Customer experience in the digital age

March 14, 2019 11:16
Artificial intelligence can help transform a company's entire customer service strategy by simplifying and streamlining engagement, providing accurate personalization and identifying pain points before they escalate into problems. Photo: AFP

As the digital transformation hype reaches fever pitch, enterprises across the globe are busy introducing innovative artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive analytics enabled solutions to transform how they operate. Yet, too often, transformation strategies are focused on adopting technologies, platforms and automating processes without fully considering their impact on customers, or on how they interact with businesses.

In many organizations, the primary purpose of new solutions seems to be to rectify internal issues and streamline internal processes. Customers are often left with a half-hearted deployment of a chatbot or a basic online portal, neither of which is exactly ground-breaking. Yet, I would argue that digitizing any operations that have an impact on customer experience and reimaging customer service through a holistic deployment of innovative solutions, should be businesses’ top priority.

Tata Communications’ recent digital transformation survey Cycle of Progress suggests that less than half (48 percent) of businesses have introduced AI as part of their customer service function. What’s particularly surprising to me is that just 34 percent of the respondents consider AI to be an enabler of higher customer satisfaction.

Similarly, just 36 percent think that IoT could lead to happier customers. Decision-makers appear to be less bothered about meeting customer experience expectations and more focused on boosting worker productivity and business performance with data.

Easy-to-use solutions

"Delighting customers" is an often used phrase in my field. But I’d argue that most customers, especially in IT, don’t want to be delighted – they just want solutions that are easy to use. This helps drive long-term and increasingly "sticky" relationships. Simply put, provisioning connectivity or cloud storage should be as easy as making a pre-order on your Starbucks app and picking up your steaming cup of coffee five minutes later. B2C businesses are setting the bar high when it comes to the effortless customer experiences they offer, and enterprises should learn from them.

Two tech industry giants – Amazon and Google – excel at seamless, effortless omni-channel customer experiences. What boosts customer loyalty further with these companies is that, I, as the customer, can choose what kind of relationship I have with these companies, and the depth of my engagement. So, I can use Google to search for a hotel in New York or I can share files on Google Docs. Taking it to the next level, I can choose to invite Google into my home with a smart speaker. The key is that it’s easy to deal with Amazon and Google, and I’m defining the relationship so I feel like I’m in control.

Customer-centric businesses like these also have the advantage of gaining a lot of insight into how people use their services, which they can use to refine those services and develop new ones. That feeds the continual transformation of the business. Simply put, the better the experiences they can use, the more likely customers are to continue to remain loyal and participate in the ecosystem.

Harness the power of data

As data continues to permeate all aspects of people’s lives both at work and at home, enterprises should harness this data better to create more frictionless, personalized customer experiences. Making that accessible via a mobile app that keeps learning from a customer’s previous orders to customize what it serves up and how, and is linked to other customer relationship management systems, will increase customer engagement and solidify your brand in the eyes of the customer.

So, count the number of steps it takes for your customer to get the service or solution they want. That is what matters now. The shorter the journey and the less effort, the happier the customer will be and the greater the return on the cost of sale.

Transforming the entire customer service strategy – with AI and predictive data analytics at the heart of it to simplify and streamline engagement, provide accurate personalization and identify pain points before they escalate into problems – is an opportunity that IT decision-makers should grab with both hands.

It is fundamental to the success of today’s digital business because seamless and effortless customer experiences will increasingly determine if your customer will stick with you. It will also determine if the customer will tell others great things about you.

So, if you prioritize how your customers are able to engage with your business, it is going to create momentum that results in long-term revenue gains.

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Senior Vice President of Customer Service & Operations, Tata Communications