Say hello to the latest digital generation. The global pandemic has created a whole new raft of digital shoppers that includes - well, just about everyone. Even my elderly relatives are now regularly glued to their devices. And as a result of this widespread, growing demand, businesses are now placing even greater emphasis on optimising the online experience for customers and equipping support agents with the tools to become both efficient and proficient.
Before the pandemic hit, businesses were already making moves towards digital-first shopping experiences. Customer usage data and feedback from shoppers indicated that people enjoy the convenience of shopping from anywhere - whether for research or when using an after-sales service - and the flexibility that a fully connected customer journey provides. But then the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting lockdowns turned cultural norms upside down. Almost overnight, ecommerce became more than just convenient. With high street shops closed because of national lockdowns put in place across the world, online had overnight become a consumer necessity. Even now, nearly a year later, more people than ever are being forced to shop online - many for the first time - because of store closures. Even those who were previously set on their weekly store shops have turned to online retailers in 2020.
According to Zendesk’s 2021 Customer Experience Trends Report, which looked at data from more than 90,000 companies across 175 countries on the Zendesk platform, nearly a third of customers in the UK (29%) began buying from new companies during the pandemic and close to half (45%) reported using new service channels. The figures speak for themselves - we’re no longer gradually shifting to online, we’re evolving dramatically. And this evolution is here to stay. Sixty one per cent of UK customers surveyed said they plan to keep using these new channels for support. To keep pace, businesses must now ensure they’re putting the right resources in place to meet these changing customer needs.
Giving confidence in trying times
So many of the events that unfolded last year were out of our control and so many lives were filled with unpredictability and apprehension. Across the retail industry, orders took longer than usual to process and retailers were put under growing strain as more and more people began shopping online.
It’s vital that businesses continue to reassure customers, where possible, by keeping them up-to-date about the status of their orders and servicing them quickly. Some 65% of customers want to buy from companies that offer quick and easy online transactions, Zendesk’s research found. Three quarters (75%) are willing to spend more to buy from companies that offer them a good customer experience (CX). In the UK, 46% of customers say that CX is more important than it was a year ago. This is above average for the EMEA region, with only Spain reporting a higher number (56%).
For those consumers now making the majority of their purchases online, the experience they have in their first few digital shopping trips will dictate the choices they make when lockdowns are fully reversed - and they have far greater choice about where they shop in the months and years to come.
Messaging is moving up
With speed proving to be such a priority for customers, it comes as little surprise that messaging has really taken off in the last year. EMEA has seen messaging increase the most as a means of communicating with brands, for Whatsapp alone by 190%. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people In the UK and Spain used messaging for the first time than any other medium. Appetites for better messaging services have increased, and at the same time, the likes of Apple, Google and Facebook have made moves to improve messaging services in 2020, particularly for businesses.
For companies, staying connected to customers means seeking out new ways to engage with them, where they spend time. Of the 40% of companies that added a new channel to their customer service arsenal this year, over half (53%) turned to messaging, including apps like WhatsApp, SMS/texting, and messaging embedded in a company’s own website. What’s more, our research found that companies that boast the fastest resolution times and highest customer satisfaction scores are more likely to be using messaging to connect. Fast messaging services and happy customers increasingly go hand in hand.
An omnichannel approach = better CX
Those businesses not already using messaging may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of yet another service channel to manage - especially if their resources are already feeling stretched. After all, agents are still adapting to new ways of working and are having to adjust how they interact with customers at the same time. But there’s also an opportunity here. By making better use of the people a business already has and enabling those people to be more efficient, you might not need to hire more people to run additional service channels.
Companies can improve their CX by mastering omnichannel. Our research found that high-performing companies are far more likely to have taken an omnichannel approach, with Spain, France and Italy leading the pack. In each of these countries, more than half of high-performing companies use omnichannel solutions.
One place to start is with empowering customers to help themselves. Businesses must enable their staff to become more efficient by embracing self-service resources. These free up agents to work on more complex issues and engage with customers in a more empathetic manner, driving greater customer loyalty - and agent satisfaction. It’s more important than ever right now to invest in the right tools to equip agents. This isn’t about buying more tech, it’s about investing in new approaches that go beyond the tech itself, enabling agents to do their best work.
Reframing CX as a profit driver
When it comes to customer service, there has always been a focus on improving response times and raising CSAT scores, and these metrics are still significant benchmarks. However, given the current climate, the next year will be make or break for many businesses. Those that succeed will be thinking big picture. With physical footfall replaced by online eyeballs, businesses are getting creative about how they attract custom and keep people, new and old, coming back. This includes considering the full lifetime value of a customer and really prizing that as an outcome of CX. As opposed to considering good CX as a cost centre, it can and should be seen as a driver of profit.
Reaching that goal means prioritising the tools and practices that will help service teams to work smarter, not harder. It means listening to customers, rather than making assumptions about their expectations and behaviours, and then learning and adapting. This isn’t about finding an end destination, but rather moving forward with customers and being prepared, during what is likely to be an extremely unpredictable year.