End of the travel season ticket?

For decades the season ticket has been the convenient companion for the modern commuter. Is that about change? The day in the life of the commuter could look radically different in a few years’ time. Rather than the rider having to adjust to a fixed world of timetables, services and prices, they will be able to exercise more choice is a far more flexible and passenger centric eco-system.

Instead of a fixed season ticket, a far better alternative maybe in the form of a contract with a service provider whereby the rider chooses from options offered in real-time that can be purchased via the smart phone. Rather than the rider having to accommodate their individual needs to immovable timetables, the future rider will consume on-demand services that are dynamically priced and targeted toward the whole customer journey and experience, across multiple transport modes. The rise of the intelligent mobility provider will act as the broker between customer and the provider of transit capacity.

The customer accesses these services from a range of emerging services becoming available on the smartphone, but behind the scenes the mobility provider is processing the data from multiple sources which the customer can personalise to their travelling experience.

Mobility providers have been quick to respond to changes in attitude and are responsible for accelerating patterns of behavior; vehicle ownership is becoming less attractive in smart cities where the alternative of on-demand services can be purchased by the hour or minute. City cycle hire schemes have done much to improve reliance on a single mode of transport which means the rider can plan an entire journey from A to B, not just the train, tube, bus components. The future rider is more likely to share services and may elect to use feeder or community services for part of the journey.

Smart cities will enable data to be harvested from millions of collection points that will be consumed by city transport authorities, service providers, operators as well as passengers. For example, transport authorities may be interested to understand customer demand, service routes and emission data to inform the procurement of the types of vehicle they need to purchase. Attitudes to sharing are likely to extend beyond the immediate passenger needs with new joint ventures emerging: unmarked white vans delivering groceries on behalf of multiple retailers to reduce the number of branded vans that make similar journeys daily.

The emergence of alternatives is doing much to reshape the customer experience, where there is less reliance on the fixed world of separate transport services and acceptance of complete journeys that offers choice and personalisation, so that season ticket may soon be expiring.

What do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Virtual robot workers and the impact on my pension plan

Sadly, I’ve reached the age where I am beginning to count how many years it is until I can start to draw my pension. Most days it’s a number far too close as I generally still love my job, although occasionally other days do have me dreaming that it was tomorrow.

My years of experience (!) in designing and running large back offices in the banking sector have seen me live through the centralisation of these back office functions, their subsequent outsourcing, followed by panicked in-sourcing when the wind or accountable exec changed, the drive towards off-shoring and, most recently, the delight of handling an 800-seat partial on-shoring project for a client.

For each one of those, the primary business case rationale was a step change reduction in the cost of the operating model, with CX being a nice to have secondary benefit when the business case needed a more politically acceptable feel to it!

What I couldn’t see was “what next” in the step change evolution of the back office.

That was held to be true until I reluctantly deputised for my boss at a meeting last year and was formally introduced to the world of virtual workforce robots, and an epiphany happened!

At its most simple level this is a piece of software that emulates the actions of a human in an operational process – once configured/trained, each virtual instance of an FTE is fully scalable, 100% trained, 100% accurate, and is available up to 100% of each 24 hour day.

Depending on your cost base and its location, these virtual wonders can also do the same volume of processing for as little as 1/9th of the cost of a human.

With our partners at Blue Prism, Sopra Steria has developed a Lean Robotic Automation (LPA) proposition, coalescing our deep capability in Lean process management and Blue Prism’s software wizardry.

We are still at a relatively early stage in deployment both internally and externally but watch this space – every commentator and analyst in the marketplace recognises virtual robots as playing a significant part in all our clients thinking within 12 months.

As for my pension plans, they’re on hold for a while – I’ve a target audience in the UK alone of around 8,000,000 jobs to try and automate!

What do you think about the role virtual robots will play in operational processes? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Mobile payments?

Oh no!” (I can hear you say) “Not another blog about mobile payments…” Well, yes… and no.

I’m probably as fed up as you are with a lot of the stuff that gets written about “mobile payments” – almost as fed up as I am with the nonsense that people write about “mobile wallets”, but that’s a whole different discussion.

