Customer experience leaders will benefit from a culture of experimentation and curiosity in the rapidly changing digital world.

Rich Hein, editor in chief at CMSWire, shared those thoughts in the opening keynote of the Digital Experience Summit last week. CMSWire wrapped up its four-part 2021 virtual conference series with the Fall edition of the Digital Experience Summit last week. This is the company’s seventh year producing the conference.

“If brands want to successfully innovate, scale and see growth, they must make experimentation an integral part of the brand's culture from the top down,” Hein said. “The workplace should be an area where employee curiosity is encouraged and nurtured.”

Customers are arriving in more channels than ever before, Hein added, and they expect a seamless and consistent customer experience regardless of where their interaction occurs.

“The pace of change in modern CX is daunting with data privacy, changing customer behaviors, supply chain woes and more,” Hein said. “All these things seem to be in flux. As CX leaders and practitioners we face many challenges, and organizations need to work hard to be successful. Customers are demanding hyper personalized omni-channel customer experiences, and it's up to brands to deliver.”

Here are some more takeaways from the final installment of the 2021 virtual conference series. Access all the sessions from the four 2021 virtual shows:

Ensuring AI Can Serve as a Learning Companion

Dr. Rana el Kaliouby, deputy CEO at Smart Eye and author of Girl Decoded, discussed the possibility of AI redefining customers’ relationships with technology and making their digital experiences emotional, inclusive and more human. "If we think about human intelligence, there's your IQ, your cognitive intelligence," el Kaliouby said in her keynote Q&A with CMSWire's Hein. "But there's also your emotional intelligence, your EQ. And we know from years and years of research that humans who are more emotionally intelligent are more likable. They're more persuasive. They're better decision makers. And I believe that this is true for technology, especially technology that is so deeply ingrained in our everyday lives."

While AI is penetrating our lives in many aspects, we need to take a step back and take a very human-centered approach to how we design these devices and these technologies, el Kaliouby said. 

"If you think of Amazon Alexa or Siri or Google Home, some of these devices, they have a lot of IQ," el Kaliouby said. "They're able to understand language, but they have no context of your emotions. Or your mental states. And as a result, these devices will often intervene at the wrong time. They'll say the wrong thing. They'll frustrate you even more, and then they don't even have a sense of how much they frustrated you so it keeps getting worse."

Therefore, to really build these effective human machine interfaces that can be learning companions and conduits for helping you become healthier and happier, they really need to understand your emotional context and then act on it. That's exactly what we do as humans, according to el Kaliouby.

"We need machines to have this emotional intelligence if they're going to help us, help motivate us to become better versions of ourselves," she said.

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Digital Experience Is Always Evolving

Michelle Johnston Holthaus, executive vice president, chief revenue officer and general manager of the sales, marketing and communication groups at Intel Corporation, said the customer’s journey is a wealth of information that needs to be handled thoughtfully in order to refine and craft digital experiences.

“One of the things we talk about all the time is that customer journey,” Johnston Holthaus said. She explained the focus of customized buying experiences and went more in-depth, saying, “For every piece of information they give us, we need to become smarter and smarter about how to use that in a proactive and positive way so that their interaction is always better and stronger.” 

Johnston Holthaus highlighted the importance of always keeping your brand’s expectations high and exceeding customer expectations through building an effortless digital experience to enhance the customer journey. She added that during the evolution of her company, also came the evolution of the customers. There was an uptick of new customers from different industries such as PC makers, cloud service providers, retail and industrial automation.

“Building a delightful, user-intuitive digital customer experience is work that you never complete," she said. "As consumer expectations evolve, so do our efforts to deliver easy, effortless and enjoyable digital experiences. I've had the pleasure of watching Intel mature over the last several years in our goals to deliver customer-obsessed digital experiences.” 

