Are unforeseen circumstances often a catalyst for innovation in the customer journey? Is a crisis needed to bring about rapid transformation?
History is full of examples where unforeseen events, often major in impact and scale, become agents for rapid and extensive change. Covid-19, and associated lockdowns, is a prime example of this, as people have been forced to change many fundamental aspects of their lives.
Not all change becomes permanent, and most people have a desire to return to many routines and habits that they are comfortable with, recently notable in the difference between how many have pushed to return to their pre-Covid social lives, but wish to keep working from home.
This can also be seen in how changes in customer expectations have accelerated. Coronavirus led to a huge increase in online commerce, with more people seeing benefit in such things as getting a whole host of products delivered the next day via Amazon Prime, or their weekly food shopping brought to their door.
This accelerated trends that were already taking place in terms of the push for more convenience. Many people want to spend less time on obtaining a product or service and want those products and services faster, which directly impacts how businesses need to gear their customer service offering.
This is something we have seen in our own business. As customers have experienced more convenience and less effort in other commercial transactions, they grow to expect the same in all of them, whether next day deliveries or having accident damaged cars repaired quickly with minimum impact on routine.
The pandemic certainly accelerated plans that we already had to digitalise our customer journey, which we had already started to implement.
With social distancing guidelines limiting our ability to interact with customers, we rapidly introduced solutions such as digital signatures, and saw a significant uptake of our digital solutions such as online repair tracking, online excess payment, and customer image capture.
During the pandemic, we have proven that we can operate certain roles customer-facing remotely, which has widened our talent pool, and meaning we can bring in expertise from anywhere. This brings its own challenges in ensuring that our remote workers deliver the right level of service to our customers, but also brings plenty of strengths and innovation too.
As 2021 progressed, we saw customer expectations and tolerances return to their pre-pandemic levels, with some customers preferring to have human dialogue, so we need to be prepared to offer an omnichannel customer journey and allow customers to choose their preferred route.
However, a crisis should not be needed to drive innovation. Truly innovative and market leading organisations should already have conscious plans and timescales to innovate and digitalise the customer journey and to drive change, rather than find themselves playing catch-up.
Marc Holding, Managing Director, The Vella Group