Businesses that are not taking advantage of digital technologies for customer experience will be left behind in the new reality.
Recently, it has often been said that one of the significant changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is the upending of the notion of an ideal customer.
Across sectors, from tertiary healthcare to the local mom-and-pop store, an online customer identity has become more important than ever. Compared to the traditional premise where customer needs were mostly articulated in their actual presence, now business organizations have to treat online customers as kings, which is a real business challenge especially to those new to the virtual sphere.
In a digital, online or remote setting, how could organizations harness AI to troubleshoot a customer’s problem and, at the same time, have the intuitive ability to feel for the customers’ needs? Can we leverage technology to go above and beyond in the quest to identify and fulfill customers’ needs?
To get some answers, DigiconAsia sought out some insights from Vinod Chandramouli, Head, ASEAN Business, Freshworks.
One of the most significant changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is the way businesses have to approach customer experience. What are the key challenges?
Vinod Chandramouli (VCM): The pandemic pushed SMEs to a surprising degree of digital transformation. Satya Nadella rightly mentioned in a recent interview that the pandemic forced 2 years worth of DX in 2 months.
A strong online presence is required for every business to stay relevant during this period in time, and also reach a larger, younger audience. Businesses that are not taking advantage of cloud systems or that do not have an online presence will be left behind. Why? Beyond personal safety, it makes shopping, support, service fast and easy.
The DX shift needs to happen right now! With WFH happening overnight, digital transformation efforts were no longer agenda items for boardroom discussions but needed to happen overnight. Across myriad sectors, including healthcare, digital education, and retail services, the new normal has propelled the move to online, bringing with it a significant surge in demand for support and a seamless customer experience.
During this trying period, businesses also found out that customers would want to get the quickest possible response and businesses are adapting with the availability of business tools that make it possible. As such, companies had to know how to provide better experiences online. Businesses no longer can get away with dictating channels that work for them but inconvenience customers.
While we have observed how the pandemic has been extremely difficult for some businesses, it was also a great opportunity to show how we can work with them for not just today but over the longer term.
For instance, Freshworks’ customer-facing teams had casual check-ins with our customers without any commercial element attached to it. It allowed us to listen more intently to understand what they needed to move forward.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and through this we realized that some of our customers needed relief. We extended support, providing a helping hand today knowing that it will make us all stronger tomorrow. We believe that together we can see our way through the economic downturn towards a long and productive partnership.
Also, SaaS-based chat, telephone, customer support and IT service management products enabled companies to quickly evolve to set up home-based teams that could maintain important lifelines to their customers.
Online identity has become more important than ever. How could online identity be harnessed and secured for better customer experience?
VCM: Across sectors, from tertiary healthcare to the local mom-and-pop store, an online identity has become more important than ever. The pandemic has truly delivered a wave that is pushing businesses reluctant about going online.
Thanks to all things going remote, the gap between businesses and consumers has greatly been reduced. A strong online presence is required for every business to stay relevant and also reach a larger, younger audience.
Companies no longer can get away with dictating channels that work for them but inconvenience customers. They have to be on channels where customers are and must ensure that business transactions are frictionless. The best example is customer support. What once existed only through telephone lines is quickly becoming passe. Live chats, support on social channels and quickly even support on WhatsApp and Apple Business Chat are becoming mainstream.
Customers want to be as close to the business as possible and want to get the quickest possible response and businesses are adapting with the availability of business tools that make it possible.
In a digital, online and remote setting, what is required for organizations to support and troubleshoot customers’ problems and, at the same time, have the intuitive ability to feel for the customers’ needs?
VCM: Businesses need to invest in technology that helps them scale into the future, especially during these times, to harness the new opportunities that await. They need to be customer focused and invest in CX right from day one. The SaaS model makes business software available for everyone and at a cost that is accessible even to SMBs. All companies need are computer browsers and access to the internet.
Also, business software on the cloud is now simple enough to be set up by themselves without having to go through consultants; thus providing quicker return on investment which is important for small businesses. For larger businesses, while the implementation cycle isn’t plug and play, it is still nowhere near as cumbersome as some of the legacy systems out there.
Providing personal, human-centric customer support is also reliant on the technological capabilities of the team. Without the right tools, resources and processes to exceed customer expectations, companies run the risk of losing them to competitors.
Some key customer pet peeves in the retail journey relate to friction that slows down transactions or makes it more difficult to obtain the information they are looking for. Customers commonly note the inconvenience of repeating the details of an order or inquiry across channels. An omnichannel help desk solution with agents trained to handle multiple channels simultaneously provides a 360-degree view of customers’ journeys.
How should they leverage technology to identify and fulfill customers’ needs and demands?
VCM: Using AI, businesses can build highly reactive systems that can instantly respond to customer requests. A context-aware AI powered bot can instantly sift through thousands of technical manuals and knowledge base articles, model the user’s association with the brand, interpret his/her query using NLP and provide an answer within seconds. Thus, customer interaction becomes instantaneous; the low turnaround times would delight the customer.
There are multiple downstream benefits to this as well. For example, faster resolution of issues would result in a better perception of the brand’s ability to handle future issues, thus reducing customer churn.
At Freshworks, we built Freddy—a suite of customer-facing and agent-facing AI tools to automate customer experience. For starters, Freddy resolves transactional and commonly asked queries before they even reach an agent. It provides answers to customers across channels and follows them up with engaging workflows relevant to the query, all by itself! This leads to faster resolutions for your customers and a lower workload for your agents.
Freddy also makes your agents more productive by guiding them through resolutions and automating all their ‘boring’ work for them. This allows agents to focus on pressing customer issues instead of spending all their time on mundane tasks. The result? You’ll be able to serve a growing number of customers better than ever before, while containing your costs.
Please provide some insights into how businesses in Asia Pacific can leverage innovations – in areas such as AI, collaborative technologies, automation and cloud computing – for competitive advantage.
Since it is said now that the companies with the ability to provide stellar customer experience would be better positioned to come up trumps especially amid the business environment right now, analytics and AI are playing a more important role than ever, and taken as an organizational ask in improving customer experience.
The rising capabilities of AI offer hope to organizations. Over time, machine learning will support precision decisions, which means better personalization, fraud detection, and customer experience. As the AI system matures, one can expect AI-based recommendations such as “increase the ad budget by 15% to 20% for a 10% increase in customer acquisitions” or “use this workflow to optimize customer experience” and other actionable insights like these.
The pinnacle of AI capability would be realized in the Autopilot Layer. As the name suggests, at this level, AI can replace some common functions performed by service agents or other team members. Rather than recommend something to be done, an AI can execute it as well.
Keeping the human element in customer engagement while still using AI is actually a question of service design. What customers want are four things in how they are served: effortless, quick, convenient, and seamless across different channels. Many companies are discovering that they can do this through self-service. However, for more complex situations, having the human touch will often be more relevant or appropriate.
Automation is not a substitute for old-fashioned interpersonal communication. As more customer interactions take place virtually with remote teams, it will be exciting to see how customer service is further reshaped by the changing times.