By Antony Jagger, manager of customer solutions at Aptean,
Looks at how businesses can quickly and effectively spin-up alternative communications channels in times of crisis
The unprecedented times in which we all find ourselves have unearthed a whole new set of challenges for business the world over. Many businesses are inundated with customer queries, questions and concerns—some directly related to the global pandemic and some the result of people spending more time at home. For the financial services industry in particular, this is proving especially true. Not only is there a rise in the number of people trying to initiate contact, but businesses themselves are facing additional issues of operating under reduced headcount—the result of higher than normal sickness levels—and, in many cases, a newly remote workforce, with employees working from home to aid the global fight against COVID-19. Simply put, organisations are dealing with increased demand and are having to try and meet this uplift with reduced resources.
In light of this, we’ve seen multiple financial services businesses taking rapid measures to spin up alternative communication channels in attempts to maintain ‘business as usual’ from a customer’s perspective. Combined with a corporate responsibility to keep staff safe, never has it been more important for businesses to be as agile and as flexible as possible when it comes to facilitating effective and efficient communication channels.
So, what are these vital channels and what do businesses need to bear in mind when trying to maximise their usage?
Flexible phone lines
Without a doubt, phone systems need additional capacity. The ability of a phone system to allow the quick and easy addition of new or reallocated users isn’t a given, and something that many businesses hadn’t considered a necessity until now. The boom in home working is putting new strains on phone systems, with the need to redirect calls to geographically dispersed locations now a necessity, as well as the ability to use systems remotely. Where once these features were a nice-to-have, different times call for different system capabilities, and the need for flexible agility will surely appear on the list of specifications for any new phone systems going forward, as well as being built into any updated disaster recovery and business continuity plans.
Reopen the inbox
Now could well be the time to resurrect retired inboxes if there is enough customer demand to do so. With phone lines busier than ever, opening up alternative communication channels is one way to alleviate some of the pressure, but only if this is what your customers want. There’s no point in reawakening old email addresses if they’re not going to be used. Similarly, regardless of whether or not the business wants to use email as a channel of communication, if customers are calling for it, it should be done and done well. Ultimately, it’s about catering to the customer’s needs, not those of the business.
Web chat is becoming more prevalent, too, with the millennial generation almost expecting it as their first port-of-call when contacting a business. If headcount isn’t available to staff web chat functionality, then perhaps the use of AI could help? However, it’s important to remember that increased use of AI results in more complex queries arriving at the frontline, as AI tends to filter out the quick, easy-to-answer questions. What this could potentially mean is even more pressure on an already challenged front-line contact centre, running the risk of doing more harm than good in the long-run.
We’ve seen an increased interest in virtual customer drop-in sessions, serving as a vital communication channel for businesses operating in critical industries such as production, logistics and financial services. Again, it’s all about catering to meet customer demand and tailoring the communications channels you offer to suit the specific needs of the customers you serve. As with all things business-related, one size definitely does not fit all and it’s important to understand what works for your customer base.
It’s also important to recognise that all channels aren’t equal and you should never underestimate the power of a smile, making face-to-face contact, virtually of course, sometimes a necessity for certain interactions. If you’re already using video-calling and team chat apps for internal meetings and communications, would it be so much of a stretch to extend these to customer interactions if warranted?
Back office efficiency
The need for optimised internal collaboration and communication has never been more important, too, with many businesses now reliant on dispersed teams who are working remotely. This had led many businesses to reassess the quality and effectiveness of their internal communications systems—something else to consider for future technology investments, with efficient, effective systems a must-have if businesses are to have any hope of optimising their external communication channels.
Regardless of the amount of communication channels businesses are able to spin-up and maintain, on the whole, their effectiveness will be drastically limited if the information resulting from all customer interactions, irrespective of via which channels they occur, isn’t recorded properly. Basically, you can have all the channels in the world, but if you’re not logging the information correctly, it’s pretty much a waste of time. The ability to make swift changes is key, putting in place the correct ways and means to not only record the information from all customer interactions but to amalgamate this information. This serves to provide that all-important single-view of the customer upon which customer service excellence is based.
