Trends that will drive customer experience in 2016

Abhijit Banerjee, Vice President and Region Head, APAC, Servion Global Solutions

At a recent event in Malaysia, I was tasked to speak about customer experience — a topic that is challenging to tackle considering its breadth and depth. To start off, what is customer experience? How do you measure it as a whole? Can one enhance it without losing focus on business growth? Should one hire more staff to handle it separately? It appears from the onset that the industry poses more questions than answers.

In my speech, I decided to illustrate customer experience using the concept of magic at the event. After all, in most customer-related situations, the experience does seem to convey a similar sense of awe — the magical touch. The difference is that one does not require fancy incantations or whimsical potions to produce this magic. In fact, customer experience doesn't just happen. You need to intentionally drive the outcomes by adopting best practices and strategic engagements with the right partner.

In today's competitive market, businesses should be ready to embrace data and use analytics tools to enhance their interaction with customers. The banking industry is a good case study of how businesses are using data from multiple touch points to engage with their customers.

Research shows that in 2015, 85 percent of the largest 250 Asia Pacific banks use data analytics to drive their customer marketing activities. This data proved so useful for banks that the industry is experiencing a steady decline in branch transactions, signalling that channel preference is evolving in the market. A large portion of Asian consumers said that they were open to using a branchless banking system for some of their business transactions and this was backed by another study which showed that a large percentage consider purely online banking for their transactions.

As the customer experience industry continues to evolve, it is important to remain relevant. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the trends that will drive customer experience in the year 2016.

  • The fast and the social
    There are no proximity challenges in customer interactions anymore. The service world has shrunk along with the rest of it. Given the advent of social media in the average customer's day-to-day life, brands are now relying on multiple social platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc) to enhance customer experience. At this rate, this reliance on social media will likely be less of a choice and more of a mandate come 2016. Customers will continue their conversations about service on social media — the great, the average, the bad, and the ugly. The question is, how quickly and effectively can a brand respond, without panicking or over-selling, to them.

  • All for one message and one message for all
    In today's device-friendly ecosystem, the ways in which customers interact have changed tremendously. These consumers are not just leveraging multiple touch points to communicate but are hopping from one channel to the other depending on their ever-changing preferences. Customers have come to expect a unified experience across all channels, with access to the same data and functions. To meet these expectations, brands must ensure that their customer service strategies are both channel-agnostic and context-optimised.

  • Proactive, predictive and real-time
    While technology has simplified how brands can reach out to more customers, it has also complicated the nature of such interactions. The days where solving customers' problems in exchange for their loyalty are now long gone. It is now crucial to gain insights and have an overview of every customer's context, based on their behavioural, transaction, social and interaction histories. This data could provide companies with invaluable insight on how to deliver personalised responses to their customers by predicting their intent. This is how brands can capitalise on opportunities across the interaction spectrum and deliver the next best actions. The aim is to provide customers with the experience that they anticipate even before they formulate these expectations.

  • Help customers help themselves
    Self-service is making a comeback in customer experience. Digitisation is redefining customer service and psychology, where customers are beginning to adopt a do-it-yourself mindset when it comes to finding answers to a query they have about a product or service. What brands have to do is offer a user-friendly ecosystem for them to easily look for the right answers. They must ensure that the necessary references (FAQs on websites, extensive menu options on IVRs, etc) are in place to help their customers help themselves.

  • Be more human
    Looking at customer experience from outside, it may sound like a contradiction. As I mentioned earlier, it can even be a little frustrating. On one hand, customers yearn for responsiveness while on the other hand, they demand the human element in these service interactions. The year 2016 will see more brands striking a balance between these seemingly disparate expectations. Customers are fundamentally likely to trust people more than they do companies. This is why humanity-infused customer experience will continue to rule the roost.