How the pandemic disrupted the customer engagement landscape in India

The COVID-19 pandemic posed unique challenges to customer engagement in businesses. Here is how the business communications landscape changed.
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The need to infuse cloud technology into customer engagement and make the process more effective and empathetic was already staring Indian businesses in the face when the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way industries operate. The unique challenges presented by worldwide lockdowns forced businesses to rethink their customer engagement models almost overnight.

Faced with a total inability to have face-to-face interactions with their customers and even employees, industries ranging from education to BFSI made the vital move to embrace cloud-based customer engagement platforms.

Against this backdrop, here are some of the top pandemic-induced disruptions that have changed the business communications landscape for the foreseeable future.

1. Move to the cloud to ensure business continuity

The multiple nationwide lockdowns made deskphones and on-premise communication systems obsolete. The office as a workspace ceased to exist. Businesses both large and small wanted to establish a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) for their customer communication and moving to the cloud offered a perfect solution.

With the integration of cloud-based platforms, businesses are now armed with the power of AI-led automation and analytics. This transformation has unlocked more benefits than just enabling connectivity and good call quality.

The technologies allowed them to address significant challenges like disengaged consumers and the persistent ineffectiveness of the traditional 'one-size-fits-all' approach to consumer engagement.

Today, machine learning and big data are increasingly helping businesses to create personalised experiences in every aspect of consumer interaction — from on-boarding to conflict resolution.

2. The rise of new communication channels

When the traditional forms of doing business were rendered impractical, discerning businesses expanded their outreach across multiple new digital channels — including social media, WhatsApp, and videos — to engage their target audiences effectively. NBFCs, and BFSI players, for instance, switched their focus to delivering enhanced contact centre customer experiences beyond the legacy contact centre by working with remote-ready call centers, messenger apps, co-browsing, and video KYC solutions.

Healthcare and education sectors also adopted voice and video-based solutions after March 2020. The healthcare sector witnessed a surge in use cases like telemedicine for safe doctor consultations and follow-ups.

Education companies used voice as a medium to facilitate seamless student-teacher and parent-teacher communication with a simple click-to-call on apps. Automated calls and SMS texts were sent as reminders and notifications for class timings and exams.

3. Centralised customer data for an integrated engagement experience

While the shift towards a multi-channel approach to communication was already underway, the pandemic highlighted an associated challenge that could no longer be ignored: the problem of disconnected interaction data from different channels.

It not only resulted in a lack of personalisation but also led to broken customer experiences while taking the form of annoying spam, duplicated communication, and repeated calls from different teams operating on different customer data.

Addressing this challenge was imperative because the digital transformations brought in force by the pandemic have empowered customers with infinite choices. Now, they can not only choose their preferred mode of engagement but also easily cast aside businesses responsible for undesirable experiences.

It has thus become more important than ever for businesses to deliver personalised, on-demand, and holistic customer experiences.

Consequently, businesses have begun building consumer data platforms that not only document all interactions with a consumer but also combine disparate data sets with the individual’s transaction data.

In effect, businesses are increasingly looking to leverage unified customer profiles based on past interactions to accurately identify not just a customer's preferred mode of communication but also their stated-unstated needs, preferences, and sensibilities.

Armed with these insights, businesses across sectors are engaging with their target audience with the right messages over the right channel at the right time.

4. Customer data privacy concerns came into the limelight

The most crucial aspect of building cloud-based customer engagement platforms is preserving data privacy. Banks, for instance, have adopted several measures to combat challenges stemming from a lack of in-person interactions, like providing agents customer information through mobile-compatible applications and enabling functionalities like video KYC.

BFSI organisations of all stripes are collecting swathes of sensitive data, and any breach of privacy can expose them to legal ramifications and an obvious decline in consumer trust.

To combat such challenges businesses are increasingly putting in place a vigorous security framework and employing technologies such as number-masking, app-to-app calling, and new-age authentication solutions to protect themselves and their customers from threats like unethical hacks or even rogue employees walking away with sensitive customer information.

5. Conversational AI: The piece that completed the puzzle of customer engagement

Businesses are increasingly using smart bots to further revolutionise customer engagement. While the technology has been around for a while, it is being increasingly modified to improve efficiency using big data and NLP.

Modern chatbots are enabled with ‘live takeover’ capabilities that allow for a seamless transition to human assistance wherever necessary. The automation enabled by these chatbots is also essential to meet the growing 'self-service' preference of the modern consumer who is increasingly showing a preference for resolving issues without having to call customer helplines or agents.

These qualities make chatbots an essential addition for all businesses. Financial institutions are already integrating conversational AI chatbots in their engagement processes to provide round-the-clock customer support, seamlessly address repetitive and minor consumer queries, and even improve the turnaround time for credit card and loan applications.

At the same time, businesses are leveraging AI-enabled IVR bots to monitor communication for call quality with sentiment analysis and agent coaching. For customers who prefer their agents to come across as knowledgeable and insightful, AI can gather the relevant information — historical as well as real-time — and display it on the screen for the agent's benefit, allowing them to resolve tickets and/or sell faster.

Businesses are also recognising the potential of AI-powered chatbots to monitor and automate personalised customer experiences at scale by strategically combining the technology with data analytics.

Though still in its youth, this technology is already playing a pivotal role in optimising communication across sectors.

The World Health Organisation, for instance, rolled out a chatbot on its website to keep concerned citizens updated on the spread of COVID-19 and its symptoms.

Governments and hospitals also took a leaf from their page. Hospitals, especially, are using chatbots to reduce the load on already overburdened call centres while implementing interactive symptom checking processes to reduce the volume of cases that might unnecessarily crowd emergency care centres.

The final word: The future of engagement revolves around superior interoperability

Ultimately, businesses need to recognise that the pandemic has triggered a distinct shift in consumer priorities and preferences. In the new normal of the post-COVID-19 world, product and price alone no longer play the determining role in consumer choices. Instead, their loyalty will lie with brands that can engage them seamlessly and empathetically, while upholding their privacy.

To achieve this, superior interoperability has become the expectation from an ideal engagement platform for businesses of all sizes. The idea is to seamlessly switch between different mediums based on customer preference to maximise reach, connectivity, and engagement.

Businesses that succeed in embracing these changes and transforming their engagement processes accordingly will emerge as industry front-runners in the long run.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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