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How Businesses can Navigate Inflation and the Cost-of-Living Crisis with Technology

The cost of living has sky-rocketed with prices and inflation rising – the quickest in the last three decades – driving up the cost of food, fuel, and a range of other products, and ultimately influencing the supply chain. 

On one hand customers are left grappling with a cost-of-living crisis leading them to be more careful as to how they spend their money, resulting in new purchasing habits. And on the other businesses are trying to stay afloat by amending their product portfolio, simplifying promotional strategies, and optimizing.

And with customer confidence at its lowest since 1974, businesses need to navigate these challenges to provide an empathetic customer experience by understanding consumers and developing resilient supply chains.

But there’s a game-changing factor in the inflation equation – technology. Digital innovation will play a crucial role in countering long-term inflation by dramatically increasing business efficiencies and lowering operating costs.

Meeting customers and their expectations

Despite the challenges brought on by the economy, customers continue to have high expectations and value the experience more than ever, especially since they’re more selective of how, where and who they spend their money with.

To be successful businesses need to provide a personalized experience and they can do this by leveraging AI, data, analytics, and cloud-based communication technologies. This would help them create dynamic customer profiles, personalize campaigns, adapt to the newfound customer needs, and gain a richer understanding of their audience. 

In addition to a long-term positive influence on the macro economy, cloud technology can help businesses to mitigate many of the crippling consequences of inflation. Business-changing efficiencies can be implemented across the business value chain in a simple and cost-effective way.

The conversational AI opportunity

Real-time, secure, two-way flows of information via SMS, voice, email, web chat or other channels can facilitate more sales, remove transaction friction, and ultimately lead to lower prices for customers. We shouldn’t under-estimate the role Conversational AI will play here as we move towards click-free consumption.

Enhancements in AI will see chatbots resolving more customer issues, with human operatives on standby for complex queries. Meanwhile, Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) can enable seamless remote and office working, leading to a more flexible and productive workforce, and drastically lower operational costs.

On the supply and logistics side, functionalities such as accurate real-time notifications between various parties can drive game-changing efficiencies. 

We’re only at the start of this transformational journey to a new era of hyper-efficient, frictionless digital business. Fortunately, the barriers to adopting transformative digital technologies across the business value chain are lower than they have ever been.

And for this they need to keep three things in mind:

  • Understand customers and identify those that have been hit the hardest
  • The right blend of human and technology support
  • Safeguarding against scammers and fraudsters
  • Intelligent supply chains

Understanding and identifying customers

The cost-of-living crisis and inflation has given a new definition to vulnerable customers, going beyond physical disabilities and conditions to those who are from low-income groups or are faced with food insecurity.

In the UK alone, according to the FCA 53% of customers are vulnerable. This means from a customer experience standpoint that the chances are when your customer support staff or chatbot is dealing with a consumer, they may fall into this category.

So, as a business what can you do? 

Identifying customers through data and chatbots: If your customer data platform already has detailed profiles of your consumers, including household income and monthly expenditure, you could segment them and reach out with personalized communications with advice and assistance. For example, energy companies could segment customers based on their bill values and those who have seen a significant rise with information on how they could save costs or about benefit schemes.

In addition, you could build and train chatbots on your engagement channels to ask a series of questions to gather information about the customer and update their profiles. This would also help in routing queries to an agent who is trained to help vulnerable customers.

Friendly channels for customers to engage on: Providing customer support over channels that your customers prefer at their convenience, helps them to feel heard and valued. 

Agent training and environment: Your customer support staff will be inundated with queries during this time. To ensure a more empathetic experience, businesses must invest in training their agents, and update their contact centers knowledge base with information on how to help vulnerable customers.

The right blend of people and technology

The right combination of human support and technology helps improve self-serve options and increase deflection opportunities. This frees up your agents time, so they can deal with more empathetic and high value queries. This will also have a direct impact on customer service costs and help optimize it.

For several years, AI in its many forms has been helping digital native businesses connect with audiences at scale. Conversational interfaces on peoples’ everyday tech have been at the center of this communication revolution.

The democratization of this type of technology is making it possible for companies of all sizes across multiple sectors to meet their customers and teams wherever they are, and intuitively understand their needs. What’s more we’re likely to see a further exponential surge in the use of AI in the coming years.

As AI improves, we’ll start seeing it resolve increasing volumes of customer issues, with human operatives there to help. Hugely exciting possibilities are created when automation enables systems to switch seamlessly between intelligent chatbots and human agents.

Conversational interfaces are also driving a movement towards: 

  • IVRs and AI chatbots that can help remove high volume but low touch inquiries such as “where is my delivery” or “bill payments” or “account updates”. Sentiment analysis can help chatbots reroute automated conversations to a live agent trained to help vulnerable customers.  
  • Adopting an omnichannel approach and allowing customers to interact on familiar digital channels such as chat apps would help in providing always-on support and real-time messages.  
  • Investing in a customer engagement solution that can help set up triggers to send personalized, proactive messages with cost-saving suggestions and help. 

Safeguarding against scammers and fraudsters 

More customers moving to digital channels has given rise to frauds and scams – like phishing, smishing etc – to gain easy money. And during times of recession fraudsters and scammers get more active. From fraud to ransomware, data leaks to compromised passwords – businesses need to up the ante on creating a secure and trustworthy customer experience. 

As of now customers are feeling the inflationary impact at gas stations, supermarkets, restaurants, and their favorite stores. And simultaneously, fraudsters are actively selecting their targets based on businesses that have legacy security systems that can easily be exploited.  

Businesses need to invest in authentication solutions to validate third-party content allowed, and, ensure they manage their payment gateways and websites securely to keep bad actors out. Two-factor authentication, logging, alerting and 24/7 monitoring for alerts are critical to ensure consumer security. 

Intelligent value chains 

Using integrated, intelligent technologies to streamline the supply chain, improve awareness of logistical procedures and minimize time spent to mitigate disruptions will help ensure customers always have the most up to date numbers on stock availability, back in stock supplies and delivery updates. 

Being agile in reacting to supply chain bottlenecks will be a game-changer and to achieve this having end-to-end visibility across the extended supply chain is crucial. This can be done with IoT sensors, blockchain, and data integrated with a customer engagement solution.  

Conclusion 

Businesses should double down on smarter CX decisions by investing in communication technology solutions to better support customers and win trust during these difficult times.