by Charlie Mayes
Despite prolonged economic challenges, businesses have to continue to find ways to improve competitiveness grow revenue bases and become more agile and resilient. This can be tough when working within a sluggish economy. While the UK has narrowly escaped the dreaded triple dip recession, the economic climate remains subdued. According to the latest survey released in April by accountancy firm BDO LLP, Britain’s economy will struggle to gain momentum until the second half of this year even though business sentiment and hiring intentions are improving.
So where does this leave businesses?
Pockets of optimism and growth do exist and businesses are continuing to make investments despite the lack of momentum in the economy. According to BDO’s latest national Business Trends report, the BDO Employment Index has hit a 19-month high. The Index, which measures businesses’ hiring intentions over the next two quarters, reached 96.0 in March. This is the third consecutive month that the Index has been at or above the crucial 95.0 level that indicates employment growth. The BDO confidence index also rose to 92.2 in March from 90.6 in February.
In a similar BDO barometer survey undertaken in the Thames Valley in Q1, the results are even more favourable. Here the region appears to be bucking the trend against stagnant growth forecasts for the UK as a whole. Almost two thirds (65%) of the Thames Valley businesses surveyed have increased turnover in the past quarter compared to 46% in Q4 2012. Hiring intentions in the Thames Valley also appear strong with headcount expected to increase for 45% of respondents.
Spend or save?
So with regions like the Thames Valley showing such positive signs, the debate over whether to spend or save to strengthen the wider economy remains fierce. The Government’s austerity policy has come under continued criticism from many quarters, including business groups calling for a significant boost in infrastructure investment in the UK to help stimulate growth. In the latest budget we saw some action with the government announcing that an extra £6 billion a year will be allocated to housing and infrastructure projects. However many believe it won’t be enough and comes too late to make a real difference.
Despite the uncertain economic environment and irrespective of potential government stimuli, businesses must continue to make smart investments to improve their operations – whether that be to drive efficiency gains, reduce costs, improve productivity or help the company to become more agile. For many, this will include making significant changes to their businesses and much of this will require major investments in new technology.
Indeed, according to recent research carried out by Vanson Bourne, almost three quarters of CIOs expect to increase IT spending this year, with 10% planning ‘aggressive investments’ to improve their company’s competitiveness. Gartner also predicts an increase in IT spending – worldwide IT spending is projected to total $2.8 trillion in 2013, a 4.1 percent increase from 2012 spending.
These are huge sums of money and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that any organisation committing to such spend would do everything it can to protect that investment. And I think at the outset most organisations do, but unfortunately such programmes don’t always go to plan. Few organisations fully appreciate the scale of business change required and many don’t take into account the organisational structure, process and cultural changes that are needed to support a successful outcome.
For any business change programme to succeed it is fundamentally important to understand the real drivers for change from the outset and to have unanimity of purpose across all stakeholders. If this doesn’t happen, significant tensions are likely to arise and these will threaten the success of the programme.
For example, a programme initiated to improve customer experience whilst saving money will have very different dynamics if other, more influential stakeholders view the programme primarily as one designed to deliver cost savings whilst improving customer service. The two views may sound similar but having been the ‘meat in the sandwich’ on more than one occasion I can vouch for the impact such a difference of opinion will have from a programme management perspective.
Involving a specialist third party to lead, shape and deliver such complex and strategically important change initiatives pays real dividends. The independence of being outside of the internal politics and pressures that such competing views generate brings an objectiveness that enables stakeholders to be challenged and agendas aligned, thus ensuring a clear line of site for the successful execution of the programme and, crucially, the realisation of the anticipated business benefits.
In today’s heightened economic environment, investing wisely when your competitors aren’t will ensure that you stay one step ahead. However, it’s never been more important to ensure that any business, technology or organisational change programme is delivered successfully. With every penny under scrutiny failure is not an option. Though there might still be some pain along the way, investment programmes are much more likely to succeed when everyone is working toward the same goal.
Biography – Charlie Mayes – DAV Management
Charlie Mayes is a highly experienced Programme Director with an excellent track record of managing large-scale IT and business change to deliver tangible outcomes across many industry sectors including financial services, air transport, business support services and healthcare. He started his career at UK IT services company Data Sciences where he developed a full range of Systems Development and Integration lifecycle skills over several years working on complex technology projects. With this foundation, Charlie built his management career through roles in Project and Programme Management, Service Delivery, and in Sales, Bid and Business Management, in both Data Sciences and IBM Global Services.
Since joining DAV Management in 1998, Charlie has successfully applied this wide range of technical, commercial and management skills in a variety of interesting and challenging consultancy and programme management roles. He is at his most effective leading complex change programmes or technology business operations and enabling organisations to translate their strategic objectives into realisable business benefits. He has played significant leadership roles for a variety of well-known clients including Thomson Reuters, Monarch and Alfred McAlpine and in the past 4 years has successfully delivered a number of high profile technology enabled business change programmes, with a collective value in excess of £300 million. Charlie has been Managing Director of DAV Management since 2007.
