Building business resilience from the inside out

It has never been so critical to business resilience to understand and respond to the nuances of the human experience as it has in 2020.

Indeed, the universal economic challenges brought on by the pandemic is forcing businesses to look internally to their workforce, externally to customers, and more broadly to the community at large to chart a path through the disruption.

“COVID-19 is changing everything about life and work as we know it,” Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen told audiences at this year’s virtual Adobe Summit.

Customer experience used to be about “delivering delightful, personal, and relevant interactions in real time,” he added. “Now it’s about supporting critical needs in an exclusively digital world.”

To achieve this, organisations must take an inside-out approach and develop a 360-degree plan to protect and develop business resilience, according to Adobe chief technology advisor Scott Rigby.

Rigby cites six pillars through which APAC organisations are working to improve resilience:

“Businesses are not all in the same place through this period,” Rigby says. “We talk about six aspects to improving business resilience. It could be looking at customer insights to change the way you’re dealing with and handling customers to what you’re doing from a community experience, and then rethinking your approach to bricks and mortar.”

C-Level collaboration a must

At an enterprise level, having the data needed to understand, assess, and respond to challenges in all of those areas is a prerequisite, along with developing the technological and operational ability to execute on them and the ability to communicate those changes to the customer.

This means close collaboration among CIOs, CMOs, and also COOs to deliver against those plans.

According to supermarket chain Coles CMO Lisa Ronson, it’s critical enterprise data is not siloed in order to create the best possible customer experience.

“The use of data transcends all departments in any organisation because it informs so much of what we do,” Ronson says. “From a strategic level, it informs the overall business strategy, it informs the financial projections that go into that business strategy, and it informs our marketing and the experiences our customers want to have with us. If we silo the data in one department, it won’t be used to really put the customer experience at the very best level it can be.”

Coles is delivering a more personalised and data-driven customer experience, using data to help it improve forecasting and product availability (especially during times of panic buying). It is also using AI to help it make more relevant personalised recommendations to customers based on past purchases.

The data, Ronson says, is helping Coles “understand the sentiment of all Australians and, more importantly, how could we lean in and help.”

According to Glen Hartman, president of Accenture Interactive North America, COVID-19 has “underscored the importance of empathetic and proactive company communication, both internally to employees and externally to consumers.”

“Now more than ever, it is vital for [the CMO and CIO] to collaborate to ensure that consumers’ changing needs are addressed,” he says.

Industry initiatives

Many organisations have readjusted or completely retooled their marketing offerings to suit dramatically changed business and consumer circumstances.

Banks, for example, have allowed customers to suspend loan repayments while landlords have offered rent reductions. In the travel space, Australian airline Qantas proactively reached out to its Frequent Flyer loyalty program members to let them know it would extend members’ tiers and points for 12 months.And As a community support initiative, grocery chain Woolworths analysed sales data to ascertain the most common products customers were buying during the pandemic and created the Basics Box to be home-delivered to customers who needed to self-isolate.

Enterprise data strategy continues to be a top priority for CIOs, who see it as a necessary part of their firms’ transformation plans, according to Forrester Research’s CIO predictions report for 2020.

“Many IT leaders will augment their employee experience to improve the overall customer experience,” it notes.

However, most businesses are “encumbered by outdated workflows and internal barriers to communication and collaboration,” according to the 2020 Digital Trends Report, commissioned by Adobe.

“Leaders have overcome these challenges to focus on rapid learning and innovation of the customer experience,” the report notes. “While technology enables great experiences, they are designed by marketers, technologists and data scientists working together. Leaders are more likely to prioritise adding the right talent and ongoing training for their existing workforce.”

Under the guidance of CIO Sourav Sinha, air carrier IndiGo is working to improve the employee and customer experience by developing contactless customer journeys. For example, the number of passengers using its contactless, self-service Web check-ins has shot up from 40% to 94% since the advent of COVID-19.

As for employees, “We have taken the crew’s entire journey right from the time that person steps out of the hotel or home and till the time that person gets back there,” Sinha says. “This journey is mapped digitally to make sure that it is touchless and safe for our passengers. Many such processes are being taken care of with digital enabled solutions which are integrated in their personal mobiles. This is being followed by cabin crew, on-ground engineers, and other teams as well.

Businesses should not to leave their employees behind, noted Gary Wheelhouse, chief digital officer at international electronics and furniture retailer Harvey Norman. The company reported record sales in the 12 months to June as customers decked out their homes and bought chest freezers. The retailer adapted its bricks-and-mortar strategy to support contactless click and collect and online sales, not only to help customers, but employees, too.

“As customers become busier, we build ecosystems to support and engage those customers,” Wheelhouse says. “If you are helping your customers be more mobile, it’s essential to mobilise your people.”

In another example, Cathay Pacific loyalty program Asia Miles combines data and new technology to improve both the employee and the customer experience via a mobile app. The company uses blockchain marketing technology to help reduce the time between when rewards are incurred to when they appear on customer statements from weeks to just one day via the company’s mobile app.

While members say they have a much better – and more rewarding – customer experience, employees no longer need to spend time reconciling bonus miles at the end of a campaign.

Food for thought

But perhaps nowhere is business resilience more apparent than in the food industry, with restaurants that are no longer able to feed customers on-premise developing a range of COVID-19-safe alternatives that combine technology, e-commerce, and contactless delivery.

A case in point is Michelin-starred Singapore-based restaurant Saint Pierre, which developed a Virtual Saint Pierre experience that provides an eight-course meal delivered bento box-style by a black-tie-clad waiter. Customers can enter a virtual dining room as they eat, complete with an appearance by head chef and owner Emmanuel Stroobant.

The novel coronavirus has forced businesses to re-examine all facets of the way they operate, supported by the right data and technology, both internally and externally.

By operating with insight and compassion for the changing needs of customers, employees, and the broader community, the business resilience they build now will stand them in good stead for the months ahead.