Customer experience is one of the many business trends highlighted at the Zendesk Relate Conference. Customers in the age of the smartphone have more power than ever before. They’re capable of doing product research on their own, and take full advantage of it.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes are being forced to look differently, and with more respect, at customers. Instead of customers trusting businesses to sell them quality products and services, customers are dictating how businesses should be run.

Customers today are placing a much higher significance on customer service and social values. They’re looking for a personal connection with the businesses they associate with. It’s up to businesses to take advantage of modern technology to ensure their customers’ needs are met and they are reporting positive customer experiences.

Why Customer Experience Matters

In order to do business in today’s market, businesses need to treat their customers as if they’re real people. Old models gave businesses the authority to tell the customers what they should look for in a product or service, but times are changing.

Customers are tired of being told what they should expect out of a product and dealing with businesses that can’t live up to their own standards. The “art” of treating customers like human beings has been lost, and then refound.

With significant technological advances in AI, automations, and Virtual Assistants, technology is also being used to work for the customer rather than with the customer. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is, and here’s why:

Gartner says, “As a result, Gartner predicts that by 2018, more than 50 percent of organizations will implement significant business model changes in their efforts to improve customer experience. This large number shows a huge shift in priorities for businesses.

The focus is no longer on using technology to enhance the products they sell, but on using technology to advertise their products, offer customer support, store customer data, and improve AI and automations that lead to positive customer experiences.

Here’s another important statistic: according to NewVoiceMedia, “An estimated $62 billion is lost by U.S. businesses each year following bad customer experiences.” Even if your business doesn’t actually care about your customers, you need to fake it at the very least. Not doing so will negatively impact your business.

How is Customer Experience Evolving?

It’s not fair to say that businesses have never cared about the customer. Any business with a good reputation has good customer experience habits to thank for it. There have been steady improvements regarding customer service for a number of years now.

You’re not going to see anything revolutionary; businesses are using evolving technology that will continue to improve as time goes on. Here are some of the many ways customer experience is changing:

1. Seamless Omnichannel Experiences

Omnichannel experiences are a great example of technology and trend that is already embraced by businesses, but will be changing significantly in the near future. 74% of companies already use three or more channels for their brands. The real key is support for multiple channels, including voice, web chat, or even texting and self service options, and to allow context to follow customers through these channels.

Fossil and New Balance are two companies that used phone and email channels exclusively to reach out to customers. Fossil now uses Google Play and social media channels like Facebook and Instagram to advertise their brand. New Balance realized that 75-85% of their customers would rather do research on their shoes themselves so New Balance teamed up with Zendesk to improve their self service options.

Businesses should be looking to increase the number of channels they use to reach out to their customers to ensure every potential avenue for customer outreach is covered.

2. Embracing AI

Businesses are using AI to improve customer support, which ultimately improves the customer experience. AI is software that can quickly teach itself the ins and outs of a business utilizing data, freeing employees from the mundane and time-consuming tasks that slow us all down, and providing entirely new insights on how to improve the customer experience.

When tied with CRM software, AI can learn to manage customer data by categorizing it and segmenting it into targeted groups for sales and marketing teams alike. The more AI learns about the customers, the more likely it will be able to help them when problems arise.

They can also be used to predict patterns, which could help businesses determine whether or not certain leads are worth pursuing or letting go. Most people are creatures of habit whether they realize it or not. AI systems will detect patterns that are often missed and lead to missed opportunities.

3. Introducing Automations

Automation solutions free the employee to focus on more important tasks like meetings and phone calls. Getting tied down by data management removes the focus on the customer to other less-important tasks. When customers feel neglected, they are less likely to do future business.

For example, Dollar Shave Club used to work out of an apartment, but when they went viral, they were unable to handle the huge boost in customers and their website crashed. Without a support team, the founder himself spent too much time responding to countless emails to move forward.

Automations helped them answer emails quickly, which helped them to avoid bad customer experiences by responding to each and every customer on time. Clients were now also able to automate different tasks, like re-ordering their supply of razors after a certain amount of time. They kept their customers happy by responding to their inquiries while focusing on getting themselves ready to take their business to the next step.

