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PHOTO: Denny Luan

The gap between customer experience leaders and laggards is widening. That's according to a new Bold360 commissioned Forrester study [registration required], which also found customer experience (CX) maturity was rising overall. 

What can companies do to narrow the gap?

Increase Operational Agility With AI

The report noted a rising tide of customer engagement, fed by increasing levels of contact coming from a greater number and diversity of channels. The authors recommended companies use AI and automation to handle reproducible work, which frees up customer-facing personnel to focus on more complex interactions.

“Invest in AI to deliver better customer experiences. The technologies falling under the AI umbrella offload administrative work for agents and make operations more effective. They arm agents with the right content, data, next steps and insights to better personalize interactions and serve customers — all of which drive customer retention and revenue,” stated the report.  

Although nascent, the potential is clear and largely still greenfield, said Michelle Berryman, Capgemini principal of interactive strategy, digital customer experience. “Near term, AI probably isn’t a replacement for other CX activities, but it is a way to turbocharge the great things businesses are already doing. Start small, pilot ideas, and expand based on measured outcomes in service of improved CX. Improvements may be in customer loyalty, increased share of wallet, reduced call center volume, better C-sat scores, better employee experiences, employee retention, etc.”

Related Article: The Pandemic Is Changing How Consumers Feel About AI

Plan for an Evolving Workforce

Increasing use of AI will impact customer service jobs, Forrester said. As a company’s self-service evolves, for example, the organization may require fewer generalists and tier 1 agents. The higher-skilled agents will receive an increased number of inquiries that may take longer to resolve and may require new training.

“New jobs will also open up, such as jobs to supervise chatbots or craft chatbot dialogs,” Forrester added. 

Training will be essential as the workforce evolves, Berryman said, echoing a recommendation in the Forrester report. “As automation evolves and transforms jobs in the contact center, agents will need both training and tools to be effective in this new workforce paradigm. Your agents may need advanced skills or subject matter expertise to work on more difficult inquiries. Understand and level up your agents with the right coaching and training. Along with training, new tools can also make agents happier and more effective.”

Related Article: Want to Be a Leader in the Digital-First Era? Upskill Your Workforce

Continuous Learning and Improvement Distinguishes Leaders

If your company is still relying on pre-pandemic understandings of customers, now is the time to reevaluate said said Mike Rowland, a director in the customer experience practice at West Monroe. Customer expectations have changed dramatically in the last few months and so businesses should “revisit your customer data in order to refine your segmentation strategy, sharpening your focus on your highest-value customers — as this may have changed. This action item is crucial in CX leadership for today to retain and build market share.”

Citing the report, Rowland added that CX leaders will prioritize goals that are based on delivering value as quickly as possible to their customers. This means all members of the organization need to work towards those goals together. This may be a cultural shift for some — but it needs to happen to avoid falling behind.

Additionally, a business case that reflects the new situation facing your organization is necessary, but quick wins are key to success right now. Rowland recommends keeping initiatives iterative and constantly revisiting them to ensure you’re pivoting as quickly as the market requires. Continuing to learn and improve your efforts to support your customers is what distinguishes a CX leader from a laggard.

Related Article: About That Customer Experience Roadmap ...

Technology Gives an Edge, But Only if You Do Your Homework First

Technology represents the bleeding edge of customer experience innovation, said Ali Cudby, CEO of Your Iconic Brand and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Purdue University. Companies continue to raise their game by optimizing the customer relationship. Tech has transformed the way companies interact with their customers, from marketing and customer success to the integration of tech and product. Chatbots are a perfect example of that kind of integration, because they are tech-driven and yet have to be on-brand. 

Cudby believes companies that deliver personalized experiences give themselves a competitive edge. “Experiences are increasingly driven by a customer's engagement to the point that technology can micro-tailor a customer’s experience with a company,” Cudby added. “Even now, CX is sophisticated enough that a customer can practically be a segment on one.”

However, technology isn’t a proxy for authentic relationships, Cudby warned. It doesn’t replace the work of understanding who customers are and what they want. Technologies are only as good as their inputs. If companies don’t know customer wants and needs, they’ll be less likely to connect with their communication. Companies grow when their technologies and strategies are aligned and embedded, with a clear direction for customer engagement.