March 11th will mark the second anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, an announcement that meant drastic changes in business, customer service and how companies approached CX.

While the CX landscape has already shifted dramatically, COVID-19 moving from the pandemic stage to an endemic stage will spur even more changes.

According to a 2022 Broadridge report, which surveyed 3,000 North American consumers, 65% of consumers believe brands they do business with need to improve their customer experience, up from 35% in 2019.

“Communications play a key role in CX, and while technology has certainly made strides in customizing consumer touchpoints, many companies are not responding fast enough to customer desire for simple, clear and relevant communications,” said Matt Swain, Broadridge managing director for communications and customer experience consulting services.

“As consumers increasingly turn to digital, expectations continue to increase — especially when it comes to navigating omnichannel, preference management, personalization and data security.”

Take a Digital-First Approach

“When the global pandemic quickly unfolded in early 2020, businesses had to embrace digital transformation practically overnight,” said Clare Dorrian, SugarCRM CMO. “Now, as businesses are approaching their third year affected by the pandemic, a digital-first approach is not only required but preferred by today’s consumers.”

The pandemic accelerated many CX trends, with a shift from a sales-driven to a service-driven approach — one in which empathy, personalization, authenticity and relevance have become key to business (and marketing) success. In today’s post-pandemic era, AI capabilities are quickly becoming essential to connect with customers and prospects on a deeply human level, all while remaining in the digital realm. 

Personalize With AI-Driven Intent Data

Personalizing the customer experience and meeting the customer where they are is crucial now, according to Dorrian. Marketers need intelligent tools and technology to get ahead of the buying cycle and communicate with authenticity to gain a competitive edge and help sales win more deals. 

“By marrying AI innovations with customer intent data, organizations can take sales and marketing efforts to the next level and at scale,” Dorrian said. “This marriage of insights creates a powerful data relationship.

"Imagine getting alerted in real-time about a specific customer who is ready to buy and understanding their intent based on what topics they are reading about on your website and what device they are using to engage with your content. Then, with this insight, using AI and machine learning to match that buyer to your company’s ideal customer profile to create a personalized experience — with assets and messages to nurture the right buyer at the right time and in their channel of choice."

Understanding customer intent is just the start, Dorrian cautioned. Organizations must act on this intent in an integrated way to maximize impact. Today, bringing data-fueled AI to your system of record facilitates rapid and reliable marketing lead qualification and prioritization through AI-powered predictive lead scoring. AI can analyze historical lead activity, account, deal and company data to accurately predict which leads are most likely to become customers. 

Related Article: Enhancing Your One-to-One Personalization Efforts

Use Chatbots for Basic Functions

Chatbots can improve CX — if used correctly, said Daniel Rodriguez, Simplr CMO. “The chatbots of today are not the AI of Hollywood. HAL is not on the other line, and chatbots simply can’t navigate complicated customer requests — no matter how hard businesses try to make it work.”

Learning Opportunities

Use chatbots to add value instead, Rodriguez advised. Let them navigate basic requests like order tracking and information gathering and make it as easy as possible for the consumer to escalate more complex inquiries to a human agent.

Embrace Interaction Analytics

“The digital experience is so much more important than it was a few years ago,” said Celia Fleischaker, Verint CMO. “Marketing teams need to use technology to understand where it is working and where there are challenges. In some cases, a customer may provide feedback via a survey, but you can’t depend that they will. You need to use tools that enable you to analyze digital behavior. Where are people struggling? What could be improved?”

Many organizations use interaction analytics to understand where challenges exist in the digital experience, Fleischaker added. While customers may not provide direct feedback through a website, they sometimes speak to agents about struggles they had. Speech analytics can glean that information from conversations, using it to improve the digital experience.

Abide by Privacy Concerns

“With the global increase in privacy regulations protecting consumers’ personal identifying information, more marketers seek lead certification platforms which can offer their businesses increased insights into buyer journeys while expanding marketing solutions powered by consumer consent,” reported Matt Stone, Head of Marketing at Jornaya, a Verisk business.

By understanding when customers or prospects shop, marketers can create exceptional customer experiences driven by the most timely and relevant interactions, Stone added.

“Honoring consumer privacy and understanding consumer preferences are both critical components in providing an exceptional customer experience. To prepare for a future without third-party cookies, real-time identity resolution and consumer intelligence must be balanced with managing risk and protecting consumer privacy.”

Related Article: How AI Is Being Used to Protect Customer Privacy

Final Thoughts

There's no doubt that COVID-19, and the ensuing pandemic, changed the CX landscape as we know it. As such, brands must adapt to survive, which includes making changes to how they interact with customers. 

CX experts agree that to stay ahead of the curve, businesses must look at ways to improve the digital experience, one backed by AI, informed data and continuous customer insights.