Photo by Fabio Bracht on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenge after challenge at businesses. Yet at the same time, it has created new opportunities for companies to innovate and better engage with their customers. One of the key enablers of this shift has been digital transformation. In fact, an IDG Research business impact survey conducted in July found that 59% of IT decision makers point to the pandemic as the cause for accelerated digital transformation efforts. And the two most desired outcomes they’re looking for? Increased operational efficiency (indicated by 64% of respondents) and improved customer experience (58%).

Why such a high rating for customer experience? For one thing, the pandemic exposed how customer service at many companies often works in isolation. Companies have failed to act quickly and decisively on customer feedback coming in via the contact center that impact customer experience. For companies lacking good processes, customer service teams working from home only compounded this problem.

The good news is that improving customer experience goes hand-in-hand with increasing operational efficiencies. In fact, digital transformation in customer service and across the company would have a game-changing impact.

A different spin on customer service

Consider a scenario where a new product is arriving in customers’ hands broken. Store-bought products are fine, only those shipped directly to customers are affected. The cause turns out to be faulty packaging.

This could have a devastating impact on customer service. The telephone call, chat, and email volume would rise related to this issue. Wait times would spike as agents processed returns or exchanges. Customers not affected by this issue would also face increased wait times. Customer satisfaction would drop across the board.

This could be a grim situation. But a digitally transformed customer service could act quickly to weather the storm.

For starters, affected customers–those that ordered the new product directly–could be quickly identified. A proactive email could be sent, warning customers of the likelihood of a broken product arriving. It would include instructions for how to request a replacement or return the product. This action saves customer service from having to repeatedly respond to this particular issue and negate the impact it could have on service levels.

Digital transformation also offers new means of engagement and resolution. Rather than directing customers to call customer service for assistance, those instructions might direct them to an online form that collects any needed information and triggers a workflow to process a replacement or return.

But those orders can’t be fulfilled until the underlying problem is addressed. And what about pending orders getting ready for shipment?

Workflow-driven customer problem solving

Digital transformation again offers the solution. As customer service identifies a large number of broken product calls, the common thread–shipped directly to customers from the company’s warehouse–is identified.

The first action would be to place all pending customer shipments on hold. While customer service might place those orders on hold directly from the order management system, workflow can also be used to ensure the shipping department is not only aware of the situation but also kept in the loop as the problem is addressed and when fulfilling orders can resume. Customers awaiting orders should be notified this action is being taken, the reason behind it (providing full transparency), and told when to expect additional updates. Additional customer contact volume is avoided.

Now, customer service can work with the manufacturing department to identify and address the root cause. By sharing the case details of affected customers (thanks again to workflow), the packaging issue is identified and resolved. Pending shipments can be repacked and future shipments will use the revised format. Once everything has been resolved, workflow notifies all teams to resume regular operations. Customers would then be notified their order will now ship.

By acting quickly, the company has minimized and contained its exposure. Not only has customer service dodged the costs of responding to customers on this issue, the company did not incur additional costs by sending out replacement product destined to break.

Up-leveled customer experience

This example used problem resolution methods that would be challenging without a digital transformation agenda:

  • Customers affected by the problem were notified proactively
  • Order shipments were halted to investigate
  • Collaboration, root cause analysis, and resumption of operations took place over workflow
  • Customers were kept informed throughout

But this level of customer service that helps drive customer experience doesn’t just happen as a result of digital transformation. It begins with an agreement to work together. This might be a mandate from the executive team or departments consenting to improve communications and to operate more collaboratively.

Then, the optimal processes must be defined. The old ways–emails, spreadsheets, and other hard-to-track manual practices must be kicked to the curb. A company-wide digital transformation platform to deliver on and automate processes is needed. Only then is it possible for customer service to identify issues; assign them to the teams responsible for investigation; collaborate on the problems; and track them to resolution.

The pandemic has led to rethinking the way work gets done. Using the techniques described here, it’s possible to not only reduce issues coming in to customer service and save costs (increasing operational efficiency), but also to drive real improvements to the customer experience and satisfy those top two objectives.