It’s not the CEOs, software engineers, or marketing executives who are deciding the future of business: it’s the customers. The customer is going to be as right in 2030 as they were in 2010, and businesses need to know exactly how to respond to a consumer base increasingly demanding better experiences.
I recently had the chance to chat with Scott Kolman, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Five9, a cloud-based call center solution provider. He has a number of interesting perspectives on the role that digital transformation should play in the customer experience, and his insights could have a powerful impact on how businesses shape their CX strategies going forward.
Serenity Gibbons: Where do most businesses fall short in terms of customer experience?
Scott Kolman: I would say that it often comes down to customer effort: how easy is it for customers to get their needs addressed when reaching out to a customer service call center? Can they resolve requests through self-service? When live assistance is needed, do customers get connected to the right agent quickly and efficiently? Any friction along the way causes dissatisfaction.
Every year, we do a consumer survey called the Customer Service Index, and in 2020, fewer than one-third of our respondents said they are able to find the information they need easily when reaching out to a contact center. The rest either struggle finding the right info or fail to find it at all. So it’s clear that many organizations need to do a better job of making their service experience effortless for customers.
Gibbons: Do you think customer experience has become more important to businesses over the last 5 years?
Kolman: Yes, absolutely, because the service experience has become more important to customers. Consumers have more choices and more access to brands than ever before, meaning businesses can no longer compete on price alone; they must now compete on customer experience. Our own consumer research, along with nearly every other recent industry study, indicates that customers are willing to spend more money, more often, when a brand provides a consistently positive experience. On the other hand, even just one poor service experience can drive a customer away for good.
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Gibbons: What key trends have shaped the last 5 years of customer experience?
Kolman: The emergence and evolution of artificial intelligence and automation technologies in the call center have made an enormous impact on the customer service experience. AI has facilitated a better understanding of customers. Organizations can now use AI to quickly process and analyze customer data, making it easier for businesses to deliver positive outcomes.
AI has also enabled new interaction channels, from the first-generation chatbots to today’s Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs), which can interact with customers more naturally and accurately over voice, social media, and messaging channels. With more interaction channels available to them, customers are engaging with brands more frequently across more touch points, and they’ve started to expect a seamless experience along the way.
Gibbons: Looking ahead, what can we expect in the next 10 years for the customer experience?
Kolman: As engagement channels continue to evolve, we’ll actually see the customer experience become channelless, or multimodal. This means that customers and contact center agents will be able to switch from one channel to another, such as chat to voice to SMS, seamlessly during a single interaction, with the ability to trade media files such as videos, GIFs, and PDFs.
AI will also continue to be a major driver of CX transformation, and we’ll see brands using it to deliver service in a more predictive way. Businesses will be able to leverage data to anticipate customer behaviors and identify issues and opportunities in real time — for example, reaching out to let a customer know that their delivery will be delayed and offering a gift card to use for their next order.
We’ll see AI-powered automation change the contact center workforce, as well. With machines doing more and more of the repetitive tasks, humans will work on more complex, higher-value, and revenue-generating interactions. AI will be persistent in the call center before, during, and after every customer interaction.
Sometimes a virtual agent will be able to handle an entire interaction. If live assistance is needed on a call, AI will preserve the context to help the human agent be more effective. During and after the call, AI will remain engaged performing admin tasks, such as adding an interaction summary to the CRM then coaching the human agent on how they can do better next time. So rather than replacing humans to cut costs, AI will add value by helping agents be more productive and engaged in their work.
Gibbons: What advice do you have for both startups and enterprise businesses alike to prepare for the future of customer experience?
Kolman: If they haven’t done so already, transitioning to the cloud is key. Cloud technology provides the flexibility, agility, elasticity, and scalability to power the customer experience of the future. It simplifies systems integration, and enables data sharing, digital channels and AI capabilities. The cloud also allows businesses to embrace continuous innovation and adapt to changes quickly. Cloud adoption will both prepare organizations for the next generation of CX, and empower them to define it.
The specifics may be blurry, but the future of the customer experience is clear: more efficient, more digital, and yet more human. If companies want to deliver that reality to their customers, they’re going to need to start putting in the work today — thankfully, Kolman has some pretty clear directives on how they can make that happen.