2021 proved to be an incredibly turbulent year for organisations.The impact of the pandemic on customer behaviour continued to be keenly felt across all industries, countries and demographics. What was once considered exemplary customer experience is no longer deemed good enough and despite the UK government laying out their plans for life to return to some semblance of normality, it is clear that customer decision making and buying behaviour has changed forever.
Customers are the lifeblood of any organisation, so key to ensuring successful business outcomes is prioritising and creating an effective customer experience. A recent McKinsey report found that – in the UK – 44% of shoppers tried new brands or bought from a new retailer during last year’s lockdown. This demonstrates just how fickle customer loyalty can be, yet it is vital for the sustainability of organisations and so must be retained.
With this in mind, we spoke with some experts to explore the customer experience trends that are already gathering pace this year and what businesses can do to ensure they put customers first.
Building stronger empathetic relationships through technology
Suzette Meadows, Lead Consultant, Contact Centre/Unified Communications, Exponential-e, believes that a critical learning from the pandemic this year is the importance of putting empathy at the heart of the customer experience. According to her, “one way customer service agents can do so is with the use of digital channels, especially video.”
Meadows adds, “customers more often than not show frustration when being forced to speak with bots and automated voices, as opposed to real people. Even if a customer appears frustrated online or on the phone when speaking with a human, it’s often a face-to-face interaction that gives the required added layer of communication to help take the heat out of escalating situations – body language. That’s because body language gives customer service agents the opportunity to better demonstrate empathy and emotion, which can’t always be done with letters on a page or even just a voice. Video communication also gives customers the option to directly demonstrate any issues they might have with a product or service. This helps to cut through the noise of online or phone channels and makes the interaction a lot more efficient.”
Treat customers as people, not commodities
Yusdi Santoso, Customer Experience Strategist, Qualtrics, believes that as “[consumers have] more choice than ever, [their] tolerance for bad experiences is as low as it’s ever been. As the pandemic continues to bite, customers are empowered to make their money go further and re-evaluate the relationships they have with brands. The 2022 Consumer Trends report from Qualtrics makes clear that consumers are missing a personalised, human element in their relationship with companies, with poor customer service cited as the second most important reason for cutting spending with a brand.”
Santoso continues, “the accelerating ‘skimpflation’ phenomenon, where companies are forced to cut back on services, hours, or quality, is evidence that if customers do not feel they are cared for they will walk – 47% of customers surveyed agree. With prices continuing to climb, businesses need to address customer experience gaps and make up for rising costs with stellar service and the ecosystem to design, improve, and deliver it. The risk for those that miss the mark is huge, with bad experiences threatening 6.5 per cent of revenue, yet the opportunity for those that get it right is even greater.”
Personalisation is key
Many also agree that personalisation will continue to play an even greater role in customer experience this year. “New interactive channels pop up every day to feed consumers’ voracious appetites for instant gratification and their desire to customise what they want and how to get it,” according to Paige O’Neill, Chief Marketing Officer, Sitecore. “Rapid change is turning brands into anticipators of need. The challenge is being part of the conversation as consumers can block out noise from brands they don’t like or find irrelevant.
“Personalisation requires a lot of content, which consumers will then configure based on individual interests. Typically, customers see 3% of the content a brand puts out. They define how much is too much. Thoughtful brands realise this. Customised information drives loyalty, repurchasing, and retention. We’ve seen this with subscription services. You can get your favourite razor delivered every month without ever contacting the vendor. The next phase may be a “Buy Now” box popping up on a TV ad, and with one click, an order is complete.”
Assisting communication through hybrid work
Considering the impact that the rise of remote working is having on internal business communication, Neil Hammerton, CEO, Natterbox, believes companies have a responsibility to ensure communication between customer service agents remains seamless through the new era of hybrid working. Hammerton says, “as we settle into 2022 and remote, flexible working policies continue to be put in place on a long-term basis, we’re going to see a higher demand for solutions that enable that micro-communication even when co-workers cannot physically be together.
“For example, in contact centres we’ve already experienced a significant rise in demand for ‘listen-in’ functionality – allowing managers to listen to conversations with customers as they happen. This ensures managers understand how their employees are performing and identify areas they may need further training on. Virtual wallboards can also be implemented to help contact agents see how many customers are in the queue and where their colleagues are, for example on the phone or taking a break, to help fill the void of not being able to see them face-to-face.”
Taking a holistic approach
Helen Briggs, Senior Vice President and General Manager for EMEA, Genesys, predicts that “this year, CX leaders will increasingly focus on their employees’ engagement and satisfaction levels as a leading indicator of a holistic customer satisfaction model.”
Briggs believes that “for a business, it can mean that all of its people, processes, strategies, leadership and technologies are aligned around its customers’ and employees’ point of view — not the company’s. Our recent survey found that over two-thirds of UK consumers (69%) stated that brands must act with empathy when dealing with them as a customer today. Hiring and retaining staff with the right skills and mindset to provide empathetic experiences is no easy feat, but we expect it will be a priority for businesses in 2022.”
Jen Bailin, CRO, SAP Customer Experience, believes that implementing software that enhances visibility into, and connects, adjacent functions like sales, fulfilment and logistics will ensure businesses deliver on their promises to customers. She expands by saying “By linking up the back end to front end of a business’ operations, marketers are able to access and share real time insights into availability of products and speed of shipping. Supply chain delays, that are out of a brand’s control, continue to disrupt certain industries, but by using these insights to offer more transparency, customers won’t feel let down. Building trust through a consistent end-to-end experience requires both a top-level and granular view of all of this integrated data. Those who don’t build an infrastructure capable of analysing these insights risk losing customers to the innovators that do.”
Utilising the technology available
Nick Mitchell, VP of UK&I, Celonis, summarises the sentiment well, he says “many companies are still struggling with the large-scale disruption caused by Brexit and the pandemic, an increase in shipping costs, and supply chain challenges experienced throughout 2021. However, this year, to remain competitive, organisations must continue to exceed customer expectations by delivering products on time and providing excellent service.
“To overcome these challenges, it is crucial that companies analyse their processes to ensure that the most efficient and effective approach is taken to achieve the desired business outcome. This can be done by leveraging the latest technology to work backwards from the desired end goal, and assessing how best this can be accomplished, or what will prevent it from happening. AI-powered technology is able to analyse the whole supply chain and flag any potential problems even before they appear. To avoid them, it can even automatically put contingencies in place to ensure a delivery target is fulfilled and customer expectations are met. Businesses that fail to prioritise this moving forward will struggle to keep up with their competitors.
Managing changing expectations
It is undeniable that businesses up and down the country have experienced turbulent times over the past year, and consumer expectations have significantly changed as a result. Fortunately, businesses can ensure they thrive this year and well into the future if they prioritise implementing the most effective customer experience strategies possible.
Industry experts in the technology and software space share their CX predictions for 2022. Contributors include, Suzette Meadows, Lead Consultant, Contact Centre/Unified Communications, Exponential-e; Yusdi Santoso, Customer Experience Strategist, Qualtrics; Paige O’Neill, Chief Marketing Officer, Sitecore; Neil Hammerton, CEO, Natterbox; Helen Briggs, Senior Vice President and General Manager for EMEA, Genesys;Jen Bailin, CRO, SAP Customer Experience; and Nick Mitchell, VP of UK&I, Celonis.