We've all come to know and accept the fact that a global crisis of such proportions and longevity as the COVID-19 pandemic, will fundamentally alter swathes of industries and institutions.
However, the effect and impact will vary for each sector. The customer service industry will not only be impacted but it'll change beyond recognition in the years to come.
No doubt the pandemic has left a lasting impact on the state and the psyche of the customers. People have lost their loved ones, jobs, businesses and life as they knew it.
Even when things settle down, lifestyles will have completely altered from what they were a year ago. Plus, this has severe implications for businesses and the way they operate, earn and service the demands of their customers going ahead.
This customer base has reaped multiple benefits of accelerated digitisation and a thorough revamp of systems. They have also witnessed how businesses and organisations can be a lot more flexible, agile and responsive than the standards they've set for themselves all these years. Customer needs, expectations and demands will naturally undergo a fundamental overhaul.
"You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology–not the other way around." - Steve Jobs
Customer experience trends and predictions for a post-COVID era:
Let us take a look at the seven primary trends that CX will witness and some of the fundamental principles that businesses ought to be mindful of:
1. The consumer will become more erratic (or not?)
Businesses no longer have a vice-like grip on their customers like they used to. The concept of loyalty to a brand is relatively fragile and no one consumer can be taken for granted at any part of the service journey.
Customers have choices and information at their disposal. In such a scenario, every customer has to be fought for and won over. Hence the idea that today's customer is more fickle.
But, there's a counter-argument to this as well. Research has consistently highlighted this fact that customers are actually willing to be charged a slight premium, for services they believe would be consistently reliable.
This is an insight that business can no longer afford to ignore. Customers are deciding to remain loyal to certain brands out of sheer service experience and not the products alone. This might answer the queries some startups have; like why do consumers flock to established brands even when they're more expensive.
2.There will be a premium on trust now
Those days when Milton Friedman's ideas ruled the roost—that a company's only responsibility lies towards its shareholders—is well and truly over. Today, consumers care about a company's values, leanings, ethics and practices too. They want organisations to care about the health and wellbeing of employees, provide a thought to the environment and the communities they operate in.
Then there is another crucial factor to this—people can easily see and follow the behaviours and stances of brands. They can also see which brands are putting profits before people, causing social frictions, environmental harm etc. None of this is a secret anymore, especially in the age of social media.
More than that, once you build rapport and earn the trust of customers, it becomes very difficult for a competitor to win over them.
3. A smaller wallet pie to fight for
The pandemic has definitively restructured the prospects of many industries. Some will see a sudden and sustainable spurt in demand, others might even fizzle out completely. At a broader level, these are times of intense economic uncertainty. Consumers are sceptical about spending and splurging on products.
What does it mean for businesses? This directly translates into the fact that there is a smaller pie to fight for. The competition will only get more intense in a smaller market with absolute terms.
For customers, caution is the way ahead. As per a recent survey data, the emphasis on health and hygiene is expected to continue. 95% of customers state that they want companies to implement physical distancing measures in order to ensure that their health is not compromised.
Almost two-thirds of customers surveyed reported that they are currently postponing purchases and travel, and more than half stated that these changes would continue. What is surprising is that nearly 27% are now saving more than they would have otherwise. All of these are structural behavioural changes with consequential impact on businesses.
4. Focus is more crucial than ever
There are a hundred new issues that occupy businesses at any given moment. In this deluge, it's very easy and natural to lose focus on the basics that matter.
Before the pandemic struck, a PwC research had shown how nearly two-thirds of global consumers felt companies had lost touch with the human, personal elements of customer experience. These are big numbers with resulting costs.
What must be noted here is the fact that none of this is an abstract discussion with no real-world implications for businesses. Research has shown that organisations forego as much as 1.6 trillion dollars in revenue every year owing to poor customer service.
This huge revenue loss cannot possibly be compensated by any other means. Customer service and experience have a much broader canvas of meaning and importance to what business and organisations do. We’d be mistaken if we imagine that a single angry consumer makes no difference. Not in this day and age.
5. Digitisation is inevitable, make it more human
This seems easy, right? Ever-increasing aspects of our lives are getting digitised and falling to this wave of virtualisation. But there's a catch here. This shift and redirection to digital will require a whole set of investments and resources. It will also be a shift for the long term and not a momentary fad. This raises the importance of getting this process right, considerably.
The interfaces have to be designed in a manner that ensures a seamless customer experience. Same goes for the product design. Notably, the customer service setup will have to go online, become way more efficient and agile, and allow for more forms and functions.
An interesting trend is also the fact that customers are, beyond a point, starting to miss the human touch and appeal as far as interactions with businesses go.
For some time now, businesses have prioritised efficiency above all—transitioning human interactions to virtual and automated ones. However, with the shift in time, it's no longer enough to make those experiences quick and simple. More importantly, as digitisation takes over more and more aspects of customer experience, this trend of valuing human interaction is here to stay and persist.
Businesses can make the use of advanced CRM systems integrated with advanced communication tools. What this would allow for, among other things, is a feature like behavioural pairing–a customer service technology that adds sentiment analysis trackers and features to your call centre operations.
Instead of customers being allocated to a random service executive, behavioural pairing analyses the customer's history of interactions, service requests etc. and allows the organisation to meet the different customer expectations in a personalised manner.
6. Technology takes over
Now, coming to the best part of this entire evolution. Advanced technological tools like AI, ML, AR, VR etc. are slowly but very steadily starting to play important roles in how businesses look at customer experience and service management. These tools must be leveraged and utilised to the extent possible to unlock maximum potential efficiencies for businesses.
If we are to quantify these arguments with the help of some statistical data: the AR and VR market in the US alone by the end of next year is expected to be worth more than 215 Billion USD. The pandemic would only push up these numbers steeply in the months to come. In fact, nearly 46% of all businesses foresee Virtual Reality technology becoming mainstream as early as in the next three years. These are staggering figures indeed.
As per some other recent projections, nearly four-fifths of all emerging technologies will have an AI foundation by 2021. By the end of the following year, it is being projected that the usage of AI in data analytics would render 33% of human analysts redundant. This would allow humans to be redeployed for other business priorities. All of this, of course, is expected to result in an increase in productivity for businesses overall. So this disruption presents an entire set of opportunities as well.
It is clear how crucial a role some of these technologies will play in boosting efficiencies and growth for businesses and ensuring world-class customer experience as we go ahead. It is time to hop on to this wave!
Olivia Trott is a technical writer at Acefone, prominent free phone number provider. Olivia is an outgoing person who enjoys writing, is an SEO enthusiast, and often interacts with others in intellectual conversations. She enjoys listening to music in her free time.