How the World’s Leading Brands are Finally Winning with Digital and Artificial Intelligence

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If we’re honest, digital capabilities in both sales and service channels have fallen short of their potential over the last two decades. The world’s largest companies have seen little reduction in CX spend, even as digital capabilities have multiplied.

So, What’s Gone Wrong?

There are over half a billion calls made to customer and contact centers every day. Historically, these expensive interactions between humans were managed in brick-and-mortar stores and contact centers. Retail “door swings” and voice calls into contact centers represented most engagements between consumers and businesses. Today, digital capabilities increasingly serve a majority of customer engagements, typically in the following ways:

Web sites offer customers the ability to purchase products and services and independently manage basic aspects of their account.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems automate basic transactions and help guide customers to the optimal agent when automation cannot offer a resolution.
Mobile applications are ubiquitous now that most adults in the US carry a smartphone. Enabling sales and service capabilities via mobile apps is now considered table stakes.
Chat bots have taken responsibility for handling basic customer needs to mitigate the growing expense of staffing contact centers with human agents.
Voice bots have become increasingly mainstream as consumers grow accustomed to speaking commands into IVRs and home automation systems such as Google Home and Alexa.

As these digital technologies have been introduced, the focus has shifted to digital becoming the substitute for human interaction. This has resulted in a binary mindset to CX, in both sales and service environments. Humans or digital rather than an optimal balance of both to drive desired customer, agent, and business outcomes. As such, the people responsible for human channels have developed their own operating processes and technologies while digital teams executed against a very different set of objectives; one of which is to define success as eliminating the need for a human.

This organizational gap between the people responsible for human channels and the people responsible for digital channels has fragmented the customer journey. It fuels frustration and creates headwinds for value realization because none of the capabilities are effectively orchestrated. While IT is typically involved in aspects of each of these, marketing may own the web and mobile app. Customer Service teams work on adoption of chat to replace voice interactions. Bots are built without a clear strategy and governance of automation. As a result, customer self-serve capabilities are limited. Customer experiences across channels are inconsistent, resulting in decreased satisfaction and expensive channel “hopping.”

So, How Do We Get It Right?

Companies who are getting it right and truly scaling digital look at things much more holistically. Below are three themes that we see driving best-in-class digital CX outcomes in both sales and service.

Meet Customers Where They Are

93% of adults in the United States carry a smartphone. Nearly 96% of those use their phones to send and receive text messages daily with friends and family. Yet less than 40% of businesses offer their customers the option to message even though 85% of consumers want to be able to send and receive messages while on the go. Consumers want human assistance and want to message companies like they do with friends and family.

Increasingly consumers are looking to interact with businesses in the same way they interact with friends and family. Just last year, 9 out of 10 of the most downloaded mobile apps all have messaging capabilities. Companies that provide effective and efficient engagement through mobile channels will rapidly drive significant digital engagement. When brands show up in the mobile apps their customers already use daily—iMessage, SMS/RCS, Google Search and Maps, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram—the adoption of digital is rapid and sustained.

Reevaluate Your Voice Calls

Far too many companies are still splashing toll-free telephone numbers to call on every available digital page. Very few have taken steps to make digital engagement the easiest and most effective means of engaging with customers. I am not suggesting eliminating the call option—because there are circumstances where that is still the optimal channel—but best in class companies are shifting to a “digital first” approach. By taking a data-driven approach to moving interactions to digital channels, companies realize significant financial benefits while also caring for the customer experience. This is accomplished by leveraging artificial intelligence to discern intents where digital can be the most effective and efficient solution from intents where complexity and emotion require a more personalized voice interaction.

I want to reinforce that this is not an attempt to eliminate voice or force customers down a path that will result in poor outcomes. Taking a step back and re-evaluating your entire CX framework will enable you to drive digital growth, reduce the dependence on legacy voice, and transform an outdated business model into an agile, digital-first operation.

Look Holistically at Contact Center Operations

The pandemic forced many companies to implement five years of change within 30 days. Since March of 2020, companies of every size have learned how to operate their businesses with a virtual workforce. As more people have started returning to offices, the result is a hybrid home and office model, and this requires a new way of thinking about how contact centers operate. The world’s leading brands are simultaneously using the advantage of a hybrid workforce while also driving digital transformation. I see consistent emphasis on five critical elements of their operating framework, and I’ll dive into them in a follow-up article. However, here are the five areas of focus:
● Talent acquisition
● Training and development
● Measurements of success
● Workforce management
● Quality management

Consumer demand for digital is only going to accelerate. The companies that rapidly deploy these capabilities in a very customer-centric manner will rise to the top as a result of their competitive advantage in CX. The biggest winners will be those organizations that successfully challenge status quo thinking, honestly evaluate the current customer journey, and embrace and execute transformational changes to people, process, and technology.

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