The world has experienced some big changes recently. Just about every company is now grappling with how to set up their business for long-term success in the new normal, and it is telling that investments in customer experience will be one of the last areas targeted for cuts.
While the customer experience (CX) has always been important, this moment is demanding that organizations walk the walk—the ability to put customers’ needs and preferences first is going to be key for future competitiveness.
But how should you decide which CX investments are prioritized? Whatever your process, your chief information officer (CIO) should be part of it.
The role of the CIO in customer experience
CIOs are in a unique position to lead the change to customer centricity across departments. They have a line of sight across the entire organization that, combined with their technical fluency, can help the organization execute the lofty goals put forth by their fellow C-Suite leaders.
Colleen Berube, CIO at Zendesk, recently joined Tim Crawford for an episode of the CIO In The Know podcast, where she explained how CIOs can help bridge the gap between departments and unify the entire organization in service of the customer.
“It’s in this CIO role that we can see the gaps, and there’s an opportunity to take leadership on suggesting ways to close those gaps to improve the situation for the customer in the end.”
Colleen Berube, CIO, Zendesk
“The marketing organization tends to think of customer experience as everything from marketing that hits the customer. The customer advocacy or support organization tends to think of customer experience as everything that happens to the customer through their engagement with them, and the sales organization tends to think of customer experience as everything that happens through them, and so on," she said. "It’s in this CIO role that we can see the gaps, and there’s an opportunity to take leadership on suggesting ways to close those gaps to improve the situation for the customer in the end.”
It’s also the CIOs who have the technical fluency to drive these large-scale changes forward. As many companies have seen with the recent transition to a remote workforce, technology enablement is a critical aspect of CX that applies to both customers and employees. As a result, organizations in which CIOs are involved in the focus on customer-centricity are in a much better position to serve both their customers and their employees as they navigate these uncertain times.
5 CX trends and the opportunity for CIOs
When we published our Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 at the beginning of the year, we had no idea the world was about to change so much. But if anything, the pandemic has accelerated the urgency of the needs we identified in the report, such as the need for flexible, omnichannel support solutions that can help organizations respond to an influx of customer requests.
Companies that can pivot to meet their customers’ most pressing needs will be positioned to come out ahead once things start to swing back in a normal direction, and CIOs can help lead the way.
Below are five important CX trends for CIOs to implement to help your customers in this time of crisis and beyond.
Customers need answers fast
The stakes are higher than they were before, which means it’s even more important to provide speedy, knowledgeable responses. That means being able to communicate with customers across a wide variety of channels. According to Benchmark data, high performing companies are more than twice as likely as their underperforming counterparts to offer an omnichannel approach to customer support. However, less than a third of companies surveyed offer live chat, social messaging, messaging apps, bots or community forums. This is a missed opportunity for businesses, especially as we’re seeing more customers using chat and messaging apps in the midst of the pandemic. Having both customer-centricity and technical fluency, CIOs are in a position to prioritize an omnichannel approach that can be adapted to meet changing channel usage preferences, now and in the future.
Collaboration is still a challenge
Internal collaboration was a challenge before, and it’s an even bigger obstacle in the current reality of remote work. You need to be able to collaborate to get your customers the information they need during this critical time, but sometimes the communication breaks down. For example, support agents discover that some customers weren’t fully informed during the sales process, and discerning their original intent is frustrating work. Meanwhile, support teams might not have sufficient information to recognize the opportunity for an upsell. Indeed, only 44% of customer support managers and 57% of sales leaders say their sales and support tools are integrated for a seamless collaboration—and ultimately, the ideal customer experience. There’s an opportunity for CIOs to look cross-functionally to push for new tools that allow greater collaboration across teams.
Data can facilitate more personalized service
You have the data, and there has never been a better time to harness it for the customer’s benefit. The most recent KPMG CIO Survey showed that when it comes to attracting customers, 91% of CIOs know that how they handle and use customer data is becoming equally important as a company’s products and services offerings. CIOs have a line of sight across the entire organization that can help illuminate opportunities to connect the “data dots.” By tapping into data from across the organization, a customer’s narrative can be surfaced in real-time, facilitating personalized, contextually relevant interactions that allow the customer to get what they need and then get on with the challenges of the day. In keeping with a customer-centric mindset, the companies who engage developers to create custom apps for personalized customer interactions are now handling six times the tickets of underperformers, and report a 50% shorter wait time for customers anticipating replies.
AI can help, but some are slow to adopt
When we surveyed 45,000 Zendesk users for our Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, 63% said they did not use artificial intelligence to improve or enhance the customer experience. But reliance on our AI-powered Answer Bot has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic. While previously some were slow to adopt, we saw a 95% increase in requests handled by Answer Bot from late February to early May, according to COVID-19 Benchmark data. This is good news, as Answer Bot usage was one correlated indicator of company success in the trends report. The highest performing organizations are twice as likely to employ Answer Bot than underperforming businesses. CIOs can be champions of AI-powered tools within their organizations by highlighting the mutual benefits they bring. AI-powered bots can answer many of customers’ most common questions, while at the same time freeing up agents to focus on more complex tickets that can’t be answered by a bot.
Customer service teams are prioritizing efficiency
Even before COVID-19, customer service teams were expecting more growth in customer requests than in headcount. As more companies are facing resource constraints, efficiency will be essential. The right culture, solutions, and data visibility will be needed to bridge the gap between the influx of customer interactions and the decline in resources available to help meet the demand. In other words, support organizations will need to run more efficiently, or they’ll lose business. Meanwhile, only around half of customer service agents say they have adequate tools to report on success. The gap presents an opportunity for CIOs and other IT leaders to again prioritize customer experience—the sum of every touchpoint each customer encounters with the business—before approving another redundant or risky point product.
The pandemic has only accelerated the need for customer centricity. CIOs can have a unique impact on companies accelerating the adoption of these CX trends to make their company more resilient and customer-centric and the months and years ahead.