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Looking boldly into the Emotive CX future - An interview with Ventrica CEO, Iain Banks (part 2)

Mon, May 20, 2024

Our CEO Iain Banks talks looking boldly into the Emotive CX future. ( Part 2)

Generative AI seems both an opportunity and a threat in the CX space. What’s your strategy for leveraging AI while maintaining that “human touch”?

There’s no question that AI is one of the hottest topics in our industry right now.

From where I sit, for the types of customer experience we’re focused on - those that are anchored in deep emotional connections - there will always be an important role for the human touch. Now, if your business model is premised on high volume, low-value transactional interactions, then sure, I could see AI potentially taking over more of that over time. But the clients we work for and want to work for, are trying to strike a balance - they absolutely want to realise the benefits of digital transformation, but not at the expense of the emotive, human element. So, it’s about marrying the two.

A chatbot can’t build real rapport or forge an emotional bond. Our clients understand that there are certain aspects of the journey where that human connection is essential. If anything, they’re doubling down on developing those employees - making sure they’re well compensated, investing in their soft skills, and giving them the tools and training to create positive emotional experiences. For customer-centric brands, that human factor isn’t going away, it’s becoming even more of a differentiator.

Now, that’s not to say that we’re shying away from AI and automation, quite the contrary. We see a huge opportunity to leverage those technologies to enhance the employee experience. A lot of our focus is on using AI to take more of the simple, repetitive tasks off agents’ plates so that they can focus their energy on higher-value interactions.

We’re equally excited about the potential for AI-powered agent assistance. One of our product roadmap items is essentially a real-time coaching tool that can guide agents through each interaction. But rather than just generic scripts or prompts, it’s informed by the actual customer profile and interaction history. So, the suggestions will be hyper-relevant to that individual customer’s needs and past experiences. But again, this isn’t about replacing agents, it’s about giving them superpowers. It’s about moving from a world of rigid process adherence to one where employees are empowered to really listen and connect with the customer.

All this ladders up to what I see as the holy grail - creating effortless, seamless experiences that still feel profoundly human. The brands that we work with, they’re not looking to cut corners or automate their way to mediocrity. They want to build real, lasting connections with their customers. Our job is to help them strike that ideal balance of high tech and high touch.

Right shoring and hybrid workforce models seem key to your delivery model. How do you determine the right location strategy for each client?

Our delivery model is going to continue to be a hybrid one, with a mix of both on-site and remote resources. We certainly have some clients, who still place a premium on having those in-person teams. And we’re happy to accommodate that where it makes sense. Increasingly though, the progressive brands we’re targeting are much more outcomes-focused. They’re less concerned with where the work gets done, and more focused on the quality of the output and the results we deliver. There’s a level of trust and partnership there that’s really powerful.

our overarching philosophy is that if we’re delivering exceptional customer experiences and driving the right business outcomes, the specific location of our employees should be secondary. We’ve built a wealth of credibility and trust with our clients, and that allows us to lean into that message.

One area we are also focussing on is building multilingual capabilities that can support customers across Europe. And we’re already exploring opportunities to add some additional capacity in nearshore markets to give us even greater flexibility. For instance, several of our US clients have seen great success with our South African delivery teams, so that’s a model we’re looking to replicate for some of our European accounts as well. We may start with English language support and then gradually expand into other languages as we build those capabilities. It’s an exciting growth vector for us.

That said, we’re very careful not to fall into the trap of having a one-size-fits-all location strategy. Every client is unique, so rather than just prescribing a preset formula, we really aim to understand their specific needs and tailor an approach that works for them.

Looking ahead, where do you see the biggest opportunities and challenges for the company over the next few years as you execute this vision?

I couldn’t be more energised and optimistic about the path we’re charting as an organisation. We’ve set out to fundamentally disrupt and reshape what CX means in an increasingly digital world. And while that’s a lofty ambition, I’m so proud of the team we’ve assembled to go after it. With each passing year, I’m more convinced that we have the right mix of vision, talent, and grit to accomplish our goals.

When I step back and look at where we are today versus even 24 months ago, the transformation is remarkable. We’ve put the right leadership in place, with a carefully curated mix of deep industry expertise coupled with fresh perspectives from adjacent verticals. And while I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved, in many ways, it feels like we’re just getting started. The real impact is still yet to come.

As we execute against this roadmap, I see several key areas of focus and investment. From a market-facing perspective, we’re going to be aggressively evangelising this concept of Emotive CX. We aim to really challenge and inspire brands to think differently about how they engage with their customers. That’s going to require a mix of thought leadership, education, and good old-fashioned business case modelling. We need to paint a picture of what ‘great’ looks like, but also tangibly demonstrate how it drives bottom-line growth. That’s the key to shifting mindsets and changing ingrained behaviours.

Operationally, our single biggest priority over the next 6-9 months is hands down our people agenda. We’ve set a high bar in terms of the calibre of talent we want to attract and retain, and now we need to deliver an employee experience that matches that ambition. It’s everything from how we source and assess candidates, to how we onboard them, to how we enable them with the right training, tools and cultural immersion. If we’re preaching the gospel of building customer connections, we need to be equally intentional about nurturing those connections internally.

I’m also incredibly excited about the potential to productise and scale our technology IP and really crystallise our differentiation in the market. Historically, our engagements have been heavily oriented around labour, and while that will always be an important part of the mix, I see a huge untapped opportunity to lead with technology and insight. We’re already making great strides in areas like advanced analytics, AI, and customer journey mapping. But the vision is to really package those as distinct, value-added offerings.

Now, as we go through this transformation as a business, I’m under no illusions that it will be a completely smooth ride. Change is hard, and it requires a level of organisational alignment and intestinal fortitude that is often underestimated.

My commitment is to be transparently and unflinchingly focused on our North Star – to be the absolute best in the world at creating emotionally intelligent customer experiences at scale.

Finally, you’re known to be quite adventurous outside of work, so what does this year hold for your personally?

Well, it’s funny, my original plan for this year was to tackle a big personal challenge and cycle the Alps. But as luck would have it, I managed to snap my Achilles tendon pretty badly. I had to have surgery in June to repair it, and then just when I thought I was on the mend, I re-ruptured it during a physio session. So cycling is off the table for a while I’m afraid!

But I’m not one to sit idle, so the new plan is to tackle the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, with a Sahara Hike also thrown in for good luck…... And I’m using it as an opportunity to raise money for a cause that’s deeply personal to me - Macmillan Cancer Support. I think everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer, it’s a fight that unites us all. And on a more selfish level, having that goal is what motivates me to push my limits and keep striving. The training has been a great way to shed the extra pounds I put on during lockdown, so there’s that added benefit!

Looking further out, I had originally set my sights on running the London Marathon this year, but that’s a non-starter with the Achilles injury. So, the new target is April 2025, which will be my fourth go at it. I would love to crack that 4-hour mark, even if I’ll be a few years older. If I can pull that off, I may just hang up my running shoes on a high note. After two rounds of Achilles surgery, I’m starting to think my body might be sending me a message that it’s time to ease off on the pavement pounding.