Digital engagement trends and lessons for 2021
  • Industry Trends

Digital engagement trends and lessons for 2021

by Russ Garcia | Nov 05, 2020

For your sake, we’ll do our best to avoid using words like “unprecedented,” though it's difficult to think of a better way to describe 2020 so far. Simply put, this year has been a whirlwind, forcing individuals, governments, and businesses to implement creative solutions for new and exacerbated challenges. For brands, it’s meant going beyond business as usual to engage and support employees, customers, and partners like never before.

Our annual conference, Khoros Engage (which took place virtually on October 14th), provided a platform for representatives of major brands to share how they rose to the unique situations that this year has thrown our way, and the lessons learned that they’ll be taking into 2021 and beyond.

If this year has shown us anything, it’s that, in many instances, sticking to legacy processes makes quick, necessary evolution especially laborious. Whereas using modern, digital tools early makes it significantly easier to rise to the occasion, when needed. And as we’ve all seen first hand in the past few months, there are many occasions to rise to.

1. Digital-first strategies, powered by AI, have never been more important

2020 has pushed brands to modernize at an extraordinary rate, with already-rising trends from well before March accelerating throughout the year. Many of the speakers at this year’s Khoros Engage discussed their brand’s focus on a digital-first strategy, which can mean different things based on an organization and their needs.

It’s all about having processes in place on the right platforms for your customers when they need it.

Ultimately, a digital-first strategy helps customers feel like a brand has their back through every step of the support process, as well as the conversion funnel. For instance, online brand communities provide a digital space to engage individuals from different countries and those who speak different languages. That’s how Intuit has served 25 product lines in 11 countries, helping over 85 million people receive the financial support and guidance they need in FY 2020 alone.

There are many ways for a brand to accomplish a digital-first approach, be that using sophisticated tools to manage customer care or digital marketing across various platforms.

Request a demo | Khoros

Here are some of the main considerations this year’s speakers shared about transitioning to digital-first:

Lean on chatbots, as well as people

  • Consider using a mix of people and robots for online customer engagement to help support an influx of social mentions and customer care needs. The key here is to make this feel natural, without feeling disingenuous or overly robotic.

Build your team with product experts

  • Don’t forget about your product experts, who you should rely on to answer complex questions and to humanize your brand. Your customers need to feel like they’re being listened to and supported, and sometimes that requires a real person. This is especially true amid COVID-19, where compassionate advice and human interaction are really important.

Create a seamlessness customer experience

  • One of the best ways to create brand loyalty is to provide an effortless and seamless experience for customers. This has always been true, but with frustration and stress levels at an all-time high, it holds more weight in 2020 than ever before.

Use a predictive and tactical approach

  • Utilize your digital tools and platforms to be predictive, offering customers help before they realize they need it. Don’t just pay attention to the people talking to your brand directly, listen to the conversations people are having about you, as well, so that you can better predict how to help customers. Negative comments can help you improve your product.

2. Expand beyond traditional customer care to manage an influx of engagement, as well as reduce costs

There’s an abundance of ways for customers to connect with a brand and each other. Whereas it used to be as simple as a customer service phone line, an email address, and maybe even a contact form, there’s now also chat, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and more. Without the proper tools in place to manage these various avenues, it’s a bit like playing whack a mole trying to address everyone’s concerns and needs.

For brands that have resisted investing time and money in comprehensive tools to manage social media and other online platforms, handling the customer care viral spikes that have occurred in 2020 was likely extra challenging. This year, more than any other, has served as an example of why such tools are necessary. Not to mention, they make day-to-day operations even outside of crises much more efficient, saving support teams both time and money.

Two areas that have enabled brands to expand customer care operations include online brand communities and chat.

Khoros Engage speakers shared how they use brand communities to connect with and support customers in times of uncertainty, as well as times of calm.

Elevate self-service customer care

  • For both B2B and B2C brands, communities foster organic conversations that lead to solutions applicable to multiple customers. Not only does this provide easy-to-find answers for commonly asked questions, but it also helps give brands an idea of frequent or common issues customers may experience.

Nurture customers to encourage loyalty and advocacy

  • Communities go beyond just customer care. They also provide a space for customers to share ideas and connect with others who have similar interests. This creates an environment to nurture customers who might one day become brand evangelists.
  • Spotify, for example, is working to tailor the brand experience for the most engaged members of their community by connecting them with other users who have similar tastes in music based on listening habits.

