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Forrester Research predicted in its The Future of CX report (registration required) that customer experience is moving to (near) real-time, stating that "time-to-value will become a prominent point of differentiation." 

What needs to happen to make this prediction a reality? We spoke to practitioners in the field to hear their strategies to deliver (near) real-time customer experience.

Real-Time CX Requires Robust Technological Capability

To execute real-time CX efficiently, brands need to create a framework that supports real-time efforts — including an investment in technology, a centralized customer data foundation, comprehensive insights, and a sophisticated rules engine, said Max Russell, lead, marketing communications and public relations at Resulticks.

The Forrester report notes most organizations are not currently set up to deliver on real-time capabilities, rather it will require a significant overhaul of operations as well as support from automation and contextual awareness.

"Conventional technology cannot accomplish near real-time CX because it is based on the assumption that consumer behavior is relatively predictable and static,” said Zee Aganovic, CEO of HiConversion, Inc. “The first step to solving for real-time CX is through customer experience optimization technology. Through advancements in optimization technology, self-learning algorithms are fueled by the very customer actions they set out to measure. Merchants can rely on the algorithm to dynamically stage different buying experiences to different audiences at different times.”

Related Article: Real-Time Marketing: Where Big Data Meets Big Opportunity

Remove Complexity on the Back End

As consumers, we are used to being able to research products, engage brands and make choices as to how and when we order goods and services on our own terms and from whichever channel we choose. In an ever more competitive landscape, brands that not only recognize this — but fully embrace that consumers are in control — are the ones that will thrive, according to Rob Shaw, SVP sales and managing director, EMEA of Fluent Commerce.

While the largest businesses have evolved by building more complicated technological systems to meet the needs of today’s consumers, some of those systems have unnecessary complexity that gets in the way of meeting consumer needs.

“Fear over the complexity of the technology is often the one thing we see that hinders businesses’ desires to move fast and offer near real-time CX. However, this shouldn’t be the case,” Shaw said. Non-intrusive, cloud native technological solutions are designed to coexist with existing systems and processes. Being ‘loosely coupled’ means they are significantly easier to implement and, if necessary, replace than traditional monolithic systems.

Related Article: Why Retail Marketers Need to Jump on the Real-Time Communication Trend

Remove Friction on the Front End

Closely tied to removing technological complexity is removing friction for the customer, which typically occurs in service or transactional related touchpoints on the customer journey. This is where real-time engagement can have the most impact, according to Rob Krugman, Chief Digital Officer at Broadridge Financial Solutions. “For service questions, responsive chatbots can answer questions in a real-time manner that consider who the consumer is and real-time analytics regarding where they are in the journey. The leveraging of consumer attributes and historical activities by the chat-bot ensure a more real-world like experience reassuring the consumer while eliminating friction and reducing call center volumes.”

Focus on the Customers – Technology Plays a Supporting Role

Though numerous marketers point to technology as essential for delivering (near) real-time CX, the technology, while essential in the speed of processing customer requests, can’t be the primary focus of any solution, according to Steve Pike, vice president of professional services at CompuCom.

“Always put the customer experience ahead of the technology. Consider what the customer needs and then solve the technology problem to get them there,” Pike said. “Technology such as edge computing for faster processing of data and lower latency for personalization technology. Organizations that leap for the latest tech without fully considering customer experience and intended business outcomes can wind up with expensive failures. Other roadblocks to achieving real-time CX include legacy systems that lack the processing power or silo needed data. The bottom line is customers are vital to innovation."

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes

Proper Staffing Essential

Any delay "is a point of friction in meeting customer expectations. This drives certain response-time expectations,” said David LaVine, marketing consultant and founder of RocLogic Marketing, LLC.

For example, if a company provides a product or service critical for a customer to perform his or her job and it doesn’t arrive as expected, the customer is likely to want an immediate response in the form of live chat, LaVine explained.

You need to understand what channel or channels your customer wants to engage with for each purpose and what a reasonable response time is, then have adequate staffing levels for each channel to meet those expectations, according to LaVine. He cited live chat as an example, where people expect responses within seconds rather than minutes.