The full conversation with Neil Whitaker, strategic account director at IMIMobile. Have we have transformed into a multi-communication channel world.
With technology platforms expanding all the time, especially during the time of the pandemic, we talk about how this is affecting customers’ journeys, the customer experience, and as a business how best to manage all this.
Find out more about imi mobile-> Here.Interview Transcript
So hi, everyone. I’m here today with a Neil Whittaker. He’s the strategic account director for imi mobile, which is now part of Cisco. So Neil, thanks very much for joining me today, I really appreciate it. So um, so you guys look after cloud communications, messaging, those kinds of things. And it’d be good sort of, you know, I know you have interaction with with collections teams, as well as sort of a much wider environment. But if we get to sort of just maybe first off, just explain a little bit about what you’ve seen over the last over the last year, in terms of remote working digital conversions, those kinds of things.
It’s been a really interesting, challenging year, as everybody is seen and experienced, I think, certainly in the contact centre area, it’s been a monumental change, where the last move for agents to be remote working. And what’s interesting is some organisation saying that that’s a permanent thing, which is going to be a really interesting position as the world comes back to normal. And we see that mix of home working, and office working. I think it is interesting. It’s something that we’ve been talking about for years that we’re working piece. And it takes him the pandemic to sort of force people’s hand to that and actually show that he can be can be done and can work. And it’s amazing how seamless that seemed to be for for a lot of organisations.
I mean, how ready Do you think people were? And how ready Do you think they are now? After after what’s been like it? It’s been over a year now in terms of like putting all this stuff in place? And what was the readiness level before? And where do you think we sit now in terms of like, overall development? Because I mean, as you say, this stuff’s been around for a while, but it feels like there’s been a big push around implementing it.
Yeah, I think two things. One is, in the early days, it was it would have been an impossible thing to do, though, the great big platforms on premise, and trying to get that to be remote working was was a was really challenging, and B was very difficult to do. But I think with cloud services, it was we had some customers that managed to do it within a couple of weeks, really turning it round very quickly, with all of the security, all of the things in place that were needed to enable that. And we’re seeing now that it’s quite a comfortable thing to do. And customer service is king, customer services is the driving force for every organisation. And I think there was always that worry that it was going to be a real challenge and because would would fall up. But I think people have seen that it works very well, not only from a, from a customer perspective, but also from an agent’s perspective. It’s really interesting how that the whole work life balance seems to have have improved dramatically ideations. But also, I think the use of some of the new technologies that are out there as well. So when when you when you look at the messaging services that are available, be able to bring some of that whole end to end communications together. It’s not just about being able to take a phone call anymore. It’s a it’s how do you manage all of the messaging communities?
Yeah, and so using a shift, I mean, there’s obviously a big push to try and get people off site, you know, from a, you know, health and safety point of view. And that, you know, with that goes to the calls as well. But then you see, as you say, there’s there’s messaging that’s coming as well. And what’s the interplay between voice services? And then messaging, you know, and this was like mobile messaging, SMS messaging, those kind of things. And what’s been the interplay between those two and how’s it I mean, as that evolved in terms of like, how things move together, it’s massively
evolved. And I it again, it’s interesting what, what makes that seismic shift in people’s perception and how to use some of these new technologies. And it’s something that I am I’ve been been pushing for many years, 20 years now since the company started. But we have seen a seismic shift of the over the year in terms of that whole strategy of messaging. So when you’re trying to build a communication with a with a customer, and looking at all of those channels that have been around for a long time, but it’s about how do you orchestrate those together? So how do you firstly, how do you prevent people from calling in to your contact? And how do you enable Over services that can be built to make that a much more seamless experience. So for example, if you if you think about a collections process, whereas before, it could have been something very stark with a warning letter, email white male going out. Now, that can be much more managed with some, like SMS or email, or that interplay between sort of soft message and raising to a very hard message out to a customer.
And do you think do you think there’s like, almost like, different channels, honestly, channels or different methods of communicating with people, depending on the situation? So for example, I mean, the great thing about calls was, it was almost like one size fits all. I mean, like, we can all have a conversation with anyone about everything we can, we can answer a balance we can talk about, now we can get into really sort of, like complex sort of, you know, talking with, you know, personal issues around vulnerability or difficulties making payments, those kind of things. But do you think, do you think with these, the new met the new types of channels coming in? Or the new methods of communication? Do we need to segment it in terms of like, you know, is a different ways of, you know, I do some things fit better on messaging versus, you know, calls and how people thinking about about, about that sort of segmentation? Ready?
