2021: The Year for Virtual Connections

By CS Gill, Country Manager, Infobip

With the widespread paradigm shift, which ranges from remote working to business digitisation, customers’ expectations have changed significantly over the last 12 months. When COVID-19 disrupted businesses on a global scale, those already deploying cloud applications were able to adapt to the new norm and rollout continuity for important operations. They were also able to take immediate action to deploy, configure, and scale their day-to-day processes.

For those who did not shift to a cloud environment, it was clear that they were at a disadvantage as physical foot-traffic decreased significantly from travel restrictions. A study by Deloitte in the U.S. showed how, in the first few months of the outbreak, restaurants and retail shops experienced a reduction of up to 42% in foot traffic. Closer to home, during the first Movement Control Order (MCO), the Malaysian Digital Association recorded an 11% increase for beauty and wellness businesses via online services.

This means several things. The first is that all businesses, large and small, will benefit from having an online presence in this new age of digital disruption. Of course, merely being available on the Web means little unless, you can build connections. This is where an omnichannel approach to customer service is important; if you have invested in cloud solutions to automate for the new norm, then you’re on the right track.

Virtual connections and endless possibilities
Virtual connections and endless possibilities

Photo by Robert V. Ruggiero on Unsplash

Virtual Connectivity Surge

The virtual landscape pushes beyond boundaries of physical restrictions, allowing your brand to interact with customers at any given time. With an abundance communications channels to choose from, social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, are now the default go-to for the retail sector and customer support. The popularity of e-commerce also soared as more users moved online to shop during the pandemic. According to Forbes, due to its ultra-convenience, e-commerce will very likely remain as a high-growth sector in the post-pandemic era.

Question: Who is readily available on a 24/7/365 basis?

In a recent Infobip report – “A Year of Disruption: Managing Increasing Complexities in Customer Service” – 2,760 survey respondents across Asia Pacific shared that they lacked digital technology support and the right skills training to effectively deliver digital customer support. This critical concern became a huge pain-point in the new norm. Businesses unfamiliar with cloud technology faced more difficulty in dealing with the surge of customer enquiries; as a result, they are now seeking out for more support across various communications platforms.

Among these platforms include SMS, email, call centres, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp for Business, Instagram direct messaging, WeChat, and Telegram. It is very clear that many users prefer to use social media when communicating with businesses. Research that DataReportal carried out had reported on how there were 28 million social media users in Malaysia as of January 2021. Beyond being a 2% year-on-year increase, it also comprises 86% of the country’s population. This tells us that social networks have grown to be the most influential platform for customers to communicate, not only with each other, but with businesses as well.

The advent of social networks as a primary form of communication had led to an interesting evolution, where information is readily available and can be accessed on-demand. This next-gen trend comes with the growing expectations for meaningful interactions via the preferred social media channels of customers. This is why we believe it is critical for businesses to automate customer support processes as it enables businesses to utilise resources effectively and ensure all enquiries are responded to within a timely manner.

The key here is to build familiarity – it’s simple but often overlooked. Customers are more likely to engage with a brand when they are more familiar with them. When consumers do not know the brand, it can be difficult for them to be trusting and loyal. As such, it is important to ensure these touchpoints have personalised interactions to foster familiarity.

Delivering Great Customer Experiences Virtually

E-commerce had certainly inspired and employed new standards of conveniences, including the ability to engage brands at any time through any chosen touchpoint, all from the comfort and safety of home. Whilst the multiple customer touchpoint choices add convenience, it does not diminish the expectation for businesses to deliver an excellent customer experience.

Beyond prices and products that businesses are offering to the masses, the customer experience journey, when done right, can spark powerful emotions that will help shape purchasing habits and foster brand loyalty. As is, a simple and efficient customer interaction no longer makes the cut to create a satisfactory customer experience. When customers come to you, there is the need to prove that you can be helpful and have the means to address their needs.

The next thing – having the ability to leverage on technologies that can help provide a superior customer experience journey. With virtual connectivity, the concept of using a Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) will enable businesses to enrich their customer experience with real-time communications in various forms, such as voice, video, and messaging channels.

Businesses can also create a seamless omni-channel experience via integrated hybrid infrastructure that consistently deliver engaging customer experiences. The key is to shift the primary focus from being product-centric to becoming customer oriented. On many levels, artificial intelligence can help automate and deliver a hyper-personalised customer experience via curated and tailored interactions. Based on purchase history and style preference, these next-gen solutions have the capacity to offer recommendations and even answer simple questions in real-time. As you build your brand to be customer-centric, you also build familiarity and further extend your outreach through word-of-mouth and brand loyalty.

The best practice for your business to build virtual connections is to prioritise knowing your customers and personalising each interaction. As the virtual landscape expands, brands now have more real-time data to analyse and better understand its customers. They can then satisfy customers’ needs better. It’s crucial to make your virtual customer touchpoints thoughtfully tailored to each customer and 2021 is an opportune time to start this as we step into an era of connectedness.