Just like your business, communications technologies are evolving all the time to enable even more value and integrate more tightly with business tools your employees utilize every day. Therefore, keeping your Mitel solutions current with Software Assurance (SWA) is vital to your organization.
Mitel Software Assurance provides access to upgrades, incremental enhancements, fixes, security patches, expert technical support and much more, helping to ensure that your communications investment delivers value from day one and for years to come.
It happened more quickly than experts could have ever predicted: the adoption of cloud computing and new technologies. The year 2020 taught us that, while migrating telephony to the cloud decreases costs and increases efficiencies, it also builds a foundation on which to grow revenue.
In Mitel’s latest EU Cloud Survey, European IT executives said gaining the agility to grow their company is the top benefit of moving to the cloud. This response has more than doubled, from 16% in 2018’s survey to 35% in 2019. Companies realize the cloud enables them to do more with less and extend their reach. Further, it makes it easier for them to adopt next-gen technologies that free resources for investment in other growth areas.
Whether you’re a digital leader, follower or laggard, the path is clear. The cloud can significantly strengthen your ability to compete.
How much harder is it to develop new products to meet rapidly changing customer needs when all the parties involved work with different communications systems? With cloud-based communications, everyone can collaborate in a shared workspace. And no matter the device, the platform is consistent. Videoconferencing, email, SMS, file-sharing and telephony all happen from a virtual desktop. In that environment, product designers, vendors, suppliers, distribution and marketing can collaborate quickly to meet changing customer behaviors and capture sales.
Extend Your Reach
When the pandemic forced many businesses to close their physical offices, employees started to remote work full time. Companies adopted web-based technologies to connect workers and, as a result, extended their reach.
With the rapid jump to cloud communications, geography no longer figures so highly in business planning. Partners are global. Customers are global. Even small businesses can serve customers in new geographic locations. Unified communications allows businesses of all sizes to connect with partners and customers no matter where they’re located.
Do More With Less
Integrated cloud solutions―private, public or a hybrid―enable contact center agents to easily access key customer information. For example, consider the company’s CRM system. It doesn’t matter where a service representative is sitting, whether at home, at the office or in a country halfway around the world. With a fully integrated communications system, information from multiple channels and parts of the organization are available at the touch of a key.
Customers can reach agents via phone, chat, email or social media. And in a shared web-based workspace, employees can collaborate to resolve customer requests faster and more easily. All of this increases the quality of customer service and ensures the agility―and revenue―that executives seek.
By adopting cloud applications, many businesses reduce their operating costs. For example, with more remote work taking place, companies save significant money on office space, employee travel and in-person marketing, like sales conferences. With the shift to the cloud, companies spend less on software and hardware, only paying for what they actually use.
This frees funds to shift to other opportunities, such as hiring the best talent. Because of the efficiency and reach of cloud communications, businesses can more easily find talent globally. Collaboration tools make working across geographic and time boundaries more simple. And because any worker―not just full-time employees―can access the organization’s communications via the web, employers can mine talent across the employment continuum, from full-time staff to contractors.
Perhaps more intangible, but equally powerful, is the time and effort saved. With this new source of energy, your workforce can shift their attention to innovation, finding new business opportunities, solving problems and building the skills you’ll need going forward.
Adopt Next-Gen Technologies
Cloud communications also levels the playing field among companies of different sizes. Previously, only large firms could afford sophisticated software. But by moving to the cloud, small businesses can access next-gen technology without investing huge amounts of money. They can easily download new applications, working with their cloud partner to develop customized and cost-effective solutions.
For example, speech analytics. This artificial intelligence tool interprets language, looking for key words and routing messages to the right people. Even issues like privacy, security and compliance are easier to manage. Cloud-native applications kept up to date by the vendor save time and effort for businesses.
While the pandemic has disrupted our world, it has also brought important benefits to the forefront. The accelerated adoption of cloud communications has put growth and revenue opportunities within reach of all businesses.
Let’s face it, the days of running a business with outdated communication tools are over. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that very clear. Businesses that continued to keep pace with ever-changing communications technologies before the pandemic were best equipped to make a smooth transition to a remote working reality. Businesses that had not kept pace with technology were caught scrambling.