I think there’s, there’s, there’s a number of areas a number of ways, okay, now, I think the first thing is for any financial organisation is what can be done to prevent that. Justin going into debt, so how can you sort of ease that communication, and what we’re seeing at the moment is that much sperm earlier intervention, but a much softer intervention. So rather than waiting for the debt to build up, and then sending out an email or a letter, or make a call, if you can start by saying, sending an SMS for or even a punishment for it. So in terms of cost, and the availability of the channel, is it’s sometimes much easier and much quicker, just to send someone a little reminder, we’re all incredibly busy these days. So in get to pay a bill, or something’s been missed, gentle reminder can be a much more effective can be a much more appealing from the customer experience perspective. The debt doesn’t build up, and also that engagement that you have with that, with that customer, he seemed to be much more softly, softly approach. And it’s from, from an organization’s perspective, it’s much more cost effective as well.
And one of the things that really impressed me around the messaging has been, it’s been almost like the, as it’s been described as, like the asynchronous nature of messaging, the fact that you can, you can send, you can send, you can send a message sort of now, and then they sort of like, and you might get back to it until like, you know, half an hour and then you realise that sort of like delayed messaging, which, um, I mean, is that is that is that got huge benefits of is that is that been Is that is that, how does that kind of fit in in terms of like, I suppose call centres,
so, so that, that asynchronous messaging, again, people are very busy, that don’t, not always available, but if you can send a message that will sit on their phone, and let’s be clear, now, the whole world is moving into mobile engagement. Everybody has a phone, everybody wants to interact with that. And most organisations that we talked to now have a mobile first strategy. Yes, it’s how can you get your customers to engage through them. And then that communication, within a mobile, you’ve got so many different channels available. And it’s the channel, it’s a couple of things is the channel that is a most available, freely available, but also, which is the one that’s most applicable for the for the communication that you’re trying to try to achieve?
I suppose there’s a little bit of like, if you send that if you send out a message you want to be do customers want to be able to almost like be able to respond in that same form and almost like complete the transaction, almost like in the same form. So if you send a message out and it’s like, well then call in, then it’s, it’s kind of like it’s too deep. It’s like chalk and cheese too. So I think then you saw that same one thing and then come in in a different in a different kind of kind of manner. So is it is that an important theme?
I think, I think the two aspects to that actually is there are you’re right people like that ability to stick with the communication channel that they’re on so if they receive an SMS to reply with an SMS basis a DM Twitter the reply on on On on the same same channel. That’s fine to a point, if it’s just a reminder, have you paid Thank you. But I think there’s also that element of being able to promote certain channels or certain communications from one channel to the next. A from a customer’s perspective. So it could be, oh, by the way, you you’re late with this bill are Remember to log in and pay that bill. So you go from one channel to another channel. But and equally from an organization’s perspective, there might be times where you go from open public communications to something that’s very private, which needs to be valid, solidified. And you need to log on to your account or something like that. So that you go from a Instagram message, or a Twitter message or an SMS, actually, to then logging on to your account. Which is, which is great from an asynchronous in a communication and the chances. One of the challenges that organisations have is how do you then monitor that communication? And that’s something we’re seeing a huge drive towards. So you know, so you may start with a reminder in SMS or reminder in push, what happens if that customer is panicked? Or needs to speak to somebody, then when they do come through to the contact centre? How does that agent a manage that communicate and must be able to see the transition from the channels that that’s been applied. And that’s really important, not only from a customer experience perspective, but also from the from an agent’s perspective? How do they, if suddenly, I call in and everybody gets it, hi, good mind now, how can we help you today? That’s really frustrating. Relations need to be able to see that the channel the flow of the calls and the communications that’s gone on.
I suppose that’s a natural evolution is it of the fact we’ve got more messaging out there, we’ve got this digitalization is like, I mean, Omni channel has to come with that mean, there’s really only describing it has to mean it has to come with that otherwise, people it’s gonna get left lost if you just have separate channels going off everywhere.
