In Conversation With . . . Ryan Hollenbeck and Audrey William

Verint Team February 1, 2021

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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.

Podcast Transcript


Martyn: Hello, and welcome to In-Conversation With, a series, a podcast from Verint featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX, and customer engagement industry. 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 and as well as being your host for this series, I’m also Verint’s Vice President of Marketing for the Asia Pacific region. This is our third podcast for 2021 and I trust you all have a peaceful, happy, and restful break.

This year, the Verint’s In Conversation With podcast series is set to go from strength to strength, with some great guests lined up in the coming weeks and months. From time to time, we’re also going to welcome some special guests to actually host an episode and today is just one of those days. It was great to be able to chat with our first guest presenter during a podcast episode last year, where she gave us her take on the impact of the pandemic on the customer engagement industry. I’m sure she’s now delighted to be on the other side of the microphone, posing the questions to today’s featured guests. Without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the Principal Analyst from Ecosystem, Audrey William. Audrey, hello and happy new year.

Audrey: Happy new year Martyn, and many thanks for the introduction. It’s great to be on the show again. Really looking forward to speaking to a very special guest today and I’m actually going to be interviewing Ryan Hollenbeck, Verint Senior Vice President Global Marketing. Hi, Ryan. Lovely to connect again and hope you had a good break over the holiday.

Ryan: Hi, Audrey. Very nice to speak to you again as well. Yes, I did and I hope you did as well. I had a very nice holiday break.

Audrey: That’s excellent. I’m really looking forward to hearing your thoughts, Ryan, about what you’re seeing in the industry. We’re in 2021. Time flies. The last 12 months have been challenging for the context centre industry. Context centres in the Asia Pacific region had quite a bit to deal with from disruption in offshore services, large spikes in inbound activity, and then managing inbound activity within a desired timeframe has been challenging. Contact centres had a lot to deal with, but three things happened during this time and now context centres that realized they can no longer do business as usual. They’ve been forced to accelerate on their digital transformation efforts.

Finally, there is this need to understand more about the customer so they can start specializing the experience. Ryan, one of the areas I’m starting to hear from customers is so much of data that contact centres are collecting. Data residing in multiple repositories and silos from SMS data, webchat data, data from chatbots, CRM, marketing automation and CX leaders know that they must start making sense of the data. We’ve been talking about this for a long time, and it is no doubt a challenging topic. What would be some of the best practices you can share, Ryan, around how enterprises can become more of a data-centric company in driving CX excellence?

Ryan: Thanks for that, Audrey. It’s a good backdrop that you provided there. We’re definitely seeing this with our customers as well, this whole notion of too much data and what do I do with it all, and how can I get my head around it and really make it more actionable, I guess, if you will? Very much a good context. I think organizations really, more than anything, have a problem when it comes to data silos. It’s just such a big obstacle with so many of them, isn’t it? They say they’re focused on digital transformation. Okay, great, but if you think about what they’re struggling with, it’s how to unlock all of that value that exists related to CX data so that they can drive a better customer experience across their organization. It sits in so many different departments and in so many different forms that building any sort of interaction data is just non-trivial, isn’t it?

Audrey: Yes.

Ryan: It’s very difficult. It’s unstructured in some ways, and so many systems and different modalities. It’s really a challenge at the moment.

Audrey: Oh, absolutely. I think you pointed that out well. I think it’s different modalities, different silos, and it’s a big problem. It’s a real problem that a lot of organizations are grappling with. Not many have got that right. I think one of the problems in the industry is also this huge disconnect between sales and marketing teams. There is this battle going on as to who owns the customer? In fact, many times when marketing runs a program and the sales team speak to a customer, the same customer is also sometimes speaking to a contact centre agent but very rarely do these dots align and also very rarely is the data that is collected from these different groups shared. Do you have any thoughts on that, Ryan?

Ryan: This is another really good point. It’s one of these things that’s been around for quite some time, isn’t it, between contact centres and marketing organizations. It’s those of us in the contact centre are really who own customer experience more broadly that get left holding the bag because marketing might be running off and doing a whole bunch of things that driving contacts back into an organization. We talked about all these different modalities. It could be a voice call into a contact centre but it could be something that’s happening via chat, or email, or messaging, and mobile devices, and self-service.

