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By Adam Spearing

COVID-19 has caused profound disruption, like never seen before in our lifetimes. The way in which we interact, socialise and work with each other has been completely rewritten. Businesses of every size from every sector are facing seismic shifts in the way they need to operate and serve their customers. 

Throughout the period of lockdown, many organisations have found digital services indispensable in keeping some degree of operations running. Staff have quickly pivoted to working remotely and have rapidly settled into interacting entirely virtually. 

Digital imperatives

The pandemic has placed a greater emphasis on the need for digital transformation. Those organisations that were further behind on their journeys to transform have found they need to innovate at speed, invest and adapt. There’s been an urgent need for company-wide behaviour change for quick adoption. The kind of decisions that once might have taken months have been made in a few days or weeks. Every element of running a customer-facing business has changed, from capturing initial leads to aftersales and service. 

As we look to the second phase of this crisis – recovery and reopening – return-to-work readiness will be crucial. While the initial phase required a rapid shutdown and the ability to make decisions quickly, this second phase will need to be more structured, strategic and gradual. As government guidance develops and changes, businesses will need to adapt accordingly, and technology, like our own platform Work.com will continue to play a key role in keeping people connected, support leadership decisions, and help organisations adapt to change. We built Work.com to be a trusted playbook for every business and community on how to reopen, prioritising the health and safety of employees and visitors.

All kinds of businesses have already had to shift, scale and adapt their products to work in new ways, and the technology sector has a responsibility to be supportive. Never have things like data availability and the ability for teams to collaborate on a problem in real time been more important. Shift management, compliance to new health and safety regulations, and the need for more agile and sustainable work practices all compound the imperative to digitally transform in the face of this pandemic. There’s an ongoing need for tools to help communicate to employees, partners and customers with agility. 

Virtually connected customers

All aspects of sales, marketing, commerce and analytics in the cloud is about connecting people in ways that make them more efficient and secure, no matter where they might be physically located. The expectations of customers remain as multi-faceted as ever and reaching them with all the current constraints in place is a great challenge.

Physical environments have for now become challenging to manage. What touch points customers still have with organisations take on added importance, and businesses may in fact have more data than they know what to do with. Our recent State of Marketing Report revealed how marketers are turning to a myriad of customer data sources with the top three being transactional data, declared interests and preferences, and known digital identities.

Consolidating those sources in order to know customers better will be a vital tool in the race to provide more meaningful interactions with existing customers and maximise the value for new ones. For retailers, this might be understanding the best time to offer online discounts or recommendations, or for service organisations, how to resolve customer enquiries in the most useful way. The data exists to inform the right approach at the right time across all industries, but it’s only when it’s all joined together that brands have the capability to take action. 

Transforming workforces

The second phase will also redefine how we learn, develop and upskill our people. Beyond the immediate challenges of today, employees need to be equipped with the skills to fully navigate a world that’s rapidly digitised. Many of these changes were already well underway, but the pandemic has had a multiplier effect. 

Data science and AI, for instance, will remain highly sought-after skills, as will technical skills like programming and app development, but also those that are uniquely human, such as creative thinking, problem-solving and negotiating are all taking on new contexts. In fact, creative, strategic thinkers have the skills that an AI-powered future will be desperately hungry for. Before the pandemic, the World Economic Forum estimated that more than half of all employees will require significant reskilling by 2022.

Efforts on workforce development can be just as successful in an era of social distancing. Many online learning platforms, like Salesforce Trailhead, exist to help continuously develop employees’ digital skills, which can take place completely remotely, and are open to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Everything from data science to the softer skills of management and productivity are on offer. 

Those companies that prioritise their digital transformation and prepare for the ‘new normal’ accordingly are those that will be best placed to restart and re-establish themselves in a post-pandemic world. By using technology for the good of everyone, we can help prove that business is the greatest platform for change.    

*Adam Spearing is EMEA field CTO at Salesforce.

Salesforce did not pay for this article

“The expectations of customers remain as multi-faceted as ever and reaching them with all the current constraints in place is a great challenge.”