How tech and AI adoption can ‘turbo boost’ CX outcomes

Rajiv Malhotra, Head of Europe Business at Firstsource
Business Chief speaks to Rajiv Malhotra, Head of Europe Business at Firstsource, about leveraging technology solutions to deliver industry-leading CX

With more than 20 years worth of experience in IT and business process outsourcing (BPO) across industries including financial services, insurance, retail, logistics, healthcare and media, Rajiv Malhotra, Head of Europe Business at Firstsource, has seen first-hand the importance of combining BPO operations with technology. 

The traditional role of a BPO partner as purely a provider of call centres is changing. Delivering a first-class CX journey has become paramount for companies that are presiding over an increasingly transient consumer base.

Macroeconomic factors, such as spiralling interest rates and the ongoing cost of living crisis, mean organisations from retail banks to telco providers have to work harder to attract and retain customers. This is where digitally-savvy outsourcing partners are worth their weight in gold.

“Every industry is going through a very difficult life cycle at the moment,” Malhotra explains. “In financial services, mortgage rates are going up and there are still recession concerns. Customers are being very conscious in terms of ‘let's wait and watch’. 

“This means banks are seeing volumes drying up a little bit, which is impacting traditional growth from a BPO perspective in that market.”

Assessing the state of the media, communication and telco market, he adds: “That whole sector is seeing a very different disruption with the cost of living crisis, meaning people are actually not subscribing the way they used to. They are removing add-ons and trying to renegotiate contracts, which is impacting EBITDA and revenue. This is leading to conversations about redefining the overall estate, whether that’s the UK, nearshore or offshore.”

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, companies belonging to multiple industries are now looking to BPO providers to offer solutions that will resonate with their customers. In most cases, the answer lies in digital adoption.

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Human-centric approach underpinned by tech is the way forward

The old adage that ‘people buy people’ applies regardless of whether you are trying to sell a multi-million-pound contract or a simple subscription renewal. However, the application of technology designed to boost CX results is often crucial in sealing the deal on a BPO proposition. 

Whereas in the past large organisations would predominantly outsource business processes as a means of cutting costs, companies are now waking up to BPO providers’ digital offerings. These include customised industry solutions and major advances in technology, such as AI, analytics and machine learning. 

In fact, a report last year published by McKinsey & Company showed there was a growing appetite for digital BPO solutions. Providers that have been able to pivot their traditional proposition to accommodate a wider tech offering are the ones who will typically achieve higher growth. 

However, Malhotra argues that, in order to enjoy long-term success, it’s important to strike the right balance between ‘human’ and ‘tech’. 

“The traditional BPO business is essentially people manning the phones and talking to customers, which is a very traditional way of operating,” he says. “While you definitely need the human element, it's very important to modernise the overall contact centre operation by infusing and integrating technology.”

By aligning operations and tech, BPO providers like Firstsource are increasingly able to deliver far superior CX outcomes.

AI a ‘turbo boost’ for contact centres 

AI has fast become a divisive issue in terms of the potential risks and opportunities it presents. While in some quarters it is viewed as a threat to jobs, in others it is seen as a game-changer for companies looking to scale up their CX offering. 

Of course, AI is not new for the BPO industry. Digital initiatives to upgrade chatbots and other tools assisting call centre agents have been around for years, but only recently is the full potential of this technology being realised. 

“This is not an impact to jobs and humans in the BPO industry,” adds Malhotra. “It has to be considered as something that will turbo boost the entire contact centre. It's all about what you are giving humans in the form of generative AI to really provide a much better customer experience.”

The benefits of embracing AI within the BPO industry are numerous. Increased efficiency is one obvious benefit as AI can automate many of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks previously performed by humans.

Perhaps less apparent is the competitive advantage gained by early adopters of AI. Those who move first can get ahead of their rivals in the CX race by offering more efficient and personalised services that will appeal to clients and consumers alike.

Human element remains crucial

Cutting-edge technology without human input doesn’t amount to a whole lot when providing a high-quality customer experience is the name of the game. 

Firstsource, for example, operates nine contact centres across the UK, employing 5,000 people. Those employees, who support clients across banking, utilities, energy, telco and more, are the heartbeat of the operation. 

Just as important as the application of digital innovation is the presence of diversity in the fabric of a BPO provider. It’s an issue close to Malhotra’s heart and one he recently spoke about during a roundtable event at 10 Downing Street.

“Whatever line of work you are in, the most important skill is arguably your ability to relate to other people,” he continues. “For leaders, this means not assuming that everyone is the same as you, with the same ambitions and values. You’ve got to see things from the individual’s perspective.

“At a global company, with an energetic, vibrant team, I see first hand the impact of committing to diversity. It’s not just about ‘doing the right thing’, but making the link to increased wellbeing, equal opportunity and productivity.”


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