Customers are the lifeblood of companies and therefore need to be kept front and center in everything we do. Yet keeping customers happy and living up to their expectations can be a challenge. People today expect to receive the information they want quickly — and how, when and where they want it. And there’s not a lot of room for error. Brand loyalty is fast becoming a thing of the past because there are so many alternatives, and customers can leave over just one bad interaction.
Yet the rewards of putting customers first drive company image and loyalty as well as save money in the long run. It’s much easier to put your efforts into retaining and growing the customers you have than working to acquire new ones.
The New Customer Profile
How do companies go about improving customer service, and subsequently customer experience? It begins with understanding the new customer profile. In addition to expecting fast and convenient customer service, today’s customer is much more informed than ever before. They have a powerhouse of information at their fingertips and have done their homework on their available options.
Today’s customers are also part of the do-it-yourself (DIY) era. They want instant remediation to a problem and the ability to take control of it. For example, a customer with a Wi-Fi outage wants to have the option to resolve the problem herself with explicit and easy-to-understand instructions. Yet they also want to know that someone is available to provide instant support if they run into problems.
This leads to another requirement. If they need direct help, it is not enough to have a generic support center technician available to answer their questions. They require a knowledgeable professional who not only can provide them with the most granular information, but who also identifies them as individual customers and knows their personal likes and dislikes.
Where New Technologies Are Helping
Meeting all of the needs of a changing customer base can be a tall order, yet new technologies are working alongside humans to exponentially boost customer service like never before. Consider the following:
- Chatbots provide the first line of defense. A form of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) based on natural language processing (NLP), chatbots can interact with customers 24/7 through phone, website or social channels. Advanced chatbots can understand when a customer is becoming annoyed or impatient and quickly escalate tougher issues to humans. Freeing up employees to focus on tougher issues enables them to better understand specific customers and tailor responses to meet their specific needs.
- IoT keeps on top of issues. Advancements in Internet of Things (IoT) technologies can gather data via sensors in the field, home, car or anywhere where critical equipment or systems are running. Telecom carriers can better understand usage patterns and recommend different services that may be most valuable for customers, or fuel providers can ensure that oil burners are full without requiring on-site visits to monitor fuel gauges. In fact Gartner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant for Industrial IoT Platforms found 49% of respondents said they use IoT to improve customer service.
- Predictive analytics provide a heads-up to problems before they arise. AI-driven solutions are helping companies gain data-driven insights to boost customer service. For example, they’re helping banks or insurance firms uncover the potential for customer churn so that they can take appropriate action in advance; or in retail to uncover a buyer’s shopping habits and provide relevant offers.
- Augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) add to the customer experience. AR gives customers a more realistic view of the product they are evaluating. For example, AR can be used to visualize what an outfit will look like on a specific person, or how a chair will look in a living room. This has proven useful during the pandemic when physical stores were closed. VR, which provides complete immersion into a virtual world, can be used by travel planners to allow a customer to “experience” a travel destination before booking a trip, or for home buyers to “walk” through a home for sale without leaving their own home.
Related Article: Explaining IoT to a 5th Grader
How to Get Started
New digital tools such as these are significantly boosting the customer experience but the challenge for companies is knowing which one will work best or where to start. Below are three considerations for beginning the journey:
- Begin with design experience. This approach places the customer at the center of the process and tries to incorporate a fresh, new way of looking at problems and solving them. It requires honest conversations with customers and stakeholders to hear what is or isn’t working; identifying the problem and brainstorming ways to solve it — before any particular technology is chosen.
- Conduct innovation sprints. Once a company has identified the right tech solution, it should consider conducting one to three innovation sprints before jumping right in. This is a short-term proof-of-concept that is done in a matter of a few weeks that allows companies to experiment with AI. Such sprints can help determine if the tech, such as AI, is going to be beneficial before costly investment is made.
- Make it an omnichannel experience. Today’s customers use many different devices — from mobile phones to laptops or smart televisions. You need to make whatever technology you deploy compatible with multiple devices. It’s all about reaching the customers where they are.
The need to delight customers at every turn will continue to grow as competition heats up and customers become more discriminating across all markets and industries. By taking a strategic approach, however, to digital transformation, companies can ensure that the customer experience remains at the heart of their business.
Carlos M. Meléndez is the COO and co-founder of Wovenware, a Puerto Rico-based design-driven company that delivers customized AI and other digital transformation solutions that create measurable value for customers across the US.