Melissa O'Brien
 
Research Vice President - Head of HFS Academy 
Learn more about Melissa O'Brien
Teleperformance, Concentrix, Telus, Sitel/Sykes and Tech Mahindra kept the CX lights on during the Pandemic
August 21, 2021 | Melissa O'BrienPhil Fersht

If there was one corner of the services market which got severely disrupted overnight by lockdowns and unpredictable customer demand, it was customer engagement.  For example, when Philippine's President Duterte locked down the world's call center capital Manila with 24 hours' notice, there was an almighty scramble from the CX service providers to shift their agents to other locations, such as nearby Cebu, or to work at home agents in the United States or other locations.  As the pandemic dragged on it became clearer than ever that this industry was in dire need of a long-overdue transformation from legacy people-heavy models to smarter use of automation and AI tools.  

One thing I always struggled to understand was why several of the leading IT service providers turned their backs on the customer engagement market, such as when IBM sold off its CX division to Concentrix in 2013 and Capgemini exited the market.  When the full value of automation and AI is realized in the revenue-generating processes driving customer engagement and predicting spending patterns, then the need to couple customer experience services and digital transformation is critical.  This is why Infosys acquired Eishtec in 2019 (1400 seats in Ireland) and Tech Mahindra's Business Process services has risen to number 5 in the rankings this year with 30%+ growth - these firms are able to manage the intersection between traditional BPO delivery and digital capability.  This is also why the number one ranked call center provider, Teleperformance, is known to be exploring an IT services acquisition to supplement its global CX business.  Simply acquiring more call center is no longer reaping exponential dividends as non-linear growth is only possible when embracing AI, automaton and digital workers.

So let's check out the 2021 rankings (download report here), which clearly show which providers kept the wheels of customer services moving throughout the Pandemic and get the insights from the report's lead analyst, Melissa O'Brien...

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Melissa – what on earth happened to the CX services industry over the last year and a half? Was it pandemonium?  What worked and what didn’t?

There has been a considerable boom in CX services in the past 18 months.  This market was already in the midst of a significant revolution, and the pandemic forced a lot of changes and accelerated decision-making that had stagnated.  As with every other industry, the most significant change was the end of resistance to work from home.  The contact center providers we covered in this report largely succeeded in the shift to work from home and made it work really well, much to many of their clients’ surprise. What made the difference is that WFH was an already established and fast-growing business model in CX services, representing almost a quarter of FTEs in January 2020.  A year and a half into almost entirely remote work, many enterprises say they’ll never go back to brick-and-mortar --- in fact, most we spoke to said they don’t care whether agents go back to the office and will leave that decision up to the BPOs.

But there are dynamics at play in the contact center that will even out the WFH balance over the next year.  The CX services providers have long known that employee experience (EX) is king, and employee engagement does not work the same in a remote environment, especially for particular demographics and geographies.  Service providers reported lower attrition and absenteeism levels in the early stages of remote work. These have gradually increased as people lose patience and crave the engagement of working in the center (many of which were explicitly designed to attract and delight employees.)    So while we don’t expect office staffing to go back to pre-pandemic levels (on average, providers said that 2022 will be a 50/50 split), the agent engagement aspect, which ultimately drives customer service excellence, will end up dragging a lot of operations back to the center.

The other big change was an acceleration of the adoption of digital tools – with all the disruptions in staffing and unpredictable volume fluctuations, digital associates (i.e., intelligent chatbots and IVRs) also had their burning platform in the past year and a half.  But we also saw this interesting paradox: while volume volatility significantly increased the adoption of digital assistants, there was also a tremendous demand for traditional voice (human-based) interaction.    The CX services industry now has an increasingly difficult challenge of balancing the right blend of digital and human interactions in a volatile pandemic environment. Enterprises now rely on their service provider partners more than ever to help them find the right balance and differentiate through a dual focus on employee and customer experience.

So who came out on top – and were there any specific examples of heroism/failure along the way?

