Are Regional Trade Associations Stuck In The Past?

Promoting a nation or region as “ready for business” is a complex process. Governments all over the world spend millions on marketing and Public Relations exercises designed to encourage companies to locate operations, or partner with a local company, in their region. A particularly good example is the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry because it has grown dramatically over the past 25 years and regional promotion agencies have played a key role in shaping the industry.

A good example is Nasscom in India. Founded in India in 1988 with a focus on Information Technology (IT) this trade association soon branched out to cover BPO and all IT-enabled services. Despite many critics saying that they have recently become too self-congratulatory it is fair to say that Nasscom research and marketing helped to drive the booming technology sector in India over the past couple of decades. The private companies are the organisations that actually conduct the trade, but many of them would not have received the attention and respect they deserved had Nasscom not been banging the drum for India at trade shows across the world.

In my years writing about the global technology and BPO industry I’ve met hundreds of people representing trade organisations and many of them are earnest, well-informed, and doing a great job, but I’ve also come across both people and organisations that are damaging their national brand through the way they conduct themselves. Without naming names, here are a few examples of conduct I have personally experienced:

  • Insults; a trade body leader insulted me and kicked me off their trade show stand when she heard that my last book was about outsourcing. Her assumption was that I was writing negatively about her industry, yet one look at Amazon would have shown her than maybe I could be writing more positively about her nation – that didn’t happen.
  • Sales focus masked by trade body status; A major trade body morphed from providing objective information on the IT and BPO industry into little more than a sales front. It appeared to still be independent and objective, but essentially the trade promotion officers were just sourcing deals for members and earning commission. Of course, the companies need to sell, but the sales team should clearly be identified and not masked by the veneer of an independent  trade association.
  • Generic; boring presentations that give no life or colour to the region – don’t forget that those of us who research BPO all the time have sat through hundreds of PowerPoints on why yours is the best country for investment. Every country has strengths and weaknesses – work with them. If you have a small population then don’t pretend you can scale up to 10% of the entire population working in a contact centre, talk about the specialist skills you have. Most trade associations find it hard to acknowledge what their region really can and cannot do.
  • All promises and no action; if a trade association makes promises to influencers – such as industry analysts – then follow through. I have written about investment in several locations, then have been contacted by the local trade association who suggested that they bring me over to meet companies. That’s great, but if you suggest conferences or visits then make it happen. I have one invite that’s almost two years old now – how does that make me feel about the way this nation organises investment? Take a guess.
  • Not paying; one national trade body hired me to research business investment opportunities in their region then I wasn’t paid for the research. Do you think I will ever recommend investing in this country ever again? I have talked to CEOs who were planning to invest in this country and my description of the trade body behaviour has discouraged them – that’s a real effect on their GDP from poor promotional behaviour.
  • Political appointments; trade bodies are often funded by government, or a mix of business subscriptions and government support, so it’s clear the government often has a view on how to promote their nation, but you need competent business-focused people in these bodies – people who can convince a CEO to invest. If you stuff the trade body with political appointees who are not up to the job then don’t be surprised when nobody invests a dime in your region.
  • Fighting other trade promotion bodies; trade bodies from one region of a nation often fight others from the same nation. This used to happen in India all the time until Nasscom got things more coordinated, but it is still happening in many other nations. Imagine a CEO thinking about a major investment that means thousands of jobs and one regional business leader is focused entirely on how bad another region of the country is for their company – that’s a fast track to losing investment in both regions.
  • Trade bodies fighting friends; sometimes one trade body will fight another one in the same country, perhaps for dominance of the events market or just because one trade body leader doesn’t like the way that experts and analysts are writing about research created by a different body. From the outside it looks disorganised and ridiculous. If trade bodies want to fight each other, or fight industry experts for being frank with their views then investment can go someplace where it is more appreciated – and it will.

The founder of Ryan Strategic Advisory, Peter Ryan, wrote about this problem earlier this week. Peter’s article was focused on the need for governments, trade bodies, advisors, consultants, and analysts to all be strategically aligned. If trade bodies and governments want to present the case for investment in a way that impresses potential investors then they need to send the same message. If different trade bodies or advisors are all squabbling with each other then it only sends a negative message about investment in that region.

The entire IT-enabled service sector is on the cusp of an enormous and exciting change. For many years, contact centre jobs have been seen as a useful way to boost employment, but they have rarely been seen as exciting jobs for the individual doing the work. This is all about to change. Emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Robotic Process Automation are all becoming integral to the management of the customer experience.

In addition to the need to use new technologies, the customer service process is blending with marketing and sales. All customer-facing interactions are becoming centrally coordinated leading to enormous changes in the career opportunities available to those who work in BPO organisations. Contact centres are creating career paths for data analysts and social media marketing specialists – they are no longer just warehouses full of people on the phone handling complaining customers.

Governments have often focused on the ability of trade promotion bodies to create jobs. They should still be involved in the broad job creation environment, through the use of policy to encourage investment in emerging technologies and services, but they must break away from the mindset that focuses on contact centres and thousands of agent jobs as the answer to unemployment. They can be responsible for investment that creates big data analysis centres or centres of excellence in artificial intelligence research. Regions with expertise in customer service should be able to develop new areas of excellence, such as social media marketing and social sales.

