Can technology create customer delight? Global #CX experts weigh in!

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When I’ve researched what creates “memorable” experiences, the most common answers (70-80% of the time) involve interactions with people. These seem to get noticed, while interactions with systems (think IVR, web, etc.) only get noticed when they fail.

So I’ve been wondering, as companies shift to more automated and digital channels, how will they deliver delightful experiences using technology?

I put this question to customer experience experts around the world, as part of my research for an upcoming article. The responses were so good, I wanted to share their detailed answers in this post.

Expert input shown in alphabetical order. I encourage readers to add their own examples in the comments. Enjoy!

 


Lior Arussy
Strativity Group

In general I am not surprised by your findings. People can add human touch and surprises. Technologies are designed for repetition.

The role of technology is in two areas in my mind

  • Enable delight – remind sales people about personal customer details and potentially prioritization e.g. when United rebook me first if a flight is cancelled that is a small delight. When I receive prioritization during a trip that is a delight that is technology empowered. Another example are some of the tools from NICE that analyze customer stress level and crm status and provide agents with guidelines for next best offer
  • Innovative tools – The variety if iApps out there are useful in saving times and people can not imagine life without them that is a form of delight as we can do things more efficiently. E.g. depositing checks electronically through an iApp

Just as technology cannot love customers, it will not be able to delight them in the same way that humans will. But it definitely play a role in personalizing the interactions and customizing the human performance through insight and proactive suggestions.


Chip Bell
The Chip Bell Group

Take a look at MailChimp.com. Users rave about how fun it is.

Also, the holographic information person in the Manchester (UK) Airport has gotten lots of press.

Obviously, you have a gazillion stories on Siri on the Apple IPhone.


Jeanne Bliss
CustomerBLISS

Short starter answer is that (and this is what we did in spades at Lands’ End) …is that high tech should enable “high touch.”

For example, when we started the kids business, if there was a kids order, we put it inside a shipping box that had the head and tail of a cow a sheep or a horse – so you could turn your shipping box into an animal your kid could ride all over the house. Included in that was a note to parents from ‘your friends’ at Lands’ End …about how we are parents too and remember how much fun these boxes were.

We could electronically insert specific messages and ‘freebies’ into the shipping box based on if the customer was, for example:

  • placing their first order
  • buying a certain category of product
  • a great customer

When I was at Mazda, one of the first things I did with them was to integrate their 24 operational flat files into a united customer database. Then we created a trigger based system that sent messaging to customers based on their critical moments of truth, for example:

  • 3 weeks after their purchase
  • a month prior to their warranty expiring
  • outreach when they had called the call center more than twice in a month

This capacity for using ‘high tech’ to drive relevant ‘high touch’ outreach/contacts and memories is what companies should understand is a real skill that can pay dividends in customer relationships and advocacy.
However often databases are still thought of as ‘pushing marketing messages’ and campaigns, rather than the high touch, relevant content and contacts that say ‘we know you’ and ‘we are your partner and here to help.’


Leigh Durst
Live Path


Apple has always done a superior job of providing an ergonomic experience for users and it’s paying off dearly right now. They’re a good example of a company that dares to reinvent technology and do new things that are truly revolutionary. However as the recent iCloud hacking nightmare reveals, they have to work out some kinks in the cloud experience and with regard to security. So, in an increasing capacity, a tremendously key CX differentiator will be related to plugging up experiential “holes” in the cross-channel, cross-device, cross-platform experience. This has become increasingly complex due to open source and convergence.

One other key aspect of success will be embracing responsive and agile design methodologies to make sure that the cross-experience (channel, device, platform) is pleasing. This will complicate the delivery of services as typically, companies excel in silo fashion in testing the experience across several channels. The problem is, we’re not so good at creating products or services that can be used across (as a project I’m testing now) web, tablet, gaming platforms, web-enabled Tv’s, mobile devicesŠ etc. The feature sets vary on those so creating a consistent, reliable and predictable experience across channels is very complicated.

