The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound and lasting impact on the experience of customers interacting with businesses. In response to stay-at-home orders around the globe, organizations had to adapt at pace to move customer interactions solely online. As restrictions begin to ease, however, organizations face a new strategic challenge: evaluating how the crisis has changed customer behaviors and what this means for the delivery of a post-Covid-19 customer experience (CX).
Without a doubt, the recent crisis has triggered some long-term shifts in consumer behavior. Preparing for a future that is not yet certain will require ongoing reengineering to support a growing consumer preference for digital and remote options, including optimizing and automating service delivery without compromising on CX. Essentially, finding ways to preserve the all-important empathetic "human touch" that personalizes every customer interaction and boosts satisfaction.
Mind The Consumer Demand Shift
A survey conducted by Medallia Zingle showed that prior to the pandemic, 78% of consumers said they visited businesses like grocery stores, restaurants, gyms and beauty salons at least three times a week. Since Covid-19, that number dropped to 34%, and indications are that despite the recent reopening of nonessential retail outlets, bars and restaurants as well as new rules around mandatory face masks, many consumers are continuing to exercise caution around returning to in-person interactions.
Having become converted to a variety of digital services over the past three months, many consumers are using home delivery, drive-thru and click-and-collect options like never before in a bid to minimize their exposure to any potential health risk. Meanwhile, banks and financial service providers have seen a significant uptick in the use of self-service channels that minimize the need for in-person visits.
Residual health fears among the population in relation to a second — and potentially worse — wave of infections means that the preference for contactless operations looks set to continue, as consumers elect to permanently shift to online shopping and service interactions. The Zingle survey showed that 87% of consumers say they want businesses to continue to provide delivery and curbside pickups to reduce any need for in-person transactions.
This sustained demand for omnichannel fulfillment options means that food outlets and retailers, among others, will need to closely integrate their digital and physical channels so that brick-and-mortar locations can evolve into highly localized and responsive fulfillment hubs.
Building Trust And Brand Reputations
Aligning offline and online operations to provide excellent customer service could prove vital for fostering customer confidence in a brand's ability to serve them in whatever channel they choose.
The time for promoting "caring" messages via social media and advertising is over. Consumers aren't naïve; having found themselves now dependent on digital and remote services to undertake their everyday life tasks, they need to be confident that the organizations they do business with can be relied upon to deliver on promises. Migrating to self-serve channels shouldn't come at a price. Customers shouldn't encounter services that are difficult to navigate or make it difficult to "talk" to someone if things go wrong.
Those organizations that can innovate their delivery models and initiate value-add digital services that make it easy to get answers to questions, handle issues, pay bills and discover and purchase products and services should be most likely to maintain and grow their customer base.
AI: Redefining What Customer Care Looks Like
Artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, smart speakers and virtual assistants have been around for some time, and their capabilities continue to advance exponentially. However, when it comes to delivering the seamless and simple experiences that consumers crave, can these technologies deliver the all-important human touch that generates positive outcomes for everyone?
According to recent research from IDC, AI is already proving a powerful tool for enabling businesses to transform CX delivery. Early adopters report around a 25% improvement in CX, improved margins and enhanced competitiveness. Those who were most successful highlighted the importance of striking a balance between deploying advanced AI tools and leveraging the skills of human agents — using automation technologies to boost how they perform. That includes elevating the tasks their human experts tackle.
Infusing AI into digital customer platforms can help speed up decision-making and make it easier to provide customers with the most relevant products and services for their needs, enabling proactive and frictionless customer journeys that make consumers feel they are known and recognized. Meanwhile, acting as personal assistants to human agents, AI technologies can quickly hunt down the knowledge and data that agents need to respond to customers more effectively.
Rehumanizing The Digital Customer Experience
Today's advanced AI technologies are increasingly becoming capable of offering empathy. Thanks to advanced machine learning and natural language processing, they're able to detect keywords and a customer's current mood and respond accordingly. In other words, they're capable of bidirectional human-like communications that pinpoint a customer's exact needs and decision-making drivers.
With Gartner, Inc. predicting that customers will soon manage most of their relationships with companies without human intervention, many organizations are already leveraging AI technologies to cut response times and deliver the high-quality personalized customer experiences today's consumers demand.
With AI technologies now able to sustain humanized two-way conversations in exactly the same way as real customer service agents, delivering real-time one-to-one support that customers can access 24/7 isn't a pipe dream; it's already an achievable reality.
However, the human aspect of AI — or the "humanoid" touch — is far broader than delivering a great experience for customers. Introducing AI into the workplace will also require the sensitive upskilling and retraining of employees to ensure they can work confidently in collaboration with these technologies. As processes are automated, jobs will evolve — and customer-facing AI operations will need to be transparently managed, both from an employee standpoint and to ensure customers aren't surprised at encountering conversational AI assistants in digital channels.
Giving customers a choice of options has long been the key to building their trust and confidence that you have their best interests in mind. With AI delivering customer experiences with a human touch, the role of human agents is more important than ever.
Syndicated content featured from Forbes.