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The four customer experience conundrums that service leaders must crack

3rd Feb 2017

In an increasingly digital world, a growing number of customer interactions take place through the digital lens.

But recent research by IDC indicates that despite the rise of digital service, and the emergence of AI in the form of chatbots, four out of five (79%) still prefer that human customer service interactions remain a part of customer service.

Organisations are having to walk a tightrope, needing to find the right balance of human and digital service, and identifying where in the customer journey human interactions are most likely to be desired.

But identifying the role of human interactions is just one of several major customer experience conundrums that organisations will have to resolve in the coming years.

Customer Strategist recently hosted the latest in its “The Future of CX” video chat series, featuring leading customer experience experts Don Peppers, Joe Pine and Olaf Hermans. Here, they tackle some of the key customer experience questions that arise from the changing technological and service landscapes.

1. How can we keep up with soaring customer expectations?

CX thought leader, author and speaker, Don Peppers, believes that companies will have to take consumers’ rising expectations of them more seriously in the future.  

“Every time you get served well by Amazon or Umpqua Bank, your expectations of the next bank, or bookstore, or any experience increase,” he notes. “The problem that most companies have is that they don’t recognise they’re on the downward slope of these rising expectations. They think they’re keeping up. They think they add technology and therefore they’re better, when in fact, they’re declining in the customers’ eyes.”

Fortunately, there are signs that the discipline of customer experience management is stepping up to the plate – although aligning the company’s metrics, rewards and processes so that the organisation is driving towards improved experiences as a unit, is proving a mammoth task.

Most companies don’t recognise they’re on the downward slope of rising expectations.

Peppers says: “Increasingly, there are examples of companies where management wants to make the experience better. But they find they’re conflicted. Their alignments don’t add up, they reward people for the wrong things, their capabilities don’t exist because they can’t even tell when a customer was on their website or called in. Their mindset is bad. As a wise sage once said, ‘You can’t write a line of business code to require employees to delight customers.’”

Having good systems of record (customer and employee insight) and engagement are fundamental to keeping pace with an ever-changing business environment and along with holding the right mindset, a good place to start.

2. What’s the right balance of human and digital service?

Organisations are increasingly automating customer service, and the emergence of AI is only pushing human service further out of the picture. The cost and reliability of digital service channels have led to their proliferation, but are organisations damaging customer trust by losing the human element?

“The fallibility of human beings is an essential part of being trustable,” insists Peppers. “It is a human quality to be fallible. There are no perfect human beings. People make mistakes. In the old-fashioned marketing world, marketers never made mistakes. Advertisers always advertised perfect brands, perfect in every way. There was never any admission of error. We’re now in a much more interactive world. We have Twitter feeds, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. People make mistakes and you see them. And you broadcast them. They become trending topics.”

But Peppers believes that organisations must accept that these mistakes may be a sacrifice worth making in the eyes of customers.

He notes: “Any company that wants to have the trust of its customers needs to portray itself as human. And what is the first quality of being human? Fallibility. It doesn’t mean you make mistakes on purpose. But when you make a mistake, you admit it and you go forward. And customers will embrace that. They like that. They want to interact with companies that are like them, that are human.”

Fallibility is a sign of humanity, and humanity is a mark of authenticity. And that’s increasingly important to business.

Joe Pine, author of The Experience Economy, and management advisor at Strategic Horizons, agrees with Peppers. He adds: “Fallibility is a sign of humanity, and humanity is a mark of authenticity. And that’s increasingly important to business. We want to buy the genuine from the real, not the fake from the phony. No matter how we interface, it’s incredibly important to be human in a digital age.”

But putting the humanity back into business is not just about expressing fallibility. It is also about being empathetic and agile in a way that automation does not allow.  Technology augments human engagement and should be seen to add value to the relationship not detract from it.

3. How can our customers become more than passive consumers?

Customer goodwill strategist Olaf Hermans believes that to lift customer experience to higher levels, organisations need to get away from the idea that people are just consumers of services, products and experiences.

