The Future of Customer Experience. AI as a Business Strategy in Post-COVID-19 Times

The Future of CX
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Using Customer Experience as Competitive Advantage

Great customer experience is one of the keys to success for businesses, and this isn’t news. Happy customers return, don’t churn, and most importantly, refer your business to potential new customers. 
 
In these unprecedented times more than ever, it is crucial to recognize changing patterns in customer demands and use customer experience (or CX) as a competitive advantage. It has been observed that customers are shifting to digital channels, which is fundamentally changing business operations.  
 
As the COVID-19 crisis continues in some areas of the world and fades away in others, business owners should think about its short- terms as well as long-term implications. Rethinking and adopting the right customer experience strategies can allow your business to stay ahead of the competition in an increasingly digitalized world.  
 
One strategy that can pay off right away and has the potential to future-proof for post-COVID-19 times is the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into core business functions.  
 
AI solutions can help you to improve customer service, automate repetitive tasks and increase productivity. Read on to learn how AI can help your business to bring customer experience to the next level.    

Customers Shifting to Digital Channels During COVID-19

The value of digital channels has enormously increased in the last few months, and online shopping has become the new normal. In fact, customer demand changed more or less overnight.

Millions of people turned from offline to online shopping, when nonessential businesses had to close their physical stores, and people reduced their mobility due to risk of infection and lockdown policies. Even the more resistant customers, like the elderly who used to rely on physical stores, have started enjoying the convenience of online grocery shopping.

Even as economies start opening again, the lockdown marked a radical shift in the way people work, shop, and meet.

A major growth in online shopping has been observed in different countries. Commerce Insight reports that:

  • US retailers saw the level of growth for online shopping in April similar to the recent holiday season.
  • Lockdowns in European countries produced growth for Pure E-commerce brands.
  • Sport, fitness, hobby, home and leisure e-commerce sales continue to grow in US .
  • Since January in North America online orders went 80% up.

According to McKinsey and Company report, when people are forced to stay at home, they seek for at-home forms of entertainment like gardening, DIY, cooking, gaming, or digital streaming services.

For example, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ experienced an increase in subscriptions in the first quarter of 2020, and movie studios started streaming on-demand, according to Big Commerce.

COVID-19 Impact on Businesses

The crisis has impacted different businesses in different ways.

The areas that have gained the most from COVID-19 are live streaming, telemedicine, web conferencing, webinars, exam, live chat. On the other hand, negatively impacted by COVID-19 are help desk, HR, inventory management, statistical analysis, project management, construction management, according to Gartner.*

“Learn From the Experts: Navigate an Evolving B2B Software Landscape”
Providers of communication services have gained the most during COVID-19. Source: Gartner Webinar, “Learn From the Experts: Navigate an Evolving B2B Software Landscape”.

These digital trends put many e-commerce businesses under huge pressure. Many online stores and services started to struggle as they were unprepared for the huge demand.

Within e-commerce, the online grocery stores and supermarket industry was rapidly overwhelmed with orders.

Unfortunately for those businesses that hadn’t adopted the proper technology prior to the crisis, they couldn’t cope with fluctuating demand during the crisis and failed to provide a good customer experience.

For those companies who had already implemented AI tools and optimized processes for scalability and fluctuations, the situation didn’t seem as stressful, and overall, they were better prepared for the shifts in demand.

A new and improved way of using digital channels means also changing the way of doing customer service. Customers have shown to expect to receive fast and accurate answers to their enquires, and they want better support during the purchasing process. Moreover, customers tend to not be satisfied with the basic FAQ anymore and want their requests to be handled in a more personalized way.

Engaging customers is becoming more important as they tend to spend more time online. According to Gartner, working from home blurs the boundaries between week and weekend. Consequently, people devote more time to research and shop online.

To keep buyers engaged during the weekend, introducing AI technology providing automated initial responses can be a good strategy to improve customer experience. The businesses that have already introduced some kind of automatic responses during their purchasing process make it easier and faster, generating more sales.

The way businesses handle customer service can either boost or decrease customer loyalty. In other words, focusing on CX can keep your customers choosing you over your competitors.

Why is it so important to deliver the best customer experience? The studies show that 50% of customers would switch to another provider after just one bad experience, and 80% would switch after multiple bad experiences.

Customers with bad experience tend to switch to another provider
Bad experience tend to increase frustration and compromise customer’s loyalty for the brand.

 

During the height of the pandemic, some customers might have been more forgiving in face of a bad customer experience (delayed shipping, long response time, etc) because they understood businesses were struggling to keep up and were working with new regulations and limitations – and for the most part, still are.

However, now and in the future, businesses need to focus on how to improve CX for good times and bad.

Good customer experience will be at the front line and offer a competitive edge over others. For companies across different industries, it is a wakeup call for making the necessary adjustments to stay in the game.

Growing Demand for AI Chatbot Technology

According to the Accenture survey from 2019, 84% of C-suite executives believe they must leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve their growth objectives. 75% of C-suite executives believe they risk going out of business if they don’t scale AI within the next five years.

Further, Zendesk’s Customer Experience Trends report 2020 shows that high performing teams are twice as likely as underperformers to use AI.

Businesses Using Omnichannel
Businesses using different channels to interact with customers tend to provide better experience. Source: Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020.

