Digitalisation without empathy hurts customers

Article, Lilia Guan, CIO Tech Asia

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Empathy must be considered when delivering new APAC enterprise technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations to accelerate the shift to digital-first in their customers-related initiatives – from customer engagement to transactions and experiences.

In fact, according to the IDC COVID-19 Impact Survey, 47 per cent of senior executives in the APAC region expect that their customer engagement model (including commerce, support) will need to be expanded online/digital or self-service because of the pandemic.

As organisations increase their efforts to stay relevant and connected with their customers, they must take a holistic approach that focuses on “empathy@scale” – delivering the experiences that customers and consumers expect.

In today’s technology-driven world, customers and consumers have made the experience they receive from a brand a crucial aspect of any engagement or customer journey. In the next normal, organizations will be competing for customers and loyalty will increasingly be based upon the experience that has been delivered, not just the product that has been purchased.

To guide organisations through this transition, IDC has published the Future of Customers and Consumers framework.

Technology plays a key role in the customer experience cycle – from understanding customer needs within context and keeping relevant conversations going, to the creation of effective journeys and the overall delivery of memorable experiences. Today, customers are more technologically connected than ever and their pervasive access to technologies is changing their relationship with brands.

Customers want to be understood throughout the buying journey, and it is that understanding that makes our interactions relevant and more relatable. To thrive, organisations should focus on employing contextual awareness, frictionless engagement, active learning, and sentiment measurement to provide what customers desire – a more human experience in a world eclipsed by technology.

Care about the customer

That is empathy at scale, said Daniel – Zoe Jimenez, associate VP for Digital Transformation, Future Enterprise, and SMB at IDC Asia/Pacific.

“Customers are the reason why we are in business, and this crisis should not divert our focus from driving customer excellence. COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to digital-first requiring organizations to rethink processes, operations and customer engagement initiatives,” he said. “By leveraging digital technologies, organizations will be able to deliver empathy@scale.

In fact, 69 per cent of C-level executives in Asia/Pacific see technology as vital in achieving this goal. To compete effectively in the next normal, organizations must harness technology to stay connected, deliver empathy, and build trust with their customers and their ecosystem.”

Leading APAC organisations are prioritising digital-first engagements and leveraging digital technologies to better understand and respond to their evolving customers’ wants and needs:

Contextualised conversations – telecom service provides such as Maxis (Malaysia) and Singtel (Singapore) are leveraging in-store digital assistants to enable customer self-service, while ensuring prompt and consistent customer interactions in helping customers to manage their phone plans, select new devices, and assign queue numbers.

Frictionless journeys – UnionBank (Philippines) and Nissan (Thailand) brought their services straight to homes and communities using mobile banking vans and home-based vehicle test drives, respectively.

Pre-emptive experiences – Domino’s delivers pizzas in only five minutes from point of order to delivery using predictive machine learning. By pre-empting the popular pizzas based on store location and historical order trends, Domino’s can initiate pizza preparation before the customer orders it and thereby improving the overall experience.

Sentiment-based optimisations – Airbnb optimises two-way matches between guests and hosts based on what drives satisfaction for them as individuals. Using dozens of feedback points and satisfaction parameters such as star ratings, reviews, response rates and times, and previous booking decisions, Airbnb leverages intelligent matching capabilities to ensure that both parties are pleased with the outcome of the transaction.

The Future of Customers and Consumers (FoCC) is characterised by the changing and shifting nature of the relationship between customers and brands through the lens or prism of technology. IDC defines the FoCC as an empathetic relationship between customers and brands built on what the customer wants and how they want to be treated through the technology lens of awareness, engaging, learning, and measuring.

Zero in on the customer

According to Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) digital must become part of the DNA of the entire organisation, rather than being the remit of a separate team.

PwC Australian recommends  on zeroing in on what a customer or citizen wants – on those things that truly add value for the customer – organisations need to adopt a digital mindset.

A digital mindset involves:
Focusing on customer value and delivering it

  • with innovative methods in a rapid way.
  • Fostering a “test and learn” culture, where innovation is encouraged, and perfection doesn’t
  • get in the way of progress.
  • Actively seeking inclusivity and diversity in the organisation, especially among leadership and
  • the board.
  • Developing a leadership style based on employee empowerment.
  • Ensuring that cybersecurity vigilance pervades every part of the organisation.
  • Using the absolute best digital and tech platforms, tools, and practices

Embed digital at every level, and in every part of the business so your organisation can apply multiple lenses and solve problems with agility. To truly create a digital culture, organisations should entrench tech from the top. COVID-19 has forced Australia to adopt new ways of working, such as complex strategy meetings via video chat, virtual conferences, and online team meetings. Business needs to capitalise on this momentum and cement the productivity gains made during the pandemic period, to create flexible and distributed working solutions that are sustainable.

Underpinning tech

Any digital transformation requires technology to embed new solutions and that underlying technology must work. By “work”, PwC means the tech must be seamless in its application, as well as flexible and scalable. It must underpin the customer and employee experience.

Digital is no longer just about tech; it’s about what that technology can enable. It involves new ways of solving problems, as well as creating new experiences and accelerating business performance.

Importantly, the tech does not necessarily come first. All solutions should be digital-first, driven by customer experience. This means shifting the focus from tech-led to top-down solutions that are defined by the customer experience, and then delivered using scalable, flexible technology. This is how to achieve uplift.

For instance, appropriately architected cloudbased solutions will give organisations the ability to hyperscale rapidly, allowing them to maximise capabilities. Cloud computing also comes with benefits like faster processing speeds, better network connections, elastic data capacity, and out-of-the-box functionality. Not to mention the fact it’s robust, resilient, and repeatable. At the same time, 5G mobile network technology is taking off.

However, If digital-first solutions should be there from the outset, so too should cybersecurity. All digital solutions should be “secure and compliant by design” and this security and regulatory compliance should be part of the design architecture.

It should be built in from the very beginning and, where digital transformation is already in progress, it should be carefully revisited. Crucially, this requires infrastructure owners and senior leaders to accept material responsibility and to be accountable for the execution.