At Contentful, we’re always looking ahead to see how technological changes will affect customer experience. This year alone, we’ve seen tremendous shifts in how companies are reaching out, engaging and helping their customers digitally. Add in new technology, and you have a recipe for a whole new customer experience playbook. But what exactly does this new playbook look like?
To help answer this question, Mark Demeny, Contentful’s director of content platform strategy, hosted a BIMA Conference Roundtable and invited content experts from our partner companies to discuss what a future digital customer experience playbook may look like.
The pandemic has changed what customer care means
If we were to write a new playbook right now, most of it would be dedicated to customer care. The pandemic has caused customers to reevaluate their priorities and needs, and to start looking for brands that can genuinely support both. This shift is causing companies to analyze how they engage and assist their customers.
Sam Kelly, Managing Partner at AKQA, says that the crisis has forced people into rethinking what customer care means and that people are turning to brands who are providing security during this time of uncertainty. “That care and connection — it's not about marketing or overt attempt to get a competitive edge — I think it’s around genuine support.”
This support is important. Chief Strategy Officer at SOMO, Ross Sleight says, “I think that one of the key things we need to address as brands is customer service. We can’t think about customer service as a call center anymore. It’s actually a differentiator.” Customers need to be able to help themselves as much as possible and as easily as possible. They’ll thank you for it, and those people with problems too big to solve on their own will be able to reach people who can help them.
And while it may seem that the best route for increased customer care is to provide immediate support through self-service and online digital tools, it’s important to remember that these services and tools can lack the human element that customers in crisis need.
Customer Experience Director at Kin + Carta, Claire Robinson, says that the digitization of customer support through call center AIs, bots and conversational interfaces often create unbalanced machine-to-human pathways that customers with complex problems who are in an emotionally charged situation find difficult to navigate. These unbalanced interactions create more frustration and lead to complaints. “I think it's articulating that balance on behalf of the consumer and making sure we have them and their emotional states in mind when we're designing those experiences.”
Ross adds “Where the real rubber hits the road is that no matter what your promise is, if you don’t deliver when someone’s got a problem, that's when it spells real danger to your brand loyalty.”
A refocus on home and local community
Supporting customers goes past answering their questions about your products. There’s a real opportunity for brands to engage at the local level — which is just about the only level people are looking at right now.
Appnovation’s General Manager EMEA, Andrew Dunbar says, “There’s a valid point that’s been made about the role of business in the community. I think Covid has brought home a move away from far-off travel and bragging about experiences online. It’s become a lot more local. I think that is a really nice place for brands to engage [and] to think about how they engage in the community, what their role is in that. I’m seeing people engaging a lot more with the villages that they're in with their local community, and I think there is a real role that big brands can play in that and as being a part of that community — not selling at them, but being an active part and supportive part of it.”
It’s not just about the local, but about the small things we might have never noticed before. Dunbar continues, “There’s a real celebration of small things. Small things around these big epic wins. What does that mean in terms of your day-to-day life now if your day-to-day life is largely in your house or the shop down the road, but probably not very much else because you're kept in?” For a lot of people, the little and the local comprises their whole life right now.
Agile company culture
The pandemic has highlighted how company culture and structure can affect customer experience. We’ve seen that companies with a more agile structure were able to respond to operational changes and adapt their customer experience to this new remote landscape more quickly than others. But having the technological architecture isn’t everything.
Mark Demeny, Contentful’s director of content platform strategy, says “It’s nice to have an agile sort of technological architecture, but you need to have a really agile company culture on top of that as well. I think I’d even go one more step further. I think the cultural aspect is more important. I don’t think I’ve seen a company that had a really amazing sort of agile digital strategy to adapt that didn’t have an agile culture as well. I think those two things go hand-in-hand.”
Robinson and Rebecca Bezzina, SVP and Managing Director at R/GA, also point out that knowing your brand plays a huge role in adaptability. Robinson says, “I don’t think it’s only about having the technology and structure in place to be able to pivot quickly. It’s also about you, your company and your customers know your brand — what you stand for is something that should permeate every single layer of the organization. That’s how brands like Airbnb were able to pivot so quickly. They have the modern technological architecture that underpins that experience, but also, their customers know and their employees know what that brand has permission to do, which is how they were able to do what they did.”
Andrew adds that “It’s easy to forget that we're probably all doing reasonably well through lockdown, based on the type of business we work in. Our teams are set up to be experts in digital. We’re generally pretty good at engaging with brands and with teams through digital. But it’s easy to forget the human side of things. I think we can lose sight of the fact that we’re not machines. We don’t just put one thing in and get something out. We actually are people at the end of the day and how we engage from a personal perspective, how it supports individuals extends beyond our teams, it goes to how we engage our customers and our customer’s customers as well.”
And while the lockdown will not be indefinite, it has opened the door to long-term changes in company structure and culture. Bezzina adds, “I think we’ve got to encourage our clients and our own businesses to take the good of what we’ve got from this time back to wherever we end up.”
Customer engagement through new channels
Companies rely on customer engagement, but how do you engage your customers when your company focuses on live events and everything is shut down? You get creative and venture into new channels and transform your content to stay relevant.
Sometimes businesses find new content for new channels. Eleanor Drew, Associate Director of Content Strategy at EPAM, says “It’s obviously been a tricky time for the cinemas being shut, and we’ve encountered interesting challenges trying to keep that customer base engaged. What do you do when the main thing that you’re selling to the market isn’t viable at the moment?” Theaters have “kept the conversation going with things like film trivia, a lot of memes, quizzes, polls and that kind of thing. And actually, engagement rates have managed to be higher than pre-pandemic.”
Other times, businesses move from “real life” to the digital space, increasing the number of channels they use. Rebecca Bezzina, SVP and Managing Director at R/GA, says “We’ve seen a lot of clients that have taken their physical events into the digital space or are creating new services. We’re now asking our clients, what will stick with them when we go back to normal? It’s interesting to see our clients saying that they’ll stick around because they are driving convenience in a new, better way. It’s such an exciting time in that sense.”
If you’d like to hear more about the new digital customer experience playbook, download the webinar.