Collaboration and the customer experience

Technology is empowering businesses of all sizes to improve their relationship with customers and employees. Hema Marshall, head of small business at Cisco UK, explains

The long-held business mantra that “the customer is king” has never resonated more than it does today. As consumers we are inundated with choice. We expect exceptional customer experiences (CX) tailored to our specific needs and preferences, whether the company involved is a multinational corporation or a small business.

If a company fails to impress, we often show no hesitation in taking our business elsewhere. Almost a third of us will stop interacting with a brand we love after just one bad experience, according to a report by global consultancy PwC. This could stem from something as basic as the speed of the company’s website, with 74 per cent of ecommerce leaders saying shoppers are only willing to wait two to three seconds for a page load before leaving to shop on another site, according to a recent industry survey.

We are increasingly loyal to businesses and brands that consistently provide exceptional value with minimal friction or stress, the PwC report states. In fact, CX is now so important to businesses that Gartner refers to it as “the new marketing battlefront”, with 81 per cent of marketers expecting to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of this metric in 2019.

Making it personal

Companies that tailor their goods or services to provide an experience that caters to the customer’s interests or preferences will see increased trust, loyalty and market share, with customers more likely to try additional services or products from brands that provide a superior CX. It’s difficult to walk away from a brand that understands you: certain traditional customer-facing professions like hairdressing or bartending have always had a reputation for gaining customer trust, engendering loyalty and establishing repeat business.

Technology must now empower any small business to do the same. This includes being able to communicate seamlessly with the customer via whichever method they prefer – phone, email, social media platform, chatbot, WebEx or messaging app – and showing them that the experience is just as good – if not better – than a face-to-face experience.

Great experiences start in the workplace

The same approach applies within the workplace. With a progressively mobile workforce, employees expect to be able to do their job from anywhere. They want to participate in meetings and collaborate on ideas and projects with customers as easily as if they were in the office.

It used to be that when disruption occurred – such as bad weather or late-running trains – a meeting would be postponed and business would suffer. Today there are online video and collaboration solutions available that enable you to connect with customers from anywhere with a Wi-Fi signal.

Indeed, Cisco’s Future of Work report indicates that employees who can work remotely are among the most satisfied, creative and productive, whether because work freedom enables them to perform better or the opportunity to work remotely pulls in the top talent. This will become more of a factor with the imminent arrival of Generation Z employees in the workplace, who expect to be able to work from any location, Gartner notes.

Amid the continued rise of the “gig economy”, it has been suggested that in future the only full-time employees will be business owners or leaders, with workforces characterised by freelancers or contractors, working either remotely or from home. Against such a backdrop, it is important to use technologies like video, collaboration and messaging to ensure consistent customer experiences as the workforce transitions to new ways of working.

The challenge

We know technology is the cornerstone of providing a great CX. However, many businesses may feel overwhelmed by the pace of digital change and its impact on the workforce. So how can small businesses – which are often strapped for both time and resources – provide the best possible experience for their customers?

Figures from Cisco and FSB First Voice’s Small Business IT Survey 2018, as documented in the whitepaper Under Used, Under Threat, show that while more than three quarters of decision-makers understand that technology can empower agile working and increase productivity, more than nine out of 10 spend less than a quarter of their budget on IT. In addition, while nearly three quarters of small businesses recognise IT as a crucial part of day-to-day practice, fewer than one in five have a dedicated in-house IT manager.

The process of engaging with customers must therefore be seamless and simple. For example, with WebEx Teams you can connect with customers via a chatbot, meaning they get an instant response to their questions from another human being. If you’re unable to solve their problem in the first instance, you can easily switch to a call or even video to ensure the customer is satisfied. As humans, we want someone else to think that our problem is as important as we do.

It’s also important to note that small businesses don’t want a collaboration system that takes 18 months to implement and requires thousands of lines of code. They want something that’s easy to install and operate, software-based and – as with most services we consume today – accessed via the cloud, so they pay only for what they consume, with no wasted resources.

Security is also an issue today for any size of company. Cyberattacks are on the increase, with 53 per cent of midmarket companies having already experienced a breach. You might have an amazing website with an outstanding customer experience, but if that customer has their data compromised you could face irreparable reputational and financial damage thanks to lost revenue, opportunities, and out-of-pocket costs.

Summary

Even as a small business, your brand can be built or broken by the experience you provide to your customers. Yet it doesn’t have to be a choice between customers and employees. The workplace of the future will allow both to thrive with new communication and collaboration solutions.

From browsing your website to consultation, transaction, delivery of goods and any follow-up services, the right collaboration platform can help build your reputation and boost loyalty, demonstrating that you are exclusively devoted to the needs of your customers.