Why diversity isn’t just another box to tick – let’s talk ROI

Diversity is a hot topic in boardrooms today. No wonder: One recent HBR study that examined 1,700 organizations across eight countries found that in every country studied, increased diversity equaled increased innovation - and the more dimensions of diversity represented, the stronger the relationship. 

Companies with above-average diversity experience see 19% points higher innovation revenues and 9% points higher earnings before interest (EBIT) margins. These benefits are recognized in the procurement function, where supplier diversity programs have had a growing footprint for some time.

I’m quite passionate about diversity. I sit on the board of advisers for the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) Women Empowerment, Leadership and Diversity Chapter, among many other endeavors for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

So I find it frustrating that despite all the upside in having a diverse workforce, less than 40% of organizations foster enabling conditions. These conditions include fair employment practices such as equal pay, participative leadership, top management’s support of diversity and open communication practices.

It’s not just a case of inequality – it’s a lost revenue opportunity.

So, how can we do better?

Here are some great suggestions from another HBR article on how to create a successful workplace diversity program, along with my observations:

Focus on intervention, not just bias reduction: Tooling up employees to actively intervene in bias situations builds confidence and awareness and increases collective accountability.

Invite non-managers to foster communication across the organization: Organizations’ diversity efforts often focus on recruitment and promotions - though realistically, these are just symptoms of wider issues in organizational culture. To understand and target the root of the problem, organizations must include employees at all levels in the hierarchy.

Keep the conversation going to stay accountable: Many organizations today are treating the push for diversity simply as ‘a box to tick’, and once the action is completed it can be put aside. Yet to be truly effective, this needs to be an ongoing conversation with results measured over time.

Be flexible - in both content and delivery: Every organization is unique, with different needs and challenges. While you should start with a plan, be sure to talk to employees to hear their challenges, interests, and biases, and incorporate this feedback into the program as you go. Feedback is key.

What do you think, and what have you observed? I’d be interested in hearing your feedback.

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Challenges with your seasonal peaks? Tips for better CX next year

Every year organizations invest millions to deliver a high-quality customer experience (CX) during their seasonal periods.

There’s a reason for that: In 2017, holiday retail sales were estimated to account for $680.4 billion – as much as 30% of retailers’ annual sales. One-third of your year, captured within a six-week time frame.

January, June, and July are the times of year when the travel industry experiences an influx of business. If we look at the revenue of the world’s largest travel company, Priceline Group (parent to, KAYAK, and amongst others), we can see there are big spikes in Q1 and Q3 of both 2016 and 2017.

These are just two examples - but with a strong economy putting more money in your customers’ pockets, their propensity to buy, travel, or make other purchases during these peak periods is expected to grow.

Increasingly I’m hearing the question “Do we need to be thinking differently in order to do this better next year?”

Heightened pressure, heightened investment… mediocre results?

During these influxes in business, it’s not uncommon for organizations to more than double their staff to handle volumes, sometimes requiring 5,000+ extra agents to help cover the seasonal bump… at a cost of over $15 million... just in training!

But despite these extra agents and the enormous investment – the crushing truth is that usually there is still a massive amount of friction... and not just for the customer.

Time and time again, organizations are losing customers to the black hole of wait times and inefficient processes during their seasonal bumps.

We all know that today’s consumers often have an overwhelming choice, so even with the best forecasting and planning for your CX, change will inevitably happen. And when today’s customers are unhappy they are much quicker to act, with 50% of customers severing ties with a company immediately after a bad sales/marketing experience (Accenture).

Yet… is this how it has to be? It’s time to do this differently

Whether your peak volume period lasts a few weeks or several months, there is a multitude of ways you can smooth out the workload. And if you consider these changes in your planning for next year, you’ll undoubtedly be in much better shape to handle peak season.

The following are a few approaches that have worked successfully for many of my clients:

Review/revise your IVR

Human nature drives us to select the path of least resistance. If an interactive voice response (IVR) system is difficult to use, customers either hang up or zero out to an agent, raising inbound call volume and prolonging average handle time.

When IVR systems are programmed to communicate business hours, billing information, and even certain types of account information, CX can be significantly improved without sacrificing functionality.  If a customer is calling for something as simple as paying their bill, they can avoid long hold times by selecting the “pay my bill” self-service option.

If you know the reason for the spike in call volumes - e.g., during the tax season - another proactive approach you can take is to add a message during the hold time that will most likely answer their question – such as that tax forms will be mailed on “xx” date.

Bottom line, take a look at your IVR flow, and how it is driving calls into different queues to optimize the user experience.