On the execution side we see the "usual suspects," the big boys like Teleperformance and Concentrix  flexing their brawn with the global scale and breadth of services that many of the other providers can't hold a candle.  They are tops as far as robust global operations models, sheer breadth of delivery locations, and process consistency.  So while shuffling work around and getting capacity sorted out was by no means an easy task, these guys are the ultimate pros. 

Then you have the innovation leaders. As in the past, we were struck with Sutherland’s co-innovation and design capabilities but this time they were utilized to help clients get through this difficult time.  We were impressed with how much proprietary technology Conduent is using in its service delivery, including a COVID-19 outbreak management tool. We also have new criteria for OneOffice alignment where Tech Mahindra and Sitel came out on top, demonstrating the pillars of OneOffice, including collaboration and internal transformation. 

"Voice of the customer" was a tight category because virtually all the customers we spoke to were really pleased with their providers, particularly their ability to shift to remote work with minimal disruption.  The pandemic separated the haves from the have nots in this market. Those that were just making their foray into work from home grappled with the shift.  But firms that had made significant investments significant prior, particularly in the cloud, security, and remote employee engagement, were able to mobilize the work from home environment faster. SYKES stood on the tremendous foundation that is 2016 Alpine Access (a pure-play work from home platform) afforded it as an advantage of being WFH experts. 

Of course, there were hiccups along the way which the providers largely were quick to course correct.  Poor call quality as a result of inconsistent connectivity in certain geographies was the most frequent issue we heard from customers and was often resolved by pivoting calls to chats and sometimes by sending out 5G devices to augment agents’ internet.  Analytics and engagement tools played a huge role in ensuring process adherence but, more importantly employee health and well-being.  There were some examples of heroism for sure, particularly as these firms empowered employees to deliver on CX in spaces directly impacted by the pandemic – think of all the interactions fraught with real customer distress and anxiety in industries like healthcare and financial services during a global public health and humanitarian crisis.

We’re now seeing a lot of consolidation in the space, and while we expect the usual “just buy more call center” attitude from some, I am hearing that we may see some actual consolidation across the IT services / CX services space. Does this make sense to you?  I thought the IT services firms were eager to offload their call ctr business in the past?

Yes, many IT services firms were eager to offload or de-emphasize these capabilities in the past due to their reputation as low-margin services anchored by labor arbitrage and mired in low-value interactions.  But now, there’s a paradigm shift reversing this trend.   As enterprises increasingly adopt a OneOffice mindset, barriers are breaking down between IT and business with ‘experience’ as a common goal.  The leading and most serious CX services firms have known for a long while that having a holistic and technology-enabled capability including design, software development, etc. is required to have a value proposition beyond commoditized contact center services, even if it meant cannibalization of traditional business process revenues.  Providers' investment and focus have been very real and largely organic, but adoption from clients is still tepid – and it’s very hard for these firms to differentiate when literally each of them has a flavor of "digital contact center" offering.   Close to 3/4 of the 50+ enterprises we spoke to as references for this study said they are not using their CX service provider for any technology or innovative solutions, opting for pure operations delivery.  One CX executive put it well: “It’s not that the CX partners don’t have the capabilities, it’s that the enterprises are not open to using them.  The number one problem is perception… I can’t convince my CTO to look at (a CX services provider) the same way she looks at a technology services provider or vendor.”

So, as much as we’ve seen some IT services firms bulking up their CX capability for a more holistic value proposition, I think we’ll see it happening on the other side too with the serious CX services firms buying their way into the IT side of the house -- for example, Telus International’s acquisition of IT services firm Xavient.  These kinds of moves will help to bridge both the perception and capability gap.

In your view, Melissa, what should CX leaders do to be effective in this hybrid work / business environment?

