Customer experience is the new frontier of business differentiation. Eighty-nine percent predicted that by 2016, they will separate themselves from their competition on the basis of customer experience—more so than product and service. A variety of factors influence a customers’ experience with a company, ranging from interactions with an in-store sales clerk, to reading an FAQ page to navigating a company’s website. We are currently seeing businesses invest heavily in customer experience, with Gartner reporting that businesses invested in customer experience more than any other area of marketing in 2014 and are expecting customer experience to lead innovation spending in 2015.
As companies dig further into customer experience possibilities, we are likely to see growth in humanization and omnichannel integration. Computer scientists are getting better and better at designing artificial intelligence and creating decision chains that will allow businesses to speak directly to customers based on their data. By combining purchase history and behavioral analytics, websites will be able to make predictions much as a seasoned salesman is, or even better. From a customer service standpoint, websites will be able to respond to customers’ needs at any point they need it, directly on a webpage, almost as though a customer representative was looking over their shoulder.
Additionally, companies will begin placing human elements into their online interface. Call centers will shift from phone interactions to video chat, as they seek ways to build human connections with their customers. Customer service itself will intensify its integration across channels. Customers will be able to initiate a process online, then visit a store and resume the process from the precise point they paused, and vice versa. If industry predictions are correct, the best customer experience innovators will become the most successful companies.
Below, I have outlined six of the top innovations in customer experience that can boost a company’s bottom line.
People are different and so are their preferences. Adjusting the way you interact with customers can help your business satisfy them: 74% of people are frustrated by irrelevant advertisements and 56% of customers report feeling more inclined to shop at a retailer that offers a good personalized customer experience. Good personalization ranges from having relevant content on landing pages, to sending customized emails (that have 41% higher click-through rates) and making pinpoint suggestions to your customers. Amazon has set a prime example of how personalization can boost sales, with remarkably good product recommendations.
Responsive Web Design
One key to customer experience is consistency. Businesses should present their customers with the same information no matter where they go, be it a website, store or a call center. Responsive web design—the creation of fluid websites built for optimization on any platform—provides this consistency for a company’s online presence. Additionally, mobile functionality is more critical now than ever–over half of internet traffic comes from mobile devices and is expected to grow to 75% of all internet traffic by 2019. On top of those numbers, mobile functionality is also a necessary component of search engine optimization. In April of 2015, Google started to give mobile-friendly websites a boost to higher rankings.
Customers are developing a strong desire for self service: according to NCR, two out of three U.S. customers want self service options and, recently, Forrester reported that online self-service recently exceeded call center use. Nevertheless, 83% of customers need some support when making a purchase online. As functional as any design might be, it can be difficult for first time visitors to understand how to navigate through websites—particularly for complicated tasks, such as changing a flight or choosing an insurance plan. Digital walk throughs offer businesses the opportunity to guide their customers through each step in the process, to the same degree of a live customer service agent. When walk throughs are available online, customers receive the support they need and the self-service they want. As a result, customers are more satisfied with their experiences and businesses increase sales and brand loyalty, while saving on costs.
Social Media Integration
Companies are happy to take advantage of social media’s vast, largely free, reach – in fact, 83% of Fortune 500 companies have active accounts on Twitter and 80% have active accounts on Facebook. Likewise, 30% of the Interbrand top 100 have Twitter feeds dedicated to the sole purpose of customer service. However, the proposition social media offers companies is a double-edged sword: both good and bad customer experiences can spread like wildfire, making it extremely important for companies to ensure they consistently deliver good customer experiences.
People’s affinity for social media communication has naturally spread to their interaction with companies. Customers particularly value being able to quickly contact a company directly, as well as the publicity and transparency that come with these interactions. Sixty-five percent of people who tweet a company anticipating a response expect it to arrive within two hours, and 86% expect a response within a day. When people do complain, 74% of the time, they are doing it because they taking to social media will get them better service.
Similarly, when companies respond to customers in good time, customers reward them. Customers who receive timely responses from a company are 34% more likely to make a purchase and 43% more likely to recommend that company to family and friends.
There is plenty of truth to the idiom, “seeing is believing.” If you want someone to believe that your product is worth buying, you better be certain that you make it easy for them to see it. People decide whether or not to buy a product within 90 seconds and 92.6% of people report that visuals are the top influential factor influencing purchase decisions. Here, businesses can see the direct connection between customer experience and sales. When companies use high quality images with multiple views, they can yield a 58% increase in sales. Moreover, thorough product presentation stands to lower return rates: 25% of customers who return products report that the item was not what they were expecting. When your product gets delivered to your customer as they expected, that satisfaction boosts customer experience.
Product videos, which demonstrate precisely how users interact with products, add to customer experience and consumer confidence. 57% of customers feel more confident making a purchase after watching a video in advance of making a purchase and 44% purchase more products on sites that provide product videos.
With verifiable reviews, consumers have the opportunity to discover whether or not a product or service is trustworthy, even without leaving a company’s website. People interested in learning more about what a company offers no longer need to turn to a third party to determine whether or not a product follows through on its promises. Recent research by BrightLocal found that 88% of consumers place as much faith in online reviews as they do in personal recommendations. Moreover, customers are using them: at the time of the study, nine out of 10 customers had used online reviews in the past year and 89% of customers read at least two reviews before feeling they can trust a business.
Ohad Rozen is a customer experience expert and the CEO of Toonimo
This article was originally published in 2015 and is frequently updated