Retailers need to deliver better rewards to ensure customer loyalty
- 62% feel retailers need to improve the ways they reward consumers for shopping with them
- 55% believe that loyalty programmes rarely offer them the things they actually want or would use
- 48% want retailers to focus on making the shopping experience better for them, rather than a loyalty programme
Rewards programmes are not delivering on their promise to drive customer loyalty for retailers, according to the latest research from Adyen, the payments platform of choice for many of the world’s leading companies. The majority of customers (55%) say that rewards programmes do not offer things they actually want and that customer experience holds almost equal influence when it comes to loyalty (48%).
The findings come from a report conducted by Adyen exploring how agility will be key for the retail sector as it emerges from the Coronavirus pandemic. The research polled more than 2,000 consumers in the UK in 2020.
The results showed that, while rewards and loyalty schemes are still welcomed by many customers, the majority (62%) feel that retailers need to improve how they reward their shoppers.
“Every customer counts – especially in the context of the pandemic. Anything retailers can do to keep customers coming back for more is worth exploring. But it goes beyond a loyalty or rewards scheme. The customer experience, both online and in store really matters. Making it as easy as possible to shop is equally as important as other incentives. And, if you do go down the rewards route, a one-size-fits-all approach rarely delivers. You must make the effort to understand your customers and offer something they really want,” said Myles Dawson, UK Managing Director, Adyen.
Nearly half of the respondents (48%) want retailers to focus on making the shopping experience better for them, rather than delivering a loyalty programme. When it comes to an experience that will drive loyalty, customers want a seamless link between online and physical stores. 60% of consumers said they would be more loyal to retailers that let them buy out of stock items in store and have them shipped directly to their home. And 53% said they would be more loyal to retailers that let people buy online and return in store.
“The high street is under increasing competition from online retailers who put convenience and usability at the centre of their customer experience. To succeed now, businesses must harness the best of their physical and digital worlds to create amazing experiences. This will increase conversions and also raise the prospects of customer loyalty.
“For those consumers that want loyalty schemes, it must be as seamless and easy as possible. 61% of respondents were more likely to shop with a retailer that linked their loyalty scheme to the payment card. By doing this, businesses can track customer buying behaviour and shopper data which lets them offer a more personalised shopping experience,” Dawson concluded.
The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour and retailers need to adapt
By Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO of TAKUMI
It’s no secret that the retail industry has been badly hit by the pandemic, with the recent collapse of Arcadia and Debenhams providing a harsh reality check as to what the future could hold for brick-and-mortar stores. With all non-essential shops being ordered to close last month, with no re-opening date confirmed, it is inevitable that a natural shift to online platforms would occur.
Online giants, ASOS and Boohoo, have established themselves as the new industry leaders. Both e-commerce giants bought failing Arcadia brands and Debenhams and ruthlessly closed all the retailers’ physical premises. The shift to online in the retail sector has never been more apparent.
Retail brands need to establish their digital presence to serve their consumers’ changing behaviour and to remain competitive in the retail industry.
Capitalising on changing consumer behaviour
The pandemic has meant consumer needs have adapted, which in turn has led to a shift in consumer behaviour. Retailers need to capitalise on changing consumer behaviour to remain relevant, but more importantly profitable.
The ‘stay at home’ message from the government, which has been almost constant throughout the past 12 months, has meant many consumers have started to become more reliant on online channels and platforms.
Supermarkets, such as Aldi and Co-Op, responded to this change in consumer behaviour by deciding to serve their customers on delivery apps, such as Deliveroo. As fewer people were ‘popping to the shops’ due to lockdown restrictions, supermarkets reacted by offering an instant delivery service, essentially where the ‘shop pops to you’.
The shift to online platforms and influencer marketing
Retail brands need to follow suit and adapt their ways of working to reflect this shift to e-commerce. Ted Baker, the premium fashion retailer, has admitted its disappointing online sales figures last quarter could be due to its slow response to the shift to ecommerce. The retailer is aiming to “significantly improve” its online shopping platform because of this.
As the shift to online platforms accelerates, retailers need to start investing in digital marketing, for example influencer marketing, to ensure their brand stays at the forefront of their consumers’ minds. Evan Horowitz, CEO of Movers+Shakers, a creative agency, explained in our whitepaper in August how the pandemic has led his company to increase its influencer marketing as “influencers are more influential than ever”.
As such, many traditional retailers have started exploring the benefits of influencer marketing. Wickes, in partnership with TAKUMI, launched the UK’s first ever home improvement industry TikTok campaign to reach a new audience with authentic and creative content and to drive awareness of its range of products. Our whitepaper, Into the Mainstream: Influencer Marketing in Society, which surveyed over 3,500 consumers, marketers, and influencers across the US, UK, and Germany, found that almost three-quarters of marketers (73%) upped spend on influencer marketing in the past 12 months, with spending significantly increasing in the retail (79%) sector.
It seems inevitable that more brands will continue to invest in influencer marketing with social media’s popularity increasing as we start to enter a post-pandemic world.
