Closing the CX Gap
News leading up to this year’s summer travel season unfolded with a litany of appalling interactions between U.S. airlines and their customers. By May 15, AdAge was questioning whether airlines could possibly “pull out of their public opinion nosedive,” noting that “although one-off PR nightmares often pass, the cumulative effect is now threatening to create lasting repercussions for airlines, affecting how they operate as businesses and retain employees.”
While many were riveted by the screaming headlines cataloging airline customer service failures, I was struck by how these outrageous incidents are largely symptomatic of a much more pervasive problem facing every modern business: The Customer Experience (CX) Gap.
This CX Gap is broadly defined as that widening void where service delivery mechanisms fail to meet baseline customer needs or expectations. Anyone who has fallen into it — provider or purchaser — knows that it’s an ugly place. And at present, technology is largely responsible for its growth.
That may sound counterintuitive, since our increasingly digitized world obviously offers conveniences undreamt of even a decade ago — it seems everything, everywhere, is available 24/7 at the press of a button, the click of a mouse, the swipe of a finger, even the utterance of an “OK Google (News - Alert).” But such rapid innovation comes with increased customer expectation. (“Call back during regular office hours?” “Fill out the following service report form?” “Check the FAQ?” “Are you kidding me?”) Every new technology intended to enhance and extend communication and commerce becomes a new means or “channel” for customer service. People want to be able to use those channels — they expect that companies will adopt and integrate them into existing service frameworks and support them to deliver better quality. Unfortunately, those channels also come flooded with frustration, compounded by complexity.
For example, the average customer now has a choice of nine channels to engage organizations, and they are overwhelmingly digital — the trending channel focus areas in 2017 are virtual assistants (chatbots), instant messaging, mobile apps, video chat, and interfaces with the Internet of Things (IoT). According to the 2017 Dimension Data Global CX Benchmarking Report, the number or channels will rise to 11 by 2018.
This year’s Microsoft (News - Alert)-sponsored Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report, titled Competing in 2020: Winners and Losers in the Digital Economy, noted that “the primary focus for most organizations’ move to digital has been to create an exceptional, highly relevant customer experience, with 40 percent of respondents naming it their number one priority — nearly twice the percentage of those who named it the next-highest ranked priority…nearly three-quarters of respondents (72 percent) expect the shift to digital to create closer relationships with customers.”
The Dimension Data report supports those statistics, but tempers them with harsh provisos: 81 percent of companies surveyed recognize CX as a competitive differentiator, but less than 10 percent of respondents have optimized CX in their organizations; 67 percent can now track customer journeys in some form, but only eight percent have all their channels connected; a whopping 72 percent are failing to collect data from across all channels and 58 percent of channels are being managed in silos; and 76 percent can’t identify blockages in process that will impact CX. Only 10 percent consider their digital business strategy to be optimized.
Lack of systems integration is obviously among the biggest obstacles — no matter how simple it sounds in a tech titan TED Talk or product pitch, integrating new technologies into existing systems (or replacing legacy systems with the-next-big-thing) is never a simple matter. And while you can’t blame a website that isn’t integrated with a mobile app for something like dragging a customer out of a plane, the series of unfortunate events that lead to such incidents are telling.
One airline’s crisis-management-fueled policy changes include creating an automated system for pre-soliciting volunteers to change travel plans in overbooking situations, reducing the amount of overbooking on historically troublesome flights, and empowering employees to resolve service issues (and extend a variety of compensation options to customers) in the moment via an app to be rolled out later this year.
The weird thing is…I thought all of these already would have been standard practice. And I suspect I’m not alone.
Herein lies the disconnect that is the CX Gap. The moment the general population becomes accustomed to a new technology, we naturally expect that it will be quickly adopted and implemented universally in our service transactions. Automated alerts and offers, service-enhancing analytics, instant access to up-to-date information and a selection of solutions, the ability to anticipate customer needs, not just support or meet them — we hear about them all so often or stumble across discrete incarnations of them in so many facets of life that we consider them par for the course. But for customer-facing organizations, implementing the integrations that make these possible can take a great deal of time.
Moreover, such integrations require a strategy to work effectively. Any modern airline may support channels such as mobile, email, and chat, but as both the Dimension Data (News - Alert) and HBR studies show, they may not be sharing context across those channels or providing aggregate information to the appropriate service agents at the appropriate time. Without being able to synchronize multiple channels simultaneously within a single interaction or direct customer interactions in step-by-step sequences via IT, companies will be unable to manage the lifecycle of the customer journey, and thus unable to create a personalized and positive customer experience. In this state of flux, many customer experience models, if they exist at all, are incredibly immature.
These operational realities are difficult to navigate. Leadership and quality controls on all channels — but digital channels in particular — need improvement. A customer experience maturity model requires that a CX strategy be defined first and foremost, and then you can decide on policies, competencies, systems, governance, use of tools, processes, and best practices. You need organizational clarity to inform the model.
And ironically, modern technology presents the tools necessary to solve the problems wrought by modern technology. As communication channels diversify, and the way people want to interact with businesses morphs, companies have a hard time keeping up with consumer expectation, compounded by the difficulty of managing the increasing volume of demands put on agents and employees. Assistive innovations such as A.I. present a glimmer of hope, as such systems can automatically parse, digest, and direct the massive volumes of information generated by digitalization and work much faster than humans. Such automation is now a foundational component for being able to predict/anticipate opportunities and proactively resolve CX issues. But A.I. and humans need to work hand-in-hand.
Directing the combined power of machine intelligence together with live staff to solve customer problems is what we call Blended A.I. Blended A.I. is what enables a smooth and contextual handoff between bots and humans — across self-service and human-assisted service — to deliver the positive power of the human touch at the right point in the conversation or at the right point in the customer journey. It is the seamless interplay between self-service, A.I. automation, and human agents that will provide efficient and memorable customer experiences in the modern age.
While it may not make air travel fun again any time in the immediate future, one thing is true for both businesses and the people they serve: a customer experience strategy that supports a maturity model integrating both intelligent information technology and human service is the first step to closing the CX Gap.
Remy Claret is a product solutions and marketing director for Genesys, based in the company headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Edited by Maurice Nagle