Challenging Times Lie Ahead; Bold Action Is Required
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, we’ve been hearing about how lockdowns, vaccine mandates, canceled in-person events, supply chain issues, product shortages, inflation, the war in Ukraine, and more have pushed companies to their limits, and that’s undeniable. We’ve also been told by all the experts that companies have handled the crises admirably and that customer service, marketing, and sales activities barely skipped a beat.
Here’s where my journalist’s skepticism kicks in. In my experience dealing with numerous financial services firms, insurance companies, government agencies, healthcare providers, utilities, service providers, and others over the past two years, I’ve often been told that my call is very important but my expected wait time to speak to the next available agent is 25, 30, even 40 minutes or more. The interactive voice response systems contain way more information than most people might need, offer dozens of button-press options that have nothing to do with my issues, and leave me generally frustrated and unsatisfied. I’ve left countless voicemail messages that never got returned. If and when I have gotten a live operator, the person on the other end of the phone is often less than helpful, asks me to repeat the same information I gave to the automated system before being placed on hold, and takes way too long to access my account information and find the answers to my problems.
Could it be that I am just calling the wrong organizations and that these are the outliers—that everyone else has gotten it right and I am just unfortunate enough to have reached the handful of companies that got it wrong? Possibly, but I doubt it.
The more likely scenario is that I, like so many others, have simply gotten far more demanding in the past two years. While I was patient with companies at the start of the pandemic, my patience has worn thin, and my expectations have intensified. I am no longer comfortable waiting for anything.
The problems I’ve highlighted above likely always existed, but I am more keenly aware of them today because my world outlook and my priorities have changed so dramatically.
The COVID-19 pandemic had far more impact than anyone could have foreseen, but now that it seems to be on the decline and companies are starting to come back to life, the opportunities for the CRM industry couldn’t be better. Nor could the outlook, as we uncovered in our fourth annual “CRM Top 100” issue, with hottest trends and technologies reports for customer service, marketing, and sales.
These three industry reports highlight the importance of digital transformation for helping companies cut costs, increase efficiency, and meet customers where they are. Other noteworthy trends are a greater reliance on remote workforces, artificial intelligence, and automation; new digital support and marketing channels like social media messaging apps and the metaverse; video and collaboration tools; and analytics. Companies are also placing a greater emphasis on training, and rightly so, to ensure that their customer service, marketing, and sales reps can meet more demanding customers like me with greater speed, agility, and precision.
There’s been a lot of investment in technologies during COVID’s time with us, and now with inflation dimming the economic outlook, it’s not hard to imagine that a good part of those investment dollars might dry up. That would be unfortunate, but understandable, of course.
Companies looking to not only weather this storm but also improve their entire outlook going forward will need to view this time as an opportunity to shift the way they do business. Every company will need to become even more nimble; agile; responsive; attuned to customer needs and preferences; ready to adapt to changing regulations, industry best practices, and customer demands around data privacy and protection; and ready to engage with every customer more quickly, more efficiently, and with greater impact and personalization. Are you up for the challenge?
Leonard Klie is the editor of CRM magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.