Personalisation is now firmly engrained in every marketer’s vernacular.
From the simple ‘salutation’, right through to more complex behavioural tracking for subsequent ‘predictive offers’, but despite great inroads in data and technology capabilities that can drive relevant and personalised experiences, many brands are still falling short of reaching their true potential to connect with their customers.
Here we take a look at five common personalisation mistakes brands make, and how we can shift our mindset to see personalisation as a ‘product’ in order to connect with customers in more meaningful ways – at scale.
1. The merry-go-round of ‘use case’ and ‘purpose’
One of the key challenges many companies face today is struggling to understand what personalisation really means to their company. This creates a merry-go-round of diving into the ‘use case’ and the ‘purpose’ and inevitably, the brand always ends up at the same point.
It’s time we strip it all back. Forget about customisation and individualisation. Forget about the use case of personalisation and the ‘single customer view’. Instead, in this era of unprecedented change, we can start thinking about personalisation as a product.
So what does “personalisation as a product” actually mean? It’s about taking an iterative approach to the delivery of various experiences to the market, via activating all channels with contextual relevancy. Getting it right means it enables you to scale, pivot, and deliver more meaningful experiences to your customer, while testing and learning faster than before.
2. Focusing on the definition opposed to the capability
The concept of personalisation is a lot more fun and glam as opposed to its hardcore capability. Coming up with concepts around ‘moments that matter’ is great, but it’s also expensive, time consuming and has absolutely no relation to the capability that you have.
Feel free to define what it is to you – moments that matter, connected customer, audience first – and even drop the money on shiny new branding and design. But these steps should not be done at the expense of ignoring your current personalisation capability and the future capability you require. “But what if I don’t know what capability is needed?” Great question, that means you are….
3. Creating a use case opposed to a product
The biggest difference with seeing personalisation work is the mentality between seeing personalisation as a tactic and personalisation as a product. Feel stuck understanding which tactics define what personalisation is to your brand? Then unfortunately you’re going to go around in circles and struggle to expand it beyond that one tactic.
Looking at it from a different lens, a product manager’s role is to connect the customer with the product, regardless of delivery or channel. Their sole focus is to scale an experience. So, if you put your focus on treating personalisation as a product, then you:
a. Build the foundations for scale – regardless of the use case.
b. Stop caring about the tactics, because your baseline product is already enabled the organisation.
c. Enable the organisation to take a collective stance on owning the tactic.
4. Focusing on details as opposed to scale
But what about if a customer signs up, deletes the cart, then logs in six times and then the session ends?
Well, personalisation is about delivering contextual relevancy, not edge-case fringes of the experience. An experience should always be contextual to the recipient’s current actions, then heightened by the relevancy that the messaging exchange is providing.
Think, “I want to bring my product, which is personalisation, to market, regardless of the channel. I then want to be able to iterate on my product in a cycle of optimisations.”
Now that’s called scale.
5. Putting the channel before the customer
In a customer-centric digital ecosystem, if you find yourself incessantly talking about channels, then you’re in the wrong conversation. Personalisation when treated as a product, with capability and scale in mind, reduces the conversation about channel to a conversation around the iteration or delivery.
This is because channel is just a given. When everyone knows that it is possible to achieve regardless of channel. This shifts the conversation from “what about email and social” to “we have just delivered a next best product model to all the channels, and are testing with the site and email capability to then extend it to display and social – as we believe this will impact the customer the most”.
It all starts with a mindset shift and taking the tactical measures to bring the focus back to personalisation as a product. Because it’s only then when we can start to really focus on organisational enablement, to deliver context to a customer with the right brand communications. At the same time, we’re using data and technology capabilities to drive scale – regardless of the tactical iteration on the baseline product.
Where to start?
In summary, here’s a checklist of tips to help marketers start shifting towards a ‘personalisation as a product’ mindset:
Integrate channels: ensure that an experience can be triggered from any entry point, e.g. If a customer start’s their journey from an email, start the experience there. If they come direct, then start the experience there.