Be agile and effective
Never has the pressure on a business’s infrastructure been greater, putting it to the ultimate test of agility and flexibility, not only in facilitating secure remote working, but to scale-up in record time to meet demand. In this respect, those businesses who already operate with a SaaS model are at an advantage, able to upgrade and update their systems quickly and efficiently, stealing a march on those for whom SaaS is still being considered and who have to undertake time-consuming and resource-heavy changes to deal with this new increase in demand. Surely, in light of the situation in which we all find ourselves, more businesses will be asking whether a SaaS deployment is the only way to go to ensure not only business continuity but optimum levels of service in an environment where the only certainty is uncertainty?
Regardless of unprecedented events, the world of financial services is operating faster than ever, with turbulent economies and markets meaning that challenges can arise from every direction. With this in mind, businesses need to be able to respond to all eventualities, particularly when it comes to customer communications. The ability to spin-up additional communication channels and capacity has never been more important, swiftly updating configurations and making the necessary changes to ensure business continuity in even the most testing of times. With the right technologies and processes in place, financial services businesses can ensure they can deliver during difficult times without compromising on quality, standing them in good stead for a return to normality, whenever that may happen.
Foxconn chairman says expects “limited impact” from chip shortage on clients
TAIPEI (Reuters) – The chairman of Apple Inc supplier Foxconn said on Saturday he expects his company and its clients will face only “limited impact” from a chip shortage that has rattled the global automotive and semiconductor industries.
“Since most of the customers we serve are large customers, they all have proper precautionary planning,” said Liu Young-way, chairman of the manufacturing conglomerate formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd
“Therefore, the impact on these large customers is there, but limited,” he told reporters.
Liu said he expected the company to do well in the first half of 2021, “especially as the pandemic is easing and demand is still being sustained.”
The global spread of COVID-19 has increased demand for laptops, gaming consoles, and other electronics. This caused chip manufacturers to reallocate capacity away from the automotive sector, which was expecting a steep downturn.
Now, car manufacturers such as Volkswagen AG, General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co have cut output as chip capacity has shrunk.
Counterpoint Research says the shortage has extended to the smartphone sector, with application processors, display driver chips, and power management chips all facing a crunch.
However, the research firm predicts Apple will face a minimal impact, due to its large size and its suppliers’ tendency to prioritise it. Apple is Foxconn’s largest customer.
Foxconn is looking at other areas for growth, including in electric vehicles (EVs), and Liu said their EV development platform MIH now had 736 partner companies participating.
He expected it would have two or three models to show by the fourth quarter, though did not expect EVs to make an obvious contribution to company earnings until 2023.
Liu also said the company was still looking for semiconductor fab purchase opportunities in Southeast Asia after not winning a bid to take over a stake in Malaysia-based 8-inch foundry house Silterra.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Jeanny Kao; Writing by Josh Horwitz; Editing by William Mallard and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
EU seeks alliance with U.S. on climate change, tech rules
By Sabine Siebold and Kate Abnett
BERLIN (Reuters) – Europe and the United States should join forces in the fight against climate change and agree on a new framework for the digital market, limiting the power of big tech companies, European Union chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.
“I am sure: A shared transatlantic commitment to a net-zero emissions pathway by 2050 would make climate neutrality a new global benchmark,” the president of the European Commission said in a speech at the virtual Munich Security Conference on Friday.
“Together, we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide: a set of rules based on our values, human rights and pluralism, inclusion and the protection of privacy.”
The EU has pledged to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while President Joe Biden has committed the United States to become a “net zero economy” by 2050.
Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times and avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
The hope is that a transatlantic alliance could help persuade large emitters who have yet to commit to this timeline – including China, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060, and India.
“The United States is our natural partner for global leadership on climate change,” von der Leyen said.
She called the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol a turning point for the discussion on the impact social media has on democracies.
“Of course, imposing democratic limits on the uncontrolled power of big tech companies alone will not stop political violence,” von der Leyen said. “But it is an important step.”
She was referring to a draft set of rules unveiled in December which aims to rein in tech companies that control troves of data and online platforms relied on by thousands of companies and millions of Europeans for work and social interactions.
They show the European Commission’s frustration with its antitrust cases against the tech giants, notably Alphabet Inc’s Google, which critics say have not addressed the problem.
But they also risk inflaming tensions with Washington, already irked by Brussels’ attempts to tax U.S. tech firms more.
