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The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the emphasis on customer experience (CX) and accelerated the adoption of cloud technology for all organizations. It also has fueled the growth of digital platforms, allowing companies to streamline customer interactions.
In a recent Genesys report, “The connected customer experience,” global companies were asked to rank which aspects of customer service are most important. And it’s that clear times have changed. Receiving a fast resolution to an issue is no longer the primary desire among customers, with empathy taking the top spot. The three aspects, ranked in order of customer importance, are:
We asked 10 customer experience, employee experience and technology thought leaders in this area for their takes on what most affects the customer and employee experiences. Overwhelmingly, experts agree that customer and employee experiences directly impact a companies’ revenue. And, if your business isn’t customer-centric — knowing what your customers want and need — you’re sure to fall behind. Providing personalized experiences by making customers and employees feel valued will ensure loyalty to your organization — from both your customers and your employees.
We also asked what role technology plays in providing amazing customer experiences. Here’s what 10 industry thought leaders had to say.
President & Principal Analyst, COMMfusion
“Customer and employee experiences go hand in hand, and the customer experience is only as good as the employees providing that experience. We know that ‘Happy employees make for happy customers,’ and happy customers lead to increased revenues. Unhappy customers are more likely to abandon a business — and take their money with them.
Studies have shown a direct link between employee satisfaction and bottom-line growth. Customers that have a positive experience with a brand or organization will continue to do business with them and remain loyal customers. The same is true for employees. Agents who are motivated, engaged and empowered are happier and more satisfied with their jobs, will provide better customer care and are more likely to remain loyal employees. This reduces agent attrition and the associated costs of onboarding and training new employees.
Technology can make or break the customer/employee experience. Contact center agents want to do a good job and serve customers. With the right tools and corporate culture, organizations can enhance the employee and customer experience, leading to better customer care, as well as lower agent attrition rates.
Having the right tools and technologies at their fingertips makes it easier for agents to deliver higher levels of customer service. When an agent knows who you are — and why you’re calling before they even answer your call or begin a web chat — the interaction can be more personalized, enabling agents to deliver more empathetic experiences. For example, an intuitive and customizable agent desktop and user interface presenting customer data, suggested responses, next-best actions, relevant resources and more helps contact center agents deliver the right information and solve customer issues quickly and effectively, while delivering with personalization and empathy. Using technologies that help agents understand customer preferences and even anticipate or predict what the customer needs helps not just save time but improves both the agent and customer experience.”
“Having the right tools and technologies at their fingertips makes it easier for agents to deliver higher levels of customer service. When an agent knows who you are — and why you’re calling before they even answer your call or begin a web chat — the interaction can be more personalized, enabling agents to deliver more empathetic experiences.” – Blair Pleasant @blairplez
” Customer experience is not a department — it is a leadership imperative to improve lives and earn the right to grow. This is about choosing to behave in a manner that elevates your company in the marketplace by acting admirably. This means:
Technology is key to helping companies achieve all of the above. However…
By doing these things, companies separate themselves from the pack, they build employees who are trusted and elevated in their work and purpose, and they create organizations that thrive.”
“Customer experience is not a department — it is a leadership imperative to improve lives and earn the right to grow. This is about choosing to behave in a manner that elevates your company in the marketplace by acting admirably.” – Jeanne Bliss @JeanneBliss
Principal, J Arnold & Associates
“Customer experience and employee experience (EX) have long been based in separate worlds. Until recently, businesses have had little reason to think of them having common ground. While businesses can still be successful operating this way, customer expectations are higher today; and contact centers will struggle to meet those needs if relying on the status quo.
The legacy model of customer service is agent-centric, where success is measured by operational effectiveness rather than customer outcomes. With today’s technology, consumers have more choice than ever before, and every market has become hyper-competitive. To be successful in this environment, businesses must become customer-centric. To do that, contact centers must move beyond the agent-centric model.
This is where CX becomes strategic for the business, and it means understanding what’s important for customers and supporting agents so they can provide the best service possible — each and every time. The key here is to recognize the impact of CX on business success. When CX is great, customer retention improves; they’ll spend more, buy more often, refer to others and share their good experiences with their friends.
While the interaction between agents and customers has long been the primary determinant of CX, there are now other channels of engagement and automated forms of service that impact CX. No contact center has the luxury of having a live agent handle every inquiry end-to-end, so there is a fundamental issue of scale that technology helps businesses address.
