• May 29, 2020
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The CARES Act Can Drive Customer Obsession

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With the U.S. federal government now sending out financial aid to businesses negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Forrester Research has suggested that companies invest in employee safety, prove that better customer experience saves money and drives growth, upgrade the employee experience to improve the customer experience, upskill idle workers, eliminate paper processes, and lobby for additional government assistance that incentivizes customer obsession.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March, awards government loans to small businesses that pledge to keep employees on the payroll and refrain from stock buybacks and executive compensation increases. The government will convert the loans into grants for companies that use the money to cover employee salaries or other worker protections.

Forrester notes that this can have an impact on customer service because employees can’t do their most customer—focused work unless they feel that their jobs are secure. What’s more, companies that resort to mass layoffs won’t be ready to provide the best customer experiences once business improves.

Forrester also suggests that some funding can be applied to projects that, whether directly or indirectly, improve experiences for employees and customers.

“Customer obsession requires leadership. It’s impossible to pull the levers of customer obsession—structure, culture, talent, metrics, processes, and technology—without bold decisions from customer-obsessed executives,” Forrester concludes in the report. “Making these decisions now will help keep the lights on in the short term and position your company for faster growth as the economy strengthens.”

Forrester suggests a six-step process for companies to use the government funding to improve their customer experience efforts:

  1. Invest in employee safety. While working from home has helped slow the spread of the coronavirus, 40 percent of employees can’t do their jobs remotely. These frontline workers need personal protective equipment. Using federal assistance to help develop and purchase employee safety solutions will assure continued operations, the health of employees, and the safety of customers.
  2. Prove that CX improvements save money and drive growth. When customers have poor experiences, they drive up costs by reaching out to contact centers, returning items, and seeking refunds. In contrast, customers who have good experiences stay with companies longer, buy more products and services from them, and willingly pay more for what they buy. Unfortunately, CX execs often fail to secure funding for their work because they forget to prove these economic benefits. Now is the time to ask contact center leaders for a list of problems about which customers call most often. Use some funding to conduct root-cause analysis on these problems and run projects to improve them. Look especially for problems that emerged since the coronavirus first surfaced.
  3. Upgrade the employee experience to improve the customer experience. Consumers don’t want to buy from companies that treat employees poorly. To create an employee experience that results in CX improvements, companies should focus on the moments that elicit strong or meaningful emotions from employees, are easy for them to remember, and cause them to behave more empathetically. Improvements like this will get employees talking about how well the company supports them, which will in turn evoke positive emotions in customers.
  4. Upskill idle workers. Employees who remain on the payroll thanks to the CARES Act might not have full work schedules. Now’s the time to train them on customer-focused techniques, like design thinking, customer research, and journey mapping, and on soft skills to improve how they interact with customers.
  5. Eliminate paper processes. Now that most employees are working remotely and unable to easily handle hard-copy documents, it’s time to digitize lingering paper-based processes. Work with process owners to identify where to automate. Next, build the transformation business case by demonstrating the financial benefit of digital transformation. Convince the legal department to embrace the new reality and be more flexible if it has been a hurdle in the past.
  6. Lobby for government assistance that supports customer obsession. The CARES Act isn’t the end of government help for businesses. In the coming months, trade groups will continue pressing the government for financial aid and regulatory changes. Customer-­obsessed business leaders should push for assistance that focuses on their agenda, too. To start, help government relations and compliance teams understand the importance of customer obsession. Next, work with these colleagues to draft rules changes and government funding proposals that support customer obsession.

“You could suggest greater direct financial support for individuals, since consumers reduce their spending when they worry about their income and feel a greater affinity for companies that they perceive are looking out for their interest,” Forrester concludes. 

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