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How to ensure a better 'new normal' for customer service after COVID-19


Never waste a good crisis. By laying the groundwork now, organisations can design a better 'new normal' before it occurs. 

9th Apr 2020

You were focused at work, your people are great, customers are happy, your company wanted to have greater purpose. Everything was ticking along, slowly improving.

Bang - COVID-19 crisis. Stuff you could never imagine. How little you're spending; unemployment spikes to the moon; stock markets collapse faster than the 1930s; conservative governments become socialist overnight, supporting people and jobs. All your sites globally go down at the same time.

Amazing things get done in no time, breakthroughs; people are learning and experiencing new (sometimes amazing) things. Mercedes F1 team with UCL & UCLH can redesign, prototype and get approval for a ventilator in two weeks. Website self-service functions you've been screaming for have magically jumped out of a 12 month queue in IT and been done in a week. The data protection policies required to allow working from home (WFH) got approved in an hour, despite years of discussion.

A chance to reset your business' new normal

We are all looking forward to, one day, getting back to normal. The "phew!" moment. The hugs. The laughs. The kiss on the cheek, the shake of the hand. The sociability we'd taken for granted.

But wait. Was normal at work that great? Remember that your people will be reviewing normal after the crisis with the hindsight of a changed society and time.

Normal wasn’t that good at work for all your people. Getting up an hour earlier to commute like a sardine, or in a traffic jam, is not much fun. Sitting in meetings wondering whether it's OK to check your email.

Endlessly checking what's next in the diary and if you've time to find that conference room. The next call after the next call after the next with frustrated customers. The bills that are always meaningless to the public. Normality.... Hmmmm. And that's if you've been very lucky. There’s no normal after bereavement. Compasses will have been reset for good.

So now is a big chance to not waste the new behaviours people are learning and experiencing to make a better normal - to reset your business’ normal. A "new normal".

It's a big chance to take note of what's good - really learn and take note and reuse, redesign and reinforce. People want to travel less. People want to have some connecting time when with people, to interact differently in meetings. To exercise more often in the day. To be with the kids at key times of the day. To flex their week to suit themselves. To WhatsApp video call instead of phone. To opt into video recordings and text transcriptions rather than sit for ever in real time. To intelligently search for key phrases and subjects or emotions in those recordings.

But above all? Above all, people want to keep slaying the dumb things. At speed. In the way they were allowed to when there was a crisis. To be treated and trusted as adults in their work. To be allowed to get on with stuff. To demand help when they need it. And don't you dare forget: who was important when the chips were down.

How to prevent a slip back into the old normal

So, how do you prevent an auto shift back into the old normal?

“The team that learns together sticks together” according to Peter Senge in his seminal book The Fifth Discipline.

So do three things:

  1. Your own daily reflection diaries. Capture what you're learning as you learn it. Reflection is the process which creates neural pathways and retains deeper understanding.
  2. Reflect together. Share in regular learning communities. Do it now, not after. Internal teams & communities of interest, external networks. Your peer group is the key one - can you get commitment to learn together from the crisis and put in place the 'Quarantinis' online to do so? Discuss and learn now, daily, weekly at most - a month is a long time in a crisis: what did you know of what this is on March 2? Nothing.
  3. Document the learnings and have a place to refer to them as you design and decide your new normal when the time is right. What is learned from the breakthroughs and the changes in decision making. What it feels like. Bed it into the peer team; perhaps gaming the future scenarios after C19, with the new normal at hand. Plant the new normal you want into new or existing governance and structures. Into the rhythm and rigour of the way the business ticks. If there’s no commitment to learning in its own right or to a post-COVID plan made now, then reflect on what lessons and data to capture and use later as justifications and business cases.

So what are you reflecting on? About what are you embedding learnings?

Think about what is working, what we are learning, what risk was taken and what happened, what wasn’t risked in advance and is killing you now, who changed and how, what boundaries were broken, what prior and at the time investments are paying off, what is in our metrics and feedback, what regrets from before it, what regrets in it, what regrets of ‘didn’t do’ vs did do, how is decision making different, what decisions are working and why, how are values being lived/broken .....

Woah! These questions are all good, but the list is endless. How can you focus your reflections so they are most useful to your collective resistance against the 'old normal' ?

The answer is simple. Start with a simple prioritisation question. Shared reflections on a simple question such as "What changed most in the past four weeks / last week?" and then qualify it "Which of these things will make the biggest difference to our new normal, if we keep them going?"

