Enhancing the customer experience is the most important business issue that boards want IT to work on, for more than half of the CIOs in the recent KPMG CIO Survey. And 91 percent of CIOs believe the way they manage and use customer data will become just as important as products and services for attracting customers.
In fact, customer experience might matter more than price or even the product, says Rajnish Sharma, executive vice president at Teleperformance. “Consumers are looking for frictionless, hassle-free and personalised customer experiences. Businesses need to be available to provide round-the-clock, real-time service — at the consumer’s convenience.”
Customer experience (CX) technology can help with that. Gartner estimates that by 2020, a quarter of customer service interactions will involve some form of AI, John Crossan, EMEA vice president at Zendesk, told CIO.com. “Organizations are already embracing next-generation technologies such as this; those utilising APIs, apps, and integrations are driving efficiency with reduced waiting times by 35 percent.” So far, he notes, only 15 percent of enterprises are using AI for customer experience.
But, as always, you need to focus on the benefits rather than the technologies, warns Forrester principal analyst Jennifer Wise. “Tech-led initiatives can result in pilots that are solutions in search of a problem. Most customers today don’t need a VR application from a brand. Most customers aren’t yet disappointed when a company doesn’t have a voice-experience today. Conversational interfaces help customers who increasingly don’t want to pick up the phone or want to avoid your site’s navigation and shortcut to the answer. Chatbots can deliver fast resolution in these instances, and voice has some hurdles to overcome — but if the R&D budget allows, it’s time to start testing that interaction.”
To find what you should focus on, identify which of your existing services need improvements and look for technologies that can deliver value that addresses those issues. Wise’s list of what customers do want includes:
- Faster problem resolution: A real-time text or voice chatbot can help, if it is trained to know how people articulate problems and connects to that customer’s profile information.
- More intelligent interactions that save customers’ time: This often demands robust data integration and AI-infused interactions, but sometimes simple design fixes will do.
- More information for customers to build confidence in their decisions: This can be created by an augmented reality (AR) feature in a shopping app to see the product within their home prior to purchase.
Chatbots and virtual agents
Chatbots can give you scale, handling simple questions so human agents can focus on complex issues, which are more interesting and keep your staff engaged. Crossan says Zendesk users can handle six times as many requests from customers as their competitors — and resolve these tickets 21 percent faster. In the U.S., Zendesk’s Answer Bot handles between 12 and 16 percent of Dollar Shave Club’s inbound tickets.
“The satisfaction score can be higher for virtual agents because they can be so fast, but they can naturally hand off to humans in the channel experience when it goes past what the agent is capable of solving itself,” suggests Charles Lamanna, general manager for Microsoft’s business application platform.
But to succeed, chatbots and virtual agents need to be readily accessible for customers at scale. “It needs to be somewhere customers will already go because they won’t go and look for a chatbot,” Lamanna adds. “You have a find a way to deliver it naturally as part of a customer experience.”
Omnichannel is a strategy for reaching customers through a range of experiences, whether that’s in store, on their mobile devices, on the web, or elsewhere. But it’s not just for marketing. Customers want companies to be available whenever and wherever they like, for support and purchasing as well.
In retail, Wise notes, “customers are looking for in-store pick-up options, correct inventory counts for stores, and more.” Retailers with omnichannel strategies retain an average of 89 percent of their customers, according to Teleperformance.
“By connecting phone support with digital channels, self-service and bots — and embedding these all within a single messaging thread — customers can have an ongoing conversation with brands at their convenience, and have their context follow them so that the agent has all the information necessary to jump right in and resolve the issue at hand as efficiently as possible,” notes Helpshift CEO Linda Crawford.
Social media is an important platform for customer experience these days, for marketing, for support and for general awareness. “It’s good to understand how your company is being perceived and how your competitors are being perceived on social media and in the news,” Lamanna suggests.
Part of that is monitoring posts, tracking keywords and using sentiment analysis. But you can also automate approval of online responses with tools for social media managers. “You need to bring some rigor to the process,” he says. “For most companies, before they can make a comment to the press it has to be approved by two people; if you talk to someone on Twitter, they don’t have that same process.”
Whether your customer support is done face to face, over the phone or in person, customers want their problem solved with as little effort as possible and they’ll reward you for that. Getting transferred to one agent after another, being told to go to a store when they called you (or to call you when they sent an email), getting generic information that doesn’t solve their problem, getting the same unhelpful information over and over again and having to contact you multiple times to get their problem solved: that’s a ‘high-effort’ experience that will make 96 percent of customers turn to the competition and badmouth you to friends and family, according to Gartner.
