Today’s consumer customers are edgy, impatient, and anxious.
Perhaps these are signs of the times. What with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, fear of disease and also crime, coping with extreme, dangerous weather, and economic uncertainty heightened by inflation, along with global and domestic political instability.
Perhaps also that customers understand their value to companies in these times and are becoming less afraid to leverage it like through their social media posts.
But at the same time, customers are facing poor service, like long hold times (if they can reach the contact center, and businesses actively discourage phone contact to manage rising costs). Along with poor quality products and services, delays, cancellations, and missed deliveries. Issues whose causes often lie in supply chain problems, staffing shortages, and questionable management decisions.
To bolster the customer experience (CX) while managing costs, companies are investing in new and increasingly artificial intelligence (AI)-driven automation and personalization technologies. But while these tools have been, in general, fairly well received, customers may have had mixed experiences with them: perhaps because of rushed implementations.
Whatever the reason, there appears to be a disconnect between what customers want and what companies think they want and deliver.
LivePerson recently published its 2023 State of Customer Engagement report that reveals many of these differences. It noted that “consumers are becoming more critical of customer engagement and disagree with the high marks companies give themselves for engagement strategies around personalization and automation.”
To follow up on these issues and report we recently had a conversation with LivePerson CMO Ruth Zive. Here are the highlights.
Q. So why are customers more critical, AND edgier, than they were in the past?
The world is moving faster than ever, and consumers want their favorite brands to keep up. Of course, they’re also anxious and impatient about losing time after years of a pandemic and economic uncertainty. With digital communication at our fingertips and information always flowing, consumers now consider having options to contact brands when and where they want as non-negotiable.
And it’s not just that they want options beyond the traditional 1-800 number experience, they also want the ability to toggle between channels depending upon what they’re doing at the moment: all without losing their progress.
Conversations spanning voice, text messages, and even Facebook, Google Maps and Search, and WhatsApp should all ideally build on each other instead of sending the customer back to square one.
We talk to our friends, family, and co-workers across several different channels every day. The expectation is that brands be savvy enough to do the same, offering personalized experiences on whatever channels we as consumers choose. When this isn’t the case, we get frustrated.
On top of all of this, the average consumer has started to understand the possibilities of Generative AI. Putting myself in their shoes, I’d think: if anyone can create content on the fly in conversation with an AI, shouldn’t a brand be able to do the same to get me what I need?
Q. You reported that “40% of consumers say they’d switch to a competitor if a brand took more than 30 minutes to reply: even if it was their favorite brand”. But will customers actually do so? Witness how they stay/travel with airlines and other businesses despite poor products and service: on the basis of price, stickiness, and convenience/necessity.
This is a good point. The thing brands need to keep in mind is that a poor CX opens the door to their competitors. Not everyone will make the switch, but many will think twice about staying with a brand that doesn’t treat them well.
In addition, poor experiences significantly impact word of mouth, online reviews, and other avenues that potential new customers take into account when making buying decisions.
Q. Why is there a disconnect between how customers perceive the CX versus how brands perceive it?
Part of the answer is that brands have not implemented the right metrics and KPIs for tracking digital conversations. After all, measuring the effectiveness of a traditional, synchronous phone call experience delivered by a human agent should be different than measuring the effectiveness of an asynchronous, messaging-based conversation primarily handled by an automated agent.
The good news is that there are more and more sophisticated ways of measuring how bots and humans interact. For example, our Meaningful Automated Conversation Score measures how much friction customers experience in automated conversations, making it easier to drill down into which points of conversation with a bot need to be fixed or optimized to make customer experiences better.
Q. Similarly, why is there a disconnect between customers and brands on cookie/tracking use for personalization?
This is one of the great CX paradoxes: consumers demand personalized experiences, but they’re also increasingly demanding that brands respect their privacy. As we move closer to a cookieless world, brands are being tasked with how to get to know customers well enough to deliver the customized journeys they’ve come to expect without using cookies.
While there is no silver bullet, Conversational AI can help brands create CXs that are still personalized - and also drive revenue, increase conversion rates, and build loyalty and affinity - while respecting their desire for privacy.
“You can fix a bad implementation, but fixing a mindset can be even harder.”
A well-designed, automated dialog can easily gather first-party data and explain to customers how the data will be used. It can even go as far as asking customers how long the brand can keep their data, or if they’re willing to allow the brand to store it as anonymized data to improve the experience.
Brands using Conversational AI today will fare better in this transition, as their customers are already used to - and reaping the benefits of - this technology. Conversational AI allows the collection of consumer data to be a two-way conversation, giving more control over personal data to the consumer.
Q. Is there a mixed consumer experience with automation compared to what brands believe these are and what are the causes, e.g., rushed implementations? And what are the solutions?
