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The Global State of Customer Experience: What’s Next for CX in 2024 – Futurum Tech Webcast

The Global State of Customer Experience: What's Next for CX in 2024 - Futurum Tech Webcast

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, host Steven Dickens welcomes Nick Delis, Senior Vice President – International and Strategic Sales for Five9, to discuss trends in Customer Experience (CX) including the adoption of AI and automation. While AI is a buzzword worldwide, its implementation differs by region. Delis stresses the importance of empathy in customer interactions and how technology, like generative AI, can enhance human conversations. The conversation also touches on the advantages of nimble, cloud-native companies over legacy players and the need for consolidation of data for better personalization.

Their discussion covers:

  • Key trends such as AI and automation in global CX, and how adoption rates vary
  • How different regions are at different stages of adopting technology, with some transitioning to cloud solutions and others embracing AI for self-service
  • Empathy remaining crucial in customer interactions, with technology like generative AI enhancing human conversations
  • How nimble, cloud-native companies have an advantage over legacy players in adopting new technology and that consolidation of data is essential for better personalization in CX
  • A look at the anticipated trends in 2024, including interactive virtual agents, agent empowerment, and advanced AI tools for data analysis to provide personalized experiences

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Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this webcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Transcript:

Steven Dickens: Hello, welcome to another episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. My name is Steven Dickens and I’m joined today by my dear friend Nick Delis, from Five9. Hey Nick, welcome to the show.

Nick Delis: Hey, I can’t tell you how excited I am, because we’ve been waiting for a long time to get together and do this, and I’ve got to tell you, getting on with one of my friends and talking about technology and trends, I love that stuff. So thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I do a lot of these. I speak to some fantastic people, I get some amazing insights, but I’m really looking forward to today, because I’m going to get all of that and a whole bunch of fun as well. So should be a great episode. Let’s get diving straight in here, Nick. Maybe for the listeners and viewers, tell us a little bit about your role and what you do for Five9.

Nick Delis: Yeah, absolutely. So I am the Global Vice President of International and Strategic Business. So I handle everything outside of the US, and then I also handle all our strategic business actually around the globe, including the US. So just a lot of fun. I’ve been doing this for about 10 years with Five9, and I’ve been doing customer experience/contact center/whatever else you want to call it over the years that have transformed for about the last 20 plus years. And I don’t want to date myself if I say 20 plus, because I think it’s like 30 now, so I’m just going to say 20 plus. How about that?

Steven Dickens: We’ve both got some white in our beard, so let’s just leave it at that.

Nick Delis: I had a great mentor tell me that someday I’ll be a great leader as long as I’ve got some gray hair. Well, I’ve got the gray hair.

Steven Dickens: You’re definitely one of the most traveled executives. We follow each other and have some fun on social media. It reminds me of that character that George Clooney played where he is sort of clicking over 10 million miles. Your travel schedule is insane.

Nick Delis: It is insane. But the one great thing about that is you get to talk to so many companies and so many executives around the world to get a perspective, and then you take these industries, whether it be a bank in Columbia, or in a bank in the UK, or a bank in the US, and you take and compare, and you do a compare and contrast on what the technologies are they’re using, and what they treat customer experience like. It’s really interesting. So it’s brought just this level of uniqueness to my role. And I’m really excited to be able to share that with folks. And I do quite often, of course, without divulging key information from one place to the other, but I do have a chance to talk about all these trends, and over a lot of different industries. So it’s really exciting.

Steven Dickens: Well, that leads me into my first question, Nick. We’ve spoken a bunch of times, and you covered it there, you’ve got this fantastic industry depth and experience. You’ve worked at Five9 for a number of years now, but you’ve also got this truly global experience. You speak to so many customers globally. Probably one of the few people I trust to give me a truly global perspective on the current status and trends in CX. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are customers talking to you about?

