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COVID-19 – The Omnichannel Accelerant – The Clock is Ticking

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COVID-19 – The Omnichannel Accelerant – The Clock is Ticking 1

By Chris Robinson, Director and Executive Chairman, Awaken Intelligence

It is a particularly frantic time for retailers. Friday 27th November, Monday 30th November, Saturday 26th December, and Friday 1st January are all key dates in the retail calendar where consumers can nab deals at astounding prices.

In previous times we have watched and listened to views of the sector’s performance, whether sales are up or down and how consumers’ high street and ecommerce habits are gradually evolving.

However, as highlighted by IMRG’s Customer Week Report 2020“The coronavirus pandemic has caused unique and significant challenges for the industry. It temporarily shut down non-essential shops and turned many retailers into online pureplays overnight, meaning companies had to evolve to serve customers and keep their businesses alive.”

The pandemic is far from over so as we head into what is traditionally a busy time of year for retailers, we look at how brands and retailers need to evolve to meet customers’ exceptionally high demands in these new, challenging circumstances.

The ContactBabel report, UK Contact Centre Verticals – Retail & Distribution, published during the pandemic, highlighted that:

“Delivering an integrated multichannel experience is vital to the retail experience – customers view the business as one brand, regardless of channel and the retail and distribution sector has been at the forefront of email-based customer service, consistently handling a greater proportion of interactions through email than an average UK business. 

As ever, pressure on margins has increased for many companies, with price-comparison sites adding to the consumer power. The result is that retailers need to cut the cost of contact over the next few years, with telephony seen as a higher-cost channel for them.”

The report goes on to highlight that while web chat is a relatively cheap and immediate channel for retailers to embrace, adoption amongst brands and retailers has been relatively slow. In fact, it advised that the level of automation used in digital channels was far underperforming its potential. That is until now…

COVID-19 – The Accelerant

We know from our own personal experiences, and from the headlines, that while some brands and retailers have thrived during the unprecedented events of 2020 many have found themselves superfluous as people adapted to staying in and working from home. The impact of lockdown has changed not only the types of purchases made but also buying habits for good. Strolling down the high street and buying products or services on a whim no longer feels necessary or relevant in a COVID-19 world. The appeal of online shopping has never been greater.

So, if our buying behaviours have changed how are brands and retailers adapting? It’s one thing to switch your business to online pureplay or multi-channel (almost overnight) but how are you serving your customers? The IMRG report highlights the approaches of Maplin, the consumer electronics e-tailer as well as mobile phone and network provider Vodafone, among others. Having faced its own, well-documented, challenges in recent years Maplin, under new ownership, evolved into a pureplay retailer in 2019. And as Ollie Marshall, MD explained in the report, “We’re online so we have been able to continue to trade, and we’re in categories that are booming. Overall trading has been very positive for us.”

For example, the business recognised a need for electronic scooters as people looked for alternative modes of transport and thanks to its new hybrid inventory model was able to list the relevant merchandise within two days – instantly making the scooters the best-selling product on the website.

Experience – The Ultimate Differentiator

So smart inventory and a flexible approach to operations has proved successful and helped some retailers and brands to thrive at this very strange time. But, importantly, Vodafone recognised the importance of their customers’ experiences, whether good or bad. Flavio Lamenza, senior user experience designer at Vodafone also featured in the report and asked “What do you have in place to capture how consumers feel about your product or service? Knowing how we made users feel gave us the evidence to make a change and fix a friction point.” He quite rightly added, “Once users can’t differentiate on price, the only thing left is the experience.”

A crucial part of that experience is your contact centre and let’s be clear, that doesn’t just mean handling inbound calls from customers. The businesses thriving are the ones that meet their customers when and however they want. They’re offering the true omni-channel experience where they can interact with their customers by telephone, email, web and social media. Some might even say that COVID-19 has been the accelerant to omni-channel adoption that countless retailers have talked about for so many years!