Firstly, have a relentless and continuously evolving focus on EX.  The top providers know very well how important EX is to delivering quality CX services.  The required expertise will inevitably change hybrid remote and WFH emerges, and as automation and self-service continue to take a bigger piece of the customer interaction pie.  Well-designed CX and well-trained customer service agents are always going to be a part of the equation.  Plus, the labor market is changing.  There are pockets of staffing shortages, employee expectations have shifted, and gig work is going to be an even bigger part of the workforce of the future; all this demands an ongoing re-evaluation of how to recruit, onboard, train, retain and motivate people.

My second piece of advice is related to the first because people today care a lot about the values and philosophy of the companies they choose to work for.  “Profit with a purpose” is becoming a mantra in our business environment, and it’s more than paying lip service to ‘feel good’ causes; so be very clear about what you stand for as a firm and take bold action to ensure you live these values. CX Services providers traditionally have awesome CSR programs that involve employees from the bottom-up; allowing employees to choose what programs to donate time and money to has been a staple of the top providers' strategy to attract and retain talent.  But this is becoming a bigger part of retaining and winning new business also.  CX buyers have always cared about how their partners approached ESG efforts but are now devising ways to measure and assess potential providers in the RFP process.  Diversity and inclusion are at the very top of the list, and sustainability is catching up.  We saw some awesome examples of how CX services companies and clients are partnering to jointly address ESG initiatives.   Bottom line, CX executives will not buy from firms that don't share their core values beyond revenues and profit, and act upon them.

Click here to access the full report:  HFS Top 10: CX Services in the Pandemic Economy—The Best of the Best Service Providers

Sitel buys SYKES. Now a CX juggernaut triumvirate emerges with Teleperformance and Concentrix
June 22, 2021 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen any major consolidation in the contact center BPO top ten providers with Concentrix acquiring Convergys, but last week Sitel made it clear that large contact center acquisitions are still in vogue by announcing its intention to buy peer SYKES.  

As for the $2.2b price tag, Sitel now expects to generate $4b in revenues from the combined entity.  The combined revenues will be biting at the heels of their next-largest competitor, Concentrix, which is second only in revenue and scale to contact center BPO giant Teleperformance. In 2020 SYKES revenues grew 6%, whereas Sitel’s grew 18%.  With this acquisition, Sitel jumps ahead of the now 4th largest competitor, TTEC:

WFH leadership is the significant boost behind SYKES’ appeal

SYKES has arguably been the work-from-home (WFH) contact center leader since pre-pandemic days, with the foundation of its 2012 Alpine Access pure-play home-based contact center acquisition.  Since, SYKES has further developed this core capability into a very sophisticated recruiting, onboarding, training and collaboration platform – fully virtual.  The long-standing WFH expertise and the capability of its OneTEAM platform enabled a successful shift to remote in early 2020 and continues to be one of SYKES’ major differentiators. 

With 40% of staff expected to be working from home across Global 2000 organizations over the next year (see below), having the broadest geographic experience and depth will surely align the merged entity with the strategic resourcing desires of many leading customers.  If Newco leads with WFH, customers will surely entrust more with them.

 

In addition to the WFH and tech capabilities, SYKES offers an attractive and complementary geographic footprint, including a European multilingual hub with delivery out of Egypt.

SYKES brings the only scaled-up global automation services capability that could position Newco at the heart of OneOffice

Its other key capability, which we touted as the first real automation investment by a contact center in 2018 is the RPA strategy and implementation capability of Symphony ventures.  While the Symphony resources have largely been held together by SYKES, the firm declined to embrace automation into its core value proposition and failed to excite the market by rebranding this unique capability as the bland “SYKES Digital Services” last year.  If Sitel can embrace automation to drive front-to-back processes and a OneOffice mindset for its clients, it’s not too late to revitalize the former Symphony team to create a genuine edge for itself in the market.

