Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

Am I speaking to a robot?

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Last week’s Economist ran an Outsourcing and Offshoring Special Report which contained an article titled Rise of the Software Machines. Mentioned alongside Blue Prism was IPSoft which caught my eye because complementary to Blue Prism’s back office focus, they are creating front office robots, that actually speak to customers. And more than that, they use autonomics to learn how to communicate in context. The website is worth a read, especially if you are a mathematics geek.

British energy retailers start to fight back

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Would you rather work in banking or energy retail? Bit like being an estate agent in the 1980s. Easy targets for the press, the public and the Government. But there is a bit more to the stories when you scratch under the surface. Despite recent scandals, much good is done by banks and energy cos that is overlooked in the furores. It seems one company has had enough of the bad press.

Following a staunch defence of British Gas profits last week, in an article in The Daily Telegraph today, the CEO and chairman of SSE, one of the “big six” British energy companies, both argue that their company needs to make profits to “employ people, pay tax, provide services that customers need, make investments that keep the lights on and create jobs”.

My experience of retail energy suggests it focusses as hard on operational efficiency as any other industry I could name. Pricing is always a controversial topic as one imagines freezing cold pensioners on Christmas day contrasted with fat cat bosses sunning themselves on the Med. But the retailers are at the mercy of wholesale energy prices and, even if, as alleged, they had a hand in rigging the wholesale price, this hasn’t resulted in exceptional profits. I would prefer my pension fund to invest in non-energy stocks at the moment.

Stormy waters for UK banks – where’s the lifeboat?

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Let’s be honest, banks, and especially British banks, are not having a great time right now. I doubt that Bob Diamond will be the last casualty of the LIBOR manipulation affair. Stephen Hester has his own problems, and I would imagine that whether he takes a bonus or not will be the last thing on his mind right now.

There is often little that can be done to correct problems of the past. No use crying over spilt milk, as the saying goes. But who clears up the mess when a BACS tape is wrongly processed? Who refunds bank charges when a software upgrade puts batch processing behind and wages don’t make it to customers’ accounts? When a regulator rules that a regulated product was mis-sold, who organises the refunds? Operations of course!

A great example of this is PPI. Banks were ruled to have sold inappropriate payment protection insurance policies alongside loans and other forms of credit. Now, certain UK banks have created and staffed specific divisions to handle the PPI complaints. A fundamentally simple process – read complaint, check PPI was sold, evaluate whether compensation due, calculate and issue refund, write to customer – is consuming hundreds of jobs. Whilst this is good for the Indian offshoring industry, enlightened banks are using technology, such as robotic software, to automate these rules based tasks so that refunds are evaluated more accurately and more quickly. This does more than reduce the number of onshore and offshore staff required. It enables regulator deadlines to be met, customers to be dealt with faster, balance sheet provisions to be more accurate.

O2 automation “saves millions”

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Good piece in Computer Weekly this week explaining how O2 used Blue Prism software to create a virtualised back office, replacing more expensive off-shored resources. This was done by operational staff who built their own automated processes based on an IT-supported Blue Prism platform.

The economics of operational self-service are too compelling to ignore, according to Forrester Research.

Business Ops should have more control

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Do you remember the days of early websites?  Come on you don’t have to be that old.  I wrote a paper for my Masters in 1997 that recommended that banks, for example, ought to have more transactional websites even though, at the time, there was not a huge business case for the investment.  Hard to believe that was only 13 years ago.

In those days, if your organisation was lucky enough to have a website, you were starting to gain competitive advantage.  Especially if you could keep it up to date more quickly than your competitors.

However, that depended on your IT dept and an army of HTML programmers, who wanted a specification, a design document, a test environment, methodology, design authority, sign off procedures etc etc.

Then someone invented Content Management Systems.  The purpose of a CMS was to enable the business to make their own website changes in real time but, and this is a crucial but, within a corridor of governance enabled by the IT dept.  So it was possible to change the text, but not corrupt customer data.  It was possible to change pictures, but not corporate design rules.  It was possible to change the database contents, but not the database itself.  So business users can do a whole load of useful stuff without the risk of bringing down the site.

Of course, other governance is required.  Someone still needs to take responsibility for the content that, in an instant, is representing your organisation around the globe.  But without this level of flexibility how can your company compete with the speed of business today?

This type of flexibility (I prefer to think of it as agility) is now finding its way into the operational world.  Giving business ops a way of doing their own process integration, orchestration and execution for example is freeing the business to react to the daily challenges of the changing world.  At Blue Prism we call it Business Led Computing.  It is a growing movement.  People are used to being able to do their own computing at home.  The next big thing in corporate computing might just be self serve.

Streamline.net plumbs new depths

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

The former ISP of this blog is not 100% well regarded in this part of the world.

I sacked Streamline nearly 12 months ago but now they are trying to debit my account for another year’s fees.  I have been forced to change my debit card to stop them.

I enquired about how to cancel my account using the customer service support ticket system on their website.  This is the system that, as a customer, is the only possible way of getting any response out of Streamline.net.

Now I no longer want to be a customer – guess what?  To close my account I have to call a premium rate number where, surprise surprise, I sit in a queue that costs me more than next year’s subscription.  No reply in 20 minutes.

Am I the only one that thinks this is shoddy?

