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Today’s interview is with John Devlin, CEO and co-founder of Ascensos, a leading customer management and contact centre solution provider that offers bespoke and innovative solutions for various industries, such as consumer retail, healthcare and insurance. John joins me today to talk about the evolution of the customer service outsourcing space over the last 25+ years, what their Chief Happyologist does, the role and impact of Gen AI in the outsourcing business, how it will affect the business going forward and what Ascensos Local is all about.
This interview follows on from my recent interview – Your customer doesn’t want to know about your technology – Interview with Micah Solomon – and is number 486 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders who are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.
Here are the highlights of my conversation with John:
- Customer attitudes have changed in recent years, and there’s a much greater expectation for perfection and excellence in service from customers now.
- If you go back 25 years, you were almost embarrassed to say that you ran an outsourcing business and very few people wanted a career in outsourcing. That has changed, and our clients no longer hide behind the fact that they outsource their activity.
- We’re seeing the space evolve such that we’re moving away from just being a BPO to being a GBS (global business services) provider.
- Ascensos are an award-winning operator that prides themselves on taking a different and entrepreneurial approach to delivering excellence for its clients.
- Central to that is their culture, and they have a member of their team called Yvonne who has the title Chief Happyologist.
- Big shout out and best wishes to Yvonne who, at the time of recording, is about to give birth to a baby daughter.
- Ascensos Local have taken their model into peripheral towns (towns that were underserved in the digital economy and didn’t have many jobs in contact centre operations or even in small to medium-sized office operations), where they have created town centre hubs that have helped revamp town centre locations and act as a recruitment, onboarding hub, training and collaboration hub for work at home teams.
- We still have the team members working at home, but we now have the ability for them to come in and have a tangible link to the Ascensos estate and culture within that town centre office.
- Go and seek out the talent. Don’t just expect the talent to come to you.
- Gen AI creates uncertainty that investors don’t like because you can’t really sufficiently give them an answer as to how the impact will land in our industry.
- Will it replace 50 % of the human labour, or will it replace 5 % of human labour? That is still to be determined.
- But certainly, it will have an impact and we’ve got eyes wide open in that. We are embracing it. We’re engaging with it.
- Our agents are working with AI (we have been working with different types of AI, not just Gen AI, for a few years now) in a co-pilot mode at the moment to support what they’re doing, and I’m sure over the next year to three years, we’ll see Gen AI making more of an impact as we go.
- However, it’ll come down to effective deployment and we will work to integrate that into our existing service delivery models alongside human talent as well.
- It will likely have an impact on reducing processing times, transaction times, reducing handling time, so then it will reduce labour requirements.
- Client example: Wickes, the home improvement retailer.
- We do a lot with them in terms of their kitchen bathroom installation operations.
- It’s complex from a delivery, operational and customer perspective.
- We’ve been working with them now for about two years on delivering an industry-leading customer experience centre for kitchen and bathroom customers, where our advisors hold the hands of customers through all parts of that journey, providing a white glove service through that process. That project took a long time, both in terms of definition, scope, and then development of the software application, but also the upskilling and the capability of the team to act as that concierge white glove service.
- We’re now six months into live operations in that customer experience centre, and we’ve seen a marked drop-off in escalation complaints, a market drop-off in repeat visits by tradesmen to customers’ premises, a reduction in the cost of failure, and an improving trajectory on their Trustpilot scores too, so hitting all the metrics you’d want to hit in that space.
- And the byproduct of all of that is, unsurprisingly, is that we have highly engaged advisors who feel as if they’ve got a more meaningful job. They can actually fix things. They can actually resolve things. We have advisors who love their work, they get paid better as well because it’s a higher skill set. We now have a team who have got almost zero attrition and very little absence with advisors who are so engaged that they give us feedback on not just we need more of this and less of that but they are giving us feedback as well on process design, about how we can make the process better for the customer and for them, how we can design the desktop easier so they can manipulate the information quicker and more readily and less of the teen toilets and more about genuine business improvement.
- We’ve just reacquired John Lewis as a brand.
- John’s best advice: Get close to your customer interactions, listen to calls, sit side by side with your advisors, and look for all the stupid things that you do to your customers.
- As a disruptor and as a challenger brand, my question is to everyone on our team is find a way to work around that process to make it slicker, make it easier, take the effort out for the advisor, take the effort out for the customer, and we reward people when they find ways to circumvent process, we actually creatively reward people, for finding ways that they can bypass process.
- Process can kill creativity, it can suffocate individual ability, and people can hide behind it so easily.
- John’s Punk CX word(s): Gallus.
- [Note: This is a Scots expression/word and for those readers who are wondering what it means then read this explanation from The Scotsman. And, according to John, if you want an example of what ‘gallus’ looks like in practice then check out Paul Weller, lead singer, of The Jam performing In The City in 1977 here].
- John’s Punk XL brand: Pets at Home and Toyota
John Devlin is the CEO and co-founder of Ascensos.
With over 27 years of experience in the BPO and CX arena, John has partnered with leading global brands such as KFC, Peloton, Aldi, B&Q, and Polo Ralph Lauren. He has delivered scalable solutions that have helped transform their customer service provision and significantly improve their customer experience.
John’s entrepreneurial & leadership skills have allowed him to create specialist teams that are focused on results. His steadfast approach to ‘delivering with a personal touch ensures that he remains involved with each of our clients every step of the way.
Prior to forming Ascensos in 2013, John was the Commercial & Operations Director at beCogent and, post-acquisition by Teleperformance in 2010, was Managing Director across their UK business.
In 2021 John was recognised as a Regional Winner and UK National Finalist at the coveted EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.
As well as being a fanatic about world-class customer experience, John is equally fanatical about football and previously served as a Director and Chairman of Albion Rovers Football Club.