Customer experience professionals have nothing to fear but technology

Salmat CMO Sarah Pike, asks, is fear of technology putting customer experience professionals in the slow lane?

There’s not a customer experience professional in Australia who isn’t fully versed in the perils of not investing in technology to transform the customer experience and accelerate digital businesses. Yet it remains an insurmountable hurdle.

At least, that’s what they perceive to be the case. Salmat’s recent survey of customer experience professionals in Australia highlighted their four biggest challenges when improving the customer experience. And they all boil down to one overriding barrier: technology.

So what exactly is it about technology that’s holding back customer experience professionals? And are these challenges real or perceived?

1. A question of (big) data

In our hyper-connected, information-laden age, one question persists in boardrooms, corner offices and conferences worldwide: how do we leverage data to give customers what they want? Love it or hate it, the question of data continues to plague customer experience professionals.

Interestingly, the challenge isn’t getting access to the data (it’s everywhere) but knowing how to collect it, which touch points to use and, most importantly, understanding how to extract meaningful and actionable insights. A lot of companies already have a huge array of data; they simply don’t know what they’ve got. It’s rarely about starting from scratch but deciding how to deal with the mass of data already there.

2. The fear of customer disconnection

In many industries, there is a strongly held belief that some form of face-to-face contact is needed to maintain and deepen customer loyalty. In banking, for example, there have long been concerns that the more a bank encourages customers to use online tools, the less personal the interaction and the more difficult it becomes to secure those deeper conversations needed for complex advice-led products, such as wealth packages. Another concern is that customer’s increased use of self-service will gradually erode their loyalty to the organisation – a phenomenon known as ‘customer disconnection’.

It works the other way too; in February, Amazon launched its first bricks and mortar store at a university in Indiana, perpetuating the belief that big e-tailers realise the need for a physical presence. That consumers still, and probably always will, want an experience where they can touch and play with products before they buy.

But nobody is saying self-service tools and technologies should replace these experiences; it’s about using them in the right way to make it easier, faster and more satisfying for customers to do business with you. Because the less effort customers have to spend getting what they want from your brand, the more loyal they become.

3. Keeping pace

Fuelled by rapid globalisation and the digitisation of practically everything, the customer experience has transformed over the past two decades to a point where it is almost unrecognisable. Customer experience professionals are struggling to keep pace with the emerging technologies required to meet changing customer expectations. It’s not simply a question of implementing the technology – that’s often perceived as the easy part. It’s about doing it in a way that uses customer insights to improve the customer experience and deliver returns for the business.

4. Joining the dots

People expect to be able to move seamlessly between channels, and to use more than one channel at any time. In fact, consumers don’t even think in ‘channels’ – they just think about engaging with an organisation. But organisations are struggling to provide a consistent and connected customer experience across every touch point. If a customer visits your online chat channel and hasn’t been able to get the answer they need, they might then call your customer service team and be greeted by an agent who is completely unaware of the nature of their question. This is a standard experience for most customers – repeating themselves every time they interact with your organisation until they finally get the resolution to their enquiry.

So what’s the answer?

When it comes to customer experience, Roosevelt was right: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. The reality is these challenges can all be solved using solutions currently in the market. Leading banks are realising the business rewards of automated identification and verification in contact centres. ‘Voice of Customer’ technology is enabling businesses to recover detractors before they actively begin detracting. And there are hundreds of examples of business models fundamentally built on a self-service model – like Amazon, which has successfully broadened and deepened its customer offering through leveraging customer insights from its vast data bank. Amazon’s world-famous recommendation system draws on what a user has bought in the past, items they’ve rated, items in their virtual shopping cart, and what other customers have viewed and purchased, then integrates intelligent recommendations into nearly every part of the buying process, from product discovery to checkout.

Multichannel technology platforms exist to help organisations create a connected and consistent customer experience. And the expertise also exists to ensure organisations not only select the right tools and technologies, but implement them in a way that adds value to the customer experience. Even if this expertise cannot be found internally, there are specialists who can help CX professionals think strategically about to what to do and in what order. Once they recognise this, the focus on fear of technology gives way to a lens of hope and possibility.