How to rethink customer and employee experience: 4 strategies

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CIOs and other C-suite leaders must transform how they think about “experience” – for both customers and employees – or risk losing them
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COVID-19 has dramatically impacted how we interact in society — and in the enterprise. From emerging technologies that deliver new experiences to new working arrangements, evolving relationship dynamics between employers and employees, and new consumer behaviors and demands, our world has changed significantly in just a few months.

Going forward, our daily lives will be filled with virtual and interactive technologies that emphasize the human connection. To prepare for and compete in this new landscape, CIOs and other C-suite leaders must transform how they think about “experience” as a whole and redefine their strategies accordingly.

Resilient leaders need to fundamentally re-think their customer and employee touchpoints, redesign current practices, modernize their technology backbone, and ensure digital literacy across their organization. They must gain a deep understanding of customer behaviors and preferences to design new experiences and interactions — or risk losing customers and employees and earning a negative brand perception.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

Here are four strategies to help your organization shift to an experience-based approach.

1. Ensure your digital workplace is set up for the long haul

As companies shift their business operations from in-person to virtual, more employees are discovering that they prefer the flexibility of remote work. According to SHRM research, more than 93 percent of part-time workers said they would work longer hours if they had flexible work arrangements and 85 percent of millennials prefer to work from home all the time.

These workstyle preferences demonstrate the importance of designing new experiences around a virtual future. To do so successfully and ensure longevity, companies must deploy intelligent technologies that enable employees to work and interact outside the bounds of geography.

To build engaging new experiences, focus on deploying end-to-end solutions that touch on all aspects of people, process, and technology.

To build engaging new experiences, focus on deploying end-to-end solutions that touch on all aspects of people, process, and technology. These digital solutions must include cloud-based productivity tools that bolster employee engagement, along with project management tools that manage workflows and allow managers to provide instant feedback on specific tasks. Network security tools are also critical as they align employers with the altered business reality, increased threat landscape, client needs, and the sensitivity of data they handle.

Additionally, monitoring tools can provide analysis on employee productivity, which is paramount to ensure operations and projects remain on track. Although monitoring tools are widely beneficial to ensuring business continuity, Gartner finds that only 16 percent of businesses are using such tools, reflecting a major gap in many businesses’ remote work strategy.

2. Reskill and engage employees

Use this time as an opportunity to train and upskill employees, as an entirely new set of skills is necessary to make long-term remote work sustainable. While training an entire workforce to become digitally literate may seem like a daunting task, start with basics such as teaching employees how to master the virtual meeting.

When the pandemic struck, many businesses overlooked this critical step, and as a result, many employees struggled to engage in virtual meetings. According to BBC News, this may be because video requires individuals to work harder to process non-verbal cues. Educate employees on how to recognize signs of fatigue early on and how to address them by turning off video or taking longer breaks between meetings. If employees can’t stay productive online, learning new digital skills virtually will be almost impossible.

A great way to foster enthusiasm is to offer open forums where employees can ask questions and learn from each other.

Consider incorporating short digital training sessions into the everyday schedule. Remote working comes with many distractions that can decrease employees’ attention spans, so incorporating brief training opportunities can make lessons easier to learn and apply. Also, try to create personalized training sessions based on each employee’s individual learning style and needs to ensure the best results.

A great way to foster enthusiasm is to offer open forums where employees can ask questions and learn from each other. Topics can include anything from how to ensure digital security to how to navigate work across different devices and platforms to how to improve digital literacy.

[ How do your virtual team meetings stack up? Read also:  Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]

3. Strike the right balance of AI and human interaction to transform the customer experience

The pandemic has heightened expectations on brand communication and customer service. Leaders must respond by re-thinking their customer engagement strategies and adopting forward-thinking approaches to ensure long-term sustainability.

A recent survey from CGS revealed that the pandemic has caused consumers to crave more human connections in their service interactions. They also expect instantaneous and personalized interactions, and failing to deliver these could damage your relationship with your customers. That means it’s never been more important to deploy AI-powered solutions like chatbots, virtual agents, and intelligent tools that enable excellent customer service and new experiences.

These intelligent technologies remove high-friction moments in the customer journey and create new touchpoints through advanced personalization. Empowered by real-time feedback and guidance, they increase productivity, accuracy, and customer satisfaction. Machine learning (ML) also can also boost customer engagement through personalization and prediction services.

In retail, for example, organizations can use ML-powered engines to suggest products based on a customer’s purchase history. On a more sophisticated level, prices and promotions can be customized based on consumer demographic data, increasing conversion and retention rates.

4. Prioritize the emotional connection

Perhaps the most essential strategy is to lead with empathy and prioritize the human element. Remember that many employees are struggling to balance their day jobs with looking after loved ones and managing kids who aren’t in school. Findings from McKinsey state that a CIO’s first order of business is to lead with kindness and compassion and recognize the new challenges employees face on a daily basis.

Before the pandemic struck, it was far too easy to get swept up in the realm of digitization and optimization and disregard the human connection. However, as delivering engaging new experiences becomes a mandate, leaders must incorporate a human touch into organizational culture as well as relationships and interactions with stakeholders, customers, and employees.

For employees, a successful remote work model requires the right mix of technology and human-centric strategies. As a manager, be sure to provide your team members tools, resources, and support to address the pitfalls they may face — whether that means offering flexible work hours, promoting habits that enhance well-being, or even mandating a daily lunch hour or other means for employees to break up their day.

COVID-19 has forced us to reimagine and create a new business environment that is still being shaped. Amidst all the unknowns, one fact is clear: It completely alters our experiences and accelerates us into a digitized world, where the future is now. Innovate and embrace this experience-centered paradigm or risk being left behind.

Are you ready to take the risk?

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Donna Tuths, Chief transformation and innovation officer  at Sutherland, oversees strategy and delivery of design, Labs, analytics, consulting, research and marketing . She has over 25 years of strategy consulting experience with a focus on marketing and digital transformation.

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