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The State of Customer Communications in 2024

At our event in November 2023 – Small Steps to Transformational Change in Customer Experiencecustomer experience, customer communications practitioners and thought leaders from across the UK met to discuss ways to improve customer experience in the wake of historic levels of inflation and new consumer protection regulations.

The focus of the event was on helping organisations to deliver quick improvements to their customer experience that do not depend on lengthy digital transformation projects.

The consensus among the speakers – from Aon, Allianz, Adare SEC and consultancy Aspire CCS – was that building a multi-channel customer communications service can be done in small, targeted steps, transforming single customer journeys as required, whether triggered by cost reduction efforts or by new regulations like Consumer Duty.

The speaker sessions, Q&As and interactive polling provided many insights which help us form a picture of the customer communications management (CCM) industry going into 2024. We’ve distilled the most intriguing headlines from the day below.

CX transformation is ongoing

When we asked our audience of CCM practitioners how well prepared their organisation is to deal with CCM-CXM related market disruption, 59% said they were in the midst of transformation, while 41% were aware of the need or making plans.

The next 3 years should be about getting the basics right and identifying quick wins that will deliver the transformational customer experience that customers expect today.

According to one of the speakers, the main blind spot, even at the senior level, is a lack of understanding of what constitutes a truly great customer experience.

Too often, digital innovation is seen as simply creating a digital channel, but if this channel is not integrated as part of a multichannel journey it can simply become siloed, with no easy means to share customer information.

When you take into account that a customer has usually interacted with your brand 10 times online and offline before they make a transaction, ensuring that multiple channels join up is key to maintaining a consistent relationship and delivering a user-friendly experience.

There is still much work to be done.

Ever-increasing customer expectations in digital

No matter the industry, there are disruptors in customer experience. We have already seen in the past few years how retail fintechs outplayed legacy financial institutions in terms of digital experiences and forced them to play catch up. Changing personal details, amending pension contributions, or getting a loan approved now takes minutes on an app, while those relying on traditional processes still burden customers with weeks of back-and-forth printed letters and forms.

Customers expect better. It’s easy for them to switch providers, whether it's their bank, energy company or mobile phone. The next few years will see a continuation of customer communications teams catching up to the best practices of today.

The issue for many organisations is time. The bigger the transformation project, the longer it takes to see results from that project. Often, company-wide digital transformations are strategic, meaning full systems overhauls that involve all departments, stretching resources for Business as Usual.

However, the event showcased organisations such as Aon and Allianz, who have made targeted, tactical changes to their customer communications service in a few months rather than years. These small changes lead to quick wins in terms of improved efficiency and reduced costs.

Even slick consumer brands are struggling

At the event, attendees were shown how even big-name consumer brands can struggle to hit the CX sweet-spot. These brands might boast slick advertising, beautiful packaging and more, but they are let down by their customer communications. The result is an inconsistent brand experience that will disappoint many customers.

Attendees saw how these example brands had invested in optimising some touchpoints but not all. They had personalised online buying journeys, as well as high-end in-person channels like retail stores and customer lounges. But a look at their customer communications revealed system-generated impersonal letters, forms without any brand identity save the logo, and unnecessary despatch of hard-copy documents to customers who had interacted online.

Clearly, the CX transition is ongoing for many companies, no matter the size. Equally, CX is never a once-and-done exercise. It’s an iterative process. Business must always stay on top of changing attitudes and preferences – not to mention regulatory shifts.

Optimising CX to stay ahead of regulation

Last year’s Consumer Duty from the FCA is an example of when regulation can cause a seismic shift in customer experience. The mandate to drive better outcomes for customers is already changing how financial services view their communications structures, and will trigger more optimisations in 2024.

Navigating GMP equalisation

At the Adare SEC event, attendees heard a great example of how organisations can use CCM to react to changes in the law.

The speaker from pensions provider, Aon, explained how the team needed to act quickly to address a high court ruling on GMP Equalisation from 2018 – rectifying a historic inequality in pensions before 1997 when they were calculated on a different basis for men and women. Pension providers were now required to inform all pension holders who had paid in during the early-to-mid 90s of a recalculation of the value of their pensions and potentially owe them a "top-up" payment.

With only postal addresses as the most recent point of contact for many of their historical members, the initial contact had to be via post, asking members to contact Aon to verify their identity. As an unexpected communication offering free money, the challenge lay in communicating in a way that avoided members thinking the message was a scam.

By building a digital forms 'portal', accessed via a QR code in their letters, they made it easier for more members to engage, with a more ‘convincing’ holistic service that was in line with consumer expectations from financial service providers.

The result was 93% member engagement with the process, 71% of which was digital, and a significant reduction of calls coming into the contact centre. 

You can read the full case study on GMP equalisation digital communication here.

It’s not just compliance teams who need to stay ahead of regulations like GMP Equalisation and Consumer Duty. Anyone in charge of customer communications needs to be aware. For example, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill is currently being reviewed in Parliament and is likely to become law in 2024, giving the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) the power to fine consumer brands without going to court, and to enforce compensation to customers they have misled through poorly worded communications.

Guided transformation can help companies to react with speed and agility to these regulatory requirements.

AI is unlikely to take your CX job

One speaker talked about the fear behind AI replacing people’s jobs. Nowadays, we’ve come to realise that robots won’t replace us, but someone else using AI to enhance their skills might.

The good news for organisations developing their customer experience is that AI can help in three ways:

  1. Automation for efficiency,
  2. Augmentation to support human understanding and alert potential issues
  3. Acceleration to enhance personalisation, customised servicing, clients better served and fees better justified for Consumer Duty.

They come with their own challenges and opportunities, so focusing on how to harness new technology will be critical. In the near future, if AI and other new technologies are harnessed properly, the bar for good CX will only get higher and higher.

But there are watchouts. The speed of innovation makes it difficult to stay on top of identifying and protecting ourselves from the pitfalls. It’s opening up huge skills and knowledge gaps, and cyber-security risks – hence the focus on global regulation – while the biases and inaccuracies within the systems are clearly a worry. Increased use of energy, water and precious raw materials, and the care needed to avoid exploitation of workers, means the way we implement this technology needs to be squared with our stance on ESG.

Cost is the biggest obstacle, but it can be overcome

One of the polls conducted during the event asked:

“What have been your biggest internal obstacles in driving change?”

The most popular answers included Time, Risk, Culture and Investment, but by far the biggest obstacles were:

  1. Cost
  2. People/Resource

Progress in customer communications and customer experience is usually blocked by the perception that transformation projects are big and expensive. Projects are often considered holistically, meaning customer communications is but one line item among many. Plus, the size of the fees charged by large consulting firms mean more stakeholders are necessary to approve the project, further delaying actions and progress.

Being laser focused on those customer journeys that need transforming means fewer stakeholders, less demand on internal IT departments, and speedier transitions. And when a quick optimisation has been successful, it helps build a business case for changing other journeys.

Small steps to transformational change

Using real business-case examples, the event drove home the rapid and dynamic advantages that small-step guided CX transformation projects are delivering.

Certainly, such focused transformation can be hugely beneficial in flexing swiftly and efficiently to regulatory change. Those organisations that optimise their customer journeys, touch point by touch point, and who create a multi-channel service with a single customer view, will remain efficient, sustainable and compliant while providing best-in-class customer experience.