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Augmented Humans Will Expand the Digital CX Frontier: Lessons from Sitel Summit

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Last week, NelsonHall attended the Sitel Summit in Miami. Titled ‘Expanding the Digital CX Frontier’, the event was an opportunity for Sitel to update the analyst community on their new structure, introduce new senior executives, show its new global HQ, and share first-hand experiences of successful CX digital journeys.

From contact center company to a group of global CX services

Almost two years after French Acticall acquired Sitel, the company is changing to an ecosystem of ventures where the contact center business is a part, albeit the largest one by a measure, along with:

  • The Social Client: a digital and social marketing consulting company
  • Learning Tribes: learning and development company
  • Customer Insights: an analytics unit
  • Premium Tech Support division
  • Novagile: a technology and software development company
  • Extens: a consulting practice.

These brands are run separately, with their own P&L, strategy, and target markets as a way to preserve the entrepreneurial DNA, stay close to the clients and be innovative and diversified. This is an approach which Acticall maintained in continental Europe throughout its history of M&A and spin-offs. The unifying objective is to create a ‘toolbox in customer experience’, as the CEO, Laurent Uberti described it.

While the challenges of competing strategies and disparate sales and marketing will emerge, the financial backing of the Mulliez family allows the company a longer investment horizon. Over the last year, the Mulliez family, with its $95bn multinational ownership in retail and distribution, has provided the initial support to finance the Sitel acquisition and restructure its debt. The support by this multinational conglomerate offers opportunities for country or industry-specific synergies across the shared assets. For example, in China, where the flagship retail brand Auchan has a $17bn business and will be a new target market for the Acticall Sitel Group.

At the same time, the most immediate opportunities for the group are to land and expand across its existing client base (e.g. in new markets such as North America for The Social Client and Learning Tribes, or Brazil for Premium Tech Support). In Europe, past company experience showed that every $1 generated by the ventures brings $5 to $7 in contact center business. The group objectives range from the short term (~30% of the U.S. clients having more than one service penetration) to the five year plan for a 20% share of global revenue delivered by non-Sitel ventures.

Main player in the customer experience revolution

The tactics for this approach vary between the different units, but common across all is to target digital opportunities. For example, addressing channel adoption with chatbots, where The Social Client has currently deployed ~25 in Europe; self-service communities, which Acticall runs for major French brands such as SFR; visual IVR, for which it has partnered with a leading provider in Europe; and mobile only methodology. The latter paradigm is the current solution to the challenge of the ‘end of traditional interfaces’, as described by the new Social Client GM for North America, Gordon White. In a world where messaging apps have 2.6bn users, surpassing those of social media, and becoming de facto new OS, vendors such as Sitel need to look for the new channels and formats where CX will be delivered.

Unsurprisingly, automation and NLP will play a big role in these digital transformation journeys. Sitel wants to position itself as the complementary provider for automation in a future where AI will become a commodity while remaining at the current ~70% accuracy. By the end of 2017, under the leadership of CMO Arnaud De Lacoste, Sitel plans to develop a bot engine working alongside third party NLP, leveraging access to large datasets of chat transcripts and employing its labor force to train the bot on process and client-specific lingo. The ‘bot supervisor’ will then offer real-time agent feedback and next-best-actions, improving quality and delivering an estimated 5% NPS boost on average. The project starts with English and moves to other major European languages next.

Digital transformation is slow but brings better margins

Across the different presentations at the event, a consistent topic was concentration on the digital roadmap, earning executive support, and empowering frontline staff instead of over-focus on technology. These different journeys may require:

  • Moving digital ownership from IT to marketing, as was the case with Wyndham Hotel Group, where CMO Barry Goldstein took on a digital enablement journey with its 8k hotels in 70 countries
  • Expanding to video despite initial opposition, as Don Deliz from Intuit described, where the ~600 seasonal work-at-home tax advisory began offering one-way video conferencing with co-browsing capabilities while maintaining a professional appearance and protecting personal data
  • Applying human intelligence at the core of the process, as Peter Francis from T-Mobile explained, to drive digital adoption and, in the case of T-Mobile, making the asynchronous in-app chat a primary contact channel with a newly formed team handling 100k messages weekly at 30-40 concurrency and 4.5/5 CSAT performance
  • Creating an engrained CX culture, like the example Doug Woodard shared about a Capital One agent going beyond her training and company procedure to deliver a highly personal and compassionate service to a war veteran.

Regulators vs augmented humans

The question on how to find, engage, and support agents in their increasingly complex and data-rich interactions was a running theme during the summit and covered exclusively by the Learning Tribe management, who mapped the trainee journey similar to the customer journey, with accents on requirements for mobility, interconnectivity, peer-to-peer support, and efficiency. On the flip side, Brandon Casteel from CareerBuilder painted an unflattering picture of poor applicant experience against an increasing skill shortage in the U.S. market. To add to the complexity, lobbyist Chris Putala explained the state of the Washington legislative environment, which reintroduced in 2017 the U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, trying to curb U.S. call center offshoring.

As a global vendor, Sitel plans to hedge against these risks by further enhancing its multi-shore model, aiming to grow its U.S. domestic and nearshore footprint in Honduras, to enter new African locations in support of the French market, and expand its China presence from training and development to contact center services. Still, despite these new developments, the fundamental question for Sitel remains how to evolve from a contact center to a context center, able to bring emotion and value to the customer conversation at scale, with the support of new technology and augmented humans. 

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