When things go from bad to — better

Why a crisis might be the right time to correct long-standing inefficiencies.

Mar 23, 2020 by Jess McCuan

How to turn a crisis and crisis management into an opportunity

Crisis mode isn’t where any business wants to find itself (unless, of course, you happen to be in the crisis management industry). Depending on its severity, a crisis might deal a serious blow to your incoming leads and sales pipeline, or it could put more strain on your staff or internal systems, as customers rush to place orders, cancel orders, or fundamentally shift what they need from your business. 

Fixing what was wrong all along

A crisis can also expose long-standing inefficiencies in your organization. Let’s say your financial reporting works something like this: a team of five finance managers regularly download Excel spreadsheets, re-format those sheets to upload into SQL, reformat them again once they’ve run through financial management software, and then finally reformat that information for presentation as a PDF. It’s a labor-intensive, time-consuming process that’s potentially error-prone. With a simple automation, four steps could be turned into one. 

A crisis can expose long-standing inefficiencies in your organization. It’s also a good time to correct them.

The same is true for many types of internal data prep and movement between internal systems. Perhaps your company deals in real estate and property insurance. Before a natural disaster, most customers may have typed claim information into straightforward online forms, with only a few attaching images that needed manual review by agents. During a disaster, however, nearly all your customers may panic and attach photos to their claim forms, meaning your agents get swamped with tricky and time-consuming reviews. A simple automation can help you turn those images into machine-readable data in just a few seconds, meaning it can then be uploaded, classified and used right away in internal databases.

Customer needs shift under pressure

In any crisis, including the current coronavirus pandemic, what people need from businesses gets upended — for many reasons. Right now, banks, hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies, and online retailers are seeing an influx of claims and customer requests. Just think of the endless forms mortgage companies are processing now, for refinancing requests alone. Travel insurance, once a relatively rare option for air passengers, has suddenly seen a surge in demand.

In a crisis, what people need from a business gets turned on its head. The volume of requests might skyrocket, or drop off entirely.

Companies are getting crushed under the volume, with the need for raw document processing outpacing their computing power and systems capabilities, not to mention the onslaught of customer messages, inquiring about products or status.

Sort and classify incoming messages, fast

To help reduce this pressure, you need multi-channel support. If you’re a business owner who’s never seen much activity on Facebook or Twitter, for example, but now you are, you can create a simple automation that views those channels as data sources and uses advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) and an AI model to sort and route incoming messages. For the flood of incoming emails, you can opt for several solutions, including (but not limited to):

  • gathering and sorting incoming requests based on their intent
  • sending automatic emails acknowledging acceptance
  • generating automated responses
  • responding with pertinent details (expected wait times, etc.)
  • triggering automatic actions based on emails of various kinds 
  • routing an email to the appropriate department or person for processing

Call center employees and customer support staff are always looking for new ways to reduce the number of steps they take as they field customer inquiries and swivel between systems with different logins. For example, you might treat a customer service platform as a data source, customizing automated responses to incoming messages, thereby eliminating significant phone time altogether.

Simplify work from home for all

Find that your work-from-home employees are struggling with repetitive tasks, activities that were easier when they were all sitting in the same room together? You can use Optical Character Recognition technology to decipher, for example, handwritten and half-handwritten documents. Simple screen automations, NLP and other techniques can help you quickly classify documents, extract information from them and write that info directly into a company database. Whatever the tasks, the automations can be set up to run as unattended or attended, depending on whether an employee wants to step in and review them.

No company wants to shift gears during a disaster.

To be sure, no company wants to shift gears during a disaster. But a crisis can be an excellent opportunity to reassess your core business processes. Could they use slimming down, simplifying or automating? If so, this likely means your current staff can be reassigned to higher-value tasks. Automating repetitive functions can help give temporary relief to overburdened workers, gives you a quick boost in ROI, perhaps a quick morale boost as well. It will also help ensure that you’re better prepared for a future downturn.