Face-to-face interactions between businesses and their customers are hugely constrained. And the sheer numbers of those using alternative channels – and the limited ability of organisations to staff those alternatives – are overwhelming existing resources. So, what should your customer experience (CX) priorities be? And how can a high-speed development platform like OutSystems help you deliver on them?

The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath are causing economic shock waves around the globe: it’s never been more important to look after your customers – both the ones that you have and the ones you’d like to have. But the rules of the game have changed.

Those already online have been joined by tens of millions of people that would normally visit a branch, go to a store or take advantage of the services of a broker. And, alternative channels – a call centre or a website – are at breaking point. They are not only facing unprecedented demand, but resources are in short supply. Call centre staff are largely unable to travel to their normal place of work; and IT departments are struggling to take the remote working infrastructure that used to service a small number of knowledge workers, and scale that up to serve an entire company.

Against this backdrop, the customer experience comes to the fore. Most businesses now recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown are not a one-off but a watershed: those organisations that meet – or even surpass – their customers’ expectations during this crisis will be well-positioned to retain their trust and loyalty once it ends. As McKinsey points out,

“Customer leaders who care and innovate during this crisis and anticipate how customers will change their habits will build stronger relationships that will endure well beyond the crisis’s passing”.

It's About Three Things – Customers, Customers and Customers

The pressure is on to ensure that organisations serve their existing customers as best they can, whilst doing their utmost to attract new ones. However, faced with a number of competing claims for attention, which CX investments will return the most value? 

The primary use case for existing customers is to allow them to self-serve more effectively: customers must be able to, for example, easily change the address on their bill – without any assistance from service staff. Ensuring a smooth onboarding process is the dominant use case for new customers. In both situations, the more – and more easily – that customers can use digital channels effectively, the less they need to rely on scarce customer service resources to help them.

So, you should aim to create digital experiences that are ‘frictionless’, i.e. that create as few hurdles as possible between where your customers want to go and how they get there. This is particularly important given that many of these customers – locked out of their usual physical interactions – are using digital channels for the first time. And, if customers do lose their way, you need to find smart ways of assisting them that don’t involve human intervention. This is equally true for existing customers who are trying to ‘self-serve’ as for new customers that you are trying to ‘onboard’.

Helping Customers to Help Themselves

These frictionless experiences put the user-journey at the heart of their design – and there are huge differences between those applications where the journey is well thought-out and those that are not. Research suggests users can complete a task on one application with as few as 14 clicks but may need 100 or more clicks on another. Those confronted with the latter experience will likely have dropped off long before they have fulfilled their goal.

Inevitably, the 80:20 rule applies to the difficulties customers encounter: eighty percent of problems are caused by twenty percent of requests – whether via the phone or the web site. Implementing chatbots at the start of the journey may be the best way to address these common problems. Service staff then need only intervene when customers encounter non-standard problems or in order to up or cross-sell, reducing the claims on their time and increasing their ability to add value to your customers.

The Need for Speed

Agility is the new watchword for almost every customer I speak with. Each one knows that today’s volatile environment poses huge challenges which demand an immediate response; and that they must get an application with the right functionality in front of their customers as soon as possible. I always discourage my customers from thinking of CX as the look and feel of the app: yes, it’s important that brand guidelines are followed, but the functionality behind it — which enables your customers to achieve their immediate goal — is what they really care about.

Of course, and with the best will in the world, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to create a perfectly smooth digital journey – with all the required services and capabilities – at the first time of asking. The aim is to quickly make available something that addresses customers’ needs: once you have a viable solution, you can spot where customers are bouncing off the application or where additional functionality will enhance the journey – and then iterate it rapidly to remove friction, reduce drop-off and increase conversions.

The OutSystems Difference

I’m sure you’re thinking that all of this – the frictionless user-centric journey and the chatbot technologies – sounds perfectly wonderful. But it took your tech team nine months to get a basic mobile app off the ground; so, your chances of achieving this developmental nirvana are slim to none.

Well, that was true under the old rules. Multiple teams using multiple technologies worked separately to deliver the same functionality for different channels. In this context, it did take a long time for any application to launch and, as one customer described it to me, it was a ‘miracle’ that there was any kind of consistency across different customer-facing channels and applications. 

A high-speed development platform like OutSystems is very different: you can use it to spin up an enterprise-grade application in weeks on any digital touchpoint, not the months it used to take, and put out new iterations of it on a daily basis. Because development work is done visually in a drag-and-drop environment with most of what you need available as fully customizable, pre-built building blocks, you can develop new digital products and services much faster than with traditional coding. Also, you can use the same platform to create apps for all of your digital channels and touchpoints, and reuse code and functionality across all of them. A change in a mobile app can be done once and replicated across all your digital services on multiple channels, allowing you to massively scale your digital service development efforts.

Agility in Your DNA

So, the main ways that our customers are addressing the digital CX issues surfaced during lockdown are:

  • Enabling existing customers to self-serve digitally;
  • Improving the onboarding process for new customers;
  • Using chatbots to alleviate the pressure on service staff.

But I would say that there is a fourth benefit, one that speaks not only to CX issues but to the needs of the company as a whole.

Let’s say an organisation accepts that it takes the development team up to a year to bring a new service to market – and several weeks to make any necessary changes. Now let’s imagine that the same company expects the same service to be developed in a couple of weeks, that any wrinkles can be ironed out within a few hours of them appearing, and that customer feedback can be incorporated into the application the next day. I think that this has become a very different kind of company, and this is what we find, time and time again.

OutSystems enables organisations to respond to customer demands almost in real-time, creating the backbone of an agile enterprise. This changes their mentality. Their understanding of what they can achieve is different, and the limits on their ambitions largely evaporate.