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Winning the customer in a post-Covid era – 5 things tech businesses should care about in customer experience strategy

Zoey Planjer, Head of Customer Experience at ContactEngine, considers how businesses can get that all-important customer experience right.

Over the last year I have been exposed to more automated voice calls, chatbots and self-serve apps than ever before. Covid-19 forced companies into adapting to digital (cheaper) channels and customers were forced to use them. And it was often a win-win situation – if applied correctly.  

The evolution of customer service to an increasingly on-demand, self-serve online environment is nothing new, but Covid-19 has really accelerated availability and use. And something that happens so quickly, does not always go right. Looking back at 2020, customer experience might have been sacrificed over practicalities on the way. 

“Customer service is worse than ever,” according to research by Arizona State University released last June. The percentage of households experiencing consumer difficulties has increased dramatically, the survey shows, with a rate of 66% – up by 10 percentage points from 2017. 

Whereas bad pre-Covid customer service would simply be annoying, bad Covid customer service has have life-changing consequences – for example, a 79-year-old pensioner missed the chance to say goodbye to her partner who was dying of coronavirus due to her service provider cutting off her phone line

Now is the time to turn bad service around. Focussing on customer experience will always be a winning strategy for your business, especially in times of a pandemic (or post-pandemic) where so many challenges need to be overcome. So when thinking of those magic words ‘customer experience’ – what are the latest best practices? 

Here are the 5 things you should care about when upping your game in customer experience.  

1.  Turn reactive customer service into proactive customer engagement 

It’s no longer enough just to let your customers come to you, you need to make sure you are proactively engaging with them at the right time – before they come to you with an issue. 

Building relationships with your customers and making them feel part of your brand’s community while maintaining a positive image is key. This can only be accomplished by proactively engaging with your customers and not just reacting with problem-solving communications as needed. 

Relying on reactive comms places the burden on customers to find a solution. Not only do they become frustrated with your service, which increases the likelihood of churn, but they might not choose the most efficient channel to resolve their issue, resulting in a higher cost-to-serve. 

Get ahead of the game by engaging with your customers in easy, proactive dialogue where problems can be solved directly in-channel (or be routed appropriately). 

2. Create a contact strategy that considers the context and emotional state of a customer 

Customers are everywhere (web, chat, text, phone, in-store, social), so how do you offer them the best experience for all their different needs? Although online customer contact continues to be a leading channel of choice, it is not always the best channel for resolution. Therefore, having a Contact Strategy for all your channels is key.

The Contact Strategy Quadrant

Think about building a quadrant that shows how to address different types of customer questions based on how emotional and difficult the task at hand is, and whether they can be resolved by automation or would benefit from human interaction.  For example, a simple address change can easily be made by pointing the customer to an online portal, which most customers would prefer over having to wait on hold to get through to an agent (who may then make an error). On the other hand, an address change due to someone passing away is a whole different story. The human touch could be just what the customer needs, and it creates an opportunity for you as a company to help your customer consider their options now that their situation has changed. 

Having a clear Contact Strategy will help every marketeer, customer experience specialist or agent in your company to design the right customer journeys and offer the best customer experience.  So it’s worth it to have a strategy ready for (at least) your top 10 customer queries! 

3. Accelerate digital options for all your customers – not just the digital-savvy!

To reap the benefits of automated conversation, you have to make all of your communication channels as attractive as possible to use. For younger generations, by and large using digital is natural. More often than not, they don’t want to make a phone call and are perfectly happy to have things resolved another way. 

But for businesses looking to really excel here, they must continue to focus on solutions for the less digital-savvy consumer. A report released in March by Age UK claimed that nearly 2 million people over the age of 75 in England alone are ‘digitally excluded’ in a Covid-19 world. While 24% of over-75s have increased their internet usage since the pandemic hit, this is driven by existing users going online more often. Forty-two per cent are still non-users. 

Again, this is where a proactive, multi-channel approach is key. For the consumers that will simply never use computers, your call centre staff will be freed up to give more time and support to these queries (many of which will fall into the ‘Very difficult / Very emotional’ quadrants shown above).

For Telcos, there’s a particular opportunity to help provide older generations with the digital knowledge and tools they need. Age UK argues one of the most effective ways of encouraging older people to get online is to provide free or subsidised broadband. Could Telcos ultimately save money in customer service by helping more older people get online in the first place? 

4. Stay connected to your customer and their changing behaviours 

Make sure you are always listening for customer feedback. Using a traditional feedback survey is fine, though customers do regularly get bombarded with these from all kinds of companies and they are often very transactionally-based. 

A much better approach is to use AI technology to listen for in-journey signals all the time. This means you are not waiting for feedback at the end of a journey that can then only be used to improve for next time; you can change your tactic right in the moment to avoid that customer becoming dissatisfied. 

AI technology, like our sentiment analysis tool, helps you to understand if a customer is frustrated or happy with your service. You can easily analyse qualitative data from interactions and group words and phrases into different categories to ultimately detect if a customer is satisfied, neutral or has a complaint. 

With the (compulsory) shift to more digital comms in the past year, you must have tons of data on customer behaviour. Information you can proactively use!

Finally, have you considered monitoring your social media for real-time trends? This can help you identify regional issues, as well as common areas of frustration that need to be improved.

5. Last but not least – Get the right journey orchestration software that enables you to be pro-active 

By now I hope you have turned every employee in your company into a CX advocate (if not, then I urge you to reconsider your CX strategy and make sure you appoint a CX leader to head up your digital transformation). But having CX champions is not enough. You will need to give them software that enables them to orchestrate and build beautiful customer-centric journeys. A tool that allows them to design and implement millions of proactive journeys (like ContactEngine 😉) will bring it all to life and is key to success.  

Engaging with a business should never feel like a chore, whether that’s a bank, a telco, a retailer or anything else. You want to be known as a provider of seamless customer experience, full of helpful and competent professionals who make time for their valuable customers and employ as much relevant technology as necessary for the benefit of all their users. It is clear that the ones that do this well are the ones who are always there at the right time and the right place. 

While the future still remains uncertain, what we do know is that technology will continue to up the game of what’s possible within customer service and therefore your customers’ expectations are only going to get higher.