Staying Ahead of the Curve Can Help Anticipate Customer Needs

The global pandemic rapidly changed the customer experience sector. As physical stores were forced to close their doors back in 2020, a digital revolution emerged. Companies were compelled to accelerate their digital transformations as a means for survival. Where many had conducted the bulk of their transactions face-to-face, they were quickly forced to engage their customers from a remote digital landscape instead.

While there are many learnings from the pandemic, 2022 presents an opportunity to evaluate strategies adopted by businesses to stay relevant and evolve alongside their customers. The best practices found in this article can serve as a baseline methodology for small businesses to adapt to the evolving customer needs of the new normal.

It all comes down to personalization

The best way to understand the changing needs of customers in this new world ultimately comes down to analyzing their behaviors, and that means collecting more data. Sure, we’re all collecting data, so you may ask, “What’s so novel about that?” It’s not just about data, it’s about the right data.

The shift in shopping habits between 2020 and 2021 prompted businesses to change the way they collected data. Businesses went directly to the customers to learn what they wanted beyond the historical face-to-face channels. They carried out surveys and feedback programs through text, chat, email, and social media to help shape their new business strategies. Businesses leveraged online tools to track purchase history and buying preferences. Understanding customers’ buying preferences enabled companies to create a personalized brand experience at every touchpoint. Indeed, delivering tailored offerings will not just increase revenue today, but will also create long-term customer loyalty that results in stable revenue streams for the future.

Of course, the challenge for leaders is to interpret the vast amounts of quantitative and qualitative data collected, deriving strategies that can define actions toward different types of customers. It takes a concerted effort by companies’ cross-functional teams to make sense of these insights and identify key value drivers for building a successful personalization strategy.

To better define customers and potential segmentations, businesses have begun to deploy speech analytics to enrich existing data and build detailed customer and product profiles based on each interaction. Using data science, businesses are able to quantify at scale the customer’s preference for interacting and any product-related feedback. These insights help identify the levers of both positive and negative experiences. They provide quantifiable results that can help measure the impacts of products and people across the entire customer journey, giving each stakeholder a measurable reason for action with each action always requiring some form of resource.

AI, AI and more AI

The more data you have, the more you understand your customer, the greater levels of sophistication you can bring to each customer engagement. Artificial intelligence (AI) can enable us to increase the speed and efficiency of simple conversations, allowing for more effective conversations that create long-term customer loyalty. Customers should not have to wait for a person to send an invoice to them. Our customer experience representatives should not have to click into dozens of screens within an application to give customers a solution. The more we use it, the more sophisticated, intelligent and integrated it will become in how we interact with our customers. AI will continue to learn and evolve as the building block for better personalized interactions. Through better customer journey maps and segmentations, you can create a personalized relationship for each customer, whether that might be a grandmother in Arkansas or a teenager in Mexico City. A great AI methodology can bring the right information to the customer and our representatives at the right points in time.

Today, AI exists in many forms in order to enable the customer engagement landscape. AI-powered chatbots are leading interactions using deep learning and NLP (natural language processing). Brands rely on chatbots as a digital frontline agent, offering a consistent, around-the-clock service that was not possible before. Other AI applications provide information to representatives, taking what was previously difficult-to-access information and putting it into single screens that enable better conversations with customers. In many instances, AI is used to take what was a time-consuming task with dozens of steps and create a simple one-click solution, providing an efficient experience for our people and our customers.

Seamless omnichannel

While AI is enabling more efficient and effective touchpoints with customers, many businesses also recognized the need for channels beyond voice throughout the pandemic. Strains on both resources and the quality of technology caused both businesses and customers to investigate previously unexplored channels. This accelerated adoption of digital channels that permitted businesses to handle a larger number of interactions with a reduced number of resources. Yet, businesses and customers found that the level of service between these channels was not always consistent. The quality of the experience that companies offer their clients needs to become uniform and increasingly flexible, allowing for the use of a combination of different channels to cater to a single request.

AI has become a key component to syncing the different channels with one another. It is no secret that physical locations often operate with different systems than that of a contact center. Pairing AI with these systems provides businesses with the same experience for a customer and employee, without the hefty costs of a complete system transformation. This is important because each experience, regardless of where or how, is something each customer takes into consideration when determining if and when they are to do business with you again.

Omnichannel is more than just offering a mix of ways to talk to customers. It’s about providing the personalized experience each of our customer segments are looking for. Each company requires a tailor-fit approach in how they engage with their customers, but needs to recognize that both the presence or absence of a channel can have impacts to your business. Take social media for example: applying a comprehensive social media listening strategy can help companies pinpoint areas of improvement and act decisively to mitigate negative sentiment. When companies have a structured and internally connected channel strategy, they can offer rewarding experiences, while upholding the integrity of the brand.

Leveraging technology, insights, and processes to humanize the contact center

Elsewhere, beyond the services they offer their customers, CX companies are innovating in the way they recruit, onboard, support and develop frontline agents to help drive a stronger employee culture that enhances brand connections. Within this context, companies are prioritizing ESG initiatives, with job candidates considering companies with values that align with their own.

But it doesn’t stop there. This new priority area is also about providing employees with innovative tools to make their job more rewarding. Implementing technologies such as speech analytics can lead to the development of quality and performance improvement models based on a deeper understanding of customers. This helps us provide agents with personalized scripts for target customers and strategies to help them succeed.

Technologies such as asynchronous messaging not only respond to customers’ demands of convenient and agile omnichannel support, but also make agents more productive: A recent report by Forrester found that incorporating asynchronous messaging increases agent efficiency anywhere from 15% to 30%. And by automating some of their more mundane tasks, agents have more time to focus on what really matters to customers.

The customer experience space is in a moment of great change, and it is exciting to see how it is evolving. While innovation is obviously a relatively assured route to take, given the events of the past few years, what is also required is for businesses to experiment so that they can find the best course forward. The most successful approach is to start small. By testing, monitoring, evaluating and adjusting, companies can detect which solutions are the most relevant and work the best for their business. As ever, in this space, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

Carlos López-Abadía is the global CEO of Atento, a position he has held since January 2019. He is also an independent member of the board of directors. He is an executive with extensive experience in global markets in the areas of technology, consulting and digital transformation. Since joining the company, Lopez-Abadía has assumed the goal of transforming Atento, making it the leader of the new generation of customer experience, combining technology with the human touch to increase value generated for its customers, employees, shareholders and companies in the countries in which it operates.