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Automation of customer support key in enhancing operational efficacy

I recently stumbled upon an old photo showing a long and meandering queue of taxpayers outside Times Tower, Nairobi, waiting to submit their annual tax returns. Although the photo is not dated, it could have been taken years back before the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) automated the filing of tax returns.

The long queue in the photo could only have meant two things. It was either the last day or a few days to the end of June when submission of annual tax returns falls due. The situation in that photo got me wondering, what would have happened if submission of annual tax returns was still manual at this time when physical engagements have been restricted as part of the containment measures to curb the spread of the deadly Covid-19? Would this have called for taxpayers to line up at KRA offices in shifts to submit their tax returns? How safe would this have been for both the taxpayers and KRA staff attending to them?

Thankfully, KRA already has the iTax system in place. iTax is a self-service system that enables taxpayers to conduct tax business such as personal identification number (PIN) registration, tax payment, ledger maintenance, application for tax compliance certificates and waiver application, among others. Taxpayers can do all these from the comfort of their homes or offices. The iTax system is especially handy at this moment when taxpayers are filing their 2020 annual tax returns. It therefore minimizes physical engagements which go a long way in helping flatten the curve.  

The iTax system as well as other technological platforms installed to enhance tax administration are complemented by a robust virtual customer service support system. The platform, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution is a one-stop-shop platform for customer engagements on various tax issues. The CRM solution provides a wide range of virtual engagement options such as calls, chats, emails and social media. 

As alluded to earlier, the significance of process automation has never been more of a necessity than when Covid-19 struck and forced us to adapt to a new normal. Before the pandemic struck, digitization was not a priority for many organizations and companies as a 2020 study by McKinsey & Company shows. According to the study dubbed How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever, respondents indicated that automation of processes was not among top priorities prior to Covid-19. 

The study further indicates that the acceleration in the uptake of technology has brought a different mindset for executives who no longer see technology as a cost-saving tool but a tool for refocusing their business models around digital technologies. This is a very important aspect given that the success of any transformation journey at the corporate level is heavily dependent on the blessings of the top leadership.

Historically, transformation of customer support frameworks through automation has always come last. In some cases, whether to automate the customer support framework or not is deemed optional. But looking at the situation that the Covid-19 pandemic has put us in, corporate bodies that were heavily reliant on traditional customer engagement methods have dedicated more resources to transformation of their customer support frameworks. The pandemic has, for instance, forced corporate bodies into spaces such as social media platforms where customers are encouraged to engage on, in light of the restrictions put in place against physical engagements. This period has also probably seen the highest number of contact centres established.  

Looking at all the transformation that the pandemic has brought about for corporate bodies, it is clear that indeed the customer is king. Whatever measures that corporate bodies are putting in place to remain afloat during this period, the customer is clearly the centre of their focus. It is all about how to best serve the customer even if this is to be done virtually. 

In addition to ensuring business continuity and enhancing efficiency in service delivery, automation of customer support frameworks is a primary source of big data which is crucial in decision making. Data on customer habits and preferences, for instance, is invaluable in contemporary times.

A key lesson from the corporate transformational changes that have been occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic is that automation or digitization of the customer support frameworks should no longer be optional. It should be prioritized and treated as an integral function that keeps any given organization going. 

Ms Wandera is the Head of Marketing and Communication at KRA

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