The Future

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December 24, 2018

Business is moving faster than ever. We’re in a boom time for innovation in every area of business. The results of numerous surveys over the past two or three years have revealed that customer experience will be a priority for most companies. And, they are right. Companies are beginning to figure it out. 

I have a few of my own thoughts and observations for the year ahead 

Customers will continue to get smarter. They know what they want and expect when it comes to the customer experience. Customers aren’t just comparing you to your competitors anymore. They are comparing you to the best service they have ever received – from any company they do business with. So, what are some companies that you enjoy doing business with? Why? Can the answer to that question be used to bring your organization up to the same level of service?

Customers want convenience. How easy are you to do business with? Do your policies an processes create friction for the customer? Customers will do more business with the companies that are easiest to work with. And, they may even pay more – a lot more. Recently a neighbour bought a washer from a ‘box store’ – When the delivery came, and they asked about taking away the carboard packaging, the answer was – ‘your problem’ – we only deliver. When the store was contacted the answer was you should have asked, and we would have added a charge to take it away. You might want to review where you customers live today (condos) and understand these issues 

Personalization continues to become more personal. People are impressed with how the companies they do business with seem to know them. The ability to use data to analyze buying patterns, and then use that to properly promote or provide a customized experience, is getting easier. More organizations will do a better job of segmenting their customers into groups (also known as personas) to provide a more personized experience. Perhaps, I have some cautionary words – do not exceed your boundaries. There seem to be some within the marketing world who think they can do the thinking for their customers – steer them towards buying what you think they should. Most customers are not stupid, and they will turn you off if your messages become too aggressive. As with TV advertising, customers sought out ways to by-pass commercials, similar patterns will emerge with so-called advertisements through social media on smartphones.     

Self-service customer service is not only acceptable, it’s expected. A large portion of your customers want – and expect – a quick answer or resolution to a question or problem, and unlike an older generation (as in Baby Boomers), they don’t want to make a phone call to get it. If you haven’t already done so, investigate providing those self-service solutions that your customers want and will appreciate. Once again make it simple- get rid of the disclaimers and ensure the font size does not require magnification. Your customers are spread across a wide array of technology understanding and awareness. Omnichannel” means nothing to the customer. There will be more ways for customers to connect to the company, but so what? Customers don’t care about terminology; all they care about is being able to connect with the brand however they want to. It doesn’t matter if it’s online chat (or a chatbot), a social channel like Twitter, a messaging app or even the traditional telephone. To the customer it’s all the same. They just want the most convenient (to them) way to connect to the company and get what they want – quickly and easily. If the only way you can be reached is via a smartphone or computer to get an answer, you will be ignoring a large customer base. Therefore, watch when you implement Self-Service, as not everyone wants it. As a leader in your organization, try being a customer to see how your customers are treated. You might get a surprise- Do not rely upon a mystery shopper to tell you.  

Employee experience will be as important, if not more so, than customer experience. What’s happening on the inside of an organization is going to be felt on the outside by the customer. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is our economy. With unemployment being so low, the pool of available talent is small – very small. That means good employees are being recruited away. And, it’s not necessarily the salary that makes a move enticing – the employee experience may be more important. So, while a good employee experience can create a better customer experience, it can also create a culture that makes your organization “bulletproof” against other companies stealing your best people. As the CEO, what are you doing about the issues of finding and keeping employees? Are you among the group who complains about the work habits of the millenniums – or are you doing something about what it might take to understand the needs and expectations of this new generation of workers – you might be surprised? What’s happening with gender diversity and gender equality in your organization? What is the leadership involvement in your workforce versus relying upon HR to solve the issues? Have you looked and adjusted the structure of the organization in the past 18 months? How tech-savvy are you in relation to your employees. 

A recent study by My Customer (Oct 2018) showed that most medium to large organizations have yet to implement a Voice of Employee program. Nearly two-thirds (58%) have no formal program- The rest (42%) rely upon annual surveys and or ad hoc suggestion boxes. In most instances the programs are owned by HR, while respondents said, they were ‘not pleased’ with how the programs were managed. Few indicated they even had access to the results. Perhaps you are overdue to examine what is happening in your organization? 

It’s still mobile to the max. The mobile phone is not really about the phone. Some people barely use the phone part of their mobile phone. They use the apps to connect with their friends, family, companies and other organizations. They read, shop, learn and communicate using apps – not voice-to-voice communication. If you haven’t already done so, find a way into your customers’ mobile devices. 

But PLEASE The phone is not dead and will not die. As the American author Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Rumors today would have you believe that the phone is dead for customer service. Quite the contrary, the phone is not dead … yet. No doubt the growing trends of self-service options and digital solutions, such as AI-fueled chatbots, are reducing some of the direct communication, but customers will always want the option of being able to reach out for a human connection when they need it. I recently went to a new trendy restaurant, only to be faced with the task of finding a wine selection on a I Pad – First a 10-inch display screen is not quite like printed paper menu – then my only next step to order was to push buttons. Nice, the wrong bottle arrived, and the person was less than thrilled with my inability to save him time taking the order.

AI will not take over the world, at least not in 2019. Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities are progressing at a rapid rate. What AI can do to enhance customer service is amazing compared to just a few years ago. But, we’re not yet ready for a world in which robots make decisions and make employees obsolete. Currently, AI is used to offer customer support for lower-level requests and questions, such as a change of address, checking the status of an order, etc. AI is also gaining popularity to support the agent who is supporting the customer. The agent knows how to ask the right questions of the machine to get the best answers for the customer. Furthermore, AI can help the agent by sharing information about the customer based on past issues, purchases and more. And, by comparing the customer to similar customers, AI can provide insights to proactively address problems that haven’t even occurred yet. It can also help the agent cross-sell the customer (and yes, that is an aspect of good customer service).

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