We all went through the denial stage during the pandemic when we couldn’t let go of the idea that everything would return to normal soon. Whipped by the survival factor, most businesses had to accept the new normal much faster and rethink their operations. Hibernation is dangerous since it is equal to saying goodbye to customers, who are eager to migrate to those businesses that are quicker at restructuring and reinventing themselves.
Customer journeys have moved online entirely, so it’s no surprise that technologies play a crucial role in this reinvention. Businesses need to act on the spot and build digitally enabled ecosystems where technology fosters speed and convenience, and customer care is prioritized.
According to McKinsey, a fundamental change of the organizational mindset toward customers along with operational and technological improvements can increase customer satisfaction by 20-30%.
It’s true that most companies are still in the technology development stage of their CX strategies or just considering the option of customer experience consulting. However, an unstable social and economic environment is the time to adopt the startup mindset: to cast off old paradigms, favor experiments over analysis, and establish new agility standards. The major challenge for companies is to deliver on an ambitious digital CX agenda in a few months instead of a year or more allowed previously.
Here are the main dos of a digital customer experience transformation:
- Upgrade your technology stack with flexible solutions allowing for automation and rapid restructuring.
- Shape your digital efforts around seamless customer experience that is sensitive to customer journey changes.
- Bring together existing and new data sources, and rebuild or create data models for driving insights in real time.
Let’s see how companies confronted with the new normal can leverage customer experience technology to react to customers’ changing preferences in real time in order to foster trust and loyalty.
Customer journey digitization: the platform approach
When the normal way of life came to a halt, demand patterns critically shifted as people had to move all their offline activities online, be it learning, exercising, communicating, or shopping. While everyone wants badly to come back to the old normal, this digital pivot is expected to linger and turn into a habit. According to McKinsey’s survey, 75% of consumers who use digital channels for the first time during the pandemic claim they will continue to use them during the recovery stage.
To provide service continuity, companies need to reimagine and fully digitize customer journeys by tapping into customers’ feelings and new habits, investing into customer-centric digital systems, and delivering digital experiences on par with those of competitors. To do that, businesses need a single source of truth that brings together data and technological silos, converging systems that engage, record, and intelligently analyze data from various sources within one platform.
What are the key characteristics of a platform for creating this pool of data assets, addressing novel customer needs, and incorporating multiple two-way communication channels?
To ensure sensitivity to changes and tools for fast restructuring, companies need to go for agile transformation with the combination of cloud-based solutions, microservices architecture, and CI/CD practices. This way, businesses will be able to integrate all the necessary functionality and customer data sources as well as make use of rapid prototyping, fast testing and deployment.
The platform approach also allows for a flatter organizational structure where all customer-facing departments have access to data analytics and are able to take immediate and appropriate actions when dealing with customer issues independently.
Built-in or connected intelligent technologies can be used for smart automation, such as recommendations on next best actions and interactive routing, as well as for driving multi-dimensional insights. Intelligent platforms learn to react to customer behavior changes, capture customers’ intent and emotions, and orchestrate customer journeys from one channel to another.
The current crisis has already demonstrated that forecasting models based on historical data can’t predict anything. They are unfit for a fast-changing environment where signals of increased demand come unexpectedly and in clusters.
Consequently, it’s important to reform a data analytics strategy to make analytical models react to every signal of customer activity in real time. This way, each customer interaction will be automatically registered, routed to an appropriate agent, and mapped across channels, allowing for constant optimization of communication and activity flows. As a rule, such analytical models require new customer data sets or, when real data is unavailable, synthesized data for training machine learning models and testing hypotheses.
In order to be truly flexible, businesses need to adopt a platform that doesn’t require intensive programming assistance to manage it. For example, SAP Customer Experience and Salesforce implementation provide users with no-code configuration tools, which help address changes in customer behavior quickly, orchestrate new customer interactions, and generate real-time AI-powered data insights.
Self-service customer experience technology
As customers move along their journeys, they require different kinds of assistance. At the same time, they have zero tolerance to delays. When some industries, like ecommerce and entertainment, experience overload during the pandemic, they need to think of additional support channels to serve customers on the go. Self-help solutions backed by automation is the answer to this challenge of digital customer experience.
Chatbots and virtual assistants
These digital helpers are automated self-learning platforms that are compatible with all devices and can be integrated with external systems. Automated assistants can be used as first-line support agents serving customers around the clock.
By seamlessly processing voice, text, and touch inputs, robot assistants can handle product search and discovery, answer common questions, and fulfill routine requests like license renewal, appointment booking, order placement, and many more. They are continuously learning to detect customers’ intent, cover more complicated use cases, and engage in more meaningful communication.