As you drive more interactions back into an organization, you’ll be so much more effective with your response if you’re joined up across marketing and other departments within the organization. Circling back to your first question on all of the different data and masses of types of things that exist out there, trying to get some single view at scale of what’s happening is really, really critical when you think about this entire challenge. So many organizations think they can get there really with just something as simple as a survey and it’s just not going to get it done.

I think reflecting back on the marketing organizations, they need to coordinate much more holistically across the organization and the customer experience teams need to reflect on where is CX, not just as a department, but as a holistic function that touches every area of the organization? Again, breaking down these silos and thinking how you can have access to the right kinds of data across the enterprise and use it to drive real business actions. That’s what we’re hearing a lot from our customers.

Audrey: Thank you. It’s very important I think moving forward and we’re going to see a lot of that this year. To your point, to break down all these silos, I think these divisions can no longer have their own KPIs. They’ll have to be a company-wide KPI in terms of what is CX and possibly also the role of a chief experience officer, someone that manages all of that company-wide.

Ryan: Yes. We’re seeing that title much more as well, Audrey. Very consistent with what we’re seeing the need for a VP of CX or a chief customer officer. I think as you’re also saying, addressing this problem of silos to create more of a unified experience.

Audrey: Absolutely. One of the things you pointed out earlier, Ryan, which I thought it would be a good segue into my next question, you talked about feedback and surveys. One of the areas in the industry I think that must change moving forward is just how feedback is collected. Not too long ago, this is a personal story, I just received a survey from a bank asking me four very simple questions about their product and if I was satisfied with the service. The questions were simple and straightforward, but I’m no longer using that product from the bank. In fact, I’m using another product and my priorities have changed.

There is this gap around not understanding the various journeys of a customer. It’s not just me facing this problem. Many people face this issue about being asked the wrong question or being asked to review products that just simply do not matter to them. Then you have the other challenge of customer ratings through NPS and CSAT scores. These ratings give you some sort of feedback, but it’s not good enough. It’s not a good enough to tell you about how the customer’s feeling, for example, what their next move will be? Are they thinking about other offers in the market? Ryan, what should enterprises be thinking about when listening to customer feedback and surveys and how can this process be improved?

Ryan: First I like your example, Audrey. It’s a good one and I empathize. It’s frustrating, isn’t it, when you’re getting these surveys that are completely out of context. I think that’s a big part of it to start with is that customer experience has become more challenging and yet it’s, even more, strategic and critical these days to business success. What we’re finding is organizations really in any industry, they want what you might characterize as more enduring relationships and in order to free–

Audrey: Yes absolutely.

Ryan: Yes. Don’t you think? In order to create them, they’ve got to create a more holistic approach and it’s got to happen across multiple touchpoints. This whole idea of a survey is going to cut it just isn’t correct anymore and they’ve got to move beyond surveys so that they can– it’s okay to survey in context but they’ve got to move beyond that to get a better understanding of all customers and I would say importantly employee experiences so that they can drive the right actions.

This again gets back to the notion of a more unified experience and starting to think about how you can take what’s happening in various interaction points, whether that happens in a real-time environment, once we get out of the pandemic or more likely in digital channels and then bringing them all together to present a unified picture of what’s happening and using that to drive action, instead of just, as in your example, an outdated survey, that’s totally out of context.

Audrey: Great points, Ryan. One of the things that we’ll definitely need to change is that you can use the CSAT and NPS ratings for customer feedback but organizations will start to have to layer that with machine learning and AI, because then through speech analytics you can start listening to the sentiment of the customer, you can detect how they’re feeling from the tone of their voice and that’s very important and then you match that up. You take the CSAT scores and these ratings, but then you also start listening to the customer and then you’re starting to get a holistic view of customer feedback.

Ryan: Yes. That’s such a good point because getting beyond just the simple– I like the way you said it earlier as well, Audrey, where you said you’ve got to have joined up KPIs. You have to have something that the entire organization is focused on, not just one particular silo and it’s nice to have NPS and CSAT, those are important as you’re suggesting, but they’ve got to be supplemented by a more unified approach to the data, which comes from so many different areas and we’ve come so far as an industry, haven’t we, with AI? You’re right in saying AI needs to be deployed more effectively as a means to get to the more real-time information which you can act on much more quickly than some annualized customer experience CSAT data.

