How will Covid-19 change the way we interact with businesses?

As we start to think about what the world will look like after Covid-19, I thought it could be a good time to chat to Nick Hopkins. He helps businesses develop communication strategies through services like contact centres and chatbots.

The need for clear communication between business and customer has perhaps never been more important. Nick shares some interesting thoughts about what the immediate impact of Covid-19 has been and how this will transform the way businesses try to communicate in the future.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I work for a company called TTEC. They’re NASDAQ listed and have been in business for about 40 years through a couple of iterations. Starting as a call centre outsourcing business, TTEC has evolved to become a leading digital customer experience technology and services company focused on the design, implementation and delivery of transformative solutions for many of the world’s most iconic and disruptive brands. There are now more than 45,000 employees globally. 

I’m the Director of Sales Consulting in the digital space. This covers anything from chatbots through to Cisco-based solutions and voice biometrics. I’m traditionally a telco guy, but I started working for Nuance in speech recognition about 4 years ago. Then I moved to TTEC in August last year. 

What are some of the changes you’ve seen over the last few years?

Broadly, there’s been a huge shift in digitising everything. But before the Covid-19 situation, the biggest change I’d seen in the last year is businesses beginning to understand that people are still important. 

Digital first isn’t always the right solution and customers don’t always respond to it well. You’ve got to think of the customer first. What channel is best for them? Then build your business case out from that insight, or that driver. 

The drive to digital is still really strong, but people are starting to see that it’s not just about saving money. It’s about improving customer experience. If you looked at it 2 years ago, it was all under the guise of customer experience, but it was actually a money saving exercise.

So, businesses are starting to talk about how they can have a genuine omni-channel solution where the customer can enter and leave whatever way they want. This is actually very difficult to do.

How has the current situation with Covid-19 impacted this?

The first thing many businesses moved to do was get back onshore. Because the US has a strong ‘at home’ mentality anyway, they’ve just shifted from the bricks and mortar to a work from home method. In Australia it’s actually been much more challenging. You’ve got all these contact centres that do a great job, but they’ve been shut down overnight. 

I think from a brand point of view, bringing things back onshore is a good message when many people locally don’t have work. Some businesses have restarted contact centres that are offering 500-1,000 jobs. That’s a good story and it’s the right thing to do. 

So, these businesses will get a big tick from customers and potential customers. Is it sustainable when they look at it from a profit and loss perspective against offshore solutions? I’m not so sure. They can’t stand up a long-term strategy paying western wages for contact centre employees. It can only be a sustainable model if your customers are willing to pay for it.

Do you think this will influence the take up of bot technologies?

Bot technologies are where businesses will come to next. It’s where CEOs and CFOs are going to change their plans. There are those memes going around right now – Why did my business transform digitally? CEO, CFO or Covid-19. 

There will be a general directive that businesses need to digitise in this way. Businesses that have been stuck in the mud, and don’t have a locked in chatbot solution, will look to get on-board and change dramatically in a 3-6 month period. From a vendor point of view, I think it’s a good thing because a lot of companies have looked to do this work themselves and they’ve done it with limited success. I think CEOs and CFOs will go, ‘We need this done now. Go to tender and find who the best provider is for our business.’

What I love about chatbots is the science. Conversational flow isn’t just something you can create because you think it’s good from a product management point of view. The way conversation scientists create these conversations is fundamentally different to the way other people do. Their time to market is also considerably less. This will be a big thing for us looking forward. There will be a drive to digital where people have previously failed. Where we’ve seen contact centres fall over, there will be a question about what can be digitised immediately to remedy the situation. The other challenge will be how you authenticate in these channels so people don’t need to be verified. 

So, we’re going to see loads of change. Anything asynchronous and anything in the bot space is going to be much more palatable in the next 3-6 months and the change is going to be that quick. 

What excites you about the future?

Major owners of businesses are going to be braver. They’re going to look at the last few months and say, ‘This has really shown some gaps in our business.’ They’ll then do a lot more to remedy these gaps through proof of concepts and test and learn. They’ll look to change and augment their business quickly.

They may not have all the people they need in their business now to do this. I think there will be a rush for talent, particularly in the high-end enterprise space where there will be a lot of project manager roles. For example, IT project managers will be like gold dust. Anyone who has worked on any kind of project in the chat or messaging space is going to be really desired.

The other thing we’ll see is the line between traditional retail and digital blur even more. Retail outlets will use digital channels in new ways. Chat and messaging will occur in stores to maximise opportunity. 

The telecommunications outlets in Australia and New Zealand are currently closed and their staff members have been retrained and reskilled into messaging agents. So the sales engines and service engines can continue. It’s great because they’ve got all this knowledge and they’re ready for work, so they can work from home. I think businesses will look at this and go, ‘This is actually quite a good model. Maybe we can employ people full time in a store, and they will augment the times when they’re quiet by assisting our support and sales teams in the digital space.’

If you would like to have a confidential discussion about strategies to find and hire the right people for the future, contact Phil Davis, Managing Director, Q Consulting Group.

Phone: 0404 803 609