Unanswered questions from: Ask the Experts: Crisis Communications – Lessons Learned so far

Scott Draeger | Wednesday, Nov 2nd 2022
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On May 19, the CXPA and Quadient hosted a panel discussion with CX experts with backgrounds in customer experience (CX) tied to customer communications. This was a new format for a CXPA webinar, with all of the panelists on video for the duration. Scott Draeger, CCXP and VP of Transformation at Quadient moderated the discussion that included 4 inspiring panelists from around the globe:

  • Manuel del Corral Restrepo, Vice Presidente UEN at Cadena
  • Hari Ganapathy, IT Program Director at Ally Financial
  • Michelle Griffey, Chief Risk Officer at Communisis (part of the OSG Group)
  • Jeremy Lewandowski, Senior Director, Technology Customer Success at Northwestern Mutual

The session followed the experience of the panelists and their companies through three phases of the COVID-19 crisis:

  • The crisis’ first manifestation
  • Adaptations made
  • Lessons for the future.

The session began with exploring the manifestation of the crisis. Manuel from Cadena realized they could do more to help their pharmacy customer who was struggling to get medicine to customers who were not allowed to come into the store. Hari from Ally Financial noticed that moving to home offices presented accessibility and security challenges. Michelle from Communisis saw production challenges as the production facility had to rapidly conform to new requirements while increasing output. Jeremy from Northwestern Mutual had a training challenge as many of his colleagues moved to adopt the digital technologies that were available but had not been universally-adopted.

As the session continued, the panelists dove deep into what they started to learn as they shifted from a “brute force” crisis mode to being able to gain some insights. This helped them improve their CX and EX (Employee Experience) while bringing efficiency into the business. During this phase, all of the panelists dealt well with changing regulations and new business opportunities. Hari at Ally Financial had to support new payment relief policies and new financing options for new vehicle sales. Jeremy from Northwestern Mutual supported increased communication between his clients and his colleagues. Manuel helped Cadena pivot to offer prescription delivery services. Michelle’s team at Communisis helped send out the “Bo Jo” letters from the Prime Minister to all UK Citizens.

The panel closed with interesting insights for the future. Most notably, all of the disaster responses were designed to handle more localized disasters by distributing work to other locations. The panel realized that more digitalization is certainly possible if they were able to rapidly digitize some of their current processes to respond to customer and employees that now work from home.

As with all great panel discussions, time flew by, and the group had some unanswered audience questions. Here are the questions that we did not get to. These answers were synthesized from the input of the panelists in follow-on emails.

It is possible that this lockdown could happen again in the near future. What will you do different or what will you improve? 

I think communication to the teams is critical as mentioned on the call. We did communicate, and extensively, but it can be challenging to ensure you’re hitting the right note. That is something that could be further improved. We would likely spend a bit more time crafting messages and looking at them from a wider variety of customer vantage points.

Was there a significant change in communication channel? (For example, more digital or physical).

One significant shift in communication is a shift to digital because print-based mail was being delivered to addresses without people, as work from home impacted many positions. This made accounts receivable processes digitize rapidly, as envelopes piled up at unstaffed offices. This accelerated a shift to digital in the small and medium size business market. In fact, some of Quadient’s small business offerings experienced a 9X spike in March and April of 2020. Customers/consumers have been forced to explore a wider set of channels and outbound communication has been via a number of channels for some time.

We are looking to use technology in new ways to send and receive communications digitally to respondents. They are more likely to be working remotely and can then respond digitally or through the creation of a written response which can be printed by a bulk provider. Workarounds that may have been acceptable during the first two to four weeks of the crisis are no longer acceptable.

This crisis hit us in a wave which means that China was first, so they started communication with their customers differently maybe. When it hit your country was there a lesson learned in our industry and did you reach out to ask them how they handled this?

Most of the responses and regulations were localized to the country, and even regions within a country. Everyone looked around as much as possible to learn and adapt quickly. There were many local regulations, guidelines and policies in regards to working, interacting and conducting business. Everyone reached out as much as possible. All of us looked at the communications we received from other businesses as customers ourselves. For example, eNotary is not legal in all 50 states, so many US companies could not uniformly execute digital processes for some transactions. Ultimately, the lesson learned was that processes we thought could not be digitized can be digitized in a pinch. So, our thinking about digitizing CX has changed forever.

Is this situation now something you should work out in a Customer Journey? 

The customer journey has changed and is unlikely to ever fully revert to pre-COVID times, so it absolutely should be mapped into the customer journey. Customers want the least possible points of friction as they engage with providers. We need to use the learnings from this time to improve future CX.

This crisis showed that businesses who think in terms of journey maps are able to make larger changes faster than their competition. Changing a map in an organization that uses journey maps is an automatic alignment mechanism for the hundreds of touchpoints in each map. Companies who do not use journey mapping have to suddenly coordinate hundreds of disconnected projects. Journey-based thinkers were in a better position to respond effectively to a crisis like COVID-19.

Jeremy [Lewandowski] previously mentioned needing to keep employees engaged during this crisis. How have you each stayed connected with your teams, and helped keep them engaged, during this sudden shift to Work from Home due to the COVID crisis?

We’ve done a lot to focus on team engagement and recognition. The most important thing is being flexible and empathetic to each person’s individual situation. These are unprecedented circumstances and it helps a lot when the team knows we support them.

On top of that we’ve done things like virtual happy hours, mid-day games like bingo and scavenger hunts, and lots of picture sharing and fun conversations on Slack. We also do a weekly newsletter to the entire team, which includes a personal message from our VP, things to know this week, and recognition of top performers. 

Our customers are required to be on site to utilize our professional and support services.  COVID-19 caused a huge slowdown of demand for our Pro Services and Software support services.  Summer is our busiest season, so my biggest concern is how to handle the influx of demand from the customers, who had to delay projects/support during the crisis, as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, during our busiest season.  Any advice on resource planning as well as a customer experience response planning? 

We need to recognize that there will be an influx of requests. The key will be working to understand the problems driving customer requests, and use our expertise to ensure that the request they have made of us solves that problem. We can deliver more for clients by simplifying the request and use of standard products and tool sets which are configurable rather than bespoke - saving us both time.

Ultimately, communication will increase moving forward. It may take place in a larger number of discrete exchanges as push-based communications evolve into conversational communications that can adapt to changes in customer context.

Did you have the opportunity to promote innovative solutions to customers or do you just react to customer requests in the new lock down scenario?

Hari’s experience at Ally Financial is the most relevant here, because they were impacted by some regulations that changed at the state and federal level while they were implementing customer-focused policies in the auto-leasing industry. While moving all employees to work from home, customers were contacting the call center at an amazing rate to participate in the payment relief program offered to clients by Ally Financial, shaped by regulations. So, a massive spike in inbound customer requests coincided with the peak of internal system disruption. But, Ally Financial processed the transactions, made them more efficient and triumphed during a tough time. 

What aspects enabled you to cut down on implementation of self-serve capabilities that were otherwise taking months?

We had already started to look at products and services which provided what our clients needed in a modular way, enabling them to simply plug in using standard data transfer methods and with things like privacy and security at the heart of the offering. When the pipeline for larger pre-COVID-19 transformation projects started to fade as clients took their own measures to get through the lockdown months, we used the opportunity to push these forward at pace and onboard clients who needed them. Historically everyone has talked big about transformation – COVID-19 has taught us all that we can make big strides using these modular options and respond to customer communication needs through an evolutionary-type process.