Virtual Shared Services after COVID

Virtual Shared Services after COVID

The new way of business in the Virtual Shared Services Centres post COVID-19

Social, Collaborative, Yet Virtual will be the New Shared Services model post-COVID-19

With each passing day, more countries are nearing lockdown amid fears of widespread COVID-19. While it obviously impacts business, many companies are trying their best to continue running operations to the best extent possible.

Specifically in the Shared Services and Outsourcing industry, many firms have initiated BCP and DR plans. Critical functions have been identified and plans have been made to ensure their delivery is not impacted. Employees across the globe are working remotely and collaborating using various technologies available.

This has raised interesting debates on productivity, the impact on future ways of working, the feasibility of working remotely, and security risks – among many other things.
One of the important considerations is the impact on social well-being of employees. By nature, humans like to connect and interact with fellow colleagues and work in groups with sharing and caring.

That leads me to consider how Shared Services and Offshoring / Outsourcing will change post Covid-19.

“Digitalisation and Automation”

From its onset, this situation clearly favours those Shared Services Organisations that are already “more digital”. The more digital Shared Services Centres (SSCs) will have relatively less impact due as a result of such epidemics and the learnings will drive more digitisation and automation of various functions. This will ensure that the mundane and repetitive tasks are less interrupted and the workforce can focus on more critical activities.

Shift from “people proximity” to “people collaboration”

The SSCs that are most impacted by COVID-19 have one thing in common: Their style of working is based on “people proximity”. The setup is complex and multiple cross-functional teams are working together towards delivery. Hence they rely on people working together in teams. Such SSCs will most likely build their strategy around (invest in) the adoption of increased collaboration tools like video conferencing. It is surprising that many offshoring centres and SSCs are still way behind when it comes to using such collaboration tools.

The next town hall is not going to be in a large auditorium or hotel but will happen over Skype or Zoom

The trend of moving everything to ‘online’ – trainings, meetings and even key corporate announcements – will increase. In the past, faced with an unexpected crisis the tendency has been to delay key meetings and announcements. Going forward, I would not be surprised if the next town hall happens online.

Focus on ‘relationship’ not just ‘contract’ with outsourcing vendors

SSCs will now have the opportunity to test their relationship with sourcing vendors. Is this the time to open the contract documents and revisit the clauses? Or is this the time to sensitise and empathise with each other? Remember, outsourcing vendors are also firms – just like yours.


As SSCs encourage flexibility in working locations and adopt various collaboration tools so that they continue to improve their productivity as provide services, they also need to ensure that individuals are empowered and continue to feel the social experience; in short, that they are “Virtual” yet “Social”.

Imagine an organisation that presently thrives on groups of people coming together in an office transforming itself into an organisation that still maintains the social essence through its ability to connect and interact with team members – but without the need to meet physically.

Welcome to post Covid-19 Shared Services Centres being Social, Collaborative yet Virtual!


Thanks to the views by Ankur Bansal from SSON
Having spent a majority of my career working with and supporting the Corporate CIO Function, I now seek to provide a forum whereby CIOs or IT Directors can learn from the experience of others to address burning Change or Transformation challenges.
Craig Ashmole

Founding Director CCServe

Homeworking In The Contact Centre

Homeworking In The Contact Centre

Homeworking In The Contact Centre Industry During COVID-19

Challenges of homeworking in the contact centre industry and why balance will be key in future flexibility

COVID-19 has even more businesses talking about and having to engage with homeworking. Some advocate that they are ‘business as usual’ whereas others are having to deal with the very real challenge of isolation and no face-to-face contact with their teams, customers and suppliers. This article looks past the current lockdown period at the questions faced by the contact centre industry around homeworking.

The root question has not been if home working is possible and effective, but why should it be utilised? The many talented and dedicated contact centre professionals will adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, finding ways to provide great customer experiences despite unfamiliar working environments and under increased pressure; but what will they do after the lockdown passes and offices and contact centres are reopened?