“Customers can become co-owners of processes through collaboration and co-creation,” he insists. “Customers who have a lot of goodwill can fulfill any function. They can provide feedback and interact with employees, they can co-develop products, they can engage in user communities, and so on.

“Basically they are the company. They are part of your organisation. They are involved in different processes, but all together, they are part of THE customer experience. It’s a more multilayered vision of customer experience management, instead of thinking of customer experience as just, ‘How do we sell or get people’s problems solved?’”

Joe Pine agrees that businesses must understand that customers are, in fact, part of their organisation.

Customers can become co-owners of processes through collaboration and co-creation.

He explains: “You need to draw them inside of what you’re doing and allow that to take hold. That’s where the innovations of the future are going to come from. Not necessarily asking them directly what they want, because they often don’t know, and not necessarily pandering to them.

“It’s about understanding the jobs they’re looking to get done and understanding what are the new ways that we can service those jobs, fulfill those jobs, and help them get what they need now and in the future.”

CX professionals should take note that customer experience and loyalty is increasingly about enabling co-creation.  As Olaf says, loyalty is a process not an outcome.

4. How can we not only deliver goods/services, but also create ‘experiences’?

“Everybody faces a strategic choice about whether they’re going to stay in manufacturing goods and services, or rise to the proposition that we can and should stage experiences - they’re not mutually exclusive,” insists Pine.

“When you are selling goods or services, the “Small E” customer experience is, in fact, very important. You want to make it frictionless, you want to make it seamless, you want to make it nice and easy and convenient. But recognise that if you only go that route, you will eventually be commoditised.

“I encourage companies to think about rising to that level of “Big E” experiences and realise that they can be in the business of staging experiences that are memorable, personal, and have customers view their interactions with you as time well spent. And then, you’ll be economically rewarded.”

We must abandon the exchange logic where companies only do something for money. It is really old logic where we do all the work and the customer’s only role is to pay.

Hermans has a vision of how this may play out in the future. He adds: “I hope we can create relational encounters and add a cognitive layer, having a discussion with the customer about their own customer experiences. Open Pandora’s Box around design efforts so that together with customers we can evaluate what works best. Market research and customer feedback functions will be fully incorporated into customer experience process design. I think it will be really exciting to see how that is going to work.

“Moreover, we must abandon the exchange logic where companies only do something for money. It is really old logic where we do all the work and the customer’s only role is to pay. We’re going to a hybrid environment where systems are being empowered with information about customers in real time. We should look at, ‘How can we put information and people together in a humanized encounter,’ which will be really cool.”

What do you think are the biggest customer experience questions facing businesses today?

This article merely scratches the surface of the topics discussed and insight generated by the panel of experts. For more information on these topics visit CX in Action

Replies (2)

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By salujakbs
08th Feb 2017 14:14

There is one thing common in human and digital support channels, and that is the knowledge that backs the service. Human agents as well as digital channels need some solution to find the right answers and deliver accurate resolutions to customers. However, with 2017 kicking in with new technologies and also, new challenges for service providers, they need to find the best available knowledge management tools for their support service. Found this guide helpful on how an effective KM strategy helps improve CX.

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Guy Arnold Sales through Service
By Guy Arnold
14th Mar 2017 16:50

I think this sets out the issues simply and clearly: the key is to change 2 very embedded mindsets in business:

1. To change the belief of 'we're here to make money' to 'we're here to do something so well that customers love giving us money (and love raving about us afterwards) ... then, and only then, will we really make money'
2. Following this belief, to see automation as a way of making the customer interaction more seamless and valuable (thus making the customer more loyal and likely to recommend us to others), and then leveraging this through seamless processes to systemise customer loyalty and referrals (a process we call 'elastic & velcro marketing').

These are the key changes that are needed ... otherwise, businesses will only see automation as a way of reducing cost (usually at the expense of customer experience, loyalty and reputation).

This is a VERY dangerous path to tread in the world of overnight global competition and transparent customer reputation!

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