Asia-Pacific’s pandemic recovery continues to ebb between outbreak intervention and easing measures in 2021. For organisations operating in the region, this has made business continuity the biggest challenge to respond to.
What will be key to our resilience? The early adoption of a blended recovery model; the popularity of which does not look likely to ease any time soon.
A blended recovery leverages the time and effort-saving benefits of technology in order to better utilise the strengths of the human touch. Rather than automating out workers, it empowers people to better flex their skills and critical thinking, making customer engagement just that bit more engaging.
When Twilio asked leaders across the world how they were navigating their way out of the pandemic, we found four trends that set APAC truly apart. These insights offer a window to fresh opportunities, which can be leveraged to both inform and catalyse digital strategies organisation-wide.
The value of well-executed digital transformation
In 2018, unyielding corporate culture and its impact on strategy was identified as the greatest obstacle to digital transformation. Fast forward to now, 41% of APAC leaders identified that the most common barrier to transformation broken by COVID-19 was lack of clear transformation strategy - compared to an average of 36% globally.
In fact, 48% of Singaporean and 47% of Australian businesses cited this as the case. The most significant barrier that 37% of Japanese leaders felt the pandemic helped them overcome? Insufficient budgets - the third-most broken barrier APAC-wide.
This hints at a quiet but significant shift in attitudes within the region. Quality experience now trumps all measurements - including investment. Cost was rated the least important factor in making digital communications decisions; trailing speed, reliability and flexibility.
Prioritising customer engagement over price clearly pays off. Research by EY, released just weeks before last year’s global lockdowns took hold, showed that digital transformation leaders are far more likely to enjoy profit increases compared to digital transformation “laggards”.
For marketers who still need to justify an investment in digital transformation to their organisation, these are all points to drive home. Those who have succeeded in doing so are in good company because APAC businesses have taken this to heart.
Despite a mixed global financial outlook, 79% of companies in APAC increased their spend on digital transformation in 2020, with many intending to build on this investment post-pandemic, or at the very least, maintaining existing budgets.
By using technology to meet customer expectations, organisations can reprioritise working hours to provide additional value in ways only people can - a human touch, meaningful interaction or a truly blended online-to-offline experience.
- Su-Ren Neo, Senior Director of Marketing, Asia Pacific & Japan at Twilio
Virtual meetings set to stay
Even as countries around the region explore safe solutions for business travel, it’s important to acknowledge that how we work has changed. 2020 was a pilot, which proved to business leaders that the virtual office has tangible benefits worth bringing into a post-pandemic world.
Video is likely to remain key to providing a personal experience in a COVID-safe and travel-free medium. An astonishing 99% of APAC organisations reported video as the communication channel that accelerated in growth the most. 57% of respondents believe video conferencing is a more efficient use of company resources, indicating that even if money is no object, great service can still be delivered at a reduced cost.
In particular, Singaporean businesses (and their customers) had a shopping list of wins gained from using video, with over 60% of leaders identifying that video has enabled stronger relationships with customers, used company resources more efficiently and reduced time to resolve customer problems.
On a practical level, marketers who have yet to build up video capabilities need to recognise the urgency of doing so and the benefits to be gained. This establishment of cross-functional collaboration between front-of-house and back-end departments could continue to improve the results for customers, especially as the majority of organisations now rate themselves as more likely to build communications solutions rather than buying a pre-configured one.
Recovery as a complete experience
During the pandemic, APAC businesses faced down fears at every stage of the customer journey - anticipating inability to meet existing customers expectations, loss of competitive edge and loss of customers and revenue had they not digitised customer engagement. These represent the major steps in the customer journey, from discovery to research, sales to loyalty, indicating how extensive the pandemic’s impact may have been.
When planning regional marketing strategies, it’s worth considering the customer touchpoints which would need the most attention. Our data indicated that each APAC market had to keep in view different priorities.
For instance, 46% of Australian businesses were concerned about a loss of revenue, at the conversion point. 48% of Japanese organisations worried about failing to meet customer expectations, impacting retention. Meanwhile, 55% of Singaporeans identified reduced competitiveness, a top of funnel factor, as a source of unease.
By embracing digital, these businesses have been better able to meet customer expectations at each stage of the way. It’s little wonder that, according to the Harvard Business Review, 26% of APAC companies are achieving highly effective digital transformation, compared to a 19% global average.
In Twilio’s own research, we found that customer communications remained core to well-executed digital transformation. Over 80% of APAC leaders ranked digital communications as critical or very important to their survival and expect it to remain integral to future success.
Increased digital engagement enables personalisation at scale
As in-person interactions moved online at light speed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses raced to build new ways to engage customers, communities and constituents.
Digital engagement didn’t just give organisations an avenue to stay afloat, but its touchpoints are giving businesses and marketers better insight into their customers leading to higher customer satisfaction.
Going digital doesn’t equate to being distant. On the contrary, the digital journey presented the marketer with valuable data to better understand their customers, their communications and channels preferences.
Businesses face the challenge of managing the generated flood of customer data from increased interactions and making it actionable for the customer. The process of collecting and making sense of multiple digital touchpoints has always required specialised machine learning engineers and expensive data expertise.
But the businesses that have invested in ways to harness this share that this challenge has also brought them improved ways to engage their customers and raise the level of customer satisfaction.
For instance, in Singapore, 54% of businesses reported better customer experience and 48% experienced higher customer satisfaction. While in Australia, businesses reported more than 35% increases in innovation, customer retention, and positive ROI.
An integrated outlook
How is this digital communication taking place? On average, APAC organisations are planning on adding 3.4 new digital communication channels. Encapsulating the blended approach, businesses are prioritising conversational communication experiences.
34% of leaders are planning to add live chat channels, while 30% are preparing to launch web-based chatbots. While the in-person experience might take longer to return back to normal, businesses are eager to maintain personal touches.
While we should remain cautiously optimistic about the changing conditions we are operating under, business leaders in APAC have clearly struck on a compromise that works - without compromising quality and impact.
As we move further into 2021, we are learning that recovery from the pandemic is not binary. It is critical for leaders to continue to plan and invest for a hybrid future, interweaving digital communications in all aspects of digital strategies. Fortunately, technology now enables businesses plenty of ways to digitise at scale and tools to build bespoke solutions easily.
The reality is, going digital is no longer an option but mandatory for survival. While the forced pivot to digital may have presented new challenges for businesses, it also allows many opportunities to build stronger and more intimate customer relationships with a personalised touch and at a global scale.
Su-Ren Neo is Senior Director of Marketing, Asia Pacific & Japan at Twilio