Designing a Connected Customer Experience

“Experience” is a tricky word, and one with a lot of flighty philosophical definitions. “Customer Experience” is in some ways a less loaded term, but one that can mean different things to different brands. Is it simply another name for customer support, with less of the baggage that we know the original term for? Is it a broad concept that describes the digital ecosystems brands must play in? Is it the sensation you get as you unbox an Apple product or browse through the Gucci store?

Our ability to describe our experience often relies on two things: what we know about experiences in general and what we expect to get out of an individual experience. Expectations are critical in determining the quality of an experience. It’s essential for today’s brands to not only meet consumer expectations, but exceed them at each and every touchpoint by providing the guidance necessary to leave them completely satisfied.

This isn’t new. Whether it’s in marketing, commerce or support scenarios, there are no limits to defining and connecting today’s customer experience. Brands know that their biggest global priority is customer experience, but few are realizing the urgency with which they need to achieve best-in-class capabilities.

89% of companies now compete primarily on the basis of the experience they offer their customers, all with that focus no longer limited to customer service. Marketing and commerce interactions are among the most important experiences to connect, and understanding how to design a seamless experience is essential to both meeting and exceeding consumer expectations.

What Do Consumers Expect from a Customer Experience?

Consumer expectations have evolved. For example, when you pull into a gas station, do you expect an attendant to come out and pump your gas, wash your windshield, talk about the weather or otherwise provide you with one-to-one attention? Today, we’ve been trained to no longer expect such niceties, but decades ago when this was the norm, we also wouldn’t have expected being able to hover our smartphone above a payment processing solution and, through Near-Field Communication (NFC), instantly pay for the gas we pumped ourselves.

That’s the thing about consumer expectations – their evolution isn’t always progressive or “one-way”, but brands that haven’t evolved to our modern expectations have already begun to fall behind. Think of Sears, Borders, or just gas stations that don’t let you tap your credit card to pay. In these cases, technology has altered what consumers expect, and consequently what brands they do business with.

Think of Sears, Borders, or just gas stations that don’t let you tap your credit card to pay. In these cases, technology has altered what consumers expect, and consequently what brands they do business with.”

Consumers have grown accustomed to the personalized, instantly gratifying experiences and easy user interfaces that companies like Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google have offered them at an increasing number of everyday touchpoints. An Accenture study shows that today 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember and provide relevant offers and recommendations to them. A Salesforce study further states that 67% of consumers say that connected processes are very important to winning their business, and also showed that consumers valued security, but were willing to offer up data if it allowed their experience to be personalized.

The best example of this isn’t the case of a gas-station attendant, but something like Amazon Prime – a service that delivers products you want instantly, guides you through a sophisticated marketplace, and allows you to remember and re-order products instantly. Brands can’t begin to imitate the infrastructure that Amazon employs to deliver this experience across such wide product variety. Instead, in creating something more meaningful and connected, driven by more domain-specific expertise, brands need only to tap into what consumers intend in order to create a connected customer experience.

What Do Consumers Intend Today?

For the consumers of today, expectations around personalization, continuity and security have exceeded what we previously thought would emerge. However, how can brands know what the specific expectations of any given consumers is? How are they supposed to treat consumers in a way that can ever satisfy them, rather than assuming the consumer will simply take in all the messages available and go by their intuition?

The fact is, there is no coherent way to establish what consumers actually intend when they engage with a brand, because there are simply so many things they can do. Do they want to inquire about a product? Are they shopping around? Do they want to buy a particular product but just can’t get over that one missing feature? Have they already signed up for a service and need some support?

All the possible questions that consumers have are insurmountable, and particularly with the rise of mobile, micro-moments have for many years now proven that consumer intentions can’t really be predicted. Whether it’s a majority of women looking for information on gaming, or a majority of men acting as skincare influencers, consumer intentions are almost by default not what we’d expect. These “boil down” to an infinite number of intentions, but the unifying theme seems to be that consumers simply need help, with 51% reporting that they purchased from an unintended company or brand because the information they provided was useful.

How to Manage the “Infinite Intention” Problem

Ultimately, it’s impossible to really account for every possible consumer intent within a given customer experience – there are simply too many requests, comments and observations that can be made. The cost of trying to address these challenges is also prohibitive. Consider what any major brand would need to staff a live chat or phone lines to walk customers through ingredients, pricing, benefits and other key product details – the enormous cost would simply outweigh the many benefits.

And yet, with the choice consumers face, brands have no choice but to try any available means to make purchase decisions easier. Natural Language Understanding is one such technology that brands can deploy to actually make this process of guiding consumers easier, faster and cheaper than it used to be. Brands don’t need to exclusively rely on how-to videos and instant buying experiences, the can offer instead virtual advisors that fundamentally transform the customer experience by starting and maintaining a conversation with consumers through all the channels they use to interact.

Instead of having only a “connected customer”, left to their own devices as to what to buy or subscribe to, offering a connected customer experience means you need to provide meaningful help at every point in your customer journey. Without that, your consumer doesn’t have an authoritative place to get questions answered, doesn’t have real representation from your brand in terms of the guidance or recommendations they receive, and may also feel disconnected in their eCommerce and support experiences because they have to navigate new interfaces, rather than get the same assistance they need “higher in the funnel”.

Chat has gradually become the channel-of-choice by which brands can offer this, with consumer preference for chat services increasing 47% between 2015 and the end of 2018, but brands still can’t do this at scale without solutions like Conversational AI. Leveraging the latest technology allows brands to actually process and respond to all the requests they receive in an automated way, instead of just hectoring consumers with traditional messages or leaving them without assistance when they need it most.

Creating a Connected Customer Experience with Conversational AI

Conversational AI is the best choice for how brands can field and respond to the requests their customers have instantly, and maximize the quality of all customer experience as a result. By empowering your customers to receive instant responses in any place and time, and actually gain more information about the products and services they’re interested in, you can offer them a real connection that meets their expectations and accounts for their intentions no matter what they are.

In designing a connected customer experience, then, the only challenge that remains is staying ahead of how your customers will adapt to all the great capabilities you begin to offer them.

Still have questions?  We’re fired up to help as many brands as possible to raise the bar of user and customer experience in eCommerce.  If you need help implementing website engagement tools for your brand or want to talk further about any of the tactics in this article, we should talk ASAP!

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