By ExperienceLab Middle East Director Kristine Pitts
In a matter of a few short months, COVID-19 brought the term “social distancing” to the forefront of everyone’s mind and has resulted in a dramatic shift to remote and digital experiences with a sense of urgency to roll out innovative solutions and deal with the crisis for the long term.
With a desperate need for solutions to remove or reduce risk of infection and contamination, the role of technology became more vital than ever before. As a result, we’ve seen chatbots, voicebots, even physical humanoid robots employed to minimize the risk of infection in the healthcare industry.
For example, we’ve seen a transition to telehealth, which provides a more convenient and safe service to patients and brings a more reliable access to healthcare through remote consultations. Virtual healthcare solutions may also bring a wide range of opportunities for the long term; driving efficiency by enabling healthcare providers to see more patients and ensuring patients a sustainable and safe access to healthcare. Whilst this is only one example, the same trends apply to numerous sectors.
Where does that leave customer experience? Will customers react well to these technologies? Are they expecting to see a humanoid robot when they walk-in a hospital, station or an airport? What impact does this have on their overall experience?
How can we ensure we create positive experiences when introducing new solutions?
Understanding customers’ behavior, needs, and expectations before releasing any technologies into the wild is fundamental. The challenge, however, is the level of uncertainty and urgency that this pandemic came with. Dealing with this situation has required a high level of improvisation and learnings through experimentation which did not grant much opportunity to think about the customer experience in early stages.
This level of urgency was accompanied with a rapid roll-out of new technologies which have led to a ‘design-miss’ in many cases, especially when customer experience principles were compromised. We’ve seen many organizations resort to using technologies, whether robots or chatbots, to eliminate human interactions in effort to minimize the risk of infection. Some solutions are simple and widely accepted, such as providing a tablet with direct access to a remote customer service agent. Other technologies, such as facial recognition and drones for screening and monitoring have raised more serious concerns especially around privacy and trust, as soon as they were introduced to the public. However, this is now changing; the focus has shifted from providing an immediate response to looking for sustainable solutions for the medium to long-term.
What should we do?
The combination of COVID-19 regulations and the change in customers behavior has catalysed many organisations to re-design experiences in a way that will protect people now as well as deliver benefits for people for many years to come; that includes citizens, customers and employees. The opportunity lies today in taking advantage of the flexible nature of technologies, by having organizations test, assess and refine any new technology experience against a set of customer experience principles across all touchpoints. This is something that Serco Middle East’s ExperienceLab has seen become increasingly valuable to our clients, especially as we started to realise that we’re dealing with an unprecedented long-term challenge. This has made rapid prototyping and testing a far more desirable option than rolling out expensive solutions with no proof of success. Throughout our research and testing, we ensure we’re driven by our clients’ most prominent questions to assess new measures and solutions. We do thorough research to find out:
We do this through many different methods, which always involve and focus on the users themselves. Through this, we not only understand how customers feel about a solution, we also identify areas of improvement where they might encounter problems or confusions that can impede their ability to make the best out of the new solution.
Even though advanced technology solutions might be working from a technology standpoint, they might not be effective in cases where customers don’t adopt them or react well to them. Hence, it is essential to test how customers respond to new experiences, with continuous efforts to refine and adjust them until they meet their expectations. Even after the launch, technology experiences should always be refined to meet customers’ needs.
Irrespective of how we choose to get a new digital solution or service delivered, for it to be successful, we must always understand and assess the impact it has on people - it’s personal.
This is the philosophy that we carry out and put into practice at Serco through our ExperienceLab service in the Middle East; We start with understanding people to design and deliver services that improve all experiences, efficiency and outcomes.
Another important element when it comes to releasing new technologies is consistency. Regardless of which touchpoint the customer engages with, whether it is a kiosk, digital interface or even humanoid robot. Will customers feel they’re cared for and looked after by robots the same way they do when they interact with humans? This offers an opportunity to investigate the different touchpoints customers interact with to ensure the same north star, of what the experience should look like, is being followed when releasing any new experience into the customer journey.
In the end, customers will always want fast and frictionless options to resort to in order to get things done in an efficient and accurate manner, but, especially in a crisis, they also care about being treated with empathy and consideration. In many ways, designing for and ensuring a positive customer experience has never been more important, and customers should always be left with a choice to interact with a wide range of touchpoints powered by both technology and humans.