Looking at Future Trends and Technology in CX : A Deep Dive Interview with CX Trend Expert, Stephen Loynd

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Welcome, welcome. Today we have on the pod with us, Stephen Loynd. Welcome Steven, can I record this call for quality assurance?

Absolutely Hailey. And thank you for having me on this beautiful Wednesday morning here in Northern Virginia.

Thank you so much for being with us. Let’s start out with just learning a little bit about your background. Can you give our listeners and readers some insight into your background, where you started and how you got to where you are today?

Yes, such a reflective question, I suppose. I’m the founder and principal at TrendzOwl. But my journey began a long time ago back in the 90s after graduate school, I worked for the Governor of Massachusetts with a focus on globalization and the emerging role of tech at that time, the first dot-com frenzy at the trade office for the governor. So I did a lot of traveling and the reason I bring it up is, technology back then was just starting to make a real impact on the general consciousness I suppose, in the context of globalization. Although the real focus back then was more on labor arbitrage, and I bring that up because of its relevance to some of the stuff I would do later.

But after four years, I segued to a privately held telecom company that was funded in part by Titan Corporation out in California, and we did some really cool stuff around the world. Again, that international theme, wireless, local loop, data access and voice for companies in places like India and Bangladesh and Ghana and Cameroon. So that was a lot of fun, really cool stuff. And then in the early mid aughts, I segued from there to IDC. And for about six and a half years I was on the BPO or Business Process Outsourcing team with a particular focus on customer contact and really enjoyed that outside of Boston and went to Stream Global Services for a short time. There was a leadership change going on there.

So it was a brief stint into the dark arts of ABPO. And then I went to Frost & Sullivan for about seven and a half years, similar focus as at IDC as an analyst on the digital transformation team, and again, with a focus on the contact ecosystem. And then with my magical sense of timing, six months or so before the pandemic hit, I founded TrendzOwl here in Northern Virginia where I’m based, and that was in September, 2019. And I’ve been having a lot of fun at it ever since working from home. So that’s my long journey, probably too long of an answer for you.

Not at all. It’s extremely interesting. And I love that you said the Dark Arts of BPO. I think it’s a complicated industry. So I’m going to steal that from later on.

Yeah. The dark world. Yeah.

That’s right. You talked about TrendzOwl, can you share a little bit more with our audience about your day-to-day role and responsibilities as the founder and principal of TrendzOwl, and basically just give us some insight into what you guys do.

Yeah. So I follow what’s interesting. That is my overarching driver behind TrendzOwl, and I keep an eye on what’s going on and what interests me. I drink a lot of coffee and actually I see my therapist, every workday, his name is Gym spelled G-Y-M. And he’s been great during the pandemic in particular. Keeps my energy up, but yeah, I watch all aspects of the contact ecosystem and whatever happens to pop up that seems particularly or interesting. I like to zero in on, in fact, I just spoke in Lisbon on, at an event with a focus on the metaverse. Which is becoming more and more of an interest of mine. And it was a separate discussion, but I’m really interested. One of the reasons is, not just the immersive aspects of what the metaverse might become as time goes on for the CX and for the employee experience as well, but also how companies are going to figure out how to build out the infrastructure for the metaverse.

And that goes back to my time in the telecom space that I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, it’s an enormous undertaking, so it’s going to be really fun to follow that. So I just, honestly, Hailey, I try to have fun with what I’m doing. And I do a lot of collaboration with other guys and gals in the industry and been doing it since the fall of 2019, about two and a half years, and it’s been really good.

That’s incredible. What a fun job that you being able to get that time to really research and stay on the cutting edge of what’s occurring in the industry or what’s occurring even outside of our industry that can be implemented into the CX world. That’s so cool.

Yeah, exactly. And that’s one of the reasons I do a lot of stuff in the BPO space and the contact center systems, but also on the, as I just mentioned, the telecom infrastructure aspects of is really interesting because of my past. And so I like to stay on top of that. I just did a piece for Intelligent Sourcing Magazine. Jon Yarlett runs a great shop there, another example of collaboration, but I just wrote a piece for him with a telecom focus. So yeah, there’s all interweaving themes and ideas that it’s good to keep an eye on.

So in that, keeping with that theme of new ideas and new theories of how we best offer customer service and customer experience, there’s a lot of interest and focus on self-service technology, bots, chat, automated email, the list goes on and often organizations make speaking to a live agent, the last resort. Would you say this is a best practice or should we make going directly to an agent a more accessible option?

Well, this stuff is so intriguing. The question you’re asking and it’s going to become more so over time as technology advances, but I’m one who believes that the chat bot, for example, might not significantly or fundamentally improve over the next say decade. Plus another way of saying that is that free flowing conversation will remain beyond its capabilities. So products currently using conversational AI chat bots, virtual assistance, are based on, I like this term, “weak AI”. In other words, a small range of tasks that are performed for customers on demand. And that can include everything from voice commands, for playing music or switching on a light and all that stuff. But AI is somewhat, I would argue, stuck at the moment for the most part, the system’s capabilities are still defined as narrow intelligence.