Today, many businesses are taking stock of their communications infrastructure to determine what they will need to stay competitive during and after the pandemic. Although a migration to cloud-based options should be the eventual goal, getting there may not require an immediate and abrupt shift. Staying agile and competitive on the road to the cloud can be achieved by ensuring existing technology is current.
You Can’t Get Ahead If You’re Technically Behind
Way back when, you only had to worry about one communication tool. A phone system and access to dial tone was all you needed to support most business operations. That basic hardware could stay in place for years without much upkeep.
Now, your employees need more than a handset to stay connected with colleagues, partners and customers. Smartphones, email, text, chat, screen-sharing, unified communication and more enable a mobile, agile and responsive workforce. The IP-based systems and platforms you rely on to deliver these tools provide a variety of communication and collaboration options. But unlike the basic handsets of yesteryear, the technologies behind today’s systems continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Every minor software update or major upgrade refines existing capabilities or adds new features designed to streamline work processes and improve efficiency.
Unfortunately, many businesses have not kept up with the pace of change. They have delayed updates and upgrades and continue to operate with outdated systems. If you are one of those businesses, you are not taking full advantage of the technology you already have and are not giving your employees the advanced tools they need to maximize productivity. This puts your employees at a disadvantage compared to competitors who are leveraging every new iteration of their communications systems to ensure that vital link between employees, partners and customers is optimized at every touch point.
Outdated Systems Are Vulnerable
Beyond efficiency and productivity, staying current with updates and upgrades to your existing communication system is the key to protecting your business from security threats.
Because of the way business is conducted today with dispersed and remote employees, even daily office emails and phone calls can contain confidential information that matters to your customers. The tight integration of voice, data, and image capabilities in IP-based communications systems that enable a distributed workforce make those systems an ideal target for cybercriminals looking for a backdoor into your business data. Most IT professionals agree that outdated software on these systems is an open invitation. So, the longer the software has been neglected, the more likely it is that someone can find a way to exploit its vulnerabilities.
Given that your communication system is the vital enabler of your business, you can’t afford to take the risk. Avoid the financial cost and disruption of a security breach by keeping your system current with all the latest security features. System software updates and upgrades often address security flaws, eliminate minor glitches or close security holes that could be exploited by hackers. They provide that extra layer of protection your business needs from the damage and destruction caused by a cyberattack. Without that extra layer of protection, you’re opening the door to a potential breach and the resulting loss of consumer confidence, which means that existing customers and potential customers won’t be likely to trust your business in the future.
A Move To The Cloud Should Be At Your Own Pace
Of course, as technology evolves, your communications strategy should too. While the objective for all organizations should be an eventual migration to the cloud, that move should be made when it makes the most business sense. By staying current with your existing system, you can be more strategic with your move and make it at your own pace.
When you start thinking about your move to cloud-based communications services, consider whether you have maximized the potential of your current system. Cloud systems can be configured to provide telephony, mobility, team and video collaboration, contact center capabilities and communication integration — all for a monthly fee. Many on-premises systems, like Mitel MiVoice Business, can be upgraded with all these features. Upgrading optimizes your current investment and extends the life of your system while you structure your move to the cloud to fit your business and market strategies.
To capitalize on this potential, make sure you’re making the incremental choices today that keep your system as flexible as possible, ready to add functionality as needed and capture opportunities when they arise. This means staying current with all the latest updates and upgrades and activating features that extend the life of your system, like video, collaboration and customer experience capabilities. It also means thinking strategically with your technology partner about how emerging technologies and creative uses of integrations can revolutionize the workflows in your organization to improve daily operations.
Staying Current Makes Good Business Sense
Ultimately, the risks associated with not making needed updates to systems are too great to ignore and the benefits are well worth the effort. But many businesses today are operating with communication systems that are at least one full software version behind current. As a result, their systems may lack the built-in functionality that, if current, could enhance efficiency and increase productivity. These systems are also missing critical security updates that could reduce the risk of cyberattacks.
As you look to define the communications tools you will need to stay competitive during and after the pandemic, it’s important to remember that, sometimes, staying competitive can be as simple as updating what you already have. And if what you already have is MiVoice Business, you have a solid foundation to build on, as long as you stay current.
A productive and successful workplace naturally entails a certain level of collaboration. Rare are the successful one-person enterprises that require little to no collaborative effort.
