Watching the myriad responses to the pandemic unfold, the power of communities and the importance of experts have, time and again, proven themselves to be indispensable tools for dealing with the unexpected and unprecedented.
We could discuss these two factors at length in any number of contexts (more than happy to!), but I’d like to focus here on how they’re playing out when it comes to managing the resources that underpin customer experience.
Because this is the reality: every business has had to make changes in response to a scale and speed of change that nobody had foreseen. Some have tackled the happy challenges of dealing with unanticipated growth. Others have faced a dramatic slowdown—or even complete halt—in business. Most have found themselves somewhere in between, managing major shifts in the way they operate while waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering how long it will take.
No matter the circumstances, businesses have been grappling with the fundamental need to maintain customer relationships while managing sometimes severe resource constraints. Drawing on help from a wider community, supported by guidance from experts, has been—and will continue to be—a lifeline.
Two companies I’ve been watching offer great examples of providing that larger community and expert guidance: Telus International and Strategic Blue. Both organizations manage critical resources that enable businesses to support and interact with their own customers.
Phone a Friend
Telus International, a subsidiary of Canadian telecommunications company Telus, provides global contact center outsourcing along with a range of consulting and technology implementation services focused on customer experience. I’ve been consistently impressed by Telus International’s tremendous focus on understanding what drives the best customer experiences. This continuous learning extends through everything the company does. Direct experience gained from interacting with customers informs its advisory and implementation services; likewise, expertise from the technology side gets applied to improving customer-facing operations.
Telus International endeavors to act as an extension of its customers’ own teams. To such an extent, in fact, that the company evaluates and hires contact center agents for individual customer accounts, and often specific departments within those accounts. Agents supporting an audio book service, for example, are hired based on their interest in books and literature. There’s an expectation that no matter the initial reason for a conversation, at some point the discussion will turn to recommendations on what to listen to next. (One agent had a customer named Caryn who kept coming back to her for recommendations…and sounded suspiciously like the agent’s favorite narrator, Whoopi Goldberg…) The result for customers communicating with those agents is a seamless experience that feels like an integral, almost intimate part of the company they’re contacting.
Such an intentional emphasis on building distinct teams for individual companies makes the way Telus International managed responses to the pandemic all the more remarkable. Some steps the company took were simply optimum examples of necessary action. Telus International moved 22,000 agents from on-site to remote work within 22 days. Nearly 40,000 employees around the world are working remotely. Almost immediately, all of the agent performance measures went up. Ah, the dividends of having both the technology infrastructure and cohesive work culture to make that transition successful.
For Telus International’s customers, the benefits were obvious: little if any disruption to customer service operations. But for customers experiencing dramatic increases or decreases in demand, the situation was different. For example, travel and hospitality saw an initial spike in customer service requests but a significant drop in business and customer service requirements. In contrast, companies in gaming and delivery services, for example, saw surges in new customers and customer service volume. Telus International has worked with all of its customers to maintain consistent quality of customer service and to minimize any negative impacts on individual agents.
The result is that Telus International has, in contrast to its standard policy, rapidly redeployed agents across accounts and departments where necessary and appropriate, and with the agreement of the affected customers. In one case, two of Telus International’s customers who are direct competitors even agreed to sharing or moving agents between them when it made sense. Unusual, to say the least. Telus International’s customers have had the benefit of rapid scaling up or down of agent capacity based on their needs, along with the assurance that new-to-them agents have the guidance and tools they need to operate effectively.
For Telus International and its agents, any negative impact has been minimal as a result of this ability to adapt quickly. And again, all of the metrics that measure customer satisfaction and agent productivity have gone up. Perhaps ironically, customer experiences have actually improved through all of this turmoil.
Safety in Numbers
Strategic Blue provides services in a category you likely did not even know exists—cloud brokerage. As a cloud broker, Strategic Blue combines the monitoring capabilities of a cloud management platform with advisory services to optimally plan and provision cloud computing resources. Crucially, the company also takes on the financial risk of those contracts on behalf of its customers. In so doing, Strategic Blue becomes an intermediary that has access to a wider set of pricing options with public cloud providers on one side and the ability to tailor contractual terms to meet the needs of individual businesses on the other.
The ways in which Strategic Blue’s services influence customer experience may not be obvious, but they are certainly important. Cloud computing capacity directly underpins websites and commerce sites, among others—significant elements of any customer journey. All the more so in today’s environment where a business that isn’t operating online probably isn’t operating.
Those same cloud computing resources also power significant elements of the analytics and other operational capabilities supporting marketing, sales, and customer service. In all of these cases, sufficient cloud compute resources impact the performance of those capabilities. That’s been a bigger challenge for many companies as digital channels and all things online have swiftly come to dominate both customer interactions and internal operations.
While the beauty of public cloud infrastructure is the ability to rapidly scale it up and down as required, that ability comes at a cost. To my mind, one of the most valuable aspects of what Strategic Blue provides its customers is the ability to anticipate, manage, and minimize the costs involved. This ability derives directly from both the company’s expertise in cloud financial management and the fact that it operates across the mutual interests of its entire customer base. In other words, the community it serves.
Thus far, some of Strategic Blue’s customers have been interested in trading what has become excess capacity. For the most part, however, cloud usage has increased. Many have been dealing with unexpected increases in demand for resources, as a result of business growth, a shift toward greater business transactions online, or both. Going forward, however, the biggest concern for many is the inability to predict how things will change over the near to medium term. One trend the broker has seen is a willingness to increase contract duration rather than prepay up front.
Strategic Blue has also taken up the cause of supporting both researchers and local communities to fight COVID-19 with access to cloud computing capacity. Along with several other private companies and public research institutions, the Cloud Fund to Fight COVID-19 is providing resources to researchers in advance of funding for individual projects being secured. The hope is to further accelerate essential work toward treatments and possible vaccines.
The Road Ahead
As we move from managing crisis to navigating a prolonged period of uncertainty, maintaining durable customer relationships remains the best strategy for success. That requires a range of tools to ensure flexibility and adaptability.
Whether you realize it or not, the technology and service companies you choose to work with are communities. As a customer, you become part of them. Choose your partners wisely, and you get not only the benefits of that wider community but also the advantages of expert guidance. These partners see trends across their customer bases. The good ones use that to your advantage.
Community and expertise have always been valuable. Today, they’re indispensable.