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Consumers have high expectations when it comes to the experiences they have with brands. They demand to be appreciated, treated as a unique individual, provided with a quick, easy-to-use shopping process, and they want to be able to access answers to their questions in real-time. Additionally, they expect to be treated with respect by a brand, to be shown relevant content that appeals to them personally, to have their past purchases remembered, and they want to be treated as VIPs.

Creating a consistently exceptional, personalized, omnichannel experience can be challenging, but there are many tools that can help a brand provide such an experience. This article will look at the various tools that marketers and customer experience professionals use as a part of their customer experience initiative.

The Omnichannel Customer Experience

An omnichannel customer experience is one that is consistent across all of a brand’s channels through all phases of the customer journey, including advertising, search engine results, a brand’s social presence and website, the shopping experience itself, email verification and order confirmation, product shipping and receiving, product support, and finally, customer service.

CMSWire spoke with Mike Betzer, SVP/GM of Khoros Care, about the omnichannel approach to customer experience. Betzer said that data is everything when it comes to CX, and that it provides brands with the ability to really understand the customer. He said that until recently, CX software was lacking because it did not support the customer across all of a brand's channels, and provided an inconsistent experience. Now, however, through the use of the proper tools, an omnichannel experience is possible. "With the right technology, data management, AI, and analytics, it is now possible to have the relationship with the customer grow as you engage over time and they move throughout different channels."

Related Article: What Is Customer Experience Management?

The Voice of Customer (VoC)

VoC programs improve the customer experience by using VoC metrics to obtain actionable insights that can be used to make impactful changes to products, services or solutions. Betzer suggested that the VoC needs to include input from every channel through which a customer interacts with a brand. "The VoC needs to be listened to over time and over various touchpoints including social, chat, messaging, marketing, community, email, and telephony channels. A brand also needs to leverage instant feedback and survey data to understand intent and sentiment," said Betzer.

A report from Aberdeen Group revealed that VoC programs can improve customer retention by up to 55%, decrease customer service costs 23% year over year, and increase revenue 48% year over year.

Mike Orr, co-founder & CEO of Grapevine6, understands that with the exponentially increasing amount of customer data created through marketing, sales, commerce and service interactions between a customer and a brand, there is an opportunity to generate insights that augment a traditional VoC approach. “The most advanced marketers are combining implicit experience data (content engagement insights) with explicit experience data (survey or feedback mechanisms) and operational data (use or consumption) to understand the gaps in their overall CX proposition,” said Orr.

The first stage of a VoC program involves gathering customer feedback, which is typically referred to as VoC metrics. Because the data comes from various sources including feedback forms, surveys, reviews, chat logs, email conversations, customer service tickets and other touchpoints in the customer journey, this stage is often the most challenging.

The next stage of a VoC program is when the data is analyzed to discover trends, and more importantly, the desires and needs of the customer, along with any pain points the customer has experienced along their journey. The idea is to uncover actionable insights that can be used to improve the customer experience.

Finally, once the data has been analyzed, the last stage is when brands take action on the insights they have discovered. This can include changes in organizational processes, updates or corrections to a product or service, improvements in customer service, websites or apps. 

The Customer Data Platform (CDP)

Customer data comes from widely scattered and often siloed data sources. A customer data platform (CDP) is used to unify all that data. According to Gartner’s 2019 Marketing Technology Survey, 43% of those businesses that participated in the survey are using a CDP now, and 31% are currently working to implement a CDP.

Because customers expect a high level of personalization and consistency across channels, CDPs are vital to unify the data that facilitates such an experience. “Customer experiences must be relevant and personalized to be competitive. CDPs are key to both recording preferences and insights across the experience and also as a broker of the customer profile across all of the interfaces between the company and the customer - including human ones like sales and service,” said Orr.

When it comes to a deep understanding of the customer, their history, their likes and dislikes, a CDP makes the difference for brands that have the goal of creating an exceptional, personalized experience. “Personalization recognizes and rewards the time and data investment made by the customer and that not only increases switching costs, it creates authentic loyalty,” explained Orr.

