Consumer expectations for both digital and in-store experiences continue to rise while companies face a myriad of other business challenges, including supply chain shortages, multiple variants of the COVID-19 virus and a looming economic recession.

That was the message from Rich Hein, editor in chief of CMSWire, in his opening keynote at last week’s CMSWire DX Summit. All sessions are available on-demand.

“Getting through all of these things has become a competitive differentiator for brands,” Hein said. “Customers expect and demand businesses they support to continue to fulfill their expectations and support their values and protect their privacy. Great technology is a part of the solution. But the other arguably larger portion is ensuring you've got the right people empowered to get the job done.”

CMSWire’s summer conference was one of four this year. The first three are available on demand. The next event, “Future CX — Blending Physical & Digital Experiences” begins Oct. 26. CMSWire debuted the DX Summit in Chicago in 2015 and has held them every year, switching to virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are some more takeaways from the August 2022 virtual DX Summit:

AI Providing Benefits Across Industries

Dr. Jose Morey, founder and CEO of Ad Astra Media, discussed novel uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and other areas.

“AI can help companies do various things with an ever-expanding worker shortage, which is impacting more industries every single day,” Dr. Morey said.

There are numerous opportunities for AI, Dr. Morey added. In healthcare, for example, AI is used to aid drug discovery, helping determine the expected outcome for a drug and ways to reduce harmful side effects. AI can make these predictions within seconds, greatly shortening drug development times.

“This is actually something that we did during the quarantine project,” Dr. Morey said. AI, leveraging multiple large datasets around the world in real-time, enabled researchers, physicians and PhDs to collaborate on drugs with potential positive outcomes for treating disease and identify fraudulent treatments.

AI-based decision tools have helped eliminate errors that can occur from an overworked populace, Dr. Morey added. “And this is what's needed now more than ever because of the physician and nursing shortage.”

AI makes real-world data collection much faster and has changed the one-size-fits-all approach across industries. Amazon, for instance, uses a combination of AI, facial recognition, radio frequency identification (RFID) and other sensors in certain retail locations that let you come in and take what you want, charging your Amazon Prime automatically.

From a customer experience perspective, AI informs companies in real-time not only how customer service agents are performing but also how customers are reacting. It can predict which calls are going to require a supervisor before the call escalates to that point. It also provides risk scores.

“Artificial Intelligence can change a company or change an industry,” Morey said. A company can analyze customer relationship applications using AI to manage customers in real-time, identify new customer segments and search data to maximize the efficiency of the company.

On the employee side, AI technology can help human resource (HR) departments identify the individuals that might be the most appropriate for a position. It can also predict where certain employees will be within the company five to 10 years in the future.

“Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the world, but it's really just in adolescence,” Morey concluded.

Related Article: 6 Takeaways From CMSWire's DX Summit 2022 Spring Edition

Employee Experience Meets Customer Experience

Most companies see HR as responsible for the employee experience (EX), said Inge De Bleecker, principal UX & conversational AI consultant and founder of outriderUX. However, it should be the responsibility of executives and senior managers, added Nichole Devolites, owner and principal consultant for LYSI Holding Company, LLC.

“How you treat employees will reverberate out,” Devolites said. “If you can keep your employees happy and smiling, that’s going to radiate out to the customer.”

“There needs to be executive buy-in,” De Bleecker said. Without it, you won’t get anywhere. CX and HR departments need to be involved to ensure that EX is approached in a consistent manner.

By bringing together senior leaders from different departments, executives can learn what EX issues exist that need to be addressed, said Devolites, who has worked on this issue. “We treated it just like we would a customer onboarding process or an existing customer journey so that we could make sure we were doing it right and could make changes as we went along.”

One way to bolster EX is to expose employees to different parts of the business, which can be invigorating for them, De Bleecker said. Devolites saw that happen with a “bug bounty” program her company ran that paid employees for finding bugs in company software. It was refreshing for employees because they were doing something different and were better able to understand other employees’ roles within the company.

Despite the significance of EX, there are still companies where employees are paid or trained poorly and expected to provide excellent CX. Other breakdowns between EX and CX can occur when technology fails to provide full customer information to a customer-facing employee, particularly when different channels are involved in an interaction.

AI Powers New CX Capabilities

“What we’re trying to do is use AI to power a new era of CX,” said Katie King, CEO of AI in Business and editorial board member of the AI and Ethics Journal. AI is helping with the dull, mundane and boring tasks, such as transcription of Zoom videos, tracking sentiment analysis, etc.

Cheap processing, combined with AI, enables organizations to use the large amounts of readily available data for CX, such as automating chatbot responses for a large percentage of queries, so that human staff can better focus on customer interactions. AI also helps with other business functions that impact CX, such as marketing, service and shipping, said King.

“There are so many customer touchpoints; AI can tell us where to best focus our attention,” she explained. “CX professionals can use AI to bridge the gap between online and offline customer experiences. You can use it to generate better offers, to determine what is the next best offer.”

AI-generated cross-sale opportunities, promotional discounts and special pricing can all make for a much better experience for new and existing customers, King continued. “Smarter segmentation is another benefit AI can provide by analyzing data from various segments, then generating an accurate customer persona. It gives us the opportunity to get very granular and very personal. Predictive lead scoring allows you to prioritize leads that you want to focus your efforts on.”

