The latest trend in today’s data-centric world is machine learning and artificial intelligence, and AI is looking like the go-to technology and buzz for 2019. In fact, Gartner recently released a Smarter With Gartner report that identifies AI as one of their top 10 strategic technology trends for 2019. And a McKinsey Global Institute economic model estimates that about 70 percent of companies will adopt at least one type of AI by 2030.
Given the projection of AI, it’s worth noting that the possibilities and potential for AI-driven applications to enhance Customer Experience (CX) seem endless — from chatbots and personal assistants to text & sentiment analytics that can turn customer feedback into a roadmap for CX improvement. If, however, you’re thinking about jumping on board as soon as possible, think again.
Organizational culture for AI adoption
Artificial Intelligence is an undoubtedly helpful innovation in CX, but only when the foundational customer insight program and the company culture are customer-centric. You can have all of the most sophisticated AI-driven programs at your fingertips, but if no nobody cares or acts on the feedback in your company, it’s not worth the time and money. Even without AI, organizations can fall into the trap of myopic obsession over a metric rather than building a culture around the customer. Changes in culture across an entire organization require C-suite buy in and commitment.
Research from Forrester found six interdependent operational levers that need to be pulled simultaneously for a necessary “operational reset” to achieve a customer-obsessed organization. Technology (like AI) and metrics were only two of the six. Alone, they cannot carry your organization into offering a better customer experience.
In a 2017 customer-centric primer, Gartner offered many methods to pull these levers. Not only must “CX leaders… remove real and perceived barriers that stand in the way of employees acting in a customer-centric way,” but they must “power long-term trade-offs.” Implementing metrics and technology before a culture of customer centricity is established often prioritizes short-term goals at the expense of the long-term benefits of customer obsession, specifically increased loyalty and incremental revenue.
With the above information in mind, here are five prerequisites for adopting AI to improve CX.
#1 Listen to the Voice of Customer (VoC)
Placing the customer at the center of your company’s decision-making processes at every level and creating a culture of customer obsession starts with listening to the VoC.
As every business school teaches, managing your customers’ expectations is vital to their happiness and your company’s bottom line. Human expectations are both explicit and implicit, with explicit expectations centered around product performance and implicit expectations consisting of unspoken assumptions your customer has about your brand’s performance.
Voice of Customer listening is made possible by modern technology that enables customers’ experiences vs. expectation to be captured, analyzed, and then shared within the organization. Voice of Customer can be quantified and tracked using established metrics such as Net Promoter Score, CSAT, and Customer Effort Score (CES).
Qualitative feedback from customer surveys, support tickets and social channels can be aggregated, auto-categorized and analyzed at scale with the help of AI-powered software. Armed with insights from VoC feedback, companies can build more effective brands, more efficient organizations and develop better products or services.
#2 Evaluate your company’s structure and processes
Take time to understand how your company’s structure and its processes interact with your customers. Mapping the Customer Journey and gathering customer feedback at key touch points can bring that journey to life and provide insight into necessary systemic improvements. Create a team with representatives from every function of your organization to flesh out the customer journey and encourage continued cross-functional teamwork in your company.
Ask these questions:
- Is information about customer interactions being siloed in each respective department?
- Are employees empowered to take actions on behalf of the customer?
- Do you have room for employees to make mistakes? When they make mistakes, do you have a fail-safe process in place?
- Is the C-Suite accountable for CX metrics like NPS, or is that delegated to customer service?
Successful firms are the ones that break down functional silos to move toward leaner, more flexible, and more agile structures.
As part of the structural evaluation, you should identify and remove poor performers who are slowing the change in your organization. Expect to lose staff, anywhere from 5 to 30 percent, according to Forrester research, and remember that leadership is not exempt from evaluation.
#3 Communicate and enable on every level
Make sure you have a communication strategy that continually reinforces the importance of customer experience and establish a common frame of reference for employees. Chose a channel that is highly visible and scalable.
Give employees the opportunity to ask questions and really dig into what these new values mean to them. Tell them why this change is occurring. Have managers set regular meetings to discuss roadblocks and listen to suggestions, and make sure you address their concerns.
Weave customer feedback into the daily communication of employees in every department. Train your employees and give them empowerment tools so that they can act in alignment with these new values. You might choose to invest in formal customer empathy and development training. Increase emotional intelligence across your organization for an added benefit of fostering a warm, understanding work environment for employees.
#4 Hire and train with your new values in mind
Like most firms today, you are probably screening candidates for more than just a specific skill set. You are likely looking at their mindset and personality. As such, the hiring and training process is one of the best places to introduce the concept of customer obsession. If you are taking in candidates who already embody the values that lead to customer centricity, training them in the skills to contribute to a customer-focused organization becomes much easier.
#5 Motivate and showcase your employees
Behavior and mindset feed into each other within a loop, with external motivators affecting behavior and creating habits. Those habits build over time to shape a person’s mindset and can create an intrinsic motivation that was not previously there.
Use formal rewards such as bonuses and promotions for delivering and/or enabling good customer experiences. Praise folks who embody customer-centric values through employee of the month programs, or collect screenshots of positive customer feedback that mention names or teams and send them around in a monthly email or through a Slack channel. Blair Skramstad from John Deere Financial started a customer experience storytelling competition, which helped her collect great CX stories and shift their culture to customer-obsession.
Encourage individuals to recognize each other’s efforts, especially those who are behind the scenes and do not have direct customer contact. Use employee engagement surveys to keep a pulse on employee sentiment and analyze their feedback for guidance on ways to improve job satisfaction. Help them with work-life balance, lowering stress levels, providing training or empowering them in their day-to-day activities. This makes room in their minds to focus on the customer’s needs.
Once again, leadership is not exempt in this transformation. As Forbes points out, there’s a culture of “quarterly earnings hysteria” that discourages commitment to any long-term strategies, including investments in customer experience and customer centricity. It is critical to set a shared customer-based outcome metric for senior leaders and reward them based on delivery improvements on these metrics.
Ready for AI
Once everyone in your company is listening to the Voice of Customer, the culture of customer obsession you’ve created will drive customer loyalty and revenue growth. You will see positive action reflecting the new mindset on every level of your organization. When this is the case, you’ve got the proper foundation for AI-powered CX software to flourish.