good that they’re there. But in our communication there are a lot of things in the conversation with the customer that can’t be made public, for example passwords and other account information.”
Everyone likes the online chat
An online chat is also far more flexible.
“We can have several chats on the go simultaneously, so that our experts can help a lot of people at the same time. And it’s profitable too. We’ve seen a 15 per cent increase in productivity with the online chat function. And everyone likes it, from customers to employees.”
The future will bring even more possibilities. There are already companies that have chosen to completely abandon their Customer Service in the traditional sense.
“One good example is the mobile company giffgaff. They just have a forum and they reward any customers who provide good help for others.
“Their entire business concept is based on sharing, and it works,” says Nicola Millard.