Why am I fed up? Well, basically because many of the blog posts and articles and much of the commentary around mobile payments cast too wide a net and addresses products, solutions or developments that are way wide of the mark when compared against a proper expression of a mobile payment implementation. All of this noise helps to perpetuate the idea that anything which involves:

  1. a mobile phone, and
  2. a payment of some sort

automatically qualifies as a “mobile payment”.

So, if I take out my Samsung Galaxy S4 and use the Chrome browser to call up the Tesco Dotcom site, place an order for groceries to be delivered over the weekend and then pay for the goods by entering my credit card details, then that’s a mobile payment, right? Or if my friendly neighbourhood plumber fixes that annoying leak under the sink and he accepts my credit card payment (well, it was an emergency!) by using his iPhone connected to an iZettle card reader, I’ve just made a mobile payment, haven’t I?

Compare that to walking into your nearest Starbucks with your Starbucks Rewards app open on your iPhone and presenting the “Pay” barcode to the scanner at the till to buy a caramel macchiato and a chocolate muffin – see the difference? It’s not the best example of a mobile payment by a long way, but at least it’s heading in the right direction insofar as you haven’t had to supply any payment credentials at the point of interaction to effect the payment (as in the Tesco example above) and you haven’t had to provide your plastic card to complete the transaction (as in the payment to the emergency plumber). Instead, information related to a payment card – in this case, the Starbucks Rewards card linked to a pre-paid account has been transferred from your mobile phone to the point of sale terminal, and all you had to do was wave your iPhone screen in front of the scanner.

If you want to get technical about it, you had to open your iPhone, which requires a screen swipe and (hopefully) a passcode; then you had to look for and open the Starbucks app; then you had to click on the “Pay” button and then orient the iPhone screen in such a way that the barcode could be read by the awkwardly positioned laser scanner… But it was easy, wasn’t it? And you got a star for making the purchase with your Starbucks Rewards card (in your iPhone app). So maybe it wasn’t that easy and it could have been better designed to ensure a smoother, more convenient customer experience, but it’s still more like a “real” mobile payment than the other examples above, despite its sub-optimal implementation.

So, in my view, there are true mobile payment solutions and there are other implementations which are “mobile payments” in name only. But what makes a good mobile payment product, as far as I’m concerned? Well, there are a number of factors at play in building a fit for purpose solution in the mobile payments space, including security, functionality and ubiquity of acceptance, but most of them revolve around the customer and the customer’s experience of using the mobile payment solution. I talk about this aspect of mobile payments and what customers are looking for in a mobile payment product in my recent white paper on mobile payments as well as discussing what makes a mobile payment a mobile payment. Take a look at it: it might help you appreciate why I get fed up with some of the stuff that I read about “mobile payments”.

What do you think? Post a reply below, contact me by email at liam.lannon@soprasteria.com.

The next digital disruption: buying B2B services using social media channels?

Digital Transformation is changing how businesses interact with customers and each other.

In this environment business-to-business (B2B) service providers face the constant threat of “digital disrupters” – new entrants who don’t fundamentally change the underlying product or service but win (or steal?) market share by leveraging new ways to interact with customers/clients and suppliers.

But couldn’t an existing B2B service provider become the digital disrupter by leveraging social media to create a new, differentiated approach to market engagement to deliver sustainable competitive advantage?

Here are some (radical?) ideas…

Customer led innovation: clients could potentially benefit from best practice about digital transformation being shared rapidly from different sectors (for example, the innovative work in UK central government and retail). A service provider could use its social media channel(s) to enable this sharing in an intuitive, dynamic way tailored to specific client needs. Furthermore, the provider could use gamification to incentivise the sharing of insights, advise directly between companies (such as discounting its services for clients providing such support). This would help position the B2B service provider’s brand as a collaborative thought leader in digital transformation.

Deepening personalisation: a provider could engage directly in all the social media activity of a client (at all levels including organisational, team and individual). Although there is a risk of appearing intrusive, it’s a way of building more intimate relationships with existing clients and sourcing new ones. This would also pro-actively complement and enhance other sales and account management approaches it uses.

Intensifying responsiveness: undoubtedly radical and reputationally risky, clients could post their complaints, issues and other feedback directly on a B2B service provider’s social media channels. The value comes from how the provider deals with these issues openly in this public space; a positive opportunity to explicitly demonstrate its strong commitment to quality service delivery.

