If in reviewing 2017, you found that your Customer Experience (CX) initiatives fell short, you are not alone. In the recently released paper Predictions 2018: A Year of Reckoning, Forrester Research states that CX became the centerpiece of business strategy as companies adjusted to the experience economy. However, according to Forrester’s 2017 CX Index™, customer experience quality plateaued or declined for most industries and companies. Why?
CX initiatives tackled low-hanging fruit to put early points on the board, and most initiatives had too little influence to force meaningful operational change. Basically, CX became a challenge for the C-Suite to properly implement, leading to a widening gap between customer expectations and the ability for organizations to deliver quality customer service.
Forrester stated that, not only will customer expectations continue to outpace companies’ ability to evolve or invent experiences, they cannot adjust fast enough or well enough. The researchers believe that in 2018, 30 percent of companies will see further declines in CX performance, resulting in a loss of net profit and/or growth. Obviously, this should be a major concern for CEOs of all industries that want to ensure a positive growth trajectory for 2018 and beyond.
Humach president, Sean Charnock, and vice president and general manager, Kelly Uhlrich, have provided insights to support CEOs and their teams who wish to dig into this challenge and ultimately come out on top.
Overcoming the Digital Divide
In the report, Forrester states that 60 percent of executives believe they are behind in digital transformation. With customer expectations leaning toward immediacy and self-sufficiency, this trend poses a problem for CEOs to overcome. According to Charnock, one of the first steps to tackling this challenge is clarifying ownership.
“Customer experience is blurring the lines between departments within organizations. What use to be strictly an IT or marketing issue is now a challenge that crosses over. No one is 100 percent certain of ownership.”
Today’s customer expects everyone in the organization to know that they called yesterday with an issue and whether or not it was resolved. This requires an organization to align all departments around the idea of excellent customer experience.
Do you understand the expectations of today’s customer – or the customer of the future? Learn what they are in the 2020 Customer.
“We have access to significant amounts of data, and customers expect that data to result in positive customer experience,” says Charnock. “Unfortunately, there is a lack of cohesiveness across that data plane that prohibits organizational alignment.”
The key is to align everyone in a cohesive strategy and ensure that the data supports the overall strategy, not just a specific departmental initiative.
“To adopt a philosophy of positive customer experience requires an adjustment to align internal departmental collaboration and ensure that tools and processes are congruent,” says Charnock. “Everyone needs access to ubiquitous data coupled with an overarching strategy of which they play a part.”
Addressing the Empowered Customer
Power has shifted to the customer who desires to have rapid, holistic service from every experience, both online and in person. Many organizations, including Forrester, focus on technology to improve the situation. While Forrester believes that intelligent agents (basically bots that provide information based on data sets of buying patterns) will directly influence 10 percent of purchasing decisions, Charnock recognizes that there are programs and tactics that can and should be used before moving to intelligent agents.
“It goes back to the lack of cohesiveness in the data. Since the intelligence comes from that data, an intelligent agent will only be as successful as the data sets available,” says Charnock. “Our team is able to be successful on behalf of our clients because we are able to resolve issues and identify actual problems while reviewing the data and extrapolating important pieces of information.”
This level of analysis is key to ensuring that the customer receives the level of service desired, not just a bunch of purchasing ideas from a bot.
“We are able to put together data sets that solve real issues. For example, if a customer is upset because they did not receive a notification of something, but when we look into their profile they asked to not be notified, we can adjust the conversation and get the customer back on the path of staying with the company while resolving the issue,” says Charnock. “There are customer retention and revenue accumulation programs that should be implemented before even considering intelligent agents.”
The empowered customer requires an organization to have a full view and does a lot more than just make recommendations based on purchasing history. They want full service, delivered in the manner they desire, at the time they want it. And since they are receiving that level of service from other companies today, there is no reason for them to adjust their thinking. It’s companies that must adjust now to understand what matters most.
“It’s time for CEOs and executives to start viewing customer experience, and consequently contact center support, as a profit center. Then tying the sophisticated contact center team and any appropriate technology initiatives to revenue cycles from both a retention and upsell perspective makes a lot of sense,” says Charnock. “Customers expect that we adjust our thinking so they receive what they want, rather than what is easier for the company to execute.”
Customers May Be Empowered, But They Are Overwhelmed
One of the challenges with continually deploying technology, intelligent or not, to upsell products is the consumer fatigue factor. Forrester predicts that consumers will use intelligent agents to start filtering the noise. They believe that 1 percent of the U.S. population with a spend equivalent of $24 billion will join the AI revolution to cocoon themselves from the noise. Basically, the empowered customer will use technology against companies to minimize the digital clatter.
“As the AI industry continues to grow, contact center agents will need to become more informed as transactions continue to become more complex,” said Uhlrich. “Additionally, companies will need to really focus on implementing the right technology to continue to empower their customers, rather than overwhelm them with information or data they don’t want.”
Uhlrich noted that while it’s interesting to talk about the cool technology, when it comes to investing, that’s a bit different story.
“Systems are tough to change. Therefore, organizations rely on tried and true operational procedures, like focusing on metrics around talk time or scripting conversations. The problem is that those organizations will get left behind, while others like Amazon and Google continue to set expectations. Executives have to decide if customer experience is really a priority, and then make it an organizational initiative, rather than an IT initiative.”
Retail is one industry that is heavily impacted by the empowered customer, which is why finding a way to adopt a friction-free experience is critical for success.
“We know that customer experience coupled with technology works, as Zappos and Amazon demonstrate daily,” said Charnock. “The industry is poised for a major shift where alignment of technology and humans is crucial for success.”
Regardless of the industry, the reality is that successful customer experience programs must be initiated from the top.
It’s a CEO Problem
Just as the data is divided among departments, so is the ownership of customer experience, or at least it was until now.
“It is typical for customer experience to be considered an IT initiative. However, the proper focus and investment of time and budget requires a more strategic approach. It’s not a marketing problem or a technology initiative,” says Uhlrich. “It’s a CEO problem.”
Forrester boldly states that CX has hit a wall and customer expectations will outpace companies’ ability to evolve, resulting in 30 percent of them seeing a further decline in CX in 2018. Smart executives will address it, while others will continue to procrastinate putting their firms at risk in 2019. There would seem to be reasonable evidence that customer experience deserves the executive focus. So why would an organization not make it a priority?
“I believe there is a lack of harmony within an organization across multiple disciplines of the importance and impact of customer experience,” said Charnock. “Additionally, some of the initiatives in the CX space were done without an eye toward the overall impact, resulting in some negative results. Therefore, there is a natural hesitation to spend more, as well as a resistance internally on where those dollars would go.”
The most effective customer experience programs encompass all departments and have a top-down approach with transparency in reporting.
“I have yet to see an organization put together global metrics to track customer experience across all departments,” said Charnock. “There has to be a view that shows how the metrics being reported are beneficial for the overall health of the company. That starts with the CEO so that any silos in reporting and ownership are removed, ensuring that CX is a foundational initiative for the entire company.”