Von der Leyen said Facebook’s decision on a news blackout on Thursday in response to a forthcoming Australian law requiring it and Google to share revenue from news underscored the importance of a global approach to dealing with tech giants.
(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robin Emmott and Nick Macfie; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Packaged food giants push direct online sales to gauge consumer tastes
By Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu
(Reuters) – Packaged food giants including Kraft Heinz, General Mills and Kellogg are pushing sales of their products to consumers directly via their own online channels, in a quest to gather more data about shoppers’ purchasing habits.
Velveeta-cheese maker Kraft Heinz saw its e-commerce sales double in 2020, now representing more than 5% of its global sales, Chief Executive Miguel Patricio said at the virtual Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference this week.
The company sells Heinz baked beans and tomato soup by subscription or in bundles directly to consumers on a “Heinz To Home” website in the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe.
Sales on the site are “giving us valuable insights into consumer behavior, enabling us to quickly test and learn from innovations,” Kraft’s head of international business, Rafael de Oliveira, said at the conference.
Kraft would continue to use the site as a channel to generate strong sales in developed markets, he said.
The company also counts sales of its products through marketplaces such as on Amazon.com and Walmart.com as part of its e-commerce sales.
U.S. shoppers spent on average $1,271 buying groceries online last year, 45% more than they did in 2019 as the pandemic spurred shopping online, according to market research firm Earnest Research. In contrast, the average dollars spent in stores rose only about 7% to $3,849.
PepsiCo sells products including Doritos, Quaker oats and Gatorade directly to consumers through two websites, pantryshop.com and snacks.com, both launched in 2020.
Chief Financial Officer Hugh Johnston said that more than 45% of the company’s capital investments over the next few years would be dedicated toward manufacturing capacity, automation, and a “ramping up of investments in our e-commerce channel.”
As major online retailers including Amazon.com and Walmart.com continue to gather valuable data on shoppers, many packaged food manufacturers are keen to gather their own data on shoppers, too.
“COVID (has) simply accelerated our digital growth and has provided us with yet another source of data and insight,” Monica McGurk, chief growth officer at breakfast cereal maker Kellogg Co., told the conference.
Kellogg, producer of Corn Flakes as well as Pringles chips, said on Wednesday it had launched a direct-to-consumer website focused on digestive wellness. The group plans to sell its new Mwell Microbiome Powder for gut health via the site to gather data on customer interest before it launches the product more widely.
E-commerce sales have doubled in the past year and now represent about 8.5% of the group’s $13.77 billion in annual sales, Kellogg said.
Pillsbury dough-maker General Mills also sees the benefits of tracking consumer habits more closely.
“We’re aggressively investing in data and analytics. We are gathering unparalleled insights from the first-party data we collect through our brand websites,” General Mills’ Chief Executive Jeffrey Harmening said at the conference.
On its Bettycrocker.com website, General Mills provides hundreds of recipes using Betty Crocker cake mixes and frosting. The site leads people to the closest store or an online retailer where they can purchase the products, thereby generating data for General Mills on what a particular customer from a certain zip code is buying. The company does not sell the food products directly on its website.
Consumers, however, may have to shell out more if they shop directly from brand websites.
Prices on the two PepsiCo sites, for example, were generally higher than those on Walmart.com or Amazon.com, Reuters checks show. On Walmart.com, for example, a 10 oz pack of Doritos Nacho Cheese was on sale for $2.50 compared to $4.29 on Pepsico’s website.
Kraft Heinz offers tins of soup, beans, pasta and baby food bundled into packs ranging from six to 25 items and costing between 10 and 20 pounds ($14.01-$28.03) on its UK website. It told Reuters the relatively higher prices of items and bundling of packs than on some other online marketplaces was to be able to eke out a margin after including delivery costs.
“Longer term, we see real value in this channel to be an insight and data channel for us,” Jean-Philippe Nier, head of e-commerce for Kraft Heinz’s business in the UK and Ireland, told Reuters. People are more prepared to order directly from manufacturers than they were before. The time is now.”
Graphic: Direct online sales to cross $20 billion in 2021 – https://graphics.reuters.com/PACKAGEDFOODS-ECOMMERCE/rlgpdexngvo/chart.png
($1 = 0.7137 pounds)
(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Susan Fenton)
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