What “Pulp Fiction” Can Teach CMOs About Customer Experience

With two-thirds of CMOs now responsible for customer experience, it is critical for them to be constantly innovative with their CX offerings to meet the evolving needs of consumers.

When it comes to providing a better customer service experience, businesses are quick to embrace “digital transformation” as their solution. In many cases, if you were to press them on what that means they’d say “servicing customers in digital channels.” However when “digital” is the only answer to the question of how to create a better customer experience, it misses the point and leaves consumers feeling unsatisfied.

In a memorable scene from the 1994 classic “Pulp Fiction,” Brett (played by Frank Whaley) gives the same response over and over again. If that scene had taken place in a boardroom setting instead, the interaction might have sounded something like this:

“Say ‘digital’ again. Say ‘digital’ again. I dare you. I dare you. I double dare you.”

pulp fiction The scene is both humorous and horrific, and it echoes how many business leaders today have come to treat digital as a one-size-fits-all fix for every customer service issue. For the most part, they have good reason to believe that. Digital transformations have sparked powerful customer service solutions that are well equipped with strategic capabilities, and more cost-effective than phone and email channels.

However, it’s not enough for businesses to simply embrace digital for customer service. To drive true ROI from digital investments, they must deliver interactions that actually anticipate and understand customer needs.

Digital Is On the Right Track, But Isn’t the Whole Story

Digital solutions are a good hedge against the high cost of servicing customers through more online touchpoints. As such, businesses would be wise to push consumers toward them to resolve service issues. It’s clear that mobile apps, SMS, websites and messaging platforms show stronger engagement metrics than traditional channels like branch locations, email or phone.

But true customer engagement is not simply about pushing consumers toward digital channels. Saying digital repeatedly is not the same as leveraging the tremendous amount of customer data businesses already have. To escape this “Pulp Fiction” paradox, think about how this vast amount of digital information can be used to create an effortless customer experience. That means using digital solutions with customer service strategies capable of anticipating customer needs, determining intent and personalizing interactions based on that information.

According to Mary Meeker’s report 2016 Internet trends report, 84% of consumers own both smartphones and tablets and 64% of them start their customer service journey on websites (vs. just 23% who start on the phone). Clearly consumers prefer digital channels but only when they actually help them accomplish what they’ve set out to do.

Providing a Better Answer Based on Consumer Intent

Without understanding consumer intent, even the most robust digital strategy falls short. Whether booking a flight, finding a great holiday deal or comparing insurance premiums, a simple understanding of why a consumer is engaging and what they’ve set out to do helps companies proactively meet their needs. Intent leads to personalization which in turn boosts customer satisfaction, potential revenue and brand loyalty over time.

The ability to understand intent is innate in the digital realm. Companies are right to say “digital,” but much like the movie they have yet to articulate a better answer. While at first Brett repeatedly gives the same response, Jules knows he has better information and eventually gets him to share a more useful answer. In the same vein, many companies today possess the digital infrastructure to provide an effortless customer service experience online, but they must go beyond the superficial and press a little harder to do so.

What’s Beneath the Surface? That’s Right, Consumer Intent

The first step to understanding consumer intent is establishing a strong digital presence capable of tagging properties like mobile websites and apps. Placing tags in the right places provides insights from the onset of a consumer’s online journey, allowing businesses to connect the dots and anticipate their needs from the start. Not only does this save time and money by resolving queries faster but also improves customer satisfaction by expediting resolution and creating avenues for easy self-service.

The next step is to orchestrate a customer journey that builds upon consumer intent and strategically optimizes information and interactions in real time. For example, if a person looking to book a flight first engages with an airline’s online chatbot, that person should be able to easily transition to another channel — perhaps the phone — without having to start their journey over. Better yet, the agent on the phone should understand the person’s current context and provide relevant guidance. Whether the interaction is through a virtual or live agent, companies have the power to preserve context and history and remain aware of the consumer’s present intention when they cross channels. Those who don’t do this risk frustrating customers with unnecessary friction.

“Going digital” has little to do with the proliferation of apps, devices or channels. It has everything to do with building well-connected, intelligent and intuitive experiences in or across all channels. The fewer channels the consumer has to interact with the better, and the magic comes from orchestrating the experience in each touchpoint.

So, say digital again. However, this time I dare you to do more than just say it.

Scott Horn is the CMO of [24]7

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