Dec. 11 2020 07:45 AM

Get up, learn how to avoid being knocked down again, and do what you need to do to take control

generic-year 2021

It’s tough for someone from Chicagoland to quote Vince Lombardi even once in an article, but it appears to be necessary to quote him twice as we prepare for 2021. While we hope 2021 will be better than 2020, let’s start by framing the first three quarters of 2020 with Mr. Lombardi’s statement, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”

Most of us got knocked around pretty hard in 2020. We got knocked down in many ways and from many directions. Internally, we faced challenges as our people, processes and technology were all tested — often simultaneously. Our customers challenged us with an increased frequency of connection, greater attention to detail and demands for interaction across more channels. If that wasn’t enough, federal, state and local regulations impacted the messages we sent and the way in which they were delivered. That seems like five years’ worth of challenges and it’s understandable that we got knocked down. But I tend to be an optimist, so let’s look at how we will work on the “get back up” part.

We have the most control over our internal responses because we control the people, processes and technology we use. In 2020, we learned many of the limitations of our systems. Internally, we took some knocks as we moved to work from home. In order to get back on our feet, we need to think about increasing the agility of our systems.

As we plan for 2021, we want to consider building support for more flexible user interactions. Designers, writers, approvers and our customer experience teams need to be able to make large changes more quickly. As we plan for 2021, we want to avoid being stuck in a position where we need to make changes, but we cannot access key systems. In 2021, we need the ability to collaborate easier without assuming there will be a physical meeting room, which means we must incorporate digital collaboration into our communication design process.

During the time our internal systems were hit pretty hard, customers’ demands increased. It was entirely reasonable for them to call us more. There was a constant stream of legislation that affected their loans, insurance, utilities, rent, taxes and other services. They expected to be kept informed in a period of flux and looked to us for support and answers. Add to that the reasonable stress these customers were experiencing (as was everyone else) in a year characterized by uncertainty. Customers wanted new channels from which they could do business, which made sense; many were working from home, which made it difficult to handle things like accounts payable and receivable. Then, they expected consistency across those channels.

Our plans to go successfully forward in 2021 need to involve the ability to handle customer interactions that are increasingly two-way exchanges playing out over several interactions. Looking at your call center data may give you a hint as to what could be replaced with robotic process automation (RPA) or chatbots that integrate to the customer communications management (CCM) system. Your future plans will certainly need channel fluidity as a central component to ensure the demand for consistent experience is met as they unfold. We have found implementing a journey mapping process is a great way to understand the complex interactions of messages, customers and channels over typical customer journeys.

While we received challenges internally, as well as an increase in customer support needs, we also expended an incredible amount of effort complying with a dizzying array of legislation at every level. Auto and home loan documents were amended to include forbearance language. Loan applications for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) had to be implemented quickly while complying with rapidly changing standards. Communications for many industries varied by state, which were on different schedules as they experienced different situations. The airline, hotel, rental car, concert, events, cruise and other industries created cancellation and rescheduling policies that were revised multiple times as regulations and best practices changed daily. There’s not enough coffee in the world to keep this pace!

As we plan for the future, we need to understand that regulations will continue to change at multiple levels simultaneously and we need to be ready for it. The conformance time will continue to reduce, so we need systems capable of a radical redesign, test, approval and deployment process that must be completed in less than 48 hours. This is more consistent with the pace of digital communicators, who are accustomed to have less time for smaller changes. Soon, this turnaround expectation will expand to include the same 48-hour turnaround time for important changes to regulated documents like loans, policies and other critical communications that typically have 30 days or longer to make changes.

As you think about how you will approach 2021, here is Vince Lombardi’s second quote for you to ponder, “Hope is not a strategy. Fear is not an option.” The good news about 2020 is that it taught us a lot of lessons. As you prepare for 2021, you can choose to take this to heart and find ways to improve the way you engage with customers in an omnichannel world where business has become nothing but unpredictable. Or, you can hope this level of disruption doesn’t come your way in the future, but I don’t advise it. The best thing you and your team can do is to get back up, learn how to avoid being knocked down again, and do what you need to do to take control over 2021.
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