And while the modern workplace—connected, tech-oriented, or even remote—has developed hundreds of ways to collaborate, it has also inadvertently spawned an equal number of distractions.
It is these most common, often tech-enabled, workplace distractions we shall be exploring today, while also offering a smart tool choice that helps reduce (if not eliminate) distractions, thus giving a healthy boost to all the elements of collaborative success: creativity, productivity, innovation and growth.
Distracting Smartphones, Preventative Apps
Probably the worst offender in the distraction realm, our smartphones have not only become our window into the world, but they have also given all of us a mild case of ADD.
And while it is perfectly understandable that you want your phone to alert you to new emails, messages, calls and texts, you don’t want it to do so all the time.
Start by simply muting all notifications while you are working—even the work-related ones.
If you are sitting in front of a screen anyway, you’ll see them. Then, use an app that will lock other apps (like Offtime or a similar solution), preventing you from entering the world of social media while your phone is in your hand.
It will definitely take some time to get used to it. You’ll notice yourself reaching for the phone even when you don’t need it—but this habit can be kicked like all others, it just takes a bit of patience.
Even though emails are one of the top collaborative tools we rely on daily, their constant zooming in and out is quite equal to the disruptiveness of the Wizarding World’s paper airplanes.
A simple solution, however, is available—use an add-on for your email client that will pause emails for a specific period of time. That way you will be able to focus, even if you keep Alt-Tab-ing back to your inbox every once in a while.
Curious how other companies are using communications technology to thrive? Find out in our special feature, The Future Now of Work, including advice from top experts.
Malcontent Meetings And The Mayhem Of Memos
A collaborative staple, the meeting (in-person or over video), is oddly also one of the main sources of workplace distractions.
Working from home has ushered in a new workplace malady, videoconferencing fatigue, which impacts productivity and focus.
The first solution to this problem does not require a tool per se—just the cutting of unnecessary and over-long meetings.
However, a tool that can help you is a simple email, project management or even voice recording tool.
Instead of having everyone taking notes and debating points, send out an agenda before each meeting, listing the main discussion points. Select one person whose input in the conversation is not needed to take notes, which you will then send out to everyone who’s attended.
This will not only make the meetings more productive and focused, it will also eliminate the post-meeting distraction as each individual goes over their own notes.
Planning Roadblocks And The Road To A Plan
When more than one person is involved in the creation of a plan, opportunities for distraction and derailment abound.
Then there is also the issue of following through with the plan, especially if it has not been mapped out correctly.
The simple tool that can help you overcome these hurdles is the mind map, which will help you break your project down into smaller tasks, show you how each task relates to all the others, and help you take your ideas from the brainstorming stage to the execution stage.
It provides both a bigger picture overview of a plan, at the same time allowing you to focus on the tiniest particles with laser precision.
And while the human connection remains an integral part of the collaboration, sometimes the chat app is your worst enemy. It is certainly a communication method that has its uses, but nevertheless, it can be distracting.
The simple solution is integrated into each app—in the form of a “do not disturb” status. On the other hand, if that option alone is not enough for you, you can hark back to one of the apps we’ve already mentioned that will limit your access to the chat app and prevent you from engaging in collaboration while you need to focus on individual work.
To Sum It All Up
The road to distraction-free collaboration is clear. It involves a lot of personal restraint and the reliance on the same technology that has caused a lot of the collaboration (and distraction) in the first place.
Be smart about your tool choices, and opt for ones that allow for disengagement, as well as engagement. Exercise your own free will and choose to distance yourself from the chatter whenever you need to slide into deep and meaningful work.
While the strings that attach you to the digital world will pull on your thoughts tightly, the less attention you pay them, the less taut they will become.
Collaboration technologies and omni-channel communications will be intrinsic to more and more business processes. After all, successful businesses rely on the seamless sharing of diverse thinking and experience, even if teams are separated by geographical distance. Sales teams, customer service agents and other departments, require integrated systems that not only keep them in contact with their teams, but improve the customer experience at a time in which communication is more important than ever.
Every year, updated software for your system is released offering access to new capabilities and protection from security risks. To help you understand how much you’re missing out on, your system’s manufacturer, Mitel, has provided this Migration Matrix to demonstrate exactly which capabilities you could have access to immediately after a simple software update. Download the guide, choose your current version of MiVoice Business Software and we’ll show you what you’re missing out on.