In a OneOffice organization (see Exhibit 4), automation becomes a native competency, where human performance is augmented by unleashing creativity and personal interaction, where the immediacy of data creates insights to support decision-making that can make or break the firm. The only true way to create a OneOffice experience is to be able to integrate the front office processes and interactive technologies (most of which are embedded in the call center) with the operations of the organization:

OneOffice is where teams function autonomously across front, middle and back-office functions to promote broader processes with real-time data flows that support rapid decision making. It’s where front, middle and back offices will cease to exist, as they will be, simply, OneOffice.  Sitel+SYKES has a unique opportunity to consult to enterprises to make these front-to-back connections and weaves these capabilities into their managed services offerings.  The merged entity can offer real expertise to provide automated processes as-a-service and help their clients through the journey.

Bottom line:  While scaling up to compete with Teleperformance and Concentrix is clearly the game-plan, Sitel/SYKES needs to focus on the value of the parts and integrate at speed

Sitel is virtually unrecognizable from the firm it was six years ago.  A debt restructuring plan following its sale to French conglomerate Groupe Acticall was completed in 2018, opening up the firm to footprint expansion, digital investments, and a major rebrand which unified the company and all of its complementary assets.   Sitel has recently made major investments in growth. Its design thinking and discipline organically, including hiring design experts and developing its MaxHub and EXP + model. 

This latest major announcement sets in stone the firm’s intentions to be a leader in this global, remote, and increasingly digital contact center market. Now speed is of the essence to integrate the two firms, and we can expect an aggressive competitive response to this.  Sitel and Concentrix were widely rumored to have come close to a merger, and neither top two firms will stand still and take this new competitive threat lightly.  There are several mid-tier CX providers which will struggle to maintain growth in the coming short-medium term, and we will be surprised if we do not see some more large-scale CX services mergers over the next 6-12 months.

Unleashing cultural innovation is dictating the emerging work environment
June 19, 2021 | Melissa O'BrienPhil Fersht

Not only is a clearer picture of the “future of work” emerging in today's new reality, but its very nature is also changing day-by-day. In short, no one can paint an accurate picture of what the emerging work environment will eventually look like, but we can develop scenarios to understand how this will play out in the coming months and years.  What is clear is enterprises are grappling with the need to drive unprecedented innovation in a work-from-home culture, and are figuring out how to arrive at a more predictable, acceptable, and effective work culture as we look beyond this pandemic era. Developing a work-from-home capability is the table-stake to survive in today's environment, but innovation will only thrive in a hybrid work environment where people can inspire and motivate each other.

There is only so much you can achieve remotely – the smart way forward is a hybrid work model

We've talked to hundreds of executives over the past year, and they all complain about the same thing - they are managing an almost unmanageable amount of internal meetings over video calls, simply to keep the wheels on basic task management and accountability.  Simply put, it's becoming increasingly complex and awkward to run business operations in a remote model where training is a huge challenge, where motivating people is almost impossible, where getting beyond the basics of keeping activities functioning is a huge challenge.  Communicating, collaborating, idea-sharing, white-boarding, etc are critical for taking businesses forwards and driving real innovation.  They are also critical for helping employees become comfortable with change, to be comfortable with automating mundane elements of their jobs, and to become adept at embracing ways of accessing the data needed to exploit market opportunities. 

With industry lines blurring, supply chains fragmenting and new opportunities and challenges springing up at a breathtaking pace, the time to bring people back together is fast-arriving, and so many enterprise leaders are now seeing this in spades.

Embedding digital fluency into your workforce is paramount to drive a truly cloud-enabled business architecture

The clearest barometer that shows the major changes facing Global 2000 enterprises over the next 12-18 months are the clear priorities to develop “Digitally Fluent” workforces to be best equipped to function effectively in the cloud. 

Digital Fluency describes the ability to drive the seamless interplay between business and technology:

  • Ability to translate the understanding of digital tools to create new ways to serve customers’ needs and drive value;
  • Ability to consider how digital technology will impact every aspect, every functional area of the organization;
  • Ability to examine the organization’s business model, strategy, and operations in the context of digital technology.