Audrey: This whole notion around just sentiment analysis, speech analytics, and just listening to customer feedback at scale, not just randomly, that’s going to be really important. Another hot topic in the industry is IVAs, intelligent virtual assistants. It’s a hot topic now because contact centres starting to face these cost pressures. They will look to start automating some of their processes and we will see some large IVA deployments in 2021 but getting the IVA deployment right can be complex because many companies and I’m sure you would know this as well, have gone down that path of implementing an IVA solution and then they start realizing, hang on A, the IVA is not answering my customer’s question and B, the IVA does not understand the flow of the dialogue.

This has frustrated customers but also created more work for the agents. The design of the solution must be done well from the start. One of the starting points is integrating the IVA solution to a knowledge management system. Knowledge must be looked at holistically and this is across agents, the customers and ultimately company-wide. Consistent and accurate knowledge, Ryan, which I’m sure you can talk about this cannot be compromised. What’s your view on that?

Ryan: You’re really onto something here, Audrey, in terms of what we’re going to see going forward, both in terms of virtual assistance and in terms of being able to embed knowledge, something that we don’t see everybody doing, but it’s really important. The first part of your question we’ve seen data that would suggest that as much of a third of executives think or believe that IVAs are likely to have the largest impact on their businesses. The reason why is because of some of the data points that you can get. If it’s done right, as you’re suggesting you can massively deflect live chat, for example, you can really reduce costs. You can as it relates to service emails in a single year, for example, you can save lots of money, we’ve seen examples up to a million dollars.

When you think about all these different avenues to pursue for a virtual assistant, they’re pretty significant, but your warning so to speak is a good one. Make sure that you’re not just throwing something out there or you’re really just going to find that it’s going to increase the time your agents have to spend correcting what the virtual assistant may have said. We’ve seen customers, we have what we call an AI blueprint and that just helps you understand and identify what’s the real business need for AI and what returns are you expecting and how can a very specific customized solution help you get to where you want to go?

Because I think that long-term success a lot of people are maybe doing what you might call baby AI, but grown-up AI, if you want to call it that is going to really require things like being able to generate very measurable key performance indicators that are adapted to your business goals for the actual virtual assistant and generating a roadmap that maps into that, that’s going to be much more key to long-term success. I love your point on knowledge. Many organizations are not thinking that way. They’re thinking of knowledge as something for a live agent that gets delivered to the agents, which is critical though no argument with that, but I love your point about why can’t the knowledge be embedded into the virtual assistant and for that matter for all self-service purposes, that’s an excellent point.

Audrey: That’s great and thanks for sharing that. I’d love to talk about the next topic because it’s something very close to my heart. I cover that a fair bit future of work and so this whole work from anywhere model is likely going to continue into the foreseeable future. You look at where we are today, where there’s still quite a lot going on with COVID, this is going to continue for a while but you’re looking at staffing issues, staffing issues will be a challenge as you might have part-timers working in your context and say, with the gig economy rising, then you must balance the pot of having automation and the human and at the same time, you have to ensure that you are compliant when you’re running a contact centre. There are a lot for contact centres to think about, and this works from anywhere model. Any best practices that you can share or highlight what contact centres should be looking at?

Ryan: First, we liked this topic also and you’ve written a lot about it in your research and we certainly heard a lot about the future of work and working from anywhere models from our customers and partners as well and we see this as a big one. I would suggest first before even thinking about any technology that organizations should really reflect on the people themselves, better communications but also showing as much empathy as they possibly can.

It’s remarkable how resilient people have been, especially in our industry, the CX industry, if you think moving home and what a challenge it is because you’re the frontline to interacting with all of your customers and they’ve been very resilient and yet they’re forced with enormous challenges with children at home needing to interact. I share some of what you’ve written about that, that we show empathy they’re very resilient but show that to them first and, and then make sure that they feel that they’re part of something and that’s where the communications comes in.

