Companies Can’t Afford to Leave Consumer Insights on the Table

Customer obsession is no longer a nice-to-have strategy. In an era where customers not only desire but expect exceptional experiences, being competitive means knowing how to leverage consumer insights. Companies are increasingly turning to advanced technologies like artificial intelligence to connect and engage with customers to deliver positive brand experiences. One of the best tools at our disposal is the rich data AI can capture.

Data clues us into what people say and how they behave, which are critical for optimizing customer experiences. Knowing customers' buying preferences and purchase histories unlocks tremendous opportunity to establish and strengthen more personalized experiences at scale, a feat that has grown increasingly difficult now that consumers can buy products and services instantaneously from anywhere in the world. Think about the mere seconds it takes to complete tasks previously considered unimaginable, such as purchasing a ride from the airport, ordering breakfast for the next day, or scheduling an internet installation from anywhere in the world at nearly any time.

Leveraging service data is key to making customers feel valued and like you know them, and it's possible today thanks to valuable insights that help us understand and predict customer motivations and needs and act on those to deliver empathetic care. What sets companies at the top apart is their ability to harness data across all business functions—from customer care to point of sale—to deliver a more convenient, seamless and precise service that builds on strong customer loyalty and long-term growth.

Home Depot, for example, has leveraged data and AI to cater to a large contingent of its customer base, the DIYers. They found that this group wants to communicate with the retailer in a multitude of ways as part of a single transaction. From augmented reality to store-wayfinding capabilities within its mobile app, Home Depot is helping customers feel more confident about their purchases while increasing their basket size. Its use of data and AI has without a doubt informed their store design and product selection as well.

Apple's Genius Bar is another good example where customer service drives growth and finds insights about improving product performance; as is Verizon's use of AI to revolutionize its field service. All of these successful companies are demonstrating the power of consumer insights at play. The data is at our fingertips, it's just a matter of developing a mechanism for capturing it and feeding it back into product and store design to drive better sales and better service.

The commonly held view is that service is just a cost of doing business and not a source of business growth or product innovation. By undervaluing service insights, companies leave revenue on the table. Data is the switch that helps shift service from a cost center and problem-solving function to a  value-creation function responsible for delivering memorable customer experiences. It helps us predict and anticipate customer preferences and needs and tailor our sales or product development approach to cater to those needs.

As experience becomes increasingly important to growth, service plays an even more critical role in exceeding expectations for customers across channels. Customers want personalized interactions that align with their motivations, desired outcomes, and preferences for how to achieve these outcomes, all of which data has the potential to unlock.

From the moment a customer clicks on your website, every interaction, from performing a task to completing a transaction, becomes part of the constant customer feedback loop. Powered by AI, such a wealth of data can help companies answer tough questions and address long-standing challenges by understanding how customers are using their products and services, with which issues they're commonly confronted, and through which channels they prefer to communicate when they need support. Capturing this information is invaluable to improving current and future customer experience, developing better products or services, and achieving higher growth within your business.

When service is proactive and predictive, customers feel the benefits of a better product experience and their trust in the business grows. Here are three simple steps for tapping into the consumer insights from your service function to help refine and improve both the experience you are delivering and the products and services you are offering:

  1. Make sure you have the right tools in place to collect the right data. Instituting mechanisms like a voice of service program provides a formal approach for capturing and analyzing data and offers a structure for how to translate these insights into meaningful product innovation.
  2. Make service a natural extension of sales and retention. The vast amount of intelligence captured by the service team can be fed back into product development and brand experience to ensure new or updated products are more aligned with customer expectations.
  3. Create an entrepreneurial culture. As consumers increasingly turn to the online market for their purchasing and servicing needs—a space that will continue to evolve—the companies most likely to come out on top cultivate an entrepreneurial culture among talent, where employees can flex their skills across multiple functions of the business. Thus, success lies not only in providing insights but in carving unique career paths that blend sales and service. Such a cross-pollination also creates the ability to drive personal and experiential insights from sales to service, and vice versa. We saw a significant push in this area during the COVID-19 pandemic, when numerous companies shuttered their brick-and-mortar locations and sales teams were operating remotely. This gave these companies the opportunity to expose the talent to both sales and service and test the blended operating model.

No function is closer to your customers than service. Tuning into AI-powered service insights can transform your entire operation, from re-evaluating processes used to improve products to crafting point-of-sale communications and onboarding new customers. The possibilities are endless.

Your service data and service talent are talking. Are you listening?

Sharad Sachdev is managing director and lead for AI-powered customer engagement at Accenture.