Don’t focus on purely defining what it means for your organisation: shift your focus to activating various personalisation products, as there is never one experience to rule them all.
Focus on how that personalisation product will be delivered to the customer.
Make sure that the use case can hit the masses to achieve the best result: if five percent of your audience are known on the APP, it will be hard to scale.
Deliver data points to all channels: this will enable all channels to act on core data points – and actually build the capability for personalisation within your organisation.
As CX professionals, it’s our job to understand and predict the needs of customers and to present experiences that fulfil those needs.
Unfortunately, the reality of our role is rarely so simple.
According to a study fromBain & Company, 80 percent of businesses believe they are delivering a “superior” Customer Experience, and yet, only eight percent of customers feel they’re receiving such an experience. Clearly the realities of CX don’t match the stories that we as CX professionals tell ourselves.
Given this disconnect, it’s hard not to wonder what other common misconceptions we as CX professionals hold. Even more importantly, what are the steps that we can take to overcome these myths in future?
With that in mind, here are four common myths to rethink in your own CX approach.
Myth 1: Loyalty is the number one priority for CX
CX professionals often emphasise the importance of customer loyalty and the role that a positive CX can play in encouraging such loyalty to the brand. These are great concepts – and when loyalty is earned it is of huge value to a business. But what do we really mean when we talk about loyalty?
Research by Forrester shows that most consumers “perceive loyalty programs as an opportunity to save money”. But ‘saving money’ isn’t loyalty.Discounting programmes aren’t loyalty programmes. In reality loyalty could refer to repeat purchase behaviours, or it could refer to intent to recommend. It all comes down to the goals of your business and what you choose to measure.
These are the types of considerations we need to account for before prioritising customer loyalty as the central goal of our CX approach. Concepts such as loyalty are only valuable if brands take the time to define these terms, hone their approach, and focus on the areas that are most important to their overarching business goals.
Myth 2: Customers need to be delighted at every interaction
‘Delighting’ customers is a notion that gets thrown around a lot in the CX world. While we obviously all want to provide our customers with positive, memorable experiences, it’s important not to get too caught up in short-term wins, rather than focusing on long-term success
Pleasing one off experiences are beneficial, but they shouldn’t take priority over consistent positive interactions with a brand. Creating this consistency and ensuring that each of your brand touchpoints is optimised will lead to far greater long-term value and customer loyalty than a one-off promotion or event.
Myth 3: CX is all about minimising customer complaints
Complaints are painful, but minimising customer complaints should not bethe core focus of a brand’s Customer Experience approach. For each complaint, there is an opportunity to demonstrate that the individual is valued by the brand.Which is why service recovery can have such a powerful, positive impact on your Customer Experience.
As long as a customer is engaged enough to complain, there is hope. It’s the customers who quietly disappear, unhappy, unengaged and unsatisfied that should terrify us.Do we want to minimise the causes of complaints? Absolutely.But the complaint itself is not the problem. As hard as it is to remember: feedback is a gift, even when it’s painful. Feedback represents hope and provides brand with the opportunity to make things right for the individual and, ultimately, right for the business in future.
Myth 4: Customers want full personalisation
While many CX practitioners see full personalisation as the Holy Grail of experience, it’s important that brands don’t burden their customers with unnecessary data collection as they strive for the perfect personalised experience.
As just one example, airline brands know a tremendous amount about each passenger. If that knowledge is spread across multiple internal systems, however, then the availability of data can make the Customer Experience worse not better.
If an airline already knows what flight a customer is taking and whether they have checked in a bag, then there is no reason to ask customers those questions again at the airport. It’s crucial to solve such integration gaps before making the passenger do the heavily lifting. Save the customer’s valuable feedback time to focus on the unknown:what the experience was and how to improve it.
Much of what we talk about in Customer Experience is based on inaccurate, but shared, misconceptions. Thankfully, CX is not static – and we can always improve how we deliver it and how we talk about it.By understanding the nuance of some of our core CX language, we can challenge basic assumptions in ways that free us up tomaximise our full potential and deliver memorable experiences that benefit both the brand and the customer in equal measure.