Modern contact centers have instead recognized that deploying the right technology delivers a better ROI than hiring more agents to keep up with rising call volumes. What agents really need are capabilities to resolve customer issues in real time. And that often means accessing experts on the fly who are not in the contact center. They also need to interact via the channel preferred by the customer, as well as be able to seamlessly switch channels as needs dictate. To ensure efficient use of agent resources, calls need to be intelligently routed and routine inquiries must be handled effectively by self-service options.
Only when agents are properly supported can they deliver great CX — they can’t do it without the right technology. And the technology alone cannot do the job. With the right technology in place to support agents, not only does CX get better, so does employee experience (EX). This applies not just to agents, but, by extension, to the other employees as well. The same technology that enables agents to improve CX also enables other employees to support agents by virtue of better ways to communicate and share what’s needed, and when it’s needed.”
“CX becomes strategic for the business. It means understanding what’s important for customers and supporting agents so they can provide the best service possible — each and every time.” – Jon Arnold @arnoldjon
Managing Partner, CRM Essentials
“I think the last eighteen months have taught us just how important it is for people to understand each other, empathize with each other, and work together to overcome obstacles we face in order to survive and eventually succeed. This has always been the case, but tough times reveal this to be the case in all facets of life, personally and professionally.
As consumers, we feel more connected to companies who not only heard us in our time of need, but also worked with us to figure out a way through this challenging time. And to view this as a new chapter of the customer journey that is more collaborative and aligned with where we need it to go over time. As employees, we want to work at companies that not only understand the challenges we face trying to adjust to circumstances impacting not only how we do our jobs but also how we care for our families, they leverage new technologies and new thinking that enables us to be even more productive than before, while also being more present in our lives outside work.
At its best technology accelerates and scales up the impact of what we do and who we are. It doesn’t change who we are, what we think or what we value, it just reveals all of that faster and wider than ever before. Companies who want to create better experiences for both their customers and employees need to make sure they have the right core values in place and provide the organization with the right “head and heart” to build their foundation on. Digital transformation will only work if business value transformation is done first. And that may call for some human transformation if the needs of customers and employees were truly at the heart of the organization before.
But if these other transformations have been accounted for, using the latest technologies and platforms can be the best way to stay connected and aligned with everyone involved in creating a better, more collaborative organization over time. An organization that works better for customers and employees over time and through tough times, which should improve the organization’s long-term viability.”
“As consumers we feel more connected to companies who not only heard us in our time of need, but also worked with us to figure out a way through this challenging time.” – Brent Leary @BrentLeary
Managing Principal, the 56 Group
“While this may seem obvious on the surface, the actual ability to provide good-enough to better-than customer and employee experiences is a cornerstone for business success. And it’s not easy to do. Think of it this way: An employee works for your company likely for two reasons. The first is a paycheck and, if the circumstances are good, the ability to learn, grow and enjoy the journey in their job. Ultimately, they want to feel they have accomplished something. A customer is engaging with you to get what they need to do some sort of job. That customer has decided your company can provide them with the tools or services they need to accomplish that.
Engagement for CX and EX are defined in the interactions with the company. The success or failure of those interactions lead to how the customer and employee feel about the company. We’re all human — whether we’re in the role of a customer or an employee. As individuals, we define how we feel valued by a company. This means our employer or the company we are purchasing something from shows that they value us.
For a customer, your company needs to show me they know enough about me to give me relevant choices on how I am engaging in any given moment. That can range from an intelligently chosen series of options around what I want to purchase and that your company cares about things I care about. For an employee, it means you are showing me you care by giving me a career path and showing me that the values the company holds are relevant to the values that I have as a person.
If those paths to customer and employee engagement are provided, the customer and employee experience are going to be enduring and positive. And I’ll either keep buying from you or stay at the company I’m contributing to.
Technology has an impact on the customer or employee experience due to its ability to enable the engagements/interactions that the customer and the employee are having. When it comes to employees, providing them with the tools they need to do their jobs in a way that makes them both happy with the results and gives them valuable additional skills is another factor in making them feel valued. Technology supports the customer convenience by automating the responses for information or interactions via an array of channels.
There is a simple customer mantra that I have been working with since I began my career in the CRM world – and it applies to both customers and employees. If a customer likes you and continues to like you, they will continue to do business with you. If they don’t, they won’t.
