It’s a truism now to say that COVID-19 has permanently changed numerous things. Businesses in particular have undergone unimaginable changes to their models.  With face-to-face interactions in Australia becoming almost non-existent for the better part of last year, businesses have had to find alternative, yet meaningful and effective ways to connect with customers. Added to this were the changing customer expectations – from the products being delivered to the entire purchasing experience.

A recent survey conducted by Freshworks, found that since February 2020, customer expectations in Australia and New Zealand have increased by close to 60 per cent. It’s now more important than ever for businesses to understand the needs of their customers. But to achieve this, you must first be aware of how these needs have changed.

The “always-connected” customer

Digital technology has transformed consumer habits. Mobile devices, apps, automation and much more allow customers to get what they want almost exactly at the moment they need it. What’s more, these new digital technologies have caused a shift in customer expectations, resulting in a new kind of modern buyer.

With the uncertainty of 2020 continuing into 2021, now more than ever, customers expect to be constantly kept in the loop, with relevant content (including product launches, events and any changes to the business) anytime, anywhere and in the format of their choosing. In order to keep up with this new kind of “always-connected” customer, businesses must embrace technology to deliver an unmatched customer experience.

Digital-first requires you to rethink how you interact with your customers:

  • For sales teams, instead of calling new customers, it’s about using social media and email newsletters to do the talking. Reach out, build a relationship and help educate them by sharing relevant content and expertise as part of a solution to their problem.
  • With consumers travelling less, for marketing teams, it means reducing spend on out-of-home advertising and instead investing more into data-driven strategies to create targeted messages, all virtually. 
  • For customer service teams, it’s about going above and beyond in the way they support customers, using a multi-channel approach.

Ultimately, it’s about reimagining the customer journey by building new experiences that meet their demands. And this can only happen if CX methods are personalised, recognising customers as individuals, rather than a collective.

What will 2021 and beyond bring

We already know that in 2021, customers expect a personalised experience. However, in order to achieve this, investment in an intelligent customer relationship management (CRM) is imperative. Without systems like Freshworks CRM in place, businesses cannot treat customers as individuals. These systems act as a single source of truth for businesses and provide a 360-degree view of customers, capturing and combining previous interactions and connections in one place. Without this, it’s impossible to provide a personalised experience.

Technology has empowered customers to get what they want, when they want, and how they want it. Customers’ need for instant gratification has forced organisations to remain accessible and on-demand, 24/7. This is highlighted in Freshworks’ ‘The New CX Mandate’ report, which found that 67% of ANZ customer service leaders are investing more in live chat & messaging.

Furthermore, AI and chatbots were hailed as the silent achievers of the pandemic, but their importance continues to be seen in 2021. From life-saving health technology right through to retail chatbots supporting customers with the purchase of face masks, it has and will continue to transform the way we live and operate, while also bringing to the fore just how impactful the use of such technologies can be.

What this means for retail businesses as we forge ahead

With customers now expecting to “be in the know”, the role of technology has never been more important. For retail businesses, this means taking advantage of the social media platforms already in place and experimenting with new approaches – long gone are the days of Tweeting once a week.

It also means taking the time to invest in quality CRM software which enables you to deep dive into customer pools and learn the nuances of their needs. As we move forward in the e-commerce world especially, proactive and predictive technology is going to be more relevant than ever, with AI and chatbots providing an extra layer of help when it comes to interacting with customers in the best way possible.

As businesses sprinted to adopt technologies in 2020, 2021 now offers a chance to pause, reflect and work out what tools are going to have the best impact and generate the greatest return on investment long-term. Ultimately, what is key though, is putting the customer at the heart of all decisions now – this is the only way businesses will continue to thrive in today’s environment.

Sreeleh Pillai is general manager of Australia at Freshworks