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While the magic number from the new HFS Pulse study of 800 Global 2000 indicates that 60% of staff will return to the office over the next year, we must recognize that this is not a static

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Getting chatbot fatigue? Then upgrade to digital associates...
April 17, 2021 | Melissa O'BrienPhil Fersht

Let's cut to the chase folks... chatbots have struggled to gain much of a foothold in the corporate tech innovation stack.  However, our analyst Melissa O'Brien has spent the last few years studying how these engagement technologies are evolving deeper into the enterprise where they can truly augment staff and reduce a significant amount of their time, while driving a whole new digital way of engaging for both employees and customers... from the back office right through to the front. So let's take a look at which services firms are getting good at creating these digital associate workers for enterprises...

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Melissa, we've been observing the evolution of "conversation AI" for a good decade-plus now, so what's new?  has the pandemic driven more uptake?

The demand for conversational AI has exploded over the last year.  The automation tools we call digital associates were one of the digital superheroes of the pandemic, as conversational tools picked up the slack in handling volumes of interactions when human associates were not available due to a lack of work-from-home preparedness. Reduction in staff coupled with spike in volumes of interactions in many industries such as ecommerce created a burning platform. For many companies, this rapid and massive disruption resulted in accelerating digital

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The 9-to-5 job is officially dead... Work-from-Anywhere becomes our new reality
February 18, 2021 | Melissa O'BrienPhil Fersht

With companies the size and stature of Aetna, Amazon, Nationwide Insurance, Microsoft, and Unilever committing to the hybrid work model well beyond Covid-19, where home working is encouraged, you know a seismic shift to the corporate work culture is firmly underway.  Simply put, most firms are enjoying the lesser reliance on expensive corporate real estate, combined with the novel environment to design and automate processes in a cloud model – because there is simply no choice but to embrace digital head-on if they are to survive.

The true benefits of digital are all about scaling your business at a speed and cost-efficiency that keeps you ahead of your customers’ needs.  It’s all been about breaking the cycle where you had to keep adding people to ensure growth – for today and tomorrow, it's about doing more business from the same (or less) resources. 

OneOffice is the mindset to put real digital transformation into action, and there has never been a burning platform like the Work-From-Anywhere (WFA) revolution to force this change

Some of the world’s largest enterprises still have up to 100% staff working from home and have managed as a remote workforce for a year now.  A recent HFS study of 400 Global 2000 enterprises reveals that barely more than a third of enterprises intend to return to an office-based corporate model:

Office-based environments will never return to pre-COVID levels: We will have a significant Work-from-Anywhere workforce

 

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It is very unlikely that most enterprises will return to full-time office work, and the ramifications are plentiful and we evolve into Work-from-Anywhere

This is a complicated puzzle to solve, especially for large enterprises with a wide breadth of business functions and roles.  This essentially leaves us with four pivotal questions to answer:

  • The 9-5 workday is dead, but what does the new workday (and workforce) actually look like?
  • How can businesses prevent burnout while ensuring productivity at the same time?
  • How can workers adapt their skillsets that will stand them in good stead in this emerging environment?
  • And how do they ensure employee satisfaction while making the right decisions for security and business stability?

The new mentality is all about measuring outcomes from getting work done, as opposed to the inputs of resourcing for work

The nature of work is fundamentally changing, and if companies manage this shift effectively, it will change the work environment for the better for ambitious enterprises.  What’s needed is a solid grasp on what the long-term pivot to a ‘work from anywhere’ means to businesses, and a plan to make the remote workforce a part of the Digital OneOffice mindset.   Ideally, these changes switch the mentality to an outcomes-focused model where all that really matters is that work gets done and customers and employees are satisfied, regardless of where either is physically located.