Operational Agility

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

My previous post mentioned that Blue Prism’s new message is based on operational agility, so I thought I better explain what that means.

In today’s complex business world, front and back office customer service operations have to contend with a non-stop barrage of change.  Whereas traditional IT projects deliver systems against timescales measured in years, human beings on the front line have to react to events happening right now, today.

The long term IT strategy is generally based on what is known today with some future forecast factored in.  The business users, though, have little more idea of what is coming tomorrow than the poor EA faced with a blank sheet of paper.  Of course, the major systems still need to exist, CRM, core operational software, billing and collections etc.  It’s just that when these systems are conceived they have to be designed with a “best guess” of future requirements and this results in range of functions available to the front line that is then frozen in time.

The problem with this approach is that operational staff might need to do something new.  A merger or acquisition creates process duplication; a new product launch requires operational support with sketchy forecasts of process volumes; management want to push a certain product whilst sunsetting another; a processing error needs quickly reversing.

One of our customers had a processing problem caused by a mail strike.  Several thousand accounts were debited with a late payment penalty whilst the cheques really were “in the post”.  A decision was taken to refund these payments (very noble – glad I am a customer of this organisation!).  When the customer accounting system was designed, nobody thought that there might be a bulk requirement to selectively cancel debits applied to a range of accounts.  The traditional way of solving this problem is to take a few call centre agents off the phones for a few weeks to process these refunds manually.  With Blue Prism software the team was able to quickly piece together a new automated process flow that required no human involvement and the process was completed in one day.

Here’s the science bit.  Blue Prism retrospectively componentises the existing and legacy apps and allows you to re-purpose them into new operational scenarios and business processes.  Using point and click integration techniques (no code required), new methods can be clicked together into a process flow using a simple flowchart interface.  This gives operational staff the means to manage and react to short term change and therefore operational agility is enhanced.

Sounds like similar objectives to BPM/SOA?  Possibly some.  Except we are talking about delivery in days and weeks, not months and years.  I’ll go into more detail on this in a later post.

Contactless Payments at Man City

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

My daily newsfeeds bought me some mannah from heaven in the form of news that Manchester City Football Club is going to trial contactless payment technology in conjunction with its season tickets.

Access to the ground is already by contactless proximity card so making the leap to contactless payment is just like Oyster and Barclaycard really.  I criticised that one heavily for lack of ambition which just goes to show the power of fans eh?

I am not currently a season ticket holder at Man City but I do go to many of the home games using my contactless Access Card, where I merely ring up, ask for a ticket and access is authorised.  I turn up for the game and hey presto, my card let’s me in.  I won’t go into the number of times two people have been allocated the same seat but I tolerate this as a “fan”.  If that same access card could be used to buy a beer (for which I tolerate queuing for ages), a pie (ugh!), and my programme this would be great.  I then shuffle my way through to my seat amongst the thronging masses and watch City play out a drab 0-0 draw and go home to kick the cat.

A major energy company in the UK, npower, has a corporate strategy of turning customers into fans – no wonder….  At Man City, I am happy to pay for poor service again and again, and I never ever switch “suppliers”.   Btw, I am an npower customer and sadly I must report that I cannot make a valid comparison since I have never had a service problem with them.

I hear there are similar trials in the US too – I wonder if Man City fancy twinning with the Seattle Seahawks?  They had a service problem at Green Bay in last season’s playoffs – it snowed wildly – home advantage hmphhhh!

Buy vs. Build – is there a 3rd way?

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

The age old CIO dilemma.  Buy vs. Build.

On the one hand, you buy in a package from a vendor.  They bring industry “best” practice.  They guarantee that your administration is as good as your competitors.  The trouble is that it is equally as bad as your competitors.  So it puts you in an equal position, not an advantageous one.  The lowest common denominator?  At the very least you are making your business subservient to the vendor’s view of the world.  Sometimes this can be good, sometimes it can be bad.

The traditional alternative is to build your own system.  For the purposes of this argument, I am placing this in the same category as buying a package from a vendor and then trying to tailor it to your environment.  The former can be very rewarding and can differentiate you greatly, but can also be very expensive.  The latter is almost always the worst of both worlds and creates expensive and long term projects, contorted business solutions, and a support headache long into the future.

So is there a third way?  I think so.

Your existing systems can adapt to changing business requirements if there is a process management layer capable of making sense of the existing infrastructure.  This can lead to business agility on a new scale if you implement it properly.

With the right tools and methodologies, new horizons are possible.  New standards in customer interaction, faster service, better compliance, process adherence, first time resolution and other desirable customer outcomes are all possible….in the short term.

UK bank customers still like a smiling face

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Personally, I can’t think of a single reason why I might want to visit a branch of my bank (personal bank at any rate).  I much prefer to use the internet for transactional stuff and the telephone for problems and advice.

But it seems I may be in the minority because, after years of “consolidation” many UK banks are actually increasing the number of branches.  Abbey (part of Banco Santander), for example, are planning 300 new branches  with an Abbey spokesman quoted as saying that although internet and phone banking are available, many customers “prefer dealing with our staff face to face in a branch”.  In case you are wondering whether 300 branches is a big deal, it represents an increase of 43% on the existing Abbey estate.

It seems that HBOS and HSBC are making similar moves.  Maybe my dream of being able to run my life through my mobile phone is being hampered by the old fashioned attitude of the UK consumer.