Discover how to benefit from technology investments to improve your customer care strategies. Uncover key areas of investment, top challenges faced opportunities, trends, and learn the benefits of deploying a unified digital-first customer service strategy.
As digital customer service interactions are expected to increase by 40% by the end of 2021 according to Forrester, digital customer care strategies are becoming a top priority for businesses.
In this article, we dive into customer experience management solutions that will ensure businesses can stand apart from their competitors in the digital realm. The article includes insights from over 120 senior customer care, customer experience, and customer service leaders who control or directly influence where the customer contact budget in their organization is spent.
Read this article to understand:
- The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on customer care.
- Key investment priorities and trends.
- How to overcome industry challenges.
- How customer experience solutions work in practice with insight from Grad Conn, Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr.
For those working in the customer contact industry, the last eighteen months have been a time of unprecedented change, challenges, and as a result, innovation. Customer experience management and consumer centricity have become vitally important to the C-Suite.
According to Forrester, 72% of businesses say that improving customer experience is their top priority. Whilst an Accenture Interactive report found that 87% of organizations believe that traditional experiences are no longer enough to satisfy their customers. The report concluded that “customer experience is the new battleground for brands.” The result has been hyper-accelerated technology development and deployment, with 77% of executives stating that their technology architecture is becoming very critical to the overall success of their organization (Accenture, 2021).
As digital customer service interactions are set to increase by 40% during 2021 (Forrester), this trend will undoubtedly continue. However, there are challenges, and pressure is increasing on customer care leaders to not only deliver excellent service levels but also to transform their contact centers into profit centers. Recent research from The Harris Poll, 2021 found that 78% of consumers are more willing to buy from a brand, and 77% will choose a brand over a competitor after a positive experience on social media. With undisputable data like this, now is the time to re-imagine your customer care strategy and what your customer care organization should look like so that you can best serve and support both your employees and customers.
Utilizing analysis of interviews conducted regularly with senior customer care practitioners throughout the past year, this report will uncover key areas of investment, challenges faced, opportunities and trends and it will enable you to learn the benefits of deploying a unified digital-first customer service strategy. In addition, to get a unique view of this data and our industry insights, we interviewed Grad Conn, Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr.
Impact of the pandemic on customer care
The pandemic had two impacts on customer care: on customers and the customer contact center. Both created a huge impetus for new types of software and new types of solutions.
Firstly, on the customer side, people were suddenly online far more. They were working online on video conferencing platforms and in virtual offices, whilst also shopping, streaming digital entertainment, and socializing online. In late March 2020, KPMG U.K. reported that Broadband operators were experiencing surges in demand of between 30-50% across their mobile and fixed networks. During the same period, Mckinsey reported that in Italy alone, e-commerce sales for consumer products rose by 81 percent in a single week. Whilst a report from Ofcom, the U.K. telecommunications regulator, stated that Zoom grew from a few hundred thousand users in the first two months of 2020 to more than 13 million in April and May.
However, an issue quickly arose when people were busy online and they faced a customer services issue, but often, the only way to contact an organization was by phone. Not only that but, soaring demand and reduced customer service agents meant long wait times and prerecorded messages, which quickly frustrated customers.
Unable or unwilling to wait on hold for longer than a few minutes, customers began messaging companies directly using myriad modern channels. As Grad Conn, Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr, explained: “the result of this massive demand for customer services was to force people to start approaching companies asynchronously.”
This problem was compounded as traditional contact centers, built over many years and made up of hundreds or even thousands of employees working from centralized locations, were suddenly empty as staff rapidly shifted to remote work environments. Of course, this created many challenges in terms of managing the remote workforce and dealing with the inevitable management and security challenges, but it also offered an opportunity.
There has been a long-standing desire to move contact centers to VoIP technology, but there are technical limitations with VoIP and the amount of bandwidth that such systems need, so it was not easily utilized in a traditional contact center setting. However, with many agents working from home, using their home connections with the necessary bandwidth, this limitation disappeared overnight, and VoIP was suddenly possible.
Additionally, many organizations have typically built up quite complex customer care systems with multiple interfaces and complicated phone systems. Historically, this was not a big problem, as when agents were in the contact center environment, they could easily troubleshoot any problems. However, like Conn, explained: “with so many people at home, you need a much simpler system, a much cleaner system, and ideally that should be a single system with a single interface.” This fuelled a desire to implement new unified technologies and systems.
Investment priorities and trends
Interviews with our panel of senior customer care practitioners revealed that the top ten investment priorities are:
- Customer experience management
- Customer journey mapping
- Self-service automation
- Omni-channel integration
- Voice of the customer
- Live chat or video chat applications
- Customer satisfaction and sentiment analytics
- Real time customer feedback
- Workforce optimisation
- Workflow management automation tools
Key highlights include, 40% revealing that they are prioritizing customer experience management, 38% focusing on customer journey mapping, and 29% citing real-time customer feedback as a key focus.
