By: Neil Greathead, CCO at Smart Communications

The COVID-19 health crisis created levels of unprecedented uncertainty for people and businesses around the world. We’re seeing more urgency around prioritizing digital deliverability, and even if you have started incorporating some digital components into your strategy, any manual paperwork you require as part of your process can cause unnecessary back and forth – straining meaningful customer conversations.

We recently spoke with Anne Lill-Holme, Information Management Lead at Sydney Trains, the operator of rail services across the metropolitan Sydney area to discuss how a global health crisis, remote work, virtual learning, shutdowns and more, impacted their employee experience and the key trends she believes will transform customer conversations in 2021.

The Q&A from our conversation is below:

Smart Communications: How have the events of 2020 impacted the employee experience? What can business leaders do in 2021 to ensure employees have the resources they need to perform their jobs successfully?

Anne Lill-Holme: With the sudden change to working from home, the shift has been dramatic in using technology. Eliminating paper forms and printing coincides with an increased demand for digital services in all parts of the organization. Reworking analog ways of working to a digital process have been vital to cater for this shift. As business leaders, we must support this shift by empowering our employees with digital solutions that enable them to do their work anywhere, without being bound to a specific location. Part of this is SmartIQTM, where we can easily access workflows, approve and make decisions related to our business processes.

Furthermore – it must be easy to use, not requiring an extensive change management process. Our employees expect everything to be readily accessible online and” just work.”

Smart Communications: Where has automation had the biggest impact for your team and how do you see that continuing into 2021?

Anne Lill-Holme: For us, automation has been essential. For example, we have seen a significant impact on converting processes such as 6- and 12-month performance reviews. We have taken what was a very cumbersome process of sending printed forms that would take up to 60 days for someone to complete, to getting completed forms back in real-time. We have so many different forms that it is difficult to pinpoint where the most significant impact will be, but simplifying the manual forms process means we can respond even faster.

The performance review was initially filled out as a Word-document, converted to a PDF and archived. When the next step in the performance review arrived, that document had to be located, text manually copied onto the next step template before giving it to the staff for the next review cycle. Imagine doing this for more than 1,000 people-staff twice a year with all the emails and possible errors! Digitizing this process and making the information available in a database has changed the whole process.

When starting the next cycle of reviews, the information from the previous review cycle is already available for staff, based on that particular staff member’s unique employment ID. They have to respond to the email sent from SmartIQ and start the review cycle with all information already present. All communication, workflows and decisions flow through SmartIQ, with notifications and dashboards for showing progress and bottlenecks in the process. We see that the biggest impact probably will come from automating more processes like this for our organization.

Smart Communications: How will technology continue to support your team’s goals and objectives in 2021?

Anne Lill-Holme: There is more to technology implementation than just buying a piece of software. It must be fit for purpose. I mean that the solution used, like SmartIQ, must be good enough to do the job it is designed to do. SmartIQ fills that brief and more.

The technology must support and connect to what we do as a business, regardless of size and scale. Soft skills must also be considered and implemented as part of the process as well. As leaders and as a business, we understand this, and technology will improve and enhance the customer experience.

Smart Communications: In your opinion, what key trend do you see having the biggest impact on businesses in 2021 and beyond?

Anne Lill-Holme: I think one of the biggest trends we will see in the coming year is increased importance placed on solutions designed to help companies understand and support the shift towards virtual engagement with both customers and employees. It is essential to find new ways to engage and build trust when working from home and in an increasingly virtual environment.

What the team and I have seen is that there still is some resistance to change. Not so much for the staff, but within some management structures in the organization. You cannot email your way through this, and you need to engage and talk to people, show them the difference between the old process and the new process by giving them transparency into how more effective they can be digital.

There is no ‘one answer’ for building this trust, but we have seen that breaking up the message in smaller pieces for a more targeted approach seems better. Focus the message on how to solve their problem, not what the software can do for them.

Smart Communications: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Anne Lill-Holme: As we have seen during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the need for an easy-to-use digital platform like SmartIQ is essential. It is important to us for all our solutions to collaborate and integrate in a seamless and easily accessible way for all employees. Taking a digital-first approach will be more critical than ever in 2021 and beyond.

Interested in learning more? Download 5 Key Trends Transforming Customer Conversations in 2021 to check out additional tips and strategies for the year ahead.

2021 Trends White Paper