Case study: Impact of COVID on customer experience
The COVID pandemic inarguably changes customer experience. Customer demand patterns have significantly evolved in response to the realities promulgated by the virus. Businesses around the world are investing enormous energies in pivoting their customer service to cater to the emerging business atmosphere.
As opposed to a temporary shift, the pandemic's effects on customer experience could be enduring, even with the capacity to permanently distort customer experience. This permanence is rightly envisaged by the eminent likes of Bill McDermott, CEO of ServiceNow. As Bill McDermott sees it, "the world will never go back to the way it was." Such predictive sentiments regarding the COVID virus are also shared by Jared Spataro, VP of Microsoft 365 VP. According to Spataro, "we're never going to go back to working the way that we did."
In this case study, we will explore how companies across are morphing their customer experience in response to the pandemic.
More companies are resorting to the automation of customer service
The pandemic triggered significant disruptions in the global supply chain (and overall operations) for businesses. This translated into more fluctuations and volatility in customer service delivery.
There was an exponential swell in customer queries. Such queries include situations like delayed product (or service) delivery, hiked service costs, order cancelations, and even rescheduling of travel plans. Expectedly, customer contact activity has proportionately shot up, including an exorbitant flood of questions from website visitors.
This increased demand for customer service is overwhelming the customer departments of businesses, whose personnel strength has been extensively thinned. For most of these businesses, their customer departments were not originally structured to handle this aggressively pumped customer contact activity, with overloads on chat, email, and telephone correspondence with consumers.
Consequently, businesses are leveraging more automation to resolve more customer queries. More companies are resorting to AI-augmented virtual agents and chatbots.
Some of these chatbots (or virtual agents) leverage cutting edge natural learning technology. This aids them to process and sustain intelligent conversations with customers autonomously. Some of this chatbot technologies liaise with a human agent in the backend, which it resorts to for extremely comprehensive customer queries.
Leading automated customer management platform Iadvize has enjoyed substantial increases in their clientele deploying their chatbots. By the beginning of April, its number of customers using its Iadvize chatbot has shot up by 3 times, compared with the number using it in January-February this year.
Additionally, by the 20th of April, partial or whole automated customer-brand conversation on the Iadvise platform has grown over 50% compared to the typical 20% average it recorded before the COVID outbreak.
As Luke Kanies, Founder and CEO of Puppet Labs, put it, "It doesn't matter if you're a media company, a retail company or a bank - you need to leverage IT to help innovate and evolve your company or it will die. It's a simple choice, either you're going to or your competitors will and they'll crush you in the market.
Rapid adoption of omnichannel digital communications for customer experience
The acute health risk presented by the virus necessitated the exploration of alternative communication channels to face-to-face interactions with customers. There was accelerated integration of omnichannel digital platforms for customer communication and execution of transactions.
Customers preferred to deal with brand remotely, emphasizing their digital representation. In response, businesses significantly upgraded their digital customer experience. Those whose digital performance was poor paid for it in declining sales and customer retention. Studies revealed that consumers were glad to cut their relationship with suppliers after just one poor digital customer experience.
The shift to omnichannel digital customer experience was reflected in Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, recording a spike of 49% in American ecommerce revenue in April from what they had in early March. Online commerce is fast replacing the traditional High Street trade.
More directness in customer service delivery
The economic impact of the pandemic substantially eliminated bureaucracy from the relationship between the brand and the customer. Given the increased value of customer patronage (and higher demand for speed), many brands deliberately removed impeding intermediaries in the customer service delivery line.
Indeed, the majority of brands thriving in the pandemic removed many third party stakeholders in customer experience, replacing conventional retail channels with Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) channels. The bulk of these contemporary D2C platforms were understandably digitally optimized.
These businesses enjoyed substantial hikes in their D2C, increasing the resilience of their value chain by means of eliminating the risk (of disruption) presented by retail third parties. Unilever is one of the major companies driving the adoption of D2C sales. Unilever is already deriving over €2.5 billion from D2D sales, making over 10% of its total revenues.
Companies that can't directly build their indigenous D2C infrastructure are partnering (or acquiring) with D2C giants or senior D2C executives.
Nestle, Nike, P&G, and Kellogg are some other companies putting considerable investments in ramping up their D2C capacity. P&G went as far as acquiring Billie, a famed D2C women's razor subscription business, for about $35 million.
Nike employed the famed John Donahoe, the ex-CEO of eBay and CEO of ServiceNow to consolidate its digitally-targeted D2C transition. In Nike's perspective, Donahoe was "ideally suited to accelerate our digital transformation and to build on the positive impact of our Consumer Direct Offense".
More innovation in customer experience delivery from the frontline employee
The COVID triggered the need for social distancing in workspaces, staggered labor force, and overall flexible arrangements. This resulted in some of the frontline employees in the customer department working remotely. With the pandemic fading and society slowly pulling up, business leaders are considering the sustainability of remote working for customer experience personnel.
Aside from the sanitary advantages of this (in terms of spacious workspaces), it is far more affordable for businesses to permanently have customer service department staff stationed at home, making do with remote conferencing and management technologies like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams.
The implication is that customer service personnel have less strict supervision or ready on-site guidance (as well as referral to seniors). With considerably reduced micromanaging from superiors, customer experience personnel now feel more empowered and autonomous. Consequently, we will be seeing more invention and out-of-the-box customer solutions.
Increased emotional personalization from vendors
The migration of customer-brand interactions to digitized platforms means vendors will have a wealthier bank of customer data. There will be amplified engagements between vendors and consumers due to the application of these accrued customer data streams in extensive personalization of the customer journey.
While GDPR protocols are making cookies less invasive of customer privacy, favored vendors can still access enormous banks of 1st party data. All these are being integrated to ramp up the emotional tempo of customer engagement. This is already yielding impressive results for the brands leveraging this.
Such emotional detection tech stands to be even more adopted. An IDC study forecasts that '60 % of leading brands and retailers will enhance customer engagements using emotion detection and management to influence purchasing'.