Using social media as a tool to respond to changing consumer behaviour
With marketers upping their influencer marketing spend, many social media platforms have also responded to the growing popularity of ecommerce.
Instagram redesigned its layout to ensure its Shopping and Reels tabs were given more prominence. The Instagram shopping feature allows brands to attach a virtual shopping tag to their ads on the platform. People can click on a tagged item and then be re-directed to the brands’ product webpage.
Similarly, TikTok’s rising popularity has led it to launch its own ecommerce offering. Last October, TikTok announced a partnership with Shopify. This partnership will enable Shopify merchants to create, run and optimise TikTok marketing campaigns that will attract consumers from TikTok’s growing user base.
Instagram and TikTok are slowly evolving from content platforms to ecommerce hubs. This transformation coincides with the rise in consumers shopping online following the pandemic.
What’s to come for retailers, post-pandemic?
Consumer behaviour is changing and the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards social media and ecommerce. Retail brands need to recognise that the shift to online is here to stay.
To remain relevant, brands need to allocate appropriate budgets to digital marketing channels. Interestingly, our whitepaper found it was marketers from traditional media channels that were increasing their influencer marketing spend the most, demonstrating that the shift to digital marketing has already begun. Retail brands need to start to prepare themselves for the post-pandemic retail environment to avoid ending up like Arcadia and Debenhams.
5 Trends Driving the Future of Customer Service in 2021 and Beyond
By Matt McConnell, CEO of Intradiem
2020 ignited radical shifts for contact centre operations with the move to a remote work environment. Our customers say this trend is more of a permanent transformation – one that uncovers trends that include more flexible operations and greater efficiencies in leveraging contact centre data.
Trend 1: The Remote Agent Model is Here to Stay, Permanently
Historically, many IT teams discouraged remote working for customer service teams, but it was quickly proven virtual contact centres could work and offered a significant upside. The average annual cost to physically house a call centre agent is approximately $8,300 per agent in the United States. If a 200-person contact centre decided to move only half of its agents to home offices, that translates to $830,000 in annual real estate cost savings.
Working remotely also opened the doors to reach talent and hiring beyond a specific geography. For example, call centres based in rural locations who may have exhausted their local talent pool can bring in quality agents from anywhere in the world.
Trend 2: The Role of AI will be to Support Human Agents, Not Replace
Despite many years of buzz, it’s worth acknowledging that AI cannot entirely replace one-on-one human interaction in customer service (yet, or maybe ever). Many interactions with chatbots or other entirely automated CX tools only drive the escalation of customer issues rather than resolving them at the first touchpoint.
Instead, AI is best used to assist and manage agents to help them work more efficiently. For example, AI-powered technology can reduce handle time by auto-populating call notes or automatically log agents into or out of applications to further save time.
AI will provide an added layer of support as a management tool to keep agents on track in remote environments. AI also enables better connectivity for customer service teams and enables agents to receive consistent communications and Information they need to excel in their role in serving customers.
Trend 3: A Swift Migration to the Cloud
Call centres have been notoriously slow to move to the cloud. In the past, this has not been an issue when centres use on-premise technologies. With fully remote call centres, companies must reconsider their approach to the cloud.
Call centres can no longer rely on on-premise data with a decentralised workforce. Often their information is locked up in data centres, while operations remain outside of the office. Moving to the cloud offers more flexible operations, easier access to data and substantial cost saving, but only if call centres tap the right partners to make the most of the shift.
Trend 4: The Emergence of Predictive Analytics
Call centres generate an enormous amount of time-sensitive data that must be gathered and analysed in real-time to effectively manage their operations. Without real-time capabilities, Insights gathered on a Monday may only be contextualised later that day or week. This is not impactful as the time to act has passed and call centre conditions have already changed.
Looking beyond 2021, we will see call centres take their analytics a step further to go beyond real-time analytics, and into predictive analytics. This will leverage real-time data at scale to offer preventive support to both agents and customers, moving call centres from reactive to proactive. Instead of waiting for a customer to call with an issue, centres can leverage historical data to reach out pre-emptively.
The same approach can be used to identify agents who struggle or may be experiencing burnout earlier in order to reduce attrition rates. A smarter mindset on data will revolutionise how call centres operate and in turn, companies will see higher customer and agent retention.
Trend 5: Real-Time Technologies Will Be Applied to the Back-Office
We will also see companies increasingly apply call centre technologies to their back-office operations. They will start to leverage back-office data in real-time to cut down on wasted hours and better track employee activities.
This part of the business has not been managed with the same technology investment as the call centre, leading to inefficiencies where back-office employees may struggle with certain tasks or spend time in non-work applications. Now, companies will be able to use AI-powered technologies to drive productivity gains in the back-office — leading to significant savings to the bottom line.
2020 served as the inflection point for call centre transformation. The shift to remote work unlocked new uses of technology and opportunities thought impossible before. We are now at the tip of the iceberg, as successful call centres will continue to innovate and think differently on how they can improve their operations in the new year and beyond.
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