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Engage Through Change: A Post-COVID Future

Symend post covid webinar

On September 15th, 2021, Symend hosted a webinar to share insights from its post-COVID report on changing consumer behavior and discussed how leading telecommunications, financial services and utility providers can prepare for the future of customer engagement. Alison Doyle, PhD, Senior Behavioral Scientist at Symend, provided an overview of the report, which was followed by a panel discussion with Christain Thilmany, Senior Director of AI Strategy and Industry at Microsoft, and Patrick Pichette, Partner at Inovia Capital and former CFO at Google.

Shifting engagement and repayment patterns have demonstrated that preparing for the post-COVID future isn’t just possible, it’s crucial. The financial wellness of your customers depends on it. Every engagement needs to be tailored to align with changing consumer perceptions and attitudes.

“There is a conundrum with tech fatigue because tech is here to stay. The trick for service providers is to manage engagements with digital tools because consumers expect digital interactions to increase and not decrease.” -Patrick Pichette, Partner at Inovia Capital and former CFO at Google

During the webinar, the panel discussed:

  • Why consumer behavior is shifting and how to address these changes
  • How consumer expectations are accelerating the need for digital transformation
  • How digital fatigue is reinforcing the need for personalization and impacting bill repayment

In the webinar and post-COVID report, Symend explores the underlying perceptions and attitudes behind changing consumer behavior and provides recommendations for how service providers can apply the findings to better engage with their customers. The post-COVID report references an in-depth survey conducted by Symend in July 2021 with 2,000 consumers from the United States and Canada, all of whom have primary or shared responsibility for household bills.

Below are some of the major themes discussed in the webinar on how leading service providers can better support their customers post-COVID.

Technology is empowering consumers and service providers post-COVID

Technology and digital tools empower consumers navigating a post-COVID world. Symend’s in-depth study found that respondents who are behind on bills are nearly twice as likely to indicate that they use the digital tools offered by their provider. Having access to digital tools puts the power back in the hands of the consumer, lessening the feelings of helplessness and lack of control that come with financial uncertainty. In fact, 88% of respondents to a survey conducted by Symend in April 2020 indicated that they used flexible payment options such as deferrals, extensions or arrangements to manage debt due to COVID-19. Feeling in control increases the consumer’s sense of self-agency, known as the ability to control external events through our own actions, thus empowering them to act.

At Symend we believe that when the consumer is empowered, provider-customer relationships get stronger. Resolving past-due bills is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

“What we have found is that people want to talk to humans less and are expecting digital tools. For Inovia, what we see is a no-regret decision to invest in digital tools like Symend which improve the digital customer experience.” -Patrick Pichette, Partner at Inovia Capital and former CFO at Google

The digital paradox: expecting more digital offerings while becoming content saturated

The pandemic has accelerated digital adoption and heightened expectations of providers to offer the digital tools that consumers need. However, the pandemic has created a paradox with increasing levels of digital fatigue, resulting in less engaged consumers who are more likely to ignore communications, while simultaneously expecting more digital tools. Service providers need to adapt their engagement strategies as consumers become more selective in how they choose to spend their time on their devices.

Symend’s Senior Behavioral Scientist, Alison Doyle, PhD, advised that service providers must address these heightened levels of digital fatigue in order to remain connected to their customers. Symend’s survey found that 49% of respondents were experiencing digital fatigue, and 39% of those experiencing digital fatigue are more likely to miss or be late paying a bill than before the pandemic. Providers without a strong digital transformation strategy will likely find that their customers continue to miss or ignore communications and bill payments, regardless of whether they are able to pay them. To mitigate digital fatigue, Symend recommends service providers focus on personalized communications that are highly relevant to the consumer, while providing the digital tools and offerings that they need.

“Behavioral analytics play a large role in artificial intelligence as we want to ensure that all communications are empathetic and personalized to reduce digital fatigue. Overall, we have found that doing more with less helps to avoid fatigue.” -Christain Thilmany, Senior Director of AI Strategy and Industry at Microsoft

Ensuring offerings and communications are highly relevant

Many consumers are expecting their service providers to accelerate their digital offerings to accommodate their needs, while ignoring communications more frequently at the same time. This puts pressure on providers to find effective ways to address these expectations without oversaturating the consumer, while maximizing ROI on digital investments. This is crucial post-COVID as 4-in-10 respondents are likely to leave their provider if they do not offer the digital tools they expect.

“Consumers are savvy, they have learned to navigate this flexible online environment because of COVID-19 and now they have come to expect it. The reality is that if you don’t provide the digital tools another service provider will. When service providers are undergoing digital transformation, it is critical to ensure that it is based on the specific digital tools consumers are expecting.” -Alison Doyle, PhD, Senior Behavioral Scientist at Symend

Symend’s survey found that the digital tools preferred vary based on whether the consumer is behind on bills, demonstrating the importance of offerings that are personalized based on context, and your customer’s unique situation. However, across industries, Symend found that the must-have digital tools and services include online bill-pay and payment arrangements. The panel emphasized the idea that companies should consider how their product offerings can adapt to changing times. Post-COVID can be a great time for companies to rethink their strategies.

The webinar revealed that preparing for the post-COVID future isn’t just possible, it’s crucial. The financial wellness of your customer depends on it. Sign up to download the report and watch the webinar recording.