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When times are good companies have the luxury to cast their eyes ahead to what the next ‘megatrend’ might be. However, as stormy seas set in, we quickly see which companies have used their time wisely and which have wasted the opportunity.

For those of us in the field of customer experience (CX), the discussion often returns to how technology can best be applied to the subtle and very human field of customer interaction. How can things like artificial intelligence complement traditional contact center agents, what impact would a 360 degree of the customer have on improving outcomes?

When good ideas meet hard reality

The last few years have not been smooth sailing for CX, just like almost every other area of business. Interestingly we’re now in a position where we can start to answer some of those questions we posed, as showcased by the results of our Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report. We also need to start asking questions about what has permanently changed because of the social and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic?

This was a key question we posed to ourselves ahead of our most recent annual Global Workplace Report. What we found was that the pandemic proved to be an acid test for CX digitalization. Some businesses were able to react at speed, adapting to better assist customers and even proactively anticipating customer needs. Others found themselves beached (and their customers stranded) as in-person workflows were disrupted. Everyone all found out pretty quickly whether their vision and reality were aligned.

The role of CX is shifting fast

What our research showed was that instead of the gradual shifts we would normally see, we saw a rapid change in how businesses approach and prioritize CX. One example of this is that the percentage of businesses with boardroom-level representation for CX jumped from one-third to more than two-thirds. Likewise, the number of businesses saying that automating CX is a key objective went from around 25% to around 70%.

There’s also evidence to suggest that this newfound focus on customer experience is well-justified, with the fastest-growing businesses in our research placing a stronger emphasis on improving CX rather than on revenue. This focus will only pay dividends, however, if organizations consider what they’ve learned from the pandemic.

I believe that the experience of seeing how these technologies performed over the last two years will inspire a more back-to-basics view on digital CX enablement. It’s notable that the technology needed to power remote working for contact centers has been available for over a decade, but before the pandemic companies were just not using it. The data now shows that the most pressing CX concern for businesses is to give employees the tools they need to work effectively in the hybrid world.

This is all rather obvious when you look at it from a customer perspective. They want to be able to talk to someone, this hasn’t changed. Anything we do while digitalizing CX must answer that fundamental need. This means that rather than simply creating more automated processes, they must look at how technology can fulfill customer needs. 

Put bluntly, when automation makes customers’ lives easier, what makes the customer happy is the easier life, not the automation.

What does it take to make a happy customer?

At the same time, what it means to make a customer’s life easier is changing. The same drivers which triggered rapid growth in remote working, fundamentally changed consumption habits, as people changed the way they conducted their daily lives – looking toward online shopping, direct-to-consumer offers and hyper-local retail to meet their needs. The same shift impacts how customer service needs to be delivered.

Customers are showing no sign of shunning new digital channels. Businesses that once might have been classed as disruptive innovators are now considered the benchmark when it comes to customer experience. Success depends on whether you start from a position of empathy with the customer and their needs. You need to build a comprehensive view of them starting from when they’re considering their options to well after they have purchased a product or service. Every interaction must make sense and genuinely help.

As a result, the megatrends that we were discussing before the pandemic, and their impact on how we deliver CX, are just as important today. Providing a good experience across many touchpoints and channels will require a serious technological investment, not simply changing the way traditional human-led contact centers operate. What we’ve perhaps been taught, however, is just how important it is, in good times and bad, to start by thinking about the outcome, not the tool that’s used to achieve it. Learn more