The impact of COVID-19: Customer service, digital transformation, and the new normal

Michael Maoz, senior vice president of Innovation Strategy at Salesforce, is a customer experience and customer engagement management expert. Maoz shares his thoughts on impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer on

Michael Maoz is the senior vice president of Innovation Strategy at Salesforce. He's one of the world's foremost CRM, Customer Experience (CX), and Customer Engagement Management (CEM) experts. Maoz was one of the creators of the CRM space and a member of the first global CRM software company. He joined Salesforce from Gartner, Inc., where he was a founder of the CRM practice and held positions as research vice president, distinguished analyst, and Gartner fellow. 

Maoz regularly writes about business, leadership, and innovation industry tends. Today, Maoz is actively collaborating with CEOs and senior executives of the biggest and fastest-growing companies around the globe, guiding and learning from digital business transformation trailblazers. I asked Maoz to share his thoughts on customer service, digital transformation, and the business landscape in the post-pandemic and the new normal. 

Michael Maoz, senior vice president of Innovation Strategy at Salesforce.

Michael, before joining Salesforce, you had a 20-year career at Gartner and, among many other activities, you authored the Magic Quadrant for the Customer Engagement Center ("CEC"). Why is it called the Customer Engagement Center?

Michael Maoz: I really look forward to the Gartner Magic Quadrants. This year's Gartner 2020 Magic Quadrant for CRM Customer Engagement Center was no exception. Maybe a small exception, as the "CEC MQ" was something I created, so it's a bit like how a parent waits for a call from a son or daughter. It had been called the Customer Service Contact Center Magic Quadrant for many years. I made the change in names because the word 'contact' seemed an inadequate word for what many of us envisioned as the future of great service.

The word 'contact' means 'one surface touching another,' or one entity reaching another. A contact lens sits on the eye, and in a contact center, a customer reaches a representative of the business. That is the entirety of the process: "You have reached." As in you have reached a cold medium, where we do not know you, do not much care how or why you got here, and we certainly will not remember tomorrow or the next time you contact us, anything that transpires now."

How is that for a value proposition? Hopefully, you like it, because it is the norm in almost 90% of businesses and government offices and educational or philanthropic organization. There is no institutional memory. We are all thrilled when we dial the same number twice and hear our name recognized: "Welcome back, Merritt."

How has the pandemic impacted service organizations?

Maoz: The global pandemic has exaggerated all that is wrong with a 'contact' strategy. The pandemic is also the best opportunity in over a decade to restart, re-energize, and re-imagine customer service and field service. There may never be a better time to press for an 'engagement-first, digital second' strategy.

The accepted wisdom is that the enterprise has to be 'digital first.' Think about that for a moment: do you want to lead with technology, or lead with process? What is it that they teach in Engineering 101: Form follows function. First, imagine the right way to engage with your customers – safely, with trust, and in their immediate and overall context. 

How can an enterprise learn what it needs to know to serve the customer?

Maoz: Step back and meet with customers. Talk to them, ask their permission to observe their activities related to your business. Give them ways to describe what they believe they want from you. Use forums and surveys and 'tag alongs.' Explain what your response is to what you learn and your understanding of what to do about it. We need a new perspective on engagement in a world that is increasingly digital and absent a human employee.

Engaged means that there is a sense of commitment from both sides on a successful relationship. Define the components of that commitment. Measure them. Be transparent about how close you are to achieving this state. Technology changes and enterprise goals change, and customers change, and so do their expectations. This is why we always call the customer experience a journey, not a destination. 

What is the state of play today? How close are organizations to customer-centricity?

Maoz: Begrudgingly, customers accept the amnesia that characterizes the relationship with the organization. It is like in the great American film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Two young people meet on a train from Montauk. They don't know one another, though something is familiar. Why is that? Because they once had a relationship. The young woman, Clementine, recently had all memories from their former relationship erased, and then, begrudgingly, so did he. This is how it feels to be a customer. It feels as though you were intentionally forgotten.

The reason that organizations do not want to engage with the customer because on the surface it does not pay. Not in the short term. In business, everything is short term: even long-term planning. The result is a focus on transactions over relationships. We shunt customers to the least expensive channel, like self-service, even when a phone call is required. We hold video sessions, but the content of the session is lost. We fail to design the necessary hand-offs and fail to capture the outcomes in the customer record where it could be used to further the trust in the relationship.

 And that is what supported your move from 'Contact' to 'Engagement?'

Back at Gartner in 2015, we were in search of a way to shift to a longer view on customer service. To look past transactional economics and focus on relationship economics. We weighed many approaches and settled on 'engagement.' I chose the word 'engagement' because it has, at its core, the idea of a pledge, or a show of commitment, or two parts coming together as one. Gears engage. Couples become engaged. A conversation that pulls you in is engaging. 

How will the shift from a contact model to an engagement model change the way we do business?

Maoz: It is not just the customer service center. The new world of field service is a prime example. It used to be highly transactional: install, repair, maintain. As the enterprise turns to field service to drive revenue and lower costs, we are seeing leading organizations prioritize the integration of field service with logistics, with the customer experience teams, and with sales and marketing.

Why is quality engagement more important now?

