The concept of innovation has acquired multiple connotations over the last few years, especially within the linguistics of the business world. Some consider it the holy grail of growth. That pillar that, if you execute it well, will bring predictable annual growth. Others think that no new business idea will be successful if it is not built around one or more innovation concepts, usually associated with technology.

These ideas are not wrong. Innovating has to do with achieving what few have achieved before; it is true. Innovating involves challenging, surprising, changing. And while most industries currently seek to innovate through new technologies, or by implementing changes that seek to define the future of their industries, that search can easily end in consequences that generate the opposite: budgets that dissolve after a couple of years; months pursuing unrealistic goals that are never realized, organizations that don’t know what to focus on and whose productivity ends up taking a toll.

Chatbots, Machine Learning and Big Data are undoubtedly aspects that represent the search for innovation in the customer experience industry. More and more executives today leverage a large part of their time, energy and resources to implement these and other technologies for the sake of innovation. And the quest to help customers get to resolution quicker is the right goal. The path to a resolution with less human intervention is clear, and those who do not realize this are being left behind.

The problem arises, however, when they do so by leaving behind operations that are rarely ready to engage with newer technologies. It is, as Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez said in the early 1980s: a chronicle of a death foretold.

Innovation does not always mean looking to the future. Backwards-facing innovation approaches have much to tell us about what can bring better results and greater returns.

At Groupon we have undergone two years of transformation in which we substantially improved the customers’ experience through increased output and better quality from our external BPOs. This is not necessarily what you hear from every company, particularly during a time when the main focus of customer service operations has been drastically increasing coverage due to high pandemic volumes or drastically reducing costs due to the effects of the Age of COVID-19.

Why is this historical facing view important?  The reason is that the improvements have not come from large technology innovation investments, but from what some recognize as going back to basics. That is to say, looking inside our operations and being unusually critical regarding the relationship we have with our suppliers and examining what the true return on investment that we obtain from them is.

This approach required avoiding certain immediate impulses, which some consider the quickest or most effective way to fix outsourcing problems:

  1. If the provider doesn’t work, you need another provider.
  2. If the provider doesn’t work, it is because you need to pay more.
  3. If the provider doesn’t work, you need to invest in resources to better manage it.

Avoiding taking these three paths was not difficult, since they all involve a significant cost.  And, the pandemic effect discouraged any attempt to generate a major structural change, both in footprint and outsourcing strategy, especially if it involved unexpected use of the annual budget.

For that reason, we decided to look at our current Vendor Management team and find ways of reutilizing our energies on something I call Collaborative Performance Tracking.

With that name, people immediately think that it is about the implementation of advanced reporting, alert automations or the like. But no, this is a simple exercise where you identify the metrics that are really negatively impacting the customer experience, and set up a recurring time to discuss them openly with Partners. These metrics can be industry standards such as AHT, CSAT, NPS, or Service Levels. Or none of these measurements The key idea here is that the benefit of the exercise is less in the metrics and more in the conversation that is generated around that tracking.

When we began to meet daily with our suppliers to review our 15 Metrics structured Table, the criticisms did not take long to arrive: “it is a waste of time to meet every day,” “some of these metrics do not even move from one day to the next,” ” we are exposing our performance to other providers,” among others.

All of these concerns are somehow valid, and many of them are real. However, they’re all minimal behind the larger improvements we were seeking. Again, we were going back to the basics to innovate.  As the days passed, the time invested in the sessions was reduced and the metrics that were sparking conversations were gradually moving towards the green area. And while those two things helped stop the criticism, the number of benefits associated with this daily conversation spoke for itself:

  1. The implementation time required to implement new metrics across all Partners fell from roughly a month to less than one week.
  2. The time-to-target improved more than 50% on all metrics that were identified as underperforming, including ART, ACT and Away Time %.
  3. We saw a refreshed engagement on the part of the suppliers when given the opportunity to compare themselves with other suppliers.
  4. We discovered holes in our processes that, in other circumstances, would have required expensive and lengthy consulting activities.
  5. Partners replicated the daily discussions in their own operational environments.
  6. The discussions surfaced hidden talents at the Partners that we didn’t know of. They also exposed incompetent leadership.

So, back to innovation….will investing in technology help improve your customer experience?  It absolutely might.  But what I want to emphasize here is that it is worth the exercise to innovate by getting back to the basics of challenging current policies, processes and the overall approach you have with incumbent Partners.  Look for innovation points as a stand-alone exercise, but certainly, if you are going to implement innovative technology, plan on looking backwards to your current operational structure and what you can learn before you embark upon the innovation trail.

Francisco is the Director of Global Vendor Management and Instructional Design for Groupon, in Chicago, US. Francisco has dedicated the past 10+ years to driving Customer and Merchant experience through Operational Excellence across Latin America, Europe and North America with multiple global assignments.  He earned an Executive MBA from IE Business School in Madrid, Spain.
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