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How to build business momentum during challenging times

By focusing on people, processes, and technology, companies can streamline operations while improving customer service and the employee experience

How to build business momentum during challenging times

Today’s tight labor market, economic challenges, and customers’ ever-increasing expectations have changed the business landscape. To adapt, survive and have a chance to thrive, businesses must be increasingly agile.

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Companies need the people, processes and technology to support fast decision making, continued innovation and inevitable pivots. Let’s consider how your business can use process redesign, automation and people-first strategies to speed up workflows while delivering exceptional experiences for customers and employees alike.

Customer service and personalization

Customer service has become a business differentiator: a tool for building connections and reinforcing brand values. While this is more important than ever, it is also more complicated.

Jeff Weiner, vice president, general manager at Conduent, a provider of business process outsourcing (BPO) solutions that ignite efficiency, savings and revenue growth, explains that the “magnificent shift to virtual and digital” that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed customer experiences — and many companies are struggling to keep up.

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“As people of all ages embrace digital communication, including social media and chat, companies must move beyond voice and modernize their call centers. Instead, they are engagement centers,” Weiner explains.

“My mother is 83 years old, and she’s now doing SMS chat for groceries,” he says.

Companies must also understand consumers’ expectations for personalization.

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Sixty-six percent of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations, yet that same percentage feels like companies treat them like a number, according to Salesforce research.

To deliver personalized experiences at scale, businesses are adopting Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS). CCaaS is a cloud-based, integrated ecosystem that includes such capabilities as omnichannel, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Cloud-based platforms and processes also enable customer journey mapping so you can understand every interaction, identify friction points and design the optimal flow to achieve your goals.

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But technology alone won’t get the job done. Weiner suggests emphasizing empathy and engagement to drive authentic human connection.

“There’s a person on the other end of the line who is calling [or messaging!] for a reason. We need to have that connection,” he says.

HR and people management

Smart HR processes ensure people can focus on their work and drive the business forward. Michelle Hernandez, vice president, general manager at Conduent explains that when done right, the administrative components of HR are basically “invisible.” Employees don’t have to think about their paycheck — it just shows up. In this way, HR is a “force multiplier,” she explains.

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Technology helps speed up people management processes. But rather than adopting the next “shiny new thing” without a solid rationale, business leaders should focus on end users’ needs. Take a user-centric approach and “you really can’t go wrong, because the technology you pick is going to be a natural fit for what you’re trying to accomplish,” Hernandez says.

Companies should also consider the unique needs of employees when designing a benefits program. Since the pandemic, many companies are now offering mental health support, financial wellness and voluntary benefits programs in addition to traditional health and retirement plans.

Given the competitive labor market, delivering exceptional employee experiences is more important than ever to attract and retain talent. Many companies are moving away from a single platform approach. Rather, they are picking and choosing best-in-class solutions and knitting them together to create customized, seamless and dynamic employee experiences, Hernandez explains.

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Additionally, businesses must understand the increased demand for flexible work. According to recent research from Slack, 78 percent of knowledge workers want location flexibility, while 95 percent want schedule flexibility. Hybrid and remote work options are key to meeting employee expectations. Remote work can also increase productivity and speed up recruitment by allowing you to hire for ability, not geography.

Embracing intelligent process automation

One of the most exciting ways to increase business momentum is with automation. By leveraging AI, machine learning (ML), and other data gathering and interpreting technologies, companies can improve process quality, speed and accuracy. For example, a leading healthcare company reduced agent call time by 25 percent, reduced training time by 80 percent and increased the number of daily calls per agent by 27 percent using Conduent’s Intelligent Process Automation and Customer Experience Management solutions.

Companies are using automation to improve HR, customer experience management, operations and more. But understanding where to start can be challenging. Anthony DiRado, senior director at Conduent, says “businesses sometimes try to implement a technology looking at a single pain point without really doing a deep dive and looking into the actual business processes that they are trying to solve for.” He suggests working with an external expert to provide an “outside-in view” and help to transform the process rather than putting a band-aid on it.

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DiRado explains that we have moved beyond robotic process automation (RPA), in which a software program performs a single process repeatedly, to intelligent process automation (IPA), which combines RPA with intelligence such as ML, AI, and cognitive tools like natural language processing (NLP).

“Robots or ‘bots’ can actually have intelligence and make decisions where only humans once could,” he explains.

Automation’s evolution has led to increased advantages for business adopters. According to McKinsey, most companies that invest in IPA automate 50 to 70 percent of tasks, reduce process times by 50 to 60 percent and generate triple-digit return on investments.

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The companies that reap the biggest gains from automation focus on the entire business process including the people, says DiRado, investing in training and approaching AI and ML as enablers, not replacements for knowledge workers. IPA speeds up processes and eliminates mundane tasks, thereby freeing up these highly skilled resources to focus on more critical business needs.

Another way to maximize the value of automation is to find ways to connect disparate systems that do not typically “talk to each other,” DiRado says. For example, organizations over time have built and deployed multiple systems, and while open operating systems and data connectivity solutions have moved forward allowing for data to be easily shared between these systems, we still find workers having to manually log in and verify or execute transactions. Applying intelligent automation to the data as it moves between systems can eliminate these challenges and create better efficiencies.

With processes, technology and a people-first mindset, your business can drive momentum in both the short- and long-term. Conduent helps businesses and governments increase momentum through industry-leading business process outsourcing solutions that drive scale, enhance agility and elevate digital experiences.

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For more information, visit https://www.conduent.com/.

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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