Exactly, exactly. And, and that that’s the big challenge that most organisations have in the, in the old days, it would be okay, so we’ve got voice sorted, we’ve got our web presence. Now we’ll do email. And so it was very much siloed approach that an organisation would have that doesn’t work anymore, that that provides such a terrible siloed approach from an organization’s perspective, but also from a customer’s perspective is if I know I’m receiving a an email and, and an SMS and a push notification, I expect that you’re the person that the organisation that I’m dealing with, to know that they’ve sent that email and that SMS. And especially if I’m then going to go to a phone and have a conversation with them. I expect that to be measured and tracked all the way through.
I suppose the two challenges of that one is almost like you need the almost like the decisioning and the science around for what is the right channel? So if it’s if it’s vulnerable or financial difficulties, then maybe you want to have that conversation recording, there might be a trigger, when is that? When does that happen in the journey? versus not? All that sort of science needs to come up with needs to be included? And then the other the other pieces, then probably then well, then how do you measure that? Right? So what is a good outcome? So So one of the challenge would be you’d like to send an SMS and how do you measure if that SMS is successful, because it might be might result in a chord and raw results in a website, here it might, and they can come in lots of different ways. And the more channels you have, the more complex it becomes.
It that is a real challenge. And we worked really hard with with our customers to be able to not and that’s partly the key element of where imi fits in is to be able to orchestrate all of those communications in one place. So you don’t get those siloed siloed data in entries, but also from a customer experience perspective. How do you measure all of those processes? And quite rightly, how do you measure the success? So we do a lot of AV testing. Work with one department that has something that maybe regulatory So let’s understand what the regulation piece is, and understand how the messages can be built in that way, but also link that in with the marketing team as well. There’s nothing worse than a customer that may have forgotten to pay a bill. And then suddenly, at the same time getting a marketing message saying, hey, apply for this new credit card or, and those are simple things. And you, you would expect them to be tracked and caught. But in a lot of certainly financial organisations, all of those old siloed services, it’s very difficult to bring those together. And we work really hard at being able to bring all of those together
well, I know can be a challenge, sometimes in security got, like big, big organisations and big, big machines have sort of been working in the background. We should talk a bit about vulnerability and financial difficulty. I mean, that’s that’s obviously been, you know, we’ve just been through the we’re going through the pandemic, I mean, have you seen that take place, and I suppose is is, is what will be the impact on messaging? And how can messaging in particular deal with some of that, or does it always have to be on that on the phone?
Absolutely not. And we’re seeing a massive drive away from the lists we’ve mentioned earlier, a because of the cost, from the from an agent’s perspective, and also that customer experience as well, quite often it’s, it’s much easier if you can have a softer conversation with a customer that may be in some difficulty. And that can be that that can be built up from softer communications, like a an SMS, or a push or a Twitter feed or something like that some softer, and also using a channel that customers are more comfortable with using. And then as you say, sometimes you that does then promote into a voice call. And we’re seeing a lot of activity now around not only that element of information that has got to be part a part of but also how an agent deals with that call and the person on the end. So we work a lot with housing associations, for example, where traditionally they have a lot of vulnerable customers. So we’re seeing not only how technology and messaging channels can help in that communication, and, and sort of ease the ease level and the rising level of that of that interaction. But also from a from an agent’s perspective, as well, if we’ve seen actually quite a lot during the pandemic, where there were some a big rise in vulnerable customers, is how the effect that has on the age of 12. And if you can use a technology and provide a messaging structure that eases the communication with the customer, then by the time it’s promoted to a voice call, which you know, inevitably it is then the agent has a knows the steps that we’ll be putting in place can see what the journey has been up to that point. And also can have things in place to have a more productive conversation. Because we’re seeing your elation to come in and now around how you deal and how you explore whether a customer is a vulnerable customer on all the levels of vulnerability as well. So your technology can help. And so it’s one of the channels that A B, to be able to enable.
I think you raised quite an interesting point there around, you know, certainly the collections world, it’d be all in Customer Care world, it’s kinda like we want to get it over done this first first contact resolution, we want to get it over and done in one go, right? You know, and so that might turn into a letter that is like, you know, three pages long, because we want to give people all the information and you always want to be done. Or it might be a call that takes place and it’s sort of like it’s a 20 minute call, because you want to talk about everything right? But actually the the messaging piece could actually lead to a different type of outcome, which is almost like little steps, right? So it’s like, here’s the step digest that. Here’s another step digest that. Here’s another step digest that and you’re taking people on a journey to get to the point that might be right for them, but it is less of a shock if you sort of mean so it’s like You know, you’ve given them the options, but they need time to digest what the options are as an example. And so you can sort of break that over to over time. I mean, does that does that is that people using it in that kind of way?