According to research from the Office of National Statistics published prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 50% of UK employees were already set to work remotely in 2020. Remote working is a subject bound to divide opinion across small to large organisations in every sector. With governments across the world asking or even enforcing, that people work from home during the current COVID-19 pandemic, debates about this practice are becoming more important.

For organisations across many industries, a work-from-home policy may seem easily deployed – workers can simply take their laptops to any location, connect to a WiFi network, and get going. However, for others, the concept of remote working instigates a multitude of worries. Take the contact centre industry. The current situation around COVID-19 means many contact centre operators have been faced with a difficult reality, and many are being pushed to make a decision. Is it better or worse for agent productivity and happiness? Does it increase customer engagement and satisfaction? Will it drive revenue or is it a drain on resources? Can employees be trusted to do a good job while working unsupervised? Will it isolate agents if they are receiving negative or abusive calls when remote from their colleagues?

Balance is key

These concerns are perfectly understandable – the contact centre has always been a very physical workplace, with call agents hooked up to a legacy phone system, answering calls on multiple lines, in-sight of employers. The key to making homeworking successful in practice for any business – particularly those operating a contact centre – is to identify exactly what is trying to be achieved with it, and how it meets with what is best for the business overall. Right now, permitting homeworking may simply be a case of survival as a business. In future, businesses must answer the purpose of homeworking. As an example, it could offer flexibility to employees and be used as an aid to work-life balance. This would not only deliver something for the reward strategy of a contact centre, but increased satisfaction and happiness at work may also lead to improved performance.

However, this must be coupled with businesses considering the potential challenges. One of the key concerns we hear around working from home in the contact centre is trust; can agents work as effectively, and at the same level of quality, without direct supervision? Many employers worry that if they cannot physically see their employees working, they aren’t working at all. Furthermore, the inability to see employees may leave employers anxious for their safety. What if an agent working from home receives a threatening or distressing message? Without a network of support from colleagues and supervisors, it could be difficult for agents to deal with complaints and negative situations. Businesses considering homeworking must have a plan to address these very real concerns.

The silver lining of cloud

One way to enable contact centres to provide the flexibility of homeworking for call agents, while keeping operations running smoothly, is embracing the latest technology available to the sector. A cloud-based contact-centre-as-a-service (CCaaS) platform gives contact centres this flexibility: it can be deployed in days and is ready-to-use wherever the agents and IT team are. Due to its browser-based nature, all an agent or supervisor needs to carry on is an internet-enabled device, such as a laptop, and a headset.

A vital component for this setup to work is continuous communication and monitoring between call agent and supervisor. Screen recording, for example, enables both supervisors to keep an eye on their agents in real-time, and agents to feel supported in their work while away from their desk. It can provide exactly the same insights to supervisors as when agents are in the contact centre itself. This ensures that supervisors know that the same excellent standards of customer experience are being delivered, even when they are not in the same location as agents. It also frees homeworking agents from the suspicion that they are not working as effectively at home as they are in the contact centre, which can be an undermining experience. The chance to demonstrate their own skill and efficiency accurately can be great for happiness and ‘engagement’. These concepts have been well linked to reducing leaver rates. Granting supervisors the ability to see agents working also enables them to provide real-time support to their team. For example, if an agent has had a disgruntled customer on the phone, supervisors may be able to step in and offer support and consolation when needed.

Technology for the modern-day workforce

Since cloud contact centres are browser-based and agents can access the system wherever they are, whenever they want, the ability to homework gives employees more flexibility and control over their working hours. This can make it easier to fit their career around busy schedules in a way that benefits both themselves and the organisation. Their working schedule can fit in more easily around family and home life as they have the opportunity to log in while the children are at school, for example. Introducing intelligent automation and smart scheduling makes flexibility profitable by ensuring that resources are optimised. Artificially intelligent Workforce Optimisation (WFO) systems run automatic checks to ensure that schedules are always kept at peak efficiency, whilst also giving agents maximum control over the hours they want to work.