It still impressive, but relatively speaking, relatively narrow, again, completing a specific task for which a system was trained on lots of data. Now, there has been speculation on things like OpenAIs, GPT-3, we’ve all been reading about an example of a possible exception to that. The first instance, where machine intelligence, while not “general intelligence” or general AI has surpassed that narrow definition, the algorithm in other words, was trained to write text, but it’s ended up being able to do other things like translate between languages and write code, do math, and then perform some other language related tasks that it wasn’t specifically trained to do. But having said that, I don’t think that the dramatic innovation in voice automation or what you might call “strong AI” is upon us just yet. And I think it’ll take some time.

And so what that really means, if you think about it, is that the voice channel really is a channel that thrives on generating revenue, and it does that via human beings at the end of the day. So in some use cases, automation, I’ve talked about this before or digitizing in the name of cost savings, can really impact revenues negatively if done improperly. If revenues can go down 30, 50, 80%, and one needs to understand that the conversion rate associated with specific streams of calls. So there’s some scenarios where conversion rates can be cut, as I just said by misapplying automation. So revenue productivity of the human interface is really important to keep in mind and in the context of the CX, that’s everything. So it’s a real problem. And you see this a lot when an enterprise’s IT department is too focused on cutting cost or things like uptime, and they’re not aligning their goals with that revenue generation idea or imperative.

And so sometimes it might make sense for IT to report into marketing and sales or in other words, up to revenue. So your question is a really good one because it starts a whole conversation on the role of self-service and human beings and how they’re going to work together and hand off to each other as technology gets better and better. And I’ve talked a lot about exponential technological change and the power of exponential technology, but nonetheless, when it comes to this specific, the sophistication of voice, I don’t think that there’s going to be a dramatic change anytime soon. But I’m humble when I say that because none of us really know, things change so quickly.

I think it’s a very, not necessarily controversial, but I think there are a lot of different schools of thought. And I feel like what your answer is very realistic, that it’s out there, but it’s going to take a lot of time, and we can’t think as leaders that we’re going to just implement these AI self-service technologies, and it’s going to really lessen the load of our agents, that we need to be really realistic about the specific use cases where these technologies fit.

Yeah.

And it’s something that, I think, sometimes leadership can get a little removed from and exactly to your point, when they’re thinking about revenue specifically.

Yeah, exactly. It’s like I love war metaphors and the fog of battle, and that’s what we’re in now with the pace of technological change. And now you might add in the volatility of the markets, it’s important to do exactly what you just pointed to, which is stop and stay with what is real for now. Will some magical thing happen in the near future? Strong word, magical, possibly, but for now we know what is real and it makes sense to stick with that while also staying attuned to the pace of change. So I think that’s well said Hailey.

Staying up with the trends, which you know all about. So again, following up with that, this is a polarizing thing. And the data that we have seen here at Vistio on CX, indicates that even with the best AI self-service technologies, most interactions continue to be with a live agent. Would you agree with this?

Well, AI is still evolving as we just said. So a larger proportion of calls are definitely being automated and the pandemic has definitely played a role in that. Two years ago, EY did a survey where they said that some 41% of respondents were investing in accelerating automation as businesses prepare for the post-pandemic reality. And a majority of companies said they were already planning actually major transformation before the pandemic hit, which is really interesting. And that once a more normal state returned, they would focus on new investment in digital and technology like never before. That’s what the survey found as one example.

But if you think about it, if a few companies start to offer such agility, as far as the CX goes, then customers are going to expect the same of everyone across industries. That’s a blanket statement but I believe it. In other words, expectations from customers are liquid across industries. Companies that don’t keep up, they’re going to suffer over time. So that’s a long way of saying that technology stacks are definitely becoming more formidable and efficient across the systems’ landscape and advances in AI or layering into those provider stacks. Many applications of AI are proliferating like never before. And we just talked about virtual assistance, but other things like predictive routing and process automation, voice biometrics, RPA that’s assisted, and unassisted, automated forecasting Q and A.

So along the way, increasing percentages of tasks and interactions will be automated, but not completely. So while improved self-service will definitely be playing more of a role, the more complex inquiries are going to continue to go to the agents to provide judgment, empathy, higher reasoning. And going back to my point about weak versus strong AI, if you don’t have AI that can reason through things and empathize yet, then you’re going to have to go to a human being. And that by the way, would be relevant, not just for the CX, but for the EX, the employee experience as well.

Absolutely. And it’s interesting. I think as the internet is when I look for statistics about where things are going, it’s, whatever you look for is what you’re going to find. And so I think I can find statistics that support going further into self-service technologies. And then we can support data that supports that people want to still speak with an agent. And so I’m more in the school of thought of what you just said, and what we’ve been reiterating, that there’s some things that will continue to be automated using tools like RPA, but then that agent is still, we’re not going to see that job going away.

Yeah. That’s right.

Yeah. We’ll see technologies that enhance that self-service but then also technologies, as you said, that will enhance the employee experience, making that better with those technologies. I love that you touched on that.

