In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to compare products and services, and buy quickly and simply from companies all over the world. With power shifting towards consumers, businesses must be able to meet their needs and expectations.
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Today’s customers are spoilt for choice. They lead busy lives and have high expectations of the companies they deal with. And those expectations are evolving all the time. Almost half of customers expect specialised treatment just for being a good customer, according to research by Accenture.
Sometimes it only takes one poor encounter with a brand to put customers off. Nearly 60 per cent will never do business with a company again after just one negative experience, according to Dimensional Research. Many will take to social media to vent their frustration too – which could drive away other customers.
Business customers have rising expectations of the companies they deal with along the supply chain, as well. To fulfil their own customer promises, they need access to the latest status of orders, deliveries or service levels without having to chase this information.
Empowering customers to self-serve
It’s no coincidence that many organisations are investing in providing more services online, through mobile apps or even via self-service options in physical locations.
These ‘low-touch’ options are a great way to offer customers more choice and convenience, without increasing the cost of providing services. Empowering customers can even relieve the pressure on busy teams, so experts can spend more time helping with complex queries. We’ve actually written an article on the business benefits of customer self-service, which you can read here.
But there are a few things to consider. People vary in their preferences, so it’s important to offer customers a choice in the way they do things. Companies also need to offer a consistent and joined-up experience right across all customer touch points and product or service lines. So what’s the key to getting the balance right?
What does a good customer experience look like today?
What constitutes a great experience for customers one year will soon be taken for
‘Convenient’ has come to mean ‘instant’ and ‘appropriate support’ is now interpreted as ‘on-tap answers’ or ‘free doorstep returns’.
To stay ahead of customers’ evolving expectations, businesses need to keep paying attention to customers, monitoring what they do and trying to anticipate what good will look like tomorrow.
This includes using data in new ways to proactively track trends and customer sentiment.
Stay in tune with what your customers really think
Go beyond surveys and feedback forms to learn how your customers actually feel about your business, so you can make better decisions and improve your customer experience.
‘Generation Z’ customers (those born between 1995 and 2010) are most likely to expect brands to go the extra mile, yet the least inclined to stay loyal if companies fall short.
What are ‘customer experience’ leaders doing?
What is a ‘future ready’ business?
In our research, there were 12 key responses that correlated most clearly with businesses that considered themselves ‘very well prepared’ for the future.
We used this information to build up a picture of what a ‘future ready’ business looks like.
These are the companies most confident and well-prepared for emerging trends, challenges and possibilities.
A positive attitude to change
Openness to new technology
A commitment to active technological planning for their futures
Detailed business strategies for the future
A grasp of emerging trends
During the COVID-19 pandemic, forward-thinking businesses have accelerated digital processes and moved more systems into the cloud.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, forward-thinking businesses have accelerated digital processes and moved more systems into the cloud. This has made it easier for teams to keep serving customers from home – and for customers to do more for themselves online.
Adaptable organisations have used technology to facilitate social distancing and keep customers safe. In supermarkets, technology has helped monitor and control the flow of people to prevent overcrowding, while self-service scanning and checkouts have reduced the need for human contact. In restaurants and pubs, apps have allowed customers to select and pay for their orders digitally from their tables.
Companies with more agile IT infrastructures are able to seize new opportunities quickly, too. This could include, setting up a pop-up shop, with access to all of the same information, communications and payment facilities. Or being able to switch the type of products the company is making or selling, as demand changes – supported by a flexible and integrated supply chain.
The growing importance of low-touch customer experiences
To meet customers’ rising expectations, companies can make more creative use of low-touch experiences.
Advanced technology options, now readily available to businesses via the cloud, are helping to boost what’s possible.
Chatbots, video demonstration clips, smart recommendation engines and automated form-filling tools all help to streamline and add new value to the customer experience. The faster and more convenient it is for customers to serve themselves, the more likely they are to proactively seek out these options. If they can achieve something easily via an app in their own time, customers can fit more of what they want to do into the natural flow of everyday life. (Bain talks about the benefits of customer self-service portals here.)
All this innovation is increasing customer expectations of their experiences in the real world too. It’s a big driver for companies now looking to bring digital innovation onto their physical premises.
A digitally enhanced in-store experience might involve the ability to access customer reviews or additional product information by scanning a QR code in a book or electrical goods store. Or it could harness ‘beacon’/Bluetooth technology to identify when customers pass or enter a restaurant/cinema/store, and target them with a time-limited offer.