Global spending on Customer Experience is expected to reach over £101 billion by 2022, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC).
Their new Worldwide Semiannual Customer Experience Spending Guide, shows that CX spending in 2018 was reported at $97 billion in 2018 and is expected to increase to $128 billion by 2022, growing at a healthy seven percent five-year CAGR.
The European industries spending the most on CX in 2019 will be banking, retail, and discrete manufacturing. Together, these verticals will absorb 33 percent of the European CX spend this year. Retail will also have the fastest growing spend on CX throughout 2022, outgrowing banking by 2021.
Customer care and support, digital marketing, and order fulfilment are the use cases with the highest spending in CX today and will continue to be a strong investment area throughout 2022. The report suggests that investing in CX represents a clear opportunity for industries to differentiate, implementing these use cases to mold a public brand perception around the customer, improving websites, social media interactions, and product and service promotions.
Looking at long-term opportunities, omnichannel content will be the fastest growing CX use case by 2022, with European companies focusing on this space to build organisational experience delivery competency, leveraging investments in content and experience design, to lower the cost of supporting new channels and ensure brand consistency. Omnichannel content reflects the core foundation of the future of CX through the optimisation of content across channels at every point in the customer journey, creating a non-linear experience around the user.
Emerging technologies – such as AI, IoT, and ARVR -and hyper-micro personalisation are fuelling investments in CX together with rising customer expectations, intensified competition, ever-changing customer behaviours, and stronger demand for personalisation.
Andrea Minonne, Senior Research Analyst, IDC Customer Insight & Analysis in Europe, said: “Customer Experience is the top business priority for European companies in 2019. Businesses are moving from traditional ways of reaching out to customers and are embracing more digitised and personalised approaches to delivering empathy where the focus is on constantly learning from customers. As a customer-facing industry, retail spend on CX is moving fast as retailers have fully understood how important it is to embed CX in their business strategy.”
There is ever increasing interest in the role emotions play when managing Customer Experience in the contact centre.
At the same time, there is a drive to introduce technology such as chatbots to make customer service teams more efficient; removing repetitive tasks and providing ‘always on’ customer service. These potentially conflicting trends are happening at a time when the demand for customer service is growing, and organisations are fighting to differentiate themselves through their customer service offering.
A recently commissioned study by Forrester Consulting suggested that 90 percent of customer service leaders agree personalisation is core to the future of automation, and existing chatbot technology is stalling their efforts. The key challenge is to build simple yet personalised experiences for customers.
As Maya Angelou famously said: “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.” If your chatbot or AI solution leaves the customer feeling frustrated or angry because they have to put in more effort to get the answer to what they perceive is a routine query or task, all that is being achieved is an increased chance that the customer will look for an alternative supplier who can make this task easier.
In addition, quite often humans want to talk to humans. A study by PwC found that an average 74 percent of non-US consumers want more human interaction in the future and that 59 percent of all consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of Customer Experience.
Certainly, there have been strategies employed whereby chatbots are being disguised as humans which can only lead to frustration on behalf of the customer when they find they are being deceived and the bot cannot fulfil their needs for a more emotional or complex issue response. While customer views are constantly evolving, I still think Userlike got it right with their view on avoiding the ‘uncanny valley’.
Organisations need to be up front when a customer engages with them by disclosing that they are talking with a bot, and take advantage of the benefits that can be gained when effectively deploying it for more routine and simple tasks. In addition, they need to give the customer the opportunity to seamlessly switch to a human agent, without the need for the customer to repeat themselves. In short, make it easy, make it simple and, when the customer is speaking to an agent, make it personal.
No one can deny that AI is getting better and better, and chatbots will certainly have their place in our future. A well-designed customer-centric journey will allow the bots to tackle low level tasks, but companies also have to be cautious in blindly launching bots into the contact centre eco-system. When poorly executed the effect upon customers can be detrimental to their overall experience. It’s all too easy to deploy a chatbot that can get stuck in a loop, resulting not only in an increased cost to serve but also a decrease in overall customer satisfaction.
