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‘Good enough’ isn’t cutting it - three ways to advance your CX for the long term

Adrian McDermott Profile picture for user Adrian McDermott October 3, 2022
Queries are going up, patience is wearing down, and customers continue to expect more from companies — sending even leading customer service organizations scrambling to meet SLAs, writes Zendesk's Adrian McDermott.

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(© mentalmind- Shutterstock)

Businesses are tightening budgets and pulling back on investments in resources and headcount while economic conditions remain uncertain. Meanwhile, customer expectations continue to rise and consumers are ready to pull their business at a moment’s notice. The digital-first landscape has brought plenty of competition to the table and those companies that have invested in optimizing the customer experience stand to gain while those maintaining the status quo are feeling the pressure. 

Over the past couple of years, technology has made rapid strides, driven by the constraints of the pandemic. These leaps forward increase customer expectations — things should be easier, more immediate, and more conversational — as simple as texting a friend who can pick back up where the last conversation ended. But these advances also create larger gaps in the levels of service companies are providing, based on rates of adoption and how well new technology is implemented. 

As we move forward, we expect technology advances to accelerate even faster, radically changing the customer experience (CX) landscape. This is why now is the best time to make CX a priority. Quality experiences drive sales and loyalty, and our research findings back this. A majority of businesses are able to drive repeat business through better customer experiences, according to our 2022 CX Accelerator report. 64% of respondents say that customer service has a direct impact on business performance, and 60% credit it with impacting retention. 

The value of good service may be known, but it isn’t always easy to deliver — especially in today’s landscape. Respondents reported a real shift since 2021 — 66% claim customers are less patient in their interactions with service teams. And companies are 18% more likely to report that customer satisfaction is somewhat or significantly below expectations. To ensure your CX is on the growth track, there are three clear areas for investment.

1. Be intelligent, without losing the human touch

When AI is working well, it's seamless. Yet many applications of AI aren’t there yet. We often know when we’re talking to a bot, and that can be okay if we don’t feel tricked and the bot is actually helpful. AI is already quite strong when it comes to automation and making recommendations and predictions.

In support environments, AI is also moving into the realm of helping with proactive and preventative care. Imagine a support interaction that begins with a notification from a bot who suggests a course of action — or identifies trends or predicts needs before an issue arises — and then passes the conversation to a human for white-glove support, all before the customer ever initiates contact. These interactions are possible and will become more prevalent.

To create a great experience, it’s important that leaders understand the roles that chatbots or other forms of automation should play, and when a human should intervene. Today, the number of companies using chatbots is 64%, up from 52% during the first year of the pandemic. Even so, 89% of respondents reported that they struggle to create seamless interactions that feel conversational and less transactional.

No matter where you’re at with automation and AI, it’s critical to create a hybrid strategy that eliminates repetitive work and creates efficiencies for your team. Consider where a bot hand-off should occur for the best customer experience, and also how you can lean into AI to support your team. That leads to a better customer experience, too. For example, AI can help collect the context your team needs to have a productive conversation. It can also help detect holes in your knowledge base and suggest articles that may need an update.

2. Integrate data from critical apps

Data collection isn’t useful when you can’t do anything with the data. Many organizations use disparate data point solutions in different parts of the business, creating silos and limiting your ability to leverage these gold mines. Data also isn’t static — what we want one day may be dramatically different from what we’ll want two weeks from now. The north star is to have the right insight from the right data at the right time. This is how to create a truly personalized experience, built on intent signals and a historical understanding of each customer.

Support interactions are a great avenue for revenue-generating cross- or up-sell opportunities, not to mention the cost savings that come from not losing an unhappy customer completely. But for support teams to be successful, they need a complete view of the customer, with integrated, quality data across all touch points. Certainly easier said than done. To get a 360 view of the customer, 50% of respondents report using between six and 15 apps; 38% use less than five apps. This kind of data fragmentation is a significant complication when it comes to providing seamless customer support.

It’s not as vital to collect anything and everything about a customer as it is to connect the right systems and pull in quality data that allows agents to easily discern what’s most relevant to a particular customer and conversation. It’s particularly important for both sales and service agents to know when there are purchases or deals at play, or when there are issues present that will impact future business. When you can bring this data into a unified agent workspace, you introduce cost savings in the form of time saved, as agents have the right context to have a productive conversation, within a single view.

3. Evolve your agents beyond reactive support 

Service agents are no longer just assisting when things go wrong. They’re stepping in across the entire customer journey — from discovery to purchase — and well beyond. In fact, 83% of customer service agents are trained or directed to uncover sales opportunities in the course of their customer interactions, and many of these opportunities come from social messaging. They’re also managing heavier workloads, as support requests are up 14% compared to last year, often with the same resources in place. 

Most businesses can’t afford to lose staff or constantly onboard new agents when resources are already slim. With the demand on agents so high, it’s important to extend some empathy — and enable them with the tools they need to deliver great service. With smart automations and workflow processes in place, you give agents the power to uplevel their skill sets and solve deeper problems.

Companies can also use technology to triage tickets and use initial conversations to help detect customer intent and clue agents into the best path forward. Or to employ real-time omnichannel routing to create efficiencies that benefit your agents, ensuring that tickets travel to agents based on skills, status, and capacity.

Providing training opportunities and investing time into knowledge-sharing across departments goes a long way to increasing job satisfaction. And that becomes the gift that keeps on giving, allowing agents time to spend with a customer, influence sales, and help create lasting customer relationships.

Conversational, personalized, and human service is where the industry is headed, and it’s backed by intelligent technology. Companies must invest in CX because customer expectations have made ‘exceptional’ the new baseline and will only continue to rise over time. 

How mature is your company's CX? Try taking our assessment quiz to find out.

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