Today’s interview is with Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist at BT, where she heads up customer insight & futures with BT Technology, Service & Operations’ Global Innovation team. Some of you may remember my previous interview with Nicola last year (Customers, customer service, customer experience and crystal balls – Interview with Dr Nicola Millard of BT). Well, I decided to ask Nicola back for a chat after seeing her present at the the recent 20:20 Customer Experience Summit. So, today, Nicola joins me to talk about a new concept called Customer Easy, whether her predictions from last time are coming true, her views on the use of text messaging for inbound customer service and what she see are the big issues that forms are grappling with in the customer experience and customer service space and what is coming next.

This interview follows on from my recent interview: What drives customer loyalty – Interview with Steve Sims of Badgeville – and is number 113 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Highlights of my interview with Nicola:

  • Nicola’s remit is to figure out how technology is changing our behaviour, particularly in the realm of customer service and it’s impact on the contact centre.
  • A well researched Harvard Business Review article ‘Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers’ published in 2010 showed that firms should stop trying to delight their customers and, instead, focus on making it easy for them to do business with you.
  • Related to this and NPS, BT has been developing a new concept called ‘Customer Easy’.
  • BT’s research shows that customer loyalty is in decline and in the UK only 50% of customers say that they are now loyal.
  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty are correlated but satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal.
  • The Harvard Business Review article made a case for the idea that if you make it easy for your customers then they are more likely to return and be loyal.
  • Nicola does a lot of work and joint research with Moira Clark of the Henley Centre for Customer Management at Henley Business School.
  • In some of their work, Moira pointed out that if firms satisfy their customers and they don’t notice then there is not a lot of point.
  • Customer satisfaction is often seen as a ‘hygiene’ factor.
  • But, if satisfaction is important to your customers then do that. Otherwise, focus on making things easy and keep making improvements.
  • Nicola’s focus, therefore, is how BT can they do that pragmatically and how do they measure it.
  • As a result, Nicola and BT have ‘hijacked’ the NPS approach so that they now measure their ’Net Easy’ score in, for now, their consumer division.
  • Nicola believes that the traditional ‘call handling’ metric used by many contact centres is a bad metric.
  • Their Net Easy score works on a three point scale, where -1 is for difficult, 0 is for neutral and +1 is for easy.
  • They know that a positive Net Easy score drives an improvement in their NPS score.
  • They also know that people that find it difficult to do business with BT are more likely to churn, whilst those that find them easy to do business with are likely to stick around and remain customers.
  • They believe that NPS is a difficult metric for the contact centre to affect but Net Easy is much more effective as it allows them to compare the ‘easiness’ of channels and it focuses on what is of value to the customer.
  • BT has collected data on what channels customers find the easiest and hardest to deal with over the last two years. What they have found is that post/mail is the bottom (hardest) channel for both the customer and BT and web chat is the top and easiest channel. Voice, IVR and email are bunched in the middle.
  • Measure what you are not good at in order to improve it.
  • The data shows that ‘Easy’ has a high correlation between loyalty, retention and NPS.
  • Their data is showing that there are three things that are driving the growth in Live Chat/Webchat and those are: 1. Customers find it easy as long as it is designed well; 2. Agents like it as it’s not quite so isolating as the phone (i.e. you don’t have to put anyone on hold in order to find an answer to a question) and it can be a good bridge from conversations that have initiated in social media channels; and 3. The economics work very well as agents can handle multiple conversations at any one time.
  • Nicola doesn’t envisage a lot of growth in text/sms messaging as an inbound customer service channel in the near future. This is primarily due to the fact that you can’t guarantee immediate delivery and customers value immediacy of response.
  • Nicola has completed a new piece of research called: SuperAgent 2020: The Evolution of the Contact Centre, which polls a lot of industry players about their views on the future of their industry.  You can download the pdf from here and view the slideshare version here.
  • The challenge for the contact centre in the future is how they can develop agents that are skilled in dealing with complexity are also fantastic communicators and also function as guardians of the customer experience.
  • Another big challenge is to get the Board to realise the value of the contact centre and to see it as a strategic asset and not just a cost.
  • An additional challenge for the contact centre is how can they become more proactive in managing and improving the customer experience.
  • This may require a ‘sales pitch’ upwards by the contact centre. 
  • Are customers becoming omni-channel by choice or they starting to use more channels because other ones are failing?
  • Check out BT’s Let’s Talk blog here.

About Nicola (taken from her LinkedIn bio)

Dr Nicola Millard heads up customer insight & futures with BT Technology, Service & Operations’ Global Innovation team. Despite working for a technology company, Nicola isn’t actually a technologist and combines psychology with futurology to try and anticipate what might be lying around the corner for both customers and organisations (sadly, her crystal ball is currently broken). 

Nicola has now worked for BT for 22 years (she started when she was 6!) She has done a number of jobs around the BT business, including research, user interface design, customer service and business consulting as well as writing, presenting and directing BT’s annual school’s lectures for 5 years.

Nicola likes nothing better than to challenge conventional business thinking; from how call centres are managed to the ways in which people work. 

She got her PhD from Lancaster University in 2005 on the psychology of motivation and technology acceptance in call centres, published her first book in 2009 and now spends most of her time doing research, writing blogs, articles and white papers. She has also appeared on the BBC (Radio and TV) and Channel 4 TV in the UK, Sky News in Australia, has done a TED talk and is a judge on a number of award panels, including the Institute of Customer Service awards. 

When she’s not doing all that, Nicola travels around the world presenting at conferences and running workshops with an assortment of organisations including banks, travel companies and retailers, to name but a few.

In the little spare time she has she is writing a novel, enjoys going to the cinema and theatre and does a number of martial arts.

You can connect with Nicola on LinkedIn here, say Hi on Twitter @DocNicola and check out her BT Let’s Talk blog here.

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