Customers are the lifeblood of any company. Customer experience has remained one of the most important determining factors of long-term customer loyalty, as well as a critical indicator of future success.
Throughout the pandemic, businesses around the world have experienced ongoing systemic disruption that has put a strain not only on internal processes, but ultimately on customer relationships as well. Under pressure to survive, adapt and grow amid challenging circumstances, many organisations have found it difficult to deliver on their brand promises to consumers.
Automated customer experience assurance platform provider Cyara’s CEO, Alok Kulkarni, recently met with Forrester Senior Analyst, Riccardo Pasto, to discuss the impact of the past year’s turbulent business climate on customer experiences, and to share what they have learned about building more resilient company frameworks that lead to greater customer confidence and trust in the face of uncertainty.
Resiliency as a fundamental tenet of CX
When disruption occurs, particularly on the global scale seen during the COVID-19, the tendency is to view it as an isolated, unanticipated event with its own catalysts and consequences.
However, by taking a broader historical view, it becomes clear that disruption itself is not unexpected. We live and navigate through experiences that cause business turbulence and chaos all the time. It is foolish to assume that disruption to economies will never occur and that business-as-usual is the only way to approach operations and customer interactions. Any long-term reliance on the idea of permanent systemic equilibrium sets an organisation up for disaster.
Nonetheless, in the early months of the pandemic, Forrester’s data reveals that 49 per cent of businesses experienced disruption in day-to-day operations, which impacted customer interactions and led to declines in revenue. This implies a widespread lack of disaster preparedness and recovery planning, which is concerning in terms of business vulnerability and how customers are affected.
A resilient business maintains the ability to put customers first. Disaster recovery plans focus on system and data recovery, and aim to quickly regain contact with customers after it is lost or interrupted. Customers who faced hours-long wait times and queues had their trust in those businesses damaged.
Businesses that fail the resiliency test with consumers during a crisis must begin the hard work of regaining that trust again.
Vulnerability vs opportunity
Another outcome of business disruption is changing consumer behavior. When the status quo is disrupted, customers’ needs, wants, expectations and interaction with businesses often change. This can lead to new business opportunities as new problems need to be solved in new and often unexpected ways.
While many businesses were negatively affected by the pandemic, others who were proactively poised to respond actually benefited from it.
Forrester’s data shows that 62 per cent of businesses are looking at ways to prepare for opportunities to take advantage of future disruptions. By understanding customers’ changing needs, businesses can anticipate and leverage disruption in a positive way, setting them apart from their less prepared competitors.
Organisations focused on customer experience innovation in response to turbulence tend to prioritise three initiatives:
- Understanding the needs of their customers
- Investing in technology that gives employees the right tools to do their jobs
- Improving collaboration with business partners
The pandemic has been a customer experience stress test, pitting companies’ ability to respond to huge spikes in demand. Forrester points to a framework, the Consumer Energy Index, for categorising and measuring how customers feel and how willing they are to reach out and engage with brands. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 resulted in a 10-point drop in metrics around consumer trust. Lower consumer trust reflects skepticism about brands’ ability to deliver value.
As difficult as it is to achieve and maintain trust, it is the number one metric for success in turbulent times. Building trust with consumers is a core component in building a resilient business. Trust starts with a true understanding of customers’ needs. Forrester reports that 35 per cent of organisations are seeking to improve their ability to innovate by deepening their understanding of their customers.
This requires a shift in focus from the bottom line to the best interests of the customer. In reality, these are the same objectives, but focusing on customer experience positions businesses to respond with genuine empathy that is fundamental to building or rebuilding trust.
A related factor in business resilience is enablement – empowering employees to deliver compassionate, customer-focused responses by equipping them with the right technology. There is a stark contrast in the experiences provided by customer service agents who feel confident and supported in their environment, and those struggling with outdated systems and sub-par working conditions. In the early months of the pandemic, when the majority of contact centres were forced to equip agents to work from home amid shutdowns and quarantines, businesses who had prepared for such an unforeseen complication experienced a much smoother large-scale transition than those who hadn’t.
Finally, resilient businesses appreciate the value of collaborative partnerships to fill gaps that they encounter across the business ecosystem. Trust is not only critical to the customer relationship, it forms the basis of all positive interactions that are necessary to get the job done in a timely, efficient, cost-effective manner.
Strong relationships with customers and business partners provide a buffer against disruption in all industries. Ultimately, those seeking to protect their revenue and their reputation when disaster strikes should work toward establishing a framework for resiliency. Those that do will be better placed to take advantage of new opportunities while reducing risk.