Buy buttons: underlying these social media channel approaches would be the tools to enable a client to contact a sales representative immediately to purchase the provider’s services. Depending on the agility of the provider, potentially these services could be bought and stood up on the same day – now that’s digital transformation!

If you would like to find out more about how digital transformation can benefit your business, please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

IoE: the ultimate digital transformation benefits accelerator?

IoE – Internet of Everything (a term defined by Cisco) – is where networked sensors, data, processes and people combine to replicate the five human senses to deliver customer and business services intelligently. It’s an exciting approach to digital transformation that has already delivered some fantastic outcomes – like heating fuel efficiency, telematics-driven car insurance and smarter cities.

But what is the potential for IoE as a tool to measure the tangible and intangible benefits of digital transformation across on-line and off-line sales channels – simultaneously, instantly – to deliver competitive advantage?

Digital transformation approaches, such as the user-centric Agile design of on-line sales channels, have already radically disrupted traditional methods of benefits realisation like payback, where value is based on the forecast time it takes a proposed change to recover the costs of its investment. This is because Agile applies continuous user feedback to drive the rapid, iterative improvement of a product or service. Consequently, an outcome such as payback may be realised quickly and cumulatively over a series of releases rather than as a long-term fixed event.

Furthermore, this approach enables the explicit linking of hard financial outcomes like payback to soft, intangible benefits like the intrinsic value of a personalised user experience. This is because these enhancements successfully deliver increased sales revenue by responding effectively to individual customer needs based on a range of instantly available data like user testing, marketing feedback and social media trends.

A key factor in the success of this approach is that an on-line sales channel is a highly controllable environment versus other channels like stores or call centres – all customers have to engage through the same small number of portals (or platforms) making the process of collecting data and responding personally less problematic than these off-line channels that require individual physical interactions in different, variable environments.

However, IoE could provide the tools to simultaneously, instantly measure the off-line customer or employee experience in ways that are comparable, aligned to on-line channel measurements. This (big?) data would then drive the user-centric Agile design of a truly seamless, responsive onmichannel experience (and consequently enable the acceleration of linked hard and soft digital transformation benefits).   Here are some ideas…

  • Sight: is customer in-store browsing (across potentially hundreds of locations) materially different to on-line behaviour during the same day? What benefits are realised when retail stores implement rapid changes to their physical layouts that match on-line channel enhancements simultaneously?
  • Hearing: how are thousands of customers reacting in store and on the phone about a product that’s receiving adverse social media reaction that started trending an hour ago? Does it align to on-line feedback? Can this collective insight be used to enable the right social media response across all channels to defuse the issue?
  • Taste: does a food product taste the same across hundreds of stores in a given day? What is the variation of quality of this product when it’s provisioned by different suppliers across different geographies? How can this real-time quality data drive consistent performance and the right pricing from multiple suppliers?
  • Touch: what impact does local temperature have on customer mood and employee sales activity? If there is a change in the weather should employees in stores or call centres be immediately directed to behave differently to help personalise off-line customer engagement? How could this also inform enhancements to the on-line user experience at the same time?
  • Smell: do all stores “smell” the same during the same day? How does this environmental factor impact customer behaviour? Is there a way of connecting/associating products with “positive” smells with the on-line user experience (for example, the use of colours that may carry the same connotations)?

If you would like to find out more about how Digital Transformation can benefit your business please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

The UX “snowball effect”

How transforming the user experience can deliver rapid, ever-increasing business benefits

A key strength of applying a user centric Agile approach to digital transformation is that it can deliver incremental improvements to the customer and employee experience without having to reconfigure an organisation’s entire operating model “all at once”.  Furthermore this approach can enable further benefits to be potentially realised across the whole business.

These improvements alone may not always generate great bottom line benefits for different organisational stakeholders, but cumulatively they can have a massive (“snowballing”) sustainable impact.  Also this approach may be the only way smaller organisations can realise the benefits of digital ways of working and technology at an acceptable level of risk.

