Melissa O'Brien
Research Vice President - Head of HFS Academy 
Learn more about Melissa O'Brien
Accenture Expands its Digital Frontier with Intrepid – Another Pearl in the String of Acquisitions
July 04, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

Last week, Accenture announced the latest in its 2017 $1.8 B shopping spree with Boston-based mobile design and development company Intrepid. This is a part of Accenture’s strategy to dominate the Digitally-driven Front Office with the vision to offer its clients a model with no business silos where the barriers between the front and back office are removed forever; as described in HfS’ Digital OneOfficeTM. Accenture’s strategy goes beyond the ambitions of growing and maintaining the largest digital agency in the world. It’s about building capabilities to impact its clients’ transformation, finding unique capabilities in opportunistic Geos, opportunities for pull-through with its other services, and a keen focus on impacting the customer experience. 

Intrepid’s 150 employees will join Accenture Digital, the division where many of Accenture’s customer experience focused services reside.  Intrepid’s engineering talent and capabilities, such as it’s work with Saucony Stride lab -- an app that helps runners analyze their stride for better performance--  falls right in line with the kind of digitally-driven customer experiences Accenture is looking to help its clients achieve.  There are also great client synergies between Accenture and Intrepid, in particular around P&G, Accenture’s marquee client for front office services and an organization which is at the forefront of value creation from front office services. 

Accenture was recently placed in the Winner’s Circle of our Digital Marketing Operations Blueprint. This acquisition will further solidify its position, in a space where Accenture’s ability to replicate its Digital Front Office services across industries is also emerging as a competitive differentiator. The ‘string of pearls’ M&A strategy across the core pieces of digital transformation is illustrative of the service provider’s forward thinking vision for the evolution of this market. These acquisitions span across various core pieces of digital transformation, such as include aVVenta for content, Cimation for IoT consulting and Chaotic Moon for digital technology design and prototyping, complementing customer experience services and helping the service provider double its digital marketing operations business over the last two years.

Accenture is putting together a differentiated and bold story for the digitally-driven front office. In fact, Accenture accounts for approximately 50% of the M&A activity since January 2017. Let’s look at some of the more recent Accenture recent acquisitions in 2017:

  • MediaHive, May: Digital commerce strategy and design to platform delivery and managed services
  • Monkeys and Maud, May: Creative ad agency, Australia and New Zealand
  • Kuntsmaan, April: Belgian communication agency focused on customer experience
  • SinnerSchrader, February: German digital agency

What is the common theme in each of these selections?  A clear focus on digital customer experience and design. Accenture also stands apart from the competition in the sense that it seems to avoid falling to the temptation of talking immediately about technology and software (in spite of the strength of its technology assets and partnerships), and instead focuses on the business value.  This management consulting legacy and mindset is part of the company’s DNA and a big part of how it builds trust with its clients. 

This flurry of M&A activity is bold, but not without risks and potential problems.  One of the greatest potential issues is addressing the clashes of so many disparate and vastly varying organizations both operationally and from a cultural perspective.  Accenture’s culture is built on thought leadership, delivering operational excellence, and not necessarily in sync with more “creative type” cultures that will inevitably come with the acquisitions, it’s been targeting.  For now, the strategy seems to be running these entities independently, almost using them as R&D centers wherein their original cultures remain intact.  But inevitably over time, some cultural transformation will occur, morphing the digital giant and its entities into something new-the question is whether legacy Accenture becomes a more creative, innovative organization-or it’s subsidiaries turn more corporate, potentially snuffing out some of the creative fire and losing key talent in the process.  It also risks its size becoming a deterrent for buyers who prefer the niche specialized agencies and the attention, flexibility, and experience they receive from a smaller player.

Another potential threat is that Accenture might become complacent in delivery and execution given its dominance from a capability perspective in this space. This acquisition moves it up on our innovation versus execution grid, but will Accenture also move toward the right? We will be watching that as Accenture continues to enhance its capabilities with these innovative firms.


As Anatoly Roytman, head of Accenture Interactive for Europe, Africa, Middle East and Latin America said (of the Kuntsmaan acquisition): “Together, we’re bringing our unique model to the market: part creative agency, part business consultancy and part technology powerhouse – all laser-focused on creating the best customer experiences on the planet.”  The refrain we hear constantly from service buyers — Accenture’s included—is “more innovation!”  Accenture has certainly amassed an array of building blocks to address this demand globally; now the hard work begins to pull these pieces together – a ~$10B digital agency with many moving pieces, specialized skills and domain capabilities – to execute on transforming the digital customer experience for its clients. 

HGS Doubles Down on “Digi”
May 30, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

“We are a customer experience company,” declared Chris Lord, Global Head - DigiCX; Growth, Strategy, and Marketing at Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS). This was in response to a discussion about HGS’ decision to partner for most of its tools and technology rather than to take the road of internal development. During its recent Analyst Day, the ~$550m BPO shared how it will use its expertise as a provider of customer engagement services to fuel growth and adoption of its “DigiCX” vision. HGS focuses on a suite of solutions aimed at finding the right balance between digital and traditional customer engagement for a unified customer experience. 