So we’ll see the leaders in CX investing in user testing and research — and ESPECIALLY contextual research — investigating and looking at how users (and their families) use technology in daily life. This is so important and something there’s a shortage of practitioners available to do right nowŠ E.g. Facebook just bought Bolt|Peters for a reason. I can’t point to companies doing a terribly great job at thisŠ Google (and Google properties) work pretty well in most placesŠ and there’s a reason everyone uses them, right?


Annette Franz Gleneicki
CX Journey


I think you’re struggling with this because it really is about the people. People buy from people… cliche, but true. The technology facilitates the person’s ability to create delight, but I’m not sure if technology is yet ready to deliver that delight on its own.

Having said that, though, I have a couple of examples. I’ll preface it with saying: in order for technology to come close to delighting, you have to train it or teach it what will delight you (probably not so different from training frontline staff on what will delight customers).

  • My bank and my credit card companies can delight me when I get an email letting me know I’ve reached a max or a threshold – but I have to first tell the system what my thresholds are.
  • Airline computers can delight me by reseating me in my preferred seat (window or aisle, forward cabin, first class, etc.) – but first I have to tell the system what types of seats would delight me.
  • Airline computers can delight me by rebooking my flight if I miss a connection or if a flight is canceled – but in order to do that, the computer needs to know my travel plans and what is an acceptable rebook. (Of course, this is a tough one because I’ve already been disenchanted because of a missed flight.)
  • My Starbucks card can be reloaded automatically when I’ve drained it to a certain level – but again, I must first tell their system what level I need to reach before it reloads the card.
  • If I call customer service at some companies and the hold queue is too large, I can leave a message and get a callback. I’m actually surprised and delighted when they call back. (I have used this approach before and NOT gotten a call back.)
  • At the Apple store, I walk in and the employee at the front door assesses my needs, punches something into his iPad and sends me back to the cash wrap. At the cash wrap, the employee has what I need and rings me out. Done. Technology is used to facilitate a great experience.

My viewpoint on technology is threefold:

  • People buy from people. People are the key.
  • Technology can facilitate the experience these people are delivering.
  • For technology to delight, it needs to be trained, just like the people.

Maybe in the distant future, technology will know what we want and need before we do!


Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman Consulting


You’re right – it is not easy to find examples of customer delight by technology, but here goes with some that are certainly reinforced by and / or supported by it!

  • First Direct Bank
    My other half Jill once called to speak to a specific person at First Direct on morning to sort something out (normally anyone will deal with you) but she wasn’t there. The lady apologised and told Jill that she would get her to call back. She then asked Jill what time she would like her to call! As Jill was in meetings all day, they agreed that 5.45pm that evening would be good. Jill put the phone down, thought nothing of it and the day went on. At 5.45pm ‘on the dot’ it was the lady from First Direct apologising for not being there that morning and how could she help! OK, it’s a human being doing the call, but the ‘technology’ to alarm the call time was a good one!
  • Sat Nav!:
    When ‘customers’ (friends and family!) go to stay at our villa in Portugal there’s a sat nav that they can put in their hire cars with ‘our recommended’ great restaurants, lovely beaches and stunning views already entered in so that they can tap in tom our ‘local knowledge’!
  • Hotel Local Channels
    I once stayed in a hotel in Manchester and after the national news had finished you get half an hour of local news – usually it’s ‘local’ to the area you’re staying! To my surprise, the ‘regional’ news was from my region!!!! Satellite TV does actually allow you to ‘select’ which BBC region you want to view and the hotel staff had checked my postcode and reprogrammed the channel accordingly – a nice touch! (Again, I recognise that it’s the human thing, but it’s technology that allows you to do it!)

Here are some other examples of ‘Customer Delight’ via technology from my website blogs!

Ultimately, most of these do need some sort of ‘human’ decision making to actually make it happen, but I do think that the ‘technology’ helps!


Martin Hill-Wilson
Brainfood Consulting

I think technology/automation is only going to ‘delight’ if used in a certain way. Certainly if it makes life easier, it can be appreciated for its functional/utilitarian benefit, but that does not evoke delight – grateful at best I would suggest.

I think the point you make about people being the secret sauce is no surprise. Delight is high state of human reaction and is always evoked through some kind of interpersonal event. i.e. one that involves another person/people.