Hockenbury & Hockenbury in Describing Psychology (1997) described emotion as “a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioural and expressive response”. Delivering customer service for an organisation dealing with often highly emotive subject of money, we have yet to find an AI solution that can effectively replicate the human touch our industry-leading customer service team can deliver. They can handle the simple routine tasks well, but then so can a well-designed FAQ or Help Centre. Until such a time as when chatbots can manage all three psychological states, there will always be a need for humans.
Human agents have a big advantage. They understand compassion, they can demonstrate empathy and they have their own shared experiences of everyday life which continues to become busier and more stressful for us all. In having this unique skill set, the human agent is here to stay and will own the complex matters where a human touch is needed.
Consumers these days expect a hyper-personalised Digital Experience, from cosmetics and fashion brands to consumer goods, online marketplaces, and even video streaming services.
Personalisation has become a focal point for user experience design and, when executed smartly, can be a differentiator for a brand’s Customer Experience. Personalised user experiences can build brand loyalty and drive sales, as well as producing extremely insightful data for brands to evaluate and re-imagine their UX design. A smart personalised experience should allow users to complete tasks in a faster, easier, and more enjoyable way.
However, creating a personalised user experience can be complicated. A combination of data, research, and technological knowhow is needed, plus the vision and creativity to create something that engages and delights users. Here are a few things to consider when starting out with personalisation or re-imagining an existing user experience.
Users today are digital-savvy and constantly connected, across a plethora of devices. To succeed in providing a consistently pleasing user experience, businesses have to improve the interactions they offer via every channel. This is the way to provide a more intuitive, sophisticated, and personalised relationship with their customers.
Digital consumers expect real-time responses and transactions with minimal effort, and access to compelling experiences that have been personalised for them specifically, and the only way to generate these interactions is through utilising data. Brands need to create data-driven strategies to target their audience with relevant, timely content to generate conversion and interest. But data is only useful if it is interpreted the right way.
In theory, every brand that sells directly to consumers has the potential to access the same data as their competitors. Where brands can differentiate is by creatively connecting the dots that this data provides. This is how the ‘magic’ is created. It’s a blend of logic, imagination, and brand values, and connecting the dots to find the story.
Quantitative data is a starting point, then it takes a bit of intuition via qualitative data, human behaviour, brainstorming, and creativity to create the magic and lay out the storytelling needed to make the journey happen.
Research firstly helps you understand if your brand actually needs personalisation. If yes, where should it be applied? And how much is enough? User research helps comprehend what matters to your users, what are their limits in terms of over-use, and if what you are doing and creating is relevant to the variety of your brand’s audiences.
Essentially, personalisation is not the silver bullet for every brand, every audience, or every interaction. User research will help divulge where and how it can be applied most effectively.
Test and repeat. This is as critical as the research step and is the only way to understand if your personalisation application is ready to drive sales and brand engagement – by testing. It needs to feel seamless.
Practically, this means it is simple to use on their device of preference, and clear what the objective is. An experience is ruined if users spend a time feeling confused, frustrated, or consider another option. Any type of personalisation will take you a step towards providing a frictionless experience. Hyper-personalisation should be almost unnoticeable.
Despite the fact consumers are becoming more accepting of organisations using data in a positive way, brands still need to be prepared demonstrate to users how they are obtaining and using their data. It’s a two-way street. In exchange for data sharing, brands are exploring innovative ways to deliver personalised, valuable moments across various touchpoints to customers that will make their experiences easier and more fun.
And to develop these experiences, brands need to understand how customers view the brand across all touchpoints. This understanding will allow a platform for brands to connect with their customers on an emotional level consistently across various touchpoints. Because of the explosion of customer interaction points, across channels and devices, the key for brands is to manage the entire journey, not simply individual touchpoints. And the secret is delivering a consistent experience across all channels.
6. Don’t be creepy
Personalisation is about context. It’s effective if brands serve up the right content at the right time for the right person, and creating a contextualised and personalised experience consists of knowing why personalisation is important and how it can help your users. In short, if a user is given a positive, timely, helpful experience, it shouldn’t feel creepy.
