How businesses can keep colleagues and customers close

By Nikolas Kairinos

Hybrid working

While the past 18 months or so have focused on providing business continuity in the midst of a crisis, the next year is set to bring another shift. As organizations around the world gear up to return the office — at least in a hybrid capacity — businesses need to make a seminal decision: should they go back to old ways of working? Or can firms take this opportunity to fundamentally review their practices and reduce the inevitable complications that have arisen throughout the pandemic?

Given that firms have experienced some teething problems implementing new approaches, I would urge organizations to take the latter course. In a world where workplace communication between customers and colleagues is becoming increasingly frayed, now is the perfect time for businesses to rethink whether their chosen solutions fit their needs.

Indeed, although organizations have co-opted new digital communication platforms and videoconferencing tools with the sole intention of improving communication, many have found that they have achieved the opposite. According to recent research from Soffos.ai, almost two in five (39 percent) UK business leaders said that the quality of their customer service has deteriorated throughout the pandemic, with firms putting this down to an over-reliance on technology. Employee relations have become strained, too, as a result of new platforms; 38 percent of those surveyed stated that their organization has taken on too many communication tools for internal conversations, which has caused interruptions, confusion and reduced productivity.

The implementation of new tools that allow businesses to operate remotely has clearly been necessary. That said, such radical change has had an inevitable effect on workers, customers, and clients, who have long been accustomed to building and maintaining interpersonal face-to-face relationships.

So, how can organizations acclimatize to hybrid working patterns to rebuild these all-important connections?

A steep learning curve

Clearly, firms have plenty to learn when it comes to adopting important newer and more effective technologies. A positive first step would be to re-assess those used over the past year and a half.

Where workplace learning and development (L&D) initiatives are concerned, businesses might want to opt for a change in tack; according to that same Soffos survey, the uptake of new digital tools has had a negative impact on the successful delivery of L&D initiatives. This was the case for 38% of respondents, while a similar number (36 percent) went a step further, claiming that their employees have expressed a desire to return to more collaborative training, such as in-person workshops.

In terms of customer-focused environments, more than a third (36 percent) of business leaders said that their organization had adopted ChatBots to help deal with customer queries throughout the COVID-19 crisis, but that these technologies only caused customer dissatisfaction. More generally, two in five (39 percent) of businesses also stated that the quality of their customer service declined over the past 18 months, despite the adoption of such products.

Meaningfully implemented tech

Evidently, there is a clear and pressing need for more effective solutions, and no doubt, the answer lies in sophisticated tech. However, businesses must think more carefully about the number and caliber of the solutions they are using.

Capital investments go further when quantities are streamlined, and quality is prioritized, as this allows organizations to truly gain the most benefit from their products. To make sure that workers feel valued and have only the most effective tools at their disposal, decision-makers must seek out all-in-one technologies that can bolster interactions, while also streamlining workflows, and helping colleagues connect with each other.

Likewise, organizations can look to refresh their L&D by adopting genuinely useful online platforms, which can tailor their content to individual employees. Platforms that utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI), for example, will be able to learn about each individual employee. As well as creating hyper-personalized training plans for employees, the unique data analytics obtained can provide valuable business intelligence, allowing decision-makers to really understand and interact with. Training leaders can put these insights to good use by pinpointing areas of particular strength or weakness at an individual and team level.

Re-connecting with customers

Where customer support is concerned, problems have arisen not so much because there is inherently an issue with technology, but because new solutions have been adopted so quickly, and in many cases, without ample time to work out whether they are suitable. One such technology that causes problems for customers, as I mentioned earlier, is that of basic ChatBots.

While ChatBots can be quite useful in lessening the burden on customer support workers — who may be overrun with tasks, or handling questions out of hours, ChatBots almost always fall at the first hurdle when it comes to more complex queries.

Accordingly, companies should consider investing in platforms that use state-of-the-art conversational AI (CAI) technologies. Unlike more traditional chatbots, which work within a set of limited binary ‘decision tree’ parameters and require a high degree of manual human input to function, these technologies can deal with natural language, context, intent and semantics. With the ability to learn autonomously from previous interactions, CAI will be able to deliver where others may miss the mark.

Businesses should therefore be able to ensure that they remain on the right track with their digital transformation efforts in the hybrid workplace, and I have no doubt that many will make leaps and bounds in the months to come.

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