DigiCX aims to guide the customer to an answer regardless of channel or device.  Components include:

  • DigiWEB: Website self-help that maps out the common issues and has resolutions built in, including videos (made by HGS) for demonstration. One client engagement cited a 97% resolution rate using DigiWEB self-service.
  • DigiMessaging: A chatbot that works inside messaging apps (What’s App, Facebook Messenger) and pivots to a live agent while retaining the conversational context.
  • DigiTEXT: Chatbot capabilities deployed within SMS, with phone number recognition and connection to a business rules engine for greater analytics power.
  • DigiINSIGHT: Post- conversation surveys increasing survey response rates and analyzing customer expectations.
  • DigiSOCIAL: Uses social media sites to derive customer insight and sentiment.
  • DigiEMAIL: Automated email responses. In one client example, was able to cut down the # of email correspondence to resolve an issue by more than half.

Click here to enlarge 

What’s holding these elements together is a vision for “unified CX” designed to find the right components for each client’s customers’ needs.  And with this vision is a keen interest in helping clients understand their own needs and maturity, including a digital maturity matrix assessment.    

It’s refreshing to hear the unified CX discussion in contrast to the hackneyed “omnichannel.”  What these solutions aim to achieve is not a CX strategy that is everything to everyone all the time—it’s about providing the customer with options, guidance and journey paths that make sense.  HGS’ messaging is to intelligently integrate “BOTS and Brains” as the optimal way to transform CX to provide business impact for their clients. HGS is hoping to use its aggressive governance and engagement model to drive adoption of these solutions and become a more strategic partner with clients—engaging in quarterly strategy sessions for example, instead of just the standard QBRs.  It’s wise for HGS to not try and re-invent the wheel, especially with ubiquitous technologies like chatbots.  HGS leadership is well aware and transparent about the need for cannibalization of volumes and revenues that come with this kind of self-service and automated strategy—“we need to get smaller to get bigger,” is the refrain we heard throughout the event.

But when you’re making this kind of play-- focused on the expertise and design, not on the platform--  a service provider then needs to more clearly articulate its value and differentiation that the expertise brings.   It’s the human connection and outcomes that matter—those that impact customer experience and ultimately top line growth at their clients.  For example, what does an improved resolution really mean to clients in terms of CSAT, NPS and loyalty?  What kind of training and differentiated talent strategy is required to serve the higher value customer interactions that leading by self-service demands?  These are the questions that need to be answered in order to prove the DigiCX vision can execute, and are the next steps in HGS’ journey as a customer experience company.

Transforming the Digital Customer Experience—Four Ways to Move from Theory to Practice
May 16, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

The presentations and interactions at the recent Sitel customer event illuminated a few key themes that customer experience oriented companies can take away as they look to implement customer experience strategies within their organizations and in conjunction with their service providers:

  • Align the entire organization to customer centricity. To effectively serve the digital customer, what we at HfS call operating as OneOffice, the corporate focus needs to create a work culture where individuals are encouraged to spend more time interpreting data, understanding the needs of the front end of the business and ensuring the support functions keep pace with the front office. T-Mobile shared an initiative where people in the organization that traditionally have “nothing to do” with customer experience listen to phone calls with various problems from customers. They found that someone in a back office support function listening to the issues on customer calls helps “make things real” in other parts of the business. Hearing the customer’s experience of a fallout from an order management issue, for example, really helps to illustrate how every function in the company impacts the customer experience—and the business. It also, in turn, helps discussions for how to improve operations from the back to the front office. 
  • Find the right blend of digital and human touch to meet customer expectations. This is not going to start with technology, it’s going to start with understanding your customers, their expectations, and pain points. Companies thinking about digital customer experience need to start mapping the customer journey, which in many cases means using digital technology along with the human touch. Intuit discussed its implementation of “SmartLook” video chat, which has been a successful initiative to better support customer inquiries about their TurboTax product.  Intuit finds itself competing with the in-person tax preparation services, so in order to supply that high-touch experience, the software company set up the capability for one-way video so that the customer can see the representative helping them with tax questions, and also the ability for the rep to draw on the customer’s screen. They quickly found that customers really value the human connection, and scaled from 100 to 4500 live video agents in a matter of months, including special training for being on-camera and shipping out uniforms and blue backdrops for its work-at-home agents.  The results are impressive: decreased call handle time, a resolution rate improvement of 10 points, and an NPS increase of 20 points putting Intuit in the 80s (world class service levels!).  It’s a great example of the blend of digital technology and the human touch that is still very relevant for many customers and types of interactions.  This is not without drawbacks of course—there were many lessons learned about the training involved and implications of having a live agent on screen with customers (i.e. customers taking unflattering screenshots of the agents…).  Finding this balance will always be a work in progress as technology and customer preferences change.
  • Support customer experience by making digital assets universally accessible, and embracing the cloud in a way that enables genuine scalability. As the CMO of Wyndham (a chain that opens two new hotels every day) pointed out, there’s a lot of integration behind the scenes in order to be fast and nimble enough to meet customer expectations.  Two years ago the hotel group did not have high-resolution photos for all of its properties. Digital images were spread across five different content management systems, which didn’t have the space to store them—and in fact, it was often up to the individual properties to manage and store these images. Wyndham decided to make the digital team part of the CMO organization, and using several partners, shot a million high-resolution photos in the last 18 months and consolidated them on to one cloud-based content management system.  Adding these photos to its websites and mobile apps has already generated a 40% conversion increase, a 52% mobile bookings increase and a 10% of return visitors.  The next steps in Wyndham’s transformation journey will be to use all of these images along with customer data to create better, personalized experiences online, and the company needed this streamlining to get to the next step in their digital transformation. 
  • Embrace design thinking as an ongoing method to promote customer centricity and design frictionless customer experience. CapitalOne described its desire and journey toward becoming a tech company first and a bank second. Because of the threat from the growth of fintech companies, the bank has altered its core business strategy, impacting who they hire and how they operate.  One major change has been the use of design thinking as a way of learning. They use the term “customer back”—meaning always start with the customer and work your way back.  As this has culturally taken hold at CapitalOne, the bank has found that it is not just for people with design in their title, it’s being embraced across the organization.  Results from these efforts have included customer-focused changes which remove barriers and make the customer experience more intuitive, such as ways that customers can pay their bill. For example, customers can now use Echo to ask Alexa what their balance is and pay a bill. CapitalOne has also implemented a chatbot named Eno who is available on SMS—customers can pay bills, get their balance and other basic functions.  By listening to customer feedback, they’ve also implemented the ability to “unfreeze” a card that’s been flagged for fraud for just 15 minutes through their mobile app—for the busy customer that just needs to make a transaction while on the go.   Involving customers in the design process has increased their ability to serve customers in the ways they prefer.  It’s important that design thinking continues as an ongoing effort, as markets evolve and business needs change. 

