Silver Linings: How the Pandemic Fueled Positive Changes to Customer Experience


Silver Linings: How the Pandemic Fueled Positive Changes to Customer Experience

Earlier this year, Boston University published an essay collection entitled, “What if Real Change—for a Better World—Came from the Pandemic?” It’s a bold question and one that, if we’re honest, should feel uncomfortable. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken more than 4 million people from us; too many of us lost parents, siblings, children and friends, while so many others suffer from long-haul symptoms with no clear picture of what the future may hold.

Still, the question has merit, and it’s one we should ask. In the wake of tragedy, we should look for opportunities to make life better, more equitable and more inclusive at home, in healthcare, at school, in the workplace and—yes—in how we create customer experiences.

An October 2020 McKinsey analysis asserted that the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation by several years. They wrote, “Consumers have moved dramatically toward online channels.” At the same time, expectations have risen: Consumers demand faster, simpler service that prioritizes their needs, time and safety. Companies have responded in kind, innovating and launching a broad range of intelligent, digital-first offerings that meet customers where they are.

For example, in early 2020, as demand for online grocery shopping grew, one forward-thinking retailer unveiled virtual assistant and live chat solutions that helped customers as they shopped via the web or mobile app. The goal was to create the same experience online that customers would have if they were shopping in the store. Their conversational AI platform provided customers with real-time answers to questions, such as how delivery would work, item availability, order tracking, store locations and pick-up hours.

This particular case had the added benefit of helping to protect the health and wellbeing of the grocer’s employees. Digitizing certain aspects of the customer journey helped to reduce face-to-face contact at a time when case counts were rising.

Likewise, conversational AI solutions have facilitated COVID-19 vaccine scheduling by providing timely and accurate information, automating self-service, and enabling agents to handle multiple conversations simultaneously. In other words, vaccine bots and live chat have helped brands uphold their reputation for customer service in the most challenging of circumstances.

Delivering a Superior Experience for Every Customer Touch Point

These are, of course, far from the only examples we can explore. Imagine the circumstances under which consumers call or message your customer service department. Delayed shipments, charge disputes, service interruptions, forgotten passwords—consumers aren’t generally contacting you because everything is going perfectly. In short, they need your help. Too often, however, they’re greeted with an outdated system that puts them on hold, routes them through a complicated phone tree, or forces them to repeat their problem to multiple departments. As a result, they’re not getting the help they need, and they’re also growing frustrated with your brand.

As part of the digital transformation, more and more companies can address these problems head-on. As they’ve launched AI-powered customer engagement solutions, they’ve empowered their agents to deliver the fast and accurate answers your customers expect.

An AI-Human Partnership for the Future of Brands

Virtual assistants and chatbots are excellent at connecting digital and voice channels, decreasing customer wait times, and seamlessly authenticating identities to help prevent fraud. But even the most intelligent solutions will sometimes need help from a live, human representative. And so, a partnership has emerged. It’s a partnership between contact center agents and the AI-powered solutions that free them to focus on what they do best: being supportive and helpful.

Virtual assistants and chatbots are excellent at connecting digital and voice channels, decreasing customer wait times, and seamlessly authenticating identities to help prevent fraud.

This partnership is ever more important as many industry experts predict that adoption of virtual environments and mobile solutions will remain high, even as we emerge from this pandemic. In fact, by one estimate, U.S. consumers will spend more than $933 billion on e-commerce in 2021—a nearly 18% increase over 2020. And, according to McKinsey, a growing number of consumers are becoming less brand loyal, meaning they’re more willing than ever to try a new brand; this is especially true among younger retail consumers.

These pandemic-fueled changes aren’t limited to your customers; your employees have also changed their behaviors and preferences. Some 75% of Americans prefer to work from home at least some of the time going forward. Home offices, gyms and renovations to accommodate the “homebody economy” abound. With so many employees working remotely, AI-powered solutions play an essential role in more than just the customer journey. Detecting and preventing fraud has never been more important.

Trends That Will Stick

Looking ahead, we can expect two key CX trends to stick with us beyond the pandemic:

  • One, companies will need more agile technologies and systems that help them efficiently and accurately answer the questions customers care about most when they matter most. Likewise, agile technologies will support an effective feedback loop for agent training and coaching. As a result, brands will have all the information and insights they need to help agents perform at their best and maintain regulatory compliance.
  • Two, the adoption of AI-enabled voice assistants and chatbots will continue to spread and empower agents to deliver the delightful experiences your customers expect. Here, it’s not about replacing your workforce. On the contrary, AI’s ability to digest enormous amounts of data and find the relevant information is unsurpassed. Imagine what your agents can achieve when they’re backed by this type of intelligence. Their work lives will become more efficient and rewarding as they’re able to focus on solving your customers’ needs and even cross-selling or upselling to uncover new revenue opportunities.

The pandemic has ushered in a new era of connected conversations and digital-first customer experiences. Today, artificial intelligence and contact center agents can work shoulder-to-shoulder as they create secure, superior customer experiences.

Seb Reeve

Seb Reeve is Director of International Go-To-Market, Intelligent Engagement at Nuance Communications.