Here’s an example of how this UX snowball effect could potentially deliver the tangible business benefits of digital transformation in less than one year for a medium sized high street and on-line retailer (note all change activities described in this scenario are tactical, not strategic):

  1. An on-line channel requires users to complete a free text form; the process is cumbersome for customers leading to a significant number of complaints and drop-out to off-line sales channels. Based on customer and service centre feedback, the onsite UX team designed and implemented a new on-line form that uses drop down menus. This made the process of completing the form for all users easier and more responsive – and resulted in more on-line purchases and a reduction in complaints
    Cumulative indicative benefits:  improved customer satisfaction score 
  2. Because the UX team used Agile to deliver this user experience enhancement quickly in collaboration with the customer service centre management team, these stakeholders were able to rationalise back office capabilities in parallel that generated cost efficiencies
    Cumulative indicative benefits: improved customer satisfaction score + reduced costs to serve 
  3. The significantly reduced admin burden meant sales staff could focus on higher value engagement activities such as engaging new customers
    Cumulative indicative benefits: improved customer satisfaction score + reduced costs to serve + increased new customer acquisition 
  4. The user-friendly on-line form also enabled cleaner, more accurate data to be collected about customers’ browsing and purchasing behaviour; using money saved from back office efficiencies, managers invested in analytics/reporting tools to create a better understanding of customer needs based on this deeper information. This insight meant the company could pro-actively respond to the changing demands of individual customers
    Cumulative indicative benefits:  improved customer satisfaction score + reduced costs to serve + increased new customer acquisition + data driven personalisation 
  5. Using insights gathered from the data analysis, marketing were able to use this evidence to build a business case for new innovative services that addressed genuine gaps in the market
    Total UX “snowball benefits” realised in one year: improved customer satisfaction score + reduced costs to serve + increased new customer acquisition + data driven personalisation + lower risk diversification

…And all resulting from innovating the user experience for completing an on-line form!

If you would like more information about the issues discussed in this post, or how digital transformation can benefit your business, please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria digital practice

Why the utility industry has lots of synergy with the insurance sector

If we had a choice none of us would “choose” to spend our hard earned money on utility bills – gas, electricity and water. Whilst all essential services, they just don’t have any aspirational value to us living in the developed world. A huge amount of infrastructure and capital investment has been made over the past decade assuring our utility services in the UK, so we tend (rightly or wrongly) to expect these services to “just work” and be there when we need them. This makes it difficult for utility companies to create a relationship with us – their customers – as most don’t want, or see, any value in having any contact or a relationship with our utility companies.

Typically, there are four journeys we will take with a utility company:

  1. To register or amend our details, or leave the provider. Currently for water companies this can be a relatively rare event given the current lack of competition and choice in the industry and we see our water bill more like an additional tax
  2. To query our bill. For gas and electricity companies, this is the most likely reason we will contact a utility company today, as the majority of the industry still runs on estimated bills. The planned roll out of Smart meters, however, will dramatically change bill queries, which in turn will drive down customer interactions
  3. To complain – the most frequent reason for us to contact utility companies! According to the Institute of Customer Services the utilities industry remains rooted to the bottom of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI)
  4. To report a fault, for example, when a loss of service occurs. This is the time when we expect and demand a high level of engagement, given the inconvenience the service loss will cause

These “customer” journeys tend to be very similar with the insurance sector. A small amount of contact occurs at the time when we register for an insurance policy, amend our details or exit. We might query the price at the time of renewal, although more and more, we do this through price comparison web services. The insurance industry ranks higher for customer service than the utility companies in the UKCSI so customer complaints tend to be fewer in number, but do still occur. And, when we have a problem – typically an event has occurred where we need to make a claim – we expect that claim to be processed with ruthless efficiency and by staff who show huge empathy to our circumstances.

This final customer journey, processing a claim, is one where the insurance companies have invested in heavily to differentiate themselves. Expensive advertising by insurance companies will often focus on how they manage claims, recognising the distress we may have at such times. Therefore, utility companies should invest in their people, processes and systems as well to provide much needed support during a loss of service – a very stressful time, particularly for vulnerable people.

Finally, insurance premiums, like utility bills, are ones we would all prefer “not” to pay but we know we “need” to ensure we have insurance policies to cover our loved ones, property, vehicles and possessions.

Utility companies should aspire to benchmark themselves against the leading insurance companies. Aspiring to align themselves with the best in class customer service organisations, such as John Lewis or Amazon is a flawed strategy – the companies at the top of the UKCSI all offer a product or service that we “want” rather than we “need”. Perhaps this is why British Gas has picked an insurance industry veteran, Mark Hodges from Aviva, to be their new Managing Director?