Today, customers engage in a myriad of online interactions with any one brand. From visiting their website, downloading a document, connecting with a chatbot, completing an online form, filling a shopping cart, to submitting an online purchase order, customers embark on a lengthy digital journey. While many are quick to highlight the ease and convenience the digital transformation has generated, it can also create an experience that leaves customers feeling frustrated. A badly organized website, an impersonal chatbot, an irrelevant but required online form, are just a few examples of an unsatisfactory digital experience.
For all these reasons, contact with a human agent remains a critical part of the consumer experience, even if that contact occurs remotely or intermittently. In fact remote human contact via instant messaging or video calling provides a powerful way to keep customers engaged, informed, and ultimately satisfied.
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Maintaining channels for human communication may seem counterintuitive to the current trend in digitalization. Businesses want to reduce dependency on human resources, automate processes for greater efficiency, and lessen the possibility for human error. But contact with real people in real-time remains an essential ingredient to facilitate a positive customer experience. Even as we continue to digitalize the customer experience across industries, we still need to maintain important human touch points along the way. Here’s 3 reasons why.
The Lessons of Covid-19
The global pandemic caused businesses across industries to scramble for digital communication solutions. As offices, clinics, and stores shut-down, it became essential to maintain ongoing communication with customers. Globally, 30% of businesses adopted video-conferencing solutions for the first time in 2020. However, what began as a measure to meet an immediate exigency, has now evolved into a deliberate, long-term strategy to support on-going business operations. It turns out that remote communication has a set of tangible business benefits irrespective of Covid-19.
If social distancing required customers to use remote forms of communication for the first time or with greater frequency, the experience has left a positive and lasting impression. Businesses were already discovering the cost-efficiency and convenience of remote real-time communication before the pandemic. Covid-19 accelerated this trend and cemented their commitment to investing in digital communication channels. Stats produced by the latest Salesforce report show increased use of real-time communication. Reliance on messenger apps, online chat, and video chat also continues to grow, even after the end of lockdowns,with usage higher in 2022 as compared with 2020. The annual Hubspot report showed a 15% increase in the use of live web chat.
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Prior to the pandemic, banks were already closing many local branches and looking for alternatives to interact with customers. The pandemic accelerated their commitment to digital real-time communications as ‘standard’ call centers became burdened with long wait times. Alongside the growth and increased reliance on automation, many banking apps and websites offer live chat with agents and video-calling. Stats affirm this digital banking communication transformation Eighty-five percent of respondents in a Kearney survey, across age groups, who increased usage of digital banking channels during the pandemic, stated that they would continue to do so.
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While the pandemic in some cases forced adoption of new digital communication, technology advances meant that the tools to make this leap were already in place. The arrival of the smartphone and messaging apps in the mid 2010s dramatically altered the way we communicate. This is especially true for millennials who, as digital natives, consider immediate communication, text messaging, video chat, and the ability to send and receive video clips and photos via their phones as the norm. Their experience of easy digital communication shapes their expectations for how they interact with brands and makes the traditional IVR call center experience with music playing in the background while on hold antiquated.
“The way we speak to our friends and family has shifted, and it’s changing the expectations of customers,” says the VP of Product at Zendesk. “If a personal conversation can feel this rich and fluid, so too should conversations with a company.”
Stats bear this observation out. Fifty-two percent of millennials prefer live chat with an agent over any other form of communication (Comm100). In another report, live chat is noted as the preferred customer service channel for shoppers aged 18-49 (Gartner). Many customers prefer using social messaging apps when contacting companies. Last year saw a 36% hike in the number of customers who sent inquiries over popular apps like WhatsApp, FacebookBook Messenger, WeChat and Line (Zendesk).
The immediacy of chat is obviously a huge attraction. Sixty-six percent of consumers say they expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company (Zendesk). Another survey puts this number even higher at 83% (Salesforce) According to research by Hubspot, 90% of customers rate an “immediate” response as important or very important when they have a customer service query, 82% when it’s sales related.
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Our growing familiarity with Facetime and Zoom for chatting with friends and family has also shaped our readiness to adopt video-calling when interacting with companies. Forty-two percent of customers report using video appointments as part of their ecommerce experience, and of this number 91% expect to use it the same amount or more in the next 3 years (Salesforce). In banking, expectations around video communication are also changing. In one national survey, 65% of survey respondents reported already using a video app or service to communicate with friends and family. Thirty percent of these participants also wanted to use video communication with their bank. For reasons given, 30% of respondents cited convenience and time efficiency, while 25% also believed video chat was a faster and more effective way to solve problems.
Human Contact Matters
Perhaps the most compelling reason why real-time communication with real people needs to remain a part of digital transformation is that we are wired for human connection. Countless scientific studies demonstrate how eye contact, voice tone, and emotional attunement–quintessential human traits– influence the quality of interactions. Eye contact plays a powerful role in conversations demonstrating one’s attentiveness and interest, while allowing the other person to feel understood and validated. A reassuring voice tone is known to help reduce levels of cortisol. Empathy has been shown to improve business interactions. These are unique human qualities that are difficult to program into chatbots and avatars despite advances being made with AI.
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Our need for human contact was clearly evident during the period of lockdown and personal isolation. A study by Callminer, found that during the pandemic 63% of respondents preferred human customer support over automated and self-service channels. Despite warnings of long wait time and encouragement to use self-service, 77% of customers still called customer support.
Post-2020, evidence continues to show that customers want personalized interactions. Stats from Salesforce show that 73% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations (up by 7% from 2021), while 62% expect companies to anticipate their needs (up by 6%). Offering personalized experiences provides opportunities for business growth in ecommerce, making it easier to close a sale, to upsale, or encourage a repeat purchase. In their analysis of business buyers, Salesforce found that 64% of consumers want assistance when purchasing an item and that 64% are open to product recommendations. Furthermore, 89% of business buyers reported that if they felt that companies understood their goals, they were more likely to buy from them.
There are also some examples where industry regulations and the nature of the use case may explicitly require human interaction, such as with Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations in finance and banking or telemedicine doctor consultation.
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How do we balance the need for human contact with the advantages of automation and digitalization?
While digital real-time communication remains a must-have for any business, it does not need to be the only communication channel, rather it can exist alongside and in support of other channels. Customers appreciate and sometimes prefer self-service, especially if they have a straightforward query (Emplifi). When queries become more complex or potential transactions involve larger expenses, customers prefer human interaction (American Express). Additionally, disgruntled customers are more likely to want to communicate directly with an agent because they want to be heard (or seen) and to experience an empathic response.
Also, chat should not be considered a tool just for customer support, as it remains a favored tool for communicating with other departments, like sales. Furthermore, customers want to use different types of communication at different stages of their transaction (Hubspot).
The way forward is for companies to invest in omnichannel communications that allow customers to move seamlessly between the digital and personal, with live chat, chatbots, video, audio, or email all available across the interaction. Provision of familiar and varied communication options that cater to different needs helps to create a positive customer experience, especially when customer information is digitally captured and shared between channels, so the whole customer relationship is managed.
Remote real-time communication has a valuable role to play in the customer’s digital journey. While we acknowledge the progress being made with AI and sophisticated online processes, we still need to incorporate the value of human contact. Companies that build digital experiences for customers that incorporate opportunities for human contact together with the advantages of automation will become leaders in providing a more satisfying customer experience.
If you’re looking to implement real-time communication as part of your business strategy, please speak with us at QuickBlox. We offer a range of video and chat SDKs, APIs, and ready solutions that make adding instant messaging and video chat easy and cost efficient. Contact us today.
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