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Pandemic Recovery is Casting a Shadow Over CX Improvements

Improving customer satisfaction levels is a priority for 84% of organizations, but in the wake of the pandemic businesses are also focused on practicalities

In our recent research report, published with our partners at Precisely, we surveyed 100 customer experience (CX) leaders in Europe, North America, and Australia to reveal the objectives of major brands as they plot their path out of the pandemic by using data to create next-generation customer experiences.

A lot can change in just two years. The COVID-19 pandemic has had deep and far-reaching implications for businesses of all kinds. It accelerated digital transformation and cloud adoption, closed brick-and-mortar stores, and caused US eCommerce sales to grow by 50.5% between 2019 and 2021.

It has also changed the way that businesses and customers interact. In an increasingly digitized economy data is more influential than ever. Today, the world’s biggest brands are increasingly focused on operationalizing their data to improve customer experiences.

“We have this treasure trove of data; we have to be able to leverage that and operationalize it in a very simple manner so that the right data goes to the right teammate at the right time,” says Vishal Bhalla, SVP and Enterprise Chief Experience Officer and Market Chief Human Resource Officer for Atrium Health.

He continues: “We need to be able to discern and anticipate the needs of our customers. Everybody, whether they’re in healthcare or not, is using data to make sure that we have the resources we need and the products we need based on what that market segment wants.”

CX executives are focusing on optimization in the wake of the pandemic

Our research highlights nine key priorities for CX leaders as they map their CX strategic objectives for 2022. Top or high priorities for executives feature CX objectives like improving customer satisfaction levels (84%), improving customer acquisition or conversion rates, (81%), and processing support tickets more efficiently (61%).

CX leaders are exploring automation to optimize their processes and systems to improve customer satisfaction metrics like first contact resolution.

“We are focusing on processes that we can apply automation to. A lot of the processes that we have today are manual,” says Philip Morris International Head of Customer Care Josue Berlanga. “We are also renewing our focus on solving the customer issues at the first contact,” Berlanga continues. “So, we are putting a lot of effort on indicators like first contact resolution, as well as traditional indicators like net promoter score and customer satisfaction score.”

There is also a clear focus on business recovery and cost optimization in the wake of the pandemic with CX executives highlighting generating cost savings (79%) and returning to ‘business as usual’ after the pandemic (74%) as key strategic objectives for 2022.

The direct line from improving CX to making cost savings is subtle. But CX leaders are addressing weaknesses in their systems that cause both material waste that can cause negative side-effects on CX.

“I don’t hear executives saying that they have to reduce costs so they’re going to improve their customer experience. It’s more subtle than that,” says Bob Azman, Chief Customer Service Experience Officer at CX consultancy, Innovative CX.

“Many organizations who are looking at cost savings as part of their overall goals or objectives are looking at points of failure and quality issues,” Azman continues. “For example, in a retail environment. issues may be related to returns. So, why are you getting a lot of returns? Why are you shipping incorrect products? Those are all factors that can be lowered with a better experience strategy.”

Companies are reacting to changing customer expectations 

33% of respondents in our CX research with Precisely in 2020 expected to close stores, branches, or offices as a result of changing approaches to client-facing operations. Our latest research demonstrates that this prediction came true and predicts that this trend is set to accelerate in 2022.

28% of organizations closed in-person locations permanently over the last 12 months and a further 42% expect to do the same in the next 12 months. At the same time, 65% report that they have created digital touchpoints to serve as an alternative to in-person touchpoints in the last year, with a further 34% expecting to do the same in the next year.

In changing the balance between digital and in-person touchpoints, businesses are treading a careful line between providing convenient online self-service tools and failing to meet customer expectations. The context of the interaction is crucial here to understand the nature of the risk.

“Many organizations are grappling with this issue and so are the consumers. There’s no real ‘right’ balance in some respects.” says Bhalla. “We tend to think it’s driven by the product or service we provide, but sadly that’s only a small part of how we should be deciding what to digitize and to what extent.”

He continues: “If there’s a dissonance between what we can offer, whether it is financially or just from a practical perspective, and what the customer expects, then we need to come up with strategies on how to compensate for where the consumer is looking for that individual or social contact.”

“I think we have to provide [in person] options for these channels,” adds Azman. “I get concerned about organizations that say, ‘well, all of that can be handled through a bot or AI.’”

“If I want to pay my bills at two o’clock in the morning, I want the platform for my financial institution to be available. I don’t need to talk to anybody because it’s transactional,” Azman concludes. “But if I go online at two o’clock in the morning and I see that there’s been an unauthorized withdrawal from my checking account then I want to talk to a person. I want an immediate response.”

This is an extract of our newly published research report: How Data is Driving Next Generation Customer Experiences. You can download your free copy of the full results here