Good service is good business
Customer experience (CX) is the new battleground for organisations across the board. To deliver good CX, which, in turn, helps futureproof their business, companies must ask themselves not only 'what do customers want?', but, 'what will customers want?'.
So says Rolf Eichweber, executive: Johannesburg at DigiBlu, adding that key to answering this question is technology. "All the disruptors that have taken over from traditional businesses - think Netflix, Airbnb and Uber - understood this early on, and mastered intelligent algorithms and designed new platforms that were able to predict, recommend and deliver what customers want."
There's no question that today's customers are calling the shots, says Rob Hudson, CTO, BT in Africa. "They value convenience over price, and don't want to deal with customer service issues. As a result, they often buy more from companies that make it easier to do business with them. From enterprise objectives and customer expectations, to outgoing expenses and IT potential, everything seems to be expanding, everything, that is, apart from profit margins. If you don't provide what customers want, chances are your competitors will. Digitisation has arguably played the most disruptive role in this reality and has seen some giants in industries, like retail, lose a significant competitive edge for not adapting quickly enough."
Many businesses, mostly consumer-facing, have to adopt digital technologies to be able to effectively engage their customers in ways they prefer and even demand, adds Calton Nhando, digital consultant at IndigoCube. "It's not just the social media channels and apps that are the visible CX, it goes a lot deeper. There are business systems, processes and people behind them. The processes behind the creation, development, manufacturing, shipping, return, end of life, update, and maintenance of those processes, systems and apps must all embrace the ethos of digital. You can't tack digital to the front of traditional systems. They have to be integrated, automated, flexible, nimble, agile, quick, easy to use and serve the needs and desires of customers for as long as required. Then they must be able to evolve or make way for something entirely new at the appropriate time. Customers have never had such unparalleled capability to source alternative products and services and quickly engage them. That capability will only improve over time, so companies today must ensure they offer that and plan ahead by developing their innovation management capacity that will help to keep them relevant no matter the trending technology, methodology, or business model."
No walk in the park
Developing a good CX is not without its challenges. Gareth Hawkey, group CEO of redPanda Software, says there are two major hurdles. The first is culture. "In the past, there was a large focus not on the customer itself, but rather on what they buy. This has now shifted to focusing on the entire customer journey and how to influence people's lives - including taking into consideration the journey from creating a shopping list at home, to going into the store and concluding the sale. Retailers are finally putting money into CX technology instead of taking it out - moving away from a cost-centric world. This decision needs to come from the executive layer, which may be difficult. Retailers will need to start by hiring customer experience officers to fully optimise their investments."
Finance is the second major challenge, says Hawkey. "To include disruptive technologies in a retail store is a big investment. Technology, such as facial recognition software, doesn't have to be rolled out at once across all the stores. By analysing the progress and finding the right technology to get to know customers better, retailers are able to start moving in the right direction. It's less about money and more about commitment. Developing a good CX involves bringing all systems together with an omni-channel approach. Everything needs to be integrated, which may be challenging with retailers' legacy systems, and doesn't happen overnight, particularly when resources are scarce. However, retailers can begin the journey by creating an enticing app or mobile offering that enables customers to engage with the brand in a different way."
Says Hudson: "Currently, the biggest challenge is keeping ahead of changing technology and changing consumer wants. Reinventions across advertising, virtualisation, managing big data and the need to maintain a convenient physical store experience present far more complexities for large traditional enterprises. This can also affect their adoption of disruptive technologies across their business footprint, and lead to higher cost implications. Startup enterprises are able to effortlessly embrace new technologies because they may either be purely online or tapping into a more digital-savvy store presence without legacy systems that need to be shed off."
Time to experiment
According to Nhando, being able to effectively experiment with products in order to bring the solutions to customers, whether they know they want them or not, is one of the biggest challenges in creating a solid CX. "You can't stop at some basic A/B testing and have marketing pass that back to product development to create a new iteration and roll that out when they're ready. You need to integrate the process from the customer's use of the product all the way back to collaborative product development that includes operations, marketing, sales, finance, even HR and other departments. The focus is on integrated and collaborative so that the people who need to be making decisions and doing the work have the information they need, very quickly, so they can deliver quickly, and shoot something back to market for immediate testing.
"You can sort out the features of a good CX as you go, and there are a lot of competencies in the market to cater for this, but it's about having the process and methodology with the trained people to be able to put them into action behind the product that makes the real difference," adds Nhando.
