Why the customer relationship should now be TOP priority for any business

Artificial Intelligence driving customer relationshipIn the past, company leaders were focused first and foremost on the development of innovative products and operational excellence.

Today, customer satisfaction is the absolute number one priority – a point confirmed by almost every recent survey of top managers, with 89% of company leaders now seeing customer experience as their biggest differentiator.

Here, customer expert, Prof. Steven Van Belleghem explains why every business leader should view the customer relationship as the key to their future business success.

Product, price and communication are no longer the big winners. It is the way companies treat their customers that makes all the difference.

More and more CEOs see customer strategy as an important part of their own direct responsibility. Moreover, it is becoming ever more difficult to differentiate your company on the basis of product and price.

The differentiator with the biggest potential in today’s marketplace is customer experience. To me, this is a great evolution.

Do you really put your customers first?

In short, we now live in a world where companies see customers as their highest priority. That’s great, but let’s be honest: despite this higher priority and the availability of better tools, it is still only a minority of companies that wholeheartedly embrace this new philosophy.

80% of companies think that they score well on customer satisfaction; yet unfortunately, only 8% of customers agree with them.

For example, United Airlines sees itself as being so customer-oriented that they made their motto: ‘Fly the friendly skies’. Even so, the company has been known to drag passengers (sometimes violently) off their planes when they are overbooked, and it is this kind of horror story that makes headline news and shows to everyone that there is still plenty of room for improvement.

The star performers in customer satisfaction lead the way with an outstanding process, a good feedback dashboard and a fantastic culture in which the customer is central.

However, the question is whether or not this will still be enough for brands to successfully navigate the turbulent years ahead. What new elements will be necessary in the following decade(s) to win the hearts, minds and business of consumers?

The Third digital wave: Connectivity, Artificial Intelligence and Automation

We are currently at the start of the third digital wave. In the next few years we will all experience a new tidal wave of innovation, which means that in your business, you already need to be looking for your own particular answer to the above question.

The first digital wave was about making information more freely available via the internet. From the moment when Marc Andreessen introduced Netscape to the world in 1994, everyone suddenly had the ability to consult a massive range of information online via a user-friendly web browser. This was the beginning of the internet hype.

Andreessen is still regarded as an icon in Silicon Valley. He founded a company that changed the world, but that company no longer exists after losing the browser war with Microsoft.

The day Microsoft Explorer was made freely available within Windows, the fate of Netscape was sealed. But it was thanks to the battle between Netscape and Microsoft that the internet became accessible and popular.

Just a decade later, you could find almost anything online. There was even talk of an information overload! But nobody continued to question (as they once had) whether or not the internet was really necessary. Everyone realized that any company that wanted to survive would be forced to follow this new information highway.

The second digital wave began in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone. This was a device that changed the world. From that moment on, digital information started to become available anywhere and everywhere.

Today, we all have the same single priority whenever we enter a new building: what’s the Wi-Fi code?! Deprived of our external source of knowledge, we feel uncomfortable.

The Internet is the new electricity

For the current generation of teenagers, the internet is what electricity was for us: something indispensable that is always just there.

My grandfather remembers watching how electricity was first installed in his village. He can recall what it was like to live in a world without electricity. Even when he was 80 years old, he was still amazed that electricity was available everywhere.

Of course, my parents, myself and my children regard this as the most normal thing in the world. In fact, we rely on it. If the electricity is cut off for whatever reason, no matter how briefly, we cease to function. This is the way that anyone born after 1995 now regards the instant and universal availability of the communication and information network.

The biggest winner of the first digital wave is clear. It was Google. Google made online information accessible to everyone. The winners of the second digital wave were even clearer: Apple and Facebook. Apple ‘only’ has a 20% share in the smartphone market, but they net 80% of the profit from that market.

The Automation of the world

how AI will change customer serviceWe are now at the start of the third digital wave. The key words for this phase are connectivity, automation and artificial intelligence.

Ten years ago we could not have imagined how completely mobile technology would change our lives. But the impact of this third wave will be greater than the first two waves put together.

The first two waves were about the optimization of communication. The third wave is about the automation of the world.

Artificial Intelligence will drive customer experience

Artificial intelligence will have a double impact on relations with customers. On the one hand, numerous processes that take place behind the scenes will improve the output to customers. This will include better search results, better recommendations from e-commerce sites and a faster and more personal customer service.

The customer will no doubt notice that performance output has improved, but he will not really understand what is going on.

In this sense, artificial intelligence is an invisible technology that makes magical experiences for the customer possible. On the other hand, the customer will also come into direct contact with new and tangible user interfaces.

We have already made acquaintance with the first ‘bots’. Bots are programmes that to a large extent automate the company’s conversation with the customer.

Bots can answer customer questions in real time. They can also be used to help solve simple problems. (If you’d like to try out a bot, just find my Facebook page and press the Facebook Messenger button. You’ll get to meet my bot, and discover the strengths and weaknesses for the technology.)

But that’s just the start. Within a few years, conversations with bots will be part of all our daily lives. In a business context, artificial intelligence facilitates the development of man-machine interfaces that will guide and assist customers through each phase of the customer journey.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Prof. Steven Van Belleghem who is an expert in customer focus in the digital world and an award-winning author. His new book Customers The Day After Tomorrow is out now. For more info, visit www.stevenvanbelleghem.com. Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is a regular ByteStart contributor, and you can enjoy more of his insight in these other articles;

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