Given that, the only circumstance when delight could be triggered is when technology is ‘anthropomorphically used’ i.e. make to mimic humans. This is key part of the robotics debate – look like a person or a machine?

One of the best examples I ever encountered was therefore The Future Shop’s avatar. He knocks on the screen to get you to start to interact with him. Was I delighted? Not quite but it was tons better than viewing the top ten FAQ!


Shep Hyken
The Customer Focus

You are correct in that many of the great comments you hear about customer service have to do with personal interaction. That said, technology can play its hand in some great service experiences.

The airlines are a great example of how technology plays a role in customer service. You can book your ticket online. You print out the boarding pass either before you leave for the airport or at a kiosk once you get to the airport. If you are carrying on your bags, it is conceivable that you won’t actually interact with an airline employee until you board the plane. That’s a far cry from not that many years ago when you made a reservation on the phone, waited in line at the airport to get a boarding pass, check in at the gate, etc. For this type of system to work, the airlines had to train their customers. They started by mailing and emailing instructions on how to work through their new system. They gave the passengers incentives to book online with discounts, extra frequent flier miles and more. Over time, the majority of passengers became comfortable and appreciate of their new system.

Stella Service rates websites for usability and customer service. It probably won’t surprise you that Amazon.com and Zappos.com are two of the highest rated e-tailors. The reason is that they are easy to do business with. Zappos.com puts a phone number on every page in case the customer has a problem and wants to talk to a sales rep. Their return policies are clearly stated. They don’t hide fees. They recognize that even though they are using technology to drive and manage sales, the customer is still human.


Maz Igbal
Dynamica Consulting Group


I am or at least was delighted that I can book a flight, select seats, check in online, print out a boarding card easily thus saving myself time/hassle/concern that goes with frequent travelling. In short, the use of technology (website, kiosks) has made flying easier and less hassle.

I was delighted with the first satnav I bought as it made my life so much easier. Now I am not delighted as I am used to satnavs.

I value the ease with which I can buy stuff through ITunes or download useful courses via iTunes University. I am delighted with the ease/usefulness of the iPad. I value the ease of finding/buying stuff via the Amazon website.

On the whole, technology interfaces do not create delight for me; if they are well designed then they make life easier and become invaluable. It occurs to me that delight mostly shows up when a human being treats me a certain way. That is to say delight is a function of how I am treated by another human being. For example, turning up in an opticians to have some adjustments made to my spectacles and not being charged. Or a bank teller taking an interest in me and entering into a conversation. Or someone, finally, taking responsibility to get the job I want/need done done, especially if it is not their job.

It occurs to me that the companies that are following the technology route are following this route to reduce costs and are in the domain of operational excellence rather than customer intimacy (Treacy & Wiersama). Which is great for the companies that are designing themselves to compete through the right combination of high touch and hi-tech.


Linda Ireland
Aveus

Amazon’s 1-click was a technology that set a standard quickly after it was released. Initially most customers were skeptical of storing credit card and account info in exchange for ordering in a single click. But after one or two purchases with no multi-page checkout process, and customers were hooked. The shiny essence has worn off, but I always think of 1-click as a wow standard.

I remember the first time I was able to take a credit card for Domino books at a speaking event in 2009. Before the event, it took us nearly 4 hours to get through the bank and credit authorizations with the SaaS provider and their financial partners – 3 approvals in all. But at the event, when we could simply enter a CC into a web page and generate a payment receipt, people thought it was a real wow. No more writing down a CC# on a form and wondering how many people would handle it, and no need to ask for an invoice for a such a small transaction. They paid on the spot, and got an instant receipt. We loved it too – no accounts receivable or paperwork to worry about after the event.

These memories – and the fact that neither are special today, forces us to see how quickly we grow to expect a technology to do its thing. We are wowed once, but our expectations quickly rise to expecting the new thing consistently. With the “delights” we get from people, we intuitively understand that they are unique, perhaps even rare occurrences. We rarely have such an expectation for consistency.