My colleague, Lauren, hosted a virtual happy hour for her company’s customer experience operations team.
Instead of a faces-on-a-screen, sip-and-chat gathering, Lauren asked her team to create a fun riff on the long-running MTV television series “Cribs”. On “Cribs”, celebrities invite camera crews into their amazing homes and show audiences around, virtually.
So, Lauren’s team’s virtual happy hour looked a little more like this: coworkers had a laptop in one hand and a libation in the other. Everyone on the team took a sip of their drink, then a turn pointing their webcam around their home, treating teammates to a virtual tour.
“It was about having fun and creating bonding time” Lauren said.
New Realities For Digitally Mediated Leadership
We’ve learned some things about leadership in the changing business world.
One of those things is that the demands on leaders to perform within a digital, mobile working world have never been more complex. What used to be true about leadership and leading, when leaders could be co-present with employees, has changed.
That got me to thinking. With expectations changing so dramatically, and with business demands evolving just as quickly, what are the techniques leaders should have down pat right now when they cannot be physically co-present with employees every day?
Here are five techniques that rise to the surface.
1. Tell Stories
One of the biggest jobs a leader has is to promote a vision for business growth. Now, in a near-100 percent digitally mediated working environment, leaders have to kick that effort up a notch.
People connect with human anecdotes. So, explain your vision through stories, analogies, pop culture references, or relevant items in the news. You might even play a contact center recording, share a customer testimonial, or circulate a customer e-mail.
Your vision for change, teamwork, and company goals should be a central, continual part of your talk track as a leader. To get and keep your team’s attention in the current environment, you will need to mix it up. Stories have an impact.
People connect with human anecdotes. Explain your vision through stories, analogies, pop culture references, news items, or play a contact center recording.
2. Lock (Virtual) Arms With Change-Ready Employees
But leading right now is also about more than just talking. It’s also about engaging. Leaders can state a vision and tell stories, but it takes leaders and employees to get stuff done.
Some employees may be struggling with change right now. But others are ready, and they will show you they are eager to move ahead. Embrace this opportunity.
What do those employees sound and look like? New scholarly work says change-ready employees engage optimistically, embrace collectivity, and demonstrate that they are willing to navigate uncertainty.
But there’s a catch! Research shows these employee qualities aren’t always obvious. Leaders must look for them. Then, open a dialogue. Ask those employees to step into relevant, new challenges.
3. Listen Authentically
One common pitfall I see leaders fall into is believing they just know what employees and customers want without asking. If you think you know, but you haven’t asked, it’s time to reframe your assumptions. Ask and listen, authentically.
“Be authentic!” may feel like a tired phrase right now. But “being authentic” is about more than being cool with it when employees show up to virtual team meetings in their workout gear. It is also in how you pick up on the signals that employees and customers send. All. The. Time.
Here’s why it’s such a big deal. Listening with authenticity helps you to stay in tune with how your team’s culture and your customers’ experiences are shifting in comparison to your vision. Being authentic helps you to avoid the risks of getting the story you want to hear versus the facts you need to hear.
Teams that trust one another ring the cash register. Collaborative tools can support trust-building in a virtual team environment.
4. Commit To Trust
Teams that trust one other are the ones that ring the cash register. Study after study proves it.
However, demonstrating psychological safety can be a challenge when team members aren’t physically together every day. Collaborative tools can support trust-building in a virtual environment.
Additional tactics for virtual meetings: ask icebreaker questions or do a fun trivia game. One team I know encouraged impromptu GIF games in the team’s collaborative chat. On top of that, provide frequent feedback so that everyone stays on the same page with expectations.
Building trust means being authentic, frequent, predictable, responsive, and clear in your communication. It’s about more than just what you say. It’s also about when, where, and how you say it.
5. Check Your Gut Instincts Against Data
Gut instincts are great. But knowing how to get and use usable data in your leadership work is crucial. Changing times mean leaders need to challenge the quality and quantity of their data sources.
You can collect feedback through pulse surveys, customer, and employee interviews. Tools like Mitel’s contact center agent dashboard can clue you in on agent workloads, help to predict agent burnout, and avoid employee attrition.
