As COVID upended business in 2020, brands quickly found their fortunes sinking or swimming based on their level of customer attention, from consumers’ earliest research stages right up to point of purchase and beyond. New research from business communications firm Mitel suggests brands handled this challenge rather well, offering encouraging signs for CX and identifying opportunities for organizations to better meet customer expectations now and exceed them longer term.
CX has improved during COVID-19, according to 60 percent of consumers
While the demands on customer service operations, and contact centers particularly, have increased since the onset of COVID-19, many organizations appear to be adapting well. Six in 10 consumers have noticed and say they’ve seen positive shifts in CX. This suggests a healthy number of organizations do, in fact, view CX as an extension of the products or services they provide and are finding ways to deliver better CX, even in unpredictable times.
The research also validates that the foundations for good and bad CX are mostly universal with only slight regional differences. Among the top drivers equated with good CX: friendly, helpful, knowledgeable customer representatives (55 percent); responsiveness and fast service (45 percent); and communication that informs every step of the way (35 percent). Bad CX, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast. Consumers attribute bad CX to being transferred multiple times and having to repeat oneself over and over (48 percent); being placed on hold (46 percent); and having too many steps to navigate (35 percent).
“A strong takeaway from the research is that consumers feel organizations are responding positively, in terms of CX. When CX fails to hit the mark, an organizational or technology issue is at play. If there’s a customer-centric culture, contact center agents, for example, will make the best of what they have and find a way to delight customers,” said Jon Arnold, principal of J Arnold & Associates, in a news release. “That said, many businesses are hampered by their current technology. Culture change to become customer-centric can take years. Organizations can help empower and accelerate that process by effectively implementing the right technology, and upgrades can be done quickly, especially with cloud-based offerings.”
Traditional communication channels still dominate, but use of digital options is growing
When asked which channels they typically use to engage with customer service, respondents cited telephone and email. Interestingly, the research reveals a gap between actual usage and preference for these channels, where preference appears lower and implies customers would rather use other channels if possible. In-person is the only channel where preference is, not surprisingly, higher than actual due to the current environment.
Unsurprisingly, over 40 percent of those surveyed also said their use of online customer services has increased this year; however, of that number, more than 70 percent said they will rely on digital options more going forward, validating general speculation that consumer and business trends are headed for a permanent shift in engagement behavior as a result of the pandemic. Whether their digital engagement with customer service rose or remained the same in 2020, nearly half of all respondents plan to increase their use of chatbots, virtual agents and self-service overall. Because many contact centers have been slow to support these capabilities, investment in these areas is warranted and will likely spur further use and preference.
Consumers credit retail with delivering the best CX
The survey additionally looked at which industries consumers interacted with most often before COVID-19 and whether that had changed. Those remained the same—retail, healthcare and personal care—with minimal drop-off in engagement. The only two verticals addressed in the survey with noticeable drop-off were hospitality and sports/entertainment, not unexpected given social distancing restrictions and consumers’ more cautious approach to spending.
Retail and healthcare also received the highest marks for best CX with retail enjoying a double-digit lead. Considering retail’s embrace of digital transformation and its natural fit with the online world, other industries like government, which ranked worst in CX, could stand to benefit from retail’s best practices around CX. Retail provides a helpful blueprint for combining the right mix of contact center technologies to enable customers to seamlessly engage with an organization using their preferred device and media. Retail’s adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics is also worth modeling for creating deeper levels of personalization.
Why companies don’t provide great CX and what consumers want to see more of
While good CX is seldom due to a single attribute or driver, an enjoyable experience generally translates into increased overall satisfaction and customer loyalty, resulting in recommendations to family and friends and continued shopping or engagement with an organization. These outcomes also provide the rationale for ongoing investment in CX-related initiatives and technology. Arguably, there’s a steep price to pay for bad CX. Nearly half of consumers will stop using an organization’s services after a negative experience and 44 percent will complain to family and friends.
Perception is reality when it comes to CX. When organizations fall short, customers often assume several things: either the organization isn’t aware of how important CX is (36 percent); or that the organization doesn’t realize consumers frequently view CX as even more important than the product/service itself (34 percent), or that the organization is simply unwilling to provide great CX (29 percent).
As businesses evolve their CX practices and seek news ways to enhance experiences through technology, the data also offers a glimpse into what options customers would like to see more often. Nearly half agree tools need to be easier to use. More mobile apps, virtual services, such as telehealth, and video interactions are also preferred.
“The recent shift in customer perception around CX is highly encouraging. Businesses are demonstrating they view CX as a strategic differentiator and they’re wisely prioritizing customer service at a time when connections matter more than ever,” said John Buszka, executive vice president of Customer Experience at Mitel, in the release. “The trick now becomes sustaining the momentum they’ve so carefully worked to build. By leveraging cloud communications, artificial intelligence, omnichannel capabilities and other advanced digital technologies and balancing them with the right level of human touch, they can continue to personalize the customer journey and deliver the kinds of exceptional experiences that keep customers coming back for more.”
The survey was conducted among 4,000+ consumers in the US, UK, Germany and France who use or have used customer services. The interviews were conducted online by Sapio Research in July 2020 using an email invitation and an online survey.