Article

Ways to innovate into 2021 – and beyond

By John Walls, Regional VP, Customer Success, EMEA at Zendesk

Published December 21, 2020
Last updated January 20, 2021

Let’s be honest. The way in which we operated at the start of 2020 will never return. The turbulence thrown at businesses, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic, has brought about change. We now work differently, do business differently, live differently. We’ve shifted the way we spend our time and we’ve changed the way we spend our money. Looking into 2021, the winners from a business standpoint will be those who apply the quick-fire lessons of 2020 and prepare to innovate in new ways going forwards.

Here are three key things businesses should bear in mind for the year ahead.

Cut the friction

A new COVID-era environment calls for new ways to discover things. Even previously simple tasks such as travel, work and socialising become more difficult when the current restrictions are a factor. But businesses can help. They can play their part to remove the frictions associated with interacting with, or working for, a particular company. This could include customers or employees of a bank who had to switch to working remotely, or traditional shoppers who had to suddenly familiarise themselves with online shopping when physical stores used to be the preference.

How can businesses remove friction? They can start by thinking about the new needs of customers, and how to evolve their customer interactions to better meet those needs. Some companies have thrived during the pandemic because they had no alternative but to change the way they worked. Those new ways sometimes opened new doors for them that they might not have considered before.

At the start of 2020, London-based luxury grocery store Fortnum & Mason faced the challenge of transitioning customer agents to remote working. With new consumer habits and customers becoming digital first, interactions via chat and email started to increase. The company had to adapt in line with its customers and find ways to make the experience seamless for those shopping with them and those working for them.

It was a strategy that involved listening to agents’ feedback and leveraging flexible technology. This helped them to better manage and prioritise inbound contact. They created a better customer experience by setting up new views, updating macros and templates, and publishing new FAQs for their customers to self-serve. They heard the frustrations of their customers and staff, and innovated to make things better. That’s something all firms can learn from.

Experiment, fail fast and learn

There’s a dilemma faced by many businesses in tough times. They want to invest in technology but don’t have all the time in the world to wait for those solutions to pay for themselves. And because no one has infinite funds, the faster they can innovate and also deliver, the better.

That might mean saying goodbye to spending a year designing a customer experience with all the bells and whistles. The alternative could be to try out new things on small groups of customers. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Make tweaks. Experiment and trim the fat. By working in this way, businesses can innovate on a small scale first, limit risk and investment, and only roll out the tools that really do work for the company.

And don’t forget the resources you already have in place. By leaning on functions such as help centre and self-service options, agents can spend more time with customers with complex needs. Meanwhile, data insights can help identify the areas where revenue is being lost, which will provide a big clue to where you should direct more of your attention as a business.

Bring your workforce on the journey

In times like these, it pays to have your workforce on board because they will ultimately be the ones who will drive the most substantial positive change. When they feel like change is something being done to them without having a say in it, they will resist. Instead, it’s vital that you invest in empowering your employees with the tools and training to work in a changing world. Equip them to leverage real-time data and work in an agile way that benefits both themselves and the customers they’re serving. That’s where you position yourself to be stronger than before.

It isn’t just about processes, it’s about creating a culture of innovation where everyone can play an active role. Investing in innovation is no longer an option, it’s a must. Companies have to help themselves to thrive in the next year and in years to come. This should involve making incremental changes that can ladder up to new ways of thinking and ultimately to continued success.