Written by Neil Hammerton, CEO and Co-Founder, Natterbox
The FTSE 100 dropped to below -30% in mid-March, marking the start of a patch of pandemic-induced market uncertainty for almost all businesses. The balance of supply and demand was unhinged. But for the first time in the past decade, we’re all in this together – everyone has been forced to make compromises. Staff have been furloughed and workforces have been cut. Even on an individual level, families have gone months without seeing each other.
As a result, during the lockdown period, businesses experienced a certain level of ‘customer leniency’ – a higher level of understanding from customers when services didn’t meet pre-pandemic standards. But this leniency is already fading, and customer standards are on the rise back to what they were a few months ago.
To keep up with the post-pandemic market and changing consumer habits, businesses need to have the right technology, people, and processes in place. But the hardest part is ensuring they work in tandem.
Joining tech and people: it’s about conversation, not communication
While ‘digital transformation’ has been the buzzword dominating the business world for the past half-decade, the global pandemic has uncloaked the reality. Legacy technology is still heavily relied on.
When compared to the rest of the world, the UK ranks twelfth on NS Media’s Tech Preparedness Index, far behind European counterparts like Sweden. Too many businesses still work on age-old mainframe data centres and devices that are out of sync with the capabilities of today’s innovations. This means that not only do they lack security compliance, which is no longer acceptable in an age of GDPR, they also aren’t able to provide the experience that customers and their employees expect.
Despite some significant upfront costs, technological innovation is and must ultimately be seen as a crucial investment. Short-term costs and employee inconvenience are only hiccups in what should be a long-term trajectory for most businesses.
Yet, while investing in the best technology is a fantastic start, many businesses trip up by relying too heavily on it and as a result, end up undervaluing the people that are vital in working alongside it. As an example, in the height of the pandemic some companies told their customers to avoid calling customer service lines altogether, suggesting they use less personal and often more frustrating means of contact instead, such as chatbots. But throughout the crisis, we have seen customers making more phone calls than ever, with Verizon reporting 800 million calls a day earlier in the year. Reducing customers’ options to initiate personal conversations simply shows a lack of understanding from businesses of their customers’ needs.
Organisations need to be able to demonstrate that they recognise the needs and demands of both their customers and employees. Not only from the need for increased agility aided by technology, but also in demonstrating an understanding of the difference between communication and conversation.
Conversation is a natural, free flowing back and forth between two people, propagating empathetic responses. These are the kinds of interactions that businesses should be striving for. Interactions that can only be had in person or on the phone.
To pull themselves back into shape, businesses must recognise that both technology and people are at the core of every modern organisation. They work in sync. Good customer service hinges on having the right technology in place, and vice versa. But neither is of any use if organisations do not have effective business processes in place to tie the two together.
If a company wants to cut through the web of challenges sown by global lockdowns, they must get the ‘technology, people, and process’ problem solved.
Processes: get them right
Changes like digital transformation and increasing customer and employee satisfaction don’t happen overnight. If an organisation wants to make this transition to a newer, more efficient business strategy where people and technology work in harmony, the change must be joined by a reassessment of its processes too. There must be senior buy-in achieved from increased alignment between the IT team and leadership. What’s more, the required partnership between the people and technology has to be nurtured appropriately. The workforce, which will ultimately be most affected by the change, needs to be brought on board and effectively trained with the new tools that will impact their day-to-day roles. Without this, the customer experience may be held back by untrained or misaligned staff.
When the innovation and technology to streamline customer service is available, it’s difficult to understand why businesses choose to ignore it. The agility for improved customer experience, even under high pressure and increased demand, is facilitated by modern technologies being used alongside people.
Now is the time to be strategic, not tactical
The pandemic was unexpected for all of us. At the beginning, businesses were doing their best to survive. Concessions had to be made, which often meant making sacrifices and implementing a tactical response to a volatile environment. On the whole, customers will understand and accept that. But as the months have passed and organisations have had more time to scope out their surroundings, it’s become clear that most of these quick fixes have been made with the short term in mind.
Now, businesses must accommodate customers’ long-term needs. They must take this opportunity to unite their tech, people, and processes and show customers their true value. To succeed, there must be progression on all fronts; having the latest software lacks value when it’s not being used to provide exceptional service. Equally, having the honourable intentions to provide quality service will only take you so far. When expectations are constantly rising, the tools have to be there to support those ambitions as well.
The future is still uncertain. But one thing is sure, as always, customers must feel appreciated to continue their loyalty to brands in a post-pandemic world. Tactical solutions will no longer cut the cake. Long-term strategy will.