Yeah.

So in that, talking about data, is there any data out there as you have your finger on the pulse, that you are aware of that compares CX scores for the same interaction handled by self-service technology and an agent, does the CX outcome differ between those two interactions?

Yeah. This is a really intriguing question. I’m not aware of any data offhand, but what I could offer is a book suggestion and it’s the classic, The Effortless Experience, that was published a few years ago by the Corporate Executive Board and its main theme is this idea that regardless of self-service or agent-enabled what the customer wants above all is to have their issue resolved. They’re not looking for bells and whistles. They’re looking to exert the least amount of effort to fix a problem or an issue that they have. And they’ll reward companies with customer loyalty that fulfill on that. So whichever means resolves a particular problem or issue, whether it’s self-service or a human being, an agent, the CX score is going to reflect that.

Either way companies, they need to be positioning themselves for that reality in the next iteration of technologies. And if they don’t embrace digital, which we’ve been talking about here over the last few questions, they’re going to suffer, again, point that I just made. So they need to understand which digital technologies are required now, and which are going to become more important as they plan strategic planning and prioritize their budgets and sequence their investments and do their implementation, scheduling, et cetera. And the goal, again, is to develop an agile, digitally transformed enterprise that’s capable of acting and reacting to all the changing data, all the digital flux fast enough to make a difference. To create a symphony of automation and human beings.

So that’s what it comes down to for me. I’m a big fan of customer effort score and lowering the amount of effort that a consumer or an employee has to manage when it comes to any specific interaction or any specific tasks. So not a direct answer to your question, but the best that I can offer.

That’s a great one. I think you’ve nailed it. We keep coming back to this theme that, yes, you need to stay agile. You need to stay up on the trends, but you also need to evaluate your own business and understanding your customers and how they’re interacting and their needs in order to make a digital plan moving forward that is appropriate for your specific organization. Not just looking at what the newest thing is and thinking that you need it and you’ve got to implement it, but knowing your organization and your customers and filling those gaps appropriately.

Yeah. Precisely. And that’s not an easy thing to do at a time when things are changing so quickly. And so it makes a lot of sense to reach out and get ideas from other sources and experts because it’s a fluid environment and it sounds easy to make your strategic planning and this and that, review all the technologies, but it’s easier said than done.

Yeah. We’ll get to questions about resources. You’ve named a great book, but I look forward to hearing more about the resources that you recommend. So you’ve already discussed this question and answered it, but I’d like to reiterate it. So from what you see in the industry, and as you’re constantly reading and keeping up with the trends that are coming at us, is the focus in investing CX technology really aligned to the customer experience as the primary goal, or is the underlining motivation for consumer facing companies typically more about operation efficiency and cost reduction?

Yeah. I think it’s both, they’re entangled concepts and it’s hard to untangle them, but we’re at a stage where much remains cloudy because of the speed of change. And what intrigues me, you use the word investing there, which is important. We’ve gone through this period the last few years of almost frantic venture capital investing in general. And that includes the CX space within tech. So one consequence of the pandemic, it fed shopping boom, are that venture capitalists with all the competition for deals and they don’t want to miss out on the next Stripe for example, they’ve thought. They’ve been throwing money at startups to make E-commerce smoother. That’s been their objective. Even ones with some of these startups or have some questionable business models or sometimes some questionable technologies.

And now we’re at a phase where some of those types are facing a bit of a reckoning with some of the challenges that are hitting them. And some of the software, for example, you stick with the shopping example or E-Commerce has yet to be proven. Fast, the one click checkout startup recently imploded. And then Bolt is another example that had layoffs recently. And then there’s, I was reading about this recent example of Nate. The company’s called Nate another one click startup.

It’s a little bit different than Fast and Bolt in that it charges shoppers rather than merchants based in New York. And it was founded a few years ago, but it’s a shopping startup that ceased to automatically fill out shoppers contact and payment info on retailers’ website. And I think it charges like a dollar per transaction in exchange for sparing them all the work of data entry on their phones, which is great when you think about that point, I made about customer effort and making it more of a seamless experience. So billing itself as an AI startup with an app that allows iPhone shoppers to make a purchase really easily from any retailers website with just a couple of tabs.

But recently the company said it was using AI to populate all the customer info during the checkout process, but there was a great article in the information where actually, there were workers in the Philippines that were needed to manually do some of that data entry. And it’s an example that was recently written about that either way chasing operational efficiency and reduced cost it’s easier said than done again.

Also my earlier point, it can be risky. Back to my point about revenue conversion rates, they tend to be in call centers, to bring it back to the context center world, they’re in order of magnitude higher than online. In other words, if a customer goes to a website that they are significantly less likely to buy something, rather than if they were talking to a human being. So revenue intensive applications favor the human being, and revenue is the ultimate KPI when it comes to that.

So an involved question, these investments in CX technology are aiming to do a lot of things at once, but they must keep in mind the realities that sometimes number one, the technologies and the AI are still progressing and they might not quite be there yet, even as impressive gains are being made. And then number two, remember the role of the human being when you’re looking to make your operations more efficient or to cut costs. It can be a risky thing to do, to cut them out of the equation too much unintentionally perhaps.

