COVID-19 has been one of the biggest global challenges of our generation. Customer behavior is changing at a staggering pace, and digital adoption has become necessary for survival. When the pandemic eventually recedes, sales and service organizations will have to continue to accommodate new attitudes and behaviors. Leaders must take immediate action to meet customer expectations in the post-crisis era.

Managing customer engagement now

Here are three priorities for activating and supporting purposeful experiences:

  1. Embrace the unpredictable

    As the use of digital channels spikes throughout the pandemic, the "rules of engagement" have changed, and customer expectations for what constitutes “basic” digital capabilities have shifted. There will be no return to the old ways of operating. Organizations must now prepare for a future focused not just on digital transactions, but on digital engagement that accelerates the development of customer relationships.
  2. Flex your customer workforce

    Most organizations were forced to do the unthinkable during the COVID-19 crisis: Make an entire workforce operate from their homes. Meanwhile, the lines between different human customer engagement channels have blurred. Sales and service organizations threw out the rule book to create continuity for consumers. As a result, the foundation has been set for organizations to think more holistically about the flexibility and fluidity of their workforce across customer engagement touchpoints.

    Change in work-from-home frequency from pre- to post-outbreak1
CHART: Change in work-from-home frequency from pre-to-post-outbreak: 57% same, 13% less, 30% more.

In addition, 46 percent of people who never worked from home previously now plan to work from home more often in the future.

[1] Accenture COVID-19 Consumer Pulse, conducted April 2–6, 2020, N = 1,118 respondents working from home

  1. Empower resilient operations

    COVID-19 has exposed the insufficiency of traditional continuity plans. Still, enterprises that have made investments in agile human and digital workforce capabilities have been able to navigate the crisis better than their counterparts. In the face of sustained customer behavior changes, there will be higher demand for flexibility of physical spaces, platforms, and data. To succeed, companies should adopt elastic solutions and continuously recalibrate investments against outcomes.

Future of customer engagement

We anticipate that the crisis will fundamentally alter how companies engage with customers, setting the stage for unprecedented opportunities. To seize these, companies should:

Create forward-thinking engagement models

Companies should determine which customer touchpoints demand greater investment and where decreased investment makes sense. Building real-time channel dashboards to continuously reevaluate and recalibrate channel investments can help companies keep ahead of demand and drive profitable growth. This demand may include "phy-gital" (digital + physical) experiences, such as contactless delivery and telemedicine, as well as virtual engagement innovations such as virtual reality and augmented reality.

Cultivate the right workforce mix

The right workforce mix can provide a balance of consistency and flexibility necessary to meet evolving customer expectations. Portions of the workforce that moved to work from home during the crisis will continue that arrangement, so companies should establish new work-at-home (WAH) standards, including types of laptops and Internet speed. New standards should also be established for non-WAH positions, including skill requirements and flexibility across sales and service, front office and back office. Hiring for this new talent mix means that job profiles and recruiting will need to be adjusted. Performance management and measurement should also be redefined to ensure customers receive end-to-end service.

Be nimble with physical space and technology

Companies are increasingly reevaluating their physical spaces for value and viability. Shared space models can reduce companies' space requirements, while the spaces that remain—particularly in retail settings—must be evolved to include new hygiene standards and integrated technology. When it comes to determining what to offer customers, companies should invest in advanced, real-time analytics to inform decision-making. Companies should consider scrapping traditional software development norms to debut capabilities more rapidly. Plug-and-Play adaptability and pricing flexibility from platforms providers can also speed the implementation of new capabilities.

We’ve witnessed stunning shifts in customer interaction volume, types and transactions. As customers navigate these uncertain times, demonstrating empathy through digital channels has become the new standard of engagement.

— DAWN ANDERSON, Senior Managing Director, Global Lead – Customer, Sales & Service, Accenture

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