Focus on the Front Office to Get Customers Back... Again and Again

In some ways, modernizing customer experience processes is “the story of digital” so far. It has been a powerful catalyst for redesigning and re-imagining sales and the customer experience in general. And brand experience has been a huge motivator for customers – liking Netflix, crafting your own Starbucks signature drink, feeling the cool verve of Richard Branson’s Virgin empire of products and services. The more customers like the experience, the more they want to engage, give feedback and collaborate with it. For many products and services, co-creation with favorite brands is the name of the B2C or B2B game.

So, why are so many of us at our wit’s end when we experience bad customer care? Have we grown too blasé at the amazing potential of digital technologies? As customers, it’s frustrating when we see the obvious blind spots our favorite, trusted brands have failed to address when we interact with them – whether it’s the bad self-checkout robot at the grocery store, or the automated kiosk at the airline you’ve used for 20 years asking you to “Press 1 for English,” or robo-calls from your favorite charity asking for a donation, even though you made a PayPal contribution last week.

Our new research from the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work entitled “The Work Ahead: Soaring Out of the Process Silo” highlights data-based insights and tactical advice on applying new digital technologies to front-, middle- and back-office work processes to realize new levels of business performance.

We analyzed the responses from 136 senior sales and customer service executives in our dataset on how they think digital will transform work between now and 2020.

With killer apps, beautifully designed websites or even sensor-enabled soda bottles, many companies are already moving in this direction, Still, much more can be done to drive digital at the heart of the value chains surrounding customer-facing and front-office functions. Based on the responses from sales and customer service executives , it’s clear that many levers connected to data will be critical to improving processes over the next decade. Approximately 61% cited cybersecurity as pre-eminent by 2025, followed closely by big data (60%) and sensors/IoT (48%). However, for many, some basic foundational engagement technologies (such as telepresence, nanotechnologies and wearables) are perceived as being far from promising in the long term.

The more customers like the experience, the
more they want to engage, give feedback and
collaborate with it. For many products and
services, co-creation with favorite brands is
the name of the B2C or B2B game.

SaaS platforms like Salesforce have proved the concept for sales enablement software. Already, cloud-based platforms such as Cognizant’s Onvida are powering next-generation, omnichannel BPaaS solutions and digital customer experience processes. Case in point: Onvida is helping a leading global food and beverage company drive $37 million in cost savings and over $150 million in revenue uplift. Other companies, such as Zendesk, are turning reviews, comments and messages into two-way customer service conversations. Still others, such as Afiniti, are using AI to optimize interpersonal behavior with “super agents” when nothing less than a top-flight, human-to-human call is called for.

Keep Confronting the Front Office Digitally

Practice makes perfect. Even if your customer-facing functions have been on the vanguard of your organization’s digital process change efforts, your team needs to keep refining them. The days of forcing customers to align with your company’s (often bad) processes are numbered, so it’s high time to re-imagine all front-, middle and back-office processes to support your customers.

Here are some steps to anticipate and accelerate change:

TODAY: Get a mirror – see the ugliness (your customers already do).

If your company’s customer experience processes are ugly, there’s never been a better time (and better digital process tools) to fix them. Take a good, long look. Acceptance is half the battle. And even if your processes aren’t exactly ugly, but could stand to be even more beautiful, don’t stop! What’s “perfect” is always in a state of change, so keep looking, keep changing and keep perfecting. Your customers will reward you.

TOMORROW: Beauty is more than skin-deep – customer-facing process change needs to be outside and inside.

Digital allows opportunities to be unlocked in real time. By having meaningful data about how customers have interacted with customer support in the past, sales people can be made “smart,” and can proactively serve customers. Processes found in customer experience centers will need to re-calibrate around “handling sessions,” using the digital fingerprint (or “Code Halo” ) that is generated by every customer click, like, swipe, comment, call, inquiry and so on. Chat-bots especially are starting to emerge as a useful plumb-bob in the digital world to cohere these interactions. Patterns will emerge, such as the types of interventions and clarifications conducted, yielding a powerful lever for customer service, speed, efficiency and effectiveness. Gone is the need to complete the typical 15-step process to ascertain things like, “Why’d you call? What do you want? Where are you located?” Instead, a tangible sense of efficiency and experience is substituted – to get business moving faster and smarter.

ONE TO TWO YEARS: Turn the mirror on customers – watch them watching you.

Imagine the richness of process data – known and unknown – and how you could unlock it using digital technologies or new process platforms. Imagine crafting an algorithm for 10, 100 or 1,000 of the top 1% of your customers, all of whom share certain common characteristics. Like digital stalwarts Amazon, Apple and many others, you need to use new technologies such as sensors or big data analytics to gauge how customers may be interacting with your sales or customer service processes differently. Laser-focus on aspects of your best customers’ digital interactions and transpose them, either by demographic, region or sectors of your sales force, to drive outsized results for the business.