As each industry is being disrupted in new and different ways, it’s important for every organization to start somewhere – take these lessons and embrace small and quick wins in order to move forward in becoming more customer-centric organizations. 

A Moment of Transformation with the “New Sitel”
May 16, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

Acticall Sitel Group is undergoing a “moment of transformation,” as they put it – “pivoting from a contact center to a group of global services, innovative and socially engaged, dedicated to providing exceptional customer experiences.”  What this really means in a world overflowing with overhyped CX buzzwords isn’t easy to tell, and here’s what I learned as one of the analyst community members that spent time with Sitel executives and 70+ clients and prospects at its 2017 Miami Analyst Day and corresponding Customer Summit this week: that a company in transformation needs a North Star – one that is bright and shiny to illuminate the path forward. Acticall Sitel has a lot of stars, but it’s not yet clear which one will stand out to lead the way.


Diversification: The Ventures Ecosystem

The “New Sitel” is the portfolio of companies: the traditional Sitel contact center business and a number of other “venture” companies brought on with Sitel’s acquisition by French based Acticall Group in 2015.  This new Sitel has been a couple of years in the making, but the story that is emerging is an interesting and compelling one to buyers of contact center services and those of us who are enthusiasts of the contact center being a core element of customer experience design.  A few highlights from the event:

  • The Social Client, one of the ventures, is a customer experience consulting and strategy company focused on implementing design elements like visual IVR, employing design thinking and journey mapping.
  • The Learning Tribe, a training and learning entity focused on digital aspects of learning, i.e. mobile and social learning, brings gamification and certification elements to training environments in need of transformation. As the head of training for a major corporate bank said, “we need to be digital internally within our organization as well as externally with customers.”
  • The Premium Tech Support venture is providing white glove services to clients and generating revenues through cross-sell and upsell opportunities while utilizing the Customer Insights analytics venture to optimize its services using predictive customer analytics. 

The big picture of the new Sitel still seems a work in progress, especially in terms of commercial engagements, as the service provider retrains its sales staff and restructures incentives to more effectively sell across the ecosystem—but the passion and vision is certainly present. And Sitel is also investing in AI with a quality monitoring tool, empowering a trend the provider calls “botshore,” the use of bots as a lever along with offshore and nearshore options-- a concept which jives well with HfS’ vision of using increasingly intelligent automation as just one of the levers to pull when it comes to engagements with service providers. 

Pivoting the ventures toward American business will be a challenge, but very recent leadership additions, including a creative agency veteran in the role leading The Social Client and a BPO sales mogul in place leading sales in the Americas will bolster the potential for execution across the organization.  Sitel will need to continue to think through the messaging and branding of these ventures: What truly represents the capability and value of each one and as part of the whole new business? For example, the name “The Social Client” is limiting and not representative of its capabilities. Sitel seems to be sitting on a gold mine and needs to unearth the potential to let it shine.

The Bottom Line:  The time is ripe for a legacy call center provider to really transition to a customer experience design leader

In this world of “digital transformation”, many enterprise buyers are asking the question, who do we go to for design?  Instead of paying boatloads of money to a traditional consulting firm, can they leverage their trusted contact center service providers who already know their customer inside AND out, and are investing in capabilities?  I think the opportunity is there.  We have been talking about it for years, but have yet to see a pure play contact center BPO provider really cultivate and hone a brand for the customer experience design element.

One of the elements that has consistently made Sitel’s events relevant and useful in the past (even pre-Acticall) is their transparency and willingness to give accessibility to their clients—especially at an event like this one, where we had the opportunity to meet with customer experience leaders from many industries and with various goals.  The customer presentations were extremely valuable in understanding these enterprises’ mindsets and they were clearly getting a lot of value from each others’ stories as well. It’s quite a network that Sitel is establishing here. 

What we now need to see from Sitel and its peers is real life examples of using the “value-added” services” – including digital marketing and customer experience design- which are presently a tiny percentage of revenues for Sitel and other contact center companies.  On the same note, buyers who are constantly screaming “bring us innovation!” need to get involved and work with their service providers about the opportunity engage in these services.  As soon as we start seeing more case studies and success stories of turning this theory into practice, the doors will open wide for those providers and buyers willing to invest and take the risk to really transform.