When we dug a little deeper, the percentage of respondents prioritizing real-time customer feedback has increased from 17% in October 2020 to 31% in May 2021, whilst those listing voice of the customer as an immediate focus has increased from 22% to 41% over the same period. This demonstrates that focus on the customer experience and what the customer thinks about their interactions with an organization is intensifying.
Meanwhile, some 39% are actively shortlisting suppliers of self automation tools and 32% are investing in live chat or video chat applications. This focus on AI highlights that the customer care industry is heavily focused on adopting digital-first strategies.
Notably, 29% are also focused on workforce optimization of their contact center or customer service organization; perhaps reflecting that many organizations expect new remote, or hybrid working patterns to be the new normal.
These findings were backed by Forbes when Chief Information Officer, Rohan Amin reported: “our latest AI research shows 86% of businesses are currently reaping the benefits of the better customer experience through AI, and 25% of companies with widespread AI adoption expect to see the tech payout in increased revenue during 2021. The pandemic has uncovered the value of AI, lending itself to enhancing tasks related to workforce planning, simulation modeling, and demand projection.”
“It’s not surprising to hear that real time customer feedback and voice of the customer have leapt to the top of practitioners’ priorities, but it is always a little disappointing to think that there are organisations only just realising that what the customer thinks is important. This is key information that companies can use to leverage a strategic advantage. It’s a little bit like companies just letting the phone ring so that they don’t have to deal with their customers’ problems!” – Grad Conn, Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr
When we spoke to the customer care practitioners, we asked them to identify the key challenges that they face in successfully deploying new strategies or technologies, driving increased levels of customer satisfaction, and ultimately transforming their customer contact organization into a profit center.
SOME OF THE KEY CHALLENGES MENTIONED INCLUDED:
- Wanting to increase deployment of AI and automation but remaining concerned that they do not want customer satisfaction to suffer, or to de-humanise the customer experience.
- Managing employee engagement during a challenging time; how best to manage and empower agents who have suddenly found themselves working from home and who in many cases are handling a wide variety of new situations.
- Shifting from fire-fighting the challenges posed by the increased calls and contacts, as habits changed at the start of the pandemic, to focusing on the future of the customer contact organisation, and positioning for future growth and success.
- Recognising the need for digital investment, designing a digital-first strategy, having the funding in place, but no real idea of where to invest to make the biggest difference.
- Improving and customising the digital customer journey to enhance experience, breed loyalty and build meaningful relationships with customers that go beyond focusing solely on transactional processes.
- Understanding the customer: why are they contacting the organisation and did the contact centre meet or exceed their expectations?
- Managing huge amounts of data: accelerating understanding of what information is held across the business and how can this be utilised to improve customer outcomes, and drive business growth.
- Converting customer satisfaction into commercially focused metrics that will secure buy-in for further investment: highlighting the commercial benefit to drive decision-making.
- Implementing standards, systems, and processes across multiple centres and/or global locations.
Strategies and opportunities
Tackling these challenges can rapidly accelerate the journey from contact center to profit center and offer growth opportunities. To deliver the excellent experience that every customer contact requires, a clear strategy, and an investment in enabling technology is needed. As customers’ habits have changed, you cannot just bolt-on digital channels to your traditional customer services model and expect a smooth transition. Your contact operations now require an integrated omnichannel approach that enables customers to have conversations online in their chosen channel and for you to be able to join them wherever they are and deliver the service that they require.
RE-IMAGINING YOUR CUSTOMER OPERATIONS CAN BE DONE BY TACKLING FOUR PILLARS.
Pillar One: Develop a digital-first strategy.
An AI-powered, digital-first strategy means quicker and less costly customer care, but it can also mean more effective and satisfying care for your customers. A recent Forrester report notes that “live channels such as phone, live chat, and email cost an average of $8.01 per contact, while self-service channels such as company-run websites and mobile apps cost about $0.10 per contact.” Companies can deploy bots on the website and mobile apps that deliver significant savings, but not only can the tools tackle repetitive tasks more cheaply than your agents, but by removing these tasks from agents, you can reserve their time for more complex tasks that require human context, judgment, or empathy.
Pillar Two: Reserve voice as an escalation channel that is supported with AI-powered tools to enable the right agents to deliver a better customer experience in all situations.
Deploying AI and reserving voice as an escalation channel ensures that repetitive, easily solved customer issues are dealt with quickly, whilst allowing the right agents to focus on complex cases where additional levels of human empathy are required. Not only does this maximize the chances of high customer satisfaction, but it also makes agents’ jobs more rewarding and helps to ensure they are engaged. In turn, this helps to reduce agent churn and saves organizations time and money.
Pillar Three: Weave customer care data throughout your organisation.