Yeah. I think especially when we’re dealing with personal data and people’s credit card information and that kind of thing. The risk management aspect, it seems so exciting, but you need to have some people that are evaluating the risk aspect of it. And also, we talk about this so much on the podcast. I talk about it so much with industry friends and colleagues that the technology is great, but where it is, the sweet spot is where we have this technology. We have excellent process, which is actually where we start the great technology, but then people and the intersection of where the power comes from for delivering excellent customer experiences where they all intersect in that Venn diagram.

For sure, yeah. That’s the world we’re living in right now. You’re absolutely right.

Yeah. I will say, just on a personal note that the automatic filling in of the information, even though I’ve found it works amazing, but it has made it very easy for me and my credit card bill reflects that.

Yeah, no, and exactly. And you appreciate how easy it is back to that idea of the seamless experience. And we’re not going back. Companies that can’t offer that type of experience, aren’t going to make it.

Yeah. And as you were saying, as much as I appreciate the ease into which I can make that purchase, I do have a moment where I am nervous about where that data is being held and who has access to that data just from coming from a background where risk management has been a focus. So as much as that self-service is amazing, I can see where it comes with some kinks and I’ll be interested to see where that goes or what pops up in the news, like you were talking about what specific companies that provide that service, what the pitfalls are and what challenges they face.

Well, it’s funny you mention it because just before the call, I was scanning some of the news and I retweeted from TechCrunch, this company that’s gotten some funding and it’s Boston based company, but it’s business is data governance. So those concerns about privacy but also compliance with new laws like GDPR in Europe and all the movement of this data into the Cloud. And it’s a company that helps in tandem, I think with firms like Snowflake, to govern that data, to monitor that data. Because to your point, you want to be careful about your privacy and other issues. So it’s a fast moving landscape and it’s really good that you brought that up.

That’s great that you brought it up, switching the focus back to being more focused on contact centers. When you are advising contact centers on improving CX, where do you begin? How do you map out the step by step plan? And you don’t have to give away all your secrets, but just basically where do you start?

Yeah, that starting point is the key for the purposes of this discussion, a bit of a postcard. So I think I’d go back to a book like, The Effortless Experience, that’s my bias. In other words, how do you solve the customer’s problem? What’s the least amount of effort and confusion ask those big questions as the bedrock of any step by step plan. And in so far as technologies can help you do that, that’s great. One of my favorite ideas concepts comes from Marcus Aurelius, the great thinker from a long time ago. He said, “Whenever you’re in a confusing situation, a fast moving situation, everything is shrouded in a fog of complexity and you don’t know what’s going on, you should just stop and ask yourself. The one key question is, what is the essence of this thing that you’re facing?” That’s what he said. And I think it’s timeless advice. That’s where you start. What is the essence of the thing? That’s the beginning of clarity and resolution.

So simplify would be my urging. So if you’re a company serving customers and in fact, employees are your systems easy to use? Are they clear? If not, there’s a great deal of frustration that can ferment over time. Some of us, we all have friends, have seen examples that some workplaces squirrely software one’s expected to use and it just causes more pain than anything else. Actually, I love the video that you have on your website at Vistio, because it conveys this idea very well. Turning someone into a top agent by making things simple and clear. And I think that there’s so much wisdom in that.

Yeah. I truly believe in Vistio with that idea that less is more.

Yeah.

I say this basically on every podcast, if we’re asking our agents to toggle back and forth between multiple interfaces, multiple screens, and they’re searching for this data instead of getting the knowledge they need when they need it-

Yeah.

… that it can turn into a big mess as we just add onto the stack.

For sure. And even software, you’re not even sure why you’re using it or what the point of it is, or sometimes it doesn’t even work and it’s just causes so much stress and frustration sometimes.

So when you are advising contact centers and when you go in and you look at the existing contact center, you’ve touched this a little bit, but what are, say, the three things that you see the most that are the breakdown in process, or what are the three things that you see right away that are the quick fixes for creating better customer service from the agent?

Yeah. I think that from the agent’s perspective, it’s, how do you make things easier? And it’s back to the idea of AI. If you’ve got AI that can directly interact with customers, that can take away a certain amount of frustration for the agent and you know how to implement it, and it can impact, say, 10 or 20% of call streams, so to speak, then that makes sense. And you should look to harmonize it with that human being and make it easier for an agent in the contact center. And then you can also have AI that works alongside the agent with things like RPA and then even in the back office.

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. When you talk about RPA and connecting that agent to the back office, that’s where we see some really big power happen. Where agents can get the knowledge that they need right away and the correct information. And that use case of RPA specifically is amazing. And where the flow from back office to the agent works the best. I think when I talk to people who work in contact centers, oftentimes there is a breakdown of the flow of information and in a industry or in a specific organization where processes, policies, things like that are changing quickly and the information isn’t trickling down properly, that’s where I think tools like Vistio for instance, are so powerful because you can make that change right away and it will reflect to your agent right away.

