A proactive era for customer engagement

Engaging consumers in a post-Covid era of greater expectation requires brands to be a lot more proactive. Rethinking the customer experience will be crucial if businesses are to win

The Covid crisis, lockdowns and the wholesale shift to online has inevitably forced many businesses to rethink the way they engage customers the world over. Over the last 14 months, consumer expectations have reached new heights, the digital transfor mation of many organisations have moved up a gear, while disruptive, agile brands are raising the bar when it comes to customer experience.

The new imperative in the post-pandemic era is for brands to be more proactive when it comes to customer engagement, turn data into practical insights and forge a new relationship with those people who buy their products and services in order to maintain market share, loyalty and trust.

“Consumer behaviour is changing the longer Covid-related disruptions have gone on. Consumers have also discovered some great experiences with brands. They then expect that experience with every other company and service they interact with. So, there is a cross pollination of experiences that is happening.

This blending and changing is disrupting businesses,” says Sunny Rao, global senior vice president for sales at Vonage. The question is how much of the new online-focused behaviours will stick as economies open up, high and main streets welcome shoppers, and physical retail experiences, as well as social interactions return. There is no doubt that the coronavirus has been an acceleration event. The issue is whether it has really shifted the dial when it comes to customer engagement and by how much.

“Living without moving has become a lifestyle choice. That’s something that companies are having to facilitate going forwards. It doesn’t mean that this will be how people decide to live their lives entirely, but they want the option. Customers now need to have the convenience of banking, healthcare or food delivery at their fingertips – that’s been a big shift,” says Stanford Swinton, vice president of global care and customer experience at Deliveroo.

When it comes to customer engagement there’s no doubt that brands need to do more. A survey by Gartner of more than 6,000 customers found that only 13% reported receiving any type of proactive customer service. The same research showed that proactive engagement also resulted in better customer satisfaction scores.

“We still live in a reactive world. Brands must be proactive. If you want to reach 100% of your customers, you can only do that with machines,” says Dr Mark Smith, founder and CEO of ContactEngine. 

In recent times those businesses that have raised the bar in terms of service delivery and customer engagement have done so by moving towards a more customer-centric operating model, with a better understanding of the customer journey end-to-end, particularly the key touchpoints. Actionable data is key. Empowering consumers is also part of this picture, so they have the tools to engage with brands in a meaningful way.

“One of the megatrends is to move to a system where patients are taking more control of their own health. A lot of the data within healthcare is not really used. People are not really taking action or using data to be proactive with their health yet. In healthcare, we will see a lot move forwards in this space in the coming decade,” adds Johannes Schildt, CEO of Kry, or Livi in the UK.

How do you make data more actionable is the biggest challenge and allow a holistic view of that consumer? Brands will need to offer a more consistent experience across all touchpoints end-to-end

Customers or patients have also become more comfortable with their virtual selves over time. Consumers are increasingly relaxed at sharing data with companies and brands that they want to interact with online.

“Banking has never been short of data. But as a sector we’ve not been great at using it in the past. There are a lot of opportunities to use this information to be proactive. Banks can do more to help customers be in control of their money,” says Kat Robinson, customer experience director at Metrobank.

She adds, “Banks can now use robotics and AI – artificial intelligence – to do a lot of the mundane and straightforward transactions, this can free up our staff to deliver more value-added experiences, whether that’s coaching someone to use digital banking or helping another to manage their money better.”

Looking ahead, the future of customer engagement looks brighter. Covid-19 may have been a catalyst and an acceleration event, but it has also made brands rethink barriers to market, streamlining bureaucracy and forcing corporations to make things happen. 

“I think this is going to give rise to a lot of new business models that are going to disrupt the market even more. You will see markets disrupted from healthcare to food delivery to insurance. So, we have some interesting times ahead of us,” says Rao. “How do you make data more actionable is the biggest challenge and allow a holistic view of that consumer? Brands will need to offer a more consistent experience across all touchpoints end-to-end.”

Another challenge is the paradox of choice. This needs to be tackled. Endless options on Netflix, Spotify or any other customer-facing digital solution can lead to dissatisfied customers and a lack of engagement, as well as poor experiences. “We are seeing paralysis from our consumers. Go on to Deliveroo in west London today and search for a burger you will get 150 different options. Go on Netflix and start scrolling, people spend two hours looking for the thing they want to watch,” says Swinton.

“We are in a world where we are getting too much selection. The opportunity in the short to medium term is around curation and discovery. But as soon as you put curation in, you shut down my product discovery. This is what machine learning does. So, it’s about good personalisation and curation, but also discovery that allows you to taste things that you otherwise wouldn’t.”

For brands in the future there will be a sweet spot when it comes to customer engagement. Not all will achieve that perfect mix that brings together the hyper-personalisation of products, offers consumers enough choices that allow them to discover new things, but also curates services in a proactive way, so that consumers are not overwhelmed.

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