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Doing Right by the Customer in the Digital Age

HOW often have you come across the phrase "the customer is always right"?

It was originally coined by American retail pioneers - including Marshall Field, Harry Gordon Selfridge and John Wanamaker - who learned relatively quickly that the success of their stores depended on the satisfaction of their customers and the likelihood of them returning.

While critics may argue that this philosophy enables entitled customers and any outrageous demands, it was never actually meant to be taken literally. Instead, it was simply about encouraging companies to truly listen to their customers, indicating that the transaction taking place is a two-way street.

This phrase, I believe, has only become more prominent as we continue shifting further into the digital landscape. The dichotomy of digital is that while it enables a certain amount of automation - self-service, mobile, chatbots, natural language processing, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning - it also requires the right level of human interaction to ensure that the gap between the potential of digital and the reality is never too wide.

Businesses need to relook at how they can better listen to their customers and cater to their needs in a digital-first world. The rapid changes brought on by the pandemic and major lockdowns meant businesses have had no choice but to turn to technology for support. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital and consumers today are embracing it - 91 per cent of new digital service consumers in Singapore are planning to continue with this behaviour post-pandemic.

What does this mean? Well, it ultimately creates a strong demand for businesses and key industries to continuously evolve and digitally transform. In fact, Zendesk data shows the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation by up to three years for 57 per cent of companies in Singapore. This rapid shift will only be further supported as the Singapore government commits S$24 billion over the next three years to prioritise technological adoption.


Of course, alongside this seismic technological shift is the need to keep up with transforming customer needs. The digital customer experience (CX) and journey has never been so important, as businesses figure out how to cater to this new generation of digital users (keeping in mind that everyone - not only the digital natives - are adapting to doing everything online). Not everyone is fully familiar with technology, but that doesn't mean anyone should be left behind.

Good CX helps solve problems, but exceptional CX has the capability to listen and solve customers' issues on their own terms.

The digital customer service age opens more channels and platforms for customers to reach out - and as customers adopt new behaviours, the soaring popularity of messaging apps opens the door for more streamlined, conversational experiences.

In fact, support requests through messaging channels have spiked significantly during the pandemic, with a 60 per cent increase in WhatsApp usage since the start of the pandemic in Singapore. This is mainly due to most people already being accustomed to the existing messaging apps they have installed on their devices - and so just like they would message a friend, they're comfortable to start a new chat with businesses to solve their problems almost immediately. With this in mind, it is essential for businesses to understand their customers' engagement preference and the need to be where their customers are.

This is even more pertinent in an age where customer loyalty is more important than ever, and this is where insightful data can help to create personalised experiences. When businesses are available on their customers' preferred channels and know who they are and what they expect, they can then deliver a seamless conversational experience. A good conversation, whether it's with friends, family, colleagues, or businesses, flows seamlessly across channels and devices, and with the right tools, employees can be empowered to deliver true conversational experiences for customers.

When both sides know and understand each other, the interaction becomes more engaging, natural, and successful, making everyone happy.

Even though it has been more than a century since "the customer is always right" was coined, it's a phrase that started a worldwide movement to drive customer empathy that is arguably more relevant today than it was back then. Even with technological advancements, the goal remains the same - doing right by the customer. Whether this is done via human interaction or bots, the secret of excellent customer service is simply the willingness to listen, and the drive to meet customers where they are.


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