Forced to rely heavily on digital technology to maintain business continuity during the past couple of years? You and thousands of other Australian enterprises, including retailers, of all stripes and sizes.

Since 2020, we’ve experienced what ICT industry commentators have described as a decade’s worth of digital transformation, as traditional bricks and mortar businesses have taken their interactions with customers into the virtual realm.

We’ve seen family run grocery businesses launch online ordering and delivery services on the fly, exercise studios offer remote classes, and healthcare professionals swap sessions in the consulting room for slots on video conferencing platforms. .

And we’ve eschewed the shopping mall and embraced home delivery and click and collect with such alacrity that our collective annual online shopping spend has soared to $52.24 billion, according to the NAB Online Retail Sales Index: October 2021. That’s up from $30.14 billion just two years earlier.

Keeping our distance

Although the economy and society have now well and truly re-opened, the digital sphere is likely to be just where many customers – consumers and businesses alike – will want their interactions with businesses to stay, in 2022 and beyond.

McKinsey research published in October 2020 showed just 20 percent of business customers were looking forward to the return of the traditional sales call, following the lifting of Covid restrictions.

The remainder? They say digital prospecting and online and remote selling work just fine for them, and they’re happy to interact with suppliers via video, live chat and other digital channels.

Responsive service rules

The challenge, for businesses, is that customers want those interactions to be on their terms – at the time and via the medium of their choosing. When they reach out for information, advice or support, they want ultra-responsive service. And if they don’t get it, they’ll take their business elsewhere, to a competitor that’s willing and able to provide it.

Research indicates that 40 percent of buyers expect customer service to respond to a query within an hour, even if it’s lodged outside standard business hours.

As for hanging on a chat line for a virtual assistant to pass the baton to a real live person – “fuhgeddaboudit”, as New Yorkers would say. Eighty percent of customers will abandon their shopping carts if said human doesn’t materialise in an hour or less – and chances are they won’t return at a later date.

Using the power of people and systems

Meeting customers’ expectations for quality service and round the clock availability in a cost-effective way calls for a  holistic strategy. For many retailers, that’s likely to be one which harnesses the power of digital solutions, to organise and deliver information and support on demand, via embeddable communications APIs, and the expertise and empathy of live customer staff, to resolve complex enquiries and issues.

Communications platform as a service (CPaaS) technology can help you optimise your communications strategy to keep consumers and business buyers satisfied, without blowing the budget. It can be used as the basis of an integrated contact centre that tightly aligns and entwines your voice, video, chat and embeddable communications and delivers responsive, on-demand service, anytime and from anywhere.

Supporting your business’ switch to digital

Operating in digital mode is the new normal for many Australian retailers and it entails much more than simply providing customers with the means to place orders and pay for them online. Without a communications strategy and a solution that lets them connect quickly and effectively with you, whenever and however it suits them, you’re at risk of losing mind and market share. Against that backdrop, a premium cloud platform that enables you to keep the channels of communication ‘open all hours’ is likely to be an investment that pays for itself in spades.

Brendan Maree is vice president for Asia Pacific for 8×8.