Changing the game

It has been felt for some time that the business process outsourcing industry, or BPO, is being slowly upturned by the onset of technology.

Traditional low-cost, labour-centric models for BPO delivery are being made redundant by new capabilities powered by automation and robotics – and a sea change in the expectations of customers who demand more and more value from their providers.

Andy Griffin, CTO at Woven Group, is even more emphatic in his assessment. “The underlying model of the BPO market is clearly broken,” he claims as he kicks off an exclusive interview with Digital Bulletin.

Griffin and his colleagues at Woven have made it their mission to haul BPO into the digital age. Founded only at the beginning of 2019, Woven is a UK-based roll-up company that has, via multiple acquisitions, gathered under a single roof some of the strongest and most relevant talent and technology. Focused on contact centre outsourcing, it has quickly built a workforce of well over 1,000 across four sites and is determined to, in its own words, “redefine service”.

Central to its proposition is tPoint Solutions, a technology firm founded by Griffin. Ten months of fruitful partnership was followed by Woven completing the full acquisition of tPoint in November and it is using its platform as the engine of its service model. After well over a decade of fine-tuning, Griffin believes tPoint’s solution is ready to disrupt BPO.

“This brilliant partnership with Woven gives us the platform to really use the product to its fullest potential,” he says. “The journey in total has been nearly 12 years, so we’ve been doing this for a long time and are ready.”

Andy Griffin, CTO, Woven Group

tPoint’s no/low-code offering gives contact centre advisors increased speed-to-competency and claims to create a surge in both customer experience and business outcomes. It tackles head on the challenges of data silos, disconnected systems, restrictive data structures, technical resource dependencies, disparate contact environments and lengthy project timescales.

Its technology folds in each part of the user journey, from any channel, and processes everything into one single layer, guaranteeing a far smoother process for both customers and human agents. Such capabilities should underpin any modern BPO, believes Griffin.

“Technology is absolutely fundamental to what the company does,” he comments. “There are a lot of players within the BPO space, a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon of innovation… but it’s very rare to see it actually being used to impact at scale. It’s unheard of for it to be the focal point of what that business is doing. Woven was born to be that business.”

Woven has kept Griffin busy overseeing a programme to first integrate the Azure-based tPoint within its acquired businesses, with 100% of their activity to eventually pass through the platform. This will expose tPoint to Woven’s 900-plus global client base across industries. Previously, it had gained real traction in regulated markets like financial services, supply chain and utilities.

Griffin has also overseen the deployment of a comprehensive workforce management solution, another piece of the jigsaw for the company as it builds foundations for what it believes will be an exciting few years. Yet Griffin is under no illusions about the challenges of taking to market a BPO designed wholly around service value through innovation rather than price.

“Most people in the industry would see that as reducing your own revenues,” he says. “You have to be really clear about your vision and aggressive about taking risks to do that, and also be open and challenging about commercial models. It’s very difficult to be a BPO business and generate the full value, because a lot of what you’re doing is reducing the cost-to-serve. We do it because we have the experience but you have to be pretty brave, and you have to be a believer.”

It doesn’t take long in conversation with Griffin to understand that risk-taking and innovation run in his DNA. A technologist in every sense, Griffin’s excitement is clear when the topic turns to the emergence of automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

We’re a motivated, driven BPO that wants to be different, we have the technology to enable that and the consulting skills and the CX strategy skills to bring it all together. It’s a really powerful blend

As the architect of a platform that processes valuable customer information, Griffin is very much aware of the potential these technologies have to generate the data and insights often seen as the silver bullet for organisations striving for better customer service. Lifted into a BPO proposition, Woven is primed to pounce on the opportunity.

“It plays into a platform such as ours,” Griffin says. “It’s very difficult to do smart automation if you can’t see in real-time all of the interactions you’re carrying out with your customers, and that’s what we do. I think it’s fascinating. With robotics in particular, we have a vision where we’re growing the business, we’re growing the number of advisors but, at the same pace, we also want to grow the number of digital workers we have.”

Woven breaks robotics down into four areas: chatbots that communicate with customers; bots that make up the workflow engine; RPA bots that use another system and pass that information on and finally what it calls ‘coaching bots’, which work with advisors to make them more efficient and informed.

“It’s really how you bring all four of those together to make the experience for the customer better, faster, more seamless, more informed, and then you embellish that with the use of human advisors where necessary to create the perfect experience,” adds Griffin. “It’s very easy right now to build a bot, let’s be honest, but to actually make that bot cognisant to your experience with your customer, that’s what’s difficult.

“We’re at an early stage as an industry where people are interested in that, there are lots of examples of early bots but there are very few examples of bots that are connecting the experience for the customer. That’s where we come in and that’s what we’re so excited about.

“We’re also doing some really interesting stuff around the virtual assistant too, in terms of using AI in the allocation of agents. We want AI that provides a whole lot more intelligence in terms of who you connect to and when you connect to them. There’s a lot of work going on around that and more generally we’re heavily engaged with the roadmap and alignment with the BPO journey.”

Technology is absolutely fundamental to what Woven Group does. There are a lot of players within the BPO space, a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon of innovation… but it’s very rare to see it actually being used to impact at scale

Commonly, a desire for absolute customer centrality drives technology innovation and, as Griffin has illustrated, this is very much the case at Woven. Indeed, the broader outsourcing industry has been flooded with higher-value services in recent years as providers seek to meet and surpass increased expectations.

Evidence that consumers are shifting towards experience over price is stacking up. A recent PwC study found that 42% of respondents would happily pay more for a better experience, and 73% said that a good experience influenced their loyalties. Woven itself cites a Consumer Experience Index report that puts the first figure at 66% in the United States.

“I have a real passion for the customer experience,” reveals Griffin. “Every time I get served somewhere, I think about how that service could be better.

“The pace and expectation created on the consumer side is being pushed out into the B2B world. These are all things that we should have always been thinking about, but the difference now is that the option to not think about it is being diminished. Here we are, in 2019, and the thing that’s actually making businesses think about it is the fact that every customer they deal with is empowered.

“You can be a huge bank, for example, but how you deal with that customer still matters, whether that be in a branch or online. We’re all powerful now, aren’t we? Industries are being dragged in that direction and that’s good for everybody, ultimately.”

Every sector has gone through this realisation but it is indisputable that BPO, especially, will have to base its future around a dual-focus on service and technology. Griffin and his newly-acquired colleagues are undoubtedly enthusiastic about their prospects.

“We’re really excited about what we can build with the combination of companies that have been acquired and the people that have been brought into the executive team and elsewhere,” he finishes. “We’re a motivated, driven BPO that wants to be different, we have the technology to enable that and the consulting skills and the CX strategy skills to bring it all together. It’s a really powerful blend.”


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