CX: 2020. The human touch

It’s time to strap the customer into your enterprise rollercoaster and give them an experience they’ll never forget.
Read time 10min 50sec
Kerry Thomas, IQbusiness.
Kerry Thomas, IQbusiness.

In 2019, PwC undertook a global survey titled ‘Experience is everything: Here’s how to get it right’. It revealed that around 82% of the top performing global companies were the ones paying closest attention to the human experience. Forrester’s report, ‘Predictions 2020: Customer Experience’, backs up this view with its bold belief that customer experience (CX) is the best way for companies to grow revenue and profits.

It’s a complex and challenging market driven by the need for digital efficiencies, system convergence across touchpoints, self-service and design thinking. Technology has allowed for organisations to change the engagement dynamic with deeper integration across more areas of the business, but it’s not a weapon that will win the war for customer loyalty and engagement. Turns out that customers are humans after all.

Technology has fundamentally shifted how customers engage with organisations. Whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer, technology has allowed the organisation to refine its messaging and extend its reach. The touchpoints have multiplied, the omnichannel has diversified, and data has reshaped conversations. It’s powerful, it’s still evolving and it has given the organisation a toolkit that can be used to achieve interesting things.

Customers want frictionless engagements, efficiency and convenience. These needs are relevant regardless of their age, industry or generational definition – the Baby Boomer is as interested in a decent customer experience as the Millennial. And they’re going to the companies that deliver. This means that your business has to do more than just invest in the latest technology or chatbot. You have to pay attention to employees, service, and product – that impressive architecture isn’t going to mean anything if you don’t understand people.

The PwC survey found that success lies in the sweet spot ‘where technology complements the human element of the customer experience without creating new frustrations’.

CX in South Africa is ultimately about the kind of sweet spot that can leapfrog the diversity of the country, while allowing for organisations to expand their footprints globally. Customers may have different accessibility options, particularly in the consumer space, but they demand the same experiences from local brands as they do from world leaders. Organisations expect the same layers of frictionless business care from local companies as they do from global ones. Customised user experiences, relevant product offerings, personalised omnichannel engagement, instant support and interaction, and people are the cornerstones of successful CX. The problem is that many companies aren’t listening. Poor customer service has become commonplace and dips in engagement and loyalty are either met with a shrug of indifference or yet another CX technology implementation. This is further affected by cuts in spend, poor service delivery, poor customer-facing training and engagement, and limited to no brand authenticity.

It’s also worth mentioning that CX in 2020 may be influenced by a rise in dark pattern usage (a user interface technique crafted to trick users into doing things unintentionally, such as sign up for subscriptions). Forrester has warned that this may become increasingly common place in an attempt to maximise convergence. This usage will likely hit a regulatory wall in some countries, but may remain in place where regulators aren’t as vigilant. While primarily a consumer-focused tool, this is a business decision that can deliver short-term wins, but result in long-term reputational damage.

The hard decisions that lie ahead for the organisation aren’t in choosing which technology to implement, but in upskilling the workforce and changing the face of customer engagement so it can work with the technology. CX in 2020 is about maximising the capabilities of the technologies that shape it – artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation – while putting people on the front line. It is humans, not robots, who will win your war for the customer.

Putting the X into CX

Brainstorm: Why should the business be paying attention to CX in 2020?

Shakeel Jhazbhay, GM: Digital Business Solutions, Datacentrix: CX today is becoming the biggest game-changer in an organisation’s endeavours to add real value for its customers. Research suggests that over 89% of businesses compete primarily on CX, and by not taking the steps towards this type of investment, a less disruptive company would stand to lose out on huge opportunities to more CX-focused competitors.

Wynand Smit, CEO, INOVO: South African businesses are faced with an exceedingly difficult task. They have to find ways to survive in the face of ongoing political uncertainty, fast eroding business and investor confidence, and declining consumer spend.

Paul McIntyre, CX executive, Elingo: If organisations aren’t interacting with their customers in the way customers would like, it’s very easy to start a new engagement with a company that does.

Brainstorm: What technology is the most important to the business in 2020 and how can it be leveraged effectively?

Dr Eugene Wessels, partner, Data Analytics, King Price Insurance: AI has introduced game-changing mechanisms to find hidden patterns in the data and to predict these patterns going forward in a manner that can be applied to your entire customer base.

Dean Daffue, GTM manager of consumer electronics, LG South Africa: There is much development currently taking place to increase the effectiveness of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology and solutions driven around hardware, such as commercial monitors engaging with mobile devices equipped with NFC technology.

Gareth Hawkey, CEO, redPanda Software: Although the Internet of Things is still maturing in South Africa, networks are getting stronger and businesses can start to experiment with different use cases. AI and machine learning, while still in their infancy, can be hugely transformative by creating questions that you would never have thought to ask.

