Man vs Machine: Customer Experience 2017

Man Vs Machine: A cyber hand coming out of a laptop

In ever tougher market conditions, how can you be sure you can deliver a great service to customers, to keep them coming back more often and spending more? Many of the major retail and leisure companies I speak to think the answer has to be a technology-based solution – one that uses an ever-growing bank of data to find the answers to all their problems. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

What’s apparent is that they’ve switched their attention away from their frontline (people) and onto their systems (machines). And it’s easy to understand why; after all we’re constantly being warned that in 2017, The Year of the Customer (again!), expectations are changing almost at the speed of sound.

But are customer expectations changing? Well yes. But perhaps not in the way we’re being led to believe.

Research from Institute of Customer Service supports the fact that we are in the big data age, where technology enables us to move towards more personalised customer experience; but it’s still the traditional cornerstones of service delivery – fast, friendly, trustworthy and competent staff – which are the non-negotiables for customers.

In fact, the relative importance of these seemingly basic human attributes has increased, not declined in the eyes of customers. The data below highlights the top five customer priorities today, and shows the top five changes in priorities since 2010.

Delivering against Customer Priorities – the key factors for organisations

The performance of the frontline has never been more important than it is today. It is the key differentiator in customer experience. And the need for collaboration between internal teams to help deliver a high quality, seamless customer experience across all touchpoints has never been more apparent.

At a time when CX is becoming the key battleground – the vast majority of companies surveyed by Gartner last year (89%) believed that customer experience would be their primary basis for competitive differentiation by 2017 – interdepartmental alignment has quickly moved from nice-to-have to have-to-have status.

Sales and Marketing teams are working with Customer Insight teams at a level never seen before. And the links between IT and Customer Service teams are getting closer and closer as creative use of technology becomes more important to help build and develop trusted and more personal two-way relationships.

However, it is too easy to lose focus on the human component – the people that must have the personality and engagement skills that customers demand. And this is where HR needs to step in.

The HR function must be more closely linked with customer experience delivery than ever before. Because the recruitment and training of the right people to represent a brand is vital.

“Hire character, train skill” is a phrase first coined over 20 years ago by Peter Schutz. And many ‘character vs. competence’ type quotes have since been delivered, wrapped as cutting edge thinking by CX gurus worldwide.

CX and the future customer

The importance of delivering a great customer experience has always been intuitively understood by anyone with common sense. But now it’s become a boardroom level topic, and enlightened companies are placing it at the top of their agenda, understanding the link with ROI and increasing market share.

Two recently published reports make bold claims and offer exciting predications about the needs and wants of the future customer.

A report published by Walker, Customers2020 explains why customer experience is going to become the differentiating factor for business by 2020, outstripping price and product as the main consideration for customers. Walker states that the future customer will be more informed and in charge of the experience they receive, and warns that companies need to act now or fail.

Institute of Customer Service has looked even further ahead, to 2025 and produced an outstanding paper to help its members prepare for the future. Two archetypes have been highlighted by ICS as a future requirement: The Personal Assistant customer service archetype to address the need for fast, convenient, simple experiences that are primarily transactional in nature, and the Trusted Advisor customer service archetype to focus on the need for deeper relationships underpinned by empathy, expert advice and proactive help.

What’s very apparent in both reports, is that people will continue to have a pivotal role to play.

CX Measurement – the way forward

In a world where businesses need to decide upon the best use of spend for their Sales, Marketing, IT, HR and Research budgets, it’s critical that decision makers focus on measuring and improving the issues that have the greatest impact on the customer experience. Of course, that will include monitoring the effectiveness of shiny new systems, as it’s important to offer an effortless system-assisted experience. But this should clearly be in addition to, and not instead of a focus on the frontline.

Using a combined approach of methodologies – mystery shopping to measure the delivered customer experience, and customer satisfaction surveys to feed back on the perceived experience – companies can identify the gaps between customer expectation and delivery, from both a design and perception viewpoint.

By analysing these gaps, and addressing any shortfalls, regardless of whether they relate to man or machine, these companies will most certainly be better equipped in the fight for share of customer wallet in the future.

Take a good look at your own customer experience strategy – are you sufficiently prepared for 2017 and beyond?