Nick Delis: So the whole buzz is around AI and automation. So that’s standard. So no matter where you go around the world, you hear the same buzz. The thing is, though, is it’s not being adopted the same way. And it’s not being implemented as fast as you’d think. So if I go from east to west, you take a look at the dock region, and our dock region in Benelux, they’re actually just now converting the large businesses into cloud. So they’re going from these premise legacy solutions that don’t have all this capability, to now shifting over to cloud. So that’s stuff that we did in the US and in other markets a lot earlier. So they’re now making that shift. If you walk into the UK and Ireland in that area, that shift has happened. They’re actually on the second generation of cloud. They’re looking at more of these AI tools to help automate their business, to help bring better self-service. So that’s one of the big trends is self-service, but putting the right agents and the right technology in place. So leaving that out of the way, forget the technology, it’s just trying to bring a better customer experience.

And then if you start trending over to Latin America, Latin America is super hot. They want to adopt this technology as fast as possible. It doesn’t matter if they’re small businesses, mid-size businesses, large businesses, super large businesses, they’re all trying to adopt the technology very quickly. And one of the areas that they’re finding is that they’re willing to make the investment, digital first is really big in Latin America, even more so than I would say Europe. So Europe is definitely digital first, but Latin America, 57% of the consumers out there use WhatsApp to communicate. So integrations to WhatsApp, and other social media platforms on top of that, are really prevalent. And we’re starting to see not only are the big banks actually ahead of the game, they actually are at the forefront. And not only are they at the forefront, but their adaptation of technology when they need to make the changes quickly, they’re very quick and nimble to do that. And their technology is phenomenal. They use Five9 in their entire platform, but they integrate with so many different things. It’s great to see that adaptation.

So a lot of trends happening where we’re starting to see AI being adopted at different levels, at different times and at different places. And then I would kind of finish this with saying if you look at the three pillars, you look at the customer, the agent and the business, and then you take that as a pre-call, during call and post-call, the adaptation of AI and automation is happening in all those three different areas right now. The business wants to get real time data so they can make decisions, they don’t have time to wait in the background. The agent needs that data in their hands as fast as possible so that they can make next best actions and immediate decisions. And that brings in great customer satisfaction. So the trend and the tolerance for poor customer experience is very little right now. And we’re seeing that trend too.

Steven Dickens: Nick, it’s always fascinating when I hear you talk about the global adoption. You hear about the DAC region moving to the cloud, maybe the US has moved there already, you talk about mobile first in Latin America and key platforms like WhatsApp, we use that in the western world a lot, but it’s more prevalent… I know I’ve got some South American friends, that’s their communication platform of choice. Obviously AI is huge right now. You speak to a lot of these brands. What do customers expect from these brands? Do they expect these businesses to leverage AI? What are you hearing in that space?

Nick Delis: So let’s start from the baseline, right? Forget what the technology is. I believe that the biggest trend that you’re seeing there is post pandemic. And I’ve always been coached, “Stop talking about the pandemic.” We can’t, because the psychological effects it’s taken on the consumer, whether it be a business consumer or a consumer consumer, so if you look at those two areas, that psychological effect is expecting the highest level of customer service. And the tolerance for poor customer service is just… It’s intolerable at this point. So I think you’ve probably seen me post a few times, I have fun with the airlines a little bit, and some of them… I have fun with the airlines a lot of bit. But the most fun I have is to see… So maybe their application isn’t working that great, but when you get to the airports, the physical customer service and customer experience is great. But then you get to the club lounge, and the club lounge is poor. And then you get to the gate and the gate’s fantastic, but then you get on the plane and they forget to serve you. So it’s real inconsistency of experience. So it’s not just the AI and the technology that goes behind that, it’s actually the soft skills that go behind it too. Those soft skills are really important.

Steven Dickens: Augmenting the digital with the physical is what I’m hearing.

Nick Delis: Absolutely. And then, of course, as we talk about balancing digital agents versus human agents, as you talk about all that, you’re still looking for one thing, which is great empathy, great EQ, so the emotional quotient has to be there, because when you go through all these industries, so if you’re in the insurance industry, you have a death in the family or something, going through an automated process is the last thing you want. I don’t need to know what my policy size is. I don’t need to know how to get a copy of my policy. I need somebody with empathy to help walk me through something like that. And that’s not a technology thing, that’s a people soft skill piece. So there is a great balance. So what I’m seeing is the mundane repetitive tasks are being handled by technology. The real life human empathetic conversations are all happening with human beings. And it’s quality of conversation, not quantity. It’s not average handle time. It is first call resolution, but it’s not average handle time. It’s quality of that conversation with empathy.

