As the world fights against Covid19, businesses are desperately struggling to cope and sustain in the rapidly evolving commercial landscape. Long-lasting and congenial designs to redefine human experiences with customers, suppliers, and employees is the challenge faced by every business. Companies are stressed to differentiate themselves by institutionalizing new policies and processes for sustainability in the changing times. Contactless operations to assure the safety of both the customers and the employees must be worked out as long-term strategies to enable operational resilience and competitive advantage in the pandemic and post-pandemic era.

In the current pandemic situation, almost every industry’s major concern is to ensure customer safety through a low-to-no-touch approach to customer service and retention. Companies are working towards delivering end-to-end experiences for their customers through operational design modifications. The structural modifications must enable identification of risks and design remedies based on the intensity of the risks, and subsequently develop adaptability to address such emergencies. For example Virtual stores allowing product browsing assisted by the store clerks. The structural redesign for transforming internal and external customer experiences may be implemented through well-planned interventions. The interventions must start with design interventions, proceed through process and technology interventions, and finally impact the human elements. This is relevant to businesses like home delivery of grocery items and restaurant food, online wellness regimes, telemedicine, online medical consultancy, and many more. With the gradual elongation of the low-to-no-touch experience, it is expected that people will adapt to their new choice of products and services and engagements thereof.

The new structure and design for business must limit person-to-person interactions at employee-to-employee and employee-to-customer levels. The human experience may be retained through simple tactics, like, the delivery person at the point of delivery cordially interacting with the customer and taking leave with a simple reassurance of well-being. The points of contact are of three types, namely, employee to employee, employee to customer, and customer to customer.

The process redesign must follow certain strategic steps:

(a) Assess and Prioritize the Risk: The physical activity areas and surfaces must be analyzed. The customer experiences need to be shortened and made as self-contained as possible. For instance, using the same buttons in an elevator can also be a risk. Each and every activity of human experience must be mapped to assess the interactions where people are involved physically like, transfer of goods, transfer of services, process-related tasks, etc. Simple acts where a customer makes a card payment in person or an employee swipes for several customers are two different levels of risk of contracting the Covid19. The activities involving human interface in the physical settings must be prioritized based on their criticality in the business context. Scope for redesigning these activities must be assessed depending on the intensity, duration, and frequency of exposure.

(b) Redesign the Operations: In order to adapt to the new normal, the businesses must redesign to enforce low-to-no-touch or contactless operations. This may require reforms in the operational teams and involvement of the leaders to facilitate collaboration that will enable speedy and accurate delivery, and enhance the quality of customer experience. Operational teams have to shift their vision from traditional siloed focus on their functions to the interdependencies and integration with other functions and the business process as a whole to create value. Risk assessment and prioritization of actions to generate and implement solutions that would balance the needs of the customers, the employees, and the business are mission-critical. The solutions designed must involve changes in technology, processes, and people.

(c) Implement the Action: The contactless operations must assure safe experiences for customers and employees as these are the most critical action areas to restart and revive the business in compliance with the regulatory norms of the government. The changes must be communicated to the customers and the employees to gain their confidence and engagement. For example, confirming services through text messages rather than in-person signatures reduces or eliminates the need for employee-customer contact in the majority of the situations. Also, such initiatives must be re-orchestrated from time-to-time to prepare for continued transformation in the long-run. For example, accelerated digitization enables omnichannel interactions for contactless operations. Such initiatives have a broad scope of application in banking, finance, and insurance sectors through measures like consolidation of the physical network of branches, appropriate reallocation of resources, etc.

(d) Reinstate the Human Experience: Minimization or elimination of human contact must be compensated with newer ways of engaging the customers. Newer strategies have to be identified and developed. For example, residential educational campuses, hospitals, hotels, etc. may create virtual experiential films to allow prospective customers to get a near-real understanding of the features and facilities of the services offered. Some businesses may have to reexamine their core values to retain their relevance in the new normal. Collaborative amalgamations will be a popular strategy to survive and sustain in the new eco-system. The involvement of all stakeholders in the co-creation process can reduce anxiety and restore mutual trust.

New norms and regulations pertaining to the new normal must facilitate new opportunities for the various business sectors. Better adaptability must be ensured through:

Inculcating an environment for continuous learning through assessment of the key result areas (KRAs). A review of the key performance indicators (KPIs) may help to design new metrics to reinforce low-to-no-touch or contactless operations.

Improvising systems for managing operations to ensure the sustainability of the new business model.

Sharing accountability to contribute towards continuous improvement through building a culture of well-being and instilling a feeling of security among the people while they cope up with the new ways of working.

Maintaining a sense of human contact despite going contactless by redesigning the interactive interfaces to differentiate in the new normal.

Engaging stakeholders in the redesigning process to maintain transparency of efforts and assure effective communication with the customers, vendors, and employees.

While companies that are sluggish in coping up with the new normal will face a tough time in maintaining brand loyalty and retention among customers; businesses that effectively and efficiently shift their operations to the low-to-no-touch or contactless mode in order to reduce the risks of Covid19 infection without compromising on the human experience will have brighter chances to sustain and thrive in the new normal.

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Sanghamitra Brahma
MBA & Ph.D. in Management; Faculty of OB & HRM; Currently associated with Adamas University, Kolkata, India. Educator and trainer in management, passionate mentor, and counselor for those seeking assistance. Contributor to The Eastern Herald.