The Future of Digital Customer Experience. AI as a Business Strategy in Post-COVID-19 Times

The Future of CX

Using Digital Customer Experience as a Competitive Advantage

Ever catch yourself wondering how to perfect your digital customer experience?

It isn’t exactly news that a great experience for customers is a key to success. Happy customers return, don’t churn, and most importantly, refer your business to potential new customers.

But in these unprecedented times, it is crucial to recognize changing patterns in customer demands and how customer experience (or CX) has become a competitive advantage.

Customers are shifting to digital channels, fundamentally changing business operations. But adopting the right digital customer experience strategies can allow you to stay ahead in an increasingly digitalized world.

image of italy when viewed from space
Courtesy of Pexels

One strategy that can pay off right away and future-proof for post-COVID-19 times is implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as customer experience solutions. AI solutions improve customer service, automate repetitive tasks, and increase productivity.

Read on to learn how AI can help your business to bring the digital customer experience to the next level.

Customers Shifting to Digital Channels During COVID-19

The value of digital channels has increased enormously since the beginning of the pandemic. Online shopping has become the new normal, with customer demand changing more or less overnight.

Millions of people turned to online shopping as businesses closed their physical stores, and even the most resistant customers started enjoying the convenience of online shopping.

Even as economies start opening again, the lockdown marked a radical shift in the way people work, shop, and meet.

Growth in Demand for Online Services

Significant growth in online shopping has been observed in many countries. Commerce Insight reports that:

  • US retailers saw the level of growth in online shopping in April, similar to the recent holiday season.
  • Lockdowns in European countries produced growth for E-commerce brands.
  • Sport, fitness, hobby, home and leisure e-commerce sales continue to grow in the US.
  • In North America, online orders increased by 80%.

According to customer experience research by McKinsey, when people are forced to stay at home, they seek at-home forms of entertainment such as DIY, cooking, gaming, or streaming services.

Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ experienced an increase in subscriptions in the first quarter of 2020, and movie studios started streaming on-demand, according to Big Commerce.

COVID-19 Impact on Businesses

The crisis has impacted different businesses in different ways according to customer experience analytics.

The areas that have gained the most from COVID-19 are live streaming, telemedicine, web conferencing, webinars, exam, and live chat.

On the other hand, negatively impacted by COVID-19 are help desk, HR, inventory management, statistical analysis, project management, construction management, according to Gartner.*

Gartner-Webinar infographic showing growth of different industries during COVID-19.
Providers of communication services have gained the most during COVID-19. Source: Gartner Webinar, “Learn From the Experts: Navigate an Evolving B2B Software Landscape”.

These digital trends put many e-commerce businesses under huge pressure to provide a great experience. Many online stores started to struggle as they were unprepared for the huge demand.

Within e-commerce, the online grocery and supermarket industry were rapidly overwhelmed with orders.

Businesses that hadn’t adopted the proper technology prior to the crisis couldn’t cope with fluctuating demand during the crisis and failed to provide a good digital customer experience.

Those companies who had already implemented AI customer experience solutions and optimized processes for scalability and fluctuations were better prepared for the shifts in demand.

These improved ways of using digital channels means digital customer service must also change. Customer experience research implies that customers now expect to receive fast and accurate answers, and want support during the purchasing process.

Customers tend to not be satisfied with the basic FAQ anymore and want their requests to be handled in a more personalized way.

Customers Now Expect a Great Experience on All Channels, at All Times

Engaging customers is becoming more important in providing a great experience, as they tend to spend more time online.

According to Gartner, working from home blurs the boundaries between the week and weekend. Consequently, people devote more time to shopping online.

woman sitting on sofa with laptop looking at her phone
Courtesy of
Andrea Piacquadio
via Pexels

To keep buyers engaged during the weekend, introducing AI technology providing automated initial responses can be a good strategy to improve digital customer experience.

Businesses that introduce automatic response software during their purchasing process make it easier and faster, generating more sales.

Customer experience analytics show that the way businesses handle customer service can affect customer loyalty. In other words, focusing on CX can keep your customers choosing you over your competitors.

Why is it so important to deliver the best digital customer experience? 50% of customers would switch to another provider after just one bad experience, and 80% would switch after multiple bad experiences.

Infographic showing the outcome of a bad digital customer experience
Bad customer experience increases frustration and compromises customer loyalty

During the height of the pandemic, customers might have been forgiving of a bad customer experience (delayed shipping, long response time, etc) because they understood businesses were struggling to keep up.

However, now and in the future, businesses need to focus on how to improve the digital customer experience for good times and bad.

A great experience therefore offers a distinct competitive edge. For companies across all industries, it is a wakeup call to make the necessary adjustments to stay in the game.

Growing Demand for AI Chatbot Technology

According to an Accenture survey, 84% of C-suite executives believe they must leverage AI to achieve their growth objectives. 75% of C-suite executives believe they risk going out of business if they don’t scale AI within the next five years.

Further, customer experience research by Zendesk shows that high performing teams are twice as likely as under-performers to use AI.

Infographic from Zendesk describing digital customer experience trends
Businesses using different channels to interact with customers tend to provide better experience. Source: Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020.

