Digitizing Customer Experience

No doubt about it, business is getting more complex. Winning the battles for top talent, managing increasing customer expectations, fending off competitors encroaching on your customer base, dealing with shrinking margins, managing a multitude of information systems, maintaining governance and regulatory compliance, the list goes on.

But sometimes it's helpful to take a step back and be reminded of the reason for business. And in the simple but powerful words of Peter F. Drucker, "the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer." Everything else is secondary, and designed to support mission #1.

And it's this mission to acquire and retain customers that is putting even more focus on the business strategy of Customer Experience Management (CXM).

But to quote another saying popular here in my home state of Florida, when you're up to your butt in alligators it's hard to remember the objective was to drain the swamp. And business leaders who start out with clear missions to acquire and serve customers find themselves severely distracted fighting alligators.

To better accommodate the multiple challenges that make business complex, CXM is evolving to make serving customers less of a standalone objective and more of a mission tightly integrated with corporate culture, business processes and supporting technology.

The Business Challenge Is Accelerating

Products are copied more quickly making product superiority a diminishing advantage. Technology innovation is depreciating at a faster pace. Brand recognition and value may be suddenly compromised by a single angry customer whose voice is dramatically magnified online. New and constantly expanding social channels give start-ups and small competitors messaging and marketing reach previously only available to large companies.

Further, customers are more informed, connected and demanding. Customers now have on-demand access to a supplier's customers and can quickly interpret how those customers view their supplier's support and services. This information becomes part of a new prospect's purchase criterion, determining which supplier to purchase from and even whether to pay a premium for exceptional support.

Delivering superior products and services remains paramount, but businesses must recognize that this objective will be increasingly challenged and therefore the importance of retaining existing customers will grow ever more important. Consistently meeting or exceeding customer expectations may be the last sustainable competitive advantage not easily and quickly replicated by competitors.

A Shift Toward CX Technology

At a time when business is becoming considerably more complex and competitive, existing customer acquisition and retention strategies supported by current systems are too often not enough.

Customer Relationship Management applications have responded well to capturing customer profile data (such as company firmographics and individual demographics) and transaction data. New social CRM tools are complimenting CRM systems to include unstructured and social data that reside in externally managed sources.

But there remains an open challenge in interpreting and staging the data so that it may be immediately actionable and injected at the point of customer interaction. Delivering customer intelligence and content at the exact point in time of customer engagement to benefit the CX is a difficult process that remains elusive for most businesses.

Think about the business scenarios supported by digitizing customer experience data. While the list of customer interaction points is unbounded, here are some common Point of Customer (PoC) engagement examples:

  • For the customer looking to make a purchase on an e-commerce site, does the website apply purchase history and known customer preferences to make a smart suggestion, next-best-offer, or cross-sell or up-sell promotion that is both relevant and personalized?
  • For the customer placing an order on the telephone, is the agent or order entry clerk able to answer product questions or otherwise respond within seconds with the right information to result in a transaction?
  • For the customer seeking help on a social network—perhaps even the vendors own Facebook page—does the supplier hear the request and do they retrieve, route, respond and resolve the customer's request in a reasonable timeframe?
  • For the customer who incurs a product defect, is the call center agent able to immediately validate the product purchase, determine if the product is under warranty, issue a Return Merchandize Authorization (RMA) and initiate a replacement order – in less than a few minutes and without multiple transfers?
  • For a customer support incident not immediately resolved, is the customer permitted to continue the dialogue with cross-channel support options? Not to be confused with multi-channel support. For reference, multi-channel delivers a consistent experience on each channel, where cross-channel support permits customers to begin their engagement on one channel and then use different channels to continue or conclude their issue.
  • For the mobile customer seeking sales or support access, does the supplier's online system support their mobile device form factor, permit the customer to use video from their smartphone and allow the customer to schedule a call back time?
  • Does the self service portal dynamically deliver content that is most relevant to the customer's business and support problem, and permit the customer to instantly switch from self service to chat or a live agent call?
  • For the customer receiving a marketing promotion from his supplier, is that offer highly targeted to his company's explicit (demographics) profile and implicit (behaviors) history with the supplier?
  • For the customer engaged in a sales cycle with a supplier, is the information given by the customer regarding his situation, buy criteria and purchase process shared among the supplier side sales team and does that sales team apply the buyer's objectives and buy cycle process to their sales side process (or do they ignore the buyer's purchase process and simply inject their traditional sales pattern)?

Each of these customer interaction points can be mapped in customer journeys and automated with technology. In fact, for organizations of even mild scale technology is a requirement to achieve consistent results.

However, to satisfy this need most customers are turning to specialized, often best of breed customer experience technologies positioned between their customer systems of record (generally CRM software) and point of customer engagement. It's a workable scenario, but comes with the complexities of managing even more systems and further contributes to disparate data silos.

The debate of CRM versus CXM software to deliver digital CXs is becoming mute as more CRM publishers step up their applications to accommodate CX objectives. Several market leading CRM systems now use tools such as customer data platforms (CDP), customer intelligence analytics and AI that leverage more qualitative data, such as customer sentiment and behaviors, to deliver prescriptive content or next-best-action recommendations at specific customer touch points.

These CRM systems have advanced their core applications beyond data capture and information reporting to actually deliver knowledge and content at the point of customer interaction and in a way that meets customer expectations.

You Need Your Customers More Than They Need You

Every customer interaction offers the opportunity to improve the customer relationship, or invite a customer to shop their next purchase elsewhere.

CXM is a return to the focus on serving and retaining customers—while better integrating that mission with culture, processes and technology.

The CX technology movement is in rapid transition and can provide the conduit between strategy and delivery. While obvious, it bears repeating that implementing technology without accompanying strategy is a recipe for an ineffective or troubled implementation.

But with that caveat, several CRM vendors are stepping up to deliver the missing link—that ability to make customer data actionable and deliver it at the time and location of customer interaction with the goal of meeting customer expectations and achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.