But to Vodafone’s point – how do you know if your customer experience is living up to expectations or falling short? A recent study by Thisismoney.co.uk found that over 50 major firms are blaming COVID-19 for poor call-waiting times, refund delays or reduced opening hours. And that’s only in the UK! Notably the article highlights that the initial customer patience, understanding and goodwill businesses experienced in the early phase of lockdown has since evaporated as people become exasperated by poor customer service. Volumes of calls and emails may have increased, as our own retail customers have experienced but when organisations can access tools, such as Interaction Analytics there really is no excuse for these types of complaints.

As Adam French, consumer rights expert at Which?, said, “While COVID initially caused significant upheaval, six months down the line it’s no longer acceptable to blame it. How businesses treated customers during the pandemic won’t be forgotten, and those that do not make customer service a priority are likely to find people will take their business elsewhere.”

Why Interaction Analytics is the Foolproof Solution to Your Retail Experience

Interaction Analytics (IA) provides you with the actionable insight to remedy this dire situation. Consumers have adapted their behaviours and shown that they’re more than capable of self-service via web, email or social media. In fact, they want their encounters with your business to be as effective and efficient as possible. Interaction Analytics does just that by helping you to:

  • Identify which customer requests can be resolved quickly and effectively via email, web and social media.
  • Prioritise high value customers or those in need of urgent support that need an in-bound or out-bound telephone call with agents.
  • Meet SLAs while being certain that your business is delivering a consistent and valuable experience.
  • Ensure compliance and governance regulations are met to the highest standards possible. This includes being able to monitor for fraudulent activity even if your agents are working from home.

What Interaction Analytics (IA) Does for Your Customers and Your Agents

For Your Customers

  • Customer service whenever and wherever they need it.
  • Ability to ask all kinds of questions and not be transferred across multiple departments.
  • Instant solutions to problems resolved with insight and, voice to voice translation means customers can have their query resolved in their own language, not that of your business.
  • Competence to provide outstanding customer service rather than focusing on the process will make communication with your customers more personalised and will allow you to meet their needs better.

For Your Agents

  • The intuitive way IA works means your agents require less training or can move on to different campaigns without spending hours reading reams of training manuals.
  • Ability to handle calls and resolve them faster than before, which means your cost per call is kept in control and your AHT performance improves.
  • Your agents have ability to focus on the conversation, rather than the process which means both agent and customer have a better experience. Consequently, your staff retention improves dramatically.
  • Analysing only the calls with known issues, flagged by Auto QAyou will save up to 67% of your QA team’s time.
  • By providing you with actionable insights formed into one report, it will allow you will be able to motivate your agents and steer them in the right direction while stimulating continuous improvement.

Time Waits for No Man

The ContactBabel report mentioned earlier highlighted the levels of omnichannel engagement across the retail and distribution sector from 2016-2019. According to the research, three of the most significant contact channels chose by clients to contact companies are telephone, email and web chat.  We’ll only know for sure in late 2021, or even 2022, the full force of the pandemic and its impact upon the retail sector but what we do know is that time waits for no man. Can you really afford to wait and see what the rest of your market is doing? Or are you ready to embrace IA so that you can make some informed decisions around your organisation’s omnichannel experience and, ultimately, the future of your company.

Technology

Hisham Itani and Resource Group Recognized in the 2020 Global Banking & Finance Awards®

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Hisham Itani and Resource Group Recognized in the 2020 Global Banking & Finance Awards® 2

Global Banking & Finance Review has awarded Hisham Itani the Chairman and CEO of Resource Group, Technology CEO of the Year Middle East 2020 in recognition of his vision, strategy and strong leadership that have contributed greatly to Resource Group’s success in winning the Most Innovative Holding Group Middle East 2020 in this Global Banking & Finance Awards®.

