sam richardson, twilio
Credit: Sam Richardson, Twilio

Sam Richardson is a consultant at Twilio. She describes the team’s focus at the customer engagement platform, as “firmly on helping our [clients] to understand the importance of developing deeper relationships with customers.”

“We’re working with them to encourage a mindset shift,” she continues, “from thinking about one off transactions to how they can earn trust from customers to continue the relationship over time. Helping them recognise that human-ness is even more important in a digital world.”

Richardson earmarks accessibility for greater focus in the year ahead. We caught up with her to ask about the industry, the future of customer engagement, AI and CDPs.

Econsultancy: What trends or innovations do you predict will come to the forefront of your industry in the next 12 months?

Sam Richardson: I really want to see more focus on building accessibility into customer engagement strategies. An estimated 14.6 million people in the UK had a disability in 2020/21, representing 22% of the total population – while 27.7m UK adults fall under the definition of a ‘vulnerable customer’, according to the Financial Conduct Authority.

Innovation over the next 12 months should focus on addressing the full range of factors that can create accessibility challenges, such as a user’s region, (dis)abilities, language, age, access to technology, economic status, and immediate environment. For example, some customers may feel shut out from digitally-led routes, those with visual impairments will require voice solutions, and neurodivergent customers may have difficulties with certain types of communications.

Innovation over the next 12 months should focus on addressing the full range of factors that can create accessibility challenges…

As the adoption of automation and machine learning technologies grows, we mustn’t forget the need to be human and maintain ways to make sure customers aren’t just able to get in touch, but feel comfortable doing so.

E: How is AI likely to impact the future of customer engagement?

SR: AI will no doubt play a significant role in the future of customer engagement, and be a driving force to create deeper customer connections, with generative and predictive capabilities revolutionising the way in which brands understand and provide value to their customers.

Firstly, brands’ profiles of their customers will become more accurate and detailed than ever before. AI will be able to infer traits about a customer in real-time based on customer conversations, such as messages, and automatically update customer profiles with these learned attributes, empowering brands to tailor their communications, messaging, and marketing.

Predictive AI will also offer marketers guidance on the most impactful and effective customer journey for each customer; for example, whether they will prefer to see a paid ad or a custom email. Generative and predictive AI will also make recommendations for the most optimal marketing channel, send-time, and content for that tactic.

AI will be able to infer traits about a customer in real-time based on customer conversations…

AI will transform contact centres, too. Supervisors and executives will have access to AI-generated synopses of a customer’s history, and have the option of AI-generated responses during interactions, making great gains in efficiency. However, expertise and emotional connection will be needed to support the efficiency to help make sure what is being said is not just useful, but appropriate to the situation – avoiding the risk of a robotic experience.

Finally, business leaders and marketers will be able to access AI-powered insights and smart recommendations about their customers. With visibility into predicted traits such as propensity to purchase, estimated lifetime value, and churn risk, businesses can make informed decisions about their engagement strategies.

E: You mentioned contact centres. How are they evolving? What are some common misconceptions about this area of customer service/engagement?

SR: In my mind, the biggest misconception is that AI will replace jobs. Good companies will implement well designed AI and retrain their contact centre staff to be design consultants.

With ecommerce booming over the last few years, there’s been a skyrocketing need for customer service to accommodate this. Many brands have taken this shift on board and uplevelled the contact centre services they’re offering in order to stay ahead.

For example, contact centres have historically existed to deliver a transactional service – in other words to deliver an efficient and frictionless resolution to customers challenges. While this goal has not changed, the increasing channels of choice available nowadays, from call centres, online chat, chat bots, SMS, and WhatsApp, as well as self service capabilities, means there are a range of options for customers to engage with a brand and find solutions. Offering different mediums that may be better suited to each specific customer’s personal preferences and evolving situational contexts, has become a basic expectation among consumers, and brands need to respond accordingly.

…there’s a real opportunity for agents to provide enhanced consultancy, personalisation, and customer engagement…

Likewise, with great technological advancement having been made across self-service and automation, the role of the customer service advisor has evolved considerably. Indeed, with less manual tasks on their plate, there’s a real opportunity for agents to provide enhanced consultancy, personalisation, and customer engagement, while using the interaction as an opportunity to enhance their understanding of the customer, informing their future interactions with them.

A common misconception though, is that everyone seeks digitally-led solutions, when in reality many consumers value more traditional, human-centred options – like call centres. While the technological evolution of contact centres offers exciting opportunities for many, brands should not underestimate the need for human connection, and should take this into consideration for those customers opting for these channels.

E: What are some of the biggest challenges brands face when implementing CDPs and how can they be overcome?

SR: The first step is to have a clear data strategy – making sure you understand what customer data you want to use and for what purpose.

Then, there’s a big job needed to build awareness of CDPs and how they can support companies in achieving their marketing goals. CDPs do of course require some investment, so organisations need to understand how enhanced digital customer engagement will drive ROI.

Following on from the initial implementation, many brands face challenges with scaling their CDPs. With various different data sources fragmented across a range of channels, this intel is often stuck in inaccessible data silos. However, the right CDP will be able to collect, organise, and clean this data and present it back in an accessible format.

This process of cleaning and consolidating customer data so you have a single profile of your customer is one of the most difficult, but rewarding steps.

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