Predictions on the impact of a transformative 2021?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021
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Most businesses will be happy to see the last of 2020 and look to 2021 as an opportunity to wipe that slate clean.

Ok, it will not be as simple as that and we still have a huge amount of uncertainty at the moment, but with all adversity there are always adaptations and developments that are accelerated and with latest estimates that technological consumer education has been driven 9 years down the road in just 6 months we need to take a very long look at what next.

Nine years of tech education in just six months

A lot of people have taken the time to research what our audiences are interested in and what the future might look like.  On my rounds, I have been looking at reports from Forrester to Mintel and beyond and I have managed to pull out some really interesting stats and observations in our area of operations and combined them with what is possible today and hope to make sense of how this might drive business plans in 2021.

Well ok let’s start with 2020! Phew, where do you start? Well “roadmaps went completely out of the window” as confirmed by Julia Kirkpatrick, Pinterest’s director of brand research. This means that you are not alone if you think you need to reassess, in fact if you are trying to stick to your plan, this might be the opportunity to sanity check that idea!

“roadmaps went completely out of the window”

One of the most significant reports that I saw was from IBM and Omdia that outlined a four-stage process from Survive, Revive, Renew to Thrive and I felt this really captured the dilemma of being hit over the head by a pandemic, but then using the fact that a crisis breeds opportunity. Look it up if you get a minute, it is a really interesting read.

I have chosen to use these four titles in a way to ‘think our way’ through what happens next. The stages of Survive, Revive, Renew and Thrive are a status of where your business or organisation is at the moment when it comes to pandemics or Brexit or whatever the heck next, we are going to get thrown in our direction.

Survive

This is pretty much as it says on the tin. Businesses try to survive by protecting revenue streams, hold onto customers and supply chain. Many businesses would be in and out of this when going into future lockdowns or as different challenges are thrown about.

The strongest in this position are obviously the ones that had started to get some digital transformation in place before disaster struck. Amongst our own client base we have a range businesses that are luckily ahead of the game. If you look at Gyms, Restaurants, Spa and other hospitality clients, well they are pretty much surviving at the time of publishing this, but their skeleton staff are able to keep the lights on and deal with the up and down of queries that their sectors are getting from memberships to opening hours and availability.

In the research, this was one of the elements that were being considered, but the businesses that were not in total survival mode were still of course affected. The banking sector was reported as being most concerned about how their staff were going to cope throughout the extended change in working practice and how that would affect their own confidence and wellbeing.

Of course, your best people are going to be invested and concerned about making sure that they can do their jobs effectively, but also the management of those people has be driven around ensuring smooth communication and making sure all the new working environment changes are safe and consistent.

We can see some of our early adopters getting ahead on this, with business as usual queries being dealt with by their chatbot technology or even having the benefit of automation helping with tasks that would have been impossible with the skeleton teams that are in the office or working as normal.

So many sectors are still in Survive mode, but we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (but it could of course just be some fella with a torch and another to do list!). Anyway, it can now be the time to start the rethink of how technology works in your business. One of the big changes of thought, is not just using technology as an enabler of operations (which of course it does well) but also think of technology alongside keeping the customer at the centre of these decisions. One big failing during this period has been lack of focus on the customer.

Revive

As easing from lockdown is apparent and companies are licking their wounds, this is where companies are trying to build operations back up to pre lockdown levels. Examination at this point is important of digital offers and how you are connecting with customers digitally. Out of this will come processes that are accelerated, continued or even stopped.

As mentioned, decisions in our industry should be driven from the customer, whether that is internal or external. Everyone has a customer of some shape or form and they are simply the lifeblood of the organisation, so what do they want? Guess what, it has changed so look sharp as this might get messy.

60% of customer will switch brands because of poor CS

We saw a huge increase in digital customer service interactions in 2020, but they are set to rise by yet another 40% in 2021 and you have to make everyone of those count.