Imagine you’re walking past your favourite shoe shop. You get a push-notification that the sneaker you checked out online last week is available in-store at a discount for a limited time only, and available in your size. That’s peak personalisation – and it’s a positive experience.
Now personalisation is more commonplace, users are educated and so more accepting of personalisation. Brands need to be able to gather contextual data and segment users into target areas. Every user is different, and what some people may find uncomfortable, others may think is helpful or fun. For positive personalisation, knowing and segmenting your users is the key.
7. The future
8. Who’s doing it well?
Amazon is an obvious choice; it would be hard to write about personalisation without mentioning Amazon, as its use of personalisation is widespread around their site (recent orders, previously watched videos, recommended items based on previous purchases, etc). Research indicates that Amazon drives 35 percent of its revenues through its personalised product recommendations.
Another example is Thread, which built its brand around personalisation, delivering hyper-personalised recommendations at scale. Thread’s free ‘personal stylist’ takes visitors through a survey to understand body type, colourings, tastes, and budget. The stylist then provides ‘hand-picked’ recommendations, delivered through personalised emails – usually a link to a curated list of items alongside a personal message.
Despite providing ‘hand-picked’ recommendations for over 650,000 customers, Thread actually employs fewer than 10 stylists. Obviously, personalisation algorithms are hard at work behind the scenes. Recommendations are generated via user data analysis, and emails are segmented by location, or what the weather is like, to resonate with customers. A handful of ‘stylists’ are used to face up the front end, making the experience feel super-personal.
Each year, analysts predict trends that will determine the course of the advertising, media, and digital industry in the near future.
Year after year, we see the same predictions about the importance of video content, new approaches to SEO optimisation, growth of mobile internet penetration, and related advertising tools. However, it seems that a lot is going to change in 2019. So let’s take a closer look at the new revolutionary solutions and approaches that are going to shake the market this year.
1. Personalised marketing
Personalisation is a key trend in many business areas. The idea of delivering a personal message to the client, taking into account the characteristics of his or her behaviour, personality, and sociography is not new. However, such an approach becomes a reality thanks to the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Even if a person uses hidemyass, it will be still possible to track his online actions.
The love of marketers for digital is largely due to the possibilities of fine-tuning the targeting for advertising, but now more advanced personality recognition mechanisms are being tested. Thus, Amazon uses AI-based solutions that combine user data from various sources, such as transaction archives, trending sales, competitor information, CRM data, and information from social accounts. At the latter point, the machine predicts the desires and capabilities of the user. As a result, a company is able to formulate and prepare a 100 percent personalised offer, which will hardly be refused.
2. Voice services
There are some technologies that burst into our lives suddenly. Voice assistants are one of them. At first, users limited themselves to comic dialogues with smartphones; with time, they began using voice assistants for their intended purpose. Siri, Google Now, Alice, Amazon Alexa, Cortana, and others teach users to use the voice dialogues with the software. Markets are saturated with Voice Search Tools, Amazon Echo, Google Home, and others.
According to NPD Group, by the end of 2019, sales of ‘smart speakers’ will grow by 50 percent, and the market volume will reach $2.7 billion. This technology is in the trend of marketing integration with services and applications for delivering food, calling a cab, searching for the right locations, and other things. Just like vpn services were popular a few years ago, voice assistants are on the peak now.
3. Communication automation & chatbots
According to Gartner, 85 percent of user interactions with companies will occur without human participation by 2020. Nowadays, many companies use chatbots in social networks and instant messengers to simply communicate with their audience. In the future, scripts will become more complex, and the bot will be able to imitate a live seller or manager, saving companies’ resources.
4. Augmented reality (AR)
According to the estimates of the Harvard Business Review, global investments in the development of the AR sector will exceed $ 60 billion by 2020. The research centre MarketsandMarkets states that market growth will exceed 75 percent over the next five years. In 2022, it can reach an estimate of $120 billion.
