COVID-19 has upended the way we work and transformed how companies engage with their customers. Businesses accelerated their digital transformation, adopting a wide range of digital channels – video chat, chatbots, app-based messaging and calling – to reach their customers.

For many, changes that had initially been deemed “temporary”, quickly became permanent. One of these is how crucial customer experience (CX) has become for business growth and continued success. CX is no longer an afterthought, but part of every important business discussion as customer needs and personalisation take centre stage. In Singapore, about 81% are inclined to spend more with a company that offers a good CX – the highest in the region [1]. While this is so, less than one in five consumers in APAC experience CX that exceeds expectations, with the lowest sentiments reported in Singapore and Hong Kong [2].

Lessons since the pandemic have taught us that there will be no return to normal. Instead, it is time to think of the new normal. With CX a key differentiator for brands and a leading growth engine, how can businesses serve the evolving needs of the customer? Here are the trends I believe will drive the future of CX.

#1: End-to-End, Unified Cloud Communications for effective digital transformation

In 2022, unified, end-to-end communications will be a key competitive differentiator where service offerings are concerned. In today’s virtual world it is essential for organisations to stay connected to users through their preferred communications methods.

Customers want to be able to contact a company through their channel of choice, at a time that’s convenient to them – and are willing to try new brands when these needs are not met. In Singapore, poor customer service costs businesses approximately US$11 billion annually. In 2021, 51 percent of Singaporeans cut spending after a single bad experience with a company. This means that businesses must provide a seamless, frictionless transaction no matter which channel a customer has selected, especially when offered by the company.

Whether it’s SMS, email, automated chat or a phone call, agents need to have the information on hand to identify and handle each query effectively. Centralising multiple sources of contact data will also be of paramount importance to maintaining a seamless multi-channel CX.

#2: CPaaS for Personalised Customer Engagement

More and more companies will turn to Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) in the year ahead to solve communication and engagement issues, and to maintain business agility in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Advanced CPaaS solutions, though not widely adopted yet, will be pivotal to transforming enterprise communication capabilities, enabling personalised customer engagement by embedding programmable capabilities – voice, video, messaging, social chat and verification – directly into websites, workflows and even bespoke applications – with just a few lines of code.

Businesses that have chosen an advanced CPaaS platform provider face far fewer technical and business challenges and see higher levels of engagement in their client communication than those that have yet to deploy CPaaS capabilities. This is also translating into revenue growth. According to Forrester, half of surveyed decision-makers have seen or expect to see advanced CPaaS drive revenue growth, with improved analytics and CX enhancements observed as key improvements that address their major challenges head-on.

#3: AI, CX and the growth of Conversational Commerce

According to Facebook & Bain & Company, Southeast Asia added 70 million new online shoppers since the start of COVID-19. The pandemic has also caused a paradigm shift in consumers’ purchase journeys. From discovery to purchase, online channels have become ever more prevalent.

Today, modern customer journeys increasingly bridge social, messaging, and web e-commerce channels, which means consistency of communications across all customer touch-points will be the difference between securing and losing a sale. Omnichannel, messaging-first customer engagement will be a necessity for a CX that enables businesses to thrive and grow.

The key to this will lie in effectively deploying conversational commerce, a term used to describe the growing convergence of shopping and conversations on platforms such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, creating a seamless shopping experience. Conversational commerce allows consumers toengage in personal conversations to inquire about product and pricing information and build trusted relationships with retailers.

To gain a competitive edge, businesses will use AI with CPaaS solutions to automate their conversational commerce offerings. This includes the use of voice assistants and chatbots. This improves the ability to manage CX proactively, offer speedy responses and ensure higher availability during peak periods – meeting customers on their preferred communications channels, whatever and wherever they might be.

#4: Preference of video communications will continue to grow

Since January 2020, globally, there has been a 300% growth in the number of people who prefer to connect with businesses via video. Three in five consumers worldwide are video chatting with a business or service provider more now than they were 18 months ago, and four in five expect their video chats with friends and family to stay the same (55%) or increase even further (35%) during the next six months. In APAC, the video conferencing market is expected to reach US$ 3.4 billion by 2027 [3].

The use of video communications has grown the most in the corporate, healthcare, and education sectors. Consumers are using video chat to connect with healthcare services 50% more now than they were during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. In APAC, 38% prefer video chat when learning and studying remotely while 28% prefer video chat when speaking with a therapist for a counselling session

In the coming year, the use of digital channels will increase further, especially video communications, to adapt to permanent changes driven by the pandemic.

#5: CX Personalisation takes centre stage

With the world increasingly moving towards the digital realm, consumer expectations at an all-time high and stiff competition on all sides, developing a unique and personalised CX is of utmost importance to maintain business growth. Customers expect ultra-fast, seamless, and dynamic experiences and are ready to leave any business when their experiences fall short.

Reinventing customer journeys with a personalised approach is the next leap ahead. With a unified multi-channel approach, businesses can navigate the ever-evolving demands of customer engagement to stay ahead.