Accidental acceleration: where to next for the digital safety nets?

Remember life before COVID-19? When we were all busily getting our 2020 plans under way, bright eyed and optimistic about all that we could achieve this year. When we had both urgency and some luxury of time to plan, consider, make careful choices to lay the right foundation.

It’s a relief to be talking about getting back on track, pick up momentum again, and adapting to the new normal – even if it feels like we’re starting the year all over, just with fewer months to get it all done.

My network has been abuzz with conversations about how we build on the digital safety nets that we flung up to help cushion the loss of human capacity.  Lots of businesses needed to rapidly activate digital as their support channel – from FAQs to bots – when their people couldn’t get to work. Now people are back online, why reinstate the old service model, when you can instead task those people with enhancing the capability of the bots? If your CX declined due to the change in channels, can you work to improve it, rather than reverting to what you had before?

Digital transformation was on the plan at the start of the year for so many businesses, and this crisis has catalysed changes in business and customer behaviour. At a broad level, now there seem to be two divergent paths:

  • Roll back to what you know – CX as your customers knew it before the crisis.
  • Back what you’ve begun – trust that we’ve all changed, and if you’re focussing on building the right CX, your customers will adapt with you.

If you choose the roll back path, don’t lose what you learnt.  Knowing what your customers were and weren’t comfortable with will help you to plan how you recommence your transformation journey.

If you choose to stay the course, let your human employees be your bots’ most powerful allies. Speed to learn and evolve is key, and some of the costs you’ve saved in digitising enquiries should be invested in a rolling transformation plan. You’re going to be learning with your customers, and they won’t expect perfection – they will expect you to listen and adapt and improve.

During the crisis, a customer asked us to build a call centre team in three days, with no processes or scripts, no knowledge base, and access to only one person who could impart their tacit knowledge. The nature of the service was going to mean changing information every day, and a steady increase in volume week to week. We wanted to balance our steadily ramping human resources with some smart tech that would support those people and allow us to manage surges of volume in a cost-effective way. 

We built a virtual agent to act as the subject matter expert for the contact centre, curated daily to capture newly minted information from the client. While our call centre agents used this to get current responses for their callers, each question asked that couldn’t yet be answered was training the Virtual Agent – hitting our safety net so we knew what people needed and what they weren’t getting.

Training the VA always had two goals: make sure the call centre was up to date, and to be released onto the website ready to support callers any time of day or night with ready-to-roll information. 

This client wasn’t looking for digital transformation – they needed to focus on getting information to customers, so speed was more important than sustainability. When they asked us to look at providing overnight support, rather than stretching our people’s shifts or increasing headcount, we just turned the VA on for customers. It allowed us to scale the service accessibility immediately, and has created a symbiotic human and digital agent relationship: our people continue to get questions they can’t answer, and now the VA does too – so both digital and human employees are getting better information every day.

Digital transformation is something we always want to do by design, with a plan – but if you’ve been given an unplanned kick-start, it’s up to you which path we take from here.