As a result of changing customer habits during the pandemic and the resulting increase in the volume of contacts, many organizations have realized that their contact center or organization holds a wealth of information about their customers. If this data is fully leveraged, it can translate into opportunities to increase customer loyalty and spending. In turn, this translates into profits or growth for the organization. However, customer care data must be woven throughout your organization to avoid information remaining in silos. Traditional CRM systems are ill-adapted to handle this kind of information and information typically sits in silos within the organization. New unified solutions are required to tackle this challenge.
Pillar Four: Measure performance and optimise your processes.
AI structures data both outside and inside an organization and as such, an AI-powered organization can analyze customer feedback and employee performance. Because AI is so good at measuring patterns, you can measure the business impact of your contact center’s success and failure. Data can be easily sorted by agent, team, or location, and can be used to demonstrate key metrics including time, value, and cost, which can then be communicated with senior leadership teams and facilitate future decision-making.
The most forward-looking organizations will deploy these four pillars to position themselves for growth and to serve every single one of their customers. A shining example of this is the world-leading beauty company L’Oréal, where Céline Dumais, Global Chief Consumer Care & Experience Officer says: “We are committed to providing the best consumer experience and have set ourselves the ambitious goal to become a 100% responsive company (retailtimes.co.uk).
Reimagining customer care
We spoke to Grad Conn, Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr, to ask him to explain a little about what adopting the four pillars to reimagine customer care means to him and Sprinklr.
The first step in adopting a digital-first strategy is to understand how your customers came to you in the first place and often companies are surprised to realize that customers do not come to them directly. Companies focus on their websites and on improving that aspect of the customer experience, but they forget the route that people take to arrive at that website. As Conn explained: “they’re researching other places, they’re on review sites, they’re on forums, they’re on social channels, or they’re talking to their friends, so you need to understand what influences people and how people discover you and that’s not well understood by most companies.”
Engaging with customers in modern channels and ‘being where your customer is, is an extension of the principle of selecting the right retail location. Retailers and other businesses have long understood that they should be located where their target market is, and it is the same principle in the digital realm. Conn said: “to be the beginning of a digital-first mindset is understanding that the sort of digital world that people live in is one where they are searching, connecting, and talking to others before they come to you. That is how people make decisions; it is how people buy and organizations that understand that are much more successful.”
Understanding your customers offers huge opportunities for your organization. The challenge is that silos exist within organizations and these silos are twofold; there are operational silos and there are customer information silos. In practice, different departments within the same organization all hold fragments of information about the same customer, but no one has the complete picture of that customer. Conn commented that: “I believe that it is often these broken connections in the organization that drive miscalculations in decision-making. If you create a more collaborative and cohesive single customer profile system, you can make much more informed decisions that ultimately support your organizational goals.”
To do this, you need to build a single 360-degree profile of the customer and that means overcoming the other challenge that arises in the way that organizations approach data. Conn explained that the issue is that there are two different types of data. There are structured CRM data, which is transactional and many companies have an excellent transactional CRM database. However, customer experience data, which completes the profile of the customer, is unstructured. That data is also very often unsolicited, and it is made up of different data types. It is not just text and numbers. It is also memes, emojis, and videos. As Conn described: “customer experience data is lots of different things that connect to the customer’s experience, but it is when you can combine what the customer has done with you or what they have purchased, with how they feel, what they say, what the emotion of it is, that is when you get to a point where you can have a real conversation with the customer.”
Additionally, modern channels offer the most forward-looking and customer-centric organizations so much information about their customers. People have values, they have an identity, they have interests, and they have moments. It is these values, the things that they believe in most, the things that matter to them most that people are sharing and often evangelizing about. People share this information because it matters to them, and they want to show other people who they are. As Conn said: “imagine how much of an opportunity it offers to organizations to connect to their customers if they take advantage of the information that people share publicly. Suddenly the hotel front desk that you have just arrived at already knows that you had a terrible flight and sets out to improve your day, which results in building your loyalty to their brand. Or perhaps a rival airline knows that this might be a great time to approach you with a new offer. Garages could promote new cars when you have got a new job, or your favorite restaurant might ask if you have considered booking a table to celebrate!” Many organizations are now recognizing this potential with “85% of executives reporting that social data will be a primary source of business intelligence for their company moving forward” (The Harris Poll, 2021).
Customer habits have undergone a dramatic change over the past year and customer care practitioners have faced many challenges in meeting the demands generated by those changes. Undoubtedly, digital transformation will continue apace, and leaders must adopt clear strategies to enable them to take advantage of the new opportunities for business growth. Investment in AI can support an organization’s focus on both its customers and its employees and in turn, delivering seamless customer care will enhance customer loyalty and retention. The most successful organizations will prioritize the experience of the customer and their willingness to buy again and less on metrics like time spent by agents on each call. Customer care truly is the next frontier in marketing because an amazing care experience can create a loyal customer for life.