Can’t Touch This: Preparing for The Post-Physical Customer Experience
Mike Tyson said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
With the arrival of a global pandemic in 2020, many of the world’s legacy brands are reeling from a knockout right hook.
In just a few months, the steady migration towards a digital economy has turned into a stampede. People are shopping online and running meetings by video. They’re re-thinking the work/life balance and reassessing their need to travel.
Even when people do venture out, they do things differently. Take the astonishing surge in contactless payments. Banks and card schemes assumed convenience would drive the switch to tap to pay. They could never have guessed that people would change their behavior because touching a PIN pad might kill them.
Covid-19 has derailed everything. Now every industry is asking: what will be its long-term impact?
Never going back
A new study from Sinch answers the question emphatically: the latest consumer behaviors are here to stay. We questioned 2,890 individuals about their post-pandemic lives and found:
- 58% of people will continue to avoid crowds
- 52% will avoid travel
- 46% will spend less time inside stores
- 42% will dine out less often
These changes are creating demand for all kinds of virtual alternatives — and more convenient digital forms of customer experience.
Can big enterprises deliver? Well, despite the growing noise around digital transformation, the signs are not great. Many brands are failing to provide even the most basic services their customers are clamoring for.
Our study exposed some of these opportunity gaps. It revealed:
- 91% want mobile notifications of suspicious activity (e.g., banking), but currently, only 31% receive them
- 88% would consider it highly valuable to have information about urgent public health care issues delivered by text or messaging, but only 24% currently receive this service
- 72% want to receive personalized how-to videos from a service provider, but only 16% now do
- 88% want to make an appointment by text or messaging, but today only 36% of people can
The future is on message
As implied by the above findings, mobile messaging has emerged as the consumer’s preferred channel for ‘talking’ to enterprises. It has many built-in advantages. Messaging channels reach everyone (unlike the native brand app), while messages tend to be instantly visible to recipients (unlike email).
Just as important, messaging is asynchronous. Most customer queries are not urgent, which makes the 10-minute queue to speak to an agent so frustrating. By contrast, leaving a message and getting a call or text back later gives the customer the freedom to get on with their day.
Finally, new rich forms of messaging are conversational. Channels such as RCS, Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger make two-way chat possible. Add chatbots into the mix, and brands can facilitate millions of useful conversations with their customers simultaneously.
With the arrival of conversational messaging, brands can do more than merely send one-way ‘batch and blast’ alerts. They can deliver engaging, personal experiences. And they can resolve problems more quickly. Clearly, this makes it possible for brands to improve customer satisfaction scores, reduce service care costs and improve the ROI on outbound marketing campaigns.
For these reasons, many observers believe messaging is now set to become the default channel for communication between brands and customers.
Here’s how one future scenario might look: A consumer has a query about an order. She opens her favorite chat app and searches for the brand’s account. She types: ‘where’s my package?’. The brand knows who she is (it has her mobile number on file) and can instantly retrieve her details. The customer and the brand bot have a conversation in natural language until the issue is resolved.
Less complexity, more cloud
The good news for brands is that it’s becoming easier to deliver these interactions. This is thanks to the communications platform as a service. CPaaS turns mobile comms into cloud-hosted software. This means that any brand can access virtually unlimited calls, texts, or two-way conversations from a simple dashboard for a knowable fee.
There is no complex technical integration. Meanwhile, the CPaaS provider takes care of all the commercial agreements with mobile carriers.
CPaaS also brings ‘omnichannel’ communication within reach of enterprises. Today’s consumers want to contact brands across a variety of platforms. One day it may be voice. The next WhatsApp. A week later, Twitter. Brands must offer all options and ensure that every channel is linked so that customers can pick up where they left off.
Cloud-communications companies are now working on conversation APIs that make this simple to set up. They take one endpoint for sending and receiving messages across the most popular channels using one unified format. Once integrated, they will give agents a single callback that contains all aspects of the conversation.
Call my (virtual) agent
Sometimes the agents making these callbacks will be bots. These virtual agents’ ability to chat in natural language and with the right contextual information is crucially important. New machine learning tools in CPaaS will make the difference here. CX leaders should aim higher than simple scripted bot conversation and investigate what artificial intelligence can do.
In fact, AI will make an impact in many areas. AI-enhanced CPaaS systems can route incoming queries to the most suitable agent or send alerts on the preferred channel at the best time for individual recipients. They might even discern a query’s tone — deciding the customer is angry, for example — and adjust the response accordingly.
Sinch’s research shows that, in the post-COVID world, people will accelerate their pursuit of convenient self-serve experiences. They will punish organizations that can’t offer them.
Happily, brands don’t need to invest in complex new technology to meet this demand. Messaging is already here. They just need to get up off the canvas and start the conversation.
Patty Block, President and Founder of The Block Group, established her company to advocate for women-owned businesses, helping them position their companies for strategic growth. From improving cash flow…. to increasing staff productivity…. to scaling for growth, these periods of transition — and so many more — provide both challenges and opportunities. Managed effectively, change can become a productive force for growth. The Block Group harnesses that potential, turning roadblocks into building blocks for women-owned businesses.