by Jennifer O'Brien

Industry snapshot: Farid Jarrar a CIO at the forefront of the contact centre evolution

Jun 09, 2016
Digital Transformation

Stellar Asia Pacific CIO Farid Jarrar says there’s been “monumental change” in the contact centre world in the past two years, a top challenge yet rewarding task for him as CIO leading the company’s internal and external stakeholders towards significant transformation.

“I don’t think there has been a more exciting time than now, or a more challenging time” Jarrar says, describing his experience and top challenge as a CIO.

“Throughout my entire 20-plus years in the industry I have never seen technology become more obsolete quicker than now, so the biggest challenge as a CIO is to remain across what is happening by the month, as opposed to by the year, or the three years, which is what it used to be.”

He says some of his other top challenges as a CIO – and working at a business process outsourcer – include challenging the status quo and disrupting the traditional business outsourcing model by continually looking for new ways of doing things better cheaper and faster; and keeping relevant by continually innovating and introducing products, services that are relevant to clients and their customers.

Jarrar, who manages the ICT strategy for Stellar’s 5,000 employees across Australia and the Philippines, with nine contact centres, says the company has embarked on its digital transformation journey.

“We commenced our journey almost three years ago by introducing a range of products and services in the following domains. Our digital efforts focused on transforming our clients customer experience and seeking new business models. To enable that we did invest heavily in developing our digital capabilities, leadership capabilities, CX capabilities and operational process and procedures,” he says.

The journey into digital transformation already includes the adoption of social media management, sentiment monitoring, moderation, engagement management, and analytics; live chat; voice of the customer programs through enhanced speech analytics engines; cloud IVR; business process management and optimisation; and business intelligence and analytics. Virtual agents /avatars and predictive analytics are a work in progress, he says.

“We see significant opportunities for the contact centre around the Internet of Things (IoT) and we’re looking at what those technologies actually mean for us as a service provider,” he says.

“The use of avatars, and conversational IVR technologies, are the thing of the future. It will be one of the next big things in the next two years across the contact centre that will enable the dream of self-serve, where it is relevant.”

C-level thinking

Certainly, as companies take the digital transformation journey, he says the CIO needs to be more strategic and engaged, a forward thinker that needs to lead in terms of business planning.

“Because of the obsolescence of technology, and the rapid change in technology, your horizon is a lot shorter. That introduces a number of challenges. You need to be more agile, you need to have more frequent planning, you need to be at the leading edge, or the leading front in terms of working with the business in formulating what that strategy looks like as opposed to sitting there and answering to what the strategy should be.”

Jarrar said it is an exciting time to be a CIO across any industry – and in particular the contact centre industry – given the massive shifts in consumer behaviour along with changes in technology. Additionally, the push towards adopting advanced technologies including avatars, universal agents, biometrics, data modelling and user analytics, is also heavily changing the face of today’s contact centres.

Indeed, the consumer shift is a big one to watch, he says. “For any CIO to actually understand what the technology strategy should be, or the product or the service strategy should be, you need to understand the fact that the consumers have changed and consumer expectations have changed.

“Consumers want us to show that we know them (through a personalised service), they want us to enable them (give them the choice of what channel they interact with us at their choosing), and value them (reward them for their loyalty as customers).”

Power is effectively shifting now from businesses to consumer. “In the past, the organisations controlled the conversations between them and the consumer. Now with the newfound power that the consumer has with social media, that balance is shifting,” he said, explaining there is a new form of loyalty, whereby customers demand easy and fracture less interaction.

“We are seeing a shift from product led to consumer led, so proactive rather than reactive. Organisations now have to manage their clients and understand what the customer journey is and optimise that, and optimise the experience in order for them to win new sales, in order for them to retain loyalty and increase their share of profit.”

He dispels the notion that contact centres will no longer exist given the push towards self-service.

“It is really interesting because we are actually seeing the opposite of that happening. Contact centres were seen as an avenue for immediate problems; however, organisations are starting to look at contact centres as a more strategic tool, more of an engagement hub, which is part of an engagement strategy,” he says.

He said the contact centre should be considered at the heart of any organisation that delivers a service or has to grow its business. “It is a relationship hub as opposed to just a reactive communication channel.”

He says living and breathing the contact centre space and his role in leading the ICT charge is vastly rewarding.

“Solving real customer problems and actually getting real outcomes and seeing the results around that is one of the things that gets me out of bed.”