Although inflation has shown signs of slowing down, consumers are still making careful purchasing decisions. And, as we go into 2024, these trends are expected to continue, with consumers focusing their spending more heavily on necessities rather than on discretionary purchases.
Indeed, if prices for basic staples such as food and housing continue to fluctuate, it’s likely that many of the critical spending levers that boost the economy will remain flat. From the fall holidays to Black Friday/Cyber Monday, consumers may opt out: further depressing the economy.
…the proliferation of speech and data analytics can more quickly surface unhappy customer behaviors…
This trend means that brands must prioritize retail and eCommerce customer experience (CX) to stand out from the competition and maintain customer loyalty. However, consumers have strong preferences for their interactions with brands, and just one negative experience can result in lost customers.
Many brands recognize that their contact center agents are sometimes not adequately equipped to best meet these ever-evolving preferences. This realization is often tied to poor CX reports, low NPS scores, or other missed metrics.
Today, the proliferation of speech and data analytics can more quickly surface unhappy customer behaviors or even frustrated agent behaviors, but fixing the root cause is more difficult.
Here, we’ll explore the latest consumer preferences for brand engagement. And how brands can leverage technology to empower contact center agents with the right tools for successful customer interactions all the time.
Purchase Channel Preferences
The most recent Global Customer Engagement Report (GCER) from Vonage surveyed more than 4,600 consumers in North America, Latin America, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Asia. It identified consumer communication preferences with friends and family, as well as businesses and service providers.
While 45% of respondents indicated they prefer making in-store purchases, the gap between it and alternatives is tightening, with 39% favoring eCommerce, followed closely by phone (38%) and email (36%).
Considering that we have become accustomed to a digital-first world, especially over the last three years, these results and others from the survey might come as a surprise.
So many of our interactions now happen virtually: work, school, play, and everything in between. But Vonage research shows consumers still prefer making more traditional phone calls when questions and concerns arise.
- More than half of consumers are willing to call businesses and service providers with questions while shopping (54%).
- An even higher percentage of consumers (63%) are willing to make contact via phone if they encounter any purchase problems.
Digital shopping is undoubtedly here to stay, but it’s clear customers still value the benefits of voice calls.
We’ve seen that customer preferences are ever-changing, and it’s been a particularly strong trend in recent years with rapid digital transformation. For example, a 2022 Consumer Pulse Survey by McKinsey found that three-quarters of U.S. consumers are doing omnichannel shopping, both in-store and online.
Brands, then, will want to enable contact center agents with omnichannel communications tools. So as to ensure the online shopping experience meets the same level of personalization and superior CX as that of in-store shopping.
Customer Expectations and Common Frustrations
Consumers have strong preferences for interactions with brands. And if those expectations aren’t met due to contact center staffing or process issues, they can be left frustrated.
Brands must evaluate their communications tools to ensure that agents are adequately equipped to meet customer needs throughout the purchasing process. And they will need to act quickly. As noted in the GCER, 48% of consumers are likely to leave or switch businesses after just one or two frustrating experiences.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t provide much leeway to be unprepared for customer interactions. Respondents indicated two of the most common extremely or very frustrating experiences are long wait times to speak to an agent (63%) and having to describe issues to multiple agents multiple times (61%).
Customers expect a brand to have agents available to answer questions and help with issues around the clock. Businesses that strive to offer outstanding CXs have recognized they must meet their consumers wherever and whenever they are, across all devices, channels, and even locations and times.
To meet this mandate, brands have created and employed bespoke best-of-breed solutions from different vendors that string together multiple communication platforms. They are aimed at solving baseline customer needs.
But this leaves CX teams to suffer the consequences. Brands may lose track of the customer with fractured data and inconsistent integrations when they cannot offer a true omnichannel choice to the customer. Sometimes vendors decide to sunset solutions and/or go out of business: or are acquired and the new owners phase their products out, leaving brands to scramble.
Equipping contact center agents with the tools that can track customer interactions throughout a session and incorporate previous customer data will be best positioned to meet customer needs.
Businesses that strive to offer outstanding CXs have recognized they must meet their consumers wherever and whenever they are…
To do this, brands will have to embrace all-in-one solutions for their total business communication needs. Thereby swinging the pendulum back in favor of consolidated communication platforms and best-in-suite offerings.
The Path Forward
To meet these evolving expectations like customer service on each consumer’s preferred channel, instant access, and more streamlined communications, companies have had to think beyond solutions. And consider how they can deliver the needs of customers, employees, and agents: all from a single platform.
Technologies like unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) and contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) enable contact center agents to collaborate with each other from anywhere. They can make more meaningful connections with customers over any channel – voice, video, messaging, chat – and develop rich engagements, which increases the ability to resolve issues effectively the first time.
UCaaS, as defined by Gartner, “is a cloud-delivered unified communications model that supports six communications functions: enterprise telephony, meetings (audio/video/web conferencing), unified messaging, instant messaging and presence (personal and team), mobility, and communications-enabled business processes.”
Gartner notes that CCaaS “enables customer service organizations to manage multichannel customer interactions holistically in terms of both customer experience (CX) and employee experience.” [One that enables] a flexible business model across the four pillars of great customer service: 1) getting connected; 2) process orchestration; 3) knowledge and insight; and 4) resource management.
With a cloud-based contact center solution, agents can assist customers from anywhere, anytime, and conversations can move seamlessly between communications channels. Brands using a CCaaS solution would be wise to integrate them with their CRM solutions to gather the most up-to-date customer information to serve the customer quickly and effectively.
Today, communications APIs make it easier for brands to implement tools like chatbots or voice assist technology. They allow customers to leverage self-serve for quick requests and lighten the load for agents.
If a self-serve request cannot easily be resolved, customers can be quickly routed to the appropriate agent who will have all the information at their fingertips. Also, some contact center solutions have their own virtual assistants, for seamless configuration and data management, while retaining the great CX offered by intelligent self-service automations.
Ensuring Long-Term Success
Multiple factors are impacting contact center success today and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Key among them is staffing. Many brands in the middle of the market are struggling with employee retention and recruitment. As a result, they should consider embracing greater workforce flexibility and a gig economy approach while supporting agents in working from anywhere.
Meanwhile, as technology advances, Conversational AI (artificial intelligence) and Generative AI may be a huge boon for brands looking to elevate and advance communications with customers.
AI and natural language understanding (NLU)-based solutions will boost self-service. Brands can achieve lowered costs of offering high-quality service to customers while achieving improved outcomes.
Consumers find more satisfaction in connecting with brands through automation that enables them to resolve everyday issues effectively without long waits. While at the same time having ready access to highly skilled and available live agents who can focus on their more complex issues.
While technology has allowed and will continue to allow brands to make great strides in maintaining superior customer service, there is still room for improvement. By implementing the appropriate technologies to empower contact center agents and customers, brands can maintain customer share and strengthen loyalty.