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Ventrica leader profile: Phil Stringer, Service Delivery Manager, on starting his career in Fintech, developing AI at Ventrica, and winning multiple awards.

Mon, May 06, 2024

Our Service Delivery Manager talks about fintech, using AI for Ventrica, and winning awards.

Phil Stringer, Service Delivery Manager at Ventrica, brings a wealth of experience from the customer service and fintech sectors. Beginning his career in collections, Phil learned early on the importance of a customer-first approach. His journey through fintech where he was pivotal in the launch of the payment technologies, honed his skills in leading technology projects as well as managing teams.

Phil expanded his expertise into e-commerce, where he worked on scaling operations and implementing technology to improve business processes. His role at Ventrica, particularly managing the McDonald’s account, highlights his adeptness at overcoming challenges through innovative solutions.

Phil’s efforts have not only transformed the way McDonald’s approaches customer service and complaints, but it has also been recognised with multiple awards. Under his leadership, the team won a Gold at the ECCCSAs in 2022 for their digital voucher system. Phil was personally nominated for Manager of the Year at the UKCCF, acknowledging his exceptional contribution to the field.

How did you get started in the industry?

I started part-time on the phones, working as a collections agent calling people about credit card debt. In the old days, the collections industry wasn’t customer-focused. It was all about recovering the debt. I was there during a transitional time when there started to be discussions about vulnerable customers. It became less about how much we wanted them to pay, but how much they could pay. It was quite emotive, acknowledging they have a life outside of what you’re discussing with them.

We ended up taking ownership of cases involving vulnerable customers. Once you’ve done that job, anything else feels quite easy. I encountered people with learning difficulties or those going through terminal illness. You must help them through it while also looking after the interests of the people you’re working for.

What was your experience working in fintech like?

I had achieved some seniority and started to lead teams. I was fortunate to start my career in fintech, where I got to launch an exciting flagship product, which was an Android POS system. It was like a startup but within a corporation. It started with me and 10 people in a room and by the time I left there were 250. We launched in the UK, Ireland, and assisted with launch of the product from an operational perspective in other territories

I got to write operating manuals from scratch, built the onboarding system, and created lots of different job roles. This is where I first learned about managing people. It’s the metric you don’t see, how your people grow, but that’s the part of the job I appreciate the most. Today, they’re all product managers, heads of operations, Project managers, and there’s a CPO among them.

How did your role evolve when you moved within fin-tech?

After that experience, which was focused on bricks and mortar, I went to payment processor that was more e-commerce based. This was a scale-up – and it was a lot of fun. I got to transition them from Cambridge to London so I was part of the team responsible for embedding them in and forming a new team.

The challenge at that company was how to scale. It was very much an online business. I got to do a lot of fun things – such as implementing their CRM globally and developing their payment processing system, which is a huge deal for a payment processing company!

Both roles presented their own unique challenges but with this e I found myself and my team had to roll our sleeves up and really understand the business, the stakeholders, and deliver for them. It involved more stakeholder management. I loved my time in fintech, not just learning about what technology can do, but also how to manage the people side.

What challenges did you face when you took on the McDonald’s account at Ventrica?

So I moved to Ventrica and took on the McDonald’s account, which was a bit of a challenge to begin with. It had come out of Covid with a backlog of tickets so my first task was to address that. I looked at my team, assessed what people were capable of, and what skills they had, and put together a strategic plan, which I then gave to them.

For me, moving to a BPO also meant I was managing a new stakeholder – the client. Any changes we wanted to make obviously required client approval. I had never had that kind of direct client relationship before. I made a huge effort while creating that plan to understand the client’s values, strategic position and direction, and their brand values. As a BPO our values aren’t going to exactly align with every one of our clients’ values, so you have to look for the synergy.

With McDonalds they’re such a customer-centric brand that it’s pretty easy. We doubled down on embracing the customer and making sure they were looked after by leveraging as many tech advantages as we could.

After we fixed our backlog, we started looking at the whole Customer Experience and how we could enhance it using the people and tech we have on hand. Or if there’s a gap, what additional resources do we need. We took a lot of time to understand from a data perspective where we had got the biggest bang for our buck, and then looked at how we wanted everything to work from the customer’s perspective. Based on this we drew up a strategic plan which encompassed how tech could help, and then a people plan on how we were going to train them.

And this led to the digital vouchers system?

That’s right, it was one of our first projects and we won a Gold at the ECCCSAs (European Contact Centre & Customer Service Awards) in 2022 for it.

Most of the interactions we handle for McDonalds are complaints, and the way most are resolved is by giving the customer a voucher. This had always been a paper voucher system, which was inefficient and costly. And the customer experience is long. By the time you get your voucher in the post several days or weeks have passed since your complaint, so there’s no immediate sense of satisfaction.

So we worked with McDonalds to create a digital voucher system. It moved the marker from 10 days to 10 seconds meaning we got to delight the customer a lot sooner, when it meant the most to them. We could reply to a customer email with a voucher or send it to a customer’s phone while we were talking to them. It also removed a lot of back-office admin which let the team focus more on customers and hone their training.