Being authentic helps you to avoid the story you want to hear and get the facts you need to hear.
Celebrate Victories, Reward People When Things Are Going Right
So much has changed with leadership. But some things haven’t changed. Recognizing the good work of teams and employees, for example, will never go out of style. Shout-outs, monetary rewards, and surprise care packages delivered to someone’s home sends a message of appreciation.
Like Lauren and her team’s virtual “Cribs” happy hour session, leaders need to raise a glass and toast to their teams when things are going right.
Because the world has done more than just shift. It has changed, irrevocably. Many of us are learning as we go. But there are some important leadership to-dos right now that hold firm as change unfolds in our new normal.
There’s no question that COVID-19 has forever changed the way small and medium businesses (SMBs) think about the “workplace”, shifting the concept from the physical world to a virtual one.
Recently, Mona Abou-Sayed, Mitel’s VP of Collaboration and Applications, and I discussed this in a LinkedIn Live session, Building Culture and Collaboration for the Next Normal, hosted by Brent Leary. We talked about the implications for businesses as they move from early, reactive responses to remote working, and consider the longer-lasting impacts on the workplace.
In this post, I recap some of the key take-aways and make additional perspectives.
Work From Home Is Here To Stay
Providing employees with the option to work from home isn’t new. The trend had already been rising prior to COVID-19: According to Flexjobs, WFM jobs had risen 44% over the last 5 years before COVID-19 struck.
In addition, SMB Group’s 2019 SMB 360: Connecting the Dots Between Business and Technology survey indicated that about three-quarters of SMBs had options for employees to work from home prior to COVID-19. However, in the majority of these companies, only a small percentage of workers—typically 10% or less—were working from home on a regular basis.
COVID-19 has turned these numbers upside down. Confronted with stay-at-home mandates, SMBs with existing WFM programs dramatically expanded them, and over half of SMBs that lacked work-from-home options prior to the pandemic started putting them in place.
Seemingly overnight, millions of people that had never worked from home began doing so—providing people with an “aha moment”: Many jobs could be done just as productively and effectively at home as in the office.
As the threat of the virus subsides, and mandates are lifted, some employees will go back to the office full time. But others will continue to work at home full time, and another group will divide their time between the office and home, resulting in a hybrid workplace. The workplace is also likely to be more fluid, accommodating changing business and employee considerations.
Videoconferencing Becomes The Poster Child For Work From Home
Videoconferencing took off just as quickly as WFM. Companies that lacked or never used the video element of web conferencing started to do so. People who used to turn their cameras off for online meetings started turning them on.
Of course, there were also issues—ranging from Zoom bombing security breaches to time wasted due to slow connections to technical difficulties.
But people got accustomed to the glitches and to juggling video meetings with dogs, kids, spouses, messy offices, and bad hair days. Video quickly humanized business meetings that had in the past been stodgy affairs. Instead of reading emails behind a darkened screen, more people were actually paying attention during videoconferencing sessions.
Collaboration Requires More Than Videoconferencing
But videoconferencing is not the only online tool that has helped SMBs to sustain their businesses.
SMB Group’s Impact of COVID-19 Study on SMBs reveals that across the board, a majority of SMBs rate cloud-based applications as being extremely valuable in helping them to weather the COVID-19 crisis. Cloud-based business solutions topped the list, followed by videoconferencing. But for most SMBs all of these solutions—remote IT and access, real-time collaboration, file sharing, backup, security, and identity management— have proved their worth in supporting WFM and keeping businesses up and operational.
This isn’t surprising. Whether in the physical world or the virtual one, meetings are just one component of how work actually gets done. From phone systems to business solutions, most companies use multiple solutions to collaborate and get their work done. And businesses need to secure these solutions to protect customer, financial, and other sensitive data that we share within our companies.
Supporting A Hybrid, Flexible Workplace For The Long Term
Many SMBs were forced to play defense when the pandemic hit. They turned to whatever they could quickly fill in the gaps for a new or greatly expanded remote workforce—often ending up with a hodge-podge of different, point solutions.
But as we transition from this initial, reactive phase, more SMBs are realizing that jumping from one application or system to another adds friction, frustration, and security risks into the collaboration process. As a result, many are starting to think about how they can develop a cohesive collaboration and communications strategy that can adapt to change today and tomorrow.
