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The opportunity for operations to improve customer experience

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The opportunity for operations to improve customer experience

The global pandemic has taken the world by surprise and left many organisations scrambling to respond appropriately. The fast-moving nature of the crisis has shown that a better customer experience depends on seamless and adaptable systems.

In times of crisis, people’s hunger for information and reassurance is at an all-time high. If you fail to convey useful and accurate information in a timely way—you’ll fail to connect with customers when they need it most.

The result? Trust and loyalty take a hit.

Yet while the pandemic has exposed how badly prepared many organisations were, crises will continue to occur, as will your need to respond effectively. Your company’s ability to deliver an effective crisis response is innately tied to your customers’ overall impression of your business. Clear and consistent crisis communications are essential for maintaining business continuity.

How you communicate can be the difference between making customers feel safe and supported, or suffering reputation damage and lost revenue.

Can your back-end systems handle a crisis?

Legacy and manual systems have made it harder for many large organisations to react as quickly as they’d like during the first wave of the pandemic.

Many operations executives have discovered the shortcomings of traditional methods of customer communications as they seek to rapidly enact strategy pivots, change processes, and keep customers engaged and informed.

Digital interactions are being scaled-up by necessity. Companies that sidelined innovation around how they create and distribute essential business documents—companies still relying on Microsoft Word and email, or software that’s not fit-for-purpose—are feeling the strain.

While problems have been exacerbated by the unfolding crisis, they reflect a deeper truth: interacting with customers across multiple touchpoints is stymied by inefficient processes and a lack of the right technology.

How to prepare for effective communications going forward?

A time of crisis presents an opportunity to add value for customers. In the midst of finding novel ways to resolve problems for your customers and manage your teams and processes — take the time to explore the vulnerabilities in your current systems more closely and look to innovate.

Companies that are quick to respond will gain a competitive advantage and establish a strong presence for the future.

“When a crisis hits, we are forced to confront the truth about how our systems work (or don’t). The places where things could be done better or more efficiently become glaringly obvious. All of a sudden, opportunities for innovation are staring us in the face.”

—Larry Clark, Harvard Business Publishing, ‘Innovation in a time of crisis

Section 2: Meeting evolving customer expectations in a crisis

People experience high levels of uncertainty, fear, and upheaval when a crisis hits, whether it’s a global pandemic, a regional flood, or a lost credit card.

It’s critical that organisations consider how to deliver communications that demonstrate empathy in practical and timely ways during a crisis if you want to maintain and grow engagement and loyalty.

65% of consumers said they’d boycott brands that don’t step up.

A special edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer shows customers expect brands to step up and use their resources to help people and solve problems during the COVID-19 crisis. Sixty-five per cent of respondents said they would base future purchasing decisions on a brand’s response to the crisis.

In a crisis, customers expect organisations to deliver:

Rethink operations to support an improved customer experience

Companies can only meet evolving customer expectations in a crisis—and beyond—if they link customer experience to operations.

Research published by McKinsey Digital suggests that next-generation operating models should put customer experience front and centre to ensure an organisation can enhance the entire customer journey.

Capitalising on the increased spend, loyalty, and business growth that a great customer experience delivers isn’t simply about frictionless, digitised touch points or personalisation: it also requires changes to underlying operational processes and the way employees work.

How well your team delivers its products and services affects the tone, timeliness, and salience of many customer interactions—just consider the impact of a delayed or incorrect order. Effective operational processes can make people feel respected, cared for, and confident that they’ll have their needs met.

“If they [companies] focus only on the front-end experience and don’t change the back-end operations that support it, the new experience is unlikely to be sustainable.”

— Shital Chheda, Ewan Duncan, and Stefan Roggenhofer, McKinsey, Putting customer experience at the heart of next-generation operating models.

COOs: it’s time to take the lead

Customer experience reflects how people think and feel about their total interaction with your brand—it’s the purest expression of whether your business processes, products, people, production, logistics, and technologies are actually working together to deliver value.

