Today’s consumers are agile, connected and crave personalized experiences and outcome. This disruptive new relationship between customers and brands demands new approaches in marketing, sales and customer service or they risk losing their competitive advantage and the customer base. In a recent conversation with CXOToday, Lee Hawksley, a trailblazer in digital engagement and customer experience, who is the Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific & Japan at cloud communications platform,Twilio, explains how customer engagement is increasingly becoming one of the factors that companies can use to compete in the digital world. Excerpts.
What are the customer experience trends that will dominate in 2022 and how they will benefit businesses?
I can see three key customer experience trends that will dominate the entire next year include:
First, personalized customer experiences will be delivered from digital concierges at home. Customer engagement as we know it has been forever altered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost immediately the pandemic hit organizations of all shapes and sizes, and in every industry completely re-evaluated and re-prioritized their digital transformation agendas. The consequence was that many companies in APAC accelerated at an unprecedented pace, some by as much as four to five years. This has simultaneously created entirely new and innovative ways of connecting with and servicing customers, and unlocked new opportunities in the workforce. According to LinkedIn’s Jobs on the Rise Report 2021, roles in Customer Service, including customer support and contact center specialists, are among the fastest-growing in Southeast Asia.
These two forces acting in conjunction will drive a change in contact centers of the future. As brands act swiftly to close the experience gap, meet customer needs and become more agile, they will undoubtedly adopt a more digital-first approach for their contact center. This means increased investments in digital solutions, which will not only empower more agents to work remotely, but also offer greater omni-channel experiences in line with customers’ needs. We will see even more businesses build flexible, tailored contact centers that can respond to rapidly changing market conditions, and serve customers on any channels.
Second, enterprise investment in monolithic Marketing Clouds and CRM will be questioned. According to Twilio’s State of Customer Engagement Report 2021, even as the volume of digital interactions increased by 54% over the past year, almost half of organisations still face challenges getting accurate customer data. This poses a huge obstacle in today’s era of hyper-personalization – brands who fail to effectively tap on first-party data and translate this into actionable insights and engagement will lose out amid an increasingly competitive landscape. This will necessitate a shift away from outdated technology like CRM and marketing clouds. Such tools were built for a bygone era, and lack the ability to collect customer data into one unified view at consumer scale. They simply aren’t equipped to capture the billions of customer signals that exist today. Instead, businesses looking to offer scalable, hyper-personalized experiences will turn to solutions that help deliver exceptional, omni-channel campaigns fit for the digital era. Their sights will be set on Customer Engagement Platforms (CEP) that combine customer data infrastructure with scalable communication APIs, so they can quickly build and move from idea to execution.
Third, technologists will cement their place on the board. One of the biggest impediments in businesses’ digital transformation journey is that they operate in silos. The truth is that today, business and IT cannot be decoupled – as legacy companies race to innovate and new digital natives emerge, IT decisions have essentially become business decisions. Technologists hold the key to their organisation’s digital journeys, so it is crucial that they are involved to set the tone and define the strategic objectives for the overall business. This is necessary to ensure that every decision – from software development to tech implementation – ladders back to a larger objective that advances the businesses’ digital agenda.
With that, we can expect to see more technical CEOs and co-founders on the board and those that are already there will have a bigger voice. Organisations will also move to bring in developers as partners within the business, and tap on their expertise to spot gaps in existing solutions and solve business problems.
How will APAC organizations respond to these changes, and which industries will come up on top?
The pandemic has spurred a hike in reliance on digital services, and approximately three quarters of consumers have a preference for digital channels and communications. Beyond that, the region registered the fastest growth in the global communications-platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) market, at 55% year-on-year (above the 40% global average). Organisations in APAC are now racing to unlock the untapped potential in their customer engagement strategies to establish competitive advantage for the long run. Some of the world’s best innovators and disruptors are emerging from the APAC region and this is a trend we believe will accelerate.
What is interesting to note is that these trends are sector-agnostic. Customers today expect the same level of service, transparency and superior experiences regardless of industry. This means that across the board – be it education, financial services, retail and e-commerce or telecommunications – organisations have been forced to sit upright and pay attention. Instead, it is differences in size that might be the biggest predictor; while larger businesses may have deeper pockets and resources to initiate change, it is the digital natives who may benefit most from their agile processes and willingness to reinvent their ways of working.
What organizations in India must do to capitalize on these trends on the backdrop of their digital transformation journey?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Regardless of what industry, or what stage of transformation they are in, businesses must first look inwards to assess their existing culture and level of maturity. Some organisations may benefit from a more leadership-driven, holistic approach to align their business around a single digital agenda and navigate these changes; others may seek a more incremental, “brick-by-brick” strategy and rely on ground-up initiatives from employees to spur innovation. In my experience, the most successful digital transformations are in fact a series of connected and aligned ‘digital renovations’ – high impact, quick to deliver projects that when rolled up change the fundamental nature of the business.
What does remain consistent is the need for organizations to be international about building and empowering multi-disciplinary teams. Talent will always be the most valuable asset, and business leaders must invest to cultivate a culture of learning, collaboration and open exchange of ideas. In doing so, employees will be motivated – and remain highly skilled – and inspired in order to add value to the organization.