Other innovative low-touch experiences include viewing properties or test-driving vehicles ‘virtually’, where physical restrictions prevent the real-life experience.
What customer experience technologies should I be investing in?
Because technology is advancing at an accelerating pace, and customers’ expectations are continuously evolving, it’s important to stay flexible.
It’s why more businesses are turning to the cloud as the means to roll out new experiences. (IDC sets out the latest cloud adoption trends here). All major software advances happen in the cloud, where teams can access the capabilities anytime, anywhere, from any device. Just as importantly, capacity can be scaled and flexed with demand.
And, because cloud-based business applications benefit from the latest updates, reliable security provision and automatic backup, there’s less need to worry about features or settings becoming out of date, or of customer data being breached or lost.
This means companies can focus more time and energy on customer experience innovation, as resources and time are no longer taken up having to manage internal IT systems.
Of course, not all cloud services are equal so it’s important to look for business-grade services. This will ensure maximum reliability right around the clock, supporting customers who may want to complete tasks at any time of the day or night.
The next step is to convert new ideas for customer experiences into something tangible.
That might be a new self-service app that lets customers complete tasks and look back through their purchase history.
The ability to call up old invoices, details of payments, or the latest status of an order, delivery or insurance claim could add significant value and convenience.
Or perhaps the plan is for a new 3D visualisation or virtual reality experience in store which lets customers ‘experience’ products that are not currently in stock.
Or for connected sensors that monitor customer queues, triggering the opening of a new customer service point or some other action to maintain harmony if the company is suddenly experiencing high demand.
Building custom mobile applications can help make your customers' experience as seamless as possible.
CRM/customer data management systems
The ability to recognise customers and give them a consistently rich experience, however they deal with your organisation, relies on having a single, holistic view of each
This is far easier to achieve if every part of the business, and every customer ‘touch point’, draws on and feeds back to a central customer relationship management (CRM) system.
A flexible, modular cloud-based contact centre platform paves the way for all of this. It allows companies to connect back-office systems, and combine new features quickly and easily. A consolidated view of each customer also presents opportunities to track preferences and trends over time, and to pre-empt queries or complaints.
Data analytics & reporting – in real time
Data analytics, visualisation and reporting tools – especially those that deliver real-time visibility – are increasingly critical, allowing companies to act swiftly if new opportunities or issues emerge.
As more of everyday life goes digital, the ability to keep services performing well becomes vital. Just as a good Netflix experience relies on a reliable Internet service, the smooth running of a ‘smart city’ or distribution fleet depends on a clear and constant line of sight across whole networks to swiftly pick up and address maintenance issues or bottlenecks. These scenarios rely on real-time processing of data and instant, always-on dashboard updates.
Local data processing
5G mobile networks and new 5G applications, including those that read and react to sensors connected over the Internet of Things (IoT), offer huge potential for gathering a wide range of new data about a given environment or ongoing service.
That could be the flow of people in enclosed areas (from hospitals and factories to shopping malls), the performance of a transport network or utility service, or the state of repair of a building.
Bringing cloud-based data processing closer to the point of need (via multi-access edge computing) can help maintain reliable real-time data feeds and enable new possibilities. This capability is even more powerful when combined with the lightning speeds of 5G.
Capturing, analysing and acting on real-time data is critical to delivering enhanced customer experiences
All of this data needs to be readily available and kept secure at all times – ensuring that customers’ privacy preferences are respected and that their information is properly protected. So a good security set-up – ideally cloud-based, to ensure it stays up to date and is monitored around the clock – is essential.
5 ways to reinvent IoT
IoT technology presents many exciting opportunities for brands to create more value for their customers. Download our practical guide to learn more.
Italian insurance company Quixa, part of the AXA group, uses telematics (black boxes fitted to vehicles) to collect and analyse huge volumes of data from vehicles. The intelligence collated from these IoT devices helps to bring down the cost of insurance, and to provide more proactive help to drivers. For example, it rewards safe driving and can intervene automatically in the event of a serious accident in which the driver is unconscious.
A one-stop corporate car
VIP Taxis uses advanced mobile services and the cloud to offer corporate customers a fully automated account booking process. Clients can book taxis online and sign for them using a signature capture function on the driver’s app. All details, including the signature, can feature on a single, itemised invoice which can be emailed out, removing the need for receipts and time consuming administration and record-keeping. Throughout this process, drivers and dispatchers are in constant contact via the cloud.