Integrating a mix of old phone systems, web and videoconferencing, SMS, file sharing and other tools after the fact often costs more—in terms of both time and money—than it does to move to a unified solution in which the applications are designed to work together in the first place.
Unified, cloud-based collaboration solutions pull all the things you need to do every day, such as phone calls, web and video meetings, messaging, notifications, and file sharing, into one place. They’re built from the ground up to work together. For instance, say you’re on a chat and realize that it would be easier to have the conversation via a video meeting. Ideally, you’d just want to be able to click a button and move the conversation to a video call.
Many offer integrations with key business applications, such as email, CRM, human resources, and other solutions to help streamline business workflows. For example, Mitel’s public cloud communications solution, MiCloud Connect, has native integrations with G Suite, Salesforce, and Microsoft Office. Their private cloud offering, MiCloud Flex, has additional integrations with Salesforce, SugarCRM, and Microsoft Dynamics. They’ve put together a slew of resources for SMBs to support the hybrid and remote worker thrive.
Because they’re designed to support millions of users, unified collaboration solutions also offer the enterprise-grade security and reliability safeguards that businesses need.
While no one has a crystal ball, it’s highly likely that many of the changes we’ve seen unfold during the pandemic will continue to reshape our views of work and the workplace even after the pandemic subsides.
As your business transitions from reacting to COVID-19 to longer-term planning, now is the time to evaluate your current collaboration strategy. Taking a more holistic approach can help you bring people, processes together, improve how work gets done, and put your business on track for sustainability and growth as the way we work evolves.
The COVID-19 pandemic altered consumer behaviour, possibly permanently, and shaped a world that’s now more reliant on technology than ever before. In this new, more competitive environment, an organization’s ability to foster customer loyalty will determine its future.
As it turns out, businesses have an excellent opportunity to win over prospects and customers in the digital world: customer experience (CX). By paying the right attention to the right details, organizations can use CX to charm prospects, improve satisfaction scores and retain existing customers. When businesses focus on exceeding expectations at every step of the journey, they build loyalty.
That’s because customer experience drives over two-thirds of customer loyalty, outperforming price and brand combined, finds Gartner. The two are inextricably linked, and the tight relationship means CX is just as important as a company’s services or products.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 75% of consumers in the U.S. have changed their shopping behavior, and the majority are shopping through digital channels. They’re more focused on convenience, availability and value, McKinsey reports. This shift means companies need to think about every aspect of the customer experience, from the online shopping cart to curbside pickup and support options.
For businesses to be successful in a post-pandemic world, it will be essential for them to adapt to digitalization, reward customer loyalty and align their marketing with the values of consumers. Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these areas.
At the same time, consumer expectations for service changed. To meet safety concerns, businesses began offering no-contact pick-up or delivery. As a result, today’s customer journey is sharply different from what it was prior to the pandemic.
Cybersecurity is also a concern. Protecting customer data and ensuring trust should also be at the forefront of the focus on building a better experience.
Rewarding Customer Loyalty
Businesses can leverage the rapid increase in digital adoption to connect with and secure new loyal customers. Customers like to be valued by brands they support; effective loyalty programs do just that.
Consumers are loyal to brands that are reliable and offer the products and services they’re seeking. But the COVID-19 landscape has created a type of free-for-all when it comes to customer loyalty. If a product or service is not available, the customer will seek it out elsewhere, and perhaps favor the new business due to a better CX. By focusing on the integration of CX and loyalty rewards, businesses can hold on to customers even when times are tough.
Emphasizing Empathy In A Post-Pandemic World
Customers are experiencing a collective trauma, with risks of exposure to a deadly virus, on top of everyday life being affected by lockdowns and restrictions. Businesses can improve the customer experience by emphasizing care and empathy at every touchpoint.
Trust and safety are extremely important. Brands that deliver tone-deaf messages through marketing aren’t likely to build strong or lasting customer relationships. According to Forbes, “companies that provide an emotional connection with customers outperform the sales growth of their competitors by 85%.” Human connection has always been at the core of CX, and now it’s more important than ever. All messaging needs to reflect that.
