As the 4th Industrial Revolution kicks into full gear, corporate institutions in South Africa and around the world are battling to keep up with the challenge of bringing their customer experience departments in sync with artificial intelligence and related technology.
Like every other sector in the polity, digitisation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the emergence of the millennial in managerial positions of big and small corporates are combining to cause significant disruptions in the way companies conduct business.
This generation who grew up seeing and using smartphones and mobile apps for just about everything is posing new questions to legacy financial institutions whose business model align with the top-to-bottom approach – particularly concerning how this demographic access the products and services on offer.
Will this legacy – and not so old – corporate firms be able to cope with the wave of change shaping the world already?
Will they be able to provide customer-centric and value-driven support and services to a generation that wants answers and instant solutions at the tap of a button or as they swipe left and right on the screens of their smartphones?
- The future of the Chemical Industry in the 4th Industrial Revolution
- Customer Service in the new Digital Age: The critical factor for business success, going forward
The future of Customer Service in the financial services industry in the new Digital Age
The corporate outfit that would survive and thrive, going forward, would be the one that evolves with the new digital revolution that is sweeping through everything in its path; it would be a company that tweaks its business model to meet the demands of a consumer-led digital disruption, one that takes consumer experience (read: customer empowerment and customer inclusion) seriously.
There is no debating the fact that the days of cold calling and serenading sales pitches are coming to an end; consumers are, instead, setting the bar higher and aggressively determining what products and services corporate firms should offer in return for their money and loyalty.
Thus, the future of customer services in the financial industry, just like in every other industry, would be consumer-driven, one where research and development would build on consumer behaviour data gleaned from smartphones, wearable tech devices, and how people connect and relate with one another on social media apps.
A New Dawn awaits businesses that evolve with the times
While there may be no specific definition of what customer experience is at the moment given that the whole concept (in terms of the 4IR) is still new, plans are underway to bring industry experts, the academia, regulators, and practitioners, among other players, together to redefine customer service.
The outcome of such initiatives will have a striking impact on how executives and managers run businesses, going forward.
The realisation that there would be legal implications that would affect the modern company, its employees and potential profit is one aspect of the new revolution that is keeping board members of corporate entities awake at night.
As shareholders and customers are demanding a shift in current business practices on the one end, the Internet of Things (IoT), superfast 5G internet speed, robotics, data analytics, and a seamlessly connected digital space combine to force firms competing in the financial industry to change – or be consumed by the revolution in no time!
There would be survivors of the onslaught, in any case!
These survivors would be the ones that create service management systems to monitor, control, and evaluate the customer experience.
Ideas like speech analytics, data-driven and real-time responses and solutions, artificial intelligence- or (bot)-powered customer engagements, and other such innovative technologies are no more the stuff of academics or comics; these concepts are live and operational already, changing the way millennials relate with whom and where they purchase their goods and services from.
The 4th Industrial Revolution, just like the invention of the steam engine many decades ago, is about to disrupt business as we know it today, obliterating many firms we see at the moment.
Yes, some would survive – those who add the human touch to their processes and practices!
Putting the human into Artificial Intelligence: The factor that makes all the difference
Scholars and industry experts in the customer service field generally agree that artificial intelligence would kill off many jobs as we know them today.
They also agree, on the other hand, that even more never-before-seen jobs would emerge in the wake of the 4IR.
As repetitive manual labour fizzled out in the wake of the first industrial revolution, so would many skills become redundant in a few years – customer service inclusive.
Whereas it would take dozens of customer support staff to make/receive calls and try to help clients in a financial institution, one single powerful computer with the appropriate data and algorithm would do the job even more competently and efficiently.
While that may be true, the companies that would thrive would be those that add the human touch to their relationships with their customers.
This conundrum is what Emotional Intelligence would aim to resolve!
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, speaks to the emotive part of the buyer-seller relationship; it’s about compassion, empathy, and kindness.
Adaptability, social and organisational awareness, as well as relationship management, are social skills machines (or artificial intelligence) cannot exhibit better than humans, if they can at all.
The ability to feel the pain of the underserviced customer, to nurture a mutually beneficial buyer-seller relationship, and to manage perceived or real conflicts between the customer and the organisation in a flexible and conscientious, yet, well-crafted manner of communication is an essential driver for customer satisfaction and retention.
A customer-centric organisation that would survive in the digital age would be one that is not just purposeful but one that is value-driven and balances its vision of earning a profit with the demands of appreciating people (customers, employees, and shareholders) and the planet (sustainability, corporate governance, and ethics).
Job loss; what job loss?
That humans are scared of change and, to a considerable extent, resistant to new ideas is no more news.
Like the first Industrial Revolution, many people are fervently averse to the impending change, resisting any new technology or knowledge that tend to challenge their understanding and how they run their businesses.