Recent consumer research has indicated that 60% of customer will switch brands on the back of a poor CS experience, with speed of response being one of the key drivers.

With only 23% of retail consumers saying that they will revert to pre pandemic shopping habits, our current modus operandi is not for the next 6-8 months but a permanent arrangement.

So look at the Revive stage of this journey, we should now be looking at the work that needs to be done to move through to Renew and onwards. We are seeing the expectations of customer holding onto digital habits, but we are also seeing that staff may also want to keep hold of their now familiar behaviour in the workplace by working remotely.

So how do you plan to not only keep these all these people on side but actively excite them and engage properly.

Taking the fact that you are now looking at a new strategy for your digital engagement. With my ‘bot’ hat on, where are the pinch points that you have now identified that can not only be relieved but actually made a positive experience.

Working recently with a large healthcare client, they were simply drowning in calls into the business and fielding them and improving their customer experience is vital. Their customers expectations are simply that they are going to have to wait for every query into the business, but in comes a chatbot, with the aim to not only deal with enquiries all the way through, but also to push the call centre operation to an outbound experience for their customer. Basically, the chatbot will capture ALL the information that the client wants to impart and off it goes to the team to resolve and simply make the outbound call to confirm all is done. Nice.

This is giving them the momentum to move from Revive to Renew and of course once we get the chatbot and other automations in place to support the bot, they will be moving onto Thrive. Not only dealing with their initial issues, but actually looking at new experiences that expand their offering to their clients, now the technology is aligned.

Renew

Segway into Renew. The principle here is that we are still in the pandemic, but we have more stable business continuity and here you should be looking at rethinking the digital models if you have not already, taking into account the changes in customers or even operational supply chains, just in case we get any further crises.

My take is that Phase one of any move is here, in a similar move as our Healthcare client, starting the journey here gives you some scaffolding to deal with any backsliding or other issues that may hit an organisation.

You may only be planning to do some change here, but there can be some very quick and effective triaging of the problems that you have identified in the first couple of stages. You will know them. This work if done correctly should not go to waste, but can inform the bigger steps and be built onto modularly.

POP OUT QUOTE

All business needs to move in steps and if you can make early steps you are already half way down the path and have not tried to run and tripped over upturned paving stone!

We have a few clients starting to pick up this phase as we speak, readying for the other end so they come out stronger not weaker. With these first steps happily keeping us busy. But do not be the ones that wait too long if you can, it always takes an age to catch up.

Remember that consumers were hit in 2020 with phone lines turned off by some huge brands because of demand and scalability just not available. Well in our uncertain times and with the shift to digital interactions being the norm and growing, a brand has to change approach no matter what the sector. And these guys are going to take a while to turn that image around.

Thrive

Woohoo, we are out the other end and we are now certain that it is unlikely that we will be returned to lockdowns and paused trading conditions. This is the final implementation stage to deliver the re-planned digital objects and models.

This sounds like a huge headache and something that is going to take just a load of effort. Well ok, there is some heavy lifting to do (although not as much as everyone thinks), but there is also that huge opportunity to be gained here.

This is the position to Thrive. So, remember as digital engagements now become a huge proportion of interactions and we start to add in voice bot automation as well, we are in a position where data is flowing in to your business from consumers that are ‘telling you’ exactly what they want from customer service to sales and marketing.

With a platform like ours that captures huge amounts of data and makes sense of it for your teams, you can react in real time to conversations that are being had en masse. With a centralised platform, you can get better insight of the story behind the data, a struggle that some of the largest retailers like John Lewis Partnership are having at the moment.

This whole playground of problems can be solved by automating these customer interactions where they can and should be. Indeed, Brian Burke, Research Vice President of Gartner in one of their reports just published said as much “Hyperautomation is irreversible and inevitable. Everything that can and should be automated will be automated”.

Bot automation, sounds like a huge project? No, it just is not that difficult to get your first entry point up and running quickly.

