18th January, 2021

Imperatives for CMOs in the New Decade – Meet Customer Expectations with Agility & Empathy

Organizations have been through an intense period of adjusting and adapting to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis throughout almost all of 2020. Changing business dynamics have put the marketer’s role under a spotlight.

Rajesh Kumar

VP Marketing
UiPath India & South Asia

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As we move to a new year and start to see new shoots of hopes coming out of this crisis, it is time for businesses to introspect and rethink their business models, sales channels, and delivery operations – Agility is an imperative – with planning in sprints of shorter cycles with directional sense of the longer term, but not committing the resources and attention for anything that cannot be quickly recalled or changed.

What lies at the heart of everything is being able to deliver on customer expectations despite the challenges – COVID-19 pandemic, has forced upon us a rethink of customer experience journeys, satisfaction metrics and turnaround time. This has created an interesting opportunity for marketers to step up to take charge and re-formulate ways of delivering customer experience in the new context.

Trends Tipping the Point

Let us examine key imperatives in the environment today, some of which were already visible during pre-COVID-19 and have significantly accelerated now:

  • Subscription economy leaves little scope for hit and run behavior:
    Both in B2B and B2C segments today, every product has become a service with an ongoing sales or consumption opportunity. In other words, a continued subscription opportunity versus a one-time sale. It is the last mile delivery of the promise Vs the upfront sale realization now. Hence, we need to start thinking and measuring in terms of whether the customer is getting the benefit promised for continuity of revenue stream. The future sales pipeline opportunity is more likely to come from the service function that is managing the ongoing customer engagement rather than the marketing or sales streams.
  • Heightened regulatory compliance around security, privacy and data safety:
    The rising level of regulations and compliance is driven by factors such as growing privacy concerns, cyber threats, increasing online data breaches/frauds and geo-political sensitivity. While this may mean additional work for the companies, it has to be adhered to in order to operate in the environment today. Therefore, businesses will have to build it into their plans, taking into account many more layers of workflows and processes, which are for consumer’s benefit, but definitely likely to increase complexity and slow down response times.
  • De-risking delivery from dependence on manual hand-offs, but need for humanizing touch stays:
    The current scenario has exposed the risk inherent in a human interface. How to deliver on expectations when people are not available is the new true test for business resilience – that usually means digitization of end-to-end processes even in traditional industries, which did not consider it before.

The differentiation between brands based on their functional value promise is narrowing with the maturation of market and tapering of innovation curve. In many of these cases, the product differentiation will really mean differentiation of service and the last mile experience. So, the customer vote will eventually go in favor of the brands that provide a better experience consistently.

All these combined with saturation of product level supply in most categories, Customers today want delivery of response to their asks in the moment, and at any moment they want. Putting the blame on constraints imposed by limitations of working hours, time zones and complexity of interacting with multiple systems are passe for consumers. With social distancing and lack of connect, customers’ patience is running even more thin and they want immediacy of outcome. To hold on to their attention, brands have to be able to truly respond in the moment.

In addition to efficiency, with physical experience reducing, or at least people wanting to de-risk it from constraints of manual hand-off, the emotional feel of interaction at the last mile delivery point will come into sharp focus now. While at some level we are talking about everything digital, the pervasive lack of human contact also means that we need to humanize these transactions. Which means while those should be instant, they should not be overtly mechanical. There is a need to bring empathy into highly efficient consumer interactions.

New Age Tech is the Answer for the New Normal

As brands strive to match the changing customer expectations, it may seem overwhelming for marketers to assimilate these diverse trends. But not so much if one can embrace and lead with the right technology that binds them all in the value chain. Too long, the technology discussions in marketing have been around Martech/AdTech- limiting them to topics like how to deal with a lead efficiently, how to nurture leads, etc. However, this is a broader discussion and CMOs today have an opportunity to expand the charter & impact of marketing by taking the lead with new technologies such as automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to drive transformation of the whole chain of value delivery to customer.

Drive Frictionless and Simplified Experience to Keep Your Customers Close

While putting technology at the core of their strategy, marketers need to be mindful of the fact that unless it is frictionless and drives simplicity, outcomes could also be counterproductive. The idea is to liberate digital transformation from the complexity of devices, data sources and technology. Rip and replace, which has been pushed over the last decade, is not the answer. Now technologies like RPA can help you work and capture data across all systems such as web, and applications like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, etc. and irrespective of whether you are far behind, far ahead or somewhere in between with the disparate systems. Automation has become an interface between you and the technology at the backend, thus enabling a frictionless and simplified experience.

Today the typical enterprise has innumerable systems, technology platforms, applications, and data repositories that don’t all natively play well together. And that’s a problem for the thousands of processes, large and small, that require a high level of cooperation and integration between these systems to deliver the outcome to the customer.

Fragmentation is draining the life out of enterprises and out of their employees, who often have to address the problem with manual workarounds. Many experts say that the failure to solve the fragmentation problem is the main reason that productivity growth has slowed in the past decade—despite massive investments in new technologies. And, in fact, if enterprises can’t solve fragmentation, additional investments in technology can become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

By using robots to work across systems and take on low-value manual tasks, we can remove the roadblocks that today inhibit software, applications and people from collaborating effectively. Adding AI and Machine Learning into the mix lets us expand into cognitive processes, improving both the speed and the quality of decision-making and actions across the organization. People’s work becomes more meaningful and strategic, and less weighed down by repetitive, tedious tasks. And, as a result, enterprises become more efficient, responsive and resilient. Eventually, the customer benefits and brands can deliver on their promises.

It’s Time to Make the Last Mile Experience More Human

As marketers look for answers amidst uncertainty and doubt, one thing that can help them wade through is ‘empathy’. In all likelihood, Empathy will override all other rules of the marketing playbook as consumers will remember brands for how much support they provided during the crisis.

The pressing need for better quality of servicing customer needs directly can be realized by AI technologies that are making it possible to interact using natural language – currently with chatbots and increasingly with voice.

But let us not forget that people perform empathy, creativity and engagement with each other only if they are liberated from their mundane tasks. Today, automation can help do that, and in the process, give more time to make the last mile experience more human once again. Eventually, the customer’s experience is decided by who they are dealing with at the last mile, beyond all the fancy advertising and promises. Automation lets you arm them and put everything behind them so that they have quality time to spend with the customer and make them comfortable with human touch.

The new technologies are freeing people to focus on work that’s more inspiring, valuable, and strategic. And, it is all about engagement and enabling rich interactions with customers at the point of value delivery. They can now weave automation into their workdays – when they need it, how they want it, and without a lot of fuss or needing technical skills. And therefore, release time to be their best while interfacing with customers, to deliver service with that warm personal touch that makes all the difference.

Clarion Call for CMOs in the New Decade

In summary, the imperative for marketers to step forward and befriend technology is all too clear. This does not mean briefing our agencies, but rather getting our own hands dirty. Else we are never going to figure it out, as is true with many other things. And that is a mistake we cannot afford to make at the moment.