When was the last time you had a really good customer experience? I mean a really good experience – the kind that makes you want to shout about it from the rooftops and tell all your friends. I'd be willing to bet my new puppy that it wasn't online. (Okay, maybe not my puppy, but I think you get where I'm going here…)
As users of the web, we've grown accustomed to a different standard of ‘customer service’ than we would expect in real life. We still land on product pages and find ourselves presented with prices in foreign currency. We still get bombarded with promos that have nothing to do with our (clearly demonstrated) interests. And we still have websites boasting about their 24-hour turnaround time on customer queries.
Now, let's translate this into the offline world.
Imagine you turned up to your local Japanese restaurant and the prices on the menu were in Yen. And your waiter recommended a prawn dish when you'd already told him you're allergic to shellfish. And then when you asked whether the ramen contained fish products, he said ‘I’ll get back to you some time in the next 24 hours’.
You'd have a story to tell your friends but my guess is you probably wouldn't be heading back there in a hurry.
Humanisation of the online experience
As absurd as this scenario sounds, there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when we look back at the typical state of online service delivery today and wonder how we ever put up with it. The fact is, we already have the technology to provide very tailored and unique experiences to our online customers - and what's more, we're able to do it on a large scale.
The advent of big data, marketing automation, sophisticated CRMs, and CMSs that have the capacity to personalise the customer journey (like Kentico’s Online Marketing Solution) have made ‘humanisation’ of the online experience achievable. These technologies have turned the pillars of good customer service - qualities like attentiveness, responsiveness, efficiency, and the ability to ‘read’ and respond appropriately to customer needs - into reality in the digital space.
Since the first public website made its debut in the early nineties, the web has evolved from being a purely one-way, static experience (brands pushing catalogue-style content out to users) to a two-way, interactive proposition (e-commerce, user-generated content, social media) and now into a fully immersive continual feedback loop (dynamic content reacting to user behaviour in real-time, live chat and frictionless multi-device experiences). And expectations have risen accordingly.
Consumers in 2016 want an experience that is seamless, convenient and tailored to them. They want you to shortcut the customer journey - to know who they are, where they are and what they want (without being creepy about it). In short, they want an ‘intelligent’ customer service experience.
Are you delivering intelligent online service?
A ‘good’ online experience is one that ticks all the standard boxes of quality content, responsiveness, top-notch security, good load speed etc. An ‘intelligent’ experience, by contrast, is one that is truly customer-centric. It’s one that uses data to replicate the intuition and insights of the real-life customer service representative.
By today's standards, an intelligent online customer service experience is one that:
- Recognises where the user is: Tailoring content delivery to the user according to their location is really the ground level of the intelligent experience. It could be as simple as determining that a user is in Australia based on their IP address and serving up products that are available in the region, with prices in AUD. Or it could be something like Uber, which automatically recognises a user's location.
- Recognises the user as a member or subscriber, even when they're not logged in: Minimising user effort is a key element of the intelligent online experience.
- Remembers if the user has interacted with a certain piece of content: The intelligent online experience takes downloads and other interactions with content into account and modifies the user journey accordingly. For example, if a user has already downloaded a piece of content, they're unlikely to want to download it again so an alternative is presented.
- Remembers previous online behaviour: The classic example here is product or content recommendations based on a user’s purchase history or prior interactions with content - for example Amazon’s ‘You might also like…’ feature or Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’. The more a user interacts with a site or app, the more targeted the customisation can become.
- Tailors content to the user based on information they’ve provided: While online behaviour can provide valuable ‘passive’ data on consumers, it’s often the information that users actively volunteer that is most powerful. For example, if an online clothing store customer fills out a style profile, the brand can then present suggested outfits based on the response.
- Offers the capacity for real-time interaction: The proliferation of instant messaging apps and social media has created a culture of immediacy that has filtered into consumer expectations. Real-time interaction can either be direct (e.g. live chat) or automated. Uber and Dominos Pizza, which allow consumers to track the progress of their driver in real time are examples of the latter.
- Provides a seamless experience across multiple touchpoints: Consumer data no longer exists in channel-specific silos. The intelligent online service provider now makes data available across all consumer touchpoints.
Like any measure of intelligence, there’s a spectrum - think of it like an IQ rating. In its highest form, the intelligent online experience is one that is uniquely and precisely tailored to the individual, based on a rich tapestry of data inputs. Ultimately, the higher your ‘customer service IQ’, the more value you're able to provide to the user.
The intelligent online customer service experience is a result of the interplay of information from various data sources.
What will online customer service look like in the future?
The natural evolution of intelligent customer service is that it will become far more independent of the devices we experience it on. Websites and apps will interact even more seamlessly with other consumer touchpoints, and the experience will increasingly transcend the screen. For example, you might have a virtual reality headset that you use to explore a car, which then communicates with the manufacturer's CRM system so that when you arrive at the showroom the customer service representative already knows which features you've interacted with.
The intelligent experience of the future will also redefine the user journey based on a range of contextual factors, such as the weather, a user's activity level or sleeping patterns, and ambient conditions like pollution level or light.
Although they're technically not in the business of ‘customer service’, voice-activated personal assistants like Google Now, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana provide something of a barometer for where intelligent customer service is heading. The more you interact with these devices, the more they come to ‘know’ you, and the richer the experience becomes.
The value imperative
As we move into an increasingly online consumer world, websites and other internet-enabled technologies are taking over many traditional areas of human interaction. The upshot of this is that we're actually expecting them to behave more like humans. The real challenge then becomes how to use the data that consumers are providing - both actively and passively - in a way that truly adds value to their experience.
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