4. Capturing Customers Behind the Analytics

People are not numbers. People are people. We all have feelings and values that are often left in the dark when it comes to business. Companies used to assume that as long as they sold great products or offered great services, values didn’t need to play a role in business.

The data businesses get from their customers is telling of who they are, what their interests are, and how they do business. But it’s not enough for businesses to look at big numbers and assume everything is fine.

Businesses need to know why customers are contacting them, or why revenue is going up or down. When they get a firm grasp of the numbers, it makes predictability easier which makes certain automations more effective. For example, if your average phone support hold time goes up in November and December, then your business might need to hire more agents to help handle the holiday season.

5. Apply Growth Mindset to Support

Customer support is becoming more and more humanized. Businesses are finally realizing that it’s okay if customers have issues with their products, that bringing these issues to light won’t make them look bad.

Businesses see this as an opportunity to showcase how they handle inevitable issues by emphasizing the importance of customer support. Support teams are the ones who deal with customers the most, so they are the ones setting the overall tone of the business.

A scooter business, Scoot, found that many of their customers were confused with the operation of the scooter; it would turn off during the first ride and people couldn’t turn it back on. As a result, they added the ability on their app to turn scooters back on when they turn off with an in-app support option. This decreased ticket creation significantly and let customers, who want to handle these situations on their own, handle them on their own.

Support teams have to adapt to the needs of their customers. If tons of people need help, and there are not enough options for customers to help themselves, the business will be overwhelmed with tickets; however, providing help through other channels like apps and social media allows support teams to solve problems before they get bigger.

6. Better Chatbots

Chatbots are another channel for businesses to use that take advantage of the messaging feature most people are well-acquainted with, offering quick responses to customers online. They avoid the hassle of speaking to someone on the phone or waiting for a reply on social media.

Chatbots, like everything else listed, are continuing to evolve and become more personable. One of their current limitations is that they are still unable to answer every question they’re asked, and the come off as being very robotic.

Customers in the social media age are not patient. Chatbots could team up with AI to be used to gather as much data as possible, predict what the customer’s problem is, and then offer solutions that allow the customer to handle it on their own. All of this would be done at a much faster rate, which is essential for a positive customer experience.

7. CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is also trending because customers are keeping their social values in mind while making purchases. Businesses can make the best products in the world, but if the cost of making that goes against the customer’s values, they will feel less inclined to buy the product.

CSR is all about businesses tapping into these values and using them to bring in customers that might not have bought their products in the first place. One example is American Apparel. They now offer clothes made in the USA because they saw a number of their customers take pride in buying American. Customers are given the choice to buy based on their values, and don’t have to abandon one brand for another.

Businesses that also give back to the community are seen as more personal. Trust is currently at an all time low. If you ask anyone on the street if businesses are interested in anything other than what’s in your wallet and they’ll all say no. CSR practices focus on changing that mentality by serving and becoming a member of the community.

8. Virtual Assistants

Virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa are going to have more of a role in customer experience by also being paired with AI to become smarter and offer more developed solutions to questions.

They’re becoming more personal in the sense that they will be able to assist people on a personal level, outside of their phones. Replika, for example, is developing a virtual assistant that will act more like your best friend than a tool that comes with your phone, answering questions and providing suggestions.

When virtual assistants become more humanized, they will be able to answer customer inquiries without much guidance, making it much easier to cut costs on customer support while still maintaining positive customer experiences. But going even further, virtual assistants will be able to help agents understand the best way to navigate an interaction with a customer. AI can be used to detect the emotion of the customer, and suggest specific responses to the agent, based on that emotion.

The Final Word

Customer experience is evolving to become more personalized with the help of modern technology. The technology itself isn’t revolutionary, but it’s allowing businesses to connect with their customers in ways that haven’t been emphasized for a long time.

Trust is at an all time low between customers and businesses, so businesses are trying to change the way they see customers in an effort to work with them, rather than telling them they need to believe in their product.

Businesses see valuing their customers’ opinions is telling in that they have, in fact, lost touch with their base. The almost complete lack of trust shouldn’t come as a surprise. Thankfully, businesses are finally — again — realizing the importance of customer experience and how positive experiences ultimately lead to increased revenue.