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Interacting with customers from a distance is not new, but it has certainly become more widespread since the onset of the pandemic.
A decade’s worth of planned digital transformation was forced to happen overnight, whether businesses were prepared or not. Customer expectations around tools, communication styles, and digital experiences drastically changed. Face-to-face interactions became digital, and businesses had to pivot quickly to meet customers where they now were.
To reach customers in our increasingly digital-first landscape, marketers and customer experience (CX) teams should not try to replicate the in-person experience digitally, but should instead adjust to shifting expectations in the hybrid world.
Meeting the Customer Where They Are
What the pandemic has taught us is that if you’re basing your decisions on ideas from a year ago, or even last month, you’re going in the wrong direction. In 2019, month-old data was considered fresh; that doesn’t cut it now.
CX and marketing teams today have to continuously listen to identify the new expectations customers have:
- Do they want online chat or phone support?
- Are they comfortable with in-person experiences yet?
- Do they need a break from email campaigns?
- And if they need a break today, will they change their mind tomorrow?
Delighting customers in this digital renaissance requires an agile approach for gathering real-time insights. It requires invitations to provide feedback everywhere customers find themselves—on the website, in their inbox, on their mobile phone.
CX teams should be ready to listen at the right touchpoint, and when expectations change, they need to be ready to adjust their approach based on what the customer is willing to tell them.
CX teams must also go one step further: Once they have that customer feedback, they must analyze it, distill it, and socialize with stakeholders so they can act quickly while it is still relevant.
If you aren’t moving at the speed of your customers’ changing expectations, your brand might as well still be living in 2019.
AI-Powered Sentiment Analysis
Real-time insights from an increasing number of touchpoints can mean a barrage of data. To successfully manage and implement that volume of data, our tools have to evolve.
AI and machine-learning technology is now at a stage where it can gather all the incoming feedback, analyze the responses, and synthesize customer sentiment in a fraction of the time and cost it has historically taken—often without the need to rely on highly skilled third parties to manage.
Capable of handling massive amounts of data, AI can sift through all the feedback, identify what is relevant, and pinpoint critical insights that brands need to learn from. Those insights can then be used to suggest actions and test solutions to the problem, which ultimately drives actions faster. As new insights are continuously gathered from customer interactions, AI will get better at resolving issues for customers.
CX teams who are using AI strategically know the value of both structured and unstructured data. It’s simple enough to measure structured data—customer ZIP codes, yes/no responses to CX surveys, for example—but unstructured data is the “why” behind customer sentiment.
AI is now sophisticated enough that CX teams can tap into difficult-to-measure customer data such as social media activity, contact center conversations, and more. That gives businesses a much richer, in-depth look at their customers, which in turn allows them to take the right actions to improve customer experience.
People rarely talk to strangers. When they do, it’s often superficial small talk. But in an atmosphere that is always changing, we don’t have time to wade through pleasantries. CX professionals have to get to the real sentiment as quickly as possible, which means providing a space where customers can speak with people they know and feel comfortable opening up to.
When brands build digital forums and communities, they are constructing a window into true sentiment about the business. Such communities can take on a life of their own and allow brands to observe and take notes from the sidelines as customers discuss with candor the issues that are most important to them.
Now that remote everything is the norm, building virtual communities also offers a chance to reach people you may not have been able to in a physical space. Digital communities often grow organically as members invite other likeminded people to participate in the ongoing conversation.
Companies that haven’t taken a community-building approach during the pandemic are missing out on a chance to build one central location where real-time insights on sentiment and expectations are constantly available.
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The core challenge of the modern marketer and CX leader is not to copy-and-paste in-person strategies online; it’s to keep up with the sentiment and expectations of their customers, regardless of whether they are in-person or remote.
As we continue to listen, embrace new tools, and build communities, we’ll understand how to become more agile in addressing changing customer needs.