The customer experience is becoming increasingly intertwined with the rise of digital services across many industries and societies. With technologies turning out to be a saving grace in 2020, it meant a change in customer needs and expectations, with the widespread use of social media, the Internet and mobile computing platforms altering the way we behaved forever. Meanwhile, the ‘Amazon effect’ has increased the desire from end-users for faster and accessible experiences, prompting channel partners to respond by finding ways to leverage digital channels that improve their speed of delivery whilst maintaining strong customer relationships.

COVID-19 has only accelerated this shift towards digital and automated communication. Today, many customers rely on the likes of chatbots and messengers for faster interactions with businesses, meaning companies need to look at integrating these channels in order to reach customers in a way that people both want and expect.

Achieving this involves becoming digital-first and navigating the customer journey through a landscape that is accessible via well-managed, clear, and concise communication. But when does the reliance on automation and technology become too much?

Digital optimisation and the modern consumer

Digital transformation has revolutionised the customer experience, creating intelligent evaluations of the customer’s actions and preferences using data. Generating comprehensive customer data allows businesses to become aware of all customer interactions, regardless of the channel, creating a personalised experience in every interaction.

Emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning create a shift from reactive to proactive customer relations, as data insights predict behaviour and adapt to their needs. This technology allows systems to learn and react to changes in customer behaviour in real-time, supporting a much more personalised and specific interaction, in stark contrast to the generalised approach of the past. The adoption of automation across the IT Channel has the potential to reinvent supply chains and create more effective processes that enhance the customer experience and meet the needs of the modern customer. This level of automation is a key component of redefining the customer journey and gaining a sustainable competitive advantage across the channel and beyond.

The shift in customer experience is not only driven by digital optimisation. It is also important to acknowledge how the modern customer is creating change with increasingly high expectations of brand experience. Today, end-users expect services that are relevant to them to be available at any time, accessible anywhere and to work on the device of their choosing. This is not a new phenomenon as customer expectations have always been key determinants of their consumption experiences, satisfaction, and loyalty. However, digitalisation has only served to accelerate these needs.

Many consumers, particularly young people, are moving away from consumerism and towards experiences over products. This change in attitudes requires companies to re-imagine many of their business practices, focusing on how they make their customers feel rather than the product or deal they can offer.

The preference of spending money on experiences over goods can be attributed to the rise of the shared economy. This outlook refers to the shift from owning physical products to paying for access to services when required, such as accommodation, lift-sharing and streaming services. The priority for the modern consumer is no longer the actual product, but the service and experience that surrounds it. Brands have numerous options when it comes to competing on experience, including teaching customers, providing a personalised service, and making an impact in the community. IT Channel partners need to be acutely aware of the needs of both their partner and the end-user, and must be consistently looking ahead at advancements in automation that can use data to deliver faster, more accurate and more personal services across the ecosystem and for their customer’s customers.

Maintaining the human touch

Despite technological advances shaping the modern customer experience, the demand for experiences goes further than new technology, with brands also needing to consider the psychological foundation that they provide consumers. While more repetitive interactions can be automated, companies will still need to handle complex conversations to ensure their customers are understood throughout their buying journey. It is fundamental that a level of human connection is formed alongside technological systems as customers need to feel acknowledged and understood, with those who feel they have an emotional connection to a business becoming loyal advocates, leading to repeat purchases and recommendations.

Although COVID-19 has increased our reliance on technology, it has also minimised our human interaction, meaning it is imperative for brands to cultivate genuine relationships with their customers. Although it seems counter-intuitive, customer experience is not all about the customer. This connection needs to start internally by promoting a customer-centric mindset where employees at all levels of the business are dedicated to providing the best service and solutions for customers. That extends to creating a culture where employees feel valued and have the tools they need to excel in their roles, as more often than not, a happy team member often results in a happier customer.

Striking a balance

Looking to the future of customer experience, it is clear that businesses need to go further than a digitally focused perspective as interaction and purchases occur in many channels. Utilising data from just one channel presents an inaccurate picture and doesn’t accurately reflect the user’s needs.

Businesses across the channel need to embrace the consumer perspective and work closely together to understand the end-user’s side of the interaction, allowing companies to take a more conversational and human approach when delivering customer service.

It is also key that customer experience maintains the momentum that has been built by the pandemic to keep businesses vigilant in the face of ever-changing economic, industrial and technological disruption. The pandemic has also served to accelerate consumer expectations for corporate authenticity, requiring brands to be more transparent about their data sources and to build data relationships with customers based on trust, accuracy and speed of delivery. Technological advancements will continue to drive the channel’s evolution at pace, and need to be consistently monitored to ensure the human touch is not lost and instead strengthens the customer experience strategy, rather than hinders it.

Richard Eglon, Marketing Director at Agilitas

Richard Eglon is Marketing Director at Agilitas. He has wide experience in setting and communicating strategic direction and executing ‘Go-to-Market’ plans which have driven profitable sales growth within the technology sector. As a chartered marketer, Richard looks to use his experience and knowledge in ensuring the marketing strategy remains aligned with the needs of the business. Agilitas is the leading global innovator of customer driven IT channel services, passionate about delivering first class IT services on behalf of its customers.

View Richard’s LinkedIn profile here

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