Proactive notifications

Are you using proactive notifications to head off problems like delivery delays, stock shortages, billing or flight delays? In a recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research, 63% of U.S. consumers felt critical customer service issues could have been avoided if companies had contacted them earlier. Proactive outreach can improve customer satisfaction by anticipating needs specific to the customer, especially if companies can deliver outbound messages via their preferred channels. This is a key aspect of personalizing the experience that makes the customer feel valued, even though the notifications are automated.

Cloud-based APIs

Having inflexible channels driven by legacy systems and tools with scripting and code that must be locked down months in advance is a recipe for the same mediocre results - and a loss of customer loyalty. Cloud based application programming interfaces (APIs– basically software building blocks) are a great way to quickly add new features and channels as you need them. Combining cloud-based APIs with real-time data analysis will help your company make and implement strategic decisions at the moment of awareness. So if you are in the market for a major switch or IVR upgrade, consider a cloud-based solution without CAPEX (with pay as you go, based on demand).

Maybe it’s time for you to take a look at how flexible and proactive your customer care organization is so you can meet the unexpected demands of this year’s busy season.

I’ll be posting more insights into what I’m seeing work in our journey - but in the meantime, if you want to share your own experiences of delivering your CX over your peak season, feel free to comment!

About the Author:
Hi, I'm Annette Timmins, a customer interactions professional who writes about insights and strategies that drive customer value and loyalty. For over 20 years I’ve been collaborating with organizations to deliver global outsourced solutions that optimize their customer support operations and help build their brand. I am currently Vice President of Sales Strategy and Solutions at VXI Global Solutions. If you would like to contact me, please hit the link below and/or connect with me on LinkedIn. You can also follow me on Twitter @AnnetteTTweets.


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The iceberg that’s killing so many customer conversion rates

An HBR study concluded that customers with whom you strike an emotional connection create double the lifetime value for a brand. So what would raising your net promoter score (NPS) by 30 basis points mean to your business?

The price of conversion – especially as it comes to right-shoring – determining your ideal combination of nearshore/offshore/onshore capabilities, frequently comes up in client conversations.

Inevitably, the focus is on the sales number for the month and the price paid to achieve it. But, just like an iceberg, it’s not what’s above the surface that is the most important.

Instead of focusing on what’s visible, you need to get under the waterline to truly drive value.

The thing about Icebergs

The eye is always drawn to what sits above the surface – and in this case, it’s the amount you are paying, how many customers are converting, and how they combine to achieve your results for that month:

In this world it’s pretty simple – the numbers that matter are those that contribute to your result for the month (or the quarter – or year – depending on your horizon). In this context, it’s entirely normal to ask yourself:

“If I can pay X for a 30% conversion rate in one location, why would I want to pay 2X for the same conversion rate in the elsewhere?”

To which the answer is quite simple – you wouldn’t.

But would you pay 1.5 X for a 50% conversion rate?

Or more importantly – what value do you place on avoiding the opportunity cost that comes from missing the chance to build a lasting relationship or close a sale in this increasingly competitive environment?

Instead of focusing solely on the above-the-line metrics, you need to give time and attention to the value drivers that deliver you the lowest OVERALL COST, and the BEST POSSIBLE outcome.

Which means going below the waterline to find what is really driving value for your customers – and for you. In that world, the picture looks more like this:

Why should you care?

Broadly speaking, two factors sit below the water line which fundamentally alters the trajectory of your top-line metrics:

Hidden Cost and Quality of Experience

Hidden Cost is driven by aspects like agent turnover, poor training, and poor processes and the detrimental impact that this has on the customer experience you deliver.

But fundamentally, it is the opportunity cost of not building a relationship with a customer – and letting someone else do so.

Quality of Experience is driven by emotionally engaged agents, who can connect with your customers – proven to drive repeat business and higher lifetime value.

Think about that HBR study - what if we raised your NPS 30 basis points? Not only would your conversion rate go up, so would the amount of repeat business, customer loyalty, and revenue generated over the years.

Within your industry, think about the compounded customer goodwill and recommendations you could garner with just your vendors & partners alone.

So the next time you find yourself in a conversation about price, make sure you are really thinking about cost – and the hidden value drivers beneath the surface. That’s where you’ll find the right outcome.

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Harnessing the power of bots in hospitality

The applications for chatbots in the hospitality industry will only continue to grow – as demonstrated in examples ranging from Marriott’s Slack integration for business travelers to the Henn na Hotel’s robo-dinos.

There’s a reason Gartner made this prediction:

“By 2020, the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse.”