The largest technology brands have seized upon this promising technology because it is extremely interesting to the end user and does not force it to acquire new products. Everything works on your favourite smartphone. AR is used in education, medicine, and, of course, marketing solutions, especially in a retail segment. The investment volumes are impressive, and we will see a lot of interesting consumer variations using augmented reality in the coming year.
Standards for deploying fifth-generation mobile networks are still in development, but individual elements are being tested by operators around the world. 5G networks will create new opportunities for users, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as broadband media services and real-time communication in areas of natural disasters or mass events.
According to many experts, we are now entering the era of digital technology, which will mostly depend on the introduction and development of artificial intelligence (machine learning) and all the consequences associated with it. The incredible development of the digital environment over the past ten years (social media, improved search technologies, the AppStore, and PlayMarket, cybersecurity, streaming video, etc) will not slow down, but go to a new level.
In 2019, marketers will need to prepare for constant experimentation with new technologies. Only a continuous stream of testing new ideas will allow you to be on the success wave.
Anyone who has booked a flight recently will have likely noticed the level of personalisation creeping into their travel experience.
Even before you’ve settled on timing or your destination, airlines are tapping into yourintent, with some shrewd speculative interventions.
For example, if you have ‘liked’ a resort on Instagram or Facebook, you may find yourself targeted by an app that provides all the options for getting there, followed by itinerary recommendations via TripAdvisor. It seems all the main players in the travel ecosystem suddenly ‘get’ you and are able to anticipate your plans and preferences.
Advanced analytics that can glean deeper actionable insights from customer data are fuelling this transformation, compounded by greater industry-wide collaboration, and improved sharing of this intelligence. The result is more relevant products and services which have raised the bar of personalisation, along with the expectation that the personal touch shouldn’t stop when we book our travel plans.
If we stay in the realm of travel, we can see how this extends to the hotel sector. For an industry outside of the high-end luxury segment that has taken a one-size-fits-all mentality, it poses an interesting challenge.
This shift is set to disrupt some of the familiar routines that have long been part and parcel of the hotel experience. Think of the multiple adjustments that we make to a room on arrival almost on autopilot – the swift rejection of the wrong pillows and hair products that don’t fit our unique preferences, the trial and error that goes into resetting temperature, often with limited success.
It’s a routine on the cusp of being rendered entirely redundant if data collected prior to arrival based on previous stays can inform the housekeeping team of a preference for non-allergenic bedding or a particular branded hair product.
Behind the scenes, data platforms are doing the heavy lifting, with advanced analytic algorithms that combine customers’ historical engagement data, purchase history, digital behaviours, and environmental data. Predictive analytics then inform the kind of contextually-rich engagements that add value, ramp up the convenience and comfort factor, and provide a meaningful connection that can differentiate an experience in a saturated market.
And it needs to; customer expectations have changed irreparably!
Digitally-empowered and more discerning, consumers no longer fall into the crude categories based on gender, age, or marital status that were once used to determine rudimentary personalisation. In short, they know what they like and what they don’t; who they are and who they’re not. Today’s consumers expect to be treated as individuals rather than a segment, and with intelligence, relevance and empathy.
Yet there is still a fine balance to negotiate to ensure that such intervention remains engaging rather than intrusive and creepy – a trend often rooted in data overload and a heavy-handed approach to its personalisation.
Without question, we’re in a world of big data, where gathering ever-rising volumes and the ‘more-the-merrier’ ethos, can be the default approach to throw at any issue, sometimes at the expense of consumer consent, internal ability to act on the data, and ethical practice to how the data is applied.
Manyorganisations are struggling to manage the data they hold. Common challenges include navigating through too much data, managing the complexity of data, determining which data are appropriate for decision making, and upholding the security of data in an increasingly dangerous world of identity theft and fraud.
Nowhere is this more challenging than in financial services, where major decisions of credit worthiness, loan pricing, and customer service are increasingly based on analytics from integrated, intelligent data platforms; and where sensitive data must be protected from fraud and other cybercrimes. No wonder regulators are also balancing the need to protect personal data from both discriminatory decision making (e.g. the use of gender in insurance pricing models) and the rules for data protection.