Cloud-based CCaaS can also alleviate any concerns over the additional costs of training needed for agents to work at home. Quality Assurance capabilities mean that agents and employers alike can benefit from increased flexibility without losing any of the quality of work or impacting the customer experience. Analysing recordings of key interactions between call agents and customers allows trainers to identify best practice and gaps in knowledge.

It is clear that homeworking has great benefits, while also posing the potential for significant drawbacks. Flexibility and agility are key in achieving the right balance to make working from home a viable option in the contact centre. A true cloud solution is one sure-fire means of ensuring that the location of the agent does not matter and can develop alongside, and meet with a business’ and individuals’ growing demands.

The effects of COVID-19 on businesses, and society as a whole, are expected to change working practices across industries, including contact centres. Many will continue a homeworking policy even after everything has returned to normal. They would do well to have a clear strategy, harnessing the benefits of homeworking and ensuring the correct tools are in place for their agents to thrive in a new world. Although, overall, homeworking is not without its challenges, if implemented at the right pace and with the right technology, it has the power to unlock fantastic benefits for contact centres.


Written by Andi Janes, Chief People Officer at Content Guru

Having spent a majority of my career working with and supporting the Corporate CIO Function, I now seek to provide a forum whereby CIOs or IT Directors can learn from the experience of others to address burning Change or Transformation challenges.
Craig Ashmole

Founding Director CCServe

Hiring the old guy

Hiring the old guy

Do you or don’t you, hire ‘the old guy’!

Perhaps I am just getting a bit older, but the IT industry seems to be more of a game for younger people these days. Although, to be fair, Police Officers are looking younger all the time too.

“As time goes by attending the various IT related annual corporate events, all the people sitting on the stalls marketing their company values to everyone and anyone that dares to glance their way for too long, are definitely much younger and seem to even dress less formally than when I did for many years.” states Craig Ashmole, founding partner at London based Interim Consulting CCServe Ltd.

I came across a piece of material by Nick Hughes, who is a Senior Programme, Project and PMO manager and all the same thoughts and views came rushing back to me and I quote him below.

Within IT especially there does seem to be more focus on younger, fresher talent. This was brought into sharp focus recently when I met with a manager at a consulting company. They were thinking of putting me into a bank, but the manager was concerned that my extensive and long experience might be a little intimidating for that client manager.

The manager also seemed a little nervous and said that I had a lot more experience than he did himself and that he hoped he did not ask any unproductive questions. This got me to thinking. Is there a perception for younger managers that hiring an older/more experienced contractor might jeopardise their own position? Or could older contractors probably be seen as ‘not as innovative as their younger counterparts’?

Is this ageist? Possibly, but for the hiring manager it could be a very real concern. From their perspective, they are possibly new to the position and want to prove their worth. Many managers want to be seen as the go-to person, that they are irreplaceable and key to the organisations success. Hiring in someone who may not only know more than you, but also may have experience doing your exact job, could lead to the manager being seen as superfluous. The deeper concern would be “Is he going to try and take my job?”

For contractors who have experience in roles more senior than the role being looked at, there can also be concerns for the manager around the contractor jumping ship as soon as the next best, or higher paying, opportunity comes along.

This presents a dilemma for the hiring manager and an issue for the contractor.

To be clear, I am not saying this happens all the time, or even a majority of times, but it does happen. When we are honest with ourselves, we all have those feelings of doubt, so it is perfectly understandable to have these thoughts, we would not be human if we did not.

So what is the answer? Does the manager “not hire the old guy”? Does he or she only hire people younger or less experienced than themselves?

If they do, then yes, they could avoid an embarrassing situation where the person reporting to them knows more than they do. But that will only be a temporary protection for your career and, to be honest, if you are so worried about your position that you feel the need to protect yourself, you will probably find it difficult to progress anyway.

But why hire the guy (I use the term ‘guy’, but it applies to both men and women) with more experience than you and who has potentially had a more senior position?