Well said, yeah.

Yeah. So they can be connected. This leads me into my next question. And again, we’ve discussed this, but I’d love to dig deeper into it. What functions are AI the best fit for providing excellent CX?

Yeah. This goes back to my point. I think of it as a threefold model to go into a little bit more depth on this. So you could have AI in front of the agent where you have direct interaction with customers, things like chat bots, self-service, speech IVR, voice assistant, smart speakers, all that groovy stuff. And then second, you have conceptually AI alongside the agent. So AI, and as you say, Robotic Process Automation to provide assistance to the agent. Things like real time recommendations. In other words, are automated coaching, proactive knowledge retrieval, desktop integration, and automation.

And then thirdly, conceptually, you could have AI, as you said, behind the agent AI, RPA, and this thing cognitive process automation or CPA working in the back office. An example would be machine translation or AI that offers partial automation with human validation to achieve translation quality, and also things like predictive analytics. So I think that’s the best way to think about it.

I love that. And I love that you put such a complicated concept into a simple threefold. That’s easy to understand, and then not easy to implement, but easy to understand and a great starting point.

Yeah.

So where would you suggest customer focused companies allocate their time and spend, where would it be the most valuable?

They would say, the CEO of this company called AtScale back to this idea of how important data is, it sells software that speeds data analytics projects. And he made a good point a couple of years ago, right around the time the pandemic started that seems relevant to your question. And things have changed the last couple of months, but at the time, he said that surging valuations of companies that store and analyze data are a sign of things to come. And I think that’s true despite the current market situation, I think the good firms are going to find their way. In other words, he said that, investors realize that AI and data analytics companies are going to have a bigger impact in the next decade. He said, “In terms of value creation than all the internet companies of the past 40 or so years.” Something like that.

And he’s getting back to this idea of exponential change, which I think is key. So despite the current challenges in the marketplace, and some valuations are changing, I think that AI and data analytics is exactly right, that if your customer focused, you better be focusing on thinking about those tools that are emerging. Also, just before the pandemic in October, 2020 McKinsey did a survey that noted that investments in data security and artificial intelligence are the changes respondents for most often identifying as helping to position organizations better than they were before the crisis. So back to that idea of AI and data analytics, but also data security is going to become hugely important to focus on and to allocate your time and your spend going forward.

That’s really interesting. I think on my side, because I’m really focused on the agent experience and the agent technology, but I do always have that creeping in the back of my head of how are we protecting the data and where the spend should be allocated, because we’ve seen these data breaches that can pull down large organizations that we trust. I think I won’t name names, but a bank, a well known bank. It’s my bank that had a data breach that I would think would never, that their spend would be so focused on protecting that data. And to have to see a large organization have a breach like that is disheartening. And have more of a focus, especially for a financial industry.

And yeah, the repercussions of it are so huge on so many levels, but for the purposes of our discussion, I talked about customer effort as a key aspect of customer loyalty, but if you’re going to compromise people’s privacy in their data there’s another huge thing to worry about. Interesting. I was reading this morning as well, and I tweeted out an article on cyber security startups, and some of the valuations are going down because of what happened in the market, but for the good ones are going to survive and team up with bigger or be acquired by bigger firms because to your point, the role that they’re playing is so huge and so important, even in the midst of the strange times we’re living through in the market fluctuations right now.

So true. So I’m going to go a little off script. So when we talk about data and data analytics and the things that we’re specifically speaking on contact centers, and when we look at the performance metrics that we get from calls, do you think that there should be a metric that is employee focused where we are going in and having the contact center agent fill out surveys much like the actual customers do in regards to their satisfaction of their job and will the contact center agent feel that’s valuable being heard? I’m just curious your thoughts.

Yeah. Well, back to this point about the employee experience is, it’s part of providing a great customer experience and you have to have good people. There are challenges now. I was reading this morning and another piece about this, in the United States, specifically a challenge, finding people to work in contact centers. There’s a lot of growth in the nearshore market, in Latin, et cetera, but in the US, there’s some real challenges. And this comes back to your point about, it’s really important to be asking your employees, “Hey, how are things going? Is this working for you? Are these technologies working for you or not?”

Because if you lose good employees, it’s going to impact how you’re interacting with your customers. So absolutely. And I’ve recommended another book a million times, but Tom Peters, The Excellence Dividend, that’s one of the major themes. You’ve got to have good people that are motivated and want to do a great job paradoxically, more and more as technology infuses itself across our daily lives and our daily landscape and in the contact center, that’s particularly important. So you have to stay on top of that stuff with the EX. Absolutely.

So when we talk about EX, then we really focus on not here at Vistio. If you are making your agents job easier, their work life easier, they’re obviously going to provide better customer experience. But in regards to how we motivate our agents, because we are in contact centers, experience, attrition rates, like no other, what are some of the ways that you would recommend to clients, to combat attrition and to stay connected with employee and their satisfaction with their job?

