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Lightico sat down with Jeannie Walters, founder of 360Connext, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in customer experience (CX), to discuss what happened with CX in 2018 and what companies should look forward to in 2019. Jeannie firmly believes that CX growth will come from continuing personalization and a stronger emphasis on lowering customer effort.

ML and AI Assisted Personalization

Customers want personalization and have appreciated it when personalization leaders such as Amazon have presented them with options that feel like they are readily made for them. Technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning that help make personalization possible have become much more accessible, creating even higher levels of personalization in many customer experiences. Walters believes that personalization efforts will be fine-tuned in 2019 in even greater ways. Brands are going to start leveraging what some in the hospitality industry have done with on-demand chat which is actually machine learning. In some hotels, such as the big ones in Las Vegas, robots with names chat with guests and assist them with simple tasks making their stays more enjoyable. The robot accommodates the basic repetitive questions that people ask at the front desk staff. New call-to-action More and more industries are going to start using that type of technology so that customers will feel like they’re having a highly personalized experience. It feels very high touch, yet it leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence. That is going to ramp up dramatically in 2019.

Delivering What Customers Really Want

Basically, customers want personal interactions. When the AI technology was first rolled out, any one of us could tell we were talking to robots. There are still situations that can be very frustrating because customers try to get support on a website about a product and it’s pretty obvious sometimes that the chat is not a real person. With the AI technology, it’s now becoming more natural and organic feeling so people respond to that. We are trained as babies to respond to people in the most positive way. There are studies that show that a baby’s brain lights up when seeing a human face, almost earlier than anything else they see. That’s how in tune we are with one another as human beings and that’s why it feels different when the chatbot feels forced or unnatural. Companies have to go forward like that in a way that’s transparent and useful. That’s not always easy because there are standard answers that may meet needs at that moment but when a harder question is asked, the bot might not give the right answer and that feels very disjointed. Businesses have to figure out where they should step in as humans and make sure they’re always setting up guardrails for that. It feels so disruptive and so upsetting when customers think they’re dealing with humans and then realize that they’re not. That’s just a human condition to be wired a certain way so companies have to always be prepared for humans to step into that.

Know When to Switch from a Bot to a Human

Defining whether bots are capable of addressing complex issues is not a straightforward issue. The transparency comes in when a business lets a customer know that a bot is available and can answer questions. But when they get to the point when the bot can’t handle it and says it will find a human, there needs to be the right processes in place so that happens when it should. The challenge companies have is that the more sophisticated these things become, the more humans want to challenge them. For example, people have been doing things to damage self-driving cars when they encounter them because humans want to challenge what they don’t necessarily understand. They want to see how far they can take it. That’s going to happen to bots too so businesses need to realize that there have to be human protectors of this—not just protecting the technology—but protecting the relationships with customers. There is another positive side to this too. When bots are able to answer simple repeated questions, that actually frees up human beings to handle the more complicated and sensitive issues for customers. By using that technology in that way a company is actually creating more opportunities for humans to do jobs better.

Put More Effort into Reducing Customer Effort

There’s so much opportunity around customer effort because any one of us as a customer has experienced it. When we talk about bad customer experiences, it’s all about how much effort we had to expend. When the onus to solve something is put on us as a customer, we get really angry about it. And that’s not something we forget. The leaders in customer effort like Disney make CX effortless. A wrist band enables their guests not to carry anything or put in an effort to remember keys, passes, etc. We’re going to see more of that coming up when a brand will promise low effort for guests and customers. The whole idea of having to look up a serial number, account number, or anything a customer doesn’t naturally know, a lot of customer effort is required. There are tons of opportunities now to manage all of that for the customer to make it effortless. We’re just starting to see that but there are lots of opportunity around it in 2019 and beyond. New call-to-action Walters is a big believer that most companies do not know what kind of customer experience they’re trying to deliver. They can talk all day about improving the experience but they have to translate that into judgment calls. Walters also believes in a customer experience mission. This means that a business has to have something that people can internalize within their organization, to the point where if they have a judgment call with what to do for a customer that is their north star. The mission of Walters’ company is to Create Fewer Ruined Days for Customers™”. There is a lot of talk about CX, being exceptional and best in class and that doesn’t really translate with your people. Does that mean the fastest? Does that mean the most accurate? Does that mean you’re all about reducing effort? Or all about reducing company costs? A lot of people are talking about CX but they’re not sure what to do. Walters encourages people to really think about their CX mission—what are they trying to do for their customers—to the point where everybody can internalize it. Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and founder of 360Connext, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. 360Connext serves mid-market companies and larger by helping them evaluate their true customer experience. The evaluations always lead to improvements which then lead to results like increased online conversions or loyalty. Walters has two LinkedIn Learning courses currently available: Customer Experience: Journey Mapping and Creating a Positive Customer Experience.

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