The pandemic accelerated the adoption of new communication technologies, influencing customer engagement trends in the process. According to Vonage's Global Customer Engagement Report, 2020, some of these shifts had already been well underway, while others suddenly escalated as a result of the global health crisis.
Here's how customer communication preferences evolved and what they can tell businesses about how to deliver a winning customer experience in a post-pandemic world.
The Top Communication Technologies of 2020
Customers were already using multiple communication technologies to engage with companies before 2020. This trend intensified after the pandemic began, indicating that multichannel customer engagement is here to stay. One channel saw exceptional growth during this unprecedented period: Video adoption surged as in-person interactions were restricted and voice- or text-only conversations became inadequate for certain services. Vonage research found that the U.S. experienced an astonishing four years of growth in video chat adoption in only seven months, between January and August. Forty-three percent of Americans now regularly chat with businesses by video; just 28 percent of them did at the beginning of 2020.
Voice calls still remain the top choice for customers, earning 30 percent of the overall vote when it comes to the channel they prefer. But businesses would be wrong to assume that simply offering voice would be sufficient to provide satisfactory customer communications. Twenty-three percent more consumers chose messaging apps as a top-three method for calling businesses, while all other calling methods (mobile, phone, landline, and click-to-call from a website or app) lost ground.
SMS saw a 23 percent dip in usage throughout 2020, as customers shifted toward popular social media and messaging apps like Instagram (+75 percent), Facebook Messenger (+20 percent), and Line (+20). WhatsApp overtook SMS as the top messaging app for connecting with businesses, getting the nod from 32 percent of customers, while SMS finished in second place at 23 percent.
What conclusions can businesses draw from these customer engagement trends? If customers favored flexibility and variety when it came to communication channels at the start of 2020, their preferences became even more pronounced as the year drew to a close. Customers expressed a willingness to use the communication method available to them even if it wasn't their first choice of channel. In their view, not having any other channels to resolve their issue is a far greater concern than not having the specific channel they prefer the most.
How Communication Technologies Are Enabling Customer Engagement
When the world underwent a dramatic digital transformation during the COVID-19 pandemic, communication technologies played key roles in nurturing customer relationships. Video was a natural choice for telehealth and distance learning, supporting the critical healthcare and education sectors while public health measures were in effect. Video also worked especially well in use cases where personalization was important or a complex problem required resolution.
Although video did enjoy a rise in adoption, it isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for customer communication regardless of industry or use case. An automated text chat or messaging exchange might work just as well for a low-urgency update or a simple inquiry. Even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to meet customers where they are and provide them with a range of convenient options for getting their questions or issues resolved.
As analyst and author Brian Solis noted, businesses should align their purpose with customer needs and values if they hope to become resilient and relevant in the post-pandemic era. Customers appreciate businesses that show empathy and consideration for their needs, and they haven't been shy about experimenting with new solutions that might be a better fit. Businesses must quickly react to evolving consumer communication preferences if they intend to earn continued customer loyalty.