The why, the what, and the how of Work From Anywhere in 2021... and beyond

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HFS Vision 2025 is here: The New Dawn to become a OneOffice Organization
December 07, 2020 | Phil FershtReetika FlemingMelissa O'BrienTom ReunerSaurabh GuptaElena ChristopherSarah Little

Without a Virtual OneOffice Organization, you won’t survive this Pandemic Economy
August 30, 2020 | Phil FershtMelissa O'BrienSarah Little

OneOffice is no longer a pipedream – almost overnight it has become a “have-to-have” business environment to operate and compete effectively in this virtual Pandemic Economy.  There is no waiting around for things to revert to the analogous way we used to run things in 2019.  Especially when new HFS data shows only 37% of the Global 2000 intends to revert back to the same office-based environment in the future.  If you can survive on a third of your client base in the future then good luck to you!

Creating a true OneOffice experience is the very foundation of operating as a digital or virtual organization, where there are no stovepipes, no silos, no breakpoints that prevent processes functioning end-to-end, and data to flow freely across the organization.  A virtual OneOffice experience will give you a huge chance of thriving in this new reality, provided you have figured out how you are pivoting your business.

Digital is the only language operations now understand

OneOffice is where automation becomes a native competency, where human performance is augmented by unleashing creativity and personal interaction, where the immediacy of data creates insights to support decision-making that can make or break the firm. In fact, if you can’t operate your organization as one integrated unit where data flows freely back and forth across your process chains from your customers to your employees, from your front office to what you used to call your back office, then you probably won’t survive much longer in today’s brutal Pandemic Economy, where digital is the only language operations now understand.

 

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The Virtual OneOffice Organization is the foundation of the virtual workforce that encompasses both physical and digital entities

Our Virtual OneOffice Experience is the foundation of the ‘virtual workforce,’ where automation tools augment the employee’s digital capabilities and the workplace becomes a “plug-and-play,” work-from-anywhere scenario . It is all about creating touchless, frictionless digital experiences and connecting the front and back offices to facilitate them within a virtual setting.

Increasingly important to HFS’s OneOffice Experience is that any business strategy must align and equally consider both employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX). Even more so in this virtual environment, the lines blur between who the customer is and who is servicing the customer. Leaders need to focus on the positives they will glean from this Paradigm Economy by putting customers’ needs at the core of their strategy.

Focus on human experiences to unleash people and drive business results

There is an evolution of thinking about experiences underway, from the traditional thinking in siloes --- customer, partner, and employee --- to a more holistic human experience-focused strategy. Based on the premise that human connections generate satisfaction and loyalty, aligning the goals and experiences across all of your company’s stakeholders will serve to create an impact on business growth and success.

OneOffice Experiences require EX and CX alignment to elevate the human experience

While the concept of ‘CX’ has had most of the fanfare in recent years, your employee experience is just as important and inherently tied to CX (whether or not you’ve made efforts to align them.)  The HFS Virtual OneOffice Experience is all about how customer, partner and employee experiences are coming together to drive a unified mindset, goals and business outcomes.  Organizations need to ensure they find the right balance of optimizing the use of emerging technology with a robust business case to improve CX to the long-term benefit of the business.  This means getting the right information flows in place, eliciting strategic advantage and ensuring exceptional CX to drive loyalty and growth.  The OneOffice approach centers on the optimization of the all human experiences involved in an enterprise ecosystem and in improving the use of technology in support of these experiences.

The more connected workers are to their organization and its values, the more empowered they are to support customer and partner experience

The OneOffice approach has become even more important as companies navigate these new virtual workplace experiences with blended physical and virtual environments. Technology change agents that augment and support people can be the glue that connects employee and customer experience, by making data and insights easier to access and decisions easier to make.   When so many decisions are made based on emotion, it's critical to ensure that people have the best data and information aligned to the shared values to support decision making.   The more connected workers are to their organization and its values, the more empowered they are to support customer and partner experience. 

The Bottom Line:  OneOffice is first about your talent and your business model.   Then it's about how successfully you deploy digital technologies to make it all happen

OneOffice illustrates what true digital transformation is all about – pivoting your business model around your customer’s needs (and anticipated needs) and ensuring your whole organization designs its processes right across the operations to achieve these goals with your staff motivated by the common outcomes. This means making similar investments and priorities to ensure your employees are as engaged digitally with your organization and your customers.  You can't get away just focusing on an exemplary customer digital experiences if your employees are not embedded into the same experience.

