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Not only are 70% of purchase decisions based on customer experience but four out of five consumers are prepared to pay more for an excellent customer experience.
Just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1990, McDonalds opened its first burger restaurant in the Soviet Union. More than the novelty of Big Macs and fries, the Soviet citizens who thronged this outpost of capitalism were amazed and delighted by the simple fact of being greeted by polite and smiling shop workers. This was a Russian revolution in terms of customer experience in a country where surliness, queues, shortages, lack of choice and shoddy products were the norm.
A generation later, another C-Sat revolution, just as dramatic, is taking place. It is being driven by automation, communication technology, artificial intelligence, digitisation, social media and virtual reality. However, the most important aspect in changing the C-Sat landscape currently is the same as what it was in Moscow. In the words of Jo Causon, CEO of the UK’s Institute of Customer Service, it is “delivering a genuinely authentic personalised customer service experience”.
She highlights this with a telling example from the toy retailing sector: “Look at Toys R Us, which went into administration. Why would I go to a shed to buy something when I can do that online? However, I will go to the Lego Store because it’s an experience and not just a transaction. I will go to Hamleys because it’s an experience”.
How that experience is delivered is at the heart of the latest thinking on the future trends in C-Sat.
“Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics clearly have a critical role to play,” says Causon. She points out that the automation of routine enquiries will create a demand for higher order customer service skills to handle more complex tasks. C-sat roles will become more rewarding and require high levels of empathy as well as skills in relationship-building, communication and problem-solving.
“Issues like trust, reputation, honesty, integrity, openness and transparency will become even more important. Customers will be more concerned about how their data is being captured and used. They won’t allow access to their data unless they feel happy about what companies are doing with it. Ethics will become more important.”
Automation and digitisation are transforming C-Sat jobs and the fundamental relationship between customers and suppliers. McKinsey, the consultancy group, predicts that half of all work activities have the potential to be automated.
But new technologies create many more jobs than they destroy. The C-Sat roles of the future will demand greater flexibility and both new and enhanced skills. Many of the most effective applications of artificial intelligence involve technology working alongside, or enabling, employees to give better customer experiences.
Indeed, Causon identifies the emergence of a new role, that of customer experience and technology broker. This new wave of C-Sat professionals will combine technical expertise with a deep understanding of customer experience and needs.
Such hybrid roles will be necessary as most customers still prefer to deal with a real person than an intelligent robot. While they welcome technologies that make it easier to deal with companies, they have concerns about security, and potential use of artificial intelligence to influence life-affecting decisions. As artificial intelligence moves from the back office to more visible applications, it will be increasingly important to build customers’ confidence and trust.
According to Institute research, almost a third of UK organisations are making widespread or some use of artificial intelligence in C-Sat, such as introducing chatbots in direct customer interactions.
In the near future, excellence in C-Sat will be determined by getting the right balance between robots and human interaction. If the capabilities of AI and bots can be combined successfully with the emotional connection of live customer service personnel, then the consumer will enjoy the best of both worlds.
This new reality is imminent. According to IBM, by 2020 some 85% of all customer interactions will be with chatbots and self-service technologies1. C-Sat engagement is also migrating towards social media and especially messaging apps as more and more people are using messaging apps to interact with brands. This presents opportunities for companies who embed customer service technology within messaging applications.
Consumers are already using messaging apps to book flights, reserve hotel rooms and request fashion advice. This sort of C-Sat will become much more mainstream as the generation of digital natives – those that grew up with internet communication – reaches adulthood.
They will drive more connection through web and digital channels as this is what they know and expect. These digital natives will also expect all companies to offer the speed and ease of use that they already experience in booking an Uber or receiving same day deliveries from Amazon Prime. Personalisation, speed and convenience are their key customer expectations.
Thanks to the prevalence of mobile phones and apps, customers have been conditioned to expect instant gratification and instant emotional reaction. A poor experience is likely to be posted on social media within minutes or even seconds. Major brands will increasingly have to engage across all platforms, from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram. At the same time, they will offer a wide and integrated range of communication options from chat to voice as well as social media. Many customers will resort to multiple channels in the course of a single customer journey.
The rise in use of voice-controlled virtual assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant, is increasing. These intelligent assistants can already help with product and service searches but they have the potential, in the near future, to deliver other parts of the customer experience such as processing payments, offering real-time support, or sifting data to handle complex queries.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are poised to create enhanced customer experiences by simulating the bricks-and-mortar real world in a digital environment that mimics the store experience. Consultancy group Gartner predicts that 100 million customers will shop in just this sort of AR store by 2020.
The driver towards delivering great C-Sat and personalised customer experience benefits everyone. Not only are 70% of purchase decisions based on customer experience but four out of five consumers are prepared to pay more for an excellent customer experience. In future, customer responses will become more polarised; good experiences will be disproportionately rewarded while unsatisfactory experience will be severely punished.
The companies that thrive will deliver excellent C-Sat based on an instantly responsive omni-channel strategy that blends traditional and digital in seamless and personalised ways. Those that do will be greeted as joyously as McDonalds was in Red Square all those years ago.
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