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Customer Experience

Five Must-Haves for a Smarter Customer Experience

Leading companies are using new business and technology strategies to deliver a better experience for customers.

by Monica Mehta

April 2017

Seventy-one percent of businesses are prioritizing customer experience (CX) improvements such as modernizing their IT systems and using technology including artificial intelligence (AI). And those initiatives are paying off, says research firm Forrester. CX quality has improved overall among the companies Forrester tracks, and industry average scores are rising. And ultimately, better customer experiences lead to higher revenue.

AI is getting a lot of attention in the CX management space, but it’s just one of the strategies leading companies are using to meet the demands of today’s consumers, who expect a seamless, personalized and immediate customer experience. In fact, says Des Cahill, head CX evangelist at Oracle, “CX now stands for customer expectations, not just customer experience.”

So what are leading companies employing to deliver a better, smarter customer experience? Here are five must-haves for smarter CX.

Artificial Intelligence. AI is one of the hottest topics in CX right now. But businesses have long been using AI-driven technology like product recommendations or opportunity scoring to power better customer experiences. Interestingly, more than eight out of ten consumers in a recent global survey have interacted with an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered device in their customer experience with companies. However, when asked, only 34% of them thought they had directly experienced AI.

Today, the AI spectrum is much wider, given the rapid advancements in the cloud, AI, and mobile technologies. Voice-activated virtual home assistants can turn on the TV and order a meal. Chatbots can handle many aspects of sales and customer service. And AI-driven recommendations can process multiple data points about customers and make them the right offer at the right moment.

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CX now stands for customer expectations, not just customer experience.”–Des Cahill, head CX evangelist at Oracle

“Artificial intelligence is about optimizing the interaction,” says Cahill. “Bridging customer data from across the organization and listening to the signals the customer provides in their online interactions allows for a much deeper contextual understanding of the customer. Companies can make a loyal customer an optimal offer like a discount, or make recommendations based on offline purchase history or outside interests or social activity.”

Cahill says that as the pace of technology innovation accelerates, newer customer experiences will be created, which will drive increasing customer expectations. Because leading companies are already adopting AI to create these newer experiences, all companies will need to innovate, because customers will expect these new experiences. It’s similar to the trend of the consumerization of IT.

The Internet of Things. The ubiquitous sensors that have revolutionized numerous industries are playing a major part in customer experience. IoT systems can improve the physical, in-store experience by controlling temperature, lighting, and air quality. IoT can improve service experience by sensing when there is a problem with a car’s software and pushing out an update wirelessly – before there is a problem. The possibilities are endless, and companies are getting innovative in using sensors to create happier customers.

“IoT is very hot in the world of customer experience right now,” says Cahill. “We’re seeing leading companies using IoT data to get a much deeper understanding of customer product usage – time of day, usage period, number of products – that leads to much more informed sales, marketing and service experiences. IoT is enabling product self-registrations, proactive service calls, quicker maintenance cycles and informing product design. ”

Enlightened IT. In order to take advantage of technologies such as AI and IoT that can improve CX, the different parts of the business need to be connected. However, businesses spend the majority of their budget maintaining outdated IT systems, which can’t be easily integrated with these new technologies. As a result, innovation and new sources of revenues are stifled.

“Sales and marketing may still have the budgets for their own technology and point solutions, but companies are realizing they need to look at IT strategically, not just by business function,” says Cahill. “So we are seeing an era of enlightened IT, in which leading companies are bringing the chief information officer back into the IT conversation. Without integrated systems, the front end and back end of the business won’t be able to talk to each other to best serve the customer.”

The journey often has multiple phases, says Cahill. “Most companies still have hybrid IT environments in which certain systems are on premises and others are cloud point solutions. Starting to look at your IT environment and customer data systems more holistically is the first step in improving customer experience.”

Digital Business Transformation. To put an end to business data silos, “companies need to undergo a business transformation that will digitize business processes, simplify IT complexity, enable innovation, and deliver business results,” says Cahill. For example, when you call a company’s toll-free number, the representative will get a 360-degree view of you and know you just bought something online or in the store, and will be able to provide you with better and faster service. If the sales and service departments have customer systems that are siloed, this connected customer experience is not possible.

“Companies are fundamentally altering their core business systems and connecting the data across their business, so that the sales, marketing, and service departments can present a holistic picture of each customer and act in a customer-centric way,” says Cahill. “The company can then provide customers with a set of offers, actions, recommendations, services, and service levels that are commensurate with their history and context with the company.”

But it’s not just about modernizing IT—it’s also about cultural changes such as breaking down the communications silos between business units (e.g. “I’m in sales—why do I need to worry about the service department?”), or providing the right benchmarks for customer service representatives. “Is the agent being scored on how quickly he gets a customer off the phone, or on how satisfied the customer is after the call? And what is the balance between cost control and customer satisfaction and retention?” says Cahill. “Companies need access to data that can help them determine the right strategy.”

From Omnichannel to MyChannel. Today, the gold standard of customer experience is offering customers multiple ways to interact with a company—for example, on the phone, through the website, in a store, and via chat or text messaging—and then connecting the data from these channels so that the departments have a holistic view of the customer. This is called “omnichannel” customer experience delivery.

But now, leading companies are augmenting omnichannel with a “MyChannel” approach. Millennials are spending more time in social messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp than they are in social networks, says Cahill. That means that companies now have to look at social messaging apps as channels where they can sell and service their customers.

“If the businesses want to retain customers in the long term, they need to think about how they can interact with them in the environments they live in, such as social messaging apps,” says Cahill. “How can customers upgrade their service, order a new product, or resolve a technical issue within these spaces? Companies need to start thinking about this.”

Modern Customer Experience

These topics and more will be discussed at Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience, April 25 to 27 in Las Vegas. Cahill says attendees can expect to learn about tools and partners that can help them respond to the “empowered consumer.”

“In this age of customer-defined CX consumers expect easy-to-use, efficient, responsive, intelligent systems that can do everything from help them place an order to repair a product,” he says. “Fortunately, the field is innovating quickly, and there are some exciting options out there for our customers.”

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