“Igniting Innovation”: KPMG features an experiential approach to digital transformation in its Analyst Day
May 05, 2017 | Christine Ferrusi RossBarbra McGannMelissa O'Brien

Just about 90% of CEOs who participated in a KPMG survey are concerned with the issue of changing customer loyalty, and the majority believe current their company’s products and services won’t be relevant to current customers in 3 years. That means they need innovation – now. They see technology (often referred to as “digital”) as an opportunity to move, but 85% of the surveyed CEOs feel they don’t have time to think about disruption and how to respond to it with innovation. This sets the scene for KPMG’s Analyst day recently in Boston. KPMG looks to bring purpose and passion for helping clients be successful in making innovation a part of the core of their businesses – through a diverse workforce, solutions, and collaboration.

With this backdrop, four themes stood out to us during the day about how KPMG is working with its clients:

  1. A vision for “OneOffice” – work designed to address customer needs using “digital labor” and systems. Digital transformation is (finally) moving from the front office (customer touchpoints) to include the middle and back office (business functions and transactions) – and talk is moving from “how do we use ‘digital’” to “what problem do we want to solve for our customers and how do we use the possibilities of talent and technology to do it.” At HfS, we refer to this concept as “OneOfficeTM” – the need for businesses to break down silos in their organizations to create a more effective data and workflow for business outcomes, so this theme resonated with us.

As we are focused on “ making it real” and providing examples of where it is happening, we appreciated the story that KPMG told about a client they worked with to map out the customer experience. They registered a number of customers on an app and these customers recorded their experience in real-time, as did employees. KPMG captured the data in the Pathfinder tool and used it as input during a journey mapping session with employees from across the organization, front and back office, including a finance director, a customer service manager, and a valet. They talked through the points in time when the customers and employees had a poor experience and came up with ideas that were then prioritized for addressing through the client’s own innovation management approach. What stands out here is the breadth of people included in capturing the experience (customers and employees from different business units and IT) and the way the experience was captured (an app in real-time), which led to in-person workshops to map out various customer journeys and an action plan.

 Additionally, staying true to the “ embedding innovation” theme, KPMG trained a number of the employees in departments throughout the client on the design thinking principles and methods used in the initiative. These people are networked as a COE. The team also has access to an analytics tool to continue to capture and analyze data on their journey.

2. A focus on defining and enabling the evolving role of workers and work. “Even in a digital world, humans are still the most important investment, the secret element of our brands, and the magic asset in the company,” said Robert Bolton, capturing the tone of the recent day. One example of a workforce transformation in progress was launched when a client started a discussion about the size and shape of the workforce of the future. This has led to questions such as “How do you know you have the right size?” “How does it have to change because of the advent of RPA and artificial intelligence?” “What are the impact on entry level jobs and the way those jobs provide a launching pad for careers?” “How does it impact learning, training, career paths?”

KPMG is not just working with clients to address these questions but shared its own experience in a changing workforce through the use of digital labor. For example, instead of having new hires who are eager, smart MBAs do mundane and repetitive audit work while they “pay their dues,” KPMG is able to automate much of that work and provide a more stimulating and challenging role for the talent they’re bringing on board.  It’s changing the culture and employee work allocation models.

This area of “ digital labor” is one that the shared services and outsourcing group at KPMG is hearing a lot of questions about as well, according to the group’s global head, Dave Brown. Digital labor and cognitive are on the forefront of activity in evolving operating models and defining who (or what) does what. “Digital labor, simply put, is another form of outsourcing,” said Dave Brown.

4. Innovation starts with culture. Innovation needs to be a way of working in companies – it can’t just be siloed in one department or area. Key features of a culture that embrace innovation include diversity – of workforce and partner ecosystem; collaboration; and experimentation (these are also principles of design thinking). Having a culture and environment where it’s “OK to fail” is also a lynchpin of innovation.  To provide a “space” and showcase for innovation, KPMG has broken ground for a new facility in Orlando to provide its clients and train its workforce with a multidisciplinary, hands-on, collaborative, high-tech experiential approach. And it’s partnering with the academic community to help develop (via technology, data sets, and case studies) the future workforce during the university years – for example, combining soft skills like teaming, collaboration, and critical thinking with critical technology skills for analytics and the subject matter expertise of accounting.

5. Deep investments in software to improve and automate complex processes. KPMG’s Spectrum unit created several “business intelligence engines” to automate and analyze several complex corporate processes like third party risk, contracts, and regulatory compliance like Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI.) Beyond Spectrum, other tools KPMG discussed at the event include its KPMG Digital Responder, for security threat discovery and analysis and its KPMG FIRE regulatory reporting automation tool. While the KPMG teams mentioned a number of tools and IP throughout the day, and showcased a handful, a little of it felt “mysterious” – they were referenced by name and not explained or shown. These days when everyone is still exploring what digital really can do for them, showcasing case studies and tools can be really impactful in getting the message across.

What does this mean to you?

Digital transformation and innovation continue to dominate corporate boardrooms as buzzwords. But actually implementing requires a lot of complex detailed decisions that spur significant changes to the ways companies operate every day. What’s impressive about KPMG’s message is the firm’s ability to talk at the 100,000-foot strategy level but then dig into the last mile delivery details.

For clients that already work with KPMG, if you’re not seeing the kinds of messages the firm presented at the analyst day, then it’s time for a meeting with your account team. Talk about how some of KPMG’s new (and even not so new) techniques are being or could be, applied to your engagement. Don’t take it for granted that your account team will automatically propose new ideas so be proactive in asking for innovation.

