Nearly 8 in 10 businesses will invest in digital experience technology in the next 12 months, according to Forrester. The recent pandemic only accelerated this shift in spending. Forced into isolation, people around the globe became more reliant on digital contacts, making it all the more critical that businesses embrace a digital first strategy. Experts predict that the pace of future IT investments has accelerated dramatically and will continue to do so, shaving off several years in some cases.
Covid-19 pushed most companies to think outside the box. As people avoided in-person contacts, few industries escaped massive disruption. Retailers established contactless delivery; restaurants offered takeout-only menus; customer support migrated to fully virtual environments. At the same time, customers still demanded easy solutions, fast responses and personalized service. Authenticity, empathy and a genuine brand connection have remained table stakes.
To meet these ever-changing needs, leading businesses began rapidly moving omnichannel strategies up the maturity curve. The evolution of consumer preferences has only increased the importance of a quality-focused, digital first strategy.
What Is Digital First?
The concept of digital first isn’t new. Originally conceived in the communications industry, it’s been embraced as a theory in customer experience management. For the last several years, companies have aspired to meet customers where they are regardless of channel preference, time of day or global location. Falling under the umbrella of digital experiences (DX), digital first is a method of managing customer engagements across all journeys and touchpoints. It’s complexity requires dynamic and evolving technology infrastructure: All channels need to talk to each other in real time; tech stacks need to be built and optimized; a deep understanding of the customer journey is required. Complete buy-in from all levels of the organization is the only way to succeed.
Since nearly every customer contact now begins digitally, simply adding a new digital channel - like chat or social - isn’t enough. Users have to be aware the channels exist, plus how to find them. The channels themselves must be flawlessly functional and interaction data should be seamlessly accessible. Issues need to be uncovered in real time, enabling cross-department escalations. Inside the business, clear ownership and accountability structures should be established and audits put in place to ensure quality standards remain high. All of this necessitates cross-departmental teams working together, and integrated IT systems that span all business lines.
TIP: Employ a Digital First Strategy
Customer support’s legacy is phone-based, live conversations between a customer and an agent. Traditional service interactions involved a customer dialing an 800 number, waiting on hold for an available agent and then describing their issue so the agent could fix it. With the evolution of the Internet quickly followed by mobile innovations, the channel mix expanded to include email and chat. Then customers could choose which channel to start in, and if dissatisfied could channel-hop to to see if it was easier to get resolution somewhere else.
Once nearly every company around the world had an online presence, the need for expanded digital channel offers grew exponentially. Emerging touchpoints like in-app, social media, community forums and online reviews became a pressing priority. Some companies even went to far as to attempt a video-enabled support model.
Despite these industry pressures not every customer support environment is equipped with an integrated channel mix. Each digital channel has its own challenges and when an interaction goes poorly, customers can be unforgiving. Round-the-clock coverage, emphasis on personalization and demands for real-time insights are just a few of the issues companies are grappling with.
Expanding the channel mix also means artificial intelligence and advanced analytics are needed to bring synergy to the entire system – simply plugging in a software platform only goes so far. Experts who know how to leverage the software and analyze the data in ways meaningful to the business are now a necessary part of the plan.
TIP: Ensure Your Channel Mix Spans Digital Options
Digital first doesn’t just mean self-service, assisted support within digital channels is commonplace and growing. Chat technology can be deployed as bot-only or agent-assisted, content moderation can be fully automated or agent-driven and email content can be analyzed via text mining or calibrated by a live person.
There’s ongoing debate about whether or not technology will surpass the needs for humans at some point in the future, and in the world of customer support, that future state seems highly unlikely. When the hype of speech analytics and automated sentiment first emerged, leaders quickly recognized the value of using automation to mine for customer insights. Word spread in professional circl3s and a movement gained momentum to evaluate whether speech software could be tuned well enough to replace the need for frontline agents. Despite a lot of effort and resources, it quickly became apparent that computers and software are nowhere near as sophisticated as a human’s ability to problem-solve and conduct advanced decision making. Now best practices ensure people and tools are fully integrated rather than one replacing the other.
TIP: Leverage Agents in Higher-Order Customer Issues
Digital first is a broad concept that applies to digitally-enabled contacts. The more interactions that can be self-resolved in-channel by a customer, the better. Yet if a customer inquiry cannot be resolved via self-service, digital or non-digital, the next step is agent-assisted support. Agent-assisted has moved from a first-level approach to today’s escalation queue. Most simple customer inquiries are completed via self-service, leaving more complex and complicated inquiries for agents to help resolve.
As complexity increases, so does the sophistication of agent skills needed. To enable assisted digital-first interactions, everything from hiring profiles to training curricula to workstation design must be re-imagined. It takes innovation and foresight to predict next-best options at each stage of the customer journey. The integration of digital first and agent assisted is a winning combination that’s here to stay.