As COVID once again infiltrates our societal fabric, brands and businesses must again pivot to remain relevant as consumers’ preferences are forced to change—and much of this adaptation will be in how they choose to communicate.
New research from cloud communications leader Vonage examines these changing consumer preferences and behaviors, and how businesses and service providers need to transform their customer engagement strategies to become more agile and adapt to changes driven by the COVID era.
This report, COVID-19 Reshapes the Global Customer Engagement Landscape, follows the firm’s January 2020 Global Customer Engagement Report, and captures unique insight about consumer communications preferences in the age of COVID compared to pre-COVID preferences. Key findings demonstrate that the pandemic accelerated the adoption of newer communications channels while increasing fragmentation in channel preferences, especially in the ways that consumers interact with businesses and service providers.
“COVID-19 has upended how businesses operate and how consumers interact with those businesses,” said Joy Corso, chief marketing officer for Vonage, in a news release. “We conducted research to understand changing consumer preferences and behaviors to help organizations better engage with their customers to drive better experiences.”
Corso continued, “We are at the beginning of a huge market-wide communications revolution. If there was ever a question that businesses needed to digitally transform not only to survive but thrive, COVID-19 eliminated any doubt. This is a secular change in how business gets done. This survey underscores the fact that it is now fundamental for companies to stay connected to employees and customers from anywhere—through whatever channel they choose—video, voice, messaging, and chat.”
Video continues to reign supreme
To connect with consumers today, businesses must turn to less traditional channels and employ technology, such as APIs, that allow them the flexibility to embed programmable capabilities—voice, video, messaging and verification—directly into existing applications and workflows.
Since January, globally, there has been 140 percent growth in the number of people who prefer to connect with businesses via video. Video chat has also become a mainstream addition to people’s everyday lives, and U.S. adoption has experienced four years of growth in just seven months, with 43 percent of Americans now video chatting with businesses regularly, up from 28 percent in January.
Across all regions, 55 percent of consumers have used video to connect with businesses and service providers, up from 44 percent in January.
- In Latin America, seven out of every 10 consumers have video chatted with a business, up from six out of 10 in January.
- In August, a majority (54 percent) of respondents in EMEA reported using video chat, up from 42 percent in January.
Consumer preference for video chat has grown in banking, finance and insurance, education, healthcare, retail, and transportation and logistics. For example:
- 16 percent of respondents preferred video chat in August to get step-by-step advice about a banking service, up from 9% in January.
- 25 percent of respondents preferred to speak with a therapist for a counselling session in August via video chat, up from 18% in January.
- Due to the advent of widespread distance learning, 42 percent of respondents report they prefer to engage with other students and teachers in a virtual classroom in August, up from 35 percent in January. This trend will likely continue as more students participate in virtual learning environments.
New preferences in communications channels emerge
Emerging communications channels that saw an increase in preference include voice calls and messaging via social messaging apps, and chatbots. The communications channels that experienced a decrease in preference since January include landline phone calls, email, and SMS text messaging. Additionally:
- SMS preference dropped 23 percent between January and August, as other preferred methods of communicating with businesses came out on top.
- With 30 percent of the vote, mobile phone calls are still consumers’ favorite way to connect with businesses. But the remaining 70 percent of consumers prefer a variety of other options.
- Emerging communications channels such as social messaging apps showed a significant increase over January numbers, with 23 percent more consumers choosing these apps as a top-three method for calling businesses.
Armed with these insights, businesses can build a winning customer experience that meets customers on their preferred communications channels, whatever and wherever they might be.
Non-traditional times call for non-traditional communications measures
Organizations must always be agile and ready to adapt to changes in the market, but 2020 has made the call for agility even louder. With lockdowns and social distancing likely to continue for the foreseeable future, organizations across all industries can successfully adapt to the new normal through the ability to deliver goods and services remotely. While this remote delivery of services is crucial to business survival today, that ability will mean little if the experience isn’t frictionless, seamless and embedded into the applications customers are already comfortable using.
Organizations that meet consumers on their communications channel of choice, while limiting frustrations may emerge from this turbulent era stronger than before. Some of the customer service hurdles that surveyed consumers reported are:
- Repeating themselves to different people (59 percent)
- Calls going unanswered with no other channels available to help (56 percent). This highlights the importance of secondary and tertiary choices for communication methods; offering another channel such as live chat can ensure that the customer’s needs are still met.
- When there aren’t enough options to contact a business to suit a customer’s needs at the time (37 percent in APAC, 51 percent in LATAM, 36 percent in North America, 34 percent in U.K., and 35 percent in EMEA)
These frustrations underscore how important it is for businesses and service providers to understand and offer a variety of communications channels. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that businesses be nimble enough to meet consumers on the channels they prefer, at the times they prefer.
“As virtual communications has displaced face-to-face meetings, both the usage and the mix of customer engagement channels has changed enormously in the past six months,” said Mark Winther, Group VP & GM of worldwide telecom at IDC, in the release. “Organizations ignore this trend at their peril. This study proves the vitality and sustainability of video, messaging and chat apps in the channel preferences inventory.”