 

Resource Group is an investment group with a portfolio of diversified businesses that capitalizes on technology and human talent for value creation. The company has proven that it has gone the extra mile to develop innovative solutions aimed at improving people’s lives and helping Lebanon transition toward a knowledge-based economy. Global Banking and Financial Review, the renowned online and print magazine identified a number of areas that Resource Group has excelled. The company has been awarded Most Innovative Holding Group Middle East 2020, and Hisham Itani the Chairman and CEO, receives the award for Technology CEO of the Year Middle East 2020. Under his leadership, Resource Group has grown from a family security-printing business to a diversified international investment group, with a portfolio of companies across 10 sectors in over 75 countries.

Wanda Rich, editor Global Banking & Finance, said “Mr. Itani took the security printing business to another level and expanded into different technology verticals in an impressive list of success stories”. The list includes digital security, smartcard manufacturing, mobile value added solutions, cyber security and secure communication solutions, telecom infrastructure and managed services, elections supply chain services, lottery systems and operations, mobile and virtual reality games, among others.

Resource Group’s focus on technology has had a constructive and tangible impact on government automation and on citizen experience in target markets.

Editor Wanda Rich says “We are proud to offer Resource Group these prestigious awards and wish them continued success and growth into 2021 during these challenging economic times”.

Global Banking and Finance Review is a renowned online and print magazine. The magazine’s website alone receives over 7 million page views annually. Global Banking and Finance Review provides a balanced view with formative and independent news from the financial community. The Global Banking & Finance Awards® were created to recognize companies of all sizes that are prominent in particular areas of expertise and excellence within the global financial community. The awards are known throughout the global banking and financial community. They reflect the innovation, achievement, strategy, progressive and inspirational changes taking place within the financial sector.

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Bouncing back in 2021: Digital Transformation is no longer a choice as dependence on 5G, IoT and Data increases in society and business

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5G and Open Banking: Explosive growth or business as usual?

By Ivan Ericsson, Head of Quality Management, Expleo Group Limited

The global pandemic has put enormous strain on businesses and brought into sharp focus the importance of being agile, adaptable and able to increase the pace of innovation and change at short notice – catapulting technology right to the top of the agenda for many organisations.

As the economy works to get back on its feet, technology is only going to play a bigger role in our lives. At Expleo, as experts in digital transformation and the reliable implementation of technological innovations, we’ve outlined the biggest tech-driven trends that we expect to see in 2021 and beyond.

1)     “Digital transformation” no longer a choice

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught businesses anything, it’s that they need to be poised to respond to abrupt market disruption at any moment, making digital transformation mandatory overnight.

With no room for delay, hugely complex corporations – that have historically been slow to adopt technology – have had to accelerate their reliance on technology just to keep afloat in recent months. Digital change, at speed, has become the norm.

Even last year, the idea of an unscheduled video conference call might put people on edge – now most of us wouldn’t think twice about calling a colleague over Teams or Zoom even for a 2-minute conversation. At the same time, social infrastructure has moved with the needs of its users, with telecoms giants strengthening and opening up networks so we can keep communicating despite social distancing.

There are now very few excuses left for operating in a non-digital way. All businesses need to be intelligent businesses that can change direction nimbly, with speed, confidence and composure. As we see more businesses putting this into practice, it’ll likely result in an increased number embracing and normalising some of the behaviours of tech-savvy giants like Apple and Amazon, who have no doubt thrived during this period.

Their success can largely be attributed to normalising an agile approach. By ensuring all applications have testing facilities built in – a “quality shadow” if you will – it allows for continuous improvements, and the ability to change direction quickly and confidently, when needed. This is particularly valuable today as the world becomes more fast-paced and increasingly unpredictable.

2)     Big data/AI/predictive analytics

We’re moving into a space where big data can be extracted from the most seemingly innocuous places. In a hyper-connected world, a move as simple as a dog walk could offer huge swathes of data to the right companies. Many businesses already realise the benefits of capturing and utilising big data, but not all have taken advantage of it. The businesses that move quickest are most likely to reap the rewards in a more impactful way than their ‘data shy’ competitors. Where data used to be a side effect of business operation, it is now the driving force.