Now substitute customer with employee and change it to the following: They will continue to work for you. It’s the same basic thing. If you are a business, value the human beings that you are interacting with every day and make them feel good about what they do with you.”
“We’re all human — whether we’re in the role of a customer or an employee. As individuals, we define how we feel valued by a company.” – Paul Greenberg @pgreenbe
CEO, Experience Investigators and CX Speaker
“There is literally no part of the organization that is not positively impacted by an improved customer experience. And there is no greater driver to that than the employees. Think about what happens when brands deliver exceptional customer experiences. They improve customer retention and reduce customer churn. This means they pay less for each customer gained and earn more for each customer retained. They also receive the benefits of positive word-of-mouth marketing, so customers refer other customers to them. And referred customers are shown to spend more money than customers who were not referred.
Employees who understand what customer experience should be at the organization and understand their role in it are more likely to be highly engaged and stay longer with the organization. Cross-functional customer experience leadership means customer feedback is not just collected. There is an ongoing cycle of listening, understanding and acting on the feedback customer provide. These actions lead to improved customer experiences that lead to higher customer lifetime values and more referrals.
Proactive, intentional and positive customer experiences are not just nice to have. They drive business results and should be tied directly to organizational goals. We suggest defining success with a CX Success Statement, which can help everyone get understand what success is, how to measure it, and how to track progress against not just CX goals, but organizational goals, too.
The swift adoption of technology to deliver for customers throughout the pandemic was a direct result of need. Customers needed to get groceries but couldn’t get into a store. That need became a customer journey that included online ordering, mobile pickup alerts, and curbside deliveries. Technology was of course a big part of that, but those touchpoints were part of the greater customer journey. Technology is often one touchpoint that leads to another. For example. customers might rely on a mobile app to make restaurant reservations, but the restaurant must have a system in place with the people who work there to check them in, get the right table, and prepare and serve the food. It’s important to understand how technology is part of the bigger customer experience. Customers don’t classify themselves as digital customers versus in-person customers because they are just trying to get something done. Sometimes they rely on digital channels and technology to get things done. Sometimes they need people to guide and help them. These aren’t either/or scenarios.
Employees need to be included in the way technology is introduced into their workflows, because otherwise, that can impact the customer experience. Employees who need to adopt technologies need to stay connected to the goals of the technology in the first place. Without a proper amount of communication and training, they are less likely to adopt the new technologies.”
“Customers don’t classify themselves as digital customers versus in-person customers because they are just trying to get something done. Sometimes they rely on digital channels and technology to get things done. Sometimes they need people to guide and help them.” – Jeannie Walters @jeanniecw
President, Leaden Associates
“A Walker study done close to eight years ago stated that, as of 2020, customer experience (CX) would exceed price and product as the main drivers for doing business with that organization. According to Forrester, 80-90% of customers who have a bad experience will leave — with little chance of returning.
Based on this, customer experience is a key part of the entire customer journey, and it typically starts with the contact center — the frontline interface to the customer. There are key advantages to focusing on customer experience. Here are a few of them.
Employee experience is also a critical component for a better customer experience. Tools such as AI for suggested responses to a customer call eases the frustration of how to respond to a challenging customer, resulting in lower turnover in the contact center and more satisfied employees. As a result of COVID-19, most contact center agents are now working from home and would like the option of continuing to work from home post-pandemic.
An omnichannel contact center leverages the customer experience as a same experience across any channel, whether it be voice, email, chat, video or social media. This creates consistency in CX as well as customer loyalty longer term.”
“A great customer experience can truly be a differentiator for any organization. In fact, in today’s market, a good to great customer experience is now a requirement for doing business with any customer.” – Steve Leaden @SteveLeaden
Founder of the Valuegraphics Project
“In these post-pandemic times (Is it too early to say that? Will there ever really be a post-pandemic time?) people everywhere are rethinking their jobs. And what else do we expect?
Employees of all stripes have had more time to sit and think about what’s important to them, what they really want and what they care about most. And a huge swath of the population has come to the conclusion that they do not have the dream job they always wanted. But why?
There are any number of theories from very smart employee experience consultants out there. One widely quoted source is the popular author Malcolm Gladwell, who says there are three requirements for satisfying work. The first is autonomy: being responsible for your own decisions and direction. Then there’s complexity: work that engages your mind and your imagination. And finally there’s reward: a direct relationship between the amount of effort you exert and the rewards you reap.