It’s a reminder of the need for big data to become ‘impactful’ data, in order to cut through the excess and address the data basics; clean it and make it available to run in advance analytics platforms. Injecting a big dose of transparency into the process, by taking the cue from the customer in terms of the financial information they are comfortable sharing, is the next consideration. While this might be a slower burn approach, it is one that is fundamental to developing and instilling the requisite levels of trust.
Crucially, a common dominator of all this activity is the investment in time and commitment. Personalisation by its nature is not a quick fix; it demands innovation on multiple fronts if is to be applied successfully. Furthermore, technology cannot thrive in isolation and must be supported by a broader cultural shift that sees all staff committed to the process.
Returning to the hospitality sector, it is notable how many of the intuitive service touches depend on both the observations and initiative from front line, customer facing teams who are best placed to notice the small details and act on them directly with the guests. Ensuring they understand how their actions can resonate and be informed by the technology to build on this further, is a crucial piece of the jigsaw.
Being mindful of the pitfalls, while being open to embracing the innovation at our disposal, is a tightrope to negotiate, but once achieved can deliver the CX breakthrough on everyone’s wish list.
Ask the leadership of any reasonably-sized company what technology they’re looking to implement and they’ll almost invariably mention artificial intelligence (AI).
In theory, that’s great, because AI has the potential to fundamentally change the way a businesses operates and creates a great Customer Experience. The longer the business uses an AI application, the better the experience should get. Given enough time, the system can collect enough data on each individual customer to provide meaningful, hyper-personalised experiences.
Implemented badly, however, AI can be a total disaster. Rather than feeling like the business they’re dealing with cares about them, they’re left with the impression that customer service has been handed over to a bunch of dimwitted machines.
Let’s talk about chatbots
The easiest way to illustrate how varied the AI experience can be is to look at chatbots. They’re the kind of front-facing AI that more companies are using and which an increasingly large body of customers are familiar with. Trouble is, most companies are terrible at implementing chatbots.
Apart from a few forward-thinking exceptions, companies tend to put a chatbot on their website in the hope that that it will learn from each interaction it has with a customer and that its answers will become more nuanced over time. They also operate in the belief that customers will tell the chatbot when it’s wrong, helping to train it further (hands up if you’ve ever done this willingly).
That would be great…if the chatbot was actually equipped to do so. However, for the most part, chatbots are simply going through the company’s existing knowledge bases and serving you with a document (or, in the worst cases, multiple documents) to try and help. It’s essentially a slightly smarter form of search.
As anyone who’s tried to use the search function on a corporate website will tell you – that’s not particularly helpful, especially when you’ve got a specific query. Let’s say that I want to know if I can insure my sunglasses. I don’t want to have to scour through insurance agency documents to try and figure out the answer. I just want the answer.
Contextual, hyper-personalised, relevant
As long as chatbots rely on a flawed architecture that depends on the existence of relevant documents containing the needed information, they won’t be able to provide that answer.
If you’re going to use AI to improve CX, you need to take a different approach. If you want to operate in the digital era and want to drive logic through data then you need to start it in data. That means looking beyond your existing documentation and CX architecture and integrating insight into customer behaviour across digital and offline channels.
This approach will, ultimately, allow you to offer customer support that is hyper-personalised, relevant, and compliant.
A chatbot built on this kind of framework understands what you’re asking and can answer specific questions according to what you actually need. While that’s just one small part of CX, anyone who’s cursed a company for failing to provide useful information, will know how important it is.
The aim of AI
That said, this approach shouldn’t be limited to chatbots. Consistency – in style, tone, and content – is one of the most important factors in successful CX.
It’s therefore imperative that any organisation turning to AI to improve CX apply a data-first architecture across every customer-facing channel. So, whether I make a query using a chatbot, the search function on a website, or a call centre, I should get the same – relevant – answer.
However, if this is going to happen, businesses need to stop trying to bolt AI onto their existing architectures and take an approach that allows it to reach its full potential.
If you’re reading Customer Experience Magazine, then you’ll be aware that CX is a much talked-about business concept.
According to Forrester, it can be defined as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company”.
