It’s an understatement to say that 2020 has been a year for the books. The ways we work, shop, learn, communicate, and celebrate have all been completely transformed.

While that could be a reason to batten the hatches and scale back, we found that most companies aren’t forgoing initiatives to improve their customer experience. They’re accelerating them. A staggering 97% say the pandemic has sped up digital acceleration for their company by 6 years.

Where are they investing? How are they keeping customers engaged despite the obstacles we’ve all faced this year?

We were eager to find out at SIGNAL 2020, Twilio’s annual developer and customer conference. Because we’ve been working remotely since March with our offices shuttered and travel halted, it was a natural conclusion that our conference would be virtual, too. Fortunately, the move to a virtual event didn’t stop industry-leading companies from coming to speak about how they’re facing the challenges of 2020 head on.

What we discovered is that customer engagement innovation looks different at every company. Some are going back to the basics to create an efficient, well-oiled customer engagement machine. Others have transformed the service you’d normally find at physical storefronts into digital experiences, and yet others are exploring uncharted territory to provide customers with even more convenience.

Vivino starts with a strong foundation to improve engagement

When you think about customer engagement, you might not think about deliverability.

It sounds too basic, but getting messages to customers is the first thing you can do to improve your customer engagement.

The truth is that a lot has to go right for your email or SMS message to land in recipients’ hands after you hit ‘send.’ But if you start with the right foundation for your customer communications and know that your messages actually reach customers, your programs will have a bigger impact.

So when the popular wine recommendation app, Vivino, came to us with email engagement issues, deliverability was the first place our team at Twilio SendGrid team looked.

In our SIGNAL session on how to “Drive Customer Engagement with Email,” Product Marketing Manager Madison Springgate and Product Manager Scott Kawai outlined how we helped Vivino rebound.

After digging into the issue, it became clear that deliverability was in fact the root cause of Vivino’s lower engagement numbers. Their messages weren’t reaching recipients on time or at all. Customers never even had an opportunity to open, read, or interact with the content that Vivino worked hard to create.

But once we got them set up on our platform with the right infrastructure, authentication, and sender reputation, their delivery rates improved.

Now, Vivino’s messages are landing in recipients’ inboxes reliably and on time. Customers get the custom wine recommendations and exclusive promotional offers they signed up for—and they’re engaging with them.

Vivino reports that their open rate increased from 14% to 35%.

Vivino reports that their open rate increased from 14% to 35%, and despite being in a global pandemic, they’ve experienced a 162% increase in merchandise sales since COVID-19 hit the United States.

Seeing open rates double and sales increase are two great indicators that Vivino is effectively keeping customers engaged. But there’s an underlying benefit to slaying the deliverability beast first. Now that they know most of their emails are reaching customers, they have an opportunity to collect more accurate results about what recipients engage with and what they ignore. That data can ultimately shape their customer engagement strategy by identifying which approaches to scale up and which to scale back.

Standard Chartered Bank brings offline activities online

The pandemic has been a forcing factor for brick-and-mortar businesses to get online. But getting services online is just the start. The real work is bringing customer activities into the digital realm in a way that feels just as useful and engaging.

During SIGNAL, we heard from Standard Chartered Bank, which is paving the way with innovative experiences that make ordinary tasks even more convenient.

In the session, “How Standard Chartered Bank Transforms Real-Time Customer Engagement at Global Scale,” Su-Ren Neo, Twilio’s Head of Marketing for Asia Pacific and Japan, interviewed Alan Chew, Head of Technology at Standard Chartered Bank.

Standard Chartered was forced to temporarily close branches during the pandemic. In the absence of in-person experiences, the bank had to find a new way to serve customers across 30 countries. The answer was to turn to mobile and online banking.

Now, a process that once took days to complete can be done in minutes.

But Standard Chartered didn’t want to settle for the average mobile banking experience—they wanted to build digital banking services that rivaled what you’d expect from leading tech companies, like Facebook and Apple.

