Azlan Raj, SVP, Customer Experience, explores how the major shift in today’s new working practices will require more innovation from your workforce than ever before.
“Unprecedented” is a word that I’ve seen used more times in the last week than I have in the last forty years. We’re in the first global pandemic we’ve seen for decades and your organisation’s ability to sustain operations is down to your employees first and your customers second. It’s a controversial point, but the economy is showing turbulence which is creating a lot of uncertainty for businesses; the challenges are front of mind in the c-suite and how to stabilise business performance is a key topic on every agenda. However, what if I were to say that our existing state could be viewed as an opportunity? There will be challenges ahead but it’s challenging times that drive innovation and creativity and this is what is needed today to help businesses survive, or even thrive, in today’s economic climate. This is the time where existing businesses can pivot and new businesses can innovate, and this opportunity can only come from your people.
One major challenge caused by the current isolation process is how to start to operate more efficiently and empower our people - in most cases – in a completely new way. Our focus must be on engaging with our people, facilitating performance, motivating them through a time of unrest and keeping them balanced physically and mentally. Looking after our people should be our number one goal because they are what keep the wheels turning in every business and they will be the innovators that help us shape the business of tomorrow.
Here are my suggestions for what to consider in order to help make the necessary cultural adaptations for your teams:
- Team chemistry
Think about your cadence of contact. We may initially over-index and find lots of conference calls go into our calendars. Focus on ultimately getting the right balance, but doubling down isn’t a bad thing in the first instance. Some people love their own space, others love company. Don’t assume one size fits all. Transparency and frequent communications can help people when they least expect it.
- Focused goals
Keep goals manageable, realistic and achievable. We can’t see around corners and stretch targets are challenging at the best of times. Work out how to stabilise the business with things that make a difference through effective prioritisation that empower your employees to help your customers. This could be work or it could be play – both can make a difference.
- Work hard/play hard mentality
Internally at Merkle, we’ve worked at creating different forums for people to engage virtually. This includes virtual activities such as yoga, increasing the visibility of mental health support and even social channels through which we can communicate in a less formal way. People are a core part of our business and where we’re unable to see them daily, we’re trying to create other ways to maintain our culture and social communications. We’ve even gamified some of these activities for the more competitive team members.
- A new age thought leadership & innovation culture
Encourage the opportunity to think differently and test ideas through this time of change. Opportunities to deliver in new ways will be attractive to your customers. Think about what would be relevant to them and understand their new challenges to see how your business can support these. Allowing your teams to think outside of the box will provide the foundations for innovation.
- Facetime is the new me time
Focus on video first communications to be personal. We talk about moving towards being more personal than personalised in the way we engage with customers, so let’s take the same approach with our people. Video helps to make people feel less isolated so a good IT infrastructure to enable this is key.
- Sharing is caring
Share hot tips and lifestyle hacks with your teams. Small things that people may have never considered can help them to work remotely. Ideas such as plugging in your laptop to your TV via HDMI or using books to raise your laptop to the most ergonomic height can make a huge difference if you’re unable to provide office equipment. Internally we even have a #selfie competition to win Amazon vouchers for the most creative WFH selfie to encourage people to have personal workspace and create more sociable sharing opportunities.
The focus here is no longer the customer experience, but the employee experience. Engaged employees drive new thinking, ultimately finding innovative ways to service your customers. Where we’ve expanded from IQ (Intelligence Quotient) to EQ (Emotional Quotient) we now have to expand CX (Customer Experience) to EX (Employee Experience). It’s not new but the urgency has shifted and our ability as businesses to combine these components becomes more critical in our day-to-day.
What does this mean for consumers and their experiences?
As customers start to become more conservative in their spending or they are limited in what they can do, brands are finding that they need to find an alternative way to interact and engage with consumers. This is where the innovation you find within your workforce comes into its own.
As we move into a new era of collaboration and potentially a shift in economic and cultural change, there are new opportunities that are trending to meet customer needs and opportunity is available for business to help solve some of these new consumer challenges:
- Immersive virtual experiences (IVX)
An increase in interactive activities such as yoga or cycling are now on the rise so brands such as Peleton that have previously been struggling to find their place at the crux of where digital augmentation meets reality are starting to find their sweet spot. With social venues such as cinemas closing, are there more opportunities to look at engagements such as streamed cinema events from the home with food partnerships that deliver straight to your door?
- Remote engagement
Remote working will further heighten expectations on digital interactions. Consistency of connectivity will never be as important. On a conference call this morning I noticed a lag which was instantly unacceptable to me! Successful remote engagement means retaining as far as possible the ability for employees and customers to engage with businesses at any time.
- Always-on shopping
Where RSS were a popular way to consume shopping needs fifteen years ago, with more people at a screen in isolation, they are looking at different ways to break up the working day. Keeping up to date on what’s happening through online feeds and retail streams could be a re-invigorated way to grab attention. I’m not suggesting the rebirth of the RSS feed, but a new creative approach may open up a new consumer shopping experience.
- Health habits
Whilst we have seen runners, cyclists and gym enthusiasts helping to change the face of everyday exercise, alongside the increase in healthier food options on the high street; current opportunities to maintain a healthier lifestyle have become more difficult. Changing from usual routines to new routines, from exercising out of home to the way we eat, could see a shift in mindset over the coming months.
- Real-time updates
There is an expectation – specifically around current affairs – to know what is available or happening now in real-time. Whether that’s an update on the state of the country or whether products are in stock at a local store. Consumers are asking “where are the key trends?” or “where can I find something now?”. Imagine a website that told you where toilet paper was in stock to minimise the critical mass and reduce over-purchasing.
- Digital assistants
With home tutoring becoming a core part of every family thanks to school closures, services such as Masterclass, and Google classroom could see an increase through the need for online support. Youtube’s video views saw a consistent increase since the announcement of COVID-19 (Ref: Socialblade.com, March 2020) so consumers are clearly demanding support and greater access to content as a whole.
- Connected life
Work and home communications are running more in parallel as the line between the two becomes more blurred through remote working. Finding a way to create boundaries between work and play for employees will be key. As products like Whatsapp bring our home and office environments together for simplicity, we will need to find a way to separate them (literally or metaphorically) for our sustained mental health. This could see a rise in “den pals” (Digital pen pals) in a time of isolation. I don’t mean how we used to write to friends in other countries, but the facility to have digital mentors, managers, counsel and friends.
As we come out of the back of this unprecedented time, it’s important for businesses to focus beyond the existing challenges, for both resourcing and business offerings. Using your teams and focusing on the employee experience to ingrain creativity and innovation at the heart of your business, aiming to ultimately place the customer’s needs first, will allow for sustainability and future growth that could reshape your business for the better.