Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare consumers’ dependence on real-time digital services and experiences. When customers order groceries online, use telemedicine, stream movies, or message a customer support specialist, they’re confirming their demand for digital channels.
But meeting customer demands in crisis mode is one thing and delivering an exceptional CX in a world transformed by the pandemic is another. Ian Jacobs, principal analyst at Forrester, and Darryl Kelly, VP of marketing at TTEC Digital, discussed what customers want now in a customer experience and digital transformation trends on a recent webinar, “How AI delivers touchless and personalized experiences to the digital customer post COVID-19.” Here’s a summary of their discussion.
The state of digital CX
Two trends that emerged from the outbreak, Jacobs noted, were that many brands—especially those that were scrambling for ways to deal with a surge in call volume—were looking for “quick wins in building a digital front door” and that more attention was being paid to the employee experience aspect of digital transformation. “The second area that’s been really big is around employee experience—as in how do we actually enable these people to succeed at jobs…that are radically different from the ones that we designed and had processes to support those jobs?” asked Jacobs.
Those trends were in line with what TTEC was hearing from clients, Kelly said. In a recent TTEC poll, 45% of respondents indicated that they had accelerated their digital transformation strategy; 31% said their transformation was stuck, and 24% were planning to accelerate.
Underscoring both of these trends, Jacobs noted, was a shift in how companies think about customer service strategies and the overall CX. “One of the things that’s come up over and over again at the CEO level or C-suite…is during challenging times, we need to actually rethink what our contact center and customer service strategy is at its core,” Jacobs said.
Reimagining the employee experience
It’s not a secret that happy employees equal happy customers, however, historically the employee experience was often neglected, especially in the customer service sector. Contact center agents have long had to wrestle with disjointed workflows that lead to delays and outdated systems and processes that make it difficult to work efficiently and effectively.
Reimagining the contact center and customer service strategy means reimagining the employee experience. That includes applying customer experience improvements, such as reducing customer effort, to the employee, Jacobs said. “We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of thinking about how can we make things easier for the customer. There are parallels to that for employees,” he said. “How can we help them [employees] get things done?”
Removing friction from the employee experience is critical, agreed Kelly, who noted that this is where advanced AI solutions, such as conversational AI can help employees by quickly serving up information, providing recommendations, identifying patterns, and more. Indeed, every part of an organization could become “AI-infused over the next year” in order to “have the kind of agility that’s required to succeed,” Jacobs said.
Getting the employee experience right from a productivity and engagement perspective is also critically important as many employees adjust to working remotely as it ultimately affects the customer experience, he added.
Don’t call it a crisis response
Creating an optimal channel strategy that puts employee and CX design before technology is also an important part of improving CX over the long term. “What we’ve been hearing from clients that engaged with us over the last few months is this need to ‘get the channels right, get the channels right,’” Kelly said. “But channels alone without the right strategy, without the right journey orchestration, has actually increased effort and costs.”
Companies are now reassessing their strategies to get the most out of what they have, Kelly said. In fact, 55% of CIOs said investments in digital customer experience requirements was a top priority for 2021, according to a recent PwC survey.
And whether it’s optimizing channels or transforming another part of the customer experience, it’s important not to think of it as a crisis response but rather “your first step towards a long-term plan for agility,” Jacobs added. This includes rethinking labor and how employees work. The days of filling traditional brick-and-mortar contact centers with agents are not coming back anytime soon. Companies, Jacobs said, may need to “explore a gig economy model or think about digital native users and who succeeds in a remote environment.”
The key takeaways are that customer expectations for convenient, on-demand digital services and experiences are only going to accelerate further and companies need a long-term digital transformation strategy to evolve to meet those needs. An effective strategy starts with getting the basics right, which includes a cloud-based infrastructure to enable employees to work remotely as well as providing employees with the tools and support they need to work efficiently and effectively, today and in the future.
To learn more, watch the on-demand webinar, “How AI delivers touchless and personalized experiences to the digital customer post COVID-19.”