Well, the first one is, make sure that you’re paying them well, that’s already an issue. I’m a big believer in paying people, well, the second thing is this hammering this point, it’s not just about making the customer experience seamless, make your employee experience with technology that they are working with as seamless as possible. Don’t make it a frustration for them. And if you can improve that employee experience through that mechanism or through those means, then it’s going to pay huge dividends. If you’re working with, back to our point about working with AI, that can take certain stuff off their plate and make them more productive, then when they’re on a call with a customer and the customers interacting with a human being, that’s where the magic has an opportunity to happen. That’s where the revenue is really generated, when you look at the statistics.

Yeah, I agree. This is totally personal. I think when we talk about technology and we talk about simplifying and we talk about staying up with trends, but not just grabbing the trend, that’s the newest thing and implementing it into your contact center. But knowing what is correct for your contact center, I think that’s a place where we can perhaps find some spend to allocate to our agents. So yeah, not spending so much money on technology and then using that extra cash to push towards our agents for doing a job that is very complicated and very stressful. What are your thoughts on where to find those funds that we can pay our agents better?

Well, if you’re doing a good job of meshing technology with human beings, for your clients, the point I made about revenue generation happening through the human interface, it’s J curve shifting toward the human interface. In other words, productivity and revenue generation happens. That’s where the magic happens. And if you’re doing a good job of that as a provider with your client’s enterprises across industries, then everybody’s going to make more money. I guess that’s the simplest explanation I could give.

I love that. I love that idea. I like to think of sometimes how we get customers is not a funnel, but a flywheel. So when people have excellent experiences, they go and tell their friends, those friends come and become customers. They become enamored and delighted with the customer service they’re getting. And then they go out and that’s a great way where we can talk about generating revenue to pay agents more.

Yeah, it goes back. It just struck me, in the book, The Effortless Experience, one point that they hammer home is, if you’re not making the experience relatively seamless for the customer through the proper mix of technology in human beings, not only will they not remain loyal customer, but they are far more apt to go out and tell somebody not to buy your product or service. So to your point about talking amidst your friends, on the negative side, it has a dramatic impact if you’re not doing this stuff correctly.

Absolutely. I love that. We just found some monies there.

Yeah.

So moving forward, do you believe as an industry, we are headed in the right direction with how we utilize technology and humans in delivering excellent CX? We’ve covered this, but I’d like to reiterate it.

Yeah. I think that the push to innovate, really, is impressive that I’ve seen over the last number of years as an analyst over the last decade. The attempt to mesh human beings and technology. There’s obvious examples of the big players before the pandemic went to a lot of events with Genesis, for example, and they talk all day about believing that technology such as AI and machine learning can improve service at the point of need. Bringing in other words, intelligent automation with a human touch to self service, things like matching a customer to the best possible agent and driving better forecasting and scheduling and all of that stuff, creating better agent, desktop content, guided assistant for the agent, they call it, blended AI approach would be the term that they would use that aims at this seamless combination of AI, bots automation, and human beings to infuse intelligence across the contact center.

And they had loads of acquisitions over the years from Alto Cloud in 2019 back to interactive intelligence a few years ago, SoundBite going back even LONGER, Utopi, Echo Pass, all in the pursuit of that theme. And I could mention Avaya as well, their AI related R and D over the years has continued over a decade. Avaya Ava was deployed within its own customer support organization before it was productized for commercial use, automating digital interactions with chat bot and all of that stuff. So they’ve been innovating over time working at that solution to make it better.

And again, like a Genesis they’ve had acquisitions of Spoken was an example to strengthen their C-cast and their U-cast capabilities also catalyzed AI and as well as some of their more mobile focused identity solutions. And they also worked with Affinity for behavioral pairing technology. They have really good solutions, really interesting company. So I do, to answer your question, Talkdesk is another one, and it goes on and on that over the years, the push to innovate and you see it at their events and in other forums, really is impressive to mesh human beings and technologies. So I think that we’re headed in the right direction for sure as an industry.

That’s exciting. I think that’s what is so exciting about CX. What I found being immersed in the industry is that it’s quick pace. And it is an innovative industry that is fast paced and fast moving and changes are happening quickly to make sure that the customers are feeling satisfied and things are being handled efficiently and effectively.

Yeah. What’s really interesting and cool is for years people would say, “Oh, the contact center never changes.” And it’s like, what you just said is now the truth, it’s innovating and changing. The more you dig into the space, the more interesting it becomes because you start to touch upon questions that have everything to do with humanity. How many millions of contact center agents are there globally across the world? And everyone should be asking themselves the question, how is technology potentially going to impact that giant population of employees. You all know a Harari and Sapiens, the book that everybody should read, he’s got a particular take and he warns of a future where technology takes a huge amount of jobs. And you have this global quote. I think the term is useless class. And you’re like, “Oh my God, what if this happens?”

And then you have other optimist like a Peter Diamandis or others that say, “Well, no technology historically has always created new opportunities and new jobs.” And I tend to drift in that direction myself, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be asking the questions that are hugely important and wouldn’t you know it, it’s happening in the contact center industry directly relevant to our industry, the big questions of employment and how they will impact society, have to be asked and should be asked and talked about. And so your point about how so much is happening in the space is so true. Because you can walk into loads of discussions and contexts and companies and enterprises and talk about now the role of the contact center is at the nexus of all of these big questions.