Those are all so important even before you get to the technology, which is very significant here. The technology as you mentioned, can help with staffing as an example. If you can allow people remotely to do shift bidding as an example, to bid for the shifts in their day or night, that make the most sense for them and their personal environment, especially while they’re at home and they’re challenged during the pandemic and other things, that’s a really big one and you can do it on your mobile device with technology that exists today. Same for performance management. So much you can do to understand your own performance. So many people want to be able to do that and then even do things comparatively to understand how’s my group performing to another group? These are standard everyday things in a call centre or a CX environment non-pandemic, but there is a way to do them and it can make people feel so much more connected.

Audrey: No, absolutely. Very good points. I like your point about empathy. That’s a really important one because sometimes we take it for granted that these are the guys who’ve got the toughest jobs and there’s so much that they’ve had to take on in the last 12 months, personally, by moving to the home and you pointed that out really well, Ryan because they’ve had to deal with a lot of family members at home, noise in the background definitely when you’ve also got the right tools and technologies in place, your first priority should be how can I make that agent feel good? Because when your agent feels good, they’re going to perform well.

Ryan: That’s right. That’s exactly right. We use all these words like agent empowerment, and employee betterment, and so on, and yet it’s real. Call it what you like, but it’s very real. Especially now, the ones who do feel empowered, and they do feel knowledgeable, back to your point on knowledge, they want to do well, that’s their deepest desire, actually. Our job often as managers is to just enable them to go do that.

Audrey: No, absolutely. Thanks. Great points there. I like to say, thank you, Ryan, for sharing your views about the industry because we’re going to move into the second part. I’ve got some fun questions for Ryan. To kick things off, what has this COVID period meant for you, personally?

Ryan: Well, that’s a good one. I would just say, first of all, that it’s been a challenge for me, just like it has been for so many others, and it’s been a pretty massive adjustment. Obviously, in the tech industry, like we’re in, of course, there’re times we work from home, but we get into the office as well. It’s a great way to interact, and be around other people, and make sure you have shared common goals, and you’re building an effective team. That’s been more challenging remotely.

For me, personally, it’s been a challenge too because I like being in that environment, and I’ve had to really adjust and get out. I’ve had my fair share of challenges, but I have to say, Audrey, it’s also been during this period of time, coincidentally, has actually brought great joy to me personally too because my son and my daughter-in-law had their first child, and I became a grandfather and I’m so [crosstalk].

Audrey: Oh, fantastic congratulation.

Ryan: No, thank you. It’s a reminder of the bright future that’s ahead, despite all the challenges that we’ve had.

Audrey: No, absolutely, and that’s great. I think we just have to be positive and look on the bright side. My next question, Ryan is, do you have a favourite song or a book you can talk about, you read during this period? When Martyn asked me this question last year, I told him, “I’m a jazz fan. I occasionally listen to Brazilian jazz, I love Bossa nova. My favourite song is Desafinado.”

Ryan: Great one. Well, I have to say I share the jazz vibe with you, Audrey. Years ago, I played the saxophone and was in a jazz band, and I love the music.

Audrey: Wow.

Ryan: More recently I’ve been listening to all sorts of different other kinds of music. One particular person I came across in 2020, during the pandemic, is an artist named Gramps Morgan, and he sent a really fun song that reminded me of being on the island if you will call the Runaway Bay. She also sung another song called People Like You. This song, People Like You, really affected me in terms of how to think about how we should be treating one another with kindness and maybe especially during what we’ve been dealing with.

Audrey: Finally, Ryan, what is your favourite device or gadget?

Ryan: Well, in the tech industry, we have a lot of gadgets. I hesitate to say this because it can also be very addicting and dangerous if you’re not careful, but it’s probably, my smartwatch. It’s really helped, I think, during these trying times with being able to attempt to keep fit where I can, but also if you have your music on it, you can track your steps and your progress and all of these things. That’s probably it for me.

Audrey: Oh, that’s great. Thank you. Thank you, Ryan. It has been an absolute pleasure speaking to you and I look forward to connecting again.

Ryan: Yes, pleasure’s mine, Audrey. Yes, very much looking forward to connecting again soon.