As businesses begin to rely more heavily on data to make critical decisions, independent assurance becomes increasingly important to get those decisions right. Forward-thinking, data-driven organisations must therefore assure that the data is correct in the first place, to avoid giving businesses false confidence and risk them moving in the wrong direction – something that is rarely affordable in today’s competitive and fast-paced environment. If businesses are not 100% confident in assuring the quality and accuracy of their own data, they should look to a third party for support.

A key data trend we expect to see moving further into 2021 is the increased use of predictive analytics. At the moment, businesses will often use data analytics to give us insights into our past activities, or to tell us where we are right now. However, the real value lies in knowing where we are going and how we are going to get there. Data analytics will help to identify the optional levels that can be pulled to drive change and realise business benefit.

Secondly, as intuitive technology advances and becomes more accessible, we expect over the next 12 months to see companies of all sizes begin to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) to drive intelligent analytics. In this context, AI refers to various technologies that allow machines to learn, sifting through ‘messy’ big data in order to find and unlock valuable predictive insights into future events. This allows businesses to better adapt their strategy to likely future outcomes and get a head start in the market.

However, with this ever-increasing emphasis on data and data protection, ethical AI will have a more prominent role to play in 2021 and beyond. Protected, usable Data is a by-product of good data security and privacy measures; however, the public remain wary of how their data is being used, particularly after the fallout from Cambridge Analytica’s use of data to influence an election[1]. Businesses, therefore, must give their customers confidence that their data is secure and protected.

3)     Moral relevance/corporate altruism

Research shows that young people are increasingly researching and considering the ethics of brands they’re purchasing from. And it won’t be long before this attitude starts seeping into every other aspect of their lives, with more and more people wanting to work for what they consider to be “purpose-driven” businesses.

Talent is the lifeblood of any company, so for big corporations, many of whom were born to create profit, this could put them in a tricky position. They might already be influencing society in a positive way – but this is unlikely to have ever been their main goal.

Moving forward, however, all organisations will have to start thinking about the “Triple Bottom Line”. That means considering the environmental and social impact of your business, alongside your commercial imperative.

We’ll soon see a mindset switch across businesses, from ‘competing’ to ‘advancing’. Instead of wanting to be the “best,” the question will be, how can I better serve the world around me?

In line with this, businesses will have to start thinking more about how to use tech for good, as we’ve seen with the likes of Microsoft Teams connecting tens of millions of people every day, during this very dark time[2].

2021 is likely to bring even more inroads when it comes to using technology to improve society, whether it’s developing bespoke problem-solving technologies or using IT to ‘eco-proof’ existing sectors, the goal for businesses is to rise to this challenge and build a better future for people and the planet through the use of technology. But all organisations will continue to need to be able to justify technology use and prove that they’re using it ethically, and in a secure manner.

4)     5G new networks – just about all big trends are driven by/reliant upon faster networks – particularly relevant for a more distributed workforce

Greater access and utilisation of 5G networks across the country will underpin and accelerate all of the key trends discussed. Everything we do on our smart devices we can expect to do at higher speed, greater capacity and with lower lag times.

As our digital footprints extend beyond simple web browsing and into our daily lives through smart technology, we are creating huge amounts of data every minute. This vast flow of data is increasingly dependent on new high bandwidth networks to facilitate it. Therefore, the merging of technology and engineering will become critical in ensuring big data is carried successfully to drive analytics and drive business.

The fact we have managed to successfully work from home during COVID is a glowing recommendation for the quality of the networks as they exist today, and they will only get better.

