In conversation with… Manoj Menon

Verint Team August 16, 2020

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Episode Transcript

Martyn Riddle: Hello and welcome to In Conversation With, a series of podcast from Verint, featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX, and customer engagement industry in the Asia Pacific region. During this series, we want to find out what customer service organizations are doing during these challenging times and try and discover what it is that drives the leaders in this space and what makes them tick. My name is Martyn Riddle. As well as being your host for this series, I am also Verint’s Vice President of Marketing for the region.

Today, we’re back up to Singapore once again. Our guest has been involved in the contact centre and CX industry for over two decades, helping set up the regional operations of one of the world’s most recognized research firms where he worked nearly 22 years. He enjoyed that experience so much the first time, he’s now doing it all again, setting up an innovative new age research think tank at the beginning of 2019. From Twimbit, it is my pleasure to welcome to the Verint podcast, the Founder and Managing Director, Manoj Menon. Manoj, welcome. I hope you’re keeping well.

Manoj Menon: Thank you very much, Martyn. Keeping very well and excited to join you in this session.

Martyn: That’s awesome. Hey, Manoj, across the APAC region, most countries are desperately fighting right now to get on top of the COVID situation. It looks like we’ve got to face the reality that this may well be the new normal for quite a time to come. What do you think this means in reality for the CX industry?

Manoj: See, the CX industry has never faced something like this ever before. I would dare to say that not a single company would have anticipated or prepared for a business continuity that needed 100% of their employees to work remotely. In most instances, these companies were not deemed as necessary services. When the lockdown happened, companies had to respond and with a very, very short period of time to enable a business continuity practice that they had never put into place.

I think business continuity has taken on a new meaning as a result of COVID-19. We need now a business continuity plan that could be always on even independent of the ability to hire customer service agents. We need business continuity to enable 100% potentially work from home environment for agents, and how can we do that in a safe, secure environment, a safe secure manner. I think that is the single biggest change. Now, there are a few other trends as well.

Number two, I believe it’s an incredible opportunity now to see what does work from home mean as a business model opportunity? If you are a BPO or you’re a large company, how do you leverage that? What does it mean in terms of leveraging, let’s say, a gig economy, talent to support delivering customer experience? The second major trend I see is work from home, and potentially, many companies will use the power of that to redefine the way they do business.

Third, nearshoring is gaining importance. We have already seen many of the companies in Australia talk about it. It is now becoming a global trend, that by increased use of AI and automation, we could potentially bring back some jobs, respective home markets. We can leverage technology to do that a lot better.

Fourth, we have seen the transition to digital happen, and it has accelerated in this environment. We are now beginning to say, “How do we measure digital engagement?” Because in the previous era, engagement was about getting off the call as quickly as possible. Now, it is about, “Hey, how long can I stay connected with the customer in a digital environment?” The entire metrics of how do you measure customer experience now changes completely. How do we align our teams, our organizations to support that?

The point is the emphasis on employee engagement simply because now, we are seeing disruption brought about by technology. That means the employees will have to move up to higher value-added solutions and jobs. We are seeing the employees work in a remote environment. They are challenged by the issues around trust, issues around, “How do I trust my agent? How does my company trust me? How does the outsourcer trust the company that is providing the service?” We have a whole set of gamut of issues that are coming in as a result of this employee engagement. How do we drive that? These are the five top issues that I see customer experience organizations or teams and divisions we’ll be dealing with. Their ability to deal with it will define their success in the coming decade.

Martyn: That’s a very comprehensive summary introduction. If I can, I wanted to try and drill in on some of those points later on. For now, as I mentioned in the introduction, you’ve got decades of experience in the industry and have witnessed firsthand the growth and the development of the region. With that in mind, I’d be interested to hear, Manoj, what you think organizations have done well so far during this crisis. On the other side of it, what do you think have been their biggest challenges?

