Agility in customer experience management is becoming ever more important since both the products and services that companies provide are increasingly being sold on the basis of price alone. This is especially true in times like these, when companies and customers are confronted with the challenge that customers are “locked out” and online is the only available channel. Of course this article is influenced by Covid-19 or by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it. And we’re not just talking about this particular virus and its direct consequences, but rather about the general observation that companies are not prepared for a crisis situation and for answering the question “what can we do quickly?”
Thus, some companies have come to a standstill quite abruptly; this was previously not conceivable, at least not to the current extent. Whether because businesses had to be closed or because the supply chain broke down since suppliers had to cease operations. Or simply because it’s too big a risk for employees to spend time in close quarters. And don’t forget those who commute with public transportation. Could this have been avoided or at least mitigated? Or can the effects be reduced? At least for some companies? Certainly. Certainly not for everyone, and most certainly not completely either. Nevertheless, this crisis is giving us an opportunity to take a look at ourselves so that we can be better prepared the next time around. And there will certainly be a next time!
This, in turn, means that we can draw some lessons from this crisis. The core of these readings is that the our customers’ experience is that which makes them loyal to us. Therefore, we have to be in a position to fulfill as many customer needs as possible on all available channels at all times. Following this thought, that a good customer experience requires a good employee experience, there are a series of options that companies can consider and have to implement in order to remain available to their customers.
Here are 6 tips that will help companies be better prepared the next time.
1. Ensure that all employees have a home office
Ensure that all employees who could profit from working at home have easy and secure remote access. Many of our tasks can be performed, at least in part, remotely. Those employees who can contribute to creating a positive customer experience should also be able to do this. Invest in an infrastructure and the tools that your employees need to remain productive even if they are not coming into the office. Make sure that you have appropriate guidelines and processes that will help your employees work remotely if it’s really necessary. This also means that systems that your employees need to do their work have to be available via remote access, ideally through migration to the cloud. An important part of this infrastructure is the right set of productive tools that help your employees collaborate. There are many suites that make this possible, beginning with Microsoft Office 365 combined with MS Teams, on through to the newly created Zoho offerings from Remotely, and many more.
2. Provide your employees with suitable tools
Companies that are already a step ahead and have a suitable infrastructure in place should consider how they can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of this infrastructure. Make sales employees’ hard work a little easier by investing in voice technologies and using these to do some of their work. One possibility for achieving this is the implementation of a dialog AI, which is based on the same platform or those on which your business systems are running. A second requirement is that the tool has to offer quick and efficient possibilities, that its short implementation times enable you to achieve added value quickly.
Select and implement an AI-assisted dialog system that suits your main IT infrastructure and can grow with your company. Nearly every large provider offers these functions. There are also smaller providers such as Cognigy and others that can be implemented easily and used with an ever increasing functional scope.
3. Develop new, hybrid business models that also work online
Based on the business models with which you are already successful, develop and implement business models that are scalable even if they seem strange at first glance. For example, let’s take a wine tasting, which appears to be both a social as well as a pure offline business. Wine tasting is one of the most important sources of leads and income for wineries. It helps them gain and identify customers, as well as gauge their tastes and preferences. Take a look at a virtual wine tasting or tasting room. Both offer something that traditional vintners have previously insisted on, but they do it offline. Since people cannot gather – or simply can’t travel to their favorite winery – you can use technology to ensure the social aspect. The social aspect can arise by incorporating a web meeting technology, while the specialized knowledge can be communicated via video clips or in the web meeting. And customers are getting increasingly used to hybrid and online business models; they’re even starting to expect these. Wineries are only one of many possible examples.
Identify and invest in cloud-based, progressive analysis and sample comparison technologies. These can help you identify your customers, draw them in, and come into contact with them. Even for companies that are largely offline, there are many possibilities like the one described above. The solution does not have to be expensive as long as your main business platform and processes support the analyses.
4. Make your service easier with automation
It is important for a company with a strong service component to keep its service level high. This can be done in two ways: through investments in people and investments in technology. Both are important, but what happens if it’s not possible to invest in people or to get enough personnel? Customers want to interact with human beings or with a pseudo-human interface. The only answer here is technology.
Invest in self-service automation technologies. Your support employees have already documented many answers to questions, ideally electronically. There are FAQs for the most frequent support questions. Thus it is possible with limited effort to implement solutions that offer your users a pseudo-human interface and unburden your service team in order to increase its efficiency and effectiveness, and thus also trust in its employees.
5. Invest in robot-assisted process automation (RPA) that complements your company’s software
Another possibility for keeping things going in crisis situations is the use of process automation or even of robot-assisted process automation (RPA) in the back office. There are many processes that even in the best case require manual intervention. Many of these can be automated to a great extent in advance. These are many front end and back end processes for opportunity scoring, comparing invoices, and much more. Check which RPA software might complement your company’s software and whether there are automation possibilities in your company’s software without implementing AI. Parallel to this, check for repeating processes that can be simplified and/or automated. Break down the bureaucracy at your company and implement these processes step by step and make life easier for your employees. RPA is important, but only as a second step. Automation is the first priority.
6. Make a social contribution as well
Increasingly, customers are looking to see how a company behaves with regard to society. It doesn’t cost you much, but it’s so good for your brand that it will be good for your revenues later on. Customers are looking more closely and you can see this very clearly in current reactions on Twitter. Where in the course of the corona crisis there were announcements about making software available to companies and organizations for free in order to assist employees with remote maintenance, there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction. On the other hand, here in Germany there were very negative reactions to announcements from brands that were claiming federal subsidies when they were not in difficult financial straits and could no longer pay their rent. Check how you can make a social contribution without damaging your company and one that possibly even helps it. This can mean quickly changing your production from outdoor clothing to face masks, manufacturing disinfectants instead of alcohol, transporting face masks around the globe as Airbus did, making collaboration software available for free or doing something else to care for your own employees and their families. Of course these are just examples of large and small contributions. The conclusion is: Culture is important. If you are a good corporate citizen, in the worst case this creates a positive brand image and in the best case it becomes an additional source of revenue.
Not all of these approaches can be applied at every company, and this leads us to an important question: How can I support the customer experience? It’s easy! Each of these approaches provides an individual – consumable – experience. It creates brand value and shows that your company takes care of its environment. It doesn’t focus on its sales first, but rather on its customers – and it regards sales as a consequence of positive actions. This is becoming ever more important. These experiences can be enabled by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) or any other technology, but they don’t have to be. Strategies follow the mission, which in turn follows the corporate culture.
Focus on your vision and mission, formulate your corporate culture, develop a strategy that is based on this culture, and make sure that your strategy includes giving back to your community. To implement the strategy, create a mission and select appropriate initiatives and measures. Refine your strategy and initiatives. Repeat this cycle regularly, then you’ll be prepared for the next crisis.