Steven Dickens: Do you see the generative AI sort of interfacing at that kind of human level and augmenting to deliver some of those experiences that you just mentioned? So the generative AI is able to make it a better experience, but that experience is delivered via a human. Is that kind of what you are seeing?

Nick Delis: It’s right what I’m seeing. So as we go forward in time, AI is learning so fast. Generative AI is absolutely amazing. A half hour after you have a very poor experience, the experience becomes so incredibly better by the learning that happens very quickly. So I have definitely seen that there is a trend where we’re going to start to see a lot of those empathetic conversations in the future. But for now, I haven’t seen anything that would tell me that I want self-service when I have fraud on my bank account, and I lost all my money. I don’t have any technology right now other than a human that helps me through a death in the family or my house burning down or something that requires an empathetic conversation. So I do believe that there’s an augmentation at some front end point, at some self-service point, but there’s definitely a crossover from self-service to human interaction that helps close that loop.

Steven Dickens: And do you see the AI being able to sort of augment and help provide some context, maybe be able to provide an adaptive kind of script to the agent whilst they’re trying to be empathetic to somebody with some of those life transforming events that you talked about? Do you see that it’s kind of a going hand in hand there?

Nick Delis: Yeah, there really is. There really is. That front end conversation, and even during the conversation where AI is picking up sentiment, and maybe the tone of the voice of the agent versus the tone of the voice of the customer, all that stuff is really relevant. And I believe that that technology is going to be used in the future to help build that experience to the next level. So absolutely, I do see technology playing a key role here. I do see generative AI automation and all the tools that go behind it from the beginning of the conversation, whether it’s digital or voice, all the way through and closing the route 360 degrees. Absolutely.

Steven Dickens: So I think we agree on the technology sort of generally. Are you seeing different geographical takes on this? I’m always fascinated when I speak to you, your insight into those regional markets. With AI, what are we, six, nine months into generative AI? Are you seeing geographic trends emerging?

Nick Delis: Yeah, totally. So I would say everybody is talking about… I wish I had a statistic that goes with it. I haven’t really drilled into a stat. You might have that at your fingertips somewhere. But what I’m definitely seeing is the interest is there, the drive is there, it’s probably one of the fastest technologies and changes in technology in the contact center space I have ever seen, in 20 plus years. I’m still going with 20 plus. 20 plus years.

Steven Dickens: We’ll get you there by the end of the podcast,

Nick Delis: I’m not doing it. It’s not going to happen. So 20 plus years of doing this.

Steven Dickens: 29 still counts as 20 plus, Nick.

Nick Delis: It does. And so does 29 and 11 months. I’m just saying. But in that timeframe, seeing how customer experience has evolved, seeing how applications on mobile devices are driving better customer experience, seeing how all that technology around it is adapting this quickly in such a short period of time is absolutely mind-boggling. It’s unbelievable.

Steven Dickens: Are you seeing the adoption cases be different in different geographies? Are you seeing the European trend, a LatAm trend, an APJ trend? Or is it even lower level than that in its country sort of specific? What are you seeing in that space?

Nick Delis: So I would actually go vertical by country too. So if you look at the verticals that are trying to adapt technology better, especially those with the big repetitive tasks. So you have retail, you have the banking, you have insurance sectors, those are really great areas. And then if you look at a different vertical, which is the BPOs that actually handle all of these different verticals too, the BPOs have actually adapted that technology faster than anybody else, because they’ve had so many different use cases where they have to put it. We have Connecta and Atento as customers within our organization, and both of them are driving technology to the next level. They’re seeing that need from their banking customers, from their insurance customers. So it’s not just… And if I go to a couple countries, so if you look at Colombia once again, Colombia is actually trying to adopt technology faster than anybody, especially in those key sectors.

You are also seeing the one thing that I don’t see as fast in the US is when I want to get food delivered to me at my house, GrubHub or Uber Eats or any of those, if I get something in 45 minutes to an hour at my house, I’m pretty happy. When I order it in Colombia, or if I order it in Spain, it’s to my house in 10 minutes or 15. Because the level of adoption of how they take that technology, how they deliver it to real human beings, and how that logistics is delivered faster is amazing. So you are seeing-

Steven Dickens: Is that because they’re skipping technology and there’s less technical debt? Is that what you’re seeing? They’re able to maybe jump ahead because there’s not that kind of technical data, and that legacy system, they’re able to jump straight to the answer. Is that what you’re seeing?