Bruce Kasanoff
Now Possible


I’ve just launched One Smart Page and it contains links to numerous examples of tech innovations that can create delight. One Smart Page is designed to inspire marketers, entrepreneurs and innovators to reach even higher. Here are some examples:

  • I’d argue that Pinterest creates delight – all of which depends on technology – simply because it provides a delightful, addictive way for people share their interests. As this TechCrunch article also describes, Pinterest is also the best approach to personalization I’ve ever seen.
  • Senseg turns touch screens into “feel” screens.
    This technology is just about to come out, but I suspect it will be dazzling for people to feel something that isn’t actually there.
  • The gestural interfaces that Prime Sense is developing will rival Senseq for delight factor. It’s like using a touch pad without the touch pad. These are the folks behind Microsoft’s Kinect sensors, which I think also rises to the level of delight (the game controller disappeared, and the game itself can tell the difference between each player.)

One Smart Page has dozens of links like these, from robots that dance to ways marketers can delight customers through the sheer joy of their superb responsiveness (Pacific Controls enables machine-to-machine innovative services).


Sampson Lee
G-CEM

For “delight” experience assisted with technology, I could think of when a VIP customer being treated specially, say for her birthday or anniversary, when she walks into the in-flight cabin of a premium airline or the lobby of a five-star hotel, with the help of technology to identify her from the huge database and tailor customized offer.

For “delight” experience generated directly from interactions with systems, I could think of Amazon. The personalized offers from “Our recommendations” when I land the homepage. It was delightful, however, for the first couple of times, but not anymore afterwards when I get used to have that.

Online experience is much more rare to be delightful than retail or even call experience. I could think of three reasons for why:

  1. The Senses – retail could use up four to five of our senses, but online only one – sight – normally (sometimes two: hearing). Call is as poor as online in this aspect. Only hearing. So for senses alone can’t explain why online is even less delightful than call experience.
  2. The Purpose – people go to cinemas or restaurants for enjoying an evening: more chances to be delighted. People call to resolve problems or address complaints: more chances to get irritated. People go online for saving efforts: on time, on convenience, on more varieties to choose, on easier to check the cheapest price offers: more chances to be disremembered. Why? It relates to…
  3. The Effort – the notion “Customer Effort” that Mark Stanley responded to my latest blog post is a fashionable trend that, I believe, the software vendors are upholding. That is, to minimize or even eliminate the efforts of customers spent during an experience through the adoption of technology.

Inspired by your invitation, I just invented the “Sweat-Recall Effect.” If little or no effort spent by customers, little or no memory they would retain. Most likely, the effortless experience would become a rememberless experience. Effortless could only for reducing or minimizing pains and complaints, but not for maximizing pleasures and generating a memorable experience as your article is going to address. No Sweat, No Recall.

When everything you could just do it with one-click, it’s an effortless experience yet a rememberless experience. The direction that “Customer Effort” strike for will lead to less and less memorable experiences. In that sense, technology does not help generating, but kills, delightful experiences.


Stan Phelps
Synergy Events

Izzy’s uses RFID to Flavor Up and Improve Customer Experience

“RFID tags identify each flavor when it is placed in the case ready to serve. The RFID system updates the inventory every 3 minutes so you can be sure your favorite flavor is there when you are craving. If you choose to be notified by email, you can sign up and let the system know what flavors you are looking for.”

QR codes utilized by Taranta as a marketing lagniappe

“Taranta uses squid ink to place QR codes on plates using fresh locally sourced seafood. Diners can scan the code to visit ‘Trace and Trust’. It allows you to track where and when the fish was caught.”

Tampa Bay Lightning surprises season ticket holders with a jersey that keeps giving

“All full season ticket holders received a home game jersey with their respective season ticket commitments. In addition to the sweater’s distinct look, a microchip is inserted in the sleeve, thereby allowing season ticket holders to be identified at concession stands and merchandise shops throughout the St. Pete Times Forum. By scanning these embedded sleeves, fans receive a 25% discount on all concessions in the arena and a 35% discount on all merchandise purchased at the Times Forum during Lightning games.”


