As consumers, we are all used to receiving routine alerts and notifications from banks, mobile networks, utility providers and other businesses. While these messages keep us informed about our account activity or remind us about making a payment, very few of them actually involve a ‘call-to-action’. Even if they do, the action cannot be carried out with a response to the message; you must navigate to a web or mobile app to complete the action. By today’s standards, these are poorly designed journeys for modern consumers who have high experience expectations, and are a missed opportunity for businesses to drive desired outcomes.
Traditionally, channels such as SMS and email have been used by businesses for ‘outbound’ and one-way communication to keep customers informed. On the other hand, channels like IVR, web, mobile apps and contacts centers, are dedicated to handling ‘inbound’ customer queries and requests. This distinction between inbound and outbound is quickly fading away and will soon be a thing of the past.
1. Messaging channels, like Facebook Messenger, have become richer, more interactive and have opened up access to allow businesses to interact with their customers
2. Consumer adoption of these channels has skyrocketed – Both Facebook and WhatsApp have over a billion followers
3. Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies have matured allowing businesses to automate two-way customer interactions
4. Cloud platforms have brought down the cost, complexity and time-to-market for layering on a ‘conversational interface’ and orchestration capability on top of existing business systems
The culmination of these factors means it is now possible for businesses to provide proactive and personalised experiences to their customers.
As a result, the ways in which typical customer and business interactions are delivered, such as fund transfers, airline check-ins and appointment rescheduling, can drastically change to result in unparalleled customer experience.
Upon receiving a message (triggered by a defined event), customers can simply respond to have the action take place. Such a response could be ‘add funds from my savings account’ or ‘yes, I would like to use my miles for an upgrade’ or ‘can I reschedule my appointment?’
That’s the latent power of messaging channels. It remains unexplored due to the technological limitations of legacy systems and the resulting high re-engineering effort required to facilitate such experiences. Even if a business has modern systems, to make the necessary integrations and changes through a programming-intensive approach is still a risky and expensive proposition.
Not anymore though.
The fast adoption of messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat, combined with the emergence of APIs to consume events and respond to real-time contextual actions is making it possible to overcome technological limitations and build newer, seamless customer experiences.
In the second half of this post, I cover how organisations can build differentiating customer experiences and improve customer satisfaction through proactive engagement over messaging channels. Built upon deep analytical insights, this approach also heralds the convergence of marketing with service communications, opening up new revenue generation opportunities.
Proactive end-to-end journeys
Traditionally, businesses have relied on reactive customer engagement by providing multiple touchpoints that can be used after a customer has discovered a need. Examples include visiting a bank’s website or branch for loan enquiries, or calling customer support to report a fraudulent transaction.
While it worked in the past, simply responding to customer enquiries and issues is no longer sufficient. Through technological advancements, effortless experiences offered by digital first companies like Amazon have significantly reshaped customers’ expectations for how they should be served and engaged by a business.
Consequently, proactive anticipation and fulfilment of a customer’s need are now both imperatives. Removing unnecessary steps and making it easier for customers to take action is a vital component in this process.
A few examples of proactive, effortless customer journeys include:
• Direct debit reminders with frictionless date change options: Direct debit defaults is a common challenge faced by banks. To eliminate this ubiquitous problem, banks can send proactive reminders and allow customers with insufficient funds to change their direct debit dates by simply replying to the message they received.
• Appointment reminders with seamless rescheduling: Customers often miss or cancel pre-booked appointments. Incidents like this are common in healthcare and utility sectors, often leading to operational inefficiencies and revenue loss. Timely reminders that offer easy rescheduling (as simple as replying “reschedule to Saturday 3PM” to change the appointment date) can boost the attendance rates and significantly reduce last-minute cancellations.
• Customer process digitalisation: Processes that have traditionally been paper-based and high on customer effort can now be automated to improve experience. For example, a leading UK retail bank can proactively reach out to potential University age customers asking them to link their university IDs to their banking accounts, so the customers can take advantage of student benefits. These customers would simply reply to the message with their university IDs, the backend platform takes care of validating the response and updating the account status.
There are multiple examples of such routine customer communications in existence today that offer immense potential for contextual customer engagement, creating new up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
Key capabilities for proactive customer journeys
Business initiated customer engagement is not a new concept. It exists in the form of service alerts and notifications.
However, poor contextualisation, broken journeys, and a lack of readiness to support end-to-end request handling and fulfilment have acted as key barriers to take it beyond ‘just a notification’. The emergence of messaging channels as one of the preferred business-customer engagement interface, combined with progress in the area of Natural Language Processing (NLP), has renewed interest in this area. Further, pervasive adoption of APIs, cloud based platforms, and improved IT readiness mean the environment is ripe for leveraging the combination of technologies to drive improved CX and operational efficiencies.
Key capabilities required for proactive frictionless customer journeys include:
• 2-way messaging with NLP based response handling
• Ability to consume/trigger external system events using APIs
• Business logic and rules engine
• Process orchestration and automation
The occurrence of system events such as the generation of a monthly bill, or a subscriber reaching 90% of data allowance, act as the trigger to initiate the customer journey. Two-way messaging over SMS, Facebook Messenger or WeChat in combination with NLP and backend fulfilment capabilities (achieved through low-touch system integrations) allow the interaction to be effortlessly automated in a conversational way.
A frictionless experience is key
In contrast to a scenario where customers are asked to visit a website, a retail store, or install an app, this approach is far more action friendly and convenient for customers.
The success of digital, customer-focused businesses such as Amazon and Uber is a testimony to the importance of eliminating friction from the customer journey and highlights the role of customer experience excellence in driving the growth of an organisation.
Routine customer communications that mostly consist of generic, non-relevant CTAs do not drive sufficient action and are predominantly a cost overhead. However, as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force, making it increasingly tough for marketers to get in touch with customers, service communications will become an increasingly important vehicle to manage customer consent. Ensuring that the communication is well timed, relevant, and easy to act upon will be key to achieving results.
Could your customer engagement strategy be more proactive and friction free?
This blog is part of our Pillars of Digital Customer Interactions series
Our new blog series explores the four pillars of digital customer interactions: intelligent communication, proactive journeys, automated self-service and agent-assisted customer service.
In each post we’ll be expanding on each of pillars, exploring key implementation considerations, real-life examples and the capabilities needed to enable each one. You can read the intro to the series here, while the pillar blog posts can be found below:
- Intelligent communications: going beyond the hype
- Pillars of digital CX transformation: Proactive end-to-end journeys
If you would like to know more about deploying the services and solutions described in the series, you can find out more about our Platform-as-a Service approach to building, automating and deploying intelligent customer interactions.