2013 was another banner year for self-service in South Africa. We have seen the online market grow in leaps and bounds, with more and more people using their tablets, smartphones and PCs to do everyday transactions rather than standing in queues and waiting on hold for call centre agents.
Visionary companies, meanwhile, have invested heavily in digital channels as a means of managing and optimising the customer experience. They're reaping the rewards in terms of higher customer satisfaction, lower customer care costs, and increased customer loyalty. Here's a few of the trends that we have seen shaping the rise of digital channels over the past year.
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Compared to just three years ago, Internet connectivity in South Africa has improved in leaps and bounds, especially if we're talking about mobile broadband. In every way, the Internet is better today than it was as recently as 2010. Connectivity is cheaper, faster, more reliable and more accessible than ever before.
Third generation GSM networks are pervasive and 4G/LTE deployments by all the major network operators are accelerating, and the prices per megabyte for mobile data are falling all the time.
ISPs have set up their own mobile APNs, allowing them to buy wholesale mobile data and sell it relatively cheaply. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi networks have become ubiquitous across the country meaning that nearly anyone with a modern smartphone can get cheap and fast Web access on the run. The end result is that as companies plan their channel strategies, they can today put digital channels such as the Web, mobile and social right at the heart of their planning. Rewarding customer experiences
It has been long talked about, but we're seeing more and more companies shift from product or service-centric viewpoints to genuine customer-centricity. This is all about embracing the customer experience as a competitive advantage, usually with a heavy focus on leveraging digital channels, sophisticated workflow engines and advanced analytics to delight customers.
The goal is to provide a consistent and transparent customer experience at every touch-point and have systems and processes that are designed to underpin this experience. Businesses are thinking about their customers in a new way, offering rich digital interfaces, rewards programmes, and multichannel service around the clock to keep customers happy.
Rather than chasing customer acquisition at any cost, forward-thinking companies are focusing on offering levels of personalisation and convenience that keep customers coming back. Today's mantras are about share of wallet, retention and being able to charge a premium price. Consolidation sweeps the board
The digital sector is maturing, so it's hardly surprising that we're seeing a new wave of consolidation take place. We're seeing big mergers and acquisitions by the global tech giants - the likes of Salesforce.com, IBM, SAP and Oracle keep digging into their pockets to strengthen their technology platforms.
Web and social media services companies such as Facebook and Google are buying up any companies they see as a potential threat or as a source of hot skills or new technologies. And closer to home, we've seen much consolidation among digital agencies and consultancies.
All of this consolidation activity points to the growing complexity of the digital space. Companies need a broad set of skills to handle the systems integration, business process, strategic and creative aspects of digitising their customer experiences. We can expect this trend to continue this year.