I do not need to remind you what happened at the end of 2019, and throughout 2020. A little-known city called Wuhan became the centre of the world.
People around the globe focused on the health care systems and the cultural diversity of a place that few had heard of before early 2020. What came out of that city affected the world and continues to disrupt businesses today.
There have been many learnings that we can take from these past few years, and I am sure that many businesses have changed their operations because of these past 32 months. Let’s take some time to reflect on how these enforced operational changes have affected our businesses, and what we have learned as a result.
Technology supporting operations
Obviously, some industries were hit harder than others. Industries like hospitality, travel, tourism, and leisure were severely damaged, many businesses decimated and had to close. These sectors were hit the hardest and provide some of the most extreme examples of adapt or die. These industries have however, like all sectors, been forced to adapt and those businesses that have adapted the fastest, have survived, and in some cases thrived.
What did companies do differently to support operations today?
With the emergence of food delivery apps on mobile phones, many kitchens and restaurants were able to continue to trade. Many of these businesses had not offered roadside pickups or deliveries before, but people still need food, so there was an opportunity to build a different element of their business and for it to flourish.
Restaurants bought food trucks, offered roadside cooking, took to the internet to offer cookery lessons, and even went on zoom offering sommelier lessons from their wine waiters. This adaptation of technology into a sector normally focused on human-to-human contact was unprecedented. It was motivational to see that even businesses that were completely reliant on foot traffic can adapt in the darkest of times.
Kitchens were downsized, premises closed, and workers relocated to smaller, more focused work environments. Rent was reduced, overheads cut to the bear minimum and in some cases, profits soared. You tube videos, zoom tutorials and menus created by graphic designers emerged and replaced the simple website that used to say where the restaurant was and what the daily specials are.
Technology offering opportunity
Many staff unfortunately lost their jobs, but were replaced by drivers, couriers and applications built in a rush to sustain the need for the service and to feed the stay-at-home workers of the local community.
Even in the most extreme of industries so badly affected by the pandemic, there were success stories and examples of innovation that have guided other businesses in the less affected sectors to adapt to the new normal.
These success stories spawned a business model that we can look at and see is still working today. It is a similar model that other businesses adapted, in the less affected industries of office work and commerce.
The simple formula of reducing overheads, adapting technology, increasing automation, multi-skilling a workforce and continuing to offer high levels of service can be seen across many different businesses today.
Omnichannel services are providing a better quality of customer support, embedding an immersive multi-media experience that shows people trying on clothes, eating food, or otherwise enjoying the product for sale.
Integrating technology into operations
We are coming out of the pandemic but many of the cost cutting exercises created by necessity are supporting business growth across industries that were previously customer and consumer centric.
Retail shops have better websites, and the online shopping experience has developed into a multi-media omnichannel experience. Shops offer online demonstrations of products, guided tours, and a virtual shopping experience supporting their new operations. Customers shop more online but now understand colour schemes and body shapes better due to these educational shopping experiences. Voucher codes and discounts are freely available, to entice customers to spend more through these websites and automated services that do not require a member of staff to ask, “How may I help you today?”
Offices offer a hybrid model for staff, with some working from home, connected via skype, zoom and messaging applications and others working in the office sitting next to empty seats that used to be full of colleagues and chatter.
Factories improved their logistics offering a direct delivery service to customers where previously they only delivered to businesses or delivery centres. They now deliver straight to the door of the consumer, cutting out the middle processes.
The legal profession who previously relied on clients coming into their offices to have their issues resolved have adapted to zoom calls, long emails and document delivery services with e-signed documents replacing the old pen and paper signature processes, again, cutting overheads and reducing waste.
If the industry has survived these past 32-months it is due to the formula of reducing overheads, adapting new technologies, and changing their core operations.
So how does this affect businesses today?
Where we used to rely on peoplepower, we now look to automation and technology to fill the gaps first. If technology can not offer the solution, operations are changed, and people are multi-skilled to provide the service required.
These businesses profits may have increased, but at what cost?
Where fewer people are needed to sustain the business where does that leave future generations? Some jobs have been replaced by technology, other jobs streamlined, and hours reduced where they are deemed not necessary. Omnichannel customer service experiences like detailed FAQ pages, Tutorial videos and Live Chat communication has replaced the shop assistant or the customer service adviser. Chat Bots have automated and intuitive communication, with Artificial Intelligence and constant learning technology, gathering information about commonly asked questions and scenarios so that even fewer call centre agents are required to service the customers.
Technology replacing operations
Call centres, financial institutions and other services offering information and products over the phone have moved to an app-based operational focus, with voice recognition technology so even the password and the telephone banking PIN number has been replaced.
Technology is moving at a faster pace to replace the old way of working, and move people, slowly but surely towards an automated, technology-focused way of working.
Technology is replacing human interaction, with virtual worlds, chatbots, emojis instead of words, and self-service checkouts instead of Doris at the cashiers’ desk asking how you are, talking about the weather and what discounts are available today.
It is commonly reported that the younger generation are moving away from voice communication and social communication to living their life through their phones using text or chat. Where technology is replacing customer service, streamlining business transactions, and reducing the need for employees, there is always opportunities for faster expansion, and for more technology to be developed. There is a risk for the low-skilled jobs to be replaced with applications, so we should always look to up-skill the workers that we have.
Where is Technology taking us?
In summary, going back to the restaurant industry, where Sandra used to come and take my order for coffee and pastry, I now have an app, and with the touch of a few buttons, my coffee and cake is available on the counter, without the need to speak to Sandra at all. Personally, I miss Sandra and Doris!
In my business at conXhub we have always looked to technology first, at the same time we have always trained up the staff that we have. We offer training to multi-skill staff into tech development, project management, marketing, sales, and operations. Where there is passion for the product, passion can guide innovation, and in communications, there is always a need for human content!
Brought to you by Mark Trowbridge Founder / CEO of conXhub.
conXhub - World’s #1 MOBILE FIRST Communications Service, for every aspiring Business