Manoj: First up, as a response to COVID-19, particularly in Asia Pac, I must say I’m truly inspired by the way the governments in this part of the world. Southeast Asia, ASEAN, Australia, and New Zealand did extremely well in how they responded to the challenges posed by COVID-19. This setup contact centres build up capability and capacity with a very, very short response times to be able to support the needs of their citizens. I’ve seen that happen in Singapore. I’ve seen some incredible examples in Thailand and Malaysia. For me, the ability of a government to move quickly to mobilize resources, and this is something I don’t think even they planned for, having remote agents to support activities such as this. That was pretty good.

Second, as an analyst, the cloud wave is happening. It is happening across all application sets. It didn’t happen in the contact centre. Until earlier this year, we said, we found out every damn excuse in the world to say, “Cloud contact centres are not ready for the cloud.” Suddenly, “Oh, cloud is the way to go.” What took us so long, suddenly, now, is the new norm. We can now see so much of the ability, agility, ability to add new applications all come back in.

I think that’s a big, big plus point. We will see the pace of innovation in customer experience phase that I’ve spent all of two decades of my career is going to accelerate because of the ability to integrate new applications in a rapid manner onto our platforms. I think that is the second biggest trend that I see has happened. Then, people, I don’t know– We are beginning to use a lot more AI and other tools to automate and deliver services more efficiently.

Martyn: We’ll come back to the AI and machine learning shortly. Let’s go back to the digital thing, first of all. You touched on digital now a couple of times. We’ve seen some countries really accelerating their transition to digital engagement. Perhaps, we’re seeing it in some cases as a strategy to mitigate some of the resources and challenges brought about by the crisis. What are your thoughts in this? Do you think this is really the beginning of the end of the traditional contact centre agent?

Manoj: Definitely, the contact centre agent’s role is going to evolve dramatically, simply because many of the tasks that he or she was serving in the past is getting automated. This can be done by self-service. There will be a sense of urgency with which we need to migrate the jobs of the agent from the traditional jobs that he or she used to do to potentially more value-added jobs that demand empathy, that demand better contextualization.

As much as we say, “AI is dead,” I don’t think it’s going to that the– We’re going to replace the entire organization’s contact centre agents with AI overnight. This entire journey is going to– As human beings, our ability to visualize far exceeds our ability to execute. I think it’ll take us another 10 years for us to make that transition happen. Nevertheless, yes. Organizations will need to work aggressively to move their employees up the value chain in terms of newer set of services and capabilities that they need to provide. The interesting thing is the definition of customer experience itself has changed.

None of us are saying customer service anymore. Customer experience is a hugely different area. It encompasses one, end to end customer journeys. It encompasses end to end employee journeys. The moment we say that we have a gamut of things to take care of. The opportunities will be– We will see opportunities grow tenfold. The challenges will be how do we take our existing teams and train them, equip them to help them move up the value chain so that we can serve these services, we deliver these services a lot more effective.

Martyn: Now, you’ve touched on this a couple of times already. A key element of the effective digital engagement is the use of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and related technologies to go beyond that single dimension response. We’re also seeing the use of these technologies in some of the traditional contact centre applications such as workforce management and the like. How do you think this and, perhaps, the wider topic of automation, in general, will impact the industry and agent KPIs and metrics?

Manoj: I think it’s fascinating. For me, this is the single biggest area of focus and excitement in studying. What is the digital engagement score of success? I actually look up to the e-commerce companies. They have done everything digital, to begin with, and many of them did not even have contact centres where you could call in. It was 100% through digital chats, et cetera.

How do they measure? They measure success by saying, “For how long is the guy spending on my app? Why is he leaving my app? Why is he finding an excuse to get out of my app? He should stay inside my app.” They organize now live events and concerts so that people will spend more time on their app. You can see the entire paradigm has changed from how agent handling time has given away to a new paradigm of measure of success. What does that mean for the agent and how do we define that success journey?

If an agent is multitasking with multiple chats at the same time, how do we define that? How do we measure the response of the customer? I think truth be told, I’ve yet to see people have completely nailed it. Everybody’s struggling with it. I think therein lies the opportunity to define it. I’m excited that we can actually look up to some of the world’s best digital e-commerce companies who are setting up that paradigm for what this should be. We will learn. We learn a mix of the physical or the human and the digital coming together. That is eventually where the answer lies in terms of how we will drive this effectively.

