Developing an ethos of innovation as part of company culture in the context of a BPO can be a tricky goal. For many organizations, the focus is on a top-down strategic innovation approach that prioritizes research-inspired themes or industry trends for innovation. However, this is only part of the innovation puzzle.
A two-fold approach has numerous benefits: a top-down strategic innovation proposition complemented by a bottom-up perspective that values the insight and knowledge of agents and managers. In so doing, organizations are better positioned to truly address the priorities that they identify and, interestingly enough, there is rarely a significant departure between the priorities identified in either approach.
From Four to Five Key Pillars on Strategic Innovation
Once a year the focus is on strategic innovation and identifying the pillars of strategy that can drive the business forward. In 2018, for example, we decided to focus on four key pillars: automation initiatives to better customer experience and improve the lives of agents; business intelligence and analytics to improve customer experience; increasing our expertise in managing digital channels, and focusing on self-service from a strategic perspective. In 2019 we added a fifth pillar which was to grow our capability and expertise in customer experience design.
Self-service in this context of innovation can encompass everything from self-service via chatbots to more traditional self-service IVRs or even exploring knowledge base systems doing own self-help on the customers’ website, leveraging the back-end by a sophisticated knowledge base that could help them navigate and get to the answers quickly.
The need to develop expertise in customer experience design evolved from the realization that there is often a process of going from the technology to the solution and not the other way around. For example, some customers wanted chatbots just because chatbots sounded like a good or trendy idea. This then results in a situation when a BPO rushes to pick suitable chatbot platforms and as the project evolved they come to the realization that they have no information on customer profiles, no tangible information on customer search queries via any channel and no clear path to a human if the chatbot was unsuccessful in satisfying the customer’s request for information. A holistic approach to innovation can ensure that this does not happen.
With the fifth pillar, we had to take a step back, and that is when we built a six-person customer experience squad with expertise in service design, customer journey mapping, and graphic design. We now send our customer experience team out first to talk to the customers; once we understand what the customer wants, then we pick the correct technology solution for them.
Listening to the Agents
The result is that an organization can discover things that in the past they would have tried to kill with hardcore bleeding edge technology and maybe that was not what the customer really wanted. So in looking at the trends in the industry with this strategic innovation approach and ensuring that you are also listening to agents and managers, you are able to identify a real change in the way you operate with customers.
From a bottom-up point of view, it is possible to implement a series of programs to capture innovative ideas around everything from basic employee experience such as how to manage to park better, to ideas related to factors in operations such as process improvement to portals for application consolidation.
The fascinating part has been how these two approaches complement each other. Although there has been some more focused feedback, much of the suggestions, although sometimes couched in a different language, reflect on the pillars identified in the strategic research (ideas on how to reduce repetitive tasks or process complexity, self-service ideas to reduce incoming calls requesting basic information or frequently asked questions, etc).
Employees can often see things differently than management does because they are on the ground, talking to people, dealing with real problems, and so allowing them the freedom to express their ideas and their concerns means companies can better address customer needs and ensure that they are continually innovating in meaningful ways rather than just following industry trends for the sake of following them.