Customer Futures Perspective: the 5th Channel
Digital wallets will be a new '5th channel' for engaging people. And it will be *customers themselves* that redefine customer engagement.
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Digital wallets will be a new '5th channel' for customer engagement
What’s that? Another channel?
Does that mean more digital noise? More interruption? More complexity?
No, it will mean the opposite: Less noise. Less complexity. More value. That’s the superpower of this new digital channel.
Let’s dig in.
First, we must start from the business’s perspective. Or more specifically, from the point of view of the team responsible for digital customer engagement.
Today, more or less they have four options - four channels - to ‘digitally engage’ a customer:
Get them to visit the company website
Get them to open a mobile app
Let’s take a look each digital channel, and what’s going on:
1. Message the customer
Here the digital engagement team can use the customer’s mobile number to send an SMS. Or they can contact the individiual on a social network. It could even be using Meta’s ‘WhatsApp for business’ portal.
All of these are about “pushing” a message directly to the customer.
Into a messaging channel the person already uses every day.
And it works!
Except… when you have the wrong mobile number for the customer. Or when the individual auto-blocks or mute messages from that business.
And, well it’s kind of interruptive.
And it feels spammy.
Because when the cost to send a message is low (and trending to zero), anyone can do it and it’s a race to the bottom on time-wasting.
Using social and SMS for customer engagement dilutes the value of the channel.
Just take a look at your SMS feed. I bet it’s a decaying list of one-time passwords. Pizza offers. A text from taxi. A phishing link. Maybe the occasional message from an ex-colleague.
‘Engagement’ this isn’t.
2. Email the customer
Here we have a better option.
Email is ubiquitous! And you can include attachments! And track if the email was opened!
But we all know how the story ends.
Customers are force-fed emails from businesses like geese.
Today, we all have bloated inboxes. Overwhelmed spam detection tools. And clumsy attempts to auto-filter emails into folders like ‘social’, ‘primary’ and ‘offers’.
And email overwhelm means customers are also putting up their own digital defences.
Like using a ‘masked’ email to open accounts - a temporary email address per business. It means individuals can auto-ignore all the robospam and potential fall out from data breaches. Apple even offers a masked email option by default if you are signing up to a new online service.
So email is the best digital engagement option? Really?
So far, so disengaging. Because both messaing and email are about ‘PUSH’. About interruption.
So let’s turn back to the heroes of our story, our valiant digital engagement team. Their alternative is to ‘PULL’ the customer to the business.
3. Get the customer to visit your website
Websites work for most people, doing most things, on most devices. They have become the default, and likely most useful customer engagement channel.
Customers can access their accounts, message the company, get help and generally do things faster, cheaper, better.
At least in theory.
As a result, customers will be redirected to the company website at every opportunity.
A QR code on a poster or a letter will point people back to the site. A reassuring message on the contact centre helpline will say “Why not hang up and go and get help on our website!”.
Helpfully for our digital engagement team, websites are a firehose for digital engagement metrics. And boy do they need numbers to show how they are doing!
Recording new and returning visitors. Direct and indirect website traffic. Navigation routes. Clicks. Session length. Dwell time. Cookies set. Customer IDs. Even silently monitoring things like the speed of keystrokes…
Oh, the pie charts!
Now that’s digital engagement!
Or is it?
The website experience can be clumsy. Banners to ignore. Cookie notices to swat away. Scrolling and scrolling.
Forms to fill out.
SO. MANY. FORMS. TO. FILL. OUT.
Menus and buttons and drop downs and carousels and password resets. More and more ‘engagement’.
And much like email, customers are putting up their own defences when visiting websites. Fake data for the endless forms. Ad blockers. Private browser sessions. Cookie detection and deletion. And a raft of other privacy-enhancing technologies too.
Finally, there is always our good old friend, the simplest protest in digital history: just close the webpage.
‘Page abandonment’ is one of the most important metrics for the digital engagement team. It speaks to the potential frustration, fragmentation and the digital difficulties for customers.
So websites are excellent for sharing information, for education.
But are they good for engagement?
4. Get the customer to open your mobile app
The final option available for our ever-inventive digital customer engagement team is, you guessed it… a mobile app.
Personalised. Secure. Portable (so customers can use it while standing in the kitchen of course).
But goodness me it’s getting worse.
For a recent trip I needed at least 6 different apps. One for the taxi to the airport. One for the airport and pre-arrival country checks. Another for the flight. A mobile app for the hotel check-in. One for the ‘ticketless’ event venue (why I’m travelling), and of course one for the restaurant booking.
With mobile apps the business gets complete control over the experience - the screen real estate, the flows, the taps. The integrations. And the fine-grained tracking of course.
But. It’s. Another. Digital. App.
A confusopoly of digital channels
Zoom out of this whole thing and you’ll see that every business is scrambling for a new digital layer.
Almost all enterprises have now appointed a Chief Digital Officer. Even though this is a bit like having a Chief Telephone Officer.
Here’s my point: At last count, individuals have upwards of 150 relationships with different organisations. And each of these is developing its own set of digital channels.
A mix of the four above. Actually, in most cases they are using ALL FOUR of the above.
It’s digital chaos. We can’t remember which one to use with which business.
Should I check my email, or open the app or call the contact centre and be redirected back to the website? Did they send that reminder to SMS or do I need to login again? Where’s the QR code?
This is your regular reminder: digital transformation is only happening on the business side - not the customer’s.
Because individuals don’t have their own tools to manage all this digital mess.
These four digital channels are either PUSH (interruptive and spammy) or PULL (surveilling, duplicative, and fragmented).
We can all feel it. And we can’t put our finger on what’s wrong because there isn’t another option.
A new way to stop the madness: the 5th channel
Last week I described how digital wallets are the new accounts.
Today I’m saying digital wallets will become the 5th channel - a smarter, better, more intelligent way to engage customers.
Yes, it’s another digital channel.
A 5th one!
(And for those being picky, no it might not be the digital wallet per se. It might be a smart agent, or perhaps even a new digital service or ultra app).
But the point is that customers will have a new digital tool that is THEIRS.
One that is engaging, respectful and intelligent. One that is private and secure.
And one that does not lock us in because it will be portable. Not just across different locations… but portable across different businesses.
Across different services. And different processes and customer journeys. More like digital cars, rather than the digital trains we get today.
The best bit?
This 5th channel will create more value over time, the more it is used.
Customers will be able to accrue more and more data on their own side. Data that’s reusable. Identity that’s reusable. Digital wallets will unlock more and more customer journeys. And be useful in more and more places.
They will unleash a data flywheel that’s never existed before.
And all on the side of the individual.
This 5th channel will be more flexible than SMS. Smarter than email. And more flexible than apps.
Most importantly, it will be more secure, private and more portable than mobile apps.
Browsers were the breakthrough in the 1990s. Mobile burst on to the scene in the 2000s. And mobile apps changed our lives in the 2010s.
In the 2020s it will be digital wallets that will disrupt customer engagement completely.
Less digital noise. Less digital complexity. And more value.
I’m sure our old friends in the digital engagement team will get excited about this new digital channel. One that can build real and meaningful digital relationships with customers. And one that will perform better than the other four channels.
But that’s not the real opportunity.
Because with the 5th channel, it will be *customers themselves* that will redefine customer engagement.
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