Chatbots make life easier for your customers. They’re accessible anytime, they provide instant answers to questions, and they learn as they go. They’re a cool drink on a hot day for the customer who used to have to go through several engagement channels – website, email and then a live agent, for example - for a resolution to a problem or question.

As a hospitality provider, bots, in combination with machine learning, can also make your life easier, by creating opportunities to upsell based on customers’ profiles and histories. For a customer who had previously inquired about a waterfront suite, a bot could offer a coveted suite at a special discount during a specified time window.

Incorporating bots into your customer service mix doesn’t come without its challenges – as my colleague outlined in "To Bot or not to Bot - the Promise and Pitfalls." But in this article, we’ll leave you with some of our favorite examples of innovative uses of the mighty chatbot for inspiration:


Can’t sleep? Created by mattress company Casper, Insomnobot-3000 (which is only available between 11 pm and 5 am) keeps insomniacs company by chatting about anything from Stranger Things to pizza to the latest World Cup results.

“Some nights, it’s just impossible to fall asleep, so I think Casper wanted to create something that’s a friend that keeps you up at night,” company VP Lindsay Kaplan told Venture Beat.

National Geographic

To support their new TV show “Genius,” featuring the life and works of Albert Einstein, National Geographic launched a Facebook Messenger bot where users could ‘chat’ with Einstein.

“Rather than having the campaign speak for Einstein, we wanted Einstein to speak for himself,” Layne Harris, 360i’s VP, Head of Innovation Technology, said to GeoMarketing. “This provides a more intimate and immersive experience for users to really connect.”


Learning a new language can be intimidating – enter Duolingo’s Chatbot language tutor. From speaking, writing and listening, the bot helps the user practice in a safe, risk-free environment – at any time of the day, for free.

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Contact Mark

What your customers want from loyalty programs

When was the last time you heard someone gushing about a loyalty program - outside of an annual report or an investors’ conference? Customers today are more demanding than ever before as loyalty programs become part of the nondifferentiated status quo.

Flo Lugi, non-executive chairman of the Global Hotel Alliance, sums it up here:

“Most consumers initially join a loyalty program as a way to save money (thus the huge increases in membership by the hotel brands), but they also want something extra.”

According to Forrester, 59% of U.S. adults who are online and belong to a customer loyalty program say that getting special offers or treatment that isn’t available to other customers is important to them. For highly active members, that number rises to 69%.

Customers want more out of their loyalty programs, with 56% of U.S. adults who are online seeking enhanced customer services, such as member-only events or services. This is a growing trend that clearly demonstrates the importance of experiential rewards.

This is especially true for millennials, for whom the ability to capture “in-the-moment” cachet experiences and share them with their social network is extremely important.

Going from transactional to emotional connections

One of the biggest motivators of true loyalty is the emotional connection a customer has with a brand - yet most rewards in loyalty programs are based on transactions. How frequently that guest visits and how much she spends, versus why. Having these elements is only the beginning, as consumers evolve to expect “customized” offers and experiences, based on their actions, behaviors, and activities that go beyond a booking or stay.

To drive true value, loyalty programs need to be considered as only one part of an overall customer engagement and relationship management strategy, designed to evoke highly emotional responses in customers. Are intrinsic or extrinsic drivers guiding your guests to become repeat customers?

For this to work, profiles must be enriched with real-time data on customer interactions across offline and online touchpoints. Only by marrying transaction data with social, behavioral and activity-related data can companies provide highly personalized and contextually relevant experiences and drive customer engagement and, thus, true loyalty – and the rewards that come from it.

Customer experience is the sum of all interactions -  whether that occurs in the digital or the physical world – and it’s healthy for business that we keep raising the bar on customer expectations.

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Ramp up your holiday season CX – for half the price

Chances are, when you’re reading this article, it’s peak season somewhere, for some industry.

From the holiday rush in retail to open enrollment periods for health insurers or hot booking times in the travel business – the need to scale to accommodate seasonal spikes is a common feature for many of us in customer care.

In retail, customer experience (CX) professionals spend millions every year preparing to deliver a Holiday Season CX. Despite all this effort, every customer still dreads having to contact you during this period — unbearable wait times for the simplest inquiries, driven by the sheer volume of interactions. Unhappy customers, lost revenue, stress levels through the roof. Sound familiar?

Just think of the possibilities if you could spend HALF that amount, but still provide customers with faster, smarter service.

The training money pit

During my years of managing customer care for one of North America’s biggest retailers, we all knew that things would get A LOT busier during the holiday season. Yet no matter how detailed the planning process, or how many extra staff were trained, the reality on the front line during the holiday season was always different than even our most well-laid plans.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to bring on at least 6,000 extra agents to help us cover the seasonal bump. At roughly $24 million (just in training) that represented the lion’s share of our holiday investment.

