The subscription economy and SaaS solutions
By John Crossan, VP EMEA, Zendesk
Five years ago when the subscription economy was in its infancy, we worked with many innovative businesses, such as Uber, Airbnb, Amazon and Dropbox, to really start to drive the notion of putting the customer at the heart of the business. These companies saw how consumers could and should be more connected with businesses.
They adopted SaaS solutions to enhance and improve their customer relationships and experience by engaging them where they wanted and when they wanted through multiple communication channels, the omni-channel approach. Half a decade on and the subscription economy has changed the face of business, with more than eight in ten Europeans relying on subscription-based services, and four in five people now having at least one subscription service .
Really, this movement was a result of a number of elements from the rapid adoption and wider use of smart devices, an always connected mentality from consumers, enhanced competition for businesses which meant they constantly needed to find a competitive advantage; as well as advancements in IT infrastructure such as AWS enabling a cloud of services and solutions for businesses of all sizes to use as they wanted and when they wanted.
For the first time, disruptive businesses were able to compete with larger established businesses by using the same or equivalent tools but in a much more agile way. The cloud, in particular, enabled these disruptors to scale rapidly like never before and build a competitive business in the blink of an eye while at the same time reaching customers around the world from anywhere. The business made in a bedroom was born.
Five Years On – What’s Changed?
Think back to five years ago to how you lived then compared to how you live now. Hailing a taxi was done standing on the pavement with a wave of your hand as opposed to on a phone with a swipe of your finger; a holiday was packaged not personalised, ordering takeaway food meant trawling multiple websites instead of just one; and pretty much nothing was delivered same day.
As businesses spotted the opportunity to disrupt traditional industries like transportation, retail, food and travel and had a means to do this at rapid scale, the rise of the subscription economy started to gain traction. Customers were placed at the heart of the business amid a focus on the value of long term relationships with every consumer.
Social media adoption grew and people became comfortable, familiar and efficient in communicating to the masses through the click of a button. First they started to broadcast a dialogue of their everyday lives; what they had for breakfast; where they were going to that afternoon. Soon after, they started to hold businesses to account but also celebrate when a company met their expectations.
This new power of communication coupled with the value consumers saw these new businesses placing on them gave rise to what we now term ‘the expectation economy’. Consumers who expect a business to behave in a certain way based on past experience, shared knowledge and awareness. Over the last five years, the power has shifted from the business to the customer.
The Big Business Conundrum
So, where did this leave established businesses? Essentially, it left them with a decision: push against this turning tide of consumer power or join the disruptors and embrace it.
For many, they believed this presented a new challenge, ‘be bold or succumb’. Be bold to tackle a gargantuan challenge by changing the entire culture of your customer engagement strategy or succumb to the ‘too hard basket’, ignore the issue and see your business gradually shrink. Traditional customer service solutions required many months of implementation, training and iteration; they also required six or seven figure budgets. You had to channel your inner crystal ball to consider how you might need to scale in the future. It wasn’t an agile, on demand experience.
Today there is a third option. SaaS based customer relationship solutions are designed to enable a business to try, buy and implement incredibly quickly. Business should be able to truly try the customer service solution fully, they shouldn’t need a user manual to get started. The software should be easy enough to use so that anyone within the business can pick it up quickly; and simple to introduce into the business so the IT infrastructure doesn’t need re-engineering. Importantly, it should be there and able to grow with the business as it scales or in times of peaks and troughs like the Christmas buying period for retailers.
Follow The Leaders
When you look at the traditional industries that have really started to adapt to this new era of consumer power, it’s really the ones with the most direct customer touch points that appear to have adapted first such as retail, travel, transportation and the public sector. Businesses such as Tesco, John Lewis, Trivago, Deliveroo, Cabify, and Gov.uk have recognised the need to change the way they appreciate their customers and instilled a mentality into their external facing employees to really focus on the lifetime value of the customer.
As a result, these early adopters have been able to establish trust and loyalty among their customer base and, in return, are being repaid through advocacy or continued business.
Even now, businesses are still not listening to the needs and wants of the customer. A survey of the UK retail industry by Zendesk revealed a demand for an omni-channel experience with over 40 percent of shoppers preferring to communicate with customer service teams through technology i.e online communication channels such as Chat and Message, as opposed to face-to-face. While another recent Zendesk survey into the UK travel industry found that 40 percent of people want vendors to remember their preferences and provide a much more personalised experience.
Businesses need to listen to this and consider customer service as being a sales opportunity not a business cost. A Zendesk survey in Germany found that 46 percent of respondents would rather visit a dentist or get stuck in a traffic jam than call customer service, that should be a wakeup call for businesses.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”