A Look Ahead: Customer Experience Priorities and Demands

From high-touch personalization to deeper insights, companies are doubling down on better customer experiences.
Customer Experience

Putting customers first has become a battle cry that echoes across industries and businesses. In fact, 89 percent of business leaders indicated customer experience was the "new battlefield" and that they intend to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience by 2016 according to a survey conducted by Gartner.

However, there are myriad ways for companies to deliver an excellent customer experience. As we prepare for a new year, here are some of the priorities that are shaping customer experiences for the future.

What Comes after Mobile-First?
Many companies have made a mobile-first approach to customer engagement a priority, but the debate has moved on from whether businesses should focus on the mobile Web or native apps. In fact, native apps are a low priority for customer experience leaders.Only 23 percent of respondents from a pool of 216 executives pointed to developing native mobile applications as an important area of focus, according to a survey by Forrester Research. "It's no fluke that native mobile apps rank low on CX pros' priority lists," according to the report. "Mobile apps can be undeniably popular and engaging, but barriers to discovery and low usage after download mean that it's challenging for an app to gain wide adoption."

Instead of creating an app just to have one and squeezing a desktop interface into the app, companies should focus on genuine mobile experiences, suggests Glen Hartman, global managing director of digital transformation for Accenture Interactive. "The way an experience is architected is important," Hartman notes. "You can't just build a mobile responsive site and say you're done. Companies need to acknowledge when and how people are using their phones and create experiences that complement that behavior."

For instance, people are increasingly using their phones even when they're at home. They're researching topics, chatting on social media, texting, and/or watching a video-all from their phone. A brand's mobile site could be its first and only touch point with a consumer. It's therefore important that the mobile experience is complete.

The German startup Number26's mobile-first bank account is one example of what an authentic mobile experience could look like. Number26 allows consumers to open a bank account that includes functionalities designed for the smartphone. For example, instead of going to the bank in person, consumers can open an account by answering questions via a video phone call and showing identification like a passport to a representative.

Through a partnership with Wirecard Bank and MasterCard, approved customers receive a card for making purchases and withdrawing cash, or they can make payments with Number26's app. The app sends push notifications about customers' account activities in real time in addition to letting them block online payments or the ability to withdraw cash if their accounts become compromised.

"Our vision from the start has been to build Europe's first bank account for the smartphone," says CEO and founder Valentin Stalf in a statement. "We see traditional banks as having failed to adapt to the demands of the digital generation."

Cybersecurity questions aside, Number26 provides an example that other industries can learn from in designing a mobile experience that isn't a stripped down version of the desktop, but instead serves as a customer's main point of contact with the company.

The Amazon Effect Part 2
It's impossible to discuss customer experience without mentioning the effect Amazon has had on customer expectations. Even if a company isn't in the same industry as Amazon, it is still affected by the online retail giant in the sense that customers have come to expect the same fast service and low price points. However, even huge retail companies like Walmart struggle to keep up with Amazon. So, how can other businesses meet customer expectations? The answer is exemplary service, maintains Bogdan Constantin, cofounder and CMO at Menguin, an online suit and tuxedo rental company.

Menguin lets people select a tux or suit style and customize it with suspenders, bow ties, etc. To determine fit, the company uses an algorithm that cross references more than 22 million data points including height, weight, favorite shirt brand, and tightness preference. The garment is then delivered to the customer at least 10 days prior to the event.

"If they have any issues with their garments or fit, we are open 24/7 and will express ship replacements at no cost," Constantin says. Menguin has a Net Promoter Score of 60 (the average NPS score for specialty stores was 58 in 2015) and the company is striving to continue improving its service.

"Hands down our customer service is the number one priority at Menguin," Constantin maintains. "How we communicate with customers and fix their problems and improve their experiences is tantamount to our success and drives every decision and investment we make."

Menguin's representatives communicate with customers through real-time chat, phone support, texting, and email. The company selected Freshdesk to help the retailer enhance its customer service. One of the first things Menguin is working on is streamlining its various communication channels to make it easier for the retailer's customer service team to manage support tickets and ensure a fluid experience.

As an example of how crucial customer service is to Menguin, over the coming months its executive leadership team is going to learn how to use the Freshdesk system and will be answering tickets and interacting with customers, Constantin says. This way, "we can fully have our fingers on the pulse as to what our users' wants and needs are to make sure we constantly have our goals set to exceed them," he adds. "[And] being constantly engaged in our customer service operation as a leadership team enables us to do this."

Additionally, the company plans to further improve its service by using customer journey mapping and analytics to give the company better insights into "exactly where they [the customers] are in our process and offer them the targeted assistance they need based on historical evidence so thatthe right person [can] solve their problem in the shortest amount of time," Constantin explains.

Product variety is less of a priority for Menguin, he adds. In fact, the company will "gladly hold off" from investing in other technologies while it focuses on its customer service. "Essentially, we are investing in giving our customers the easiest experience possible to further set Menguin apart," Constantin says. "Our criteria for any investment is simple: Will it make our customers happier? If the answer is yes then we will do whatever is necessary to make that happen."

Indeed, high-touch, personalized experiences are one way brands can compete with Amazon, agrees Ian McCaig, CMO at Qubit, an ecommerce analytics provider. The company's clients include Staples, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Lenovo.

"Instead of chasing after Amazon, companies are realizing that there are other ways to offer value and that they can get a lot out of their own customer data," McCaig notes. Instead of trying to match Amazon's breadth of merchandise and operations, some retailers are focusing on niche offerings and more personalized services.

McCaig points to luxury retailer Farfetch as an example. Farfetch wanted to determine what was preventing highly engaged visitors from completing transactions. Through the Qubit platform, the company implemented a message layer that displayed the FAQ page to consumers who visited more than 10 pages in a shopping session.

Perhaps shoppers needed a little more information before making a purchase but didn't know where to look. Showing customers a list of common questions and answers about shipping, returns, and refunds would make the experience even easier. After adding the new message layer, Farfetch saw a 17.1 percent increase in conversion rates, which it attributed to making its FAQ section more accessible.

"We discovered through the Qubit Discover tool that new visitors who saw the FAQ page had a much higher propensity to purchase than those who didn't," notes Kelly Kowal, Farfetch's director of digital marketing, in a statement. "It was important to show it to engaged visitors because they are interested, but may need a bit more reassurance and information before purchasing."

Farfetch is also experimenting with applying predictive analytics to other parts of the shopping experience, such as creating customized landing pages with curated merchandise based on past purchases, customer behavior, and other data points.

The good news and the bad news is customer experience is a never-ending race. Customer expectations and behavior will continue to evolve and companies may need to change their business models and tactics. However, the companies that remain focused on their customers' needs while remaining open to new opportunities have a significant advantage over their competitors.