Kerry Thomas, Head of Customer Experience Management at IQbusiness South Africa, tells Intelligent CIO how the customer experience is benefiting from technology.
How does technology enhance the customer experience?
- Technology is an enabler to enhance the customer experience, in the case where customers are able to utilise technology, for example Artificial Intelligence, to gain exposure to alternative products or service offerings, in real-time
- Technology, such as predictive analytics, can enhance the customer experience where it can be used to predict specific customer behaviours and patterns leading to more proactive and customised engagements, products and services
- Through the use of technology, customers can have an interactive, easy-to-use experience with your brand, products and services by means of self-service channels. This in turn generates a more customer-controlled experience where a customer can craft their journey in a matter of seconds. Customer touchpoints move away from high ‘human touch,’ to more ‘personal robotic touch’ interactions.
- Advanced technology features such as live chat, chat bots and pop ups help increase positive interactions with customers. These technological enablers are often used to proactively help customers when they need assistance the most and it can likewise transform perusing via virtual channels, into real-time deals.
- Technology can assist service providers in delivering information and service to customers in many different formats, at a faster pace and more effectively. It can also reduce delivery times and make information accessible to people with disabilities.
What trends are you seeing in terms of new technologies being utilised to enhance the customer experience?
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning has worked its way into most customer journeys in today’s organisations. A PwC study of 2,500 U.S. consumers and business decision makers found that business leaders, specifically, believe AI is going to be fundamental in the future. In fact, 72% termed it a ‘business advantage’. AI and Machine Learning have been top-of-mind for companies for several years. Chat bots for customer service has seen the most maturity.
- Targeted Marketing based on consumer patterns derived from Machine Learning
- 24/7 service via conversational bots: Customers expect to receive an immediate answer to marketing and sales-related questions, and this figure is as high as 90% for issues relating to customer service. The traditional waiting-loop principle in call centres has become a thing of the past; agents are now responding to customer inquiries via chat or voice in just a few minutes. Chat bots are enhancing direct responses to customers and can be designed to further build on the customer experience strategy taken. However, this is a million miles from the wooden, scripted dialogues that many customers have had to endure on websites in recent years
- Improved self-service and omni-channel capabilities are becoming more prevalent in today’s organisations, allowing customers to choose the way they want to interact with your organisation, product or service, and not be inhibited by the company’s specified timeframes or locations.
- Additional interactive capabilities such as voice prompts and recognition are being utilised to speed up the way we interact with objects and services by providing a more natural way to engage and receive feedback
- As with voice recognition,facial recognition technology is becoming more apparent to authenticate customers and to even enable the processing of payments and transactions. Using facial recognition technology for another purpose, some companies use it to identify how a customer is feeling during or after an experience.
How important is the customer to IT companies?
The customer is important to all companies, without customers, we don’t have a company.
Customers should be placed at the centre and a company’s products, services and channels should be built around meeting the needs of those customers. I strongly believe in Steve Jobs’ philosophy that echoes this – “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to sell it.”
What approaches should industry leaders take when providing a customer experience?
First to understand the specific customer they are designing the experience for, to then design the experience with the needs of that customer in mind, and then to enhance and simplify the customer experience with the relevant technology where required. In order to do this effectively though, and for a large number of customers and products of today’s organisation, you would need to invest in establishing a customer experience management capability (Centre of Excellence), that can leverage proven customer experience improvement or enhancement methodologies to redesign the required customer experiences, implement the new designs and technologies, and ensure sustainability over time.
- Observe and understand the interaction through the customer’s eyes: Technology has handed customers unprecedented power to dictate the rules in purchasing goods and services. Three-quarters of them, research finds, expect a ‘now’ service within five minutes of making contact online. A similar share wants a simple experience, use comparison apps when they shop and put as much trust in online reviews as in personal recommendations. Increasingly, customers expect from all players the same kind of immediacy, personalisation and convenience that they receive from leading practitioners such as Google and Amazon.
- Identify and understand the customer’s journey: Pay attention to the complete, end-to-end experience customers have with a company from their perspective. Too many companies focus on individual interaction touchpoints devoted to billing, onboarding, service calls and the like. In contrast, a customer journey spans a progression of touchpoints and has a clearly defined beginning and end.
- Quantify what matters to your customers: Customers hold companies to high standards for product quality, service performance and price. How can companies determine which of these factors are the most critical to the customer segments they serve? Which generate the highest economic value? In most companies, there are a handful of critical customer journeys. Understanding them, customer segment by customer segment, helps a business to maintain focus, have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and begin the process of redesigning functions around customer needs
Can it be difficult to keep up with customer demand and does it require organisations to now take a different approach to ensure that their customers get the best experience?
The needs of a specific customer type does not necessarily change that rapidly; however their expectation on how that need is met and delivered can change at a very different pace. The expectation on the customer experience being received is not just based on how that experience is received from that specific organisation but might be compared to an experience received within another organisation or even another industry all together. The expectations that customers tend to have are based on experiences that transcend industries. These expectations can change, depending on what life stage the customer is in as well.
Customer persona’s categorised according to needs should be created and then refreshed on an annual basis. Inherent needs may not change as frequently, but expectations, circumstance and life stage can adjust the expectations related to their experience of a product, service or organisation.