Column

The people factor

Putting customers at the heart of business

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a shift in priorities for businesses of all sizes. One priority now is certainly to win and retain customers in order to survive (and hopefully prosper) in a challenging economic environment.

In my experience it’s usually only the very top priorities that ever get put into practice. In a survey of C-suite executives in EMEA that ServiceNow conducted before the start of the pandemic, 36% said digitising and integrating customer service and management workflows was a top priority within their organisations.

To me, this number seemed low at the time. Based on my conversations with customers and partners over the last couple of months, I suspect it’s much higher now as organisations navigate rapidly shifting customer expectations.

If you remove all the jargon and theory, great customer experience is actually very simple. It means putting customers at the heart of your business and genuinely caring about what they think, what they need and what they want.

In practice, many organisations aren’t there yet. Only 25% of EMEA-based organisations can be classed as ‘leaders’ in customer experience maturity, according to the ServiceNow survey. We still have a long way to go in our region.

From feedback to collaboration

There are three key ways to put people at the front and centre of everything you do as an organisation, in order to deliver great experiences and build customer loyalty.

I recall the not-so-distant times of flying (more or less) frequently and being invited to share my level of happiness with the service by hitting one of four emojis in the departure lounge. This type of customer feedback gathering is customer friendly. However, it’s also sporadic and doesn’t provide the depth of information required to support informed decision making.

The first element underpinning great customer experiences is an ongoing process of gathering feedback from customers. We want to know all the time—not just when a ticket is opened or a phone call is made—what our customers are feeling and thinking, as well as how we’re performing from their perspective.

Second, we’ve learned that having a ‘single pane of glass’ customer portal helps drive superior, integrated customer experiences. Such an approach helps you gather always-on, real-time customer feedback—say via chatbots or quick surveys. It also helps integrate feedback into organisational processes so you can improve experiences continuously.

It’s usually only the very top priorities that ever get put into practice.

This kind of portal breaks down departmental barriers. Every stakeholder in the business gains a full view of the customer experience, not just the part that’s covered by a particular department.

The third element is collaborative customer engagement. Typically, organisations that retain more customers and achieve higher satisfaction rates are those that take customers on a journey and involve them in their community.

At ServiceNow, I believe we do this well by encouraging ongoing dialogue and inviting customers to co-create our future.

Focus on people

The balance between the three traditional factors of change—people, processes, and technology—has changed significantly. While organisations looking to achieve a step-change in customer service management used to grapple with technology and processes, they now have mature technology and out-of-the-box processes and functionalities at their disposal.

New technology and processes can be implemented quickly and efficiently, with digital workflows automating common requests and providing personalised self-service options.

With technology running invisibly in the background and repetitive tasks being automated, the people factor has become the key defining element of success.

Organisations that hire changemakers and empower them to focus on the human side of customer service will win and retain customers both during and after the pandemic.

Despite the highly unpredictable global circumstances, organisations are continuing to innovate to meet evolving customer needs, developing new products and services to adapt to the market and remain competitive.

Some industries may never be the same again, and others will have to transform at a faster rate than ever before.

Regardless of the industry, organizations can maximize resilience and agility in challenging times by prioritising the creation of great customer experiences, underpinned by digital workflows.