According to Gartner, customer experience (CX) – more than products or solutions – is the new battlefront for business, with 81% of marketers saying that by 2020 they expect to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of CX. However, with customer expectations constantly rising, businesses continue to fall behind. Forrester’s Global Customer Experience Index continues to find that most companies are rated as “poor” or “very poor” year on year. Even the organisations that scored “good” in 2017 either fell in 2018 or didn’t improve. In order to future-proof their business, organisations need to be asking themselves not ‘what do customers want?’ but, ‘what will customers want?’
Technology is key to finding out. Disruptive businesses like Netflix realised this early on and created intelligent algorithms which were able to predict and recommend what customers might want to watch next. In contrast, Blockbuster ignored customers’ changing viewing habits and the wider industry disruption taking place and was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2010. In the past, introducing new technology involved the arduous installation of expensive, on-premise equipment. However, new technologies such as automation, internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are allowing businesses to become more agile and increasingly able to deliver the seamless, personalised and real-time experience that represent the future of CX.
A ‘frictionless’ experience means an effortless one and for a customer today, effortless means being able to interact with a business whenever and however they would like. Businesses delivering a seamless, consistent experience across all communication channels build customer confidence, which is crucial for encouraging loyalty and ensuring retention. But in today’s fast-paced world, a customer journey includes an increasing number of touch-points.
As customer communications become increasingly complex and fragmented, manual management is not only a drain on time-poor businesses, but also leaves them open to unnecessary and costly errors. This reality has made the introduction of automation increasingly crucial.
Incorporating automation into manual processes provides businesses with a wealth of benefits, from increased efficiency and reduced costs, to freeing up employees for more business-critical work.
Despite this, when deployed poorly, one size fits all automated responses can cause frustration. It was found that 37% of consumers who ended a relationship with a business, did so because they were unsatisfied with the interactive voice response on offer. In its basic form, automation runs the risk of alienating customers because it can only leverage structured data, which doesn’t support customers’ individual concerns or complaints.
With the integration of artificial intelligence, automation in customer engagement demonstrates new promise. Intelligent automation systems deconstruct vast amounts of data to automate entire workflows and learn as they go. In the not too distant future, intelligent automation – or Robotic Process Automation – will help organisations to handle unstructured customer data from emails, calls or social media. Ultimately, this means that businesses will be able to easily process customer communications in whatever form they may take and rely on automated systems to analyse and select the appropriate course of action. The resulting automation will drive efficiency and cost saving, whilst ensuring that customers are delivered a flawless experience.
SEB, a major Swedish bank, now uses a virtual assistant called Aida to interact with millions of customers. Aida can also ask callers follow-up questions to solve their problems and is able to analyse a caller’s tone of voice and use that information to provide better service later. Whenever the system can’t resolve an issue, it turns the caller over to a human customer-service representative and then monitors that interaction to learn how to resolve similar problems in the future.
Personalisation has become the ultimate marketing buzzword over the last 5 years, with businesses rhapsodising about its ability to drive revenue and transform loyalty. Whilst being a ‘customer-centric’ business has always been important, it’s become even more tantamount in the digital age where consumers have unlimited access to competing products and services.
However, curating these cultivated experiences requires a very time and resource-intensive process. Businesses must continually track interactions with their brand in order to build a clear view of a customer’s preferences and deliver relevant, personalised offerings.
AI is increasingly being integrated into the future of customer experience thanks to its ability to provide intelligent, data-driven recommendations. Automated systems cannot be programmed to handle every possible customer journey; therefore, the experience will always be limited. In contrast, AI finds patterns in an overwhelming number of data points, makes recommendations and then learns and adapts based on the resulting customer response. A customer entering a website for the first time will have no existing history, but with AI, every click and action is fed in to its algorithms which identifies countless factors to make a recommendation. With every further interaction, the AI will begin to build and strengthen its ability to recommend.
Whilst we are only just starting to see the benefits of AI in customer experience, by 2025 it is expected that 95% of customer interactions will be aided by AI. Businesses can deliver better, more individual experiences in a fraction of the time, to save resources. In turn, this means they can guarantee more accurate, data-driven recommendations that are valued by the customer.
It is predicted that the average response time to customer queries and complaints is about 12 hours, yet customers now expect a response within an hour. As a society we are becoming more immediate. Digital technology and social media have become such an intrinsic part of everyday life that we expect to experience the same real-time communication when we speak to a business, as we do in any other context. This is a huge challenge.
Forrester warns that businesses will lose customer interest if they don’t deliver and refine experiences based on data from real-time engagements. Businesses have to move away from stagnant approaches, like customer surveys, and continually adjust their approach based on each customer interaction.
IoT enabled devices are driving this real-time revolution forward, by offering businesses immediate insight into a customer’s experience with their brand and the opportunity to improve and tailor, before alienating the customer.
In the retail industry, geo-fencing is becoming increasingly important. Stores are equipped with ‘beacons’ which pick up signals from customers mobile devices as they walk past, allowing them to send targeted discounts or ads at the most relevant time. By harnessing data and the opportunity to tap into customer whims, these offers often have a much greater success rate, with research showing that 58% of customers actually find it useful to be sent offers when they’re near shops.
The age of the customer isn’t just a passing phase. Customer experience will continue to make or break a business, so organisations can no longer afford to be passive or reactive. In the past, lengthy implementations limited the ability of businesses to transform in line with their customers. But today, emerging technologies are proving to be the key to getting one step ahead of rapidly evolving customer needs. Automation, AI and IoT provide an exciting opportunity for businesses to invest in the seamless, personalised and real-time experiences that will continue to define CX.
By Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa