Customer experience boils down to making every customer interaction matter, whether those interactions happen in marketing, support, sales, or the back office. It’s that simple, and that complex.
The global pandemic is bringing into clear focus the importance of the “experience economy,” where customers are defining the terms of their engagements.
As our customers adapt to dramatic changes in their lives resulting from government-mandated shelter-at-home orders and closures of schools and offices, they have even less patience for tone-deaf marketing campaigns. They don’t want to be bothered with communications that miss the mark in content or delivery.
Fortunately, AI-powered applications can guarantee the resilience of our companies by giving us insight into what our customers want, when they want it. But we have to listen closely to what our customers are telling us, and then take action based on these interactions.
As customers struggle with dramatic changes in their personal and professional lives wrought by the global pandemic, their expectations of brands are higher than ever.
What do those expectations mean for marketing professionals like us whose training did not include lessons on how consumers would buy products as a deadly virus spreads across the globe?
One thing our customers are making clear: it is not good enough to make promises and create marketing slogans; we have to be certain we are fulfilling those promises as well.
That reinforces the findings of a survey we conducted just last summer. We partnered with Jeanne Bliss, founder of the brand-leadership consultancy Customer Bliss, who polled more than 1,100 U.S. customers across four generations.
The respondents told us: it only takes one bad experience for our customers to “blocklist” a company. The research study, titled “One Size Doesn’t Fit All,” found 43% of customers quickly drop vendors that do not meet their expectations.
As Jeanne noted at the time, relationships between companies and their customers begin when a customer has faith in a company. That trust, she noted, must be constantly earned. As she put it, trust “cannot be bought but can easily be lost”.
In the survey, customers made clear their lack of trust in companies is making it increasingly difficult to influence their purchasing behavior. Again, that was before the pandemic.
The difficult period we are all going through lately has accelerated the notion of an “experience economy” and the need for us to focus even more on making every customer interaction matter.
Blurred lines between B2B and B2C customers
With today’s pandemic-related stay-at home orders and the resulting challenges they create, customers have even less patience for unwanted marketing messages and broken product promises.
This is not just an issue for B2C. B2B customers are consumers, too, and they hone their service expectations based on interactions with the sophisticated providers of home goods and entertainment they interact with in their personal lives.
If I go online from home to make a purchase or sign up for a streaming entertainment subscription, for example, and have an enjoyable, efficient, and even “cool” experience, the bar is set.
I will expect a similar experience while I’m working. Simply put, the lines between how to market to B2B versus B2C customers are forever blurred.
It’s clear to me the time is right for us to really focus on understanding what customers want, when they want it, and how to keep them happy. We have all talked about this for many years, but this is not a ‘nice to have.’
This is now a requirement. Anything less will not only put immediate revenue goals at risk, but also endanger the long-term survival of your company.
The good news is AI presents a powerful and welcome tool to help us decipher consumer behavior, even during a pandemic. The more reliable customer intelligence we have to guide us, the more successful we will be in building customer relationships that last.
At Oracle, our research and development teams are adding AI capabilities into our portfolio of cloud applications so that our customers have easy access to information about what their customers want.
To help B2B and B2C marketers, we have added powerful AI algorithms, which serve as instructions that enable computers to ‘learn’ from the data they analyze.
In other words, the more customer data they process, the ‘smarter’ the recommendations they can make. Those recommendations help marketers automate digital campaigns, by understanding the messages customers are most interested in and how they want them delivered.
For example, during the pandemic, while sports are on pause, we have seen sports marketers apply this kind of detailed information about fan preferences to obtain an impressive 88% open rate for their marketing messages.
Other service organizations tell us they are making interactions with their customers stronger by applying AI technology to:
Help agents in customer service centers find comprehensive answers to questions faster;
Create “work fingerprints” for each repair person based on past productivity to help schedulers predict with 98% accuracy the time it will take to complete a repair call; and
Factor in potential delays based on real-time traffic information and real-time parts inventories to speed service professionals to trouble calls.
Accelerating the ‘experience economy’
Global events during 2020 have blown up the rulebook. While no one knows what a post-pandemic world will look like, one thing we can say for certain is that this year will force change.
There is no more runway. No more kicking the can down the road. And no more guessing what the cost of continuing the status quo might be.
For brands, this means giving each customer what they want, when they need it—sometimes even before they know they need it—in order to create a great customer experience across every touchpoint, every time.
AI and machine learning make that possible. They enable us to look past the subjectivity of marketing campaigns, so we can analyze the data underneath. This enables us to identify and optimize marketing efforts, so we can improve both ROI and the customer experience.
So, while it may seem counterintuitive to make changes of this scale in a turbulent time, we need to grab this opportunity to secure the future for our career, our brands, and our industry.
We are witnessing the advent of the experience economy and with AI as our technology partner, we can make it the experience of a lifetime.
Nate Skinner is a senior vice president and global marketing leader for customer experience at Oracle.
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