The Digital Flip: Putting Customers in Charge of Every Interaction

During the past two years, we have all become digital natives. Research from Adobe found that U.S. consumers spent $1.7 trillion online during the pandemic, $609 billion more than the previous two years.

And what many people considered to be temporary interventions turned into preferred solutions. Even back in August 2020 51 percent of U.S. adults said they expected their lives to remain changed in major ways after the pandemic was over, according to a Pew Research survey.

The shift to digital-first will no doubt have profound and far-reaching implications, most of which have yet to be fully understood. For companies that white-knuckled their way through the pandemic, this new customer dynamic is forcing companies to change the way they do business from now on.

Forrester Research reports a waning focus on customers: Only 3 percent of U.S. companies are customer-obsessed, an attribute defined as "putting customers at the center of leadership, strategy, and operations," marking a decrease of 7 percentage points from the previous year. Moreover, the research firm finds that nearly 20 percent of companies are seeing a drop in customer experience quality, the steepest one-year decline since the survey started seven years ago.

NICE's May 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience report reveals not just low levels of customer satisfaction (only 15 percent of consumers are very satisfied with the self-service tools offered, for example) but also a concerning disconnect between the customer experience, companies' perceptions of their digital offerings, and plans for that service. Based on this latest round of research, here are the top three things you can do to put your customer in charge:>

1. Make self-service better.

Research from NICE found that 81 percent of consumers want more self-service options, and they need them to be smarter, too. Customers have fully embraced the ease, availability, and convenience of self-service. However, 34 percent of customers reported a desire for those self-service tools to evolve in ways that allow them to address increasingly complex tasks.

Complexity calls for advanced artificial intelligence. In a world where excellent and effective customer interactions are a critical competitive differentiator, a good-enough self-service platform is a vulnerability. AI puts data to work by automatically identifying the right solutions that matter most to consumers and the businesses in any given moment. Therefore, companies are equipped to make the most impactful decisions in real time because they are starting with a rich repository of knowledge founded in the behavior of actual customers.

Further, data and AI can help identify the outcomes that matter most to companies or consumers. It's about harnessing the wealth of knowledge rooted in the behavior of actual customers to automatically facilitate better decisions and more effective solutions across the enterprise.

2. Chat smarter and faster.

When customers speak, they overwhelmingly prefer to chat. And they want to engage in self-service that actually works. They report that chat is their most preferred digital interaction channel (52 percent), yet just 31 percent of businesses currently offer it as part of their customer experience toolkits.

Companies are getting the message on chat. It took the top spot (47 percent) on the list of digital services that companies plan to expand. According to 54 percent of businesses, existing chat functionality is also the most-cited channel in need of improvement, followed by email and website.

Close behind chat is social media, coming in fourth place in customer-preferred interaction channels. After the expected channels of chat, email, and company website, social media outranks messaging and company apps. While NICE data shows that a whopping 40 percent of companies don't have social media service channels currently in place, those companies, along with 48 percent of companies with existing social media channels, wisely plan to expand or improve in that category in the next year.

3. Accept that customers are fickle.

And they are stressed out. According to research from ValuePenguin, 84 percent of Americans report feeling stressed weekly (up from 78 percent in March 2021). And financial stressors reign supreme, with 32 percent of Americans reporting that money is their biggest source of stress.

This underlying stress level might be contributing to increasing impatience with poor digital service interactions. In fact, NICE research found that 41 percent of customers will abandon companies after just two poor digital interactions. Yet only 25 percent of companies believe that customers will leave that fast, with most predicting that it will take three or more poor interactions before customers jump ship.

If stress exacerbates impatience and heightens customer expectations for instant gratification, companies must find ways to significantly reduce or eliminate the friction of every interaction. This involves orchestrating a seamless customer journey across all touchpoints by adopting technology solutions that remember customers and personalize every engagement based on their history. Bottomline: don't waste their time. Customers told NICE that their biggest gripes with agent engagements were waiting on hold (61 percent) and having to repeat information (51 percent).

Today and tomorrow, change is the only certainty. Meeting customer needs effectively requires anticipating what they need before they even know. That is why a complete, scalable, AI-infused platform can change your CX game in an increasingly volatile economic environment, helping you exceed the boundaries of the contact center to meet customers wherever they are, on any touchpoint, anytime, anywhere.

Elizabeth Tobey is head of marketing for FluenCX at NICE.