Written by Jonathan Sharp, Director, Britannic Technologies
As lockdown starts to ease after months of the world being turned upside down and everything coming to a halt, life will slowly start again. Children are being phased back to school ,and shops and businesses are starting to open for commerce to recommence. This is still a time of immense uncertainty for all: how will employees return to work in offices? will the workplace ever be the same again? will the UK suffer the worst economic recession that it has ever seen since World War Two?
Businesses will need to recoup money lost from the last few months of lockdown and re-evaluate their workforce. Do redundancies need to be made? How long will they keep employees on furlough? It will be a mammoth task to approach but the areas that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency are — how to improve the customer experience and for businesses to look at their processes and operations to see how they can not only save money but also make money.
Now, more than ever is the time to invest in technology and evaluate your business processes and customer experience. Now, is the time to put measures in place to ensure you thrive and not just survive.
Time to get agile
The days of long development cycles are gone and Senior Managers are aware that they don’t have the time to procrastinate and need to deploy technology solutions that can improve their business and the customer experience now — there is no time to wait.
This can be achieved with contained trails and pilots and non-invasive solutions that don’t impact on the underlying technology but speeds up implementation and at the same time mitigates the risk.
Maintaining a superior customer experience
You would assume that in a crisis such as COVID-19 customers would be more forgiving of an inferior customer service. Unfortunately this is not true, even in a crisis competition is strong, in fact it is probably stronger and the 24/7 demands of consumers have been more prevalent particularly in lockdown when customers are eager to receive their goods or services.
If you don’t provide a superior customer service you will not only lose business but your brand becomes in danger of being destroyed by negative comments on social media.
Providing an intuitive and seamless customer experience is paramount to not only your survival but offers you the opportunities to thrive and lead with differentiation.
Leading with online commerce
It’s likely fewer people will be going into shops in the foreseeable future and more will turn to online shopping, so it is paramount to ensure that your online commerce is seamless. It needs to be intuitive for customers and staff and must be slick from the ordering point right through to the delivery and the returns. The end to end journey must be flawless for you to compete effectively.
Outshine your competitors with seamless service
During COVID-19 a lot of organisations including government, housing associations, charities, finance, insurance companies, suppliers, distributors and pharmacies were and still are experiencing high levels of customer enquiries that are proving difficult to manage and respond to. Automation can be used to manage digital interactions and streamline operations to reduce costs and increase efficiencies without impacting on the business’s performance or customer experience.
An automation solution can reside outside the contact centre acting as a triage, processing large volumes of digital interactions such as email, web chat, social messaging or WhatsApp messages, presenting the agent with a single screen of all digital communications. Enabling businesses to only allocate human agents to deal with real time urgent enquiries, handing over the other requests to the automation solution where it automatically reads content, context and sentiment and can respond automatically using set bespoke answers from templates. It can also prioritise, categorise and create queues and tickets for fulfilment.
The travel industry has been truly hit hard by COVID-19 and many travel and insurance companies have had an increase in transactional enquiries. Sunspot Tours & Mercury Holidays were inundated with enquiries from customers who wanted a refund or to delay their holiday until 2021. They deployed a solution to streamline customer enquiries with categorised, automated and prioritised responses.
Mercury Holidays has implemented a self-service functionality on their website using templates to provide the answers to general enquiries. Tickets were created so the enquiries could be prioritised and complex enquiries were routed to a contact centre agent to deal with the issue.
“In the most challenging business climate we have ever seen, the biggest gain for us implementing the INBOX is efficiency. We now have all enquiries coming into a single central point which enables us to prioritise them and deliver a seamless service. We have also automated the organisation of our workload during this hectic time and now have the ability to implement self-service for our customers which will lead to improved efficiencies and vast cost-savings,” Neil Whitaker, Head of IT, Sunspot Tours & Mercury Holidays
COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of having a superior customer experience that is easy for both customers and staff. Even in unprecedented times customers expect outstanding customer service, especially when there are competitors that are providing it. New entrants agile enough to adapt to new environments and recognise new opportunities have adopted new technologies and ways of working and have left traditional competitors behind.
Optimise and re-align your workforce
Working from home will probably become the norm, some businesses have already announced they won’t be renewing office leases! It is expected that more employees will request to work from home as a reasonable adjustment. People have had the opportunity to spend time at home with their families and many may also choose to ask for part time work or flexible hours.
Further to lockdown businesses will start to see the benefits of enabling home working, with increased productivity, happier and healthy employees and cost savings on desk space. Many companies have of course had to relocate their contact centres so agents can work from home and are realising the potential cost- savings on real estate as an added advantage and also the fact that their contact centre can remain open and operational with agents based from home.
Markerstudy re-deployed their 3,000 staff to work from home during lockdown with no disruption to service. Impressive when 1,400 of them are in customer facing roles taking inbound calls from brokers, customers and partners. The transition from the office to working at home was seamless.
Adam Miller said “there was no impact on customer services during the transition and we are still able to track the agent’s performance as normal. For example, we still see log on/log off times, call duration and all other KPIs giving us complete visibility so we can continue to deliver a seamless customer service.”
Get creative with automation
Now, is the time to get creative with re-engineering your business processes and utilising the latest digital technologies to blend humans and tech together to improve processes, the customer experience and deliver results.
The world has entered an unexpected change that may transform our working lives forever so it is time to discover new business models, streamline operations, processes and increase the effectiveness of customer engagement with disruptive technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence. The possibilities and opportunities are endless; it is all in the design.
Reprioritise and move your agents away from the mundane simple transactional daily tasks that can be handled by automation technology. Such as — requests for information, what day is bin day etc and free up your agents to handle more high value and complex enquiries.
Automation can simplify and speed up so many processes. For starters think about order processing, pay roll and email enquiries.
Digital interactions provide an abundance of data that can be used intelligently to ascertain customer behaviour, seasonal trends, pricing structures etc, and target customers more effectively. More people are being appointed to manage data to ensure that it is utilised to make strategic decisions and not left to sit there unused.
Time to thrive and not just survive
Without a doubt there are tough times ahead but seize this opportunity as time to thrive and not just survive. By taking the time to evaluate your existing business processes and customer experience you can improve them with the latest digital technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence. Come out of lockdown and be prepared to welcome in the ‘new normal’ and reap the results.
Originally published at https://digileaders.com on June 23, 2020.