Your bot can start with simple functions that deal with 60% of enquiries from day one, either as full end to end servicing or just handing over, once 80% of the process has been automated and it now just need finishing by the human. For example, this becomes a conversation like “ok great Mr Bloggs, I have all the information I need now and have passed it the team, who will get in touch once it is completed”

That is the kind of response from a simple bot automation, which is better than, “You are 10th in the queue, your enquiry is important to us though” subtext – “aaarrrggh we are really busy and our team is stressed out of their minds and won’t be in any fit state to be nice to you when you get through!! – we are all having a bad day”

So all a good idea?

Mintel stated in their just published research report that “The pandemic will continue to boost digital experiences, making them the norm for many people regardless of demographic. This will provide opportunities for brands to cater to different types of consumers who are more used to online services and interactions.”

Do not miss out on this opportunity to Thrive, Forrester reported that “Digital engagement will become the number one driver of customer value in 2021”

So, this is why starting on your plan now is so important and it just cannot afford to wait. You do not have to go down the IBM four stage plan – to be honest is a pretty obvious stuff, but action is needed now.

It is time that customer engagement automation, is front and centre on that shiny new (not yet written anything on it) plan that you are trying to work out.

Ok, I am biased and this is an area that I am passionate about, but the service across sectors just has to improve and it has to improve for everyone.

A lot of retailers and brands are looking at AR and VR experiences to deliver a ‘virtual shopping experience’ wandering around a store with your VR mask on and buying stuff. Well ok, nice idea but wow there are a lot more priorities. We all buy from Amazon because they are slick and amazing at the basics. So, if you do not have a zero queue customer service entry point to your business what should be the priority on that list we are working on?

There are lots of ideas downstream that can be used of course. How about a chatbot that turns into a virtual Face to Face demo, now that is neat isn’t it? In our case, if you are Seiko, then that is exactly what we are doing for them. They have a superb range of watches that need a little personal attention and love to help a purchase, so from a simple CS and Inspire me journey, they can reach out and get a member of the team on a video call showing them the features of their next fantastic watch.

What the team is not dealing with, is answering a host of simple FAQs about service, warranties and the like. The help bot is doing that.

In healthcare, we are still having horror shows when trying to book appointments, especially with volumes of calls being handled around Covid-19. But we all need to get other treatments or even get our symptoms checked. Our voice bots can give an accessible and inclusive system that handles not only inbound but outbound calls in a seriously natural manner at whatever scale is needed.

I know from bitter experience that I have waited and waited for that ‘better book now or you will lose it’ appointment only to be told that they cannot put your through to the department. What!

There should be no queue, you should be given the options, you should be reminded with a simple call, you should be able to simply change it if something happens and hey guess what the bot could then call someone to fill that last minute appointment! We are doing this already in a hospital group in Italy and guess what it is saving them a fortune.

But thinking of similar use cases across sectors and it suddenly becomes a very useful tool for any brand that wants to improve their NPS and totally dissolve phone queues.

The momentum is there and it is not going away, from Adobe Consumer Behaviour Trends Report 2021, now 66 % of marketing insiders believe most interactions between brands and consumers will take place via AI within the next 10 years, from the consumer’s digital assistant to the brand’s service bot.

“Digital engagement will become the number one driver of customer value in 2021” Forrester.

I have pretty much rambled on, but if you are still with me I think that shiny new plan needs to include some serious attention to bot automation.

Remember that a bot is part of the team and can be trained in anything, but once it has learned it, you do not have to train it again and it never has a bad day. Consumer expectation has rocketed over the last 9 months and that is only accelerating, so add it to the list and let someone like us to get it done. We actually do the heavy lifting so it is pretty easy for brands to get in on the act and make sure that they do not fall behind.

With all this in favour of making a chat or voice bot part of your business, I suppose I should ask. What are you waiting for?

Good luck to you all in 2021

Steve

Posted by:
Steve Tomkinson
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