A special thanks to Sarbjeet Johal, Theodora Lau, and Sarah Evans for their contributions to this article.
There’s never been a year quite like 2020.
- Large organizations in every industry are grappling with strategic plans and annual goals requiring complete restructuring.
- Small businesses are struggling with cash flow and innovating around how to deliver on their products and services.
- Business owners like me have been adapting on a daily basis to client requests that require new-found video production skills, consulting virtually with teams dispersed around the globe, and transforming webinars into virtual training events…all while competing for wifi with three other family members!
Recently I was invited to attend SAP’s annual event, SAPPHIRE, along with other influencers, to hear from SAP and several brands about their plans to remain resilient, sustainable and profitable this year and beyond.
Usually this annual event attracts more than 25,000 in-person attendees to one location. (Last year, I attended in Orlando!)
This year, the event had to be done virtually, but the appetite for this content was no less. In fact, the virtual event attracted more than 100,000 registrants! Business leaders are looking to the future, and they’re looking for support to get there.
Related: View all the replays from SAPPHIRE here.
Within the last few weeks, I attended this event and also participated in several roundtable discussions with customer experience and customer success leaders. There’s a sense of humility about how little we can predict about the future of experiences. There’s also a sense of resilience, a theme common in all these CX discussions.
Customer experience leaders are adapting to what customers need, as well as what can be reasonably offered. As the second half of 2020 arrives, there are ongoing challenges without apparent solutions. Planning is an exercise in “wait and see” and teams continue to work remotely from their homes.
What CAN we plan on in the second half of the year?
There are a few ways we can create extraordinary experiences for our customers in this extraordinary time.
- Accessibility is the experience.
- Connection, in all its forms, is still critical.
- Plan for progress within context.
Business leaders are ready to face the challenges of the second half of 2020 and address them. Let’s look at three distinct challenges, and their solutions as identified by industry influencers.
Challenge #1: Delivery is different.
Innovation has been accelerating in customer experience for the last several years. Companies invested in digital transformation efforts. Automation and ubiquitous devices created more channels and more opportunities for brands to directly impact individual customers along their journeys.
Yet when in-person customer experiences were paused unexpectedly this year, many brands were caught off guard. The absence of an in-person customer experience channel was disruptive to supply chains, the employee experience, and meeting customer expectations.
Large brands were not immune. Supply chains were disrupted and processes were adapted in real-time to serve customers. Customers themselves were struggling with new protocols and determining what was and was not feasible.
Customer behaviors changed in 2020, too. (According to the Washington Post, the demand for toilet paper increased by 102% in four weeks!)
- The convenience of shopping online for delivery became an essential service.
- Digital experiences were pushed beyond their original limits.
- Employees working remotely also created its own set of challenges. (For a great case study on resilience, check out this SAPPHIRE CX session with Audrey McNichols from SAP and Dinesh Sambamoorthy from Meijer.)
The rest of 2020 will be no different. The customer experience will not be delivered in the same ways it was in 2019. Customers may not have access to certain channels. They also might be trusting the “old ways” of doing things. Contactless payment might be too much change, but paying with cash might not be an option. Customers will need guidance and understanding as they also get used to the new normal.
How can customers access your products and services within an experience that provides reassurance along each step of their journey?
The Solution: Focus on access in the experience.
Customers want to move through their journey on their terms, with little friction. Using the lens of “accessibility” helps customer experience leaders see where this is more critical than it was just a few months ago. I asked another SAPPHIRE influencer, Sarbjeet Johal, Cloud Architect and Influencer, what he thought the future held.
“Covid19 crisis has changed the meaning of term accessibility, today accessibility means connectivity. Lots of businesses got caught off-guard and they are grappling with the situation! Few verticals are specifically struggling to cope up with new-norms, including Healthcare, Education and Retail.”
Ask yourself and your team: how can we make each step of the journey more accessible?
Challenge #2: Connection is critical, but it’s not the same.
Humans long to connect. We gather together to learn, share, experience.
There are true challenges around connecting with customers today.
- Most digital experiences have not been designed to be emotionally intelligent, making it harder to create meaningful connection with customers.
- Contact centers have often been designed around central control.
- Employees have often not always been educated or empowered enough to deliver relevant information to support the customer experience.
- Leaders have not been transparent in their communications to employees or customers.
Brands still design customer journeys based on backend processes and limitation, instead of reviewing the journey from the customer’s perspective. Connection is not about collecting customer feedback that is never acted upon. It’s not about sending invoices but little else. It’s not about forcing the customer to jump through hoops to get to the information they need.
Your customer is relying heavily on digital connections. Is your brand delivering on the feeling and context of connection?
The Solution: Create connections based on relevant customer journeys.
I asked Theodora Lau, Founder, Unconventional Ventures and Innovation Influencer, about how brands should look at the future of customer experience.
“Now more than ever, we must put the customer in the center of everything we do. As virtual channels become our primary touchpoint, we cannot simply replicate the analog experience online. Rather, we must rethink the customer journey – digital first – and provide a more streamlined and personalized customer experience.”
I love what she says about how it’s not about replicating the analog experience. This is about re-invention and re-evaluation. Create connections at each touchpoint along the journey that exists TODAY, not the one from yesterday.
Challenge #3: Planning is too challenging.
Several customer experience leaders recently admitted in a roundtable discussion how frustrated they were with executives asking for plans they knew weren’t relevant for today’s market. One complained how the CEO was seeking answers to questions that were “SO first quarter!” Those questions are old news, because your customers have totally different needs today.
Yet brands who threw up their hands and decided any plans are worthless are missing a key opportunity to focus on progress, not losses.
How can we plan for the future without completely forgetting our original plans for 2020?
The Solution: Plan for progress, with context.
Leaders who have adapted quickly to the needs of customers in the first six months of 2020 are finding that they’re more able to continue to apply those innovation practices to the rest of the year and beyond. There are certain truths exposed by these volatile first quarters. Customers are relying on technology in ways that are new for them and for brands. The digital foundation of brands is critical to deliver, but customers also require new forms of support.
Customer experience plans should include asking “what are our customers LEARNING that we can support?” Customers are juggling the demands of working from home, managing families in new ways, and finding how to obtain essential services in their location.
Are your customers also learning how to order for delivery via the app for the first time? Is the app evolving daily? Internal processes and updates have never been more exposed to customers. Consider their needs and ways to evolve with them in this second half of the year.
Customers are still human, and they always will be. We can always plan on that.
I loved what Sarah Evans, Founder & CEO, Sevans Strategy & Sevans Digital PR and Digital Communications Influencer, said about how the SAPPHIRE event was an example of how to think about the rest of the year.
“SAPPHIRE was not only an exceptional look at how a large corporation can shift from IRL to virtual, but is representative of how we have to think about the rest of the year. Things are in limbo. People are experiencing, more than ever, periods of uncertainty, anxiety and loss.
Be aware, be human and provide the best possible service or product you can. Customer Experience has always been about being human first, but it matters now more than ever. There is no quicker way to bring people together than through a major mistake or mishandling of a situation.
You must live and breathe who you say you are and what you say you’ll do.”
Indeed. Take that deep breath. It’s time to look ahead!