Nick Delis: It really is. If you look at those legacy players, there are a lot of legacy providers that have built some incredible systems. I’m not going to go and tout some of our competition or the past, but there’s some great premise technology that was out there. The problem is, is that going from a premise solution to a cloud solution, and adopting these newer technologies, is a forklift. So if you look at some of the big players, that if you go to the Gartner Magic Quadrant and look at the top right players there, there’s a couple that stand out that you have a legacy platform, and going from your top end legacy platform to a cloud solution actually is a forklift.

Steven Dickens: It’s disruptive, is your point.

Nick Delis: It’s disruptive. Yeah, it’s disruptive. Time-consuming and disruptive. And there are definitely three trends that I see when I’m trying to adopt AI, which is… And they’re all around cost, right? So time, ease of application, and then the actual maintenance of the solution. So if you look at that, they’re all time and money based. So when you’re looking at making a huge investment to do a forklift period and move over, that could be very disruptive to businesses. So the nimbleness of these smaller players like e-banks, like these delivery services that came on the scene in the last couple of years where they’re so nimble because their ERP and their CRM systems are advanced as well as their contact center solutions that all integrate together and provide the best data for making quick decisions, quick logistical actions, and servicing customers at such a high level. So it’s amazing.

Steven Dickens: Well, it sounds it’s that cloud native piece, they’re all born on the cloud. There’s not that technical debt, so the ability… And you guys do a great job with the feature velocity within the core product, but that’s harder to consume on-prem than it is in the cloud. So some of those legacy providers, they’re just hamstrung from the get go to try and leverage. You guys, as I say, do a great job around feature velocity and this new stuff coming on a regular basis. But if you can’t adopt it and then bake it into your business, it’s tougher.

Nick Delis: It really is. It really is. And so I see that’s why some of the largest players that… solutions that I sold years ago, are starting to go by the wayside. They can’t… “Oh, we have a cloud solution come out.” “Well, it’s not really cloud, it’s kind of hosted, single…” There’s this confusion. They’re not able to make that jump over, so it’s opened up the markets and it’s like that for a lot of different industries. The big premise players of the past are starting to kind of go away, and you see these brand new nimble companies, and even our company, we’re 20 years old, we’re 22 actually, and we’re super nimble on the technologies we have to bring out. We’re utilizing generative AI. As Mike Berkland said in one of the earnings calls, it was the best analogy I could possibly make. If you look at AI, and if you look at automation that goes with it, it’s a jet engine. But you can’t strap on a jet engine in the back of my back and fly from New York to Madrid. It’s impossible. I don’t think that technology exists. If it does, I’d really like to test it out.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, you’d be one of the pilot customers for that, literally

Nick Delis: I’m that guy. But I don’t think that technology exists. You need the fuselage, you need all the people that are behind it, you need the technologies like workforce optimization and all the core technologies of routing, and all these other things that go along with it, which is actually the fuselage of the plane. But the great thing about that is there are so many engine manufacturers out there, Pratt and Whitney, General Electric, all these different companies, Rolls Royce, that you could take those engines and move them out and put something else out there as this generative AI starts to get a lot more legs than what it even has today. You’re seeing such quick adoption by so many different companies that have their own tools out there. And guess what? The great thing is is we are doing a great job, because we’re nimble like that. We know we can change that jet engine out really quick and apply it to our attack.

Steven Dickens: So it’s September, you’ve got 20 plus years, we’ve discussed, of experience in this space, 20 plus years. It’s crazy that I’m saying this in September, but we’re starting to look ahead into 2024. What do you see as the key trends? Maybe there’s a global trend perspective here. What do you see as the key trends adding to 2024 for CX?

