Some executives and industry analysts call 2020 a watershed moment for Digital Transformation or a “customer experience revolution” (Gartner).
And it is true. Enormous shifts have occurred in just the last two years. For example, McKinsey states that the massive shift to remote work that was achieved in just 11 days during the initial lock-down would usually take more than a year to achieve — that is forty times faster than expected. After figuring out how to allow their employees to work from home, companies had to find new and innovative ways to engage with their customers in a matter of weeks.
Many organizations that had been half-heartedly lugging their digitalization and customer experience improvement initiatives around since The Great Recession in 2008 (often without much enthusiasm, strategy, and budget) were now thrust into a pandemic that turned everything upside down, forcing them to adjust very quickly or declare bankruptcy.
Now, more than two years after the pandemic started, we have moved beyond the initial scramble and set in motion those long-term customer experience initiatives that are going to carry us through the next few years. But customer expectations and behavior, as well as the competitive landscape we operate in, have drastically changed — with huge consequences for contact centers as they are now, more than ever, at the forefront of customer interactions.
1. Customer Expectations Increased Significantly
The stay-at-home orders and lock-down were so disruptive that they made us question everything. Brand loyalties that were held for years went out the window quickly as many mature companies struggled and did not adapt not fast enough to avoid being instantly replaced by much more agile competitors.
For example, 80% of US customers were grocery shopping online during the pandemic — an enormous increase from the 30% pre-pandemic levels. However, post-pandemic, this is expected to only decrease to about 50%. The reason for that is not a fear of the virus but rather the now-normal convenience factor.
This convenience coupled with the customer experience improvements made in the past two years has created a new level of digital/customer expectation. What started as a temporary quick fix, including the initial expected growing pains, is now expected to work seamlessly and flawlessly across all channels. In fact,68% of customer service managers in a 2021 Freshworks study said that customer expectations have increased since the start of the pandemic.
2. Digital Communication Strategy Accelerates By Six Years
According to the Twilio COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report from December 2020, 68% of executives (especially in technology, energy, and healthcare companies) said that COVID-19 sped up their Digital Transformation efforts a "great deal", while 29% of their peers believe it accelerated their efforts somewhat.
Organizations reported that this resulted in an average 6-year acceleration in the companies' digital communications strategies as well as plans for future net-new digital channels including live chat, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), in-app or web-based chat, text messages, and even video conferencing.
While many of the strategies were already in place before the pandemic, they are now getting realized much faster because they suddenly have executive buy-in, legacy software is being replaced as companies heavily invest in IT and technology, and freeing up and training resources for this cause is being prioritized.
3. Customers Know You Have Data & They Expect You To Use It
With rising digitalization, customers are now accepting the fact that companies store and manage lots of personal data. In return, they expect companies to use this data to tangibly improve their experience. To stay with the example of online grocery shopping, shoppers expect to be able to add staples on weekly or monthly delivery schedules, save time by adding items bought in the past to their basket with just one click, and receive custom product suggestions based on their purchase history.
However, the expectation goes a lot further than a custom shopping basket. In addition to having all the information related to that particular customer available quickly, your customers are expecting you to constantly learn from your customer interactions and adapt quickly. For example, if you receive an increased number of calls relating to supply chain or shipping issues, you need to be able to extract this trend from all your contact center interaction data. This can be done using AI-driven Voice Analytics, which brings me to point number four.
4. Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence Play A Big Role
In order to facilitate new digital customer experiences, organizations will increasingly rely on emerging technologies as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Gartner states that 70% of customer interactions will include emerging technologies, such as mobile messaging and live chatbots.
In addition, by shifting even more away from brick-and-mortar and to digital, we create an insurmountable amount of data! We need to humanize that data and make it work for us by utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. For example, an AI-based solution could recognize that a shopper just provided their credit card information and hash the numbers out in the transcript and silence the recording to ensure that no sensitive data is released during a data breach. Another example is using an AI-based solution to identify a sudden spike in call volume around a specific topic, e.g., verifying if an email is a scam or real.
By having your finger on the pulse of what is happening in your customer base, you can react proactively (ring-fencing potential problems before they spiral out of control) or lean into emerging opportunities faster to gain a competitive advantage.
What Does This Mean For You?
If 2020 was a watershed moment for Digital Transformation, then the coming 12 months will be a crucial time to implement long-term strategies that ensure that you can not only compete but thrive in this new world.
In detail, this means that contact centers — as the main customer interaction point — must be technically equipped with a modern, secure, compliant, and feature-rich call recording and voice analytics solution that allows your agents to be highly productive and gives your supervisors everything they need to onboard, train, manage, and evaluate their agents.