A CDP is an efficient and practical tool for unifying data to create what is referred to as a single person view. The single person view allows brands to create hyper-personalized experiences for each customer, with the experience tailored to them specifically, based on their past experiences, purchase history, chat history, customer service tickets, and additional data.

Since a CDP enables brands to collect, analyze the data from across all the touchpoints in the customer journey, it is able to learn from each interaction and becomes more capable of providing actionable insights that allow personalization and real-time decisioning. “Put tools in front of your experts that get smarter with every engagement, connect customers with other customers like them, and use the data intelligence you are gathering in service to market correctly,” Betzer said. “By leveraging all of this data and AI, a brand is then able to connect the right customer to the right expert at the right time to serve them with a personal approach based on that one customer’s journey.”

Social Listening

Brands use social listening in order to hear the voice of their customers in the landscape of the customer’s choice: social media. Social listening refers to the process of monitoring social media for mentions of a brand’s name, its products, services, and solutions, as well as mentions of specific keywords and phrases. Social listening is useful for pinpointing the pain points in the customer journey and responding directly to the customer in a timely manner. “Empowering employees to raise and resolve service issues within their networks builds a lasting trust between the customer, the brand and the company itself,” said Orr.

Social listening is used to gain a better understanding of:

  • The problems that customers have.
  • The solutions and features customers want.
  • The questions that customers ask.
  • The customers’ brand perception.
  • Which stage customers are currently at in the buying process.
  • The things that customers really like about a brand’s products, services, or solutions.
  • The things that customers don’t like about a brand’s products, services, or solutions.
  • The things that customers really like about a competitor’s products, services, or solutions.
  • The things that customers don’t like about a competitor’s products, services, or solutions.

Most brands use platforms such as Brandwatch Consumer Research, SproutSocial, Notified, Talkwalker, MeltwaterSocial and Mention for social listening, as they are able to not only perform social monitoring, but also analytics and reporting.

Social listening provides an opportunity for brands to improve their Net Promoter Score (NPS). "Brands have been concerned because the NPS score on social is lower than other touchpoints,” said Betzer. “Social can have a lower NPS as brands start out because social is the channel customers turn to as a last resort when frustrated from phone interactions or other reasons. Most brands have now grown past this and social now has positive NPS because the brands are engaging on the customer’s channel of choice," which is social media.

AI Chatbots

The use of AI chatbots has become prevalent and expected by customers to answer questions about a brand’s products and services, along with customer service inquiries, but it must be balanced with the ability to understand when to refer the customer to a real customer service representative for more detailed or complicated inquiries. Getting to that point requires a solid foundation based around software, workflow and logic.

“If the foundation is right, then artificial intelligence can work to define and determine customer intent,” said Betzer. “This capability can then trigger a chatbot, because sometimes a quick answer is all a customer may need. However, other times initiating an automated chatbot interaction is not the most useful and should be avoided for more complex inquiries. The most important thing is to know when to bring in a chatbot/AI and when to initiate human interaction, and it really comes down to what will be best for the overall customer experience in that present moment and for their specific inquiry.”

By using AI and machine learning (largely through CDPs) to gather and analyze social, historical and behavioral data, brands are able to gain a more accurate understanding of its customers and their journey. Since AI is continually learning and improving through the data it analyzes, it is better able to anticipate customer behavior and provide the next best step. This enables brands to present highly relevant content, while increasing sales and marketing content and improving the customer experience.

CDPs including Amperity, BlueConic, Adobe’s Real-Time CDP, and ActionIQ use AI to enhance their traditional CDP functionality, which enables them to provide real-time functionality and decisoning for marketers. Real-time decisioning refers to the use of real-time data, that is, the most up to the moment data that is available, including data from the current session, to make decisions with near-zero latency. 

Final Thoughts

With consumer expectations so high, an exceptional, omnichannel customer experience can be a challenging endeavor for brands. Through a VoC program, and social listening, a brand is able to hear what its customers are saying in the preferred landscape of its customers. A CDP is able to unify the data from all of a brand’s channels to facilitate the hyper-personalization that customers demand. AI chatbots and machine learning enable brands to enhance customer service and perform real-time decisioning. These are the tools that enable brands to improve the customer experience while removing the pain points from the customer journey.