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Trust Explainable AI to Help Your Brand

Preston So, author and senior director of product strategy at Oracle and a CMSWire Advisory Board member, discussed how explainable AI can help rebuild trust that was lost due to past failures of AI. Gartner is talking about Explainable AI, he said, as "not only a means of expanding the total addressable market for artificial intelligence at large, but also to restore a lot of the trust that has been missing."

Especially now, at a time we're climbing out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we're seeing ways in which AI has intensified or has potentially worsened some of the biases that we see in the systems of our society, according to So. 

Learning Opportunities

Josh Reese, VP of next generation data at Navy Federal Credit Union, discussed a knowledge gap in deploying AI solutions in organizations. It "depends on the maturity level of the organization," he said, adding, "you may have a number of individuals who have a data analytics background who sort of get it but more often than not, you'll have business leaders who just aren't immersed in the day-to-day. That's not their day job, they're running a business."

His message, make sure there are internal and external training efforts to help bring workers and customers into the fold and help build more trust. However, AI is providing value to those business users. "I think there needs to be quite a bit of up-skilling and education across the board ... around AI to understand at least a baseline of what it is ... how it works, and to be aware of the potential risks," Reese said.

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How My CX Job Is Really a Data Job

Jennifer Wright, vice president of customer experience at Magellan Health, discussed the titanic shifts in the past 20 months the healthcare space has seen, not to mention shifts in customer experience and the way companies connect with customers. The company saw its share of changes in the past 20 months, she added. Teams had to stay agile.

Wright said that more than ever she's had to increase her technical skill set in her role in CX. "I'm learning a lot about coding," she said. And her primary focus is collecting data in different ways and figuring out how to manage it. Data fuels innovation.

"Most of what we do is organize a team as a business intelligence team," Wright said. "I have Python and SQL programmers on my team, and I have them interface with our business intelligence organization. We are pushing data directly from Qualtrics into our data lake. We're not doing a lot of the traditional CX model teams are doing because what we're doing is actually treating CX as just one data source of many. ... So we're pulling in data from all of the operational systems and joining it in say, Tableau, for visualization. And so that way what we can create is journey maps based on operational data, and survey data's one data point of many."

Staying Innovative in CX During Disruptive Times

Diana Harbison, director of strategy and operations for global development and innovation at Purdue University, said when COVID-19 hit, the focus at her university was exclusively on student safety and getting them back home safely. That was challenging, to say the least, seeing Purdue has one of the largest international student populations of any university in the United States.

In terms of staying innovative during those disruptive times, Harbison and teams saw a big shift. Student-experience metrics centered on tuition data, rankings, ensuring students had jobs post-graduation and retention prior to COVID-19. It soon shifted to things like positivity rates, making sure classes continued and doing everything in their power to ensure the student experience was safe and yet still rewarding through a pandemic.

"When you think of a university experience everyone has memories of in-person life," Harbison said. "And so how do you achieve that? How do you reenact that? How do you ensure it in this very different situation?"

Purdue has been committed to taking a temperature check of how life has changed for faculty and students and what the university can do to support and accommodate them, according to Harbison. "It continues to be an ongoing conversation today," she added. "There are regular town halls based on survey data that's collected about how life is going, and how work is going for everyone and what resources are needed. And so I think it's an evolution for us, at least, as a significantly large university with a huge population."

Strong Leadership Leads to Strong Innovation Roads

Innovation continues to be a challenge in CX, and that's as much about leadership as it is about innovation, according to Stephanie Thum, founding principal at Practical CX. What we know also from research is that innovation changes with virtual and hybrid teams, she added, and leaders have to think about how they foster that.

"When in these virtual and hybrid team settings, it's easy to sink into that feeling of just being invisible," Thum said. "That's not good for innovation. And practicing collaborating. One of the things that I've mentioned to my clients is it is very tough with virtual and hybrid teams to collaborate. We're just swimming in synchronous and asynchronous communications. And sometimes people don't even know what collaboration actually means. So it requires more work on the part of leadership to foster that collaboration."