JOHANNESBURG – Remember Dolly Parton belting out her hit song, “9 to 5”, and how it addressed the business environment of 1980 with the immortal line “it’s enough to drive you crazy, if you let it”?

Fast forward four decades and those clock-watching days are something of the past. Rapid technological advances have disrupted business hours to such as extent that your company can no longer afford to be open for a third of the day, especially when customers are increasingly 24/7 beings. What can be done to ensure that you’re capitalising on round-the-clock opportunities?

Digitisation and the Age of Mobile mean that your customers are a swipe away from your company, and their expectation is that they’ll want to find out about products, purchase items, resolve account queries and, if necessary, have complaints dealt with. Simply dumping a recorded message at your contact centre or having an automated email response saying “our office hours are between X and X” isn’t good enough. For many, weekends present the only opportunity to handle personal admin or to make purchases.

From an employee perspective, flexi-time is extremely attractive, particularly when it comes to avoiding the drudgery of the rush hour. Many prefer to arrive at work at six am and work until three, for example, allowing them to enjoy time at gym or cooking, or managing the responsibilities of parenthood.

Bear in mind that banks are limited in the services they offer outside of the work week, although online banking is the norm, and some banking brands have extended hours. You may be limited in the scope of the service you can provide should bank authorization be required for a particular transaction.

Shifting responsibilities

Shift work can be demoralizing, it’s not the ideal port of call to look at, since unless you have the resources to employ round-the-clock teams, you could be dipping into your profits to sustain customer service. While a large 24/7 operation will need teams working in shifts, there are ways of ensuring that service is provided without detracting from your budget.

AI is one such way of tackling costs – in particular, chatbots provide the means of dealing with a variety of customer interactions, from product enquiries to providing tutorials and many basic tasks. Chatbots can handle such interactions efficiently and around the clock, freeing up agents for more complex tasks. Increasingly, with data analytics and business-wide system and channel integration making it more attainable to achieve an enhanced, single view of the customer, even a chatbot can offer personalised service that has the feel of human-to-human interaction. Chatbots can feasibly provide training to teams, too, so the need for valuable peak business times to be absorbed by remote, or even internal, training could be reduced.

A chatbot is simply one of many channel options. Digitalisation offers fantastic opportunities for your company to provide service according to customer preferences, say email, online chat, chat via apps, video, and social media all offer non-voice call options that can be more flexible to handle, reducing the need for those large teams. In addition, online interactions can also be handled remotely, so you could potentially offer your teams an entirely different working model that is in keeping with a non-9 to 5 lifestyle.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is another such application with round-the-clock opportunities. Essentially, it can be deployed to handle many rules-driven processes such as reporting, for example. Rather than humans having to spend time every day filling out reports and copying and pasting values across applications, this can be scheduled to take place automatically in a non-disruptive fashion. If you’re implementing that over a large number of employees’ tasks, let’s say, 200 employees who used to spend half an hour or an hour every day doing reports, you’re freeing up those employees for activities that can be of more active benefit to your company.

Disruptive business methods don’t mean disrupted service levels, they can provide enhanced opportunities to reach more customers, do more business and provide a great environment for your team.

This article was first published by Business Report on 3 July 2018.