Catering to the Customer of Tomorrow ft. Dr. Nicola Millard, BT
Dr. Nicola Millard is the head of Customer Insights and Future at BT. Between the 7th and 10th of October 2019, Nicola will join 70+ expert speakers at Customer Contact Week Europe, the European flagship for the world’s largest customer contact event series. There, Nicola will be a keynote speaker and will discuss how BT is helping its large, global corporate customers to meet the demands and expectations of today’s consumers. Below, we ask Nicola some question about her passion for customer contact and her involvement in the event.
Nicola, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in the customer contact industry?
I’m a psychologist who is interested in technology, so contact centres are an area which have fascinated me for over 25 years. They are a people business which is heavily mediated by technology, so understanding how these technologies could make life easier/better for customers is vitally important.
My first job in BT was developing neural networks (AI) to help call centre advisors to diagnose complex network faults – that was back in the early 1990s, so it’s been fascinating to come back into the AI area with chatbots now. Some things have certainly changed (processing power and data), but a lot hasn’t (ability to understand context, or emotion).
I’ve worked in and around the contact centre innovation space for many years – and my PhD was on motivation and technology acceptance in contact centres, so I am a bit of a contact centre geek.
What makes you passionate about work in this industry?
Customer Contact is a people business. Automation can take you so far but it is difficult to differentiate on automation alone (because it is easy to copy). Helping customers to help themselves is vitally important but it is also about empowering and enabling human agents to deliver brilliant customer experiences when things go wrong, or customers need help, that differentiates one brand from another. It is these human challenges that make contact centres absolutely fascinating.
What is your involvement at CCW Europe 2019?
I'll be talking about some of the contact trends that we see emerging globally amongst customers, investigating the links between these trends and innovation, and cutting through the hype around automation and AI to see the true extent of the impact of these on agent skillsets.
Things have to be easy for customers, or they will leave you, not adopt new innovations, or shift to more expensive channels.
What do you believe defines customer contact in 2019?
On a practical level, it’s about the ‘E’ word – whether that’s easy, or effort. Things have to be easy for customers, or they will leave you, not adopt new innovations, or shift to more expensive channels.
On a hype level, it’s about AI and chatbots. There are high customer expectations in this area – fuelled by the hype – but I’m not sure that the reality meets expectations. That’s why much our emphasis has been augmentation of humans, rather than about “artificial intelligence”.
What transformation initiatives is BT's customer contact centre currently undergoing to address this?
Contact centres are becoming strategic repositories for lots of valuable insights and data on customers. Contact centres can learn about customers, personalise experiences and, potentially, become more involved in proactive contact than exclusively managing incoming demand. This data is valuable for the entire business - IF they are willing/able to listen.
What are the key challenges that you are facing on this journey?
The biggest challenge is to shift the strategic mindset in companies from contact as a cost, to contact as an opportunity. The irony is that investment in automation doesn't eliminate the need for humans - it makes human jobs harder, so it also requires more investment in people to upskill and support them. That requires senior decision makers to make investments wisely, rather than using automation to simply cut cost off the balance sheet.
Why are events like CCW Europe 2019 important for industry professionals and what can they expect to take away?
These events attract some great global speakers and delegates - so they are a great way to meet people and share ideas.