Over the last couple of weeks, we have explored the Customer and Proposition shifts. These recognised the imperative of responding to real customer needs through the development of relevant propositions and services; pivoting away from pushing commoditised products.

We now turn our attention to channels and explore the shift from siloed digitised and transactional interactions, to digital and human.

In the past, digital and physical channels have been treated as discrete, specialised paths to deliver a product or service. The online and offline channels were seen as separate transaction journeys, making it difficult to get an end-to-end, unified view of the customer.  This was further compounded by the channel often being dictated by the process that was being completed, purely due to legacy ways of working.

This is at odds with the behaviours of customers today who are not tied to a single channel with their app or online experiences often driving offline purchases and vice versa. They browse in-store, shop online, share feedback through mobile apps and interact with a Chatbot.

In their day-to-day lives, customers seamlessly weave their digital and physical worlds so tightly together, so why shouldn’t they expect the organisations they depend on to do so as well?

Enhancing physical channels through digital

Process re-engineering and intelligent automation have been at the forefront of organisations optimising their cost base. Arguably, in some cases this has gone too far – taking away the autonomy of staff, hiding the authentic human element behind rigid processes and technology.

When you get the balance right, digital applied to traditional physical interactions can help to better engage, build trust and strengthen customer relationships. In retail, Sephora provides tablets to its employees that when held to the face, scans the surface, capturing a customer’s skin tone and producing a personal “Colour IQ” number. It then searches the catalogue on Sephora.com to recommend the best product for the customer’s personal shade. Through a relevant application of digital, Sephora’s customers when visiting their stores have access to just the right amount of information, as they need it, tailored to them. Similarly, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia uses its mobile property app to allow users to scan a property near them in real time and get suburb profiles, demographics, price history and property hotspots.

Embedding human empathy in digital channels

Many customers still want a ‘human touch’ and an emotional connection is still important in a channel strategy. The kind of human connection that drives lasting value is exactly what digital channels are ideally suited to provide: listening more, remembering better, knowing more deeply.
Netflix understands its customers by aggregating their content viewed and predicting what they will like next. Djingo, a voice based AI assistant from Orange, knows exactly when to escalate to an expert in the Customer Relationship Centre. Google’s latest Chatbot, Meena, has been trained using discussions scraped from public social media to mimic the way humans interact chatting about weekend plans, travelling, playing musical instruments etc.

Embedding genuine human empathy in digital interactions has never been more important than in the unprecedented times we find ourselves in today. As we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, organisations are beginning to humanise their digital channels to promote awareness and sensitivity. For example, UK supermarkets are augmenting their digital channels by making customer service representatives available for real-time, spontaneous customer conversations. Facebook is using its Messenger service to broadcast Covid-19 information to its 1.3 billion users and exploring how to switch from automated response Chatbot conversations to live people when required.

Convenience enabled through digital channels

Organisations are increasingly using digital channels to reach customers closest to their point of need. Customers expect digital channels that are familiar and convenient given their context. The more available you are for your customers on their preferred channels when it matters most, the better! We now increasingly see a blurring of the boundaries of traditional apps as journeys transcend into the messenger apps.  The messenger app will become a much richer channel as we see retailers, service organisations and banks allowing you to shop, service and make payments within the native messenger channels, purely for the convenience of the digital experience.

Tesco recently trialled voice ordering through Google Home, which enables customers to buy products using voice with the view of creating a more frictionless shopping experience. Many financial services players are exploring how to leverage the Whatsapp Business API to provide transactional (account balances, statement requests etc.) and informational updates (nearest ATM, branch opening hours etc.) in a familiar and comfortable context without having to switch to another app or website.

Starting the shift

We believe there are four key actions you should consider today:

  1. Capitalise on the expected increase in digital adoption: There has never been a more opportune time to launch self-service capability powered by a Chatbot. We recommend taking an approach inspired by lean principles. Prove value early by starting with a small-scale pilot, generate early wins to build momentum, rapidly test and experiment and have the courage to pivot. This will help to make sure you can deliver now when your customers need you most.
  2. Be targeted in your use of Chatbots: AI and Chatbot capabilities should be focused on standard, repeatable processes and have the ability to route requests to the appropriate people ensuring the human side of interactions are not lost.
  3. Think holistically across your channels: It is important to think in terms of end-to-end journeys and all potential customer touchpoints. Simply addressing single customer pain points may not resolve the immediate issue and could exacerbate the problem by causing a downstream impact on another channel.
  4. Think convenience:  This ties back to our proposition blog but you have to think about how to make your products and services convenient to your prospects or customers.  Linking display ads to Facebook messenger to complete the shopping experience may suit some of your customers but not all.  You will most likely have multiple ways to interact with your customer across and between your channels, but this needs to be designed in an efficient and cost effective way.

As customers migrate to the use of digital and as our world becomes more unpredictable, the human side of channels has never been so important. Wearables, web chat, messaging, conversational bots, and many other digital channels have lowered the cost to serve, driven immediacy and increased service levels. Ultimately, the success of digital channels in serving and interacting with customers will depend on genuine human connections as much as functional performance.

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