From my perspective, and with the experience I have gained I don’t actually want that manager’s job and I don’t want to settle down into a perm role. If I am applying for a contractor position, I don’t want the politics, the employee assessments, the HR hoops that I would have to jump through when you manage a team and also having to deal with any personnel issues. I am at a point in my life where I have realised I work to live, not live to work.

What I do want is to make the manager I am hired to engage with look good. I want to use my experience and knowledge to make a success of this project. I want to pass on my knowledge of short cuts that bring the project to a successful conclusion, or the ability to see through vendor marketing hype to accept only what is really needed in the business. Or to ensure we hit budgets & deliver on time.

From a interim consulting perspective it is simple. First, we get the satisfaction of a job well done. Second, we get the opportunity to pass on well-earned knowledge and subject matter experience to those younger people. But most importantly, we leave with the hope that the manager will recognise the contribution made and engage on the next project.

After all, as a contractor, one is always looking for the next contract. I have seen some contractors make themselves indispensable to an organisation, to the point where the perception is that they can’t be let go.

Experience on projects are usually quite simple. Define the scope and lock it down, establish a change control process to manage the inevitable scope creep, establish a governance process for decision making, plan the critical path and dependencies, identify the risks, establish a RAID log to manage them, set up reporting, then execute and monitor.

Once that is done the tough bit, the really tough bit, is managing the people. Getting the sponsor to truly understand their role. Ensuring other teams, who you have a dependency on, deliver in time for your critical path. Providing clarity around the impact to the stakeholders requesting a change. All the while you are doing this, trying to be as diplomatic as you can be but understanding why you were hired in the first place.

Us old guys (men and women) have seen this before and have dealt with it successfully. So, my suggestion to those managers who worry about “hiring the old guy” is to not worry so much but be happy to benefit from paying to get a programme delivered with SME skills that can be transferred to the perm staff. Don’t get me wrong, there are younger people who may well have the ability to be able to navigate the shark infested waters of the project world, but the old guy may well have been bitten before and survived, so has the practical knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

So, it is up to you, hiring managers. Do you want to benefit from 30+ years of experience and dodging bullets? Do you want to have that edge to making your project successful? Having that experience that you can call on when it does go wrong – and some really do go wrong! If you do then you really should be hiring the Old Guy.


Thanks to Nick for sharing his thoughts

Having spent a majority of my career working with and supporting the Corporate CIO Function, I now seek to provide a forum whereby CIOs or IT Directors can learn from the experience of others to address burning Change or Transformation challenges.

Craig Ashmole

Founding Director CCServe

CIOs benefiting from Interim’s

CIOs benefiting from Interim’s

4 key objectives CIOs can benefit from using Interims to deliver less politics, and more action

Taking charge of a programme by an interim for what’s considered a short period of time doesn’t mean the Interim can’t make a big impact to an organisation.

Full-time positions allow CIOs to get their teeth sunk into an organisation and to lead an IT-enabled business transformation but not every CIO, is a permanent role. Then bodes the question; Why should technology chiefs consider utilising interim positions and what benefits do they gain from these temporary roles?

1. Dive into challenges that are inaccessible to full-time CIOs

Reading an interesting blog from Chris Chandler, head of the CIO practice at recruitment specialist La Fosse Associates, who is a big advocate for the interim CIO role. He says that, in some instances, taking a temporary position can allow a CIO to design and deliver what they deem to be the optimal IT structure for the business.

“Such interims are often free from the politics that can restrain their full-time counterparts,” says Chandler. “Operating without such constraints can be wholly liberating for CIOs and often leads to more radical IT transformations.”

A word of caution however is to not use a transformational interim CIO to focus on BAU (business as usual) activities which often require them to conform to the status-quo of the organisation. The interim in these circumstances consequentially has limited, or no, freedom to follow his or her natural change or transformation instincts and capabilities.

Chandler goes on to say, “Experience from the recruitment industry suggests that, generally speaking, organisations are increasingly industry-agnostic when it comes to appointing interim CIOs”.