Similarly, employees in diverse fields, customer service inclusive, are unsure of what would become of their roles if the bots take over their daily functions at work.
That fear is understandable but unnecessary.
New regulations like ‘Know Your Customer (KYC),’ recent job descriptions in the financial industry like Digital Customer Marketer, Customer Cloud Engineer, App Developer, and many others are rapidly, and thankfully, creating new jobs and filling the ‘impending void’ fast.
Accordingly, business concerns must start reengineering their organisations to fit the 4IR; they must understand the reality of the customer (a large chunk of them, millennials), and come to terms with the fact that customer service is no more a fringe or support role but an integral component for the success of the business.
This realisation will be/is a challenge for Human Resource Managers, one that forces them to become savvier and open-minded so they can create customer-experience roles and job descriptions that are as empathetic as they are responsive to the needs of the digital-age customer.
In effect, the days of assigning single roles to customer service agents are over; HR managers must seek, train, and develop individuals that can function seamlessly in multiple areas, mainly, in this case, responding to and satisfying the customer.
In the end, there may not be such an Armageddon-day job losses occurrence.
Instead, we’ll see job shifts and new job profiles, a time when we’ll have humans that are nimble, agile, and multiskilled such that they can fit in and perform creditably in different kinds of roles.
Indeed, the 4IR is an opportunity for formulating new educational modules and experiences, developing new skills, and creating new jobs for the corporate needs of tomorrow.
Welcome to the age of the ‘super job’ employee!
Some caution, though
With new technology and new ways of doing business, there will arise new challenges.
Top on that list is data protection in the face of fast-evolving cybersecurity threats.
As such, corporate institutions must defer to corporate governance – practical organisational values that promote the ethical use of customer data.
These organisations must balance the quest for raking in profit with customer-experience by adding value to the customer, and securing their data, the ‘new currency’ that would shape the future in the 4IR.
Furthermore, companies that desire to transition into the 4IR successfully must challenge old ideas in behavioural economics and how they designed their internal structure, systems, and shared values.
Finally, governments must get involved, ensuring that regulations and legislations are robust enough to take care of the impending fallout that will follow the transition into the 4IR.
The future is exciting, and it’s here already!
The future is exciting – but only for those that change now!
The long-awaited arrival of 5G technology is a significant game changer and would, coupled with other components of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things, cause significant disruption for customers, employees, and businesses.
The financial organisation that would take advantage of the disruption and stay profitable (in the face of aggressive competition from new, leaner and very flexible startups) would have to crystalise knowledge, skills, and experience into new opportunities.
These companies must, as a matter of urgency, leverage on the rapid changes to create new service models and innovate, relying on technology as an enabler instead of seeing it as a harmful disruptor targeting their customer and profit.
Companies that want to flourish in the 4IR must define the human element that supports the machine (data-driven artificial intelligence) and then extract value from data and technology instead of resisting robots and digitisation.
Companies should learn to leave repetitive manual tasks to bots and data-driven artificial intelligence and, instead, focus on what makes us more human. These elements must be found and scaled up accordingly.
Just like the Service-Profit Chain model describes, a business concern may not succeed unless its employees are well appreciated.
In other words, profit, or the lack of it, is a function of employee productivity and customer loyalty, which, in summary, is the end goal of providing that ‘WOW’ customer experience.
Said otherwise, customer experience managers and departments need to bring EQ into AI.
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The future belongs to those who take advantage of machine learning, the IoT, artificial intelligence and user data, not the rigid and conservative businessman/woman/company.
Whether you are a startup, a legacy business conglomerate, a potential entrepreneur or a blue-chip executive, how you transition into the 4IR will determine if you would become a relic or blossom beautifully
The future is exciting, and it’s here!
*Being outcome of a panel discussion on The Future of Customer Services in the Financial Services Industry in the New Digital Age held at Regenesys Business School, Sandton Johannesburg on the 26th of July, 2019.
The Panel comprised of Industry Subject-Matter Experts, Practitioners and Executives from the Financial Sector, the Academia, and the Public.
The Panelists included:
- Cathy Foster, Managing director, EFFERVESCENCE Consultancy
- Kirsty Dare, Head of Customer Experience, ABSA
- Eloise Boezak, Customer Experience Culture Enthusiast, AFRICAN BANK
- Anne-Marie Olivier, Regional Manager – Northern Gauteng, LEGALWISE
- Marnitz van Heerden, Head: Group Customer, HOLLARD INSURANCE
- Sebenzile Hlanze, Customer Experience Manager, NEDBANK INSURANCE
- Lindelwa Skenjana, Head: Digital Adoption Digital and Data Analytics, Capability Cluster, OLD MUTUAL