The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated adoption of digital solutions for thousands of businesses that suddenly found themselves cut off from their customer base.

For many, the speed of bringing these new solutions on board became the difference between success and failure but, in truth, it’s a trend that has been coming for some time now.

Customer experience is no longer about a website and/or phone line. It is a far broader range that encompasses messaging services such as SMS and WhatsApp, as well as automated services like Chatbots. These are the channels of engagement that have been growing in adoption, but simply exploded in 2020. This form of two-way communication, conversational commerce, is likely to guide brand strategy this year.

The importance of speed

To provide but one of many examples of businesses that have boosted their customer engagement services during the pandemic, Czech & Speake is one of the last great independent fine aromatics and gentleman’s grooming brands. Founded in the heart of London on historic Jermyn Street, its products are available in flagship department stores such as Harrods and Fortnum & Mason. In order to remain at the leading edge and retain such exclusive company, the business prides itself on the digital experience it affords customers.

But with the Covid-19 pandemic creating an unprecedented surge in digital shopping, Freddie Sawkins, director at the family-owned business was aware they would need new, innovative solutions to remain one step ahead of its competitors.

Sawkins engaged to quickly integrate a raft of new mobile marketing initiatives, enabling it to reach new and existing customers through channels including SMS and WhatsApp. 

As a small business, it was important for Czech & Speake to be able to integrate these new channels without the need for a massive overhaul. Traditional marketing methods had served the business well for many years, so a rip-and-replace approach would not have been in the best interests of the business. Rather, it required a plug-and-play solution that would complement and augment what they already had. While adopting marketing tools was clearly a focus, it was hugely important that the company delivered a consistent brand experience, with seamless messaging across all channels and across the globe. Black Friday in particular represented an opportunity to put in place new marketing channels for their clients.

With the autumn being such a period of upheaval and change, speed was a crucial factor, with so much disruption caused by the Coronavirus, the ability to pivot and connect with customers through new channels such as SMS and WhatsApp, at short notice, ensured customers were able to maintain the sort of experience they had come to expect before the pandemic struck. Due to the plug-and-play nature of these new, cloud-based systems, Czech & Speake was able to seamlessly add new functionality at speed, ensuring it remained one step ahead of its competitors.

Crucially, these new channels have helped Czech & Speake to grow internationally. The ability to reach customers across the globe, while retaining control of messaging at HQ in the UK, gives the owners confidence that customers will achieve the best possible experience, no matter where they are.

As a result, the ability to contact customers through the most convenient channels not only enabled them to maintain sales, but build brand affinity that could so easily have been eroded through multiple lockdowns. This strategy will inform their marketing methods in 2021 both in the UK and internationally.

Achieving conversational commerce

Consumers expect real-time contact and personal interaction from brands. Combining sales, marketing and customer service within a single platform will deliver the growing trend of conversational commerce. Simply put, brands will be empowered to respond to customer needs, automate and personalise interaction regardless of channel. The biggest challenge to achieving conversational commerce capabilities is to plan business processes properly. The integration of new technology is no longer a barrier – as Czech and Speake have demonstrated – but businesses must look at their interaction flows (across many channels) and simplify them. Not only will this help make it faster for consumers to complete a payment, pay an invoice or sign up for a subscription, but also ensure that the business itself gathers as much information about the customer from as many different sources, to be able to market and sell to them better.

Many brands have jumped on the bandwagon, responding to buzzwords like omnichannel, which can feel unobtainable for many businesses, regardless of their size. They have felt held back by barriers such cost and integration, particularly with a belief that this will involve a rip-and-replace of the entire IT estate. However, through a combination of platforms, solutions and products, these are simply no longer an issue. Modern systems that power conversational commerce are entirely scalable, growing, flexing and changing as the needs of the business evolve. However, this strategy must be properly aligned with a broader shift in mindset to move with the times and become a mobile-first organisation. One thing is for sure, this is where customers are and will become the key battleground for success in the years to come.

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