How companies are building stronger digital customer connections


Covid-19 and the pace of digital transformation have resulted in an exciting transition in digital customer experience strategy

No matter the industry, size or type of business, digital transformation has opened a new world of challenges and opportunities related to the delivery of an excellent customer experience. How companies are handling this transformation will see them either build stronger connections with customers or lose traction with formerly loyal bases. 

At a roundtable discussion, several customer experience experts weighed in on the ways in which the customer experience is changing. 

Use great customer experience as a differentiator, because heightened experience can have a positive knock-on effect on customer retention,” says CitySprint’s director of marketing & customer experience, Prashant Parekh. “We open up all our available channels (voice and email to text, and online chat) and provide customers with a great customer service level across these.”

The need for always-on customer service has seen CitySprint introduce a 15 second wait-time on its customer care line. Similarly, other businesses are integrating multiple channels and technologies into their customer journeys in order to meet customers needs, whatever they may be.

This is a change from years past, likely amplified by the pandemic. Covid-19 has seen companies embrace digital transformation when they might have been slow to adapt before 2020, says Mary Connor, director, retail & commercial banking at Finastra. “Covid is a terrible pandemic, but in terms of digital transformation, it has pressed the fast-forward button and made organisations, not just in banking, but everywhere, think about their digital capabilities.” She adds that companies need to prioritise investing in digital.

Jennifer Yorke, chief customer officer at Ometria, agrees: “There’s a reason why there’s more of a predominance of an adjustment to digital. It’s because there’s a financial incentive to do it. Before Covid, there wasn’t [that incentive] necessarily for businesses, unless you were ahead of the pack.”

Implementing the changes has led to companies considering an array of decisions. Should they be adopting certain channels? Should they be implementing AI technologies? Should they be reaching out to new customer demographics? Should they be personalising customer journeys? To answer these questions, companies have had to consider their brand proposition, their internal capabilities and the needs of their customers. 

There’s a reason why there’s more of a predominance of an adjustment to digital. It’s because there’s a financial incentive to do it. Before Covid, there wasn’t [that incentive] necessarily for businesses, unless you were ahead of the pack

“Customers have higher expectations than they used to,” Matthew Parker, country manager, UK & I at Vonage, says. “Vonage now has a full suite of services where we help organisations that are trying to communicate with customers en masse. We’re trying to help organisations develop that strategy depending on what their customers need.” 

In some cases, understanding those needs relies on data collection and analysis. Deliveroo is one business that collects a good deal of customer, restaurant and rider data. But, Hayley Ward, director of user research & insight at Deliveroo, says it’s a value exchange. “People know the value of their data.” She says if companies don’t use it effectively and responsibly, their customers will stop supplying it. 

Further compounding the data challenge is the complexities of analysing and sharing that data internally. “Most businesses see their tech stack have data in very siloed compartments,” says Yorke, who advises collaboration between management, tech and marketing to centralise the information. By doing so, companies can facilitate multiple types of user journeys and the countless ways customers may want to interact with the brand. 

Alexis Faulkner, chief digital officer, Mindshare UK adds: “When you’re thinking about putting your team structure in place and your technology infrastructure in place, you have to think about the use cases for the customer.”

In traditional businesses that are transforming rapidly, data is proving a crucial asset. Parekh says at Citysprint, data is analysed to gauge the customer’s lifetime value by harnessing insights across every touchpoint.

LKQ Euro Car Parts has traditionally focused on serving garages and technicians, and is now diversifying its B2C business. CEO Andy Hamilton says: “Industries like ours are playing catch-up with their digital strategies.” But while these strategies were arguably something of an afterthought at first, now, with access to data, the impact of Covid-19 and digital transformation, Hamilton says: “We need to take a five-, 10-year jump in two years to keep up with the consumer.”

Yodel is facing a similar challenge. A key delivery partner to a number of major retailers, it found the pandemic to be an accelerator in terms of changing customer expectations. “We saw a major shift in customer attitudes towards online shopping post pandemic. This meant we had to quickly adapt to the changing needs of online shoppers,” says Yodel’s customer experience director Michaela Simpson. “I think we’re making great strides now. We’ve brought teams together to collectively aim for the same objective which is to continue growing and improving our service in the future.” 

Digital has proved to be a huge differentiator for businesses across multiple industries. In financial services, being digital-first has helped GoHenry drastically increase its member base during the pandemic. When a large number of merchants stopped taking cash payments, children – who still largely use cash for any payments they may make – needed a different solution. “From a brand and product perspective our 10-years of experience in the kids finance space and our digital, friction-free experience was really useful for our customers” Stelios Kyriakou, product director; core UX & payments at GoHenry, says about the way the company was able to respond to changing customer needs during the pandemic.

Businesses that work across B2B and B2C landscapes are finding the digital customer journey to be a boon to retention and the reduction of friction. WeGift, a platform that interacts with both end users and businesses, found that digital content and technology can help provide great service to all stakeholders. Renata Kashiwaya Pinheiro, VP customer success at WeGift, says the future will be collaborative: “We have so many apps. Apps for different banks, apps for different retailers, apps for different delivery companies. I think we’re getting to the point where people are going to want to see everything together, expecting companies to collaborate and work alongside each other for the benefit of the customer.”

We saw a major shift in customer attitudes towards online shopping post pandemic. This meant we had to quickly adapt to the changing needs of online shoppers

All of these strategies and responses to changing customer needs can have a real impact on bottom line. “The things you do to make the experience better for the customer go hand-in-hand with your revenues or your business’ bottom line,” says Valentina Kristensen, director, growth & communications at OakNorth. She says AI can help companies better understand their customers in order to manage risks. “The by-product was that the customer also had a better experience, but also it makes better business sense because we can manage any losses or potential defaults much more effectively.”

In the future, alternative communications methods are predicted to make a big impact. Mettle’s head of user experience Kim Symmons says messaging apps will play a strong role in the changing relationship between customers and their banks. “I think that’s how the interrelationship and interconnectivity between products is going to be assumed. At the moment it is very disjointed. But I can only imagine with open banking, the kinds of things you can start to do if you really go out there,” he adds.

Brett Willis, head of customer insights, EMEA at Dotdigital, echoes the belief that communications channels will proliferate. In Dubai, he says, WhatsApp is the primary method of customer-brand interactions. But, companies will have to be aware of what customers want to use. “The future for me is a blurring of lines. There’s not this work and personal space anymore. You need to understand the rules, but there’s going to be a blur.”

The future of the evolving customer experience will indeed involve a blurring of the lines, and an increase in the proliferation of technologies and channels used by businesses to engage their consumers. Parker says: “We’ve gone from necessity and having to deal with simple things like removing a contact centre agent from a contact centre to the point now where everyone has moved to strategic projects and really thinking about how they move things forward.”

Whichever way companies are moving things forward, the delivery of a frictionless digital customer experience will remain an essential priority for businesses.