Customer experience market made leap forward during pandemic

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Last year’s pandemic-driven crisis led to a huge leap forward by organisations that had already invested in improving the customer experience (CX), with many of them moving beyond simply gathering customer insights to adopt new, more sophisticated approaches.

Bruce Temkin, head of Qualtrics XM (experience management) Institute, points out: “Last year was extremely important in accelerating customer experience. In fact, the discipline went through a metamorphosis that ultimately will be very good for its long-term evolution.”

For example, one large credit card company began using its CX systems beyond just tracking ongoing customer scenarios, but also to actively support and underpin its decision-making activities. To this end, executives started holding weekly meetings to discuss what was changing and how best to respond – a schedule that has since eased but has remained regular.

An Australian local government organisation, meanwhile, used its CX capability to inform affected citizens about a Covid outbreak following the arrival of the Ruby Princess cruise ship in Sydney in March 2020, an interaction that included what to do and where to get medical help. It also created workflows to make it easier for people to see a doctor quickly and connect to relevant services in order to access everything from food and prescription medicine deliveries to mental health support.

“It used CX not just to obtain feedback from citizens, but also to use the insights about what they were thinking and feeling in the moment to trigger workflows,” says Temkin.

A third, relatively widespread use of CX has been the reapplication of its principles to an employee experience (EX) context for workforce management purposes. Examples include using CX systems to understand whether staff had the right tech set-up in place during lockdown, whether they were starting to experience burnout, and whether they needed to quarantine because of Covid symptoms.

“Large organisations with a CX effort have the ability to understand how a customer is thinking and feeling and what is working or not in general terms, so they can take the information and act on it,” says Temkin. “It’s the same thing applied to the employee experience – it’s just that the platform and processes used when dealing with customers are applied to employees.”

Another key change has been the shift from digital being just one component of CX to becoming a core element of it – or as Temkin puts it: “Digital was the side door, but now it’s become the front door.”

Before the pandemic, digital was “still fairly early on in its evolution”, he says, which meant that although most companies had something in place, a commitment to it being a key means of reaching customers was low, a situation that Covid has now forced. As a result, using customer insights to create a better digital experience has become an important focus.

For example, over the year ahead, Temkin expects to see a growing use of “leading indicators” to help spot trends or issues early before they hit the mainstream, based on input from a small segment of customers. The aim in employing such indicators is to neither miss a potential opportunity nor be in the position of having to deal with problems once they have snowballed.

Another growing trend will be the use of sophisticated “preference analytics” tools to decipher customers’ choices and understand how they come to make decisions in order to anticipate their requirements.

Two other areas that organisations have also been concentrating, says Herb van der Raad, director of strategy and consulting at Wunderman Thompson Technology, are extending the “reach” and “ease and convenience” of their digital interactions.

In the first instance, the focus has been on engaging consistently and cost-effectively with customers over multiple channels, ranging from email to social media. The second has been about dealing with basic hygiene factors, such as speed, performance and providing easy ways to complete transactions, particularly in an e-commerce context.

Here are two companies whose investments in CX have enabled them to thrive even during difficult times in the pandemic.

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