For non-clients, take a look at Spectrum and other KPMG tools as stand-alone solutions. The Spectrum team told us they do sell the tools separately – they don’t just get embedded into larger services deals. This gives you the opportunity to get access to KPMG IP and operational expertise without having to exit any existing services engagements you have in place.

For an organization that candidly admits it was on the slower end of developing a stake in front office, its recent investments and acquisitions (a whopping 51 in the last 3 years) show that it’s quickly catching up, and also tying together the concepts of front, middle and back office nicely and in a forward-thinking way.  Using their own interpretation of OneOffice, KPMG is forging ahead to help clients (and itself) break down the legacy barriers to become more intelligent and responsive client-centric enterprises.

WNS Finally “On TRAC” To Automate And Increase The Intelligence Of Business Processes
April 24, 2017 | Reetika FlemingMelissa O'Brien

At WNS’ annual analyst and advisor day this week, the provider explicitly addressed concerns we’ve had about its delivery model – namely that it didn’t employ enough technology in its BPO offerings. WNS has always been differentiated by domain expertise and its flexibility in allowing clients to pick end-to-end or point solutions. This differentiation is particularly noticeable in the insurance, travel and leisure, and utilities verticals and in the research and analytics, and finance and accounting horizontal services.

However, coming back to our concerns, we have consistently observed the lack of focus on technology enablement for its services. In fact, our HfS Buyers Guide on WNS recently called out Operations Product Development and Toolsets as a key weakness for the service provider, writing “WNS is behind the competition on some basic areas of technology support, as well as continued advancements in intelligent automation, beyond macros and even RPA… WNS is on the path with developing toolsets in [multiple industries/functions], and needs to continue to develop the capability, usability, and transparency the solution set offers. HfS believes the service provider would do well to cultivate or hire technology expertise in this area to further complement and perhaps accelerate progress.”

So we were pleased to see WNS share details of WNS TRAC –a business process management (BPM) tool suite to automate processes and make them more effective. WNS TRAC integrates with the client’s legacy system environments --  drawing data and information from those systems, and providing efficiencies and insights for industry-specific processes without the need for major system overhauls. WNS also has a range of point solutions for each of its industry verticals, e.g. Verifare Plus, Repax, Qbay in travel. With TRAC, WNS aims to stitch together these point solutions over time into an overarching solution suite for each industry. The service provider has two new F&A clients with whom it is piloting CFO TRAC, describing it as a digital plug and play platform that it will put in at the transaction layer, on top of the clients’ multiple ERPs for greater visibility into end-to-end process and to drive analytics. WNS is also piloting its newly launched Brandtitude reporting and analytics platform with two clients. With this offering, WNS hopes to take its analytics services business into the solution/IP-led era, full of the possibilities of licensing.

TRAC Benefits From A Strong Foundation of Trust-based Client Relationships

One reason we believe TRAC will succeed is that this solution improves already-strong relationships instead of fixing broken ones. Buyer presentations from the analyst day showcased the service provider as a collaborative partner. Multiple clients presented their operations journeys and the role of WNS as an enabler. The client presentations were diverse; across industries and in varying stages of the WNS relationship. Younger relationships already showed promise in increasing the scale and sophistication of the contracts—take for example a utilities company looking to better understand customer sentiment through analytics. The engagement includes understanding propensity to pay and delinquency models, then taking these analytics to the next level in tandem with WNS in creating “personas” for its customer base to improve personalization of service and knowing how to best approach these customers. A client in the online travel space discussed using WNS as a partner in building out its omnichannel capability, using elements of TRAC like its SocioSeer tool, and making it easier for clients to use self-service for booking travel. 

The building blocks are in place, now WNS must hone and promote its message.

HfS believes WNS is headed in the right direction with the investments in the last year – strategic acquisitions like Denali and Healthhelp. And technology enablement like WNS TRAC is absolutely necessary for the next level of growth of WNS’ business process business. But to succeed, WNS needs to market TRAC and its benefits clearly and consistently. For example, some executives stressed that analytics (a key aspect of WNS TRAC) is embedded in all BPO engagements and not seen as a standalone business, even though analytics is, in fact, still a standalone business within WNS. In another session, WNS TRAC technology enablement suite was described as a BPaaS solution, which it isn’t. WNS needs to package and deliver its value proposition more accurately and clearly.

Bottom Line: Buyers Need To Be Proactive In Pushing For Automation And Technology Enablement In Their Deals

  • Call your account manager and ask for a meeting to understand how TRAC could help your engagement and to see a demo.
  • Start thinking through the business case for TRAC. Once you understand how TRAC can potentially help (reduces cost by reducing labor? Increases process accuracy? Improves process speed?) start to model if the ROI would happen quickly enough to warrant implementing now. You may decide that you can wait until your contract renewal to add TRAC.
  • Consider negotiating for TRAC separately if possible. If you want to add TRAC now but aren’t at a renewal point, you can always ask to negotiate for TRAC separately from the rest of the deal – WNS tells us that while the tool is primarily to drive better BPM services, but is getting inquiries about using TRAC discretely and is exploring options. This also allows you to see what benefits TRAC brings without blurring the lines between benefits from labor and benefits from technology.