That’s a great answer. I remember when RPA first hit the market and I was a low level marketing employee. And I remember having the fear in that moment, naively thinking that the emergence of RPA could take my job. And looking back on that, how silly that was to think as a low level marketing employee, starting out that the robots were going to take my job and how far it’s come. So it’s just an interesting reflection back to when it first hit the market and to where we are today.

Well, and we were talking about this. I was sat on a panel as well last week or two weeks ago when I was in Lisbon at this event talking about the metaverse and then the panel was about the roboverse and all of these questions and the questions are out there and they need to be asked. But the only immediate answer in my opinion is back to our earlier point about is a lot happening. Things are changing exponentially and very quickly. But what we know now is to ground yourself in doing the best job you can do and work with technology to help aid you in that pursuit as a human being. And I think if we do that, we’re going to be okay, that’s my belief.

I couldn’t agree more. So what is the biggest misconception that companies have regarding what drives positive CX?

I think of two things, first, to return to the premise again, of the effortless experience. One common misconception is that customers are looking for extras and bells and whistles to be blown away with the service. And it’s my belief that at the end of the day, they want their issue resolved. I agree with that book. Secondly, the belief that AI can solve every problem and is the magic elixir, the solution for everything and anything. And you made this point earlier, Hailey, we’re not there yet. Maybe there will be some point in time that artificial general intelligence is achieved.

Actually, this reminds me that there was a guy I think with deep mind, I have to double check this, but he insists that we’ve actually already reached AGI or Artificial General Intelligence, and it’s only a matter of computing power and ability to scale that. But I’m still a believer that although the computing power is advancing exponentially, algorithmic sophistication has not been racing ahead exponentially. It’s been more of a linear in some cases, even sub-linear progression.

And if you are going to offer the magic elixir of the singularity or a machine that is as smart as a human being and can handle complex questions with empathy, like a human being, then you’re going to need the master algorithm that Ray Crosswell talks about to be able to manage that. One thing that should give us pause is a guy like Ray Crosswell, who’s a consultant for Google computer scientist. He insists that we’re going to get there by the end of this decade. If that’s the case, then wow. And I’m not anybody to say that it couldn’t happen, but I’m a lot more skeptical that the magic algorithm is going to be discovered. So I think as of where we are right now, the biggest misconception would be that one. And then that point about the effortless experience.

That’s very interesting. And I like that. It’s realistic that yeah, maybe it is in our future, but we are a long ways away from it. And we need to understand that. And going back to what we spoke about earlier, understanding the correct use cases for it and where we are right now with the technology is so important. You’ve answered all these questions. Amazing. This has been such a great conversation and you’ve mentioned a lot of great resources, specifically books and individuals, but I’d love to get you to add some more, what resources in the form of podcasts, publications, blogs, things like that. Do you regularly reference to stay on top of industry trends and news?

Yeah, well, as I said earlier, I do my best to track goings on across the entire contact ecosystem. And I’ve given you a few examples of my tweets this morning. That’s just an example, chug the coffee and scan the universe and see what’s out there. And that means watching and following the best systems companies. I’ve mentioned a couple of them here, the big BPOs, the top guys. And again, I was with one of them last week and then all the smaller and more disruptive firms and the startups that are doing so many cool things from AI to data. Have to throw a shout out to the CX files, Mark Hillary and Peter Ryan are great. And that’s a really nice reference for people that can get, if you go into the library, there’s a lot of great discussion.

I do think that in person stuff is key. I’ve really missed live events. And thankfully, this year I’ve been able to get out there again a little bit and hopefully that’ll continue. As I said, I was just in Lisbon in May. I was in Kigali, in Rwanda, in March, some amazing things going on there. You get a real feel for things, meeting new people. The energy is great in person. And this is coming from a guy who was writing about homeshoring in the early 2000s at IDC as an analyst.

And a lot of skepticism back then that there should be a lot of home based agents, but I laid out the case for why it was probably inevitable, but I still believe that energy from in person interactions is so important. And then I mentioned The Excellence Dividend, Tom Peters. He makes a really good point in the book. You should be having lunch with someone new at work on a regular basis to get their ideas and their specific perspectives to broaden your own horizons and your own knowledge to stay on top of things. And I think that’s a great way to put it.

I think that’s such a great point. And I agree with you. I miss that interaction at an event on the floor where you’re running into people at the meal times sitting next to someone who you would perhaps never meet and you sit and have a meal and you can spark this great conversation and that great conversation can truly impact the success of your business, whatever it may be.

So I think that’s such a great answer. So again, you’ve mentioned all these great people, but I’m going to reiterate it. You’ve talked about Mark Hillary and Peter Ryan who are running CX files. They’re great friends of Vistio and amazing to follow on LinkedIn specifically, but who are a couple of more standout leaders in the industry that you follow when you get up in the morning and you’re doing that scan of Twitter and LinkedIn that you look to for advice, or even people that you look to collaborate with, have those lunches with things like that.

