New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shared with reporters that she “did a little dance” when she was told the wonderful news that her island nation was “COVID-19 free” at the start of June, enabling her to lift restrictions. Sadly, most of the rest of the world is a ways off from reaching this point.
Like different countries, our experiences as individuals and organizations vary. Personally, waiting nearly a month for my brother to come off a ventilator after contracting COVID-19 certainly made me rethink my own routines. Businesses, too, are rethinking how work gets done as they move from lockdown to reopening. That means leaders must think ahead. They must quickly share their latest thinking in areas like business models, and employee and customer engagement.
Don’t make static plans — be prepared to adjust further as things change. We don’t yet know which trends will persist, but there are several areas where you can focus that should be “no regret” because they will serve you well in many scenarios.
Look at your processes and practices, considering which areas were always weak, where weaknesses have been exposed and which opportunities could add value regardless of the stage of the pandemic. One key process to reconsider is the end-to-end business-to-business quote-to-cash process seen here.
Let’s focus on the orange “Capabilities” area that many supply chain leaders will lead, considering remote working and digitalizing processes related to order-to-cash and customer fulfillment.
Enabling remote work as offices closed was obviously the short-term priority for many. However, many have failed to take the holistic approach needed for the long term.
Enable Work from Home: Few companies will be able to immediately accommodate all employees back in the office at once. They must make hastily updated lockdown work-from-home policies fit for the long term. Look beyond the essential laptop, monitor and communication devices by considering the needs of individuals and roles. Not every individual has a safe, work-appropriate space at home fit for voice-based customer contact. Don’t simply assume certain roles must return to the office. Consider revising the nature of work such as enabling email, chat and asynchronized messaging, which are less demanding than voice on home technology and the physical environment.
Motivate Teams: Consider the support and trust your teams need to remain motivated. Organizations with high levels of trust increase their average employee engagement by 76% over organizations with low levels of trust. This includes treating remote and office workers equitably. Don’t confuse presenteeism with productive outcomes. Ensure remote workers feel a valued part of the “team” and understand the positive impact of their work. Adopting a “work from anywhere” motto encourages a blended approach. It can offer reduced travel and exposure for those who want it and a safe office space for those looking for connection. Invest in collaborative communications tools and training for employees to work together in a virtual environment. Employees may face as much stress and anxiety as your customers so coach, communicate and counsel to support psychological safety.
Proactive Information: Back up all employees with data, regardless of where they are working. Develop strategies to proactively deliver information and updates to your customers, employees and partners such as using your customer service knowledge management system to create a COVID-19 information resource center to share answers to anticipated customer questions.
Customer fulfillment organizations are rapidly developing their strategies to deliver information and updates to your customers, partners and employees using digital channels.
Self-Service: Enable your customers to do more for themselves with multi-enterprise visibility platforms, ordering portals, or with application programming interfaces that, for example, allow drop-ship vendors to quote automatically.
Robotic Process Automation: RPA uses scripts to guide automation to replicate the user interface path that a human would use to conduct tasks that involve only structured digital data. RPA can execute tasks around the clock, faster, with fewer errors and at less cost than manually executing the same process for tasks. Besides the potential cost savings, the other key benefit is the removal of a swath of mundane, repetitive tasks from your stressed workforce, leaving people to focus on adding value to the customer.
Introduce Virtual Customer Assistants: Many AI techniques help leading companies improve customer experience, reduce costs and speed up the order-to-cash cycle. In particular, conversational AI platforms such as chatbots and virtual customer assistants (VCAs) are accelerating in adoption. Before COVID, customer acceptance of the technology was being driven by huge improvements in natural language processing (NLP) and the convenience it offered with 24/7 access. The crisis has ramped interest in it even further.
See remote working and automation not as short-term COVID imperatives but more as “no-regret” investments that can benefit both your employees and customers if done well. A combination of “work from anywhere” capabilities and increased automation has long-term benefits. Free up employees from mundane tasks and unnecessary travel time, enabling 24/7 customer response and higher productivity. These can bolster your organization’s resilience and business continuity, improve costs and enable new customer experiences.
Senior Director, Analyst,
Gartner Supply Chain