#Traveldiaries2017 – Are you creating memorable service experiences for your travel customers?
March 21, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

In order to prepare for the upcoming travel and hospitality Blueprint, I decided I needed to do some “field research” (ahem) by taking a vacation of my own to sunny Puerto Rico to get the experience of an end consumer.  This was fortuitous timing as RFI responses were trickling in, and I couldn’t help but relate my experiences to what I’m hearing from the service providers and buyers in this space.  As analysts, we tend to travel a bit here and there, but often have the luxury of travel plans being made for us with group coordinators.  Having planned this trip out myself with the help of some great references, I thought about travel in a more selfish way—one that made me think very much about all the things T&H service buyers and service providers could be doing better to think of ME, the traveler, at the core of their operations.

As a consumer, these themes resonated with me the most:

  • Word of mouth matters more than ever: So many decisions to make; where to stay, eat and what to do.  Review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are ubiquitous, and travelers really rely on these sites for decision making.  The downside is information overload and credibility; I read scores of reviews with a skeptical mind, thinking this could have been written by someone with totally different vacation priorities or motivations.  Now if a good friend recommends a tour, combined with a raving review on TripAdvisor, I’m sold!  Service providers should be thinking about how to help hospitality clients maximize loyalty and advocacy among visiting customers. Those who represent the travel intermediaries and review sites should think about how to make the personas more “real” – think of the possibilities for gamification (i.e. giving people badges or discounts if their reviews are well liked or validated.) This could go a long way to make these review sites and intermediaries more valuable for customers. Intermediaries are also more important than ever for local tour companies whose websites are wildly out of date and impossible to navigate—so knowing the local businesses is more important than ever.  
  • Self-service is fantastic—but make sure you have the processes and training to bring it all together. It’s pretty cool that JetBlue has started a system of printing and applying your own tags to baggage.  But, as someone who doesn’t normally check a bag, this caught me by surprise at Boston Logan as I was reluctantly checking my vacation + business attire luggage to accommodate all the shoes I needed for these two incongruous journeys.  I was confused, but all that the woman at the kiosk could do was repeat in a saccharine cheerful voice, “You need to print out a tag at the kiosk.”  Literally, that’s all she could say.  I would have felt more comfortable with a robot.  When there are process and technology changes, especially those that affect your loyal customers, make sure your employees are trained to be empathetic and helpful and that you use all the relevant communication channels to update customers. Plus, preemptive outreach can prevent incoming calls to customer service and confusion in the field. 
  • It all comes back to making it easier for the customer. This is true in every business model, but the hotel industry seems to be closer to cracking the code on seamless experiences despite juggling many balls in the air at the same time—dealing with disgruntled, tired travelers, unexpected issues like broken elevators, cancelled flights or storms closing the coveted beach, and handling countless travel intermediaries like Expedia and the like.  This requires a lot of connection between front, middle and back office—as we describe in our OneOffice framework—it seems that hotels are getting closer to connecting these siloes to create omnichannel experiences, but what I’m hearing from buyers and service providers is that there’s a lot of disconnect behind the scenes and making up for it at the front end.  Despite sometimes glossy front end experiences (think the swanky hotel lobby with fantastic, quick check-in service), there is still much opportunity to streamline processes behind the scenes.   The notions of service experiences are also evolving, keeping T&H clients on their toes. Today you introduced mobile self-check-ins; do you need to integrate tours & activities scheduling into your app next? 

The Bottom Line: competition has pushed the travel and hospitality industry to live and breathe the “customer-first” mentality, but the fast-paced nature of the industry and customer expectations will continue to create opportunity and challenge services buyers to think about “what’s next?” 

Differentiation is the name of the game--- and more than anything, services buyers in the travel and hospitality space need flexibility and innovation from their providers.  Between M&A activity, regulatory and compliance changes, disruptors from the “sharing economy” and the volatile nature of travel itself, having the customer constantly at the center of the universe is no easy feat. Always being that step ahead, with automation and innovation, is where service providers can step in to support those memorable experiences. 

Whatever the fate of the ACA, Consumerism in Healthcare is here to stay
March 16, 2017 | Barbra McGannMelissa O'Brien

While we wait for the new Obamacare “replacement” bill to sink or swim, we can’t help but ponder the implications of whatever outcome on the healthcare industry and the services ecosystem that supports it (especially since we get asked!). Amid all this uncertainty, one thing that is sure not to change is the consumerism that has taken a strong hold within the healthcare industry, which would be the case with or without the ACA. As consumers, we are wondering, if I can order merchandise from many different suppliers on amazon and pay in one place, why can’t I see all my clinical data and lab images and send them from one doctor or clinic to another? If I can send the record of my dog’s shots to a boarding kennel electronically, why not send my children’s immunization record to schools and summer camps just as easily? Yes, we know about interoperability and security issues. However, we have come to expect the same access and convenience in our healthcare experiences as we do in all the other aspects of our lives. 

Healthcare providers and payers are challenged to meet these increasing expectations—and are investing accordingly in digital enablement. HfS’ recent state of business operations survey indicated that 42% of healthcare companies are planning a significant investment in analytics to better understand what are the issues for whom, what are the opportunities to interact and impact members and patients and administrative support; and 36% are investing in social/mobile/interactive enablement to redefine, “modernize,” or create the customer experience. Despite all this planning and rhetoric, dealing with the healthcare system often feels like the dark ages rather than a modern customer experience. Our recent research found several examples of service providers and buyers working together that are hopeful of experiences to come:

  • Creating the digital customer experience by connecting front and back office: Due to ACA regulations, healthcare payers have needed to adjust to dealing with consumers (versus employers’ HR departments.) Many have set up retail storefronts including mobile centers where people can come in for enrollment (majority), questions and paying bills.  Teleperformance uses a proprietary software, TLSContact, to manage the process and workflow of the customer retail journey.  Representatives are able to access the initial app that the customer started online, and the workflow software helps identify the bottlenecks and how to better staff these centers.  For example, they can look at and analyze the processes to find out why there are long wait times—enabling clients to improve the process and better staff to meet demand.  
  • Developing customer journeys that look “outside the hospital walls” and building solutions that support the journey: Approaching healthcare in a consumer-centric economy drives healthcare organizations to look at how to initiate and keep the customer relationship over an extended period of time, not a point in time. Emergency rooms are designed to address a “point in time,” but we know that a health incident starts before a person arrives at the ER. VCU Health neurologist Dr. Sherita Chapman Smith is championing an effort to use telemedicine as a way to do assessments on stroke patients while they are in the ambulance, on their way to the hospital. (link).  In pilot simulations underway, the hospital is using trained actors to simulate stroke symptoms to test out the platform during ambulance rides to the hospital. “Patients” are picked up in an ambulance and connected via teleconference to the neurologist in the hospital, who conducts a remote assessment; and when they get to the hospital, they are quickly advanced to the next stage of treatment. The approach creates faster interactions between the points of care and speeds the time to treatment.
  • Using digital technology to make the users life easier and more real-time interactive with support systems: A healthcare organization that has partnered with NTT DATA Services described a consulting-led project which was aimed at the total redesign of the patient’s journey in various medical use cases (i.e. bariatric surgery, knee or hip replacement) in order to personalize that patient’s journey whenever he/she logs into the mobile app or accesses the website.  This means drawing together an understanding of that patient’s journey from start to finish, and knowing what stages they are in throughout their course of treatment, and what their needs might be. This hospital relied on the provider’s experience mapping expertise.  

It’s clear that healthcare isn’t getting less complicated any time soon. Whatever the fate of the ACA, the current political tone is foreshadowing more complexity and anxiety. Whether people are going to be uninsured or underinsured as critics of the current bill claim, or need to switch plans or providers, we can be sure that activity in the healthcare systems will increase. We can also be sure that that emotion will be at an all-time high, with the anxiety and fear that comes with people uncertain about what the changes mean for their lives and their loved ones: all the more reason that healthcare organizations need to be more nimble, intuitive and empathetic to that customer experience. Unfortunately, examples like the ones we highlighted above are the exception rather than the norm.

Bottom line: It’s time to think of and treat patients and members as customers you want to attract and retain, whether you are a health care provider or payer or a third party service provider partnering with a healthcare organization. Now we need to roll up our sleeves and partner in the effort to create a healthcare experience that puts the customer at its center.



Digital Customer Service BPO: A Chat with HGS
February 03, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

I recently caught up with Wendy Shlensky of HGS to talk about customer service trends on her blog. Here’s what we talked about:

Today’s companies are challenged to meet everyday customer service pressures while also building for the future. They must provide optimized customer service across various digital channels while also using new tools to better understand customer demographics and preferences, to deliver more personalized service.  The ability to simultaneously achieve these goals is really a differentiator in a world where many products and services are commoditized.

Wendy: Can you share the trends you’ve seen in customer service?

Melissa: Today’s customer service trends are being driven by customer expectations for really simple and straightforward communication. In many cases, this means self-service tools, although customers also sometimes need to pick up the phone and speak with a person.  Depending on objectives and available channels, customers will use various ways to communicate with companies to ask a question or give feedback. 

Balancing self-service and digital—including human assistance, when needed—is a significant customer service focus area. Customer service solutions that pre-empt and solve customer inquiries—before requiring agent assistance—are driving self-service as a solution to decrease customer effort.  Improving self-service is frequently put forward as a cost savings mechanism, but often has the most immediate impact on service quality and consistency. Most importantly, weaving all of the potential touchpoints to support an omnichannel customer experience is a design challenge for most organizations to undertake. 

Wendy: How essential are digital CX tools in today’s marketplace?

Melissa: These digital tools are critical. At HfS, we have been working on the concept of a digitally enabled contact center. We have produced a competitive assessment of service providers in this space.  Essentially, this means that a contact center is equipped to service today’s digital customer, who, as we all know, has increasing expectations in terms of communication channels.  At the most basic level, the start of the digitally enabled contact center means embracing “digital” channels: social media; web self-service, including mobile apps and visual IVR; video kiosks; and chat.  Also important is seeking to use automation to create efficiencies and the really smart contact center operators are trying to figure out how to involve increasingly intelligent automation into the mix.

However, it’s more than just implementing these channels, it’s the design of how each channel fits into the overall customer journey, and the understanding of how talent fits into the equation. This talent should not only be able to handle communication on varied channels that demand different styles (yet be consistent), but can also take contextual information from multiple sources and use that in a way that benefits the customer. From an analytics perspective, it’s all about using the data to better understand customers, enable personalization, and be more predictive.

Wendy: How is this changing BPO services engagements?

Melissa: Digital channels and the underlying technology will fundamentally change the way that service providers and buyers of BPO services engage. We have learned from our recent Intelligent Operations study that almost half of senior leadership buyers are using a “customer first” strategy to drive their sourcing models. This means embracing the change and solution ideals of “As-a-Service,” including design thinking. We see opportunity for service providers to use design thinking to help their clients develop better processes, especially around “customer journey maps.” Rethinking customer journey design is absolutely essential to the digital customer experience. 