Yeah. Well, first on the Peter and Mark, you’re exactly right. They do a great job on LinkedIn. They’ve really fostered a community and created network effects that so many people are benefiting from, not just those guys. And so the conversation that they spark and are generating is huge. That’s such an important thing. And I take my hat off to them and I’d love to stay involved in that conversation that is continually regenerating itself and innovating itself.

A couple of quick examples aside from that in the industry would be a guy like Daniel Julien the founder of Teleperformance. I first met him when I was at IDC in the early 2000s. And at the time here’s a founder and CEO that was unique in so many ways, but one of them was his willingness to spend time with analysts. He’d come in and talk to us about his ideas and what he was thinking. And so to follow him and his firm, and so many people at his firm is something because they’re the biggest player in the BPO, the CX space in that aspect of things. But they’re also in the midst of a giant transformation of sorts on a massive scale, like shifting the aircraft carrier. And so leading the way that the entire industry has to do.

So it’s really important to follow guys like that. But also Tele Tech, and Ken Tuchman is a very smart guy and you’d be wise to watch what he has to say. He’s long been ahead of the curve on the tech enabled aspects of BPO, psychs for a real great understanding of operational efficiencies in BPO. And then we are talking about cybersecurity and then the firms that worked with BPOs, like Thin Scales, a great company out of Dublin, that I love to keep an eye on Twitter and other places and touch base with them.

But also another quick point I need to make. And there’s so many others I could mention, I love to read a lot of stuff that is outside of the industry that has nothing to do with the contact ecosystem or telecom, whether it be history or fiction, because it gives you fresh perspectives that come back to make the industry more relevant. And it allows you to see it in new ways. So I do a lot of reading outside of the space as well. And I actually find that in conversation, it actually sparks a lot of great ideas. So at the end of the day, if you’re not having fun with this stuff, then you’re missing the point. In my opinion.

That’s an incredible question. Out of curiosity, what was the last fiction book that you read that spurred inspiration or gave you some insight in relation into what we do?

Yeah, well, I’m always, I’m a lunatic for James Joyce and Irish literature. So I’ve reread, Finnegans Wake, and it actually, Mark Hillary would laugh if you heard this, because he’s a Joyce fan as well, but it actually has a lot to do with everything we’ve been talking about because Joyce created a world of, when you pick up Finnegans Wake, most people think it’s nonsensical language because he was a maniac. He took like 16 languages and mashed them together to create his own language. But what he was really doing was anticipating a world where technology was going to create a certain a chaos. But all the themes are in there that are in some of the more straightforward books as well.

And if you read Finnegans Wake the best way to approach it is to read it out loud and you don’t understand what he’s saying on a logical or a conscious level, but if you keep at it, a magical, back of this word, magic will start to happen in that themes and ideas will start to crop up images in your mind and you don’t know why, and it’s the sound of the words.

And so I even had this idea that Finnegans Wake is itself like an AI machine in that it continues to generate ideas from you, the reader. So Joyce was such a maniac that everybody who reads Finnegans Wake is like, they’re creating their own version of the novel and their own version of the book, because it’s forcing you to free associate ideas from your own experience and memories. And so everyone who reads it creates it’s like an AI feeding off of data lake that is creating a whole new story. But even having said that everybody’s story will be both unique, but the themes will remain the same. The key themes that humanity has wrestled with over time. If you read Sapiens by Harari, they’re the same themes that we’ve always wore. Technology change, it’s all in, Finnegans Wake, markets rising and falling.

So you probably didn’t anticipate such a long answer, but … Another great book that is much more straightforward and a great plane if you’re on a flight read is, I Am Pilgrim. So get on and check out I Am Pilgrim. Is an incredible read and it’s relevant in a lot of ways to some of the things that are happening right now. And then my other quick book that I just finished is not fiction, but it’s called Dead as Doornails. And it’s about Dublin in the 50s. So these great writers like Flann O’Brien and Patrick Kavanagh, the poet and Brendan Behan were … Back then you didn’t have social media. So they go to the pub and you had to engage in conversation after a few Guinness and that’s all those guys did. And they created some amazing works out of that.

They had their own challenges and troubles and negatives that derived out of that lifestyle. But just a reminder, maybe the final point that it helps me make is that at the end of the day, coming out of the pandemic, we all want to get back out there and meet people in person and ideally over a Guinness to discuss the future. So how’s that for an ending?

That’s an awesome ending. And with that, I can’t wait to someday have a Guinness with you, Stephen. This has been very, very cool and we’ve never talked about how reading some fiction books can impact our lives professionally. So I think that’s a great way to end the podcast. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Thanks Hailey for having me and go Celtics. It’s game three tonight. I hope everybody’s pulling for my Boston Celtics.

We might have some people on the opposing side-

Yes.

… but I will try to push people as much as possible to go for the Celtics. And I look forward to talking soon.

Thanks again, Hailey. It was great to talk and we’ll talk soon I hope.

You bet.

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