While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly upended the way we work, it has also transformed the way companies engage with customers. In fact, according to the latest Broadridge CX and Communications Insights survey, over half (56%) of North American consumers believe the pandemic has fundamentally changed how they communicate and engage with businesses. This comes at a time when many companies have accelerated their digital transformations to serve customers in a virtual environment.
Amid these trials and pivots, practices that had initially been deemed as “temporary” have quickly become permanent and established fixtures. During this period of evolution for the customer experience, the human element has emerged as a key differentiator for brands across industries – with 54% of consumers seeing an increase in humanity in the communications they’ve received from providers.
While we will continue to see an acceleration toward digital communications, maintaining a human element in the customer experience will only increase in importance as evolving customer needs and personalization take center stage. Several of the past year’s challenges in engaging with customers and clients will persist, but here are some key trends to expect as we move forward:
There Will Be No “Return to Normal”; the “Next Normal” is Here to Stay
Lessons learned from the past year have taught us that there will be no “return to normal.” In fact, as Emily Wengert, Group Vice President of User Experience at HUGE recently shared with me, it is instead time to think about a “next normal,” and what this means for the customer experience. The environment of the past year has forced companies and industries to change, including ways in which employees interact with their customers/clients.
For many, this has been a real-life experiment, where temporary practices are becoming established procedures. When it comes to operating their businesses, companies are reimagining the way they think about physical office spaces entirely. With new digital tools like cloud document sharing, virtual office setups have opened doors for customer engagement to levels unseen. The change in office culture and transition to hybrid work environments will only further increase conversations around anticipating needs in the “next normal.”
Rapid Technological Acceleration Will Persist into 2021, Due to Growing Demand
Last year forced businesses to significantly adjust the way they operate and interact with customers, and that change will continue to spur new trends as we progress through 2021. Remarkably, companies are now more open to experimenting with new digital tools and practices as customer expectations evolve. For many organizations, this means adopting new automation and digital tools to eliminate mundane tasks and instead allocate time toward meaningful priorities.
That said, digital adoption shouldn’t come at the expense of a disengaged customer. As digital acceleration persists, the need to personalize communications and surpass current experiences is key for successful digital integration. In fact, according to our research, two out of five consumers (43%) have stopped doing business with a company solely because it did a poor job of personalizing the experience.
Industries such as hospitality and travel faced major hurdles in 2020, highlighting the need for companies to be even more aware of customer needs, with digitization and self-service tools becoming a permanent fixture to meet unique customer preferences as these industries pick up again. When it comes to technological adoption, companies that aren’t prudent in adopting technologies like AI, cloud, or digital with their client/customers’ needs in mind risk losing these relationships and ultimately, their competitive edge.
Balancing Digital With Humanity Will Be Key to Evolving the Customer Experience
With many turning to virtual interactions with their providers, workplaces and loved ones alike, this environment has exposed a new reality of human isolation. This in turn has motivated many companies to expand services with human interaction instead – a direct testament to the power of humanity in customer/client interactions.
While companies may continue to offer similar products and services as the world begins to open up again, the ways in which people are connected to those services have evolved for good. More than ever before, the pandemic has served as a gateway for companies to personalize the way they virtually engage with their customers/clients. Whether this means having more staff on-call to engage with customers directly and problem solve or leveraging AI to provide more personalized touchpoints, the human element is here to stay.
Thus, while the past year was certainly a catalyst for rapid change, it has also reinforced the need for companies to embrace the integration of smart and human, where automation does not replace, but rather augment human capabilities.