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Agility is now a non-negotiable business attribute: here are our top tips to start your journey

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Agility has arguably been the most important asset for any business since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – from shifting to new business models at speed, to being able to anticipate and adapt to customer needs. For many it’s proved the difference between staying ahead of the curve and remaining competitive – and seriously struggling financially.

A McKinsey survey of more than 2,200 SMEs in five European countries found that 70 percent had declining revenues as a result of the pandemic, with severe knock-on effects. While governments have tried to shield businesses from the fallout as much as possible, through furlough schemes, loan guarantees and bailouts, these measures are short-term and, in many areas, have fallen short of offsetting drops in revenue.

Investment in cultivating agile practices, tools and technology can make businesses quicker to understand and respond to customer needs; remove internal knowledge gaps, siloes, and outdated processes; and set them up for long-term success. Yet relatively few business leaders globally have been able to demonstrate the kind of agility required to be considered ‘market leading’ this year, according to new global research from Zendesk. While the news is better in the UK, with 66 percent of managers surveyed saying their organization has a high level of agility, this still lags behind other European countries like Germany and France.

So, where becoming agile is at the top of the list for 2021, how can businesses achieve it? Here are some of our top tips to get started today:

Put the voice of the customer first

Customers serve as a warning sign, not just about impending danger but also opportunities, so continually monitoring these signals is important. Create reliable methods for hearing what customers want you to know – and offer choices throughout the customer journey. Traditional customer service channels like phone and email aren’t the only way to hear from customers – surveys and self-service can also be valuable tools, while keeping your help center up to date and nurturing active user communities can also help customer ideas bubble to the surface.

What’s more, sharing customer feedback and related data across your organization; from the product team to marketing, can fuel informed, data-driven decision-making that will boost customer acquisition and loyalty, as well as profitability.

Create more communication channels

In the UK, nearly half (47 percent) of customers are more likely to buy from a company that offers their preferred approach to service. Yet, only around a third of mid-market and enterprise companies offer three or more customer service channels, which is likely to frustrate people before they’ve even connected with a support agent. Think about the channels that are most important for where your customers want to connect with you - and make sure it’s easy for them to find you there., for example, saw in 2020 that customers were most likely to connect with them through messaging - so they doubled down on service over this channel, shifting away from phone service. 

Make sense of it all with comprehensive analytics

For those businesses with thousands or even millions of customers, without the right tools, customer feedback provides only a static, partial view of a customer’s journey. To get a sense of where your business needs to go, companies need to be able to see the bigger picture, real-time trends. Agile leaders are 4.7x more likely to report customer metrics in real-time, making it easier to use CX analytics to recognize and respond to these shifts. 

Empower your agents to embrace change

Agile leaders are more flexible about changes in how customer service agents work. For Spanish ferry operator Baleària, while moving agents to remote working proved necessary during the pandemic, it had an added benefit as well: increased cooperation between teams from different departments. “The versatility and flexibility of the company’s teams came in handy, as we could ask other departments to help with tickets,” explains Alessandro Zollino, Director of Customer Experience. “That was the first step towards a customer-focused strategy across all departments. It is an ambitious, modern and necessary goal, one that will allow us to meet changing customer expectations.” 

Make use of AI and machine learning tools

More than a quarter of companies globally have reported adding to and/or expanding their AI or machine learning capabilities. From intelligent ticket routing to automated email responses, every routine task that can be automated for agents means more time spent solving complex customer issues. AI and ML tools can extend automation across the entire customer journey, making agents more productive and self-service more accessible. When Trustpilot decided to automatically serve up relevant help articles when users submitted a request, their incoming ticket traffic declined by 35 percent, while overall customer satisfaction increased by 20 percent. 

Open technology is your friend

Being agile means responding quickly to unexpected challenges. Your technology platform should be customizable to meet the unique needs of your business now, and over time. And if you’re lucky enough to have dedicated development resources, it should work with their preferred set of tools and development languages.

Make agility a cultural mindset

Agile leaders also empower teams to adopt new ideas and experiment. Teams should feel they have the permission to try, learn and adapt on an ongoing basis - and leaders need to be constantly challenging the norm to encourage this. “To unlock agility, you must embrace novelty,” thinks Gus Balbontin, former executive at Lonely Planet, founder, investor, mentor and keynote speaker. “It’s the antidote to becoming stale. If we don’t hit our brains with novelty on a regular basis, they get used to doing the same thing all the time and then change becomes more difficult.” 

Agility has been linked to both cost and time savings, with 45 percent of UK business leaders reporting that high agility reduced their costs by more than 25 percent. What’s more, with 63 percent of mid-market companies globally now viewing CX primarily as a revenue driver, and less than a quarter (24 percent) viewing it as a cost center, businesses are increasingly understanding the value of adapting to customer needs and then continuously looking ahead to anticipate them. As engineer Jim Highsmith said, “agile organizations view change as an opportunity, not a threat.” By taking steps to embrace an agile mindset today, companies can ensure they’re ready for the next opportunity to come along.

Peter Lorant, COO EMEA, Zendesk

Peter Lorant is the COO of Zendesk EMEA.