Wayne Haubner, chief technology officer at Escher, outlines five technologies – mobile, social media, data analytics, artificial intelligence and POS – that can help posts better engage with their customers
Postal organizations that don’t factor in the twin pillars of what a customer wants and what that customer expects to their digital transformation strategies could discover that the overall experience leaves a lot to be desired.
Common wisdom has always dictated that the customer is king, but the digitization of the consumer marketplace has increased the pressure on companies to raise their levels of customer engagement if they want to add value to a transaction. And although elements such as personalization and a digital-first approach have become commonplace, the average customer has become not only become more discerning, but also more demanding.
Customers are tech-savvy and always-on
This customer-generated duality means that there is a defined need to provide people with a variety of engagement portals.
Gone are the days when a dedicated website was the sole source of digital engagement. Customers have become savvier in terms of what they deem to be a reasonable experience with an online or physical channel, and consumer habits are cemented in the belief that anything can be obtained at any time and from any organization.
A recent report by IDC said that customer experience (CX) spending would be worth US$508bn by the end of 2019, with the market analyst predicting a CAGR of 8.2% over the next three years. Retail would be the biggest investor, IDC said, and order fulfillment a crucial part of any spending strategy.
In fact, Escher’s own research cited CX as a vital change agent for the postal industry and (unsurprisingly) meeting the demands of the digitally conscious customer featured heavily in survey responses. Much of that was related to e-commerce – arguably a massive factor in the overall distribution and logistics sector – but CX extends to more than just the ability to shop online 24/7.
It is not an exaggeration to say that CX is now the North Star for consumer-facing organizations. Companies often have to think outside the box (no pun intended) when it comes to integrating tech that can both resonate with the always-connected society and provide a return on investment, and posts are no different.
Technology drives customer engagement
So, what are the technologies that will help posts integrate effective customer engagement policies? And, if customer experience is the defining criteria, what are the engagement portals with the longest reach?
With those questions in mind, here is a quick look at five tech-centric customer engagement channels that posts should have on their radar.
The computer in our pockets may have been the catalyst for the nascent mobile revolution, but its influence is only part of the digitization of society. More than five billion people worldwide reportedly have a mobile device of some kind, with just under three billion owning an internet-connected smartphone.
By any chalk, that is a huge surface area for customer engagement, and that doesn’t take into account the baked-in communications apps, the location-based services, and a plethora of software that gives the customer access to whatever they want. Factor into the mix the continued use of tablets and the growth of wearables, and the average post has (almost) unlimited access to existing customers and potential business optimization opportunities.
Our cell phones are a de facto means of communication. Device and operating system fragmentation aside – there are over 24,000 different cell phones in the marketplace, for instance – studies have shown that the average person interacts with their chosen device for over three hours every day.
This means that posts must leverage the opportunities available, both in terms of how the customer engages with mobile and defined business models such as e-commerce. Let’s not forget that while e-commerce is (in theory) how everybody shops in the connected society, it still only accounts for 10% of all retail sales. And that means that posts can still provide digital and physical experiences that dovetail with what the customer wants and, importantly, expects.
Social media is a business optimization tool that can give posts an insight into what matters to a customer on a macro level. In addition, an effective social media strategy can be the difference between reacting to an existing problem and proactively putting out fires before consumer trust is eroded.
Often referred to as ‘social media listening’, this technique is used by brands to identify what the customer wants, often before they even know that they want it. Data generated by social media engagement can be used to build a customer knowledge base that spans the digital and physical worlds and is a vital part of an overall CX strategy.
Social listening has a number of benefits for posts. Notwithstanding the fact that an active social media listening campaign allows organizations to monitor trends and customer feedback in real time, being able to analyze an online reputation and act on the opportunities it provides is a useful skill. In addition, the various social media channels available give posts the chance to understand the needs of their customers and, importantly, engage with them in a format that is already familiar to them.
In other words, the insights that can be gained from social media have value in the real world. By leveraging these platforms effectively, posts can not only respond to what the customer wants, but also answer queries and generate a roadmap for future engagement.