Therefore, aside from the obvious over qualified capabilities that often accompany interim positions, these appointments can offer CIOs the opportunity to dive into new sectors and challenges that would not be accessible to their permanent counterparts.

2. Treat the interim position as access to valuable learning experiences

One of the biggest benefits to any company taking advantage of bringing an Interim into their Change programmes is the multi-company experience that they bring – having the opportunity to engage in so many differing corporate environments brings skills you cannot get in the short term working in one company.

The requirements of one interim placement to the next also have extensive varying elements and this sharpens another skill within Interims and that’s complacency – they are always in a new environment having to look at the situation that they are immediately in front of so no time to sit back and relax. Interims are dedicated to finding resolution to business problems quickly, to mitigate costs, and to drive change to the company.

“In a recent assignment I was engaged with, the company was on the verge of signing a contract with a global Outsource supplier and they wanted someone to come in and give them a second opinion,” states Craig Ashmole, Founding Partner of London-based IT Consulting CCServe. “I came in, assessed the geo-markets, built an ROI business case and recommended an alternative solution that presented more than $20million savings over a 5-year period”.

In total, Ashmole spent five months building the business case, gathering all the BI data to put together a report for the board. He advised that certain geo-markets were easy to follow into from an outsourcing perspective, but that other considerations like Customer Service levels and access for company directors to keep close to the Centre of Excellence were quite different to what was initially thought.

“My job was to provide the company with a viable compelling strategy,” says Ashmole. “The strategy demonstrated that the global market knowledge he brought to the table opened up other avenues not previously thought of. The Board agreed with the strategy, signed it off and he was then asked to remain for an additional 13 months to implement, and manage the transition of a 700 seat Shared Services centre.”

3. Make a difference and avoid the strain of corporate politics

The interim role provides benefits in a range of key areas. First, being temporary provides an escape route from the swamp of organisational politics all companies own. You will be surprised just what you can learn and then fix when you have a perspective from outside the organisation, whilst also performing a key role within it.

One of the key skills Interims develop is to look beyond the corporate politics that every company has and to in fact get to understand quickly ‘who wants what done, and who does not’. This then builds a strategy path for the Interim to manage the respective individuals so as to get the best out of them and also to achieve the goals of the assignment.

Interims have the natural opportunity to make a big difference, without being seen as a threat to entrenched operational territories and empires. Interim often use this political awareness as an opportunity to forge alliances across the organisation, and to deliver results directly through brokering and partnership of executives whom may all have differing agendas. These are skills a good interim will possess if they have the experience of engaging across multiple businesses and one you cannot learn from a classroom.

Interim CIOs can become a change catalyst by delivering quick and highly visible results that map directly to their contract objectives. Unlike some permanent positions, interims are often given short-term targets and are presented with the entirely realistic prospect of leaving an important legacy behind.

4. The High impact Change injection

CIOs run highly technical disciplines and usually come from technical backgrounds. Their strength is in knowing the details of IT work. This gains them respect in the eyes of their staff and enables them to use projects to drive improvement. Nevertheless, IT management responsibilities have changed substantially over the past few years. As more IT processes become automated, CIOs must become more business-savvy. CIOs also need strong people, as well as good communication and other soft skills. In this new world, CIOs must embrace new roles and skills as markets change.

Interim skills are often used as a means to this end as a quick injection of high visibility change or transformation especially where a CIO has brought an interim in to assess areas of skill shortage or to drive a particular change element.

Having spent a majority of my career working with and supporting the Corporate CIO Function, I now seek to provide a forum whereby CIOs or IT Directors can learn from the experience of others to address burning Change or Transformation challenges.