Nick Delis: So if I were to base it… Let’s start with the big picture. I see customer experience needing to even elevate even further. So there’s so many studies out there that are showing that everybody’s looking for that elevated experience, which means that on the front end systems, technologies like IVA, interactive virtual agents, things like that, speech recognition with a lot of AI that’s put behind it that makes conversations flow a little bit better, I believe that is one of the biggest trends. We’re seeing a huge attachment rate at all the different levels around the globe. So everybody wants to adopt it. Everybody wants to get it in as fast as possible. And the great news is that because it uses such great technology in the background, it’s all drag and drop and easy to use. Machine learning takes over and helps it make it even smarter. So I think that’s one of the big keys. I really believe that the agent empowerment, being able to empower the agents so that they can build that next level of experience there. So next best action tools, so I believe the next generation of agent assist tools are out there. They’re starting to get driven. And that’s something that I believe the agents are going to take advantage of fully to help make them smarter. So I always talk about… In the US, I talked about a $6 an hour agent. I guess minimum wage isn’t $6 anymore, but let’s just call it what it is. But you take that and bring all that intelligence, and they make them $100 an hour agent. You make them so much smarter with that great technology. So I believe that adoption is coming forth in this recent year. I think 2024 is going to be even more of that.

And then on the backend, the AI tools for analyzing business are through the roof. There are so many new technologies, including stuff that we’ve developed in-house, to take a look at the entire data lake. I think the consolidation of data is very key. What most companies have realized that they have so much disparate data all over the place that the consolidation into a data lake, or some way to consolidate it and make it easier to index and have AI learn from it, I believe that that is actually one of the biggest plays. And if you look at the one technology, or the one kind of function or byproduct of this, is personalization. So all these tools is bringing out a better personalized experience for the customers. So as we call it, Five9 joy. So it’s part of our Five9 joy, but that personalized experience is really important to be able to gain a trusted customer. And if you look at the economic downturns right now that are happening, so okay, great, the Fed didn’t raise the rates here this go around, who knows what’s going to happen later, but interest rates are at a very high level right now. You’re going to start to see a lot of folks defaulting on their loans. Those variable loans are a killer for a lot of folks. Credit card debt massing up, who are they going to do business with? Are they going to do business with the company that they don’t know? Or are they going to continue to pay the company that they have a relationship with so that as you get out of this downturn, they have a trusted advisor in a financial institution. And I believe that they’re going to go with the technology and the trusted advisor over somebody who builds a relationship over just a piece of plastic that they got through the mail.

Steven Dickens: I couldn’t agree more, Nick. I think the thing, you touched on it earlier, the emotional intelligence, that’s crucial. A fantastic summary. You and I could talk for hours, we often do. Really enjoyed the conversation. Nick. Thank you for coming on the show.

Nick Delis: It’s my pleasure. And anytime. I love having conversations with you. And I think we still have a show about watches that we need to do.

Steven Dickens: I think you’re going to be a guest on that show. Well, you’ve been listening to the Futurum Tech Webcast. I’m Steven Dickens, your host. Please do all the things to click and subscribe, and we’ll see you next time. Thank you very much for watching.

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Author Information

Regarded as a luminary at the intersection of technology and business transformation, Steven Dickens is the Vice President and Practice Leader for Hybrid Cloud, Infrastructure, and Operations at The Futurum Group. With a distinguished track record as a Forbes contributor and a ranking among the Top 10 Analysts by ARInsights, Steven's unique vantage point enables him to chart the nexus between emergent technologies and disruptive innovation, offering unparalleled insights for global enterprises.

Steven's expertise spans a broad spectrum of technologies that drive modern enterprises. Notable among these are open source, hybrid cloud, mission-critical infrastructure, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and FinTech innovation. His work is foundational in aligning the strategic imperatives of C-suite executives with the practical needs of end users and technology practitioners, serving as a catalyst for optimizing the return on technology investments.

Over the years, Steven has been an integral part of industry behemoths including Broadcom, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and IBM. His exceptional ability to pioneer multi-hundred-million-dollar products and to lead global sales teams with revenues in the same echelon has consistently demonstrated his capability for high-impact leadership.

Steven serves as a thought leader in various technology consortiums. He was a founding board member and former Chairperson of the Open Mainframe Project, under the aegis of the Linux Foundation. His role as a Board Advisor continues to shape the advocacy for open source implementations of mainframe technologies.

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