Stop winging it: Business communications has become even smarter than you think
The only thing consistent about today's consumers is that they don't present a consistent face to businesses, so most companies can't rely on just a couple customer journeys to determine what consumers want and need. Progressive businesses are now deploying AI-powered customer experience platforms to enable them to manage the increasing complexity and challenges of customer interactions.
One driver of this complexity is generational differences, which businesses have had to consider for many decades. The rapid pace of change, however, has further increased the technology gap between generations. Many boomers grew up in a household with no television or one black-and-white television with just a handful of channels, and businesses communicated with customers via mail and telephone. But look what's happened since.
Loosely defined, Gen X became a computer-first generation with communication via email. For millennials, it was internet-first, with communication via the web. Gen Z was mobile-first, and Gen Alpha will be social-first. In addition to technology, experience, national politics and world events play key roles in generational differences. Still, many customers of every generation embrace every form of communication to interact with companies — voice, web, email, chat, social media — whatever works in the moment.
And consumer expectations overall have increased. Recent research (Ipsos/Avaya, State of the Digital Workplace, May 2021) indicates that 20% of customers will walk away from your business after a single bad interaction. Sixty percent will leave after multiple disappointing experiences. This is amplified by the fact that almost half of consumers say they will post an online review about their experience, and about the same amount of people consult these reviews before choosing a business product or service.
In fact, we as consumers often want seemingly contradictory things at the same time. We want the companies we interact with to know what we like, anticipate our needs, make relevant recommendations, etc., but we don't want them to be intrusive or annoying or violate our privacy (which means different things to different people). We want companies to treat everyone fairly and equitably, but we also want them to provide us with unique experiences. And we demand consistent, high-quality experiences, but we also want to be surprised and delighted.
Many companies are still winging it
Companies are reacting to these forces in a variety of ways. Some, trying to save money or thinking they are forward-looking, opt out of a voice-based call center in favor of a digital-only strategy. While this may work for a limited number of companies with a unique value proposition or brand distinction, it won't work for most. Let's face it, when something goes wrong — for example, when you notice a suspicious financial transaction or your vacation plans suddenly go awry — you'll want to talk to someone and not rely on digital-only channels. In fact, current research (Avaya/Ipsos) indicates that fewer than 20% of consumers say they have a good experience with automated customer care calls or chat most of the time.
Other companies try to be as flexible as possible, allowing customers to reach the contact center by their channel of choice. This is an important first step, but it can backfire if the customer experience is not managed well. For example, let's say you have an issue with a product or order and launch an online chat session. If the chat agent can't help you and recommends a different channel, you don't want to have to re-explain the problem each time you reach out.
While the technology challenge is that siloed information prevents agents on one channel from seeing communications that take place on another channel, the failure on the part of the company is often bigger than the technology. It's seeing customer interactions as individual transactions instead of part of a larger engagement. Companies that continue doing this tend to react to customer complaints or other challenges by addressing problems with stop-gap measures. They are essentially winging it. And this isn't working.
Companies that take a broader engagement approach view every interaction in the context of the customer's total relationship with the company — favorite communications channels, loyalty program participation, multiple products or services purchased, returns and cancellations, past positive and negative issue resolution and more. Instead of a piecemeal approach, they work to solve a multi-variable equation: generation + individual preferences + past experiences with company + intensity of current issue, etc.
AI-powered customer experience platform
Solving this equation requires more than breaking down information siloes. It requires a new way of thinking and the ability to constantly integrate new technologies and develop new workflows to meet customers at every touchpoint with the exact experience the customer wants or needs. This requires a customer experience platform that enables the company to:
- See everything about every customer — all information, all interactions — in one place.
- Take advantage of AI to help agents understand what is important to the customer and what the customer is feeling in the moment.
- Ensure an issue or interaction is never dropped or forgotten until the customer's expectation is met or there's a satisfied purchase.
- Measure everything.
- Deliver unique and delightful experiences.
Let's look to the example of a dog barking during a customer interaction. Is this a bad thing? It depends on the context. If you have the right information in the moment, you can turn almost any event to your advantage.
During the pandemic, for example, when all agents were suddenly working from home, an agent on a call with a customer suddenly had a dog barking in the background. Instead of getting mad, the customer asked what type of dog it was, leading to a very friendly exchange and a positive outcome for the call. The company's customer experience platform used an AI capability called sentiment analysis to automatically detect and log the emotional connection, enabling the customer to be automatically connected to that same agent for future calls.
In another scenario, a business leader pitching an important opportunity to stakeholders while working in a home office suddenly had a gardener crank up a lawn mower just outside her window. Fortunately, her AI-powered customer experience platform automatically detected this unwanted noise and completely removed it.
Change is hard. And for veteran marketing and product executives, changing the approach to customer experience can be painful and unnerving. But it must happen if you want to optimize your engagements for today's ever-changing customers and empower your teams to deliver the required experience. New technology can make your business communications much smarter and elevate every customer interaction. If you need advice on building your customer experience platform, be sure to consult with a reputable third party with extensive domain experience. They don't wing it!