It’s news to no one that today the consumer expects more – to know more, discover more, have more choice and experience nothing short of simplicity in getting what they need, when they need it. The trouble is, for businesses, if you don’t meet expectations and create fast, utterly seamless experiences then your customers will go elsewhere quicker than you can say ‘Amazon Prime’.
The companies who deliver great customer experience set the bar high, but even with a visible understanding of what needs to be achieved, most are missing the mark spectacularly. Forrester’s Global Customer Experience Index continues to find that most companies are rated as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ year on year. Even those scoring ‘good’ in 2017 either fell in 2018 or didn’t improve. It makes bleak reading. Perhaps these businesses are asking themselves the wrong question: instead of “what do our customers want?”, it’s time to ask, “what will our customers want?”
Years ago, this was an impossible ask, but today there’s no need to wait for miracles, magic lamps or have the ability to read minds. We have data and, moreover, we have the technology to interpret that data to create fast, actionable insights. Crucially, to use this data there is no requirement for the arduous installation of expensive equipment. Instead businesses are looking to automate and act using a combination of data processing algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things – it’s the great leap forward into a fast, personalised service and the ability to quickly understand and predict need across the customer journey.
Netflix realised the importance of this early on and created intelligent algorithms to predict and recommend what customers might want to watch next. In stark contrast, Blockbuster ignored customers’ changing viewing habits and took no action amidst wider industry disruption. It was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2010.
It’s time to ask, what will our customers want?
We often hear the ideal customer experience (or ‘CX’) being referred to as ‘frictionless’, but all this really means is that it takes as little effort as possible for the customer to spend money – and be left satisfied and with a positive view of the brand. It’s something of an art form, as, conversely, what feels like no trouble at all for the customer is actually the result of incredibly complex processes. Today there are so many potential touch points between customer and business that manual management of them all is not only increasingly ineffective, but inefficient and has the potential for unnecessary and costly errors. It seems logical that a certain amount of automation should be put in place. At the very least, it saves time.
However, there is an element of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. The better and more seamless the customer experience becomes for the winners; the more customers expect from everyone else and the bar doesn’t stay static for long. Automated responses, for example, are now a source of endless frustration for consumers, as they can only be programmed to handle a limited number of scenarios. So, the next brave new world in enhancing the customer experience comes in applying intelligence to automation – also known as Robotic Process Automation – has all the benefits of automation, but with the added ability to act, analyse and act again, learning and adapting to the customer response. In the real world this means that when a customer contacts a business, no matter what form that takes, the automated system evaluates that contact and selects the appropriate interaction based on what’s happened in the past – the more data is available, the better the interaction – and eventually every touchpoint becomes personalised to that customer. In the case of Netflix, personalisation can become so sophisticated that the recommendation comes ahead of the intention.
Great, seamless experiences are nothing without speed. Today’s customer can become an ex-customer in a tap, so businesses have to move even faster. When customers need help, they expect a response within the hour and will take to multiple social channels to leapfrog livechats, call centres and emails. Working in real time is critical to CX success. Interestingly, this translates really well to bricks and mortar retail, where geo-fencing is giving shoppers targeted discounts or relevant ads as they move around or pass a store. Sounds slightly ‘Blade Runner’, but the reality is that the majority of customers find it useful.
The world may seem to be changing rapidly, but some fundamentals remain and the need to create great and positive customer experiences is one of them. Businesses cannot afford to be passive, that much is obvious, but in the past the competition would always win out as long as they were slightly ahead of the next best thing. No longer. It’s not enough to be in line with the needs of the customer – you need to be ahead, and technology is the key. A considered combination of automation and AI in an IoT driven world will speak volumes for your business without saying a word.