View source:  Amrita Chowdhury

Care, creative thinking, and new tools can address customers’ acute needs today and forge stronger ties in the post-COVID-19 era

In a short period of time, COVID-19 has overwhelmed lives and livelihoods around the globe. For vulnerable individuals and the customer teams that serve them, it has also forced a rethinking of what customer care means. Suddenly, examinations of customer journeys and satisfaction metrics to inform what customers want have given way to an acute urgency to address what they need.

In this era of unprecedented uncertainty, the need to ensure normality has been of foremost priority. As people everywhere feel increasingly vulnerable, organizations have to make an on-going endeavour to retain and nurture the relationships people have with their brand/organisation. As such, the challenge of customer experience management is almost as important as ensuring efficient operations. This is underpinned by two competing factors – firstly, safety related with health, hygiene, and sanitation has become an integral part of customer expectations; and, secondly, shortage of manpower due to mandated at-work staffing norms or worker unavailability. This, in turn, implies that across industries businesses and brands will need to deliver to higher customer expectations with lower manpower.

Across the globe, no matter the scale or industry type we are operating in, these two factors will impact the need for closer monitoring, management, and coordination of workforce alongside a more robust customer experience management process to establish, nurture, and protect service levels and “social trust”.

Workforce Management Strategies

The quality of workforce directly impacts organizational success. It’s no surprise, then, that HR managers continue to refine and reinforce their strategies around hiring, engaging, and retaining employees. However, a large part of the focus has remained on worker on-boarding, compensation, benefits, leave management, and other vital areas. In the new scenario, where productivity and quality of work of each staff member is critical, organizations and brands will have to employ newer tools and technologies that allow them to measure, monitor, manage, and improve performance and productivity.

Organizations have to move beyond traditional HR systems to embrace newer Operations systems that enable workforce management and cognitive process automation. From Digital First businesses that rely on last mile staff for fulfillment and logistics, to traditional Brick to click businesses that need last mile staff for managing spaces, stores, sites, and supply chains, the need for Workforce Management impacts everyone. The imperatives include

  • Cognitive Process Automation to map, streamline, and digitize existing processes and tasks for every aspect of business and related to every aspect of customer journey
  • Digital Workforce Management to ensure allocation of staff and tasks, and to monitor and manage staff and performance against established tasks with clear SOPs and SLAs
  • Dynamic Service Orchestration to manage requests, contextual data, alerts, escalations, or exceptions to trigger and manage newer dynamic workflows
  • Performance Management to move from managing people to managing quality of outputs, and thus establish visibility and trust with end clients and enable motivation and outcome-driven management of staff
  • Tools and Training to enable staff to understand, follow, and perform against newer SOPs and stricter SLAs

The solutions that address these, must allow Operations Managers to manage a highly dynamic workforce and employee requirements which are constantly in flux.

Business is all about relationships, and importantly with the customer and the brand. It takes a long time to nurture and develop a sustainable business relationship with customers. Today’s world is all about world-class customer experience management across every touchpoint in the customer journey. There are established metrics, which drive outcomes and then these become the new benchmarks focused on measuring and improving customer experience. However, as the world finds itself mired in crisis, upholding and managing these expectations and standards becomes a major challenge.

Customer Experience Management Strategies

Organizations need to reframe their perspective on customer experience during this pandemic. Quality and timeliness of service delivery are more critical than ever before.   Since many interactions have moved online, the quality of every physical interaction and the ability to engage customers through digital fatigue has become more critical than ever. Customer experience leaders need to think about how the current crisis will impact the roadmap for the future.

At the same time, several organizations may need to rethink their own outreach strategies and deploy blended models and digital tools to support online-offline modes of human-led sales, service, and engagement. In many scenarios, customers and end-clients would also welcome this blended model for “contactless” journey from awareness to purchase to usage to interaction or issue redressal.

Understanding customer experience in real time at distributed locations, at different touch points, and over distributed channels of engagement is the need of an hour. At the same time, organizations need to bring this data together seamlessly to enable the rest of the organization (and associated staff) to deliver to client needs. The imperatives include –

  • Being extremely proactive in customer interactions, organizations need to relook their channel strategy and establish an omni-channel reach out strategy. This approach serves multiple purposes beyond simple customer service. By being more proactive and ensuring accessibility they can let customers know that the brands are committed to customer support needs despite the crisis. This form of reliability and reassurance can help drive more business and deepen long-term relationships.
  • Upskill workforce with remote training programs, organizations also need to ensure that they need to take the “customer focused” culture in the organization a notch higher and one of the critical steps there is to upskill the support teams. By adopting remote training programs, organizations can ensure that their support teams in work-from-home set-up are doing their best to empathize and care about the end customer.
  • Equipping team with right digital interfaces, in the course of this goal, equipping the team with the right tools can help ease this transition as well. By adopting better user experience (UX) interfaces for employees, such as unified desktops, or intelligent support assistants, organizations can make their workers more productive, multi-skilled, and greater generators of value for the brand.
  • Accelerate adoption to an evolved digital ecosystem, this is the right time to accelerate adoption and evolve digital channel ecosystems.

The Path Ahead

Companies can deploy solutions that collects customer feedback from IOT and Digital channels and provides an integrated real-time view of customer experience. While using tools such as Big Data and Machine Learning led cloud analytics will provide systemic insights into business performance.

Companies can deploy solutions that allow them to acquire and train last mile staff, manage and optimize workforce, and enable smarter, data-driven modes of delivering work. They can leverage solutions that blend AI, IOT, and SaaS platforms to drive smart workforce and automation. At the same time, tools such as optimization algorithms, real time location tracking, Big Data analytics, and Machine Learning led cloud analytics will give businesses unified visibility into typically opaque people and processes.

From a medium-term perspective, organizations need to focus on business continuity (i.e. retaining customers, reviewing hiring pipeline,prioritizing critical roles, addressing urgent needs) and smarter ways of delivering work (i.e. workforce rationalization and agility, staff optimization, quality of service delivery).

However, from a long-term perspective, organizations will need to move towards a tighter knit, digitally enabled digital ecosystem where customer needs and experience levels are assessed, analysed, managed, and serviced with a connected workforce, systems, and solutions that are able to anticipate and deliver products and services with higher quality and safety expectations.

COVID-19 may fundamentally challenge the culture of organizations – how we distribute work and deploy workforce, and how we engage our people and our customers. In the longer term, this situation may present an opportunity to think about how we elevate communications, create a more resilient workforce, build more focus on health and well-being, and enable critical trust and engagement between the business and its customers.