by Zeus Kerravala

CIOs need to focus on customer experience now

News Analysis
Nov 22, 2017
Digital TransformationIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

A Five9 survey shows customer service experience has overtaken price, product quality and all other factors as the top factor for customers when deciding with whom to do business.

The impact of digital transformation is far reaching and will impact almost every company in every industry vertical. Digital initiatives will also change the way customers interact with businesses. Companies that understand the new competitive dynamics and can adapt quickly, will thrive. Those that can’t will struggle to survive. 

One of biggest changes digitization brings is that customer loyalty will no longer be determined by the lowest prices or even the best products. Instead, customer service experience will be the top factor.

A logical question is “When will this change happen?” I have seen countless studies, including ones by Walker, VisionCritical and Gartner, that have put the word out to CEOs and CIOs that the customer service experience era was coming. Each of those firms said that by 2020, customer experience will overtake everything, including price and product quality as the top brand differentiator.

Given it’s only 2017, it would seem CIOs have some time to put a plan in place and migrate to the right technology. If you’re thinking this, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the customer experience era has arrived. 

Great customer service is mandatory

A study released by cloud contact center vendor Five9, found that great customer service is now the top factor in determining whom customers do business with. The survey of 1,138 U.S.-based respondents investigated the role customer service plays in purchasing decisions and found that 91 percent cited “Great Customer Service” as the top factor, followed closely by Price (90 percent) and Product Quality (85 percent). What was really surprising is the recommendations from friends and peers ranked sixthat 80 percent.

Another telling statistic from the survey is that 76 percent of respondents said they are very unlikely (45 percent) or somewhat unlikely (31 percent) to do business with a company after a poor customer service experience, so cable providers, mobile phone operators and airlines had better watch out!

Voice is still king for customers when communicating with companies

The communications method that respondents preferred was voice across all age demographics. This data point was very surprising given we live in a world where it seems like we are always using chat apps, sending email, tweeting or doing things that aren’t voice. In fact, the death of voice is something that has been widely discussed in contact centers circles for years.

The survey found, however, the communications preferences of the 18-24 age group, more commonly known as millennials are voice (38 percent), chat (23.5 percent), and email (21 percent). As the age groups increase, the preference to voice grows to a peak of 76 percent for the 70-plus age group. 

Chat had a strong showing in all age demographics, except the 70-plus, which suggests that people are ready for chat bots, assuming they work well. I have cautioned many IT leaders regarding the use of chat bots. They are great for issues of low complexity and high repetition, but for other issues, the use of chat bots can actually frustrate workers.

Omni-channel customer experience now a must

The study also highlighted the importance of an omni-channel customer experience.  For those not familiar with the difference between multi- and omni-channel, multi-channel lets customers use the communications channel of their choice. For example, a customer could start an interaction using chat and then enter his or her loyalty number. Then, when the customer can’t resolve the issue, they call in and have to repeat it verbally. With omni-channel, that information is transferred with the call, saving time and lowering frustration. 

The survey asked what the expected time was to solve a support question; 19 percent said five minutes, and 46 percent stated under 15 minutes. That’s nearly two-thirds of the respondent based that expect their issues to be solved in 15 minutes or less. That seems like an impossible task without and omni-channel contact center solution.

The cloud to the rescue

Given we are in the customer service experience era, CIOs are faced with an important decision. What’s the best, most cost-effective, fastest way to upgrade their contact center solution to ensure that the stringent customer requirements are being met so customers don’t bolt to a competitor.

The first option is to go through the process of upgrading the on-premises contact center product, but that can take months, sometimes years. If one actually had until 2020, this might be a perfectly viable strategy. 

The other route is to shift to a cloud-based product that can give the desired functionality today. In my opinion, the cloud is critical to remaining competitively viable into the foreseeable future. The technology industry changes at lightning speed, and CIOs need to start thinking about the role of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and mixed reality and other trends. With a cloud solution, those capabilities are made available as soon as the cloud provider is ready. With an on-premises solution, the business needs to do extensive testing, pilot programs, Q/A testing and other steps. The accelerated pace of the digital era favors the cloud.

There should be no doubt in the minds of business and IT leaders that the customer experience era is here. Great customer service is no longer an option, it’s mandatory to survival in today’s environment when new competitors seem like they are popping up daily. CIOs have a decision to make. Evolve now and leapfrog the competition, or delay and risk falling behind. 

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