How can businesses maintain and build relationships with their colleagues and customers when everyone’s world has been upended?
This is a question that many organizations have had to grapple with over the past 18 months and counting. Indeed, the changing face of business throughout the pandemic has caused many firms to double down on their efforts to keep colleagues and customers close, as face-to face meetings came to a halt entirely.
Naturally, this has caused a number of difficulties for firms. Perhaps most significantly, businesses have experienced communication breakdowns and the fraying of all-important workplace connections. As employees were sent home to work remotely, normal routines were disrupted and anxiety levels soared, even as organizations integrated a whole host of new products and processes to ensure business continuity.
But even with these tools in place, almost two in five (39%) of UK business leaders say that the quality of their customer service declined throughout the pandemic due to relying more heavily on digital communication, according to recent research from Soffos. While organizations have struggled to replicate interpersonal relationships with new platforms and technologies, employee relations have also suffered at the hands of poorly adopted tech. A further 38% of those surveyed indicate that their organization has taken on too many communication channels for internal conversations – the result of this being interruptions, confusion and reduced productivity.
At least before Covid-19 struck, when in-person meetings and walk-in customer experience plans were the norm, organizations didn’t have to think too hard about adding a personal touch to their engagement and service. That said, given that many businesses are now offering their employees the opportunity to take on a hybrid approach to work, effective communication and tech implementation should be a priority.
With this in mind, how can organizations ensure that their communication is more intentional and innovative going forward?
Lessons from the pandemic
First, businesses must be honest with themselves about where they currently stand, when it comes to the relationship with their employees and customers.
Beyond just causing inefficiencies, according to the research cited earlier, 38% of business leaders also said that excessive digital tools have had a negative impact on their ability to deliver successful learning and development (L&D) to employees. As a result, just shy of half (48%) of the respondents in the sample stated that employees expressed a desire to return to in-person meetings or days in the office.
Owing to this, businesses would do well to reassess how well their employees are communicating and collaborating in remote settings; for some, it might be necessary to do this on a team-by-team basis.
A good starting point here would be to re-evaluate the specific technologies and platforms used: do these solutions still fit the needs of your organization and employees? If the answer is no, then business leaders should look to streamline their digital channels. Given that some 43% of business leaders believe that COVID-19 has permanently killed-off traditional communication like face-to-face meetings and water-cooler conversations, investing in newer and more economical solutions would be money well-spent.
Likewise, organizations would benefit from reassessing their customer service initiatives. Worryingly, more than a third (36%) of the organizations surveyed looked to ChatBots to help field their customer queries throughout the pandemic, with customers having generally been left feeling underwhelmed. A further two in five (39%) organizations said that the quality of their customer service declined, despite the adoption of new technology products.
Upgrading pandemic-driven solutions
So, where do businesses go from here?
Rather than relying on an excess of communication platforms and productivity tools, businesses should cut out unnecessary platforms which complicate important conversations, leading to frustration and crossed wires. For the companies using a whole host of different mediums – such as Slack, Zoom, and Teams, to name but a few – taking on the mantra ‘less is more’ would be sound advice. Right now, many solutions have multiple functionalities, allowing users to manage their diaries, converse via videoconferencing, and assess their productivity from one platform. Simplicity is key, and sometimes just one tool will suffice.
Turning our attention to L&D, businesses should look to co-opt genuinely useful online platforms, which can personalize their content to individual employees, alongside targeted in-person methods. Training platforms that put artificial intelligence (AI) to good use, for example, have the capacity to learn about each individual employee. The unique data analytics obtained can provide real value and insight to businesses, allowing training leaders to identify areas of strength and weakness, as well considering when and how individuals learn best. The result of this is that organizations can curate truly made-to-measure approach to staff development, which will be very welcome news after a number of unsatisfactory pandemic training schemes.
Rebuilding customer relationships
When it comes to customer relations, one development warranting some serious consideration is the humble ChatBot. Over the years, ChatBots have gained quite a negative reputation for themselves, given that many have failed to adequately respond to complex customer queries, with people generally preferring a human opinion for important requests. As ChatBots generally work within a set of very limited binary ‘decision tree’ parameters and require a high degree of manual human input to work, this is quite hard to get around with run-of-the-mill solutions.
That said, recent advances in Conversational AI (CAI) mean that newer solutions have more to offer. Unlike the ChatBot solutions of the past, they require less manual curation to respond to queries. Quite the contrary, these platforms have a much better grasp of language and semantics, and can learn from previous interactions, thanks to neural network technologies, making them poised for investment.
While businesses should be immensely proud of what they have achieved throughout the pandemic, 18 months on, now is the perfect time to be re-considering old ways of working that no longer fit the bill. In the weeks and months to come, as organizations settle into new hybrid working arrangements, firms should seize the opportunity to re-connect with customers and colleagues alike.