Customer-facing processes and operations have one moment of truth that moulds the customers’ perceptions. You will ask yourself whether it’s when first contact is made with your business or whether it’s the last memorable chain of interactions. Or perhaps it might be somewhere in between the two, along the line of contact between your business and the customer.
It is quite possibly all of the above, meaning that the first interaction, the last series of interactions and everything in between, along the line of interactions, transactions and service instances making up the end-to-end customer experience, is vital to business.
Why the last mile of digital transformation is vital
A second possibility is that the last mile is the most critical. This is as valid as the former. I, for one, think that the last mile should be our main focus. We should be going the extra mile in the last mile of customer interactions.
Put yourself in the customers’ shoes for a second: the value of the outcome of the series of interactions and the result leaves a lasting impression. Speaking at the recent CeBIT, SAP’s Sameer Patel said that, “Who owns the audience, owns the last mile. Closest to customer, closest to disruption.”
Here are a few questions and examples that help explain this:
Sameer Patel believes that the business that owns the audience also owns the last mile and that those who are closest to the customer are also the closest to disruption.
What would be the point of having an attractive and user-friendly platform where product types and prices can be compared if, at the end of the day, the product delivery falls flat? Or even worse for the customer, the delivered product does not work and the customer service that you, as the customer, engaged in is disappointing at best?
Capturing the customer’s information when they first contact your business is not helpful if the processes that follow don’t speed up the query resolution process, do not meet the customer’s standards or don’t have a clear objective.
When you go to a store with family or friends and enjoy the process of shopping only to have the experience ruined by an unfriendly cashier, the shopping trip is tainted by the experience you had with the cashier. Doesn’t that diminish the whole experience itself?
We can all remember or imagine instances when the last mile has been important in our own experiences as customers. The telecoms industry coined the term “last mile” for this final stretch of customer experience. This is what concerns customers and it is not the customer’s job to know what it takes for your business to deliver what they expect at that critical time.
Charlene Li says that the dynamic and digital customer is the anchor of organizational digital transformation.
Customers remember the last mile
When it comes to the customer experience, digital transformation is essentially about connecting processes, service, information, actions and divisions. And this connectivity is expected to just work!
Of course focusing on the last mile does not mean that the other points of contact should be completely ignored. The last mile of contact also depends on the effectiveness of the processes that precede it. Some of our other blog posts deal with ways in which you can ensure that these preceding processes form a linked chain.
What we notice here is the core difference between digitization, optimizing business processes and automation on one hand, and the essential focus of business process optimization on the other hand. The latter focuses primarily on the last mile of customer experience.
The ability to translate information into insight about the customers and their preferences is the greatest competitive advantage today – John Mancini.
Customer value through data, automation and process
In order to work in a digitally transformative way, you have to ensure that the flow of data and information is directed towards automated processes. This will in turn lead to a situation where divisions can connect with each other, as well as front and back office, all in the name of a stakeholder relationship that serves the customer most efficiently.
Similar to the example above, the processes that go into online shopping include steps that can help illustrate digitization:
When a purchase is made, the customer gives certain details to the business including payment information, personal particulars, product information and, inadvertently, their behavioral data. The information that has been captured is then processed and sets into motion a chain of processes. The subsequent processes need to be as automated as possible. Even those that are necessarily “physical” need to have aspects of automation in them. The delivery of the product, for example, needs to be prearranged with the customer to make sure that the product is delivered at the customer’s convenience. The driver’s departure from the warehouse should be relayed to the customer so as to avoid unnecessary inconvenience. The driver needs to be equipped with the customer’s details and should be able to process the proof of delivery digitally. This would in turn inform the post-delivery processes of invoicing and following up on the delivery. This is just a simplified version of understanding how digitization can be implemented multifariously.
Accenture’s Anatoly Roytman says that digital has taken its place at the center of customer service, which is at the core of digital transformation.
Putting the customer first
Processes, their interconnections and optimization are what digital transformation entails. This is challenging, but there are few alternatives in today’s business world.
Charlene Li from Altimers once asked herself what the point of this painful digitization process was. She quickly came to the realization that the customers had changed, become more digital and needed businesses to meet them in ways that were most comfortable to them.
Research by Accenture shows how digital has taken its place at the center of customer service. Their recently published research report sets out the facts clearly, some of the most important of which include that the heart of customer service is digital and in turn digital is at the center of digital. The report also found that businesses will be prioritizing the improvement of customer services in the next year. Among participants, this business aspect gained 21% as a top priority, closely followed by increasing revenues at 17% and improving differentiation at 16%.
As I have mentioned before, making the most of the first interaction that your business has with the customer does not mean neglecting to put in effort at the last mile. There are many hurdles that stand in the way of you making the last mile smarter and more customer-oriented. Accenture’s report found that, like other parts of customer service, the last mile demands that the correct information is accessed at the correct time at the correct place.
Wayne Dyer says that the last mile is not the most crowded part of the race.
Linking the different parts of the customer service chain
The links in the chain that precede the last mile need to be functional. Any weak link in the chain could potentially lead to the last mile not being reached.
Getting the right information in the correct format is where digitization starts. Businesses should try to make this process digital and have the information captured as closely to the customer as possible, as the accuracy of the information is essential.
The real-time economy demands that information is captured quickly and fed into automated processes that follow as soon as possible. The impatient customer expects fast service, and the business that can provide that has a clear competitive advantage.
We need to avoid silos and other disconnections between divisions to ensure that the outcome (the last mile) is achievable and positive. For this to work, we need to process information intelligently and ensure that the customer’s perception is shaped from the first contact until the last moment of interaction.
Investment in knowledge management is necessary because it is knowledge that is often vital for the last mile. These would be situations where the divide between the front office and the back office is closed.
The thing about first impressions is that you only get one chance to create them. Alongside this truism, think about these two as well: “Everybody can make a good first impression, but few leave a good lasting impression” and “a bad dessert can ruin a meal”.
With normal human interactions, as we get to know people better, we often see that our first impressions are misplaced or unfounded. That can be corrected relatively easily in everyday life. But going on first impressions alone can be fatal in the business world.