The customer is king. And it’s clear that customer experience strategies are a driving force behind digital transformation efforts. In fact, 72 per cent of businesses say that improving this experience is the top priority, and many organisations are turning to technology to get there. Successful companies are implementing the right mix of technology and customer service processes to address customer pain points and cultivate brand loyalty, but the road to digital transformation is not without snags.
Organisations are rapidly adopting new technologies, putting the customer experience in a precarious position. It’s at a breaking point; yet many won’t realise it until it’s too late. By focusing so intently on communication channels or technology, companies risk forgetting the very core of the customer experience: people.
In a technology-driven world, the top priority should still be creating a relationship between the brand and individual customer, and that simply cannot be done by solely relying on the latest and greatest solutions.
The race to the breaking point
Artificial intelligence (AI), voice search, and chatbots are top of mind for organisations to give customers that “anytime, anywhere” service they demand. By 2020, it’s estimated that 80 per cent of businesses will use chatbots to communicate with customers and AI is predicted to be a $5 billion dollar market, up from $420 million in 2014. Fidelity Lab’s Zero UI voice-activated customer service system goes far beyond simple recognition, and it eventually seeks to use AI and machine learning to answer contextual questions from customers. All of this points to the fact that organisations are adopting, investing and will increasingly rely on technology to service customers. However, it’s an adoption race that is driven by hype, and companies can’t afford to dehumanise customer interactions.
According to a recent report Humanity in the Machine, customers are open to interacting with chatbots, but 61 per cent agree that it’s even more frustrating if a bot can’t solve an issue, and 79 per cent want the reassurance of knowing that a human is readily available, if needed. Given the fact that contact centre call volume is up by 39 per cent in just the past 18 months, it’s clear that automation is not replacing the need for humans. It’s making humans more important than ever in an increasingly digital world.
The omnichannel struggle
This year alone, the number of customer communication channels is expected to grow from nine to 11, and that doesn’t include the number of connected devices that are infiltrating the market. From smart appliances to cars, and watches to kiosks, businesses are in the position of playing catch up to meet customers wherever they are. The result is fragmented technology that often fails to deliver consistent, personalised results.
And there’s another challenge that arises from the expansion of channels. Marketing traditionally owns the customer experience and therefore the technology budget. According to Gartner’s most recent CMO Spend Survey, 27 per cent of the total marketing budget is now focused on technology, and 40 per cent of marketers believe that automation technologies will benefit the overall customer experience. Not only is this financial shift creating a purchasing powerhouse outside of traditional IT, it’s contributing to the already fragmented technology landscape within an organisation. The result is that companies struggle to tie their technology together to build the experience customers want.
Technology as an enabler, not a solution
To be successful in digital transformation efforts, it’s important to have the right mix of new technology and traditional solutions in order to maintain the human touch. Just because technology exists doesn’t make it effective, and the first priority to avoiding the breaking point is to take a step back and consider the benefits before jumping in and implementing anything new. During the planning period, it’s important for organisations to embrace customer-centric philosophies to drive loyalty and stay competitive. If not, they risk becoming one of the brands losing a collective $62 billion in revenue that is lost every year due to a poor customer experience.
So how can organisations still leverage new technology while offering customers a personalised experience? First, determine how these new solutions will create a positive impact for customers, and second, how it ties into the overall customer journey. Third, companies must continue to work people into the customer experience equation and have a specific and strategic place for the employees who are interacting with customers every single day. By looking at technology as a tool to empower and enable those teams of customer service representatives, organisations can avoid the breaking point and meet customer expectations every single time.
Keeping the human in the experience
Keeping the human touch in the customer experience is critical to success, and if marketing and IT join forces they can achieve this goal. These two departments must work together to gain a firm understanding of the customer journey and then implement effective solutions that give customers quick access to the answers they need. This also includes making humans readily available to address more complex needs.
For example, automation technology may be a great first point of contact, but it should only be viewed as a first step in the customer journey. This technology must be backed by the right team of contact centre agents who are equipped to answer even the most difficult of inquiries. This often requires a mentality reset, and it’s important for companies to rethink agent requirements and skillsets. However, if customers are met by a team of experts who are highly-trained, empowered and relatable, it can help brands find the perfect balance between technology and the human touch.
In addition, by using the right speech analytics technology, conversations can be quickly analysed in order to understand what customers want, how teams can be better trained and which solutions should be implemented. Only then can companies continue to empower the teams of people who can make or break the customer experience. Human interaction is critical to customer experience success, and the organisations that find the right balance of tools, technology and people will be the ones that cultivate the right journey that keeps customers coming back for more.
Kris McKenzie, Senior Vice President and General Manager for EMEA, Calabrio
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