Once upon a time, customers and businesses had limited interactions. A customer might hear about a business from a friend, stop by a brick-and-mortar shop, make a purchase, and move on with their life.
But in the digital age, customers are bombarded constantly with data and have to make choices about which businesses to patronize in-person and online. They'll base those decisions on the customer experience with certain brands.
In the last 10 years alone, customer experience has evolved in many ways. Here are some of the main changes to customer experience and what to keep in mind for the future.
Defining Customer Experience
Customer experience, sometimes denoted as CX, refers to a customer's entire journey or sum of interactions with a business.
This can include the time a customer first hears about a brand all the way up to years after they purchase a product or service. So businesses need to consider the customer's perspective at every stage if they hope to create a holistic positive experience.
The Evolution of Customer Experience
The way brands do business has changed throughout history. But with the introduction of new technologies and the digital space in recent decades, we're moving through an unprecedented rate of change.
The customer experience, and how businesses manage it, has evolved significantly throughout the 2010s alone.
As highlighted in the image below, here are some of the biggest ways customer experience has evolved over the years.
Let's discuss each in more detail.
Combining Humans and Technology
One of the biggest changes to customer experience in the past 10 years that we'll continue to see moving forward is a blend of both human engagement and technology.
Ten years ago, automation was all the rage. Automation is important, but providing most communication through artificial intelligence left customers craving human interaction. Sure, customers could find instant responses, but the generic replies weren't always helpful or welcoming when clients had more complex issues.
Customers want to be able to find answers to easy questions quickly, which is where automation comes in. But offering human support is important, too, if you want customers to trust your brand. After all, 54% of customers say that their biggest frustration with chatbots is the number of questions they must answer before being transferred to a human agent.
Today and in the future, businesses will need to find a balance between automation and human interaction to provide the best service (and experience) possible.
Understanding Customer Perspectives
When a business implements new software or shifts from offering call support to online chats, it might be making these changes based on budget or to improve employee productivity. And both of those facets are important for making decisions. But you can't ignore the customer's perspective when making decisions.
For example, let's say an executive for a garden supply business read online that chat is crucial for modern companies. The business then decides to cut their customer service phone line in favor of an automated chatbot. However, the business' primary audience is older adults who prefer ordering by phone or interacting with a human over navigating a chatbot and its automated responses.
In this case, a better alternative might be offering a live chat or adding the chatbot in addition to its phone line. This way, they're taking customer needs into account before making big strategy shifts that may impact customer satisfaction.
Not every trend will suit every business, so companies must consider their clientele as they consider ways to improve or grow.
Getting the Entire Company Involved in CX
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that customer experience isn't something that just one department in a business can shape. Customer support agents and sales associates aren't the only employees that need to prioritize the customer experience.
Emplifi found that 43% of consumers place high importance on previous positive customer experience with a brand when considering a new purchase. So every level of a business should be thinking about ways to improve bad CX and maintain good CX.
For example, executives should consider how changes and innovations will shape the customer experience. And technicians should consider the end user experience when making changes to customer-facing apps or websites.
Juggling Multiple Forms of Communication
Years ago, businesses really only had to worry about communicating with clients in person, often during standard business hours. With the introduction of phone, and later email, more modes of communication allowed businesses to reach customers farther away. But that also meant they needed to provide support spanning various time zones.
In the 2010s, chatbots and website forms became standard, offering automated support or connection for clients hoping to get in touch. These days, businesses are expected to provide several forms of communication to interact with customers — from traditional phone and email to apps, live chats, video calls, social media messages, and more.
Customer service is an important component of the customer experience, and customers want to be able to reach brands and receive responses quickly. Businesses will need to continue to offer various options for communication to meet consumers where they are in real time.
Defining Company Values
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and both domestic and global events, most customers aren't willing to just support whatever company has the best deal or the funniest advertisements.
Customers expect businesses to be socially conscious and want to support businesses that share or reflect the same values they do. In fact, 63% of customers are more willing to buy from companies that are socially responsible.
For a business to shape a positive customer experience, it needs to have a mission and goals that are forward-thinking and give back to the community. That might mean enacting sustainability initiatives, donating to charities, or supporting artisans over machine-made goods.
The details will vary based on the business and target audience, but the message is clear: customers want to engage with businesses that care about more than just the bottom line.
Customer Experience Trends for 2022 and Beyond
The changes over the past 10 years may stick around for a while, but expect customer experience to change with the times moving forward, too.
Brick-and-mortar stores are great and still necessary, but ecommerce is booming. And there are far more ways to sell products than just through a website. WhatsApp is increasingly becoming a popular way for customers to purchase items, as are Instagram and Facebook.
Another trend that's here to stay is the focus on sustainability. Customers want to support brands that are actively working to lower their carbon footprints and give back to the planet. This involves full transparency, too, to gain consumer trust.
For businesses that sell products, it's important to also consider ways to engage customers through services. That might mean offering live demos on how to use the products or hosting events for customers to attend.
Keeping Up With the Evolution of CX
Customer experience has evolved in the past decade and it will only continue to shift in the years to come. Brands will need to continue to grow and change if they want to attract and retain clients.
The pandemic has shown that the stronger businesses are those who can quickly adapt to changes, both within and outside of their control. As long as you stay tuned into what your customers want (and need), you're setting yourself up for success in the future.