Customer experience has become dependent on technology, but now marketers need to put the humans back in. Research from Forrester, backed by marketers and digital leaders, said CX is ripe for transformation, with humans leading the way.
Businesses have adopted technology enthusiastically to improve customer service, said speakers at the Forrester Consumer Experience Forum 2019, last month in New York City. But while automation has improved the user experience, it’s not enough by itself; it needs more insights and emotion, insiders said.
According to Forrester CEO George Colony (photo, above; credit: Chris Bacarella), consumers are raising the CX bar faster than brands can catch up. Keeping pace with consumers will require more insight and new approaches, said Colony, opening the two-day event. Several speakers noted that automation can be useful, by helping to provide insights and predictive analytics that will help anticipate customer needs, solve pain points, and enable staff training.
Having a website and an app is table stakes now, and brands need to think about how they can use these mediums to drive customer loyalty, said Harley Manning, Forrester’s head of strategy.
"Doing them poorly will lose you customers," Manning said. "... We’re going into the second or third inning. We’re going into the new era of customer experience," Colony said.
‘It Pays To Deliver Good CX’
The new era will include a new approach to CX that doesn’t try to be all things to all people, but instead susses out what Forrester calls the “X1”—the feature that sets the pace for the whole customer experience. That can vary by customer, Colony said, who cited a recent flight where the experience of flying first class was spoiled for him by a faulty pair of cheap earplugs.
Customer experience now has to be both good and continually improving—and that has to be noticed by consumers, Colony said. Brands have to identify their X1 and shift resources from other, less salient parts of the consumer journey to ensure they are meeting that X1, he said.
Customer experience also needs to shift its emphasis from engagement to resolution, said PV Kannan, CEO of technology vendor 7.ai. He recommended using metrics such as cost per solved conversation, total time to resolve an issue across channels, and number of resolved conversations per hour.
Even a small incremental change in resolutions can translate to big gains, said Michelle Yaiser, Forrester director of CX. She cited Forrester research that showed customers are seven times more likely to stay with a brand, eight times more likely to spend more on it, and eight times more likely to recommend it when it solves problems quickly.
“It pays to deliver good CX,” she said.
But different channels have different rates of resolution, from 5% for voice assistants to 100% on chat or call centers, Kannan said. Not all brands can be all things to all people; sometimes they will need to choose some channels over others, he said.
For example, fast-food chain &pizza decided to consolidate its digital footprint to focus on text so its limited resources could be focused on monitoring and answering effectively, said head of strategy Kevin Blesy at the event.
“The job before was just fighting fires,” he explained. Now that it uses only one platform, the staff can learn and gain consumer insights from it.
Several speakers said automated customer service via chatbots and voice response systems has separated marketers from their consumers and from the insights brands need to know their X1. Manning encouraged companies to stop forcing customers into digital self-service many companies use because it saves money.
“You’re better than that,” he said.
The focus on problem-solving and anticipating issues is not exclusive to consumer brands; B2B brands are also reinventing their customer journey. Adobe, for example, establishes where its enterprise clients are in their maturity journey, then creates a blueprint that supports their vision and helps them evolve their use of the tools they acquire as their business changes, said Mari Cross, Adobe’s head of customer success, Americas. (CMO.com is owned by Adobe.)
“Digital transformation is hard,” she said. “Basically, we’re selling change.”
Sometimes that involves connecting clients with in-house experts to help them get the most value for their products, and sometimes it involves connecting customers to one another to help them find other user cases, Cross said. For example, she noted Adobe staff recently connected a financial client with another in the travel and hospitality sector so they could learn from one another.
‘Doing With Them, Not To Them’
Many of the top brands in the latest Forrester CX Index, released at the forum, said they have excelled by investing in their customer-facing employees and bringing the human factor back to CX. In many cases, they are assisted by machine learning tools and artificial intelligence in order to anticipate and solve customer issues.
“We think the age of self-service is bypassed by do-it-for-me,” said Mary McDuffie, CEO of the Navy Federal Credit Union.
Marketers should be able to anticipate what their customers need and do it, he said. For example, knowing its customers were paid by the federal government, the credit union offered financial help to its members during the government shutdown last December.
People are a critical factor to that insight, McDuffie said, noting the credit union seeks to hire military family members and spouses in order to maintain that sense of community.
Employees—their hiring and training—are key to the success of this new CX approach, forum speakers said. Most agreed the human factor can make or break a digital transformation.
Andrew McInnes, head of client development at Strativity, noted that more than 90% of executives in a Harvard Business Review survey said they had experienced failure in some transformation efforts, and most cited people factors as the reason, such as communications issues or lack of sponsorship within the organization.
Some of the top reasons for failure are a lack of passion, performance problems—such as staffers who don’t know what a great performance looks like for their roles—or a practice problem, such as a lack of tools to support the changes. Digital transformation efforts need to get employees involved early, McInnes said, “So they know this is something we’re doing with them, not to them.”
By 2030, 30% of skills used in most businesses will be transformed to tasks in the gig economy, said Samuel Stern, Forrester principal analyst. Companies will need employees that meet four criteria that Forrester has tagged as PEAK framework—poised, enlightened, adaptable, and knowledge-seeking—and will need to enable those traits in them, he said.
Companies also need to encourage trial and learning, help employees identify their strengths, and surround them with a continuous learning environment of feedback and coaching, Stern said.
Employees today see automation as a threat, he added. But if management enables them to adjust, “not only do they say ‘yes,’ they say ‘more,’” Stern said.