Whether as brands or consumers, we have all been on a journey these past two years. In 2020, companies were forced to pivot practically overnight, as market forces laid waste to established industry norms and business models. This year, we’ve embraced our newfound agility, riding the wave of lockdowns and reopening, and the resulting changes to consumer behaviour. But what will next year have in store? Will it be a time to revisit the business objectives we hit pause on all those many months ago? Will we finally be able to take a breath, clean up our hastily modified processes and work on our resilience, which is so important for the long-term health of our businesses?
As we think about what practices to keep in this brave new, digital-first world and what we should let go of, there are bigger questions at play. With new opportunities unfolding all around us, it’s time to take a more in depth look at how we present our products and services, and how we interact with our customers.
Now’s the time to rethink your customer journey
As brands, we routinely talk about creating a great customer experience (CX), but what does that actually mean? CX is quite an intangible concept that can vary widely by industry and customer. However, as products and services become more commoditised and subscription-based models more popular, the differentiation that standout CX can bring to a company is what – increasingly – sets it apart in the eyes of consumers. Studies show that people are even willing to pay a premium to businesses that provide it. So, with that in mind, brands really need to nail down what good CX means for their specific business and customer base.
Nearly two years into a pandemic that has created massive shifts in how we navigate and connect our online and offline worlds, it’s time for a reset. At every age and demographic, behviours are now different than they were two years ago - so the customer journey that was ‘right’ then, is no longer fit for today. Start by thinking about the customer journeys you see day-to-day and how your customer would want them to happen. From first contact and purchasing, through to any issues that might arise and, hopefully, having resolved those, repeat purchases. Having done that, ask yourself how, as a business, you can add value to that customer and then what technology and processes you need to put in place to make it happen.
Don’t forget to also think about any new opportunities that might be opening up as a result of the changes all around us. For example, this year we’ve seen a growing move towards conversational service. Instead of solving one problem for a customer and then closing the ticket, brands are having ongoing conversations, where each engagement helps them to build an even richer customer profile. This is then helping them to personalise, not only their sales and marketing, but also their customer service. By knowing any past problems consumers have had, brands can approach any fresh issues with the right context.
Identify areas where service can be a connector for new business models
As customer behaviour is changing, so too are business models. In the automotive industry, for example, brands that sell cars are increasingly pivoting to rental models, and even becoming platform providers. This creates exciting possibilities for more sophisticated customer service.
For example, software integration could allow brands to automatically charge customers for parking by reading the car number plates - linked to profiles with bank details - when they drive in and out of a lot. There’s also no reason why customers shouldn’t be able to interact with brands from inside their cars. Whereas, currently, this is largely reserved for emergencies, at the push of a button, a customer could just as easily ask a concierge to make a restaurant reservation, while en route to a new city or neighbourhood.
As consumers become more comfortable with technology and it, in turn, becomes more advanced, our expectations for a more connected experience increase. ‘Can I get my Fitbit or Spotify data linked up to my car?’ Why not. ‘When I arrive at the supermarket in my car, can my groceries be ready and waiting?’ Yes, they can. It may not be a reality quite yet, but the possibility is there if companies can link up their services and customer information.
It’s not only automotive brands where service can act as a connector to new business models. Utilities firms, for example, could tap into the growing trend of ‘prosumers’ to connect the power consumption of a customer with their power generation from solar panels that they can actually sell back to the company. Or, in the travel industry, tickets to an exclusive sporting event could be offered as a bundle with a core product like flights, with consumers then happy to pay a premium to access them.
AI’s untapped potential as an 'intelligence hub' to connect data to informal communications
No matter how sophisticated customer service technology becomes, I believe we will always need service agents. Not only to tackle complex queries but to provide that all-important human touch that so many consumers want when they’re struggling to get what they need. Having said that, simple requests are now being partially, or completely, automated, to the benefit of both brands and consumers. What’s more, through natural language processing (NLP) and by understanding intent, this is set to become far more refined.
One example: recently, I rented a car and went to pick it up from the airport, but it wasn’t there. There was no one at the brand’s booth either, so I was forced to ring the switchboard and go through the automated menu before I could speak to someone – who knew next to nothing about the situation on the ground. The solution was found in the end, but it took time and several steps to get there.
What if, instead, I could send a text saying “my car is not here”; and intelligent AI could identify my profile based on my mobile number. Based on my profile, it could identify the car that I’ve rented and find out where it is. Instead of spending 40 minutes on the phone, I could get an automatic response, saying: “we’re sorry, the car is in the next car park – take a taxi and we’ll pay for it.” Or pass all that information over to an agent who can then immediately reach out to let me know. All that without having to share my account information or repeat the issue multiple times on a phone line. That would reduce a customer service hassle to an impressive and empathic resolution. And while that may require complex integrations and AI to achieve, it’s not as out of reach as you may think.
Will 2022 be as eventful as the last two years? There’s no way for us to know yet. But by taking stock and learning from the last two years to build a strong foundation for the next 10, we can be ready for whatever comes next.