It’s interesting – a lot of implementations of automation and AI over the years have only been half-baked, leading to mixed or even poor experiences. That’s why I sometimes think of “bots” as one of the four-letter curse words. People have had a lot of negative experiences with old-school bots and don’t want to relive the bad old days.
Rushed implementations are certainly one cause of this, but the idea that you can “set and forget” an AI or automation-led experience is even worse. You can fix a bad implementation, but fixing a mindset can be even harder.
In the recent past, this manifested in negative ways like automated experiences that would get stuck in loops. You as a consumer would go in circles with a bot and eventually give up. What should have been happening is that every time a situation like that happened, a human bot builder or conversational designer would take a look and figure out how to better address the customer’s intent.
Now, with more dynamic automated conversations happening because of Generative AI and LLMs (large language models), those bot builder and conversation designer roles will change, but the core idea of constant iteration to improve these experiences isn’t going anywhere.
Q. And importantly, on customers versus brands on AI/chatbot maturity?
While positive consumer sentiment toward automation is stronger than ever, the fact is that only 43% of consumers report that brand chatbots are currently “easy to use” according to our data.
“...consumers are looking for faster, more convenient, and more connected experiences delivered across the channels they love using everyday to communicate.”
This means there’s significant room for improvement, especially now as we see a groundswell of excitement around the possibilities of Generative AI, which brands are scrambling to leverage on the enterprise level.
Loyalty: and Recommendations
Q. Your report states that CX, driven by automation and AI, increases customer loyalty. Please deep dive into the whys.
As the data shows, consumers are looking for faster, more convenient, and more connected experiences delivered across the channels they love using everyday to communicate.
Successful CX strategies deliver this, and they deliver better outcomes. It’s not just about answering a customer service question, it’s about getting customers the results they want.
Leveraging AI for better CX allows organizations to:
- Reduce wait times and resolve the consumer’s intent more efficiently.
- Meet customers where they are, giving them options to reach your brands however and whenever they choose.
- Deliver a more personalized experience that considers the history and context of the specific customer’s relationship with your brand.
- Free up human agents for more complex tasks that require a more personal touch.
Q. Finally, what are your recommendations/best practices advice for customer contact organizations?
Customers are ready and willing to engage with brands through AI and automation. Enterprises looking to reap the benefits of this approach should focus on building better AI and bots to give their customers what they want, as well as leveraging new tech like Generative AI and LLMs to deliver more personalized interactions, higher satisfaction, and faster response times.
“To be most successful, chatbots and Generative AI have to be hooked into systems that allow your organization to generate insights and take action.”
Here are a few best practices to keep in mind.
- Keep humans in the loop to keep any consumer-facing AI grounded, factual, and relevant. There have already been several high-profile examples of AI going off the rails and producing false or disturbing content (remember when Bing tried to get a user to leave his wife?) that significantly detracts from the overall experience.
- Think beyond silos. To be most successful, chatbots and Generative AI have to be hooked into systems that allow your organization to generate insights and take action.
- Combine the capabilities of Generative AI with the right data. Otherwise you’re just pulling info from the public internet, which makes you no different from any of your competitors. The unique needs and interests of your enterprise have to be reflected in the data set that your AI uses.
- Take steps to ensure that you are not perpetuating systemic bias in AI. Bias can be dangerous for your customers and lethal to your brand. EqualAI helps set standards and certifications for responsible AI. They have a ton of resources at equalai.org to help you, from podcasts to checklists to frameworks on creating responsible AI, and we’re proud to be a founding member of this important organization.
Do customer attitudes and expectations differ between generations? And if so, how and what are the factors causing this?
Drawing from data in LivePerson’s 2023 State of Customer Engagement report, here are company CMO Ruth Zive’s answers to these questions:
“In general, all age groups say that more personalized experiences would drive them to spend more. And when it comes to preferred channels, large majorities of all age groups say they are more likely to purchase if they can message with a brand rather than call. The figures are especially high for younger age groups: 83% of consumers ages 18-24 versus 78% of 35-44 year olds and 63% of consumers over 65.
“Similarly, younger age groups are more interested in AI and automation. 80% of 18-24 year olds have a somewhat or very positive perception of using a chatbot to communicate with a company, compared to 67% of 35-44 year olds and 46% of consumers older than 65.
“The differences among age groups are related to what they’ve experienced as consumers to date. Many older consumers have had poor experiences with automation in the past, while younger consumers have had, on balance, more positive experiences as the technology matured over the last few decades.
“But just as older consumers are now very open to texting and messaging with friends, family, and even businesses, we can expect that an increasing number of positive interactions with chatbots and AI will change their minds as well.”