"If you have all those backend systems and methodologies deployed under processes that support them properly, then you can arguably launch a defective product and still come out a winner - because you'll know very quickly that something's wrong and be able to figure out ways to fix it."
The age of the customer isn't just a fleeting trend. CX will continue to make or break a business, so businesses can't afford to be reactive.Rolf Eichweber, DigiBlu
For Wayne Hull, MD of Accenture Digital for South and Sub-Saharan Africa, it's about reactivity to both the personal preferences of every user, and the specific context or environment in which users make use of those applications. "No two customer journeys are alike, and B2B companies must approach the process differently to B2C firms. B2C companies typically deliver customer experiences in an omni-channel environment at the point of sale or service, and via marketing campaigns designed to attract and retain shoppers. While B2B companies do the same, their CX initiatives encompass a broader range of activities. Account management, quote/order management, solution shaping, preventive maintenance, and commercial intelligence and analytics are just a few areas that B2B companies can exploit to enhance the engagement and satisfaction of their business customers.
"Development also differs by industry. According to Accenture research, 29% of electronics and high-tech companies and 28% of industrial equipment manufacturing companies surveyed can be considered CX masters. By contrast, pharmaceutical, life sciences and insurance companies are among the B2B entities that have the farthest to go in mastering CX. They also have the most to gain," says Hull.
Planting the seed
Retailers have to understand how their customers shop from the moment the thought pops into their minds, says Hawkey. To do this, retailers must ensure they're digitally integrated, and are in the search engines where customers research and begin to build their baskets. While in stores, by using facial recognition and heat-mapping technology, a retailer can follow a customer on their shopping journey and, using these insights, enable marketers to identify the promotions that work for shoppers and highlight the dwell time people spend in front of products.
Customers also want effortless experiences, and the ability to interact with a business when and how they like, adds Eichweber. "Businesses need to deliver a consistent experience across all communication channels, but today, this involves an increasing number of touch-points, which can translate into complexity. Fragmented, manual management is resource-heavy, in terms of time and people, and leaves businesses open to unnecessary and costly errors. This reality is driving the need for intelligent automation.
"The businesses that will win will be those that give the best CX at the lowest cost. Designing that lowest cost, best CX structure into the business is very easy for startups, but very hard for incumbents weighed down with legacy systems. Where these incumbents go wrong, is sticking something on the front end; that's not fixing anything. I would say 80% of every digital journey needs to sit on the back-end systems," says Eichweber.
The future of customer enterprises will be shaped by those who embrace new possibilities, to continuously up the ante and provide a great experience to customers.Rob Hudson, BT
Intelligent automation has the ability to rapidly provide straight-through processing and automated processing at a much lower cost than traditional business process re-engineering drives. Eichweber issues a caveat: "All automation isn't equal. Customers will go elsewhere if they're dissatisfied with the interactive voice response a business provides. At its lowest level, automation can alienate customers because it can only leverage structured data, which doesn't meet customers' individual needs, or address their specific complaints. With the integration of AI, automation in CX shows promise. Intelligent automation systems deconstruct vast amounts of data to automate entire workflows and learn as they go. This is helping businesses manage unstructured customer data from emails, calls or social media, meaning they can easily process customer communications in whatever form they arrive, and rely on automated systems to analyse and select the appropriate course of action, intelligently. The results are improved efficiency and cost-saving, while ensuring that customers are delivered a flawless experience. The age of the customer isn't just a fleeting trend. CX will continue to make or break a business, so they can't afford to be reactive. Intelligent automation is giving businesses the opportunity to invest in seamless, personalised and real-time experiences that will continue to define good CX."
Dimension Data's CX and Collaboration GM, Craig Stewart, agrees, saying that automation can result in higher productivity, lower costs, and improved governance and reliability. "But to implement these technologies successfully, a robust strategy is needed."
Rise of the machines
Technology is catching up with the demand for digital, adds Stewart. "Robotic process automation is quickly becoming an integral part of the new CX delivery model. Technologies like predictive analytics, machine learning, and cognitive computing are becoming more powerful. AI is burgeoning and may even become a primary CX channel. Machines are certainly taking over in some areas, but not all. Lower cost to serve, higher value to customers, with the assistance of AI, we're able to offer more value to customers in the form of new or enhanced services. The more we offer, the more customers will expect us to deliver. We'll continue to see an increase in queries handled as customers are able to contact organisations and get information more easily than before."
Technology today provides a more compelling CX through digitisation. As a result, the future of customer enterprises will be shaped by those who embrace new possibilities, to continuously up the ante and provide a great experience to customers, concludes BT's Hudson.