The pandemic has intensified the shift away from in-person communication and increased the pressure on digital touchpoints. With many face-to-face settings closed and longer wait times in call centers, customers have turned in their droves to websites and other digital channels when they needed to interact with organizations.
Some individuals have tentatively tried out digital channels for the first time, whether using WhatsApp, chatbots, web chat or video meetings, and then come to realise that they actually quite like them. So, even as we ease out of the crisis, it’s likely that customers will never completely go back to the old ways of engaging with companies. Digital interaction is highly likely to account for a greater part of inbound and outbound customer communications going forward.
This elevates the role that technology has to play throughout the customer journey, and increases the technical challenges for the IT team. At Macro 4 we wanted to understand how these challenges are playing out in UK enterprises. We therefore asked IT leaders about the state of customer communications within their own organizations. And the answers were revealing. Out of the 100 people we spoke to, all of them directors and other senior technologists in large UK enterprises, 94 percent believe their business needs to improve how they communicate with customers. And nine out of ten see technology being used to achieve this.
Here are the seven areas they see as ripe for improvement.
1) Ramping up security around customer communications
46 per cent highlighted ‘adding extra security measures to protect us and our customers when interacting digitally’. This is no big surprise as the growth in digital channels and digital interactions, both with customers and home workers, potentially increases the number of routes over which cyber attacks can be targeted at corporate IT infrastructure. No doubt IT leaders are also well aware that the pandemic has seen an explosion in security breaches over the past year as criminals exploited new changes in working practices and technology. There are many different security aspects to consider, from using encrypted storage for customer data, to ditching easy to hack password security and applying stronger measures such as multi-factor authentication to protect against unauthorized access.
2) Scaling up capacity
The growing volume of customer interactions that many organizations have seen as a result of the pandemic has increased the load on company websites, apps and underlying IT infrastructure, sometimes resulting in poor performance such as slow response times, unacceptable customer wait times, and mail or web servers crashing. No wonder, then, that 45 per cent of IT leaders we surveyed highlighted the importance of “increasing our capacity to manage greater volumes of digital interactions on our website and other digital channels”. As well as the underlying infrastructure, it’s vital to consider the customer-facing applications you are running as they may also need upgrading or updating to keep pace with demand.
3) Embracing new digital channels
The channels people choose to contact companies will always vary according to personal preferences, convenience and the nature of the contact they need to make. A video call provides customers with a great way to show a faulty product, while webchat gives an instant option to interact if a customer has a question while they are on a website. And email has the advantage of providing the customer and the company with a written audit trail about what has been discussed and agreed to. Today the expectation from customers is that you will cater to all of their preferred channels and 43 per cent of the IT bosses in the survey acknowledged that their company needed to add more digital channels to reach customers more easily.
4) More personalization
Maintaining a personalized approach when juggling multiple channels is far from straightforward, especially if you have a large, diverse mix of customers. But IT leaders recognize its importance. 41 per cent of the survey sample said their company needed to ‘personalize the way we communicate to meet the needs of different customers’. One way of introducing personalization is to use automated systems to change the content of a message dynamically in response to customer characteristics or online behavior, such as how they respond to an email or complete a form on your website.
5) More AI and automation
39 per cent of the survey sample said they wanted to increase their organization’s use of AI and automation so that interacting with customers requires less manual effort. Many companies are already turning to AI-powered chatbots to handle routine customer queries so that human customer service advisors are freed up for more complex issues. But AI’s role doesn’t stop there. Using natural language processing and machine learning, for example, an AI system can review all digital and paper correspondence to understand the nature of each customer query and then classify it correctly so that it can be either responded to automatically or routed to the most appropriate department or human agent for further action.
6) Banishing silos
40 per cent of IT chiefs said their company could improve communication by ‘bringing customer communications across different departments, systems and channels under one umbrella instead of operating in silos’. It is almost impossible to present a united face to the customer when business teams, and the systems they use, don’t even communicate with each other. The problem is well understood, but often hard to tackle. A good place to start is by enhancing and connecting systems that are already in place, rather than attempting to build a brave new world from scratch. One approach to get disconnected systems working together more effectively is digital orchestration. You can use an orchestration framework to manage and coordinate the interactions between separate systems – for example finance, customer service and fulfilment – and add new communication channels and processes on top of what you already have. The result is a much more consistent and connected customer experience, without having to make wholesale changes to your business applications.
7) Ensuring Compliance
Given the increasing financial penalties and reputational damage that can result from non-compliance with data privacy rules, it’s not surprising that over a third (36 per cent) of IT leaders in the survey said their company needed to improve protection of customer data to enable compliance with regulations such as the GDPR. One important aspect of data protection is knowing what customer data you have stored within your business, which individuals it relates to and where it is held. This is the starting point for implementing rules and policies to ensure personal information is managed and stored in a compliant manner, setting automatic retention and deletion rules, monitoring data access by company users, customers and business partners, and incorporating security processes such as encryption.
With digital interaction making up a growing proportion of customer communications, our survey suggests the IT team – working with the marketing and customer service departments – will have plenty of work to do in this area. We can expect it to become an even bigger priority in enterprise IT strategies. The pressure to ensure the underlying technology and processes are delivering the experience that customers want, while keeping costs down and addressing growing concerns around data privacy and security is intensifying. The question is, how long will customers put up with an experience that isn’t quite right before they switch loyalties and go to a competitor?