4 ways to optimize customer engagement during the new normal

While handshakes are on hold, how is your organization using AI and other technologies to personalize and improve customer experience, whether in store or via digital channels?
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In the wake of the pandemic, businesses are going to need to not only meet, but exceed customer expectations. What are companies going to do to ensure that their customers can have the experience that they desire while feeling safe when visiting a branch, a brick-and-mortar store, or an automotive dealership, for example?

Supporting the personalized customer experience will require the right amount of technology and acceptable in-person interactions to ensure that your business is providing the necessary level of empathy while ensuring that the customers and employees remain safe. While handshakes will need to be put on hold, there are ways businesses can safely engage with customers from the time that they enter the store or reach out through digital channels.

To enable these organizational changes, IT leaders and their teams must take action during these unprecedented times.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

1. Develop AI/ML models that provide "empathy at scale"

It’s important to recognize that many customers might be going through personal issues and the business needs to identify those customers proactively. For example, providing loan amnesty is not something that a bank may want to run a promotional program around, but providing highly customized outreach programs using artifcial intelligence to analyze data and rapidly identify customers who are likely in need of outreach makes sense. Offer those customers the ability to skip a payment or temporarily increase a credit line and remove friction to make that happen.

To-Do: The key to any change in an organization is unifying leadership to an overarching aim. IT leaders should gather business, team, and product leads to identify the biggest impact areas and create solutions to maximize an empathetic response for their customer base.

[ Want to learn more on this topic? Read Meg Foley's related article: 3 ways to develop more empathy for customers. ]

2. Learn more about customers one piece at a time, while maintaining the customer's trust

Start small with good quality customer data. Understand what the data is telling you about each individual customer and respond in a way that evokes a response back, not just a marketing message. Make sure your data is about your customer and not IT or the organization's own data. Focus on the business outcome and grow the value of the data incrementally, by enabling the business, as well as IT, to monitor, adapt, and refine customer offers. Start by identifying the top business use cases that will benefit your customers and develop plans to implement.

To-Do: IT leaders must ensure that all involved impacted areas gather and share data, enabling a refinement of services offered. Starting with an intended business outcome can help provide direction.

3. Use AI (real-time, constraint optimization algorithms) to optimize scheduling

If not already available, accelerate plans to implement scheduling solutions to allow individuals to meet either virtually or in a branch. If you are a services business, expect and plan for change. Customers, patients, employees, and partners will be continuously challenged to make and keep appointments. Businesses that rely on shipping and logistics will need ways to proactively engage with customers and communicate delivery changes.

These solutions need to be agile enough to allow existing clients and prospects the ability to connect with someone who has the knowledge to assist them with their needs. Scheduling solutions must work across online, mobile, chatbot, and third-party apps to give the customer the platform flexibility that they need. Optimizing scheduling using real-time data allows staffing, usage of operating rooms, sales engagement, and prioritization of freight and shipping logistics to be continuously updated. The new normal requires the ability for a business to be adaptable and react and optimize for change.

To-Do: Consider constraint optimization algorithms. There are many open source projects that optimize scheduling using real-time data. Similarly, strengthening your relationship with data scientists can ensure that their team can voice concerns and ideas on how to optimize their processes.

4. Consider a bespoke approach to reaching customers

Global enterprises may need to think differently about reaching customers per country or region. We may continue to see travel restrictions and shipping delays. As things progress, we may see more "hot spot" type activity where localized action is needed. Businesses may need a scalable, adaptable approach to providing the best customer experience given the customer’s physical location.

Be prepared by targeting branches of store locations that require closure and have a plan in place to allow those employees to contribute in other areas, such as contact center agents, operations, or virtual support. Businesses will need to become much more agile and allow for rapid deployment and scalability. IT will need a platform built relying on mobility, analytics, and the cloud.

To-Do: The global environment can often be unpredictable, but collaboratively creating fallback plans with all business units ahead of time can help maintain business operations in the face of uncertainty.

Stay agile

Businesses that succeed will rely on innovation; it will be incumbent upon the organization to properly transform its customer experiences by investing in solutions that provide the flexibility and agility in deployment models and offerings. Some of this technology includes things like advanced chatbots that utilize natural language, AI/ML, decisioning and process automation solutions to streamline bottlenecks in operational processes. Equally important is the infrastructure and development of a microservices architecture which allows for flexibility, scalability, and continuous change.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Meg Foley is a Senior Principal Marketing Leader for Application Services Solutions at Red Hat. In this role, she is responsible for defining, researching, and advising customers on the fast-evolving Digital Transformation and Customer Experience technologies and multi-product solutions.