Sony's Head of Customer Care on the 5 Steps to Achieving Digital Transformation

A tried-and-tested 5-step plan for implementing change

Kindra Cooper

Digital transformation

Like every political revolution in history, digital transformation within organizations happens at a tipping point, when the business must choose between evolving or dying.

For Sony’s consumer electronics customer care division, it was having a “disconnected, siloed system” that included a homemade CRM from the 1990s that didn’t integrate with any other ERP system in the organization.

Consequently, 30 percent of customers who initiated chats were referred to the phone because the agent couldn’t complete a transaction online.

“That sounds bad, but the worst part was when the customer called the next day or later that day there was no record of the chat interaction,” Roger Brewer, director of customer care and network service integration at Sony, said at Customer Contact Week Vegas. “It made for a slew of manual processes which were costly and take time, but also, it took away from a positive customer experience.”

During his keynote, Brewer shared the six steps he took to initiate CX digital transformation when he first took over contact center responsibilities in 2015 at headquarters in San Diego, CA. 

1. Build the business case

The best way to push for change is to justify why preserving the status quo hurts the bottom line or could in the future. Start by identifying current system costs. If systems are disconnected, naturally you’ll see inefficiencies like duplicate systems, redundant manual processes, time-consuming workarounds and data silos. 

“We had multiple systems over the years,” said Brewer, “and we would add a new component here or there to fix this or that issue and it became a monstrosity of servers and systems not talking to each other.” 

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Once you’ve tallied the costs, identify the current processes or workarounds that are costing you money in terms of immediate labor, backlogged projects and opportunity costs. Next, examine how these processes affect your CX metrics.

Sometimes, you need to show management how bad the situation is to lay the groundwork for change. Don’t forget there’s universal tendency towards inertia, especially concerning long-term investments with a soft return on investment, like payoffs in NPS or CSAT in the long run. 

When you’ve painted a vivid picture of the bleak present day in dollar terms, envision where you want to go in the future – again, in dollar terms. In other words, design the optimal customer journey.

Brewer’s team had never journey mapped before, so they “didn’t know what they didn’t know.” They brought in other departments such as the customer support team on the device repair side, as well as the sales and marketing teams. 

Together, they decided the top priority was migrating from a premise-based system to the cloud, which would empower them to take ownership of their CRM and their data, but would also create licensing costs.

2. Have meetings before you have meetings

If you’re gearing up to pitch the leadership team, Brewer recommends meeting individual executives one-on-one ahead of the big pitch. It’s an opportunity to socialize the proposed change, solicit their input, and take an overall temperature check on how likely others will warm to your idea. Brewer referenced the importance of nemawashi, a Japanese term for courting stakeholders ahead of some proposed change or project by meeting with them and quietly laying the foundations. 

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“When you use a little nemawashi, when it comes time for the real business meeting you already kind of know the lay of the land; you know who your friends are in the audience.”

Ultimately, Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki said he would approve the investment on one condition: he would personally track the team’s progress to make sure the investment achieved the gains in EX and CX that Brewer had promised, including improvements to first call resolution and average handle time.

3. Demonstrate how it improves the customer experience

Reducing costs and improving processes are undoubtedly internal wins, but to really pay off, CX investments should also, um, improve the customer experience. The team’s new CRM uses Computer Telephony Integration so that each time a customer who is already in their database calls, agents see a screen pop-up identifying the customer, as well as any products they’ve registered. Not all CX automations benefit both agents and customers, but things like this do. 

“It helps reduce handle time but also lets customers avoid that experience of you trying to spell your last name and the agent agent not being familiar with that,” said Brewer.

4. Demonstrate gains in the employee experience

High turnover is the biggest EX problem for contact centers, especially when outsourcing the entire operation to a BPO or third party. Sony’s contact centers are mostly outsourced to BPOs in the Philippines, El Salvador and India.

Statistics show the primary reason agents leave their jobs is a lack of promotional opportunities (27 percent) with low pay at a close second (24 percent). Many grow frustrated from having to use too many disconnected systems, each with a separate log-in. 

Before, Sony agents had to log in to 5-10 systems just to get started, and if one timed out from inactivity they would have to log back in again, driving up handle time. Sony migrated its CRM, IVR, social listening and chat functions into one integrated system requiring a single log-in.

“If you build a platform that provides the agent with what he needs to represent you, that helps you reduce your vendor costs and the anxiety that agents often feel,” said Brewer.

5. Improve operational visibility 

Call centers often measure umbrella metrics like the prevailing types of incoming calls, number of calls per time period and average handle time – call metadata that’s largely used for contact center performance but doesn’t surface much insight into the customer experience.

What’s more, it’s hardly useful outside the contact center environment. Culture-wise, it confines CX to the contact center rather than converting into insights that are relevant and usable to other teams. 

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For instance, a product team might benefit from analytics on average handle time for calls concerning a specific product category, such as TV, BluRay, headphones and cameras. Brewer recommends taking it a step further to see which specific products within those categories resulted in the highest number of calls or longest handle times. 

“Maybe there’s a product issue or a training issue with the agent,” said Brewer, “but without that visibility you’re just throwing a dart.”

Firstly, Brewer wanted his team to own a common data source. They’d previously relied on their vendor’s chat tool and IVR, so Sony didn’t have direct access to the data.

Sony’s contact center would generate its own analytics report, but the report from the vendor would show different stats because each had its own data collection methods. Owning your data gives you flexibility in case you want to switch vendors or add new solution providers for a different segment of the business. 

As a result of this digital transformation, Brewer says he and his team reduced overall contact center costs by 20 percent. By empowering their agents with efficient tools, they cut their BPO’s billable hours by 18 percent and average handle time by 12 percent. Meanwhile, they also achieved soft RoI gains including raising NPS by 20 percent and first call resolution by nine percent.