Digital transformation has been one area of the economy that’s had a real boost from the impact of Covid-19. Okay, maybe not as much as those manufacturers of face visors or masks, but nonetheless, more people shopping online or communicating remotely or working alone means that the power of digital is being investigated anew. In a world defined by Covid-19 the way we communicate necessarily changes.
Some of the research we looked at pointed to increased online conversations coupled with more customer reluctance – especially in the face of uncertainly and budget cuts - and longer sales cycles.  But this same research by LinkedIn found that some of the more traditional issues around trust and high quality customer service were more important than ever once the typical and familiar sales activities were disrupted.
One area that has certainly seen a boost is the digital automation of customer interactions. When we call a company, we’re used to having our call routed via our responses to multiple choice questions via our key pad. We’re also used to having a conversation with our bank, insurer or delivery company via a conversation with a robot. But as well as directing our call or taking us through routine security checks, the automation now extends to most areas of our experience as customer or service users.
Apparently we customers prefer this experience. And certainly it beats listening to the marketing manager’s choice of music while being told how important our call is as we move from position 29 in the queue for an associate – all of whom are busy right now - as our chosen supplier deals with ‘unusually high call volumes’.
The regular encouragement to solve our problems on line at www.we’recriminallyunderstaffed.com can test the patience of the most saintly customer.
Digital transformation budgets reached a staggering $1trillion in 2018 and are expected to have doubled by 2022. The number 1 reason for spending big on digital transformation is improved customer experience and customer satisfaction through the provision of consistent services .
There are areas where data driven digital tools can revolutionise the customer experience. Paradoxically, what customers seem to value feels like a return to the comforting experience of the corner shop rather than the global corporation. They want to be recognised, to have their past history with the company acknowledged and rewarded and to have recommendations made to them based on a deep knowledge of their purchase history, likes and dislikes . Belonging is all and as we have personal and intimate relationships with our digital devices, we expect the same intimacy from the apps we use and the services we access through them.
On occasions, though, things go wrong and having a conversation with a limited chat bot – either through voice or through our computer, frequently fails to deliver on these promises of speed, personalisation and efficiency. Sure it can be better than waiting an age for a real person to answer, but that hardly seems like the height of corporate ambition. While the ability to carry out routine transactions and have our everyday problems solved via a few key strokes is unquestionably an improvement to being endlessly on hold, it is no silver bullet.
What’s more these engaged consumers and customers have had great customer experiences. They want all customer experiences to be as good as – if not better than – ordering fast food for delivery. And having become accustomed to choosing, ordering, paying and being updated on the progress of their lamb pasanda via a one touch app, they complain when their customer experience doesn’t match that simplicity. The bar just got higher - your customers and partners don’t differentiate between their simple, consistent, transactional customer experiences and their more complex relationships with businesses with whom they work.
Balancing the automated with the human
What do we do about this?
1. Divide your customer interactions
Divide your customer interactions into transactions which can be sensibly automated and those for which the customer expectation demands a real person with access to relevant data.
Automation of the wrong kind of interaction is at the heart of some of the frustrations customers experience with your chat bot or digital interface.
2. Deliver seamless experiences
Having sifted the transactional from the more complex, and created a customer interface which delivers a seamless experience for your customers, focus your digital transformation resources on equipping your people with the data they need to delight your customers.
If you have completed step 1 and created the apps, bots and AI driven interfaces your customers need to do the simple things well, you should have freed up resources for customer facing staff who can – and need to be able to – deliver beyond the transactional. These folk need exceptional data – account or relationship history; customer profile from the CRM or similar; product and service guides (if these needs are uncovered, what do we recommend and why?) etc etc. If all the data is only available to your AI bot, don’t be surprised if the people who speak to your people feel somewhat disappointed.
3. Analyse the skills your people
Analyse the skills your people now need to deliver ‘beyond transactional’, assess against these skills and develop your people.
Our research over 4 decades has identified key verbal behaviours which effective communicators, sellers and negotiators need to initiate quality conversations, clarify problems, needs and intentions and react appropriately and effectively to what they hear. These are skills anyone can learn and they are vital if your people are going to meet the expectations of customers and partners who have become accustomed to personalised service via digital tools.
This is not the same as giving people a script. If you can script your agent’s responses, then it’s cheaper and more effective to give that script to an AI developer and let them build you a bot.
In a world reliant on video conference and telephone interactions with teams, people and customers we previously met face to face, your people’s verbal behaviours become more and more central to the quality of the customer experience, the effectiveness of the service you provide and the reputation you have in a connected world.
In delivering these skills via learning journeys supplied across the globe, we have also learned that some of those behaviours seem counter-intuitive to people. Often they conflict with the received wisdom. That’s why we need specific behavioural categories and to change behaviours one at a time. The verbal behaviours we help people to change always meet these five criteria:
Building the skills of your people to communicate both effectively and efficiently is a cornerstone of any digital transformation strategy. In May 2020, McKinsey published The Covid-19 Recovery Will be Digital  in which they not only map out the technology challenges but recongise that agile development must also be delivered through remote working. Based on collaboration and clear communication, to respond to these challenges, internal working processes will not only be tech based, but rely heavily on better communications to achieve faster results and better team working.
4. Share successes and learn as you go.
McKinsey’s assertion that “agile can be executed remotely” leads us to another potential shift. In face to face world, chance meetings and being around the office tuning into gossip means that we hear about our colleagues’ success through whatever grapevine grows between our locations. We share good practice – sometimes grudgingly – and we examine where things aren’t working as well as they might be and how we can improve. In the remote world, these activities need to be planned and orchestrated. Its part of the data mine – and your teams should be supported to extract the gems in these fertile seams.
Part of sustaining change is to keep telling the stories - and the stories which resonate are the ones about success. But you can’t talk forever about that one market and that one customer who bought that one product. You need to seek out new stories to maintain interest. We are in the world of constantly building the business case – for our products and how our customers interact with them and with us.
You also need to be mature enough and confident to launch, review, amend and re-launch. Unless you were around during Spanish Flu of 1918 - you haven’t experienced anything like this before. You won’t get it right first time or every time. Your systems, processes and skills will need a constant review to check that the results you expected – and the customer experiences you wanted – are being delivered.
Continuous change is wearying for people. But it is the way that the world works and will work in the future. Your digital transformation is not a short term project. It – and building the skills and behaviours required to work with in it – is a journey which will take many years and may never be completed.
But it will be a fascinating ride.