Customer experience and the contact center landscape are already in the process of changing dramatically, and change will continue to happen for years to come, according to Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Forrester. One of the biggest impacts on contact centers has been the growth of self-service technology. Instead of calling a company with every question, customers now have a variety of resources available to assist them, including chatbots, mobile apps, customer forums, social media, and more. According to Ian, there are two main takeaways from the growth of this technology:
In response to many of these developments, a growing number of companies are turning towards a concierge approach to customer service. Instead of the traditional tiered approach where simple questions were answered quickly and the more difficult questions were passed on to the experts, many contact centers are following the example of hotel concierges by giving agents the power to follow any question through from start to finish. The concierge approach allows questions to be answered more thoroughly and quickly with better human interaction and is a better fit for more complicated, high-touch customer questions, like what most contact centers are receiving these days. Empowering agents also elevates them in the company and makes them more likely to provide a better customer experience when they are more invested in the company and its customers.
The face of customer service and shopping is definitely changing. As technology continues to grow, companies will be forced to innovate with new ideas to provide a better customer experience. For companies considering adopting new customer service technologies, Ian’s best advice is to start small by testing one area of the technology before expanding it to more applications.
Self-service technology has changed the face of customer experience and can be a great resource for many basic customer questions. By embracing technology and continuing to improve all aspects of the customer experience, companies can see continued growth and success.
It used to take customers a lot of effort to shop around—they had to drive from store to store to compare prices and spend time looking up reviews in books, magazines, and websites. These days, the power has returned to the customers—they can comparison shop, find reviews, and even purchase a competitor’s product from their smart phone while still standing in your store. If your company is operating under the old assumptions that customers don’t have any power, you are set up to fail, according to Harley Manning, vice president and research director at Forrester. To be successful these days, companies must go through a CX transformation by stepping back and looking at how they operate and then finding ways to engage and empower customers. With CX transformation, companies shift their focus to looking outwards and make customers the center of their business.
New technology and social networks provide more ways to create a personalized experience for customers. However, to really have customers at the center of your business, you need to know exactly what they want. Companies can no longer simply start a program or roll out robotic personalization in an attempt to appease customers. Instead of thinking of something to personalize because it will create a great experience, companies should focus on creating a great experience and using personalization as one way to reach that goal. Taking the time to truly understand the customer and to know exactly what they want can help align their needs with the goals of your company.
A major factor in making the transformation successful is getting executives on board. To be effective, executives must be fully engaged and aware of what is happening in their organization. Harley tells the story of a CEO who went undercover to his various stores. At one location, he noticed lots of people were walking out of the store without buying anything and had to walk past an employee smoking outside as they left the store. That employee turned out to be the store manager, who was leaving a bad image in the customers’ minds. By being present and aware, the CEO was able to take ownership of the situation and address the issue from the root cause by improving the hiring and training processes.
However, many executives tend to dismiss customer experience thinking that it doesn’t directly affect their bottom line. In order to get on board with CX transformation and improving customer experience, executives need to see the direct relationship between increased customer experience and a customer’s likelihood to stay with the company, purchase more products, and recommend it to a friend. By putting money and statistics behind customer experience, executives are more likely to see how creating a strong customer experience can have a monetary reward for a company.
Customer experience really comes down to putting the customer first and making their needs the center of the company. By getting everyone on board and staying aware of what is happening both inside and outside the company, you can start to enjoy the fruits of CX transformation and a strong customer experience.
The customer experience is far greater than just what a customer sees when they come into a store or visit a website. According to Peter Horst, former CMO of the Hershey Company, is a person can see it, touch it, hear it, or smell it, then it’s part of the customer experience. From marketing to strategy and everything in between, the customer experience is the totality of the efforts of nearly every branch of an organization. With a clearly defined customer experience ideal, all areas of the company can work to deliver on the goal.
One of the first steps in creating a strong customer experience is to clearly define and understand the target customer. The levers and methods of customer experience vary greatly across companies and industries, especially when comparing B2B and B2C operations, but a clear understanding of the customer is always central to success. It can be tempting for companies to want to reach everyone with their product, but customer experience starts with a targeted core group of customers before expanding to other groups. With a cohesive target audience in mind, companies can then get a clear picture of their customers’ lives, including discovering what they are purchasing and consuming, why they are purchasing certain items, what they want those products to do, and more. The numbers behind sales and customers are important and can come from a variety of sources, but to truly understand a customer, you also need to connect with them emotionally and unite the quantitative data with qualitative understanding.
Putting that customer understanding into practice can be a little tricky, especially at Hershey where direct interaction with customers is limited. Hershey sells the majority of its products to retail stores, who then sell it to customers, which means Hershey often can’t see who is ultimately buying the product and how they are using it. However, as more data becomes available, the company is able to connect the dots to see how various forms of media consumption and marketing drive end results.
No matter if you are selling directly to customers or going through other retailers, the ultimate goal is still the same: to have a high-quality customer experience as the end goal of every aspect of the business. This is often done as various departments work together for the overall goal of the company. At Hershey, a command center that connected the PR team with customer service representatives allowed the company to monitor what people were saying about Hershey is real time and then connect that with customer service insights for a complete view of what is coming in from various sources.
Customer experience should be the North Star for a company and the guiding force that connects everything about a brand. With a targeted effort and customer understanding, brands in all industries can make that happen.
As technology grows and customers gain power to play a bigger role in their shopping and purchasing experiences, businesses must also join in the digital transformation.
According to Vala Afshar, chief digital evangelist at Salesforce, companies need to invest in a CRM (customer relationship management) platform to have a full, 360-degree view of their customers. Without understanding the evolving customer experience, companies won’t be able to stay connected to customers and compete. In today’s technology-driven world, especially as more companies adopt CRMs, the competitive landscape is defined by customer experience. Anything a company can do to improve that experience, including tapping into new technology resources, can make a huge difference to customers and profits.
Vala narrowed it down to three keys brands can use in their digital transformations. The first is personalization—customers want a great experience that meets their needs and answers their questions. Similar to how technology like Spotify knows what music a customer likes, the future of business applications will involve other smart programs that can better understand the customers and create an accurate and personal experience based on their history and preferences. The second digital transformation key is immediacy. The growth of mobile has put everything at our fingertips and made customers demand everything quickly and accurately. Companies must take advantage of CRM technology to be able to monitor customer experience in nearly real time and to be accessible and helpful to customers at any moment on any channel. The third key is intelligence. According to Vala, artificial intelligence is the definitive technology for the 21st century, and we’re just at the beginning of realizing what it can do. Without accurate AI, brands can’t achieve mass personalization at scale.
Digital transformations transition to the brick-and-mortar experience, as well. The lines between a company’s digital and on-site presence are blurring—what really matters to customers is that there is consistency in their experience. A customer should be able to have a very similar experience no matter if they are shopping in person or in store. To ensure that happens, companies should take advantage of digital opportunities within the store and the ability of many programs to unite a customer’s interactions in store and online.
Each customer has a digital path they take on their journey to making a purchase or interacting with a company. Understanding that path is key to creating the ideal customer experience and competing on value and experience. By taking advantage of new CRM software and other digital resources, companies can transform the customer experience and take it to the next, forward-thinking level.