Insights|Following Coronavirus, How Can You Leverage Technology to Enhance Customer Experience?

Following Coronavirus, How Can You Leverage Technology to Enhance Customer Experience?

As the impact of the coronavirus continues to affect brands and consumers alike, which technologies and digital services will help organizations across different business sectors and verticals to enhance their customer experience in line with changing consumer behavior - and bring them closer to their customers?

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technology to enhance the customer experience
by Martin Wilkinson-Brown July 28, 2020 - 5 MIN READ

The disruption COVID-19 has created would have been unthinkable, even several months ago.

It is forcibly changing consumer behavior, causing companies to completely reimagine their approach to work and enhance their future customer experience (CX) strategies. It has also led governments around the globe to introduce extraordinary measures to protect their people, their economies and their countries.

But as the latest Sitel Group study, COVID-19: the CX Impact, clearly shows, even in the midst of a pandemic, consumers remain focused on and value emotional connection. They are seeking out brands that understand and can cater to their needs and will actively avoid those judged to have fallen short.

As the immediate threat of coronavirus begins to recede, and consumers begin to return to a semblance of normality, the businesses that prioritize customer experience management will be the ones that thrive, rather than survive in the new normal. 

But what will this new normal look like for organizations in different business sectors? What technologies or innovations should they be prioritizing to meet consumer expectations?

Technology to enhance the customer experience: before and after

Our white paper is based on U.S. and U.K. consumer studies conducted in early March and early May to best understand how the coronavirus has influenced customer behavior and their expectations when it comes to interacting with brands and businesses.

Prior to the pandemic and cited by 27% of respondents, banking and financial services was perceived by consumers as the most innovative in its use of technology to improve CX. This compares with 19% of consumers that selected telecommunications, 16% of consumers that ranked retail and 14% that opted for travel and tourism first when posed the question.

However, once the coronavirus pandemic began impacting consumers’ behavior and more people moved online to make purchases or use services they would have normally accessed in-person, banking and financial services was overtaken by retail – 27% of consumers saw the sector as the most innovative due to the implementation of instantly beneficial services such as click and collect. Banking and financial services dropped to second place with 16% of the votes.

Digital assistants

When asked what technologies different industries could leverage to improve customer experience in the future, greater use of digital assistants such as chatbots or conversational IVR, and better use of artificial intelligence (AI) for improving personalization, were the top two responses given by consumers in relation to banking and financial services and for the telecoms industry.

It’s important to remember that when considering innovation and technology in relation to banking or telecoms only baby boomers and Gen X will give an opinion based on memories of when both industries were analog. They’ve grown up with incremental digital improvements, whereas for younger generations these services have always been digital and so when asked about their opinion, it’s based on a comparison with digital services offered in other industries.

Therefore while 24% of all consumers said that the introduction of digital assistants would be the best way of improving banking and financial services and a further 19% chose the use of AI to improve personalization when that data is broken down by demographic, almost one-in-three (28%) of both Gen Z and millennials want digital assistants and nearly a quarter (24% of Gen Z and 22% of millennials) want more use of AI.

It’s also important to understand that across all generations the demand is growing for self-service. Over one third (35%) of all consumers and 43% of both millennials and Gen Z say they prefer to resolve an issue themselves when they have a problem, rather than engage directly with a live agent.

In this respect, we’ve already witnessed how well the public has reacted to the use of tools like FAQ bots that can be deployed quickly and are dedicated to answering COVID-19-related questions. By reducing general contact volumes, and being available to support customers with complex problems, consumers can connect with a live agent more quickly. Therefore, these digital tools benefit all consumers whether they prioritize self-service or not.

Data and personalization

As for greater personalization, 53% of consumers say they now expect communicating with brands to feel personal and delivering personalization at scale is about having an omnichannel strategy. Unless you can track each customer as he or she moves from touchpoint to touchpoint or channel to channel and capture the resulting data, you’ll never have a clear enough picture of a customer to move beyond generic communication.

And while sectors such as the financial services industry may be struggling with legacy systems and attempting to unlock and operationalize data captured in one part of the business and combine it with information held elsewhere, banking potentially has the most to gain from prioritizing customer data. This is because 32% of consumers say the sector is the one they are most willing to share personal data with in return for a personalized CX. This compares with 22% who chose retail, 18% who chose travel and tourism and just 5% who opted for telecommunications.

Mixed reality

Virtual (21%) and augmented (13%) reality were the top answers when consumers were asked which technologies retailers should embrace to improve CX. They were closely followed by greater use of voice assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa (12.4%).

When viewing this data, it’s interesting to do so knowing that when polled, 16% of Gen Z and millennials both said they now prefer to engage with brands via social media. Data from the Pew Research Center shows 73% of 18-24-year-olds are regular Snapchat users; and since 2016 the platform has been pioneering the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create new ways of retail brand engagement.

As our white paper notes, 56% of consumers who have moved to the web to access products and services due to the coronavirus intend to keep doing so once the pandemic has cleared. Leveraging AR and VR would be a way for both digital and physical retailers to create more engaging experiences for consumers. 

Digital travel experiences

Travel and tourism has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic and businesses within the industry will be looking to see how greater digitalization can help them reduce costs, increase efficiencies and bring them closer to customers.

Consumers polled for our study are looking for greater personalization, more opportunities to interact and greater engagement and clarity from the sector – 17% of consumers want organizations to leverage digital assistants such as chatbots and voice automation while 16% want travel and tourism firms to make better use of virtual reality (so they can ‘try before they buy’) and 15% want companies to use AI to improve personalization.

Many organizations within the industry have discovered the benefits of AI-driven intelligent automation in recent months as bots have batch processed and communicated refunds for canceled flights or hotel rooms. This, in turn, has freed up live agents to focus on adding value in other areas.

Consumer demand for domestic and international travel will begin to increase as the risks of COVID-19 begin to subside. By leveraging technology, travel and tourism organizations have the opportunity to digitize and automate more of the customer journey in order to remove friction points and even remove unnecessary physical touchpoints. This would, most likely, increase consumer willingness to consider travelling.

To learn more about Sitel Group’s COVID-19: the CX Impact study and find out more about how coronavirus is changing consumer trends for different verticals, download our industry snapshots here

written by Martin Wilkinson-Brown Chief Marketing Officer
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