We hadn’t noticed that we were being primed for this digital moment that we’re experiencing. The pandemic has shoved everyone forward, at the same time. Necessity has become the mother of acceleration.
With the onslaught of smart phones, expanding bandwidth, chat bots, self-service, online shopping and the like, alert business leaders and technology driven businesses knew that the moment of confluence would come. The laggards continued to believe that they would have the luxury of on-boarding advanced technology in their good old time. No one expected the playbook to unfold in such a dramatic way.
Do you remember some years ago, when the banks introduced the first ATMs, as an alternative to lining up in the banking halls? Some customers cheered, having recognized the benefits, while others were reluctant because of their suspicions about the banks’ intentions. A third group sat on the fence, waiting to see if the new service would last or fail. I would say that now, the majority of customers cannot imagine life without the ATM. While the current disruption is radically different to that of the introduction of the ATM, the message is the same. Use technology to support the widest possible value that can be added to the customer’s experience.
The pandemic has forced businesses to shift operations to digital platforms and forced customers to either start or accelerate their journey to becoming digital natives. The digital age and the age of the customer have now converged with the force of a lightning bolt. Overnight, our digital future has become our present world (it certainly feels that way) and, as we envision a new normal, there are strong signals that we’ll be aiming for the majority of our interactions with businesses to be digitalized, humanized and, if we’re lucky, pain free.
REIMAGINING CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
In moving to a new normal, businesses will have an opportunity to capitalize on the heightened customer connectivity brought on by this forced usage of technology. Customers are getting a taste of using digital platforms to save time, save energy, experience more convenience and generally peek into a future characterized by the ease of doing business. Can you imagine video conferencing with the claims manager at the scene of a collision, or viewing x-rays with a physician using a shared screen online? High tech and high touch in a single setting.
As we reimagine service delivery, businesses should be asking and answering two connected questions; “what would make our customers happy and how can we use technology to support customer happiness” Going forward, businesses can then aim to let technology handle the transactional, machine-competent elements of business processes and reassign their human resources to the more human-friendly elements of customer interaction.
Even before the pandemic, the big guns in the business of experience differentiation had dedicated themselves to high tech and high touch integration to keep their customers happy. Automated reordering of staples like milk and bread is standard for one online grocery. The customer sets the reorder and automatic delivery level and voila, the order is delivered to the customer’s doorstep and payment is executed online. Effortless.
THE DIGITAL ERA: CUSTOMIZATION & CONVENIENCE ON A WHOLE NEW LEVEL
Some important focal considerations will come up, as the convergence between digital tools and customer experience deepens. These will include customizing of products and services, a deep understanding of customer behaviour, automation of processes and the introduction of artificial intelligence interfaces. Whilst this may sound like a lot to contemplate, just remember that the journey of one thousand miles starts with the first step.
As their expectations move up to a new baseline, customers will want to exert the “power of choice” over how they consume products and services. Single, immutable options will no longer be adding any value and customers will want the flexibility to tailor their merchandise choices to suit their unique needs. Apart from those businesses that already offer product customization (e.g. paint retailers and automotive dealers), customers will exert pressure on businesses generally, to offer customization as a standard feature and as a conditionality of their patronage.
CAN YOU REDUCE YOUR CUSTOMER`S IN PERSON VISITS TO ZERO?
The pursuit of customer happiness now means going beyond the basics of email interactions and downloadable forms. It means that customers will have the “power of control” to track the status of their transactions at 2:00 am in the morning, simply because their service provider has the digital capability to make this feature available. If you’re a banking institution, your customer will be able to view the status of his loan online, if you’re a general insurer, a claimant can self-update by viewing online, the status of her claim that’s being processed. So much will now be possible.
The “power of convenience” will influence customer behaviour, as he or she chooses one business over another. Businesses now need to utilize technology to ensure that customer effort is at a minimum. This means making processes digital and friendly, or enabling customers to complete transactions in two or three clicks, whilst sitting at their computers. Smart businesses will be discussing how they can reduce in-person visits by the customer to zero, whilst offering full service benefits, including e-payment solutions, via digital visits.
This pandemic has opened up a world of possibilities for businesses to adopt a paradigm shift that can reimagine the customer experience. It is a time for businesses to use fresh eyes to take a long view of how they will reintroduce their brands to their customers, at the end of the pandemic.
There is no going back to the old normal. The only viable option, going forward, is the on-boarding of digitalization to enable experience differentiation.