Customer is (still) king

Written by: Steve Falla Posted: 15/02/2021

BLDigital_customer kingWhat were once dismissed as science-fiction-style developments in technology are fast becoming a reality, as business embraces digitalisation. but one thing remains unmoved – customer interaction continues to be the driving force

For many individuals, the adoption of new technology forced on all of us by the pandemic period was something of a foray into the unknown. But it worked, and some aspects of customer behaviour have been changed forever.

Consequently, the horizon for the further digitalisation of mundane tasks and processes has moved closer, and businesses are emboldened in their pursuit of automation – with some developments that once seemed futuristic now firmly within reach.

The Channel Islands’ concentration on financial services has always been relationship-driven and people-focused. So it’s understandable that financial institutions are beginning to think of ways in which they can maintain this characteristic while also adopting the benefits presented by technology and using their people more effectively. 

And organisations across the business spectrum are beginning to appreciate some of the possibilities that are opening up through the use of artificial intelligence and big data.

The banks are here to stay

For some years, there has been a shift away from traditional forms of payment towards digital transactions, both for consumers and businesses. But this is not expected to signal the end of the banking industry.

The US retail sector reported a 150% rise in contactless payments in the 12 months to March 2020. And the business-to-business sector is seeing a similar shift towards electronic payments, says Ove Svejstrup, Associate Partner at EY. But in 2019, cash was still used for 23% of all payments, according to UK Finance.

“It’s a moving scale. What I think you will see is that when people see the efficiency, they will not go back, and the security you can build into your payments is another reason to continue,” Svejstrup says. 

Simeon Moss, Director at Deloitte, agrees that the direction of travel is clear, and ‘payments’ remain one of the most dynamic and innovative areas in banking. 

However, he also highlights reasons why banks are still some way from being fully automated. 

“There are still vulnerable customers in the market who will need to be serviced,” he says. “And, looking at that from meeting financial inclusion objectives, there’s still consideration that in order for all these other payment means to disappear, there also needs to be full digital inclusion.”

Tech vs jobs

If you believe everything you read in the news, advances in technology will mean that many of today’s jobs will not exist by 2030.

However, any impact on jobs will be a phased process and, in any case, it’s unlikely that a world in which systems augment what humans are doing will completely remove human roles. Instead, it will result in new job roles emerging.

BLDigital_customer king2Ben Sykes, Head of Global Liquidity and Cash Management at HSBC, says: “Technology is not the end result, it’s a tool that enables you to have better conversations with your clients, and your clients to have better conversations with you. So, for me, it’s an enabler; it’s not there to diminish that experience, it’s there to enhance it.

“What that means in reality is that you are able to spend more time discussing topics that can create value for you and your clients rather than spend time on more mundane routine tasks.”

That value will, in part, come from finding more creative ways to communicate, according to Shaun Lane, Business Solutions Architect at Resolution IT.

“There’s never going to be a replacement for human contact. Even in the technology business itself, the way you interact with clients is core for the business,” he says. 

“But there are creative ways forward and, with reducing human contact, industry needs to focus on delivering a great experience, perhaps through technology and web apps. Creative ways of working have had to emerge this year.”

Augmenting human contact

An example of this is TrueVoice, a proprietary product developed by Deloitte. It analyses conversations with clients to identify characteristics such as risk, tone of voice and the emotional journey of a dialogue.

“It not only looks at the sentiment of what’s been said between a call agent and the end customer, it also uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to draw out opportunities for organisations, identifying new things that customers are starting to talk about,” explains Moss. 

“It can enhance how agents are engaging with customers and help support their training and quality – so it really augments what humans do, to improve how they work and how they operate.”

“While cloud-enabled digital workers are becoming part of the workforce – for example, through Deloitte’s Dara platform – all of these innovations are creating new opportunities, new jobs for people to operate them, programme them and embed them into the business.

"So I don’t think it’s as much of a doom and gloom scenario as was originally thought when these technologies started to emerge.”

Moss points out that chatbots and AI can take care of straightforward processes and that consumers appear happy to converse in this way, as long as the exchange is simple, easy and accurate. 

However, it is important that organisations continue to offer customers the option of speaking to a human being. Managing new digital risks and enabling trust will be key to this success.

Time to scale up

It is well documented that businesses in the Channel Islands are committed to harnessing digital technology for the good of business – but how will they accelerate further change?

Moss is quite clear. “Organisations need to recognise where they are starting from. Some are just in pilot mode at the minute, dipping their toes into digitisation; others are looking at how they need to scale up and build on what they have already got.

“To accelerate it, there’s got to be recognition that things need to be elevated to the board level. At Deloitte, we see digital transformation as future-proofing business and, as such, supporting technology decisions needed to underpin strategy. 

“Boards need to adapt and build digital awareness to drive the pace of change with what’s required. Generally, the organisation needs to start to adopt an innovation mindset, moving into agile ways of operating and managing change programmes.

“And then there will be a move to customer- or human-centric design. So where organisations are designing digital processes, they need to do that not only with the end customer in mind but also their employees, by delivering a range of human-based experiences.”

Sykes is optimistic. “I think, in terms of technological adoption and evolution longer term, that’s here to stay,” he says. “The use of big data overlaying machine learning, and AI on top of that, will help to produce insights at a faster rate than what we have historically been able to achieve. 

“You can’t just have technology for technology’s sake, you have to be trying to solve a business problem or a problem for society at large.”

Test bed islands

The size and scale of the islands could be key to them leading the way with forward-thinking developments, says Lane. “We are the perfect test bed for innovation. We have small communities over here with a lot of opportunity for diversity. 

“For example, in Sweden and Holland they are trialling the idea of charging roads for electric cars – that’s the kind of thing Guernsey and Jersey could really take value of. We could be a test bed for all sorts of innovations.”

BLDigital_customer king3Svejstrup favours a holistic approach. “It starts with the vision of the Channel Islands being best-in-class in tech and digital. Then we should focus on upskilling but also including digital in the education curriculums, because then you have a really good foundation for the next generation. 

“If the US set out that mission, I’m sure that business would follow and make the necessary investment.”

Advances in digital technology are bringing what might have in the past been considered mind-boggling futuristic concepts closer to reality, and exciting innovations are emerging as a result.

Moss highlights DNA digital storage, the process of encoding and decoding binary data to and from synthesised strands of DNA. 

“It is still in its infancy and very high cost with slow read-right responses at the moment. However, there’s an exponential growth of data being produced on a second-by-second basis. The more digital we get, the more data there’s going to be out there,” he says.

Novel insights

Sykes also sees the potential in data: “Increasingly, data used appropriately will enable us to make novel insights that we hadn’t previously considered or didn’t have the capacity to analyse because the data was so large. I think that’s going to be quite important.”

Lane, too, is enthusiastic about how future business might look. “Technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality is not new and has traditionally been used in the gaming world,” he says, “but it’s coming on in leaps and bounds and I’m seeing more and more use cases for it. 

“There’s a Microsoft proof of concept product known as HoloLens, where you put on some glasses and, for example, you are fixing a car engine or a plane engine and you look at that engine and a diagnostic diagram pops up in your peripheral vision – being able to see live data right in front of you as your hands are in your work.”

The workplace is changing as digitalisation and technology are harnessed to take on some of the heavy lifting – and it is clear that Channel Islands businesses are poised to take full advantage. 

• This feature was first published in the Digital Edition of Businesslife in December 2020

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