Regardless of size, industry, and location, every member we talk to seem to be juggling multiple challenges ranging from employee attraction and retention, financial pressures, external environmental impacts, through to the pressure to transform.
Here we caught up with Robert Easton, Chief Executive Officer of Probe Group to share what he is seeing in the current environment, and how this plays out as a BPO providing services to a diverse customer base.
What are you currently seeing in the environment?
“In the current business landscape, our clients are facing a multitude of challenges. First, there’s the task of emerging from the COVID-19 era and readjusting their operations. Additionally, they are grappling with supply chain disruptions and cost pressures stemming from the European conflict. They are also navigating inflation and interest rate challenges domestically.”
“Notably, our clients’ customers are feeling the impact of these same challenges. They are increasingly expecting outstanding customer sales and service, all while companies strive to acquire and retain customers in a cost-effective manner.”
“The rise of digital channels has undeniably reduced the cost of servicing customers. However, it has also made it simpler for customers to switch their business elsewhere. Interestingly, customers now rate voice and chat customer service as delivering higher customer satisfaction, even though these channels typically have a higher cost to serve.”
“What we’re observing is a sustained growth in the demand for voice and chat services, which is the traditional contact centre model. Simultaneously, there’s a strong imperative to accelerate the integration of these services with digital solutions like self-service, AI, automation and analytics. It’s no longer a question of contact centre or digital; the conversation has shifted to how best to integrate voice and digital customer service to provide an exceptional customer experience across all channels.”
What are the biggest challenges?
“One of the most significant challenges we’re facing is the persistence of old-world thinking when it comes to how we structure contact centres. The traditional labour-rate-based pricing model has been exerting downward pressure on agent numbers and salaries. This, in turn, can lead to lower skills and experience levels among agents, resulting in subpar service.
Instead, we should be shifting our focus towards commercial constructs that emphasize targeted outcomes. These include the overall speed and cost of acquiring customers, the value gained through cross-sell and upsell activities, customer retention rates, overall customer satisfaction and NPS scores. This approach incentivises the right behaviours and places a strong emphasis on enhancing the customer experience, aligning with the principle that what gets measured, gets delivered.”
“There is also this belief in AI and digital solutions as silver bullets that can magically solve all our problems. Sometimes, it feels a bit like watching young children on a soccer field, with everyone rushing towards the ball. While AI and digital are undoubtedly part of the solution, they are not the entire solution.
Human-based contact centres will remain at the core of customer service for the foreseeable future. The key is to thoughtfully integrate AI and digital tools across the entire customer journey, with both humans and bots playing their respective roles. This approach yields more potent solutions and superior customer outcomes.”
“What customers truly desire is a quick and painless resolution to their issues. Research consistently shows that customers appreciate dealing with a human agent who can engage empathetically and possesses the skills and expertise to address their concerns. There’s a genuine human connection that customers value. To deliver the best possible customer experience, we must design integrated customer journeys that leverage the strengths and capabilities of both human agents and digital technology. Achieving an exceptional customer experience requires the seamless collaboration of smart humans, and smart technology and tools.”
What growth are you seeing / new verticals etc?
“We’ve been witnessing remarkable activity in the Australian and New Zealand market. Organisations that have long outsourced their contact centres are now seeking a shift towards more digital solutions, greater innovation and an improved customer experience. The old-style contracts, with their basic labour or call volume constructs, no longer align with the evolving landscape. As they revamp their contact centre arrangements, they’re increasingly prioritising customer outcomes, experience and embedded innovation. It’s no longer solely about cost; flexible commercial constructs are now in demand.”
“The surge in online sales and services has amplified the need for human-based contact centres. More online interactions mean more sales and support enquiries, many of which necessitate human contact. The ‘fast-moving tech’ companies driving these digital brands span a spectrum of industries, from banking and retail to transport, travel and emerging sectors like sustainability and electric vehicle support. As they transition beyond their initial digital-only phases, they’re rapidly expanding their human-based contact centres to manage the growing volume and complexity of customer interactions.”
How is emerging tech such as generative AI changing your business?
“Generative AI holds tremendous potential for transforming the customer service industry. However, it’s important to recognise that this transformation won’t happen overnight. It will take time for the technology itself to mature, and equally crucial, it will require organisations to adapt their processes, operating models, culture and behaviours to fully harness the power as it evolves.”
“At Probe CX, we’re actively engaged in the development and testing of these emerging technologies. Our aim is to enhance the customer experience by leveraging generative AI for improved call routing and real-time knowledge assistance. These innovations will work in tandem with our agents, pre-solving issues and providing recommendations to ensure our customers receive the best possible service.”
How is the work from home model changing within your organisation?
“COVID has been a pivotal moment for us in understanding the potential of the work-from-home model. It’s become evident that it not only can work, but can work quite effectively. However, it has underscored the importance of rigorous, standardised onboarding, training, coaching and management. This ensured that even during the disruptions caused by COVID, we maintained high levels of flexibility and service quality.”
“In the post-COVID landscape, we’ve learned some valuable lessons. We’ve found that having teams co-located in centres fosters social interaction and cohesion, resulting in a better overall agent experience. This positive agent experience naturally translates into an improved customer experience.”
“Recognising the success of the work-from-home (WFH) model has allowed us to provide greater flexibility to our agents as they balance work and family commitments.”
Are there any changes post covid that have made you think differently about your approach?
“Post-COVID, we’ve witnessed a paradigm shift in how we support, train, engage and onboard our contact centre team members. Work from home has catalysed several transformative changes.”
“One of the key changes we’ve embraced is the ability to access talent pools from various locations, expanding our options and making full remote work a viable alternative.”
“We’ve experimented with hybrid models, combining hub-based training and team touchpoints with remote work, aiming to strike the right balance between flexibility, productivity and effective support.”
“Our coaching and support models have evolved as well. We now leverage technology for real-time support and utilise online coaching tools, including video, to enhance our team’s capabilities.”
“Technology resilience has become a top priority. We’ve adopted new tools to ensure system stability, internet reliability and, importantly, the security and privacy of our customers, such as thinscale technology.”
“We’ve realised the importance of maintaining a ‘human’ connection when our team members are working from home. This has led us to find innovative ways to engage with team members beyond work-related matters. Activities like check-ins at the start of shifts and thoughtfully planned team celebrations have become more significant.”
“Effective communication has taken centre stage in the post-COVID world. With less incidental contact in the office, we now invest more time and energy into communicating regularly. This includes using a mix of mediums such as written messages, recorded videos, chat rooms and live video calls.”
About Probe CX
Probe CX is a tech-powered, global customer experience organisation that amplifies human capabilities with technological excellence. With a dedicated team of 18,000-plus staff across five countries, we help our clients become modern digital organisations and create environments for digitally-enabled CX to thrive.
- Team members: 18,000+
- Locations: 5 (Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, India and the US)
- Years’ experience: 40+
- Industry awards: 18