2019 served as a wake-up call for companies that failed to progress with transformative customer experience improvements. Changes in passive consumerism eradicated a record number of household names and hundreds of U.S. retailers announced plans to shut over 9,300 locations—up 50% from 2018.
The battle for customer loyalty has shifted from physical to digital. From products and services to experiences and accessibility. Companies must connect with each customer in ways that feel convenient, useful, and natural—at any time, on any channel. Research shows 75% of customers said they expect assistance within five minutes of contacting a brand (Mckinsey), and only 10% of customers are willing to wait longer (Genesys). This makes delivering fast, personalized and exceptional experiences a top business priority—but that doesn’t just happen overnight.
While customer experience is a widely recognized fundamental for success, many organizations are struggling to translate this concept into operational reality.
According to Forrester, the majority of organizations (56%) are attempting, but the level of investment and ambition is insufficient when unifying functional business areas for purposes of improving customer experience. Whether it’s due to size, limited resources, or lack of time or alignment, companies are failing to adapt to shifting consumer expectations, as is evidenced by the recent brick and mortar decline.
Why Are Companies Failing to Adapt?
To achieve success from digital transformation with customer experience, effective technology is critical. While a symbiotic relationship between the functional areas of business and customer experience is essential—it’s also notoriously fragmented. The build-up of outdated data, systems, or disjointed technology solutions solely dedicated to hastily plugging gaps or addressing an influx to expectations were tolerable in the past but have proven detrimental in the current consumer climate.
With nearly 7,000 solutions from over 6,000 providers, it isn’t surprising that the scene remains fragmented. Almost two-thirds (64%) of organizations either have ‘little to no cloud-based technology’ (18%) or base activities on a ‘fragmented approach with inconsistent integrations between technologies’ (46%) (Chiefmartec.com).
Research shows that the right technology plays a critical role in developing successful customer experiences. Companies ranked as CX leaders are four-and-a-half times more likely to have a highly integrated, cloud-based technology stack than their peers (32% vs. 7%). (Chiefmartec.com).
CX leaders view customer data as a valuable and critical competitive asset—with care and respect to privacy—and use it to drive growth through better experiences. Other businesses tangled in functional silos and standalone solutions have experienced difficulties when data isn’t properly circulated. In the presence of a divided organization, the true voice of the customer is impossible to hear.
Clive Grinyer, a consultant and former head of design at Barclays and Orange, said that many organizations are missing an opportunity: “Usually organizations are very good at collecting data and they’re not very good at doing anything with it. They’re very bad at converting information into knowledge and wisdom, and moving that into design actions that make companies respond better and find new opportunities to innovate”.
Restructuring business around the customer is highly complex and can take more time and resources to achieve than expected. Many organizations prioritize the transformation to a customer-centric model but accomplishing this requires significant investment. Addressing bottlenecks like platform incompatibility, organizational silos, and brand safety must be a constant priority. Employing the right people, investing in the right technology and enabling better cross-departmental collaboration is key.
Customer Journey Management
The path to better, more personalized experiences rests solely on the ability to reduce friction throughout the customer journey. Understanding the steps taken by each customer is critical to delivering better customer experiences and is a top digital-related priority for successful organizations.
The relationship between customer journey management and technology innovation must be fueled by data-driven decisions. Data insight helps businesses unlock the complexity of customer journeys to determine the experience that customers require. Technology tools and solutions help businesses deliver that experience. Without data-driven technology solutions, all investments made to improve the customer experience will be speculative and risky.
This means business leaders must look ahead and plan for the future, not just keeping an eye on technology trends, but maintaining a sufficient budget for innovation and experimentation.
Design Thinkers & Role Management
As we enter 2020, it’s a universal fact that businesses require more than a competitive price and a good product to be successful. It takes a universal commitment to differentiate with agile decision-making, experimentation, and innovation. However, according to CXPA, 61% of CX execs say their company’s ability to quickly adapt is a top strategic priority, while nearly a quarter of these organizations have no one dedicated to these efforts”.
While data-fueled journey management and technology are becoming more vital for successful CX plans, excellence in data cannot compensate for sub-standard design. Paul Hagen, head of Customer Experience & Innovation Strategy at West Monroe Partners says, “on the strategy side, some Chief Customer Experience Officers are coming into their jobs without training on design thinking. CEOs are giving lip service to CX, without really understanding what it means”.
Businesses must have creative individuals and thought leaders appointed to focus primarily on blending physical and digital experiences to find holes, bridge gaps, and make strategic decisions on behalf of the customer. A customer’s experience is so much more than an easy checkout or brief wait time—it’s also the little things like fewer touch-points, less input fields in the checkout process, architecting information to help guide purchasing decisions, and user-friendly website animation. Customers remember the little things.
Digital-first active wear company, Fabletics, used their organization’s design thinkers to create their own POS system for their new retail locations. The system, called OmniShop, allows Fabletics to track the conversion of every item from dressing room to purchase. Co-founder, Kate Hudson says: “From a creative perspective, it allows the design team to actually test out new things in a way that creates less waste. We know when we test something, we know exactly what that buy is going to be”.
Design thinkers use empathy to deliver unique, creative elements that differentiate a brand’s customer experience from its competitors. And, when combined with better use of data – enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning – these individuals will only continue to increase the design and delivery of successful customer experiences. The right technology solutions help them work more efficiently by saving time on repetitive, time-consuming tasks.
1. Keep driving the customer-centric agenda
When it comes to business, complacency is the gateway to failure, even for advanced companies. Consumer expectations will only continue to grow.
The key to successful customer experience is creating and maintaining a universal transparency that’s company wide. Leadership buy-ins are essential to ensure all functional areas are working together. Creating a customer-centric culture will empower both customer-facing and back-office roles to make better decisions that will produce better experiences.
2. Fight for integrated CX
A strong foundation of well-integrated customer experience is required to collect and utilize customer data and maximize competitive advantage. Focus on communication and transparency by replacing siloed, singular department solutions with open-platform technologies. Organizations can waste huge amounts of time and resources trying to integrate incompatible solutions, technologies, and platforms—something that’s much easier when they invest in a unified technology solution from the start.
3. Leverage customer data
Data and analytics have grown from passive, hindsight reports to become intelligent illustrations for predictive and prescriptive one-to-one customer experiences. Avoid the hassle of outdated reporting and implement a real-time customer data dashboard that’s accessible to all functional areas. Focus on collecting the right data from primary touch points and implementing the necessary technology solutions to ensure the right interaction occurs at the right time.
4. Don’t divide the data
Data is a game-changing asset when properly collected and utilized but, it’s most powerful when it’s socialized and distributed to all departments without restrictions.
Reduce the stress caused by silos and breakdowns in communication by choosing neutral and open-platform technologies for digital analytics.
5. Educate your organization about the possibilities of AI
Research shows artificial intelligence plays a key role in the success of leading CX organizations. These companies understand that AI allows for better, more agile decision-making based on real-time customer behavior.
Focus on implementing AI to reduce manual tasks that consume the time and resources of your team. Properly deployed AI and automation will allow them to get back to doing work that creates real value.
Leadership should prioritize the use of AI and design thinking and invest in understanding how further AI-driven automation of both internal and customer-facing processes can help to impact all areas of business.