Despite this enormous investment – the crushing truth was that the customers still encountered friction.

Come mid-January, and we’d sit down, review the metrics and do our best to apply our learnings to tweak execution for the next holiday season… only to find that we were faced with a different set of issues, resulting in the same expenditure (if not more), and the same customer frustrations.

What if it could be different?

Thanks to inflexible IVRs, complex systems and customer channels that had to be scripted and locked down in advance, we had to design and set BEFORE the season commenced. Agents had to be trained on EVERYTHING as there was no way to predict who was going to get what call or to easily segregate and route specific call types within a skill or queue.

Technology today allows retailers to flexibly change their IVR on the fly – meaning customers have a quicker and more tailored CX, and agents only need to be trained on the queries you know that they are going to take – cutting your training costs in half, at least. Why hasn’t anyone done this before?

We at VXI have asked ourselves that same question.

Real-time data driving on the fly changes

With data analytics that informs customer journey – in real time - your decisions made back in January no longer need to be set in stone. Today, we at VXI can use data to spot potential problems before they are made, and then make changes to the journey across ALL your channels to make an issue a non-issue.

Chat queue clogging up? No problem - we can divert traffic. Interactive voice response (IVR) not streaming people correctly? It’s easy to design and add a new flow based on customer feedback. Need to add SMS or change the scripting? Covered – just use the simple drag and drop interface.

A partner that helps you approach your holiday season differently

We all know retail is going through a fundamental renaissance. What if you could spend your time re-imagining the customer experience of tomorrow - rather than worrying (guessing) about seasonal issues on the ground, months in advance?

Instead of spending your entire year planning for the tactical elements of the holiday season, we can free up your time to let you focus on the big issues – like innovating ways to delight your customers. Sound like another holiday wish list? Trust me – it’s not.

Take it from someone who knows what it’s like to compete in your space – this is the next evolution in the holiday season customer experience.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can ramp up your holiday-season CX, while cutting out the unnecessary effort and money, let’s talk.

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Contact Erin

How to understand and leverage your digital opportunities

I came across this analyst perspective on Toyota’s $1 billion investment in Singapore-based Grab Taxi Holdings:

“Ridesharing is coming. For car companies, this is a painful reality. But it can be a business opportunity if they understand it correctly.”

Toyota is, of course, an automobile manufacturer driven by technology. Grab, while known for its ride-hailing, ride sharing, and logistics services, is essentially a technology company.

Meanwhile, as players like Uber and Lyft have signaled their intentions in what was traditionally the rental-car space, upstarts like Snappcar, which allows customers to rent out their vehicles, have entered the market.

Which begs the question: Where does this leave rental-car companies?

I’ve always said change is good. It can be stressful when it’s nipping at your heels - but when technological evolution and innovative ideas collide, your path can lead toward transformations in customer experience (CX) and expectations.

But change and innovation are also hard. According to McKinsey, 48% of digital investments fail to deliver ROI.

Bridging the conversion gap

The reason? In my view, there remains a gap between the promise that digital initiatives hold, and the ability of organizations to truly operationalize their strategy in a way that ensures their ROI improves at the same rate as the experience they deliver. I term this the conversion gap – the difference between an experience that will drive increased revenue and loyalty from your customers, and the ability of an organization to viably deliver it.

Leaping this gap requires a different approach – one that’s driven by an understanding of customer behavior and impact across all channels, and backed by a flexible, responsive approach to technology deployment that allows you to deliver the experiences that customers want, within the channels that deliver the best return to you.



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How to get past the innovation conundrum

The drive towards innovation can result in a prickly situation for many customer experience (CX) leaders. The clients I’m talking to are increasingly giving voice to a consistent problem:

“I’m under pressure to make a meaningful change – but I’m on the hook for today’s results too. I’m struggling to do both.”

Meanwhile, as most industries are experiencing some satisfying returns, this advice from Forrester nicely summarizes the risks – and the challenges – that CX teams face:

“It will be a year of reckoning for those that have held on too long or tried to bootstrap their way through transforming their business. Simply put, the distance between customer expectations and the reality on the ground is becoming so great that a slow and gradual transition is no longer possible. Incrementalism may feel good, but it masks the quiet deterioration of the business.”

There are some great stories of innovation that have led to sizable improvements in CX – and ultimately, revenue. When TUI Group added video to their booking experience, for example, they found that customers were three to four times more likely to complete the transaction.

