More Brands Are Scaling Digital Channels for Customer Engagement — Here’s Why

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Back in February, the big question was what customer experience would mean in a voice-first world. Now, brands are asking what customer experience means in a post-pandemic world.

Communicating with brands on social media has become the norm for consumers. Surveys show that roughly half of all consumers who engage with brands on social media are reaching out about customer care concerns, and more than 65% of social media users across all platforms expect brands to respond, regardless of whether the initial outreach was via private messages or public posts.

Those expectations have only heightened over the past six months, and many brands have had to pivot their customer support and engagement priorities on the fly. As brands come up with new strategies, they are relying on artificial intelligence and bots in ways they never had to before. AI is being used to manage higher-than-average call volumes at support centers, and bots are being used to respond to inquires on social media. These were things that were happening before the pandemic, of course, but the push for widespread adoption accelerated over the summer.

“Many businesses are looking to go all in on AI and automation. There are various reasons to do so, whether it be to increase efficiency or cut costs, but there’s a balance there that needs to be struck,” says Mike Betzer, senior vice president and general manager of Khoros Care.

Brands that are moving too quickly and not taking the time to set up the right systems run the risk of losing the humanization that’s crucial in customer support. With the continued adoption of AI and automation, Betzer says it’s important that brands not force consumers to interact in a way that doesn’t suit them. Choice and personalization are key.

Some brands are having an easier time transitioning than others. Contact centers that still rely on on-premise systems can be difficult — or even impossible — to replicate for remote workforces. As part of the new remote work reality, though, brands have no choice but to equip their agents to remotely handle the increased volume of inquiries that has come with the Covid-19 crisis.

“It’s important now that businesses look critically at their customer engagement in the initial months of the pandemic and apply those lessons learned to their business continuity and disaster recovery plans,” Betzer says.

In addition to seeing more brands implementing AI and bots to manage the higher volume in support calls and social media messages, Betzer says he’s also seeing an increased emphasis placed on providing alternative methods of customer contact outside of traditional phone calls. That means giving customers the ability to engage with the business through SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Apple Business Chat. Whatever the channel, Betzer says it’s crucial that brands keep their customer communications streamlined in a single engagement hub to help agents support customers in less time.

Sendoso Chief Customer Officer Allison Tiscornia has also seen the pandemic drastically affect how businesses support and interact with their customers.

“You need to understand what metrics are important to company stakeholders and decision-makers, then prove CX’s worth in those terms,” Tiscornia says. “A CMO may care about brand reputation, while a CFO will prioritize cost reduction. Gather metrics that show CX is contributing to those goals.”

Tiscornia is seeing customers nearing peak email and soliciting fatigue. She says brands should be focusing on “value-based communications” to make customer connections feel just as important as the products themselves.

“Transactional relationships might’ve flown in the past, but meaningful connections with customers will play a large role in the new normal,” Tiscornia says.

Developing meaningful connections relies on brands taking a thoughtful approach to customer support. Even as AI and bots become more common, brands still need to consider customer sentiment as they work to pinpoint the right approach.

“There’s never been a point in our lifetimes where sentiment has swung so much from one fortnight to the next. The virus is unpredictable, how governments are responding in different countries is vastly different, and the impact felt by everyday consumers can be abrupt,” says Alex Wright, head of insights at the location-powered advertising and analytics firm Blis.

In an article for Street Fight, Celtra CEO Miha Mikek wrote that what customers want most right now is transparency, product information, and available services. Creative automation, using tools that include AI and bots, can help overcome many of these challenges.

“Think of how you are removing friction and easing customers’ worry and then speak about it, because not only are they listening, but they’re also paying attention to those who haven’t gotten it right,” wrote Mikek.

The pandemic has put the ball in the customer’s court like never before. Consumers are now in charge on every channel, and they expect brands to engage on their terms. The faster brands can understand that and adapt their customer experience and customer support programs, the greater their ability to capitalize on the shift.

“Brands are working to evolve alongside consumer expectations, and new digital cloud-based customer solutions help to ‘future-proof’ their infrastructure,” Betzer says. “With brands across verticals, we’re seeing increased attention on scaling digital channels, being ‘real’ and human within customer engagements, and continually listening and learning to create the best digital experience for customers.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.