Airport shopping without the carry
Dublin Airport offers a digital shopping ‘wall’ giving travellers the opportunity to shop for Duty Free items at the boarding gate. It’s aimed at passengers who may not have had time to browse the departure hall shops before their flight, or who want to purchase take-home items without adding to their luggage. Items on the shopping wall are linked to a QR code that, when scanned using a smartphone. This takes passengers to the specific item listing in an online store, before providing a further option to browse the website of the airport shopping centre. Any items purchased are packaged ready for customers at a Shop & Collect desk in the Arrivals Hall on passengers’ return.
Kingspan Environmental, which promotes sustainable ways of sourcing, storing and protecting energy and water, has developed a whole spin-off business based on its IoT-connected fuel-consumption monitoring service. Its customers can now be more proactive about managing oil, LPG and lubricant levels, gauging consumption levels and planning deliveries ahead of time. Having connected its sensors to a cloud-based IoT platform (to monitor the data and issue alerts to customers), Kingspan has identified other opportunities for the facility – including waste-water management and refrigeration monitoring.
Taking the pain out of
When you’re in a rush and the traffic is bad, it can be stressful trying to find and pay for a parking spot. This makes parking an obvious target for smart city innovation by local authorities and transport networks. Take Transport for West Midlands, which is working with West Midlands 5G and Vodafone to develop a new smart parking system in Birmingham – the first in the UK to determine availability in real time using 5G. It uses real-time scanning and rendering of street images, as well as real-time data processing using AI. The user experience is delivered via an ‘AppyParking’ app, which displays latest vacant spaces. Connected parking schemes reduce congestion, improve air quality and travel experiences and make city centres more accessible to everyone. As Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, puts it: “Imagine knowing where the parking spaces are before you arrive in a busy road.”
8 ways to make life easier for customers
The customer experience is so much more than the quality of your product or service. Learn how to avoid common customer experience pitfalls in our practical guide.
What benefits can you expect from an enhanced customer experience?
Improving the customer experience drives up business performance.
According to Forrester Research, even a single-point increase in their Customer Experience Index can increase revenue by over a billion dollars for certain industries, including mass-market auto manufacturers.
And, as each customer spends more with the company, the ‘cost of sale’ goes down – boosting profitability. Loyalty grows, existing customers spend more, and positive encounters go viral - attracting new business organically. Customers who rate a company as delivering a “good” customer experience are 34 per cent more likely to purchase more, according to XM Institute Research.
The CX Academy, which provides training in how to improve customer experience, summarises the main benefits of delivering a great customer experience as:
Greater customer loyalty & retention
More cost-effective acquisition of new customers
Reduction in the cost of serving customers
Greater staff motivation and longevity
Greater shareholder value
Interestingly, when IDC surveyed businesses at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in April and then again in May 2020, it saw customer experience improvement rise to the top of the European enterprise technology buying agenda . That’s as companies strived to boost customer engagement, and bolster their trust.
It’s much easier to stay ahead of change than to catch up later, and today’s technology makes this easier than ever.
But it can be hard to know where to start – especially if you’ve always done things a particular way and everything is set up to support that.
Rather than trying to innovate in isolation, why not start by networking? As well as asking customers what they think, seek feedback from Customer Service or Support teams who have first-hand insight into what customers need or struggle with most.
Appointing internal champions will be important, to drive positive change and make it stick. Gartner calculates that 90 per cent of large organisations now have a leader dedicated to enhancing the customer experience.
Bringing in experienced consultants is advisable too – those with insight into how other businesses excel at customer experience, and the transformations that enabled this.
Experts who not only have the latest technology skills, but also understand how to guide a company and its people through the transition: from where they are today, to where they want to go. Read our blog post on how to utilise customer intelligence and analytics effectively, here.
Innovate for your customers
Innovation is key to creating and sustaining an outstanding customer experience. Learn about the tools and infrastructure needed to attract, engage and delight customers for years to come.
Ideally, you’ll need a partner that understands all the different component technologies – from connectivity, the cloud, unified communications, IoT and mobility, to robust security.
A partner that knows how to bring all the different pieces together to deliver tangible improvements, in a way that’s flexible and that can be built on in the future.
You may have great new ideas that you want to execute too – new apps or services that you want to create. So look for a provider that can help bring these ideas to life, working with you to roll out new customer experiences quickly, ahead of the competition.