Can you give some examples of some of the things Ventrica are doing with AI?

We’ve implemented some chatbots using our custom made LLM (Large Language Model) like Chat GPT which looks each enquiry, understands what the customer is enquiring about, classifies it, asks the customer for any additional information it thinks is necessary, and then solves the problem seamlessly. And because the chatbot is a Large Language Model, and it’s been trained just on our clients data, it actually replies in the voice of the clients brand.

Anyone can bolt Chat GPT onto their chat, but it’s about how you protect the brand. We can now communicate automatically in a clients communication style. We have control over what answers the bot gives as we trained it. Although there is an advisor at the end of the road, who can step in when need be, the point is that we’ve taken these simplistic, repetitive queries out of their workload. They can now spend more time on things that are really important, such as that small percentage of complaints that could potentially be damaging to the clients relationship with that customer or to the brand.

We also implemented an automated CSAT survey which collects a score at the end of each interaction. Incidentally, that’s just been launched as a separate product in its own right as Ventrica CSAT. I’m very proud of this as we want the customer to lead our strategy, so collecting Voice of the Customer (VoC) data is extremely important. In many contact centres there’ll be a scattergun approach in terms of how many calls you’re going to listen for quality purposes, and how you’re going to score them. We decided any negative feedback that we saw we would score.

When we first launched the CSAT project we looked in the mirror and learned we weren’t quite as good as we thought we were. And that’s actually really good feedback to get as it led us to introduce a lot of new training and process changes which made us more efficient. The result was the CSAT went improved by 40% in the last 18 months.

And you and the team have won several awards for this work. Can you talk us through those?

Yes, in 2022 I won the manager of the year award at the UKCCF awards and I was nominated for Manager of the Year at the UK National Contact Centre Awards 2023, where I got Bronze, which was annoying! But seriously, it was great to get recognised by your peers and a body like the CCMA and the UKCCF and such an impressive panel of judges.

Most exciting of all was winning the Gold at the ECCCSAs in 2022 as they’re like the Oscars for the contact centre world. That recognition for the whole team, and for the client as well, made all the hard work worth it. It gave us an appetite for more. This year we got a Bronze in the Greatest Impact of AI category. Given how short a period of time we’ve been at this and looking at how far we’ve already come on our AI journey, that’s pretty satisfying.

It’s satisfying for McDonalds too, who are an extremely enabling client. I spend a lot of time with them to understand where they want to go next and what we can do to help them get there.

What is the future roadmap for Ventrica campaigns in terms of technology and AI?

We’ve dipped our toe into AI for one specific part of our customer journey. We’ll be looking at how we can extend that into other facets of our clients business. We’re also looking at agent assist AI and exploring how we can leverage that technology to help our agents be more efficient and effective.

Essentially, we’re opening up and improving our LLM (Large Language Model) so we can gain more insights into customer behaviour, and then implement those insights. Currently, we provide our clients with a comprehensive analysis of who complained, what the complaints were about, where the complainants were located, and what the customer sentiment was regarding those complaints. We already give them a lot of data centred mainly around the customer. We’re always looking at how we can assist clients and provide additional value by providing greater insights into what their customers think. How we collect more of that data and glean more insights from it is next on our roadmap.

Can you talk through the AI training process a little?

Sure. Essentially, we go through all of our past contacts and check they’ve been classified correctly. We then take those transcripts and feed them into the model and test that until it produces responses that are in line with what we’re trying to achieve. That phase takes a long time. It’s a lot of human effort. But it’s worth it, and you end up with one version of the truth.

The first iteration of anything is never as good as what it will eventually become. It’s a bit like raising a child, you teach it everything it needs to know. It’s quite euphoric the closer you get to the end goal. Ultimately, we’re trying to make the CX the same or better as it is with an agent, while enabling agents to go do bigger and better complex tasks.

How has your personal journey influenced your professional approach, especially moving from fintech to a BPO environment?

From a personal and professional point of view it’s been a really interesting journey. I transitioned from the fintech world, where everything is extremely tech-led. I worked directly for companies and now I’ve moved to a BPO, which is a completely different environment.

It has taken me out of my comfort zone at times, but that’s how you add value to yourself. Coming here and having to work with a client, being a part of their strategy, and offering value from a different perspective – and taking the great things we do here and selling them to a client was a challenge. Everyone at Verint has been extremely helpful in assisting me along this journey, and I have an awesome team behind me.

I meet with my team first thing in the morning – we talk about what we’ve done, how we can do better. Sam Smith, our Knowledge Manager, has been on the account so long and he makes sure the team and I all know what we’re talking about. Seeing his journey has motivated me too. His story is quite insp irational given the pace at which he’s advanced. Clients want to steal him now, which is worrying, but it gives me an immense sense of pride.

Outside of work, how do you balance your personal life with your professional commitments?

I consider myself to be quite ordinary really. I have two daughters. When I’m not at work I simply enjoy having fun with them and my wife, except for 90 minutes on Saturday when I watch Spurs.