Yes, we’re seeing that in use already, we’ve seen some of our customers are already starting with those micro steps. And so the traditional process would be, you know, all Lexia, it’s now a 30 day debt, we’ll send a letter, we’ll make a phone call. And it becomes a terrible experience, because it was a very expensive piece of process to go through. But now, if you can start with much lower cost, but much gentler messages, and we’re seeing some really startling results, actually, by just that pre warning, pre warming over conversation, just by sending an SMS or by sending a push notification, oh, by the way, and that’s just that ping of a reminder, is generating a lot more engagement, and people are down. Yeah, I forgot to so. So that you’re that early recovery is starting to grow.
What do you think the impacts going to be on the call centres? So obviously, you know, we had large voice call centres for a while we’re now moving to messaging and voice. So it’s sort of a blended kind of call centre zooming, how do you think the role of agents are going to change and the roles of call centres, collections and Customer Care call centres are going to change, how’s it going to evolve?
I think it’s going to involve very rapidly, actually, it from and the, I think the term contact centre agent will disappear. But I think they will be much more of a consultative person on the end of the phone. Because by the time you end with a live voice engagement, or a live call, there’s a number of steps that have gone up to that point. And so the engagement could be a little bit longer, but a much more fulfilling engagement with the customer. Whereas the the agents will be a much higher level training, and that the way in which they interact is going to be much more of a caring and a much more of a compassionate role, where you are delivering more of a solution, rather than just getting a payment. programme. And that engagement with that customer, not only provides proves to be much more fulfilling engagement, but also the perception that they have of your organisation, as well. Yeah, ultimately, there’s a there’s a debt to be repaid. But hopefully, you end up with a much more fulfilling engagement on the back of that, and you’re not in that position and being able to help with one vulnerable customer. I think he’s a is a much better place to be for an organisation. And we seen that will we see some regulation come from that? I think we are already seeing that. But I think a lot of organisations are going to be much more proactive.
What are you hearing in terms of volume that’s coming out from that pandemic? Do you think that’s going to kind of hit us? I mean, do we need to get ready for that now, because it feels like it’s been quite benign, actually the last the last year or so really, because of the support measures, which have been great for folks. But it’s you just wonder if there’s a big volume that sort of sitting out there, I think I know people are worried about it. Yes, it’s
going to be going to be interesting. And if you look at the results of some of the surveys, you’ve seen quite a shift in, in debt levels in certain areas have gone very high. But actually in other areas, they’ve gone very low. And so there’s there’s a lot of pent up funds that people are wanting to spend. So I think that there’s going to be a big push towards the credit card market. But on the other end, so I think the gulf between the two is quite wide. It will be I think, once the things start to ease up, there will be a quite a big push in both the credit card area but also in the collections area. Because, you know, some people have been hit really hard so that that vulnerable process is going to become much more prevalent. I think
that’s why there’s volumes, you get this realignment, right and the things were almost going to crystallise and you know and then as soon as you have to be ready from a just a volume point of view because that’s that was that’s so that’s the concern this time last year, wasn’t it?
Yeah, exactly. And so we At the beginning of the pandemic, we’re sending out millions and millions of SMS messages to informing people of what can be done. And that was a very asynchronous process. What we’re seeing now is we don’t we’re not seeing those massive volumes of SMS messages. But at any evening emacs evening out of a lot of the other channels as well. Yeah. It’s that spread, which we’ve seen now.
And just focused on going back. How do you feel about working remotely? I mean, how’s the IMI mobile sort of dealt with that, but this was also, there’s quite a bit of chat now around returning to the office. I mean, I think Google sent out those it was in the news yesterday, around so three days a week and sort of those kinds of things. It’s, I mean, what what what, how have you handled it in terms of your personal experience or your team’s experience? And what do you think it’s gonna be? How do you think it’s gonna evolve?
