Q & A with Eric Carrasquilla, President of Customer Experience at CSG
1. Are emerging technologies, like generative AI and ChatGPT, changing customer preferences between physical and digital interactions? Do you think there are clear favorites emerging for customers, or is there a sweet spot that combines both?
Emerging technologies are changing preferences by making digital channels more effective when they‘re deployed. Good customer experience has always been about offering customers a path that makes their lives and interactions with your organization as simple and seamless as possible. With technologies like generative AI, autonomous delivery drones or even the metaverse, customers can choose whatever is easiest for them based on their circumstances, and while we see more and more customers opting for those effective digital channels, not everyone will make that change.
For example, when it comes to assistance, CSG recently found that 64% of customers prefer to use an AI-powered chatbot to answer their questions, but that means 36% will still wait on hold for an indefinite amount of time to speak to a human representative. You can’t go fully digital or remain analog without leaving someone behind, like forsaking the traditional customer service representative in favor of only an automated chatbot option. If an organization really wants to serve every customer, it’ll have to offer both. With that in mind, I like to see it as an opportunity to get “phygital” and explore every possible avenue to combine digital and physical experiences, so no matter what, each customer can find their happy place. The ability to go between the physical and the digital, especially with how easy it’s become, is here to stay and a key component in any organization’s success.
2. What specific AI developments, if any, have already helped smooth out customer journey friction? Where do organizations need to go next?
Important AI developments of course include chatbots to answer simple customer service inquiries, but also recommendation engines for products and services or even immediate fraud detection. So far, though, one of the primary impacts of AI in customer journeys has been the improved ability to analyze large amounts of customer data. Before we had sophisticated AI to help with this task, customer data piled up, and small details were overlooked in favor of pressing issues. Now, with AI analysis, no piece of data is too small, and that means every facet of the customer journey can be analyzed for improvement. Think of dropped call data, for example. Because the data analysis process was previously manual, we might only focus on the biggest, most glaring pieces of data, like the amount of time on the call before a drop or the representatives acquiring the most dropped calls. Today, the same dropped call data can be analyzed for the time of day, location of the caller, call topic and more, creating a much more holistic view of why those calls may have dropped. It’s important for organizations to really consider how to effectively capitalize on budding AI technology to optimize existing processes and ultimately create the strongest customer experience possible.
Soon, AI will also be able to offer customer-facing analysis, providing an invaluable tool for explaining difficult concepts. Take one of the biggest issues causing customer frustration: unexplained charges on a bill. When a frustrated customer calls an organization for answers about his or her bill, most likely, a first-level customer service representative won’t have all the insights immediately ready at their fingertips to explain every charge. They would have to transfer the customer to the billing department, which might have to transfer them to yet another department to verify the change in their charges. Take that same frustrated customer, but instead of a time-consuming process bouncing from department to department looking for answers, AI can instantly perform an analysis on the bill and then explain it to the customer. This analysis could be a complex explanation, a short and sweet answer or even a translation into a different language depending on what the customer is struggling to understand. This is an example of generative AI providing powerful customer assistance— when combined with analysis, it will be an invaluable tool.
3. Where and how do organizations fail when it comes to a holistic customer experience? How can they unify the different touchpoints of the customer journey?
The most glaring obstacle organizations face when building a holistic customer experience is departments within those organizations operating in siloes. Organizations struggle to start with the end goal in mind—they grapple with the long-term vision. As we just discussed customers calling to ask about unexplained bill charges, no single department has all the specific answers for any customer’s bill. They’ll call the customer service number or message the chatbot, who likely won’t have complete insight into the billing process, and the billing department won’t have insight into something like contracts offered to customers during the sales process. This issue can impact internal functions as well, causing friction and harming the employee experience. If different departments don’t feel as if they’re connected and cohesive, the employee experience will be as fragmented as the customer experience. Both employee and customer journeys should move between departments seamlessly, creating a unified front and a unified experience for the customer.
Think of it this way: each department is a single brick in a full wall. While on their own, each brick is well-made and sturdy, but without something holding them together, they fail as a unit. By performing journey analytics and implementing them for both customers and employees with relevant orchestration, you’ll form the “mortar” that can seal your “bricks” together, transforming your departments from stand-alone to a true team. Like any exercise in building, organizations also need to remain open to feedback throughout the entire process. Just because something looks good on paper doesn’t mean it will be implemented effectively in practice. Organizations should solicit feedback to continuously optimize results.
4. What obstacles prevent organizations from putting their customers at the center of their business? What do they need to do to overcome these obstacles?
Organizations across industries struggle with one common thing: not having a big picture view of where they stand, where they’re trying to go and how they’re going to get there. In short, organizational siloes and a lack of harmony can stifle growth before it has a chance to begin. If an organization doesn’t have a clear sense and a bird’s eye view of where it stands, it’s difficult to make sure its customers are at the center of the business. Of course, while it’s easy to say that’s an issue, it’s much more difficult to tackle such an overwhelming problem head on. Like everything, though, fixing this problem starts with a single step.
First, organizations should pinpoint exactly where they stand, which they can do by using something like a maturity model. Second, organizations need a clear sense of ROI when it comes to their customer experience programs, to better understand what is and isn’t working, and what to further invest in. After all, it’s difficult to know what you need to do next if you don’t know what you have already. As we talked about earlier, there are more and more tools coming out every day, especially with the rise of AI, and organizations shouldn’t be afraid to seek out those tools to strengthen their business. Organizations can also tackle this one journey at a time: pick a journey to start improving, whether that be customer, employee, or otherwise, and improve on it, and expand the scope from there.