Craig Ashmole

Founding Director CCServe

Customer Service Effort

Customer Service Effort

Great Customer Service Requires Very Little Effort

Why the Financial Service Industry Needs to Simplify Every Customer Interaction

In the early 1990’s I remember reading the following story in the IT press:

McConnell got so fed up with not being able to talk to a human at his bank that he wrote a program that dialled eight different branches of his bank automatically. The program then left the following recording: “This is an automated customer complaint. To hear a live complaint, press button one.” Having pressed the appropriate button, the hapless bank employee would then hear: “The customer is unable to come to the phone right now, but your call is very important. Thank you for being patient.” Finally, the tape recording revealed McConnell’s name and phone number. He described his action as “just your basic customer protest.”

The world of financial services and technology has changed hugely since then, but I think for many of us, the same feelings still exist. Doing business with many financial services organisations feels difficult and frustrating. The technology and processes seem designed to make life easier for the organisation, not the customer. Everything seems product-centric, not customer-centric. Despite this, we often remain loyal to the institutions we started with as a teenager. And as the press often likes to quote – on average we stay with our bank longer than we stay with our partner!

However, there’s a feeling that we’re now at an inflection point, or jumping on a new S-curve with the changing views of millennials, Generation Z, including mobile technology, social networking, and driven by crowd-funding, new regulatory frameworks, switching services, for example internet giants like Google taking on the insurance world… these are all affecting financial services. No longer can our loyalty be taken for granted by corporate companies.

So how should the Financial Services industry react?

Research has shown that the new battleground for customer loyalty is focusing on effortless experiences. Somewhat surprisingly what we find from customers:

  1. Delight doesn’t pay
  2. Customers prefer to self-serve
  3. Customer service interactions tend to drive disloyalty, not loyalty
  4. The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort

So there is an inverse correlation between customer effort and customer loyalty. The higher the effort required by the customers, the lower their loyalty; the lower the effort required, the higher their loyalty. This very much echoes the Amazon philosophy that the best service is no service.

The good news; there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways that financial services organisations can reduce customer effort across the whole customer lifecycle. For example, at my bank’s ATM recently I inserted my debit card and it presented me with just one option – your usual £50 and no receipt? Brilliant. No spurious choices that I never take. It only saved me a few key keystrokes and a few seconds, but I really appreciated it. Their mobile app is also great for checking my account and paying bills. And Apple Pay lets me pay easily and quickly. But as soon as I want to get help I have to swap channel and either email or call. That’s a lot of effort. I don’t want to leave my app to get help! Another great example of low effort is within a bank in Germany – Everything is mobile-first, including the opening of the account, which takes 8 minutes via a video call. Now that’s impressive. And then there’s Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, which monitors the airline timetables and automatically pays out compensation if the passenger is delayed and then texts them to say the money has been transferred to their account.

Other examples of effortless customer service

  • Using voice biometrics (rather than the dreaded touchtone menu) to reduce the time to identify and verify (ID&V) the customer.
  • Using the Touch ID or passcode on the mobile phone, in conjunction with the mobile app, to ID&V the customer.
  • Proactively working out what a customer can borrow, before they’ve asked for a loan, so they don’t have to wait for a decision.
  • Having a Single Customer View across all touch-points, so customers never have to repeat themselves and can move from channel to channel and continue the conversation from where they left off.
  • Offering a wide choice of channels, such as branch, call, email, SMS, video, social media, website, web-chat and yes even letters!
  • Being open 24 x 7, 365 days of the year
  • Sending out proactive notifications about the account status or the stage something is at in the application process, so the customer doesn’t have to chase for updates.
  • Using video in-branch to connect the customer to a remote expert, rather than asking them to come back another day.

Many of these improvements or innovations seem insignificant, some have been implemented by Financial Service organisations but added up these can lead to huge improvements in overall performance and service levels. It’s what the sporting world calls the “aggregation of marginal gains” and it’s usually what separates the winners from the losers.

Content by Dave Thomson

Having spent a majority of my career working with and supporting the Corporate CIO Function, I now seek to provide a forum whereby CIOs or IT Directors can learn from the experience of others to address burning Change or Transformation challenges.

Craig Ashmole

Founding Director CCServe