Business owners often think about how they can introduce new products to the market. They think of new gimmicks that will catch the attention of their target consumers. These aren’t bad moves for companies but they shouldn’t forget to consider a vital factor that drives consumer spending – customer experience.
Many forget to take a look at where the trend in customer experience is heading. According to Walker, in the coming years, customer experience will be the differentiating factor that will determine whether consumers will still want to do business with you or not.
Fig. 1. Predicted importance of customer experience to businesses
Customer experience will outweigh product quality and price when consumers are making the decision of buying an item. Businesses that provide better service will have more satisfied customers, resulting in an increase in brand loyalty.
What are the trends that businesses should look forward to? In what areas should they focus on to give excellent customer service that consumers are looking for?
Here are 6 important customer experience trends you should know about to improve the quality of service your company delivers.
1. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI)
AI technology can penetrate almost every aspect of a business process. One area where it’s most advantageous to utilize is in analyzing customer feedback.
Unstructured or ‘open-ended’ feedback often provides the juiciest insights on how consumers felt doing business with you. The text box you find in company websites where you can freely type anything you want is where unstructured feedback usually comes. Unlike checklists and surveys with guide questions, filtering and collating information from this type of feedback form is extra challenging, especially if done manually.
But thanks to the advances in machine learning, AI can now capture vital info and identify trends on unstructured feedbacks. This can help you identify what customers want from the products or service they purchase.
With this, you save time by avoiding the strenuous task of combing through mounds of data. The time saved can then be refocused on improving customer engagement.
AI is not limited to automating business processes only. Virtual assistants (VA) like Alexa and Siri are the best examples of AI that respond to voice commands similar to what a real person can do. They can handle low-level tasks and interact with customers and provide suggestions on certain situations.
The AI technology continues to undergo rapid development. The aim is to create an automated assistant that can respond faster than real agents and give more personal suggestions to consumers.
2. Use of chatbots
Chatbots are another example of AI technology that enhance customer experience. They’re becoming widely popular add-ons on websites and social media pages where chat is the primary method of communication.
Chatbots can handle simple queries customers often have on products and services. A slightly advanced chatbot used by Marriot International can book you a room for your next trip. MedWhat, Dr. A.I., and Melody from Baidu can give you a list of the most likely ailment you have from the symptoms you’ve provided them.
Mitsuku, a more advanced chat AI, was hailed as one of the most human-like chatbot out there. You can talk about any topic with it for hours and get unique responses as if you’re chatting with a real person. Imagine applying this kind of technology to give real-time, personalized, purchase suggestions. This is just a glimpse of where we’re headed in the future.
The biggest advantage of using chatbots to handle consumer feedback is its ability to multi-task. They can handle more customers than a sales agent can, in addition to their quick response rate. The only thing left to do is to give them the ability to respond on a more personal and emotional level.
3. Option for self-service
It’s true that people appreciate the responsiveness and patience that customer representatives provide to even the simplest of queries. Still, consumers want to have the option of looking for answers themselves. They don’t want to be held back by waiting for a customer support to help them.
Consumers expect company websites to have knowledge bases and FAQs that can quickly give them outright answers. For them, chatbots and VAs are just secondary options in case they fail to find the solutions they’re looking for by themselves.
Giving the right answers to the most common questions people ask about a product is part of providing great customer experience. Failing to provide concise solutions within a specific timeframe will most likely send customers looking for a proper response from your competitors.
4. Increasing demand for online mobile presence
Today, it’s not enough for a business to have an online presence. They also have to be accessible on mobile devices since people spend more time on their phones and tablets than they do on their desktop and laptop stations. It’s obvious that creating an excellent mobile experience translates into more satisfied customers.
Mobile sites need to be quick, responsive, and easy to navigate. According to a study performed by Google, more than 60% of users most likely won’t revisit a clunky mobile site. Moreover, 40% of the users say they will just look for the site of the competitor due to a bad mobile experience.
Fig. 2. Global share of mobile phone website traffic
The figure above shows the increasing trend in how people use their mobile devices to visit websites. This is a glaring call-to-action that businesses should invest more in optimizing the mobile experience they give to their customers.
5. Improvements in data security
Since the start of 2017, at least 15 big retailers have fallen victim to security breaches. Under Armour, Adidas, Kmart, Delta, and Best Buy are some of the companies that have been affected by the breach. Leaked data are tied to their payment systems running both online and offline, giving unauthorized access to credit card information of their customers.
As more users shop online, the responsibility of companies to protect their clients’ data increases exponentially. Customers value a business’s online reputation as much as they do in the real world. This means data breaches can have a negative impact on an organization’s brand in general.
Consider what happened to Target, a Wal-Mart competitor, as an example of the lingering effects of a data breach on a company’s reputation. In 2013, info on more than 70 million credit cards was believed to have been stolen during the year’s Black Friday sale. Since then, the sales, as well as the customer satisfaction rating of their stores, continue to drop. In fact, up until now, they’re suffering the consequences of the security lapses they made years ago.
Data security has become a vital part of customer experience and satisfaction. Gartner Inc. even predicted that the worldwide spending on improving data security may reach up to $93 billion this 2018. With the trend going in favor of online shopping, businesses will continue to invest in methods that can ensure the safety of their customers’ personal data.
6. The fading divide between online and real-world experience
The trend now among customers is to visit a store and check the item they want to purchase. After this, they’ll check for product reviews online. If they like what they read, they’ll make the purchase online and just have it delivered to them. They may also choose to pick-up the item in-store whenever it’s convenient for them. This phenomenon is also called omni-channel shopping and this will more likely continue as a trend in the years to come.
The experience felt by customers in shopping online and doing in-store purchases continue to become less exclusive from one another, like there’s no difference in whichever method they use to buy a product or service.
Now, the challenge for companies is to make the transition from purchasing in-store to online (and vice versa) more seamless. They can take advantage of this shopping behavior to implement more thorough and targeted market research. However, since the lines are blurred, online customer experience can also affect the whole chain.
A great digital shopping experience invites consumers to buy more from the physical store. On the other hand, users that find it hard to make a purchase online are more likely to discard the idea of buying from the brand both digitally and in-store. They’ll simply look for retailers that will give them a better service on both avenues.
It’s clear that spending trends lean more toward customer experience over simple product innovation and price value. Consumers love to do business with those who make them feel important and valued. This can be achieved by an organization that provides excellent customer service to every person they deal with.
Businesses should be able to ride the wave or risk being left behind by competitors who have mastered the art of winning their customer’s heart. The quickest and most comprehensive way to gauge where your business stands in terms of customer experience is by having a mystery shopper do the assessment.
SeeLevel HX’s mystery shopping service can help identify areas in your business that need improvement. We can formulate a program that will drastically improve the way you handle customer service.
By Lisa van Kesteren
Lisa van Kesteren is the CEO and Founder of SeeLevel HX, the mystery shopping agency for Retail, QSR, and Financial Service brands. Utilizing over 650,000 professional mystery shoppers in every nook and cranny of the United States, she is on a mission to help brands improve the human experience of each and every customer interaction.
Lisa started her career as a Private Investigator and is considered one of the pioneers in mystery shopping. After building 2 different global divisions for large corporations, she launched her own company. Lisa is a widely coveted panelist and speaker on customer experience, best in class data collection practices and the evolution of the On Demand economy.