Customer experience will be the battleground of the future

by Andy O'Kelly - April 18, 2018

Ahead of his participation in a Dublin Tech Summit panel discussion about how important customer experience will be in the near future, Andy O’Kelly, eir business Chief Architect, looks at the state of customer service now in this increasingly digital world.

This infographic from the BBC on the past of the future of work is a good representation of getting our predictions wrong about technology. And at the same time Roy Amara told us that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Whether it’s next week or in 2018, there are two future customers for any business – existing customers to be retained and protected, and new customers to be attracted to a new service or won away from a competitor. The churn that results from being strong in one and not the other makes sustaining growth a precarious treadmill.

Customers are setting the rules for engagement

In an increasingly competitive and ‘disrupted’ world, the loyalty of any customer cannot be taken for granted. The customer owes you nothing, and that includes their attention. The lifestyle for many is hectic: we are busy, distracted by online content, and sometimes exhausted from the combination of both. To engage with a customer needs their permission, and the customer will dictate when, where and how this happens. The interaction needs to be as efficient and as easy as possible, and will be compared to the best customer experience your customer has had. That experience may have been for a simpler transaction, for instance one that existed only in the digital world compared to perhaps a more complex experience that requires decisions and action in the physical world. Or the experience may have been in a boutique hotel: the term ‘concierge’ is often used when describing the style of attentive and personalised service that the future customer will come to expect. The comparison will still be made, and the further away from excellent you are the bigger the opportunity for your competitor to address the customer’s dissatisfaction.

Trust, and confidence that as a customer I am known and understood and respected, is a given. The service channel offered is expected to be personalised, consistent and continuous, but also the right fit for the context of the interaction. Where is the customer (literally as well as in their own service journey), what device are they using, is their location appropriate for the type of voice conversation required? Is the interaction appropriate for automation, or will it really need a conversation to be a good experience? Will that conversation be more impactful if information can be shared as part of a face to face video call?

The right channel, the right person, the right message

These various channels – ‘omni-channel’ – offer the customer choice. How efficiently you provide a customer service, and how well you compete for and hold their attention, depends on intelligent use of secure information. Technology is the engine to build new ‘concierge’ experiences; in very few sectors can the value of the experience justify the manpower required to provide it otherwise. Anticipating a customer’s requirements and addressing them in as frictionless a manner as possible, without coming across as creepy or intrusive, is where technology will really make a difference. Automation technology such as chatbots that respond to Instant Messages, Natural Language Processing to allow the customer interact with voice (as mainstreamed for consumers by Siri and Alexa), and AI technology like IBM Watson, are what the new-comers looking to disrupt traditional business are adopting from the outset. With AI technology more available through cloud, the challenge for business is to figure out where it will make a difference for their customers. As reported recently in LightReading, IDC predicts that Retail firms will invest $3.4 billion this year – slightly more than Banking – on AI use cases, including automated customer service agents, expert shopping advisors and product recommendations, and merchandising for omni-channel operations.

How you connect a customer with the right person to best address their need is evolving. Traditionally a routing decision would look at all of the skills to which an agent belongs and define the hierarchy of skills to map business needs, in a one dimensional way. With ‘Precision Routing’ agents are represented through multiple attributes and proficiencies so that the capabilities of each agent are accurately exposed, and a call can be dynamically matched to the best agent to meet the precise needs of the caller. The attributes used to make these dynamic decisions could be AI driven, based for instance on awareness of real world situations that are leading to changes in call volumes or profile.

Generation Z and Millennials are informing the customer experience

At the same time as a business is trying to offer the customer an excellent service, the customer now has a far from passive interest in the world of information at their fingertips too. Thirty-eight percent of Irish people research products online while in shops for instance, and 14% are turning on heating or other household devices via an App. Those stats are from the Behaviour & Attitudes Techscape survey from February 2018, which gives an excellent representative overview of how different generations in Ireland are using technology in their daily lives. While the future customer can come from any generation (and the offline experience of the Silent Generation highlighted recently by Age Action is a topic for attention), it is the behaviour of Generation Z – aged 16-21, 8% of the Irish population – and Millennials – aged 22-40, 36% of the Irish population – that informs how the customer is changing now.

The B&A survey shows 58% of Millennials and Generation Z are worried about data privacy online, compared to 47% in the population overall. How you have been profiled and how such profiling has been used or monetised is becoming a more overt concern for the consumer, and in the context of GDPR, for the EU member states protecting their citizens and organisations that use personally identifiable information. In March, before the Cambridge Analytica Facebook controversy hit the headlines, Tim Berners-Lee marked the birthday of the web with an open letter in which he stated the following

“Two myths currently limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points, we need to be a little more creative.”

What will those business models be, how transparent will they be, and will the future customer be prepared to pay for a service instead of getting it at the cost of sharing their private information? These are just some of the areas that Andy and the other panellists will be discussing at the Dublin Tech Summit.

Andy O'Kelly

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