Jon Picoult
Watermark Consulting

“Delight” is in the eye of the beholder, but I do think there are many examples of technology-related approaches that have fueled those types of memorable customer experiences. Here are some examples:

ATMs. While these are commonplace today, there was a time when being able to withdraw money from your bank at any hour was a pretty exceptional interaction.

Remote deposit. Eventually, the novelty of this banking service will go the way of ATMs. For now, though, only some banks let their customers deposit checks merely by taking a smartphone pic of them. I call that “delightful” convenience.

Click-to-call. Lets customers exert greater control over their interactions with businesses, by seamlessly letting them cross from online to offline service channels, and to do it at a time of their choosing (i.e., call me now vs. call me at a specified time). This technology hasn’t made it into every service center just yet, which is why I think it still presents something of a pleasant surprise to customers.

Toll tags. You know what’s delightful? Avoiding the time-sucking toll gates on highways. Wouldn’t be possible without RFID toll passes.

Smartphones. These are ubiquitous now, but it wasn’t that long ago that the services offered by smartphone technology created really distinctive consumer experiences (think location-based apps that take information relevance to a new level).

DVRs. Fast forwarding commercials? Catching all your favorite shows without worrying about swapping out VHS tapes? Definitely a unique and delightful TV watching experience — albeit less striking these days since DVRs are pretty much standard issue with any cable box.

“You might like…” analytics. Amazon and Pandora are just two examples of companies that crunch individual consumer data in a way that lets them offer a more personalized and contextually relevant experience. Their use of this technology fosters a sense of discovery among users that fuels a very engaging and memorable experience.

As you note, when thinking of technology, people often jump to where tech fails and how that undermines a customer experience. I think the reason that dynamic exists is because when technology helps fuel a delightful customer experience, it usually doesn’t take much for other firms to copy that technology. Then it becomes commonplace and ceases to be as distinctive as it initially was (ATMs are a good example — and smartphone check deposits will travel down that maturity curve at some point, too).

In contrast, delightful experiences that are driven by personal interactions are much harder to copy and replicate consistently. For that reason, I think it’s easier for people to think of instances where such personal interactions create a delightful experience. In short, technology is typically easy to copy and, as such, accords a rather fleeting experiential advantage. (That doesn’t mean tech-based differentiation isn’t worth pursuing; it just has a short half-life.) Live interactions, and the culture and staff that underlie them, are often far more sustainable sources of experience differentiation.


Colin Shaw
Beyond Philosophy


Firstly, this may help. It’s a blog about a good technology experience.

Here are some other thoughts where I think technology provides a good experience:

  • Personalisation of experience on web sites I think the weather channel web site, the layout, personalisation etc. is a good experience I like the self-service check in at airports. It beats waiting in a line to see a rep to check you in.
  • Seeing Customer comments in reviews. Ten years ago didn’t happen
  • Smart phones! Stunning.
  • Boarding card in smart phone, check in
  • Apps that tell me what is ‘around me’ Restaurants etc…
  • Starbucks app
  • Trip it
  • Bbc news app
  • Spotify – your music collection anywhere, and I can discover new music- radio Social media

Bruce Temkin
Temkin Group

I think delight is often driven by human interactions. So the technologies that make it easier for humans to see information about the customers and to enable them to take action to “delight” customers are technologies that would fit. Some of the marketing automation vendors are applying their “next best offer” algorithms to loyalty give-aways. So if someone complains about a bad seat on an airplane, the agent is empowered to give a free upgrade coupon for the customers’ next flight.

In terms of delighting with technology-based interactions, I’d look at Apple’s Siri. Yes, some of the use-cases are hokey, but there’s something very “delightful” when you ask for a good chinese restaurant in the area and it gives you a list of nearby options put in order based on customer feedback scores. I think you’ll see more-and-more of these voice activated experiences that will be delightful, if for no other reason than people aren’t expecting them. So I think companies like Nuance will be powering more and more of these memorable experiences.

I also think that the simplicity of some mobile apps is causing delightful experience for many consumers. The ease and accessibility of some banking apps and retail apps like ShopSavvy are delighting customers.

Also, more and more companies are gamifying their experience to increase the emotional connection to some customers. That’s helping getting people excited about Nike+.