Again, I think there’s probably going to be two camps here. Certainly, where I live, I’m quite happy to work remotely, and it’s worked really well. For a lot of a lot of my colleagues. We have a London office, and some of the guys are very keen to get back into that. I know, from a contact centre perspective, HSBC, have said that they’re going to close a lot of their office of office space contact centre and continue to work from home. But it’s JP Morgan saying they need to get people back in the office. It’s going to be I think, certainly, there will never be a wholesale move back to massive contact centres again. Now, now that we’ve got cloud contact centres, we’ve got remote working, he worked really well for the agent from an agent’s perspective. So I think that that was he’s here to stay. Absolutely. It’s a big, but I think there’s certainly that you do miss that office chat in that, being able to just walk off the desk and ask a bit of advice.
It seems like there’s lots of ideas out there in terms of like, well, we’re going to do this, we’re gonna do that we’re going to be completely remote, we’re going to be a little bit on site, or you’re need to be back in the office, starting June, that’s also as well. And everyone’s sort of circling around as well, you know, where is it going to land? I think? I don’t think we really know yet. I think, you know, we’ve got quite strong opinions, one way or the other, but But it’s almost like, it’s going to be interesting to watch to see how it lands lands, I think in terms of how we go back.
Yeah, I don’t think it will be a mass return, for sure. And it’ll probably take a couple of years just to settle down again. But I think what’s what’s really been proved, without a doubt is the technology works. And you can run a massive organisation remotely and the benefits that that brings for employees against how how the rest of the organisation works.
Yeah, I think it’s sort of also slayed that a little bit that you can trust people to work remotely as well. I think there’s always a bit of fear in the back of people’s mind. But I mean, if people are really stepped up to the plate, and sort of, you know, I mean, we can be trusted. Right. So I think I think that sort of comes through to
Yes, yeah. And certainly, we’ve been incredibly busy. And I think the challenge is, is actually being able to turn off that day. She thought, Well, my laptop’s here, I’m all set, oh, I’ve got things I need to do. Being able to be prescriptive about right now need to turn off and let it go
actually, actually turn the laptop off.
But actually, sometimes it’s really handy to know that it’s there. And you can hear you have an idea. You just go back and you sit in the quiet of the day, or night to this day, to be able to think straight for a few minutes.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Okay, sounds great. So, lastly, I suppose, what do you think the future is going to bring? I mean, we’ve talked a bit about digital adoption and things. I mean, these things have been around for a while. I mean, what’s that? What’s out there? Now? Do you think that we’re going to evolve that will be the next almost like wave that comes through after because this was around for a while, and that has been adopted? But what’s most developing now is going to be the next thing that will be adopted. Do you think?
I think certainly, some of the rich communication channels are starting to, to emerge. RCS is going to be huge, where you get a much more rich experience on your on your mobile, as I said before, mobile first everybody’s moving that way. And what you can see on the screen is, and being able to see that in a really rich and involving way is going to be a real key battleground and making sure all of the technology behind that works and that it’s secure, and that you can see what, how you can have a free and engaging conversation, but also very secure and that you have, we do a lot of fraud protection work as well. And we seen a lot of activity in that area mobile fraud, and how do you? How do you prevent that? We’re doing a lot of work in that area as well. We’re seeing a massive growth and a lot of development to make the mobile device secure. Yeah.
And I suppose the mobile first strategy also comes with, you’ve got to make it visible on the on the screen, and it’s a small amount of real estate essentially. So there’s a bit of design thinking there. And well, in terms of like, how do you make it simple? How do you think about that the process designed to make it straightforward? How does it link in with data, you know, and everything needs to link together with a couple of the cons as well, I’d imagine.
Yes. Yeah, making it frictionless. That’s, that’s sure that we have is making it secure, and frictionless and an engaging application. If you can capture all of those three things, then you’re going to be winning. And Google Apple, really focused on being able to drive that. And we’re seeing a lot of early adopters in that area. Now seeing some great results, where you are seeing really rich experience where you get a great interaction for for a customer who, and it’s that interaction that really counts because people remember if something is slick, easy and simple to do, and works first time, then people will remember that app and remember that engagement, then, you know that that’s that’s the sort of the goal that everybody’s heard the wind. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Well,
Neil, thanks very much for making the time. I really appreciate it. I just I agree. I think the messaging piece has been sort of dynamite over the over the last over the last 12 month time. And when I first saw it, I thought it was fantastic, in terms of getting hold of getting hold of people. So I think it’s been an interesting 12 months. So I really appreciate your insights and sort of hearing how things have been going. Great. Thanks very much.
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