The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way consumers interact with the world. From how they shop to how they consume entertainment, people are spending more time online than ever before. While the use of digital channels has certainly been accelerated due to the public health crisis, the trend did not begin overnight. Consumer surveys, pre-COVID-19, had already detected a dramatic shift to digital service.
As businesses prepare for a post-pandemic future, they need a clear understanding of what recovery will look like. While studying consumer behavior over the past six months will help provide color, it does not paint the full picture. In order to identify which trends will stick and which will fade, it’s important to see where the trendline was heading in the months leading up to the pandemic.
Based on the findings in the NICE inContact CX Transformation Benchmark from 2019, it’s safe to project that COVID-19 recovery will start and end with digital. Here are a few examples of key trends that will inform the future of customer engagement:
Prior to the pandemic, consumers wanted channel choice. They wanted the ability to ask one question on Facebook and follow-up via text message. If those channels didn’t resolve the issue, they further expected the option to engage over voice or real-time chat. The NICE inContact CX Transformation Benchmark study traced this expectation year over year. Compared to 2018, more consumers in 2019 said they would be more willing to do business with a company that offers more ways to communicate. In fact, more than 60 percent of Millennials and Generation Z expect companies to allow them to interact with customer service using private social messaging apps, per NICE inContact’s study. For the past six months, this expectation became a prerequisite, as quarantine forced consumers and businesses to connect digitally.
Since the public health crisis started, many companies have upped their customer service capabilities by adopting solutions that enable digital interactions. Some have piecemealed a customer experience (CX) strategy through website Q&As and SMS text. Others have deployed enterprise-grade contact center software that can deliver native experiences across 30 messaging channels. Either way, the value these tools provide has been immeasurable and, in some cases, the difference between crippling disruption and business continuity. The flexibility and agility companies of all sizes have demonstrated throughout all of this has been inspiring, but this innovation cannot stop once the landscape returns to normal.
Seamless Omnichannel Experience
For the businesses that took a more bespoke approach to their COVID-19 response, CX was likely more than adequate, considering most people were grateful that social distancing did not disrupt service. After this is all over, however, organizations should anticipate an increased demand for seamless omnichannel experiences. This means changing channels without having to restart the entire support process. The organizations with contact centers that have true omnichannel functionality will be best prepared to handle the transition into a post-COVID-19 economy. These companies can service a growing segment of the population, Millennials and Generation Z, who were already trending heavily in the digital-first direction. The data proves that. According to the CX Transformation Benchmark study, 60 percent of Millennials and Generation Z had used private social messaging, such as Facebook Messenger, for customer service.
Omnichannel enables companies to engage customers by providing contact center agents the tools needed to channel hop across any and all options. Just last year, the CX Transformation Benchmark study showed that customers were docking businesses that failed to offer an omnichannel experience, with 73 percent of consumers giving companies a poor rating on seamlessly switching between channels, a worse performance compared to 2018.
Maintaining the Human Element
Businesses have learned that the best way to engage the younger generations is by replicating the experience they’re used to having in their personal lives. It appears that customer service operations will have to do the same for Generation X and Baby Boomers because the coronavirus pandemic has turned them into digital mavens as well. Per a McKinsey survey on digital sentiment in the U.S., 75 percent of people using digital channels for the first time say that they will continue to use them when things return to “normal.”
But just because consumers have embraced digital doesn’t mean that customer service has to completely abandon the human element. The human touch is still important. According to the CX Transformation Benchmark study in 2019, half of consumers that begin their interaction with AI have to be transferred to a service agent. While digital tools like chatbots and interactive voice response effectively handle simpler tasks and support issues, consumers still desire human intervention when the problem is more complex.
In the post-COVID-19 world, the customer experience will be almost entirely influenced by digital. To have an open dialogue with customers, businesses need to implement an omnichannel system that prop up human and digital experiences.