This week marks the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, providing a good opportunity to reflect on the evolution of consumer expectations as a result of the pandemic, and the various steps businesses have taken to adapt.
A recent McKinsey report found that in the UK, 44% of shoppers tried new brands or bought from a new retailer in the various lockdowns, highlighting the importance of ensuring customer loyalty in the current environment. Customer experience teams across the globe have had to rapidly adapt amid mass order cancellations, market volatility and increased uncertainty. For many, it will have felt like the world was shifting on an almost weekly basis, with ‘business as usual’ a thing of the past.
In this article, four industry experts working for technology companies in software development and the CX space give their thoughts on the pandemic’s impact on the customer experience industry, and what companies can do to ensure customer loyalty under the most challenging of circumstances. The contributors include Neil Hammerton, CEO at Natterbox; Andy Joeres, VP and Country Manager, UK & Ireland at Celonis, Simon Johnson, General Manager UK & Ireland at Freshworks; and Friedbert Schuch, senior vice president, EMEA at Genesys.
Neil Hammerton, CEO, Natterbox, stresses the importance of using customers’ preferred communication channels will continue long after the pandemic. “During the UK’s first lockdown, some customer service centres reported an increase of as many as 12,000 incoming calls compared to the same two months in 2019. Most businesses were unsurprisingly unprepared for this sudden change in consumer behaviour and responded to the challenge in different ways. If contact agents are to continue working remotely, as some have been for a long time, and continue providing good customer service in the new normal, they need access to tools that empower and inform them. Call routing, case deflection, queues, wallboards, listen-in coaching, data syncing, and screen pops, are all vital features that agents require access to if they are to continue providing effective customer service over the phone.
“In order to continue providing a good customer experience, while managing all of these different channels, businesses need to ensure they are aligned, well manned and that data can easily pass between them. This will ensure that customers receive the same service no matter how and where they interact with a brand.
“The first step for retailers aiming to achieve unified communications is to determine the channels they will offer to customers. To do so, they must develop a customer persona and decide which platforms will address 80-90% of communication volume from their customer profile. It’s vital that businesses only implement channels they can deliver a consistent, high-quality service across – all too often, companies spread themselves too thinly and don’t deliver.”
The dawn of the hybrid high street
Andy Joeres, VP and Country Manager, UK & Ireland at Celonis, believes the dawn of the hybrid high street is upon us. He explains, “Just as many of us will now split our time between working from home and the office, retailers will have to think about how best to provide an excellent customer experience both in-store and online. One must not come at the expense of the other.
“Over the past year, many businesses have invested significantly to adapt the way in which they operate. However, as high streets start to reopen in the coming months, they must not be penalised for the technological upgrades they have made, which were essential for survival and will now stand them in good stead. Instead, the Government should be prioritising how in-person and online shopping can work in tandem to be successful.
“This is underpinned by similar principles, particularly good supply chain management. While the days of empty supermarket shelves from 12 months ago are hopefully behind us, we have all come to appreciate how complex this process can be. At the same time, we have grown accustomed in many cases to excellent service from next-day or even same-day delivery services.
“As the majority of high street retailers become hybrids, the need to manage their stocks across both online and in-store offerings, and to maintain resilient supply chains, will be essential. This can only be achieved with the assistance of the latest technology that can analyse end-to-end operations in real-time. This is where the Government should be supporting businesses at this time – invest in long-term technological solutions to secure the future of the retail sector.”
Human interactions are here to stay
Simon Johnson, General Manager UK&I, Freshworks, argues the pandemic has shown the importance of human interaction will remain. “With many businesses in the travel, hospitality and retail sector now facing a surge in demand for goods and services after a year of closures and lost revenue, it’s a vital time to recoup the losses experienced during the pandemic. If websites struggle to handle an increase in traffic, or if stock rooms run out of popular items, customer service teams may find themselves inundated with questions and complaints. They cannot risk dissatisfying their customers with poor service.
“There is often a disconnect in how customer service is perceived by a business and its end-users. Research from Freshworks found that 80% of senior decision-makers thought their customer service teams performed excellently – compared to just 9% of consumers who had no frustrations when dealing with these teams. Customers expect efficiency from brands, whether that’s by implementing omnichannel strategies or ensuring new technologies such as live chats and bots work properly.
“With this influx in demand, businesses should consider increasing the digitisation of customer interactions to fully tap into the wealth of data that customer interactions generate and use AI to manage the sheer volume of requests. This provides a 360-degree view of the customer journey and is key to developing increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
“While technology goes a long way in helping to handle the volume of requests, it cannot be seen as a silver bullet. Research has shown that almost a third (29%) of consumers become frustrated with virtual assistants and chatbots because of the nature of their pre-programmed, impersonal responses. Instead, find a way to deliver that human connection through these interactions in order to ensure customer loyalty.”
Friedbert Schuch, senior vice president, EMEA, Genesys, highlights how the pandemic has emphasised the need to have full visibility of consumer interaction. “In the past year, we have gotten used to new challenges, from adhering to lockdown rules, working from home and home-schooling. Thanks to the vaccination programmes progressing well, many are now planning how they will address the challenges of the ‘new normal’. At the outset of the pandemic, many organisations moved applications to the cloud to ensure employees could carry out their day-to-day tasks remotely and to be able to respond to customer demands.
“Some businesses have deployed point solutions for new communication channels, such as chat, video conferencing and messaging. Where these point solutions were implemented to provide support, the risk is that many of these applications are running in a separate silo and businesses are not able to unify the data generated on these channels. This puts employees at a disadvantage in that they are not able to fully track the progress if they do not have full visibility or access to certain systems. For customers, their interactions are disjointed as data and conversations are being held in separate silos, which can lead to frustrations for the customer and lost opportunities for businesses.
“To mitigate potential siloes from forming, businesses should start looking into the future and ensure that they are able to integrate their various back-office and customer-facing applications to their business-critical platforms. This would ensure that organisations gain full visibility into projects and systems they need to complete their tasks. Additionally, having everything on a single platform allows organisations to view customer interactions, both past and present with full context to improve experiences. This will allow businesses to move ahead with their digital transformation projects without having to undergo time-consuming and costly re-implementation and configuration processes.”