Consumers today have more access to information and more choices than ever before, and in an industry where the customer is king, building customer satisfaction and brand loyalty begins during the first interaction.
Customers make decisions based on speed, service and performance, so during the first interaction — like a loan application, claim submission or account opening — customers are already evaluating the experience and forming their opinion of a company or brand. Was this a simple process with real-time results, or was it slow and painful?
The same is true for business-to-business (B2B) industries, but the challenge of building loyal customers is intensified by the structure of B2B industries, which serve a customer base with a unique set of needs and more than one customer to consider. Both the internal customer — ranging from key decision-makers and C-suite executives to the end-user, and the organization’s external customer – are critical to business success. Therefore, capturing customer loyalty in the first experience with speed, service and performance requires efficient tools and more intuitive processes throughout the entire business process.
During the first interaction of a process, customers are sharing a wealth of data, such as their name, phone number and home address. They may also share information about their interests, lifestyle and preferences for being contacted. And in this era of disruptive technologies, it is imperative for businesses to capture this key customer information and use it to acquire valuable insights that enhance the customer experience.
Simply speaking, if we want to build and maintain loyal, satisfied customers and other constituents we serve, we have to reduce their effort and make it easy for them to do business with us.
For example, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an automated process that enables students in the U.S. to apply for college aid and loans. Traditionally the challenge for students has been filling out aid forms and making sure they’re sent to all schools where they’ve applied. The FAFSA is an online web-based form that captures a set of information that is shareable across many schools, without re-entering it.
Therefore, the information gets distributed to different destinations with complete accuracy. Though this is an example of how an automated process makes the customer’s effort simpler, the process becomes even “smarter” if a solution adds automated workflows within an organization to route the aid application through approval processes, and includes a mobile app allowing a college financial counselor to collect information on a tablet during a student interview and click a button to set off approval workflows on the spot.
The other problem for many organizations is that, conceptually, most CIOs and IT decision-makers understand that smart tools and digital processes save time, resources and enhance the customer experience. But as with implementing any new technology, making this investment requires process change, new infrastructure, training, staffing and resources. The challenge is then to convince CIOs and IT decision-makers, who can become complacent and turned off by the complexity and cost of implementation.
For example, consider the impact electronic health records (EHR) have on the healthcare industry today. EHR adoption enables hospitals and healthcare providers to communicate and exchange critical information about a patient’s health, which benefits both patients and healthcare providers who no longer need to manually share, scan, copy or fax medical records. Yet implementing this change for many organizations is still an ongoing process. The challenge – like with any business – is that starting fresh with new technology and infrastructure can be costly and a drain on resources. So despite the obvious benefits, for many healthcare providers the switch from paper to electronic health records represents a scary change.
The good news is that most businesses today are equipped with some form of digital and workflow automation technology that provides shared access to information and simplifies how works gets done. However, as organizations have taken initial runs at digitizing business processes in silos, capturing this information might involve any number of back-end systems, leading to a disjointed and time-consuming process, and a more challenging customer experience instead.
In retail for example, supply chain management simplifies the coordination, control, and distribution of information and products to all stakeholders – from offshore manufacturers to retail store managers – which greatly reduces order fulfillment and time to market demand. However, by adding intelligent features like predictive analytics, retailers and suppliers are able to forecast demand based on historic, real-time data and can automate sell-through information to their suppliers to ensure popular items are in stock and on the shelves so that customers have access to whatever they want, whenever they want it.
The big winner is the company operating not only with new digital technology, but with integrated, agile technology and smart process applications (SPA) that combine data and information across multiple platforms to streamline routine transactions and change the way businesses interact with their customers — transforming how business gets done.
SPAs, as defined by Forrester, are the new category of application software designed to support business activities that are people-intensive, highly variable, loosely structured, and subject to frequent change, such as medical records or supply chain orders. In addition, SPAs combine the current industry’s best practices in collaborative business processes, and integrating new delivery models such as cloud-stored content and mobile interfaces, enabling better, faster, more reliable and more accurate processing, which can lead to reduced costs, improved processes, and ultimately, a better customer experience.
- The five key attributes of a smart process application include:
- Imported or embedded awareness data relevant to the business activity.
- Document capture, document output and document management.
- Embedded analytical tools designed for the business activity.
- A collaboration platform on which people can create content needed for the activity.
- BPM tools for executing the steps involved in the activity.
Take a smart process application for the new employee onboarding process, for example. When an organization brings on a new employee, there are a number of documents a new hire has to fill out before the paperwork can be processed, from the I-9 and W4 to benefits and direct deposit forms in order for the employee to get paid and enroll in benefits. Rather than fill out a paper form that has to be processed by several members of the HR and benefits team, an application enables employees to fill out all of this information online, or even on-site via a tablet-based UI. Information is then accessible from a centralized system and automatically populated to all members involved in the onboarding process without having to send information manually or repeat processes. In addition, analytics may help collect (and validate) employee data and history; for example, analyzing information from social media, credit and employment history, or cloud-based external applications.
In the age of the connected customer, consumers are conditioned to getting instant access and immediate results – demanding speed, high service and better performance to such a degree that it creates competition among industries to do more, faster, with less. This next generation solution allows CIOs to make customer-centric business processes simpler, more efficient and more intuitive than ever before.
SPAs have the ability to make an astounding impact on workflow, customer experience and brand loyalty in the first interaction and throughout the entire customer lifecycle. But there are also advantages in agile internal processes that can transform how business gets done. As vendors, we have an obligation to discuss the ROI and economic benefits — and also the benefit to the entire customer experience — so that organizations see the real rewards in forging ahead.
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Workflow.