Let’s get personal.
That, in a nutshell, has been the war cry of customer experience (CX) departments in leading businesses across the globe for the last decade or two. To get personal is to know the customer, to gain their trust, and to sell more effectively to them.
As we’ve discussed before, CX is changing, and personalisation is playing a pivotal role in that transformation. But what form does this personalisation take? To find out, we spoke to four industry leaders who have helped their companies steer through the unchartered waters of the new personalisation paradigm – Chris Ho, GM of Service and Adoption at Telstra, Tristan Shannon, Head of Product at AgriDigital, Mike Yap, Head of Experience at hipages and Michael Buckley, Managing Director of Accenture Interactive ANZ.
So how do these leaders view this change, and how have they gone about addressing it?
Customer expectations, they are a-changin’
Customer expectation is inextricably linked to technology. As technology advances, the expectations of the customer advance with it. Cast your mind back 15 years, and imagine the process of making a complaint to a business, telling all your friends and family about it, and awaiting a response. Where this process would have time-consuming, if not impossible, we now expect it to happen almost instantaneously.
“To think that the Apple App Store was only launched mid-2008 shows just how far customer expectations have come in 10 years,” notes AgriDigital’s Shannon. “Customers are looking for fast, convenient service that is available 24/7, is highly personalised and is omnichannel-consistent.”
The most significant change, in his experience, has been “a customer’s expectation that a product has to be accessible anywhere, anytime, from any device.”
Yap of hipages takes it a step further, saying that accessibility alone is not enough. “These days, customers expect technology to adapt to their behaviour, not simply respond to their commands.”
And for forward-thinking companies, this change hasn’t been met with fear, but with excitement. “Customers have always desired an easy way to interact with brands” says Ho of Telstra. “Digital provides a brand with a great opportunity to surprise and delight their customers, and opens up new value propositions which were not there before.”
The rise of the omnichannel experience
Historically, most organisations’ CX channels have been segmented. The dealings of a brick-and-mortar store were kept separate to those of the call centre, the website and the app. But while this approach may be the simplest way of handling the customer experience, the changing expectations of the customer mean that these days it is by no means the most effective.
“Customers do not make a distinction between your physical store, call centre, website or app,” says Yap, “so designing end-to-end experiences across all channels is critical.”
Buckley, MD of Accenture’s Interactive arm in the ANZ region, agrees. “The segmented approach might be an internally effective division of ownership and revenue for a brand, but it often results in a modular, disruptive, and frustrating experience for the customer – the person who should be at the heart of the approach.”
Shannon puts the benefits of omnichannel in real and tangible terms: “We’ve all experienced the pain of making a product support call where you’re passed between departments, from person to person, being asked to repeat the same information each time. And then when you follow up in a week’s time you have to start it all over again… this painful experience is precisely what omnichannel solves.”
But Ho notes that doing omnichannel right is difficult, to put it mildly. “We have been discussing the importance of omnichannel since the early 2000s and I don’t think anyone has really nailed it, with a few exceptions of new start-ups in either Silicon Valley or countries like China and India, where there is not much of a legacy technology issue.
“I think omnichannel is not about channel (what the brand wants) but about customer choice (what the customer wants). While brands try to drive optimisation and cost efficiency in omnichannel initiatives, it is easy to forget the reason why we want to drive omnichannel in the first place, which is customer convenience and experience.”
The influence of tech in CX
More than a decade on from the introduction of Facebook and the iPhone, businesses from multinationals to corner stores now see social media and mobile-friendly content not just as effective tools, but as absolute customer experience fundamentals. This has the CX sphere wondering what tech might follow the same trajectory.
According to Buckley, the personalisation trend will continue unabated. “Deep learning algorithms and significantly improved microphones allow organisations to develop digital interfaces that understand and accommodate natural human conversations. This creates opportunities for positive customer interactions.”
In-house research, he says, suggests that where customers have previously adapted their behaviours to satisfy the demands of a user interface (UI), they are now beginning to expect that the UI will adapt to them. Chatbots are an excellent example of this.
For his part, Ho takes a big picture view on the ongoing influence of tech on personalisation. “I think artificial intelligence (AI) as a service will fundamentally drive and augment all the current layers of the customer experience. The ability to scale optimisation en mass, as well as algorithmically predict customer intention and responses, will drive a whole new industry and [give us] increased capacity to better anticipate and serve our customers.”
The customer experience of the future
While it’s clear that technology is fast expanding the possibilities of CX personalisation, organisational attitudes to CX can take longer to transform. Between machine learning, AI, and ever more capable devices, businesses must choose where they direct their CX efforts, and, to a degree, hope that they back the right horse.
So, where do our experts see personalisation going in the future?
“I think we’ll also see an expectation around 24/7 in-app support, where customers will simply switch products if this isn’t a standard service offering,” notes Shannon. Fickle? Perhaps. But in this new CX world, the customer can afford to be.
Once again, Ho takes a step back and analyses the broader consequences of current trends. “Customer experience has already evolved into a currency for some businesses – think of all the startups that don’t have revenue but just customers – and the next shift will probably happen when customers can dictate and control their level of service and experience, i.e. a shift away from CRM (customer relationship management) to CMR (customer-managed relationships).”
But the last word is perhaps best left to Yap, whose company, hipages, has evolved in the age of personalisation, and developed a particularly strong CX mindset in the process.
What’s next for customer experiences? Put simply, he says, “The best experiences. Netflix is a good example – they already provide effortless personalisation based on user behaviour. As this trend continues, we will expect companies to know us well enough to set up and configure our experiences without manual intervention.
“What remains is a question for the user: How much of my personal data am I willing to trade for less time in menus and search boxes?”
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