Behavioral scientists have a different perspective. They have known all along that our behaviors and emotions are directly linked to our core human values. What this means for employee experience is quite straightforward: Create a culture that aligns with the values of your workforce, and they will be exponentially happier and more engaged. In other words, give your people what they value most of all.
For example, if you know that some of your workforce places more importance on personal growth than they do on relationships, these employees will be motivated by opportunities to learn new skills. Conversely, those who are more driven by the quality and quantity of their relationships will be far more excited about attending a conference and networking with others in the industry.
Understanding the values of your contact center workforce is key to finding the right people and keeping them — regardless of what else is going on in the world.”
“Create a culture that aligns with the values of your workforce and they will be exponentially happier and more engaged. In other words, give your people what they value most of all.” – David Allison @valuegraphics_
Thought Leadership Director, Genesys
“The essential ingredient, the X factor, for any business looking to lead the market today is experience: specifically, customer experience and employee experience — CX and EX.
Consider this: 70% of consumers say companies are only as good as their customer service, yet one-third say customer service is always a hassle. When that experience is empathetic, consumers deliver. Eighty-one percent of consumers surveyed for the Genesys report, “The state of customer experience 2021,” say they would refer a company to a friend after a highly personalized service interaction. They’ll also spend more and buy more often.
Contact center employees today also expect empathetic experiences. They enjoy having the opportunity to learn new skills and love the opportunities for advancement and compensation available to them. But they wish they received more support and had clearer expectations.
The human element is crucial to CX and EX, but technology is the foundation upon which much of today’s customer and employee experiences are built. The best way for companies to provide empathetic customer experiences is to know their customers’ expectations, needs and preferences. This requires improving listening channels, whether it’s using digital engagement to understand intent, sentiment analysis to adjust in the moment or AI across digital channels to gather insights. AI is similarly bolstering voice channels with natural language processing, speech to text and sentiment analysis.
The right technology also provides contact center employees with the data they need to deliver empathetic and relevant service experiences. Just as important, it enables CX leaders to show empathy in EX through, for example, AI-based scheduling and forecasting, agent assist tools, speech analytics for coaching and training, and gamification.
Businesses that use today’s connected technologies as a CX and EX support system to provide the empathetic and relevant experiences that customer and employees crave are the ones that will create a lasting competitive advantage.”
“The best way for companies to provide empathetic customer experiences is to know their customers’ expectations, needs and preferences.” – Ginger Conlon @customeralchemy
President, Strategic Contact
“The contact center has become the focal point for person-to-person interaction on the customer journey. It plays a substantive role in driving or protecting revenue – through direct sales, up-selling and cross-selling, and positive experiences that retain customers, enhance loyalty, and create promoters — not detractors. Financial services, consumer goods, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing — name the vertical and you can quickly highlight the contact center’s heightened role.
It takes a productive, high-quality army of contact center representatives to deliver and reap the benefits of stellar customer experiences. To its credit, the industry upped the ante on employee engagement to create an attractive environment for these vital workers. Yet, it has never been harder to hire and retain staff for this demanding yet relatively low-paying job. The pandemic brought the tremendous stress of high volumes and increased handle times (not to mention frazzled customers) alongside the upheaval of moving staff to work from home and rearranging office space to safeguard employee health. Now, the uncertainties of what’s next and the ample options for other work bring new threats to a stable workforce.
Technology is the great enabler to optimize experiences and avoid defection of both customers and employees. Simplify the problem to what it takes to meet — or better yet, exceed — the expectations of each. Customers want good self-service options, channel choice, seamless movement across channels, and a low effort interaction with first contact resolution. Employees want to be able to succeed day one, address each customer’s needs, and meet their team and individual performance targets. The agent’s entire journey — from hiring to training to competency — can be smoother with the right tools. The customer’s journey relies on integrated, intelligent technology for success at every touchpoint.
The good news is that cloud solutions, artificial intelligence, low code/no code and integrated suites augmented with strong partner ecosystems have created the perfect technology world to deliver on these expectations. Omnichannel routing, performance management and analytics, desktop assistance, and self-service all play a role. Centers of all sizes and maturity can leverage these technologies to optimize the customer and employee experience and contribute greatly to business success.”
“The contact center has become the focal point for person-to-person interaction on the customer journey. It plays a substantive role in driving or protecting revenue.” – Lori Bocklund @lbocklund
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