A guide to delighting your customers at every stage of their journey.
Ask any executive about their organization’s top three priorities, and the customer experience will probably be mentioned in every response. In fact, a recent Forrester study found that improving the customer experience is the No. 1 priority for 72 percent of businesses.
The consequences of failing to deliver a positive customer experience are serious. A study from the CMO Council found that a poor customer experience will cause 47 percent of customers to stop doing business with an organization. On the other hand, 81 percent of customers are willing to pay more for excellent service, and companies that are able to deliver generate significantly more revenue than those that do not.
Despite the intense focus on the customer experience, many organizations say they are not achieving the desired results from their CX initiatives. Faced with increasing competitive pressures and escalating customer demands, these organizations launched large-scale strategies that failed to improve service and engagement across the customer journey.
The What and Why of ‘Customer Experience’
Gartner has defined the customer experience as the “perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, systems, channels or products.” In other words, organizations must not only optimize individual interactions with a customer, but create a positive experience across multiple touchpoints over the course of the relationship.
These touchpoints include all of the direct and indirect contacts with the customer before, during and after a transaction. The customer typically initiates direct contacts by calling, sending an email, visiting the organization’s website, using online chat or engaging with social media. For brick-and-mortar businesses, this would also include an in-person visit. Indirect contacts include the customer’s exposure to the organization through social media, advertising, online reviews, etc. Indirect contacts reflect the organization’s culture and the impact of collective experiences on individual customers.
The Temkin Group describes the customer experience more succinctly as “the perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization.” This perception includes three components — success (the degree to which customers can accomplish their goals), effort (how easy or difficult it is to accomplish their goals) and emotion (how each interaction makes customers feel).
Companies that achieve the highest ratings across all three components are in a position to gain the customer’s trust and be forgiven when something goes wrong. Customers are likely to recommend the company, try new products and services, and spend more money. In fact, organizations that improve the customer experience even moderately can increase revenue by more than 27 percent.
Focus on the Contact Center
Although the customer experience involves an organization’s website, social media content, mobile apps and more, the contact center is a natural focus. Organizations need a contact center platform that supports and enables interactions across all communication channels, and uses automation and self-service to streamline the fulfillment of customer requests.
However, many organizations are saddled with legacy contact center solutions that lack the agility to meet ever-changing customer demands. New communication channels are often “bolted on,” creating a disjointed experience that frustrates both agents and customers. In addition, the contact center environment is fragmented, forcing agents to switch between applications and windows to get the information they need to serve customers.
In fact, more than 80 percent of respondents to a 2019 CCW Market Study said that agents have to access multiple screens and systems. Almost 43 percent said that agents are required to spend too much time on repetitive tasks, and 40 percent said that agents lack information on customers who escalate from self-service tools.
By tightly integrating communication channels in a unified architecture, organizations can collect data at each touchpoint and use a single queue to route calls, web chats, emails and other interactions. When the contact center is integrated with CRM software, relevant information about the customer can be pushed to the agent through screen pops, increasing the odds of a first-call resolution.
A cloud-based Contact Center-as-a-Service (CCaaS) solution can give organizations access to the latest applications and tools without a large capital investment. Additionally, CCaaS allows companies to add functionality without a forklift upgrade and scale assets up or down to meet changing demands.
The Role of AI and Analytics
Forward-thinking organizations are also incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies to deliver a differentiated customer experience. AI is broad term for systems capable of performing tasks without being specifically programmed to do so. In the realm of customer experience, AI enables organizations to serve customers efficiently without human intervention, and to analyze large, complex data sets to improve decision-making.
The most visible use of AI in CX initiatives involves AI-based chat-bots. Like Siri, Alexa and other virtual assistants, AI-based chatbots can engage in verbal and written communications with customers and provide basic assistance. Over time, AI systems can “learn” the needs of customers, increasing the accuracy of responses and allowing for the delivery of marketing messages and product recommendations based on the customer’s history and preferences.
Gartner has predicted that 85 percent of all interactions will be managed without humans by 2020. However, chatbots will never replace human agents, and should be able to seamlessly transfer the customer to an agent when the request exceeds the chatbot’s capabilities.
AI can also work behind the scenes, analyzing the mountains of data that are captured and produced by websites, mobile apps and CRM systems. With data analytics, organizations can better understand the needs and preferences of each customer and optimize each interaction.
Customer journey analytics is a specific use case aimed at improving the customer experience as a whole and identifying new opportunities. Analytics tools gather data from a large number of customer interactions across all contact points and communication channels to create a timeline of engagement. This enables organizations to identify sources of friction and take corrective action to improve the customer experience. Organizations also gain insight they can use to better predict customer behavior.
The customer experience can be a true differentiator for companies that are able to consistently meet or exceed expectations. However, many organizations are struggling to develop CX initiatives that deliver real business benefits. Problems arise when organizations focus on improving workflows and individual interactions instead of optimizing engagement across the customer journey.
Modern technology plays an important role in customer experience efforts. A contact center platform that unifies communication channels and integrates key applications can help agents serve customers more effectively. AI-based chatbots and other self-service tools can provide efficient service delivery for basic inquiries but should enable a seamless transfer to a live agent when needed. AI and analytics tools can also be used to mine customer data for insights into improving the customer experience.