You might already be sick of the topic, but of course this post is influenced by COVID-19. Businesses have been unprepared, and I ask myself: What can be done to prepare?
Agility in customer experience management is a thing, a big thing. Both products and services delivered by businesses are increasingly commoditized. This is especially true in times like these, with businesses and customers facing the challenge of lockdowns.
The problem is that many businesses came to a grinding halt in nearly no time. Non-essential stores needed to get shut; the supply chain broke down because other businesses needed to shut down operations; or simply because was is too much of a risk for employees to be in the confined quarters that business premises often are – not talking about those who use public transportation to commute.
Had it been possible to avoid or at least mitigate this? Or to reduce the impact? At least for some of the businesses?
Sure as. Certainly not for all of them, in all likelihood not fully, but there is a chance in this crisis that we should look at in order to be better prepared the next time.
And there will be a next time. We should not have any illusions about this.
Therefore we need to learn from this crisis. The premise is that the experience is what makes customers loyal to us. Therefore we need to be able to serve as many customer’s needs as technically possible on all available (an important qualification) channels at all times. With minimum friction.
Acknowledging that good customer experience needs good employee experience, there are a number of options for businesses to consider and implement in order to continue to be available to their customers.
Here are a few possibilities that will help businesses be better prepared.
1. Enable easy and simple, yet secure, remote access for all employees that could benefit from working at home.
Many of our jobs can at least partly be done remotely. Employees who can contribute to a customer experience should be able to do so. These employees are not necessarily frontline staff. Bad times often bring out the best or worst in people. Help your staff to bring out their best. People want to be part of a purpose, already in normal times, even more so in times of crisis.
Action item for leaders: invest in the infrastructure and the tools that your staff needs to stay productive and helpful, even when they cannot come into the office. Make sure you have the relevant guidelines and procedures in place that help your people to work remotely when it really becomes necessary. This includes having systems that people need to do their work available via remote access, ideally having them migrated into the cloud. An important part of this infrastructure is the right set of productivity tools that helps people work collaboratively. There are plenty of software suites available that allow this, starting with Microsoft’s Office 365 along with MS Teams, up to the new Zoho Remotely, and many in between.
2. Improve remote workforce infrastructure effectiveness and efficiency.
For example, make sales reps hard work a little easier by investing in and deploying conversational technologies that take away some of their strain. One way to achieve this is implementing a conversational AI that bases on the same platform or strongly supports the one that your business systems are operating on. The second importance is that the tool offers fast and efficient flows that enable short implementation times to achieve value.
Action item for leaders: Choose and implement a conversational AI system that matches your main IT infrastructure and that is able to grow with your business. Nearly every big vendor has these capabilities, and then there are smaller vendors like Cognigy and others that can be easily deployed and implemented with useful, ever-increasing scope.
3. Develop and implement business models that scale.
Let’s take wine tasting as an example, which seems to be both a social and offline business. Wine tasting is one of the most important source of leads and revenue channels for wineries. It helps them by attracting and identifying clients as well as their tastes and preferences. Have a look at Virtual Wine Tasting or Tasting Room. Both offer something that traditional wineries so far insist on doing offline.
With people not being able to gather – or simply travel to their favourite winery (mine is in Central Otago, NZ, while I live in Central Europe) they can provide for the social aspect with the help of technology. The social aspect may come from the inclusion of a web meeting technology while the expertise can get delivered via video clips or also via the web meeting. And their clientele is getting more and more used to hybrid, or online business models. The clientele even starts to expect it. Wineries are only one possible example out of many.
Action item for leaders: Identify and invest in cloud-based advanced analytics and pattern matching technologies that help in identification, attraction, and engagement with your customers. Even for what essentially are offline businesses, there are many possibilities, like the one depicted above. There is no initial need to go expensive, as long as the analytics support your main business platform and processes.
4. For businesses with a strong service component, keep this service level high.
That can be achieved in two ways, by investing in people and by investing in technology. Both are important, but what if it is not possible to invest in people or to get enough staff? Customers want to interact with humans or with a human-like interface. The only remaining answer then is technology.
Action item for leaders: Invest in self-service automation technologies. Your agents already have many of the answers to the questions documented, ideally electronically. The most prevalent support questions are supported by FAQs. With that, it is possible to implement solutions with limited effort, that provide your users with a human-like interface and that take enough load off your service team to increase their efficiency and effectivity – and their confidence.
5. Keep operations up more easily with process automation or robotic process automation (RPA) in the back office.
There are many processes that, at the best of times, require manual intervention. Many of these can get automated to a far higher degree. These are front-end or back-end processes, include opportunity scoring or invoice reconciliation, and many more. These take much time without external challenges, which isn’t going to be better when having them.
Action item for leaders: Check which RPA software complements your business software, or whether there are even automation possibilities without going AI already within your business software. In parallel check for repetitive processes that can get simplified and/or automated. Cut through corporate red tape and Implement these processes, step by step and make life easier for staff. RPA is important, but only a second step. Automation comes first.
6. Bonus: Be a good corporate citizen.
It doesn’t cost you a thing but is so good for your brand … and will later be good for your revenue. Customers are looking more and more at how a company behaves towards society. You can see this pretty clearly in current reactions on Twitter. Where there have been announcements about making software available without charge for businesses and organizations to support their workforce going remote, there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction. On the other hand, as one could see here in Germany pretty clearly when brands which did not seem to be in trouble stopped paying their rents as a precaution, using federal grants, there is a very negative reaction.
Action item for leaders: Check, how you can contribute to society without harming your business, or even helping your business. This can lead from changing your production from outdoor clothing to face masks, or making sanitizers instead of liquors, transporting face masks around the globe as Airbus does, making available collaboration software for free, or in one of many other ways, including your own employees and their families.
The bottom line is this: Culture matters. Doing this will at the least contribute to a positive brand image, and in the best case to an additional revenue stream.
While not every company can apply all these approaches, it leads to an important question.
How does this support customer experience?
Every single one enables individual – consumable – experiences. This creates brand equity and shows that your business cares about its customers – and regards revenue as a consequence of positive actions.
Which is increasingly important.
These experiences can be enabled by AI, ML, or any other technology, but technologies are only enablers of strategies. And strategies are what matter. Strategies follow the mission, which follows culture.
Create your vision and mission, elaborate on culture, develop a strategy based on this culture, make sure that your strategy includes giving back to your community. Implement the strategy with matching initiatives and measures. Refine your strategy.
Rinse and repeat.