This is a concept with a very long history – it’s just never had a catchy name before. Customer Experience has had different forms, as it’s been influenced by technology and the prevalent customer preferences of each generation and era over time.
It’s hard to pinpoint where it all started. We know that on January 1, 1876, the red triangle of Bass Ale became the UK’s first official trademark. While businesses had been marking their products to show origin since time immemorial, the modern understanding of branding was arguably born alongside that first trademark. Even back in the 1800s, the idea of branding was an implicit recognition that the customer was on some sort of journey of research and discovery before making a purchase.
Let’s travel back in time and explore the transformations that shaped CX…
Everyone knows your name
The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, once said: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts.” It’s an analogy that works as well today as it did in the past. It’s up to the host to be gracious and make guests comfortable.
Back in the 50s, there was no “customer experience”. No fancy business lingo – just service. This was the age of genuine, low-tech personalisation. Business owners chatted with customers and remembered preferences.
Have you ever watched the hit TV show Mad Men? If so, you know that when housewife Betty Draper wanted to go out shopping, she got the royal treatment. Salespeople remembered her, greeting her by name, inquiring about her family and making tailored product suggestions.
Indeed, the shopping experience of the 50s was familiar and comforting. That’s because it was a social experience; as a customer, you likely got to know the owners and employees of companies you interacted with on a personal level.
Don’t get too nostalgic, though. It gets even better…
You can shop on ‘The Internet’
Today we don’t even think twice about “going online”, but back in the early 90s it was a big deal! In this era the internet became commercialised; Amazon started selling books online and Pierre Omidyar founded eBay.
This decade was characterised by excitement (perhaps with the exception of the Dot Com bust, which wasn’t as amusing). Online shopping made it possible to buy goods at any time, regardless of ‘store hours’, without even leaving the house. Ecommerce also brought with it the opportunity to order far more than what one could find on a store’s shelves.
On the other hand, the focus on service didn’t seem as important.
Because these technological developments were so new and intriguing, the loss of that special personal touch went unnoticed. Web ‘pages’, as they were called back then, were barely functional, much less optimised for the user’s enjoyment. It would take a while for the notion of ‘user-friendliness’ to gain traction. Yet even though there was no personalisation, there were cool new things to click.
After all, you don’t expect the royal treatment when you’re an adventurer heading off into the unknown – which is how people felt venturing to buy via personal computers.
Tech that ‘gets you’
Today we take all the convenience of technology for granted. In fact, we’re likely to get upset when things don’t work instantaneously and seamlessly (“This web page is taking more than five seconds to load…I’m outta here!”).
Yet we’ve also missed being remembered by companies; being treated with special care. That’s where modern Customer Experience enters the scene. Research from Salesforce estimates that 75 percent of people now expect a consistent experience wherever they engage with brands – be it through social media, mobile, or even in person.
CX has become all about providing both intuitive technology and automated personalisation capable of remembering preferences, making recommendations and offering help.
Customer Experience has essentially come full-circle: it started out as an emotional experience, transformed into a display of ‘cool’ technology, and now it’s back to being people-focused. The question modern companies are asking is: “How do we apply all the tech at our disposal to delight the customer?”
Businesses want to forge personal relationships with customers again – albeit in the digital space. Business consultancy Walker suggests that by 2020, CX will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. No wonder everyone’s talking about it.
Must everything change?
While technology has raced ahead, people have remained relatively unchanged. No matter how much time passes, the customer still desires to feel special and valued. Making them feel like they got away with a great deal is never going to get old.
We may have moved past the quaint days when shop owners greeted us by name, but when we get the sense a company sees us as just a number, we’re quick to take our business elsewhere. Today we enjoy the best of all worlds: the customer comes first, and businesses have the technology to craft remarkable experiences. With the rise of omnichannel – another one of those hot buzzwords – service expectations have increased. Modern customers fully expect the royal treatment, anytime, anywhere.
What’s next? New experiences that fully merge physical spaces with digital tech. Future CX-obsessed companies will ensure the customer journey is always on and responsive to a customer’s location and overall context.