Businesses will need to decide where they should step in to assist along the buyer journey, and how to ensure flawless post-sales services, says Patsy Wong, Chief Strategy Officer, CINNOX, in this exclusive interview with MartechAsia.

A recent study by Forrester, commissioned by CINNOX, found that although there has been accelerated digital interactions between business organisations and their customers, the latter are not impressed – only less than 1 in 5 experienced customer interactions that exceeded their expectations.    

This explains that digitalisation of customer touchpoints, including the use of tools like CRM or Helpdesk, is not enough. It is time for business organizations to not only look into it, but act on integrating the missing piece in digital communication and interactions – the human touch.

In this interview, Patsy Wong, chief strategy officer at CINNOX, shares her insights into the massive shift in the competitive playing field – from variables like price, wider selection of goods, convenient location, and the like – to customer experience.

Patsy Wong, Chief Strategy Officer, CINNOX

Why is the human touch in digitalised customer service missing? What is its impact and businesses and why can that missing human touch be restored?

Even prior to the pandemic, many businesses were looking to optimize the efficiency of customer services by deploying chatbots, AI and other automation technologies. To a certain extent, these can help to address some capacity issues – but they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. We all understand that human emotion is complex and nuanced – which is beyond what current automation technologies can address. This is where ‘human-in-the-loop’ approaches are needed – providing an augmented experience with a human touch. Businesses should not just look at efficiency as a goal, but also the emotional connection with customers along the whole journey.

With the right people, process and tools, a real human touch can be restored. Businesses should always look for opportunities to automate repetitive, low value and standardized tasks by using chatbots, providing a seamless pathway to escalate issues to real live staff when things get more complicated. This will let humans focus on what they do best; interacting with each other and empathizing with situations that customers are facing, and helping them find the right answers.

How is live commerce or social selling changing the retail landscape? Is it a marginal phenomenon or is it going to be a game-changer?

The retail landscape has been changing rapidly these past few years, with the pandemic accelerating a transformation that was already in motion. Today’s retail experience is multi-faceted, requiring a seamless and frictionless transition between online and offline experiences. Live commerce and social selling are new channels which retail businesses need to embrace, adding even more channels to manage in an “omnichannel” world. People have always been ‘social’ shoppers – think of going to the mall and pointing something out to your friends. The difference now is that we can log and analyze data on these interactions, and adjust our selling strategies accordingly. Ignoring the opportunity to leverage these insights is a huge mistake.

This is definitely a game-changer, as the entire customer journey needs to be remapped to adopt a new ‘hybrid’ model. Businesses will need to decide where they should step in to assist along the buyer journey, and how to ensure flawless post-sales services. Compared to years past, the playing field has been levelled in that pricing and locations matters less – today, offering personalised, hybrid customer service is what will differentiate your retail business.

Why do organizations have insufficient understanding of customers’ expectations and are failing to deliver quality experiences? What is holding them back? 

There are many reasons for this – some businesses may not have done the research to understand customers’ expectations and preferences, others don’t manage or make use of data very well, or they may simply lack a customer-centric culture. Or it could simply be that customers have changed, and businesses fail to either realise this, or have failed to respond to these changes. A great deal of research highlights major shifts in customer behaviour – including a recent study we commissioned with Forrester which tells us that 69% of interactions are hybrid. Of course, for many businesses with pre-existing processes and tools, not to mention personnel structures, making the needed adjustments is easier said than done.

Why does your research study show markets like Singapore and Hong Kong having the lowest customer experience sentiments – compared with other countries in the region?

We believe it has to do with exposure. One thing we have noticed is that, with the increasing adoption of digital interactions, customers in these more developed markets have been exposed to some really high quality customer services – and thus, have higher expectations. They also carry that expectation across different industries, which raises the bar for all. This can be difficult for some businesses, particularly if they have not had to meet that standard of care prior to the pandemic.

Please tell us about the five unique customer personas that have emerged post-pandemic?  How should organisations tailor their customer experience strategy to cater to these personas?

Our research tells us that customers can be grouped into the following personas:

  • Omni-shoppers: Nearly half (44%) of respondents 20 to 49 years old find both human and digital touchpoints important. Omni-shoppers feel safe with digital interactions and want omnichannel experiences that seamlessly transition between touchpoints.
  • Multichannel enthusiasts: 15% of respondents in the 20 to 49 age group use multiple channels for customer service and support, but want their issues resolved end-to-end within a single touchpoint during an interaction, without needing to switch channels. 
  • Reserved digital immigrants: 15% of respondents 50 years old and above prefer offline touchpoints, or online touchpoints with live human support – without having to switch communication across touchpoints.
  • Affluent high-touch seekers: 15% of respondents 50 years old and above are mostly high-income earners, preferring offline touchpoints but are also comfortable with digital. They want a high personal touch both offline and online to establish greater trust and rapport.
  • Low-touch digital natives: 12% of respondents below 30 years old are happy with self-service digital touchpoints across the customer journey such as chatbots, with little or no human intervention required.

Of course, businesses will need to first look at their current customer base and determine which personas most closely resemble the observed characteristics they exhibit. By grouping customers into personas, businesses can potentially overcome the one-size-fits-all problem that we mentioned earlier, and craft out a more personalized journey for customers based on unique expectations and preferences.

What other major marketing tech trends do you see emerging in the near future?

I think the most important trend would have to be the need to address privacy expectations of customers. The increasing awareness of personal data protection on the part of customers, along with tightening of rules from both regulators and service providers will inevitably cause a shift in terms of how marketers collect and leverage customer data to do targeted marketing. Another trend would be marketing’s integration with other functions, and with advances in AI and RPA, marketing will become part of a more comprehensive end-to-end journey that can be automated and enhanced.