However, companies that automate their customer communications should find the right balance between automated and human interaction. Chatbots and virtual assistants can’t fully replace human-to-human communication so companies need to make sure their customers can always reach a human agent, particularly when it comes to sensitive or complicated requests.
With online transactions getting more commonplace across industries, sensitive customer information is exposed to more privacy risks. To protect customer data and run safe transactions across different devices, companies can adopt biometric identification technologies for their apps and call centers. Such unique parameters as eye retina, fingerprint, or voice pitch can help authenticate customers’ identities while speeding up the entire process. This way, customers won’t need to remember passwords and fill in their ID or credit card details while being sure their transactions are still secure.
Contactless and low-touch brick-and-mortar
As economies reopen and people come back to using offline services, businesses need to think how to cut on offline operations and unnecessary contacts while maintaining smooth experience. Customers won’t resume feeling completely safe anytime soon so they will naturally gravitate toward those brands that can provide contactless experience. Here are the technological tips to address these brand-new needs:
- In-store mobile checkout to eliminate queues
- Informational kiosks for consultation, item location, and product description
- Kiosks or mobile apps for order placement
- Beacons for navigation
- A brick-and-click option
- Touch-free sensors to open doors, push buttons, switch on taps, etc.
Emotional connection with customers
A few months ago, exceptional customer experience meant ‘seamless and personalized’. Today, customers expect businesses to provide safety and convenience on top of that. Care and empathy-driven actions during the crisis are becoming the foundation for long-lasting and positive emotional connections between customers and businesses.
Social listening and sentiment analysis
Using a customer success platform with connected social media channels or a standalone social listening tool, companies can track what their customers care about right now and actively communicate with them via the channels where customers are at the moment. It’s also important to analyze customers’ sentiment regarding your brand to understand whether your CX strategy meets customers’ expectations and addresses their needs.
Companies should also track nascent trends and understand which of them are going to stick after the pandemic. For example, online fitness and contactless delivery already have every reason to stay. Companies can use this intelligence to outline their post-pandemic CX strategy and start acting on it right now.
As customers don’t have access to or prefer to avoid offline experiences, it makes sense to encourage buyers to leave video reviews. It’s possible to embed a website widget so that customers can record their video feedback or share their own videos on social media. It’s a powerful source of emotional connection and serves as an independent endorsement of the product. It also allows customers to view a product in real settings and feel part of the community.
Many businesses that lost their customers due to the lockdown and the economic crisis managed to use their competencies to help fight the virus, be it by sending food to hospitals, producing protective equipment, or designing software for contactless operations in different industries. It’s a great way to keep employees busy, grow the community by sharing challenges and success stories, and stay prepared to serve customers once they are able to return.
Telepresence for communication
Due to social distancing, people are looking for alternative ways to communicate with businesses, and they prioritize person-to-person communication. Following this lead, companies need to adopt telepresence technologies, such as video conferencing platforms with chat options, immersive features, and IoT.
People prefer dealing with people when it comes to seeking advice in important areas of life, such as real estate, law, insurance, and healthcare, or when considering big-budget purchases. Consequently, the possibility to talk to an expert remotely should become an important part of the customer journey. Alternatively, product demos, video guides, or videos covering important issues can be made instantly accessible at respective touchpoints.
If your company used to hold an annual event that attracted lots of new customers and partners, it doesn’t mean this event should be canceled because of the traveling and public event restrictions. There are tools and platforms that allow holding meetups and provide lifelike experience by means of streamed presentations accompanied by interactive features, one-to-one or subject-based chat rooms, virtual visits to exhibition booths, and even life-like avatars and VR presence.
Live streams and online courses
The pandemic has made most companies realize they have unique competences that they can share with their customers in spite of the lockdown and social distancing. It can be anything from unique stories of your employees and industry insights to talks with experts, relevant how-tos, and online courses. Many companies provide such relevant content for free to let customers try something new and learn useful things while building brand loyalty.
The pandemic is the ultimate enabler of digital transformation
The current situation is something we have never experienced before. For this reason, we don’t yet have any playbooks we can follow to get everything right. Businesses need to move on by experimenting and applying their entrepreneurial creativity. The most important insight that companies have gained so far is that customers expect quality digital-first experiences driven by care and empathy. It means that the tech enablement of CX strategy has become an imperative. Businesses should get equipped with the digital means to see, hear, and understand their customers in order to fully address their expectations, or even design completely new experiences based on local and global trends.