Their marketing director described this enhancement as helping people “experience a holiday before they book. You can test drive a car, but you can’t test a holiday before purchasing. We want to change that.” That’s taking a hard look at opportunity gaps in the customer journey.

Where to start?

I agree that now is not the time to relax into your healthy margins. Not if you want to stay ahead of the chasing pack. But it’s true that it can be hard to make a significant change while focusing on keeping things running smoothly today. But where to start?

While it’s different for every business, this article from McKinsey is as good an approach as any I have seen regarding how to map, plan and execute on a customer experience plan that will deliver bottom-line value. Here’s one recommendation:

“First, focus innovation resources either on important customer-experience journeys where you have a large gap against competitors or on reasonably important journeys where the gap is narrow or unclear.”

Whether you’re an emerging challenger or an industry leader, you need a supplier-partner that can move at the speed that you need.

If the amount of questions I’m getting on this subject is any guide, CX-focused organizations are awake to what needs to be done. The key, quite simply, is to start.

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Four key air travel innovations you’ll want to watch

More than ever, changes in the airline industry are impacting tourism as a whole, as travel becomes a more accessible experience globally. These customer experience (CX) innovations are worth a watch to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with air travel.

Augmented reality

Air New Zealand has been working on augmented reality (AI) to create targeted in-flight experiences. The concept: Personalizing the experience by outfitting crew with the Microsoft HoloLens, which aggregates and displays on their lenses information - such as a customer’s preferred meal and drinks choice, travel plans and loyalty membership details.

The airline has also teamed up with a spatial computing company to create a digital multiplayer game that allows players to explore New Zealand in virtual reality. Watch it Here

Flights on demand (for short hops at least)

Uber has planned an on-demand fleet of electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft that will roam cities as soon as 2020.

Air Bus has set up shop in Silicon Valley and is planning its own personal airplane proposition – also scheduled to “land” in the same timeframe. Reports are saying they are co-operating with Uber to crack some of the trickier problems.

The most interesting thing? The business model:

The cost of Uber Aeroplane per mile will be largely equivalent to using regular Uber in the car on the ground. Watch it Here

Flying subscriptions

Speaking of innovative business models – Surf Air has recently released their all-you-can-fly subscription service to customers in Britain and Europe. If you’re interested in learning more about why this pricing model works so well for them, check out this interview with Mac Kern, Vice President of Commercial Planning.

Equally important to Surf Air is the customer experience they deliver.  Below is a great example – a booking process that takes less than 23 seconds!  Watch it Here

Electric airplanes

Flying cars and electric airplanes they’re not as far away as we all think. Zunum Aero is aiming to change the way that people travel by producing “hybrid electric.” Boeing seems to be pretty on board with this, having invested in the company.

By the early 2020s, the company plans to operate electric aircraft to carry 10-15 passengers on trips up to 680 miles. It says, “The cost of such flights could be as low as $25 each way.” Watch it Here

At VXI, I’m focused on helping my clients innovate the customer experience. Let us know what you think of these ideas as food for thought about how you do business.


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Contact Mark

How to get your organization wired for agile CX

This prediction is particularly salient today:

“Companies that adopt new capabilities to be more agile, responsive and innovative will not only thrive but are also 3x more likely to achieve above-average revenue and profit growth.” Accenture, 2018

Of course, there’s a flip side to this story: Accenture also estimates that in the U.S. alone, the estimated cost of customers switching due to poor service is $1 trillion.

Customers no longer view their experiences in silos. They expect the same degree of flexibility they already get from leading tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple. The ability to change, grow and innovate – at speed – to keep up with today’s consumers is a requirement, or organizations risk drowning under the weight of their own legacy.

Shedding the legacy systems – flexibility is key

With non-traditional innovators like Airbnb and Uber injecting the market with new business models and platforms, you can’t afford to remain tied to legacy systems that lack the agility required in today’s world.

In our view, the key is having a singular focus on today’s customer and their needs - while continuing to invest in experiments that guide tomorrow’s development of integrated solutions, whether the focus is on IoT, AI or your basic chatbot.

Of course, your front-line agents also play a critical role here - in both assisting customers and gathering valuable data on the success (or otherwise) of these experiments. As even Rurik Bradbury of the mobile and online messaging provider LivePerson concedes, “The big mistake with chatbots has been imagining they could suddenly take the entirety of a conversation and just work by magic.”

Data is the lifeblood of innovation. It’s vital that customer behavior in all channels is captured and translated into the actionable insight that determines future direction. With two decades of continuous innovation of our tools and technical capabilities, VXI can help you engage, delight and retain your customers.

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Contact Jeff