That’s why COOs and operations managers are uniquely placed to embed improved customer experience outcomes. Your day-to-day work involves identifying inter-dependencies across your value chain and optimising the flow of resources and information so that your organisation can keep its promises to customers.

Clever use of technology in the back-end lets you simplify key operational processes tied to the experiences that matter to your customers.

For example, by unifying your disparate Customer Communications Management (CCM) and Customer Experience Management (CXM) processes with a cloud-based platform you can enable streamlined communication processes and rapid deployment of crisis communications.

“If they [companies] focus only on the front-end experience and don’t change the back-end operations that support it, the new experience is unlikely to be sustainable.”

— Shital Chheda, Ewan Duncan, and Stefan Roggenhofer, McKinsey, ‘Putting customer experience at the heart of next-generation operating models.’

Coming through a crisis well can boost performance.

A customer-centric, digitally-enabled operations team is more likely to avoid risks, manage disasters, and come out the other side stronger.

Businesses face all kinds of crises—the most common ones include technological failures, liquidity issues, and operational disruption, according to a survey of more than 2,000 companies conducted by PwC in 2019.

More than 40% of companies surveyed said they were ‘in a better place’ after managing a crisis well by making quick decisions, having a well-tested crisis plan in place, and knowing who was accountable for the response.

Section 3: Refining a plan to respond

The good news for operations executives that need to overcome the constraints of legacy customer communication methods is this: if you can innovate in this pressure-cooker environment, you’ll future-proof your systems for future crises.

In a series on the role of COOs in steering their organisations, Deloitte posits that operations leaders should take the chance to increase their organisation’s operational resilience.

In other words, shape an organisation that can withstand any major crises and continuously improve customer experience by embedding agility in your day-to-day operations.

How? Creating a more responsive organisation in the midst of turmoil starts with:

  • Having a clear picture of end-to-end activities and how they support critical business services.
  • Executing a vision for more modern, automated tools and championing their adoption.
  • Developing an action plan that underpins preparedness and flexibility.

Five steps you can take to improve your crisis response

Imagine being confident in your organisation’s capacity to engage and inform customers in the face of any major disruption. We’ve drawn on research and best practice customer experience insights to help you plan for whatever the future holds.

Businesses that can serve and delight customers regardless of the challenges that their business or customers are facing are those that emphasise being genuinely helpful and supportive.

It can’t be window-dressing—empathy for real people needs to come through in the way you set up your systems and processes.

For example, by:

  • Establishing policies to manage the full gamut of customer needs: from basic queries through to cases where intensive support is needed, e.g. financial hardship or disaster recovery.
  • Ensuring there are no barriers that hinder your customer’s ability to interact, via their preferred channels, e.g. avoid long phone queues, provide mobile-friendly online access.
  • Creating clear processes and escalation paths for various scenarios so you can act quickly.
  • Aligning internal and external communication plans and data to enable more regular and accurate updates on progress and service delivery.

Reducing the effort it takes to engage with your company will improve customer experience. Making life easier for customers starts with reducing points of friction that lead to confusion, frustration, and apathy

You can do this by:

  • Ensuring that your company has multiple ways for customers to connect, especially online. If people prefer to chat via Facebook Messenger but you don’t support that channel, you’re making their lives difficult.
  • Implementing automated workflows that enable straight through-processing and streamlined interactions. For instance, providing smart forms that dynamically adapt depending on a customer’s answers, or SMS messaging to notify customers or allow them to confirm orders with a quick reply.
  • Adopting solutions that manage the key capabilities and interfaces that influence customer experience across every touchpoint and collectively contribute to a holistic view. For example, a comprehensive CCM /CXM system like virsaicTM not only unifies your customer communications, it also captures data you can use to refine your customer experience strategy or develop initiatives in combination with other tools, like your CRM.
  • Making interactions smoother—and faster—also helps reduce the response burden on your team. When crises or other situations result in an uptick in demand, your customer contact function won’t buckle under the pressure.

