We’ve seen approximately five years of transformation squeezed into just one year, and it has forced businesses to go digital. And if they weren't focused on digital before, they doubled down in the hope of minimizing business disruption.
The fact is, this entirely online reality has been a point of discussion for decades, it just arrived a whole lot faster than most of us expected.
Even when physical stores and branches do open up again, companies will want to maintain as much digital as possible — it’s a cheaper channel to serve and a much more convenient one for customers to access. The question is, how do companies continue to show the value of digital when stores open again and customers flock to the high street?
Maximizing digital benefits
Using an example that we are all familiar with — banking and cashing checks — we would usually have to travel to our local branch, get in a queue and speak with a clerk. On a busy day, that process could take 30 minutes to an hour.
What can be a time-consuming and somewhat frustrating process can now be done digitally as most UK banks have their own app that allows you to cash checks online. By scanning the check with the camera on your phone, the details are recorded and validated and the money is transferred to your account.
Before the pandemic, this kind of functionality would be low on the priority list for companies because there was no urgent need for it, and the processes in place seemed to work fine. However, digital is a fully-fledged high-priority channel now so it needs to be fully funded so customers can access services wherever and whenever.
Businesses need to continue building upon their sites and apps to offer more of the services customers can get in person, so they have the option to either go in-store or do it from the comfort of their home. Customers don’t want one or the other — they want a seamless, omnichannel experience that covers all their needs.
Facilitating the needs of multiple users
As the initial shift happened, there were two main groups of people being catered to. The first is digital natives who already have multiple apps and are comfortable navigating social media and online platforms. The other group is those who aren’t as familiar with digital and would rather stick to tradition by purchasing from physical stores because that’s what they are comfortable with.
When companies spend time (and budget) optimizing their sites or mobile apps, it’s usually fit for purpose for millennials or tech-savvy users who can log on and browse with no difficulty.
This means it won’t always be usable by someone who isn’t tech-savvy and might never have used a mobile app before. They might have older devices that the app hasn’t been optimized for yet. They might struggle to read what’s displayed or have trouble navigating from page to page.
By bringing the second group — the digital laggards — online, the pandemic created a window of opportunity for businesses to make their digital investments more inclusive for all groups. The reward of getting this right is obvious. If we can satisfy and retain more of our customers in digital channels, that will reduce the cost-to-serve and potentially can increase satisfaction and loyalty through a better experience. To effectively tailor design, content, and accessibility features without annoying or offending either of those groups, we need to evolve.
The power of preference
Customer service is a constantly evolving entity, particularly with the introduction of new and innovative technologies such as AI. For some companies, the prospect of adding new channels feels daunting, as the concern is that it will be overwhelming for customers. But there are ways to avoid that.
Ultimately, customers behind a screen want to have their needs met with quick, easy, and convenient experiences that require the lowest effort possible. How easy or difficult is it for customers to complete their tasks? People arrive in new environments, particularly digital ones, with the expectation that they will be able to seamlessly accomplish their task, and this effect has been amplified during Covid-19. People are desperate for ease and stability right now and don’t want poor experiences adding to their confusion and frustration.
So providing effective, timely and consistent changes are critical during this time, just don’t make assumptions about how every customer wants their experiences delivered. They want more than one option, and it’s important to remember that not everyone gets excited by things like automated messaging.
The first thing companies can do to evolve is by making better use of agents and resources they already have. By providing training and upskilling opportunities, employees can be more efficient and more responsive. You don’t necessarily need to hire new people to provide the experiences customers are looking for.
Then we have the technology hurdle. Tech-savvy users are more welcoming of changes they haven’t seen or encountered before — take chatbots for instance. For them, a five-minute interaction that doesn’t involve speaking to a customer service agent over the phone is a godsend because of how much time it saves. Someone who prefers calling or coming into the physical location will be more resistant, and being met with a chatbot that they find confusing could really wind them up.
With digital here to stay, it’s crucial that companies are empathetic to their customers and focus on what they actually need.
There is an excellent opportunity to continue building trust and confidence by listening to customers and using that customer understanding to deliver a more personalized digital experience. With empathy at the forefront, make sure you understand what aspects of your offering and experience customers favor and how you can factor those into the products and services you offer.
The brands that come out on top will be the ones who are able to respond quickly to shifts in customer expectations and deliver the kinds of experiences that close the gap between what customers really want and what brands are actually delivering.
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Yusdi Santoso, Head of Customer XM EMEA, Qualtrics