2018 has indeed been a tough year for South African businesses. Many organisations have faced closing their doors or reinventing themselves in order to remain in business.
Now more than ever, companies need to differentiate themselves, and the most viable way to do this is through reorganisation around customers and their needs. A holistic and strategic approach to Customer Experience (CX) provides a reliable platform off which to build differentiated experiences, to improve customer satisfaction and to ensure success for a company despite the challenging economic environment.
Moving into 2019, many of the CX trends we commented on during 2018 are still very much relevant. These include an evolution of understanding that CX is about much more than service – that its considerations extend beyond the customer journey to all parts of the company ecosystem. At the same time, emerging technologies will play an increasingly important role, adding value to the customer experience while producing useful information. It is crucial to know your market as intimately as possible in order to design the right experience for customers and set yourself apart.
With these points in mind, here are some further observations and predictions for CX in 2019 and beyond.
1. Data will increasingly fuel an organisation’s ability to gain deep insights into their customers and enable personalised experiences.
We have so many sources of data, available internally and externally, both solicited and unsolicited – and their number is growing due to the integration of technologies, like AI and the Internet of Things, into business processes. The challenge remains: how do we leverage this data to give us those unique, actionable insights that will enable us to deliver personal and differentiated experiences for our customers? To avoid being paralysed by information overload, always remember that data is there to improve the way a company interacts with and delivers solutions to its customers, by placing their needs and definitions of success first.
2. Culture transformations will succeed or fail based on the strength of leadership commitment.
CX transformations are not easy or fast. To get them right typically requires a fundamental alteration of the organisation’s DNA. This involves bravely reviewing ways of work, changing organisational structure to drive cross-functional collaboration, different leadership decisions and prioritisation. Strong servant leadership will likely come to the fore in businesses going through this process as it effectively demonstrates desired customer-led behaviours daily and highlights colleague success stories.
3. Employee Experience will become a Customer Experience imperative.
Connected with culture transformation at a business, Employee Experience has become increasingly synonymous with CX. We’ve known for some time that there is a strong link between happy and engaged employees and good customer experience. Therefore, organisations are increasingly applying the same experience design techniques to the employee lifecycle, treating staff as internal customers and key enablers of CX.
According to Forrester, considerations around Employee Experience include mastery (enabling employees to master the appropriate skills to deliver the right CX); autonomy (empowering employees to deliver the right CX); and purpose (developing an understanding of the role an employee plays in delivering positive outcomes to customers). Focusing on these internal considerations will pay dividends in terms of customer satisfaction.
4. Integration between human and digital engagement will keep being refined.
Initial discussions around the adoption of digital self-service channels tended towards the digital extreme, promising significant operational cost savings while stoking fears that workers will be replaced by AI and robots. General sentiment now seems to indicate a more balanced approach to digital adoption.
Research into the behaviours of digital customers indicates that humans primarily demand ease of engagement. This said, the perception of ease differs depending on the customer’s situation. For example, angry people still want to talk to a person, favouring the telephone over digital channels in that scenario, as reported in the BT whitepaper Chat, tap, talk: Eight trends making customers’ lives easier.
As a result, the high-tech, low-touch model of customer engagement initially touted for the Digital Age is being questioned, with the high-tech, high-touch service model emerging as a good alternative. Its personal yet slick touch is proven to achieve great levels of engagement in an affordable manner.
5. CX Practitioners will be under more pressure to prove return on investment of CX initiatives.
With the initial hype around CX, many executive leaders were willing to put substantial amounts of money into CX transformation within their organisation. However, the challenges around structural and cultural changes were underestimated in these early days and, as a result, many initial CX investments did not bear fruit.
This disappointment has resulted in far more cautious attitudes to funding CX efforts. CX Practitioners will have to sharpen their pencils and build solid business cases for their initiatives going forward. The importance of tracking and reporting on financial benefits throughout implementation of initiatives (and beyond) can also not be overlooked. CX Practitioners will need to drive credibility through everything they do in order to gain credibility and refuel leadership buy-in.
Even with hesitancy, what is most clear is that perceptions have changed among decision-makers, with CX evolving from a “soft and fluffy” concept to a top-line item on the profit and loss statement. It’s a fundamental consideration, and as such requires a purpose-driven approach to Customer Experience Management.
CX transformation must be considered from both an external and internal perspective, and utilise today’s technologies to create an intricate, accurate picture of the customer. Meanwhile, in line with CX’s increasing professional importance, its practitioners must treat measurement as a critical component to show the value of CX initiatives in bringing all-round improvements to an organisation and a seamless experience to the customer.
By Lizette Akker, Customer Experience Management Lead and Associate Partner at IQbusiness