OneOffice is not just about improving engagement and productivity, but fundamentally about ‘unleashing people,’ and enabling passion and creativity for a new world of work where different skills are required.  At HFS we have categorized these skills into the following:

Being a Virtual OneOffice Organizaton will give you a huge chance of thriving in this new reality.  It's about pivoting your desired business model around your people an bringing them all together with your customers and partners in one virtual environment.  

Digital Associates finally have their flaming platform
April 12, 2020 | Melissa O'BrienEmily CoatesPhil Fersht

Sometimes platforms smolder, sometimes they burn, and sometimes they even rage with flames... and one example that's genuinely flaming in this current paradigm shift is the world of chatbots and their more sophisticated cousins, Digital Associates.  With this urgent need to augment customer-facing services with the locking down of call centers and corporate offices across the world (or even just keep them functioning at all), to keep IT help desks operating, or even internal needs such as basic finance,  procurement HR and payroll services, the opportunity to have digital "workers" with whom to engage is in high, high demand.

Our analysts Melissa O'Brien and Emily Coates have released introduced our first Digital Associates top ten products report, which ranks and analyzes 13 of the leading tools on the market for creating these conversational tools we call digital associates.  

Melissa, which products have the capabilities to develop really effective digital associates, and quickly? 

Our recent report analyzed voice of the customer feedback on the most important elements of enterprise products and platforms for developing digital associates, from functionality to the ability to embed intelligence. The 13 software products we have included in this study highlight the vendors that play in the three most important ecosystems for digital associates: developer tools and platforms, enterprise products, and niche products:

I am assuming, in today’s environment, ease of deployment trumps intelligence?

At this moment, the most important element for digital associates is the ease of use and relative ability to get up and running quickly. Google’s Dialogflow scored at the top overall and also is #1 for ease of use and functionality.  Our VOC survey respondents indicated that the ease of implementation was a major strength for Dialogflow and its “out of the box” capabilities that are able to be quickly plugged into communication channels like Slack and Twitter.  Runners-up for ease of use were Conversable and IBM Watson, where pre-trained modules and solid UI make it easier for users to stand up the DA’s in shorter amounts of time.

The pandemic will drive adoption of digital associates in the short term, and enable a greater acceptance of them as communication tools as part of business strategy in the future

Since the outbreak, there have been a plethora of chatbots that stood up in varied use cases.   Perhaps the most felicitous ones we’ve seen have been the Coronavirus ‘self-checker’ bots created, which are actively in use in chat functions by major health organizations.  We’ve also heard of digital associates being deployed by HR departments to run through work from home ‘checklists’ with employees.  And as the rush to work from home begins to stabilize, we’ve also been hearing a lot more about customer-facing bots being deployed for contact deflection in customer service functions.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll continue to see companies of all shapes and sizes rustle up some digital bandaids to throw on a very big wound.  At some point when the dust settles and a new normal emerges, companies will be re-assessing and designing everything from their customer engagement models to BCPs to internal processes.  And that’s when it will become clear that a digital-first approach is likely the easiest, most sustainable and least “disrupt-able” approach for many processes and communications.

And, it’s also the time that the ease of use for digital associates will become hygiene and digital associates tools will need to be agile and intelligent. This is where vendors’ investments in creating digital associates tools that can adapt quickly, learn and apply more advanced techniques like sentiment detection.  A standout in the innovation category is IPsoft, which ranked at the top across the board all innovation categories of embedding intelligence, scalability, and flexibility.  Dialogflow is well poised to rise to the challenge as well, with powerful abilities for modeling large and complex flows using intents and contexts.

The Bottom Line:  A ‘digital first’ approach could become the post-pandemic new normal.  The tools that are being quickly developed now need the potential to become more intelligent.

As companies start to move out of survival mode, we will start to see a much more strategic use of emerging technology.  People need to start thinking in new ways – not just about today’s problems at hand – but also about responding to future disruptive events in a way that uses important technological tools like digital associates in effective ways.

HFS Research premium subscribers click here to download your copy of the Digital Associates top ten products report

Genpact gets Right to the Point to bring the front and back office together... as OneOffice
October 20, 2019 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

Did you hear the one about the GE finance captive spinoff which ended up as a Top 6 AI Services firm before making a bold move into the front office with the acquisition of the respected Right Point Group?  And did you hear it broke into the world of digital service capability without ever succumbing to the delights of acquiring an IT services shop?  Welcome to Genpact, folks, the former BPO firm which has been breaking the mold of business services for the past two decades.

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This is a serious digital acquisition that brings Genpact right into the customer paradigm

Genpact has been slowly but steadily building thought leadership and capabilities around “experience innovation” over the last few years.  Genpact’s 2017 acquisition of Design Thinking consulting firm TandemSeven was its first demonstration of the firm’s appetite to develop a OneOffice capability, aiming to move beyond its back office roots and help its clients develop more holistic experiences.  It has now announced an agreement to acquire digital consultancy Rightpoint, with a focus on digital transformation, with capabilities for CX, commerce, and mobile application development.  

A highlight of the acquisition and one of Rightpoint’s most distinctive features is its expertise for designing and implementing digital workplaces – its work with Aon, for example, demonstrates Rightpoint’s capability to reimagine the workplace.  This is such an important element that many companies need help with, as they struggle to connect experiences across the organization and align to the customer. 

While TandemSeven gave the firm a flavoring of customer experience design, the sheer size and scale and depth digital tech implementation across North America puts Genpact right on the digital map, with a unique value proposition of leading with process transformation, enabled by AI and digital capability where we can expect a significant jump from its current position, which we assessed earlier this year in our 2019 Design, Sales and Marketing Services Top Ten report.  Genpact landed at #14 in the rankings, largely as it just begun developing

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Fishing for digital dominance... meet Brian
April 11, 2019 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

Brian Whipple, CEO Accenture Interactive, describes the evolution of the world’s premier experience agency

The term “digital” has become overused, diluted and - in many ways - rendered useless.  After all in 2019, what ISN’T digital, and what’s the point in distinguishing? We have instead moved to a world that’s comprised of integrated and immersive experiences – as consumers, or as patients, as employees, etc – experiences that shape our buying habits and our quality of life. The recent announcement of Accenture's acquisition Droga5 has raised the stakes of creating immersive customer experiences to a whole new level (read our POV here). 

Companies that are really seeking to align themselves to experiences need to break down their silos and better understand what their customers want... and really execute on that.  We caught up with Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive’s CEO (and recent winner of an HFS Disruptive Award), to learn how his firm’s massive acquisition appetite has helped build a company embracing an entirely new philosophy, helping its clients align to customer needs in the post-digital world.  Accenture is integrating technology, design, commerce and content to help clients develop “living” experiences that meet customer needs today and are ready to evolve in the future – requiring a wide breadth of talent, expertise and even cultures within cultures to deliver on those experiences.  The bits and pieces that have come together at Accenture Interactive over the last several years, most recently with Droga5, are all adding up to Accenture’s mission to “create the greatest customer experiences on the planet for our clients.”

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: Can you talk to us a little bit about how digital came to be, and how Accenture Interactive came in to the space? Because you were really the first of the service providers to coin the "Digital" phrase, and really put it together, industrialize it, etc. Could you give us a brief history about how it came to be, how it got started, and what the original philosophy was, and how that may have changed in the last five or six years?

Brian: Sure. There are three distinct phases to date, for Accenture Interactive. The original philosophy was that the world needed digital diagnostic tools that work in the arena of digital marketing; things like online campaign optimizers, A/B testing it, “I’m going to present offer A, with this creative treatment online, and I’ll test it against offer B,” or, “I’ll move it on a placement

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