They started with one of the most important services in banking: account setup. They took the typically time-consuming, in-person process—identity verification and all—and made it as fast and easy as creating a social media account. The bank introduced the ability to take photo and video selfies, scan ID cards, and compare documents to reduce the onboarding timeline. Now, a process that once took days to complete can be done in minutes.

Standard Chartered is also challenging the status quo when it comes to customer communications.

When you need banking help, you typically have to go into a branch or call a customer service line. But, that process can be inconvenient. They decided to give clients more options by engineering a live chat service that routes customers through a chatbot or an agent. Standard Chartered also added SMS, email, and video chat support with relationship managers for priority customers.

According to Chew, the ultimate win is that customers are becoming more confident using digital services for complex transactions. Customers’ familiarity with technology enables Standard Chartered Bank to engage more people and help them manage their money, no matter where they are.

Even if you don’t have the resources to reinvent how customers interact with your business, you can bring your customer experience online in an engaging way.

Think about expanding the way customers reach you. By supporting conversational channels like chat, SMS, or WhatsApp, you can provide convenient new options. Or, consider ways to improve the customer experience by taking processes that are time consuming or difficult and making them easy.

If you’re curious to see how other companies are redefining customer support during COVID, you can see our collection of stories here.

HubSpot adopts new channel to meet customers where they are

Behaviors have shifted significantly in 2020. Where customers once preferred face-to-face service, they now reach for their phones to request contactless assistance, place an order, or chat with a customer service agent.

Perhaps because people are using personal phones for more consumer interactions, they’re warming up to the idea of interacting with businesses on channels that were previously reserved for personal use, like WhatsApp.

In a session on “Scaling your Customer Engagement on WhatsApp,” we explored why some businesses are seeing impressive results with channels that don’t typically fit in the marketing stack.

HubSpot is one of these examples. As the leader in inbound marketing, HubSpot is no stranger to innovative marketing and customer engagement.

Yet, Connor Cirillo, Head of Conversational Marketing at HubSpot, was surprised when he heard that some employees were using WhatsApp on their own devices to interact with international customers. While he admired the bootstrap operation and thought it was an idea worth exploring, he didn’t want to lose track of those conversations or how they fit into the broader customer experience.

So, Cirillo leveraged Twilio to spin up WhatsApp messaging for his team. He first wanted to see if it would prove out as a valuable communication channel. Because HubSpot didn’t have to build out the architecture internally, it was easy to test the idea to see if it would be a valuable channel for customers at scale.

To determine if it was a success, Cirillo measured WhatsApp against an existing channel, on-site chat. HubSpot wanted to know if WhatsApp conversations could really turn into business opportunities at the same rate. He measured this by the percent of conversations that became customers, customer lifetime value, and close rates.

By the end of the experiment, WhatsApp did in fact prove to be a success, and HubSpot now supports it as an official customer engagement channel. Now employees have a better option for reaching international (and domestic) customers on the popular messaging app.

HubSpot’s story is just one example of how organizations are challenging the traditional way of thinking. They’re looking beyond the way they’ve always handled communications to “meet customers where they are” and give them the most convenient ways to ask for help.

Developers and marketers at any business can do the same by first identifying channels they haven’t tried before. Not sure where to start? Turn to employees for ideas, like HubSpot did. Or, survey your customers to find out if they’d rather hear from you via SMS, email, WhatsApp, phone calls, chat, etc. Then, test it out. Create a timeline and make a plan for measurement so you can determine if it was a successful customer engagement experiment that can truly scale.

Ready to learn more?

SIGNAL 2020 just wrapped, but it’s not too early to start planning for next year’s event (which will take place October 20-21). Register here to save a spot and get a front-row seat to hear how the most innovative brands are thinking about customer engagement.

Or, you can keep reading our latest research in our COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report and our 2019 Email Benchmark and Engagement Study.



Lauren Kaye
Lauren is a Website Writer at Twilio SendGrid where she writes and edits content for SendGrid.com. After working as a Marketing Editor for an agency on the East Coast, a Sr. Copywriter for a travel brand, and an English teacher in Spain, she loves the challenge of writing about Twilio SendGrid’s innovative communications platform.