Being able to rapidly scale and pivot your operations and therefore maintain positive relationships with customers in any situation, requires systems that deliver the right mix of specialisation and coherence. You may need a variety of technologies to deliver critical services and communications to a high standard, but overly complex, disjointed, and hard-to-manage systems will slow you down.

Your company can be both consistent and adaptable by:

  • Shifting your investment focus to modern infrastructure and digitising operations that offer high business value and contribute to business continuity. A more resilient future requires a strategic approach to building systems that help you thrive despite increased volatility.
  • Improving access to data across your business through the integration of systems, to be able to better mobilise and measure customer personalisation in the future.
  • Consolidating to reduce silos and improve clarity. Multiple solutions being used in the same space leads to inconsistencies and inaccuracies. That makes your company look untrustworthy—especially when disaster strikes. Simplify where possible: a single source of truth for key functions also generates efficiency gains in terms of process and systems maintenance.

Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. But when you need to shift your capacity in the short-term—opt for innovative solutions that push you in the right direction and improve the customer experience.

During the pandemic, many businesses will be looking to cut spending, and it may be hard to fund significant projects. However, discretionary spend can drive value, even in the face of resource constraints or a complex legacy systems environment.

COOs can show leadership by finding ways to fund technologies that will nurture agility and innovation. You can achieve this is by:

  • Continuing to invest in newer technologies that demonstrate both value and dependability.
  • Tapping into solutions that are quick to implement and offer a low cost-of-entry to make digital transformation easier, such as Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions.
  • Choosing solutions that can be used for short periods, as needed, to complement your organisation’s existing ‘business as usual’ approaches.

We saw this strategy employed by some of our customers. Companies redeployed employees across team functions to service increased demand, supported by cloud-based applications that could be accessed instantly and aided a fast transition to remote working.

When considering how to improve customer experience by linking customer value to a reimagined operational approach, it’s important to remember that your employees are the people who’ll enact the strategies you develop.

Operational and client-facing employees need to be able to understand how new systems work and how they’re governed. Otherwise, you can’t expect your team to work together to produce quality outcomes.

You can establish systems that support your people by:

  • Focusing on collaboration. Your staff needs highly efficient, reliable, and user-friendly systems to allow for virtual and collaborative working.
  • Prioritising solutions that help you mitigate risk. Robust systems centralise and standardise related workflows to improve consistency and reduce risk: e.g. on-brand templates and structured approval processes.
  • Incorporating feedback loops. Embed adaptability through systems that provide analysis, permit rapid changes, and give your team the data and tools they need to respond to fluid situations.

Conclusion

The pandemic has exposed operational shortcomings and poor systems around customer engagement in many organisations.

Proactive COOs should treat this as a test. It’s more important than ever to ensure your organisation’s most critical end-to-end business services are delivering an experience that drives loyalty and growth.

Customer-centricity and innovation must go hand-in-hand if you want to meet customer expectations regardless of volatile market conditions. Think about what customers want and act quickly to enhance the systems that underpin their experiences. Every interaction is an opportunity.

A key facet of business continuity planning that operations executives can address right now is their organisation’s Customer Communications Management (CCM).

If the systems that make up your back-end operations aren’t flexible enough to allow your team to communicate with customers in a fast and consistent way, consider fast-tracking your digital transformation by moving to a modern CCM platform.

Organisations that innovate in this space can control their crisis communications, improve customer experience, and gain a competitive advantage for the future.

“Even as the COVID-19 crisis plays out, there are immediate and specific actions COOs can take now to help protect critical enterprise assets while shaping the organization’s ability to thrive in the future.”

— Rob Kaye, Olive O’Rourke, and David Sarabacha, Deloitte,‘COOs and the pandemic: Shape a more resilient future.