So you are reflecting and capturing in your daily diary. You have people committing to spending precious time sharing their learnings over a Quarantini or during team sessions.

But what do you actually do in those sessions ?

Here are two approaches:

  1. Unstructured. Just open conversations, building into what people see as most important. Particularly useful for operational teams and communities. You can really see what's working for them at the coal face. Capture it, socialise it, educate with it; add to it with what other companies are learning; fight for it. The topics will be wide, the insights deep.
  2. Structured. Questions and hypotheses. Start with open conversations around the prioritisation questions above. And then feed in the strategic questions for your business. Create some hypotheses of what you think should be different and then attach the learning to them. New operating models for example. The topics will be focused, the insights both deep and, as yet, shallow. Shallow could mean it's a good time to test stuff in adversity.

What might those topics for focus be? You need to create your own list from knowledge of your company & industry context.

I asked colleagues for some examples and Bill Price suggested these. They are from a US, cross industry, contact centre context:

  • Q: Does COVID-19 spell the end of the contact centre as we knew it, bricks & mortar, rows and rows of agents? H: Yes. More than 50% of the contact centres will not re-appear but be replaced by work from home and better digital self-service - see next bullets.
  • Q: Will working from home remain a much bigger part of the operating model in contact centres? H: Yes - in the US many are used to working on video conferences because of geography. Now many have realised it can work well for agents and customers, there is a real need to work out how best to maintain the upside.
  • Q: Did we improve digital & online solutions fast enough during the crisis, so their use will increase now? H: Yes and no. Winners knew it and threw even more resources at hourly and daily improvements. Need for crisis self service has snarled many companies but they now realise the essential importance of digital.
  • Q: Will we see a break free from work force management tools with standard time shifts? H: Yes. Agents have hated scheduling boxes and traditional shift bids, and the "new normal" will have far more options that suit agent needs.
  • Q: Will our customers expect the greater levels of effort and speed of innovation that we provided in COVID-19 crisis? H: Yes. Retailers and others who innovated during the crisis have been training your customers to expect much more proactive and faster support which anticipates their needs.
  • Q: Will 3rd-party outsourcing increase, decrease or stay the same? H: Decrease. It will decline quite a lot. Companies are finding that it’s far easier to control their own staff, despite an apparently higher cost basis, rather than try to get outsourcers who have many masters to move as fast as needed. I see a 30-50% decline in using bricks and mortar BPOs.
  • Q: Did our knowledge bases hold up as designed? H: No - Knowledge bases and communities failed in many cases or proved that they are not nimble enough. They need to be properly resourced in real time to provide up to date information. Or to be replaced by simple tools for “knowledge sharing” in which agents and customers both see and can update the information which feeds FAQ, agents and chat bots.
  • Q: Will data security and access change? H: Yes - Leaders will understand the risks better when considering what to maintain or stop doing after the crisis. Regulator less so. But use of mass consumer data and surveillance will have new positive stories to advocate weakening of [GDPR] and the like.
  • Q: Will technology infrastructure change? H: The shift to the cloud was well underway. It was given a big kick and will accelerate even more.....unless there's a major outage, or crumbling of home internet, yet to come.

Learn together

You can decide the right strategic questions for your industry. These are just generic hypotheses of things you need to learn about, in crisis, and design the new normal before it occurs. Whilst businesses are more malleable, in crisis.

Piss poor planning is a hurdle to any situation. Everyone will have good and bad examples to learn from.

Be the one leading the avoidance of piss poor planning for the 'new normal'! Do it relevantly by reflecting on the daily learnings, sharing those learnings collectively and documenting what's been learned. Then you are ready to plan your way to a 'new normal'. And not waste a crisis by sloping back into the 'old normal' surrounded by the corporate amoeba.

Start now. Learning together is a positive team activity to maintain stamina over the coming weeks.

This article adapted from an original piece posted by Peter on LinkedIn

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By LinkedIn Group Member
16th Apr 2020 11:11

This comment posted in the MyCustomer LinkedIn group by member Jeff Sheehan:

Well done Peter Massey. I would also add that managers may have learned that they don't need to see people to manage the work. A lot of resistance to working from home is fear-based and perhaps the Covid19 crisis/opportunity has opened up the minds of managers to trust that they can 'see' the work is being done by virtue of the results you so eloquently enumerated.

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