Maoz: The many unknowns of the COVID-19 Pandemic are serving as a kind of 'reset' as businesses search for a New Normal, or Next Normal. Remote monitoring and diagnostics, video, text messaging, dynamic shift scheduling, predictive AI for parts positioning and maintenance, and greater technician autonomy, will all be under consideration as a part of field service. And field service will be integrated tightly into the design of the overall customer experience.

This new or next normal opens the door to improving customer experiences and relationships through new technologies, perspectives, and approaches. 

It does not demand an MBA from INSEAD or Booth to figure out that customers who are engaged with you positively also trust you. They like the relationship. They buy more products and services and take you up on your up-selling suggestions. Think of great companies like Apple or Adidas or Salesforce (my employer) or IKEA and Disney or Carrefour or Suntory. They focus on the near and long-term. They use ideas like the return on customer value and the return on employee engagement.

Not only do happy customers buy more and over a longer period, but they are also a great way to market your company. This is true in both the business-to-business area and the business-to-consumer, and all other models in between. They also require less effort on future sales, and less effort in convincing them to pay their bills, and are less prone to demand complex contractual language.

What changes should organizations make if they want to incorporate the long view of customer experience?

Maoz: To inspire more desirable and beneficial behaviors at scale, we should consider new measures of customer success. "What gets measured gets done." Today's measures and metrics don't shift or influence the customer such that they lead to the desired behaviors and outcomes.

When you change the time horizon for evaluating CX investments, it is clear that a more sophisticated measure of 'customer success' is required. It emerges that growth and profitability are the results of the confluence of multiple factors in the customer experience. It is all of the small and large points of engagement that cumulatively drive both growth and profitability. This begs the question: why do businesses only sub-optimize measurement into subcategories like lead generation, lead conversion, cost of sale, cost of close, customer satisfaction, and customer retention? These are good to get a healthy look at each process, but they are still fragments or isolated experiences that don't necessarily add up to customer satisfaction overall.

We all look for the exceptions to the rule of inconsistent, fragmented customer experience. We write case studies about them and showcase them at conferences and in the media. We study them at Business Schools and lecture about them. Meanwhile, even the greatest companies generally are great at specific aspects of service, while poor in less visible areas. The great companies have analyzed, from the customer perspective, what matters most, and become excellent at that. Every organization, like every country and every person, is flawed in some way. That is not what determines success. Success is driven by being the best at what matters the most.

What are the organizations you speak with saying about the future of customer engagement?

Maoz: To create a sense of engagement with the customer, and with employees and partners, an organization needs an integrated set of processes and supporting technologies. A 'Customer 360' and a Single Source of Truth about the customer. That does not mean that every one of those systems will be from the same supplier. Nor does it mean that the supplier will build every application in the same way.

This is a topic for another time, but suffice it to say that some systems are built for sheer speed, some for massive scale, some to engineer a highly personalized experience, and some to detect state change in the customer's situation. Salesforce is lucky to have engineered Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, and Field Service all on a single platform with a common object model.  That simplifies measuring those state changes. That said, software companies will both build and buy the best in class technologies. It also means that they will need the integration framework, product coordination, and the engineering prowess and agility to orchestrate innovation.

Are you seeing a similar transformation in Field Service, where change historically has been slower to come?

Maoz: There has been an ongoing set of improvements around the world in the delivery of field services. The first area where this is evident is the awareness in the C-Suite as to the central role that the field service organization plays in customer satisfaction and customer growth. On the level of field service itself, there are new approaches and new technology players. The new field service offerings are not the spin-offs or extensions of ERP or supply chain or plant maintenance. Instead, they are focused on business growth and customer satisfaction. They are extensions of a CRM practice.

The best service organizations are now identifying areas of high impact for field service improvement, and business growth. They identify a tight deployment plan that looks beyond the mindset of break/fix/maintain. They are now thinking in a more agile way. Supporting this trend, there are now firms that are helping the field service organizations move up the value chain. We have been working with several of our partners who combine consulting and implementation practices to help field service organizations think in entirely new ways.

One of our clients, for example, created their installation process in a unique way: They receive an order in their CPQ (configure, price, quote) system, generate a field service request and send all of the details to the technician on his/her/their mobile device. Details include contact tracing, safety protocol, links to text messages, and customer contact information. This linking of sales, service, and field technician support was delivered as a turnkey solution by our partner. That is one great example of the future of field service.

What is the employee's role in digital transformation?

Maoz: Whether we feel it yet or not, a new age of empathy for the employee is underway. As we work to emerge from the current crisis, leaders need to foster new kinds of collaboration. Talent managers and chief people officers will be working with facilities and field service and security on safety, and customer support will be working with marketing, and the chief revenue officer will be working in new ways with everyone! We all need to be more sensitive to the welfare of the employee. Their health, physical and mental, shapes their morale, which is proven to highly correlate with customer satisfaction.

A major roadblock to improving employee performance is the area of employee empowerment. Dig into this: Are your customer-facing employees empowered to deliver an engaging experience that the customer will value? The success or failure of your customer experience efforts, and digital transformation, depend on a positive answer here!

Most importantly, everyone inside of the organization is newly permissioned to be the eyes and ears of the enterprise. To not only observe but to act, no matter who you are or at what level: As of right now, we are all in the business of emerging as better, more trusted, companies, employees, and citizens for a better world.


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