One element that has gained prominence is the use of analytics to determine customer behavior and intent. More commonly known as ‘big data’ to the average person, the level of insights that can be achieved through processes such as data mining, predictive analytics and, increasingly, prescriptive analytics is almost limitless.
Data is what drives the connected society, often through the Internet of Things or baked-in algorithms in consumer-facing apps. It is not an exaggeration to say that the amount of information that is being generated on a daily basis is staggering, with an individual’s digital footprint expanding every time they use data sources such as social media, online sales portals, location-based tools, or even just web browsing.
Around 94% of posts are, according to our recent survey, either planning to use, or are already using, data analytics for customer awareness, with the consensus being that data is the ideal tool to optimize or improve CX. In addition, posts will be able to apply data analytics to elements such as the supply and distribution chain, a vital cog in the postal machine and, arguably, the platform on which a successful customer engagement is based.
Irrespective of whether you subscribe to the dystopian future that artificial intelligence (AI) – and, by association, machine learning – is supposed to herald, the simple truth is that AI can be an effective customer engagement tool. And while Skynet is still a long way from existing, companies are already using AI as part of their customer-focused communications.
Chatbots, for example, are a rudimentary form of AI that use words and phrases to understand customer intent, while providing them with the answers that they need. In fact, chatbots are already seen as a customer engagement portal that enables companies to supplement the CX itself. A recent study by Accenture revealed around 80% of all customer engagement can be dealt with by bots, either through apps or voice user interfaces such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.
The key to a successful chatbot integration is not so much that the tech mimics human interaction, but rather that the bot can become a brand ambassador. Straightforward answers to questions should be a minimum requirement, and a bot that demonstrates a level of personality could also increase customer engagement.
AI is also extremely useful in terms of automating tasks that provide customers with a rudimentary level of engagement. For example, a survey of IT business professionals by Gartner noted that there are an increasing number of companies who have already integrated AI into their working practices, albeit that those integrations are focused on CX and project management.
The caveat is that AI and machine learning is still at a very early stage. IDC reported that only 25% of companies who invested in AI have rolled out an enterprise-wide strategy, citing productivity, agility and customer satisfaction as key AI drivers. All three of these elements should be a focus for posts, and AI must be put into the category of ‘one to watch’.
Point of sale/self service
One element that is not rooted in one form of technology in a tried-and-tested customer engagement portal is the point of sale (POS).
Over two-thirds of respondents to Escher’s Future of Posts survey said that their organizations were planning to add more POS channels in next five years, with counter automation, self-service kiosks and consumer apps all scoring highly. Much of the investment is down to the need to reduce customer waiting time at physical locations, dovetailing with the stated desire to improve customer experience.
An increase in parcel volumes – a direct result of the rise in e-commerce – is often cited as a reason to improve the POS, but the connected society also requires an omnichannel approach that delivers both consistency and personalization. According to Salesforce, 62% of consumers expect companies to adapt existing working processes to mirror their own actions and behaviors, with people happy to start a transaction in one channel (online, say) and then complete it in another – a physical location, or via an app.
A physical POS has been the cornerstone of the postal industry for decades, but customer expectations now require additional engagement options.
Self-service kiosks, for example, allow the customer to complete a transaction in a physical location, but without the need for counter service. Conversely, a Mobile Point of Service allows the post to engage with the customer as they arrive in the location, which increases branch efficiency overall. Mobile POS options can also be used at a customer’s home or workplace, putting the convenience of the connected society into a mail carrier’s pocket.
Ultimately, posts need to be prepared and be armed for the digital age. Understanding what customers want is merely the first step. The key is knowing that people still crave familiarity and convenience in their transactions, two customer engagement strategies that have always been part of the DNA of the postal ecosystem.
The caveat is that the digital society is always on, which means that posts have to be more proactive when it comes to customer engagement. On the plus side, technology can be the glue that binds both the post and its customer base together. In the end, the tools for effective customer engagement are already here; what matters right now is how posts use them in their operational strategies.
This article was originally published here: https://blog.eschergroup.com/five-technologies-that-help-posts-improve-customer-engagement
Wayne Haubner, chief technology officer of the Escher Group, will be leading a workshop on enhancing customer engagement through innovation, at the Parcel+Post Expo Conference this October.