The telecoms industry is already working overtime to ensure that people all over the country get reliable access to the internet – and the fact that there is still inequality in this area proves just how challenging this is. But, in line with this trend toward hyper automation, which will make data extraction and analysis a part of everyday life for businesses, the consolidation of tech and engineering will be ever more important.

Forward-thinking companies will look to incorporate 5G networks into their business strategy. This could be from an internal perspective to enhance the abilities of their remote workforce. Alternatively, this could relate to their own products or offerings – developing an internet of things (IoT) strategy, improve user experience, or bring products to market faster by analysing big data and adapting quicker. Either way, with increasingly improved networks, businesses are expected to take advantage of the huge increase in accessible and usable data.

Concluding comments:

For businesses to truly reap the benefits of these new technologies, they must be developed and adopted in the right way.

Quality assurance, trust and security are three key requirements that the technology of the future depends on to succeed. Having these requirements at the heart of any digital transformation will ensure that systems perform reliably, having been tested and assured.

By prioritising a seamless customer experience combined with an ability to create, test, and scale digital solutions and operationalise at pace, businesses will be in the best possible position to take advantage of the potential being unlocked by these new technologies.

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Ahli Bank, Oman, is SunTec’s 50th customer for its Indirect Taxation Solution

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Ahli Bank, Oman, is SunTec’s 50th customer for its Indirect Taxation Solution 3

SunTec’s GCC VAT compliance solution to help Ahli Bank automate end-to-end VAT compliance process, manage regulatory changes, and seamlessly integrate it with the existing IT ecosystem

SunTec, the world’s #1 relationship-based pricing and billing company and the provider of #1 GST and VAT compliance solution for Banks and Financial Services in GCC and India, has partnered with Ahli Bank, Oman, to provide its GCC VAT compliance solution.

The win is a landmark one for SunTec as it marks the 50th customer for its indirect taxation solution. SunTec has garnered 24 customers in India and this is the 26th customer in the Middle East to acquire the solution.

VAT is likely to be introduced in Oman in early 2021 and Ahli Bank has taken the proactive step of adopting a VAT compliance solution to ensure operational efficiency, enhance revenue, and augment customer experience.

Amit Dua, President – Client Facing Groups, SunTec, said, “We are delighted to partner with Ahli Bank, Oman in what marks a historic win, in their journey to ensure VAT compliance. We understand that the VAT landscape is evolving within the GCC, and therefore, our solution offers agility to respond to these changing regulatory requirements. With the Xelerate platform and GCC VAT compliance solution, Ahli Bank can digitize the entire VAT compliance process and comply with least number of changes to their existing technology infrastructure.”

He added, “VAT is a crucial step that the GCC countries have taken to implement tax regimes. It is imperative for banks and financial institutions to have a robust and scalable solution to accommodate their specific needs. Ahli Bank joins the list of more than 20 banks who have adopted our GCC VAT Compliance solution.  I’m proud to say that approximately 3 billion transactions per annum are processed through our GCC VAT/ GST compliance solution across our client base.”

Said Abdullah Al Hatmi, CEO at Ahli Bank, added: “It is extremely crucial for us to be ready for VAT compliance. We are very happy to partner with SunTec to deploy GCC VAT compliance solution. With SunTec we will have a single solution in place covering all aspects of VAT compliance and we will be future-proofed given that any future regulatory changes will be handled by the solution with ease.”

SunTec’s GCC VAT compliance solution based on the Xelerate platform will enable the bank to smoothly comply with GCC VAT regulations and manage potential regulatory changes with ease. The single end-to-end solution helps automate the entire VAT compliance process including centralized rule-based tax determination, input tax recovery, tax invoice, reconciliation, corrections, adjustments, statements, and regulatory reporting.

SunTec GCC VAT Compliance solution is architected to meet the unique needs of banks and financial services firms and can easily integrate with existing IT systems. The solution is designed to process all taxable transactions across business lines and applications, reduce cost of compliance, mitigate potential risk of compliance violations, penalties, and reputational risk.

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