Welcome To The Age Of The Automated Experience
By Adam Johnson, SVP of Sales, ActiveCampaign
So much has changed about the way that people live, shop and do business in 2020. However, when we look back, there’s one trend that will prove particularly enduring: it is now a fundamental requirement that companies provide high-quality automated experiences. It’s easy to lose sight of it in among the masks, the social distancing and the lockdowns, but our relationship to automated experiences has shifted for good. This is going to have a big and positive impact on businesses of all sizes and the customers who engage with them.
The idea of an impersonal, automated experience is something many customers resent. It conjures images of talking to a robot with extremely limited problem-solving abilities. It is a downside of dealing with larger businesses that you are happy to avoid when popping into a local store and interacting with a friendly, helpful person. This sentiment has not changed; what has changed is that all businesses are competing in a digital arena. The opportunity to differentiate now rests heavily on the ability to create unique, positive, and memorable experiences while leveraging a reduced number of channels to communicate.
Smaller businesses have found themselves forced to close brick-and-mortar stores, do more with less and yet still come up with ways to be there for their customers. Small businesses, especially Main Street businesses, rely on their personality and personal feel to differentiate from their larger competitors. We’ve seen a sweeping digitization of the economy. It’s been driven by businesses that didn’t have the time or resources to worry about ecommerce or technology stacks before and now need to implement that technology and use it at a high level to compete.
How automated experience arrived on Main Street
From doggy day care centers to nail salons and diners to hardware stores, customers now expect to find and order items via Facebook Messenger or live chat and book appointments using automated systems. Reserve person-to-person contact to quickly answer any questions or solve a problem along the way. We expect businesses to remove as much friction as possible from the experience of visiting them – enabling us to do so in a safe, socially distanced way. Rather than keeping customers at arms length, automated experiences are now an essential way of building trust.
At ActiveCampaign, we’ve watched this scaling of automated experiences unfold first-hand. We’ve added more than 30,000 new customers worldwide since the start of the pandemic, and the vast majority of these customers are smaller businesses digitizing their operations for the first time. We provide them with ready-to-use, plug-and-play automation recipes that do the hard work of guiding customers through researching, ordering and customer support without the need for major tech investments. As a result, ActiveCampaign currently delivers more than 2.5 billion customer experiences every week.
This democratizing of automation was particularly apparent during Black Friday – an occasion when smaller businesses usually find themselves competing with better tooled and better funded ones. During the weeks around Black Friday 2020, our customers used 2.5 times more automations than they had the year before, levelling the playing field significantly. ActiveCampaign customers recovered 593% more revenue through automations responding to abandoned shopping carts than the year before. Live chat and chatbot automations powered 562% more conversations guiding shoppers through their purchases. After Black Friday itself, automation recipes were used to raise support tickets for customers, amplifying product reviews and helping businesses capture details they could use to drive repeat purchases.
Automating the new normal
Looking ahead to 2021, the hope of everyone is that life will get back to normal sooner rather than later. But past experience teaches us that not every aspect of normalcy will feel as appealing as it once did. The roaring 20s that followed the last major global pandemic were nothing like the early years of the 20th century that came before it. People changed their outlook on life, their motivations and their behavior.
Habits form through endlessly reinforced repetition – but when that repetition and reinforcement is interrupted for an extended period of time, habits change. It takes a conscious effort to do things differently, and it can feel troublesome and tiring at first, but new behaviors get a lot easier the more often they’re repeated. Most neuroscientists estimate that it can take up to three months for a new habit to override an old one in the brain. Under normal circumstances, that feels like a long time. This year, it really doesn’t.
This is why the safest prediction you can make about the business landscape in 2021 is that the age of automated experiences will continue to accelerate. It will build on big shifts in habits and expectations that have already become embedded. It will put more tools at the disposal of businesses of all sizes when it comes to how they engage with customers – and how they rebuild.
Freeing businesses to do more with less
Take customer service, for example. A year ago, most of us wanted to speak with a real customer service representative as quickly as possible, trying to bypass the automated phone tree. That firmly embedded preference hasn’t survived the pandemic. Insisting on waiting to speak to a person is likely to cost you hours of time and leave you struggling to get the answers you need. We’ve formed new habits that involve embracing automated interactions for more of our needs.
As shoppers think twice about strolling into a store and talking to a sales assistant, they’ve explored other options for finding the information they need. Automation is making these self-directed shopper journeys more intuitive, satisfying and efficient. This means that even when people are more comfortable heading back into stores, they’re likely to have already decided which store to go to and what exactly they want to buy. Shoppers will have more in-depth questions for salespeople at that time, which means more meaningful and intelligent conversations will follow. As a salesperson, I’m grateful to have more rewarding experiences talking with customers and finding solutions to their problems that they’ve thought deeply about.
The difference between the automated experiences of 2021 and the automated experiences of 2019 is that they will be available everywhere; available for businesses large and small to provide to customers; and levelling the tech playing field rather than tilting it. These businesses will be able to deploy automations to fit the new habits that people have learned and the new expectations they have, while rebuilding other, value-adding human experiences on top of them. It will enable them to do more with less.
As we get back to doing more business and living more of our lives face-to-face, we’ll find automated experiences underpinning more aspects of our lives. We’ve already learned that the net effect isn’t to undermine our interactions with businesses and other people; it’s to enhance them.
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