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A good gig: Paula Kennedy on AI, remote work, and innovation at Concentrix

For years, companies in the Business Process Outsourcing space, or BPOs, have relied on a bricks-and-mortar model, working with thousands of customer advocates around the world to deliver global support for major brands.

While, operationally, this model has borne sweet fruit and resulted in increased customer satisfaction, BPOs have begun to face the strain of shifting consumer preferences and stark business realities. The most innovative BPOs have embraced new technology and workflows while doubling down on their strengths, to meet customers where they are and stay competitive.

Paula Kennedy, Vice President at Concentrix, belongs to a coterie of individuals driving that change. With over twenty years of experience in the BPO space, Paula Kennedy is overseeing one of the largest BPO’s digital transformation strategy, with an eye towards the gig economy. Named the 2018 Female Executive of the Year for Europe, Middle East and Africa by the Stevie Awards, she is a firm believer in remote work’s power to change support advocates’ lives for the better while improving customer relationships.

Ahead of our webinar with Concentrix, on June 25, we caught up with Paula Kennedy to learn more about Artificial Intelligence, digital transformation, as well as gender equality and diversity in the BPO space.

What was a BPO traditionally, and what is a BPO now?

BPO continues to grow as the go-to solution for outsourcing customer activity to an organization such as Concentrix. One of the benefits that provides for organizations is scale, access to talent and technology and unlocking value and efficiency. An organization like Concentrix is able to offer innovative solutions that spans multiple locations onshore, nearshore and offshore that can cater for customer support in multiple languages. Our global footprint continues to grow and, with it, more choice for language support, but what has changed over the years are the channels from which we provide that support. The industry began primarily with voice services and has developed through the cycle of email, chat and more recently through new messaging platforms and social media channels. At Concentrix, we are committed to driving the latest innovation for our clients, and to helping new organizations, who may not have the time or resources to lead a strategy like that themselves, to outsource their operations.

Concentrix is one of the biggest BPOs in the world. How do you implement these technologies and bring disruption to such a large-scale operation?

In today’s competitive marketplace, you can’t not bring innovation to large organizations and client partnerships. To not have that at the center of your partnering strategy means not adding value — we see our role in partnering as central to shaping and delivering new strategy and change for our clients. We need to constantly look ahead at what’s coming next in terms of innovation and disruption, bring those ideas forward to our clients, and guide them on their transformation journey.

What sort of innovations are you looking at in customer support?

At the very core of Concentrix’s cultural values is being bold, tenacious, and disruptive in the marketplace. Our tool kit for innovation is not a short list. The industry trends that are most prevalent and current continue around automation and self-service. It’s not new but we continue to see more and more adoption with companies who wish to respond to the needs of customers by making support more readily available in a way and time that is convenient to them. There are vigorous discussions growing around AI, but there’s precursor data collection needed before AI transformation can begin, as well as ensuring existing systems, tools, and technology “talk” to each other. Not every organization is in a position to do that yet, so opportunity still remains at the digitization stages.

Specific to Concentrix, I have been charged with taking our gig economy solution, Solv™, to market. We live in an always-on world where customers want responses in real time, at their convenience. This era of instant gratification can only be catered for with innovation to rethink the customer experience and work environments to be fit-for-purpose for the consumer and employee of today. The reality of traditional bricks-and-mortar environments means it is rarely cost-efficient to run a full-scale operation of customer support, 24 hours a day. Our Solv™ platform leverages flexible crowd-sourcing to offer truly global 24/7 coverage. Solv™ has landed positively with our clients, who view this as a whole new way of thinking about how they can be competitive while being available for their customers around the world, at any time of day. At the same time, we’re allowing the workforce to engage in a much more unshackled way — Solvers can provide support on their terms, when and where it suits them.

How are you and your peers navigating the move towards a model that leverages gig?

We’re not really changing to a different model; what we’re doing is evolving our existing model and creating a new connected ecosystem. We have more than 220,000 staff driving the world’s best brands with global support. That’s not going away. What we’re doing with Solv™ is creating a complementary channel for support with the crowd that sits alongside the service we provide through our traditional business model, and that can substitute peak volumes or cater for after-hours support.

We’d like to separate the hype from the ripe for adoption. Are there any tech and trends in BPO and CS that you’re skeptical of?

I can’t avoid being skeptical of anything that doesn’t put security front and center. In today’s environment, responsible organizations will ensure process and technology are airtight for security, with DPA and GDPR as key examples. Our clients want to have peace of mind that their customers’ data are being protected. At Concentrix, it’s at the core of every solution we build.

In March, we notched a joint win in the Blending Human & Artificial Intelligence category of the 2019 UK National Awards. What does this reveal about our partnership?

The last year has seen the growth of an absolutely incredible partnership between Concentrix and Unbabel. Around this time last year, we were getting ready for our first event with Unbabel so, as we approach the second, this time the Customer Centric Conference, it is a great time to look back on how our partnership has grown and is now getting ready for further innovation. I think that the innovation award we have won is a testament to the unbridled value that can be unlocked for our mutual clients when we combine innovation with scale and trust. It would be remiss of me not to mention the value Unbabel helps create for customers by removing the barrier of language, something which aligns perfectly with Solv™ anytime-anywhere customer support. Solv™ can turn up communities of Solvers anywhere around the world just as Unbabel does with translators. It’s a natural inclusion to such a new industry offering, and means we truly are working borderless.

You’re a prominent voice for women in the industry and you’ve been recognized as the “Female Executive of the Year.” What has the movement for gender equality looked like in the BPO space?

As leaders in an industry like BPO that has such global reach, we have a responsibility to engender change for the better and to ensure the generation behind us can have better experience and opportunities than may have been the historical norm. We need to lead by example, and I am so proud to work for an organization like Concentrix that holds diversity and inclusion so prominently in its DNA. If a company as large as Concentrix can positively affect change and drive gender parity and diversity as a whole at the heart of who we are and how we work, we set a bar for what other organizations can and should do. I unapologetically fly the flag for women in business and I really try to support and encourage the amazing talent that we have in our organization at all levels to take their next step forward, to become mentors and champions for each other.

Can innovations in remote work and the gig economy have a positive impact on the broader movement for inclusion and diversity?

Absolutely. By removing the barriers of time, location, and even language, we create an open and even space for everyone. Solv™ has included anonymity in the front end sourcing model for Solvers, too. We’re looking for expertise, and the flexibility of the gig model means we reach a much wider demographic — the age, educational background, orientation or gender of an applicant doesn’t factor into decision and it makes it a huge champion for diversity.

Like what you’re reading? Join our webinar

To learn more about our partnership, crowdsourcing, and always-on multilingual support, please join Paula Kennedy and Edmund Ovington, Unbabel’s VP of Global Alliances, for our webinar, on June 25. Whether you’re looking to translate your support content or are simply curious about incorporating gig into your workflow, there’s sure to be something for you. Register today and save your spot!

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