Navigating the post-COVID-19 after-shocks while managing the experience agenda

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Kodwo MANUEL

Adapt quickly to keep your business ‘afloat’

That we find ourselves in very uncertain times in our era goes without saying. Consequently, conventional wisdom requires that every business worth its salt will normally have in place a prevention and recovery system to enable it to recover from potential threats which may range anything from natural disasters to cyber-attacks. It would seem that the COVID-19 pandemic is one risk that failed to play up in the risk log of most businesses, communities, and countries alike leaving the world in a rather peculiar state of uncertainty. Business continuity planning has mainly focused on the protection of assets to make sure that things can return to normalcy after the advent of a disaster. In the light of these developments, how does the average business maintain standards they have set themselves to ensure that their clients continue to benefit from great experiences?

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health and humanitarian crisis, as well as an economic shock. Economies have been hit in ways that will require a rethinking of business strategies. Businesses are left now with a new puzzle of how to engage their customers and manage operations efficiently as well as sustain the momentum when we eventually return to the ‘new normal’.

One of the fallouts of the pandemic is the requirement for organisations to adopt best fit technologies in order to stay relevant. Again, another requirement of this paradigm shift is the need for businesses to successfully manage a workforce of remote teams and also get a handle on employee performance to support their progression by identifying strong points and training requirements.

How do we respond?

Businesses find themselves juggling some big priorities that require concrete steps to reposition now while also recalibrating for the future. They need to work to keep their distribution channels open, despite social distancing advice and compliance functions that were never designed for remote work.

They are trying to manage revenue and customer expectations, despite the debilitating effect of the pandemic. They need to keep an eye on strategy and brand issues that will define their future, as market forces and customer behaviours potentially change as a consequence of this crisis.

Key areas that businesses need to look at include and are not limited to, workforce, operations, and supply chain, communications, data management, and customers. First, with regard to the workforce, businesses must identify the critical work which delivers key business results in their P&L, maintain visibility of their people and ensure that there are systems with the necessary infrastructure in place, to enable flexible/remote working arrangements in the event of a quarantine order. The story is told of a young man hired by a legal firm in the UK to manage their IT. His first project in the role was to design and implement a platform that enabled himself and colleagues to access their systems remotely. Here is the irony, it almost cost him his job as he incurred the displeasure of his employers, they were obviously not in favour of this arrangement, however, they were forced to change their minds when the COVID-19 quarantine nationally, required that they stay home. The young man on the brink of a job loss suddenly became a hero.

Second, we must liaise with key third parties to ensure that they will be able to continue to deliver desired service levels regardless of the disruptions caused by the pandemic. It means we must rethink our risk management strategies having considered all the possible scenarios that are equal in magnitude presented by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other possible disruptive tendencies.

According to Deloitte, in a report they fielded recently, ‘New supply chain technologies are emerging that dramatically improve visibility across the end-to-end supply chain, and support companies’ ability to resist such shocks’. The traditional linear supply chain model is transforming into digital supply networks (DSNs), where functional silos are broken down and organizations become connected to their complete supply network to enable end-to-end visibility, collaboration, agility, and optimization. The call is on for creatively managing relationships at both ends (upstream/downstream) and the need to work relentlessly to build and maintain trust with all constituents. Third, business communications during and after the COVID-19 lockdown have been carefully managed to mitigate any possible aftershocks. KFC the global fast-food chain put a major ad campaign on hold due to its sensitive nature, its ‘finger-licking’ ad featuring oxygen masks, finger-licking, and hugs were put on hold due to coronavirus. Locally, here in Ghana the Ministry of information has been very proactive in keeping the citizenry informed of government initiatives to manage the uncertainties and to educate the public and help keep everyone safe.

Fourth, the challenge posed to data management is immense for good reason. Businesses must demonstrate adequate experience in the management of sensitive data responsibly. They must prove that they are able to access robust data insights to underpin key decisions that they need to make. For example, by learning the behaviours of customers at touch points during their journeys, they will develop great insights to enable the effective and efficient design of great experiences for them. There are some tools to assist in data analysis with great effect. NICE is a cloud-based tool and on-premises enterprise software solution that empowers organizations to make smarter decisions based on advanced analytics of structured and unstructured data. It helps organizations of all sizes deliver better customer service, ensure compliance, combat fraud, and safeguard citizens.

Customer Experience Management – managing digital solutions touch points

The way forward for customer experience management for today’s business is to invest in bespoke technologies that will facilitate proactive customer engagement and support. Using the appropriate technologies businesses can successfully manage their remote workforce to ensure the highest service levels while maintaining productivity and employee satisfaction. We have already established that great employee experiences ultimately translate into great customer experiences.

It is refreshing to note that Africa is not left out of the party when it comes to developing innovative customer experience solutions on digital platforms. Rightcom is a Benin based tech-company that builds customer experience management platforms helping businesses better understand their customers’ needs.

They capture data from in-person and digital interactions and apply proprietary technology to reveal customer experience insights, for use to improve customer satisfaction, reduce churn, and generate cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.

Their range of systems aims to enrich the customer’s experience through the effective management of data. Using queuing management systems they are better able to support the average customer in day to day transactions such as notification for medical appointments, parcel tracking, customer feedback, and surveys to help understand their needs and the monitoring of entire customer journeys to help analyse customer behaviour and their responsiveness to services and products. According to the RightCom CEO, Adetoye Aguessy, “As technologies that can capture and analyse data proliferate, so too will businesses’ abilities to contextualize data and then draw new insights from it. What we do at RightCom is simply channeling that mechanism into the customer experience industry.” For six years now, since starting operations in 2012, RightCom has relied heavily on data collection and analysis to help as many companies across the globe to meet their growing customer demands.

Employees will serve better with enhanced soft skills

One of the hottest topics during this pandemic is the critical skill of empathy for customer-facing teams.

According to researchers, prior to the pandemic, more than a third (36%) of employees identified soft skills as the type of training they think companies need to provide their employees with.

This notwithstanding, many employers don’t offer training that teaches essential communication skills. COVID-19 is giving businesses a reason to ramp up this training quickly, as customers expect compassion and empathy when they engage with touch points. Businesses should plan to continue this training even after a return to normalcy, as this is a skill set that will transcend the crisis.

Empathy has been a hot topic in the customer experience industry during the pandemic and is a critical skill for customer support agents to demonstrate. Even prior to the pandemic, more than a third (36%) of employees identified soft skills as the type of training they think companies need to provide their employees with most. But despite this need, 51% of employers don’t offer soft skill training or training that teaches essential communication skills. COVID-19 is giving businesses a reason to ramp up this training quickly, as customers expect compassion and empathy when they call or interact with customer service. Companies should plan to continue this training even after a return to normalcy, as this is a skill set that will transcend the crisis.

Consumers and employees agree that customers receive better support when employees have a positive experience in the workplace. 90% of customers believe that brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends.

The Writer is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited a People and Learning Organisation serving the market with Talent Acquisition and Management, Leadership Development, HR Outsourcing and General HR Advisory, Training and consulting services. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected]/ www.linkedin.com/in/km-13b85717

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