The pandemic has increased the importance of customer service and customer experience. In a previous article, I wrote, “As we struggle to find a way out of the pandemic, companies can help by ensuring their customer experience efforts include the human touch.” In that article, I quoted Valerie Nechay, a Marketing Technology and customer experience (CX) observer at Iflexion, who believes companies with the right perspective about customer experience will be the winners in the post-pandemic world. She writes, “Customer experience won’t help if it’s mostly regarded as coping with the aftermaths of bad service or retrospective learning from mistakes. If you want to reap visible results in the form of customer retention, loyalty, and, ultimately, sales, customer experience has to be replaced with customer care as its proactive, more human-like version.” In today’s digital world, much of the care companies provide to their customers is online — which means technology must inevitably be part of the process. As Nechay notes, “Weirdly enough, the task to make relationships human-like is often delegated to machines. In the absence of face-to-face interactions in the digital realm, technologies are the only possible way to go.”
Customer Experience and Technology
As Nechay notes, during the pandemic, the only contact many consumers had with companies was online and, as a result, the world became more digital. Many consumers found themselves dealing with various forms of technology powered by artificial intelligence (AI) as they tried to order products and/or get some other form of service. Some experiences were undoubtedly frustrating, with consumers yelling at computer screens or into smartphones trying to get in touch with a real human. Other experiences turned out quite well. According to Chris Tranquill, Chief of Strategy at Khoros, the top 5 reasons customers reported positive experiences with AI were: quick resolution; swift and responsive interaction; strong resemblance to human interaction; confidence that the issue would be resolved; and, just as important, an option to speak with a human representative.” Tranquill concludes, “The bottom line is that customers want the option to interact with a human agent if they need to, but they’re also perfectly happy dealing with a chatbot if it can solve their issue quickly.” Obviously, there is a balance that needs to be struck between technology and the human touch.
As Nechay noted, however, “In the digital realm, technologies are the only possible way to go.” Analysts from McKinsey & Company observe, “Companies of all stripes have invested heavily in tools and technologies to help them understand their customers more deeply and to gain the advantages of superior customer experience.” At the heart of all digital efforts is data. The McKinsey analysts note, “Today, companies can regularly, lawfully, and seamlessly collect smartphone and interaction data from across their customer, financial, and operations systems, yielding deep insights about their customers. Those with an eye toward the future are boosting their data and analytics capabilities and harnessing predictive insights to connect more closely with their customers, anticipate behaviors, and identify CX issues and opportunities in real time. These companies can better understand their interactions with customers and even preempt problems in customer journeys.”
Leveraging data and technology to improve customer experience may seem straight forward, however, McKinsey analysts caution, “The benefits are not automatic. Those just starting out will face stumbling blocks and organizational resistance. But with commitment, even companies with rudimentary CX systems, limited data, and a shortage of data scientists can begin laying the groundwork to transform their CX programs and their customers’ experiences.” Companies offering the best customer care work at being customer-centric. To do that, they use data to understand their customers. Steve Warren (@sfwindy17), CEO at Mapp Digital, asserts, “Successful brands engage with their customers in a regular and targeted manner, guided by reliable insights. Only in this way can brands increase their ROI across all channels.” Reliable insights require two things: the right data and the right analytics.
Understanding customers is becoming more important because consumers expect more personalized experiences. Nechay explains, “A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer effective. Instead, companies need to serve each customer individually. This is where the call for full-fledged personalization and customization enters the scene.” She adds, “On top of all this, customer journeys get unpredictable. They vary from one customer to another, with gazillions of variations. So, as an advanced approach to customer experience, customer care calls for revisiting classic customer journeys.” Nechay goes on to discuss what Google calls “micro-moments” in a customer’s digital path to purchase. She writes, “According to Google’s guide, these intents fall into these four categories: I want to know; I want to go; I want to buy; [and] I want to do.” Great customer experience means being there with the right information, product, or service when those micro-moments occur. Only AI-powered solutions can make sure that happens.
Nechay insists, “Once the customer has landed on your page, you need to show you’re a truly caring brand by providing help, delivering useful information on the spot, and enticing visitors with tempting intent-based offers. All this is impossible without the underlying technological foundation. And this is where the major battle is happening right now.” One technology becoming ever more ubiquitous is the chatbot. Tranquill explains, “Chatbots are good at solving most simple problems. When they can’t solve an issue, they’re also good at routing customers to the best person who can. … Bots help brands increase self-service and operational agility by automating messages across multiple channels and creating virtual assistants with app-like functionality.”
Tranquill goes on to note that other technologies, like machine learning, can also play a critical role in understanding consumers, their purchase journeys, and their concerns. He explains, “Machine-learning can create more positive customer experiences. If customers are talking about something not in your classification model, machine-learning can recognize that and provide better insights into your products and business processes. For example, if customers complain frequently enough about a specific but previously unknown defect in a product, machine-learning will eventually add that defect to the list of important topics to your brand that should be flagged. Machine-learning also helps you evolve your understanding of customer sentiment, detect trends in customer concerns, and improve AI routing and responses.” As Warren concludes, “It is all about transforming data into actionable insights and turning those insights into action.”
McKinsey analyst conclude, “The CX programs of the future will be holistic, predictive, precise, and clearly tied to business outcomes. Evidence suggests that the advantages will be substantial for companies that start building the capabilities, talent, and organizational structure needed for this transition. Those that stick with the traditional systems will be forced to play catch-up in the years to come.” At the same time, care must be taken to maintain the trust and confidence of the customers you are trying to serve. Nechay explains, “When you deal with business intelligence technologies, remember about ethical data collection policies. Big Data or micro data, security is key. Customers appreciate being in control over what data they provide, and expect transparent and clear privacy rules. Most customers agree to provide their personal information in exchange for tailored personalization.” She then asks, “Is customer care a reality yet? It seems as though it is. Forward-looking brands have already taken some incremental steps, and it’s paying off with higher traffic and ROI.”
 Stephen DeAngelis, “Customer Experience and the Human Touch,” Enterra Insights, 7 September 2021.
 Valerie Nechay, “Forget Customer Experience—Customer Care Is the New Way Forward,” Destination CRM, 11 May 2020.
 Chris Tranquill, “The Three Pillars of Positive Customer Experiences,” MarketingProfs, 29 June 2021.
 Rachel Diebner, David Malfara, Kevin Neher, Mike Thompson, and Maxence Vancauwenberghe, “Prediction: The future of CX,” McKinsey & Company, 24 February 2021.
 Steve Warren, “How machine learning is helping brands create insight-led customer experiences,” Marketing that Matters, 17 July 2021.