Switching gears, this is how speakers scale messaging with chat to reduce contact center costs:

Provide faster answers with self-service bots

  • While some brands may have concerns about the impersonal nature of chatbots, brands in 2020 found that their ability to answer common customer questions rapidly provided a major time saver for busier-than-usual care teams. Given the utilization of bots this year, Forrester projects that self-service bot volumes will grow, as they also value the customer’s time. The key is looping in a person when the bot doesn’t suffice.
The bot balancing act | Khoros

Bring in an agent when interactions become more complicated

  • When more complicated issues (e.g. product errors that need to be diagnosed) occur, an agent stepping in can provide a rare opportunity to nurture customers by growing the customer relationship. This is especially important in the midst of a crisis when customer demand is likely to skyrocket (like it has in 2020).

Apply AI to any industry for more efficient processes and better support

  • There’s virtually no industry that hasn’t been impacted by one crisis or another this year. For instance, the insurance industry is managing an influx of claims and customers who need emergency help. The banking sector, on the other hand, is helping customers with mortgage assistance, financial counseling, and more. Even retail, which in large droves has been providing contactless pickup and addressing safety concerns, has had to rise to the occasion in a major way.
  • For most industries, this required a crash course in digital transformation. Automation and AI helps agents focus on work that matters and offload repetitive inquiries to automated solutions

3. Crisis management works best when plans are already in place

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about the importance of going digital-first, as well as a few ways to help you do that, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also take time to consider your crisis management strategy. It’s one thing to have the platforms in place to deliver a strategy, it’s another to know what that strategy is.

While it’s true that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict what crises your brand might face, there are specific details a brand can organize and decide on to fast-track mobilization.

Once you put a foundational crisis management plan in place, you can adjust it based on the situation at hand. Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B, for example, leveraged their crisis preparedness plan from 2009 for H1N1 to help their customers throughout COVID-19.

Khoros Engage speakers left attendees with this wisdom regarding establishing and implementing a crisis management plan:

Failing to plan is planning to fail

To help get your plan started, your team should ask these questions:

  • At the end of the day, what does your brand care about the most? This should inform every aspect of your plan.
  • What will your approval process look like? Who will be responsible for giving the green light in fast-paced moments?
  • What are your brand’s boundaries? What types of things will your brand do or not do in the face of a crisis?
  • Who can step in to help the support team, if needed?

For example, the H-E-B support team relied on the help of the engineering team to answer questions in social media when positive cases of COVID-19 first started popping up in the U.S.

Don’t underestimate the value of quality, pre-planned responses

  • Create flexible, canned responses to typical questions to help manage an influx of customer care requests. This can also help other teams step in to provide support, even without sufficient training.

Take a hard look at potential threats to your brand

  • Predict and prepare for pitfalls by knowing your brand’s threats when coming up with a plan. For instance, what’s taken your brand for a turn in the past? What have you learned from that experience and how will it change your future actions?
Protect your brand on social media | Khoros

Reflect before you move on

  • Always do a post-mortem, as the lessons learned from each crisis will help evolve and shape your crisis management plan.

4. For brands, there’s no going back — and that’s okay

The constant evolution that’s demanded of brands can be challenging in the best of times. Throw in a global pandemic, social unrest, and natural disasters, and extra pressure is added. 2020 has shifted business priorities in a major way, from remote workforce support to the digital customer experience.

While this year's difficulties accelerated transformation to digital-first strategies, customers, in the long-run, will have better support because of it. 

And more than just a rising pressure to support employees and customers, brands are facing the fact that many of their customers are in a tight spot, with conversations becoming harder and more emotional. These conversations are happening across multiple channels, which are also increasing in volume. Many customer service organizations are struggling to provide a seamless omnichannel experience.

Khoros helps brands implement the wisdom generously provided by this year’s Engage speakers, providing a robust platform to simultaneously manage multiple conversations and engagement opportunities across the digital channels your customers are using. Request a demo today to learn more about the unique ways in which Khoros can help your brand thrive.


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Want to learn about how some of the best brands in the world handled 2020? Check out our Khoros Engage breakout session on crisis management!

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