I think creating delightful experience in digital channels comes down to the same old fundamentals: You need to understand what your customers want to achieve. If you can help them to succeed, make it easy, and make the experience enjoyable then many of them will be delighted. The trick to digital channels is that customers have different aptitudes and interest in the technology. So it requires an additional layer to your segmentation models, to understand what type of digital experiences (if any) you offer to our customers.


Jim Tincher
Heart of the Customer

Wow – that is a tough one. I agree with your research – it’s interactions with humans that create the greatest delight (or, for that matter, frustration!). Where technology seems to make the greatest impact is when it enables or improves the person-to-person relationship.

I’m “thinking out loud,” but it seems that most effective technology implementations either improve a human being’s access to data (e.g., a really good system at a hotel), or allows a transaction to occur more quickly by avoiding a person (self-service systems). There are some obvious exceptions, like Amazon, but most of those have been written to death.

Loyalty programs were considered a great example of this in their earlier days. But we’re starting to see that loyalty programs don’t build emotional loyalty – they just trap a consumer. In my interviews, consulting, etc., it always comes down to the human element. So I’m not sure that I’m a lot of help in what you’re hoping to accomplish!

I guess my POV is that technology allows your transactions to occur more easily and quickly for customers. This in itself does not enable delight, except that it frees up your staff to focus on the higher-leverage points, which does create delight.


Jeannie Walters
360Connext


I think examples like Domino’s show how to take some of the ways companies can add delight to their customer experiences. Domino’s allows customers to not only order online, but also track exactly what’s happening with their order via the Tracker. It’s great because it includes the customer in the process and adds an element of fun – and knowledge – to the simple act of ordering a pizza.

Another example I like is Square the payment system created by Jack Dorsey of Twitter fame. By allowing sellers and buyers to interact with a cool piece of technology like Square, it’s creating a memorable experience where before there was nothing special, memorable or intimate about it. This is technology at its best, in my opinion. The seller benefits from the Square technology, but the technology alone makes a better experience.

Finally, I would also say some apps are really helping the customer experience. The Disneyland Line Wait App was amazingly helpful on our trip there. Instead of hoofing it across the park, you can check the app to get a sense of wait times and make real-time decisions which improve the overall experience.http://touringplans.com/disneyland-app

It’s all about being thoughtful. Technology alone won’t solve anything. But what if you can use it to solve the real problems your customers might face? That’s what causes delight!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Bob,

    I think technology can create customer delight and my favorite example is Sonos. I blogged about this when i got it, because it was (and still is) the most amazing technology experience I have ever had. (link: http://hbcemcollection.tumblr.com/post/17555824002/sonos-blows-me-away ).

    At this point, anytime I am talking to anyone and music comes up, I pitch them on Sonos.

    What were the keys?

    1. The simplest installation process I have ever experienced for a networked technology product.
    2. Easy way to show me how to add value with music services they support (that i did not know about). I now value Slacker radio over Pandora (for example).
    3. Flexible control–From my PC, Droid Phone, or Kindle Fire, I can control the music throughout my house.
    4. Easy expansion – I started with one speaker, then added another and a device that connects to my existing stereo. Since then, I’ve added 2 more speakers and a separate amp. And it took seconds to activate.

    So the theme was amazing easy of installation and use and value added exposure to other music options.

    There are probably other examples if I thought about it more, but that one sets the bar for me.

    Hank

    P.S. I have never spoken to a Sonos employee (or dealer) directly.

  2. I just talked with Kerry Bodine of Forrester, and she gave Hipmunk as a great example of digital experience delight.

    Just visited http://www.hipmunk.com and I agree. It’s really different from the usual display of air and hotel options.

    For air travel you can sort by “agony” and hotels can be sorted by “ecstasy.” A much more visual and effective way to plan travel than what airlines or travel sites like Expedia offer.

    General comment: Kerry feels that human interactions are more memorable because they are more variable. The “good” interactions stand out. Dgital doesn’t have to mean boring, but companies need to do more to really understand customer needs and innovate, rather than just copying what others are doing.

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