We are witnessing history with the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 and everyone adjusting to the new normal. Many of these changes within the TMT (tech, media and telecom) sectors and outside are here to stay. Many of the capabilities to create customer, partner, investor, employee and shareholder value have been around for years, but only a few select organizations have harnessed them. As people accept changes, understand productivity levers, control costs and optimize headcount, they still need to keep the revenue going.

With a remote workforce being the new normal, we are witnessing era 1.0 of the zero-touch model. Just like touch is taboo during the COVID crisis, this aspect will be reflected in the business paradigm as well.

The Zero-Touch World

The constraints of our operating reality are real. It is also real to continue to progress toward organizational goals. The people sitting back, waiting for things to go back to where they were, will lose, and the ones who adapt and move forward will be the winners. Let us now examine how and where the zero-touch paradigm is possible.

Zero-Touch Sales

The concept of zero-touch sales is not new. Companies like Zendesk and SurveyMonkey have been working this way for many years. In the past few weeks, people have been taking a harder look at accelerating or migrating to this model given the COVID-19 impact. It basically means that the product will be sold through a website by driving traffic and offering a proof of value with minimal sales personnel on the front lines.

This, however, does not mean total elimination of the sales force; in fact, zero-touch does not mean the elimination of every touch point. Instead, it is minimizing the sales touch points upfront in the sales cycle and moving touch points with customer success after the trial period, tackling sales in a more subtle (as opposed to direct) manner.

There is also an industry perception that customer acquisition cost is lower for the zero-touch model, but cost is shifted downstream to customer service, which drives the conversion. It’s here that latent sales costs emerge. There are a few distinct criteria that need to be met (i.e., the ability to generate a large volume of leads, a very clear value proposition shortening the trial-to-conversion period, very strong customer success organization, clear success steps from trials, pricing being optimized for credit card payments, etc.) before one moves to a zero-touch model.

Zero-Touch Products

These are products suitable to enable trial, provision trial and install with minimal deployment overheads such as professional services. The new post-COVID-19 paradigm will gravitate toward this direction, with many products getting better packaged and moved into a light-touch configuration.

Zero-touch products are suitable for every scenario, but of course, not every product can be totally zero-touch. Having said that, many, if not most, products must adapt to a lighter-touch version of themselves after this pandemic passes to stay relevant, survive and grow.

In many large organizations, things may be a bit more complex. That’s because a lot of out-of-the-box functionality does not match the needs of the existing technology landscape and will require expertise from the customer or vendor to make the hooks into other parts of the application or infrastructure work. The ethos of the zero-touch product is about shifting the provisioning, installation, deployment and configuration complexity out of the packaged product and into the customer’s technology ecosystem. Automatic deployment solutions enable you to get software up and running with little to no configurations to manage, so a well-documented process, clear APIs and packaging become paramount.

Zero-Touch Customer Service

Again, this is not a new thing at all. Automatic self-service has been around for a while, but it hasn’t been universally adopted or seamlessly integrated into the customer journey. It is well known that customers feel exhausted by interactions, long wait times and solutions offered by existing methods. Many organizations have activated zero-touch services via varying efforts enabled through tools such as chatbots, automated IVRs and even AI in some cases.

A complete zero-touch service model must be predictive (i.e., use data from a database of prior customer interactions/behavior to predict issues before they happen). In the COVID-19 era, queues are phenomenal, and efficiencies attributed to digital value chains that automate analog behavior are inefficient. Customers are expecting software product vendors to go beyond keyword detection through chatbots to intention and sentiment detection, with minimal interaction and effort from their end.

Zero-Touch User Interfaces

Zero-touch interfaces are going to be a critical enabler to all the aforementioned elements. Products, processes, handoffs and interactions will all quickly migrate out of requiring input from customers or users. New features like facial recognition, voice commands, augmented reality and virtual reality will need to transition us out of the world of typing, clicking, dialing and swiping.

While the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant have made an impact on the consumer side, smart assistants have yet to make a transformative impact in the enterprise. This is a shift expected to be underway, creating a seamless integration between products, processes, devices, technology and outcomes. This shift will enable the safety of all front-line workers in the era of pandemics by creating guided audio and visual guides. Product management executives must quickly stay ahead of the game by creating new interfaces where customers can avoid touch and contact while effectively embracing favorable outcomes from usage of a product.

In Conclusion

None of the above is new. Various companies have adopted these solutions in silos and functions and based on specific catalysts. Now is the time to think about better packaged, less complex versions of products being sold through no-touch sales and enabled by creative interfaces and zero-touch support in a cohesive and integrated manner.