These are exciting times for anyone involved in planning CX strategy, but I fear that many regions who desperately need investment from companies planning interesting projects are being let down by trade associations stuck in the past and bickering with rivals or critics. It’s time to move on and accept that CX is the strategic core of companies of the future and we are right at the heart of driving this change.

Let me know what you think about the way that your own regional trade body is representing your region by leaving a comment here or tweet me on @markhillary.

Photo by Pe Wu licensed under Creative Commons.

Digital Disruption Will Impact On CX in 2017

I have often written how digital disruption has completely changed the way that customers engage with brands. The customer journey used to be defined and controlled by companies, yet the mobile Internet and social networking platforms have now handed control to the customers to determine how and when they seek information or try engaging with companies.

Forbes magazine recently listed the top ten issues and trends related to digital disruption that executives need to be aware of in 2017 and number two on the list was the customer experience (CX). Number one was the fact that change is always happening, which could probably apply in any year, but I’m interested to see CX placed so high up on the digital disruption priority list.

Specific issues around digital disruption and the CX include:

  • Use data to learn where your customers are coming from; if you want to personalise your offer so you have recommendations and deals designed for the individual customer then you need data and you need to be able to analyse that data.
  • Create a consistent experience across many channels; it’s not acceptable to offer great service on a voice call and awful service on Twitter – omnichannel expectations mean that you need to be consistent across all channels.
  • Every touch point between the brand and customer matters; internally you might think of different types of customer touchpoints – marketing, advertising, sales, PR, service – however to the customer it doesn’t matter. All they know of is their interaction with your brand.
  • Removing friction from the overall experience; simplicity is the key to keeping the customer happy. Make their life easy and you will win supporters.
  • Enhance the experience compared to what the customer is used to; can you service stand out when compared to the competition? If not then why not? Aim to be better than others offering similar services.

The Forbes feature says:

“The customer experience (including employees) is the ultimate goal of any digital transformation. Customers are more cautious than ever; they’ll turn away from brands that don’t align with their values and needs. A top-notch user experience is a fantastic way to keep customers involved and engaged with your brand.”

We are only a quarter of the way into 2017 and yet it is clear that digital disruption will be one of the key themes for business strategy this year. It’s clear to me that managing the customer experience in 2017 will be a challenge for many companies as interactions between customers and brands are being disrupted in many ways, but awareness and planning can help to mitigate the risks ahead.

What do you think are the leading areas of digitial disruption that will affect CX in the year ahead? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @markhillary. Photo by Masha Krasnova-Shabaeva licensed under Creative Commons. 

Poor CX Costs Companies Billions In Lost Sales

According to Forrester Research, 72% of executives now say that improving the customer experience (CX) is their number one priority. Yes, it’s become so important now that it beats cost reduction and growing revenues, although it could be argued that improving the CX usually has a positive effect on both these other targets.

But as customer service expert Shep Hyken points out in a feature published by Forbes magazine, poor customer service costs companies about $62 billion a year just in the USA alone – billion, not million. You can see the losses detailed in this infographic. The figures are calculated by looking at the actions taken when a customer receives poor service. In this research, 91% will do something after a bad customer experience and about half (49%) will switch to an alternative brand for their purchase.

Shep lists ten CX trends in his article to watch out for in 2017, but his first point is possibly the most interesting. He said that even if we are seeing statistics like the lost $62 billion mentioned in this research, the customer experience is generally getting better. I tend to agree. Based on my own experience with our clients I can see that there is more sophistication around CX strategy today. It’s getting, better, but customer expectations are also changing faster than ever.

In my view, there are a few important reasons why CX is generally improving though:

  • Customers are demanding it; customers are more sophisticated than ever. They expect service 24/7 across a variety of channels and they expect a great experience however they interact with brands.
  • Companies are seeing value; there is a measurable ROI from investing in an improved CX and many executives now see this as essential.
  • Omnichannel; ensuring that customer interactions work equally well across all channels and information can be shared inside the organisation has dramatically improved how customers feel when they hop from one channel to another.
  • CRM Investment; companies know more than ever about customers and customers are willing to give up personal data if they can see they there is something in it for them – companies are getting smarter about creating a more personal service.
  • Mature Agent Strategy; agents in call centres are finally being seen as more than just people answering the phone and reading a script. They are developing useful skills in marketing and sales that are genuinely adding value to companies. Customer service is now at the centre of the relationship with the customer.

So for all these reasons I do agree with Shep’s point that CX is getting better, although it is hard to quantify exactly by how much, if there is even a benchmark that it can be measured against. I’m going to explore some research to see if I can find any documented evidence of improvement in CX generally, but in the meantime let me know what you think.

Is CX really improving? Leave a comment here or get in touch with me via my LinkedIn. This article was originally published in Engage Customer. Photo by OMGponies2 licensed under Creative Commons.