The “experience economy” is defined as “an economy in which goods or services are sold by emphasizing the effect they can have on people’s lives.” Many customers were spending their money on experiences rather than commodities. Over 76% of customers said they would rather spend their money on experiences rather than on material items in a 2019 survey done by Momentum Worldwide. The “experience” industry was worth more than $10 billion dollars, and many businesses were doubling down on the “experience economy”.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. The “experience economy” died overnight as countries began to lockdown and shelter-in-place. With the death of the “experience economy” came the rise of the “virtual experience economy”.
On November 19th, Everise, Nearshore Americas, and Bright Pattern teamed up for a joint webinar on how companies can capitalize on the virtual experience economy. The webinar featured industry experts and veterans, like Jeremy Jepperson, EVP of Operations at Everise, Ted Hunting, SVP of Marketing at Bright Pattern, and Kirk Laughlin, the Managing Director of Nearshore Americas and host of the webinar.
In case you missed the webinar, here are the key takeaways:
Shift to Remote and the Beginning of the Virtual Experience
As governments began locking down to help combat the spread of COVID-19, many companies were forced to switch to a remote workforce. The populace was locked down as well, making remote contact the only way for people to reach the companies and customer support they need. Many contact centers needed to move to a cloud solution, and fast.
This unprecedented event shifted CX trends, and accelerated the adoption of digital channels. Ted Hunting talked about the shift in CX that COVID-19 has brought about, saying, “The adoption of digital channels has accelerated because of COVID-19. Digital adoption and digital disruption in the industry has accelerated by at least 5 years in the span of only 8 weeks.”
This switch to entirely digital channels kickstarted the rise of the virtual experience economy. An example Ted Hunting mentioned was a luxury retailer in Europe, which heavily relied on customer experience to sell high-end products. Due to COVID-19 and the subsequent government lockdowns, their customer service had to go fully remote. But how can their customer service deliver the same, luxurious experience that drew customers in?
Through innovative digital channels like video chat, SMS, and text messaging, the luxury brand was able to connect in-person store associates with customers, allowing store associates to provide the same experience virtually. For example, if a customer wanted to see how a scarf would match a purse in the store, the store associate can send him or her pictures through text, or video chat with the customer.
The innovation and experiences of this European luxury brand are just one example of the many instances where the experience economy has gone virtual during COVID-19. And this “virtual experience” economy will only grow, even after the pandemic ends.
The Need for Digital Channels
So what is the first step to capitalizing on the new “virtual experience” economy? The first thing you need to make sure you have to adapt to the new virtual experience economy is supporting digital channels. Customers are utilizing more digital channels now than ever before, like voice call, video chat, chat bots, SMS, email, text messaging, and messaging apps. Customers want to connect with the businesses they love on the channels they prefer.
With the pandemic, the need for adopting digital channels has only been heightened. As customers are forced to connect remotely, the need to connect to them on the channels that they want to communicate on is of the utmost importance. As Kirk Laughlin talked about, “Digital disruption has been something we’ve talked about for a long time, but going through the pandemic, we’ve realized that we’re lagging behind and have to step it up.”
Ted added on to this idea, saying that “With COVID-19, we’re finding new digital approaches, new innovative uses for digital channels that we haven’t seen before.” When the pandemic winds down, these innovative use cases and disruptive digital channels are here to stay, and will change how companies perform customer service. Due to the now widespread usage of new, emerging digital channels, and the new innovations that have come about as a result, the adoption of digital channels is one of the most important ways for companies to capitalize on the virtual experience economy.
Customers want seamless self-service, and the customer experience going fully virtually has only made this demand greater. The heightened call volumes experienced by many companies during the beginning of the pandemic has further highlighted the importance of having effective self-service. Jeremy Jepperson touched on his personal experience with a customer that had to handle heightened volume during the pandemic, saying “One of our retail customers experienced 180% call volume only 2 weeks into COVID. Papers were flying off the shelves and many people were trying to get everything they could. We didn’t have enough people to answer their phones. We were able to pivot and handle the increase in volume with natural language-based IVRs contained within the system. We also deployed chat solutions that helped handle routine, low-value tasks.”
Delivering seamless self-service is now easier than ever with the technology that is available. Things like AI-powered conversational IVR, intelligent routing, and smart chat bots have all led to charge in delivering seamless self-service. This seamless self-service has helped grow the virtual experience economy, and self-service will continue to be an important part of the virtual experience moving forward.
Remote capabilities are extremely important in the new virtual experience economy. When many companies moved to a remote setup in response to COVID-19, many realized how valuable remote capabilities were. Jeremy Jepperson talked about his personal experiences during conversations with companies and clients. He stated, “Before COVID-19, ideas like work-from-home were something that people got scared about. What COVID has done was knock the wall down very quickly to where there is so much demand for remote capabilities in many industries that customers are beginning to ask ‘what can we do differently?’”.
Remote capabilities provide an unbeatable amount of flexibility to a contact center. With new technology like AI and omnichannel quality management, going remote is only getting easier. Many of the concerns that people had about remote work, like lower efficiency and productivity, disappeared as the workforce transitioned to a remote setup in response to COVID. Many remote workforce setups were proven to be just as efficient, sometimes even more productive and efficient, than on-premise teams. With a combination of healthier work-life balance for agents, the ability to hire from anywhere around the world, and having the technology to unite a global remote team into one has made the remote workforce something that is here to stay. A remote workforce, and the flexibility that having one provides, are factors in successfully capitalizing in the virtual experience economy.