Positive emotional experiences drive customers to make purchasing decisions, and therefore drive customer loyalty. According to Gerald Zaltman of Harvard Business School, “95% of purchasing decisions are made by emotions.” Brands cannot afford to sit on the sidelines in silence during crises. Values matter to today’s consumers and play a large role in CX.
Investments in enhancing customer experience like seamlessly integrating digital and in-person touchpoints and striking the right tone in messaging will be vital for building customer loyalty in the future. As we move into a post-pandemic world, businesses that put the customer front and center will be the winners in the new economy.
While no one has a crystal ball, everyone knows life will never return to what it was before COVID-19. In 2020, we experienced major shifts in how we live, work, learn and communicate. The word “hybrid” best describes these changes and what the future holds. We won’t return to the past, but we won’t be in pandemic mode either. The acceptance and use of new technology moved at warp speed this past year. Adoption of advanced technologies in operations, supply chain redundancies and data security moved 20 to 25 times faster than most executives would have imagined, reports McKinsey. Digitization had huge impacts on customer service, remote work, operations and healthcare.
Online shopping, already gaining in popularity before the pandemic, soared in 2020. In fact, U.S. consumers spent 44% more online this past year compared to a 15% increase in 2019. Home delivery of goods and food, curbside pickup and other hybrid shopping habits are here to stay. Customers like the convenience, wide product selection and speed (who doesn’t like instant gratification?). Businesses have responded to this demand by adding digital customer channels like chatbots, mobile apps and other e-commerce tools.
Retail banking, farther along this journey than most businesses before COVID, accelerated their digitization to better serve customers. A majority of finance and insurance executives and IT executives reported increasing their use of automation in their operations this past year.
Contactless payment methods and digital workflows are two examples. In the not-too-distant past, applying for a mortgage involved reams of paperwork and multiple trips to the branch office. Using cognitive document automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and other automation tools, banks have quickly moved away from in-person interactions, enabling customers to upload all pertinent documents including image files and PDFs. Need to see a driver’s license? The customer takes a picture using their smart phone and uploads it to their online application. The bank representative facilitating the application is probably sitting in her home, not the branch.
The power behind all of this is the cloud. Businesses don’t have to worry about buying hardware or software to quickly expand their capacity. That capital can be used to transform operations, hire new talent or introduce new products.
“You want to work from home?” Pre-pandemic, this question was delivered with a raised eyebrow. While some businesses offered this as a perk, most frowned upon it, citing the importance of “face time”, organizational culture and higher productivity.
That horse has left the barn. If there is one thing the pandemic has proved is that working remotely has not hurt productivity. In fact, in many situations, it may have increased it. Cloud communications enables employees to interact digitally and collaborate easily, using tools like video conferences, file sharing, shared workspaces and instant messaging. Without this operational support, productivity and team interactions would suffer.
Hybrid work models are here to stay, report many executives. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates that more than 20% of workers in highly skilled, non-customer facing jobs (e.g., finance, insurance, IT) could work remotely very effectively, even three to five days a week. Advances in cloud communications, automation and digitization have made this possible. What’s more, many employees like the flexibility (especially if they are juggling childcare or other family commitments) and report less stress.
This ability to more easily communicate across time and physical space has wider implications. The commercial real estate market is certainly in flux as organizations reevaluate the need for office space. Companies are using more contractors and temporary workers. Business travel is down and will probably remain so for a while, especially as many organizations are finding videoconferencing is just as effective for sales calls and conferences.
But each business needs to assess carefully when choosing a hybrid work model. What tasks—not roles or jobs—can happen remotely? How important is working in person with colleagues to build and support the organization’s culture? And sometimes creativity flourishes best when people are sitting in the same physical space.
One of the most dramatic changes due to COVID is the adoption of telehealth or communicating with healthcare professionals virtually. The technology was available before the pandemic, but both providers and patients were reluctant. Cloud-based videoconferencing technology, accessible via the web, has helped everyone recognize the value of telehealth.
A follow-up appointment, often just a conversation with the healthcare provider, is more efficient and convenient done virtually. When a patient comes down with a bad cold that is “going around”, the provider can diagnose the problem with a video call, keeping the sick patient at home. Going forward, expect to see a blend of in-person and virtual care.