Martyn: I think it’s fascinating to see many organizations where perhaps they’ve read the book on CX. Reading the book is one thing but acting on the book is perhaps a different matter.

Manoj: Yes. I’m totally inspired by many– I see now some companies redefine what it means agent experience. The other day I was talking to a leading outsourcing company from Australia and his definition of agent experience is, from the moment the agent has seen an advertisement, and the ability to work for us to the moment he joins us to his onboarding, to the training, to education, to his exit and to the alumni group that I maintain. Now you can see, what is the metric we were measuring earlier on and what is the metric we need to do?

Now, I am sure he’s far away from realizing the full potential of what he described but the fact that he’s talking about it is truly encouraging in how we are reimagining the entire employee journey. More importantly, cloud gives us the ability to integrate many different applications in a seamless manner. To make that vision a reality. It would have been impossible to architect such end to end customer journey in the past. When we had discrete systems we wouldn’t talk to each other that efficiently.

Martyn: I think another example of reimagining that thinking was displayed on episode one of this podcast when we have a chat with Lisa Kauppinen from IOOF. She took us through the journey they do at IOOF, where a single agent is now responsible for the entire case that comes through the contact centre. They don’t say take the front line response and pass it back to a back office. They are responsible for that case end to end management. In such an environment, of course, traditional metrics such as average handle time, do get thrown out of the window. It’s interesting to see how these different models are evolving as organizations really do become truly customer-centric.

Manoj: Yes. I think we are on day zero. [chuckles] We are on day zero in this journey. I believe, as I look around, I think that the financial institutions, the large banks of this world, the Asia’s largest banks, that is the big banks in Australia, the big banks in Singapore, they seem to be the one who are setting the benchmarks. If you visit the websites of some of these leading banks, they are now talking about customer journeys. They’re talking end to end customer journeys.

If you are on the website of DBS Bank, you will start your journey in terms of searching for a house potentially in their website. You don’t go to them after you’ve decided on which house to buy. They’re not a real estate agent but they are trying to catch you earlier on in the customer journey so that they can have a better engagement with you and then realize a better conversion and better ability to work with you throughout your entire journey of owning the home, enjoying the home and eventually paying off the loan.

Martyn: Absolutely, and we were lucky enough to speak to Kailash from DBS on this podcast a few episodes back and it was fascinating to hear his thoughts on how that’s evolved. A good opportunity here now to get your thoughts on the overall role of customer experience. Do you think that organizations still need to go that extra mile in a way they deliver service and respond to customers or perhaps the COVID situation that has meant that the expectations of general public have decreased and everyone’s got so much going on and new loads of stress? Do we really care that much about being treated with kid gloves anymore and we just want action? What are your thoughts on that area?

Manoj: I think customer experience has become a boardroom discussion today. You don’t have a choice. Simply because as customers, we are now experiencing world-class experiences driven by some of the world’s leading tech firms. It is highly personalized, highly intuitive, it is anticipatory. We as consumers are benchmarking everyday vis-à-vis with them, so you can’t run away. These big tech firms are slowly expanding their portfolio. They started out delivering one set of services, now, they are delivering a whole gamut of services. You look at the results of these companies in this last quarter, they are blowing away expectations, simply because the move to digital has helped them immensely.

Every single CEO, I would be– If I’m a CEO of a large company, I will be paranoid. If I am not discussing customer experience in every single board meeting, then I’m making a mistake. It should be. Now customer experience is not a product owners issue. It is the CEOs issue. If the CEO is not front and centre with customer experience, and he is not aligned with it, I think then he or she will not last in this job over the next 12 to 18 months because businesses are built around it and digital is the key enabler.

People asking, what is this digital transformation? The answer is customer experience real. That is the first thing that you do with digital transformation. Centre it around the customer and build it around the customer.

Martyn: Do you think there are any regional differences in that approach in the way perhaps an organization might evolve in Australia compared to Singapore or compared to India? Do you think there are differences across those different territories?

