We’ve all seen (or maybe even written) the tweets or negative reviews, complaining about terrible experiences dealing with unkempt businesses or poor customer service. Social media has made it possible for anyone to instantly report a negative experience at restaurants, retail stores, banks, airlines or cable companies. Consumers have expectations whenever they interact with a brand — level of customer service, food quality, store condition, etc. — and when those expectations aren’t met, today’s customers may instinctively reach out for their phones to tweet a complaint. That is when brand experience erodes.
These operational setbacks, such as poor customer service, broken equipment, or a failed inspection that went unreported — or worse, completely forgotten — are the biggest threats I see to brand perception by customers. Businesses with persistent operational setbacks run the risk of alienating their customers over time. So how do businesses prevent those operational setbacks and maintain a positive brand experience?
That responsibility falls largely on front-line workers and their operational leaders, who, in their roles, are the unsung heroes of our economy.
Operational setbacks can hold back even the best marketing team and undermine brand experience, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As the CEO of a company that provides a mobile-first front-line record management platform, I believe businesses should empower their operational leaders with the technology they need to do their jobs as well as possible. However, even though everyone now has a supercomputer in their pocket, in most of these environments, everything still runs in a very much analog way.
Consistency is key.
Customer experience and brand value start with a highly standardized and predictable operational engine. Amazon, for example, is not simply Amazon just because it says it is. Instead, Amazon has built a highly predictable and repeatable organizational structure that allows it to hold true to its promise to deliver within two days. In fact, the operations side of the business is likely so scientific and precise that it’s almost impossible for Amazon not to deliver in a timely manner, which is no small feat given its sheer size.
This is because at its core, Amazon is a technology company. It’s difficult to build an operational engine of that scale just by self-organizing in an analog way with pen, paper and clipboards — there should be a technological component.
Hiring difficulty and high churn mean operational efficiency is more critical than ever.
Just because automation can help you create more consistent and predictable operations does not mean that humans stop being at the center of this process. In my experience, deskless workers are harder to hire than ever thanks to the historically low unemployment rate. When employers have to fight for the best talent, finding candidates that are as good (if not better than) the previous person in the role can be extremely difficult. According to Bloomberg, this talent squeeze (paywall) is also pervasive in blue-collar work. With historically low unemployment levels, some businesses can no longer easily replace people when they leave, which means they must be extremely efficient with their limited human personnel. Front-line workers should also be empowered with technology that makes them more productive and efficient with their time while also helping them minimize the “human error” part that can lead to setbacks.
Consumerization of the enterprise and the end of manual reporting lead to unpredictability.
It might sound crazy, but for many of these deskless industries, the state-of-the-art system of record is still the good old fashioned clipboard and pen. In a simple example, consider the paper cleaning schedule sheets posted in many public bathrooms that employees are supposed to initial every hour after they inspect and clean or, more critically, the food safety checklists that employees need to follow. To go more industrial, how about inspecting the pressure levels on commercial storage tanks?
Do operational leaders really want to trust clipboard notes to get an accurate, real-time status update on these things? The point I’m arguing here isn’t that employees aren’t capable of doing regular procedures and then reporting back. No amount of employee diligence, staff training or onboarding can overcome incomplete and missing notes or miscommunications. Without a technology-based solution to replace analog processes, businesses leave themselves open to too much unpredictability. Many companies, including mine (MaintainX), SafetyCulture and Parsable, are working to solve that problem.
Here are some of the most important things to consider when choosing the right technology for your business.
1. Does this technology decrease nonproductive time or increase productivity? In a tight job market, it’s important to make existing employees as productive as possible.
2. Does it improve the employee experience? Happy, empowered employees may be less likely to quit or look for another job.
3. Does it save on costs? It’s important to have things run as smoothly as possible and decrease any asset downtime and other wastage.
4. Does it improve communication? Is it easier for people to get the answers they need, when they need them?
5. Does it improve customer experience? A consistently great customer experience is one of the most important things one can do for their brand. That starts with a predictable and standardized operational engine.
6. Does it satisfy your organization’s compliance needs? From government compliance to things that inevitably go wrong, it’s important to have a reliable audit trail.
In the end it all boils down to two questions operational leaders should ask themselves.
1. Does my team know what they need to do today and how to do it?
2. Have they done the job in a predictable and auditable way?
Bad brand experiences can cripple a business, but many subpar brand experiences are entirely preventable. Deskless work is no longer being marginalized from a technology perspective. The shrinking labor force for these kinds of jobs means businesses should be smarter about allocating their limited personnel and choosing the right technology for their needs.