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Today I’m pleased to share a guest post by Neetha Edwin with Freshworks.

Customer experience has become pivotal to growth and profitability strategies of businesses worldwide. There is now a deeper understanding of customer experience as an incredibly important piece in the success (or failure) of any brand. Research states: By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Is your business prepared for this?

The present-day customer has a myriad of choices on products or services they are looking for. While easily switching brands due to a bad experience, customers are socially influential in making or breaking brand reputation. We are witnesses to the impact social media can have and an individual’s reach in getting noticed. That said, what do businesses need to do to not only make their customers happy but also ensure customers stick with them? Here are some pointers:

#1 Find out what customers want
To successfully meet customer expectations, first research what customers actually want from your services. Convenient, fast, personalised, and proactive are some service elements customers expect. While all of these are good, it is more important to know at what point in the customer journey these factors come into play. Timely and relevant engagement helps reap valuable benefits.

For example, personalization and proactivity when a lost credit card is reported, i.e., in addition to a quick replacement, alert them of bills likely to be affected. Customers like and remember these little experiences with your brand, and this makes all the difference.

#2 Pick the right channels
Very few companies actually put time and effort into tracking customer channel preferences. The proliferation of communication channels prompted many businesses to ensure their presence on popular mediums like email, phone, chat, social, and more. However, to deliver exceptional customer experiences, availability alone doesn’t cut it. Channel convenience is pointless if customer needs are not met or are delayed or if the experience is bad.

To stay ahead of the curve, identify appropriate channels for customer engagement at various steps/stages of the customer journey. For example, things like checking a statement balance or order status can be achieved via a self-service system, while other tasks, like disputing a charge on a bill, definitely need direct interaction (e.g., by phone) with a person.

#3 Offer a unified experience
The omnipresent customer needs an omnichannel experience. Customers reach out any time, from anywhere, and through various sources and still expect fast answers. They often start on one channel, such as email, and then report the same issue on social media or chat, hoping to get the attention of a service agent sooner. These are routed to multiple agents who then need to tie up context, troubleshoot the issue, and respond on the appropriate channel.

When a customer calls for support, can your support agents see the email or live chat conversations between the customer and your fellow agents that occurred prior to the call?

Omnichannel support allows for a connected customer experience, regardless of entry point. Therefore, not only be available on relevant channels, but equip agents with the right context and expertise so they can effectively engage. Only then can your support teams strategize to deliver consistency and continuity in experiences across channels. Service teams empowered with a single view of the customer and the right training are confidently set up for success.

#4 Technology for faster service

Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots in customer service have been a hot trend for a while now. Successful businesses effectively leverage this technology to complement service efforts and lessen agent load. AI-powered chatbots prove to be effective delivering frontline service and agent assistance, reducing their load of trivial and mundane tasks.

For example, chatbots can help direct customers to the right solution on the website/knowledge base or collect necessary information before connecting them with a live agent. At a deeper level, AI-powered chatbots assist agents with context, history, and insights to help them make informed decisions and deliver proactive, personalised solutions – fast!

AI-powered chatbots are a solution to enhance – not replace – agent-led customer support. Agents can focus on and tackle complex decisions, as chatbots take care of repeat or first-level questions. The predictive analytics capability enables agents to deliver high-quality problem solving from first contact. Businesses have been able to cut down on escalations and overall ticket volumes.

#5 Upraise self-service for a seamless experience

When customers want a problem solved, they look for the fastest way to resolution. Most of them prefer to solve problems on their own first. Here’s where an effective self-service portal needs to be an integrated part of your customer experience strategy.

For example, processing refunds is a better experience when customers don’t have to spend hours on the phone or emailing multiple people. Offering a range of service types, from self-service to full-service, gives customers flexibility and saves time and money by routing them to the best channel for the quickest, best-suited support.

It is doubly important that data gathered from self-serve channels are not siloed. They need to be integrated with email, calls, and social media for greater insights and a truly seamless experience for your customers.

Correlation between customer experience and your company’s bottom line
Building happy and loyal customers is the best way to improve your bottom line. Service is transitioning away from a cost center to one of an additional growth engine. By generating new sales opportunities and improved brand experiences, businesses are competing through customer experience.

70% of service teams say their strategic vision over the last 12–18 months has become more focused on creating deeper customer relationships. -Walker Report

To get deeper insights into customer experience influencing increased customer engagement and revenue, join this webinar featuring Forrester Research. Guest speaker Kate Leggett, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, shares trade secrets and data insights on Customer Experience driving business value.