Published on 12th January in The Times of India

To read the article as feature on The Times of India, please click the link below.

When an organisation says that they conduct customer satisfaction surveys and that they have a healthy customer satisfaction score, it’s a genuine point of concern. Why do I say that? It’s simply because satisfaction is a hygiene factor for any organisation. If you are in the business of providing products or services, it is your basic duty to ensure that your customers are satisfied with what you have to offer. This is nothing special.

What makes an organisation unique in a sea of sameness is when an experience or proposition is worthy of recommendation and not mere satisfaction. And that becomes a higher order measure to aim for as this is what drives loyalty and growth.

Customer experience is becoming increasingly critical to every business and is entering the mainstream even more strongly now like never before. Businesses today, irrespective of their size, understand the importance of direct customer feedback and are increasingly leveraging this data to improve the experience that they deliver to their customers.

A critical reason for this is growing competition which is resulting in a heavily fragmented customer base and shrinking wallet share. Many businesses are battling within a sea of sameness. Under such circumstances, the first fight for survival is to vie for customers’ attention.

But in their battle for survival, the one critical element that they forget to focus on is their Unique Customer Value Proposition. What do I mean by this? Let me explain with an example. When you walk down the aisle of a hypermarket, you may find at least fifty brands of toothpaste staring at you. What influences your purchase decision? As a customer, you look at each brand that stands out and make an informed decision about whether you want a fluoride-free paste, or one with clove oil, or one made for sensitive teeth, and so on.

This demand for uniqueness is only going to multiply over the coming years considering the growing customer demand for customised products. Hence, it goes without saying that customers are going start expecting brands to know what they truly want without asking.

This brings us to the next most critical element of CX in the coming years – how does a brand understand customer needs in such a dynamic market? The answer lies in the marriage of technology and data science.

Are you leveraging technology for the right reasons?

Customers provide feedback on a constant basis via multiple channels beyond CX surveys. These include non-survey interactions such as chats, social media posts, business reviews on the internet, word of mouth, etc. These feedback mechanisms are becoming increasingly powerful, thus coercing businesses to not just track and analyse, but also make sense of this data that is pouring in from multiple channels in real time. Insights garnered from this data pool need to be sliced and diced to enhance business operations such as:

  • Diagnosing customer issues across channels;
  • Converting data in real time into alerts for frontline staff to take immediate action and provide a personalised experience to customers; and,
  • Provide personalised experiences that make a brand worthy of recommendation.

Natural language processing, predictive analysis and insights management have all become the need of the hour. While businesses must continue to conduct comprehensive CX surveys after every key customer interaction, they also need to map insights gathered from all important feedback sources to draw up a comprehensive CX strategy.

The CX battle between the human and the bot

Many organisations believe that a bot is an answer to providing great CX. Unfortunately, they cannot be more wrong. Having a bot or any other automated system to resolve customer queries is just a key to open the door. It is the way forward but it needs to be hybridised and done right, with the right intelligence. So the critical question to answer here is – Are bots alone solving the problem of bad customer experience? My answer is, ‘Maybe not’.

Bots came into the picture to intelligently solve customer issues and help brands communicate in real time. However, an organisation often introduces bots to solve any of these four major issues:

  • Make up for lack of manpower during odd or off-work hours.
  • Hire fewer staff to reduce employee costs.
  • To handle simple questions and help human frontline staff to manage heavy inbound traffic.
  • To provide an instant response to a customer rather than make them wait.

Integrating technology like a bot for the first two scenarios is a step taken in the wrong direction from the word ‘Go’. Often, customers end up feeling frustrated, which creates a negative impact on the brand itself. Hence, hybridising bots with humans to offer a humane experience is the right way forward.

Focus on three critical emotions

Let me ask you a question before you read further – When was the last time you had a great customer experience and why? The answer in a majority of instances is because a frontline staff member went above and beyond to make you feel valued, cared for and supported.

In a world where everyone is going the mobile app way and integrating bots for faster communication, it has become even more critical for brands to ensure that their digital interaction delivers on the human emotion. This is where AI systems and NLP need to be spruced up to not just hyper-personalise service, but also personalise communication, nearly replicating a human interaction.

Today, organisations are making great efforts to improve predictive analysis of their AI systems and are training their bots to understand customer emotions via the words that they type in a chat or post and even via their speed of typing. It then provides frontline staff with information to respond accordingly. AI is also being leveraged to analyse data after every key interaction with every customer to provide a hyper-personalised experience during future interactions. These efforts are helping humans and technology to work alongside one another cohesively.

Buy-in from staff

But until there comes a time in the future when bots can offer a near-human experience autonomously, brands still need to leverage the empathy that only their staff can provide. Hence, another critical element that brands need to focus on is to earn complete buy-in to the CX strategy from the entire organisation.

The leadership needs to be able to distill its CX strategy to staff across all levels of the hierarchy and provide a clear roadmap for staff to steer the organisation towards. Organisations that implement these strategies at the earliest and embark on a journey to build and sustain a customer-obsessed culture will clearly have an early advantage over their competitors.