Michael Brink, CTO, CA Southern Africa: Emerging analytics tools leveraging capabilities like automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning that make it easier to mine vast oceans of data in order to provide better insights into past and future trends to help understand and prioritise future strategies.

Gary Allemann, MD, Master Data Management: Data analytics is the key technology for improving the customer experience across all touchpoints. The challenge isn’t obtaining the data, as in most cases it already exists – the challenge is to ensure that it’s of good quality, governed properly and used effectively.

Brainstorm: What defines CX 2020?

Dr Eugene Wessels, King Price Insurance: It’s the ability for an organisation to drive in a unified direction with a level of agility that can be adjusted to the ever-changing needs of customers. In addition to redefining the internal workings of an organisation, excellent customer experience is an end product of your employees and organisational culture.

Dean Daffue, LG South Africa: You aren’t the only one selling a particular product. Therefore, invest in CX and ensure that customers want to come back for more. If you neglect the human factor of personal engagement, you will be forgotten.

Kerry Thomas, head of Customer Experience, IQbusiness: In Africa, it’s not only about keeping up with the trends, it’s about also attempting to overcome the everyday physical, cultural and technological challenges that stem from a lack of infrastructure, poorly regulated services and growing levels of corruption. There’s also the realisation that we can’t always copy global trends and paste them into the African environment and expect the same success.

Wynand Smit, INOVO: Getting back to the basics and restoring the broken link with customers and understanding them, and creating a culture of accountability.

Paul McIntyre, Elingo: The ability to have an inclusive, connected and informed organisation when dealing with customers; being able to keep track of a request as it progresses through the organisation and have no department silos; and being able to execute your CX strategy, in a measurable and comprehensive manner.

Patrick Glynn, head of UX/Product, Leadhome: People ignore products that ignore people.

CX in the CTICC

Customer service underpins the CTICC vision to build a knowledge economy and create employment opportunities.

The Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) is a market leader in international convention facilities and event management landscape. Run as a partnership between the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government, the centre is designed to enhance South Africa’s reputation on the global conferencing map, help develop the knowledge economy, and create employment opportunities in the region. As a people-facing, people-centric organisation, customer experience is critical to measuring its performance and ensuring long-term success.

“The only way we can deliver on our objectives is if we can deliver excellent customer service,” says Julie-May Ellingson, CEO, CTICC. “There’s no way of knowing if you’re achieving this goal unless you’re monitoring and getting constant independent feedback. It’s critical to track the customer journey, their experiences and perceptions.”

Over the past few years, the CTICC has been upgrading and adapting its technology and customer experience survey systems to gain deeper insights into the customer journey. It is constantly adapting and changing the questions asked of customers to ensure that company responsiveness to feedback remains agile. New ways of using the information to improve services are looked at. However, the system was archaic and information was difficult to access and analyse. The company needed a platform that would allow it to use the data to improve customer experiences on demand.

“You can make a mistake, that’s human, but if you repeat it, that’s bad customer service, and we needed tools that would ensure we could constantly meet customer expectations,” says Ellingson. “We wanted to get the right information at the right time. In 2019, we set up a system that allowed us to do just that.”

The new CX system took six months to develop and implement because it had to download an enormous volume of legacy data from the past four years; the CTICC hosts around 600 events a year. The solution allows teams to become increasingly responsive, picking up trends and issues from events that span the entire four-year period. It allows for the CITCC to examine the touchpoints and find loopholes and problems far more easily than in the past.

“It has been a godsend, as now we have everything we need to detect patterns and identify challenges,” says Ellingson. “We can get the information in graphic or graph formats that highlight the issues at the click of a button. I can access information from a specific event immediately and I use this to engage with our customers to resolve their pain points. Having access to the four years of data has meant that we’ve also been able to proactively engage with clients on their issues, making them feel heard and that the time they spent filling in the forms was worthwhile.”

One of the problems identified by the system was the company’s strict payment policy ‒ customers cannot host events until they’ve paid the full amount upfront. It has proven a complex issue for the team, and for customers.

“Having identified the severity of this pain point, we’ve now implemented solutions that allow us to work with our customers to find ways of resolving payment in a way that suits their business,” says Ellingson. “This has had such a positive response from clients that it’s made the entire process far more engaging.”

Currently, the CTICC is using the system with data from surveyed clients, not delegates. The goal is to further the potential of the solution by expanding its reach to include delegates, and moving the survey process from telephone calls to online.

“Now that we have a digital system, I foresee us surveying all attendees and clients to assess their experiences, see where the differences lie, and make targeted improvements to our service,” concludes Ellingson.

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