Manoj: Absolutely. I’m currently in the midst of doing a study trying to measure and see, who are Asia’s best customer experience organizations? To be able to do that, we studied a wide variety of metrics, and eventually, we landed on four key themes that we said we should study. One is, we should study the employee experience. How well is that company doing because there’s no doubt an engaged employee delivers great experience. What I see is many companies are outstanding in delivering customer service but I can tell you, they’re just terrible with employee experience. I’ve analyzed annual reports of now 120 companies across the region.

There are some companies in which they don’t talk about employees at all [chuckles] in their annual report. These are some very large, well-known brands. I fail to understand how can you deliver great experiences when you don’t have great– You can deliver service, you can set rules, and you can deliver great service, but you will not deliver experiences, you will not orchestrate experiences. That is number one and that is where we see some differences. I can definitely say that we get more empathy oriented as a structured framework coming from the likes and the countries such as Australia. I do think that Japan doesn’t talk enough about employee experience. While they deliver impeccable service, they don’t talk enough about employee experience. That’s one paradigm.

The second area we are measuring is on digital experience. How do you measure your digital engagement scores of success? The third area is on customer service. The fourth pillar, I think is an interesting one. I find that great companies that deliver great experience, always have a powerful brand story. What does the brand stand for because I think increasingly, we all connect with stories? If your company doesn’t connect with others on a story because a company was founded 100 years ago, and over a period of time, we have become very functional in the value we deliver.

Therefore, the connection with the customer on the story is not there. Look at all the great companies that we associate and say with great customer experience. They all have a powerful story to say. That connects an emotional call with us. Those are the differences I’ve seen from an employee standpoint, from a digital standpoint. We do see that likes of Singapore and Australia are doing extremely well from a transitioning to digital.

We see some great examples coming from India, but not very consistent across the board. The scalability is not there. I think Asia, in particular, has a lot to do. They are great when it comes to physical experiences and hospitality, et cetera but translating that into an effective scalable digital environment is something Asian firms, in particular, have to pay more attention to moving forward.

Martyn: We’re talking about different countries and usually, Manoj, you’re quite a well-travelled professional visiting clients right around the region. I’m wondering what impact COVID has had on you and what it’s meant for you personally.

Manoj: I started along with a few colleagues, we started Twimbit about 18 to now 20 months ago. Being a contact centre analyst very early on in my career, I was fascinated with how much customer experience itself is a great value proposition who change the way a customer perceives a particular value or a service.

All of Twimbit was founded on this particular premise. Our premise is, how can we bring joy in the consumption of research? Because research is usually boring, you fall asleep, you don’t consume it enough. So much research is produced but 90% of them lies in somebody’s computer, in some PC or some website. We are challenging that paradigm. How do we bring joy into it now? Fortunately, we are built on the fabric of digital. It has come at the right time and it has helped us position ourselves uniquely and benefit from it.

Yes, staying at home has helped us be more focused, not be distracted, otherwise, we’ll be running away from one event to one airport, to one city, and lose so much valuable time. We are now building a business which is 100% built from home business. We are building our culture and toss around it. It is helping us, I believe, it has been a good catalyst for us as a business.

On the personal side, I see that things are pretty bad now in India, in particular, we see the number of cases spiralling. A dear friend of mine lost his father, which is very sad, and we can sense, once we all ignore it, what I worry is we keep COVID as marketing material and everybody talks about COVID as marketing material. We take it too casually, only when it comes too close to you, that’s when we realize the pain. I think we are still under the six to eight months away from it, and that bothers me. I’m worried about the next year. The poorer countries of this world are the ones who are going to suffer the most in this. The good and the bad, yes, Martyn.

Martyn: They’re all very troubling in times indeed, and let’s hope we can return to whatever new normal is going to be as soon as possible, and who knows what that new normal is actually going to look like when we get there but let’s see.

In conversation with . . . is a series of podcasts from Verint featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX and customer engagement industry across the Asia Pacific region.