At the recent NICE Interactions virtual event, attendees got an over-the-top view of their vision for providing a great customer experience (CX)—and if you strip it down to the essentials, there’s a compelling path here for all businesses, regardless of industry. CEO Barak Eilam framed NICE’s vision around three “guiding principles.” Before reviewing them, I want to set some context. Before doing that, I should also note that my colleague Blair Pleasant added thoughts about NICE Interaction here on No Jitter
In 2022, the cloud and AI are driving most players in the contact center space. Based on that thought alone, it would be easy to think the path to better CX is a matter of deploying the latest technology. Many of these players have strong technical capabilities. But the real issue is which problem-sets you apply them to and what outcomes you’re trying to achieve.
This path reflects a vision for CX—and when you consider the examples listed below cited by Eilam for leaders in today’s digital economy, these principles provide some solid building blocks for creating your own CX vision.
Principle #1 – Get Rid of the Middleman
What’s bad news for the middleman is usually good news for everybody else. Eilam cited well-known examples from Uber and Netflix, where these disruptors created entirely new business models on this simple idea. They don’t make any products or services; they just cut out the middleman – dispatchers, movie theaters, etc. – and provide a platform that enables consumers to have a direct experience. This platform reduces cost and allows the customer to control their own experiences.
Today’s CX parlance is about removing the friction that seems to be everywhere along the customer journey, and each instance takes customer satisfaction down yet another notch. The middleman (however you care to define it) can be a friction point, especially when they only make the customer experience harder instead of easier.
As consumer technology becomes increasingly user-driven, there’s less need for the middleman, so many opportunities exist to re-invent experiences, processes, workflows, etc. Aside from providing better forms of CX, this translates into an empowered customer, and when businesses do that, they build loyalty.
Removing the middleman also checks off vital boxes for today’s digital, experience-driven consumer, but it also applies to how contact centers need to modernize. How AI can uplevel self-service to the point where agents have very little interaction with customers was Eilam's message on this front. Live agents are the middleman when it comes to CX, and when constrained by inflexible legacy technology, they can be the source of much friction.
This promise of AI is great news for contact center leaders who see automation as a way to become super-efficient and reduce labor costs, but it won’t be great news for low-skill agents. AI is likely to impact all sectors of the economy, where many types of low-skill jobs will get replaced via intelligent automation. We’re not here to debate whether AI is good or evil, and for contact center leaders, NICE is trying to keep your eyes on the prize in terms of embracing new technology for what’s most important—CX.
Principle #2 – Transparency by Design
Transparency is a noble aspiration, especially when considering what comes to mind when it’s lacking—deceit, obstruction, holding back, loss of trust, etc. We’ve all experienced that and often wonder if these friction points are by design or simple incompetence. Sometimes companies don’t even want to deal with customers, so they make it difficult to contact them—and when you do make contact, the experience is poor and rarely resolved to your satisfaction.
That model will never deliver great CX. With today’s technologies, there’s no excuse for not being transparent. Furthermore, competition is relentless in our globalized economy, and when customers can no longer trust your company, your brand, or your customer service, they will move on. Trust often takes years to build but moments to break. This reason is why transparency is so important.
In terms of being a guiding principle for driving better CX, transparency goes beyond agents having open dealings with customers. This transparency also extends across the customer journey, where the job isn’t complete once the call is over. Every resolution requires a process, and transparency means the customer knows you’re with them every step of the way.
For example, when an agent issues a customer a refund, it’s not enough for them to say, “the check is in the mail.” Transparent CX means the agent will explain what will happen for the refund process, how long it will take, and what to do if it’s not received when promised. When expectations are set—and met—trust is built and will be maintained when you can deliver that time after time.
This principle may seem like a simple matter of managing logistics, such as tracking courier shipments, but there’s more to it for CX. Businesses weren’t always customer-centric, and they didn’t think of every touch point as a moment-of-truth opportunity to build trust with customers. Even if they did, the available technology back then could only do so much. Fast forward to today’s always-on, always-connected customer, and the opportunities are endless for staying with them every step of the way.
Of course, you can also overcommunicate and become annoying, but let’s stick with the script. When customers see transparency in how you do things, not only do they trust you more, but they’ll see this as another way you remove friction for customer service and how you do business overall. Furthermore, when customers see that you’re with them all the way, uncertainty is removed; they’re not wondering if or when something will happen—and that takes us to the third principle.
Principle #3 – Data is Foundational
Data is the essence of everything Eilam is driving at, and it reflects two things. First is, with digital technology, we are now generating (and capturing) unprecedented amounts of data—far more than contact centers have ever had before. That’s only half the story, though, as you need to layer AI on that as the engine to extract useful intelligence, both at scale and in real-time. We’ve only recently had that capability, and that’s why this is such a transformational time in the contact center space.
The second reflection point is that when you have relevant, reliable data, your dealings with customers will be based more on knowledge than guesswork. During Interactions, we saw many examples of what CX looks like when agents know what customers want instead of asking 20 questions to get there.
Here’s where intelligent, automated self-service takes center stage, and NICE showed us what’s possible when chatbots can work with all the digital crumbs we leave on our customer journeys. Chatbots take self-service much further than what we’re used to, and if a live agent is still needed, they’re coming in at the end of the process instead of starting from scratch.
The “knowledge” we’re talking about here is based on probabilities, not certainties, but it’s still a big improvement over guessing what the customer wants. For example, AI identifies the best responses based on existing recordings from agents who have talked to customers—and that becomes the basis of what agents say going forward— instead of guessing what they think the customer might want to hear.
Digitizing your communications channels is the first step to leveraging AI. Once you have that, you can apply analytics over massive data sets to find patterns of conversations that yield the best outcomes. With that, chatbots can have automated conversation flows that will be effective in most scenarios. There’s no certainty it will work well for every instance. But similar to things based on data, it can predict group behaviors very accurately. With individual behaviors, however, you can only approximate.
Regardless of how accurate these analytics are, it should be clear why the foundational data is a key driver for CX and how it can go a long way to reduce friction. The more an agent and/or chatbot “knows” about the customer and their issues, the more the business removes uncertainty across the customer journey, and that should be reason enough to follow this path. Eilam summed it up best during his keynote, and his advice serves as a good takeaway to end here on: “You know you’re doing things right when you don’t have to start with, ‘how can I help you?’”
This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.