COVID has also accelerated the use of health-related mobile apps. World-wide, there was a 65% increase in downloads of medical apps in 2020. Due to the prevalence of smart phones and the rapid adoption of mobile apps, patients and providers can communicate essential health information. For example, an app to track migraine headaches provides a report that patients can share with their doctors. An atrial fibrillation app enables a patient to check when he isn’t feeling quite right.
For these apps to be truly useful, they must integrate with electronic health records. Data must be easily searchable and accessible to healthcare providers. With cloud-based communications, software that connects these databases makes mobile healthcare apps more powerful.
These are just a few examples of how our emerging “hybrid” lifestyle is becoming the new norm, and they illustrate why we believe “hybrid” is the word of the year. Technologies such as cloud-based communications are powering blended solutions for the home, the workplace and healthcare delivery. How we live, work and communicate may never be the same, but hybrid communications will give people and businesses more flexibility and options than they’ve ever had before.
Over the course of the pandemic, consumer expectations for their interactions with businesses have climbed to new heights. In many ways, though, this isn’t surprising. After all, it’s the natural outcome of our innate need for human connection.
It’s a fact as old as mankind itself that humans crave connection with other humans.
During the pandemic, the loss of in-person interaction has been felt acutely and is a key reason so many are struggling with social distancing measures and stay-at-home mandates. Everyone misses socializing in real life with colleagues, family and friends. We’re all yearning for the moment when we can visit our favorite bookstore and chat freely with the owner.
Why Human Connection Is Vital
To understand why human connection means so much to us, it’s helpful to look back on history. In his 2016 book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” Yuval Noah Harari explains why humans are primarily social animals. One theory of language, for instance, is that it evolved as a way to gossip. “Social cooperation is our key to survival and reproduction,” Harari writes.
Indeed, the need to connect is evident in the relentless push throughout human history to develop new, more efficient modes of communication. A look at the evolution of communication technology puts this into perspective. Humans began to speak about 500,000 years ago and began to write sometime between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago when they drew symbols on sticks and eggshells. Both carrier pigeons and fire were once used to communicate across distances. For instance, around 200 BC smoke signals were used to send messages along the Great Wall of China.
The invention of the printing press ushered in the era of mass communication. The telephone allowed private conversations between two people across distances. But modern communication technology has evolved faster over the last 15 years than at any other time. The combination of smartphones and social media has capitalized on our natural need for human connection.
When you think about digital communications within this context, you can see why the physical distance created by quarantines and lockdowns has led to such high expectations.
As more people began working from home, video calls and webchat became virtual lifelines to our wider business and social circles. At the same time, consumer shopping habits changed out of necessity. More people bought groceries online and had them delivered. Since COVID-19, 21% of consumers tried online grocery shopping for the first time.
The New Bar For Customer Experience
Low-touch behaviors, such as grocery delivery, curbside pickup and buy online/pickup in-store, are likely to stick post-pandemic. McKinsey found 23% of consumers are having their groceries delivered, and of these, almost half (49%) say they plan to continue doing so after the pandemic.
This rise in eCommerce, along with more people working from home, is raising the bar on customer experience. Prior to the pandemic, businesses were beginning to focus on customer experience as a way to differentiate themselves from their competition. But with more people shopping, working and socializing online, developing a stellar customer experience for everyone will be more vital than ever.
For instance, in the pandemic, doctors and patients were forced to shift to telemedicine rather than in-person visits. That means more people who haven’t used digital communications before—such as older generations—are learning to adapt. Designing experiences with digital inclusivity in mind will be vital. Businesses will need to create customer experiences that adjust to the proficiency level of new users. They’ll also have to do so for those with disabilities.
Most importantly, to succeed in the post-pandemic world, companies need to deliver exceptional customer experiences that reimagine human connection.
Indeed, more than half (55%) of UK marketers say the consumer shift to online exposed gaps in the customer journey. That means there’s an enormous opportunity for businesses to set themselves apart by creating more personal interactions in the buying experience.
The good news is that businesses have the tools they need to connect with customers through digital channels. Today’s communication technology is rising to the occasion, enabling personalization at scale. It’s now possible to infuse the consumer journey with more human and personalized interactions using communications tools such as interactive self-service, video, webchat and more.
Our human need for connection may be evolving into new channels, but it’s an age-old desire. Delivering a more tailored, immediate and satisfying omnichannel experience is the key to building brand loyalty now and well into the future.