Companies around the world are increasingly abandoning human employees – this year alone, Statista estimates 1.8 million traditional working places will be taken over by robots. Savings are among the main drivers, because at the expense of automation business expects to optimize costs not in this complicated period for the economy. However, will the trend become a new digital challenge to business, primarily in terms of customer focus? And are robots ready to replace human employees without losing customer trust and reducing service quality? Invest-Foresight discussed the importance of customer focus (customer orientation) in the digital age with Alina Valencia, Ph.D., candidate of psychological sciences, business consultant and leader of project “Competence Platform.”
The focus is on the client
– Alina, how important it is for companies today to develop customer focus, or is it more of an “article” to be eliminated?
– Difficult times for companies help overcome gaps in entrepreneurial the thinking of executives and teams. Customer focus is its most important component. Even when everything is calm in the economy, It is very important for companies to develop customer focus. However, in conditions when the task is to improve the viability of the business, customer focus is becoming a critical factor! After all, where will a client go if he doesn’t have enough money? Of course, he will turn to the company, where comfort and attention await him, where he will receive the best service, positive experiences, the joy of buying – all for the same money.
– Why is customer focus so important?
– Negative customer impressions play a much bigger role than positive ones. There is a classic statement in marketing that a satisfied buyer will tell one person about it, and a disgruntled one will address ten people… This phrase was relevant back in my early professional career for nearly 20 years ago, but nothing has changed today. People are still actively sharing with each other what happened to them, more willing to talk about the negative experience. And this is very harmful to companies. I communicate a lot with the participants of training programs, and they often talk about examples of bad service. One student of my courses talked about cooking, where when asked what cheese is used in cheese and ham pancakes, she was told that the cheapest is… Sounds like a joke, but unfortunately this reflects the real state of affairs in many companies is evidence of the absence of internal culture of both the employees and the organizations where they work.
All this is evidence of the lack of formation of the customer focus system.
– In your opinion, how can you assess the level of customer focus of companies in Russia?
– I don’t want to seem pessimistic, but the situation with customer focus is still not easy. Yes, many companies are making efforts to implement customer focus systems. And in recent years, good news was their appearance in public structures and companies with state participation. Let’s agree, it’s great when train passengers are asked if they liked the service, are there any comments, and according to the results, something changes for the better, or when entrepreneur in the Internal Revenue Service gets qualified advise, that helps him avoid errors. But in general, in business, the level of customer focus remains insufficient. Yes, more entrepreneurs are realizing that the main goal of business is not money, but the ability to change the world for the better, to realize its potential, while earning. But there are many who stuck in the past, they already have few customers, business is not growing, but they don’t want to change, change people, form really client-oriented team…
Focus on emotional intelligence
– How difficult is it to develop such systems, what is the most important thing in them?
– Customer focus is not so much a story about hard skills of salesman or trained smiles. We are talking about a complex multifaceted system of thinking, in fact – the “cultural code” of the company. At its heart – there is good attitude towards each other, universal values, such as courtesy, open mind, the ability to concentrate on the client. He becomes for you not just a buyer, but first of all a guest, about whom you care sincerely, whom you are glad to see and who you are ready to help.
A critical competency for customer focus is emotional intelligence. This is ability to align yourself with the client, to choose a strategy, tactics of actions, based on the situation, to manage your own emotions and to create positive emotions for client. It is this competence that allows the seller, entrepreneur, manager to be competitive, flexible and effective, to admire and surprise your client.
– Perhaps the implementation of such systems is unnecessarily expensive and difficult for companies?
– Of course, do not think that you will talk to a consultant, and tomorrow the company will become customer-oriented. It’s a subtle, complicated job, directly related to corporate culture.
But it’s not necessarily expensive! If you remember, a few years ago on the Internet there was a story with a teddy rabbit, which one guest’s daughter forgot at the hotel. Until the toy was taken away, employees regularly conducted photo shoots with it and posted them in social networks. Rabbit visited the pool, restaurant, SPA center… This project was free for the company, based just on a creative idea. But it brought a huge increase in popularity! And such examples are numerous when creativity helps to develop a business, create his positive reputation. It’s all about people here, who love their work, their customers, and who are ready to show love and good attitude towards them.
– What “ingredients” are a must for a company that seeks to be customer-oriented?
– There are three key components of customer focus. First of all, this is the expert level of the employee – he must be a professional, competent specialist. People are extremely annoyed when they cannot get help to solve their issue. The second point is politeness, emotional intelligence, high level of cultural development. And finally, the ability to anticipate customer expectations, ability to produce a wow effect.
Maintain digital balance
– How will digital transformation affect the corporate customer focus?
– Of course, the reduction in the load on the human employee that occurs thanks to digital transformation, will have a good effect on corporate customer focus. Automated systems will allow to “unload” employees, save them from routine, banal work tasks, leaving them more complex, creative tasks. But for the client, in addition to the service provided, two key things are extremely important – these are calm and trust. In the digital age, we see that’s what becomes the most important value. So far, only people can guarantee this thanks to the presence of emotional intelligence, empathy, and tact. Recently we observed a situation when a man demanded angrily in a telephone conversation to connect him to the operator – it was obvious that he was communicating with the bot. Simply notwithstanding any historical period, or the natural properties of a person, peculiarities of his psyche remain unchanged, and he needs another person to communicate, not a robot. This is also true for the C2B interaction.
– How will robots and humans be able to divide the areas of responsibility in business?
– Recently, one of the students of my courses shared plans for the future – she plans to build in 10 years in the country a network of companies rendering accounting services. But such tasks will surely be taken by robotic solutions! Does this mean that she should give up her business development plan? Rather, it is worth changing the focus, betting on development of consulting and psychological competencies among employees. Robots will take over preparation of accounting reporting, but only a human accountant will help to calm the client, convincing him in the absence of a cause for alarm, and giving him professional advice. That is, psychological knowledge and approaches become critical, we, humans, differ from digital solutions, and robotic systems.
– How to maintain a balance between digitalization and the human factor?
– In an age of digital transformation, as any business is using technology more and more actively, live human communication will turn into a luxury customer privilege. We already see the trend that some exhibitions and conferences are attended in person by VIP participants, the rest only get online access. And this situation will become the norm for a wide variety of spheres. Including this will affect consumer sectors – shops, salons…
That is, mass consumption will go digital, and services of the luxury and business categories will be provided via personal communication. And there will still be needed people who possess “cultural code,” emotional intelligence, high level of professionalism and creativity, capable to surprise.
Interviewed by Olga Blinova