 

COVID-19 has pushed businesses towards more advanced digitalization, and many small businesses recognize that they need technology to survive. In the recovery phase of COVID19, technology can help to fix enterprises or keep them ahead of the competition.

According to Gartner’s 2020 survey*, 61% of small and medium businesses are spending more on technology than before. They look for technology that can be easily integrated, for example, webinar software integrated with Salesforce.

Companies are also deciding to act faster than before. The survey shows that the time in the purchase cycle has changed: 46% of small and medium businesses sped up their timeline for implementation.

This shows how many companies were already preparing themselves for rebound and growth in the midst of the pandemic. Those who reshuffle investment priorities and put technology first will be in much better situation to grow in the future, according to Garner’s recommendations for CIOs from March 2020.

AI Chatbots Driving Customer Experience during COVID-19

AI tools and automation can be a real opportunity to drive customer experience. In fact, the demand for AI chatbot technology has increased since the beginning of COVID-19 crisis.

More companies are willing to explore a chatbot solution and test them. Those who did not decide to automate their customer services partially are searching for the right tools now and are more willing to try new options.

There might be several reasons for that. For example, many companies have been experiencing more pressure on their support channels, for which their human staff might be insufficient (hence, a scalable AI solution can save a lot of overheads).

An interesting use case of how a chatbot can help with unprecedented volume of customer enquiries is Nationwide’s virtual assistant created to handle Coronavirus mortgage queries. When Arti was handling common questions about mortgages, human agents were able to deal with more complicated cases. This shows how automating responses to simple call centre queries can save a lot of time and improve CX.

Another interesting case from when the pandemic hit the US, came from Otsego County, New York, which was put under high pressure as inbound calls regarding COVID-19 drastically increased. They decided to use a chatbot, Assistant for Citizens to address the most common questions. It proved to work well and the country already sees the potential of AI in post COVID-19 times.

Chatbots Can Support Variations in Demands

E-commerce companies overwhelmed with sudden spikes started retooling quickly, to better cope with high demands, while companies with physical stores also tried to adjust to the new normal. They needed to find a way to how to assist customers without F2F contact. For example, the introduction of digital help in-store, capacity planning, increase in dependency on selling online. Consequently, AI technology is expected to support variations in demand across channels.

As most countries are now opening up again, companies are trying to reposition themselves to capture the opportunities. Moreover, they need to find a way to win back their customers under the constraint of the pandemic but also to create new ways of engaging with the customers, that are less reliant on physical shopping.

Equally important, businesses whose demand has drastically decreased, such as leisure and travel should plan how they can handle a sudden spike in customer enquires when the situation will normalize, and more restrictions will be lifted. In this not-too-far scenario, chatbots would be perfect to relieve customer service agents.

NLU in chatbots
NLU allows chatbots to provide more accurate answers, and consequently improve customer experience.

On the other hand, companies which were focusing on offline businesses until now, should reconsider their business models and consider switching to digital channels. This will require proper technology. It will not only help with revenue but also make your business more resilient to fluctuation that might happen at any time, as we are experiencing it right now. Those resistant to changes are likely to be left out of the game.

Looking Forward: The Value of AI Solutions for Your Business

Now more than ever is a right time to adopt AI solutions to drive value. Extending digitalization is a defensive business strategy. However, introducing AI solutions at the core of your business is an offensive strategy, which can allow you to provide better customer experience. Forward-thinking brands are already reaping the benefits of AI (either via the tools they use to run their business or as part of their core product).

As the buyers want to speed up purchase and implantation time, AI chatbots can be easily and quickly implemented. The use case of fast implementation can be a chatbot build on the BotXO platform for Matterport. The company needed chatbot to be the first-line support for questions related to their newest product: the 3D Capture App for iPhone. The bot was built and launched in the record time of 3 days.

Why Is AI the Right Business Solution to Improve Customer Experience?

The answer is that AI solutions can help scale businesses and assist employees when humans are not enough. It can take a lot of pressure off human agents, who can focus more on the quality of their work and have a happier work life, with less repetitive tasks.

Moreover, AI solutions can make an impact on different elements of businesses such as customer service, product recommendation, or customer acquisition.

AI can deliver various benefits such as:

  • prediction and improvement of performance
  • time to value
  • increased flexibility and scalability
  • increased productivity
  • more contactless commerce as well as customer support

Importantly enough, businesses need to think about your employees too. When many companies shift to remote work, new demands appear, especially different forms of communication. This also means a selection of technology that support people moving between WFH and WFW.

This might have long-lasting implications as 41% of employees are likely to work at least some of the time remotely in post COVID19 times, according to Gartner HR Survey.

AI can help not only with communication but also ease the processes by automating some of the manual processes. For example, AI can help with application screening, virtual assistants can support marketing and sales teams, and chatbots can handle the customer service.

Working from home becomes a new normal.
Working remotely is becoming more common.

In other words, AI technology can help businesses to cope with the demands of customers as well as to make sure that your employees are working in the best way, while providing customers with quicker service and content suited to their preferences. Companies can use data collected from these dialogues to adapt and improve the user experience.

Automation can have a tremendous impact on time and cost-saving. Artificial Intelligence can play a huge role in how a business operates, and should be in every company’s radar, now more than ever.

Written and designed  by Patrycja Hala Saçan

 

*Garner Webinar “Learn From the Experts: Navigate an Evolving B2B Software Landscape”.

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