The Evolution of Customer Experience

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To understand where we’re going, I always like to first look back and where we’ve come from.

In the early days, customer experience was driven solely by in-store interactions. Consider examples such as the local bakery, coffee shop, or hair salon. Shop owners knew many of their customers by first name and often knew their preferences the moment they stepped foot inside the store. This was truly that one-to-one experience we hope to achieve in all business interactions. The transaction or service was more than that just that, it was often an experience we looked forward to and one we gladly shared with friends and family when they needed recommendations.

The challenge these businesses faced was that they’re limited to providing these services at scale. Limited by their store hours, store footprint and staffing levels.

And so later the telephone was adopted widely and larger stores were able to increase the efficiency of their service delivery. We saw a burgeoning call center service industry, and the advent of the catalogue stores and everyone’s favorite…the home shopping network. No longer were stores limited to hours, scalability was increased in support by adding more team members on the phones to help with orders or customer issues.

This remained the primary channel of support for years, and in many cases remains the same today. We then welcomed in the internet era, simplifying the shopping experience for customers by allowing them to do it from the comforts of their home.

E-mail provided a new lifeline to customers seeking assistance, and many organizations made the decision to cut phone support and focus their intentions solely on this new channel.

Slowly the internet moved from tying up a phone line in our homes, and into our hands. Available anytime, anywhere. A new era of customer experience was taking place across the world on mobile devices. This meant consumers could search, shop and request support during any hours of the day. And they demanded companies were available as well.

Then almost overnight, the voice of the customer was heard around the world. The birth of social media and the speed in which we were interacting with each other was accelerated at a pace perhaps never seen before. The era of the customer was now upon us. Customers voices were amplified when they had issues with service or support and the flip-side when experiences were positive, they could share more publicly than ever before. Companies begin employing teams to address these customers on social media application such as Facebook or Twitter.

But, as more and more channels were added to an organization experience mix, the operating costs began to balloon. Multiple systems deployed to meet the customer where they were, meant specifically training agents to support them.

Then came a solution to meet the demands of customers who wanted to solve their own problems with little guidance. AI Powered Chat Bots began to take over live-chat channels across many industries.

As exciting for the customer as this evolution has been, there have been challenges, first and foremost, that no single channel is left behind as another is added. There remain large swaths of customers who demand service on phone and e-mail, so those channels cannot be suddenly turned off.

Even more challenging is the new generation of consumer that switches between channels during a single interaction and is finding the experience to be disjointed as they repeat themselves as if they’re a new customer each and every time. Which brings us to today and into the future. A highly personalized, omni-channel customer experience.

This is truly the era of Digital Transformation

Companies aren’t just expected to be available ALL THE TIME anymore, but the new paradigm we’re facing in businesses around the world is that customers expect us to be available ANYWHERE, and when I mention anywhere, I’m speaking about channels such as whatsapp, phone, email or livechat as examples.

Consider a recent survey from Salesforce which identified that forty percent of customers won’t do business with a company if they can’t use their preferred channel to communicate with them. Forty percent! You’re talking about a potential carve out of nearly half your addressable market if you are still offering single-channel customer experience and that channel is the incorrect channel for this customer segment.

What may surprise you, and certainly continues to surprise me each year as these reports come out, is that 64% of customers still prefer leveraging e-mail as their primary communication channel. This being said, we continue to see live-chat as a preference growing year over year amongst the younger generation. A generation mind you, who are seeing increased purchasing power supported by their increase in earnings, but also in their B2B decision making influence as they further advance in their careers.

And I think this is an important perspective to call-out, that considering your customer demographics in how you deploy your experience transformation is more critical now than ever before. But with so many channels and touchpoints throughout the customer journey it can be more and more confusing for organization to orchestrate a seamless customer journey. This can ultimately lead to additional frustration from the customer.

We’ve all experienced inconsistencies across support agents, or individuals related to the same support message. Where we are repeating a message over and over again as if we’re starting the process from square one with every interaction – though it’s the same issue we’re tackling! This is certainly a more challenging problem to address, as creating an omni-channel customer journey is much easier said than done.

It’s not only clear in the data but it’s clear in our own personal purchase decision making. We buy from companies we like; we buy from companies that provide us the best experience, and we keep buying from those organizations.

It sounds like a lot of software, a lot of channels, a lot of agent overhead and cost to implement but it doesn’t need to be this way. Furthermore, to implement siloed products only leads to further customer frustration, along with agent burnout and overload.

Many of us already have implemented a Sales CRM, marketing automation software, and call center technology. Leveraging one or many channels to communicate with our customers. But the data is stuck in these systems and not blended in a customer experience stack. A lot of times we don’t know if the customer has interacted with our in-store team, or they’ve been on our website prior to engaging with them in sales or customer support.

In this complex world of omni-channel communication, the only natural question for every enterprise considering a digital customer experience transformation is: Where and how do I start?

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