During times of significant uncertainty, the main thing humans want is communication. Over the last year, we’ve all realised the power of communicating with our loved ones using technology, or hearing regular coronavirus updates from government officials. And when it comes to the brands we shop with, consumers want to feel understood during times of hardship and they tend to feel loyalty towards brands that talk to them like their friends, and solve problems in a quick and considerate manner.
Along with the devastation from a global pandemic, the year brought along with it significant change in the way everyday people go about and live their daily lives. Covid-19 accelerated some of the shopping and messaging trends we have been seeing for many years, and while vaccines are rolling out and there is some glimmer of hope that life may return to some semblance of normality before the end of 2021, don’t expect customer behaviour to return immediately to “normal”. In fact, we need to readdress what normal means as we make our way out into a post-Covid world.
While analysts are forecasting this century’s “Roaring ‘20s” to be around the corner, we will also most likely have to navigate significant economic uncertainty which will impact spending behaviour. Not forgetting any experience that has been replicated digitally over the last year – take working from home or grocery shopping as an example – will likely continue now we have embedded those habits into our routines.
Zendesk has conducted extensive research to understand what’s next for customer experience and engagement in 2021. Our third annual Customer Experience Trends Report surveyed customers, agents, customer service leaders and technology buyers and looked at data from more than 90,000 companies across 175 countries, including 29,000 firms in Europe. In this article we take a look at the key findings in the report for Europe, and how businesses can use them to adapt their customer experience in order to meet the challenges of a volatile economy.
Transitioning to a truly digital-first world
Unprecedented in speed and scale, the recent surge online puts pressure on European companies to meet rising expectations as customer experience takes centre stage. Customers are expecting companies to match the high bar set by digitally savvy leaders that are driving engagement and innovation, and investing heavily in CX.
In fact, global lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus led to e-commerce sales jumping an incredible 30% on a global scale – that’s a significant increase in potential new customers to your brand. But if a new customer shops with you for the first time and doesn’t have a great experience, they are not forgiving and the chances of them shopping with you again are slim – 77% of European shoppers will switch to a competitor after more than one bad experience.
Our research found that 57% of European customers are willing to spend more to buy from companies that give them a good customer experience, while half of European customers say CX Is more important to them now than pre-pandemic.
Fig 1. Customers are seeking online experiences
And it’s not just about a good experience in terms of communicating effectively with shoppers, sending delivery updates, or providing information to them with ease – all of these should be standard procedure. But now customers are demanding even more from companies – they want businesses to share their values when it comes to empathy, diversity, equality and social responsibility. Businesses need to step up in 2021 and share their values clearly. The big question you should be asking yourself is: what do your customers care about?
A more conversational world
When it comes to conversing with customers, the conversation must be clear and concise, but also convenient and personal: 56% of EU customers used a new support channel in 2020 and 72% plan to keep using it. And as customers adopt new behaviours, the soaring popularity of messaging apps opens the door for more streamlined, conversational experiences.
More customers say they prefer to message a company through its own website, app or social messaging apps. Support requests over apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger spiked significantly during the pandemic: In Europe the average weekly ticket volume from Whatsapp rose by 190%, followed by 61% for Facebook Messenger and Twitter DM.
For companies, staying connected to customers hence means seeking out new ways to engage with them, where they spend time. Of the companies across Europe that added a new channel to their customer service arsenal this year, almost half (48%) turned to messaging, including apps like WhatsApp, SMS/texting, and messaging embedded in a company’s own website.
Emphasis on agility
2020 has given us a crash-course in resilience as everyone has experienced constant change. As customer needs change, businesses need to adapt their offering to best serve them in these volatile times. Agility tops the post-COVID priority list: 51% of managers at European businesses describe being able to quickly adapt to the evolving needs of customers as their highest priority going forward.
Companies are investing in their customers and employees. 70% of surveyed technology decision makers see offering customers multiple communication channels as critical to success and as a competitive advantage for high-performing firms. But some businesses are still missing out on the basics such as online self-service which relieves busy call centres. Many companies are turning to chatbots. Despite an adoption boost among larger firms AI-powered chatbots still remains an underutilized tool, although with large differences among countries: Only 38% of German teams used AI in 2021 whereas 60% of their Dutch counterparts embraced it as a tool for an agile and efficient customer service.
The future of work is now
While businesses have to react to changing customer behaviours, they also have to be agile in terms of their own employees, as last-minute lockdowns have forced all non-essential workers to set up remote offices at home all over the world. The stress on employees has been significant, as 49% of European workforces have gone fully remote, and 61% of support agents have said they feel overwhelmed.
With hybrid work arrangements becoming the new norm, companies are having to rethink how their employees work and invest in the right toolset to support agents at home. The good news is government-enforced home working has led to many companies offering flexible working policies which will remain in place post-Covid. Over half of EU companies are looking to invest in new ways to engage employees, but this investment needs to increase to ensure productivity remains high as the novelty of remote working wears off.
The digital tipping point: CX becomes the business strategy
Digital transformation projects are notorious for taking years to complete, by which time many of the technologies introduced have become outdated. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s the need to act now and remain agile.
The majority of company leaders in Europe recognise this shift and are willing to invest to avoid being left behind. But speed is the necessary requirement today, with those already investing to improve their CX output much more likely to succeed. While investment in today’s uncertain economic climate may seem cavalier, digital investment is crucial to survival – all you need to do is look at your changing customer to realise how easy it has become to be left behind.