“Customers don’t want to have to repeat themselves every time they’re transferred to a different individual or department,” says Zendesk’s Crossan. “For CIOs, it’s important to identify how silos across a business and departments can be broken down in order to achieve that single customer view and a seamless support experience.”
That means connecting line of business systems such as ERP and ordering with CRM and your customer loyalty programs. Some Dynamics 365 customers have more than 30 system integrations feeding into their chatbots. “Your chatbot is only going to be as good as the knowledge it possesses, points out Lamanna.
You need to have a 360-degree view of your customers. “It allows you to do smarter segmentation, to be informed about what products they have purchased, what their history is with you and you can use that to drive a programmatic experience inside your digital products,” Lamanna suggests.
Tivoli amusement park in Copenhagen, for example, uses Dynamics to track everything from the cup of coffee you buy in the park to how many times you visit and what rides you go on to predict whether you’re likely to renew your annual pass — and offer you discounts and rewards to get you to come back.
We’re entering an age in which vast volumes of customer, and even prospect, behavioral data is becoming available. “CIOs, and their CXO colleagues, must use these patterns and insights to learn about customers and predict what they will want even before those needs are expressed or asked for,” says Mark Grilli, vice president of product marketing for Document Cloud at Adobe.
“Organizations need to use AI and machine learning to get smarter about the customer, so that they can offer more intelligent, personalized experiences,” agrees Wise.
For direct-to-consumer companies, mobile apps are key. “If you do any commerce with customers directly or any direct customer support, you need a mobile app,” Lamanna says.
But even customers who would never buy your products on their phone might use an app with augmented reality to explore your products before buying. Malibu Boats has an app that enables you to walk around a boat in 3D space using your phone.
Even if AR doesn’t fit your business, you don’t have to limit mobile to text and voice interactions. Use image recognition and OCR so customers can send you photos showing the problem they’re having, or even of forms and documents you need to help them.
Connect CX to business systems
“The top CX tech isn’t always obviously CX tech or point channel tech,” notes Dion Hinchcliffe, vice president of Constellation Research. Customer data platforms, for example, can help organizations get a handle on their customer data.
Half of the enterprises in the Arm Treasure Data State of the Customer Journey struggle to get insights from their marketing data because it’s stuck in siloes and don’t know if they’re sending the right message at the right time. Nearly half aren’t even tracking what marketing actually works.
Here, machine learning-powered analytics can help. “I expect companies to leverage advanced AI and ML tools to start digging deeper into how customers are actually using their applications across channels and determine patterns that lead to successful conversion,” says Gavin Johnson, principal solutions marketing manager at New Relic. “Visualizing the entire journey map ‘story’ will help teams to enhance the experience for other customers.”
But don’t forget your internal employee experience: If employees are stuck with slow, bureaucratic paper processes it’s going to be hard to deliver a seamless and delightful customer experience. Whether it’s tying internal training to customer scenarios or putting in an enterprise social network so product and support staff can communicate better, internal business systems need to align with CX technology.
Automation and instrumentation
To make technologies such as chatbots, omnichannel and data integration work, you need automation. “Ask yourself what can be automated to create more consistent outcomes, and also offload redundant work internally,” suggests Wise.
Tracking the integration of systems is also key, says Johnson. “Executives are increasingly relying on CIOs and their teams to utilize digital channels to drive revenue. CIOs need to demonstrate the connection between IT-delivered applications and services and business outcomes. This pressure has pivoted organizational focus to gaining end-to-end visibility for reducing escalations and customer churn — as well as bridging the ‘gap’ between what companies perceive their customer journeys to be, and what actually happens. Hence, ensuring that machine data from customer journeys can be instrumented is fundamental to bridging the dangerous ‘gap’ between the expected customer journey and reality.”
As much as you want to know who your customers are and what they want, you also need to be able to secure those identities and that personally identifiable information. Services such as Okta and Azure AD B2C can help manage customer accounts and offer everything from password resets to multifactor authentication.
Even though younger customers are calling for increased personalization, they’re also the most concerned about their data being misused, Curran notes. In the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Benchmark Report “around a third of millennials and Gen-Z respondents weren’t comfortable with companies having access to their data”.
Don’t forget the details that make a difference, such as the words customers see and hear when they visit a support page or call an agent. It’s vital to carefully craft the voice and tone of everything a customer sees, reads and hears from your company, including support documentation. Does the way you tell users about new features explain the benefits clearly or does it rely on insider jargon that only makes sense inside your own organization?
Make sure that the developers working on your CX systems either have access to user experience experts or at least get training to make sure the customer experience across different channels sends the right message.