Some examples of organizations using AI today include:

  • Bank of America’s Erica chatbot, which the financial institution uses in conjunction with predictive analytics to service 25 million mobile customers, handling billions of interactions.
  • Canadian Western Bank uses AI to help personalize financial decision-making for its small business customers.
  • A French insurance company uses AI to enable its sales teams to prioritize leads based on the probability that a prospect will actually convert.
  • The telecom sector monitors Twitter mentions with AI in an attempt to improve customer service.

“What we’re getting is a human-led conversation that is powered by artificial intelligence,” King said. The technology provides different departments with the right tools so that they have almost superhuman powers.

With advanced automation tools, companies can upskill their CX teams, according to King. “What we need to prioritize is analytical thinking. Gartner talks about 85% of call center queries being handled by AI and the other 15% — the complex ones — handled by human agents. So they need to be able to do complex problem-solving.”

Related Article: 3 Key Benefits of AI in the Call Center

Blending Marketing and Technology

Tony Byrne, founder of Real Story Group, said that many organizations have successfully blended together marketing and technology, though the models for doing so can vary, adding that data forms the third leg of the martech stool.

Learning Opportunities

Marketing is shifting toward a global focus as companies look to be compliant with regulations and are executing decisioning services in a more centralized way, Byrne said. One of the participants in Real Story Group’s MarTech Stack Leadership Council said the firm couldn’t have successfully gone into new regions or rolled out new products without a global playbook.

Another key development is the rise of the product management function within organizations, said Byrne. “Product management comes out of the software world, but we are seeing really savvy enterprises adopt this paradigm in their marketing operations as well.”

Product management helps resolve issues across data, marketing and technology, though there is enduring friction in marketing operations as well as in IT and data operations. While project managers can help resolve some of these issues, said Byrne, they can’t always make them go away.

Matthew Williams, director of marketing capabilities for Hilton, said that marketing operations should be something that provides service to an organization rather than adding to the weight of the organization. “At Hilton, we’ve always had that theme — making marketing apps only as heavy as necessary to benefit the objectives of the marketing organization.

When he joined the company in 2011, Hilton had only one simple marketing app. A couple of years later, Hilton added IBM marketing operations software to provide managers with prospects for various marketing offers. Use of the tool was expanded from customer marketing to marketing across the organization, which reports showed was a huge success, Williams said.

However, as time went on, particularly during the pandemics, the tool became “heavier.” So Hilton looked for “lighter” tools, eventually moving to SAS project management tools and incorporating them into Hilton’s marketing app. Hilton eventually adopted Air Table, a Smartsheet for collaboration that integrates with Tableau.

“The focus has been on lightening the touch as much as we possibly can while serving the objective of efficiency and reporting,” Williams stressed.

AI Provides More Personalized Communications

Shawn Goodin, global director of marketing technology and analytics for Silicon Valley Bank, said that AI is good at picking up customer patterns, but to uncover those patterns, organizations need to consider the optimum places to collect data. Once those patterns are understood, a company can seek ways to optimize CX.

Greg Kihlstrom, principal and chief strategist at GK5A, said companies are striving to provide personalized, multi-channel communication and “always on” communication.

“We’re not just marketers, we’re not just orchestrating what we think the customer should see and when they should see it,” Kihlstrom said. “We’re actually listening to and responding to that customer in the moment. Oddly enough, AI and technology are making things feel more personalized than something that is orchestrated by a human.”

Kihlstrom said that listening and understanding customers, combined with research and development, will help companies lay the foundation for keeping customers happy. Companies need to test, measure, optimize and improve their CX strategies to increase performance over time.

Goodin agreed, saying that AI can enable companies to create content on the fly to better connect with customers while also taking over some of the simpler tasks from humans. He urged companies to look for small wins for AI first, such as analytics and generation of natural language, but not try to undertake anything that would involve excessive risk. There are areas, like financial advice, which still need human involvement.

But for AI to deliver the expected benefits, the data has to be good, Goodwin added. “Doing personalization with bad data is worse than not doing personalization at all.”

Privacy is another important area to consider when devising AI functions that will work with a person’s financial information, Kihlstrom added.

Related Article: 6 Takeaways from the CMSWire DX Summit Fall 2021 Conference

Consumers Value Experience Over Price

Tiffani Bova, Salesforce global growth and innovation strategist, discussed the value of connecting employee experience to customer experience.

Quality, consistent CX is always the goal. What will customers remember about their experience with a brand? Just that: the experience, more so than the price they paid for products or services. Companies offering superior service can actually charge a premium.

For example, most people don’t know what they paid for a rideshare, but they will remember a good or bad experience. The same is true of a restaurant. If the service is terrible, a person is unlikely to return, Bova said. “The pandemic completely changed the way in which customers on the B2C side … expect to engage with brands from an experience standpoint. Experiential marketing has now taken over.”

Great customer experience begins with your employees, the "keepers of the brand promise,” Bova said. “They are the ones that deliver that customer experience. It is the combination of every single touchpoint you have with a customer, whether it’s a human, online, offline, a chatbot, a mailer — everything plays a part.”

The Great Resignation, which Bova prefers to call the Great Inflection, shows the lack of investment companies have been making in employees.

“Employees want the same level of personalized, tailored experiences at work as they have in their personal lives,” she said. Many famous CEOs have pointed out that happy employees lead to happy customers. And if customers are happy, employees tend to be happier.