For example, HfS recently spoke with a retailer that was struggling with efficient scheduling processes for an in-store service. The service provider took the approach of interviewing the staff members fulfilling the services to understand the areas where they saw inefficiencies and problems. The results included a scheduling process redesign that blended the digital self-service channels and those that were human assisted. Often, design thinking projects will involve an employee-centric approach—recognizing that employees are customers, too, who often hold the key to improving customer experience. 

The service provider-buyer relationship is also affected by buyers’ expectations of greater flexibility and value. Some service providers are looking to their BPOs to be really nimble, and scale, as needed. Additionally, they want their service providers to be thought leaders and help them figure out this puzzle of digital customer interactions. 

Wendy: What do you see as the future of digital BPO?

Melissa: In a customer-first digital economy, BPOs will strive to find the right balance of technology and talent, and deliver that as effortlessly as possible to clients. Contact center service providers’ strategies must be multi-fold—they must provide something more valuable in conjunction with traditional operations that addresses automation and self-service, built in with exceptional support (with a great talent strategy) to address the changing contact center model to derive more value out of clients’ investments.

What’s one of the biggest wild cards, with the biggest impact? It’s artificial Intelligence, or the development of “intelligent” virtual assistants. While right now most contact center automation is augmenting agent talent, we are seeing virtual agent pilots and POCs that can replace some contact center talent. Regardless of how quickly this evolves, eventually artificial intelligence will have a material impact on contact centers. Service providers, together with their clients, will need to figure out how to blend the best of human and artificial intelligence, and most importantly have a greater sense of urgency to understand how this will impact the customer experience. 

Retail Embraces the Digital OneOffice and Optimizing the In-Store Experience (NRF report)
February 03, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

HfS has been spending the past several months talking about the Digital OneOffice – a business model focused on placing the customer at the center of every internal operation, even those not normally considered customer-facing. Whether you consider your firm a “traditional” business or a digital native, you need better customer centricity.

Recently I saw evidence of how this new focus on customer centricity is affecting the retail industry. Retail is rife with brick and mortar giants struggling to pivot their operations to support omnichannel shopping, and online upstarts vying to make their voices heard amid the e-commerce din. After hearing yesterday’s news that Target’s Goldfish project -- its mysterious Silicon valley digital startup --  now swims with the fishes, I started thinking about the tales I heard at the recent NRF conference. From both retail giants and small retail innovators, moving to OneOffice is about enabling the ability to support heightened customer expectations and often strengthening business fundamentals in order to do so. 

Stepping into the Customer’s Shoes

Target’s stated reasoning behind abandoning the potential e-commerce spinoff was to renew a focus on the brick and mortar business, strengthening the personalization of the in-store shopping experience with greater personalization and payment options on its shopping app.  In doing so, Target is putting a stake in the ground about where it wants -- and doesn’t want -- to compete. In the case of this retail giant, leaders see greater value in digitizing and optimizing the experience of its in-store customers than in creating something new that doesn’t necessarily jive with what customers want from Target.  It seems counter-intuitive that focusing on brick-and-mortar stores helps in Target’s Digital OneOffice transformation, but this move shows that the retailer is honing in on its customers’ experiences where the customers want it.

This strategy had plenty of examples at NRF. I saw providers demonstrating solutions which have the potential for retailers to take their traditional businesses to the next level. These solutions ranged from getting real-time information from the store to engaging the shopper around product education to promoting promotions or specials while they’re making the product decision were top of the list for this kind of optimization. Specifically, here are some exhibitor examples: 

  • Wipro Intelligent Displays: Wipro had a retail in-store demo which featured the use of sensors to allow the shopper to get more information about the product on a display screen in the store.  For example, the shopper could pick up two items and compare them side by side as they would online or in a mobile app.  This could also be reconfigured with near field communication (NFC) to connect to the app for greater personalization. I think this would be even more effective. 
  • Infosys Home-to-Store Journeys: Infosys took a real customer-journey-centric approach with its immersive demo of a full home-to-store shopping experience.  The journey demonstration begins in the customer’s living room, with the customer shopping on a mobile app and noting preferences and upcoming events (birthdays, vacations).  The journey then moves to the store, and demo participants were greeted by name by the store employee who knew what items the customer shopped for at home.  The comprehensive booth also featured a demo of the possibilities for augmented reality in store.  Infosys is using a combination of technology and services to customize these journeys for its retail clients and showing what’s possible for the future of retail. 
  • Sutherland’s Predictive Chat: A demo at the Sutherland booth highlighted a chat solution which originated with a design thinking approach to bridging store and online experience.  The platform enabled more proactive engagement with customers by drawing customer data from various external and internal retailer sources, feeding insights into the chat which could pre-empt customer questions and concerns.  
  • Honeywell Employee Tools: There were also interesting products at NRF. I popped by the Honeywell booth where I saw demos of plenty of tools aimed at making the customer experience better through improving the employee experience.  This ranged from a software infused headset enabling pick and pack staff to more efficiently sort items in the warehouse (and move away from manual tracking!) to light, durable wearable scanners that employees can wear on the wrist or finger to enable more swift customer check out; all pointing toward creating better efficiencies in the entire process behind a shopping experience. 

The bottom line: being customer-focused means improving the customer’s experience in store as well as online. Remember that in store sales still represent the bulk of revenues in the retail sector. Optimizing legacy systems to make them complement new business initiatives in a way that supports customer experience is how retailers will successfully move to DigitalOne Office.

PS: If you’d like to know even more about Digital OneOffice, come to our New York City Summit on March 30!