COVID-19 has pushed businesses towards more advanced digitalization, and many small businesses recognize that they need technology to survive.

According to Gartner’s 2020 survey*, 61% of small and medium businesses are spending more on technology than before.

They look for technology that can be easily integrated. For example, webinar software integrated with Salesforce.

Companies are also deciding to act faster than before. The survey shows that the time in the purchase cycle has changed: 46% of small and medium businesses sped up their timeline for implementation.

This shows how many companies were already preparing themselves for rebound and growth. Those who reshuffle investment priorities and put technology first will be in a much better situation to grow in the future, according to Garner’s recommendations for CIOs.

AI Chatbots Driving Digital Customer Experience

AI tools and automation can be a real opportunity when considering how to improve customer experience.

In fact, the demand for AI chatbot technology has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

More companies are willing to explore a chatbot solution if it provides a great experience. Those who have yet to automate their digital customer service are still more willing to try new options.

There might be several reasons for that. Many companies have been experiencing more pressure on their support channels, for which their current human staff might be insufficient (hence, a scalable AI solution can save a lot of overheads).

Examples of AI Customer Experience Solutions

An interesting use case of how a chatbot can help with an unprecedented volume of customer enquiries is Nationwide’s virtual assistant, Arti, created to handle Coronavirus mortgage queries.

Whilst Arti was handling common questions about mortgages, human agents were able to dedicate more time to dealing with more complicated cases.

This shows how automating responses to simple call centre queries can save a lot of time and improve the digital customer experience.

Another interesting case came from Otsego County, New York, which was put under high pressure, as inbound calls regarding COVID-19 drastically increased.

They used a chatbot, Assistant for Citizens, to address the most common questions.

Such customer experience solutions have proven to work well during times of crisis, and many businesses see the potential of AI beyond the pandemic.

Chatbots Can Support Variations in Demands

E-commerce companies overwhelmed with sudden spikes started retooling quickly, to better cope with high demands, while companies with physical stores also tried to adjust to the new normal.

They needed to find a way to service customers without face-to-face contact. For example, the introduction of digital help in-store, capacity planning, increase in dependency on online sales.

Consequently, AI technology is expected to support variations in demand across channels.

In the post-pandemic world, companies are trying to capture new opportunities. Moreover, they need to find a way to win back their customers by creating new ways of engaging and providing a great experience less reliant on physical shopping.

For businesses whose demand has drastically decreased, such as those in the leisure and travel industry, planning for a sudden spike in customer enquires when the situation normalizes is critical.

In this not-too-far scenario, chatbots would be perfect as customer service solutions.

infographic describing the benefits of advanced chatbots
NLU allows chatbots to provide more accurate answers, improving digital customer experience.

Companies which were focusing on offline businesses until now, should reconsider their business models and consider switching to digital channels.

This will require proper technology.

It will not only reduce overheads, but also make your business more resilient to fluctuations such as those we are experiencing now. Those resistant to change are likely to be left out of the game.

Looking Forward: The Value of AI Solutions for the Digital Customer Experience

Now, more than ever, is a right time to adopt AI customer experience solutions that drive value.

Extending digitalization is a defensive business strategy. However, introducing AI solutions at the core of your business is an offensive strategy, which can allow you to provide better digital customer experience.

Forward-thinking brands are already reaping the benefits of AI (either via the tools they used to run their business or as part of their core product).

And for buyers who want to reduce purchase and implementation time, AI chatbots can be easily and quickly implemented. For example, the chatbot Certainly built for Matterport.

Matterport needed a chatbot to be the first-line support for questions related to their newest product: the 3D Capture App for iPhone. The bot was built and launched in the record time of 3 days.

Why Is AI the Right Business Solution to Improve the Digital Customer Experience?

The answer is that AI solutions can help scale businesses and assist employees when humans are not enough. It can take a lot of pressure off human agents, who can focus more on providing a great experience, with fewer repetitive tasks.

Moreover, AI solutions can make an impact on different elements of businesses, such as the digital customer experience, product recommendations, or customer acquisition.

AI can deliver various benefits, such as:

  • use customer experience analytics to improve performance
  • time to value
  • increased flexibility and scalability
  • increased productivity
  • more contactless commerce as well as customer support

Businesses need to think about their employees too – as companies shift to remote work, new demands appear. This means a selection of technology that supports people moving between WFH and WFW.

This may have long-lasting implications as 41% of employees are likely to work at least some of the time remotely in post COVID-19 times, according to Gartner HR Survey.

In this case AI can assist with communication as well as automating manual processes. For example, AI can help with application screening, and chatbots can handle the digital customer service.

infographic describing trends in employee desire to work from home
Working remotely is becoming more common.

In other words, AI technology can help optimize employee satisfaction, whilst helping businesses answer the question – how to improve customer experience?

AI can provide customers with a great experience and content suited to their preferences. Companies can use data collected from these interactions for customer experience research, thereby improving user experience.

Automation can have a tremendous impact on time and cost-saving. AI can play a huge role in how a business operates, and should be in every company’s radar, now more than ever.

Written by Patrycja Hala Saçan

*Garner Webinar “Learn From the Experts: Navigate an Evolving B2B Software Landscape”.

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